Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sometimes I love the tourist season. I overheard this conversation in a café in Fort William this afternoon. A middle-aged lady of North British accent is on a mobile phone:

"We're going back to the cottage now... ...In Fort William... Just put on the sat-nav and it's in it... It's already in it... In the sat-nav... Just press the button and Fort Williams is in it... For the cottage... just follow that.... Press 'Previous Destination'... 'Previous Destination'... in the sat-nav... yes... the sat-nav... yes... No, press the button... 'Previous Destination'... Right... Right... See you."

She puts the phone away and turns to her friend. "They don't stand a cat in hell's chance, do they?"

Her friend shakes her head. "No," she says sadly. "No they don't."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I did a new cartoon tonight! the first one for so long that I wasn't sure if my cartoon blog was still there. It is:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Oh, the worldwide interweb is a wonderful and dangerous thing.

Looking up a minor actress on the IMDb this evening, while trying to work out why I had just spent nearly two hours of my life watching the incredibly dull vampire gangster film Innocent Blood, I stumbled over a film which not only starred Emilio Estivez's Uncle but also John Travolta's brother, Patrick Swayze's brother, Silvester Stallone's mother, and Burt Ward - who used to play Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show. What a cast!

I now have a compulsion to waste 75 minutes of my life watching Beach Babes From Beyond.

What I don't have a compulsion to do is send Silvester Stallone's mum a picture of my arse (and $125) to have it 'read'. Arses, apparently, can reveal much about your personality and your destiny. Don't take my word for it; visit her Rumpology Website and get that photo of your own behnid (sic) analysed by an expert.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

We were in the Fort today. We went in on the bus as the car is still off the road after last week's stag whacking incident. Fort William bus station is, as you might well imagine, very small. Basically it's the side wall of Morrison's supermarket with a bit of a roof and a couple of benches. Today though I noticed a new addition, a giant LCD digital display screen full of useful bussy information.

Getting closer however...


All the information shown on this display screen is
INCORRECT. Please disregard it completely.

Which made me wonder: why don't they just turn the bugger off?

Another post over at CheesyBeats tonight:
Juanita Banana

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I am saying "Fuck!" a lot at the moment and wondering how much the car is going to cost to fix.

Merriol, and Holly have been away for a few days down in Sheffield and tonight Daisy, Eben, and I went to meet them at Bridge of Orchy station. It's a 45 minute drive up Glen Coe and across Ranoch Moor. The sort of scenery people come from all over the world to Scotland to see but a pain in the arse when it adds two hours onto a train journey to get you fifteen minutes closer to your destination. With me? No? Nor am I. Start again:

When people travel up on the train to us it makes sense for us to meet them at Bridge of Orchy station which is 45 minutes away to the south rather than Fort William (which is only 30 minutes away from us to the North) because it takes the train two hours to get from one to the other.

So, lots of heather, lots of mountains; beautiful scenery, some of it familiar the world over from such films as Braveheart, The Harry Potter, Highlander and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (it was big in India).

It's also full of deer.

I ran into a stag this evening. Coming back from picking Merriol and Holly up, just short of the Glencoe Ski lift (Rob Roy) Merriol spotted a group of deer off the side of the road . My eyes flick to the left to make sure none of them are coming our way and Bang! the stag of the group was right in front of me having leapt onto the road from the right. Big bang. Grip the steering wheel. Don't skid. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

Lost the nearside headlight and cracked a big expensive looking panel on the front of the car. No blood or mess on the bodywork that I could see in the dark but tufts of hair sticking out of a couple of places. The stag ran off after I hit it. It may well be okay and just walk with a limp for a few days. Big tough things Red Deer. Bloody frightening experience though.

Friday, April 08, 2011

As promised this months marathon post of every film I watched last month (March).
  1. Watchmen (2009) - oh that was fun! The best comic book movie I've seen for a long time. I didn't mind the omissions and changes made to the material from the original in the slightest.

  2. Warlock (1989) - Another of my (mostly unconscious and accidental) attempt to work my way through David Twohy's entire back catalogue. After writing Critters 2, and long before The Chronicles of Riddick, Twohy knocked out this tale of an evil Warlock (Julian Sands) time travelling to contemporary LA (the terminus for all low budget time travel) pursued by ace witch hunter Richard E Grant wearing a 17th century mullet, a costume left over from one of the lesser Highlander movies, and a variable Scottish accent. Grant gives it all he's got but never really looks that comfortable with any of it. Julian Sands on the other hand is having a whale of a time hamming it up. The McGuffin here is 'The Grand Grimoire' a book so unspeakably evil that it has been broken up into three pieces and then cunningly hidden in a gay antique dealer's house, an Amish attic, and Richard E Grant's character's grave. Once the bits are assembled, the 'lost name of God' can be read and, when read backwards, the whole of creation can be undone. The moment where Sands' Warlock finally reads God's name is a classic. Lightning, thunder, swirling faux Industrial Light and Magic storm clouds. The Warlock is exultant:

    "I know thy name!" he cries. " I know thy name!"

    And then totally spoils the moment by not adding, "... and I know where you live!"

  3. Jumanji (1995) - another one of those films I have avoided for years because it had Robin Williams in it. But, everyone having enjoyed the semi-sequel / remake Zathura: A Space Adventure, I thought I could put up with him for the duration of Pizza Night. I was more than pleasantly surprised. Williams was kept under control and not allowed to get mawkish and the film clipped along with so many inventive gags that I was laughing all the way through it. I'm not sure the It's a Wonderful Life homage/reference when William's character explored the town he had been away from for 26 years worked, that was a little bit clumsy and obvious, but once the narrative got back to the mayhem and the jokes it was a real treat.

  4. Universal Soldier (1992) - Between directing the incredibly terrible Moon 44 and the almost good Stargate Roland Emmerich directed Universal Soldier with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren hitting each other a lot. Sometimes they hit each other in slow motion, sometimes not. Sometimes they shoot each other, or throw hand grenades at each other, or drive each other off roads and over cliffs in speeding vehicles or blow up isolated gas stations to try and get rid of each other again (they'd already killed each other in the prologue). In the end one of them ends up going through some very spiky, motorised farm equipment. But it has a happy ending and there was a sequel.

  5. Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) - The sequel. More explosions, more guns, no Dolph Lundgren and none of the (limited) invention and fun of the original. The sort of pointless, explosion ridden shit that WWF WrestleMania fans wouldn't find too difficult to follow.

  6. Demonwarp (1988 ) - Somehow, for the life of me, I can't work out why this has never had a DVD release. I mean everyone wants to see a Bigfoot movie with zombies, naked women, aliens, and ritual sacrifice don't they? especially one starring George Kennedy (who I am happy to discover is still alive and still working at 85). Frankly I am baffled at this film's obscurity.

    Demonwarp starts out routinely enough: before the credits, back in the cowboy days, a lone preacher is out for a walk with his horse (why he isn't riding it is never explained). The preacher is reading aloud from the Book of Revelation - which, in his copy of the Bible is at the front where you would expect Genesis to be - when something falls from the sky and makes a huge crater just off screen. The preacher praises the lord "It's The Second Coming!". After the credits we join George Kennedy playing Trivial Pursuit with his daughter while a point of view shot sneaks up on their rented cabin. Suddenly the door bursts in and something hairy knocks old George unconscious and absconds with girl. Cut to a 4x4 full of twenty-somethings info-dumping to each other about how "strange-shit" has been going on in Demon Woods for years. They arrive at the cabin and continue info dumping at each other for the next twenty minutes! (but both girls get their boobs out so it's a little less painful than it could have been - though the 'sex scene' was one of the dullest I've ever endured; two people mildly, and unenthusiastically, writhing while both desperately try to avoid touching anything that the other might consider an erogenous zone). All in all it's 30 minutes before the film actually gets going when Bigfoot strikes again by ripping out all the electrics from the Mystery Mobile and killing two of the boys.

    Grrrrr... Grrrrr... Grrrpfff...
    Oh bugger! can I try that again?

    Hero boy and the girls decide to hike through the woods to the road - though 'meander' would be a more accurate description for what they actually do. Meanwhile, in different places, a lone hiker and two nubile young women are also in the woods. The hiker looks like he was added later to pad out the running time; he adds nothing to the story and doesn't meet any of the other characters and was obviously shot without sound - he gets no lines but does get some "Hmmmm"s and "...!?"s dubbed in afterwards. He has a severed human hand thrown at him and is then chased round the same tree a few times by the bigfoot's legs (hiring the legs was obviously cheaper than hiring the whole costume). The two nubile girls get their boobs out and do some sunbathing before bigfoot turns up and rips one girl's head off and the other girl runs into the woods past the same tree several times. (Okay, I'm confused. Are there now two Bigfeet running around out there?)

    Luckily I grabbed this bloodstained T-shirt as I escaped...

    The lone hiker is finally caught by bigfoot (number one?) and killed (silently). Lots of aimless wandering around later, the nubile girl meets up with the remains of Scooby-Do gang at the camp of George Kennedy (who has been wandering around the woods for a week laying bear traps and Wiley Coyote style tripwires with dynamite strapped to trees). The nubile girl is exhausted. "Get some water out of my tent," says George. Hero boy goes into George's tent / location production office and is attacked by the bigfoot! All that time wandering around looking for the bugger and it was in his tent all the time! Or is it another one? Who knows? Who cares? Fight fight fight and, as per Hollywood rule 67a subsection G, all the guns jam in the moment of crisis. The hero boy gets unconciousnicated, George gets a fatal battering and the girls...? Hero boy wakes up, grabs some dynamite and, picking a direction at random, determinedly wanders off. He finds dead George, he finds one of the girls shambling around with an eye hanging out of a socket, and he finds a cave full of zombies wearing Residents T-shirts and doing electronics.

    Pass the soldering iron will you, Derrick?

    At this point my WTF?ometer went off the scale. Apparently for years the bigfoots have been stealing electronic equipment and bringing it to the cave where a mixed bag of undead have been repairing an alien spaceship that landed there years ago.

    Writer: "It's a bigfoot flick, with zombies! - and aliens... ...and tits!"

    Producer:"I like it!"

    This sequence does contain one genuinely interesting shot where we watch a zombie replace a circuit board shot from underneath. It's a sudden and weirdly interesting intrusion in all the basic 'square on to the action' set-ups that make up the rest of the film. The director was obviously very chuffed with this shot because he repeats it another four times in a very few minutes. Meanwhile, back at the action.... the hero boy shoots the bigfoot (or one of the bigfeet - I've lost track) who transmogrifies into his own uncle! (the disappearance of the uncle - who we have never met before - was mentioned in all the earlier infodumping, but as there were probably boobs on screen at that point I wasn't listening to the finer details.) Hero boy finds that his two friends and his girlfriend are also in the cave. Boy one is tied up, boy two is a zombie and the girlfriend is inside the flying saucer about to sacrificed by the preacher we met in the pre-credit sequence*. He going to feed her vital bodily organs to a demon-like alien who he believes to be an angel.

    Yum yum!.... Liver....

    After yet more fighting, boy one is injected with alien bigfooting serum - cueing what is probably the world's only Wolfman-like human-to-bigfoot transformation scene. Hero and girlfriend run away leaving him nobly holding the dynamite as he writhes in hirsute agony. As they run from the cave Hero boy and Girlfriend girl encounter Eye-dangling socket girl and shoot her dead - again - because she's a zombie (I think)... anyway there's a HUGE EXPLOSION in the cave and that's the end...

    Time for you to jolt upright
    in bed sweating a lot, darling

    ... or is it? Two false 'it was all a dream - or was it?' endings later and the credits finally roll. Another the end.

    Mind bogglingly crap.

    *No sign of his horse though.

  7. The Blob (1988 ) - Gory remake. Too slick to be bad but not good enough to be interesting.

  8. Prom Night (1980) - Tedious early mystery/slasher movie shot through that fuzzy softness filter they shot every Playboy centrefold of the period ( ...I am told). God it was boring in a very soft and fuzzy way. The director had seen some gialli and from time to time there were a couple of nicely set up stylistic bits, odd compositions, and a few interesting edits, but the one thing missing was any dramatic interest. If there was any possible opportunity to dissipate any feeling of tension that it had built up, the film would find it. And this wasn't anti-climaxing - building up the tension then letting the audience down with a bump for a moment before starting to ratchet up the terror again; it was just piss poor film making. The editing kept wandering off, taking us away to watch something else for far too long while we forgot about the mildly scary bit that we might have been possibly building up to. I'd guessed who the killer was in the first few minutes and the final marathon fight between the heroine and her boyfriend, and the killer on a disco floor (while the music kept on pumping - be-ba-pewwww!) just made me giggle. People cannot have life or death struggles to a disco beat - even in 1980 this must have been obvious.

  9. Black Rainbow (1989) - In the Deep South a fake medium starts to predict real events including murder, a fact which puts her life in danger when the killer comes after her. Not badly done - and it had Jason Robards who I think is wonderful in everything.

  10. Chasing The Deer (1994) - a film with 195 'Associate Producers' (ie investors) listed on the end credits, a terrible script that lurched from one undercooked cliché to another, and some frankly bafflingly amateur looking direction and editing that kept leaping the movie from one scene to another in alarming jumps. Though the production values for such a low budget film were excellent - I don't suppose there was a historical re-enactment society in the north of Britain that didn't end up in this show somewhere, and some of the locations were genuine - there were far far too many characters knocking about. In addition to the thin soap opera element (father and son separated by circumstances end up on opposing sides and die in each other's arms on the battlefield - yes, that hoary old chestnut of a story) there were dozens and dozens of other characters who would arrive on screen, address all those around them by their full rank and title so we knew who they were, before disappearing from the narrative never to be seen again (quite often taking all their friends with them). I guess the writers were aiming for some historical accuracy but time and time again I kept thinking, 'Oh god, not more Lord Whoevers and General Thisandthats. I don't need to meet all these people'.

    People criticize 'Hollywood' movies for simplifying history, combining characters and trimming events to fit a convenient narrative structure, and watching this film I see why that process takes place. A film is not a history lecture, it doesn't come with footnotes and a reading list. First and foremost a film, even one based on historical events, is an entertainment. It can be polemical, emotive, manipulative and all those other things but unless it has some sort of a narrative that people engage with it's not going to keep its audience. Whatever 'message' (for want of a better word) the film maker wants to convey will be lost. I have no idea what the makers of Running the Deer wanted me to come away with. I didn't care about any of the characters I could identify, and I really had no clearer idea of the events of the 1745 Jacobite Rising than I couldn't have gleaned from any picture-book history of Scotland. The acting was adequate, though less than inspired (but given some of the clunky, very stagy dialogue the actors were asked to deliver I can't blame them for not setting the screen on fire. Most of the cast were unknown to me but Brian Blessed lent his beard to the occasion - and was the nominal 'star' of the show). Most of the time I felt I was watching some historical tableau of Scottish history presented by semi-professional actors. (A job I have done; I know what I'm talking about.)

    There was however one really nice moment that suddenly set all the rest into context. For a few seconds the film actually looked like a film and not a 'living history' show. Before the final hopeless battle at Culloden there is a slow tracking shot of the ranks of Scottish troops facing the camera, arms at the ready, all speaking fervently in Gaelic. As the camera reaches one of our English speaking protagonists we hear his voice: "I am Alistair Campbell son of... etc.". Cut to Bonny Prince Charlie on his horse. He turns to his aide. "What are they doing?" he asks. The aide replies something along the lines of: 'they are reciting their lineage. It makes them remember who they are and brave in battle'. "Interesting... " says the prince, "Interesting... " Now that was a nice piece of film making. A moment where image, sound editing, and well delivered dialogue tell us something we don't know, show us something of the character of the men who are about to die, and something of the character of the prince for whom they are about to fight. (He has, after all, been leading them for months and only just noticed they do this before a battle?). Two shots worth saving surrounded by 90 minutes of padding.

    I did come away from Chasing The Deer with one thing: I now take great pride in the fact that we in Scotland can make bad films as good as any bad films from the rest of the world.

  11. The Ambulance (1990) - my second Larry Cohen movie (the first was The Stuff in which a killer pudding threatens to eat America) and not, I hope, my last. Funny as hell. I haven't laughed so much in ages. Here's a slice of the cheesy action. Eric Roberts is on the trail of a mysterious ambulance that picks up ill people from the streets but never delivers them to a hospital.

    I'm afraid that Roberts' line, "You faggots! You faggots! You fight like stewardesses!" has just entered my top ten all time screen insults list.

  12. The Secret of Moonacre ( 2008 ) - I have from time to time read in film books and magazines phrases like: 'the script was a couple of re-writes away from being finished'. I never really understood what it meant till watching this. All the elements for a good enchanting family film were there (the costumes and sets in particular were excellent) and though the acting was variable, Dakota Blue Richards and Juliet Stevenson were very good; Natascha McElhone was just terrible - I'm sure she's a nice woman and has done good work but she was as wooden as hell here and totally unconvincing. The SFX, of which there were a lot, also varied from the adequate to the beautiful; there were some nice pictures on the screen. What didn't work for me, however, was the script which never gelled. It stopped and started, never really got going, and had very obviously lost whole sections during post production. The most obvious 'deleted scene' (not available on the bare bones DVD I watched) being the 'love / hate relationship' that developed between the heroine and Robin, her male opposite number in the enemy camp. At one point, later on in the film, our heroine says something to the effect of: "Robin? I never want to see him again..." before storming off with a coy expression that makes us think she doesn't really mean it (tcha! teenagers eh?). This would have been all well and fine if we had actually seen her and Robin obviously falling in love while hating each other on sight. As it was, I had to back peddle like hell in my head through the film to even work out who Robin was....

    Lottery Funding was involved.

  13. Black Caesar (aka The Godfather of Harlem 1973) - More Larry Cohen. A fairly straight reworking of the Warner Brothers gangster tropes of the 30s and 40s, only, this being the 70s, it's the rise and fall of a tough black gangster rather than an Italian or Irish. A bit more violent and explicit in the sex and language department (I think Larry Cohen must have used every racial epithet available in the English language in his script) than Warners got away with. A couple of moving scenes and some seriously good acting - I particularly liked the look of disgust and disbelief on our protagonist's face when, having been shot in the belly, he goes for help from his stooge, a fake preacher through whose church he launders money - only to find the man has really gone and got religion. The only help the reverend offers his erstwhile boss is to attempt to heal the gunshot wound by getting possessed by the Holy Spirit and the laying on of hands. A vast improvement on the sanctimonious Irish priests that Edmund O'Brien used to play so often in the originals.

    Lottery Funding was not involved.

  14. Balls of Fury (2007) - I was in the mood for something stupid and funny and this delivered both. Basically Balls of Fury is Enter The Dragon with all the sweaty bone crunching Kung-Fu substituted by life or death Ping Pong matches. It's really stupid joke that just about stays funny after being stretched out to ninety minutes, but I doubt if they would have made it without Christopher Walken casually stealing the show from about the halfway mark.

  15. Sabata (1969) - A Lee Van Cleef in a pretty standard Spaghetti Western. Van Cleef demonstrated his ability to stand iconicaly and his talent for staring suspiciously sideways out of the corner of his eye, while walking in a totally different direction to the one he was looking. He did that a lot. The camera crew had loads of fun with their zoom lens on every other shot. And one of the morally ambiguous protagonists has a banjo with a built in rifle. The music was hilarious.

  16. Second Sight (1989) - still working my way through the Big Box VHS Paydirt pile. Totally forgettable frantic comedy about a psychic detective. I mean really forgettable. I only finished watching it half an hour ago and I can't remember how it ended. I can remember the denouement, but not the climax. There was one vaguely funny gag in the whole thing but it's not worth the effort in telling. I do remember writing my own gags at a couple of points and thinking one of them was worth writing down for future use - but I've forgotten what it was. Why do I watch this stuff? I can't remember that either. It must have seemed a good idea at the time.

  17. Westender (2003) - Westender - what a terrible title for a medievalesque epic but, there you go, that's what they called it. Maybe it doesn't seem so bad in the USA but say Westender to me and I either hear the Pet Shop Boys in my head and / or conjure up an image of some posh, uptown version of Eastenders. Westender starts off very badly. A drunken gambler in a medievalesque bar (made from what appears to be machine plained, sawn timber) gambles away a ring, his final possession, gets into a fight, looses, and wakes up the next morning determined to get it back. The ring belonged to his lost love (she was burned at the stake apparently and he fished the ring out of the ashes). After a clumsy, exposition dropping, conversation with a gypsy girl he sets off to find the gambler who won the ring off him. He soon finds his man who, it transpires, has been robbed by bandits. Together they pursue the bandits in long sequences of very long, very beautiful and very languid shots with very little dialogue. Somewhere along the line I started thinking 'this looks like a short', a very long short but it had that shorty feel to it. Turns out I was right (yay me!); first-time director Brock Morse’s film school short script assignment grew into a 30-minute short that was filmed in three weeks, and, after gaining more funding, grew again into a full-length movie. It looks like several million dollars on the screen. It isn't, but it looks it (as an example of the limited budget one central character is played by the film's composer). The script picks up characters and drops them in a most unHollywood manner and never really gets much of a plot going, substituting instead a hero racked by inner turmoil - having your missus burned at the stake will do that to you - but by the time we get to the end of the show it has somehow turned itself into quite an interesting bit of film. Somehow. Just. I'm not entirely convinced it was worth the wait to get there but one of the better minimal budget student features I've seen. Spoiler: In the end he doesn't get his ring back but does rediscover what it means to be a man (or something else that ticks all the boxes in the 'Have you completed your Hero's Journey checklist'. Companion helper? Check... Supernatural aid? Check... Abyss: death and rebirth? Check... ).

  18. Hana-Bi (aka Fireworks 1997) - okay.... my first Takeshi Kitano film. Not sure if I liked it but I was certainly watching the screen the whole time. I think I'll have to see more of his films before I decide whether I did like this or not.

  19. Xizao ( aka Shower 1999) - nice simple sweet and touching film about daily life in a Beijing bathhouse.

  20. Spy Kids (2001) - Friday night choice of number one daughter, it's been a long day and she wanted something familiar - I think we have seen it twice before. I quite like Spy Kids, it has some nice moments.

  21. The Exterminator (1980) - After a recent bout of Far Eastern sub-titled art movies movies it's time to get back to the shit VHS pile. (Mind you one of the 'Art Movies' had at least seven or eight on-screen shootings, two off-screen shootings and a character loosing an eye in a particularly vicious chopstick-related incident.) Made six years after Death Wish (1974) and four years after Taxi Driver (1976) The Exterminator treads similar ground while looking like it was made long before either of them. A Vietnam vet bumps off the gang members who crippled his best bud ("That nigger was my best friend, motherfucker!"), he picks up a prostitute, sees scars on her and bumps off the pimp who did it to her (in the process shooting dead the state senator from New Jersey who likes to rape little boys in sleazy New York shitholes). He kills a Doberman with an electric carving knife, feeds a New York mobster through a meat grinder and shoots dead three Hispanic types who rob an old lady and tread on her glasses. Meanwhile a cop is sort of introduced, sort of has a fling with the crippled vet's doctor, and sort of investigates. For some reason the CIA decide to take over the case - not because a US Senator has been killed, but because, for some vague reason, having a vigilante killing mobsters is making the administration look bad two weeks before 'an election'. It's a muddled, unfocussed mess that takes itself far too seriously, takes too long to get wherever it goes (except where it jumps so far ahead of itself that it leaves the audience wondering what's happening), and then has a totally stupid Parallax View type ending that leaves our cop hero shot dead by a sniper's bullets as a voice over intones, "Washington will be pleased"

    The shot where the cop goes for a Darwin Award, by cooking a hot dog by sticking two forks wired to the mains into it, has to be one of the oddest bits of business I've seen on the screen for a long time. It distracted me so much that I totally lost what the scene was about. I was too busy wondering if it was actually possible and / or common? Apparently it is possible.

    There was a sequel!?

  22. The Carpenter ( 1988 ) - another of those long forgotten, never released on DVD 'horror' flicks of the 80s. (And given that the only copy sold on eBay in the last 30 days went for 25p I can't see whoever owns the rights rushing to re-release it either.) This time a carpenter, who was executed in the electric chair, comes back from the dead to finish his dream house, now inhabited by a young married couple. She's just out of a hospital after a nervous breakdown, and he's screwing one of his student. At first only she can see the nocturnal visitor with a penchant for staple-gunning people's eyes shut. Is it all in her head? Or is she somehow responsible for the grisly murders? Did I care? Did I fuck. I was more interested in the director's insane overuse of tracking shots than anything that was happening between the characters. He was loving the hell out of his dolly was the director. The opening shot of almost every scene seemed to be a slow tracking shot watching someone who was going to be in the scene move slowly into a position to talk to another cast member. The movie was 89 minutes long I would guess a quarter of it was dolly shots with nothing happening in them.

  23. The Plumber (1979) - and unless I can find something called The Interior Decorator in my To Be Watched pile that's me out of job title titled films for a bit. Just before making a string of great films: Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, The Mosquito Coast, and Dead Poets Society Peter Weir wrote and directed this small, made for TV movie about the plumber from hell making life a misery for an academic. Not bad, not great, but not bad, not bad at all.

  24. Phantasm (1979) - This has been sat in my TBW pile for a couple of years now and I regret not having got round to it sooner. In Smalltownsville, somewhere in the Southern USA, strange things are going on in the local funeral home. Very strange things. In the end we discover the funeral director is an alien, reanimating human cadavers, compressing them to three foot two high dwarves, and then shipping them off in barrels to another planet to be used as slave labour. The Writer/Director (who was also cameraman and editor and, for all I know, caterer and honey wagon driver too) Don Coscarelli launched himself at the sort of plot Ed Wood might have baulked at but has done with style and self-knowing campness that makes it work. Not the greatest horror movie in the world but a damn fine B movie, way above the average. Very dreamlike in places.

  25. Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (1970) - In an effort to sort of convince my wife (and me) that I'm keeping all these huge piles of VHSs and DVDs around for some sort of reason, other than most of the shite I watch has no resale value even on eBay, I will from time to time, re-watch one. Beyond The Valley of the Dolls is a very strange movie and even funnier and weirder on a second viewing than it was on the first. Telling the story of the events leading up to a quadrupedal homicide and triple wedding, the film charts the arrival of a three piece girl band and their manager in LA and their rapid decline into depravity and corruption (ie sex and drugs and, because this is a Russ Meyer film, more sex) via some of the most bonkers, campest dialogue put on screen. My favourite two lines both come from the villain of the piece, record producer Ronnie 'The Z-Man' Barzell: .

    "This is my happening - and it freaks me out!"

    and the unforgettable:

    "You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!"

    The editing is unbelievable; bang bang bang. It's almost like a metronome at times; all the cuts in some dialogue scenes appear to be exactly the same length no matter who is speaking or what is being said. It's very disconcerting. At other times the film goes into hyperdrive with everyone suddenly emoting in the manner of a daytime TV soap while syrupy music plays in the background. The scene where the doctor announces that the character who just attempted suicide on live TV may never walk again is an incredibly over the top send up of every daytime soap hospital scene. .

    After all this strange camp parody, the brutal Manson Family-like murders at the end are suddenly very strangely upsetting. Especially as two of the victims are guilty of nothing more than being a happy lesbian couple. Even weirder is the sudden change in direction when, after the murders there is a fight in which the killer is shot, and the crippled would-be suicide suddenly feels movement in his toes - and the sun comes out - and everyone is happy and full of wonder and joy, surrounded by the mangled corpses of their friends right enough, but really, really happy for him. It's either a deranged masterpiece or the biggest pile of shit yet put on screen. I'm in the deranged masterpiece camp.

  26. Cry-Baby (1990) - one of those films that just cheers me up no matter how often I watch it.

  27. Mission Without Permission (aka Catch That Kid 2004) - Three kids, one an ace climber, one a whizz hacker, the other a mechanical wizard rob a high-tec, super-secure bank - taking along a baby brother that one of them has to babysit. As stupid as it sounds but fun family stuff. My kids loved it; "Better than Spy Kids" said one, she's wrong but she is only six. The photography was very good.

  28. El Topo (1970) - one of those films that has been on the edge of my must see radar for years. A heavily religious surreal (very bloody) Tortilla Western made at the hight of the hippy era. It opens with a lone horseman holding an umbrella riding through a desert. Only when the horseman stops and dismounts do we realise he has a naked 7 year old boy riding with him. The black leather-clad rider makes the boy bury a teddy bear and a photo of his mother, then they both climb back on the horse and ride off. After that it gets weird. And then weirder. At the end, our 'hero', having been shot by his lesbian companions and spending untold years in a catatonic state being worshipped as a god in a cave, digs a tunnel to free his deformed worshippers. When he finally succeeds, with the help of his pregnant dwarf wife and his now grown up ex-monk son (who has sworn to kill him when they've finished), all the newly released troglodytes are massacred by the townsfolk who are then, in turn, massacred by our hero. Who then commits suicide by setting himself on fire. I'm sure it was all very pertinent at the time and obviously allegorical of the horrors of Vietnam but all these years later it left me pretty unimpressed as a film.

  29. Megamind (2010) - I haven't had so much fun with a movie for ages. For once (or finally) Dreamworks got the balance right and made an animated kids movie that was as much fun for their parents. I laughed often and frequently and left my critical faculties hanging behind the door about three minutes in and just enjoyed myself. Smart and funny.

  30. Frauengefängnis ( aka Barbed Wire Dolls, Caged Women 1975) - Another Jesus (Jess) Franco piece of shit. This time it's his take on the 'Women in Prison' genre. Like all WIP films it has lashings of lashings, rape, and lesbian seduction - and being a Jess Franco film has more pans, tilts, zooms and dodgy focus pulling in any given minute than most films have in their entire running time. (And more close-ups of female genitalia than the average movie manages too). All pretty sleazy, uninspiring, and forgettable apart from one truly weird piece of film making in the middle of the movie. One of the captive women is having a bad dream - cue flashback (complete with half a pot of Vaseline smeared round the lens) to the night her father tried to rape her. "No!" she screams, leaping naked from the bed and running out of the bedroom. He chases after her and grabs her hair, her mouth opens in a soundless scream and she is pulled backwards. (The scream is soundless because we are suddenly in slow motion the whole scene from here on in is played out in dreamtime slo-mo.) He throws her across the room and she ends up facing the wall. He comes behind her and turns her around. As she turns the actress hastily stifles a giggle and turns it into look of 'horror' and shoves him. He falls back, cracks his head on the mantelpiece and tumbles slowly to the floor as she runs out of the frame. End of flashback, cut back to her in bed having the bad dream.

    So what?

    The really really odd thing about this scene (and it is really very odd indeed) is that the girl and the father were acting in slow-motion. The camera is running at normal speed; there's no post-production trickery (assuming this movie had any post-production). What's going on here is that the actors were doing that comedy slow-motion acting where everyone tries to look like they are underwater and breathing treacle - and convincing no one. Coming in the middle of a sweaty piece of low-rent, nasty, dirty old man, BDSM fantasy it is just plain very very weird.

    Get out of my movie!

  31. Suite 16 (1994) - Would-be psycho-sexual, cat and mouse shenanigans between a young immoral hustler played by some Dutch bloke who looks great naked, and a rich, wheelchair-bound recluse played by Pete Postlethwaite - who, I'm glad to say, kept most of his kit on for the whole show. A very long 90 minutes in which I failed to suspend my disbelief for an instant.

  32. The Atomic Brain ( aka Monstrosity 1964) - great title for a very dull tale about a mad old rich woman with an equally mad scientist (a 'Dr Frank' no less) in her cellar who spends his time transplanting animal brains into stolen corpses. He is looking for the breakthrough that will get him a Nobel Prize; she wants a new body to replace her wrinkled and worn out carcass - one of the three nubile servants she's just hired will do, but which one? The dark haired Hispanic one? no, she has a birthmark; best use her for the final experiment and graft a cat's brain into her head to see if using live humans is better than corpses. It works! Oh damn! The cat woman has escaped and half-blinded front-runner, statuesque blonde, Bea. (Whose 'English' accent is even weirder than Dick Van Dyke's in Mary Poppins.) So it's down to German girl Nina. Mad old lady makes out her will so that Nina will inherit everything and prepares to swap brains. Nina nearly escapes but ends up strapped to the basement operating theatre next to the walk-in 'atomic cyclotron' so necessary for brain transplant surgery. At this point Dr Frank has a moment of blinding clarity and realises that once the head-swap has been done he will be dispensable and maybe it would make more sense if the old lady were to die and the nubile girly to inherit the money while remaining under his control. Genius! The Nobel Prize is almost his! Then, for some utterly inexplicable reason, he sticks the old lady's brain into the empty cat and walks into the walk-in 'atomic cyclotron'. Vengeful, as only a mad old lady finding her brain compressed into a cat can be, the mad old lady compressed into a cat carefully presses the buttons and throws the lever that Dr Frank had conveniently explained in reel one would reduce the house to radioactive ashes.


    I've made it sound a lot more exciting than it was.

  33. The Onion Movie ( 2008 ) - A sketch show film that in the end does suddenly manage to pull an almost coherent narrative thread out of its disparate parts. Sort of like Amazon Women on the Moon and Kentucky Fried Movie, and, like them, very hit and miss. Because of the newsroom linking device that runs all the way through I kept thinking it was like a flabby Americanised version of Chris Morris's The Day Today.

  34. Who's Harry Crumb? (1989) - unfunny comedy in which the only decent joke was used in the trailer. Watching Jeffrey Jones is always a treat and the cast were doing their best but no one was given anything in the way of funny stuff to do. All the 'humour' in the show was reserved for star (and producer) John Candy who seemed to think that getting a stuntman to pretend to be him and fall off things must be hilarious.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

I was playing with my vinyl tonight and posted a new entry on my much neglected Cheesybeats blog.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

I have to get a grip. I went to the local refuse disposal place today to dump a month's worth of Tetra Paks and six month's worth of accumulated bits of metal. I also took the vast pile of I Never Want to Watch That Again VHS tapes in the hallway. I need to get rid of the clutter! I need to make space! - I come home with an Edwardian dressing table I found in one of the skips. I don't think you are really allowed to take stuff away from the recycling place (ironically enough) but it was raining and the little men who shout "Oi!" were hiding in their hut. Basically, as usual, I came back with more than I went with. This cannot continue - but it's such a nice piece of furniture... No idea where it's going to go. I have to get a grip.

Friday, April 01, 2011

It's the first of April Hurrah! Time for me to unburden myself of all the badly made films I have watched this month. First, The Very Good News; I'm not going to do it (today).

Second, The Good News; I watched three or four decent films last month; the Bad News is I also watched some 30 or so crappy ones.

Why? It's a question I often ask myself. Why do I seek out and watch such dreadful films as Universal Soldier: The Return, The Atomic Brain, and Demonwarp. Most of the time I ask myself the question as I'm actually watching the film. Why am I watching this shit? But sometimes I ponder on the question in a more general manner. The other day I thought about it while I was at the computer when someone asked me on a forum. This (tarted up a bit) is what I wrote in reply:

Why? To explain that I will first have to quote the oft quoted Sturgeon's Revelation:
“Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud.”
The general interpretation of this, the way I think people tend to visualise it, is that there is this huge pile of crap with the 10% that is the good stuff sitting on the top. Like the yummy cream and sprinkles on the top of a trifle hiding all the cheaper custard, watery jelly, and soggy sponge lurking beneath.

I prefer to think of it as a bell curve where the X axis is frequency and the Y axis is quality... hang on, I'll draw it.

Like this:

Graph by the_junk_monkey, on Flickr

The 90% crud is the shaded area in the middle, a vast uninteresting bulk of mediocrity and hackwork. It's the areas at the extreme edges, where the graph shallows out, that contain the fascinating stuff.

People learn by making mistakes. People learn from watching other people making mistakes. I am somewhat passionate about film and I learn more about film making by watching people repeatedly fucking up than I do by watching great films. I like to see how things work. A really great film usually sweeps me along and involves me so deeply that I get so wrapped up in the story and the telling of the story, that I don't really notice how the story is being told. With a bad film it's easy to step back from whatever narrative there is trying to get out and enjoy the spectacle of watching the film fall to bits. Other times it's fun trying to find a narrative structure. You suspect there is one in there but you're dammed if you can find it. Ed Wood was very good at this game. What the hell is going on?

Another reason for watching bad film makers fuck up is to marvel at how inventive they are. Every time I watch a bad film I'm amazed by their ability to screw up in new and interesting ways. I suspect, and I've said often, that 90% of comedy is based on failure. Whether it as simple as Laurel and Hardy failing to get the piano up the set of stairs in The Music Box or Woody Allen's 'sophisticated' inability to be happy, comedy is based on failure and ineptitude. (I'm not sure what the other 10% is based on - knob jokes probably.)

Watching grown-ups failing to string a simple series of standard shots together is endlessly hilarious to me. (I read self-published books for the same reason.) In one film I watched this month the director managed to use what was obviously intended to be the establishing shot for the sequence after the interior it was intended to establish. I suspect this because he had left himself no way of cutting from one scene to another within the sequence. It was horrible! It was so horrible I had to rewind and watch it three or four times just to see how truly horribly horrible it really was.

A mistake I shall not make when the meteorite of solid gold lands in my back garden. When I am suddenly and inexplicably wealthy I plan on starting my own production company.

Here's a long blog entry I did a couple of years ago with a totally different set of reasons for watching hypercrap movies.

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