Thursday, September 01, 2011

Just to get the tediousnocity out of the way for the month, it's my monthly record of eyeball abuse. This week with tits! and Brian Blessed! (I almost had you interested there.)

  1. Dragonslayer (1981) - which for my sins I have never seen before. Daughter number one chose it for a family film night - she's got a thing about dragons at the moment and was reassured that, because it was a Disney film, 'it wouldn't be (too) scary'. That's that rule of thumb gone down the drain then. We were both snuggled together on the sofa but I don't know who was reassuring whom. A Disney film with nudity and where the feisty princess gets eaten! What a eye-opener. I loved it. Fucking brilliant dragon too, but Ralph Richardson as usual, and without breaking sweat, stole the show away from everyone. Damn, that man had great timing. (H)

  2. The Elevator (1996) - A successful Hollywood writer/producer gets trapped in a lift and he has to endure hearing four semi-demented short scripts of a wanabee writer trapped in there with him. An incredibly long 92 minutes. Starring the writer, and the producer (who were, at the time, married) the shorts we get to 'enjoy' are dull predictable talking-head two handers with occasionally some very abrupt lurches into stagy theatre lighting thrown in. Currently not flying off the shelves in Poundlands everywhere.

  3. Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) - What an unholy mess of a film. To help the audience cope with the previously unsuspected fact that fictional Scottish icon Connor MacCleod 'The Highlander' (played by Frenchman Christopher Lambert) and his Spanish oppo Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (played by real life Scottish icon, Sean Connery) are in fact really aliens from the planet Zogfart the script has to have characters recap the story so far:

    Okay, now let me just see if I can get this straight... You're mortal there but you're immortal here, until you kill all the guys who're from there who've come here... and then you're mortal here. Unless you go back there, or some more guys from there come here, in which case you become immortal here - again.

    Something like that.

    When they got round to making Highlander 3 they pretended this one hadn't happened.

  4. The Lawnmower Man (1992) - One of those films that has been on my radar for a while - ie it keeps turning up in car boot sales but I have never actually got round to buying it. It usually manifests itself on one of those Hollywood four films on two DVD disc sets along with three other films no one wants to watch. Today I found it in one of my local charity shop haunts where they give away VHS tapes, they're so unsaleable these days. So, finally, I get to watch The Lawnmower Man for free! - well, for the price of the electricity used to power the TV and VHS player (+ 35 or so p for the popcorn) - and as it was originally intended. On a big box, ex-rental VHS with 20 minutes of trailers for films no one wanted to watch (then or since) and adverts for the Commodore Amiga 600 home computer.

    The Lawnmower Man (when I finally got to it after all the hard sell) turns out to be your usual Hollywood mashup on the Frankenstein theme. This time thrown into the mix are great chunks of classic heartbreaker SF story Flowers for Algernon and slabs of Tron, other randomly tossed in ingredients included the Evil Corporation (whose evil minions handily keep boxes of easy to operate, push button demolition charges in their standard evil henchmen black vans), a cute kid, an evil priest, and an hilariously inept set piece in which an abusive father is chased round his own home by a telepathically controlled killer lawnmower. As shite as it sounds. There was a sequel - for which I am now actively searching.

  5. Sphere ( 1988 ) - Ditto radar, ditto car boot sales, same charity shop. Sphere is Solaris underwater with explosions, mutilations, death and oodles of dodgy make-it-up-as-we-go-along Hollywood 'science'.

    The trailers were less interesting on this tape. Couldn't tell you what they were for but I do remember noticing that more of them were adverts for things than for other films. This VHS copy was released a few years later than The Lawnmower Man one and for sale rather than rental. I guess the marketing guys have it all worked out that repeat viewers are more likely to be sold Mars Bars than being reminded of the awfulness of Project Shadowchaser. One thing that hadn't changed though was that both tapes started with British Voice-over Man loudly booming, "Beware of Illegal Video Cassettes!" at me. Makes them sound dead scary and dangerous. Like little cuboid gremlins that'll slide out from underneath the furniture and bite your ankles*. I watch my films with all the lights off and a bag of popcorn to hand in as close an approximation to a cinema experience as I can manage in my own living room (I even change seats twice before I'm happy and yesterday outdid myself by spilling a fizzy drink so the floor ended up all sticky). Before I sit down to a film these days I've taken to looking behind the sofa in case there are illegal video cassettes lurking down there, waiting to attack me during 'a scary bit'. God, I wish the films I watched were more interesting.

    * The film rights to this stupid idea are still available, talk to my agent.

  6. Alien Resurrection (1997) - Another set of dittos. Loathed and castigated by many die hard Alien fans (there are some weird people in the world; they're MOVIES, you saddos!). This is the fourth in the series, and looked at in isolation (it's many years since I saw 1, 2, and I'm not sure if I've ever seen 3 all the way through), is not that bad a film for a 'Oh crap we're trapped in an enclosed environment with KILLER THINGIES and the only way out takes us via an infeasibly complex route' type film. Okay, it goes a bit tits up at the end but so do a lot of other films loved by cadres of devoted hardcore fans. There were some nice touches here, a few genuine scares, and a couple of laugh out loud moments - the best surely being the moment when Rod Perlman's character freaks out after an Alien attack and uses a HUGE gun to shoot a normal sized spider on its web.

    The script is credited to Joss Whedon and I was struck by the similarities between the ragtag crew of opportunists and smugglers from 'The Betty' and the ragtag crew of smugglers and opportunists from Firefly, a series Whedon brought to the screen 5 years later.

  7. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) - I wanted to like this so much. It started well but I was fed up and irritable by the end of it. So much so that I was in full on nitpicking mode. For example, when Edmund gets mortally wounded near the end, and then gets dosed with Susan's 'Get Out Of Jail' magic 'One Drop Will Cure Anything' juice that Father Christmas gave her - he recovers. One second Argh Ugh Snotty little twerp dying from having a sword thrust into his belly, the next, sitting up big hugs loves and kissy kissy. By Jingo that's some good stuff!. Why didn't it immediately heal the split lip the make-up department had been diligently keeping continuity with on his bottom lip? You can see I was really involved with the action can't you? And was the wicked Jadis's chariot pulled by polar bears as some kind of dig by the overtly Christian producers at well known atheist Philip Pullman's polar bear-like panserbjørne? The kids, needless to say, LOVED it. (L)

  8. Cosmos War of the Planets (1977) Prompted by a post on another forum I rewatched this - and so can you! It's available free via I thoroughly recommend it to all. It is a very unintentionally funny and very surreal film. I defies all known conventions of film logic (even Italian ones). For most of it's running time it Just. Makes. No. Sense. I imagine it would be even surrealier* and funnier stoned but even dead cold sober (9 years and counting) it's still laugh out loud stupid. And contains moments of SF genius that will live with you for years - no matter how hard you try to forget them. I especially recommend the 'sex' scene at the 23 minute mark. Now THAT's foreplay.

    AND it has well-endowed Astro-crumpet to try and distract.
    from the plot deficiencies. What more could a man ask for?

    * there is now.

  9. Ghostwatcher (2002) - Zero budget, underachieving 'horror' that almost had a couple of nice moments but was so plodding tedious that I ended up watching the last third with my thumb on the FF button of my remote. Another £1 wasted at Poundland. Laughing all the way to the bank those buggers.

  10. Space Cowboys (2000) - I loved it. A real joy of a film - right until the moment they actually got into space and it suddenly went from being a gentle, amusing, and well presented tale about friendship and regret, redemption and ambition finally being achieved - and turned into Moonraker...

    Holy crap what just happened?

    It was like the last reel was from a different film, like The Dish suddenly turning into Mad Max for the last twenty minutes, or Gregory's Girl turning into Highlander II. The only saving grace was that it looked like nobody involved - apart from the special effects guys - gave a fart about this bolted on, 'we got to do this shit to sell it to the studios', 'action' sequence and it is an utter shambles.

  11. Tropic Thunder ( 2008 ) - Started off funnily enough but by the end had descended into a slice of the usual America wish-fulfilment crap in which any bunch of American Male amateurs, no matter how stupid, armed with with automatic weapons - even loaded with blank ammunition - can beat the crap out of any army of non-Americans with automatic weapons, no mater how well-trained, profession, or desperate they are. The only thing that really kept me watching till the end was Robert Downey Jr.'s show-stealing turn as the Australian actor who 'blacked up' for his role and always stayed in character until he'd recorded the DVD commentary.

  12. Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) - Some really shoddy science (simultaneous nuclear bomb tests knock the world out of orbit and towards the sun) but some great film making. A smart script that has our protagonists acting like real people in the face of possible catastrophic end of the world. They carry on doing their jobs and hope for the best. Nothing they can do, no false heroics, no Hollywood bullshit and even after studio interference the film has a wonderfully unresolved ending. (The world is basically fucked - or it isn't. We don't find out.)

    I'd never seen it with the coloured bookend sections before, they were a nice surprise. The opening is tinted a hot bright orange and the film is told in a nice cool black and white flashback. And I don't remember it being so damn sweatily sexy either:

    Curiously she didn't ever work for Disney again after this... )

    Apparently I have been remembering a slightly less fleshy, American version in which the same scenes were played out with Janet Munro showing less boobage. We used to make damn fine films in this country.

  13. The Bruce (1996) - and we also made some right old shit too. Starring Brian Blessed, Oliver Reed, and 'Wolf' from the Gladiators*...

    ...The Bruce, tells the story of Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, as he unites the 13th Century Scots in a rebellion against the hated English, led by Edward I - not to be confused with the film Braveheart (which came out the year before) in which William Wallace, a commoner, unites the 13th Century Scots in their battle to overthrow English rule. Not that anyone would confuse the two. For starters Braveheart had a budget that extended beyond getting the local battle re-enactment societies to amble past the camera in their Sunday best and unenthusiastically cheer from time to time. I presume they could also afford some professionals. It must be hard trying to recreate the Battle of Bannockburn with a hundred amateurs and the one stunt man mentioned in the credits. Dreadful music too. It just maundered around trying to be endlessly stirring and ended up underlining the deficiencies in the direction and a script which flopped all over the place and pissed away all the hard work put in by the actors. One particularly dreadful moment came when Robert the Bruce encounters the treacherous Comyn in church. Comyn points out they cannot fight on hallowed ground, this sentiment, expressed by one Hairy Scot Wig (tm) bewigged actor to another can only mean one thing to a true red-blooded Scot (or bad movie fan)... HIGHLANDER! As the entire audience cry; "There can only be one!" the two have a badly arranged fight and Comyn is killed, but, sadly, not beheaded in an orgy of special effects. The Bruce flees and the body is discovered. "Murder! ... Sacrilege!" the discoverer cries. And continues to cry, over and over again, "Murder! ... Sacrilege! Sacrilege! ... Murder! ... Sacrilege!" as the directors leisurely pans down the victim's outstretched arm to eventually arrive at The Bruce's cross clutched in his hand. I guess the intention was to have this damning piece of evidence used later in the film to prove The Bruce as the killer - except it isn't. It's never mentioned again. Either the sequence it was placed there for was edited out, never shot, or, more likely than not, never scripted. So why have the extended shot in there at all? And why have the off-camera voice of the poor sod actor endlessly shouting "Murder! ... Sacrilege! ... Sacrilege! Murder! ... Sacrilege!" as it played? Well, there had to be something on the soundtrack I suppose but it's really down to bad editing and shitty direction. Add, rubbish lighting, minimal set dressing (everyone in the 13th Century lived in huge castles with no furniture, or small hovels with no crops in the surrounding fields), occasional adequate acting (did I mention Brian Blessed was in it?), and you have a seriously dull film on your hands.

    *The trailer for production company Crowell Pictures' previous film, Chasing the Deer, contained the immortal line "...and introducing fish..." which sent my mind off in 34 different directions (including a hilarious 'Haddock meet Cod, Cod, Haddock' routine) before I was vastly disappointed to realise they meant Fish, the singer from Genesis-lite prog rockers Marrilion, making his feature film début.

  14. Toy Story (1985?) - Eben, aged 2, gets to chose this week's Weekly Family Pizza Night film. He likes Buzz.

  15. American Scary (2006) - A slight, cheaply made, documentary - ie lots of talking heads sat in front of wrinkled fabric draped across the background - giving a whistlestop history of the TV Horror Movie Host. A peculiar minor art in which people dress up in Halloween costumes and and introduce crappy films on local TV stations late at night. No Cassandra Peterson (Vampira) boo! but they managed to get Maila Nurmi (Vampira), and Neil Gaiman (Neil Gaiman) to talk to them. What could have been an interesting little project was spoiled by obvious TV slot editing and some dreadful music. As a way of gluing the rapid machine gun cutting of talking heads together someone had the bright idea of running music underneath everything like musak in a lift. It got very irritating.

  16. Zombie Strippers ( 2008 ) - There were actually a couple of nice gags buried in this piece of shit. Small ones. Not worth digging for. Why do American males in films turn into howler monkeys at the sight of a pair of plastic tits? I spent half the film bemusedly fascinated by the rigid immobility of Jenna Jameson's boobs. I wasn't punching the air with mock hysteria like the extras in the club, I was trying to work out what they were. They were fascinating, looked like like pink soup bowls stuck on the front of her chest - with nipples on top.

    The IMDB tells me that the film came in under budget, by which I can only assume the director didn't have a second cup of coffee.

  17. Catch Me If You Can (2002) - Well that was an amiable bit of fun.

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