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fatpie42 - LiveJournal.com

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    Here's a cross-post of three borderline-horror titles I posted to Halloween Candy at the start of the year.

    - There's the two live action movies based on the morbid "Death Note" manga series, about a boy discovers a special notebook which allows him to command a kind of trickster god of death to kill anyone he writes in the book.
    - There's the third entry in the "REC" zombie/possession series: "REC 3: Genesis" which decides to take a break from the previous atmospheric found-footage horror style and instead take the series in a more comedic direction.
    - Finally there's the Mexican film about a family of cannibals: "We Are What We Are". A rather more arty film than the others with a more serious tone (though perhaps it could have done with lightening up a bit).

    Meanwhile, right now on Halloween Candy I have just posted my penultimate Tobe Hooper entry, which includes an anthology movie notably absent from my John Carpenter retrospective: "Body Bags". Check it out here.


    Otherwise read-on for these reviews...

    Death Note (2006)
    My impetus for checking this out was hearing that Shane Black is going to be directing an American re-adaptation of the manga series. (I'm hoping that's not a re-adaptation like "Let Me In" was supposed to be. About the only changes made in "Let Me In" were making the vampire unambiguously female, introducing some suspicions about satanism, and suggesting that the male child protagonist was being groomed as a new guardian. All of these were ideas you might come up with watching the original movie, but which were pretty much entirely ruled out if you ever read the book.) However, Shane Black's plans to make a "Death Note" movie have been put on the back burner now that he's making "Iron Man 3" which is a pretty good choice since he essentially started the whole Robert Downey Jnr revival thing with his hilarious movie "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"




    As it turns out, even though "Death Note" is a film about a magical notebook which can kill anyone once their name is entered in it, a good sense of humour is a vital. The book is given to the protagonist by a "god of death" who ends up strangely becoming a figure of fun, not least because this rather creepy supernatural character is keen on apples.


    We start the film getting some idea of what positive use the power to kill might be. A hostage situation being a rather cool example. The protagonist (or "anti-hero") who owns the Death Note is called Light, but his public persona is "Kira". When the intelligence agencies in Japan decide they will attempt to capture Kira, Light starts getting desperate and finds any kind of code of honour he might have had is compromised. And the stakes rise even more when a mysterious figure known only as "L" announces his intention to identify Kira.

    Even though I'd rather there'd been rather more exploration of what the power of the Death Note can do, every new element introduced was really interesting and the reveal of what "L" is really like in person was a pretty awesome moment too. I felt that the plot became a little overly convoluted for the climax of the film, but there were all sorts of interesting new developments at the end. While this is clearly only the beginning of a longer story it was all very good fun. I wonder whether the actor playing Light hasn't been chosen rather more because he looks like an anime character than because of his acting talent. There's not a great deal of subtlety in his performance. But overall this is a good little film and the inventiveness makes it even better. And the icing on the cake is the great sense of fun.
    B+




    Death Note 2: The Last Name (2006)
    All the convoluted aspects that started towards the end of the first film suddenly became pretty much the entire plot. A spanner was initially thrown in the works when a pop star who idolises Kira gets a second Death Note, but once she falls head over heels for Light, she goes from being a new source of comedy to being generally frustrating to watch. Initially she's a wild card in the pack, but when she's Light's loyal puppy dog that interesting element just disappears and the film goes back to 'business as usual'.




    The biggest problem is that there's nothing terribly new to be revealed. All the creativity of the first movie is lacking here because all the elements have already been introduced. Meanwhile the mind games between Light and L just weren't interesting to me this time around. By this point, Light isn't even remotely sympathetic anymore and I just wanted him to get caught. The film seemed to rely on me caring about not just his actions, but whether he gets caught or not. I cannot help but feel that I should have made "L" the real protagonist this time around.


    The worst thing about this film is the ending. There seems to be a pattern in anime and other Japanese media to spell out moral issues in overly blatant detail in spite of the moral ambiguity of the film as a whole. Heck, even the movie "13 Assassins" seemed to suffer from this. When a series of films about a book that you can use as a weapon, having people getting outraged about Light's choice to murder people at the end felt a little cheap. It felt like there were more apt responses to Light's claims that he was helping the cause of justice than those put forward. Still even as the human characters were making me groan, the god of death's contribution at the end was as great as ever. Unfortunately that was too little too late and this film was mostly a pretty joyless experience.
    D-





    REC 3: Genesis (2012)
    I loved "REC" and now that I've had a bit more time to think about it, I think I was a little harsh on "REC 2". However, one element that made those films work so well was the atmosphere caused by the found footage style. There have been many pretenders to the throne in this genre, but no one has managed to use the style to build up atmosphere quite like the "REC" films. "REC 3" is unfortunately filmed like a normal film. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, so long as there's a new interesting direction to make up for it.


    Sadly, REC 3 feels very similar to a lot of other horror comedies and doesn't really have the laughs or the creativity to justify it. There's one scene where the lead actress has a chainsaw and that really is an awesome moment, but the rest of the film doesn't really live up to it.


    Interestingly, the subtitle "Genesis" isn't because this is the origin of the virus. We already heard the origin of the virus in REC 2 and that does not sound like it would work very well as comedy at all. However, apparently a character from this film is to make a re-appearance in "REC 4: Apocalypse".


    This film was directed by Paco Plaza, so many believe that the real talent in the joint-projects REC and REC 2 was Jaume Balaguero who will be directing REC 4. I don't think REC 3 works very well overall. It had a lot of unmet potential, but what we actually get isn't all that bad. Hopefully REC 4 will be a lot better and when I'm doing a REC franchise marathon in later years, this will be a fairly inoffensive bridge between films 2 and 4. There are still funny bits, there are still a few interesting shots, and there are still parts which are genuinely shocking.


    As a fan of the REC series myself, I am telling you right now that this is only really a film for fans of the REC series. For those of you who meet that description, give this a try, but don't get too excited. It's not bad.
    C+




    We Are What We Are (2010)
    This had an interesting premise. A family is left in chaos when the head of the family dies. He had been "going to whores" we are told and, before anyone knows that he is dead, the younger of the two sons has managed to get them barred from their watch-fixing stall in the market by responding violent to a customer. With the father gone, the mother is disinclined to accept the eldest son as the new head of the family and all the while there a sense of urgency because the family needs to perform "the ritual".


    In fact, this family are all cannibals. It's rather annoying though that we see very little sign that they actually eat people. We see them catch a few victims, but the mother keeps insisting that the victims are somehow unsuitable (so it's almost like she's choosing an appropriate person for her children to marry rather than to eat). The way that the family feels like they simply have bizarre customs rather than like they are viscious man-eaters.


    In the end though, there's rather too much mystery. It's often unclear why events unfold the way they do, the pacing is slow, and there were points where I'd rather have had the situation explained rather than being expected to interpret what I'm shown on screen.


    The ending suddenly expects us to be shocked by the cannibalism, but we've been expected to treat the cannibalism as just "the way they are" for so long that expecting us to be shocked at the last minute seemed ill-timed. In the end, I wasn't really sure what the film was trying to say. This was certainly different, but it wasn't good.
    D-


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    *Mild/Moderate Trigger Warning* This discussion of misogyny and the damsel in distress trope may inevitably be triggering for some readers as it discusses power-imbalances and some violent or abusive scenarios. That said, there is no use of graphic descriptions nor any reference to sexual violence.

    The post below is going to analyse some bigotry against Anita from Feminist Frequency. She has released the first of her "Tropes Vs Women" series about videogames now. Personally, I was unsure about some of the stuff about Starfox Adventures (since I cannot help but imagine that the character change in that game must be somewhat related to Microsoft buying Rare - since it would be harder for Nintendo to keep hold of a game not starring one of their copyrighted group of characters), but asides from that I was mainly reacting with "ah, I guess that's right".

    Inevitably there's been some backlash. One of the videos criticising Anita (and undoubtedly NOT one of the best critiques she'll receive) comes from a Youtube user called Thunderf00t....



    Now it's been a while since I've been made really angry by some bigoted ranting. I've reacted to some news articles, sure, but I've generally not been chasing down internet idiots. I've been a lot better off for it though.

    The last idiot I really thought I needed to alert people to was Pat Condell. Condell was seemingly only known on the internet, but he seemed to have a wide following. So when his videos went from annoying and crass to all-out hate-mongering, I felt the need to expose precisely why people shouldn't support him. (He's still up to the same old tricks it seems. One of his latest videos claims that it's racist not to consider all Palestinians, every man, woman and child of them, to be evil terrorists. That's pretty typical rhetoric from him sadly.)



    But the recent dodgy internet hatred doesn't seem to come from a single person. Instead it seems to be embodied by a large gang of mostly libertarian internet users who are strangely opposed to feminism and demand protection from criticism if they post offensive comments (on the grounds of 'free speech' apparently).

    "Thunderf00t" seems to be a pretty big ringleader of this group. By this point Thunderf00t is pretty well known to be someone your average decent supporter of feminism will be upset by, but he attracts a lot of attention so I feel like he's probably as good a representative as any for this disgusting internet misogyny recently.

    First of all some background...

    Thunderf00t and Freethoughtblogs

    Thunderf00t had a run-in with well known pro-feminism atheist blogger P.Z. Myers (who runs the blog Pharyngula) who is disinclined to accept misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc. on his comments threads. When Thunderf00t was offered space in Freethoughtblogs and decided to use it almost entirely to dismiss women's rights the other bloggers on Freethoughtblogs decided that he wasn't fitting in. He was alienating their female audience and conveying bigoted views with which Freethoughtblogs bloggers did not want to be connected.



    Anita's "Tropes Vs Women" series

    Anita used Kickstarter to get funding for her project to analyse the history of gaming and the portrayal of women within videogames. The comments at Kickstarter began to fill up with misogynistic comments from utter scumbags and the response by decent human beings across the internet was to donate huge amounts of money to her project. The misogynist comments had made it very clear to everyone just how much of an idol videogames were to these horrible individuals and just how sorely the world of videogames needed to be analysed from a feminist perspective.



    Thunderf00t's video "Feminism Vs FACTS (RE Damsel in distress)" and how it completely misses the point of Anita's original video at Feminist Frequency, feminism as a whole, and plain old common sense.



    I only came to watch Thunderf00t's poor attempt at a critique because I stumbled on someone showing one of his old videos "The Internet: Where Religions Come To Die". Not knowing it was from Thunderf00t I approached it with a pretty open mind. There were parts that were well-argued and other parts where it was more obviously labouring the point. I noticed that the video seemed to have a very "us and them" stance which appeared to represent the vlogger's genuine stance rather than being a rhetorical tool.

    1- Double Dragon Neon

    Thunderf00t's latest video begins by questioning Anita's research for her videogame critique. He argues that she is wrong to claim the damsel in distress of the game "Double Dragon Neon" is portrayed as weak, ineffective or ultimately incapable because the game finishes with her punching the villain in the crotch.



    While this might seem like a reasonable argument to someone who had never watched the original video, already Thunderf00t is showing a clear failure to understand Anita's argument. Anita's concern with "Double Dragon Neon" mainly focusses on the opening which, as an update of an older game, rejigs the 8-bit classic by showing the damsel in distress character being punched in the gut and carried away in deeper colours, pristine 2D graphics with her cleavage clearly visable as she is punched and her knickers clearly visible as she is carried away. This update of the older classic begins straight away with an utterly demeaning image for women, right before introducing the two MALE playable characters.

    The ending where she gets to help beat up the villain in the end is earned after the two male characters have spent the entire game trying to save her, while she sits and waits for them. There's even a part of the game where the two playable MALE characters (since Marian herself is NOT a playable character) can fight for her affection, while she cheers them on in the background. This all serves to back up the idea of women as objects the male characters compete for. Yes, even if the unplayable female character gets to help deliver the finishing blow at the last minute, she's still been completely helpless for the whole game and used as a woman-shaped trophy by the game designers.




    The capture of the damsel in distress in Double Dragon Neon.

    2- Damsel In Distress is a common trope and "one of the simple storylines you can set up easily... because most people in healthy relationships care for each other".

    Anita's original point was that the damsel in distress trope (not even remotely unique to videogames) is used again and again as a simple storyline in classic games because it is easy for the videogame creators. However, she also notes that it gives a negative view of women and the common useage of this trope is problematic for the way women are viewed.



    Naturally if it was just because people care for each other in healthy relationships, why aren't there more cases where the man is the one who needs to be rescued? Why aren't there more games where the ones doing the rescuing are women? The problem is that the game shows the men as the ones with the power and the women as the ones who are just going to have to hopelessly sit and wait. Yet we often see the male characters imprisoned only to break out of their captivity with relative ease.



    The problem isn't whether this simple storyline works. The problem is how this simple storyline portrays women. It portrays them pretty damn badly.

    A long and thoroughly unconvincing rant at from Thunderf00t at this point essentially argues that the female characters should think themselves lucky that they get to just be imprisoned the whole time, because at least they don't have to face all the awful dangers that come with being a playable character! *facepalm* It's the "you're not house bound, you're house blessed" argument all over again. *groan*



    3- Saying that women in games are treated like objects is like saying that patients in hospitals are objects.

    Okay, backing up a little here. This argument didn't entirely gel with the rest of the argument mentioned above because Thunderf00t seems distinctly confused by what is meant by "objectification".

    As mentioned above, women in games are treated like trophies. Objects for the players to win. I already considered Thunderf00t's objection that a distressed damsel is a nice easy storyline to start a game quickly and simply. But Thunderf00t also questions what is wrong with wanting to save someone who is in need and gives the analogy of a hospital.



    It's interesting that Thunderf00t should use this example, because there are real life cases where people are intentionally kept hospitalised as a form of abuse. If someone is kept in a state of reliance, that makes their carer feel more powerful as a result. Their suffering empowers their captor. What's more the sufferer can feel extremely grateful for the attention they receive in this situation, not realising that their carer is actually responsible for their condition (possibly elongated by continual mild poisoning or suchlike).

    Anita's target is primarily the game design (just as analysis of a movie might target the script and direction of that movie) and, to a lesser extent, the audience that supports games using these tropes. The game designers have intentionally chosen to make their female characters helpless while making the male characters playable and giving them the power to overcome the villains.



    Naturally wanting to help people who are in trouble is generally a good thing. However, the decision to make all female characters helpless is not. It is unrealistic that every female character will be entirely helpless.

    4- Anita uses make-up and is therefore damaging all women.

    This is such a cop-out argument. The extent to which men and women dress themselves up to please potential or current partners and the extent to which they do so as cultural expression is always going to be a bit mixed. To just label it damaging to women is lazy and stupid.



    Thunderf00t's intention here is to show that you can over-analyse anything, but giving an intentionally weak argument is to use a straw man. Either Thunderf00t is trying not to acknowledge strengths in Anita's argument in order to make his argument look better, or he genuinely doesn't understand the subtleties of her argument. I'm inclined to guess the latter.

    5- Why don't you just make a feminist game and show that the market will embrace it?

    The old and lazy argument surrounding feminism as to whether women should wear make up or not was being used in relation to a wider claim. Thunderf00t claims that videogames are only the way they are to suit the commercial market.

    The problems here are myriad. The insistence that Anita make a game herself is completely irrelevant to her decision to criticise videogame tropes. You don't have to make a movie to critique a movie, you don't have to write a book to critique a book and you don't have to design a videogame to critique videogames either.



    What's more, whether a genuinely feminist game would be successful in the market is irrelevant to Anita's critique. The success of a product does not shield it from any negative statements. Just because Michael Bay's "Transformers" movies are massively successful doesn't mean that they are entirely immune to criticism. If products that enforce patriarchy are popular, that highlights the issues Anita raises rather than dismissing them.

    There's something extremely libertarian about Thunderf00t's argument here, but I find something extremely funny in this. Thunderf00t wants to argue that feminism is completely unviable comercially, yet surely the huge amount raised by Anita's kickstarter campaign refutes that? Okay, so she was promoting a set of youtube videos not a videogame, but even so this is clearly an ideology that turned out to be pretty lucrative in at least one case. Why is Thunderf00t so quick to imagine that a feminist-friendly game would be unsuccessful commercially. (Or, more to the point, why is he so quick to imagine that Anita doesn't intend to praise any successful games for their portrayal of women during her video series).



    6- Anita's own thesis rejects female protagonists in games.

    Actually it's quite clear just from looking at the small amount of text quoted in Thunderf00t's video that Anita's masters thesis criticises portrayals of women which simply give male characters breasts. I'm not sure that this is always such a bad idea (since I don't think women are so different from men and it's a good way to up the number of female protagonists), but I do recognise that it is an issue that needs to be challenged if we want better realised female characters in our media.

    Thunderf00t also shows us an odd table from the thesis and suggests that Anita doesn't think any genuine female characters will be strong. Unfortunately I cannot find the thesis online, but I WAS able to find this article praising it.

    Having expressed solidarity with Anita, they express their feelings about Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence's character in the movie "The Hunger Games" as follows:




    "Katniss Everdeen, the female protagonist in the film never truly used violence or killing in order to win the Hunger Games, she never accepted what western society see as feminine as she felt uncomfortable in the dresses and being on stage and even the shots that were used were mostly close-ups on her uncomfortable and blank expressions. She was seen as a motherly figure for her younger sister, for which she essentially sacrificed her life for and was later seen as another mother figure for another Hunger Games participant named  Rue. She is also shown as the stronger participant of District 12 to her counter male part called Peeta. She then becomes both male and female, becoming the hunter, gatherer as well as the nurturer when she nurses Peeta back to good health. So for the first time I saw a female that was both stronger on screen than her male counterpart as well as trying her best not to use violence in a game in which her life revolved and depended completely on her ability to kill other participants."




    If Katniss followed the typical action-hero badass trope, she'd be stuck in the shadow of male protagonists before her. More than simply strength is required to break out of the existing tropes and to provide a more positive female protagonist. Being physically strong doesn't necessarily make a female character a good protagonist, though Anita doesn't consider it a negative either. (Anita's own views on "The Hunger Games" can be heard here.)

    This is why Anita praises the figure of Krystal who was planned to be the protagonist of "Dinosaur Planet" (which later became "Starfox Adventures" with the female protagonist being unceremoniously turned into a sexualised damsel in distress) saying "she was strong, she was capable, and she was heroic".

    7- Women are weaker than men. That's not a trope, that's a fact.

    Women are STATISTICALLY weaker than men. But Thunderf00t knows full well that not every man is stronger than every woman. Also, muscle strength is not the only thing that matters in a fight. A lighter weight fighter can still bring down a heavyweight fighter is they use a fighting style for which the heavyweight is unprepared. Then there's the use of tools, such as the aforementioned Katniss who is an expert at archery.


    Gina Carano

    When Anita says that the idea of women as weak and helpless is culturally embedded and obviously false, simply noting statistical differences in physical strength is not enough to refute her.

    The problem, once again, is that Thunderf00t does not understand feminism. In fact he seems to actively mistrust anything related to feminism by default. As such, he never refutes anything more than his own straw man representations of a feminist stance.






    Thunderf00t simply doesn't understand the topic he is trying to discuss and yet there are internet misogynists rallying around his video which now has over 10,000 likes. Meanwhile Anita has had no choice but to disable ratings and comments because of an over-abundance of misogynistic trolls. Check out her excellent analysis of the Damsel In Distress trope in videogames below:



    (video link)

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    Trance (2001)


    Background on Joe Ahearne



    My knowledge of Joe Ahearne began when I discovered that he wrote and directed several episodes of the hit series ThisLife about a group of lawyers. I then discovered his cool tv series about modern day vampires "Ultraviolet" (not to be confused with Milla Jovovich's cheesy action movie), which also starred Jack Davenport and Idris Elba, as well as Susannah Harker (who is in the tv movie of "Trance" reviewed below).



    More recently Joe Ahearne has directed several Doctor Who episodes (not written any though) and went on to make another tv series called "Apparitions" about a moderately liberal exorcist. (About as liberal as you could reasonably portray an exorcist who actually takes his job seriously really, even in fiction.)



    Both "Ultraviolet" and "Apparitions" are highly rooted in distinctly Catholic ideas, yet both twist them in interesting ways. As an atheist himself Ahearne is able to play with religious ideas in ways that a believer would most likely be unprepared to do, yet as someone who clearly finds the ideas fascinating he puts a great deal of depth into his writing.

    Most recently of all Ahearne has written and directed an episode of the mini-series "The Secret Of Crickley Hall" and I'm very much looking forward to that. However, straight after "Ultraviolet" he made a tv movie with which I had not previously been familiar called "Trance". Many of you may have seen the trailer for a remake of this by Danny Boyle. Here I'll be reviewing the original.


    Review of Joe Ahearne's tv movie "Trance"

    The premise of Trance, as you can tell from the remake's trailer, is that an art theif forgets where he has hidden the painting because of a blow to the head causing amnesia. Having realised that no amount of brute force can ever get someone to reveal something that they simply cannot remember, the head honcho of the operation decides to try dabbling in hypnotism. As you might expect, this is an utter failure.



    It is at this point in the story that they realise that they need a professional. However, it's not long before the professional realises what is really going on and insists that she receive a cut of the spoils.



    Ahearne does not simply expect you to accept hypnotism's effectiveness. The woman brought in as a professional hypnotist not only shakes things up because she is a female character being brought into an entirely male group, but also because she is an expert in a field where the rest of them are mostly ignorant. She has to demonstrate how the rules work and the way hypnotism relies on the human mind. She has to both demonstrate and convince these crooks desperate for their money that hypnotism is not a quick fix, yet that with patience and the right environment she can produce results.



    Things get possibly a little too ridiculous right at the end, but the movie just about pulls it off. There's a lot of really great scenes, but there are also points where it's pretty clear that we are dealing with a tv movie from British television that is over 10 years old. Ahearne is talented behind the camera, but he's working with a very limited budget.

    The interplay of the characters is brilliant. The storyline is a little confusing by the end, but it is built up well and, if you think about it carefully, it does all fit together.



    Susannah Harker is absolutely brilliant in the role of the supremely confident hypnotist. Ironically, considering his very fragile role here, John Light who plays the central amnesiac, has since played Lucifer in the last two "The Prophecy" movies. He's excellent as the lead in this and perhaps it's a sign of the extent of his talent that I cannot quite imagine him as the lord of hell based on this. Philip Davis plays one of the heavies in this gang of crooks and he's as great as ever.



    Neil Pearson plays the head honcho though and I have trouble really accepting him in the role. I suppose he isn't really meant to be seen as totally unsympathetic, but he just seems way too nice. I felt that he was possible a weak link in the chain, not because he can't act well, but because his mannerisms as a character didn't seem to gel with the role he was playing.

    Trance feels remarkably dated, but its a great story, well made and well worth checking out.

    B+


    Comparisons with the new trailer



    (video link)

    On the one hand, I think this could really be a great return to form for Danny Boyle. I haven't really liked any films from Boyle since "28 Days Later" and even then I thought it was problematic. His best films for me are still "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting". Joe Ahearne is still credited as writer on IMDB rather than just writer of the original screenplay or story, so I hope that means he's directly involved in this project. Meanwhile Danny Boyle has brought back writer John Hodge who he used for all his early movies but stopped using after "The Beach". Danny Boyle's neat little imagery from Trainspotting could work really well here and it looks like Boyle is going to make full use of that style.



    On the other hand, the theft of the painting has been drastically changed, possibly to save time at the beginning and get straight into the main plot. In Ahearne's original tv movie there was a sub-plot involving one of the crooks seducing the gallery owner (the protagonist and later amnesiac's boss) by posing as a potential gay lover for him. It was a pretty clever plot and just having a bunch of people rush in with smoke grenades seems a hell of a lot less subtle.



    Vincent Cassel definitely seems likely to be a more convincingly threatening boss man than Neil Pearson was. I'm not entirely sure why Rosario Dawson was picked to be the psychiatrist (since she stands out as the one American actor out of the main roles here), but she's been pretty good in the past and I'm sure she can pull this off. (Strangely when I saw this trailer in the cinema, I don't think I recognised her.)



    Where I get a little worried is the scene of a car falling off the side of a building while on fire. That just seems to be taking things way too over the top. :S

    Anyway, this might be absolutely brilliant and certainly the original script gives it a hell of a lot of potential. I'm really interested to see how well Boyle manages this.


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    The Hunger Games (2012)

    I've never read the book this is based on. Then again, sometimes it is better to watch the movie first, since the book takes the same story and goes into a lot more detail, while after the book the film is almost inevitably a disappointment by comparison. ("American Psycho" is a big exception to this rule.)

    I've been a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence since "Winter's Bone" though I don't think her performance here is on quite the same level. Surprisingly I found myself really impressed by Josh Hutcherson's performance, who some may recognise as 'Clapton Davis' from last year's horror comedy "Detention" (the fast-paced slasher comedy with aliens, time travel and grizzly bears).



    In his role as Katniss' sidekick in the games he is able to turn on the charm when he's interviewed, but he is also able to show personal vulnerability. It is also his job to express fear and discomfort while Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss remains stoic.



    The story is that in a dystopian society the survivors of some unstated catastrophe are separated into different districts. To keep them from causing trouble to the current authorities they make a show of power by taking two children in each district and forcing them to compete in a fight to the death. The competition takes the form of a reality tv show with interviews with the contestants in the run up to the games and sponsors who want to take advantage of particular contestants' popularity.

    I'd heard a lot of negative responses to this film comparing it unfavourably with "Battle Royale". I'm not sure I agree. Obviously one element where "Battle Royale" is superior is the level of violence. This film is aimed at too young an age group to be overly gory or brutal in its depiction of the games, whereas "Battle Royale" is a very dark film aimed at an older audience so the gore flows freely. However, "Hunger Games" spends a lot of time on the period before the games start in order to develop the main characters and set up the whole twisted culture of the games.



    Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence convey very real people with history together and with various side characters they must interact with. In "Battle Royale", by contrast, we start the games with very little idea of who the characters are, with all out information about their backgrounds generally conveyed by quick flashbacks. The main protatogonists of "Battle Royale" have to be developed within the context of the tournament itself and many of the side-characters have stories completely unrelated to them. "The Hunger Games" instead keeps its attention firmly on the perspective of the protagonists and does not waste much time on the other contestants. "The Hunger Games" is firmly centred around the plight of the two main protagonists from their particular district.


    Cartoonish moment from Battle Royale: Enthusiastic girl presenting an instructional video which explains the rules of the game. She gets very excited over an axe saying "this one's super lucky!"

    Takashi Kitano's superb performance as the teacher who announces the games for the children in "Battle Royale" is practically comic as he portrays an eccentric half-mad teacher showing instructional videos related to the tournament hosted by a cute smiling presenter. Don't get me wrong, "Battle Royale" is a lot of fun. However, "Hunger Games" is trying to get the audience to take this bizarre premise seriously and has a harder task on its hands as a result.

    I can't pretend that I wouldn't have preferred a more violent movie. I don't feel like I'm letting this movie off the hook because it's "for kids" either though. I really felt involved in the plight of the protagonists and I felt that the film did a great job of world building.



    My main criticism would be that the political side of the games wasn't always as fleshed out as it might have been. There's one point where we are shown that an event in the games sparks riots in one of the districts. We don't really get a very good impression of what precisely is going on in that district, but then again developing that further may have poorly affected the pacing of the film.



    I'd heard that the fire CG effects looked fake. Quite apart from the fact that effects, whether practical or visual, often still require some level of imagination from the audience, I still feel that I cannot agree. I thought the flames were pretty convincing, very pretty and was really impressed by the sci-fi concept which led to the effect being introduced.

    I suppose I can understand how some might think the film could have been more visually arresting and might blame the director for using a less ambitious directing style than they'd prefer. Yet on the other hand, in spite of the sci-fi setting, the world felt remarkably real and the director gains excellent performances from his cast. Perhaps the director of "Constantine" will give more of the visual treat that some people wanted when he directs the sequel "Catching Fire", but I worry that he won't be able to handle the characters quite as well.



    In spite of pretty uninspiring reports about this film, I loved it. Good solid sci-fi movie which really carries the audience along when it introduces them to this brave new world (see what I did there?).

    A+

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    I've finally written my review of "The Mangler", possibly Tobe Hooper's least well-received film. That'll be posted on Halloween Candy later in the week.  For now, I've recently posted my review of the 'dysfunctional family' drama / 'coming of age' drama / sick and twisted horror movie "Excision", so feel free to check that out now.

    Meanwhile I've decided to catch up on the Tobe Hooper reviews that I need to cross-post quicker by ordering them in terms of quality. I'm starting with reviews for the worst Tobe Hooper movies and you'll notice that "The Mangler" is not amongst them. Why is "John Carpenter's Body Bags" included here? Well while I absolutely loved that movie, Tobe Hooper's contribution to it was utterly dire.




    13. Body Bags (1993)
    This was a special treat since it was a film that really ought to been in my Carpenter/Cronenberg marathon. Two out of the three short films are directed by John Carpenter, but also John Carpenter actually does the in-between sections himself!



    Now one might easily imagine that John Carpenter shouldn't really be trying to act in his own movie. He's a great director, but he's not ever played any acting roles in any of his other films. However, in this role he doesn't have to react to anyone else. He's a strange man alone in the morgue drinking formaldehyde out of a cocktail glass. Carpenter gives such an enthusiastic, hyperactive and wonderfully eccentric performance that I wonder whether his sections weren't my favourite part of the film.



    The first of the three short films is "The Gas Station". Though it takes the form of a pretty typical slasher film, we follow a young woman working in the booth for a petrol station so the whole set up is that being in the booth will keep her safe from anything bad taking place outside. As such, whenever she has to leave the booth, we become worried about her.

    "The Gas Station" has the horror directors Wes Craven and Sam Raimi guest starring, which is kind of cool. The story is simple but effective and I didn't feel like the heroine of the story was an idiot. I enjoyed this a lot. Sometimes slasher movies done well can be really satisfying (see the "Cold Prey" movies for some great examples of this).



    The second short film, also directed by Carpenter, is "Hair". A man suffering from hair loss and finding it is severely affecting his self-image, in spite of protestations from his girlfriend, experiments with a miraculous hair growing treatment. Admittedly this story is much more comedy than horror, but when you are in tears of laughter it is difficult to care.



    It's pretty clear from the start that the people offering the hair treatment do not simply wish the best for their clients (particular considering that the main salesman is played by none other than 'the evil one' from "Time Bandits", David Warner).



    The third and final short film, called "Eye", is directed by Tobe Hooper and it's a real stinker. I don't think the blame can be placed on Mark Hamill who plays the protagonist since I think he puts his all into the role. I just think the story is a little too obvious and far too slow paced.

    Mark Hamill's character gets an eye transplant and then starts seeing bizarre things as a result. On the one hand, I might be tempted to compare this to the old fashioned stance of "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" where simple organ transplants are viewed by the morally upstanding doctor as, essentially, the work of the devil. However, I have to admit that the movie "The Eye" from the Pang Brothers also has bad things happening and with a similar rationale behind it.

    That being said, if the issue was that the original owner of the eye was somehow supernatural, or perhaps they dabbled in the occult or something, I would have liked some more focus on that side of things. This short movie ends up feeling more like it's trying to make us scared of eye transplants themselves and it just feels rather stupid as a result.



    It takes a long long time before we get to find out who the donor is and how the weird visions and behaviour experienced by Mark Hamill's protagonist are connected. However, when this happens it's feels like it's spelled out far too completely considering that the audience could see this coming a mile off.

    The story could easily have been more subtle. The main character was a professional sportsman, so he needed two eyes to be successful in his work. Might be not choose to accept the effects of the eye out of greed? Might there not be some real conflict there? Instead the story ends up feeling more like an all-out possession with a clear distinction between the protagonist's character and the character of the owner of the eye. Meanwhile the entire theme of the story was signposted so much you could see it from space.

    There's often a Bible in various scenes and while initially it seems to be suggested that perhaps eye transplants are "playing God", it's actually setting up for a particular Bible verse. I wonder whether this isn't another case where Tobe Hooper's sense of humour isn't always conveyed to the audience terribly well. If you don't mind spoiling this gag, you can check out the Bible verse: Mark 9:47.

    Once Tobe Hooper's slow paced eye transplant story is over, there is still one thing left to look forward to. John Carpenter has a final wraparound section at the end and it's a great finisher for the movie. It would have helped, however, if I didn't have a bad taste in my mouth from Tobe Hooper's dud film beforehand.



    Body Bags is great fun for the most part and deserves comparisons with "Creepshow". Unfortunately only two of the three films work. Ironically, considering I'm reviewing this as part of a Tobe Hooper marathon, it is Tobe Hooper's section which really lets this down. Still I don't think I should allow that section to detract too much from my score when I enjoyed all the other sections so much. This is well worth checking out. "Gas Station" is a well-made creepy slasher, "Hair" is a hilarious horror comedy, and John Carpenter's monologues in the wraparound sections are absolutely inspired. Love it!

    B+



    14. Night Terrors (1995)
    Robert Englund appears in the background throughout the film as the Marquis de Sade, as well as de Sade's modern descendant. Oddly, it seems that the identical descendant of an upper class frenchman is an American living in the middle east.



    Our main protagonist in the modern day, however, isn't Marquis de Sade's descendant, but rather a young girl visiting her father. Her father is a fundamentalist Christian involved in archaeological digs for gnostic relics in Saudi Arabia. While the daughter is discovering her sexual feelings, a local cult (or swingers group, this is unclear) with links to the Marquis de Sade is encouraging her to indulge those passions.


    All you straight ladies out there. Apparently this is what you'll dream about if you read enough works by de Sade.
    We seem to be expected to accept some kind of connection between de Sade and the gnostics, to accept that the gnostics worship some kind of mermaid deity, and to accept that de Sade was evil. Personally, I wasn't convinced by any of it, and this was another Hooper film that felt distinctly lacking in a sense of humour about it's ultra-daft premise.

    The biggest problem is that the film feels so long and is just so utterly boring. Tobe Hooper seems quite keen to maintain a more moderate pace in his films, biut normally there is plenty to interest me. Here everything was so extraordinarily convoluted, it was unbearable. On top of that, the acting was horrible all round. This movie was simply ghastly.
    E-


    Masters Of Horror episodes (15 & 16)



    As with John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper has his own short films made for the Masters Of Horror series. Unfortunately they really do not represent his best work. In fact they represent some of the worst work of his entire career!



    16. Dance Of The Dead (2005)

    There's something very abstract about a lot of this film and not in a good way. It becomes very hard to believe this is a real place. On the one hand it seems to be set in a future where zombies exist and on the other hand older teenagers seem to be able to freely drive wherever they want down empty highways at night. Consider me utterly confused.

    Anyway, it turns out that a sleazy club offers its customers the opportunity to watch zombies dance from being given electric shocks. This shocking display is apparently highly appealing to them. Once again, I have no idea why.

    Seemingly because there wasn't remotely enough material here to fill a one hour short film, there's a long dull sequence where the uncouth older teenagers all decide to get off their heads on drugs while driving (and with no negative consequences) and so we get to see some fairly dull attempts at psychedelic camera effects.

    No one comes off very well in the acting department including Robert Englund who plays the owner and main performer at the sleazy club. I had absolutely no idea why this group of wild hedonists would be interested in watching him talk, never mind watching dead people be electrocuted.



    Weird and boring. Not a great combination. This is the worst thing Tobe Hooper has ever made.

    E-

    15. The Damned Thing (2006)

    I'm reviewing this second because it was the second of these episodes to be made, but it was slightly better than Dance of the Dead in that it had a pretty cool opening sequence. A family are getting along pretty well and there's some decent characterisation going on. Then suddenly the father of the family gets some kind of black sludge drip on him and he goes mad and decides to kill his wife and son. Eventually he ends up being torn apart by some unknown force while his surviving son hides in a tree.

    At this point we flash forward in time and now suddenly nobody really feels like a real person anymore. Naturally our protagonist, the grown-up version of the surviving son in the opening sequence, is disturbed by what happened when he was young. He has an expensive (and malfunctioning) security system set up all around his house, yet he is still unable to explain why he doesn't just leave that old house (since it's still his parents' house) entirely.



    Some bogus explanation for the black sludge seems to connect it with some kind of oil frenzy in the past. This made very little sense to me. Perhaps it's a symbol for the way greed can affect people psychologically, but it only seems to work as "sludge which sends people psycho".

    After some initial cases of random people killing themselves violently, we get to a situation where everybody in the town has gone mad and people are killing each other left and right. The protagonist starts going mental too. At this point I cannot even remember what happened at the very end of this short film because by that stage I just did not care.



    Seriously, what was Hooper trying to do with this story?

    E-

    0 0



    With the recent change in Pope and the long-running child abuse scandal the new Pope must now handle, Roman Catholicism is clearly in the spotlight. The recent news that Pope Francis has a history of close cooperation with the military Junta in Argentina is clearly not a good sign.




    As head of the Jesuit order from 1973 to 1979, Jorge Bergoglio – as the new pope was known until yesterday – was a member of the hierarachy during the period when the wider Catholic church backed the military government and called for their followers to be patriotic.

    Bergoglio twice refused to testify in court about his role as head of the Jesuit order. When he eventually appeared in front of a judge in 2010, he was accused by lawyers of being evasive.

    The main charge against Bergoglio involves the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests, Orland Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were taken by Navy officers in May 1976 and held under inhumane conditions for the missionary work they conducted in the country's slums, a politically risky activity at the time.

    His chief accuser is journalist Horacio Verbitsky, the author of a book on the church called "El Silencio" ("The Silence"), which claims that Bergoglio withdrew his order's protection from the two priests, effectively giving the military a green light for their abduction.



    (Via The Guardian)

    There's also a comment from an Argentinian on Pharyngula's blog summing up the situation as follows:



    As an Argentinian I can confirm your “rumours” and add that this guy was a collaborator with the military during the last coup d’etat during the 70′s : Among many things, he informed to the military that two monks that were working in a low income neighbourhood were no longer protected by the catholic church, facilitating their detention and posterior disappearance.

    Mind you, to “disappear” at that time meant to be detained by the military, held without rights or trial, possibly (and often) tortured under suspicions of being a Marxist/ “terrorist”, being completely incomunicated [sic] with your family and finally be killed and buried on an unmarked grave, or thrown from a plane into the river.

    Thrown.

    From a fucking plane.

    Into the river. (Known as “deathflights”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_flights )



    (via Butterflies and Wheels)


    Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) with General Jorge Rafael Videla leader of the oppressive Argentinian military junta, who seized power in a military coup d'etat in the late seventies and early eighties.

    However, while the religion I wish to talk about today certainly committed recent atrocities in full knowledge of the central authority, I do not mean to discuss Roman Catholicism below. Sure, I'm going to talk about forced child labour and there IS at least one Roman Catholic example of this. The film "Oranges and Sunshine" dramatises the real life event where children where taken from their parents without permission and sent to Australia for 'a better life' which, for those sent into the care of the "Christian Brothers" meant forced labour and abuse.

    However, while there are plenty of cases of religions where individual groups have been involved in horrific practices, some of which they are unwilling to apologise for and which may continue to this day, there's one religion for which is seems to comprise a central raison d'etre. I am of course talking about the religion of Scientology and their organisation known as the Sea Organisation.



    It's recently been revealed that the Sea Organisation deliberately denies children a proper education, forces them to engage in hours and hours of forced labour, and keeps the children separate from their parents for much of their lives. When followers of Scientology sign up for the SeaOrg they sign a billion year contract. That's possibly one of the most creepy things I have ever heard.

    This isn't a matter of a religious organisation being stuck in old fashioned thinking or taking advantage of the current political situation or even a horrible act from centuries past for which they still hold the guilt. This is an organisation set-up within a particular religious body by its central authority figures and run centrally with the sole purpose of exploiting, abusing and neglecting its followers, including many young children.

    Now I'm not about to give other religions a free pass here. I've already stated that Roman Catholicism, amongst others, has a lot to answer for. But I really do wonder whether this new revelation about Scientology doesn't make "The Church of Scientology" the most abhorrent religious organisation of its size functioning today. And I seriously thought the bar was already pretty high....



    For the whole transcript for Jenna Miscavige Hill's interview with the BBC plus a video of another interview look under the cut below...






    A remarkable picture of the inner workings of the Church of Scientology has been published by a member of one of the families most closely associated with it.

    Jenna Miscavage Hill was the third generation of a family of scientologists, born into it and raised in its disciplines. Eventually, like her parents, she left and has now written a devastating account of her experience, particularly in its most secretive inner core, what is known as the Sea Organisation or Sea-org.

    She told Today presenter James Naughtie about a life that was intimately bound up and directed by scientology.


    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    "Well my parents joined what's called the sea organisation when I was two. They worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week, they lived communally, they were paid as little as $45 a week and they signed one billion year contracts-

    James Naughtie:
    A billion years?!

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    Yes, yes. So basically, they dedicate themselves lifetime after lifetime to serving the Church and so when my parents joined when I was two, right after the bat I only saw them for an hour a day.

    James Naughtie:
    An hour a day? Right through your childhood...

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    Well actually when I was four until I was twelve I only saw them once a week. When I was six I went to a place called The Ranch: A place for executives in the Seaorg or in the Church. We did 25 hours of manual labour
    every week. It was run like a military school.

    James Naughtie:
    So what were you told to expect? As a young girl, what did YOU expect?

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    You know, with our schooling, we didn't have credits or grades or anything like that. They didn't even issue diplomas. They didn't even talk about college. We weren't even aware of the outside world other than that people there asked dangerous questions and we had to be rehearsed on how to speak to them. We weren't so be like "Oh yeah, we haul rocks 25 hours a week." They were like "No, say you're at a private school and your parents work here." And we occasionally met them at a field trip, which was extremely rare, but we were basically considered to be Seaorg members in training.

    James Naughtie:
    When you look back on it now, having got out, like your parents, how would you describe it?

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    Yeah, well when I was there I was definitely brainwashed. It was definitely a closed organisation that's secretive, extremely controlling, and manipulative.

    James Naughtie:
    And to what end, do you think?

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    I've thought about that a lot. In Scientology, you have to pay for your services, you have to pay a good amount of money, but there are some people who are profiting somewhat from that but not to the extent that would make me agree that it's only about money. I definitely think that Scientology is a game of power.

    James Naughtie:
    What would happen if you started to ask awkward questions?

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    We'd be told, "If you go to a regular school you get drugged and they just give you drugs, regardless of whether or not you want them." You know, if you're critical of the Church itself and say maybe we'd be better 'out there', you're taught that the only reason you'd think badly of the Church is because you've done bad things. And so you're trying to make less of it, to make yourself feel better about those bad things.

    James Naughtie:
    I suppose everybody knows that there are celebrity supporters of Scientology who more or less say that it's all okay and that people are getting worked up about nothing and that it's a perfectly good way of life that is just different from the one other people may choose. What do you feel about that and what have you observed about the way that celebrity supporters of Scientology are handled inside this organisation?

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    For one thing, celebrities aren't Seaorg members. The Scientology they experience is vastly different from that of a Seaorg member and even that of a regular public Scientologist.

    James Naughtie:
    So, they never see the inside? The Seaorg organisation at the heart?

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    Well, they have their own Church and Seaorg members do work there but they don't see people getting punished there. They don't see child labourers there. They have their own special classrooms, their own highly trained councillors.

    James Naughtie:
    Scientology lite.

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    Yeah. Exactly. They're not treated as harshly as other Scientologists and they're not hounded for donations. But you know, at the same time this information is out there and any celebrity endorsing an organisation like this has a moral responsibility to find out what really is going on. There are so many stories out there. There are too many people coming forward for them to be able to ignore it.

    James Naughtie:
    You see it's quite interesting, in this country you can walk along a high street and there'll be people sitting there with a table and leaflets and they'll say, "Are you interested in self-awareness?" and they'll say, you know, "Just come and talk about it." And "Dianetics" and it's all very kind and warm. What would you say to somebody who walks up to people like that in the street and is interested?

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    They do say things like, "Do you need help with your marriage? Yes, we can help you with that." So when you start out they act like you're the greatest person in the world. They flower you with praise and love, but things change pretty quickly. So what you see; those are the introductory routes into Scientology. That's how they get you.

    James Naughtie:
    How difficult was it for you to get out?

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    It was a culmination of a lifetime of events, but in the end I realised it wasn't the place I always thought it was. There was sleep deprivation, food deprivation, coerced abortions going on-

    James Naughtie:
    Coerced abortions?

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    Yeah, in the Seaorg you're not allowed to have children. If you do, you get kicked out. So many people, I can think of six people off the top of my head, were coerced into having abortions while they were there. Scientology's word for "spirit" is "thetan". You're taught that those thetans can get another body and it's considered off-purpose or having 'other fish to fry' if you go off and have the baby.

    James Naughtie:
    How important a story do you think this is? Some people might say, "Well it's a cult, or whatever word we use. So what? It's not going to take over the world." What do you say to that?

    Jenna Miscavige Hill:
    I think that it absolutely is something to worry about. I mean, the amount of control that they have over people. This isn't just willing adults going in. I was a baby when I went there. I had no choice. I had no knowledge of the outside world and I left without an education and without any way to operate in the outside world and that sort of thing is extremely dangerous.

    We asked the Church of Scientology for an interview - they declined, but said in a statement: "We note that recollections in Ms Hill's book about her schooling are dramatically at odds with the recollections of 30 of her classmates.

    "The church has long respected the family unit while accommodating and helping those raising children. The church does not engage in any activities that mistreat, neglect or force children to engage in manual labour. The church follows all laws with respect to children. Claims to the contrary are false.

    "The Church of Scientology does not counsel its staff members or parishioners to have abortions. Any such statement is false.

    "Sea Organisation couples are permitted to marry, but... if Sea Organisation couples wish to have children, they must do so outside the Sea Organisation. They may return once the children have grown."





    (video link)
    (via Kill The Afterlife)
    (Some more info from The Huffington Post)

    Also, check out the recent podcasts from "The Good Atheist" about the Church of Scientology:
    (Part one)
    (Part two)

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    What are the best anime movies? - I don't claim to be able to answer this question myself. Though I went through a phase of watching some anime at one point, I wouldn't say I'm the biggest anime fan. A friend on LJ has finally decided to watch "Akira". They aren't really familiar with anime and what they have seen they haven't been impressed with, but they are a film lover and so they felt "Akira" was one of those films that they really ought to see.

    I think "Akira" is probably a pretty good way to see up front what anime is like. It's not, to my mind, a great film. However, it does have some fantastic elements involved in it and I think it pretty much sums up what anime is like in general.



    Anime movies often haven't had a big budget like Disney and a lot of their stylistic tropes have come from attempts to cut corners and save money. At the same time, in spite of having their origin in Japan, anime often involves characters with huge eyes, since this element was borrowed from western animation. The characters in Akira look a lot more like typical people than in a lot of anime.


    This image is NOT from "Akira"

    However, while anime may not have had Disney's budget, they also don't aim at such a young audience. Anime will often feature quite graphic violence. In fact, Akira even features some pretty graphic violence against one of the female characters.



    Unfortunately another factor in the cheapness of anime is that the English voice actors are often not that great. It's not helpful that the pattern of conversations and the style of expression is very distinctive and can feel quite bizarre with an English voice over the top.

    Translation isn't always great either, with some sentences making very little sense. Akira features one character trying to explain evolution. They do a pretty horrendous job of it and I don't know how far to blame the original script or the translation.

    I'm not entirely sure that I understand what Akira was trying to say. It's a very dark tale and I think expecting a satisfying resolution may be a mistake. The film seems to suggest that there's some hope at the end and yet, in the light of what happens during the film, I felt that seemed deeply misplaced.



    I didn't feel any kind of bond with the characters (though I know there are fans of Akira who feel the characters are much stronger than I do). But I definitely felt immersed by the art. As a piece of art, "Akira" is quite incredible (especially bearing in mind the aforementioned low budget). The dream sequences in particular are extremely clever and well handled. Even as the dialogue grates, the visuals are utterly stunning.



    There's one last important flaw with anime which I feel Akira highlights. Preachiness. Akira isn't happy to be a dark tale of misery. It definitely seems to be trying to teach us a lesson (hence why the ending feels so awkward for me). The message isn't exactly deep. It's the old "power corrupts" idea essentially.


    So anyway, below I've made a list of my favourite anime movies. If anyone wants to recommend different ones in the comments, I'm sure my friend will appreciate it! :D

    Anime TV series recommendations:

    I found the "Ghost In The Shell" series boring, I couldn't get into "Evangelion", but there are a couple of series that I found appealing.



    X - TV

    I'd already seen the movie of "X" and found it absolutely amazing. However, it was extremely confusing (incomprehensible in fact). The tv series makes everything a lot clearer and I can appreciate how the movie crams the entire story into such a short period of time much better now. The movie might not make much sense, but it features the same events rendered in an absolutely gorgeous way.

    The story is about a boy called Kamui who discovers that his destiny is to save mankind. He's reluctant at first and also he doesn't seem like a terribly nice person. What makes things even worse is when his close childhood friend is chosen to be his opponent.

    Interesting, both sides of the battle believe that it is their destiny to save the world. One side wishes to save humanity, the other side wishes to destroy humanity in order to save the planet from the damage done by humans. Those chosen on each side have special powers to fight with.

    An element not so well presented in the movie, but absolutely essential to my enjoyment of the tv series, was the comic relief monk. One of the main characters was brought up in a monastery, but he's a bit of a troublemaker. In some ways he understands the threat better than any of them, but on the other hand he can never stop cracking jokes!



    The TV series makes a remarkable amount of sense until the ending, where I really have no idea what is happening. It's quite a preachy ending to the series, but when the journey has been so much fun, it's easy to forgive it.





    Elfen Lied

    I'm sure there'll be some eye-rolling from anime fans in reaction to this choice. This didn't get further than 14 episodes, but I really enjoyed it for the most part. It must be said though that the real selling point was the beginning of the first episode where the central character escapes from a maximum security facility, destroying everything in her path.



    At the end of the opening sequence, she receives a blow to the head which causes her to forget who she is. As the series goes on she forms a kind of multiple personality. Since her amnesiac self has built up relationships, her more homicidal self somewhat shares in that emotional investment whenever her memories return to her.



    The central character appears to be some kind of monster whose destiny is to bring about the apocalypse, but she just looks like an ordinary girl asides from some strange horns sticking out of her head. However, she is very hard to kill and has a kind of telekinetic power, sometimes represented by elongated seethrough arms stretching around her. Basically, if someone comes within the distance of these arms or "vectors" (as they are called) then she can rip them apart.



    Essentially I spent most of the series waiting for the main character to start ripping people apart with telekinetic powers, but I found myself somewhat charmed by the other scenes too. It was good fun.

    I won't pretend there weren't a few rather bizarre and dodgy moments in the parts which weren't gory and violent though....

    I cannot remember what was happening in this scene (pictured above), but I
    remember there were embarassing/cute sections like this with entirely innocent explanations.



    Top 7 Anime Movie Favourites

    Okay, so with tv series out of the way, here are my favourites of the anime movies....

    7) Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)


    There is an earlier "Vampire Hunter D" movie, but it's nothing like as well animated and it's much much slower paced. The dialogue isn't consistently well written here, but the voice acting is actually done pretty well. In particular one comic relief character is performed very well indeed.

    Vampire Hunter D is basically "Blade" (he predates the movies, but not the comics) in that he's a half human, half vampire. However, he lives in a distant post-apocalyptic future which is styled as if it were in the past. The most obvious examples of this are the robotic horses.



    Vampire Hunter D is a half-vampire who fights vampires, but another factor is the symbiote that lives in his left hand. In his left palm there's a face and it will often talk to him. In the movie "Bloodlust" it's very talkative indeed. On the one hand, it mocks D for not acting like a proper vampire, but on the other hand it needs D to survive in order to continue to live off of him.

    Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is great fun. If you could forgive any flaws in "Blade II" you'll have no problem forgiving the flaws in this.


    6) Blood: The Last Vampire (2000)


    The director of "Ghost In The Shell" (Mamoru Oshii) helped to create this rather short movie (more recently turned into an absolutely dire live action film). The story is about a vampire killer in a US army base within Japan during America's conflict with Vietnam.



    The vampire killer appears to be a vampire herself and what's more, she is a young girl, but her motives are not entirely explored. This is a short, beautiful and very powerful film and there's something cool about the lack of explanation.


    5) Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)


    This didn't do that well when it was released, although that was partly because of how much it cost to make. The effects were, at the time, way ahead of anything else that had been released.

    Sure, the plot is ludicrous and the dialogue is preachy, but that's all par for the course with anime. In fact, the dialogue is a great deal better than in a lot of anime movies.



    There are some moderate issues with pacing, but overall "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" is an absolutely fantastic movie.

    4) Ghost In The Shell (1995) / Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence (2004)


    Ghost In The Shell is one of the first recommendations you will get regarding classic anime movies. On the one hand, the sci-fi setting is absolutely inspired, the visuals are incredible and the central character of 'the Major' makes for a pretty awesome lead. However, the dialogue isn't always great and the preachiness is pretty bad. The preachiness gets rather hard to support towards the end of the sequel when one of the characters starts shouting at a child.



    Still, the exploration of ideas of self is handled in a very clever way and there's no doubting the excitement of the action scenes. The Ghost In The Shell movies are highly inventive and do a great job of keeping the audience engaged.




    3) Perfect Blue (1997)


    Initially I wasn't convinced by this film at all. The story introduces a Japanese pop star who is planning on leaving her pop group to persue an acting career. It's initially really hard to work out why we should be interested.



    However, once she starts getting roles, things don't go the way she was hoping. She's told that she needs to get grittier roles in order to distance herself from her old pop career, but that also means that she's alienating her old fans. She  discovers a blog written from her own perspective that is clearly written by a stalker. Could this be the same person making threats against her?

    The fake online diary of her life, supposedly written a stalker, no longer fits with the actual events of her day. It claims that she is still hanging out with the band. Then things get really trippy when she imagines being greeted by her old pop star self.



    Reality is constantly blurred throughout the film. The audience is constantly tricked about what is real and what is fake. I think there are some fans who have Matrix-esque theories about what is really happening in the film, but personally I think the down-to-earth explanation of the movie is pretty clear-cut.

    Few anime films have managed to get me so involved in the emotions of the central character as "Perfect Blue".




    2) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)


    A more recent one, this benefits from some much better translation and voice narration than you can expect from older anime movies. It also has a great sense of humour.



    A girl discovers a device that allows her to do special jumps that send her hurtling to another point in time. It's a very good time travel plot and a very sweet story.




    1) Studio Ghibli movies


    I haven't seen all the movies from Studio Ghibli. Not even all of those directed by Hayao Miyazaki. However, I have seen enough to be convinced that they are often head and shoulders above any other anime films. However, making this entire list into essentially a list of Studio Ghibli films seemed unfair.



    So instead, below is a short list of my personal favourites:

    Laputa: Castle In The Sky (1986)
    - Two young children in a steampunk world are pursued by air-pirates and a sinister military organisation in order to find the secret to the location of the lost floating city of Laputa. Absolutely enchanting story and my personal favourite.

    Princess Mononoke (1997)
    - Things get very preachy. (Hayao Miyazaki is a strong environmentalist.) However, in this fantasy world nature is becoming corrupted by mankind's pursuit of industry and some of the forest gods are turning into demons as a result. In the middle of the conflict is Princess Mononoke, a human girl who has grown up with the wolves. A proper epic story, very well handled.

    Arrietty (2010)
    - An excellent take on The Borrowers, giving a full sense of the world in which borrowers live. The full scale of what is involved in climbing up a table and the gadgets the borrowers use to achieve this are brought to life on screen in a brilliant way.

    Spirited Away (2001)
    - A girl and her parents finds themselves in a spirit world. While the girl runs away, her parents fall prey to a trick transforming them completely into pigs (and not the cartoon talking-animal kind). She finds herself with no choice but to get a job at the spirits' bath house in the hope that an opportunity to save her parents will turn up later. Some excellent world-building albeit a rather bizarre story.


    So, are there any ones you feel I ought to have listed? Please say so in the comments! :)

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  • 03/31/13--04:26: Happy Easter Sunday!


  • But remember, Jesus wasn't a zombie... He was a Lich. (Explanation below.)


    (click here or on the image to see it slightly bigger)

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    The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012)

    I've never been a big fan of Harry Potter, so Emma Watson's face on the poster wasn't much of a draw. However, when positive reviews started coming in and I heard that this was being praised as a great adaptation of a beloved novel, I was intrigued. Good adaptations which please fans of the original novel are not terribly easy to come by.

    It turns out that I actually recognised a lot more actors than just Emma Watson. An even earlier familiar face to appear was Ezra Miller. Not sounding familiar? Well he's not exactly a household name yet, but just you wait. Ezra Miller played the oldest incarnation of Kevin in "We Need To Talk About Kevin" and he was suitably creepy there, but here he is seriously chewing the scenery. He gives an absolutely incredible performance in "Perks" and it makes it clear just how much he'd been holding back before.



    Another familiar face is Johnny Simmons who is mostly in the background during this movie. He played "Young Neil" in "Scott Pilgrim Vs The World", making it somewhat jarring to see him here as a popular jock on the American Football team.

    When Emma Watson shows up and gets some lines, she more than holds her own. She gets a much bigger chance to shine here than in "My Week With Marilyn" where she had a tiny part in the scheme of things.



    One face that was not at all familiar was the protagonist, Charlie, played by Logan Lerman. Charlie is moving from middle school to high school and he's absolutely dreading it. Apparently he has some issues, although it's not really spelt out what they are until randomly he says that his friend committed suicide.

    At the start of the movie Ezra Miller and Emma Watson's characters are three and two grades ahead of Charlie in school respectively. That would put the ages of Charlie, Patrick (Ezra's character) and Sam (Emma's character) as follows: 14, 16, 17. That's quite a big jump.

    When Patrick and Sam realise that Charlie is struggling to make friends and recognise that he's reasonably intelligent, they decide to introduce him to a whole new group of people. They enlist him into their group of rebellious misfits who share a common interest in indie music.



    At this point I was admittedly really buying into the world of the film. A character who didn't fit in with the normal crowd was being shown a whole group of people who refused to accept the status quo and who would help him to feel accepted outside of the stupid peer groups he'd normally felt alienated by. Great!



    Unfortunately his new and different friends quickly start feeling more like indie movie cliches. Patrick's gay and his boyfriend's dad is a massive homophobe, willing to use violence on his own son. Sam has a history of abuse (apparently her first kiss was by her father's boss when she had not yet reached her teens) and keeps choosing boyfriends who don't treat her very well. And perhaps making mix tapes and performing in "The Rocky Horror Show" aren't mutually exclusive, but it's never entirely clear how Charlie, as a fragile introvert, is managing to fit in with this new group's loud and energetic clique.



    Emma Watson's character Sam becomes way too much of a love interest for Charlie. Certainly this wouldn't be a problem if it was handled well. But it isn't handled well. It's handled very poorly, suggesting wishful thinking on the part of the writer in favour of his Mary-Sue protagonist. We first see that they are going to become an item when Sam decides, despite being already in a relationship, to give Charlie his first kiss. She does this because she wants Charlie's first kiss to be with someone who loves him, but insists that she doesn't intend to break off her current relationship.

    As the film goes on it seems that it is Charlie's duty to 'save' Sam from her bad relationships. She's only going out with these bad boyfriends because (and this line is obnoxiously repeated as if they were quoting Shakespeare) "we accept the love we think we deserve". She thinks she deserves arseholes, but she REALLY 'deserves' the protagonist. See where they are going with this?



    In spite of being two to three years below them in the school and in spite of still being mostly an outsider to the group, Charlie starts getting looked on as a viable object of sexual affection by his newfound friends. Once he's seen in this way it's only a matter of time, it seems, before he'll be able to give Sam the relationship she's always deserved. *groan* We even have the absurdity of the protagonist helping Sam, a girl two grades above him, to complete her SATs. Sure, we know that the English teacher is giving Charlie extra books to read because he recognises Charlie's 'hidden potential', but that doesn't mean Charlie can help someone with exams that are testing an extra two years of school work. It's really sad to see Emma Watson's initially vibrant character being turned into a damsel in distress like this.

    Another line the writer repeats because he seems to think is profound when it just comes off as cheesy is: "we are infinite". It's left at the end of some more sentimental scenes as a way of punctuating the film, but all it really does is uncover how vapid the film is. The best the film seems to have to offer is that certain moments in our adolescence feel perfect in spite of any issues we might have to deal with.



    It became rather harder to sympathise with the characters when I realised that they are all absolutely stinking rich. They have a big celebration where they give each other expensive presents and I just could not accept it. Presents like a tuxedo and a typewriter are not just items that you pick up on a whim. Considering that these characters can afford to buy each other expensive presents, it's particularly odd that we barely see anything of their parents during the course of the film.



    The era of the movie is another issue. The film has the characters giving each other mix tapes, which is fine. But some of the music is clearly late 80s and it's clear that the protagonists are interested in music that is not current. Why then, are there absolutely no CDs seen throughout the film? It's almost like the filmmakers don't remember the era they are portraying. In the early 80s CDs were first introduced and by the end of the 80s everyone was using them. Many people on the internet are claiming that this film was set in the 90s which means CDs should be everywhere - and yet all that is seen in the film is cassette tapes and vinyl records. This might seem petty, but in a film where setting apparently matters so much, I had real problems with the way the era was portrayed. I was convinced that this must have been set in the mid-80s because it simply didn't feel right to me at all, but the early 90s should feel much more familiar to me than this.

    Perks Of Being A Wallflower begins by promising to show us how an introverted character is taken in by a new exciting group of friends who are going to be able to change his life for the better. However, as the film progresses this becomes a typical indie movie, with typical cliched characters and typical teen angst. Meanwhile the central character is revealed to be not just an introvert, but also someone whose intellect is misunderstood and who 'deserves' to 'get the girl'. Basically, this is the NiceGuyTM fantasy whereby hanging around the dream girl long enough means she'll eventually realise you deserved her all along. *ugh!*



    From early in the movie we see flashbacks of Charlie's aunt, who used to be his favourite person in the world apparently, saying "it'll be our little secret". Yes, that does go where you expect it to. Yes, it does take nearly the whole movie for the inevitable reveal to take place. Yes, it is a case of "feel my man pain" for the mary-sue protagonist.



    "Perks Of Being A Wallflower" is a self-righteous and cliched story, but it is performed brilliantly by the star-studded cast and it is filmed very well. My conclusion? Stephen Chbosky is a better director than a screenwriter. Perhaps he's too close to the source material? The film looks beautiful and the performances are wonderful, but the content? It's just trash.

    E+

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    This is the second post counting down to Tobe Hooper's best movies. To see what I viewed as the very worst of Tobe Hooper's career, look here.





    12. Spontaneous Combustion (1990)

    It has been said that Tobe Hooper considered even his original Texas Chainsaw Massacre to be a comedy. Certainly the ridiculousness of it was part of the charm. "Spontaneous Combustion" has to be Tobe Hooper's most ridiculous film yet, but it still seems to take itself a little too seriously overall.

    "Spontaneous Combustion" opens with a couple strapped into chairs side by side. They are sitting in a bunker in the middle of a nuclear testing site about to be hit by a nuke. Apparently this has been set up intentionally as part of a test. The couple are testing a special injection intended to make recipients immune to radiation poisoning. The test also involves the couple remaining in the bunker in the period after the initial nuclear explosion. It turns out that during this time the lady of the couple has become pregnant. In the background of the celebrations after this seemingly successful test is a mysterious figure who is always seen only as a silhouette even when he is at the head of a conference table.

    To finish the opening of the movie, both parents spontaneously combust, bursting into flames and rapidly burning to coal black soot-covered bodies. This early combustion scene is actually hilarious, not least because it comes out of nowhere. I was hoping this scene would set up a darkly comic tone for the rest of the film. Essentially the scene should be deeply sad, seeing as it involves a newborn child becoming an orphan, but the way it happens is just so utterly unrealistic and bizarre that it's hard to be too concerned about the characters involved.

    From this point on the film follows the progress of the baby, but it shoots forward to him as a college-age boy played by Brad Dourif (who looks too old for the role). This important character is generally treated as a bit of a loser; so far so generic.

    Inevitably Dourif's character finds that flames are shooting out of him. Running his flaming parts under a tap does no good at all. All the while the film takes this all very seriously and this serious tone is particularly inappropriate for the subject matter when Dourif is tranferring his flames over the phone. (No seriously, he's got flames coming out of him on one end of the phone and they are shooting out of the receiver on the other. What???)

    The acting is alright, but the pacing is slow. Once you've gotten used to Dourif bursting into flames, you're likely to be extremely bored for the most part. The story doesn't really go anywhere and the whole thing would be a lot more entertaining if the central premise were played for laughs.

    In spite of the mysterious constant-silouette guy who seems like such an obvious trope yet doesn't actually seem to be treated as a point of humour within the film, I don't think the problem here is Tobe Hooper's weird sense of humour. Even in "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" Hooper seemed to know to make the events grow gradually more and more over-the-top and crazy as the film went on. In "Spontaneous Combustion" the events go over-the-top very quickly and there's not really any way to surprise the audience later on. The craziness peaked far too early and the rest of the film ended up feeling slow and pointless, particularly when it tried to get us interested in some kind of conspiracy narrative. Perhaps if this story ran a little faster it would be easier to enjoy the joke (and with a title like "Spontaneous Combustion" this is definitely a joke), but at this snail's pace it's hard to enjoy any of it.
    D-



    11. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)  - D-
    (Full review already posted here.)
    Sequels often cannot live up to the promise of the original, not least because the last thing audiences really want to see is a pale imitation of the original. There's some indication that, before studio bods decided they weren't happy, Hooper was in the process of making a horror comedy here. That being said, Tobe Hooper apparently felt the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre was hilarious, so his sense of humour is a little twisted to say the least. There are admittedly some great moments in Texas Chain saw Massacre, but they don't make up for the problems with the film as a whole. The scene where the female lead decides to use sex appeal to get Leatherface on her side felt particularly misjudged.


    10. Lifeforce (1985) - D+
    (Full review already posted here)
    One scene in this movie pretty much sums this up. The protagonist has been revealed as the last survivor of an attack by space vampires. He now appears to have some psychic connection with the main vampire, who seems to be roaming the countryside in the form of a naked woman, but also appears to be hypnotically as well as sexually attracted to the vampire (as appear to be most men, and some women, who come into contact with her).

    So with all this in mind, the protagonist's visions lead them to a psychiatric ward. Once there, the protagonist starts slapping a woman they've decided to question. He asserts that no one should be concerned about him physically assaulting her because "she's a masochist, she wants me to do this to her" (and heck, he's psychic donchaknow?). The detective from Scotland Yard turns out to be quite happy with this explanation, sitting straight down on the sofa, crossing his legs and asserting just as confidently and seeming just as bizarrely calm: "I myself am a voyeur".

    This film is apparently written by the same guy who wrote "Alien" which seemed to have sexual ideas in its subtext. Here however there is no such subtlety, with characters openly announcing their sexual proclivities to each other in a rather bizarre way, yet showing complete ignorance of how a masochist/sadist relationship would actually work.

    That being said, the idea of space vampires sucking out people's souls works pretty well and there's some great atmospheric moments. But overall this film is pretty damn trashy. It seems like the filmmakers thought they were being a great deal subtler and more intelligent with the subject matter than what actually comes across to the viewer in the final product.


    9. Death Trap! (1977) - D+
    (Full review already posted here.)
    Very low budget and occasionally featuring the obnoxious central murderer ranting to himself. There's also a few points with gratuitous nudity which felt unnecessary. However, once the film finally gets going the situation becomes somewhat farcical (albeit in a kind of twisted way) so there's some enjoyment to be had from watching the characters get picked off one by one. For once, Hooper's odd sense of humour actually seemed to shine through properly. That being said, this is a very seedy movie that seems much more worthy of its position in the video nasty list than many others (not that any film truly deserved the kind of vindictive and nannying moralism that sparked the creation of the video nasty DPP list).


    8. Toolbox Murders (2004)

    Tobe Hooper made a bunch of controversial flicks during the video nasty scandal, so perhaps it's not surprising, after a slew of less successful films, that he should choose to remake a video nasty from that era.

    I was especially excited to see this film because stars none other than the wonderful Angela Bettis, who I've mainly seen in films directed by Lucky McKee (e.g. "The Woman" and "May"). She's an absolutely fantastic actress and she serves to elevate the material here.



    The first half of this film really appealed to me, but as we came closer and closer to the climax of the film we also drew closer to a particularly disappointing climax. The end of "Toolbox Murders" was absolute rubbish and it was sad because the early scenes showed so much promise.



    For much of the movie, the audience is fairly obviously misdirected as to who the villain is. However, I think a stylistic choice regarding the look of the villain stopped a particular character (who shows up during the climax randomly anyway) from being revealed as the main villain. With the actual villain being nothing more than a monster essentially, it was hard to get excited about anything at this late stage of the film. The villain was basically a characterless entity which had little connection to the characters we'd been following. Angela Bettis becomes a bit of a damsel in distress towards the end and though this trope is arguably subverted, it's still not a pretty unsatisfying way to take the story.



    An appearance by Juliet Landau (Drusilla from Buffy The Vampire Slayer) was kind of nice to see, but her performance wasn't exactly amazing. Sometimes though, it can be nice to see a familiar face.



    Angela Bettis' performance alone might be enough to make this worth watching. This film had a lot of potential and with a better ending it could have been a really solid entry in Hooper's filmography. As it is, this is just another disappointment.

    D+


    7. Crocodile (2000) - D+
    (Full review already posted here)
    A cheap low-budget attempt to cash-in on the success of Lake Placid with mostly poor actors, yet somehow I preferred this to "Lake Placid". Sure it's not a good movie, but it has a real sense of charm. Once the story gets moving, this gets extremely watchable, even if it IS utterly stupid and trashy.

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    Hotel Transylvania (2012)

    The reviews for this haven't been great. They haven't been exactly awful, but certainly lacklustre. This deeply surprised me because the director is none other than Genndy Tartatovsky and I kind of love this guy. He's the creator of Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack, he was closely tied to The Powerpuff Girls and was animation director for the (actually pretty damn awesome) Powerpuff Girls movie.


    (Click on the image for full size. Rotating from top left: Aku the demon from "Samurai Jack, Yoda wielding a lightsabre, Dexter and Deedee from "Dexter's Laboratory". In centre, Genndy Tartatovsky dressed as Samurai Jack.)

    What's more Genndy Tartatovsky was responsible for the Clone Wars cartoons which spanned the gap between George Lucas' second and third awful Star Wars prequels (not the 3D animated Clone Wars cartoon, that came later). Tartatovsky's Star Wars cartoons had the same characters as the movies and featured the distinctive and creative animation style of the Samurai Jack cartoons, but what was incredible was that the Star Wars prequel universe suddenly felt exciting in those cartoons.

    The Clone Wars cartoons showed a genuine villain who seemed to pose a real threat to the Jedi (though he gets his chest crused by force powers, so that's why General Grievous seems a little pathetic in Episode III), they showed clone army commandos who actually seemed to have an advantage over the droids (as opposed to in the movies where we're simply told that clones are better and then see no real evidence of it). They showed Yoda going out on missions, C3PO being genuinely funny, Anakin and Padme suddenly demonstrating a bit of genuine romantic chemistry, and the plot was well paced and had a clear logical progression. It was just simply superior to the live action movies in every way.

    Genndy Tartatovsky was supposed to be working on a sequel to the classic Jim Henson puppet animation movie "The Dark Crystal" (titled "The Power Of the Dark Crystal"), which would presumably be his first major project to use puppets. Instead "Hotel Transylvania" is his first 3D animation movie (which isn't to say that the other movies didn't use computer effects, but not with 3D graphics).



    The story of "Hotel Transylvania" is that Dracula's young girl Mavis is now reaching the age of 118 and she wants to see the world. However, Dracula is terrified that she'll come to harm from humans and he's been exaggerating the threat they pose all her life. Meanwhile Dracula runs a hotel, taking pride in its complete isolation from the human world. The hotel provides a getaway for monsters wishing to escape meet up away from the prying and threatening eyes (and pitchforks) of human beings. Monsters regularly flock to the hotel for Mavis' birthday celebrations since Dracula always makes a big effort over them. When a human tourist manages to turn up at the hotel it risks not only destroying the hotel's reputation, but also revealing to Mavis that humans aren't as threatening as she was led to believe....


    Dracula's daughter Mavis turns into the cutest vampire bat EVER!

    So what was wrong with "Hotel Transylvania"? Naturally there was the possibility that I'd find nothing wrong with it at all, but with so many lacklustre reviews there must be something about the movie which at least lessened its appeal for some viewers, right?

    The criticisms of "Hotel Transylvania" I've heard elsewhere don't really work for me. Adam Sandler plays Count Dracula and I heard one reviewer claim that he sucks the comedy out of the movie. This is nonsense. The Dracula voice that Adam Sandler puts on makes him completely unrecognisable, the lines he's expected to deliver are pretty much flawless and to be quite frank, he does a good job with the role. (His face would be completely wrong for it, but the voice he puts on? Perfect!)

    I was actually rather less impressed by Andy Samberg, who plays the human tourist whose appearance at Hotel Transylvania threatens to stir things up. Over the course of the movie he was fine, but Adam Sandler is actually REALLY entertaining as Count Dracula.



    If we are looking to figures who keep appearing in Adam Sandler's awful live action movies, Kevin James ("The Zoo Keeper") would seem to be a major culprit. Still, while he didn't exactly blow me away, his role as Frankenstein's Monster was small enough that I didn't need him to make a big impact.

    Another issue I'd heard was that the movie contains toilet humour. There is admittedly one fart joke. It was a bad idea and it wasn't funny, but it isn't anything like so horrendous as the fart competition some might remember from the movie "Robots" (if you missed that, you can see how awful that scene was here). I'd say that "Hotel Transylvania" gets away with its one toilet humour joke.

    The other suggestion might be that "Hotel Transylvania" doesn't have that emotional weight that we see in the best animated movies these days. I think that's unfair too. The father who is frightened of the outside world, afraid of change and fears for his daughter entering that world, is a fantastic premise which is really well explored. When Mavis starts becoming really intrigued by the new visitor it becomes impossible for Dracula to get rid of him, but on the other hand if his true identity is discovered Dracula's reputation with both his daughter and his guests will be in tatters.



    The inevitable reveal when Dracula and other monsters finally have to step outside and see the world of the humans is handled very well. There were any number of ways that could have been handled and I did not expect the route they actually took with it.


    Zombie valets. Only the best for Hotel Transylvania.
    (Slight downside: Highly flammable!)


    But there are a few problems with this movie. The animation isn't as spectacular as I'd expect from Genndy Tartatovsky. He's been fantastically creative in 2D animation but in 3D animation he isn't able to play the same sorts of tricks. That's not to say that the animation is below average, but rather that Tartatovsky doesn't seem to provide animation that is distinctive and original here.

    I actually think the 2D in the final credits more closely represents the sort of thing I was looking forward to from Tartatovsky here. It's simple but effective and highly creative. It's just a credits sequence, so don't expect it to blow you away, but it's much closer to what I'd normally expect from a Tartatovsky project:


    (video link)

    A pretty big problem I have is the last minute shoehorning of this concept of 'the zing'. If there'd been some foreshadowing for this I might have been less annoyed, but right at the end people suddenly start talking about how relationships with a 'zing' last forever. It's just such a ridiculous term to hear anyone using, never mind Count Dracula. What makes it especially problematic is that a finale song (with autotune *ugh!*) is all about this 'zing' nonsense. You can hear the song here (warning, since this song occurs at the end of the movie it is kind of a big spoiler):



    But in spite of how awful the 'zing' song might be, there's an awful lot to like here. The film is very funny, it has that close emotional connection that we've come to expect from animated movies and it's just generally a lot of fun. Personally, I preferred this to "Rango" but I still thought that was worth watching. It's pretty awesome that our standards for 3D animated movies are so high right now.


    (video link)

    B+



    Some classic 2D Tartatovsky work:

    Powerpuff Girls Movie, the girls play 'tag' for the first time.

    (video link)

    Clone Wars, Clone commandos being badass:

    (video link)

    Clone Wars, Mace Windu uses force powers to fight massive droid army:

    (video link)

    Clone Wars, General Grievous takes on 6 Jedi at once:

    (video link)

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    Evil Dead (2013)

    Wow.

    Look, there's going to be triggering stuff in here. I can't help it. I don't normally worry about blood too much, but this time I'm going to be showing a lot of it (eventually). What's more there is an um... "iconic" moment in the original movie "The Evil Dead" and regardless of how they handled that in the remake, I'm going to have to discuss the original on which its based anyway. So the review below WILL (later on) include a r*pe discussion. However, I'm going to do as much of the review as I can before I reach that point. Also, there will be two trigger warnings below. The first is for discussion and images related to violence and the second (very close to the end) is for the r*pe discussion.

    This review is going to cover a lot of bases so here's the contents:
    1. The Non-Triggering Review
    A short basic introduction that expresses my general feelings on the Evil Dead series as a whole, includes my opinion on the new movie, but is somewhat lighter on actual analysis. ("So like every other movie review you've done then?" - Oh touche!)

    2. Confused by the Critics
    I explain why I think some criticisms of the new remake make no damn sense and analyse what might be causing the reviews to be so drastically polarised.

    3. The 'iconic' moments
    I talk about the bloodthirsty elements and get into the real guts of the movie. I talk about how much this remake has taken from its predecessor and whether it should have done so.



    1. The Non-Triggering Review

    Before I get to any of the triggering stuff (don't worry, the warning will be nice and clear when we get to it and any triggering stuff will be a long way under the cut), I'm going to try and give as thorough a summation of my thoughts on the movie as I can.

    Okay, so um... look hand-on-heart here. I didn't like the original movie of "The Evil Dead" from the 80s. I saw "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn" first and was kind of puzzled by it. But I increasingly loved it the more I watched it. It marked the beginnings of my adoration of horror comedies, since Raimi seems to be unique in his ability to not only have real creepiness and horror and real laugh out loud moments in the same film, but to have both in the exact same moment!



    Then I watched "The Evil Dead" and it was a massive let-down. I wasn't used to low budget horror at all - and the original is SERIOUSLY low budget. The film felt slow and plodding. Bruce Campbell's character wasn't the charismatic narcissist I'd come to love in the sequel either. It didn't have the comedy of the sequel. Okay, actually there is some comedy in the second half, but I didn't reach that point. When it came to the aforementioned 'iconic' moment, I just turned it off in disgust. (I came to watch it again last October for Halloween Candy's 31 day marathon. Familiarity with the entire Friday 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, along with a few Lucio Fulci movies probably helped me to stomach it better and be a little more forgiving of its flaws, but the hills certainly weren't alive with praise for it.)

    So I must say, like many people, I was kind of hoping for this remake would be a horror comedy like parts 2 and 3. But the poster made very clear that was not to be the case. The teaser poster was covered in the words "THE MOST TERRIFYING FILM YOU WILL EVER EXPERIENCE." (In caps, just like that.) So I was just going to have to accept that this wasn't going to be a humourous film.



    I've often said in the past that the best horror films have a sense of fun. Actually gore can be part of that. It's true that gore isn't always scary. In John Carpenter's "The Thing" the gory parts seriously freak you out, but it's the tension while you are waiting for The Thing to strike that really get to you. It's the atmosphere that makes a horror movie creepy, but the gore is the fun part. This film has lashings of gore and there are clear moments where, while not a laugh riot, you can tell the director is aware of the silly elements.

    I've heard a few reviewers complain that the acting isn't very good. I have no idea what they are talking about. Some characters get rather less screen time than others, but the acting felt pretty good from everyone. Particularly impressive was Jane Levy who plays the first person to be possessed by the evil.



    The basic story is simple. Several friends go on a getaway to a cabin in the woods. They find a scary-looking book. Someone is silly enough to read words out of it. Et voila, demonic possession of a particularly horrible sort ensues.

    A friend of mine claimed he'd seen someone on a forum insisting that all the female characters were indistinguishable. That's actually true of the original movie, not least because the original movie often substitutes other actresses because they couldn't get the original actresses to stick around for the overrunning filming time. However, in this remake we have one blonde, one brunette and one black girl. As far as character goes they are pretty distinctive too since the blonde is quiet and shy because she's been brought along by her boyfriend and doesn't know anyone, the brunette (Jane Levy) is often highly irrational because she's withdrawing from heroin (the main reason why they're all there), the black girl is very forthright and rational with a background in nursing. These are not bland indistinguishable characters like in the original.

    The drug withdrawal story works pretty well. The ideas surrounding it are used throughout the film and it also mean that when Jane Levy is initially the only one who knows something is wrong, no one initially believes her. As far as they are concerned she's just hallucinating as she goes through withdrawal. And of course she wants to get out of there. - She wants her fix!



    I was saying to my friend how a major problem with recent Platinum Dunes remakes (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday The 13th, A Nightmare On Elm Street) is that the characters all look like they've just had a makeover. Even towards the end of the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake the female protagonist still seems to have perfect hair, even as they are supposed to be horribly sleep deprived the main characters in the "A Nightmare On Elm Street" remake look spuced up and healthy, and in the "Friday the 13th" remake we have a girl who has been kidnapped and kept underground for 6 months yet looks perfectly made-up and ready to strut down the catwalk.

    Early on in "Evil Dead" Jane Levy's character already looks pale and unhealthy. Sure, the other characters are looking pretty clean-cut, but once you toss enough blood about (and trust me, blood is tossed, lots of it) they pretty quickly stop looking so pleasant.

    One last element that must be mentioned is the book itself. This time around the book seems to be the main focus for the evil. It keeps falling open on big pictures of what horrible curse will befall the characters next and it's probably the clearest sign that the film is somewhat tongue in cheek about the scenario. However, while it might be amusing to see the horrible events being announced beforehand it's also pretty horrifying since we know that horrible scenario is coming and it's just a matter of time.



    So we have common themes: drug addiction, guilt, scepticism. We have a sense of fun. We have decent acting (particularly from Jane Levy with her junkie/demon performance). We have some impressive gore and action. And you might be surprised to hear that the resolution wasn't entirely expected. Sure, it's the same simple story, but the film keeps up the pace well and doesn't try to drag things out, hence the 90 minute running time.

    In short, I WOULD recommend "Evil Dead" to horror fans who are interested to know what an ultra-scary and brutal version of "The Evil Dead" will be like. But nevertheless, I'd put the same trigger warnings on this film that I will on the rest of the review. I'd also note that there's a bit towards the end where a character acts a little on the stupid side. It's suggested that he has a plan, but he doesn't really appear to have thought things through that well - and that bugged me. However, I was so caught up by that point that it really didn't matter.

    A+



    2. Confusion About The Critics


    First thing I'm going to do under the cut is start complaining about reviews, mostly based on the short snippets on Rotten Tomatoes. As unfair as that may seem to reviewers who write whole articles, not simply sound bites, I haven't got time to read every single review of "Evil Dead". (I have read a few.)

    However, one little sound bite which most neatly summed up by feelings on the "Evil Dead" remake was this from Bill Goodykoontz (surely not his real name?) at "Arizona Republic":


    "Whether you think it's a good movie will depend largely upon your stomach for gruesome violence. Then again, if you are going to see a movie called "Evil Dead," you're probably going to be OK."


    *   *   *   TRIGGER WARNING   *   *   *
    *TRIGGER WARNING FOR GORY IMAGES, DISCUSSION OF VIOLENT SEQUENCES AND SEXUAL ASSAULT DISCUSSION. DISCUSSION BELOW WILL FEATURE THESE ELEMENTS. (THOUGH THERE WILL A SECOND WARNING FOR THE SEXUAL ASSAULT DISCUSSION.)*






    As I've said above, I'm not keen on the original movie "The Evil Dead". I think it's being remembered rather overly fondly by reviewers many of whom I doubt have bothered to rewatch it recently. I also think a lot of people's memories are being distorted by the sequels, criticising "Evil Dead" for lacking the humour that wasn't really present in Raimi's original.

    Dennis Schwartz from Ozu's world had this to say:

    "An unnecessary remake of the popular 1981 cult classic Evil Dead by Sam Raimi. The big-budget remake lacks the low-budget original's imagination, charm, wit and freshness, as it goes for an all-out mindless demonic possession and blood-splatter horror pic."

    I'm getting fed up with the words "unnecessary remake". Was John Carpenter's "The Thing" 'necessary'? Was David Cronenberg's "The Fly" 'necessary'? Even the 50s version of "House of Wax" starring Vincent Price was a remake, but was it unnecessary? Let's face it. ALL remakes are unnecessary until they turn out to be good.

    And let's not forget that there's already technically been a remake in the Evil Dead series. "Evil Dead 2" had to spend the first half essentially remaking the original movie because the original had been banned in so many places that they couldn't presume that anyone had actually seen it. (And I feel like many of these critics possibly still haven't.)



    The original "The Evil Dead" did not really do anything we hadn't seen before. Five kids go out to a cabin in the woods and get picked off one by one by an evil force. Yeah, that's not exactly original. And guess where horror fans had seen the chainsaw before? Texas Chainsaw Massacre! However, the film was still a showcase for the talents of people who would go on to do better work in the future and many of the elements from the original were reused in the sequel/remake and are now considered iconic. The film launched not just Sam Raimi's career but also the Coen Brothers, with Joel Coen working as an editor on the project.

    So yeah, charm? Wit? Freshness??? Charm I might be willing to give you, if it weren't for the disgusting rape sequence which seems to be played for laughs. If you want to talk about wit you are pretty much talking about the wrong movie. Sure, in the second half there's some funny stuff where the demons are messing with the characters, but there's not an awful lot to laugh at. As far as freshness is concerned? Well, there's a reason why "Cabin In The Woods" picked out "The Evil Dead" as their basic format for a horror movie (five kids in a cabin, something strange in the basement, monsters pick them off one by one, pretty average horror set-up really).

    And as for the blood splatter, that's what made the "Evil Dead" movies great and it's also what made "Drag Me To Hell" great the other year. When we see various mutilations and violent attacks it is fun and exciting. What's more we even have (not quite so often as in "Drag Me To Hell", some will be pleased to know) the regular doses of blood going into people's mouths. You can spray blood everywhere, but it's not until it goes in someone's mouth that the audience gets properly squicked.



    Tim Brayton from Antagony & Ecstasy was even more confusing, having this to say:

    "Rather overt about its intentions to replace the campfire story creepiness of [the original] with over-the-top gore effects and a truly unfortunate reliance on jump scares. "

    Okay, first of all... REPLACING with over-the-top gore effects? REPLACING???

    What you mean as opposed to the understated stuff in the original?

    Like this?



    And this?


    I mean seriously, what did he think was being remade? It's called "Evil Dead", not "Happy Days" ffs!


    And jump scares? You know how many jump scares there are in this movie? Two. And one of them is an advert before the movie even started.

    Seriously there was at least one guy who was quite loudly startled by the Ghost House Pictures logo:



    The other is a quick cut to another scene where a character is putting nails into the wall. It's a cheap trick to suddenly change the scene and make the very first sound a loud and jarring one, but at this stage all they are doing is a fake-out. The horror will start later and with nothing on screen that is actually scary yet, why not give you a quick jolt?

    In fact, a lot of reviewers said that the film was not scary at all. In a way I can see where they are coming from. "Evil Dead" has a strong creepy atmosphere which is unsettling and it has gory scenes (which are fun really), but it's not one of those (really really bad) horror movies that just tries to scare you all the time as if that's all that matters. And no, it doesn't use jump scares. That is simply not true.

    In actual fact the scares are often pretty clever and natural. When one character is initially paging through the book we hear random whispering (which with the cinema's surround sound I very nearly blamed on the audience) and increasingly loud raindrops (which I quickly realised weren't actually noises from the audience either) which seem to surround us. The camera sweeps slowly towards the character and he flips through the evil tome. This is the subtle way that the film makes you realise that things are not quite right.


    Apparently the character who decides to read the book is a teacher. Ah, those silly
    teachers getting interested by disturbing books and cursing all their friends' souls.... :P


    3. The 'iconic' moments

    You know what? I LOVE gory scenes in movies - when they are sufficiently over the top! I hate gore that focusses on the little things, like eyes (eeugh!) or fingers (eeeeayaaahugh!) and the first time around I gave up on "The Loved Ones" (which I now recommend, though preferably AFTER watching the original "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" to which it feels somewhat indebted) because of a rather nasty scene involving a drill aimed at the protagonist's forehead.



    In "Evil Dead" there are admittedly a few points where I was grimacing a little. A few not quite misses with a knife, a brutal attack with a nail gun and crowbar, and there's some desperate action taken when one character finds their arm has become possessed. (Interestingly, a reviewer on the ScreenRant Underground podcast was disturbed at himself for being rather less squicked by the arm-removal scene than he was by some of the other violence.) During most violent scenes there are essentially buckets of blood being chucked about. On the one hand, that's actually quite realistic since the human body contains loads of blood, but on the other hand when you chuck enough blood around it becomes silly horror fun rather than a savage display of violence. (Like I keep saying, this film's use of gore is fully in line with the general trend of the franchise.)



    Just like with Ash in the original trilogy, characters are often faced with demonic mirror images of themselves. The camera rushing through the woods is a lot smoother than it was in previous movies (where the effect was achieved by attaching a camera to a bicycle, but still has that shaky effect all the same.


    (Ash in "Evil Dead 2".)

    I'm actually given to wonder whether the problem isn't that there is too LITTLE gore in the American version. The quantity of gore in "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn" is one of the major clues that you shouldn't take it seriously. But if too much has been cut, perhaps it isn't as fun any more. Interestingly, while the original of "The Evil Dead" was banned in the UK, being placed on the DPP video nasties list meaning that anyone found to have sold it could be prosecuted for, essentially, corrupting the minds of their customers. So perhaps it's not surprising to hear that this time around the BBFC has passed the film uncut (though to be fair, there's nothing here that wouldn't normally be accepted in an 18 certificate movie). In America however, it seems that most films don't show NC-17 movies so it's been cut in order to get an R rating. I've heard that means some of the scenes have been darkened so you can't enjoy the over-the-top gore and violence to the extent you might have done otherwise.

    *SECOND TRIGGER WARNING! BELOW IS THE POINT WHERE I FINALLY GET TO THE R*PE DISCUSSION. DO NOT VENTURE PAST THIS POINT IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ IT!*



    The element that was always going to be hardest to handle was the tree rape scene. When I watched the original Evil Dead first time around I gave up at that point. It was utterly misogynistic and what makes it worse, it was played for laughs. Arms pulled out by branches, legs pulled out by branches, another branch shoves between her legs and her eyes widen in cartoonish shock as she makes a high pictched "ummph!" sound. Disgusting!


    In the original movie of "The Evil Dead"  this is a highly exploitative scene.

    With this film being a remake, they were going to have trouble avoiding the inclusion of this scene and the trailer had already revealed that one character would be held in place by branches at one point. I was REALLY concerned about how they were going to handle the tree rape scene without making me feel thoroughly upset.

    As it turns out, they make a sort of compromise. The trees don't rape anyone. There IS a kind of penetration, but it's by a representation of the evil (not a person or a tree branch). The character in question is faced by a vision of a demonic version of herself. Out of the demons mouth (they LOVE stuff involving the mouth, don't they?) comes a dark black slug which drops to the ground. It then crawls agonisingly slowly up one of the branches and yes, it goes between the character's legs.



    It's definitely a horrifying moment, but the character in question is Jane Levy's character Mia who is at the Cabin to go cold turkey from heroin. Horrifying hallucinations kind of go with the territory and the script and Levy's performance go to great lengths to flesh out her character. When this event happens to her it is essentially a harsh and uncompromising first strike by the demons making very clear how horrfying they are right from the start and making us all the more invested when the first possession falls upon the most relateable character.


    This is not a glamourous role, but trust me, she's awesome.

    If nothing else, I can give this scene credit for being much more forgiveable than the version in the original film. One reviewer claimed that the scene was equivalent of tentacle hentai, but that's not terribly fair. The black slug of evil in that scene is not a tentacle and the scene represents very clearly the absolute horror of the violation involved.

    Lindy West gives the opposing side of this argument and as per usual I have a lot of respect for her. She argues that she can enjoy the original Evil Dead because of its unintentional hilarity, but finds the more serious and nasty version the remake provides was simply not to her taste at all. However, where I find myself confused is how she can happily accept a comedic trivialisation of rape in the original tree rape scene, while getting up in arms about a well-realised female character being penetrated by an evil force. (Then again, she claims that there were people applauding at that scene in her cinema. Thankfully not my experience, but that would definitely have freaked me out. I remember people saying that their audience laughed at the rape scene in "Watchmen" as well. What the hell is WRONG with some people???)



    I can see why "Evil Dead" is controversial with some people (and at least one person in my friends list who saw it was definitely disappointed) and I can see why others were concerned when they found it wouldn't be the horror comedy they were hoping for (I'm definitely more of a horror comedy guy). But personally I loved it and I don't have any qualms giving it the A+ rating. Feel free to shout at me in the comments below.


    Elsewhere on the internets!

    (Lindy West's article)

    (Review at "Diaries Of The Demented" blog)

    (Review on the Screenrant Underground podcast)

    (Horroretc Podcast discussion - I haven't heard it yet)

    (Half In The Bag video review - I haven't watched it yet)

    The short film (less than 5 minutes) that got Fede Alvarez noticed by Sam Raimi is not horror and, unlike the Evil Dead remake, is all CG visual effects:

    (video link)

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    The Tobe Hooper Retrospective is FINALLY over!!!

    Next up will be "The Omen" and "Child's Play" series (which I'll be reviewing alongside one another). In the meantime here are my personal top 6 favourites from Tobe Hooper's filmography. A lot of it was pretty good fun, but to be frank, I'm not in a hurry to track down his latest movie "Djinn".


    1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) - A+
    Since I began with the intention of watching this particular franchise I probably ought to check out "Texas Chainsaw" (this recent addition to the franchise has dropped the 'massacre' part, which to be frank they probably ought to have done earlier). I'm not going to be rushing out to get hold of that the moment the DVD is released, but I suspect I'll get around to it eventually. In any case, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" is a remarkable and haunting film that definitely represents Tobe Hooper's best work.
    (Full review already posted here - scroll to the end for the review.)

    2. The Funhouse (1981)


    The Funhouse (1981)

    Turns out that this was another Tobe Hooper film to be placed on the 'video nasty' DPP list. "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" actually avoided being entered on that list because it was believed that it could be acceptable if there were sufficient cuts. As it was, all attempts at cutting The Texas Chain Saw Massacre turned out to be in vain, because no matter what they cut it never seemed to take away from the viscious atmosphere of the film. (Remember that there is very little gore to speak of in that film. It is very much the atmosphere that makes it what it is.) So Texas Chain Saw Massacre ended up being banned, but not prosecuted as a source of moral corruption in society. That honour went instead to Hooper's follow-up "Death Trap" (sometimes known as "Eaten Alive" but not to be mixed up with the cannibal movie directed by Umberto Lenzi). Meanwhile "The Funhouse" is actually pretty mild by comparison to either of those other Hooper films and it has been suggested that the censors may have mixed up "The Funhouse" with another video nasty movie which was sometimes sold with a similar title. Video nasties often had multiple names making it all the harder to keep track of them all.




    The Funhouse follows a group of teenagers, played by actors who weren't really teenagers at all, as they explore a fun fair. We get to hang out with characters and explore the various attractions at the fun fair, but all the while there's a sense of foreshadowing, partly because we know that The Funhouse is going to be important later, but also because little elements from elsewhere in the fair are going to return later too.



    While I wouldn't say that the teenager characters have much to them, they are all fun to hang out with. There's a charm to this film which subtly held my interest without the need for gore or even scares. There's only a subtle sense of foreboding in the first half of the film to remind you that this is even a horror film.



    Eventually our teenagers decide that they are going to pull a bit of a stunt by sleeping all night inside the Funhouse (which is actually a 'ghost train' attraction). However, it turns out that some people involved in the touring attractions have a secret and the teenagers see something they shouldn't've. The second half of the film then unfolds rather less subtly, but it's still great fun and I really enjoyed it. This is definitely one of Tobe Hooper's best films and I'm really glad I kept up the retrospective long enough to see it.

    B+



    3. Poltergeist (1982) - B+
    I'm not quite sure how I feel about this one. I'm actually inclined to blame Spielberg for my misgivings about "Poltergeist" because my biggest issue was that it felt a bit like "E.T." (and I hated "E.T.", even as a child). Love the Ghostbusters style effects, love the creepiness, but not so keen on the "Close Encounters"-style hippy-logic. Overall I guess this is pretty awesome.
    (Full review already posted here.)


    4. Mortuary (2005)

    Mortuary was not one I was expecting much from. It scores just 3.8 on IMDB and has no score to speak of on Rotten Tomatoes. However, this is far from Tobe Hooper's worst. In fact there's a lot of fun to be had here.

    A single mother has transported her family an enormous distance to a new and unfamiliar home because it will give her an opportunity to set up her own funeral services. The place where she plans to work is massively run-down, but the idea is that the place should be a good fixer-upper and with a mortuary already built below, it could make setting up the business a lot easier. (Though it's clearly a lot more run-down than she was expecting.)



    Unfortunately it turns out the house comes with other baggage. The house overlooks a large graveyard and there are local legends about a killer who had stalked the graveyard for centuries.

    Quite soon into the film we come across some evil black sludge. This black sludge is important, but I won't spoil too much here by telling you its significance.



    What's great about this film is that there are a whole series of relateable characters and there's some really good humour to keep things interesting in between overt horror scenes. Perhaps I'm more forgiving than some because my appreciation of horror comedies means that I can more easily accept the often light-hearted feel. Or perhaps I'm just so desperate for some of Tobe Hooper's movies in this marathon to actually be good that I'm willing to be more forgiving than the movies deserve.



    In any case, eventually things get seriously dark once we get a "family sit-down for a meal" scene. The similarity with the climactic scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre was pretty clear and in this otherwise fairly light-hearted movie that was a definite horror-high-point. Kudos must go to Denise Crosby (apparently most well known for her role as Lieutenant Tasha Yar in Star Trek:TNG) who really makes the horror work.



    I don't think Hooper was entirely sure on how to end "Mortuary", so I felt a bit less happy that I thought I'd be when the final credits rolled. Also it's kind of obvious that Hooper isn't working with a terribly good budget here. However, this is a very good film overall which provides some better than average entertainment. Simple, but effective. Good sense of fun. Essentially a kind of monster movie and sure to provide a good time even if it isn't exactly Shakespeare.

    B+


    5. Invaders From Mars (1986)
    Inevitably I need to begin by reviewing the original 1953 version. Remakes inevitably carry baggage and this case is no different.



    Invaders From Mars (1953)
    The first half of "Invaders of Mars" is simply brilliant. Although the acting isn't perfect, the mood is. There's an Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario with tension building gradually and devastatingly.



    The protagonist is a young boy keen on astronomy who looks out of his window to see a spacecraft landing in the area just over the hill outside his house. By the time he wakes up his parents the UFO is out of sight of the house (albeit clearly not far away) so the father promises to check it out first thing in the morning. The next morning the protagonist's father starts acting strangely and then all sorts of people around the area are gradually, systematically changing. What's worse is that the protagonist can even tell when people are about to be changed because it always involves another adult suggesting they take a walk up to the hillside behind the house.



    Eventually it seems like even the highest authorities in the area will not only fail to believe the child protagonist, but are already possessed by the aliens.



    But just as all help is lost the boy finally finds someone who can help him and the film quickly becomes boring. How fortunate for the protagonist to find an authority figure with links to the military who has always suspected that aliens would make contact soon (and isn't a nutcase either).

    The next half of the film proceeds with the military working out how they can penetrate the area under which the spaceship is hidden. Eventually they finally explore the spaceship and even come across the central alien creature (which looks pretty cool I guess).



    Eventually the film is over, but that second half is a real slog. It's such a pity because the first half was so engrossing. Unfortunately while the first half is gives us an absolutely terrifying set up, the second half pulls all its punches and gives us one of the most run-of-the-mill alien invasion films you can expect to see. Sure something like "Earth Vs The Flying Saucers" doesn't have such a gripping intro, but it's far more consistent in its pacing and its ideas.



    I would recommend anyone check out the first half of this film, but once one particular character starts claiming to be an expert on aliens you may as well switch off right there.

    C-





    Invaders From Mars (1986)

    There was something quite perfect about the opening half of the original Invaders of Mars and this remake doesn't quite live up to that. However, there are a few bits that are done very well. The arrival of space ship looks very cool. The alien-possessed parents are made extra creepy by the way they eat some seriously weird food (especially when the mother appears to be scooping up chunks of uncooked burger meat and covering them in heaps sugar before calmly eating them).


    Unfortunately the child actor here is not great. Thankfully Tobe Hooper decides to counter-balance this... by pairing him with an actress who is an even worse actress than the child protagonist! Ok, so that felt like a mistake, but fortunately the effects work is great and Hooper decides to show us the inside of the spaceship relatively early and in spite of some very 80s effects work, this is still a seriously gripping scene. The effects work is all pretty effective despite the dated-ness of it.



    I much preferred the new explanation of how the military become involved. The military authorities are clearly a lot more sceptical this time around and though they don't seem sufficiently set back by the mass of alien-possessed people within their midst, at least there's nobody saying that they 'expected' an alien invasion.



    The final ending, which felt very much like a cop-out in the original, is oddly powerful this time around. There was something rather shocking about the ending this time around while the exact same ending in the original was pretty groan-worthy.

    This remake could definitely be better, but this was a really enjoyable film and a good little update of the original. I'd like it if the first half was as gripping as in the original, but unfortunately that's not the case. One element that really helps to raise my opinion of this movie is that the pacing is so much better than some of Hooper's other works like Salem's Lot, Lifeforce, Death Trap and even Crocodile.



    As much as the acting wasn't always great I had a pretty good time with this film and with some better performances this could be a fondly remembered classic along with the remakes of "The Blob" and "The Fly". As it is, though I could clearly see the potential, this was more of a cheesy guilty pleasure than something I could confidently recommend.

    C+

    To Sum Up:
    The first half of Tobe Hooper's "Invaders From Mars" remake doesn't feel quite as oppressive as the 1953 original, which is unfortunate since the first half of the original had a very impressive creepy atmosphere to it. However, Hooper still manages to make things appropriately bizarre and in the second half provides a much better paced and satisfying movie than the original provided. Also, in spite of keeping the original ending, somehow Hooper makes that work better this time around too. Not perfect, but a very worthy attempt.


    6. Salem's Lot (1979) - C-
    One of the few tv movies from Hooper I chose to include. Some parts are really well done, while at other points this dragged. All in all the pacing is a real problem, but the high points are just so great that it's difficult not to be impressed.
    (Full review already posted here.)

    (For some slightly less good Tobe Hooper movies click here.)
    (For my very least favourite Tobe Hooper movies click here.)

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    In this entry, I am reviewing the highly praised Scandinavian thriller "Headhunters". I am also reviewing the old video nasty which, while widely recognised as cheap and trashy, has now received a highly praised remake starring Elijah Wood.

    Headhunters (2011)



    Ok here were my first impressions based on the poster:
    Wow, there's a guy on the poster wearing a suit and holding a gun! Looks gritty, yet somehow kind of fun at the same time. A bit like "American Psycho"... But sure, it's a gritty Scandinavian film so perhaps it's more serious than that. Could get pretty nasty.

    I'd heard the film mentioned in a number of places, but nothing that I'd heard really gave me much of a clue as to what the film was about. And that's where THIS review comes in. If you've wanted to know what this film is about without having to worry about spoilers, that's pretty much my speciality.



    Perhaps the biggest problem with describing what "Headhunters" is about (and, as a result, one of the biggest problems with enjoying the film itself), is that it doesn't really seem to be sure what kind of film it wants to be.

    We begin seemingly right in the middle of the action, being given careful instructions on how to steal a painting. Cold, calculating and genuinely seeming pretty clever. These seem like they must be a set of rules that will be vital to the rest of the movie. - Except that actually stealing paintings isn't really a vital part of the rest of the film.



    Then we discover that the painting stealing is all to fund the protagonist's highly extravagant lifestyle because he's convinced that his wife would leave him if she ever knew that he did not really make the huge salary to afford it. Still cold and calculating, the protagonist comes off like a bit of an arse, but that's the dark gritty film we were expecting. Unfortunately, the protagonist's vast expenses don't really play much of a part in the film as a whole either.

    The protagonist's day job, it turns out, is as a 'headhunter' for businesses. He helps them choose candidates for important roles. A man comes to him for help in switching companies, but the protagonist decides to double cross this man when he believes that this potential candidate for the job is having an affair with his wife. Unfortunately it turns out that this person has a dark background of their own. It seems like he's crossed the wrong person. Suddenly things start going wrong for him and before he knows it, he is essentially being hunted down.



    From this point on, the film becomes a less realistic version of the horror classic "The Hitcher", except that the villain is no Rutger Hauer and as this villain's methods become more and more extreme, the protagonist appears to be indestructible. (I'm not going to spoil what happens, but trust me, it's utterly daft that the protagonist survives.)

    Early on in the chase there's a point where the protagonist is forced to hide in a pile of excrement inside a toilet with only a toilet roll tube to breathe with. It's utterly disgusting, but it was admittedly quite a tense scene. Unfortunately the writers clearly thought they needed to up the ante with more and more ridiculousness from that point on.



    The point where I felt completely cheated by the film, however, was where it suddenly decided to go from having a completely unsympathetic anti-hero in a cat-and-mouse chase plot, to making the whole thing some kind of moral tale. Apparently all the protagonist needed to do was learn a lesson and that lesson, of all things, was that he needed to have more confidence.

    Seriously? This is a cold and calculating art thief, who steals in order to afford a luxurious lifestyle for himself and his wife, to whom he shows very little respect. And I'm expected to believe that his major issue is that he's not confident enough?



    His major issue remains that he's a complete arse, plain and simple. The events of this film do not make him a hero, or even a relatively sympathetic anti-hero. He remains an arse who, to be quite frank, deserves everything he gets and a whole lot more.

    Utter nonsense from start to finish, yet not in the least bit fun. Give it a miss.

    D-




    Maniac (1980)



    Apparently a remake of this is about to be released starring Elijah Wood. I am inclined to argue, having now seen the original, that this is completely impossible. You cannot remake this. Here's why...



    Now first of all, let's just make clear that I don't feel Elijah Wood is somehow incapable of playing a psycho killer. He already played one, in "Sin City", and it was a psycho killer that eats women no less. So that side of things is just fine.



    My problem is that two films about psychos who kill people does not at all imply that one is a remake, sequel, prequel, reboot, or whatever, of the other. There needs to be some wider concept, some kind of a plot, something which makes it clear that the one is somehow connected to the other.

    Maniac has NO plot. It's a film where the only thing that happens is murder. One woman (mainly prostitutes) murdered after another by a very dull central character. The whole film is very slowly paced with little in the way of suspense, yet everything that happens is predictable and inevitable.



    I resented being forced to listen to the main character rant throughout the film, not because that can never work, but because it simply was not done in an interesting way. The Tobe Hooper movie "Death Trap" (aka "Eaten Alive") also features a ranting killer maniac, and while admittedly I found it irritating there too, I was able to get past it and enjoy the film. The problem here is that there's not really much respite from the central character's ranting. Very few characters turn up in the film.

    There is, however, one good thing about the movie "Maniac". While it might not even remotely work as a film, it does work as a showcase for Tom Savini's incredible talent for gore effects. The gore includes someone's scalp being taken off and even someone's face being ripped apart. Effects have come a long way since then, so considering the era and the low budget I found the effects to be very impressive indeed.



    In the end this is less a film and more an ultra slow-paced showcase for Savini's gore effects. If I was judging it as a showcase for gore effects I might give it a pretty good score (though I'd have to take into account how massively slow the whole thing is), but judging this as a piece of entertainment I cannot rate it at all. There's no plot, the central character has less depth than the DVD the film came on, and the whole thing is (I'm sorry to be repetitive here) PAINFULLY slow.

    U+



    (Cross-posted to Halloween Candy)

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    Pusher (2012)

    I was intrigued by this remake of Pusher. Admittedly I'm a big fan of the Pusher series. It has a strong appeal for me, even if I didn't feel inclined to give any of the entries an A+ score. However, the first movie in the trilogy is definitely not the best. It's not until the sequels, each of which has a different protagonist, that the world of those films expanded with side-characters often returning and the audience becoming more familiar with how the characters relate to one another.


    Screencap from the original 1996 movie. The guy on the left?
    Mads Mikkelsen! (From "A Royal Affair", "Casino Royale" and
    the recent "Hannibal" tv series.)


    The original Pusher is a pretty simple story. A drug dealer in Denmark has retirement plans and is look forward to pulling off a big score and possibly finishing with drug dealing for good. He wants a better life for both him and his girlfriend who currently works as a dancer in a club. He thinks of himself as a more sensible drug dealer and a good businessman. Unfortunately, he's not immune from hiccups and so when things start to go wrong he's left unsure as to what to do next. The remake is basically the exact same movie only set in London.



    A few factors that made me less horrified to see the original remade were as follows. First of all Nicolas Winding Refn stayed on as producer. Now initially when I saw his name in big letters on the poster, I was annoyed. It seemed like the film was trying to cash in on the recent buzz for Drive by pretending that Nicolas Winding Ren was the director. But it seems that he was directly linked to the movie and what clearer evidence is there of this than the return of Zlato Buric as the (presumably Russian) drug lord Milo. This was a very welcome decision and Buric plays the character fantastically in both versions of "Pusher".



    I was a little unsure on Richard Coyle in the lead role. I like Richard Coyle a lot but I've only really enjoyed him in comedy roles. The role I know him for most is as the socially inept and pervertedly philosophical Jeff from Stephen Moffat's tv series "Coupling". I also thought he was really good in the live action adaptation of Terry Pratchett's "Going Postal". But in more serious roles? He's never really had be sold so far. But heck, this might still have been the one to convince me.



    Another intriguing aspect to this remake was that apparently the style imitated that of Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" with distinctive trance music and dazzling lighting effects. The original movie was essentially copying Quentin Tarantino's style in Pulp Fiction and had quite a dingy down-to-earth feel. Unfortunately this attempt at imitating "Drive"'s style was a big let down. There are admittedly some rather neat effects using light and colour, but they don't build up an atmosphere like they did in "Drive". Instead it feels like the cinematographer is showing off for the sake of it, as if to make this movie a showcase for rather less haphazard work elsewhere.

    The idea that soundtrack would be up there with "Drive" was perhaps a little naive. Still, the attempts to ape the style of "Drive" made it all the more obvious how boring and cheesy the trance music was. Perhaps I wouldn't have found it so distracting if it hadn't been made a selling point from the start. (Videos featuring songs from each of the soundtracks can be found at the end of this review.)



    Perhaps one of the most original and surprising aspects of the original "Pusher", though perhaps also one of the most irritating, is the ending. Now I'm not going to give away the ending here. I always try to keep my reviews spoiler free. But I will reveal that the ending is very sudden and jarring. In the remake they've decided to make the ending less sudden and less jarring, but the result is that it makes the ending for too on-the-nose. The new ending makes the protagonist come across as an idiot during that final scene and that really wasn't necessary. I wonder whether they wouldn't have been better off sticking with the original quick and jarring ending rather than spelling things out more slowly.



    That's pretty much the problem with the film as a whole. Everything is spelled out so clearly, yet we're missing the grittiness from the first time around. The attempts to be stylish work against the atmosphere of the movie, making it feel like it is trying to be 'trendy' in a way that I found quite alienating. And as much as I love Richard Coyle's comedy roles, I just couldn't believe in him as a drug dealer.

    One scene which was particularly hard for me to accept was a scene with a fist fight in a nightclub. The suggestion seems to be that the bouncers have been bought off, but the club just did not look dingy enough for me to believe that anyone would turn a blind eye to a fist fight there. It would be bad for business if the bouncers were seen not to act.



    Perhaps the biggest problem is that "Pusher" isn't its own movie. It's a redo of a movie that had a very different sort of setting. Perhaps it's not surprising then, that only the drug lord Milo really feels like he fits in comfortably. The further Richard Coyle gets from Milo's place, the less convincing the film becomes. I felt Paul Kaye (another actor more commonly associated with comedy) felt particularly out of place. On the other hand, Neil Maskell, who is making a name for himself in films like "Kill List", "Wild Bill" and the tv series "Utopia", as a tough-guy-with-nuance, did a great job in his role as the potential buyer Marlon towards the beginning of the movie.

    Pusher has some promising elements, but lacks chemistry in so many ways.

    D+

    Drive soundtrack:
    (video link -embedding disabled)

    Pusher soundtrack:

    (video link)

    My reviews for the original Pusher series:
    Pusher (1996)
    Pusher II (2004)
    Pusher 3 (2005)




    If you want to see my review of "The Omen" it's available on Halloween Candy here.

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    Magic Mike (2012)

    It was hard to understand quite why Stephen Soderbergh would decide to make a film about male stripping starring Channing Tatum, but when I kept on hearing positive reviews for the film I ended up deciding that I was just going to have to see for myself. The obsession with this movie from the guys at Filmdrunk (who coined the nickname "C-Tates" for the lead actor) played a key role in encouraging me to see what I was missing.

    Prior to checking it out, I was aware that the plot was actually supposed to be pretty well rounded and that, if anything, women who went to see "Magic Mike" for the stripping felt a little misinformed about the content of this film. (I'm told that there's an option on the DVD to deal with this, allowing you to watch all the stripping scenes and to miss out the plot. I'm not big on DVD extras, so I didn't notice.)



    The plot is simple but effective. It's not a groundbreakingly new story and it relies on the performances to keep the audience interested. Fortunately the performances here are great. C-Tates is much more comfortable in the role of a charming stripper than he was in the role of a Roman Centurion (in "The Eagle") and every moment he is on screen he not only plays the role convincingly but also managed to make me laugh on a number of occasions. It's all very well to say that he's playing himself (since the story is somewhat based on his life), but being connected to a story doesn't mean you can act it, never mind pull people into the story with your performance.

    Another awesome aspect of C-Tates role is the power play between him and Matthew McConaughey, who essentially runs their stripping um... troupe? What with "Magic Mike", "Killer Joe", and "Mud" (from the director of "Take shelter" coming out later this year), McConaughey seems to have finally escaped from making cheesy romantic comedies and actually seems to be appearing in films worth watching for a change. He gives a really strong performance here and I don't remember him ever being such a strong actor in films like "Contact" or "View To A Kill".



    The basic plot is this. C-Tates is a stripper, but his real passion lies in custom furniture. His dream is to set up his own custom furniture business and to work on that full time and he hopes that the money he makes from stripping, along with some construction work, will allow his dream to come true.

    He manages to persuade a new guy to join their stripping gig and, since the new guy's been having little luck with employment recently, he soon comes around to the idea and starts taking it seriously. C-Tates then comes to meet the new guy's sister, who had been giving her brother a place to sleep while he looked for work. She's not convinced that C-Tates is a safe figure for her brother to hang around with and initially she's not at all sure what the two of them are mixed up in.



    C-Tates becomes heavily emotionally invested with both of them coming to care a great deal for the sister and feeling responsible for the brother. What could go wrong? (Yes, that means something goes wrong.)

    I've already noted that this story doesn't really go anywhere surprising, but the performances really sell it. As you tell from the synopsis I've provided, this is a character driven piece and the characters are admittedly pretty good. But now it's probably time to address the elephant in the room: The stripping scenes!

    Well I must admit that the stripping scenes are over-the-top and yet highly creative, so far from tapping my foot and waiting for them to end, I actually found those bits highly entertaining. One particularly memorable routine features the strippers all dressed as marines while Matthew MacConaughey stands in the middle wearing a glittery top hat decorated by the stars and stripes and brandishing a stripey marching pole. After some military chanting about the size of particular strippers' private parts, the strippers do a well-rehearsed routine where they pretend to fire machine guns from their groins. As the strippers finish their disrobing, the US flag drops down behind them.... It was so damn funny!



    I don't really know the general consensus of straight women or gay men about this movie, but I can assure you that there's nothing stopping straight men out there from enjoying this film. It's got a good solid plot, even if nothing much happens overall, and there are a number of solid characters. C-Tates is actually really good in the lead role, regardless of what you may have felt about his previous performances.

    B-



    If you want to see my review of "Child's Play" it's available on Halloween Candy here.

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    Frank Henenlotter: Director Showcase

    To begin with, I'd like to quote from an interview with Henenlotter for Total Sci-Fi. He claims that his films are intentionally exploitation films rather than horror in particular. "Horror" isn't the label that Henenlotter prefers (though I'd say it most definitely applies):


    "I never felt that I made ‘horror films’, I always felt that I made exploitation films. Exploitation films have an attitude more than anything - an attitude that you don’t find with mainstream Hollywood productions. They’re a little ruder, a little raunchier, they deal with material people don’t usually touch on, whether it’s sex or drugs or rock and roll.

    "They’re what I grew up on. I used to cut high school when I was growing up on Long Island. I’d take the train into Manhattan and would go to 42nd Street back when it was the greatest paradise in the world. I remember it was just nothing but theatre after theatre after theatre after theatre. And my head would spin! It was never a question of, ‘Oh, what shall I see?’ It was a case of ‘How many shall I see?’ It was glorious. Whether it was low budget horror films or sexploitation films or foreign films or just grubby little strange things that you never saw again. And you wouldn’t see these films anywhere else except in that wretched little street. It was just paradise!

    "...When I do exploitation it gives me the freedom to go a little nuts. I mean, I’d only say I work in ‘horror films’ so that the people that sell it have a safe label to put on it - “What category is it going to be on the shelves? Oh, horror.” And that’s fine.

    "But if you look at my films they’re really crazy, and I like the way I can blend comedy, horror and sex and just sometimes… self-indulgence! (laughs) I don’t think there’s a bad joke I won’t chase. Bad Biology is the biggest homage to exploitation films ever made. I just thought, ‘let’s go back and make an exploitation film as if the world still wanted them!’ (laughs manically)"



    Frank Henenlotter has just six movies in his filmography:

    Basket Case (1982) - The story of a young man who wanders around with basket, inside which lives his deformed and homicidal twin brother.

    Brain Damage (1988) - The story of a young man who receives a parasite which injects him with a powerful and addictive drug so long as he finds victims to feed the parasite with blood.

    Basket Case 2 (1990) - Sequel to Basket Case where the central characters find themselves welcomed into a new home.

    Frankenhooker (1990) - The story of a young bio-engineer who plans to rebuild his wife from the body parts of prostitutes after she is ripped apart in a lawnmower accident.

    Basket Case 3 (1992) - Sequel to Basket Case 2.

    Bad Biology (2008) - Two young people with bizarre sexual deformities might be perfect for one another, in a bizarre and twisted way.

    Pretty much every film Frank Henenlotter has made has a central premise which boggles the mind a bit and I wouldn't say that any of these films was predictable.

    I would note however, that Henenlotter sometimes has a habit of letting a single joke run on too long. Also the exploitation element of the films means that there's sometimes a lot of nudity simply for the sake of it.

    Still, these films are always a lot of fun...



    Basket Case 1, 2 and 3 (1982, 1990, 1992)

    Making up a full half of Henenlotter's filmography, I feel I need to deal with these three films separately from the others. Each one flows neatly into the next film, yet you could stop after any single one of them and be left with a pretty satisfying (and disturbing) ending.

    Basket Case

    The first entry is quite a slow moving film, but it really serves to flesh out these two characters and to slowly reveal their background together. It's a simple but effective plot and while the effects are extremely low budget, there's something disturbingly delightful about the whole twisted project.

    A+

    Basket Case 2

    It's not at all clear at the end of the first movie that there could even be a sequel, but the explanation makes enough sense. The effects have made a notable improvement since the previous entry, though this is still clearly a low budget feature.
    The 'house of freaks' (which was actually Frank Henenlotter's originally intended title) is extremely inventive. Also while the first entry in the Basket Case series was more like a typical horror film, Basket Case 2 is a horror comedy with a lot of the creepiness coming from a bizarre and twisted humour that gets under your skin even as you laugh at it.

    Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that, as a big horror comedy fan, Basket Case 2 is my favourite of Frank Henenlotter's films. For me, it was an utter joy, particularly the appearance of Annie Ross as the philanthropic "Granny Ruth" who absolutely stole the show.

    The ending is bizarre, but provides a proper arc for the characters at the same time. After beginning "Basket Case 2" wondering how they could possibly make a sequel, I finished totally immersed in the new expanded world of the Basket Case movies. This is my favourite of Henenlotter's movies because it touched my heart.

    A+

    Basket Case 3: The Progeny

    It was interesting to hear that Henenlotter isn't a fan of this either. His issue with the movie explains a lot. My impression was that the film had a lot of good ideas, but that a lot of those ideas didn't really have a good enough payoff. Meanwhile the film feels aimless at points and some of the jokes seem to be stretched longer than they ought to be.

    As it turns out Henenlotter went into this expecting to have free reign to do a full blood and guts movie. Turns out he was wrong and about 11 pages of his script were no longer viable. So when (see the title) the birth takes place, Henenlotter clearly didn't expect to spend the birth scene with the camera trained on the guy delivering the babies the whole time. Also when Belial is in his battle-suit (I'll leave the context a mystery, but I'm sure you can tell that this idea had potential) the whole scene feels remarkably tame.

    Basket Case 3 is a really poor end to the first two excellent movies, possibly made even sadder by the occasional glimpses of genius buried within it. Henenlotter's original plans for the movie would undoubtedly have been a great deal better than what we end up with and considering that Henenlotter claims to have been re-writing the film pretty much as they filmed, the outcome probably should have been worse.

    D+




    Brain Damage (1988)

    Henenlotter has a lot of great ideas in "Brain Damage" but the film starts off rather slowly and early sex-related kill scenes didn't really feel as funny as they were presumably intended to be.

    A scene later on in the film within a public showers makes it quite explicit that there are is a homosexual subtext to the movie. Still, while the homosexual subtext is noteworthy, the main story is about something else. Rather like with "A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Dead" which is also well known for having a homosexual subtext, it's not really necessary for the audience to notice that subtext. (In "Freddy's Dead" the protagonist enters what is clearly a gay bar, his gym teacher catches him drinking and brings him back to school late at night, only for his gym teacher to get a death scene involving being tied up with towels.)



    The explicit theme of the film is drug addiction. The central character is being influenced by the powerful drug of a parasite that has attached itself to him. Eventually he sobers enough to realise that he has been unknowingly helping the parasite to find victims and drink their blood. It is at this point where the film finally picks up, when the protagonist decides he doesn't want to kill anyone anymore. Can his conscience beat his addiction to the parasite's special drug?



    Brain Damage sometimes drags in pacing and it's not always as funny as it ought to be, but by the end I was fully on board. The problem with Brain Damage is that it is highly inconsistent, but it showed clear promise and some people may be able to forgive its failings more than I did. This could have been better, but it's well worth a watch all the same.

    C+


    Frankenhooker (1990)

    I heard positive comments about this around the internet and was quite surprised. The title didn't exactly appeal to me. However, there's a lot of inventiveness, some clear tributes to the original Frankenstein and some great black humour.



    That said, I didn't find the humour was entirely consistent and there are definitely a few scenes where the joke goes on too long, often particularly when those same scenes involve gratuitous nudity.



    The film lights right up, however, when the eponymous Frankenhooker finally turns up. Patty Mullen's performance in the role is comic gold. After most of the film had been spent watching the morally bankrupt Jeffrey work on his twisted experiment, it was such a relief to finally see him get his comeuppance.



    Frankenhooker is a lot of fun, but a few of the scenes seemed to try to run with a joke longer than they should have. Still, I can highly recommend this classic Henenlotter comedy.

    B+


    Bad Biology (2008)


    I've got to admit, I'm very embarassed to be writing this review. Bad Biology has to be one of the weirdest films I have ever seen and in places it is barely distinguishable from softcore pornography.

    We begin the film introduced to a woman called Jennifer who tells the audience over narration that she has multiple clitorises. Although you couldn't tell to look at her she has a deformity which makes her highly sexually charged. We then discover that she has a string of one night stands where she photographs her lovers during sex (since she's also a photographer) before eventually killing them unintentionally during the passion of lovemaking. And things actually get even more bizarre and twisted than that.



    Meanwhile there is a male character called Batz who is clearly disgusted and disturbed by his penis and yet is desperate to find more and more extreme medications for it.

    While in some ways it seems inevitable that these two characters will connect later in the film, it's not clear how that would work. Jennifer is so confident about her bizarre condition while Batz seems completely horrified by his own.



    Of course, it's not all just sex in the movie. Jennifer has a career in photography and, when involved in photoshoots, is clearly able to keen her personal and professional life separate. Also Batz spends time freaking out his drug dealer who wishes he would just smoke crack like an ordinary junkie.

    I cannot imagine that I would be giving this film the high praise that I do if I were not already familiar with Henenlotter's style as a filmmker. It's a particularly bizarre film and I normally get extremely annoyed when sex becomes a main feature in movies. However, Bad Biology is fantastic combination of twisted and hilarious and if you are familiar with Henenlotter's endearing approach to low budget cinema it becomes very easy to go along with it.



    As bizarre, rude and sick as "Bad Biology" might be, I am inclined to say that it is Henenlotter at his best. He doesn't need a high budget to completely immerse you in his twisted world. As a film that creeps you out and makes you laugh at the same time, Bad Biology definitely meets my criteria for a great horror comedy.

    A+

    Frank Henenlotter is a great horror-comedy director and I would highly recommend that you all see at least four of his movies. You possibly ought to leave "Bad Biology" until you've seen one or two of Henenlotter's other ones first though!

    (cross-posted to Halloween Candy)

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    Oblivion (2013)

    I haven't seen an awful lot of promotion for this big-budget sci-fi film. However, it was pointed out to me by a friend and initially the director on the project made me rather sceptical. Joseph Kosinski's previous movie was none other than Tron Legacy (to which I gave a whopping D+ score).

    The thing that intrigued me however is that this movie is actually based on a comic book that Kosinski wrote himself. Kosinski is not credited as one of the writers on "Tron Legacy". Now let's face it, normally a director does not begin their career with a big budget action movie. It's more common for them to begin with something smaller that they wrote themselves and then move on to personal projects afterwards.



    Now "Tron Legacy" wasn't all bad. It looked great and the action scenes were really well-handled. In fact, I'd say that its biggest problem was the script. So to see Kosinski's new project was something personal to himself where he was keen to be directly involved in the screenplay, I had high hopes that this could be a marked improvement on his previous film.

    On the other hand there's the lead character. I'm not really a particularly big Tom Cruise fan and the biggest problem I have with him is that I get seriously annoyed with him whenever he goes into "smug mode".

    Last year I almost gave him a pass on "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" because he was essentially playing James Bond-esque figure and so smugness felt somewhat justified. That is, until it reached the final scene and his self-congratulatory smugness went into overdrive. Perhaps the only movie I've REALLY liked starring Tom Cruise is "Minority Report" and even there he still had some smugness to him.



    Here we see a much more vulnerable performance from Tom Cruise. He doesn't have the same condescending feel to his performance that I normally expect.(Hopefully he'll be on similar form in Doug Liman's upcoming sci-fi film "All You Need Is Kill".)



    The basic gist of "Oblivion" is that Tom Cruise (along with Andrea Riseborough) have been left on Earth to tidy up in the aftermath of an alien invasion that left the Earth essentially dead. There are some remaining aliens on the surface lurking in the shadows and hiding underground, but the rest of the human race have long since left the Earth in order to live on Titan. These two technicians are tasked with protecting and maintaining large devices used to extract resources from the Earth to be taken to Titan. To help them protect these devices, they have the help of full-automated drones which can kill the aliens very quickly. However, if a drone is taken down by alien scavengers, it is the technicians who have to fix them.

    I say technicians. In fact, Andrea Riseborough's task is to oversee Tom Cruise's missions from a terminal in their home above the clouds. She is not supposed to go onto the surface and in fact refuses to do so. As such, she is more of an IT person, while Cruise is more of an engineer. While the two of them appear to have a pretty strong relationship, there's tension between them since Tom Cruise feels at home on the Earth while Andrea Riseborough cannot wait to leave.



    "Oblivion" takes a variety of elements from sci-fi films you've seen before. There are particularly obvious similarities with Duncan Jones' "Moon" and the Pixar movie "Wall-E". However, one thing that is particularly good about "Oblivion" is its world-building. It has its own unique bizarre set-up, but it sets itself up in a very natural way. All sorts of sci-fi films can be said to have borrowed from one another in terms of themes and visual cues, but what is most important is that the film's specific story is unique enough to stand out. "Oblivion", at its heart, did not feel like a film I had seen before, even while it reminded me of countless other sci-fi classics.



    The action scenes are fantastic. Well shot, well paced, and very exciting. Another great aspect is the drones. They feel like a combination of Eve from "Wall-E", sentinels from "The Matrix", Daleks from "Doctor Who", Tie-fighters from "Star Wars", and the drones from "Portal". The list could probably go on even longer, but they really encapsulate some of the best elements from sci-fi. On the one hand there's the look of them. They are very well designed. There's also the way they move and attack. They are quick, imposing, threatening, and yet cold and unfeeling. Early on we see how Tom Cruise quite often has to stand with the drone's guns trained on him waiting and hoping that it will recognise him and move off.



    As wonderfully exciting and interesting as this sci-fi film turned out to be. There are a few problems. The biggest problem? Olga Kurylenko, the woman Tom Cruise often sees in dreams. She's not exactly terrible. She's perfectly adequate in the role. But since she is involved in some highly sentimental scenes, those often don't work very well because her performance is not up to scratch. In those scenes Tom Cruise is actually doing the confused, conflicted and emotionally vulnerable act pretty well, but she just feels far too wooden.

    It turns out that I've seen Olga Kurylenko before. She was the wild northern woman (with no tongue) in Neil Marshall's "Centurion" and she played a small part as a gangster's girlfriend in Martin McDonagh's "Seven Psychopaths". This part in "Oblivion" is definitely the biggest speaking role I've seen her take on and I'm afraid it doesn't make me keen to see her in more things in the future.



    I don't think it helps that her role puts her in direct competition with Andrea Riseborough who is on absolutely top form here. Riseborough played a fairly small part in the "Made In Dagenham" and she was absolutely brilliant as the young Margaret Thatcher in "The Long Walk To Finchley". More recently she has been in a lot of smaller, less high profile features (and unfortunately decided to be in Madonna's movie "W.E." whitewashing royal Nazi-sympathisers), but in Oblivion she plays her part so fantastically that I am really keen to see her in more. Her emotional scenes really work well.



    One last problem that needs to be mentioned is that "Oblivion" goes a bit schmaltzy towards the end. Not too ridiculously schmaltzy, but it's an annoying failing in what had been a really exciting and well-paced film. There's a few overly expository lines from Morgan Freeman and a sense that we should be a little more emotionally invested than we actually are at times. Overall though, the story flowed well and kept me interested.

    "Oblivion" is a clear sign that the "Tron Legacy" director has a great career ahead of him. Here's hoping that his next project doesn't involve a naff script being foisted on him, because he clearly knows how to tell a good story. Add to that his flair for expressive visuals and exciting action sequences and I'm really keen to see what he does next. A relatively poor performance from one of the lead actors and a little too much pathos towards the end of the film count against this film, but there is also so much here that is absolutely brilliant.

    A-

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    (video link)
    (If you like this video you should probably check out the youtube link above and click "like". Plus in the video information there's a tinyurl link to Mediafire. Apparently the band Flashworx have offered up this EP as a freebie.)

    Seriously, the movie Drive has done weird things to my taste in music. I can't stop listening to stuff like this these days....

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    Trigger warning: The trailer for "Only God Forgives" features extreme violence. Oh yeah!

    Only God Forgives



    (video link)

    After Drive completely blew me away it's cool to see this awesome trailer for Nicholas Winding Refn's next movie. I award this awesome points for:
    - Somewhat aping the synthy music of "Drive".
    - Pretty awesome lighting effects in strong primary colours.
    - Not only does Ryan Gosling return, but this film features none other than Kristin Scott Thomas being decidedly badass.
    - Absolutely brutal violence. Oh my god yes!

    Thor: The Dark World



    (video link)

    Oh my goodness, isn't that trailer amazing? There seemed to be a bit of a mixed opinion on whether Captain America or Thor was better with few people really raving about either of them. Personally I was always more in the "Thor" camp and I certainly thought the character of Thor had a lot of potential for future movies. Well it looks like the time for Thor to shine is now. This film looks amazing. Marvel Studios clearly haven't decided to start backsliding after the success of "Avengers Assemble". Director Alan Taylor seems to mainly be known for tv stuff so far, however a lot of his most recent tv stuff is "Game Of Thrones" episodes, so I think that bodes pretty well for this.

    The Bling Ring



    (video link)

    I'm not really a big Sofia Coppola fan. I quite liked "Marie Antoinette", but not THAT much. As much as I loved Bill Murray's ad-libbed lines, I was decidedly not a fan of "Lost In Translation" which I thought was slow-paced and deeply dissatisfying. I gave "Somewhere" a miss when I heard it was even more glacially paced. But in spite of all my misgivings, I can't help but be excited about this film based on the trailer. You can never really judge a movie entirely based on its trailer, but I'm excited anyway. The idea of fans of celebrities who decide to rob those celebrities houses is kind of cool and I'm intrigued by the claim that this is based on real life. Plus Emma Watson just seems awesome as the completely amoral ringleader of this group.

    Hatchet III



    (video link)

    I haven't seen any of the Hatchet movies, but this just looks like so much fun. While it says "Adam Green" presents, the director is actually called BJ McDonnell. This is his first film where he's been the main director though he has worked as a camera operator on plenty of films in the past including Joe Dante's "The Hole", "Easy A", "Killer Joe" and the web video reimagining "Mortal Kombat: Rebirth". There's just something about this trailer that convinces me that it's going to be awesome. But then again, that's what trailers do...

    The film also features Kane Hodder as the main baddie. Kane Hodder gained a pretty good reputation as the absolutely enormous actor who plays Jason Vorhees in some of the later Friday the Thirteenth movies.



    If anyone doesn't know why I label all my trailer posts "too good to be true", I first explain it here.

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