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  • 01/21/11--12:00: LolBiblez
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  • 01/22/11--09:02: Podcast Recs
  • I've got a fair range of podcasts I'm following now:

    1. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo Film Reviews
    This week the main feature is "Black Swan". I've only just start listening, but they've already done a review for a brand new John Carpenter movie! I am, of course, a big John Carpenter fan. I'd heard about John Carpenter's "The Ward", but with very little marketing I presumed it would probably go straight to DVD. Kermode actually seems to like it, though he doesn't wax lyrical about it.

    Mark Kermode is a film reviewer with some very strong opinions and it's recently been claimed that one of his movie rants woke someone from a coma.

    2. The News Quiz
    The Friday Night comedy news quiz is a great way to feel better about the increasingly depressing news under this coalition government. The voices I recognise most easily are Jeremy Hardy and Sue Perkins. Sandi Toksvig does a great job of presenting the quiz.

    3. Film Sack
    I discovered these very recently. They like to pick cheesy movies and pick them to pieces. They also have an announcer who reads movie lines in an even cheesier voice than before. It's really really funny. This month's movie is Time Cop. It's actually the only Jean-Claude Van-Damme movie I've ever really enjoyed, but as you'd expect with this sort of movie, the best thing about it is the premise. It's noted early on that time travel is a great way to make money, yet nearly impossible to police. I'll be interested to see what they have to say about this one....

    4. The Pod Delusion
    Apparently these guys are now affiliated with the British Humanist Association. I haven't really been following these though.

    5. Sounds Jewish
    Having made four recommendations, it seems wrong not to add one more on and make this a "top five". Sadly we still haven't had a Guardian "Sounds Jewish" podcast this year. The Guardian podcast on Islam known as "Islamophonic" (who did a joint show on the Gaza troubles with "Sounds Jewish") appears to have disappeared entirely (though Riazat Butt is still busily writing religion stuff and caused some rather OTT annoyance for fellow Muslim bloggers with her twitter feed from Hajj).

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    Kermode has done his latest set of favourite movies of the year. I pointed out his previous set before (click here) and I've since had a chance to check (nearly) all of them out. Now this new one is a rather larger list (or a shorter list depending on how you look at it) for 2010 and I'm wondering how seriously to take it. My own reviews online can all be found if you click here along with further links for favourites of 2008, 2009 and 2010 so far.

    Okay let's look back through Mark Kermode's old reviews, because I really can't find many of those. Back in 2007 is the earliest I can find his stating his best and worst movies of the year (link here). In 2008 he gives a list of movies, but clearly only really wants to give one of each (best here) (worst here). And so it's not until 2009 that he gives a whole selection of favourite movies (my previous post here) and in that year he similarly had a long list of worst movies in the form of his Bride Wars Challenge.

    Worst movie
    Good Luck Chuck
    Thankfully I've never seen it.

    Best Movie
    The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
    This was actually so dull that I couldn't reach the second half. Now is probably a good time to admit to films I've recently failed to finish.

    Tangent - Movies I Couldn't Finish

    Vicky Cristina Barcelona (review here) - My parents had recorded this off the TV and it was suggested that I should try to finish it off. However, when we got back to the bit where I'd given up and started watching, my dad was forced to admit that he must have fallen asleep the first time around because he found it similarly unbearable. Even with the extra bit I watched, I still haven't got to the bit where Penelope Cruz turns up....

    Sans Soleil
    (review here) - A confusing selection of arty bits. I'd already sat through La Jetee which I found rather less than impressive as the inspiration for Twelve Monkeys. Sans Soleil was on the same disc and was at least twice the length.

    Synecdoche, New York
    (review here) - I actually did go back and finish watching this one. It was tough, but I managed it. The bit where someone else takes over as director was sort of interesting, but it was a poor consolation for the general dreary and misogynistic tone. (Also Cashback hence my other half giving these insights.)

    Something Something Dark Side
    (blog entry here) - It was if they were saying "What? You mean Season Seven (Season Six in the US) of Family Guy wasn't enough to convince you that we can't do humour anymore?" It started off with a mildly amusing dig at Aaron Sorkin's "West Wing" style of dialogue before giving up on humour altogether. When the old pedophile guy turns up (seriously, why was he ever in more than a couple of episodes at most?) I gave up entirely.

    Dear Zachary (A Letter To A Son About His Father)
    (review here) - A very amateurish and one-sided documentary that appeared to think that self-righteous lecturing would appeal to a wide audience. While this must have seemed fantastic as a home movie, it felt distinctly under-par as a feature-length documentary.

    Fantastic Mr Fox (blog entry here) - I was good enough not to actually review it, but this made it very clear to me that I have a personal insurmountable hatred of Wes Anderson movies.

    Holy Mountain - This was recommended to me by [info]fabfunk , though I cannot currently work out when. I could tell from any recommendation that it was going to be weird, so I haven't felt the need to produce a post ranting about it. It was about as weird and pretentious as recommendations would suggest.

    Worst Movies
    Four Christmases - Never seen it. Very glad.
    Disaster Movie - Same again.
    The Hottie and the Nottie - And again. "A fascist eugenic tract" eh? Wow!
    Rambo - Um... I actually liked this one. "Christian goodwill to all men is fine but what you really need to stab someone in the eye and enjoy it. It was one of those films that made you feel dirty to be a human being." Strangely I preferred the decision to make it intensely dark and nasty rather than making it all patriotic and self-congratulating.
    Rocknrolla - There's one section towards the end where the gangster's worthless son turns out to be a bit of a badass. It didn't make up for the rest of the movie, but it did make you wonder why the whole movie was so awful by comparison to that one scene.

    Worst of 2008
    Sex And The City - Yeah, didn't see that one. *phew*

    Best Movies
    Juno - No, this was awful. It was a very unrealistic depiction of a girl who is pregnant. While I can perhaps see the appeal of having a movie where a teenage girl takes pregnancy in her stride rather than going all emo over it, the movie seemed to have no interesting direction to take this in. When we reach the end Juno is, to my mind, in a worse situation than ever, but this is happily glossed over by her and Michael Cera playing acoustic guitar together. What???
    There Will Be Blood - Daniel Day Lewis' acting was fantastic, that's a given. But what was the point of this movie? It was one of the most random and unsatisfying endings I've ever seen.
    No Country For Old Men - There's a bit before the end which feels like a distinctly unsatisfying ending, but would have made a much better place to finish than the actual ending with Tommy Lee Jones telling us about a dream he's had about his dead father. After a really exciting, suspense-filled rollercoaster ride full of engaging characters, it just seemed to slump right at the end. (Not at all like "Burn After Reading" where the ending was fantastic and yet it was widely underrated.)
    The Diving Bell And The Butterfly - Pretty, but rather lacking in direction. It randomly brought religion in a few times with absolutely no good reason provided. While the premise of the movie was good enough to carry it, it wasn't at all clear what message the movie was trying to convey (even though it appeared to be trying really hard to convey something).
    Persepolis - Finally one I agree with. Absolutely wonderful animated version of the autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. It recounts the life of a girl growing up in revolutionary Iran with her communist-leaning parents. Awesome. But watch it with subtitles since the dubbing is awful.
    Waltz With Bashir - This is actually another one I didn't watch to the end, though admittedly it wasn't because it was bad. I just had no idea what was going on. The director was showing people piecing together what had happened in their experiences in the army because their memory seemed to be somehow "off". The problem is that I haven't got a clue about the whole set of events they are piecing together and their confused recollections seem to presume the audience has some basic gist.
    Son Of Rambow - Absolutely wonderful movie about a child who, having been kept away from television by his Plymouth Brethren parents, is exposed to the movie Rambo and goes absolutely berserk re-enacting it. Simply brilliant introducing the awesome child actor Bill Milner.
    Sweeney Todd - Haven't seen it. It's Tim Burton. He's randomly left out the chorus of every single song apparently. I'm clearly not going to like what he's done with it. I've already seen this musical performed on stage, so I'm not sure I need to see the Johnny Depp version.
    Mamma Mia - I beg your pardon? This is one I was subjected to against my will one Christmas until my grandma decided that we'd be better off watching something else. (Thank goodness!)
    High School Musical 3 - I'm going to presume this is similar to Mark Kermode's weird praise of the Twilight series. I cannot imagine enjoying this sort of movie and in any case, I'm not about to watch parts 1 and 2 on the offchance that nearly every other critic is wrong.

    Best of 2008
    Of Time And The City - An odd choice. A documentary about how Liverpool has changed. Haven't seen it.

    Time to revisit this Kermode's list of best movies of 2009. First of all though
    The Bride Wars Challenge
    Kermode threatens to give up his job as film critic if he ends up seeing 10 films worse than Bride Wars over the course of the year. The films that make the running include:
    Transformers 2 - Haven't seen it. Small sections of the movie in Blu-Ray on screens in HMV haven't looked promising.
    Charles Dicken's England - Technically not a movie. Haven't seen it.
    Marley And Me - Haven't seen it.
    Dance Flick - Haven't seen it.
    Miss March - From the WKUK guys. Haven't seen it.
    Couple's Retreat - Haven't seen it.
    Terminator Salvation (rant here) - Deary me. The guy who made the trailer deserves a medal because they managed to use sections of the actual movie to capture the movie Terminator fans actually deserved. It was ridiculous that in the end Terminator Salvation was actually substantially worse than Terminator 3.
    Needless to say: Bride Wars - Haven't seen it. (Kermode's review)

    Top Ten of 2009
    Looking back, it seems that my tastes matched up a lot better with Kermode's choices in 2009 than in previous years.
    10. White Lightnin' - (My review here) It was interesting, but putting it in the top 10 seemed like an odd choice.
    9. A Serious Man (My review here) - Strangely for Mark Kermode I wasn't entirely sure what misgivings he had with this one. He certainly liked it, otherwise it wouldn't be in the list. Yet he seemed to think it would do badly for reasons other than the distinct lack of cinemas showing it. Personally my favourite movie of that year (though using imdb's years, as I do, that puts a number of these movies in 2008).
    8. Gran Torino - I never reviewed this one. It's a good little movie and Clint Eastwood is great as the old racist protagonist. Absolutely belongs on the list.
    7. Helen (My review here) - There's something about this movie, but it's really awkward to watch due to really poor pacing. The idea seems to be that the long pauses with irritating ambient music is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. Instead it just feels like the director is padding out the runtime.
    6. Moon (My review here) - Oh wow was he right about this one. Clear inspiration from both 2001 and Silent Running, but without the poor pacing of either of them. A very tight project and definitely one of my favourite science fiction movies of all time.
    5. Antichrist - I am not seeing it. No way. Just no.
    4. The White Ribbon (My review here) - I still say that this is essentially a remake of "Children Of The Damned" without the aliens. Very interesting movie.
    3. Anvil: The Story of Anvil (My review here) - A very special movie which is made particularly impressive by its unexpectedly fascinating subject matter. Who'd have thought that a documentary about an obscure rock band could be this moving?
    2. Slumdog Millionaire (My review here) - A soulless nonsensical drama centred around a non-existent love interest which just happens to be pretty. Seriously, this doesn't belong on anyone's list of "best movies".
    1. Let The Right One In - Don't have an online review of this one, but it is on my list of favourites for 2008. After a slow start it turns into an absolutely fantastic adaptation of the original novel and succeeds by ensuring that plenty of time is spent on the central protagonists rather than trying to fit in all the events of the book.

    Kermode's Top Five of 2010 (Click here for video)
    Naturally I haven't seen all of these yet and until I do, I'm going to be in difficult position to judge. Still, I can already tell that my list for 2010 is going to be very different.
    1. Inception (Not a review)
    2. Of Gods And Men
    3. Toy Story 3 (My review here)
    4. Made In Dagenham
    5. Chico And Rita

    Runners Up
    Kick-Ass (My review here)
    Restrepo - I have seen this. Didn't review it. What can I say? It's a documentary which successfully follows the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan. It does the job well enough.
    Skeletons (My review here)
    Women Without Men
    Eyes Wide Open
    Winter's Bone
    The Arbor
    Another Year
    Oil City Confidential
    The Social Network
    Harry Potter 7: Part One
    Green Zone (My review here)
    The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

    Mark Kermode's Worst Five Movies of 2010 (Click here for video)
    Once again I haven't seen any of these. Still, here they are....
    Sex And The City 2
    Fred: The Movie
    Eat Pray Love (Vomit)
    Nightmare On Elm Street

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  • 01/25/11--12:00: Vot Za Fook Iz Zees?
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    The Fall (2006)

    Oh my goodness! This is what Terry Gilliam should be making! 

    I first heard about this movie in the Unreality blog's list of most visually stunning movies. Sadly the description: "Way, way out there, but way, way too good looking to not be included here" wasn't exactly gushing praise in a list containing movies such as "Speed Racer" and "Transformers". (It's a good list though. While I'm not sure about "Transformers", "Speed Racer" was visually impressive and many other titles such as "The Fountain" and "Hero" are excellent.) So this did not exactly fill me with hope and as a result I didn't get around to watching it. Thankfully [info]ladyknight1991  (thankyou thankyou thankyou!) recommended this and also made it very clear that this was not some ridiculously bizarre art movie.

    The Fall's fantastic visuals are part of a story which is quite clearly made up on the spot. It is the product of a child's imagination brought to life. And also, like any decent fairytale, the story is inappropriate for younger viewers. :P  While this isn't creepy like "Pan's Labyrinth", the story involves a fair bit of blood. The young girl to whom the stories are told starts off seeming a little annoying; yet as the film goes on those very same qualities which felt annoying at first serve to make her a really interesting character.

    Because the story is the product of the imagination, all sorts of details can change at will and all sorts of intentional confusions can be exploited. A blatantly Indian character (as in "from India") gets described as having a "squaw" and living in a "wigwam". Another character begins as Hispanic and later becomes French. The story is gorgeous and ridiculous in equal measure, but serves to build up some fantastic real world characters.

    The director, Tarsem Singh, was also responsible for "The Cell" (back in 2000) which was similarly visually awesome, but wasn't terribly well carried by Jennifer Lopez in the leading role. He's currently working on a movie called "The Immortals". With a gap of around 5 years between each movie, this guy clearly takes his time on each of his projects. Singh may well become one of my favourite directors.


    Black Swan (2010)

    Okay, now THIS was the best movie of (according to imdb) 2010. Finally released in the UK is Darren Aronofsky's movie about ballet. "The Wrestler" was a fairly down-to-earth (by Aronofsky's standards) movie about the hell of being a semi-retired wrestler, meanwhile "Black Swan" is a nightmarish semi-fantasy movie about the hell of being an aspiring ballet professional. It's visually gorgeous and pulls your emotions in all directions.

    [info]sabrina_il  has suggested that it's rather misogynistic (to say the least!). Nevertheless, she still admits that it is very emotionally powerful. The main problem I have with her suggestion is that I think it would be very strange to suggest that the movie approved of the molestation Natalie Portman's protagonist has to undergo at certain points. [info]sabrina_il  rather interestingly had the opportunity to ask Darren Aronofsky at a showing whether his movie was optimistic or pessimistic. Aronofsky decided to ask the audience (no this wasn't "who wants to be a millionaire") and what confuses me the most is that not everyone went "pessimistic!" To be quite honest, this seemed to be quite clearly and undoubtedly a tragedy and tragedies are not "optimistic", are they?

    Where I'd absolutely agree with sabrina_il is that Natalie Portman's character couldn't just as easily have been a male character. The way she is manipulated and the struggles she deals with are not the sort that men have to deal with. Nevertheless, I think it would be strange to say that the director was approving of the way she is treated. The nightmare visions she is plagued by in the movie are exacerbated by her situation. I'd say that there's a certain parallel with Aronofsky's previous work where the protagonist's audience (within the movie) are unknowingly cheering for his demise.

    I cannot seem to think of a better way to describe the visuals than nighmarish. Mark Kermode has described this movie as Swan Lake "going to hell" in the style of Dario Argento. I think the claim that this movie is Aronofsky trying his hand at horror seems misplaced. It does not seem so different, in my opinion, from Aronofsky's previous work. I have said in the past that Requiem For A Dream is also a bit like horror in the sense that it makes the audience deeply uncomfortable. Still, perhaps one of the things that makes this work is Natalie Portman's role as the protagonist. She is actually really good at playing deeply troubled characters and, to my mind, this is the first time she's been given an opportunity to capture the audience to the same degree as she did back in the Luc Besson movie "Leon". In "Leon" one of the most impressive scenes was of her desperately crying outside the eponymous hitman's door. No actress cries quite like Natalie Portman.

    Meanwhile good use is made of both Winnona Ryder and Vincent Cassell. (Hey Vincent Cassell gets to play a Frenchman instead of a fake Russian. YAY!) [info]ladyknight1991  recently suggested that instead of getting an Oscar for his work, perhaps Aronofsky should get therapy, lol! Personally I'm loving the dark and twisted direction that Aronofsky takes in his latest outing. This did not disappoint!


    Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)

    I was told that this was crazy, but still it wasn't at all what I expected. We are told by Banksy (voice distorted and in silouette to disguise his identity) that this was originally intended to be a documentary about him, but then they discovered that the documentary-maker was actually a more interesting topic for the documentary. "Oh yeah whatever," I thought. "Very funny Banksy." I couldn't have been more wrong.

    Just to put things in perspective, Banksy is the guy who did this on the West Bank barrier around Israel:

    This movie does a great job of documenting the rise of the phenomenon of "street art" and really brings the movement to life. I can see why this made it to top of Filmdrunk's best of 2010 list. This is clearly something very special and while some have suggested that it might all be fake, I'm inclined to agree with the view that no one would make up something this bizarre.

    Funny, fascinating and, by the end, jaw-dropping. As far as documentaries go, I'd be willing to put this up with "Grizzly Man". (In case anyone hasn't worked it out. That is very VERY high praise.)


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  • 01/26/11--09:04: Oscar Simulation!!!

  • [info]breakattiffanys  is doing a simulation of the 2011 Oscars to find out who would win if LJ users were doing the voting rather than the ordinary Oscar judges. Please encourage as many people as possible to vote. Click on the image above or here to find the instructions and make your choices.

    The results for 2010 can be found here.

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    Just recently re-watched Scott Pilgrim and yes, it is still awesome. What struck me on a second watch though, which hadn't occured to me before, was the central role of music in the movie. Sure that might seem odd considering the regular band performances, but there was so much stuff happening between characters, even during band performances. Of course, this is actually a good feature of a musical where the musical scores help to punctuate the story and push it forward. The use of sound effects in the movie is another thing which works to fantastic effect.

    Anyway, on the soundtrack album the best songs are notably the ones played by the band "Sex Bob-Omb". (This is a Bob-Omb btw. Considering the lack of praise for this movie, it seems that more people would have enjoyed it if the majority of cinema audiences were massive Nintendo fans like yours truly.) Sex Bob-Omb's songs were apparently written by Beck (who also wrote the one-word "Ramona" song). The other major song played by a band (Scott's ex's band "Clash at Demonhead") is actually a song by a band called Metric called "Black Sheep" and it also stands out. The 8-bit version of the Sex Bob-Omb song "Threshold" is also blooming brilliant!

    Sadly most of the other songs by actual bands don't match up to the made for the movie material, but then again that's precisely what makes me want to put this forward as a musical. It has a series of major pieces of music which move the story along and are absolutely awesome on their own. While the movie doesn't stop for these songs, they are very much a central focus rather than background noise.

    Meanwhile the original score is really good all the way through. Though oddly outside of the movie it's much more obvious that this guy (Nigel Godrich) helped to produce pretty much all of Radiohead's albums. (Apparently he's often considered to be the sixth member of the band.)

    Also, I don't know if anyone else recognised the two (uncredited apparently) "vegan police". They are played by Clifton Collins Jr. (Capote's criminal inspiration in "Capote") and Thomas Jane (star of "The Mist"). I knew I recognised Collins, but I only noticed that it was Jane this second time around.

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    This guy regularly gets interviewed as if he's a genuine representative of Christians. (Even on the
    BBC, even though he sued them for blasphemy!) Want evidence that he's not? Well being disowned
    by the Daily Fail has to be a good start, surely?

    As much as I hate providing links to the Daily Fail, I've got to give them credit for being seemingly the only paper with an article on this. Stephen Green is the homophobic bigot who formed the fundamentalist group Christian Voice after giving up on the Conservative Family Campaign for being too moderate. The Daily Fail, in a break with tradition, have got an exclusive interview with his ex-wife who claims that Stephen Green hit her as well as her children during her 26 year marriage.

    Still, the really stupid thing is the about of time Stephen Green has been used as an example of "Christianity-under-attack" and his "Christian Voice" organisation has been proposed as a genuine representation of real Christians in the UK. As is noted here, the Daily Fail themselves have long been guilty of this.

    It's actually quite shocking to see that the Daily Telegraph, who regularly pick up on religion-related stories from the Daily Fail, have not followed suit on this one in spite of using Stephen Green to fuel free speech debate (when Stephen Green is rightly brought up for harassment when publically airing his homophobic bigotry) in the past. Still, they aren't alone with the BBC having recently used Stephen Green as a counter-point when reporting on Elton John's adoption of a baby boy.

    You can find the contents of the Daily Fail interview with Caroline Green (which appears to be an exclusive) under the cut, but the link is at the top nonetheless:

    In public he rails against immorality as the voice of Christian Britain but in private he is a wife beater, says his former partner

    Caroline Green was often punished by her husband Stephen for failing to be a dutiful, compliant wife, but his final act of violence against her — the one that prompted her long-overdue decision to divorce him — was all the more chilling because it was coldly premeditated.

    Stephen Green wrote a list of his wife’s ­failings then described the weapon he would make to beat her with.

    ‘He told me he’d make a piece of wood into a sort of witch’s broom and hit me with it, which he did,’ she recalls, her voice tentative and quiet. ‘He hit me until I bled. I was terrified. I can still remember the pain.

    ‘Stephen listed my misdemeanours: I was disrespectful and disobedient; I wasn’t loving or submissive enough and I was undermining him. He also said I wasn’t giving him his ­conjugal rights.

    ‘He even framed our marriage vows — he always put particular emphasis on my promise to obey him — and hung them over our bed. He believed there was no such thing as marital rape and for years I’d been reluctant to have sex with him, but he said it was my duty and was angry if I refused him.

    ‘But the beating was the last straw. It ­convinced me I had to divorce him.’

    Stephen Green’s monstrous and autocratic behaviour would, in any circumstance, be shocking. But the charge of arrant hypocrisy must be added — for while terrorising his wife and their four children, he was also revelling in his self-appointed public role as guardian of the nation’s morality.

    Green, 60, is founder and director of Christian Voice, a fundamentalist group he set up in 1994, whose website thunders against the vices — family breakdown, crime, ­immorality and drink among them — that are ruining the lives of ‘real people’. Green’s ­pronouncements are often outrageous. For example, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005 and killed more than 1,600 people, he claimed it was a result of God’s wrath and had purified the city.

    He routinely inveighs against the abolition of the death penalty, no-fault divorce, Islam,
    abortion and, his particular bête noir, homosexuality. Violent crime and rape, he laments on his website, have risen dramatically in the past 50 years, while he points out that ‘virtue is derided’.

    When Caroline, 59, contemplates the disparity between his public pronouncements and his private persona, she is sickened.

    ‘Whenever I watch him on TV spouting verses from the Bible, or see him quoted in a news­paper, it turns my stomach,’ she says. ‘I’ve decided to tell the truth about him now because the people who support him financially and morally should know what he is really like.’

    The fact that Caroline remained married for 26 years is surprising. But, she explains, she was intimidated and terrified to leave him. She was also aware — because she had no money of her own — that she depended on the £800 a month that he gave her to bring up their children.

    ‘It was almost like living in a cult,’ she says. ‘We were all subjugated to his will and cowed by him. Over the years he belittled us and made us feel worthless.’

    It was all so different when they first met in a pub in Streatham, South London, in the late 1970s. Green, who has an engineering degree from Cambridge where he rowed for the university, was ­charming, gregarious, good-looking and not remotely religious.

    ‘He was a very talented, outgoing man and with a great sense of fun,’ recalls Caroline. ‘He had a good sense of humour.

    ‘He was also an accomplished musician. He played in a ceilidh band and belonged to a Morris ­dancing troupe, which is ironic really in view of its pagan connotations.’

    Caroline, who then worked as a kennel maid, lived with Stephen for a year before they married. She had been raised as a Roman Catholic but, not being particularly devout, deferred to Stephen’s wish for a Protestant ceremony.

    Their wedding provided his first entrée into the religious world that now immerses him. He joined the choir, then the Parochial Church Council, then began to get involved with political groups. He became a vociferous member of the anti-abortion campaign Society For The ­Protection Of The Unborn Child, and joined the Conservative Family Campaign.

    Meanwhile, he had set up a roofing company — he employed several gangs of workmen — which proved very profitable. The newlyweds enjoyed a prosperous lifestyle and moved to a spacious house in Carshalton Beeches, Surrey. Their four children, three sons and a daughter, born at two-year intervals from 1982, attended private primary schools and Caroline, who had set up a dog-walking business, gave up work to be a full-time mum.

    They bought a holiday home in the Vendée in France; they had new cars and to their neighbours they appeared to enjoy a contented ­middle class life.

    But Green’s views were already becoming extreme. In 1992 he wrote a virulently anti-gay book, The ­Sexual Dead End, which Caroline says marked ‘the beginning of the end’. Two years later, he abandoned the Conservative Family Campaign, which he regarded as too moderate, and set up Christian Voice in order to pursue a more radical course.

    Then, in 1997, when their children were 16, 14, 12 and ten, the family moved from the Home Counties to a remote small-holding in ­Carmarthenshire, west Wales. ‘The boys loved the outdoor life and my daughter enjoyed riding. I thought she could have a pony. I believed it would work out well for us all,’ recalls Caroline.

    But her optimism was wildly ­misplaced. Green had another agenda: he wanted to remove his growing family from urban life and isolate them from ‘evil’ influences so he could exert complete control over them. He forced them to live in a ­dilapidated mobile home into which the children were squashed in bunk beds; conditions were spartan and overcrowded and there were no home comforts.

    ‘The plan had been that Stephen would renovate the derelict farmhouse we’d bought, but it soon became clear he had no intention of doing so,’ recalls Caroline.

    ‘First, he told us the Bible decreed we should work the land before rebuilding the house. He used the kids as child labour. They had to plant seeds, ­cultivate crops and ­harvest them. They had very little free time.’

    Caroline’s freedom was also restricted. ‘If I spoke to a friend on the phone for too long, Stephen would tell me off for “gossiping”. My free time consisted of visiting the supermarket.

    ‘Even when I helped out at a ­Christian centre, he would be insanely jealous.’
    Friends and family, too, were ­alienated by his behaviour. ‘To begin with they visited, but Stephen made them work on the farm: ­digging potatoes, haymaking, ­cutting corn. It was nine to five, not just the odd hour.

    ‘He’d tell women visitors that they were dressed inappropriately if they unbuttoned a blouse too far or wore short skirts. He was downright rude. In the end, nobody visited. We became virtual recluses.

    ‘It is hard to overstate the extent of his control. We were shut off from the world. The children weren’t allowed to watch TV unless he approved of the programme; they were only allowed to mix with other Christians. They could only listen to Christian music.’

    Looking back, she says: ‘I suppose we survived by being devious. When he was away on Christian Voice ­business, they were allowed to play by my rules.’

    By now Stephen was immersed in Christian Voice, which allowed him the autonomy and freedom to express his increasingly bizarre views unchallenged. As its founder and director, he was answerable to no one.

    His roofing business wound down as his lobbying was sponsored by generous supporters. After he put out a ‘prayer alert’ once, asking for money to buy a car, Christian Voice’s backers sent him £2,000. However, Caroline says he didn’t buy a new vehicle but simply put a reconditioned engine in their old one.

    And the more his religious crusade consumed him, the more extreme Green’s behaviour became.

    ‘He had very high expectations of the children; nothing they did was ever good enough,’ recalls Caroline. ‘He bullied them mentally and manipulated them.
    ‘And they always had to be ­chaperoned. He wouldn’t countenance them having boyfriends or girlfriends.

    ‘When our daughter wanted to visit a boyfriend, just to have dinner with his parents, he said she was flouting his authority and advocating evil. There was a terrible row and I said: “How will the kids ever get married if they’re never allowed to meet anyone?”

    ‘He would respond by quoting the Scriptures — his knowledge of the Bible is encyclopaedic — and according to him, everything that wasn’t biblically sanctioned was the Devil’s work.’

    Green’s double standards also galled her. When their middle son was seriously ill, Green claimed to be too busy to accompany Caroline to hospital with him. Yet later, as his son underwent surgery, Green was playing the concerned father, entreating followers, by email, ‘Please pray for my middle son who has been rushed to hospital in ­terrible abdominal pain.’

    While there were still flashes of his old charisma, his behaviour was growing increasingly volatile: he could switch from charming to aggressive in an instant. There were occasions when his explosions of wrath became physical. He assaulted not only Caroline, but their sons.

    ‘He beat our middle son with a belt, in front of his best friend, for answering him back. I tried to intervene but he pushed me away,’ she recalls.

    ‘My eldest son was hit with a broomstick and kicked on the back of his legs. He still has scars on his shins. On one occasion Stephen beat him so hard with a piece of wood that we thought he might have broken his arm. When we took him to hospital, my son pretended he’d fallen because he didn’t want to incur his father’s anger.’

    It took the smallest of misdemeanours to trigger Green’s wrath. Caroline says: ‘They were trivial things. He’d say the children had been disobedient or insubordinate. He would retaliate really spitefully.

    ‘When our youngest son left a small heater on in the bedroom of the mobile home, Stephen ­confiscated it as a punishment for wasting electricity. The boys slept in freezing conditions for two years. A window was broken and he replaced it with plywood, which in turn got damp and froze. These were the sort of privations we all had to endure.’

    The Christian Voice office, meanwhile, prospered in its spacious Portakabin which Green had installed on land at the smallholding. He furnished it with ­laptops, an industrial-size printer and computers.

    At one point he employed three staff. One of them was his ­god-daughter Emily, 28, who has also since stopped working for him.

    She now shares a home with Caroline and her middle son not far from the ramshackle smallholding where Green now lives.

    Emily recalls how Green and 1,500 Christian Voice supporters picketed the BBC when it screened the controversial show Jerry Springer: The Opera in 2005, a production they regarded as blasphemous.

    Green also forced the cancer charity Maggie’s Centres to decline a four-figure donation from the proceeds of a performance of the show after his organisation threatened to picket its centres, which offer care to cancer sufferers.

    He inflamed the row by ­publishing the home phone numbers of BBC executives on Christian Voice’s website.

    ‘As a result of all this lobbying, we received death threats — awful stuff arrived in the post,’ recalls Emily. ‘Someone ­threatened to burn us all alive in our beds.

    ‘We were terrified — but Stephen treated the reaction with glee. He thrived on controversy because he could go on TV and get publicity.’

    Caroline describes his state of mind at this stage as ‘hyper-manic’. She says: For years he’d been ­controlling, spiteful and self-righteous. But later he became delusional and completely uncontrollable.

    ‘I’d obeyed him as a dutiful wife, but my love for him had corroded away. People must wonder why I stayed as long as I did. I was ­embarrassed and humiliated by his behaviour.

    ‘But actually we were all brainwashed. My self-esteem ebbed away to such an extent that I felt worthless and stupid.’

    She finally cut free from him in 2006. A loan from her brother — in whom she confided about Green’s behaviour — allowed her to buy a caravan in which she established herself and her children while she awaited her divorce.

    That same year, Green faced court for alleged threatening behaviour after handing out leaflets at a gay rally in Cardiff, although the case was dropped when he appeared before magistrates.

    Today, Caroline lives quietly with her four dogs, her son and Emily, who remains a trusted friend. She helped her escape the clutches of this monster who hid publicly behind a mask of sanctimonious piety.

    As for Green, he met a ­Kenyan woman 25 years his junior at a ­Pentecostal meeting after his divorce and they married last summer.

    When invited to respond to his ex-wife’s allegations, Stephen Green made no comment.

    For years Caroline has buried the horrors of her past. Exhuming them has been an act of supreme courage which her children applaud.

    There is another reason why she feels she wants to speak out: she says that Stephen has told a neighbour that he and his new wife want to have children as soon as possible.

    ‘My concerns are, what will he do to these kids?’ says Caroline. ‘My middle and youngest sons have been almost suicidally depressed because of his mental bullying. They still bear the scars.

    ‘When I see my ex-husband on television quoting the Bible, I think: “Please let this all end”.

    ‘If people were able to know the real Stephen Green, my hope is that at last it will.’

    But just in case you were unsure whether you were reading the Daily Mail, here is a recent comment on this article:
    "mm. sounds like just another bitter moaning whining ex wife to me!" 
    - sam, braunton, 29/1/2011 11:49
    Ahhhh the world makes sense again....

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    Leff: Dr. Raabe, new drugs "specialist" appointed to the ACMD.
    Right: Evan Harris, Lib-Dem Politician, Secular Humanist
    and generally awesome guy.

    Evan Harris has a rather awesome article about the decision to appoint Dr. Raabe to the "Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs". This is the council from which Dr. Nutt was rejected because he noted that scientific research was at odds with government policy. At the point where Dr. Nutt was removed from his position, we still had a Labour government. Seemingly not to be out-played the Coalition government (Tory majority) have chosen a candidate with little in the way of expertise on this topic, but with plenty of juicy homophobic Christian fundamentalism. It seems likely that the main reason he has been chosen is because he thinks marijuana is just bad bad bad and why factor something as trivial as objectivity when appointing "specialists" for an advisory board, eh?

    Evan Harris' article is as follows:

    Dr Raabe's two-doctor Manchester surgery does not advertise any specialist drug clinics on its website. Other than a single article in German in 1994 on "Dietary intervention in hyperlipidemia. Experience in general practice" he does not appear to have published any peer reviewed research, let alone into drug addiction or treatment.

    Given that the expert membership of the ACMD is known by the Home Office to be a sensitive issue as I have written before, it might appear that the Home Office was simply not able to recruit attract any specialist GPs and thus appointed an ordinary inner city GP.

    But Dr Raabe is not just a GP. He is a leading member of the Maranatha Community – a Manchester-based fundamentalist (in the literal, non-pejorative sense) evangelical Christian group.

    Read the full article here....

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    It's called Endhiran (with the alternative title "Robot")

    (video link)

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    Maybe Kirk Cameron can explain these bird deaths!

    This week saw two massive bird die offs, first 5,000 in Arkansas, then 500 in Louisiana.  Scientists don’t have an explanation yet, and that’s rough on CNN, because 24 hours of news programming is a lot to fill with, “Damn, homes. That’s messed up.”  What to do?  I know!  We’ll call Fireproof star Kirk Cameron!  He’s bound to have some crazy sh*t to say!  At least, that seemed to be the idea behind having Cameron on Anderson Cooper (either that or they both go to the same bath house). Only when Anderson asked him whether the bird deaths were a sign of the apocalypse, Cameron flipped the script, and actually sounded pretty sane.

    Kirk Cameron is not your monkey, Anderson Cooper, he doesn’t even believe in evolution.
    [are the birds the end times, Kirk Cameron?]

    “Well, I first think that they ought to call a veterinarian, not me. You know, I’m not the religious conspiracy theorist go-to guy particularly. But I think it’s really kind of silly to try to equate birds falling out of the sky with some kind of an end-times theory.”

    “That has more to do with pagan mythology [and not the apocalypse] — the directions the birds flew told some of the followers of those legends that the gods were either pleased or displeased with them. I think people just have a fascination with the religiously mysterious.”
    [via Moviefone]
    “Look, Anderson, if you’re looking for someone to spout off some crackpot religious theory, you’ve got the wrong guy.  I don’t go in for a lot of that hocus pocus.  I’m just a hard-working fella who puts his pants on one leg at a time and believes the grooves on a banana are a code from God that disproves evolution, you know? I leave these conspiracy theories to somebody else.”
    (Taken straight from the immature and sporadically hilarious movie news website "Filmdrunk")

    x-posted to atheism

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  • 02/01/11--13:26: Article 1
  • 0 0

    The King's Speech (2010)
    Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush both prove their mettle in this awesome character-driven drama. At a point in history where public speaking is becoming a vital part of the role of King, Prince Albert (Colin Firth) is suffering from a horrendous stutter which becomes particularly bad when he speaks in front of a large audience. Things become worse when it becomes clear that his brother Edward is not up to the role and that he will be expected to take the reigns.

    The movie tells the story of the relationship between Prince Albert and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist. The two actors play off one another perfectly. The movie does a great job of showing off the talents of Colin Firth and it great to see that his career hasn't been ruined by his appearances in tripe like "St. Trinian's", "What A Girl Wants", "Mama Mia!" and "Love Actually". Meanwhile Geoffrey Rush is reliably excellent in the way he always is. I actually found myself wanting to re-watch "The Life And Death of Peter Sellers" which, while quite flawed, is an excellent showcase of Geoffrey Rush's abilities.

    I thought I recognised the actress playing Mrs. Logue as Natasha Little (who I thought was brilliant in an adaptation of "Vanity Fair" but seems to have done anything much since), but it turns out I had the wrong costume drama. It turns out it was actually Jennifer Ehle, who played Elizabeth Bennett in the long-celebrated BBC TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (in which Colin Firth played Mr. Darcy).

    It's rather fitting that "The King's Speech" should be up against "Toy Story 3" since both manage to elicit tears from the audience. "The King's Speech" was, in my case, a little more successful. (To put this in wider context, it didn't make me as tearful as "Where The Wild Things Are" but then again "The King's Speech" was better paced and had a much stronger storyline too.) Colin Firth made me feel very strongly with his portrayal of Prince Albert.

    While I still think "Black Swan" should win the Best Picture Oscar, it'd be nice to see "The King's Speech" running off with everything. Tom Hooper was previously responsible for "The Damned United" (which was very good, but let down at the end) and the excellent TV movie "Longford" (which starred Jim Broadbent as Lord Longford, Samantha Morton as the psychopathic Myra Hindley, and also starred Lindsay Duncan as Lord Longford's wife as well as featuring a turn from Andy Serkis as the other Moor Murderer.) This is clearly an accomplished director and not a one-hit wonder.


    Black Dynamite (2009)
    I really want to say that I must just not understand the genre it's spoofing properly. However, the problem is that there are so many parts which felt absolutely brilliant that I cannot help but feel distinctly let down by the misfires and the more purile humour. You cannot excuse unfunny rubbish by saying "but it's a spoof!" Also, one issue I often had was that I wasn't sure if I was watching bad acting or watching people acting intentionally poorly. Yet I can't tell you that all the best stuff is in the trailer. I think where this movie falls down the worst is where it admits that it is being intentionally daft. It would have been a lot better if the audience could imagine that this was a real "so bad it's good" kind of movie from the period. In fact, all the best bits are over the top in a way that you could imagine an actual movie doing.

    In the end I don't think this took enough cues from Rodriguez's methods in "Planet Terror" where he starts out with a good idea for a movie and then humour comes out of the trashy low-budget fashion in which it is made. Heck, the guy in "Planet Terror" who collects balls was a little bit of a misfire, but that didn't matter because the movie didn't dwell on it too much. "Black Dynamite" suffers from a lack of forward momentum through some of the misfires. Overall there were more hits than misses, but a major miss, the plot involving the whisky towards the end, is far too central to the movie to really be ignored.


    Partir (Leaving) (2009)

    The chemistry between Kristen Scott Thomas and Segi Lopez in this movie is done really really well. I recognised that I must have seen Sergi Lopez in something before, so I looked him up. Turned out he was the fascist guy in "Pan's Labyrinth" as well as the hotel manager in "Dirty Pretty Things". Their acting is fantastic, the storytelling is brilliant and the movie really pulls on the heartstrings.

    The problem however, was that there are SO MANY SEX SCENES. Seriously sex scenes turn up all the time with increasing regularity and it gets to the point where they don't really feel like they are pushing the plot forward but are instead acting as filler. While "Y Tu Mama Tambien" involved lots of sex scenes they generally felt necessary to the plot, but in "Partir" it's almost as if the director doesn't think we'll accept that the couple have a good relationship unless half the movie is taken up with them shagging the daylights out of each other. And they're wrong. Kristin Scott Thomas and Sergi Lopez have fantastic chemistry and sex scenes were not needed (not to this extent anyway) to hammer the message home.

    Still, asides from the overuse of sex scenes there was a simple yet very very effective story here and the ending really hit home. Still, one can't help but compare this with Kristin Scott Thomas' previous outing "I've Loved You So Long" which was an absolutely brilliant film which managed to balance a whole array of interesting characters. By comparison "Partir" doesn't look so good where the spotlight is hogged by the main couple and any opportunity to bring depth to the rest of the case is squandered by excessively long sex scenes.


    Harry, He's Here To Help (2000)
    After seeing "Partir", I discovered that this is Sergi Lopez's highest rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes. I decided to check it out. A man runs into an old school friend who he hasn't seen in a long time and barely remembers, called Harry. While reluctant to let Harry into his life, circumstances make his generosity difficult to refuse. And besides, what could be wrong with this man offering a little help? Harry's creepy yet oddly innocent eccentricities are played perfectly by Sergi Lopez.

    The movie is wonderfully paced with lots of neat touches. While Harry's character becomes undoubtedly disturbing the movie has a good humour to it. When starting the movie, it's difficult to imagine that there might later be a nightmare sequence involving a monkey flying with a propeller on its head.

    Sophie Guillemin (playing Harry's girlfriend 'Plum') seemed oddly familiar and it turns out I have seen her before in the, to my mind greatly underrated, Audrey Tautou movie "A La Folie... Pas Du Tout" (English title: "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not"). Interestingly both movies involve her acting alongside characters who are psychologically disturbed in some subtle way.

    Perhaps I'm just drawn to black comedies, but I loved it.


    The Silence Of Lorna (2008)
    It seemed like an interesting subject. It's not hard to argue that we could do with a movie that looks at the world of fake marriages a little more realistically and with more appropriate levels of grit than "Green Card". To start with this looked like it was doing a pretty good job. The "husband" has clearly been picked because he's a junkie who needs the money for drugs, though naturally this causes problems for Lorna who has to live with him for appearances sake. The shady figures managing the deal are both a blessing and a curse in that they can threaten the junkie husband if he causes trouble, but they have pretty strict demands overall and very little in the way of compassion.

    Perhaps the biggest problem for me here is the sex scene part way through. This isn't the same criticism as with "Partir". "Partir" actually did a pretty good job with its sex scenes and my criticism there was concerning the number of sex scenes and their length. What "Partir" cannot be faulted for is the emotional attachment that tied into those sex scenes. "The Silence of Lorna" on the other hand, features a sex scene which comes out of the blue with no good reason. It's not spontaneous or passionate and it's presence in the movie seems to be to persuade us of an entirely implausible change in Lorna's feelings. The dodgy thing is that we could have done with the emotional change before she started having sex. What's more this shift in Lorna's feelings is vital to the rest of the movie so, having not bought into it, the rest of the movie felt rather pointless.

    The movie only serves to become more implausible after that point, with a particularly ludicrous ending. The narrative structure is poor and the characters end up appearing mostly cold and lifeless. It's a pity that after a strong start, the movie really didn't have anything terribly interesting to say and instead ends up wholly contrived and unengaging.


    White Material (2009)
    Admittedly if there's one thing I can't fault it for, it's the acting. (Which is not something I expected to ever say about a movie starring Christopher Lambert.) However, I must admit the point of this movie thoroughly eluded me. In an unspecified African country the French colonials are expected to get out and there is even provision made to help them leave safely, but a particular white French family want to stay. The mother in particular is adamant that she could never leave this beautiful country. Another important character, however, is her pathetic son who randomly goes mad part way through the movie and none of his actions seem to make the least bit of sense.

    Gorgeously shot and well acted, but with a distinct lack of context and no real message or plot. I found this a rather unrewarding viewing experience.


    Red (2010)
    Well for starters let me make this very clear. It was better than The Expendables. The action was more exciting, the dialogue was better and one of the best ingredients of The Expendables was present in a much higher dose. The ingredient in question I'm referring to was, of course, Bruce Willis.

    We're quickly reminded by "Red" that Bruce Willis started out in comedy before moving into action movies. He's left with some awful dialogue, but he makes it work due to some quite fantastic comic timing. John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox all make a very good job of the roles they are given, but around about half way through, the movie stops being fun, the joke becomes tired and it all just ends up feeling stale. Still, it made a pretty good start, even if it ended up letting the audience down. Where it really has the edge over The Expendables is it's focus on character. All the actors make the most of the characters they are given and work wonders, though sadly not miracles, with a pretty uninspiring script.


    Frozen River (2008)
    I was told that this was similar to Winter's Bone and I can see what they mean. It's about a poor white family who live in a trailer and there are some reasonably gritty parts. Still, this never really goes to the level of darkness that Winter's Bone goes to.

    A few bits don't work quite so well, at one point a criminal boss is ripped off without much in the way of consequences. The other bit that didn't work so well is the "miracle" towards the end which, while ambiguous, still feels pretty twee, not least because the movie seems to expect it to be uplifting rather than naive. Perhaps "Frozen River"'s biggest issue is that it refuses to go to darker places, even when it seems inevitable. Still, the ending is satisfying and the characters are built up well with some good performances.

    The purpose of the "frozen river" surprised me and it's either extremely inventive or a very interesting idea from real life for the script to draw on. The movie does a good job of balancing a variety of characters and situations and keeps our interest well. The pacing is good. Comparing it to "Winter's Bone" is awkward for me because it means that it's inevitably going to look bad for it. The brooding and disturbing quality of "Winter's Bone" is pretty much missing here. Still, those people who disliked "Winter's Bone" because they found it too boring should find less of a problem with "Frozen River". "Frozen River" is a very enjoyable movie with a good storyline which really keeps your interest, but it's not a masterpiece (like "Winter's Bone" was).

    While I say that "Frozen River" is missing darkness, it must be added (as a negative I'm afraid) that this isn't so true if we are talking literally. There are some points where the action on screen is quite hard to make out because of a lack of light. Scenes where characters are running around at night are shown with a fairly realistic amount of light i.e. not much at all. This isn't a real problem, but I think it's worth being prepared for.

    To say that "Frozen River" explores illegal immigration issues seems misleading. But it certainly shows us a side of illegal immigration which is not generally explored. The protagonists are not desperate to cross a border, but are desperate to earn money from the opportunities provided. Still, there's no exploration of the morality here (which makes the "miracle" scene all the more misplaced). While it is acknowledged that the immigrants are getting a raw deal, that's as far as this goes.

    When I first watched this movie I was fully intending to give this 5/5, but the more I think about it, the less deserving this really feels of that score.

    To add to my list of movies I couldn't finish:
    Beautful Kate (2009)
    A bunch of unlikeable characters get together, most of whom are related, and this leads to flashbacks of a previous incestuous affair between brother and sister. Slow paced and wholly uninteresting. Generally pants.

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  • 08/19/11--10:15: 127 Hours

  • 127 hours (2010)

    The short review is, see Buried instead.

    For the longer review, read on.

    Of course, I mention Buried because (as you'll see in the trailer), it's about someone trapped in a hole. Yes, you see the protagonist with a couple of girls in the trailer too, but that isn't going to last. Very soon James Franco's character is going to be trapped down a hole and stuck there for pretty much the whole movie.

    Okay, so perhaps it might be unfair to compare this to "Buried" since Buried wasn't contricted by a true story. However, Danny Boyle didn't have to pick this particular true story to direct either. Perhaps Boyle thought that taking a book (in this case, an autobiography) that looks difficult to adapt would give him better results. After all, that's what happened with "Trainspotting". Unfortunately, none of Boyle's little stylish turns seem to do much good.

    Boyle has a few interesting decisions. He shows the inside of the protagonists body to illustrate certain things (and I presume there are stylish reasons for suggesting that the digestive tract is luminous blue). He uses sound to illustrate pain. He regularly gives our protagonist hallucinations using the same bright palette that we saw in Slumdog Millionaire. Danny Boyle's choice of soundtrack is similar to that found in Trainspotting and I'm not sure whether that style of music has gone out of fashion or whether it just doesn't suit the subject matter. (Possibly a combination of the two.)

    What I think we must have been missing over the course of this film are the points where our protagonist smokes pot or takes tranquilisers. James Franco portrays his character as being so calm and unphased by the whole thing that I can't help but feel that he must have some chemical help. It's all very well saying that you can't stay frantic all the time, but surely the stress must be producing a fair bit of adrenaline and even if he calms down, we'd still expect him to be concerned with his mortality. The guy is trapped in a hole with seemingly no hope of rescue. In the movie he only seems to really explore any concern for his oncoming death through a mock talk show session which he performs in front of his video camera.

    The flashbacks are pointless. There's rarely much context to them. They either show him having fun with other young people or selfishly distancing himself from others. We never really get much indication that our protagonist is someone we'd be interested to know, which is odd considering that the earlier scene with the two girls (that wasn't a flashback) actually seemed to suggest that this was a rather more charismatic figure. I suppose it would seem arrogant if all his flashbacks were like that and it's difficult to seem charismatic when you are stuck down a hole. But the film's very structure seems to have inflicted these limitations on itself.

    One scene I found particularly dodgy was where he's watching some old footage of girls that he met earlier. It's clear that he's considering masturbating and I was a little concerned at being expected to watch that. However, at this point he says "no" as if he's resisting masturbating. I'm not really sure what this is supposed to mean. What is being conveyed to the audience by this scene?

    Also the girls had invited him to a party asking him to look out for the inflatable Scooby Doo. I'm not sure that the point where he seems to be harassed by hallucinations of an inflatable Scooby Doo really have the desired effect. It's certainly not on the same level as the baby hallucination in trainspotting. And besides, what is the point of this hallucination? In Trainspotting he's guilty because the baby's death is directly linked to him and his mates (including the baby's parents) getting high on heroin. In 127 hours he's upset because he can't go to a party. Perhaps you could say it was to do with loneliness, but you're stretching the meaning at that stage. The Scooby Doo represents a party. What we really needed was something the represents freedom. Perhaps that's what leads to the most crass element in the movie.

    Towards the end we see our protagonist looking at an old style photograph coloured image of a sofa and seeing friends and family. Eventually all he can see is one boy. So poorly does this scene make itself clear that I was unaware that this was supposed to be our protagonist's, as yet non-existent, son. I was convinced it was him looking at himself as a child. I had good reason to believe this because we'd already had a connection made between his birth and his current predicament (more on that in a moment), but no, this is his future son. Later on a subtitle will refer to this as a "premonition". So yeah, apparently the main thing encouraging this single man with commitment issues to escape from being trapped in a hole is the desperate need to have children. Yep, no masturbating there mister, you've got some genuine breeding to do. *facepalm* Apparently we are supposed to see this as some kind of supreme spiritual message.

    Finally there's one more rather problematic element (which I said I'd mention earlier). He tries to put his situation down to divine destiny. "This rock has been waiting for me my entire life" he tells us while Boyle shows us a meteorite falling from the sky. Apparently it's vital that we don't see this as the inevitable result of a regular visitor to the rocks who was never terribly safety conscious and instead see it as fated in the stars. We are even told that this rock has been waiting for him since he was born.

    127 hours ends up coming off as an over-long (at just 90 minutes!), self-indulgent work glorifying selfish pleasure-seeking. If the moral of the entire movie was simply to let people know where you are going when you decide to go backpacking into potentially dangerous terrain, then it took the most ridiculously round-about method of conveying this to us. I was relieved to finally escape from this movie.

    1.5/5 - Not fun and with big flaws.

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    Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

    A remake of "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" with references to the series in general, solutions to transition problems in the original movie series, providing a massive increase in confidence in the franchise after Tim Burton's travesty and making me seriously excited about the possibility of a sequel.

    Also, even if you don't bother to read the rest of the review, be aware that once the credits start rolling you need to stay seated for about a minute before you get up to leave. There's a little extra bit (though thankfully you don't have to wait for the credits to finish, like in recent Marvel movies, in order to see it).

    Okay, so I have to admit that the first Planet of the Apes movie I ever saw was the Tim Burton version. It's pretty much what I've come to expect from most Tim Burton movies. First he draws you in with some impressive visuals and even some funny lines between characters, then the plot turns out not to be quite as interesting as you'd hoped and finally there's some major flaw somewhere that makes you lose faith in the whole thing. The fatal flaw in Burton's Planet of the Apes was, of course, General Thade's face on the statue of Abraham Lincoln. Thankfully, General Thade looks unlikely to appear in any future movies. In fact, I'd be tempted to argue that you can either see this new movie as a remake of "Conquest" or you need to say that this is the third reboot of the series.

    The original series of five movies needs to be thought of as two pairs of movies and then a final movie attempting to connect them. The first sequel ("Beneath") was expected to be the last ever PotA movie and ends in a way that is very final indeed. "Escape", the third movie in the series, then had to completely rejig the mythology and it was the imagination which went into Escape that made Conquest an interesting enough sequel to produce this new remake. While Tim Burton's reboot completely altered the whole premise of PotA, you could quite easily watch Rise in the place of Escape and find that both follow on from the original movie without any discrepancy. (Or at least, neither of them has much more discrepancies than the other.) That is why I would say that Rise is no more of a reboot than Escape was.

    Rise has its failings, which means that it fits very comfortably in the PotA series of movies. Like every one of its forebears, it is certainly not perfect. While the original trailer which shortened one of James Franco's lines to "we call it... the cure" made it look like the science would be absurdly stupid, the line actually turns out to be "we call it... the cure for Alzheimers". Certainly the science comes off as a hugely contrived MacGuffin, but this is sci-fi and sometimes you just have to let a few things go.

    Asides from that, the most worrying thing about the pre-movie footage (of which I feel I saw far too much) was firstly that it seemed to suggest that the apes would appear to be immune to bullets (a problem that was very obvious in Matthew Broderick's "Godzilla" movie, presumably in order to give the movie a lower age rating) and secondly that it looked like a remake of "Deep Blue Sea" with apes instead of sharks. Thankfully neither of these is an issue. First of all, the way they deal with bullets is rather cleverer than the footage I saw would suggest. The second point, however, will take rather more time to explain.

    Our central ape is called Caesar (just like in Conquest) and we get a good long build up for his character solidifying him as the central point for our attention. The first half of the movie is basically build-up though and it is not until the second half that things really get going. It is then that we see Caesar having to interact with other apes and it is those scenes which really captured my imagination during this movie. Obviously the apes shall "rise" (thankfully the tagline wasn't "Apes... Shall... Rise!" in "Clash of the Titans" style), but the way that happens is remarkably well done. However, the first half was necessary to get us invested in that same rise that had myself and many like me groaning during trailers.

    One of the actors is a bit of a weak link in this movie. Which one? Well, to be frank, James Franco. I felt the need to finally get around to watching 127 hours before I made a judgement on this because, if Franco's performance in that blew me away, I might more easily blame his rather average impression in Rise on the director. It's notable that this is a British director and all the best performances seem to come from British actors. Before I carry on ranting about Franco's performance, let's look at a few of the other parts.

    Obviously Andy Serkis is British and this must be his finest hour as a motion-capture actor (after some pretty fantastic work already under his belt). Still, it must be pointed out the Andy Serkis is an amazing actor in general. He recently gave a wonderful performance as Ian Dury in "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll". He was also absolutely chilling in his performance as serial killer "Ian Brady" in Tom Hooper (of "King's Speech" fame)'s fantastic made-for-TV drama "Longford".

    Another British actor is James Franco's boss, played by David Oyelowo. For me, he is best known for his performance as Danny in the TV series "Spooks" (known in America as "MI5"). In movies I've only seen him in a brief appearance towards the end of "Last King of Scotland", where he really proves his spurs by being a serious impact with only a tiny amount of screen time. One thing that doesn't work quite so well in his performance in Rise is where he drastically changes his mind about a decision far too quickly and easily. However, that's a script issue really and overall he gives a wonderful performance.

    Of course, there are some pretty amazing performances from American actors too. John Lithgow is wonderful as always as a man suffering from Alzheimers. (His appearance in the fourth series of "Dexter" served to remind a lot of people that he's not just a comedy actor.)

    Tyler Labine is an American actor (who I recognised from the tv series "Reaper") who also gives a pretty good performance in a relatively small part. Similarly, the consistently awesome Brian Cox makes an expectedly awesome impression in his small role.

    I think the biggest criticism has tended to be for the role which Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy for Harry Potter) plays. I must say though, that as an irredeemably evil character he does a great job. I get the impression that the script expects him to ham it up and that's what he does. The idea that a worker in an ape sanctuary should be someone who despises apes is pretty weird, but heck that's the role he's been handed and you do what you can, right?

    Okay, so Freida Pinto doesn't make a big impression, but then again she doesn't seem to have much opportunity. She is basically playing James Franco's love interest and they've clearly decided that they don't want her relationship with James Franco to take up too much attention. (I guess when looking for someone who can portray a love interest character with minimal lines and screen time, they thought of Slumdog Millionaire, eh?)

    So James Franco then... Well, he's not bad. It's just that, with all this wonderful talent backing him up it's a pity that he doesn't seem to be much of a leading man. Of course, Andy Serkis is the real leading man, but our entry point before we accept Andy Serkis as the leading role is Franco and he simply doesn't have the gravitas to carry the role he's been given. It's particularly frustrating when he's giving a voiceover narration. He's not a block of wood, but he's no Roddy McDowall either.

    The human characters in this piece often come across as caricatures and the workings of scientific complex working on this "cure" seem more than a little unrealistic. However, this is all turned around when the variety of ape characters are set up. It's hard to believe someone saying in a review that whooping CGI animals are going to somehow end up as fuller characters than quite reasonably acted speaking parts, but you're going to have to trust me on this. The apes in this movie can really capture your heart.

    The eponymous "rise" in this movie is portrayed as rather more triumphant than we might want to see it, but then again this is something we find in Conquest too. Should we take this rise of the apes as triumphant or deeply disturbing? Well, in the end it's up to you. What's important is that, in spite of what you might feel right now, once you've seen the movie you will actually care. Seeing is believing, so I suggest you check this movie out now, especially if you were a fan of the original 5 movies.

    As with X Men: First Class, this isn't perfect. The characters don't always feel as fleshed out as I'd like and the plot has some questionable elements. However, it's so much fun that by the end you aren't really worried about that. This is quite simply a fantastic piece of entertainment.

    4.5/5 - Very good, but not excellent

    (video link)


    I normally don't do one of these but with all the references to old Planet of the Apes movies, I felt I needed to list at least a few of them. Naturally that means the section below will contain spoilers for the new movie and (if you haven't seen them) for the old movies too.

    They didn't have to keep the name Caesar for the main character of course. However, more interestingly, in the original Conquest "Caesar" is a name that he picks for himself. (Though his original name "Milo" is given to him by his parents.)

    Tom Felton is given at least two of Charlton Heston's lines from "Planet of the Apes". He says "get your hands off me you damned dirty ape!" The other line is: "It's a mad house! A mad house!" It's worth noting that Charlton Heston was actually repulsed quite a bit by the speaking apes he saw ruling the planet, so is Tom Felton's character pretty much the Charlton Heston figure of this movie? Perhaps the suggestion is that Charlton Heston wouldn't treat the apes much better than he was treated by them?

    And of course, the use of a firehose on a defenceless ape captive is just like the treatment of Charlton Heston in the original PotA.

    In Escape we are told that the first ape to speak says the word "no". Naturally Caesar in Conquest is fluent from the start. (He's already said "mama" in Escape.) However, in Rise we finally see what it would be like to see a non-speaking Ape suddenly learn to say "no" and it's quite an incredible moment.

    Caesar plays with a statue of liberty toy. (Reference is obvious.)

    Things I learnt in this movie:

    If one ape goes crazy because of your treatment, your career is over. However, if you do illegal experiments on your father at home, you're in line to be a big success.

    We only need one ape to show progress in order to approve a treatment, even when there are lots of other apes available for trials. Who cares about stuff like control groups, eh?

    Chemically increasing your intelligence will also cause you to attain the power of speech, even if you are an ape without any kind of voice box.

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  • 08/19/11--17:39: Article 22
  • Best Reviewed Movies

    Other 5/5 movies









    Every single movie I've reviewed so far this year. Click on the movie poster images for the actual review.

    For all previous reviews click here.

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    From the director of "Let The Right One In" and an absolutely incredible cast. This looks amazing!

    (video link)

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  • 08/21/11--09:25: Where's Wall-E?
  • Two challenges!

    First, find Wall-E in this collection of classic robots:

    Second, identify all 180 robots.

    Good luck

    Click on the images to see them at full size.

    (Via Retroist)

    x-posted to moviebuffs

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    Four Lions (2010)

    A movie trying to make a comedy out of suicide bombing. Pretty ambitious, you might say. I was a little unsure what to expect from this one, but initially I was happily surprised. The movie is about a group of misfits who want to become martyrs for Islam and revere Osama Bin Laden. Fortunately for us, they appear to be about as likely to acheive that as Del Boy and Rodney are to become millionaires.

    I don't make that comparison to be random. The quirky and dim-witted characters of "Four Lions" reminded me a great deal of "Only Fools and Horses". Especially funny is the white member of the group who is obsessed with a plan to "bomb the mosque" in order to encourage the moderates to join the extremist cause (and even starts filming a rather counter-productive confession video).

    The problem comes towards the end of the movie when they actually somehow succeed in making bomb suits. Goodness knows how they manage this considering the failures they have with explosive-making earlier on, but towards the end of the movie they have apparently got the hang of it. I can only presume that the intention is to get laughs from people blowing up (and admittedly a scene involving the aforementioned white extremist and explosives does work very well), but once Four Lions changes from a film about misguided incompetents to a film about actual bombers, it's crossed a line.

    The first half of the movie is very entertaining, albeit with humour that is a bit hit-and-miss. However, somewhere in the second half it goes from outrageously funny to plain old outrageous. When our protagonists are wearing remote-controlled explosives that actually work, they lose their innocence and the tone of the movie doesn't shift appropriately. In fact, if anything, we seem to be expected to root for their plan to bomb London.

    The premise had a surprising amount of promise, but it lets itself down badly.


    Submarine (2010)

    Okay, so I've made a habit now of using imdb to decide which year a movie belongs to (and I feel it's a bit late to change that now). However, if we are being serious about this, Submarine is really a 2011 entry. It's a British movie which started being shown at various film festivals at the end of 2010, but didn't get a proper cinema release until March 2011. As such, while it might have some stiff competition in 2010, I think it is pretty unambiguously the best 2011 movie I have seen thus far.

    Negative reviews have generally pointed to the fact that the main character is horrible. I'm not quite sure why though. It's like criticising Star Wars because you didn't think Darth Vader was terribly pleasant. The main character, Oliver Tate, has been carefully constructed as a selfish little weasel and it's quite disturbing that so many reviewers featured on rotten tomatoes had trouble recognising that.

    The movie focusses around our cold calculating anti-hero and his decision to try to form a relationship with an even more cold and calculating bully called Jordana. Our protagonist isn't so much evil as a self-serving weak-willed creep, so when this relationship serves to be rather punishing we don't feel sorry for him.

    The movie very carefully balances our feelings regarding the main character because, no matter what happens during the movie, there are always characters who are even more horrible than him.

    The other aspect of the movie is Oliver's home life. His mother has the most wonderfully bizarre "frank" talks with him about personal issues. (Including being initially unwilling to believe that he has a girlfriend.) She's played by Sally Hawkins who was also the star of "Made In Dagenham", who is turning out to be a pretty incredible actress.

    Meanwhile an actor who I've liked for a long time, Paddy Considine, is incredible as the new age mystic nutter who lives next door and has a set of DVDs on how to recognise auras and channel energy. He had me in stitches pretty much whenever he was on screen. I've seen him do comedy before in the movie "Hot Fuzz", but I'm more familiar with him in more serious roles such as in "Last Resort" and "Dead Man Shoes". (Perhaps his most well-known performance is as the Guardian journalist in The Bourne Ultimatum.) He's a very versatile actor and I hope this leads to more comedy roles for him in the future.

    Submarine is a brilliantly realised black comedy. It's also the directorial debut of Richard Ayoade (who also wrote the screenplay). Many will know him from the brilliant sit-com "The IT Crowd".

    One reviewer on imdb criticises the movie as follows: "Dear Mr. Aoyade: The hero in your film tells a victim of bullying that it will make her stronger. I can tell you for a fact Mr. Aoyade that bullying does not make you stronger. It destroys a person. It destroyed my life." What they don't seem to have realised is that we are supposed to sympathise with the victim who, without even turning round to face the "hero", tells him to "f**k off and die".

    This is an anti-hero who is quite regularly told he is pathetic and it barely even needs to be said. What's more, the voiceover narration hammers home just how horrible this character is in a way that simply watching his interaction with others on screen would not. Oliver Tate barely even bothers to delude himself that self-serving actions are somehow motivated by good intentions.

    I'll be interested to see what others think of this, but there's an oddly sadistic quality to the black humour. Filled with endearing characters, brilliant performances and cinematic flourishes, this is absolutely superb.


    Never Let Me Go (2010)

    I was intrigued when I heard that this was a sci-fi movie and couldn't help but feel that it would have done a lot better in the cinema if this had been made more obvious in the marketing. Now I realise that it would mostly mean a lot of very disappointed cinema-goers. Never Let Me Go always leaves the sci-fi setting very much in the background and instead puts character interactions in the foreground. The problem is that character interactions make no sense without the context.

    The acting is brilliant. Carey Mulligan is unsurprisingly great, Andrew Garfield is brilliant and even Kiera Knightley seems to keeping up nicely with her co-stars. No problems there. Also, Sally Hawkins (again!) gives a great performance as the teacher who decides to tell the children the truth about their lives. In fact, Sally Hawkins' scene is pretty much the only scene which really seems to make us care about what is happening to the children.

    The problem is that the premise makes no sense. The idea is that every single person in the country has a clone who will have their organs harvested starting around their early twenties. The very idea that the country could afford this seems absurd, especially seeing as these clones appear to go to beautiful public schools and then live in pretty comfortable rural surroundings. The best explanation would seem to be that this is being paid for by the super rich, but our protagonists are convinced that their original is probably a nobody.</p>The premise is so horrible that it's hard to understand how the movie manages to elicit so little a reaction to it. There's a general sense of despair throughout the whole movie, but I rarely got the impression that it was really justified (in spite of the horrifying sci-fi premise). It's also not obvious why none of them ever run away. It's not at all obvious that the story has any bearing on real life, nor does the film really convince me to suspend disbelief. The idea of cloning having already been developed in the 50s wasn't a problem, but the whole idea of how the organ harvesting works as a system makes no sense to me whatsoever.

    In the end this film just felt like misery for misery's sake. It has to make up a bizarre premise to elicit the misery in the first place and it doesn't even do a particularly good job of convincing me of the premise while it's at it. This was a huge waste of the talent involved.


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  • 08/23/11--12:51: Horror Reviews!

  • I'm going to start using a new system for reviewing now. It's not that all my scores are changing but simply that I am translating them into letter grades in order to make my decisions clearer. I think A - Excellent, B - Good, C - Satisfactory, D - Unsatisfactory, E - Awful and U - Not even worthy of a grade is perhaps rather clearer than a score out of 5. For this post only I'll put the new and old grades side-by-side. From then on I'm just going to use the letter grades.

    There's a focus on zombie movies recently. That's because Halloween Candy ([info]candycorncomm) is running a movie marathon entitled "Undead Til Dawn" which focusses on vampires and zombies. [info]rhoda_rants is focussing more on vampires and I'm focussing more on zombies.

    Fido (2006)

    Wow, this was a crazy Canadian zombie comedy. It's more general bizarre satire than out and out hilarity, but it's really sweet and there are definitely some clever aspects. The basic gist is that, post-zombie apocalypse, a corporation has managed to arrange communities that are isolated from the horror of the zombies. These communities are trying to artificially produce a sense of civilisation and society while ignoring the real horror that surrounds them, so what better way to emphasise that point than to make the whole society appear stuck in the 50s?

    This is very much the George Romero zombie universe, right down to the vague "weird radiation" explanation for the existence of zombies in the first place. You don't have to get infected in order to become a zombie, you simply have to die. What's different in this world, however, is that an invention has been created which can suppress the hunger for flesh in zombies. This invention comes in the form of a collar which is placed around the zombies' necks, thus allowing zombies to be used as servants. In fact, they are essentially pets, hence the title of the movie. This too is in line with the Romero rules for zombies, as since "Day of the Dead" we saw that the zombies could be trained (though attempting it had generally seemed to be asking for trouble).

    I think that's all the information I really NEED to provide about the zombie scenario. There are lots of little details, but half the fun of this movie is being introduced to them. When you come to see the movie, the basics of this scenario are introduced through a rather neat little Cold War 50s-style black and white public service announcement video.

    The story centres on a small boy who gets picked on at school for being different and asking "the wrong questions". His parents turn out to be Carrie Anne-Moss (The Matrix, Memento) and Dylan Baker (lots of small roles, a fairly notable small part in Road To Perdition). In order to fit in with the rest of the neighbourhood Carrie-Anne Moss' character gets them their very own zombie servant who, it turns out, is played by Billy Connolly! (I certainly didn't recognise him during the film.)

    Carrie Anne Moss is brilliant. While there are some good performances all round, I'd say that Carrie Anne Moss is the one who really carries the movie. Sadly the child actor who we are really supposed to be following is rather less impressive than they need to be. While they don't come across as annoying, they don't really get the audience on their side either.

    The idea of comparing a zombie crisis to the cold war scenario of the 50s is actually pretty clever. Public bulletins regularly insist that everyone is perfectly safe and we know that during the 50s slogans like "duck and cover" were used to convince people that nuclear apocalypse might be survivable. There's a constant worry about fitting in with the rest of society and zombie slaves are kept because it's "the done thing". Someone starts asking whether zombies are alive and the question is pushed aside. There's a general sense that everyone wants a quiet life and to think as little about the rammifications of the post-zombie apocalypse era as possible.

    Towards the end of the movie things feel a little rushed, but not so much as to completely mess things up. In fact, the real problem is the lack of a convincing story arc. The movie consistently brings up interesting ideas and makes the audience think about this bizarre scenario without making it so bizarre as to alienate us from the action. However, while it regularly gives us ideas to think about, the actual plot often feels like more of an afterthought. That's not to say that there isn't a story, but simply that the story never feels particularly important overall.

    If you've seen "A Boy And His Dog", which had it's own post-apocalyptic society who decide to try to recapture the 50s, you might have an idea of what the dark humour will be like. However, a moaning zombie is no replacement for Blood, the psychic dog. This is a clever, silly and original take on the zombie genre and, while not perfect, "Fido" is a good little piece of entertainment which any genuine fan of zombie movies cannot afford to ignore.

    4.5/5 - Very good, but not excellent

    x-posted to candycorncomm

    Seige of the Dead (Rammbock: Berlin Undead) (2010)

    Okay, the first thing I need to point out is that there are no actual "dead" or "undead" zombies in this movie. Now personally, I'm not terribly keen on the claim that movies like 28 Days Later aren't really zombie movies. I say: If it walks like a zombie and eats brains like a zombie, it's a zombie. Still, the difference is that 28 Days Later doesn't have the word "dead" or "undead" in the title. In any case the zombies in this movie are infected people, not the living dead.

    The premise of the movie is that Michael has gone to Berlin to try to patch things up with his recent ex-girlfriend Gabi. However, when she isn't home and a zombie outbreak takes place he finds himself trapped in her apartment with a plumber's apprentice. And yes, we do find outselves inevitably wishing that he wouldn't keep whining about his ex-girlfriend. That becomes the main focus of the movie and I personally found that I had a tough time caring.

    Nevertheless, the movie does contain good ideas. Unfortunately the pacing isn't great, so getting from one interesting idea to the next can be a struggle. In fact, the main problem is probably not so much the pacing, but the lack of a clear focus for the narrative. The characters seem to wander from one scenario to the next rather than genuinely getting concerned about the fact that they are surrounded by zombies. They barely even seem to discuss the zombie threat having apparently immediately understood and accepted the remarkably specific information released over the radio.

    One original point for this movie (asides from not talking about the zombie threat much, which struck me as massively unrealistic and a big mistake) is that the protagonists are generally pacifists. Unsurprisingly no one has any guns and they don't seem keen on running into crowds of zombies with cricket bats either. The movie is more about how to manouever yourself around the zombies and avoid them, rather than taking them out with weaponry. This limitation makes for some of the more interesting scenes in the movie and when the time comes to get creative, we discover the Michael is actually pretty good at engineering. As he and his young trainee plumber friend put together a rather neat workaround with their limited resources to get into a new part of the building Michael says "I've always wanted to do this". YAY!

    Another original point is that if someone gets infected, it's possible for them to avoid turning. Being bitten or scratched is still liable to turn you into a zombie, but if you remain calm or use sedatives to keep yourself calm then eventually the infection will go. Sedatives are preferable, because how do you keep calm when you are in the middle of a zombie apocalypse?

    I think the budget must have been pretty low. The change of appearance in zombies (the infected who activate the virus by becoming stressed or upset) involves their skin going red and their eyes going white. (The fact that we often can only see the whites of their eyes seems to be inconsistent with the eventual method for dealing with the zombies. But anyway.) This makes the zombies look like they ought to, but doesn't involve the kind of "skin falling off" kind of effects that you might expect if they were genuinely dead.

    Another sign that they probably had a low budget is the scene where we are shown the wreckage of zombie-ravaged Berlin. The poster includes photoshopped fires and thick black clouds. The actual scene in the movie shows a few whisps of smoke in the distance. Not particularly impressive at all really.

    Now I would love to say that this movie benefits from the way it focusses on the characters rather than just zombie-killing. To a certain extent that's true, I guess. However, there's very little in the way of actual character development. The fact is that Michael is not a very interesting protagonist, Michael's relationship with Gabi is not terribly engaging either (particularly considering how little we see of Gabi) and I'd much rather the movie had focussed more on the trainee plumber since, of the two of them, he was by far the more interesting character.

    There were some interesting ideas in this movie, but I think the flaws are too great to say this was nearly a good movie. Perhaps other people who feel the characters are more appealing will enjoy this a lot more, but I think this is very much an average "your mileage may vary" kind of film.

    3/5 - Bog-standard, your mileage may vary.

    (I'm worried by how often movies that I give this score to are a great deal more boring to watch than movies that receive a 2.5, but there you go.)
    x-posted to candycorncomm

    Phantasm (1979)
    The positive side of Phantasm is that there's no lack of content. There's a whole smorgasbord of weird s**t going on in this movie. The negative side is that the ending is incoherent and the acting is atrocious. To what extent that matters depends on what you are hoping for.

    Right near the beginning it's made clear to us that this isn't your typical horror movie. The action starts in a funeral home when creepy figures set upon our young protagonist (who is arguably the most convincing actor in the entire movie). He quickly finds himself chased by a floating metal sphere which, after he gives it the run around for a bit, rams itself into the forehead of an aforementioned creepy figure and drills into his skull spurting out bizarre orange goo from inside his head.

    As an aside, this same function is found in a weapon in the old Nintendo 64 game "Turok 2". Was the 'cerebral bore' inspired by Phantasm?

    Anyway, I could spend all day talking about all the crazy stuff that happens in this movie, but that would rather spoil the surprises. (And trust me, if you thought the floating sphere of doom I mentioned above was weird, you WILL be surprised.) Still, one weird thing I probably can afford to talk about is the creepy tall man. He has practically no lines in the movie, which makes him all the creepier. We first see him randomly hanging around next to an ice cream truck and it's not obvious whether the ice cream truck's icy cold vapour clouds are supposed to help him make a creepy impression on the audience or whether he is somehow drawn to cold air.

    There's a similar kind of message in Phantasm to in Nightmare On Elm Street. The tall man can apparently influence nightmare's and a weird psychic lady tells our young protagonist near the beginning that "it's fear that's the killer". The point is that the tall man uses fear (as well as floating metal spheres that drill into your forehead) to defeat you. Conquer your fear and you can defeat the bad guy.

    So here's the point where I ought to start pointing out the bad points. I already mentioned the horrendous acting. It's almost like the actors thought "there's no good way to say these lines, so I might as well just blurt them out like a complete amateur". Another problem is that the movie feels like a series of events just happening one after the other with no good reason. Admittedly there is an explanation for why all the weird stuff is happening, but they don't approach that explanation in any kind of logical fashion. Still, the problem with random stuff happening one thing after another is normally that it's boring. While some parts of the movie do have a pacing problem (particularly during the first half), the bizarre stuff that happens certainly isn't boring, even if it makes very little sense.

    There are good ideas in this, but it's not a good movie. This is a bad but entertaining movie and so I'm giving it my bad but entertaining score. Be aware though, that it earned every point in that score fair and square.

    2.5/5 - Not good but with entertaining elements

    x-posted to candycorncomm

    Bride of Re-Animator

    Jeffrey Combs returns in this even lower budget sequel to the absolutely fantastic horror-comedy "Re-Animator". Somehow Dr. Herbert West (Combs) manages to persuade his housemate that putting his housemate's dead girlfriend's heart into a weird stitched up combination of organs is a really good idea.

    We see a return from the villain of the last movie (who is now solely a disembodied head) who unfortunately doesn't seem anything like as threatening as we'd like to hope he will become. (Though he gets pretty creepy in the final act.)

    While the effects are up to the same standard as before (in some scenes at least) and we do get some rather fun ideas explored when Dr. Herbert West starts experimenting with combining body parts. (How many zombie creations have to attack him before he realises that it's a bad idea?) However, this isn't carefully structured like the last movie. The original Re-Animator involved a gradual build-up of both horror and comedy until we reach a climax at the end. Bride of Re-Animator involves a bunch of daft ideas stitched together only for an "all hell breaks loose" stage at the end which feels like more of a mess than a climactic ending.

    Also, I don't know if this is true of all versions, but my DVD was pretty horrendous quality. It was the sound that annoyed me. I had to turn the volume up pretty high because the sound didn't appear to be mixed properly.

    Still, Jeffrey Combs is still great fun and he always elevates the material. Without Jeffrey Combs there wouldn't be any Re-Animator. This is still great fun, but sadly it's a big disappointment by comparison to the original (which I gave 5/5).

    3/5 - Bog-standard, average, your mileage may vary

    x-posted to candycorncomm

    Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

    The movie begins with Mary Shelley talking with Lord Byron about her novel and explaining that the story goes further than she wrote in her book. This was quite a bizarre way of beginning this movie that is unsurprisingly is very unfaithful to the books. Still, what follows is a pretty strong indication that this is intended as horror-comedy.

    Unfortunately one of the clearest signs that this is being played for laughs is the inclusion of Una O'Connor who I recognised for her never-ending "is it screaming or is it laughter" screeching in "The Invisible Man". The fact is, she is not funny, but she thinks it is. This is a bad combination. As such, I found myself having to grin and bear the first 10 or 20 minutes of the movie.

    As it turned out the first time I watched this film I was quite tired and ended up falling in and out of sleep fairly early on. I'd given up hope on the movie when I came across a Rotten Tomatoes article where Joe Dante (of Gremlins fame) was recommending it as one of his favourite movies of all time. On my second attempt I decided to start watching the movie from where the new mad scientist Dr. Pretorius turns up. This is where things get interesting.

    On first watch I found myself rather less than impressed by Dr. Pretorius' own bizarre creations, but on second watch I was in a more appropriate mood. The fact is that the focus of the movie is not on Dr. Pretorius' creations, but on his character as a whole. Dr. Pretorius is what makes this movie work. He's pretty much Dr. Herbert West without the same degree of self-delusion.

    The ending of Bride of Frankenstein is a great way to finish things and much more appropriate than the burning in a windmill that marks the end of the first movie.

    That said, the movie still has Una O'Connor being unfunny at the beginning and it still feels a little unfocussed. There's a section involving a blind man that seems to be heading somewhere interesting, but it doesn't tie in with the rest of the movie in as interesting way as might be hoped. The elements in this movie are great and Dr. Pretorius is a fantastic character, however the movie as a whole is not quite up to scratch.

    3.5 - A few elements holding it back from being a good solid movie

    x-posted to candycorncomm

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