April in Review

The nice thing about these month-in-review posts, which are something new to me this year (primarily just to keep track of my target of 100 new films/tv seasons) is the sense of perspective they bring. Looking back I can notice patterns of what I watch or a reminder of release dates but there can be an odd synchronicity evident too. Take April for instance, pretty much bookended by two huge superhero films that share a common theme albeit an opposite approach- Batman vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War. Two absolutely huge films; between them they must have accounted for over $500 million in their budgets. Half a billion dollars spent on two superhero films. If I’d been looking at that from the perspective of Superman: The Movie in 1978 (or the Spiderman tv series shot not long after) it would have seemed utterly impossible/insane. Half a billion dollars on two films you’ll each be able to buy for fifteen quid in a few months time. We live in a crazy time. So anyway, here’s the fun bit, that list of blog entries for this month-

  1. 2016.27: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice
  2. 2016.28: The Last Stand
  3. 2016.29: Childhood’s End
  4. 2016.30: Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD
  5. 2016.31:The Purge
  6. Silver Linings Playbook
  7. 2016.32:Bride of Re-Animator
  8. The Problem With Superman
  9. Remembering Batdance
  10. 2016.33:Ender’s Game
  11. 2016.34:Mr Robot:Season One
  12. 2016.35:Captain America: Civil War
  13. 2016.36:Mr Holmes

There was definitely a comic-book/superhero vibe for the month, perhaps inevitable as it was bookended by those particular blockbusters (will we have another month like that again this year, I wonder?). Of course the huge impact and critical fallout over Batman vs Superman was the biggest thing about the month. I enjoyed writing my follow-up piece The Problem With Superman- I rather prefer writing those stream-of-consciousness/ranting at the keyboard commentary pieces to writing reviews. The comic-book theme was furthered by having the opportunity to watch the Future Shock! documentary, which was a particular thrill seeing those writers/artists I loved so long ago. All in all, it doesn’t seem too bad a month, there’s some interesting and varied titles in there, albeit not anything from the to-watch shelf.

Another opportunity to break the review-format, albeit for rather unwelcome reasons, was the Remembering Batdance piece marking the death of Prince. Still can’t believe he’s gone.

Looking at the list, I’ve seen ten ‘new’ films/tv shows to keep my 100 target pretty healthy. Best film was Captain America: Civil War and the worst Ender’s Game. Ender’s Game has its supporters though, as its comments section will attest. A reminder that every film has its fans/grudging admirers/defenders/apologists. Maybe I was in the wrong mood when I watched it- I’ll certainly admit that it likely turned out exactly how it was intended to; it wasn’t a film that turned out bad- it was exactly what it was meant to be, a film targeting the young adult/teen-hero fiction audience popularised by The Hunger Games/Harry Potter films and so many others. Cynical as that seems to me, every film is targeted at someone and in Ender’s Games case, that audience clearly wasn’t me in anycase.

A cautionary reminder of this- at work two colleagues saw Batman vs Superman nine times between them. One saw it four times, the other five times. So even if I didn’t really ‘get’ Batman vs Superman (one viewing was more than enough for me), at least some part of the films target audience clearly did, so the film did something right. I still enjoyed it more than I expected to, and look forward to the extended edition answering a few problems I had with it, but it’s also clear that it pales before Captain America: Civil War. Where the DC film stumbled, the Marvel film soared. And thats the story of April 2016.

(Come on, back on March 29th, that wouldn’t have surprised anyone really, would it?)

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Mr Holmes (2015)

holmes2016.36: Mr Holmes (Amazon Prime/VOD)

In many ways, this film isn’t really a Sherlock Holmes film, its more a character piece examining the difficulties of old age and failing memory. For fans of the character though it’s likely a very nice coda to his (fictional) life-story.  Mr Holmes imagines the master detective living to the ripe old age of 93, and living in a world quite unlike that of his earlier adventures. It is 1947, and Holmes is living in an anonymous  coastal countryside retreat with a widowed housekeeper and her young son. Holmes is preoccupied with his very last case from thirty years before, with his failing memory making it seemingly impossible to piece it together. His fractured recollections are told in flashback, as is a further plotline of more recent memories of a trip to Japan in search of a plant that can be used as a medicinal drug.

This latter sub-plot is troublesome for the film and largely turns out to be of such little benefit to the film that it could well have been dropped entirely. The film would have been all the better for more focus on the 1947  ‘present’ and the subsequent untangling of the mysteries of Holmes final case.Having this secondary series of flashbacks (the two plotlines running through the film as a separate series of flashbacks) might work well in a book but in a film can damage any pace or progress of the seperate arcs.

Ian McKellen does remarkable work playing two Sherlock Holmes-  one a 93 year-old struggling with losing his faculties and the other a 60 year-old still in his detective ‘prime’ on his final case. Its a great performance (augmented by some great make-up) that raises the film to something greater than its parts. If it were just a film about an old man struggling with losing his mind and questions of identity and fading memory it would still be a very good film- the fact that the main character is Sherlock Holmes, with all the literary and cinematic baggage that entails, makes its quite a powerful experience and a fulfilling film.

It isn’t perfect – I have those mentioned issues with that plotline set in Japan- but it’s certainly  a very worthwhile film, and I’m sure rather poignant for fans of the character. Its certainly more complex and thoughtful than I had expected. It left me wondering about perhaps someone making a similar film one day about another famous fictional character, James Bond; a film of an old, physically impaired spy looking back on his career and one particular mission (particularly if his ‘missions’ took place in the 1960s of the original films) might make for a very interesting film too. Maybe there will be an opportunity for something like that someday.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

ca12016.35: Captain America: Civil War (Cinema)

Its fascinating, the thematic similarities between this film and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Both films hark back to the central themes of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. In the Real World, for how long would superheroes be able to run around unchecked before the authorities stepped in? How long would it be until the number of normal humans caught in the crossfire of superhero/supervillain battles become enough to raise the questions of responsibility and blame? When does the body-count of innocents reach a Critical Mass?

Typically of Marvel, such dark and rather sober thinking doesn’t drag Civil War into the same operatic agonising that Batman Vs Superman (or Man of Steel before it)  descended into. Yes its action-heavy with a lot of allegiances and friendships stretched and broken and there are far-reaching consequences at films end, but somehow a lightness persists.

In hindsight, Civil War is the inevitable consequence of all those huge conflicts that occurred in Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the two Avengers films in particular. The body count of civilians is awfully high by this point and plenty of cities laid waste. Naturally the world and its politicians are nervous of the legality and accountability of the Avengers. The opening sequence of Civil War, in which members of the Avengers chasing down  bad guys are involved in the deaths of innocents caught in an explosion,  is the tipping point. A treaty -the Sokovia Accords- signed by the leaders of over a hundred countries is designed to block the Avengers from going into action without United Nations authority. The Avengers are divided- surprisingly Tony Stark (mindful of the loss of life in Sokovia at the end of Age of Ultron) thinks it is the way forward- Steve Rogers however is against it, wary of being controlled by the whims of corrupt politicians and nations with their own agendas- he believes the Avengers should be independent, not held to account by any nation or possible vested interest.

Battle lines are drawn. Divided, the Avengers battle each other while events are secretly orchestrated by someone manipulating things in the background with far more subtlety than Lex Luthor or Loki ever managed.

This is a great comic-book movie. There are big ideas here and big action sequences but the lightness of touch that persists through so many of these Marvel Studios movies dominates the proceedings, stopping the film being as bogged-down Batman vs Superman was. The consequences of those climatic events of the two Avengers films lends a weight to the film that makes it more interesting, and enables the film to raise itself above the one-liners and posing that scuppered much of Age of Ultron. And yet the central plot regarding the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes and his friendship with Captain America/Steve Rogers, something that runs through all three Captain America movies, makes this much more than an Avengers 2.5; it makes it a genuinely great trilogy.

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Indeed, I’m of the opinion that this might be the best Marvel film yet. The film has an elegance and sophistication that is quite astonishing. Pacing is terrific, the fights interesting and varied, the character moments satisfying. These Marvel films make it look so effortless, particularly in ensemble films such as this, how they somehow juggle all the heroes and their superpowers with consummate ease. The appearance of Tom Holland’s Spiderman is terrific and promises a great movie of his own next year- indeed he almost completely steals the show in the scenes he appears in. All the more astonishing when you think he hasn’t had his own film to establish the character or his character beats yet. Likewise the antics (sorry, couldn’t resist) of Ant Man are another highlight. Batman vs Superman stumbled so badly trying to establish its Justice League, here Marvel shows how it should really be done.

Its a great superhero movie, and yes, possibly Marvel’s best. Until that famous webslinger comes into town, anyway.

 

Mr Robot – Season One (2015)

mr robot2016.34: Mr Robot Season One (Amazon Prime/VOD)

The first rule of Mr Robot is that you don’t talk about Mr Robot. I could gush about how brilliant it is (and I will), but I can’t back that up with any reasons because, well, that would spoil the experience of actually watching it. Everything really has to be kept vague and inevitably mysterious but that’s sort of what the show is, it kind of sums up Mr Robot. You’re not really sure exactly what kind of show it is that you are watching, it keeps on shifting and twisting. And that ‘first rule’ stuff might sound very Fight Club but there’s a reason for that. Mr Robot is like some kind of love-child of Fight Club and The Matrix, except it’s possibly actually cooler than either. Its that good.

So anyway, keeping things vague and spoiler-free.  Rami Malek is outstanding as nerdy nihilist hacker Elliot Anderson. His socially-challenged, drug-dependant character is an incredible performance, really nuanced, so much conveyed in his eyes, in his expressions… really incredible work. Christian Slater is great. All the cast is great. The photography is never less than gorgeous, the framing of shots quite exquisite and unusual. The scripts… the scripts are fantastic, but of course I can’t tell you why. It’s a subversive modern fairy tale, a social commentary, an examination of modern life, how we are more trapped than we would like to admit, how social media frees no-one, how corporations are the new Evil Empire (literally- the one here is even named Evil Corp). And its a thriller too. Oh, and the music score is fantastic, 80s-style keyboards and accompanied by great choices of source music.

But that’s it, thats all I can say. I could write so much more but no, you’ll have to watch those ten episodes yourself, unsullied by spoilers. Its the only way to discover this show. Beyond that, well, maybe that’s why we have comments sections. Feel free. But really, if you haven’t, you really need to see this series. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, then go buy the season one Blu-ray boxset. It really is one of the very best tv shows out there.

Ender’s Game (2013)

end12016.33: Enders Game (Network Airing, HD)

Youngsters playing videogames save humanity from Alien menace.

Well, thats essentially it. The youngsters think they are playing a videogame simulating an attack on alien planet, when its actually really happening. They win the game, annihilating the aliens, only to find out -gosh!- that gigantic space armada in the game was the real thing obeying their instructions. Yes, whenever they lost ships hundreds of real people got killed but, hey, they won the game! Earth is saved!

This film really is that stupid. I mean, you have the fate of humanity at stake. You have a vast armada of huge battleships and attack fighters, thousands of military personnel. And you have an orbiting school for ‘gifted’ teens to find a kid to put in charge of the bloody lot. I don’t mean ‘gifted’ as per special powers such as the mutants of X-Men or super-intellects. I mean a bunch of teens who maybe passed their GCSEs a bit early. It’s utterly insane.

Incredulous, I watched this film convinced there would be a twist (other than that final painful one- literally game over, kid, you won the war-that left a huge WTF expression on my face that lingered for hours) but there isn’t one. Unless, well, I guess I could mention the painful coda/twist that suggests that, even though they attacked Earth fifty years ago, the aliens might not have been quite so evil after all so our teen hero has to fly off to make amends. I mean, what?

When the best thing about a film is its excessive CGI and green screen there is something rather wrong. It starts a little like The Hunger Games, reluctant teen becomes hero (in this case, it’s a male rather than a female) but it is a pale shadow of that series. I’ve read that the film is based on a series of books written by Orson Scott Card but I can only hope that most of the best material was lost in the screenplay, because the film does the book/s no favours at all. They ploughed $100 million into this turkey- I can in no way fathom what they saw in the screenplay that merited that kind of attention and outlay. Sure, teen-angst adventures were all the rage post-Harry Potter and Hunger Games but really, this tedious film is really poor and wide of the mark.

And anyone surprised/impressed that Harrison Ford thought the script for Blade Runner 2 was one of the very best he’d read and so good he subsequently signed up to star in it, well, its time to be rather worried. If Ford thought Ender’s Game was worthy of him, then really we need to be very cautious about BR2. I swear he looks half-asleep in much of this. What was he thinking (i.e. how much was his pay packet)? Whatever it was, he returns the favour with one of his worst performances that I have ever seen. I’ve seen better performances by trees, he’s that wooden.

It’s a harrowing film. Avoid.

 

 

Remembering Batdance

batm

The news this past few days has been dominated -Brexit hysteria and Royal birthday here notwithstanding- by the sudden death of Prince. Like Bowie’s death a scant few months ago it has been a terrible shock to the music world and his fans, and whatever your own views on Prince and his music, it has to be agreed that his impact on pop culture is immeasurable. I’ve been listening to Prince’s songs since 1999 in 1982, and have bought pretty much all his albums since then, and the last few days have been pretty brutal to be honest.

So I thought I would just mark his passing by remembering the summer of 1989 and Batdance. Tim Burton’s Batman was a huge media event that summer- what the studio guys call a “movie event”. Thinking back on it, I wonder if it was the last really big summer blockbuster of the pre-internet era. You used to get news/previews in magazines but that was about it. I remember seeing stealthily-taken, off-set pictures of the new Batmobile in newspapers during the filming (the film was shot over here in England).That was no Batmobile anybody had ever seen before.  I remember the news that that thin guy from Beetlejuice was gonna play the Caped Crusader and how everyone thought how nuts that was. The news that Prince was writing the soundtrack (not entirely the truth, as it turned out) was worrying even for a Prince fan. There was talk of Prince onset and actually acting in the film. We were all wondering just what the hell kind of film Tim Burton was making.

Batman was released in America in June amidst a huge marketing push by Warner. That clever Bat-logo (as reinterpreted by the film’s production designer Anton Furst, I believe) seemed to be everywhere; posters, tee-shirts, badges. The merchandising for the film was inescapable. It was the summer of Batman. I remember when it became a Stateside sensation and was featured on evening news broadcasts over here in the UK. Usually they’d show clips of Batman swooping down on criminals in the chemical factory. Reviews seemed favourable, the box-office triumphant. This was in the days of delayed releases internationally, and we didn’t get the film released over here until mid-August. We did, however, get teased by Prince’s Batman album.

I don’t know how true it is that Tim Burton didn’t want Prince involved in Batman- I guess Burton wanted Danny Elfman’s score to be the musical identity of the film, but Warner had Prince signed to their music division and they were the money men after all. As it turned out, the amount of Prince music actually in the film was fairly minimal, maybe two or three songs in all. It certainly wasn’t a situation anything like Queen’s music so central in the Flash Gordon film. But you cannot deny how clever it was from a marketing perspective. In those pre-internet days, the media attention on that album (Prince still in his peak popularity at the time) and all the airplay on MTV and radio of the single Batdance was just pure gold from a marketing perspective. I recall the album got rather savaged by critics at the time. I’ve always had a fondness for it, Prince channeling the film’s darkness into his funky songs.

atm2And yep, Batdance seemed everywhere. It got to number one in the US, number two in the UK. It shouldn’t really work, mixing the pop-culture sensibilities of the 1960s Neal Hefti tv show music with the ‘current’ Prince-funk . So many snippets of songs from the album, and unreleased stuff like Prince’s song  Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic (released many years later) were thrown in amidst dialogue snippets from the film. Its really similar to the approach that Queen took with their Flash single years before. That video, with Prince in purple guise, part Joker, part Batman. How weird was that video? That song seemed to be playing on the radio all the time, really cementing that summer as the summer of Batman. It wasn’t just a movie. It was something akin to a cultural behemoth; nearest thing I can compare it to is Star Wars and Jaws. For all the blockbusters we get these days, they don’t feel as ‘big’- they are here and gone so quickly now (ironically thinking of Batman vs Superman in particular). I think Prince’s album and its subsequent singles like Batdance was a big part of that summer belonging to the Caped Crusader.

Batdance actually was built from 200 Balloons, a song Prince had written for the scene of Joker’s parade where he threw money at the crowds while intending to gas them with his balloons. The lyrics directly referenced the scene but Tim Burton rejected it.  It was replaced by Trust, a song whose only link was the Joker asking “who do you trust?” at the end of the song. 200 Balloons only turned up on the Batdance single where its closeness to the Batdance song made it seem like a remix track.  Regards those remixes, I remember the William Orbit remix was rather extraordinary at the time.

 

The Problem With Superman

Curious having seen Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, I rewatched Man of Steel.

Confused as BvS may be, I think it’s actually a better film than MoS. Rewatching it again, I have to say MoS is actually worse than I remembered. It’s such a mess of a film, and a lot of what is wrong about it carries over into BvS,  the lessons from it not learned but rather perpetuated with an anti-Superman dominated by over-the-top CGI hysterics.

stm1The problem with Superman is, well, Superman. They don’t know what to do about him, how to handle the character. Which is weird to me, writing this in 2016 because they nailed it, pretty much, in the mid-seventies with Superman: The Movie, way back in 1978. That film seems to be like the elephant in the room: the Kryptonian scenes were cool and majestic, the childhood scenes wonderful Americana, and the Metropolis scenes with our grown-up hero/Clark Kent alter ego just perfect comic-book escapism. With a template like that, it’s hard to imagine going wrong. So why are Snyder and Warner/DC so seemingly hellbent on distancing themselves from the 1978 classic?

Maybe it’s because Warners tried sticking to that Superman: The Movie template with Superman Returns, which got something of a box-office drubbing when it came out; $390 million worldwide on a $270 million budget (makes BvS something of a huge success with its current haul of $810million worldwide). Superman Returns was hardly perfect, the chief problem was it being overblown and badly produced (although how much of that $270 million was spent on earlier aborted Superman films, I wonder?).  I think it was much better than people perhaps appreciated at the time. It did many things right- particularly casting Brandon Routh who looked the part as Superman and was uncannily like Chris Reeve as Clark Kent. Kevin Spacey was a pretty good Lex Luthor too- indeed both actors are better than Henry Cavill or Jesse Eisenberg are in BvS.

The damnedest thing is that what was wrong about Superman Returns is the one thing that they carried over from it to MoS- namely, taking the title character way too seriously. In Superman Returns the character is saddled with unnecessary Messianic, Christ-like allegory and a semi-religious fixation, complicated with a pointless backstory of Lois Lane and a son.  Superman: The Movie had the tagline “You’ll believe a man can fly”. Superman Returns might well have had “You’ll believe a Messianic figure can be dull”. All this anguished soul-searching about Superman’s place in the world and What He Means to us is like a lead weight around Superman Returns and  now MoS and BvS after it.

I really wish they had kept the cast and creative team of Superman Returns for a sequel rather than trying to reboot though. If they had dropped that Christ imagery and just given the character a decent adventure with a bit more action rather than endless dull soul-searching we might have had a cracking movie.

sr

But they went the way of the reboot, and I can only despair at how they must have scrutinised Superman Returns and tried to analyse what was wrong with it. The main star looks great, let’s drop him. All that moody soul-searching that cripples the story, lets have more of that. But let’s go darker (did they get the notes mixed up, went with the ‘To Drop’ list instead?).

To some extent you have to blame Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight films. Somehow they have been held up so high in critical regard and audience awareness that they are the established measure of how to handle DC characters. Like no-one figured out that Superman and Batman are polar opposites- you can’t approach them the same, the whole point of them is that they are so different. Trying to treat Superman like Batman with his tortured psyche is pointless and ignorant of the real character. Besides, there are quite a few fans of the Batman comics who will rightly contest that Nolan’s Dark Knight films rather missed the ‘real’ Batman anyway.

Hiring Zack Snyder to direct MoS was another bad move. I’ve nothing against Snyder, visually he has a knack for putting comic-book action panels onscreen, but he should be kept clear of producing or script-writing. He seems to think Watchmen is some kind of bible for showing superheroes on film, when Watchmen should really be considered of a genre quite apart from Superhero films. It’s a commentary on the Superhero genre not a blueprint of what it should be. Suggesting that the Superman or Batman comics should be more like Watchmen is utterly missing the point of them.

Snyder seems to think that Dr Manhattan, for instance, is some kind of blueprint of how to portray Superman. Dr Manhattan isn’t that- he’s a commentary by Alan Moore on the idea of a Superman. His powers make him distant and aloof from humanity- he isn’t a hero, he’s a God-like figure increasingly remote from us, less human by the minute. Trying to treat Superman the same way is just crazy- Superman isn’t a God, he’s a hero. He’s an alien, yes, and one with great powers, but essentially he is one of us, actually becoming more human by the minute. Snyder is forcing Superman into some kind of Dr Manhattan figure and it’s totally missing the real point and crippling him and the movies.

mos1For one thing, look at the suit. The MoS/BvS ‘look’ just isn’t, well, really Superman, is it? Just in the same way as the true comic-book character is gone, so is the look. The bright colours of the comic-book, the rich red and blue, is lost, replaced by some muddy, washed-out look. It almost looks like the armour of Tim Burton’s take on Batman and is as much a miss-step as how the character has been portrayed.

It seems to me you can only go so far imagining superheroes in the Real World. Its something the Marvel films seem to have done quite well so far, although with the Avengers films and the upcoming Civil War I have to wonder if they are straying too far into this territory themselves. Comics aren’t Shakespeare, and directors and audiences shouldn’t really expect comic-book movies to be Oscar-bait dramas. They are escapist entertainment, with odd people with impossible powers wearing daft costumes and if Warner/DC go too far they will just ruin what chance they have of the success they clearly crave. Maybe part of the problem is Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. It was a solid, brilliant examination of the Batman character in a noir-ish Real World approximation of our world. But it wasn’t really Batman.

Superheroes couldn’t function in our Real World. I guess that was one of the lessons of Watchmen. You can’t really have costumed guys running around outside of the law; how long would that be allowed before the Government brought in the military to neuter the heroes? Before they were outlawed? Frank Miller had Superman acting as an American Super Weapon in TDR because that’s the only way the American government would find Superman acceptable. Its the same kind of thinking that runs through the rather dour X-Men films. It might be realistic but how far down the rabbit-hole do you go before you aren’t making the actual comic-book anymore? People read them because they are mostly escapist fun. Entertainment.

Superman: The Movie had a genius conceit, right from the start. Some kid opens up a comic book and the camera falls into a panel and it comes ‘alive’. But all through the movie, we are still in that comic.  And that’s a central point that Snyder and Warner/DC seems to be missing. We don’t go to see Superhero movies to see what they would be like in our world. We go to see Superhero movies to see what it would be like for us to be in their world. It’s a fundamental difference.

Bride of Re-Animator (1989)

bride1.png2016.32: Bride of Re-Animator (Blu-ray)

Disappointing. It has to be said. For all the nods to humour this film is vastly inferior to the anarchic comedy of Dan O’Bannon’s wonderful zombie-fest The Return Of The Living Dead, and as an horror film, well, its an awful excuse for Lovecraftian horror (much prefer Dagon, for instance). Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood? I think for these horror/comedies, mood might be everything.

Well, to be fair I have always had a love/hate thing for these Lovecraft films anyway. I mean, you have to ignore the name Lovecraft and his stories immediately- the very last thing you could say of Lovecraft is that his stories were funny. These films really just use his name as a hook and selling-point. This failure to be sincere to Lovecraft is also true of the first Re-Animator film and From Beyond, but both films are much better than this film, if only because they seem more balanced, confident in what they are.

I’m not sure what Bride of Re-Animator was exactly aiming at. Partly it’s a direct follow-on from the first film, and seems to actually feature content from a few chapters of Lovecrafts Herbert West story,  but beyond that it seems to be more a nod towards Hammer’s Frankenstein films starring Peter Cushing and also the William Castle and Roger Corman horror pictures. Is it, after all, more a Frankenstein film than a Re-Animator?

I think it ultimately spreads itself too thin and tries to be too many things- certainly there seems to be several plots running through the film either leaving it confused or deliriously wild, depending on your point of view. Personally I’m of the former opinion. There’s just too many threads running- at least The Return Of The LIving Dead knew what story it was telling and stuck to it with its core characters.

Maybe the problem making a second Re-Animator film was deciding what it was that made the first film so popular. Was it the gore? The humour? The OTT characters? Maybe they just weren’t certain which approach to take and sort of tried to do everything. Certainly the gore-hounds are well served here; some of the stuff is beyond graphic.

I suppose some of the problem is the low budget, as it obviously curtails what can be done and the acting talent available (some of the acting is beyond terrible, although Jeffrey Combs is as usual in fine form). The make-up effects work is very good though, and there is an obvious ambition here to raise these effects above the norm. The titular bride may be somewhat wasted but her design and execution is excellent- if only she could have appeared in one of those Hammer films, at least they were horror films, for all their own inherent flaws.

I’m sure this film has its fans though. Maybe I will warm to its gory low-budget ‘eighties charms on subsequent viewings. But right now I’d much rather rewatch Return Of The Living Dead.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

 

JENNIFER LAWRENCE and BRADLEY COOPER star in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Silver Linings Playbook (Blu-ray)

Whats this? Bob De Niro in decent movie shocker? Shouldn’t that have been on the front pages back in 2012? Goodness. I’m too old for shocks like this.

Seriously though, this is a pretty damn fine film- I suppose it’s a romantic comedy, a feel-good movie, which is a little weird considering its subject matter concerns mental illness. Only in Hollywood, eh? Its funny and warm and yes, very well-acted. Jennifer Lawrence is pretty amazing (didn’t she win an Oscar for this?)  and re-watching this only reinforces how bored she looks in that last Hunger Games film. She’s so much better here. Likewise Bradley Cooper is very good, although I do think he looks (shades of my Childhood’s End casting observations here) a little too good-looking and perfect to really be right-on-the-nose for the role. What the hell though, it’s a Hollywood movie- it’s all make-believe isn’t it, and life-affirming. And yeah, Bob De Niro is great in this and I don’t get to write that very often.

Anyway, this seems to be one of those pleasant movies that can be repeatedly returned to. My wife really likes it so I guess it will be. More than Blade Runner ever will be in my house, unfortunately, but there you go, there’s no accounting for taste in love and marriage.

 

The Purge (2013)

purge12016.31: The Purge (TV, Film 4)

The Purge is another near-future dystopia rather like The Hunger Games series. On one night every year the citizens of the United States go on a murder/rape/whatever-goes spree without any fear of criminal prosecution, the theory being that by thus exorcising them of all their pent-up frustrations and violent rage they can be law-abiding citizens the rest of the year. It’s a twelve-hour period when the police and emergency services step back and let the citizens run amok, a ‘purge’ to cleanse the soul of America, after which normal civilisation returns and survivors honour those who died ‘for the greater good’. We are told that for the remaining 364 days of the year crime is largely unheard of. All of this by the year 2022.

Whoops. 2022? Six years from now? There goes any credibility. At least The Hunger Games set itself in some distant post-Apocalypse future; this thing looks like it might happen next week. Unfortunately this film doesn’t have a big enough budget to create a far-future society, it has to be set pretty much in the here and now, hence the leap of faith and required suspension of disbelief with the date set in 2022. Its your standard modern dumb movie with a grand idea and subsequent mediocre execution.

More than that, the Purge itself is largely off-camera and the subject of news broadcasts watched by the protagonists on tv, because this film is really more an unofficial remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (oddly starring Ethan Hawke who was himself in an official remake of Assault on Precinct 13 some years ago-yes it’s all very confusing, I almost had to second-glance which film I was watching).

Hawke plays James Sandin, a wealthy engineer who has sold advanced home security systems to the rich that turns homes into armoured fortresses so Purgers cannot get in and kill owners during the annual Purge. On this particular Purge night however, after Sandin and his wife and children hunker down for the night, tech-wiz son Charlie sees an injured and bleeding man begging for help outside and allows him entry. Unfortunately for the Sandins. the man has been targeted by a gang of rich blood-thirsty Purgers who want the man released back to them so they can kill him. Otherwise they will lay siege to the house and kill all the Sandins too. Very Assault on Precinct 13 territory here.

Which brought me to the realisation that, while the film is by no means bad, it would have been immeasurably superior had it been directed by John Carpenter, a director well-accustomed to delivering real tension and thrills in films like this- hell, he directed the original Assault on Precinct 13 and very best example of this kind of siege movie. He could have made this into a tight, riveting action b-movie that was more than the sum of its parts. Hell, he could probably do it in his sleep.

Ethan Hawke in The PurgeOne other observation- Ethan Hawke is in his mid-forties now and looks incredibly similar to how Harrison Ford did in his heyday- particularly how Ford looked in Blade Runner in 1982. They could cast Hawke as a young Deckard for flashbacks in Blade Runner 2 and it’d be quite convincing. Really, give it a look. It’s quite spooky, particularly when he nervously patrols the darkened house with gun and flashlight.

Anyway, The Purge is by no means a bad film, just not as good as it might have been, even if it is saddled with a premise that isn’t really as clever as it thinks it is. I gather the second Purge movie is better and that there’s actually a third on the way. I guess audiences don’t mind their films to be stupid as long as they are simple, undemanding and violent. These Purge movies could run and run then.