Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy Halloween from Weird Girl and Mr Whiskers!

Hope you're all having a ghoulish day - and those American readers, of which I know there are many, affected by the storms hopefully your day is merely safe and returning to somewhat normalcy. I've already watched one film today - Carl Theodore Dreyer's 1932 classic, Vampyr - but have three more to get through, including a cinema screening of John Carpenter's Halloween on a double feature with something called Hardware. I'm obviously not going to get to 31 films, but at least I'll hit a figure with a 2 in the front of it!

If your day, however, is filled with work (it is a Wednesday after all) maybe Weird Girl and Mr Whiskers can help ease the pain.





Images stolen blatantly from My New Plaid Pants

31 Horrors: Ghostwatch (#18)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

It's like Paranormal Activity in Prime Time!

Imagine Lake Mungo, with it's investigative Dateline/Australian Story/60 Minutes approach to a family's haunting, but done live to air. In 1992, before "found footage" was a term used to identify films of its kind. When the prospect of national celebrities portraying themselves on a BBC special event wasn't even entertained as fiction, but rather a very real documentary. Such is the idea behind Ghostwatch, a British television program that would become one of the most controversial of its time and scare almost an entire nation into believing that ghosts were real. That is, until those involved were forced to apologise for misleading the public even though the program's credits don't leave much in the way of ambiguity. Such is the rabid hysteria of the public.

Man oh man, did I love Ghostwatch! Relatively obscure outside of Britain I should imagine, but its ten year ban by its own network, the BBC, suggests it should be held in higher regard. Playing the ol' Orson Welles/War of the Worlds trick on unsuspecting British TV viewers on Halloween night resulted in thousands of calls and even a controversial implication in the suicide of a mentally unstable man several days after it aired. Ghostwatch, beyond its scary surface and spine-chilling revelations, digs deeper into the national psyche than, say, Paranormal Activity, by also working as a tell tale sign of society's more gullible nature and the domination that television has (well, had) over them.

Ghostwatch was supposedly a special event piece of television, broadcast on BBC1 and heralded as live reality. Cameras and reporters were placed in the scene of a house on Halloween night that had, before then, become known as a hub of poltergeist disturbances. Hosted by famous chat show personality Michael Parkinson, featuring several well known British identities (including Red Drawf's Craig Charles), and including actors portraying psychic professionals as well as the very haunted family of mother and two daughters, Ghostwatch takes its time to really get going, but those who are paying close attention will get chills out of the entire enterprise.

By the time the film's final 20 minutes or so comes around, I was already well and truly intrigued and had experienced a couple of very decent frights (my suspicions were right when I thought I'd caught a glimpse of the mysterious "Pipes"). What I didn't expect was the level of almost paralysing fear that the climax would throw at me. Rigid with fear and audibly gasping on a high frequency, Ghostwatch worked spectacularly well and more than justifies its reputation as an oughtta be eminent Halloween classic. The final image especially of a dazed Michael Parkinson - remember, he's a huge star both in the UK and Australia - mumbling about the BBC set before creator Stephen Volk's last chilling utterance made getting to sleep a harder task than I'd expected.

Readers would be aware that I am very much a fan of the Paranormal Activity features as well as The Blair Witch Project and the aforementioned Lake Mungo. When this type of film works well there's almost nothing I find scarier. Ghostwatch is another stellar example of it, made even more provocative by the project's history and the way its makers went about it. I watched it nearly 20 years to the day since its British premiere (it's never played since) and it's very much as effective now as it was in 1992. It's also the best thing I've seen during my month-long horror trek. A

Plagiarising the Prom

I'd seen this poster for Mark Hartley's upcoming remake of Patrick some time ago. However, it wasn't until today that I cottoned on to where I'd seen it before, and it wasn't where I expected.

I'd come across this rather lovely poster for the Prom Night remake as I was reading a piece about the best and worst horror remakes to watch on Halloween. I'd obviously seen it back in 2008 when the film was released (to my uproarious howling laughter, might I add), but I'd never really thought of it again until today. As luck would have it, I was soon after reading an email from the Melbourne International Film Festival that included the above key art for Patrick and, voila, a connection was made.

A quick google informs me that nobody else has made the link - why would they? I can't imagine too many inspecting posters for Australian films a year in advance! - but now that I've stared at the two of them for long enough I can't not notice it. Obviously some Photoshop colouring has been done, but look at the lips, the tongue, (especially) the chin, and (especially) the teeth of the face reflected in the eyeball of the Patrick poster, and then look at the same features of the face on the Prom Night design. Same thing. The teeth and the corner of the woman's mouth even begin to fade to darkness at the same point on each design.

I wonder if whoever made the Patrick poster intended people to spot this? I can't imagine it would please them. Or for that matter, the makers of the Prom Night poster, especially if they weren't asked for permission beforehand. Hmmm, right? HMMM! Still, it's not quite as embarrassing as this other piece of Prom Night image shenanigans. Notice this particular DVD cover features an image of star Jamie Lee Curtis, as you would expect given she stars in it. The image, however, isn't from Prom Night, but from Halloween H20, which was released some 20 years later. Well done to whoever made that wise decision.

Now, I should add that I don't think whoever made the Patrick poster is "plagiariszing", it just made for a nifty title. Still not sure why they'd use an image from a successful movie like Prom Night (money wise, not critically - obviously), but there you go.

Watercolor Wolverine

It should come as no surprise that I keep a Word document on my desktop that I update regularly with a list of the best and worst posters for the year. It makes doing that end of year round-up all the more easier. I do frequently miss stuff though so I will always scan through IMP's yearly list to find those hidden gems that passed me by. Perusing my list today, however, and I noticed a distinct lack of American mega-budget blockbusters on it. We already know that Hollywood studios generally have trouble marketing their product in anything but the most broad of beige strokes, but this year seemed particularly empty of titles at least attempting something interesting. I know many are fans, but I had major issues with the artwork for The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Prometheus, and many more. How these films have upwards of 50 individual designs (!!!) and can't stumble across anything fresh, unique, or even just Photoshopped nicely is beyond the realm of my comprehension.

Summer 2013 on the other hand is already looking up. I quite like this Lone Ranger teaser, despite some of its flaws, and now comes along another teaser for a sequel to a much-maligned film. The Wolverine has a lot to prove, and I think they've gotten off on the right foot with this rather captivating, artistic piece of design. It's black and white, but doesn't even approach the miserable monochrome style of, say, The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man. Utilising a beautiful Japanese style reminiscent of watercolours, this poster for The Wolverine makes for a very early contender for best poster of 2013 (I know it's 2012, but there's gotta be some consistency here so, for argument's sake, it's a 2013 design).

If the rest of the campaign for The Wolverine is half as well-executed as this initial teaser then I'll be very happy. I was also a fan of this initial design, but it's been said that it won't be used in any official capacity and was nothing more than a conceptual mock up. That's a shame, but they've hardly replaced it with something garish and ugly. This poster for The Wolverine is simply wonderful. Hopefully some of the other blockbusters of 2013 follow on from The Wolverine's lead and aim a little bit higher.

Monday, October 29, 2012

31 Horrors: Mad Monster Party (#17)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

Another horror spoof after the earlier Student Bodies. Inarguably more original and inventive, I didn't however find it anywhere near as entertaining. Taking on monster movies rather than slashers, Jules Bass' stop-motion animated film was the American's first animated feature since he co-produced the wildly successful Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The style is most definitely the same, and I give him props for making something a little bit left of centre for a G-rated animation, but I'm not sure how successful it ultimately is.

There's Dr Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff!) who lives on Evil Island, and he's invited all the world's most famous monsters (Count Dracula, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and so on) to his castle to announce his retirement as well as his successor. That turns out to be a meek drug store employee who sounds a lot like James Stewart with the whispy appearance of Niles Crane. Throw in all sorts of other references - including a copyright skirting beast named "It" and looks and sounds and acts identically to King Kong, plus a reference to Some Like It Hot (because, well, ya know... why not?) and you've got yourself Mad Monster Party. Oh, did I mention Phyllis Diller? Because there's Phyllis Diller doing her best kid-friendly version of her routine, her plasticine figure laughing at every one of her groan-inducing one-liners.

I didn't particularly like Mad Monster Party. I found it all a tad too flat for my liking. I imagine Tim Burton is a very big fan since he's tread into similar waters with his own wacky family friendly work on Frankenweenie and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Unlike those features, however, Mad Monster Party certainly has the feel of a TV movie. Unsophisticated humour for the most part - oh gawd, it reminded me of "Oy to the World"! - with only a few really great laughs hidden amongst the madcap musical adventure. I would recommend it most of all as a perfect movie to play in the background of your next Halloween gathering. It's an idea movie to be able to catch brief glimpses of without really having to pay all that much attention. And that you you also get to avoid the songs.

Songs like that one. It's all a bit nauseating, really. A DRACULA TAP ROUTINE! Of course, if I had seen this when I was younger then maybe I'd be crowing a different tune, but it doesn't hold much value as an adult when viewing it without the rose-coloured glasses of nostalgia. It's rather innocent demeanor really could have been played with a bit more of a wink and a nudge. Baby's first horror movie, if you will, but hopefully not the last. C

31 Horrors: Student Bodies (#16)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

Student Bodies, a very early (the first?) entry in the dubious subgenre of horror spoofs begins with successive establishing shots labelled Halloween night, Friday the 13th, and then Jamie Lee Curtis' birthday. I kinda knew I was going to like this 1981 horror spoof from right then. If the rest of this brief 86-minute film from 1981 don't quite live up to the hilarious opening ten minutes, then that's hardly surprising. Throwing so many jokes at the audience in rapid succession, I'd be willing to bed that this is some of the hardest I've laughed in, well, ever. My flatmate can attest to that. I was in hysterics. It's the old "I was laughing so hard I missed the jokes" story and boy is it relevant with Student Bodies.

An obvious precursor to Scary Movie - there are even jokes from this film that the Wayans brothers appear to have copied nearly 20 years later, which is saying something - Student Bodies came on the heels of the Zucker, Abraham, Zucker masterpiece, Flying High (or Airplane if you're not Australian). It's easy to see the inspiration and while the ratio of jokes that work to those that don't is obviously higher (people remember Flying High for a reason, although I'd say Student Bodies should at least have a fond reputation amongst the horror community), it works spectacularly well more often than not. 86 minutes is, apparently, too long - especially during the elongated prom investigation scenes towards the end that act as little more than reasons for characters to do jokes that the writers couldn't shoehorn in elsewhere - but, if nothing else, the opening thirty minutes allow for enough good will for that to not matter quite as much.

Most curious of all is that the film appears to spoof horror movies that hadn't even been invented yet. One could easily for forgiven for thinking several gags are aimed at Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street, when in actual fact that dreamtime slasher wasn't released until three years later. Furthermore, the horror conventions that we now all see as cliche and easy to ridicule surely weren't that entrenched in cinema by 1981, were they? Friday the 13th is the most obvious influence, what with its "sex = death" mantra and the unseen killer revealed in the closing segments gambit, but the film's other influences, like When a Stranger Calls (1979), Halloween (1978), Prom Night (1980), and even Carrie (1976) and Carnival of Souls (1962) from which the film heavily borrows some specific sequences, work in entirely different ways to the Friday blueprint that became rather standard throughout the decade. "Ahead of its time" is a term that could probably apply here, wouldn't you think?

Perhaps Student Bodies' most odd element is The Stick, an actor (of sorts) whose skinny frame gave him his nickname. He never acted again outside of the TV series Out of Control in 1984, but he remains a mystery. In fact, many of the actors featured either never worked again (such as the "final girl" or sorts, Kristen Riter) or not much. I think this has to do with a strike that was going on at the time, an event that lead to the director, Michael Ritchie, being credited as Allan Smithee. I'd assumed that name appearing in the opening credits was just a joke, but further research informs me that's not quite the case.

I really enjoyed Student Bodies, and it's certainly a stronger horror spoof comedy than any of the Scary Movie films (albeit, lacking a go hard or go home performance like that of Anna Faris). Even though it diminishes in value over the run time, that opening scene will certainly be something I'll be giggling about for quite some time. B

Saturday, October 27, 2012

31 Horrors: Pulse (#15)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

No not the Japanese one

This is the 1988 electro-horror-sci-fi-thing that came from writer/director Paul Golding whose only previous directorial credit was for a short film called Herbie (not related to the famous family movie of the same name) in 1966 that he co-directed alongside George Lucas. 22 years between films and he then never directed again. In 1984, however, he did write a personal favourite of mine - the east coast hip-hop musical, Beat Street. What an odd footnote of a career he has. He doesn't even have a Wikipedia page! Pulse, then, rates as his only feature film as a director and it's curious why he never went on to make anything else given he's hardly the most incompetent director you'll ever come across. Oh well.

Pulse actually does share basic similarities with the more well known 2001 Japanese title (and its 2006 American remake) in that it involves people being plagued by the horrors of modern technology. In this case it's good ol' fashioned electricity that's the villain after the grid of one particular neighbourhood is infected with a (to quote the film's Wikipedia entry) "malevolent, paranormal intelligence" that fries your garden grass and sends out flares of electric activity that eventually traps the home owners inside by manipulating people's overly protective existences (security systems, bars on windows, mechanical devices of various kids). It's actually an intriguing concept, and I think it's safe to say that Paul Golding was coming at it from a socially conscious place, trying to say something about our modern day existences being very much ruled by machinery. In that respect it's still a very topical film and one that could very easily be remade today with a simple update of technology (and even then, there really isn't all that much in the film that dates it all that terribly - a prevalence of electricity towers won't vanish for some time yet).

That being said, Pulse doesn't always work. Golding does indeed get some great mileage out of his close-ups of melting outlets and firing circuit boards, as well as turning those creaks and groans that we hear throughout the night - personally, the sound of the back of my TV creaking as it contracts between warm and cool temperature drives me batty - into a very literal, menacing threat. The creak of a staircase or the hollow breeze of a central air conditioning unit taking the place of zombies, ghosts, and serial killers if you will. Frustratingly though Pulse doesn't quite take the concept far enough on occasion and the logic behind the hows and the whys goes more or less unresolved. Perhaps as a result of its limited cast - only three major characters - it's not until the second half where things start to get truly interesting, especially with a nifty twist on the concept of a tired shower death scene, and some wonderfully playful bits and pieces throughout the big climax (loved the screw in the basement bit, didn't you?)

The lead character, a young boy played by - oh HAH! - Joey Lawrence, is quite annoying as a these sorta things go. Trying to convince your family (CLIFF DE YOUNG! ROXANNE HART!) that the electricity's evil is tricky, and being this annoying whilst doing so isn't going to help. I liked the idea of the stepmother actually being the more sympathetic of the kid's two parental figures, but the father is a bit dim, isn't he? I know in real life it'd be darn hard to convince anybody that electricity is evil, but this is a film and it shouldn't take so long for him to cotton on. Or, maybe while he's coming around to the idea, something could happen besides innocuous heating systems firing up in the middle of the night. That stuff was all a bit ho-hum, really.

Curiously, Golding appears to have cribbed some of the style - typeface, score, general aesthetic mood - from The Terminator and A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's odd to be watching a scene and feeling as if they are using Charles Burnstein's actual Elm Street score rather than just a cheap knock off (by Jay Ferguson if you really want to know). It makes sense though that those two films should so immediately come to mind since the former is very much about technology turned bad, whereas the latter is about American suburbia being plagued by something that something that has been turned on its head and become evil. The film I thought Pulse would work best with on a double feature, however, was Wes Craven's Shocker. Electricity was having a rough couple of years of it in the late 1980s, wasn't it? If you want to branch out, you could say Todd Haynes' [safe] resides in the same place, with its lead character (Julianne Moore) allergic to the modern world.

I eventually came to enjoy Pulse quite a bit. I think the second half really makes up for the too uneventful opening half (although I admire that part of the film in how it sets up this Americana suburbia that, even without the threat of electrical death, has an unknowing menace to it). Curious points come from watching this just days after Paranormal Activity 4, both of which feature sequences in which the young protagonist gets trapped in a car garage by a mysterious force and nearly dies due to toxic gases and can only escape by reversing the car into the faulty garage door. Hmmm.

As a matter of fact, it's probably the end credits that I'd rank as Pulse's best and most interesting scene. As the cast and crew's names come and go on the screen, the backdrop plays a revolving set of imagery that becomes increasingly unclear. Are they circuit boards of city streets? The ominous music and the vague, beautifully photographed imagery adds a final kick to what was an already rather interesting film that was well worth the watch. B

Friday, October 26, 2012

31 Horrors: Dead & Buried (#14)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

It took actually seeing this movie to realise I've spent my entire life having absolutely zero idea of what it was about.

One of my earliest movie memories is adoring the video cover of the Dead & Buried VHS in the horror isle of the local video store. So many of the images in that section of the shop left imprints on my brain, but Dead & Buried was one of the greatest. As I've said though, you could have asked me what it was about about and I would have had to shrug my shoulders. I certainly wasn't aware it was about voodoo zombie clans running around taking photographs of victims. I would have guessed it was about some sort of alien creatures emerging out of the Earth to attack a group of horny teenagers. Ya know, I'd just assume.

The poster labels Dead & Buried as from "the creators of ALIEN", but there's really nothing at even remotely similar to Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror masterpiece. Not in terms of scope or talent, and certainly not in terms of scare factor. It has a nice, novel setup - new arrivals to the town of Potter's Bluff start popping up dead and the new Sheriff must investigate, leading the way to all sorts of grisly revelations involving the town's beloved mortuary owner (Bernie he is not) - and several scenes really work fabulously, but it never really gets out of its shlocky '80s groove to become anything more. It actually reminded me a lot of Stephen King's The Tommyknockers (or vice versa, I suppose, since that novella came out in 1987 and the miniseries several years later) with its horde of calm zombie creatures.

There are moments throughout Dead & Buried that give major hints at what the final product could have been, but director Gary Sherman somewhat fumbles the ball in the final act. The reveal of just what has been going on this town doesn't have quite the impact as it should. It has a great look to it, with a lot of beautiful polish - certainly more than I was expecting from a film of that era - and the make-up effects are deliciously grotesque from time to time (although what's up with the baaad finger effects of the final scene?), but I never truly got the horror of the story. For a film that was once designated a "video nasty" in the UK, it comes off as awfully easy to watch. B-

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: Argo

Dir. Ben Affleck
Country: USA
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 120mins

“Argo” was the title of a screenplay to a cheap Star Wars wannabe that landed on Hollywood’s collective desk in the late 1970s. A sci-fi action movie set on a dusty, intergalactic terrain that saw good vs evil play out in broad strokes, to be filmed amid the violence-ravaged scenery of Iran by a Canadian production house. The film was ultimately never made because this is actually the story to a now declassified CIA operation involving the rescue of six American nationals from Iran after they escaped an embassy ambush in 1980. With the help of the Canadian government as well a pair of old guard Hollywood stalwarts, the mission’s success and failure ultimately hinged on everyone’s ability to sell this ludicrous tall tale as one of utmost reality. The rest is history.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

31 Horrors: Frankenweenie (#13)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

Dir. Tim Burton
Country: USA
Running Time: 90mins
Aus Rating: PG

Social outcasts? Check.

Monochrome colour palate? Check.

Horror references? Check.

Yup, must be another Tim Burton film. Thankfully, Frankenweenie – the American director’s second film of the year following the dire Dark Shadows – is a return to form and a delight. While it is essentially a “kid’s movie”, its themes of re-animation and horror may not be appropriate for younger crowds. Still, Frankenweenie does a far better job of teaching pre-teen and early-teen audiences the sort of values that will be far more beneficial to their lives than being able to kick a football, and does it with more invention and originality than other more colourful, cutesy animations.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Monday, October 22, 2012

31 Horrors: The Omen (#12)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

Not even I can quite understand why I hadn't seen Richard Donner's The Omen until now. Sometimes one just has films pass by them, I guess. At least I can't say I've never seen the original, but have indeed seen the recent remake (like, say, House of Wax or The Fog). I remember the remake was released on 06/06/06 and that it starred Julia Stiles and Mia Farrow (and maybe Liev Schrieber?) - actually, I seem to remember more about it than I probably ought to about a film I haven't seen.

Oh wait, we're meant to be talking about the 1976 original.

Actually, maybe we can just scratch talking about The Omen - which is nicely effective with a couple of justly famous scenes (the fish bowl and the hanging) and a couple of wonderful kills (the spike and the decapitation - let's face it, who doesn't love a good beheading in a movie? Except for the, er, beheadee, I guess) amongst a nicely-scored piece of bitter chilly Brit horror - and focus instead of Lee Remick's scared face. She gets to use it enough times and it's rather fabulous.

Other than that, is there really all that much to say? I'm sure more than enough has been said about The Omen that I don't really need to go into what works and what doesn't (although maybe in the hindsight of 30 years maybe somebody needs to address some of the more ridiculous aspects of the film like that trip to Israel... surely there was a less silly way of getting that exposition out of the way? And what's going on with the church-goer expressions?) Still, for every somewhat out-of-place moment there is an even more amazing moment like this.


Or this.


Incredible. B

Can anyone say whether the sequels are worth checking out? Does Damien eventually become the President? Because that would be wild, it really would.

31 Horrors: Amer (#11)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

You guys, I really hated Amer!

So I sat down to watch this movie on Blu-ray late last night as I was kinda in the mood for something stylish and scary, but a little bit off-centre, too. Turns out Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's giallo homage, Amer, was not the way to go. A rather lifeless, sketchy, snooze of a film that didn't engage me on any level. Even the visuals, arguably the film's raison d'être, weren't all that lush and deep. I was genuinely shocked to discover Amer was filmed on 16mm given the cheap, digital coldness that I found within the imagery. I would have turned it off if I wasn't positive that there was going to be some super icky violence to enliven the final act. I really needn't have bothered as I found the finished product amounted to little more than a pair of directors wanking directly to camera and laughing all the way to critical applause.

Given its giallo connections, it's natural for the mind to drift not only to the classical works of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and so forth, but also this year's fantastic Italo-horror love-fest, Berberian Sound Studio. My knowledge of the genre is admitted quite limited, but Amer appeared to lack anything beyond the most basic of giallo tropes. Oh, I noticed the colour palate of the opening act, the close-skinned erotic nature of the second act, and the film's obsession with eyeballs and zooms, but they felt like pure superficial elements. The film didn't have the allure or the off-kilter mechanics of a giallo title. At least none of the giallo films that I have seen. It lacked the griminess within it prettiness that I've found so interesting before.

Where was the central murder mystery and the graphic reverberations that come with it? If you're going to make an ode to giallo then where is the poorly looped sound design? Amer, I found, lacked any of the suspense that I've found in titles such as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, nor the mad playfulness of Suspiria. Even the lone bloody sequence of Amer's climax lack the aura of a classic Fulci feature. As I've said, perhaps my knowledge of the giallo genre is just too narrow to truly "get" what Amer was doing, but it struck me as little more than, say, that trailer for Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis' The Canyons. All dressed up in its tarted up genre clothing, but seemingly lacking the inherent soul of the films its trying to cover.

It's certainly a fine line, but I certainly don't think Amer got there. Consider the aforementioned Berberian Sound Studio. I know some were disappointing in it, probably finding the same issues with Peter Strickland's film as I did with Amer, but I ultimately think it succeeded because it told a story as filtered it through the soft focus gauze of a giallo production. It's twists on the traditional Italo-horror narrative built to something - that something being a third act that essentially becomes the giallo horror that the film proposed to be a behind-the-scenes deconstruction of. That title was fabulously sneaky in the way it build suspense and terror in unconventional ways. Amer does its thing in such a flavourless way that the third act's amped up action climax comes off as little more than an obvious attempt at getting the pulse racing and leave audiences on a heartbeat high as a means of forgetting that nothing else in the picture served any purpose whatsoever.

Maybe I'm just looking at it the wrong way, but I found nothing in Amer even came close to what some of the best giallo films are capable of. And capable of without the virtues of computer colour tinting. Nothing in either of the three segments appear to have much to do with one another, and if there was then it certainly went way over my head. Maybe I'm still just annoyed at the terrible make-up effects in that opening act? The use of pre-existing music, too, wasn't used in any real effective manner. Unlike this review that states "especially present in the phenomenally tense climax, when the music lets the viewer know that the end is near", I don't need music cues to forecast for me that a movie is nearly over, although I wish this one had finished much sooner than it did. D

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ben Affleck, Jacqueline West, and the Costumes of Argo

Have you seen Argo yet? I know many Australian readers will not have since it isn't out here until next week, but I saw it last night and it is fantastic. A certified slam dunk and Hollywood filmmaking at its finest. It sits comfortably alongside Killing Them Softly, Holy Motors, and Searching for Sugarman as one of the absolute must see movies of the 2012 (I'm going by American release dates for simplicity sake - I have more American readers than Australian). It's been a while since an American thriller held me in its grip quite as well as Argo does and it's an exhilarating experience to watch Ben Affleck's rather masterful direction put everything in to play that culminates in those film sequences that actually brought applause from my audience. APPLAUSE! That doesn't happen very often in Australia, we're a bit too reserved for that.

As far as potential Oscar winners go, I am most certainly on board with Argo. I can easily see it snagging wins for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing and perhaps even the supremely talented Rodrigo Prieto for Cinematography if they choose Argo's 1970s paranoia thriller aesthetics over The Master's more personal, yet expansive, 70mm canvas (or whatever else pops up as a leader in that category - Life of Pi?). And, let's face it, I look forward to Ben Affleck - the Ben Affleck - being a three-time Academy Award winner (he's also a producer of Argo alongside George Clooney and Grant Heslov). Won't that be a hoot? Who would have ever expected ten years ago that Affleck would win a second (and third?) Oscar before his Good Will Hunting screenwriting buddy Matt Damon.

I've always liked Ben Affleck. Yes, even in those weird years at around the middle of the 2000s where he was seemingly public pop culture enemy #1 for the plummeting quality of his films roles and the sky-rocketing rise in paparazzi stock. I had hoped he'd find a way out and I'm so very glad he did. Hello! I even liked that strange Sandra Bullock weather romcom, Forces of Nature! He was even one of my very first celebrity crushes, too, which is rather humorous to think about.

It's nice then that Affleck sought to bring that crush roaring back with the help of costume designer Jacqueline West, the woman behind the fabulous costumes of Quills, The Curious Cast of Benjamin Button, as well as Terrance Malick's The Tree of Life and The New World. Just thinking of those movies and I immediately recall Geoffrey Rush's excessively details hand-written suit from Quills, that sleek dress that Cate Blanchett dances in from Benjamin Button, Sean Penn's baggy suit and Jessica Chastain's selection of sweetly-coloured outfits from The Tree of Life, and Q'orianka Kilcha's ravishing British gown from The New World's spellbinding final sequence. Again, West has excelled at creating striking looks for her actors in Argo, and my favourite of all is a certain brown polo tee worn by Mr Affleck upon his visit to a Hollywood studio set. Gimme a moment to cool down, okay?

This image taken from the trailer doesn't quite show off the shirt (and, ahem, the body underneath, which Ben thankfully shows off in another scene) in all of its glory, but on a big screen it was rather divine.

I'd love to see Argo recreate the surprise nomination of Danny Glicker for Milk. That film's costume nomination was generally considered as out of left field given the Oscar's costume branch being notoriously picky about fashion eras post-1950s. Argo's setting at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of 1980s (characters are, essentially, still wearing the suits, jackets and jeans that they would have purchased in the 1970s - no flamboyant '80s fashion here, folks) could be tricky to get nominated as the branch is always more likely to veer towards hoop skirts and corsets than button-up shirts with flared lapels in muted colours. The snub of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in this category earlier this year just proved the point even further, but hopefully Argo's assumed across-the-board love will push Jacqueline West into the race. I'd certainly prefer her finely-selected woolen suits, the directorial scarves of Tate Donovan, and Bryan Cranston's brown-on-brown ensembles to get a nomination over the lovely, if rather unengaging, pieces from A Royal Affair or something of that ilk (of course, I'm still rooting for the late Eiko Ishioka for Mirror Mirror, but that's probably even more of a long shot.)

The brown polo tee, however, is just one fabulous costume piece from a film that's filled with them. I got a particular kick out of Affleck's oversized trench as well as well the assorted thick-width ties, the assortment of famous sci-fi costumes during the "Argo" read through sequence, Scoot McNairy's large glasses, Affleck's delicious selection of skin-hugging jeans, Chris Messina's mustard-coloured suit, and the way Clea DuVall's deep red sweater stands out amongst a sea of tan and dusty-hued men's attire. Elswhere, the make-up work (particularly Scoot McNairy's luscious moustache and Kerry Bishe's marketplace up-do) is just the tops. And much like the Dreamgirls end credits were a For Your Consideration advertisement for the costumes, Argo does the same to show off how historically accurate the film's production design is, right down the details of specific signage and body placements.

Man, I loved this movie.

31 Horrors: Paranormal Activity 4 (#10)

Paranormal Activity 4
Dir. Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Country: USA
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 88mins

Much like the Friday the 13th franchise, or the Saw series for a more recent example, the Paranormal Activity films have more or less settled into a comfortable groove by its fourth entry in as many years. While sequel rules dictate that the stakes be raised with each subsequent entry, the films – originally a $15,000 “found footage” movie directed by Oren Peli that took the box office by storm – have rarely reached beyond their fairly simple origins: a family find themselves haunted by a demonic spirit with a fondness for loud bangs in the night, levitation, throwing people around like rag-dolls, and pulling the doona covers off sleeping victims. The added extra of a cult-like institution in the series best Paranormal Activity 3 is about as radical as it has gotten so far, and Paranormal Activity 4 adds little that hasn’t been seen before. Alas, many viewers probably won’t have a problem with that.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review: Savages

Dir. Oliver Stone
Country: USA
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 131mins

The line “directed by Oliver Stone” sure doesn’t have the same ring to it anymore, does it? His latest project, an adaptation of a Don Winslow novel, is far removed from the politically charged arena of JFK, Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. Even if Stone attempts to inject his regular filmmaking chutzpah into this tale of young and wealthy pot growers facing off against a powerful drug cartel, it nevertheless lacks any of the zest that was once came so effortlessly. Savages – all 131 minutes of it – appears tiresomely like a filmmaker whose eagerness to excite comes off as little more than overcompensation for a screenplay that’s as dog-eared as a well-read text with its characters and scenarios appearing to be little more than retreads. One can almost see the edits written in bold red marker it’s so choppy and scattershot, with a third act that will surely raise a sceptical eyebrow of even audiences who, until that point, had been enjoying the ride.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hitchcock Calling...

It's a good thing I was so swamped this past weekend with birthday shenanigans that I had no time to post the trailer for Hitchcock, because now comes something even better! But first, the trailer. Have you seen it? Oh you must!

I like it!

I don't think I could handle one of my two favourite films of all time being turned into a dour, miserable parade. I like the comical edge that director Sacha Gervasi has injected into the proceedings, giving it a lighter edge to the typical sort of Hollywood biopic that we're used to seeing. The cast appears to be having a ball, too. In fact, this looks more like the HBO version of the tale, which is funny given HBO do in fact have a TV movie based on Hitchcock, The Girl. The sudden move in 2012 shows that maybe the distributor has something keener on their plate other than a mere performance only piece ala My Week with Marilyn or The Last Station. The former title, of course, seems to be the go-to reference title for Hitchcock, but that one seemed light as air due to a lack of dramatic drive. At least from the quick two and a half minute grab of this Hitchcock trailer, this particular mini-biopic of sorts doesn't look as if it will want for drama. "It's only a bloody movie."

I must say that much more than Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, I am mostly looking forward to the performance of Scarlett Johansson. She's finally back in the good graces of people after winning The Avengers lottery and a winning dry turn as Janet Leigh looks like a lot of fun. "I'm not exactly boyish!" The trailer - and one must assume a large enough chunk of the finished movie - does have a notable obsession with the shower scene (something we were just discussing yesterday!) so I am excited to see how Johansson handles it.

Have you seen the poster also?

I actually really like it. It's obviously going for the same angular look of the original Psycho poster, and doing a better job of it (seriously, that Psycho poster is one of the key art world's most lost opportunities). The red is vibrant, the typeface is cool, and it's certainly eye-catching in a world of stripes and floating heads.

Have you seen this though? It's a wicked little PSA from Alfred Hitchcock, himself Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock asking cinema patrons to turn off their mobile phones. It'd be nice to see more of these, don't you think? This was filmed on a mobile phone so I'm not sure where it played or how the person knew it was going to be shown. Nor is it known whether the person filming the ad on their phone got the irony of such a turn of events, but watch and enjoy anyway. It's super fun!

Of course, all of this discussion about Hitchcock was just a means to, yet again, post this LOL-worthy moment in photography history. Any chance to discuss Psycho is a chance to include this picture. Let's just be thankful they cast Jessica Biel in Hitchcock and not Jessica Alba!

LOL, you guys! LOL!

31 Horrors: Livid (#9)

Dir. Julien Maury & Alexadre Bustillo
Country: France
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 88mins

Lost in translation seems to be the theme I keep coming back to for Livid, the new spooky house horror thriller from the French filmmaking team of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside). Maybe this is genuinely new for French genre cinema, but nothing here comes off as remotely fresh or even particularly interesting. Perhaps there is stuff going on in this film that makes total sense to some people, but not me. And then there’s the look of the film, which is awash is murky digital aesthetic that lacks any warmth and depth. I wonder if it looked this bad and poorly lit when they looked at the action through the camera viewfinder?

Read the rest Trespass Magazine

31 Horrors: Sssssss (#8)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

Let's ignore the, quite frankly, ridiculous title of this 1973 killer snake flick Sssssss (also known as Ssssnake in the UK), and move on to the fact that, ya know, it's actually kinda good!

The film begins with a warning label slash thank you card to the cast and crew, stating that the animals used in the making of Sssssss were not defanged and that the people involved in the production genuinely put their lives on the line to make it. "It" being a film that was one of the last films ever made specifically for a double feature - it played alongside The Boy Who Cried Werewolf - which is a nifty lil fact to know. As I watched it I actually thought the movie had the visual aesthetic of a TV movie. It was directed by Bernard L. Kowalski, whose previous film was indeed a TV one, and it shows, although he definitely amped it up with the lovely use of widescreen. Still, it has a pale wash over it that lacks a certain cinematic quality, and yet one that befits a film of this kind.

Anyway, I'm getting a bit sidetracked. I really enjoyed Sssssss! I had trepidations to watch it, after discovering it hidden amongst my flatmate's DVD collection, as snakes give me the willies. Oh sure, they're not quite as bad as, say, the spiders in Arachnophobia, but they're still creepy. There's a disturbing nature to the creatures, and seeing the flaky, scaly flesh of these reptiles meant I have no trouble believing the filmmakers' claims that they're the real deal is true and not some made up wannabe urban legend that they invented for notoriety sake.

Written by Hal Dresner and Daniel C. Striepeke, Sssssss does a good job of setting up the mechanics of a "killer snake" movie without merely relying on - oh, I dunno - a truck transporting a collection of deadly snakes overturning, unleashing the hissing horror upon a small town of unsuspecting victims. Strother Martin is quite deliciously sinister as snake expert Dr Carl Stoner and Dirk Benedict is also surprisingly fine as his milquetoast assistant/experiment subject. I particularly enjoyed Heather Menzies, too, whose Diane Keaton shag revealed a shoulda been scream queen (she also made Piranha, but that's about it as far as Menzies and genre fare go). Knowing she was one of the Von Trapp kids in The Sound of Music just adds to my fondness for her performance. She's especially impressive in the film's final 30 minutes.

And, look, can I mention this? Yes, of course I can. You've come to expect it, haven't you?

Yes, that Dirk Benedict was quite a good looking man back in the day. He wasn't cast as "the faceman" on The A-Team for his brain. That last shot is a from a skinny dipping scene that was presumably to feature more nudity that it eventually did. It's quite obvious throughout the scene that some particularly fake-looking foliage had been superimposed over the image of Benedict and Menzies' bare bottoms. Bless 'em. Shame though, amiright?

What I didn't expect from Sssssss, however, was that about half way in it would become a homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho! In a turn of narrative events that had me guffawing (at 1.30am, mind you!), several nods to the masterful 1960 film become obvious. No more so, of course, than this film's own rendition of the famed shower scene that sees Strother Martin's character, initially a protagonist until his obvious evil deeds became known, enter the bathroom of a character and sets a black mamba snake into it behind the curtain. A flurry of edited reaction shots later and the Doctor takes back and snake and exits the bathroom, and the apartment, leaving the victim to collapse onto the bathroom floor, dead. Hello! It certainly helps that the victim is the incredibly good looking cult beefcake Reb Brown. What's that you say? Screencaps... oh sure!

There's more, but none quite as overt as that shower scene. Even the music attempts to bring back memories of Hitch. It's a strange scene for sure, but one that made many innocuous moments thereafter look like sly references. Unrelated to Psycho, but there was even a scene with echoes of Saw a whole 30 years prior to that movie's inception!

So, yes, I was quite impressed with Sssssss. Despite its flaws (1970s transitional visual effects do not look good, you guys!), it ends up a rather effective chiller that doesn't necessarily play in to the regular tropes of the killer animal genre. I mean, how many movies do you know feature a final sequence where in a king cobra snake and a mongoose fight it out to the death before an ambiguous ending on the protagonist's fate? Not many I presume. B