Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Are there 40 good zombie films?

As usual I have time on my hands so I've been playing the Amazon basket game with zombie movies.  At one point I had around 20 zombie films I've never seen in my basket before I pinched myself and realised that they would all be big piles of shit.  The zombie movie experienced a renaissance in the early 2000s and it shows no signs of slowing down, possibly because small scale film makers recognise, as did the Italians in the 70s and 80s, that script-wise there isn't much to it.  Creative special make up effects, enthusiastic zombie extras, a winning scenario (and what is better than the end of the world) and a digital camera or two can overcome any requirements for a talented screen writer, decent acting and/or a pure creative vision.  See a tepid British effort like The Zombie Diaries for details.  Of course even zombie genre veterans are not immune to churning out derivative crap in order to keep the flame sputtering along, as evidenced by George A Romero's Diary of the Dead, the even worse Survival of the Dead or original Romero collaborator John Russo's genuinely appalling Children of the Living Dead



Last week I had a brief online discussion with an old forum pal regarding zombie films and I posed the question, 'Are there even thirty good zombie films out there?' He, to his credit, rattled off a pretty convincing list of 30 and threw them in my dirty, cynical face. I had a couple of issues with his list but of course there is no accountig for taste in such things, therefore I decided to have a bash myself and, once I put my mind to it, I surprised myself.  In order to establish a list that I thought of as 'good' I just thought, 'Would I watch it again?'

So, just in case any of the three people who read this have a stroke and decide to play the amazon zombie film basket game here is a list of worthwhile zombie flicks that would not disgrace your basket, or indeed your shelf:

1. Dawn of the Dead 78
2. Day of the Dead 85
3. The Return of the Living Dead
4. Night of the Living Dead 68
5. Night of the Living Dead 90
6. Dawn of the Dead 04
7. Shaun of the Dead
8. Re-Animator
9. Zombieland
10. The Beyond



11. City of the Living Dead
12. Zombie AKA Zombi 2 AKA Zombie Flesh Eaters
13. Nightmare City
14. The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue
15. Bride of Re-Animator
16. Pontypool
17. Resident Evil: Extinction
18. Hell of the Living Dead
19. Feeding the Masses
20. The Stink of Flesh



21. Beyond Re-Animator
22. Cemetery Man
23. Fido
24. Return of the Blind Dead
25. Tomb of the Blind Dead
26. Return of the Living Dead 3
27. The Dead Next Door
28. Dead Alive
29. Biozombie
30. The Horde



31. REC
32. REC 2
33. Quarantine
34. Zombie Holocaust
35. Zombi 3
36. Dead Set
37. Siege of the Dead
38. Burial Ground: Nights of Terror
39. The Dead Outside
40. Zombie Honeymoon



To avoid (unlikely) debates about validity there are also a number of movies that are effectively (IMO) zombie films with a twist or with the serial numbers filed off that I also regard highly:

28 Weeks Later
The Crazies (original)
The Crazies (remake)
Rabid
Shivers
The Fog
Frankenhooker
The Evil Dead (all three)
Versus
Night of the Creeps
Planet Terror
Outpost
Outpost: Black Sun
Dead and Buried
G.P. 506
Shock waves


And yes, I am a lonely (while she is at work at least) geek with too much time on my hands.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

From the Archives - I Can Smell Your Cult

Having just spent the morning watching Street Trash after writing a little bit about it for The Quietus I was put in mind of an old article I wrote for ZERO magazine back around 2006.  I can't remember if it was published but, as I haven't blogged much recently, I thought I'd slap it up here...

I Can Smell Your Cult...

The cult of Lebowski is now a grand ten years old and a cult it truly is, a phenomenon to the beauty of which Brother Doran has already testified on these very pages. Cult status is a state of being, yet it is not unusual when reading a movie review or DVD sleeve to come across the bold proclamation, “Destined to become a cult classic!” Usually this is the result of hackneyed reviewing, oracular PR, or both but it has become a lazy form of accolade.
 

Walton Street Market
Any online or magazine list of cult movies from the last thirty years will invariably feature the likes of Blade Runner and The Shawshank Redemption. Both are movies that, despite some critical acclaim, failed to make money on their theatrical runs but thanks to the home video market are now considered profitable and therefore successful. The problem with this ‘cult’ label is that by the early nineties all the largely illiterate gold sovereign knuckled mutants down your Dad’s street owned (and cherished) a copy of Blade Runner and Miramax produced so many copies of Shawshank that six months after its VHS release they were piled five deep on tables at Walton Street Market in between jumbo packets of broken biscuits and a 1973 Vauxhall Viva manual. It is also the film most commonly watched at three o’clock in the morning by fifty-something care assistants once they’ve finished wiping shit from old peoples’ arses.
Blade Runner stands as a perfect example of a film misunderstood on its release but thanks to the advent of home video, appreciated gradually and so lovingly by different folks with different strokes that it eventually went on to rule the world. It just took a long time. Years later we see the release of a brand new DVD version replete with special features, enhancements and a massive marketing campaign that cost almost as much as the movie’s original budget. There are many examples of the home video ‘slow burn’ phenomenon. The Big Lebowski, Withnail & I, This is Spinal Tap and the first extreme Asian action breakthrough films such as John Woo’s The Killer all benefited from ‘word of mouth’ promotion. The American film critic Danny Peary in his book Cult Movies wrote: "While word of mouth certainly plays a large part in the growth of cults for individual films, what is fascinating is that in the beginning pockets of people will embrace a film they have heard nothing about while clear across the country others independently will react identically to the same picture."

Before home video fringe cinema depended upon independent theatre owners and promoters for exposure, in particular those of the USA. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, Barbarella, Night of the Living Dead and the films of Dario Argento, Akira Kurosowa, Pier Paolo Pasolini and even Ed Wood all cemented their cult status through the American Grindhouse and drive-in circuits.

In 1970 New York’s foremost exhibitor of specialty and underground films Ben Barenholtz took a punt on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s monumentally unhinged El Topo, screening it at midnight without advertisement. Whether this was purely an artistic decision or one made in the light of riots in Mexico caused by Jodorowsky’s anti-catholic messages is unclear but word of mouth publicity rapidly made it (and midnight screenings) a wild fire success. An impressed (and probably thoroughly toasted) John Lennon convinced financier and former Beatles manager Allen Klein to buy the screening rights. So impressed was Klein with the buzz, or Lennon’s weed, he subsequently agreed to bankroll Jodorowsky’s 1973 follow-up Holy Mountain and El Topo was subsequently launched in a blaze of publicity in Times Square. It didn't last the week. After a major disagreement with Jodorowsky Klein would eventually withdraw both films from circulation and in so doing ensure their cult status. Their reputations as being subversive, masterful and utterly off their gourds continued to reverberate thanks to dodgy South American VHS tapes for 35 years until Klein and Jodorowsky finally overcame their differences and collaborated together on an official DVD release. Unlike Blade Runner however they are unlikely to go mainstream any time soon unless your average punter can come to accept crucified monkeys, excruciating violence and iguanas re-enacting Mexican history as things of beauty. Until that time El Topo and The Holy Mountain will stand as the true models of cult cinema!
 
 

Surely Michael Mann, Paramount and Tangerine Dream can resolve their issues and produce a pristine DVD copy of The Keep. Otherwise the widely distributed members of the WW2/Krautrock fusion cult will remain isolated and alone… but connected.

 


 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Dredd 3D (please fuck off 3D)

Dredd finally arrived a couple of weeks ago and I suffered the terrible quandry of whether to sneak out of the house while my partner was at work and see it alone or wait until she had time (a day off) so we could go together. Of course I never discussed this, I just kept it deep inside.

As it happens I waited and we went t'other afternoon and Tony, it was amazing.

I AM THE LUURGH
In preparation we had watched the Stallone version on blu ray and, to be fair, it wasn't as bad as I remember.  This is probably because the gaping wound it left in my gut back in the 90s has well and truly healed.  Danny Cannon's Judge Dredd had a certain style as a comic book movie but it entirely missed the point.  I have no problem with the Versace take on the uniform, could just about cope with Stallone's diction and rather enjoyed Armand Assante's take on Rico. Unfortunately the lip service superficiality of the Stephen E De Souza script and the utter lack of grasp of the subtleties of the source material were unforgiveable.  We must remember however that Robocop had already lifted numerous USPs from the comic, explaining why they had to give JD a brand new catch phrase ("I knew you'd say that").  "Your move creep!" had been successfully appropriated by Ed Neumeier for Robocop.

So why is all new Dredd any different?

Because it entirely understands the source material.

Screenwriter, director and star all grew up reading 2000AD.  It was an entirely British affair that felt no need to ingratiate the film with the wider, denser, spoon fed audience. They went for a hard edged, violent crime story and implemented an intentionally sly take on the humour of the comic rather than getting Rob Schneider in to crack some jokes.

Even better the vision of Mega City One was set against a backdrop of blazing sunshine. The exterior shots of the city blew me away instantly because, instead of yet another uninspired take on Blade Runner L.A. (see Priest) or a multicolour Metropolis (Judge Dredd '95) the visual aesthetic took cues from District 9. This is perhaps unsurprising since it was filmed in South Africa but what a different experience to the usual soulless CGI plates that provide the backdrop to these kinds of films.  I say these kinds of films but this film has manages to distance itself from most of them immediately.

A few months ago a writer on The Quietus bemoaned the fact that an early trailer looked like an episode of The Shield.  He was right to make that comparison because it does fit to a degree, but I don't see that as a flaw, more a massive and delicious boon to the property.  This Mega City One is like the L.A. of The Shield got high on meth and humped the ghettos of Johannesburg, giving birth to a sprawling shit-hole of spectacular proportions.  What kind of cop does this new metropolis need?

Karl Urban's Dredd may not match the modern airbrushed pictures that adorn the glossy pages of 2000AD and the Megazine but cast your eyes back to the early Ezquerra and McMahon strips of the 1970s and the likeness is uncanny.  Like everybody else I always pictured Dredd in the early days, and imagined him sounding like, Clint Eastwood and Urban uses the same skills that make his Bones take in Star Trek so bang on the money to make his Dredd literally sweat period Eastwood DNA.

Anderson was a big concern for me. In the early 80s Brian Bolland's Judge Anderson was just about the fittest piece of paper around.  My schoolfriends were all about Sam Fox and Maria Whittaker but I was in love with Anderson whenever the pages of the Dark Judges saga were open in front of me.  Sadly Brett Ewins spoiled everything by making her look like Toyah Wilcox through beer goggles.  My fears were needless though, Olivia Thirlby is hot yet vulnerable and, when she inevitably gets into hot water, she plays Anderson's toughness to a tee.  In fact it could be argued that Anderson out-hards Dredd in the end. 
The one massive flaw with my experience with Dredd was 3D.  It was well used on the occasions when the slo mo drug was in use but on the whole, as with Prometheus and John Carter, it is a blurry, detail obscuring distraction and I can't wait until:


  1. It fucks right off
  2. Cinemas realise that giving me a choice of watching it in 2D is more important than their profits
  3. Dredd comes out on blu ray
  4. Dredd makes a bundle at the box office in the USA and a sequel gets greenlit because Alex Garland wants to do the Dark Judges... Mmmmmm... Dark Judges...





Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Reid Baron - Evil Satan-blowing Fuck or just a Symptom of the Universe

Facebook can always be relied upon for some well informed debate regarding the state of the country. Today's tidbit to catch my eye revolves around the G4S Olympic debacle. In short large scale security company win enormous contract to run security at the London Olympics and, a few days out from D-Day, it is revealed that they are utterly incapable of fulfilling the contract and have failed to employ even half of the staff required and, of those they have employed, very few have any where near the level of training and competence to fulfill their roles. It's a right proper pig's ear.

Even better G4S were awarded the contract by the the department once headed by Labour government minister John Reid, who not only received honours from the Queen in recognition of his services to the public as an MP and minister but also was awarded an honrary degree by Stirling University for his contribution to public affairs. Reid, like many of his old school Labour contemporaries, comes from a working class background and in the past had at the very least deeply socialist beliefs (Reid in fact was a communist during his twenties). All very admirable, but he also just happens to be a director of G4S. It doesn't take much imagination to call stink on that one and, in addition, label Reid a self-serving pig who makes Squealer look like Itzhak Fucking Stern.

Today's facebook discussion, which began with an expression of righteous indignation at the quite transparently disgusting display of greed and self-interest, took the usual path when the original poster was gently challenged by a friend who offered:
"He's not on the board of directors, bloody conspiracy nuts ;-)"
The original poster retorted with:
"Well, according to the parliament register of interests he is Director of G4S regional management. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, uninformed citizens..."
So, with sources being quoted the next entry cited... Wikipedia.

The parliamentary register of interests is a legal document. Wikipedia is an ancient Klingon play about heart of targ. I know which one I believe.

The following is an extract from the G4S entry on the entertainingly partisan but evidence and research based Corporate Watch website:

"John Reid, Director, G4S Regional Management (UK & Ireland) Limited
John Reid, or Lord Reid of Cardowan, as he prefers to be known, joined G4S in 2009, having previously been Tony Blair's Home Secretary and Secretaries of State for Health and Defence. The £50,000 a year it is giving the New Labour hard man quickly paid off for G4S as it landed a multi-million pound, four-year contract to supply private security guards for around 200 Ministry of Defence and military sites across the UK just three months after it took him on.[14]i Since then he has been diligent in ensuring the hi-tech security used by his employers is a feature of parliamentary debates whenever possible.[15]"

The most amazing thing about all of this is that G4S's record in public contracts (for example prisons, prison health and police custody and healthcare) is absolutely shocking. Nevertheless they won the contract to run outsourcing services for Lincolnshire Police, worth over £200 million over ten years, and this Olympic debacle will not alter any of it. And John Reid will still rake it in. And the former British Ambassador to Lybia who now works for them will hoover up numerous security contracts for them over there. Between Serco and G4S we are about ten years away from seeing the merger of the 21st Century and the formation of OCP, and we all know what that means...

  1. That's right... ED-209s on every corner, which will be kinda cool, but make going to the shop for some Soylent Green very hazardous.
  2. Police forces comprising poorly paid, stupid fools with no fucking idea on Earth how to deal with the underlying cause of crime. It might be easy to suggest that the current police force pretty much matches that description but my previous professional experience indcates otherwise. Obviously there are emotionally stunted, socially inadequate morons in police services but they are in a significant minority. However, reduce their pay to below twenty grand (as is the tory plan) and only idiots, morons and possibly sociopaths will take on a job of such stupifying responsibility for such a comparitive pittance, and for anybody reading this who thinks that the job is easy and such a level of recompense is adequate then YOU are a fucking ill-informed moron. Or an evil Baron.
  3. Vast no-go areas centred upon current areas of poverty and crimespots. There may also be all-dwarf gangs roaming the sewers, living on rats and flushed away sweetcorn, but providing an essential underground railroad to Sanctuary for the escaping last fertile female on the planet.
  4. Fucking abject misery for all but the upper 5%.
I've worked in public services since 1991 and not only watched, but directly experienced their quite deliberate dismantling. Outsourcing has never worked. From the very outset the replacement of in-house catering and cleaning services in our hospitals with services provided by Initial and Sodexo was a disaster. After redundancies we saw a handful of the same staff transferred over to the new company on promises of Christmas bonuses and improved working conditions, but it was all a crock of shit. The food got worse, the hospitals got dirtier and the old staff retired, resigned or moved on to be replaced by minimum wage drones with no sense of belonging or pride in their working environment and consequently zero interest in responding to the needs of the service or even doing a half decent job, because when you're treated like shit you only give 20%. Since then I've seen the same thing occur with the delivery of care to entire patient groups, the delivery of healthcare to entire prisons and. most recently, the running of entire prisons and police custody services by private companies. They all have the same pattern in common as back at the old hospitals. Soon we will see entire hospitals operated by not only Serco (who run everything from catalogue call centres to prisons), but by the ever opportunistic Richard Branson brand VIRGIN!
There are but three ways to take all of this on board.
  1. Revolution
  2. Take some small comfort from the likelihood that when Reid's brain has turned to mush, although too powerful and influential to go to the assisted-suicide clinic, he will end up in a nursing home run by BAe Systems and be used to test ejector seat assemblies.
  3. Acknowledge the nihilistic insiginficance of your fate. Accept that the high and mighty will, no matter how well intentioned they appear, whore themselves out and greedily gobble Satan's cock in return for a slice of the pie the very moment they get a sniff of the green. Bolster yourself against the agonising cold and unfeeling apathy of the universe and wait for your inevitable death at the hands of a 13 year old female burglar high on space dust and moon pie, all within an igloo of Lucio Fulci films and bacon. 
I'm ashamed to say I'm still with the bacon but by golly my swingometer is trembling.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Getcho Ass to Maahs...Total Recall - Ultimate Rekall Edition Review

Yesterday I wrote for The Quietus about the pinnacle of Arnold Schwarzenegger's action film career and one of the best and most thoughtful adaptations of a Philip K Dick story ever committed to screen. All in one article. About the same film. I know right... who'd a thunk it? But it's true.

When Manish (The Films Man at TQ) asked me to write about Total Recall I was very happy, after all I spent the 80s watching cheesy action films starring the muscle-bound, wooden Arnie and his cheaper colleagues both on video and in cinemas. Total Recall was the pinnacle, not only of the Arnie train (which was derailed for me by the child friendly approach of Terminator 2 and his following output), but of the entire 80s action movement. Naturally I was very excited to get my hands on a review copy of the brand new UK blu-ray release courtesy of Studio Canal, unfortunately I only received the DVD so was unable to comment on the quality of the apparently new and director approved transfer. It wasn't the end of the world though, after all TQ is hardly the place where people expect to read technical critiques of digital media and, even if it were, I am probably not the best person to dispense them. Plus the fine folks at Studio Canal also sent me review discs of the super-funky Amicus Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations from the 1970s; The Land That Time Forgot and At The Earth's Core, as well as Warlords of Atlantis and They Came From Beyond Space. Pure, unadulterated joy was experienced.


Youtube wouldn't let me embed Total Recall the Musical so here is a Sean Connery musical instead.

Still, I remained curious about the new blu-ray edition of Total Recall so I asked and by golly I received and this morning I laid my hands on a review copy of the blu-ray disc.
The film is great, that's a given, but what about the transfer and extras and, most importantly, if you already own the previous Optimum release (as I do) is it worth parting with the extra cash to upgrade?

The extras are excellent and include previous material from the DVD and US blu-ray releases but have an additional brand new interview with director Paul Verhoeven and a featurette on the Academy Award winning SFX. The PV interview is terrific, highlighting both his idiosyncratic but fiercely driven approach to movie making and particularly the subject material but also his relaxed attitude to taking on the A-List behemoth that Schwarzenegger was becoming at the time. The SFX featurette is similarly informative but sadly lacks any input from the mighty Rob Bottin who appears to have vanished off the face of the planet. Bottin's last listed job on IMDB was as make-up artist on the Adam Sandler comedy Mr Deeds in 2002. It's a tragedy that CGI appears to have driven one of the most creative and talented practical effects geniuses the industry has seen out of the business.
The disc also includes the Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger commentary track from the DVD and, if you select the German menu on loading, their is an additional commentary track by the cinematographer Jost Vacano (in German but English subtitles are available). For French speakers there are also a couple of extra featurettes under the French menu (non-subtitled). So, on the whole, a great package for extras.
The film transfer on the other hand failed to display any significant improvement over the previous release on my set up (Sony Bravia KDL-40W5500 and Sony BDP-s350), in fact if I hadn't read the press release claiming a brand new restoration I would assume that they are one in the same. For those however who may have the US release then both UK versions are streets ahead in terms of quality.


So, is it worth the upgrade? If you already have the Optimum release then I would say definitely not, unless you're an extras freak in which case I would say wait until the inevitable price drop. But then of course if you're a steelbook freak then yes, it is. I should point out however that for half the price you can pick up the triple set of Total Recall/Red Heat/Raw Deal on blu-ray. Whilst Raw Deal and Red Heat aren't the greatest Arnie flicks, for the price I reckon that pack is way better value for those who have previously only owned Total Recall on DVD or seen it on the telly.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Pookie Loves Crack

Having just reviewed King of New York for The Quietus, and in passing dismissed New Jack City as inferior (and having a spare afternoon to boot), I decided to dig out the DVD and give it the once over.

It's truly amazing to cast my mind back through the mists of time and remember that Ice-T was once very much 'The Shit'. Before his TV career in NCIS: Wetwang, before his appearance at Wrestlemania IV escorting the Godfather and his Hoes to the ring, even before his series of straight to DVD action film collaborations with 4th rate proto-Boll Albert Pyun Ice-T was a successful hip hop star with a reputation for hard edged but humourously puerile, anti-establishment albums. Following a brief appearance as a DJ in Breakdance 2: Electric Boogaloo Ice got the taste for celluloid and shortly afterwards would become the first crossover hip hop movie star, setting in motion a trend that would eventually reach its sad nadir when bullet-ridden human colander Fiddy Cent would play himself in the autobiographical, and staggeringly obnoxious, Get Rich or Die Trying. Every rapper and their Dogg may have made the leap from CD to cinema (or more frequently DVD) in the intervening years but back in 1991 Ice T was blazing a trail. Of course it was unlikely at the time that he realised that his path would lead to Frankenpenis (1996) or Leprechaun in the Hood (2000) but in those early days his acting career described quite the arc and he did some decent movies in the early 90s, including a couple of interesting character roles, albeit in the spectacularly unsuccessful and poorly received science fiction movies Johnny Mnemonic and Tank Girl. The character he played in these, and frankly all films, was himself but that just puts him in esteemed company alongside the Shatners and Roger Moore's of the thespian art.


Mario Van Peebles, fresh off directing duties on iconic US TV show 21 Jump Street, made his feature film directorial debut in 1991 opting to follow very much in his father's footsteps. Mario's dad, Melvin Van Peebles, was an actor/director himself and was most famously responsible for Blaxploitation classic Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, as well as a number of other less successful but equally entertaining crime thrillers. Mario's take on the genre was altogether more glossy, commercial and high profile and was about to launch the career of Ice T as a credible movie presence but also provide breakthrough roles for two more of the USA's higher profile African-American personalities of the following 20 years. Chris Rock's brilliant turn as Pookie, a recovered junky turned informant, launched him into the mainstream of the US entertainment stratosphere. It was a role he would also later revisit to hilarious effect in Keenan Ivory Wayan's Blaxploitation spoof I'm Gonna Git You Sucka and his own brilliant riff on the hip hop music industry, CB4. Rock wasn't the only beneficiary of an appearance in New Jack City. Head villain and all round rotter Nino Brown was depicted by Wesley Snipes in his breakthrough cinematic role.

My memory states quite categorically that New Jack City has its fair share of cool and quotable scenes, enough for a riotous evening in with beer and buddies and, watching it again, they at first seem to have retained their charm. Our introduction to protagonist Scotty Appleton (Ice T) finds him chasing small time crook Pookie (Chris Rock who), pedalling furiously on a BMX, soon comes a cropper in a kids playground. Once accosted hilarious dialogue ensues...

Ice T: "You think you slick, you little punk, blasphemous, dope-fiend bitch! Spit in my face I'm gonna kill you!"
Onlooker 1: "Yo man you fucking that kid up."
Onlooker 2: "He's kicking his monkey ass!"
Even better the whole scene is accompanied by Original Gangster album track New Jack Hustler and Ice T is wearing copious amounts of gold, an outrageously voluminous beanie and bitching black shell suit pants and matching Raiders jacket. What's not to like?

Cut to the projects and a whole raft of rope thick gold necklaces and medallions to make the Beegees not only jealous but postively sick with inadequacy. Here we meet Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) and his buddies, early in their careers as hustlers but already drenched in gold and dollar sign rings the size of knuckle dusters and cruising the streets in a open top 4x4. Nino's buddies Gee Money proceeds to introduce a vial of crack cocaine, the crux of the plot, and produce cinema's greatest ever put-down of a brother with a speech impediment...

Duh-duh-duh Man: "Yo man, y-y-you know the rules. Us b-brothers don't be getting high."
Gee Money: "Shut the fuck up and drive the car you non-talking bastard."

New Jack City arguably trumps King of New York in the following scene by boasting an amusing cameo from Flavor-Flav as an emcee in Nino's favourite club. Certainly a more fashionable and en vogue presence at the time than Freddie Jackson, although FJ's appearance (playing himself performing at a high society function) in KoNY is more logical and, in context, more impactful. NJC then shits all over itself with a frankly hideous acapella performance by Boyz II Men as a group of tuneful street bums singing for your pleasure and mine around a trashcan and accompanying a montage (YEAH... A MONTAGE....) illustrating the expansion of Nino's crack empire. Ironic really as I'm sure Boyz II Men probably drove hundreds of thousands across the USA in the early 90s to take up smoking base in order to dull the terrifying effects of their banal, omnipresent brand of vanilla R&B.

Now THIS is a montage!
The remainder of NJC has a few great scenes, the highlights mosty involving Chris Rock's Pookie, but it becomes a formulaic affair. Nino takes over the city's drug trade and crack becomes the scourge of the poor. Scotty gets lumbered by his grumpy captain, who has the mayor and the governor on his ass and needs results fast, with a similarly edgy and rule-breaking partner in the form of Nick Peretti (a token Judd Nelson). Peretti wears unlaced boots and rides a motorcycle, that generally being the limit of his characterisation, and exists purely to act as handler for Scotty when he goes undercover to infiltrate Nino's outfit. The two polar opposites, Scotty and Nino, embark upon a collision course and fall out with those around them until, exhausted by the parade of mostly shit tunes and rudimentary action, Scotty reveals one last crow-barred in revelation that suggests Van Peebles perhaps watched Tim Burton's Batman. But not before he makes the single most stupid policing decision in history by putting reformed crack-head Pookie on the inside of Nino's crack factory operation. That's some nice work. In Scotty's defence this decision does result in one of the film's most iconic scenes. 

Poor Pookie.

On the whole New Jack City is a fun period piece but it has aged in a lot of ways. At the time of its release it was hailed as a gritty modern gangster tale but today it's just a little bit kitsch, cliched and superficial. However Ice-T's wardrobe is kick-ass throughout, particularly in the hat department, and it's still a lot of fun.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Alcohol Fuelled Twat

There are a number of prevalent misnomers in society these days, and one of them is that alcohol causes aggression. Bollocks. Alcohol simply magnifies parts of our personality and disengages certain brakes and failsafes.

We are in a time when newspapers declare that 'Alcohol Fuelled Violence Has Created No-Go Areas' and every town has its rat-run of cheap booze filled emporiums akin to the gin palaces of old, where the run -down and stressed denizens of our Big Society can enter various states of intoxication whilst engaging in moronic hollering contests, displays of pallid goose flesh and labyrinthine sex-driven subterfuge. Or so it appears to their impaired brains, anyone with a bit of unimpeded grey matter knows they're just disappearing for a shag, or an argument regarding the lack of shagging. In addition, from time to time, a male will posture up, begin bellowing and waving his tattoos to the accompaniment of a Greek chorus of screeching women brandishing and waving their shoes in elaborate patterns like those dudes on an aircraft carrier as they wave a stricken aircraft onto deck. Alas there is no arrestor strip outside Jaz Bar to slow this headlong plunge into stupidity.

Such an episode occurred yesterday and rather than stand or pass by as an observer, chuckling safely and smugly at the mindlessness of it all, I was part of the group in question. The worst perpetrator is an interesting case to say the least. When I completed my 68 mile journey to meet up with a couple of old pals one was sitting playing the piano with his back to the door as I walked in. I was slightly taken aback at the scene. I've known this guy for over ten years and at one point he and I were out on the town three times a week getting regularly and massively munted. We had a great time, every time. Once upon a yesterday he was a 'City Boot Boy', one of the local football team's less wholesome and community spirited fans but that was years ago and I knew him only as a warm, funny and enthusiastic drinking partner. Now, in his fifties, he is a successful professional public servant who lives with his partner on a farm with several horses and cockerels. Later that evening, after a few liveners, we discussed his recent entry into the Freemasons and, with my tongue firmly in my cheek, I accepted his assertion that I would make a great Freemason as I 'like history, and masonry is all about history'. Choking back the urge to start a debate over the merits of actual history versus invented tradition I took it in the spirit in which it was intended.

How the fuck, only three hours later, I ended up with him squaring up to me, bare ink-stained arms thrown wide like a looming gorilla, fists balled, teeth clenched and bared and growling, 'I don't give a fuck...' is something of a mystery to me. Somewhat taken aback I looked to the source of a high pitched female voice shouting, 'Pack it in, get in the taxi,' to see her, stilletoes in hand by a black cab and, for a moment ,I was out of my body observing the scene from above and thinking, 'Not so smug now are you, you silly bastard?'

The most tempting explanation as to why this occurred, one which was posited by another member of the group whom had been the target of the vast majority of this friend's aggression, was that he had simply had one too many.

Bollocks.

Alcohol does not make anyone behave like a primitive cunt. Being a primitive cunt on the other hand does. Sometimes it just takes a skinful for the rest of us to see it.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Return of the Living Dead - Blu Ray Review

All of the predominant hoo-ha doing the rounds this week, the week of the release of Prometheus, makes extensive mention of the massive genre influence of Ridley Scott and the dark, artful genius of Hans Rudi Giger. Very little mention has been made of one of the men behind the original concept of Alien, the late Dan O'Bannon. Yet this week, amidst the torrent of back-and-forth arguments as to the merit of Scott's new foray into the fertile territory that O'Bannon and his erstwhile writing partner Ron Shusett ploughed and seeded, one of the most entertaining and influential genre flicks of the 1980s slipped out of the shadows aboard a gloriously packed and sumptuously appointed blu-ray disc release.
Return of the Living Dead was the first non-Romero zombie movie to make an appreciable stamp on the mainstream horror genre and to this day the film is the only reason that the general public hold dear the tragic zombie's craving for 'Braaaaaaains!' It was also the first non-European risen dead flick to feature the 'modern', more energetic hyper-zombie, something widely and falsely attributed to the appallingly derivative 28 Days Later. For even more talented animated cadavers see Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City.

ROTLD was originally to be directed by John Russo, the co-creator of the seminal Night of the Living Dead, based upon his own script, but studio shenanigans resulted in the appointment of O'Bannon. By that point in his career O'Bannon had a string of screenwriting successes to his name including Dark Star, Alien, Dead & Buried and, most recently, Blue Thunder. It was undoubtedly O'Bannon who would bring the fresh, unique and humourous edge to Russo's script and, in spite of his status as a first-time director (something O'Bannon himself disputed as he frequently claimed co-directorship of Dark Star, the breakthrough film for which his college buddy John Carpenter received sole directing credit), and in spite of stories regarding tension on the set and the director's prickly nature, the finished product is a tremendous slice of scary, funny and endlessly quotable horror goodness. Anyone who has had the misfortune to see John Russo's risible 'official' sequel to 1968's NOTLD, Children of the Living Dead, will probably agree that this was an incredibly sage decision on the part of the studio. In O'Bannon's hands Russo's script took on an altogether more grounded focus, whilst managing to inject killer dialogue, efficient characterisation, mostly top quality gore and animatronics and a much more front-and-centre, blackly but loudly comic form of satire than Romero's bleak and often clumsy social commentaries. His injection of punk sensibilities also managed to separate ROTLD from the parade of hair metal and/or lightweight hip-hop accompanied horror flicks that were its contemporaries at the time and that consequently now look substantially more dated and cheesy. The opposite is true of Dan O'Bannon's effort. After more than 25 years it successfully retains a sense of freshness and utter quotability. And scream queen Linnea Quigley gets nekkid and dances around a graveyard. That can only be described as a top result.
A quality movie deserves a quality release and Second Sight have undoubtedly done O'Bannon proud with well over five hours of special features, including an entertaining talking heads making-of documentary heaving with anecdotes from the everyone involved. The sad exceptions to that are O'Bannon himself (represented by a brief but moving interview recorded before his death) and actor Mark Venturini, a victim of leukemia at the tender age of 35. Purists will be pleased to learn that, although the US edition has a slightly altered soundtrack due to unresolved rights issues, this UK edition includes both the remastered track and the original 2.0 soundtrack as released.
Additional interest is provided in the form of short featurettes examining the first two sequels and why they generally failed to match the quality and appeal of O'Bannon's original. No mention is made of the futher two sequels filmed in Eastern Europe in the early noughties, probably for the best becasue the less attention that is brought to them the better.

Overall this is one of the best blu-ray releases of 2012 so far and Second Sight have set a very high bar for future releases of classic horror flicks. I would dearly love to see the O'Bannon scripted and Gary Sherman directed Dead & Buried get similar treatment. It's just a shame that O'Bannon is no longer around to be involved. For those who see Prometheus over the coming weeks take a moment to remember O'Bannon and Shusett's massive looming presence. In fact, to some extent, Prometheus could be described as an alternate take on their original Alien script, Star Beast.

Anyhoo, thank you Second Sight for a fantastic release of a fantastic film.


Friday, 1 June 2012

Prometheus

Ridley Scott... Science Fiction... Midnight screening... what could possibly go wrong?

3D. It's shit. I hate it. For all of the gimmicky wonder it brings it just fails in all kinds of subtle ways.

3D is like the Nu-Metal of the movie magic making process.

It's been done before, albeit in a more primitive fashion. It's not about art but about gimmickry and is far too focused on transient spectacle and selling units. It takes the sharp edges away from an otherwise exhilirating medium and it makes a difficult to perceive mess of complex arrangements. Hopefully it will die horribly and let us all get back to business as usual.

Like John Carter a couple of months ago TV has been littered with trailers in 2D during which a number of scenes look eye shatteringly gorgeous. The shot of a starship descending through clouds looked like a Chris Foss painting come alive. Shots of the interior of a mysterious temple/crypt were lush with fine detail. An action scene felt kinetic and exciting. In the cinema the starship scene looks dull, divested of all colour vibrancy by the 3D glasses. The temple/crypt lacks fine resoution. The action is difficult to follow and hard on the eyes thanks to the 3D image becoming a stuttering morass when the camera pans quickly. It's just tragic. It also makes me wonder whether cinemas are actually equipped to display the RealD process correctly and we are being ripped off in grand fashion, or whether my eyes are simply freakishly unable to deal with the process. In short I will be seeing it again, but in 2D, and I fully expect to be blown away by the visuals because Prometheus is a spectacular movie.

3D gripes aside I can honestly say that Prometheus is the science fiction movie I have been waiting for for a long time. The connection with Scott's original and seminal Alien is undeniable and reinforced on a number of occasions early in the piece, from snatches of Jerry Goldsmiths original signature score to commonality of design touches in the technology on display. The way in which Scott establishes a core thematic familiarity between the low-fi industrial world of the Nostromo and the ultra high-tech trillionaire's starship Prometheus paves the way for what is to come. The design sensibilities suffuse the film with a mythic scope that resonated with me on a deeply emotional level. It is a thing of utter beauty. Despite their lack of direct involvement with the making of this movie both Ron Cobb and H.R. Giger are the spiritual core of almost everything on screen for the full two hour running time. That's not to say that the production designers on Prometheus simply reproduced the work of those two great visualists but they took their work on Alien as a core aesthetic upon which to build a fresh perspective on that universe, and they did a beautiful job.


Similarly the story itself builds upon what has gone before by infusing Shusett and O'Bannon's blue-collar corporate future with new themes. Equal parts von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods, Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness and Alien combine to create true conceptual science fiction. When fused with the staggering visuals what gone possibly go wrong?

Pacing.
Not necessarily in terms of ratcheting up tension or excitement because the film flows and progresses well as a thriller, but in terms of character. At least two crucial plot points hinge upon the behaviour of key characters and on first viewing these behaviours seemed almost crow-barred in to serve the overall flow from A to B to C. Moments of self-sacrifice for example only tend to work onscreen if there is sufficient emotional investment from, and/or obvious character-driven logic imparted to, the audience. I felt that both were conspiculously lacking and those key points, along with some tremendously fake-looking old person prosthetics, threatened to take me out of the moment. Of course it is perfectly possible on the character progression points that I was so agog at the spectacle that I missed finer nuances of characterisation. Only a second viewing will answer that for me. Ridley Scott also has a habit of releasing extended versions on DVD so perhaps additional character moments will flesh out the plot and make certain decisions and events make a little bit more sense.

My expectations for Prometheus were probably unreasonably high and although I am certainly not disappointed I don't feel as shatteringly affected as I hoped to be. Despite this Promethues is still, hands down, the best Science Fiction film in years, probably since Blade Runner. Sure, there have been great sci-fi films but Prometheus is Science Fiction of the highest order. Better still it takes the mythology of the original Alien film and expands it enormously, more so in fact that all of the official sequels and risible cross-over abortions managed to do combined.

And now we hear that Scott is to revisit Blade Runner. I hate to wish my life away for the sake of movies but holy shit, I can't wait to see it.

2nd Viewing Update: NOW IN 2D!!!

Having seen Prometheus again (in glorious 2D) I can confirm that that lack of emotional impact the first time around led me to view the film the second time in a slightly different manner, and this time I was armed with an extra nugget of knowledge. On first viewing I blamed my inability to absorb key plot points (hence the pacing of the film and the behaviour of the characters feeling 'off') on my lack of perception in the face of visual splendour. Had I known in advance that scriptwriter Damien Lindelof was one of the writers of Lost I would have adjusted my expectations accordingly. This time I did and the result is one of bewilderment. Visually Prometheus tells an epic story. Dialogue and script-wise it teases greatness but generally fails to deliver, not because it is too oblique or insufficiently opaque, but because it is utterly shallow and liable to crumble under any scrutiny.

Nevertheless I still think it is a great, but critically flawed, piece of work. I had held high hopes for an extended version for home video release but to be honest there is very little point if the glaring flaws are not resulting from a studio-imposed reduced running time, but essentially down to an extremely brittle script. The main questions in my mind are no longer related to film content, but to why Ridley Scott, a meticulous film-maker obsessed with detail, would fuck the dog so grandly in one key area? 

Of course an answer does occur to me fairly quickly. 

On paper the idea of a big budget, Scott helmed return to the Alien universe is tantalising and full of possibilities. Unfortunately the commercial demands on such an outing will always compromise any result, either in the form of a substantially reduced budget, a more family friendly rating or in the form of massively reduced expectations on the IQ levels of the target audience. In the case of Prometheus I suspect it was the latter. I dearly wish Dan O'Bannon were still around to pass judgement on what is effectively an alternate take on his and Ron Shusett's original Alien script, Star Beast. In fact in may be that the death of Dan O'Bannon is the one of the key reasons for all of the above because surely he would have been Scott's first port of call when the train started rolling.

We now live in an age when 2001: A Space Odyssey or the original Planet of the Apes could never get made. 

Under modern studio conditions is Prometheus as good as it could ever have hoped to be?

No, I don't believe that. There must be popular film-makers and writers around who could have accomplished the task of making the Prometheus script not only conceptually sound but able to 'pop' with audiences. 

Despite all of this I still have high hopes for any Ridley Scott venture back into Blade Runner territory. Initial reports suggest that original screenwriter Hampton Fancher is already working on a draft screenplay so there may be some promise of greatness... again. 



Thursday, 24 May 2012

Adam Pickles

In a blog a few weeks ago I railed against the facebook practice of sharing petty, uninformed tirades and outright falsifications to stoke the fires of ignorance. Along with the equally irritating habit of posting stories/pictures/whatever of unfortunates/idiots/morons to encourage ridicule and superiority in the original and subsequent posters (loling @ idiots), this is one of the great failings of social media and free speech in general. Nevertheless many of us feel compelled to continue constant engagement in the grand social experiment.

This week two occurrences have been 'shared' within my Facebook network, with spectacularly different results. The first was the impassioned posting of my cousin Karen after discovering that her husband of many years had been caught out screwing around. It is quite natural, when faced with such an act of outright betrayal by the man who was her lover, life partner and single most important object in her life, that Karen should spontaneously and perfectly naturally express her outrage and sorrow in any and all ways available to her. This happened to include a Facebook post within which she called out not only her husband but the 'other woman' in question. Just as this posting was a fairly natural and obvious move for someone so offended there is a natural inclination amongst others to think that such a public outpouring of emotion may lead to further complications as, after all, common sense suggests that cooler heads should prevail. What is most surprising however is the extent to which our sensitivity to actual human feelings can be severely impaired by the simple fact that we are conversing via a screen and keyboard. To cut a long story short the comments that followed rapidly became a flame war regarding the meaning of friendship and the inappropriate or otherwise nature of the original post. Worse it devolved into a competition to establish the degree to which protecting and sticking up for friends on both sides of the argument can be camouflaged as mock outrage and offence. Surprisingly many of the most 'offended' keyboard warriors descended to issuing warnings to Karen that the thread should be closed. Perhaps unsurprisingly it took not too much longer for someone to use the word 'cunt', sadly not in an entertaining way, but in a grunting arsehole way.

What does this experience teach Karen, or anybody else involved?

It would be too easy to make observations regarding the detached insensitivity of the text medium. What is obvious however is the tendency of people with only a minor stake in proceedings to escalate their emotional involvement and claim ever greater degrees of outrage to the point where their offended ego utterly unbalances their perception of the original incident: a married woman finding that her beloved husband has betrayed her and rendered everything she held to be paramount utterly meaningless. Nice work dickheads.

The second headline Facebook happening this week was the breaking news of a tragic occurrence in Thailand.

Adam Pickles, a young Englishman working as a teacher, was attacked by a fellow westerner with a crowbar. In common parlance his head was smashed in. He remains unconcious  and on life support in a Thai hospital. Adam attended Hull University along with an old friend of mine. I know him only sparingly, having attended some of the same parties and soirees back in those heady days. I know him only as a warm, personable, funny and widely loved individual. The original post, on a group page specifically dedicated to making people aware of Adam's predicament, described the terrible situation in brief but heart breaking detail and within 24 hours there was such an outpouring of messages of love and support that the group had swollen in size to over 1000 and over 4000 a couple of days later. The response has been nothing but positive and has restored my faith in the value of social media.

The following is Neil's original post:

This is a request no-one should have to write & one I wish I didn’t need to. It’s one of those stories you hear about & wonder how true it is, or that it will never happen to you.

Well it’s happening now to my best friend.
I’ll cut to the chase, I’m asking for donations.

...
Here’s the story. Last week, my friend Adam who has lived in Thailand for 7 years was attacked with intent to kill by an as yet unknown Westerner. He was hit with a hammer or a crow bar on the top of his head.

Somehow he is still alive and in a coma after undergoing operations to remove bone & blood clots from his brain. He is expected to be in a coma for at least 2 weeks, once he is well enough to be moved we’ll get him back to the UK where he can be treated here. He’s never going to be the same again, expected loss of mobility on his right hand side & speech impairment.

The intensive care unit he is in is costing £2000 per day.

He does have medical insurance through his work, but this takes time to sort out in Thailand, and has an upper limit on it.
He also used this insurance in September of last year when he had a very bad motor cycle accident & had to have extensive facial rebuilding. He was in a coma then too, sounds unbelievable doesn’t it? That incident cost his parents & friends upwards of £15,000 even with the insurance.

The hospitals over there are unbelievably ruthless, if they don’t have the money on a per day basis, they leave you to die.

On top of all this the police are not doing anything at all about the incident as it is between two Westerners, luckily the owner of Adam’s school where he is head of English is a very influential Thai & is starting to pull strings.

So anyway, if I worked in a large company or if I had more time it would be a lot easier to raise some funds, do a charity run or whatever, I don’t I only have you guys.

Those of you that do know Adam know that he is 1 in a million. At the moment Adam & his parents need all the help they can get.

Please add anyone to the group you feel appropriate, anyone that knew Adam or you feel can help.


Update: The story has now been reported in the Yorkshire Post, link here.


An official charity account has been created to help Adam and has so far seen donations of over £10,000.

Details of how to donate can be found at:

www.facebook.com/groups/adampickles

or

www.adampickles.blogspot.co.uk
or
http://www.donatetoadam.org/






Wednesday, 2 May 2012

From the archives: Primer and Schrodinger's Cat


I finally got round to watching Source Code and was a little underwhelmed, probably due to high expectations after being blown away by Duncan Jones' first movie Moon. I remembered a little known indie scifi drama called Primer that I reviewed for ZERO magazine in 2006 and the subsequent article I penned on time travel movies and decided to drag this old feature back to the present (which is already the past again).

In 1895, the same year that cinema was born, English author HG Wells wrote ‘The Time Machine’. In the same year 16 year old Albert Einstein dreamed of surfing light waves and ten years later would publish a paper, ’On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies', that redefined our perception of the relationship between time and space. These two highly influential individuals are the fathers of time travel in fiction, and the time travel sci-fi movies that we watch over 100 years later owe much to either or both of them. Wells had already published a story entitled ‘The Chronic Argonauts’ in 1888 and it is widely acknowledged as the first use of time travel in literature but ‘The Time Machine’ was the first to receive wide attention.

There have been two film adaptations of Wells’ classic short story; the definitive George Pal version of 1960 was largely, but not entirely, faithful. A Victorian gentleman invents a time machine and, after demonstrating to a group of friends that time is a fourth dimension along which one can move back and forth, he travels to the future. On his way he makes a number of stops and witnesses catastrophes and war but finally stops in a far-flung future where mankind has separately evolved into two distinct species. The Eloi are mild and peaceful and are preyed upon by the technological but cannibalistic Morlocks. In the original story time travel was a device enabling the storyteller to construct a moral fable of class division and oppression, Wells was a committed socialist and his original story inspired Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’. In the George Pal version the division of the species is caused by a nuclear war, the underground survivors eventually becoming the Morlocks. It also introduced the romantic angle between the inventor and the Eloi girl Weena he rescues from drowning, a far cry from the source material in which the Eloi were four-foot tall pink humanoids with childlike intelligence and the Morlocks eventually ate Weena.

The 2001 adaptation of ‘The Time Machine’ also discarded the ‘class divide’ subtext and further revised the plot to introduce a new motive for the inventor, the death of his fianc√©. On completion of his machine he immediately travels back to the night of her murder and attempts to change history. This moves the plot into familiar ‘grandfather paradox’ territory. This paradox concerns the results of travelling to the past attempting to change the course of history. Two schools of thought exist on the outcome of such action. One is that the action immediately causes a branching off into a parallel timeline, the multiverse theory. The other is that any attempt to affect change will fail, as the universe will not allow such a paradox to occur. The latter is the one favoured by this version as all of the inventor’s efforts result in his fianc√© dying in another way shortly afterwards. Unfortunately the approach of the screenwriters to the paradox is extremely lazy and by the time the inventor gives up trying to save his love he has altered the past in a number of different ways so this examination of causality falls flat on its face. Anyhow he flees to the future and falls in love with Eloi Samantha Mumba, is confronted with an Uber-morlock in the form of Jeremy Irons and at the climax of the movie defies the initial reason for his being there by changing the past! All of this nicely highlights the fact that time travel as a plot device requires an intelligent and thoughtful script in order to satisfactorily address paradoxes and causality. Popcorn movies should keep it simple. The ‘Back to the Future’ series succeeded by taking a light and deft approach to the problem of altering timelines and even disastrous paradoxes. In ‘Back to the Future Part 2’ Doc Brown speculates that an encounter could “create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reacion that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe! Granted, that's a worst-case scenario. The destruction might, in fact, be very localized, limited merely to our own galaxy!" If only 2001’s version of ‘The Time Machine’ had followed this theory many millions of us would have wasted only thirty minutes of our lives.
Terry Gilliam is to be held up as the leading proponent of successful use of time travel in movies having demonstrated the two most satisfying approaches. In ‘Time Bandits’ time travel is a device used to propel the characters to eras and situations easily recognisable to the audience. The result is a series of circumstantial vignettes through which the audience are led unquestioningly thanks to a shared suspension of disbelief encouraged by the fantastical nature of the story. This approach is an extension of the culture shock device in which a character is set in a particular time and place not their own and the story revolves around their interaction with the people and environments of that time. For example Mark Twain’s ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ or Jean Marie-Poire’s ‘Les Visiteurs’, itself undoubtedly influenced by Gilliam. Another very successful sci-fi example of the culture shock movie is ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’. Star Trek as we know it today has a relentlessly anal approach to plotting time travel stories, inevitably involving pointless techno babble about Moebius Loops and tertiary subspace manifolds. Generally the writers paint themselves into a corner and use a watered down version of the Morphail Effect to get them out of it, none of which is a fraction as entertaining as seeing an uncomfortably girdled Captain Kirk admonishing a San Francisco driver with a ”double dumb ass on you!”

In Gilliam’s completely contrasting ‘Twelve Monkeys’ the device drives the plot rather than serves it. A prisoner from a dystopian future is sent to the past to investigate the causes of a virus responsible for wiping out the majority of human life on the planet. Due to mistakes in the sending process he is sent back numerous times but tends to suffer similar events each time leading to confused and at times delirious interactions with his surroundings. Gilliam abandons any attempt at nerdish explanations of technology, instead the film is thoughtful and philosophical, leaving the audience entangled within the intricacies of the circular narrative and displaced chronology of the story rather than trying to figure out just what the hell a Minksowskian Block universe is. A very similar approach was used successfully in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’ in which time travel is not an issue but the audience is taken through a narrative structure that works in reverse a la Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’. Unlike Pinter’s 1983 movie Nolan’s central character Leonard is cast adrift in time due to his memory difficulties and for the audience the result is similar to that of ’12 Monkeys’. It requires a second watch at least to even begin to unravel the story and sequence of events.




So on the one-hand good time travel movies are popcorn fodder for pure entertainment, ‘Back to the Future’, ‘Bill and Ted’ or ‘The Terminator’ series. On the other hand a more serious and considered approach to the thorny issues of time and paradox succeeds when our brains are engaged as well as our emotions but we are still spared technological obfuscation, for example ’12 Monkeys’ or ‘Donnie Darko’. It's a shame in many ways that I hadn't seen A Sound of Thunder before I wrote this back in 2006. It is a terrific example of how half-arsery and cheesy film-making can use time travel concepts to make supremely entertaining garbage. I recommend it most highly and you can find a great overview at Scott Telek's Cinema de Merde
However there has always been a niche available for a cranial approach to the problem of time travel and it would appear to have arrived in the form of the independent film ‘Primer’.
Made for the insanely paltry sum of $7,000 by writer/director/cinematographer/composer/producer/star/editor Shane Carruth, ‘Primer’ won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and the Alfred P. Sloane feature film prize at Sundance in 2004. It makes sense that this was how the movie came into being, the creation of an auteur working with miniscule funds, as there is no chance in hell that a studio would ever bankroll something so unique. The plot of ‘Primer’ concerns the most intricate examination of temporal causality ever committed to film in fictional form. It’s confusing, infuriating and totally compelling.

Four young engineers and fledgling entrepreneurs pass their spare time building error-checking devices and are aware of being close to a leap of innovation. Two of the friends, Abe and Aaron, discover that the effects of a strange field generated by an experimental machine in Aaron’s garage provide the key to a limited time travel device. Unlike HG Wells’ time machine their device can only travel back to the time at which it was turned on and the user must spend as much time in the machine as they wish to go back. Abe and Aaron rapidly recognise the possibilities the machine affords them to make fortunes on the stock market but as they become more ambitious so they become more distrusting of each other’s intentions. The outcome is a befuddling, densely layered examination of causality and human frailty as greed becomes the overriding force behind Aaron’s increasingly calculated actions. The lack of budget ironically works in ‘Primer’s favour as the largely wooden acting genuinely conjures up the appearance of engineers stiffly discussing obscure concepts and the spare visual style concentrates the viewers’ attention on the dialogue, in which the majority of the detail lays.

If you fail to get past the first half hour with your brain intact then you may as well give up and go and watch ‘Timeline’ but if you persevere and get to the end you’ll find yourself watching it again and again as you attempt to answer the question for our age…

If Schrodinger’s cat had a time machine, might he not be in the box at all?


Thursday, 19 April 2012

From the archives: Don't go down to the woods

This article was published around December 2005 in ZERO magazine. With the impending release of a film called 'Hick' just around the corner I decided now was as good a time as any to dust this old thing off.

 Moonshine Mountain (Herschell Gordon Lewis) was the birth of the Hixploitation flick. There followed a host of movies indulging in southern American stereotypes of race relations, corrupt law enforcers and ‘White Lightning’ rackets. Merle Haggard’s classic Vietnam-era country anthem ‘Okie From Muskogee’ tells us everything we need to know about the values of the decent God-fearing country folk of the USA. They don’t smoke weed but they do like moonshine; sandals are out, leather boots are in and they don’t let their hair grow long and shaggy, by golly.

Then in 1969 two peaceful hippies went in search of America and what they found was white-hot shotgun death at the hands of buck-toothed, crew cutted, cranially challenged rural types who objected to their haircuts. Despite displaying mild disapproval for the fashions of San Fransisco Merle Haggard never sung a verse that explicitly mentioned hippy killing so it appeared that there was more to the Hick versus Hippy debate than contemptuous distrust!

Right turn Clyde
Despite ‘Easy Rider’ popular seventies cinema pursued the hick flick as a source of light hearted entertainment replete with gentle morons, intellectually challenged sheriff’s, self-deprecating losers, bare-knuckle boxing and beer drinking ape sidekicks. But from that small acorn a series of films would bring a darker vision of the mysterious denizens of the countryside to mainstream cinema and they would deal primarily with the inhabitants of the darker reaches of the Southern USA.

Deliverance (1972) taught us a few more lessons that Merle Haggard failed to mention. Four thirty-something upwardly mobile go-getters leave the city and politics debates behind and head to the country for some old fashioned R&R, male bonding style. After a mishap with a local the characteristics of these city slickers are tested to the utmost not by the communist menace overseas but by their own countrymen. The fact that the four main characters are not particularly likeable started a trend in this kind of movie, which was picked up in Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort. Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe are members of a National Guard unit on manoeuvres in a Louisiana Swamp who steal canoes from, and fire blanks at, locals. Their resulting ordeal is a barely veiled metaphor for the Vietnam experience as the squad are slowly but surely picked off by the untrained but highly experienced local knowledge and know-how of the swamp dwelling simple folk. The Guardsmen are an unsympathetic lot and frankly deserve everything they get.

In 1973, in the original Walking Tall, Joe Don Baker portrayed the simple living small town sheriff who dealt with issues of vice and Nixon’s crime-ridden and liberal America by dealing out vengeance of old testament proportions to the antagonists in his once peaceful hometown. Walking Tall was based on the true story of ex-wrestler Buford Pusser.

Both ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Walking Tall’ address the old country’s way of dealing with the new America and its fresh ideals and liberties, but another American liberal intellectual had already been taught a valuable lesson by country folk, this time in England. Sam Peckinpah’s controversial 1971 thriller ‘Straw Dogs’ was banned in the UK for almost eighteen years for it’s vicious portrayal of how a man must abandon his pacifistic and intellectual ‘weaknesses’ and be reborn through blood and violence in order to deal with his aggressors. Peckinpah was a legendary Man’s Man and the message behind Straw Dogs was basic and primal. For all of our pretensions to higher living you are NOTHING if you cannot take care of your own. Because of his inability to realise this earlier Dustin Hoffman’s character must suffer humiliation after humiliation. In an excruciatingly misogynistic scene which would never make it past script stage in today’s climate his wife must be brutally gang raped and his home surrounded and threatened before he steps up to the plate and despatches his assailants not with guns, but with his bare hands and any available household objects, thus is he reborn. ‘Straw Dogs’ is perhaps the most disturbing example of Hixploitation because the director’s own values lay uncomfortably close to those of his villains, and his talents as a director and editor elevated the movie above any other example of the genre bar ‘Deliverance’.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre arrived in 1974 to take the idea of inbred, murderous fucksticks to a new level and was loosely based on notorious killer Ed Gein. In 1957 Gein had been revealed to the American public in all his gory glory when he admitted that he had murdered and disembowelled a local woman in Plainfield, also known as the Cold Dead Heart of Wisconsin. Audiences now knew that for every TCM or its like there was someone out there living in a normal looking house making nipple belts and preserving vulvas in jars.

The Hills Have Eyes in 1977 was Wes Craven’s second horror movie and, like Last House on the Left it was brutal, highly charged and visceral. It had in common with his first movie the theme of the collective villain. Inspired by the true story of Scottish 16th century Cannibal Alexander ‘Sawney’ Bean, the film explores the dynamic of the feral cannibal family and was unusual in horror films, as was Last House on the Left, in that it demystified the villains. Like ‘Straw Dogs’ the protagonists only survive by lowering themselves to the savage level of their enemies. The Hills Have Eyes was the last of the truly original Hick Horror Flicks and with the end of Nixon era America the public began to realise that Vietnam was not the huge budget Hixploitation TV show they’d believed it was. The previous perception was of young American soldiers as surrogates for the people watching at home, venturing into the woods and jungles to face the horrors of a savage and uneducated enemy jealous of their freedoms and values. In actuality the American soldier was often no better educated than his enemy and was responsible for more than his fair share of atrocious acts of savagery.
Undeterred by this demolition of the American Dream the Slasher flick stepped from the wings to take on the decline of the family and put a stop to the sexual revolution. With the close of the seventies the vicious killer hillbillies faded into the stuff of legend but the recent upsurge in seventies culture and stylings has resulted in a comeback of sorts. TCM was remade successfully, largely thanks to a demented performance from R. Lee Ermey, and other, more left-field titles such as ‘Monster Man’ and ‘Cabin Fever’ hark back to a golden age of terrifying yokels and shotgun wielding cretins, providing a welcome relief from the parade of self-referential slasher movies.

Hick flicks have much in common with their natural descendants, the eighties Slasher flicks. Slasher movie antagonists are often small town retards or mutants themselves (for example Friday 13th), but their motives are distinct from the redneck posse. Slashers punish us for being liberated and eschewing conservative family values. Hicks punish us for being middle class, comfortable and liberal. Hillbillies fear diversity so they attack it. Usually we deserve it, as the average Hixploitation protagonists are smug, supercilious white bread shit-heads who believe that Hicks screw their siblings, make moonshine and spend their days blowing into jugs with cousin Otis.

Rob Zombie’s pair of horror homages to the seventies exploitation genre ‘House of a 1000 Corpses’ and ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ play this out perfectly and successfully tease the audience into sympathising not with the normal city folks, who are all tools, but with the psychopathic, murderous retards who ultimately we admire because of there utter disdain for the rules of society. They are 21st century rebels. It's amazing to think that after The Devil's Rejects Zombie was being widely proclaimed as the future of horror. Sadly he made the risible Halloween remake and sequel and is now regarded as a fluke flash-in-the-pan.

Outside of Hollywood there is a new movement of movies exploring the depths of the forests and the unseen reaches of the cornfields and they’re coming from the rest of the world. In Fabrice Du Welz’s blackly comic Calvaire, a French hillbilly horror, pigs and cows take on sinister new proportions and the vicious yokels would terrify Tod Browning.



From Australia comes ‘Wolf Creek’ the tale of what happens to unassuming road-trippers when the mirror universe, anti-matter Crocodile Dundee, Mick, decides that Haute Tension was in fact a pile of crap and he must play knifey-spooney in order to prove it. This pair of latter day hixploitation classics strip away the inter-textual, knowingly tongue-in-cheek approach of recent American efforts at the genre and reduce the formula to it’s constituent parts. They may be funny in places, uncomfortably so, but the violence is stark, traumatic and hard edged and therefore, because you have no time or pause to be amused, you can only be effected. A rare commodity in modern horror films is the truly terrifying villain and of all the horror movie antagonists the hick, hillbilly or yokel is the most unsettling because they’re not supernatural, they wear no masks and they live only a short drive away from any of us and THAT’s scary. Despite all of their shortcomings as human beings we like to watch them do their thing though, especially to those suburban tools from the city.

The city dwellers respond to being out of their depth by patronising and condescending to those they view as their inferiors, those they perceive to envy their higher values, intellect and culture. Kind of like the modern facebook 'lol at the idiots' mentality. Fortunately for us and our taste for gore and spectacle they rarely realise that the envy reaches a point where the targets of their thinly veiled disgust will happily fuck them up the arse and perhaps even eat them, whether to teach them a lesson or because they are compelled to do it as a dysfunctional survival technique. The horror movie hillbilly appeals to the audience’s primitive fears in the same way as fairy tale monsters did in folk tales, they are the trolls under the bridge waiting for the sound of our hooves. We suggest wearing soft shoes!