31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Planet Terror”

You win some, you lose some.

Letting Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez follow their film geek muse by making a double-feature homage to trashy Z-grade movies must have seemed like a can’t miss proposition back in 2007.

Naturally, Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s decision to let the directorial pairing’s collective id run unchecked was one of the more pricey follies of that year, as the film radically unperformed at the box office and was met with a collective shrug by film critics.

How can a film this OTT be so dull?
How can a film this OTT be so dull?

Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” is the section with the most relevance to this Halloween Horror blog, being largely concerned with hideous mutations running amok, zombie shenanigans, characters having their unmentionables hacked off and all manner of juvenile stuff guaranteed to make you wonder if the director is, in actual fact, an honest-to-goodness teenage boy stuck in the body of a middle-aged man.  If that makes you think of the movie “Big”, I’m right there with you, but dread to think just what Robert Rodriguez would make with that premise.

Beginning with the director’s then-muse Rose McGowan essaying the difference between go-go dancing and striptease in a scuzzy Texan club, there’s certainly enough South-Western guitar slinging and surface style to initially grab the attention.  Attention which is then held by a grotesque face-off between testicle-hoarding scumbag Naveen Andrews and mutant psycho military type Bruce Willlis and the introduction of martial strife between Marley Shelton’s anethetist and her doctor husband Josh Brolin.

We have a lot of plotlines colliding before we even get into the travailles of trucker hero Freddy Rodriguez, vaguely crooked local sheriff Michael Biehn and rib-joint proprietor Jeff Fahey and that’s kind of the problem with “Planet Terror”.

There’s way too much going on.  It’s a film permanently on eleven, with barely a grasp of how to structure the chaotic action, gore, girls and meta-commentary on exploitation cinema into something coherant.  The net effect of watching this film is like having an energy drink-addled friend explain the plots of their favourite VHS-era horror flicks and realising that one man’s gloopy monster fun is another’s shrill, tone-deaf mess.

The cast gives it their best, with Marley Shelton probably better than the movie deserves and the inevitable Tarantino cameo being mercifully short and commitedly gross, but you do wonder how the likes of Willis felt about having their names linked to a movie which boasts more close-ups of diseased body parts and pus-filled God-only-knows-what than can be found on the internet forum of your nightmares.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll be clued into the fact that I really didn’t care for this movie – it’s a one-note in-joke of a film which possibly plays better for you if you’re as in thrall to no-budget exploitation fare as Tarantino and Rodriguez clearly are.  If you regard Z-grade schlock as fun but not the kind of stuff that you want to spend $60 million smackers to emulate, your mileage may vary.

It’s a big old shoulder-shrugging, bemusing ‘Huh?’ of a movie.  How can a movie featuring a heroine with an M16 for a leg be as dull as this film was is anybody’s guess…

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Blade Trinity”

Alas, poor Blade - we hardly knew ye...
Alas, poor Blade – we hardly knew ye…

To sum up “Blade Trinity” (2004) in a pithy phrase? Oy vey.  This film is proof that the third time ain’t the charm.

It’s a shame, really, as the first two movies in the series were excellent slices of energetic, horror-inflected action mayhem, quite distinct from the other comic-book adaptations in cinemas at the time.

So, what went wrong with the third movie?  “Blade Trinity” co-star Patton Oswalt might help illuminate things:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8rCtzKA9tQ

The third movie pits the hybrid human/vampire Blade against Drake (Dominic Purcell), the big kahuna of bloodsuckers and human law enforcement, who are finally aware of the existence of vampires when a reckless Blade is framed in the murder of a vampire’s human familiar.  No pun intended, but the stakes are upped appropriately.

As with many sequels, we get new characters in the form of younger vampire slayers Abigail Whistler and Hannibal King, in an attempt to set-up a spin-off which never arrived (It’s of note that this film pre-dates the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by quite some way).  As the way with brash youngsters,  they clash with Blade’s stern paternal figure by utilising the twin lethal weapons of industrial snark and carefully-curated iTunes playlists.

 

The Scooby Gang could take 'em in a second...
The Scooby Gang could take ’em in a second…

The most obvious issue – Mr Snipes’ alleged on-set antics aside – is with the execution of the film.  Writer and director David Goyer’s script makes the crucial mistake of having too much of the story focus on King and Whistler’s Nightstalker cell.  There’s something wrong when the titular character is a guest star in his own movie, especially as the usually likeable Biel and Reynolds are working with archetypes rather than fully-fleshed out characters.

I cringed particularly during a sequence where the principals shake down vampire cells in a montage which recalls bad 70’s cop shows – it’s an utterly misjudged sequence, right down to the none-more-dated use of split-screen.

Purcell’s Drake is a fairly poor antagonist, too, and entirely unthreatening.  He’s more mildly disgruntled regional manager of his vampiric coterie than terrifying Lord of the Night, and eventually dispatched with an ease which belies his status.  He’s less Vlad the bad-ass impaler than Drake, the chest-baring Jersey Shore reject.

Nobody’s heart seemed in this film, save for a scene-stealing Parker Posey as Danica Talos, the vampire who decides to unearth Drake from his Syrian resting place and formerly enslaved Reynolds’ King.   She’s a hoot as a snit-throwing, fashionista bloodsucker who evidently saw the writing on the wall and decided to play the whole thing for chuckles. Posey is, almost certainly, far better than the movie she was cast in.

Now that the rights to the Blade character are back with Marvel Studios, it would be intriguing to see if they re-purpose the street-stalking day walker as a prime candidate for one of their Netflix series (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones being the first characters to get their shot on the small screen).  It’s certainly got to be a better use of the character than this film was.

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria – “Jason X”

Sci-Fi terror, Canuck-style...
Sci-Fi terror, Canuck-style…

Directed by the late Jim Isaac, 2001’s  “Jason X” is a widely reviled entry in the ongoing canon of Voorhees-centric slasher movies.  And I re-watched it, so that you don’t have to.

Actually, that’s unfair – I do have a soft spot for flicks which blend sci-fi and horror and “Jason X” performs that task unquestionably.  Whether it constitutes a decent horror movie is another issue, as one element that you might reasonably expect from an entry in the “Friday the 13th” saga is for the odd jump scare or suspenseful stalk-and-slash sequence to scare the wiggins out of you.  And, regrettably, your correspondent must inform you that this is the least scary horror movie that I’ve watched in quite some years.

Perhaps that has something to do with the future setting – there’s something about the unholy mash-up of sci-fi vehicles, habitats and technology depicted which robs the film of genuine scares.  As many of the cast are wholly disposable military grunts in the vein of “Aliens” or “Halo”, there’s very little sense of danger, as we know that no amount of heavy weaponry will put a dent in Camp Crystal Lake’s most horrific native.  And we also know that Jason’s modus operandi is to despatch the cast one by one until a final girl (or boy) is left alive to lure Jason to his climactic doom.

That final girl, this time around, is also a first girl – the film begins with scientist Rowan (Lexa Doig) whose attempt to put Jason into cryogenic deep freeze is rudely undone by a military/scientific team led by a cameoing David Cronenberg, who wishes to experiment on Jason to see what makes him tick.  With an inevitability that sustains this evergreen horror franchise, Rowan manages to trap Jason in cryo at the expense of her own life as she’s put on ice with the machete-wielding maniac.

Jump forward to the year 2455.  Earth is toast and science students are on a field trip to the decaying husk.  They salvage the cryo tank and the on-ice due of Rowan and Jason.  As in any B-movie of note, a decision is made to study the pair, which leads to another go-round of hide-and-go-kill, only this time in space.

At a refreshingly brisk 92 minutes, “Jason X” delivers the goods in terms of body count – 21 actual people, one virtual reality alien, two VR campers, the assorted crew and personnel of a space station – whilst cleverly side-stepping the idea of continuity by being set far in the future.

In terms of performances, Lexa Doig and Lisa Ryder (at the time, both actresses were cast in the syndicated “Andromeda” tv sci-fi series) make the biggest mark, with Ryder’s turn as cyborg Kay-Em 14 being particularly charming.  It’s the latter character who – for a little while, at least – gets to put the wrassling-style smack-down on Mr Voorhees once she’s upgraded by her maker/lover Tsunaron.

Ultimately, the issue with “Jason X” is that whilst it diverts and entertains for the majority of it’s running time, it never really surprises, with the conventional beats being hit on cue and the outcome never really being in doubt.  Of course, at this point, a viewer of the “Friday the 13th” series knows essentially what they’re getting and it would be an unwise film-maker who tries to subvert the expectations of the horror hardcore.

The biggest issue is the total lack of scares in the film.  There’s gore galore and the usual stalk-and-slash mechanics are well in evidence, but the film doesn’t really want to make you jump out of your seat.  There’s no sense of dread here – it’s almost a film that you could watch with the family, were it not for the frequent displays of eye-rollingly mandatory T&A and salty dialogue.

If you’ve not seen this entry in the series, it’s certainly worth a look, so long as you don’t expect it to reinvent the language of cinematic terror.  For that, we might have to look to look to the in-development reboot by revamp specialists Platinum Dunes.  I’m expecting some kind of found-footage effort, but we shall see whether the current tropes of horror are enough to give this old slasher a jump-start.

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria – “30 Days of Night”

Out for a night bite...
Out for a night bite…

So, Halloween, eh?  The season of pumpkin-flavoured everything and dubious costumes returns anew and gives me ample excuse to watch a month-long festival of fright-based flicks on your behalf.

Everybody wins, I guess?  Except for Mrs Rolling Eyeballs, that is, who doesn’t do horror, despite being an avid viewer of “Grimm”, “Fringe” and other telefantasy shows which dabble in things that go bump in the midnight hour.

Our first example of horrific entertainment this October is “30 Days of Night” (2007), adapted from Steve Niles’ grisly comic.  It concerns a plague of feral, ancient vampires laying siege to the snowy, isolated Alaskan town of Barrow, where the sun never rises for the titular period each year.

“30 Days” is a classic, almost Western-like tale of law-enforcement folk and assorted survivors joining forces to ward off evil whilst struggling to prevent internal discord from letting the bad guys in.  Josh Hartnett stars as fresh-faced sheriff Eben Oleson whilst Danny Huston plays the alpha bloodsucker Marlow, whose ferocity is only matched by his intelligence.

These are not your romantic vampires of the Lestat/Edward Cullen school – they’re more akin to vicious apex predators, using the geography of the town to hunt, grab prey and then return to the shadows to feed.  Equally, the accepted touchstones of fiction are almost wholly ineffective – wooden stakes don’t work, garlic is a bust and even dismemberment provides only temporary respite from the fangs of the un-dead.

As the film draws to a climax, it seems that there’s little which can stop Marlow’s powerful horde from doing their grisly work unless the survivors are prepared to make an ultimate sacrifice to prevent the spread of this virulent vampiric cabal.

Director David Slade’s film is at it’s best when it shows the hopelessness besetting Barrow’s townsfolk – there’s a wonderful overhead shot from the air which follows the vampires cutting a bloody swathe through main street and overrunning the unprepared civilians.  It’s an operatic moment which is never quite matched by the rest of the movie, which is more contained and content to focus in on the cabin fever which besets the ever-dwindling populace as the month draws on.

That’s not to say that it’s bad – rather that this is a horror movie with most of the sharp edges left on:  Heroism goes unrewarded and a happy ending is conspicuous by it’s absence.

The best performances come from the dark side of course – Danny Huston is a fantastic antagonist, giving Marlow an aristocratic, old-world air, as though this vampire has lived for centuries and spilt more blood than he knows what to do with.  He is matched on the creep scale by Ben Foster, wholly memorable as the mysterious newcomer to Barrow whose arrival is a cue for very bad things to start happening.

If your October fancy is for night-crawlers and be-fanged horrors of the darkest kind, the pervasive dread and desperation of “30 Days of Night” is hard not to recommend.

 

 

A Grand Tour

Since last we spoke, my fair city was besieged by a bizarre two-wheeled circus.

The Tour De France comes to Sheffield
The Tour De France comes to Sheffield

Yes, the Tour De France had its Grand Depart from Leeds on Saturday, sped towards Harrogate and then sailed forth from dear old York before fetching up in that most hearty and joyful of cities, Sheffield, on Sunday afternoon.

Never ones to miss the up-close thrill of city cycle racing in our proverbial backyard, crafty cycling nerd Mrs Rolling Eyeballs and your humble scribe set out on Sunday 6 July, picnic in tow,  to behold the greatest cycle race on earth.

Rather than risk a journey out to the World’s Most Terrifying Cycle Climb on Jenkin Road (cheers, hypebolic ITV 4 folks), Mrs Rolling Eyeballs decided that we would be best situated by going to the Fan Park at Don Valley Bowl and watching the start of the race on the big screen.

The City’s transport high-ups had gone all in, ferrying fans, families and the vaguely interested to points along the route, with a plethora of extra trams laid on.  I’ve never seen trams as busy as they were on Sunday – even at 10:00am, it was standing room only, with giddy Heeley, Gleadless and Manor folk piling in together and heading for the big race.

Alighting at the Bowl, Mrs Rolling Eyeballs and I found a comfy deckchair in the middle of the bowl and took in the scene around us:

When do the crowds get here?
When do the crowds get here?

At the risk of stating the obvious – that isn’t me and Mrs Rolling Eyeballs – but those were lovely, comfy deckchairs and no mistake.

Later on, as the Tour hurtled across South Yorkshire towards us, things got a bit busier:

People!  Where did they come from?
People! Where did they come from?

Going to the Fan Zone was like going to a really big park on a warm summer day and finding it full of your neighbours, who all want to watch the world’s greatest two-wheeled tyros (minus an incapacitated Mark Cavendish) duke it out with the biggest hills and dales that Yorkshire had to offer.   As once-in-a-lifetime events go, it was without peer.

Watching the action on a screen wasn’t going to be enough for Mrs Rolling Eyeballs – she had plotted a suitable place on route for us to behold the Tour up close and personal-like.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ever-so-slightly dizzying sight of Chris Froome belting past you at 50 KPH:

Yep, that blurry blue-and-black figure is possibly Chris Froome...
Yep, that blurry blue-and-black figure is possibly Chris Froome…

Should you find yourself given the opportunity to take in the greatest bike spectacle of all, I highly recommend doing so.  A Tour stage doesn’t just go through your city – it takes over, galvanizes the populace into engaging with it and leaves you breathless and slightly stunned in its wake.

I've just finished a race and you want me to ride a bike again?
I’ve just finished a race and you want me to ride a bike again?

There’s the circus of promotional vehicles, tour cars, Gendarmerie on fast motorbikes and miniature village support vehicles parked up by the finish line.  The breathless commentaries on local radio stations as the racers fly ever nearer and speed through neighbourhoods which become somehow more exotic as they are juxtaposed with the glamour of the grand race.

I loved it for what it was – a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

Batman and Superman get a title…

…and it’s a doozy.

Are you ready  for 2016’s planet-bashing team-up picture, the luxuriantly-titled “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice”?

Well, it's a title, I guess?
What-the-what-now?

I’ve got to admit, that’s on the cheesier end of the spectrum of proposed titles for this Zack Snyder-helmed, uber-franchise.  But if you’re going to go big, you go titanic, I suppose.  I still think that the WB are onto a loser by not using my Batman Vs Superman: The Smashenating” title, but you don’t want to give away all your eggs in one basket, do you?

The shenanigans erupt on 6 May 2016 – if the film doesn’t back down from another two-fisted, titanic clash – going up against Marvel Studios‘ “Captain America 3″ on the same weekend…

“Guardians of the Galaxy” – Marvel’s cosmic gamble?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bz0QOOT9Hk

Never let it be said that Marvel don’t take risks.  Not since Kevin Feige and the Cinematic House of Ideas took a chance on a trash-talking billionaire has there been such a risky proposition for the filmic arm of the comics giant.

Somehow, after watching the second trailer for August’s “Guardians of the Galaxy“, I get the sense that Marvel Studios and writer/director James Gunn have pulled together the kind of cosmos-spanning, action-driven sci-fi comedy which DC’s misbegotten “Green Lantern” adaptation tried to be and failed.

Of course, a trailer can be cut to accentuate the positive and obscure the very worst that a film has to offer – I was hyped for “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” until I, you know, saw it – but the energy, snark and bonkers creativity just pours off the screen, doesn’t it?

Dare we hope that Marvel’s cinematic slate for 2014 is a one-two punch of awesome (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” being the other part of the equation)?  Heck, if you count the mysterious “Big Hero Six” animated feature from Disney this autumn, we’ve actually got three Marvel Cinematic Universe entries this year.

My most eagerly anticipated film of the year stars a talking tree and a homicidal, ordinance-packing space raccoon: I’m not sure what that says about me…

 

 

Batfleck Revealed

Ben Affleck as Batman, Image (c) Zack Snyder/Warner Bros
Ben Affleck as Batman, Image (c) Zack Snyder/Warner Bros

So, after teasing us mercilessly with a tarp-on sneak peek at the Batmobile on Twitter yesterday, cheeky rapscallion Zack Snyder only goes and drops our first look at Ben Affleck as his Batman in the still-untitled cinematic dust-up between the Dark Knight and the Last Son of Krypton.

Early nerd word is pointing to the close resemblance to the Jim Lee take on the character – which I can see.  I’m also getting a bit of Frank Miller‘s two-fisted battler from the costume and from Affleck’s physical heft.  This is one Gotham Knight who looks like he can wipe the floor with the reimagined Superman.

Well, for a few seconds at least, until Supes drop kicks him all the way to Star City.

Zack Snyder’s next exercise in filmic shock and awe is still scheduled for 29 April 2016 – the same weekend, currently, as Marvel’s yet-to-lens “Captain America 3”.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, audience – nil…

Long time, no hear.  Blame it on the fractured shoulder which I sustained earlier this year.  Not conducive to blogging, you’ll be surprised to learn.  Still, that errant joint which made a mockery of the months from March to May is becoming a thing of the past and I can now blog anew – huzzah!

To which end – I went to see Sony’s 800 ib gorilla, The Amazing Spider-Man 2″, so you didn’t have to.   I kid – it’s not a total disaster, but Marvel Studio‘s Captain America – The Winter Soldier does rather embarrass it by comparison.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone make cute anew as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey respectively, freshly graduated from High School and making their way in NYC.  Pete’s determination to live up to Gwen’s father’s dying request – kindly stay from my daughter – sees him being cut adrift by Stacey junior mere moments into the flick, in a pleasing inversion of genre movie insistence on marginalising female characters’ agency  to make their male counterparts look more noble.

The plot, ravenously complicated beast that it is, sees Spidey fighting crime, scheming to get Gwen back, trying to make in-roads at the Daily Bugle, getting to the bottom of the last movie’s grafted-on parental disappearance mystery and duking it out with this instalment’s Big Bad, Electro, played in tragic monster fashion by Jamie Foxx.

You’ll get the sense that I’m not entirely in swooning geek love with “TASM 2” and that’s mostly down to the dread disease which most regularly afflicts blockbuster sequels in comic book adaptations – too many villains well and truly spoiling the broth.  Whilst Electro is very much the main nemesis of the piece, “TASM 2” wants to kick start a connected “Spider-Man” movie universe for Sony.

Battling bad guys, a faulty economy and chafing lycra - the Amazing Spider Man
Battling bad guys, a faulty economy and chafing lycra – the Amazing Spider Man

When we should be dealing with Spidey and matters plotty, the film veers left and right to drop in characters Who Will Become Important In The Next Movie:  Look, true believers – it’s Felicia Hardy!  Why, Spidey-Fans, isn’t that the guy who will become the Spider Slayer?

Rather than build things up a-la our friends at Marvel Studios and their multi-film model of connected stories and characters, Sony’s insistence on chasing the MCU audience doesn’t really pay off for the faithful fans of the Web Head – this is a messy, tonally jarring and frenetic film – action scene/lovey-dovey cute bit/serious bit of exposition/digressive character moment setting up the Spidey movie universe/misjudged comedy cameo/action sequence.  You get the picture – it’s an exhausting experience, especially at the length that this film goes in for.

It isn’t a bad film, but I do suspect that it might be a more enjoyable one to watch at home, especially if you have a new-fangled 3D telly of decent size.  Comfort is all when I go to the cinema these days and as “TASM 2” slipped into it’s third hour, I really did wish for a friendly couch to ease back into and a nice cup of tea to imbibe.

Yes, I am old.  Get off my lawn…