5-Word 365 #060 – Inglourious Basterds

I’ve been eager to watch this film for a long time. After missing it at the cinema, I waited patiently for a fully-loaded DVD to arrive on the shelf. And waited. And waited. Tarantino flicks demand the sort of treatment this format was designed for: commentaries, documentaries, featurettes… The works, basically. I have the 2-disc Special Editions of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown and I was hoping for something similar for this, but after all this time I just had to bite the bullet. Does the film hold up on its own?

Inglourious Basterds

More Fassbender and Schweiger please.

For those of you living under a rock the last three years: Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France, a young woman witnesses her entire family killed at the hands of famed Jew hunter Colonel Hans Landa of the SS before escaping. Three years later she has grown up to be Mélanie Laurent and now owns a small cinema in Paris which she inherited from the elderly couple who took her in. She is being unwillingly courted by a young German officer whose heroic deeds against the enemy have been made into a propaganda film. In an attempt to woo her, he asks Goebbels to hold the premiere of the film at her cinema. Initially repulsed by this idea, once she discovers Hitler will be attending she agrees, so that she can gather the Third Reich high command all in one place then lock the doors and burn the place to the ground. Meanwhile, a platoon of American soldiers (these will be the Basterds of the title) is on a mission to spread fear through the ranks of the enemy by torturing and killing them in the manner of the Apache. Scalping, mutilation and death ensue.

So does it hold up? Duh; it’s a Tarantino flick. This is the movie His Chin-ness has been talking up for over a decade before he even started rolling the cameras. This is the Chinese Democracy and Duke Nukem Forever of genre movies. And make no mistake about it: this is a genre picture. More Saving Pulp Fiction than A Bridge Too Far. I have no idea how closely the finished article compared to his original fever-dream, but it is a 2½ hour rampage through the accepted history of WW2 shot through with QT’s trademark wit and snappy dialogue, although since it’s a period piece it is by necessity a lot lighter on the Madonna references. Inglourious Basterds is not without its flaws though, so I’m going to look at this in two ways: what works and what doesn’t work.

I woke up to something just like this once. Shat myself.

Let’s get the problems out of the way first so that we can end on a high.

  • There’s just too much crammed in here. Tarantino’s best movies have followed multiple plotlines and they worked because those strands all complemented each other and fed into the larger story in an extraordinarily well-designed way, but with Inglourious Basterds he goes that step too far. I went beyond wanting to see more of each story and ended up feeling short-changed, particularly when it came to the Basterds. Here we have the title characters of the flick and half of them don’t even get a line. Any of the three main plots could have held up as a complete movie in their own right. In fact, this would have made an incredible trilogy; three separate movies that occurred over the same time period and occasionally danced around their companions. Can you imagine it? It would have been Tarantino’s Three Colours.
  • The ending. I’m sorry for offending anyone’s delicate sensibilities with this sentence but with Death Proof and now this, QT seems to have forgotten how to stick the ending. The Cap’n made me promise to mention this before things get hairy: since we’re talking endings here, the conversation is liable to get a bit spoilerific. I felt a bit let down frankly after all that build-up. (Almost) everybody died?! Landa helped kill Hitler then flipped at the drop of a hat?! It makes a little bit of sense that he be motivated by personal pride in doing his job more than ideology, but even so there was no real inkling of it, no foreshadowing, suddenly it just happens. It felt like a cheat.
  • Eli Roth. The man is not an actor. Sorry dude, but there it is.

The "Waltz for Sherlock" petition starts here.

So what works?

  • Hans Landa. Austrian actor Christoph Waltz can build a whole new career on the strength of his performance in this film. Simultaneously charming, seductive and terrifying, Landa is a glorious piece of work (except for that slight fumble at the end, but that was no fault of Waltz’s).
  • Every damn thing else, but especially Michael Fassbender and Til Schweiger. They should have been in the film more! I want to see the Archie Hicox movie, and a horror sequel where Stiglitz prowls through Hell killing the Nazis all over again. You know how awesome that would be, don’t even try and say otherwise.

Overall, Inglourious Basterds is a cracking film. The performances are (almost) all great, the script is hilarious and the action is top-notch. The farmhouse and the tavern scenes will remain as highlights for me for a long time to come.

I have a feeling this guy might do quite well for himself over the next few years.

Just one more thing though. If you haven’t already, you should definitely get a hold of Enzo G. Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards from 1978. Fred Williamson and Bo Svenson star as US Army soldiers who escape from a prison transport after an air strike and wind up accidentally involved in a French Resistance plot to steal Nazi hardware and get it back to the Allies without getting killed or locked up again. Other than the appropriated title and the WW2 setting, the two flicks have nothing in common but it is a great little film that at one point was re-edited as a Blaxploitation movie and renamed G.I. Bro! How can you not love that?

5-Word 365 #059 – Warrior

Today it’s the turn of another film in two halves. Is this becoming a trend? I seriously hope not, but if you see me renting The Parent Trap just put a bullet in my head.

Warrior

If Rocky had a brother…

Two estranged brothers unknowingly enter the same winner-takes-all MMA tournament. Punching ensues. And kicking. And throwing, and knee-strikes, headbutts, arm bars, the odd suplex…

Ok that outline makes this sound like so much straight-to-video trash, probably starring Randy Couture and Scott Adkins but it is anything but. This is primarily a drama about the relationships these brothers have with their families and with each other, propelled by the two excellent performances by Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy. Just like in the movie this will mostly be compared to in years to come (take a wild guess), the fighting is just a backdrop to hang the real meat of the story on, which is the struggle for personal redemption and the reconciliation of a fractured family.

Edgerton plays Brendan Conlon, former inconsequential UFC fighter, now a high school physics teacher in Philadelphia with a wife, two young daughters and a mortgage that’s kicking his ass. He picks up some extra cash fighting wannabes in a strip club parking lot (while telling his wife he’s bouncing). This secret life is working out okay until he gets a black eye and the truth comes out. His school suspends him and his wife Tess seems more prepared to allow their house to be foreclosed on than for Brendan to fight again professionally. Suddenly with time on his hands and no other marketable skill, he returns to his old gym and talks his friend Frank into training him again and, eventually, putting him forward for the Sparta tournament to replace another injured fighter.

"Yes honey, I have to fight again. I don't care what Lester Freamon told you, this dollhouse furniture racket won't pay the mortgage"

eanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Brendan’s younger brother Tommy (Hardy) is back in town 14 years after he left with his mother to get away from the boys’ abusive drunk of a father. After his mother died, Tommy joined the Marines and served in Iraq, He is using his mother’s maiden name Riordan as his surname to distance himself from his father, Paddy, but the first place he goes when he arrives is to the old family home. Paddy – a deservedly Oscar-nominated Nick Nolte – has turned his life around in the last few years. He has found God and is coming up on 1000 days sober. His only addiction left is to his Moby Dick book-on-tape that is a recurring motif throughout the film. Tommy doesn’t care about his old man, but he has found out about the Sparta tournament and wants Paddy to train him just like when Tommy was a high school wrestling champ. As he says, being a trainer was the only thing Paddy was any good at when the boys were growing up.

"Sing it with me son, 'You put your left arm in, your left arm out, in, out, shake it all about'. Trust me, this will be even more unbeatable than that Crane shit."

Of course anyone with even a passing awareness of sports movie conventions (or if you’ve seen the trailer) knows that these two will end up in the ring together by the climax, but both actors are so compelling that for the first time ever in a fight flick, I didn’t want either one of them to lose. Of the two, Tommy would be the more showy part. He never becomes a pantomime though, thanks to Hardy’s sensitive portrayal of a man who spends his whole life as a coiled spring of anger and resentment and bitterness. His impressive bulk just adds to the picture. If you thought Hardy was big in Bronson, that was nothing. He looks like he has been fighting his entire life. Brendan is a bit less physically imposing than his little brother, as befits his day job and respectable life, but he can still handle himself. Both actors completely convince when it comes to the fights; Edgerton probably more so, since Brendan has to work harder to win. When Tommy is in the ring he is a storm of violence that takes out his opponents in seconds, but – prior to the big finale – the most intense fight is Brendan against the undefeated Russian Koba, played by WWE/TNA wrestler and Pittsburgh boy Kurt Angle.

"Screw you guys. I'm just gonna stand here and pout until you let me do my Hokey Cokey Offence"

This really is a film of two halves, focusing on each of the brothers equally and individually. They don’t even see each other until we get to Atlantic City for the tournament, and they only share one scene together before the final fight itself. What a scene it is though. Played out late at night on a deserted AC beach, Tommy finally lets out 14 years’ worth of resentment for, as he sees it, Brendan’s abandonment of him and their mother in favour of his then girlfriend (now wife) Tess, while Brendan reacts with shock and sadness and incredulity. If either Hardy or Edgerton had been nominated, this scene would have been the Oscar clip, no doubt about it.

"Knock that Hokey Cokey shit off. There's no singing in MMA" "But dad said-" "THERE'S NO SINGING IN MMA!"

Warrior was one of the “wish I’d seen it” selections in my Top 11 of 2011 list, and now that I have seen it I can tell you that it would have shot up that Top 11 like a bullet. It is a fantastic film that observes all the clichés of the fight flick genre as valid story points, but still manages to bring real heart and compassion to the human drama.

5-Word 365 #058 – Julie & Julia

And so we move from one extreme to the other. After yesterday I needed to watch something as light and fluffy as humanly possible. This seemed to fit the bill.

Julie & Julia

Mostly annoying & really funny.

Julie Powell is a frustrated writer working in a cubicle in New York in 2002. Struggling to find something meaningful in her life, her husband suggests she try blogging. Between them, they come up with the idea that she will cook every one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s seminal book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she’ll do it in one year*. Meanwhile, we also get to see the story of Julia writing the book itself as she follows her husband Paul through a series of diplomatic postings throughout Europe.

(As any of my Facebook friends will probably jump to attest, today I am technically cheating. I had intended to watch this flick today, but I really needed to get yesterday’s taste out of my mouth as quickly as possible, so my roommate Iida and I watched this on Lovefilm last night. If it helps, I feel bad about it.)

After movies, my next great love is food. Not just eating it though; I love to cook and I’m actually pretty handy in the kitchen as well. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise to hear that films featuring food tend to rate quite high with me. Big Night and Eat Drink Man Woman are old perennials in my top 20 list. This flick won’t be challenging those heavy hitters, but it is a pleasant enough distraction that is completely owned by Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

"Mon dieu! Qu' est que ce le crazy tall American madame!" (I don't even know if that makes sense, but it's about all the French I can come up with besides merde and un biere s'il vous plait.)

Now, I’m 31 years old and from Northern Ireland. Those two facts together mean that I was never really aware of Julia Child until this movie came out. When I was growing up we had Delia Smith as the TV cook (I even missed Fanny Craddock entirely. Praise His Noodley Appendage for classic TV repeats) but of course these days you can’t spit without hitting a chef with his own show. Most of them have the charm of an angry gerbil with a dose of the clap but there are a few that I do like to watch. Where was I? Oh yeah. I’m not the guy to ask how accurate Streep’s recreation of Child is (though knowing her it’s probably a fair to middling effort) but as a character she is wonderful: flighty and fun and delightfully vulgar and wickedly intelligent, but with a sadness inside her. The scene where she receives a letter from her sister bearing the news that there’s a baby on the way is heart-breaking. It’s not stated outright exactly why Julia and Paul don’t have children, but it doesn’t need to be; their reaction to this news is enough.

The original caption for this photo at RopeOfSilicon.com was "Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep: the only two reasons to watch Julie & Julia." Can't argue with that.

If there was an Oscar for Best Husband, Stanley Tucci would have run away with it. Paul Child is almost saintly in his devotion to and tolerance of his strong-willed wife, and matches her quip for quip. It is to Tucci’s credit that he never makes the man seem like a doormat. The two actors were obviously having a blast working with each other again and this chemistry is all over the screen. Their scenes together are by far my favourite part of the movie. I just really want to be hanging out in Paris with these two (and I don’t even like Paris).

The Venn diagram says this film should be awesome. I made this myself, by the way, just in case that wasn't obvious.

What I don’t want to do is hang out in New York with Julie Powell, or at least the Julie Powell of movie-land (although I really quite like New York). Amy Adams does her best despite a shocking haircut, but even my mad crush on her cannot disguise the fact that Julie is really not a very likable person. Her frequent “meltdowns” only serve to point out that she’s taking this shit far too seriously. The project becomes an obsession that takes over her life and almost costs her both her actual job and her marriage. That won’t happen to me though; I’m not married and I don’t have a life.

She even has a photo of Julia and Paul on her desk. Is that the sign of a crazy obsessive, or a dilligent art director?

Nora Ephron’s decision to combine the two women’s stories into one film is I think a good one. Julie herself couldn’t hold up a whole movie, and contrasting Julia with the adventures of her young acolyte only makes you want to see more of Julia, which is exactly what all good movies should do. I don’t score the films I watch, but if I did, this would get 3 stars; 4½ for the Julia and Paul parts minus ½ for the annoying Julie, and minus 1 star for the constant use of the word “blog”. I know it’s what I’m doing here, but I just fucking hate that word. It sounds like the noise a dog makes when it vomits. A bit more screen time for Mary Lynn Rajskub might have got it back up to 3½ though or even 4. Yes, you guessed it: I fancy Chloe.

*Blogging about doing something every day for a year? What kind of dumb idea is that? Oh, wait…

5-Word 365 #057 – A Serbian Film

Some of you have already heard of this film. Some of you might know a few things about what happens. One or two of you might have even seen it already. To the rest of you: I envy your ignorance.

A Serbian Film

The first true horror film.

Milos is a retired porn star living with his wife and young son. Money is tight, and when he gets a call from an old friend about an offer to come out of retirement he decides to take the job, especially after being offered enough cash to support his family for life. Unfortunately for Milos, as he gets further down the rabbit hole he regrets that decision more and more.

This is not a film you watch. This is a film you endure. I have sat through a lot of unpleasant movies over the years (some of them just in the last eight weeks of this project) but this is the first film I wish I hadn’t seen at all. The words “good” or “bad” don’t apply here, other than to the technical aspect of the production. The shots are in focus, the sound is clear, the actors are all believable in their roles, and the special effects are convincing. In that sense, it is a “good” film. It has been produced to a high technical standard. But I don’t want it in my head any more.

This isn’t really a film at all; it is a howl of rage and anguish against the state of the world we live in. For every second of his running time, director and co-writer Srdjan Spasojevic is making his point about who we are and what we do, which is that we are all being exploited. Whether it’s by our governments, our employers, our “ruling classes” or whoever, we are being taken advantage of to the point where it’s unclear if we are even human beings, or just cattle. He is saying that from the moment we are born until the moment we die – and even beyond – we are fucked. In order to throw this message at us so there can be no misunderstanding, Spasojevic elects to show it literally.

In the five-word part of this review, I called A Serbian Film the first true horror film. I mean that in the purest sense. This film should horrify you. This film is meant to horrify you. With a movie such as this, it’s not for me to tell you to watch it or not to watch it. If you think you can handle it by all means go ahead, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. I suppose I should find it reassuring that something can provoke this reaction in me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a bath and watch some Pingu.

My apologies for the lack of visual aids today. I didn’t want to go looking for any stills from this movie.

5-Word 365 #056 – Encounters At The End Of The World

This was probably the easiest day of this week’s little experiment when it came to picking a film. That’s the thing with documentaries: most of them at least loosely fit the “exactly what it says on the tin” requirement. Some less so, of course.

Encounters at the End of the World

More penguins than Werner wanted.

Legendary German filmmaker Werner Herzog travels to Antarctica to explore not just the continent itself, but the people who find themselves drawn there. And yes, there are some penguins wandering around too.

The first thing to mention about this film is the sheer beauty of it. Films like this are what hi-def was designed for. This belongs on the biggest screen with the biggest sound system possible. Unfortunately I had to make do with my crappy little 24 incher but while that may have diminished the quality of the images somewhat, it didn’t have much effect on their impact. I have just spent the last 100 minutes in a daze.

You see? I just don't have it in me to be snarky about this.

There isn’t really any narrative point that Herzog is making with this film. The title is entirely literal. He encounters these people and he records what they have to say about who they are, how they got there, and why they do what they do. While they have all kinds of jobs, from plumbers and bus drivers to cell biologists and volcanologists, one thing they have in common is that they probably didn’t really fit in back in the real world. These are the people who see things from a slightly different angle than everyone else. It’s a very endearing kind of crazy, and one that’s seen all too rarely these days.

Like this guy, Stefan Pashov. Part philosopher, part forklift driver, all awesome.

As well as the interviews, there are several sequences where the camera explores this world both above and below the ice. These are the moments that will take your breath away. The images on the screen, combined with the choral music and Herzog’s hypnotic narration, are simply beautiful. At times it feels like you are looking at a whole other planet. I want to call this a mood piece, but I don’t want to sound wanky about it. It is a fantastic film though. I’d put it right up amongst Herzog’s best, both fiction and documentary.

"You sure we're still on Earth?"

5-Word 365 #055 – Help! I’m A Fish

It is now both Kids Film Friday and Title is The Plot Week. It is a confluence of themes. I spent most of today trying to think of something that fit both categories. Eventually I had to just wing it, and luckily fate pointed me to today’s entry:

Help! I’m A Fish

I prefer the French title*.

A brother and sister and their cousin drink a mad scientist’s potion that turns them into fish. They have 48 hours to get to the antidote or they’ll be stuck in their new form. Meanwhile, a pilot fish has got the antidote and has developed the power of speech, and an evil streak…

This movie is a true international production: Danish writers; Irish, Canadian and Danish money; German animators; English, Canadian and American voice cast. It’s understandable to expect a bit of a mess from all that, but this works surprisingly well and has some surprisingly dark moments too. It starts off with a very stylised underwater sequence accompanied by a kind of smooth jazz song by Eddi Reader which I was really enjoying until the shitty Euro-dance-pop theme song comes in. If I wasn’t on a deadline I might have turned the thing off at that point, but no.

How does he keep those glasses on with no ears?

We soon meet our “hero”, Fly and his little sister Stella, and cousin Chuck, played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul (yes, really). While he is obviously quite protective of his sister, Fly is a bit of a dick to Chuck. It’s only after Chuck saves all their lives at the end that he warms up a bit. But I’m getting ahead of myself, While out fishing, the kids accidentally stumble across the hidden lab of Professor MacKrill, voiced by Monty Pythonlegend Terry Jones. Convinced of the imminent melting of the polar ice caps, MacKrill has developed a potion that can turn people into fish, in order to survive when the water level rises. Little Stella accidentally gets a taste of this cocktail, and the boys have to drink up too so they can rescue her from the ocean and then get themselves turned back in time. Hijinks ensue.

See? Creepy as hell.

The best thing about this film though is Alan Rickman as Joe, the pilot fish. As soon as he gets a taste of the dropped antidote he becomes an absolute magnificent bastard, with the shark he used to follow around now his dumb-as-a-sack-of-hammers sidekick. His plan is to get more of the stuff so he can continue getting more intelligent, while doling a little of it out to all the other fish in the ocean and building himself a civilisation to rule. The design of Joe is actually quite creepy, in a refreshingly non-Disney way, and he is not afraid of ordering the death of those who defy him. There are plenty of fish skeletons floating about that have got on his bad side. I guess it comes in handy to have a pet shark that is 30 times bigger than you.

As I mentioned earlier, this has some moments of darkness in the story. That will be the European sensibility at work. Going right back to the Grimm Brothers stories, we’re not afraid to go to those places in our kids fiction. The final ten minutes alone have the lead child-fish getting side-swiped by a giant crab with blood gushing out of him in glorious slow motion, as well as the rather unpleasant demise of one of the villains. Yes, actual demise. There are no pat lessons to be learned here. The baddies don’t ride (swim) off into the sunset as better people (fish); they just get killed in unsettlingly imaginative ways and that’s the end of it.

DON'T PANIC!!

Despite the somewhat cringeworthy title, and the shockingly awful theme song that shat all over the radio back in 2000, this is a nice little film. Its morals are there, but you don’t feel bashed about the head by them. Older kids around seven or eight years old would probably really enjoy this.

*Gloups! Je Suis Un Poisson!

5-Word 365 #054 – Evil Aliens

Hmm, I just realised I need to find a kids film for tomorrow that fits this little theme I’ve got going here. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, still got plenty of time. Today’s entry in our week of The Plot Is The Title, is Jake West’s minor classic:

Evil Aliens

If Lloyd Kaufman was Welsh…

A reporter for a TV show called Weird Worlde is dispatched to a small island off the coast of Wales with her crew to get the story of a local girl who claims to have been abducted and impregnated by aliens. Is she telling the truth? Well, yeah. Actually she is. And the aliens are pissed.

Emily Booth stars in a frankly rather unlikable role as Michelle Fox, the reporter, although my own goodwill towards her did kind of win me over a bit. The rest of the characters are all just stereotypes: there’s the slutty actress (who happens to be the show’s producer’s girlfriend); the flaming queen actor; the laddish cameraman and his sound man best friend; the uber-geek virgin UFO expert; and the Welsh farmer brothers who don’t speak English. None of them have any back story or depth or character development. In a film like this though, that doesn’t even matter. This is a Troma movie, by any other name. Once the fecal/ventilation interface kicks in, you’d almost swear Toxie is going to make an appearance behind one of the alien helmets.

Her audition for Poultrygeist 3 was a resounding success

Just so there’s no misunderstanding here, I love Troma movies. From me, this is high praise indeed. Even the look of the film is the same. It’s shot on inexpensive TV cameras with all live sound. In fact, for the first twenty minutes or so it looks like something that you would have seen on the old Live TV cable channel 20 years ago. Obviously the lion’s share of the budget went on blood and body parts instead of some kind of pointless frivolity. A budget, by the way, that was about fifty times larger than for West’s previous flick: the homemade Razor Blade Smile. It might start off a little slow, but once the bloodshed gets started and the cast thins out a bit, it just keeps getting more and more fun. Part of that fun comes from catching all the references to other movies that West manages to fit in. Off the top of my head I spotted Cannibal Holocaust, Independence Day, Braindead and The Last Temptation of Christ!

And, eh, Little Miss Sunshine?

This is the kind of film that movie lovers like us should be supporting. Low budget flicks made for the love of it. The acting may vary wildly from pretty decent all the way down to bad panto, and some of the visual effects are a little on the ropey side, but that just adds to the charm of it frankly. Next time you’ve got the gang around and you have lots of beer, and you fancy a good laugh with plenty of severed limbs and a bit of combine harvester action thrown in for good measure, remember Evil Aliens.

He's got a brand new combine harvester. He'll give you the key.

5-Word 365 #053 – Fright Night (2011)

As far as “Exactly What It Says On The Tin” Week goes, this one might be clutching at straws a little but hey, it happens mostly at night and it contains a few frights. Plus it has that whole rhyming thing going for it, which I’m always a sucker for.

Fright Night (2011)

More knitwear woulda been nice.

Charley Brewster is living quietly in Las Vegas with his single mother, when Jerry moves in next door. Charley’s former best friend Ed is convinced that Jerry is not what he seems, and Charley soon finds himself in a fight for his life and that of his girlfriend Amy.

The idea of remaking old horror movies from the seventies and eighties has become almost a tired joke by now. Most of the big names have already been hit, and most without much success. Fright Night is a welcome exception. The original is best known mostly for Chris Sarandon’s urbane vampire Jerry Dandridge – he of the frankly wonderful knitwear collection – and for Stephen Geoffreys’ whacked out performance as “Evil” Ed (as well as his subsequent, ahem, genre specialisation in the nineties*). It was also blessed with Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, the aging horror icon and host of a local cable “midnight movie” show recruited by young Charley for his specialist knowledge of fighting the undead. It was a success in the notoriously difficult horror/comedy genre, in that it made you laugh and it made you scream – an achievement shared by the new version.

They're looking at Colin Farrell yanking his pipe, by the way. I'm not even slightly kidding.

 

Happily, this is not a slavish re-shoot of the original script. The story has been changed in a few key areas which mostly improve things. Probably the biggest switcheroo is the recasting of Peter from an aging (but still pretty spry) actor and soon-to-be-sacked TV host into a successful Las Vegas magician in the Criss Angel mould, played by the Tenth Doctor himself, David Tennant, clearly having a blast as the swear-happy Vincent.

One of these men will be getting considerably more pussy than the other.

Director Craig Gillespie has assembled a cracking cast. Colin Farrell is great as the seductive but increasingly animalistic Jerry. He is more rugged than Sarandon’s version and invests the vamp with every ounce of his trademarked Irish charm, only without the accent, showing a vampire most of whose victims go to quite willingly. Anton Yelchin has grown up a bit since his 2009 double-whammy of Terminator Salvation and Star Trek. The 22 year old is still believable as high-schooler Charley, but he has more of a worldliness to him, as well as an increased physicality. Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays Christopher Mintz-Plasse, although he is much less annoying than he was in Kick-Ass and he gives Ed more depth than Geoffreys managed. Imogen Poots and Toni Collette round things out as Charley’s girlfriend Amy and mother Jane respectively. Both are gorgeous, yet are more than just one-note characters. Collette for one gets much more to do than in Fright Night ‘85, even though she does spend the entire third act unconscious in a hospital bed. Interestingly (to me at least; you probably couldn’t care less), despite five of the six main characters being American, only one of the six actors is American-born. No, you don’t win a prize for guessing.

I'll give you a hint though: it's not this guy. It is actually annoying how good looking he is.

The vampire effects are a well done mix of practical prosthetics and CG enhancement, and it is refreshing to see Farrell himself on screen through most of the climactic fight instead of being needlessly replaced with a big cartoon of a beastie as is so often the way these days. The transformation moments actually look painful to go through, something that is played by both Farrell and Poots as well as being helped by some lovely bone-shifting noises on the soundtrack. The scares as a whole work just as well as the comedy elements. One scene that stands out is done without any effects whatsoever: Charley trying to get his neighbour Doris out of Jerry’s house right under the vamp’s nose. The tension is built up beautifully by all concerned, and the pay-off is a neat switch when you see that Jerry has known what was going on the whole time, but let it play out for his own amusement.

Imogen Poots: Best. Name. Ever. Not a bad smile either.;

The flick was shot in 3D but I only saw the 2D version. There are a few shots of things flying towards the camera as well as a humdinger of a close-up at the climax that could have come out quite well in the 3rd dimension, but it didn’t seem to be overpowering.

Fright Night is out on DVD in the UK this week. It’s worth picking up.

*For those not in the know, or too lazy to ask Wiki, he started doing gay porn. While most porn actors dream of cracking the mainstream, Stephen went the exact opposite direction. Each to their own, I suppose.

5-Word 365 #052 – American Hot Babes

So as I said yesterday, I think I’ll keep this little trend of films where the description is the title going for the rest of the week, just for shits and giggles. Today’s entry will only qualify in some countries though. In the US, it is called Deep in the Valley, but the UK title is:

American Hot Babes

Last Action Hero, with porn.

Two friends, Carl and Lester, stepped into the magical porn booth accelerator and vanished. They awoke to find themselves trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not their own… No, wait, hang on. They awoke to find themselves trapped in an alternative version of their world, where everyone seemed to be in a cheesy porn film. Lester is quite taken with this situation, but poor, whiny Carl just wants to go home. There are also some babes. They are hot, and from America.

I’m just going to come right out and say it: this is a turd. Except for one thing (which I’ll come back to later) this movie is a steaming dump of jokes that aren’t funny and sexy scenes that aren’t sexy. It feels like someone took a script for the 473rd direct-to-DVD American Pie sequel and decided to throw some poorly conceived sci-fi, alternate reality garbage at it. It is awful, and I’ll tell you why.

Firstly, neither one of our “heroes” is in any way likable. Chris Pratt plays Lester as a sleazy asshole who spends his days selling booze to kids and obsessing over porn, as if his personality just stopped developing when he got to age 13. I haven’t seen any episodes of Parks and Recreation yet, but could someone tell me if he is always this irritating? Brendan Hines (obviously slumming it between seasons of Lie To Me) is just annoying as Carl. In the real world framing scenes he is a doormat to his randomly posh, bitchy, English fiancée, and he spends most of the porn world section desperate to get back to her even though Bambi, “the most popular girl in town” is, for some unclear reason, falling in love with him.

Whiny and Sleazy, the two infamous "lost dwarves"

Secondly, this may be among the least sexy films I’ve ever seen. For a movie which takes place in porn world, that is unforgivable. There are plenty of topless shots of comely young women, but everything is shot with such a seeming lack of talent or expertise (or even interest) that it just leaves you cold. If you are going to make a film that takes place in a world where porn is the reality, you should at least have the courage of your convictions. If this film had been made and distributed as an actual porno it might have been a huge success, relatively speaking. Just imagine it: a self-aware, comedy porn film that lampooned its own tropes and conventions while still sticking to them. Executed right, this could even have been the holy grail of the adult film industry: a crossover hit.

l to r: The best thing about the movie; the title of the movie (singular)

The one saving grace in the whole thing is Scott Caan as the local cop Rod Cannon. He just throws himself completely into this ridiculous concept and character without pause and his natural charisma drags you along with him whenever he is on screen. If this had been a Rod Cannon movie, it could have been worth 90 minutes of my time. As it is, it’s not even worth this many words.

Also, Kim Kardashian is in the flick, so Internet Law says I have to include this.

5-Word 365 #051 – Cowboys & Aliens

I made it! I’m back home after the weekend away. It seems the first test of my year-long trial passed mostly without a hitch, and I got to meet my new niece and drink more than I normally would in a fortnight. So that was fun. What with yesterday’s flick and today’s, it looks like this might turn out to be Obviously Descriptive Title Week. I have a couple more in mind to keep me going to the weekend, but if you can think of any yourself, feel free to drop a note on the Suggestions page. And so, let’s get on with it.

Cowboys & Aliens

This Greedo definitely shot first.

James Bond wakes up in the desert with no memory but a weird metal bracelet on his wrist. He goes back to town and meets The Kurgan, then Han Solo shows up and they get attacked by aliens. James Bond’s bracelet turns out to be an alien-killing weapon. Everybody makes friends at the end (except the ones who are dead).

Just to get it out of the way, I love Firefly. That series hinged on the standard tropes and idioms of the Western genre attached to a science fiction setting and it worked gloriously. Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens is the same concept flipped; it’s a Western first with the sci-fi elements grafted to it. The end result is remarkably similar. It’s not wonderful, but it is a very enjoyable flick. It is really not helped by the title though. When I heard that title followed by the phrase “based on the comic” I initially expected something much campier*, more of a typical summer blockbuster with all the gags and quips that come along with that. Not the case. This one is played completely straight. There are no snappy one-liners to be found in the Arizona Territory today. I found it a refreshing change, but as I said, with that presumption it’s no wonder this movie wasn’t quite the financial success it maybe should have been.

I have got to get me one of these! Shit, wrong movie.

The cast are various levels of good to great. Daniel Craig as the amnesiac outlaw Jake Lonergan leads the show, but Harrison Ford rips it right out from under him as the town rich man Colonel Dolarhyde. He’s the surly old bastard of the piece and he gives it his all. Aside from Indy 4, this is clearly the most fun Ford has had in years. He also gets the most in terms of growth. Besides from Jake, he has three key relationships in the movie: one with his son Percy, whose abduction is what spurs (sorry) him on to chase and destroy the extra-terrestrial menace; the other two are with accidental surrogate sons. His scenes with Adam Beach as his native American employee Nate and, to a lesser degree, Noah Ringer as the sheriff’s grandson are when the man really comes alive and you can see who he is beneath all the bluster and money. It’s always a joy to see Clancy Brown in anything, and this movie doesn’t let me down. He’s great as the town preacher and his and Ford’s combined wit is as close to comedy as the film gets. It makes a welcome release from all the dour seriousness of Lonergan. Olivia Wilde I think was let down by all reference to her being “the mysterious woman”. If you can see where the character development is going to end up before you even buy your ticket (or DVD or, you know, whatever) that is not a good thing. I hope you made note of that lesson, Mr Screenwriter.

Although... It is entirely possible that I'm the only one concerned for her character development.

I really love the look of the flick as well. Keen to stay true to the Western traditions, Favreau apparently insisted on shooting on film instead of digital, and going for the full-on anamorphic aspect ratio. Anything else would have been a disservice to the genre all involved were so keen to be a part of. The landscapes are gorgeous, and some of the shots would not look out of place stacked up against such luminary examples as The Searchers and Unforgiven.

I wonder if John Wayne would have been so eager if his niece had been taken by these guys instead.

If you have a film called Cowboys & Aliens, your cowboys are obviously only half the puzzle. How do the aliens come out? Actually pretty good. The design is great, and quite unsettlingly icky too, what with the bulging eyes and the creepy extra arms. They’re sturdy and tough, but not to the point where your suspension of disbelief is called into question when the puny earthlings start fighting back with six-shooters and arrows.

Overall, I’d rate this as an undeserving failure that was hampered by the false preconceptions.

*Not being a fan of the piece, I just read up on the plot of the original comic for comparison. It would be fair to say it seems to have a certain Saturday morning cartoon whiff about it. Also, on an unrelated note, if you Google “Cowboys and Aliens scenery”, this is what you get back:

Me? Pandering?