Friday, 31 December 2010

Flavours of the Month: December 2010...


Twin Peaks - jumping from The Horror Channel to the lovely 10-disc "Definitive Golden Box Edition" DVD (with a healthy dose of extra features), I finished my first tour through the fascinating and memorable oddball drama that was Twin Peaks. If only there had been a third season, because that cliffhanger just leaves you wanting to know what would have happened next. Additionally I dug into the prequel movie Fire Walk With Me, which I talked about in an earlier post.

The Blue Planet - I got this for my birthday months ago, but I hadn't seen it yet, so I figured it was about time I dug into it. Fascinating stuff, but it was the deep sea episode that was my favourite. It's astonishing what's way down there in the inky darkness of the deep sea, isn't it?

Lost: Season One & Two DVD Extras - the show came to an end earlier this year, so I've gone back to the beginning - well, the extra features anyway.

Italian Horror - it's been a lot of Argento-flavoured movies this month, what with Demons 1 & 2 (which he co-wrote & presented), as well as The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, and The Cat O'Nine Tails.

Avatar (Blu-Ray) - a third viewing of James Cameron's mega budget blockbuster. I still dig it.

The Expendables (Blu-Ray) - a ruddy good flick in its own right, but what impressed me most was the feature length making of documentary "Inferno" featured in the UK 3-disc package, which was just superb.


Twin Peaks - Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruse have been providing the background to my web surfing this month with their hypnotic sound.

Goblin "Profondo Rosso" and "Tenebrae" - from the Argento films of the same names.

Shutter Island soundtrack ("Symphony No.3 Passacaglia", and "On The Nature of Daylight") - both are equally as haunting from Scorsese's superior genre flick.


STALKER: Call of Pripyat - I was months late getting into this, but nevertheless I enjoyed the hell out of it. It took a bit of getting into initially, but once I was in, I was all about exploring every nook and cranny. The first game had the better story and climax, but this third entry in the series was the best all-round package.

Seasonal Snow - in January we got a shedload of snow, and this month, not even a whole year later, we got another big old dose of the white stuff accompanied by sub-zero temperatures all month. It's been as cold as -13c in my neck of the woods during the night, so it's been pretty damn cold out there. However it did mean we had a lovely covering of snow on Christmas Day itself, and I can't remember experiencing that before - so that was quite special indeed.

Call of Duty: Black Ops - one of my Xmas presents for this year; it's not perfect by any means (too many scripted moments where you have no player control, muddled battles that leave you a bit confused, endlessly respawning enemies at certain points, and generally not feeling all that different from previous entries in the franchise) ... but on the plus side I did still rather enjoy it (the plot was more interesting and better structured than that of Modern Warfare 2, which was sadly lacking on that front, being inserted into certain historical moments and alternate historical moments was cool, and some of the levels were really damn cool). Hopefully the next CoD game will shake things up considerably - and provide a longer single player experience - but despite some problems that Black Ops sports, I still quite enjoyed it.

The Big Book of Top Gear 2011 - one of the many books I got for Xmas. I've certainly got plenty to read over the coming weeks and months ... this, plus Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1&2, The Walking Dead Vol. 5, "It's Only A Movie" by Mark Kermode, "Driving Us Insane" by Jeremy Klaxon (a spoof), "The Man In The White Suit" by Ben Collins, "The World According To Clarkson: How Hard Can It Be?" by Jeremy Clarkson, and "Ice Cream & Sadness: Cyanide & Happiness Vol. 2" by the Cyanide & Happiness web comic guys.


And being that this is New Year's Eve - to one and all, have a groovy night and a spiffing New Year 2011!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Deadlands 2: Trapped on Blu-Ray review...

The guys over at High-Def Digest have done a review of Gary Ugarek's indie zombie flick Deadlands 2: Trapped - and in the extra features you'll find a familiar something from DeadShed Productions.

"I Am Zombie Man" Series (HD, 39 min) — Three short films by British filmmaker Nick Thomson of Deadshed Productions. After a brief introduction by the writer/director, viewers can enjoy the goofy faux-documentary about a very lonely zombie. It's all done for a laugh and a good time, with the third movie in the series being probably the best.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

My most memorable movie viewing experiences #6...

Graduate and Beyond:

The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005):
When – Summer 2005
Where – Home Video
Why – It was sunny outside, it was the middle of the day, and I was watching the flick on my computer on a relatively small screen – and yet despite the setting, Marshall’s ‘chicks with picks’ claustrophobic horror managed to creep me out and cause me to jump on several occasions. Even with further viewings on DVD it still manages to chill, which in the world of modern horror movies really a special achievement.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007):
When – 2008
Where – Home Video
Why – The titular sequence in Dominik’s luxurious western haunted me for days and days afterwards, but more than that, the entire film was a sumptuously shot slow-burn film with a superb soundtrack. A viewing just recently on DVD recaptured that same impression and I just absolutely loved it.

Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999):
When – January 2009
Where – Home Video
Why – I’d never watched Kubrick’s final film when it originally came out – at a time when I was busily devouring numerous titles from his back catalogue (repeatedly, in some cases) and indeed it took me a decade to finally get around to seeing this after getting the Director’s Series Stanley Kubrick 10-disc DVD box set. Kubrick’s films had long since become a once-in-a-blue-moon event, so it was nice to have this one that I still hadn’t seen – his final film no less – to devour and re-experience the uniqueness of Kubrick’s visions. It’s not perfect, and not his best, but the sense of occasion and the passionate attention to detail was something to behold in itself.

United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006):
When – Summer 2006
Where – Home Video
Why – Greengrass’ frenetic re-telling of the tragic fate which befell the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11th 2001 was a perfectly paced and horrifying affair. The tension and impending tragedy of the situation ratchets up with expert timing, until the final sequence in which the passengers storm the hijackers and attempt to regain control of the plane was nothing short of totally-and-physically arresting. Those last minutes of the film, right before the devastating cut-to-black was beyond an edge-of-my-seat experience, so much so that when the passengers first attacked the hijackers I literally leapt out of my chair, fist thrashing into the air, and exclaimed “get those bastards!” (or something to that effect). I can’t think of any film that I have ever seen that has had such a profound and physical effect upon me. Astonishing.

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008):
When – 2009
Where – Home Video
Why – It’s not a particularly common thing for a horror movie to properly creep me out – not just give me a shock jump – but to genuinely get inside my head and stay there like a nasty infestation. So decisive was the effect of watching this somewhat ‘existential torture’ horror flick, that I had trouble getting to sleep that night, and it remained lurking around in my mind for some time afterwards. Now and then a film will come along that will really get inside your head and trouble you and Martyrs was such a film.

Monday, 20 December 2010

My most memorable movie viewing experiences #5...

Uni Years:

The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941):
When – Autumn 2002
Where – Campus Screening Room
Why – My three years doing my degree in Film & Television Studies was a time when my eyes were opened to a whole host of films that I would have never watched beforehand, and one of the big new things for me was in the first semester of the first year on the Key Issues In Film Studies course when we had a print screening of the Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon. My mid-semester essay was to do with the style of the film, and I became a Bogart fan – consuming Casablanca (one of my all time favourite films, along with The Maltese Falcon), Key Largo, and The Big Sleep in quick succession in the following weeks – and as a result of this tale of Sam Spade, the 1940s has become one of my favourite periods of cinematic history.

Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998):
When – Mid-2000s
Where – Off-Campus Bedroom
Why – While I’d already seen the movie a handful of times since not long after its original release, it was during the Lucas & Spielberg course that I came to do an essay on the opening Omaha Beach sequence – a shot-by-shot breakdown in fact, and when you consider how many shots there are in that first 25 minute sequence, it was an arduous task. Every few seconds I’d be pausing the DVD – sat there in my cramped 6ft by 8ft bedroom – and writing down exactly what was happening on screen and how it would fit into my analysis. I’ve rarely studied a sequence in that much detail, and as a result producing that essay has stuck in my mind ever since.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982):
When – Mid-2000s
Where – Campus Screening Room
Why – Again during the Lucas & Spielberg course, one of the weeks focussed on E.T. – a film that I’d enjoyed as a kid, but for some reason had come to really quite dislike during my teenage years … I’m not entirely sure why, but I was so switched-off to the movie for some reason. Quite to my surprise then, was when we watched the movie together as a class, and I got totally invested in it. What’s more, it actually choked me up, and as a result my opinion of the movie (which had become bitter for no discernable reason) performed a total 180.

La Jetee (Chris Marker, 1962):
When – Mid-2000s
Where – Campus Screening Room
Why – During the Photography & The Arts course, on which I did an in-depth analysis of the visual language of Antonioni’s Blow-Up, a film which really struck me was La Jetee – the film which went on to inspire Twelve Monkeys. The music, the static visuals in their high contrast black and white brilliance, the dark and weird sci-fi plot – it all left a lasting impression.

Saw (James Wan, 2004):
When – 2004
Where – Off-Campus Bedroom
Why – It’s easy to forget now, as a result of annual sequels of diminishing quality, clarity and box office draw, that the original Saw was a grotesquely dark and brilliant indie horror flick that came like a bolt out of the blue. It was truly chilling in its approach to truly chilling subject matter; its violence was stunningly graphic (and not at all expected or old hat as what the sequels produced), and the big reveal at the end literally left my jaw slung low with shock – in fact that entire reveal, brilliant industrial score included (which still sends shivers down my spine to this day), haunted my mind for quite some time afterwards.

Duel (Steven Spielberg, 1971):
When – Mid-2000s
Where – Campus Seminar Room
Why – Less of a viewing of the movie, and more a group presentation of a theory regarding one particular sequence. Once again on the Lucas & Spielberg course, my group and I had drawn the latter’s stunningly gripping debut chase movie, and we proceeded to – jokingly – argue that the entire movie was an allegory for male rape. We argued (with the rest of the class in on the joke, but not the lecturer, whose Modus Operandi for reading movies consistently skewed towards more Freudian territory) that the great big brute of a truck was raping the effeminate little red car and that it was all to do with sexual dominance in the male species.

Now, there is an argument that can be made for such a reading, or part of such a reading – and we were half-serious about it – but it was this deliberate, joking escalation of the theory into perverse territory that has become one of my fondest memories of film school. In fact the lecturer rather liked our theory!

Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004):
When – Spring 2005
Where – Off-Campus Living Room
Why – During the spring semester of our final year at university, tensions and divisions were beginning to present themselves within our group of four in our off-campus house. Personally I found the final six months of university to be quite a stressful time for various reasons, and after a few blow-outs amongst the group, we needed something to regain the sense of fun and unity that had summed up the first two years of our time at uni.

That movie was Napoleon Dynamite and it was introduced to us all by one housemate who was quite taken with it. We sat down to watch it – a background tension in the air – and within twenty minutes we were all laughing uproariously at the quirky indie-com. The movie became the last big thing that we as a house were all about, and we watched it many times – practically quoting the script verbatim as it would play, and not even when we were watching it, just during a normal day. It was such a thing of the moment, for me at least, that I’ve not yet re-watched the movie since – only the odd moment here or there when it’s been on television – however, when I do, I’m sure it’ll take me vividly right back to those final weeks of university when everything got back on track in the house and we all got that sense of fun back.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Double Bill Mini Musings: A load of old Italian cobblers...

Demons & Demons 2:
The Italians, when it comes to the horror genre at least, aren't especially known for particularly great plots. The Italians love the look of something, and that's their primary focus - and so it is with this Dario Argento presented twosome, directed by Lamberto Bava (son of Mario "Bay of Blood" Bava).

The first has a bunch of randomly dated characters (including a pimp-like dude who looks like he got lost somewhere between Saturday Night Fever and a dialogue-light bad guy for Pam Grier to pummel) all attending a secret movie premiere. So begins the movie-within-a-movie, featuring some random mask that cuts you when you put it on and turns you into a demon, who can spread the demon disease through their fingernails. Inexplicably, in the lobby, there is a similar mask (for some reason dangling off the handlebar of a motorbike ... what random movie was this display supposed to be advertising anyway?) that, you guessed it, cuts the cheek of one of the pimp dude's floozies.

She goes all demon on everyone's arse and soon enough the good stuff in the flick finally gets on the go - that being the gore and nonsense violence. Grandiose shots, agonising shots to boot, of demons having their human teeth slowly pushed out by their devilish gnashers (similiar with their fingernails) ... and then constant shots of them wandering around aimlessly screaming ... ... the cast of dated stereotypes and useless fodder, led by the white-suited pimp, barricade themselves and fend off the back-lit, glowing eyed, titular antagonists - and get picked off one-by-one.

Fast forward to a helicopter - for utterly no reason at all - crashing through the ceiling, as well as endlessly dull sequences of coke-headed punks driving interminably around a not-at-all-good-to-look-at Italian city from the 1980s, to simply become yet more fodder, and it's all a bit insufferable, I've got to be honest.

I was rather looking forward to seeing Demons and Demons 2, but neither have the grandiose, painterly vision of Argento's technically superior eye, nor the unmitigated sleaze of Fulci's grindhouse grot. These flicks sit somewhere, uneasily, between, and while Argento's flicks sometimes aren't the strongest when it comes to plot, at least they have one that makes a lick of sense. Demons, and particularly the inferior sequel, is just a bunch of random crap happening.

Speaking of which, the second movie is exactly the same - but in a building - not 'the same like Die Hard 2 is the first one in an airport', no, it's pretty much exactly the same. It again features a movie-within-a-movie, that's supposed to be important, but isn't really, it again features the pimp-in-the-white-suit (this time as a tough-talking gym instructor), it again features a useless rabble of punks insufferably driving around a naff-looking Italian city, it again features gruesomely detailed shots of demon-dental-restructuring, and doesn't make a scrap of sense.

Most of the characters, more so than in the first, are literally nameless, and it's all set in an exceptionally ugly apartment complex filled wall-to-wall with cannon fodder. A bunch of random nonsense happens scene-after-scene in this 'swish' prison, all loosely cobbled together under 'various people need to survive the siege' - and the overacting, just like in the first, is heinous. It's not just naff acting, it's stupendously bad acting, performed by apparently good looking people.

What's worse though is how long it takes for the monsters to transform for most of the movie, until the third act when - for, again, no good reason at all - every remaining side character (in a cast of side characters) instantaneously mutates for 'a scare' (and that's at the same time as being able to impersonate their former selves, which was never flagged up to be an actual ability ... especially as, again, they spend half the movie lumbering around, back-lit, eyes glowing, and screaming endlessly at nothing).

I was really quite interested to see these flicks - the trailers made them look rather enjoyable - but the horrendous scripts, overacting, and general lack of sensible pacing or interest - threw all that out of the window for me. Perhaps if I'd seen them as a young teenager, but there are countless 'lesser' horror movies with far better scripts, acting, and pacing. It wouldn't be so bad if they were 'so bad they're good' (like Zombie Lake, for example), but they're clearly supposed to be something spectacular and they just aren't by any stretch of the imagination. I usually enjoy movies like this, and to each their own, but blimey I really didn't get on with these flicks at all.

Double Bill Mini Musings: Fire Walk (or Run) With Me...

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me:
I've been on a big old Twin Peaks kick this November/December - thanks to the much-improved Horror Channel, and then the spiffing 10-disc box set - so naturally I would be checking out this prequel.

I wouldn't call it "revelatory", as the box art proclaims, but as a newly created big fan of the show, what it actually is, is fascinating, horrific, delerious, weird, disturbing, entrancing and transfixing. I'm not a huge fan of Daivd Lynch's movies, but I have seen a number of them over the years, and considering I had 25 hours and 35 minutes worth of Twin Peaks to go on before venturing into this dark telling of Laura Palmer's last seven days, it has been the most up-to-speed I have ever been for a David Lynch movie.

Indeed I feel after this concentrated Twin Peaks fascination I've just experienced, that I better understand Lynch's work (even though he co-created the show itself with Mark Frost). Perhaps people read too much into his work - in fact, I'm sure of it - film theorists are notorious for reading things into movies and making the simple utterly, utterly complicated, and then film viewers go in expecting it to be a head-screw when in fact things are actually a little more as they seem. It's just that oftentimes, the things as they seem just so happen to be bizarre, dreamlike things.

That's how Twin Peaks plays out - like a dream - and like in dreams, weird things happen inexplicably in the background, and the narrative of your dreams take weird and wonderful divergent turns whenever they feel like it ... and sometimes, weird things just happen. You see something weird that pops inexplicably into your life, or something weird happens to you when you least expect it, and suddenly a whole world of possibilities opens up.

So perhaps with Lynch's work things are actually a little bit more as-they-seem, despite what your assumptions (developed by years of reading-in by theorists) suggest.

The world of Twin Peaks is, simply put, a tale of good and evil, of internal battles, of incest, rape, murder, drugs, infidelity, and everything in-between and - as co-creator Mark Frost said - you'd expect such themes to present themselves in a big city, but in fact it's all here in Twin Peaks - and that's the selling point.

As for the tie-in prequel movie, which unfortunately didn't set the world on fire (thus nixing any possibility of follow-ups that we Peaks Freaks (new and old alike) would have loved to have had considering the cliffhanger end to season two), it dives full-on into territory that is merely alluded to in the TV show - no wonder it's rated 18. It recontextualises what you see in the TV show, and casts a significantly dark shadow over some key characters.

It's a beautiful, hypnotic, slightly confusing, ever-so-unnerving film, and despite being not quite so satisfying in certain areas (i.e. there's not an awful lot of Agent Dale Cooper, even considering the timeline of the movie's plot), it does really satisfy in others. Laura Palmer was the catalyst for the entire series, and was essentially the focus for the majority of the episodes, but all after (and because of) her death. Here she's alive and right at the heart of the storytelling in all it's entrancing, disturbing, and horrific ways.

Marathon Man:
Not an awful lot to say about this one, but I do love a good 'New Hollywood era' movie from the 1970s. The moral ambiguity, the gritty realism of the filmmaking and the New York setting, the non-traditional leads, and the plots - so full of paranoia - a mirror to the confused, bruised and battered psyche of America after the the Vietnam war and various political upheavals in the period when the innocence of the post-war years was lost forever. Marathon Man is one of the films that expertly illustrated this complex state of the nation.

One scene particularly gripped me - when the central antagonist ends up in precisely the sort of area of town they wouldn't want to be recognised - oh and, of course, the famous "is it safe?" sequence.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

General Update-ey-ness...

I've been busy doing a re-edit of Gaia & Genesis for the American market for the last week, so I've not been working on the re-draft of the short version of my (to-be-animated) zombie mini-epic The End, however now that the former is done (or it is bar a couple of tail end things to do in due course), I can return to the latter and see about cranking out a finished version hopefully before Christmas. Or at least before New Year's Eve ... the idea being to get into seeing if I can find a way to get that project moving forward during January.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

My most memorable movie viewing experiences #4...

Formative Years - Part Two:

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (Tony Randel, 1988):
When – Late 1990s/Early 2000s
Where – Television
Why – Having seen the first movie on a grubby dubbed copy, I recorded the second some time later from the TV, and proceeded to begin watching it whilst eating my lunch. The reason this viewing is memorable is that when it got to the scene where a mental patient believes her skin is scrawling with maggots – and we see her arms from her perspective to be doing just that – I actually had to turn it off in order to continue eating. That’s the only time – so far – that that has happened.

Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974):
When – Early 2000s
Where – Television
Why – One shot specifically, on my first viewing of the early slasher flick, wigged me out – namely the wide open eye staring through the gap in the door without the person on the other side knowing. One time when I was a kid I saw a movie on TV – a ghost story type affair – and at one point a man was pushed down a flight of stars and died when he struck the bottom, and they cut to an extreme close up of his wide open eyes. It freaked me out as a kid, and that discomfort with wide open eyes has stuck with me – so that particularly shot in Black Christmas gave me the creeps big style.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron, 1991):
When – Late 1990s
Where – Television/Home Video
Why – I first saw it on the BBC (and it was cut for violence and language), and I foolishly taped over my VHS recording of that broadcast, and no sooner had I done so than I wanted to see it again. It never showed on TV again and eventually, after a long time of waiting, I got it on video and was surprised to see that it was unlike the movie I was used to – namely it was uncut. Finding T2 on video became a mini mission at the time, like some sort of elusive Holy Grail, so when I finally got my mits on it again it was like a big old slice of victory cake.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 1 & 3 (Wes Craven, 1984 & Chuck Russell, 1987):
When – Late 1990s
Where – Home Video
Why – Before I was allowed to watch full-on horror movies at home (I remember being disallowed from watching the first movie when it showed on Channel 4), I got to see the first and third movie over at a friend’s house one night, and it was an illicit thrill to be watching this horror movie I’d heard so much about in the dark. Sneaking around watching horror movies you weren’t allowed to occur for a finite time, and it was a time that certainly made a lasting impression.

Although it wasn’t always horror movies – indeed one of the best examples of a forbidden movie fruit for a good while was the at-the-time-controversial Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction – the former for its tabloid-baiting violence, and the latter for its tabloid-baiting drug use. Whether it was watched on television, or dubbed from a friend’s dub, watching certain movies at a certain point in my life was a secretive thing – movies perceived to be too violent, or too scary, or a bad influence – but it’s just the sort of thing that young teenage boys do. You get bragging rights, and you ascend to the ‘seen it’ club for that flick, and it’s a style of movie watching that so epitomises being a teenager.

The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980):
When – Late 1990s/Early-and-Late 2000s
Where – Home Video
Why – On a school art trip to London, in the time we were afforded afterwards to go hunting around the capital, we stopped in at the huge HMV and – at the age of 14 – bought this 15 rated John Carpenter horror flick. It’s kind of daft and lame now, but at the time it was a thrill to ‘trick the system’ and pass for a year older than I was. However I didn’t much care for the movie on my first watch – I found it slow and far from explicit – but then I rediscovered it several years later and I thought it was genuinely creepy, and a fantastically tense ghost-story-style tale.

The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez, 1999):
When – 1999/2000
Where – Video Rental
Why – At the time the Internet wasn’t in widespread use, and I certainly hadn’t had much experience of the web, so word of a movie such as this was spread person-to-person. Was it real? Many people believed so, although I was only half-convinced … if it really was real, and people had really died, how would they be allowed to release it in cinemas and home video, and create a line of merchandise for it? Regardless, that final sequence proved to be the scariest part of the flick for me. It’s long since been absorbed by the popular culture, but at the time there was a special air about this indie shocker.

Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1976):
When – 1999
Where – Home Video
Why – On holiday in Edinburgh in the summer of 1999, we stopped into HMV and three videos were bought for me (being that I was underage, not that the wise till jockey cared – indeed he commended my taste) – those videos were Graveyard Shift, Evil Ed, and David Lynch’s bizarre debut. I’d never seen a Lynch movie before and its sheer power (in terms of the weird and the disturbing) freaked me out too much. As a result I was only able to watch the movie in portions of 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes – with long gaps in between – it probably took me a good several weeks/few months to see the entire movie, and I’ve not seen it since … but I have been meaning to. Did it leave an impression? You bet it did.

The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982):
When – Mid 1990s and beyond
Where – Television
Why – I was about 10 years old when I first saw John Carpenter’s sci-horror-gore-fest, and initially it fascinated me for the special make up effects. However, as time has gone by and I’ve grown up, the themes of isolation and paranoia have really captured my imagination and built up into a genuine mild fear of the movie. It has become an intimidating flick – just like the equally superior Se7en – that is one of my all-time favourites, but one that sits on the shelf daring me to watch it. When I finally do watch it from time-to-time it’s never quite as horrifying as my mind has led me to believe since my last viewing, but nevertheless, the expertly crafted sense of isolation and paranoia linger aggressively for days afterwards.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Walking Dead Episode Six "TS-19" thoughts...

And so the best thing to happen in the zombie genre since Romero's Day of the Dead comes to the end of its first season, and therefore I can't wait for the season season to begin (and for a full 13 episodes too).

This season closer though was rather good though. Last week's episode led us on the greatest departure from the source material yet, and this week's episode gave us the meat and potatoes of that departure.

TS-19 shared some vibes with Dawn, and Day of the Dead - the false sense of security of the former, and the dire realisation of the latter. Indeed, the exploration of the scientific approach to analysing the zombie outbreak featured in the episode felt like a modern update of Doc Logan's work from Day, so as a big fan of that flick it was great to see a 21st century take on it.

Similar to the fifth episode, this one again proved that TWD is about the people, not the zombies. It could be any world-ending cataclysm, or any monster, really - as it's all supposed to be about the people - indeed towards the end as everyone's facing their possible doom, we get some great moments thrown into the mix, such as Carol's desperate fear, and Jacqui's life changing decision.

TWD has always been a case of - who they were, how they deal with the horrors around them, and who they gradually become. As such it's a slower paced episode, but it's all to do with the characters - so for those into the human drama of the franchise, this was a spiffing season closer (but the action and zombie fans get a jolt towards the end appropriately enough).

Once TS-19 got into its second half it really became about the idea of giving up, and it was portrayed convincingly and chillingly. Jenner proved to be an interesting late addition to the show - and indeed an entirely new addition to the franchise - and his plight was dealt with in an interesting manner. He wasn't some wild eyed loon, or some totally shut-down doomsayer - he had different shades of his attitude throughout, which made him a much more believable character than he might have otherwise been in lesser hands.

In terms of it being a season closer, in addition to a tip-top scene between Andrea and Dale (Holden and DeMunn - both acting their arses off, and further cementing my love of both characters), it wasn't just a big tease for season two. Naturally I wanted to know what happens right after the big closing moment, but equally I wasn't left hanging in the wind - so it was a satisfying blend of the two.

To summarise the season as a whole, it hasn't been perfect - some scenes had wonky dialogue, or some elements didn't convince or intrigue ... such as the opening scene, and titular gang, of episode four "Vatos" ... and on occasion the pacing has been a bit off here and there during episodes, but I'm very pleased with the season over all.

Rick is a strong character, and having read the first four trade paperbacks (so far), it'll be interesting to see how Lincoln's take on the do-right law man will develop as Rick is faced with increasingly trying and complicated circumstances. The Rick/Shane plotline should also develop nicely during the second season, which should ultimately make for some good family drama with Lori and Carl.

Glenn has been a real treat throughout the season, but especially in his earlier episodes, and he remains one of my favourite characters in the show - however Andrea and particularly Dale have really stolen my interest most. I can't wait to see how their characters develop during the second season. Daryl Dixon has also been a pleasant surprise - after an initially underwhelming introduction that drew him as a generic redneck racist, he was allowed to grow in episode four (and beyond) to become a useful member of the group (albeit a hot headed and unpredictable one).

I could go on, but instead of rambling I'll re-confirm my assertion that The Walking Dead has been the best thing to happen to the zombie genre since Romero's Day of the Dead, and it's all the better for featuring zombies that don't effin' run!

Here's hoping the DVD/BR box set release will be a good one with plenty of extra content!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

My most memorable movie viewing experiences #3...

Formative Years – Part One:

The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981):
When – 1998
Where – Home Video
Why – After school one day we stopped in at the local post office, and for the previous few weeks they had had a bargain bin for videos, £5 a pop. I’d already nabbed a number from there, but having just that week heard about Sam Raimi’s gruesome horror from friends (who summed it up somewhat dismissively as “pencil stabbing and oozing mashed potato”), I knew that it was in fact going to be something special.

Still decidedly too young to buy it for myself, my Mum and the shop girl joked about how neither of them would watch it in a million years as it was bought for me, and then away home. Initially it was a bit slow, but as soon as the gore starting flying my jaw hit the floor – so as you can imagine, the final act promptly inspired me to flip my lid. At the time it was the goriest film I’d ever seen, and at that point in time the BBFC hadn’t entered its post-Ferman age, so this copy was the rather butchered version borne out of the ‘Video Nasty’ era (this being named “the #1 nasty”) – but still, it became an all-time favourite, and an inspiration.

The George A. Romero Undead Saga (George A. Romero, 1968, 1978, 1985, 2005, 2007, 2009):
When – 1998, 1999, 2005, 2007, 2010
Where – Home Video/Multiplex Cinema
Why – in May 1997 I bought a copy of SFX magazine during a school trip because in the corner of the front cover I saw the name “George A. Romero”, a name which I’d heard was synonymous with the zombie genre – a genre that had recently become of interest to me, despite having never really seen any zombie movies before. That article, in connection with the release of the Cannes Cut (distributed incorrectly as the “Director’s Cut”) on home video by BMG, made me ravenous about seeing Dawn of the Dead. Initially however, it eluded me, for what seemed like forever.

However, in a local Woolworths I came across a copy of Day of the Dead (a couple of fascinated images from which appeared in the aforementioned SFX article) for £5.99 – so I snatched it up (or rather, it was bought for me, as I was still an early teen at this point) and hurried home to check it out. Having only recently been awed by the gory delights of The Evil Dead, I was soon astounded by the Tom Savini’s make-up effects. It blew my mind.

Fast forward a bit and we have Night of the Living Dead, and Dawn of the Dead. The former was a good flick from the get-go (a friend and I even did a soft toy spoof version, a la The Adam & Joe Show), but it was the latter that stunned me silent. I remember putting the video on, sitting down, and then 2 hours and 20 minutes later I was left, still on the edge of my seat, jaw literally agape, as the sound of the clock bell echoed into nothingness. It became, and remains, my all-time number one favourite movie.

Fast forward again to the release of Land of the Dead – my first Romero flick in the cinema, and a zombie one to-boot. I watched it with a fellow Romero fan, and an audience who was likewise in-tune with what was happening on-screen … except for the trio who clearly couldn’t get in to see Guy Ritchie’s new film (Revolver), who promptly fled once the innards really started to fly.

A couple of years later and there I was, the only time I’ve been to the cinema alone, seeing Diary of the Dead. It was me, a couple, and one other guy who sodded off part-way in (maybe he worked there, I don’t know). The lens dipped whilst the projectionist was away, and while I said that I loved it, deep down I was disappointed by it. My relationship with Diary has been all over the place ever since.

Finally we come to Survival – not a memorable viewing, but I enjoyed finally getting to see it, even if it was direct-to-DVD here in the UK. It’s not perfect, but I dig it.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974):
When - 1999
Where – Home Video
Why – 1999 was a decisive time in my formative years, as the British Board of Film Classification entered a new era when James Ferman left, and a whole slew of previously banned films were finally released and went straight onto the home video market. In this instance a friend had rented it, dubbed it, and then I dubbed his dub – so I had this third generation copy (or you could argue fourth generation what with the original video having to be sourced en mass, however that’s done) and I remember eating dinner whilst watching the flick – the picture and audio were fudgy, being a dub-of-a-dub, but it only served to make the experience of first seeing this notorious video nasty all the more illicitly thrilling.

Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980):

When - Late 1990s/Early 2000s
Where – Home Video/Television
Why – Similar to Chainsaw Massacre, my first copy of Friday 13th was a dub-of-a-dub, and so the fudgy visuals and audio again served the illicit thrill of watching this landmark slasher flick. Furthermore, a few years later, a group of us all sat down to watch it at a house party – and one of the girls was terrified of horror films – so on more than one occasion, including the famous final jump, the more devious-minded of us would sneak up behind her and scare the bejesus out of her.

The rest of the flicks I would see in a somewhat scattered pattern on home video and television, and as close as I can figure it the order went something like this – 1,2,3,4,8,9,6,7,10,5 … although I can’t remember exactly.

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971):
When – 1999/2000
Where – Home Video
Why – Of all the films from my formative years, Kubrick’s balletic tale of ultra violence was one of the most influential – and it was certainly the most influential of my final year of High School. It was one of the most iconic of the video nasties era – and it hadn’t even been banned (it was removed in the UK by Kubrick himself after so-called copycat incidents occurred) – so with the combination of a change of leadership at the BBFC, and the death of Kubrick himself, his self-imposed ban was lifted.

I saw the movie, read the book and listened to the soundtrack repeatedly. It was so influential in fact that the exam project for my GCSE 2D Art was directly inspired by it utilising a mixture of adapted images from it, and images referencing it.

The Fly II (Chris Walas, 1989):
When – 1993/1994
Where – Television
Why – At age 9 I began to watch horror movies, albeit ones that were as much science fiction as they were horror, and the sequel to David Cronenberg’s ultimate body horror remake was one of those introductory movies. Certain scenes gave me a jump – such as the mangled, grotesque dog lunging out of the darkness – and certain scenes gave me reason to repeatedly rewind and review (frame by frame) to examine how the special effect worked – such as the guard who gets crushed by an elevator.

What was more memorable though was my Dad, quite rightly, making sure that the difference between reality and fiction was concrete – speaking of the guy crushed by an elevator, I remember him saying something along the lines of ‘if that character was real he’d have a wife and kids, and someone would have to tell them he was dead’ – I kind of chuckle about it now, but it was a subtle way to just re-affirm that a movie is just a movie, and horrific things happen in the real world that actually have to be dealt with.

Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979):
When – 1993/1994
Where – Television
Why – Along with The Fly 2, this was one of the first horror movies (also part sci-fi) that I ever watched, at the tender age of 9. At the time I found it a bit dull, I must confess, what with the long takes creeping around the Nostromo, and the subtle use of the titular xenomorph itself – however it implanted itself into my mind, and I now consider it a true classic.

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978):
When – Mid-to-Late 1990s
Where – Television
Why – While I’d already started to watch adult oriented movies like Alien, The Fly 2, and the Terminator movies, I hadn’t gotten into (or, really, been allowed to get into) proper horror movies – and in this case, Carpenter’s seminal slasher. I remember watching this one weekend morning with the door closed, the sound turned down really low and with my finger hovering nervously over the ‘STOP’ button.

Similar to Alien, at the time I considered it a bit dull and light on the violence, but also like Alien I quickly came to view it as a true classic. However, it was the illicit thrill of watching this taboo horror flick that really stuck in my mind.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hextuple Bill Mini Musings: December 2010...

Toy Story 3:
Having not had the chance to see it in the cinema, I was eager to see this closing chapter the founder of Pixar's continuing success and creative superiority to various imitators of what they do best.

It's a nostalgic trip, a chortle-inducer, a touching human/toy drama, and even a stunningly dramatic flick. On the latter I'm of course referring to the final act, particularly that one scene - and those who have seen it, know exactly what I'm talking about. Hands down it's the single most moving and stunning moments in Pixar's history. Bravo Pixar. Bravo.

A fellow Homepage of the Dead poster mentioned this undead indie flick, so I took a punt and checked it out on DVD. A couple of high school outcasts ditch school and go to the local abandoned mental hospital to drink, smoke and cause havoc. During their exploration of the basement they discover a naked girl bound to a metal gurney - but as it turns out, she's undead.

I'm sure from that sentence you can surmise what happens afterwards, and it is indeed bizarre at least, and rather gross at most. Turns out this is from the Trent Haaga's back catalogue of banked screenplays - Haaga being one of those who has had a lot of experience at long-running exploitation merchants Troma. Indeed at times it feels like a Troma movie - but only after an entirely different, more serious coming-of-age tone has been established - and this is where the movie feels uneasy, but not in terms of the content (as disturbingly weird as it is). When these 'Troma moments' strike (albeit rarely) you feel wrong-footed, so ultimately the film feels a little confused as to what kind of horror flick it wants to be - but nevertheless by the final act it's gotten itself back on track and figured itself out to a solid conclusion.

Law Abiding Citizen:
I had zero interest in seeing this at the cinema, but Sky Movies were showing it and so I checked it out to see if it was any cop - turns out it was pretty average, as I'd figured. With lesser names behind it you could imagine it being some kind of straight-to-DVD thriller, because for the most part it's pretty ... well, average.

Until moments of SAW-like violent strikes, and then you wonder what sort of thriller this is supposed to be. There's a couple of genuine shocks in it, but it's fairly standard stuff. Only a couple of jolt-moments will linger in your memory for any time afterwards.

Four Christmases:
Sometimes you just want to watch something that's a bit rubbish, like eating food you know full-well is bad for you. So I guess that's why, deep down in my subconscious somewhere, that I ever bothered to watch this entirely predictable (as in not just from a mile of, but from the surface of the Sun predictable) chortle-free affair.

Two pretty unlikeable successful people are forced to attend the titular number of festivities and just a load of old cobblers happens for 90 minutes, with each Xmas that succeeds the one before it becoming increasingly throw-away to the four - count 'em, FOUR - credited screenwriters.

Seriously. How on earth did it take FOUR people to write this lightweight tosh?

The Informant!
Full of Soderbergh's style, and rather dry comedy, but at least Damon turns in a good performance. It went on a bit too long and I never got into the vibe of it all, but it was a nice surprise to see Thomas F. Wilson (Biff from Back to the Future) turn up.

Happy Birthday To Me:
It's been on the 'to do list' for quite some time, so when The Horror Channel inserted it into their schedules I figured it was about time to barge it out. Compared to some of the other slashers of the era, it's got a decent production value behind it, and the plot - albeit a bit long winded and confusing at times - is ultimately interesting. That said, it takes entirely too long to get to the point, and the crescendos (i.e. the kills) are mostly let downs for their insanely brief screen time. So it was a mixed bag for a slasher, which had some really off-moments tossed into the mix (like attempts to suggest 'could this guy be the killer?' in the second act), but over-the-piece it was pretty decent.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Walking Dead Episode Five "Wildfire" thoughts...

The penultimate episode of the first season of the AMC/Darabont/Hurd/Kirkman show The Walking Dead has been and gone, and blimey was it a great episode - indeed I'd say it's the best episode of the season outside of the pilot (unless the finale steals the win at the last minute - time shall tell on that matter).

The opening of the episode was superb, with Andrea swamped by her grief while everyone else in the camp knows what will have to be done - not only is this whole portion of the episode very dramatic and moving, but it's tense - "when will they turn", you wonder to yourself. Furthermore, when the expected finally occurs, it's a wonderfully played scene that plays the 'resurrecting as a zombie' angle, which we've seen so many times before, in a new and fascinating way. Similar to the dispatching of the 'bicycle zombie' from the first episode, the scene is full of pathos.

Speaking of pathos, Dale's moment with Andrea was nothing short of truly moving, and establishes the pair's relationship, which - in the comics - was already thoroughly on-the-go by the time Rick showed up at camp. So once again the television adaptation is taking things in a slightly new direction along the same path - and in a way that feels more real, and ultimately more satisfying as a viewer.

Meanwhile, dealing with the bodies left over from the night before, we're treated to yet more awesome gory treats from KNB Effects, who have continually shown throughout this season that they are (and have been for some time) the current masters of the macabre.

This adaptation has taken some significantly different turns along the already established path from the comic books, and I was wondering how this would play out (after last week's preview of this fifth episode), but I'm pleased to say that it's working really well. The intelligent group dynamic of the comics continues to be expressed in the show - a real treat in itself when you've seen countless zombie movies where idiots make even dumber decisions as a matter of course.

There was a chillingly good moment where the Rick/Shane dynamic's crumbling is illustrated in very clear terms. Again, in the comics it's much quicker to appear, and somewhat comes as a surprise, but throughout the show the key players have taken quality themes that were already established, and explored them in different ways that make for very satisfying viewing. The moment where Dale discovers Shane in a less than favourable position was pitch perfect, and further established Dale (as expertly played by Jeffrey DeMunn) as one of my favourite characters on the show.

Speaking of the characters, there are some great beats littered throughout - most notably in connection to Jim, who (in a way direct from the source material) has to come to terms with a troubling realisation. Indeed that entire portion of the show really signalled the sort of tough drama we'll be in store for when the second season rolls around.

It was good to see, or rather hear, a track from the soundtrack for Danny Boyle's Sunshine, a piece of music that has always given me chills - but considering the context in which it is used in this episode, it was doubly chilling.

Moving into the second half of the episode, the part that I was most concerned about for this episode (based on last week's preview of this episode), was all the stuff centering on the CDC (which was established in the first episode). This is a significant change of direction from the source material, but fortunately it works out very well indeed - to see the 'science of the dead' examined in very realistic terms (as further evidenced by the online preview scene from episode six, "TS-19") was very, very cool.

Finally, outside the CDC, the sight of Rick's impassioned desperation as he pleads with a CCTV camera above the sealed-off doors of the CDC complex, was absolutely fantastic - and importantly further suggests the sort of dramatic treats we'll have in store for us come season two (when you consider what takes place over the next couple of volumes of the trade paperbacks). To say that the cliffhanger ending left me wanting more - immediately - is an understatement.

Roll on episode six - the season finale!

Screenwriting update ... a return to my zombie mini-epic "The End" ...

I mentioned a few posts back that I was seeking to end the creative dry spell, and so I've been working on a re-draft of the short version of "The End", my own little zombie epic. I had originally done a short version a couple of years ago, then I turned that into a 130 page feature length epic-of-epic-proportions, and now I'm essentially taking the essence of the beginning of the feature length version and a re-jigging of the short version and putting them together to make a new version of the short version ... if that makes sense.

The idea is to hopefully find a talented, artistic someone who can do 2D computer animation (like a motion comic, or perhaps more) and turn this in-progress new draft of the short version of "The End" into an animated short (of around 15 minutes) - it would be a great opportunity for such a someone to showcase their computer animating talent. Indeed that's part of the idea, for it to be a showcase of the respective talents of those who would be involved, and to then spread the film virally around the internet to gain recognition.

This new draft is coming along nicely, and basically it's a condensed version of exactly what I'd love to see in a shambler zombie movie. So that's what I'm working on right now (with Allen Bridge still being chewed on, as it's the trickiest script I've so far ever embarked upon - plus, I want to get it right first time ... relatively speaking ... so in addition it's a big learning experience all of its own).

Step2TV "New Talent Interview" Q&A...

A couple of weeks ago I was approached by to be a part of their "New Talent Interview" blog series. They sent me the questions, I provided my answers, and they're now up on the website:

The Q&A itself centers around The Inevitable Decomposition of Zombie Man (which is included on the page).

Thursday, 2 December 2010


As soon as I saw the trailer at the head of Grindhouse/Planet Terror, I knew I wanted to see a feature length version of Machete, and now three years later here we are. Disappointingly there was barely (if any) pushing of this flick here in the UK. If you weren't somehow in the know, you wouldn't know a damn thing about it being in the cinemas.

As such the screening we went to was a bit on the sparse side, but even still it was a ruddy good old time. The pre-title sequence is the movie at quite possibly it's best - to say it starts of strong is an understatement. Heads and limbs are lopped off, gags are thrown out to the audience, and generally speaking there's just a bunch of bad-assery going on for five minutes.

Continuing the vibe established by the under performing (Theatrical Box Office wise) cult extravaganza Grindhouse, Machete goes for the 'dirty old print' look (albeit in a far subtler way), and pretty much just wants to have fun with over-the-top characters in over-the-top situations. The guys are tough and the girls are smoking (and pretty tough themselves), and the violence is brutally humorous.

Sticking the various set pieces together (the best of which are found in the first half) is a plot relating to illegal immigration, which is fair enough as without that the plot would be drearily similar to countless other exploitation flicks. However, what is disappointing is that Rodriguez & Co never really bother to get into the meat of the issue - it's pretty much 'the proponents of a great big fence are murderous uber-rednecks, and those against are poster boy freedom fighters' ... weirdly, for an exploitation flick, the plot is a bit undercooked. If you're going to introduce an interesting start point for a plot, at least dive into it, rather than leave the stone half turned.

Indeed it's when the movie focuses on getting some of the plot out of the way that the movie dips, in that it begins to lack some of the memorable moments that we are treated to so regularly in the first half. It's as if the throttle keeps slipping in the second half, which is unfortunate, because when the movie is cooking it's on fire.

Danny Trejo is fun-as-hell as the titular short-talking tough-guy hero - getting great lines like "Machete don't text" to play with, and hot chicas to bed throughout - while the supporting cast dive into the fun of it all, most notably Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, and Robert DeNiro, the latter of whom is a bit underused.

This was the sort of flick that had already shown us many of it's best bits in the faux trailer that preceded Planet Terror, although it was fun to pinpoint where the existing shots turn up, and where certain changes have been made along the way. Machete had a lot of hype going into it, so perhaps that explains the slight twinge of disappointment that I felt in the second half of the flick, but now that I've seen it, it'll be good to see it a second time - on its own terms for exactly what it is.

However, despite some slow points in the second half, and a slightly underwhelming finale, Machete is a rip-roaring good time that does what exploitation movies are supposed to do - give the audience bad ass dudes, sexy tough girls, and an over-the-top sense of action and violence.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Flavours of the Month: November 2010...


The Walking Dead - as you will have noticed I have been putting up my thouhts about each episode every week, so you can read what I've thought of this spiffing new undead TV series from AMC.

Twin Peaks - the Horror Channel has been having a David Lynch season this month, and the tentpole of it has been the showing, from start-to-finish (at the time of writing it's still part-way into season two), of Twin Peaks. I had never seen it before, but knew of it, and being a fan of the videogame Alan Wake, it's interesting to see where various elements of that game came from (indeed the creators are big fans of Lynch's dream-like drama).

Avatar 3-disc (Blu-Ray) - if only every studio/distributor would tell you in advance that a kick arse version of a movie on disc was coming later on. Fortunately Fox and James Cameron put it out on front street that Avatar would be getting a super-duper home video release in due course (when they were launching the vanilla disc). Naturally, being a whore for making-of documentaries and special features in general, I bided my time and finally I got my mits on Cameron's eco-actioner. It may not be in 3D this time, but now I get to view it without the 30% loss in brightness/contrast (such as you get with 3D glasses) and with 16 extra minutes (which, handily, you can view on it's own if you want to).

As far as the new footage goes, some is mere extensions, but quite a bit of it provides worthwhile new content and background. We get to see what Earth has become (providing good grounding and context, as well as visible reason, for mankind's actions on Pandora - it's a nice Blade Runner-esque counterpoint too), and learn more about Augustine's school and her relationship with the Na'vi. You can still see plotpoints coming from miles away, but Cameron's work has often (if not always) worked in popular broadstrokes. In short, it was great to get back to Pandora.

Toy Story 3 2-disc (Blu-Ray) - I never got to see it in the cinema, and I'll blog about the film separately, but it was great to finally get to see Pixar's latest, and well, that moment (if you've seen it, you'll know what I mean) was jaw dropping. That entire sequence was jaw dropping in fact. Bravo Pixar. Bravo.

The American Nightmare - I've seen Adam Simon's documentary on the American/Canadian horror flicks of the 1960s and 1970s several times over the last several years, and it's still a joy to watch. Informative, incisive and creepily stylish in its construction. A must-watch for any fan of the horror genre.


Airbourne "Runnin' Wild" - I already had the vice-rock group's second album, so it was about time I caught up with their debut. Fast, loud, wild and all about women, drink and everything in between. Inspired by the sound of AC/DC, it's a thrashingly good time.

Angelo Badalamenti "Twin Peaks Theme"/"Laura Palmer's Theme" - unsurprisingly, having gotten into Twin Peaks at long last, Badalamenti's dreamy score has become one of the constant sounds of November for me.

Godspeed You Black Emperor "Moya" - I'd always wondered what that mournful-then-energised music was in The American Nightmare, but I finally found it, and it's mesmerising.


Solitaire - sometimes when I'm listening to shows from the SModcast Podcast Network I'm not doing all that much, but then I remembered about Solitaire (which I used to play quite a bit in the 1990s), and I've become oddly fascinated by it again. It took me ages to get a win on it initially however as I kept running into dead ends - frustratingly so - fortunately the vagaries of a computer software's random card dealing didn't last long and I've been enjoying this little trip down memory lane.

Dead Rising 2 - I've got it for the 360, but I'm not good enough at it to do the story (or the rest of it anyway), so I got it for the PC so I could use cheats to just run around having all sorts of fun - and, importantly, actually get to play the story mode. You might think that slaying thousands upon thousands of zombies with a Light Machine Gun (or a Humvee) would get boring, but you'd be wrong.

STALKER: Call of Pripyat - I was a big fan of the original STALKER game (Shadow of Chernobyl), which provided the best atmospheric dose of gaming that year (2007, if memory serves), and while the follow-up (Clear Sky) was a bit disappointing towards the end it again provided that jolt of The Zone that we "STALKERs" crave ... in 2007 I got into the whole thing in a big bad way with the game, and the movie and book upon which it was based (not to mention absorbing documentaries about the real "Zone" itself). Anyway, it's been on the to-do list for a while, but I finally got around to it.

Unfortunately the DirectX 9 graphics are nowhere near as good as they were in Clear Sky (no doubt to push the DX10/11 technology), and while the pace is a bit slow so far, I'm getting into the world of STALKER all over again. It might be feeling a bit dated and too-samey to the previous two games, but you can't deny the lure of lurking around the rotting ruins of "The Zone".

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday 13th by Peter M. Bracke - I got this for my birthday and I've only just gotten around to it, and boy will it be a long old read. Nevertheless I've covered the first two movies in the long-running franchise. It's a must-have for any fan of the franchise as it's crammed with behind the scenes photos and mountains upon mountains of information from those involved.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Walking Dead Episode Four "Vatos" thoughts...

Straight out of the gate, episode four was a mixed bag for me - the opening scene was troublesome. The purpose of the scene was good, but the dialogue used to get there didn't work for me, it felt forced and convoluted and as if we'd joined a conversation half-way-done (in that perhaps we could have used some more time with Amy and Andrea to get to know them a bit better).

Later in the episode we have the titular gang, and again it didn't play particularly well for me. It didn't feel entirely necessary, and it felt undercooked. There was some interest provided by it, but the gang weren't awfully compelling and their segment of the episode generally seemed a bit weak.

Fortunately, being a mixed bag, there was plenty of good stuff too that allowed me to still enjoy the episode. While there isn't a huge amount of high pressure tension on offer with The Walking Dead (unlike other TV big hitters like 24 or Lost) - so far at least - we finally get some time with the character of Jim, in an impressive couple of scenes that developed the already impressive counterpart scenes from the graphic novel - indeed, this episode was written by franchise originator Robert Kirkman.

A nice touch was Glenn's intelligent approach to leading the gang through Atlanta - Glenn has been consistently entertaining throughout the season, and is one of my favourite characters. Furthermore it was good to see Daryl Dixon fleshed out a bit more as in previous episodes he was mostly the 'unpleasant redneck', but in this episode they were able to set him up as a useful member of the team - someone who is skilled at zombie hunting (when he's not having an impassioned wig-out, that is).

So after the first half which was a mixed bag, the second half - particularly the fourth act of the episode - really brought things up to standard. It illustrated exactly how enough shamblers can catch you off guard and provide a real threat - when you're dealing with one, all the others will continue to steadily advance, and you can easily find yourself overwhelmed and distracted.

This sequence provided some real treats for the gore hounds, and as I'd figured, some of the nameless potential cannon fodder lived up to their purpose and took it on the chin so-to-speak.

However, it wasn't just the background fodder who got it in the neck ... suffice to say, Laurie Holden got to act her arse off in a wonderfully performed moment that, for me, stole the entire show - but another nice character moment was provided by Dale talking at the campfire about his watch. DeMunn's intelligent and amiable performance continues to capture exactly who his comic book counterpart is.

So all-in-all it turned out to be a good episode, despite the wobbles of the first half, and it'll be interesting to see where they go with the two remaining episodes of this season - by the looks of the 'next time on' teaser they will be straying from the source material once again with a new side plot. As a reader of the graphic novels (I've done the first four trade paperback volumes so far) it's nice to not just have a direct translation, but at the same time I haven't fully made up my mind yet about how much they're working outside of the established box, but so far it's working quite well - it's not been perfect, but it's been good.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

My most memorable movie viewing experiences #2...

Childhood Favourites:

Ghostbusters 1 & 2 (Ivan Reitman, 1984, 1989):
When – Late 1980s/1990/Early 2000s
Where – Television/Home Video
Why Ghostbusters was my entire world in my earliest years. The movies, particularly the first, the spin-off cartoon The Real Ghostbusters, and a whole array of toys (including the Proton Pack, which was a must-have kids toy for Christmas – my Dad successfully acquired one for me FYI) … suffice to say, bustin' ghosts was a big deal.

I just thought the Ghostbusters were the coolest guys on the planet, and I would repeatedly watch the show and the movies. Then when I moved into my teenage years I got wrapped up in a whole bunch of other movies and it wasn’t until my second or third year at university that I rediscovered the two flicks on DVD and it was a fantastic re-introduction to what was still a childhood favourite in my mind.

This time however, at the age of 20/21, I suddenly understood all the adult jokes and comedy, and it was like watching a whole new movie, but at the same time as watching one which I knew so well it was like it was in my bones. Sound effects, musical cues, lines of dialogue, the pacing of the editing etc – so ingrained in my memory from repeated childhood viewings. What’s more it was my first chance to see the flicks in their original aspect ratio – as a child I had no understanding of the horror that is Pan & Scan, and in the VHS era everything was Pan & Scanned.

Back to the Future trilogy (Robert Zemeckis, 1985, 1989, 1990):

When – Late 1980s/Early 1990s/Early 2000s/2010
Where – Television/Home Video/Cinema
Why – Like the Ghostbusters, I thought Marty McFly was one of the coolest guys on the planet – but throw in a time travelling DeLorean (I was, like most boys, fascinated with cars) and a tip-top script and they had my attention. I was only a year old when the first movie came out, so it wasn’t until it was shown on television/home video that I got to see it. Then the back-to-back sequels came out, but I can’t remember if I saw the second one on video or at the cinema. However, one of my earliest cinema-going memories was seeing the third film on the big screen.

Similar to Ghostbusters, a number of years went by without seeing any of them, and so I rediscovered them on the 3-disc DVD box set several years ago. Yet again it was like no time had passed, and thanks to multiple childhood viewings, the dialogue, sound effects, music, and everything in-between was as fresh in my memory as it had been a good fifteen years prior.

Finally, with the 25th anniversary of the first movie, I got to see the original flick on the big screen - and even though I'd seen it dozens of times, it was a superb experience, which I wrote about at-length here:

Short Circuit 1 & 2 (John Badham, Kenneth Johnson, 1986, 1988):

When – Late 1980s/Early 1990s/Early 2000s
Where – Television/Home Video
Why – As far as I was concerned as a kid, Johnny Five was alive, and being a small boy I was fascinated by robots. Looking back on the films today, as the Nostalgia Critic has done, there are some questionable elements to the films, but I guess it was a more innocent time - and as a kid, nothing about the flick was questionable.

Yet again, fast forward to my second or third year at university and I rediscovered both films on DVD, and once again my memory of them was so strong that I could anticipate the sound effects, music cues, pace of the editing and so on. My love of these two movies came flooding back, from the sense of wonder of the first film, to the final act of the second movie which packs two memorable punches - Five's attack, and Five's capturing of the bad guy. What's more I got to see them in their original aspect ratio at long last, which is particularly important for the first film, which has been dreadfully Pan & Scanned in the past (a recent showing on Channel 5 was quite possibly the most horrendous Pan & Scan job I've ever seen).

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993):

When – 1993/2010
Where – Multiplex Cinema
Why – In the summer of 1993 the movie to see was Jurassic Park. I went crazy for this movie, looking forward to the weekend matinee showing with such anticipation it was like an early Christmas. Then there we all were, in the darkened cinema, watching dinosaurs come to life – at the time the CGI was like nothing we’d seen before and was truly a marvel to behold – but aside from the fantastic effects (both CG and practical), it was Spielberg doing what he does best. The pacing is ideal and the action sequences are tense and impressive, but even more than that the characters were interesting.

That summer was all about Jurassic Park; it was without a doubt a phenomenon. I read the kid’s version of the book, the comic book run, got the making-of book, and went nuts for it on video. Then, yet again, I didn’t see it for many years until 2010 when I rediscovered it on Sky Movies. The movie was still fresh, still tense, still exciting, and the assured pacing remained impressive – more-so now that I’m of an age (and film education background) that I can seriously appreciate just how good the movie is and how it holds up so well. It’s amazing to think that come 2013 it’ll be twenty years old.

Batteries Not Included (Matthew Robbins, 1987):

When – Late 1980s
Where – Television/Home Video
Why – like with Short Circuit, I was fascinated by robots (in this case robot space aliens that recycle scrap metal and feed on electricity), but it was also the spectacle of this crumbling old apartment building that really captured my imagination. However, the sequence that truly fascinated me was, perhaps oddly, when the building burns down. It was a thrilling experience to see that, and – weirdly – it became a little bit of a obsession with me. I would draw versions of that sequence over and over in my drawing books as a kid, not that I was some kind of arsonist-in-waiting, but it was the spectacle of that sequence that really grabbed my attention.

Looking back I think that that sequence, among other favourite moments from the movies listed here, that helped plant the seed in my mind that filmmaking was what I wanted to do in life – something that I wouldn’t finally realise and figure out until I was 18.

The Money Pit (Richard Benjamin, 1986):

When – Late 1980s
Where – Television/Home Video
Why – I think the unrequited Architect in me was drawn most to this movie (the same part of me which is drawn to Channel 4’s Grand Designs), and I became fascinated with this crumbling old mansion (particularly the collapse of the staircase). It’s funny how certain things can grab you as a child, and this was one of those cases – I wasn’t fussed about the plot (I'd frequently fast forward to the point where they'd arrive at the house), I was just interested in Tom Hanks’ trials and tribulations with this unmitigated disaster of a fixer-upper.

It's still a fond favourite of mine, even if it was a bit of an 80's rip-off of Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House (H.C. Potter, 1948), and it always manages to transport me back to the TV room in the first house I lived at ... so more of a personal favourite than a critical favourite, but so what, eh?

Monday, 22 November 2010

General updates...

Been having some meetings of late - trying to get some contacts to try and move a project or two forward from the idea stage. There's two ideas - a feature length live action ensemble comedy done in a grass roots style purely here in Herefordshire, and the other is a motion comic short (around 15 minutes long in my mind) based on a script I did a while back.

Script wise, Summer Road is still in at the BBC Writersroom, and I've returned to working on Allen Bridge. I guess after finishing the former I was a bit drained creatively speaking, and despite the odd flourish of ideas here or there on the odd days, it has been a bit dry in the old noggin - however I'm looking to dive back into the creative juices now that my brain has had a bit of time to decompress from one big script before I get really going on the next big script - which is still Allen Bridge, my drama/thriller/mystery with a touch of something else to it.

Sometimes things just tick along in the back of your mind for a few weeks in between main projects. It's always the way between drafts of a script - you need two or three weeks to leave it alone and decompress your mind about it before you can get going again, so it's kind of like that, but a bit bigger and a bit longer.

Point being though, I'm getting the creative juices flowing again. I'm really looking forward to figuring out Allen Bridge, which is - at the moment - kind of half-figured in my mind. It's definitely a far more complex and involved script, and just the very nature of writing a mystery (or part mystery) brings its own set of challenges - but ones I'm looking forward to tackling.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Walking Dead Episode Three "Tell It To The Frogs" thoughts...

After the extended first episode which introduced us to the key characters (but specifically Rick Grimes), and the wider world of the zombie apocalypse, and after the second episode which gave us a jolt of zombie destruction writ large, comes the third episode which fully chows down on the meat of the character interplay that is so central to the source material.

Glenn continues to entertain and provide the voice of the average viewer, brandishing a pleasing mixture of wit, common sense, and moments of child-like wistfulness. The first two episodes were a bit light on several key characters, but episode three fleshes-out the likes of Lori, Shane, and Dale nicely. Jeffrey DeMunn brings an old school sense of class and intelligence to his role - a perfect match for his character in the comic books - while the whole Rick/Lori/Shane triangle is given a more satisfying angle here than in the original material.

The characters here really think things through, and so much is left appropriately unsaid - merely written in glances and body language - and it makes for a satisfying viewing experience. If someone is thinking of doing something stupid or dangerous, someone else will call them on it, but then the reasoning will come through. Decisions are nicely thought-through, specifically Rick's reasoning for going back to Atlanta, which calls back to both of the first two episodes.

Furthermore it's really starting to feel like The Walking Dead. The first couple of episodes do change things up quite a lot - perhaps more than some were expecting - but this third episode not only suggests why those changes were made, but it also gives us the vibe, that those of us who have read the first story in the comics, have already experienced. I'm talking about the sequence during the campfire - I really got a greater sense of this truly being The Walking Dead, after many differences along a similar path, as witnessed in the first two episodes.

A couple of smaller observations would be the performance of Carl (Chandler Riggs) - which is impressive and not at all annoying (something that can easily happen with child actors). Specifically I'm referring to the nicely played moment between Lori and Carl, with few words, when Carl is heartbroken to not see (initially anyway) his father amongst the returning members of the group. In a few strokes we get a glimpse into the mother-son relationship, and a nice grounding for Carl.

Furthermore the attack upon the zombie which is seen chowing down on a downed Deer was pretty damn cool. Lifted from the original material too was Dale getting to bring-the-awesome with a decapitation, and then the severed head still being alive and trying to get at them - a sight in the comics that was not only cool, but quite creepy.

Finally it was interesting to see how they handled the moment, again from the source material, in which the women address the fact that they're the ones washing up after, and cleaning the clothes of, the men in the camp. This reversion to stereotypes was more of a throw away gag on one page in the book, meanwhile here it is handled head-on with Carol's unreconstructed chauvinist husband Ed. As an interesting aside, Carol's partner was dead before we're introduced to her in the book, and seemingly the TV adaptation combines Carol and Donna. In the books Donna had twins and a husband, Allen, who was a bit of a scruffy middle aged slacker, but a nice enough guy. There are still others wandering around the camp who we haven't been introduced to yet, so I'm not sure if that's actually the case - but it seems to be the case.

Here, after some apparent fiddling around with the characters (Carol is pitched as older than her comic book counterpart, but still the mother of Sophia), Ed - a newly created character, seemingly de-evolved from generally-amiable Allen - is a right bastard. A perfect example of a male pig if ever there was one, whose overtly old school approach to gender roles is grotesque, but challenged by Andrea - as I've said, a throw away gag in the source material is here turned into a confrontation, and ultimately it's a better handling of the fact that the men and women have both regressed to their classic cave-man-era roles. The women look after the camp and the children, and the men do the hunter/gatherer/protector thing.

Finally - I really dug the little cliffhanger at the end of the show - clearly The Walking Dead is working nicely, because I really wanted to see the next episode when the credits rolled. Roll on episode four!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Double Bill Mini-Cine Musings...

Jackass 3D:
Looking back on the original three seasons of Jackass, it's pretty damn tame by today's standards. At the time it was hilarious and cringe-inducing, but the further you go, the further still you'll have to go to continue eliciting the same level of response from your audience.

Such is the case with Jackass 3D, and indeed the case with the previous entries. The first Jackass movie stepped things up a considerable notch and released the franchise from the constraints of MTV on American TV. The second took things into a considerably more vile, more painful, and more shocking arena - but an arena filled with more laughter than ever before.

Jackass 3D doesn't quite have the same impact of Jackass: Number Two, especially as many of the skits are re-heats of established themes and ideas, but then again there's only so many ways to hurt yourself and make yourself vomit. This might seem like an issue, but in the world of Jackass, it's cheeseburger charm goes down a treat anyway - it's almost like a victory lap. Some of the members are showing their age now, and the closing credits includes 'then and now' footage of all the key players. There's a sense of this being a family of sorts who have grown up together, and it's this vibe which keeps the Jackass experience fresh, and maintains it as the pinacle of the stunt show thing that dominated the 2000's.

More of the same, sure, but there are stand out skits - both of the slapstick and gross-out variety - that keep things moving along nicely. It was a pleasure to see with an audience too, with everyone roaring with laughter or gasping with grimaced disbelief in unison, however when it comes to the 3D it's a mixed bag.

The resurgence of 3D made for a no-brainer when it comes to this sort of material, but also because of the type of presentation often featured in Jackass, and how the technology itself works, you're really getting half of a 3D movie and half of a 2D movie converted (sometimes seemingly not converted at all) into 3D. Certain set pieces worked nicely in 3D however, and afterall, if you're into this kind of entertainment you're going to want to see it in 3D, even if you don't get everything flying into your face.

I look forward to seeing what the DVD/BR release has to offer in terms of cut footage. Apparently there was an awful lot of good stuff cut out, and I have to say that at times you felt like certain members were being short-changed during the flick, but even still it manages to hold together well enough to make for an entertaining old romp for those inclined and acclimated to this sort of fare.

Due Date:
Following on from last year's all-conquering comedy The Hangover, which had a rubbish trailer that didn't inspire much confidence prior to seeing it, comes Todd Philips and Zack Galifianakis - accompanied by RDJ and a funny-looking, self-abusing dog - in a Planes, Trains & Automobiles-a-like ... with a rubbish trailer.

Fortunately, The Hangover turned out to be really quite entertaining, even upon a second viewing, and while Due Date doesn't quite hit some of the sheer fun of the former, once it gets going after a somewhat slow first act, it really starts to cook with some properly hilarious moments. Perhaps the trailer was so rubbish because they - wisely - didn't overexpose the comedy and kept the big gags as surprises for the audience, which wasn't the case with Burke & Hare, which gave away its best gags in the entertaining promos.

The emotional side to the plot is more subtle, or perhaps less explored, than that of Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but instead the shock-comedy factor is turned way up. It's just a good slab of fun, littered throughout which are cameo vignettes that work to varying degrees of success, and while it's not got the infectious sense of chaos which The Hangover had, the two leads (and the dog) hold your funny bones in their hands throughout. Definitely worth a watch.