Sunday, 31 July 2011


The summer's feel-good family hit!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Review: Limitless

Limitless (2011)

What if you could live up to your true potential?  What if your brain worked at maximum efficiency?  If your memory was perfect?  If your every talent and ability worked at their peak?

Don't ask this movie, because it hasn't got a clue.  I saw three films in a row that day; each of which featured scenes of projectile vomiting.  This was one of them.  Thus is defined the state of modern cinema.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a would-be writer who is rapidly sliding into the category of never-was.  That is, until he stumbles on a supply of magic, sorry, cutting-edge pills that give him special powers, sorry, enhance the synapses of his brain, allowing him to use his abilities to their fullest.  So what does he do with them now that he's a superman?  He finishes his book and decides to make a lot of money on the stock market.  That would be a pretty thin story, so writer Leslie Dixon throws in a mysterious man with a knife and a hulking Slavic loan shark for good measure. 

This film is an utter mess.  First off, director Neil Burger wastes the first half of the film with an "edgy" flashback device that goes nowhere and is merely an excuse for lazy exposition via Eddie's constant narration, a laboured infinite-zoom trick, and way too much CGI work and cute camera tricks when simple story telling would suffice.  I often had the impression that Burger couldn't decide which angle to shoot a particular scene from, so he chose to use all of them.

I can't imagine how the studio thought this was anything new.  The premise is a pretty standard one in science fiction and has been handled many times before with far more maturity, such as in Daniel Keyes's 1958 short story "Flowers for Algernon" that formed the basis for the 1968 film CharlyLimitless, on the other hand, is a hopelessly immature effort aimed at the 18 to 26-year old market that can't imagine anything more interesting than making buckets of money and having lots of sex.  Worse, the film is all over the place.  One minute it's science fiction, then it's a gangster story, then it's a flashy Wall Street "show me the money" turn, then it's about drug addiction, then it's a romance, a floor wax, a dessert topping.  It's fast enough paced when it moves, but when the plot bogs down, it lays there like a dead fish.  Cooper has enough Charisma to sell his character, but not enough gravitas to make us believe in the premise.  Meanwhile, Robert De Niro is wasted in a supporting role and female lead Abbie Cornish has the thankless task of playing a character that is shoehorned sideways into the mess.  This film is so bad that the only interesting scene is the epilogue tacked on at the very end that sets up the first real conflict in the film as well as the potential of the premise–and then chucks it all straight in the bin.  This scene features prominently in the trailer and when your play out is your best bit, you're in real trouble.

Perhaps Dixon and Burger should have taken a few of those magic pills before starting this film.

Friday, 15 July 2011

John Carter of Mars trailer

Red sand at least, lads.  Red.

Burroughs requires pageantry and romance, not the Prince of Persia treatment.  This looks very much like, well, everything else.

Personally, I prefer this version.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Thing Trailer

Because all top-notch palaeontologists are hot 27-year old women.

The new trailer for the remake/prequel/reimagining/small bowl of porridge of 1982's The Thing.  The clever way they've updated it is by leaping back to 1979 and turning it into Alien complete with Action GirlTM.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Review: Planet of the Vampires

Ib Melchior strikes again!
Planet of the Vampires (Terrore Nello Spazio) (1965)

What the blazes this has to do with vampires is beyond me.  Zombies, maybe.  Vampires, no.

The spaceships Argos and Galliot investigate a distress signal coming from the planet Aura.  On landing, contact is lost with the Galliot and the crew of the Argos go berserk and try to kill one another in over-cranked action.  There is something very odd  about this planet–especially when the dead don't stay buried.

Planet of the Vampires is famous as one of the seminal influences for the 1979 blockbuster Alien.  However, where Alien was a big-budget blockbuster with artistic pretensions meant to hide its pulp-fiction origins, POTV revels in its low budget and garish space opera.  Director Mario Bava makes a virtue out of necessity when he makes up for his lack of an effects budget by doing his effects in-camera and he takes two second-hand rocks left over from another picture and by means of mirrors, fog and clever lighting transforms them into a truly eerie planetscape.

An American-Italian-Spanish co-production, POTV boasts an international cast headed by Barry Sullivan.  The characterisation is thin to the point of non-existence and many times Sullivan seems to be in a different film from everybody else, but this isn't surprising because all the actors delivered their lines in their own languages and were redubbed for their target markets.  It's a shlocky, garish, melodramatic, and often overacted production, but this isn't a film for analysing; it's for pouring extra butter on your popcorn, sitting back, and enjoying.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Night Stalker remake

Not Johnny Depp or Wil Smith
In one of the most insane ideas in Hollywood history, a feature remake of The Night Stalker is in the works.  And who is playing the craggy, middle-aged reporter brought perfectly to life by the late Darren McGavin?  Johnny Depp.

JOHNNY DEPP?!?!?!?!?  Dear Lord, was it because Wil Smith wasn't available?

Friday, 8 July 2011

B-movie title generator

Coming up with ghastly titles has never been easier thanks to this online generator.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Review: Sherlock

Sherlock (2010)

 When I heard that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss were making a new series about Sherlock Holmes set in the 21st century, I steeled myself to be bitterly disappointed.  From the start it looked and sounded like one of those horrible "reimaginings" that one unimaginative filmmaker and television producer after another have inflicted upon the long-suffering public as if punishing them for daring to love the original versions. I could see a dozen ways in which this series could have failed and a dozen more reasons why they should never have tried in the first place.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I slumped in front of the talking aquarium expecting the worst and found my predictions proven utterly wrong.  Believe it or not, Sherlock not only works, it works beautifully in a way that pleases even the fussiest Holmesian puriest– that is, me.

Moffat and Gatiss said it best in an interview that they did for the DVD release where they explained that what they were trying to do is repeat what Universal did with Holmes and Watson during the Second World War.  Partly to allow Holmes to help fight the Nazis and mainly to create a film series on a B-movie budget, Universal shifted 221B Baker Street from the age of Queen Victoria into that of King George VI.  And it worked.  By retaining the essential characters of Holmes and Watson while altering only those elements needed to update them, Universal (helped by the inestimable talents of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce) made Holmes a modern day creature and not an anachronism that had lived beyond its time.  Indeed, the Rathbone/Bruce series is to this day recognised as the single most successful adaption of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories to the screen.  Moffat and Gatiss's wanted to do the same thing for Holmes in the 21st century.

The result is nothing less than impressive.  The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch is inspired.   He's the best Holmes since Jeremy Brett and though his youthfulness may grate on those more used to middle-aged Sherlocks, people often forget that Holmes was only in his thirties when A Study in Scarlet was written.  Martin Freeman has a refreshing scepticism in his Watson and Moffat and Gatiss had a clever idea when they took the Watson who fought in Afghanistan in the 19th century and turned him into one who fought in Afghanistan in the 21st.  They even had a neat way of handling the knotty problem of where exactly Watson was wounded. Even 221B Baker street looks right, though they changed the location from the real baker Street, which is far too bustling today, to the quieter stand-in of North Gower Street.

 The three stories that make up season one are clever with the right mix of humour and suspense, though the new mysteries aren't up to the originals (Be fair, they never are).  Where Sherlock truly falls down is in the level it pitches at. Where the original stories were middlebrow affairs for a middle class audience, Sherlock is painfully lowbrow for whatever it is that the latest focus group says the BBC should aim at.   The other stumbling blocks are the stale homosexual jokes with the distinct smell of the last century, which mean that Sherlock sits on the depressingly long list of television shows that my daughter isn't allowed to watch yet. 

Better than the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes, which kept the period but "re-imagined" Holmes, Watson and London out of all recognition, Sherlock will never replace the period versions, but it is an experiment that works and works very well.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Family Month

The Szondy family is taking a month off so we can catch up with ourselves, so posting is going to be a little light.  I'll check in when I can, but there are lawns to mow, fish to catch and beer to drink.  And if there's enough beer, the lawn and fish can look after themselves.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Friday, 1 July 2011

Review; Earth II

Earth II (1971)

Some productions never have a chance.  Producer William Read Woodfield was certain that the success of 2001: a Space Odyssey  could be transferred to television, so he pitched to MGM the idea of a series set on the space station from the Kubrick feature with visions of reusing all those expensive props and models to give it a real 21st century feel.  He managed to sell the studio on it, but when MGM asked for the models and other materials from 2001 for the series only to learn that Kubrick had ordered everything destroyed to prevent just such a thing, Woodfield had to start from scratch and the result was the 1971 pilot movie Earth II.

It's the very near future and the United States launches an Apollo spacecraft, but this isn't meant to be another moonshot.  Its mission is to set up an orbital space station that will be a new sovereign nation called Earth II.  We jump forward several years and Earth II is now a rotating complex supporting some 1900 citizens.  Following the newly arrived Krager family, we learn that Earth II is a self sufficent, hi-tech space colony that even raises its own cattle.  And that it's also a smug California liberal place dedicated to international niceness that is so pacifistic that they've even outlawed toy guns.  Oddly, we later see that children may not be allowed Tom Mix revolvers, but they can play with plastic P-38s, so there's a bit of inconsistency there. 

This last bit is something of a sticking point because Earth II is not only completely unarmed, but the Red Chinese have parked a satellite loaded with H-bombs on their doorstep.  David Seville (Gary Lockwood) the leader of the colony is so devoted to his Ghandiesque principles that he's happy to do nothing while newcomer Frank Krager (Tony Franciosa) is all for disarming the thing and confiscating it.  So, the conflict is set up and the question is who will win the argument about what to do and what happens afterwards.

Earth II  is a beautiful film to look at and the model work is very impressive for a television budget, though the director should have avoided so many close shots of the station that revealed its lack of detail.  It also doesn't hurt that Lalo Schifrin's score gives the right air of importance to the film that hides its television origins.  Unfortunately, where Earth II falls down is with a script that doesn't live up to either the visuals or the quality of the actors.  The story is lacklustre with much of the action taking place around meeting tables and in lounges that could be in any insurance office of the 1970s for all we care.  The plot often grinds to a needless, talky halt as the much too large cast goes through it's paces.  This is a film that should speed up as the plot progresses or build mounting tension as the clock runs out. Instead, it strolls from point to point as if there wasn't any real hurry.

This lack of priorities is due largely to the script's wearing its left-wing desires firmly on its sleeve.  The attitude aboard Earth II is  strictly that strain of American '70s liberalism marked by a sanitised counterculture that leaves the characters forever going on about "peace" as if it was some strange abstraction hanging about waiting to be caught like a brass ring.  It sometimes gets so bad that Lisa Krager (Mariette Hartley)  gives a speech about her family moving to Earth II to experience the "peace" that they lacked back home that is so impassioned  that one wonders if the very American Kragers had just moved from Angola.  However, the writers are experienced enough not to make those who oppose the Earth II ethos into straw men and Tony Franciosa seems to be the only one in the cast who is enjoying himself as he plays devil's advocate.  He sometimes makes star Gary Lockwood look like the supporting player, which isn't hard because Lockwood later revealed that he hated the production.

Needless to say, Earth II never made it into production as a series.  If nothing else, the effects and set budgets must have been staggering and the format with its emphasis on hard science fiction and political musing wouldn't have had many legs to it as the BBC's Moonbase 3 demonstrated two years later.  Still, it's fun to look at and so long as it isn't taken as seriously as the producers hoped it would be, it's a fun 100 minutes.