Friday, 29 April 2016

Outlander (2008)



What I knew of this film before I went in made me expect "Viking Predator", but instead it turned out to be more of an "Alien Beowulf".

I am okay with this.

In 709 CE, a spaceship crashes into what will one day be Norway.  There's only one survivor of the crash, a young man who uses some kind of supertech to instantly learn the Norse tongue, then straps on a gun and sets off into the woods.

Our protagonist - for clearly that's what he is - soon discovers a village where everyone has vanished ... though there is plenty of blood around.  Then he runs afoul of some Viking warriors, who are unimpressed by his explanation that he's "hunting a dragon".

Unfortunately for the Vikings, he's telling the truth.  It seems my "only one survivor" line from earlier isn't actually true.  A deadly alien predator known as a Moorwen also survived, and it's looking to get its Xenomorph on by eating a bunch of humans.  It's up to our otherworldly visitor and a handful of locals - including John Hurt, Sophia "Girl in the Fireplace" Myles and a criminally underused Ron Perlman - to take on the creature.

You may be thinking "it doesn't sound all that Beowulf-y", but there's no accident to the fact that the Viking settlement is named Herot, or that its king is Rothgar, I'm thinking.  Several thematic elements of the Beowulf legend are also included in the film, though I'll omit the details so as not to spoil too much about the movie.

Anyway, if you're a fan of films in the Predator or Aliens vein, this one is worth looking up.  It's got a much better cast and production values that many movies of this type (though there are a few scenes where the CGI-ness of the monster is pretty obvious), and while it's certainly not without its flaws, I found it pretty engaging for most of its run time.

A pretty fun SF monster/action movie.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Sarah Jane Adventures, Season 2 (2008)



The second season of The Sarah Jane Adventures sees a shake-up in the core cast, as the actor playing Maria needed to leave to focus on her school exams.  She's replaced by a suspiciously similar substitute character named Rani (and I do mean similar, to the point of also having a mother who can never get Sarah Jane's name right).

Other than that, though, it's business as usual for the alien-fighting Ms Smith and her teenage sidekicks in season two.  They tangle with several new enemies, as well as some returning foes - they even have one villain both d├ębut and return in the course of this series - but the basic formula of the show remains intact: Sarah Jane and Co get mixed up with some aliens who are up to no good and thanks to some character trait or skill one of them possesses, eventually save the day from the extraterrestrial threat.

Of course, there's nothing particularly wrong with following a basic formula if you execute it well, and on the whole this show does get the execution right.  It's true that it sometimes suffers a little from being targeted at a young audience, as the writing is occasionally rather unsubtle: the otherwise excellent "Secrets of the Stars" story, for instance, does everything short of grabbing the audience and shaking them with its 'hints' as to the enemy's weakness.

Callbacks to parent show Doctor Who feel more prominent in this series than the last.  The most notable example is doubtless the appearance of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in the season finale, but the season opener is also a direct (and superior to the original) sequel to an episode of NuWho ("The Poison Sky").

Probably the only misstep of the season for me is the story involving returning villain "The Trickster".  The conceptual similarities to NuWho episode "Father's Day" are a bit too similar for my tastes (even if the specific details are quite different).

Overall, this is fun stuff with a fine cast.  Recommended if you're looking for family-friendly SF adventure.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Drive-In Massacre (1977)



This is an exciting review to write.  Not because of the quality of the film - though before its gimmicky, only-works-if-you're-actually-in-a-drive-in ending, it's amusingly tacky - but because this is double milestone.  You see, not only is this the last film I had to watch in one of these Mill Creek 50-film box sets, but it is also the last movie DVD that I purchased before 2015 and still hadn't watched yet.  Which means I am (more or less) only 12 months behind on my movie DVDs.  The blog is actually achieving its purpose, since when I started it, I had movie DVDs I'd owned for over 6 years without having watched them.

(You'll notice I keep saying "movie DVDs" - that's quite deliberate as my TV-on-DVD watching record is still pretty dire.  That's why there have been more TV show reviews lately).

So Drive-In Massacre is about a serial killer who murders people at ... well, drive-ins.  I guess there might be people reading this who don't know what those are, but if so, you are on the internet, so it should be easy enough to find out.

Anyway, said murderer uses swords to make his kills.  You'd think that some guy walking up to a car and killing both the occupants with a three foot lump of sharp metal - while surrounded by hundreds of people - would be pretty easy to find, but apparently not.  The police stumble after a few suspects.  In the process, they do manage to take down a murderer.  Just not the one they were looking for.

Although the cheapness of the film is always apparent, it manages to chug along fairly well for the first half or so, but the pace really falls off later, most notably in a long sequence where one of the suspects wanders around a fun fair while snippets of dialogue from earlier in the film play over the images.  It's really rather dull, and it goes on forever.  Thankfully, the movie ends not too much later.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Tribe, Season 3 (1999)



Season 2 of The Tribe ended with the villainous Chosen taking control of the city.  Most of the Mallrats are captured in the process, though a few escape.  The Chosen occupy the mall and make it their base of operations for controlling the city.  They also keep their captives there, and attempt to coerce the Mallrats into joining them.

You might well think this would set up the arc for the season, with the Chosen trying to exert their authority, the captives resisting them as best they can, and those who escaped undertaking a guerilla campaign to throw the invaders out.  And you'd be right ... at least for the first two-thirds of it.  However, whereas most shows wrap up neatly when the bad guys are beaten (I don't think it is really a spoiler to tell you the Chosen lose, is it?), this season of The Tribe also covers the confusion and unrest that follows the abrupt removal of a regime.  That's actually something I quite like in conception, though as always with The Tribe, the actual execution is rather hit-and-miss.

The 'misses' are common failures of the show: uneven performances, clumsy dialogue that's more or less narration put into the mouths of characters, and a tendency to shove idiot balls into the hands of said characters.  On the other hand, I quite like that the person who comes out on top seems to be improvising their plans as they go.  While they do employ some risky gambits that pay off implausibly well for them, the show does a decent job of justifying their risk-taking and of avoiding the whole "omniscient mastermind" thing that turns up too often in fiction.

This season of the show also features a lot of cast churn.  Many new faces are introduced (and some old ones return), while a number of characters get written out either temporarily or permanently.  Most of the latter such events happen off-screen, leaving the writers options open, but we also see our first on-screen death of a main cast member.

At the end of the day this is season three of the show, so unless you're already a fan there is probably not much that is likely to make you check it out at this point.

But if anything is going to do it, it'll be the presence of a tribe that dress up as human mosquitoes.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Subterano (2003)





I was not aware that "what happens if you make a cheap Running Man rip-off with Aussie TV actors from the 1990s?" was a question that needed answering.

Fortunately, the folks at the Australian Film Finance Corporation are possessed of more inquiring minds than my own, and there is no question they're afraid to tackle.  For instance, in this film, they not only answer the question above but boldly ask "does a movie need an actual ending?"

Alas, it turns out that their answer of "no" is incorrect, but good try guys.

So the film kicks off with this guy Conrad escaping from custody while on his way to being executed as a murderer.  You might be worried about such a guy being a protagonist but don't worry: the film will throws a truckload of "fascist dystopia!" signifiers at you to make sure you twig to the fact that he's actually an okay guy.

Anyway, despite learning that his girlfriend was the one who betrayed him to the authorities, Conrad promptly calls her to ask for help in continuing his escape.  For old time's sake or something.  This seems like a very bad idea, but I can count the number of good decisions people make in this movie on the fingers of no hands.

After some clumsy exposition, Conrad and possibly treacherous girlfriend end up trapped in a mysteriously-shut-down car park.  They - and several other people who are pretty obviously just there to get killed - find themselves at the mercy of a shadowy figure who has turned the place into a lethal, real life version of a computer game.  If only it was a good computer game, maybe the movie would be better.

Probably not, though.

So there's a lot of wandering around the car park and some attacks by tacky looking robots and ... this thing ...

This, believe it or not, is the main bad guy.

... and there's a big pile of other stupid, too.  And then the movie stops.

Like this review.

Friday, 22 April 2016

The Life of Birds (1998)



If you've read the previous reviews I've done of David Attenborough's Life series, then you can probably guess the overall assessment: if you're at all interested in nature documentaries, then this is a good one and you should check it out.

For those of you who need a little more information, though, read on.

As the title of the series makes obvious, Attenborough has turned his attention to the modern day descendants of dinosaurs.  He begins by discussing 'why' birds developed the ability to fly, and 'why' some have since abandoned it once more.  I put the 'why' in quotes because of course there's no design or purpose to evolutionary change: it's just that changes which happen to make the species better at surviving tend to be passed on.

In any case, to use the short-hand of 'why', birds took to the air for the safety it offered, and they generally abandon it when other factors, such as an absence of predators or a largely submarine food source, make the disadvantages of flight (principally the huge energy expenditure it entails) outweigh the advantages.  In the course of this summary, Attenborough covers some of the more esoteric birds the world has to offer.  My personal favourite: the kakapo.  This two-foot tall (60cm) parrot is flightless and lives in burrows.  Alas there are only about 100 of these birds left alive, but New Zealand, where they live, is working hard to conserve the species.

This preliminary analysis done, Attenborough moves on to the mechanics of flight, with particular attention on those birds which are especially gifted in that field: whether that gift be speed, silence, manoeuvrability (hummingbirds can literally fly backwards), or endurance.  He then moves on to their voracious need for calories, and the various techniques by which they acquire the calories they need.

From there, we cover many of the thematic elements on which Attenborough usually concentrates: how birds communicate, how they find mates, and how they rear their young.  This last is a two part process, dealing first with the egg and then the chicks.  Fair warning if you're the sentimental sort: some birds are, by human standards, very bad parents indeed.

Attenborough winds up with a discussion of the challenges birds face in the world, be it extreme environments (deserts or tundra) or the arrival of new animals into their ecosystems.  The most destructive such 'new arrival', you will probably not be surprised to discover, is human beings.  Dodos are perhaps the most famous example of this, but far more astonishing is the tale of the passenger pigeon.  They could fly, unlike the dodo, and their population was once somewhere between 3 and 5 billion.  Humanity wiped them out just as thoroughly as they did the dodo.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Wolfhound (2006)



A boy watches as his father forges a sword.  The idyllic scene is interrupted when black-clad raiders sweep in and slaughter all before them.  Then their boss turns up, kills the kid's mom, and sends the boy off to be a slave.

And if you're thinking 'does the kid grow up to be Arnold Schwarzenegger?' then congratulations, because you have recognised the blatant rip-off homage.  As did I.  It prompted a mini-commentary on social media.  So I am going to put in as much effort into writing this review as the film-makers did on writing that scene, and copy/paste it all here in place of writing something new.

  • Oh hey I remember this opening scene from when I saw it in Conan 20 years ago.
  • Movie, you are no Conan. Except maybe the 2011 version.
  • ... okay to be fair that action scene was pretty good. You are better than 2011 Conan, movie.
  • Not much better, given your next plot point. But better.
  • I rate the bat companion as 0.7 ferrets.
  • 0.8 if it continues to smack the hero in his head with its wing when he is being a jerk.
  • Oh hey, Princess dressed up aa a boy.
  • Bat-healing magic powers!
  • So much furtive hooded cloak-wearing.
  • Simple but evocative religious ritual. Nice.
  • Next scene is goofy though.
  • Why are you splitting the party? Never split the party!
  • Hello wannabe usurper nephew.
  • Hello arranged marriage.
  • The prisoner motif is strong in this betrothal.
  • I'm betting these guys flunked out of assassin school.
  • Oh hey they're executing a "witch". I wonder if she weighs as much as a duck.
  • Assembling the party by rescuing them. Beats meeting in a tavern I guess.
  • Princess wants to learn to fight. Hero is lousy teacher.
  • Wannabe usurper nephew scoffs at ghosts. Given all the magic in the movie so far he is either evil or stupid.
  • Probably he is both.
  • Spooky evil fog of spooky evil.
  • Glowy stones of glowing beat spooky evil fog of spooky evil.
  • Wannabe usurper nephew is evil! I am shocked! Shocked!
  • Bad guy's evil plan is to slip the hero a mickey. You have magic powers, man!
  • Orchestral Flashback
  • Princess wants sexy times with the hero. But only after blabbing much exposition.
  • No hero nookie for the princess.
  • The villain of course doesn't kill the hero while he is drugged. Evil is dumb.
  • Movie tries to pretend princess is dead, for all of 2 minutes.
  • Movie has pretty landscapes. Also much riding through forests. That's how you know it is a fantasy film.
  • Bat companion to the rescue.
  • Party is reunited when hero rescues them ... again.
  • Arranged marriage dude actually seems like decent guy. Especially for someone whose dad was named "The Man-Eater".
  • Bad guy dead. Time to break out the CGI monster.
  • Which breaks out a bigger CGI monster.
  • That turns wannabe usurper nephew to stone. So what was wannabe usurper nephew's plan anyway?  
  • I guess it was "1. Raise evil goddess, 2. Get turned to stone, 3. ???, 4. Profit!"
  • Oh hey dad's sword just turned into a giant lightsabre.
  • CGI monster go boom.
  • Ghosts of his dead parents save hero's life. Sure. Why not.
  • Party shot! Worst sidekicks ever, by the way.
  • Hero tries to fob off princess on arranged marriage dude. AMD ain't having it.
  • Bat still doing all the real work.

This film was apparently quite successful in its native Russia, though the absence of any kind of marketing (and the frankly spotty quality of the dub) meant it made little impact in English-speaking markets.  Whether you'd have any interest in it now probably depends on how much you really want to see a modern-day pastiche of Conan the Barbarian with a dash of The Beastmaster.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

I Bury the Living (1958)



The Krafts are a wealthy family with a strong philanthropic bent.  They hold a number of volunteer positions in the community, including stewardship over a local cemetery.  One of the younger scions of the clan - Robert - has just been assigned to the role.  It's not a position he's all that comfortable with, but he is impressed by the large map in his office.  It shows all the plots in the cemetery.  Those that are occupied are marked with black pins, while those that have been purchased but not yet used have white pins.

On Robert's first day on the job, a newly-married friend of his stops by to purchase a pair of plots.  When young Mr Kraft goes to update the map, though, he's not really paying attention to the colour of pins he uses, and puts black ones in instead of white ones.  A harmless enough mistake, you might think ... except that the newly-weds turn up dead in a car accident the next day.  Did putting the wrong pins in the map really kill the young couple?

It's not a bad premise, but the movie tediously belabours it from this point on.  Over the next week or so, Robert, despite not wanting to hurt anyone, somehow allows himself to be persuaded to put six more black pins into the plots of still-living customers.  I have very little sympathy for his angst when all six are reported dead.

Eventually, it occurs to Robert to try switching the black pins for white ones.  This is the point where the film could have moved away from being boring and delivered some real chills ... but instead it opts to just become boring and dumb.

Skip.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Xena: Warrior Princess, Season 4 (1998)



Xena ran six seasons in all, but this is the last I bought on DVD.  My reasons were pretty simple: I thought season five was bad, and that season six - while an improvement overall - had a pretty awful ending.

Season four, on the other hand, makes a very strong conclusion for the show.  It has Xena and Gabrielle face off with two of the warrior princess's most bitter recurring enemies - Julius Caesar and Callisto - and gives all four characters a fitting and thematic farewell.

But that's the end of the season, and there are plenty of shenanigans to be had before we get there.  The season begins, for instance, with Xena desperately trying to confirm that Gabrielle has passed over into a pleasant afterlife.  Because - spoiler! - Gaby appeared to die at the end of season three (spoiler two: It turns out she is alive).

After kicking off with a trio of episodes in this pretty intense storyline, the show demonstrates its disregard for maintaining a consistent tone by going with extreme farce for the fourth.  From there the season will merrily wend its way to a series of escapades in India; and also through pastiches of Footloose, Cinderella and Miss Marple.  To give the show credit though, Xena's Cinderella doesn't rely on marrying a prince to get a happy ending - she goes looking for one of her own.

Interestingly, in watching these DVDs I was surprised by how things that my memory told me were major parts of the season - the trip to India, a new character named Amarice, and Gabrielle's dalliance with following the non-violent "Way of Love" - actually appear in only a few episodes.  Goes to show how unreliable our brains can be.

So is it any good?  Well I liked it a lot.

At the end of the day, this is season four of the show, and it delivers pretty much the same melange of mytho-historic nuttiness and adventure as the preceding 60-some episodes have given us.  If you liked Xena in its first three outings, you should continue to enjoy it this time around as well.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Bounty Killer (2013)



When the competition between corporations turns into a shooting war, civilisation is devastated.  In the post-apocalyptic ruins that remain, being a white collar criminal is a capital offence, and the men and women who carry out the sentence are called Bounty Killers.

Two of the best of the Bounty Killer breed are the man named Drifter and his sometime partner, sometime rival, Mary Death.  Their relationship has always been complicated but it's about to get really messy when a bounty gets put on Drifter's head.  Seems the famous Bounty Killer has a secret: he was a corporate big wig back in the day.

Not that Mary Death doesn't have a few skeletons in her own closet ... homicidally dangerous skeletons, at that.

What a delightfully over the top bit of action movie bedlam this is.  It hits the ground running and pretty much doesn't let up for its lean, mean sub-90 minute run time.  It's got firefights, knife fights, fist fights, vehicle fights, and things exploding all over the place.  Good times.

If you're a fan of any of the Mad Max films, or thought that any of the recent Fast and the Furious films were pretty good, but could use a few more scenes of lethally dangerous people tearing things up, you should check this film out.

I'm pretty sure this will get another turn in my DVD player sooner rather than later.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Sopranos, Season 1 (1999)



If you're anything like me, the fact that the first season of The Sopranos came out 17 years ago will make your brain hurt a little.  It's always been a "recent" show in my mind, but the fact is that it began in a world before smart phones, Facebook, or 9/11.  There's a mild dissonance in watching it now, and seeing a world that looks so like today but is so different in many ways.

When mob "captain" Tony Soprano collapses one day, he's shocked and offended by the suggestion he's the victim of a panic attack.  Machismo and toughness is a core part of his self-identity.  And given his career, a vital character trait if he wants to survive.

The second time it happens though, it's hard for Tony to ignore.  He reluctantly begins seeing a psychiatrist, to whom he talks - often in euphemistic terms so she won't be forced to speak to the police - about his life.  Obviously this is a pretty useful technique for the show to have a character clearly state what they're thinking and feeling.  We get a much more clear view of Tony than we otherwise would.

We also get a clear view of the stresses and challenges of Tony's life: his conniving mother (an expert in playing the victim and sowing discord in those around her), his rivals within the mob (and sometimes his allies too, when they do stupid things), as well as the ever-present threat of the authorities, and his relationship with his children, his wife, and his lover.  Now obviously some of these - especially the last - are of Tony's own making, but the show does a deft job of making us like and sympathise with a man who is a caring father and friend, while also being a dangerous mobster who will calmly order a building burned down or a man murdered.

Season one of the show focuses on Tony's efforts to get his mother settled into a retirement community - a move she regards as an unforgivable betrayal on his part - and the uneasy negotiations he must go through with his uncle when the leadership of the family unexpectedly falls vacant.  It's well-acted, generally well-written stuff (I say "generally" because I sometimes feel like the psychiatrist character is delivering exposition for the audience, not talking to Tony).  I particularly like how it has characters make bad choices in ways that actually make sense for them to do.  I have yet to roll my eyes at anyone for carrying an "idiot ball", which is pretty good going for a show where so many bad decisions get made!

It's easy to see why this was quite the phenomenon when it first aired.  If you missed it like I did, and don't mind bad guy protagonists, you should check it out.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Maze Runner (2014)



In my review of Divergent some weeks ago I was critical of the changes made between the book and the movie.  I am not, however, critical of all such changes.  Sometimes there are things in books that won't translate well to the screen, or which simply weren't very good ideas to begin with.

I was not impressed by The Maze Runner novel: the basic concept was okay but I thought many of the specific plot details were awkwardly constructed.  So I sat down to this film hoping that there would be changes.  There are, they're relatively significant, and they're pretty much uniformly for the better.

The overall premise is the same, of course: a young man whose memory has been wiped finds himself thrust into an all-male community at the centre of a maze that is prowled by deadly creatures.  None of the "Gladers", as the community call themselves, remember anything from before they came to the maze, other than their first name.

The newcomer is Thomas, and he quickly disrupts the equilibrium of the Gladers' society.  He's inquisitive and driven and immediately wants to be one of the "Runners": the elite who go out into the maze each day, looking for an exit.  He's not the only catalyst, though.  It seems whoever is behind the maze also intends to drive things forward, as there is another new arrival the day after Thomas: a young woman who carries a note saying "She is the last one ever".  Thomas and the Gladers are now in a race against time: they must escape the maze before it kills them all.

I'm not going to go into the details of the changes between page and screen.  If you've read the book then you'll recognise them when you see the film, and if you haven't then they won't really matter for you.  I'll just say that they've made the characters more likeable, improved the pacing significantly, and generally made the whole thing seem a lot less contrived and arbitrary.

This is a solid science fiction action film with a capable cast.  It does suffer a bit from having a blatantly "To Be Continued" ending, which is one of the things they did not change from the book, but other than that I was most pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Slashed Dreams (1975)



A young man and woman - "just friends" but clearly on the way to being something more - hike up into the mountains to visit a former college classmate of theirs who has decided to tune in and drop out, so to speak.  The couple's journey to their friend's cabin occupies most of the first hour of the film, and is a largely low-key character piece as the romantic tension between them grows more and more obvious.

There are a couple of slightly off-key moments during the journey though: and I'm not talking about the incessant, lilting folk music of the sound track. There's the shopkeeper who warns them that part of the mountains are "bad", and tries to sell them a knife.  And then there's the bear that turns up to gorge on their provisions.  Still, these are mildly alarming moments that are soon forgotten by the young couple.  They continue their trek and their romance, eventually consummating their new relationship in their friend's cabin: the young owner of the domicile being absent when they arrive.

And then two hillbillies turn up to rape the young woman.

The scene's fairly effective at being unpleasant, and not in any way titillating, and I guess I have to salute the efforts taken to ensure that, but it is still a "Really?  Ugh" moment for me.

This doesn't turn out to be a rape-revenge film, though.  The boyfriend does track down the rapists and fight them, but they ultimately run away from him, and the couple - whose friend finally turns up to offer some earnest if clumsy counselling - gradually overcome the shock of what happened to them and walk off into the sunset together, one last warbly love song playing as they do so.

I'm not sure who the intended audience of this film is, to be honest.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Misfits, Season 2 (2010)



In my review of the first season of this show, I said "Misfits is loud and lewd, full of bad language, bad people, and situations that you know you shouldn't laugh at but that it will make you do so anyway."

Not much has changed in season two.  The five young offenders are still working through their community service, now under the supervision of their third social worker.  The first two met with ... um ... unfortunate accidents.

The youths' lives continue to be complicated by the powers they gained in the strange storm some weeks earlier; the powers other people gained in said storm; and their own general aptitude for screwing up.  Oh, and also a mysterious masked figure who seems to know more about their messed up lives than they do.

This follows resolutely in the anarchic, crass and juvenile footsteps of the first series.  It's a pretty clever kind of juvenile crassness, though.  If you saw Deadpool in the cinemas earlier this year, you might have some idea of what I mean.  The show is also sensible enough to let its characters show some growth.  They certainly don't turn into responsible, upstanding citizens or anything, but they do evolve and change in noticeable - and different - ways.  It's quite cool.

Misfits continued for three more years after this, but I can't tell you much about those series.  Past this point I've only ever watched the first episode of season three.  It didn't do much for me, and the end of season two makes a pretty good ending, so I left it here (if only I'd been this smart with certain other shows, like Dexter).



Monday, 11 April 2016

NSFW: Not Safe For Work (2014)



This is a film which I backed in my early kickstarter adventures.  In due time the digital download turned up, I grabbed it, and then it lay forgotten on my hard disk for the best part of a year.

Elenore makes her living as a camgirl; posting sensual and nude photos of herself online for paying subscribers.  She also provides occasional video updates about her life - which proves a useful tool for dropping some exposition into the narrative.

Said exposition involves Elenore's two lovers.  The first of these is Dee, a career woman who wants to take the next step with their relationship.  Dee and Elenore seem to have been together for some time.  Long enough at least that when Elenore talks to her viewers about Dee, she assumes they're familiar with her.

The second lover is Eugene; a married man with whom Elenore is having a series of casual sexual encounters, each of which explores a particular kind of fetish (female domination, costume play of various kinds, and so on).

Elenore and Eugene's sexual games dominate a large portion of the first half of the film.  Given the subject there's quite a lot of nudity, though most of the scenes are (deliberately, I think) kind of awkward and comical and not very erotic.  It's only as the two start of them start to share emotional as well as physical intimacy that the awkwardness diminishes.

While Elenore and Dee seem to remain stuck in a holding pattern, Elenore and Eugene begin to become closer, spending more and more time together (and notably, proportionately less and less time having sex).  Sooner or later the two of them will have to deal with the way their relationship is changing and what it means to the other people in their romantic lives.

I've given NSFW a 'not recommended' not because it is a badly made film.  It's technically proficient, decently acted, and is a good deal more thoughtful than its title and abundant nudity might suggest.  It's more a case that I think the potential audience would be small.  Still, if you think a mildly melancholic rumination on physical and emotional intimacy might be your kind of thing - and you're not the sort to be easily shocked, or to mind a lack of easy answers - then this might be for you.

Friday, 8 April 2016

UFO (1970)



I was born a little too late to see Space: 1999 when it originally aired, but I saw models, still shots and comic books from the show as a young 'un and thought it looked awesome.  Mostly because at that age I thought anything with spaceship was cool, and it had some particularly neat-looking ones.  Alas, when the show finally became available on DVD, I was rather disappointed: its efforts to be cerebral were mostly just boring.

All of which is relevant to this review mainly because Space: 1999 was the show born out of the decision not to proceed with UFO: 1999, which would have been a direct sequel to UFO, set approximately 20 years later.  Many of the sets for the cancelled show had already been built and creator Gerry Anderson (of Thunderbirds fame) simply re-purposed them.

The concept of UFO is that in 1970 the governments of the Earth get incontrovertible proof that aliens are visiting our planet to kill or abduct human beings.  Over the next ten years they establish a secret organisation - SHADO (pronounced "shadow") - to fight the alien menace.  SHADO's resources include a moon base, a trio of space interceptors, and submarines capable of launching aircraft ... as well as some of the goofiest uniforms you have ever seen.

No, really.

Really, really.

The early episodes of the show have a pretty strong "cold war vs aliens" vibe to them, with the agents of SHADO forced to operate in secret against an enemy whose motives and methods they don't really understand.  The human characters are often forced to weigh their personal beliefs and desires against the needs of the clandestine organisation for which they work.  This part of the show also sneaks in a lot of non-verbal world building about the then-future 1980s: the UK is shown to have switched to driving on the right, for instance - while in flashbacks they still drive on the left - and wigs have become a common accessory for men and women alike.

Alas, those early episodes are definitely the best part of the show: those later in the production schedule tend to suffer from the same not-as-clever-as-they-think-they-are script issues that would later plague Space: 1999.  Also, given that this show was not intended to progress beyond the 26 episodes here, it lacks any real sense of development or conclusion (the show was beset with production problems, which may have contributed to this).

Overall, on the strength of its gonzo costuming, intriguing - if wholly inaccurate - vision of the 'future', and strong early episodes, I'm going to give UFO a qualified recommendation.  If you're a science fiction fan, it's worth a look.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)




Signs of the apocalypse: somebody deciding "you know, what the world needs is an extended director's cut of a Uwe Boll film".

Of course, that somebody was probably Uwe Boll.

Clocking in at a weighty 155 minutes - 28 more than the original release, though what the new footage is, I couldn't say - this film is loosely (very, very, very loosely) based on the fantasy computer game Dungeon Siege. By which I mean that it uses some of the place names, a couple of character names (including that the protagonist is known simply as "Farmer"), and the Krugs, which are the game's totally-not-Orcs. The game's plot and more idiosyncratic elements of its setting, such as the steampunk goblins, are jettisoned.

Jason Statham plays ... well, Jason Statham ... but his character's name is the aforementioned Farmer. When his home is attacked by the Krugs he sets out to save his wife and son from the invaders, and becomes embroiled in a sprawling fantasy travelogue quest involving wizards (of course), a king (it is in the title, after all), vine-swinging not-elves, random ninjas, and plenty of moments that suggest Herr Boll really liked Peter Jackson's Return of the King.

So look, this is a rubbish film, but it's a rubbish film that I rather enjoyed. For one things it's as close to a real movie as Boll's ever made. For another, it's helped by a surprisingly strong cast: there's Statham obviously, and also Ron Perlman, Leelee Sobieski, John Rhys-Davies and Ray Liotta all in major roles. Plus we have Matthew Lillard as totally-not-Wyrmtongue. There's also more minor parts for Kristanna Loken as Tarzan Galadriel, and Burt Reynolds as King Just Here for the Paycheque.

Above and beyond all this, there's a kind of unselfconscious "kitchen-sink fantasy" feel to the movie. There's long lost princes and overwrought dialogue and women putting on armour to prove themselves to their families and excessive amounts of travelling and brief encounters with plot-token minor characters and "epic" battle scenes and goofy weapons and you better believe there's some riding of horses through forests, brother. I even cracked a smile at the blatant "Eowyn and the Witch King" knock-off that they did.

If you're the kind of person who enjoys mocking would-be fantasy epics, you might well like this as much as I did.  Otherwise you should probably avoid it.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Bloody Brood (1959)



I admit to being pleasantly surprised by this low budget Canadian offering, which features an early performance from Peter Falk of Columbo fame.

Falk plays Nico, a character far removed from the detective who was his most famous role.  Nico's a hard-bitten gangster who has infiltrated a group of beatniks in order to more easily peddle illicit drugs.  One day while hanging out in a bar with several of these 'friends', Nico witnesses an elderly man suffer a heart attack.

The men Nico is with fancy themselves artists and philosophers, and the malevolent mobster finds it pretty easy to convince them that they're witnessing one of the most dramatic moments in life - 'a real death scene' - and should not intervene.

After the old man dies, Nico finds himself hungry to relive the moment, and sets out to persuade the more weak-willed of his circle that taking a life would be a powerful artistic statement and give 'meaning' to the death of their victim.

Said victim is a 17-year old messenger boy who brings a telegram to the apartment where Nico is holding an illicit party in the owner's absence.  Niso figures this is someone whose death shouldn't attract much attention and even if it does, how would anyone trace it back to them?  They aren't registered at the address and have no apparent motive to kill the kid even if they were.

Of course it wouldn't be much of a story line if Nico just killed someone and got away with it, and it turns out the dead boy had an older brother who will not rest until he finds the people responsible.

With a solid cast - perhaps unsurprisingly, Falk is particularly good - and an engaging if relatively slight story, this was an enjoyable way to spend a smidgen over an hour.  Probably not a film that will stick with you for a long time after you watch it, but one I found engaging while it was on.


Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Carmilla, Season 2 (2015)



Although it changed many of the details, and completely re-wrote the ending, the first season of Carmilla nonetheless used the plot of Sheridan Le Fanu's book as its basic framework: a cabal of vampires attempts to sacrifice young woman but their intended victim is more resourceful than they expect.  Season two, on the other hand, is all new material.  So how does the show handle the transition from adaptation to original work?

Well, with mixed success, to be honest.  There are plenty of elements that work: the supporting cast remain excellent, and there are some genuinely funny exchanges of dialogue, for example.  The progression of Laura and Carmilla's relationship - both forward and backward during the course of the season - is also pretty well-handled as the two of them find that their very different temperaments and ideals make it hard to be a couple.

On the flip side, I felt like the overall season arc did not hang together as well as in the first season.  For one thing, the main plot is less personal to the characters (though still potentially as fatal).  More importantly though, I think it has too many players at work, and they change alliances and allegiances with a rapidity that is doubtless intended to be exciting but instead came off to me as being rather overdone.  The show's tendency to say "really exciting thing is happening outside!" and then not show you it (because of the budgetary requirements to do so, no doubt) is also even more pronounced in this season than the last.

So overall it's a mixed bag, but it gets a qualified recommendation from me because at the end of the day, I still want to see a third season so we can find out what happens next.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Foodfight! (2012)



The next time you make a bad decision, take comfort from this fact: unless you are Lawrence Kasanoff, you did not spend 13 years and $45 million on this misconceived, malformed mess of a movie.

I imagine that Foodfight! is what you might get if you decided to mash together Toy Story and Yellow Submarine ... and then hired Rob Schneider to write and animate it.  Insulting ethnic stereotypes? Check.  Double-entendres so crude they don't really merit the word 'double'?  Check.  Lazy pastiches of far, far better movies?  Check and check again.

Obviously this is not a good film.  In point of fact, it's a terrible one.  A movie so bad that as you watch it you genuinely find yourself wondering "How did this happen?  How did a group of professionals spend year after year working on this drek and not see how awful it is?".

But then, at least for some people, there comes a point in the picture where some kind of Stockholm Syndrome sets in - probably around the ketchup artillery scene - and you can almost see how the film-makers deluded themselves about their project.  You can almost see the satirical edge they were going for; almost see the madcap energy they were trying to capture.

The key word there of course is "almost".  You don't actually see any of these things because the movie fails to deliver them.  Just like it fails to deliver funny jokes, characters who aren't animated like they're having a seizure, or a heroine who doesn't have cold, dead eyes.

The plot?  Oh, it's some malarkey about marketing icons of various well known brands (or more accurately - and ironically, given the plot - thinly veiled pastiches of same) fighting off  the evil Brand X when it tries to take over their supermarket.  Trust me, you'll be far too busy coping with the Nazi iconography, wildly inappropriate-for-the-target-audience content, and bizarre physical tics of the characters to care about the plot any more than the film-makers did.

Wildly, stupendously awful.

Forty-five million dollars.

Friday, 1 April 2016

The Tribe, Season 2 (1999)



At the end of the first season of The Tribe, the Mallrats set out to find an antidote for the virus that has killed all the adults and now seems to be mutating into a form that is dangerous even for those under the age of 18.  They lose two of their own in the process, but they soon gain new members, and even succeed in their quest.  The way in which they achieve this success is hysterically implausible, but never mind: virus defeated!

Having control of the antidote brings the Mallrats a lot of power in the city.  It also causes dissension between those who want to make themselves wealthy by selling it to the other tribes, and those who want to share it freely.  The former group are most vocally led by Ebony, who is the former leader of the most dangerous tribe in the city, and who makes no secret of her intention to become leader of the Mallrats now that she has joined them.  Much of the first half of the season is given over to her machinations and schemes.

However the tribe - the city as a whole, in fact - faces a much more dangerous threat than Ebony.  A new movement known as 'the Chosen', who preach a doctrine of 'power and chaos', intend to take over.  They play a minor role from the beginning of the season, but in its second half, they are the clearly established as the major antagonists.

I feel like this season of the show definitely profits from having more clear 'arc' story lines, and it also ties them together quite nicely at times.  For instance, Ebony's schemes in the first half of the season lead the other Mallrats to fear and distrust her, which the Chosen are able to exploit for their own ends.  The much more prominent role for Ebony herself - she's in season one but not to anywhere near the same extent - is also a point in the show's favour.  She's a fun antagonist/ally.

On the other hand, the Chosen storyline also suffers from some pretty obvious issues: their plans are way more complicated and contrived than they need to be, for one thing, and are reliant on a lot of idiot-ball holding by the Mallrats (plus the rest of the city tribes) on the other.

Overall, it remains a show that feels like it has more ambition than ability in some areas, while also being a program that could use a little more ambition in other areas.  Unless you're somehow not getting enough YA dystopia in your life - hard to imagine given how many such shows and movies are currently around - you can skip it.