Joe’s Blog

Archive for June, 2011

Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

June 29, 2011 2:13 pm

nightmare on elm st

“1…2… Freddy’s gonna turn poo…

3…4… please God, no more”

I heard the Elm Street remake was awful, and quite frankly I expected nothing less. But it’s ineptitude and crassness surprised even my cynical little mind.

 Chucked at the screen by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes (already responsible for the Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacare and The Hitcher remakes) and a director of Blink 182 videos, it takes the usual route of taking everything that made the originals so special, and then throwing out everything that made the originals so special and replacing it with needless origin plots, CGI gore, lots of orange and brown filters and a lack of any discernable film-making talent.

 The basic story of teenagers terrorised by Freddy in their dreams is retained. It’s a pretty scary concept, so it’s not difficult to see how that could still work. But it falls into the trap of not deciding whether it wants to be a straight remake, or whether its wants to be its own creation. For me, the few remakes that surpass their originals are those that disregard almost everything bar the thinnest narrative thread (The Thing, The Fly). What the recent crop of remakes do is retain the story, but also all the iconic links to the past. Jason’s mask, Freddy’s jumper, Leatherface’s… uh… leatherface… Yes, maybe without them the characters would not be the same. You mean, they might be NEW characters, in NEW films?

 Where Nightmare (and Halloween before it) get particularly grating and smug, is in playing with the heads of those familiar with the originals. I’m aware these films are not for me. I know they are made for ‘the kids’ who haven’t grown up with these characters (in the same way that Daniel Craig Bond films aren’t made for the audience that went to the flicks to watch Goldfinger). That’s fine, I’m not young anymore I can deal with that. So why go to the trouble of replicating scenes from the original and then going “AH… you thought we were going to do that… but we’re not! Cos we’re clever, we know what you’re thinking. We’re so BLOODY clever that we can even surprise you jaded, desensitised fanboys.” Either that, or we get the standard “Oh, it’s a little nod to the fans”.

 Well, it’s not a little nod to the fans, it’s a big middle finger to the fans. It’s a big, fat, smug kick in the balls to say “Look, this is what you like isn’t it… but, NO… we’re not giving you that… hahahaha! You’re old! It’s not for you!”

 Which, as I say, is fine. But don’t then do rounds of interviews talking about how much you respect the original, how much you want the fans to enjoy it, and how “the story is even more relevant today than it was then”. A story about a peadophile killing kids in their dreams is ALWAYS going to be relevant, because it taps into primal fears. But you’ve still got to be able to tell that story well… campfire ghost stories wouldn’t have the same impact if Joe Pasquale was telling them.

 I realise this has turned into a bit of a generic rant now, so I’ll try and steer it back on course.

 So they mess with the story for no good reason other than to make it a bit newer. It’s a bit like when sequels introduce back story that really should have been known in the first film (eg Halloween, Star Wars), so Freddy was actually abusing these kids when they were little. So that’s the sins of the parents visited on the children out the window. We do get to see the parents retribution this time, though oddly its played out as one of the teenagers Freddy induced nightmares. Why would he choose that as the basis for a nightmare?

 It plays its card far too early too. As is the norm, we have to have a gory death scene early on which ends with the title appearing on screen in a knife swish sound effect (see also the Saw sequels). But it tries the old “oh good, I’m awake… oh no, I’m still asleep and this is still a dream” trick, never bettered than in An American Werewolf in London. And then it does it again. And then it does it again. THREE TIMES in the first 20 minutes. It’s a movie cheat that’s difficult to pull off successfully once in a film, let alone three times in the first act.

 They also show Freddy far too early. To be fair, the make up job is rather good. It’s still a tad rubbery but he’s a bit more believable as a burns victim than the classic look. Problem is, when he’s onscreen, he’s far too brightly lit. Freddy is supposed to be a character that’s in your dreams, in the dark. Surely one of the reasons why the character worked (at least in the first film) was that you didn’t really see what he looked like. You saw flashes, and shadowed glimpses, and your brain filled in the rest. Looking grotesque isn’t enough. Surely not knowing how grotesque someone is is scarier?

 So, it was an ordeal. And not in a good way.

 Halloween may have been horrible, but it tried to have some original ideas. Friday the 13th was a mess, but was only as bad as most of its originals sequels. Texas Chainsaw Massacare just missed the point of what made the original work.

 This is just a cynical, disrespectful, lazy, smug, hateful ‘film-making’ of the lowest order. It genuinely made me angry. But $120 million at the US box office alone tells us that Freddy 2 with probably with us shortly.

 Bloody kids…

Skyscraper (1995)

June 27, 2011 6:14 am

Skyscraper cover

 

 One day we’ll get a decent biopic about Anna Nicole-Smith. One that ranks up there with the pinaccle of TV-movie gold that is The Jayne Mansfield Story (or, given that Arnie plays her husband, should that be The Chain Mansfield Story?). The parallels between Mansfield and Nicole-Smith are manifest and I’m not a historian so I’ll leave that to some Media Studies student to deal with in an essay entitled something witty like “Pneumatic Thrills: The Dichotomy of Breast Enlargement in Post-Feminist Entertainment“. Or something.

There is a Nicole-Smith biopic, called simply Anna Nicole (or for the hard of thinking, The Anna Nicole Smith Story on DVD)  but it’s a half-hearted, quick cash-in released within months of her death in 2007. And it leaves out several vital events from her ‘story’ including her breakthrough with a series of H&M ads, her lesbian affairs and, most shocking of all, her film career.

Well, I say career. It was more of a period of community service, really. Except she didn’t have to wear a hi-vis vest with ‘Community Payback’ written on it. In fact, she wore very little at all.

She started off quite well with an inspired cameo as ‘Za-za’ in the Coen brothers’ Hudsucker Proxy, and then an extended cameo in Naked Gun 33 1/3.

From here someone had the bright idea that she should, and could, be a star. Why not? She had a massive fan base of teenage boys who were too young to buy Playboy Video Playmate Calendar 1993 or Playboy Video Playmate Review 1993, and with Pamela Anderson about to hit the big time with Barb Wire, it seemed the perfect time to launch Ms Nicole-Smith onto an unsuspecting Blockbuster Video audience.

She made two movies in quick succession in 1995, both directed by Raymond Martino who had graduated (or rather gone downhill) from the Lee Strasburg Acting School, to bit parts in Fall Guy, to straight to video trash starring John Travolta’s brother, Joey.

To the Limit was first, a mafia/revenge/buddy/reluctant allies/shagging thing that I have been unable to find yet.

But Skyscraper sounded much more promising. Nicole-Smith plays a helicopter pilot who finds herself stuck in a skyscraper taken over by hostages. Wow! What an original idea… Nicole-Smith playing a helicopter pilot. That’s the kind of ideas that get people to the top in Hollywood.

Nicole-Smith is Carrie Wisk (pfft) a helicopter pilot who ferries businessmen around the many skyscraper helipads of Los Angeles (though all the different ones she lands on were clearly all filmed at the same place) like a rich person’s taxi service. She’s married to a cop, Gordon (though always called ‘Gordo’ for some reason). Her first fare is dropped off, and he goes to dingy backstreet to exchange a briefcase for a large wad of cash from some bad guys. The bad guys decide they don’t want to pay and instead (in the only decent action scene in the movie) blow up lots of cars with a rocket launcher and shoot uzis indiscriminantly in the street in broad daylight.

Meanwhile Carrie whines on, in her underwear, about wanting a baby. She and Gordo fight and he goes to work. But wouldn’t you know it, he left his car at the station so asks Carrie for a lift. And she’s still angry with him, so we get a hilarious scene of her flying REALLY badly to get her own back.

Gordo and his partner, probably called Deadmeat or Target, catch more bad guys nicking a huge microchip from an electronics firm, which seems to run its R & D team from a used car forecourt prefab. Deadmeat gets blown up by that pesky rocket launcher and the bad guys get away.

Finally, about 20 minutes in, we meet the main bad guy. But it’s not immediately obvious. What is obvious is that he’s going to be very annoying. Not only is he called Fairfax (a villain name cliche that goes back to early days of US soaps) he likes to quote Shakespeare. No particular reason for this. It’s what’s known in screenwriting circles as ‘a lazy quirk’. Fairfax is played by a guy called Charles M Huber, a Senegalese-German who sounds like a French Matt Berry. He may also be one of the producers (Charles Huber) but even imdb is confused about this, since their entry for Huber without the ‘M’ tells us he died in 1960.

He’s Carrie’s next fare. She drops him off at a swanky hotel/resort, where he picks up another case and shoots another guy, again in broad daylight (luckily, no one is in the bar at the time, not even staff).

Next it’s off to the HQ of the electronics firm. Through clunky exposition we discover it’s saturday, so the building is almost deserted. There’s an annoying security guard who looks like Sweetchuck from the Police Academy films, a hard pressed career woman, who’s son is riding around the office on his trikey like Danny in The Shining and a few other bits of cannon fodder, one of which is set up to make us think he’s in with the bad guys, but isn’t. But then he does a deal with them and gets shot. So that was all a bit pointless.

Fairfax is here to get the final piece of his satellite-controlling-doomsday-scenario-meccano set, but wouldn’t you know it Carrie stumbles in looking for a phone (the bad guys disabled her radio on the chopper) and ends up with the case.

And, FINALLY, the Tesco Value Die Hard shifts into, well, not exactly top gear. More like second gear. Anything else would probably blow their budget.

Carrie does the firehouse escape from the roof, only using a winch from a window cleaner rig instead. She starts a fire to alert the fire brigade, but rather than blowing up the building, McClane-style, she just sets light to a waste paper basket.

There’s lots of cat-and-mouse running around. Lots of shooting. Lots of screaming. And Carrie shows off her never mentioned kung fu skills. Seriously, if your character is a helicopter pilot, you really should mention early on that she’s also an ace kung fu fighter rather than just have her start chopping guys throats out of nowhere.

There’s also lots of falling-from-buildings stunts, which all look reasonable good.

What’s no so good is the moment when they DO try to emulate Die Hard‘s exploding building money shot by superimposing what looks like a small electrical fire onto a shot of the building.

Having a tiny budget may excuse some things, like the fact Carrie’s helicopter and the later police helicopter are clearly the same helicopter, with ‘POLICE’ badly letraset on the side (at least two letters are wonky). It may excuse the fact that no-one in this film appears to have had any acting trainign of any kind (of which more to follow).

But it can’t excuse such gaping plot holes as the fact the building supposedly has an impenetrable computer lockdown, but three people manage to get in through a hatch on the roof with no problems. It doesn’t excuse the fact we’re told every employee’s ID card has a tracking device built in, so the bad guys can monitor everyone (and not monitor Carrie), yet when Gordo finally turns up, he appears on the tracker.

It also can’t excuse the fact that the film can’t decide how many “floors of terror” the building has exactly. We’re told at various points it has around 80. The building doesn’t look that big, and the computer tells us that the roof is floor 23!

skyscraper 2

How many floors of terror? Even the makers don’t know.

And it most definitely cannot excuse a scene which was thankfully missing from the version I saw. In the UK, this recently popped up on Movies4Men, a low rent movie channel where I catch a lot of the crap I talk about on here. Despite a late night showing it was missing two scenes. The first, a gratuitous shower scene for Nicole-Smith early on. The second however is even missing (for the most part) on the UK DVD version.

Carrie is captured and handed over to a bad guy to “have some fun with” whilst they look for the briefcase she has stashed. I think you can imagine what “have some fun with” means in the context of this sort of movie. What follows, from what I’ve read and screenshots I’ve seen (NSFW), is a rape scene that seems to be included just to show off Nicole-Smith’s naked body. I’m no prude, but I like to think that in more enlightened times (ie not the 1970s) where sticking a rape scene in a film for cheap thrills was now considered not a cool thing to do. But hey, that’s just me.

The version I watched cuts straight into her lying on the floor with her top off pointing a gun at the bad guy saying “You wanna fuck me? Fuck this!”, shooting him in the balls and he flies back out a window. Justice is served. Sadly not on the director though…

By now, I’m sure you’re dying to know how bad Nicole-Smith is. Well, surprise surprise she is dreadful. And I mean, with a capital D. I don’t think I have ever seen a worse performance in a movie.

Thankfully, the makers seemed to agree and try to keep her dialogue down to a bare minimum. This does lead to whole sections of the film not featuring her at all (I presume this is why the beginning is so protracted, and far too many incidental characters are introduced later on). there’s a wonderful clip on Youtube of outtakes from Skyscraper, where she is being fed lines, and just has to repeat them (I particularly like her “leading your hairspace”).

Skyscraper has nothing to recommend it, despite the best efforts of Total Film and Daily Star on the DVD cover above. It’s mainly very dull, and watching Nicole-Smith trying to deliver believable dialogue makes you nostalgic for early Arnie films. Which is where we came in.

Nightmare City aka City of the Walking Dead (1980)

June 17, 2011 4:49 am

Nightmare city

It was quite odd for me to not enjoy The Walking Dead earlier this year. I’d been led to believe this was a new pinnacle in televisual entertainment, and, as a zombie fan, it would be the ultimate gut-munching experience. Well, I found it to be glossy, watered-down, derivative and, dare I say, a tad boring. To me it seemed to be the zombie thing for people who don’t really like zombie things.

It also signalled the ultimate public acceptance of zombie stories into the mainstream. It’s been a long road, and people like to talk about why the turn of the millenium has seen a sudden surge of zombies into the popular consciousness. To which I say “Bugger off, I’m watching Zombie Flesh Eaters“.

The noughties is NOT the high watermark of zombie cinema. That’s like saying the rash of slasher remakes clogging up multiplexes the world over is signalling the high point of the genre. It’s just lazy Hollywood.

The true peak of zombie cinema was the turn of 70s into the 80s, starting with Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. So popular was it in Italy, that they took the mantle upon themselves to batter audiences into submission with a succession of rip-offs of varying quality, but consistent gore quotients.

Nightmare City is a lesser example of spaghetti zombie-fests, but just as important, as, contrary to its US title, and to the best of my knowledge, it was the first zombie film to feature RUNNING zombies. No Haitian voodoo and shuffling worm eaters here. These radioactive rampagers could probably rundown Usain Bolt if his blood was tasty enough.

Not only that, but they still seem to have their brains intact too.  They can use weapons (or rather they utilise everything they can lay their hands on as a weapon) and even to have a plan of attack!

zombies

Nyom nyom

But, I’m getting ahead of myself here. First the plot. A radioactive leak has led to a plane load of ‘infected’ people running amok in an unamed city. That’s pretty much it.

Our focus initially is a TV reporter (Hugo Stiglitz) as attempts to rescue his doctor wife, after his attempts to broadcast the news of what’s happening our thwarted by The Man. Here the part of the once big star parachuted in to make the film sellable to the USA will be played by Mel Ferrer.

Along the way Mel’s daughter is given a sub-plot, as does another Army bloke who’s sculptress wife get’s her top off and mopes around the house.

It’s pretty episodic stuff, with no real narrative thread beyond Stiglitz rescuing his wife, then trying to escape the city, whilst Ferrer points a stick at a model of the city and initiates “…Plan H. We’ll keep Plan B in reserve”. Ferrer’s scenes were clearly filmed in about two days as, bar one scene, he’s never featured outside HQ.

 Mels pointy stick

“We’ll go with Plan H. Hitting them with a pointy stick.”

What it does have is an avalance of ridiculous set pieces, squirm-inducing dialogue and moments of bad movie gold.

After the zombies have seized the airport, they turn their attentions to a TV station. We are treated to an example of the station’s output, which, during the day at least, features a god-awful dance troupe in purple leotards. While it’s certainly more watchable than Loose Women, there’s no need to give us TWO extended views of it (totalling more than five minutes screen time). And handily the leotards have a habit of falling off and exposing the dancers chests as soon as the zombies attack. One poor woman runs direct into camera letting it all hang out before being grabbed and having a nipple sliced off. It’s nowhere near as nasty as it sounds, honest.

Loose women

Loose Women.. Italian style

In fact, the women do come off very badly in this one. Whilst the men tend to get shot, or battered about the head, before the zombies feed on their necks like vampires, almost all the female victims have the indignity of having their tops pulled off, before being stabbed in the chest for a handy feeding hole (to be fair though, if they didn’t want their boobs exposed maybe they should wear bras. Not one woman in this film wears a bra). It’s worth mentioning here that director Umberto Lenzi is one of the less talented, but massively successful, Italian directors, who often created ultra-exploitative rip-offs of better films. the best known example is probably the abhorrent Cannibal Ferox, which he made next. This is far more fun.

Of course, this happens to be the TV station wear Stiglitz works, and he’s on hand to hurl an exploding TV at some zombies and make his escape.

The zombies continue on, taking over a power station, then the hospital where Stiglitz’ wife works. And so it continues…

It’s worth mentioning here, the wonder that is Stiglitz’ acting ability. This man makes Mark Wahlberg look like Jack Nicholson as far as emoting goes. he appears to have only one expression.

Here he is witnessing the zombie attack at the airport (note how his ‘top camerman’ isn’t filming this exciting breaking story)…

Stiglitz 1

Or here, as the zombies attack the TV station he appears to ring for a pizza (or the military, I can’t remember which)…

Stiglitz 2

Or here, where he’s very disappointed that the gas station they’ve found doesn’t stock Ginsters sausage rolls…

Stiglitz 3

It’s an odd film in that it doesn’t seem to know which zombie mythology it’s following. Early on a scientist examines one they caught and explains about their regenerative qualities but also suggests the infection can be passed on. What’s odd is that we never see a dead body get up. Each set piece seems to feature different zombies, but still, you need to see the effect on their victims.

In the plus coloumn, it features a line which has permeated popular culture (at least if you like zombie films). This must be true as I used it for the title of a zombie essay at Uni, and I’d never even seen this film: “Aim for the brain!”. (Oddly, I have vivid memories of the video cover from when i was a nipper. The cover, in it’s skin ripping glory, made it look utterly horrendous. It’s a wonderful piece of trash artwork, which is why I chose to use it above, over its better known equivalents.)

It’s far from the best example of Italian splatter, but it’s certainly not the worst, though it probably has the worst ending to a zombie film I’ve ever seen. Seriously… the worst ending. EVER. In the right frame of mind, and a few shandies down, it can be entertaining. It’s certainly not dull, and you’re never more than ten minutes away from either some outrageous gore, or some ridiculous dialogue.

NB. If you’re wondering why the name Hugo Stiglitz sounds familiar, it’s because he was the name of one of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds