Boldly Going Where Mine Was Taller Has Never Gone Before

Back in June I tried something a little different on Mine Was Taller, namely Horror Day. Horror Day was a day of back-to-back horror movies with me and my friend Dipa blogging about each film after we watched it. Horror Day was so successful (well we enjoyed it anyway) that we’ve decided to do another one and, in case the title of this post didn’t give it away, this time we’re doing Sci Fi. There’ll be a slight change to the format as Dipa now has her own blog, Inner Corr, so she’ll be posting on there and I’ll be putting links to her thoughts along with my own comments here.

The line up should be something ike this:

Forbidden Planet
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Godzilla
(the Japanese original)
Phase IV
E.T.
Donnie Darko (The Director’s Cut)
Transformers
Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem

And if we get time Deja Vu.

Sci Fi Day will be Saturday 30 August.

Also coming soon will be a write-up of this year’s FrightFest, not the full event this time, just the Sunday, with Let The Right One In and Martyrs the pick of the days films.

Burning Rubber

Fast cars (and bikes) are the subject of this weeks viewing journal.

Torque
A film so over the top that it feels more like a spoof than a genuine attempt to do for motorbikes what The Fast and the Furious did for cars. Problem is it’s silly but not funny and ends up just being tedious.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Am I alone in thinking Lucas Black is cool? Maybe I am but he’s definitely the best thing in this second sequel to the 2001 hit, although it’s a sequel in name only, having no ties to the other films in the series (save for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo right at the end from Vin Diesel). Aimed at a younger audience, with a cast of twentysomethings playing high school kids, it’s The O.C. on wheels on holiday in Japan. If you’re under twenty you might love it, for anyone older it has little to offer but it’s still far better than John Singleton’s deadly dull 2 Fast 2 Furious.

The Diver
This is a great thriller from Walter Hill. Yes it could have been better, the part of The Driver has Steve McQueen written all over it, but it’s got some cracking car chases and a gripping game of cat and mouse between The Driver and The Detective. Ryan O’Neal, while lacking the McQueen cool does a good job in a part that’s a world away from the romantic dramas and light comedies that made his name. Bruce Dern, for a change on the right side of the law, is great as the cop who’ll stop at nothing to get his man. It may not be big on character but this is one of the best car movies ever made.

Vanishing Point
And while we’re on the subject of best car movies ever, this one gets my vote. The late ‘60s/early ‘70s were the golden years for cinematic vehicular mayhem and this film gives us one of the most iconic movie automobiles ever in the white 1970 Dodge Challenger driven by Kowalski (Barry Newman). Kowalski is in a hurry to get to San Francisco from Denver (we never find out why) and takes a job delivering said Dodge Challenger. In between outrunning the police and encountering oddball characters (like Dean Jagger’s desert dwelling snake hunter) we get snapshots of his past – as racing driver, cop, lover – none of which explain his need to get to Frisco, but then the why isn’t really important. Newman is cool, not McQueen cool but still pretty damn cool, and you’re routing for him right up to the films nihilistic yet oddly exhilerating climax.

‘I’m a soldier of the apocalypse, man!’

Mr Bale’s been in the news a bit recently (you’ve probably noticed) and he’s also been making regular appearances on my DVD player this week as a warm up to seeing The Dark Knight at the IMAX cinema in Birmingham this coming Saturday

Equilibrium
This Orwellian tale is a better film that it probably has a right to be. Essentially 1984 done as an action movie, it benefits from a great cast, particularly Christian Bale, and some good action sequences. The Gun Fu idea manages to be both silly and incredibly cool at the same time and is about the films only original idea. To see what Equilibrium would have been like without Bale check out director Kurt Wimmer’s follow-up Ultraviolet.

The Machinist
How far should an actor go in pursuit of authentisity? Christian Bale goes above and beyond the call of duty in Brad Anderson’s film about an insomniac machine operator, to the point where you start to worry about his health. Bale, all skin and bones, gives a typically intense performance in this surreal story that avoids categorisation, being part drama, part thriller, part horror. It’s an excellent film that feels like something David Cronenberg might have dreamed up, which is high praise indeed.

Harsh Times
The military takes young men, trains them how to kill, puts them through things that leave them traumatised and unable to deal with life in the ‘real’ world and the lets them loose on that world – that’s the premise behind David Ayer’s directorial debut. The ex-Army Ranger is played by Christian Bale and he gives another first rate performance, showing the inner turmoil of a character who misses the order of military existence and finds himself pulled into a life of drugs and violence when his application is turned down by the LAPD . Playing his best friend, Freddy Rodríguez is an excellent foil for Bale, adding a touch of humour and likability to an otherwise pretty bleak film. Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria Parker isn’t required to do much more than look pretty and gripe at Rodríguez for not getting a job but she’s more than capable of both tasks.

The New World
Terrence Malick’s take on the Pocahontas story is certainly sumptuous to look at but it failed to grip me as it should. This may be sacrilegious but I’ve never been a big Malick fan, I’ve always felt his reputation was far greater than his body of work warranted, it’s almost like his lack of output is what convinces people he must be a great filmmaker. But my main gripe with The New World isn’t Malick’s direction, although the lethargic pace doesn’t help the film, no it’s with the film’s star Colin Farrell. Now I’ve enjoyed more than a few of Farrell’s films but his mumbling performance here was so irritating I developed an instant dislike to the character (not that he’s particularly likable anyway). As he’s one of the few people that are really developed in the film (that lack of characters being another of the films problems, and an inexcusable one given its length) it’s no wonder the film failed to engage me. Q’orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas is remarkably good for such an inexperienced actress and Christian Bale does a good job given the small amount of screen time he gets, making John Rolfe far more endearing than Farrell’s Captain Smith, to the extent that it’s hard to accept the attraction of the mumbling Irishman.

The Prestige
I actually found The Prestige far more enjoyable second time around, without the weight of Christopher Nolan’s cinematic slight of hand to divert my attention. It’s got three (or should that be five?) first rate performances from Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Michael Caine, it’s got humour, it’s got tragedy and it’s got a gorgeous period setting. It’s also got David Bowie doing a funny accent but even that odd bit of casting doesn’t spoil the film. Hopefully Nolan will continue to make films like this in-between Batman movies, it would be a shame to see his talent tied too closely to the Dark Knight as Sam Raimi has been with Spider-Man.

Keep Watching the Skies…

Sometimes they’re cute and cuddly, like ET (or Jeff Bridges), but not all aliens are nice as this weeks viewing shows…

The Thing from Another World
There is much to enjoy in The Thing from Another World and then there’s James Arness’”Super Carrot”. The character interplay sparkles, although I could have done without having a woman stationed at the Arctic base (does a horror movie of this type really need a love interest?), and the isolated setting adds greatly to the sense of unease but then they show us too much of the monster and it all falls apart. It’s not fair to blame Big Jim, you could have put anyone in the veggiesuit and it would have looked silly. Important rule of horror moviemaking – if you have a crap monster don’t show it anymore than you have to.

Body Snatchers
I don’t know the background to this adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel of alien invasion but there’s certainly an unlikely combination of talent involved. Genre veteran Larry Cohen gets a credit for screen story while ‘Master of Horror’ Stuart Gordon is one of the scriptwriters and Abel Ferrara handles directorial duties. It seems an odd choice for Ferrara, a director who’s not exactly known for mainstream horror, more so as it followed his most famous film, Bad Lieutenant. He does a good job though and certainly creates more tension than the latest big budget take on the story, last years Invasion. If there’s a complaint it’s that it fails to make the most of its cast in particular Forest Whitaker and R. Lee Ermey, but Meg Tilly’s very good in her alien-stepmom role. The military base setting makes sense – surely alien invaders would target military installations? – and adds to the central characters feelings of isolation. Not the best (or even second best) version, but certainly a worth a look on a classic story.

Signs
When I first watched Signs I saw it as just another alien invasion movie, albeit an unusual one, watched again now it’s more a film about loss – loss of faith, loss of a loved one – than it is about unfriendly aliens. Director M. Night Shyamalan is unfairly branded a one trick pony, but there’s far more to his films than just a twist ending, if there wasn’t there’d be little reason to re-watch them. He also knows how to get good performances from his stars, and not just the full grown ones either – Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin aren’t overshadowed by big names Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. Damn creepy looking aliens too, and all the more effective for the little we actually see them.

Evil Aliens
Jake West is the Benny Hill of horror, not intelligent, not classy, but, if you’re in the right mood, he’ll provide you with some low brow laughs. He doesn’t so much tickle your funny bone as rip it out and beat you to death with it. The acting is pretty awful, including Zone Horror presenter Emily Booth, but that’s part of the films low budget charm, and West throws so much at you that some of the gore and jokes have to hit home. And any horror film that uses The Wurzels “I’ve Got A Brand New Combine Harvester” has to be worth a look for novelty value alone.

 

Horror Day: Inside

Dipa: “Oh my GOD” is the only reaction I can think of right now. I have been ever so proud of having a strong stomach when it comes to gore but this one has changed everything! I don’t think I have EVER seen anything quite like this. I was warned that it was violent and not a film for the weak hearted and I can assure you that a warning is necessary where this film is concerned. What an end to horror day- total madness.

Ian: I first saw this at the Frighfest Allnighter and was stunned by how violet and unrelenting it was. This second viewing, where I’m slightly more awake than I was then, is even more stunning. Yes it’s violent and there isn’t a whole lot to the story but it’s also extremely well made. There’s style in abundance on display here. I’ve seen the future of horror and it’s French. Off to bed now, although after that I’m not sure I’ll sleep!

Horror Day: Silence of the Lambs

Ian: More thriller than outright horror this still has a lot of horror elements, not least Anthony Hopkins theatrical take on Hannibal Lector. There’s always been a “who’s the best Lector” debate, Hopkins or Brian Cox, but I love them both. Cox may be the more believable but Hopkins gives us an almost mythic bogeyman, always in control. Jodie Foster is every bit Hopkins equal but for me the unsung hero of Silence of the Lambs is Scott Glenn, who underplays Crawford to perfection. One of the best thrillers of the ‘80s.

Dipa: Absolute masterpiece. I haven’t seen this film since I was much younger and therefore couldn’t really remember it very well. Having seen the sequels more recently, I must say that The Silence of the Lambs is by far the best. It was extremely engaging all the way through (which helped me stay awake without the aid of caffeine!) and generally captured all the best aspects of a thriller as well as a horror film. Foster and Hopkins’ performances are mesmerizing and made it the classic that it is today.

Horror Day: Brain Damage

Dipa: This is another film that Ian has introduced me to which I have strangely enjoyed. I found it both disturbing and amusing at the same time which was a nice contrast. The symbolic and metaphorical value of the film was bizarre and yet creatively presented. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before (and may not again!)

Ian: I love Frank Henenlotter’s films and Brain Damage is the best of them. So long as you have a unique and vivid imagination budget doesn’t need to be a constraint and Henenlotter is nothing if not unique. It offers the cheap gore thrills of your standard horror flick but instead of a mindless killer we get an analogy for drug addiction. I’m looking forward to his new film, Bad Biology, sixteen years is too long without a new Henenlotter film!

Horror Day: From Beyond the Grave

Ian: I Love a good anthology and in the ‘70s Amicus produced some corkers. From Beyond the Grave has some clever little tales and a cast of famous faces all linked by a typically impeccable performance from Peter Cushing. Some are creepy (David Warner’s haunted mirror), others more humorous (Margaret Leighton’s elemental battling medium) and one manages a bit of both (the Pleasence double act of father and daughter). They don’t make them like this anymore, mores the pity.

Dipa: This has been my favourite of the day so far. It had the perfect blend of creepiness and humour as Ian suggested in his comment. I felt that Margaret Leighton’s performance was top notch, she was eccentric and amusing to watch. Although Peter Cushing wasn’t a name I was familiar with his face certainly was and thanks to Ian’s filmic knowledge I’ve now discovered he was in a film I loved as a child, Horror Express (until now I didn’t know what the title of the film was but Ian recognised it from my description).

Horror Day: Night of the Lepus and Night of the Hell Hamsters

Ian: Two different sorts of funny, one intentional the other not. Lepus features a bunch of Hollywood stars past their prime taking on giant killer rabbits. It’s funny in parts but the joke wears thin and while there’s a surprising amount of gore for its time, it never manages to be remotely scary. Its biggest problem is that rabbits are just too darn cute, even giant killer ones. Hell Hamsters is a silly UK/Australian production about demonic hamsters. It revels in its low budget, using the extremely crap hamsters to get extra laughs. It also references numerous horror classics, not least of which is The Exorcist. A fun 15 minutes.

Dipa: I found Night of the Lepus a tad bit disappointing because I was expecting it to be more of a laugh out loud horror comedy and it seemed like a film that would generally be appreciated by a much younger audience. I agree with Ian that the joke gets worn out very quickly making the rest of the film rather dull. As a hamster owner, I must say that I will never look at my hamsters, Hamsterdam and Piglet, in the same way again! I thought it was 15 minutes of pure genius and would definitely recommend it.

Ian: I should just add that my brother, Andrew, has been bigging up Night of the Lepus since we were kids and he got to see it as part of the BBC’s horror double bills when, for some reason, I didn’t. It’s not the classic he made it out to be, that’s for sure!

Horror Day: Purana Mandir

Dipa: I had first seen this film when I was just four years old and it used to scare the crap out me but today, the same effect can be achieved from a spider running across the arm of a sofa (which actually happened while we were watching this film). Watching it again after many years, I find that it’s more funny than scary although it retained some moments of horror towards the end. In places it seemed that there were too many subplots that didn’t essentially connect to the main storyline. However, it was a joy to watch it again and it brought back childhood memories and nightmares!

Ian: I’ve always thought of Bollywood as the McDonalds of the movie world, not just because they’re films are produced really quickly but also because of the songs. The songs are like fries, and, as everyone knows, fries go with everything. When Purana Mandir focused on being a horror film it didn’t do a bad job, but it also wants to be a martial arts flick (with India’s answer to Bruce Lee, or at least he thinks he’s India’s answer to Bruce Lee), a comedy and a love story. It over eggs the pudding a bit but at least the songs gave us time to put the pizzas in the oven. And the spider was by far the scariest thing that happened while we were watching this!