Friday, 29 October 2010

Happy Halloween Weekend!

Yeah, for me Halloween lasts the whole weekend - any excuse to cover myself in blood, I'm in! No film/tv relevance here, just a self-obsessed picture of my costume/fake bloodiness, but enjoy the weekend! :)

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Honeymoon Killers (Kastle, 1970)

Possibly my favourite place to buy movies is the CeX chain (and not just because I call it 'the cex shop'...). And one of my most recent purchasing sprees included this 25p bargain. The Honeymoon Killers is based on the true events of a notorious duo of 'lonely hearts killers' in the 1940s.

Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) is an overweight, lonely nurse, but when her friend signs her up to a lonely hearts club, where she corresponds with Raymond Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco). The pair embark upon a relationship, despite the discovery that Ray makes a living conning women by seducing them. As the pair pose as brother and sister to draw in the lonely spinsters, Martha's jealousy at seeing Ray with other women grows. When Ray marries a pregnant woman who attempts to sleep with him, Martha gives Ray some pills to give her, which result in her death (and a hilariously cheesy 'dead face'. I love 'dead faces'.). 

Little time is spent focusing on the building of the pair's relationship, by 20 minutes in, Beck has decided to leave her elderly mother and move to New York to be with Ray. Much is left out, with the story skipping between women very quickly - no sooner has one target been left or killed, Ray seems to have another lined up - meaning much more focus is given to Ray and Martha. Their relationship is tumultuous, to say the least. Seemingly, all Martha wants is Ray's love, but he seems more interested in conning the women than giving her attention - and tries to drown herself when she believes he is truly interested in another woman. Although her hapless swimming is pretty amusing, the moments where she is actually drowning are quite disturbing, especially the vocal sound collage.

The quick turnover of victims is understandable, as similarly with 1967's Bonnie and Clyde (Penn), the viewer is set in a position to identify with the couple, mainly Martha, rather than the victims - something less common within the horror genre. Stoler has an incredibly creepy face, and as Martha she provides some real menace, all driven by her love for Ray. It's only after Martha's attempted drowning that Ray shows a softer side towards her, and tries to appease her by fulfilling her wish that they move to the suburbs - but, unsurprisingly, their life on the straight and narrow doesn't last long. As for Ray, he's the kind of character that has no real likeable qualities other than when he saves Martha from a watery death. Plus, Lo Bianco's accent combined with bad articulation makes it sometimes hard to make out what he's saying.

Compared to the aforementioned Bonnie and Clyde, The Honeymoon Killers gives a much less glamorous perspective on a criminal relationship - Martha is needy and psychotic, and the couple are often at each other's throats over one thing or another. The black and white, high contrast style gives a gritty, dark feel and the casting of Stoler, a large, unconventional looking actress is a far cry from beauty Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker. The kills are a little underwhelming, especially the clunky hammer to the head of

Things get an extra dose of fucked-up with the murder of Daphne Delphine, and the drowning of her young daughter - pretty harrowing stuff. At times, The Honeymoon Killers is creepy and unnerving - but its downfall is the inability to keep the tension up. The building of suspense that shines in some moments doesn't manage to continue throughout the narrative, and gets dull at times. The story itself is an interesting one, and the films Lonely Hearts (Robinson, 2006) and Deep Crimson (Ripstien, 1996) are also based on the same story. Unfortunately, the execution is flawed. A few disturbing sequences make it watchable with hints of greatness that could have been, but the end result seems more melodrama than menace, with a less than believable love story and the odd scattering of black humour. But never mind, it cost less than a Dime bar.


Thursday, 21 October 2010

Zombieland (Fleischer, 2009)

Ahh, zombies. In their endeavour to, well, to just pretty much eat everyone, the whole of America has fallen foul of the flesh-eating fiends. Apart from an unlikely hero from Columbus, Ohio. Zombieland falls under the umbrella sub-genre of the 'zom-com', perfected in 2004's Brit flick Shaun of the Dead, where comedy horror gets the undead treatment. Our hero, known only as 'Columbus' (Jesse Eisenberg...yeah, him again!), is a shy, introverted college student with a wealth of phobias, who spends his evenings eating pizza and playing World of Warcraft. When the zombie apocalpyse strikes, he decides to man up and make his way back home to Ohio, following his own rules for surviving.

Seemingly Eisenberg is a hot topic on this blog, with this being his third appearance - and second in a film that ends in 'land' (Adventureland is the other, FYI). Clearly the awkward teenager is a role he fits in comfortably, and he certainly gives current leader of the socially challenged character typecast, Michael Cera, a run for his money. Columbus is certainly an unlikely survivor, when his hottie next door neighbour (Amber Heard) joins the undead army and decides she wants a piece his survival seems more lucky than skilful - including hitting her with the top of a toilet cistern and apologising for jamming her foot in the door.

Thankfully, Columbus's rules serve him well, including the essentials, such as "Beware of Bathrooms" (Rule #3) and "Double Tap" (Rule #2). Wandering the highway with just a suitcase (Rule #7 - travel light!), he gets picked up by 'Tallahassee' (Woody Harrelson), a ruthless, tough-guy motherfucker...who'll do anything to get his hands on a Twinkie. Harrelson's appearance in the movie was apparently on the basis of four counditions - including the movie being environmentally conscious. After an awesome face-off with some fatties at the supermarket, Columbus and Tallahassee discover 'Wichita' (Emma Stone), whose younger sister 'Little Rock' (Abigail Breslin) has apparently been bitten by a zombie. After a seemingly heart-wrenching moment, the girls quickly turn the tables on the duo, revealing Little Rock's bite as fake, and run off with their truck and guns. They're girls with balls, something often missing within the horror genre. Columbus and Tallahassee stumble across the girls a little later on, and the four create an unlikely alliance, driving across the country.

The zombie style nods more to the blood-soaked crazies of the 'new zombie' film generation, as opposed to the slow, overbearing types in the old-school zombie flicks. There's plenty of blood and guts, with some damn awesome kills - particularly from Tallahassee, who takes great pleasure in the more inventive means of zombie disposal. The comic-book style of the 'rules' being shown on the screen gives a modern, videogame feel, and the opening credits look like they should be in 3D. The random interlude of 'Zombie Kill of the Week' is also a fantastic moment.

Despite the situation, the characters also manage to have some fun - taking out their anger on a new age store by destroying its contents. At times, being seemingly the only living humans on earth actually seems like a lot of fun. When the foursome seek refuge into a famous Hollywood star's house, they also find a fifth survivor - none other than Bill Murray, disguising himself as a zombie to avoid the attention of the real things. His appearance creates some of the most comedically genius moments in the movie, giving the group a temporary escape from the impending zombie doom, and the revelation that Tallahassee is Murray's biggest fan. There are also a fair few other pop-culture references, including a zombie Charlie Chaplin impersonator and references to Murray's appearance in the classic Ghostbusters.

Although not quite standing up to the innovative and original Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland definitely gives a hilarious take on the zombie revival of the 00's. Loads of 'zom', plenty of 'com' and a stand-up cast make it a great example of how comedy horror should be. Although a word of warning - those with a clown phobia may well find themselves hiding behind the sofa at around 1hr 14....



Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Social Network (Fincher, 2010)

Chances are, most of you will have logged into another site before this one. You might even be as cool as me, and have it open in another tab. With over 500million users, Facebook is the most used social networking site in the world, making creator Mark Zuckerberg the world's youngest billionaire. And it was only a matter of time before Hollywood grabbed hold of his story. The Social Network tells the story of the conception and consequential explosion of the site, starring Zombieland's Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg. The story is framed by two lawsuits, one between Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) another original Facebook founder, and the other with fellow Harvard students Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer - with Josh Pence as body double) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who claim Zuckerberg stole their idea for an exclusive social networking site.

After being dumped by girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara), Zuckerberg returns to his Harvard dorm and, with the help of Sanchez, creates a site called FaceMash, where students can rate the attractiveness of girls on campus. Its massive success prompts the Winklevoss twins and friend/business partner Narenda to approach Zuckerberg with their proposal for a new dating/networking site, Harvard Connections. Zuckerberg agrees to code the site for them, but instead embarks upon his own similar idea, The FaceBook. The site begins to spread to other schools, and attracts the attention of Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake).

Exactly how much of the movie is rooted in truth is debatable - Zuckerberg himself has stated that his life was nowhere near as exciting as the screen portrayal makes out, and the team behind the film also state that his story has been dramatized for storytelling, rather than straight factual detail. However, these exaggerated, possibly completely fabricated, events make the film watchable for a general audience.

Despite his original attitude that money doesn't drive him, Zuckerberg comes across as a driven and slightly manipulative character, particularly after meeting Parker, a hedonistic party animal who seems more interested in the fame and perks than the project itself. Although it seems he is being taken advantage of in some ways, it's hard to sympathise with his cold, clinical attitude towards business, and instead lean toward the interests of Sanchez. Knowing that Sanchez was the only member in any way involved with the screenplay could perhaps some way to explaining this biased representation of the characters...

The Social Network works well as a comedy/drama, the seemingly quite dull (unless you're a computing nerd, anyway) subject matter is made far more interesting by the sprinkling of dry, witty humour, which is, on the whole, delivered excellently - particularly by Eisenberg. There are some real laugh out loud (or to appropriately reference internet speak, LOL) moments, including Sanchez's psychotic girlfriend Christy Lee (Brenda Song) raging about a Facebook founder being unable to change his relationship status. And also, Trent Reznor's involvement with the score means a slightly dark, jarring accompaniment that contrasts with the film's comedic attitude.

The editing between the story and lawsuits is well-thought out, and frames the story perfectly with enough factual detail, but not so much as to bore people. Garfield, soon to hit the big time as the new Spiderman, shines as the likeable Sanchez, although Eisenberg gives a somewhat one-dimensional performance. In the lawsuit scenes, the character came across more like a moody teenage boy than a young billionaire businessman. Indeed, the film seems to depict his journey as more partying than working, and that the success was more down to luck - whereas Zuckerberg himself says it took a lot of hard work and years of coding, rather than drinking, to get Facebook where it is today.

Putting the controversy and notions of realistic representations aside, The Social Network is an enjoyable film. One major criticism is the ending - something which seems rushed and comes very suddenly, with titling on-screen explaining the outcome of the court cases, which seems like a bit of a cop-out, really. Mind you, seeing Zuckerberg in the final scene adding ex-girlfriend Erica and refreshing the page over and over raises a chuckle - something I'm pretty sure some members of the audience related to. Facebook is an integral part of society, and along with being a watchable movie, The Social Network shows how one man's dorm-room project became one of the world's biggest internet sites - a pretty fascinating concept, in all.


Monday, 4 October 2010

Messages Deleted (Cowan, 2009)

In the opening scenes of Messages Deleted, the viewer is greeted by a generic horror-style sequence, a man wakes up in a room and has to save his ladyfriend from a maniac killer. Yawn, boring..thankfully, it's just a demonstration by Joel Brandt (Matthew 'that looks like the guy from Without A Paddle...oh, it IS the guy from Without A Paddle' Lillard), a screenwriting tutor delivering a class on cliches. How many times have you watched a movie and groaned at the typical 'turn your back on the 'dead' killer and he's gone', or one of the million other predictable moments that echo in seemingly every mainstream horror? Messages Deleted is a horror/thriller that picks up on these cliches, and although they can be seen being used in the film's narrative, it feels that Rob Cowan is attempting to parody them in a self-aware fashion - something he actually achieves with moderate success.

When he arrives back at his apartment, Brandt recieves two messages on his answerphone - one about his screenplay being considered for Hollywood greatness, and another from a man begging for Joel's help to stop his murder. Assuming the call to be a prank, Brandt deletes the message - but when the murdered man's corpse falls practically into his lap, things begin to spiral out of control. With another message and another murder, he realises he is at the centre of something major - and so do the police.

 After being caught 'red-handed' at a murder scene, he flees to find solace with his ex, Claire (Chiara Zanni), who ends up a victim of the psychopath on Brandt's tail. Killing of the girlfriend may fall into cliche-land, but the comments Brandt makes on this idea reinforces the sense of self-awareness. Desperate to find the killer's motive for both the murders and the focus on him, he turns to one of his screenplays, and quirky student Millie (Gina Holden). One day, a film will spell Milly with a y. Working together, they find a previous student's work he had been given to look over - but instead, he subconciously stole the plot for his own, and now the original writer is out for revenge. With Detectives Lavery (Deborah Kara Unger) and Breedlove (Serge Houde) on his tail, he needs to track down the killer before he finishes bringing the script to life.

Despite probably being best known for his comedy work, Lillard copes with a straighter leading role well, and Holden is at ease in the 'femme fatale' role. Some of the plot holes seem glaringly obvious, Claire as a character is skimmed over and pretty much used as a prop to bring the 'dead girlfriend' into play. The behaviour of the police is also questionable, bringing Brandt in for a 'lie detector' test and asking strange questions. We briefly encounter Brandt's father, Ben, who consistently tells his son to 'write what he knows'. But Brandt's backstory has a feeling of dipping in and out, bringing in information haphazardly rather than using it for character-building.

Written by Larry Cohen, responsible for other phone-based thrillers Phone Booth (Schumacher, 2002) and Cellular (Ellis, 2004), the film attempts to confront these cliches with moderate success. It's not perfect by any means and sometimes the attempt to play with predictability falls a little flat, particularly towards the end, with two twists, at least one of which you easily saw coming. However the final moments of the film, the epilogue to the story if you like, hold an ambiguous surprise. For a low-budget thriller, Messages Deleted delivers and has a well-thought out and creative story behind it, with a few shining moments of originality.


Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Ghost/The Ghost Writer (Polanski, 2010)

In Roman Polanski's adaptation of Robert Harris' novel of the same name, Ewan McGregor stars as an unnamed ghostwriter ('the Ghost') roped in to complete the memoirs of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), after his previous writer died under what unravel to be mysterious circumstances.When Lang is accused of participation in war-crime activity, the Ghost finds himself knee-deep in a political furore. As the Ghost weaves himself deeper into the former PM's life, he finds himself up to his neck in scandal, and begins to unwittingly retrace his predecessor's steps in a search for the truth. 

On accepting his new writing job, the Ghost is whisked away to a secluded island where the former PM has made his home with wife Ruth (Olivia Williams), family and a team of employees, including Amelia Bly, played by Kim 'Samantha from Sex and the City' Cattrall. Although she doesn't give an outstanding or memorable performance, proves there's more to her career than just talking about men's dangly bits. McGregor shines as the Ghost, showing off a slightly cocky demeanour and helpings of wit in a very British, self-deprecating manner. Throughout his career, he's shown his chops as an actor, from drug-addled in Trainspotting, a lovey-dovey poet in Moulin Rouge, to a mature, layered performance in The Ghost. With such versatility and stunning performances like this, McGregor could well be one of Britain's most talented male stars. And on the subject of Brit stars, the criminally-underrated Olivia Williams shows both strength and vulnerability perfectly as Ruth.

One similar film immediately sprung to mind with a similar feel to The Ghost, and that was Scorcese's Shutter Island, released earlier this year. Although the two films take very different narrative directions, both have noir-ish elements, and build tension slowly with a sense of menace - an area in which Polanski has often demonstrated his expertise. The landscape of the island is more reminiscent a remote isle off the coast of Scotland than a few hours drive from the bustle of New York City, creating an unnerving sense of isolation.

Although the film fits the genre of 'political thriller', the politics aren't over-complicated, as the narrative relates more to the detective-like antics of the Ghost than the issues themselves. As McGregors character states at the very beginning, he knows nothing about politics - and a similarly small amount of political understanding is needed to still enjoy this film. At around the two hour mark, it's not simply a 'casual viewing' movie, and to truly feel the tension that is constantly hanging in the air, it needs a bit of concentration and engagement. So if you're looking for a fast-paced, action packed thrill ride, this won't be the DVD to grab from the Blockbuster shelf. But for those who like their thrillers suspenseful and mysterious, don't miss out on one of this year's underrated gems.