Friday, 18 February 2011

Blu-Ray Review: Piranha (2010)


Directed By Alexandre Aja

Starring Elisabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Steven R McQueen, Jerry O’Connell, Jessica Szohr, Kelly Brook

An earthquake disturbs prehistoric Piranha and they proceed to eat a load of people on Spring Break. That’s pretty much the entire plot.


The film makers never pretended that the movie was going to be anything other than boobs and blood. They didn’t disappoint. So, I have no excuse for not knowing what this movie was going to be like. I’m a big fan of Aja's Haute Tension, and his remake of The Hills Have Eyes. These were reasons to investigate. The other reason was Kelly Brook. Well, sort of. Actually, her being in it and being stark naked was a bonus. I fell in love with Elisabeth Shue in Cocktail; a movie underrated and mistaken as just a “Tom Cruise vehicle”. That was unfair as the cast and story were very good. So, another actress that I had a crush on helped me choose this movie. Also, there’s a quality cameo from Richard Dreyfuss (seemingly playing a version of his character Matt Hooper in Jaws) and a slightly longer appearance from Christopher Lloyd playing a similar role from his past. I’m surprised he wasn’t called “Mr Brown”. Ving Rhames is always good value and here he is, picking up his cheque once again. Yes, Mr Rhames I remember Day of the Dead. Dina Meyer is in it, allegedly. She’s supposed to play one of the two seismologists who are accompanied by the Sheriff out towards the reef. I never knew that was her until after. She’s another actress I’ve enjoyed watching in Starship Troopers, and the TV show Point Pleasant.

Ving Rhames doing what he does best
So with an interesting cast, what else is there? Loads of boobs. Well quite a few. If you don’t like the exploitation of nubile women this is a movie to be avoided, but that should be obvious. But that’s not the draw. There are a lot of gory effects. This movie isn’t scary, there’s little in the way of tension but the movie is a fun watch. If you happen to find a scene in Alligator funny; you know, the one where someone’s helping a guy get on to a boat only to find that he’s legs have been bitten off at the knee, then you’ll get a kick out of this movie. Strangely, though, the aftermath of the major Piranha attack comes across a little like Omaha beach in Saving Private Ryan. I doubt this was intentional but I found it less funny than the rest of the movie. The laugh out loud moments include some great scenes with Jerry O’Connell. O’Connell astounds me. I know that he can act but he tends to get roles that make the audience know he’s acting like he’s got a neon-lit sign above his head saying “I’m an actor!”. In this movie we can easily forgive that, as he goes for the “money-shot” and sniffs coke up his nose at regular intervals. Seeing his demise is a mix of “yuck” and humour;” They took my penis”.

 Eli Roth on his downtime between projects

 So, there feels like there’s a lot of nudity but I’m not sure there really was. There’s a few shots of topless flashing but not a vast amount. Eli Roth manages to bag a role that most young actors would want - the ability to hose down girls in T-shirts but without the stigma of being in a Girls Gone Wild video. 
The scene that is bizarre is the one where Danni (Kelly Brook) and Crystal (Riley Steele) take a swim underwater, nude; like a couple of mermaids. They make out a bit, with classical music score accompanying the scene. Because the effect of them swimming in the sea is not that realistic the scene has a dream-like quality to it. There’s almost an arthouse vibe about it. So much so that it wasn't really sexy. I looked down at my crotch and said “This is what we’ve dreamed about since she hit the lads mag circuit in the mid to late nineties; a nude Kelly Brook in a movie!”. Nope. Nothing. Maybe, I’ve changed my status, I thought, but no I still like women very much and have no problems...ahem...downstairs. 

 Kelly and Riley filming a movie within a movie

Not sexy?

The trouble with this scene is that it stops the movie. Remember the scene in Total Recall when Arnie is wearing the big woman suit and the movie stops to look at it malfunction? Well, this scene is like this. The fillmakers are almost crying out “Look we got Kelly Brook to take all her clothes off for the camera”. Also, she’s terribly mis-cast. She’s supposed to be a “porn” actress with little worries about the morality of the whole thing but she comes across as being really nice. An example is the scene she plays with the excellent young actress Brooklynn Proulx. It’s almost sweet. Kelly is a strikingly beautiful woman in a girl next door that you really wish was next door kind of way but she doesn’t do sleazy very well, however hard she might try.  As was pointed out to me, Kelly's not the greatest of actresses but Dame Judi Denceh wouldn't quite cut it in the role. Who would have been better in the role? Whilst she's not prettier, or a better actress, but just better for the tone of the movie; Gianna Michaels who was “parasailing girl”. Man, she does sleazy like no other. Maybe because she does porn for a living? The irony is that Jerry O’Connell shoots little in the way of actual porn. As if the fillmakers were going for an R in the same way Fox makes Alien movies and ensures they get a Pg-13.
Gianna Michaels with clothes on :O

In the original Piranha, there was a story similar to Jaws about how the heroes try and close the beaches only to be told that it would be bad for business. The remake has no such complexity of plotting. Ving Rhames gets this across in one line, negating the need for a mayor character.
The look of the Piranhas was well thought out and fitting to the over the top nature of the movie. Sorry, I didn't mention that Piranhas were in the film? Must have got side tracked.

 There are Piranha in this movie apparently

I watched the movie in 2D and that worked fine for me. Some of the CGI is a bit grating and some of the more elaborate make-up effects, whilst pretty good, are shown up on Blu-Ray; Jerry O'Connell on the boat for example. You'll know what I mean if you watch it. Go in watching it knowing what it is, you might enjoy it. Otherwise, stay well away!

So, just in case the point was a little vague, reasons to watch the movie;
That's really not very nice

 But she is...

...and Elisabeth still has it! 

 Richard Dreyfuss still has it! But not in the way Ms Shue has.

 And so has Mr Lloyd

8/10 for sheer audacity
2/10 for overall quality

DVD Review/Feature: Morgan - A Suitable Case For Treatment

Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment

Directed By: Karel Reisz

Starring David Warner, Vanessa Redgrave, Irene Handl, Robert Stephens, Arthur Mullard


Morgan (David Warner) is a self-confessed dreamer, who lives his life in a whirlwind of fantasy that has cost him his wife Leonie (Vanessa Redgrave), who can take no more of his crazy behaviour. Returning from a short self-imposed exile during Leonie's divorce proceedings, Morgan attempts to win back his now ex-wife before she marries the more solvent but ultimately more mundane Charles (Robert Stephens). Morgan's behaviour becomes more erratic as he sources help from Wrestling friend Wally (Arthur Mullard) leading inexorably to a fate that Morgan has already prepared himself for.

I've always liked David Warner as an actor. He gives gravitas and presence to every role that he plays; from Jack the Ripper (in Time After Time) to his role as Povel Wallander (In the series Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh). His, unmistakably, commanding voice has been used to great effect in various voice acting roles too. He's been on my mind recently too, with the sequel to TRON having been released last year. He played the dual role of Dillinger/Sark in the 1982 original and may return to this new franchise (fate willing) in the next TRON film reprising his role as Ed Dillinger. So, it was a pleasure to watch, for the first time, Warner's debut as a leading man in movies.

Morgan! (using the US title for efficiency) was a BAFTA winning adaptation of the original TV play "A Suitable Case For Treatment" from 1962. David Mercer adapted his play adding more slapstick scenes and submerging most of the play's deeper levels. I say that, although I haven't seen the original play. For all I know the deeper subtexts still remain in the movie but more comedic scenes may have been overshadowed them. Mercer was a Marxist writer and this is explicitly shown in Morgan! The screenplay also incorporates the theories of R. D. Laing. He claimed that the roots of schizophrenia were to be found in the family, and by extension, in society. Other themes that are prevalent in Morgan are the ideas that insanity should be seen as a natural by product of the world in which we live in; that it's ok because the world is already mad and made that way by our parents. These themes could only be from a decade that included The Beatles, Mod Style, "Swinging" London, and working class mobility.

Warner had just come from a successful run playing Hamlet, at Stratford, whereas Redgrave was from a famous theatrical family finding a name for herself in movies after many theatrical roles. Robert Stephens has also had a successful run at new National Theatre at The Old Vic. All together they made for a blistering presence onscreen and a watchable love-triangle that can only really have one outcome.

From the beginning of the movie, it's already clear that Morgan sees London as a jungle and thinks of the different types of people he encounters as different types of animal. For example, he sees scaffolders negotiating the bars of their scaffolding as monkeys moving within trees. We learn that Morgan's soon to be ex-wife Leonie had paid for him to visit Greece, to avoid her being distracted whilst divorce proceedings were intiated. Morgan found Greece boring but more than likely discovered his obssession with Leonie had increased without being able to act upon it; and act upon it he does as soon as he returns to London. What follows is a constant hounding of Leonie that could have been uncomfortable viewing if not for the writing, and a sympathetic performance by David Warner.

Warner portrays Morgan as a warm and sympathetic character who is only too aware of his failures; failures as a husband, son, artist, and "normal" member of late sixties society. His Mother is a Stalinist who still clings to the old ideals but the only evidence we see of her practicing these views is her visit to Karl Marx's grave. She views Morgan as a failure because he never fully embraced the ideals and married a bourgeois. There is plenty of evidence throughout the movie that his parent's beliefs indocrinated him in at least the iconlogy of communism and the history of it's leading proponents. This is seen through Morgan's car, dressed in commmunist paraphenalia, and his perchance for littering places with the Russian hammer and sickle emblem; an image of which gets a final laugh at the movie's final denouement.
Morgan gains  our sympathy through his character because he is the counter-culture hero who does impulsive things that some of us only see ourselves doing in our own fantasies. we can also relate to his obssessive love that he has for his wife and his relentess pursuit of her; to stop her marrying someone who will stifle her creativity and lead her to a more stable but pedestrian lifestyle.

Vanessa Redgrave plays Leonie with a heavy touch of sympathy too. We see immediately on the walls and in the furnishings, the scars of Morgan's behaviour; the writings, carvings and animal motiffs. A part of her still loves what drew her to Morgan originally but it is losing a battle with her logical side that tells her that Morgan is too "out there". Her attraction to middle class business-man Charles Napier is born out of a need to conform to her parents wishes; the bourgeois attitude to life. Later in the movie we discover that she has plans for the house, to turn it into flats. This indicates the beginnings of a full break from her relationship with Morgan.
We, as the viewer, look on and wish that she could find a happy medium - someone who is fairly stable but loves life and knows how to have fun with it. For this reason, Leonie has difficulty letting go completely, until Morgan's behaviour is such that the decision becomes far easier. It's her previous self-doubt that makes us accept Morgan's journey: To make a new life with Napier she sacrifices younger impulses and feelings of spontaneous fun. Leonie attempts this type of spontaneity during a car journey with Napier but he is clearly uncomfortable with this side of her nature.

Leonie's suitor Charles Napier is everything that Morgan isn't; ordinary, solvent, and fairly unlikeable as it transpires. It could be because he represents a part of us that we'd rather ignore and the fact that Morgan is more anarchic and fun. It's probably more to do with Napier's compliance and cocksure attitude and our love for the underdog that makes us root more for Morgan.

The supporting cast is also excellent. Irene Handl plays Morgan's mother with a great deal of depth and reality. Arthur Mullard plays Wally "The Gorilla" - a Wrestler friend of Morgan's who sympathises with his plight to get her back. Bernard Bresslaw, who was made famous by the Carry On series, is seen cast as a Policeman who is happy to casually play hop skotch, on his beat, but is totally bewildered by Morgan's behaviour. The comedy, at times seems more like Benny Hill than Carry On, with sped up sequences similar to those used in Benny Hill. What came first I wonder? Answers in a comments box...

Despite it's age and place in history, this movie still has a lot to offer. The transfer of the DVD is superb. Yes, the movie doesn't quite know what genre it falls into - comedy or serious drama - but for me that's part of the charm. Why should a movie fall into a "genre" or fit into a pigeon hole? This movie makes the point that you don't have to, so why should this movie? Enjoy it for what it is - an entertaining piece of 60's British cinema.

Score 7/10

Morgan is available at the usual outlets and is released by Optimum Entertainment.

I would have been unable to complete this feature without referring to the following websites and thank them for their wealth of information;

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Blu-Ray Review: I Spit On Your Grave (2010)

Directed by: Steven R Monroe
Starring: Sarah Butler, Daniel Franzese, Chad Lindberg, Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard, Rodney Eastman
Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler), hires an isolated cabin so she can complete a novel with no distractions. Her naturally carefree attitude is picked up upon by some of the locals – a Neanderthal group with little to do but hunt and drink, who see her as a plaything and citing her “city ways” as an excuse to break into her home, brutalise and attempt to murder her. Her mind almost breaks during a prolonged and humiliating gang rape, but not before she manages to escape by throwing herself from a bridge into a river. The gang try to find her, eventually giving up, hoping that her corpse will wash up on the shore, and they can finally get rid of all the evidence. Just as they relax and get on with their lives, they are picked off one by one as Hills becomes a vengeful killing machine.

If I’m honest, I had little interest in this movie when it was announced and then released last year. I saw it as just another hyped horror like A Serbian Film that had normally reasonable horror movie fans acting as if aliens had landed and produced the best movie ever made. Well, guess what? It wasn’t. The original I Spit... didn’t do anything for me but I was intrigued as to how and why a movie with such an infamous history would be remade: But, then the notorious Last House on the Left had also been remade in a glossy well shot movie with quality actors. Despite it having one of my favourite actors currently - Garrett Dillahunt - I couldn’t get into it. So, armed with a double barrel shotgun of anti-trash prejudice, I played a movie that surprised me.

With A Serbian Film, the cry was that it was a well made film. I agree that it was well shot and that’s where the story ends, but with I Spit I found the cinematography, acting, score, in particular, to be top notch. I wasn’t expecting this at all.

The movie opens with Jennifer Hills driving to find the cabin that she’s rented. We get a glimpse of the vibrant, casually pleasant woman that she is; the polar opposite of what she will become during the course of the movie. A playful accident at a remote gas station will trigger the horrific events that follow. I wondered what Jennifer could have done differently and one of the main things was to have kept quiet about where she was heading. I mean, come on, a lone petite woman in an isolated cabin surrounded by “good ole boys” at every turn? What could possibly go wrong? Seeing the cabin and its location, as a five foot ten male with a background in martial arts, I wouldn’t spend a minute there without either automatic weapons or a bunch of Special Forces as bodyguards but then that’d be a vastly different movie.

The motive behind the attack, initially, seems to be down to the frustrations of Johnny, played by Jeff Branson. He’s the alpha male in a bunch of slackers and wasters. All it takes is some constant ribbing from his mates that he couldn’t bag a “rich, city girl” and events precipitate into the horror that befalls Jennifer. The odd one out, if I can say that without being accused by the thought police of prejudice, is Matthew (played by the ever reliable Chad Lindberg. Some of you may know him as Ash, in the TV show Supernatural). Matthew is mentally disabled but fully capable of plumbing. When he is hired to fix Jennifer’s plumbing (yes, the innuendo is used at some point in the film) she gives him a big hug and a kiss because it’s in her nature to do so. She’s quietly naive and we get an idea of how much so when one of the guys reads out her writing during their harassment of her; it’s standard “city girl” stuff.

Hearing that Matthew got to get a kiss from the new girl in town is what finally causes Johnny to band the group together and go visit. The first scenes of Jennifer’s stay at the cabin are quite tense because you know that something will happen, but you don’t know when it will happen. When the group arrive the movie shifts into the uncomfortable torture of Jennifer. Things go bad to worse when the very person you think will help, turns out to be the biggest screw up of the lot of them. This is where the movie truly becomes difficult to watch and I found myself wanting the killing to begin. To be fair on the movie makers, they don’t try and titillate the audience with the abuse of Jennifer. The guys behaviour is totally abhorrent and would only appeal to those of a similar nature. Sarah Butler must have gone through a difficult time as an actress with those scenes, ending up totally nude for what must have equated as hours in filming time. She does a great job. There are subtleties in her performance that are more obvious when she becomes a kind of angel of death.

Looking at why Jennifer became this killer, I believe that her mind fractured after the constant rape. We see her walking to the bridge and before she makes the decision to jump off we see the blankness in her eyes, a retreat. Butler plays the scene with her right arm twitching loosely at her side as if a part of her brain had disengaged. I like this and it makes for a more believable experience despite some of the obvious trappings of the horror genre.

Once Jennifer seemingly commits suicide and her abusers clean up the evidence of their crimes, the group of men go back to their lazy lifestyles. Of all of them, only Matthew seems to be genuinely affected by what he has done. He dreams, almost predicts Jennifer’s return. It’s unclear as to whether he is truly sorry for what he has done, or that he initially fears her return and then fears the consequences of her real return. We as the audience can’t help but feel a measure of sympathy towards him before Jennifer returns to get him.

In the first part of the movie we follow Jennifer’s journey to the cabin and her initial stay there and get to know her. The horror happens to her, she jumps from a bridge and her abusers become the central characters. This story and tonal shift is clever because Jennifer then becomes, in a way, the antagonist. We might have been shocked at the guy’s behaviour, but apart from one of them, would we wish the outcome on them? I’d say not.
The make-up effects work is very good and especially grisly. There’s nothing worse in this film compared to what has been shown before but the way it is shot and set up is very brutal. Because as the viewer we are detached, we have the moral high ground and don’t necessarily see that this method of punishment is appropriate.

As said earlier in this review, Sarah Butler’s performance is exemplary and I hope to see her in more movies. Her shift from sweet young woman to an almost insane killer is remarkable even given the time that she’s off screen before she returns. The rest of the cast are all excellent too. Jeff Branson is suitably menacing and this role must have been far removed from his normal roles. Andrew Howard, a fellow Brit, switches from red neck thug to loving and doting father to almost a comedic level. His final scenes are uncomfortable, although we don’t have too much sympathy for the character he plays. Tracey Walter, who has had a distinguished career (some of the more eagle eyed action fans among you might recognise him as Malak, from Conan the Destroyer), shines in the few scenes that he has and puts the character into character acting. As mentioned earlier, Chad Lindberg turns in a great performance as the mentally challenged Matthew.

For a film of it’s type it’s well made. I can’t get too excited at rape/revenge dramas but there’s a lot of good stuff in this movie that I’ve tried to explain about. I look upon this as a lesson to some filmmakers. For example, had a movie version of The Punisher followed a similar format it might have made for a better movie. To illustrate, Frank Castle could be seen living with his family, enjoying retirement. We see the crime organisation, how they live. All parties end up in Central Park . Blam! The Castle family are in the middle of a gang war and get shot. Frank Castle disappears and becomes The Punisher – six foot of vengeance, picking off the crime syndicate. I Spit shows an interesting transition. Ironically, it deviates from the female empowerment themes that were evident in the original and why it was called “Day of the Woman” in the first place.
If you’ve got a strong stomach, both for physical and mental torture on screen, then this is for you.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

DVD Review: K-9 The Series - Series One, Vol 1

K9 Series 1: Vol 1

Starring Robert Moloney, Keegan Joyce, Philippa Coulthard

TV s Most loved Robot dog K9 blasts back into action via a Space Time Manipulator and arrives in the late 21st Century in a London scarred by Alien Intrusion and Government rule through a Cybernetic Police Force.

As a fan of Classic Dr Who (as it is now called, after the "reboot"), and the current series, I feel fairly qualified at being able to judge another spin-off (whilst also being open-minded to new material). Except, this isn't really a spin-off.

If we look at the Russell T Davies/BBC Wales incarnations of the Doctor as an example, we have had two official spin-offs; Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. Torchwood is aimed at a more adult audience, like say, mid to late teens and Sarah Jane is aimed at pre-teens. I would say that K9 is aimed at the 5-10 age range.  It's difficult not to compare K9 with The Sarah Jane Adventures as both feature a K9 model. When I look at the older design, I can't help but feel a pang of nostalgia; it's in my genes.

To it's detriment, K9 is not an official spin-off. Despite lowering budgets the Whoniverse that RTD has created is still full of creativity and entertaining storylines. K9 suffers from poor production standards, sadly. For example, the creatures in K9 don't have the same character as the Who shows have had. Make-up effects are poor and haven't allowed the actors to act through the appliances. If the idea was to emulate the Jon Pertwee/Tom Baker era of Who, then good job!

The CGI is horrible. It reminds me of early 90s attempts. You may be familiar with CG elements that don't seem to match up with the live action footage that it's supposed to interact with. The series is full of this type of problem.

The premise must have looked good on paper and the actual story doesn't suck as bad as the rest of the production. There is an air of mystery from the pilot episode on. Nothing is given away immediately, so patient viewers should be rewarded if the rest of the production values don't scare them off, first. Despite the young age group that the series appears to be aimed at, hints of adult storylines are there; such as the fact that Professor Gryfen is experimenting with time travel to return his dead family to him - hardly childish themes.

I pay tribute to K9 creator Bob Baker for finally bringing his creation back to the screen after a number of years in development hell. I do wonder if the series released is not what the creators originally wanted. The premise and plots come across as the dilution of an existing idea rather than the actual idea itself. I'm speculating here, of course.

The acting is fairly awful and the silly trend of fake London accents distracts the viewer at times; similar to the Italian actors attempting to get through the English scripts during the production of Season 2 of Space 1999. John Leeson continues to voice the robot dog but when K9 "regenerates" it seems to lose any of the witty charm that it had in Doctor Who. It's too dumbed down, for my taste.

Because K9 is set outside of the official Who universe, it can't refer to it. The only remote reference was a sound in the pilot, not unlike a bar of the original Ron Grainer theme music. This has also meant that the original design of K9 is lost to a modern, more "cutesy" look that I, personally, don't favour. Of course, it may also be a change in line with the need to appeal to a young target audience.

The positive is, that it might keep young viewers interested. There are some exciting elements to it and there's enough (low budget) flashy stuff going on to amuse children. Whilst not aesthetically appealing to adults and hardcore Who fans like me, the new K9 design model will undoubtedly appeal to young viewers. I imagine that merchandise would be as equally as popular and expect to see K9 toys in stores soon.

I wouldn't recommend this to hardcore Doctor Who fans; stick to The Sarah Jane Adventures. However, this is an inoffensive show that children could enjoy, so I feel it shouldn't be disregarded. There is potential for a developing series that might increase in quality once it gains an audience.