Monday, 25 April 2011

Movie Preview: Stake Land

 Courtesy of Twitch this film pulls no punches as the clip below shows. Be warned that it's strong stuff and not everyone will appreciate one particular aspect of the clip.

Visit the site for more details.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

DVD Review: Monsters

Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able


Six years ago, NASA sent a probe into deep space looking for extraterrestrial life in our galaxy. The probe returned with samples, but broke up in the atmosphere. The organisms that survived started to flourish throughout Northern Mexico, forcing the US to build a huge barrier and launch a heavily fought war against the organisms which grew into 100ft tall giant squid creatures.

Up and coming photo journalist Andrew Caulder, who is trying to get some decent pictures of the creatures, is tasked by the owner of the paper he works for with retrieving his daughter, Sam, who has become stranded. Due to the earlier-than-expected migration of the creatures, however, Caulder and Sam find themselves having to cross the Infested Zone, the heart of where the creatures reside.


It’s great when a small film comes along that challenges your preconceptions, makes you think about the genre that it’s been shoe horned into. Monsters is one of those films. The marketing doesn’t do it justice, but rather than get on my high horse and talk about how it doesn’t serve the movie’s interests, I have to concede in that I have no idea how I would have marketed it, to get people to watch it. The quote on the packaging says “Thrilling, Action Packed and totally original”. Not a bad quote but a bit wide of the mark. It’s not action packed in the sense that we see huge battles but the pace of the movie is akin to an action movie. Due to the nature of the graphics on the packaging, the potential viewer would be forgiven that the movie shares something in common with District 9. Both movies share only one real theme – that of immigration.

The title “Monsters” is a bit misleading without being deceptive. It’s a film with Monsters in it and they are the cause of the predicament the characters find themselves in and ultimately the Monsters decide their fate but the story is of a man and a woman finding themselves up against adversity and how it changes them..

One of the main strengths of the movie is the screenplay. Both the characters of Caulder and Sam are well written and realistic characters that go on a noticeable journey both externally and internally. At the beginning, there is chemistry between the pair but this develops subtly as their journey progresses. Caulder is a journalist who fancies himself as a kind of war photographer that hasn’t had the prize winning photograph yet. Sam is a woman whose rich Father has decided how she should live her life and is keen for her to satisfy an arranged marriage. The pair of Caulder and Sam is thrown together as they have to get back to what should be an “uninfected” America from an infected South America . Their travel plans fail and a back up plan faces increasing problems.

At the beginning of the film, Caulder is a man who takes up the job of looking after Sam because he believes that her father will buy his photographs if he does. He tells Sam that if he took a photo of a dying or dead child he would be paid $50,000 but if he took a picture of a smiling child alive and well, he’d get nothing. Instead, Caulder’s lack of discipline leads to the loss of their passports and the decision to traverse the Infected Zone.

The movie is reported to have been made for £100, 000 which makes you wonder what on earth Hollywood productions spend their money on. The only real signs that the movie was made on a shoestring budget occur later on in the film when we see a number of tentacles move about in a gas station. The CGI looks a little primitive but this did not detract from my enjoyment. The scene mentioned is one of few that tap into the conventional sci-fi thriller/horror genre as if Edwards thought “I’d better put something familiar in”. For the most part, the CGI is used exactly how it should be, to enhance scenes without looking glaringly obvious.

The gigantic squid-like monsters in the film seem to be an allegory for natural disasters, especially Tornados. This idea is explicit later on as they arrive at the border only to find that the creatures have breached the wall separating Northern America with Southern America , and left a trail of wreckage behind them. Similarly to Cloverfield, we initially only see the creatures from a distance, and in news reports.

The aliens have adapted to Earth’s ecology by spawning their litter on to trees in the infected zone. The lifeforms, that resemble tree fungi, help populate the species. The Military attempt to stop this by dumping chemical weapons in the infected areas. So, unlike most movies of this type, the creatures are existing threats and a threat we’ve had to get used to. As the film progresses, it’s clear that we’re not doing a grand job of restricting this problem to just one area; a little like allowing weeds to thrive and overthrow your garden. The social commentary and subtext of the movie is in the implication that if man had just allowed the aliens to roam around the Mexican jungle, things would have turned out less volatile but the creatures were provoked.

Gareth Edwards artfully uses the camera as a means to tell the story rather than bogging down the script with needless exposition as many movies tend to do. The scenes of devastation tell the tale and are far more atmospheric than the recent Battle : LA. He harks back to the era when I found movies exciting; with the passion of Spielberg and Cameron, but highlighting modern sensibilities. For the debut feature of a first time Director, Monsters is a surprisingly confident piece of work.

Edwards makes some interesting nods to films that he loves. An attack on a jeep convoy is reminiscent of Jurassic Park , for example. The wall complex reminded me a little of the Ellis Island base in Escape from New York but I doubt that was intentional.

There’s little for me to criticise, but towards the end I found the heavy-handed approach to Caulder and Sam’s relationship a bit much; that it appeared to be the “cuddling” of two creatures that reflected the closeness of the two of them. This is rudely interrupted by the arrival of their military escort and we’re exposed to an ending that frustrates a little as it harks back to the beginning with no prior warning. To me, that’s the only real failing of the film that it opens with the end but whereas we normally get a timescale, like “3 days before…” there is none here, just the repeat of a soldier humming “Ride of the Valkyries”. It's me nit-picking, really.


Anyone wanting and expecting an all out action fest should know that it’s not that. Not that there’s anything wrong in those types of movies. For more of an action orientated alien invasion flick, see Skyline. If you want something a bit more thought provoking and based around characters and the journey they undertake, then Monsters is for you. I had no expectations from this film, so it worked perfectly for me. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Score: 9/10

Mike's review can be found here:

DVD Review: Norwegian Ninja

Norwegian Ninja aka Kommandør Treholt & ninjatroppen

Directed By Thomas Cappelen Malling

Starring: Mads Ousdal, Jon Øigarden, Trond-Viggo Torgensen


Norwegian Ninja is the debut feature by author-turned-filmmaker Thomas Cappelen Malling and tells the “true” story of Arne Treholt, who in real life was a former Norwegian social democratic politician and diplomat. In the 80s he was convicted of high treason and espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union and Iraq and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In Malling’s crazy movie, Treholt (Oussdal) is a highly trained member of Norway ’s covert ninja force. Discovering a sinister plot against Norway lead by Treholt’s nemesis, Meyer (Oigarden), an operative of an anti-Soviet force funded by NATO, Treholt and his ninja force must fight to defeat Meyer’s co-conspirators in the name of King Olav.


Faux-documentaries go from the sublime (Spinal Tap, which is a rockumentary) to the ridiculous. Norwegian Ninja is the ridiculous. This could be a good or a bad thing depending on how you see life and see movies as a form of recreation and generally how your sense of humour works.

One thing that this movie must be, is truly unique. I’ve certainly not seen anything like it before and very much doubt that I will again.

First and foremost, I advise the potential viewer to make use of the online support that this movie has. The associated website helps to ease you into the world of Treholt and the filmmakers approach to storytelling. There are articles about action figures; rare ones being traded at "Ninja-Con". (George Lucas has much to answer for). There is also a fun section on Ninja Retro Gaming.

Get into the spirit of the movie and I imagine that it could be very rewarding.

The look of the film is intentionally muddy for the most part. Bizarrely, the film stock improves as the movie progresses. The earlier look appears to serve a number of purposes such as hide the dodgy effects and emulate faded overused instructional videos from the 70s and 80s. The acting is intentionally over the top and sometimes humour comes from just observing the actor’s faces.

The trouble with the movie,is that it didn’t engage me. I realised from the offset that I wouldn’t relate to it, that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that I found the movie to be fairly dull. The humour didn’t resonate with me. I have a healthy sense of humour but it isn’t wise to this kind of thing. The serious tone and the following of subtitles helped to hamper my viewing too. I may well have missed the timing of some jokes – not that it would have made much difference. I was waiting for some light bulb to go off in my head and realisation to stimulate interest in the proceedings but it never came.

Despite my experience of the movie I feel that it’s a great idea, and I applaud the filmmakers for having the stones to make a movie that undoubtedly from the offset will only appeal to a small niche market.


Norwegian Ninja is a Marmite film – you’ll either love it and embrace it for what it is, or hate it for the very same reasons. Sadly, I fall into the latter category. If you weren’t born before the 80s, in Norway , it doesn’t matter but sure does help.

Score: 5/10 - mainly for the concept and the huge amount of supporting  web based extra content.

The DVD is available from all good outlets - online and offline.

A different take on the movie can be found here:

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Movie Reviews: The latest Rundown...

We've been busy at Flash-Bang with the following reviews:

Will reviews the Entertainment One release of Norwegian Ninja, out on Monday 18th April 2011:

Mike has reviewed Cine Asia's upcoming release of Wooch The Demonslayer, out on 25th April 2011;

Mike has reviewed Wushu out on 18th April 2011:

My review of Takashi Miike's awesome samurai epic 13 Assassins. Due in UK cinemas on 6th May 2011;

 My review of the superb thriller The Door, starring Mads (Casino Royale) Mikkelsen, also out on 18th April 2011:

 Mike has reviewedthe excellent I Saw The Devil, out on 9th May 2011:

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

General Stuff

Some other interesting stuff on the net;

David Hewlett (Dr Rodney McKay) gives a plausible theory on why Stargate SGU didn't last:
I agree with him; great show but too tonally different from two previous versions that the whole family could enjoy.

Despite some truly terrible writing at times, I liked BBC's Outcasts. It got an unfair mauling early on without being able to fully flourish into what was an entertaining but flawed show that arguably could have had a great Season 2 ahead of it. Find out what could have happened in a further series;

Fascinating interview with the Writer/Director Richard Stanley that passed me by;

Star Wars The Musical - A short-lived musical:

Is Michael Rooker set to return to The Walking Dead, in Season Two? Will we get "Mo Merle"? - guys: white text on light grey backgrounds? Not good.

First look at Booster Gold and Blue Beetle in Smallville;

News on a possible second sequel to TRON. Could it be set in the "real" world?

TV Preview: Doctor Who Season 6

As April 23 approaches, more and more material is flooding on to the internet about Doctor Who Season Six (using the Russell T Davies reboot timeline instead of season 32). I've not known of so much activity pre-season as this one. Not even the inaugural adventures of Matt Smith's Doctor, in Season 5 seemed to attract quite as much attention from sci-fi sites. It might just be that I've taken more notice this time around. Personally, I think it's because this season (split into two sections) is genuinely going to be something special. I was looking forward to Mat Smith's Doctor last year, only to be initially disappointed with much of Season 5. When I went back to it, by watching the Blu-Ray box set, it came alive for me more and improved so much more on second viewing. I like the mystery of the silence and the long running saga of River Song. Here's a rundown of some sites with Season 6 content;

A good resource for Doctor Who articles:

The new Radio Times cover with spoilers;

Watch the online prequel to 6.1 - The Impossible Astronaut:

Monday, 11 April 2011

TV Preview: Camelot

Episode One - Homecoming

I was primed for another, more adult take on the Arthurian legend. I've not had any interest in the BBC Saturday, tea-time, child/family friendly version called Merlin. I've always been more of a fan of the Morte D'Arthur poem and it's movie translation in John Boorman's excellent Excalibur. In my view the movie has never been bettered, in the same way that Robin of Sherwood has never been bettered as a version of the Robin Hood story.

With early scuttle-butt suggesting that Camelot was nearer Bernard Cornwell's initially superb trilogy of Warlord books (the first book was great but I found the subsequent two underwhelming), I was a keen viewer.

Filmed in Ireland with a healthy dose of CGI, the series looks the part. It's refreshing to see a version of the legend on screen during the Dark Ages, for once. So, initially, to the cast:

The episode begins with Morgan (a version of Morgana, no doubt) played by the sultry actress Eva Green. Any objective reviewing goes out of the window when thinking about her. Not only is she achingly sexy, she's also a world-class actress. For me, her role as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale was perfect. In Camelot, Morgan returns to her father's castle and enacts revenge for her being kept in a monastery for 15 years. This is carried out by poisoning King Uther. She then takes over the Castle, using a local Warlord, King Lot, played by the reliable James Purefoy (Solomon Kane, Rome) as muscle and back up. Morgan banishes the King's wife, not knowing that she had, and gave up, a son; Arthur. James Purefoy is great when he plays the bad guy; all over blown confidence and swagger. He doesn't disappoint in Camelot.
To counter Morgan's claim on the throne, Uther's advisor Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) aims to embed Arthur as the true King of England that will unite all the bickering kingdoms under one monarch. Fiennes looks like he's having great fun playing the bald warrior monk-like Merlin: Far from the ordinary and bored-looking performance he turned in on the show Flash-Forward, he plays Merlin with enthusiasm and conviction.

Moody but fun Merlin played by Joseph Fiennes

Arthur is played by Jamie Campbell Bower, who I'm reliably informed is in the Twiglite saga of vampire films. At first look, I was disappointed. We first see him making out with a stunning looking actress, that turns out to be his brother Kay's girlfriend. Here is where the trouble lies within, at least, the first three episodes. In an attempt to rival HBO's Sword and sex epics, Arthur is portrayed as a character who's sexual appetites seem to get in the way of his honour and duty. I wouldn't want the character to be too whiter than white but as we'll see in episodes 2 and 3, there's something too contrived about Arthur's romances. See my review of Episode 3 for more detail. I put it down to the writer's approaching the era with too much 21st century sensibility.

Arthur in action

Despite the fact that Campbell Bower has naturally been chosen for his looks, he shows later in this episode that he has the gravitas and believability of a leader.
His mother is played by Clare Forlani. I feel my age now that Forlani is old enough to play the Mother of a sixteen year old (or whatever age Arthur is supposed to be). Was it really that long ago that I saw her in Mallrats, and The Rock? Yes, it was.
Arthur was fostered, having been given to his foster parents by Merlin. Ector (played by Sean Pertwee) raised Arthur with a strong moral compass (except for lusting after the women). Sean Pertwee is, yet again, perfectly cast. Together with Purefoy and Fiennes, it's the older generation of actors that shine through the initial episodes.

Chris Chibnall, the show runner of Camelot has worked on Doctor Who, Torchwood and Life on Mars. His pedigree holds him in good stead for this show. There are hints of magic in Camelot's world. I'll go out on a limb and say that Morgan's ability to shift into her younger self is definitely dark magic and not just an illusion within the show. Merlin's full abilities are not explored so much in this inaugural episode, other than he appears to not have aged in a long time.

Episode Two - The Sword and The Crown

To make a series about the Arthurian legend interesting, the makers of that show have to find some different ways of putting the story onscreen that is both recognisable and fresh enough to make viewers want to return. For me, the cast is a main draw, the production values are high enough, and the adult tone is, on the whole, welcome. That's not to say that it's perfect. Episode 2 showed signs where this series might fall flat on it's ass. I found the scenes with Arthur and Guinevere, in both episodes 2 and 3 faintly ridiculous.

Arthur's foster mother was murdered by King Lot, last episode. Ector was nowhere to be seen, which begged the question; has Sean Pertwee, the serial victim, been dispatched off screen? That would have sucked! With events from the previous episode still fresh, Arthur is doubting that he can take on the responsibility of leader with a tragedy hanging over him so soon after his intent to rule. To get Arthur to up his game and submerge into the leader he promises to be, Merlin sets a challenge for Arthur. He convinces Arthur to retrieve the "Sword of Mars" that is located high up on a rock face waterfall. Reminding me of a line in the David Lynch movie "Dune", previous attempts have failed; they've tried and died as opposed to tried and failed.
The location makes the attempt look a little odd as I would have thought that there could have been an easier way of retrieving the sword. Merlin doesn't so much give Arthur the solution to getting the sword as hinting at it though something he says. Arthur manages to scale the rocks, push in the sword and pull it out, and then fall to the water below. The scene is quite tense and an innovative way in showing the sword in the stone aspect of the legend. The resulting injury takes him out of the story for a while and allows the writers to concentrate on the rest of the plot.

King Lot and Morgan's alliance seems to be crumbling. Perhaps, if Morgan hadn't put out to Lot so quickly, he might have been less cocky. A spat results in Morgan calling Lot the "C  word" in front of his men, the price for which he ties her to a stake and leaves her out  overnight. Here, we get more of the hints that Morgan intends to serve a higher, darker, power but the union between her and the darker power hasn't quite happened yet.

Guinevere is introduced in a scene at the beach. She is shown emerging from the sea (Lady in the Lake parallel?) and in a surprise twist later turns out to be the betrothed to Arthur's most trusted and loyal soldier, Leontes (played solidly by Philip Winchester).

The episode builds up to Arthur's coronation and Morgan changes her strategy by warning Camelot that King Lot intends to invade and conquer the castle at anytime. Arthur recognises disguised henchmen and a short and bloody battle ensues in the main hall.

Once again, Sean Pertwee exits a production in a fitting, dramatic manner that suggests he is far too busy doing voice overs to remain any longer than he has to. One of my favourite British actors, he has gassed himself to death in the TV series Chancer (my first glimpse of this superb actor), had his guts ripped out in Dog Soldiers, and been strung up, burnt alive and eaten in the movie Doomsday. I name only a few of the shows where he has been dispatched far too early. In Camelot, he confronts Lot in a terrific scene. Ector asks about his wife's untimely death at Lot's hand. The warlord feigns a lack of interest, as if he carried out such deeds so often that even the mother of a future king is irrelevant. Lot seems uninterested and sees Ector as no threat at all; to the point where it looks as if he'll let Ector live. But, naturally, Ector will not let Lot move forward. Using his experience and guile, Lot easily gets the better of Ector and spears him in the gut; except that Ector makes good use of the killing stroke by pulling Lot in close and dispatching him. Both actors, will be missed but go out in style.

The episode ends with Morgan going back to the forest to seek out the dark power that resides there. Here she confronts a Black Wolf before she slips her dress off, standing naked before the end titles roll; not an unweelcome sight and a great time to be an Eva Green fan.
The always watchable Eva Green
The pretty but vacuous Tamsin Egerton

Episode Three - Guinevere

Sadly, some of the writing flaws open up a bit in this one.

We had the introduction of Guinevere last episode with an odd introduction by the sea and an uncomfortably amateurish scene on a balcony where Tamsin Egerton plays an exchange between Arthur and her character as if she was chatting up a guy in a bar or nightclub. Egerton is undeniably pretty (if a little too skinny looking at times) but is far too contemporary in my view. Watching her, I felt as if she was reading for a part in Hollyoaks and not a drama set in the Dark Ages. It's not just Egerton's fault as the screenplay uses words like "wobble" when relating to Guinevere's doubts about marrying Leontes amoungst other examples. I don't expect a Deadwood approach; to mimicking the style of talking in the Dark Ages - that'd be ridiculous - but the modernistic approach to writing, a couple of times, took me out of the show.

This episode is all about lust, longing and wanting. Arthur thinks he has fallen for Guinevere. She is to be married to Leontes sooner, now, rather than later because a wedding would be good for the country, so sayeth Merlin. I've heard that somewhere before...
Morgan wants to seduce Merlin, presumably for his knowledge and get to know her brother more, which includes getting into his head, literally. Merlin is showing the first signs of interest in Morgan by worrying about the cost of her using dark magic.

It's only in this episode that I noticed more of a rush to push elements of the story forward; it's almost as if the makers thought "we might not get a second season". The love triangle between Leontes, Arthur and Guinevere didn't work for me. Why is Arthur acting like a kid in heat over one dream? Why is Guinevere ready to throw everything away because of the attention of the "King" only to submit to one shag and then protest that it was a one-time thing. Using my earlier analogy; the scene of the pair screwing up against a cave entrance was just a more flowery scene of a couple enjoying a knee-trembler in the back alley behind a club. It didn't feel right in context.

Leontes and Guinevere have been betrothed for three years and she gives her virginity to Arthur! This is another cack-handed couple of scenes where Guinevere gets hold of some blood to then splash it on the bed after sex with her now husband. I found myself laughing at this, it was so rubbish, especially when Leontes comes back from having a pee to look at the blood with a self-satisfied smirk. Cringe or laugh? I'll leave it to you to decide.

Instead of showing us scenes of Leontes and Guinevere early on, to give more dimension to their relationship and perhaps giving us clues as to why she gives it up to Arthur so easily, instead Leontes (is he Lancelot?) and Kay go off to find Gawain, a noble and dedicated warrior. The pair have to persuade Gawain to fight for Arthur, but Gawain has decided he has had enough of warlord kings. He's convinced to go to Camelot if he is tutored how to read and write; bargain!
Arthur and his sister Morgan strangely and briefly friends

Arthur and Merlin had travelled to the Pendragon castle upon Morgan's invitation. This was another plot point that didn't ring true. Not five minutes ago, Morgan had tried to take the throne, using a warlord that ended up killing Arthur's mother and father. As Morgan had warned Camelot that Lot was on his way, last episode, it seems that everything's now ok and she can be trusted. What? You're kidding? Merlin learns that Morgan killed her father by transmuting into her younger self and poisoning him. Now, this I can understand as Morgan inadvertently served Merlin's purpose by removing Uther from the throne, but Merlin lets Morgan capture him a little too easily after that, so she can cut his toenails as ingredients for one of her spells.
Morgan's drugging of Arthur was less surprising as he acted like the Muppet King all episode. Like a co-ed getting the date rape drug at a party, Arthur drinks the ale and finds himself a bit sleepy. Either that or he’s a lightweight and can’t handle his drink. Here, she takes a sample of his blood for another spell.
Merlin and Arthur then return to Camelot for the wedding. Arthur spends his time looking like a blonde Anakin Skywalker sulking about the thing and making it quite clear that he's unhappy.

Quite how this will effect the future story remains to be seen. Has the love triangle subverted the Lancelot part of the story we all know? If so, it makes Arthur far more flawed than in previous incarnations of the story. This could work well, but it didn't during this hour of story. Presumably, now Morgan knows Arthur's thoughts about Guinevere, she can exploit them. Morgan's control of Merlin and his powers seems inevitable.

Episode three was easily the worst so far and I hope it was a bridge show to get key plot elements out of the way. I had given Jamie Campbell Bower the benefit of the doubt. It’s too early to say if he’s a weak link. I blame the writers for this one.

Eva Green nudity rating: Sadly, nil in this one.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Blu-Ray Review: The Doors

Directed by Oliver Stone

Starring Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon


A bio-pic of the legendary Jim Morrison.


"All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity." - Nietzsche

How do you film a legend? That must have gone through Oliver Stone's mind when he picked up this project. The quote above which is used early on in the movie resonates throughout the film in the same way that the accident that a young Morrison witnessed also does. The movie "The Doors" is not so much a title aimed at the Rock group as it is the quote that created the band name, from William Blake:
"if the doors of perception are cleansed, everything would appear to man as it truly is, infinite."

The film's main focus is on Jim Morrison - a version of him that was wild and crazy and fuelled by hedonism, right up to his tragic death. The band, in the movie, serves only as background characters to the central plot of Jim Morrison and the effect he had on people. Stone shows us what he feels, and what he had learnt, is the man behind the legend.

What we ask from most movies is that we're put on a journey, or witness a journey as we watch. With The Doors, we witness Morrison go from a shy young man to a powerhouse of over-confidence, whilst living the Rock Star life. Whilst we are drawn in, almost, to his drug induced hallucinations and outlook, the character in the movie is not entirely likeable.

Val Kilmer's performance is extraordinary in this film. His performance channels the spirit of Jim Morrison and lays it bare for all of us to see. The only time that Kilmer's grip on the man slips a little is during the iconic photoshoot.

Meg Ryan plays Pam Courson, Morrison's "muse" and soulmate, with a passion, and it may be Ryan's finest performance. So, it's kudos to her that she makes what she can of a role that is mainly a reaction to Morrison and on paper, a fairly ordinary character. Kathleen Quinlan got the better role of Morrison's other love interest; the journalist Patricia Kennealy. Here, we find a woman who seemed to tap into the bad side of Morrison and exploited it for all it was worth. At least this is what the movie is saying. There's an implication that she was responsible for Morrison maintaining his more tortured outlook in life, but naturally this is reduced to a throwaway line. Both characters condense a number of women, influential on Morrison’s life at the time.

The movie doesn't judge Morrison and his declining behaviour but shows his band members reactions. For a homage (and Stone has described his movie as such in an interview), the movie falls well short, as Morrison is portrayed as an unlikeable person for most of the two-hour twenty minute running time. There is too much emphasis on Morrison the singer who was obsessed with death and not enough of the intelligence behind it all. Oliver Stone doesn’t see it this way but it is there. This is not how I would expect a man who “loved” Morrison as a hero, portray him, despite approximately 120 witnesses providing information. However, Stone should be applauded for attempting to make an interesting and musical movie that at least keeps the spirit of the band alive.

For this reason there is still plenty for me to like about the movie including the terrific soundtrack which Val Kilmer contributed to, thus setting the standard for actors in future bio-pics such as Ray, and Walk The Line. Recreations of actual gigs and events are also spectacular and effective.

The cinematography is beautiful especially the colourful scenes centred on Venice Beach and the Blu-Ray format shows us this in all its glory.

The Doors, if watched as an experience rather than a detailed and accurate bio-pic, has much to offer fans of the music and casual viewers alike. This Blu-Ray release is the best way of watching it outside of the cinema.
My main gripe is also true of the recent feature length documentary by Tom Dicillo called “When You’re Stranger”; that the emphasis is on Morrison the alcoholic and drug fuelled hellraiser. At least in Stone’s movie we do see a little of the softer side of Morrison, unlike in the documentary.

There’s still a more balanced story to be told about Jim Morrison, the man, as opposed to the alcoholic Lizard King, Mr Mojo Risin, and Jimbo versions of his personality.

Score 7/10

Friday, 8 April 2011

Cyborg Director's Cut: Review Feature

Back when I was in my early teens and VHS tape rental stores gave us the ways of watching movies that may or not grace the big screen, I caught The Sword and the Sorcerer. I had been reading stories about it in Fangoria and Starburst and I particularly liked the look of the make-up effects so was one of the first to rent the movie when it became available at my local rental store. It didn’t disappoint. It had a quirky sense of humour, cute female lead and loads of gore and violence. I will admit to not taking too much of the Director’s name at that point. It was not unusual for me to skip that detail, unless a Director was quite prolific, like John Carpenter.

Fast Forward to 1989 and a low budget action movie starring the popular Jean Claude VanDamme began to be talked about in similar magazines, called Cyborg. I was a fan of JCVD after having seen Bloodsport and Kickboxer. Cyborg was to be his first step into Sci-fi and I was excited at this prospect. When the Director turned out to be Albert Pyun, I felt a sense of familiarity (this is long before imdb of course). Looking at the collection on my shelf, I identified Albert as the Director of The Sword and the Sorcerer and that gave Cyborg a seal of approval before I had even viewed it.

So, the film became available and I bought an ex-rental; a yellow big box with a pretty decent photo design as the cover.

The film didn’t disappoint. I found the score unusual but put it down to the nature of the movie. Although the film felt like a 90 minute video game with JCVD spending much of the running time kicking butt I accepted it because of the lead actor’s strengths in that department. I wasn’t expecting strong thespian qualities. As I watched Cyborg, I couldn’t’ help but feel that it was heavily cut by the BBFC; certainly the dock yard scene seemed heavily cut as there was an implication of some nasty stuff being done to the locals, reminding me of a scene in Mad Max 2 - “Oh god, look! They’re stringing em up, the bastards!”

I didn’t think much of it as the BBFC were cutting the silliest of things, as far as I was concerned; that’s another story. I also disregarded the dodgy ADR in some scenes, especially, at the beginning with Pearl. I put it down to the budgetary constraints.

Time went on and although I became a big fan of Pyun’s movie Nemesis, I lost touch with the Director’s output.

The internet has united fans of many a film or rock band and a few years back I noticed Albert Pyun’s presence on the net. I’d seen proposals for a sequel to The Sword and the Sorcerer, which I felt was bizarre due to the amount of time in-between movies but I kept an open mind. Well, to this day I haven’t seen Tales of an Ancient Empire. I won’t illegally download it and will wait until it’s ready for release, but something odd happened in my waiting for it. Albert and Curnan Pictures got hold of the missing tapes of the original cut of Cyborg through Albert’s original choice for score artist; Tony Riparetti. I’d read of a potential commentary that might have been a DVD extra on the film – audio only. That was exciting in itself, but then it was announced the Cyborg Director’s Cut was to be released. Oh boy! This was very exciting!

Present Day – After having watched it, I felt a mixture of completion and disappointment. I haven’t regretted buying the disc, as it provides finance for Mr Pyun to continue his projects (I look forward to a DC of Ticker, and Nemesis 2.0 with enhanced effects) and I have also seen what could have been a very different film. Disappointment comes from the lack of the dock yard scene. I respect Mr Pyun’s reason for its removal but ultimately I wanted to see if I had been right about the horrific content. I also liked it because it showed Fender’s disregard for life on a larger scale. Disappointment also came from the quality of the VHS telescine picture. Don’t get me wrong, I knew what it was but felt sorry that Mr Pyun hadn’t got a better quality print for what he wanted to give to us; someway towards what he originally envisioned for the movie.

Slinger, as it was originally called, is a different movie from the Cannon released Cyborg. Interestingly, it begins with Gibson crucified on the boat (just over the halfway mark in the original movie, if I recall correctly) then flashes back. Ok, I’ve complained that this has been done to death now but it hadn’t been in 1989.

When we first meet Pearl and her protector, the dialogue is very different and explains the strange ADR in the official version. What is also missing is the Fender rant that now sounds like a singer in a Metal band; all growly and subversive. I was never a fan of that line “I like the pain. I like the misery. I like this world!” There is no mention of the plague, only that there is a need to bring back technology that has been damaged in a major conflict or after a cataclysmic event. From early on we are aware that Fender’s gang are devil worshippers and believe that the world is like it is because the devil has intervened in man’s affairs. They want Atlanta’s technology for themselves and their own twisted uses. This makes more sense and is more dramatic.

Let’s face it, JCVD is not known for external dialogue but in this Cyborg DC we get internal dialogue. Ok, it’s not JCVD that’s speaking it, it’s another actor. JCVD was originally to voice this in ADR but the decision to edit the movie differently stopped that in its tracks. I wonder if JCVD took a leaf out of Clint Eastwood’s biography. Eastwood read the script for A Fistful of Dollars and pared down the dialogue because he felt that his character would say little. Thinking about the finished cut, JCVD doesn’t say a great deal, following on the tradition from Dollars and carried on in movies like Mad Max 2. Albert Pyun uses the internal dialogue expression quite a bit in his movies and l like that stylistic approach in his movies like Left For Dead.

Little touches, at times, elevate the movie. I like that the reason Gibson helps Pearl is based upon the fact she reminds him of the woman he loved, Mary. In the DC this is more explicitly shown by a jump cut of the actress Terrie Batson.

One potentially controversial scene that I think is great (possibly making me sound like a sicko) is the tragic aftermath of Gibson’s rescue of the small boy playing ball, in the market. As in the original cut, Gibson rescues some boys from an aggressive gang that steals their ball. Gibson hands the ball back and in the original cut that ends the skirmish until we see similarly dressed individuals within a sort of building site. In the DC, later, Gibson and Nady come across the charred and chewed remains of the boys. The camera focuses on Gibson staring at the bloodied ball in the foreground and then looking at the corpse of the boy that he spoke to. It’s chilling stuff. We then get some longer scenes ahead of the fights which turn up the tension considerably. Had this approach been left in, the original movie would have been so much better in my view. Gibson and Nady avenge the deaths of the family and improves the fight as we have an emotional investment in it. Also, the darker side of Cyborg appeals to me; that the gangs feed on their victims for their demonic beliefs. The ending too reflects a darker tone, that perhaps Gibson didn’t help the world by safely delivering Pearl to Atlanta after all.

Putting the movie’s release in context of when it was released, I can see why Mr Pyun was kicked out of the editing suite. His vision of the movie was more artistic and dare I say more intelligent than the spiritually barren but fun cut we all know. I won’t speculate as to how successful a potential DC would have been then, there’s no point but I can understand and sympathise why the bean counters wanted a more simplistic movie.

I’m used to the Kevin Bassinson score, so the original proposed score by Tony Riparetti is noticeable in its differences. It’s no better or worse than Bassinson’s, just different. The only times that I missed Bassinson’s score was the majestic main theme that’s repeated as we see Fender’s boat sail by and the theme used when we see Fender and co at the window watching a sleeping Mary and Gibson.

The Cyborg Director’s Cut is really geared towards hardcore fans of Cyborg that are interested in seeing how Albert Pyun originally wanted the film to be released. This is a genuine Director’s Cut unlike, for example, the 1991 “Director’s Cut” of Blade Runner, so it’s warts and all. As I’ve said the quality is pretty awful by standards then, let alone blown up on a HD TV now, but it’s a welcome release that shows how a movie can change in the editing room and serves the Director’s purpose of showing us his vision and a very interesting vision it is. It’s a pity we never got that version back in 1989.

For those interested in buying a copy of this, it comes with the excellent Bulletface (reviewed here) so think of the Cyborg DC as an extra. Only a limited supply was run of the DVD so I’m not sure if any are left. At least, I hope that MGM consider doing a definitive Blu-Ray of Cyborg, perhaps including the recent cut. I won’t hold my breath.

Meanwhile, keep up to date with Albert Pyun’s projects at his website you can find his facebook page link there, which is the best way to get the latest news.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

DVD Review: The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere (Ajeossi)

Directed By Jeong-beom Lee

Starring: Won-Bin, Sae-ron Kim, Hyo-seo Kim

A junkie,stripper and single mother, Hyo-Jeong, seizes an opportunity to steal a shipment of heroin from a very dangerous crime organisation aided by her boyfriend. She draws her neighbour, Cha Tae-Shik into becoming an accomplice without his knowledge. The crime bosses work this out and kidnap mother and child So-Mi, forcing Tae-Shik into making a delivery for them, thinking that he is just another civilian. But Tae-Shik is far from the burn-out he looks like. Tae-Shik is pushed into a deadly confrontation with two rival gangs and the outcome is far from predictable.

Finally, a movie that lives up to the quotes on the box art! If you liked Taken, Leon and Oldboy then you'll get a real kick out of this movie.

Won-Bin (seen in the international hit, Mother) plays a grungy recluse who hides himself away in his apartment. He looks like a typical Manga character at first, with a mane of unkempt hair - the fringe of which obscures part of his face. He interacts very little with his neighbours but gets attention from the neglected daughter of a junkie stripper; So-Mi (played extremely well and emotively by Sae Ron-Kim). The girl sees Cha Tae-Shik as an outsider just as she is and disregards the building occupants mistrust of him as a potential paedophile. They build a casual friendship through the pawn shop that Tae-Shik operates.

Tae-Shik is just warming to the girl when she and her mother are kidnapped. We discover that looks are deceptive and that Tae-Shik is in fact ex-military intelligence. This serves him well as he is drawn full throttle into a dispute between two rival factions. On top of this, the Police are after him too, after discovering who and what he is.

Won-Bin exudes style a little like Chow Yun-Fat did in the Heroic Bloodshed movies of the late eighties, early nineties. He not only nails the action sequences but has a quiet charisma during his interaction with other characters during the quieter moments. His star is deservedly in the ascension at the moment.

The action sequences are top drawer in this movie, particularly in the final knife fight that eschews typical convention for the use of ambient sounds to really bring home the action and pull the viewer into it. What separates this movie from the usual action flick and effectively learns a lesson from one of it's references - Leon - is the use of emotion; emotion that Won-Bin conveys very well. We truly believe that his heart is in the battle for the life of the little girl. The character of So-Mi is quite precocious but given her mother's lifestyle and neglect of the child it seems natural for her to behave that way. There is no overtly saccarin aspects to the scenes with Tae-Shik and So-Mi in the same way that there wasn't between Mathilda and Leon, in the movie Leon.

This is a 2-hour movie that doesn't feel like it. It has all the style and action of A Bittersweet Life which is another movie worth comparing it to, although the stories are markedly different. In that movie, the central character was more an anti-hero, in this Tae-Shik has our sympathy in quite the same way that Liam Neeson's character Bryan Mills does in Taken.

Despite the many references mentioned, The Man From Nowhere feels unique and fresh because of the high quality of writing, direction and acting. It's "movie of the year" for me so far, purely for the viewing experience it gave me.
One niggle; the lack of UK Blu-Ray release forcing me to import the Region Free US disc.

Score 10/10

Blu-Ray Review: the Man Who Fell To Earth

Directed By Nicolas Roeg

Starring David Bowie, Candy Clark, Rip Torn, Buck Henry

Thomas Jerome Newton is a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to get water to save his dying planet from a terrible global drought. He sells patents to start a high technology company to get the billions of dollars he needs to build a return spacecraft, and meets Mary-Lou, a girl who falls in love with him. However, he does not count on the greed and ruthlessness of business here on Earth and how it will ultimately effect him.

This oddly compelling sci-fi movie, from Nicolas Roeg, movie came along just before the massive budget thrills of Star Wars and Close Encounters. It’s almost an adult didactic fairy tale with a touch of noir about it. Unlike most movies there is no clear narrative. The viewer is asked to fill in the blanks. It appears to be a move made to watch over and over again, to let the themes saturate, similarly to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I feel it rides along the same sci-fi road as Soylent Green and Logan ’s Run. It’s certainly as bleak as Soylent Green but is a far more down to Earth sci-fi movie. In fact, if you removed the alien scenes involving Newton ’s family it wouldn’t seem much of a sci-fi film at all.

The story is just as relevant, perhaps more so than it was in 1976. We can easily relate to Newton ’s dilemma; his planet dying of drought potentially because of his kind’s technology.It's heavy on allegory and some have compared it to the life of Howard Hughes, as in the alien begins as an inventor full of fresh ideas at that time only to fall into a life governed by alcohol. Roeg's trademark style of shifting the narrative back and forth in time is evident here. At one point we're not sure that Newton's family are still alive; or is it Newton's imagination?

What Roeg doesn't have a handle on in this movie is the eroticism. We observe most of the characters in some form of sexual activity but the results onscreen seem to serve no obvious purpose. If they were there to titillate the audience then the scenes fail as there is little to be turned on by the heavy handed sexual fumblings on display.

The acting provides amny of the movie's highlights. Bowie, who is not normally considered a good actor, shines in this movie, with an understated performance of a being that is struggling to come to terms with his human relationships whilst carving out an empire to save his family. Candy Clark plays an energetic performance as the woman who he chooses as a companion. Rip Torn is ever watchable as the scientist who aids Newton only to betray him.

The soundtrack captures the spirit of it but don't go looking for it, it has never been released. However, you can get hold of John Phillips's album Pussycat, which contains some of the music.

It’s beautifully shot and the Blu-Ray disc shows off Anthony Richmond’s photography very well, especially the scenes in New Mexico . It’s clear and crisp and it almost felt like I was watching the movie for the first time. It's worth picking up if you're a fan or curious about a definitive space oddity.