Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dark City

[I don't know if the version I saw was the director's cut...]
In my recent post on The Black Windmill, I mentioned that I watched a number of films that I would define as the criminally ignored. Well, if there is any film that earns the title "Criminally Ignored", it must surely be Dark City.

Dark City is a beautiful film, Dark City is an interesting film, Dark City is a good, but most of all, Dark City is an underrated film.

It's not hard to see how and why it was elbowed so cruelly from the limelight that it so clearly deserved; Dark City was filmed at almost exactly the same time as the Matrix, it was filmed using many of the same sets as the Matrix, it shared many of the same concerns as the Matrix. In fact, watching it after having seen the Matrix, you might easily think that they'd lifted large quantities from the Matrix.

Both films show us a world in which the naive citizens are unaware of the scheme which they are a part of, a world which strange characters with a collective consciousness control, alter and move through as they please, a world where one somewhat unwilling hero represents the hope for humanity by escaping from the confines of his artificial-reality prison. Yes, the two films are really that similar.

There are, despite this, many diferences too. Part of the central thrill of the Matrix (and no-doubt a key factor in it's success) is how intune it was with technology and our paranoia about computers and computer control. Whilst the Matrix is a virtual reality prison, Dark City relies on much more traditional (and so prosaic) fears. Here, rather than robot 'agents', the fake city is manipulated by aliens who are studying humans, each night they alter the city, fiddling with individual memories and observing our reactions. They turn rich into poor, poor into rich, invent backstories of happy summers and tragic memories. If anything, this is more threatening than the Matrix; our lives are not simply faked from day one, but altered every night without our knowing. Every single memory you have may well be artficial.

So why wasn't it as successful as the Matrix? Visually, though very different, it is absolutely on par, for all the leather-clad cool of the Wachowski Bros. offering, here we have a city of film noir beauty, all night-time streets, phosphorescant street-lamps and chain-smoking detectives. So what WAS the crucial deciding factor? (For the purposes of artistic interest we are ignoring anything as dull as advertising budgets etc)

The answer, to my mind at least, is that there is very little between the films in terms of real merit, but only in terms of their awareness of the interests of the age (or the zeitgeist if you will...). The Matrix tapped perfectly into our interest at the time of release; where technology was on a balancing point between the realm of the hacker uber-nerd (Neo) and a means of control. Much as the zombie movies of the 70s mirrored Cold-War nuke paranoir, the Matrix excited us because it was able to tap into our fears at time. By comparison, however good a film Dark City may be (and it IS a good film) its aliens, its detectives and its film-noir atmosphere were far less striking.

Oh yeah, all that and the fact that it gets pretty silly towards the end...

Definitely worth a watch though.

Trailer follows:

Saturday, September 26, 2009


From Nuisance Films comes two fabulous minutes of blood-drenched splatter horror. Though the fiom does cram a fair amount into it's tiny running time, I shan't say an awful lot here... save to say there are zombies, videogames and heaps of blood.

This was made for an ever-so reasonable £80 by Paul Shrimpton and Alex Chandon. Paul has previously won the Zone Horror 'Cut!' short films competition (with the, also excellent, 'Hung Up') and this film is definitely a film worth several watches. I just hope he makes something longer soon!

On-set photos (make up fx by Graham Taylor)

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Black Windmill

Many of the films I watch can be sorted into three categoraries - there's big, well known films (there doesn't seem much point writing about these, there are a million film blogs outs there...), there are the criminally ignored (the ones that really should be seen by everyone but just aren't) and then the comically bad (the weird, the low-budget and the badly directed).

Black Windmill falls into none of these categories really. It's not very well know, it probably doesn't deserve much greater recognition and it's not too bad. But not too good. So just.... you know....ok?

Sometimes though, an ok film is just fine. This is well acted (Michael Caine AND Donald Pleasence!), it has a vaguely engaging story and no major problems. Sadly it's just npwhere near as gripping as it should be.

The plot meanders along; Michael Caine is a British spy, a baddie kidnaps his son in an attempt to blackmail diamonds from the British government, things all go a bit wrong from there. It's all well written, with twists and turns in the story - hell, if you swapped the 'diamonds' for a dirty bomb or nuclear weapon you'd basically have the plot of a generic episode of Spooks!

Maybe though, that's the problem. THe material here would probably work in a tightly edited hour-long tv episode but, clocking in at 1h40, this crawls along; the surprises aren't surprising enough and the baddies aren't bad enough. Ho hum.

But wait! It has got Michael Caine AND Donald Pleasence in it! All is not lost. Watch it if you're bored; if you give up halfway through you're probably not missing much...

(I realise that this sounds quite damning - it's not meant to be. The film is quite good. It's just not.... terribly exciting)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Poster Hunt #3 - I, The Jury

Another month can mean only one thing; it's time for another Poster Hunt post. This time, fresh from the stash of exploitation flick posters for films I haven't seen (and have little desire to...), comes Micky Spillane's I, The Jury.

Coming from an era (1954...) when "man-woman violence" could be used as a selling point, here is I, The Jury

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Summer 2009 Round-up.

‘Enjoy Summer 2009 at the cinema’, instructs the video. But summer’s the season of big, brash, balls-out, CGI-heavy, plot-light, no-brain blockbusters. Isn’t it?

Well, yes. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Whilst I’m not suggesting you should throw out all concern for substance and actually watch Transformers 2, a season of dumb, noisy and occasionally epic films can sometimes be more than a little fun.

So, here’s a round-up of my summer at the cinema; some good, some average and some dull as hell.

First up, Brüno. It’s a while now since I saw Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat-but-different cringe-along. I remember laughing a lot, yes, but being inclined to agree with most of the reviews I read at the time; Brüno is very funny, but it suffers from using a paint-by-numbers template all too obviously. In Borat, a flimsy plot took a naïve foreigner to America, with funny conversations showing some Americans to be pretty astonishingly racist at times. In Brüno, er…. a flimsy plot takes a naïve foreigner to America etc etc. There are some genius moments - Paula Abdul (who?) sitting on a Mexican whilst talking about her humanitarian concerns is brilliant and the swinger’s party is pretty unbelievable – but I’m struggling to remember the scenes already, which is never a good sign.

X-men origins: Woverine
. Good fun but completely forgettable. The motorbike-into-the-helicopter scene is cool but this is cinema-froth. Tasty, but froth all the same.

One of the best films of the summer, to my mind, was the wonderful Coraline. A lot of noise has been made about 3D revolutions this year, loved by some, dismissed by others, but Coraline justifies the hype single-handedly. The 3D was fun, there was lots of it, but it was never the main show. The main show was the bonkers world of button-eyed crazies that spilled from the screen. This is one of very few of this summer’s films that I would go and see again without hesitation.

Next up, Public Enemies. I’m puzzled by this one. I thought I enjoyed it a lot; it had Johnny Depp performing outlandish gangster moves – bank robberies and prison breaks - with lawman Christian Bale in hot pursuit. Looking back at it, though, I don’t feel overly keen to see it again. I think I’m forced to damn it with faint praise and admit that it was (merely) a good film. It was good; better by far than most of what I watched this summer but… a little short of the major leagues. I think I’d rent it, but I won’t be rushing out to buy it.

I also certainly have no intention of buying the latest instalment in the Harry Potter series, HP and the Half Blood Prince. Much like the Wolverine film, it looked brilliant and the action bits were exciting (the zombie-ish creatures emerging from the lake in the cave were wonderful) but there was noticeably less action; the film was way too long and –for large parts, at least – numbingly tedious. I won’t even be renting this one…

That just leaves me with a two; Inglourious Basterds and Funny People. I’m not going to review Inglourious Basterds – I think it deserves a full review and I need to see it again – look out for it sometime soon. As for Funny People? How Seth Rogen was wasted in such an excruciatingly dull film is beyond me. Did anyone let him see the script beforehand? There were some good bits to pick out; the relationship between Seth and his housemates is hilarious (though sadly doesn’t get the screen time it merits) and the footage of the stand-ups actually doing stand-up is suitably funny. But the rest? The rest is dire. I can’t really work out what they were trying to do. Whole chunks of the film tread a line between being a comedy and a drama about Adam Sandler’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend… but I just don’t care. Sandler isn’t a sympathetic character, nor is his ex, nor is his ex’s husband. We’re left with three boring, self-centred characters not being funny. This leaves Seth Rogen as the easily the stand-out best character but any attempt to drag the film into being half-way decent is an uphill battle. Put simply, it’s crap.

So, that was summer. Here we are in September with Autumn coming soon. Of the ‘Summer 2009’ list I still want to see Broken Embraces and District 9 (tomorrow!) but then it’ll be time for a new season of film.