Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Here Comes the Devil

When I spotted Here Comes the Devil (AKA Ahí va el diablo) was showing as part of the Leeds International Film Festival's horror and genre film strand I was more than a little excited.  Earlier this year it screened to audiences in Austin's Fantastic Fest and to say that it had done well there is something of an understatement: Here Comes picked up awards for best actor, best actress, best screenplay, best director and best picture in the horror category.  There are only two explanations for this: either the other films in competition were hardly strong, or Here Comes is really something quite special.

So of course I had to go and see it. 

Some hours later, I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. It's a solid little film, it ticks a lot the boxes you'd expect and a few you might not, but it doesn't really offer much by way of surprises. I definitely came out grinning, but I don't think it made my jaw drop.

The premise is pretty familiar. Some children disappear and then turn up the next day. Only, when they re-appear they're... different. Cold, unemotional, quiet. I don't think I'm spoiling anything if I tell you there's some supernatural/possession stuff going on. Most of the rest of the film focuses on unravelling the changes that have taken place, whilst Sol and Felix (the parents) struggle to cope with what has happened.

Director Adrían García Bogliano (I'm definitely going to check out more of his films) has explained that he was keen to step away from the slasher/giallo genres that he was comfortable in and embrace the challenge of supernatural horror. It's an interesting challenge, one that wasn't entirely successful but is never dull.  Here Comes has the prints of giallo and slasher all over it: in often seems to reveal too much visually, keeping hold of the mystery but losing a lot of the horror atmosphere in shock scenes.  Similarly, it never quite escapes from the clichés of supernatural horror: the darkened eyes, the creepy man, the local legend, the levitating body - they're all here. At times, this all seems laid on a little too thick.

But these are minor gripes. Genre film is - by its very nature - bound to be somewhat generic. And the collision of giallo, slasher and supernatural is not really a bad thing (although perhaps some of the scenes are too implausible or too obviously gratuitous). It's a fun film. The real problem is that it suffers from what I have termed Stupid People in Horror Syndrome (SPiHP). Some of the characters are just way too dumb. None of them talk to each other, none of them just talk to the police, none of them think about what they're doing. There are only two things you should feel for the sufferers in horror movie: you should either identify with and feel sorry for them, or you should just look forward to them dying. Here Comes does work hard to make you care about its lead characters but my will to see Sol live, as she repeatedly went off alone to do stupid things, was crumbling. Which was a shame.

None of this should detract from the fact that Here Comes is a good fun film to watch. I'm not usually much of a fan of possession-type films but I thoroughly enjoyed this and would definitely call it one of the better modern horror's I've seen recently. A solid, exciting genre flick for sure, although I'm still not sure quite how it won so many awards...

Friday, November 2, 2012


Last night the Leeds International Film Festival kicked off with Argo, which Ben Affleck both directed and starred in.  Now, I don't really pay that much attention to Hollywood projects very often, so I'll admit that I knew almost nothing about it beforehand, even though it's apparently big news.

I was pleasantly surprised. Sort of.

Argo has at least two films in it, and at least one of them is quite good. It dithers a bit between whether it wants to be serious or comic, commits to neither and kind of crosses back and forth somewhat awkwardly.  The opening, in which the (real historical) Iranian hostage situation unfolds suggests the film was keen to take quite an interesting approach, treading quite carefully in what it did. There does seem to be a degree of sympathy towards both the American embassy staff and the rioting Iranians, neither side being explicitly vilified.  The behaviour of the embassy staff, whose first priority when the building is attacked is to shred all their documents, gently suggests that possibly they were doing work that went a little beyond their diplomatic roles.

All this nuance and subtly vanishes, however, almost immediately after the scene is set. From about 20 minutes into the film we revert into classic thriller mode: there are good guys and there are bad guys. The good guys are threatened by the bad guys. The good guys must try to escape. This, in itself isn't really a problem. Argo is billed as a thriller and absolutely delivers on its promise. The film is tense, exciting and well-paced, scenes of life-or-death suspense alternating with gently comic moments. As a thriller it ticks a lot of boxes.

Sadly, having set the scene very firmly in Iran and very explicitly as 'based-on-true-events' story, the humorous-thriller tone of the film is, to my mind, slightly at conflict with the political side of things.  There's no escaping or forgetting the fact that Iran and America are still far from good friends and that the West is decidedly prone to Islamophobia: in Argo it seems that pretty much anyone with a beard (or at least, a beard longer than Affleck's own) is an enemy. From about halfway through it has become very clear that anyone who approaches the heroes who looks even slightly a bit like a Muslim is absolutely bound to be a murderous, brutal agent of the state. Which is a bit of a shame.

Really, they ought to have pushed it one way or the other. This could have been a good, serious (though possibly rather weighty) look at relations between Iran and the US or it could have been a kick-ass entertaining thriller with no need to be grounded in the real East-West conflict that it patently doesn't really care about. Instead, it staggers between the two, reassuring audiences that America are the good guys, Iranians (real: anyone vaguely middle-eastern) are the bad guys and the US will surely triumph.

For all that, it is still quite a lot of fun.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Bloodbath

It seems like I haven't really had enough horror films featured on Chopping Mall lately. Which is a shame: horror films are really what this blog is all about. Even the name comes from a horror film. Perhaps there's no better time than Halloween to catch up on some splatters, slashers and spooks. So here is Chopping Mall's extra special Halloween Bloodbath Horror Film review! Here we go....


Now this was really quite something. It's a while since I've watched anything that screamed 80s any louder than this. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen anything more 80s. This is a film set in an aerobics class, with pumping disco music throughout, enormous haircuts, occasional moustaches and lots of lycra. This could almost be a museum piece: look at what people wore in those days!

Once you get over the disco beat, though, this is pretty standard slasher fare. The film is set in and around Rhonda's Gymnasium. Sadly, Rhonda's place seems to be plagued by murders. A woman is stabbed in the shower. Things go bump in the night. Etc. We get the usual crew: a slightly creepy police man who could be capable of murder; a slightly creepy strapping-handsome-gym-beefcake who could be capable of murder; some ditsy ladies who clearly aren't capable of very much apart from aerobic and squealing; Rhonda and a creepy lecherous idiot guy who we're clearly supposed to suspect as the murderer but patently isn't.

It's not really very much fun.  The gore is disappointingly minimal - although the stabbing in the shower isn't bad - the fight scenes are hilariously awful (complete with video-game-esque THWACK sounds), the acting isn't much better and the plot is nothing if not predictable. But perhaps I'm being too hard on this one: it's not without it's charm.  I'd imagine that after a few beers, or just put on as background noise, this wouldn't be so bad.

Bikini Girls on Ice

I saw this listed as one of those "so bad you will not believe your eyes" titles and ...oh boy... it certainly was. BGoI is clearly one of the many victims of the "good name - crap film" syndrome that plagues modern B-movies (See Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus.  Or, rather, don't).  But how could this be? How could you go wrong with a title like Bikini Girls on Ice? What kind of idiot would you have to be to screw that up.

Sadly, screw it up they did. BGoI - which is sadly not about ice-skating women - follows a handful of women who, whilst on their (apparently very long) way to a bikini-car-wash fundraiser, break down at an abandoned garage. Blah, blah, the usual business. There is, of course, some murderous psychopath lurking in said abandoned garage who picks off the stranded visitors one by one. At first they assume that the missing people have just wandered off but, once they've found some body parts, they realise they're living through a nightmare. Blah blah blah.

Seriously. This was astonishingly dull. Not only did it have absolutely no sense of tension or surprise (you absolutely knew what was going to happen ages before it did) but they completely forgot to create a convincing explanation for why the killer was killing! It's not even like I have high standards - the eventual motive in Aerobicide is rubbish - but I do expect at least a gesture at a decent motive.  That's really what a slasher is all about: without an explanation of the killer's motive, a slasher becomes just a string of pointless death scenes. To get away with that, you'd have to at least make those death scenes really spectacular. Sadly, these ones aren't. 

Ultimately, Bikini Girls on Ice makes 80minutes feel like a very long time and gives little by way of entertainment.


Aaaand finally: here's something to really get excited about. Killdozer, also blessed with a brilliant name, manages to live up to it.  I would call this a by-numbers killer-vehicle-terrorising-everyone flick, but I'm not sure there even is a by-numbers layout for this ...er... niche genre.

There's surprisingly little to say about it: conveniently cut-off from the rest of the world on an island in the middle of god-knows-where, a small team of basically unlikeable construction workers find themselves unexpectedly terrorised by one of their own bulldozers. Most of the film follows the machine picking them off one-by-one until they really begin to get it together and fight back.

It's absolutely as silly as it sounds. What sets it apart from disappointing modern killer-object movies (like Rubber) is that they play it absolutely dead straight. There isn't even a hint of smug, self-aware laughter here. They must have been sniggering on set but none of it carries into the film. If only more silly horror would take itself so seriously. Great fun.

Phew. All done. Let's go and watch Beetle Juice now?

Leeds International Film Festival

This week sees the return of the UK's biggest film festival outside of London! Hurrah! I've enjoyed lots of pretty great films at LIFF over the last couple of years (and have regularly promised far more reviews than I've actually written), so I'm looking forward to some more.

This year I'm lucky enough to be doing some work there - which sadly means I won't get to see half as many films as in previous years (booo!). So I'm going to preview a few I'm looking forward to (and might actually get to see) here.  Over the next couple of weeks I also plan on watching a handful of the festival films I can get my hands on and putting them up here. Obviously these will mostly be the older one - I'm not likely to find a DVD copy of Russian zombie flick Meteletsa, which is getting it's world premiere here in Leeds - but there should be a few interesting things to watch. My very own festival outside the festival.

In terms of things to look forward to, though, I'm spoilt for choice.  The most alluring horror treat, to my mind, is the sinister looking Mexican flick, Here Comes The Devil (Ahi va el diablo), which swept the horror awards at the last Fantastic Fest. I might actually get to see this one and am already pretty excited.  There's a decent spread of homegrown horror too: Heretic and Before Dawn both look particularly exciting. The latter is a straight-faced zombie movie - something all too-rare since Shaun of the Dead.  Whether either of them can possibly match last-year's glorious bloodbath of nastiness, Inbred, remains to be seen...

In terms of classics, there's Django, The Shining, King Kong vs. Godzilla AND Return of the Living Dead. All on a big screen! Coo! Sadly, I think I'll miss all of them. I might get to see Matango: Fungus of Terror though, which should probably make up for it somewhat.

Actual film reviews coming soon. Expect Belgian wheelchair-bound comedies and Canadian SciFi oddities amongst other things.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

More Bond: Double bill DaF & L&LD

Diamonds Are Forever

After the disappointment of On Her Majesty's..., I expect everyone was as glad as me to see Sean Connery resuming Bond duties, taking the role back from Lazenby for one last Bond film.  I had hazy memories of Diamonds Are Forever being - as well as one of the better titled Bonds - one that I'd particularly enjoyed. Sadly, it seems I was getting my Bond films confused: DaF is a pretty dull outing, really.

I'll give the creators some credit: the henchmen are pretty creepy. Mr Kidd and Mr. Wint march around killing off a variety of implausibly trusting truck drivers and smugglers.  It's more than can be said for Blofeld, though, who makes a fairly pathetic villain here. There's none of the mastermind threat that he had in earlier films: it seems that in each appearance he moves another step towards Dr Evil...

Most of all it isn't that DaF is bad in any real sense (at least no more bad than other Bonds) but that it's not a lot of fun.  Bond just isn't serious or important enough to get away with being boring. Even the quiet bits are supposed to be fun. Lurching between explosions, fights, car-chases, innuendo-laden chitchat and sex scenes Bond films are supposed to rattle along at a pretty relentless pace. Sadly DaF is just a little too slow. The climactic show-down just sees Bond gently bashing Blofeld's submarine against a wall... Even Lazenby had a helicopter-attack-on-mountain-fortress payoff! This one's just too tame. And not even Shirley Bassey can rescue it from that.

Live and Let Die 

L&LD can be accused of many things but it's certainly not boring. It's almost as if, face with reinventing Bond in a Roger Moore shape, the producers just decided to throw all sorts of fun at the film and see what stuck. 

It obviously cashes in heavily on the then-popular blaxploitation trend (just two years after Shaft!).  Too those unfamiliar with those films it might seem more racist than er... anything else: Bond has left genealogists in stuffy British boardrooms behind and is now traipsing through Harlem (and sticking out like a sore thumb).  For a large part of the film it does seem worryingly like every single Black character might well be a baddie, which does get a little awkward. Eventually the goodie-baddie balance is restored somewhat so it's definitely not racist, no, not at all, never. Hmm...

Either way, it's a hell of a lot of fun. They just ramped everything up a bit. We have poisonous snakes, revolving walls, super-gadgets, speedboat chases, comic characters.  This is perhaps the first Bond film that feels really self-referential - it verges on the edge of pastiche at times - but for the most part it carries it well, staying just the right side of the line.

The 'comic' sheriff was a mistake though: a Southern States, gum-chewing, noisy, moron character played for laughs, it's hard not to wince at each appearence he makes. Mercifully, his role is only brief, and it is intercut with the pretty-awesome speedboat chase.  The producers made no such mistake with the villains though: claw-handed henchman Tee-Hee, snake-wielding face-painted Baron Samedi and the mastermind-villain-who-relies-on-Tarot-cards Kananga make a pretty formidable bad-guy line-up.  Even if they do repeatedly fall for the classic mistake of explaining their entire plan first and then leaving Bond to die and looking away as he escapes.... But we can't all be perfect.

L&LD ushers in the Moore era which, if I remember rightly, brings with it a fair number of pretty awful films but, in itself, is a pretty mad and fun Bond movie.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Ah, 1970s Italian films. There's really nothing like them. I'm not nearly well versed enough in cinema history to know what it was that fuelled the explosion of fabulous Italian cinema in the late 60s and 70s but I'm glad it happened. From Spaghetti Westerns to supernatural slashers, a number of my favourite films, directors and film scores come from the era.  

More often than not, these films get unfairly dismissed or overlooked.  With large multi-lingual casts speaking whichever language came naturally to them and then being dubbed for release, cheap sets and often clumsy dialogue, a lot of modern film fans sadly mistake these for bad films. They're not.  With the exception of a few well-known greats - like Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone - most of the star-players of Italian cinema seem to be restricted to only cult appreciation. It's a shame because so many of these films are beautifully shot and scored, and ought to be better known.

Torso, today's film, is a giallo flick from Sergio Martino. Like so many of the genre, a number of artsy, rich, female American students meet their end at the hands of a sadistic sexually driven killer (the Italian title translates as The Bodies Presented Traces of Carnal Violence...).  Of course, the aim is to catch the killer but you can never really ignore the obvious glee the film takes in punishing these confident, promiscuous women. Besides the obvious sexism - which these films held in common with most other films of the era - the Italian cinema cycles are so confusingly anti-American. Just as the Spaghetti Western took a classic American good-versus-bad narrative and turned most of the Americans into greedy, cold-blooded murderers, mercenaries and cowards, Giallo films are obsessed with Americans but brutal towards them too.   Here, the Italian art professor registers his surprise that his student, "a product of American technology", could possibly have real feelings for art. He suggests that perhaps her real reason for being in Perugia is to "buy the coliseum".  The irony of these films' resistance to American capitalism being delivered side-by-side with English dubbed dialogue for sale to foreign markets is apparently lost on the film-makers...

Anyway, in Torso we have a bunch of art students being picked of by a killer. It's not really the plot or the mystery that holds the attention here so much as the tension and drama surrounding the murders.  The first death, early in the story, is a masterpiece of suspense. A couple have sped off from class to a deserted spot to have sex in their bright-red mini (it is the 70s...). The camera lurks in the bushes, creeping around the car for a better view, making the viewer just as sleazy a voyeur as the masked man whose viewpoint we are seeing.  Expendable Boyfriend #1 spots the masked man and charges out of the car and into the undergrowth in pursuit.  We're left alone with Flo in the car, the camera still lurching uneasily, as plucked strings warn of what's to come. You know she's going to die. But that's not the point.  Even though it's predictable as can be, with plenty of the those moments where you just want to scream "NO, no, no, stay in the car!", at the hapless soon-to-be-victim, the real art of the seen is in the buildup to the inevitable.  The strings get more insistent. Someone in the orchestra has found a drum and begins gently tapping it. The camera lurches more awkwardly. We see a flash of leather gloves, a movement in the bushes, a peeping figure round the wall. Suddenly it's all crescendo and murder.

Throughout, the score and cinematography are what really drive this film.  Even in moments of calm the camera has a tendency to creep around obstacles in a disarming manner.  As with more famous examples, such as Argento's Proffondo Rosso / Deep Red, a certain amount of the mystery revolves around seeing: mistakes, confusion and half-glimpsed actions lead detectives and characters astray and the viewer becomes a part of the voyeurism that drives the story. The camera shoots from face to face, watching people watching. The score is similarly impressive: silence is used to good effect, and the absence of music is often as tension-building as the music itself. When the music does kick in, little recurring patterns foreshadow moments of violence and build towards violent, noisy bursts. Guido and Marizio de Angelis did a very good job here.

Torso is not the giallo I'd suggest for anyone's first taste of the genre - probably some Argento would be as good a start as any - but it's a decent film. However much the dialogue and plot may be somewhat clumsy, there's a lot of style and tension in it that is all too often missing from modern films.

Monday, September 17, 2012


The weekend of the 8th & 9th of September saw the launch of Leeds' first DIY and experimental film festival No/Gloss. As a big fan of film festivals with half-an-eye on experimental film this was pretty exciting. I was only able to attend for one of the two days but I had a great time there.

Keeping with the DIY aesthetic, the organisers held it in Wharf Chambers - a co-operatively run Arts-space near(ish) to the Corn Exchange, Leeds. This meant that festival goers could take advantage of the Sam Smiths beer on offer as well as some pretty tasty vegan food. A crowd of film-fans had descended like hungry-wolves on the black-bean paté sandwhiches (would hungry wolves eat black bean paté? Not so sure...) but I can vouch for the herb tofu. Great stuff.

The set-up in place at the main screen saw films being shown in three sessions with short breaks between each batch of films. There was a second screen as well, with a long list of shorts that were on a rolling playlist.  Sadly, this screen got a bit lost amid the bar, food-counter and conversation of the main room so I didn't really see very much that was shown on it. But the glimpses I caught did seem interesting.

I'll write a separate post to review some of the films over the next couple of days, so for now I'll content myself with saying that the films were varied and interesting.  The speed which the schedule see-sawed between funny and depressing did seem a little awkward - finished watching a gritty investigation on homelessness in Manchester? Here's something funny! - but perhaps that served to emphasise the sheer variety. I'll put a couple of my favourites at the end.

All in all, NO/GLOSS was a triumph (from the point of view of a punter, at least). And I sincerely hope we'll see future instalments of this welcome addition to Leeds' busy cultural calendar.

Some of the best shorts:

Probably my absolute favourite. Bottle by Kirsten Lepore. One of those films that reminds you what fabulous things you can do with a little patience and a whole lot of imagination. A lovely film.

Post Fracas by Xander Robbin is a completely bonkers look at the feelings experienced by a family after being humiliated on a TV-gameshow. A lot of fun

POST FRACAS from Xander Robin on Vimeo.

Surface ii by Sam Spreckley is a beautiful abstract piece. Mesmerising.

Surface ii from sam spreckley on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

In my last post on a James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, I admitted that the James Bond project was moving along somewhat slowly.  Inwardly, I promised myself that I'd speed it up a bit, crack through a few more films and get on with it.  But then I looked at the next film on the list: On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Oh dear.

OHMSS is a film I'd only seen once. It has a reputation as a low-point of the Bond series: people can argue forever about who their favourite Bond is but none of them ever say George Lazenby. Ever.   More than that, it's one of the very few Bond films that, after watching it, I never felt the need to return to again. But that was years ago. Surely my memory was deceiving me? Surely it wasn't that bad?

It was.

Well... maybe not entirely as bad as I remembered. Just mostly as bad.  There are a few decent moments and sequences in it but, for the most part, this is a pretty dull film. First off, it's slow. Bond films usually move along at a fairly brisk pace - conversation, fight, conversation, fight, etc. etc - but OHMSS just crawls along. Although the plot itself is no better or worse than most other Bond films - Blofeld + world domination + mind control - it just takes forever to actually get exciting.  When it does pick up, the film's actually not bad. The final, say, 20 minutes are pretty pacey. We have a bobsled-run chase/fight, some decent explosions and good gunfights. It's just such a shame it took so long to get there!

There's basically two ways of looking at OHMSS: if you treat it as a Bond film, it's a disappointment. The tone's all wrong, Lazenby isn't a great Bond and Telly Savalas is a rubbish Blofeld. On the other hand, if treated as a generic spy/action flick it's pretty decent. The [spoilers!] grim ending is so very out of place amongst Bond films: usually marooned in the sea/jungle/desert cosying up to a beautiful woman, Lazenby's Bond is left biting back tears, sat next to his dead wife. It's not a bad ending - but it's not Bond.

Still, OHMSS was slightly-less-bad than I had expected, which is pretty much all I was hoping for. Hello and goodbye Mr Lazenby. Next time it's back to Connery...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

[REC]3 Génesis

I arrived at this film with high hopes. The first [REC] is a film I absolutely love. Studying Spanish and being mad-keen on zombie films, it seemed almost too good to be true that one of the twenty-first century's best zombie films was filmed by two Spanish directors in an appartment block in Barcelona. It's a powerful, scary zombie film (that staircase death!) that managed to breath new life into both the zombie and the found-footage genres. Impressive stuff.

The second in the series was by no means as good but it was still streets ahead of most of the competition. Balaguero and Plaza played around with the restrictions of the found-footage film, spiced up the zombies with a bit more religion (not to everyone's taste) and spent their obviously increased budget on quantities of guns and gore. More impressive stuff.

Coming to the third instalment, then, my hopes were high. Almost worryingly high.  I'm pretty sure that at some point Balaguero and Plaza had said they intended to stop after the second but, given its commercial success, rights-holders Filmmax said they'd continue with other directors in that case (I might have imagined this. But I think it happened). Whatever the details of the scenario, B+P did sign up to do more [REC] films but planned two more, of which they would direct one each, rather than co-directing as before. [REC]3 is Plaza's segment. It takes place, as far as I can tell, at roughly the same time as the first film. What seemed like an isolated outbreak clearly wasn't...

It opens in the now-familiar shaky-camera style. We're at the wedding of Koldo and Clara. As the family and friends move on to the reception, however, it emerges that the Uncle's dog-bite may be infected. Badly. Coughing blood and staggering, there are no prizes for guessing what happens next. It is, essentially, all fairly predictable. We're ushered into a secure location (country house), introduced to the characters/victims (wedding guests) and then a zombie is thrown into the mix and all hell breaks loose.

That said, [REC]3 handles it all pretty well. The country house makes a refreshing change from the apartment block of before, the characters are (mostly) intelligent and likeable and, most crucially of all, the gore is good. Some cruel, splattery deaths are dealt to zombies and humans alike, characters are killed off, heads and limbs are hacked at. It's gleeful, bloody stuff (which is exactly what we want, right?)

It's certainly not as innovative or as well-crafted as the first film, I'll accept that, but I'd say that it gave [REC]2 a pretty close run. [REC]3 is a well-made, straight-faced, zombie-movie. And I enjoyed it a lot.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Suspiria in a Swimming Pool

The Russian synchronised swimmers just did their routine to Goblin's creepy and wonderful score to Dario Argento's Suspiria!

(video via AVClub)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

You Only Live Twice

The James Bond project is going slowly. When I decided, back in October, to watch every Bond film in order I didn't expect it to be a marathon of back-to-back viewings (not like Argento week!) but if I'd been asked I'd probably have predicted to be beyond Film #5 after 9 months! As it is, You Only Live Twice marks a milestone of sorts: it's the last film with Sean Connery. Ok, well... it's not. Because he came back after Lazenby. But it's the last film where only one actor had played Bond.

And it's a good one. You Only Live Twice has long been a favourite of mine. It's hard to explain really but, in many ways, it feel like one of the most Bond-like of Bond films.  It just ticks so many of the boxes. James Bond has, in my opinion, never really recovered from the end of the Cold War (Media barons just don't have the same level of villainy...) and YOLT is a good demonstration of Cold War threat: even if it's not actually the Russians who are the bad guys, the danger of M.A.D. looms over the space-race backdrop and spurs Bond into action. Because when the Yanks and the Ruskies are at loggerheads, it obviously falls the Britain to save the day!

In the process, we get some prime Bond action. Q turns up with a tiny fold-up plane in a box (one of the more perfect Bond gadgets that gently mocks his hyper-masculine reputation), the Japanese secret service supply NINJAS (with throwing stars!) and, Bond punches and fights his way through a series of Japanese paper walls. They even manage to create a clever, highly-trained and sympathetic female character and (even more surprisingly) resist giving her a name like 'Pussy Galore'. As Bond in the 60s goes, that's about as close to progressive or feminist as you're going to get!

The plot is reassuringly bonkers: a Spectre spaceship keeps swallowing the US/Russian spaceships and vanishing before anyone can find it. Tasked with stopping it, Bond has to fight a handful of subservient Spectre drones, find the lair and put a stop to Blofeld's sinister spaceship-swallowing plans.  The lair in question, nestled in a Japanese volcano with a metal fake-lake hiding it from view is pretty spectacular and one of the more memorable of Bond Villain lairs (I've always considered the submerged satellite in GoldenEye to be in imitation/homage to this one, really). Add to that a handful of really memorable scenes (poison on a string!) and you have a pretty neat Bond film.

As might be expected, there are a few clumsy moments - the less said about Bond's Asian disguise and the Japanese security-chief's harem of subservient women, the better... - but all in all this is a Bond film that takes some beating. Great stuff.

And it's On Her Majesty's Secret Service next. Now there's something to look forward to...

Sunday, June 24, 2012


I've never been a Lars von Trier completist but I've always enjoyed his films - particularly Dogville, The Idiots and Antichrist (Ok, enjoyed might not be the right word), so I'd been looking forward to Melancholia since Cannes last year. My excitement was only further stoked by Peter Bradshaw's astonishingly negative review in the Guardian...

Bradshaw has never made a secret of how much he hates everything von Trier has done, is doing or will do (to the extent that it's pretty much pointless him writing reviews) but this one clearly had him riled!

Once again, Von Trier has written and directed an entire film in his trademark smirk mode: a giggling aria of pretend pain and faux rapture. The script is clunking, and poor Dunst joins Nicole Kidman and Bryce Dallas Howard in the list of Hollywood females who have sleepwalked trustingly through a Von Trier production. Even the spectacle is thin and supercilious.
Quite apart from the utterly nonsensical description of 'spectacle' as being 'supercilious', Dunst even won best actress for her "sleepwalked" performance! Luckily, Philip French was on hand to provide a second-opinion, half sneering and half simple plot retelling, that - as one commenter pointed out - got several of the significant details entirely wrong.  Thankfully, other reviewers less-desperate to smugly condemn von Trier's Cannes-Nazi-gaffe provided more ...uh... balanced reviews.

Either way, I was keen to see it. Now that I have, I have no idea what to think. I'm pretty sure it's one of the best films I've seen in a very long time but I've still no real idea what it was about. The failure of human relationships? Bipolar disorders? The futility of making plans for the future given that life is essentially fragile? Who knows?

I know that I'm going to be musing over it for some time though. A thoroughly thought-provoking film.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


OK, so just few days ago I was wowed by the poster for Mould* and decided that I'd almost certainly have to watch it. I must admit I wasn't actually expecting very much: once you've seen a number of 21st century B-movies you tend towards pessimism. Most recent films that aim for the schlocky, low-grade style of classic 70s and 80s films do so in such a self-conscious, post-Planet-Terror, we're-so-very-hip-and-grindhouse way that they're ultimately pretty disappointing. To my surprise, Mould* resisted all that and played it straight-faced and gorey and, as a result, was a whole lot of fun.

[Yes, the film is actually called 'Mold' but the word looks silly without a 'u' in the middle. Sorry America. You might be right about 'color' but oyu're wrong about 'mold']

The plot is about as complex as you'd expect from a low-budget film about mould. A group of basically good but apparently conscience-free scientists (oh scientists, why are you always evil?) have been funded to create a new form of super-evil life-destroying hyper-contagious mould. Y'know, so America can remain a superpower or something. And kill people. It's pretty vague, but let's be honest, who cares? The important point is that this mould is in their lab and it is very, very bad for you.

And it's demonstration day. So as well as 4 scientists (Old scientist, lady scientist, two young scientists who both fancy the pants off lady scientist) we have a coke-snorting congressman, his effeminate aide, a cigar-toting army general and his dumb, macho soldier aide. So now we have cowards, scientists, bullies and a woman. All locked in together in a building with some mould. AND GUESS WHAT!? Despite all the precautions taken, the mould contaminates one of them and, from that point on, the worry of containment and contamination takes over the film.

Budget-wise, of course, this is very efficient. Most of the action takes place in one room, with a few shots set in the neighbouring corridors. This, thankfully, means they were able to save all the rest of their cash to spend on splattering green goo and blood across... well... everything. Mould is one of those that you can imagine was an awful lot of fun to make and the enthusiasm carries across onto the screen. I don't want to spoil the surprise(s) but we have splattering heads, exploding internal organs, facial bleeding. And then later, some guns.

There really isn't very much more to tell: Mould is an awful lot of fun. It does perhaps start a little slowly but the slow-moving first half hour is definitely worth it for the oozing, gooey, mouldy pay-off that follows. This is modern low budget trash made with old-fashioned enthusiasm. Highly recommended.

Available right now at www.moldthemovie.com 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Poster Hunt #12 - Mold

It's been an absolute age since the last Poster Hunt blogpost - there hasn't been one since July 2010! But today I stumbled upon a picture that was just too good not to revive the long-forgotten series. A pedant might well point out that this appears to a cover rather than an actual poster but... pfft! Who listens to pedants anyway?

So here is the beautiful artwork for MOLD! It looks a pretty fabulous film, so I might have to give a watch some time soon.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity

Oh they don't make 'em like this anymore. Armed with an invincible title like that, a budget the size of a shoebox and ambitions the size of an alien planet, how could you go wrong? SGFBI is a masterclass in campy sci-fi film that could teach modern snoozefests a thing or two...

Firstly, it's not nearly as sexual as its title would suggest. Nowadays, a film with the words "Slave Girls" in the title would almost certainly be pretty unpleasant. Instead, this fast-paced little flick just throws a couple of prison-escapees into a foreign jungle planet and follows their adventures. There's hardly anything by way of gratuitously sleazy scenes and it's all the better for it. The two women, Daria and Tisa, on a bid for galactic freedom, crash land on a strange and (at first) apparently deserted jungle planet.

Soon enough, they meet the outrageously camp 'Zed', who is master of this private planet and lives in a stone fortress with his two robotic henchmen (I'm not making a word of this up...).  Invited to slip into something more comfortable and join him for dinner (which includes a bizarre son-et-lumiere theremin interlude...) Daria and Tisa meet two other crash-victims who are stuck on Zed's planet. Before long, they realise that the sinister hunting-enthusiast Zed has been taking his unwilling 'guests' out and hunting them in his jungle gardens.

SGFBI clocks in at a tiny 75 mins. In that time we get space travel, intrigue (!), horror (!), theremins (!), robots and jungle. A good third of the film is taken up by Zed's attempt to hunt the three girls through the jungle. The other guest in Zed's personal playground is sadly not so lucky and is crossbowed (is that a verb?) early on.

I need to say a quick word about the robot guards who, apart from being fabulously designed, are apparently also tempted by curvaceous ladies and have a pretty hilarious argument. Read the following in Dalek voices:
Robot 1: The Maaaaaster will not be pleased with your aaabscence!
Robot 2: You displease MEEEE! Aaaand I ignorrrre YOOOOUUU!
R1: I'm going to inform the maaaaaasteeeerrrrr!
R2: Tattle-taaaaaaaaaaalle!

They're awesome, this is awesome, the sets look like they're made of sponge and carboard and Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity is more fun than it surely has any right to be! 

Monday, April 30, 2012

More from Bradford

Juan of the Dead, the first film I saw at the Bradford Film Festival this year, was by far and away the most 'Chopping Mall' themed film of the bunch.  The others were a curious bag of experimental and inventive footage that are certainly worth a mention though.  I seriously doubt any of them are in line for a DVD release any time soon, so they might be a little harder to track down, but they're all worth a watch - and as distribution moves more and more towards digital methods, they may well be available at some point.

First up: Vikingland!

Vikingland's story is a bizarre one (and possibly even more interesting than the film itself!). The blurb is worth pasting from the official website:
Xurxo Chirro has a passion for record keeping and works in the Archives Department of the local television company. During research, he came upon four video tapes that amounted to 16 hours of rushes and were titled ‘Vikingland’. Luis – an expatriate seaman and a migrant like so many of his fellow Galician countrymen – is the hero of this quite peculiar video saga. This is, indeed, no epic tale but a combination of anecdotes and Luis’ persistence. Between learning how to handle the video camera he has just acquired and the long hours working on the ferry-boat which sails from Denmark to Sylt Island in Germany, where he has been hired as a warehouseman, Luis recorded himself without respite for a whole winter. 
So... yes. This is amateur footage shot by a sailor, re-cut by a Galician archive-keeper into something that (supposedly) imitates Moby Dick (Melville is even credited at the end as a writer...). It's long and it's slow but also interesting and occasionally amusing.  Some of the scenes are almost painfully empty of any action (Luis sets the camera up to watch him moving boxes. We watch him moving boxes. That's it) but other moments are more compelling.

The extended Galician-sailors' Christmas dinner is a great scene. The wine-guzzling sailors introduce each dish to the camera and discuss how keen they are to show people what their lives are really like. In this sense it's a pretty fascinating  documentary about the minutae of behind-the-scenes life for the workers in the ship. It is too long, but apart from that it's got a lot to recommend it. Whether we believe Xurxo Chirro's story or not, his project is refreshingly real and democratic. There's no real attempt to make Luis a hero, to explain his history or future, but we're invited into his little cabin and get to see life as he does.

Next up: Moscow Diary.

Here, we're invited to follow Walter Benjamin's footsteps around Moscow, which he visited for six weeks in the 1920s.  It's shot entirely on a mobile phone and, as we wander the streets, parts of Benjamin's diary are read out to accompany the film.  Although he was partly there to have a look at communism in action, the main purpose for his trip was to pursue actress Asja Lacis with who he was apparently madly in love. Given that I only know Benjamin from his writings on aesthetics and technology and his academic reputation, being shown the fragile and human side to him was quite a surprise. His sad reflections on having waited up all evening in the hope that Asja would swing by are sometimes unsettlingly pathetic: it's hard to reconcile the philosopher with the lovesick boy.

Visually, the film's a bit uneven. The mobile-camera works well for the most part - it's held steady and the image is decent, if not great - but that makes Adam Kossoff's choice to occasionally use zoomed in shots puzzling because the low-resolution makes it look a right mess.  I'm pretty sure by now it's not a nostalgia-based illusion: low quality digital footage looks a lot worse than low quality film.

Moscow Diary  was paired with another mid-length film about Walter Benjamin (you wait ages for a film about Benjamin and then two come along at once...) : Les Anges de Port-Bou (The Angels of Portbou)

In this one, Parisian (?) Benjamin-obsessive Séraphin comes out by train to the border with Spain to recreate Benjamin's last journey, fleeing France for what he hoped would be safety in Spain, before eventually killing himself in the Spanish town of Portbou.

Instead of his friend, who's supposed to be walking with him, he's met by his friend's sister, Gabrielle, who Séraphin reluctantly allows to accompany him across the hills.  Their walk ambles between topics, taking in Benjamin's history, the lives of people in the region and the appeal of mystery amongst other things. It's a gently told story with plenty left open to interpretation but it's neatly done, looks beautiful and just flies by. I'd definitely be keen to see more by the director Vladimir Léon.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Juan of the Dead

A few months ago, towards the end of last year, the Leeds International Film Festival announced a rather exciting looking UK premiere in the shape of the world's first Cuban zombie film Juan of the Dead. Sadly, given that I was volunteering at the time (and watching as many films as I could cope with...) I missed it. Given that foreign cult films are sometimes ridiculously slow to appear on DVD here in the UK, I thought I'd missed it altogether. So it was a pretty nice surprise to see the fabulous Bradford Film Festival schedule it as part of their After Dark strand of horror films this year.

As a lover of many things Spanish/LatinAmerican and all things Zombie, perhaps I was somewhat determined to enjoy this. Even so, sometimes that hyped excitement is the surest way to guarantee disappointment. After all, when you're looking forward to a film that much it's going to be hard for it to meet expectations (this is also a worry of mine about Iron Sky, the much-hyped Nazis-on-the-moon adventure...). Thankfully, JotD offered no such disappointment. It was great fun from start to finish.

Juan is a tongue-in-cheek zombie killing rampage with plenty of laughs, some fun gore and not a lot in the way of horror. It's decidedly more in the Dead Snow and Shaun of the Dead lines than Dawn of the Dead or other more (ahem) 'serious' zombie films - this was probably a sensible choice: straight-faced zombie horror can be pretty hard to pull off, especially with a comparatively inexperienced cast (French suburban zombie masterpiece La Horde shows how well it can be done though!). Anyway, Juan sensibly balances laughs and splatter, with the obligatory bit of soul-searching and character improvement.

The basic premise is left beautifully stark. Havana is overrun with zombies. Juan and friends are trying to survive. That's about all there is to it. Like many of the classics they don't waste much time on life-before-zombies and they certainly don't bother explaining where the zombies come from - although the TV reporter blames American imperialists, a neat joke on both Cuban news/propaganda and the (modern) zombie's links to American consumerism. For the most part it just throws us into the middle of the fray as the Juan, his estranged daughter, his best friend and a couple of others start bashing, slashing, smashing and splattering zombies.

It's not perfect. But who really expects perfection from a zombie flick? The plot is essentially pretty episodic: Juan and friends go to one place, kill zombies. Another place, kill zombies. Go home. Go out. Kill Zombies. Etc. etc. Luckily it's all carried out with such obvious enthusiasm that it never really gets boring. It's slightly spoiled by some astonishingly crappy CGI though. Before computer graphics, designers had to find a convincing way to show something or just not show it. If only this were still true. Shots like a helicopter smashing into Cuban government buildings were obviously prohibitively expensive to shoot properly so would have been better left out entirely. Instead the computer generated helicopter just looks cheap.

The gore's good though! Some nice splatters, severed limbs and oozing wounds show just what fun you can have with real physical special effects. And, even if it is episodic, some of the episodes are so damn good that you can forgive them entirely: one scene sees the heroes naked, unarmed and handcuffed to a zombie in the back of a van... There are lots of wry jokes at the Cuban regime and it's claims - the zombies are referred to as dissidents throughout - and one of the characters carries both a Cuban and a US flag to wave depending on who wins. It's also suitably cavalier with its characters: several central characters meet gruesome ends and, at the beginning at least, the gang seem to accidentally kill as many humans as they do zombies (accidentally shooting an old lady with a harpoon...).

Overall, it's the enthusiasm that holds this film together. It's made by people clearly enjoying the chance to make the first Cuban zombie film and their enthusiasm is infectious. Juan is somewhat uneven but so are most zombie films. It's generally a lot of fun.

(The Bradford Film Festival is screening it again on Sunday 22nd and the film will get a DVD release on 4th June. Hurrah!)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Oscar nominated films? Wuh?

Not a lot of posts since the film festival, huh? December and January were pretty busy months and the blog got somewhat left behind. It's not like I haven't seen many films recently but... truth be told, they've mostly been pretty good films. Which is unusual.

Chopping Mall was never meant to be exclusively about bad films, b-movies and grindhouse classics but it certainly wasn't meant to be focused on all the Oscar hopefuls either. As it is, I've seen several of the nominees over the last few months, as well as a handful of other classy films that hardly belong here. I'll gloss over them quickly and then it'll be time to resume normal service.

Scorsese's Hugo was a treat. There wasn't a huge lot of depth to it really - it's basically just a sweet story about acceptance and family that draws on cinema history - but it did everything it set out to do with style.  An absolutely stellar cast meant that this was about revisiting cinema history in more ways than one - Christopher Lee as a librarian was a welcome figure - and, as you'd expect, it looked beautiful.

My Week With Marilyn had an equally stellar cast, was equally obsessed with cinema history and was even more slight. There was nothing wrong with it, exactly, but it wasn't exactly a memorable experience. The film is little more than what the title describes - a fairly pleasant rich guy spends a fairly pleasant week with Marilyn Monroe who, it turns out, is fairly pleasant. The best thing I can really say for it was that it prompted a watch of Some Like It Hot, with the real Marilyn Monroe boozing her way through prohibition era comedy.

The Artist continued the journey through the current trend of cinema about cinema. Why the current vogue for films about film history? It's a neatly self-contained self-obsession and there's plenty of stories to be (re)told but... how much is too much? I hardly need to say anything about The Artist - it's already had more than enough written about it - but I may as well briefly add my voice to all the others. It's charming. It's fun. It's heart-warming. And pleasant. And nice. And lovely. Oh, it doesn't put a foot wrong and there's not a word you can say against it but... some of the praise has probably been overstated.

My final big Oscar film was A Separation, which is a beautifully told but fairly slow tale of divorce, family-ties, pride and lies from Iran. It's not cheerful stuff but as both a view of Iranian life and a sensitively told story of very human sadness it's certainly worth a watch.

I think that's about the lot. Phew. Done with all these classy new films. Back to the cult trash, James Bond and vampire flick. Those were separate, of course. As far as I'm aware no-one has yet made a cult trash James Bond and vampire flick. I'll be first in line when they do...