Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Burning (1981)

It’s summer camp time, and the young adults are feeling frisky. Hormones are raging, and unfortunately so is a garden shears wielding burn-victim janitor maniac. He’s hiding in the woods, creeping up on naked ladies, and generally wreaking bloody havoc with his perfectly silhouetted weapon.

A brilliantly corny and cliché ridden slasher horror, The Burning is surprisingly entertaining despite its grating 80s score. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, and to be honest I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It didn’t scare me or shock me, but it really entertained me, and not for one moment did I find myself getting bored. This was mainly due to sparky performances from some of the cast (Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, and Jason Alexander in particular), top notch special effects, and a story that wasn’t as predictable as I had predicted (does that even make sense?)

The film knows when to withhold violence as well as when to pile it on unashamedly. Far from 91 minutes of explicit slasher gore, the audience is actually treated to a bit of suspense and character building in among slit throats and stabbed guts. I actually vaguely cared about who might die, and it was nice to see some people survive unscathed. Obviously the whores, the horny douche-bags, and the kids floating out in to the middle of the river on a rickety raft had to go, though.

If anything, it’s worth watching this for the brilliantly inspired dialogue alone. With lines such as “Well if you’re comin in, why don’t you come on in?“, and “He’s a sexual pervert!“, the script is bound to entertain you in ways you can only imagine.

I didn’t have high hopes for this one, and I’m pleased to say it exceeded expectations. Thumbs up from me.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★★

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Who died and made you fucking king of the zombies?

Shaun of the Dead is a genuine, “let’s sit back with a bag of crisps and a coke” film. Everything about it screams mundane Britain, from its queues of oblivious, brain dead customers at the check outs, to its over dependency on the pub as a place for decision making and socialising. The joke is that the average 9-5 job is enough to make anyone numb to their surroundings. If a zombie apocalypse were to suddenly occur, how long would it take you to realise? It takes Shaun and Edd approximately one night and one day, and about half an hour of the film goes by before they’ve properly twigged.

Top notch humour, and a bunch of lovable characters played with brilliant energy, is what sets this apart from other attempts at horror comedy. Our two slobs (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) are joined by a supporting cast that includes Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Peter Serafinowicz, Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy. In the face of imminent death, an odd alliance is formed between people who don’t particularly like each other, and who don’t have much to offer in terms of strength or brains. This is what makes their efforts so amusing as they each grapple with cricket bats, spades, swingball posts, and jukeboxes in attempts to survive. Each zombie killing is delightfully wacky, messy, and unplanned. Watching Edd and Shaun ponder over which vinyl records to throw as Frisbees at the necks of two approaching undeads is a moment of pure genius; and the Don’t Stop me Now scene may be overplayed, but is still as classic now as it was back in 2004.

Friendship and goodwill are as much a part of this film as the blood and laughs, and it’s that extra bit of depth at moments where it seems like the film’s main priority is satire, that raise it above your average parody. The final scene is a brilliant testimony to comradeship, and it’s also strangely comforting to see people on the sofa talking about tea and a pub lunch after the whole thing has finally “blown over” as predicted, despite the film being a comment on the boring lives we Brits lead. After all, who can deny the blissful satisfaction of a good brew?

On our way to the corner shop after watching this film, myself and my flat mate were discussing how long it would take us to realise we were in the midst of an apocalypse. I guessed about a day, considering that the town where we live is pretty quiet, and the guys behind the counter don’t really talk much anyway. She agreed, and we then went on to make a detailed plan as to which items in the house would make the best weapons. As you can probably tell, I lead about as thrilling a life as Shaun and his friends.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★★★1/2

Soul Kitchen (2009)

Soul Kitchen is just pure, unadulterated, full-fat fun. Despite being a little rushed and disjointed at times, it is packed full of wacky, feel good humor, and is a joy to watch. Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) is the owner of a run-down restaurant in the middle of an industrial estate in Hamburg. The place is popular with the locals, but fails to attract much outside attention. Some drastic changes to the menu threaten to shake up the lives of everyone who works there.

With the help of his brother, his waitress, and a chef, Zino manages to make the most out of bad situations (and there are a lot of them). It is his trials and tribulations which provide the highs and lows for the film, and yet the film’s predictability does not detract from its entertainment value. This is mainly due to the lively performances from the cast, who all look as though they’re having a brilliant time. When they’re happy, you really believe it, and can’t help but squeal in excitement with them (I really hope that’s not just me).

The music is spot on, with a soundtrack that includes Louis Armstrong, Kool & The Gang and Curtis Mayfield. My only criticism of the film is that there maybe could have been a little more focus on the food itself. Considering that the story revolves around one man’s love for a restaurant, there weren’t many scenes that went into detail about dishes or ingredients (except for the aphrodisiac scene, which was more there for laughs). There were some montages of chopping and mixing to be fair, and maybe I’m being a little picky, but it’s something that I felt was missing by the end.

Overall, this is definitely a light hearted but sincere tale of faith and determination in the face of misfortune. The film’s message: things will turn out all right in the end if you just keep going. Is that always true? Maybe not, but who cares.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★★1/2

Argo (2012)

Argo

Argo is, in many ways, a collage of different genres, locations, textures, and characters. It is the perfect blend of nail biting tension and sharp humour, matching political drama of the highest order with tinseltown nonchalance and laughs. A wacky, “truth is stranger than fiction” tale is told carefully and considerately, with Ben Affleck more than proving his worth as director.

It’s 1979, and the people of Iran are enraged at the American government for granting asylum to the recently overthrown Shah of Iran. They demand his return, and in anger, a band of militants storms the American Embassy in Tehran, taking hostage more than fifty American citizens. Six employees of the Embassy manage to escape, and are taken in by the Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). Ben Affleck plays CIA agent Tony Mendez, an exfiltration specialist secretly hired to orchestrate the safe return of these six Americans, whilst plans are made to free those fifty or so still in the public eye. His idea is to put a fake film into production, in order to have it seem as though the escapees are in fact a team of Canadians scouting for science-fiction movie locations. They are each to play a specific role, from cinematographer, to scriptwriter, to production designer. All of this is done with the help of John Chambers (John Goodman), a makeup artist, and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), who unsurprisingly provide the light relief for what is otherwise an intense thriller.

Each actor is perfectly cast, with Affleck taking to the role of bearded and bedraggled Mendez with an understated naturalism. He suitably fades into the background of each scene, allowing others to demand attention with their snappy remarks, jokes, or concerns over safety. His presence is far from sensational, and yet that is the point. He is the unsung hero, the ‘nobody’ with a good idea who will return to an ordinary life after the case is closed. In fact, no character stands out in particular over the rest, which makes sense when considering that the story revolves around the idea of a ‘team effort’. Garber, Goodman, Arkin, Bryan Cranston, and even Kyle Chandler, each play their parts engagingly, but never overwhelm with their presence. That is not to say that they are not memorable, though. Cranston is expectedly loveable as Jack O’Donell, Mendez’s supervisor, and it’s brilliant to see him offset Affleck’s stony stares with furrowed brows and passionate outbursts.

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto does a fantastic job, giving a distinctive feel to each location. For scenes in Washington D.C. there is a clinical atmosphere, with steady shots, and a greyish-blue tone over everything. Conversely, over in Hollywood, colours are saturated to the point where yellows are startlingly vivid, and the light overbearingly bright. In Tehran, there is graininess to the picture, and a shakiness that makes things feel more out of control. Outside on the streets, many shots are framed to match real photographs from the 70s, thus adding to the documentary feel. And in the Canadian ambassador’s house, the light is dimmer and colours darker, emphasising an atmosphere of imprisonment. These varied textures work to stress the multitude of different people and places that were involved in the coup.

Supposing that most people already know the outcome of the case, it is the mixing of satire with suspense that keeps the audience engaged. The Hollywood segments are incredibly enjoyable, and explore the ignorance and greed of the industry, whereby excitement can be forged for a project through word of mouth and a few press events. Everything is a façade here, from the production company, to the posters, and the elaborate performance in LA obviously mirrors the performances of the fugitives as they walk the streets of Tehran pretending to be a film crew. The show put on in America also reflects the show that the Iranians put on for the cameras, burning flags in front of news reporters, and releasing public statements across tables. There is no doubting that the people of Iran are genuinely angry and upset, but they must stage their emotions in order to have their messages received loud and clear.

The CIA assume that out of the six fugitives, it will be Bob Anders (Tate Donovan) who will take charge of the situation, and yet it ends up being unassuming Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy) who takes the lead and asks all the difficult questions that are on everybody’s minds. This, in a sense, mirrors the entire narrative of the film. The public, with their eyes fixed on the hostages still held at the Embassy, assume that the American government and the army will save the day, whereas behind the scenes it is the Canadian government, and a couple of unsuspecting individuals, who end up rising to the occasion. Argo is essentially a tribute to the nameless and faceless teams who ensure the safety of people without ostentatious reward. It is also an unapologetic comedy, and a top notch thriller, with genuinely nerve-racking moments that will have your heart racing. This jumble of emotions and experiences is what makes the film absorbing from start to finish.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★★★1/2

Miracle Mile (1988)

I didn’t know what to expect going into this film, and I think it’s safe to say that it surprised me. This is essentially one long tangent, with scenes taking unpredictable and slightly unbelievable turns throughout. But despite its flaws, Miracle Mile is undeniably a brave and entertaining apocalyptic thriller.

Harry and Julie are young lovers caught up in the midst of a nuclear war, and to be honest, that’s about all I can say in terms of the plot, as to explain the details of what happens would be to ruin the entire viewing experience. Every single moment is frantic and filled with an insanely nervous energy, as people run around plotting and planning in delirious panic. Phone calls, car chases, guns, explosions, crashes, and lots of running fill the 87 minutes, but this is far from your average action movie. Details such as the surreal opening in the La Brea Tar Pits Museum, where the credits slide along the screen to images of Harry and Julie first noticing each other, and the quirky pieces of dialogue in the coffee shop, save this from becoming mundane. Genuinely funny at parts, and with some inspired shots, you will find yourself engrossed in the madness if you suspend your disbelief and just roll with it.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★★