Friday, 16 October 2009

Hello Technorati!

Keeping this blog alive for historical ends...

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Where to find me...

What you have here is my blog history. To find my up-to-date ravings, go to:

Friday, 3 October 2008

The end of an era

I was getting ready to regale you with some sarky comments on my recent viewing when I learned the sorry news that AOL are relegating all journals on their space to the ether at the end of this month.  While I have printed copies of my many reviews over the last three and a half years, this means -- as far as I can work out -- that my archives will become inaccessible to the rest of the world.  Oh joy!

Like the many other disappointed AOL users, I have now established a new home for Pretty Pink Patty's Pictures which can be found here:


It will take a while to get into the swing of things there, but I hope my few faithful readers will note this new location and visit from time to time.  Before this page disappears forever, perhaps some of you would be good enough to leave the new addresses for your own journals.  Best of luck to us all -- and curses on the powers that be at AOL.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

This month's in-flight movies

It seems to have become something of a self-imposed tradition that I comment on the in-flight films I see.  However since my upcoming return to the States in two weeks' time will be my sixth round-trip transatlantic trip of 2008, I am rapidly losing enthusiasm for the enterprise.  But never mind, here we go:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008):  This is a movie that one must watch on principle, but the truth of the matter is that it is not particularly good nor exciting.  Production was held up for yonks while they found a script that all of the interested parties liked, but it is hard to believe that they settled on such a pathetic one.  Harrison Ford, even at his advanced age, still cuts the mustard as an action hero although he really must be on his last legs here.  Cate Blanchett with her phony Russian accent makes an annoying villainess, but it was pleasing to see Karen Allen back in the picture.  If new sidekick/son, the over-rated Shia LaBeouf, is being groomed for further installments of this franchise, they really shouldn't bother as far as I'm concerned.  Enough is enough.

Drillbit Taylor (2008):  It's the done-before tale of bullied students hiring a bodyguard to protect them, but the catch here is that Owen Wilson is a no-good bum, initially only out for the loot, (and allowing his equally reprehensible lowlife friends to ransack the kids' houses.)  Of course he reforms and all comes right in the end.  It would be fairly glib to say that Wilson is the whole show here, but in fact the three geeky kids are well-developed characters in their own right and help to make this negligible flick more watchable.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008): I only saw half of this movie from the prolific Judd Apatow stable before the entertainment system was switched off for landing and I can't say I'm in any rush to view the balance.  Jason Segel plays the loser who is dumped by his longterm foxy girlfriend (Kristin Bell) and can't seem to get his act together.  He decides to vacation in Hawaii and ends up at the same resort as Bell and her new and rather obnoxious beau, played by the full-of-himself (and rather obnoxious) Brit Russell Brand (whose charms -- if any -- elude me).

Married Life (2007):  Having seen so many of the films on offer, I was at something of a loss what to select, but this was a good choice.  Set in the 1940s with some excellent period detail, this is the story of long-term married Chris Cooper falling for the charms of a young widow, Rachel McAdams, and deciding that the only way to stop his patient wife (Patricia Clarkson) from being hurt is to kill her.  Nothing like finding the simple solution I always say.  However he is not counting on his best friend and full-time lothario Pierce Brosnan from also falling for his new love interest.  That's about it, but all rather well done and watchable, if not overly memorable.

You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008):  Regular readers will know that I am far from a big Adam Sandler fan, although he does occasionally make me smile.  Here he plays an Israeli counter-terrorist who really wants to give up that life to become a hairdresser in New York.  John Turturro plays his Arab nemesis, and the film ends up with an overly saccharine plea for racial tolerance which is pretty nauseating. In the meantime we are treated to a run of lewd jokes about Sandler's sexual prowess and equipment, as he spreads his special mode of hairdressing amonst the grateful older ladies in the salon.

Monday, 15 September 2008

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

Based on a Tennessee Williams novella, this lovingly filmed but rather (in the end) depressing movie has many points of interest. Vivien Leigh, in her penultimate film role, stars as a famous but aging actress who has given up her career after the death of her rich, protective husband. She settles in a gorgeous flat in Rome and tries to fill her lonely days with whatever she can. A young and rather beautiful gigolo, played by Warren Beatty in only his second film role (and half Leigh's age), is foistered upon her by an impoverished and grotesque aristocratic pimp played, in her first English-speaking film, by the great Lotte Lenya -- some 30 years after starring the The Threepenny Opera.

Leigh is vain enough to try to delude herself that Beatty wants to be with her for her own appeal rather than her money and it is so sad to see a once-great lady give way to her baser instincts as she becomes more and more desperate for Beatty's "love". The viewer, meanwhile, can clearly see that the young man is a vain, nogoodnik only in love with himself. By the end of the film when Beatty has moved on to richer pickings under Lenya's guidance, we are led to believe that Leigh yearns for and arranges her last tragic moments, but the ending is sufficiently open to be taken more than one way.

To prove the rather self-evident point, especially nowadays, that it is not only great movies that get remade -- often to no avail -- but middling ones as well, this title was remade for cable in 2003 with Helen Mirren in the Leigh role, Anne Bancroft substituting for Lenya, and Olivier Martinez as the young stud. At least he didn't have to put on a suspiciously phony accent to play foreign as poor Beatty did -- but I guess he thought he was "stretching" himself at the time and it's only a wee bit distracting.

Guess what? Yes, it's back to the States in a few days' time for what should be the next to last necessary visit this year -- so I shall resume on my return later this month. Take care...

Friday, 12 September 2008

A Ray Milland double bill

Ray Milland had a long and rather strange Hollywood career.  The Welsh-born former dancer and Guardsman went to the States in the late 30s and immediately had movie success as a light leading man supporting many of the day's top actresses.  He proved his acting chops with an Oscar for the incorrigible drunk in Wilder's "Lost Weekend" (1945), but moved in and out of fine pictures and blatant rubbish for the next three decades.  I recently rewatched two of his movies and admire the fact that he remained ever watchable in all manner of outings:

Golden Earrings (1947):  As one critic wrote, this film defined the concept of "camp cult classic" before such a concept existed in the sense that it is so awful that it is compelling.  Milland plays an British army officer on a mission in Germany just before the outbreak of World War II.  He is captured and tortured, but manages to escape and ends up hiding out with Marlene Dietrich's free-spirited and superstitious gypsy.  She stains his skin, decks him out in garish garb, pierces his ears, and tells him to avert his blue eyes from the inquisitive Germans (the fact that she also has light eyes is studiously ignored).  Despite his growing feelings for her, he completes his mission and returns to Britain -- where the holes in his ears are a constant source of gossip at his Gentleman's club.  After the war, he receives his earrings in the post, so he flies to Paris where, in a nearby wood, her caravan is waiting.  Just like that!

Alias Nick Beal (1949):  Milland was most often a likeable hero, even when in the throes of drink, so his role in this long-forgotten film is a change of pace.  Effectively he plays the devil -- or at least one of his minions -- on a quest to obtain souls in a latter day Faust story.  His quarry here is honest politician Thomas Mitchell whom he manages to tempt with hopes of political glory and the attraction of a young woman -- both to the distress of Mitchell's faithful and sensible wife and upright colleagues.  Milland is nearly perfect as the sly tempter and quite probably enjoyed the opportunity to play against type.  In truth this is certainly a B-movie, but one that is well-conceived and well-acted. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Shoot 'em Up (2007)

This movie which I understand lost a bundle at the U.S. box office -- more's the pity -- is more fun than a barrel full of monkeys.  Written and directed by one Michael Davis (none of his past projects ring any bells with me), it is 80 minutes of live cartoon action that keeps the totally undiscerning viewer in all of us on the edge of our seats and provides a great number of satisfying yelps amongst the nonstop mayhem.

It is pointless hoping to make any sense out of the backstory which is something to do with breeding babies to provide bone marrow for a dying politician and how a munitions millionaire is out to thwart his plans with his army of assassins led by the unlikely Paul Giamatti.  The hero here is Clive Owen who, despite being one of the dirtiest looking actors on screen, acquits himself as the upright do-gooder who is a cross between Bugs Bunny and every guncrazy action man of the past.  During the first shootout he delivers a baby from a hunted pregnant gal and spends most of the film toting the newborn kid around after the mother dies -- this even outdoes Chow Yun Fat's baby antics.  Assisted by an ex-lover and wetnurse, the delectable Monica Bellucci, Owen succeeds in decimating the baddies, often assisted by his weapon of choice -- a carrot!  The movie boasts some excrutiating one-liners, but this is all part of the fun.

Since it was a flop, Mr. Davis is unlikely to be given a big-budget Hollywood film again -- and this is our loss as well.

Friday, 5 September 2008

The French in action

If you are inclined to think of French movies as talky arthouse features, think again as French film-makers are increasingly able to challenge Hollywood's action genre.  Maybe that's why so many foreign films are "treated" to U.S. (and generally inferior) remakes.  I've seen two French flicks in the last few days which while not great cinema necessarily, certainly kept the old adrenaline pumping:

Le Serpent (2006):  This was on many levels a relentlessly nasty film but one that held my attention especially since it cast Yvan Attal who is a fairly sympathetic actor in an unexpected action role.  He plays a photographer fighting a messy divorce from his heiress wife when his life begins to disintegrate further.  He has met up, supposedly by accident, with an old schoolmate played by Clovis Cornillac who seems to want to renew this friendship, but who is actually a cold-eyed psychopath with an agenda for revenge.  Watching the calculatingly evil way he worms his way into Attal's former household, proportedly protecting the wife and two kids from harm, and the fate he envisions for them is truly chilling.   The usually relaxed Attal must suddenly find his inner action hero which he believably does.  The film also features an early role for new Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko with a lot more kinky nudity than is likely to feature in Quantum of Solace or whatever it is called.

District 13 (2004): Set in a bleak future (actually 2010), troublemakers have been isolated into a cordoned ghetto ruled by ruthless gangs.  One resident played by David Belle has upset a local Mr. Big over a drug deal and ends up in the pokey framed by the police in the gangster's pay, leaving the gang boss able to abduct Belle's sister and keep her as a doped-up sex slave.  He is freed from prison when an upright cop needs an ally to infiltrate the ghetto to recover a primed nuclear weapon that has been stolen.  This possibly seems an improbable scenario but in truth it is an exciting one as played out, especially for the twist that emerges in the tail.  What makes this action movie even more watchable is that Belle is credited as being the inventor of the sport of Parkour or free-running, and the chase sequences show unparalled athleticism.  The many fight scenes are also thrillingly staged; all in all a great bit of excapism.

Please ping

Sunday, 31 August 2008

The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)

With a title like the above, this film might sound like yet another horror flick or even a latter-day soft porn job, but it is actually another comforting golden oldie, albeit not one of the better-known ones -- although it thoroughly deserves to be.

Character actor Charles Coburn who was oscar-nominated for the role plays a curmudgeonly rich guy who takes major offence when the employees of a department he owns (among his lesser holdings) hang him in effigy in social protest.  He decides to go undercover as a hapless slipper salesman to uncover the ringleaders and get them all fired.  Needless to say he is soon very much on the side of the people who befriend him, in particular the lovely comedienne Jean Arthur who feels so sorry for what she believes to be a poor and hard-done-by old geezer, Spring Byington as an older potential romantic interest, and Robert Cummings in a meatier role than his normally lightweight ones as the main agitator.  Only the usually dear old Edmund Gwenn as an uppity too-big-for-his-boots department manager really gets his goat.

This film is something of a cross between the screwball comedies of the 30s in which Arthur excelled and the more socially-conscious movies of the 40s, but it is thoroughly delightful on all counts.  Arthur retired from the movies far too early (her last role was as the mother in "Shane"); she was never a glamourpuss but always the gal you could both believe in and wish to know. 

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

FrightFest Part Two

The main lesson one took away from the films shown in the first half reviewed below is that it continues to be unwise and definitely unsafe to go into the woods!  From the remaining movies we appear to be advised that it is best to avoid mirrors and killers that look exactly like yourself -- since this was a recurring theme:

From Within (2008):  This American effort was a fairly proficient scarer of how a town's collective guilt from an earlier incident can be turned against itself, as its inhabitants are confronted with their own murderous doppelgangers.  The first victim was one Rumer Willis (daughter of Bruce and Demi) in histrionic mode which gives this some curiosity value.  Nice downbeat surprise ending too.

Let the Right One In (2008): This Swedish film named after the Morrissey song was the most pre-hyped movie of the fest and lived up to its publicity.  Set in a snowy and beautifully photographed Swedish winter, it tells of the growing friendship between a bullied 12-year old boy and the vampire girl next door (who has been 12 for a very long time!).  How she is able to satisfy her blood lust while helping to protect him from his tormentors forms the basis for this gory yet very satisfying tale played out by two amazing child actors.

The Broken (2008):  Broken here refers to mirrors like the one that breaks during a family birthday celebration and how the shattered glass causes each of the family to face being replaced by their mirror image.  Stylishly filmed by a former fashion photographer and featuring Lena Heady and Richard Jenkins amongst the small cast, it in fact made little sense and was in the end more puzzling than scary.  And you thought that seven years bad luck was the only consequence...

Autopsy (2008):  As it says in its tagline, the horror only starts after the ambulance arrives.  Five friends suffer a car crash in the middle of nowhere after running down an unknown man and are swiftly transported to a nearly deserted hospital.  Here they meet a demented doctor played by ex-Robocop Robert Patrick, who in good horror movie tradition is seeking a formula to save his dying wife and needs young bodies on which to experiment.   This he and his three demented colleagues continue to do with only one feisty female (again) out to save her doomed pals from the red splatter.

Martyrs (2008):  This relentless French film is a nasty shocker of twisted revenge turning into sadistic torture as a young girl is systematically abused to discover the nature of martyrdom.  One needs a very strong stomach not to be repelled by the scenario and cruelty on display and I somehow feel that this calculatingly disturbing film lacks any moral authority.  It's definitely one to divide the audience.

The Dead Outside (2008):  I nearly skipped the world premiere of this Scottish movie and no harm if I had.  It's still another story of a singularly small group of survivors (two and then a third) banding together at an isolated farmhouse as a strange virus decimates the population and turns everyone into bloodthirsty stalkers.  (This is another theme that is being increasingly overdone).  Quickly shot on a low budget, this one has some unusual character development but failed to engage this viewer with its underlying emotional charge.

The Disappeared (2008): This British would-be shocker is set in the dingy setting of a council estate where a young man blames himself for the earlier disappearance of his younger brother, not helped by the fact that Dad (Greg Wise) blames him as well.  As he appears to be receiving whispers from the grave, he attempts to discover the boy's actual fate and is abetted by various characters who may or may not really exist.  This was an ambitious film with an unexpected denouement but murkily shot and in the end not as involving as it could have been.

Mirrors (2008):  This is a "reimagining" for Hollywood of the superior Korean horror "Into the Mirror" which I reviewed a few years back. French director Alex Aja who made a huge splash with "Switchblade Romance" a few years ago has accepted the big American budgets with a vengeance and managed to turn a truly scary original into a bloated mishmash. Kiefer Sutherland is a suspended cop who takes a night watchman's job at a burned-out architecturally grand department store filled with (you guessed it) murderous mirrors.  There are a few very effective visual shocks at the start of the film, but as the terror escapes its setting and starts to threaten Kiefer's family, things just become more and more unbelievable and simply an excusefor supernatural fireworks.  The film is also 'blessed' with some of the clunkiest dialogue I've heard for an age and the ending designed for our hero is a good example of the director trying to be just too clever for words.  A big big disappointment.

After the above I decided to skip the closing film which was the UK premiere of "Death Race" a remake of the Corman classic "Deathrace 2000" and starring that wooden lunk Jason Statham.  Having seen the poisonous U.S. reviews for this recent release (only the New York Times admitted that it was some fun on a moronic level), I felt that I could wait until this movie comes my way in the normal course of events.

So that's FrightFest for another year -- the fourth fest that I've reported since starting this blog.  Roll on the new frights for 2009...



Sunday, 24 August 2008

FrightFest Part One

Well I'm now three days into this five-day marathon although I am exhibiting rather less stamina than in previous years and have been skipping the late showings -- even when these held a strange appeal like the return of weirdie director Frank Henenlotter ("Basket Case", "Frankenhooker" etc.) after a hideously long gap.  I shall have to try to catch up with his delirious-sounding sleazy tale "Bad Biology" on DVD.  So what stands out so far?

"Eden Lake" (2008):  This new British film was given its world premiere and rather neatly illustrates the fact that is becoming increasingly clear in my mind that there is a not too subtle difference between horror movies and films that depict horrible things -- and this seems to be where the genre is going.  What we have here are a lovely young couple (Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender) who are planning a romantic weekend in the scenic woods but who end up being tormented and tortured by a gang of young and callous hoodlums.  As Warner Brothers demonstrated in the 1930s, this crime theme is ripped from today's headlines.  Yes there is a wave of teenaged violence and yes their cruel anomie can be terrifying, but when did real fears turn into horror?  The movie is very well done, but despite the female half's feisty fight, modern reality would appear to have no happy endings -- at least not here.

I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer (2008): This extremely minor Australian tongue-in-cheek slasher was also a world premiere but far less likely to leave much of a mark on the horror afficionado.  Using the apparatus of cricket for a series of inventive and grisly murders, one is unable to take this tale of a bullied schoolboy's revenge with more than a few grains of gore.  And any movie which stars its female co-director and then gives her an extended full-frontal lascivious nude shower scene (albeit with an obvious body double) can not really be taking itself too seriously.

TimeCrimes (2007) and King of the Hill (2008?):  Next up were this pair of Spanish films, the latter being a last-minute replacement for a Danish teacher-as-alien no-show.  "Time Crimes" was definitely the more inventive and mind-boggling (and destined for a U.S. remake) as our middle-aged hero undergoes some time-shifting and ends up being pursued by a relentless doppelganger of himself, eventually finding that he has split into three separate entities, each functioning in a slightly different timeframe.  The other was yet another example of adults (but not quite so likable here) being picked off in the wilderness by young killers.  This definitely seems to be becoming the new face of so-called horror.

Trailer Park of Terror (2008): It seems that some years ago a young sexpot went on a murderous foray in her trashy trailer park, killing everyone and destroying the site; yet many years later on a stormy night, a busload of teenaged delinquents and their Holy Joe team leader are able to take refuge there.  And guess what, all of the former redneck inhabitants are still there in the shape of murderous zombies and undead cannibals for one last blood-soaked night in the traditional horror-movie mode.

Mum and Dad (2008): This was a fairy proficient example of "the family that slays together stays together" sub-species as a deranged couple living in the shadow of Heathrow Airport (with its low-flying planes that might drive anyone crazy) use their two equally amoral children to lure airport co-workers to their "happy home" for a spot of torture, intimindation and mayhem.  In due course our hard-done by heroine does manage to escape and to revenge the days -- with whoops and cheers from the hardcore audience here.

Fear(s) of the Dark (2007):  This French-language compilation of short black and white animations, was stylish and adventurous in design without being overly horrifying.  One was taken in by the rather spiffy styles of the eight different directors of the various sections and I for one viewed it as an interesting sampler of animation techniques rather than any sort of coherent horror film whole.

Dance of the Dead (2008): We're rather back in familiar horror territory here as the chemical fallout from the towers overlooking a graveyard manage to reanimate the dead on the night of the high school prom.  Only an assortment of science geeks, heavy metal freaks, a couple of nubile females, and a gung-ho sports coach can save the day from the new undead.  This was another instance of 'let's have fun with the genre' film-making, rather than a 'let's scare people to death' horror movie -- which is fine for occupying a forgettable 90-odd minutes.

Manhunt (2008):  ThisNorwegian entry was yet another "let's menace holiday-makers with unseen killers in the woods".  Are we spotting a trend here?  At least we were spared yet another instance of rampaging teens, but how much of this sort of thing does the world really need?  Not much is my take on the subject!

The Chaser (2008):  This Korean thriller was a relentless example of the search for a serial killer, but was really just a little out of place in the FrightFest brief, despite its lashings of blood.  An ex-cop turned pimp spends the full two hours trying to find the man responsible for "selling" his girls (when in fact he has been murdering them) and wants to discover the fate of his latest call-girl disappearance, accompanied for much of the time by her stone-faced seven-year-old daughter.  This was a well-realised film, full of well-rounded characters, but bleak in its outlook and in the end unforgiving and dark.  To be generous, horror does indeed assume many shapes.

Bubba's Chili Parlor (2008): This cheapjack and fairly pathetic entry shot on cheap video was another world premiere and is being distributed by the FrightFest mavens.  They are welcome to it and I lasted for less than half of its short running time.  A load of contaminated beef has turned the country bumpkins of the area into yet another load of hungry zombies.  Sprinkled with cod adverts and scratchy intermissions this was far less than a 'grindhouse' rip-off, but rather a not particularly good example of poverty row film-making.

Still there is more to come over the next two days and being the eternal optimist, I have my usual high hopes. 

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Movies to fall asleep to...

Well I'm back from the States for the time being but will be going back either once or twice next month (which is a serious pain in the you-know-where) and, as is my usual wont, I should be reporting on the in-flight movies seen.  The above caption is perhaps a wee bit misleading since the selected films were all worth a look, but truthfully were not properly viewed, since I managed to doze off during all of them.  Still at least I know which will be worth my time when I get around to them again:

The Iron Man (2008): I am probably the only movie buff in existence who has not yet seen the new, blockbusting Batman film (I'm in no hurry), but as far as comic-book heroes go, this film has a lot going for it.  Robert Downey, Jr. is such a consummate actor that he is even believable as a superhero -- a concept totally at odds with his previous screen incarnations.  I wish I'd seen all of this one, since it seemed good fun with stupendous effects and a bald Jeff Bridges making an unlikely but menacing villain.  Even Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't grate here.

Kung Fu Panda (2008): I usually like modern animations but could barely keep my eyes open during this one which is currently out-boxofficing "Wall-E" (which for my money is the superior film).  This one is an affectionate take on kung-fu movies with roly-poly Jack Black voicing a roly-poly panda who yearns to be a hero.  Like so many recent films, this one boasts a celebrity voice cast which even includes Jackie Chan, but I reserve judgment for now.

In Bruges (2008): I only saw the start and end of this one, but it seemed a winner and I definitely want to watch it again.  Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two hired killers lying low in Belgium while awaiting orders from their boss -- an OTT Ralph Fiennes.  Farrell often leaves me cold, but as the foul-mouthed and not-too-bright hitman hating the cultural mecca of Bruges, his performance is definitely one of his more watchable ones.

Gone Baby Gone (2007): Ben Affleck's directorial debut starring his brother Casey in an adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel is sure-footed and absorbing, with a number of unexpected ins and outs that one didn't see coming and perhaps an overly downbeat ending.  Affleck Sr. does a professional job of giving the viewer a realistic view of the Boston where he was raised and in controlling the very able cast.  That I found it a little confusing is most likely down to the fact that I missed great chunks of it while dozing off in Cloud Cuckoo land -- so this is another that I must give further respect to.

Be Kind, Rewind (2008):  I saw most of this one based on a concept from the weird mind of its director Michel Gondry and while it was amusing in parts, it probably isn't a film that is worth repeat viewings.  Jack Black (again) gets himself magnetized (don't ask) and blanks out all of the videos in the down-and-out video shop being watched by his mate Mos Def (very good, as always) for its owner, Danny Glover.  In order to satisfy their dwindling customer base, they decide to "swede" a number of the movies, making home-made rip-offs of popular titles with a certain degree of ingenuity and good humour.  There's also a running motif of their New Jersey town being associated with Fats Waller which gives the film its continuity and resolution.  It's a pretty minor effort but one which leaves the viewer in feel-good mode.

I'll try to write again during the coming days before succumbing to the FrightFest marathon which starts on Thursday.  Nearly 30 movies in five days?  Now that's guaranteed to put me to sleep!

Sorry folks (if indeed there is anyone reading out there!) no time or inclination for any new entries before FrightFest, despite seeing some worthy contenders.  Just too much going on to get my act together....