Friday, 30 July 2010


Year: 2002
Directors: Joss Whedon, Tim Minear, Vern Gillum, Michael Grossman, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Marita Grabiak, David Solomon, Allan Kroeker, Jim Contner and Thomas J. Wright.
Screenplay: Joss Whedon, Tim Minear, Jane Espenson, Drew Z. Greenberg, Ben Edlund, Jose Molina, Cheryl Cain and Brett Matthews. Series created by Joss Whedon.
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau and Ron Glass.
Running Time: 14 episodes over 1 season. One 90 minute episode, otherwise 42 minutes per episode.
Genre: Science-fiction, western, drama

Summary: In the year 2517 the human race has moved to other star systems most of which are ruled by a brutal regime known as "the Alliance". Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion), who seven years earlier fought on the losing side of a war against the Alliance, is commander of the Firefly-class transport ship Serenity, which travels among the remote frontier planets searching for ny type of work (whether of the legal or illegal variety) that will keep food on the table and the old ship flying. Also on the crew are Reynolds' wartime friend Zoe (Torres), Zoe's husband and the ship's pilot Wash (Tudyk), violent ex-mercenary Jayne (Baldwin), perpetually cheerful engineer Kaylee (Staite), professional "Companion" (a kind of highly respected courtesan) Inara (Baccarin) who gives the ship a level of respectability and social standing, preacher (or "Shepherd") Book (Glass) and doctor Simon Tam (Maher) who is on the run from the Alliance with his genius but delusional and occasionally violent sister River (Glau), who Simon rescued from an Alliance facility where she was being subjected to horrific experiments.

Opinion: The concept of Firefly was suggested to Joss Whedon after he read the novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which chronicles the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon wanted to make a show about people who had fought on the losing side of a war and their experiences afterwards as pioneers on the outskirts of civilization. The show mixes science-fiction with elements from Western movies, with many of the planets visited by the characters being like remote Old West outposts or towns, which I don't think is an unreasonable idea of what those type of worlds could be like. In science-fiction terms, the show is notable for the fact that there are no alien creatures or talking robots or anything like that. Also, refreshingly, they accept the fact that there is no sound in space.
In my opinion Firefly is very possibly one of the best, if not the best, science-fiction shows ever made. The show was well-written, with witty and intelligent scripts. The endlessly quotable dialogue mixed existing slang, invented words, Old West-style dialect and snatches of Chinese (in fact there is a strong Chinese influence in many of the show's set designs and costumes). The look of the show often used highly mobile cameras which in some scenes created a semi-documentary look. The acting was always excellent and helped create many memorable characters with Fillion's Captain Reynolds being the coolest space hero since Han Solo in Star Wars (1977).
So what went wrong? The show was produced by and originally shown on the Fox network who cancelled the show after only eleven of the fourteen episodes that were made had been screened. The network never seemed to care much about the show right from the start. Episodes were screened out of order (although Firefly doesn't really have one on-going story it does have running themes and storylines which run throughout the series) the extended pilot episode, which introduces the shows characters, themes and plotlines wasn't shown until the end of the run because the network wanted a more "action-packed" episode to open the series. Episodes were moved around the schedules and the series was marketed as kind of an "action-comedy" instead of the serious science-fiction drama that Whedon intended (although there is still a lot of action and humour in it). However, after reruns and DVD releases, the show has become kind of a cult series with a hardcore fanbase, known as "Browncoats" (a slang term in the show for the army in which Reynolds and Zoe fought). The show was popular enough on DVD for a movie sequel, Serenity, which was released in 2005 to critical acclaim but sadly not much success at the box office.
This was a brilliant television series which was sadly cancelled far too soon. However what there is of it is totally shiney.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Tripods

Year: 1984-1985
Directors: Graham Theakston, Christopher Barry and Bob Blagden
Screenplay: Alick Rowe and Christopher Penfold, based on "The Tripods Trilogy" novels by John Christopher
Starring: John Shackley, Ceri Seel and Jim Baker
Running Time: 25 episodes over two seasons. 25 minutes per episode.
Genre: Science-fiction, adventure, alien invasion

Summary: The series opens in England in the year 2089. The planet Earth has been completely taken over by a race of aliens who move around in giant, three-legged walking machines known as "Tripods". The human race is completely controlled by means of a mind-control device called "The Cap" which is permanently fixed to each individual's scalp when they reach adulthood: a process known as "Capping". The Cap removes creativity, subdues intelligence and individual thought and replaces it with a fanatical devotion to the Tripods and the aliens who operate them. It also ensures that human civilization has reverted to the late Middle Ages. Two teenagers, Will Parker (Shackley) and his cousin Henry (Baker), who are due to soon be Capped, decide to escape and undertake the hazardous journey to the "White Mountains" in the south of France where they have been told are a band of "Free Men" who live independent of Tripod control and are planning to overthrow the invaders. It is this jounrey that takes up the whole of the first season. The second season, deals with a plot to send an undercover resistance member, equipped with a fake Cap, into the Tripod City to gather information.

Opinions: "The Tripod Trilogy" was a series of books for teenagers written by Samuel Youd under the pen-name "John Christopher" and consists of The White Mountains (1967), The City of Gold and Lead (1968) and The Pool of Fire (1968). The TV series, which was made by the BBC, covers the first two books. The show follows the books fairly faithfully and frequently the pace suffers from the fact that the scriptwriters were trying to adapt short books into a lengthy TV series. In fact the first season could probably have surprised viewers tuning in late and expecting some science-fiction action in that it seems to consist mostly of people walking around the picturesque countryside chatting with the occasional glimpse of a Tripod to remind viewers that, y'know, they were actually watching The Tripods and not a super-low budget version of Lord of the Rings. The first season suffered heavily from the limited special-effects budget which meant that there were many episodes where the Tripods themselves were barely glimpsed and some where they never appeared at all. To be fair though the Tripods themselves were pretty impressive creations for the time and at times were quite striking. The second season was in many ways an improvement on the first, with more pacing and a genuine sense of danger. The special effects were also improved and the Tripod City itself was an impressive attempt at making a genuinely alien city. However, as is always the problem with special effects, though they were ground breaking in their day, to modern eyes they have really dated badly. Some other aspects in the second season, most notably the costumes that the humans have to wear in the city, and some of the dialogue given to the alien "Masters" were clearly the product of a more innocent age. For all it's flaws though, The Tripods remains an interesting, and striking piece of science-fiction television and it has moments of real brilliance. Unfortunately a planned third season which would cover the third book, The Pool of Fire, was never made. However Youd continued the book series in 1988 with a prequel to the original trilogy called When the Tripods Came. Also the Tripods are due to lumber across screens again in 2012 in a Hollywood movie version.

Friday, 23 July 2010


Year:  2006
Director:  James Gunn
Screenplay:  James Gunn
Starring:  Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry, Tania Saulnier and Jenna Fischer
Running Time:  95 minutes
Genre:  Horror, comedy, science-fiction

Summary:  A meteorite crashes near the quiet, small town of Wheelsy, South Carolina, and splits open to reveal a small, pale alien creature.  The creature is discovered by local bigwig Grant Grant (Rooker), and it shoots a small dart from it's back which burrows into Grant''s chest.  Grant develops an insatiable hunger for meat, and his young wife, Starla (Banks), begins to notice bizarre physical changes.  The town's sheriff, Bill Pardy (Fillion), investigates as pets, livestock and eventually people start to go missing.  Pardy discovers that Grant has transformed into a grotesque, multi-limbed monster and has been breeding countless slug-like aline parasites, which break out and start to infect the town's population. 

Opinions:  This movie is a blend of comedy and horror and mostly it works very well.  It looks back to earlier horror films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and in particular the early David Cronenberg films such as Shivers (1975) which has it's notorious parasite in the bathtub scene referenced here, and Rabid (1977).  The plentiful gruesome special-effects range from being pretty impressive to fairly average CGI monsters.  The film benefits enormously from having genuinely likeable and engaging characters.  The cast are all good, with Nathan Fillion (who is probably best known for starring in the TV series Firefly (2002) and it's spin-off film Serenity (2005)) being a particular standout, showing himself as a talented comic actor as well as making a convincing action hero.  Of course, it's in the mix of genres where so many horror-comedy films fall down but this one successfully sidesteps the trap, managing to be genuinely funny as well as generating real tension and shocks.  The movie is well written and writer-director James Gunn keeps everything moving fast.  Surprisingly, the film was a box-office flop when it was released, which is a real shame because it is a lot of fun.  I can imagine it might be because the film was too gruesome for a lot of comedy fans and too light-hearted for some of the hard-core horror fans.  However I can imagine it becoming a something of a cult hit on DVD, which would be only right for a movie such as this which wears it's "B" movie credentials proudly.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Intruder

Year: 1962
Director: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Charles Beaumont, based on his novel.
Starring: William Shatner, Frank Maxwell, Jeanne Cooper, Beverly Lunsford, Robert Emhardt, Charles Beaumont
Running Time: 84 minutes
Genre: Drama, social issue

Summary: A young man named Adam Cramer (Shatner) arrives in the small town of Caxton in the southern United States on the eve of the schools finally becoming desegregated. Using his superficial charm, the racist Cramer soon begins to stir up the town's simmering racial tensions with increasingly violent results.

Opinions: This often overlooked film was shot on a budget of $80,000 and still managed to lose money on it's initial release. It was re-released under a variety of different titles such as Shame and I Hate Your Guts! in the US, and was re-titled The Stranger for it's British release. At the time Roger Corman was known primarily for his string of low-budget horror and science-fiction "B" movies, and writer Charles Beaumont, who appears in the film as the high school principal, was known mainly as a writer of horror and science-fiction and was one of the key writers on the original series of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). This fine film, although very much of it's time, is a vital reminder of a comparatively recent time, and of attuitudes and situations that still exist today. William Shatner, who is of course most famous as Captain Kirk on Star Trek (1966-1969) is often unfairly dismissed as a hammy "B"-grade, but here he turns in a powerful performance as the horrific Adam Cramer, all slick surface charm but underneath bullying, bigoted coward. Cramer is certainly a villain of the first order with absolutely no redeeming features at all. However, perhaps most disturbing is the blatant prejudices of the townspeople themselves. It certainly doesn't take much for them to get riled up. Corman's direction is customarily effective and makes good use of the stark, black and white images. The movie was shot on location in towns in south east Missouri although, apparently the film-makers were run out of a few towns by local people who objected to the film's subject matter. It is a tough and intense drama and still genuinely shocking even by today's standards.
This film is Corman and Shatner at their best and is a powerful and still relevant piece of work and is well worth your time checking out.

Pet Sematary II

Year: 1992
Director: Mary Lambert
Screenplay: Richard Outten
Starring: Anthony Edwards, Edward Furlong, Clancy Brown, Jared Rushton, Darlanne Fluegel, Jason McGuire and Lisa Waltz
Running Time: 100 minutes
Genre: Horror, supernatural

Summary: Following the accidental death of his actress mother (Fluegel), teenager Jeff Matthews (Furlong) moves with his vetenarian father, Chase (Edwards), from Los Angeles to the small town of Ludlow in Maine. Bullied at school, Jeff strikes up a friendship with overweight Drew (McGuire), who is constantly bullied by his cruel stepfather Gus (Brown), who also happens to be the town's sheriff. Jeff discovers the town's pet cemetery, or "Pet Sematary" as the homemade board above the entrance reads, where generations of the town's children have buried their pets. When Gus shoots and kills Drew's beloved dog Zowie, Drew and Jeff bury him in another burial ground, just past the pet cemetery, an ancient Native American burial ground which has the power to resurrect the dead. However the dead that are buried in the ancient ground always come back horribly changed.

Opinions: This film is a sequel to the 1989 film Pet Sematary, also directed by Mary Lambert, which was based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Stephen King. King had nothing to do with this film. The events of the first film are briefly discussed in this one, having apparently become something of a local ghost story, and it is in a way understandable why the film-makers would not want to remind people too much of the earlier, and far superior, film. The movie jettisons the first film's creepy atmosphere in favour of over-the-top gory shocks. One of the things that was so effective about the first film was the way it touched upon very raw nerves, this one does to some extent but it doesn't have nearly the same impact and seems to go mostly tongue in cheek approach, even when dealing with quite serious elements. The cast is full of recognisable faces, which means that when the film lags you can play a fun game of "Wasn't He the Guy In...?", Edward Furlong (who found fame the previous year with Terminator 2: Judgement Day) does pretty well in the lead even though the character, despite any naural sympathy for his initial predicament, remains pretty unlikeable throughout. Anthony Edwards (who came to prominence in the TV series E.R. (1994-2008)) is underused as the concerned father, while Clancy Brown (who is probably most recognisable as the bullying head guard in The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and as the drill sergeant in Starship Troopers (1997)) practically chews up the scenary, serving up thick slices of ham as the bullying stepfather. The film has some pretty effective special effects and plenty of good gore, but by the time the blood filled finale comes the film has just gone so over the top it just ends up being funny. It is also fair to say that the film is not in the least scary.
Fans of the original will probably be disappointed but those who enjoy gory horror sequels might have some fun with it. For anyone else though, life is too short. Check out the original instead.

Friday, 16 July 2010


Year: 2010
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger, Dileep Rao and Michael Caine
Running Time: 148 minutes
Genre: Science-fiction, action, thriller, crime, heist

Summary: Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) and his team specialise in "Extraction", a technique in which they enter and influence a subject's dreams in order to steal their secrets. However, Cobb is becoming an increasing liability to his team on these missions due to the fact that he is unable to keep himself from drawing in his memories of his dead wife, Mal (Cotillard), into the dreamscapes. The team are employed by a mysterious businessman named Saito (Watanabe) to utilise a highly risky technique called "Inception" in which instead of extracting someone's secrets, they implant an idea in their minds through entering their dreams. Their target is Robert Fischer Jr. (Murphy), the heir to a vast business empire which Saito wants brought down. Among Cobb's team is new member Ariadne (Page), an architecture student whose job is to design the dreamscape itself, and who begins to have increasing doubts about Cobb's fragile mental state.

Opinions: This film is without a doubt the most interesting film that is likely to have a mainstream release this summer. For one thing, it is one of the few big releases to be based on an original script, rather than be either a remake, a sequel or an adaptation. The screenplay, which Nolan originally envisioned as a horror movie (presumably as a kind of high-brow Nightmare on Elm Street), had been developed over ten years. The film is a pretty complex story but, contrary to some reports, it's pretty easy to understand if you pay attention to it. The film itself comes across as a blend of Solaris (1972) and the best brain-melting work of Philip K. Dick. The movie truly has a fascinating central premise the idea that dreams can be entered and controlled and the idea that they could influence, for better or worse, the dreamer's waking life. However this is more than a film of ideas, because it is filled with spectacular special effects and action, as well as more exotic, globe-trotting locations than an average James Bond film. The movie features some impressive performances from a talented cast. DiCaprio does some really great work in the lead. Ellen Page is also impressive as the team's newest member bringing some depth and heart to a role that could very easily have been just the audience exposition character (basically just there so that characters could explain things to her and the audience). It's fair to say that the movie won't appeal to everyone and some viewers may find themselves lost in Nolan's labyrinth. There is very little humour in the film, as well as the problem that, since so much of the film takes place in dreams, it sometimes doesn't feel as if the characters are in real danger.
However, this film is an intriguing, action-packed science-fiction thriller which has real brains and heart. Soemthing that is all too rare and something that should be celebrated.


Year: 2010
Director: Nimrod Antal
Screenplay: Michael Finch and Alex Litvak, based on characters created by Jim Thomas and John Thomas
Starring: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo and Derek Mears
Running Time: 107 minutes
Genre: Science-fiction, action, adventure

Summary: Ex-US Army Special Forces soldier turned mercenary, Royce (Brody), wakes up to find himself in freefall above a mysterious jungle with no memory of how he got there. When he lands in the jungle he encounters others including a Mexican drug cartel enforcer (Trejo), a black ops sniper (Braga) and a US Death Row inmate (Walton Goggins). All of them are highly trained soliders or murderous criminals. The one exception appears to be an ordinary doctor (Grace). Deciding to join forces, the group soon discover that they are on an alien planet, which is being used as a giant game preserve. They have been brought there by a technologically-advanced race of alien "Predators", who bring the most dangerous specimens from various worlds to their planet in order to hunt and kill them for sport.

Opinions: This Robert Rodriguez produced movie is the fourth film to feature the Predator aliens, following Predator (1987), Predator 2 (1991), Aliens vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007). However, while the events of the first film are referenced in the movie, the other sequels are completely ignored, which is understandable in the case of the Aliens vs. Predator films. This film is very close in spirit to the original, returning to the first film's jungle setting and it's survival-action storyline. The title of this movie, which is an intentional reference to Aliens (1986), also has something of a double meaning referring both to the alien Predators themselves as well as to the human characters, who are referred to by one character as "the monsters of our world". It's safe to say that not many of them are particularly likeable or sympathetic, with the exception of Alice Braga's sniper. The performances are uniformly good with Adrien Brody, who put on 25 pounds of muscle to play the part, particularly effective in the lead role. The movie hearkens back to the spirit of the all-out action movies of the 1980s with the pace rarely letting up once the movie kicks into gear. The action scenes are well-handled and manage not to degenerate into a confusing mess and the special effects are all very impressive with the Predators particularly impressive, with each creature given individual design touches, with the basic design thankfully largely unchanged. There are also some new creatures added to the mix. The main problem with the movie is that there are not really many surprises, basically it's just the original Predator but on a much larger scale. Also the movie doesn't really have a proper ending it just kind of stops, presumably to leave room for the inevitable sequel.
However, it is a fun back to basics action movie which manages to be consistently entertaining and containing enough action and monsters to keep both fans of the series and general movie-goers happy.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

"The Elephant Vanishes" by Haruki Murakami

Year of Publication: 1993
Page Number: 327 pages
Genre: Fiction, fantasy, surreal, short stories

Description: This book is a collection of seventeen short stories. In "The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women" an unemployed man finds his morning interrupted by bizarre telephone calls and a search for a missing cat. In "The Second Bakery Attack" a young couple's late night hunger pangs drive them to try and rob a McDonalds restaurant. In "The Kangaroo Communique" a department store sends a disturbing reply to a customer's letter of complaint. In "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" a chance encounter in the street stirs up painful memories. In "Sleep" a woman suffering from extreme insomnia enters a bizarre, twilight state of consciousness somewhere between sleeping and waking. In "The Fall of the Roman Empire, the 1881 Indian Uprising, Hitler's Invasion of Poland, and the Realm of Raging Winds" a windstorm provokes strange reflections. In "Lederhosen" a woman describes how a visit to buy lederhosen for her husband during a holiday to Germany made her decide to file for divorce. In "Barn Burning" a man's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend confesses to him a strange hobby. In "The Little Green Monster" a woman discovers a small green monster in her garden who becomes infatuated with her. In "A Family Affair" a man has difficulty adjusting to his sister's new boyfriend. In "A Window" a man who has a job writing letters to people to improve their writing skills meets one of his correspondents. In "TV People" a man has a succession of encounters with strange humanoid creatures carrying TV sets. In "A Slow Boat to China" a man reflects on some past encounters. In "The Dancing Dwarf" a man who works in an elephant factory has a succession of dreams about a small dancing man. In "The Last Lawn of the Afternoon" a man reflects on his old part time job mowing lawns. In "The Silence" a man remembers a painful incident from his high school years. In "The Elephant Vanishes" a man finds his life thrown off balance when his favourite elephant goes missing.

Opinions: Haruki Murakami is one of the best known Japanese authors and this book will not disappoint his many fans. The stories in this collection, which were written between 1983 and 1990, range in style from cameos of everyday life to bizarrely surreal fantasy, however they are all linked by themes such as love, loss, longing, melancholy and memory. Murakami is one of the most interesting fantasy writers around. He has the same quality that Franz Kafka had of having the bizarreness invade the mundane world, at times so subtly that it's almost unnoticable, and crucially not explain it or apologise for it it's just there, like a floating radio in a living room. The stories are all perfect examples of Murakami's style written with intelligence and heart and with an indefinable cool, dreamlike quality. Also a lot of the stories are really funny. Incidentally, the first story in the book, "The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women" was adapted by Murakami to form the first thirty or so pages of his 1997 novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
If you have never encountered Murakami's work before this book is a perfect place to start.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

American Splendor

Year: 2003
Directors: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Screenplay: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, based on the comic series American Splendor by Harvey Pekar and Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner
Stars: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, James Urbaniak, Judah Friedlander, Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner
Running Time: 100 minutes
Genre: Drama, comedy, biography

Summary: In 1970s Cleveland, Ohio, Harvey Pekar (Giamatti) works a dull job as a file clerk in a hospital and spends his time collecting jazz records while searching for some kind of purpose to life. After befriending underground comic-book writer and artist Robert Crumb (Urbaniak), Pekar decides to write a comic-book series based on the ins and outs of his own daily life. The resulting comic, American Splendor, makes Pekar something of a celebrity including appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman in the 1980s. The comic also brings romance to Pekar's life in the shape of comic store worker and sometime prison teacher Joyce Brabner (Davis).

Opinions: This film is possibly one of the strangest and most original comic-book movies of recent years. The film essentially works as a biography of Pekar but it also adapts several of the stories from the American Splendor comics (which was in itself something of an autobiography). The drama is also frequently interspersed with interviews from the character's real-life counterparts and their comments on the action (in one scene Pekar states that Giamatti looks nothing like him), and the look of the comics themselves are brought to life by animated sequences. The film is funny, moving and often dark with a succession of memorable supporting characters including Robert Crumb, who created comics such as Fritz the Cat and Keep on Truckin' and who was himself the subject of a documentary film called Crumb (1994), and also Pekar's co-worker Toby Radloff (played by Judah Friedlander), who appeared on MTV during the '80s as "The Genuine Nerd From Cleveland" and starred in the slasher movie spoof Killer Nerd (1991). This film really encapsulates the best of American independent cinema, it may be episodic and lacking in a strong narrative thrust but it is memorable and entertaining.
By the way, the American Splendor comics themselves are a must read. Pekar was a genuinely talented writer and they were well illustrated by a diverse selection of comic artists, including Crumb, Chester Brown, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. The comics managed to make poetry and art out of simple things such as riding the bus and going shopping. They were published between 1976 and 2008 and are available in a number of graphic novel collections.

This post is written as a tribute to Harvey Pekar who died on July 12 2010.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Wolfman

Year: 2010
Director: Joe Johnston
Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self, from an original screenplay by Curt Siodmak
Stars: Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving
Running Time: 103 minutes theatrical version and 119 minutes extended version
Genre: Horror, supernatural, thriller, monsters

Summary: In 1891, Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) is a successful Shakesperean actor on the London stage, until he is contacted by Gwen Conliffe (Blunt), his brother's fiancee, who informs him that his brother has been missing for a month. Reluctantly Lawrence returns to the family home of Talbot Hall in the village of Blackmoor, and to his estranged father, Sir John Talbot (Hopkins). On arrival Lawrence learns that his brother has been brutally killed and decides to stay until he can find out what happened to him. Treated by suspicion by the superstitious villagers, Talbot turns his investigation to the local gypsy camp when it is attacked by a vicious and powerful creature which severely wounds Lawrence. The wound heals surprisingly quickly. However at the next full moon, Lawrence undergoes a horrific transformation.

Opinions: This film is a loose remake of the 1941 movie The Wolf Man which is remembered as one of the best of the "Universal Horror" cycle released by Universal Studios during the 1930s and 1940s and produced such classics as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) before being reduced to farce in a series of movies usually featuring Abbott and Costello. This movie is not as effective as the original, but it does stand up well in it's own right. It has an atmospheric, gothic quality about it, which it maintains throughout even when it becomes a riot of CGI effects. Of course it features all the usual hallmarks of the werewolf movie, including a gruesome transformation scene (which still isn't a patch on the one in An American Werewolf in London (1981)) and plenty of annoying villagers played by the usual cast of vaguely recognisable British character actors who are so irritating that you're kind of rooting for the Wolfman to turn them into Puppy Chow. The central cast are effective, especially del Toro as the tormented Lawrence Talbot and Emily Blunt who does well with an underwritten part. Anthony Hopkins hams it up well as the creepy Sir John Talbot. The thing that the movie does lack is any kind of subtlety piling on gore, bizarre nightmare sequences and CGI creatures. It also takes it's time getting going. Interesting the movie was released in a 103 minute long version in cinemas but is also available in an extended 119 minute version. In the extended version there is an early scene which was not in the theatrical version where Gwen visits Lawrence backstage at the theatre, which creates a continuity error later on in the movie when there are repeated references to Gwen writing a letter to Lawrence instead of visiting him. The extended version also features an uncredited cameo by Max Von Sydow.
This is an enjoyable movie, and it is nice to see a real werewolf movie without vampires, for a change.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Year: 1986
Director: Leonard Nimoy
Screenplay: Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett from a story by Harve Bennett and Leonard Nimoy
Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and Catherine Hicks
Genre: Science-fiction, adventure
Running Time: 119 minutes

Summary: This film was the fourth to be based on the cult TV series Star Trek (1966-1969) and opens up directly where the previous installment, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), left off with the Starship Enterprise destroyed and the crew living on the planet Vulcan while Spock (Nimoy) recovers from his experiences in the previous two films. The Enterprise crew head for Earth in a captive Klingon ship to stand trial for their actions in the previous installment. However, it turns out that the trial has to be put on hold when a mysterious alien probe approaches Earth sending a signal which causes massive power losses, extreme weather patterns all over the planet and threatens to evaporate the ocean. Analysing the probe's signals, Spock works out that the signal is intended for humpback whales, which have been extinct since the 21st century. The crew travel back in time to San Francisco in 1986 in order to locate humpback whales and bring them back to the future so they can reply to the probe's message. Along the way Chekov (Koenig) has a run in with the US Navy, Captain Kirk (Shatner) does his best to have a run in with an attractive whale expert (Hicks) and Spock learns about 20th century swearing.

Opinions: After three very serious installments this movie is a refreshing change of pace being essentially light-hearted with plenty of humour as the crew try to acclimatise themselves to the 20th century and also from the Kirk and Spock double act, which was such an entertaining feature of the original series. The film does take it's time getting going but when it does, it really delivers the fun. There's not much in the way of traditional Star Trek space opera hijinks, but there are some effective thrills amidst the comedy with the alien probe being effectively strange and threatening. Returning to the director's chair after Star Trek III Leonard Nimoy handles everything well, and the witty script keeps everything ticking over nicely. The environmental message is sometime hammered home a little too much (like, whaling's bad, m'kay?), and I suppose it is unfair to criticise the Star Trek people for having a social conscience but it would be interesting if they tackled a few less safe issues. Watching it today, the film has aged pretty well for the most part, the only element that really dates it as an '80s movie are the scenes where Chekov and Uhura (Nichols) are trying to find a nuclear vessel. The movie is pretty accessible to non-Trek fans and, despite the fact that there are numerous references to the previous movie, newcomers to the movie series should find it pretty accessible. This is definitely one of the best of the series and is great fun.

"The Hell of it All" by Charlie Brooker

Year of Publication: 2009
Page Number: 396 pages
Genre: Humour, non-fiction, reviews, essays, TV, current affairs

Description: This book is a collection of humorous reviews and essays on TV, video games, current affairs and basically anything else that happened to be on Brooker's mind at the time of writing. They were originally published as columns in Britain's The Guardian newspaper between August 2007 and August 2009.

Opinions: Probably due to the origin of the items they are both very short (usually around two and a half to three pages) and very much of the moment to the point when, even though they are so recent, the articles are already starting to feel slightly dated. Also Charlie Brooker is not in any way shy about sharing his opinions and certainly not everyone will agree with what he writes. The thing about Brooker is that he is intelligent, he writes well, and he is extremely funny. His humour is extremely dark, savage and misanthropic. He pretty much machine-guns his luckless victims with bullets of wit. This book should appeal to anyone with a dark sense of humour and an interest in popular culture and/or current affairs, although the fact that it concerns itself almost exclusively with British pop culture may make it quite inaccessible to non-UK readers.