Thursday, 31 March 2011

Comics Round-Up # 2


Written by Mark Millar

Art by John Romita, Jr

Published by Icon

New York teenager David Lizewski, on the surface a normal high-school student, by night puts on a superhero costume, and despite having no powers or training, becomes "Kick-Ass". Joining a team of similar amateur superheroes, Dave is surprised to learn that one of the team is his best friend at school. As the team prepare for their first mission, twelve year old Mindy McCready (aka "Hit Girl") struggles to keep a promise to her parents that she will give up the superhero business and not have any more contact with Kick-Ass and friends.

The comic has the same blend of humour and violence of the original Kick-Ass series and subsequent film, and will doubtless please anyone who enjoyed the film or earlier comic. You don't even really need to have either seen the film or read the earlier comic series to enjoy this one. The script is clever and frequently very funny, and the artwork is beautifully done, lavish, colourful and detailed. I'm looking forward to the next issue already, and a movie version is in the pipe line.


Written by Jason Aaron

Art by R. M. Guera

Published by Vertigo

This series concerns the Oglala Lakota residents of the Praire Rose Reservation (known to the locals as "The Rez") in South Dakota. In You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, Part Three: Hearted, Dino Poor Bear reflects on what drove him to commit a very bad, and as yet unidentified, act. He dwells on news reports about a missing 14 year old girl and his friendship with a woman with whom he is in love, but who sees him as just a friend.

This is another powerful installment in what is a really great comic-book series. It is a dark and gritty series which manages to take in political corruption, organised crime and even the nature of evil, as well as all the big and small facets of life on the reservation. This issue consists of a number of seemingly minor events, which nonetheless seem set to have major consequences. Dino is a likeable and engaging character so it is interesting to see what it is that drives him to commit the act, whatever it turns out to be. If you're not reading this series yet, it is definitely worth checking out.

X-23 #8

Written by Marjorie Liu

Art by Ryan Stegman, Michael Babinski and John Rauch

Published by Marvel

Collision: Part One. Laura (aka "X-23") is apparently a perfectly normal sixteen year old girl. However, she is a clone of superhero Wolverine, with adamantium claws on her hands and feet, the ability to almost instantly heal from any injury and heightened senses, she was created to be the perfect weapon. Attempting to regain the humanity that has been denied to her, she teams up with X-Man Remy LeBeau (aka "Gambit") and heads for the violently corrupt island nation of Madripoor to confront the secrets of her past and shut down the Weapon X program, which created her, for good. Laura decides to enlist the help of Daken, the mutant son of Wolverine, to help her. However Daken has his own agenda.

It's not unusual in comics to have female versions of popular superheroes who are frequently identical to the male version except with a big bust and tighter costume. X-23 is an interesting character, though. Created as an assassin her first instinct in any confrontation is to kill her opponent, however she is always trying to fight this impulse. Added to that is the fact that she desperately wants the normal life that was denied to her. Obviously, the fact that she looks a little like Ellen Page doesn't hurt either. This is a fun installment of the title, with plenty of action and some good back and forth between Laura and Gambit. The artwork isn't quite as good as it was last week, but it is still effective enough. Definitley recommended for X-Men fans.


Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Rafael Albuquerque

Published by Vertigo

Ghost War: Part One In this title, the twentieth century in America is seen through the eyes of a new race of vampires, stronger, faster and powered by the sun, with their only weakness being gold. It is 1943 and the US has entered the Second World War. Human Henry Preston is married to beautiful vampire and one time Hollywood star, Pearl. Living in Hawaii, with Henry employed by the Signal Corps of the US Army, he is depressed by the fact that he is getting older while Pearl remains eternally young. Desperate to enlist, he is given the chance when he is approached by Agent Hobbes, member of the Vassals of the Morning Star who are dedicated to wiping out vampires. The US are planning an assault on the island of Taipan, but Hobbes' intelligence indicates that it is home to a nest of vampires. However, Henry has very good reason not to trust Hobbes.

This is an intriguing and unusual series, which manages to put a fresh spin on the heavily overdone vampire mythos. The artwork is distinctive and effective, and the writing is intelligent, witty and it also even manages to be quite scary at times. As has been heavily promoted in Vertigo comics this past month, this is a really good jumping on point for newcomers to the series and is very well worth checking out.


Written by Andy Diggle

Art by Davide Gianfelice and Matt Hollingsworth

Published by Marvel

Attorney Matt Murdock is blind. However his other sense function with superhuman sharpness creating a kind of radar sense. For years he fought crime in New York City in the guise of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear. However, as Daredevil, Matt made a serious mistake and people died. Tormented by his conscience, Matt leaves New York, determined to put costumed superheroics behind him. However, in New Mexico, Matt passes through a small town where the corrupt police force are doing business with gun runners. Despite not wanting to get involved, Matt knows that he cannot let it go on.

For those who are only familiar with Daredevil from the critically slated 2002 Ben Affleck film, Daredevil, this may come as a surprise, being a dark, tough, Western noir story. Matt Murdock is an interesting character, as someone who is desperately trying to escape his past and himself, and just wants to be left alone, but is still compelled to fight injustice. The artwork isn't spectatculr, but is not bad, and this story (this issue is the third part of a four part mini-series) is a good introduction and relaunch for the character.


Written by El Torres

Art by Gabriel Hernandez

Published by IDW

Just outside of Tokyo lies the deep, dark forest Aokigahara, one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Japan and also one of the most famous suicide spots in the world. According to legend, the spirits of those who died there still roam in the deep forest. Among those called to the forest is American Alan Talbot who is haunted by the vengeful ghost of his girlfriend Masami who killed herself in Aokigahara after he finished with her, as well as Ryoko Wanatabe, who is obsessed with searching for her father who disappeared in the forest when she was a child.

This is the fourth and final issue of what has been a genuinely disturbing and creepy horror comic. Similar to movies such as Ring and The Grudge this startling ghost story should appeal to all fans of Asian horror, and features some superb artwork. If you can get a hold of this and the previous issues, or a trade paperback version, it is well-worth checking out.


Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Francesco Francavilla

Published by DC Comics

Lost Boys: Comissioner Jim Gordon is trailing an recently released prisoner named Roy Blount, who he is convinced is a brutal child murderer nicknamed "the Peter Pan Killer". As he trails Blount he is reminded of an old case which remains unsolved. The mysterious disappearance of his daughter's best friend. A case which is deeply personal for Gordon in more ways than one.

This is an astonishingly bleak and disturbing story which focuses almost entirely on Comissioner Gordon (Batman only features on one page). There are no conventional superheroics here, instead it is a tough crime story which provides an intriguing new slant on a character who tends to be often overlooked in the Batman universe. In the flashbacks to Gordon's old family life it shows him in a less than perfect light (for example his overreaction to his young son dressing as The Joker for Halloween). The artwork is impressive and clearly distinguishes between the two time zones in which the story is set. A moody and powerful issue.


Written by Todd McFarlane and Arthur Clare, story by Arthur Clare

Art by Aleksi Briclot

Published by Image Comics

A powerful entity preying on human souls has got dangerously out of hand, upsetting the delicate balance between Heaven and Hell. Architect Angel Ethan is determined to stop it, but she cannot get near the creature. The only one who can is deceased CIA Assassin Al Simmmons, who has been returned to Earth as a Hellspawn (nicknamed "Spawn"), a soldier in Hell's army. Spawn is reluctant until Ethan tricks him into believing that his human brother, Marc Simmons, has been caught by the entity.

This is an interesting one-shot from the ongoing Spawn comic series. It doesn't really fit into the current chronology of the series, and on it's own is an entertaining but not spectacular entry into the series. However, if you have never read Spawn before, this is a good taster of what the series is like. Blending gruesome supernatural horror with urban grit, the story is always interesting. The artwork is moody and effective, although the white text tends to get lost in some of the pages, meaning it can be difficult to make out the dialogue.


Monday, 28 March 2011

"Akira" by Katsuhiro Otomo

Year of Publication: 1982 - 1990, originally serialised in Young Magazine
Number of Pages: 2182 pages, published over six volumes.

Summary: December 1992: An apparent new type of bomb explodes over Tokyo, decimating the city, and triggering World War III. By 2030, a new city named Neo-Tokyo has been built, around the ruins of the old one. Neo-Tokyo is due to hold the Olympic Games the following year, but is gripped by political strife, violent anti-government fighters, strange religious cults and warring teenage biker gangs. Tetsuo Shima, a member of one of the gangs, is badly injured when he encounters a strange child with an aged, wizened appearance and devastating psychic powers. The child turns out to be one of three similarly wizened children who are being kept as part of a government experiment. Each has a number tattooed on the palm of their hand (25, 26 and 27). After Tetsuo's encounter, he begins to develop psychic powers of his own, which quickly grow beyond his ability to control them, causing him to violently lash out at both friends and enemies, turning his best friend, Kaneda (who also happens to be the leader of the gang), against him. However Kaneda is also preoccupied by a mysterious and beautiful girl named Kei, who is part of the resitance movement against the government. As the government scientists in charge of the psychic project, under the charge of the formidable Colonel, try to get control of Tetsuo and his power, it becomes apparent that there is a still greater power awakening in Neo-Tokyo. A mysterious super-being, known only as Akira, stored at a temperature of Absolute Zero in a top-secret facility beneath the city's Olympic stadium is beginning to respond to Tetsuo's power, and the consequences could mean far more than the end of the world.

Opinions: This is probably one of the most famous examples of Japanese "manga" (comics). The story is long and complex and yet still moves at a break-neck pace. The artwork is primarily in black-and-white and is extraordinarily detailed and full of genuinely startling imagery. The story is on an epic scale. It is just one story told over a total of 2,182 pages. At times, the story is bogged down by the multitude of characters and sub-plots and also the dialogue at times seems mostly to consist of characters shouting each other's names. However the sum total is a genuinely spectacular piece of work. The story deals with themes of teenage alienation and angst, political corruption as well as social and historical themes such as the bombing of Japan in World War II. Throughout the series Otomo gleefully destroys several times and the books are full of apocalyptic imagery. Otomo's artwork is very powerful and in the series frequent dialogue-free pages, the way he does faces and expressions, as well as the stylised look of some of the panels and drawings, helps to create a powerful emotional response. Particularly in the second half of the series, Otomo creates a bleak and striking science-fiction world.
Of course, most people know of Akira through the 1988 animated film version which Otomo wrote and directed and was a huge cult hit worldwide and was one of the main things that helped to popularise Japanese manga and "anime" (animation) in the West. The film, while good in it's own right, is famously incoherent (apparently, given the manga's huge popularity in Japan, it never occured to Otomo that people would watch the movie who had not read the manga) and differs hugely from the series. A lot of the film's weirdness is explained in the comic, although it does have it's fair share of weirdness in the comic too.
The comic belongs very much to the "cyberpunk" genre of science-fiction and features many images and concepts that will be familiar to fans of the genre.
Bleak, violent, frequently humorous and often strangely moving, this is a must read for science-fiction and comic fans.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

(500) Days of Summer

Year: 2009
Director: Marc Webb
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Chloe Grace Moretz, Geoffey Arend, Michael Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg
Running Time: 95 minutes
Genre: Drama, romance, comedy

Summary: Los Angeles, 2006: Tom Hansen (Gordon-Levitt) is an aspiring architect who works designing greetings cards. One day he meets his boss' new assistant, Summer Finn (Deschanel), and instantly falls for her. Tom, who is a firm believer in true love, believes that he has found the one girl for him, however Summer does not believe in love and is not interested in commitment, seeing Tom as a good friend and nothing more. The two embark on a turbulent relationship through the pleasures and heartbreak of modern relationships.

Opinions: This film is told in a non-linear style, flashing back and forth in time through the five hundred days of Tom and Summer's relationship. It contrasts the fun, joy and exuberance of the early days of the relationship with the misery and heartbreak of the end of the affair. It uses a voice-over narration from actor Richard McGonagle, as well as a variety of visual tricks (including switches from colour to black-and-white, animation, title cards, captions, split screen and an elaborate song and dance number) to get inside the mind of Tom Hansen, through whose eyes the story is told. The non-linear style of the film shows how initially minor glitches in the early days of a romance frequently blossom into major problems, and how what seem at first to be cute quirks in the object of desire can soon turn into big annoyances as the passion sours. The film also shows how the cracks in a relationship can start just as much from small, initially unnoticed things as much as from major blowups. However one defect of the film's fragmented narrative means that the frequent sudden shifts in tone between comedy and drama can be quite jarring.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel both make likeable and engaging leads and are well supported by Chloe Grace Moretz as Tom's wise beyond her years kid sister, and Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler as his supportive friends.
This is a fun, bittersweet, hip, quirky and stylish look at modern relationships and makes for a refreshing antidote to most other romantic films, although it's probably best if you don't put it on for date night. Particularly not if you're the mysterious Jenny Beckman, who is referred to as a "bitch" in the film's opening title cards.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Comics Round-Up

Here is the first of a new feature for Permanently Weird. A weekly round-up of the comic books that I have been reading:


Written by Brian Wood

Art by Ryan Kelly

Publisher: Vertigo

This is the third in a four part mini-series about five female college student from all over North America who share a house while studying in New York City. The follows their various interconnected lives as they deal with studying, boyfriends, family problems, friendships and New York life. An insight into the inner lives of the characters are given through their video interviews with an unseen psychologist, as well as an insight into New York itself through brief captions describing the story's locations and the author's opinions of them.

People tend to think of comics as being all about superheroes, action, aliens, fantasy, science-fiction and horror, but this is nothing like that, and features no superhero or other fanatsy elements at all. The story is frequently sad, sometimes funny, bittersweet, bleak, hip and sometimes beautiful and Wood's text is brilliantly complemented by Kelly's superbly detailed black-and-white illustrations. The two previously collaborated on the brilliant Local (2005-2008), and like that series this is very much about people trying to connect with others. The feel of it is almost like an independent movie, and it is one of the best books on the shelves right now. If you can get the previous issues, then definitely get them all, if not then check it out when it's released as a trade paperback.

SPAWN # 205

Written by Will Carlton, plot by Jon Goff, additional plot by Todd McFarlane

Art by Szymon Kudranski

Publisher Image Comics
Jim Dowling has no memory of his past and no idea of where he comes from, who he is or who his family is. However he does have a miraculous ability to heal the injured and the sick and has unwillingly become a huge celebrity over night. He also happens to be a "Hellspawn" (or "Spawn" for short) a powerful soldier in the army of Hell. The demonic Clown, who is tasked with watching over new Spawn and guiding them in the right direction, believes that Dowling is the most powerful yet and is determined to test his theory with the help of evil vampire Bludd.

I'm pretty much a newcomer to this title, previously being put off by the fact that it seemed to be weighed down by it's own mythology and back story, but recently it has been very good, with an involving mystery in the plot and a return to the story's basics with the introduction of a new lead character. The artwork is very good, creating a doom-laden, noir atmosphere with the characters half hidden in dim pools of light amidst gathering shadows and sudden vivid bursts of green (the colour of the Spawn's blood and energy) and red blood. Although the disadvantage of that is that it is sometimes difficult to tell some characters apart, as their faces are always half in shadow. Still this is a bracingly dark horror comic. This particular issue contaisn a detailed synopsis of the story so far and, if you're new to it, it's not a bad starting point.

FABLES # 103

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

Publisher: Vertigo

Selection Day, Chapter Two of Super Team: The "Fables" (characters from fictional fairy tales and children's story-books) are under threat from the sinister forces of Mister Dark. The solution? To create their own team of superheroes led by witch Ozma (from Frank L. Baum's Oz books) who is less than skilled in the field of employee relations.

How can anyone not love Fables? One of the most thoroughly enjoyable comics on the market, this manages to combine fairy-tale magic and fun, contemporary humour and a sharp adult edge (despite the subject matter this is published by Vertigo and is "suggested for mature readers" i.e. it's not for kids). The artwork is lush and detailed with a wonderful "storybook" look and feel to it, and the writing remains faithful to the original tales and characters while at the same time giving them a contemporary feel.


Written by Peter Mulligan

Art by Guiseppe Camuncolli and Stefano Landini

Publisher: Vertigo

Phantom Pains, Part One: John Thumb. John Constantine is a married man. Could this be the end of nights in the pub, throwing back pints of lager, chowing down on salt and vinegar flavour crisps and fighting flesh-ripping demons from the Outer Darkness? Probably not. Constantine's marital bliss is spoiled by the fact that his wife, Euphemia, is freaked out by his missing thumb. The solution, he decides, is to get a new thumb. Meanwhile, Constantine's niece Gemma, is also set to make life very difficult for her Uncle John.

Another entertaining slice of gritty urban horror fantasy from a consistently impressive title. The idea of Constantine being married is actually working out pretty well and him and Euphemia are a well matched partnership. Although, in the world of Hellblazer, happiness tends to be short-lived. The start of a new storyline for the series, this is a good jumping on point for newcomers, although several elements tie back to the wedding issue two months ago. As often with this title, the artwork is okay but unremarkable.

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham
Publisher: DC
The Kane Affair. In Argentina, Batman and Argentine hero El Gaucho are forced to fight to the death by villainous Sombrero and Scorpiana, in order to save the lives of three captured children. Meanwhile Batwoman has to contend with the supposedly long dead Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman. Also thrown into the mix are British spies, and a supposedly unstoppable supervillain.
Batman's adventures in South America have been among the most bizarre in recent times. It's as if the writers are trying to throw everything in the pot to see what will stick. It deals with big themes such as love, jealousy, heartbreak, as well as the usual superheroics and even Latin American magic realism literature. Part of the book is a flashback to Batman's relationship with the former Batwoman, which is illustrated in a style which perfectly captures the Batman books of the 1960s, and includes some humorous teenage angst from Robin. The problem is that there is so much in it that the story becomes confused and loses focus. There is fun to be had with it though. However, if you only get one Batman title this week, make it Batman: The Dark Knight which has been pretty fascinating and really gets back to basics with the Bat.


Written by Clive Barker and Christopher Monfette

Art by Leonardo Manco

Publisher: Boom! Studios

Pursuit of the Flesh, part one. Do you ever get sick of your job and your life? That is how Pinhead, leader of the Cenobites, feels. Heartily sick of being summoned by the opening of his puzzle box in order to rip people apart with chains with hooks on the end, and with no-one to talk to in Hell except his loyal Cenobites and the souls of the damned. He decides he wants to be human and earn the salvation that might get him into Heaven. However, if he fails he will be even deeper in a worst part of Hell than he is now. Also, if he wants to quit, he needs to find a replacement.

This book is co-written by horror legend Clive Barker, who first created the world of Pinhead and the Cenobites in his 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, which formed the basis of the 1987 film Hellraiser, which Barker wrote and directed, and marks the first time that Barker has returned to his creation since the first film. The comic features plenty of Barker's trademark poetic dialogue and a lot of beautifully detailed and gruesomely detailed artwork. Imaginative and powerful, this will appeal to any fans of Barker or the Hellraiser film series.

It should certainly sate your appetite until Barker's as yet unpublished novel The Scarlet Gospels is released, which is apparently the difinitive conclusion to the Hellraiser universe.


Saturday, 19 March 2011

Les Diaboliques

Year: 1955
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Screenplay: Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, based on the novel Celle qui n'etait plus by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Starring: Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel
Running Time: 107 minutes
Genre: Crime, thriller, horror,

Summary: At a second-rate boy's boarding school, the brutal and cruel headmaster Michel DeLasalle (Meurisse) is married to the frail Christina (Clouzot), a teacher at the school who has a weak heart, but makes no secret of his affair with the pragamtic and strong-minded Nicole Horner (Signoret), who is also a teacher at the school. Sick of DeLasalle's ill-treatment of them both, Christina and Nicole plot to murder him. The murder plot is carried out and the body disposed of in the schools disused scum and dirt covered swimming pool. However, the body goes missing and a succession of bizarre and disturbing events begin to plague Christina and Nicole. Add to that they are being questioned by a retired police detective turned private investigator, Alfred Fichet (Varnel), who appears to know a lot more than he is letting on.

Opinions: This film is frequently described as "Hitchcockian", and certainly it bears many of the hallmarks of the work of Alfred Hitchcock, such as the blending of humour and horror. In fact, some believe that Hitchcock missed out on the rights to the Boileau and Narcejac novel by only a few hours, with Clouzot getting to the authors first. Hitchcock would later adapt Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac's 1954 novel D'Entre des Mortes as the classic 1958 film Vertigo.
The movie has a complex storyline and a startling conclusion. It features great performances from the cast and conjures up a powerfully misanthropic atmosphere of decay and cruelty, with repeated shots of murky water and striking gothic imagery. However the darkness is lightened by plenty of humour. The end credits of the film feature an "anti-spoiler" warning asking the audience not to be "diabolical" and reveal the movie's twists to their friends.
It is a powerful, entertaining and suspenseful piece of work that has influenced many subsequent films, including Hitchock's 1962 film Psycho. In fact Robert Bloch, the author of the original novel Psycho, listed Les Diaboliques as his favourite horror film of all time.
However the film is more mystery and suspense than horror and will certainly appeal to anyone who enjoys a good mystery and thriller.
The film was remade in 1996 as Diaboliques starring Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani.

Vera Clouzot and Simone Signoret are in on a plot in Les Diaboliques

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Year: 2011
Director: George Nolfi
Screenplay: George Nolfi, based on the short story "Adjustment Team" by Philip K. Dick
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Michael Kelly, Terence Stamp
Running Time: 105 minutes
Genre: Science-fiction, fantasy, romance, thriller

Summary: New York City, 2006: David Norris (Damon) is a charismatic US congressman who has just lost the race for the US Senate, and is a popular choice to win. Just before giving his concession speech he meets an English ballerina, Elise (Blunt), and the two are instantly attracted. The meeting inspires Norris to give a more honest speech than he had been intending. The speech wins him a lot of support and marks him as an early favourite to win the 2010 Senate race.
Some time later Norris meets Elise again. However it soon becomes apparent that there are people who are determined to keep them seperate. Norris discovers the existence of the "Adjustment Bureau", an organisation of beings who appear identical to humans, but in reality are not, who secretly control human lives and destiny, according to a pre-determined plan. Norris discovers that humans only have the illusion of free will and that most important decisions that affect people's lives are the result of manipulation by the Adjustment Bureau. However, Norris and Elise were never intended to meet and their romance is seriously affecting the Adjustment Bureau's plans. In order to be with Elise, Norris must pit himself against a seemingly all-powerful organisation, whose operatives can be anywhere, who can manipulate anyone around them, who can predict the future and who are determined to keep them apart.

Opinions: Given the marketing and the fact that this is a film based on a story by legendary science-fiction author Philip K. Dick (whose works also inspired Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990) and Minority Report (2002) among many others) audiences could be forgiven for thinking that this would be another action-packed science-fiction thriller, in fact it is at least as much if not more of a romance than it is science-fiction. In fact it's difficult to see exactly what audience it is mainly aimed at. Viewers expecting a science-fiction thriller could probably be put off by the romance elements, while viewers wanting a romantic film might be put off by the science-fiction thriller elements. However, it could work as a good "date" movie if one person wanted to watch a thriller and the other a romance then this film would make for a good compromise. To be fair to the film, there is enough in it to keep both romantiphobes and sf-haters interested.
The movie is only very loosely based on Philip K. Dick's 1954 short story which was much more science-fiction oriented, and also had a lot more humour and had no romance elements in it at all. The story the film tells is interesting, but never quite manages to successfully blend together the genres of romance, science-fiction and thriller. A lot of interesting ideas come up, but never quite get developed. For example the Adjustment Bureau themselves are never quite explored, although it is hinted that they might be angels. Also, despite being epicted at times as being near-omnipotent they seems to have a habit of making mistakes (the whole mess is set off when one of them falls asleep on the job), added to that the fact that sometimes they manage to turn up anywhere, and other times they are seen running after buses and taxis. Additionally, they constantly worry about the disruptions caused by Norris and Elise's romance, and yet they seem to cause far more disruption by trying to prevent it. The members of the Bureau are ultimately depicted as bureaucrats, guys in suits who are not basically bad or malicious, they just have a job to do and procedures to follow.
The film is very well acted. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt make for likeable and engaging leads and they have a lot of on-screen chemistry. Terence Stamp also impresses in a fairly small role as a sinister member of the Bureau.
The film does have it's share of good scenes and there are some good ideas in it, even if it never quite comes together. It might also have been more interesting if some of the themes of the Adjustment Bureau's manipulation of individual lives and human destiny were explored in a bit more detail. Still it's an entertaining enough film, even if it doesn't serve up everything you might expect or want from it.

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau

Friday, 11 March 2011

Book of Blood

Year: 2008
Director: John Harrison
Screenplay: John Harrison and Darin Silverman, based on the short stories "The Book of Blood" and "On Jerusalem Street" by Clive Barker
Starring: Jonas Armstrong, Sophie Ward, Paul Blair, Clive Russell
Running Time: 100 minutes
Genre: Horror, supernatural, drama

Summary: Mary Florescu (Ward) is an American parapsychology professor who is teaching in Edinburgh, Scotland. A highly successful author of non-fiction books on the paranormal, her great ambition is to uncover evidence for the existence of the supernatural. She learns about a house which has a history of violent, and apparently supernatural, deaths, with the worst disturbances happening in an upstairs bedroom. Mary enlists the help of a mysterious student, Simon McNeal (Armstrong), who claims to be psychic and who Mary believes has genuine psychic ability, added to that is the fact that she is instantly attracted to him. With the help of her pragmatic assistant, Reg Fuller (Blair), Mary installs Simon in the upstairs bedroom and sets up a battery of monitoring equipment in the rest of the house. While Mary believes in Simon, Reg is convinced that he is a fraud. However it soon becomes obvious that there is something very powerful in the house, a place where the highways of the dead have an intersection, and they do not take kindly to being mocked. Before long the experiment spirals violently out of control.

Opinions: The two stories which were adapted for this low-budget film make up a framing narrative for the Books of Blood, a six volume short story collection by Clive Barker, which were published between 1984 and 1986. This is the sixth of seven films to date to be based on stories from Books of Blood (the others being Rawhead Rex (1986), Candyman (1992), Lord of Illusions (1995), Quicksilver Highway (1997), The Midnight Meat Train (2008) and Dread (2009)). The movie, which is also known as Clive Barker's Book of Blood, follows the plot of the stories fairly closely. The problem is that while the two stories work well on the page and make for a fine frame narrative for an anthology, there is not enough to them to work as a self-contained feature. The film adds a lot to the plot, most notably a romance between Mary and Simon, but it still feels stretched out. Another problem is a prologue which pretty much reveals key details about the end of the film.
Shot in muted colour, the film makes good use of it's gloomy, atmospheric locations (it was filmed in Edinburgh and Glasgow). Even if in a couple of places it's so murky it's hard to see whats happening. The acting is at best enthusiastic, with English actress Sophie Ward (best known for her role in Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)) playing an American character whose accent keeps drifting back and forth across the Atlantic. Jonas Armstrong (best known as the lead in the BBC television series Robin Hood (2006-2009)) tries hard with an underwritten role, but doesn't manage to make Simon either a likeable or sympathetic character. However Clive Russell makes the most of a small role.
The special effects, which are mostly computer-generated, range from the good to the truly terrible. Although there are some good make-up effects, and gore fans should be satisfied with the amount of blood in the film.
The film has a few really effective moments, and a few good shocks, but not enough and it never manages to be particularly scary. The film is very slow-moving, again the problem of trying to pad out two slim short stories to a feature length film. Clive Barker fans are likely to be disappointed.

Sophie Ward in Book of Blood


Year: 1960
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Joseph Stefano, based on the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Janet Leigh, John Gavin, Martin Balsam
Running Time: 109 minutes
Genre: Horror, crime, thriller, drama

Summary: Phoenix, Arizona: Marion Crane (Leigh), a secretary at an estate agents, steals $40,000 from one of her employer's clients, and drives off to meet her divorced boyfriend, Sam Loomis (Gavin), at his California home. On the road, Marion becomes increasingly paranoid about getting caught and what might happen to her. Eventually in the middle of a heavy rainstorm, tiredness forces her to seek shelter for the night in the remote Bates Motel. The place is owned and managed by a shy young man named Norman Bates (Perkins) who tells her that he lives with his invalid mother in the large, run-down house that overlooks the motel. Marion overhears a furious argument about her between Norman and his mother. After talking to Norman, Marion decides to return to Phoenix the next day to return the money. First of all however, she decides to take a shower. Big mistake.

Opinions: This movie is probably one of the most influential ever made. It's easy to forget after all the sequels, remakes, parodies and references as well as the slew of imitations, just how good the original is. The story is structured in a way where if you didn't know the film it looks as if it's going to be about a woman who steals some money. For the first 45 minutes or so the film follows Marion exclusively and events are seen from her point of view and then it takes a sudden turn with probably the most famous sequence in cinema history and becomes something else entirely.
The script was written by Joseph Stefano (who subsequently became known for creating the classic television series The Outer Limits (1963-1965)) based on a 1959 novel by prolific horror and thriller author Robert Bloch. The book was inspired by the real-life Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein (whose activities also inspired The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991)). The film follows the basic storyline of the book pretty closely but with a few basic changes. The novel focuses mainly on Norman Bates and many of the events are seen through his eyes. Also Norman is a much more sympathetic character in the film than in the book. Incidentally, at the time of writing the screenplay, Stefano was undergoing therapy about his own relationship with his mother.
The movie features a brilliant central performance from Anthony Perkins as the tormented Norman, who manages to be both sinister and sympathetic at the same time. In fact he is quite a likeable character which makes his actions all the more startling. Anthony Perkins, who at the time was best known as a pop singer and a romantic lead, suffered from typecasting due to the immense success of Psycho but stated afterwards that he would still have taken the role even if he knew that he would be typecast. The film also had it's main "name" star, Janet Leigh, killed off towards the middle of the movie, which was a really shocking move for the time. This is said to be the reason behind Hitchcock's heavily promoted "requirement" that no-one was allowed to be admitted in to see Psycho once the film had begun. This was highly unusual for the time when people were in the habt of wandering into films whenever they felt like it, but Hitchcock felt that if people came in during the second half of the film expecting to see Janet Leigh and she did not appear, then they would feel cheated.
Of course everyone knows about the famous shower sequence which is a masterpiece of direction, editing and scoring. The scene runs for about three minutes and includes about fifty cuts, and it is done in a way where you think that it is more violent than it actually is. You see the shower head, Janet Leigh screaming, and you see the knife stabbing, but you never see any actual contact. The only blood in the scene is seen swirling down the plughole. Coupled with Bernard Herrmann's legendary strings-only score, it is one of the greatest scenes in film history. The censors initially asked for the scene to be cut, because they thought that Leigh's breasts were visible. Hitchcock simply resubmitted the film again without touching it and it was passed uncut. People who have way too much time on their hands have analysed the scene frame by frame for a glimpse of the offending breast but, as far as I know, they have been unsuccessful. Apparently after watching the scene, Janet Leigh refused to take showers unless she absolutely had to, and then she would lock all her doors and windows and leave the shower and bathroom door open.
There is another story that Hitchock received a letter from an angry father who said that his daughter refused to take a bath after seeing the 1955 film Les Diaboliques and now refused to take showers after seeing Psycho. "How am I supposed to get her clean?" the outraged man demanded.
"Take her to the drycleaners," replied Hitch.
The film also features a startling second murder, which is in it's own way as memorable as the shower scene, and it also has a strong vein of humour running through it.
Alfred Hitchcock has a small cameo in the film as a man wearing a stetson who is seen standing outside the window of the real estate agency where Marion works.
This was also the first film to feature a shot of a toilet flushing, which also caused some trouble with the censors, and was removed for some international prints.
The film is often stated as being the first of the slasher movie subgenre of horror.
The film was followed by two direct sequels and a made for television prequel. It was also pointlessly remade in 1998 by Gus Van Sant. The original is a classic and is well worth checking out by anyone. If you've never seen it, then definitely see it, and if you have seen it, then see it again.

"We all go a little mad sometimes." - Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Psycho

"Have you got the shower working yet?" Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh in Psycho

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The African Queen

Year: 1951
Director: John Huston
Screenplay: James Agee and John Huston, based on the novel The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel
Running Time: 105 minutes
Genre: Action, adventure, drama, romance

Summary: German East Africa, September 1914: Rose Sayer (Hepburn) and her preacher brother, Samuel (Morley), are Methodist missionaries, living and working in a small village. Supplies, mail and news is regularly delivered by Captain Charles Allnut (Bogart) who sails a small run-down steam-boat called the African Queen. When the First World War breaks out, German soldiers raid the village, and Samuel is so traumatised by the experience that he dies shortly afterwards.
Realising that there is nothing left for her in the village, Rose decides to go away with Allnut in the African Queen. She discovers that the Germans have a large and powerful gunboat stationed in a large lake, which effectively blocks any British counter-attacks. Rose hits on the idea of using the supplies of explosives and canisters of oxygen to turn the African Queen into more or less a giant torpedo and use it to blow up the gunboat.
Allnut reluctantly agrees to go along with the plan. However, to get to the gunboat they have to travel down a long river which is so dangerous that it is considered to be completely unpassable, added to which they would have to pass right by a stronghold full of enemy soldiers.

Opinions: This movie is a fun mix of adventure, action and romance. It benefits enormously from the casting of Humphrey Bogart as the tough, gin swilling, rough-and-ready steamboat captain and Katherine Hepburn as the prim, proper and very strong-willed English missionary. The two have plenty of on-screen chemistry and the dialogue between them is witty and engaging. Both of them are almost constantly caked in dirt and sweat, looking very farm removed from glamorous Hollywood movie stars. The burgeoning relationship between the two characters is well-handled and the mix works well so that the romance element doesn't unbalance the action or vice versa.
The action sequences are well directed, and there are many vividly memorable sequences most notably a very unpleasant encounter with some leeches.
The film is strikingly photographed in Technicolor. A lot of the film was shot on location in Uganda and the Congo, which was very unusual for the time given the size of the cameras used for the Technicolor filming. Certainly it makes for a vivid and exotic backdrop for the action. The cast and crew had a tough time during the location filming, with most of the film-makers falling ill, except Bogart who later claimed that he didn't fall ill because he didn't drink any water on location, and instead used a large supply of whiskey that he had brought with him.
This film is basically a yarn. It doesn't try to be anything else than pure entertainment and it definitely succeeds at that.

Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart take a ride on board The African Queen

Monday, 7 March 2011


Year: 1990
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Sam Raimi, Chuck Pfarrer, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin and Joshua Goldin, from a story by Sam Raimi
Starring: Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Larry Drake, Colin Friels
Running Time: 96 minutes
Genre: Superhero, action, horror, science-fiction, crime, thriller

Summary: Dr. Peyton Westlake (Neeson) is a scientist working on synthetic 'liquid skin'. However, one night Peyton is attacked in his laboratory by a mob led by vicious gangster Robert Durant (Drake) who enjoys cutting the fingers off his victims. Peyton's assistant is killed and the laboratory is blown up with Peyton inside. However, he survives, although he is horribly burned. After radical surgery in hospital, Peyton is left without the ability to feel pain, bursts of superhuman strength and also sudden violent rages. Escaping the hospital Peyton returns to his laboratory and resumes his work on liquid skin which allows him to impersonate anyone he chooses, as well as allowing him to appear 'normal' to his attorney girlfriend Julie (McDormand), who is also being romanced by billionaire tycoon Louis Stack Jr. (Friels). However, there is a severe drawback in that the liquid skin can only exist for a total of 99 minutes before becoming unstable and melting. However, Peyton now has the ability to take violent revenge against those who attacked him.

Opinions: This is a hugely entertaining superhero action movie with elements of horror, romance and humour. Director Sam Raimi brings the same energy and verve to this film that he brought to The Evil Dead (1983). The film was inspired by, and pays homage to, the Universal Studios horror films of the 1930s and also the pulp fiction heroes of the same period. The cast all perform very well, with Neeson in particular obviously having a great time in the central role. Horror fans will also want to look out for cameos from genre directors John Landis and William Lustig, as well as an appearance from Raimi regular and star of the Evil Dead movies, Bruce Campbell. Jenny Agutter also has a brief, uncredited role as a doctor in the hospital scene. The special effects are beginning to show their age now, but the action scenes are well staged and are genuinely exciting to watch. It's frequently very funny, but there are also some moments of real heart. Despite not actually being based on a comic-book the film does, at it's best, capture the feel and fun of them better than many other films. Admittedly there are very few surprises in the film, and you'll probably be able to work out what is going to happen well in advance. However, it is a well-paced, consistently entertaining action-thriller.
It's now become something of a cult film, and has been followed by, to date, two sequels.

Liam Neeson in Darkman

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno

Year: 2009
Directors: Serge Bromberg and Ruxana Medrea
Screenplay: Serge Bromberg
Starring: Romy Schneider, Berenice Bejo, Serge Reggiani, Jacques Gamblin
Running Time: 102 minutes
Genre: Documentary, film-making

Summary: Director Serge Bromberg was once trapped in a stalled elevator for two hours with a woman. They got chatting and Bromberg discovered that he was speaking to Ines de Gonzalez, who was the second wife of legendary French film director Henri-Georges Clouzot. She revealed to him the existence of 185 film cans (15 hours worth of footage) from her late husband's uncompleted 1964 film L'Enfer (Inferno). Bromberg persuaded her to allow him to use the footage to make a documentary which partially tells the story of Inferno, about a man (Reggiani) whose obsessive jealousy of his wife Schnieder causes him to suffer bizarre hallucinations. The documentary also tells the story of the making of the film and the reasons why it was abandoned.

Opinions: The film consists of footage shot for Inferno, test footage for the film, talking-head interviews with some of the crew who worked on it, and two contemporary actors (Berenice Bejo in the Romy Schneider role and Jacques Gamblin in the Serge Reggiani part) performing scenes from the script on a blank stage. From what is shown in the film, it appears as if Inferno would have been a very experimental movie. Clouzot shot endless reels of test footage where he encouraged his crew to experiment as much as possible with visual and sound effects in the hope of creating something truly unique. In that he would probably have been successful, because some of the footage shown is really amazing and fascinatingly strange. Of course there is no way to tell what the film could have been. The documentary gives a detailed account of the production of the film and it's eventual cancellation and is a very interesting view into just ho difficult film production can be and how easy it is for things to just fall apart.
The film is entertaining and accessible. It's a must-see for fans of French cinema, of course, as well as aspiring film-makers but general movie fans will probably enjoy it as well, especially if you're interested in what goes on behind the scenes of movies.
Henri-Georges Clouzot's script was eventually made into the 1994 film L'Enfer, directed by Claude Chabrol.

The drinks are on Romy Schneider in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

Year: 2010
Director: Tom Six
Screenplay: Tom Six
Starring: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura
Running Time: 91 minutes
Genre: Horror, science-fiction

Summary: Lindsay (Williams) and Jennie (Yennie) are American tourists travelling in Germany. One night their rental car gets a puncture on a remote road. After walking around a forest for about an hour in the rain, they stumble upon a house owned by eminent surgeon Dr. Heiter (Laser), who is known for his groundbreaking research in seperating conjoined twins. It turns out that he has grown bored of his work and plans to reverse the process, intending to surgically attach three people together through a single digestive system, to create a "human centipede". He intends to make the two tourists and Katsuro (Kitamura), another of his prisoners, into his unwilling victims.

Opinions: This Dutch film has been pretty controversial due to it's stomach-churning subject matter. However despite being gruesome it's not excessively gory, there are many other mainstream horror films which depict far more graphic gore and violence. The horror comes from the basic concept and the resulting creation, all of which loses it's impact long before the film is over. It's well-made with effective use being made of the white, sterile interiors of the surgeons house and basement laboratory. The performances are effective especially Dieter Laser as the irredemably evil mad scientist Dr. Heiter. It's well directed, and there is some suspense generated. The problem is that it plays all it's cards too early and as a result there isn't much left and the film runs out of ideas. The movie moves at a slow pace, and the tone throughout is so bleak that it ends up being more depressing than entertaining.
It is worth watching for horror fans, though. It will also be likely to interest fans of "extreme cinema", but they may be disappointed that it isn't more shocking. It will probably end up becoming something of a cult film. However with Dr. Heiter the film does provide one of the most memorable and terrifying horror movie monsters of recent years.
A sequel, entitled The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), is apparently planned for a theatrical release in 2011.

Ashley C. Williams, Dieter Laser and Ashlynne Yennie in The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

Thursday, 3 March 2011


Year: 1982
Director: Tobe Hooper
Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor, from a story by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins, Heather O'Rourke, Martin Casella, Richard Lawson, Zelda Rubinstein
Running Time: 114 minutes
Genre: Horror, supernatural

Summary: The Freeling family, estate agent Steve (Nelson) his homemaker wife Diane (Williams) and their children sixteen year old Dana (Dunne), eight year old Robbie (Robins) and five year old Carole-Anne (O'Rourke), live in a bland quiet California suburb where kids play with remote control cars on the streets, guys have their friends round to drink beer and watch the game, family breakfasts resemble a warzone and the parents indulge in a nice relaxing toke of weed when the kids are in bed.
However, Carole-Anne seems preoccupied by the ghostly "TV People" which only she can see and hear in the static of the family's television sets. Eventually the seemingly benevolent ghosts emerge from the TV set and enter the structure of the house. However one night, during a thunder storm, Robbie is attacked by the strange old tree in the front lawn and the ghosts snatch Carole-Anne, taking her through a portal in her closet. However, her family can still hear Carole-Anne's echoing voice through the static of their TV set.
With the family constantly plagued by a barrage of supernatural forces they become increasingly desperate in their attempts to save their daughter and put an end to the strange events.

Opinions: This movie is credited as being directed by Tobe Hooper (best known as the director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)) however it is widely believed that the film's co-writer and co-producer Steven Spielberg also acted as co-director. Over the years members of the film's cast and crew have claimed different things as to how much of the film, if any, was directed by Spielberg and how much was Hooper's. Whatever the truth of the matter, this is a Steven Spielberg film. Everything about it has his stamp: The cluttered seemingly safe suburban environment, the mix of sentiment and horror, the sense of playfulness with the thrills, the otherworldly forces being viewed with a genuine sense of wonder as well as fear and also the John Williams score. In fact the film could be seen as a darker companion piece to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), another Steven Spielberg film about an otherworldly visitor encountering a suburban family, however while the alien in E.T. is friendly, the ghosts in Poltergeist most definitely aren't. In fact the two films were released a week apart in June 1982.
This is horror as a ghost-train ride. It's fun, there's intentional humour, there are plenty of thrills. The special effects are good and it's scary enough for the duration of the movie, but it's unlikely to prey on anyone's mind much once the credits have rolled. Also, although there is some gore, things never get too nasty (presumably due to Spielberg's influence). In fact, possibly the most Tobe Hooper sequence is the one where rotting cadavers and skeletons pop up out of the ground.
The film's storyline bears some slight similarity to a 1962 episode of The Twilight Zone called "Little Girl Lost" written by Richard Matheson, about a young girl who slips into another dimension and, in her house, her parents can hear her calling, but can't find her.
Part of why the film is effective is the fact that the long opening passage, before the supernatural elements kick in, while a little too cutesy, does establish the background and the family dynamic. The film was a huge success, and in my opinion part of the success was due, as with Stephen King novels, to the fact that the horror elements were moved to an instantly relateable and recognisable world. Instead of a creepy, decaying old mansion, the haunted house here was an ordinary non-descript suburban family home in a new, pleasantly dull housing development.
The film has become notorious for being supposedly cursed after several cast members of this film and it's two sequels, including Dominique Dunne and Heather O'Rourke, met untimely deaths. Some have attributed the curse to the fact that real skeletons were used in a scene. Of course it is all more likely to be just a tragic coincidence.
Howeverm the film remains an enjoyable and entertaining chill ride for fans and non-horror fans alike.

Zelda Rubinstein prepares to face a nasty Poltergeist