Valentine’s Double Bill Part 2 – My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)

mbv3d

Following Saturday’s review of the 1981 original My Bloody Valentine, here’s the concluding part of my Valentine’s special. I hope youa all had a bearable Valentine’s Day. Any of you that were dragged along to see 50 Shades of Grey, I have particular sympathy for.

Lionsgate threw at lot at this movie, with a reasonably high budget for horror, but with good reason. Way back in the distant year of 2009 this was the first horror movie to employ the then new RealD 3D effects – the sort that transforms the cinema into a Roy Orbison lookalike contest, rather than the old “complementary cardboard glasses & migraine” effects that have popped up occasionally (ha) over the years. It paid off – the gimmick of blood & guts flying out of the screen rather than blue Pocahontases & leaves attracted enough cinemagoers to make it one of the top grossing slashers ever. However, there remains an important question: is it any good?

A convoluted opening credits montage sets up an identical backstory to the original movie’s villain, albeit somewhat harder to comprehend, even 24 hours after watching the original. After here the similarities are far between, other than the mine setting, killer Harry Warden’s appearance & some nicely tacked-on visual homages, the storyline & characters aren’t just updated or reimagined, rather completely different. 10 years after Harry’s Valentine’s Day rampage, Tom, the son of the recently deceased mine owner, returns after running away following the harrowing events. Naturally, his old friends have mixed reactions to his return, not aided by the inconvenient fact that people start getting killed by a familiar figure in a miner’s suit. The film opens on a brilliantly excessive flashback scene that at first seems terribly cliched but swiftly throws away the rules of a slow build throwing us straight into the action. There’s a sense of self-awareness that remains for much of the film, not least through the first half which would easily complete a bingo sheet of trashy horror tropes, but still manages to work them into the plot in a half-believable manner. It’s not high art but any film that has a sequence seamlessly culminating in the killer chasing a totally nude woman through a motel only to be distracted by a dwarf looking for her pet dog has had some care put into it by some delightfully mental writers.

“Will she be okay?”

This single-minded dedication to gratuitous depravity slowly gives way to the main plot building up the various dislikeable characters’ relationships & grudges held against each other with a Hollyoaks-esque melodrama. The men glare at & threaten each other like testosterone-driven drones while the women scream a bit & are reduced to quivering wrecks whenever one of the men make their best Blue Steel pose. It’s all incredibly trashy, brainless fun that eventually develops into a relatively unpredictable whodunnit with a tense climax. After the big reveal there is one scene that has a very neat visual trick which will have you going through frame-by-frame to ensure you really did see what you think you saw.

EYE POPPING VISUALS! (sigh)

Never making us particularly care about any of the characters, we’re left to enjoy the cartoony, overblown kills that have the anatomic accuracy of the most ridiculous Final Destination moments and make fantastic use of the 3D gimmick. There isn’t a dull moment for the whole film, and it’s quite confusing to see how so many terrible, trashy elements have been fitted together so cleverly to form a film that seamlessly shifts from bottom-shelf trash to melodramatic slasher to tense cat & mouse whodunnit. I can’t even call what parts of it are intentional or happy accident, but at the end of the day it’s a lot of fun & a great update to the original.

7/10

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Unnecessary remake #2192: Poltergeist Trailer Released!

Last night the first official trailer for the highly dreaded remake of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist made its way onto YouTube. My first reaction was remembering that I STILL haven’t actually watched the original all the way through; a fact that I really must sort out before this is released. My second reaction was a pre-emptive sense of despair, bumped up by recent promises made by star Sam Rockwell that it was “more of a kid’s movie than the original”. As is my ultimate stance with every remake/sequel/reboot/re-imagining/spin-off though, I decided that since this remake is happening whether I like it or not, let’s just hope they do a good job. Such optimism is usually crushed mercilessly but I always come back for more punishment. Here’s the trailer in question:

…It actually looks good…

I mean, it looks like EVERY Ghost House and/or Blumhouse horror movie made in the last 5 years but I just so happen to like them so I’m easily sold there. Whoever at Ghost House Productions fed Sam Rockwell the lines in the article I linked above certainly got the wrong memo somewhere along the line, because it doesn’t hold back on the scares. Maybe they’re really going for a “scare the whole family” approach similar to Joe Dante’s The Hole which I’m always keen on. Some cool modern takes on key images from the original, not limited to the 50-inch LCD “They’re Here” moment, show off the Raimi-influenced flair for visuals and ability to make the smallest things unsettling.

However.

This is unacceptable

Either the completed film takes a dramatic Shyamalan-style twist in the third act where it turns out to be set in a parallel universe where smartphones work via analogue aerials like TVs did before the turn of the century or this scene is utter bullshit. Genuinely, I can’t understand why this is okay. Static doorknobs, cool. Animate clown doll, cool. House exploding into blue light, cool. But this. Nope. For the rest of the trailer I’m quite looking forward to this film, but I’ll call it now. If the above scene remains in the final cut, I’m out.

0/10

Robocop (2014) – Review

Opening scenes of a film are rather important; setting the first impression for a whole audience. Many films go for a big powerful action scene, others for a thoughtful, perhaps shocking beginning introducing tone or characters or setting or a combination of these. At any rate it should give us some idea of what we’re spending our next two hours watching. So Robocop begins, with the MGM logo mysteriously silent. Suddenly someone starts making vocal helicopter noises in time to the lion’s iconic roars, moving on to other humming, gargling sounds. It is revealed to be Samuel L. Jackson producing these sounds, warming up for a live broadcast. He turns to camera, stopping the noises and starts his report. Even when a film has a generic or otherwise underwhelming opening I find myself contentedly watching if nothing else, but at this point I could so happily have stood up and walked out of the cinema. Whether it is playing it for a deadpan laugh or is simply a broad attempt at subversion as a friend suggested, it missed the mark by a mile taking me right out of the film before it began. This is far from the only time the film is guilty of this. More on that later.

“You want me to do what!?”

José Padilha’s retooling of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic is a very sleek and gleaming product, much like the titular hero but it never really digs deep into the many themes it seems to think it displays. With a well-rounded cast featuring Jackie Earle Hayley, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton and the aforementioned Samuel L. Jackson who, helicopter noises notwithstanding, steals the film as TV host Pat Novak who serves as a commentator on the fictional public’s views and a somewhat overplayed, “Verhoeven-lite” brand satire of American media, there is more than enough credibility on paper. The trouble is the film does very little to keep the attention of the viewer. The first two acts are painfully episodic; scenes often last barely two minutes with only the featured characters present, discussing an important plot point and nothing else before it cuts to a completely different setting for another plot point to be discussed. There is no flow to the events and no sign of the intelligent writing that allows points to be made without it being so blatantly in-your-face and sequential as this script forces practically every forward movement to be. Back to my point about the film missing the mark frequently, there are a number of scenes that aim to delve into the deeper themes; the Human/Robot debate regarding Alex Murphy/Robocop himself, the family life that Murphy longs to return to, and the wider implications of modern-day surveillance and automation; a number of these scenes are so forced that it’s too blatant to feel genuine, and whenever it feels like we are about to dive in and feel something about what is happening there is a line or event that is either laughably clichéd, or similarly stupid that it once again takes us right back out of the moment. In fairness there are some moments where it manages to elicit some emotional response if these scenes were taken individually, but with a hit rate far, far below half of the in-depth scenes there is no lasting impression on any of the questions this film seems to think it’s so cleverly asking.

“RUN SEQUENCE: THEMES.EXE”

On to the more fundamental points of the film; as the trailers have gleefully spoiled already, Robocop has a major design change partway through the film from a look not-dissimilar to the original we all know, into an all-black, metal human form. Walking around he produces the same whirring, clunking noises as he did in 1987 with the iconic heavy stomp of the feet in place, but this sense of weight and, well, robotic-ness is thrown out the window in scenes where it is more exciting to have Robocop running like Usain Bolt, occasionally fighting hand-to-hand and jumping 20 feet in the air. These acrobatics, coupled with the new suit-like design, tripled with the heavy-handedly “dark” emotional connotations, quadrupled with Gary Oldman watching over, advising our hero like a surrogate father draw comparisons a little too close to a certain, more recent, wildly successful movie hero.

Because he’s the hero Detroit deserves, just not the one it needs right now

Action scenes are a mixed bag. Naturally this film has it’s fair share of them, but once again they struggle to hit the mark. One particularly stand-out scene works a rather brutal, high-body-count gunfight into the 12A rating with visual techniques that also give the sequence a striking impact, definitely proving to be the high point of the film. A couple of other perfectly agreeable sequences are ruined by music choice, one played for a 2 second gag that is carried on for 2 excruciating minutes. When the film hits the third act there is real promise of everything coming together as the film takes on a more controlled, fluid direction and there is an energy behind it as though we’re starting to care what happens, but it soon stops and starts, dissipating the energy, and climactic action scenes result in cliché-ridden, CGI-heavy, and ultimately quite inconsequential events.

On the plus side, he has a very cool bike

Altogether, this is a film that on paper should be much better than memory leads me to believe. Everything is present; Robocop fights bad guys and tries to connect with his family, comments are made on the themes aforementioned, Gary Oldman offers profound advice, Jackie Earle Hayley wise-cracks, Michael Keaton hesitates on many lines, and Samuel L. Jackson is cool, shouting angrily once or twice. The cast all do a great job, but the script they’re working off offers no challenges so they’re actually obliged to phone in their roles, save for each star actor being given one or two scenes to show their stereotypical strengths, again pasted in so blatantly. Joel Kinnaman is never even afforded one of these, so his portrayal of Alex Murphy remains ‘fine’ for no fault of his own. It gives the sense that the makers had this checklist of components and, when all these items were placed into their plot, were happy to sit back and go ahead with the film like it was a series of requirements fulfilled; they’ve done their jobs. There’s no attempt to go one better, to try anything new, to surprise the audience or to convey the intended points by anything but the easiest, most two-dimensional means available.

Except for opening on Samuel L. Jackson making bloody helicopter noises.

As a massive fan of the original movie, I forced myself to clear my head of any preconceptions as to how Robocop should be portrayed or what the film should represent or anything else. And in the end it didn’t actually matter, because I don’t feel the need to compare the remake and original, to draw contrasts and similarities; taken as a completely standalone production, this is a bad film with only a handful of saving graces raising it above being dreadful, but so many opportunities to have been a hundred times better.

4/10

Carrie (2013) – Review

Joining the parade of remakes/reboots/sequels/prequels that have filed through our cinema screens for the past few years is this ‘re-imagining’ of the classic Stephen King book. Obviously though the biggest comparisons that will be made are to DePalma’s movie of 1976. Regarded as a classic, I think DePalma did a very good job but there were niggling issues that made me feel quite optimistic about this new version. Perhaps due to being made by a female director, probably simply due to it not being the 1970’s any more, there are no longer lingering, almost voyeuristic scenes of naked high school girls – a fact that no doubt will cause despair amongst the Chloe Moretz-obsessed forums, but this comparison sets the tone for a less gratuitous telling of the story, giving way to deeper exploration of themes and character ties, if still treading the same path as DePalma’s version for better or worse.

We follow Carrie through the story we already know, but Kimberly Peirce injects just enough originality to make it feel fresh, and we are given greater insight into Carrie’s mother, played brilliantly by Julianne Moore. While DePalma pitched her largely as the villain, here she has a more human quality to her, set up by a surprisingly dark opening scene. The emotional impact is dwelled on much more than any horrific element in these sections of the film. Though we want to hate Carrie’s mother for what she’s doing to her daughter, there’s a real fragility in her that prevents the relationship from being completely black & white. In another branch away from the original film, Carrie discovers her powers gradually and endeavours to control them; much to the terror of her mother; in a fairly obvious but effective parallel to any teenager of her age fighting for control of their lives over their parents.

“Pray they don’t try and make a sequel”

In the high school, events follow a path much more similar to the original; Carrie’s classmates and teachers played by a very competent cast it never feels that there’s anything wrong, but there isn’t a sense of much being introduced, beyond the obvious modernisations of the 21st century setting. Despite disappointment at a lack of change in the plot, Kimberly Peirce manages to avoid the exploration of teen bullying becoming too melodramatic that we feel we’re being lectured, but is depicted harshly enough that we feel genuinely sorry for Carrie. It is this sympathy we feel for Carrie that is the greatest success of the film; Chloe Moretz’s casting was criticized as she was considered too pretty to play Carrie, but her and Peirce make a strong case that Carrie doesn’t have to be plain or even ugly, she’s an outcast regardless because she has been raised not to mix with the other girls (and certainly not boys). Moretz plays her with a fragility easily comparable to Spacek, it is in the changes made that she is given the chance to show a strength that Spacek never had the opportunity to showcase.

Teenagers in 2013; still arseholes, just arseholes with technology

Despite all the small successes she achieves, we know that everything won’t be okay for Carrie and the film uses this inevitability to it’s advantage. By the time the prom comes around, everyone knows what is going to happen, but rather than hurry through, the scene is rather extended, really driving the point that Carrie is essentially living her dream, making even the most sociopathic viewer wish for there to somehow be a massive twist and the bucket of pig’s blood somehow doesn’t fall, but every piece of publicity for the film has taken delight in crushing our hopes for a happy ending. Eventually, when the pig’s blood hits the fan, the finale successfully walks the tightrope of giving us a much bigger, more brutal climax with a wider fallout zone than DePalma’s film, but doesn’t go anywhere near suffering from Man of Steel syndrome where the destruction is too big that it switches you off from the plot, nor do Carrie’s incredibly inventive means of despatching students come too close to looking plucked from a Final Destination film. Rather than the ambiguity of the original, the new Carrie definitely intends for all this to happen, and Moretz plays the scene with a disturbing power, really adding to the intensity of the sequence.

She’ll probably be okay…

The film ends, having followed the main beats of DePalma’s version which at times feels like the easy option, feeding the argument that a remake wasn’t perhaps necessary. However, the film was made whether we wanted it or not and I personally am happy with the changes made, giving an emotional impact lasting after the film ends which is unusual for any horror of this era. It doesn’t blow DePalma’s out of the water and it occasionally struggles to maintain it’s own identity but it certainly stands above the majority of remakes that have been carelessly thrown out of studios recently. As a standalone movie, which it should finally be judged as, I see it as one of the best big budget horrors of the last few years.

8/10