Death Proof (2007)

Death Proof (2007)

The cover of the Australian Bluray of Death Proof

Film: The idea of Grindhouse, the double feature cinema experience conceived by Robert Rodriguez and supported by Quentin Tarantino, Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright was an excellent one. Make two movies in a mock double feature, with trailers for either never or yet to be made films in between, with devalued image and sound so that people today could feel like it felt back in the day of the 42nd St Grind house cinemas. Those cinemas named so because they showed badly re-cut horror, sci fi, exploitation and blaxploitation flicks one after another in a constant grind.

What a shame no-one else thought so…

It would seem the general public didn’t have the idea promoted to them well enough, or the promoters just didn’t get it. After the opening weekend of Grindhouse, which was a poor one, the distributors, the Weinstein Brothers, decided to pull the film so they could re-think the promotional release. Now, there are dvd and Bluray releases that come as ‘Uncut and Extended’ editions of Rodriguez’s zombie blood fest PlanetTerror, and this one, Quentin Tarantino’s 70s styled car chase extravaganza Death Proof.

Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) observes his prey

Death Proof starts in Texas with three friends Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito), DJ Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) and Shanna (Jordan Ladd) having a few drinks and enjoying each others company when they meet a stalker, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Stuntman Mike is a man stuck in the past dwelling on his past conquests in Hollywood, and can be as charming as a snake. He worms his way into their good graces and offers a member of their extended group Pam (Rose McGowan), a lift home in his car which he claims to be ‘death proof’. Soon after, a dreadful automobile accident happens and only Stuntman Mike survives. The police suspect foul play, but Stuntman Mike is a teetotaler, whilst the others were all drunk or stoned. Flash forward 14 months later and a new set of girls are being stalked. Actress Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) make up artist Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) and stuntwomen Kim (Tracie Thoms doing her very BEST Pam Grier impression) and Zoë (played by Zoë Bell, New Zealand stuntwoman), but what Stuntman Mike doesn’t realise is….these girls fight back!!!

This film is made perfectly for Quentin Tarantino fans. The cool music, hip characters, smartarse dialogue and the references to other Tarantino films (and this film is loaded with them!!!). Funnily enough, Tarantino used to riff on other great films, but now he also does it to his own, which at times felt a little masturbatory.

I saw this cut of this film before the version as a part of the Grindhouse experience, which was about 45 minutes shorter, and I must say I am glad, as I don’t think I would have liked to have missed out on any small part of this film. The action scenes are few and far between, but you are lulled into such a false sense of security with the ‘talky’ bits that when they do hit…. you stand up and shout ‘HOLY SHIT!!!!’ Tarantino has been criticised for this film being far too talky, but for me it works really well and I enjoyed watching the performances of the female cast members all spouting Tarantino-isms.

The female characters and the actresses that play them are great, and I couldn’t decide which one of them I liked the most…. Although I suspect Tarantino liked Zoe Bell the best, but with a special mention to the feet of Dawson and Poitier, which get some pretty full screen exposure!!

Tell me you’re watching a Tarantino film without telling me you’re watching a Tarantino film…

Car lovers will dig this flick as well. Stuntman Mike’s 1970 Chevy Nova is truly a site to behold, not to mention his 1970 Charger, Kim’s 1972 Ford Mustang nicknamed L’il Pussy Wagon aka ‘Brand X’ and the white 1970 Dodge Challenger that Zoe Bell spends a lot of the film on top of are nothing short of pure sex. The engines on these suckers make having surround sound a worthwhile investment.

This is certainly not Tarantino’s best film, but it clearly looks through the crowd for the fattest ass – and kicks it! While this film is a definite essential pick up for any Tarantino fan and certainly a must have for lovers of the unsuccessful Grindhouse experiment, it probably doesn’t need to sit in everybody’s DVD collection. Although if you like the 60s misspent youth and the 70s carsploitation flicks, you will probably dig it.

Score: ****

The menu screen to the Australian edition of Death Proof

Extras: Disc 1 has an international poster gallery, mainly featuring the ‘lobby cards’, and with a few ‘international’ posters, and trailers for Death Proof, Planet Terror, 1408, Black Sheep and Feast… no sign of the ‘fake’ trailers from the original Grindhouse film unfortunately!

Disc 2 has some really awesome extras.

Stunts on Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof is a documentary focusing on the film, but with much love and respect given to some of the great stunt drivers, both old and new. Featured here are stunt co-coordinator for Death Proof Jeff Dashnaw, and his team Buddy Joe Hooker, Steve Davidson, Tracy Dashnaw, Chrissy Weathersby and Terry Leonard. Much love of their abilities is provided by Tarantino, Russell and Tracie Thoms.

Introducing Zoe Bell is a short piece about stuntwoman, and in this film, actress, Zoe Bell, who was Tarantino’s stunt woman on Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2, and how she ended up being a major character in Death Proof.

Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike is a small piece about how COOL everybody thinks Kurt Russell is!

Finding Quentin’s Gals has Tarantino discussing his female casting choices, and has additional comments from Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Zoe Bell, with Russell providing some additional input.

The Uncut Version of ‘Baby It’s you’ Performed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a short piece showing Winstead uncut performance of Burt Bacharach’s song for Smith.

The Guys of Death Proof has Tarantino again discussing his casting choices, this time with comments from the guys: Eli Roth, Omar Doom, Michael and James Parks, Michael Bacall and himself, this time with comments from Jordan Ladd and Sydney Tamiia Poitier.

Quentin’s Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke is an interesting look at the unsung heroes of filmmaking: the editors, and in this case, Tarantino’s editor since Reservoir Dogs, Sally Menke. This is a nice tribute to Menke, and ends with some great ‘Hi Sally’ messages/outtakes from the cast.

There is also the trailer for the documentary Double Dare, which is about female stuntwomen, but specifically about stunt legend Jeannie Epper and young stuntwoman/future legendary stuntwoman Zoe Bell.

Score: ****

WISIA: Death Proof is such an unusual thing that it deserves to be watched a couple of times, I reckon.

Zöe Bell’s in BIG trouble

Special thanks to Simon from Explosive Action for the help with this review!

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

The cover to the Australian release on Blu of Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

Film: Here at the To Watch Pile, we love ourselves some Nicolas Cage; heck, last October we dedicated a whole month to his manic acting and freaky-deakiness! What a guy!

Add to this is my secret affection for car movies, which I guess is less secret now, which is weird considering I don’t like driving and don’t own a car. I’ve always been interested in car culture, not so much racing and that sort of thing, but car-related art, documentaries, even pinstriping and TV shows like Pimp My Ride. This of course means that movies that have cars as a part of their aesthetic appeal to me, then add Mr. Cage into the mix… I’m excited!

Gone in Sixty Seconds is the remake of the 1974 film, Gone in 60 Seconds, written and directed (and starring) H. B. Halicki, modernised by scriptwriter Scott Rosenberg, and directed by Dominic Sena, who directed the Hugh Jackman/ John Travolta thriller, Swordfish, and the comic adaptation of Whiteout, starring Kate Beckinsale.

Gone in Sixty Seconds tells the story of Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) who has gone foul of the crime boss Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston) and is going to kill him unless his brother, retired car booster Memphis (Nicolas Cage) can steal 50 cars, of Calitri’s choosing, in a single night, and have them delivered to the docks for export.

The Crew

Memphis gets in touch with his old crew, featuring Sway (Angelina Jolie), Sphinx (Vinnie Jones), Donny (Chi McBride), Otto (Robert Duvall), Tumbler (Scott Caan) and Kip’s new younger crew, Mirror Man (T. J. Cross), Freb (James Duval) and Toby (William Lee Scott) and they come up with an elaborate plan to execute the mission, but there is two things standing in their way.

The first is the interest they have sparked in their reuniting from the police, particularly Detectives Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) and Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant), and the second is Eleanor (an exquisite Shelby Mustang GT500), a car that Memphis has never been able to successfully steal!

Eleanor

Will they get all the cars to the docks or will Calitri have Kip killed? Who cares, just show us more and more sexy cars!

This is a weird movie for what’s essentially car porn. Sena’s direction is more about the micro looks at the cars, and even though you do get to see most of the cars, it’s prominently at night, so they are shown with a lot of reflection and instead the director has gone with close up of the interiors and the drivers. I guess in a movie that is quite heavily character driven and with so many personalities, that is just as important.

The story is actually a lot of fun and holds up, and I was so surprised to find that it was over 20 years old, well, until I saw how young everyone in it looks! There’s some clunky dialogue but it really adds to the cartoony feel of the whole thing. Even as a movie about crime, this doesn’t have the weight of a serious crime movie that shows that crime doesn’t always pay, but tries to give a warning about crime with an unexpected serious moral quote towards the end, which is like those awful pieces of moralising found at the end of a Masters of the Universe cartoon.

The performances are uneven, which is to be expected when three generations of actors ply their trade together, and it makes for some really silly moments, especially when you combine it with the already clunky dialogue, and I guess that’s where the charm of this lies.

One thing that does really irritate me about this film is the whole film builds up to this one amazing car stunt, that for some reason isn’t wholly a real stunt but instead appears to be a pretty average act of CGI shenanigans. When you consider car porn films lead up to ‘The Big Stunt’, this was a bit of a slap in the face.

Over and above that, cars and Cage: what a double! For me, even though I know it’s pretty bad, but it’s the most guiltiest of pleasures.

Score: **

There’s no menu screen on this disc, except for this pop-up menu.

Extras: All that car porn and so few extras! This is a fairly early disc in the Bluray format that was released for the film, so it weirdly goes straight to the movie and you have to access the extras via your pop-up menu. Even then, all that effort doesn’t result in a very interesting watch.

First we have some film highlights which are just a few of the more unbelievable scenes from the film, and the other is titled The Big Jump, which is a three minute making-of but about the really epic car stunt that occurs towards the end of the film.

Lame.

Score: *

WISIA: This film weirdly has a special place in my heart. It’s so stupid that I can just watch it again and again.

Christopher Eccleston as Raymond Calitri

Slither (2006)

Slither (2006)

The Umbrella release of Slither with amazing slipcase by Simon Sherry

Film: James Gunn is certainly one in a million. Most people know him from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad, but his career before that was SO much more fun, and honestly, creative.

There’s an amazing two pack of films that I suggest to anyone who doesn’t know his work, and that’s his superhero film Super, starring Rainn Wilson, and this film, Slither.

Slither tells of the small town of Wheelsy, and after an argument with his wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) finds himself in the woods, potentially about to commit adultery after being reunited with a school friend, Brenda (Brenda James), but unfortunately, Grant ends up having a dart shot into his abdomen by something that appears to be not-of-this-earth.

Michael Rooker and Elizabeth Banks as Grant and Starla, respectively

Grant collapses and we see, via X-ray, the dart burrow it’s way up into his head.

The next day, Grant is a changed man: he is quieter, and is desperate to collect as much meat as he possibly can, and Starla has noticed the change. Grant revisits Brenda, and with two newly grown tentacles, impregnates her with, what we find out later, to be thousands of leech-like brain slugs.

Whilst all this is happening, Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), a childhood sweetheart of Starla’s, is investigating Brenda’s disappearance, and obviously, all this quickly collides as the slugs invade the town, and burrow into the mouths of everyone they comes across… will he and Starla survive?

This film is extraordinary in that the fun is a gory, gross out horror movie, that still has elements of laugh-out-loud comedy. The story is solid, and doesn’t overexplain where the ‘thing’ came from initially, except for in some interesting hive-mind flashbacks.

A brain slug tries to take over Emily (Matreya Fedor)

You can really see Gunn’s early career at Troma influencing this film, except for the budget. The humour is sophomoric (thankfully) and the gore is sudden, disgusting and surprising. There is a body bisection that still, after many if watches of this film, delights me to no end.

The cast is also fantastic. Fillion is charming and likeable and Banks is just adorable as well. Special mentions have to go to the appearances of Lloyd Kaufman as the town drunk, Jenna Fischer, a TV crush of mine from the Office, as the police receptionist (who also starred with Gunn in the film LolliLove) and Gunn himself as the most awkward of school teachers.

Gunn’s slick writing and directorial style is present here as well. The script is full of old school jokes, some of which may not sit well with a 2022 audience, but fit for the location and time period, and the direction has some really interesting angles which really makes the film fun to watch. The effects don’t sit as well as they did, but that’s to be expected and if you are able to overlook some of those bits of CGI due to age… this movie is almost 20 years old remember, so even though the practical effects are great, some of the CGI isn’t so perfect, but it’s all still very effective.

This film is a beautiful throwback to films like Henenlotter’s Brain Damage or Stephen Herek’s Critters and could be watched alongside them and not seem at all out of place, even though this film was made 20 years later.

I think I really like this film because of its 80s/ drive-in influences, and was more than happy to revisit it! This Bluray from Umbrella Entertainment is from their ‘Beyond Genres’ imprint and has a pretty awesome slipcase by Simon Sherry.

Score: ****

The menu for the Bluray release of Slither

Extras: A bunch of fun extras on this disc that were on the original DVD back in the day.

Audio commentary with James Gunn and Nathan Fillion is interesting and charming and full of lots of reminiscing about the films of the 80s and the making of this film.

The Slick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither: Making of Featurette is a quick ten minute look at the origins and making of the film.

Who is Bill Pardy? starts as an amusing set of outtakes of Fillion, saying ‘I’m Bill Pardy whenever he screws up, but then turns into an amusing roast of Fillion by the cast and crew.

Slither Visual Effects Progressions looks at the different plates the CGI went through from the initial filming to the resulting effect.

Bringing Slither’s Creatures to Life:FX Featurette goes through all of the practical effects used in the movie, ad is quite fascinating!

Slithery Set Tour with Nathan Fillion is a brief bit with the ever charming Fillion filming some behind the scenes stuff with his particular brand of comedy.

The Gorehound Grill: Brewin’ the Blood is basically a recipe for the blood used in the film.

The King Of Cult: Lloyd Kaufman’s Video Diary is a little bit of home video made by Lloyd Kaufman, the King of Troma, and the man who directed Gunn’s script Tromeo and Juliet, who was invited by Gunn to have a cameo in the film.

Deleted Scenes and Extended Scenes as usual are an interesting watch but ultimately not necessary.

Gag Reel is one back from the old days when gag reels were actually funny and not staged like the modern day Marvel ones.

Score: *****

WISIA: I will easily watch this film at anytime!

Nathan Fillion takes aim!

This film was reviewed with the Umbrella Entertainment Bluray release.

The Unholy (2021)

The Unholy (2021)

The cover to the Australian bluray

Film: I picked up the new Blumhouse film, The Unholy, on a whim. I had wandered into my local movie retailer to pick up a couple of different films, and in a classic case of ‘while you’re down there’, I grabbed this as well.

One thing I didn’t realise until the end of the film is that this film is based on a book, The Shrine, by one of my favourite horror authors, James Herbert, who also wrote The Rats trilogy, and Sepulchre.

This film version of that book, was written and directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos, who wrote the live action version of Beauty and the Beast from Disney.

The film starts on February 31st, 1845 – we, the viewer, get to witness the burning of a witch from the POV of the victim, as her soul or spirit (or whatever) is cast into the body of a doll.

… and yes, that date is correct…

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Fenn

Flash forward to now, or yesterday, or tomorrow, and we meet scumbag washed-up alcoholic photographer Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who now works for a National Enquirer, Alien Elvis Stole My Sister- styled website who has been sent to the small town of Banfield to photograph a mutilated cow, only to find the ‘mutilation’ was actually a graffitied Metallica ‘M’ on the cow’s hindquarters.

Whilst with the farmer, Fenn notices an object shining under a dead tree and after a bit of digging, finds a small doll, which the farmer suggested may have been a ‘Kern Baby’, a doll that farmers used to bury in their fields to get good crops. Fenn smashes the idol and takes a few photos to try to salvage his journey to the small town and prepares to leave.

On the trip out he crashes his car after swerving to miss a girl standing in the middle of the road. He climbs out of the vehicle and follows her, only to find her return to the dead tree he was at earlier.

Cricket Brown as Alice

We quickly learn her name is Alice (Cricket Brown) and that she is the deaf-mute niece of the local priest, Father Hagen (William Sadler), but the very next day, both her hearing and voice return to her, and she claims to have been visited by the Holy Mother, Mary.

In addition, she discovers she is also able to heal the sick, bringing a paraplegic boy to his feet, and healing her uncle’s lung cancer… but Fenn is getting his OWN visions, and think perhaps that something more unholy might be behind the healings…

Herbert’s book was an absolute corker that took me about a day to read, which, if I’m honest, is how I find all his books. This film is disappointing in comparison. Of course, the idea is interesting, but Spiliotopoulos’ modernisation and translation of it has several tropes that are overused in this religious type of film. It’s not all bad though.

Even though Morgan feels like he’s sleepwalking at times, and Cary Else’s’ performance is occasionally ostentatious and William Sadler is… well, William Sadler, the winner of the acting department was Cricket Brown, who plays both the victim and the bold promoter of our evil, is consistently on-point. She plays every scene with the confidence the role required. I’ll point out that even though what I said of the actors sounds like an insult to each of them, it actually somehow meshed really well.

Some of the special effects were a little off, especially the fire effects, but the make up of the actual baddie was absolutely terrifying, and a credit to the make up department. It was actually difficult to look at and surprising when it’s finally exposed.

Unfortunately this film was one that was hit by Covid-19 during its filming, and one of the stipulations made when they returned to filming was that the cast had to be reduced to 10 only on set. This was something I did actually notice, particularly with a red headed cast member who stood out, so when they were reused, it was a little obvious. I wrote it off as being the same character just in a different part of town.

I wanted to like this, and I think if I really dig deep within me, maybe I do a little, but it was just to generic, and a little boring, for it to be really successful as a good film.

Score: **

The Australian Bluray menu screen

Extras: None.

Score: 0

WISIA: There is actually something about this film that would tempt me to watch it again, even if I can’t put my finger on it.

This review was done using the Australian 2020 Bluray release.

The Kern Baby

Death of Me (2020)

Death of Me (2020)

Film: I’d like to say I’m a fan of Darren Lynn Bousman, but I just can’t. For me, his output has been massively hit or miss for me. I loved his additions to the Saw saga, and the Mother’s Day remake (was it REALLY a remake? I’m not sure), but films like St. Agatha completely missed the mark.

There’s no doubt he has a great visual eye and he gets good performances from his actors, but I think occasionally the stories are duds, and that reflects on him.

This film, Death of Me sits smack bang in the middle of the two extremes.

Death of Me tells the story of Christine (Maggie Q) and her husband, travel writer Neil (Luke Hemsworth… how many Hemsworths are there?!? There seems to be more than the Baldwins and Daddos combined) are staying at a small AirBnB on a remote island in Thailand when something strange happens.

The film opens with our couple waking up in their room which has been destroyed. There is mud everywhere and they are both filthy. They do some investigation and find a two hour video on the memory card, which shows them both doing shots in a small bar, before finding themselves outside the AirBnB, where Neil rapes Christine, strangles her, and then remorsefully buries her right there and then.

If he killed her though, how is she still alive? Christine seems to be getting strangely sicker too, with her vomiting up grass and dirt initially, followed by a small snake, and the local doctor, suggested to them by the owner of the AirBnB, Samantha (Alex Esso, from Starry Eyes and Doctor Sleep), tells her that there is nothing wrong.

They continue their investigations until Neil suddenly goes missing after Christine seemingly witnessed him committing suicide on a nearby dock, and then it starts to get REALLY weird… but how is it all tied into the weird necklace, and the threat of an incoming typhoon?

Easily the two best things about this film are the location, which was filmed in Thailand and looks so lush and fresh that it’s almost unbearable, and the casting of Maggie Q, an actor I have adored since I saw her in Naked Weapon and followed her career through various Die Hards and Mission Impossibles.

Another point on the location: Bousman does a fantastic job at mixed the wide open spaces and beautiful landscapes, with some really claustrophobic interiors that make for an occasional effectively creepy scene.

Now the problems: the story is somewhat bland. It’s clearly influenced by films like The Wicker Man (even to the point one of the characters even references it) with its ‘strangers in a strange land/ odd locals’ theme but it just doesn’t resonate, and the Carrie styled ending is a little bit daft too. Hemsworth probably wasn’t the greatest companion for Q either; she is far to strong an actor and he is somewhat pedestrian.

It’s a shame. This film could have possibly been great, but it just flapped around, not really doing anything extraordinary.

Score: *1/2

Extras: Nothing. Sorry.

Score: 0

WISIA: No.

Follow Me (2020)

One from the to watch pile…

Follow Me (2020)

Film: I hate getting old. I really do.

Some parts of me don’t work as well as they used to, I’m not as sharp as I used to be and forget things and even worse, I don’t understand why in modern movies, the new heroes are Youtubers or Tiktokkers or Facebookers or MySpacers or whatever. Maybe that’s because in my experience a lot of these people are loudmouth jerks… occasionally entertaining, but usually obnoxious, and the youngsters these days see them as celebrities.

It would seem that filmmaker Will Wernick is hip to the kids, though! The first film of his I saw was 2017’s Escape Room, which certainly tapped into the trend of Escape Rooms as being a form of entertainment. This film, Follow Me, could essentially be a sequel as the escape room aesthetic is certainly its vibe.

Follow Me tells the story of online personality, Cole (Keegan Allen), a douchebag of the highest order with no real skill set other than to be annoying and to travel the world doing stunts and performing feats to entertain his low IQ viewers who no doubt donate to his Patreon (or whatever the universe this takes place in calls Patreon). Of course, wankers like this have entourages of similar jerks, like the girlfriend who ‘grounds’ him, Erin (Holland Rodin), his wannabe act-alike Dash (George Tanko), the extreme sports hanger-on Sam (Siya) and friend-he’s-had-for-years, Thomas (Denzil Whittaker).

Cole gets a challenge to journey to Russia by Alexei (Roman Rubinstein) to do an extreme Escape Room that will test his very limits. It starts with his friends being restrained in various traps which he has to solve the tests to release them, but when they don’t do it in one hour, he finds that his friends are in some very real trouble from Russian psychopaths who kidnap them and start torturing them for their very own YouTube channel styled thing… will Cole and his friends escape this seemingly unreal adventure, or will their bodies just go missing and they never get seen again?

Essentially what we have here is a low-rent, crappy version of Hostel, which riffs on the 80s April’s Fools Day with completely unlikeable characters performed by unlikeable actors, but modernised for the PG13 crowd.

Wernick does have a wonderful directorial style though. The set pieces are all pretty cool, if not a bit Saw-like, and the traps aren’t so hard that you or me wouldn’t figure them out so it does feel like there’s an element of realism to the events. Unfortunately there was a couple of things I was surprised at: one of the bodies in the film looks extraordinarily fake, and for some reason, occasionally Keegan Allen’s lips are lit so it looks like he has the very pinkest of pink lipstick on. Remember that episode of the I.T. crowd where Roy has lippy on after a buck’s night? THAT colour.

Unfortunately this film is just forgettable. When it’s competing for airtime against stuff like the aforementioned Hostel or any of those human-hunting-human for entertainment styled flicks, it just doesn’t stand out. Honestly, even Escape Room, which I didn’t like that much, was far better than this. I will give this film one saving grace: the absolute violence of the final kill, whilst reminiscent of Bruce Willis’ pasting of the Yellow Bastard in Sin City, was surprising.

Score: *

Format: This review was performed with the Australian Bluray release of the film whose 2.40:1 aspect ratio and Dolby digital 5.1 sound are as excellent as you would expect them to be.

Score: *****

Extras: Absolutely nothing, which to be honest, so a relief as I couldn’t care less about any behind the scenes stuff of this piece of trash

Score: 0

WISIA: Oh HELL, no! I wish I could find a way to forget I watched it ONCE!

The Spirit (2008)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Spirit (2008)

Film: While many comic’s fans may have never read The Spirit, they would at the very least be aware of the legend of comics craftsman Will Eisner. Eisner’s abilities with a comics board and the visuals that he displayed upon them are legendary and surpassed by no-one. His skill in relating a story in drawn visuals has influenced many, MANY cartoonists and filmmakers alike. His name is synonymous with the craft of comic writing and drawing, that the comic’s version of The Academy Awards is known as The Eisners.

Frank Miller is one of those people who were greatly influenced by Eisner. Not so much from an artistic point of view, though that is there, but more the way Eisner treated the images and ‘spirit’ of the city the characters resided in as a character as well, and his want of having the main character’s relationships with women being volatile and good guy/ bad guy barrier blurring. Take a look at Millar’s Elektra Saga from Daredevil and you will see what I mean.

Millar’s understanding of Eisner’s work and friendship with the man made him the perfect person to write and direct a film based on this character.

The Spirit tells of..the Spirit (Gabriel Macht), a no-nonsense, two fisted, supposedly ex-cop who is seemingly unstoppable. He spends his days residing in his crypt, but at night defends his city from those who choose to abuse her and her citizens. One of those abusers is a crime boss known as the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), another unstoppable soul who seems to have a ‘spiritual’ relationship with the Spirit.

While in pursuit of a treasure of great importance to an experiment he is performing, the Octopus, with his scientist partner Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and her cloned lackeys (all played by Louis Lombardi) crosses paths with the Spirit’s old flame and professional thief Sand Serif (Eva Mendes) who is tracking down a treasure of her own. Of course they end up with each other’s objective, and then the fun really begins.

Does the Octopus’ experiment have anything to do with the Spirit, and if so will it be his undoing?

Frank Miller has made a beautiful film that is full of classic noir imagery, and scenes reminiscent of many classic directors work, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Robert Aldrich; sometimes deliberate, and sometimes just to this viewer’s eye. The over the top performances he gets from Samuel L. Jackson and Gabriel Macht are totally cartoony, but are brought down to earth by the absolute gravity of Dan Lauria. His ability to get actors to act at their peaks is apparent as well, even Eva Mendes, who I occasionally find lacking in  ability (though she makes up for it visually) really exceeds any role she has previously played.

Speaking of babes, Miller has scored some spectacular woman to play the menagerie of femme fatales  from The Spirit comic, even though the character of Sand Serif was somewhat merged with the absent P’Gell. The afore mentioned Mendes is at her absolute sexiest as Serif, and her competition here are other gorgeous actresses such as Scarlett Johansson, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Sarah Paulson, Stana Katic and newcomer Seychelle Gabriel, all of whom really steal any scene they are in… a special mention for exploitation fans must be Scarlett Johansson dressed as a Nazi.

The combination of P’Gell and Sand Serif is not the only liberty Miller has taken with Eisner’s comic. The comic never revealed the Octopus as anything other than a pair of gloves, so his decision to show the Octopus in full is as brave as Judge Dredd taking off his helmet or making Aliens Vs Predator films suck. He also dumped the idea of the Spirit’s sidekick ‘Ebony White’ who was one of those unacceptable Negro characters: you know the ones, big lipped ‘Yes Massa’ types.

The end credits are cool. From a visual point of view they show a series of Miller’s storyboards with the credits over them, and from a soundtrack point of view, Christina Aguilera does a beautiful cover of Marlene Deitrich’s Falling in Love Again, which she sang in The Blue Angel in 1930.

The film looks great, but unfortunately suffers from 2 big problems. The first is that the story is choppy, and the film feels like it has no flow: the term ‘Mad Woman’s breakfast’ comes to mind, which is a shame as the story is potentially a good and fun one. The second problem is its identity. It looks SO much like Sin City that the whole film feels like a cut sequence from that film. Enjoyable, but flawed.

Score: **

Format: The film is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and is an amazingly detailed image: a credit to bluray. The soundtrack on this is spectacular and will take full advantage of your sound system. Presented in DTS-HD 7.1.

Score: *****

Extras: Commentary with director Frank Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete. It’s an excellent commentary, which the two performers exposing themselves as lovers of comics, film, each others work and of the film they created together. They do occasionally talk about re-doing excised effects for the DVD (and Bluray I imagine) but judging by the fact that they are NOT there, I assume it never happened.

The Green Room is more or less a traditional ‘making of’ type extra. It covers the origins of the film, Will Eisner’s and Frank Miller’s artwork, how actors reacted to the green screen aspects of the filming and the special effects. It’s fairly brief for what it has to cover, but covers a lot!

Miller on Miller is a queer little feature which has Miller himself recounting tales of his life and career, looking at his work on Daredevil and The Dark Knight and others and his love of city based characters. He also takes a very brief look at the history of comics, and the career of Will Eisner. For Miller fans it is a decent feature, though he does recount tales that he previously discussed on the extras for Daredevil and Elektra, and for those not familiar with Miller will find it even more interesting. What I found interesting about it though was his decision to dress like Freddy Krueger for the interview.

Alternate Ending with Voiceover by Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson is an animated storyboard, but with  dialogue spoken by the actors.

History Repeats is an excellent look at Eisner’s creation of the Spirit, with interviews with some of my personal heroes like Denis Kitchen and Neal Adams, and how he changed the world’s appreciation of comics.

We also have the theatrical trailer.

Score: *****

WISIA: It has enough surface appeal to perhaps give it another go, but essentially, watching either Sin City films again is a better option.

The Hills Run Red (2009)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Hills Run Red (2009)

Film: One of the joys of being a VHS/ DVD/ Lazerdisc/ BD/ Betamax collector is the hunt. Thinking you know everything about a certain type of film, but then discovering, either through research or, thanks to the internet, a group interest that there is more to buy, more to collect. The most satisfying moment is when you get your hands on that rarity: though the joy is generally shortlived as you quickly discover yet another missing treasure. 

If this sounds familiar, The Hills Run Red is the film for you.

Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrinck) is a film fanatic who is obsessed with a missing film called The Hills Run Red, a horror film about a killer nicknamed Babyface (Danko Iordanov), which was directed by notorious reclusive filmmaker Concannon (William Sadler). He has plans of making a documentary about it, along with girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery) and best pal Lalo (Alex Wyndham) but all he needs is a lead in.

This lead comes when his research brings him to Concannon’s daughter Alexa (Sophie Monk), a heroin addicted stripper who he helps get cleaned up. After Alexa dries out, she takes the three to the backwoods town where the film was made, but what they find is a lot worse than anything they could have possible imagined.

What they find is that Babyface is a real creature and not a fictional character at all, and maybe film and reality aren’t so different from each other.

This film is directed by Dave Parker, who was also responsible for The Dead Hate the Living and written by David J. Schow, a fairly well known name in horror as he wrote 2 Critters films (specifically 3 and 4), Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and probably most famously, The Crow.

This has some interesting Scream type elements that appropriately get turned on their head. One of the characters whilst venturing into the woods talks about horror film conventions, and shows his mobile phone is working, he has back-up flares in case the torches don’t work and a gun in case they get into trouble. Brilliantly, these modern back-up plans backfire and are used against them.

This is a thematic constant in the film as well; just when the bitter old horror fan inside you goes ‘I know what will happen next’, it doesn’t. There are some great extra creepy moments in this film that are all based around this idea of being atypical.

The film is only quite short, and the I believe that even so, this films bangs along at quite an appropriate pace. At no time was I bored, except maybe during the five minute long closing credits and the film had my attention at all times, especially during any scene of Babyface- driven carnage or of Sophie Monk supplying anything contained within her knocker locker.

I honestly think this is the best 80s styled slasher that wasn’t made in the 80s, and I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Score: *****

Format: Whilst the film is only a fairly recent one and maintains a fairly good level of detail, I did find on occasion that the picture was a little soft. Also a few CGI effects weren’t blended into the color scheme of the film and stuck out like dogs balls in mouse ball soup. The Hills Run Red was presented in  2.40:1 widescreen.The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The use of the subwoofer in jumpscares is so great that I must admit I almost blasted excrement from the depths of my bowels on at least two occasions. A grand time was had by all… well except for the lounge I was sitting on.

Easily my favourite slasher film in years. Perfect sized doses (all lethal) of beatings, brutalizations, babes and breasts all make for a great film, but don’t think this film is light on story either. I love it.

Score: ***

Extras: Only two extras on this:

Commentary by Director Dave Parker, Writer David J. Schow and Producer Robert Meyer Burnett  is a quite animated commentary from the three. It covers a hell of a lot of stuff about of the film, and one gets a greater appreciation of the film when one hears how deliberately they avoided referencing other films directly, even though the film is about film fans falling afoul of filmmakers.

It’s Not Real Until you Shoot It: The Making of the Hills Run Red is a great look at the filming of The Hills Run Red. It has a selection of interviews with almost all the cast and crew and is both funny and informative.

Score: ***

WISIA: Oh goodness, yes.

Steam Boy aka Suchîmubôi (2004)

One from the to watch pile…

Steamboy aka Suchîmubôi (2004)

Film: It’s an interesting position that I am in where I find myself having to review an anime. As a rule, I am no fan of anime, but their are always exceptions to those rules.

In my case those exceptions are Kum Kum, the Macross Saga, Akira and Memories, and maybe I watched more recent things like Prison School, Keijo and Wanna Be The Strongest In The World. I’m not a Studio Ghibli guy (they are soooo slow and boring), I have little interest in Pokèmon (it’s dogfighting! You’re teaching your kids to like dogfighting!) and both Dragonball and One Piece have such a long history that I’ll NEVER catch up so why bother starting (i did recently attempt to watch Dragonball but by the 8th episode the enemies were STILL just TALKING about fighting… just fight, godammit!)?

Anyway, enough about that: Steam Boy is a Japanese animated film directed by Akira’s Katsuhiro Ôtomo based on a story by him and Millennium Actress writer Sadayuki Murai and tells the story of young James Ray Steam (voiced by Anna Paquin), a young inventor in an alternate steampunk-ish 1866, who has received a parcel from his grandfather, Dr. Lloyd Steam (Patrick Stewart) which is to be passed into the hands of civil engineer Robert Stevenson (Oliver Cotton) as it contains the secret of a powerful new source of steam power.

The problem for young Ray though, is that there is a nefarious group who wish to nab the invention for themselves.. and so begins a story that, except for the source of power, is still politically and industrially relevant today.

There is no doubt that Ôtomo’s hands are all over this film. The entire design of the characters is very similar to his previous works, though the pacing of the film is that of Akira.

Those who are fans of the aesthetic of steampunk should have a blast with this. The entire film is a feast for the eyes and somehow, no matter how fantastic, every machine looks as thoigh it could actually work. I imagine the research that went into the industrial revolution must have been long and arduous.

However, as pretty as the film is, it is quite slow. Some may say carefully paced, but I just found it to be a trial at times. Thankfully it is visually thrilling, so it’s not a complete loss.

Score: **

Format: This Umbrella Entertainment release of Steamboy runs for approximately 126 minutes me is presented is an immaculate 1.85:1 image with a matching DTS-HD 5.1 audio track.

Score: *****

Extras: There’s a decent bunch of extras on this disc:

Interview with Katsuhiro Ôtomo is, as the name suggests, an interview with the writer/ director of Akira, Memories and, of course, this film. The interview is in Japanese with an English dub over the top and is a fascinating look into his creative process.

Multi-screen Landscape Study is a triple-split-screen 20 minute piece of mixed media and interviews which was used at a ‘Steamboy’ exhibition. It’s slightly confusing at first but if you persevere you’ll see some interesting interviews with the creators.

Re-voicing Steamboy looks at the process involved with the casting and recording of the American dub of the film and features interviews with Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, Patrick Stewart and vocal director Rick Zieff.

Voyage of Steamboy looks at the making of the film, in Japanese with English subtitles.

The Adventure Continues shows the end title sequence without the credit roll over it, which is pretty cool, actually.

Production Gallery is a slideshow of production paintings from the film with a portion of the soundtrack played over the top.

Animation Onion Skins shows 5 scenes in various stages of production, from storyboards to the final product.

Score: *****

WISIA: Probably not, but I enjoyed the amazing animation.

Hatchet (2006)

One from the re-watch pile…

Hatchet (2006)

Film: Writer/director Adam Green is one of us. He was shown Friday the 13th Part 2 when he was 8, and has never looked back. Thankfully, that movie fermented in his brain, and while at summer camp, a story about a murderer who dwelled in a cabin that was forbidden to the campers turned into something else, something that 20 years later evolved into this film, Hatchet.

Hatchet tells of lovelorn Ben (Joel Moore from Bones and Avatar) and his friend Marcus (Deon Richmond aka Token Black Guy from Not Another Teen Movie) who are visiting new Orleans for Mardi Gras, but Ben, who has just broken up with his girlfriend, isn’t into the idea of seeing a bunch of drunken women showing their boobs for beads.

Pfft, idiot!

So, instead of enjoying the frivolities these two friends decide to take a tour of the Louisiana swamps, in the ‘Scare Boat’ run by local Shawn (Perry Shen), and perhaps see where local legend Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), aka Hatchetface, once lived. Once on board they meet kindly older couple Jim and Shannon Permatteo (Richard Riele and Patrika Darbo respectively), titty filmmaker Doug Shapiro (Joel Murray), his flashing females Jenna (Joleigh Fioraevanti) and Misty (Mercedes McNab) and mysterious, gun-toting honey Marybeth (Tamara Feldman).

Unfortunately, and of course, the boat comes to a crashing halt, and the gang of tourists and their guide become stuck in the woods, wet, cold, lost, and now with Victor Crowley, whom they realise is no legend but instead a horribly malformed mutant killing machine, hunting for them.

How many will make it out… if any? Will the survivors be horribly maimed and psychologically scarred? And where exactly did a mutant hillbilly get a petrol-powered sander?

The script is a fun adventure into 80s styled horror, and even though it has a few great and funny lines, at no point did I think ‘horror comedy’, which I believe to be the scourge of the genre. I think the reason that the comedy never overpowers over the horror is because the violence is just so damned nasty: spine rips, head splits, axings… a veritable treasure trove of blood spraying and sputum spewing gags that should keep most fans happy, and their non-horror friends crying ‘Ewwwwwww!’

One thing I have to pick on this film about anything it is the costume of the creature that is Victor Crowley. Rubber suits and appliance rarely look 100% perfect, but unfortunately this one doesn’t look as good as the worst of the Jason Voorhees ones.

The other is its biggest problem: this film has to live up to a expectations that started as hype on the internet after a teaser trailer oozed out, and those expectations were that it could be horror’s salvation. It isn’t, but what it is a bit of gory fun and what the DVD cover says: “Old School American Horror”.

It’s got gore, boobs, gore, violence, gore, Robert Englund, Tony Todd and Kane Hodder in it, and those elements make it alright in my book. While I don’t think the character of Victor Crowley has the longevity of Freddy or Jason it is a fun example of what a slasher film is supposed to be: gory, unpretentious fun. With boobs.

Score: ***1/2

Format: Nice clear picture presented in 16:9 with no artefacts or apparent damage. A really good Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is clear as a bell, with the rear channels coming to life whenever Victor Crowley terrorises his victims.

Score: ****

Extras: Straight off the bat we are given a commentary by writer/director Adam Green and his Director of Photography Will Barratt, with a few do-drop-ins (specifically actors) here and there to add more colour to the proceedings. It is a full commentary that is both entertaining and informative. Yes, it is inforcational.

The Making of Hatchet is one of the better making of docos I have seen. It discusses the origins of the film from conception to … heh… execution. Mainly features interviews with Green, Barratt and producer Sarah Elbert (who I admit to having a micro-crush on) but also chats with most of the cast and a fair bit of the crew. This is the type of doco that makes me want to grab my video camera and go and film stuff.

Of course, no decent extras package is complete without the trailer, so here it be!

Also there are four behind the scenes pieces, which are all around the ten minute mark:

Meeting Victor Crowley is a look at Kane Hodder’s performance and substandard make-up. What it lacks as a visual though, he made up for in terrorising the cast with his on camera and behind the scenes routine.

Guts and Gore looks at the red stuff… which is why a lot of us are here. Well, this and boobs.

Anatomy of a Kill dissects the ‘pop top’ scene, from the original idea to John Carl Buechler’s effects teams result.

A Twisted Tale looks at the moral support that Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snyder has given Green over the years, both before and after they had met.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: There is far too many super slashers from the 80s that I could rewatch rather than give this another look.