Tuesday, 8 November 2011

That was the week that was (31 October - 6 November)

So, here we go then - another week of reviews. I have the week off next week, so will finally get around to this year's Halloween fest. I had the chance to warm up for it with a couple of horror movies, in anticipation of that extravaganza...

The Brood (1979)

I've become increasingly impressed with the films of David Cronenbourg - I think I've liked every film of his which I've seen - and this early effort is another highly original horror picture from the Canadian maestro. Apparently based on Cronenbourg's real life divorce, which was taking place around the time the movie was filmed, the plot focuses on an invention called 'Psychoplasmics', by which a person's internal neuroses and phobias manifest themselves in physical form. This highly controversial branch of psychiatry is the brainchild of the creepy Dr Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). Dr Raglan's star patient is Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), who has such severe emotional problems that following a course of psychoplasmic treatment, her rage at the world around her has birthed a group of murderous dwarves, intent on seeking retribution on her family. Meanwhile, her husband, Frank (Art Hindle), must fight to protect his daughter and in laws from these agents of vengeance... Although certain aspects of the movie have been seen before (the diminuitive figures in red raincoats resemble a similar figure in Don't Look Now), the psychiatric angle brought to this film by Cronenbourg makes this film unique. It's a horror movie which ticks all the boxes - it contains moments of genuine suspense, subtle creepiness and disgusting body horror. Though Art Hindle is a little lifeless as Frank, he is more than ably supported by Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar, who are both highly captivating in their roles. Having thoroughly enjoyed this movie, as well as Videodrome, The Fly, Scanners and Dead Ringers, I'm now very eager to seek out other early Cronenbourg pictures - Rabid and Shivers sound very interesting indeed...

Rating: 8/10

Big Trouble In Little China (1986)

Watching this movie, I was very aware that how favourably I might look upon a film at least partly depends on my mood and level of wakefulness at the time I'm watching it; I saw the first half of this one late at night, and missed half the lines as I kept drifting off to sleep. At that stage, I wasn't inclined to think too highly of it - from what I saw it consisted mainly of Kurt Russell looking on incredulously as his friends provided line after line of exposition heavy dialogue explaining the mysterious ways of the Far East. However, when I awoke and watched the second half in a much more wakeful frame of mind, I liked the film a great deal better - I was laughing along at the jokes and enjoying the '80s special effects, rather than concentrating on the sometimes clunky dialogue. Anyway, the film itself is an amusing trifle from John Carpenter, in which wisecracking trucker Jack Burton is set adrift in a bizarre underworld of gang warfare and supernatural forces in San Francisco's Chinatown. It's not Carpenter's best work, but contains enough good humour and well executed action sequences to be worth a watch. It also features a strong turn from Carpenter regular Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, rocking a magnificent mullet, a white muscle shirt and some sweet stonewashed jeans. He's able assisted by Dennis Dun and a surprisingly foxy Kim Cattrall. This is a film which was recommended to me by my best friend at school when I was about 9, but for one reason and another, I never got around to seeing it. I'm not sure if it was quite worth the 20 year wait, but it's still pretty good fun.

Rating: 7/10

Saw III (2006)

I had pretty low expectations going in to this one, so I was mildly surprised when it turned out to be not too bad. Of course, 'not bad for a Saw sequel' is hardly a resounding endorsement, but it's entertaining enough, if you don't think too much about it. Of course, it's all wildly implausible - in order to set up his vicious games (kind of like a higher stakes version of the Crystal Maze), Jigsaw would need to have a huge amount of money, impressive skills as an engineer and surgeon, access to psychological profiles for each of his victims, and the good fortune to live in a city with the world's most inept police force. The fact that he's able to do all of this while being on his deathbed, suffering from cancer makes all the more impressive - even more so when the only assistance he has comes from former victim Amanda, who on the evidence of the movie, seems to be incompetent, hotheaded and squeamish. Still, I don't think many people watch a Saw movie for a particularly cohesive plot or fine acting - it's all about the ingenious games, and in this instalment, they come up with some particularly nasty ones. (Particularly the machine which threatens to drown one of its participants in liquified pig guts. Yuck.) All in all, it's a pretty diverting hour and a half, as long as you're prepare to check your brain at the door - and I dare say at some stage I will continue my journey into the exciting world of Jigsaw and pals with Saw IV.

Rating: 5/10

The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

Following on from Saw III, we have another film with a high body count, albeit one which treats the deaths of a group of school children in a school bus disaster with appropriate solemnity. The central storyline here follows lawyer Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm), as he attempts to persuade the members of the small Canadian town afflicted by the tragedy to pursue a (rather frivolous) law suit against the manufacturers of the bus. Stevens has problems of his own, however - his estranged daughter is fighting a losing battle with a self destructive drug habit. I have mixed feelings about this one; I found the pacing of the movie to be a little ponderous, but there were some beautifully shot footage of the icy Canadian wilderness, and I was impressed by the acting across the board. Ian Holm and Sarah Polley (as the one child in the town to have survived the crash) merit special praise for their respective performances.

Rating: 7/10

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