Thursday, April 04, 2002

Jim, the International Affairs editor, has just asked me to remind you that he won't be in the office this week - He's out of the country on business. Any calls, materials for his attention or tyre swing diagnostics should be e-mailed to his usual E-address and not the editorial First Season inbox.

For a dude who lacks in the whole "Opposable Thumbs" department, he's not doing so badly, frankly...

Behold! The new, positively updated First Season film web barn is now open for your perusal and horrified befuddlement.

Plus? Monkeys. Lots and lots of monkeys. For no apparent reason. Other than the unquestionable universal truth that monkeys rock the block and rule the planet. Even official First Season whipping boy Tim Burton figured that one out and he's barking.

Think of it as the New Monkey Order. Which is much better than George Bush's New World Order, which did not, as far as I recall, feature any monkey-related content and was, thus, doomed to ignominus failure from the get-go.

So, any questions? Find answers by staring into the all-knowing eyes of our new International Affairs editor

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Strange, isn't it? The films that you expect to be breathlessly engaging, life-affirmingly exciting, all-action extravaganzas often turn out to be pedestrian, barely-tolerable crapulence, only just passing for entertainment ( And yes, Tim Burton, I am looking at you and Mark Wahlberg when I say that).

The movies that you rent on a whim, as fodder to feed your constant addiction to DVD, often turn out to be possessed of an odd, chin-scratching "X" factor which makes them enjoyable for no good reason that you can think of.

One such example of this whimsical and welcome phenomenon is the latest B-Movie horror flick from the ever-prolific Columbia-Tristar, "The Forsaken", a tale of improbably good-looking and pouty vampires roaming the Texan badlands and backroads in search of gullible, two-legged, involuntary blood donors.

It stars the twin WB network threat of "Dawson's Creek" mainstay Kerr Smith (He's Jack, bessie mate of Jen and the "Creek"s obligatory gay character) and "Roswell"s Brendan Fehr (He plays Michael in that show. The one who looks uncannily like David Duchovny's kid brother. Yep, THAT guy). Other cast members? "Coyote Ugly" alumnus Isabella Miko turns up to look agreebly decorative as the sole survivor of a vampire home invasion and gets to be thanklessly mute for the most part, which is a shame as her midwestern accent sounded on the money to me (She's Polish, don't you know?).

The story doesn't stun the mind - Smith's apprentice film editor is en route to his sister's wedding, driving a vintage Mercedes-Benz from LA to Miami to pay his way, when he runs into Fehr's slacker vampire hunter who is, himself, seeking out one of those Texan backwoods bloodsucker gangs who are two a penny in that neck of the woods. Led by charismatic Jim Morrison wannabe Jonathan Schaech, this gang make their way around the Lone Star State offing unfortunate road-tripping college kids and enslaving scuzzball rednecks to act as their "Day Drivers" - manservants/dogsbodies who whup ass for them during those tricky, nightstalker-unfriendly daylight hours. The scene is thus set for some post-"Buffy" shenanigans, with director J.S. Cardone being as concerned with the eye-candy cast's raging hormones as he is with the staples of the Vampire flick subgenre.

I don't know quite why I enjoyed this film so much. It certainly isn't art - The exploitation movie touchstones begin from the opening close-up of a huge, bloodied eye, which then opens out, via some sensory-assaulting, hallucinatory flash-edits into a long and probably unecessary long shot of Miko's character showering herself free of blood. You sense that Hammer would have loved to be have been able to get away with such a cheap but effective gag.

Happily, this is an equal opportunity horror flick and just about every member of the cast gets a chance to show off their perfectly-toned, expensively gym-honed bods - Cardone evidently knows that the major audience for this film is just waiting for a chance to see their WB heartthrobs in a more adult context than their TV shows generally allow. If you want eye-candy, frankly, you'll find it in spades here.

I liked the cinematography a lot. "The Forsaken"s look is quite reminiscent of "The Hitcher" and it's contemporary cinematic brethren "From Dusk Till Dawn", with craggy, bleak desert landscapes and dingy motels shot with a neat eye for composition and visual impact. Not exactly Terrence Malick territory but very pleasing to look at, with a lot of unusual locations on view and a great use of night shooting.

Overall, this is a fun, gory slice of B-movie entertainment, with lots of stuff to like and not to much to be downhearted about. Not high
art, by any means, but certainly worth getting your teeth into.

Sorry. Saw a pun, grabbed at it. Had to be done.

Hiroprotovitch? Gone for an afternoon lie-down.

Sunday, March 31, 2002

Final words for today - Don't watch "Jeepers Creepers" with the lights off.

It's a resolutely horrible, bone-chilling old school horror flick, which has more in common with the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or "Evil Dead" than the glossier, safe, comfortable slasher efforts which clog up multiplexes today.

This movie will jack you up, make you question your faith in the existance of a benevolent God and generally show you stuff that you really don't want to see - The final shot of this movie almost made me gag more than the prospect of watching GMTV. It's that messed-up.

Well, the first 45 minutes will, anyway. After this half-way point, the film plays it's cards a little bit too openly and reveals a movie monster which isn't as scary as it's prior, cloaked form in the shadows. But that ending....man alive! It's so "Jesus Christ on a Bike!!"-inducingly wince-inducingly grim and bleak that I must now go and lie down in a darkened room, my addled thoughts bound to be only be fully soothed by notions of Liv Tyler wearing a nurse's uniform...because she would be really good playing such a caring and important character in a film, obviously. And not for any salacious, cheap reason.

Taxi for Hiroprotovitch!

Of the Oscars, I can say only this - At least Russell Crowe didn't win. Can you imagine the chaos that would have resulted, had his acceptance speech recitation of Coleridge's "The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner" been interrupted by a nervous conducter leading the Orchestra in a bid to hasten the hot-tempered Kiwi along? They'd still be removing trombones and cellos from people's nether regions a week later...

No real surprises, really. The Academy played it entirely safe and made the mystifying decision that "A Beautiful Mind" was the best picture made by the industry last year. This is the same film, be aware, which would barely pass muster as a made-for-TV timewaster. This is the same film which was also written by the same creative genius who brought you "Lost In Space" and "Batman and Robin", the now Oscar-winning Akiva Goldsman. If his award isn't proof that satire is dead, then I don't know what is.

I really hated the movie, but it is kind of gratifying to see Jennifer Connelly snag the Best Supporting Actress gong which should have been hers for "Requiem For A Dream" last year - It's just a shame that her performance in this flick just wasn't for worthier material or a better role. Miss Connelly is capable of a lot more than suffering decoratively and projecting through layers of old-age make-up and you can but help that this award will lead to better projects in the future. Next up for her? Ang Lee's mental-sounding, live-action, fairly inexplicable movie adaptation of "The Hulk" comic book. According to Jennifer, who is quite the Harvard-educated bibliophile and all-round smart cookie, this big summer movie will have a "Big, Brechtian underpinning", which positively boggles the mind with possibilities.

Let's just hope that next year's ceremony is a lot less irritating than this year's incarnation - A good start would be hunting down the ill-of-mind artisans responsible for Gwyneth Paltrow's surreal gown and locking them up with Halle Berry's acceptance speech writer, the genii who decided that the entirely piss-poor "Gosford Park" constituted the year's best original screenplay and every nitwit who slept on "The Fellowship of the Ring"s many merits. And then bundling the whole sorry crew into the nearest, resolutely uncleaned septic tank, all the better to subsequently transport and deposit them in a hellish underworld, freshly derived from a David Fincher fever dream.

That's the Oscars for you - Four hours of fuss about nothing terribly important, which always, consistantly, almost defiantly gets it wrong.

Just watched Denzel Washington's Oscar-grabbing performance in "Training Day" and I have to say that his honour was one of the few intelligent decisions made by the massed ranks of an apparently mashed, and possibly insane, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences this year.

It may be unlikely to resonate as an acting performance for the ages, because "Training Day" is a fairly ephemeral flick, but Denzel is absolutely riveting in it and owns every frame that he appears in, delivering powerhouse acting that manages to shift gears with remarkable ease and the skill which we've come to expect of him.

He plays Alonzo Harris, a lauded and successful LAPD detective and leader of a six-man investigation unit, whose respectable facade masks a far nastier, corrupt interior and a desire to make the seamier neighbourhoods of Los Angeles his own personal playground. If it isn't nailed down, he'll take it. If it threatens him, he'll kill it. And that's if he's in a good mood.

Partnering with him for a day of assessment is wet-round-the-ears rookie, Jake Hoyt (A remarkably bearable, surprisingly unslappable Ethan Hawke, also nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category), who has 24 hours to establish his suitability to join Harris' squad and gets off on the kind of wrong footing which lasts all day. Cue Hoyt's descent into a very real version of Hell on Earth, as his superior officer drags him along on a violent and positively expletive-deleted odyssey through places and neighbourhoods that you wouldn't send your worst enemy to: LOTS of harsh language, melon-farmers. And guns the size of small family cars. Oh, and that dude in Harris's squad of for-hire cop hitmen? The one that you just pissed-off? That'll be Dr Dre, then.

If I were you, I wouldn't go for an open coffin at your imminent Police funeral...

Some words on the disc:
"Training Day" is pretty darned slick stuff and looks appropriately snazzy on my Region One DVD copy. The transfer is framed Anamorphically at 2:35:1 and holds up as impeccably as you would hope for. The Dolby 5.1 track has a lot of punch, mainly in the chases and realistic gunfights, but isn't ear-catchingly innovative or particularly outstanding. It's as solid as the rest of the flick.

Extras? Two music videos - For Nelly's "#1" and Phaeroah Monch's catchy ode to inner-city genocide, "Got You" - and a sober, informative director's commentary from a reflective, serious Antoine Fuqua, who's come some way from his debut, the John Woo valentine that was "The Replacement Killers". There's an alternative ending, which is from a rather rough work print or VHS dub, and a bunch of deleted scenes to round out the package.

On balance, it's probably worth getting hold of, especially if you like your cop thrillers gritty and not comprised solely of superheroics - This is an actor's showcase cleverly disguised as a low-IQ actioner and if you're looking for something that's a cut above the "Good Cop/Bad Cop" run-of-the-mill, you'll find quite a bit to detain you here.

Plus, there's this bit with Macy Gray as a crackhead....

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