Saturday, 29 October 2016

I, Franky

From the diurnal cycle and circadian rhythms comes our human penchant for redoing everything, including meal times, sleeping patterns, and varied anniversaries. If the zeitgebers of chrono-biology control social behaviours and genetics, why not also include psychology, language, culture, and the fields of art and entertainment? Yes, it’s only the illusion of freewill that is driving filmmakers to remake movies. Whether the projects are seemingly chosen as personal favourites, now deemed worthy of revision; neglected classics apparently in need of updating for the modernist pulse of zeitgeist concerns; or simply a money-raking spin-doctoring of re-scripted themes; it often feels like over a century of genre cinema means everything new is just a rehash of something else. The differences between before and after, and between the recent past and the near futures, appear to closing faster than ever.


A decade after the super-heroics of Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing, here’s Stuart Beattie’s I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014), with its urban- gothic/ modern fantasy of stoical demon-bashing by the patchwork immortal without a soul. If the comicbook-derived Hellboy can succeed as a monster hunter/ slayer following the super-team model, this franchistein variant of the wandering loner and killer seems eager to please as a ‘hell-bloke’ made good. Zombie champion Adam (Aaron Eckhart) is recruited by the sometimes stony-faced matriarch Leonore (Miranda Otto, War Of The Worlds remake, Eowyn in Lord Of The Rings sequels), the angelic queen of a righteous order of gargoyle vigilantes occupying a besieged cathedral.

Adam Frankenstein - as our hero becomes known, is being targeted for experiments by demon prince Naberius (Bill Nighy, doing his level best not to look bored here), conducted in secret labs by a human-pet scientist named Terra Wade (Yvonne Strahovski, co-star of TV’s Chuck), whose re-animation research is destined to enable Nab’s army, ready for possession apocalypse. 


When evil plans to win the eternal war erupt into fiery battles on the night-city streets, at least the spectacular visual effects provide us with a welcome break from the most horrendously clich├ęd dialogue scenes of mouldy-prune comicbook-styling we have seen for many a cyclical year. On paper, it looks less like storytelling and more like free-gift origami tat.


I cannot honestly say that I, Frankenstein is essential viewing, even for the most dedicated followers of cinematic fashion, but with its displays of overly commercialised awfulness this is a bizarre treat to behold, and I laughed like a drain at its charismatic authority figures, and its audacious monomythic depiction of Adam as Campbellian hero (not with a thousand faces, but one obviously stitched together from umpteen others). Watch it and chortle with delight, or sigh in disappointment. The choice might well appear to be yours... but I suspect it probably isn’t.


Saturday, 22 October 2016

POTO

When I first saw Dwight H. Little’s version of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1990), on video, I was not expecting much. Pantomime at the Opera, or Sing-along-a-Freddy, was about the best I’d hoped for. So it came as a great surprise to find this was a quite enjoyable change of scenery for Robert Englund, who acquits himself with a measure of confidence and makes the often played title character his own.

Beginning in present day New York, this update is curiously time-warped, with young hopeful Christine (Jill Schoelen) getting knocked backwards in history, during her audition on a theatre stage. She wakes up in the foggy cobble-stoned London, and finds she’s got the part, after the resident diva (Stephanie Lawrence) loses her voice, dumbstruck by the sight of a flayed man in her wardrobe. 

Accepting her position as understudy like she knows it’s just a dream, Christine makes the most of her opportunity on opening night. The skinned stagehand isn’t the only one to die, though, and pretty soon the hapless cops are finding bodies (and parts of them), all over the place. The Phantom wants to marry Christine and hides his disfigured face - the result of a pact with Satan - under a Leatherface-styled mask, made from the skin of his victims, of course. 

This is a grand, lavish production, with colourful period settings and strong direction. Some graphic effects work of stabbings, beheadings, and skin-grafts in close-up, will keep the gore-hounds happy, while the slightly mushy romantic saga remains this type of movie’s major difficulty. How to make the swooning and gothic stylisation palatable for modern audiences? This is a valiant attempt to provide answers for the many problems found in adapting classics and, although it fails on some levels, there are enough inspired moments that this 25-year-old version of POTO remains a success overall. 

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Communion

Uncut on DVD, Alfred Sole’s cult slasher flick ALICE, SWEET ALICE (aka: Communion, 1976) marked the very first cinema appearance of Brooke Shields, here playing the doomed younger sister of troublesome schoolgirl Alice (Paula Sheppard, also seen in bizarre sci-fi comedy, Liquid Sky, 1982). While causing no end of problems for her mother, Alice taunts the obese paedophile landlord in his downstairs lair, and she has a “knack for making things look like accidents”. 

Later, Alice viciously stabs her aunt and, during the police investigation, the little bitch beats a lie detector test. But there is a clever twist in this plot-line of escalating psychotic violence.

Like Don’t Look Now, the mysterious killer wears a brightly coloured raincoat, but here it’s yellow not red. As director, Sole clearly parallels De Palma’s Hitchcock tributes but with an acute grotesquery that unbalances the perversities of this movie’s thematic reach. As indicated by its original title, Communion, this still quite shocking tragedy is about madness from familial shame with a religious source, and its urban gothic atmosphere is apparent beyond the closely observed catholic rituals and its bloody finale in the neighbourhood church.        

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Percy 2

Like an American cousin of Harry Potter, the half-blood prince of PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS (2013) is studying a kindle-pedia at summer Camp Hogwerks when he’s called away for a Bermuda triangle quest with a satyr guide, on a mission of mercy in search of a Golden Fleece macguffin. 

Leader of the pack Clarisse has deemed Percy an unlikely hero, so this becomes a tale about winning friendships and loyalty in a mawkish fantasy soap-opera that revolves around typical absentee father/ problem child issues, easily solved by typically conformist platitudes. 

Spells “make the mystical look normal”: an undercover/ fitting-in trick that translates as looking mediocre or just plain boring. At times, this sequel plays like some imaginary episode of ‘Olympus Hills, 90210’. 

PJ: SOM flips between hysterically overwrought, and tediously sentimental, for a team adventure with strap-on mythology. While visiting Washington, D.C., Percy and his chums find that Hermes operates a packing/ shipping warehouse to rival the average Amazon wish-fulfilment centre (oh, a droll Greek reference offered freely). 

After the supposedly-cool surfing without boards, on a magical wave-crest, zombies form the crew of a warship lost in the belly of a mega-whale (um, isn’t Jonah a Hebrew myth, not a Greek one?). Never mind, the vacuous lesson preached by this CGI exhibitionism is that “parents... make mistakes.” This is a US fantasy that fearlessly boasts a ‘harpy barista’ as one bemusing screen credit.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

No One Lives

NO ONE LIVES (2012) is about what happens after a gang of highway robbers pick the wrong victim. They waylay a nameless driver (Luke Evans), and their callous mercenary attitudes collide with an evil beyond their understanding. Ryuhei Kitamura is a director with an eclectic genre CV that includes samurai noir Versus, prison horror Alive, enjoyable hokum about ninja-girl Azumi, 50th anniversary kaiju Godzilla: Final Wars, and the Clive Barker-sourced urban shocker Midnight Meat Train.

NOL weaves together an unsolved-crime mystery with lawless action scenes that build up high tension slowly, towards a killing-spree bloodbath by an archetypal sadistic antagonist who acts like the proverbial one-man-army. A kidnapped heiress adds to a dilemma of confusion, although she’s the only one with any idea what is really going on.


Crossing the borders of imaginative grotesquery, violating subgenre treaties and slasher exclusion zones, and revising familiar elements from the Saw and Halloween series, this engaging thriller explores a viciously sick sense of humour, and charts much specific weirdness - very much to the delight of gore-movie fandom. Finding time for siege mentality, sophomoric/ Tarantinoesque musings, an inevitable cat-fight and various sensational/ splattery fatalities, Kitamura’s latest trick offers grisly fun-time on a tremendously entertaining scale.