We've Been Watching...
Here at the Digital Fix we don’t simply watch the films that we write about. Of course, the review discs take priority so as to keep our readership informed of the latest releases, but still we find the time to satisfy our various tastes and predilections. As such we’ve come up with a new fortnightly feature in which to share some of our off-duty viewing. Every other Wednesday we’ll be asking the reviewing team to highlight some of the films they’ve been watching, whether it’s on a big screen or small, an ancient title or brand new…
JOHN: Amidst impressive images of odd looking aliens, Defiance has hit our small screens and I tuned in with many for the pilot. Basically, science fiction told in the medium of a western, it was entertaining, warm and rather familiar as the disparate inhabitants of a small town take on rampaging Injuns, oops I mean Aliens. The pilot set it up well; it’ll be interesting to see how the story develops from here.
Game of Thrones finally got into its stride with lopped limbs and dragon-fuelled rebellion after a quiet start to season three, and Doctor Who delivered two excellent episodes from Mark Gatiss and Neil “Luther” Cross responsible for the writing. Monday Mornings ended in sentimentality and a fine use of Warren Zevon and Castle did its most Hitchcockian episode to date with Rick holed up with a skiing injury and forced to watch his murderous neighbours.
I caught a couple of interesting French films, Costa Gavras’ Le Couperet with downsized Bruno Garcia taking to killing his competition in the jobs market to end his unemployment, and the rather delirious The Hook (Je suis un assassin) with François Cluzet caught up murder, plagiarism and a glorious fever dream of a conclusion.
Still, the most fun I’ve had was with Miike Takashi’s Zebraman 2, a grandiose sequel to his cheeky superhero film this time cranked up to 11 with a kinky baddie and the usual Miike themes of underdogs, identity and a battle waged against the norm. For all of his recent achievements as a sensible earnest film-maker, I like my Miike mad, bad and dangerous to know.
IAN: Falling just outside the last time I was interrogated about what I’ve been watching but still worth a mention, I caught Oblivion and while it’s plain to anyone that it cribs from a lot of sci-fi films, I found it refreshing to have a sci-fi that didn’t over-rely on action over plot. Sure, it’s not flawless, but for the visuals and soundtrack alone, it deserves a watch. On the opposite end of the artistic scale, but probably a lot more fun, was a rewatch of the deliciously OTT Spring Breakers which, in a better world, would see awards for James Franco’s committed performance... and not just of a certain Britney song.
The one standout for me though this past fortnight was something that past me by in cinemas with little personal interest, but recent recommendations to me saw it on my LoveFilm list, and I’m glad it was. Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a true delight, one of the smartest teen flicks in a long time thanks to excellent performances from the leading trio - special kudos to Ezra Miller for making you completely forget his turn as a certain Kevin - and real, unforced situations. A late twist gives the film a devastating climax, yet you’ll find yourself oddly uplifted come the end credits. I cannot recommend it enough.
ANTHONY: Lately I’ve been looking into British horrors made just prior to the 2002 double-whammy of Dog Soldiers and 28 Days Later that triggered the current spate of genre efforts. Admittedly it’s not the richest of ground, or an area that’s heavily populated, but thanks to some small-scale DVD labels and a LoveFilm account, a tiny handful of forgotten flicks can be tracked down.
The 13th Sign was an extremely low-budget endeavour that premiered at the very first London FrightFest in 2000. Shot on cheap digital video and with an inexperienced cast, it’s a film that’s easy to sneer at. Yet behind the very obvious limitations there are just about enough ideas to keep things engaging (the plot keeps swerving into ever more unexpected places), while the very obvious influences of Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado and Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo lend proceedings a kind of nostalgic charm. Co-director Adam Mason has gone on to make horror pics on a regular basis, so I’m guessing that someone saw a bit of promise in there.
Proteus, from 1995, was the third in a trio of Harry Adam Knight adaptations to be made during the decade, the others being the Roger Corman-produced Carnosaur and Vadim Jean’s Beyond Bedlam starring Keith Allen. Knight was the penname of John Brosnan, an Australian-born author who had worked for Starburst magazine for a number of years while regularly turning out science-fiction and fantasy novels. Proteus, taken from 1983’s Slimer, is effectively a conflation of Alien and The Thing as set on an oil rig. It provides the shelter for a bunch of heroin smugglers (headed up by Craig Fairbrass) whose ship has sunk, though little do they know it’s also the site for some illegal genetic experiments and, ultimately, some agreeably rubbery special effects. The film has much more of a professional sheen than The 13th Sign, but is sorely lacking in fresh ideas.
ELLIOT: With the upcoming release of Mud next month, I decided to tick off the one remaining Jeff Nichols film that had escaped me over the years - Shotgun Stories. A story of an on-going feud between two sets of half-brothers after the death of their mutual father is set poetically against a decaying town in rural Arkansas. A powerhouse central performance from Michael Shannon centres the film, as this cautionary tale about the legacy of one man seen through very different eyes. Aligned with Take Shelter, his second film, Nichols shows his prowess in creating gripping dramas about the intricacies of difficult and stoic characters - something I look forward to seeing in Mud.
In addition, I also managed to brush-up on the first two Iron Man films; watching the first and second in quick succession to set myself up for the third next week. As expected, my double-helping of Tony Stark antics reminded me of how perceptive the first Iron Man film was, introducing the Iron Man-man and his suit to the pantheon of superhero films, but how mechanical and bulky the second had been - still, it will keep continuity in place for the third helping next week.
CLAIRE: For the past couple of weeks I have been educating myself on some 80s classics. Since hearing about an upcoming remake of John Carpenter’s 1981 film Escape from New York I thought I had better see the original. Kurt Russell plays an excellent nonchalant anti-hero, but other than that I was not terribly inspired by the story. In the future New York has been turned into a prison island, and when the President crash lands in the middle of the city Snake Plissken is drafted in to retrieve him in return for his own freedom. There are no ‘good guys’ in this movie which makes an interesting change, but the constant running around in the dark left me a little nonplussed. There are some fun characters and a chilling undertone of cannibalism which heighten the story, but by the end I was unsure what a remake could bring to the table. Russell does such an excellent job in the role of Snake Plissken; I imagine the replacement will be hard pushed to please the die-hard fans.
Another remake on the cards for next year will take on 1987’s RoboCop. I was not expecting so much blood and gore but felt this dystopian future was much more entertaining. In a crime-ridden Detroit sometime in the future, the police force is owned by a private company who bring to life a terminally-wounded cop as a powerful cyborg. Peter Weller plays Officer Alex Murphy whose memories haunt him when he is turned into RoboCop. I enjoyed the camaraderie between him and Officer Lewis (Nancy Allen) and I thought Kurtwood Smith made an excellent but unsuspecting bad guy. The themes of corruption and money greed made the storyline very dark; much like Escape from New York there is a very thin line between good and evil. I am looking forward to a remake of RoboCop, but I hope they can make it fresh and original as it could very easily slip behind the fantastic remake of Dredd from 2012.
Next on the 80s train is Turner and Hooch (1989), a little more light-hearted than the previous, and The Running Man (1987) which sounds as though it will be very similar to Escape from New York, only with Arnie’s overwhelming presence taking the limelight.
GARY: It’s a very strange feeling being in a ‘reviewing pause’ ...but that’s the case with me, due to clearing almost all of the outstanding review copies, having others not turn up and others still having their release dates put back. But at least that means I can take a few discs off the to-watch pile that are forever getting gazumped by those requiring review.
I had a double bill of films written by David Williamson (from his own stage plays) and directed by Bruce Beresford. Don’s Party I have reviewed before, back on New Year’s Eve 2005 (a ‘party’ review double-bill with Abigail’s Party). It’s one of my favourite ever Australian films: black, vicious and very funny. What I didn’t know until recently was that Williamson had written a sequel to the play, set on Australian Election Night 2010. That immediately made me wonder if there’s a film in the works, though four of the five returning characters would have to be recast due to the original actors having passed away. And since then-Prime Minister John Gorton makes a brief appearance as himself in the film, I wonder if Julia Gillard could be persuaded to do likewise in this hypothetical sequel? The other Williamson/Beresford was The Club, watched for the first time since seeing it on the BBC in the mid-80s and a candidate for a DVD review next Australia Day.
April/May is usually a dead time in the cinema. I did see The Place Beyond the Pines, which was ambitious and more successful than not, and Evil Dead, which is a nothing-much remake. I do intend to see The Look of Love at some point. Michael Winterbottom is a prolific and interesting director, and I’ve seen all but one of his films (must catch up with The Claim sometime). Some are certainly misfires, but he’s worked well with Steve Coogan three times before, so I am hopeful about this one.
My on-going project to catch up with recent Oscar nominees that I hadn’t previously seen reached District 9, which I enjoyed, and Moneyball, which left me rather cold. The Help will be next. On TV I’m watching the current rerun of I, Claudius and it’s as gripping as I remember.