Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Posted in Film on February 1, 2014 by Tim Lee

300_141757To mark the 25th anniversary of its cinema release – a Criterion edition must surely be on the cards – I’m revisiting cult Cage classic Vampire’s Kiss. The late 80s and early 90s were a troubled time for Nic – his career wasn’t one long succession of critical and commercial smashes like it is today [citation needed] and Vampire’s Kiss was one of a trio of inexplicable misfires, along with Fire Birds (Top Gun, but with helicopters) and Zandalee (erotic thriller co-starring Judge Reinhold) to be released around this time.

Nic plays Peter Loew – a sleazy literary agent by day, and even sleazier womaniser by night. Events take a turn for the sexual when he gets an erection whilst trying to shoo a bat out of his apartment (yep, this film is literally batshit). The next night he pulls Jennifer Beals and before you know it he’s down…

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The VRAs – The Driller Killer (1979)

Posted in Film on January 23, 2014 by Tim Lee

drillerkillerA chilling portrait of a grunting power tool-wielding psychopath that repelled audiences across the globe. Nope, it’s not 90s Tim Allen sitcom Home Improvement, but Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer.

The story is that of struggling New York artist Reno (also played by Ferrara) who lives in a scummy Union Square apartment with his two girlfriends – oh, the 70s! He’s slowly driven mad by his neighbourhood’s descent into dereliction, the cost of living crisis (PRESCIENT) and the relentless noise from post punk pseuds The Roosters practicing in the next room. We’ve all been there – I used to live next door to a prime irritant who played bongos along to Paul Simon’s Graceland 24/7.

In those days artists couldn’t fill their endless spare time by shitting up Instagram with urban sunsets and ‘found objects’ or updating their inane videoblogs, so instead Reno fantasises about showering in the blood of…

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2013: A Very Dud Year

Posted in Film on December 23, 2013 by Tim Lee

Because another celluloid retrospective is just what the internet needed, a summary of every film I made it as far as my local fleapit to see.

The year got off to an inauspicious start with the film musical adaptation of Les Mis – a bladder challenging three hour cautionary tale about the long-term ramifications of petty Hovis theft, it left me with a prostate the size of a honeydew and a head full of bad memories. Heaven Knows Les Misérables NowPitch Perfect provided blessed light relief from Les Mis’ sotto-voiced silliness, though Rebel Wilson’s comic appeal continued to elude me – if only we could have the Rebel without the nause.


Zero Dark Thirty‘s depiction of torture kept every opinion jockey in thinkpiece material for months. Essentially a feature-length expression of the maxim ‘retweet does not = endorsement’, Jessica Chastain’s Maya may have been a weapons-grade irritant but boy did she get results. Bizarrely the finale reduced a cell of cinemagoers in row H to tears – obviously I reported them to a plucky usher as potential Al Qaeda sympathisers and they’re now penning their Rotten Tomatoes reviews from Gitmo.

The first half of Tarantino’s Django Unchained was the most deliriously entertaining  thing I saw all year, though the second half veered too close to slave porn for my liking and descended into Tracy Jordan’s Hard To Watch relocated to the Wild West.

Hitchcock managed to be infinitely less interesting than any of the great man’s films, Anthony Hopkins turding around in one of Matt Lucas’ cast-off fatsuits and Scarlett Johansson pouting her way through the emotions like the pages of a Boden catalogue. The only thing it really revealed about the man behind the camera was that he was a very noisy eater, which to be honest, has turned me off his work quite a bit.

Warm Bodies was an unexpected delight. Breathing new life (DRUMROLL) into the flagging zombie genre, it was a charmingly uncynical rom-com with a warm beating heart (HI-HAT). And speaking of dead-eyed husks incapable of expressing human emotions, here comes Gemma Arterton in Hansel and Gretel: WITCH HUNTERS! An ill-conceived travesty on every level right down to them omitting to use ‘and you will know them by the trail of bread’ as the tagline, it did however provide the biggest unintentional laugh of the year in Grumpy Cat Renner’s ‘sugar sickness’ and steampunk insulin kit.


Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling continued to corner the market in bafflingly miscast nasal-voiced effete hardmen in Gangster Squad (see also Only Gosling Forgives). That guy doesn’t even look like he could hold his own in a custard pie fight in Bugsy Malone, and Sean Penn’s performance as L.A. kingpin Mickey Cohen seemed to be an extended audition for the role of Al Pacino in a Stella Street revival.

The most improbable collision of East meets West since Craggy Island’s Chinese community came when Oldboy director Chan-wook Park teamed up with smirking Prison Break star-cum-writer Wentworth Miller for Stoker. When Matthew Goode was Goode he was very very Goode, and when he was bad he was horrid in what – along with Danny Boyle’s Trance and Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects – formed a trio of stylish but ludicrous psychological thrillers released in the Spring. Stoker saw Mia Wasikowska’s India fall for Goode’s sinister, enigmatic charm and range of killer fine-knit pullovers in an impenetrably languorous opening half which would be summed up best by Yo La Tengo – ‘me with nothing to say, and you in your Autumn sweater.’

Soderbergh’s (alleged) swansong lived up to its name by causing headaches and mild drowsiness though on the whole it was enjoyably dumb, even if I did find the prospect of Jude Law winning a battle of wits with anybody, never mind a couple of sexy evil scheming sexy evil lesbians, highly unlikely. It was however unique in using a character’s knowledge of inertia-reel seatbelts as a dramatic plot twist.

By far the worst of this troika was Boyle’s Trance. Not for him resting on the goodwill earned from his stunning opening ceremony to London 2012 – he was already looking ahead to Rio 2016 by making Rosario Dawson’s Brazilian wax the McGuffin in this badly directed, terribly acted, appallingly written omnifuck of a film #LEGACY.

It was a case of Momoa, mo’ problems for Sly Stallone as he faced off against the Dothraki king in Bullet To The Head, while the latest Die Hard film provided the least welcome comeback since Jimi Hendrix’s lunch. Only Jason Statham seemed able to stem the tide of action effluent being pumped out by cinema’s Expensionables in Homefront and Parker, in which he somewhat sinisterly promised ‘I always follow through’ *snigger*.

Steve Carell played a curiously unlikable, obnoxious lead in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. It could best be summarised as ‘Blades Of Glory with magicians’ to the point it directly lifted one of its jokes (Cirque du So Lame). Some laughs were had however, and Jim Carrey stole the show as Steve Gray: Brain Rapist, unlike his turn in Kick-Ass 2 – a film which redefined the term ‘inessential mess.’

Proving there’s no bore like a sex bore, two dreary porn biopics did the rounds. Lovelace was the most revealing – turns out she didn’t even like lace. Michael Winterbottom came neither to praise nor bury Paul Raymond in an oddly flat, detached portrayal of the legendary bon viveur, pornographer and womaniser in The Look Of Love. The only thing we did learn was that like all ‘colourful characters’ he really loved ‘is daughter. No matter as Coogan was soon back on form in Alpha Papa – an unqualified smash that erased all memories of previous britcom failures *insert favoured Partridgism here*. I even dug Frost and Pegg in The World’s End, though I steadfastly refuse to endorse referring to it as part of the Three Colours Cornetto Trilogy. It just doesn’t make sense, okay?

As prolific as Kevin Shields during a fallow year, Shane Black dragged himself from his L.A. penthouse in his dressing gown to rescue the Marvel franchise from the egomaniacal black hole of Robert Downey Jr’s anus it flew into at the end of Avengers Assemble. Iron Man 3 was a masterclass in how to make a superhero movie: stripped back to basics, small moments made big and a moratorium imposed on semi-incomprehensible, overwritten, go nowhere banter (I’m looking at you, Whedon). It also featured the most satisfying reveal since Zooey got her bra out in New Girl. At the other end of the scale was Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. Stultifying dull, it managed to upset purists and casual viewers alike by not only pissing on the essence of the character but being really really really boring. A loud, leaden, overblown, humourless drag with Poundland Nolan knobs on, it was basically a moody emo My 2 Dads with Henry Cavill spending the entire film looking like he was wondering what bark was made of.

And while we’re on the subject of upsetting purists and casual viewers alike, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek: Into Stupidness emerged. Everything that made your balls twitch about the first film was back, including unnecessarily reheating the story arc of Kirk being a loose cannon maverick who doesn’t play by the rules, losing his ship, getting it back, and learning some tough lessons about friendship and responsibility along the way. Yeah, we got it the first time, JJ. On the plus side, it was rarely dull, and CUMBERBATCH chewed through more scenery than Richard Kiel in The Spy Who Loved Me. Ever inept, Abrams even cut what was clearly the best scene:

Tom Cruise’s Oblivion was an altogether more thoughtful take on sci-fi, even if long stretches of it could be boiled down to ‘intergalactic handyman having tetchy conference calls with his pissy, micro-managing supervisor.’

Beware Of Mr Baker revealed the jazz rock drumming legend to be the most objectionable white man in South Africa since Eugène Terre’Blanche. But still, it was a fascinating portrait of a phenomenally talented but phenomenally unpleasant human being. And the archive footage was fantastic.

Boldest directorial choice of the year went to Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby, where he chose to reduce one of the great American novels down to an insipid teen romance with the emotional depth and cultural resonance of a Jazz Age Twilight film. And Leo DiCaprio didn’t say ‘old sport’ anywhere near enough, oh no.

Chris Hemsworth’s trouser-phobic James Hunt proved that driving a Formula 1 car quickly is very much like making love to a beautiful woman in the somewhat reductive, but nevertheless enjoyable, Rush. And he got his big mallet out again in Thor: The Dark World, which was largely a success despite the continually fathomless cult of Loki – a witheringly snarky Machiavellian genius without the Machiavellian genius or withering snark.

Most people think The Harry Hill Movie is his big screen debut but he also wrote the screenplay for Pacific Rim: ‘Which is best – giant robots or giant lizards? There’s only one way to find out….’ So went the plot, such as it was. I’m not saying the characters were one-dimensional, but Charlie Hunnam’s Japanese love interest may as well have been called Toe Ken Woman. Idris Elba however, as the magnificently monikered Stacker Pentecost, was on fine shouty truth-handling form. Apparently he now gets sent so many scripts that turning the pages gives him a bad case of Idris Elbow.

Tom Hanks deserved all the ACTING awards ever for a powerhouse final ten minutes in the excellent Captain Phillips. Tension, drama, economy of storytelling – Paul Greengrass put most other directors to shame as usual. Including whichever hack directed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – the only thing stymieing that franchise is the fact nobody on it can hold a ruddy camera straight and Elizabeth Banks’ bizarre Widow Twankey act. But these are mere quibbles for a film which, despite its YA origins, had far more interesting things to say about society, oppression and media manipulation than a lot of supposedly more grown-up offerings.

Finally, in a mixed year full of cinematic misfires, the last film I saw was one of the few that, ironically, didn’t drag me down: Gravity, starring incorrigible Nespresso Perv Clooney.

Real Just Got Shit

Posted in Comedy, TV with tags , , , , , on October 16, 2011 by Tim Lee

This isn’t so much a moan about naturalism as a comedic tool, more the trend in recent years that any single camera sitcom with no laugh track, semi-improvised dialogue and preferably some swearing, seems to get an automatic critical pass and is deemed somehow more worthy. Spot these Bafta baiting atrocities by playing Critic Bingo and scouring your average broadsheet review for words and phrases like ‘dark’, ‘brave’, ‘realistic‘, ‘beautifully observed’ and ‘dead clever’.

So when did this all begin? Well the Year Zero as far as most reviewers seem to be concerned would be the advent of The Office. Sure, the mockumentary format was already a bit old hat by this point –  having been used in The Pool sketches in The Day Today, People Like Us and so on – and The Royle Family had already proven that longueurs were no barrier to mainstream success, but The Office was probably the one that has pretty much become the template for this is how it’s done. Now I’m not here to argue that those two aren’t classic shows – I’ve not gone totally wang-waving mental – but what seems to have got lost in subsequent years is that it wasn’t the form that made these shows funny, but the writing. What primarily made The Office so good was its brilliant execution – grafting dramatic, almost soapy storylines onto a sitcom format and making the whole damn thing work. Its stylistic quirks were just the icing rather than the cake.

The most noticeable trend in the last decade, particularly in UK sitcoms, has been the slow death of the laugh track (be it canned or studio). I won’t be dancing on its grave like some – in a few cases, such as It’s Garry Shandling’s Show or even Seinfeld, it really adds to the energy of the performances – but in general it’s a fairly inessential addition to a show. Having said that, a rerun of Father Ted or I’m Alan Partridge is in no way ruined for me by its presence, and I don’t see its absence as a signifier of some higher artistic worth. But you know who begs to differ? Sam Wollaston of course – a man for whom words fall from Macbook Air like shit from arse (c. Spartacus: Gods of the Arena).  Here he is on the execrable Roger And Val Have Just Got In: ‘I began by appreciating the lack of canned laughter.’ Oh brilliant. So now you’re sat there enjoying what isn’t in the show. What else did you enjoy not being there? A car chase? An uplifting Glee-style song and dance number? FFS. Griping about the presence of a laugh track seems to have become lazy reviewer shorthand for having a refined comic palate.

So, when I start my bi-weekly moan on this topic and the pub immediately empties or Friend X is no longer online, the show that inevitably crops up is The Trip. It’s a show which I thought had its moments, but its numerous self-indulgences signify for me where realism ends and onanism begins. The US show you’ll most commonly see cited by UK comedians is the undeniably great Curb Your Enthusiasm. The thing that most people seem to take away from Curb is that it’s semi-improvised, to the point where script has almost become a dirty word. Well yes, Curb is semi-improvised. It also has a cast comprised of some of the best improvisational comics in the US – plus Cheryl ‘why would you do that Larry?’ Hines – and storylines that are tighter than a gnat’s chuff. A Curb show outline will have around five liberally annotated pages but that’s solid plot, and takes can go into the thirties with LD suggesting key lines as jumping off points for the scene.

Compare this to The Trip which often played out more like Lost In Translation meets Groundhog Day, the cycle being starter, impression-off, repeat. And the pauses weren’t so much as pregnant as birthed, went through an awkward goth phase and then buggered off to university before the joke was eventually delivered. Yeah, that might be naturalistic, but entertaining? Debatable. As for the show staking a claim to realism, Coogan’s problems are real alright: ennui-laden multimillionaire comic ears-deep in muff can’t find true love, Hollywood acclaim or a really good crème brulee; but the general yearning for something better aside, I didn’t find these problems particularly gripping or relatable. Apparently the comedy had ‘real edge’ and it took ‘a lot of guts’ for them to make it. Personally I found as far as being realistic goes, ‘Steve Coogan’ was a far more sanitised, sympathetic creation than the coke snorting fuckmonkey of tabloid lore. Tommy Saxondale was a much more interesting, nuanced character.

However, the show that really pisses on my porridge, the one that’s taken the very worst that comedy vérité has to offer and combined it in one moribund Gagasaki of a half hour, is Him & Her. The premise of the show, if you’re lucky enough to have avoided it, is that the most tedious, unlikeable unemployed couple in the world hang around in their flat and do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Seinfeld ain’t got nothing on this shit. Of course the critics spaffed all over it saying that it’s yep, beautifully observed, to which my response is ‘oh that makes it good, does it?’ For a long time the last great taboo in television has been seeing characters on the can – well Him & Her breaks down the fourth (toilet) wall on this one when one of them opines ‘Can you make me some toast? I just done a wee. I fink I done a poo as well.’

Now I’ve had mornings on the mercy seat packed with more tension than a Hitchcock drama and parked my breakfast in many a meaningful way, but I’ve never thought it would add a deeper level of understanding to a character – to see man, trousers down, vulnerable and de-clenched, is to see the true essence of what it is to be human. Also, in line with so much realistic dialogue, nobody would actually say this. Even somebody with the most spastic of colons is pretty certain whether they’ve dropped the brown shark or not. But Him & Her really plays the full deck: mumbled, dramatically inert dialogue, quizzical rise and fall intonation, and interminable silences. We’re getting dangerously close to ‘comedy is like jazz’ territory here – it isn’t so much about the jokes as the space between the jokes. I wouldn’t want to spend thirty minutes with these enervating DSS fucks, so why would I want them beamed into my living room either?

A lot of these shows are often labelled as ambitious, but I think in many cases the reliance on naturalistic tropes belies exactly the opposite – celebrating rough cut amateurism for its own sake. The Observer’s recent review of  Fresh Meat warns that it ‘risks becoming as sparkling as 30 Rock.’ A long-running, successful, consistently funny gag a minute sitcom? How awful. Of course there are plenty of examples of this kind of thing being done well, like Marion & Geoff and even Peep Show in the UK to the cruelly cancelled Party Down in the US, but it’s the snobbery and unthinking blanket approval that really grates.

There are many more shows on my shitlist – Pulling, Lizzie and Sarah – shows where people behaving universally appallingly is somehow more real and therefore funnier, as if the recognition and laughter reflexes have the same trigger. But ultimately it should come down to this: when assessing a sitcom’s worth, funny should come before form. Realism is just another form of stylistic technique.

Fringe Benefits

Posted in Comedy, TV with tags , , , on September 18, 2011 by Tim Lee

[TV show] New Girl

Zooey and I have been through a lot together over the years. I’ve watched The Village. Twice. I sat through (500) Days Of Summer. Seemingly in real-time. That film where she runs a hipster cereal bar? Flipped the bird at the Feds and downloaded it due to the inexplicable lack of a UK release. Seriously, that shit had Oscar written all over it.

It even took me longer than the 10 seconds listening strictly necessary to determine that She & Him were a bucket of tepid folk wank; the aural equivalent of drowning in a ball pool full of kittens. That is to say, I thought it was time to move on – the cycle of abuse had to end. I even started perving over other women with fringes. *Logs on to*

So it was purely in the spirit of inquiry that I decided to give her new sitcom New Girl a chance. Any actor will tell you that all the best writing in Hollywood at the moment is on television, especially those who need another hit like Pete Doherty, so it’s no real surprise to see Zooey turn up in Fox’s ‘adorkable’ (yup, that’s how they’re promoting it. Jesus) latest offering. But before you crank up the CRAP KLAXON it should be noted that the series is created by Elizabeth Meriwether, whose previous credits include Childrens Hospital. Less promisingly, she also wrote No Strings Attached. *Fire up the klaxon*

The premise is as slight as one of the floaty summer dresses I picture the winsome Ms Deschanel wearing as she gambols through a meadow towards me in my dreams. But hey, this isn’t Zooey fap fiction I’m writing here – if it was it would consist mainly of us shopping in the stores she wants to shop in, to a vegan café for soya lattes all round, then maybe some light sex afterwards if we’re not too tuckered out. *Cough* Sorry to digress. In it she plays Jess, a geeky teacher who’s just been ditched by her boyfriend and ends up moving into an improbably swish loft with three regular guys. Beamed into their apartment like Mawk from Ork, they’re not so keen at first due to her admission that she watches Dirty Dancing six times a day and sings to herself. A lot. But the discovery that all her friends are models mean that she’s on the washing up rota quicker than you can say ‘six month shorthold agreement.’

Okay, so the show may have been custom-tooled to make bedwetting fringe-blind fucks like myself lose all use of our critical faculties – its métier being less ‘set up, joke’ and more ‘set up, mope’ – but you know what? It ain’t half bad. Things don’t get off to a great start when, with grim predictability, Zooey sings the theme tune like the schmindie Anthropologie wearing Dennis Waterman she so clearly is. Christ, her uniquely mellifluous atonal honk could RIP even the most resolute hipster boners from the other side of a vinyl fair. On the plus side, at least it didn’t have any titting ukulele on it. But if you can get over that the writing is pretty sharp and the twee tart is genuinely funny and charming in it (translation: I totally would. But she really is quite good). The opening scene where Jess outlines to a friend how she’s going to seduce her (soon to be ex) boyfriend is a case in point:

Jess: He says he has a fantasy where I’m a stripper and I have a heart of gold and he’s helping me through college.

Hannah: He didn’t say the college part did he?

Jess: No. I wanted to create a three dimensional sex character.

Hannah: So what’s your stripper name?

Jess: Rebecca Johnson. No, Boobies Johnson. Two Boobs Johnson.

Look, it’s all in the delivery, okay. Also, she was wearing a trench coat and horn rims when she said it. But as strong as Deschanel’s performance is, the supporting cast are pretty weak. Her trifecta of turd roommates consists of Nick, a recently dumped, ennui-laden barman who will obviously at some point realise he can look beyond Jess’s dungarees and Lord of the Rings references to see her inner beauty; Schmidt, an allegedly loveable douche; and Coach, a stereotypical emotionally repressed black guy. None of these J Crew models really adds too much to the show and in the long run it’s debatable whether Jess’s story arc – socially inept geek can’t get a date – is really going to sustain the show.

She’s okay in small doses, and has plenty of funny lines, such as when she triumphantly announces she’s been asked out on a date: ‘Dinner. With food’ (remember, delivery) but she’s essentially 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon minus the self-awareness, snark or kick-ass job. And without a Jack Donaghy to bounce off it’s difficult to see where the character can go. The majority of the comedy supposedly stems from the guys’ increasing exasperation at Jess’s relentless girly kookiness – they’re like chalk and cheese! And boy, is there a lot of cheese – even more than you’d find in Alex James’s Cotswolds farmhouse kitchen.

But, for all these reservations, there’s the germ of a decent show here with a girl who rocks a mean up ‘do at its heart. And for that reason, I’m prepared to give it another shot. Which is big of me.

I thought I was out. But she pulled me back in.

Update, 6th January 2012. The show is now going to shit. In one episode she taught bell ringing to troubled teens. FFS. But episode 8 – Bad In Bed – is a total keeper.

Trolly Madly Deeply

Posted in Film with tags on September 13, 2011 by Tim Lee

[Film] Troll Hunter

Based on that hoariest of current cinematic tropes, the ‘found footage’ documentary, Troll Hunter soon establishes itself as a cut above other shaky-cam atrocities such as The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and, most recently, Apollo 18.

The story is a simple one. A group of college students are making a documentary about a mysterious loan ‘poacher’, Hans, who patrols the mountains and fjords of Norway alone. Hans reluctantly agrees to let the trio of pepsters follow him around the country, and they are soon drawn into a world of mythical creatures, saliva baths, and shady government cover-ups.

The trolls, it seems, are the most unwelcome thing to be found lurking under the bridge since Anthony Kiedis scribbling gibberish lyrics in his moleskine, and the TSS (Troll Security Service) employ former naval commander Hans to keep the trolls in their territory and kill any who escape, in order to protect the populous. The reason soon becomes clear as these trolls aren’t the leprechaun-like figures of folklore, but 50ft high foreign tourist-gobbling monsters, and the TSS – basically like the militant wing of the Norwegian Tourist Board – want to keep that shit on the downlow as the Norwegian economy can’t survive on staycationing and Fair Isle knits alone.

Despite occasionally playing out like a Norse version of Scooby Doo (Scooby Dü?), there are nonetheless some genuinely scary moments. The most effective of these are early in the film when the monsters have yet to be seen and their presence is signified by the foreboding stomping of feet and juddering Norse pines. The opening chase in particular is heart-poundingly tense. The trolls, when they do finally appear are a surprisingly realistically (if that isn’t too oxymoronic in this context) rendered, wonderfully varied bunch, although some of them do look suspiciously like ‘roided-up Fraggles.

What sets this film apart from those mentioned above is that the naturalistic form is only secondary to the dramatic function. Proving that realism and entertainment  needn’t always be mutually exclusive, it’s tightly plotted, has well-rounded characters and a compelling narrative arc. Played with deadpan brilliance by Otto Jespersen, Hans is an initially stoic presence, but during the course of events we get to learn more about him, the folklore with which his life has become entwined, and the reasons he’s become so disenfranchised with his solitary occupation. The mock-doc theatrics never get in the way of the story unfolding and the nausey camerawork was kept to a bare minimum, though the running commentary was only really a device for establishing quickly and simply what the hell was going on, and quite frankly, the film would have been served just as well without it.

Undoubtedly the strongest parts of the film – along with the breathtaking Norwegian landscape – were the confrontations with the trolls and the performance of Jespersen. A charmingly shambolic figure in his beat-up Land Rover (I know, you’d think he’d drive a Fjord), armed with only lo-fi UV weaponry, his face-offs with his nemeses are brilliantly played and executed, ending with them either being turned to stone or an explosion of entrails. They’re a proper irascible lot, and they loathe being exposed to sunlight even more than a Belle And Sebastian fan on the beach at All Tomorrow’s Parties.

And although the plot was a fairly bog-standard monster hunt, this was far from a point and run affair; if you look hard enough there are actually hidden depths. Read into it however much you want, but through the stories Hans tells of the origins of the TSS the film can easily be read as an allegory for the perils of segregation in society (yeah, I just got totally Shami Chakrabati on yer ass). Equally, it seems to be suggested that the reason the mountain trolls are so pissed off is because of a lack of access to adequate healthcare provision. *Paging Michael Moore*

As is often the case with these types of film, the only thing that really did suffer was the dialogue. ‘Naturalistic’ needn’t necessarily be a synonym for ‘dull’ or ‘meandering’ but this did fall into that trap at times. There was some amusing interplay between the characters and Hans had a few brooding monologues, but in general the script could be described as functional. But hey, this isn’t my post on the curse of naturalistic drama and how ‘real just got shit’ – I’ll save that for another time. And there were enough laughs present for any LOL Hunters out there, mostly at the expense of bumbling government officials, credulous members of the public, and the mundane everyday bureaucracy that even a Troll Hunter has to endure.

If I was being well nitpicky (which of course I am) the pace dragged a bit in the middle and the ending felt a bit hurried and unsatisfactory. But overall this was a deliriously entertaining romp with plenty of show-stopping set pieces and a great central performance at its heart. Compared to some of the damp action farts emanating from Hollywood that I’ve had to hold my nose at of late, this was a real breath of fresh air. I could even say that Scandinavian cinema is really on a troll, but I would never be so cheap.

All in all I’ve decided to give naturalistic cinema another chance – Cinema Verity can move her shit back in. For now.

Eat Slay Love

Posted in Film with tags , , , , on September 1, 2011 by Tim Lee

[Film] Conan the Barbarian

Helmed by serial turd polisher Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th), Conan the Barbarian is the latest reanimated corpse of a film franchise to be found lurching dead-eyed through the corridors of your local fleapit. Sure, this kind of unreconstructed sword and sandals nonsense might have been acceptable in the 80s, but what about now?

A reboot rather than a remake of the 1982 original, the plot, such as it is, traces Cimmerian warrior Conan’s origins right back to being ‘born on the battlefield’ – quite literally as it turns out, the onrushing hoards considerately taking a five minute timeout so Conan’s mum can drop a sprog mid-battle. Unfortunately a lack of hot towels in the vicinity and prospective father Ron Perlman’s questionable midwifery skills mean she’s soon Hovis.

Flash forward a few years and the teenage Conan is proving his mettle at Li’l Bastards Warrior Camp, beheading three intruders en route to taking victory in a primitive egg and spoon race. Rarely has a father radiated such pride. But before they can bro-down any further the village is attacked by Khala Zym (Stephen Lang) and his minions. Zym is in search of a mask which will help him resurrect his dead wife and rule the world for all eternity or something – seriously dude, move on and find somebody new, it’s what she’d want – and said mask happens to be lying around in a drawer underneath a copy of Cimmerian Norks in Ron’s workshop. Obviously he won’t let it go that easily, and Conan sees his father meet his maker by having a vat of molten steel poured over him. From this day forth Conan vows vengeance on his father’s killers under the ancient motto ‘he who smelt it dealt it.’

Forward again and the now adult Conan (Jason Momoa) is freelancing in barbarism: wandering the globe, fighting, carousing, sexing (no onan for Conan) and generally smirking his kohl-eyed way from one seemingly pointless fight to the next, until he rescues a Celtic slave lovely and then tries to stop Zym and his daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) staging a good old fashioned necromancing. And that’s pretty much it.

Problems? Where to begin? A simplistic or even nonsensical plot needn’t be an issue in an unashamedly lunk-headed actioner such as this, as long as it’s grafted onto some entertaining action sequences, engaging characters and a decent script. None of these things are present. A lot of water has passed under the cinematic bridge since the 80s, be it the kinetic fight sequences of The Matrix (the Wachowskis were attached to this project at one point), the visceral thrills of the Bourne franchise or the beautifully choreographed swordplay of 13 Assassins. The lumpen, repetitive slugfests on offer here really don’t cut it anymore, and no amount of jump-cutting or slo-mo shots of Momoa’s admittedly excellently conditioned hair swisssshing its way through battle can disguise the deeply uninventive fare on display. Yes, there was plenty of gore, but compared to the joyously innovative dismemberments seen in something like Spartacus: Blood and Sand, this was pretty thin gruel. It didn’t exactly help that the turgid colour palette – and the fact the film was seemingly shot during a solar eclipse – meant you had to squint like a Catholic schoolmaster in the boys’ changing room to tell what the hell was going on. Not that you’d much care.

The script. Hoo boy. To call the dialogue perfunctory would be to unduly credit the writers with the gift of conciseness. Apparently it took four of the fucks to script this, but I can only assume they spent most of their time taking it in turns to snort coke off Momoa’s ample bosom on the Lionsgate dollar. I accept that the character is a man of few words, but those that did fall from his mouth were completely unmemorable, as were those of the supporting cast. “I live, I love, I slay, I am content” was about as good as it got. I longed for some of the poetic put-downs heard in that other Momoa vehicle, Game of Thrones, but this was way down the dramatic food chain. And it was left to a laughably solemn voiceover from Morethan Freeman to fill in the plot holes and do the expository leg-work a more skilled director can handle (although on another boring technical note, the crappy sound editing meant a lot of the dialogue was drowned out. A blessing really).

As a leading man the Momoa sure has physical presence, but his wet-look hair and glistening torso meant he’d look more at home on stage with the Dreamboys than on a sound stage. And the jury remains out on his acting chops, most of his limited dialogue either being hurriedly barked or unintelligibly mumbled. But then none of the performers really had much chance to shine, with only McGowan making much impression at all, and all she really did was turd around like an extra in a Marilyn Manson video. It’s the role she was born to play.

And this isn’t just some blow-hard moan about how it doesn’t live up to the original. I’m no real fan, but at least that film had its own camp charm, and guilty LOLS aplenty at the expense of Arnie looking as confused by his own utterances as a cat looking at its own reflection in the mirror. But what it also had is a quotable script and a solid story arc. Its modern day cousin was just a blizzard of unconnected fight sequences in search of a cohesive storyline. Poorly made, lazy and at worst cynical, it assumes that nostalgia alone is enough to get people to cinema in their droves. In stark contrast to Conan’s brutally efficient kills, the whole thing was extremely poorly executed.