Future releases: Zombie time!

I love Zombies. I know that isn’t an unusual claim in our zombie-saturated pop-culture world, but its true. I suppose it is something to do with the post-apocalyptic connection – the arrival of zombies is rarely a positive event for the human race – but there is also something genuinely terrifying about them as a horror antagonist. Those who are currently watching series 3 of The Walking Dead will undoubtedly agree with me; after countless movies (not to mention comics and novels) somehow the slowly shuffling shadow of a zombie still gets my heart racing.

World War Z

2013 will see the arrival of two new zombie cinematic outings. One has been on my radar for quite some time, yet it is the less anticipated of the two. Click here to watch the trailer for World War Z.

The die-hard zombie fanatics amongst you have almost certainly already read Max Brook’s World War Z, an exhaustive account of a global zombie plague, encompassing the downfall of humanity and ultimately its fight for survival, that also manages to tell personal stories for a number of compelling characters.

The film version looks to be quite a bit different from the source material, which is a disappointment, but not an unexpected one – any adaption of the book would cost in excess of $100 million and a faithful adaption would never draw in sufficient audience numbers to justify that kind of cost.

So I remain quietly hopeful that the film will entertain on some level. Director Marc Forster has some strong films under his belt (in particular, Stranger than Fiction). Yet the production has been troubled (to put it lightly) and the trailer has started the internet horde braying about CGI-zombies. I have to say, the trailer doesn’t exactly fill me with hope, but I will keep an open mind and, fingers crossed, we’ll all be pleasantly surprised.

Warm Bodies

The other zombie release is Warm Bodies, a zombie romantic comedy, or zom-rom-com (thanks Edgar et al)! Check it out here.

I’ve always enjoyed my horror with a touch of humour – after all, is it really possible to take the concept of the walking dead entirely seriously? Warm Bodies may appear on the surface to be appealing to the Twilight crowd, but I do think there will be more to it than that.

Its directed by Jonathan Levine, whose The Wackness and 50/50 I enjoyed quite a bit. Both his previous efforts play against expectations and hopefully Warm Bodies will too. Telling the story from the zombie’s perspective is a nice spin (I feel like it has been done elsewhere, but can’t quite remember where…) and the idea of a zombie falling for a apocalypse-hardened, yet still cute-as-a-button girl might just be ridiculous enough to work.

Plus its got Malkovich in it! Someone has managed to put Malkovich versus zombies on our screens and – frankly – it would be rude not to go see that.


Hollywood plays it safe

Short of the week has put together an interesting ‘info-graphic’ that clearly illustrates a trend we’ve all been aware of for years – sequels,
prequels and adaptations are ruling the box office. With every passing year, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see a big-budget film based on an original idea.

The article doesn’t pretend to critique such films – it makes no effort to discuss whether the latest Transformers film is more worthy of our attention than say, Raiders of the Lost Ark or Independence Day – it simply puts forward the evidence that our blockbuster hopefuls are increasingly less original.

Click here to take a look at the info-graphic and to read the original article.

A worrying trend

Regardless of where you think the blame may lie, I think we can all agree that it is a shame that less original material sees the light of day. Even if we love the Harry Potter series (I do) and are salivating at the thought of returning to Pandora in Avatar 2 (hmmmm…..maybe a little bit), its hard to ignore the threat – creatively speaking – that this trend poses.

Of course, blockbusters represent but a fraction of what I love about cinema, yet I gain a great deal of pleasure from seeing a big-scale, flashy summer release. All too often that pleasure is tempered by the nagging thought that what I am watching has little in the way of soul and, all too often, a mere wisp of a plot hidden behind the CGI and explosions.

I do think that these short-comings are directly linked to the fading originality of summer releases. Seriously, how can they expect us to become emotionally invested in the movie adaptation of the board game Battleships? And surely it must be  increasingly difficult for film-makers to be emotionally invested when they hold so little sway over the subject matter of the films they are creating.

Its all about the money

Of course the driving force behind these changes is money. A film that has a pre-existing audience – that are guaranteed to go and see the film – is a safer investment than a film based upon a strange and new idea. Also it seems that we increasingly expect our blockbusters to be HUGE. Budgets have ballooned to the point where a tent-pole picture is rarely produced for less than $150 million and regularly for $200 million or more.

Do you remember the outrage when $175 million was spent on Waterworld? Well, that is a fairly standard budget now for a big release. When Sam Raimi’s Spiderman was released in 2002, it cost $139 million. Now in 2012, when Marc Webb came to make The Amazing Spiderman, he somehow dropped $230 million, and no one batted an eye.

With these huge budgets becoming the norm, is it any wonder that film companies are less likely to make riskier investments? I’m not sure that a film requires such a hefty budget in order to provide the spectacle that modern audiences want. Whilst I am glad that the new Star Trek film will be as visually impressive as it will no doubt be, I wish there was some way to go back to a time when films did not cost such a huge amount to make.

Ultimately, the movie-going public like their summer blockbusters to always be bigger, louder and more special-effects driven every year. What we need is for Hollywood to to show a little more strength of character and produce some films that will not only generate a nice return for their investors, but also stand the test of time as well as entertain us for a couple of hours.

Budget information taken from the IMDB.

Youtube cinema

I spend a fair amount of my life trawling through bottomless digital ocean of Youtube, usually late at night as I wonder what I’m doing with my life that it has come to this. Naturally, I’m often drawn to videos associated with the cinematic arts.

In a new series of articles, I’ll highlight some of the more interesting clips on this subject, including documentaries on technique and interviews with worthy filmmakers. In doing so I hope to justify those endless lost hours and in some way console myself that my life has purpose, whilst at the same time guiding you through the confusing mire that is Youtube.

The Art of Film and TV Title Design

This video takes an all-too brief look at a subject I’ve had an interested in ever since I saw the opening titles to David Fincher’s Seven (and, if I’m honest, City Slickers) – the influence that an artfully put together title sequence can have on a viewers first impressions of a film.

Tippett studio tour

It’s a name I had never heard previous to first watching this video, but I was glad to get a peak into the studio of Phil Tippett, a special effects supervisor who oversaw the effects on films such as Robocop, Starship Troopers and Jurassic Park. If you are even remotely geeky about special effects, this is a fascinating watch.

New set footage from Return of the Jedi

Odd as it may seem, this footage only recently became available. Filmed by a member of the public without permission of the filmmakers, this silent footage shows the set for Jabba the Hutt’s massive ‘sail barge’ that is featured early in Return of the Jedi. I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, but the footage is interesting none-the-less.

Minnesota Nice

This classic ‘making-of documentary’ takes a look at the creation of a modern classic, Fargo. I remember it featuring on the end of the VHS video release and recall noting how much more interesting it was than most documentaries of this type.

Its a pleasure to see that those involved in creating the film were so acutely aware that they were part of something important and their thoughts and annecdotes are not superficial as is often the case in these making-ofs, they are insightful and add to the wider-discussion of one of my favourite films.

How Jurassic Park should have ended

These guys have made a series of entertaining cartoons that show how films should have ended, often addressing plot-holes and conceits that a film’s climax is dependent upon. In this, one of my favourites, the raptors not only discover how to open doors, they also manage to wrap their heads around how to operate automatic weaponary. Not that that helps them in the end.

Film documentaries

I don’t just love watching films, I have for a long time been very interested in all aspects of the subject, from how films are made to how they influence the people who watch them.

From the first audio commentary I heard (The Usual Suspects, when released on VHS, was available to purchase with a second video where the film was narrated by the director and stars) through to the rise of DVD, when I used to hope that my most anticipated releases would come with a bumper load of extras and documentaries, I have consumed information about my favourite films.

Recently I’ve been seeking out documentary films that could expand my knowledge of the movie industry, perhaps shedding light on the quirkier aspects of the industry or even informing me about aspects of film history that should have already been familiar to me.

What follows is an overview of some of the more interesting documentary films I have come across recently on this subject.

Corman’s World (2011)

Although the name of Roger Corman was already familiar to me, I didn’t really fully understand how influential this man has been and how he shaped (and perhaps foreshadowed) the trends of popular cinema, whilst somehow surviving almost entirely outside the Hollywood machine.

Corman’s World takes us on a journey through Corman’s back catalogue. Though it would be impossible to make a comprehensive study of all his films (he has produced more than 300), the documentary touches upon numerous career milestones, some of which I hadn’t even heard of.

Corman had a tumultuous career, constantly striving to maintain his independence and producing all manner of movies. Known to many as the king of B-movies and exploitation cinema, Corman is a softly-spoken and private guy, who’s true motivations (beyond the simple fact that he enjoys to make movies) are difficult to pin down.

Yet what this documentary effectively illustrates is that he was making movies for film geeks and modern (perhaps younger) audiences long before Jaws and Star Wars came on the scene. It is also clear that he was a great moulder of men. Without him it is likely we would not have seen films from directors such as Jonathan Demme, Curtis Hanson, Martin Scorcesse and Ron Howard.

His story weaves through the history of cinema from the 1950s forward, yet Corman’s World also shows us how he tried to touch upon real-life issues. Corman worked with budgets small enough to allow him to tackle subjects that were contemporary when studio films were unable to take such risks.

He made films for teenagers before anyone knew what a teenager was. He introduced subjects such as drug consumption, biker gangs and racism when such topics were not even an option for filmmakers working within the studio system.

Overnight (2003)

The sad story of Troy Duffy, a Los Angeles bartender whose personal belief and incredible drive led him to write, produce and direct The Boondock Saints. Ultimately a victim of his own huge ego, Duffy is deserted by Harvey Weinstein (who discovered Duffy and pushed him into the limelight), forcing him to try and make his film on his own.

Whilst The Boondock Saints ultimately became a cult favourite, Duffy never managed to work in Hollywood again. A fascinating look into the unpredictable world of movie production and the risks of believing the flattering things people tell you.

Best Worst Movie (2009)

Best Worst Movie charts the fall and rise of Troll 2, the film considered to be the worst ever made (at least according to The Internet Movie Database) and which holds a special place in the hearts of a few dedicated fans.

Directed by Michael Stephenson, who starred in Troll 2 as a child, this documentary is a study of the odd nature of movie-fandom, as well as an interesting look at how the stars of box office failures live their lives. In particular, George Hardy, who went on to operate a successful dental practice, proves himself to be a hugely likable and charismatic individual.

George and Michael bring the cast back together and are present as Troll 2 experiences an unexpected turnaround in its popularity. Best Worst Movie is, at its heart, a study of how a truly shitty movie still manages to effect people’s lives. Its a surprisingly feel-good film.

Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography

This documentary is a great introduction to the world of cinematography. Always playing second fiddle to the director, the cinematographer and his role on the movie set is perhaps not well understood. Yet their impact on individual films and the art form as a whole cannot be understated.

Visions of Light seeks expand out knowledge of this field and to shed light on the achievements of various cinematographers and how their creativity is affected by the technology available to them, and how their art has affected the legacy of cinema.

The film provides a potted history of cinematography’s impact on movies, touching upon classics with an important visual style, such as On the Waterfront (1954), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Citizen Kane (1941), The Graduate (1967) and Raging Bull (1980).

What are your favourite film / cinema-related documentaries? Please comment below with any recommendations.

Just Watched: The Raid: Redemption

The Raid: Redemption, or Serbuan Maut in the original Indonesian, is a film that comes with high expectations. In the months prior to viewing, I had heard rumblings in the online community – people were talking about a new action film that was blowing a lot of minds.

Well, I’m happy to confirm that they were not exaggerating. Somehow a Welsh film student has directed the most compelling and entertaining action film of recent memory. It seems like a bizarre twist of fate, but we should be thankful that Gareth Evans found himself in Indonesia, where he discovered Pencak Silat, the Indonesian martial art, and the martial artist Iko Uwais, a phone deliveryman who he would cast as the star of The Raid.

The plot is slight and the setup is satisfying in its economy. Jakartian crimelord Tama Riyadi runs his empire from the top of a virtually impenetrable apartment block, considered untouchable by rival gangsters and the police. An elite SWAT team is tasked with breaking through Riyadi’s defenses and removing him from power.

The scene is quickly set for some of the most frenetic, perhaps even excessive, violence committed to screen. Roger Ebert lambasted the film for its lack of character depth and what he saw as ‘senseless carnage’. There is certainly something to be said for his comments – the characters do lack depth (though the acting is strong, especially if the actor’s lack of experience is taken into consideration) and the violence often verges on mindless. Some fight scenes, beautifully choreographed though they may be, go on for so long that my brain simply stopped being able to process the action.

Yet this shouldn’t detract from Evan’s accomplished direction (is this really only his second feature?) and the tightly-plotted script. You might think this is a dumb movie, but it is put together by intelligent people and Evan’s desire to make this more than just a kill-fest is apparent is every scene.

That said, it would be a shame not to finish by praising The Raid for some of the most spectacular fight (and gun fight) sequences of recent times. Iko Uwais and the other actors use the space to create intense fights of jaw-dropping intensity. In particular, the final throw-down between Rama, Andi and Mad Dog (the later is a truly terrifying character capable of taking a beat that would undoubtedly kill any human) rises to levels of intensity that I suspect have not been seen before.

Watch, repeat

I’m not sure why, but I used to watch certain films obsessively when I was in my teens. More so than any time since, I would identify these films as ‘the films for me’ and watch them. A lot.

Perhaps it was because they were simpler times, when there was not such a huge mass of available media. When I was growing up, if we wanted to watch any movies (other than the recent releases) I only had a few ways of getting hold of them. I could watch one of  the four television channels we had (Sky was a mere fantasy) or buy or rent a video.

However, the majority of the films from this list (yes, fine, it’s a list) are from the former two camps, since films recorded from television or bought on VHS could be watched numerous times over many weekends without repeatedly renting them out.

These films have all been seared into my brain. Some of them have stayed with me, becoming films I now recognise as classics. Others, I would probably no longer watch, but for the sake of curiosity. Those that fall into the later group might still have a place in my heart, and just the memory of a key line of dialogue (‘It can’t rain all the time.’) will make me feel nostalgic.

The Lost Boys

This cult horror staple has stayed with me throughout my life. I saw it most recently at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in 2006. When I arrived in Melbourne, alone and in a new country for the first time, and saw that The Lost Boys was playing, I was delighted to have a movie so familiar to go and see.

The story of Santa Carla’s Vampires and the boys determined to take them down is witty and comically violent. There’s something quite child-like about this movie, despite the it’s graphic content. It’s a kind of childhood-adulthood transitional film, as if the filmmakers set out to make a horror film for teenagers.

As a kid, I would have loved to have friends as fearless and unpredictable as the Frog Brothers, self-confessed vampire hunters (when they aren’t working in their parents comic book store). I love the pure eighties vibe, the comic-book violence of the vampire deaths and, of course, there is one of the greatest last lines in the history of cinema.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Ace Ventura was my introduction to Jim Carrey, the funny man with the elastic face, who would become an near-obsession for me in my teens. I bought every movie he was in on VHS the day it was released (up until Liar Liar).

The film has dated a little and does look like a TV movie, but the laughs are still there as are the catchphrases, many of which have stuck with me until today (Alrighty then!). The story is a little wierd and the other characters are incidental. Really, its all just a showcase for Carrey’s brand of rediculous humour and that’s fine by me.

The Crow

This is a film I haven’t watch since my teens, yet I remember how intensely cool I thought it was. The film follows a man who returns from the dead, self-stylises himself as a scary clown / crow man and goes about taking down those who were responsible for for his murder and that of his girlfriend.

The subject matter seemed grown-up and the violence graphic (but not morbidly so). As a quiet and non-violent teenager, taking revenge on the people who messed with you seemed very appealing somehow. Add in the fascination of the lead actor, Brandon Lee, dying during the shoot, and film was a sure-fire winner.

Oddly, I haven’t watched it more than ten years, so I couldn’t say whether it holds up now.

Evil Dead 2

I haven’t seen it in ages, but I know in my heart that I still love Evil Dead 2. I’ve always been a bit of a wuss when it comes to horror movies. Certainly there are horror movies I have enjoyed, but I’m not a big fan of gore and scares for their own sake. When I discovered Evil Dead 2, I was pleasantly suprised to discover that horror movies could be funny as well as scary.

Of course a great deal of the fascination comes down to Bruce Cambell’s mesmirising, gurning turn as Ash, a role reprised from the orginal film (of which this is a kind of remake). He truly sells the absurd situation in which his character finds himself. When he does battle with his own severed hand, it really does feel like a fight for survival as well as being hilarious at the same time.

And the ending is awesome too.

Withnail and I

When I discovered Withnail & I, I watched it countless times. There was something wonderfully subversive about Richard E. Grant’s Withnail; he was living on the edge of society. He appeared to be quite possibly permanently cracked and yet he didn’t seem to care.

The simple story of two out-of-work actors who go for a much-needed holiday in the country sees very little happen. Yet it is populated by wonderfully memorable characters and grounded by a bleakly hilarious script. Thinking of certain scenes will still bring a smile to my face, especially Withnail, when faced with a large pub bully, breaking down into tears and sobbing…’I have a heart condition…if you hit me its murder….my wife is having a baby…’

Stand By Me

Another film that I still regard as a geniune classic. Four kids in fifties small-town America hear a rumour about a dead body and set out on a journey to witness this gruesome curiosity for themselves.

The central group are an odd mish-mash of personalities. They seem thrown together, yet comfortable with each others quirks. Their friendships are the kind that can only form in childhood; fleeting, but meaningful and important in their time.

My English teacher showed us this film when we were fourteen or fifteen (along with To Kill a Mockingbird) and it has stuck with me ever since. Its a brilliantly funny and imaginative film, whose characters are grounded in real-life, yet still capable of using their imaginations and having an adventures.

The Flight of the Navigator

During my teenage years, I certainly wasn’t beyond watching films deemed to be targeted at kids (nor am I now). The Flight of the Navigator is representative of the children’s films that bled through to my teenage years (see also Labrynth and The Goonies).

The movie concerns itself with a boy who is abducted by a charistmatic alien, who takes him on an adventure around the world in his super-cool spaceship. This movie had enough adventure and wit to keep me returning time and time again.

Just watched: The Secret World of Arrietty

If you were selling the rights for a beloved children’s story for big screen animated adaption, surely there is only one place you could go and be sure that your story would be treated with the love and the attention it deserves. Studio Ghibli have carved an enviable niche for themselves, producing well-crafted, traditionally animated feature films. Whilst their films are usually originally conceived naratives, The Secret World of Arriety is a clear indication that they are equally adept adept at adapting other material.

Whilst the western world has been distracted by the bright colours and simplistic stories of recent CGI creations, Tokyo-based Ghibli has continued (they have been releasing films since the mid-eighties) to steadfastly work with traditional animation methods. Not only that, they have continued to use those methods to put characters and stories first.

The Secret World of Arrietty is an adaption of The Borrowers by Mary Norton. This reassuringly old-fashioned story of the little people who live in the walls of the houses of us big people, borrowing that which they need without us noticing, is complimented perfectly by the Gibhli animation style. The house where Arrietty, a borrower girl venturing out into the big house for the first time, and her family live is well-realised and sufficiently daunting in scale.

The story is sensibly kept quite simple. Where other producers might have chosen to draw on the book’s sequels to lend the film a greater sense of scale and adventure, here we are treated to a small (no pun intended) story, which still manages to feel big thanks to Ghibli’s commitment to fully realising this world and the characters that live within it.

The Secret World of Arrietty has a timeless quality to it. In a marketplace crowded with gaudy CGI extravaganzas, its reassuring that such a finely-crafted, small-scale animated film can still be made. It may not be as flashy as Madagascar 3 or The Lorax but somehow it feels like it has been produced with greater confidence in the story it tells and, ultimately, feels more charming and magical because of the traditional methods employed.