Thursday, 29 September 2011

"I'm gonna sleep in your bloody carcasses tonight!" - Hobo with a Shotgun

Now Hobo with a Shotgun is the very definition of a Marmite film – you will either love it or hate it. I am very much in the former camp and hence this write up – just so I can put this film in context before you decide to go and watch it.

Of course this film will not be suited for everyone – it’s violent. And I mean really violent with lots of blood, gore and dismemberment - but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Story wise, the title pretty much says it all – the film follows the tale of a wandering Hobo who arrives in a town that happens to be overrun by brutal gangsters, petty criminals running amok, corrupt police and quick to mob civilians. After intervening in a confrontation, the Hobo is brutally punished. Instead of accepting his lesson of intimidation, the Hobo decides enough is enough and goes on a vigilante killing spree with a shotgun, determined to clean up the town at all costs.

Now at face value it doesn't seem all that interesting - that's why it took me by surprise so much when I watched it for the first time. I was literally blown away. Firstly the violence – the portrayal is not only very bloody but very brutal – just a few examples include a baseball bat lined with razorblades, a gun pointed point blank at a baby and let’s not forget a certain scene involving a bus (one of the more controversial scenes in the film).

Having said that, this film is deliberately made in the Grindhouse style (a la Machete, Death Proof and Planet Terror) and so the violence, although very much over the top, is often schlocky and slightly comic in its delivery (think it terms of Ichi the Killer or Braindead). In fact, the story and characters are decidedly comic book in their presentation, especially the villains who are the nastiest but also most strangely appealing villains I have seen in films for a long time. I mean these guys haven’t even heard of a moral compass. They just don't care.

…Which fits in nicely with the vibe of 80s excess that permeates the film. The film is awash with various fashions, neon stylings and music of the 80s and filmed largely with a handheld camerawork and a gritty filter; and is a clear homage to Troma flicks such as The Toxic Avenger.

A more modern day comparison to the tone of the film would be the current wave of Japanese splatter films such as The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police, so if you have seen and enjoyed those films then this one is highly recommended.

Similar to Machete, this film originally started its life as a fake trailer for the Death Proof/Planet Terror double bill Grindhouse – but where it differs from Machete is that it manages to expand upon and transcend the trailer instead of merely making a 90min version of it. As well as the aforementioned 80s styling’s being added there is one big added factor that I have yet to discuss.

He goes by the name of Rutger Hauer.

Most noted for his superb roles in films such The Hitcher and Blade Runner, Rutger playing the part of the Hobo grounds the film with a downplayed performance that lends the character gravitas but also anchors the film so it doesn't fly off too far into absurdity. Rutger is a force to be reckoned with and shows real heart in a film that is filled with characters that often gleefully show that they have none. I mean this guy can expound acres of his character without even saying a word – he’s that good! Moreover, the father daughter relationship between the Hobo and Abby (the requisite prostitute with a heart of gold) provides a delicate counterpoint to the rest of the film’s carnage, which makes it all matter. Put simply, the film just would not work as well without Rutger as the Hobo.

If you want a quick comparison, check out the original fake Grindhouse trailer here with the actual feature film trailer here.

So all in all a recommended film – and I haven’t even mentioned THE PLAGUE yet. Yes, when THE PLAGUE (so awesome they deserve capital letters all the time) turn up a good way into the film, the whole thing steps up a notch. I wont ruin it for you but these guys are awesome. Also watch out for cameos by Ricky from Trailer Park Boys and David Brunt who played the Hobo in the original fake trailer.

So if you don’t mind a bit of bloody violence in your films then this is one to watch. Despite some rough edges, uneven acting across the cast and the limited budget occasionally showing through, for me personally this film was shocking and refreshing in equal measure as there is not much else like it currently out there. Coupled with the 80s music and aesthetic that I love (that Bricklin!), makes
Hobo with a Shotgun a sure-fire contender for placing in my top ten films of the year.

29 Sep 2011

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Film Roundup - September - Part 1

Since there are a few films already this month I’ve decided to split September in two, so keep reading for the first part of September’s film roundup!

First up, we have Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows - Part 1 which, whilst boasting the expected high production values and stellar cast, remains largely a fan service film which proves to be nigh on incomprehensible for those who haven’t seen the previous films in the series or read the books.

Whereas earlier Potter films were presented much more as fun standalone family romps, Deathly Hallows suffers heavily from relying on assumed previous knowledge as well as a decidedly unfamily-friendly gloomy darkness, pensiveness and angst that pervades the entire picture.

Of course the stakes are much higher now in the story and (I can only assume) the film follows the tone of the book closely and it is interesting to see how much it has shifted in tone since Chris Columbus’ Philosopher’s Stone (AKA Sorcerer’s Stone).

Despite its dreary nature, there is one highlight which takes the form of a short animated interlude explaining the origin of the Deathly Hallows, which strangely contains more charm than the rest of the film.

That being said, it has made me interested in seeing The Deathly Hallows - Part 2, if anything just to see how it all concludes, but as a movie watched on its own it’s pretty unsatisfying.

Next up is low budget British horror flick Salvage, filmed in Merseyside (on the old set of Brookside no less – fun fact for you kiddies!) about a mother’s desperate search for her daughter amidst a quarantine by armed forces due to an unidentified creature that escaped from a nearby beached container.

This film successfully overcomes the usual problems associated with low budget horror films by focusing heavily on the character’s plight and only showing the ‘creature’ very sparingly. Some may not enjoy the family drama elements and feel short changed by the lack of action and gore but I personally enjoyed it.

Neve McIntosh, who plays the mother, is the best thing about this movie and her performance is outstanding. Not a great film by any means but worth a watch if you don't mind low budget horror with good acting.

Similarly, another low budget horror is presented in the The Silent House (La Casa Muda) from Uruguay. Filmed entirely on location in one house on a digital camera with only three actors, this is pretty much as low budget as you can get.

The interesting part here, however, is the way the film is presented – in one long continuous take. Although this premise is not entirely original (see Rope and Russian Ark) and also unlikely to really have been filmed in one take due to filming logistics, the edits are disguised well and it does lend a unique sense of immersion with the film as it is all played out in real time.

Whilst the technical skill of the cinematography is impressive, the actual story is not and with the exception of one scene (utilising photo flashes for scares) the majority of the film is a damp squib with the almost obligatory ending ‘twist’ being highly unoriginal. Only worth watching for the purported single take film presentation - if you have an interest in the more technical aspects of film such as that.

Recommended to me as being one of the best martial arts films ever, I recently watched Ip Man. Telling the story of Yip Man, famous for his Wing Chun and being one of Bruce Lee’s mentors, Ip Man boasts great fights scenes and choreography but is mired somewhat by its overly heavy political message of the Chinese being enslaved by the Japanese during the War.

Reading up on it, it turns out that the events portrayed in the film are mostly fictional which is a shame considering the film is presented as a biopic. Having said that though, Donnie Yen is fantastic as always and the film is still worth watching once if only for the fight scenes.

As for it best martial art film of all time? Not even close. My personal favourite still remains Iron Monkey, which coincidentally also has Donnie Yen in it.

Finally in our roundup we have Attack the Block, based on the similarly ridiculous match-up of Cowboys and Aliens by pitting ASBO yobs against aliens.

Whereas Cowboys fails in its bland and muddled presentation, Attack the Block sparkles with its astute characterisations, witty dialogue and memorable performances. It’s usually very difficult for characters who we see mugging a young woman at the beginning of the film end up as characters we empathise with and root for, but director Joe Cornish and his young cast manage to pull it off with ease.

The aliens themselves are striking in their design and the action suitably bloody showing that you can still make things work effectively on a non-Hollywood limited budget. Special mention also goes to gang leader Moses (played by newcomer John Boyega) whose brilliantly nuanced performance belies his limited acting experience.

That concludes Part 1 of the September Film Roundup, with Attack the Block being the recommended watch.

One film that I left out of the roundup is Hobo with a Shotgun but only because it deserves a write up of its own! Stay tuned!

20 Sep 2011

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Roller Coasters

One of the perks of my work is that I get taken to places for free and enjoy stuff that other people usually have to pay for – case in point: Alton Towers.

Having finished work early there, we had about an hour to dash about and go on a few rides before closing time.

Now, much to everyone’s surprise, I’ve never been to Alton Towers before and upon walking around it I was notably impressed. Not because I’ve never been to a theme park before (I’ve been to my fair share over here and abroad) but by the simple fact that there is so much greenery there.

You see, differing from the various concrete and steel monstrosities of a lot of other theme parks, Alton Towers was built on the grounds of a ‘semi-ruined gothic revival country house’ (not my words but the words of wikipedia!) and so is built around pre-existing gardens, forests, lakes and expanses of grass, not to mention the old country house structure itself.

The family outing potential here is huge as there is something for everyone – if you don't like the rides you can just explore the picturesque area to your hearts content.

But really, most people come here for the roller coasters, and Alton Towers, although holding no current records (cos I look up stuff like that), prides itself on having its fair share of ‘world first’ roller coasters.

Anyway, on that particular day we only had time to go on three of these rides: Thirteen, Air and Nemesis. What follows is a brief rundown of each.

First up was Thirteen, or using its frivolously hip correct spelling ‘Th13teen’.

The set-up was great: being described as a ‘psychoaster’, this ride was designed to scare you in unexpected ways.

*SPOILER WARNING! Skip to the paragraph after next if you don't want to know what happens in this ride!*

The ride starts off fairly standard – a seated coaster with banks and hills travelling through the forest area until the train comes to a complete stop inside a dark crypt. This is where the ‘worlds first’ element takes place, as the car suddenly drops, first a tiny amount and then a bigger five metre drop, all in pitch black. The ride then hurtles backwards through the darkness until it emerges back outside into the light.

The thrills of this ride came mostly from its surprise elements and not knowing what was going to come next but just as a roller coaster was fairly tame. Recommended if you are looking for something different.

Next up, we went on Air the ‘flying’ coaster, dubbed so as the ride takes place with you leaning forward in the prone position so as to get the full effect of the scenery whizzing past beneath you. Having taken the extra queuing time to have the privilege of sitting in the front-most carriage I can tell you it was well worth it.

Not only does the prone position offer a new experience of flying above the ground, when the ride corks you end up going headfirst backwards and upside-down. As far as roller coasters go, this is the closest you will get to the experience of flight and is thoroughly recommended.

Finally, we have Nemesis – an oldy, but a goody. Built back in 1994, despite its age Europe’s first inverted coaster is still a BEAST. There are corks and inversions aplenty and the ride uses its surroundings such as caves, trees and waterfalls to make the ride more dynamic. Oh, and did I mention all the water in the area is pink? Gnarly!

The ride can be a bit rattley at times due to its age and you do feel slightly dizzy stepping off of it but that's to be expected really after what it puts you through.

So all in all I would recommend Air the most of the three, followed my Nemesis. Just going on these rides has reignited my interest in extreme roller coasters and may now make it my mission to try and go on some of those world record holders.

13 Sep 2011

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Week in Review


A noise signalling annoyance and frustration at my inability to keep to my schedule and maintain a harshly disciplined writing regime.

It’s often been the case where on certain days “I just don't feel like it”, “can’t be bothered” and more frequently, “Its okay, I’ll just do two tomorrow instead to make up for it” crop up all too often. Curse you blog!!!

Some people can just sit and write, more often than not its just inane blathering crap that's just not interesting to anyone whatsoever except the writer themselves. I know I need to stick to the principle of “just write” but at the same time I have the urge to temper this with a compromise to ensure some semblance of quality in the resulting text.

My compromise is that I can read over what I have done once and once only before posting it up, leading to a relatively untouched piece being presented, albeit without stupid spelling mistakes, (relatively) good grammar and the actual content being at least half interesting to read.

Even though this post itself is just me just spouting blathering crap in an attempt to make up at least 300 words… oh well!

To be fair I have been coming out of ‘holiday time’ recently and more into ‘work time’ and a lack of a regular schedule does hinder me. Some people might recommend a set time slot each day in which to write but I’m afraid that just doesn't work for me (unless I am paid for doing it – that's another matter entirely!). As well as the aforementioned irregular work schedule, the idea of having a specific hour in which you are forced to write just doesn't work for me.

The idea of having to slog out some writing when you really don't want to and your heart is not in it is really counterproductive to where I want to end up – that is to genuinely enjoy the daily writing process.

I also want to get back into more fiction again – even though there is a time and place for that and which will not be uploaded to this blog – just to let you know.

Anyways, time to regroup, refocus and come back out, guns blazing.

“You can do it, Nicky! You can dooooooooo iiiiiiiiit!!!!!”…

13 Sep 2011

Hamad From Space

If you were a billionaire what would you spend your money on? What extravagances would tickle your fancy?

Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan has decided to write his name in the sand on an island he owns in the Persian Gulf – so large that it can be seen from space. Yep, you read that right FROM SPACE.

If you don't believe these pictures included here you can even look it up for yourself by typing in “Al Futaysi, Abu Dhabi” in googlemaps!

Spelling out his first name “HAMAD”, these letters stand half a mile tall and two miles long and instead of just being written in the sand like any other doodle on the beach, these letters are dug out to form waterways that absorb the encroaching tide, with the waters flowing in up to the ‘M’.

How much do you think it cost? No one really knows, as it has never been officially stated – although being one of the richest men in the world I am sure he’s no that bothered. It remains to be seen if he will follow through with the rest of his name in full although that may be slightly overkill.

Did Hamad just want his legacy to live on forever by etching out his name on our planet’s surface? Did he want aliens to know his name? Whilst his motivations are not that clear, it has been revealed that he has a penchant for big things – one report stating that he had a custom truck built – the world’s largest, so big that it had four bedrooms inside the cabin. And I somehow can’t imagine them to be small bedrooms either.

Other reported extravagances include the ownership of around 200 cars, including seven Mercedes 500 SELs painted in the different colours of the rainbow, apparently stored within a giant pyramid.

Despite these ridiculous spendings, he is also said to be a well-known philanthropist in medicine and continues to donate funds to that cause, so I guess that kind of balances out his lavish splashing of cash.

What do you think?

If you were in his shoes would you do the same? I probably would have leant towards a more universal (rather than personal) sign. A smiley face perhaps? Nah, that's already been done on Mars. A universal sign of silliness it is then – a cartoon penis two miles long? Done!

6 Sep 2011

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Film Roundup - August

Welcome to the August edition of film roundup!

I’ll try and link each film title to a trailer on youtube that you can peruse if interested in said flick. Because you are lazy and I am kind like that.

First up we have Nicholas Cage’s bad hair appearing yet again in Season of the Witch. While looking adequate (the production design, not Cage’s hair – still dodgy) this supernatural medieval romp remains fairly lacklustre up to its disappointing conclusion.

The blaxploitation parody of Black Dynamite is a good idea in theory but is ultimately a one-note joke – something that should have been a five minute sketch instead of being drawn out for an hour and a half.

Similarly, A Town Called Panic is commendable for its charming rough animation style but there’s only so much shouting and squawking in French one can take before it starts to severely grate.

Also on the animation tip is Gnomeo and Juliet, which despite having the most amazing british enemble cast this side of a Harry Potter film, just ends up being a bit yawnsome and by the numbers. Unfortunately, the star-crossed lovers don't both commit suicide in the end – oops, did I spoil it for you?

Another CGI film out recently is Rango – and whilst the characters and setting are inspired (Johnny Depp as a gangly chameleon with the gift of gab in a western), you cant help but feel this movie was destined to flop as it was marketed to children but is presents itself as more adult-oriented in its occasionaly dark themes, jokes and weirdly grotesque characters.

Next up we have Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut Submarine. Whilst being a sharply observed and lightly humorous coming of age drama, the unlikeability of some of the characters somewhat undermines the audience’s ability to really care about the outcome. Those looking for appearances of underwater vehicles will be sorely disappointed but this film is worth watching just for Paddy Considine’s character and his extraordinary mullet which should receive a screen credit in its own right.

Taking it back to the old school, 1980 to be exact - where we have Bob Hoskins being gangster – literally! He plays a likeable mob boss in The Long Good Friday, which although seems a bit dated now, is still a thoroughly engaging and recommended watch. Hoskins, Helen Mirren and Pierce Brosnan – they all look so young! The music is pretty good too.

Moving into horror now, British flick Wake Wood is an interesting story of pagan rituals to bring back the recently deceased. Despite its great cast you can’t help but feel that this was destined more for TV than as a feature film.

The Wolfman, the
remake of the classic Universal monster icon is kind of the opposite. Despite the odd casting choice of Benicio Del Toro, I liked the gothic atmosphere and Stan Winston’s werewolf effects are great. Anthony Hopkins is solid as always (when isn’t he?) – just make sure you see the Director’s Cut if you can as its reportedly far superior to the regular ‘theatrical cut’.

Finally, we have the monumental disappointment that is Cowboys and Aliens. I really wanted to like this film, I really did. Although the right ingredients were there, the film just didn't gel together as a whole and by the end of it I found myself not caring. The story holds no surprises, the alien design is uninspired and Harrison Ford (grumbling his way through the entire film) and Olivia Wilde are both sadly wasted.

Daniel Craig does get a plum role as a badass amnesiac cowboy but its not enough to lift the film beyond being a thoroughly mediocre affair.

That’s it for this month’s film roundup. Until next time!

1 Sep 2011

From the Military Perspective - Battle: Los Angeles

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised at Battle: Los Angeles – a film about an alien invasion, presented very differently from the norm and to great effect.

Hang on… alien invasion? Hasn't this been done to death already? Well, the answer is both yes and no.

You see, this film differs itself by presenting its story entirely from a military perspective.

The majority of ‘invasion’ films do indeed feature the military, but as well as being portrayed as hopelessly inept and/or serve as antagonistic to the main characters, they are often sidelined to focus on the story of ordinary civilians caught up in these extraordinary circumstances.

In Battle: Los Angeles however, the story follows a platoon led by Marine Staff Sergeant Nantz (played by Aaron Eckhart) and their mission to journey into the invaded area of Los Angeles to rescue civilians shortly following the initial attack.

Whilst most films of this ilk require a huge suspension of disbelief by their very nature, Battle is portrayed more realistically in that it shows the military react to the immediate situation and deal with events as they unfold using the protocol, tactics and weaponry that they would in any modern day hostile enemy situation.

In fact, I would go as far as to call this a war movie that happens to have aliens in it rather than as science fiction. Think of it more like Black Hawk Down rather than Independence Day.

Rather than being faceless goons, the soldiers are portrayed as very human characters and despite all the fear and confusion abound in this crazy situation they carry on regardless as this is what they do.

I mean, lets face it - if an invasion were to take place it is these soldiers that would be on the front line to deal with it – not civilians.

Another thing I liked about the film was that it wasn't overreaching in its outcome. There is no final minute deus ex machina that causes the entire alien force to be toppled, no one quick resolution that repels all the alien invaders.

Despite suffering heavy casualties, the platoon manages to complete their mission as well as discover how to gain the upper hand in a once outgunned conflict. They might have won the battle, but the war is ongoing, albeit filled with a new hope that they may now emerge victorious.

Of course the film is not perfect, there are some cheesy moments and it's a shame to see Michelle Rodriguez continually being typecast, but all in all Battle is a refreshing take on the genre.

The best scene of the film doesn't even feature any aliens, just Aaron Eckhart painfully recounting in perfect detail all the names and ID numbers of the men who were killed in his last mission after a soldier in his command questions his regret over those who died.

Battle: Los Angeles is by no means an amazing film, but definitely an interestingly different take on the tired ‘alien invasion’ blockbuster - and the special effects are pretty good too.

So check it out if you are interested.


31 Aug 2011

Week in Review

Another Week in Review article!

Although really that's a bald faced lie as it has been a month since I wrote the last one and there are about eleven articles to look over rather than simply a weeks worth.

Anyhoo – this is for introspective and critical purposes and to see if I am going in the right direction just so I can maintain my focus and improve and not just keep chugging on and never looking back once I’ve banged out an article in my typical ham-fisted fashion.

So on one hand, I do need this review to make sure I’m not just writing, uploading to the blog and then never looking back - but to critique, look at ways I can improve and progress.

On the other hand, I shouldn't dwell too much on trying to get things perfect (often a fault in my writing at the expense of actually getting anything done) as at the end of the day this blog is just supposed to be for practice and habit forming.

So a quick look back and review to take stock of where I am and then move on to bigger and better things – the best approach for this methinks.

General notes – as mentioned previously, I have kept away from personal details of my life and the majority of articles seem to be about films, music, gaming and the odd internet found oddity here and there – so far so good.

I generally try not to ‘review’ films and music etc… as there are a million places on t’internet to search for such things, but instead I tend to write only about aspects I find interesting – like an Oompah Loompah that has fallen into the chocolate river: keeping things short and sweet.

Well, I’ve almost filled my word quota and haven’t even got to the main point of the Week in Review yet! So…

Reading back on some previous articles have made me cringe but like I said, learn and improve!

Logistics wise, I’ve been pretty slack on doing one article every day, but sometimes I can do two or three a day no problem, depending on how busy I am. I guess it all comes down to balance and as long as I end up with around five articles a week (roughly one for every weekday) that should be a pretty steady work rate. It’s all about the discipline – my main problem when it comes to writing.

As for the pictures, I now upload straight to the blog as clicking on the picture wont take you to my photobucket account and you can actually look at the original size of the pic by doing so.
I have thought about multiple pics for certain posts but have ultimately decided against it for two reasons.

Firstly, I feel that just having one picture at the top of each article is more iconic (unless its an article like this and I end up just grabbing random shiz off of google) and also reduces clutter so the text is in a single body.

Secondly, I want to focus on the writing and be able to illustrate the majority of my points through that rather than relying too much on visual aids. At the end of the day, this is not a multimedia exercise as such but a writing one and so I want to stay true to that.

Finally, what can you expect in the future? More articles on film are in the pipeline (my favs, classics scenes) as well as more internet oddities for you to peruse.

So stay tuned dear reader! Until next time!

31 Aug 2011