The Spirit (2008)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Spirit (2008)

Film: While many comic’s fans may have never read The Spirit, they would at the very least be aware of the legend of comics craftsman Will Eisner. Eisner’s abilities with a comics board and the visuals that he displayed upon them are legendary and surpassed by no-one. His skill in relating a story in drawn visuals has influenced many, MANY cartoonists and filmmakers alike. His name is synonymous with the craft of comic writing and drawing, that the comic’s version of The Academy Awards is known as The Eisners.

Frank Miller is one of those people who were greatly influenced by Eisner. Not so much from an artistic point of view, though that is there, but more the way Eisner treated the images and ‘spirit’ of the city the characters resided in as a character as well, and his want of having the main character’s relationships with women being volatile and good guy/ bad guy barrier blurring. Take a look at Millar’s Elektra Saga from Daredevil and you will see what I mean.

Millar’s understanding of Eisner’s work and friendship with the man made him the perfect person to write and direct a film based on this character.

The Spirit tells of..the Spirit (Gabriel Macht), a no-nonsense, two fisted, supposedly ex-cop who is seemingly unstoppable. He spends his days residing in his crypt, but at night defends his city from those who choose to abuse her and her citizens. One of those abusers is a crime boss known as the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), another unstoppable soul who seems to have a ‘spiritual’ relationship with the Spirit.

While in pursuit of a treasure of great importance to an experiment he is performing, the Octopus, with his scientist partner Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and her cloned lackeys (all played by Louis Lombardi) crosses paths with the Spirit’s old flame and professional thief Sand Serif (Eva Mendes) who is tracking down a treasure of her own. Of course they end up with each other’s objective, and then the fun really begins.

Does the Octopus’ experiment have anything to do with the Spirit, and if so will it be his undoing?

Frank Miller has made a beautiful film that is full of classic noir imagery, and scenes reminiscent of many classic directors work, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Robert Aldrich; sometimes deliberate, and sometimes just to this viewer’s eye. The over the top performances he gets from Samuel L. Jackson and Gabriel Macht are totally cartoony, but are brought down to earth by the absolute gravity of Dan Lauria. His ability to get actors to act at their peaks is apparent as well, even Eva Mendes, who I occasionally find lacking in  ability (though she makes up for it visually) really exceeds any role she has previously played.

Speaking of babes, Miller has scored some spectacular woman to play the menagerie of femme fatales  from The Spirit comic, even though the character of Sand Serif was somewhat merged with the absent P’Gell. The afore mentioned Mendes is at her absolute sexiest as Serif, and her competition here are other gorgeous actresses such as Scarlett Johansson, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Sarah Paulson, Stana Katic and newcomer Seychelle Gabriel, all of whom really steal any scene they are in… a special mention for exploitation fans must be Scarlett Johansson dressed as a Nazi.

The combination of P’Gell and Sand Serif is not the only liberty Miller has taken with Eisner’s comic. The comic never revealed the Octopus as anything other than a pair of gloves, so his decision to show the Octopus in full is as brave as Judge Dredd taking off his helmet or making Aliens Vs Predator films suck. He also dumped the idea of the Spirit’s sidekick ‘Ebony White’ who was one of those unacceptable Negro characters: you know the ones, big lipped ‘Yes Massa’ types.

The end credits are cool. From a visual point of view they show a series of Miller’s storyboards with the credits over them, and from a soundtrack point of view, Christina Aguilera does a beautiful cover of Marlene Deitrich’s Falling in Love Again, which she sang in The Blue Angel in 1930.

The film looks great, but unfortunately suffers from 2 big problems. The first is that the story is choppy, and the film feels like it has no flow: the term ‘Mad Woman’s breakfast’ comes to mind, which is a shame as the story is potentially a good and fun one. The second problem is its identity. It looks SO much like Sin City that the whole film feels like a cut sequence from that film. Enjoyable, but flawed.

Score: **

Format: The film is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and is an amazingly detailed image: a credit to bluray. The soundtrack on this is spectacular and will take full advantage of your sound system. Presented in DTS-HD 7.1.

Score: *****

Extras: Commentary with director Frank Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete. It’s an excellent commentary, which the two performers exposing themselves as lovers of comics, film, each others work and of the film they created together. They do occasionally talk about re-doing excised effects for the DVD (and Bluray I imagine) but judging by the fact that they are NOT there, I assume it never happened.

The Green Room is more or less a traditional ‘making of’ type extra. It covers the origins of the film, Will Eisner’s and Frank Miller’s artwork, how actors reacted to the green screen aspects of the filming and the special effects. It’s fairly brief for what it has to cover, but covers a lot!

Miller on Miller is a queer little feature which has Miller himself recounting tales of his life and career, looking at his work on Daredevil and The Dark Knight and others and his love of city based characters. He also takes a very brief look at the history of comics, and the career of Will Eisner. For Miller fans it is a decent feature, though he does recount tales that he previously discussed on the extras for Daredevil and Elektra, and for those not familiar with Miller will find it even more interesting. What I found interesting about it though was his decision to dress like Freddy Krueger for the interview.

Alternate Ending with Voiceover by Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson is an animated storyboard, but with  dialogue spoken by the actors.

History Repeats is an excellent look at Eisner’s creation of the Spirit, with interviews with some of my personal heroes like Denis Kitchen and Neal Adams, and how he changed the world’s appreciation of comics.

We also have the theatrical trailer.

Score: *****

WISIA: It has enough surface appeal to perhaps give it another go, but essentially, watching either Sin City films again is a better option.

The Hills Run Red (2009)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Hills Run Red (2009)

Film: One of the joys of being a VHS/ DVD/ Lazerdisc/ BD/ Betamax collector is the hunt. Thinking you know everything about a certain type of film, but then discovering, either through research or, thanks to the internet, a group interest that there is more to buy, more to collect. The most satisfying moment is when you get your hands on that rarity: though the joy is generally shortlived as you quickly discover yet another missing treasure. 

If this sounds familiar, The Hills Run Red is the film for you.

Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrinck) is a film fanatic who is obsessed with a missing film called The Hills Run Red, a horror film about a killer nicknamed Babyface (Danko Iordanov), which was directed by notorious reclusive filmmaker Concannon (William Sadler). He has plans of making a documentary about it, along with girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery) and best pal Lalo (Alex Wyndham) but all he needs is a lead in.

This lead comes when his research brings him to Concannon’s daughter Alexa (Sophie Monk), a heroin addicted stripper who he helps get cleaned up. After Alexa dries out, she takes the three to the backwoods town where the film was made, but what they find is a lot worse than anything they could have possible imagined.

What they find is that Babyface is a real creature and not a fictional character at all, and maybe film and reality aren’t so different from each other.

This film is directed by Dave Parker, who was also responsible for The Dead Hate the Living and written by David J. Schow, a fairly well known name in horror as he wrote 2 Critters films (specifically 3 and 4), Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and probably most famously, The Crow.

This has some interesting Scream type elements that appropriately get turned on their head. One of the characters whilst venturing into the woods talks about horror film conventions, and shows his mobile phone is working, he has back-up flares in case the torches don’t work and a gun in case they get into trouble. Brilliantly, these modern back-up plans backfire and are used against them.

This is a thematic constant in the film as well; just when the bitter old horror fan inside you goes ‘I know what will happen next’, it doesn’t. There are some great extra creepy moments in this film that are all based around this idea of being atypical.

The film is only quite short, and the I believe that even so, this films bangs along at quite an appropriate pace. At no time was I bored, except maybe during the five minute long closing credits and the film had my attention at all times, especially during any scene of Babyface- driven carnage or of Sophie Monk supplying anything contained within her knocker locker.

I honestly think this is the best 80s styled slasher that wasn’t made in the 80s, and I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Score: *****

Format: Whilst the film is only a fairly recent one and maintains a fairly good level of detail, I did find on occasion that the picture was a little soft. Also a few CGI effects weren’t blended into the color scheme of the film and stuck out like dogs balls in mouse ball soup. The Hills Run Red was presented in  2.40:1 widescreen.The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The use of the subwoofer in jumpscares is so great that I must admit I almost blasted excrement from the depths of my bowels on at least two occasions. A grand time was had by all… well except for the lounge I was sitting on.

Easily my favourite slasher film in years. Perfect sized doses (all lethal) of beatings, brutalizations, babes and breasts all make for a great film, but don’t think this film is light on story either. I love it.

Score: ***

Extras: Only two extras on this:

Commentary by Director Dave Parker, Writer David J. Schow and Producer Robert Meyer Burnett  is a quite animated commentary from the three. It covers a hell of a lot of stuff about of the film, and one gets a greater appreciation of the film when one hears how deliberately they avoided referencing other films directly, even though the film is about film fans falling afoul of filmmakers.

It’s Not Real Until you Shoot It: The Making of the Hills Run Red is a great look at the filming of The Hills Run Red. It has a selection of interviews with almost all the cast and crew and is both funny and informative.

Score: ***

WISIA: Oh goodness, yes.

Steam Boy aka Suchîmubôi (2004)

One from the to watch pile…

Steamboy aka Suchîmubôi (2004)

Film: It’s an interesting position that I am in where I find myself having to review an anime. As a rule, I am no fan of anime, but their are always exceptions to those rules.

In my case those exceptions are Kum Kum, the Macross Saga, Akira and Memories, and maybe I watched more recent things like Prison School, Keijo and Wanna Be The Strongest In The World. I’m not a Studio Ghibli guy (they are soooo slow and boring), I have little interest in Pokèmon (it’s dogfighting! You’re teaching your kids to like dogfighting!) and both Dragonball and One Piece have such a long history that I’ll NEVER catch up so why bother starting (i did recently attempt to watch Dragonball but by the 8th episode the enemies were STILL just TALKING about fighting… just fight, godammit!)?

Anyway, enough about that: Steam Boy is a Japanese animated film directed by Akira’s Katsuhiro Ôtomo based on a story by him and Millennium Actress writer Sadayuki Murai and tells the story of young James Ray Steam (voiced by Anna Paquin), a young inventor in an alternate steampunk-ish 1866, who has received a parcel from his grandfather, Dr. Lloyd Steam (Patrick Stewart) which is to be passed into the hands of civil engineer Robert Stevenson (Oliver Cotton) as it contains the secret of a powerful new source of steam power.

The problem for young Ray though, is that there is a nefarious group who wish to nab the invention for themselves.. and so begins a story that, except for the source of power, is still politically and industrially relevant today.

There is no doubt that Ôtomo’s hands are all over this film. The entire design of the characters is very similar to his previous works, though the pacing of the film is that of Akira.

Those who are fans of the aesthetic of steampunk should have a blast with this. The entire film is a feast for the eyes and somehow, no matter how fantastic, every machine looks as thoigh it could actually work. I imagine the research that went into the industrial revolution must have been long and arduous.

However, as pretty as the film is, it is quite slow. Some may say carefully paced, but I just found it to be a trial at times. Thankfully it is visually thrilling, so it’s not a complete loss.

Score: **

Format: This Umbrella Entertainment release of Steamboy runs for approximately 126 minutes me is presented is an immaculate 1.85:1 image with a matching DTS-HD 5.1 audio track.

Score: *****

Extras: There’s a decent bunch of extras on this disc:

Interview with Katsuhiro Ôtomo is, as the name suggests, an interview with the writer/ director of Akira, Memories and, of course, this film. The interview is in Japanese with an English dub over the top and is a fascinating look into his creative process.

Multi-screen Landscape Study is a triple-split-screen 20 minute piece of mixed media and interviews which was used at a ‘Steamboy’ exhibition. It’s slightly confusing at first but if you persevere you’ll see some interesting interviews with the creators.

Re-voicing Steamboy looks at the process involved with the casting and recording of the American dub of the film and features interviews with Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, Patrick Stewart and vocal director Rick Zieff.

Voyage of Steamboy looks at the making of the film, in Japanese with English subtitles.

The Adventure Continues shows the end title sequence without the credit roll over it, which is pretty cool, actually.

Production Gallery is a slideshow of production paintings from the film with a portion of the soundtrack played over the top.

Animation Onion Skins shows 5 scenes in various stages of production, from storyboards to the final product.

Score: *****

WISIA: Probably not, but I enjoyed the amazing animation.

Hatchet (2006)

One from the re-watch pile…

Hatchet (2006)

Film: Writer/director Adam Green is one of us. He was shown Friday the 13th Part 2 when he was 8, and has never looked back. Thankfully, that movie fermented in his brain, and while at summer camp, a story about a murderer who dwelled in a cabin that was forbidden to the campers turned into something else, something that 20 years later evolved into this film, Hatchet.

Hatchet tells of lovelorn Ben (Joel Moore from Bones and Avatar) and his friend Marcus (Deon Richmond aka Token Black Guy from Not Another Teen Movie) who are visiting new Orleans for Mardi Gras, but Ben, who has just broken up with his girlfriend, isn’t into the idea of seeing a bunch of drunken women showing their boobs for beads.

Pfft, idiot!

So, instead of enjoying the frivolities these two friends decide to take a tour of the Louisiana swamps, in the ‘Scare Boat’ run by local Shawn (Perry Shen), and perhaps see where local legend Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), aka Hatchetface, once lived. Once on board they meet kindly older couple Jim and Shannon Permatteo (Richard Riele and Patrika Darbo respectively), titty filmmaker Doug Shapiro (Joel Murray), his flashing females Jenna (Joleigh Fioraevanti) and Misty (Mercedes McNab) and mysterious, gun-toting honey Marybeth (Tamara Feldman).

Unfortunately, and of course, the boat comes to a crashing halt, and the gang of tourists and their guide become stuck in the woods, wet, cold, lost, and now with Victor Crowley, whom they realise is no legend but instead a horribly malformed mutant killing machine, hunting for them.

How many will make it out… if any? Will the survivors be horribly maimed and psychologically scarred? And where exactly did a mutant hillbilly get a petrol-powered sander?

The script is a fun adventure into 80s styled horror, and even though it has a few great and funny lines, at no point did I think ‘horror comedy’, which I believe to be the scourge of the genre. I think the reason that the comedy never overpowers over the horror is because the violence is just so damned nasty: spine rips, head splits, axings… a veritable treasure trove of blood spraying and sputum spewing gags that should keep most fans happy, and their non-horror friends crying ‘Ewwwwwww!’

One thing I have to pick on this film about anything it is the costume of the creature that is Victor Crowley. Rubber suits and appliance rarely look 100% perfect, but unfortunately this one doesn’t look as good as the worst of the Jason Voorhees ones.

The other is its biggest problem: this film has to live up to a expectations that started as hype on the internet after a teaser trailer oozed out, and those expectations were that it could be horror’s salvation. It isn’t, but what it is a bit of gory fun and what the DVD cover says: “Old School American Horror”.

It’s got gore, boobs, gore, violence, gore, Robert Englund, Tony Todd and Kane Hodder in it, and those elements make it alright in my book. While I don’t think the character of Victor Crowley has the longevity of Freddy or Jason it is a fun example of what a slasher film is supposed to be: gory, unpretentious fun. With boobs.

Score: ***1/2

Format: Nice clear picture presented in 16:9 with no artefacts or apparent damage. A really good Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is clear as a bell, with the rear channels coming to life whenever Victor Crowley terrorises his victims.

Score: ****

Extras: Straight off the bat we are given a commentary by writer/director Adam Green and his Director of Photography Will Barratt, with a few do-drop-ins (specifically actors) here and there to add more colour to the proceedings. It is a full commentary that is both entertaining and informative. Yes, it is inforcational.

The Making of Hatchet is one of the better making of docos I have seen. It discusses the origins of the film from conception to … heh… execution. Mainly features interviews with Green, Barratt and producer Sarah Elbert (who I admit to having a micro-crush on) but also chats with most of the cast and a fair bit of the crew. This is the type of doco that makes me want to grab my video camera and go and film stuff.

Of course, no decent extras package is complete without the trailer, so here it be!

Also there are four behind the scenes pieces, which are all around the ten minute mark:

Meeting Victor Crowley is a look at Kane Hodder’s performance and substandard make-up. What it lacks as a visual though, he made up for in terrorising the cast with his on camera and behind the scenes routine.

Guts and Gore looks at the red stuff… which is why a lot of us are here. Well, this and boobs.

Anatomy of a Kill dissects the ‘pop top’ scene, from the original idea to John Carl Buechler’s effects teams result.

A Twisted Tale looks at the moral support that Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snyder has given Green over the years, both before and after they had met.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: There is far too many super slashers from the 80s that I could rewatch rather than give this another look.

The Hole (2009)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Hole (2009)

The cover to the Australian release of The Hole (2009)

The cover to the Australian release of The Hole (2009)

Film: This is one of those times where I felt like rewatching as it’s like comfort food. First, it’s directed by Joe Dante, responsible for 80s classics like The Howling, Gremlins and Innerspace, and the awesome late 90s kids flick Small Soldiers and written by Mark L. smith who wrote the Vacancy films and The Revenant.

The Hole tells of single mum, Susan (Teri Polo) who has moved to a small town and away from big city life with her sons, Dane (Chris Massoglia) and the younger Lucas (Nathan Gamble) and into a house which, as these sorts of movies alway do, is far to big for her ever to be able to afford.

Our hero, Dane (Chris Massoglia) tries to open his hole.

Our hero, Dane (Chris Massoglia) tries to open his hole.

This house has a weird secret in the basement though: a seemingly bottomless hole that cute next door neighbour Julie (Haley Bennett) suggests may have been dug by previous tenant Creepy Carl (Bruce Dern), but very quickly our young trio discover than maybe, just maybe the Hole has deeper secrets…

…supernatural secrets… secrets that drove Creepy Carl out of the house and into a state weird he fears the stones and what it hides. Will the kids survive the contents of this bottomless pit?

Dane and Julie (Haley Bennett) discuss the dangers of their open hole.

Dane and Julie (Haley Bennett) discuss the dangers of their open hole.

This film really is classic Joe Dante with the small town being attacked by ‘something’ and as usual, he hires a charming cast of good guys and an oddball bunch of weirdos. Special mention has to go not just to the casting of Kate Hudson lookalike, Haley Bennett, but to see Bruce Dern in a film again was a heap of fun, and you can throw in a bit of legend Dick Miller as a pizza boy for a great trifecta.

The unfortunate thing about this film is it’s SO damned generic. Every new boy in town moves into a cute, available girl and has an annoying/ embarrassing younger brother/ quirky aunt/ mental grandfather and there is something weird in the basement/ next door/ at the pier. I will say this film succeeds with its extremely likeable cast, and there are some genuinely creepy moments, but there is not much new being brought to the table to allow it to stand out. It just seems to be a classic trope of ‘kids’ horror movies… those gateway movies for young horror fans…that is wearing out its welcome.

Honestly that trope was the only thing I didn’t like about the Jack Black Goosebumps film. I just think audiences may have evolved beyond that point.

Anyway, all in all it’s not a hateful bad film, it’s a nicely shot slice of average with a loveable cast from a reliable director.

Score: **

The menu to the Australian release of The Hole (2009)

The menu to the Australian release of The Hole (2009)

Format: This film is presented on the disc as both a 3D or a 2D movie, but only the 2D was reviewed as I don’t have the capacity for a 3D viewing at home. The film looks and sound great with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and DTS-HD 5.1 Dolby digital sound, and runs for approximately 92 minutes, which is about the average attention span of an early teen horror fan.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc opens with trailers for Aftershock, Uninhabited, Larry Crowne and Cane Toads The Conquest, which can also be accessed separately in the extras menu.

In addition to those spectacular trailers though, we also have:

Gateway To Hell: The Making of the Hole which is, well, the making of the the film, The Hole, featuring a whole bunch of interviews with various cats and crew members.

A Peek Inside The Hole looks at the special effects of the film.

Family Matters looks at the relationships between the lead actors and their characters.

The Third Dimension looks at the process of making a 3D film.

The Keeper of the Hole looks at a Bruce Dern’s Creepy Carl character.

Like a lot of extras, all of these featurettes could have been cut together nicely and made a decent 40 minute to an hour ‘making of’ styled thing, rather than a bunch of what feels like worthless little ‘bits’ but I guess more is better, right?

Score: ****

WISIA: The Hole is a cute kids film, but really doesn’t hold up like some of Dante’s other films. I wouldn’t probably watch it again.

This strange ghostly girl crawled out of Dane’s hole.

This strange ghostly girl crawled out of Dane’s hole.