Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Season of Vamps: “Fright Night” (2011) review

A rare remake that's worth your time...

(MILD SPOILERS from herein for the new version)

As noted in my previous post, I’m quite a fan of Tom Holland’s 1985 comic horror gem, “Fright Night.  It was genre-aware long before such a thing was fashionable, scary in the right places whilst never being frightened to bring the funny and had characters subject to memorably unpleasant, feral vampire transformations – not so much a case of sporting one or two pronounced fangs as protagonists suddenly looking, well, like this:

Edward Cullen and his photogenic clan of Gap Bloodsuckers this isn’t.

That said, the new “Fright Night”, as directed by Craig Gillespie finds itself entering a cultural space in which vampires have never been more popular but that popularity has arguably come at the expense of some of their credibility and fear-inducing iconography.  Also the vampire in literature has always been a popular conduit for discussing forbidden desire, repressed sexuality and ideas of body horror, the romantic side of the mythos is quite the thing latterly, whether it takes the form of eternal emo teen Edward in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels , the sexy southern gentleman bloodsucker Bill Compton of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books or the tortured angst of Angel in Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” series.

Where to go, then?  Go into the same territory as “30 Days of Night” and make the vampire an implacable, terrifying, predatory threat or make your anti-hero ruggedly handsome and just hope that there’s enough of a vampire fan base to let your guy chomp his way into their hearts?

Hmm. You would, wouldn't you?

To its credit, this iteration of “Fright Night” manages to make its night walking antagonist Jerry, played splendidly by Colin Farrell, into a threat who is both charming and genuinely dangerous, using his rogue’s persona to good effect as a way of ensnaring victims, entrancing would-be enemies and putting the authorities off the scent.  He’s a rougher, more working class guy than I remember Chris Sarandon as being in the original film – this Jerry is a jeans-wearing and six-pack of Budweiser kind of bloke, a fellow who “works nights” on the Vegas strip.   He’s a world away from the refined, elegantly attired, ‘old world’ blood drinker of the Lestat school – he’s the sort of dude you expert you see working on his car in the driveway of his sub-division home, cranking Alice in Chains on the stereo.

Vegas is another change in this version, which is expertly written by “Buffy”/“Angel”veteran, Marti Noxon, and it’s an inspired choice.  The suburban neighbourhood under threat in this version is out in the middle of nowhere, which makes for some striking photography and compositions by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, who intriguingly also shot both “New Moon” and “Eclipse” in the “Twilight” series.

Imogen Poots, as Amy, in "Fright Night".

In many ways, “Fright Night” is the best kind of remake.  It takes a much-loved horror comedy and updates it for a contemporary audience without negating the original’s qualities in any way.  The effects work is slightly more elaborate, as befits the CGI era, without going too far into the realm of Flubber-like virtual characters who suspend the viewers belief immediately.  The script is deliciously smart and multi-layered, giving Anton Yelchin’s Charley an interesting arc and a believable, quite charming relationship with his girlfriend, Amy – the oft-underused but always excellent Imogen Poots.

The alterations made to the characters and their motivations are often inspired, never less so than in the case of Peter Vincent, played so memorably in 1985 by the late Roddy McDowell and in this version by the abso-bloody-lutely hilarious David Tennant.

He’s half Criss Angel, half Russell Brand, somewhat of a fraudulent jackass and a an absolute hoot to watch whenever he’s on screen.  In this version, Vincent is a Vegas theatre illusionist rather than the TV horror movie host he was previously but the change allows for many excellent jabs at the artifice of illusion and the cosplay-like nature of a rock-star wannabe like Angel.

I have no idea whether he is as much of a buffoon as Vincent is in this new version but the influence of the self-described ‘Mind Freak’ is so clear that it’s impossible not to erase him from your mind whenever Tennant’s camping it up in leather trousers and bolting for safety at the first sign of supernatural trouble.

"You have to have faith for that to work".

What we have here is a remake which respects the original film but is never in thrall to it.  It expands the canvas whilst keeping the things which worked and improving on them in some ways.  It has a superb cast, genuine moments of unnerving tension, clever and creepy ideas (the holding cells in Jerry’s house – I don’t know why, but the idea just gives me the proverbial wiggins) and a sense of humour which is both up to date (yes, there is a gentle jab at Stephenie Meyer;s fan base) and genuinely funny.

TL: DR version? If you like vampires, see this.  If you like the principal cast, definitely see this.  If you enjoyed the original, see this.  It’s great.

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What I (might) be watching tonight…

The business of choosing DVD rentals is a fraught one in our house.

We’ve just given up on our subscription to the UK’s leading provider of rental-by-post for the reasons which most people might cite – your top choices not turning up, the discs which you get sent being hit-and-miss in terms of cleanliness and playability, the title that you added in haste during one period of insomniac delirium and never being watched.  The short and long of it is that we weren’t watching stuff, were paying a monthly subscription no matter what and spending more money than we needed to on what is the thinking nerd’s equivalent of the unused gym membership.

Hence, we’re supporting our local Blockbuster whilst it’s still there.

We’re planning to watch this dynamic duo of films tonight:

When Irish eyes are smiling...

and somehow we missed this (hopefully) delightful valentine to nerdery and film-making last summer…

That J.J. Abrams - crazy angles, crazy guy...

I’m expecting big things, I won’t lie.  With “Fright Night”, I’ve yet to see anything that Anton Yelchin was in which I didn’t like  (and yes, that is me admitting on the Internet that I enjoyed “Terminator Salvation”).

With “Fright Night”I loved the original – it was a VHS/TV broadcast staple for me, although I’ve not seen it in years.  Here’s hoping that this revamp (sorry, had to be done) keeps the fine balance of scares to chuckles that Tom Holland’s 1985 film managed to deliver.

Also – this dude is in it:

MindFreak! Or not, what with copyright infringement and all that jazz...

So, plus ten to awesome Scots Thesp-based kick assery then?

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ACTA is the new SOPA?

Now that the internet has calmed down a bit about anti-internet legislation SOPA, should we all start worrying about ACTA instead?

ACTA Demotivational Poster via Very Demotivational.com

If you’re not up to speed on your legal challenges to a free, unregulated internet, ACTA is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and purports to do as its name suggests and enforce the regulation of intellectual property rights in signatory countries.

This proposed legislation won’t be debated fully before the European Parliament until June,

but a prominent MEP has already resigned, citing behind-the-scenes manoeuvres by officials preparing the agreement for his reticence to participate in a debate which, it seems, is less of a debate and more of a signed, sealed and delivered mandate which doesn’t really resemble democracy or the practice thereof by my understanding.

Of course, one might argue that a 14-year-old kid firing up a sweet Torrent client and illicitly downloading the new Drake album or a dodgy copy of the new “Sherlock Holmes” is engaging in a form of anti-democratic activity which is ultimately far more harmful to musicians, producers, record labels, CD pressing plants, distribution companies, retailers and a myriad of inter-related interests and we should be doing something about that, but I digress…

Colours nailed to the mast, I feel that we need to allow musicians to make a living from making music.  I’m not at all certain that SOPA and ACTA do anything more than bolt the stable door long after the prize pony has made a run for it, but if they do anything, they might just set some alarm bells ringing in the heads of folks who use the internet and don’t think twice about downloading music without, y’know, paying for it or even thinking about the implications of what they’re doing.

Lots of people in the world are finding their respective economies tough to deal with and I absolutely understand that – things like entertainment are a luxury which many people have to think twice about before paying out money for, but a dubious downloaded file isn’t an answer and only ends up screwing over a singer or band who’s at the bottom of a long line of music industry people who get paid long before the artist does.

I’m damned if I know what the answer to this problem is – we have a generation of kids now who don’t view ‘owning’ a physical copy of music or a film as being at all relevant to them and I think that’s partially what terrifies the established entertainment businesses because they can’t keep marketing new media formats to a demographic who regard their product as being ephemeral and not something that they need to have access to on a long-term basis.  If you get your tunes online, via a phone handset, why do you need to have shelves of CD’s which you might rip once to a hard drive and then never look at again?

So, if I’m reading this correctly, the whole problem with copyright is a generational one and as long as that divide exists, there’s no good solution to it beyond some entrepeneur coming up with a service which gives the kids what they want, gets the suits their cut and somehow doesn’t screw over the creative types either?

Good luck sorting out that problem…

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Kinect “Star Wars” video – worse than “Phantom Menace”?

So. Much. Wrongness. In. One. Screengrab.

Via the intrepid nerdologists at NeoGaf comes this cringe-inducing look at the upcoming “Kinect ‘Star Wars'” game for the Xbox 360, which reveals categorically that Microsoft may know how to get their console and peripheral into people’s homes but they can’t make video content to save their lives.

Cheesy appearance by R2-D2?  Annoying perky presenters designed to appeal to the Normals?  Lack of anything approaching a relationship to gaming credibility?  All present and correct.

It’s this kind of thing which makes me embarrassed to self-identify as a gamer, as a fan of “Star Wars” and as a nerd.

To think – I thought that the worst “Star Wars” related thing I was going to see this week was that bloody Vodafone advert…

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Van Halen goes to “Chinatown”

Where have all the good times gone?

Should we be worried about the ‘new’ Van Halen record, “A Different Kind of Truth”?  I’m speaking mostly to the VH fans, here, I realise, but normal, non-Eddie, Alex, Dave and Wolfgang obsessives can join in, too – just click on the link above and listen to “Tattoo”.  Join us back here when you’re done.

A band reforming is one issue – Will they still be any good?  Will they all get along?  A band reforming and then taking a bunch of old songs, fragments and demo tunes and reworking them into their new album is quite another and that’s what the advanced scuttlebutt is telling us about “A Different Kind of Truth” – that many of the songs actually date back to Van Halen’s inception during the 1970’s.

I’m all for artists being prolific, but I’m not sure that being prolific is the same as raiding the off-cuts, never-were and ideas that you were never quite able to whip into shape.  Is that really any way to announce that you’re back – by releasing a record largely composed of stuff that your hardcore fan base will be aware of via the tape-trading circuit from back in the day?

I suppose I should just be happy that Van Halen are back again, but I’m holding my judgement until I hear the record.  On that note, Blabbermouth have posted the latest snippet from “A Different Kind of Truth”a song called “Chinatown”, which dates from back in the day but is a little more convincing than “Tattoo” was.  The comments section has it pegged as being melodically in the same territory as VH classic rocker “Hang ‘Em High”, which seems like a fair enough assessment.

It’s only fair to warn you that the vintage 1982 video linked to above contains leopard-print dungarees.  Viewer discretion is advised…

 

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“Lock Out” gets new trailer. Awesomeness still intact.

Film titles are confusing.

Hey up, it's Rudy from "Misfits"!

Depending on where you are in the world, the latest sci-fi action flick from Luc Besson’s Europa Corp is titled “Escape From MS One” or “Lock Out: Maximum Security”.  It’s enough to cause mucho confusion down the multiplex on a Saturday night, should your mind not be on your viewing game.

Who let Michael Bay behind the camera?

I’m probably preferring the “Escape From MS One” variant, if I’m honest, as it offers a subtle homage to the discerning nerd cineaste that this film is wholly in thrall to John Carpenter’s glorious “Escape from New York” (and “Escape from LA”, of which we don’t speak) and no greater template could a genre film-maker have than that snarky, mean-spirited and singular B-movie.

Near orbit, zero-G, white knuckle base jumping, anybody?

There’s a bit more action in this trailer – not all of it brilliant, some of it looking like it escaped from a PS2 game cut-scene – and a bit less of Guy Pearce being all hard-boiled and bad-assed, but the cumulative effect still has me keen to go and support a smaller-scale genre picture when it opens in April.

It’s all about balance, really.  $200 million blockbusters are all very nice but a decent B-movie warms the cockles of my heart.  And if John Carpenter can’t (or doesn’t want to) make this kind of movie any longer, I’m kind of glad that Luc Besson’s production auspices are letting them happen.

 

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The 2011 Minnie Movie Awards

Inspired by Geek Soul Brother’s splendid Mulder awards, and because Gold Globes and Naked Fellows are so last century, I take no small delight in presenting the inaugural Fluffrick 2011 Minnie Awards – the virtual awards ceremony which celebrates great nerdy things and the sleepy terriers who tolerate them (as long as they’re not too loud).

 

The Filmic Pup Who Know's What's Up - Minnie

 

Without further ado, the Minnie for Best Science Fiction Film of 2011 goes to…

Any film which gets me out of the house and headed towards a multiplex cinema nowadays is deserving of some kind of award.  Any film which has me thinking about its implications long after leaving the cinema is clearly doing something right.   Any film that has you scouring IMDB and the trades to see what all concerned are doing next is one that’s more than worth a view if you haven’t seen it already.

Runners up in this category were:

Coping with the twin demands of launching a franchise and establishing more continuity for this summer’s “Avengers” extravaganza, Kenneth Branagh had more than enough on his plate with “Thor”.  That he delivered an entertaining movie which delivered laughs, action and some quite excellent performances (Idris Elba – represent!) indicates that Branagh is a film maker to call if you want your widescreen spectacle balanced with character comedy.

and

Yes, the latest Paul Anderson movie is the polar opposite of the movie at number one.  It’s dumb, noisy and historically so bizarre as to constitute some kind of public call for better teaching of the subject in our schools.  All those issues aside, this latest adaptation of “The Three Musketeers” was quasi-Steampunk mentalism of the highest order.  Worth it just for Orlando Bloom channelling Adam Ant and confirming that sneering villainy is something that he’s really rather suited for.

Every great (or middling) film must be counterbalanced by one which isn’t so enduring.  A film which saddens and irritates in equal measure.  To wit, the next award is the Most Disappointing Movie of 2011.

As the second movie was a shrill, misogynistic, racist and overwhelmingly brain-dead effort, this third sequel didn’t have a lot to live up to.  Being in focus and not giving you a migraine might have been considered a major result,  but this film managed to make massive destruction, rocking-socking robots and jaw-loosening spectacle somehow unforgivably dull:   If a skyscraper falls in Chicago, and you’re busy checking your smartphone because the stuff on-screen is so overblown that you don’t care if anybody lives or dies, does anyone hear it?

Perhaps we were spoiled in 2010 by Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”, which balanced the demands of action cinema and arthouse style and showed us that mainstream summer movies can be pump up the adrenaline and intellect alike?  Perhaps the impressive 3D tech could have been used for a purpose other than ogling Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s admittedly compelling posterior? Perhaps we realised, at long last, that Shia LaBeouf really isn’t much of a star and why were we watching him again?

For whatever reason, the third “Transformers” movie arrived in the summer, did the predicted, gang-busting business worldwide and barely troubled the memory for longer than it took to say “Was Alan Tudyk really in this film?”  Some more questions. Why did they end up in Chicago?  Who was double-crossing whom?  Did Huntington-Whiteley really outwit a robot by appealing to its mechanoid vanity?  Is it possible to make a movie which mostly erases itself from your memory almost immediately after viewing it?  Because I believe that this franchise may well have pulled it off.

Runners up?

Ah, DC’s much-vaunted “Green Lantern”.  With a galaxy-spanning police force composed of imaginative alien creatures, gigantic cosmic phenomena/villains and decades of comics continuity to draw from, how did this film’s creative talents decide that what we really wanted to see was a piss-taking Ryan Reynolds leering at anodyne anon-o-blonde Blake Lively and a resolutely Earth-bound story.  Such a missed opportunity.  There’s talk of a sequel, but unless it’s a ground-up reinvention, does anybody really want to see it other than DC Entertainment’s accountants?

and

“Season of the Witch” wasn’t scary enough for horror fans, wasted Ron Perlman and Robert Sheehan in nothing roles and was so tired, predictable and half-hearted that I expected it to peter out rather than actually finish.  I know that we’ve come to expect comparatively little of Nicolas Cage in films these days, but “Season of the Witch” so completely drops the ball and wimps out in its final act (Hey! All the stupid, evil creatures are actually real and it’s not just man’s inhumanity and irrationality which is causing all the horrible stuff to happen to people!) that it becomes an ordeal to watch.

For shame, Dominic Sena, for shame!

A final Minnie category for now?

Most Disappointing Movie Development of 2011.

Whether you want it or not, whether it works or not, and ensuring that you have to see a movie in the format because there’s never a 2D screening when you want to see it.  The good uses are few and far between and the bad ones are seemingly stinking up a multiplex near you every weekend.

It’s here to stay, because there’s a lot of money invested in it, but it’s not my first choice for entertainment and I doubt that it’s many of yours either.

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