Hollow Man (2000)

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There was a time when Paul Verhoeven was one of the smartest, most ultra-violent big-budget directors in Hollywood, famed for his satirical dryness and A-grade squib work he was also able to inject morality tales and human warmth into what initially appeared as trashy actioners but, on second glance were humorous societal statements. Then throughout the 90s he slowly chipped away at his career in America with paperweight pap like Basic Instinct and Showgirls and unfortunately the vastly misunderstood Starship Troopers (which would’ve been better appreciated had he made it five years earlier) and then in 2000 he booked his ticket back to Holland with the film that hammered the final nail into his overseas jaunt, Hollow Man.

Verhoeven’s most accessible successes are his science-fiction offerings, namely RoboCop and Total Recall and it’s with these main characters, Murphy and Quaid that he immerses their minds into pure science both physically and psychologically. Murphy is reborn as a ‘product’ but glitches similarly to a duff microwave or a faulty television and Quaid’s whole persona is forcibly changed by manufactured memory implants. In both of these instances the more detrimental impact is felt by proxy as the conglomerates come crashing down around the protagonists who both seem to benefit from their respective rewiring. Verhoeven attempts a subverted revisit of these tropes in Hollow Man by having science create a monster rather than an anti-hero.

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Hollow Man stars one of Hollywood’s most travelled journeymen Kevin Bacon as brilliant but sleazy scientist Sebastian Caine who creates a serum to turn people invisible then, in typical mad-professor like behaviour, disregards his superior’s orders and participates in his own experiment absent of thought for consequence. As inevitably ill-fated as John Candy’s heart attack, this recklessness causes Caine to, at first catch a dose of cabin-fever, then with this malady warping his mind he eventually succumbs to insanity and believes his is a higher power.

Kevin’s performance is less bacon and more processed ham (sorry) as he sneers his way around the lab cracking rubbish chauvinistic jokes and leering at the female characters like he’s performing some kind of quasi-genius Rik Mayall impression. The support cast include an incredibly 90s Elisabeth Shue, Joanie Stubbs from Deadwood and Josh Brolin before anyone knew who Josh Brolin was and is rounded off by some unknowns as cannon fodder. None of the players actually try or even feign effort but then, with a script this weak it’s easy to understand why, Andrew W. Marlowe had previously written star vehicles for Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger with Air Force One and End of Days respectively so you can see that this isn’t exactly going to be as relevant as Verhoeven’s previous sci-fi output.

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The idea of an invisible man has always been an interesting one but after initially posing morally ambiguous questions (does being invisible elevate ones position over humanity as the next step in evolution and if so do regular human emotions matter?) Hollow Man rapidly degenerates into generic stalk-and-slash horror fare including conventional plot-devices like the predictable order of cast demise and the antagonist making comeback after comeback. This last point becomes wincingly frustrating as, after knocking Bacon to the floor or unconscious the other characters just leave him and slowly walk away filling the time with unnecessary, porous dialogue until he resumes his attack and this happens at least three times in quick succession. However by this juncture Bacon’s he’s-behind-you pantomimery and the many gaping plot-holes have long since eschewed any credibility this film may have claimed to have had.

For the most part Hollow Man feels and sounds like a TV movie. The camerawork is occasionally interesting, the special effects garnered an Oscar nomination and the gore is gratuitously good as expected but the bland, generic performances and the vapid, unquotable, cliché ridden screenplay reduce it to an instantly forgettable and wholly boring affair, in the process wasting a highly skilled director whose talents fit the subject matter as snug as a pink rubber glove would a transparent hand. For a far more enjoyable take on invisible person cinema you’re better off checking out John Carpenter’s charming Memoirs of an Invisible Man where the cast are better utilised and the underlying moral themes better handled.

– Greg Foster

Hollow Man on IMDB
Buy Hollow Man [DVD] [2000]

The Dictator (2012)

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Directed by Larry Charles

This was a Christmas present from my sister, she called from Australia a week before the parcel arrived and spoilt the ‘surprise’ element of the present, however due to a dodgy phone signal I misunderstood her description of this film and was under the impression that she had sent me a copy of ‘Downfall’. I’ve chosen to briefly pass comment on ‘The Dictator’ purely because this DVD was a gift, and it would be almost wrong of me just to watch it and then forget the film, even if this would probably be for the best.

My initial thoughts after watching ‘The Dictator’ was how much it reminded me of remake of ‘Arthur’ starring Russell Brand. In which a wealthy man, who has enjoyed a very spoilt and privileged upbringing and has no real understand of anything outside of his estate, goes out in the multicultural metropolis that is New York, meets a kooky chick and undergoes through a mammoth personality change during the course of a mediocre ninety minutes; though ultimately if you are going to compare the ‘The Dictator’ to another comedy then you’d probably say that it was an updated, and far inferior version of ‘Coming to America’.

Taking advantage of the Gaddafi craze that reached its height during the ‘Arab Spring’, ‘The Dictator’ saw Sacha Baron Cohen create a new character called Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of the fictional Republic of Wadiya located somewhere in Northern Africa. Like the late Colonel, Aladeen is flamboyant and has a childish mean streak. Aladeen is keen to develop weapons of mass destruction and when the UN begins to snoop around his facilities he travels to address the UN at a conference in New York. In the Big Apple Aladeen gets kidnapped by the CIA, loses his identity and ends up getting replaced by his imbecilic double. This is orchestrated by Aladeen’s scheming uncle Tamir (played by Ben Kingsley) who has got into bed (diplomatically speaking) with the Chinese.

Whereas Baron Cohen’s creations Borat and Brüno worked great in mockumentaries bouncing off bemused members of the public, putting such characters in a straightforward comedy film, as proven in ‘Ali G Indahouse’ leads to mixed results. Admiral General Aladeen is essentially Borat in a military uniform and once you get past the obvious jokes surrounding terrorism and Arab stereotypes then all you’re left with is a ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ like caper with a saccharine Hollywood ‘happy’ ending.

The biggest problem is that ‘The Dictator’ follows such a dated path; Cohen, a man who at several stages of his career been ahead of the curve, not to mention risky, provocative and daring makes this formulaic comedy which is disappointingly tame.

– RJW
5/10

The Dictator on IMDB
Buy The Dictator (DVD + Digital Copy)

Boogeyman (2012)

I have lead actor Eddie McClintock to thank for this, for without his tweet bemoaning his lack of an Oscar nomination for this film, I’d have never known it existed. Also, there are about 30 films with this title, so apologies. Maybe it was to prevent piracy or something.

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A little backstory – I presume SyFy Channel has some sort of clause in its standard actor contract where the stars of their regular TV shows also do films for them in the off-season. Now, I know sites like this regularly mock SyFy Channel original movies, but they certainly have a business model that works, and are presumably giving work to plenty of up and coming actors and crew. So, hats off to ya!

I like Eddie McClintock. He seems like a decent guy in real life, has excellent musical taste and I love the show he stars in, “Warehouse 13”. In this, he plays pretty much the same character as in that – a wisecracking guy involved in law enforcement. But here, he’s a…sheriff?…in a small town, which is probably some fields in Eastern Europe if my hunch based on the names in the credits is anything to go by. And Emma Samms off of “Dynasty” is in it too! I’m not sure why I watched that show as a kid (probably my Mum’s fault) but she was lovely.

The real culprit of this film is a mobile phone – one gets thrown through the window of the local crazy person (or is he?) and this act sets off the whole thing, with deaths and the unleashing of all manner of supernatural evil. But is the phone in question punished for the deaths it causes? No. Are the dumbass kids who throw it punished? Not a bit of it, because two of them are the kids of Sheriff Eddie. Yes, his character has a name, and no, I didn’t bother to look it up.

Anyway, there’s a lot of odd stuff in this film. I mean, deliberately odd as opposed to common-or-garden crappy moviemaking odd. Like, the sheriff finds someone tied up in a tree and rather than going for help, just shoots the rope out, leaving the guy to fall right on his head. And his glee at taking on the monster at the end seems weirdly out of place given that his friends and colleagues have just died…but I’m getting ahead of myself. The way all the characters ignore police tape and nothing’s made of it seems on the odd side too.

This could be the foggiest movie of all time that doesn’t have “fog” or “mist” in its title. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s to obscure the probably quite cheap sets (that, or it was filmed in Eastern Europe and they just wanted to block all the road signs), but it gives the film a strange quality.

So, this film is…I was going to say an update of the Biblical Cain story, but it’s more a straight horror film which uses those themes to get the scares across, as well as being quite a tale of a family and the odd things they do. Good job making the film’s villain look properly creepy, though, that makeup artist deserves a medal.

Eddie hopes the two kids don't smell the sneaky fart

Eddie hopes the two kids don’t smell his sneaky fart 

So, would I recommend it? Yes, I would. It’s always fun watching Eddie McClintock wisecrack- like Bruce Campbell or that ten minutes Dennis Miller was trying to be a similar sort of guy (am I the only person who remembers / loves “Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood”?) The kid actors in it pretty much suck, but luckily they aren’t in it very much, and SyFy doesn’t make any 2 hour 40 minute beasts, which is to their credit.

Boogeyman on IMDB

The Cell (2000)

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Directed by Tarsem Singh

I was talking about ‘The Cell’ to a colleague at work, it seems my self-censor switch was off at the time and I described in great detail the scene where Vincent D’Onorfio is suspended on meat hooks and masturbates over a bleach sodden naked female corpse. After I said this he looked at me strangely, and seemed a bit concerned. I hoped nobody overheard the conversation as we walked through the Menswear department of a well-respected High Street Department Store.

‘The Cell’ is one of those millennial future teasing films which potentially could have been great; there are several intriguing concepts, some amazing visual sequences and Vincent D’Onorfio is terrifying, at least until he suffers some kind of seizure and falls into a coma, which allows J. Lo to connect to his warped mind. She connects with coma patients by putting a micro chipped flannel over her face, whilst wearing a tight fitting skin suit that makes her look like the ‘How My Body Works’ model.

Tarsem Singh creates some majestic dream sequences, that are visually indelible, yet the film ends up as being the epitome of style over substance; which is a shame because Vincent D’Onofrio is chilling as Carl Stargher, the deranged sexual predator and serial killer, and J. Lo puts in a solid shift as the intrepid social worker Catherine Deane. Though D’Onofrio looks a lot like Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, his creepy mannerisms and perverted sexual behaviour make him an intimidating on screen presence on par with Michael Rooker in ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’.

Where does it go wrong? Well, things fall apart when D’Onorfio is comatose. Although he is scary in his ‘dream world’, adopting this sinister demonic persona, he’s not a threat as such to J. Lo the dream explorer because obviously dreams aren’t reality. Sorry, even in a Science Fiction Thriller I refuse to suspend my disbelief. In my humble opinion it would have made more sense to have the FBI Agents find a comatose survivor, who had somehow not been murdered by D’Onorfio and had J. Lo enter the mind of that survivor in order to get to capture D’Onorfio, who would still be out and about raising hell with his albino dog.

Yet, that’s not what we have, so we will have to make do with a menacing serial killer, who whilst in a comatose state is no risk to anybody. Instead FBI Agent Novak (Vince Vaughn) and Catherine are teamed together (despite having no chemistry) to try and save the life of a survivor trapped within a cell, in a water tower situated somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Vaughn really does struggle outside of his usual nice guy / buddy comedy acting persona, when he’s acting serious he comes across as awkward and unintentionally hammy. He’s pretty much a hapless bystander for most of the film, and when he does get involved he usually makes a pig’s ear of things, such as getting his small intestine removed in the dream world and the anti-climactic final scene when he almost gets hit by the ricochet from a shot he fired.

The imagery in ‘The Cell’ is like a glossier version of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work, disturbing, arresting and at times weirdly beautiful. This compliments Tarsem Singh, who has since gone on to make some indulgent and largely forgettable films. Again, and I refer mostly to Singh’s 2011 film ‘Immortals’ when I say this, the ingredients are there – good acting performances, impressive visuals and an interesting story, but he seems unable to put everything together.

I’m quite fond of ‘The Cell’, and though it resembles a bizarre mash-up of Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga Music Videos in places (Singh has acknowledged the influence of Manson’s video director’s Floria Sigismondi), there is in essence a decent film, perhaps let down by its director’s boundless vision, as story is sacrificed for a succession of visually striking scenes.

– RJW
6/10

The Cell on IMDB
Buy The Cell [DVD] [2000]

One night and one afternoon with Kevin Smith

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Loosely this will be a ungraded review of ‘An Evening with Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder’, although I’d also like to offer a pitter patter of my own personal opinion on his work. This DVD picked up for a measly quid in Poundland (which in a year or two will be the lone surviving store on the high street) is a Q&A double bill with Smith talking to his devoted following in London and Toronto. The Canadian fan boys and girls offer Smith a chance to joke around and stick to his set, whereas the English fans make Smith work a little harder by being typically sensible.

For the bulk of the London show he continuously makes the cardinal American comic mistake of putting on a Dick Van Dyke accent and joking about ‘chavs’ and ‘fannies’. This gets old quickly, and when Smith steers away from talking about Hollywood, instead waffling on about his family life the London show fizzles out, as my interest also wanes. Nothing gets more tiring than when a man talks about his wife and kid, who sure enough are entertaining for him, but not so much for everyone else.

The interesting element of the show is the appearance of Jason Mewes. In Toronto the guy looks pretty ill, and seems rather distant. In London, he seems a lot more coherent, and actively engages with the audience. Mewes has never been a good actor and I don’t really believe he’s ever claimed to be one, yet he carries with him a certain charisma, just by being his shaggy and dumb self. We’ve all got friends like that and I’m sure if we ever made a movie we’d no doubt give them a role.

Smith is a wonderful raconteur who’s laid back style works well on stage. He works the crowd effortlessly, and though he’s preaching to the converted this isn’t strictly a circle jerk. Smith is a pretty self-deprecating guy, and seems to take his failings in good grace, and by God after ‘Jersey Girl’ and ‘Cop Out’ he’s had to be this way.

After making ‘Clerks’ for around twenty eight thousand dollars in his place of work using previously unknown actors, Smith’s swift rise to prominence mostly stemmed from the fan base he cultivated that stuck with him during ‘Mallrats’ and the perhaps underappreciated ‘Chasing Amy’. From there his output varied in quality, as Smith seemed to struggle with working on a much larger budget backed by the big studios. Yet as he confesses, he’s always seen himself as more of a writer than a director; he just doesn’t have the vision to capture his ideas on camera. This is why a film like ‘Dogma’ is erratic despite the impressive cast and snappy dialogue, because the big scenes are clumsily executed.

Though returning to form with ‘Red State’ it looks like Kevin Smith will only go back to the directing chair to complete the Clerks trilogy. Though after the savage disappointment that was ‘Clerks II’, maybe it’s best to leave that series incomplete. Unfortunately, as a ‘Star Wars’ fan who discredited the prequels, Smith is hell bent on completing his own trilogy, even if it doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Referring to Kevin Smith as a ‘legend’ or ‘genius’ is certainly hyperbolic, Smith himself acknowledges his shortcomings as a director, and he’s carved a cult niche, yet his biggest contribution to cinema is that he (like several other auteurs, Harmony Korine immediately comes to mind), inspires the idea that anyone can make a movie. You just need perseverance and a bit of luck.

For me, Smith’s films have left a pop cultural imprint. At work I have regularly procrastinated, getting lost into film chat and held several hypothetical discussions on crude sexual matters. It is a commonplace for me to utter “I’m not even supposed to be here today” when I have been coerced into picking up extra shifts. I have even had a ‘Chasing Amy’ moment, which was perhaps an experience that held more in common with the Weezer song ‘Pink Triangle’.

It was only after watching this DVD that I feel I can come out and reluctantly admit that I am a fan of Kevin Smith.

– RJW

Kevin Smith on IMDB
Buy An Evening With Kevin Smith 2 – Evening Harder [DVD] [2007]

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

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I’m at quite a loss on how to approach The Island of Dr. Moreau from a critical viewpoint in fact I’m at a loss on how to explain it at all. It’s the most jaw-dropping example of a large studio budget being wasted on nothing more than fireworks and egos with the actual production of a film being nothing but an after thought. I think the simplest and sanest thing to do would be to just describe the utterly mystifying bat-shittery as it happens and to provide a bit of a back story too.

If you’re familiar with the H.G. Wells book of the same name, and on which this is based, then you’ll get the basics of the narrative and that the titular doctor is a Nobel prize winning geneticist who has been chased from his homeland for certain nutty professor type crimes in which he can now indulge himself away from prying eyes and that will unfold spectacularly in the next 93 minutes (the gore was removed to achieve a box-office friendly PG-13 rating but a 100 minute director’s cut was later released restoring it back to an R).

The film opens with an overhead long shot of a dinghy floating aimlessly in a vast ocean in which three men are fighting under the supervision of David Thewlis’s apocalyptic sounding voiceover explaining that the quarrel is over the one remaining water canteen. After a minute or two of fisticuffs the extras who aren’t David Thewlis tumble into the sea and are eaten by a shark. Seriously. Thewlis is then saved by a ship that just happens to contain Val Kilmer and they’re taken to an island where the story can…err… properly begin.

Before we get stuck into the main course I’d like to digress and mention that this film has a healthy mix of then A-list stars, Marlon Brando as the mad doctor, Val Kilmer as Moreau’s drug addled assistant Montgomery & David Thewlis as Edward Douglas (a last minute replacement for the ship-jumping Rob Morrow who in turn replaced the petulant Val Kilmer from his original casting as Douglas) and character actors Ron Perlman as a blind sheep man & Temuera Morrison as a wolf in a tux, creature costumes were designed and created by the remarkable Stan Winston and, most bafflingly, it was directed by John Frankenheimer. This is the man who made Ronin, The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May and, his masterpiece (and one of my personal favourites), Seconds.

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Frankenheimer’s involvement was induced after the original director Richard Stanley was relieved of his duties by New Line studio execs who were worried about escalating costs and his lack of overall competency after seeing dailies of Kilmer prancing about on set while he was supposed to be filming his lines (Kilmer had tried to leave the project but the studio put him on ‘contract lockdown’). Stanley would go on to burn all notes and papers from pre-production just to annoy the new regime and even threatened to torch the set, he did manage to sneak back in and, with help from disillusioned crew members, appears on film as a ‘melted bulldog’. The new incumbent would then hire his own screenwriter, Ron Hutchinson, to change the complexity of the story to his own vision and away from the awful original script but these re-writes would happen daily and on set much to the chagrin of the cast with Thewlis commenting “We would get pages and pages every day, and you’d read them and think “Well, these are shit as well.” And Brando, not being able to keep up with the constant revisions, would wear a radio ear-piece that would inadvertently tune in to police frequencies. While filming a particular scene it’s claimed he shouted “There’s been a robbery at Woolworth’s!”

Brando’s ego by this point was so large that nobody, including Frankenheimer, would dare say no to him or question any of his incredulous decisions. In one scene he wears an ice bucket as a hat simply because he was bored and he also demanded that a midget appear in every one of his scenes even wearing the same outfits. There’s a ludicrous scene where they serenade each other on the ivories with the midget’s little piano sitting on top of Brando’s grand piano. Brando’s entrance sees him arrive in a Guerilla-esque pope mobile, waving majestically at his populace while dressed in a large white cassock with his veiled face covered in flour and his lips and teeth smeared with lipstick. His wardrobe had a colourful, calypso theme throughout like he’d raided Whoopi Goldberg’s laundry basket with the addition of interchangeable extravagant headwear and beaded jewellery. Such a fall from grace for a once proud Hollywood legend is compounded in his death scene where he’s eaten by a hyena wearing Converse sneakers.

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Val Kilmer wasn’t a stranger to inexplicable behaviour either. He would insist on wearing odd garments randomly placed around his body like a blue scarf on his arm that he refused to take off until he stopped getting attention for it. He also didn’t turn up for the first two days of filming with his agent boasting “You always lose the first two days of a Val Kilmer movie.” It’s thought that Frankenheimer was bought onto the project with the hopes that he’d whip Kilmer into shape but that wasn’t to be, after wrapping the final shoot he ordered his crew “Get that bastard off my set”. The two leads didn’t get on from the outset and Kilmer was even spiteful enough to mimic Brando’s slurry speech both on and off camera throughout the entirety of the shoot. In fact, Kilmer’s acting is basically non-existent, he takes long pauses mid way through sentences and sometimes just stares blankly into the camera, there’s something quite homo-erotic about his ‘performance’ too most notable in scenes shared with Thewlis.

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That kind of sums it up really as the actual film itself feels incidental to the titanic battle of egos waged in the background and probably rightly so, it’s an utter mess of such magnitude that it surprises me it was finished and even got a cinema release at all but for the sake or good order I’ll try tie up the plot. After seeing his wolf friend die while on trial for killing a rabbit, the sport-shoe wearing hyena rips out the controlling chip which all ‘man-beasts’ have installed as a disciplinal measure and rallies the other grotesque inhabitants to form a militia and over-throw Moreau’s benevolent reign. Plenty of tiresome and poorly conceived sequences then follow mumbling and jumbling their way through to the contrite ending including a supposed exposition scene at a dinner table where Brando is just talking and talking, guffing volumes of nonsensical babble which serve more to confuse than to progress and there’s plenty more Val looking either bored or mischievous and adlibbing lines like “I wanna go to dog heaven”.

I’ve never been so aghast at a studio production, this fails so spectacularly on every level that it had me going through an emotional smorgasbord of negativity which I’m still finding difficult to negotiate and untangle like a big sticky web of shit. It’s the background to The Island of Dr. Moreau which lends it a slight semblance of charm and urges the curiosity of at least one viewing but most bafflingly it did manage to cover its budget on box-office receipts when essentially it was just one big snooker-loopy, dirty-laundry exposing, Hollywood squabble.

– Greg Foster

The Island of Dr. Moreau on IMDB
Read HG Well’s The Island of Dr Moreau (Penguin Classics)
Buy The Island Of Dr. Moreau [DVD] [1996]

Space Fury (1999)

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Directed by Eli Necakov

Imagine what might happen if Tiger Woods got sent to an International Space Station alongside a psychotic Space Engineer hell bent on reviving cold war hostilities between the United States of America and Russia. He’d stay there for a while alongside a vampy French astronaut and her amorous Russian lover (who is also an astronaut) and chaos ensues. No this wasn’t a rejected screenplay for an Eddie Murphy comeback vehicle, essentially this is the plot of Space Fury, only also tying in social commentary on Russia’s conflict with Chechnya, the brutal murder of a prostitute, and the shameless endorsement of soft drinks.

Starring Michael Paré as Konrad, a genius Astronaut who hides a dark secret; actually lets digress a little and think about Paré. In hindsight we can look at 1999 as the year where he thought to himself “My career can go one of two ways – either The Virgin Suicides will re-launch me as a credible actor who does serious, or I’ll end up starring in low budget fare such as Space Fury for the rest of my career”. I can’t help but feel that from the evidence of his performance, this time around it appears he is in on the joke, the realization has set in, he will never be a successful leading man or reliable supporting actor, and should instead aim towards cult hero status (for early evidence of how this was always likely to be his destiny check out one of Paré’s early films ‘Streets of Fire’). Paré, the thinking man’s Keanu Reeves, grimly plods through the turgid opening few scenes of ‘Space Fury’ as we get lost in the foggy script. Konrad is supposedly a deranged soul, but we don’t really get much of a clue about that until much later in the film (about the point when the prostitute dies and a little clue found on her person points a vodka swilling hardboiled Russian Detective towards the Tesla Space Station).

And what of our Tiger Woods figure named Max (played by Tony Curtis Blondell)? Well, he comes into the picture as the shuttle docks into Tesla, wide eyed and overawed by the experience of going into space. Max then gets cocky, encouraged by an outrageously annoying lady who appears to be his PA or manager, and remarkably this woman somehow has access to be communicating from Ground Control. As Max behaves more extreme he gets reprimanded by Konrad for listening to “Jungle Music” and then gets beaten into a coma where he remains for pretty much the remainder of the movie.

‘Space Fury’ admittedly is terrible, but on a personal level I’m in a quandary, given that I dislike most films that are a tiny bit sci-fi related or set in space. I think this stems from an early childhood aversion to ‘Button Moon’, ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and strenuously boring Patrick Moore monologues. Though I was also suffering from a fever during my viewing of ‘Space Fury’, the film wasn’t unbearable to watch because everything in it is rather absurd. Rogue terrorists send Konrad into space in order for him to crash the Tesla Space Station into Los Angeles, somehow Konrad is connected to the murder of a prostitute, or at least that’s what is implied. He has also been brainwashed, so possibly he even didn’t kill the prostitute, but now he’s in space he actually decides to go against the terrorist’s orders and becomes one of those people who just wants to watch the world burn for his own warped pleasure.

Entering spoiler territory, the heroine of the piece ends up being Rene, the vampy French woman, who after watching her Russian lover perish and Max getting knocked out, becomes the only person able to stop Konrad. Unfortunately Rene’s character isn’t developed in any way throughout the film, so aside from looking great in a scarlet red bra and pouting moodily, we don’t learn too much about what makes her tick.

Kudos must go to the buyers at Poundland HQ who distribute these movies at their numerous outlets up and down the country. ‘Space Fury’ is another lost gem, picked off the shelf because of its vague looking DVD cover; it actually is an unnecessarily complex movie with ideas about its (space) station.

– RJW
5/10

Space Fury on IMDB
Buy Space Fury [DVD]

Neco z Alenky (1988)

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The first memories I have are ones of growing up in Thatcher’s Britain in the 80s, I wasn’t aware of the importance of politics, how Maggie was throttling us or that, when old enough, we could eventually choose the business man or woman to manage the country like a big ailing high street chain slipping further down the pecking order. All I knew was that this was life and it had to be lived. The then government would tell us that we had to learn to make our own way at the expense of others and we weren’t there to be mollycoddled as the post war-time signals coming from our special-relationship cousins over the Atlantic would suggest.

Even before the war America’s syrupy ‘think of the children’ ideals by way of Disney and other youth focussed broadcasters made us move on and break from the child-labour ways of our industrial revolution foundations. We began to believe that children were important and not only that but special too. More child laws were coming into effect like we were protecting an endangered species by pumping money into their salvation by way of television advertising but instead of giving a few quid to ‘save the whale’ we were giving hundreds to branded manufacturers to ensure our precious babes stay ahead of the crowd and look good while doing it with extravagant excess.

While we spent the rest of the 20th century wearing plastic American smiles hanging loosely off our once socialist European faces other parts of the continent were not so quick to join our brownnosing. With Czechoslovakia being a central/eastern European country it would become part of the Communist Eastern Bloc and, as with the rest of the Bloc states, it would quickly lag behind the West socially and economically thus breeding a politically repressive climate.

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It’s in our youth that we are most receptive to learning intricacies about our society and it’s our understanding of the world around which gradually adds ill-fitting building blocks to our personalities forging us into the people we become like a cruel blacksmith cheating his client with crooked wares. It does seem to be an odd kink in the human condition that creativity is unlocked in people from a repressive upbringing whether it be something darkly sinister or a hulking political machine steamrollering childhood dreams into flat puddles of bloodied bones and faded rainbows.

Czechoslovakia spawned artists such as the writer Franz Kafka and the animator Jan Svankmajer and it was the latter who would highlight the cultural differences between the decadent West and the oppressed Eastern Bloc by comparing the great American storyteller Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland with his own interpretation of the Lewis Carroll novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Neco z Alenky or Alice to English speaking audiences.

Svankmajer had been making short stop-motion animation films since the early sixties and, after realising the popularity of these, decided to make the step up to feature length and further his career as a film director. The first of these was Alice made in 1988 as his answer to what he perceived as a long list of poorly interpreted film versions of the same material, he didn’t see this story as a fairy tale but more a “realised dream”.

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While Alice is played by a real girl (Kristyna Kohoutova) the rest of the characters in the film are fantastical creations made up of bones, meat, metal, crying wigs and, in a casting masterstroke, the white rabbit is an actual rabbit fresh from a trip to the taxidermist. In a brutal twist the rabbit haemorrhages sawdust from a rip in his body only to repair the damage with a safety pin and then lick the recently excreted innards from the face of his infamous timepiece in the vain hope of stunting his dwindling punctuality.

In fact, all the creatures that Alice meets on her dream journey are similarly beset by grotesque mannerisms or simple failures in their general creation like the sock-puppet caterpillar who has to sew his own eyes shut in order to sleep or the march hare who frequently needs the key in his back fully wound so he can spread butter over the mad hatter’s clocks. Alice herself even falls foul of this when she eats the biscuits and instead of just becoming a smaller version of herself she turns into one of those creepy porcelain dolls that you find advertised in TV guides.

Violence and death are ongoing themes throughout too. There’s lots of pain inflicted between Alice and the white rabbit which raises the question of what she actually wants to do with our furry friend once she’s caught up with him. The barbarism is dished out in equal measure without regard for consequence like when she pushes him out of a window into a pane of glass and traps his hand in a door tearing a hole in it through his glove and, among his many ripostes, he paddles her and cuts her hand with a saw. There’s a moment just over halfway through where Alice sees the lifeless body of a friendly rat whom she had met earlier with his head now caught in a vicious trap. Walt Disney this most certainly is not.

The production design is uncompromising in its darkness, the sets are cold and hard like a Wendy house whose interiors have been arranged by H.R. Giger on a shoestring budget, the sound is foreboding and the constant jagged close-ups of Alice’s lips mouthing “said the white rabbit” add an air of jarring uneasiness. While the film looks and sounds macabre a beautiful undercurrent of emotional depth flows beneath the surface which makes Alice the best artistic adaptation of Carroll’s novel and packs a satisfying punch that leaves you laying sprawled and dazed on the abstract canvas hidden in the recesses of the mind after such a profound attack on the senses.

This film conveys what it was like to be a child in the Eastern Bloc and how their dreams were infested by bones and decay rather than sweetened with hugs and teddy bears like their democratic peers further west. Svankmajer leaves us with a thoroughly challenging, unsettling but fully rounded and perfectly realised piece of fantasy cinema which is worlds away from the saccharine sweet Disney effort. Alice really is a stunning, evocative display of filmmaking and an absolute powerhouse in storytelling, even if the source isn’t his own the Czech immerses himself in it sufficiently enough to create a masterpiece that most definitely is.

– Greg Foster

Neco z Alenky on IMDB
Buy Alice (DVD + Blu-ray) [1988]