Wednesday, 27 January 2010

2012; Death Race; Creep; Ladyhawke


The latest instalment in disaster porn seems to paint itself into a corner by shafting the entire planet. Where next for Roland Emmerich?
As an effects movie, it’s sensible to start talking about the cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a nice line in earnest speeches as one of the government scientists who figures out what’s going on, although it’s really all down to Jimi Mistry. I’ve not seen Chiwetel deliver a poor performance yet, so it’s simultaneously a shame that he’s stuck there but also a joy that there’s some quality to cling to.
John Cusack doesn’t muster up half the magic as he has from favourite past performances, but he still has charm and enough skill to convince as a terrified parent, at least more so than the CGI collapsing around him.
Oliver Platt often plays a kooky guy, which can work to an extent (see Lake Placid) but just as often falls flat. Here he is given a straight role as a government bigwig who has to tell it like it is, even with a hint of a mean streak as he voices the choices of who should be saved and why.
Danny Glover plays the noble POTUS who goes down with the ship in a fairly predictable role, and Woody Harrelson enjoys being a bit PG nutty as the loony conspiracy theorist who has hit upon the truth – the world is ending and the government are hiding it.


Some of the sequences are undeniably impressive even if they never convince – the limo escape scene for example – though others don’t impress after scale eventually becomes meaningless; an ark in danger of colliding with Everest doesn’t benefit from the contextual size of the set piece, by that point it’s just yet another thing what does crash.
As an example of the futility of this genre, the urge for one-upmanship in ‘event’ cinema seems to ignore the success of the old 70s disaster movie – it wasn’t the effects that made them memorable, rather the tight cast who have to endure the trials that befall them. The urge here is to cram in too much to give you a neat focus, so many characters can only end up more flimsy through lack of exposure what with it being hard enough to go up against the effects as it is. For example, much is made of the plastic surgeon Gordon being an important stepfather to Cusack’s kids, but then he dies and it’s all okay. Too much time is spent building up characters that go nowhere, almost as if they realised halfway through that shots of buildings crumbling and big waves get boring after a while, and they needed something else to justify the running time (and expense).

Cultural stereotypes aren’t as bad as in some previous blockbusters (hello Independence Day) but you still have some choice morsels such as the Russian billionaire and his spoiled, fat children.
Outside the spectacle 2012 is obviously mawkish with the nuclear family prized above all, despite its bleatings about all of us being humans together. At least it decides Africa is saved whilst everywhere else on Earth gets fucked.

Is there anything to it other than entire cities sliding into the sea as John Cusack makes numerous improbable escapes? No.

2012 : not as exciting as zombies.

Death Race

Paul W.S. Anderson’s remake of Roger Corman has the dubious honour of worrying Event Horizon as his best film.
Even with all the violence and lechery, it still manages to neuter the original by only putting hardened crims in danger, therefore scumbags who obviously deserve to die get blowed up or mushed rather than innocent pedestrians. Except the Stat who is obviously innocent, and also ripped with a fondness for figure-hugging tops and the target of a conspiracy where he is framed for his wife’s murder, so he aims to get them what done this. Cue frowning!
Lovejoy’s in it as the wise old prison guy, and a wincing geeky type of whom it’s not quite clear what he’s done to end up on Terminal Island. How did he get there? Why has he been welcomed into the bosom of Lovejoy’s engineering set-up? Not important, and in a film with characters named Travis Colt and Hector Grimm you’re not meant to be thinking too hard about back story.

The palette is muddy, the race sequences are little different to what you’ve seen before if you’ve happened on Mad Max 2, Fast & Furious and the like, the characters are your basic ethnic US prison stereotypes – the Hispanic guy, Aryan Brotherhood guy and African American guy getting the most exposure, with the added twist being that Tyrese Gibson’s black driver is also gay, but a nasty macho one rather than a mincing queen for a change. Because Death Race is so cutting edge.
Shooting blah, shunting blah, explosions blah, it is mildly entertaining but you will have seen better before umpteen times over, with other films managing more invention in most aspects you could care to think of, be it fighty bits, drivey bits or shooty bits.
Quite why they decided that Joan Allen couldn’t just act evil as the villainous prison warden rather than resorting to applying too much eye make up on her I may never know.
Still, it’s always nice to have the Stat frown and growl his cockney growl at everyone before hitting them.

Second best Paul W.S. Anderson film? Yes, but still turgidly average and not deserving of more than a straight-to-rental release. 


Two things occur to you on watching Creep – what was Franka Potente doing, and why is Vas Blackwood not on our screens more?
Death Line and American Werewolf in London have already ‘done’ terror on the tube, but it’s still nowhere near as overused a venue as the old dark house, cabin in the woods or spaceship. Franka being locked in at Charing Cross with no one noticing is a little hard to swallow, as is the scumbag Guy somehow finding her, but let’s not try to make sense of low budget horror now, eh? Thankfully the plot behind the strange disfigured murderer and the glimpses of a bricked up hospital ward are never explained, leaving the viewer to pick up the pieces from what is briefly shown.
The madman himself is played by Sean Harris who recently appeared as Bob Craven in the Red Riding Trilogy, and as a ridiculously OTT junky in Harry Brown. His performance shines through despite the heavy prosthetics and pig squealing, and shows what a difference can be made to a creature feature when you dress up an actor rather than just going for a guy with the most bulk and telling him where to stand. Although only appearing in the last scenes of the film, he lifts Creep from being yet another low budget shocker without it having to resort to laughs. 


I almost instantly gave up on Ladyhawke as the titles began, with the repeated shots of a hawk fluffing its wings a bit over an alternate sunny/moonlit background, with the most hellishly cheesy 80s synth-fest raping my ears. There’s a special flavour of 80s synth wank that infested a great number of films in that decade, almost as many as films with scenes unnecessarily shot in strip clubs. This awful tangent of music is the perfect accompaniment to the garish and vapid attitude that clouded a lot of 80s culture, and those hideous notes seem to be optimistically overlooked by the great many artists who seek to mine the pit of 80s electronica recently. Very few synthy scores work, with John Carpenter’s pieces usually avoiding the worst excesses and of the few, along with the famous Vangelis Bladerunner score, that aren’t godawful.

Aside from this misfortune, Ladyhawke is a better than average entry in to that decade’s fling with fantasy and fairytale. Fittingly released in a set alongside Willow and Legend, Ladyhawke chooses only the faux medieval setting and a little bit of magic which is usually just spoken of, rather than brought to the foreground. Essentially a love story, or of how Matthew Broderick’s pickpocket Phillipe Gaston comes to be mixed up in it, we find Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfieffer as the lovers who are separated by a curse – he is a wolf by night, she a hawk by day, neither able to see each other as humans thanks to a jealous evil bishop who Hauer’s Navarre now sets out to slay.

Broderick is the right kind of cheeky and at this point had grown a lot since War Games. His charm and ability to carry a movie were evident here, a year before Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in ’86. Hauer is convincing as the noble and feared captain of the guard in exile, that face giving just enough of an air of mystery to make him threatening, but easily dampened by his smile. Pfieffer’s Isabeau is literally luminous and believable as the impulse behind the bishop’s fall to the dark arts, though she rarely gets to do a lot besides sit around looking lovely.
The chemistry between Pfieffer and Hauer isn’t really in evidence, though that may be unfair to call as they spend the majority of the movie apart.
Able support from Leo Mckern, John Wood and Alfred Molina, called upon here to look bearded and dirty as a wolf hunter, and some gorgeous Italian locations with castles, sewers and slapdash forest dwellings really help to set the scene of post-Crusades France.

It’s all very Sunday afternoon well-isn’t-this-nice, but still makes for an enjoyable movie that thankfully loses the synths towards the end and settles for the standard orchestral delivery when our lovers are finally reunited.


David N said...

Re: 80s synth scores, I have 2 words for you - Tangerine Dream.

And Ian McShane should never be referred to as "Lovejoy" since he did Deadwood. Its not right.

That is all.

daveysomethingfunny said...

Ian McShane was a dick to me once at Street.

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