Sunday, 30 November 2008

Bruce Campbell Double Bill

Seeing how long it's been since we saw the films, it's likely that I won't finish listening to the commentary tracks on Alien Apocalypse and Man With The Screaming Brain. Heckler reviewed AA back in August, giving it 9 Bela Lugosis on his bad sci-fi scale (very bad).

The two films have things in common, other than the fact they were sold to me as a double bill for £6. Both star Bruce Campbell, and he directed and co-wrote TMWTSB. Both were financed by the Sci-Fi channel, but despite this are genuine sci-fi, if bad examples of that genre. Both were shot in Bulgaria, to save money. Both were stories that had been floating around for 15 years or so before being made in 2005.

I've briefly commented on AA via the whiteboard. To recap: after 40 years in space, Bruce Campbell and his fellow astronaut crew members return to Earth to discover it has been taken over by insectoid aliens who find wood a delicacy and so have set up a slave logging camp[1]. Other things they like to eat include heads and fingers. Unsurprisingly there is a very high mortality rate amongst the slaves, so the astronauts are captured and enslaved. Campbell's character escapes meets up with a woman in a chamois leather bikini and they go looking for the legendary leader of the Resistance "The President". They find him, but he's an old, tired man hiding in he woods so Campbell has to start the rebellion himself. In the nick of time the president and the surviving members of the US government turn up and show off their archery skills (which we always appreciate at H&K) and overthrow the alien oppressors.

From the half hour or so of commentary I heard, the references to Planet of the Apes were deliberate homages[2], the costumes in paticular and there were homages to other films as well that I forget. I admire their choice to make a new film using some of the themes and ideas of POTA rather than simply making a crap remake.

I thought I had a conclusion, but apparently not, so I'll simply warn that this film, and the following clip, contains a fair bit of headbiting and is rated as "Gruesome" by the V__ Movie Preview Board.

(This Scene lead inevitably to the comment "If the aliens can't get wood, they get head")

Man With The Screaming Brain is Bruce Campbell's directorial debut, and it shows. To a certain extent he plays to his strengths, playing a stereotypical American-abroad who judges everything by the standards of America; this despite the fact he's gone to Bulgaria to buy things up cheap from the sale of ex-state infrastructure leftover from the communist era. He's the CEO of a drugs company and a couple of stereotypically crazy scientists have invented a drug that prevents brain-transplants from being rejected and try to get him to buy it. Meanwhile his wife is bored and has sex with the stereotypically rude guide/taxi driver/ex-secret policeman. Then she walks in on Campbell snogging the maid, a stereotypically vengeful gypsy. For reasons I forget, Campbell is beaten over the head with a pipe by the gypsy, who then kills the taxi-driver who is her ex-.

Did I mention that many of the characters are stereotypes?

The scientists acquire the bodies and replace damaged brain tissue in Campbell's brain with tissue from the taxi driver. As might be expected this leads to two personalities in one body, and include Bruce Campbell recreating the scene from Evil Dead where he fights his own hand. Meanwhile his wife, thinking he's dead, confronts the gypsy who kills her. Not having a body, the scientists put her brain into a robot body. After this the film gets too silly to explain.

I'd say MWTSB is the superior of the two films as it never takes itself seriously, but just follows it's plot to the next joke, stunt or set piece. Unfortunately this gave us less opportunity to mock it as the film kept getting there first. Damn you Bruce Campbell! As for inspiration, I see some of Steve Martin's The Man With Two Brains in both the title and the film. This film is classified as "Gruesome" due to the scenes of brain surgery (visible in the trailer):

[1] logging slave camp?
[2] On the other hand, in the 300 commentary track, Zack Snyder keeps referring to stealing ideas, shots etc. from other films and keeps being corrected "You mean it's an homage".

Saturday, 29 November 2008

What's Wrong With Heckler And Kochk?

When I ask what's wrong with Heckler and Kochk, I of course mean why hasn't it been updated for ages, not what's wrong with it; that's fairly obvious. Well partly we've not been having movie night very often for a variety of reasons. Partly Heckler is a very busy man. Partly I've been ignoring a bunch of half-written reviews in drafts.

But fortunately we have a more important question to distract you from our laziness. That question is:

What's Wrong With Death Proof?

We had been warned that Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror is the superior of the two films in the Grindhouse double bill. Nevertheless we were surprised at just how far from the exploitation film mark Tarantino got with this film.

Here's what Wikipedia says about Exploitation films:

Exploitation film is a type of film that is promoted by "exploiting" (often) lurid subject matter. (The term "exploitation" is a common film marketing term, used for all types of films, meaning promotion or advertising. Thus, films need something to "exploit", such as a big star, special effects, sex, violence, romance, etc.)

The problem, such as it is, is that we go in expecting a film about a killer car or a killer driver or maybe a car duel or something, with scenes of automobile-related mayhem linked by Tarantino's signature conversations about nothing much (See Trailer, also at the bottom). Instead we get a tiny bit of mysterious and creepy following of several attractive women who then spend 40 minutes talking about nothing much. Oh, and Kurt Russell explains the title of the film. [Next paragraph has spoilers]

Then there is a short period of automobile-related mayhem. (At this point the film is rated "Gruesome" by the V__ film preview board). It's violent, kinetic, and bloody. This pitch is unsustainable, so Tarantino doesn't try to sustain it, and we meet up with another group of women who spend a lot of time talking abut nothing much (although the nothing much is slightly more plot relevant and the revelation of character through talking about nothing is more to the point as they don't all die). Then (finally) there's a long car chase ending in violent and bloody death.

What we seem to be exploiting is Tarantino's reputation rather than silly and violent car stunts. This good for neither the car stunts nor the reputation.

Tarantino is famed for the excess in his movies; what is less obvious is his restraint (for example: what is the scene we don't see in Reservoir Dogs?). Here he is too restrained in the first part of the film when it comes to action, and shows no restraint for characters talking about his obsessions. All in all a failure with some points of interest.

My favourite line: Lee having been left alone with Jasper a surety for the car her friends are taking for a test drive says (says, not performs): "Gulp." (Here - shot from 7:23 to 7:48)