Monthly Archives: July 2012

Rearranging

High quality ostrich feather duster

Over the last couple of days we’ve been doing a bit of decorating and deep cleaning. We’ve also rearranged the downstairs, something I’ve wanted to do for a couple of months now. It’s amazing how moving a bit of furniture around can make a room or a home feel completely different and new. It seems to revitalise everything.

Now that we’ve done the house I think it’s about time to do a little ‘life’ rearranging. Move some of my furniture about. Sometimes we all have to do some deep cleaning and decorating of a more personal nature. Get out the feather duster and sweep away some of those mental cobwebs that tend to hang around the nooks and crannies of our mind.

Maybe slap a coat of paint over the whole mess. Or maybe just the odd room or two. Sometimes we just need a little tidy up and things feel fresher and newer.  And perhaps change the room layout or swap rooms around.

Sometimes we need to get rid of all the clutter. Have a mental car boot sale or yard sale and put up the placard that says. “Everything must go!” Or trade our old furniture for new and get a ‘new look’ on life.

And speaking of life, it may well be that our life is what needs rearranging and not our mental state at all. No cobwebs or clutter or dust kitties to be swept away. Just our life’s direction or location.

Are we headed in the right direction? Should we be going south instead of north? Should we stay where we’re at or go some place completely different? Should we be moving at all?

It could be that we are in need of a fresh new start. That the road we are travelling down has turned into a mud-filled rut. If that is the case, do we just tighten our shoelaces and trudge that little bit harder or do we jump up and out of the rut we are in.  I think we all find ourselves in ruts of one kind or another it’s just up to us to figure out what to do.

I have ‘started over’ more times than I care to think about. And really friends and neighbours, ‘starting over’ is the same thing as a fresh start. Both of these phrases starting over, fresh start mean the same thing. They are both acts of rearranging your life.

It can get to be addictive, this rearranging lark. You start wondering whether or not you are going a bit stale, a bit sour, or a bit too lackadaisical. Everything starts feeling the same, as though you’re caught in a grey and featureless world. One that is devoid of colour and the contrast is too fuzzy to see anything clearly.

Does this addiction to change of mind and attitude equal a change of location? Or are you so caught in that rut that you’re overlooking what you need. A sort of forest and trees scenario.

If you are suffering from an almost irresistible urge to decorate, clean and rearrange; start small. It could just be that all you need to do is re-think. It could be that simple. But if it’s not?

Well, it’s probably time to hold that yard sale and pack the things you want to keep. Your ‘new’ life changing experience is just over that next hill.

Garage Sales
Garage Sales (Photo credit: Ecstatic Mark)

 

An Arkansas Razorback in Queen Elizabeth Country

Flag of the United States of America
Flag of the United States of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My daughter and I were discussing the differences between America and England. She had read a blog or two about Brit’s abroad and living in the US. I thought that they must be interesting and then wondered why I hadn’t thought of doing something similar.

I have always enjoyed living in England. Growing up and watching Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce playing as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s great double act, Holmes and Watson made me long to tread those foggy streets of London. When I was given the opportunity to live here courtesy of Uncle Sam, I couldn’t believe my luck.

I will point out that I have actually lived in the United Kingdom longer than I lived in the country of my birth. I have thought of this castle filled country as my home for at least the last eighteen years. I got out of the USAF as part of the force downsizing drill in the nineties and not too long after applied for citizenship. Luckily for me, I did not have to ‘give up’ my status as an American citizen so I’ve always had the best of both worlds.

Despite the fact that I came to this country with a cloud over my head (that would soon be replaced by the real clouds that so frequently fill the sky in this country) I felt that just walking the streets was a great adventure. For years I would be driving somewhere and see the ruins of a castle or a picturesque thatched cottage and think, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m living here!”

Of course I have now lived here so long, that I don’t have many occasions where I have trouble with the local language or have to learn about traditions or quaint practises of the country. I have, though, developed a strange accent. One that is an odd blend of Arkansan,  American, and English. I live in Suffolk, one of the more rural areas of East Anglia, where you can get trapped behind a tractor for miles on a narrow, two lane road and the local populace all talk like an English version of country bumpkins.

It is a beautiful countryside that still plays havoc with my sinuses, despite having lived full-time in the county since 1990. And each year I await the rape and mustard season with dread knowing that my eyes will water and itch and my nose will steadfastly refuse to work properly until the blasted stuff is harvested.

But back in 1982, I didn’t know about rapeseed and mustard and how much it can affect you. I only knew that I really needed a change of scenery and the positive press I got from my  commander made it sound a bit like heaven. I got my orders and flew to RAF Mildenhall, the “Gateway to Europe” and arrived on the 5th of July 1982. My sponsor, a Staff Sargent from my new unit, met me and helped me get settled in my room.

I had an invite to his place later in the day for a barbecue and he left saying he would come back and pick me up later. I wandered around the wide open base. In those days RAF Mildenhall was pretty much open to the public. The only part of the base that was fenced off was the flight line area. Everything else was easily accessible by everyone.

At the edge of Mildenhall’s archaic base housing was a bus stop and a place called Mickey’s T bar. It boasted American style food and seating. I went in and ordered a double cheese burger. When the owner brought me the burger he pointed to an American style mustard bottle and said if I needed mustard on it, to help my self. I grabbed the squeezable bottle and lathered my cheese burger with mustard.

I then went to a table, sat down and took an enormous bite of instant fire. Eyes watering, I looked at the burger I’d just taken a bite out of in surprise. I hastily grabbed my can of coke and gulped the entire thing down in an effort to stop the burning in my mouth. I carefully put the cheeseburger down on my plate. I went back to the serving counter and bought another coke and asked why the burger was so damn hot.

The owner looked at me oddly and said, “Well of course it’s hot mate, I’ve only just cooked it.” I explained that I didn’t mean temperature hot, but spicy hot. He then started chuckling.

” You didn’t put mustard on did you?”

“Yeah,” I said, “Of course I did.”

“Well that’s not Yank mustard, mate. It’s English. We like our mustard a bit hotter than you lot like yours.” He continued chuckling to himself and after he sold me my second Coke stopped and thoughtfully rubbed his chin. “You know, I probably should mark the bloody thing. We get quite a few of you Yanks in here straight off the plane. Did you just get here?”

I nodded and he offered to make me another cheeseburger, no charge since I’d ‘ruined’ my first one. I said he didn’t have to do that, as I could  just scrape off the excessive amount of mustard that I had put on.  I finished my burger and wandered back to my room for a nap before the barbecue that afternoon.

My first day in England and already I’d learned two valuable  lessons. Not everything was what it seemed here and don’t put too much mustard on your burger.

English mustard.

Cargo (2009): This Swiss Science Fiction Ain’t Cheesy

Cargo (2009 film)
Cargo (2009 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you’re a film nut (or geek, or buff, or lover, or add descriptive word of choice here______), you will take a chance on a film you’ve never heard of. Often this unknown film is incredibly cheap, which can indicate that it is laughably bad and worth the paltry purchase price just to watch it and roll about the floor in uncontrollable mirth. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you Cowboys and Vampires aka Dead West as evidence and will rest my case.

But…

Sometimes you find a fantastically great film, that for some obscure reason, has been placed in the bargain bucket. The 2009 Swiss film Cargo  falls squarely in that category. Wikipedia will tell you that Cargo is Switzerland’s first science fiction film what it will not tell you is that the film is a mystery/thriller that just happens to take place in space.

Directed by Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter (Engler also co-wrote the film with another six people) Cargo is stark, moody, cold,  huge and brilliant.

Main Cast List:

Anna Katharina Schwabroh …      Laura Portman

Martin Rapold …                            Samuel Decker

Regula Grauwiller…                      Anna Lindberg

Yangzom Brauen…                        Miyuki Yoshida

Pierre Semmler…                          Pierre Lacroix

Claude-Oliver Rudolph…               Igor Prokoff

Michael Finger…                            Claudio Vespucci

The film is set in 2267. The earth has been polluted to such an extent that it is now uninhabitable. People now have to live in an enormous ‘space city’ that is overcrowded and affected by sickness and apathy. There is one other place to live.  A planet called Rhea. It is a Terra-formed planet that looks like a paradise. Anyone can live on Rhea if they have enough money or are lucky enough to win a lottery to move there.

RHEA

A young medical doctor, Laura Portman  hires on to a decaying cargo vessel that has been contracted to deliver building materials to a “way-station” that will be the mid-point for travel to another solar system.  She will make enough money on the eight year trip (four years out and back) to pay her way to Rhea where her sister Arianne lives with her two children.

Laura boards the ship and meets the five member crew, Captain Lacroix and his second-in-command Lindberg, Yoshida the ship’s engineer and the two maintenance men Prokoff and Vespucci. She learns that the journey will entail the crew having to man the vessel in eight month shifts. Only one crew member will be actively monitoring the journey while the others are in cryosleep.

On this particular journey the now six member crew will be joined by a security officer named Decker. Decker is there because of an increased threat from the terrorist group “Maschinenstürmer” (Machine strikers) who target and blow  up cargo vessels. Six of the now seven member crew then don their cryo-gear and enter the sludge filled tanks.

Three years and four and a half months later Laura is on the back end of her shift. She spends her time sending messages to her sister on Rhea, exercising (working out on a punch bag) and checking the crew and the ship’s status. She begins to hear unexplained noises.

When she attempts to track down the source of the noise she winds up at the cargo hold door. As she starts to look through  the ice covered door, something hits the other side. Frightened she runs away and bumps into Security Office Decker who says that he was woken from cryostasis because someone opened a restricted door.

Following the ship’s protocol Laura want’s to wake the remaining crew members. Decker insists that they only wake Captain Lacroix. Lacroix grumpily agrees to search the ship with Decker and Laura. He warns Laura that if they find nothing there will be serious consequences for breaching the Cryo protocol.

Once the three enter the actual cargo  area they split up. Soon after, Lacroix falls screaming from one of the higher walkways. After determining that Lacroix has died from his fall, Laura and Decker wake the remaining crew members.

Cargo looks fantastic, the cinematography, lighting and sets are reminiscent of Blade Runner and Alien.

The orbiting city at the beginning of the film looks spectacular and is the portion of the film that evokes the Blade Runner feel. You know that if you could walk the streets, they would be wet, dirty and crowded.

The cargo ship feels like it could be the Nostromo‘s ethereal twin, harsh contrasts of light and dark and the watery corridors that run through the ship like a damp maze. But unlike the mining ship from the Alien verse, Cargo’s shipping vessel is not built for crew comfort, it is cold, wet and icy (another type of contrast, if it’s not icy and freezing it is watery and cold). Although the crew’s area is at least dry, it is obvious that Kuiper Enterprises who own the vessel are saving money by not providing central heating for the crew.

The film is obviously science fiction if for no other reason than it’s futuristic space setting. But scrape away the space veneer and you will find a mystery thriller of the finest calibre. My daughter and I (both keen mystery fans and quite adept at guessing who’s who in most films) were constantly having to change our minds as to who the real ‘big bad’ actually was.

A lot of twists and turns in the plot area combined with an eerie cargo spaceship setting made for a wonderfully tense, suspense filled film.

The film was the maiden effort of both directors but you’d never know it by the quality of the film. Cargo builds suspense slowly but steadily throughout the entire film. The pacing is spot on and the acting is just great. The film is in German with English sub-titles. Thankfully the film makers did not go the ‘dubbing’ route as that would have surely destroyed the film.

The sub-titles aren’t ridiculously long so you don’t have to miss anything by reading a ‘Gone With the Wind’ type narration at the bottom of the screen.

An absolutely brilliant film that deserves to be placed in the same league as the above mentioned films, Blade Runner and Alien.

Where the Hell Did All These People Come From?

London 2012 banner at The Monument.
London 2012 banner at The Monument. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So it’s the first day of the 2012 Olympics. Folks are flying small or large national flags in front of their houses to show their patriotic support. London is theoretically packed with Olympian fans from countries around the globe and amazingly the weathermen accurately predicted that it would rain on the evening of the opening Olympic ceremonies.

I will readily admit that I’m more impressed by the accurate weather forecast than anything else that might be happening in London or anyplace else for that matter. I know that the press has been predicting that traffic down to (or up to, or across to depending where you live in the country) will be horrendously congested as folks flock to the games.

Well, I don’t know but I think a whole group of them have gotten lost and wound up in my neck of the woods.

I just went down to pick up a prescription that I then had to drop off to the pharmacy of my local Tesco Metro. For those of you who don’t live in England, the Tesco Metro is a mini version of the Tesco supermarket. And despite the friendly folks who work there, is a giant pain in the ass. It is conveniently located so that older (aka retired) folks can get the essentials for their homes. It is also almost always crowded. There seem to be an awful lot of old people where I live.

Today it was worse than ever. Because today it wasn’t just the old folks shopping, it was every bugger and his dog shopping. The queue to the tobacco kiosk, with it’s very popular lottery till and scratch-n-win tickets, was so long I thought maybe the kiosk was giving money or cigarettes away for free.

Amazingly, I dropped off my prescription, paid for it in advance, did some shopping, and walked to the local library (only to find it is closed on a Friday) and came back to collect my ‘drugs’ and the queue was sill ridiculously long. On top of that the Metro itself was suddenly ass-deep in people.

I felt like a linebacker trying to make a touchdown against a team that had ten times more players than the side I was on. Now I know it’s a Friday, the day that is traditionally a pay day. But surely in this day and age of monthly pay-checks and electronic banking and shopping not everyone is going to flock down to the nearest store.

I mean it’s summer people! You should be on holiday with your over-weight sunburned children, in-laws and grandparents. You should be at the seaside or at the English home-away-from-home, Spain (specifically Majorca) or at the very least Bognor Regis and complaining about the English weather. Not at the Metro around the corner from my house.

I think somebody put up a detour sign that funnelled all the Olympic traffic heading to London to the Metro. That’s the only explanation. It has to be, if that isn’t the reason, where the hell did all these people come from?

Hey! Maybe they are giving away money and cigarettes! I’d write some more on the subject, but I just remembered some things I forgot to get from the Metro.

First self service Tesco, St Albans, England Р...
First self service Tesco, St Albans, England Русский: Первый магазин самообслуживания Tesco, открытый в 1948 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All God’s Chillun Got Guns or Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

alamo
alamo (Photo credit: j3net)

Since the Aurora shooting (I’m refusing to refer to it by the press moniker of ‘Midnight Shootings) the nation has been up in arms (pun intended) about the issue of gun control and certain rabid liberals who just want to take away every American‘s firearms.

It is the ‘woolly headed’ thinking of these liberal ‘peace-niks’ that drives me to distraction. These are the same sort of people who instilled a deep-seated phobia about firearms and their place in modern society in the United Kingdom. And the argument that the constitution’s assertion that American’s have the right to own and use firearms for their own “self defence” is not really a right is ridiculous.

The Supreme Court upheld the notion that the constitution did guarantee American’s the right to own and use firearms in 2008. With the government’s overt and not so overt (Can you say Fast & Furious, kids? I knew you could) opposition to individuals having access to guns and their determination to control every honest citizens ability to use guns, I think we are in for yet another fight.

The government need to read more history. American history. I won’t go as far back as the War of Independence that we would not have had a chance in if it weren’t for private citizens and their guns.

No, in terms of history I will just say three words. Remember the Alamo.

Every American remembers the legend and the myth of the Alamo’s desperate last stand against the military might of the Mexican government. But has everyone forgotten what helped start Texas (that was part of Mexico) in their move to rebel against the government?

Gun control.

The Mexican government decided to put into practise a gun control law that prohibited citizens owning their own firearms. Admittedly this was in a time when the gun was necessary to these ‘homesteaders’ for personal protection in  a time when the Apache and other sundry tribes were still preying on these intruding white people.

The attempted confiscation of arms and the punitive measures taken against the ‘law breakers’ started what would soon escalate into a full scale military event that would see Mexico lose a part of their own country. And it all started with a sense of moral outrage felt by the Americans who were told to give up their guns

That that sense of moral outrage and entitlement has not gone away. The country itself may be more ‘civilised’ and we might have more law and order with a modern police force to help keep things ‘safe.’ But the police themselves admit that they are not in a position to provide protection for the average citizen.

The police are, by the very nature of their job, an ‘after-the-fact’ organisation. They arrive at the crime scene after the fact. Just the phrase ‘crime scene’ proves that the actual crime has already occurred. The police have stated that a well armed, well trained citizen can provide better protection for themselves than they, the police, can.

In case you missed it, the most important part of the above paragraph was the “well armed, well trained” bit. Instead of wasting everyone’s time trying to set up a legislation that, like the United Kingdom, will only allow the police and criminals to be armed, they should instead set up a program that requires gun owners be educated.

Proper lessons for new gun owners or for existing owners a requirement to prove they know how, why and when to properly use a gun. Whether it’s for hunting or self defense, a little education could go a long way. It’s been proven time and again that the current system is not capable of stopping the world’s nutters buying guns and using them on innocent people.

I’m not advocating turning American streets into a variation of the O.K. Corral with shoot-outs at noon, but I am saying we need to be very careful in disarming honest citizens. Because I can tell you, the next step will be losing your right to defend yourself or your family at all.

I’ve lived in the United Kingdom off and on from 1982 to 1990 and after that I’ve lived here full time (I’m a dual citizen) and I’ve seen first hand what living in a country that practises the total disarming of it’s law abiding citizenry is like..

In the United Kingdom you cannot even own a knife if the blade it too long. You are also very limited in defending yourself. Woe betide the person who uses too much violence to save themselves or their family from personal injury or death. I will just point out the the ‘anti-gun, anti-violence’ attitude and legislation forbids the use of tasers, spray cannisters (tear gas, pepper spray) and causing any sort of injury to the criminal who is attempting to murder, rob, rape or assault you.

Protecting yourself too vigorously will land you in court. You can, then depending of the circumstances, find yourself a guest at Her Majesty’s convenience. At the very least you could be fined a substantial amount of money for daring to protect your family and their (or your) safety.

Self defence is frowned on in this country. Violence, whether it is of a protective nature or not, is bad. And that will be the next step. Because the real disturbing truth is this. Gun control is just the first step in the government controlling you and trying to turn you into a cog in their mechanism.

Where they call allthe shots and you have no right to personally insure you are safe in your own city, town, or home.

Re-enactment of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corra...
Re-enactment of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Tombstone, Arizona (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Exam (2009): And You Thought Your Test Was Hard

Exam (film)
Exam (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This 2009 film is a combination of mystery, thriller and science fiction. After I had written an article on the 2010 film Hunter Prey, I got a comment from words on charcoal who recommended that I watch Exam It is another small budget film on Netflix, that unlike Hunter Prey was filmed traditionally rather than digitally. He also said it was quite good.

He was right.

So before, I talk about the film I need to thank words on charcoal  Thanks mate, it is a cracking little film.

Like Hunter Prey, Exam utilises a minimalist set. It takes place in a room and a very small portion of a hallway. Inside the room are eight chairs and tables, a digital wall clock that is also a timer. It also has what looks suspiciously like a flat screen television, a big one, embedded into wall over the timer. Each corner of the room has surveillance camera at the top of the wall.

As the film begins we get tiny glimpses of eight different people as the cast list scrolls, each doing something presumably to prepare themselves for the exam. One washes their face, another takes a pill and crunches it quickly with his teeth. Each person in this slow moving ‘montage’ is slowly and methodically gearing themselves up.

We then see the room where the exam will take place.

The camera pans slowly through the room.  It is ‘modernistic’ and minimalistic in design.  Intriguingly it has a covered drain running the length of the room between the two rows of chairs and tables. Each table has one sheet of paper and one pencil. The paper only contains the word CANDIDATE and a number.

The door to the room opens by sliding into the wall silently and the candidates enter the room, and looking at the numbered sheet on the table, take their respective seats. Once they are seated an armed guard comes in and takes position by the door. Then another man walks in. He introduces himself as the invigilator and tells them the rules of the exam.

The exam takes 80 minutes and consists of one question only, and that there are three rules: do not talk to the Invigilator or the armed guard at the door, do not spoil the paper, and do not leave the room. Not obeying the rules will result in disqualification. He also tells the group that in this room, the only rules are the company rules that he has just listed.

The Invigilator (played by Colin Salmon, a personal favourite in this house) finishes his spiel and asks if anyone has any questions. None of the candidates speak so he leaves. Once he is gone the candidates turn over their sheet of paper and find it is blank.

English: Colin Salmon at Dinard british film f...

This is a marvellous little gem of a film. Even though it takes place in one room, with the exception of the short hallway scenes where violators of the rules are taken, the film is riveting. As the candidates attempt to figure out what is required of them, we are joining in. We also see the individual characters arc and the group dynamic changes and flows as the situation of the exam itself changes.

Like trying to solve a puzzle, the film and the characters in it feel like allies in a search for the answer. I am sure that not everyone who watches the film will ‘actively’ participate in the little groups search. But we did. The film was paused several times while my daughter and I discussed the characters and came up with possible scenarios and character analysis of the candidates.

The film feels like a spiritual relative of the 1997 film Cube. Another “locked room” film that requires it’s disparate group of people to also solve a puzzle of sorts to escape their dilemma. But in the exam the solving of the puzzle doesn’t equal escape or freedom. It offers long and fruitful employment with a prestigious company.

The opening of the film offers much in the implication of prior events. The Invigilator speaks of the ‘lengths’ that the final eight candidates went to. He implies that is a brutal competition with no holds barred. He also indicates that the intelligence level of the group is quite high and that they are the ‘best’ in their respective fields.

Exam is a ‘straight to video’ film that was also released as a ‘video on demand.’ So I have no way of seeing just how well the film performed on ‘release’ but I’d like to think that it was well received.

Films like Exam and Hunter Prey go a long way in proving that it is possible to make a limited budget independent film look like a studio release. The cinematography is crisp and the editing of the film spot on. And most importantly the film stock used was of sufficient quality that it did not have that ‘Indie’ look.

I would highly recommend watching this British Indie film. It is another example of why independent films are so essential to the business.

Cast List:

Luke Mably as White
Adar Beck as Dark
Chris Carey as Guard
Gemma Chan as Chinese Girl
Nathalie Cox as Blonde
John Lloyd Fillingham as Deaf
Chukwudi Iwuji as Black (credited as “Chuk Iwuji“)
Pollyanna McIntosh as Brunette
Jimi Mistry as Brown
Colin Salmon as Invigilator

Directed/written by Stuart Hazeldine

English: Stuart Hazeldine introduces his film ...

Maximum Overdrive (1986): Maximum Schlock

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

I still remember getting quite excited when I heard that Stephen King was going to make a film adaptation of one of his own books. Well, the short story Trucks, to be exact, and I also remember thinking, “At last. An adaptation of a King book that won’t deviate wildly from the source, like Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining for example or John Carpenter‘s Christine.

Of course the pinnacle of the most laughable adaptation has to be the abysmal Salem’s Lot by Tobe Hooper.It’s still hard to believe that the same man who brought us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so totally ‘balled up’ Salem’s Lot. I won’t go off on a tangent about the casting or the asinine decision to make Barlow look like Nosferatu.

But the winner of the all-time worst adaptation ever goes to the execrable The Lawnmower Man (1992). This film really didn’t bear even a passing resemblance to the short story it was adapted from.

When you consider the amount of adaptations that have so totally missed the mark it boggles the mind. And apart from the surprisingly good film version of  King’s novella The Mist, most of the film versions of King’s books have, in a word, sucked.

I will not get into a discussion of how ‘good’ Kubrick’s The Shining worked as a horror film. There’s no question that the film was good, but the casting alone (which worked for the film) was a polar opposite of the characters that King created. This changed the feel of the story so much that Kubrick could have changed the names of the characters and the film. Saving the studio the money spent on movie rights to the book.

I also won’t allow myself to waste time on the old argument of, “But King’s books are so cinematic! How can they be hard to transfer to film?” We all know that there are a lot of things that just don’t transfer well, character’s thoughts for instance. Perhaps the best example is from The Shining itself and those problematic hedge animals.

As for Maximum Overdrive with it’s AC/DC soundtrack and it’s slightly schlocky script, I will stand right up and say I liked it. When I found out that King was such a novice that he did things that didn’t follow cinematic rules, I loved it. Because the film still works. And yes, I know that King himself has admitted that he was so strung out on coke that he doesn’t really remember much about filming it. In answer to that I will trot out the highly popular movie ‘The Blues Brothers.’ If there was anyone out of the entire cast and crew who weren’t strung out on coke, I’ll eat my metaphorical celluloid hat.

The film looks like it sounds; bright, harsh, shiny and metallic. In fact the cinematography ‘looks’ like it was filmed in the 1970’s. I don’t know who had the final edit, but overall the film fits together well enough and it is entertaining despite what the nay-sayers will tell you.

The plot is pretty straight forward. The earth passes through the tail of an comet and all mechanical and electrical machines develop a mind of their own and turn against their makers. The results are a brilliant mixture of hilarity, (King, in a cameo at the beginning of the film, is called an asshole by an ATM machine) black humour and irony.

Stephen King, Maximum Overdrive (1986)

A group of disparate people get trapped in a truck stop  and are forced to work as slaves to the various vehicles that stop to be re-fuelled. Stalwart character actor Pat Hingle plays a suitably nasty bit of work who employs ex-cons at slave wages to increase his profit margins at the truck stop. Emilio Estevez plays the latest jail-bird who works for Hingle and who has big enough cojones to fight his opportunist boss every step of the way.

The acting jewel in the crown though is Lisa Simpson herself, Yeardley Smith. Smith’s distinctive voice and her diminutive stature has always been a comic attribute and her performance in Overdrive is both comic and a little touching.

The film did pretty good upon it’s release, although arguably it was  probably down to the fact that ‘maestro of horror’ King was the helmsman of it. But the film is darkly humorous. It is more interesting to note that even the original author had to deviate a bit from his own ‘cinematic’ short story.

Although the film garnered two Razzie award nominations for worst actor (Estevez) and worst director, King did a pretty good job, coked out or not. It would be interesting to see how a King directed film would fare now since he’s conquered all his personal demons. King himself has stated that he wouldn’t mind trying it (directing) again.

Like I said, I love the film. Just the novelty value of it being a  “King does King” vehicle (if you’ll pardon the pun) makes it special and worth a look. If you manage to catch it on late night television or stumble across it in a sale bin at your local DVD store give it a try. It will at least make you chuckle and might even make you think a little about machines and their effect on us.

I will happily admit that it’s the only time that a ‘Green Goblin’ outside of the Spiderman universe kind of freaked me out. I still think the HAPpY ToYZ truck is a little scary, how about you?

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Zathura (2005) A Pale Jumanji

Zathura (film)
Zathura (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I waited seven years to watch Zathura.  In the 2005 trailer they showed a little kid asking, “What do they eat?” Dax Shepard says, “Meat.” Little kid, “That’s good.” Shepard, “Dude, you’re meat.” For some reason that particular exchange struck me as hysterically funny. Surely, I thought, a film with dialogue that funny is going to be great.

I was wrong.

To be fair the film isn’t terrible, but as the ‘spiritual’ sequel to the vastly superior Jumanji, it leaves a lot to be desired. Based loosely on the picture book of the same name, the film’s creators decided to cut out any references made in the book about Jumanji. Considering that both books were written by the same author it’s not surprising that Zathura had these references in it. But not in the film.

Presumably they were afraid that audiences would compare the new film and it’s ‘magical’ game-board setting with it’s older sibling. They shouldn’t have bothered and just left the references in. The audiences made the comparison anyway and the only people who loved Zathura were the critics. While they waxed lyrical about the film and it’s attributes, the audiences voted with their feet and the film took a 62% drop in ‘bums on seats’ by it’s second weekend.

The plot, which is very similar to Jumanji, deals with a ‘magic’ clockwork space game that draws any young players into it’s world. Zathura,the game, has the same type of rules as Jumanji. Each player must take their respective turns. After each turn, the player gets a card that tells them what their ‘fate’ is. And the same consequences can be had, as in Jumanji, in other words you can be ‘trapped’ in the game as well.

The film opens with Dad (Tim Robbins) playing baseball with his two boys.  Ten year old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and six year old Danny (Jonah Bobo) don’t get along. Dad is getting frustrated with the both of them and tells them he has a meeting to attend. Dad needs to work on a weekend to help pay to renovate the house he got when the boys mother and he separated. 

After a sequence of events that show us just how much the boys don’t get along things get worse when Danny throws something at Walter and knocks over Dad’s drink. The drink saturates the project that Dad needed for the meeting so now he has to leave even earlier. He goes upstairs and wakes daughter Lisa (Kristen Stewart , pre Twilight). He tells her to look after them and he leaves.

While Dad’s gone and Lisa sleeps upstairs Danny throws a baseball at Walter hitting him in the face. Walter chases Danny down and catches him in the dumb-waiter. Walter then traps him in it and lowers him to the basement that (like Kevin from Home Alone) scares Danny. As he escapes from the basement he finds the game.

Taking it upstairs he starts playing and the movie picks up speed and finally takes off.

Directed by a personal favourite of mine Jon Favreau (who also directed Cowboys and Aliens) the film’s pace is choppy and in some places it just down-right drags. There is one bit of the film where Lisa gets frozen for five turns. I would swear that the boys played a lot more than five turns before she finally thawed out and joined the rest of the cast. To be fair though to Lisa she does show up before then, but as she is frozen solid, she sort of resembles Stewart’s character in the Twilight saga.

The film was good, but I think Favreau was a bit too enamoured of his practical special effects in the last half of the film. The other problem was that I just flat-out did not like the older brother. He came across as a little snot for much of the film. When his character arc finally reaches the point where he likes and supports his little brother, I didn’t care.

Kristen Stewart has never been a favourite of mine, although her appearance in The Messengers in 2007 did make her, very briefly, an actress to watch. She pretty much blew that when she started the Twilight series.

*And before you ask, no I don’t like the Twilight verse. Period.*

I know that I haven’t said anything about Dax Shepard’s performance in the film. The biggest problem is that  he isn’t Robin Williams and he just felt a bit like a poor replacement. Of course, I am a huge Robin Williams ‘fan-boy’ so that might just be my problem. I have seen Shepard in other films and enjoyed his work in those. He just didn’t do anything for me in this one.

Of course the inevitable comparison between Zathura and Jumanji is going to be made, even without the so carefully removed references by the creators. Unfortunately the two films, although similar, are like riding two different rides at the fairground.

Where Jumanji was a real roller coaster of a film, Zathura was like riding on a dodgem bumper-car. Jerking and stalling and only occasionally speeding up.

Hunter Prey (2010): Survival of the Fittest

Every once in a while you find a little gem of a film hidden amongst the usual low budgeted dross that passes for entertainment. I’m not talking about the kind of film that is so bad it’s good. I’m referring to a film that, despite it’s low budget, looks and feels like a bigger budgeted studio release.

Hunter Prey  is that kind of film. It’s not a “stops your heart” kind of film but it is damn good. My daughter and I found this science fiction film as we were ‘cruising’ Netflix for something a bit different to watch. We both thought it sounded interesting so we gave it a go. The film entertained, and did not expect too much from it’s audience in the way of suspending disbelief. The acting was way over par compared to similarly budgeted films.

Directed by Sandy Collora, he also co-wrote the story with Nick Damon. It had a good solid cast, Damion Poitier (no relation to Sidney), Isaac C. Singleton Jr.Clark Bartram, Collora himself as a bounty hunter and best of all it featured the voice of the beautiful and talented Erin Gray. The entire cast apart from Collora and Gray have a solid background in the stunt world.

Collora got his start as a teenager working as an assistant at Stan Winston Studios, which is why the prosthetics and ‘alien’ make-up looked so good. This film looks like a real labour of love for Collora and considering that the budget for the film was under 500,000 dollars also looks tight and well put together.

At the start of the film we see a spaceship explode and what looks like an escape pod jettison down towards a planet. The planet the survivors  land on is a huge desert planet. If there is any water at all, it must be buried so deep that finding it would be an impossibility. There are four survivors from the crashed escape pod.

Two of them are by some rocks with their weapons held ready. The third and fourth are by the wreckage. As one survivor points out where the other two are he is shot and the one he was talking to dashes for the rocks joining his companions. Off in the distance is another survivor, he is armed and he is firing at the others.

The film then goes into ‘cat and mouse’ mode for the reminder of the film. We find out that the other survivor is a dangerous predator alien whose home planet has been destroyed. It must be captured alive. This is proving to be difficult as it appears that the alien is a pretty good marksman.

For the first quarter of the film, no one removes their head gear. The computer link they access, Clea (Erin Gray) tells them that she is analysing the planet and its atmosphere to see if it’s safe to remove them.

When they finally remove their head gear we see who these survivors are and despite their military behaviour and speech, they are not what we thought they were. The alien who spends the first third of the film killing his captors, isn’t what he seems either.

I will admit that I saw the ‘plot twist’ coming after the first fifteen minutes of the film. Mainly because I thought it would be pretty damn cool if that’s where they were going with it. It turned out they were, so I sat feeling pretty smug for the rest of the film.

As prosthetics were used for the vast majority of the actors, they all deserve kudos for the high calibre of their acting. Of course having an experienced professional like Erin Gray along for the ride, even if it was only her voice, added a lot to the believability of the characters. Clea’s interaction with Centauri 7 was brilliant. Gray manages to exude a warmth and humour to her computerised character. Combine that with Poitier’s performance and you have a pretty good double act.

The only thing that bother me though were those great prosthetics. I kept thinking that the aliens seemed awfully familiar. I finally realised halfway through the film that they made me think of Lou Gossett Jr. as the alien in the 1985  science fiction film Enemy Mine. When Hunter Prey  finished, I quickly checked and found that they only very vaguely resembled the alien in the 1985 film. I’ll have to keep looking to see if I can find out why the damn things looked so familiar.

I would write a whole lot more about this film, but to do so would spoil the fun. Like I said, I guessed the plot twist but my daughter, who is a pretty dab hand at ‘second guessing’ films, missed it completely.

One thing I did want to point out was the fact that Hunter Prey was shot entirely with a RED camera on location in Mexico, making it another digitally produced science fiction film like the film Monsters also made in 2010 and also shot entirely on location. Another excellent example of why digitally produced films can be just as good as the traditionally filmed ones.

The end verdict of the  film is that it’s great entertainment. We liked it so much we bought the DVD to see if there are any special features and to watch it a ‘few more times.’

Oh and if anyone has any ideas on why the damn aliens looked so familiar, drop me a line. Okay?

Mrs Eastwood and Company

When I first read about this ‘reality’ television program that would be featuring Clint Eastwood‘s ‘last’ wife and family and that he would be dropping in on the occasional episode, I thought it was somebody’s idea of a bad joke. Surely Clint wasn’t happy about this idea and surely he wouldn’t lower himself so much that he would actually appear.

Would he?

It turned out that I was wrong on all counts. First of all, it isn’t a bad joke, although I can’t really say that with any real certainty as I haven’t seen the program yet. But it premièred in May this year and it turns out that Clint will be appearing on the odd episode, well three  according to IMDb and their episode listings of the program.

I sat here thinking about why the Eastwood’s would even consider such a venture. Do they need money that badly? I would have thought that a man with Clint’s stature in the Hollywood hierarchy would have more than enough money to see him through his retirement, if and when he decides to take it. I know he’s still working, he was over here in England last year fine tuning  his latest directorial effort.

Was Dina thinking of leaving Clint and wanted to get a nest egg set up? Or is the program primarily to help her ‘sell’ her newly discovered South African vocal group. What better way to drum up much needed publicity for your new musical protégées than to have a weekly program that they can be trotted out regularly for inspection on.

Of course the other thing I immediately wondered about was how his other children felt about the reality show. Clint has a pretty big brood. He may have only been married twice, but he’s fathered seven children with five different women. Shy and retiring  he ain’t. I just wonder if his other kids might not get jealous at this ‘special’ attention paid to the ‘newest’ additions to his family.

Checking with IMDb, and before you ask no I don’t own stock or get remuneration for mentioning the site,  Kyle seems fairly busy. So he probably doesn’t need the extra attention, but as I said before, neither does dad Clint. Daughter Alison seems to be a bit busier that Kyle so she probably doesn’t need the extra coverage either. I will admit that I didn’t check any of the other Eastwood offspring. I’m curious all right but I’m not nosey.

Of course both Kyle and Alison have worked with dad in films. Kyle does music for the Eastwood productions among other things and Alison has worked fairly steadily without having to resort to working for dad. So maybe they aren’t too bothered about the reality program. Of course if the whole Eastwood clan get along well and the reality show runs more that just a season or two, they might still consider appearing in the odd episode.

Unfortunately, considering the competition in the reality realm, I don’t think the Eastwood and Company show stands much of a chance. In a world where Keeping up with the KardashiansThe Real Housewives of New Jersey, America’s Next Top Model and all the other ‘must see’ reality programs already provide enough ersatz drama to fill the Rose Bowl stadium, I don’t know if Mrs Eastwood has much of a chance.

English: Clint Eastwood at the 2010 Toronto In...
English: Clint Eastwood at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Call me cynical, but I get the idea that this brain child is all of Mrs Eastwood’s creation. I can imagine Dina collaring Clint at the breakfast table.

“Clint.”

Yes, Dina?”

“You know how you got Kyle and Alison started in the business?”

“Yes Dina.”

“Well, since you’re not acting any more and you’re not directing that many pictures…”

“Yes Dina?”

“Well, just how are you going to give our kids a start in the business? I was just thinking that a good way to get the kids noticed, and me, would be to do one of those ‘reality’ shows. You’d be helping the children and be helping me get my new band noticed. Be a darling and talk to some of your network friends, will you?”

“Yes Dina.”

The above conversation works a lot better if you can imagine Clint answering in a sort of tired Dirty Harry voice.

I might be wrong of course, but it does kind of stand to reason. After all, how are they going to get a start in the business if not through this program. Besides, looking at the ‘last’ Mrs Eastwood, how could Clint say anything but “Yes Dina.”

English: Dina Eastwood, wife of Clint Eastwood
English: Dina Eastwood, wife of Clint Eastwood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)