Tuesday, 29 January 2013

New monsters

Monster movies used to be taken seriously, whether creature antagonists were oversized beasts, farfetched chimeras, or weird fantasy chosen from legend to menace the present day. Even in comedy–action treatments of the subgenre, like Tremors, there may well be a strong element of disgust (such as body horror). 

One way to almost certainly ensure grimly sombre reactions from viewers is to put children in peril, but Irish flick Grabbers fails to strengthen its appeal with any coldly fiendish moments. It succumbs to complete irreverence and plays out as a pub night siege, with a bunch of stereotypically characters pitted against a Lovecraftian yet frivolously weak invader.

Directed by Jon Wright (Tormented), its efficiently cartoonish presentation means there is no overt sense of dread, in spite of some grotesque imagery for the aliens. Grabbers can be fun, if watched as lightweight cross–genre fare, but it remains only modestly successful as a throwaway monsterama sitcom; something like Father Ted meets Slither.
Nowadays, of course, slithering up from the downmarket regions of parodic threats to humankind, an overabundance of straight absurdity has emerged, and the trend for silly mutant hybrids like Sharktopus continues in Jim Wynorski’s utterly farcical Piranhaconda

This is a tepid actioner, where a crew making a tacky horror movie on location in Hawaii are violently interrupted by a ‘real’ terror: part snake, part fish, all CGI. There is a pair of them and they do not get along. Gangsters act out a routine kidnapping sideshow to keep guest star Michael Madsen amused, so his heroic professor won’t simply collect his paycheque and wander off, muttering about a regrettable downturn for his career in genre pictures. 

Of course, this is not actually a ‘proper’ movie; it is just the punch–line for a childish joke: what is huge, and yellow and black, and swallows human prey whole - leaving only a red mist of arterial spray? It is a fairly typical example of the low–budget art of trash movies, today, and simply an accessory (and could or should be a free gift), when you buy beer and popcorn.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Lens flare

Since when did lens flare become trendy for cinematography in blockbuster movies?   

Enterprise... oh, shiny!
J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot was the first big screen movie that overused lens flare for its live-action scenes aboard the Enterprise, and the constantly over-lit and blurry images proved to be so irritating it spoiled the whole movie. It did not present us with a brighter future, or some kind of spontaneous and organic creativity, it only looked far too amateurish to be taken seriously. 

Vulcan death rays
Abrams continued his apparent fascination with the visual noise of lens flare in the supposedly down-to-earth adventure Super 8, and it resulted in a terribly annoying train wreck of a movie. His malign influence on TV series Fringe is also noticeable, with a detrimental effect on the camera work.

Super 8 train wreck
Len Wiseman’s Total Recall is another remake that abuses viewers’ eyesight with its ridiculous glare from both on– and off–screen lighting. Many scenes are rendered all but unwatchable by streaks of whiteness that obscure details, and negate any sense of space within the frame. 

Total mood-lighting failure
Is it stylish? I certainly don’t think so. Babylon 5 used lens flare so that computer-generated scenes of the orbiting habitat, and varied starships, might appear as if they were filmed with actual cameras. It made a kind of sense… at the time. It could be perceived as a clever visual, even if it was not always artistically valid in frequent repetition. A similar conceit was used for many of those digitally created space battles in the BSG remake. Other movies troubled by a migraine blaze of lens flare include Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.

Blazing Transformers
CGI aside, lens flare is (of course) caused in actual cameras by light bouncing around inside the lens itself. The solution used by professional camera experts is to fit a hood on the lens. With recent big screen offerings that mess up clear views of expensive set designs, while also mistaking jittery handheld camera movement for real atmosphere, you might wonder if there is a shortage of lens hoods in Hollywood. I hope this stupid fad is over soon, but Abrams sequel Star Trek 2 is due soon, so I fear the worst is yet to come, and it’s been announced that Abrams will direct a new Star Wars feature.

Star Trek 2 - into the light!
Ultimately, lens flare is invalid as a subjective style or first–person–cinema technique simply because our eyes do not work like camera lenses. This futuristic dazzle for the look of sci-fi movies is so bright that we may have to squint to see anything at all.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Just published

Behold, a new issue of Black Static (#32) - with the free 'scent of darkness'!, and the latest Interzone (#244), too - boasting cover artwork by the great Jim Burns. Here's a listing with ratings for my first DVD and blu-ray review columns of the year...

'Laser Fodder' (IZ)

Death Watch (7/10)
The Arrival Of Wang (5/10)
The Castle (6/10)
The Lord Of The Rings (8/10)
U.F.O. (1/10)
Continuum - season 1 (6/10)

'Blood Spectrum' (BS)    

The Amazing Spider–Man (6/10)
The Dark Knight Rises (8/10)
Dredd (6/10)

Sound Of My Voice (4/10)
Southern Comfort (8/10)
Zombie Flesh-Eaters (2/10)
Berberian Sound Studio (6/10)
When The Lights Went Out (5/10)
The Possession (6/10)
House At The End Of The Street (5/10)
Stitches (1/10)