Tag Archives: Film

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

“There’s no room for personal feelings in science.”

I decided to stick Val Guest’s 1955 classic on the other night as I recognised the ‘Quatermass’ part of the title from when I was younger. After a few minutes I quickly realised that what I had remembered was the 1967 TV series Quatermass and the Pit and that I had never seen The Quatermass Xperiment.  This turned out to be an added bonus, as the movie’s haunting imagery and genuine mystery made it both gripping and disturbing, an instant favourite overnight.

As a huge fan of fifties science-fiction, for its ground-breaking ideas and focus on cultural anxiety, I was soon pleased to discover that Guest’s film was as good as all the other classics such as Them!, War of the Worlds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But the best thing about Quatermass is its ability to mix the horror genre so successfully into the narrative of fear in a pre-space-race era. The film put Hammer Horror studios on the map, as well as doing the TV series it was based on great justice, despite some big, perhaps incorrect, changes in script.

Before Russia launched Sputnik I and put a man into space, men were still speculating on the idea of space travel. Quatermass tackles the unknown dangers of going beyond our natural boundaries, giving the viewer a revealing insight into how far we have come in terms of space exploration in a short 60 years. The film starts with what it first assumed to be an alien spacecraft crashing into the atypical rural field, before it is soon unveiled that it is a man-made rocket, which was carrying three astronauts as part of an experiment by scientist Bernard Quatermass, played by Brian Donlevy. Richard Wordsworth plays the only ‘survivor’ Victor Carroon, whom appears out of the wreckage, dumb and in shock. Wordsworth is excellent as the zombie-like Victor, whose contorted face, portrays pain and confusion terrifically as he begins to mutate into something both horrifying and dangerous to the human race.

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What I loved most about this film, and the reason I enjoy all the fifties horror, is its relentless obsession with truth and facts. Even if these facts are now known to be false, it is the obsession with speculation and science that drove the passion and ambition of the time. In fifties science-fiction, it is the scientists themselves whom are the focal point of knowledge, it is they that move the narrative, fill in the gaps and unwrap the unknown. Professor Quatermass is no exception, as he attempts to unravel the mystery of his failed experiment and discover the answer that will prevent the outbreak of Carroon’s virus. The scene where they watch the found footage from the rocket is especially creepy, perhaps even ahead of its time in terms of style and cinematography. There is something very visual and raw about this film, which I enjoyed immensley, despite hiding under the covers for most of the film. Joking of course, sort of.

Shapstik Verdict: A fantastic film, which although slightly anti-climatic compared to its contemporaries, still manages to send a chill down the spine after all these years. A healthy mix of Hammer horror, classic sci-fi and remnants of detective stories from earlier in the century, Quatermass has plenty to offer, even in the short running time of 78 mins, almost unheard of in today’s film market. 8/10

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Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: The Neverending Story (1984)

“Don’t start to doubt yourself….be confident!”

It’s so simplistic yet so enthralling an idea to have a scene based entirely on such a fragile thing as a young boy’s confidence. Sorry to be cynical as well, but I very much doubt that today’s fantasy movies would have the patience needed to deliver such carefully held suspense, or indeed be brave enough to display the almost adult threat radiating through the screen. When the fallen knight’s helmet pops up, you, Bastian and all the young children watching recoil in horror all at the same time, a storytelling master-stroke as it shatters everybody’s confidence, tying the entire theme and thread of the film together, epitomising the link between viewer and hero.

When I saw this scene as a child, I am not afraid to admit I did so from behind the sofa, chewing at my nails in anticipation and anxiety, as I and Engywook both worried and hoped that Atreyu would have the confidence to stay blind to the Sphinx’s eyes. But seeing as they open anyway, and Atreyu makes it through just by running quite fast, it seems a somewhat fallible defence mechanism. In fact, looking back at the towering figures, it probably would have been a bigger challenge for Atreyu to not look at the Sphinxes’ giants boobs than just to believe in himself. But all that can be forgiven when you watch one of the tensest, and most wonderfully cinematic moments in fantasy cinema.

Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: Tropic Thunder (2008)

“Ok, flaming dragon, f***k face”

One of Tom Cruise’s best performances, and for many unrecognisable as the explosive Les Grossman in the underrated action-comedy Tropic Thunder. I have always been a fan of Cruise, despite his consistent typecasting in action roles, and I have always felt there was more to this loopy guy than first meets the eye. Only Downey Jr can hold a candle as Kirk Lazarus, with his uncanny change in character. But for me Cruise steals the show,  if only for his dance and knowing stare as he slowly nods in the way only Cruise does.

I have chosen this scene for not just its showcasing of Grossman’s character, but because it genuinely looks as if McConaughey’s Peck cannot hold his own in the ridiculous negotiation with the group known as “Flaming Dragon”, before Grossman takes the stage, and holds back before exploding a torrent of abuse. For me, the most hilarious moment comes at the end, when after the tirade, he throws the phone over his shoulder to a speechless Peck and gently asks: “Could you find out who that was please?”. Priceless.

I hope you enjoyed my Movie Clip of the Week, check out my other clips in the links above! 

Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: Starship Troopers (1997)

 “Here’s a Tip: Aim for the nerve stem” 

I first watched Verhoeven’s wonderfully satirical bug-basher during a mid-night showing at my local cinema. I did not know what to expect at all as it had, for me at least, flew in under the radar. Johnny Rico and company’s almost comical rise through the ranks serves partway as a simple backdrop to the director’s typically satirical mix of media and military. In fact, I had not fallen in love with one of his films since Robocop, and after the “so bad it’s almost good” Showgirls, it was good to know the Dutchman still had it in his locker.

I have chosen this tiny clip from one of the media-skits within the movie because although it may seem random, it in fact perfectly encapsulates everything the film is about. The use of public announcement and interactive media to give specific military advice about killing an Arachnid is central to the ideal of the movie. Neil Patrick Harris as Colonel Jenkins is probably my favourite character from the entire movie, and his stern and serious demeanour in the face of comic brutality is so perfectly screened it leaves the jaw on the floor, as the viewer is simultaneously shocked and entertained in exactly the way Verhoeven imagined.

A short but clinically ideal clip from a truly unique and marvellous movie, from one of the great modern directors.

I hope you enjoyed my Movie Clip choice! Look out for the next one, and if you have any ideas for future scenes to cherish let me know!

Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: Goodfellas (1990)

“What did I tell you!?”

Although it took great restraint not to opt for the “how the f**k am I funny” scene from my favourite Scorsese picture, I am glad I went for Jimmy’s outburst, as it displays one of the most magic partnerships in De Niro and the great director. Jimmy Conway for me is by far the most interesting character from Goodfellas, and up to this point the viewer is still making their mind up as to where he sits in-between Pesci’s explosive Tommy and Liotta’s fairly quiet and brooding Henry.

Deceivingly, Jimmy is all smiles during the post-heist celebration bash, greeting everyone with hugs and kisses in his usual way. But when one of the crew shows off a new car, Jimmy has questions. The beauty of the scene is that De Niro is actually quite patient and simply wishes an acknowledgement of the wrong doing, even when he only receives excuses. But when he is asked: “what are you getting excited for?”, his face changes in the way only De Niro can, his patience wearing off as he clearly feels insulted by the naivety standing in front of him.

This scene is one of the best De Niro acting sequences in the film, showing patience, emotion and creating offbeat and awkward silences during the dialogue at just the right time to crank up the tension in the room to breaking point. The way he turns away and then looks back with “that” look, makes me smile with admiration every time I watch it.  At the end of the scene, when Frankie Carbone’s wife arrives donned in a brand new fur coat, Frankie immediately does the smart thing when Jimmy confronts him and apologies, grabs his wife and leaves.

The combination of possibly Scorsese’s best gangster movie, starring the one and only De Niro losing his rag, makes this classic film the star of my Movie Clip of the Week!

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”

Not as if the big man needed it, the Russos have nonetheless grabbed the syringe and stabbed Captain Rogers straight in the arm with a heady mix of adrenaline and steroids. Straight from the start, the viewer is catapulted into a fantastic action scene, which blends the typical super-hero trope of stylistic ass-kicking, with the gritty realism needed to differentiate the great captain from other beloved Marvel heroes.

In fact, there is very little resemblance to the somewhat flatter first instalment, which acted purely as an origin story for the then upcoming Avengers movie. Instead, in typical sequel fashion, the film is darker, cooler and sexier, making it not long before you are smiling to yourself in satisfaction, as Rogers plants another size-13 boot onto the chest of another bad-guy, sending them flying off the screen. But this is not to say that this fast paced cross between Nolan’s Dark Knight action and Greengrass’s high octane and vibrant camera-work is not recognisable. The Winter Soldier still sticks to the gentle blend of humour, graphic action and the inaugural post-credits teaser, which we have come to expect from the franchise as a whole.

With the origin-story shackles removed, Rogers and his fellow Avenger Natasha Romanoff, are able to get caught up in a much more spy-infested plot that nicely blends the modern with the vintage, something that needs to be upheld in a Captain America movie. The plot reveals that involve the two story franchise powerhouses, S.H.I.E.L.D and HYDRA are somewhat predictable, but at least the decent set of villains and scene variation keeps it fresh and interesting for most of its slightly heavy running time.

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Despite some really terrific and unique action set-pieces (wait till you see Fury’s vehicular ambush), where the film possibly slips is the lack of real scene-stealing dialogue that some of the better Marvel instalments have. This makes it appealing on the eye (especially Johansson’s Portman-style Marvel make-over), but perhaps not so much on the ears. Despite this however, the ominous tone to the whole picture ensures its decent-sequel status remains and it will no doubt please audiences across the board.

Evans, Johansson and a terrific supporting cast have not just upped the Captain America stakes, the Russos have also pushed the boundaries yet again of what Marvel action sequences can entail with the right imagination and ingenuity. Throw in some nicely sinister antagonists such as Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce, and one of Jackson’s more involved roles as the ambiguous Nick Fury, and Winter Soldier stands out as a rampantly involved sequel in a potentially cluttered super hero world.

Shapstik Verdict: Fantastic fight scenes, high-octane bullet-laden action and a terrific set of familiar and new characters, means that Captain America: The Winter Soldier will hit the ground running as one of Marvel’s better second phase instalments. However, after the umpteenth choreographed fight scene between the chisel-jawed captain and bad guy cannon fodder, the most ardent sceptic may just allow themselves the question: Is this really anything I haven’t seen before? The answer maybe be mostly no, but this should not retract from a fantastic looking, slick action film that has injected new life into the under-appreciated super-hero. 8/10

Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

“Alright, we’ll call it a draw”

My favourite scene from one of the most revered of comedies, King Arthur’s ridiculous battle with the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail has gone down in film history, never being bettered in terms of ingenious parody. Even though I had always enjoyed and respected the film,  my admiration increased even further after studying Malory’s Morte D’Arhur during university. After all, the entire film is in some ways an allegoric parody of the surreal nature of chivalric literature. which is perfectly represented in Arthur’s battle with the Black Knight for safe passage over the bridge. The nub of the joke is that the bridge, despite its importance, is just a tiny area crossing over a trickle of water.

After scouring the land for brave knights to join him on his quest for the Grail, Arthur witnesses the skill and courage of the Black Knight, and asks him to join him on his quest. Met with stoic defiance, he battles with the knight after being told that “none shall pass” over the knight’s bridge. Even after losing several limbs, the “brave” knight never gives up, which hilariously shows the lengths that knights would go to in order to prove their bravery in Malory’s work. A classic scene from a comedy that even a modern audience would undoubtedly still find hilarious.

 

Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: Crimson Tide (1995)

Decided to start doing a Movie Clip of the Week to fit in-between my reviews and countdowns. To keep the river flowing, if you know what I mean. Anyway here is the first:

“Oh no you won’t, sir”

Taken from my favourite submarine movie Crimson Tide (1995), and starring my two favourite actors in Hackman and Washington, this scene is the culmination of not just a clash of personalities, but a contest of ideals. Known as the “mutiny scene”, it is the moment that two men create their own battlefield in the tense confines of a nuclear submarine.

Paired up under unfortunate circumstances, all seems fine between Captain Ramsay and his new XO Lieutenant Hunter, until the first glimpses of the tension are spotted during dinner on board, when Washington states: “in the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself”. A line that stabs straight into the heart of Hackman’s beliefs and adherence to the chain of command, wherein no debate can be afforded.

After receiving an uncompleted transmission regarding the deployment of nuclear weapons, Hunter, despite being ordered to never disagree in-front of the crew, finds the Captain’s disregard for common sense too much, and speaks his mind. This creates one of the tensest war-time moments in film, and without doubt displays what I still believe to be the late Tony Scott’s best performance as a director!

Hope you have enjoyed my clip, and look out for next time’s Movie Clip of the Week!

Contagion (2011)

“Blogging is not writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation.”

Let me get something essential out of the way. If you are going to watch this film expecting a thriller like Outbreak, a movie with the same moody bleakness as Children of Men, or in fact anything resembling a post-apocalyptic disaster movie, then you may be slightly disappointed. This is filmed like a documentary, has the pace of a documentary, and if it was not for the unmistakable (if somewhat heavyset) faces of Matt Damon and Laurence Fishburne, one would believe it belonged on terrestrial television in two parts. Of course I am referring to ‘possible reality documentaries’, the type that is used for climate change predictions, possible terrorist attacks or other generic fear-mongering.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays a possible first victim of a new disease as she returns from a trip to the Far East. She dies and Matt Damon plays the immune but distraught husband who also loses his stepson in the process. The film then plays out the spread of the disease, which runs alongside humanity’s attempt to find the anti-virus, reduce social contact and control the panic that is bound to ensue. Saying any more would necessitate a spoiler alert as that is pretty much all there is to the movie. I say this because as a film it somewhat fails. There are no hand-holding stares into the face of death. There are no dramatic tears in the arm of a contagion suit. In fact, the one opportunity to drum up excitement in the race for a cure is slightly limp and emotionless. In a word, as a movie, it’s flat.

As a documentary however, it is thought provoking, alarming and actually relatively informative. There was more than one instance in the cinema of turning heads and raised eyebrows. It just depends on what you, as a viewer, want from a movie. This may go some way to explain the general ambivalence from audiences everywhere in reaction to Steve Soderbergh’s film.

With this in mind, I don’t really know whether to recommend this film or not. I think I would just for the intriguing, contemporary media clash between Lawrence Fishburne and Jude Law, playing a crooked-toothed scaremonger offering an alternative, conspiracy fuelled ‘truth’ for the masses. Apart from that expect plenty of science and statistics with intermittent drama.

Shapstik Verdict: A thorough exploration into the global panic that would be caused by a lethal outbreak, which makes it an interesting watch. But it lacks the thrill and depth of a true disaster movie. 6/10

What makes a Christmas movie?

This is an ancient riddle that has plagued the viewers of television for decades. The answer has become even more complicated now that the choice of channels offered on satellite and digital has ensured that noticing the usual suspects is more difficult than ever. Gone are the days when the choice of four terrestrial channels almost dictated a schedule that the entire family would have to adhere to whilst digesting a huge meal in front of the log fire.

I for one did not get excited about Advent Calendars, hated Christmas shopping and was consistently disappointed with what I received on the day itself. What gave me solace, and perhaps still does, is the arrival of the bumper issue of the TV guide which lays out a delightful smorgasbord of entertainment for the next two or three weeks. This meant that I could spend the entirety of Christmas immersed in a constant supply of movies whilst remaining almost permanently inebriated.

But I digress into nostalgia. So what does make a Christmas movie? Must it be family viewing, or are there post-watershed versions? Does it even have to be about Christmas, or can it be simply used as a backdrop. Perhaps it is sometimes a contextual coincidence that it even appears? I asked my modest list of friends on the book of face what their favourite Christmas flick was and found myself bombarded with suggestions ranging from the relatively recent to the classic and cheesy:

Linda: “Santa Claus the movie with Dudley Moore x.”

Matt: “Elf. No question!”

Mel: “Polar Express…Classic movie…”

Chris: “Santa Claus The Movie. Great Film. Dudley Moore such a legend.”

Tim: “Gotta be elf, great movie!”

Colum: “Harvey. Can’t beat a bit of Jimmy Stewart.”

Becky: “Elf for now, but Santa Claus the Movie as a child!”

Peter: “Miracle on whatever street, followed by Diehard.”

Adam: “Cool Runnings!”

The above are genuinely the first nine replies I received and I was surprised first and foremost by the myriad of opinions. There are three votes each for Elf and Santa Clause -The Movie, a token vote from a rabbit-loving friend, and one or two films that only have a slight connection to the theme of Christmas. If you had asked me I think that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Home Alone would jump to my mind. What this all reveals is that the term ‘Christmas movie’ is not as black and white as first appears and outside of the obvious there are other categories that one’s favourite Chrimbo flick can fall into:

Number one: There are those movies that evoke strong memories of contentment and happiness. Images of falling snowflakes outside the window as the family sits cocooned warmly inside. Their eyes slowly drooping as the Seven Dwarves march along the screen chanting their hypnotic lyrics. These movies are often rooted in childhood memories and are associated with family viewing and a general consensus of opinion. For me, these are often classic animations such as The Snowman, or Pinocchio.

Number two: There are those that are ‘associated’ with the festive season and simply seemed to always be on, whether related to Christmas or not. A movie that springs to mind in this category is The Great Escape, which was consistently on every year and even became a cultural irony as to what guidelines to follow when pinning down the Christmas movie criteria.

Number three: There are the movies that come around at Christmas and when they start you are simply quite happy to sit back and enjoy in an annual family reunion of entertainment. For this there are no criteria. It comes down to luck, timing and perhaps a slice of open-mindedness when something ‘a bit before one’s time’ appears on the box.

So whether it is watching ET whilst attempting to digest in excess of two-thousand calories, or Gremlins on in the background as everyone has a drunken argument over whether or not Dad had collected his two hundred pounds when passing GO, it seems that the Christmas movie has no concrete criteria. No factors and no objective reasoning can be applied. It is simply an immovable British constitution that will live on throughout this generation and the next.

Personally, I am hoping that Planes, Trains and Automobiles will make an appearance next time around.