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Posts Tagged ‘B movies’

Any British film fan of a certain age will have fond memories of Moviedrome. For those who don’t, it was a film series shown on BBC2 between 1988 and 2000 dedicated to cult movies. More than just series of films, Moviedrome featured an introduction originally by director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, Walker) and later by Mark Cousins.

In the first two years, as an impressionable 12/13 year old I had my first experience of: The Wicker Man, Big Wednesday, The Last Picture Show, Barbarella, Johnny Guitar, The Parallax View, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Fly (1958), The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, D.O.A. (1950), The Thing From Another World, The Incredible Shrinking Man, THX 1138, Night of the Comet, The Big Carnival aka Ace in the Hole, Alphaville, Two-Lane Blacktop, Trancers, Five Easy Pieces, Sweet Smell of Success, Sunset Boulevard.moviedrome_web-large

Then in the third year something interesting happened. Alongside movies I had never seen – Yojimbo (my first Kurosawa movie), Something Wild, Carnival of Souls, Manhunter (the first and still the best Hannibal Lecktor movie), Badlands (my first Terrence Malick movie) and Performance – they started showing movies I had already seen and loved such as: Assault on Precinct 13, Brazil, Get Carter, The Terminator, An American Werewolf in London, The Beguiled, Rumble Fish and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Many of the films shown are well known if not that well seen. But then others really blindsided me: despite being 27 years old at the time, Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western Django had never been shown in UK cinema’s or on UK network television until its premier on Moviedrome in 1993.

 This continued into the fourth season with one of my all time favourite genre/B movies Mad Max II shared a double bill with Orson Welles’ bizarre documentary about fraud and fakery, F for Fake. It was around this time that they started showing more themed double bills including The Day of the Locust / The Big Knife, Alligator / Q – The Winged Serpent, Wise Blood / The Witchfinder General, but the one that stood out for me was the David Cronenberg double feature Dead Ringers and Rabid. To the best of my memory, this was the first time I had seen a Cronenberg movie, I quickly looked out all the other s and have been a fan ever since. The real appeal of the series isn’t just the movies I got to see, it was the introductions by Cox. A man passionate and knowledgeable about movies, particularly genre movies. This you must remember was at a time before the internet as we know it. A time when information about older movies wasn’t as freely available and copy of Halliwell’s Film Guide was as close to IMDB as existed at the time. Listening to Cox talk about Cronenberg’s body of work and in comparison to other horror directors and revelling in its wideness and the “vicious horror lurking behind the most mundane things” certainly gave me a greater understanding of what made certain horror movies disturbing.

Alex Cox’s final season of Moviedrome came in 1994 after a seventeen week run, many of them including double features, Cox ended with Kiss Me Deadly, Robert Aldrich’s seminal noir thriller adapted from Mickey Spillane’s novel of the same name. the movie features an interesting maguffin that Cox borrowed for his 1984 movie Repo Man. The interesting thing about the timing of this movie on Moviedrome, was that it was still fresh in my memory a few months later when I saw another movie that also borrowed the idea, Pulp Fiction. It was around this time that I started studying film at university as part of my degree course, many of the films on the watch list had been movidrome films.  The series seemed to have come to an end in 1994 but was resurrected in 1997 with Mark Cousins introducing and choosing the movies. His choices often seemed more recognisable or mainstream, or was it that I was so immersed in film by this time a had already come across them? None the less the choices were always interesting and as Cousins promised they were “movies you won’t forget”.Alex_Cox_Mark_Cousins_Mark_Ker_original (2)

Since its cancellation in 2000 there has not been anything like Moviedrome on British television. Nothing, including film courses at university has ever introduced me to such a breadth and depth of weird and wonderful movies. Mark Kermode has dabbled with the formula providing movie introductions on his blog and to Film4’s Extreme Cinema season, but this is far from the scope and impact of Moviedrome. All I can do is that Alex Cox, Mark Cousins and BBC2, and appeal to BBC or any other channel to do something similar.

You can see a list of all films shown on Moviedrome HERE

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Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises are amongst my favourite movies of the year, but between them they cost the best part of the unimaginable sum of half a billion dollars. What can be done with a lower budget? All of the ten films listed below were made for less than $25million and are all the better for the invention and creativity that comes with limitations of a small budget. In a B movie tradition I have discarded indie drama’s in favour of genre movies: action, gangsters, sci-fi and horror.  The other notable thing, is that despite their B credentials they all received a UK cinema release.

Haywire
Budget: $23,000,000 (estimated)
Legend has it that Steven Soderbergh was sat at home late one night channel surfing when he came across a Mixed Martial Arts contest (a cage fight). He was so enthralled with one of the contestants Gina Carano that he diced to write a movie for her. Having never acted before it was a big risk, but we are talking about the director who cast porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience. Taking a different approach for haywire, he filled the supporting roles with talented actors (Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor), but it is the action that really sets the film apart. Forgoing the post Bourne trend of ultra close-ups and staccato editing in favour of long takes and mid length shots with lots of depth of field. It all helps show off Carano’s fighting talents. A love it or hate it film, it has received mixed reviews, personally I love it.

Killer Joe
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
Back in 2006 William Friedkin made a criminally overlooked gem called Bug, it was based on a play by Tracy Letts who also wrote the screenplay. The pair re-teamed to adapt a play Letts wrote twenty years ago. Set around a criminally stupid dysfunctional Texas family it is a violent and repugnant tale. Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are all brilliant but are in the shadow of the real star Matthew McConaughey. Often funny but the humour is truly jet black, this is a seriously fucked up film that many people will hate, again, I love it.

The Raid
Budget: $1,100,000 (estimated)
Welshman Gareth Evans is the unlikely director of this film that highlights Indonesian martial art, pencak silat. Set in a Jakarta tower block controlled by a crime lord a swat team have to fight for their lives as the story of why they are there gradually unfolds. A brutal and violent film that isn’t actually that originally but still manages to feel fresh and new. It isn’t as good, inventive or as memorable as Die Hard but it cost less than £1million, in other words less than the coffee budget from Lord of the Rings.

Wild Bill
Budget: no idea but its British so it won’t be much!
Dexter Fletcher has always been a decent and likeable actor, although never a great one, therefore it many come as a surprise, but his debut feature as a director is brilliant. Given his association with British gangster movies it is natural that Wild Bill would be set in London’s underworld. What’s great about the movie is that it avoids the usual storylines associated with this type of movie in recent years and concentrates on more personal story of an ex con who returns home from prison to find his two young sons abandoned my their mother. Being a farther is the last thing on his mind but something compels him to do the right thing. Fletcher also avoids the pitfall of casting himself instead opting for a whose who of British TV and genre movies.

Killing Them Softly
$18,000,000 (estimated)
This gritty tale of low level mobsters and hit men could have been a disaster. Not a great deal happens, it is filled with scenes of men talking around the issues of the movie. The social and political commentary have earned the movie its greatest praise and largest criticism. Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, the pair worked together on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and are both on top form again. And like all great genre movies, it clocks in at less than 100 minutes.

Lockout
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Based on an “original idea” by Luc Besson, I’m not sure there is an original idea in the whole movie and don’t think Luc Besson has actually had an original idea in a long time, but that really doesn’t matter, the movie is great. Its silly and its fun and that’s all it ever intended or indeed needed to be. The plot involves a shady but honest spy type character who is forced to rescue the president’s daughter who is held hostage on a prison in space. So basically its Die Hard meets Escape from New York, in space. The CGI is terrible and the plot is thin but none of this matters, the action is good and the dialogue is often funny. The real appeal is a surprisingly good Maggie Grace and the always brilliant Guy Pearce.

Chronicle
$12,000,000 (estimated)
The surprise low budget hit from the early part of the year. A Sci-fi movie reminiscent of Push (2009) and the TV show Misfits. I’m not a fan of the found footage genre but they get away with on the whole here. It loses its way in the final act but overall it is still an enjoyable movie. The unknown cast are good and the fact they are unknown often works in the movies favour.

Storage 24
Budget: again no idea but its British so will be well within the $25million limit.
I have suggested in the past that Noel Clarke is the most important person in the British film industry at the moment. Actor, writer, director and producer, awarded the Orange Rising Star Award at the 2009 BAFTA’s, he is the writer and star of Storage 24. Ultimately it is an alien invasion movie but without the grandeur of Hollywood movies and scaling it back to a small intimate and personal story. It plays out like a haunted house movie with a great blend of horror, comedy and action. Remembering the golden rule the creature is kept hidden for a long time and when we see it, its pretty good for a low budget movie. Criminally overlooked and underrated.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo)
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Sadly under seen thanks to Mel Gibson’s personal problems and the lack of a cinema release in America. First time director Adrian Gruenberg worked for Gibson as assistant director on Apocalypto, the pair give us an old fashioned story of a getaway driver who finds himself in trouble south of the border. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Gibson impersonates Clint Eastwood but long before that the film starts to resemble A Fistful of Dollars (1964)/Yojimbo (1961) and is all the better for it. Full of both the action and the dry whit you would expect from Mel Gibson of old. Ultimately it is the story of a flawed character looking for redemption, just like Gibson himself.

The Grey
$25,000,000 (estimated)
A horrible and inaccurate portrayal of grey wolves but a haunting and entertaining movie. Liam Neeson has always walked the line between serious actor and action star, originally leaning more towards actor but more recently falling on the action side of the line. When a plane carrying oil drillers crashes in the freezing wastes of Alaska the survivors are hunted by killer wolves. A metaphor for the destruction of the environment and the power of nature or just a survival thriller. Whatever you get from the movie it is well made and largely enjoyable.

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“No flesh shall be spared” – Mark 13

I have made no secret of my love of B movies. There is something more honest about a low budget movie that came into existence as much for the love of the art form as the bottom line. One of my favourites is the cyberpunk horror Hardware. Set mainly within an apartment and involving a killer robot, it is a kind of a cross between the claustrophobia of Alien and themes of The Terminator.

Written and directed by Richard Stanley, it is based on a short (7-page) comic strip called SHOK published in 2000 AD by Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neill. My understanding is that the film didn’t originally credit the sauce material. It reminds me of the quote from Quiz Show (1994) where Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield) says: “Cheating on a quiz show? That’s sort of like plagiarizing a comic strip”. Comic books are now treated with the respect they deserve like any other form of art or literature and the writers are now rightly credited. That probably makes it both the first and the best 2000AD adaptation, the others being Tank Girl (1995) and Judge Dredd (1995).

Set in what is often described as a post-apocalyptic world (listeners to Wittertainment will know that post-apocalyptic is an oxymoron). The dystopian world they live in is ravaged by war and the population is living of the scraps of the dead and decaying civilisation. The movie starts with Nomad (Carl McCoy from the Gothic Rock band, Fields of the Nephilim) finding a robotic hand, then the rest of the parts that make the robot in desert wasteland. It ends up in the hands of Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott), a soldier retuning home for the Christmas cease-fire, who gives the head to his sculptor girlfriend, Jill Berkowski (Stacey Travis). As the robot an prototype “M.A.R.K. 13” war robot, reassembles itself the body count begins to rise.

The plot is a little thin and predicable but the movie really works thanks to its perfect pacing, a constant sense of dread and claustrophobia and the fantastic production design. The apartment building and the brief glimpses of the city with its crimson sky, are filled with detail giving a realistic looking community in the fading and decaying world. The music is a perfect fit for the movie, they even manage to squeeze in Ace of Spades by Motorhead introduced by Lemmy, you will need to see the film to see how they do that! Also listen out for the radio DJ, Angry Bob (Iggy Pop) that appears throughout the movie, most notably for his closing line. The whole film is as sumptuous in its grime and bleakness as it is in its sense of desperation. The killer robot effects are achieved without the benefit of CGI and are all the better for it. As a low budget cyberpunk horror it is as violent and gory as you would expect, it is therefore not for everyone, people tend to love it or hate it, as you may have guessed, I love it.

Writer/Director Richard Stanley did it all again two years later with the Dust Devil that is equal parts supernatural thriller, slasher movie and western, set mainly in the Namibian desert. More about that another day.

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