I Have Been Watching… April 2014

It’s June! Here’s some of the films I watched by using my eye­balls, which sent mes­sages to my brain, in the month of April. Yes, April!


The Bor­der­lands (2013)

RATING: 2 out of 5

article-i-have-been-watching-april-2014-the-borderlands

UK critic Mark Ker­mode described The Bor­der­lands as “prop­erly alarm­ing”. It’s okay in patches, largely thanks to some ter­rific sound design that nav­ig­ates around the low-budget, deliv­er­ing chills that outdo most hor­ror films cost­ing three or four times as much. But when the budget’s low for a hor­ror movie, the default fall­back seems to be the well-worn “found foot­age” sub-genre.

Here, the prot­ag­on­ists are Vat­ican invest­ig­at­ors of paranor­mal activ­ity who’ve been sent to a small church in the Brit­ish coun­tryside to check out the wild claims of the local vicar. What this means is three guys with cam­eras attached to their heads, so we see everything from their perspectives.

The film falls vic­tim to what’s now a major irrit­ant with found foot­age films, and that’s down time. So there’s a lot of sit­ting around, and check­ing equip­ment, inter­spersed with the occa­sional jump scare. Dis­tract­ingly, one of the invest­ig­at­ors sounds like (and also looks a bit like) former nineteen-eighties stand up comic, Ben Elton. Then, at the end, the whole thing unravels, with a final scene that had me laugh­ing rather than quak­ing with fear.


Sor­cerer (1977)

RATING: 4 out of 5

article-i-have-been-watching-april-2014-sorcererI’ve not seen the 1953 film, Wages of Fear, which shares a French book with Sor­cerer, as its, um, source. I prob­ably should, see­ing as how the old black and white film is con­sidered a clas­sic. But some­times it’s bet­ter that way, watch­ing a film with no “bag­gage”, without con­stantly com­par­ing it to the ori­ginal that came before it. Even so, some remakes are just genu­inely aver­age, whether you’ve seen the ori­ginal or not.

I’m happy to report that Sor­cerer is a genu­inely excel­lent film. It’s set in a hot, grimy, South Amer­ican hell hole whose eco­nomy relies on the oil drilling of an Amer­ican com­pany 200 miles away. When the oil well explodes, the only way to bung it up, is to blow it up. With dynam­ite. Trouble is, the dynam­ite is highly volat­ile, and needs to be trans­por­ted the 200 miles across dan­ger­ous ter­rain by four volun­teers in two trucks.

That’s pretty much the story. It focuses tightly on the four volun­teers, and racks up the ten­sion in numer­ous ways, the two trucks hav­ing to drive across a rope bridge dur­ing a thun­der­storm being a par­tic­u­larly butt clench­ing high­light (the poster above should give you some idea). The film is night­mar­ish, and full of des­per­a­tion, with men from dif­fer­ent walks of life being pushed to their lim­its in extreme con­di­tions. It’s prob­ably the finest act­ing per­form­ance I’ve seen from the late, and always under­rated, Roy Scheider.


How I Live Now (2013)

RATING: 3½ out of 5

article-i-have-been-watching-april-2014-how-i-live-nowLike The Hun­ger Games and Twi­light, How I Live Now is based on a young adult novel of the same name. Before you bury your head in your hands in utter dis­may, take a step back from your pre­con­cep­tion of YA films, and give How I Live Now a chance.

Yes, it’s a love story (see Twi­light), yes, it’s set in an apo­ca­lyptic world (see The Hun­ger Games), and yes, Saor­ise Ronan’s char­ac­ter does get it on with her cousin, which is a bit icky. But look­ing bey­ond all that, it’s a beau­ti­ful look­ing film off­set by the darker ele­ments of a world that’s going through nuc­lear war. Like a lot of YA adapt­a­tions, it takes itself very ser­i­ously. You’ll either see it as another example of teen­agers think­ing they’re the only ones with prob­lems, or simply be entranced by it’s quiet, under­stated scenes of a nuc­lear after­math. I’m one of the lat­ter, even if it some­times verges on being a (as coined by Brian Aldiss) “cosy cata­strophe”. As ever, the story bene­fits from a typ­ic­ally strong cent­ral per­form­ance from Saor­ise Ronan.


Death Wish 3 (1985)

RATING: 4 out of 5

article-i-have-been-watching-april-2014-death-wish-3Death Wish 3 is about as far from the more ser­i­ous tone of the ori­ginal Death Wish as you could ever wish for (if you wish for that kind of thing). That film had ser­i­ous ques­tions to ask. Death Wish 2 was a more straight up revenge thriller. Death Wish 3 evolves (or maybe devolves) fur­ther, becom­ing an insane action romp where gangs of thugs roam the streets like a Broad­way dance troupe.

Enter Charles Bron­son, vis­it­ing an old buddy who, before Bron­son can even get to his apart­ment, has been bru­tally beaten to death with lengths of chain by a gang of no-good punks. At this stage of the game, Bron­son has become a kind of mag­net for scum­bags. He lands him­self in jail early on, where he runs into a local gang leader who takes an instant dis­like to him. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s some­thing to do with that wispy mous­tache that Bron­son was always try­ing to grow through­out his career. Any­hoo, as a part­ing shot, the gang leader, as he’s released from jail, prom­ises Bron­son that he’ll “kill a little old lady, just for you.” Charming!

But it sets the tone. There’s a great bit where Bron­son is eat­ing din­ner with friends, hears someone break­ing into his car out­side, excuses him­self from the table, then nips out and shoots two scum­bags point-blank through the chest. He then heads back inside to fin­ish his din­ner like he’d just stepped out for a cigar­ette break. But even that scene can’t really pre­pare you for the utter may­hem that is the last half an hour of the film. If, by now, you haven’t real­ised that Death Wish 3 is pretty far from a ser­i­ous treat­ment of the implic­a­tions of being a vigil­ante, then you will when Bron­son gets out the rocket launcher.

If I learnt one thing, it’s that Bron­son “likes chicken” and thinks “chicken is good”. It’s an amaz­ing film, for all the wrong reas­ons, and the finest com­edy of the last thirty years.


Anchor­man 2: The Legend Con­tin­ues (2013)

RATING: 2 out of 5

article-i-have-been-watching-april-2014-anchorman-2Which unfor­tu­nately brings me to Anchor­man 2, which is def­in­itely not the finest com­edy of the last thirty years.

The long gap between the ori­ginal and the sequel obvi­ously hasn’t been taken advant­age of to deliver a pol­ished, funny script. Sure, the first one could hardly be called an example of coher­ent screen­writ­ing. But it worked, get­ting by on its free­wheel­ing style, and prov­ing to be a film that got bet­ter with repeat viewings.

Anchor­man 2 expands on some of the best (and worst) scenes of the ori­ginal, with lots of them out­staying their wel­come, espe­cially another street brawl between the vari­ous news teams that goes on forever. Although there is one longish stretch of the movie where Ron suf­fers from a dis­ab­il­ity that really shouldn’t be funny, but it is. It does, how­ever, play like a sketch that was maybe dis­carded from the screen­play of a dif­fer­ent movie. Everything else is mediocre, adding weight to the fact that the ori­ginal really is a one-off that should have been left well alone.

File under: crush­ing dis­ap­point­ment.
Recom­mend­a­tion: just watch the first one again.

7 Comments

  1. I’ve not seen any of these films, but I enjoyed your bite-sized reviews very much. Pithy and to the point. I like that in a review.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Anchor­man 2 wasn’t as hil­ari­ous or as clas­sic as the first, but still funny non­ethe­less. Wish it was ori­gin­ally rated-R though. Would have made things a whole lot bet­ter and raun­chier. Nice reviews!

  3. Dan says:

    Saw The Bor­der­lands myself a few days ago. I didn’t think it offered any­thing new but it used the head cams quite well and has what many found foot­age films fail to have: a good ending.

    • Monkeyboy says:

      I wasn’t keen on the end­ing, if I’m hon­est. There was a lot of run­ning around lead­ing up to that point too, which seemed to take ages.

  4. Tyson Carter says:

    Anchor­man 2 is waaaaaaay bet­ter than that, change your rat­ing now!!! :)

    • Monkeyboy says:

      Hehe, sorry Tyson, but it’s stay­ing that way! :) The only bit I really liked is the bit where Ron goes blind. Other than that, the first one is just loads bet­ter in every way.

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