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RIM SHOT
Today sees the release of Pacific Rim. The trailers didn’t fill me with hope as they looked like a larger scale Transformers. Before I start my review, I just want to say that I am a huge admirer of director Guillermo Del Toro. Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone are great films and both Hellboy movies are a lot of fun. Even Mimic, his mainstream monster movie, acquits itself very well. But the trailer for Pacific Rim is sadly very accurate. We are introduced to a world where monsters (Kaiju) from another dimension find themselves in our world, wreaking havoc and destruction and it takes a group of manmade machines (Jaegers) operated by two human pilots to go up against them. Charlie Hunnam (Sons Of Anarchy) plays Raleigh Becket, a Jaeger pilot who goes into hiding after the death of his brother and it takes Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to get him to jump back into a Jaeger when the last few machines are all that stands between a Kaiju victory against the humans. For me, the big problem with Pacific Rim is just how infantile and empty it all is. The script is excruciatingly corny, the characters are nonexistent (only Del Toro’s regular contributor Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau manages to lift the scenes he is in) and the plot, such as it is, is flimsy and filled with holes. Idris Elba, often good value in things like Luther and obviously The Wire, is wooden and awful here. I enjoy fun, intelligent action films as much as the next man, but Pacific Rim looks and feels like an expensive toy movie, with all the depth of a child filming his toys in his bedroom. The best action films (Aliens, Predator, Die Hard) have a level of intelligence to their scripts that lift them up from being more than just impressive special effects bonanzas. Del Toro is a huge fan of monster films and Japanese robot movies but nowhere here does this really feel like one of his films. I will also admit that I was never into Japanese monster movies and giant robot films when I was a kid so there is no nostalgia for me here. I am fully aware that this is a very deliberate series of choices from Guillermo Del Toro and this is a love letter from him to all the films he’s loved but it just didn’t connect with me. I would rather if Del Toro was to make a mainstream Hollywood movie, that it would have been more like Mimic than like Pacific Rim. Audiences have such poor taste these days for mainstream films that I’m sure it will do well at the box office but I feel this is such a waste of a true cinematic maverick’s talents…

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A HOST OF HAMMER

People forget that Hammer was more than just Dracula and Frankenstein. This month there’s a raft of new Hammer releases from StudioCanal on DVD and Blu-ray, one of which reminds you that they weren’t just a house of horror.
Hell is A City, directed by Val Guest, is a police drama set in Manchester which was made in 1960 and is getting its DVD debut. Made like a British version of a US cop drama, Stanley Baker plays Inspector Martineau in pursuit of America criminal Don Starling (played by John Crawford). Baker, who went on to things like Zulu, makes for a good central protagonist and the rest of the cast, including cameos from a young Billie Whitelaw and Donald Pleasance, are very consistent indeed. Director Guest, who also directed films like The Day The Earth Caught Fire and The Quatermass Experiment as well as Expresso Bongo, acquits himself well here. A little bit of a hidden curio, Hell Is a City is worth checking out if you’re an aficionado of Hammer or 1960s British police films…
And there’s also three more typical Hammer films out on Blu-ray this month too. First up is The Devil Rides Out (1968), which is apparently Christopher Lee’s favourite Hammer film he appeared in. Based on Dennis Wheatley’s novel, and with a screenplay by none other than Richard (I Am Legend) Matheson, this film is arguably one of the studios’ best efforts. Lee plays against type as the Duc du Richelieu, who is concerned that his friend Simon Aron (Patrick Mower) has become embroiled in a satanic cult led by the malevolent Mocata (Charles Gray chewing up the scenery). Lee is very good as is Gray and it is still a slice of classic English pulp, directed with aplomb by Hammer veteran Terence Fisher. It is good to see The Devil Rides Out make the transfer to Blu-ray as it deserves it and they have done a very nice job with the picture…
Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966) is a strange film. Starring Christopher Lee in the eponymous role, it isn’t typical Hammer fare as there are no monsters or supernatural creatures. But it does still have that pulpy Hammer feel to it with Lee an interesting choice as the Russian historical figure. As with many of their films, it was shot in Buckinghamshire, which doesn’t always convince as Russia but Lee is always watchable on screen and director Don Sharp moves proceedings on with style and panache. The rest of the cast can’t really compete with him though and so Rasputin The Mad Monk feels like a minor Hammer film, worth watching but more of a hardcore fan’s delight. Again, StudioCanal have done a nice job with the transfer…
And finally, we have The Mummy’s Shroud (1967). No Lee this time but we do have Andre Morrell, from The Plague of The Zombies. This was Hammer’s attempt to resurrect another of the classic Universal Monsters after Dracula and Frankenstein and Morrell is good value. But it does feel very much like a second-string Hammer production, more like The Reptile than The Plague of The Zombies or the superior Dracula or Frankenstein efforts. It’s a bit of pulpy fun though and the mummy effects are decent. It’s a decent addition to Hammer on Blu-ray and worth watching with reasonably low expectations…
These four films show the range of Hammer over the years and it is heartening that they are attracting a new audience…
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BACK IN TIME
Doug McClure was a regular fixture of monster movies in the Seventies and some of his films haven’t aged well. I’ve got two of his films that have just been released on DVD by StudioCanal. One is still a bit of a kitsch classic whereas the other is a bit of a stinker. The first Doug McClure here is The Land That Time Forgot (1975), based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of the same name. McClure plays American Bowen Tyler, who finds himself in the secret land of Caprona, accompanied by a motley band of British civilians and German navy personnel. They have to put aside their differences to survive the harsh terrain of Caprona, a place chock full of deadly dinosaurs and dangerous prehistoric men. Adapted by Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorn, despite the rubbery pyterodactyls and artificial looking triceratops, The Land That Time Forgot is still a fun, entertaining yarn with John McEnery as German u-boat captain Von Schoenvorts and McClure stand outs here although much of the supporting cast is solid too. It’s about time, pardon the pun, to see this film on DVD…
The second film is Warlords of Atlantis, also with McClure. It’s amazing what a difference three years makes. Set during the Victorian period, McClure plays adventurer Greg Collinson, who accompanies Professor Aitken (Donald Bisset) and his son Charles (Peter Gilmore) on a sea voyage to find the lost city of Atlantis. Unfortunately things don’t go according to plan and they find themselves trapped in Atlantis as prisoners of the rulers, who are intent on enslaving the surface dwellers through their mental powers. Unfortunately, Warlords of Atlantis suffers from a poor script, dodgy special effects and scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of late seventies Doctor Who. McClure tries to do the best he can with an atrocious script but it isn’t enough. The presence of Daniel Massey and John Ratzenberger in the cast can’t rescue it either. This film is for Doug McClure completists only as it has aged very, very badly indeed. Ironically both are directed by Kevin O’Connor…

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BACK TO THE FUTURE
Summer 2011 has been an odd summer with some of the tentpole movies disappointing. So it’s heartening to watch a film like Super 8 from director JJ Abrams. A pastiche of/ tribute to Spielberg and Dante’s output from the 1980s, Super 8 is set in small-town Ohio in 1979. It deals with a group of kids, led by Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) determined to make a horror film using their super 8 camera. But the twist is that something strange has happened to the town, with a real monster living there. Abrams has made no secret of his love for 1980s films and this comes out in Super 8, which is shot like a Spielberg film with direction that feels like anathema to 2011 cinema. Spielberg is even producer on Super 8 and it has a very anachronistic feel. And I mean that in a positive way as editing is more measured than you get these days and directing is very deliberate. The kids are all very good actors especially Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) and Courtney, managing to be sympathetic to the audience and avoiding the sort of maudlin schmaltz that could make Super 8 unwatchable. Abrams shows that he is probably one of the best mainstream Hollywood directors currently working and a spiritual successor to Spielberg. It’s not perfect by any means as the last act falls a little bit flat and the monster looks like nearly all of Abrams’ on-screen horrors. But its flaws are not enough to prevent me from recommending it as perhaps the most fun you’ll have all summer at the cinema. Super 8 is highly recommended…


A MONSTER OF A MOVIE
There has been much discussion about the film Cloverfield ever since its trailer was leaked last summer. Speculation about its real name has been rife with the trailer ending with no title, merely the legend 01.18.2008. I went to a press screening of it last Thursday at Empire Leicester Square, one of the biggest screened cinemas in the country. Produced by JJ Abrams (of Lost and Alias fame and currently working to resurrect the Star Trek franchise) and directed by his mate Matt Reeves, Cloverfield is shot all on hand-held camera, so as a viewer you are forced to adapt to the different feel of the film and as a monster movie, it delivers what it promises. A creature is attacking New York and we witness the devastation wrought by its presence and get to see it close up, thanks to the central conceit of the film: that this is footage shot by Hud Platt, played by TJ Miller, while it’s all going on. At 75 minutes running time, it’s one of the shortest films in recent memory and it manages to capture the chaos and dispair something like this might cause to the residents of a huge city like New York. The characters are fairly throwaway but you aren’t here for the deep characterisation. The monster looks fairly scary, visually it is impressive and the sound editing here is amazing: Cloverfield should be seen on a big screen at the cinema. Of course, it has its flaws (the handheld camerawork does lead to headaches on a couple of occasions) but as a technical exercise and as a rollercoaster ride, it does exactly what it should do. It’s not a film that people will be talking about for years but Cloverfield is a film that people interested in cinema should see once…