Three Minute Review: Bloody Birthday (1981)

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And the winner of the Most Cynical Attitude Towards Children Award goes to… Mr. Ed Hunt! Come up here! Take a bow! Wow. Simply, wowzers. Bloody Birthday is a triumph all right. Not only does it pack in all of the tosh we expect of slashers from the Eighties (death, breasts and bad dialogue), but it turns the genre upside down by making the killer a *SPOILER* murderous triad of preteens. What’s their motive? Honestly, I have no idea. Not a clue. Being taken to the dentist against their will. Or not being bought a car once they’d slid out of the womb. It is America, after all.

One of the group, an All-American Cutie by most preening mom’s standards, charges her gang 25 cents to view her sister through a hole in her closet dancing topless in her bedroom, cavorting with a fat-haired jock and later shoots an arrow into her eye and dumps her body by the bins for the men to collect in the morning. Does she find any of this harrowing? Not at all: the film ends with her dropping an entire truck on the poor sod who was lying underneath trying to fix it.

What surprised me about the film was the way that the children were portrayed; as soulless, cold-hearted murderers that don’t react in any way to the horrific things they’re doing to their friends, family and neighbours. It’s demented, unapologetic, harrowing and ridiculous, all good reasons for watching it.

7/10

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Three Minute Review #9: The Stuff (1985)

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The Stuff has only existed in my memory as a hazy Betamax trailer seen at a bad kid’s house in the mid-80s, the sort of place you were discouraged from visiting should you pick up bad language or nits. I know next to nothing about its director Larry Cohen, and no one has ever mentioned this movie in hushed tones about its “lost classic” status. It’s probably not been available on DVD for the past ten years.

Time to face my fears then. Things kick off with no fanfare whatsoever. An bearded old geezer sees the ground bubbling up beneath him, decides to taste the white muck (as if you actually would do this) and discovers it’s the most delicious thing he’s ever tasted in his entire life. What are the odds! It being America, this natural product needs to be marketed and sold as quickly as possible to the greedy sods in the supermarket. Soon, the country is hooked and others in the dessert biz aren’t too happy about their plummeting sales. They hire Mo Rutherford to investigate the secret behind The Stuff’s success, and things take a decidedly X-Files-like turn as Mo drives around backyard USA meeting brick wall after brick wall trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious product.

One hour into the movie, you’re no wiser to the reason why The Stuff is so popular, where it came from, and why everyone has gone all Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Michael Moriarty gives an oddball performance as the investigator, and his abrupt romance with the PR woman had me scratching my head confused how he managed it. There are moments where sharks are jumped using the Titanic and yet it has the pace of an A-Team episode when they’re hammering all the junk together in a garage to go do in the baddies. Some of the shaving foam special effects look a bit dodgy but that’s to be expected of a mid-80s low-budget flick like this. It’s almost kid-friendly daytime TV stuff except for a few weird gross-out moments. Not the stuff of nightmares, but altogether not bad either. Except for the hairdos.

6/10

How Not To Run A Swimming Pool (I’m talking about you, Jesmond)

Did you ever see this before?

 

THE POOL documentary from The Day Today (1994)

 

Chris Morris and Armando Ianucci’s mockumentary about British swimming pools is as relevant today as it was in 1994. Because I’ve just been to a pool in Newcastle that is equally, or perhaps shitter, than the one they cleverly took the piss out of.

Jesmond Pool, or Jesmond Community Leisure Pool as it’s now known since it was rebranded by some charity or other in 1992, was where I learned to swim. I managed to scrape through a 10m swimming badge examination back in the Eighties, which remains one of my few sporting achievements. The pool itself hasn’t changed much since those weekly swimming sessions. In fact, I’d wager most of the elastoplasts that were floating like detritus in the lower depths were from my primary school classmates.

Today was my first visit since 1990, and I’d like to thank the people who’ve taken it over for making it a swimming experience that I’ll never forget. Or repeat.

The £4.20 price tag for an adult swim is, for a start, rather steep considering the lack of facilities. I was naively expecting it to be cheaper than the £5.10 I paid at the vastly superior Beckenham Spa, which I highly recommend despite the huge hole it puts in your pocket. The reasons will become apparent.

There’s disabled access for those who require it, though I doubt there are many clamouring for it. And considering how awful the pavements are for anyone who is disabled in ye olde streets of Jesmond, the copious amount of wankers in Audi A4’s and students tweeting frantically about their latest dose of STD’s are likely to keep these poor sods well away. Acorn Road is a hotbed of pricks, students, wankers, and arsehole students. People who use “like” every two words in each sentence. Middle-aged men who are pissed at four in the afternoon screaming about woodwork outside Greggs. Spoiled teens complaining about being unable to find a place with en suite bathroom for less than £700 pcm. There are four coffee shops on a short road packed with boring people boring others about “relationships” (whatever they are) and nothing else. Jesus, had he existed, died for this shit.

The lobby area was completely different from the old days, and has bugger all else apart from a vending machine and a counter with four layabout staff watching the match. Having only a fiver note and a 50p piece, I asked if I could get change for the lockers. It being a Saturday, I might as well have asked for him to translate Ulysses into Korean from the blank stare I got. “We don’t have any change.” That was the extent of his response. No “I’ll see if I can find some for you” or “I’m awfully sorry, we don’t have any change at the moment but…”. I’m sorry for interrupting the football during your working hours.

Eventually, one of the staff who was in her sixties volunteered to look in the vending machine, and found a single 20p piece. This still caused problems for the barely-pubic front of house brat who was unable to add up a pile of 5p pieces to make up 50p. Then when I went to pay for the swim, they wanted to add another 30p onto the transaction for using a card. No thanks. With this faff over and done with, I went into the changing room.

Changed it most certainly had. There are only 2 cubicles, and neither of these are private as they lack doors (compared with the 30+ at Beckenham, though it is a mixed changing area for both men, women and children). The lockers take your 20p but don’t return them, which means if you want to take a shower you have to leave your shower stuff out to be nicked (this is Newcastle, after all) or open your locker after swimming and take the chance of having your gear robbed in one go. The keys don’t have an elasticated wrist band, so I ended up having to leave the key on the floor by the pool because I don’t have the same trunks from the 80s with the little pocket.

The floor was completely awash with water, and no staff came through with a mop to clean it up during the hour I was there. Kids were running around so I’m surprised none of them didn’t brain themselves after a bad slip. Not to mention the floor was dirty, with weird bits of string, empty shower gel bottles and filth dotted around. I was grossed out at the thought of putting my feet on the floor and this is not something that bothers me as my feet are vile at the best of times.

If you don’t like toilet stories, avoid this paragraph. I had to use the bog, and helpfully, there was no toilet paper in there. At all. The previous user had caked half of his dump on the back of the porcelain like a Rothko, so in disgust I had to take a brush to it. The floor in here was piss-soaked. I was enjoying myself not one jot.

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Finally, I went into the main pool area. It was exactly the same as it was 25 years ago, except some of it had been annexed by a sauna and gym area. One member of staff was on duty and there was perhaps seven swimmers in the pool at 2:30pm. The water itself was warm and the act of swimming was performed until I was too knackered to do any more. Apart from a couple of hairy sods who tried to have a free sauna and got caught and bollocked, it was uneventful.

Back in the changing room, I unloaded all my gear into one of the individual changing rooms and then realised I’d done something utterly moronic. I’d forgotten to bring a towel. Well done. Drip drying looked like my only option, so I hopped in the shower then got dressed slowly. The coup de grace was the hair drier, which was a hand drier above head height with the nozzle pointed downwards. I shit you not. Cold air blasting from above, which didn’t do very much to dry my mop. It was almost worthy of appearing on FAIL BLOG. But that’s funny.

As the Great White once said: “Money well spent.”

tl;dr: Jesmond Pool is RUBBISH and OVERPRICED.

RetroView: Resident Evil (Biohazard) 4 (PS2) [2005]

PS2_Resi4_Sleeve I’ll admit to you now that I’m getting rather long in the tooth these days. I was an early adopter of the PS1 and bought the first Resident Evil when it was released in 1996. Whatever possessed me to buy it in the first place eludes me now, though I suspect it was because I was a teenager and they were marketed as “adult” games before we took that for granted.

Even then, I was appalled at how cheesy the live-action intro was, and I’m glad that it bit the dust and wasn’t included in the remake. It was a Necessary Evil bearing in mind the capabilities of the hardware at the time (sorry for that pun, I’m lazy).

A few years back a friend let me borrow the GameCube version  of Resi 4 but it went neglected in favour of PC gaming. I found the changes to the basic control system difficult to get to grips with and the 360 degree over-the-shoulder camera view threw me totally. The old timer was having a tough time growing up with the game.

Spin on to 2013 and for some inexplicable reason I became compelled to give the PS2 version of Resi 4 a go. And after playing it for the last fortnight, I’ve experienced suffering on an almost unprecedented scale. Died 60-plus times. Reloaded the game hundreds of times. Even did the unthinkable and resorted to all-out cheating. Even in normal, it’s a very challenging game the first time around. But did I enjoy it? Yes, yes, yes.

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Once the issues with the controls were ironed out (which took a few hours), I found myself engrossed with the setpieces, more-so than the mansion or the police station. While the earlier chapters set in the village and the countryside were a departure in both tone and shocking content (the body of the burning policeman was a particularly gruesome visual that had me thinking of The Hills Have Eyes), I had to accept that the series had to move away from the static camera angles, slow-witted groaning zombies and unintentionally dated visuals of the previous instalments. Fighting my way round a village or shooting gems from a rope-bridge to make a few quid was not the Resident Evil I knew anyway. After I battled my way through the graveyard and met the first of the Los Illuminados, I started to feel like I was in more familiar territory: creepy gothic visuals, unsettling noises, surprises from all angles…

Ultimately, the biggest thing to get used to was the fact that this game didn’t feel survival horror any more, but more evolved. There are few scares in Resi 4, unlike Silent Hill 2 which still has the power to frighten the hell out of me, simply because there is no time to be scared. Limited ammo and console processing power meant that you were rarely fighting more than a handful of zombs back in the PS1 days, but when you’re faced with six-plus bloodthirsty villagers with raised scythes and a stack of ammo in your back pocket, you get trigger happy. There’s a definite shift from the empty corridor with a clock puzzle to both barrels blazing at a bunch of cultists. The corpses soon turn to sticky bubbles and you need to keep buying bigger briefcases for all the ammo they drop (as an aside, this is corrected somewhat in Resi 5 where you are limited to 9 active items that makes things a lot harder – I’ll cover that game in a later feature). It also makes you wonder why people infected with Las Plagas are walking around with undigested live ammunition in their stomachs.

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What are the irks? The only one I can think of right now: Ashley. Yes, she may be the reason why you’re playing the game in the first place, but her character is dashed by nailsdownblackboard voice-acting and Super Ham dialogue. Overtime. OVERTIME?!? Kill me now. I wasn’t sure exactly why I needed to switch to her character from time to time as it didn’t feel to me like it was moving the narrative forward. I did like the Harry Potter knights that come swinging at you with huge axes though.

Oh shi-That said, the move away from the zombies and tyrants that we’re all familiar with is a breath of fresh air. The Marilyn Manson-like creepy cultists are high on my list of favourites, the El Gigantes were intimidating and tough to bring down, but my personal fave was the Iron Maiden, not just because they’re named after the first band I ever saw live, but because I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of the room as they slunk towards me. Brown trousers time for the gamer because of its awesome defence mechanism (and the hentai heavy breathing). Lining up those shots with the thermal sight was a real challenge, and it was also the first time in the game where I ran out of ammo and had to bolt out of the room and miss out on the pickups.

Where I found myself struggling most was during the quick-on-the-button ‘dodge the croc’ moments which had me hitting continue so much the bloody controller was smoking. Perhaps old age has made me slow on the draw. I was always a fraction of a second off and so met a grisly demise. This possibly explains why I’ve never played Guitar Hero or Parapa the Rapper. Perhaps I should.

The HD version of Resi 4 is now available on the PS3, along with ports to iOS and mobile devices. For a game that nearly brought an end to the franchise and had four false starts, it was instrumental in giving the series a kick up the arse and introducing mechanics we take for granted in third-person shooters these days. Perhaps not revolutionary, but certainly a great example of evolution in a series.

Next up: Resident Evil 5 (or Biohazard 5 Alternative Edition, as I’m playing the Japanese version!)

Django Unchained (and Tarantino In Rage)

I’ve been speaking to a few people today about Tarantino’s oeuvre now that Django Unchained is hitting cinemas any time now. One friend of mine considers most of his films crap, and that’s produced nothing of merit since Pulp Fiction. Personally, I like some more than others. I find Reservoir Dogs tiresome, mainly because of the endless monologue about Like A Virgin and the over-parodied “slow walk” during the first 10 minutes. Jackie Brown didn’t do much for me either. But I do think True Romance (which he scripted) brilliant, and in the hands of the now-dead Tony Scott, the cast really bled for that film.

Kill Bill 2 was a waste of time as well.

Despite those, I liked Death Proof, which I consider underrated. Kurt Russell is great in that film, a really nasty piece of work. The structure is rather odd, and is so in both versions (The original ‘Grindhouse’ version misses about half an hour of story, including an interesting lapdance).

Kill Bill 1 I loved, and not because of the Japanese influences.

Pulp Fiction’s praise is justified.

Inglorious Basterds was superb. Who doesn’t love Christoph Platz?

The Channel 4 news interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy that aired tonight saw the man coming out swinging when questioned about his attitude towards violence in cinema, something which he claimed he’d gone on record about too many times already. Get Googling. And as usual, it takes the media to point out things like Newtown that eclipsed the news at the end of 2012, as something they believe violent movies (not to mention video games) as influencing.

It’s absolute crap, isn’t it?

During the first 10 years of my life, I’d played a lot of computer games, but the only violence I’d ever seen was not on television but in the school yard. Children can be nasty pieces of work, and coupled with an abusive homelife, to turn around and blame Double Dragon or Street Fighter II seems a bit rich.

I’ve played over 100 hours of Borderlands 2 recently, and I’ve never even considered shooting anyone. What disturbs me is the oversimplification of mental illness that permeates the media every day, written by someone who has no knowledge or interest in the facts beyond the headlines.

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I was most surprised that the fact that Django Unchained probably features the most uses of the word n*gger by a white director to be a more of an interesting debate than QT’s use of violence. The gunfights are so stylised and OTT, that it’s impossible not to enjoy them. It’s comic book+, not Hostel or A Clockwork Orange. It’s a classic revenge movie, not sadistic like Grotesque or The Human Centipede. Once again, the quick grab headline is going to be about QT raging on British TV, telling the interviewer he’s getting his “butt shut down” for asking stupid questions, which is sad because they had the opportunity to ask one of best living director’s about his art and blew it.

Django Unchained is the best film I’ve seen this year. It may even be the best film I saw in the past 12 months. The cast are excellent (with the exception of QT himself, who just HAD to write himself a cameo yet can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag) – with nods to Jamie Foxx and Christoph Platz who are surprisingly muted compared to the foul-mouthed racists Don Johnson and Leo DiCaprio.

The violence is over the top and bloody. It’s probably the most blood-soaked QT flick yet, but it’s also the most tightly plotted and satisfying.

I’m not a generous man, but it was a 9/10 for me. Can’t wait for what he’s got in store next time.