Film #23: The Omega Man (1971)

film 23 the omega man

Rating: 3/5

“Definition of a scientist – a man who understands nothing until there was nothing left to understand.”

Richard Matheson’s excellent 1954 horror novel I Am Legend is the source of inspiration for this, though it could barely be described as an adaptation. The Omega Man takes Matheson’s scenario – the last man on Earth, living in a city surrounded by the former humans who have succumbed to some sort of disease – and reinvents it; gone are the vampire creatures the author pitted against his protagonist, replaced by sunglasses-wearing albinos who desire to accept their “punishment” and return to less technologically based times.

This is just one of a number of adaptations, and the least faithful; in 1964 Vincent Price became a vampire hunter in The Last Man on Earth, while Will Smith battled the sunlight-hating beasts in 2007’s I Am Legend. The latter in particular, while undoubtedly flawed when dark fell, excelled in capturing the desperate isolation suffered by the lone man. For much of the film, Smith is – with the exception of his dog – the only person on screen, talking to himself and slowly going mad in his basic need for human contact. In contrast, The Omega Man‘s protagonist, Neville (Charlton Heston) shares his screen time frequently, either with members of the albino “family” determined to exterminate what they view as a threat to their way of life, or with the other humans he later encounters. Although the film opens with aerial shots of a desolate urban landscape, effectively evoking an uneasy atmosphere, these are soon abandoned and, as the film gets increasingly more crowded, it becomes less interesting.

Like the other adaptations, The Omega Man is not without its problems; primarily, ageing star Heston never successfully convinces of any emotion. Although he talks to himself, or to his mannequin flatmate, the lame quips and flat one-liners may be delivered with a healthy sense of irony but seem less the requirement of a man desperate for company, and more the self-appreciating words of someone who likes to listen to themselves. Later discovering other survivors, who have yet to succumb to the plague, again his reaction is more apathetic than relieved. While the supporting characters are less than inspiring – the medieval cloaks, flaming torches, and pseudo-religious rhetoric of the “family” is bland, while love interest Lisa (Rosalie Cash) is a walking cliché, from her giant afro to her 70’s slang – Heston’s performance alone would not be enough to carry the production.

There are some interesting concepts here, however. Neville’s isolation is self-imposed – refusing to leave the house he lived in before the apocalyptic consequences of global biological warfare (revealed through a montage of stock footage inserts) indicates his desire to find other humans is not enough to actually go and look for them. Meanwhile, his conflict with the “family” is a half-hearted one; he seems less intent on killing them than on being annoying. The motivations of the “family” also have unexpected connotations: as the majority, perhaps they, not Neville, are truly the future of humanity. As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly harder to empathise with him; stubborn, unemotional and egotistical, it is a solemn reminder that the last man on Earth doesn’t actually have to be a nice one.

The Omega Man is a good example of a studio film in a time when counter-culture and independent movies were marking themselves as a serious threat to the future of the industry. Two years earlier, Easy Rider had already provided its own nihilistic version of the American Dream; here, Warner Brothers cash in on the continuing disillusionment of a generation. Yet it lacks the rawness of the independent productions – after the early location shots, scenes look staged, action sequences feel controlled, and the hip, happenin’ jargon and costumes are stereotyped rather than authentic. Even more distracting is the score, which frequently sounds more as though it’s accompanying a 70’s cop movie, effectively annihilating any sense of tension.

Clearly, there are problems, and they are easily recognised, but The Omega Man far from a disaster. The early scenes are by far the best, and it is a shame some of the implied ideas are realised in too ham-handed a fashion. Today it is dated, but this adds a retro appeal further enhanced by the source novel’s continued appreciation and, along with Heston’s other flawed film, Planet of the Apes (1968), is remembered fondly despite some lapses in technique and judgement.

Film #22: Stigmata (1999)

film 22 stigmata

Rating: 3.5/5

“The kingdom of God is inside you and all around you, not in mansions made of wood and stone.”

Last night marked the first Movie Lottery disaster. Delving into the seemingly never-decreasing bag of options, the underrated body horror Teeth (2007) was selected but, after more than several minutes of hunting the shelves, I gave up. Teeth has vanished. It must be here somewhere, but this appears to be a sign that (a), we have too many DVDs and videos or (b), our half-hearted organisation decisions are lacking. Confident it will turn up eventually, possibly having hidden itself behind one of the piles in the same way that the utterly dreadful River of Darkness (2011) also did for over a year, it has been put back in the bag and will be selected (and hopefully located) at a later date.

Our second pick was Saved! (2004), a teen comedy set in a strict Christian secondary school but as this is currently on loan to a friend, again we could not indulge. It’s a shame too, because Saved! is rather fun. Like Teeth, it will also be given a second chance.

Sticking with the Christian theme, our third and final pick was Stigmata, which has been a favourite of mine for many years. I have always been partial to religious themed horror movies – even the silliest of possession films make me cower pathetically – but more than that, I am interested in the ongoing debates surrounding religion generally, and Christianity specifically. So few films really embrace Christianity; one of the finest recent possession movies (and one in our collection) is The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), which is perhaps the most intelligent due to its decision to provide both a religious and scientific context. Stigmata is far less subtle – in fact, it is the antithesis of subtle – but its trashiness hides a surprisingly profound concept that, rather than damning faith, decries the Catholic church and the power-hungry egomaniacs within it.

Patricia Arquette is Frankie, a twenty-three year old atheist who happily chain-smokes, swears, and fornicates without fear of consequence. After she receives a parcel from her mother, holidaying in South America, which includes the rosary of a recently deceased priest, Frankie becomes haunted by visions, whispering voices and, most worryingly, the first signs of the stigmata – first, holes straight through her wrists, followed by slashes across her back. Having been whipped by an unseen force right in front of a man of God, her inflictions become known to the church, who send Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) to investigate; in a strange twist of fate, he had previously been at the small church in Brazil where Frankie’s rosary was stolen.

The implicit connection between the rosary and Frankie’s torment becomes more pronounced throughout the film; it is the catalyst, but it is not the film’s focus. Instead, Stigmata considers the power struggle of the Catholic church, who simultaneously proclaim the wonder of Jesus while disproving supposed miracles. The film’s message, which has been repeated in a number of theological debates, is to remember that the church is primarily made up of men – fallible, flawed men. To have faith is not dependent on buildings or rituals; it is an internal, personal event. Rules of celibacy and priesthood are challenged, particularly for Father Andrew, who begins to feel a connection between him and Frankie while struggling with his own feelings about religion and science.

The stigmata themselves, and Frankie’s apparent possession, are brutally realised, although the film’s music video aesthetic is less scary than atmospheric – jump cuts, strobe effects, and scenes intercut with dreamlike images are exploited frequently. Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) provides the original music alongside the hypnotic tunes of Massive Attack and Bjork; the score is excellent although slightly dated now – a mix of eerie tenderness and hardcore electronica. The opening credits song perfectly sums up the tone of the film: a pseudo-religious dance track that follows a whispered Hail Mary with the lyrics, “no virgin me, for I have sinned, I sold my soul for sex and gin, go call a priest, all meek and mild, and tell him, Mary is no more a child!”

Religious iconography fills Stigmata – even Frankie’s bed is reminiscent of an altar. As rain incessantly batters Pitsburgh, so too does water infiltrate almost every scene; Frankie’s loft apartment offers little shelter from the onslaught of rain, and the drip-drip-drip of falling droplets is constant. So too does the flicker of candles, evoking an altogether ecclesiastic tone; like I said earlier, this is not a subtle film by any means. Yet Arquette combines vulnerability and youth to bring Frankie’s plight to life, while Byrne is sombre and strangely attractive as Father Andrew. Jonathan Pryce deserves a mention also, for being the villainous face of the Catholic church – his Cardinal Houseman is a complex, if under established, character filled with self-righteous piety and superiority.

Largely dismissed as a trashy, convoluted and illogical possession movie, Stigmata is all of these things but it is also more. Entertaining and thought-provoking, perhaps had it been slightly more discreet in its action, it would have been better received. Yet buried beneath a mass of dynamic, if silly, set pieces, its message – based on a real gospel rejected by the Catholic church – is both simple and profound and consequently, in my opinion it remains one of the more underrated movies of the 1990s.

Film #21: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

pans labyrinth

Rating: 5/5

[Translation] “You’re getting older, and you’ll see that life isn’t like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you’ll learn that, even if it hurts.”

Guillermo del Toro’s adult fairy tale is the first film picked to be given five stars, and it’s more than deserving of the credit. Winner of three Academy Awards – art direction, cinematography, and make-up – and currently sitting comfortably among the top rated films on IMDB, Pan’s Labyrinth is the Spanish writer-director’s finest film to date, a haunting, beautifully shot allegory that combines fantasy with the stark realities of war.

Set in Fascist Spain in 1944, pregnant Carmen (Ariadna Gil) and her young daughter Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) arrive at an isolated homestead to be with Carmen’s new husband, Captain Vidal (Sergi López). Vidal is a ruthless military man, hell bent on annihilating the resistance hiding in the gloomy forest; his heartlessness is exemplified by his brutality, revealed early on in uncompromising fashion when a hunter and his elderly father is captured and bludgeoned to death. As the pregnancy takes its toll on her mother, Ofelia retreats into a fantasy world; a stick insect spotted on her arrival becomes a fairy that leads her to an ancient labyrinth near the farmhouse, and it is here that she discovers Pan, a faun who assigns her three tasks so that she can return to her real home, a magical underworld.

There have been a number of films focusing on the “lost children” in Spain as a result of the war – The Orphanage and The Devil’s Backbone (also del Toro) have also been read as metaphor. Whether audiences are familiar with the historical context or not, Pan’s Labyrinth is a powerful story. While the faun’s assignments are perilous, they do provide Ofelia with some hope, which is noticeably lacking in the real world. She submits to her fantasies, welcoming the challenges on the belief that on completion she will be able to leave her gloomy, harsh reality and take her rightful place as the king’s daughter. Yet her fairytale is not the stuff of Disney dreams, but filled with danger – the Pale Man in particular is truly terrifying, a horrific creation with sagging skin and eyes in his hands. Even Pan, Ofelia’s guide, is a dubious character whose intentions are unclear; as one character says, you shouldn’t trust a faun.

In terms of both artistry and narrative, Pan’s Labyrinth is a triumph. The real world, tinged with blue, is gloomy and violent with the horrors of war realised in gory detail. The only warm tones emerge in Ofelia’s fantasies, but they too are deceptive; the yellows and golds of the Pale Man’s world look inviting, but the invitation is trickery. Del Toro’s creativity and twisted imagination is fully revealed through the creatures inhabiting the magical realm, who are largely the result of wonderful make-up and costume design, instead of CGI. When computer imagery is used, it does now look dated, but really it doesn’t matter because the director clearly understands that creating a perfect image is nothing without believable, engaging characters. As Ofelia, Baquero displays both vulnerability and steely determination; her performance is superb. Each actor brings depth to their role – Vidal is cruel and cold, but also tormented by his past and his desperation for an heir, and he is one of the most complex, and dreadful, villains of recent years.

Pan’s Labyrinth harks back to the original fairytales, before Disney invented the “happily ever after,” when they were cautionary tales filled with menace. Make no mistake, even without the graphic scenes of torture and death this would not be suitable for children. Yet the imagination and expertly realised concepts that permeate every scene, the ominous, eerie beauty within it, and its bitter-sweet, tragic story make it one of the finest films of the last ten years.

Cinema Lottery #5

21 and Over
21 & Over

Rating: 3/5

The mediocre releases continue this week, and first up was 21 & Over, a Hangover-esque coming of age movie starring Miles Teller, Skylar Astin, and Justin Chon (The Twilight Saga). Opening on the morning after, the film then flashes back to explain just how Miller and Casey (Teller and Astin) have ended up walking naked, branded, through the university campus. As it transpires, it has something to do with copious amounts of alcohol imbibed to celebrate their friend Jeff Chang’s twenty-first.

21 & Over is crude and often juvenile, but the initially obnoxious characters become rather likeable, and the scrapes they get into are daft, but not overly so – like exaggerated examples of real student life. With Miller desperately trying to cling onto his youth and Casey embracing adult responsibilities too quickly, the message is that there is a balance somewhere in the middle; of course, carnage must ensue before this epiphany happens. Despite the ridiculous situations the three get themselves into, however, the laugh-out-loud moments are rare, though each actor plays their role gamely. There are some surprisingly dark undertones running throughout – the reason Jeff Chang has a gun in his pocket, for example – but really this is a rather harmless, forgettable tale of friendship and growing up.

All Stars

Rating: 1/5

Presumably attempting to replicate the success of Street Dance 3D, a British sleeper hit starring a number of reality competition winners, All Stars takes all the conventions of a dance movie, waters them down for a prepubescent audience, throws in a number of comedians who should know better, and creates a tedious, cliched, irritatingly twee film that makes some serious errors in narrative judgement.

So You Think You Can Dance‘s first winner Akai is Jaden, whose parents won’t let him dance despite his age and his obvious talents, because they want him to concentrate on his schooling. Ethan (Theo Stevenson) is a resourceful chancer who pedals North Korean chocolate to the kids in school, but he really just wants to impress his absentee dad. Ethan spots a (much older) girl one day, and decides to impress her by starting a dance crew; coincidentally, their youth centre is also due to be closed down and turned into a car park. Thus the wonderful idea of a talent show is born. Cue a group of misfits uniting, despite their diversity, to save the day.

All Stars is tripe, tied up with a saccharine bow and, with the exception of Akai, almost entirely devoid of any actual talent. For a dance movie, there is almost no dancing; three dream sequences showcase the most impressive routines, but they feel forced and reveal sloppy, lacklustre choreography. The plot is formulaic, but also worryingly careless – John Barrowman cameos as a father who has had a nervous breakdown, leaving pre-teen Amy fending for herself – this situation is never resolved, for some bizarre reason. Underwhelming, uninspiring, and insipid, All Stars is a sad reminder of how mindless kids’ films can be.

Dead Man Down

Rating: 2.5/5

The first English language film by Niels Arden Oplev, Dead Man Down reunites the director with his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace. She is Beatrice, a woman seeking revenge after a car accident left her permanently scarred; her neighbour is Victor (Colin Farrell), who is also hell bent on vengeance following the murder of his wife and child. As a friendship, and possible romance, develops between the two, Beatrice is further dragged into Victors’ world of gangs and criminality.

Expertly shot, Dead Man Down‘s biggest successes are its two leads. Farrell is taciturn but charismatic as Victor, while Rapace displays a vulnerability that is engaging and believable. Her scars, however, hardly warrant her self-imposed isolation or the insults hurled at her by local kids; nor do they necessarily justify her desire to kill the man responsible. Unrepentantly serious in tone, the plot that brings the two leads together is more tenuous and riddled with holes – how did Victor survive the initial attack, for instance? Why does he need to infiltrate the criminal gang when he could just shoot them all from a rooftop? More disappointingly, the script opts to reveal its mystery to the audience early on, leaving the characters to catch up; while this adds some initial tension, it does little to maintain suspense or intrigue.

Dead Man Down
seems confused at times, unsure as to whether it is a straight up action film (as the opening scenes and the finale suggest) or a more considered, slow-burning psychological examination of revenge, consequences, and salvation; it even delves into detective mystery on occasion. An atmospheric, well acted film, it is let down by its wavering tone and unnecessarily convoluted concepts.

Chimpanzee

Rating: 2/5

Narrated by Tim Allen, this Disney documentary is squarely aimed at children; it is also so careful to conceal any human involvement that it strains believability. With all efforts made to present the events in narrative form, it feels scripted and forced, to the film’s detriment. More problematically, the voice-over opts to emote rather than inform, weakening impressive sequences by stating the obvious, including weak jokes, and speaking on behalf of the chimps. It is also unapologetically subjective, forcing the viewer to think in human terms.

Following newborn Oscar and his family, Chimpanzee captures some incredible moments – the chimps using rocks to break open nuts, creating ant-lollypops to avoid being bitten by the insects, making hammocks out of young branches high in the trees – all of which are over-emphasised by Allen’s inane narration. Lead chimp Freddy’s group is always described as a “family” in contrast to the rival group of chimps, led by Scar (yes, really), which are invariably called an “army.” Clearly designed to distinguish one group as the heroes and one as the villains, the film forgets, or chooses not to mention, that this anthropomorphism is wholly as a result of human decisions, rather than anything “real” captured on camera. In truth, neither group are good or bad; both are simply trying to survive.

It is only in the credits that we see the documentary crew, and it is in these final minutes that the film becomes impressive – without any evidence of them before, it is too difficult to remember that they existed at all. Their achievements are underplayed in favour of storytelling, and the all-too-obvious attempts to tug at heart strings and make the audience consider the chimps in human terms are irritating and tiresome.

Film #20: High School Musical 3: Senior Year

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3: SENIOR YEAR

Rating: 3/5

“Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat!”

It’s quite fitting that, as Vanessa Hudgens attempts to destroy her clean-cut Disney image in Springbreakers and Ashley Tisdale commits career suicide in Scary Movie 5, our Movie Lottery draw selected High School Musical 3: Senior Year. The trilogy put both these actresses on the map, propelling them to stardom alongside Zac Efron; technically the ensemble cast focuses on six kids, but the franchise quickly became an Efron-Hudgens vehicle and, of the bunch, it is these two who have proved the most successful since it finished in 2008.

The third and final film follows the same format as the former two, but is bigger in both budget and scale due to its cinematic release – parts one and two are among the many made-for-television movies Disney churn out. If you’re curious (or worried), the only others to feature in our collection are Camp Rock 2: Final Jam and, for some reason I’ve since forgotten, Princess Protection Program. None matched the success and popularity of High School Musical however; it even beat Mama Mia!‘s opening weekend.

Senior Year is rather self-explanatory; basketball star/singing sensation Troy Bolton (Zac Efron), his high school sweetheart Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), friends Chad and Taylor, and their frenemies Sharpay and Ryan Evans are all entering the final months of school. While they attempt to make the best school musical ever – the story of their own experiences – they are all dealing with the knowledge that soon they will be growing up, leaving school, and entering the adult world. Can their friendships and relationships survive? I don’t want to give anything away, but it is a Disney movie, after all.

Featuring over fifty minutes of song and dance numbers – more than half the film’s running time – this is easily the best of the franchise. The songs are infectious, catchy, memorable pop tunes, while the official musical running parallel to their lives allows for some impressive set pieces that pay direct homage to the glory days of the Hollywood musical. Cancan girls, bright lights, stage props and rapid costume changes all feature and, even if the idea of a wholesome, tween-centric musical extravaganza makes your ears bleed, I challenge you to not get at least a little bit caught up in the delightful innocence that runs throughout.

Efron and Hudgens are the glue that holds the trilogy together – they are the best actors of the group (Gabriella’s friend Taylor is horribly affected, while Chad is non-descript as Troy’s bland best buddy; though Lucas Grabeel deserves a mention for his portrayal of flamboyant, camp Ryan) and, particularly in scenes together, are warm and engaging. Their romance, developing over the course of three films, is an idealistic fairytale, but there’s nothing wrong with leaving adult cynicism at the door for an hour and a half.

Naturally, it is twee, overly optimistic, bubblegum bright and absolutely preposterous; everyone is super talented and suspiciously nice, disagreements are mild and quickly replaced by unanimous understanding and support, couples are still content to simply hold hands after three years together, nasty girls learn lessons without complaining and reform instantly (or at least until the next movie), and there’s not even the slightest hint at underage drinking at a house party. Yet it is precisely because of these things that High School Musical is such a joy. In a cinematic world where darker is apparently always better, it’s quite refreshing to see a pure, untainted vision of high school utopia – and, honestly, the songs really are quite good.

Film #19: Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970)

film 19 horror of the blood monsters

Rating: 1.5/5

“All we need is a Neanderthal man or two to complete the picture.”

Horror of the Blood Monsters exists solely because of another film, Tagani (1965), which was brought back from the Philippines by Ewing “Lucky” Brown, who admired its production values. Brown believed it was as good, if not better, than anything Roger Corman had made, and showed it to director Al Adamson, who chopped up the prehistoric tribal epic, inserted some new science-fiction footage, and created an entirely new movie, also released as Vampire Men of the Lost Planet, and Space Mission to the Lost Planet. The garbled, mashed up movie challenges even the most dedicated bad movie afficionado, although producer Sam Sherman has claimed that Diane Keaton is a fan.

Adamson himself pops up in the film’s opening scenes, as a vampire, while a voice-over explains that a deadly virus has travelled across the galaxy, infecting humanity. A group of scientists, including a very elderly John Carradine, have been sent into space to discover a cure. Unfortunately, something has hit their spacecraft; the first twenty minutes is dedicated to discovering the cause of the accident (revealed to be lightning in outer space!) and ensuring, through constantly repeated dialogue, that the ground control base maintains contact with the ship. The astronauts land on a nearby planet – also, conveniently, the very one they were looking for – for emergency repairs and, from this point, the original plot is completely abandoned and replaced with assorted scenes from Tagani.

Problematically for Adamson, the Filipino movie was black and white, and his film is in colour. In an audacious move, he filters all the scenes on the planet, explaining the colour changes – pinks, blues, greens, yellows – as being the effect of “chromatic radiation.” Originally he had intended all these scenes to be red, but the colour was too painful and disorienting to watch in large portions. As well as blatantly trying to conceal the old footage within his own, he exploited it as a marketing tool, advertising the film as being made in “Spectrum-X!”

Once on the planet, the astronauts – three men and a token blonde, a woman called Vicky Volante whose face and brain are equally blank – discover wallowing dinosaurs, giant lizards (normal sized lizards fighting each other on miniature sets), crab monsters, and bat-monkeys. They also discover Lian Malian (Jennifer Bishop), a native who tells them about the ongoing war between her tribe, the Tagani, and a neighbouring tribe, the vampiric Tubatons. It is this dispute that comprises some thirty minutes of the film’s last hour – over a third of its overall running time. The virus plaguing the Earth is forgotten as the astronauts search for the sacred “fire-water” and watch a lot of battles involving suspiciously Filipino-looking men.

Despite the Spectrum-X, Tagani‘s footage is never seamlessly integrated. The narrative introduced in the opening half hour is abandoned, but the new plot involving the two tribes is so jarring and so clearly unrelated, that it severely damages the overall pacing. At eighty-five minutes, Horror of the Blood Monsters feels desperately slow; there is never a suggestion that the two separate narratives will unify in the end (and they don’t) and, consequently, both seem irrelevant. It is perhaps for this reason that Adamson’s film has been so derided – currently rated 2.2/10 on IMDB, Michael Weldon describes it as a “paste-up science-fiction atrocity” in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, while Michael Adams claims it is “direly, head-smashingly dull” in Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic’s Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made.

There are some moments of spectacle, however. Tagani may have been low-budget, but it does offer some interesting imagery, and it is easy to understand why “Lucky” Brown was reminded of Corman’s pictures. The battle scenes are grand in scale, though low in excitement; later, longer passages are dubbed (poorly) but still don’t make any sense, due to Adamson’s decision to retain the same plot as the Filipino movie, but to only include the battle sequences. Who cares about narrative coherence, when you can show someone being shot in the head with an arrow?

Adamson’s own footage is startlingly threadbare. The film is worth watching solely for the rocket landing; after some matte paintings of a rocket in space, the actual landing is clearly a miniature model being placed on a rock. As with Adamson’s other pictures, sets are sparse and basic but cinematography is crisp due to his collaboration with Vilmos Zsigmond, who later won an Oscar for Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1978. Meanwhile, the planet’s action is interrupted by a futuristic sex scene, of all things, featuring a precursor to Woody Allen’s orgasmatron machine in Sleeper (1973) – hey, perhaps Diane Keaton told the writer/director about Adamson’s movie!

Horror of the Blood Monsters is a bewildering movie; a pointless science-fiction film with no sense of resolution or conclusion. By the end, the astronauts leave the alien planet, after Carradine informs them that the remaining tribes will soon be wiped out by the harmful red radiation. There is no suggestion of a cure for Earth. It is a strangely bleak conclusion, but it’s really difficult to care.

Cinema Lottery #4

cinema 4 im so excited

I’m So Excited!

Rating: 2/5

The latest film by acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar is an unlikely comedy set almost entirely on board a plane suffering from serious technical difficulties. Despite the potentially dark outcome, it is frothy, flippant and light; it is also immature, naïve and, at times, particularly unpleasant in its humour.

With the economy class passengers drugged so they sleep through the ordeal, the film focuses on the two pilots, three air stewards, and handful of business class passengers, including a psychic virgin, a drug-addled honeymooning couple, and a dominatrix. Initially the potential disaster is concealed by the crew, who ply their wards with cocktails spiked with mescaline and perform outrageous song-and-dance numbers (explaining the film’s title), but as the situation becomes known by all, very little actually changes. Sex is the source of humour, not the situation; here the film reveals its juvenile nature.

The three stewards are the epitome of bitchy, camp gay stereotypes, engaging in promiscuous sex with the supposedly heterosexual pilots, prancing and preening up and down the aisles. It is one-note humour that feels dated in its attitude. Even more offensive, however, is a serious lapse in comic judgement, when the virgin opts to pop her cherry with an unconscious man in economy class – were the genders reversed, it is hard to see how anyone would find this rape scene entertaining and, as it stands, it is neither funny nor novel.

Almodóvar stages his film well, and it looks beautiful – full of bright, bold colours that evoke a kitsch, 50s inspired style. The actors appear to be having fun, and mug their way through their vacuous roles with aplomb, while two brief cameos in the opening scenes nod to the director’s ongoing friendships with his regular collaborators. Yet the retro, chic visuals are not enough; I’m So Excited is pithy and unpalatable.

Olympus Has Fallen

Rating: 3/5

Invariably described as “Die Hard in the White House,” Olympus Has Fallen is Antoine Fuqua’s latest action film, arriving in cinemas several months before Roland Emmerich’s similarly themed offering, White House Down. Personally, as a big fan of Emmerich, I predict his will be superior but, despite (or, perhaps, because of) low expectations, this was an utterly preposterous, but entertaining flick.

After letting the president’s wife die in a freak car accident, special agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) has been consigned to a desk job. President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) – a good, noble man, of course – has just invited the South Korean prime minister into the White House when Washington DC is unceremoniously gunned down by a massive army of terrorists who, naturally, have a never-ending supply of guns, ammo, planes, people, and explosives. Because the entire secret service – and the army, and, in fact, everyone American – are completely inept, soon Banning is the only person who can help his former friend, now locked in a bunker beneath the building with the criminal mastermind, the smug and sinister Kang (Rick Yune).

The premise may be completely daft, but it does allow for unceasing action and, as a result, two hours zoom by. Dialogue is perfunctory, as are the majority of the characters, who are all clichés. This is predominantly Butler’s vehicle – Asher spends most of the film handcuffed to a railing, making bad decisions (apparently it’s worth risking the entire population of South Korea to save the life of one person in the bunker), while acting president Morgan Freeman (sorry, Trumbell) is, well, Morgan Freeman.

The action is surprisingly gory, though it becomes repetitive – there are only so many head shots a person can watch before the novelty of blood splattering the walls wears off – and the aerial attack is less than impressive because of some very sloppy CGI, but it’s fast-paced and silly enough to be reasonably fun. Every scene provides a chance to roll your eyes in exasperation, or smirk knowingly at the latest idiotic stunt. It’s harmless, trashy, a total waste of good actors (but an oddly successful vehicle for Butler) and stupid – my advice is, leave your brain at the door and you won’t be disappointed.

Rebellion

Rating: 3.5/5

Based on true events, Rebellion offers a revised account of a situation in 1988 on the beautiful Pacific island of New Caledonia, where thirty French gendarmes were captured and held hostage by a group of native separatists. Philippe Legorjus (Mathieu Kassovitz, also the writer and director), a hostage negotiator of special branch GIGN, is brought in to discuss the terms of the men’s release, but finds himself caught in the middle of a much larger struggle, between the local insurgents wanting independence, and the French army.

Multi-talented Kassovitz (La Haine) leads a strong cast; all the men and their actions are believable, thanks in part to understated performances. The script is considered and well written, though non-French viewers may need a few extra minutes to figure out the various factions situated on the island. The politics within the film are approached in a serious, earnest manner – it is clear that Kassovitz intends to provide his audience with the “true” events, untainted by media spin and political secrecy. Consequently, his own bias is revealed in his depiction of the separatists – portrayed as fathers and husbands who have unwittingly found themselves backed into a corner – in contrast to the bureaucratic, more ruthless French army. Yet the power struggle is well realised and, in truth, nobody really emerges the hero.

The film is shot in a verité style; functional rather than artistic, the island’s natural beauty and the events that take place on it are punctuated by deep, booming base tones that echo through the film like dropped bombs. The script could be tightened up in parts – the middle section is too long and starts to drag – but there is a tension running throughout the film due to Kassovitz’ decision to start the story by showing the final outcome, then backtracking to explain how it came to be. Rebellion is a serious picture, with no designs on exploitation; it feels small and contained, while offering suggestions towards a much bigger picture.

Evil Dead

Rating: 3/5

The latest in a long line of horror remakes, this time tackling one of the most beloved cult favourites – Sam Raimi’s second feature and the ultimate video nasty, The Evil Dead. In 1981 Raimi’s film delighted and appalled audiences due to its tongue-in-cheek attitude, its unrelenting, tangible gore and utter bad taste; today it is kitsch and fun and still manages to shock, but it is familiar, and the things that made it so new and controversial are commonplace.

Evil Dead is a standard remake – minor details in the plot have been changed, but it pays homage to its predecessor on numerous occasions, which is respectful, but hardly original. All the moments that made Raimi’s film so memorable are included – the car, the camera zooming through the forest to indicate that evil is approaching, the chainsaw, the giggling girl in the basement, even the famous tree-rape scene features, though it too has lost its shock factor. This is not to say the film is a failure, however. Its gore is refreshingly old-school, with CGI kept to a minimum and a focus on bodily mutilation realised through make-up and prosthetics. And it is bloody – once possessed by the demon, the five young adults amiably subject their bodies to nail guns and electric carving knives and shards of mirror glass with disgusting, expertly realised results.

There is something missing, however. This time, the classic story is approached completely seriously; the careful balancing act that Raimi managed so well, combining fear, disgust, and comedy, is gone and, with it, so too is the soul of the cult franchise. There are occasional hints, mainly in the final few moments, but it is not enough. And, because this is a remake, it all feels familiar. We’ve seen it all before. The decision to make the film an 18 certificate rather than the more commonplace 15, while undoubtedly the right choice in terms of artistry, also means that it is likely the majority of viewers will have seen the original at some point and comparisons are inevitable. Evil Dead is not a bad film, but it’s hard to imagine anyone will remember it in thirty years time. Raimi’s film, however? That will continue to live on.