Salt (2010)

Salt was apparently intended as a Tom Cruise vehicle, so it’s interesting to see what changes are made to accommodate  Jolie as his replacement.

OK it’s relatively interesting. Salt is so scared of being boring that it shoehorns enough plot for a trilogy into an incomprehensible single movie, and ends up being irritating.

Jolie plays the titular  heroine, nothing to do with the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, working as a CIA agent and implicated as a double agent in the first few minutes. So is she really pretending to be aiming to kill the Russian President, or is she pretending to be pretending?  If so, who is in on the plot, and who knows about it?

After 90 minutes of head scratching, it’s hard to figure out who knows what, who betrayed who or even to care too much. Allied to the hyperactive plotting, director Noyce turns every scene into explosive action, again demonstrating the law of diminishing returns.

Jolie has continued to work out to the point where she’s more athletic than beautiful (see also Wanted). There’s a fine supporting cast including Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, competing for the award of most misspelled actor, and the production values are high as you’d expect.

Salt is far from the worst action movie you’ll see, and at least scores points for never being static; there are a couple of excellent scenes that only serve to remind you that there’s a good movie in here struggling to make itself heard.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★½☆☆

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TV recommendations

After a few months of not much happening, there’s suddenly a few new series that deserve your attention.

Spiral. Third series of the edgy French cop show, labelled Spiral: The Butcher of La Villette by the BBC in the hope you won’t realise you’ve missed two series already. (You don’t really need to see them to understand this, but they’re only 15.99 on Amazon anyway) Apart from the thriller elements and the terrific cast, it’s fascinating to see a completely different judicial system in operation. Saturday nights on BBC4 with a midweek repeat, and on iplayer.

Rubicon. An outstanding conspiracy thriller shown on US TV last year. Sometimes slower than treacle but never boring, it’s reminiscent of ’70s paranioa movies and the cast is perfect. I’ve never rated James Badge Dale before but he’s found the right part at last. Or would have if Rubicon hadn’t been canned at the end of the first series. It just about ties things up so don’t let that put you off. And watch for Michael Cristofer’s marvellously eccentric performance as Truxton Spangler. Starts Thursday night on BBC4 and on iplayer.

The Walking Dead. Weekend terrestrial showing on Channel5 for Frank Darabont’s adaptation of the ongoing graphic novel, patchy but the basic set-up, a less political telling of the Romero stories with a large budget, means it can’t fail. Non-spoiler review of the first episode here.



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Web Fonts

As you will see, I’ve been experimenting with web fonts, which give the site a bit of a grungier look. These will be rendering differently on different machines and browsers – please let me know what your experience is.



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Ghosts of Mars (2001)

John Carpenter’s last cinema feature (prior to 2011’s The Ward), Ghosts of Mars was an attempt to recreate the success of his second outing, Assault on Precinct 13, by relocating a western plot to a modern genre setting. In this case, he puts a Hawks-like ensemble cast on Mars and yet manages to incorporate a prison set and a train chase straight out of a ’50s backlot. Ice Cube plays killer convict Desolation Williams, a less impressive version of Darwin Joston’s Napoleon Wilson from Assault, teaming up with cop Natasha Henstridge and assorted b-movie faces including Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Pam Grier and Joanna Cassidy.

All of which sounds like a recipe for a Carpenter classic, but the movie is derailed by its glaring weaknesses. The plot involves miners on Mars being possessed and turning into evil self-mutilating heavy metal fans for some reason (probably because Steve Vai and Anthrax agreed to play on the soundtrack), which might have sounded cool to me when I was 15 but just looks stupid now, creating lots of unnecessary shouting and make-up.

postit More problematic is Carpenter’s decision to saddle the movie with a cumbersome flashback structure involving Henstridge on trial, which not only robs the movie of any suspense but also leaves you wondering why he bothered to attempt sophistication in such a basic set-up.

Ghosts of Mars has an undeservedly bad rep – it’s much more entertaining and less mean-spirited than his previous movie, Vampires; Ice Cube is surprisingly funny and Henstridge is surprisingly convincing as the heroine. The action scenes are fast and gory and the effects are variable, but it’s a lot of fun if you forget how good Carpenter used to be.

The extras on the disk are straightforward behind-the-scenes footage, and make a pleasant change from the usual glossy EPK nonsense. As always Carpenter is in great form on the commentary track, pointing out all the mistakes and obvious model train shots, and Henstridge tries hard to keep up. But what’s it doing with a ’15’ cert in the UK?

Mild Peril Rating: ★★½☆☆

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Snowy Movies Quiz – Answers

1. Easy one to kick off, John Carpenter’s version of The Thing (1982).

2. Batman Returns (1992). No other Batman titles accepted.

3. The Dead Zone (1983), my favourite Cronenberg movie and possibly the best King adapatation.

4. More King, this time Dreamcatcher (2003). I know it’s not good but I like it.

5. First tricky one here, this is Eli Wallach in the classic TV movie, A Cold Night’s Death (1973)

6. Back to the easy ones – 30 Days of Night (2007)

7. Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (1993). I thought it was only fair to have a Scandinavian movie in here.

8. The newest movie on this list, Adam Green’s excellent Frozen (2010).

9. Now we’re getting a bit more obscure – Il Grande Silenzio (1968) aka The Great Silence. If you ever need sending into a deep depression, this one’s for you

10. Going back a bit further, another downbeat western – Day of the Outlaw (1959).

Top Scores:

Matt – 8
Dave C – 7
Will K – 6
Debbie – 6

And a bunch of others with lower scores, who will remain anonymous unless they tell me otherwise. Only 23 entries, next year I’ll improve the spam. Or perhaps make it easier.

Thanks everyone for taking part, see you soon with another quiz.


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Evolution (2001)

Some big-budget idiocy in Evolution, which started life as a thriller but ends up as a lazy Ivan Reitman comedy, carrying on the vogue for fart jokes as a guaranteed way of making morons laugh.

It’s a shame as there are some clever ideas, very good effects, and a few good jokes, and Duchovny builds on his nice quiet line of humour along sidekick Orlando Jones. Sadly we also get Julianne Moore doing an impression of Norman Wisdom; falling over has never looked less funny.

Make sure you get the American disk: it has a commentary, deleted scenes and multiple featurettes; the region 2 DVD is missing these and only has some HBO docs.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★½☆☆

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Snowy Movies Quiz

I was working on a post listing the movies I like to watch at this time of year, then I thought I’d test the new quiz code instead. No prizes, let’s just see who knows what – I’ve thrown the odd tricky one in there. Answers and winners will be published here on January 3rd.

Entering your email is optional, it will only be used to notify you if/when you win.

Happy Christmas!

[wpsqt_quiz name=”SnowyMovies”]

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Nordic Noir (2010)

Excellent BBC documentary about the history and recent popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction and TV. Beck, Wallander and Salander among others.

May disappear soon so watch it asap.

Watch on BBC iplayer

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The Walking Dead (2010)

UK poster - The Walking Dead

For a few years I’ve been reading Robert Kirkman’s comic book The Walking Dead. I’ll admit here to not being the greatest fan of the medium, I’m never too sure of the intended pacing of stories compared with novels or movies, and find that expository dialogue, particularly in Kirkman’s case, tends to sound unnatural. So even as a long-time zombie enthusiast, I approached the pilot episode with a few reservations.

The good news is that the positive reception in the US means that it’s likely to run past the initial season,so it’s worth investing some time in. More good news comes with the significant involvement of Frank Darabont, who showed in The Mist and The Blob that he has an affinity for this sort of thing. Ditto Greg Nicotero, who’s been the master of zombie make-up since the ’80s. The casting is a bit weirder – two English actors are the focus of the pilot episode: Andrew Lincoln, previously unremarkable in a variety of unappealing Tv shows and the occasional movie (Love Actually), plays the hero. Opposite him is Lennie James, veteran of this sort of thing (the TV series Jericho should have prepared him for one).

Both actors manage a credible generic American accent, if not a Georgian one, and James in particular makes the most of the melodrama. The biggest relief, however, is that the show plays the zombie menace absolutely straight, sticking to the Romero rules – George is the genre equivalent of the Marquis of Queensberry as far as I’m concerned. Even better, the apocalypse is used to generate an atmosphere of tragedy and lost lives, which is the only sensible way to play it even if the box-office usually says otherwise.

The first show looks good, rewrites just enough of the comic to keep long-time readers guessing, and moves at a fair pace despite only covering 20-odd pages of the source, so there’s plenty to look forward to. Of course there is the odd bit of clunky dialogue, and the time-line of events seems questionable, but this is as good as anyone could have anticipated.

Further review to follow once the story hits its stride.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★★☆

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An analysis of the writings of Joe Lansdale

Just found this excellent article by Rick Klaw

On his birthday, an analysis of the writings of Joe Lansdale part 1 of 2

And here is the second half:

On his birthday, an analysis of the writings of Joe Lansdale part 2 of 2

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