Friday, August 22, 2008

Camera Obscura: "Doomsday" Rocks; New Heinlein Film; "Appaloosa"; and More Movie News

After a few weeks of uninteresting movies and/or news of films on the way, it's great to have some goodies to offer.

Question: what happens when two of the world's most outlandish directors- Takashi Miike and Quentin Tarantino - join to make a movie? You get "Sukiyaki Western Django". Sort of looks like a MGM-Technicolor musical version of Sergio Leone. Opens in limited release on August 29th. Are you ready for the trailer??


The recent DVD release of the unrated action-packed movie which had some of the worst marketing of the year and left the movie to die quickly at the box office is a must-see for sci-fi and action fans. "Doomsday" is the most recent from Scottish director/writer Neil Marshall. His first two films are likewise excellent genre pieces, "Dog Soldiers" and "The Descent". He's inventive, imaginative and makes some truly intense movies (meaning you should make the effort to see all three movies). He makes sharp choices in casting, composition, pacing and each of his movies deliver far more than you might expect.

"Doomsday", as Marshall explains in the DVD, is his homage to early John Carpenter movies, especially "Escape From New York" and to "Road Warrior." The result is high-octane fun and mayhem and easily rests very well with those other two classics. And yes, the car-chase finale is almost as good as the end of "Road Warrior". He's not ripping off these movies, he's saluting them.

In "Doomsday's" futuristic world, the Snake Plissken/Mad Max part falls to actress Rhona Mitra (as Colonel Eden Sinclair) and she is every bit as tough, world-weary and relentless as those guys. The story begins as a brutal viral outbreak in Scotland causes the U.K. to wall it all off, leaving the dead and any survivors to fend for themselves in hopes of halting the killer disease. In the evacuation at the time, the young girl Eden is separated from her mom and even has her eye shot out. But, decades later, the disease starts to appear in London and turns out corrupt government officials have known that survivors are thriving in the walled-zone. Maybe there's a cure. Time to send in Snake - I mean Col. Eden (complete with an eye-patch and a cyber eyeball to boot).

Like "Escape" and "Road Warrior" all the set-up for the movie rolls out fast to get you into the action of her adventures. She's joined by a top-notch military squad (who last a bit longer than usual in such action yarns) and discovers a world overrun with madness and cannibalism. One of the leaders in this nightmarish landscape is a character named Sol, and in one amazing scene, he takes to the stage like a rock star, the descendant of Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger, and super-charges the crowd into a frenzy.

The movie isn't mean to be more than it is - escapist sci-fi, a little social commentary, and loads of atmosphere. Add in some fine character performances from Bob Hoskins, Malcolm McDowell, and David O'Hara (who did great work in "The Departed") and this is more than just B-movie hijinks. It's a roaring good time. Director Marshall has turned in 3 great flicks, and his next projects are directing Hugh Jackman in the thriller "Drive" and a horror-themed western called "Sacrilege" (which he calls "Unforgiven" as told by H.P. Lovecraft).

Folks, I've picked many a director/writer in the past based on their skills with basic genre movies and predicted they would make major marks in cinema and haven't been wrong yet. Just two such names include David Cronenberg and Peter Jackson. So check out Neil Marshall's work and I'm sure you'll see just what I mean.


An actor who both Cronenberg and Jackson helped make a star is Viggo Mortensen and he has two movies on the way this fall which will likely make him even more well-known and respected. The first is the much-anticipated adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road".

And also out this fall is a western he stars in with Ed Harris, "Appaloosa", based on Robert Parker's best-selling book about two hired guns brought into to battle an no-good rancher, with Harris also directing. Co-stars include Jeremy Irons and Renee Zellweger. The trailer was just released:


Director Alex Proyas ("Dark City" and "I, Robot") is tackling one of the biggest names ever in the sci-fi field, Robert Heinlein. It's one of his lesser-known novels, first published in 1942. "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathon Hoag". Hoag has a disturbing mystery to solve - he has no memory of what he has been doing during his waking hours, and so hires a detective team to find out. The discovery, of course, has consequences which no one expects.


One of the legendary names of Bad Cinema is Herschell Gordon Lewis, famed for ultra-low budget drive-in fodder with gallons of really cheesy blood and gore effects. I've seen more than a few of them, and unless you're some kind of horror-movie fanatic, I can't suggest one worth watching. Of course, here in the 21st century, Hollywood (or maybe Burbank or some place in Idaho, I'm not sure) thinks that it's remake time.

HSG's single great accomplishments were his titles: "The Gore-Gore Girls", "2000 Maniacs", "Blood Feast", etc. etc.

But a new remake just landed on DVD of "The Wizard of Gore". And it actually has some decent reviews and that's due to some strong production values and a casting coup of the ultra-strange actor Crispin Glover in the lead role of Montag The Magnificent, a magician whose show is pure Grand Guignol as he goes about dis-assembling the bodies of volunteers from the audience. Glover is joined by some other famous odd actors, like Jeffery Combs and Brad Dourif, plus Bijou Phillips and top billing is also given to the 21st Century .... um .... models, known as The Suicide Girls. Sort of the pierced-and-tattooed Playmate wannabes.

I almost rented it -- almost. But after reading some reviews, hey, it might be more fun than say, sticking a fork in my eye. There's a trailer for the movie which you can see here - it's a bit too bloody/nasty for this humble yet lovable blog. Check it out here. I have to admit it, Glover and Dourif look like they chew up the scenery with wild abandon.


For you honest-to-Pete horror fanatics might like to take a look at the 3-Disc Amicus Collection. Director Roy Ward Baker offers some fine and funny commentary about the company which was sort of the low end of Hammer films.


  1. I watched Eastern Promises a few months ago. I rate it 4.5/5 stars.

  2. I liked Eastern Promises, too, J.R.

    Cronenberg has really grown into a complex and compelling storyteller and Viggo is pitch perfect in this one and in their previous film, A History Of Violence.

  3. I think I liked Eastern Promises better. Perhaps because it was less ambiguous. You're absolutely right that Mortensen's acting is perfect in both roles.