Wednesday 10 July 2013

"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads..."

July 2013 will see the end of regular activity here at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. In all honesty, I envisioned activity here continuing for a lot longer than the eighteen months or so this blog has been running. So, why are things set to end? Well, thankfully the reasons are all positive.

Recently I received an invitation from Sam Turner, founder and editor of Film Intel, to join him at his site as a regular contributor. Film Intel has been running for much longer than SLIHF - around five years or so - and in that time Sam has managed to develop its content and design as well as garnering a substantial regular readership. Whilst I've always been proud and pleased to have my writing at SLIHF read by even one person, the opportunity to write for a more established film site and larger audience was not something I was going to pass up.

As the writing I will be contributing to Film Intel will be the same as the kind of articles I write here, there really isn't any reason to continue adding regular new content at SLIHF. For the foreseeable future at least, the existing content will remain here for visitors to continue to read and comment upon. It's also possible that every so often I may write something here, but any new posts will be sporadic and infrequent.

This hasn't been a solo decision. My (almost) silent partner here, TheTelf, who has contributed a handful of articles and comments here since SLIHF's inception, has also agreed on this course of action being the best with his opportunities for regular blogging unlikely to improve any time soon.

My deepest and most heartfelt thanks to everyone and anyone who has read a review or an article here at Some Like It Hot Fuzz over the last eighteen months. Thank you to everyone who has liked us on Facebook, followed us on Twitter or left a comment here on the blog itself. Without people reading everything I've written here, there would be very little point in me doing it.

All that's left for me to say is please continue to follow my writing over at Film Intel. I already have one article published there - a review of Man Of Steel - and more will follow in the coming days, weeks and months. If you've not visited Film Intel before, check out Sam's back catalogue of reviews and articles too; his passion for cinema and skill as a writer consistently shine through.

Here's to the future.


"Shit just got real!"

Film Review | Evil Dead 3: Army Of Darkness (1992)

Following on almost exactly from where the closing moments of Evil Dead II left us, Sam Raimi's final film in his horror trilogy allowed the director to realise the vision he originally had for his first sequel but had been unable to bring about largely due to budget limitations. Evil Dead 3: Army Of Darkness is more commonly known simply as Army Of Darkness, arguably with good reason: in many ways this feels less like a continuation from the first two Evil Dead films and more like a fantasy vehicle for Bruce Campbell's Ash, a cult cinematic icon by this point in the franchise, to once again rev his chainsaw and fire his boomstick with aplomb.

Raimi shows he is unafraid to try out new ideas throughout Army Of Darkness, which is consistently admirable if not always successful. Tonally this sees an even greater shift into comedy than was seen between The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. Raimi's choice to transport the action to medieval England is a bold one considering the minimal cabin-in-the-woods setting of the first two entries in the trilogy. Coupled with the distinctly comedic tone throughout, Army Of Darkness at times feels reminiscent of Monty Python's big screen outings, which is never to the film's detriment but may disappoint fans of the out-and-out horror seen earlier in the franchise.

Both Campbell and Raimi clearly enjoy themselves bringing Ash to a wealth of new environments and characters, some of which work better than others. Ironically, the films strongest moments are those most redolent of the style and structure of Evil Dead II. A sequence which sees Ash isolated in an abandoned windmill is the strongest of the film, once again allowing Campbell to demonstrate his impressive aptitude for slapstick and visual humour. Raimi broadens his influence to include the likes of classic Tex Avery animation, as well as including his most overt homage to the work of Ray Harryhausen with the titular army largely made up of reanimated skeletons strongly evocative of Jason And The Argonauts.

Army Of Darkness' ambition also provides many of its shortcomings however. Other than Ash, the characters here receive the bare minimum of development needed to keep the story going, with most remaining largely one-dimensional. Whilst the first two films in the franchise could be criticised for not really having a story, Army Of Darkness certainly does its best to fix that, although Ash's quest through medieval England is unashamedly episodic and feels more like an excuse to link together a series of set pieces. The final battle between the living and "deadite" armies in all honesty feels overlong and a bit underwhelming.

Army Of Darkness ultimately never quite manages to reach the heights of the trilogy's strongest entry, Evil Dead II, feeling tamer in tone and more concerned with laughs than scares. But Raimi still manages to craft an imaginative, worthwhile and seriously enjoyable ending to his trilogy by playing to enough of his strengths, whilst having the courage to take the franchise into previously unexplored territory.


Monday 1 July 2013

Film Review | Evil Dead II (1987)

Five years after giving the world the original Evil Dead, Sam Raimi returned to the franchise with a bigger budget and bigger ideas, many of which he wouldn't manage to realise until 1992's third installment, Army Of Darkness - the budget wasn't quite big enough to match the size of Raimi's imagination.

Evil Dead II sits - at times somewhat awkwardly - somewhere between a sequel and a remake, with the story of the first film retold here in condensed form within the first five minutes. A number of The Evil Dead's beats are also revisited throughout, which at times makes it tricky to place Evil Dead II in terms of its relationship with the first film. In contemporary cinematic terminology, this could even be considered as Raimi rebooting his own original film. It's a curiosity of Evil Dead II which is never conclusively resolved, but thankfully not to the film's detriment: those who have seen The Evil Dead can enjoy Raimi recreating familiar elements with more money to splash, whilst those who have not can enjoy this as a film which confidently stands alone.

Evil Dead II is also a refinement of what Raimi attempted in his first film, the director cherry-picking the strongest elements from his debut and fleshing them out. Everything that gave The Evil Dead its cult appeal  is cranked up several notches here. Where the first film's horror was overt, here the gore flies with wanton abandon, Raimi clearly having the time of his life soaking (literally) his actors in torrents of blood and slime. And whilst it can at times seem unclear why the original is classed as a horror-comedy, its humour occasionally so subtle as to pass under the radar, Evil Dead II never has this to worry about. Early scenes involving Ash (Bruce Campbell) battling his own demon-possessed hand are a complete riot, the film wearing on its sleeve strong influence from the work of Dick Van Dyke and - most of all - Raimi's comedy heroes, The Three Stooges.

Campbell from the word go is the beating heart of Evil Dead II, a whirlwind of B-movie energy and charm from his very first scene that only escalates as the body count and bloody torrents increase. Ash develops from unwilling hero to chainsaw-wielding dispatcher of the undead in glorious fashion, and come the end of the film the character's status as one of the all-time great horror heroes will be firmly ensconced in your mind.

Whilst there's a lot to like here, Evil Dead II does inherit some of the original's problems too. Plot is clearly not at the forefront of Raimi's mind, and whilst there's a little more of substance here than in The Evil Dead, anyone looking for carefully crafted, watertight plotting will likely come away disappointed. But taken for what it's meant to be - a horror film with its tongue regularly firmly in its cheek and made purely to entertain - Evil Dead II delivers in a hugely satisfying way. If The Evil Dead is cheesy, then this is the entire deli counter at Sainsbury's, and it's all the better for it.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is now a regular contributor at Film Intel, having previously written here at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Film Review | Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012)

Regardless of individual or popular opinion, Beasts Of The Southern Wild has its place in cinematic history set thanks to achieving the youngest nomination for a Best Actress Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards for its nine-year-old star Quvenzhané Wallis. It's a shame then that the performances of Wallis alongside co-star Dwight Henry are the only thing worth recommending in a film seriously lacking in substance or cohesion.

The film is at its strongest when Wallis and Henry share screen time on their own, both giving performances which play off each other pleasingly. Even though Wink (Henry) is regularly quite cruel to his five-year-old daughter Hushpuppy (Wallis), often without any real reason other than to take out his frustrations of their harsh living conditions, by the film's conclusion the pair have managed to craft a touching and unique relationship on screen. Disappointingly, the rest of Beasts Of The Southern Wild's cast of characters is either distractingly irritating or so fleetingly seen as to be severely lacking in depth. Either way you'll find yourself caring very little about anyone other than Hushpuppy and Wink.

The problems elsewhere are even less easy to forgive. The film takes place in a world seemingly set sometime in the relatively near future, but presented as equal parts stark realism and childlike fantasy. Both views bleed into each other through the viewpoint and narration we are given by Hushpuppy, but largely work to cancel each other out. Director Benh Zeitlin shows a knack for shooting nature at its harshest and most extreme, but the fantastical edge regularly applied to the film severely dulls any moralistic or environmental message he was going for. By the same token, the elements presumably happening in Hushpuppy's imagination lack vibrance and magic when presented through such a starkly grim lens. Elsewhere, Zeitlin's attempts at linking his film into a deeper mythology - such as a floating nightclub called "Elysian Fields" - feel like weak efforts to raise the film to a higher literary level and quickly fall flat.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild ultimately manages the feat of coming across as incredibly preachy whilst at the same time saying and being about nothing. Zeitlin's narrative is almost arrogantly haphazard, as if the director feels he is above a cohesive story, and his message feels sanctimonious without having a core set of beliefs to base itself around. Despite a running time of just an hour and a half, this drags. Zeitlin is lucky in that his film at least looks good, and that he has two talented actors in the lead roles. Without these two saving graces, maybe the Academy would have seen through the Emperor's new clothes in which Beasts Of The Southern Wild constantly wraps itself.


Film Review | The Evil Dead (1981)

The Evil Dead seems to have had something of a resurgence of interest of late due to the fact that a big budget remake-cum-reboot was released earlier this year. Despite generally being quite well-received (certainly in comparison to other recent horror remakes), there was outcry amongst many fans of the original 1981 film that anyone even dare touch such an iconic entry into the horror genre. More than anything, that serves to prove just how loved The Evil Dead is by many, making it one of the most enduring cult favourites in cnematic history despite its shoestring budget and fairly basic structure.

It's clear from the very start that Sam Raimi's directorial debut was created with very little money in the coffers. This is the direct opposite of Raimi's most recent CGI-heavy feature, Oz The Great And Powerful, leaving the director only his skill behind the camera to create the story and tone of his piece. Raimi understands precisely how to generate fear and tension from the simplest of techniques, and builds up the creepy atmosphere brilliantly during the film's first half before allowing himself to go all out in the final forty minutes or so. The inventive nature of Raimi's low-tech monsters and gore, clearly influenced by the stop-motion style of Ray Harryhausen, retains its charm more than thirty years after the film was first released. Many modern horror films can barely manage thirty days, which reinforces Raimi's talent as a filmmaker even further.

The cast do well as a whole, but there's a reason this was the film that made Bruce Campbell's name in cult cinema and horror circles. Whilst his performance at the start of the film is perfunctory, even forgettable, by the time most of the other actors performances involve being creepy and possessed (a task at which all do effectively) Campbell shows an energy and over-the-top charm that is impossible not to enjoy. His turn is never Oscar-winning stuff, but it fits the tone of The Evil Dead perfectly.

If you're looking for a complex story with lots of character development, The Evil Dead will almost certainly disappoint. The story can be summed up in one sentence, and there are several elements introduced to hurry the monsters along without any further depth added to them later on. And, although it's not surprising that a film made over three decades ago for such a small amount of money has some notable cracks now showing, it's also something that cannot be ignored entirely. For all of its B-movie charm, The Evil Dead does feel dated at several points, particularly during its rather clunky opening act. Overall, however, this remains an enjoyable and inventive horror cult classic, as well as a solid document of a young Sam Raimi's cinematic flair and creativity.


Friday 21 June 2013

Film Review | Lost Highway (1997)

There are, in general, two ways to watch a David Lynch film. The first is to see it as a puzzle: something to be worked out, picked apart, theorised about and ultimately solved. This is a dangerous route to take, because if Lynch's films are puzzles then there is almost certainly more than one way to "solve" most of them, and it's almost never clear which (if any) is the way Lynch intended them to be pieced together. The second way to watch Lynch's work is to see them as pure art - leave the intricacies, the conundrums and the enigmas, and just let a surrealist tsunami engulf you.

Reviewing a David Lynch film therefore needs to take in both perspectives, and with Lost Highway there's a lot you can say about both. As a cinematic riddle, this is one of Lynch's most accomplished head-scratchers. The key is to be found in a line Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) says near the start of the film: "I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them, not necessarily the way they happened". Much of Lost Highway is undoubtedly seen from Fred's point of view, which begs the question of exactly how much of what we're seeing is "what actually happened" and how much is purely Fred's perspective. Things get even more complex when Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) enters the story; how he's linked to Madison is never fully explained by Lynch, allowing each viewer to come to their own conclusions.

As an artistic work, this is up there with Lynch's very best. The director gets the best out of his whole cast; particularly noteworthy are Patricia Arquette in a femmes fatale dual role, and Robert Blake as one of the most genuinely unsettling and chilling characters you're likely to ever encounter on screen. Lynch's bizarre genius is on show throughout the film, with the first truly mind-bending meeting between Pullman and Blake's characters likely to stay with you for a long time to come. As you'd expect from Lynch, his choice of camera angles and cinematography is consistently individual and expertly constructed lending Lost Highway an ethereal and irresistable nightmarish quality.

Lost Highway feels like the natural predecessor to 2001's Mulholland Drive. It's almost like the director was refining here the methods and tone presented in the later work. Despite its many strengths, Lost Highway isn't perfect largely because, despite the clear craft and artistry that has gone into its creation, it is quite regularly almost too obtuse and indecipherable to truly enjoy. There'll undoubtedly be several moments throughout where you'll have to be honest with yourself and admit that, even if you're captivated by Lynch's film, you have very little idea of what's actually going on. But in many ways, that's the beauty of the work of David Lynch: it can leave you completely bewildered and at the same time entirely certain that what you're watching is utterly brilliant.


Monday 17 June 2013

Film Review | Hunger (2008)

It's easy in many ways to tell that Hunger is the work of Steve McQueen, the director who brought us Shame: a captivating central performance from Michael Fassbender; a subject which deals with humanity at its most raw and vulnerable, but also at its most destructive and savage; and a directorial panache which makes the film at times feel less like a feature and more like an art installation. But it's also easy to tell that this was made earlier than McQueen's modern masterpiece - the hallmarks are there, but the director's approach occasionally alienates a little too much.

Central to Hunger is its crowning glory, a scene well over twenty minutes in length featuring only Bobby Sands (Fassbender) and a Catholic priest (Liam Cunningham) talking over the hunger strike Sands intends to take as an inmate of the Maze Prison during the Troubles. Featuring a single shot around seventeen minutes long, each man on either side of a table in an empty room, this is McQueen laying his cards out on the table in bold and uncompromising fashion. The entire sequence is note perfect, the two actor glancing off each other to perfection with Fassbender in particular bringing an intensity so brazen and enigmatic its impossible to resist, and the script delivering some of the most powerful moments of the whole film.

Either side of this extraordinary middle section, things are still undoubtedly impressive but feel less successful. The opening half an hour of the film presents a patchwork of events from both inmates' and prison officers' lives at Maze, offering little in the way of narrative structure or indeed exposition. If you're not already familiar with this particular period during the Troubles, McQueen offers little to educate you, opting instead to show you his artistic vision of life in Maze Prison which regularly impresses and confounds in equal measure. Fassbender's main character isn't introduced until around a third of the way in, a bold decision which ultimately works but is likely to be at least somewhat bewildering on a first viewing.

McQueen ends his film by again opting for images rather than a traditionally structured narrative, presenting us with some of the film's most harrowing moments as we witness Sands' deterioration and decay through Fassbender's astounding physical commitment to the role. Once again, the finished product feels more like an art installation than a feature film at several points, and whilst the film here is regularly striking, there are bold decisions made by the director which don't always pay off. McQueen undoubtedly has justification for showing us an extended sequence of a prison officer dousing a corridor with cleaning fluid, then sweeping the fluid from one end of the corridor to the other, but what his reasons are just don't feel clear enough to justify such a prolonged and, frankly, uninteresting moment.

Hunger is a film to admire and appreciate artistically, but not necessarily to enjoy in the same way as McQueen's later effort Shame. The director's panache with crafting powerful images is never in any doubt, but at the same time this feels a little too esoteric and metaphorical meaning Hunger often treads a fine line of accessibility. That said, as directorial debut's go, this is one of the most powerful and promising the 21st Century has seen so far.