Frenzy (2018)

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Another day, another low budget shark movie. Hey, at least this one tries to be serious, at least this one doesn’t simply slap two scary or amusing things together and get the local drunk to write the script. “Hey Bruce, I have a pitch for ya – ‘SpiderShark’ – has anyone made that yet? Or wait, ‘WereShark – it only comes out when the full moon is high’ – we could probably put together a script for those in a weekend, with names like those they write themselves!” These are precisely the sorts of conversations which go on in Production meetings – I should know, I’m an idiot.

So yes, Frenzy tries to be serious, but in doing so it makes many, many of the things which happen seem all the more ridiculous. Why do the plane’s wing spontaneously drop off? Why doesn’t the dude just gently land the plane when he was gliding about 50 foot above the very calm water? Why do the sharks travel in a pack of three? Why do they attack like that? Why do they look like that? Why can’t the shark rip the dinghy to shreds in two seconds but yet easily knocks two idiots out of a large boat? Why do the two idiots suddenly abort their rescue attempt to attack the sharks? Why did the sister jump in the water when the other sister was probably safe? How the hell did the sister do that counting backwards stunt when the shark was heading straight for her and how did the shark not simply adjust itself and get her anyway? How the hell did that boulder trick work? Why didn’t the shark simply swim further under water away from the fire? Why didn’t they cut the rope from the wooden raft and paddle over to the boat? Why can’t they use a radio? Why don’t they try to climb onto the mushroom shaped island? Why didn’t they throw the ‘distraction rocks’ further than three foot from the raft? Why am I watching this?

To summarize as briefly as possible, a group of friends travel the world making vlogs about the exotic places they visit, and they’re exactly the sort of people you wouldn’t want as friends – always smiley, happy, and gawping about how amazing their lives are. But look – is there… is there something going on between the sister’s boyfriend and the other sister? Ooh, intriguing. No wait, that’s not what I meant – I meant oooh, we haven’t seen that device before, and oooh it’s completely irrelevant anyway and goes absolute nowhere. They are travelling to an off the beaten track excuse for an island – more like a tumor slumped in the middle of the ocean. You can guess what happens next.

The main character is played by Aubrey Reynolds, who looks like someone I can’t quite place. It’s annoying. She does as well as she possibly can. Her, and everyone else in the cast I don’t recognise from anything else and based on the performances here I don’t think that will change in the future. In fairness, they aren’t given a lot to work with. It’s weird how so many films get the ‘I’m trapped in water and surrounded by sharks’ idea so wrong. I can’t be that hard to do it, right? Still, it’s a movie to half-watch with friends, only paying attention when something stupid happens or when the sharks arrive. In the pantheon of shark movies, it’s not the worst but it languishes with all the hundreds of others in the murky depths of mediocrity.

Let me know what you think of Frenzy in the comments!

The Highest Rated Movies I Don’t Like – IMDb Edition!

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s me again, back with another rambling ramble about movies. In previous posts I visited famous film graveyard Rotten Tomatoes and harped on about the fact that too many modern (last 5 years) movies occupy their most highly rated spots, and how some of my favourite films ever were slapped with a rating less than 50%, 40%, or in some cases 1%. That’s fine – everyone knows scoring is a nonsense, as subjective as the movies themselves. Everyone knows that my scoring system (click the link, you know you wanna) is better and will become the gold standard once I’m dead and no-one can pay me for it.

There’s me rambling again. It’s a problem. And a charm. A Charmblem? There you go, a new word which describes an action or behaviour which is at once charming and problematic. I bet I don’t get credit for creating that either. On to the much more reputable Internet Movie Database, a site I have been using and abusing since 2000. Remember the forums? Those were great. One of the IMDb’s most popular pages has always been its Top 250. There used to be wonderfully pointless fights in the forums over keeping either The Godfather or The Shawshank Redemption on the number one spot. It’s hilarious that people would spend so much time on such trivial matters (he says while furiously typing yet another post on the subject) and it’s all so silly – it should be Terminator 2 at Number 1. People would argue over scoring campaigns, people giving deliberately bad scores to great movies just to see it drop down some arbitrary ranking. People get so defensive over these products which don’t care about them. It’s the same way with videogames – Nintendo versus Sega, Sony vs Microsoft, Spectrum vs Commodore. My response has always been the same – what brand of toaster/microwave do you have? Do you care if mine is better/faster/cleaner than your one? No, so why should you care about this? You’re a consumer, nothing more. The Product and the Business and the Owners don’t give a shit about you.

Having said that, I did always enjoy pissing off the Fight Club and The Usual Suspects fans. They were so easy to troll and they were so precious and defensive about their films that they would threaten with death anyone who dared to give a score less than 9. Kevin Spacey fans were the worst… well who’s laughing now? Certainly not Mr Spacey – he of See No Evil, Hear No Evil fame. It has been a while since I checked the IMDb Top 250. I can only imagine there are a lot more Christopher Nolan and Marvel movies there now, but I imagine there will still be more older, more foreign movies. I don’t think the frothing rabid geek army cares enough about the IMdb to ruin it – they only like their ‘new toys’, and ‘new’ the IMDb ain’t. So in this post I’m going to look at the movies in the IMDb Top 250 which I don’t like. Then I’ll do the same (opposite?) for their lowest scoring movies. Why? Why do you think – I’m drunk.

I had a moment there where I wondered if they even had a Top 250 anymore, but phew, they do. Maybe they don’t have a low rating list anymore? Lets worry about that later. What immediately strikes me at first glance is that there is a whole host of movies I haven’t seen and probably never will. There seems to have been an influx of Indian movies onto the list. Gangs Of Wassypur is at 250 and I’ve never heard of it. Bollywood or Indian movies in general I know almost nothing about, beyond the fact that the few I’ve seen I haven’t liked. 247 is another Indian entry I know nothing of, while another – Rang De Basanti is in at 218 – above the likes of The Terminator, The Wizard Of Oz, Jaws, and The Exorcist. Interesting.

Okay, at number 189, one place above Stand By Me, is the overrated and underrated Into The Wild – the true story of a privileged bin-lid who decided to decided to go ‘On The Road’ into the wilderness in search of… himself? Something? Either way, he gets eaten by a bear, so it’s all good.  Or maybe he ate a leaf and got poisoned? All the same. I say it’s overrated because this gets a lot of critical and cult acclaim, but it’s just not very good. Good performances and soundtrack, nice scenery, but man what a knob the central character is. It’s underrated in that I don’t think many people know it exists and it should be seen so more people can form an opinion of it, but it’s just not for me. It annoyed me too much and I see the central story as little different from those click-bait articles about people taking a selfie while hanging over the edge of The Grand Canyon before falling to their deaths.

At 181 is David Fincher’s comedy Gone Girl. Yes, I think it’s a comedy. That’s the only way I can take it seriously. For a director as brilliant as Fincher, it takes all of my favourite hallmarks of his and flushes them down the drain and replaces them with monotone visuals, insipid characters, and bland drama wrapped up in a mystery less engaging than me wondering where my other sock is (spoiler alert – it was in the drawer ALL ALONG). I get why people like it – it’s mainstream. But to the extent that it’s included among the best movies ever? Nope.

In an incredibly similar vein are my feelings towards Shutter Island. I was excited when I saw Scorsese was making a horror film and after watching Shutter Island I’m still waiting for him to make a horror film. This was nothing more than an extended Tales From The Darkside episode, with added blandness and an ending I’d already predicted before I’d pushed the play button. I could ‘go there’ with Gone With The Wind but I think that would be pointless – it’s undoubtedly a great achievement and a significant moment in history which I respect – it’s just not a favourite. I could go into No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood – both films I think are impressively overrated but I can probably wait until I get around to their Oscar posts in the future.

At 152 is Room, a film I believe I reviewed here, the basic summary of which being that it’s good, but a little meh, and I don’t believe in any way it needs to be considered as one of the best 200 movies ever. At 151 is V For Vendetta – a film which I consider to be more or less a complete mess. Beyond some select visuals, there’s nothing here of interest. At 142 is Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels, another film I can’t stand but then I’m biased against all that Cockney Gangster wank. A Beautiful Mind at 141 I didn’t care for, same goes for Some Like It Hot at 117. I really don’t like that one, in fact. Snatch is at 104 – more Cockney gangster wank. At 87 is Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind – a film by all accounts I should have enjoyed, but again think it is an overrated heap. American Beauty is at 69, a film I liked, but not nearly enough to consider it within even my top twenty movies of that year. The Dark Knight Rises is at 67 – seriously? It’s clearly the weakest of the trilogy and nowhere near on a par with Burton’s first film – did I enjoy it? Hell yeah, but no chance this is one of the best films ever – and it’s one spot higher than Aliens? Da phuk outta here.

Django Unchained didn’t do much for me – it’s at 61 for some reason. Then we get a pile of other Indian movies and recent movies I haven’t seen yet, but can only assume they are not ‘better’ than Alien, Vertigo, or Full Metal Jacket. Into the top thirty and there’s nothing I don’t like. There’s plenty I don’t agree with – Inception is not the 14th best movie ever, Fight Club is not the 10th best movie ever, City Of God should not be above A New Hope, but that’s not why we’re here. Hopefully a few of my outbursts have made you angry. Or surprised you. I don’t know. Like I said before, feel free to like what you like. Even share what you like and encourage others to check those films out. But don’t force your opinion upon others and expect them to feel the same way. There is no Best Movie Ever, only what made a lot of money, what was liked by a bunch of people, what is still talked about years after the fact, what had an influence on something or someone else.

Let us know in the comments what popular or critically acclaimed movies you don’t like. Next time, I check out the lowest rated movies. It’ll be fun.

Best Visual Effects – 1975

No official award this year, but another tiny step towards making an official category as Albert Whitlock and Glen Robinson were given a Special Achievement award for The Hindenburg. 

My Nominations: The Hindenburg. Barry Lyndon. Jaws. The Land That Time Forgot.

The Hindenburg obviously makes the list, though it does look fairly dated now, as you would expect. The Land That Time Forgot contains a variety of honed Harryhausen delights – again dated but I love the stop motion appeal. Jaws would be the most obvious winner here, with practical shark work as well as blood fountains and boat destruction. The pioneer though would be Barry Lyndon – you won’t notice that there are visual effects at work here, but the amount of technical progress to behind the scenes to make the film possible trumps anything else this year.

My Winner: The Land That Time Forgot

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Lyndon is the real winner, but I love me some McClure and Harryhausen. Let us know in the comments which film you pick!

Sh*t I Watch – Eurovision 2019

Greetings, Glancers! You probably don’t know this, but I kind of love The Eurovision Song Contest. Now you know. See you next time!

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No, I’m going to review the whole thing. I thought about doing this while watching it. Or live tweeting or something. Then I discarded both thoughts. Now that a month has passed then idea came back to me, and now that enough time has passed that no-one cares about it anymore, I can capitalize on the lack of interest like the shrewd business man/blog owner I am!

I’ve always loved Eurovision. In truth there’s not any good reason for me to like it, given that most of the music is shite and that it has gone from kind of camp to a flaming celebration of fabulousness. I just don’t care about any of that. I mean, I appreciate the spectacle, but the fact that it’s so self aware now that every single song has to be a spectacle or some sort of over the top feat of visual nonsense makes the spectacle pointless. All of that pisses me of because it’s now so generic, and all of the shouting and cheering and booing and prancing in the crowd annoys me too. Just make it about the music, bad as 80% of the songs may be.

I’ll admit that some of the changes to the ceremony and process over the years I haven’t minded. I don’t care that Australia now seems to be part of it. I wish they wouldn’t have all the preliminary heats and rounds before the finals because none of us care about that but it means that the judges and commentators all know about each and every song beforehand, taking away some of the surprise. In my mind it should be every country in Europe getting to perform one live song once – on the night – and be judged on that alone. I understand there needs to be some sort of qualifying criteria otherwise the whole thing would be six hours long. I even like the vote split now where we get the judges vote first, then the public vote after – it always causes wholesale changes in the results. What I don’t love is the year on year bias – the same neighbouring countries ALWAYS vote for each other meaning you can almost 100% of the time predict who will give the big points to who. Again, it degrades the music, which is what it should be about. Oh yeah, we don’t need the crappy inspirational videos between songs, we don’t need the twelve different presenters, and all of the other guff which pads out the running time. Play the songs, do the voting, announce the winner.

What about this year? Well, it was hosted yet again in Israel, which was always going to mean some delicious controversy given the country’s love of bombing children. Last years atrocious winner, Toy, by the equally atrocious Netta ensured the country got to host for the fourth time. That’s one thing you can almost always guarantee about Eurovision – the best song will never win and the winner will be some kitsch one-off bullshit. The last genuinely good winner of Eurovision was of course Sweden’s Euphoria. This year’s show was no different, but we’ll get to that.

First, lets talk about the extra performances – those not eligible for the show. All the buzz was that Madonna was going to perform. This seems like a match made in heaven – the camp nonsense and Madonna’s upbeat music go hand in hand with everything Madonna stands for. Unfortunately, her performance was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen. Madonna, I love you, but you just can’t sing live, not anymore. Or maybe you can, but not at Eurovision. A song as simple as Like A Prayer was butchered beyond repair and her new song was balls. To her credit, she got in some well placed jibes at the expense of Israel, at least that’s how they saw it, and it was clearly more of a call for peace and togetherness. Elsewhere, Iceland’s WTF entry Hatari, are a bunch of misguided youths who, it was anticipated, would cause trouble. Their performance went without incident, but later in the scoring section they unveiled Palestinian flags to resounding boos from the crowd. It was funny. It didn’t quite match the controversy of the idiot jumping on stage last year in the middle of the UK’s performance, but there’s always something.

Somehow matching the cringe levels of Madonna’s tuneless performance was her latest buddy – some guy called ‘Quavo’ whose talent begins at ends at the ability to give himself a ridiculous name. He was interviewed before the performance and showed the world that he’s 1 IQ point short of a potato. At least I think it was him – it was some guy involved in some way with Madonna. The interview was an abomination, with both he and the interviewer clearly having no clue how to behave or react, and with Quavo seemingly having no idea who Madonna even was, despite recording and performing with her. That’s one of the main reasons why Madonna’s music has been crap for decades – she’s surrounding herself with people beneath her.

We did get a nice moment when a bunch of previous winners came on stage to sing each other’s winning songs. It was a pity that most of those winning songs were among the worst the competition has to offer, but it all ended with them all singing Israel’s 1979 winning song Hallelujah. I also only realized afterwards that Gal Gadot had appeared, but given that I still haven’t seen Wonder Woman I didn’t recognise her at the time. Right, lets get onto the songs.

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Malta kicked things off. It’s always hilarious to me when artists from other Countries try to mimic what is popular in the UK and US, right down to the vocal style. The thing is, they always do it about five years too late. Malta’s Michela does exactly that with Chameleon – hitting every single box for what has made pop music bad in the last five or so years. Most annoyingly is the accented vocal style and that whole taking the beat away from the chorus thing. Distinctly average at best. Malta finished in 14th with 107 points.

Next up was Albania. I didn’t pay much attention to this one. Decent enough performance, not a lot to say about the song. Singer Jonida wore a silly outfit and earned 90 points to finish 17th. Czech Republic came whipping in next with an 80s New Wave style synth pop thing – it was fine, a pity it was all a bit uninspired and the performers smiled too much. Still, it was good enough to net them 157 points and 11th place. Germany’s Sisters with the song Sister which features a chorus with the repeated lyric of ‘sisters’ over and over again, I thought would do much better with its message of sisterhood and women looking out for each other. A nice enough song, it only managed 24 points and came 25th. And yet, it’s a hell of a lot better than their winning song from 2010 – Satellite by Lena.

Russia have somehow gone from most hated country in the competition (due to the Country’s politics, not the performers) to finishing third this year. It’s another strange case of the song being crap on the night. I was unsure how it was being scored so well until I listened to the song’s official video – studio version – and it’s much better than what we heard on the night. So clearly the judges and voters are voting on the studio versions of these songs and not the sole final live performance. That is so obvious to me now that it makes perfect sense. There’s no way anyone sees their final performance and gives it 370 points. Denmark’s Love Is Forever was one of the most twee and insipid moments of the night, a sweet little song near enough ruined by singer Leonora who follows in the footsteps of many others by singing in that embarrassing copycat accentuated UK style – it was awful when Lily Allen did it 10 years ago, and she was late to the party too.

I thought San Marino was in with a chance (not something you’d ever say about their football team amirite?) because Serhat’s Say Na Na Na was stupidly catchy – shame he was one of the night’s most boring performers and needed something else to spice things up. In the end, he only managed 77 points and landed on the 19th spot. North Macedonia was my pick for the win, based on my own personal preference. This time I thought I actually stood a chance of being right – usually I just pick my favourite song and it usually does badly, like Georgia’s 2010 entry Shine for example – great song, no hope of winning. This time, the message and the performance all ticked the typical Eurovision boxes and I thought that maybe it could genuinely win. Then the scores came in and it did exceptionally well with the judges. Then the idiot public vote happened, and nobody voted for it, leaving it with a total of 305 points for 7th place. Let this be a rule to you all, as if Brexit wasn’t clear enough – never let the public vote for anything. The newly named North Macedonia was a showcase for Tamara Todevska, and her explosive ballad Proud is one of the best in the competition’s history. Ostensibly a song for her daughter about pride, about not taking any shit, and about showing the world your individuality was delivered in a fiery, defiant way as a message for all women. It seems that mainly male homosexual voting public were more into ‘dirty dancing’, bald dudes, and whatever the hell that Italian shite was than stuff that actually matters. This is your real winner guys, go listen.

You never count out Sweden in this competition – they’re probably the most successful country when you tally everything up. It was pretty funny watching John Lundvik realise he wasn’t going to win, though the song itself was catchy pop R’n’B fare. Lundvik isn’t the greatest singer in the world, and the fact that he’s Chris Kamara’s twin didn’t help. They finished 5th – you can almost always guarantee a Top 10 finish for Sweden. Slovenia provided the most uncomfortable moment of the night and made me think I was watching a cheap knock-off of Let The Right One In set in a retreat for the famished. These two underfed ghosts stared unsmilingly at each other while the song simply sweat from their bodies, and I was genuinely concerned that one of them was going to eat the other. Unfortunate, as it’s actually a good song, but the performance completely took away from the song. The song would be much better if it was less digitized. Cyprus thankfully sexes things up again, just like last year, and the song is pretty generic Euro dance-pop which completely falls apart at the chorus with yet another stupid drop/change the beat thing. Change the chorus and you have a much better track. As it is, it finished 13th with 109 points.

I was bewildered when the scoring started and saw that the Netherlands kept getting the big points. Had I seen a different song from everyone else. Their song just seemed like yet another mid-contest filler with nothing to say and not a single memorable second. I had completely forgotten it and needed the constant on screen reminders to make me remember it. Even now when I’ve watched it back – it’s a little better on second viewing but I have no idea how this won or even finished in the top ten. Other winning songs have been worse, but even crap like last year’s winner you can understand people getting behind because it’s such a novelty thing. Eurovision winners tend to follow the business rules of a one-hit wonder – something that just drops at the right time and it weird enough and catchy enough to draw people in for a brief moment before looking back a few weeks later and wondering what the hell that was all about. Arcade by Duncan Lawrence doesn’t even reach that low bar – it’s just a nothing song that any self-respecting singer could write in their sleep before saying to themselves ‘well there’s no point in me recording that piece of crap’. I guess most self-respecting singers have less self-respect than me.

I jest, it’s not that bad of a song. It’s clearly a rip off of Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall, to the extent that if I was him I’d be getting my lawyers on the phone. An average ballad, the performance on the night wasn’t as good as the song itself and quite a few songs deserved to beat this to the top spot. Nevertheless, it was this year’s winner with 498 points.

Greece managed to produce a good song with a catchy hook, just a pity the singer Katerine Duska delivered it through her nose. My Eurovision group posting on Facebook at the time for this one reads simply ‘Greece Jess Glynn’. That about sums it up. Israel’s effort this year was light year’s ahead of last year’s winning monstrosity. The problem was that is was a simple heartfelt ballad with no backing trickery or spectacle. It was also funny because the singer – Kobi Marimi – looked exactly like a guy I used to work with. They finished 23rd with a poor 35 points. One of the better songs this year. Norway were clearly in with a shot with an exuberant performance let down by the bald guy’s warblings. If they’d replaced him with an actual singer, it could have been a much closer call. I know Norway was my Polish friend’s choice – we Facebook chat the contest every year – our response to Norway going pretty much like this – her – ‘Norway to win’,  me – ‘apart from baldy’, her – ‘especially baldy!’. Bald or not, Norway finished 6th with 331 points.

You have to pity the poor old UK. One of the most successful countries in the competition traditionally, for the last ten or twenty years they have been a laughing stock, propping up the bottom position on numerous occasions. It must be tough being the most hated nation, and while they don’t get booed like Russia always does, they almost always get ignored nowadays – no matter if it’s a no name like Michael Rice with a rubbish song, or a big name like Bonnie Tyler with a rubbish song. Even when they have a half decent song it gets dismissed. Though they haven’t had a really good song, or good Eurovision song in years. With the calibre of genuinely good writers we have and the calibre of people able to pen successfully pop crap, you’d think we would do a little better once in a while. As expected, UK finished dead last with a laughable 11 points.

The fact that Iceland’s anticipated Hitaria followed the UK made old Blighty look even more out of place. When a bunch of skinny kids who misunderstand everything which makes Goth music interesting parade around in costumes made from black masking tape make your song look crap, you know have a long way to go to get back into Eurovision’s graces. The song itself is like something Rammstein would have made when they were sixteen years old and had Simon Cowell as their mentor – pretty bad, yet bad enough to earn them the 10th spot and 232 points.

At the time, my only comment about Estonia was something along the lines of ‘this guy is too pretty to be real’. And it’s true. I’m half certain the unfortunately named Victor Crone is really some sort of CG creature – like a Weird Science but for women. The song is complete balls until the chorus, then the chorus blasts off and becomes one of the catchiest of the night. As pretty as he is, he’s a crap performer and that probably caused their eventual 20th finishing place. Zena from Belarus brought the porn to Euro- oh wait, she’s only 16. WTF. Anyway, her half naked spreading and gyrations looked to make 90% of the male audience reconsider their sexuality and return to the straight path. The childish, faux attitude of the performance was similar to when videogame companies used to put baseball caps on characters to make them look edy, dangerous, or cool. Pity, because it’s a pretty catchy song and one of the few which actually stands a chance of staying with you. It’s a shame then that it came 24th with only 31 points. Azerbaijan’s 8th spot finish is another complete mystery as it was a complete non-entity of a song. It did have robots though.

France’s entry is exactly the sort of thing Eurovision loves so it was perhaps surprising it did so badly – 16th and 105 points – but they only have themselves to blame when the song is more boring than going pillow shopping. Italy. This knob thought he had the whole thing one, so it was HILARIOUS to watch his face drop when it turned out he only finished second. Yes Mahmood, you entitled little prick, your song was balls, your performance was worse than a chav and his mates walking down an alley between council flats and grabbing their crotches. It’s a complete mystery to me how this wasn’t in the bottom five. Serbia deserved a much higher finish than 18th (89 points) with their churning ballad Kruna, by Nevena Bozovic, one of those choruses I wish I understood so I could sing along too. Switzerland look depressingly like they were in with a shot of winning throughout the voting, their irritating song She Got Me with one of those choruses you can’t help but hate but which you know the mindless will be singing for days.

For better or worse, Australia is now a mainstay at Eurovision, and this year their song and performance was one of the most memorable. The song was good, elevated by some catchy operatics, while the performance was heightened (literally) by the fact that singer Kate Miller-Heidke was attached to some sort of Mad Max style swaying mast which tossed her about the stage. She finished a respectable 9th, with 284 points. Finally Spain arrived courtesy of pretty boy Miki, a non-entity performer who makes Olly Murs seem charismatic, though the song was bouncy, fun pop. Closing the contest, they unsurprisingly finished in 22nd with 54 points.

When all was said and done we had our usual moments of controversy, our usual pedigree of bad music with the odd exception, the odd spot of humour and embarrassment, and a closer race than in most years. You can guarantee I’ll be back for more of the same next year where we can expect Sweden to finish in the Top 10, the UK to finish in the bottom five, and a whole bunch of fools to parade around in ridiculous costumes singing ill advised songs before vanishing from the face of the planet forever – Eurovision – don’t ever change.

What did you think of this year’s show and the contest in general? Let us know in the comments!

Best Animated Film – 1975

My Nominations: Coonskin. Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid

Slim picking this year with Japan’s Toei animation crafting a tragic film quite unlike the more famous Disney version. The winner though is the rightly controversial Coonskin by Ralph Baski – a film which never had a shot at widespread critical analysis after it was pulled from release due to multiple protests. It’s a satire not only against White America, but the glorification of violence, criminal lifestyle, gang warfare, and masculinity in the 20th Century.

My Winner: Coonskin

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Birdy

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Man, Nic Cage looks really young here. No wait, Nic Cage looks really old here – what is he supposed to be, sixteen? But he looks like he’s in his twenties. Same with Matthew Modine. It’s all the more strange given the kids they’re playing with are a good two feet shorter and clearly much younger. ‘Nam man, it made weirdos of us all.

Birdy is a film I’d known about since I was first obsessed with the Manic Street Preachers. When you get obsessed with a band (I’m sure this still happens today with current artists but in a much different way), from an era gone by you have to do a lot of work to learn as much about them as possible. It’s not enough to simply buy the albums and learn the songs and know every single lyric. It’s not even enough to see them live and buy the shirt and tell your friends. No, you need to chase down every TV and Radio and magazine interview or quote they ever gave. Before Tweets and Blogs we had fanzines and paper. It’s there that I learned that the Manics were as much consumers of pop culture as they were detractors of it. It’s like the old saying about a rock star teaching you more than school ever did; the Manics certainly opened my mind to stuff I’d never thought about, music I’d never cared about, and movies and books I’d never heard of.

Birdy was one such movie. When you become a Manics obsessive, most people tend to become a Richey fanatic. As the band’s lead lyricist and a central part of their creative vision, he was as seductive and humble and intelligent a mouthpiece as a rock band could ever have. Most interviews he gave (as well as the rest of the band) were a treasure trove of quips and quotes and the media loved him as they knew he would be good for a soundbite – controversial or otherwise. Richey and the band understood this as well as any professional businessman, the difference being that what Richey said came from a place of honesty and understanding. Throw in the tragedy of his mental and physical state along with the mystery of his disappearance and you have a rock and roll, human story as alluring as it is heartbreaking.

It’s no surprise then to those fans who get around to checking out some of the well publicized ‘Richey’s Favourites’ lists discover that many of his most treasured works of fiction deal directly with subject matter he was obsessed with, or dealt with, or displayed, or despised. From Concentration Camp survivors texts, to stories concerned with violence and war, from the collapse of the human spirit and the chaos of a broken mind, to authors who killed themselves or vanished entirely. Humanity’s darkest innards are where Richey rent his most tortured lyrics from, inspired in part by the master works he knew inside out. It’s easy to draw a line between the works he coveted, the works he made, and the life he led.

Birdy is a 1984 movie based off the William Wharton novel of the same name. Both concern the lasting friendship between two men – their adolescence, their harrowing war experiences, and their struggle to adjust back home. When describe like that it sounds like any number of other Vietnam movies – if I can set this one apart from the others I would say that this one has a little more in the way of heart, hope, and comedy. In the book, the War in question is WWII, but in the movie it is Vietnam – a small change, but an important one nonetheless – each war is both the same and different from the next. Nic Cage stars as Al – a typical teenager in a rundown area of Philly, while Matthew Modine is the title character – a bird obsessed, socially naive kid who Al befriends. The film jumps liberally between different time-frames – the mishaps and adventures of the mismatched youths and how their home-life and charms somehow brought and kept them together, to some point after their return from war when Al is facially disfigured and Birdy is mute and unresponsive in an Army psych ward. Interspersed later in the movie are very brief scenes of what happened in Vietnam, relaying how the relate to both events from their youth and of their current state.

I was surprised by the lack of war scenes when I first watched Birdy. That’s another key difference between it and the more famous ‘nam movies. Directed Alan Parker, known more for his musicals, prefers to focus on the friendship and the internal struggles instead of the visceral reality of what happened on the battlefield. It’s a coming of age film as much as it is a portrayal of war horror, and it feels honest and authentic in both to the extent that it gave me some nostalgia for a time in which I didn’t exist. That’s not accurate – it’s the friendship I was nostalgic for, not the time, and it strikes a similar balance to something like Stand By Me. While Cage and Modine are good, and while their friendship is something I enjoyed watching, it lacks some of the fun and camaraderie of Stand By Me, probably because the latter focused on four central characters and on a different point in their lives.

While Birdy is a fairly unique character, the film is smart enough to send a more universal message – one which it is difficult to write about without avoiding the trite metaphors about birds and freedom and cages. At points in our lives we do feel trapped and we do yearn for freedom and flight and friendship – it doesn’t matter that not all of us have experience war or abuse or social scapegoating or growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. Birdy shows us what it was like for these characters and shows enough of the characters that we recognize certain traits within ourselves. Whether we deal with hardship by tackling it face on, by indulging in obsession, by ignoring it, or by falling into fantasy – hardships are going to hit us, and Birdy tackles the subject by showing each of these responses and how friendship is one of our greatest defenses.

Peter Gabriel crafted a thoughtful score for the movie – I haven’t listened to a lot of the man’s music beyond the obvious, but his score for Birdy (which is mostly instrumental) aptly conveys both heart and panic, fear and hope. From pounding drum interludes to inspirational synths, the music can be in your face and drift quietly on the outer reaches. Parker’s film uses ‘Skycam’ heavily to simulate bird flight as well as Birdy’s imaginings and some of the flashbacks. It seems a little silly today but it works well enough for 1984 and probably raised a few eyebrows from a stylistic perspective. The important thing is that the technology serves both character and plot and isn’t just there to show off.

I went into Birdy expecting a heavier drama than what I got, based on my own assumptions of what Richey liked. A war movie about a bird obsessed man on the fringes of society, scarred and left to a careless world? How could that not be a dark and gritty story? I forget than Richey was also defiant and human and hopeful, and in the end that is more what Birdy is about.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Birdy!

Bait

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Why do we do it? Or more specifically, why do I do it? You can count the number of good, truly good shark movies on one hand and yet I watch as many of the bad ones as I can, knowing full well they are going to be bad. Is it my inherent love for the mysterious creatures? Is it because most shark movies are horror movies and an excuse to watch annoying people get chomped to pieces? Is it the hope that maybe one day someone will make another truly good one? I think it’s all of those things – I’ve always loved sharks and horror movies, and I always hope that another good one will appear. Reading the synopsis of shark movies, and knowing the companies and money involved before hand is a valid way of anticipating if the film will be good, but as I’ve said, that won’t put me off; it may not be good, but it could still be entertaining.

Bait has the following synopsis:

‘A freak tsunami traps a group of people in a submerged grocery store. As they try to escape, they are hunted by white sharks that are hungry for meat’

Aren’t most tsunamis freak events? Also, that kind of makes it sound as if the grocery store was already submerged. I assume they mean Great White Sharks too, and the fact that they’re hungry for meat goes without saying. If I was trapped in a grocery store, you’d better believe I’d be looting it to the bone. And I wouldn’t be starting with the meat, no, I’d be filling my face with sweets and crisps first – all that top shelf stuff (matron). Plus, that synopsis makes me think of two other movies I’d like to see – one set in a world where all shops are underwater, like The Jetsons but with water instead of space. So.. Spongebob, I guess. Secondly, a movie about a freakshow tsunami – a giant supafly wave which does funky dances and wears an afro.

All in all, I don’t mind the idea for this – it has potential, merging survival horror with loose disaster movie and siege movie tropes. I imagine John Carpenter having a go at this – it’s basically Assault On Precinct 13 but with sharks instead of gangstas and crap instead of goodness. Honestly, it’s not all that bad. In terms of being a cheap B movie, it’s perfectly watchable and gives enough attention to its characters that we have a passing interest in their fates, if not care. The acting is a notch above what you would expect from these things, with famous faces like Sharni Vinson and Julian McMahon providing the ‘oh, I know that guy’ moments. The film also spends time building up to the main scenario, introducing various characters and conflicts before releasing the sharks. It begins with a tragic event as lifeguard Josh watches his friend Rory be killed by a shark during a rescue. Rory was brother to Tina, Tina was engaged to Josh. Flashforward a year and Josh and Tina have split up, with Josh now working in a supermarket. Tina shows up with her new boyfriend – uh oh. Worse, a couple of criminals show up too in a botched armed robbery – oh no. Worse still, a tsunami drops, trapping the staff, shoppers, and criminals together – oopsy. Then to spice things up further, some sharks have been washed in by the tsunami, and I have a feeling they like the taste of young pretty flesh.

At times it feels like there are too many characters, each with their own crap. There are security guards, criminals, managers, shoplifters, couples galore, dogs, and some are revealed to be intertwined and some are revealed to be dicks. There are a couple of ‘twists’ though I pissed off my wife by calling them out long before they were revealed, as I always do. I won’t spoil them here, but they seemed fairly obvious even to me. There was a great moment where it looked like the dog was killed, only for a later cop-out. Hey, I love dogs but I love it just as much when people who moan about dogs being killed in movies (which almost never happens) are frightened that the dogs will be hurt. The dog here especially is more than deserving of being gobbled. But as mentioned, there is a lot going on, characters trying to resolve their differences all while working together (or not) to try to survive and escape. Certain characters are split off from the main group, some have selfish motives, others are fish fodder.

The gore and kills are as you would expect – a lot of improbable shark action and even more improbable attempts to hunt and kill the sharks. The CG isn’t great but it’s still a level or twelve above Sharknado – you’ll get a laugh out of it but can still suspend your disbelieve enough to not let it get in the way of the story. The film is actually known as Bait 3D – so you know you’re going to get some of those scenes to make the 3D stand out. Naturally I watched in 2D, so these scenes added to the ridicule. In terms of pacing and action, the film rattles along nicely and while it hits all of the expected notes, it does so in a fun way. I was never bored even though I’ve seen it all before. It’s much better than the ‘so bad it’s good’ shark movies, but still a way behind Jaws and… Jaws 2. Thanks to an interesting premise, a decent cast of recognizable faces, and actual attention to building story and character (somewhat), Bait is a film for anyone who enjoys shark movies or animal attack movies in general.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Bait!