The Running Man

In 2019, Ben Richards, a scapegoat to a corrupt authority, fights for his life as part of the ultimate game show, The Running Man.

Based on the Richard Bachman novel (a pseudonym of Stephen King), Arnold Schwarzenegger was riding the crest of a wave of popularity and cuts a striking, if awkward, figure as Ben Richards, the military man who finds himself trying to overthrow a media obsessed dictatorship, whilst battling to survive The Running Man game show.

Imagine Gladiators (the TV show), except with criminals battling the stars of the show with the offer of freedom for the winner and you’ve got the concept of The Running Man.  Of course, the criminals don’t get released, but for a public who cheer the state mandated “good guys” and jeer the villains, it doesn’t matter – they’re feeding their blood lust, quest for entertainment and making money from the bets, so it’s all good for Joe Public.

Backstage, of course, there’s political machinations.  Freedom of expression appears to have become a crime, as does fraternisation with too many partners (one of Amber’s made up crimes involves three men… in a year).  It all started in 2017, with the collapse of the world’s economies leading to the US becoming a police state.  To maintain control, the US government pacified the populace with the opium of the masses, television – The Running Man being a prime example of this media mind control.

Thirty years after its release, the satirical undertones still cut deep, whilst the action set pieces may seem a bit tame by modern standards.  Schwarzenegger plays his role with the two-dimensional aplomb with which he approached many of his star turns.  It doesn’t matter, though, as it’s a showcase for a man of action and few words.

Steven Edward de Souza’s script is entertaining and the supporting cast mostly help carry the film to its satisfying conclusion.

Well worth watching, and one that you might not want to take too seriously.

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Disney’s (Tim Burton’s) Alice in Wonderland

Alice returns to Wonderland and discovers a world under the tyrannical rule of The Red Queen.

A sequel to the classic Disney animation, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a surreal mess of a film and a blend of live action and, at times, over liberal use of CGI.

The performances are strong and entirely in keeping with Burton’s vision – Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and a raft of familiar British faces make up a cast that is occasionally mired by a incoherent script that has some bright moments but mainly revels in the surreal and sublime.

Possibly inaccessible to young audiences, not dark enough for mature audiences, it’s difficult to see what Disney were going for with Alice in Wonderland.

The Kentucky Fried Movie

Director John Landis teams with The Zucker Brothers to bring a ridiculous collection of sketches that cover everything from modern news, advertising, daytime television and film, in an irreverent mishmash of occasionally tasteless, often funny, film that still stands the test of time.

Although it’s now almost 40 years old, John Landis and The Zuckers have created a work that has stood the test of time.  In a much maligned modern era of dumbed-down media,  The Kentucky Fried Movie is silly in the most puerile ways, but has a thick satirical thread that runs right through it.

From it’s take on sexploitation films, to the kung fu legend that is A Fistful of Yen, via the mock news reports and bits in between, this is a film that anyone with a sense of humour and an interest in mass media will appreciate.

Also, when will be getting motion pictures shown in Feelaround!

Runner Runner

 

A young student, down on his financial luck, finds that a gambling site isn’t playing by the rules and decides to take on its supremo, only to be drawn into a world of corruption and deceit.

A sun kissed setting, a world where money flows as easily as water, and a principle cast that is incredibly talented and attractive, Runner Runner should be a high rolling winner.  Alas, under the facade, it’s all a bit… bland.

The cast shine with powerful performance as Justin Timberlake’s Richie (is there a more go-getter name?  Scoot, perhaps) battles against Ben Affleck’s Ivan Block (a name that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond film).  Gemma Arterton has little to do as Rebecca, but is still superb, and the presence of Antony Mackie as Agent Shavers is only saved by Mackie’s skill as an actor.

The premise – an every-man (well, as every-man as Richie can be given his business and mathematics acumen) taking on a ruthless business tycoon – is hardly new, but it being set in the world of, primarily, online gambling certainly gives it an edge.  Sadly, it’s an edge that is dulled by a script that never settles on what it really wants to be, going from drama to action without ever maintaining either.

Definitely a film where cast and setting will leave you thinking it’s better than it is.

The Frankenstein Theory

A group of film makers follow an improbably young professor who is intent on saving the reputation of his family name by proving that Frankenstein was more than just a work of fiction.

The concept is an interesting one – what if Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was based on fact? Unfortunately, it’s executed in a tedious way that is a reminder that found footage films are rarely as engaging as their premise.

As would be expected, given that none of the characters are supposed to be professionals, the actors manage to capture the awkwardness of going about their business, although Kris Lemche is far and away the best of the lot, despite looking far too young to be Professor Venkenheim.

The story lacks tension, even when the strangeness starts (the cast of two-dimensional characters are incredibly blase when their snowmobiles are trashed).  Venkenheim aside, it’s entirely possible that the viewer will forget the names of the other characters as they trek through a landscape that is far more interesting than they are.  They lose their best hopes for survival, yet the filming continues without any sense of hopelessness.  As the terror ramps up, we get a lot of night-vision camera, jump scare tactics that barely work and a sense of dread that makes Most Haunted look like true horror.

As a genre, found footage has never really matched the skill of Blair Witch and Cannibal Holocaust, having almost become a shorthand for cheap, jump scare laden horror.  Paranormal Activity has rumbled on as a box office success, The Dyatlov Pass Incident (Devil’s Pass) was an interesting attempt, whilst Apollo 18 and Chronicle defied expectations and crafted a film that felt “authentic” within the genre.  It is, however, an overused trope that, far too often, feels too much like a student film experiment trying to be different.

Thus is the issue with The Frankenstein Theory – the concept exceeds the abilities of the film makers and it feels far from the “original vision in horror” that the blurb suggests.

Street Trash

A liquor store owner takes vengeance upon the city’s homeless with a lethal cocktail of death.  With a cop trying to unpick the crime wave, two homeless brothers trying to survive and a lovely young lady hoping to save society, it’s race against time to stop the carnage.

Street Trash is, as the name would suggest, trash – it’s a sensationalist horror film, full of overblown gore and questionable morals, but it’s certainly entertaining.  The homeless folk seem to live a dystopian existence with their own code of morality and they start melting.

“Lady, I can only save one person at a time.”

On the subject of immorality, nothing is left un-exploited – race, status, taboos, they’re all there for the taking under the blisteringly offensive, yet wonderfully effective, script by Roy Frumkes.  Visually, it’s a real gorefest and definitely of it’s time with its lingering, faux meaningful shots, overly intense performances and two dimensional characterisation.

Underneath the gore, there’s almost a social commentary – we’re all people fighting to survive – but that’s really not important.

It’s definitely not one for the faint of heart.

 

 

 

Vamp

Two best friends attempt to secure the services of an adult entertainer but end up facing a centuries old evil.

Richard Wenk’s 1986 cult classic sees Grace Jones at her most captivating as Katrina, an ancient vampire who rules her own night-time empire, facing off against AJ (Robert Rusler) and Keith (Chris Makepeace) as they fight for survival against overwhelming, nightmarish odds.

“Very new. Very now”

With a superb supporting cast, including Dedee Pfeiffer, Gedde Watanabe and Billy Drago, and a wonderful soundtrack (Volare has never seen better use, whilst Grace Jones gives a sparkling performance for Katrina’s theme and Jealous Heart will stick with you), it’s certainly a film of its time – exceedingly cool, beautifully shot and a entertaining script that does what few horror films, let alone horror comedies, since have truly managed to do.  AJ and Keith bounce off each other, the horrors are visceral and don’t rely on jump scares and there’s a real level of malevolence at play.

Rusler and Makepeace, as the confident AJ and the responsible Keith, are wonderful together, even if Makepeace does come across as slightly wooden on occasion.  Dedee Pfeiffer as the surprisingly (for its time and genre) independent Allison comes close to stealing the show and Grace Jones lights up the screen as Katrina, she may not say much but her actions speak much, much louder.

“Ever have one of those nights?”

The idea of a world that operates after dark is a chilling one and well executed – the After Dark Club feels realistic, the haunt of the hopeless, whilst the street scenes – with Snow’s gang of miscreants and the various denizens of this world – give the feel an urban authenticity.

Between this, Near Dark and Lost Boys (which would both be a released a year later), horror audiences were treated to a rejuvenated vampire genre, long separated from the Hammer Horror Dracula days and far removed from the much later Twilight interpretations.  Wenk and Schumacher gave us the sexiness of vampires, whilst never letting us forget the danger, whereas Bigelow masterfully craft a dark and dirty tale.  In the 1980s, vampires were never treated better.

Ultimately, in Vamp, the good guys would prevail, but the final moments do give us a hope for a sequel that would never materialise.