BIG ASS SPIDER!
Starring: Greg Grunberg, Ray Wise, Lombardo Boyar
Dir: Mike Mendez
A few times recently I've bemoaned the fact that so few films can successfully find and walk the tightrope required for comedy horror. Well, hot damn, if this doesn't just walk the tightrope but proceeds to dance gleeful six-legged pirouettes along it.
This is no Sharknado, or even Sharktopus or any of those other retro-cheapies – this is a real film. You know it right from the start: the slo-mo build as our hero Alex walks through chaotic street-fighting and panic to reveal the giant spider destroying a high-rise, all set to a piano ballad version of The Pixies' ‘Where is My Mind?' is a killer.
After that the story is told in flashback, from 12 hours earlier when a body under military care is mistakenly delivered to a Los Angeles hospital. There's a mutant super-spider inside which immediately bursts out and starts growing exponentially. Death and mayhem ensue, with pest exterminator Alex and Mexican sidekick Jose (and the army) in hot pursuit.
It's a good old 1970s monster movie, but not by any means a cheesy parody. These people really know and respect genre traditions but want to succeed on their own terms: witness the bloody set-piece attack in the park (slightly iffy stop-motion notwithstanding) or the fantastic finale.
It's all done deadly seriously but with a lashing of goofy charm. Blackfish was going to be my Pick of the Week. It's the “better” film, of course, but this was more fun.
Blackfish (****) is the story of orcas – “killer whales”, or “blackfish” as they are known by the Inuit – and their exploitation and mistreatment by SeaWorld. It focuses on the captivity of Tilikum, an orca involved in the deaths of three individuals, and through talking to trainers and other experts in the field, uncovers the “misrepresentations” over three decades by SeaWorld and then broadens its enquiry to cover the wider consequences of keeping killer whales in captivity. The film is even-handed, but it's pretty depressing seeing such extraordinary creatures systematically abused. It will certainly change your view of such “entertainment”.
As an early avowed horror fan, I've long had a soft spot for Australia's seventies schlockers. New Zealand had Death Warmed Up and in Oz they've just remade Patrick (*** ½). After the pre-title death of a nurse, newcomer Kathy comes to work at Charles Dance's spooky country clinic treating vegetative brain injuries. The doctor's ‘special project' is our eponymous ‘comatose' hero. It's totally bonkers of course: telekinesis, mind control, continual shocks, melodramatic excess, the creepy head nurse, dream sequences; no medical institution could possibly run like this. But given the original was an unapologetic trash-fest, who would want it otherwise?
Pawn Shop Chronicles (*** ½) is an anthology affair, three stories that intersect at Vincent D'Onofrio's titular establishment in the rural redneck south. Brendon Frazer is a down-and-out Elvis impersonator; Matt Dillon is a man in search of his missing wife; Elijah Wood pops up, and Paul Walker. It's good solid indie fare with a little Tarantino and a little Coen brothers and, just occasionally, a subversive seventies vibe. It does actually build to a magnificently odd climax but a tendency to revel in its own quirkiness rather than daring to get serious holds it back.