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- 12/19/11--16:34: Sci-Fi and Zombies - Two of my favourite things! :)
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- 01/01/12--10:01: Every Single Joe Dante Movie Reviewed!
- 01/07/12--18:27: Pingu and "The Thing" - Awesome Claymation Vid
- 01/12/12--15:02: Never Mind The Bo**ocks! This Is The Best Movies of 2010....
- 01/14/12--05:26: "That is not civilised behaviour...."
- 01/14/12--06:16: Film Index 2011 - Index Of All Movie Reviews From 2011 And Earlier
- 01/15/12--14:36: Changes To My Best Of 2009 List
- 01/18/12--10:38: What A Pretty Giger Human-Trap...
- 01/18/12--12:56: Too Good To Be True? Awesome New Trailer: "John Dies At The End"
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- 01/28/12--12:36: My Favourite 23 Movies Released In The UK In 2011
- 02/03/12--17:04: The De Botton Delusion...
- 02/05/12--12:20: Cooking With Babelfish
- 02/08/12--11:55: Live-Action Version of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
Doesn't that look cool? :D
The fact is that while fanboys across the internet are whining about how the new movie looks nothing like Raimi's Spider-Man movies, I am personally rejoicing at that very same fact.
- Andrew Garfield doesn't look like a geek. Peter Parker is supposed to be a geek!
Er... not exactly. Peter Parker was socially awkward, partly because he was looking after his elderly aunt and partly because he was constantly having to rush off and save the world. He was supposed to be especially good at science, but the idea of him as lanky and nervous was Raimi's creation.
On top of that, he isn't exactly entirely ungeeky from what we've seen so far. He just looks a little more confident and attractive than Tobey McGuire did. That would seem to fit more with Raimi's universe considering that Mary-Jane was supposed to be an aspiring actress.
- But he looks so emo!
Um, what? Let's compare:
- His girlfriend should be Mary-Jane. Why are they starting with Gwen Stacey?
It was actually a pretty bizarre choice to shove Gwen Stacey into the third Spider-Man movie having left her out before. Mary-Jane is actually supposed to be the love interest after Gwen Stacey gets fridged. Mary-Jane is supposed to be the girlfriend Spider-Man gets after he's grown up and got a bit more maturity. That way he's not constantly getting extreme over-the-top emo angst about whether he's good enough for the actress/supermodel.
- But Tobey McGuire was such a good actor. Andrew Garfield can't possibly match up!
Um.... you mean THIS Tobey McGuire?
- So what was so bad about the Sam Raimi movies exactly?
Well asides from the intense cheesiness, the strange decision to keep revealing Spider-Man's identity to absolutely everyone and yet pretend it's still a secret, the inconsistency whereby Spider-Man keeps jumping from being ultra-popular to hated-by-everyone and back again, and the decision to give every single bad guy multiple personality disorder... Asides from all that, which I could probably forgive, the biggest problem was that Raimi's Spider-Man had no sense of humour. Spider-Man's main feature asides from climbing up walls is his constant mockery of the bad guys he fights. Raimi's version just removed that entirely and what was left ended up seeming pretty bland.
Spider-Man's wit can be seen in the cartoons and in his videogames. However in Raimi's movies comedy either comes from slapstick or in some cases it comes from the scenario such as this horrible painful-to-watch scene. All the funny lines appear to have been given to Bruce Campbell whose wit in other Raimi movies actually seems pretty appropriate for the part of Spider-Man himself.
Sure, the new movie has yet to prove to have all the things Raimi's version missed, however my reasoning is this: it could hardly be worse.
MS One Security Maximum
REC 3: Genesis
MyGeekBlasphemy had an earlier version of the MS One Security Maximum trailer that put more focus on the interrogation of Guy Pearce's central character, but did a much less impressive job promoting the movie as a whole. Seeing a bit more of the movie's central premise this is looking pretty exciting.
Meanwhile I have been waiting for REC 3 for a long while now. One of the two creators involved in the first two REC movies is missing from this one, but the REC series has been such an interesting series so far that I'm prepared to risk it. I absolutely cannot wait for this!
Silent Hill (2006)
Okay, so I've found the Wii version of Silent Hill ("Shattered Memories") to be a bit of a slog. I keep on having to use walkthroughs when I get stuck and the lack of a consistent plotline has started to bug me. I have to admit though that there's been a great deal of real inventiveness, stylistic flourish and a great mysterious atmosphere.
The Silent Hill game I played starts out with you searching for your daughter. You find yourself in the middle of this random place called Silent Hill searching for your daughter in the snow. You've lost your memory and the place where you are appears to be abandoned. Now I don't know how the story will resolve, but so far there've been mixed reports of who I am, there's queries as to whether I really have a daughter and with a people around me ending up dead, there's some question as to whether I'm actually some kind of delusional psychotic murderer. Essentially though, the character you play in Silent Hill is just trying to do the right thing and every now and as they travel they either find themselves uncovering secrets about horrible things that have happened in Silent Hill's past or they find themselves running away from some kind of bizarre demons (and there's a definite sense that these things are somehow connected).
The movie starts by having the protagonist as a woman. This means that the idea of having characters turning up claiming to be prior lovers (while the protagonist was still married) wouldn't have the same effect. That doesn't matter though because the movie also ditches the memory loss plotline. What it keeps, however, is the sense that there's something very evil about Silent Hill and it's affecting the whole town. The town is misty and in an almost dreamlike state and this is emphasised by having other characters going to check out Silent Hill and not coming across any mist at all, or any of the bizarre inhabitants either.
The effects are absolutely brilliant. Points where demons turn up are done fantastically with the colour of the walls suddenly changing. In "Shattered Memories" on the Wii, the walls would ice up, but in the movie it's more like all the paint is being suddenly peeled off the walls. One particularly impressive demon that turns up is Pyramid Head, a figure I haven't yet seen in the game, but was very impressed by in this movie. The general feel for the first half (possibly even two thirds) is just perfect and is genuinely
Sadly, the third act suddenly decides to make the issues in Silent Hill about one particular act that happened rather than a series of problems across the town. We have a massive information dump which ties together everything we've seen and completely ruins the whole mysterious atmosphere the movie had successfully set up. Finally the film turns into Witchfinder General. It's such an unfortunate copout. Then again, there's some very cool effects at the end involving barbed wire that look very cool.
One final question for those who've seen the movie (but vague enough not to spoil things for those who haven't): If that religion is false, why does it work against the demons? Am I to understand that stubborn conviction is a tool to ward off these demons? Are you kidding me?
The Silent Hill movie has a great atmosphere, some very good effects and I'm glad I watched it. It managed, to start with at least, to do a really good job of capturing the atmosphere of the games. Sadly, like many movies, it lost its way (quite spectaculalry, to be frank) in the third act. If you like the games it's probably worth your while checking it out. However, I don't think anyone should expect much more than eye candy. It has a teensy bit more to offer than eye candy, but nothing that matters much by the end.
C- (Bog-standard, average
Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992)
After the last movie, I just had to see this. "Hellbound: Hellraiser II" was a wonderful horror movie. It had interesting characters, a creepy immersive atmosphere, and it introduced a really awesome new character played by an excellent actor. However, the thing that was most impressive about it was that it successfully expanded the mythology of the Hellraiser series.
Hellraiser III decides to try to do the same, almost looks like it might succeed to start with, but eventually betrays everything that was set up in the last two movies. Perhaps the most annoying thing is that neither Julia, the wicked stepmother, nor even Kirsty, essentially the protagonist of the last two movies, return in this third installment. That said, there's a scene where Kirsty appears in "old footage" which appeared to be newly filmed, so I'm a little confused as to why she doesn't make a proper appearance. It seems that for the third installment they've decided that the real protagonist is Pinhead. This is a bit confusing seeing as we've previously only ever seen Pinhead as the leader out of five "cenobites".
What are cenobites? Well that's another thing we are going to have to reconsider in the light of this movie. In the first movie it was set up that the cenobites lived in a strange dimension unlocked by a puzzle box. Pinhead claimed that they appear as angels to some and demons to others, but essentially their supernatural dimension allows them to push people to the very limits of sensation without killing them. I guess it should have been obvious from the title "Hell on Earth" but in Hellraiser III, that dimension is very definitely "hell". Not even just A hell but in fact THE hell. This is made even less ambiguous during the (admittedly rather cool) scene in a Church.
The first half sets up some rather interesting characters and the second half basically gives up on all of them. Pinhead appears to be trapped in some kind of bizarre statue and the first half involves him trying to escape and all the tension involves wondering what he's going to do once he gets free. It turns out that what he's going to do next is turn into a rather boring and typical monster rather like Freddy from the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Pinhead without the creepy hell dimension from the previous movies just doesn't have the same effect. Pinhead seems a lot more creepy in hell than he does on Earth.
Overall the movie is fun, but while the film starts out promisingly, the second half not only fails to deliver but completely destroys the mythology that the second movie so successfully built up. The lack of familiar characters and the failure to properly develop any new ones means that it's hard to get involved with any of it. It's still got plenty of fun stuff to make it worth watching, but you really have to approach it in the right mood.
Now the next Hellraiser movie I need to see is "Bloodline" an Alan Smithee movie with Pinhead in the far-flung future in outer space. I am hoping to watch it with a snarking partner....
D+ (Not good, but with some fun elements)
x-posted to Halloween Candy
Time to catch up with some reviews. Here are three films I saw on the run-up to Christmas.
One is from the wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas who really impressed me with "I've Loved You So Long" in 2008. The year after that she gave an excellent performance last year alongside Sergei Lopez in the film "Partir" which was a pretty good movie but seemed to be making up the running time with rather akward extra-long sex scenes. This year she starred in the film "Sarah's Key" which I've seen highly recommended but seems to have received mixed reviews.
I've also recently seen 2 films starring Aidan Gillen (who played the politician Carcetti in the TV series "The Wire"). "Blitz", a British police thriller starring Jason Statham and "Treacle Jr.", a small British comedy/drama set in London.
Sarah's Key ("Elle S'appelait Sarah") (2010)
Kristin Scott Thomas,who we all know by now is bilingual English and French, mixes things up a bit this time by playing an American journalist. She still spends much of the movie speaking fluent French, but she always speaks English with an American accent. However, she is just one half of the story, the other half played brilliantly by Mélusine Mayance in the role of Sarah.
I think a lot of reviewers have been rather harsh on this film because they have wrong labelled it "just another Holocaust movie". The thing is, this isn't really about the Holocaust at all. The film is set in France and the concentration camps were not found in France. The film occasionally shifts setting to other countries, but never to Germany or Poland where there actually were such camps. What's more, the guards in charge of moving Jews around in France are not Germans, nor are do seem to be immediately answerable to Germans. The major crime explored in this movie is not the crime of the Nazis, but of the French themselves.
Sarah is a Jew in France during what is sometimes known as "the roundup". For those who are familiar with this piece of history, you'll have a fair idea of what that entails, but if you are someone like me then the distinction between that and the holocaust will probably be new to you. Sarah's situation is particularly distinctive, so this doesn't feel like "yet another Holocaust story" at all. While "The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas" and even "The Counterfeiters" felt a bit too much like another go at the same old story and, to be quite honest, even "The Pianist" felt like it had "Schindler's List" hanging over it.
I have to say that "Sarah's Key" managed to repeat something only "Schindler's List" had done so far. That is to make us see the scenario in a new way, revealing ideas we probably hadn't thought about before and tying the situation very much to our situation in the present. "The Pianist" might have done a good job of showing what the Holocaust involved and telling that specific story, but the central character wasn't hugely relatable and the story seemed to have little relevance to us today. Schindler's List made the central protagonist very different and interesting and the connection between his plight and the survival of many Jews today was explicit. Similarly in Sarah's Key, Kristin Scott Thomas puts in a powerhouse performance and makes it very clear that the roundup that so many of us had no idea ever happened is still important today.
The cast in general is brilliant with even actors with very little screen time still feel like full and complex characters. The movie is wonderfully shot. However, what's more the pacing is fantastic with every scene leaving the audience gagging to see what will happen next. The two stories of Kristin Scott Thomas' journalist character and Sarah's plight during French occupation are tied together carefully and beautifully with one clearly complementing the other. This reminded me very much of "I've Loved You So Long" which also starred Kristin Scott Thomas, since even though there were so many characters and so many threads, it all came together perfectly.
This is one of the best films I have seen this year. The critics seem to have badly misjudged "Sarah's Key" and I feel most indebted to whoever it was who encouraged me to see it. Another brilliant film from Kristin Scott Thomas and I am interested to see what she does next.
It sounded like a really interesting team-up. Paddy Considine and Jason Statham are a pretty bizarre combination by anyone's reckoning. However, this odd pairing reflects the rather odd mix-up of styles throughout the film.
First thing that ought to made clear: This is not an action movie. Yes, I know Jason Statham's name is on the poster, but that means nothing. This is not a Jason Statham action blockbuster. No, instead this is a crime thriller. Now, I say crime thriller, but the thing is that Jason Statham still plays the same thug you'd expect him to play normally. His character is a police sergeant involved in over-the-top violence and bucking authority which ought to mean that we see big action sequences to distract us from this ludicrous scenario. Instead, the film moves into a murder mystery, with Statham's bosses being rather slow to throw the book at him.
I say murder "mystery". There's not much mystery at all though because the bad guy (revealed to the audience straight away) is fingered very quickly by the police. The problem throughout the film seems to be tying any evidence to the guy. (Heck, a gunshot residue test would be enough to prove he'd used an illegal firearm surely???) So anyway, as great as Aidan Gillen is in the role (though it's pretty clear that he's putting on the accent) his whole role is stupid from the start. One of his more entertaining lines has been used for title of this post.
Paddy Considine on the other hand, has a great opportunity opened up. With Jason Statham playing the same thuggish and homophobic character he plays in other films, Paddy Considine is able to come in as gay detective acting as his superior allows him to highlight the problem with Statham's attitude. (An actress gets one line at some point to do the same thing about his sexism and it really doesn't work at all.) The problem is that overall Considine doesn't really have enough to do. Neither do Statham or Aiden to be frank. The film starts off with an odd blend of stuff going on and ends up resolving it in an extremely boring way rather than building on the bizarre alchemy it started with.
Some people seem to have criticised Zawe Ashton for her role as Statham's lower ranking friend. I recognised her instantly as someone I'd seen before and it turns out she was in an episode of Misfits. She's great in her role. The criticisms often made are that her whole storyline doesn't contribute much to the overall narrative, but actually that could be said about pretty much everything in the movie. She ends up being central to some of the most interesting events in the middle of the film and, as with everything else, it just doesn't really go anywhere.
Basically this feels like a two or three episode mini-series with a great first episode that goes quickly downhill after that. It feels like it was made for TV and would probably do better there alongside things like "The Shadow Line" and "Luther". It's pretty well shot and it sets up some interesting characters with good actors playing the parts, but unfortunately all the promise at the start leads nowhere.
Treacle Jr. (2010)
Another one with Aidan Gillen. The film starts off following the protagonist who is played by Tom Fisher (oddly enough playing someone called "Tom" here). He seems to be happily enjoying breakfast with his wife and child. He leaves the house, goes to the train station, takes a train from Birmingham to London (which is quite a common commuting journey) but when he gets there, he doesn't go to a workplace. He finds a doorstep and sits in it. He seems to have given up on his life and we are given no explanation as to why.
It's not long before he's destroying all his bank cards and identity cards. After a while he bumps into an ultra-talkative irishman, played by Aidan Gillen, who he finds hugely irritating but he is too polite to tell him to go away. However, it becomes clear to the audience that Aiden is quite an entertaining charismatic figure.
Aiden's character appears to have some minor mental issues. He gets some things mixed-up, he seems to be in denial about other things and he's often coming up with excuses to be cheerful even when something horrible has just happened to him. His accent is the source of some humour at certain points, not least because it's not obvious how his accent could cause these kinds of mix-ups. "You know what I fancy right now?... a hot bitch" "A what?" "A hot bitch. Y'know lots of sun, lots of sand... It's been a long time since I sat on a hot bitch."
Tom Fisher is probably best known for small parts in Stephen Sommers' movies. In "The Mummy Returns" (to my mind quite underrated seeing as it manages to be quite substantially more entertaining than the first movie in the series) some may remember him as "Spivey" who mocks his fellow tomb raider saying "This is currrsed! That is currrsed!" or you may remember him as the figure in the top hat in "Van Helsing" who says the line "I see the Wolfman hasn't killed you yet." (with Hugh Jackman's reply: "Don't worry, he's getting to it."). This is a very different film of course and Tom Fisher is able to work well as a protagonist with a pretty understated performance.
The main thing letting down this film is also arguably part of its charm: The simplistic style. There's no interesting lighting and nothing much in the way of light-hearted backing music. While the film is shot well enough, there's no flourishes like I've seen in other films. But still, all these things seem so petty. Essentially Treacle Jr. is a very sweet little film. If you expect a cinematic masterpiece you probably won't be so pleased, but what's great about Treacle Jr. is that is knows what it wants to do and it does it efficiently. There's a good story which ties up the story elements nicely. It's not pretty, but it will draw you in. I hope the writers and directors get to be involved in features with bigger budgets in the future.
It's interesting to see that Aidan Gillen's imdb profile picture is now directly related to this particular film:
I think he knows how special this project was. You probably shouldn't miss out.
Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore) (1994)
This was very different from what I was expecting. I suppose I'd decided it was going to rather like "Fido". A man works in a cemetery and comes across zombies and things get bizarre. The thing is, things got rather more bizarre than I could handle.
The film opens with our protagonist, played by Rupert Everett, on the phone to a friend. He then hears a knock on the door and sees a man with a briefcase at the door. He realises that this man is a zombie and shoots him before calmly returning to his seat and returning to his phone conversation.
It turns out that, along with his helper Gnaghi, his job is rather harder than it ought to be. He's not only concerned with maintaining the grounds, but also with stopping the undead from escaping the cemetery.
Suddenly he falls in love with a grieving widow; the undeniably gorgeous Anna Falchi. The sheer weirdness of the film is encapsulated in a scene where her character is driven into a passionate kiss with the undertaker by the atmosphere in the cemetery's ossuary. It's hard to imagine how any movie could make a small room surrounded by skeletal remains seem erotic, but Anna Falchi pulls it off.
The idea is that local authorities are entirely uninterested in the issue of zombies rising from the dead and its easier for the cemetery maintainer to simply shoot the undead rather than make a fuss. What's more, even when the zombies manage to find and devour an unfortunate victim, our protagonist never seems to be under suspicion.
The plot is a bit meandering with geniunely funny gags being few and far between. There is some vague attempt to give the random occurances in this movie some deeper overarching theme, with a statue of the grim reaper talking to our protagonist, but I can't say I could get on board with this message. It didn't feel to me like the film had anything to say at all and the final ending was an absolutely massive copout. So all that leaves when judging this film's success is the comedy which I felt left something to be desired.
Now admittedly there are some really good bits. There's a motorcycle crash victim seemingly having been buried with his motorcycle and escaping the grave fully equipped the working motorbike. The relationship between Gnaghi and a disembodied head was also pretty amusing.
What I was less comfortable with, however, was the the relationship between Anna Falchi's many characters. The way she keeps appearing seems to make it appear like our protagonist is gradually seeing all women as the same, but when one of Anna Falchi's love interest characters tells him that she enjoyed being raped by the mayor, I finally decided that the problem definitely wasn't my lack of a sense of humour.
Overall, Cemetery Man was a big disappointment. It had a lot of promise, with an undoubtedly funny premise and an intriguing opening scene. However, neither the plot nor the comedy really met expectations. This film is very absurdist and perhaps if you can accept that then you will feel less betrayed by the ending, but I really needed something a bit more substantial to get my teeth into.
Stake Land (2010)
It was rather like "The Road" only with vampires rather than cannibals. We follow the story of a boy orphaned by vampires and the hardened vampire killer who decides to train him like an apprentice. These two characters don't talk much, but that's part of how their relationship works. Sure "Stake Land" doesn't have the same level of horror as "The Road" but that initially seemed like an advantage considering how incredibly miserable the experience of watching "The Road" was.
The problem is that this apocalyptic future where vampires are overrunning the countryside seemed to have a few holes in its mythology. On the one hand, these vampire killers have a fair few people patting them on the back for their success, but on the other they seem to run into different kinds of religious people shocked at the very idea of killing a vampire. If vampires are causing a breakdown in society then why are some people shocked at the idea of killing them and how come some communities are able to survive while accepting these bloodsuckers?
Not only does there appear to be a religious community terrorising a large area who think that the vampires are enacting the will of God, but they don't seem to suffer in any way from failing to protect themselves from the vampires. They even, at one point, manage to load up vampires onto a helicopter and throw them down onto a community of innocent people. Now even if I imagine that their hypocrisy allows them to defend themselves from vampires that they believe they are kept safe from by faith, there are still some major logistical problems with loading vampires onto helicopters and then dropping them onto an area. Not only do you need to successfully capture the vampires, you also need to drop them in some other form than being tied up and unable to move their arms and legs. What's more, untying them on the helicopter would be risky as hell.
Anyway, as the film progresses, the number of travellers we are following increases. It becomes increasingly obvious how awful the characterisation is in this movie. While the only consistent characters were the boy and his (essentially) adopted father, we didn't need character development. Watching them together without speaking much WAS character development for those two. Unfortunately once we get newcomers, they needed some actual dialogue so we could get to know them and we simply didn't get enough. And, of course, the less the characters are built up, the less drama there is when they are later put at risk. I found it especially problematic in one scene where the characters are running in the dark and I couldn't tell which of the female companions was which.
I always say that the ending of a movie matters and so perhaps the biggest failing of "Stake Land" is when the super-intelligent vampire appears at the end. To try somewhat to avoid spoiling the ending, but to give some idea why this newcomer might be a problem: Most of the movie involved us running into a certain evil preacher who seems to see no problem with his flock raping any woman they come across and who thinks that the vampires are agents of God's wrath, considering that our protagonists are constantly on the move and attempting to get as far north as possible, it's rather odd that this preacher keeps up with them. Anyway, considering his level of success heck I'm half-inclined to join his religion. The only explanation I have for things like their success in collecting and unleashing vampires from helicopters is that their sick and twisted faith genuinely succeeds in keeping them safe from vampires and that my best chance of surviving this fictional apocalypse is to join them.
Actually the real ending is even later than that. We seem to be left with triumphant "we're all going to get through this" background music, even though my prediction at this stage is that our remaining travellers are totally doomed. That'd be a fair comment about the end of "The Road" too, I suppose, but "The Road" was so much more successful in pulling us in and making us take it all seriously. "Stake Land" wants us to accept its more silly elements and yet take its miserable apocalyptic storyline seriously too. That's too much to ask.
The first movie from the Sperig Brothers prior to their excellent vampire movie "Daybreakers". I must say, I absolutely loved Daybreakers. Certainly the premise is ludicrous, but it is set up so well that I found myself buying into it completely. The ideas tied up into a realistic vision of a future overtaken by vampires and an intriguing parody of our current situation where oil reserves are running dry. By the end, any third-act problems seemed unimportant when we considered the treat that had preceded it (and it even stood up on a second watch when it was released on DVD).
Prior to Daybreakers, which in spite of its odd setting manages to make itself appear pretty serious, Undead is a horror comedy about zombies... and aliens.The biggest problem with this film is that the emphasis is definitely more on the comedy than the horror and not all the comedy really works. A lot of the comedic characters are rather more irritating than funny.
That being said, there was a lot that was entertaining here. There are definitely elements that made me laugh. Also, while certain aspects started to confuse me it all tied up really well at the end. (If you find yourself worrying about the lack of visible zombies at one point, stop worrying. It's not because they are holding back on the budget. Everything will be explained by the end!)
While everything seems clear cut and dull to start with, the plot actually gets rather more confusing and at least some of the characters become a little more ambiguous. Considering the low ratings this film has received I was really surprised by how enjoyable and how clever this was.
Also, while the effects are clearly low budget, they are used to what I'd consider pretty decent effect, particularly when things get crazy towards the end.
I don't think this is one of the better horror comedies I've seen. The humour isn't terribly consistent (though admittedly this entry's title comes from this movie) and the horror is rather lacking. Some of the zombie fighting is pretty cool, mind you. However, this is a solid intelligent zombie movie and well worth a watch. Check it out.
Twilight Eclipse (2010)
Well after the last three movies reviewed, surely this film must have the lowest rating of the lot, right? I mean it's Twilight after all. I must say that after rewatching "30 Days Of Night" with friends earlier this year and unintentionally sinking into an evening of unrelenting snark, I wasn't convinced that David Slade was really likely to be the saviour of Twilight that he was being touted as. He certainly wasn't going to be able to introduce his super-evil vampires into the Twilight universe and his portrayal of human relationships in "30 Days of Night" was cheesy at best.
Actually it turns out that "Twilight Eclipse" (and I find it hard to believe I'm saying this considering my earlier expectations for these two movies) is better than "Captain America". (My recent review for "Captain America" is here.) If there's anything that ensures that there is no doubt whatsoever on this question it's that Twilight Eclipse actually has better fight scenes than Captain America.
The first criticism I must point out is important. The film is too damn long. This is important because the biggest thing holding this movie back is the Twilight fans. It is pretty certain that without the mushy fighting over Bella by Edward Cullen (the stalking vampire) and Jacob (the teenage "nice guy" werewolf) Twihards would not be happy.
As such, there are quite a lot of scenes which go on far too long where Edward or Jacob are expressing their thoughts on their relationship (or not) with Bella. The problem for non-Twihards like myself is that both Edward and Jacob come off as complete arseholes. I have to give the film credit for being willing to make such character traits explicit. While the characters are being manipulative and involved in far too much male bravado, the film does at least acknowledge this. The problem is that any of these sections focussing on Bella's relationship are excruciating.
As is the case with every twilight movie, Billy Burke is great. I really want to see him in something else because he clearly has a lot of talent. (Still, the only thing entirely unrelated to Twilight that he seems to have been in recently is the Nic Cage movie "Drive Angry".) Anna Kendrick, who I thought was one of the better actors in the last movie, is also reasonably good here. (Here godawful graduation speech at least fits in with the plot.) Still, her character Jessica is still an awful friend for Bella.
Perhaps most incredibly, the Cullen family who usually come off as banal, are actually really well characterised in this film. What's more we get some backstory for each of them, showing us a time when they were savage monsters/serious badasses before they became the sweet... um... vegetarians (that word does not mean what you think it means) they are today. Turns out one of the Cullens used to be in the confederate army before continuing his military work with a newly formed vampire army. One of Edward Cullen's "sisters" on the other hand, began her time as a vampire essentially reenacing the plot of "I Spit On Your Grave".
And the "father" in the Cullen family has sorted his hair out! He no longer looks like Data from Star Trek. I think someone in the make-up department worked out how to be a bit more subtle with the shiny hair gel.
In fact, everything in this film seems to look better, including the animation for the wolves. What's more, the whole mythology of the native Indian werewolves seems to be better expressed here. And thankfully the werewolves don't come across like charicatures like they did in "New Moon". The way they react to each other by sniffing each other is quite well presented and is a far cry from the almost West Side Story style snarling that the vampires did in the first Twilight movie.
Let's add a little more context here. I'm most of the way through the film and I haven't really talked about the plot. ("There's a plot?" I hear you ask.) The opening to "Eclipse" involves someone walking through the streets at night. Based on the previous movies my response was to think "I would normally presume that he's going to get hunted and killed savagely by a vampire right now, except this is a Twilight movie."
... then he gets hunted and savagely and bloodily murdered by a vampire.
That was a good start.
As the movie progresses, instead of being littered with ridiculous lines like "hold on spider monkey" or featuring absurd aspects like Bella becoming an adrenaline junkie with a death wish, we just get excruciating dialogue holding up the next awesome fight scene involving vampires having their heads ripped off.
The bad guys come off a lot more menacing than we have ever seen in previous films. A new actress has been chosen to play the redhead vampire Victoria who is out for revenge. She decides that the best way to succeed is by amassing an army of newborn vampires who are apparently much stronger than older vampires (so the opposite of more typical vampire mythology once again...).
My wish that Dakota Fanning would come off as a ruthless badass in this film came true. Still I don't know how she can possibly appear in any more Twilight films because it's going to become extremely obvious that she's growing older. Surely they'll have to get some other extremely talented young actress to play the role instead in the future? In Eclipse she now has the power to pull people around with her mind, rather like Darth Vader's choke hold power. All while staring straight ahead, entirely unemotional. Awesome.
I was expecting to have fun snarking this, but actually it's the hardest one to snark. The good bits are actually really good this time and while the bad bits are excruciating, they are just dreadful lines regarding Bella's love triangle, not daft events like we found in the previous movies.
The only really stupid event in Eclipse is when Bella, after nearly dying from the cold in the tent where she's hiding, goes out the next morning on the mountainside, in the snow, without a coat. What the hell? At night the cold is killing you, but by the morning you'll be fine in just a shirt? Are you kidding me? Still, there's been a lot more stupid stuff in the last few movies. This one aspect pales by comparison.
Eclipse would be a really good film if you cut out the love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob. What's more if you cut out all that stuff, the film length might be a lot more reasonable. Still, some of the good bits in Eclipse are absolutely brilliant. There's better fight scenes than you might expect from other trashy action movies and a lot to really like imbetween the crummy love triangle dialogue. Sure there's potential for a better film here, but the bad parts were pretty integral to the film.
(x-posted to candycorncomm)
Director Showcase: Joe Dante
Okay, it's taken a while, but what follows are reviews for every single movie Joe Dante has ever made. This is also available as three separate posts at candycorncomm.
The earliest Joe Dante film I know of is a Roger Corman produced feature; the original version of Piranha. There was a sequel from James Cameron (which he abandoned before it was finished) featuring piranhas that can fly which, perhaps most bizarrely of all, they decided to play straight. There's since been a third sequel in 3D which has somewhat mixed reviews.
It seems to me that Pirahna pretty much set up the style of Joe Dante movies for his whole career, not in the sense of being low budget and daft (well, possibly daft), but in the sense of it being a light-hearted combination of horror and comedy.
There were quite a few points where, just as I thought I was going to be groaning with despair, the film would surprise me. For example there's a scene where a male character casually tells a female character to distract the guard with her feminine wiles. *eyeroll* Thankfully she questions it... just not in the way you'd expect. "But what if he's gay?" she asks. "Then I'll distract him," replies her male friend. Sure, the guard doesn't turn out to be gay, but that doesn't stop our female character amusingly bringing it into the conversation. "Um... are you gay?" "What?!!" Okay, so not a terribly subtle script, but very amusing all the same.
It's great to see an appearance from Kevin McCarthy, star of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He seems to appear in a number of different Joe Dante movies and he's had a very long and entertaining career. Asides from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" I think I've only ever seen him do comedy roles (perhaps the biggest of which being the villain in "UHF" the Weird Al Yankovich movie). Here he turns up as a scientist left to handle the threat of the piranhas when the project was discontinued.
Another old star to appear here is Barbara Steele, who was previously seen in Roger Corman's classic "The Pit and the Pendulum". I wouldn't say she gives an outstanding performance, but there's something cool about seeing her return and she's certainly a welcome addition to the cast. Dick Miller is another actor from older Roger Corman movies, appearing in a brief section at the beginning of "The Terror" (which, to my mind, was more impressive than the rest of the film), playing a fairly important role in the original "Little Shop of Horrors" and also appearing in "Bucket of Blood" (which I think I might put on my "to watch" list). Dick Miller has, to my knowledge, appeared in every single film Joe Dante has ever done. He's excellent here is an entrepreneur who is, unsurprisingly, sceptical about warnings of a shoal of hungry piranhas making their way towards his newly opened resort.
The piranha deaths are sometimes pretty inventive, if not always bound by logic. How long someone survives the ravages of the piranhas varies dramatically. If one person in an inflatable dinghy can recognise that they are being bitten and move to safety, you'd have thought that someone simply dangling their legs into the water could have moved away before their legs were eaten to the bone.
The pacing isn't always great. Often we are simply waiting for the inevitable piranha attack and the protagonists have no real plan of action. The plot is pretty simple, but often it feels like a case of one thing happening after another. It's a bit directionless. The film is very spoofy and not always in a good way. While there are some endearing characters and some inventive parts where the movie avoids or subverts the typical cliches, there are also some rather more awkward parts where events just happen.
Overall, this film is good fun and well worth a watch. I just wouldn't consider it a classic. It's a good solid movie.
B (Solidly good movie)
The Howling (1981)
I have already written a review for "The Howling". It was originally posted here. I've re-posted the review below:
Any list of the very best werewolf movies seemed to provide only a very few choices. The obvious choice is, of course, "An American Werewolf In London" which comes up just as inevitably as "It's A Wonderful Life" appearing in a list of Christmas movies. Another choice quite often picked out is the excellent "Ginger Snaps" and others will pick out "Dog Soldiers" (which I personally was underwhelmed by, but nevertheless seems to have a cult following). However, another title which often gets suggested in such lists is "The Howling" from Joe Dante (director of Gremlins).
While it had its moments it also had its flaws. The characters felt poorly defined and there were an awful lot of them. The movie is not, from what I could see, intended as comedy. It would perhaps have been better if it were (after all comedy didn't harm American Werewolf or Ginger Snaps), since the over seriousness meant that I found myself feeling all the more cynical. Most of the characters seem very weird and while their various idiosyncracies do get explained later, it doesn't feel like the most satisfying explanation. Meanwhile, Dick Miller (who appears in most, if not all, Joe Dante movies) manages to completely steal the few scenes he's given. The female lead screeches a lot, though often with good reason, but by the time we reach the latter scenes the amount of screeching seems to be unnecessary.
The first werewolf changing scene in the movie looked a bit naff, but it turned out that they were saving their big guns til later. That said, when watching the final werewolf change I was going "wtf", while my gf was saying "that's what turning into a werewolf looks like if you have bad eighties hair".
So yeah, the down sides are: a whole array of similarly unengaging characters, acting which often feels a little off or a lot over the top, poor pacing and a general failure to pull me in. On the positive side, some of the performances are actually pretty good (including the female lead, in spite of the aforementioned screeching) and the werewolf changing effects are pretty cool (which is, let's face it, what we are really there for). All in all though, I'm going to have to rate this one as average.
C- (Bog-standard, Average)
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) (Joe Dante responsible for segment 3)
Four classic directors, John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller team up to do a combination of short pieces to celebrate and renew interest in "The Twilight Zone".
So we have John "Blues Brothers/American Werewolf" Landis and everyone-knows-Steve as the well-known names. Meanwhile Joe Dante (having so far only released Piranha and The Howling) and George Miller of Mad Max fame, are the relative newcomers.
John Landis does an okay job. He's responsible for the long-winded intro which, admittedly, ends quite well. He also does the first story about a bigot who finds himself in the shoes of those he wished to ridicule. It's all a bit daft, but its quite effective. Having an anti-semite running away from Nazis is all great fun.
Sadly, having now got things going, this is followed up by Spielberg's piece which really takes the wind out of the sails. Now admittedly Twilight Zone had all sorts of weird stories, but Spielberg's weird story is pathos-ridden garbage. Old people who are upset with what their lives have become in their old people's home find inspiration from a mysterious black man with magical powers. He's the only black man amongst them, so clearly he's going to be magical. *facepalm* The whole segment was overly sentimental and generally pretty dull.
Thank goodness for Dick Miller. His appearance made instantly clear that this was Joe Dante's segment and he has such wonderful onscreen charm that he really helped me get back into the right frame of mind. Without giving too much away, the theme of this segment is mixing horror with cartoons. A mysterious boy introduces a teacher he meets to his bizarre family who seem to be afraid of him. It's not sure what's going on, but cartoons seem involved somehow and the words "anything can happen in a cartoon" are strangely haunting. Some wonderful use of effects by Rob Bottin (effects guy for The Thing) as you'd expect.
The final segment is by George Miller. John Lithgow plays a man who is afraid of flying. Just as he's finally calming himself down, he sees something on the wing of the plane... some kind of monster. John Lithgow's wonderful comic timing and expert delivery just makes this work so well. You can se all the emotions rush across his face as he nervously wonders whether he is suffering from paranoid delusions or if he is actually the only person who recognises the threat. This last segment is simple but very very effective.
Overall the film is mainly let down by a single quarter and, to be quite frank, Steven Spielberg should be ashamed of his contribution. One quarter of a movie is quite a sizeable chunk and I don't really feel I can afford to ignore that. However, even with that notable issue the strength of the other three offerings makes this a good solid movie overall in spite of it.
This is one I saw growing up and it's one of my all-time favourites. Having first seen and loved this at the age of about 8 years old, I consider it very much a children's movie, but the age-certificate in the UK is 15 and with good reason. The Gremlins having eaten after midnight (come on, everyone KNOWS that's going to happen, right?) are blooming scary. Still, there's a great sense of fun and the Gremlins are quite cartoon-like (with "tweeting bird" noises when they are hit on the head, for example). I've written more about this in my post on the top 15 horror comedies. It's a childhood favourite and I still consider it one of my personal favourite films of all time.
This is one I hadn't seen before, though oddly I kept seeing a picture book for children telling the story along with photos from the movie all over the place. I found it very odd that one of characters was called Wolfgang, so it was a relief to find that the oddness of this name is rightly pointed out from the moment it arises. (Rather more urgently, we need someone in a movie to criticise the name "Zac". Seriously, what's up with that?)
Explorers features Ethan Hawke as a child actor. He plays a child who is obsessed with old sci-fi movies (so this represents you then, right Joe?) who sees the schematics for some ultra-advanced technology appear in his dreams. He tells his friend Wolfgang about what he saw. Wolfgang is a child prodigy and the son of some eccentric German scientist immigrants. Another child joins the gang when they run away from some bullies at school. Together they discover that they can use this new technology to make a floating craft, but the information had to come from somewhere....
The bits where the children are learning how to use the technology is great. First they just have a dot of energy which they can throw around the place and which frightens the cat. They learn what else they can do with this energy and experiment with it and this is all great fun. However, it's all leading to the point where they discover where the original dream came from and sadly, even with Rob Bottin (The Thing, Total Recall) doing the effects, the ending just cannot live up to the build-up. The take on... um... *mild spoiler*.... aliens .... *end of mild spoiler* in this movie is admittedly quite clever and fairly new. However, I simply didn't consider it a satisfying ending. And endings matter. A lot.
Overall this was pretty good fun, but in spite of some clever ideas and some endearing characters, it's all let down by the ending. It's also a little cheesy and that was something I was willing to forgive because I thought there would be a decent pay-off at the end. Without a decent payoff, this had a lot of saldy missed potential.
C+ (A few elements holding it back from being a solidly good movie)
Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) (Joe Dante responsible for segments: "Hairlooming", "Bullshit or Not", "Critic's Corner", "Roast Your Loved One, " "French Ventiloquist's Dummy" [TV cut only] and "Reckless Youth")
This starts off very well with John Landis' wonderful slapstick sketch. There's a particularly wonderful sketch about dating. However, the movie as a whole is a bit of a mixed bag. Joe Dante's contributions aren't really the best. "Bullshit or Not", a "mystery" programme looking into the possible identity of Jack The Ripper, is great, but "Roast Your Loved One", where a set of comedians are employed make jokes about the deceased at a funeral, seemed to fall pretty flat.
Sadly some of the weakest parts of "Amazon Women On The Moon" were those elements repeated most often. Perhaps nothing is quite so pointless as the central science fiction story, but to be fair that's the point. The sketches are supposed to be an interruption to the "main feature".
At the end, Joe Dante suddenly ambushes us with perhaps one of his best contributions. An old 50s announcement where Carrie Fischer is used as an example of a woman suffering from a "social disease". When we are led down into a dingy basement with a flaming torch to see other examples of what a "social disease" can do to you, it's clear that Joe Dante is right in his element.
On the DVD it seems that Joe Dante had a great sketch with Dick Miller oddly missing from the final cut. Dick Miller plays a ventriloquist who finds his dummy has been accidentally mixed up with a french dummy that doesn't know the lines.
There's also a cut scene from the "roast your loved one" sketch where Robert Picardo sets up the premise. To be honest, I think that context might have made the comedy work a lot better.
While overall "Amazon Women On The Moon" features more hits than misses, there are rather more misses than I'd have liked. This is a good fun movie and even better if you get a DVD with Joe Dante's deleted ventriloquism scene. It's a good fun watch, but sadly the whole is not as great as the sum of its parts.
I haven't reviewed this one at all before, but its another childhood favourite. It's very good, though not as good as the Gremlins movies and it's rather cheesy. The cheesiness is partly to do with the strange premise but also because it's not dated terribly well. As per usual the bits that date worst are bits with computers. Outrageous technology like a shrink ray or facial alteration are easy enough to accept, but the bizarre password-cracking scene? I wasn't impressed by that.
The basic gist is that Dennis Quaid has chosen to be a test subject for a shrink ray. He's in a machine which will allow him to swim around inside a rabbit's body. Unfortunately terrorists decide they want a piece of the action and so a dying scientist with a syringe containing Dennis Quaid in his now-tiny high-tech submarine injects Martin Short with it. Martin Short is prone to extreme anxiety and seems like entirely the wrong person to get caught up in a scheme to escape from terrorists with the latest in military technology. Hi-jinks ensue...
Someone was recently asking what good movies Meg Ryan had starred in and this probably a pretty good choice. Meg Ryan certainly knows how to play a more interesting love interest, but the romance aspect of the film still felt a bit cheesy to a cynic like me. Overall this is a really good fun movie, but I don't think it's perfect by any means. Still, it's a must-see for any true sci-fi fan.
Oooh and Kevin McCarthy is in this one too!
B+ (Very good. Not quite excellent.)
The 'Burbs (1989)
This is one that passed me by, though when I was younger (presumably after seeing it at the cinema) an elder peer of mine was raving about it. I would definitely have been too young to see it in the cinema though, as with many Joe Dante movies, I think it would have suited a child just fine. That said, in this film the protagonists are proper adults who are childish rather than early twenties young adults like Billy Peltzer in the Gremlins movies. As with Explorers, this is a film that I hadn't ever seen until now.
The premise is that a new family recently moved into the neighbourhood and everyone's a bit unsure how to react. They know that the new neighbours have an unusual surname, but also their lawn is pretty much dead, their house is dilapidated and there's a crooked dead tree outside the house. In spite of all this no one has heard from these neighbours and they seem happy to remain indoors and only seem to come out at night. Essentially it's like if the Addams Family moved into the neighbourhood and Gomez and Morticia never felt the need to say hello.
In some ways "The 'Burbs" is probably closer to the spirit of the old Addams Family tv series than the, admittedly excellent, movie was. The whole idea of "The Addams Family" was that, while the family were creepy and bizarre in the extreme, the joke was always on visitors. While we laughed at Gomez using two different clocks to tell the time or the helpful hand in a box known as "Thing" we were always on the side of the Addams when visitors came around and were freaked out by them. The Addams Family didn't shy away from playing up to stereotypes either: Gomez is known, on occasion, to claim that he voted for political figures twice and the idea that the Addams are hoarding large sums of money was not a new invention for the movie. In the TV series, the Addams even have prejudices of their own, with Morticia exclaiming "it's so unbecoming" when Grandmama Addams masquerades as a gypsy. The point is that the Addams family were always depicted as flawed yet loveable in spite of their ultra-peculiar "foreign ways". The Burbs shares in this because, while we are constantly thinking there must be an explanation for the bizarre ways of these new neighbours it becomes increasingly hard to explain their behaviour. Unlike in the Addams Family, however, we are not in the know. We only see a surburban house that somehow looks like the equivalent of Castle Dracula.
Tom Hanks stars as the actual next door neighbour who is unsure how to react. His friend Art (played by Rick Ducommun - who many will know as the more talkative drunk from Groundhog Day) insists on increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories which another neighbour with a military background (played by Bruce Dern) is far more easily taken in by. Together they find themselves snooping on the elusive neighbours and pushing each other into greater and greater levels of paranoia. But at the same time, it's not like there's no cause for suspicion either...
Meanwhile another character who must not be forgotten, Ricky (played by Corey Feldman, Billy's friend in Gremlins), views the childish behaviour of his spying neighbours as entertainment. He starts off by encouraging his girlfriend to watch the carnage with him and ends up inviting even more people to watch the inevitable carnage.
Being typical Joe Dante, this movie once again contains short clips from other movies. Tom Hanks, trying to watch tv to take his mind off his friends' mad theories finds "Race With The Devil" is showing on television. When he tries to change channel he is faced with "The Exorcist" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" on the other channels.
"The 'Burbs" is an excellent comedy that has stood the test of time well. Not a horror comedy, but riffing off of plenty of horror movie ideas. The similar movies Imdb recommends are "Fright Night" and "The Lost Boys" (then oddly the 80s version of "The Cat People" and Christopher Smith's "Severance"). I can definitely see why there'd be a connection with Fright Night: New neighbours. Somewhat creepy. Are they suspicious? Let's go investigate! Except this time the audience isn't going "of course they're vampires! Why won't anyone listen?" :P
I cannot deny it, I was in hysterics during this film. While I'm sure few will agree, I'd say that this is the sort of film Tim Burton thinks he's making, but never actually achieves. It's that same combination of a gothic style along with comedy, only without Burton's overblown sentimentality. The Burbs isn't a particularly deep movie, but it is a hell of a lot of fun. The humour is brilliantly paced so that by the time we actually get to go inside the Klopecks' house our interest is piqued. But part of the fun is that we don't know whether they'll be just as creepy on the inside of the house or whether they'll just be ordinary people. I'll leave that for you to find out.
Gremlins 2 (1990)
So everyone's seen this, right?
Okay, well this was pretty much the perfect follow-up to Gremlins that could ever be brought out by someone who didn't intend on this becoming a big long franchise.
We have a change of setting to a massive high-tech corporation building. Why that location? Well for one thing it means that you can have pretty much anything so long as you could envisage your meglomaniac entrepreneur ever thinking it was a good idea. So we have tv studios, health food bars, talking elevators, self-emptying ashtrays, a voice-activated reminder to wash your hands in the toilets and even a calm trailer-guy style fire alarm announcing: "Fire! The untamed element! Giver of warmth! Destroyer of forests! Right now, this building is on fire! Leave the building! Reenact the age-old drama of self-preservation!"
Billy Peltzer now works in the art department. And Christopher Lee is head of the genetics engineering department....
The corporate nature of the whole building means that we can have a lego Gremlin, a film critic being attacked for giving a bad review to the first movie and we even have a point in the middle where all logic is ignored and the Gremlins take possession of the cinema itself. Hulk Hogan makes a celebrity appearance to force them to put the movie back on. Joe Dante takes all the cheesy corporate franchise stuff and makes fun of it. Everything is taken to the furthest extreme so that a third movie could never happen.
However, that's not to say that there isn't a coherent storyline. There are well-formed characters and a clear plot moving from A to B. It's just that there's absolutely no limit to the madness that can happen in between. If you enjoy the first Gremlins film, you cannot afford to miss this.
Eerie Indiana (1991-1992)
Why the hell was there only one series of this? Such a great way to finish the series of Joe Dante's work since this has everything that is great about his work. Created in between Gremlins 2 and Matinee it feels like this was Joe Dante's golden era. I actually had seen the first episode about a family who keep themselves preserved in tuppleware before.
The leading role of Marshall is played by Omri Katz, who would go on to take the lead role in Matinee. However, real credit needs to be given to Justin Shenkarow who does a great job as his partner in crime, Simon. I was convinced that I'd seen Jason Marsden, who plays the mysterious Slash X towards the end of the series, in something before, but he actually mainly does voice work for cartoons and videogames (and appears to doing pretty well with that too).
Eerie Indiana is a comedy about a place that is supposed to be the most ordinary boring place in the world, yet Marshall and Simon discover it is actually the weirdest place on the planet. Bigfoot, Elvis and telepathic dogs are all fairly typical features. Each episode riffs on a new horror theme and sometimes references to classic horror movies are just randomly inserted into an episode. The whole thing feels like a cross between the randomness of Twilight Zone and the "kids solving stuff that adults miss" formula from Buffy. Essentially it's a pretty similar format to the first Buffy series (only Eerie Indiana came out more than 5 years earlier) and for absolutely no good reason, there's no second series of Eerie, so we have no idea if it would have progressed in a similarly successful way.
The series has way more hits than misses, it regularly had me laughing out loud and even though Dante only directed 5 episodes out of 19, it feels like he had his stamp on the entire project. (Heck, he even has an acting role in one of the episodes directed by someone else.)
If you love Joe Dante's work like I do, you really need to check this out.
It's a fairly dull title, so I wasn't sure what to think. However, out of all of Joe Dante's movie this is easily the highest rated on Rotten Tomatoes with 92% (a great deal higher than my personal favourite "Gremlins" slumming at a mere 79%). However, I quickly became excited when I heard that this was referring to the old monster movie matinees that cinemas used to run. The quote which titles this post is from the movie-within-a-movie in Matinee and with that much revealed I think I'll leave the actual title a surprise.
There are mixed opinions on John Goodman, but personally I think he's brilliant and certainly capable of great things when he's given the right role. This was definitely the right role. The first time we see him he's announcing the arrival of his new monster movie about (as the quote above says) "human/insect mutation". He promises that the movie will involve various gimmicks including the actual cinema shaking. It turns out that many of the gimmicks he uses are based on those employed by a real life horror director called Bill Castle.
Who better to direct a movie about monster movies than Joe Dante? Particularly an homage to a classic cheesy horror movie director. But there's more behind "Matinee" than this. The arrival of this new "revolutionary" monster movie spectacle coincides with the threat of nuclear war. Early on in the film we have a conflict whereby our protagonist is keen to tease his younger brother about the threat of radioactive monsters, but is very concerned that his brother should not allow himself to be frightened by the possibility of a nuclear explosion. John Goodman at one point appears to refer to the nuclear threat as "the competition" when it comes to scaring the audience.
There are various characters whose lives become intertwined around the showing of the increasingly legendary upcoming monster matinee. I won't go into details on all of them, but I will say that I was quite impressed by Kellie Martin who comes off remarkably similar to Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her character is, suitably, rather like Buffy is supposed to be before she discovers her vampire-killing responsibilities.
Dick Miller is in all of the movies mentioned above, but I thought it was a particularly cool cameo in this particular movie. He appears handing out leaflets and warning everyone about how the new monster movie will corrupt their youth. Another actor who appears in quite a few other Joe Dante movies is Robert Picardo. He has quite a big role as a heartless manager in Gremlins 2 and he's also pretty well known for his role in Star Trek: Voyager (which I'm unfamiliar with, but I recognised the image of him in the uniform all the same). In "Matinee", Picardo plays the cinema owner who is rather more worried by the threat of nuclear war than with John Goodman's b-movie. I have to say, during the film I was convinced the part was being played by Jeffrey Combs (of Re-Animator fame).
Oooh and also, blink-and-you'll-miss-it, one of the films-within-a-film contains none other than... Naomi Watts.
Yes, it's really her. No, I couldn't believe it either...
Anyway, while Gremlins still holds a cherished place in my heart, I have to give this film full credit. It was very funny, emotionally moving and it felt like the tribute to old horror and sci-fi movies that Joe Dante always seems to be trying to make. No matter what else, it's clear that Joe Dante personally needed to make this movie. I think you can feel his passion behind this and the end result is a lot of fun. If you see one Joe Dante movie without "Gremlins" in the title, it probably ought to be this one.
Small Soldiers (1998)
This came out around the same time as Toy Story and I'm still not entirely sure which of the two I liked better. (I'm inclined to say that Toy Story 2 was a step up in that franchise.)
The story is that a military technology company buys out a toy company and a military microchip is used in some toys. The toys featured are toy soldiers (voiced by the Dirty Dozen) on the one hand and strange alien creatures called Gorgonites on the other (voiced by the members of Spinal Tap).
Gregory Smith and Kirsten Dunst are distinctly "okay" as the child actors who we follow around in this story. Is it problematic that the fake toy characters feel more real than the central characters?
There's a few issues with the pacing, but asides from that this movie is really good fun. Any of the effects work is good fun and inventive, but sadly the way things progress doesn't always feel as smooth as it ought to, so I didn't feel that I was always as caught up in the action as I'd like to be.
It seems that Small Soldiers was a lot quicker than the Toy Story franchise in bringing in barbie, but with Joe Dante controlling the action, their inclusion is rather nightmarish. (That possibly explains why they are called "Gwendy" dolls in the movie.) The (evil) Barbie dolls are voiced by Christina Ricci and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
By far the coolest character in the movie is the leader of the Gorgonites (the only non-"Spinal Tap" Gorgonite) played by Frank Langella (i.e. Skeletor, Nixon and Dracula- oh yeah!). Langella brings is closest to him calm Dracula voice here (and since it's not his face, it isn't accompanied by the 'is it charming or is it creepy?' smile).
That said Tommy Lee Jones is quite distinctive as the leader of the toy soldiers. (The other non-"Dirty Dozen" toy soldier is played by Bruce Dern.) There's something about Tommy Lee Jones ordering troops around in a military voice that is really effective.
I'm not sure what Denis Leary's reputation as an actor is like. (My parents seem to be fans of the TV series "Rescue Me" which I believe he plays a pretty big part in.) My experience is that he's very good at playing arseholes. Whether it's the all-powerful crime lord in "Judgment Night" or this unscrupulous military technology businessman in "Small Soldiers" he has no trouble convincing me that he's completely amoral and thoroughly unpleasant. Leary doesn't have a big part in "Small Soldiers" but I thought he did a great job while on screen.
The use of the Spice Girls song "Wannabe" for military purposes felt out of place back when I first saw this. All this time later it feels even more out of place since many new viewers may not get the reference.
Overall this was good solid fun, but the effects rather outshone the live-action cast. As a result, threats to animated characters would often be more emotionally stirring than threats to live-action characters. With most threats being aimed at live-action characters, this didn't work out well. Still, the live-action characters aren't too bad and the film is good fun, even if it didn't pull me in as much as I'd have liked.
Looney Tunes: Back In Action (2003)
Okaaaaay. Bit of a mixed bag this one.
I was prepared to be reasonably hopeful about this one for several reasons. 1) It contains Daleks. 2) It contains Kevin McCarthy (from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, UHF and Joe Dante's section of the Twilight Zone movie). 3) Um... Joe Dante is the director.
Yeah, I was pretty much hoping on a wing and a prayer, but to be honest there were odd little bits in this film that were just brilliant.
Best bit in the entire movie (and I have admittedly posted this already - yes, that's how long ago I saw this film) is Bugs Bunny's reenactment of Psycho:
So is that everything worth seeing in the film then? Well... not quite. There's a number of very good scenes. But first of all I feel that I ought to explain what definitely ISN'T any good in this film.
1) Brendan Fraser....
*gasp* "But he's really funny in other stuff!" ... Um.... that's what everyone was thinking, right? Heck, I was. I thought he was really good in "The Mummy Returns" (Just me? Okay....), I thought he was pretty funny in "Bedazzled" (especially after that one wish where he can suddenly speak Spanish) and I don't think anyone can deny that he made some of the funniest guest appearances on Scrubs.
But in this Looney Tunes movie? I'm afraid I didn't find him funny at all. He occasionally had a funny line and I'd listen to it and only notice that it was a funny line after the pause for laughter had passed me by. He just seemed to have no comic timing.
The problem wasn't even the script. Bugs and Daffy's banter with one another would often be pretty funny, but Brendan? *shrugs*
2) Third act problems. Yeah, movies often have that, but I have to say that in the last act I vaguely remember a runaway train and a bomb and all sorts, but I have absolutely no idea what actually happened. That is really NOT good.
3) Steve Martin. All previous problems pale by comparison to this one. If there was one person who sucked all the humour out of the movie it was Steve Martin. Basically times my issues with Brendan Fraser in this movie by about one million. He not only failed to show any ability in terms of comic timing, but actively lowered the mood of the whole film. I am actually prepared to go out on a limb and say that this film might be worth recommending if it weren't for Steve Martin's presence in it.
So, with the negatives out of the way, let's talk about what is good in this film.
1) Timothy Dalton. He has some rather naff stuff to do in the final act of the film, but when he first appears leaving a video message for his son (played by Brendan Fraser. Yeah, moving on.... ) while simultaneously fighting bad guys and hurling grenades, he's just awesome.
2) The whole scene in Area 52. Turns out Kevin McCarthy is only doing a cameo, but it's great all the same. Meanwhile the head of the Area 52 operation is led by Joan Cusack (who is brilliant). When the monsters escape naturally, what with Joe Dante being a classic horror movie geek, one of them comes from "This Island Earth". (Not only did they redo the Metaluna Mutant brilliantly, but one of the guys involved has a deviantart account.)
3) Obviously with Kevin McCarthy, Joan Cusack and some rather awesome monster effects all compounded into one point, I'm struggling a little to top that with this third point. However, I think it needs to be noted that the banter from Bugs and Daffy in the movie is actually really good. Admittedly you are talking to the guy who finds the new Giant Robot Love song absolutely hilarious, but the point is that a movie centred around Bugs and Daffy needs to make the most of its central characters and I think, to be absolutely fair, this movie does.
Sadly, I have to finish by admitting that this film sucks. I'm still putting MOST of the blame on Steve Martin, but he can't be blamed for all of the problems. Not all of the slapstick running around works. There's a random music number that falls rather flat and the whole thing is a bit lacking wind in its sails. Still, as I said, there are several bits that are quite inspired. Once you've seen the Psycho reenacment above and the Area 52 scene you've pretty much seen the best the film has to offer. Even if you count the odd little good bits elsewhere in the film, we're talking about a 90 minute movie with no plot of which two thirds is basically filler between jokes. That's really not very good.
Though interestingly the deleted scenes show that this was clearly a pretty compromised work. Just check out how Joe Dante originally wanted the movie to begin!
Masters of Horror: Homecoming (2005)
Now this was pretty fun. Joe Dante is quite keen on combining horror and comedy, but that's not really what he did here. By his own admission, the horror only really comes from the concept: zombies. (We all love zombies, right?) I'm not going to give away what the zombies do, but it seems that Joe Dante was pissed off by George Dubyah Bush's presidency as much as the rest of us. Robert Picardo gets to be Karl Rove and Thea Gill gets to be absolutely incredible as Anne Coulter.
Admittedly none of the characters are known as the figures they are blatantly playing within the short film, but they don't need to be. If there's one thing you don't have to worry about here, it's subtlety. The message is fairly straightforward and there's no risk of a reference to Fox News or Guantanemo Bay passing you by. However, it's all a pretty clever idea and while the amount of time that's passed might take the impact away a little bit, the whole concept is quite amusing. I actually wish there'd been even more Thea Gill though. Her whole performance is absolutely brilliant. (IMDB reckons that one of the four things she's most well-known for is starring in a Uwe Boll movie. Someone seriously needs to correct this and fast.)
The ending of this is a bit cheesy, but then again so is the whole thing. It's cheesy satire from start to finish, but it's funny and original and, what can I say? I loved it.
Trapped Ashes (2006)
To be absolutely fair to Joe Dante, this is five stories directed by five different people i.e. not him. All he is responsible for is the join in between and those joining bits are great. It's all the same actors, but somehow they seem to be much more entertaining when Joe Dante is directing. No surprise there... However, what holds together Joe Dante's connecting scenes is an excellent performance from Henry Gibson, one of Joe Dante's regular actors (like Dick Miller and Robert Picardo).
Of the individual stories in Trapped Ashes the best has to be the killer breasts storyline, directed by the recently deceased Ken Russell. It's really great fun and to be honest it's the only reason to watch Trapped Ashes. (Joe Dante's section isn't allowed to get very exciting in case it detracts from the main action. Even though it's actually more interesting than the short films even without much in the way of effects work.) I'm ashamed to say that of Ken Russell's work I've only really seen this and "Altered States" (oh my goodness I hated that film - particularly when a short clip from it was giving me nightmares as a small child).
So yeah, the other stories are boring and I wasn't too impressed by the acting either. All in all this was pretty lame and one good story wasn't going to save it.
Masters of Horror: The Screwfly Solution (2006)
Okay, so while Homecoming was only horror in terms of concept and was mainly played for laughs, this is absolutely horrific and has no humour at all. By the end, I suddenly realised that this is the most miserable film in Joe Dante's entire filmography. It's not bad, but it doesn't really feel like enough happens.
The premise is that something introduced into the atmosphere has caused men affected by it to kill every single woman they come into contact with. The men affected come up with a new misogynist sort of anti-procreation cult to justify their behaviour called "Sons of Adam". The situation is compared to a method used to reduce the population of screwflies.
Nothing wrong with the acting. Like I said, it doesn't feel like the story really goes anywhere. All in all this is actually pretty good, but oh my goodness it's so blooming miserable. Ugh.
So yeah, pretty solidly good episode. Don't watch when depressed.
The Hole (2009)
I have already written a review for "The Hole". It was originally posted here. I've re-posted the review below:
An attempt at horror-for-kids. Though we shouldn't think this is some new experiment. This is, after all, coming to us from the director of "Gremlins". (And the love interest is called Julie too!)
Two boys and their single mother have moved to a rural setting and aren't happy with the change. What's more there's a random hole under the house that, when they first find it, is covered by a trap door bolted to the ground by about five or six large padlocks. The hole definitely has something supernatural about it, but what is it?
Weird stuff starts happening (which began to raise my "ghosts without proper rules" alarm), but it's quite a tight script with everything linking together rather nicely. Some of the lines pull you out of the action a bit. The idea of the girl next door whose just been had an encounter with a strange young girl in white who "doesn't want to die" happily saying a few hours later "You've got a gateway to hell in your basement... and that is very cool!" Still, there's no doubting that this is great fun, acted well and well worth watching.
It's got everything you'd expect from the this sort of film, it flows well and it's imaginatively put together. It's just not a masterpiece.
B+ (Very good. Not quite excellent)
X-posted in parts here, here and here.
As we enter a New Year the internet is now full of lists of "The Best of 2011". However, the fact is that as an ordinary viewer I haven't SEEN most of the stuff from 2011 yet (and, to be frank, neither have some reviewers). So, while I shall be doing a list of my favourite movies so far from 2011 fairly soon, the REAL list right now is THIS one.
Now, I released a "my opinion so far" list for 2010 last year with just 9 films. The complete list now contains 28 films and "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll" has sadly been knocked off the bottom. Andy Serkis gave a brilliant performance and it's still really good, but there's not exactly a consistent message. "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll" is an excellent love letter to the life and works of Ian Drury, but as a movie it's missing something overall.
Below is the final list of 2010. As usual I am using the years featured on IMDB so some of these films weren't really released until 2011 and some weren't yet in the UK until 2011. All the more fitting to be releasing this list now rather than last year.
28) The Ghost
While some might argue that it's only my sense of principle that keeps this film in the lowest position, I think this is actually the right ranking by comparison to the other films in the list. The premise (as presented in the movie at least, since I cannot speak for the book) seems rather daft and that detracts from the more serious tone the movie seems to be half-pretending to air. Actually it's greatest strength is that it has a bit of a silly side to it. However, it's well put together and the audience is given a great opportunity to take sadistic pleasure from what is, essentially, Tony Blair being done for war crimes. It's a pity that the director is a rapist scumbag, but what can you do?
27. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec
A cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Amelie. More intentional failings of logic than you can shake a stick at, producing a bizarre yet charming fantasy adventure. Luc Besson is back on form at last.
26. Treacle Jr.
A fun little film, held back by cheaper production values, but with a heart that shines through everything. Both sweeter and darker elements work against one another while Aiden Gillen holds the whole project together brilliantly. (Though if this were a big budget movie, it might well be accused of being "Oscar bait".)
Absolutely ridiculous nonsense and feeling somewhat unoriginal after Planet Terror, yet even so the charm and excitement are overpowering. This is a fantastic piece of engaging entertainment and the Grindhouse elements are used to draw in the audience rather than as a cheap gimmick.
24. 30 Days Of Night:Dark Days
Better than the original in spite of a much lower budget. Human characters have a proper personality and the vampires are just as brutal as ever. A really satisfying low budget vampire action movie. Deserves to be seen more widely.
Utterly crazy action movie with a kind of James Bond feel to it. Intentionally over-the-top in a way that really pulls you in. (Make sure you watch the director's cut!)
Mostly showing us the aftermath of the monster attacks, we are involved in a road trip to get out of extraterrestrial-ravaged Mexico. The backdrops are beautiful, the characters are engaging and the "monster attack" scenario feels unusually realistic.
21. Black Death
Quite a stunning re-imagining of medieval times. Features some rather awesome violence from a group of hired hands led by Sean Bean sent out to do "God's work". There are myths of a village untouched by the plague due to the work of necromancers and witches. Time to get medieval on their asses?
An interesting ending which works even better on second watch.
Fantastic intelligent action movie in the same vein as The Matrix. Wonderful visual effects and a whole mythology built around the idea of entering dreams. It's essentially a science-fiction heist movie. From the guy who brought you The Prestige, Batman Begins and Memento, it's just as awesome as you'd expect.
That said, it doesn't stand up quite so well on a second watch.
19. Animal Kingdom
A gritty crime drama about a family involved in armed robbery. Some outstanding performances make this something very special indeed and a smaller role for Guy Pearce doesn't do any harm at all. The plot takes turns you wouldn't expect and the film is extremely well executed.
18. Easy A (2010)
Genuinely funny comedy with a real heart behind it. Excellent performances with special mentions going to the ultra-sarcastic parents. Does a fantastic job with ideas that could easily have been badly mishandled. Well-written, well-acted and with absolutely perfect pacing, this is a wonderful little gem.
17. Made in Dagenham
Good mix of comedy and drama in this film about the fight for women's rights and equal pay. Sally Hawkins is brilliant in the starring role and is backed up by quite a fantastic cast. Sweet, fun and guaranteed to put a smile on your face. (Watch out for Andrew Lincoln!)
16. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010 Documentary)
Famous street artist "Banksy" releases a movie about an eccentric aspiring documentary-maker. A tale that it is probably too crazy to be fake, about obsession and real-life surrealism. This documentary begins as an entertaining record of the beginnings of the street art movement, before taking a bizarre turn that has to be seen to be believed. It's all great fun though. Filmdrunk's movie of the year.
15. Point Blank (2010)
The director of "Pour Elle" (Anything For Her) returns after his last film was remade in the decidedly inferior Russell Crowe vehicle with yet another film about a husband driven to extreme measures to protect his wife. In this case, however, the husband isn't working alone against the penal system, but rather has to work alongside a criminal.
Lots of action and not quite as dark as the director's previous effort, this is a fun and stylish thriller.
14. Tucker and Dale vs Evil
Turns the "evil hillbillies" genre of horror movie on its head. Asides from some relatively harsh violence in flashbacks, this horror-comedy is much more comedy than horror. Absolutely wonderfully funny and any fans of Alan Tudyk (from Firefly and Dollhouse) or Tyler Labine (from Reaper) will find both on top form here.
13. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Remarkably satisfying third entry in the Toy Story trilogy. Some similar themes from Toy Story 2 are picked up again here and properly explored. There are also plenty of original ideas and it seems that the franchise is still quite full of life. Like other recent Pixar entries, this also manages to play with the heart strings quite intensely. - Bring tissues!
12. The Infidel
Omid Djalili stars in this awesome British comedy about a Muslim who discovers that he is ethnically Jewish. As events unfold he finds the need to understand his absent parents' tradition and gets some help from a very bitter and sarcastic American Jew living locally. Absolutely hilarious from start to finish. Don't miss it!
11. True Grit (2010)
Beautiful and funny, but with that dark yet bizarre quality that tells you that you're watching a Coen Brothers movie. Hailee Steinfeld gives an absolutely stunning performance as the young but determined protagonist who demands tough justice and always gets her way. Jeff Bridges is excellent as the slurring and often drunken marshall whose sense of honour tends not to favour letting people live. Similarly excellent is Matt Damon as the overly self-righteous Texas Ranger. Altogether this is an excellent Western, yet also a remarkably faithful remake of the more run-of-the-mill original starring John Wayne. Perhaps not the Coens' best, but not far off.
10. Troll Hunter
"Found footage" movie about student documentary makers who follow a troll hunter. Very impressive effects. Both scary and humourous elements are used to great effect and the whole film is fantastically inventive with its central bizarre concept.
9. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Underrated comedy from the director of Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. Quite similar in some respects to Edgar Wright's TV series "Spaced", this features flawed characters whose relationship dramas are depicted through the use of videogame-based set-pieces. Don't be fooled by the trailers. Scott Pilgrim is not a hero, so even while he wins each fight you're not always convinced that he deserves to. This is a lot more subtle than it is often given credit for.
8. Oranges and Sunshine
There's been a bizarre lack of hype for this excellent hard-hitting film about the injustices committed towards British children and the struggle of one social worker to try to right the wrongs. Surprising that we haven't heard Bill Donohue ranting against it yet. Emily Watson is amazing in the leading role and, if this only gained the attention it deserved, perhaps she'd receive an Oscar for her performance.
Ultra-violent adaptation of a graphic novel satirising the superhero genre. An ordinary boy trying to turn superhero gets the stuffing knocked out of him on a regular basis. The older superhero with access to military hardware is not a nice guy, especially when he's training his daughter to be a violent killer. Of course when the trend is to be a superhero, even a drug lord's son wants in on the action...
Funny, thought-provoking and genuinely kick ass. And even better on second watch. :)
6. Submarine (2010)
Superb black comedy. Fantastic peformances all round, though special mention should go to Paddy Considine (normally known for serious roles) providing some incredible comic gold. There's rarely a moment where you won't be laughing. Wonderfully directed by Richard Ayoade and clearly showcasing his knack for comedy, this is not to be missed!
5. The Fighter (2010)
Christian Bale plays a has-been boxer with issues. He's supposed to be training his younger brother to be a champion and their mother (played by Melissa Leo) is acting as manager, but it seems like his issues are getting in the way and family bonds might be less supportive than they ought to be. Christian Bale is the real star, but Melissa Leo also gives a passionate performance and Mark Wahlberg was far better than expected. What's particularly special however, is the interaction between the lead roles. A very character-driven and engaging story. Not to be missed!
4. The King's Speech (2010)
Great fun, superbly acted and there are so many beautifully hearfelt moments that bring tears to your eyes.
3. Sarah's Key
A lot of reviewers are calling this "a holocaust movie", but that is to ignore that this film is highlighting a part of that history not often mentioned. The deportation of Jews by the French, which began by relocating all Parisian Jews to the Velodrome.
The story of one particular figure in this story, a little girl called Sarah, is slowly uncovered by American journalist Julia (played Kristin Scott Thomas). The way the various characters tied together reminded me very much of another recent Kristin Scott Thomas film "I've Loved You So Long". This is a powerful character-centred drama that pulls you in and will not let go.
2. Winter's Bone
Almost fairytale-like movie about a girl who needs to search for her missing father or lose her home. Living in a hostile male-dominated society and knowing full-well that her father has been in disreputable company, this turns out to be difficult and dangerous task. No, not the "Disney" kind of fairytale.... Watch out for the chainsaw.
1. Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky's greatest movie yet. A nightmarish vision of the plight of an aspiring ballet dancer taking on the roles of the white and the black swan in "Swan Lake". Natalie Portman finally gets the role and the director she deserves and gives her best performance since her amazing debut in Luc Besson's "Leon".
Bonus: Five Biggest Disappointments of 2010
I like to try to avoid seeing films that are likely to be awful and I think I'm generally pretty forgiving of films if they don't quite reach the mark. However, here are the biggest stinkers I saw from 2010.
5. The Expendables
I gave this credit for trying to be fun, but the problem was that it simply wasn't. Lots of explosions with no context and a surprisingly poor use of Jet Li. I felt that the only good things in the film were the cameos from Schwarzenegger and Willis in one scene, and the menacing performance of Dolph Lungren. (Oddly Lundgren provides more depth than anyone else in the movie and, while that might not be a stunning accomplishment, it is far more than anyone had any right to expect from him). By the end, the film was pretty much sending me to sleep and the main bad guy barely felt worthy of my attention.
4. Never Let Me Go
Sally Hawkins rushes in and provides the best performance of the movie and then doesn't stick around for the second half. The three leads also act their heart out, but they seem to be limited by the unfocussed plot. The film is an exercise in dire misery for misery's sake. With absolutely nothing remotely resembling real life, the film feels rather out of place on its moral high horse.
3. 127 Hours
Navel-gazing nonsense demonstrating clearly that James Franco doesn't have the acting shots to carry a movie by himself. (Or possibly simply that Danny Boyle is not the director to elicit that kind of performance from him.) The marketing was right to include the scene of him trying to impress some random hikers in the trailer, because the moment he is on his own the protagonist instantly ceases to be interesting. By the end an extravagant and pretentious assertion is made that getting your arm trapped under a rock is of cosmic significance, but even worse is the strange insistence that a premonition of getting his not-yet-girlfriend pregnant is the catalyst for his escape. Pure not-so-stylish-and-even-less-substance drivel.
2. The Crazies
I actually expected something from this film. More fool me I guess. Meandering and pointless with very little worth seeing. The "scene with the pitchfork" provided some cool scares, but the movie quickly goes downhill from there.
1. Resident Evil 4: Afterlife
Confession time: I really liked "Extinction" and reckon the Highlander director provided by far the best movie in the series. So what better point for W.S. Anderson to drop back into the directorial and screw everything up again? With the rather surprising little revelation of multiple Alice clones Anderson has a huge arsenal of expendable copies of the main protagonist with whom the audience has zero emotional attachment. Oh goody. After the initial pointless action sequence where its not clear that anything is really at stake, that is then followed up with a large section of the movie where Alice gives boring monologues. Even when another main character appears on the scene, she turns out to be mute, allowing Alice to continue with her monologues as if there's still no one else there. You can practically hear the scriptwriter/director gloating as another 2-dimensional character who just happens to have the same name as an important figure from the games is unveiled.
Resident Evil 4 is a movie that keeps on promising that something exciting is going to happen, but never feels like it reaches any kind of climax. W.S. Anderson, against all odds, followed up what I'd view as the best movie in this wholly disappointing franchise with a movie that is undoubtedly the worst.
For my favourites list for 2008 click here.
For my favourites list for 2009 click here.
The Woman (2011)
I've now seen three films by Lucky McKee: "The Woods", "May" and his short film for Masters of Horror "Sick Girl". I have to say that I reckon this latest offering is probably the best so far. This is apparently based on the third in a series of books by Jack Ketchum of the which the second has already been (apparently fairly badly) adapted as "The Offspring". The synopsis on imdb seems to treat this as a follow-on from that movie. However, within the movie itself Lucky McKee actually makes the origins of the eponymous Woman more mysterious, with the suggestion seeming to be that she was raised by wolves. (In "The Offspring" she is part of a tribe of cannibals who randomly live in the woods.)
There's a fairly slow build up to begin with, but anyone who's seen the trailer knows that the woman we see living like an animal in the forest is eventually going to find herself chained up in a basement. However, while I felt impatient on first watch, a second watch reveals that this early section is already giving (to a greater extent than I realised on first watch) plenty of clues as to the problems with this family.
I absolutely have to comment on the fantastic acting skill on display here. The children are all perfect for their roles. Angela Bettis is brilliant as ever. There's a lot of emotion conveyed through the eyes from all the actors here, but Angela Bettis can't help but shine, even when playing someone so restrained. Her husband is played by Sean Bridgers in a way that seems similar (though rather more subtle) to the evil mayor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (I haven't seen Bridgers in anything before, but a major credit seems to be for Deadwood which I may check out at some point.) Bridger's character decides to bring the Woman home so that he can "civilise her". He treats it like its a duty for them as a family. A really interesting aspect of this film is how we begin with the Woman seeming like the bizarre aspect and the family seeming basically pretty ordinary, but yet the whole central scenario is enough to show that there is something dodgy about this family.
Lucky McKee has littered this film with indie music, partly because the elder daughter is listening to it quite often, but also because it takes us off guard. It's not really my sort of music, but it works fine in the film. The one negative I would have to point out in regards to this film is that, in order to build mood, McKee sometimes uses a sort of collection of scenes put together like a montage, sometimes involving scenes that have happened before or sometimes just to put certain ideas in our head (for example showing a wolf and a baby in the scene where we first meet the Woman). I'm not sure that all these mood pieces work quite as well as they are supposed to. Though I was only really concerned about these earlier on in the film and may be that I was just getting used to the style the film is using. Still, I don't remember finding it quite so jarring when this sort of technique was used in "May".
Still, once the film got going I was totally pulled in, albeit with my hands often clasping at the edges of the sofa. Oddly enough, though there's some gory bits, the hardest parts to sit through don't involve gore at all. Still, no matter what happens in the film, even when I was absolutely horrified, I felt it was all worth it by the end. The film ties together very nicely and anything causing you to furrow your brow seems to have been intended to do so.
It might be said that the film becomes so extreme by the end that the idea of praising it for promoting women's rights is similarly a little far fetched. This is a film with subtle performances, but it's certainly not a subtle film. Still, horror often works by taking real life terror and taking it to extremes and "The Woman" has made some very interesting choices of subject matter. With the central premise being someone trapped in a cellar one might think that there wouldn't be much scope. After all, "The Disappearance of Alice Creed" seemed to struggle somewhat to keep things active and from The Woman's IMDB page they recommend "The Loved Ones" which seemed to become a string of different horrific ways to torture the captive victim. "The Woman" doesn't work like either of those films because the plot is not tied to the captive. There are things happening outside of the cellar that are just as important to the plot, independent of the Woman.
This is a very interesting film and I find it remarkable that it's wasn't a higher profile release in cinemas. Really well acted and original. Admittedly it's horrible. I've got two other rather unpleasant films I'm expecting to watch soon: "The Kill List" and "I Saw The Devil" which I think will both turn out to be very much entries in the "horrible" genre. However, The Woman is a great entry in the genre of horribleness and if you are in the right mood, I suspect you'll love it as much as I did.
John Carpenter's "The Ward"
I'd heard a lot of bad stuff about this one. However, I'm a John Carpenter fan. I made the effort to check out every single one of his films. (Even his made-for-TV film about Elvis. Not bothering to review that one. Kurt Russell is great in it and if you really like Elvis you might really enjoy it. Personally, I'd rather have skipped it.) Going into this my thoughts were "well it can't be worse than that remake of Village of the Damned" and, thank goodness, it wasn't. *phew!*
Okay I don't know how to give people a truly informed view about whether they ought to see this film or not without some pretty heavy hints about how it might end. As such, I'm going to put a separate paragraph after the score for this movie where people can see those hints if they want to. In the meantime I'm going to skirt around this rather large elephant in the room and try to give a nice and genuinely spoiler-free review.
The film opens with a mysterious ghost-like figure entering a room in a Ward, seemingly without opening the door, and killing one of the patients. Looks like we've got a ghost story then.... What follows is a pretty awesome opening credits scene with what seems to be a combination of medieval torture images and depictions of barbaric treatment of the mentally ill. All of these images are shown being shattered like glass with some pretty cool music in the background. Clearly this isn't a film where we should expect a fair representation of the mental health profession then.... So anyway, we are introduced to our protagonist outside the ward running through some trees and then setting fire to a house. She is spotted by the police and yet, rather than receiving the due process you'd expect for an arsonist, she seems to be booked into a mental health ward straight away. Very strange indeed.
None of her fellow patients seem entirely sure why they are there and certainly most of their conditions seem pretty subtle. However, there is a mysterious figure who seems to appear every now and then and disappear just as quickly. A girl with a twisted and mutilated face. Why is she there? What does it all mean?
Well, it's not a spoiler to say that things are not all as they seem. Even the identity of our protagonist is somewhat mysterious since she apparently has no memory of anything before she burnt down that house. She doesn't even seem to know why she did it. In any case, all the bizarre elements in the film do come to be explained eventually. That said, I'm not entirely sure that ECT used on patients while they are fully awake is explained. That could be a Hollywood error. Patients receiving electroshock treatment would normally be sedated first.
The acting often seems a bit over the top and I could easily imagine the main doctor character being played in Sam Neil's typical hammy style (as seen in "In The Mouth of Madness"). Still, there's nothing exactly wrong with any of it. I will admit that the film is a bit meandering and the unrealness of the scenario is rather distracting. Still, this isn't a bad film at all. I found it interesting to watch and the scary bits genuinely made me worried. Overall I'd say that this was a pretty solid film, but I think it had potential to be better. The issues with the ending, as much as I want to defend them, don't exactly count in the film's favour. Overall your mileage may vary on this one, but it's far from John Carpenter's worst and considering some of the rubbish that makes it into cinemas I cannot understand those who said this didn't deserve a cinema release.
*Heavy hints about The Ward. Possibly spoilerish. Be warned! Heavy hints below.*
.......... Did you see the warning above? Read it again if you missed it.
Okay, so, it's called "The Ward", so this is about mental health. What's the most common mental health problem in the movies that you can think of?
... Yeah, that's the one. Guessed why some people were upset when that issue was revealed?
The next hint will be quite a concern for those of you familiar with the film in question. Have you seen the film "Identity" starring John Cusack and Ray Liotta? Yeah? Did you hate it? Well I did. I couldn't stand that movie. When it reached the end and explained that things weren't as they seemed I was seriously gutted.
Now the thing about "Identity" was that the person suffering from the mental illness in question was sitting in a chair receiving hypnosis the whole time. That's not what is happening in The Ward. The ward is real, the doctors are real, but how the patient is experiencing her surroundings may not be as it seems. Most importantly, the reason WHY our central protagonist has been seeing things the way she has is much clearer in The Ward. In Identity, the central character imagining everything in terms of a motel (or whatever) was just bizarre.
So yeah, the mental health problem of the central character is a MASSIVE cliche. The way this cliche is revealed kinda makes you feel like the entire film has been cheating you somewhat. However, there is a good explanation and, contrary to what one person told me, it doesn't make the mistakes that "Identity" did.
So that's the end of my heavy hints.
*End of heavy hints about The Ward. Possibly spoilerish. Be warned! Heavy hints above.*
See that warning above? That's a spoiler warning. The section just above this line is potentially spoilerific. Be careful!
x-posted to Halloween Candy
Best Reviewed Movies In 2011: A+
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
The Guard (2011)
The Woman (2011)
Source Code (2011)
Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Sarah's Key (2010)
Tucker and Dale Vs Evil (2010)
Point Blank (2010)
Troll Hunter (2010)
Black Swan (2010)
Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)
The King's Speech (2010)
Oranges And Sunshine (2010)
The Fighter (2010)
True Grit (2010)
Easy A (2010)
Made In Dagenham (2010)
Animal Kingdom (2010)
30 Days Of Night: Dark Days (2010)
A Town Called Panic (2009)
Get Low (2009)
The Fall (2006)
The Descent (2005)
Red Dust (2004)
Harry, He's Here To Help (2000)
La Vie Rêvée Des Anges (The Dreamlife of Angels) (1998)
Gremlins 2 (1990)
The 'Burbs (1989)
Death Race 2000 (1975)
A+ (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
Winter's Bone (2010)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
The Infidel (2010)
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010)
Black Death (2010) (rating change)
A Serious Man (2009)
An Education (2009)
In The Loop (2009) (rating change)
Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009)
Sin Nombre (2009)
The Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call - New Orleans (2009)
Mary And Max (2009)
Where The Wild Things Are (2009)
Julia (2008) (longer consideration)
Johnny Mad Dog (2008)
Cherry Blossoms (2008)
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Eastern Promises (2007)
Black Sheep (2006)
The Fountain (2006)
A History Of Violence (2005)
Grizzly Man (2005)
In The Mouth Of Madness (1995)
They Live (1988)
The Fly (1986)
Return Of The Living Dead (1985)
The Thing (1982)
Soldier Of Orange (1977)
A Boy And His Dog (1975)
Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
The Little Shop Of Horrors (1960)
The Fly (1958)
A- (Latest reviews)
Treacle Jr. (2010)
The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec (2010)
The Ghost (2010)
How To Train Your Dragon (2010)
The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009)
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Le Petit Voleur (The Little Thief) (1999)
Bride Of Chucky (1998)
A- (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
The Cove (2009)
Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)
The Mist (2007)
Children Of Men (2006)
Rescue Dawn (2006)
Le Gout Des Autres (2000)
Escape From LA (1996)
Dead Presidents (1995)
The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)
House Of Wax (1953)
B+ (Latest reviews)
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)
Attack The Block (2011)
X-Men: First Class (2011)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
The Town (2010)
The Hole (2009)
The House Of The Devil (2009)
Anything For Her (2008)
Frozen River (2008)
Elite Squad (2007)
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
B+ (Reviews from (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010)
The Unloved (2010)
Cold Souls (2009)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Eyes Wide Open (2009)
The Informant! (2009)
The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)
The Road (2009)
Anvil: The Story Of Anvil (2008)
Me And Orson Welles (2008)
The Counterfeiters (2007)
The Host (2006)
Pusher 3 (2005)
Pusher II (2004)
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)
The City Of Lost Children (1995)
Local Hero (1983)
Escape From New York (1981)
Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979)
The Brood (1979)
Assault On Precinct 13 (1976)
Aguirre - Wrath Of God (1972)
It Came From Outer Space (1953)
B- (Latest reviews)
A Screaming Man (2011)
Inside Job (2010)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The Way Back (2010)
Please Give (2010)
Black Lightning (2009)
Jar City (2006)
Night Of The Living Dead (1990)
Small Soldiers (1998)
Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Earth VS The Flying Saucers (1956)
B- (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
La Horde (2009)
Monsters Vs Aliens (2009)
The Damned United (2009)
REC 2 (2009)
The White Ribbon (2009)
Five Minutes Of Heaven (2009)
Star Trek (XI) (2009)
FAQ About Time Travel (2009)
The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus (2009)
Public Enemies (2009)
Trick 'r Treat (2008)
The Woods (2006)
The Witches (1990)
The Blob (1988)
Big Trouble In Little China (1986)
The Company Of Wolves (1984)
The Fog (1980)
Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958)
The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
C+ (Latest reviews)
The Next Three Days (2010)
Crazy Heart (2009)
Barton Fink (1991)
Mario Bava's "Black Sabbath" (1964)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
C+ (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
The Ward (2010)
Green Zone (2010)
District 13: Ultimatum (2009)
Bright Star (2009)
Good Hair (2009)
A Single Man (2009)
Army Of Crime (2009)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Shivers (They Came From Within) (The Parasite Murders) (1975)
Dark Star (1974)
The Pit And The Pendulum (1961)
The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)
C- (Latest reviews)
13 Assassins (2010)
Another Year (2010)
Rammbock: Berlin Undead (Seige of the Dead) (2010)
Social Network (2010)
Silent Hill (2006)
The Terminal (2004)
Bride of Re-Animator (1990)
True Grit (1969)
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
The Wolf Man (1941)
C- (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
Van Helsing (2009)
White Lightnin' (2009)
Fish Tank (2009)
Valhalla Rising (2009)
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (2009)
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (2008)
Sunshine Cleaning (2008)
Highlander: The Search For Vengeance (2007)
The Howling (1981)
D+ (Latest reviews)
Fair Game (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Of Gods And Men (2010)
Tron Legacy (2010)
Black Dynamite (2009)
Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1993)
Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth
Hellraiser (1987) (I've had second thoughts on a second watch and would probably makes this a C+ now....)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
D+ (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
A Prophet (2009)
Sophie Scholl - The Final Days (2005)
Memoirs Of An Invisible Man (1992)
Naked Lunch (1991)
Near Dark (1987)
The Prince Of Darkness (1987)
The Haunting (or The Terror) (1963)
The Bat (1959)
D- (Latest reviews)
Julia's Eyes (2010)
Meek's Cutoff (2010)
Four Lions (2010)
Let Me In (2010)
Blue Valentine (2010)
The Escapist (2008)
Into The Wild (2007)
Looney Tunes: Back In Action (2003)
Nightmare City (1980)
This Island Earth (1955)
D- (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
The Expendables (2010)
Glorious 39 (2009)
Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
Dead Snow (2009)
Crank 2: High Voltage (2009)
Summer Hours (2008)
Ghosts Of Mars (2001)
The Hunt For Red October (1990)
Dead Ringers (1988)
The Dead Zone (1983)
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)
Silent Running (1972)
La Jetee (1962)
War Of The Worlds (1953)
The Invisible Man (1933)
E+ (Latest reviews)
Hobo With A Shotgun (2011)
Never Let Me Go (2010)
127 Hours (2010)
The Secret In Their Eyes (2009)
The Silence of Lorna (2008)
E+ (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
The Crazies (2010)
Away We Go (2009)
Still Walking (2008)
Sans Soleil (1983)
E- (Latest reviews)
White Material (2009)
Trapped Ashes (2006)
E- (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
Up In The Air (2009)
I Am Love (2009)
Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Village Of The Damned (1995)
Altered States (1980)
U(+) (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
Resident Evil 4: Afterlife (2010)
Samson And Delilah (2009)
Mutant Chronicles (2008)
Highlander 3 (1994)
U (Reviews from 2010 and earlier)
Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father (2008)
Not the 2011 list yet. First of all there's a few changes to the 2009 list that I needed to point out. Here's the complete selection of 2009 favourites in movie poster form....
New entries in the 2009 list.
Yep there are 19 titles in the list now. At the time I felt like Daybreakers didn't quite deserve to enter the list and I made a point of stating that it had been a borderline case at the time. I argued that characterisation wasn't quite as good as it should be. On a second watch, however, I thought I was being unfair. I was actually particularly surprised how well Ethan Hawke's performance held up. The whole world-building angle in Daybreakers is just as brilliant as ever and the parallels with real life work far better than anyone ever had any right to expect from this sort of film. Also, now having seen the Sperig Brothers' rather less impressive debut "Undead" (featuring both zombies AND aliens) I'm more interested than ever in following the future work of the directors.
This actually comes back into the list ahead of Where The Wild Things Are which I rated highly because of the emotional affect it had on me. However, WTWTA isn't quite so big in the plot department driven rather more by the characters than the story. I think perhaps the biggest downside for WTWTA is that I'm not sure that children (who it is presumably aimed at) are really interested in a movie which makes you want to cry the whole time. (Toy Story 3, for example, I think did a better job of balancing the adult nostalgia for childhood with the fun little children's story elements. WTWTA seemed to be somewhat lacking the latter, which wasn't a problem for me, but could be a problem for young children.)
15. Get Low
Bill Murray plays another of the comically cynical characters he always does so well. Meanwhile Robert Duvall has the perfect combination of dry wit and strong acting talent to hold the film together. The big revelation doesn't feel quite as huge as it's built up to be, but there's plausible enough justification for that to let it slide. The characters are endearing and the performances are excellent all round. The central premise of an solitary old man with a bad reputation who decides to hold his funeral while he's still alive so he can hear what the locals have to say about him is an intriguing one and works well.
This comes into the running just ahead of "Coraline", the beautiful animated movie, but just behind "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans", the Herzog-directed iguana-filled movie about a drug-fuelled corrupt police officer.
6. A Town Called Panic
I placed this along with the two big animated movies of the year, "Up" and "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs". It's difficult to choose between the three of them. However, with careful consideration I placed "Cloudy" in the top spot of the three (5th favourite of the year) with "A Town Called Panic" just behind in 6th place. All three are hugely inventive. The fact that the Pixar movie about a man who decides to fly his house to South America using balloons is mainly outranked by these two films because it's not quite as crazy as they are, probably tells you all you need to know.
Challenges to the 2008 list:
"Kung Fu Panda" and "Frozen River"
Kung Fu Panda is a great little animated film, but it really needs to be seen in conjunction with Kung Fu Panda 2. It really works to set you up for the sequel and it's a lovely little story itself, but on its own its not really quite so special.
Another contender for the 2008 list is Frozen River, which I was told was similar to Winter's Bone. While I could see the similarity, I didn't really feel that it was in the same league. There's a bit where the characters are talking about miracles which seemed a little cheesy, like the filmmakers were unwilling to take expand on the darker elements of the story and instead wanted the story to tie up happily in the end. This felt like a bit of a cop-out to me. Still, a very good movie well worth watching, but probably not amongst the very best of that year.
For my list of the best of 2010 click here.
For my index of all reviews so far click here.
The first "too good to be true" trailer of 2012. Posts with a "too good to be true" tag feature movie trailers for movies that I am pretty much judging by the trailer alone. If I'm already convinced a movie is going to be good i'll generally either not watch the trailer or not care what the trailer is like.
When I post a trailer here with this tag, it's not the names involved that caused me to put it up. Instead it's the contents of the trailer itself. I fully recognise that in most cases this is doomed for disappointment, hence the choice of tag.
The trailer above features Paul Giamatti (which tends to be a good sign) and absolutely bizzare and weird stuff galore. This can either be awesome or dreadful. I'm not sure how it could just be "alright". Check it out. :)
Bonus: Recap of last year's "too good to be true" trailer choices.
Naturally if you want to see what trailers intrigued me last year, you just need to click on the tags. However, here's a neat little list with a recap on whether I saw them and whether I'm still interested now the reviews have come in:
Review in progress...
- The Mechanic
Intend to see both versions... perhaps.
Not bad, but the songs are so long! Still need to finish watching it...
- X-Men: First Class
Solid B+ score and one of the better films of last year. Best X Men movie. Least impressive Matthew Vaughn movie.
- Attack The Block
Once again, solid B+ score. Nice. (Little bit Spielbergy, but thankfully more like Raiders of the Lost Ark than E. blooming T.)
Bad reviews, but I feel like I still have to catch it on DVD anyway.
- Cars 2
Michael Caine as a super spy car just looked awesome. However, bad reviews have totally put me off this one now.
- The Dark Knight Rises (poster rather than trailer this time)
Wow that poster was amazing. Impressed me rather more than the recent trailer to be honest. (The CGI on that football field was not convincing at all.)
- Conan The Barbarian
The trailer featuring the young Conan seriously kicking ass really made me think this would be good. A review from Red Letter Media even made me think this would be great stupid fun. However, I've now seen enough bad reviews to properly put me off this (for now at least).
- Red State
Really looking forward to this on DVD.
- Sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Straight after the good reviews for ROTPOTA came out, there was news that the director was keen on doing a sequel. Now I've seen Rise, I'm more excited than ever. Having recently rewatched all of them, I actually reckon that ROTPOTA may be better than all the Planet of the Apes movies except for "Escape from the Planet of the Apes". (Surprise revelation: The Tim Burton version is worse than all of them, including "Battle".)
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
A+ score. Brilliant film. Not at all what I was expecting from the trailer, mind you...
- The Woman
A+ score. Brilliant film. Much better than I hoped. Now my favourite Lucky McKee movie.
- The Muppets
This had good reviews, yet somehow I'm not sure about it. I really don't think the poster helped and news that Piggy's part in the movie may be somewhat underwhelming is not encouraging either. It's not out in UK cinemas yet, but I'm probably waiting for the DVD anyway.
- The Thing
Mostly lacklustre reviews, but some pretty high recommendations from the Horror Etc. podcast. My reason for wanting to see it hasn't changed. Just the promise of more of "The Thing" is enough to get me on board, even if it doesn't work out. John Carpenter's version will still be just as awesome no matter what this prequel is like.
Still interested. Coming out soon!
- Snow White and the Huntsman
Wow the trailer looks great, but can it really survive casting Kristen Stewart in a lead role?
- REC 3: Genesis
ZOMG I NEED TO SEE IT RIGHT NOW!
- MS One Security Maximum
Could be cool. Mainly looking forward to Guy Pearce's performance.
I cannot believe that I have actually seen precisely NONE of the films nominated for Best Picture this year. I haven't been avoiding the cinema, but (of those already actually released in the UK) these simply weren't films that looked worth my time. We'll see if I regret those words later in the year (though I have as yet to hear a recommendation that makes me excited about "Moneyball").
Anyway, below are some of my favourites that weren't considered for Oscars. Yeah, some are obvious. Others, however, I'm rather more annoyed about. Particularly the award for Best Picture. Yeah sure, I don't expect my favourites to win. In 2011 I'd have picked Black Swan (it's frankly criminal that Darren Aronofsky hasn't got an Oscar for best director yet), in 2010 I'd have picked A Serious Man (which is my favourite Coen Brother's movie, by contrast to "No Country For Old Men" which I was far less impressed with) and in 2008 I'd have picked "In Bruges" (which actually wasn't nominated for Best Picture, but did at least get a nominated for Best Screenplay). So yeah, sure I made different choices, but at least I could find some mention of my favourite movies in the nominations. If there's a simulated oscars again this year, I'm not sure I'll be so excited. Right now, I'll have seen absolutely none of the best picture nominations so I'll have a tought time getting involved.
Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins "Submarine"
After her awesome performance in "Made In Dagenham" and her show-stealing performance in "Never Let Me Go" (which I didn't care for tbh), Sally Hakwins gives yet another wonderful performance this year in "Submarine". In this quirky comedy she plays the mother of the protagonist, Oliver, with a combination of condescension and awkward sympathy. Absolutely brilliant actress, though admittedly probably the least surprising absence from the actual nominations. I'm sure she'll be receiving awards soon enough.
Best Supporting Actor
Andy Serkis "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes"
A lot of people made a big deal about his performance as Gollum in LOTR, but this actually strikes me as far more deserving. The central protagonist in this film was actually James Franco, but it was the animated apes, Andy Serkis in particular, who made this such a hit. An incredible performance, and while wearing a weird animation suit too. Some of the subtle nuances of this performance are a clear sign of just how far CGI has come in recent years in capturing human performances. Andy Serkis has also proved himself time and time again in more typical live-action performances such as in "Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll" as Ian Dury and in "Longford" (directed by last year's winner Tom Hooper).
Tilda Swinton "We Need To Talk About Kevin"
I haven't seen this yet, but it's received massive acclaim and Tilda Swinton deserves recognition. Her performance in "Julia" was particularly impressive. Her vesatility has been shown again and again in films ranging from the Coen's black comedy (all their movies are black comedies) "Burn After Reading" to her roles as baddies in the mainstream blockbusters "The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe" and "Constantine". "Julia" involved her playing an amoral alcoholic, somehow managing to capture the heart of the audience even while encouraging their utter disdain.
Brendan Gleeson "The Guard"
"The Guard" involved Brendan Gleeson once again capturing the darkly comic performance that held together "In Bruges". Only this time it's not a double act with Colin Farrell, but a central leading performance with some occasional opportunities to dominate the screen alongside Don Cheadle. Brendan Gleeson has managed to bring an added depth to other films too, such as his role in "28 Days Later" (a film which I believe fell apart the moment Gleeson's character disappeared from the screen), "Perrier's Bounty" (where Gleeson gave a fantastic performance as the baddie in an otherwise forgettable film) and most recently in "Green Zone". In fact, in "Green Zone" Gleeson's performance is by far the most captivating of that film, providing a sense of underlying mystery and grit which the rest of the cast was unable to offer.
Best Director/Best Picture
Nicolas Winding Refn/Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn had made a number of English-speaking films with a combination of his distinctive filming style, an arthouse sensibility, punctuated with violence. Films like "Bronson" and "Valhalla Rising". However, these films had not reached the heights of his "Pusher" trilogy. With "Drive", Refn seemed to come up with an English equivalent of the Pusher films only bigger and bolder than ever. Some absolutely beautiful cinematography, an awe-inspiring soundtrack, well-planned bursts of violence used to awesome effect and a storyline that subverts the typical movie tropes of the genre. (It's quite interesting to compare the story progression to The Town, where the audience seems to be given a much easier time in accepting the protagonist despite his displays of violence. Affleck's protagonist tells us that he'd never kill anyone, yet we still seem to be expected to like him even after he's been involved in a big gun battle with the police - where helpfully we never actually see him succeed in shooting anyone, but where he inevitably must have done so in order to escape.) Ryan Gosling's central performance is both as a typical action hero fighting members of the criminal underworld against the odds, but also somehow a monsterous figure who almost wouldn't be out of place alongside Jason Vorhees. Drive is an incredible film with a unique take on its subject matter and absolutely beautiful presentation. To some extent I find myself reminded of David Fincher's better work in films like "Seven" and "Fight Club" and it is shocking that Fincher was being strongly considered for an Oscar last year with the snooze-fest "The Social Network", while a filmmaker like Refn who can still capture the same kind of excitement elicited by Fincher's earlier work is now being passed by without any acknowledgement.
The Oscars seriously suck this year.
I've actually found the build-up to the Oscars to be pretty exciting for the last couple of years. In both 2010 and 2011 there's been a personal favourite, a dreadful film expected to win and eventual success for the deserving underdog. During the 2010 Oscars I wanted A Serious Man to win, I was worried that Avatar would win and breathed a sigh of relief when The Hurt Locker won. During the 2011 Oscars I wanted Black Swan to win, I was worried that The Social Network would win and breathed a sigh of relief when The King's Speech won.
This year, I haven't seen any of the nominations at all. The film expected to win is The Artist, and that along with The Descendants are probably the only Best Picture nominees I'm at all interested in seeing. Below are my comments on all the nominees. Since these are mostly films I haven't seen and know rather little about, I'll probably regret these comments based purely on first impressions. Nonetheless, the following comments represent how I feel right now....
First of all, I've never even heard of Albert Nobbs (with it's rather odd title). Apparently it's only just reached cinemas in the states and, for now, there don't appear to be any plans to screen it in the UK. I'm all for Glenn Close showing off her acting talent (as she was fantastic in Season Four of "The Shield"), but on the other hand this appears to be a movie that the studios themselves aren't expecting to do well.
Outside of the Best Animated Feature award nominees, the only film I'd already seen out of the main categories was "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". Coming from the director of the wonderful "Let The Right One In" and featuring some of my favourite actors, expectations were pretty high. It wasn't what I expected and I don't think it was quite the masterpiece I'd hoped. However, it was very good all the same, the performances were wonderful and there were some fantastic moments. I'm keen to see this one again on DVD (though it was memorable enough that I already think I've pieced the story together and I'm really interested to see if there's anything I missed).
I'd seen Rango and Kung Fu Panda 2. Rango was pretty good (though it was far from perfect), but I absolutely loved Kung Fu Panda 2. It tied in very nicely with the first movie and the scenes with the baby panda were just cuteness-overload.
The other Best Animated Feature nominees includes Chico and Rita, which I've seen and really didn't like. It felt like you really need to be a fan of the music and its whole culture in order to enjoy it. Since I'm not, I found the characters rather under-developed with the musical numbers holding back the pacing. There's also A Cat In Paris which I haven't heard of.
Last but not least is Puss In Boots, which I actually really want to see. Sure it's essentially "Shrek 8", but with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek reunited it also feels like a fourth "El Mariachi" movie. I absolutely loved "Desperado" and "Once Upon A Time In Mexico", so the opportunity to see a fourth, even if it's randomly set in fairytale land (or perhaps BECAUSE it's set in fairytale land), is something that actually really excites me.
There's ten other films not nominated for Best Picture which I haven't seen. The one I'm least interested in seeing is The Iron Lady. A film about possibly the most controversial Prime Minister of recent decades and apparently it's "empowering". Glossing over Thatcher's politics and making it entirely about women's rights is not doing anyone any favours... asides from Meryl Streep, who gets a chance to show off her Thatcher impression and plead for an Oscar. Oh goody. (Not to take anything away from Streep. I hear that her performance is actually very impressive. However, the film is supposed to be recounting Margaret Thatcher's life. It's not just a platform for impressionists.)
So far I'm hearing that Beginners is quirky and contrived. I must admit that I don't know much about this one though. A Better Life is the latest from Chris Weitz, the director who brought us "The Golden Compass" and "Twilight: New Moon", so I'm really not expecting much from that either. Bridesmaids brings women firmly into the field of overrated gross-out comedies that I've hated for all these years. Apparently they can do it just as well as the men can. Oh joy.
I was pretty excited about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and fully expected to be seeing it in cinemas, but when the reviews came out it didn't sound like it had solved any of the problems with the original Swedish version, seeming more like a remake of the Swedish movie rather than an alternate interpretation of the books (which I loved). It sounds like the main thing they've changed is extending the length of the rape scene. I haven't really enjoyed a David Fincher movie since "Fight Club" and that was a long time ago. I'll probably check this out on DVD.
Margin Call could be worth seeing, but I'm not exactly hearing great things. It's always going to be challenging making an engaging movie about economics and from what I hear they make a pretty good stab. My Week With Marilyn looks pretty sweet (I'm imagining it being in a similar vein to "Me and Orson Welles") and The Ides Of March seemed to get a fairly positive response when it was released.
In spite of the horrendous trailer, Warrior is apparently a really good film. I can't help but feel that, as much as I'd like it to live up to the level of quality set by "The Fighter", I'm probably going to feel pretty underwhelmed. Still, Tom Hardy's performance might well elevate the (seemingly) cliched material and with some decent action in the fight scenes this could make for a highly entertaining evening's viewing.
A Separation is an Iranian movie which has entered several top tens for last year. It looks pretty intriguing and I'm quite interested to watch it.
The Nine Main Nominees:
Oh, the racist movie. Okay, moving on...
Spielberg apparently at his most gushingly over-sentimental in a movie about how awful WWI was for talking horses (as opposed to, y'know, the thousands of meaningless deaths of human beings). Sorry if I seem like a heartless animal-hater, but I actually find the whole premise of this film offensive.
A film about sport statistics with such high lofty praise as: "not quite as good as The Social Network". Yeah, colour me unimpressed.
Midnight in Paris:
I'm not sure I understand how Woody Allen's movies are ranked to be honest. I loved Annie Hall, but I didn't find Manhattan very impressive at all. I saw Curse of the Jade Scorpion on a plane and it looked more like a cheesy extra-long sketch made-for-tv rather than a full feature film. Of Woody Allen's most recent movies the one that seems to get the most praise is Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Having failed to watch Vicky Cristina Barcelona all the way through, my parents who had recorded it off the TV suggested I give it another try. We searched for the bit I'd reached before and let it run. Within about ten minutes my dad became fairly convinced that he must have fallen asleep through it when he saw it before and entirely sympathised with my disdain. I still haven't seen the whole thing.
Everything I've heard about "Midnight In Paris" sounds like it is very much up its own arse. A vision of Paris as you'd expect to find in an advert for Eurostar, populated by all the French figures that Woody Allen likes. On top of that, while Midnight In Paris could be the exception to the rule, I haven't got much hope that Owen Wilson can successfully carry a comedy film.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:
On the one hand, I have absolutely no idea what this film is about. On the other hand, the film critics seem to hate it and it is apparently cashing in (surely far too late) on the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on New York. Who knows, perhaps it's an underrated masterpiece. Or perhaps not...
I've just checked out the figures for this and it actually did less well than Drive on its opening weekend. Is this mainly nominated because Tom Hanks is in it? Seriously, why the hell is Drive being snubbed?
I'll come clean here and say that I'm not a big fan of Scorsese. I thought Goodfellas was pretty dull, I was annoyed by the two equally unlikeable central characters in Casino, and both Taxi Driver and Mean Streets left me cold. It wasn't really until The Aviator (which was also where I first realised that Leonardo Di Caprio is actually a really good actor) that I properly enjoyed any of Scorsese's films (and yeah, that's pretty much the only one).
So here Scorsese tries to do a children's movie, but apparently it doesn't really appeal to children because it's more aimed at people who love early cinema. He's also cast Borat as the comedy bad guy. I can't really say I'm a big fan of super-early cinema and I've found that Sacha Baron Cohen's humour runs dry after a pretty short period of time. I'm not alone in thinking that the trailer looked absolutely dire but, while it's good to know that the actual movie is rather different, this leaves me rather uncertain as to what the end product will actually be like. I kinda want to see this one, but I'm a little reluctant too.
Film I know nothing about starring George Clooney. Let's see.... Widower tries to connect with his two daughters. Well, it seems to be pretty well received. IMDB score is 7.9 right now and the RT score is 90%. Could be good!
I'm not sure about the idea of a brand spanking new silent movie. Silent movies I've tried before have tended to send me to sleep. Out of Nosferatu, Metropolis, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse it was only the last of that list where I was able to stay entirely conscious from beginning to end (and even then I was pretty drowsy at points). Still, I must say I'm intrigued by the great press this is getting and it could well offer the same sweet and satisfying experience that The King's Speech did.
It always annoys me that lists at the end of the year often contain many films that have not even been released in the UK at the time and miss out films that were released the previous year in the US. While my 2010 list included anything that IMDB classes as a 2010 movie (whether because first aired abroad in 2010 or even sometimes because it appeared at a film festival or two in 2010), this list combines anything that did not receive a cinema release in the UK prior to 2011. That means some crossover, but it also means that this isn't a list of just 9 films I really liked, rather than a gradual build up to the best of the best.
There's a few cases below where I've reassessed a film's original score after a second watch.
23. Attack The Block (2011)
While I really enjoyed this, I think there were problems with the underlying morals. I liked that there was a message of taking responsibility for your actions. However, it's not clear that at the end of the film the protagonists have actually learnt their lesson. Trying to get us to not only empathise but sympathise with a teenage gang who are happy to mug a nurse as she comes home from work was always going to be a rather ambitious project, particularly when the gang are, essentially, the protagonists of the film. I can't help but feel that Jodie Whittaker's part should have been bigger, partly because she is an awesome actress and partly because she very much acts as the voice of reason during the story. Some might say that it is not only classism but also racism that is being tackled here, so making the story all about a white woman could miss the point. Still, it seems like they could have put someone like Lenora Crichlow (from Being Human) in the role if that was really an issue. The problem is that it is difficult to care about the protagonists for the first third of the movie and the introduction of an even bigger baddie in the form of the drug dealer Hi-Hatz (played by Jumayn Hunter) is of limited help. Still, this is a good little feature film with a good mixture of comedy, action and horror in even measure and, to my mind (speaking as someone who liked Raiders of the Lost Ark and hated E.T.), actually does a good job of capturing some of that old 80s Spielberg magic.
22. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec
Luc Besson's ridiculous, intentionally absurd, comic adaptation.
(See 2010 List)
21. Treacle Jr.
This is actually Aiden Gillen's imdb pic now. It's directly tied to this movie.
(See 2010 list)
20. Get Low
Goodness knows why this was so delayed into the UK. A wonderful film with great star turns from both Robert Duvall and Bill Murray.
(See changes to 2009 list)
19. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)
This has got far more attention than anyone could ever imagine. Before it was released, and in fact even after it was released, it was very hard to work out how it could be anything but a disappointment. We'd already seen what happens when you try to update Planet of the Apes (or so we thought) in the dire reboot attempt by Tim Burton. First of all, the trailer for Rise was awful, and I couldn't really imagine this being anything other than a remake of Deep Blue Sea only with apes instead of sharks. (For the record, for the complete brainless joy of the whole thing I actually love "Deep Blue Sea", but that's all the more reason why I didn't feel the need for a new version of it with apes.) Even when the reviews tried to praise this film, I found myself concerned. The idea that lines from the original movie were inserted into this as a homage didn't exactly sound like a good idea. The news that the ape characters were rather more interesting than cliched human characters wasn't promising. And praising the special effects isn't really enough to get me excited since a beautiful movie with a poor story might be pretty, but it isn't entertaining.
As it turned out, there were good human performances where it counted. John Lithgow was on top form as the dad suffering from Alzheimers. David Oyelowo was unsurprisingly great as the self-interested businessman, even if some of his lines were a hard sell and the workings of his company kind of puzzling. (Who needs careful testing when we've had success with one ape, eh? One ape went crazy and acted in a dangerous way? Well we'll have to dump all our research and kill all our test subjects! - WTF???) Even Tom Felton gives a pretty great performance as one of the more exaggeratedly cliched characters of the film. (Seriously if you don't like apes there are other jobs you can go for. I'm pretty sure workers in ape sanctuaries normally really love apes.) Actually the poorest (though quite capable all the same) performances seemed to come from James Franco (supposedly the protagonist of the piece) and (with far more limited material to work with) Freida Pinto.
What held the movie together more than anything was Andy Serkis' performance as Caesar, the ape who begins the eponymous "rise". This convinced me, much more than his acting as Gollum ever did, that motion captured performances have a lot of potential.
I find it remarkable that this is now probably my second favourite movie in the Planet of the Apes series. My favourite being "Escape of the Planet of the Apes". The ideas set up in Escape seem to capitalised in Rise in a way that the sequel to Escape, Conquest, never seemed to manage. There's a particular event prophesised in Escape that comes true in Rise. That moment could easily have been cheesy and yet it came together in a wonderful cinematic way that seemed to leave the whole audience stunned.
This is still pretty low in the rankings because the cliched human characters are still a problem. However, the director has managed to capture the spirit of the Planet of the Apes franchise and I must say, I'm really excited for the planned sequel now.
18. X-Men: First Class (2011)
As with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this is another film that I've rewatched and now have a higher opinion of. Only more so. Even at the time I was clear about saying that this was, to my mind, the best of all the X Men movies. However, my issue when I first saw it was that this was my least favourite Matthew Vaughn movie so far (the others being Layer Cake, Stardust and Kick-Ass.) I think perhaps I was a little unfair there, since I'd probably put this ahead of Stardust. Still, my expectations were particularly high and this may have led me to slightly underrate this film, considering it as only very good rather than as excellent. (I generally give an A+ to movies that I would highly recommend without reservations rather than limiting it to movies that I expect to be all-time masterpieces.)
The acting is great, the action on screen stirs emotions, the plot pulls you along and there's plenty of visual inventiveness. And what's more I must admit something very important. I do not understand the negativity aimed at January Jones. I didn't notice her being particularly poor the first time around and on a second watch I understood the criticism even less. She doesn't give such as exciting performance as Michael Fassbender, but she isn't a block of wood either. I'm sorry, but I actually think January Jones is a pretty good actress.
The movie remains this low in the list for the reasons set out in my original review. However, I cannot deny that this is another triumph from Matthew Vaughn and that the movie easily stands up to a second and third viewing (particularly the Nazi hunting scenes towards the beginning).
17. Animal Kingdom
Gritty Australian drama about bank robbers. Kind of like "The Town" only without the cheesy hollywood mentality in the background begging us to like the main character because he's played by Ben Affleck ("I don't kill anyone even when I'm in a violent gun battle with the police and you should probably love me even if I threatened you at gunpoint." Meh!) No, Animal Kingdom portrays hardened criminals as hardened criminals with no illusions that deep down they've all got hearts of gold. Quite the opposite in fact...
(See 2010 list)
16. Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
After a strong recommendation for this on the SlashFilm Podcast, I decided to finally check out the first movie. The first movie is pretty sweet, but the way the sequel follows up on it is just perfect. Overall however, I'd say the thing I enjoyed most about this was the relationship between Po (Jack Black) and his father Mr. Ping (James Hong i.e. Lo Pan from "Big Trouble In Little China), particularly the bits involving the baby panda (so cute!!!!). However, Gary Oldman, Michelle Yeoh and Dustin Hoffman also all provide some great voice work and the film is generally stunning and inventive. This was an absolute joy to watch.
15. Point Blank
The latest offering from the director of the excellent "Pour Elle" (English title: "Anything For Her". Given the inferior remake treatment with "The Next Three Days" starring Russell Crowe). This film has a similar feel, but not the same level of grit. It's great fun, ties together nicely and has some very fun moments. This director really knows how to set the pace and this action-packed thriller is no exception.
(See 2010 list)
14. The Woman (2011)
Lucky McKee's film didn't seem to get a cinema release, but when I saw it on DVD I thought it was brilliant. Probably my favourite of Lucky McKee's films so far. The mix of disturbing elements and seemingly more upbeat and quirky elements came together in a way that worked perfectly due to McKee's unique style of direction. Naturally Angela Bettis, who regularly appears in McKee's films, gave yet another brilliant performance, though the acting was of a very high quality all round. Awesome.
13. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Not really what I was expecting and the heavyweight cast and director raised expectations pretty high. I was expecting this to be by far the best film of 2011 and that's not really what I got. Still, the film captured the cold war grittiness very nicely, giving us a rather more genuine story of spies rather than reverting to kung fu and car chases. With characters who have learnt how to reveal very little about themselves, the movie gives very few hints to the audience. However, the audience has everything they need to piece the story together and there are some absolutely gripping moments. Everything is depicted in a very stylish and memorable way and, now I think I've got the story pieced together in my head, I'm really interested in seeing the film again to work out what little touches I might have missed.
12. Tucker and Dale vs Evil
Brilliant central performances from the two eponymous protagonists and some hilarious little touches (e.g. the main 'college kid' camper punctuating everything he does with a shot of his inhaler). It's criminal that this went straight to DVD. An excellent horror-comedy which errs more on the comedy side and definitely one of my favourites of this year.
(See 2010 list)
11. Source Code (2011)
Duncan Jones' ability as a director is put to the test when he brought on board a project at a fairly late stage and is expected to make it work. The plot is presented tightly and effectively, with every emotional shift perfectly executed. The audience is drawn into this simple but effective sci-fi story. A sure sign that Duncan Jones has great things still ahead of him.
THE TOP TEN!!!!
I'll list the nine films I decided deserved a place on the list from 2011 at the end, but if we are truly considering all the films I actually saw during 2011, what follows is la creme de la creme.
10. True Grit
I was so annoyed at how long we were expected to wait for this, but when it arrived I was blown away. Fantastic humour, beautifully shot and with some wonderful performances from the three main protagonists, particular Hailee Steinfeld.
(See 2010 list)
Probably the best "found footage" film so far. Well ahead of the competition, asides from possibly REC. This film about a bunch of film students who happen to catch a secretive troll hunter when he's in a more sharing mood is absolutely brilliant. There's a few parts where the film's pace slows down quite a bit, but then again that may be what you'd expect from the kind of documentaries it's apeing. There's some fantastic CGI work and some very inventive ideas. Try not to let anyone spoil this for you too much. It's a real treat.
(See 2010 list)
8. Oranges and Sunshine
Showed at a couple of film festivals in 2010 but essentially a 2011 movie. Passed strangely silently into and then out cinemas without much fanfare. This might have been an opportunity for Emily Watson to go for an Oscar if this had received the response it deserved. Absolutely gripping drama about a major real life story. If only Bill Donohue had done a rant about it, perhaps that would have given it the publicity boost it needed. Fantastic central performance and generally a wonderful movie about a very important topic. A very good script means that the issues are well considered while at the same time there are some very effective emotional moments. Seriously, I didn't just put this on my list to be quirky. More people really ought to see this.
(See 2010 list)
Showed at a couple of film festivals in 2010 but essentially a 2011 movie. Passed strangely silently into and then out cinemas without much fanfare. So yeah, the same issue as with Oranges and Sunshine. Not such lofty subject matter, but some quite wonderful dark humour with a particularly awesome performance from Paddy Considine, channelling David Icke to brilliant comic effect. I'm a little concerned at how a few critics (notably Roger Ebert, though now also the hosts of the Slash Filmcast) seem to think that this is a sweet film about a sympathetic character. It's about a very odd and pretentious character who imagines his life is vitally important and whose selfishness gets in the way of actually really caring about those around him. The ending is certainly not "tender". The fun of this film is watching the various ways that the main character is tormented, though the main character is still able to keep our sympathy because his few friends are actually somewhat worse than he is. In spite of being compared to Wes Anderson's films (mainly because of a few stylistic similarities) this is quite an original story with a fair bit of depth (albeit not in the way the protagonist believes). This is a great black comedy.
(See 2010 list)
6. The Fighter
An Oscar winner that didn't make it to the UK within 2010. I actually was a bit unsure of this one, but when I caught it on DVD I was really impressed. I'm not generally into sports movies, but this was much more about the drama than the boxing. And yes, it turns out that Christian Bale DID deserve his best supporting actor Oscar (even if I was personally rooting for Geoffrey Rush). Mark Wahlberg isn't an actor who normally impresses me, but I thought he did a good job here.
(See 2010 list)
5. The King's Speech
The big British Oscar winner didn't actually make it to the UK until 2011. However, it quickly built up a reputation and I wasn't immune to its charms. Colin Firth proved he had real acting chops (something I hadn't believed for a long while) with his starring role in "A Single Man" (a wholly depressing film rather lacking in closure, but Colin Firth is excellent in it). Meanwhile Geoffrey Rush who has proven himself again and again to be versatile and a fantastically talented (particularly in "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" which was a pretty mediocre movie, but in which Geoffrey Rush really showcases his incredible talent. - Okay, so mediocre movies with incredible central performances don't automatically assure you an Oscar then? *Yes I'm looking at you Meryl Streep*) does so again here.
(See 2010 list)
4. The Guard (2011)
Showcasing the brilliant and darkly comic talents of Brendan Gleeson and co-starring the excellent Don Cheadle, this manages to provide a similar quality to the prior work from the director's brother: "In Bruges". It's not quite as good as "In Bruges", but is possibly more consistently hilarious.
3. Sarah's Key
A unique take on the holocaust? Surely not! Kristin Scott Thomas stars in this absolutely fascinating tale of a girl involved in the French "Roundup" as the journalist slowly piecing together her story. Wonderful acting, a multitude of characters who all have individual depth and solid pacing all come together to produce what is clearly one of the best films of the year.
(See 2010 list)
2. Drive (2011)
If I'm not allowed to choose films that people in the US saw in 2010 then clearly, without a doubt, Drive has to be the best film. I've given a lot of details on this already when considering my own personal choices for the Oscars, but essentially I feel that this was a unique cinematic experience which brought together the best from Nicolas Winding Refn's previous films while allowing his bizarre imagination to provide a new spin on those elements. An 80s themed movie about a socially awkward driver with a mysterious past and his encounter with the mafia. I was very surprised how this turned out. Absolutely incredible film.
1. Black Swan
Another film which didn't reach the Uk until 2011 (much to my annoyance, since I was really looking forward to it). The latest film by Darren Aronofsky shows that he is only getting better as time goes on. Incredible visuals emphasise a general sense of unease which hits the audience right in the gut. This darkly tragic tale is a wonderful, if tough, cinematic experience which might possibly leave you a little shell-shocked.
(See 2010 list)
The Top Nine 2011 Movies (So Far):
9. Attack The Block
8. Rise Of The Planet Of the Apes
7. X-Men: First Class
6. Kung Fu Panda 2
5. The Woman
4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
3. Source Code
2. The Guard
Alain De Botton has decided that the current state of atheism is no good and has instead proposed what he decides to call "Atheism 2.0". But is Atheism 2.0 really any different from Atheism 1.0? Who does Alain De Botton think he is arguing against? Why promote this now?
I think we need a bit of background first of all....
Why Have An "Atheism 2.0"?
Ever since Richard Dawkins finally decided to stop making anti-religious tirades a tangent within his science books and instead devote an entire book solely to the topic of religion in particular he suddenly seemed to take on the mantle of "head atheist". And not just any head atheist, but the leader of a very specific atheist group known as the "New Atheists". This group came to be defined essentially by any atheist writer whose book entered the bestseller lists. (Blogger P.Z. Myers has come to refer to this group as "Gnu Atheists", not least because the modern atheists who seem to be given the label aren't really saying anything that wasn't said by atheists in the past.)
Since "The God Delusion" was released there have been a number of responses to it. The market has been kind of flooded with them in fact. First of all there was a rather popular response in a review. Terry Eagleton famously began with the sentence:
you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."
A lot of people found themselves amused by this argument, but the problem is that what Eagleton calls a caricature of religion is actually pretty close to what a lot of religious people believe, particularly the fundamentalists who have swarmed around Dawkins ever since he first put himself forward as a public defender of evolution from creationists.
Keith Ward came out pretty quickly (far too quickly to have actually read the book before responding) with a response to the general idea from Richard Dawkins' preceding TV documentary "Root Of All Evil?" (Dawkins didn't choose the title) which claimed essentially that religion has bad effects. His book "Is Religion Dangerous?" is a good example of how flimsy populist books on religion in the average bookshop are. It's not the worst example and I wouldn't say that Dawkins' "The God Delusion" was any better quality, but I feel it rather undermines Eagleton's criticism that Dawkins is too simplistic (and upon releasing the paperback version of "The God Delusion" Dawkins actually included an introduction which dealt specifically with the issue of what kind of populist religion books people would actually want to buy. I actually found this new foreword rather more interesting than the content of the book).
After that, there was Alister McGrath, who thinks of atheism as an article of faith and regularly cranks out at least one book a year. (Including a trilogy of fantasy books rushed off the press in just two years). Much more recently there was Conor Cunningham who decides to randomly label Dawkins and co "Ultra Darwinists". And also quite recently Karen Armstrong shockingly decided to gather together her own collection of drivel and platitudes. (I say shockingly because her "History of God" has actually been quite an inspiration to the religious and atheists alike.)
There are actually an awful lot of other books, many of them littered with straw men, all claiming to be providing a reasoned critique of the Gnu Atheists. It's not surprising. Richard Dawkins words always come across rather harsh so there's a strong wish that he, in particular, be put in his place. Also there are religious believers who are somewhat unnerved by the absence of a decent comeback to this supposed reasoned opposition to the belief in a God. And, as Conor Cunningham has recognised, plenty of Christians find creationism and ID Theory just as stupid as Dawkins does and they are just dying to have both sides of the creationism/atheism debate presented as militant extremes, so that they can place their traditional religious position neatly in the middle as the sane middle ground. (So on one side there's "God built it all by hand", on the other side there's "it's a natural process with no God involved", and finally in the middle the sensible position is suddenly "God did it, I don't know, but heck we don't know everything. Trust in the sacrifice of God in human form experienced today every week in wafers and cheap wine." Sure...)
Now Alain De Botton is dealing with a previously fairly untapped part of the market. Atheists and non-religious people who don't think religion is actually that bad.
Religion For Atheists?
Alain De Botton is a popularist philosophy writer. There was a point where his book "The Consolations of Philosophy" was on shelves everywhere, though he wasn't really so interested in exploring the ins and outs of classical philosophy as giving a massively simplified and trivial version. Still, as was noted before, sometimes you can't show the entire depth of the argument if you want to appeal to the wider market.
His latest ideas in his book "Religion For Atheists" are explored in a lecture viewable here:
He also gives an impassioned speech about the ideas of "Religion For Atheists" in the audio form and you can listen to that here.
He says that the most boring question about religion is whether or not it is "true" and says that the issue has become a matter obsession for "fanatical atheists". I think what he ignores here is that while it might be "boring", the matter of truth is actually rather important. There are number of reasons to say this because there are plenty of cases where the unquestionable truth and authority of doctrine and/or scripture is used to justify what are sometimes quite influential political positions. Proposals for limiting access to abortion, limiting rights of certain groups in society, insisting on old traditional stances on gender roles, promoting abstinence education and, yes, even ID Theory are all often (though admittedly not every single time for every single one of these examples) tied to the believed doctrinal truth and authority of particular religions.
Essentially De Botton takes the old line that while you might not believe in religions you should still respect them. The question arises once again: What is it about religions which makes them worthy of respect? I don't think De Botton actually has an answer to this though (or at least not a convincing one).
De Botton claims that religion serves two central needs "which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill":
1) "The need to live together in communities in hamony, despite our deeply rooted, selfish, violent impulses."
2) "The need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our own decay and demise."
Or to put it another way:
1) Secularism heralds the breakdown of society.
2) There are no atheists in foxholes.
To be quite frank, the need for secularism would appear to me to arise precisely from the fact that, when people all belong to different faiths, religion doesn't help to promote harmony. Religion is often divisive and sectarian. As such, the idea that setting up non-religious communities must involve learning from the actions of the religious seems like nonsense. Far more often than not, the lessons are more likely to be cautionary tales; examples of what NOT to do when trying to foster a spirit of unity in diversity. Yes, there have already been figures like Martin Luther King and Haille Selassie who have been religious and attacked social injustices in ways that might be inspiring to the non-religious, but these figures can often be seen to be actively subverting the religious ideas they were brought up with. Dr. King, for example, takes the example of "the promised land" but does not imagine it as a contested strip of land or as some kind of post-apocalyptic paradise, but rather as the hope of a united humanity.
On the second point, I'll firstly note that atheists are found in all walks of life and don't appear to see their disbelief in God as a disadvantage. However, I think it's also worth asking, if atheistic modes of tackling these issues are so unskilful, why are there religious groups pretending to offer therapy without the professional background in the subject? Surely if religious methods were superior to secular ones on this front, Churches and places of worship would already be pioneers in the field, with absolutely no need to use fraudulent behaviour like this in order to promote themselves?
Rallying Points For The Failings Of Secularism...
Alain De Botton makes a number of points at this stage on the failings of secularism. But these points about modern society are either patently the result of good common sense or quite clearly false:
"We've grown frightened of the word 'morality'."
I find myself reminded of the scene in "This Is England" where the National Front are telling the skinheads that "England" is a word no one is allowed to use anymore. Afterwards, the character Pukey asks "You didn't believe all that sh** did you?"
A quick glance through the daily papers makes it quite clear that no one is frightened of morality. We moralise quite liberally and don't seem to need any additional religious influences in order to do so. Utter bollocks.
"We bridle at the thought of hearing a sermon."
There's a good reason for this. A sermon is where a particular conclusion is insisted upon. Sermons aren't known for being followed up with question and answer sessions. During the lecture Alain De Botton gave on this he actually waxes lyrical about propaganda as if he's completely forgotten why it has its poor reputation. Sermons are viewed as problematic for similar reasons.
"We flee from the idea that art should be uplifting or have an ethical mission."
The idea that art should be a certain way is yet another sensible thing to flee from. We are very keen on artistic freedom. Art is quite often uplifting and art quite often pushes an ethical stance, but we certainly don't insist on it. Of course we don't.
"We don't go on pilgrimages."
This is utter nonsense. There are any number of non-religious (or at least not related to religions which are still active with a high membership) monuments to which people flock. Places like Pompeii or Mt. Kilimanjiro attract huge numbers of visitors who experience strong personal feelings from their journeys. And couldn't something similar be said about events like Glastonbury or Comic-Con? Yeah sure we don't call these pilgrimages, but why should we see them as of any less value? The Catholic Church insists that Lourdes is only supposed to provide "spiritual" healing to the vast majority of visitors and isn't that all your average visitor to the Peak District is hoping for? The descriptions by Muslim pilgrims of their reactions to their journey to Makkah often sounds very much like you would expect to hear from music fans at a rock festival.
Of course we go on pilgrimages.
"We can't build temples."
Oddly enough, building a large structure tends to also rely on having some specific plans for how to use that structure. We have plenty of buildings which we construct with positive aims, but I'll admit that constructing a secular building solely for a combination of artistic beauty and personal contemplation is rather less common. (Though I'll bet there's an obvious example of this that has passed me by.) That said, religious buildings are most often used for rather more than that too. There's very often a political side to religious groups and large showy buildings can play a large part in conveying that power and authority I mentioned earlier. It's all part of the propaganda that De Botton has decided is so great.
"We have no mechanisms for expressing gratitude."
Oh come on, do I even need to respond to this? People express gratitude ALL THE TIME without any reference to religion involved.
"Strangers rarely sing together"
Well here we have a case where Dawkins would actually agree with De Botton. So much for Atheism 2.0. Dawkins made a public point of noting that he had no problem with Christmas carols and was actually quite a fan. The main problem with singing together is that often it involves a certain degree of nationalism. The singing of "Jerusalem" at The Proms is often seen as a bit dodgy because the song is perceived as having a somewhat nationalist sentiment (though the lyrics are actually a tirade against the harms caused by industrialisation).
Useful and Effective?
Alain De Botton finishes by saying that religions are, intermittently, "too useful, effective and intelligent to be abandoned to the religious alone". But what does he mean by useful and effective? (I won't worry about intelligent right now.)
In his lecture (see in the video posted above), De Botton makes the points in rather more detail.
He notes that we don't expect universities to tell us how to live and actually suggests that sermons could be more effective than lectures. However, it seems obvious that if you go to university they aren't going to say "here's how you should live" for simple reason that such an approach wouldn't educational. If you want to study ethics you can do so. There is ethical philosophy and ethics will also play a big part in certain courses on politics and sociology. What's more ethics will no doubt encroach on a variety of other subjects in some shape or form and there will be cross-disciplinary studies sharing ideas across departments. What they won't do is dogmatically assert what you should do and yes, they will presume you have a base-line understanding of morality and ethics because people generally do - and if they don't, waiting til university to understand those things is probably rather late (and in any case, you would most likely need to have some of these ideas in order to successfully cooperate with enough people in society to reach university in the first place).
De Botton seems to think that lectures lose out to sermons because they aren't passionate enough. However, lectures will quite often have a message they are pushing. What we also have in universities though, is seminars. We also have written work where ideas explored are assessed for understanding. Ideas are not simply lectured to us in a university setting. Those ideas are explored, analysed and evaluated. And if you have a really good lecturer, then it may be pretty damn passionate. What's more, a good seminar can (in theory) involve some pretty heated debate.
De Botton also argues the importance of ritual, giving the example of buddhists expected to go out and look at the moon. He seems to focus on this as a way to learn things, noting the effectiveness of repetition for learning. Yet ordinary people look at the moon all the time and forcing them to do so on a schedule is hardly my idea of an ideal set-up. Repetition is a good way to learn things, if they are basic enough. We already do it for things like multiplication tables or spellings. But when it comes to things like storytelling, repetition needs to be a little more varied. We need to keep trying new things and we need personal creativity in order to develop the storytelling skill. Repeating it directly is not going to work.
Is De Botton right to say that we aren't told what art means often enough? Actually art pieces will regularly tell us what they are trying to say, but it will depend on the artist. The "death of the author" means that some artists may not believe that their own explanations of their art matter, but rather it is individual interpretations that matter. Of course, the point he is saying here is that we need to be force-fed with propaganda and that propaganda is great. Sorry, but our initial instinctual reaction to the term "propaganda" is absolutely right. Just look at the Catholic Church and the sex abuse scandal. There's plenty of propagandist work going on there. (Like I said, religion provides more cautionary tales than positive lessons...)
Yet in the aftermath of the lecture, De Botton's whole message seems to be drastically toned down. I seem to agree with a lot of what De Botton says in the Q&A at the end. They just don't seem at all relevant to the pro-propaganda, "let's learn by rote", "being timetabled to stare at the moon is great", "let's have sermons in universities" nonsense that came beforehand.
However, one of the final points is the typical "atheists aren't polite enough" position. Y'know what? I'm no fan of Dawkins, but the main criticisms of him aren't about his lack of politeness. The main criticisms are that he has the audacity to publish his personal thoughts unabashedly in a bestselling book. He is criticised because he doesn't have the decency not to sell his books in such large numbers.
The best response to the Catholic sex abuse scandal is not politeness. Anne Widdecombe was in a debate about whether the Roman Catholic Church was a force for good and she made the most bizarre use of the Tone Argument when she said "oh they WOULD bring up child abuse, AIDs, homophobia, the all-male priesthood and condoms" as if these things weren't worthy of being mentioned and it was somehow impolite to mention them. Yes, there are impolite atheists out there, but not all of that impoliteness is uncalled for.
Yeah sure we can learn a few things from studying religion, but that doesn't mean religion deserves respect or politeness automatically. Religion used to be a much more central part of society than it is today and inevitably a great deal of what is good in society today will be based on the more religion-centered form that came before. But most often, the better way to tackle these kinds of issues is to cut out the religion. In fact even some religions are retreating from the term "religion", themselves recognising that certain religious ideas are simply no good. Some of these figures will want to retreat to some more primordial and "pure" version of their religion, insisting that their shift away from religion makes their ideas even more traditional, while others will be more progressive noting that old religious ideas have also been tied to old political and cultural ideas (noting, for example, that a morality based on honour and shame is clearly present in the Bible, but is rightly alien to our modern sensibility). Even the religious can tell that religion isn't all great and it would be extremely stupid of us not to share the fruits of this important lesson.