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fatpie42 - LiveJournal.com

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  • 09/29/12--18:34: Looper - Movie Review
  • I absolutely love the cinema. For me, the cinema is a big BIG treat and one I love to indulge in as often as I possibly can. But you've got to budget these things and sometimes other commitments get in the way. I tend to see one film at the cinema every month, so what with my last cinema visit being "Dark Knight Rises" back in July and it now being nearly the end of September I was kind of desperate. I'd planned to see Dredd last week and that had kind of fallen through with absolutely no 3D showings available.


    Grrr!

    But thankfully this week it turned out that "Looper" was being released.


    BTW, back when I reviewed "Dark Knight Rises" I went through my thoughts on the older Batman films noting that I hadn't re-watched "Batman and Robin" yet. Little surprise there. "Batman And Robin" was more enjoyable than "Batman Forever". I think part of it is snark-value. "Batman Forever" had the same silliness but it was less well-finished (with the wobbly Batmobile tail fin) and Jim Carrey's Riddler performance just drove me to nail-biting irritation. By contrast "Batman And Robin" upped the ante on colourfulness and over-the-top visuals. (The Batmobile now seemingly has a multi-coloured disco ball glowing clearly-visible in the bonnet.) And while a lot of the film was horrendous, I couldn't help but be excited for every appearance of Schwarzenegger. If the intention was a cheesy over-the-top cartoon-like Batman film (and the well-designed goofy backgrounds seem to make this clearly intentional) then Schwarzenegger gave the most suitable and professional performance in the whole film, with Uma Thurman making some attempt to eat his dust in that regard. George Clooney's performance only felt suitable in the scenes regarding Alfred suffering from illness in old age; a very bizarre sub-plot that felt like it belonged in a different film (as did George Clooney).



    So... back to our trip to "Looper"...

    Making a big evening of it, we started off by going to a restaurant. Nothing too fancy, mind you. As we were finishing up my gf decided to ask me what "The Loved Ones" was about (which I'd decided to rewatch again recently). I summed it up as a cross between a quirky teen drama about a boy preparing to go to his end of school dance on the one hand and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" on the other. Having realised this was not something she was interested in seeing she pressed me for more and more plot details with an increasingly 'wtf' look on her face. She doesn't reckon that it's her sort of film.



    Later, sitting in the cinema screen itself my gf noted that sitting on the front row wasn't as bad as she'd expected. We had to do so back when we watched The Amazing Spider-Man. Still, this time we were definitely taking centre seats towards the back. At that stage I found myself reminiscing about how much I enjoyed "Amazing Spider-Man" and how I'd seen a few clips on Youtube that reminded me just how much fun that film really was. By contrast, having now re-watched "Avengers Assemble" on DVD it didn't seem as good as I remembered. Both my gf and I really loved "X-Men: First Class" and that held up much better when we re-watched it on DVD (particularly considering that I had a number of misgivings when I came out of the cinema). "Avengers Assemble" certainly did a great job of balancing a bizarre mixture of characters, but there was something missing from the film as a whole. My gf noted that the overall plot was a bit thin. She noted that the glowy scary artefact thing that puts the whole world at stake trope is getting a bit old now, while I added that the alien hordes in the final act were rather uninteresting because we had little sense of their identity and therefore of the threat they posed. So yeah, "Avengers Assemble" not all it's cracked up to be (albeit still great fun). That's the consensus.



    I don't know how well "Looper" is going to do money-wise here in the UK. I expected a really full cinema showing, what with this being the opening week, but actually the audience was closer to the size I remember when I went to see "Scott Pilgrim Vs The World".

    Many of the trailers were horrendous. There was some odd featurette style advert for both "Holy Motors" and "Anna Karenina"  simultaneously, making it rather hard to tell which elements related to which film. This was sponsored by some make-up company, which I suppose was the main thing being advertised. Still, I don't think either of those films came off well. While I haven't read "Anna Karenina" I've heard enough about it to feel like the recent film adaptation just does not look right. The trailers make it look like a beautiful love story, whereas it should be a grimy tragedy.



    And there was a trailer for Season Four of "Breaking Bad". WHAT THE HELL??? Who was this aimed at? I've seen season 1 so far and I loved it. I am definitely seeing season 2. But an advert showing me stuff from season 4 was really NOT appreciated.



    So yeah, um "Flight" looks promising (Don Cheadle and Denzel Washington), there was some dancing movie called "battle to the finish" or some nonsense like that that looked rubbish, "Hit & Run" looked appalling with some particularly crass humour towards the end of the trailer (as opposed to the online trailers which are horrendously crass from beginning to end) and "Django Unchained" looked like it could be really good, though gf thought it looked potentially kinda racist.

    Finally "Looper" begins....




    Looper (2012)

    I love sci-fi movies, so I was pretty keen on seeing this one. I'm also a fan of Bruce Willis and a growing fan of Joseph Gordon Levitt, so that was pretty cool too. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Bruce Willis' younger self through some rather snazzy CG effects which seem to mainly make JGL's jaw squarer. I wouldn't say the effect is perfect. It seemed to make JGL's eyes look a bit too shiny, though the character's addiction to a futuristic drug applied through the eyes was a handy excuse. This is certainly a much better effect than the youthening of Jeff Bridges in "Tron Legacy".



    "Looper" is a good little sci-fi flick and while I'm not certain that it's as good as it's been hyped up to be, it's still got a lot going for it. Some seem to be posing this as possibly the best film of the year. I still reckon that "Cabin In The Woods" takes that title, but this certainly makes a good stab at it.


    There's an awful lot of voice narration towards the beginning, but then again there's a big world to build and a 'strong silent type' protagonist to follow, so we were best off getting the big concepts spelled out. Turns out the film is set about 30 years into our future, in a period where time travel is still not yet invented. However, when time travel IS invented it's also made illegal immediately but becomes a handy tool for criminal organisations to get rid of dead bodies. In this far future era, a further 30 years on, dead bodies are too easily tracked making murder too risky. But, if the intended victim is tied up and forcibly flung back in time they become simply a missing person in the future. Meanwhile in the past the 'looper' can easily dispose of a body that nobody is looking for because that person does not exist yet.



    So how about why they are called 'loopers'? (Once again, this is information from voiceover narration in the first ten minutes.) A looper agrees that they will kill whoever is sent back in time, even if it is their own future self. This is because the mafia need to be able to remove any connections between themselves and the work of the loopers. The solution to this is that when the looper's older self is sent back they get a massive payoff and get to retire young in the knowledge that they definitely have another 30 years in which to live like a king. Apparently loopers aren't generally the sort of people who plan long term.



    There's an odd connection between an older self and a past self which doesn't work quite the way we normally think of time travel working. If the younger self gets a bad cut that the future self never had in their own timestream, the future self will discover a scar forming out of nowhere on their body. This definitely isn't a "time is set in stone" kind of setup, but the future self will find their memories are gradually shifting into line with what is now going to have happened. It's all very "timey wimey" (to use the annoying phrase Stephen Moffat sometimes throws into Doctor Who episodes), but the whole point of timey wimeyness is that it'll all work better if you don't worry about it too much. And fortunately the movie doesn't need you to. The main focus of the story is not the time looping elements but rather what is happening right there and then. That being said, I think I'd have liked it if the film played with the time elements a bit more.

    The other side of the plot, which I probably shouldn't go into detail on, is related to a future crime boss known as "The Rainmaker". That plays a pretty big part in the second half and takes some interesting directions. The basic gist is that Bruce Willis' character knows that his best hope is to change the future and let's just say he's prepared to go to some drastic measures.

    The two leads are great and it's interesting how JGL's 'thoughtful look' works well as a less world-weary version of Bruce Willis' 'thoughtful look'. Also it fits with Bruce Willis' history as an action star that he's generally shown to be the more capable of the two of them, being the more experienced, and there's one scene in particular where Willis goes seriously badass.



    Emily Blunt was not only great, but also barely recognisable, due to both a believeable (for me at least) American accent and distinctly lighter hair than normal. She turns up quite a long way in, but gets to make a big impression pretty quickly. I last saw Blunt in Adjustment Bureau and it's clear that she is talented enough to insert herself into a story as realistic character even in a bizarre scenario, which was definitely a talent that was particularly necessary here.



    A really cool element to the movie is the settings. While we get the impression that this is a big world and we can completely believe that this is taking place in the future, the film never goes over the top. We have typical down-to-earth settings: flats, bars, clubs, and grimy streets. When making "eXistenZ" Cronenberg claimed that they tried to avoid typical sci-fi elements, which meant no tv screens for example, and I think something similar was done in "Looper". I cannot offhand remember any tvs and, if there were, they clearly didn't play a big part (which is odd since tv screens are kind of everywhere right now). A few scenes seemed to have an inserted lensflare in the form of a horizontal blue line especially to make it clear that this really IS happening in the future. But don't get me wrong, the little sci-fi elements are everywhere and sometimes it's remarkable how natural they seem. The gun carried by the loopers is quite clearly a sci-fi gun and there's also a kind of hoverbike that is quite prominent in the movie. Yet whatever the film throws at us always feels unassuming and natural because of some keen worldbuilding.



    So let's sum up then. The acting is great, the pacing is great, the style of the film is great, so I guess the only thing I can REALLY complain about is that the plot wasn't quite as satisfying as I hoped. I don't think the time travel stuff was really explored as far as perhaps it could and should have been. That they were avoiding time travel confusion is not really much of an argument since if anyone spends any time really thinking about major elements of the story, the time travel confusion is most definitely there. Still, as much as I might suggest that the plot could have been more interesting, possibly by being taken a bit further or even scaled back, I still think that this is great sci-fi. "Looper" comes off almost like a cross between "Source Code" and "Minority Report", but in a way that is most definitely all its own.

    "Looper" is a film that is easily over-hyped. It has an awesome cast, who deliver. It has a cool sci-fi premise, which it pulls off. It has a stylish feel, which successfully pull you in. However, in spite of all that, as well as being awesome, this is still probably NOT the best film to be released this year. Sorry, but no. That being said, it's a damn fine film and if you decide this is one of films you are going to make the effort to check out at the cinema, I highly doubt you'll be disappointed.

    A+



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    rhoda_rants decided to do this new meme so I guess I ought to follow it. If you are interested in sharing your current desktop image, the rules are pretty simple:
    1.) Anyone who looks at this entry has to post this meme and their current wallpaper. (So yeah, that's mandatory right?)
    2.) Explain in five sentences or less why you're using that wallpaper!
    3.) Don't change your wallpaper before doing this! (Coz that's cheating!)




    I'm a big fan of the Metroid Prime series. "Metroid Prime Trilogy" is like my favourite game of all time. I also love the colour effect on this pic. It's just generally really cool. There's a tumblr blog I follow especially to find new awesome Metroid pics.

    (My desktop pic originated here)

    Also.... ever wondered who would win out of Samus Aran and Boba Fett in a DEATH BATTLE?


    (video link)

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  • 10/02/12--04:55: The Grey - Movie Review
  • The Grey (2011)


    “Where is it I've read that someone condemned to death says or thinks, an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he'd only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once! Only to live, to live and live! Life, whatever it may be!…"
    - Rodion Raskolnikov in "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

    Why the pretentious quote? Well it turns out that "The Grey" starring Liam Neeson is actually an existential thriller rather than a survivalist action movie. It made me think of the quote above, so I'm just going to leave Dostoyevsky's words floating there for you to interpret as you will.

    "The Grey" had some odd marketing. It made it out to be sort of a "Taken"-style action movie only set in an arctic wasteland. Once again with Liam Neeson as the badass protagonist fighting against deadly enemies with his passion for a loved one keeping him going. While in "Taken" he's fighting terrorists to save his daughter, in "The Grey" he's fighting wolves while remembering his dead wife.

    Now that's not entirely misleading. Liam Neeson definitely does come up against wolves, he's still kind of a badass and, as much as the trailer had me groaning, his memories of his dead wife do play an important part. However, this is not really an action movie. As exciting as some parts might be and while there's some fending off wolves involved, the characters are mainly just running from the wolves. What's more, while some have criticised the film for an unrealistic depiction of wolves, it isn't really wolves that the characters are facing at all. It's death. (Yes, this is "Liam Neeson Vs DEATH". Interested now?)





    The essential storyline is this. Liam Neeson is working on some out of the way site. The men there are drilling for oil, but we later discover that Neeson's own role on the site (or at least one of his roles) was to keep wolves at bay. We see him kill one towards the beginning of the film. Neeson explains to us in voiceover that the people on this site are mostly scumbags and ex-cons, because the level of pay along with the kind of work and the obscure remote location is generally only going to appeal to people who are running away from a dark past. At this early stage in the film it seems that Neeson's character is suicidal, considering turning the rifle on himself.

    Turns out that that a large group of workers are all going home, presumably having finished their stint at the refinery. Neeson wakes up, however, to discover that the plane is making a crash landing. Afterwards he awakes again to find himself buried in snow, with the plane in pieces. He uncovers himself and stumbles around to find survivors. Seemingly having contemplated death quite a bit, he guides a dying man though the process of, well, dying. This is the point where the central concept behind the movie is being spelled out. Neeson tells the dying man to focus on a loved one and imagine them guiding them into death. Of course, Neeson's own loved one is his dead wife. The question remains what is more important: Surviving at any cost? Or accepting death? And at this point we are introduced to the clear embodiment of death in the film: the wolves.



    The wolves are shown as formidable 'monsters' essentially. If anyone remembers the glowing teeth of the aliens in "Attack The Block", the wolves here have a similar effect. The wolves' eyes are depicted as glowing in the dark and the way the characters are stalked makes them feel scared and hopeless. The question arises whether it is even worth trying to escape the wrath of the wolves, but on the other hand there is the inescapable desire to survive.

    We are told that the reason the wolves are attacking them is because the plane has crashed in the wolves' territory. This territory spans many miles, so it's decided that their best chance of survival is to keep moving. We're told very matter-of-factly that the chances of being found in this arctic wasteland is minimal, so they must either get out of the wolves' territory or expect to be picked off one by one with little hope of rescue. Thankfully I don't know enough about plane crash rescue in the arctic or the hunting patterns of wolves to be too worried by this. Basically this is the premise, just like "the world is a computer program" or "the plant drinks human blood" or "the dead are coming back to life" in other major films. Once you've accepted this part the rest of the film follows from here.



    The Grey is actually beautifully filmed. I was surprised to find this was the director of the "A-Team" movie working on this (which I admittedly haven't seen, asides from the ridiculous Orange adverts connected to it), but it's also from the director of Narc which used some similar techniques, only with nothing like the same quality material to work with. The CG used to create the wolves is impeccable, while the snowy vistas look absolutely gorgeous.

    Another thing I really appreciated about "The Grey" was the characters. While there are a fair few to keep track on initially (and I struggled to work out which of those previously alive on the plane were amongst the survivors after the crash), the characters are built up well. There's some good dialogue between them as they handle the prospect of deatfh-by-wolf and while this might not be an action movie, it could hardly be called slow-paced.



    "The Grey" is an absolutely remarkable surprise. I had absolutely no idea that I would view this as one of the best films of the year, possibly even challenging my current favourite "Cabin In The Woods" for the title. It's an incredibly emotional and existential experience, balancing the instinct for survival with the inevitability of death. The ending will either make you go "wow!" or "what the hell?" (or possibly both). The latter reaction is all the more likely if you went in expecting an action movie, particularly if you saw the trailer. I actually DID see the trailer, so I kind of had both reactions, but "wow" is the reaction that stuck with me.

    A+

    P.S. Don't forget to check out the short extra bit just after the credits. Doesn't really add much, but it's always annoying to find these things out AFTER you return the rental DVD, y'know?


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    I've now got into a regular pattern of posting reviews for horror films on Halloween Candy (candycorncomm) long before I repost them here. rhoda_rants has just recently announced the Halloween horror movie marathon and both of us have started releasing reviews of horror movies that we've seen recently.



    The Halloween marathon challenge is to watch 31 horror movies over the 31 days of October. Naturally it's not necessary to have any expectation that you'll successfully complete the challenge to join in. Preferably we'd like to see a short summary (perhaps a couple of sentences) saying what you thought of each film.

    If anyone's seen a horror film or two recently (and anything remotely linked to horror will do) why not get involved?

    rhoda_rants' post announcing the Halloween Movie Marathon is here. If you think there's any chance you might be interested, please check out Halloween Candy. We could really do with some fresh blood (so to speak) on the site.


    Ooooh also recently discovered this cool poster (below). It's from 2010 when John Carpenter had only just released "The Ward", so it may well not be happening now, but the poster certainly looks cool:


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    The great Alfred Hitchcock Reverse Retrospective series continues! In the last installment I reviewed Hitchcock's final four films and was most impressed by "Topaz".

    Now, continuing to work back in time through Hitchcock's career, I reach a set of some of Hitchcock's most remembered works (and admittedly a few I'd seen before). As in the last entry I will be reviewing in these in decreasing order of preference. This set of movies are as follows: Marnie (1964), The Birds (1963), Psycho (1960), North By Northwest (1959).



    North By Northwest (1959)
    This has stood up remarkably well. I mean, it still seems pretty dated in some ways, but the central premise is just so well handled that it doesn't matter. Our central character, played by Cary Grant, is abducted by some mysterious figures who insist on calling him by a different name. According to these mysterious figures our protagonist is some kind of a threat to them and is leading a double life. In the opening scenes he's seemed like a pretty definite character, but now we are told that he is someone else. Who is he really?


    There's a rather neat little out-of-control car scene and, unlike in the later "Family Plot", this one is really well done. It still has the same kind of obvious screen-behind-an-unmoving-car effect in use, but the style of filming allows us to helpfully ignore that.

    Perhaps the most dated element of the film is the love interest. The relationship seems to happen too fast and the lead seems to find it completely normal. Now perhaps this is because I'm not exactly 'conventionally attractive' myself, but I don't generally think anyone expects women to be throwing themselves into a relationship with them, particularly when they are fully aware that you are a fugitive from the law. While later plot developments might somewhat clear up why the love interest acts the way she does, it doesn't explain the lack of suspicion from the male protagonist.

    James Mason plays an awesome villain. Seeing as I've seen him in just this and "Salem's Lot" I wonder whether he's been typecast. He always seems to play calm, collected, and absolutely evil people. What's great about both performances is the way in which he is absolutely calm and polite and yet quite clearly up to no good at the same time.

    The over-arching plot of "North By Northwest" is quite involved and the protagonist is always shifting from one location to the next, yet it is in no way convoluted and the story keeps a good strong pace throughout. Cary Grant is fantastic as the headstrong protagonist who, when put into dire straights, is willing to go the extra mile to get the upper hand and refuses to ever admit defeat, even when it's seemingly him against the world.

    This is currently the best Hitchcock film I have seen. I'd seen this before and it is even better upon a second watch. Absolutely love it.

    A+






    Psycho (1960)
    This was one I already knew I enjoyed. I'm a bit ahead of these Hitchcock retrospective installments and the very next movie in the running is Vertigo (1958). After finishing Vertigo I pretty much decided to watch Psycho straight afterwards to cleanse my palate. I'll go into more detail about Vertigo in my next installment, but to my mind the contrast in quality was incredible.

    My gf, who has seen most of these films with me, is now getting a little annoyed by the (most often blonde) damsel-in-distress distraught love interest. (With that in mind it'll be interesting to consider Tippi Hedren's two performances below.) However Janet Leigh, the lead in Psycho, is a complete exception that rule. She is absolutely set up as a blonde love interest, but she that isn't allowed to define her. She is someone who is willing to commit to a plan once she's put it into action. Even as she is initially set up as a love interest as a man, she is someone who is determined to stay in control within that relationship.


    The way the tension is built up in the beginning is fantastic. There's the sort of Jaws-like theme (which I suppose makes the Jaws theme kind of Psycho-like) which accompanies female protagonist's doubts. These doubts are expressed voiceovers which represent what she thinks those characters are saying or thinking while she is not there.

    However, undoubtedly a central strength to the film is the performance by Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, particularly if you've seen the film before. He's at once both nervous and sweet, yet at the same time there's a subtle sense that things are not quite right. Even while we know that an interest in taxidermy is no cause for alarm, the way the discussion takes place surrounded by creepy-looking stuffed birds cannot help but provide the sense of an underlying threat.

    The final scene could easily have been a more cheesy quirky Hitchcock ending, coming straight after a convenient expert is able to explain all the psychological background to the film, but once again Anthony Perkins is able to give just the right impression to the audience to leave us with the sense of dread Hitchcock plans to evoke.

    A+






    The Birds (1963)
    So yes, here's another blonde love interest, but for the most part Tippi Hedren feels very much the equal in the relationship. Her character is a kind of female equivalent of a rich playboy, keeping herself busy and being quite self-confident, but not really having a huge level of responsibility to deal with. She is shown to have an interest in harmless pranks and we see her pursue her love interest in a playful yet almost spiteful way, since her main motivation seems to be to give herself the upper hand in the relationship.



    As the film goes on, the male love interest becomes more and more a protector figure for her, but she still seems to keep her independence and confidence. As with Psycho, there's an odd mother-son relationship at play too, though while this one is more down-to-earth I'm not sure how convincing I found it.

    Even while the birds effects may have dated, they are still just as effective as ever. Not being a special effects expert I must admit that I have no idea whatsoever how the effect was pulled off. But particularly effective are the scenes where the birds are just shown sitting still in large flocks. Perched and plotting...

    The helpful appearance of an outspoken expert in bird behaviour in a pub was a little TOO convenient and while the central characters are great, the big attraction is always the central threat of the birds. The family interactions aren't simply filler, but they don't really tie in with the main threat in a particularly compelling way.

    An interesting side-note though: The little girl is played by Veronica Cartwright who would later be the well-known quirky crying-screaming woman in "Alien" and the seventies "Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers".

    Anyway, there's no doubting that "The Birds" is an absolute classic and while it might not be quite in the same league as "Psycho", clearly Hitchcock was still on his A-game when he made it. Looking at the IMDB message boards (which is probably not the best place to gauge this sort of thing) Hitchcock fans have mixed feelings on Tippi Hedren, but I reckon she was really really good. Overall I absolutely loved this film.

    A+






    Marnie (1964)
    This was filmed straight after "The Birds" and once again features Tippi Hedren in the main female role, this time acting alongside Sean Connery.

    After "Psycho" it seems that there's a psychological mother connection in this film too. This time, however, it's a mother-daughter connection. This time Tippi plays a theif, going from business to business ripping off the safe in the offices where she's hired and then changing her identity and moving somewhere else.


    After her latest heist, she goes to see her mother who seems to have a strong relationship with a local girl, but is oddly distant with her own daughter. That night at her mother's house she has an odd dream involving some odd flashes of red (and we already know she hates bright red flowers) and it's definitely to do with her mother but we don't know why.

    Meanwhile Sean Connery hires the lead protagonist specifically so her can catch her stealing. Having done so, he doesn't turn her in to the police. Instead he replaces the stolen money and, essentially, blackmails her into marrying him. It's all quite bizarre.

    When she doesn't want to consumate the relationship, Sean Connery is convinced that there is something psychologically wrong with her, but I was rather more convinced by Tippi Hedren's line, where she notes that not wanting to have sex is no reason to be sent to the madhouse. The film plot never seems to acknowledge just how horrifically unethical it was for Sean Connery's character to blackmail a woman into marriage, never mind the ridiculousness of expecting her to fall in love with him.

    There's something extremely sexist about the whole plot. Some have suggested that this is a film that's covertly about lesbianism, but to be frank it'd have to be suggesting that lesbianism was a psychological disorder if that were the case.

    The final explanation for the protagonist's fits whenever she sees certain red objects was just bizarre. (And it's irritating the way that the film only randomly picks which red objects are going to set off these panic attacks in Tippi Hedren's character.)

    The whole film seemed to me to have a rather cheap feel for a Hitchcock directed movie. Some (once again on the IMDB boards, so take it with a pinch of salt) appeared to blame Tippi Hedren's performance, but I thought she was still doing pretty well with the poor script she was given to work with. However, it turns out that she'd have every excuse for a bad performance...

    You see, it turns out the Tippi Hedren did not want to work on this movie. She claims that during the filming of The Birds she was sexually harassed by Alfred Hitchcock. When she refused his advances, the punishment seemed to be a particularly unsafe filming of the final bird attack. Her contract gave her little choice but to continue to work with Hitchcock on Marnie, but after that she refused to work with him any longer. Hitchcock's following response was to simply use the contract to prevent her from doing any other jobs. For several years he essentially killed her career.

    It seems there are two imminent Hitchcock films. One simply called "Hitchcock" starring Anthony Hopkins, but another called "The Girl" starring Toby Jones as the celebrated director and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren. The latter will deal with this clash of personalities and it could be pretty interesting.

    Some might wish to blame "Marnie"'s issues on this conflict, but to be quite frank I don't think the script showed much promise. It's sad that this movie should mark the end of what seems to be Hitchcock's golden era. Hitchcock's indiscretions are a long time past now and that should not influence my final score. However, even before knowing about the drama between Hitchcock and Hedren, I still felt that the film's plot was utterly ludicrous.

    E-


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    Having now completed the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" franchise, I intend to continue with the horror franchise marathons selected in the poll a while back. Next up, having placed joint second: "Child's Play" (all 5 movies) and "The Omen" (all 4 movies)!

    In the meanwhile there's a lot of Tobe Hooper films still to get through, but first I'd like to take a look at a fairly recent favourite horror director...

    Director Spotlight - Neil Marshall



    Part One

    After watching Dog Soldiers around a decade ago and being rather unimpressed I feel quite surprised to be putting Neil Marshall alongside Christopher Smith (whose debut feature initially passed me by) as one of the best British horror directors working today. Both have currently completed four films and both have a period piece as their latest feature. (While Marshall has gone for Roman times, Smith's "Black Death" was set during the Medieval era.) Of the two I'd say that Smith was the more polished filmmaker, but to some extent it's Marshall's gritty and messy style that makes his work so endearing.


    Dog Soldiers (2002)

    Werewolf movies eh? They're tough to do, but when they get them right they REALLY get them right. There's the creepy teen comedy "Ginger Snaps" and the classic John Landis horror comedy "An American Werewolf In London". And naturally there's also the classic black and white "The Wolf-Man". Asides from those, there are two other werewolf movies that are often mentioned. One is Joe Dante's "The Howling" which spawned a whole series of even dafter sequels. I wasn't so impressed with The Howling, in spite of being a bit of a Joe Dante fan. The problem was highlighted in "The Howling 2 (My Sister Is A Werewolf)" where three semi-wolf people seem to be engaging in some kind of orgy. There's something distinctly un-sexy about people who are covered in long hair make up over their bodies and the problem was no less present in Joe Dante's original "The Howling" film which first tries to push the whole sexy werewolves angle. But the other werewolf movie often mentioned is "Dog Soldiers".


    Presuming they are properly displayed, the images above should be: werewolf in "Ginger Snaps", half-transformed werewolf in "An American Werewolf In London", Universal's classic "The Wolf-Man", Robert Picardo part-way through transformation in "The Howling", *ahem* 'sexy' werewolves in "The Howling Part 2", and finally a cool transformation shot from the rather less-often mentioned "The Company of Wolves".


    In any werewolf movie, the aspect that people tend to focus on is the werewolf effects. American Werewolf and The Howling both involving some very impressive transformation effects and all of them involving a lot of attention to make up. Dog Soldiers clearly doesn't have much money to spend on effects. The werewolves themselves are occasionally shown quite clearly, but while they look okay, the way they move is utterly ridiculous. Also, someone's intestines spilling out of their gut seemed like a particularly poor effect, though this is part of the gritty and liberal use of gore that actually feels somewhat endearing in Marshall's films.



    Admittedly there is some good acting talent here to make up for the poor effects. Kevin McKidd, best known for his role in "Trainspotting" is the main protagonist. He plays a soldier hoping to move to Liam Cunningham's squad of elite soldiers, but when he's about to be accepted in with flying colours he fails to complete one final test due to personal moral reservations. He then returns to his own team, led by Sean Pertwee, who are engaging in a routine training exercise on the moors. Things start to go very wrong and what's more, it turns out that Liam Cunningham is involved.



    Liam Cunningham is fantastic, Sean Pertwee is great and Kevin McKidd is alright. The acting in general is pretty good. Unfortunately, the writing is rather less impressive. In some parts of the film the character motivations can be unclear. When some revelations start coming out towards the end, it all feels rather poorly developed. As usual, I’m going to try to avoid any kind of spoilers, but at a late stage in the film, prior to some important shocking revelations, there is a rather odd decision made seemingly unanimously. When it’s later revealed that they were being manipulated into this decision it compounds the confusion as to how they even made the decision in the first place. While there’s generally plenty of action (though perhaps not as much as the title of the film might suggest), it can feel rather dull because the audience isn’t always properly clued in as to why things are happening.



    I don’t want to be too unfair though. While the scenario doesn’t always make complete sense (and we’re talking about a werewolf story, so perhaps that isn’t entirely surprising), the character interactions are always very engaging. The actors are clearly doing their best with the material and they are successful in making us believe in the characters every step of the way.



    There’s clearly pretty low standards for werewolf movies, what with “The Howling” and this both being seen as classics. Getting the effects right has always been a big problem, with the Buffy the vampire slayer series generally having rather laughable werewolves in particular and Ginger Snaps mainly succeeding by making the effects side of things less important. In Dog Soldiers the effects are still not great in spite of some clear effort on the part of the filmmakers and while there are some good characters and some pretty awesome cast members, in the end the problems are with making a decent werewolf film in general. This tries pretty hard, but in the end I’m still inclined to say that it’s a bit boring overall, though it had a lot of potential.

    C+






    The Descent (2005)

    I was rather dismissive of this title initially. It wasn’t so much because I disliked Dog Soldiers, since I had no idea that they had the same director. My main reason for being dismissive was because I had it mixed up with “The Cave” which received very poor reviews and seemingly had the exact same premise. And I’d also note that even the good reviews for “The Descent” laid on rather thick the ability of the film to disturb people with its claustrophobia. Rather more recently though, I noticed the large number of high recommendations from ordinary movie lovers and decided to check whether it met the hype. I was extremely happily surprised.





    My original review for "The Descent" can be found on my own blog here but, to sum up, the reason why I really loved it was because it managed to do a great job evoking a claustrophobic feeling without using cheap horror tricks. There are no creepy whistling and violin noises following by loud crashes in order to evoke panic in the viewer. The emotions are stirred by the performances and the filming style alone.



    There's also an awesome, balanced and pretty much all-female cast to follow with some really interesting characters. There's possibly two out of a group of around seven who are hard to tell apart. Asides from that everyone is very distinctive and every character has an important part to play.



    I do admittedly think that the opening is not done as well as it could be. A rather extravagant death scene is used towards the beginning which feels a little too over-dramatised. But once we get to the caving trip itself, the film has then properly established itself and things just don't let up.



    Apparently there is a cut of the movie shown to some audiences which leaves off the ending. That is an utterly despicable thing to hear and I'm not quite sure why anyone would do that (though admittedly the sequel kind of relies on the premature ending). Overall, I put this up with John Carpenter's "The Thing" as one of my favourite horror films of all time. Absolutely classic.

    A+


    (x-posted to Halloween Candy)

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    21 Jump Street (2012)

    When I saw the trailer for this, I was repulsed. When I heard reviews saying it was pretty good, my reaction was "whatever". But when I discovered that the makers of "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" had made it, I was confounded. I LOVED "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs". In spite of being released in the same year as "Up" (which I absolutely consider one of Pixar's best) and "A Town Called Panic" (which is also very awesome), I still think "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" was better. So perhaps it's not surprising that both Cloudy and Jump Street had poorly marketing in common with one another.


    Oddly enough, "21 Jump Street" isn't a gross out comedy. The trailer made it look like it was about two immature police officers who act like idiots in the police force and then go on to act like idiots in a high school. That's sort of what happens. What the trailer unfortunately neglects to mention is that one of the characters was a nerd in school, while the other character was a jock. They've since become friends because they've been able to help each other get through police training. Now they are essentially going back to school, there's this suggestion that they are about to sink straight back into their old respective geek/jock roles. However, it turns out that things have changed quite a bit since they were at school...

    The jokes are mostly done very well and I must admit that the laughs came pretty regularly. However, there are still a few jokes, particularly towards the climax, which seem to be relying on an immature audience. Also, some of the jokes felt a bit unoriginal. However, I must admit that in the vast majority of cases the jokes are pulled off very cleverly and it becomes clear that the "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" team is at work. After this and "The Eagle" I'm finding Channing Tatum to be a pretty solid performer. That's two very different genres he's tackled and he's done a good job in both cases.

    I think the first half is pulled off rather better than the second half. I didn't personally feel that the climactic scenes at the end had the same high quality as the early scenes in the school, but overall I'd say the humour is pretty consistent and this was definitely an above-average film. It's MUCH better than I'd have expected from the trailer, but not as good as Cloudy. It's a very satisfying comedy.

    B+




    The Muppets (2011)

    I've not generally kept up with Muppets movies, but the big selling point for this one was that Bret McKenzie from "Flight Of The Conchords" was writing the songs. While I could definitely tell that these were his sorts of songs, I felt I enjoyed his music more when he was singing (often along with Jemaine Clement). Also, a lot of the songs were given to the human friends of the new Muppet "Walter" introduced in the movie. Amy Adams ends up being given a whole side-plot with her own solo songs and while admittedly the song was pretty good, it felt disjointed from the rest of the film. Meanwhile Jason Segel just didn't appeal to me at all. Looking at his IMDB page, I can confirm that this is the first time I have ever seen him perform and, so far, I am not a fan.


    There are a whole lot of cameos from people who I'd rather be watching who do very little... Although admittedly the "Punch Teacher" show hosted by Ken Jeong (Senor Chang from "Community") that randomly turns up on TV, with an unhappy teacher saying "I just thought I could make a difference", was admittedly kind of appealing (albeit, once again, rather short). And actually, I laughed a lot in this film. There were plenty of funny moments.

    Essentially this film is a bit like "Enchanted". It's pretty great fun and it's got plenty of laugh out loud moments, but underneath it all it cannot help but be a romantic comedy at heart. Now if you are a fan of rom-coms then all power to you, but for me, that's a strike against the movie. There's a lot of "meta" stuff in the film where it references itself. For example: a character will enter a scene apologising for being out of breath because of the musical number they were performing in the scene prior. However, this almost feels like an admission that if they were to give us the film straight up, it'd be a bit lame.

    This is enjoyable, it's nice to see The Muppets again, and it WILL make you laugh. However, this isn't some masterpiece. It's an above average romantic comedy, aimed at children, but with a few winks and nods to keep you invested. If you watch it, you won't regret it, but if you expect to be blown away you most likely won't be.

    B-




    A Separation (2011)

    This was the big foreign film of last year with huge amounts of praise. The title seemed a bit bland, but when I heard that it was about a woman trying to divorce her husband in Iran, there suddenly seemed to be a lot more scope. Still "Iranian divorce movie" is never going to be the most thrilling synopsis, no matter how much potential that premise might suggest.



    The thing is, the film isn't really about divorce. The divorce itself happens in the first five minutes of the film. That's it. However, the majority of the film is based around an entirely different court proceeding. I say "court". The cases seem to be heard in a small room by a guy acting as judge who sits at a desk. In front of him the accuser and the accused rant and bicker. It's bizarre.

    There are definitely aspects of this film that are interesting. The unfamiliar culture colours everything and occasionally throws a spanner into the works. Still, it's difficult to know who I should be sympathising with. Seemingly the most sensible of the main characters is the woman who divorces her husband, but when she goes out of the picture at the beginning we have to try to grasp at other characters to empathise with and, to be honest, I had trouble with all of them. I think I'd only just got the hang of the character nuances when the film came to a stop.

    Perhaps it's me wanting more aliens, time travel, and gun fights in my films. Perhaps I'm just an "MTV generation" low attention span kind of viewer these days. But this struck me as precisely the sort of foreign film that often gets recommended by film critics, but not really a terribly visceral cinematic experience that will stick with you. It's a good film, don't get me wrong. There's a good plot and everything. But there's no real "wow" factor here. It's a sort of whodunnit, if you like, which touches on religion, gender, the global recession, justice, and cultural difference, but the approach on all those topics is subtle. "A Separation" shows you a slice of life in Iran in expert fashion, but personally I didn't feel 'pulled in' for the most part.

    B+




    Even The Rain (2010)

    I was not sure what to expect from "Even The Rain". It's a film about filmmakers, which seems like it would inevitably lead to massive self-indulgence. However, when the actors start rehearsing, the way that the film being produced bleeds into the real world around them becomes more obvious. The film crew have moved to Bolivia in order to use local people as the natives in their film about the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the West Indies.


    The main actors' first read-through takes place in a hotel garden and, to spice things up, one of the actors gets out of his chair and everyone begins moving into a new position to act out the scene. Eventually the Bolivian hotel staff end up being used, essentially as props, being treated as the West Indians in the scene. The actor removes one of their earrings and asks insistently where they can find more gold. At this awkward moment, the main actor apologises for being so selfish, gives back the earring and they finish up the read-through to get some lunch. This is quite a shocking and effective scene and does a great job of setting up the parallel that persists throughout the film between the message of the film that is being made and the situation of the local peoples in Bolivia. This contrast becomes starker still when the Bolivian local chosen for the leading 'native' role becomes the ringleader for some local protests against the privatisation of the water supply (a real life issue in Bolivia between 1997 and 2001).

    It seems that within this modern society 'water' is the new 'gold', being stolen from the exploited locals to be exported to wealthier countries. The message of exploitation in the film-within-a-film is directly tied to the real life exploitation happening to the very people who are working as extras. Even as the actors boast the achievements of the characters they are portraying who stood up against exploitation, it becomes questionable whether they can keep up their ideals when trouble brews for modern day Bolivians. The producer, in particular, is often more concerned with the bottom line than of the wellbeing of his extras.

    So what's the catch. Well, as often is the case, the first half is better than the second. The problem with this film is the final act. It seems like the filmmakers just didn't know how to end things. We have a dramatic change of heart for one of the characters. We have essentially "all hell breaking loose". But in the end, it all feels like a bit of an anti-climax. It's really sad since the central premise was built up so well, but in the end the main thought going through my head was "is that it?"

    If you think the premise of this film sounds appealing then definitely check this out. Perhaps I'm just not interested enough in social justice issues for this to satisfy me. The film begins by showing us really interesting parallels and seemingly having a great deal to say about exploitation, but with such heady notions at play I found that the ending just felt trite.

    C+




    Holes (2003)

    "There is no lake at Camp Green Lake."
    That is the first line of the fantastic children's book "Holes" by Louis Sachar. The story of Stanley Yelnats, a boy who is falsely accused of stealing, found guilty and sent to a camp as an alternative to prison. At the camp, the children there are expected to dig holes all day in order to "build character". The story is pretty shocking, but it's a real page turner and while the book is short, not a word is wasted.



    So... a film adaptation of this fantastic children's book starring Shia LaBeouf? To be quite frank, it sounded like a recipe for disaster. In actual fact, it was pretty good. I was a little unsure of how they handled the protagonist Stanley Yelnats' family, but the film definitely seemed to capture the basic spirit, if not the quality, of the book. That said, there were somewhat goofy elements, particularly when portraying 'the bad guys'. It feels like the movie reverts into a rather overly 'kiddy' comedy whenever the fimmakers are worried things are getting too dark. Jon Voigt in particular seems to randomly shift from scary to goofy in order to make the film more child-friendly.

    Personally, I reckon children can handle rather more than entertainers often give them credit for. It's all too common for entertainment to be dumbed down for them. For the most part, I think this avoids that. Still, this isn't an outstanding film. It's always difficult to adapt a novel and this probably deserves credit for staying faithful to the source material for the most part.

    While Shia LaBeouf does a pretty awesome job in the central role here, there's a simple reason why he is entirely unsuitable. The central character in the book is overweight. There's a pretty awesome part of the book where *SPOILER WARNING*

    Stanley finds himself potentially getting into a fight with one of the other boys at the camp. Around him he can hear other boys on the camp saying "don't mess with Caveman". When the other boy backs down from the fight, he finally comes to realise that "Caveman" is his own new nickname.

    *END OF SPOILERS* In the film they keep Stanley's nickname the same. No real explanation is given in the film for why Shia LaBoeuf has been given that nickname, but it definitely doesn't fit.

    One person who doesn't seem keen to tone down her impact in the film is Sigourney Weaver whose performance as the camp warden is consistently sinister.

    Overall you are better off reading the book, but the film is a laudable attempt to adapt it. The film will mainly be useful for teachers who want something to show at the end of term. If you're interested, this won't be a massive disappointment, but there's no way it's going to live up to the book.

    B-


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    Today I present a song from the horror comedy "Detention" which I absolutely loved (recently reviewed at Halloween Candy for the Halloween Horror Movie Marathon (which people should feel free to join in with!) - Also my previous entry is here). It probably won't seem like much unless you've heard it in the movie, but I currently can't stop listening to it. (So I don't know if I'm recommending the song or the movie here. It's like the "Drive" soundtrack all over again...)



    (video link)

    Also there's a cool new poster for "John Dies At The End". ZOMG I want to see this film so much. Now know that it's the director who did "Bubba Ho-Tep", ALL the "Phantasm" movies, and also "Beastmaster" which I've been meaning to see since I was very young. I may have to watch ALL Don Coscarelli's movies.


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    Director Spotlight - Neil Marshall


    Part Two



    Doomsday (2008)

    I’d always been intrigued by the DVD box for Doomsday, but was concerned that I never heard about its cinema run and discovered that it had pretty poor reviews. Still, after enjoying The Descent I was quite keen to check out Marshall’s follow-up. I had no idea how much fun this movie would turn out to be, the synopsis putting me on my guard for a rather darker and more misery-fuelled experience.



    The premise is that the outbreak of a deadly virus has decimated Scotland's population. Scotland was put into Quarantine to solve the problem, but now many decades later another outbreak of the virus has appeared in central London coming from a boat docked on the Thames. A top agent (played by Rhona Mitra) is sent with a team to go into still-quarantined Scotland to investigate new intelligence suggesting that, contrary to expectations, there are actually survivors. It is believed that a scientist known to have been within the country when quarantine was set up may have created a cure.




    The initial part of the film had me rolling my eyes a bit. The film starts with a lot of voiceover narrative and at this early stage there's no clear protagonist to follow. That said, I did appreciate the pretty much comedic levels of gore and possibly didn't appreciate them enough on first watch seeing as I was expecting a serious film (which, to be fair, was an expectation the ultra-serious tone of the voiceover narrator was clearly setting up).



    Bob Hoskins feels like he's doing too light-hearted a performance. I reckon he seemed more gruff and imposing in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" which really ought to be the minimum level of gruffness in a movie about a catastrophic virus outbreak. Rhona Mitra however, is brilliant as his top agent who is used to putting her feelings on the back burner and being uncompromisingly badass. And that's not code for "plays the character flat" either. Not only does she get opportunities to hint at the humanity she buries, but she gives off quite a bit of variety in her typical confident, efficient and stoic persona.



    Doomsday goes from one extreme to the next and I think that mentioning any of the bizarre scenarios that arise is probably giving away too much. However, I think it's fair to say that this is a homage to films like "Escape From New York", "Mad Max" and, to some extent, "Twelve Monkeys". It also features some 80s classics in the soundtrack like "Spellbound" from Siouxie and the Banshees and "Two Tribes" from Frankie Goes To Hollywood. This had a similar feel to Resident Evil to the extent that Paul W S Anderson always seems to be inspired by genre movies he's seen in the past and making an over the top action movie out of the elements he likes best. That's precisely what is happening here only it's done more effectively and is a lot more fun (and gory, don't forget gory!).



    Essentially this is "Escape From Scotland" (although somehow I think "Escape From Glasgow" has a cooler ring to it). Neil Marshall apparently grew up in Scotland and many of the settings were chosen based on places he remembers from his childhood. It's the level of variety and visual inventiveness that really pushes this above the level of corny braindead action flick and into a work of insane genius.



    This isn't exactly the same sort of film as "The Descent" and part of me is tempted to give it an A for being so thoroughly perfectly wacky. "The Descent" wasn't completely serious all the time, but it was more grounded than this is trying to be. Nevertheless, in "Doomsday" some of the lines aren't so great and the parts of the film set back in London don't flow as well and don't seem to be so well acted. However, before I sign off on this review I have to note a few exceptional performances. Malcolm McDowell is absolutely fantastic when he turns up (though I won't spoil how). Adrian Lester, who I mainly recognise from the tv series "Hustle" (of which I saw a few episodes), also plays a more conventional, but still awesome, badass to compliment Rhona Mitra's more extraordinary badassness. Craig Conway plays a completely nutty character with a wonderful flourish and his second-in-command, with very little in the way of dialogue, is given a fantastic on-screen presence by Lee-Anne Liebenberg.



    I don't feel able to give this an A, but it's worth noting that though this is utterly ridiculous nonsense yet Neil Marshall's fantastic style elevates it and makes it absolutely unmissable.

    B+





    The Eagle (2011) / Centurion (2010)

    Okay, so "The Eagle" isn't a Neil Marshall movie. However, before I get into my review of Centurion I really feel that I ought to review this one first. At the time that Centurion came out it generally more likely to be compared to Nicolas Winding Refn's "Valhalla Rising", a very slow-paced and dream-like film which takes some cues from Herzog's "Aguirre: Wrath of God" and appears intentionally cryptic on many details. Personally, while I liked some of the ultra-violence and nihilism at the beginning, I found "Valhalla Rising" hard to fathom and, once I'd read what the film was intending to depict, the film appeared utterly ludicrous to me.



    "The Eagle" is actually a lot closer to "Centurion" since these two deal with the same somewhat historical premise. Both are about a Roman legion which ventures into Northern England and Scotland never to return. It's interesting to look at this from a historical perspective because at the time Scotland was on the edge of the known world. Julius Caesar's map of Britain depicted the island as a triangle. This whole area was somewhat mysterious. The Romans of course came from Italy and the climate in Scotland was far harsher than they would generally have found when fighting Gallic or Germanic tribes. And of course, the Picts turned out to be such a formidable foe to the Romans that they were eventually content to simply build a wall to keep them at bay.



    While "Centurion" came first I am reviewing "The Eagle" first out of these two. Partly because I saw "The Eagle" first, but also because "The Eagle" is based on the much earlier novel "Eagle Of The Ninth" by Rosemary Sutcliffe, which may actually have been an inspiration to Neil Marshall's film.




    "The Eagle" stars Channing Tatum as a Roman centurion whose main ambition is to clear his father's name. His father was believed to have been shamed when his legion lost their eagle and he never returned. That he chooses to be posted up in what is now Northern England is seen as a bizarre decision since it is viewed by most as a hell hole, far from civilisation and surrounded by savage natives. The defeat of his father's legion is a prominent reminder of just how dangerous this location is. Seen as a privileged figure who is out of his depth and, in any case, a newcomer to the area, he finds those under his command to be rather sceptical of his authority. Things don't go quite as planned and in the end Channing Tatum makes the decision to search for answers without a legion backing him up with the use of a Northern English slave, played by Jamie Bell (ZOMG!!!). So yeah, Jamie Bell is awesome, but surprisingly Channing Tatum does a pretty good job too and the two actually make a pretty cool team.



    As they venture through Northern England and Scotland the scenery is absolutely beautiful. I can only presume they were sensible enough to make their trip during the height of summer since the climate seems far too pleasant. The discovery of the entirely fictional 'seal people' who speak a kind of Scottish Gaelic makes these people seem very imposing. What with this being a part of the UK, the otherness of this group is made very striking. The 'seal people' with their skin painted with mud are just about plausible and while they come across as scary and ruthless, the Romans are no better.



    The film becomes about a mixture of honour and identity. Channing Tatum's character feels a strong need to deal with the sense of dishonour left by his father's disappearance, while Jamie Bell's character pledges a debt of honour to Channing Tatum himself. Most Romans do not appreciate the obsession Channing Tatum has with the border of the Roman Empire in Northern England and similarly people within Britain cannot imagine one of their own pledging loyalty to a Roman. The connection between these two characters is bridging two very different cultures with a deep animosity to one another, but both are similarly stubborn in their personal moralities and this holds them together.



    My only issue with this film is that it seems to get a bit too soft. The actual plot is pretty harsh, but the way it is presented seems a little overly kid-friendly. Then again, this was a "12A" certificate movie and probably benefitted from the younger audience. With the lower age rating in mind, it definitely deserves some credit for how harsh it gets. Some of the fight scenes, particularly towards the beginning are pretty cool and it doesn't feel like the film is holding back on violence. As I said before, the 'seal people' are harsh, brutal and intimidating. But part of me wonders whether the ending isn't a little overly pleasant considering what they go through. But heck, this is a really enjoyable film with some great performances, some great cinematography and while I may have a few little misgivings I cannot deny that I had a lot of fun watching it and that it left me with some very compelling imagery.

    B+



    So that leaves Centurion. Naturally, as with his other films, Neil Marshall is going for the full 18 certificate and keeps to his regular high levels of gore. This film is based on the same event, but while Channing Tatum in "The Eagle" is dealing with the aftermath of the defeat of his father's Legion, this film deals with that Legion itself. They are travelling into the far north to what, for the Romans, is the ends of the Earth and they are dealing with utterly ruthless figures. Unlike in "The Eagle" the climate does not seem at all pleasant. They are surrounded by icy mountains and really don't seem appropriately dressed for it.



    So here's the little bit of info that may well have some ignoring any misgivings and putting this on their rental list straight away. Pretty much the main star of this film is none other than... *drumroll*... Michael Fassbender. Oh yeah, the Fass is here and he's giving just as awesome a performance as ever.




    And yes, there is a lot to enjoy in this film. The characters are endearing, though the attempt to flesh them out only goes so far. There are quite a lot of characters and many seem to get killed off just as you are getting to know them. Noel Clarke is pretty cool as one of the centurions, but I think I just find him too naturally endearing to accept the negative sides of his character. Dominic West (McNulty from "The Wire") is pretty cool here and is far more charismatic than the rather flat character he had in "John Carter".



    A particularly interesting character in "Centurion" has no lines at all. She's put forward at the Legion's secret weapon. A highly skilled tracker working for the Romans, but originally born in Britain. She has no tongue. (I think you can probably see where this is going.)



    Anyway, when things go to pot (as the plot of "The Eagle" is enough to assure you that things do go very very wrong for the Romans on this mission), the harshness of the environment and the situation is expressed very well. Unfortunately, the film is a little too convoluted. The scenery looks beautiful, but the characters don't have enough depth and the tense situation isn't as consistently enjoyable as it could be because the plot shifts gears a little too often.



    Once again, I'm a little annoyed by the ending, but this time it's because the film decides to manufacture a love story out of nowhere. I previously has this problem with "Screamers" (and I apologise to those who haven't seen the cheesy mixed-quality Paul Weller sci-fi flick in question). The issue is that if you introduce a female character over half way through the movie, you cannot suddenly have her fall in love with one of the protagonists in the final act without some decent character-building to earn it.



    Asides from that, even in spite of the convoluted bits, "Centurion" is generally just way too predictable and not particularly fun in the process. Neil Marshall does rather better on atmosphere than he does on plot, character development, pacing, or fun. As much as I trashed Dog Soldiers before and as forgettable as I found it the first time around, it does have a better sense of fun (Sean Pertwee would have been a great addition to Centurion I feel). Overall while beautiful and creepy, Centurion isn't really sure where to take its story. The film carries you along pretty well until you realise that the story isn't going anywhere and eventually I found I lost interest. Worth watching if you are a Neil Marshall fan or a Michael Fassbender fan (or Noel Clarke fan or whatever), but as an individual film you'd be better off with "The Eagle".

    C-



    (Cross-posted to Halloween Candy)

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    The Artist (2011)
    This was the Oscar winner in a year where pretty much all the nominations for Best Picture flummoxed me. There were plenty of films I had enjoyed over the year and none of them were up for Best Picture Oscars, particularly "Drive".

    I was a little uncertain on "The Artist". On the one hand it's a silent movie and my experience is that silent movies send me to sleep. Whether it's "Metropolis", "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" or "Nosferatu" (and I recognise that these are all supposedly silent movie classics) the silent format makes it very hard to continue my interest. That said, I'd been told that "The Artist" had some sound in it and in any case, it has a modern audience in mind.




    Another issue that worried me was that the reviewers I heard from were not exactly gushing about this movie. The consensus seemed to be that this movie was nice enough, not that it was worthy of its Oscars success.

    So I went in a little sceptical. The intro very nearly won me over. We start off watching some kind of silent action thriller. The protagonist is being tortured for information by a machine with cheesy looking electrical effects. He then makes a daring escape. It was looking like the most exciting silent movie ever and so it was a bit of a disappointment when we were shown the reactions of the audience and the conversations between the actors and director as the premiere proceeded.



    From this moment on there would be no action sequences involving daring escapes. This is the fairly depressing tale about a silent movie star who is sidelined when talkies are introduced, but seemingly mainly because he is too proud to accept work. It's very hard to take the film seriously, particularly when scenes such as where the actor is finding solace at the bottom of a bottle are played (admittedly fairly creatively) for laughs. This isn't really a black comedy so much as an ordinary comedy about miserable circumstances which keeps the audience cheery by never taking anything terribly seriously.

    The Artist is very cleverly and creatively put together and there are some wonderful moments. Particularly impressive is the dancing. The very physical acting involved is done very well and dancing often plays a part in the physical performances, particularly from the love interest - an aspiring dancer and actress trying to get herself noticed in the industry.



    Overall though, not a lot happens. It's sweet enough, but the drama would work rather better if there were any good reason for it. The out of work silent movie star only appears to be out of work because he refused to star in the talkies. Also there's a sexist "women drivers" gag in the second half which I think we could have done without.

    "The Artist" is okay, but it's only going to really appeal to people obsessed with the 'idea' of cinema or who are nostalgic for the silent era. It's very well put together and performed, but overall lacking substance.

    C+






    Margaret (2011)
    Okay, let's get the negative side out of the way first. This is a three hour long movie about a whiny teenager. That's pretty damning I feel.

    Still there are great performances in smaller roles from Mark Ruffalo and Matt Damon. Jean Reno gets to give a great performance too. J. Smith-Cameron is fantastic as the mother and Anna Paquin is similarly brilliant as the leading protagonist.




    The film seems to meander quite a bit and it takes a long time for the threads to connect together. Even then, there are some elements which just don't seem necessary. For example, during an English lesson we have one pupil deciding to read extra nonsense into the line "like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport" and while we all probably remember someone like that at school, their presence in this film didn't seem entirely necessary. The connection is presumably the way that adolescents can get things mixed up and aren't the most rational of people in spite of their often stronger ideals. But I reckon that they could probably have removed all the English lessons without doing too much harm to the flow of the movie. (Matthew Broderick plays the English teacher and I couldn't help but think of his other movie "Election".) Removing the English lessons would also remove the poem "Margaret", which frankly I thought made for a poor title for this film.



    The film deserves a lot of credit for the way individual scenes are managed and the way the emotional highs by the end feel totally justified. Lisa, the central character, can often be extremely frustrating, but that is because that is the character Anna Paquin is playing. She's mixed up, misguided, occasionally pretentious and she's struggling with her identity. This can often be extremely irritating, but it feels honest.

    The central storyline revolves around Lisa's experience where she distracts a bus driver leading to an accident where a woman is killed. She cradles the dying woman and is clearly very shaken by the experience, but perhaps what shakes her most is her need for some kind of justice. A clear connection (amongst many) arises in the film paralleling her feelings with the situation of 9/11. The need to find someone guilty and bring them to justice was prominent after 9/11 and the main focus of Lisa is to try to ensure someone takes the blame, but nevertheless she has trouble fully accepting the guilt within herself.



    Margaret is not a perfect film. It is highly ambitious, but it is over-long and the central character is not really someone I wanted to follow for that length of time. Still, I cannot deny that there is much that is brilliant about this film and it does feel like there is something excellent struggling to come out. Perhaps it's fitting then that I should give this the same rating as "The Dark Knight Rises" on which my feelings were similarly conflicted. It seems that Kenneth Lonergan is going to be a director to watch in the future, though perhaps he can keep the running time under two hours next time...

    B+





    The Scouting Book For Boys (2009)
    I've been holding back reviewing this one partly because I was upset by it so much.

    This was an opportunity for Thomas Turgoose to shine outside of Shane Meadows watchful eye. (He's most well known for the role of Shaun in the "This Is England" film and follow-up tv series.) This film actually features some very good performances, with Rafe Spall being another notable actor to make an appearance.




    The story is that a boy (Turgoose) and a girl have become great friends growing up and are kind of like honourary brother and sister. The thing is that Turgoose clearly wants the relationship to become more than that, but the young girl is infatuated with a much older boy (Rafe Spall). What's more the girl's mother looks like she is going to lose custody of her and she's going to have to move away. To prevent this Turgoose agrees to help her hide in a cave.

    While the girl hides, Turgoose gets to see the effect on the people outside. Things get more and more dramatic as the local community becomes concerned about the missing girl.



    Anyway, there are some interesting parts of this film although the overall pacing often lags, but what really got to me was the ending. Not to spoil too much, but if you were worried that this was about what is commonly referred to as the 'nice guy' who befriends a girl and then believes that he deserves to have her as a girlfriend for being so 'nice' then your fears are all realised here. What's more this 'nice guy' is extremely resentful of the idea of his girl getting with someone less nice than himself. When this leads to rather less than ideal consequences, the emotional music seems to expect us to be sympathetic of Turgoose's 'nice guy' character and I felt utterly sickened.



    I would be more emphatic in my criticism but I am trying to avoid spoilers. But essentially my problem is that this film is completely morally bankrupt and when the final credits came up I was wholly disgusted with it.

    Asides from the pacing issues, it's not a badly made film and the actors are all clearly very talented. It's just that I found the message of the film to be utterly disgusting.

    E-


    0 0



    Part one here
    Part two here

    Continuing to watch Hitchcock's movies in reverse order of release, I watched: "Vertigo" (1958), "The Wrong Man" (1956), "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956) and "The Trouble with Harry" (1955). That's the movies in reverse order of release for you, but below, as in previous entries, I will be reviewing these four in reverse order of preference.



    The Trouble with Harry (1955)

    This was sweeter than a lot of Hitchcock's films and I think that was possibly part of the appeal. This is essentially a 'farce'.


    The film begins with a man wandering around doing a bit of hunting. He soon comes across a dead body and realises that he is now guilty of manslaughter. He comes to the decision that he would be better off hiding the body rather than reporting the death. Now, in any of the other Hitchcock movies I'm reviewing in this entry, this would most likely become a source of all-consuming guilt for the rest of the film, yet in "The Trouble With Harry" we can tell this is not going to play out how you'd expect when the first other character this man meets seems to agree very pleasantly about keeping the authorities ignorant of the matter.

    There are a number of characters who interact in this film and they all seem to get fairly equal treatment. Every one of them is a joy to spend time with and there's no over-dramatic and awestruck blonde such as Hitchcock seems fond of in some of his other films.

    I found this film massively entertaining and it really put a smile on my face. It's not one of Hitchcock's more serious films neither in its content or the way that content is approached. Still there's no doubting that this was well paced, well scripted and, at times, absolutely hilarious.

    A-





    The Wrong Man (1956)

    In the first half of the film this is absolutely fascinating. Hitchcock appears at the beginning of the film to explain that this is a true story and, in spite of my instincts, it turns out that he's really not kidding.


    The staff at the bank become convinced that the main protagonist came in and robbed them at gunpoint earlier in the year. The police quickly take the protagonist down to the station for questioning. Their mode of questioning struck me as quite unorthodox and their method of identifying whether or not he was the culprit was particularly worrying in the light of more modern methods.

    On top of this we have Hitchcock's wonderful little tricks to get us fully into the head of this nerve-wracked police suspect. As he is charged and his date for trial is set, he is understandably completely terrified and Hitchcock makes sure we feel as much of the protagonist's discomfort as possible.

    In the second half another element of the story, which I shall not spoil, affects the protagonist's wife in particular. During this development, the wife has a scene where she becomes quite hysterical and while it is somewhat intentional, the style of acting in that scene is very dated and I found it really pulled me out of the film. Also, this new development rather hogs the limelight in the second half. Sure the elements surrounding the trial aren't entirely clear cut, but the second half simply isn't as interesting as the initial arrest.

    OVerall this film has an absolutely fantastic first half and a pretty good overall plot, but in the second half the pacing becomes and issue, the story ceases to be so compelling, and an unfortunate bit of dated 'hysterical woman' acting in one scene left me laughing when I should have been left shaking.

    I also reckon it was most likely the producers who insisted on the ultra-happy ending. A quick wiki reveals that the film ends rather more happily than the real life story. Though interestingly another difference from real life was that the real life police had rather more more clues that the central character was innocent which Hitchcock purposely fails to include.

    With some improvements to the second half this film could have been a lot better. As it is, I'm inclined to switch it off after the half way mark. The central performance is fantastic and the direction in the first half represents Hitchcock on top form, but unfortunately the second half is not handled anything like so well.

    C+





    The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

    I'm generally trying to watch these films in directly reverse order, so the first of these films that I saw was "Vertigo". It was in the light of my experience of "Vertigo" that I came to watch this earlier Hitchcock film also starring James Stewart. James Stewart was (so I understand) originally known best for comedic performances, but in these films he seems to be playing characters with a darker edge.


    I think this is an early enough event for me to reveal. James Stewart's character feeds his wife a tranquiliser before revealing what was to be the shocking central premise of the film to her. He does this so that she cannot do anything in response. He takes away her choice to act upon the shocking news he reveals. That's a pretty douchey thing to do to your wife and I didn't think it was even remotely justified.

    The central premise is this: James Stewart and Doris Day are man and wife visiting Morocco with their son. Over the course of events James Stewart has some important information revealed to him about an assasination plot, but other figures who know that this information was passed to him force his silence by kidnapping his son. (And it is the news that their son has been kidnapped that James Stewart insists on revealing to his wife after incapacitating her.)

    The first half is pretty well built up, but in the second half we are supposed to somehow imagine that these two characters can solve everything themselves. I not only wasn't convinced, but was quite confused as to why they were convinced. After an opening where they appear to feel entirely powerless, suddenly they think they can solve a kidnapping case better than Scotland Yard. I mean seriously?

    Doris Day is playing one of these over-dramatic blonde characters Hitchcock sometimes employs and the character seems unable to do anything much that is proactive without it involving a scream, tears or a tantrum.

    Towards the end we have a kidnapper who suddenly decides that kidnapping was a bad idea (because presumably We're supposed to recognise her as a weak woman who doesn't have the stomach for it, of course *groan*).

    Not to give away too much of the actual plot surrounding this, there's a suggestion within the film that a particularly loud part of an orchestral performance would drown out the sound of a gunshot. I suppose this is just something you are supposed to accept, but in context I was never really able to suspend my disbelief on this point.

    The film is sweet and silly, but I found James Stewart's protagonist still carried the same unpleasantness I felt in "Vertigo" and that much of the plot never really pulled me in. As much as I wasn't wholly keen on "Frenzy", it at least had rather more scenes that successfully pulled me in.

    D-





    Vertigo (1958)

    Not just my least favourite out of this set of four, but actually my least favourite out of all Hitchcock's films so far. I actively disliked this film.


    First of all we have a rather dodgy relationship between James Stewart and a woman who claims to be possessed by a dead spirit. This is quite an elaborate idea and involves this blonde leading lady becoming dramatically overcome by emotion. Later on, her consistent passivity as a character becomes more and more at odds with her situation. (And I can't really think of a much clearer way to put this without spoilers, so if that doesn't make sense feel free to ask more in the comments.)

    As the plot unfurls James Stewart's character appears increasingly unpleasant, yet I never had the impression that the film wanted us to dislike him.

    Also the theme of vertigo itself seems oddly handled. James Stewart has some nightmares around the halfway mark which make use of this theme, but it felt rather self-indulgent to me. Hitchcock clearly wants to play with vertigo-related imagery, but the plot never seems to be able to fully justify it. The attempt to make the audience feel the vertigo seems by my reckoning to be a flawed experiment.

    We also have one of the most unrealistic trials I've ever seen on film when the magistrate unrelentingly mocks James Stewart for his choices and his phobia. If this was supposed to be emphasised because it was from James Stewart's point of view, perhaps it could have been placed inside the nightmare sequence. As it is, I just found my suspension of disbelief confounded as a voice in my head consistently shouted: "the magistrate wouldn't say that! The defence should be yelling 'objection' now... and now... and now!"

    The plot in general is extremely convoluted and the ending, oh dear me, the ending...

    As is often the case, the blonde flakey love interest is contrasted by a much more sensible (and generally more endearing) brunette figure. In this movie, however, the brunette is annoyingly not only left on the sidelines but at one point actually disappears from the film entirely. She is never seen again in spite of unfinished plot threads concerning her character. (The filmsack podcast has come to refer to this trope as the "chick in a bucket", though I suspect it is on the tv tropes website somewhere with another name. But normally the "chick in a bucket" is a character who disappears without the audience noticing, whereas this brunette figure's absence is highly noticeable.)

    My expectations were perhaps a little more raised than normal as a result of the recent surfacing of this film at the top of the "Sight and Sound" best movie list. But I think I'd be just as harsh in my condemnation regardless. There's something distinctly unpolished about the film as a whole. It was straight after seeing this that I decided to re-watch "Psycho" and the contrast was absolutely astounding. There's absolutely no comparison. Psycho is a pioneering masterpiece while Vertigo is a dull, unpleasant and generally flawed experiment.

    E-


    Ranking of all Hitchcock's movies reviewed so far:

    1. North By Northwest (1959) A+
    2. Psycho (1960) A+
    3. The Birds (1963) A+


    4. The Trouble with Harry (1955) A-
    5. Topaz (1969) B+
    6. The Wrong Man (1956) C+
    7. Family Plot (1976) C+
    8. Frenzy (1972) D+
    9. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) D-
    10. Torn Curtain (1966) D-
    11. Marnie (1964) E-
    12. Vertigo (1958) E-



    0 0



    As I was growing up James Bond movies would be played on TV fairly often; not least because ITV owned the rights to the entire series and running the occasional Bond marathon was a great way to get people watching that channel. Before I get to the review and say just how much I loved the new James Bond movie, I'm going to express my feelings on the series so far first. (Though if you are in a hurry, I absolutely blooming loved "Skyfall" - so there's that.)

    First of all I have to admit that there are three Bond actors out of seven which I have never seen perform in the role. I've seen the four major Bond actors: Sean Connery (the original), Roger Moore (the one I remember most from growing up), Pierce Brosnan (my first Bond in the cinema) and Daniel Craig (the current one).


    However, I have never seen George Lazenby (who my friends all dissed when I was following a Bond marathon on tv while still in school), Timothy Dalton (whose run as Bond has always been rated pretty low) or Peter Sellers (whose unofficial spoof of James Bond, titled "Casino Royale", is generally recognised as dire).



    When I say "official" James Bond movies, I mean the 23 that were produced by Eon. There are two full movies and a tv episode that weren't produced by Eon. The 1960s "Casino Royale" spoof, the 1980s movie that brought back Sean Connery titled "Never Say Never Again" and the tv episode from the 50s (apparently part of a dramatic anthology series called "Climax Mystery Theatre") is also titled "Casino" marks the first ever on screen appearance of James Bond, except on that occasion the character was played an American. I have not seen any of the unofficial works, not because I need my Bond to be official, but because these are shown less often (with the tv episode for a long time pretty much unknown by most people) and are generally not rated very highly.

    The films I have seen and enjoyed oddly often seem to come from directors who have made more than one Bond movie. So without further ado here are my top four James Bond directors....

    4. Guy Hamilton:


    Don't think of the number as indicating my opinion of the director. In fact, instead you can think of it as indicating the number of movies that director has made (since it rather neatly fits that pattern). So first up is Guy Hamilton who made no less than 4 James Bond movies, starting with perhaps the most iconic:


    Goldfinger (1964)

    The iconic theme tune sung by Shirley Bassey, the Aston Martin, the iconic line from the eponymous villain, the gold painted woman. These are just a few of the iconic elements of the movie Goldfinger. It's become recognised as the definitive Bond movie by many fans. Unlike the prevailing opinion, I actually prefer Roger Moore to Sean Connery as Bond. However, of Connery's movies this is definitely my favourite.

    Live And Let Die (1973)

    Perhaps particularly well-known for the Bond song which appears to be one of the few (if not the only) decent songs from Paul McCartney's solo career. I don't know how much control the director had over this, but somehow his Bond films seem to feature some of the best Bond songs of all time. There's a possible accusation of racism to be made here. While this film features more black actors than had ever seen before in a Bond movie, they pretty much always seem to be bad guys here. They are pretty well developed and character-filled bad guys, but bad guys nonetheless. Still, this is a well-paced and fun film and a great debut movie for Roger Moore in the role.

    The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

    Christopher Lee plays the villain Scaramanga in what has become an iconic role. This is the film with the unforgettable car stunt where a car flips across a river. Though this film has its ups and downs this is an absolutely unmissable Bond movie.

    Unfortunate other Bond film: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

    After Sean Connery was replaced in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" with George Lazenby the studio decided to bring Connery back. Unfortunately Sean Connery's heart wasn't really in it, the villains are a bit naff and the film generally felt a bit tired. Still, another person they brought back was Shirley Bassey who provides us with yet another of the more memorable Bond themes (once again the song shares the title of the movie).



    3. Lewis Gilbert


    My favourite 2 of his 3 Bond movies both contain some very iconic content. This time it is the villains in particular who are perhaps the most memorable elements. Gilbert also directed one of my favourite British films: "Shirley Valentine".

    You Only Live Twice (1967)

    The villain Blofeld goes through a number of incarnations in Bond and in some cases is deliberately unnamed for legal reasons. However, the iconic Blofeld is the one in this film played by Donald Pleasance. Oddly enough, this script was written by none other than the great children's writer: Roald Dahl! Blofeld also iconically has his base in a highly impractical location (i.e. the base is found...


    inside a live volcano

    ...)

    The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

    This is the film which introduced the villain "Jaws", a lumbering goliath with powerful metal teeth. In this film Bond is expected to work alongside a Russian agent and it's all very exciting. The opening scene where Bond fights bad guys while skiing is widely recognised as a high point for the franchise. Also, the theme titled "Nobody Does It Better" (so not eponymous this time) is definitely one of the better ones.

    Unfortunate other Bond film: Moonraker (1979)

    It's now often seen as a bad sign in the horror genre when the studios start setting the sequel in space, however this was an idea that could have worked well for Bond where the films are always pretty wacky anyway. When an army of astronauts start coming to the rescue towards the end it's not clear where they fit into the plot, but it does admittedly look kind of cool. Still, in the end the plot is rather slow moving, the villain isn't really terribly compelling, Jaws randomly has a drastic change in character part way through which I felt was never quite earnt, and in spite of the change in location the storyline feels a bit too reminiscent of earlier Bond movies.



    2. Martin Campbell


    Martin Campbell has done a lot of films asides from Bond movies, but I've not really enjoyed any of his non-Bond work. His tv series "Edge of Darkness" was really unappealing (and he also directed the more recent film version starring Mel Gibson) and I wasn't keen on "Mask of Zorro" (starring the awesome Antonio Banderas alongside Anthony Hopkins who was phoning it in). I've also not heard much praise for his recent "Green Lantern" movie.

    Goldeneye (1995)

    However, in spite of Campbell's poor track record with non-Bond films, it could be argued that without him the Bond franchise would have died off years ago. During Timothy Dalton's run, the darker tone of his movies did not seem to be appealing to audiences. After Dalton's last movie was followed by a six year gap due to legal disputes, Martin Campbell stepped up to the plate to reintroduce Bond to the world and he ended up making what was to be Pierce Brosnan's best movie in the role. The film is all the more memorable due to the classic first-person-shooter videogame for the N64 which used the Bond movie as a template. Famke Jannsen's role as one of the villains was the start of a pretty successful film career. Sean Bean and Alan Cumming both have very memorable roles too and this was also the first appearance of Judi Dench as James Bond's handler "M" (along with a new Miss Moneypenny played by Samantha Bond). Judi Dench has continued to play the role of M for 17 years now.

    Casino Royale (2006)

    After Campbell so successfully started up Pierce Brosnan's run as Bond it's perhaps not surprising that he was called back to usher in Daniel Craig's era. While the film has a different feel, Campbell still seems to be able to call on a sense of fun that is perfect for the franchise. In spite of most of the film involving a card game, this remains an exciting Bond film and I would say that both Campbell's movies more than hold their own against the older classics.



    1. Roger Spottiswoode


    I was going to put Sam Mendes on the number one spot (i.e. with only one Bond movie directed), but I realised that I couldn't possibly leave out "Tomorrow Never Dies", my second favourite movie of the Brosnan era. This director also did what I feel is a rather underrated Schwarzenegger movie: "The 6th Day" which was particularly entertaining since the bad guys kept on dying and then cloning themselves to return all over again.

    Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

    The follow-up to Goldeneye gave us a surprisingly good performance from Teri Hacher, however overall she was kind of upstaged by the appearance of kick-ass Michelle Yeoh. Jonathan Pryce plays a cool bad guy as the media mogul Elliot Carver. This is certainly not one of the very best Bond movies, but I cannot deny that I enjoyed it very much. The remote control car was a particular delight.


    So without further ado here is my review of this year's Bond movie: Skyfall (2012)

    Admittedly after "Quantum of Solace" expectations were not high. Sure Sam Mendes was on the case, but his last film "Away We Go" had left me a little nervous on that front (and to be frank, nothing from him had really blown me away since "Road To Perdition"). The first scene jumps into the action and it's pretty cool stuff, though not so different from what we've seen before. It's exciting and well put together and it definitely gets us back into the Bond spirit in spite of any misgivings when entering the cinema. The final climax of that opener kind of knocked me for six though. And while I was reeling from that, the film hits me with possibly the most gorgeous opening titles song and imagery sequence in the entire history of the Bond franchise.


    Adele's new Bond song for "Skyfall" is fairly reminiscent of previous Bond themes (as is often the case), but it's damn good all the same. However, what is quite amazing is the imagery that accompanies the song in this sequence. There's floating patterns of blood, the camera flies through rows of gravestones, and sure there's a few dancing women as has become pretty much obligatory. Nothing I say here can really do this sequence justice, but trust me it sets you up well for the film. It's pretty awe-inspiring imagery and I'm glad the rest of the film lived up to this wonderful fanfare.

    Most people presumably know that Javier Bardem is going to show up in this movie. He appears as more of a psychological villain than a freakshow. Plenty of villains have discussed their plans in a calm collected way with Bond before, but I don't think any have seemed quite this disarming and intimidating in equal measure before. Even moreso than when Sean Bean played 006 in "Goldeneye", this character really makes us feel a connection between him and Bond and there's a clear war of both mind and body going on here. This is exacerbated by the way that Bond is weakened early on in the film and so we have a Bond who is genuinely having to struggle to keep up in this fight.

    This film has a great sense of fun. James Bond films have long been known for their gags, but there were a lot of really good funny lines in this movie. The comedy seemed to work on a much higher level than the typical puns we've been used to in older movies. There's no point in me spoiling anything here, but suffice it to say that there were regular points during the film where I was laughing out loud. There are also some quite awesome and occasionally pretty funny callbacks to earlier movies. Once again, no spoilers, but some of these callbacks come up when we meet with the brand new Q. Q was always going to be a tough character to introduce. Desmond Llewellyn was the longest running consistent actor in the Bond franchise, playing the part from 1963 to 1999. However, I think the new Q is a nice balance between some of the elements we enjoyed so much before, but with a lot of neat little quirks and traits of his own (I say keeping this all fairly vague).

    In any action movie, the action scenes will only work well when there is something definite at stake. In "Skyfall" EVERY action sequence has something at stake. There is not a dull moment in the whole piece. There is no goofy time-wasting. This is a very sleek and fully formed film that ties up all the loose ends. It's also a very stylish movie with all the quality you'd expect from a director like Sam Mendes working on top form. In actual fact, I would argue that this is the best movie I've seen to be released this year so far (fairly comfortably beating out the top spot from "Cabin In The Woods") and what's more, I think this movie should be winning Oscars. Lots and lots of Oscars. Certainly Best Picture. And I'm not just saying that to fuel debate. This is seriously just THAT good a film. This isn't only the best Bond movie ever made (which isn't such a big boast when you look at how silly and insubstantial a lot of the old films were), but it's a fantastic film in its own right. It's a real love letter to everything that audiences ever loved about Bond, but with a serious face on and top quality filmmaking standards. I challenge anyone not to leave the cinema buzzing (and probably slightly exhausted) from the experience.

    This film is beautiful, exciting, clever, well paced, well plotted, well characterised, often hilarious, and with not a moment wasted. Don't wait until the DVD release. See this one in the cinema. It's worth it.

    A+



    Summary on Bond movies....
    Above I shared my top nine of the twenty five Bond movies released so far. By mentioning the Bonds I haven't seen, plus my ignorance on both unofficial titles, that accounts for fourteen of the Bond films. I also discussed another two that I wasn't so keen on and I've never seen "Octopussy" (in spite of the intriguing title), so that leaves another 8 undiscussed. For that reason I am wrapping this up with a neat little list of all the bond movies in chronological order accompanied by a very quick comment in each case. This probably isn't entirely necessary, but it puts the above discussion into context showing you exactly what order the films were released.

    Sean Connery Era
    1. Dr. No (1962) - This first ever Bond movie is now pretty dated and the scene with Sean Connery randomly singing "under the mango tree" seems comically out of place in the action movie franchise. Still, the villain is as cool as any and the fact that this was the first Bond movie is as good as any reason to check this out. Still, expect this to be VERY slow paced.

    2. From Russia with Love (1963) - While the Now Playing podcasts recently seem to consistently point to this film as one of the greater classics, two of the podcasters initially admitted that they'd always had trouble concentrating on the film all the way through without losing interest or falling asleep. I shared this negative experience myself, so I personally couldn't recommend this.

    3. Goldfinger (1964)  - Favourite discussed above.

    4. Thunderball (1965) - I seem to remember the bits involving people being fed to sharks by the villain  being kind of cool. We also have the now often-spoofed scene of Blofeld in a conference room pressing a button to eliminate one of the SPECTRE members who disagrees with him. Overall though, this film suffers from an extremely slow pace.

    -. Casino Royale (1967) - Unofficial spoof James Bond movie starring Peter Sellers and David Niven. It's supposed to be awful and not very funny.

    5. You Only Live Twice (1967)
    - Favourite discussed above.

    6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) - The only movie starring George Lazenby as Bond. I was warned off this one, but some claim that Lazenby was unfairly underrated. Others found the idea of James Bond getting married to be out of sync with the series.

    7. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) - Discussed above.

    Roger Moore Era
    8. Live and Let Die (1973)
    - Roger Moore's debut Bond movie. Favourite discussed above.

    9. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) - Favourite discussed above.

    10. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) - Favourite discussed above.

    11. Moonraker (1979) - Discussed above.

    12. For Your Eyes Only (1981) - Begins with a bizarrely comical fight with Blofeld. Once the film gets going there's a very cool chase scene on a hillside. Unfortunately overall I found this film a bit dull.

    13. Octopussy (1983) - The only Moore film I haven't seen.

    -. Never Say Never Again (1983) - Sean Connery returns to the role for a somewhat updated remake of "Thunderball". Apparently not that good.

    14. A View to a Kill (1985)
    - Roger Moore's final Bond movie features Grace Jones and Christopher Walken. Walken actually seems kind of bland in the role as a Bond villain (and the idea that he is ex-KGB never quite makes sense). Grace Jones does a pretty good job, but overall I was unimpressed with this.

    Timothy Dalton Era
    15. The Living Daylights (1987) - Timothy Dalton's debut Bond movie. Dalton is known for taking the Bond franchise to a darker place in contrast to Roger Moore's more campy run. Unfortunately audiences generally did not seem to find this appealing. I have not seen this.

    16. Licence to Kill (1989) - Timothy Dalton's second Bond film. I have not seen this.

    Pierce Brosnan Era
    17. GoldenEye (1995)
    - Pierce Brosnan's debut Bond movie. Favourite discussed above.

    18. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) - Favourite discussed above.

    19. The World Is Not Enough (1999) - Robert Carlyle appears as a villain who feels no pain because of a bullet lodged in his skull. There were some good ideas here, but unfortunately the film mostly feels scatty.

    20. Die Another Day (2002) - Pierce Brosnan's final movie as Bond. Features a more techno Bond theme from Madonna that I don't think really fits. While the film begins interestingly with James Bond failing a mission, it soon becomes utterly wacky with many particularly criticising Bond's invisible car that magically avoids making any noise or leaving any trail in the snow.

    Daniel Craig Era
    21. Casino Royale (2006)
    - Daniel Craig's debut Bond movie. Favourite discussed above.

    22. Quantum of Solace (2008) - Due to the writer's strike, the director and Daniel Craig both ended up working to finish the script. The end result felt highly disjointed and this film is probably best forgotten.

    23. Skyfall (2012) - Reviewed above.



    If you are interested in more in-depth consideration of the Bond movies, I can highly recommend the Now Playing retrospective series of podcasts on the Bond franchise. They do not refrain from spoilers at all, so if you want to enter the films fresh you'll need to watch them first. (So when they get to "Skyfall" DEFINITELY watch the movie first.) However, the podcasts are entertaining and the discussions often include some neat little interesting facts about each film.

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    So, the horror marathon on Halloween Candy is finally over, so that's thirty-one horror movie reviews to cross-post. To make this a little more interesting, I've decided to repost the movies in order of enjoyment, counting down to the top spot and starting with the worst movie of the entire marathon at number 31.

    The worst film of the bunch was "Critters 3". Normally I'm a fan of horror comedies, but I'm also a fan of decent characterisation and dramatic tension. The gags in Critters 3 were dire, the characters were cheesy and unengaging and the movie seems to think that the Critters are at their most menacing when they are being messy eaters while clearing out the leftovers in an abandoned kitchen.

    31. Critters 3 (1991)


    Unless you count a random appearance from Charlie, who just comes off like a crazy person in order to fill in any remaining newcomers on what Critters are, there are none of the bounty hunters in this movie....

    Instead we have a whole new set of really boring characters, we have the lamest attempts at comedy ever, we have a scene where we seem to be expected to be shocked by Critters eating ordinary food messily in a kitchen rather than posing a real threat, and we have some pretty crummy effects work. Basically this is a massive fall from grace after the goodwill I felt after Critters 2. I'd much rather they'd based the film around Charlie. This film is absolutely dire and, to be quite frank, there are no good things.

    U+ (In exams a "U" grade pretty much means "you managed to spell your name correctly". In my movie ratings it means "I can barely call this a movie".)


    30. The Last House On The Left (1972)


    Slogans for this movie included:
    - "It rests on 13 acres of earth over the very centre of hell!"
    This first slogan is completely misleading. There's nothing supernatural in this film whatsoever for a start.

    - "To avoid fainting keep repeating "it's only a movie ...only a movie ...only a movie ... only a movie ...only a movie."
    While a lot of the violence is hard to handle, this isn't a film like "The Exorcist" where a clear atmosphere builds over the course of the runtime. Naturally the slogan is over-egging things, but even the suggestion that there is going to be that horror build-up typical of even the lowest budget horror flicks is misleading.

    - "The original nightmare from the director of Scream"
    This was a more reliable slogan. "Scream" was a movie which, like it or hate it, never took itself entirely seriously. The same is true here. I guess you could call "Last House On The Left" a nightmare based on its depiction of horrible violence and mistreatment of the two central girls.

    I'm not sure I can do a sweet and sour section for this review because, to be quite frank, anything 'sweet' about this movie is generally tainted by all the 'sour'. I suppose I could have a sweet section which just mentions the presence of a chainsaw. The chainsaw was kind of cool I guess. Okay, so here's the problem here. This is a movie filled with jokes and absolutely lacking any kind of atmosphere. The fugitives who make up the central bad guys are often shown as bumbling idiots, so even the bad guys are meant to be a source of amusement.

    There's also a running gag of the police failing to show up to stop the bad guys. This begins with the police rushing out to stop the fugitives, getting part way down the road before the car splutters to a stop. "The car stopped working" says one policeman. "You didn't fill up the gas!" responds the other. "Gas?" says the first policeman in a (supposedly) comically dumb voice. Having the policemen portrayed this way is kind of painful and in fact the movie is littered with gags like this. Right near the beginning we hear one of the two girls who make up the central protagonists talking to the other girl's parents. She is asked what her parents do for a living. She answers "oh they're in the iron and steel business." "Both iron AND steel? That's unusual." reply the parents. "Well they work as a partnership, my mum irons and my dad steals!" Boom! Boom! (That's your cue to groan btw.)

    In the end without a horror atmosphere this is more of a crime thriller than a horror movie. However, I'd argue that with the amount of lame jokes littering this film, it is mainly just the most tasteless comedy I have ever seen. Even the horrific climax in this movie just feels like a joke - and that's not a matter of me being jaded and desensitised. Far from it. I was every bit as horrified as you'd expect by the violence in this film. It's just that I never got the impression that the filmmakers truly recognised the horror of what they were portraying. Not only does the film fail to build up an atmosphere, but the comical tone of the film fails to take violent content seriously.

    Before I finish I should probably give a quick plot synopsis. It's pretty basic though. Two girls decide to go to what one of the girls' parents considers the "bad part of town". However, before they even reach the gig they'd been planning on seeing, they find themselves being held captive by a bunch of fugitives who'd been featuring prominently in recent news reports. The fugitives decide to kidnap the two girls, taking them along with them as they ride out to escape the authorities. However, the fugitives' car breaks down in what seems like the middle of nowhere, but is actually right where that one girl's disapproving parents lives. What happens to the girls? What happens to the convicts? What happens when the girl's parents get involved? Do the police ever show up? All of these questions are probably answered in more typical synopses, but what I've written is pretty much the first half of the movie so I'm revealing no more (just in case people want to actually watch this garbage).

    If anyone actually watched the original "Last House On The Left" and enjoyed it, please let me know. Personally though I found it just felt like the worst of both worlds, seeming unnecessarily sick in its combination of horrific violence with cheap laughs on the one hand, and seemingly entirely lacking in atmosphere on the other. I have no idea why anyone would refer to this film as either a "classic" or as "important to the horror genre", though I am happy to be enlightened on this topic.

    (Please note that though I haven't felt the need to mention it explicitly, this film DOES include sexual assault. I suspect most people knew this already, but I'm placing this warning here just in case.)

    E-

    29. White Noise (2005)


    Plot Synopsis: A recent widower (played by Michael Keaton) is confronted with the concept of EVP. Basically it's the idea that the dead can be contacted through the white noise that comes through tv and radio. Occasionally voices and images come through (presumably not from actual tv and radio stations) that exactly resemble the recently deceased. But not all of those who have pased on are 'nice'.
    The Sweet: Um... I guess it's nice to see Michael Keaton in something? I wish it were something good though...
    The Sour: So the ghosts can only contact the living through messages in white noise, yeah? Then how come they can also (relatively early on) knock large tvs onto people? And if they can do that whenever they want, why wait? And what's the point?

    Some atmosphere would be nice. Also we could do with less wholly predictable and irritating jump-scares. And a plot that was remotely convincing. Basically I'd have been better off watching a different movie. This was rubbish.

    E-

    28. Insidious (2010)

    It turns out that the director of "Saw" was not involved in any of the sequels. I found the first "Saw" movie relatively enjoyable, in spite of being basically a knock-off of "Se7en", because it had a cheesy fun feel to it. It turns out that James Wan has since released a number of varying horror titles (such as "Dead Silence" and "Death Sentence"), but "Insidious" was clearly the one that made the most impact. Responses had been somewhat mixed and I was keen to see what the fuss was about. As part of my attempt to educate myself about ghost movies, these seemed like an important title to consider.
    Plot Synopsis: A family are moving into a new house, but some of the children aren't happy with their new rooms. There's something creepy about this place. Shortly after banging his head when falling off a ladder in the attic, one of the young boys inexplicably enters a coma, apparently unrelated to any kind of head injury. Scary phenomena in the house escalates and the mother of the family insists that they need to move out of there. Unfortunately when they move house, the phenomena appears to have followed them there and so they decide to bring in external help to solve the problem.
    The Sweet: Y'know, seeing as there was so much wrong with this film, it'll probably be easier to list the things I liked about the film than to reel off the endless things I didn't like. Here's the list:
    1) The monster crawling across the wall was a nice effect.
    2) The geeky paranormal investigators were quite fun.
    3) Doing a seance while wearing a gas mask had an eerie effect which I haven't seen before.
    4) The sharpening claws bit was a nice homage to Freddy from A Nightmare On Elm Street.
    The Sour: While there were lots of creepy elements, none of them seemed to be used enough to properly build up an atmosphere. I've hears some people say they didn't like the ending, but it didn't seem any dafter to me than the rest of the film. This film uses non-stop lazy jump scares rather than bothering to build up fear through the actual content of the movie. For example there is one scene where three people are sitting around a table talking when suddenly the camera looks at one of them there's a loud musical note and: ZOMG THERE'S A DEMON BEHIND YOU! RIGHT THERE! SCREAM SCREAM SCREAM! Not only did this have practically no build-up, relying entirely on the jump-scare from the musical note, but putting your main bad guy on the screen like that in broad daylight is pretty much breaking the number one rule when it comes to building up tension around a central monster. Once you show the monster, that lessens how much the tension can build. That was absolutely the case here.

    Insidious is lazy and boring. I can't believe this couldn't manage to even be more impressive than shoestring budget video nasties. Pathetic.

    E-

    27. Nightmares In A Damaged Brain (1981)


    Plot synopsis: Um... a guy with mental issues is being treated in a psychiatric institution. He has nightmares about murder and is taking pills to treat the condition. However, when he goes missing it turns out that he's not cured yet. This is another video nasty.
    The Sweet: Well initially I thought this was going to be quite an interesting film. We first see the mental health patient wake up from abstract dream imagery to see a dismembered body in a pool of blood at the end of his bed with the eyes staring at him. He then wakes up again, once again screaming in terror, this time wearing a straight jacket. This opener was then followed by a seemingly unrelated scene in a house with a babysitter who gets scared out of her wits by a grinning prankster child. The way this scene unfolds felt somewhat unreal and it ends with the same mental patient waking up screaming, so I presumed this was going to be like an anthology movie with all the stories turning out to be nightmares of this one guy. However, unfortunately that was not to be...
    The Sour: The acting is awful, particularly the child acting (of which there is a fair bit). The guy goes around acting weird and, on occasion, killing people. It's very hard to get involved in the story since it unfolds in such a disjointed fashion and there's little emotional payoff. The backing music admittedly helps to further the tension of the movie, but most of the content of the film is so banal that it's all for nothing in the end. I was ridiculously bored by this horrible film.

    E-

    26. Psalm 21 (2009)


    A friend lent me this and the box made it look utterly ridiculous with a quote on the back seemingly providing damning praise saying: "if you liked Priest and The Rite, you'll love Psalm 21!" Then I heard that the reason my friend hadn't watched it was because the film was in Swedish and they hadn't been in the mood for subtitles at the time. So I decided to give it a go.

    The sweet: I thought I was onto a winner to begin with. Our protagonist is a priest who is quite jovial and preaches to his congregation that there is no hell. However, back home it turns out that he is divorced and his son is no longer interested in him, seemingly having completely transferred his attention to his ex-wife's new boyfriend. What's more, as his ex-wife and her boyfriend come to collect the boy and he watches his son run excitedly out with the boyfriend, the phone rings. It's a call from the coroner to say that his father is dead. Seriously, things are not going great for this priest, but he feels like a very real character at this point. He decides to drive straight out to see the coroner, distraught at the news of his father's death. His father was a priest too, it seems. On the way there his car breaks down and he has to walk seven miles to reach the destination. When he arrives he's met by a very shifty family and it's from that point that the film seems to lose all semblance of a plot.

    There's a big speech at the end which sort of says a few things I agree with, but it just comes out of nowhere. I'll come to that in a bit.
    The sour: The bizarre family contains one member who was clearly a big fan of the protagonist's father but did not successfully complete his ordination into the priesthood. He decides to argue with our protagonist that hell is real. He also tells him that the father-figure in this bizarre family murdered the protagonist's father. Finally he argues that the more wrathful elements of the Bible suggest that the punishment for murdering a 'man of God' ought to be a revenge killing (and the same passage seems to say that the man's family should not be spared either) and eventually even manages to get the protagonist in front of them handling an axe looking fully like he's going to go through with it. Still before we reach that stage, the protagonist long seems to be going absolutely loopy, seeing CG effects on people's faces that make them look like their faces are decomposing and seeing visions of his father and mother with this effect. He also imagines that he's having sex with the daughter in the bizarre family, but not before a local woman tells him how wonderful his father's "fire and brimstone" preaching was and how a local harlot had been trying to turn him astray. In spite of how ridiculously cryptic all this madness and vision stuff was, the filmmakers still seem to think that "the old dead priest was sexually abusing children and that's why someone ended up killing him" was a shocking twist. (Seriously, the local woman talks about a 'harlot leading the old priest astray' within the half hour of the film, I do not consider it a spoiler.)

    So what's this big speech at the end about? Well the priest decides he's an atheist now. (That came as a surprise.) And that hell is a method of controlling the faithful. And he interestingly notes (though this isn't something he learnt during the course of the film) that when it was decided that believers no longer be preached hell, it was said that there would still need to be "a peasant hell". Okay, all very interesting, but I'm afraid nothing in that speech follows on from what happened in the film. Also it seems that the CG effects on people's faces meant very very little.

    To be quite frank, in spite of some promise right at the start, this was a stupid stupid film.

    E-

    25. The Rite (2011)


    A disbelieving priest-in-training is told that he can either leave the priesthood and be stuck with a massive tuition bill that he cannot possibly hope to pay, or he can go on the unpopular "exorcism course" in Rome. The whole seems like a ridiculous waste of time for a man who is barely sure he believes in God, never mind in demonic possession.
    The sweet: Initially had me kind of intrigued. The students on the exorcism course do not refrain from bringing up issues with exorcism. We are told that exorcists are expected to insist that the subject is checked for psychiatric illness by an expert first, but there are other issues. What if the subject only believes they are possessed and acts as they think a possessed person would as a result? When Anthony Hopkins, playing an experienced exorcist, turns up later, he gives the analogy of a thief and says "a thief doesn't want you to know that he's robbing your house", but the protagonist right notes that it's a bit dodgy to pose a lack of evidence of possession as a reason to believe in possession.

    Anthony Hopkins is by far the best thing in this film. He starts off as quite a quirky figure and it's funny when we see this slightly eccentric but polite man transition from welcoming in his latest subject to 'exorcising' her. And yes, later on he gets to sort of do the Hannibal Lecter thing again, but there's problems with that.
    The sour: My annoyance with ghost films comes back again here because demons are precisely what I often find so annoying about ghosts. Apparently the demons have these incredible powers, but the extent to which they are able to use them seems inconsistent. Also, perhaps even worse than with ghost films, there's no good reason WHY the demons do what they do. The first subject of an exorcism we see starts spitting out nails. It's suggested that the girl might have swallowed them earlier as some kind of misguided abortion attempt (seriously?), but why the hell does the demon want to vomit nails anyway?

    Surprise surprise, Anthony Hopkins gets possessed (unless you've seen the poster in which case you knew before entering the film). Prior to this the protagonist starts having bizarre visions and believes he might be going mad, so in the light of all the scepticial-type stuff he's said before we'd expect him to go to a psychiatrist, right? Nope, instead he goes to one of the previous exorcism subjects and asks them about some random comment they made predicting that someone would die. (Yeah, coz that just PROVES exorcism is real, doesn't it? Forget about spitting out nails or magically understanding foreign languages. A random comment about an imminent death is just the proof you need. *groans*)

    I'm going to spoil the climax because (1) it's the most ridiculously stupid part of the film and (2) seriously, I'm doing you a favour. Okay so here goes. *SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER*


    So it ends as follows. The demon who has possessed Anthony Hopkins tries to convince the protagonist to believe in the devil. In the end he says "okay now I believe in the devil, so that means I believe in God too". The devil goes "oh dear I hadn't thought of that" and after having "in the name of Christ" shouted at him a few times he reveals his name (by shouting it loudly in an unintentional comedy moment) and can be easily exorcised.

    *END OF SPOILERS.*

    The biggest question I felt was raised by this movie was why there are Catholics out there who don't find the whole thing a colossal embarrassment.

    E-


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    Okay, so these were films I meant to review a while back, but with the horror movie marathon there just wasn't the opportunity.


    X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (1963)

    A scientist is hoping for a breakthrough in eyedrops that allow you to see through material. However, the funders are unconvinced that the research is progressing fast enough. The scientist ends up trying out the eyedrops on himself, desperate to bypass the problem that animals do not seem capable of processing the extra scope of their vision.




    The film is quite fun and there are some great moments. Admittedly some of it is quite silly and the bit where the vision is used to see through clothes is often talked about. However, there's a lot of inventiveness in the ideas explored. Still, the film never seems quite sure where to go next. There isn't really a well-structured overall plot to the film, but more of a tragic downward spiral for the over-curious genius.



    The very end (to be vague on this) involves a religious figure getting involved. The ending is not anti-religious, but it's ambiguous enough that it doesn't have to be interpreted as pro-religious either. The issue I have with the ending is that I think whether you are religious or not, it's still pretty tough to take seriously.

    This wasn't a perfect film, but it's fun, inventive, well-acted and well-paced.

    B+




    The Road Warrior: Mad Max 2 (1981)

    One friend said that the problem with the idea of a Mad Max reboot or a "Mad Max 4", which apparently director George Miller has been proposing, is that this film has pretty much already been remade twice already. The best of these remakes is apparently Mad Max 2 or "The Road Warrior". (Though for me personally, this is the only Mad Max film I've seen.)


    It starts off with a quick recap on Mad Max's situation, before throwing us straight into the action. In spite of this, the early scenes are a bit slow and things don't properly picked up until we get to the central premise of the movie.



    Mad Max discovers a fort filled with oil which, while well-defended, is absolutely surrounded by a strong and cruel gang. It seems that the people currently staying at this fort are doomed. However, Max may be able to tip the scales so long as he gets a cut.

    The central villain, Lord Humungus, sort of has a deep voice, but it's more like the guy from the "Ask A Ninja" videos rather than a properly scary voice like Darth Vader.



    In spite of silliness, campiness and a general sense of fun, the gang is genuinely threatening and there's actually a rape that is kind of disturbing, even if seen from a distance and even though the camera doesn't linger.

    Bruce Spence (who some may know as "The Train Man" from those sequels to The Matrix which never happened), is absolutely great as the consistent comic relief character. That said, I find it hard to laugh at the way he's treated by Max. He never seems to get a break and I never really feel like he deserves the way he is treated.



    The pacing isn't perfect in this film, but overall the film is very satisfying and the apocalyptic imagery is fantastic. It's hard to believe that the director went on to make "Babe: Pig In The City" and the "Happy Feet" movies.

    This is a neat little film and I found it very enjoyable.

    B+




    Iron Sky (2012)

    There is a lot to like about this film. It has an odd mood that it takes a while to get to grips with, but once you get into the mood it's very funny.

    The premise is simple. As Nazi Germany was taken over by the Allies, the Nazis sent out a select few to start a colony on the moon. That Nazi Moon colony still exists and now it seems like they are finally planning to return and either destroy us all or force us to join them.




    The unnamed US president is now, pretty clearly, Sarah Palin. Apparently she's set up an impromptu moon landing as part of an election campaign and is upset when something goes wrong after the craft lands.

    Not all the jokes work perfectly, with one unfortunately falling flat for me because I didn't initially get the reference. So that you all enjoy the film better, make sure you watch out for the scene which parodies that scene from "Downfall". (Yes, you know the scene. The one that's been used in hundreds of internet parodies with the subtitles being changed to various rants about inconsequential geeky stuff.) When the president's spin doctor's hands tremble as she puts down her glasses, that's the cue for an arm waving rant at her subordinates.

    Still, there are a lot of other gags that work a lot better, particularly if you get yourself into the right mood.



    I don't know that the ending works as well as it is supposed to, but this is a very entertaining and often pretty funny sci-fi comedy movie. It's the best Moon Nazi movie of the year. :P

    I found this was a lot of fun, but it's far from perfect as I've said. Still this is a good little sci-fi movie and I highly recommend it.

    B+




    Lockout (2012)

    So a while back there was a trailer for a movie starring Guy Pearce as a badass guy who has to save the President's daughter from a space station containing a huge number of convicts recently released from cryogenic stasis. The trailer mainly featured Guy Pearce's character making amusing quips while a large man repeatedly punched him in the face.

    The movie looked likely to be AWESOME. So did it deliver on this awesome trailer? ... Absolutely!


    There's great comic timing from Guy Pearce and wonderful chemistry between him and the Maggie Grace who plays the President's daughter. However, pretty much stealing the movie is Joseph Gilgun who many may know as Rudy from the fourth series of "Misfits". He's covered in tatoos with strange hair and a false eye, but he's like a twisted version of the persona he's used elsewhere. Just watch how he acts when told NOT to press a big red button...



    Is "Lockout" original? No, absolutely not. But does it bring the elements together in a fantastically entertaining way? Yes, absolutely! In fact I'm surprised that this is even an issue. No one could possibly hear the premise of this film and think "wow, that'll be original".

    What Lockout does well is that it develops the characters well, it has them interact together in a fun way and the pacing whips you along. (It's like Avengers to that extent...)



    Lockout is not the best movie of the year. Far from it. (This has been a damn good year.) However, it is a great sci-fi action film.

    A+



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    Once again, working from bad to less bad, counting down towards the number 1 spot.

    24. Manhunt (2008)

    Plot Synopsis: A group of friends on holiday end up getting kidnapped and dumped in the middle of the woods. They then find themselves being hunted for sport.
    The Sweet: Initially I thought there was a lot of potential in this Norwegian horror movie. The characters have some interesting interactions and seem to get properly fleshed out. There's a boyfriend character who is irritable and rude, but his girlfriend feels that he is just misunderstood. I was particularly interested to see how that would play out, since it seemed like he would either prove himself better than he'd been given credit for or would end up betraying the lot of them in some way. The four characters pick up a hitchhiker who seems a little desperate and things seemed to be getting interesting. Unfortunately this is where the whole film goes downhill.
    The Sour: Of our initial five characters, two are instantly killed off. That's before the "manhunt" part of the film even gets started. That leaves us with just three of the characters getting dumped in the middle of the woods. So what, eh? Still plenty you can do to develop three characters. Yeah, but they don't do that...
    Our three remaining protagonists get split up pretty quickly and very little of the rest of the film pays any attention to the character-building which made the film seem so promising at the start. The main source of tension is a few scenes where the bad guy runs a knife along the skin of his victims and it is admittedly pretty unnerving. However, it goes on forever and when the exact same trick is used later on it gets quite dull. Also there's a lot of inconsistency in the characters, with hysterical screaming one minute and careful stealth the next. Also with careful use of resources in one scene and then bizarrely running off completely leaving all potential weapons behind the next.
    This is a film which thinks that pure shocks and gore is enough to make an interesting horror film. They are wrong. Character building is not something you do at the beginning of a horror film to waste time. It should carry on through the rest of the film and early interactions should foreshadow later developments. If they'd bothered to do that, this could potentially have been a good movie.

    E+


    23. The Haunting (1963)

    Plot Synopsis: A group of people are expected to stay the night in a haunted house to check the supposed supernatural phenomena. One woman is provided with an invitation because of an experience she had with the supernatural when she was younger, but her interest is far from academic. She desperately needs a new life and this is a way to run away from her old one...
    The Sweet: The beginning apes Hitchcock, which I suppose is pretty cool. Perhaps there could have been rather less voiceover and a bit more actual stuff happening on screen, but if you are going to steal - steal from the best (as they say). The characters are distinctive and some of the dialogue is quite cool. The way the fear of a banging behind a door is conveyed is done really well.
    The Sour: Unfortunately I've got problems with pretty much everything I just mentioned. Sure, the characters are distinctive, but the female protagonist is so wet! I think we are supposed to join her in neurotically panicking, but I just wanted her to grow the hell up. Meanwhile the guy running the experiment keeps on waxing lyrical about what the supernatural is like in a way that kind of got on my nerves. Sure, I can accept characters believing things that I don't, but when the movie is essentially expecting me to sit through a lecture on the medical benefits of snake oil, I find myself getting a little resentful. This condescending figure going into details about how we ought to think of the supernatural didn't impress me, to say the least. Also, the banging on the door, while great the first time around, is just done to death. While the characters are terrified of something bursting through the door, I wanted to reach into the screen and pull the blasted door wide open. Perhaps the 'expert' who is so keen to study the supernatural could have the guts to open the door and take a closer look? Please?

    Sorry, this is supposed to be a classic ghost movie? I never really felt much of an atmosphere. Thoroughly unimpressed.

    E+


    22. The Orphanage (2007)

    Plot Synopsis: A woman who grew up in an orphanage decides to return to that orphanage (now disused) in order to convert it into a care home for disabled children. Her husband and adopted son are getting used to the place. Her son appears to be developing large numbers of imaginary friends.
    The Sweet: This is well filmed and well acted. There's no doubt about that. There are also some fairly clever scenes which build up teension. Things develop in a fairly logical fashion. I definitely felt attached to the characters.
    The Sour: Feeling attached to the characters so much, it's perhaps rather sad that I ended up feeling disappointed overall with this movie. Finally I think this is a ghost movie that I can point to in regards to my problems with ghost stories in general. I was okay with "A Nightmare On Elm Street" having a villain that can seemingly do anything he wants, though technically that's not a ghost story. I was okay with "Poltergeist" where the ghost(s) seemed to have pretty extraordinary powers. I was even okay with "The Innkeepers" with what was essentially a haunted house story. Yet "The Orphanage" really hit all my anti-ghost-story buttons.

    Okay first of all, big issue. Why do you get superpowers when you die? Ghost stories often seem to suggest that death is a bad thing and that ghosts are in an unfortunate tormented situation, but often it seems like dying was the best thing that happened to the ghost. They get to live forever with superpowers. Pretty cool, eh? No surprise here: the "imaginary friends" are essentially ghosts. And *groan* they have 'unfinished business' (a term I first remember being used liberally in the movie of "Casper"). Eventually there's some revelation which explains what has happened to the ghosts and how their issues can be resolved somehow (sort of) and I'm sorry but *bleurrrgh*. I just cannot feel sorry for the plight of people who are dead. I'm worried about the living and ghost stories often seem oddly cold to real life issues. As much as the ending to this movie might tie up loose ends, it left me entirely cold. And endings of movies are important to me, so my score for this film is dragged violently down by this issue.

    D-


    21. Ghost Ship (2002)

    Plot Synopsis: A salvage team are given a tip about a massive ship abandoned in the middle of the ocean. But DUN DUN DUN!!!! The ship is full of GHOSTS! *gasp!*
    The Sweet: The really good bit in this film is basically the first scene. It's utterly ridiculous but in a fabulously entertaining way. We see in the foreground that someone is tampering with some wires, while meanwhile tons of people are on deck dancing to music. Something snaps and the wire goes buzzing across the deck slicing every passenger in half. We have that silly oh-I-didn't-realise-I'd-been-sliced-in-h

    alf effect once again and then everyone slides in to pieces. Limbs are still flailing and one passenger even seems to be trying to reorganise their now-disconnected upper and lower torso. Of course, this whole scene is utterly ludicrous. If you have your spine severed, that kind of damage to the nervous system (not to mention the shock and pain) will inevitably knock you out. Still if the film could have remained entertainingly ludicrous I'd probably have liked the film rather more.

    The Sour: Anyway Quinn from Dexter turns up to ask Nurse Hathaway from ER, plus Gabriel Byrne, Karl Urban, Isaiah Washington and some other guy who I don't recognise at all, if they are interested in salvaging this massive ship and making a huge fortune. When they get there, ghostly stuff starts and things don't look right. We have ghosts with superpowers again. At one point we hear that the ghosts want the ship fixed, but these are the same ghosts that can fill up an empty swimming pool with blood and can make a gas cannister open by itself. With that kind of ability, why don't they just fix the ship themselves. After all, these aren't confused mixed up spirits. They are practically Caspar style people-who-happen-to-be-ghosts. They talk quite candidly with the salvage crew at times and are able to explain precisely the situation they are in. If you want a "haunted ship" movie, I would personally suggest you try out "Triangle" instead. Much more fun.

    D-


    20. Saw II (2005)

    Plot Synopsis: A detective is named in one of serial killer Jigsaw's clues and despite his own reluctance, he ends up being pulled into one of Jigsaw's games. Meanwhile a group of people in a random disused building are waking up. In the room is a recorder and when they play the message it informs them that they have been breathing in a deadly nerve agent. However, if they play the game they can earn themselves an antidote. (Yes Jigsaw IS a killer. In both the first two movies you get someone saying that he's not, but that's nonsense. If you leave a bomb somewhere then someone could disarm it, but if it goes off and kills people then you are guilty of murder. Similarly if you strap a device to someone's head and it crushes their skull you are a murderer. It doesn't matter if there was a key hidden somewhere in the room, it's still murder. Even if they find the key and remove the device it's still "attempted murder".)
    The Sweet: The traps are sometimes quite inventive. The overall game is a little more consistent this time around. Tobin Bell gives a great performance as Jigsaw.
    The Sour: Tobin Bell is pretty much the ONLY person who gives a good performance here, though to be fair the other actors don't have much to work with. The characters are fairly bland and any more extreme character traits (like the one brash violent guy whose response to everything is to panic and start lashing out and break things) are never really given much depth. One of the people caught in Jigsaw's trap this time is the girl who beat his test in the previous movie. She openly announces that she was tested by Jigsaw before (and that it got her off drugs - I mean seriously wtf is it with these writers?) and yet nobody seems inclined to grill her on this. The youngest captive asks her some questions and gets some short cagey answers, but I cannot help remembering the movie "Exam". In "Exam" one of the applicants is believed to be a mole entered into the exam room to monitor them or influence them in some way and that applicant ends up being savagely interrogated. Yet here we have a character who admits previous knowledge of the mastermind behind this twisted kidnapping and whose first line in the film seems to be to criticise someone for calling Jigsaw a serial killer, yet no one thinks she's worth interrogating at all? There's not really an interesting plot here, but do you know what the real problem with this film is? Unlike in the first film (which I felt was at least entertainingly cheesy and stupid) this one does not have Danny Glover. I'm afraid that's a deal-breaker...

    D-


    19. Critters 4 (1992)

    Plot Synopsis: Charlie wakes up in a pod with the last remaining Critter. He discovers that after accidentally becoming sealed in the pod it is now the distant future.
    The Sweet: Ugg returns and there's nearly some interesting expansion of the relationship between Ugg and Charlie. Nearly...
    The Sour: We have an over-long set-up where under-used awesome actress Angela Bassett randomly gets naked. Brad Dourif is remarkably boring in his role here. The eventual awakening of Charlie is marks an upturn in proceedings, but in the end that's not enough to make this a good movie. The Critters eventually disappear into a lab where it looks like all hell is about to break loose, but after that the Critters are very nearly forgotten about for the rest of the film. This is such a sad way for the Critters franchise to end. It tries to put a dark spin on the happy ending of Critters 2, but it's just so poorly handled that it just feels like a cheat. Admittedly this film is a big improvement on Critters 3 and there are some pretty fun moments, but overall the plot just goes nowhere and any attempts to make a good movie here are recognisably compromised - most likely by budget limitations.
    D+

    18. Zombie Holocaust (1980)

    Plot Synopsis: A group of scientists investigate the source of some recent cannibal murders by going to a set of random islands. Only when they get there most of them get eaten by cannibals! (Who'd've thunk it, eh?)
    The Sweet: To be honest, I was hoping for zombies. There are some, but they don't really play a big part in the film. However, the cannibals are admittedly rather good. The scenes with the cannibals are gory and horrible (though extremely low budget), but they succeeded in shocking me which was clearly the intention. There's also a rather neat creepy scene involving surgery (dammit I've already said too much). The film is pretty silly, but it's actually pretty well paced considering how simple the plot is and I never got too bored.

    The Sour: On the subject of the aforementioned surgery scene. The surgeon explains each stage of the operation as he goes through it, but normally this is done either for a record of the surgery session or to help ensure that those assisting the surgery know what stage they have reached. This guy is making no kind of recording of the surgery and is performing the procedure entirely alone. Also, and I feel this is important, YOU CANNOT REMOVE VOCAL CHORDS WITH TWEESERS!

    It feels like there's an odd sort of racism implicit in the film, with the savage asians from the island and the local asians who accompany the team inevitably always being the first ones to die. Also, typical of a video nasty, the main female blonde character seems to regularly get naked so the camera can linger on her. I guess you've got to expect stuff like that from this sort of movie.

    I don't feel bad for having watching Zombie Holocaust and it could certainly have been a lot worse. In a cheesy silly way it was kind of fun. I certainly don't recommend it, but if you feel like checking out an entirely stupid video nasty about cannibals this probably isn't the worst choice.

    D+
    17. I Spit On Your Grave (1978) *This review is potentially triggering. Trigger warning.*

    Plot synopsis: A writer goes to the country to get some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city. However, local thugs start showing an interest and finds herself being sexually assaulted. However, when she survives the ordeal she has plans of her own.
    The Sweet: Well to be quite frank, after "Last House On The Left" this felt like a masterpiece. The acting isn't any better (though its hardly any worse), but there are definite moments of tension and atmosphere. After the first assault on the woman (because yes, she's sexually assaulted more than once) she runs into the trees only eventually to come across one of the members of the same group of thugs. What is he doing? He's calmly playing the harmonica while sitting on a rock. There's a moment of calm in the film here where we just know that things are about to get really bad at any moment and we are just forced to wait. This is REAL horror.
    The second kill in the movie (since I've already noted that the protagonist does not die, you can tell this comes later) is kind of haunting. Unfortunately the final kills somewhat pale in their shock value by comparison.
    As much as the prospect of a movie which features regular sexual assault sounds kind of horrible (and absolutely, if you are triggered by this content steer well away), the camera is always directed straight at the assailants (generally from the victim's point of view) and the camera angles on the victim tend to avoid showing off her body during these particular scenes. There's no suggestion that the filmmakers are getting off on the violence they display and the horrifying nature of these crimes is made very clear.
    The Sour: The quality of the film footage is pretty horrific in places. There are many parts of the film where the sound is muffled and dialogue can often be inaudible. During an early scene showing the various thugs acting like ordinary (albeit somewhat obnoxious people) sitting by the side of the lake chatting I have very little idea about most of what they discuss. The picture quality is pretty poor for a great deal of the film too.
    Another issue is that some of the revenge killings involve sex, which seems particularly strange after the earlier sexual assaults on the protagonist. While the filmmakers didn't show off the protagonist's body too much during the sexual assaults, they seem to be making up for lost time in this latter half and it kind of undermines any attempts to claim that this film represents any kind of "female liberation". This is, when it comes down to it, a rather twisted exploitation flick - whatever the best intentions of the male director might have been. (Apparently the director was inspired to make this after witnessing the horrific treatment received by a rape victim at the hands of the police.)
    I'd also note that the version of this I watched was definitely a cut version. I heard in some discussions that a bottle in one of the scenes ends up getting used in the sexual assault and I am very thankful that my version missed out that bit. I think this film has gained more attention than it might have otherwise by being amongst those films banned as a "video nasty" particularly when the film is clearly making some efforts to highlight the horror of rape. However I don't think anyone really wants to see an entirely uncut version of this.

    D+



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    As I work my way through the movies I reviewed in the Halloween Candy horror movie marathon counting down to my favourite films of the marathon, we finally have some reasonably good films. Starting with films that were somewhat disappointing, but moving on to films that were pretty good fun. There's still eleven good movies left for the next couple of entries too...

    16. Intruders (2011)

    Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has an odd pattern of making films which are slightly flawed, but still leaving me wanting to see more. His first film was "Intacto", a rather cool film about people who've worked out how to compete for each other's luck. It's quite an amazing premise and while it doesn't all quite fit together as well as it should, there are some great moments. Then there was "28 Weeks Later" the sequel to Danny Boyle's film which first inspired renewed interest in zombie movies. To my mind, the opening for "28 Weeks Later" is perfect. Even if you hadn't seen "28 Days Later" you'd still know from that first sequence precisely how terrifying the 'rage zombies' really are. However, there are definitely problems with the film.
    The sweet:"Intruders" seems to be trying to capture that same kind of magic that Pan's Labyrinth did. By that I mean it tries to capture the magic and the power of stories. The very first scene of the film shows a small boy and his mother telling stories with one another, but then the boy cannot sleep and seems to discover some kind of real life monster making its way into the house via the scaffolding outside the window. He believes he sees it attack his mother. Throughout the film the monster comes to be called "hollowface". This first section is in Spanish. Seemingly unrelated to this, there is an English girl (with Clive Owen playing her father) who discovers an old box hidden in a tree in her grandparents' garden. Inside the box is an unfinished story which she decides to pretend is hers to skip a homework at school. However, the story she found about the monster "hollowface" was unfinished and her teachers want her to finish the story. As she continues the story, it becomes about her and soon she is terrified that hollowface is really going to come and steal her face. The way hollowface is depicted is brilliant. Also the performances are fantastic with Clive Owens (who I think is normally a bit inconsistent) on absolutely top form and a very welcome appearance from Daniel Brühl (the Nazi war hero in "Inglourious Basterds", also starred in "Goodbye Lenin" and "The Edukators"). (I was also surprised to see an appearance by Kerry Fox, who I haven't seen since "Shallow Grave".)
    The sour: An ending can make or break a film and unfortunately the ending here is highly contrived. The whole film has been asking us what is real and what is not, so right at the end we finally need that to be resolved. There's nothing exactly wrong with the explanation, but the way the reveal is executed just makes it highly unsatisfying. I'm not going to spoil the ending and who knows, maybe some people won't find the ending such a disappointment, but after a fantastic first half it was a bit annoying to see the film collapse like this.

    C-



    15. Critters (1986)

    On my poll of franchises I should check out this came bottom in the results. However, the boxset was going cheap so I watched them all now anyway.

    This turns out to be the only one I've ever seen. I only saw bits of it and I was surprised when I couldn't see Leonardo Di Caprio in it, having thought I was watching Critters 3. It's actually kind of disapppointing to find that this wasn't a low quality sequel but was actually the initial movie in the series.

    Plot Synopsis: Furry monsters known as "Crites" who like to eat a lot come to Earth in a prison ship they've hi-jacked. They then reek terror as some rather creepy bounty hunters are sent to stop them.
    The Sweet: The bounty hunters are really cool. Actually rather cooler than the Crites (or Critters). They have blank faces which they can shape into any form. One of them quickly picks the form of a (fictional) popular rock star, while the other finds that he keeps changing face, feeling dissatisfied with each one. The bounty hunters are only interested in killing the Gremlins-imitation comedy monsters and are not terribly worried about the level of damage they inflict in the process.

    There are some quite cool bits involving the Critters but it's all a bit hit and miss. The way one Critter looks at a toy of E.T. is quite funny though.
    The Sour: The acting is rubbish. There is far too much screaming, particularly from Dee Wallace (of "The Howling" and "The Frighteners" fame). The film isn't really funny or exciting enough overall. In spite of how well he's used in later sequels, in this first film the character of Charlie is really irritating. This film shows potential, but never really meets it.

    C+


    14. Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

    Plot Synopsis: Evil clow-like aliens come to earth in a flying saucer shaped like a circus tent to cocoon humans in candy floss or attack them with mallets and popcorn guns.
    The Sweet: There's a certain level of insane genius involved with this film. Notably the director is mainly known for his effects work, so it's perhaps not surprising that the film is at its best when it comes to the effects. The effects are really really good and there's a lot of imagination that has gone into the way the effects are used.
    The Sour: While some of the humour is pretty good, most of the non-effects sections of the film are just filler. The camerawork is fairly bland, the acting is plain, there's no interesting cinematography, there's nothing much in the way of atmosphere. But at the centre of the film nonetheless is this really well thought out concept that really deserves a better director. In fact the exact SAME director is planning to release "Return of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 3D" next year. I think it would have been better if he was overseeing the effects work while someone else directed, but there you go. Who knows? Perhaps he's learnt from previous mistakes over the near 20 year gap?

    C+


    13. Cry Wolf (2005)

    I'd thought this was a film recommended by Mark Kermode a while back. During the review for the movie I THOUGHT this was, Kermode was talking about how watching horror films involves masochism. I was expecting something really intense. What's more here I had the "uncut" version of the movie. As it turns out, the film Kermode was talking about was "Wolf Creek", so whoops.

    Cry Wolf is a slasher movie which tries to be a bit clever by having the students sort of wishing it upon themselves with the tricks they play on one another (with instant messaging over the internet used quite nicely), but in the end, this film just isn't scary (and I don't say that lightly. I am, no bones about it, a wuss). The film tied together pretty nicely. The presence of Jon Bon Jovi in a fairly prominent role didn't turn out to be too much of a problem. Jared Padalecki (of "Supernatural" fame) was certainly a lot better here than he was in the "Friday the 13th" reboot (though he still didn't exactly blow me away).

    In the end the film was quite satisfying, but it didn't do anything special. Going into it expecting to be scared is pretty much a waste of time for the most part, since any fear evoked isn't really built up. The main focus of interest is the character interactions and the plot intrigue, but the plot isn't THAT clever and the characters aren't THAT interesting - though they both are good enough to make it work. Overall this was pretty good. If I judge it as a horror movie, it could have been a lot better. However, I think it may well have been going for 'horror light' and with that in mind it's absolutely fine.

    B-


    12. Thir13en Ghosts (2001)

    Plot Synopsis: The premise is pretty solidly set up in the opening scene. A rich businessman is trying to capture a set of ghosts for an unstated reason. He has a comic relief medium guy who is helping him locate the ghosts he needs, but he also has some tools of his own: such as A TRUCK FULL OF BLOOD (oh yeah!). Anyway, after his death the rich millionaire leaves his bizzarre house and fortune to a set of relatives who have fallen on hard times, but guess what is in the basement?
    The Sweet: This is very much a horror comedy and there's also sort of sci-fi elements to it. While the medium guy seems a little too over the top the first time you see it, he really helps to set the tone. Everything would get a little overly serious without his combined cynicism and goofiness. Just his presence is enough to confirm for otherwise oblivious protagonists that something weird is going on. The performances are pretty good, the ghosts are fantastic and the comedy is set up really well.
    The Sour: The only thing that is kind of lacking is the plot. There is not really much of a plot here (or at least not a plot which fits together terribly neatly). It feels like there's a few twists for the sake of it towards the end, as if the filmmakers were uncertain how to end the film.

    Thirteen Ghosts is a neat little remake of a Bill Castle movie. (If you've seen Joe Dante's "Matinee", John Goodman's character is based on director William Castle. The director used special gimmicks, such as buzzers under the seats, to encourage audiences to go to his films. He was sort of like the James Cameron of the era. :P ) This isn't a fantastic film, but it is wonderful fun and if what you want is just a plain old good time this delivers in spades.

    B-


    Walking Dead - Season 2 (2011)

    I thought it was fair to count this season of "The Walking Dead" as an entry. Finally rented the DVDs and while I didn't think it was as good as the first season, I still thought it was pretty cool. A few 'important issues' and 'big concerns' are repeated by characters over and over until the drama is squeezed out of them, but as a general rule I thought this kept things interesting.



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    A little over two years ago, I announced how pleased I was that the tv execs had finally come to their senses and decided to make a BSG spin-off series that people might actually want to watch.

    You see, I think the big problem with "Caprica", beyond any other failings the series may have had, was that it took everyone's favourite BSG badass and showed us what he was like as a child. I don't want to see Adama as a child, I want to see him as a badass. It's the same problem with Star Wars: Episode One. If I'm going to see more stories about Darth Vader, I want him as an evil warlord working for the Empire, not as a whiny adolescent giving the other Jedis grief.

    So imagine my joy when I heard that "Blood and Chrome" would be a spin-off detailing Adama's missions against the Cylons. It sounded like a great idea. I'd always enjoyed the flashbacks to Adama's old missions in the BSG series, so a whole tv series of them just sounded perfect.

    Anyway, I didn't hear anything more about this series for a long time (and the same goes for Bryan Singer's BSG reboot movie - though apparently he's still doing thatas well as the next X Men flick), but now there's a trailer. Apparently this initial series will premiere online, but I suspect that's with the hopes of a long term contract on a tv station. Could BSG be coming back?



    (video link)

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    In this penultimate recap, I pick out the movies I thought were pretty good but didn't get the (clearly highly coveted) A grade. (As before, I rate the films more highly the further you go through the list.) If you are interested in seeing my reviews for any of the films that I didn't think were so good (a whole 20 mediocre to godawful films. My goodness...), then check out these few links.

    For Recap 1 click here
    For Recap 2 click here
    For Recap 3 click here

    Now for the reviews of some pretty good films (finally!)...

    11. The Evil Dead (1981)

    Plot Synopsis: Sort of like Evil Dead 2 only less happens and the monsters use the phrase "join us" more often. A group of people go to a cabin in the woods. When they play a recording left in the cabin they suffer the same fate as the previous occupants. The dead begin to possess the living and, to make things creepier, they also laugh maniacally.
    The Sour: I must start with the negatives here because I tried watching this film once before. I ended up giving up when the "molesting tree" turned out to be rather more like the raping tree. Seriously, if you are triggered by that sort of thing you should definitely not see this film. In Evil Dead 2 it probably isn't an issue since the character is essentially 'consumed' by tree branches instead. However, in "The Evil Dead" it is much more like a sexual assault. That being said, once that little bit is over things become much more like Evil Dead 2.
    The Sweet: The effects were actually better than I was expecting and the use of the small cast is done pretty well. However, I still reckon Evil Dead 2 is by far the better movie.

    B+



    10. Critters 2 (1988)

    Plot Synopsis: The Critters turn out not to have been entirely finished off. In between the two movies, Charlie has been gradually fitting into the role of bounty hunter after leaving with them at the end of the first film. All three bounty hunters return to Earth to finish the job.
    The Sweet: Where to start? This film takes a fairly lacklustre first movie and somehow does everything right. Any characters from the previous film are brought back in an interesting way. Not only is Charlie no longer hugely irritating, but he's actually a really interesting centrepoint around which the film can revolve. Bradley Brown's grandmother who, in contrast with the meat-loving Critters, is a staunch vegetarian, turns out to be a really interesting addition to the cast. We get to see exactly how the events of the previous movie affected the various characters. Also tying together the whole film is an "Easter" theme linked with the Critters eggs, which works remarkably well. We get to know the Bounty Hunters better (and I'm not sure if they had the names Ugg and Lee in the previous movie - "Ug-ly", get it? - but they definitely have much more distinctive identities this time around) and the one bounty hunter's whole identity crisis thing is made use of rather more interestingly this time (with Lee very nearly taking on the appearance of a horror icon he finds on a movie poster). The effects work has also taken a jump forward since the previous film, presumably meaning this sequel had a bigger budget to work with.

    The Sour: The film is pretty daft and it's not paced perfectly. Still the better characters, the better effects, the better storyline and the better sense of fun all make up for any lack of quality elsewhere. Yes, the film is silly and yes, it seems to pretty much unfold as and when rather than feeling terribly well-structured. Still, I had so much fun with this (particularly by comparison to other films I'd seen lately) that I have to give this full credit.
    B+


    9. Pet Semetery (1989)

    Plot Synopsis: A family move to a new house and a helpful neighbour introduces the father figure of the family to an old native American burial ground which brings the dead back to life.
    The Sweet: Stephen King adaptations tend to be very hit-and-mostly-miss. I'm pleased to say this is one of the better ones. There is a great performance here from Fred Gwynne who played Herman Munster in The Munsters. I've never been a big fan of The Munsters in spite of absolutely loving the original Addams Family tv series, but another role which may give you a better idea what to expect here is when Fred Gwynne played the judge in "My Cousin Vinny". Another great performance comes from Brad Greenquist who plays the ghost of Victor Pascow. Also deserving of credit is the (at the time) child actor Miko Hughes. While there are scenes towards the end which feel like they come from "Child's Play", that's not really a bad thing. These scenes are done very well and the film is generally pretty effective in evoking the intended mood. Also there's a neat little cameo from Stephen King himself, which I appreciate rather more due to seeing King's excellent comedic performance in "Creepshow". I found the ending was pretty awesome.
    The Sour: The lead actor is really not great. Certainly he's not horrendous, but he's certainly not performed as interestingly as some of the supporting roles. He gets to do a fairly cheesy "noooo!" at one stage and while the director tries to make it less silly by flashing up old photos representing old memories flashing through the protagonist's mind, that "nooo!" couldn't have been much more cheesy. I also didn't feel like I understood the mentality of the lead character a lot of the time and I think the limits of the actor may be related to that. I would say that this could have been a little more consistent in tone and pacing, though that's possibly nitpicking.

    This is a good little Stephen King adaptation and while not perfect, I would definitely recommend it.

    B+


    8. Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

    Plot synopsis: Some bizarre remains have been found upon excavation when expanding a London Underground station (specifically the Hobb's End underground station). The excavation reveals some kind of ancestor to humans, but upon further investigation an object with strange properties is also uncovered. Initially presuming the object to be an unexploded bomb, the scientists analysing the fossils there call in the army to take care of it. Quatermass has some suspicions as to what the object might be, but he and the army officials do not share the same priorities...
    The sour: As with the old classic Doctor Who, some of the acting can be a bit rubbish. There's a great sense of fun all the way through and the lead roles are played very well, but this is not so true of the smaller roles. The acting from the soldiers, for example, can often seem goofy.

    Quatermass tends to keep his ideas close to his chest, at least initially. As such, while there were many points where I thought some questions desperately needed to be considered, it would often turn out that Quatermass had been theorising his own answers already. Still, following the thought processes of the characters is quite awkward with plenty of points where their conclusions seem a little rushed.

    This is a low budget feature and as such some of the effects don't look all that great. Some of the effects seemed to be done by careful use of papier mache and there's one point where we see some um... psychic footage (?) and it looks particularly daft. That being said...
    The sweet: There are some rather neat effects which, while cheap, are highly effective. At the climax of the film where all hell breaks loose, there's some fantastic imagery. This story seems like much less of a slow burn than Doctor Who series of the time and while the pacing could have been a bit faster, there is enough of a payoff to make any slow parts worthwhile. Quatermass himself is like The Doctor if you take away the quirkiness. He wanders around, being enigmatic and seemingly one step ahead of the game at all times, but he's a serious and sensible chap.

    This is definitely a big recommend for sci-fi fans. If you are looking to the movie for horror, you don't really get anything much until the climax of the movie. Still, that final part is so well handled that I think horror fans may well find that it was worth slogging through the theoretical discussion stuff. While the ideas explored in the film are kind of silly, the film approaches them intelligently and makes it remarkably easy to suspend disbelief as a result.

    B+


    7. Razorback (1984)

    One of the director of Highlander, Russell Mulcahy's early films. What he achieves with the low budget is quite amazing. There's a genuine sense of tension related to the giant razorback (a kind of boar) that provides the central threat. There is, admittedly, a scene where the protagonist is under threat from a lot of smaller razorbacks and they generally come off as kind of cute, to be honest. However, there's no doubting the threat from the giant razorback, as well as from other human characters. Particularly the two clearly villainous workers at a local canning factory that makes pet food in what must be the least health and safety conscious workplace ever. The pacing isn't perfect and the premise is absurd (in the opening scenes, the giant razorback steals a man's grandson by smashing straight through his cabin walls), but overall this is a great little horror film.

    B+


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    Okay, so I'm not exactly blown away by Obama. He's still pretty right wing, but that's typical US politics. The idea of accusing him of being a 'socialist' just because he wanted to offer the poor a slightly better healthcare deal is such a joke. I seriously don't get some of the rhetoric in America: 
    "Hey, how about we make the public schools better?"
    "FREE education? Are you some kind of a SOCIALIST or summat? Subsidise home schooling 'cause that'll help the people who actually pay INCOME TAX, otherwise we'll know that you're really some kind of Communist Nazi Hitler Guy."



    So yeah, anyway, the Republicans seemed to go more absurdly right-wing than ever. I remember when we all thought George W Bush was ridiculous, but he's looking like a fairly moderate Republican by comparison to the new stars of the GOP. So thank goodness that the latest ultra right-wing satire-fodder didn't actually get elected. (I'm sorry if this sounds insulting, but I could totally believe there were enough Americans stupid enough to elect that guy.) I think liberal Americans need to demand more of Obama, but with an opposition like that I don't think they are going to get very far because, hey, who else are you gonna vote for?

    So um, congratulations, I guess?


    Anyway, so far so depressing (albeit with a pretty large sigh of relief, admittedly), but there's a silver lining! The election may have been one long slog somehow managing to be in equal parts boring and terrifying, but it did mean that we could get this video from a rapid Republican-supporting youtube lady. And Filmdrunk has the perfect accompanying pic (which I hope shows up below, but the Filmdrunk article is here just in case).


    "FACEBOOK! TWITTER! ALL tools of the left!"

    Without further ado, here's the crazy "Butterscotch lady" video. (Contains a lot of swearing btw.):

    (video link)


    (Via Ms Daisy Cutter)

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