Articles on this Page
- 01/15/13--00:53: _Let's Talk About Ta...
- 01/15/13--14:53: _Woman Wins Right Sh...
- 01/18/13--03:48: _Google - Stop It!!!!
- 01/18/13--08:20: _Movie Review of "Le...
- 01/18/13--15:28: _My Top 10 Favourite...
- 01/31/13--02:49: _Django Unchained Re...
- 01/31/13--13:45: _"A Royal Affair" - ...
- 01/31/13--15:17: _My Moral Outrage Ag...
- 02/05/13--16:58: _Zero Dark Thirty - ...
- 02/09/13--15:43: _Tobe Hooper Review:...
- 02/15/13--17:48: _Die Hard 5 - It Wou...
- 02/16/13--21:08: _Hitchcock Reverse R...
- 02/17/13--09:10: _Tobe Hooper Review:...
- 02/18/13--16:50: _Movie Review - "Bea...
- 02/25/13--16:12: _Shocking Disrespect...
- 03/02/13--11:35: _"Stoker" - A Beauti...
- 03/05/13--15:59: _Oscar-themed Review...
- 03/10/13--10:50: _Horror Franchise Ma...
- 03/11/13--06:08: _Full review of "Dre...
- 03/13/13--04:50: _Review of "Margin C...
- 01/15/13--00:53: Let's Talk About Tarantino's Bad 'Channel 4' Interview...
- 01/18/13--03:48: Google - Stop It!!!!
- 01/18/13--08:20: Movie Review of "Les Miserables"
- 01/18/13--15:28: My Top 10 Favourite Movies of 2011 (Plus some honourable mentions)
- 01/31/13--13:45: "A Royal Affair" - Visual Effects Extravaganza?
- 01/31/13--15:17: My Moral Outrage Against The Film "Monsieur Lazhar"
- 02/05/13--16:58: Zero Dark Thirty - "War On Terror" Blockbuster - My Review!
- 02/16/13--21:08: Hitchcock Reverse Retrospective (Now 20 Films In!) - Part Five!
- 02/17/13--09:10: Tobe Hooper Review: Crocodile Madness!
- 03/05/13--15:59: Oscar-themed Reviews Post! - (Over a week too late)
- 03/10/13--10:50: Horror Franchise Marathons - An Update And Discussion...
- 03/11/13--06:08: Full review of "Dredd" (without the 3D) - Laying down the law.
Really puzzled by this. Tarantino all of a sudden gets squeamish about talking about violence and movies. He point blank refuses to answer a question about why he thinks that real life violence and enjoyment of violence in movies are not connected saying "I'm shutting your butt down". It strikes me as bizarre since (i) I'd have though Tarantino had a lot to say on the subject and (ii) the interviewer didn't seem to me to be at all opinionated or unfair in his posing of the issue.
So why is Tarantino acting like this?
- Is he less sure of his position on whether violence can be caused by films and feel less able to speak confidently on the issue?
- Is he in a defensive mood, possibly even from an earlier interview? Perhaps the hypothetical idea posed that this latest movie might be "trashed by more people" than previous movies rubbed him the wrong way?
- Is it because he thinks he has a good chance at the Oscars this time around and he's worried about controversy for that reason?
Personally I feel the idea that people are going to talk about slavery in an important way as a result of "Django Unchained" is rather hard to swallow. I also found it rather worrying to watch a rich white director say to a black interviewer "I'm not your slave. I'm not your monkey," in order to explain why he is refusing to answer a reasonable and respectfully delivered question.
I like Tarantino most of the time and I'm still planning to see "Django Unchained" fairly soon when it is finally released in the UK. However, he gave a pretty appalling interview here and I'm not sure what he thought he was playing at.
(Cross-posted to moviebuffs)
Some "big news" recently that the woman who worked for British Airways who had already won a ruling to allow her to wear a cross in the workplace, has now taken that same case to the European Court of Human Rights and proven that she has the same right there too.
Cue ridiculously misleading headlines:
The Independent:"Christian woman wins landmark discrimination case."
The FT:"BA employee wins right to wear cross."
(She already HAD that right. FFS!)
And of course, the Daily Fail:"'Thank You Jesus' Christian British Airways employee tell of joy as after European court finds she DID face discrimination over silver cross."
(Thanks Jesus! You've allowed a court to re-state the obvious! Well done!)
What most of the coverage is failing to make clear is that there were in fact FOUR court cases being brought before the ECHR and the other three ALL LOST their court cases.
One of those who lost their court case was Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor who refused to counsel gay couples because of his religious views. I previously posted an interview with him here (shocked at the lack of opposing voices provided in the interview, but fairly pleased with the amount of pressure placed by the interviewer himself).
The other two were:
- Lillian Ladele, a chaplain who refused to perform civil partnerships. It has now been decided that her wish to discriminate on religious grounds does not trump gay rights or the requirements of her employers.
- Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who had refused to accept the option of wearing a cross a different way in her workplace, such as in the form of a lapel pin. She lost the case that wearing the cross on a chain, which is against the uniform rules for nurses in UK hospitals, was a necessary part of her freedom of religious expression in the workplace.
Andrew Copson, as always, delivers some proper common sense below:
Interestingly, a google image search for "ECHR religion rulings" mostly comes up with images related to a case from 2010 where a woman was unable to get her abortion within Ireland in spite of a risk to her life. There were a lot of protests against the ruling by anti-choicers, but perhaps if Ireland had taken that case a little more seriously (since unlike the above, it actually contradicted their own rulings) Savita might still be alive.
(cross-posted to atheism)
Okay, so when Google acquired Youtube suddenly they wanted to combine the two accounts. Fair dos.
But recently I keep getting asked on Youtube in different ways to change my user name to my real name. I keep picking the option that says that I don't want to use my real name - and I keep getting asked again anyway.
Google, I do not want to use my real name online. Get over it, dammit!!!
Les Miserables (2012)
Normally when you write a review, you kind of want the final verdict to be a bit of a surprise. If someone doesn't want to wait for the surprise they can rush to the end, but to really understand the final verdict you often need the commentary.
This time I'm shifting that tradition and telling everyone straight off that my rating for this film is *drumroll*:
If I'm really satisfied by a film I'll give it an A. If I think it was pretty good, I'll give it a B. C-, however, is my "your mileage may vary score". It often means that I can recognise that a film is not exactly bad, but for one reason or another it didn't appeal to me personally. C+ is a little different because it means I think there was some small issue that, if corrected, would change my opinion. I cannot say that here.
Les Miserables was just totally NOT my sort of thing. I've never seen the musical on stage and might well have had a different impression there, but judging it as a movie I cannot say that it appealed. However, I can also recognise that certain scenes and performances were incredible and the film benefits from an impressive cast. It's also beautifully shot.
So from this point on I suggest that you disregard my score, because what it comes down to more than anything is "would I enjoy a musical like Les Miserables in the first place?" For me, it seems the answer is no. Ignoring that personal issue though, I do have a number of things to say about aspects I liked and disliked, and those do not always line up with what I heard before I went in...
No doubt some are asking, why did you even go to this if you knew it wasn't your sort of thing? Well, I wasn't going to the cinema alone and I was strongly open to the idea that I might love it, particularly next to someone who was familiar with the stage version.
I have loved musicals before, though normally not as films. I have previously enjoyed stage shows of "My Fair Lady", "Oliver" and "The Producers", but I couldn't really say that I was so fond of the film versions of those musicals. As far as film musicals go, the only ones I think I really enjoyed were "8 femmes" and "Bugsy Malone" which were both written as films first and, in the latter case, became stage a stage show later.
Les Miserables isn't as upbeat as any of the musicals I've mentioned. Perhaps this seems obvious from the name. I was less upset by the sadness of the film (and must admit to often feeling emotionally stirred by the songs and performances), than by the way the songs rarely seemed to have clear choruses. Even in songs with clearly repeated sections, they didn't always feel like a chorus. It is the style of the music more than anything else that held me back from enjoying Les Miserables, with the tendency to have long-winded songs where characters go on about their situation at that point in time being often very unappealing.
While overall this musical didn't really appeal to my tastes, there were certain parts that I enjoyed very much. So without further ado, here are my top 3 favourite parts of this year's "Les Miserables" movie.
1. Anne Hathaway's shocking sequence
This isn't a matter of picking just one song. It's a whole section of the film reaching a peak with "I dreamed a dream". Anne Hathaway notably upstaged and out-sang the majority of the cast. To say "favourite" feels rather out of place though. The scene with Anne Hathaway was absolutely horrible. In my "We Need To Talk About Kevin" review I said I was a little overly disturbed by some of it. This scene really gives that horror film a run for its money. It is unrelentingly tragic. Still, it is also performed very impressively and that the film never flinches from showing the full nightmarishness of the scene is to its credit.
2. "Master of the House"
This was much closer to the sort of musical number I'd normally expect, but that's not really why I'm mentioning it. The jolly style of this song felt out of place in the unending misery and introspection in the rest of the film. Sure the contrast in tone between "Oom-Pah-Pah!" and "As Long As He Needs Me" in the musical "Oliver!" is pretty big, but there wasn't the same feeling like they must belong in different shows. I'm also not sure how much I liked the song "Master of the House" itself.
No, it is the performances and the choreography that appealed to me here. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are very expressive and fully invested in their roles as the somewhat darkly comic Monsieur and Madame Thénardier. But what is particularly impressive about this sequence, is the expert chreography, not least because of the way it has to impress us in spite of shifting camera angles. There is so much happening on screen and so much to keep up with and the whole scene has been brilliantly crafted.
3. "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables"
Eddie Redmayne's career is really picking up speed. I first recognised him in the Wicker Man-esque medieval horror movie "Black Death" and was pleased to see him return in the upbeat and sweet "My Week With Marilyn". Now here he is gives what is possibly the strongest male performance. This particular song is a solo for the character of Marius and Redmayne conveys the character's emotions beautifully.
On top of those I must admit that "Do You Hear The People Sing?" was a very good central song for the musical. When that song returned for the finale it was a very welcome finish. While quite upbeat in the music, it also captures the darkness of the story too.
Prior to seeing "Les Miserables" I heard a lot of badmouthing of Russell Crowe's performance. I have to say that I didn't find any problem with him at all. Overall, I thought his performance was pretty consistent and his more rock-based style of singing worked just fine for the part of Javert. There seemed to be some suggestion that he wasn't being villainous enough, but the character of Javert clearly isn't supposed to be a cartoonishly evil villain.
I was rather less impressed, in fact, with the performance of Hugh Jackman. His is essentially the central protagonist of the film and I couldn't help but feel somewhat alienated from him. I never quite felt like I in the audience really got inside his head. Hugh Jackman's performance didn't always seem to gel with the tone of the film as a whole. It's not that I couldn't take Jackman seriously. I was actually pleased to see him returning to a more serious role rather like we saw in "The Prestige". It just didn't work for me somehow and there were certain points where I felt that Hooper had chosen more emotional takes of the songs at the expense of the quality of the singing. While Hugh Jackman clearly has a strong singing voice his "I'm feeling emotional noises" didn't always contribute to my enjoyment of the songs (though admittedly I wasn't that keen on the drawn out, long-winded and chorus-less nature of many of the songs he was singing anyway).
As the film progressed, I eventually realised that I'd seen this story before, albeit not as a musical. The film I saw as a child must have made a pretty big impression on me since I remembered a lot of the details. It turns out that I've seen an adaptation made for tv in the seventies. It seems that the whole thing is available on youtube here (and I'll embed the video at the end of the review for anyone who is interested). While the filming style betrays that it's "made for tv" ,and it looks quite old fashioned as a result, this seventies adaptation had a pretty good cast with a small role for none other than Ian Holm. Comparing my memories of that version with the musical, I couldn't help but be surprised that there was less focus on religion in Tom Hooper's new film. I remembered the old seventies film beating me over the head with ideas about Christian forgiveness in opposition to the ruthless and unforgiving Javert. In Tom Hooper's musical admittedly religion is mentioned, but I didn't feel that it was expressed so clearly how that tied in with the antagonism between Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) and Javert (played by Russell Crowe), particularly in the later scenes. It seems strange to find myself, of all people, complaining that a film does not preach at me enough. However, there isn't really much time between songs to get to know the characters properly and important lines within a song are easily missed.
Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne are both utterly brilliant in this film, Russell Crowe is also very good and, in spite of my nitpicking, Hugh Jackman is very good too. The execution of the film seemed pretty impressive and so I cannot help but feel that my poor impression is mostly because of the style of the musical itself (though only watching a good performance of the musical on stage could allow me to know for sure). I'm generally hearing that if you are a fan of the original musical you will absolutely love this version. All I'd say is that if you aren't generally a fan of these sorts of musicals, Tom Hooper's new film adaptation is unlikely to change your mind, as well performed and filmed as it may be.
Below (if the link still works) is the entire film of "Les Miserables" from 1978:
I already posted a massive list of 23 films last year. However, I've seen a few more films from 2011 since then. Also, my opinion has somewhat changed. Perhaps the bigger thing this time around, however, is that I'm now trying to narrow the list down to a much more manageable figure. So here goes....
Of course, I promised to provide this list and more when I came up with my top 10 of 2012 (which will no doubt need revising next year too).
10. Source Code (2011)
UK release: 1st April 2011
Duncan Jones' follow-up to the excellent "Moon" was another sci-fi movie. Apparently Duncan Jones turned up late on for this project, but what he came out with was very special indeed.
My review here
Duncan Jones is currently working on a biopic about Ian Fleming (the writer of the James Bond novels).
9. The Woman (2011)
UK release: 30th September 2011
This is an adaptation of a book by Jack Ketchum, an author known for his pretty twisted imagination. However, as twisted as things get and as horrific as the subject matter may be, Lucky McKee somehow manages to produce a darkly sweet film.
The central father figure comes off a bit like the mayor in series three of Buffy. (Sorry for the somewhat random reference here.) He's a conservative yet cheerful figure who, underneath the surface, is a bit of a monster.
"The Woman" is unlike anything else you may have seen and, for me, it's Lucky McKee's best film so far.
My review here
Lucky McKee is currently working on a remake of his straight-to-DVD debut movie "All Cheerleaders Die".
8. Sarah's Key (2010)
UK release: 5th August 2011
Kristin Scott-Thomas seems to be at the top of her game right now and here she stars in a film almost as brilliant as "I've Loved You So Long". With the rather tired and shallow "In Darkness" having come out in 2012, I'm all the more impressed with the remarkably fresh and shocking "Sarah's Key" about 'the roundup' in France. Convinced that I must be overrating this, I sat down to watch this the other day and was spellbound once again by the incredible story.
My review here
7. True Grit (2010)
UK release: 11th February 2011
The Coen Brothers' remake of the old classic starring John Wayne takes many lines directly from the original, but takes full advantage of its bigger budget and higher production values. The film is beautiful, the actors are all on top form, and the Coen Brothers' trademark darkly comic style works wonderfully with the story.
Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld all provide excellent performances in this quirky take on the Western genre.
My review here
The Coens are currently in post-production on "Inside Llewyn Davis" starring Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan.
6. The Fighter (2010)
UK release: 2nd February 2011
The prospect of a boxing film did not really appeal. I was all set to hate this film. Even in 2011 Mark Wahlberg was still mainly known to me as the bland and lifeless lead in Tim Burton's "Planet Of The Apes" remake. However, as it turned out, both Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg did a great job of winning me over. I also liked that the film was more about the family dynamics outside of the ring, not about who might win inside the ring.
My review here
David O. Russell released "Silver Linings Playbook" in 2012.
5. Troll Hunter (2010)
UK release: 9th September 2011
A norwegian film about a group of young documentary filmmakers who discover a man whose job is to hunt trolls for the norwegian government.
There's a lot of comedy and some brilliant special effects and the film is just so much fun as a result.
My review here
4. The Guard (2011)
UK release: 19th August 2011
Brendan Gleeson is absolutely fantastic as the unprincipled Irish policeman who is teamed up with an FBI agent (played by Don Cheadle) when it turns out that a large shipment of drugs will be docking near Galway.
My review here
John Michael McDonagh is currently in post-production on "Calvary", a comedy once again starring Brendan Gleeson.
3. Take Shelter (2011)
UK release: 25th November 2011
Personally, I'd call this a horror movie. Michael Shannon is having nightmares about a storm which not only devastates the area, but also sends people caught in the storm psychotic. The protagonist is caught between believing these dreams to be portents of future or attributing them to some kind of early stages of schizophrenia such as his mother suffers from.
The atmosphere is very powerful and the performances are brilliant. This is definitely a classic.
My review here
Director Jeff Nichols has already released his follow-up "Mud" starring Matthew McConaughey at film festivals and it seems to have extremely high praise so far.
2. Drive (2011)
UK release: 23rd September 2011
This film caught my imagination at the time, with the slow build-up leading to some very violent scenes in the second half. Certainly not an action film, but rather an intense thriller with a few awesome car chase scenes thrown in. Some moments in "Drive" are absolutely gorgeous.
What is most interesting about Drive is the way that it plays with the audience's expectations. We get one impression of the character towards the beginning and that impression is slowly broken down as the film goes on. The lyrics of a song that is repeated at the end of the film say "you have proved to be a real human being and a real hero". Towards the beginning of the film that seemed like a rather cheesy way to talk about the protagonist, yet by the end I wasn't sure if he deserved to be known by either of those titles.
My review here
Nicolas Winding Refn is in post-production on "Only God Forgives" with Nicolas Winding Refn and Kristin Scott Thomas.
1. Black Swan (2010)
UK release: 21st January 2011
The combination of a strict and repressive upbringing, sexual harassment and extreme stress, leads to a gradual descent into madness for Natalie Portman as a ballet dancer trying to master the central role of "Swan Lake".
I was uncertain when I first heard Black Swan referred to as a horror movie because its oppressive atmosphere is found in all Darren Aronofsky's movies. However I can see how this, moreso than Aronofsky's other movies, would count as horror and think it's a mistake for horror fans not to embrace it as such.
Darren Aronofsky's films just get better and better and remain consistently traumatic to watch. I never thought I'd ever be heaping this much praise on a movie about ballet.
My review here
Darren Aronofsky is currently in post-production on "Noah", which is due for release in 2014.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
UK release: 1st June 2011
In spite of all my misgivings, this turned out to be even better on a second watch. Sure, I'd rather be watching a whole film about "Erik: Nazi Hunter", but the second half was pretty cool too. Matthew Vaughn just keeps on releasing fantastic films.
My review here
Matthew Vaughn is strongly suspected to be working on the new Star Wars movie.
Another 9 good movies from 2011:
The films above were the strongest recommendations, but there were a lot of other films which I feel at least deserve a mention.
The King's Speech (2010)
UK release: 7th January 2011
I perhaps got pulled in by the hype when this was released, but there's no doubting the fantastic central performances from Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth.
My review here
UK release: 18th March 2011
Slightly annoyed to discover that the random indie tunes aren't from the dad's mix tape, but are actually 'trendy' songs from Artic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner. Still, "Submarine" remains an absolutely hilarious black comedy with Paddy Considine's role in particular being comic genius.
My review here
Oranges and Sunshine (2010)
UK release: 1st April 2011
Emily Watson's central performance is brilliant and the central true story is heartbreaking. I still do not understand why this wasn't more widely talked about.
My review here
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
UK release: 23rd September 2011
The release for this movie was ridiculously limited, which is a pity because this was an absolutely great horror comedy.
My review here
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
UK release: 16th September 2011
Tomas Alfredson (director of "Let The Right One In") really makes us feel the cold bitter life of old spies and there are pretty fantastic performances all round.
My review here
UK release: 29th July 2011
Studio Ghibli manage to breathe new life into the old 50s children's story "The Borrowers" by truly capturing the magic in their depiction of life for tiny people who live inside the walls of a house. One of the best Studio Ghibli films I have seen without Miyazaki in the director's chair.
My review here
Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
UK release: 10th June 2011
The sequel to Kung Fu Panda is pretty much the perfect sequel, building on elements that came before and introducing new creative ideas. However, this film knows that the true way to an audience's heart is baby panda sequences. ZOMG CUTE!!!! *ahem*
My review here
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
UK release: 21st October 2011
My misgivings about this movie were part of its strength. The film is relentless in its sadism, using a mixed up timeline to depict how Tilda Swinton's character has her entire life destroyed by her inhuman child, Kevin. At the heart of this film is 'fear of children' and it milks that theme for all it's worth with expert precision. The "Horror Etc" podcasters recently decided that this wasn't a horror film. If so, how did it get under my skin so thoroughly? *shudders*
My review here
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
UK release: 11th August 2011
Okay admittedly I'm mainly mentioning this because I'm a big fan of the original Planet Of The Apes series. As much as I hate Burton's "Planet Of The Apes"remake, it was actually the catalyst for me watching the entire series. Looking back though, Burton's installment is by far the weakest entry, in spite of having a higher budget than the five original entries. "Rise", however, succeeded in ways few would have dreamed possible. The film is far from perfect, but from the moment it becomes a jail break movie focussing almost exclusively on the CGI ape characters, it becomes quite incredible. It's a real pity that Rupert Wyatt has pulled out of directing the follow-up sequel.
My review here
Django Unchained (2012)
My recent post on Tarantino highlighted a rather dodgy interview where he refused to talk about violence. It's an odd point for Tarantino to get squeamish about since he's been talking about violence for years and he's never really surpassed the level of violence in his debut movie "Reservoir Dogs". After the opening credits "Reservoir Dogs" gets straight into the violence with a hysterical man panicking in the back seat of the car and bleeding profusely over his white shirt and the carseat leather from his recent bullet wound to the gut.
There's no such lingering on violence and its effects in "Django Unchained". Certainly there are violent scenes, but the camera generally either cuts away from violence or uses quick cuts to avoid us seeing the violent acts too clearly. That's not to say that the movie contains no violence, but that it's certainly not as intense and visceral as that found in his debut film.
My theory is that Tarantino has realised that he has a shot at the Oscars and that talking about violence might adversely affect his chances. With "Zero Dark Thirty" already suffering from bad publicity in relation to torture, the last thing Tarantino wants is for his past reputation to allow similar dents to be made in his chances for Oscar recognition.
What Tarantino REALLY wanted to talk about in that interview was how important his film was for talking about slavery in America. I was kind of rolling my eyes when he said that (and not without good reason), since the idea that a pulpy comic genre piece would allow for deeper conversations about the history of slavery in America seemed particularly hard to accept.
Still, as a person with very little knowledge on slavery in America I will admit that I left the cinema more informed on the subject than when I arrived. Hopefully I've successfully discerned which parts of the movie to take at face value and which to recognise as playing pulpy fiction. The last thing I want is to hold on to a misconception akin to "Jewish resistance fighters using guerilla warfare tactics infiltrated a special movie screening and killed Hitler". That would be very embarrassing.
Christoph Waltz returns, only this time he plays a bounty hunter. While in "Inglourious Basterds" he played a seemingly mild-mannered German scumbag with violent intentions towards Jews, in "Django Unchained" he plays a genuinely mild-mannered German with violent intentions towards scumbags. Meanwhile Jamie Foxx plays a slave who Christoph Waltz' needs to help him identify a particular set of fugitives. With bitter memories, a hunger for revenge, but more than anything, a fear for the wellbeing of his wife from whom he was separated by a previous master.
Both of these two characters are newcomers in their own way. Christoph Waltz's character is highly educated figure who can introduce Jamie Foxx to the business of bounty hunting as well as providing some perspective on topics in general. However, Christoph Waltz, finding the whole idea of slave ownership to be, at best, an unnerving foreign custom, is somewhat alienated by the issues surrounding the slave trade. He knows of them, but Jamie Foxx's character of Django has insider information and an emotional connection which Waltz's character lacks.
Marina's recent review (and her reviews are always highly interesting and thought-provoking regardless of whether I agree with them) questions why Django is even viewed as the hero when Christoph Waltz's character often seems to take the lead. My own view is that these two characters are a proper mutually-complimentary duo. They begin as an unlikely pairing, but their connection only becomes stronger as the film progresses. They are much better developed characters than we have seen in a long time in a Tarantino movie, with their interactions with one another making a genuine impact on the progress of the film.
Another element that must not be ignored is the amount of talking in this film. Now certainly Tarantino films often involve a great deal of talking, but this time it didn't (to me at least) feel like an opportunity for Tarantino to make a load of pop culture references. This was closer to the format in "Jackie Brown" where the vast majority of the dialogue was important to build up the storyline and the characters.
To return to another point from Marina's review, the actress Kerry Washington is not someone I'm really familiar with. I'm afraid I simply cannot remember her roles in "Fantastic Four" or "Mr and Mrs Smith". I do remember her role in "The Last King of Scotland", but unfortunately that has a similar problem to the issue Marina had with "Django Unchained" in that Kerry Washington is mostly there to suffer horribly. Kerry Washington plays her part fantastically in "Django Unchained", but she is not really given the chance to develop as a character and I can absolutely see why Marina is annoyed by this. But I don't find it as troubling because, as I see it, that is her role in the film. The same goes for the suffering of black people within the film. Ignoring that suffering would seem to be over-glamourising the era. Then again slaves would have had more involved lives than simply being punished by their masters and Tarantino's exploration of that side of things is fairly limited.
There ARE female characters, both black and white, to be found across the film (though I don't think they talk to one another, so this doesn't pass the Bechdel test admittedly). That a major black female character in a movie about slavery will suffer should not be entirely surprising, but then again this does feel very much like a damsel in distress situation and Marina understandably feels that an actress of Kerry Washington's calibre deserves more than this script provides her with.
Leonardo DiCaprio is awesome as ever. I don't know that this was better than his performance in "The Aviator" (which was the point when I realised just how amazing an actor he really was), but he's certainly giving a very cool performance all the same.
Samuel L. Jackson's performance as his main house slave, on the other hand, concerned me a little. There's no doubting the skill involved when DiCaprio and L. Jackson play off one another and Jackson's performance is smoother than ever. However, I could not help but notice that his character is played very much for laughs and this actually made me feel very uncomfortable. Was this perhaps because slaves like this would genuinely act in this comical way? Is Jackson's character somewhat playing the fool (as well as playing the 'yes man') in order to appease his master? Or am I genuinely being expected to laugh at the foolishness of the head slave?
Before anyone gets too worried about an inappropriate portrayal of slaves in "Django Unchained" it should be noted that most slaves are portrayed in a much more human and empathetic way. What's more, Jackson's character develops in a particular direction which means that may well give credence to the "playing the fool" idea.
Another important element I haven't mentioned yet is the music. I have trouble accepting the use of rap music in some sections, I must admit. When I cannot understand the lyrics (sometimes even when repeated over and over again), I have trouble deciding whether they are appropriate. However, one particular piece of music surprised me.
In a key moment in the film the word "Freedom" is sung over and over again with a cool acoustic guitar tune playing in the background. This was a song played at Woodstock by folk singer Richie Havens and I was rather unimpressed when I first heard it. The context of the hippy movement seemed to suggest that it was raging against the evils of the Vietnam war which would seem to be quite distant from the experiences of the singer. Seeing as I myself was listening to this song during the nineties, it felt particularly hard to engage with the passion of the song (or to give the song a pass for repeating the same word so many times). Yet in "Django Unchained" not only is the song cut down to much less tiresome length, but the cry of "freedom" feels much more appropriate in the context of the film. This song that previously bored me, now seemed to produce one of the most badass moments in "Django Unchained" and that really impressed me.
Since I got so spectacularly upset with Mike Myers' voice in "Inglourious Basterds", I should probably address Quentin Tarantino's Australian accent during his brief cameo. His accent takes a world tour including both South African and cockney. Still, I don't think it is so awful as Mike Myers' performance because it is somewhat briefer and because Tarantino doesn't have a ridiculous constipated look on his face during the performance. Plus something happens to Tarantino's character that, had this happened to Mike Myers' character in "Inglourious Basterds", I'd probably have found it some consolation.
Django Unchained is much more emotionally engaging than Tarantino's films have been in a long time. The long running time flies by due to good pacing and a great sense of comedy (the slightly worrying bits with Sam L. Jackson excepted). The performances are all fantastic and the central duo of Waltz and Foxx give a strong grounding to the story. This may not be the best film Tarantino has ever made, but it's a great time at the cinema. As someone who wasn't really so impressed by Tarantino's previous film "Inglourious Basterds" (nor "Death Proof" which preceded it), I see "Django Unchained" as a real return to form. I must say though, I'm really hoping that the next film from Tarantino is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, as Tarantino's films have all looked a little overly similar from "Kill Bill" onwards.
If you've been following Tarantino's career as I have, I think you're going to be pleased with this one.
Best to worst Tarantino movies...
1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Initially I would have put Reservoir Dogs before Pulp Fiction, but as the years went on and I re-watched Pulp Fiction a number of times I came to realise that Pulp Fiction changes almost every time you watch it. It's a film that allows you to take what you want from it, allowing it to have a different character depending on what state you are in at the time.
Pulp Fiction is essentially a set of inter-linking stories. With that in mind it's clearly one of the best films to adopt this format, easily inter-linking the storylines without feeling forced or desperately trying to overlay an all-important linking theme. Pulp Fiction also happens to be pretty hilarious in places and every scene is driven by its characters. This film has a unique way of capturing the audiences imagination.
2. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Tarantino's debut feature is simple yet effective with a well written screenplay that feels like it could work just as well if the whole story were told in a single room.
The way the seemingly villainous characters talked at length about popular culture became an inspiration to future filmmakers while the violence in the movie pushed the boundaries leading to a much more limited release in the States.
The opening scene involves the lead character (played awesomely by Tim Roth) bleeding like crazy from a bullet wound to the gut, while a later scene depicts torture inflicted by Mr. Blonde to the tune of "Stuck In The Middle With You". As such "Reseroir Dogs" is not only a highly violent movie but shows more explicitly, intensely and disturbingly the genuine effects of violence on its victims. This is not only never found to the same extent in any of Tarantino's later movies, but is rarely found in films anywhere.
3. Jackie Brown (1997)
The highly involved plot of Elmore Leonard's novel "Rum Punch" leads to quite a complicated film. Still, Tarantino gives a great deal of depth to his characters and his decision to switch the central role to "Jackie Brown" (known as Jackie Burke in the novel) was inspired.
The depth of the characters is a major plus for this film. In fact, I personally found (even having greatly enjoyed "Jackie Brown" in the cinema) that the film was even better upon a second watch. Surprisingly enough, Tarantino himself seems to anticipate this reaction in the DVD extras, noting that on a second watch the audience is better able to "hang out" with the characters, having already understood the route that the story will take.
After the strong positive reaction to Samuel L. Jackson in "Pulp Fiction", the movie "Jackie Brown" is perhaps mainly an opportunity to show off Jackson's acting talent. Sam L. Jackson makes full use of this opportunity, providing what is possibly the best performance of his career as Ordell. Apparently when writing the screenplay Tarantino was so pleased with the role of Ordell that he very nearly decided to play the part himself.
Incredibly, in spite of a runtime of over two and a half hours, the film never drags. There is always plenty happening and Elmore Leonard's plot needs this time to unfold clearly and carefully. Also there are plenty of laughs too. "Jackie Brown" is definitely Tarantino's cleverest film.
4. Django Unchained (2012)
Combining the wackiness Tarantino has been indulging in throughout his movies after Jackie Brown with the strong characters and humour of Pulp Fiction, "Django Unchained" is a great story. It's not clear that Tarantino needed the self-referential side to be quite so heavy, but the strong characters played by Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz ensure that the film holds together. The style also stays consistent.
5. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Criticising Kill Bill for inconsistent themes would be completely unfair. The whole experiment of Kill Bill was a combination of stylistic themes mashed together. Tarantino promoted the film as being the sort of film that characters within his other films would go and see. So if "Pulp Fiction" feels two steps removed from real life, "Kill Bill" takes another ten steps into complete wackiness. Even so, Uma Thurman's nameless protagonist and ruthless killer ensures that we feel fully invested in everything that comes, no matter how ridiculous. Where the problem comes is that "Kill Bill" volume one is only half a film and while the second half is pretty good, it doesn't quite seem badass enough as a conclusion for volume one.
6. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
A lot less actually happens in "Kill Bill" volume two, though it definitely benefits from having set up the central character as a legend in the previous film. There are some great moments and some other rather less substantial moments and some revelations about Bill towards the end make him seem rather more like a mouthpiece for Quentin Tarantino than a real badass in his own right.
And how old is Pai Mei supposed to be exactly? Coz he sure as hell doesn't LOOK over 1000 years old!
7. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
While "Inglourious Basterds" received a lot of praise, it seemed to suffer from a kind of dual personality, with the struggle of Jewish survivor Shoshanna on the one hand, and the troop of Basterds led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine on the other. The former's story was quite serious, while the latter's story was farscical and as the film comes towards its final act the two stories do not match up terribly well at all. In spite of this, there is one scene where comedy and seriousness match up quite perfectly when the Basterds arouse the suspicions of an SS officer.
Oh and Mike Myers' English accent was atrocious!
Click here for my original review.
8. Four Rooms (1995)
This is an anthology film with Tim Roth playing the central character, a bell-hop in a hotel catering to the different needs of the people in the various rooms. Each of the four directors has a quarter of the film to tell a story related to a particular room.
The worst section by far is the very first, directed by Allison Anders (who went on to do various tv episodes), about a coven of witches (including Madonna). It's all very trite and not very entertaining. The second section isn't all that much better.
Alexandre Rockwell, who did a film called "Pete Smalls Is Dead" the other year with Steve Buscemi and Lena Heady amongst the cast (yeah, I hadn't heard of it either), does a little story in relation to mistaken identity where a man accuses the bell-hop of being his wife's lover. Jennifer Beals ("Roger Dodger", "The Grudge 2") and David Proval ("UHF", "The Sopranos", "The Shawshank Redemption") both do their best with the material, but the ending of the scene leaves the whole thing feeling a bit redundant.
Finally the third scene is directed by Robert Rodriguez ("Desperado", "Planet Terror", "Sin City", etc. etc. this guy is awesome). He has Antonio Banderas playing the father, but the main stars here are the two children the bell-hop is expected to keep an eye on while the parents are away. Rodriguez' story in "Four Rooms" is clear evidence that, while Rodriguez' movies for children might not be up to much, he is absolutely brilliant at directing child performances.
The very last scene is to finish the film is directed by Tarantino. It's quite a long meandering scene with Tarantino delivering most of the meandering dialogue (more like monologue) himself. He's playing a pretentious Hollywood guy who is clearly a bit drugged up and takes a long time to get to the point, supposedly indicating that Tarantino is not adverse to a joke at his own expense. The scene ends very well and gives the film a much more satisfying feel than the dire first half could possibly warrant.
Even if I were to judge Tarantino's segment on its own, it's not perfect. (I actually prefer Rodriguez' section of the film.) So the scores are:
Tarantino's scene = B-
The film as a whole = C-
9. Death Proof (2007)
I have no idea what Tarantino thought he was playing at here, though I'd really like to see the shorter version of the film in the original Grindhouse double-feature. The film begins with the most self-indulgent and pointless dialogue that just goes on and on and on with absolutely nobody seeming like a real human being and EVERYBODY seeming like a mouthpiece for Tarantino. I also cannot understand the decision to switch which characters we follow half way through, since it means that all the time spent listening to them rabbit on inanely at the beginning leads to absolutely no character development whatsoever.
The dramatic car chase isn't really all that impressive and is certainly massively overshadowed by the fist fights, gunfire and explosions of Rodriguez' "Planet Terror" (the other main feature of "Grindhouse" which did not suffer from being released separately).
Tarantino himself has admitted that this was his worst film. He's not kidding. It's possibly not such a bad film for "the worst film of your career", but it really isn't any GOOD either.
5 A+ scores out of 9 movies? Not bad Tarantino. Not bad at all! :D
A Royal Affair was my favourite film of last year. I said in my "movies of 2012" list that it was the best costume drama I have ever seen. What I didn't realise, however, was that the film was chock full of CG and I didn't even know that it was there. All I knew was that the film was utterly beautiful. It seems that the film features a palace created out of thin air. Wow....
Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
This film was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last year, there are people on the IMDB boards praising it for being an inspiring story and huge numbers of critics seem to love the film on Rotten Tomatoes too. I am absolutely gobsmacked. I don't normally criticise a film on moral grounds. I most often judge a film based on entertainment value and anything else is beyond my interest (though for the record, this isn't that entertaining anyway). But I guess there's always an exception, right?
It has become a well-recognised cliché for films to show a teacher inspiring their pupils. What's worse, such films generally give such an unrealistic representation of teaching that even people with little understanding of the profession can easily recognise how ludicrously the practice of teaching is being portrayed.
Still, even a film about teaching can still be inspiring for other reasons. I'll fully admit that, while not exactly blown away, I was quite happily entertained as a teenager by "Dangerous Minds" starring Michelle Pfeiffer. (Though I don't think even Danny DeVito, as awesome as he is, could save "Renaissance Man".)
Monsieur Lazhar is about a man who steps in to teach a primary school class when the previous teacher has recently committed suicide; by hanging herself in the classroom, no less. The new teacher, it is quickly revealed, is an asylum seeker, who wishes to seek permanent residence in Canada (Quebec in particular) because of a threat to his life back in Algeria.
Before I go into the problems with "Monsieur Lazhar" I should first admit a couple of elements I am not fully familiar with. When Mr. Lazhar is teaching French, the children initially complain that he is teaching an ancient version of the language. There are definite cultural boundaries between Mr. Lazhar's Algerian background and the culture of the children in Quebec. This is also seen in Mr. Lazhar's food preferences, his reaction to a school play with references to colonial history, and at one point Mr. Lazhar even falsely claims that he cannot dance because the style of dancing he knows would seem out of place and strange. There is also reference to the difficulties within Algeria itself, though this is much more limited.
With my ignorance on Algerian and Quebecois cultural differences and politics acknowledged, there are a few things I DO know:
1. Schools have strong security concerns and with good reason. If a man walks off the street he will not be allowed to wander through the school to the headmistress without someone at reception informing her first. If he turns up randomly in her office unannounced there will be strong concerns about how he got there and very little interest in taking his details for a job vacancy. The staff at reception will be perfectly capable of receiving CVs and directing teachers to their job application process.
2. If a teacher has died in the school, she will have had friends among the staff. For a new teacher to consistently and regularly blame her for mentally scarring the children by having the audacity to commit suicide in the school, this will be rightly viewed as rude, insensitive and wholly inappropriate. It is not bold and courageous to speak ill of the dead, particularly when you are speculating about someone you know nothing about while surrounded by their mourning friends.
3. Snide remarks to the counsellor employed by the school to help the students deal with their grief are not only unproductive and rude, but are completely misplaced. A counsellor has no choice over whether or not she does the job she is employed to do. If Mr. Lazhar was so concerned about the counsellor's methods and the time she allocated to the children, he should have addressed his concerns to the school management that employed her rather than muttering negative remarks.
4. Any teacher entering the school will be thoroughly checked before they begin working at the school. Unsurprisingly any member of staff who is to be left in charge of a group of young vulnerable children needs a thorough background check first. To be fair, the film is accurate enough to recognise that if the headteacher hired a member of staff without the appropriate checks, her job would be forfeit as a result of that oversight. But the idea of a teacher being employed without checks into their suitability for the job is so absurd as to be pure fantasy.
5. I cannot express this strong enough. A teacher should never, and I really do mean never, hit a student around the back of the head. (Yes Mr. Lazhar does this. No, he receives no comeuppance, nor does the film expect us to think any less of him for hitting a child.)
Just in case anyone is thinking of random exceptions to the rule, such as self defence (even if attacked by a really large pupil, the back of the head? Really?), let me make the context completely clear. The child was sitting in their chair, they were not misbehaving in any way and, consistently with the class discussion and without interrupting anyone else, they made a comment. The comment was not to the teacher's liking, so he hit him round the back of the head. - There is absolutely NO excuse.
Why am I making such a fuss over this? Because the main political point of this film is not the treatment of asylum seekers, nor the situation in Algeria, nor even the cultural differences between Algeria and Quebec. No, the main point on which the movie "Monsieur Lazhar" intends to rally the audience is in opposition to the rule that teachers must never touch their pupils. I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING.
We even hear one of the teachers within the school giving an anecdote about how their child was sunburnt during a summer camp because the teacher in charge was not allowed to apply sunscreen to any of the children. You know to whom the rule against touching DOESN'T apply? Other children! And any teacher with any sense would know full well that the children could apply sunscreen to each other and direct them accordingly.
In a climactic moment in "Monsieur Lazhar" a young child asserts clearly and emphatically that he does not like to be hugged. Mr. Lazhar's immediate response is to put his arms around the child and run his fingers through the child's hair. This is supposed to be a deeply emotional moment, but for me it made clearer than ever that this man should not be a teacher. He gives unwanted physical contact to children and even hits them. He is not even remotely an inspiring figure and yet the film wants you to think of him as such and some audiences have somehow bought into it.
I can understand how an ordinary person might think that teachers hugging children who are upset might be a good thing. However, there are very good reasons why teachers are not allowed to do so and in the end it is for the children's protection.
It is even strongly suggested within the film that the suicidal teacher killed herself because of one pupil's accusation that she kissed him (when all she really did was hug him, which was also against the rules). I don't normally react so strongly against the moral sentiments of a film, but this really stepped over a line in the sand for me. The main message of this film is that teachers should be free to touch their pupils and that this is only ruined by lying children who will make things up. A teacher is not a parent, they have no need to hug the children in their care and the benefits of this "no touching" rule in preventing child abuse far outweigh any possible benefits.
"Monsieur Lazhar" is a disgusting film and I resent its very existence.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
What happened to Kathryn Bigelow? How exactly did she go from being this fairly mediocre genre-movie director to a highly talented director of beautiful moving films?
It wasn't so long ago that I checked out "Near Dark" (review here). It had a few fun moments, but the central romance was laughably thin and the film as a whole was a bit shoddy to be quite frank. While it was a long time ago now, I can't imagine that my low opinion of "Point Break" will have changed much either. I cannot even begin to understand how "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty" are even from the same director. There's just no comparison. These are much better crafted films.
"Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Hurt Locker" are inevitably going to have to be compared. They are both connected with the US 'war on terror' and both make use of a similar somewhat macho style. Where "Zero Dark Thirty" is more limited is its connection with real events.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that either of these films is giving a reliable account of real events. "The Hurt Locker" came under a lot of criticism for its depiction of a soldier. (I like to think it's as faithful in its depiction of the military as "Die Hard" is in its depiction of the police force i.e. not at all faithful. My very short review here.) Even ignoring the torture stuff (more on that in a moment) "Zero Dark Thirty" inevitably isn't depicting the workings of military intelligence terribly faithfully either.
What "Zero Dark Thirty" does at least stick to, however, is that intelligence operatives do not foray into the field too much. At no point does Jessica Chastain's protagonist, Maya, load up a machine gun and decide to rampage through the streets of Pakistan in search of her mark. She's still a bit of a loose cannon figure, just like Jeremy Renner's protagonist in "The Hurt Locker" was, but she's a different kind of rebel.
So how is "Zero Dark Thirty" limited by its approach to true events? Well perhaps the first thing to note is that originally it wasn't going to even end with the killing of Bin Laden. That took the filmmakers entirely by surprise and so it is to their credit that the narrative structure seems so sensible. I cannot really point to any moment in the film and say "that's where they changed direction due to Bin Laden's death".
However, the connection of the film narrative with real events means that it takes place over a much longer period of time. "The Hurt Locker" was simply about a small group of characters around which the action could revolve. "Zero Dark Thirty" is about a whole series of events often quite long periods of time apart from one another. Also the narrative often requires the characters to be long distances apart, working on completely different projects. This means that characters do not always get to be built up so much. Even Maya herself is of limited depth, seemingly being a determined and unchanging rock, as the events flow past her; her struggles only making her more determined and more stubborn.
In case anyone is as yet unaware, "Zero Dark Thirty" tracks the search for Bin Laden which as military intelligence comes to realise that Bin Laden is not actually hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan, but has actually found a hideout closer to civilisation. As the leads dry up, Maya has one particular line of inquiry which she refuses to drop even as her department becomes more and more sceptical of its worth. Essentially she has a single name and nothing else, asides from her own relentless uncompromising determination. In real life, the results of this lead were undoubtedly the product of more than one person's determination and hard work, but it makes for a pretty neat story to see Maya pursue her line of inquiry even when it feels an utterly fruitless search for a figure who, as we well know, was eventually regarded as most likely dead already.
On the torture "controversy", it's an utter joke. The other year I saw a documentary called "Taxi To The Dark Side" all about the torture in Iraq. Senator McCain, who has accused the filmmakers of getting it wrong, was actually one of main figures leading the tribunals AGAINST torture in Iraq, so he of all people knows for certain that it WAS happening. I thought perhaps the problem was that the movie depicted torture after it had been uncovered and stopped, but that's not the case at all. "Zero Dark Thirty" depicts torture most of all in the period straight after 9/11 when we know for certain that it took place. What's more, any claims that the torture produces any information within the film are dubious at best.
Soderbergh's movie "Traffic" shows a much more straightforward retrieval of information through torture. "Zero Dark Thirty" makes torture seem a great deal less reliable and a great deal more time-consuming and frustrating for the torturers. (If you want to see a film handle torture really badly, then you could always check out "Unthinkable". My overly forgiving review is here.)
Of all the parts of the film which take liberties with the truth, the depiction of torture didn't really feel like one of them. Perhaps McCain was annoyed because there were so many scenes of torture victims being hit or put in boxes and not enough of them being bombarded with footage of Barney the purple dinosaur, but the principle is the same.
Props to Jason Clarke as Dan, Maya's close colleague, most often given the job of torturing suspects. I thought he was great. I was also very pleased to see Harold Perrineau, who I last saw stealing the show in "30 Days Of Night: Dark Days" (which I still assert was better than the first "30 Days..." movie - my review here).
Another actor who stood out was Jennifer Ehle, who I would have said was most well known for her role as the protagonist Elizabeth Bennett in the massively popular BBC adaptation of "Pride And Prejudice" back in the 90s. I was surprised to see her appear in a small role in "The King's Speech", but she has since given a fantastic performance as Dr. Ally Hextall in "Contagion" (my review here). She clearly plays one of the more interesting characters here too as another of Maya's colleagues.
One more star of the show as yet unsung is the explosion effects. The major strike against Bin Laden which we were all expecting has plenty of occasions when doors need to be knocked down with explosives and Bigelow makes sure you feel every single one. These explosions stand out and do not feel like typical action movie explosion effects. Those aren't the only explosions in the film and Bigelow knows how to ensure every instance makes its full impact.
Of the two films I was looking out for this January, it's difficult to say which I preferred. I think if forced to choose I'd probably say I preferred "Django Unchained". I think I'm more of a fan of limited scale character pieces rather than epic narratives, so Tarantino's latest film (which I considered to be a bit of a return to form for him) was the more appealing of the two for me. That said both films were fantastic.
One last thing before I state the inevitable grade for this incredible war-on-terror blockbuster. The Bin Laden strike ends with a piece of music known on the soundtrack as "Back To Base". It sounds extremely familiar. Anyone know what film score this is reminding me of? I cannot work it out for the life of me...
Tobe Hooper Review: A Video Nasty
As per my previous few Tobe Hooper marathon instalments, I've paired this particular film review with another movie of a similar type. This time around both films reviewed were placed on the UK's censored 'video nasty' list in the 80s for being a corrupting influence on the nation. On the one hand we have "Death Trap" (otherwise known as "Eaten Alive") from Tobe Hooper. This was his follow-up to "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre". On the other hand we have a low-budget zombie film called "The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue".
Death Trap! (1977)
Straight after "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" [sic] Tobe Hooper made another low budget horror. This one was timed right to get onto the Uk's Video Nasty list. Hooper's original Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie oddly avoided being placed on this list, though that was little consolation when the film was banned by the BBFC anyway.
Like many video nasties this has more than one title, often known instead as "Eaten Alive!". But just to make things awkward, there is another video nasty also titled "Eaten Alive!"; a cannibal-rape film directed by Umberto Lenzi. Unlike in Umberto Lenzi's film there's no cannibalism here. Also, though the threat of rape crops up a number of times, it tends to be only implied if it happens at all. (Though it's still possible that the version I watched had some cuts.) Certainly I should warn all readers that violence against women is fairly prominent in this film.
While "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" contained some relatively skimpily dressed (for the time) female characters, the main focus was the violence. Interestingly there was no actual gore though. The lack of sexual elements or clear gore may explain why the film never made the DPP list of video nasties even though it was precisely the sort of film you'd expect them to go after. It was banned, but it seemingly wasn't to be held up in court as a corrupting influence on the nation.
"Death Trap", however, is much more typically exploitative and the combination of female nudity, sexual references and violence against women clearly helped to raise its profile. There's actually some blood this time around too.
"Death Trap" is about a slightly-mad woman-hating motel owner who kills a woman he believes to be a prostitute and then feeds her body to his pet alligator. Or at least, the locals believe it is an alligator. The motel owner Judd believes his pet is actually a Nile crocodile worthy of reverence. (The idea the crocodile has mystical significance is later brought up again in Hooper's film "Crocodile".) Judd hopes to hide all evidence of the murder and the taste his alligator/crocodile now has for human flesh, but it turns out that this may be tougher than he thinks.
The opening scene introduces us to a prostitute who is being expected to perform a sexual act not previously agreed. (For anyone who's seen "Mallrats" she's being expected to have sex in a particularly uncomfortable place - and it's not the back of a VolksWagen.) Thankfully this is interrupted by the Madam of the whorehouse who turns out to be a pretty well developed character in her own right. This means, oddly enough, that this film passes the Bechdel Test. (Also, pretty cool side-note, the Madam is played by Carolyn Jones who is perhaps most well known for her role as Morticia from the original Addams Family TV series.)
The man who is insisting on getting his own way is a character known as Buck who has his name written on his knuckles. It is this character that Quentin Tarantino is referencing in "Kill Bill: Volume One" and both share the same line of "my name's Buck and I'm here to f***". This part is played by Robert Englund of Nightmare On Elm Street fame, though overall his part in the film is fairly small.
The prostitute at this point becomes an ex-prostitute as she is tossed out on her ear. A maid at the whorehouse gives her a little money and suggests a nearby motel. Turns out that the motel is run by Judd, a complete nutcase and woman hater. Oh great...
Anyway, while the film starts out slow it becomes pretty amusing when the deaths build up. Anyone the motel owner kills is going straight to feed the alligator and so it becomes almost like a bet as to which of the characters is going to get eaten next.
That being said, the violence against women in the film is pretty nasty. While it would be nice to excuse the film on the basis that misogynists are all clearly villains in the story, there is also quite a lot of gratuitous female nudity.
"Death Trap" clearly suffers for the loss of the cinematographer Daniel Pearl, who worked on "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", meaning that this film looks a lot less professional despite probably a fairly similar budget.
The pacing is not great, the acting is not great, Neville Brand (who played Judd) mumbles and rants just a little too much, yet there's something about the theme of Judd getting increasingly worried as he feeds more and more people to his alligator that is oddly enchanting and kind of hilarious. Arguably Judd's ranting towards the beginning of the film sets up just how unhinged his character really is. On the other hand while the points where female characters are shown getting undressed may have been intended to produce suspense, they were mainly just boring. But once the bodies start piling up, the film is genuinely fun to watch so long as you remember that this is seriously low budget exploitation film. (It may be that recently watching the whole series of Jason and Freddy movies prepared me quite well for this.)
To say that this film could have been done better is a pretty big understatement, but this film has an odd sort of charm in spite of its failings.
The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974)
My other video nasty I'm pairing up with Tobe Hooper's also has a number of alternate titles. In fact there are a hell of a lot of them including: "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie", "Don't Open The Window", "The Living Dead", "Breakfast with the Dead", "Brunch with the Dead" and "Weekend with the Dead".
It seems that the DVD must have been remastered, since while this is clearly a low budget seventies zombie flick, the picture looked really crisp. We open with an antique store owner grabbing a set of items and then getting onto his motorcycle and making his way into the countryside. He starts out in Manchester city centre and, while still in traffic (seemingly because it's some kind of unwritten mandatory law for low budget video nasties) we have some unnecessary nudity from a flasher needlessly running naked across the road through the unmoving cars. He then reaches the open road with some gorgeous-looking intensely green English countryside being taken in expertly by the camera.
What happens next is still pretty early on and it's so ludicrous that I can't help but write about it. Our protagonist is stopping for petrol when the car in front accidentally backs into his motorcycle, seriously damaging his front tyre. Apparently while the motorbike can be fixed at the petrol station, his new tyre needs to be ordered in specially and will take days to arrive (apparently being ordered from Glasgow... um what?).
Our protagonist, angry at the damage to his motorcycle and the delay to his trip, insists that rather than worrying about insurance companies he wants the driver to take him to his destination. What's more, he insists on driving the car himself. There's a definite "bloody women drivers" vibe to this whole exchange. It's quite bizarre and sets up our protagonist as very hot-headed, which is actually a consistent feature. As much as some parts of the film might feel a little silly the characters are actually pretty well-handled.
The first sighting of a zombie turns out to be pretty low-key, with a figure being spotted walking jerkily with red eyes, but the scene is shot brilliantly. If you want to get an idea of the quality of the film then this first zombie encounter can be seen on its own here:
Still, later in the film we get some pretty awesome low-budget gore. Sure, it's generally pretty obvious how the effects were achieved, but that's not a big concern when you are watching zombies pull bloody organs from a person's body and then start eating them. One rather neat little moment shows a zombie consumed by flames. They clearly didn't have the budget to use stuntmen with a full body flame suit, so the flames are in the foreground with the zombie behind them, but the end result is very dramatically effective.
Our two protagonists come to discover that a local process is being used to kill parasites in the fields. What's more it involves 'radiation'! (It's ALWAYS radiation in these films!) The process sets the various parasites killing each other and we even get to see some footage of two ants (clearly entirely different types of ants, but whatever) fighting one another.
The protagonist we started the film with is clearly antagonistic towards the police and his scepticism turns out to be warranted by the equally hot-headed approach by the detective overseeing the investigation into recent murders. He's not at all keen on youth today and their rock music. On the other hand, other police officers do get to acknowledge that this guy is over the top, so the film doesn't give us a one-sided tirade against the police force as a whole. I admittedly didn't go into the film expecting nuance, so I was actually pretty impressed to see the characters reasonably well-balanced. This isn't like a Lucio Fulci movie where the zombie attacks happen randomly and it's a more consistently plot-driven film than David Cronenberg's 'sex-crazed zombie' flick "Shivers" released the following year.
For a low budget film like this, I actually thought the acting was pretty good, though reviewers don't generally appear to agree on that. The one point where the acting goes downhill however is ANY scene where the actresses in particular are expected to act hysterical. But that's one negative point in what was otherwise a pretty damn amazing film.
"The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue" was released six years after "Night Of The Living Dead" and four years before Romero's "Dawn Of The Dead". The zombie effects (surprisingly) utterly surpass those of Romero's first colour zombie movie and were apparently a big influence on Italian horror filmmakers. The horror scenes are excellently set up and the plot is actually pretty intelligent. All in all I'd say this was one of the best zombie films I have ever seen and I'd be impressed if anyone could point to a zombie flick with this level of quality released this soon or sooner after "Night Of The Living Dead". It seems incredibly ahead of its time as far as zombie films are concerned.
The placing of this film on the video nasty list actually feels somewhat political. It's filmed in the UK and that must have stung a bit for Mary Whitehouse and her campaigners against filth, but it's also very pro-hippy and anti-establishment in its sentiment. There's even a point where the opening protagonist is accused of being a satanist. While I'm sure the lambasting of this film was mostly argued to be over the gore, I'd be surprised if the political side of things didn't play its role too.
Of the few films I've seen on the DPP list, "The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue" and "The Beyond" are definitely both my favourites. If you are a zombie movie fan, you HAVE to check out this film.
If you've already seen this or aren't concerned about spoilers to the film (like really SEVERE spoilers btw), then check out this awesome music video below:
(Cross-posted to Halloween Candy)
A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)
Let me relay to you the exciting opening of the fifth instalment in the Die Hard franchise. A news report tells us that there is controversy in Russia surrounding the upcoming trial against a critic of the government named Komarov. Central in dealing with this political issue is a Russian official named Chagarin.
Finally, after "Die Hard 4.0" did a marginally more believeable version of the absurd "hackers can control absolutely everything" plot from Sandra Bullock's "The Net", it seemed like we might get a Die Hard plot that was somewhat keyed into real world issues. There have been a variety of examples of imprisonment in response to any kind of criticism of the Russian government over the past year, perhaps most memorably with the case of the punk band Pussy Riot who have been jailed for two years simply for playing one of their protest songs in a Cathedral. Meanwhile the Russian official felt rather like Putin, only lower down the Russian political hierarchy.
Our intrigue builds when Komarov and Chagarin speak together inside the prison. Chagarin claims to have everyone who will be present at Komarov's upcoming court appearance firmly in his pocket, but yet he still seems desperate. Komarov is threatening to reveal something explosive. There's a powerful tension between these two figures.
At this point it is revealed that Bruce Willis, in the role of Die Hard's major protagonist John McClane, has a son who he has been out of touch with. He believes that his son is a major screw-up, but having discovered that his son is in Russia and might be in trouble, he decides to go there to help out.
It turns out that his son, Jack McClane, has very unambiguously shot a man dead in a nightclub. What's more, he makes a deal with the authorities that he will testify that Komarov ordered the hit. The result of this is that the authorities jump at this opportunity and we find the young McClane is, seemingly intentionally, side-by-side with Komarov in the courthouse. Meanwhile outside some bad guys seem to be planning something big.
So what's the plan? Is Chagarin planning to sabotage the hearing? Is Komarov planning a more violent uprising or making an escape attempt? Whose side is Jack on and why would he choose to be arrested?
Unfortunately it's at this point where the bad guys decide to blow up the court room from outside the building and the only survivors randomly turn out to be Jack McClane and Komarov. As a result, Jack's reason for getting himself arrested seems completely unclear. If the bad guys' intention in bombing the courthouse had been to assassinate Komarov then it was a remarkable failure. (I mean seriously, they killed nearly everyone else!)
In any case, Jack and Komarov escape from the building together and Jack makes plans to help Komarov escape from the authorities. However, it's at this point where Bruce Willis blunders in and tells his son that "you're only making things worse". This becomes the start of one of the most boring and badly filmed car chases I have ever seen. We have a combination of the worst elements of both Paul Greengrass ("the Bourne Supremacy") and Michael Bay's ("Transformers") action filming styles. The camera both shakes around when capturing the action and quick cuts to different, barely coherent, shots of the action.
The car chase features Komarov and Jack in one vehicle, persued by bad guys in an armoured vehicle, themselves persued by Bruce Willis in another vehicle. Working out what order these vehicles were in was quite taxing since the camerawork did little to make this clear. There were regular shots of cars being shoved off the road, by each of these vehicles, but I had little clue as to how the pursuit itself was progressing. A truck drives off a bridge onto a lower road at one point, only for the camera to quickly cut to some concrete cylinder rolling across the road. I had no idea where the concrete cylinder was or how it related to the movement of the vehicle, but the director seemed to be more interested in the progress of this concrete cylinder than he was in showing me what happened next in the chase.
Eventually Bruce Willis does an enormous flip in his vehicle which would no doubt break his neck. But this doesn't seem to be problem since the character of John McClane may as well be The Terminator by this stage. He's unphased by the events occurring around him, unemotional, monotone and indestructible. He can not only walk away unharmed and unwinded after his vehicle does an enormous flip, but also remain unscathed after a high speed leap from a helicopter through a large glass window pane. He can also survive the radiation of Chernobyl (even though the bad guys need radiation suits and giger counters).
John McClane's resistance to radiation even includes falling into a large swimming pool of radioactive water. (This is dismissed by Jack's character as rain water, even though they had to fall through a glass ceiling before they landed in the pool. Also, why presume a swimming pool in Chernobyl had been drained before the disaster?)
While Willis never seems to have quite the right responses to his various situations in the film, that cannot be entirely blamed on the script. Jai Courtney, who plays John McClane's son, is clearly doing is very best to liven up the script. Willis, in spite of doing miracles with his role in the movie "Red", here comes off quite clearly as a man waiting for his pay cheque. While Courtney does his level best to produce the same kind of banter that John McClane had with Justin Long's character in "Die Hard 4.0", he cannot hope to make up for the entirely uninterested, half-hearted performance from Willis, who has clearly (and possibly quite sensibly) recognised that the dialogue is unsalvageable.
Please do some acting goddammit!
What's more, I strongly doubt that anyone watching this film failed to note the ridiculousness of the scene where Willis and Courtney are captured, the boss decides they should just be shot on the spot and we are then forced to wait while nothing happens to them for about ten minutes. The audience is then treated to:
- A bad guy checking his English after he'd been happily speaking fluent English with his Russian buddies beforehand.
- The same bad guy ranting about how much he hates Americans.
- Then doing a quick riverdance routine while kicking the good guys' guns away.
- Finally being further delayed by the good guys laughing at absolutely nothing as a blatant stalling tactic.
If there's anything more stupid than John and Jack McClane escaping this scenario unscathed, it's that all the most recognisable bad guys (including Mr. "I-hate-Americans-but-love-Riverdance") also manage to escape without injury.
The action sequences are boring and incoherent, the plot is convoluted and stupid, the pacing can barely keep up with the apathy of the audience, and it all builds up to a pathetic attempt at an homage to the demise of Hans Gruber in the original "Die Hard", ending up as one of the funniest cases of unintentional humour I've come across in the past decade.
"A Good Day To Die Hard" may have killed the franchise completely this time. With the director of the movie adaptation of "Max Payne" and the remake of "The Omen" at the helm, perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised that this turned out to be such a train wreck? About the only positive thing I can say about Die hard 5 is that Jai Courtney did enough to demonstrate that he was far too good for this film and will most likely do far better work in much less doomed films in the future.
Finally here is my long-overdue set of Hitchcock reviews. I have now seen the last 20 films of Hitchcock's career. Since I am working through Hitchcock's films in reverse order, these four are the earliest I have seen.
As before, the reviews below are in reverse order of preference (finishing with my least favourite), but the films were viewed in the following order: Strangers on a Train (1951), Stage Fright (1950), Under Capricorn (1949), Rope (1948)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
This is definitely a clear favourite out of Hitchcock's movies. The stranger on the train turns up pretty early on and turns out actually to know quite a bit about the protagonist (who is actually a professional tennis player). He feels that a kind of 'murder exchange exercise' would solve problems for the both of them. He argues that both of them have a particular thorn in their side without whom their lives would be a great deal easier. The protagonist tries to humour the stranger, but he never actually agrees to the scheme.
The stranger is clearly quite disturbed and it seems that the character of Norman Bates didn't come out of nowhere in Hitchcock's career. Portraying figures who are slightly off-kilter with a close connection to their mother, seems to be more tied to Hitchcock's fascination with Freudian psychology than with the figure of Ed Gein.
The power play between the protagonist and the stranger continues throughout the film, with the stranger anticipating possible attempts to escape from the arrangement. He also shows up to events held by the high profile family of the protagonist's wife-to-be announcing himself as the protagonist's 'friend'.
As disturbing as the stranger may be, he is always civil and genuinely wants to think of the protagonist as a personal friend. (Which perhaps makes him all the creepier.)
With fantastic dialogue, pacing, filming and some wonderful performances all round, this is definitely one of Hitchcock's best. Perhaps slightly lacking the style of "Psycho" and the scope of "North By Northwest", but asides from those two goliaths of Hitchcock's career, I would say that "Strangers On A Train" is the very best out the eighteen other Hitchcock films I have seen so far. Tense, intelligent, yet thoroughly entertaining with an array of engaging characters.
"Rope" is filmed as if it were one long continuous shot. Occasionally the camera is moved close into someone's back or into a dark corner so that a cut can be made subtley. While this conceit is fairly obvious, we still get the intended impression of a continuous scene. Everything happens in one flat.
The film begins, perhaps unsurprisingly for a Hitchcock film, with a murder. However, what is surprising is when the murderers follow it up by instantly getting ready for a party which is to take place within their own flat - and with the body still there.
Of the two murderers, one is extremely confident and rather smarmy. It was his idea to hold a dinner party after the murder. The other is extremely nervous and involuntarily highly troubled by the murder he helps to commit.
It is revealed that one person who has been invited to the dinner party is an extremely intelligent professor from their university. This is yet another role for James Stewart and I must admit that it's my favourite of Stewart's performances. In all his other performances he seemed to be involved in central relationships with women in spite of demonstrating some level of misogyny in his treatment of them. Here he is still somewhat condescending to some female characters, but he remains charming for the most part and thankfully isn't paired off with a female character.
It turns out that this professor has a theory which he shares with his students that murder would be acceptable if you are powerful enough to justify it. When the subject is raised he jokes morbidly about using murder to avoid paying for a restaurant dinner or rent.
Here is where the weak element of the film presents itself. The threat is always present that the professor, or anyone else, will discover the body in the flat; the professor in particular. However, as things unfold it's not entirely clear why a professor, whose keen mind is able to connect so many ideas so easily, is seemingly able to be shocked that his ideas, when put into practice, would involve a murder. The best explanation I can think of is that the murder victim is yet another of his students and so while another victim might not have affected him so badly, the murder of one of his bright students by another bright student is too close and personal to leave him unaffected emotionally.
"Rope" is very tightly scripted and choreographed, with the motions and conversations of each character being very clearly planned. The ideology behind the murder is that expressed in Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" that major figures like Napoleon had the power and status to use murder to get what they want and while it might have been slightly better handled, any issues aren't great enough to undermine the performances and plot of the film as a whole.
The characters and the way they interact is absolutely brilliant, clearly representing some of Hitchcock's best work. It's definitely the best performance from James Stewart in a Hitchcock movie.
Stage Fright (1950)
There's some slight trickery involved at the beginning of this film which I won't reveal here. I'll just note that while this was a cause of great controversy at the time, I was a lot happier with the film as a result.
The movie opens with an actor and actress in a car. Jane Wyman, who essentially plays the protagonist of the film, is listening to Richard Todd explaining his predicament. We then see a flashback to show us what happened. Apparently he has been framed for murder by a woman he was in a relationship with and the protagonist, who is infatuated with him, is convinced that she should help him prove his innocence.
Naturally at this stage I am screaming at the screen "just go to the police!" But then again, the film doesn't ignore the idea that they'd be better off just going to the authorities. The first place the two of them go is to the protagonist's father (played by Alastair Sim) who is not only a wonderful colourful character, but also provides a desperately needed voice of reason.
Eventually we see Michael Wilding appear on the scene as a policeman investigating the murder. With Wyman doing some detective work of her own as she investigates the femme fatale who is trying to frame the man she loves, she inevitably runs into this detective at several points. There's also tension involved due to her hiding a prime suspect in her parents' house. Wilding gives a brilliant performance and is a real highlight of the film.
Another highlight of the film is one small scene featuring the comedian Joyce Grenfell. She plays a wonderfully scatty handler of the duck-shooting range at the fair. If you haven't seen any sketches from Joyce Grenfell (or just fancy watching them again anyway) I've placed some video links at the end of this post for you.
Stage Fright isn't perfect. The plot meanders a bit and initially I couldn't help but feel the protagonist was stupid not to just go to the police, but once the film gets going it really picks up. I enjoyed this film a lot. Held together by some pretty awesome performances, this is a very good Hitchcock film.
Under Capricorn (1949)
It was great to see Michael Wilding, the detective from "Stage Fright" return here. This time he's the main protagonist. A somewhat irresponsible opportunist hoping to make his fortune in the easiest way possible. He befriends one of the ex-cons who seems to be doing particularly well for himself and who himself employs ex-cons to help run his household; the film being set in Australia in the early 19th century.
One element I haven't mentioned in previous reviews is the music and somehow the music felt rather more cheesy than normal in this film. Also the DVD I saw of this film seemed to be of lower quality, with the settings seemed much more obviously like sets than normal. I think perhaps the costume drama element of "Under Capricorn" was not playing to Hitchcock's strengths.
Unlike in a lot of the other Hitchcock films, I found myself getting rather bored this time. Hitchcock may be the master of suspense, but he's also normally rather excellent at giving quicker pacing to his movies when it's needed. Here I felt like I spent a lot of the running time waiting for something to happen.
This isn't one of the worst films I've seen from Hitchcock. The plot works well enough and the performances are pretty good, especially from Michael Wilding who lights up every one of his scenes, even when the film is running at an irritatingly slow pace. Someone else might find this film a lot more appealing, but for me it kept pushing the wrong buttons and just wasn't exciting enough.
My Ranking Of Hitchcock's Final 20 Films
1. North By Northwest (1959) A+
2. Psycho (1960) A+
3. Strangers On A Train (1951) A+
4. The Birds (1963) A+
5. Rope (1955) A+
6. To Catch a Thief (1955) A+
7. Rear Window (1954) A+
8. The Trouble with Harry (1955) A-
9. Dial M for Murder (1954) A-
10. Stage Fright (1950) A-
11. Topaz (1969) B+
12. The Wrong Man (1956) C+
13. Family Plot (1976) C+
14. Under Capricorn (1949) C-
15. Frenzy (1972) D+
16. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) D-
17. I Confess (1953) D-
18. Torn Curtain (1966) D-
19. Marnie (1964) E-
20. Vertigo (1958) E-
Joyce Grenfell sketches
(Lady in Church - video link)
(First flight - video link)
(Nursery School - video link)
Tobe Hooper Review: Crocodile Madness!
The film review pairing makes a little more sense this time. I have paired Tobe Hooper's "Crocodile" with another crocodile movie, "Lake Placid", which was released just the previous year. It seems likely that Tobe Hooper's film was intended on a low budget cash-in on "Lake Placid"'s success. I'd always been told that "Lake Placid" was a horror comedy, so it seemed vital that I should see it. However, surprisingly I think I would steer people towards Tobe Hooper's offering instead.
Of course, we've already had one movie from Tobe Hooper featuring a man-eating crocodile in the video nasty "Death Trap" (or "Eaten Alive!"). This time, however, the crocodile is not a pet...
A lot of actors in this that have not been in anything else, but I was particularly surprised that Chris Solari had nothing else in particular on his resume. He's done some little bits of tv stuff here and there, but nothing much. While much of the acting here was nothing special, it was generally passable and most of the actors delivered their lines about as well as could be hoped. However, Chris Solari manages to showcase quite an interesting character arc and I really appreciated what he did with the role. Perhaps it was the writing, perhaps it was the directing, but acting definitely had to play a part and most likely it was a combination of at least two of those (probably not the writing).
This is a pretty low budget feature and the CGI crocodile itself is seen minimally as a result. Generally it jumps quickly out of the water and takes a seemingly impossibly huge bite before returning instantly under the water. Taking the crocodile seriously is made more easy by the suggestion that the creature is somehow supernatural. With the monster seeming a little too dangerous, uncharacteristically vengeful for an animal, and sometimes able to break the laws of physics, the suggestion that it's not simply a very large crocodile but some kind of other-worldly being makes it easier to suspend disbelief.
The teenagers are annoying and some of the pacing towards the beginning is rather slow. However, once tales of the crocodile are told around a camp fire, it's not long before things start getting rather more exciting. The film quickly makes up for the typical juvenile slasher-film victims at the beginning and boring cliched romance-drama. The low budget quality of the crocodile attacks is actually somewhat endearing.
While I definitely wouldn't say this was a good movie, I think this is pretty much a PERFECT "D+" movie. I'm not simply giving it this rating because it's a bad movie that didn't make me depressed to be watching it, but more like because it's a bad movie that I really enjoyed watching. If you want a cheesy low budget monster movie, you should try this out. Also, I might even suggest skipping the first 20 minutes to get to the action (though watching it from the beginning won't kill you).
This was great fun and I highly recommend it. Just don't go in expecting decent effects or decent writing or even particularly good acting. Just expect some good clean ridiculously stupid fun.
Lake Placid (1999)
I decided to follow up watching Crocodile by watching "Lake Placid". I'd been meaning to see "Lake Placid" for years. With my recent craze for horror comedies it seemed particularly important because I'd heard that this film does not really take itself seriously.
I can now see why people sometimes held back from calling it a horror comedy. Sure, it tries to be funny, but not much of the humour really hits the mark. And there's really no excuse either. There's Oliver Platt who I know for fairly serious roles in "X-Men: First Class", "Kinsey" and "Frost/Nixon", but was actually chosen for the role of verbally abusive and condescending spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in an American remake of "The Thick Of It". There's Bill Pullman (Lost Highway), Bridget Fonda (Jackie Brown), but most of all there's Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges, The Guard, 28 Days Later, etc.). Now Brendan Gleeson is a very funny guy and an all-round excellent actor, but in spite of him clearly putting a lot of effort into his lines he cannot make them funny (though he comes closer to making me laugh, simply through his facial expressions, than anyone else in the cast).
The way Bridget Fonda's character is brought into the storyline (as the protagonist, no less) is ridiculously contrived. She's an expert in fossils, but she remains involved in the story because she has 'relationship issues' back at the museum where she works and doesn't want to go home (seriously?).
Eventually the storyline takes the most stupid turn ever when the protagonists decide, after several people have all lost their lives to the central monster, that they MUST make sure they capture the poor little Crocodile alive rather than waiting for the professional trappers who will most likely end up killing it.
On the plus side, the special effects are great. Unfortunately that's not much of a consolation...
(Cross-posted to Halloween Candy)
Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012)
I'd been looking forward to this for quite a while. I didn't get a chance to see it at the cinema when it was being compared favourably with "Pan's Labyrinth" (a personal favourite). Then later when it gained its Oscar nominations it seemed like this year's underdog. The movie which plenty of people hoped would win, but no one expected to do so. Also there's been widespread praise for Quvenzhané Wallis, who is now the youngest actress ever to be nominated for an Oscar. And now I've finally had a chance to watch this beautiful magical realism film for myself.
The visuals are certainly great in this film. The characters live in a slum which they know as "the bathtub", which is lovingly depicted. Early on we see them fishing in what looks like an old car converted into a raft. Also, early on we see the young protagonist running around with fireworks in her hands (which is an image shown on most posters).
There's also a "Where The Wild Things Are" style depiction of the young protagonist's imagination becoming real. She is informed that the ice caps are going to melt and that all the children in the bathtub are going to need to learn how to survive. A kind of 'wise woman' figure shows the children her tatoo of cave paintings of aurochs, an extinct wild animal, and claims that those creatures used to kill children.
So when a storm and floods come (a blatant reference to hurricane Katrina), we are also shown a kind of avalanche. The young protagonist is imagining that the floods are due to ice caps melting. We also see some chunks of ice contain aurochs, but instead of the cattle-like animals, we see a multi-tusked colossal giant boar that our protagonist has interpreted from the cave painting images instead.
Sadly the depictions of her fantasies don't really get much more interesting than that. We don't have an array of imagery like we had in Pan's Labyrinth. Also, while the imagery seems intended to compliment the real life situation, it never quite ties in properly. The real life situation is, and I don't feel this has been stated elsewhere nearly clearly enough, a young girl with an abusive father.
Early on, the young protagonist is left on her own and is clearly starving hungry. She decides to cook something that looks like dog food. It's confirmed later that she has genuinely been neglected by her father when he returns home in a hospital gown, having fled the hospital for as yet undisclosed reasons. At this point the young protagonist asks whether she can live with her father rather than in the separate trailer where she is currently based. The father simply tells her to go away.
She returns to her trailer where the dog food is burning. In a clear plea for attention, she decides to turn up the heat and let the whole place burn down. The father comes looking for her, chases her, and when he finds her he hits her. This is quite early in the film and yet we seem to be expected to quickly forgive the father for hitting his 5 year old child. (And, later on, forgive him for encouraging his very young child to consume a pretty large alcoholic drink.)
Another worrying aspect of his parenting of her is that he clearly wishes she was a boy. He keeps asking her to be manly and tells her that she's going to be the man of the family when he's gone. He shouts "who's the man?" at her, encouraging her to reply "I'm the man!" and while that in itself might not be taken as sexism, the theme is so consistent that it's just one more worrying thing. Though his general failures in being a responsible father and his resorting to violence against his young daughter kind of overshadow this issue really.
Outside of the relationship between father and daughter, there really is very little happening here. I kept wishing the aurochs would turn up and do something, but when they finally appear it's a bit of an anti-climax really. What's more when the father is such a horrible person, the news that he's dying of cancer isn't really the big tearjerker it's intended to be. It's quite clear that the protagonist would be much better off being raised by nearly anyone else in the cast, even one old drunk since at least he'd only ignore her rather than hitting her.
I've been avoiding using the young protagonist's name. She's called 'Hushpuppy'. Clearly yet another bizarre bit of cruelty. The bizarre names seem to be less to do with an understanding of a particular piece of black culture and more because the white writers and director have an unhealthy fetishisation of poverty. This is less of a "whites save black people" movie and more of a "black people love being poor" movie.
Quvenzhané Wallis with one writer and the writer/director.
There's a kind of twisted libertarian sensibility to "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" whereby a white doctor is a bad guy for even wanting to treat the father's cancer. 'Don't let them plug me into the wall', the father has apparently said to his daughter. - Now don't get me wrong. I can believe that there are people who've been so mistreated by the medical care system that they will not trust doctors anymore. However, with the (admittedly wonderful) symphonic music of the soundtrack blaring out triumphantly and seemingly encouraging us to see this horrific poverty as somehow uplifting I couldn't help but feel a little bit revolted.
Dwight Henry, who plays the father, deserves some credit for portraying the abusive father very well. He plays the part very believeably and honestly and it's not the actor's fault that the movie is directed in order to try and persuade us that his character is somehow endearing.
I can't really say that Quvenzhané Wallis deserves her Oscar nomination though. Not that I mind much who the Oscars are awarded to, but I'm not really convinced that you ought to give major awards to someone for being remarkably good "for a five year old". In the end, her role mainly involves looking cute on screen and if she's really talented, she'll give even better performances when she gets older and more experienced as an actress.
"Beasts Of The Southern Wild" is an utterly miserable story about a young girl with an abusive father who lives in shocking poverty. It is then portrayed as some kind of Disney fairytale set to uplifting trumpet music. The story is threadbare and inconsistent and the themes are incoherent. On top of that, this miserable story with its inappropriate soundtrack, unlikeable father character and fetishisation of poverty, also has ridiculously slow and plodding pacing that makes it a real slog to watch.
So, the Oscars ceremony rolls around again and we see yet more of the typical boring arguments about which films were picked by old white men who form the judges panel. There's criticism of Seth MacFarlane for not being funny enough, as if it was normal to expect comedy gold during the show. However, the Oscars continue to somehow hold respect within the industry, so each award received continues to make a serious statement. Possibly even a political statement sometimes.
However, I'm not convinced that I've ever heard of an Oscars-related issue so politically charged before. Sure, the lack of recognition for black actors has always been an issue, as have other inequalities in the industry related to gender, sexuality, disability and so on. However, in this particular case, unknown to most of the viewing public across the globe, there was a protest taking place outside the Oscars this time in relation to the plight of visual effects workers.
As the time came around to hand out the Oscar for visual effects, there was a brief suggestion on stage that visual effects work needed proper recognition at the ceremony. Samuel L. Jackson seemed oddly cagey at this stage, seemingly insisting that the visual effects award be rushed through. After lamenting some difficulty handling the envelope, Jackson announces that the winners of the award are the team who worked on "Life Of Pi".
They read out a long list of people to thank, but before they even reached the end of their pre-agreed list, the theme from "Jaws" began to play loudly. The speaker spoke louder to be heard over the music. Having finished the list of 'thank yous' he then began to make reference to their company's financial difficulties. It was at this moment that his microphone was turned off. There was to be no mention of these difficulties during the Oscars ceremony (at least not indoors).
The shocking thing is that the team suffering from those 'financial difficulties' is, in fact, filing for bankruptcy. The visual effects team "Rhythm and Hues", which also worked on another nominee "Snow White And The Huntsman" that was similarly profitable, is going bankrupt because the film studios have failed to pay them. Their workers, who are directly responsible for the success of "Life Of Pi" at the Oscars, have not been given their basic wages.
While the Oscars shoo the visual effects team off the stage within the ceremony, one protest board outside reads "WILL MATTE PAINT FOR FOOD".
THE EVENT AT THE OSCARS
There are clips from the Oscars all over youtube, but it is rather harder to find this clip of the visual effects winners being cut off when receiving their award. Hopefully this clip is still working.
You can find out more information about this in the following links:
EXTRACT FROM THE GUARDIAN
"Several hundred people reportedly congregated outside the Dolby theatre in Los Angeles as the stars walked the red carpet, demanding better treatment for the artists who make the spectacular visuals for blockbuster movies possible. The protest was planned after the well-known Rhythm & Hues effects house filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, shortly after winning a Bafta for its work on Life of Pi....
"When the visual effects team behind Life of Pi attempted to draw attention to Rhythm and Hues' plight during their acceptance speech for the best visual effects Oscar, they were cut off by the band as the speech went on beyond the stipulated limit."
(Cross-posted to moviebuffs)
Okay, you heard it here first (I'm guessing). "Stoker" is Chan-Wook Park's best film. Not just his best film since "Oldboy". His best film. Full stop.
India Stoker has just turned 18 when her father dies and her uncle Charlie mysteriously turns up. However, there's something strange going on with the uncle and, as it turns out, there may be something strange going on with India too. India's mother finds that her late husband's brother reminds her of her husband when he was younger and she finds herself comforted by his attention, particularly since her relationship with her husband had been distant in the time before his death. However, India is not sure how to feel about Charlie's arrival....
The "twisted misfit girl" horror movie has a lot of great examples: "Ginger Snaps", "May", "The Loved Ones", "The Woman", of course there's the classic "Carrie", and more recently "Excision". (Arguably "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not", starring Audrey Tautou, deserves to be in this list. It's not an obvious addition, but I think that film deserves a lot more attention than it currently receives. In this case, Mia Wasikowska (perhaps mainly known as 'that girl who played Alice in Tim Burton's lame "Alice In Wonderland" sequel/reboot/whatever), shows not only that she is an absolutely incredible actress more than capable of holding her own against the well-recognised talent of Nicole Kidman, but that she can turn in one of the best performances in this particular horror genre.
I had two worries going into this film. The first seems fairly trivial now. The trailer had clear implied sexual goings-on and that sort of thing can sometimes detract from a film. Thankfully the sexual side of things pretty much remains implied and serves to build up the tension between the characters rather than getting in the way. (Do people even know what I'm talking about or am I just ranting? I just don't care if the characters in my movies are "at it" okay? Sure, make it clear that sexual goings-on are going on, but don't waste time on that stuff!)
The other worry was in relation to Chan-Wook Park. I keep coming back to his movies and I recognise that he's a great director, but by this stage, to be quite frank, I'd been getting pissed off. Things in Park's movies were just getting too silly. Even "Oldboy"'s incest-related plot-elements seemed to go a little off the deep end, but the film seemed to have earnt that. (Even right at the start of "Oldboy", the guy with the little white dog was a bit of a bizarre figure.) "Lady Vengeance" seemed to feature a whole colourful array of bizarre characters and I felt it lacked focus. "I'm A Cyborg, But That's Okay" was set in a mental hospital and seemed to give many of the mental patients superpowers. It felt like a rather bizarre representation of mental illness and I had a hard time getting into it. Then finally, the recent "Thirst" was a very meandering story which never seemed to be able to take the premise of vampires seriously.
"Stoker" doesn't get too silly. The whole crazy family angle isn't played entirely straight, but the premise is handled consistently. With a bit of suspension of disbelief I could always just about imagine that this was taking place in the real world and the characters felt a lot more real than in Park's recent films. I also felt that the performances seemed more subtle than Park's films have involved since "Oldboy". Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode all give absolutely gripping performances which get pretty intense at times. "Stoker" is also a very beautiful film, wonderfully shot with plenty of neat little tricks when it portrays the events of the film. The interactions between the characters are key to "Stoker" and the way the events are portrayed always emphasises the issues beneath the surface between them.
The only part of the film I thought was lacking (and to be frank, this was a lot easier to swallow than "Oldboy"'s whole incest nonsense) was the rather clichéd bully figure. India Stoker is meant to be an 18 year old girl. She is in the highest grade of high school and I had trouble believing that at that stage there would still be people in the school who had this kind of bully mentality. (Perhaps things are different in the US? In the UK people can leave at 16, so the people staying on til 18 are volunteering to do A Levels and much more keen to succeed.) When the bully figure actively threatens the girl with violence in public with only the smallest of justifications, I found it hard to believe that anyone would support him or that he would even be able to convince himself that it was okay. But then again, the way it resolves, I think I can let this slide.
"Stoker" is a beautiful and creepy "coming-of-age" horror story and one of the best of its kind. I highly recommend that any fans of quality horror check it out (and that includes those who like to think that they only like "psychological thrillers". This is more of a "Black Swan" or "Take Shelter" style horror movie than a "Friday The 13th" horror movie). And if you've been following Chan-Wook Park's career (and especially if, like me, you were getting a little fed up with the quirkiness), you'll be glad to know that this is Park back on top form.
I've got a lot of reviews still outstanding and I'm going to see if I can catch up a bit. First of all, I recently saw some old Oscar winners: "All About Eve" (best motion picture 1951) and "Life Is Beautiful" (best foreign language film 1999). I also recently finally got around to seeing "Brave" which won this year's best animated feature award at the Oscars.
All About Eve (1950)
The film opens narrated by George Sanders in his role as a film critic. He has a fairly small part but he seemed very familiar even though the only thing I seem to know him from is "Village Of The Damned" (asides from "Jungle Book" where he voiced Shere Khan... Awesome.) In this opening scene of "All About Eve" some kind of awards ceremony is taking place and everyone is expecting an actress called Margo (played by Bette Davis) to win, but in fact a younger actress called Eve (played by Anne Baxter) is presented with the award, seemingly contrary to all expectations.
With that set up, the rest of the movie will then explain how we reach that point. Margo is still a respected actress in the theatre, but rather than being a competitor, Eve is a huge fan who watches every performance and is excited to be getting the chance to meet her idol personally.
Bette Davis is an absolutely fantastic actress and I absolutely loved the way she changes her voice and demeanour to try to seem upper class when her fan enters the room. She has a wonderfully eccentric character to work with, but she plays her quite brilliantly.
Anne Baxter, on the other hand, I recognised from one of the Hitchcock films I saw called "I Confess". In "I Confess" she was one of the worst examples of the 'hysterical blonde' trope that seemed to keep cropping up in Hitchcock films, telling a sob story in a breathy agitated voice. Here in "All About Eve" she also tells a sob story too. It's the earliest point where the film loses me for a moment as her breathy agitated telling of sob stories seemed to send me to sleep, even while the other characters seem captivated and moved by her storytelling.
That being said, being 'breathy' seemed to work a lot better for Anne Baxter's character in "All About Eve" than it had in "I Confess". She's playing a character who is supposed to come off as innocent and starstruck, but so much so that it becomes suspicious. There's a question at play as to whether she's a completely manipulative character or whether what happens is all a part of her obsession with the actress Margo.
"All About Eve" is a pretty good film for the most part. The performances are generally great, particularly from Bette Davis. I still don't really rate Anne Baxter as an actress, but in this film her style of acting is at least more appropriate. In some ways, the creepy obsessive who might have some rather more malign intentions seems very similar to the sort of film I enjoy and, considering that this ISN'T a horror film at all, it does a pretty good job at holding the audience's attention. Unfortunately this is not helped by the slow pace. Some scenes are very interesting, but at other times it takes rather too long for anything to happen. By the end, I was finding the whole thing made me feel very drowsy indeed.
Marilyn Monroe (above with George Sanders) has a small role in the "All About Eve" too.
As unfair as it might seem to fans of old cinema, my problem with this movie is that it feels very old fashioned. But as far as cinema goes 1950 isn't THAT old and I'm just not willing to give it that much extra credit for its age. This movie has some great moments and there were points where I was really enjoying it, but as a whole it's sluggish and by the end I was underwhelmed.
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
How the hell did anyone get this idea? It has always puzzled me that this movie even exists. A comedy about the holocaust with widespread critical acclaim and beloved by audiences. It sounds like the sort of film that ought to have an outcry against it. How on Earth could anyone possibly make a comedy about the holocaust that was even remotely funny? It sounds more likely to be the final nail in Seth McFarlane's career rather than a highly praised Italian movie with multiple major film awards and 80% on Rotten Tomatoes.
It's very hard to explain why "Life Is Beautiful" is a brilliant movie. It just kind of is. It's hard to explain why this completely unrealistic portrayal of the holocaust is genuinely funny and not at all demeaning to holocaust survivors, but I think it just about pull it off. (Somehow! I'm not the person to judge this, clearly, but it just about seems to work!)
While the context of Fascist Italy is present throughout the movie from the start, the impact of facism doesn't become clear for quite a while. Instead the focus is on the central character. The style of the film is old-fashioned quick-talking comedy with much of the humour involving slapstick comedy. The central character is a combination of ridiculous and charming. Everything he does is so fantastically choreographed and his performance is so exciting and energetic, it just seems impossible not to fall in love with him.
Even going into the movie thinking "a comedy about the holocaust, really?" (I mean seriously, I was not convinced that I was going to like this and I found it really hard to keep an open mind), I still found myself being won over.
It got to a point where I was convinced that the holocaust was never going to come. That it was going to be completely in the background. However, there's a point part way through where there's a jump forward in time and an adorable child is introduced to the film (who is also absolutely brilliant in the role). To counter-balance the cute child, this is the point where the impact of facism becomes much more obvious. The central character continues to embrace life and brush off the problems around him, but that cannot protect him forever.
In order to keep things funny, the holocaust cannot be portrayed as horrifically as it really was. However, a lot of horrific elements are hinted at and there is still a definite sense of threat. And when the film reaches the right moment, the horror that has been lying in the background is brought to the foreground and its like a veil has fallen away which, when we have so come to love the central characters, possibly makes it more horrifying than ever.
In spite of the sweetness and comedy in this film it manages to be a much more moving and respectful movie about the horrors of the holocaust than the half-hearted and shallow "In Darkness" that was released a couple of years ago.
Movies are often not realistic and intentionally so. When Indiana Jones fights Nazis no one is too worried about how realistically they are being depicted, nor how difficult it would be to attack the Nazis in the way Indiana does and get away with it. The same is true here about the protagonist and Fascism in Italy.
"Where did they find all these anvils?" he asks.
The film "Life Is Beautiful" is a victory against Fascism in that the unbelievable hero is able to ridicule Fascism in farcical and hilarious ways that would not have been possible at the time. Then later that same hero is then able to keep up hope in a concentration camp, when victims in real life would have no hope left. The style of the movie makes it clear that this is all fiction, but that doesn't mean we can't cheer anyway. Whether it's Indiana Jones punching a Nazi or the protagonist in "Life Is Beautiful" humourously mistranslating Nazi guards in a concentration camp, we don't need to believe it's realistic in order to have a great time.
"Life Is Beautiful" is hilarious and moving (so everything you'd want from a good Pixar movie I guess, only in live action). It is a unique experience and I think it needs to be seen to be believed. Be honest, you're curious right?
"Brave" just won the best animated feature Oscar recently and a lot of people didn't seem too happy about it. There've been a lot of reports that "Brave" was a lacklustre Pixar movie and that, after the full Disney takeover, Pixar aren't what they used to be. Yet in spite of this, I still needed to see it. After the widespread condemnation of "Cars 2" by critics and the extremely unappealing marketing of "Brave" I was disinclined to watch it at the cinema, but on DVD I didn't feel inclined to miss it.
"Brave" is about a Scottish princess who doesn't want to be a princess. The idea is not exactly novel. Naturally there's Jasmine from "Aladdin" who doesn't want to be married and, if you want a protagonist, there's Ariel who would rather be human than a mermaid princess. However, I actually think the better comparison is perhaps with "Sword In The Stone".
"Sword In The Stone" is probably the Disney movie closest to my heart. I watched it endless times as a child and it was quite a while before I was really able to fully appreciate what was really happening. Like "the wart" (which is how young King-Arthur-to-be is known by his adopted family), I didn't really know what Merlin was trying to achieve with his magic, yet I was spellbound by it all the same.
Eventually I understood that the aim of Merlin all along is to get the wart to recognise the value of education and thinking in creative ways, so that he will be all the more prepared when he takes on the role of king. The wart's adopted family want him to be a squire, but Merlin has higher plans for him.
So the relationship between the Princess Merida and her mother Queen Elinor is quite similar to the relationship between the wart and Merlin. The queen thinks she knows what is best for her daughter, but her daughter doesn't understand. Eventually things don't play out quite the way either of them had expected and there's magic along the way, but there's also a emotional depth to the story too.
And yes, this has in every way the emotional depth now expected of Pixar movies. That being said, what with all the Scottish voices I couldn't help but think of "How To Train Your Dragon" (you know, the one with all the Scottish... um... Vikings?), but I still think that "Brave" is funnier, holds greater emotional depth and is more visually stunning than HTTYD was.
Another rather more obvious comparison with "Sword In The Stone" is the witch that eventually turns up. There's a broom that sweeps the floor by itself, a talking bird, floating cutlery and the witch itself seems to be expecting company when Merida first turns up. This character feels very much like an homage to Merlin in "Sword Of The Stone", which might explain why I found myself making so many other less obvious parallels.
One thing I mustn't forget to mention is the performance of Kelly MacDonald in the central role as Princess Merida. She has such a distinctive voice and I've loved it since I first saw her in "Trainspotting". I found it particularly hard to take the idea of her as an Irish immigrant in the series "Boardwalk Empire" when she still seems to have the same distinctive accent in her voice. However, as a scottish princess I can't think of anyone better for the role.
"Brave" might not be the best Pixar movie I've seen, but it's nowhere near the worst either. Put it this way, I don't think it's QUITE as good as "Up", "Finding Nemo" or "Wall-E", but on the other hand I think it's better than "Toy Story 3", "The Incredibles" and "Monsters Inc.". The difference in quality is THAT negligible.
At this stage, the only Pixar movies I haven't seen are "Ratatouille" and the two "Cars" movies. Asides from perhaps "A Bug's Life" and the original "Toy Story" I think all of Pixar's movies have been absolutely incredible and "Brave" does not even remotely strike me as a drop in quality. Perhaps a slight drop in originality? Heck, I don't think I've ever seen this story told quite like this before. It's the WAY Pixar stories are told that makes us keep coming back for more.
For quite a while now I've been making a point of posting horror reviews to rhoda_rants' awesome horror community Halloween Candy before I repost the reviews here. I've discovered a real passion for horror movies and also that a lot more of my favourites than I would ever have previously imagined could easily qualify for place in the horror section.
If anyone's interested in contributing to Halloween Candy, even (or perhaps especially) if you have unusual opinions about the genre, then you'd be welcome to do so. Rhoda herself is pretty busy with her writing right now, so she's not contributing as much as she used to. She has unusual ideas herself with her dislike of extreme violence and gore (such as in "30 Days Of Night" where vampires torment a young woman).
Last year I watched the every "Friday The 13th" movie, every "A Nightmare On Elm Street" movie (reviews of both here), and very nearly every "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movie (reviews here). I also checked out every single "Hellraiser" movie (reviews here). Before seeing these, I'd always thought that these films were simply horrible and in a way they are, but I'd never realised the sense of fun that came with so many of them. "Jason Lives" is one of the most popular films amongst fans of the "Friday the 13th" series and it's quite clearly a horror-comedy. Horror comedies have long had a particular appeal to me, as can be seen from my "best horror comedies" list (which I have plans to update in the not-so-distant future).
I think a lot of people get the wrong impression of the horror genre because so often the films which gain the most praise and reach the top of "best of" lists for the genre are the least accessible. Films like "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Blade Runner" are generally at the top of science fiction movie lists and whether you think they deserve to be there or not (I don't), you have to admit that they are both very slow moving and unappealing to mainstream audiences. The movie that is often at the top of horror movie "best of" lists is "The Exorcist". I asked a horror loving friend of mine recently whether he would genuinely call "The Exorcist" a good movie and his response was "Oh God no!" I may need to rewatch "The Exorcist" to give a fair appraisal, but from what I remember of it, it seems to me that it is lacking the sense of fun found in most horror films.
When most people think of horror, they either think of the horror series' mentioned above (mainly slasher movies with long strings of low budget sequels with limited variation from one instalment to the next), or they think of the traditional monsters which began their movie careers at Universal Studios (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf-Man, etc.). Yet, even just looking at recent years, there are quite a few fairly high brow horror titles: "Let The Right One In", "Take Shelter", "Black Swan", "We Need To Talk About Kevin" (which is practically a real-life version of "The Omen"), "The White Ribbon" (which is essentially an extraterrestrial-free version of "Village Of the Damned"), Gareth Edwards' "Monsters" and Joss Whedon's deconstruction of the horror genre in "Cabin In The Woods".
Last year I gave people the opportunity to choose which horror franchise I should watch next. The big winner was "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (I think mainly because people wanted me to watch the first movie in the series). That led to me becoming rather side-tracked when I decided to check out the entire filmography of Tobe Hooper. It seemed like a pretty great idea at first. I'd been meaning to see "Poltergeist" and I when I discovered that Angela Bettis was involved I couldn't resist checking out "Toolbox Murders". However, now that I'm nearing completion on this filmography, I have to recognise that most of it was awful (unlike my directors series' for Joe Dante or Neil Marshall last year.) Still, with this horror movie series reaching completion, it's nearing time to start a new one! The franchises on the cards to be watched include:
So... a few questions for my readers:
What horror film franchises should I add to the list?
Is it reasonable to call horror "fun"? Do you enjoy horror comedies or are they just horror-light in your opinion?
If you were choosing the best horror film of all time would you pick something like "The Exorcist"? If not, why not, and what would you replace it with?
Known as "Dredd 3D" in cinemas, this is one which I was absolutely dying to see and COULDN'T because there weren't enough blooming 'headache-free' showings available. I don't know how much Dredd's failures at the boxoffice can be put down to people being unable to see the film in 2D (AS GOD INTENDED!), but I like to think of it as payback.
Unfortunately the joke is on me in the end. This is an absolutely brilliant adaptation of Judge Dredd and a really great piece of entertainment in its own right and now it most likely won't receive a sequel because it wasn't profitable enough. Hmmph!
It feels odd to say that Karl Urban has range when talking about a movie where most of his face is covered, but I think it's a fair point. Karl Urban is working with no more than just his jaw here. The upper half of his face and all the way down to below his nose is covered by his Judge helmet. Yet in spite of this, Urban manages to give a very full impression of Dredd's feelings and he's got the kind of curled lip effect often seen in the comics down to a tee. What's more he doesn't just feel like he's redoing a previous performance with a helmet on. As well as Urban's facial expressions, his line delivery is also really well handled, with a clear idea of how to present the character. In the previous attempt at a movie adaptation of the "Judge Dredd" comics, Stallone showed just how easy it was for Judge Dredd to appear utterly ridiculous. Though "Dredd" is a movie with a sense of fun, the character of Judge Dredd never comes across as ridiculous this time around.
Left: Karl Urban's Judge Dredd
Right: Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd
I'm actually surprised to say that the violence doesn't come across as ridiculous here either. While many action and drama films often fail to pay attention to the importance of each death, "Dredd" draws careful attention to the value of human life. This is interestingly a huge contrast to the action film "The Raid" where there are endless waves of expendable bad guys who are never given a second thought.
There was a lot of attention to the similarities between "The Raid" and "Dredd" (though for the record, "Dredd" was written first). Both involve police officers entering a building run by drug dealers only to find themselves massively outnumbered and fighting for their lives. While "The Raid" seemed distinguished by its larger number of police officers at the start, their number is quickly pushed down and the action is mainly focussed around the main protagonist. In "Dredd" we start straight away with just two officers (who in this science fiction setting are known as "Judges") one of whom is a trainee being given a "sink or swim" assessment because of her exceptional psychic abilities. The film gives pretty even attention to both of these characters.
The psychic rookie-judge who partners up with Judge Dredd is played by Olivia Thirlby. I had high hopes for her performance because of one small section of the trailer where she says the line "let's finish this". The words are unimportant. What impressed me was her expression. There was no sense that she was trying to prove herself or that this line was supposed to make us laugh. Her expression is determined yet jaded at the same time. She's doing her job and there's no surprise that she might have to kill some bad guys. Within the movie her psychic abilities play quite a big part all the way through the plot. Psychics with her level of ability are apparently pretty rare, so she's able to throw a spanner in the works at several points in the story.
One thing that really impressed me right off the bat in "Dredd" before the story even got started was, oddly enough, the realism. Looking at screenshots and promotional material, I know what you are thinking. This is goofy sci-fi of the highest order and there is not a chance in hell that this movie is "realistic". Well in a way you're right. Like the comic, a great deal is over the top. However, when the situation in Mega City One is first conveyed to the audience we are told that there is massive over-population and high levels of crime. We then see some people and they actually don't look so different from the unruly youths in troubled areas today. Later on in the film we'll see what sci-fi gangs with bizarre outfits and tattoos will look like, but initially we are just shown typical thugs and as a result it's much easier to imagine that this society is a futuristic version of the world in which we already live.
What's more, the most over-the-top violent scenes are given some artistic license since they are often shown through the perspective of a villain using the drug slo-mo. Instead of just showing a typical display of blood and guts we see an alternate view of the world, not only slowed down but also brightly coloured and sparkling. The glimpses of this effect in the trailer don't really make clear quite how well this effect works, both in its contribution to the appearance and the tone of the movie. It's a pity that we probably will not see future instalments in this franchise, since the presentation of the world of Judge Dredd felt around about perfect to me. All the elements were well planned and the mythology of this dystopian world was expertly handled.
One final thing still to mention is some of the bad guys. The central bad guy is "Ma-ma" played by Lena Headey. There's something about the actress that means that I cannot stand her even when she's playing one of the good guys. But she makes one hell of a villain. In the "Sarah Connor Chronicles" and "300" I found her irritating as hell, but in "Game Of Thrones" and here in "Dredd" she is absolutely fantastic. I previously thought she had limited acting range. Now I think she just has a hard time coming off as a nice person on film. (No judgement on her in real life of course. I'm sure she's a lovely person. Or at least that's what I'll say to her with a big smile on my face to hide my intense fear. :P) Another central bad guy is played by Wood, who many will know as the major drug dealer Avon Barksdale from "The Wire". He's pretty awesome.
"Dredd" is the best superhero movie of last year. (People wondering if I'm off my rocker should consider that I previously had "The Amazing Spider-Man" as the best superhero movie of last year. Also, for the record, I now feel like I highly overrated "The Dark Knight Rises".) Of course, Judge Dredd isn't exactly a superhero, though its not entirely fair to call him an anti-hero either. He's a strong believer in justice within a world where enforcement is extremely heavy-handed. The Robocop films were quite heavily influenced by Judge Dredd.
"Dredd" is a visually stunning, action-packed, with well developed protagonists and villains, great pacing and a neat balance between the extremes of the world of Judge Dredd and an underlying believability of the dystopian scenario. Check it out!
Margin Call (2011)
Though this is a film with a simple plot and pretty much everyone watching already knows the ending, everything slots together extremely well. A high quality script ensures that the audience sees all the various ins and outs of how the economic downturn began. There's a very carefully chosen collection of characters with different outlooks and the film relies heavily on character interactions to make the film work. Different bits of dialogue are found in different settings which on the one hand are to ensure that the film doesn't all take place in the one room, but on the other hand contribute to the effect of the film. There's a dialogue while driving a car, there's dialogue on the roof, there's dialogue while smoking outside on the ground floor, there's dialogue in front of a computer, there's dialogue in a strip club, and there's one particular clever decision to have dialogue in a lift (and I won't spoil why the lift scene was good, because I think you all actually ought to watch this).
I know this just looks like a bunch of people sitting around a table making faces, but this is actually really gripping stuff! Trust me!
The story of how the economic downturn happened is not being sensationalised here. While much of the background of the economic downturn must just have happened through companies reacting as the s**t hit the fan, there would definitely have been some organisations like this one who recognised that they were in trouble early on.
Where we stand now, the worldwide economic downturn feels like something that can only be understood as happening over a long period of time. It doesn't feel like something which could be described as happening overnight. However, the point in time described in "Margin Call" is where this business realises the full scale of the problem and has to start making a decision. They are just one of many companies at the epicentre of the economic downturn. It may be hard to imagine how this makes for a genuinely interesting and compelling movie when reading about it as a premise, but that's where the genius of the script comes in.
"Bless you my child." - Okay NOT actually Jeremy Irons being made the new pope (or auditioning for The Borgias)
"Margin Call" features a star-studded cast with a whole host of familiar faces, but I would just like to pick out two for special mention. Paul Bettany gives a very powerful performance here. Possibly the best of his career. I don't know if he was ever trying to put on an American accent. He certainly feels like he's trying to put on some kind of accent, but I think the idea is simply that his way of talking has been somewhat affected by living in America so long. (Thankfully the issue of whether he is supposed to be thought of as American or not is neatly tidied up when someone calls him a "limey bastard" over the phone.) Bettany acts as a middle man between a number of different characters and in many ways his performance is necessary to tie the whole film together. He seems like a rather slimey figure on his first appearance, but it becomes clear over time that there are subtle nuances to his character and that he may be genuinely more of a realist than we might first give him credit for.
The other actor who I felt stood out was Kevin Spacey. Spacey is well known in films like "LA Confidential" and "American Beauty" for being sarcastic and possibly a little bitter. In "Margin Call" however we get to see a rather different side to him.
"This is all very well, but why has nearly every single computer in the office been left on with important data displayed? If you needed to light up the room, couldn't you just turn on the lights?"
"Margin Call" is a remarkable film. I'm not entirely sure that the final scene was the best way to end it (and I won't give away what happens), but that wasn't a big enough mistake to lower my opinion.