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Articles on this Page
- 07/11/13--23:23: _V/H/S Contains Shor...
- 07/12/13--06:43: _Adorable Death Meta...
- 07/14/13--09:44: _Trayvon Martin Case...
- 07/15/13--15:51: _Metroid Awesomeness
- 07/16/13--12:38: _Two Visions Of The ...
- 07/20/13--08:21: _More Nefarious Deat...
- 07/23/13--18:09: _YOU Decide What I R...
- 07/24/13--00:56: _OMG WOW! - New REC ...
- 07/24/13--02:41: _YOU Decide What I R...
- 07/24/13--19:50: _If You Absolutely H...
- 07/25/13--16:46: _Two Promising Attem...
- 07/30/13--05:08: _Excellent Sci-Fi Ac...
- 07/31/13--18:28: _Hilarious Comedies?...
- 08/01/13--20:32: _Director Showcase: ...
- 08/03/13--14:09: _Director Showcase: ...
- 08/05/13--15:25: _"I Haven't Played T...
- 08/06/13--07:00: _Blast From The Past...
- 08/08/13--11:05: _Dammit!
- 08/13/13--04:02: _The Final Movie Of ...
- 08/16/13--16:05: _The First "Omen" Mo...
- 07/12/13--06:43: Adorable Death Metal From Some Ultra-Young Musicians...
- 07/14/13--09:44: Trayvon Martin Case - My Perspective....
- 07/15/13--15:51: Metroid Awesomeness
- 07/23/13--18:09: YOU Decide What I Review Next! - Poll 1 of 2: Film Series
- 07/24/13--00:56: OMG WOW! - New REC 4 Teaser Poster...
- 07/24/13--02:41: YOU Decide What I Review Next! - Poll 2 of 2: Director Filmographies
- 08/01/13--20:32: Director Showcase: Nicolas Winding Refn - Part One
- 08/05/13--15:25: "I Haven't Played The Doctor Since I Was Nine..."
- 08/06/13--07:00: Blast From The Past!: Bizarre Superhero Movies From My Childhood...
- 08/08/13--11:05: Dammit!
- 08/13/13--04:02: The Final Movie Of The Twilight Series Is A Bit Of An Anti-Climax...
- 08/16/13--16:05: The First "Omen" Movie Takes Itself A Little Too Seriously.
"V/H/S" is an anthology movie, with all the problems that entails. And unfortunately the biggest problem with V/H/S is the wraparound section which ties the individual short films together.
The premise of V/H/S is that there are a group of absolutely obnoxious people who like to destroy property and drink a lot and are trying to make money by selling footage they've captured around the place. For example, they grab a woman and forcibly expose her breasts to the camera and this is apparently going to make them some money.
Anyway, one of them has a tip that a random house has a special videotape that it worth a lot of money. However, when they get to the house there are videotapes everywhere. It seems like their only option is to watch all the videotapes one by one. This over-arching plot is a complete waste of time and whenever we have sit through one of these sections of the film, enjoyment drops dramatically.
However, many of the short films are actually very good. Sadly, the one I was most excited for was from director Ti West. While I am a big fan of his films "House Of The Devil" and "The Innkeepers" (which was one of my favourite films of last year), this short film wasn't anything like the same level of quality. Ti West's story features a couple who are on a road trip, but there's signs that there may be something wrong in their relationship. When a fortune telling machine tells one of them that they are going to be reunited with an old friend, they are very happy with that prediction, but should they be?
Ti West's short film is far too slow and the payoff just isn't good enough. It's probably the story least reliant on special effects though.
The best three stories, by my reckoning, all have some great special effects work. There's one story where a group of immature blokes pick up some girls including one who is particularly withdrawn and quiet. That ends up involving some bigger effects work than you'd expect.
There's another story about a bunch of teenagers who decide to go on a trip into the woods and are preyed upon by a killer that seems to have supernatural powers, appearing like a glitch in the film.
There's another story about a group of students going to a halloween party who may possibly have gone to the wrong house. This last short film appears to be the most popular amongst the views I've read online and while it takes its sweet time setting things up, it admittedly has a very cool (and special effects heavy) payoff.
The one short film I still haven't mentioned involves a very explicit haunted house story and a discussion that takes place over Skype. (Let's not ask why the discussions are now on videotape. I can't help but feel that's an unnecessarily petty question.) Unlike the last three stories I mentioned, I felt rather unimpressed by the twist (if it even deserves to be called a 'twist' at all). A girl keeps on waking up her boyfriend because she's seen strange apparitions in the house and that's pretty much the entire story of that short film right there.
In spite of the wraparound section being practically unwatchable, I cannot deny that I had a great time with most of the short films here. Three of them are a must-watch by my reckoning. While on their own those three would be at very least a B+, the fact that you inevitably have to watch (or at least fast forward through) some rather less impressive stuff too, I'm going to knock down the score a bit.
(cross-posted to Halloween Candy)
Great news is that unlike this first movie that has mostly been fairly poorly received, the same cannot be said for the sequel that has been touring the film festival circuit. Originally titled S/V/H/S but now titled V/H/S/2, it looks kind of incredible. Check out the trailer below:
Soooo... these kids were signed up for a music label on the spot, right? This is incredible!
Unfortunately it's some stupid reality tv show and the judges stop them way too early. And you know what? Kids make loud screechy noises all the time without anyone worrying about their vocal chords....
Naturally the Youtube comments make reference to Angela Gossow in Arch Enemy, an absolutely fantastic female death metal singer:
One last thing. The video labels the America's Got Talent clip as black metal. Am I off in calling it death metal? I listened to a few black metal videos just to check I wasn't making a mistake. The differences between the genres aren't so obvious in many cases.
(Via Horror Etc Podcast Website)
Okay, so I'm not like an expert in US law. Or even moderately informed on US law. So yeah, take this as a fairly uninformed view...
Quite often you get instances where there's a conflict between two people for whatever reason and that conflict turns violent. There are plenty of instances of two people getting into a punch up with one another with no witnesses. Quite often that sort of thing doesn't go to court because it's one person's word against the other's and it doesn't normally involve what the courts would view as serious injury.
Now if there's a weapon involved like a knife or a cricket bat or whatever it may be, there's more likely to be a court case involved. Two reasons for this. Firstly because if a weapon was used the injuries are likely to be greater and if one person died from stab wounds or having their skull caved in naturally the courts are going to need to investigate. However, there is another reason involving the presence of the offensive weapon in the first place. Now naturally if you've just come from a cricket game then you've got a good reason to be carrying a cricket bat and you can explain your journey from the fields or park where you were playing. If you are carrying a gun you may have been doing some hunting and you can explain your route from the hunting grounds. You might have a good reason for carrying the item in question, but explaining the presence of that item will be part of your defence since that item may well have escalated the conflict.
Now in America there are gun concealment laws which mean that people need no excuse whatsoever for why they were carrying a gun. Perhaps if they were carrying a kitchen knife, a meat cleaver or a chainsaw, but a gun? No explanation required for a gun. Clearly the gun is required for self-defence.
Now in the Trayvon Martin murder case, Zimmerman claims that Martin attacked him. There are no witnesses, so the courts cannot confirm nor deny this. Since the evidence is so light here, let's just give be ridiculously charitable to Zimmerman and presume for the moment that Martin DID attack him. Naturally we have no reason to suppose this. It's highly probable that Zimmerman simply gunned Martin down in cold blood. But for the sake of argument we'll just presume that Martin attacked Zimmerman here and see where it takes us...
We know from a phone call to police from Zimmerman that Zimmerman had been watching Martin and considered him suspicious, so Zimmerman's presence near Martin was clearly not a coincidence and so, even if we presume for the sake of argument that Martin DID attack Zimmerman, the likelihood that Martin's attack was unprovoked is pretty slim.
I would like to suggest, and I don't think this is controversial, that if Zimmerman had not brought a gun to that conflict no one would have died. The presence of the gun escalated the conflict. Sure Zimmerman might have left with harsh injuries. That's possible. Whether they'd be worse than those received by Martin is questionable. And Zimmerman could sue later and either get compensation, or cause Martin to be given jail time, or both. There would definitely be consequences, but nobody would be dead. The presence of the gun escalated the outcomes of that confrontation. It did more harm than good.
Particularly unhelpful here is the "stand your ground" law which seems to suggest, as I see it, that if someone is violent towards you, you have free reign to go Mortal Kombat on their ass. The most important detail here is apparently nothing to do with what weapons the assailant is carrying and everything to do with whether the person 'standing their group' perceives themselves to be under threat. So if you feel like you are under threat (FIGHT!) you are free to fight the person threatening you to the death (FINISH HIM!) and if you've got a gun and they don't you are clearly going to win (FATALITY!) - unless they have awesome ninja skills and can disarm you or unless (and this is perhaps more likely) you find that in a close-quarters fight you are unable to hit them with any bullets.... Hmmm.
(All the all-caps stuff in brackets above comes from the game Mortal Kombat btw)
Okay, so this is another concern of mine. Zimmerman was supposed to have hit Martin with a bullet to the heart. Are supporters of Zimmerman arguing that this was a lucky shot? Since I would have thought that in a hand-to-hand struggle, getting your gun out and landing a successful shot to your opponent would be pretty tough.
So the Trayvon Martin murder case doesn't appear to give a decent motivation for Martin's supposed attack, it doesn't successfully demonstrate that Martin was doing anything other than defending himself, and no suspicions are raised by Zimmerman's decision to come to the conflict armed with a gun. According to US law this is all perfectly fine. All Zimmerman's defence need to demonstrate is that there is insufficient evidence to convict him of murder. With the victim dead, the evidence on the other side of the argument is limited. The presence of the gun is viewed as entirely unproblematic since everyone can carry a gun wherever the hell they like and if they feel threatened they have the right to kill. And no matter how poorly or implausibly the defence put forward their case, the lack of evidence that Trayvon's death was murder rather than self-defence is enough to get an "innocent" verdict. (Scotland has an alternative verdict of "not proven" which might be appropriate here.)
Considering that the gun rights activists in the US think it's inappropriate to mention gun control when innocent people are gunned down by people who clearly should never have been licensed to hold a gun, I'm sure they think it's even more inappropriate to bring it up in a case where the innocence or guilt of both parties is even less certain. I know I'm just a liberal Brit with no understanding of US gun culture, but the more I hear about it the more I feel like I don't want to understand. What is the benefit of concealed weapons and how does it outweigh the negatives? If people weren't allowed to carry guns with them and gun down anyone they perceive as a threat Trayvon Martin would still be alive today, regardless of all this "who attacked who?" kerfuffle. Escalating a hand-to-hand conflict by introducing a deadly weapon is not a good thing. Isn't this obvious?
Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965)
I've been trying to catch up with classic sci-fi movies and this was one that came up a lot. More recently the director Jean-Luc Goddard was known for releasing a film titled "Film Socialisme" in which he considered it so unimportant whether the audience understood it or not that he insisted that showings not include English subtitles. Perhaps that should have been a clue as to what I should expect from this earlier work.
I get the impression that Alphaville has dated badly. Which is strange since presumably the future world is portrayed by just shooting the contemporary setting in order to appear timeless. Then again, Goddard chose to film apartment blocks because they seemed futuristic in the 60s when he was filming. It was inevitable that those same apartment blocks would date.
The other problem is that the plot seems to do for dystopian storylines what Pontypool did for zombie movies, only far less coherently. Part way through the movie we discover that language in Alphaville is, essentially, dissolving. It's seen as very important that every hotel room contain a Bible, but the Bible is actually a dictionary. I've just revealed the most interesting idea in the whole film and here's the punchline. The female character in the film is saved by the central detective by understanding the word "love" and by telling the protagonist that she loves him. I'd like it if this was a commentary on the way all movies expect the female character to fall in love with the male protagonist, but that would make this a parody and the fact is that this film is simply too slow and monotonous to be a comedy.
That said there is a Kafka-esque feel to things here. The protagonist regularly seems to have to kill people just as a matter of course. He drifts through various absurd scenarios with certain female figures openly announcing that they are spies. All through the movie there's this kind of all controlling super-computer Big Brother voice that not only controls the whole of Alphaville in which the film takes place, but actually narrates the film.
Perhaps my dislike of this movie comes down to not having the right sense of humour. However, if this is supposed to be a serious movie then that really is a joke.
David Cronenberg's adaptation of a Don DeLilo novel is not exactly set in the future so much as in some kind of bizarro parallel dimension. Characters talk to one another as if every word were highly significant, yet the people saying the words barely feel like real people. There are a few points where a particular actor will get a real sense of their character and manage to seem like a real person in spite of their highly pretentious script. But one person never seems able to give any depth to his character at all and that's Robert Pattinson. His ability to express himself appears to have been botoxed away.
Cosmopolis is about a billionaire who is trying to make his away across town to a very particular hairdresser in his limosine. He has everything he needs to carry on his day in the limo. Traffic is barely moving, firstly because of security blocks related to a visit by the President and later because of anti-capitalist protests. This means that various people will visit the protagonist in his limo, including his doctor, who reveals to him that he has an asymmetrical prostate. That's supposed to be highly significant. The slow traffic also allows him to go out for a bite to eat with his fiancée every now and then and easily return to the car.
There's a sort of dream-like feel to the whole film, but nothing seems to have any real significance. Samantha Morton plays a character who acts almost like a soothsayer. She almost manages to give a compelling performance, but even she cannot get around the ridiculousness of being a business expert who constantly repeats "I know nothing of this" during her long ultra-technical monologue.
Robert Pattinson's behaviour becomes quite extreme towards the end of the film, but since he never really gives any clues to what he thinks about anything his behaviour is totally baffling and uninteresting. The whole script is based around him and yet we learn very little. What we do learn didn't make me terribly interested in hearing more. He's playing an utterly selfish character with zero charisma.
The film doesn't really get interesting until Paul Giamatti turns up towards the end. His character is completely nuts and yet he insists that he and Robert Pattinson's character are alike. As a result this is the first time that Robert Pattinson's character appears remotely interesting. Sadly Giamatti's appearance doesn't occur until the final scene and the film ends with the scene pretty much unresolved. And even in this final scene Giamatti is held back by the bizarre way his lines are written and the lack of direction to the story.
Long-winded, plotless, meandering, pretentious, lacking strong characterisation. Films can be worse than this, but not by much.
Interested to know what David Cronenberg's son Brandon Cronenberg's directorial debut was like? Why not click here to check out my review of "Antiviral" on the Halloween Candy horror community?
Saw III (2006) and Saw IV (2007)
A friend encouraged me to see the next couple of movies in the Saw series.
So far my friend had already shown me the first "Saw" movie (my review here), which I thought was a mediocre rip-off of David Fincher's "Se7en" given an odd sort of charm by Danny Glover's performance and the weird clown puppet the villain used to communicate with people.
My friend had also already shown me "Saw II" which I thought was pretty bad, but still had an odd sort of watchability (my review here). All the characters felt a bit thin, but there were some neat traps and I didn't feel entirely upset at having watched it. This time around the villain was able to appear in person and he managed to give a pretty neat performance.
The third Saw movie, imaginatively titled "Saw III", revolves around a man mourning the death of a child. He is then introduced to a number of different people who have been kidnapped by the villain, Jigsaw, and placed in nasty traps for the protagonist to discover. Each of these people is somehow connected to the death of the protagonist's child and he has the option as to whether he wants to free them or leave them to perish.
I wasn't terribly inclined to like the protagonist since he seems rather unsympathetic from the very start and what's more he's played by the head of the secret police in the movie "Equilibrium". When the very first victim he meets is allowed to die horribly for the 'crime' of having witnessed her son's death, it seemed unlikely that anyone was going to be allowed to live in this film.
Finding anyone to actually emotionally invest in within the Saw movies has been a big problem ever since Danny Glover ceased to star in them. Without that emotional investment there's very little to make me worry about the outcome of each trap.
The only person who really felt worth caring about in "Saw III" was a doctor who is kidnapped and forced to keep the villain alive. (She is persuaded by an explosive collar around her neck.) But unfortunately she never really gets the chance to develop.
Character development seems to be a real weakness in the Saw movies. In fact, come to think of it, Danny Glover's bitterness in the first movie is probably the nearest thing to decent character development I've seen in this franchise.
"Saw IV" follows a character from what is, by now, looking like the most inept law enforcement office in movie history. He's being encouraged to follow a series of clues and, like our protagonist in the last film, expected to give his own verdict on what should happen to the victims in order to 'learn some lessons'. Meanwhile the FBI seem to (finally!) be involved in the investigation. They decide to pursue Jigsaw's long-estranged wife for more clues and that's the excuse to include a lot of flashbacks.
When we reach Saw IV one thing I can praise the movie for is its scene transitions. A transition can be a straight fade to black to make the end of a scene clear, a change in scenery can indicate a new scene, and many will have seen how the Star Wars movies used a fancy transition effect which worked its way across the screen.
In Saw IV the scene transitions are often quite clever. For example in one instance the camera moves away from a trap towards a door which then bursts open, except that the person bursting through the door isn't anywhere near the trap. The door they burst through is in a completely different scene. In another example of a scene transition, the central Saw villain, in a flashback, is sitting in a chair beside a hospital bed. He then stands up and turns away from the camera to stand facing a policeman talking in an interrogation room. The villain's back is clearly in the foreground for around 30 seconds, but he's not in the interrogation room at all. The interrogation room is an entirely new scene.
This all sounds a bit weird, I'm sure. So if you don't mind spoilers, you can see the every scene transition in Saw IV in this video:
The continuity in Saw IV feels rather dodgy. We have another unlikeable protagonist. The 'moral' of the story feels heavy-handed and daft at the same time. The flashbacks portray a fairly thin backstory for the villain which does little more than to further take away the mystery from his character and make him seem more ridiculous than ever.
By this point the Saw movies have already started getting boring and it's only because the Saw series continues to promise that there will be a resolution later on that I can imagine anyone continuing to watch these movies. Is this where they got the idea for the tv series "Lost"? Having a continuous story which piles on the twists and turns, but never looks like it's going to end?
These two Saw films are intended to be connected to each other, but by this point all the Saw movies just seem to blur into one another anyway.
(Cross posted to Halloween Candy)
It's that time again!
A long while back I made a poll allowing anyone who even casually checks out my blog to decide what series of movies I would review, either because you think I should check it out or because you'd be interested to read my views (or both). The majority of votes went for the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movies (and I do have a review for the very latest one on the way soon) and I'm not sure that everyone appreciated my decision to review every single Tobe Hooper movie on top of that. In joint second place were the "Omen" and "Child's Play" franchises which I reviewed recently. (Soon to be cross-posted from Halloween Candy.)
To stop things getting carried away this time I've decided to make very clear precisely how many movies will be reviewed in each case. There are two polls here. One for film series (with the opportunity to make up to three different selections) and one for director filmographies.
Poll 1 - Film Series - Seven choices (pick up to three).
1. Final Destination - 5 titles
Bizarrely the only one of the Final Destination films I've seen is the second one. I found it a lot of fun though and so I'm quite interested to see what the rest are like. I remember there being a lot of positive buzz for the first one when it was released, but I was convinced that I didn't like horror movies back then. (Certainly not ones where a bunch of attactive teenagers get killed off one by one.) Having seen all the Friday the 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street movies now, it feels like a good time to see what I missed.
2. Grave Encounters - 2 titles
A found footage series recommended by at least one of the hosts of Horror Etc. Just two titles and from what I can see, it looks a bit like the REC series (which I love).
3. Halloween - 10 titles
I've seen just the first Halloween movie from John Carpenter so far. The plan is to review every single Halloween movie. So on top of the original that I've already seen, that's all seven original sequels and the two Rob Zombie reboot movies.
4. Phantasm - 4 titles
Don Coscarelli (director of Bubba Ho-Tep) directed all four of these films and while I was a bit iffy on the first one, I hear that the budget becomes a bit more reasonable for the sequels. A combination of sci-fi and horror, so I'm pretty keen to see what this involves. The first Phantasm movie was nothing if not inventive and original.
5. Psycho - 4 titles
Hitchcock's "Psycho" was my second favourite when I reviewed the last 20 movies of Hitchcock's career. "Psycho II" initially sounded utterly ridiculous, but what makes me take a second look is the realisation that Anthony Perkins (from the original Hitchcock movie) continues to play the role of Norman Bates in all four films. There are three sequels in all and I can assure you that there's no way I'm watching the shot-for-shot remake with Vince Vaughn.
6. Universal Soldier - 4 titles
Roland Emmerich, director of "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Independence Day" started off by making a sci-fi/zombie film called "Universal Soldier" which, to my mind, represents his best work. I also think it represents Jean-Claude Van-Damme's best work too and it features a pretty awesome performance from Dolph Lundgren. Anyway there've been several sequels (and perhaps fortunately the two made-for-TV movies that were initially filmed as sequels seem to have disappeared into the ether) and Gabe Toro (LJ movie reviewer fabfunk) went as far as to say of the latest one ("Universal Solidier - Day of Reckoning"): "It may very well be the best action movie of the year." So if this one is picked I'll be watching all three sequels featuring Jean Claude Van Damme (two of which also include Dolph Lundgren).
7. Child Phobia Movies - 9 titles
At the end of my review of "The Omen" I mentioned a number of movies about child phobia. I made the mistake of including "The Exorcist" as one I haven't seen. More accurately, I haven't seen it in a long time. However, the others will all be brand new titles for me.
- The Bad Seed (1956)
- The Exorcist (1973)
- It's Alive (1974)
- Who Can Kill A Child? (aka "Death is Child's Play") (1976)
- Children Of The Corn (1984)
- The Good Son (1993)
- The Children (2008)
- Orphan (2009)
- Mama (2013)
A wide selection of titles with just a theme tying them together, but a fascinating them all the same!
Click here to vote on this poll! (Make up to three choices.)
Second poll (for director filmographies) on the way!
For the description of the first poll click here. To vote on the first poll click here.
Poll 2 - Director filmographies - Four choices (pick one).
Alexandre Aja - 7 titles?
Sadly doesn't look like I can get hold of his debut film "Furia" which is a pity since it starred Marion Cotillard. Thankfully though the rest of his films
Alexandre Aja has so far directed two original films "Mirrors" and "Switchblade Romance" (sometimes known as "High Tension") and two remakes "Piranha" and "The Hills Have Eyes". (I will also be checking out Wes Craven's original movie of "The Hills Have Eyes". I've already reviewed the original "Piranha" in my collection of Joe Dante reviews.)
I also intend to check out "P2", a movie written by Alexandre Aja. (He also wrote the remake of "Maniac", but I don't need to put that on the list here since I'll be reviewing it regardless.)
There's also a new film from Alexandre Aja called "Horns" in post-production at the moment, adapted from a novel by Joe Hill and starring Daniel Radcliffe. So that makes a total of 6 titles for certain and an extra 2 which are unlikely to be included. Alexandre Aja has such a varied filmography and I'm really intrigued to see what his stuff is like. Bit of a shot in the dark though.
Jaume Balaguero - 6 titles
Jaume Balaguero is currently working on REC4:Apocalypse with a couple of teaser posters already out, but asides from the first two REC films which I love, I'm rather unfamiliar with his work. Asides from the first two REC films he's made four other titles, the most recent of which was "Sleep Tight".
I'm really keen to see what his other films are like. The other three not yet named are "Darkness", "The Nameless" and "Fragile".
Alfred Hitchcock - between 10-20 titles
The last Hitchcock retrospective I did took up 20 titles. I don't know if I'll do that many this time. I think I'd be better off playing it by ear. I think I'll say at least 10 and then we'll see how it shapes up from there. Naturally Hitchcock's last 20 movies of his career are off limits, seeing as I've reviewed them all already. I might go for some of Hitchcock's earlier movies this time.
John Hughes - 8 titles
Believe it or not, I've only seen "Weird Science" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" out of John Hughes' filmography. I'll be sticking to films he directed rather than including films he wrote, so don't expect to see "Home Alone" or "Flubber" reviews. John Hughes directed a total of 8 films, 6 of which will be entirely new to me.
Click here to vote on this poll! (Pick one!)
Saw V (2008)/ Saw VI (2009)/ Saw VII: The Final Chapter (Saw 3D) (2010)
Okay, all the bad stuff you've heard about the Saw sequels is true. Now, that being said, if you've heard the same stuff as I have, it's not so much that people HATE the Saw movies. People don't get all in a tizzy about what a crime against humanity the Saw movies are. The more common negative reaction tends to be more along the lines of a sigh of disappointment. People keep on coming back to the Saw movies because they keep promising some larger arc that's going to resolve in a really interesting way if you just give it time to do so. By this point in the series it's become pretty clear that it may well never resolve in a satisfying way, but the hope remains.
Right at the beginning of the series it's been made clear that the main villain is dying of cancer. Clearly he wasn't going to survive all the way through the series and by this point he is only ever found in flashbacks. While it might have been cool to find out that a string of blackmail threats and prior kidnap victims were being used to continue the traps long after the main villain is dead, on the other hand each trap generally tries to give the captive a choice. So, in any case, by this point we have a replacement for Jigsaw. A successor to carry on his legacy. And this successor turns out to be bland and rubbish.
I'm actually going to try to avoid spoilers as much as possible in my review of the last three Saw movies. I want people to be able to make their own minds up about these movies, so even if I'm successfully putting you off ever seeing them, you've still got the opportunity to experience all the surprises as fresh as possible. Part of that means that I'm going to keep the identity and gender of the Jigsaw successor secret too (just in case anyone is wondering why I keep saying "they" instead of "he" or "she").
It seems to me that Tobin Bell carried the early sequels. He's a far superior actor to pretty much anyone else in the series. Clearly his presence was particularly vital when Danny Glover left. And it must be admitted that he is still a pretty major presence in these last few sequels, even though he's now only found in flashbacks.
However, these later sequels are also relying on tension building up in relation to the new person in charge. But we are talking about a character who acts pretty much exactly the same way when hiding their identity as they do when alone in secret. In front of people who are actively hunting the Jigsaw killer they will smile when they hear that the trail of evidence is running cold and will get shifty whenever someone brings up a new line of inquiry. There's one point where someone supposed dead is found to actually be alive and when Jigsaw's successor discovers this, the more typical response of "I'm so happy you're alive" is nowhere to be found. Instead they get angry that this person's survival has been kept from them. While having secrets kept from you can be a cause for anger, it's not really terribly subtle that Jigsaw's successor (desperately trying to avoid suspicion) wishes this person was actually dead.
While the original Jigsaw killer always said that he detested murderers (not seeing what he did as 'murder' through some seriously tortured logic), the successor has no such hang-ups. In fact it is hard to see why Jigsaw would ever consider them a worthy successor at all. This is a person with no charisma, practically no personality, they are constantly worried about being discovered, and on top of that they seem like a stone cold psychopath. Any ambiguity that the original Jigsaw killer possessed is completely missing with this new one.
Acting is generally of fairly limited quality in the Saw movies. In "Saw V" we see Julie Benz playing one of the victims though I don't think she's on top form here. I actually thought she was pretty great as Darla in "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Angel", and I was pretty happy with her performance in "Dexter". Here she's a bit flat by comparison. Interestingly one actress who I thought they could have done more with and had a pretty great screen presence was actually a fan who won a competition to get her role in Saw 6. Tanedra Howard ended up being brough back for Saw 7 (or "Saw 3D"), the final movie in the series.
Even if Saw fans aren't generally coming to the sequels for the acting talent involved, they do return for the inventive traps. In these later sequels the traps begin to make no sense at all for one simple reason. There's only so much punishment the human body can take before someone goes unconscious, particularly if large amounts of blood loss are involved. I think the bar is raised particularly badly due to a particular trap towards the end of "Saw V" and I think things only get worse from then on.
At this stage I feel I ought to discuss Saw 6 seperately from the other Saw movies. While the other two seem to be mainly based around the mysteries related to Jigsaw's long-term legacy and the new Jigsaw killer, the sixth one is sandwiched in with its own special hot topic. And in this movie we also have plenty of over-the-top traps to illustrate my problem with those spanning across all three of these movies.
You see, Saw 6 is all about... healthcare. So yeah, at a point when it was in the news how evil health insurance companies are, Jigsaw decides it's time they get to play a game. Here's where scheduling the game for after his death makes a lot of sense. Apparently, although he has tons of money at his disposal and could probably afford to pay for a special treatment abroad by himself, he decides to allow himself to die on principle. (To be fair, part of the health insurance rules was that if he took this treatment abroad through private funds that would break his contract with his health insurance company. Though naturally if the alternative was dying and he had the money, you'd still have thought he'd pay for it anyway.)
So the movie opens with a trap based around Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice". Which serves to remind me, in case anyone had forgotten, that the entire premise of the Saw movies is essentially ripped off straight from David Fincher's "Se7en". In "Se7en" one of the victims had been told that in order to be allowed to live he would have to provide a pound of flesh. In Shakespeare's play the merchant demands a pound of flesh to settle a debt. I'm pretty sure the victim in "Se7en" doesn't survive this little test. In Saw 6 this becomes a trap where people are expected to cut off body parts. Whoever puts the heaviest load of body parts on the scales before the timer runs out doesn't get blown up.
Now even if I accept that after losing a large chunk of yourself, you might still stay conscious, even then time would be of the essence. It's not like people involved in that trap would have quick access to medical attention straight afterwards. To put things into perspective, Aron Ralston, the guy on whose life the movie "127 hours" is based, very nearly bled to death. He was able to reach a hospital within about 6 hours having been lucky enough to bunch into some hikers almost as soon as he stumbled out from the place he'd been trapped. (So he wasn't wandering around for 6 hours and very probably wasn't particularly conscious for most of that time.) There's every reason to believe that the survivors of this game, having stumbled out of some warehouse in the middle of nowhere, would most likely pass out from blood loss before finding anyone to call them an ambulance.
Anyway, the main plot of the story features a guy who has a number of different traps to go through. Over that time he receives some pretty severe damage to himself all over the place, so it's pretty easy to forget that the very earliest trap does some pretty major damage that seems to involve crushing his chest. I would thought he'd have broken rips and so the idea that he was facing the rest of Jigsaw's punishments in that kind of state seems pretty ridiculous.
The tests also get particularly unfair here too, especially since we are clearly informed that these are traps long planned by Jigsaw himself and not new ones created by his rather less reliable (read 'psychotic') protégé. In one case our protagonist has to make a choice of who will die, so we have an inevitable victim who can play no part in either preventing or enabling their demise and for whom absolutely no crime is named (unless being young and not having any children yet is a crime - since that's pretty much the only reason given why this one person might be expendable - ugh!). I'll admit, I'm being petty here. Jigsaw's traps have never been terribly fair. Still, in Saw 6 the scriptwriters seem to be having a harder time pretending than before.
In any case, I have to give Saw 6 some credit for being about anything at all. It came as a bit of a shock to find a hot topic at the centre of this movie rather than the rather unconvincing suggestion that being expected to struggle for your life somehow gives you a new interest in continuing to live (as opposed to, y'know, traumatising you). There'd always been a sense that Jigsaw's victims were being tormented and punished just as much as anything else, so making the punishment about a specific newsworthy issue was a welcome relief.
To look at the films individually, all three has a storyline involving a particular group or individual going through traps and all three has a more long term plot. The long term plot, it must be said, tends to be less than thrilling. We seem to be expected to find the new Jigsaw killer terrifying because he is a ruthless psychopath rather than following rules. However, it was the original Jigsaw killer's twisted moral sense that made him so creepy. He often seemed to genuinely believe that he was doing his victims a favour by putting them in contraptions and expecting them to mutilate themselves to get free. As such, a person who will simply kill his victims is boring by comparison.
What's more, we reach a stage now where the police force (and now even the FBI) must surely be the most inept policing force in the history of law enforcement. In "Saw V" we see a police detective being ridiculously easily misled about a particular figure's guilt by a few missed calls to his phone. At the beginning of the final movie a trap has somehow been set up in the middle of a city in a shop window involving three kidnapped victims. That means that the bodies were somehow transported across the city along with the traps and installed in this shop window without leaving any evidence behind.
Here's a good point to note the misogyny that seemed to crop up in a lot of places in these final movies. The shop window trap involves a manipulative girlfriend who has been two timing two different men in an attempt to benefit from gifts fromboth of them. Okay, so that happens I'm sure. The trap gives the two men the choice of killing the other one to save her, or working together so that she dies and they both live. This becomes a rather easy choice when she ends up telling one that she loves him the most and then suddenly switching to tell the other one she loves him instead. Ignoring the fact that all three should probably have been screaming in terror at the saw blades of the trap, if this female character was cogent and calm enough to start trying to manipulate the male characters, it's quite hard to understand how she was able to maintain both relationships at all with such a poor grasp of how they would react to hearing her switch her affections so quickly.
One trap in Saw 6 is related to a woman who makes too much noise. The main character in Saw 7 is saving a kidnapped wife who is practically dialogue-free and deals with a trap where he has to save a male friend by careful communication and a trap he has to save a female colleague who is strapped in one place and spends the whole time screaming at him. I don't know if I'm being overly sensitive, but I felt that the last two movies had a misogynistic side to them.
The Saw movies had plenty to keep my interest. I didn't exactly feel like my brain was melting when watching them, though I did find myself rather unkeen on the way that each film would try to insist that there was a long term plot only to just string things along endlessly. Saw 7 provides a fairly unsatisfying finale to this long and convoluted series, settling with closing the plot threads rather than unveiling any kind of 'big reveal'. As much as "Saw 6" was clearly the best of these 3 movies, it is just as tied up with the clunky long term plot and it still mostly blurred into the other two movies either side of it.
The Saw movies are dull, stupid, but I'll admit they are all marginally watchable. I wouldn't recommend them though.
In case anyone wonders what my scores for the other movies were:
Saw (2004): C-
Saw II (2005): D-
Saw III (2006), Saw IV(2007): D-
Saw V (2008), Saw VI (2009), Saw VII: The Final Chapter (Saw 3D) (2010): D-
Basically the only one I'd recommend at all, as silly cheesy fun only, is the original "Saw". And even then, I'd suggest you go for David Fincher's "Se7en" instead, from which the central premise has been shamelessly lifted.
Cross-posted to Halloween Candy
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So here I finally present you with two films about Alfred Hitchcock. Both make nods to his life and work and both seemed to be marketed as showing a darker side of his character.
One stars Anthony Hopkins (Silence Of The Lambs, Amistad, Thor), comes from the director of the wonderful documentary "Anvil: The Story of Anvil" and was shown at the cinema. Meanwhile the other stars Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Mist, Captain America), comes from the director of the sweet little movie "Kinky Boots" and ended up as a TV movie.
Another big difference is that "The Girl" is based on the account of his Hitchcock's life from Tippi Hedren, an actress who starred in his two films "The Birds" and "Marnie". She has recently had some shocking stories to tell of Alfred Hitchcock's treatment of her.
"The Girl" (HBO TV movie 2012)
Toby Jones plays Hitchcock and unlike Anthony Hopkins in the big cinema movie, he doesn't use a ton of special make up to do so. Toby Jones doesn't have Hitchcock's size, but that doesn't matter because his performance sells it anyway. I say, not a TON of prosthetics, but that's not to say NO prosthetics. The lower half of Toby Jones' face has been reshaped, but the upper half of his face has been left the same. The most expressive part of his face has been left uncovered and it is through Toby Jones' expressions that the audience is truly sold on the identity of Alfred Hitchcock.
I am absolutely amazed by Toby Jones' range. No two performances of his are the same. I've seen him as a pompous spy in "Tinker Tailor Solider Spy", a malicious trickster in the Doctor Who episode "Amy's Choice", a timid sound engineer in "Berberian Sound Studio, and an arrogant film producer in "My Week With Marilyn". The consistent element is that Toby Jones is fantastic in all of them.
Right from the start Toby Jones establishes Hitchcock as a deeply ambiguous figure. On the one hand he's eccentric and oddly charming, but on the other hand he's intense, unpredictable and controlling. Hitchcock is always using his intellect to impress and often succeeding and his position as a renowned director means that in all his dealing with Tippi Hedren there's a definite sense that power games are involved.
Sienna Miller is fantastic in the role of Tippi Hedren, the model aspiring to become an actress that Hitchcock decides to make a star. She's very different here from how she was in "Layer Cake" or "Stardust" and I think she does a great job portraying the nervous yet determined star-to-be.
Another great talent here is Imelda Staunton who plays Hitchcock's wife Alma who worked with him on many of his projects. To my shame, I have to say I've generally thought of Imelda as the second choice after Julie Walters, but it must be noted that while this is partly because the two actresses look quick similar, they also have a similarly powerful screen presence and standard of acting. As a character caught on the sidelines and with a limited number of lines, Imelda is able to make every moment count and gives us a very fleshed out character, even when she plays so small a part in the story as a whole.
In a way, "The Girl" plays rather like a Hitchcock film. Hitchcock's level of obsession is similar to that of James Stewart's character in "Vertigo", except that Hitchcock still comes off as more sympathetic. Naturally this is just my perspective as I'm sure there are many who still found James Stewart relateable and were able to excuse his behaviour through the traumas his character had been through.
Hitchcock is known for being somewhat possessive over his actresses and while it's not clear that whether Hitchcock was inappropriate with any of his other actresses, he is certainly depicted as crossing that line here. There's a sense that he feels a strong connection with her and while it's a pretty twisted relationship, you can see how Hitchcock would justify it to himself. Hitchcock comes off as quite a bitter man, never fully satisfied with his level of success or praise.
But Hitchcock is ever the charmer and while some have accused the film of demonising him, there are actually only very few moments in the film where we can say that his actions are in no way part of his process as a director. The Birds is a film about a woman brutally attacked by birds and Hitchcock takes as many takes as is necessary to get that vision. Then her next film "Marnie" is about a woman who is deeply psychologically traumatised by any kind of male attention and Hitchcock gets that performance out of her too. Some have suggested that this kind of manipulation and pressure was required to get a good performance out of Tippi Hedren, who the film notes had only ever been a model rather than an actress before Hitchcock decided to make her a star.
Still while there are many points where Hitchcock's malicious intent is only implied, there are other points where it is more explicit. Naturally those who disbelieve Tippi's story will be upset by these scenes, but nothing is shown which can be ruled out by the known facts and Hitchcock's character, whether he's being charming, overly familiar or downright creepy, is always portrayed consistently and realistically.
The parallels between the character Tippi is expected to play in Marnie and her situation with Hitchcock in real life are interestingly handled. I found "Marnie" to be quite a misogynistic movie when I reviewed it as part of my Hitchcock Reverse Retrospective. "Marnie" is a film about a woman who is blackmailed into marrying a man (played by Sean Connery). The suggestion of the movie is that her real reason for dismissing his affections is not actually because she doesn't love him, but rather because of deep-seated psychological trauma. In "Marnie" a male figure pursues the female protagonist in spite of her objections, because he is convinced that deep down she really loves him. There's a suggestion that Hitchcock views Tippi Hedren in a similar way.
Whether you believe this is a realistic portrayal of either Alfred Hitchcock or Tippi Hedren is besides the point. This is an intense drama and practically a psychological thriller, featuring engaging characters who are expertly performed. The film is beautifully shot and absolutely gripping and is held together superbly by Toby Jones' central performance.
After the wonderful trailer I was quite excited about this film. I haven't really heard that much in the way of online reviews of this. A Youtube reviewer I've become quite keen on called FilmMasterAdam included it in his top 15 films of 2012 (for reasons I find wholly baffling having now seen it) and Gabe Toro (fabfunk on LJ) included it in his list of ten worst movies of 2012. The Horror Etc. podcasters were very impressed though.
Hitchcock features Anthony Hopkins covered in prosthetics to make him look more like Alfred Hitchcock and I have heard high praise for his impression. To be quite frank, Anthony Hopkins looks about as much like Alfred Hitchcock in those prosthetics as Toby Jones does with no prosthetics alone (i.e. neither of them look like Alfred Hitchcock). What should sell Hitchcock to me is the performance and sadly being covered in all those prosthetics significantly decreases Hopkins' ability to emote.
The script is full of references to Hitchcock's life and career, but they only seem to be there for the sake of it. For example there's a brief conversation about Grace Kelly going off to become a princess in Monaco. This has more relevance to the overall plot than some of the references, since it at least Hitchcock to express his attachment to his leading ladies and to express regret that he could not continue to make Kelly a star. However, with this dialogue delivered to his wife Alma while she does some gardening at their home and with the conversation quickly moving on to other things, it feels like this is more of a tick-boxing exercise than an attempt to build up Hitchcock's character.
Inititially though there seems to be a serious source of drama in that the studios are unwilling to fund a horror movie. They consider "Psycho" to be a gamble they are not willing to take. As such, Alfred Hitchcock offers to pay for the film himself and his wife Alma, played by Helen Mirren, is deeply concerned by the idea that they might lose their big house with its swimming pool (*rich people problems!*). Apparently "Vertigo" wasn't well received (which I can understand seeing as I thought it was the worst of Hitchcock's final 20 movies, even if it's now hailed as a classic) and Alred Hitchcock becomes deeply concerned that he might be betting on the wrong horse.
However, this source of drama clearly couldn't be sustained. We all already know that Psycho will be a success. So instead the story moves to being about Alma, which is a great idea since Helen Mirren is giving such a good performance in the role. Sadly this leads to a ridiculous side-plot whereby Alma is planning to help a friend of hers with his writing exercise and Hitchcock gets jealous. The whole relationship between the two actors becomes highly confusing seeing as Anthony Hopkins has uglifying make-up while Helen Mirren is a highly attractive woman (particularly considering her age). Nothing that happens on screen makes it at all clear why Alma puts up with Alfred, nor how they could ever have become an item in the first place. They definitely appear to have a broken marriage, but it's not obvious how they could ever have become an item in the first place. That they are friends is not hard to believe, but lovers? Certainly in "The Girl" Alfred claims that Alma is like a sister to him, so clearly the idea that their relationship became less sexual is fine. But Helen Mirren just seems a little too close to the glamorous actresses that are so out of Alfred Hitchcock's league.
That's not to take anything away from Helen Mirren's performance of course. She does everything she can to sell us on the relationship and while delivering lines that are essentially a tick-list of Alfred Hitchcock's life story, she still manages to make every word hold your attention. She's an amazing actress. Unfortunately she is given her own side-story about a potential affair with a writer that causes Alfred to become jealous. It's an almost farcical side-plot and has very little importance to the film as a whole.
Of course, the main focus of the film is the creation of the movie "Psycho". Plenty of shots made me think of specific scenes in "Psycho" and as a result I wished I were actually watching "Psycho" rather than this slow-moving drama-free dross. There's very little insight into what working on "Psycho" was like outside of the scepticism that some felt about beginning the project. We hear Alfred Hitchcock explaining to the main actress what her character should be feeling as she's making that fraught car journey at the beginning. We see the characters running up the stairs during the final revelation of the inside of Bates' mother's house. And during the final screening of the movie, we see Alfred Hitchcock seemingly re-enacting the knife scene in the lobby while he listens to the gasps of the patrons watching the scene in the cinema screening room at the film's premiere.
In many ways these scenes made me feel like I was stuck in the lobby myself. Like the movie was one long featurette telling me how excited I would be when I finally got to see the main film. I felt like I'd have been better off with a documentary, since there was little in the way of narrative structure here to engage me.
There are a few points where the film tries to introduce tension, but not in a terribly inspired way. Alfred keeps seeing visions of Ed Gein around the place and sure the idea that he is haunted by visions of the serial killer who inspired his story is all very well, but let's not forget that "Psycho" is not actually about Ed Gein. These visions have very little relevance to the film. One comes straight after Alfred Hitchcock is shown grabbing a knife and taking over the stabbing for the shower scene. Everyone has just felt absolutely shocked to see Alfred violently swinging a knife at the starlet of the film and then he walks away and has his vision of Ed Gein. But we never actually get any sense that there were any consequences for his actions. No one ever mentions his decision to contribute knife swipes to the shower scene again and no one seems particularly concerned by it. A lot of scenes in "Hitchcock" are like this. Events happen because they are believed to have happened in real life - and then the film moves on to something else.
This comment from Gabe Toro puzzled me at the time: "according to “Hitchcock” [Psycho] was more or less a self-directed accident." I pushed for more information and apparently he means, just to clarify, that Psycho pretty much directed itself. That it all came together by accident with no real direction involved at all.
Now that I've seen the movie I can see what Gabe means. There does not appear to be any decision-making involved in "Psycho". No one ever wonders what to do. They just film the scenes and finish the movie and we have a successful premiere at the end. Picking the actors and actresses is easy, the script falls into place eventually, the scenes are filmed with little insight into planning or directorial choices. Perhaps the best example of just how little insight into the making of "Psycho" is given here is the choice of music for the shower scene. We are told during the post-production stage that test audiences aren't impressed by the shower scene. In a matter of seconds the decision is made to introduce some music. Bernard Herrmann did the music for the whole movie and apparently insisted on creating some music to increase the effect of the shower scene, but in the movie "Hitchcock" Bernard Herrmann is nowhere to be seen. It's as if Bernard Herrmann's shower scene score was on a tape they had discarded round the back and they'd simply forgotten to include it in the movie initially. No big decision-making involved. "Shower scene doesn't work without music? Well I guess we'd better add some then! Oooh this Bernard Herrmann guy happens to have a piece of music that'll fit perfectly. Great!" "Hitchcock" makes it seem like the movie "Psycho" was made on a conveyor belt with various parts being slotted into place along the way. It's very artificial.
A lot of people have pointed out how wonderful James D'Arcy is as Anthony Perkins in "Hitchcock". He absolutely gets Anthony Perkins mannerisms down to a tee. It's quite amazing. Unfortunately we see very little of him after his interview. D'Arcy only has a very small part here. I suppose there must not be many interesting anedotes about Anthony Perkins' involvement in the movie "Psycho" (or at least very few the scriptwriters here feel the need to repeat).
While "Hitchcock" doesn't make Hitchcock out to be the dark character we see in "The Girl" it doesn't make him too clean cut either. Part of that is the ridiculous Ed Gein visions which are only really a token gesture in suggesting that there might be darker facets to Alfred Hitchcock's personality, but do little to explore it. The main sign we get that Alfred might be an overbearing character is discussions between his actresses. Jessica Biel is surprisingly good as Vera Miles (the actress who plays the female protagonist's sister in "Psycho") and there's some discussion of Alfred's frustration that she won't let him make her a star and how she finds him rather overly controlling and doesn't want to get sucked in. Of course, the best performance in the film comes from Helen Mirren and at times it feels like she is holding the film together. I get the impression that Anthony Hopkins would be doing a better job if his performance were not buried under so much latex.
There are sweet moments in "Hitchcock", but mostly I just found it boring. I'd have thought there was a more interesting story to be told about the making of "Psycho" and if there isn't, they shouldn't have tried to film one. I think in many ways Alma Hitchcock (Helen Mirren's character) is the main focus here, yet I think I learnt about as much about her in "The Girl" where she is a tiny part of the film as I did here where she is a much more central character. As a sweet little film with a few references to Hitchcock's life, "Hitchcock" is mediocre and dull, but relatively watchable. As an interesting film exploring the making of "Psycho", "Hitchcock" is a colossal failure.
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The World's End (2013)
It wasn't long after Edgar Wright's second film "Hot Fuzz" that he promised a third movie in what he dubbed "the Cornetto trilogy". All three parts of this trilogy feature completely different characters, completely different scenarios and even fall into completely different genres. However, they are also all star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the principle roles, they make clear reference to films that have come before, including a reference to Cornetto ice cream at some point each time.
The trilogy doesn't really start with Wright's rom-zom-com (romantic comedy with zombies) "Shaun Of The Dead". It started with the tv series "Spaced". Many people seem to hold up "Shaun Of The Dead" as a masterpiece, but I've always seen a very clear progression in Edgar Wright's career. "Spaced" was a bit of a mixed bag, but it felt more established and consistent in the second series. Characters played by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson (now Jessica Hynes) teamed up to keep hold of a flat advertised for "professional couples only". A personal favourite episode for me features Jessica Hynes' character "Daisy" hoping to gain a job as a full time writer for a feminist magazine called "Flaps". :S
Edgar Wright's work is always wonderfully absurd and he does a great job of combining his flair for visuals with fantastic comic timing. Series two of Spaced featured an option on the DVD to have subtitles informing the viewer precisely what films are being referenced during the course of each episode. From scene to scene there'd be different film references, so in a way "Shaun of the Dead" was more limited in that it was only really referencing zombie movies and mostly George Romero ones at that. "Shaun Of The Dead" felt rather like an extra-extended special episode of "Spaced" with Simon Pegg's character feeling eerily similar to his tv series role (albeit with a job in an electronic goods shop rather than a comic shop and without the aspirations to be a comic artist). Nick Frost's character became more of a layabout rather than the uptight military enthusiast, but he still followed the same function of acting like an embarassment for Simon Pegg's character.
The result was, of course, an absolutely wonderful tribute to zombie films of the past and, as always with Edgar Wright's work, a shrine to all things geeky. So impressed was George Romero with this tribute that he had Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg appear as (barely recognisable) zombie extras in "Land Of The Dead".
"Hot Fuzz" began Edgar Wright's move into action. While "Shaun Of The Dead" featured Simon bashing his way through zombie hoards with some well-placed hits with a cricket bat, "Hot Fuzz" featured whole gun fights. And of course, Wright moved on to make a full action movie (once again chock full of geeky references) with his adaptation of "Scott Pilgrim Vs The World". This was Wright's attempt to break into Hollywood and, while I wouldn't rank it above "Hot Fuzz", I'd say that "Scott Pilgrim Vs The World" was still a dazzlingly beautiful and hilarious addition to Wright's backcatalogue and showed clear progression in Wright's talents as a director.
So now Wright wants to return to a style more akin to what he did with "Spaced", but now his geeky references have dated severely. How does he get around this? Why simply by making Simon Pegg's central character "Gary King" a loser who is stuck in his glory days of the early 90s. As such, Wright fills the movie with music from the 80s and 90s and makes similar references as we were used to seeing all the time in "Spaced".
Wright is also able to make use of the action-movie talents he began introducing in "Hot Fuzz" and further developed with "Scott Pilgrim" and, when the time is right, the results are quite incredible. "The World's End" features some utterly glorious action scenes, with full-on brawls excellently choreographed with multiple people fighting on either side and the camera shooting all over the place to capture the action at the best angle.
But some context first, as the film begins Gary King recounts his memories of leaving school and going on a wild pub crawl. He and four friends attempted what he refers to has "the golden mile", a route through 12 different pubs, drinking a pint of beer in each one. (One negative reviewer asked why a beer lover would ask for Fosters, not realising that by the time you are in the middle of a bar crawl the focus moves to trying to get through the beer quickly and efficiently before 'time' is called, rather than on the quality of each individual pint. *ahem*) The friends don't manage to complete the pub crawl successfully, but Gary King still remembers this as the best night of his life, because events in his life took a sour turn since then.
Gary decides to recruit his old friends through hook or by crook to accompany him on a retread of that same pub crawl back in their home town of Newton Haven that none of his old friends really want to go back to. The friends are still on good terms with one another, but none of them is really terribly keen on associating with Gary King, an irresponsible loser and basically an embarassment. It's impressive to see that for once Nick Frost is playing the responsible figure and Simon Pegg has taken over his role as the embarassing loser who needs saving. Frost is in fact playing an accomplished solicitor who has grown up and got a family and has an unstated grudge against Gary King that is not initially made explicit, but it is made very clear that nobody has more reason to be upset with Gary than him.
There's a good balance of attention given to the other three friends on the pub crawl, all of whom are played by awesome actors: Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman. Freeman is naturally pretty widely recognised now, especially since taking on the role of Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit" and the role of Watson in Stephen Moffat's "Sherlock" series. Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine perhaps need a little more explanation. Considine is embarrassingly perhaps most well-known for his role as the Guardian journalist who cannot follow simple instructions and gets himself shot in a fairly early scene of "The Bourne Ultimatum". However, I know him best for his starring role in Shane Meadow's dark revenge film "Dead Man's Shoes" where he played an ex-soldier who takes revenge for harm done to his brother while he was abroad. He also plays a fairly scary figure in "My Summer Of Love", but more recently he put on quite an excellent comic performance in the movie "Submarine" and he was also in Wright's "Hot Fuzz" too. Paddy Considine has proven to have a wide ranging acting ability. The same goes for Marsan. He claims that in his role as a bad guy in the movie "Hancock" he was still channelling the rage from the method acting required of him when playing Scott in the movie "Happy-Go-Lucky". He has also played some pretty grim characters in Heartless (where he played the cynical otherworldly 'weapons man') and Tyrannosaur (where he played a brutal wife-beater). Still he has played nicer characters. He was Orson Welles' fairly unassuming producer in "Me and Orson Welles", he also very recently played an eccentric German doctor working in post-WWII England in "Best of Men".
The casting choices for "The World's End" are quite astounding. Not only are the five friends all amazing, but there are cameos galore from actors who have worked on previous Edgar Wright projects as well as a very amusing appearance from Pierce Brosnan (apparently because it seemed like the obvious next choice after the last James Bond actor Wright made use of: Timothy Dalton). Rosamund Pike is an excellent actress and I'm still waiting for her to appear in a film where she has a rather more central role. (As far as I can tell her biggest roles are in this movie, in "An Education" and as a Bond girl in "Die Another Day". But I think her best role is yet to come.)
The humour is darker in this film than in Wright's other films and it's mainly because of Simon Pegg's tragic character. Gary King acts like a complete arsehole, but in such a way that you cannot help but feel sorry for him. The humour lies not simply in what he says but in how other characters react to the way he constantly frustrates them. You're probably best off approaching this like a Coen Brothers movie and realise that sometimes you are supposed to laugh at the misfortunes of the characters. All of King's extroverted antics are a clear sign of his hopeless irresponsibility and his pathetic inability to move on with his life and to grow up. If King was just an irritating idiot he wouldn't be so funny. It's because you can pity him that he becomes so hilarious. As much as King wants to believe that he's a leader organising a fantastic evening for his friends, it's clear that he is below them, that his posturing is empty and that in the end he is at the mercy of his childhood friends who could easily simply walk out on him. Gary King is not a bully, he's not threatening and he is not even an equal to the other men on the pub crawl. He is an irritating child pretending to be a man and that is why he is hilarious.
I'll let you know that there's a sci-fi theme here akin to "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" (replacing the "zombie" theme of "Shaun of the Dead" and the "police action/drama" theme of "Hot Fuzz") but that theme doesn't appear until quite a way into the film. When it actually arrived I was initially worried, since I'd been so enjoying the down-to-earth drama between the characters that I thought the bizarre new elements might detract from that. However, it's at this point that Wright gets to bring in some fantastic action scenes. "The World's End" is not just a brilliant comedy, but a brilliant action movie, with some pretty awesome special effects work too.
If you are wondering how this movie could possibly work, a good comparison is the movie "FAQ About Time Travel". Certainly "The World's End" is far better, but there's a similar sort of feel to the two of them because of their combination of a pub setting and a sci-fi premise.
Asides from the initial opening scene where Simon Pegg is recounting his previous pub crawl as a young man leaving school, I found myself laughing almost continuously through this movie. It really is very funny indeed. While I'm not sure whether the rest of the cinema audience were laughing too, I do remember noticing when I've been laughing more than other people in other films I've seen. In "A Serious Man" the audience clearly laughed a lot, but there were plenty of scenes where I was laughing while others in the audience were quiet. In "Seven Psychopaths" I didn't laugh out loud all that often, but it felt like the rest of the audience barely even laughed at all (though that was also a pretty small audience). Here I think it is fair to say that the whole audience was fully engaged and amused.
I don't think this view is very prominent amongst the other reviewers out there, but I don't care. For me, "The World's End" is Edgar Wright's best film so far. I laughed more, I was more engaged, the sentimental bits got to me more and the action elements were more exciting than ever. Everyone involved in this movie seems to be at the top of their game and I am so glad I decided to see this at the cinema.
I saw "The World's End" at the end of last week and posted the review quite recently, but one thing I neglected to mention was the trailers before the movie. Okay so there's no obligation to discuss trailers. And it's NOT like these were GOOD trailers that made me EXCITED for the movies they were advertising. Quite the opposite. But it was interesting that before a highly anticipated and excellent British comedy, the adverts beforehand should decide to showcase how nightmarishly awful American comedies can get at the moment.
So here, let's make things clear. The trailers below are all for HORRIBLE movies. If you want to see a list of movies that are actually good my movie guide is here. What I'm sharing below is the showcase of horrors that greeted me prior to the main feature last time I was at the cinema. It's an increasingly horrific display of films promoting themselves as "comedies". NONE of the trailers linked to below are for movies that I would actually recommend. They look to me like bad bad BAD movies. Okay?
We started off relatively tolerable with the trailer for "The Heat". Melissa McCarthy (from "Bridesmaids", which, after some deliberation, I decided not to watch) teams up with Sandra Bullock in what looks relatively inoffensive but, the way it's advertised at least, rather lame as a comedy. (Could easily be another "21 Jump Street" situation of course. The trailer for that was pretty damn unfunny, but the final movie was remarkably good.)
(Click here if you want to see the trailer.)
At this point I was thinking "they'll probably show the 'Elysium' trailer again in a moment". No such luck. The next film to be advertised was kind of tragic really, since it includes the excellent Will Poulter (though with any luck it'll get him noticed for something much better). You see I first saw Will Poulter in "Son of Rambow" starring alongside another awesome child actor, Bill Milner. Milner has since been in a number of films including "X Men: First Class" (where he played the young Magneto), "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" (where he played Ian Drury's neglected son), "Is Anybody There?" (where he starred alongside Michael Caine) and most recently in Joe Ahearne's mini-series adaptation of "The Secret Of Crickley Hall". Meanwhile, Will Poulter's career has been seemingly rather less active (perhaps he's been doing stage work). There's a gap in his filmography after playing Eustace in "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" (a film I never actually saw). However, I was recently very pleased to see him appear in "Wild Bill" and prove that he's still got what it takes to really carry a film.
The progression of Will Poulter's film career: Fantastic... still fantastic... wtf is he doing in that rubbish?
On the one hand, apparently his accent is acceptable enough to get him a lead role in an American movie as an American (though the accent sounds a little weird to me). Hopefully that means he'll get more Hollywood roles in the future. On the other hand, this appears to be a ridiculously cheesy comedy starring Jennifer Aniston (is she really still making movies?) and absolutely nobody else recognisable. The film is called "We're The Millers" and the trailer looked about as promising as that title would suggest. Hopefully Will Poulter is able to use this as a stepping stone. Just you wait, he'll be playing the next major Marvel superhero before you know it. ;)
(Click here if you want to see the trailer.)
Next up was a trailer which is becoming depressingly familiar. (Seriously I thought this film had already been and gone?) It was the trailer for "Pain And Gain". An incoherent trailer showcasing ultra-violent slapstick, people acting as idiots but without doing anything funny, shots of faceless women's undulating body parts with no context and pretty much nothing that even looked potentially funny. The nearest thing to comedy is just one line from Mark Wahlberg taunting a young child on a basketball court that he's going to be his new stepdad. That one small part of the trailer could potentially be funny in a different context, but after this trailer i've got little hope that it actually IS funny in the movie.
Rebel Wilson (another "Bridesmaids" actress) looked pretty nice in the trailer and sadly I think the scenes of her being sexy are being played as fatphobic humour. (I've heard that Rebel Wilson is pretty good in the movie "Pitch Perfect" which I've mainly steered away from because it's a musical. But with her character in that movie being named "Fat Amy" I suspect it's probably fatphobic humour there too. *sighs*) From the trailer, "Pain And Gain" looks like "Transformers" (another Michael Bay movie) if you remove the fighting robots and explosions and just leave the crass and crude humour and the gross misogyny. Yay! :S
(Click here if you want to see the trailer.)
Just when I was thinking that the trailers couldn't get any worse, along comes the trailer for "Grown Ups 2", the latest Adam Sandler comedy. The trailer starts as it means to go on with Adam Sandler and Salma Hayek being weed on by a deer. (What the hell?) There was admittedly one almost funny joke (which I presume was slotted in there by Chris Rock, who unaccountably appears in the cast too), where Chris Rock and another character show that their special handshake is just a normal handshake while saying "How do you do?" I somewhat appreciated that joke, even if I wasn't exactly laughing. The rest of the trailer, however, was non-stop gross-out humour. Did you know that this movie out-did "Pacific Rim" in the US box office? Raking in a colossal profit with a big opening weekend at the top of the box office chart? So weird.... I mean seriously, how many people even saw the first "Grown Ups" movie? I don't even remember noticing it being released!
(Click here if you want to see the trailer.)
Y'know I don't normally resent watching bad trailers. I often quite enjoy the previews, even if it's for films that I'd never watch in a million years. But this was just taking the piss, y'know?
I'm sure it's no surprise for most people reading my blog to hear that I absolutely LOVED the movie "Drive" from Nicolas Winding Refn. I was already familiar with a number of his movies by then, but more recently I've been making an effort to fill in the blanks. Below I give my views on each of his first 6 movies and in a few cases I'm reviewing those movies for the first time here.
(My original review here)
(I also reviewed the remake)
Nicolas Winding Refn's first movie tells the story of a drug dealer who wants to make a big score that will set him up for life. However, when plans go awry he finds himself owing a huge amount of money to his regular drugs supplier Milo.
What's really interesting about Pusher is the way that oweing an absolute fortune that he cannot help to pay back doesn't make the protagonist panic. The debt collectors seem reasonable and he seems reasonable in return. Yet it clear that Frank, the central character, is stressed as hell by his predicament. But trying to make money is business as usual and facing the prospect of untimely death is making him recoil into himself rather than producing an extroverted reaction.
Certainly it is typical of Winding Refn to choose a slow pace and an intense atmosphere and I must admit that I couldn't help but feel that a "fight or flight" response should be motivating Frank to something other than courteous compliance with the absurd time limits on paying back his unfathomable debt.
This was made during the period when all films were trying to do the Tarantino thing, but there's not the humourous side here. This is proper drama and the weight of Frank's predicament is strongly felt by the audience. The ending is very sudden, but while that was jarring at the time it's certainly made this film memorable.
(All new review!)
Winding Refn brings back a bunch of actors from "Pusher" for his next film. Kim Bodnia (who played Frank), Mads Mikkelsen (who played Frank's unreliable friend Tonny), Zlato Buric (who played the drug lord Milo) and Levino Jensen (who played Mike, a fellow drug dealer).
This time around Mads Mikkelsen plays Lenny, a quiet chap who works in a video rental shop. Zlato Buric plays Kitjo, Lenny's boss. Far from being the evil figure from "Pusher", this time around about the worst he gets up to is bragging about the extent of his video shop's pornography section (which might get pretty severely taboo, but it's all legal nonetheless). The only person who it seems might have criminal ties is Louis, played by Levino Jensen.
Louis seems to have ties to a nightclub/disco. We never see the inside of it, but we see an event occur in the doorway. Louis' sister Louise has recently become pregnant by her longstanding boyfriend Leo (played by Kim Bodnia). Leo doesn't seem particularly keen on the pregnancy and feels like the responsibility is limiting his life options. Over the course of the film Leo gets more and more creepy particularly after a particular event outside Louis' nightclub.
Louis and Leo are chatting with the bouncers and one of the bouncers is extremely racist. The bouncer insists that they should never let non-whites into the club because they will inevitably harass the girls. Others in the discussion are unwilling to challenge him on this. Unfortunately it's not long before he dismisses some non-white customers only to be warned that they are known to have criminal associations themselves. One of them quickly returns and shoots the bouncer. The other bouncer and some other staff including Louis quickly tackle the shooter, pull him inside the door to the club and beat and kick the hell out of him. All the while Leo has been pulled inside too and is clearly distressed by the incident.
This is a short but powerful scene early in the film because of the effect it has on Leo's character. He becomes obsessed with getting a gun and there's an inevitable downfall in play akin to a Greek tragedy as a result. His relationship with Louise is only getting worse, he's getting violent and he is obsessed with owning a gun.
Oddly enough though, in the background to this tragic and violent tale, Mads Mikkelsen appears to be engaged in a relationship that reminds me of the movie "Amelie". Mikkelsen's character Lenny is obsessed with movies watching an average of around 2 every single day of the week and he's obsessed with a similarly quiet girl called Lea who loves books. Lenny and Lea's relationship is posed as inevitable too, but the two of them are so awkward that it's a miracle they even speak to one another. It's a very sweet little subplot.
This has all the atmosphere and intelligence I've come to hope for from Winding Refn and this could even have been one of my favourite Winding Refn movies asides from one element linked to the title. HIV becomes involved here. I'm not going to reveal how, but just to say that the introduction of HIV into the story felt, to me, uttelry ludicrous and mainly for shock value. There's a certain extent to which the film's ending may be given some poetic license, but even so, I found this HIV element to the story silly and jarring, especially considering how impressed I'd been with the film up til that point.
I should finish by warning that there is some nasty domestic violence in this movie, so if you are triggered by that sort of thing then definitely give this one a miss. Winding Refn's talents lie in creating an oppressive atmosphere and those scenes are no exception.
Fear X (2003)
(All new review!)
This was Winding Refn's attempt to break into the American market. John Turturro stars in the leading role and there's also an appearance from James Remar (Dexter's father on "Dexter").
As the film begins, John Turturro is a security guard whose wife was killed in the building where he works. Friends at work have been helping him to borrow the old security tapes and he watches them intensely each evening trying to find any clues as to who might have committed the murder. He's not getting much sleep as a result of this and his wife's death is clearly constantly on his mind.
But nothing is what it seems. Police interviewing him ask whether he and his wife were linked with some kind of cult. They seem to treat the bereaved husband with some degree of suspicion.
There's also some odd imagery where the camera will move into John Turturro's head and we'll see some kind of face being forced inside the redness.
Eventually though things DO come to a head and it looks like we're about to get some answers. But at what would be the climactic moment, Winding Refn foregoes showing anything on screen and chooses instead to do some kind of kaleidoscopic vision which, while kind of pretty, is a poor substitute for a resolution to slow-paced long-winded storytelling that we've been expected to sit through.
All the performances here are great, but there is no story here. There's not even storytelling. Not only is "Fear X" more of a mood piece than anything else, but it's a very unclear mood piece.
Winding Refn has said in an interview that he wanted to avoid a typical ending because, as he puts it, "what the fu** is an ending anyway?" However, I think he's inconsistent in that sentiment. While he seems to suggest that he wanted the audience to read what they want into the movie, my own interpretation makes the final scenes of the movie deeply disturbing and yet the movie itself seems to give the impression that this is a very final and satisfying finish to the movie. (Ending about five minutes earlier might have been a more appropriate place to stop for an enigmatic finish.)
Pusher 2 (2004) / Pusher 3 (2005)
(My original review of Pusher 2 here)
(My original review of Pusher 3 here)
After the first Pusher movie I was convinced that the character of Tonny, played by Mads Mikkelsen, could not possibly be coming back. However, here in the sequel he's now the main character. Tonny is somewhat humbled by his experiences since the first movie, but he's still not very bright and he still gets in trouble.
Winding Refn fell back into making sequels to "Pusher" after the cataclysmic failure of "Fear X". Clearly Refn decided that he would make these sequels as good as possible and there's a clear sense of an expanding mythology to these films. Across both the Pusher sequels there are recurring characters in the background who, no matter how small their roles, give us the clear sense of the setting.
There's still the same weight to these characters, but these feel like rather less oppressive storylines to the stress of a drug dealer facing the prospect of his own inevitable murder by his happy smiling drug supplier.
Pusher 3 is definitely the best of the Pusher movies, featuring the character of Milo (Zlato Buric, who also played Milo in the recent remake because heck, who else is gonna play him?) in the starring role.
There's still a very slow pace and the story is still a little on the thin side, but the experience of these Pusher films is still pretty amazing all the same. There's something very special about both the Pusher sequels.
Agatha Christie Marple: Nemesis (TV Movie 2007)
(All new review!)
Getting roped into doing one of a series of trashy murder-mystery tv movies was apparently a sobering experience for Winding Refn. There was no option for him to do long drawn out atmospheric shots here. He had a script, he had a cast and he had to put it together, presumably in a pretty limited amount of time. There are some points where the camera rotates carefully around the actors, sometimes in quite a clever way, but that's about the limits of creativity here. There's very little in the way this is filmed that would make you guess Nicolas Winding Refn was directing.
The storyline is fairly cliched. Apparently it's not even true to the Agatha Christie novels. The acting is alright though often fairly ham-fisted. Richard E. Grant is pretty entertaining. (The detective who turns up part way through was oddly recognisable, but it seems like the main thing I know him for is as "teenage thug leader" in an episode of "Spaced". This scene in particular.) "Nemesis" is all quite enjoyable, but very obviously disposable tv at its heart.
I think there was scope to have made a more interesting movie here and there was a good enough cast that a better film would have been possible. However, this wasn't made for the cinema and while Winding Refn's career may have benefited from being asked to make a no-nonsense tv movie, those specifications clearly haven't helped the programme itself.
Nicolas Winding Refn has finally released his latest film "Only God Forgives" once again starring Ryan Gosling, so that review will be at the end of this director showcase.
I'm given to wonder how I ever came to know about Nicolas Winding Refn as a director. It seems that "Pusher" was the first film of his I ever saw. Quite a strange place to start since it's a fairly obscure film.
I'm guessing that I heard some positive words said about "Valhalla Rising" by Mark Kermode, decided I would need to see it and put it on my rental list. Okay, so why was "Valhalla Rising" not the first of his films I saw then? Well, I think I looked up the director of "Valhalla Rising" on Rotten Tomatoes and discovered that "Pusher 2" had 100%. (I don't think I realised back then how much easier that is when you only have 9 reviews, but anyway.)
However I came to discover his work, I'm glad the Pusher movies acted as my introduction. I still feel like, more often than not, a good director is the best assurance of a film's quality. Before reviews, actors and certainly before trailers, it's best to see who directed the thing. Because when you get a really good director then it tends to be that even their lower quality works have something special to look out for (even if it's someone like Tobe Hooper where you really have to squint to find the good in some of his works, lol).
So, here are reviews for the last four movies in Nicolas Winding Refn's filmography, including his latest movie "Only God Forgives"...
(All new review!)
This seems to be the film that really put Tom Hardy on the map. This is before "Dark Knight Rises", before "Warrior", before "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and even before his relatively minor role in "Inception". And what's more Tom Hardy is the undisputed star of this piece, with some parts of the movie even involve his character directly addressing the audience.
Tom Hardly plays Charlie Bronson, who I'd presumed from the DVD cover must be some kind of boxer or wrestler. In actual fact he's a violent man renowned for being particularly violent and rioting within prison. His birth name is Michael Peterson but he renames himself after the actor Charles Bronson (known for films such as "Death Wish").
Certainly it turns out that he does a bit of boxing, and I was convinced at this stage of the movie that we'd reached the important point in Bronson's life. However, in actual fact, this career in bareknuckle boxing is not long lived since it occurs during a quite brief period of parole from prison.
Tom Hardy presents Bronson as an ironically charming figure and has admitted to finding him charming in real life. I say "ironically" because while he can act like a gentleman when he wants to, he's also prone to acting like a complete maniac and never seems quite right in the head (though what actual mental problems he may have appear to be a complete mystery).
The scenes where Bronson addresses an audience of imagined fans, applauding his rioting and booing the authorities that would wish to keep him in check, are quite long extended scenes. Yet Tom Hardy's performance and the wonderful bizarreness of these scenes keeps them entertaining, albeit also somewhat disturbing. I don't say "disturbing" because of any explicit content. These scenes are pretty much just Bronson giving a lecture, but just the idea that Bronson expects applause for his violent actions and what that says about the mind behind this otherwise charming individual is troubling.
And don't get me wrong. Bronson isn't portrayed as charming as in a charming villain. I mean that asides from being a violent monster he actually seems like a really nice person. And at times we even see him using his violence for honourable reasons and even being a bit of a romantic at one point. Dismissing him as scum seems at once totally reasonable and overly simplistic at the same time. Tom Hardy's energetic performance makes very clear just how fascinating and multi-faceted a character Bronson is. And the film totally relies on the strength of Hardy's performance for its success.
Towards the end there's quite an enigmatic ending as is becoming quite common with Winding Refn's movies. But I think perhaps the bigger problem is how little actually happens within the movie. Winding Refn is, as always, more concerned with mood and character than he is with narrative arcs. That said, this is a very impressive piece of cinema and one that will stick with you long after you remove the DVD.
Valhalla Rising (2009)
(My original review here)
Valhalla Rising started off seemingly like one of the coolest Nicolas Winding Refn movies ever. It was set in some unknown period in the distant past. Mads Mikkelsen (yes, him again!) is being dragged around in chains and forced to perform fights in which his captors bet on him. It's a pretty safe bet since he is utterly brutal. But then they find themselves on a small ship sailing in what seems like mystical voyage. The trip is treated in the movie as if it is the boat ride to hell. It's made completely unclear and yet apparently you are supposed to realise this anyway, that these are the vikings who sailed to America.
This film is ultra slow and, after Mad Mikkelsen's fights at the beginning, doesn't even have much in the way of violence to keep you interested. Sure, it's atmospheric, but when everyone starts seemingly having some kind of acid trip in the second half, I felt the movie rather lost its sense of direction.
Still, I can't help but acknowledge that "Valhalla Rising" is a thrilling, atmospheric and absolutely gorgeous film. It's so unique that it gets a bit of leeway for that. But not too much leeway.
(My original review here)
This is far and away my favourite Nicolas Winding Refn film. It takes the best elements of Refn's previous films and combines them with a bizarre new retro-synth soundtrack that produces some weird kind of alchemy. The upshot is that Drive subverts the 'action hero' trope with an ambiguously creepy/sweet romance and lashings of intense violence. All the while the film is utterly beautiful to watch and the simple plot is gripping and effective.
The "Pusher" film series just felt like it got better and better consistently with every instalment, so I cannot help but feel that this is essentially "Pusher 4". Certainly those who found it a little hard to 'get' might have benefitted from some familiarity with the Pusher movies beforehand. Elements like the slow pace and the more arty side to "Drive" were both entirely unsurprising to me considering his previous work. The soundtrack choices in "Drive" however were a complete revelation and quite a stroke of genius.
Drive is one of my favourite films of all time and an absolute masterpiece.
Only God Forgives (2013)
(All new review!)
Nicolas Winding Refn's latest film starring Ryan Gosling is set in Thailand. Julian (played by Ryan Gosling) and his brother Billy (played by Tom Burke) run a drugs operation with a Thai boxing ring acting as a front for their operations. After a successul evening's business, Ryan Gosling's brother announces "time to meet the devil", goes to his local brothel and asks to sleep with a 14 year old girl. When told that they had nobody that young, Billy offers 50,000 baht to have sex with the brothel owner's own daughter. Once Billy has beaten up the brothel owner and attacked some of the girls he makes his way down the street. He sees a 16 year old girl sitting on a chair outside her home. The scene is deeply creepy and we can tell that something bad is going to happen. Billy is clearly seriously twisted and quite unhinged.
We then see Chang (played by Vithaya Pansringarm) make his way towards the crime scene. The home of the girl now has a police car outside and Pansringarm stares up the staircase that leads to the room where the crime took place. Billy is actually still in the room sitting next to the dead body of the girl. The police are also still there. Chang confronts the father of the young girl rather than comforting him. He asks him how he could have allowed this to happen. He says that the father should "do what he wants" to Billy and the police lock up the door and leave the father to take his vengeance. When it's over Chang tells the father "come with me".
Next we see, they are in some dark isolated area on the edge of town. The father is on his knees and Chang is calmly accusing the father. The father thinks that he is being punished for killing Billy, but it becomes clear that the girl who Billy killed was being prostituted by her family. The father is being punished not for killing Billy, but for putting his daughter in harm's way. He is told that he needs a reminder of what he has done wrong, so that he knows to protect his other daughters, and this is the first point where we see Chang reveal a small sword, as if from nowhere, which he uses to cut off the father's arm. Chang swinging this sword expertly downwards becomes a regular theme in the film.
Ryan Gosling's character Julian, having been told of his brother Billy's demise goes to find the father and avenge his brother's death, but the father tells him what happened. We don't actually hear what the father tells him. It's another regular theme of the film that at certain points voices will be muted. We don't need to hear the explanation. We know what happened and a quick silent flashback with some emotional music, makes Ryan Gosling's look of understanding much more effective.
We next see Gosling's character Julian with his girlfriend Mai (pronounced like 'my' not like 'may'). His wrists are tied to a chair and his girlfriend pleasures herself in front of him. There's an indication that there's some serious issues in the way he expresses himself sexually. Later on, we see him staring at her in a bar imagining himself reaching his hand between her legs, but he clearly never gets up from his seat and this contact is all imagined. There's yet another repeated theme all through the film of Ryan Gosling reaching his arms forward either to make a fist or reaching one arm forward as if trying to connect with something.
Finally after all this build up Julian finally meets his mother Crystal. Crystal is played by Kristin Scott Thomas and, as you'd expect, she is absolutely amazing. She plays a completely horrible woman. She is shocked to hear that Gosling's character has not taken revenge for his brother's murder and as for the revelation that Billy raped and murdered a 16 year old girl all she has to say is "well I'm sure he had his reasons". The initial conversation between Gosling and Scott Thomas is the point where the film really gets going. Scott Thomas' performance essentially holds the film together, since even just staring forwards there is just so much power behind her gaze.
As with Drive, there's a genre subversion here. All the way through we see Chang as violent and ruthless and he's set up as this deeply disturbing figure in the background. He's basically portrayed in a way that would suggest he's a villain. Except that it becomes quickly quite obvious that he is in the right. His actions are always in the interest of justice even when those actions are cruel and practically psychopathic at times.
As a contrast, and here's the really interesting part, Kristin Scott Thomas's character Crystal is clearly an absolutely foul human being and there's a clear suggestion that she probably sexually abused her two boys as they grew up (perhaps explaining Julian's sexual issues). Yet Crystal is one of the few characters who commits no violent acts in the entire film. She just wants revenge for the death of her son, she's just a grieving mother, she's just doing what's right. Except she's not. And this figure who stands back and gets others to do the violence is clearly the most evil figure in the film, even while Gosling's character Julian refuses to have a harsh thing said about his cruel and heartless mother who shows him nothing but contempt.
The movie does suffer from a very slow pace and the film doesn't build to climax, so the ending feels a bit deflated. Also a particular annoyance for me was repeated long scenes of karaoke. Still, the movie is absolutely beautiful and the scenes are slow and meaningful. This is not a film like "Drive" and while a lot of us wanted something more in that vein it is wrong to mark this film down for being a different sort of film. Drive was more like an action film, but Only God Forgives is much more of a revenge thriller. But the other issue is that this is a revenge film where the protagonist is reluctant to take that revenge and that wish for revenge being thwarted is hard to get excited about. There's a sort of passionlessness to this film.
Still, there's no doubting that this film is powerful. Every scene is careful, clear and insistent. We always know precisely what is happening. One thing I felt was a little unclear was why the police kept allowing Chang to kill people or slice their arms off, but there's always something rather supernatural about him. I've heard that he's supposed to be an ex-policeman. That might explain why he doesn't wear a uniform, but whatever he and the Thai police are doing is clearly against the rules. Some have suggested that Chang is actually supposed to be God, though that is completely in contradiction to the title. Chang does not ever really seem to forgive wrongdoing.
"Only God Forgives" isn't a film for everybody, but it is a brilliant piece of cinema nonetheless. As a well-crafted piece of cinematic art I cannot fault it one bit and if that was how I decided my scores, this would have an A grade. No doubt about it. However, in many ways this is quite a frustrating film. It's not prepared to fall into the typical format. It doesn't have a relateable protagonist with a goal the audience can share. It doesn't even have an anti-hero who drags the audience along for the ride. Instead it's a tale of bad people doing bad things and there's not even a Greek Tragedy format where we appreciate the bad guys' inevitable demise. But a score of 38% on Rotten Tomatoes (as it currently stands) is absurd. I have trouble understanding how anyone could really call this a bad movie even if they didn't find it personally appealing. It's certainly not anything like as frustrating as Winding Refn's earlier slow paced arty film "Valhalla Rising" which still holds a 71%. Though that being said Valhalla Rising has 39 positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, while "Only God Forgives" has 50, so perhaps that explains some things. For lovers of indie movies this is clearly a very impressive film, but those used to more mainstream features will find this much less accessible than "Drive" was.
Update: Okay apparently there is at least one person on my f-list who doesn't want to know who the new Doctor will be and actually expects to avoid being told (even though they've probably heard accurate rumours already). For that reason the wonderful news is now hidden under a cut, but trust me, there's really cool stuff in under there. Check it out!
This is the twelfth Doctor! (Or is it thirteenth now that John Hurt is apparently the incarnation in between McGann and Eccleston?)....
Naturally he's known best for his role as the ranting and raving spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in "The Thick Of It". Also many will know him very well for his incredibly dark and harrowing performance in "Torchwood: Children of Earth" as well as his rather briefer appearance in the Doctor Who episode "The Fires of Pompeii". However, he has been in a LOT of other stuff.
The earliest performance of his I recognise is in the movie "Local Hero". It's a wonderful little film and Peter Capaldi has a relatively small but fairly important role in it. Capaldi also played the nefarious Angel Islington in Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" series and played Rory in the tv adaptation of Iain Banks' "The Crow Road".
I hope that Capaldi keeps the Scottish accent that we now know so well. It'd be strange to hear him playing the Doctor without it. I'm also interested to how they handle his relationship with River Song. While some might think it a strange new pairing, it must be remembered that she comments on how young Matt Smith is during his first Weeping Angels storyline.
I feel that Capaldi's abilities to do darker dramatic material might also allow for a darker Doctor. I've been rewatching some of Sylvester McCoy's stories (as the Seventh Doctor) and some of those were not only extremely creepy, but there's also a mysteriousness to the Doctor himself in those episodes, whereby it is clear that he often knows more than he is prepared to let on. Before the end of Sylvester McCoy's run, the show had been allowed to become properly terrifying, with the sea vampires of the "Curse of Fenric" storyline properly freaking me out. Of course Capaldi himself would have been in his 30s by the time I was watching Doctor Who. The Doctor when he wrote a letter to the Radio Times would have been Jon Pertwee. Though that being said, when he was play-acting as the Doctor at the age of 9, that would have been during Patrick Troughton's era. A much more inspiring incarnation of the Doctor (to my mind at least).
Here's the interview with Peter Capaldi when he was first revealed as the Doctor:
And here, because it had to be done, is a trailer for Doctor Who interspersed with clips of Peter Capaldi in his (up til now) iconic role as a Malcolm Tucker (from "The Thick Of It" and the corresponding movie "In The Loop"):
I've been planning on making a "best superhero movies" list, but there were a few movies that I remember from my childhood that I just could not talk about without watching them again. So recently I finally got around to checking out these three random children's superhero movies from my childhood. They are: "The Mask", "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret Of The Ooze". The toughest one to get hold of was "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and yet the easiest was the sequel. I don't think "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" was ever released on DVD in the UK from what I can tell. Something similar happened with the Addams Family movies where the sequel "Addams Family Values" is really easy to get hold of, but the original "The Addams Family" movie is just not available on DVD anywhere over here.
It's always risky rewatching films you enjoyed when you were younger since they inevitably seem to have suffered from the ravages of 'the suck fairy'. The 'suck fairy' is a helpful way to think about your old favourites, because it's hard to admit that a film or book has always been awful when you have such fond memories of it in the past. I'm afraid fans of "The Goonies" may find that the suck fairy has been let loose on that too and I think she's definitely taken a bite or two (at very least) out of all three of the titles I review below.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret Of The Ooze (1991)
The opening of the film has a load of shots that say "hey look this is New York and everyone's eating pizza! Get it!!!" After it's finished enough of that we get to see the new character who will later be the helpful outsider to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe who can be used for exposition ever now and then. The film seems to think we'll be most endeared to him if he fat shames some girls who turn him down.
Anyway he's an asian pizza delivery boy who runs into a gang of thieves and, as it turns out, has awesome martial arts fighting skills. This is pretty much the closest thing to genuine fighting we see in the entire movie. But apparently his realistic action skills aren't enough when the number of robbers turns out to be rather more than he expected, but fortunately the Turtles turn up to take over the fight.
So how do the Turtles fight without actual action scenes? Well they appear to be doing a load of fighting it's just that somehow hardly any of it seems to appear on screen. The Turtle named Michaelangelo (who's supposed to be the jokey one) fights off a load of bad guys with a small plastic yoyo (hey, remember when those were cool?). Yes Michaelanagelo actually manages to knock out thieves with this small piece of plastic on a string. Donatello most randomly (and I remember being confused by this when I was younger too) pretends to be a giant toy and scares away a robber. It's utterly bizarre since he doesn't look any weirder than the other Turtles the thieves are fighting and imitating a wind-up toy doesn't seem like something you'd expect to freak out a hardened criminal.
I don't know if the reason for the lack of fighting is that they are toning down the violence or if they just don't have the effects budget to show the fighting well. Certainly it turns out that the Turtles puppets aren't quite as impressive as in the original. And they'd get even worse in the third movie (which I remember being pretty unimpressed with at the time).
Here's the quality of the puppets in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret Of The Ooze".
Here's the quality in the original movie. Not enormously superior,
But the really interesting comparison is the level of close-ups. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret Of The Ooze doesn't feel the need to get anything like so close to the Turtles most of the time, whereas in the original movie the camera is right up in the Turtles' faces.
But when we get to the third movie, the Turtles look like this:
In the original movie, the turtles are not the only ones who get big close-ups. Splinter, their Japanese rat guardian, also gets close-ups showing off his fur. (New to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Well yeah, not only are they giant turtle people who know ninjitsu, but they are also guided by a giant Japanese rat person who taught them their ninja skills. So there, that's you all caught up. Yes, it's really THAT weird.)
Look at the fur on this guy!
The biggest difference between the original and the sequel seems to be that Splinter no longer has that wet look to his nose and eyes. He looks less alive than before. It's still a really detailed puppet, but less effort has been taken to bring Splinter to life.
Okay, so back to the plot of the second movie then...
It turns out thing haven't moved on that far from the first movie. The Turtles have only just defeated the Shredder and they are living in April O'Neil's flat while they try to sort themselves out a new place to stay.
The Turtles all decide to watch April O'Neil on the television because, as far as I can tell, they all would like to bang her. Sorry to be crude, but I think that's the best way to express how creepy this really is and it also felt kind of creepy when I was young too. Perhaps the idea is supposed to be that she's seen as a kind of mother figure by the Turtles, but that's not really how it comes across at all. Michaelangelo seems to be plain old flirting with her and at one point the turtles fight over the opportunity to make kissing noises at her down the phone.
So, on the television April O'Neil is interviewing a scientist (played by David Warner - ZOMG he's awesome. If you haven't seen him in anything really, check out "Time Bandits" seriously, what's taking you so long!?) about a clean-up operation they are doing in the nearby area. We discover that the substance is causing giant daffodils. So could a substance that produced giant daffodils possibly have anything to do with some giant turtles who are guided by a giant Japanese rat? Possibly. Especially considering that the movie is called "secret of the ooze" and the first movie already told us that the Turtles transformed into giant turtle people because they crawled through some kind of oozing substance.
So important does this term "ooze" turn out to be that the turtle Raphael gets really upset when the pizza delivery boy says that the turtles were "slimed". "It wasn't slime, it was ooze!" Raphael insists, because clearly those two terms are completely mutually exclusive. Presumably other terms off-limits include goo, gunk, goop and 'magic potion' (the last seeming like the most appropriate). I suppose the reason for the kick-ass fighting pizza delivery boy using the term "slimed" is because "Ghostbusters II" came out only a few years earlier. Being "slimed" was in common lexicon amongst children at the time due to the exploits of the well-known green ghost "Slimer" in the Ghostbusters cartoons, so by having Raphael shun the term "slimed" the writers are both distinguishing the dumped chemical in the world of the turtles from the ectoplasmic discharge from Ghostbusters, while also making reference to something that was popular with children at the time.
Of course, if this substance the scientist's team is clearing up is really the same substance that transformed the turtles, it must have been sitting around for at least five years. It seems a bit late for a clean-up team. But anyway....
So naturally the turtles decide to investigate the scientific research group TGRI. Meanwhile, in the TGRI building David Warner, playing the scientist, announces in an expositionary way in an empty room that there is just one more cannister of 'ooze' left to flush away. Do the turtles get hold of it first? Of course not! So yeah, not only do The Foot (the group of ninja baddies) manage to get away with the final 'ooze' cannister, but they are being led by Shredder again. Turns out he's alive!
Only one cannister left? I mean, come on. The ooze must have affected the Turtles fives years ago at the very least. And how convenient that the Foot come in to take the cannister just before he gets rid of the very last one! Ah well, all part of the fun.
How does the pizza delivery guy return to the story after being ditched after the turtles saved him from that gang of robbers he ran into? Why he just looks for the place with the largest number of pizza deliveries of course! Presumably he must have come across a fair number of places where it was just a bunch of ordinary boring couch potatoes before he went for April O'Neil's place. Of course, this is yet another mystery. How are the turtles able to remain fighting fit when they only ever seem to eat one kind of food where the main ingredients are bread and cheese. There's a lot of stuff on pizza that is good for you, but ONLY eating pizza is seriously not healthy - especially if you an amphibian - I mean, seriously! Meh, suspension of disbelief, okay.
So anyway, apparently pizza delivery guy has seen the Foot organisation suddenly trying to recruit anyone with martial arts talent. Considering that the events here are so close to the last movie, that really shouldn't be a new thing. In order to bring up their numbers in the first place they must have been consistently recruiting anyone they could find with martial arts skills. Anyway, as I took it at the time, the idea seems to be that, after the events of the first movie, they now need to sure up their numbers again.
While as a child I wasn't really terribly interested in the cartoon, not least because here in the UK they were downgraded from "Ninja Turtles" to "Hero Turtles" which may have made little difference to the content of the cartoon, but lowered it in my estimation all the same. I saw the sequel in the cinema because I'd enjoyed the first movie so much and loved the more gritty realistic take on the characters as opposed to the Saturday morning silliness of the cartoon.
Still in spite of all this, even I felt a need for the Turtles to face an animal mutant of some kind. The cartoon featured two prominent villains who work for the Shredder. It seems that Shredder mutated the DNA of characters Beebop and Rocksteady to make them better opposition to the Turtles. One of them has been given Warthog DNA and the other has been given Rhino DNA. Now naturally in the cartoons Shredder takes his orders from an alien from another dimension so they weren't going to bring all that stuff in at this stage, but working within the world set up by the first movie, they come up with a pretty neat way to bring in animal hybrids here which I thought worked pretty well.
Since the Turtles are no longer doing much fighting, the sequel relies a lot more on regular jokes from the Turtles themselves. Unfortunately the Turtles are not really very funny. Sure, there's the occasional funny line, but there's so many misses for every hit that it gets rather painful and there's no real onscreen fighting to distract the audience from how unfunny all these jokes are.
That being said, there's something rather fun and endearing about the sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I can't pretend I didn't have some fun here. The Turtles are endearing and they are surrounded by other characters who interact in a believeable way. There's a simple but effective silly plot. But unfortunately there's no emotional weight, there's not really any engaging action scenes, there's not really much sense of threat or drama and all through the movie there's horribly unfunny 'jokes'. But yet there's something highly watchable about it nonetheless.
The Mask (1994)
A bit of an odd superhero, but highly memorable and I felt the need to remind myself what this was like. Now I admittedly don't remember being blown away by this movie at the time, but nevertheless, it seems to have stuck in my memory as a good fun movie all the same. I was expecting cheesy fun at very least.
So with that in mind, I was weirded out right away by the opening scene. Now, I'm not someone who normally makes a big fuss about objectification of women in movies. I'm normally prepared to give that sort of thing a pass if it doesn't distract me from the main thrust of the film. On the other hand, I'm not someone who sees it as much of a plus either. There's a tradition amongst some people to count the number of appearances of breasts on screen. I say "tradition" because it feels tied to a bygone pre-internet era where pubescent teenagers couldn't get sexy images through of half-naked women through a quick google search. So, in the recent Star Trek movie where a woman was shown in her underwear, it was more of an afterthought to say "oi, what's this doing here?" rather than a major criticism.
By now, you're probably getting a bit impatient to hear what this first scene in "The Mask" involves. After all, this is a children's movie. What kind of saucy imagery could there possibly be? And that is PRECISELY the reason why I was so weirded out.
In the first scene we are introduced to Jim Carrey as a loser who works in a bank. He has a short discussion with a co-worker who suggests he come out to a club in the evening and while they are talking, in walks Cameron Diaz. The camera then immediately leers horribly over Cameron Diaz, the saxophone music pipes up, and the two male characters drool pathetically. Okay, so she doesn't spend the first part of the movie randomly taking her clothes off, but it still felt highly inappropriate for the children's comedy the movie seems to be set up as. And I suppose the bigger problem here is less how Cameron Diaz's character is presented and more the misogynistic attitude shown by the male characters and implied by the camera's leering which does not appear to have any consequences. In fact, we quickly go on to see Cameron Diaz's character coming on to Jim Carrey's nervous and awkward protagonist. (I suspect the script has him pegged as socially awkward during this early stage, but at no point does Jim Carrey's performance ever suggest anything other than flamboyant extrovert, no matter how nervous and awkward his character may be in a particular scene.)
Thankfully there is an explanation for why Cameron Diaz is turning on the charm. She actually has a hidden camera to film the bank in order to assess the bank's security. Apparently she cannot simply remember those details and relay them to her gangster boyfriend, so I guess she probably is supposed to be the air-headed blonde figure after all. Later in the movie she seems to decide that she really liked Jim Carrey's character, but it's never quite obvious why a girl who gets involved with a gangster would be interested in him. Her character pretty much makes no sense at all.
The big premise of "The Mask" is that Jim Carrey discovers a magical mask that turns him into a green-faced live-action cartoon character who can, just like Roger Rabbit, do anything he wants so long as it's funny. The comparison with "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" is important. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" had a stark contrast between the funny cartoons and the relatively serious noir detective story characters and that contrast did a lot to boost the comedy level. Here in "The Mask" we are clearly dealing with a goofy live-action cartoon long before the central macguffin of a mask that turns you into a superhero ever comes on the scene.
Anyway, Jim Carrey's character plans to go with his aforementioned co-worker to a nightclub. So that night he needs his car, which is apparently at the garage for a tune-up and an oil change. Here's where we see the cartoonish car repairmen who insist that they have a ton of repairs to make and insist that he signs some documents without giving him any idea what the repairs will cost. They also give him a complete wreck of a vehicle to use while his own car is under repairs. This scene is clearly intended to make me laugh and once again it just feels awkward.
At the club, Jim Carrey's co-worker goes into the club without him and he ends up being booted out specially so he can have a conversation with Cameron Diaz who sings at the club and is randomly wandering about outside. Jim Carrey feins that everything is absolutely fine while the valet of the club brings back his clapped-out substitute vehicle which he fervently denies is his, even as he gets inside and starts the engine. All through this conversation it's never really clear whether Cameron Diaz's character is supposed to be smart or dumb. She gives no hint as to whether she knows that Carrey's character is blatantly lying to her and I guess it's not supposed to matter. Though it seems odd that she's even talking to him seeing as the last time she saw him she was supposedly manipulating him so that she could set up a secret camera. Over the course of the movie Cameron Diaz is clearly supposed to be Jim Carrey's love interest presumably because he's the male protagonist and she's female, so why wouldn't they end up together? *groan*
Jim Carrey drives his battered vehicle home, but part way there the entire vehicle splutters to a halt and falls into pieces, literally. We are clearly already in a live action cartoon. It's at this point where Carrey sees a bunch of plastic bags and rubbish in the river below and becomes convinced that it's a drowning man. He dives into the water only to discover that what he thought was a man's head is actually the eponymous mask. He takes the mask home.
Back home he comes across his comically nagging and disparraging landlord which is yet another case of someone being an over-the-top caricature and yet not being funny. Then we briefly see that he like cartoons. This interest of his isn't explored at all. It's just a brief blink-and-you'd-miss-it explanation for why his alter-ego would be a live-action cartoon character.
Admittedly when Carrey FINALLY puts on The Mask, things do get a little better. Finally Jim Carrey's over the top expressions don't feel entirely out of place. There was a similar issue in "Batman Forever" where Carrey seemed possibly even more manic BEFORE his transformation into the Riddler. But anyway, there's an almost amusing sequence where Jim Carrey sees his landlord's "do not disturb" sign, mimes "be quiet" using the finger on lips expression and then begins some exaggerated tiptoeing down the corridor. Then an alarm clock jumps out of his pocket! So naturally as a cartoon character his response is to retrieve an enormous mallet too big to have fit in his pocket and to begin smashing up the place trying to destroy the living mischevious alarm clock.
Eventually Jim Carrey, in full comic mode, falls out of the window, splats on the pavement, gets up all flattened (once again reminding me of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?") and says "LOOK MA, I'M ROADKILL! HA HA!" It was clear at this point that the main appeal of this movie at the time had been the effects, not the humour.
And to be quite frank, the effects have dated a lot now. We can do a lot more with CG than we could back then and some of the practical effects would now actually be done better with CG or at very least benefit from some CG enhancements. Mind you, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" looks just as great as ever and that was made 6 years earlier. Of course, no amount of special effects can really make up for a bad script and "The Mask" has one of the worst. The dialogue is awful, the plot is threadbare and the humour is lacking. Some other characters I should probably mention are the two police detectives who are once again played for comic relief. It's a typical technique in comedies to have a "straight man" whose contrast with the comedic figures enhances the humour. This is a movie with no straight men at all and it suffers for it.
Actually there is one straight-man in the movie. Peter Greene plays Cameron Diaz's gangster boyfriend and he seems like a genuinely scary figure. When he took this role he's only recently played Zed in "Pulp Fiction" and had also played one of the bad guys in the movie "Judgment Night". I don't appear to have seen any film he's been in since this, which is a pity since he's clearly highly talented.
Another highlight in the movie is the little dog, perhaps helped by the fact that he is a character with no lines. The part where the dog briefly wears the mask is probably one of the funnier parts of the film. The movie would undoubtedly have been much improved if it had ALL been about the dog.
The dialogue between characters remains consistently poor throughout the movie, which I suppose might suggest a good excuse for Carrey. He might not be perfect, but he's working with poor material and perhaps his overblown performance is a desperate attempt to make up for how poor the actual gags are? It's to his credit that people lapped it all up at the time. Jim Carrey's comical faces and unusual comedic style seemed refreshing back then, rather than nail-bitingly irritating like it seems now. I have a hard time forgiving this movie for the relentless use of fart jokes.
So, how would I rate the mask? Well it's almost watchable. Almost.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Eventually I managed to get hold of a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When it finally arrived I was more sceptical than ever as to how well it was going to hold up. The film starts with a less cheesy version of the "hey look this is New York" opening that we started with in the sequel. We also have April O'Neil reporting on a range of mysterious thefts taking place in the city. This was where I suddenly realised that the actress playing April in this first movie is completely different from the one in sequel.
Interestingly there's a reference to Ghostbusters in this first Turtles movie, just like there was in the sequel. April finishes her report by asking "Who are we going to call?" before expressing with dismay that the police are the only ones available.
Our first view of the turtles is a face in shadow underneath a sewer cover. This is Raphael who, after the Turtles finished saving April O'Neil under cover of darkness, has managed to mislay one of his Sais (a kind of dagger). So when we see the Turtles making wisecracks at each other in this movie we are not expected to laugh with them. We are much more focussed on Raphael hanging back, clearly frustrated that April O'Neil discovered his Sai and took it away with her.
There's still comedy here, however the parts that fall flat tend to involve a human side-character called Casey Jones who wears a hockey mask and attacks petty criminals with sports equipment. April describes him as being like a 9 year old in a man's body and he confirms this to us by calling April O'Neil names like "princess". I think we are supposed to view him as going through some kind of redemption over the course of the movie, but overall I don't think the change is that obvious. Still the attempt at character development is appreciated all the same.
Raphael is a much more obviously developing character here. He has an uneven temper and this becomes a regular feature of the movie. There's a sort of light/dark side of the force thing going on here. Perhaps not least because the rat master, Splinter, is clearly a strong Buddhist, encouraging the Turtles to meditate. All Splinter's lines are very well written and the guidance and support Splinter gives to Raphael allows us to see a parallel with another father/son relationship with one of the boys recruited by the ninja organisation of the Foot. In fact, father/son relations are the main focus of the film with the cruel ninja master Shredder who runs the Foot posing as a father figure to the New Yorkers who choose to become members of his criminal organisation.
One thing I have never forgotten about this movie is the bit where Splinter, before being transformed by the ooze, is in a cage mimicking the fighting moves of his owner. It's utterly ridiculous and yet really cool. Like the concept of the Turtles as a whole I guess.
I think the plot of this film is actually pretty good. April and Casey aren't as developed as the Turtles are, but we have very definite individual personalities for the Turtles and the way they relate to each other is really important here. Splinter turns out to be central to the plot too, rather than just being a wise figure on the sidelines. The themes in this film are very clear. It's in a whole other league from the sequel.
Another element that is greatly improved here is the fighting scenes. Sure there are clearly limits to what they can do while wearing the suits, but there's plenty of fighting all the same. And unlike in the sequel, they actually seem to like using their weapons, which seemed oddly unused in the sequel.
There's even some pretty emotional moments in this film. I almost wanted to cry at one point. And while there's a point where the whole blue ghost thing from Star Wars shows up, it must be said that the scene is pretty well handled. Still I think the bit in the middle where the film slows down, while somewhat appreciated, goes on a little too long. The turtle Donatello bonding with Casey Jones by fixing a car certainly gives us the impression that time has passed and that the characters are growing closer, but I'm not sure they needed quite as many scenes like that.
Yes, the effects have dated somewhat, but the quality of the storytelling is enough to make up for that. I actually think that the suck fairy has been kept pretty well at bay from this one and perhaps it's just the nostalgia talking, but I actually think this still stands up as really REALLY good film.
One more comparison. The first movie has an awesome soundtrack song (which I thought was by MC Hammer but is actually by Partners In Kryme) which kind of gives a basic outline of the whole film's plot. Meanwhile the song for the sequel by Vanilla Ice is essentially "Go Ninja Go Ninja Go" repeated over and over again and has dated EXTREMELY badly. And it's interesting how absolutely none of the clips of turtles in the second music video are of them fighting.
TURTLE POWER (Original movie)
GO NINJA GO (Sequel)
Thanks to my router being randomly busted I don't expect to have functioning internet until Tuesday.
Posted via m.livejournal.com.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (2012)
The most interesting part of the promotional material for Breaking Dawn: Part 2, i.e. the part that didn't show fairly bland, almost indistiguishable images of the cast members, showed Kristen Stewart in the role of the protagonist Bella with deep red-coloured eyes, now looking like a proper blood-lusting vampire. However, there were some other loose ends left over from Part 1 that we might be less keen to revisit.
During the last movie Bella's pregnancy was seen as a threat by the werewolves, so wolf-boy Jacob solves this by 'imprinting' himself on her new-born baby. Apparently imprinting for werewolves means that they've chosen someone as their life partner. It produces a permanent bond between them and that person. Naturally the idea of him imprinting onto a newborn baby is pretty twisted. What I hadn't really thought about before though was that at the end of the last movie Bella still had not been told about this. She'd only just opened her eyes after her difficult childbirth when the previous movie finished.
When she finds out that Jacob has imprinted on her daughter, she naturally goes ape-sh*t. Though actually she gets rather upset over something random. Turns out that Jacob has been called her daughter "Nessy". This was a nickname since the daughter was rather awkwardly named "Renesme" (a combination of Rene and Esme). Bella gets extremely upset with this nickname because she thinks it is a reference to the Loch Ness Monster. The thing is, unlike Renesme, Nessy is actually a real name. It's derived from the Greek names Agnes and Vanessa. Isn't Bella supposed to be smart? I suppose your characters are only as smart as their writers.
As for Bella, the blood-lusting vampire, this is initially pretty impressive. Bella goes out on the hunt and does some pretty cool superhuman forest jumping. None of it lasts remotely long enough. We see her spot a human on a cliff-face and very nearly decide to kill him, but she stops herself. The suggestion in the promotional material that her blood-lust might be an issue turns out to come to nothing. Not only is this the last time that blood-lust from Bella is even referenced, but it's also the last time we even see her hunting animals. That side of the story is finished up very quickly. Not long after that, the focus on Bella's new odd behaviour as a vampire is also suddenly ignored. She apparently has trouble staying still or walking like a normal human because she constantly wants to use her super vampire speed. That was quite a nice idea, but it's not long before the film has moved on and no longer considers this sort of detail important.
We have a brief appearance from Bella's father Charlie, played by Billy Burke. Burke's appearances have generally been a highlight of this series since he seems to be the only person with any dramatic chemistry with Kristen Stewart. This is the first film where his appearance wasn't really a highlight. I suppose he'd always been able to ground the film in a little more reality, but here surrounded by vampires with Bella lying about her newfound vampirism, there's none of the warmth we'd normally expect between them. This is another element that really should have been expanded on further and it feels strange that the writers (whether Stephanie Meyer, the author, or Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote the screenplay) just don't seem to care about such an important element of these stories. Happily ditching Charlie as soon as possible so they can move onto their slow monotonous "a final battle scene is coming!" section of the plot.
Just as the werewolves were frightened about a vampire birth before, this time the vampires are worried about it. It seems that Volturi are concerned this time. This is the same Volturi vampire elite group who are frightened of vampires being revealed to the world and yet wear ridiculous cloaks and outdated clothes that seem to scream "I am a vampire" to everyone who sees them. Apparently they're concerned that Renesme might be a girl who has been turned vampire while very young. It seems that there was once an issue with this in the past, where young children with no sense of self control started biting all the humans, messing up the food supply by making more vampires yet leaving very few humans to feed from.
There's some hint that there might be politics involved here, since the Volturi might be less interested in stopping a young vampire girl as they are in capturing Alice, the vampire who can see into the future. Why Alice's power is so important, is not really so obvious. She's never been quite certain about what will happen in the future. She just appears to have a better predictive ability than normal.
Considering that all vampires seem to have special fancy abilities it's surprising how little we've seen of this in previous movies. We have a whole bunch of people turning up to help the Cullens with all sorts of special vampire abilities. We now see vampires who can produce an electric current to incapacitate enemies and a vampire who can control the elements, rather than the boring psychic powers we've previously been expected to care about. Also Bella turns out to have the power to block other vampire powers which seems likely to become useful if the Volturi attack.
Another bit of internal vampire politics, this time even less relevant to the story in the long run, is the arrival of two particular uninvited guests who are only there because they WANT a confrontation with the Volturi and are prepared to latch onto any conflict with the Volturi that they can. Once again, this could have been an interesting element if it had any real impact on the plot.
With the Volturi completely absent at this stage, this part of the film is a lot less interesting than the above descriptions might make it sound. Eventually though, the Volturi DO arrive and we DO get the final battle scene we've been waiting for. While not as exciting as the fight in the third movie, Twilight Eclipse, it is pretty brutal all the same. Still, in Eclipse we were thoroughly introduced to the characters involved in the end conflict over the course of the film with some interesting backstory and character motivations, rather than simply that different people have different powers. Eclipse was actually a long movie, but you wouldn't know by how interminably the film progresses.
Breaking Dawn Part 2's final battle scene features several cases of heads being ripped off. However, in spite of the brutality of this final conflict, a plot contrivance somehow manages to remove all weight to anything that happens in the film. (Yes even deaths of major characters.) There's a massive deus ex machina ending which completely undoes all consequences. This is the final movie in the entire Twilight series and, perhaps I was naive, I thought there'd be a more solid finale than this. When everything wraps up, I don't feel like the story is really over and if they hadn't marketed this as the end of the series, I think they could quite easily have just carried on making movies. (After all, are the Twilight fans really going to complain?) I mean just imagine, a Twilight movie that isn't bound by what Stephanie Meyer wrote? Surely it can only be an improvement? (Unless E.L. James is on board. *gulp!*) Perhaps get Cronenberg to get involved in the twisted vampiric body horror stuff finally? No?
Still, the whole Twilight movie series is over and it's probably for the best. Far from being one of the better movies, overall I didn't find this any better than the last one. Asides from the brief scenes of Bella hunting at the beginning and the heads getting lopped off during the final battle scene, this was mostly just dull.
One last thing I feel I ought to mention is the addition of Cameron Bright ("Thank You For Smoking", "Ultraviolet", "Birth") to the Volturi. He joins Dakota Fanning as another extremely talented child actor (well, actually I suppose they're probably 'young adults' by now) who could really be doing much more interesting work. Let's hope that now this series is over they can go on to have larger parts where they are actually expected to speak lines rather than to simply stare coldly at people.
If you are interested to know what I thought about the other films I previously posted a spoiler-filled review of the first three along with my review of the fourth movie here.
The Omen (1976)
The classic horror film about the Anti-Christ. Director Richard Donner's very next project would be "Superman - The Movie", but "The Omen" appears to have been his first major cinema release. He'd mainly worked in television up until that point.
It's an odd sort of film. It spends a while building things up even though the premise is as clear as crystal. "The Omen" is actually kind of cheesy. But watching this for a second time it was like revisiting an old friend. There are lots of classic scenes that are unforgettable
Naturally I always try to avoid spoilers so this paragraph is going to make very little sense to those unfamiliar with the film, but I think it'll definitely elicit knowing nods from those who've seen "The Omen" before. There's the visit to the zoo, the visit to Church, the goldfish bowl smash, and the "it's all for you" scene. A lot of the movie really sticks with you afterwards, in spite of how slow and daft it might seem first time around.
I was amazed at how powerful the "it's all for you" scene (I'm intentionally leaving this vague, but trust me the scene stands out) still shocked and haunted me after all this time. For those who haven't seen "The Omen" be aware that this scene is not set in a dark dingy setting, it doesn't require any creepy noises and there's no gore involved. It's in broad daylight in a scene where everybody present is happy and enjoying themselves and yet it produces such a contrast and really gives you an emotional jolt. (I promise the rest of the review will not be so cryptic.)
Since this was a rewatch, naturally a great deal seemed familiar, however there was actually already much that felt familiar the very first time I watched this. That's not my grammar getting all mixed up. Nor is it because I'd seen lots of references to scenes from "The Omen" around or been told about the content of the film by a good friend... Unless by "good friend" you mean Terry Pratchett and by "told" you mean I read it in his awesome book "Good Omens". (Yeah sure, the title seems clearly connected now. But at the time I had no idea.)
Good Omens (I give more credit to Terry Pratchett for it because, unlike the co-writer Neil Gaiman, I've enjoyed most of Pratchett's other books) is the story of a child who is the son of the devil. Upon his birth Satan worshippers had plans to put him in the care of an American family with strong political connections but, due to satan worshippers being all too human, the switch is mixed up. One Satan worshipper who is fascinated by the American politician and quite stunned just to be talking to an American (since this takes place in England) ends up failing to do her part in the switch. As such, the actual anti-christ ends up in a typical English home. Fortunately, while the Bible might not have the prophecy entirely on the nose, an old witch called Agnes Nutter produced the only completely accurate record of future events.
So yeah, check out "Good Omens". It's an awesome book. (And you don't need to have seen "The Omen" in order to enjoy it.)
Anyway, in "The Omen" the American family are given the anti-christ to adopt when their own child dies during the birth. They are actually in a hospital in Italy and won't go to England until later when the politician receives the role of Ambassador to Great Britain. The American politician's wife is not told about the adoption, with the main reason for the adoption seemingly being to allow her to have the child she so desperately wants without realising that her own has died. It's kind of like when parents replace their children's pets without telling them, only far far worse.
The great thing about this opening is that the American politician (who is essentially the protagonist here) feels more and more guilty as the film goes on. His wife feels like Damien's bizarreness reflects poorly on her, but by the time any of this is revealed it is far too late to let his wife know that he lied to her.
After that initial baby switch at the beginning, the next ultra-familiar element was the black dog. A big black scary dog appears out of nowhere to be the Antichrist's protector. A similar thing (with a twist) happens in "Good Omens". It's this element more than anything that made clear to me that "Good Omens" was directly parodying this movie (even though the connection in the rest of the book is subtler than that).
There are scenes where the dog looks scarier, but google image
didn't seem to provide many decent examples.
Before things get too bizarre, a character turns up played by an actor who was very familiar this time around (and I would have expected to be more familiar the previous time too). A priest rants at the American politician about how only Jesus can save him and that the child he has adopted is the devil. Naturally the father thinks this character is off his rocker and what better person to play a complete nutcase than someone's whose prior roles include Britain's favourite time lord? I cannot believe that I failed to notice first time around that Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor from Doctor Who, was playing the crazy priest. I think since he looked rather older than I'd seen him before I found him harder to recognise (and I don't think being filmed in colour is particularly flattering for either).
Eventually we get to a stage where everyone just seems to be randomly "marked for death" simply for trying to stop the Anti-Christ's inevitable rise to power. Earlier in the movie there might have been some kind of rational explanation involving human evil, but towards the end things get distinctly supernatural. Some people are just doomed the moment they poke their nose into exposing the Anti-Christ. This is where I get rather less impressed by "The Omen". It seems to qualify for one of my ghost movie criticisms, in spite of not really being a ghost movie at all.
One of my biggest issues with ghost movies is that the ghosts get superpowers for no good reason and yet often use them highly inconsistently. Now admittedly being the anti-christ could reasonably grant you powers, but Damien doesn't seem to have any way of knowing about some of the people plotting against him. Okay, so perhaps it's Satan, but if Satan can kill off anyone he wants, why does he need to be reborn on Earth? Even if we grant that the powers are reasonable, consistency is still a problem. If your plot is to inherit your parents' fortune, why not kill the protagonist off earlier? And how does the wise man who seems to know exactly how to kill Damien survive so long? Satan clearly needs better tactics....
I think what makes the premise "The Omen" such a chilling idea is that this is a prophecy foretold by God. The Book of Revelation in the Bible might describe the Anti-Christ being defeated, but it definitely describes him existing and causing trouble first. There's the old Christian theological question of why God allows Satan to exist and whether it is in order to test or to punish, the problematic thing is that it is with God's blessing. "The Omen" definitely implies a more Manichean conception of good and evil whereby there's always the possibility that Satan might 'win'. But I think the creepiest part of the presmise is that, at this early stage in Damien's life, his supernatural evil essentially has God's blessing.
"The Omen" might be a rather cheesy film with a pretty simplistic storyline, but it is the performances that keep us on board. David Warner is pretty awesome and Gregory Peck does a great job holding the show together, but perhaps the most impressive performance comes from Billie Whitelaw as the unexpected and mysterious new nanny.
It turns out that I've seen Billie Whitelaw before in a couple of places. In my recent reverse Hitchcock retrospective I couldn't help but notice her completely out-classing most other actors in the movie "Frenzy". She also played a role in Edgar Wright's "Hot Fuzz" (in which one of the murder is essentially a spoof of a particular death scene in "The Omen").
In the end, as much as "The Omen" might have an odd sort of appeal to it, I have to recognise that it's more of a guilty pleasure than anything else. Richard Donner does a great job building up iconic moments and a chilling atmosphere and he employs some great ideas. But in the end the whole thing is slow paced, ludicrous and when characters are getting attacked by ravenous dogs next to an unmarked grave in Southern Italy, the film series already feels like it's jumped the shark before the first film is ever over!
This is great fun and a good movie. But it is VERY silly and seemingly unintentionally so.
Recommended horror movies based around a fear of children:
I'm avoiding examples where fear and dread of a child or children isn't a central focus of the movie. For example "Let The Right One In" has a vampiric child, but making us afraid of that child isn't the focus for the movie.
Village Of The Damned (1960) - After strange occurrences several women in the village have mysterious pregnancies. The children grow up with telekinetic powers and highly advanced intelligence. How did the pregnancies happen? Are the children even human? One of my favourite horror movies of all time.
The Brood (1979) - David Cronenberg's film about evil murderous children. There's some rather daft psycho-analysis stuff involved (this is a Cronenberg movie - what are you go gonna do?), but the basic premise is that these evil children are somehow linked to a woman's trauma possibly spanning back to abuse in her own childhood.
The White Ribbon (2009) - To my mind, this is a modern remake of "Village Of The Damned" with the extraterrestrial elements removed. The black and white format helps to give the two films a similar feel. Mysterious deaths and a clear sense that something terrible is about to happen, while in the background the children seem to be conspiring. The plot is a bit meandering, but the atmosphere is thick and oppressive.
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) - Tilda Swinton stars in this film about a mother whose life is destroyed by the birth of her son and his malicious psychopathy. The movie begins in the wake of someone unstated horrific event for which Kevin was presumably responsible. The movie proceeds to give us a tour of her memories, showing us the progression of Kevin's childhood and the destruction of her hopes and dreams. Just as I felt the "The White Ribbon" was a remake of "Village Of The Damned" without the extraterrestrial elements, I also feel that "We Need To Talk About Kevin" is like "The Omen" with the supernatural elements taken out. Kevin doesn't need to be the Anti-Christ to be scary. All he has to be is a normal human being. Human beings can be the scariest things imaginable sometimes.