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fatpie42 - LiveJournal.com

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    Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

    Armando Iannucci has made a name for himself by writing political satire. He has two particularly iconic comedy characters under his belt. One is Malcolm Tucker, the most important character in the tv series "The Thick Of It" and one of the few to be included unchanged in the highly successful spin-off movie "In The Loop". Malcolm Tucker is most obviously based on Tony Blair's spin doctor Alastair Campbell. A figure well known for his work in sneaky media-manipulation. In the movie "The Queen" he is notably given credit for coming up with the phrase "The People's Princess" upon the death of Princess Diana. But Malcolm Tucker is more than just a satirical portrayal of man in politics. He is a symbol of all the problems with the way the media has taken over politics, seemingly making 'keeping up appearances' more important than actual governing. Of course these same issues come up in Iannucci's American incarnation of the show "Veep", based around the American Vice President, without using any kind of equivalent to Malcolm Tucker at all and I'm sure it will remain an important theme in inevitable future series of "The Thick Of It" where Malcolm Tucker will no longer be so central (if present at all, particularly considering recent news). But the character of Malcolm Tucker really does capture lightening in a bottle in regards to these issues.



    The other iconic comedy character from Armando Iannucci however is Alan Partridge. The character is naturally not the creation of just one man and the more obvious person to credit would be the actor and comedian Steve Coogan who has always played the part and also has a writing credit on all Alan Partridge shows. However, I think it is the pairing of Steve Coogan with Armando Iannucci that made this particular character such a roaring success.

    Clip from "I'm Alan Partridge" with Alan trying to be jovial with the hotel staff:

    (video link)

    Steve Coogan is hugely talented, but has a very distinct style of humour which hasn't been easy to translate to the big screen. One attempt to make him into a movie star was the release of "The Parole Officer" which didn't really showcase him at his best and felt like it was aiming for a more bombastic and less clever form of comedy than Coogan normally offers. Recently some of Alan Partridge's work with Rob Brydon has been well received on the big screen in the form of "A Cock And Bull Story" and "The Trip", though these are still fairly obscure films for most people.



    The actual character of Alan Partridge is a bigoted self-obsessed and generally obnoxious presenter. I say "bigoted", but the thing is that he's pretty much opinionated on every single group of people there are and, as a presenter, he's actively keen to avoid clear-cut bigotry and even rails against it. But he has so much ignorant practically-unintentional bigotry under the surface that it often becomes pretty obvious. Often his anti-Irish sentiment (still fairly prominent in the mid to late nineties when the bulk of the Alan Partridge series were aired), for example, will be accompanied by a claim to a love of Ireland as a country. And of course his misogyny is often accompanied by a claim to highly appreciate and respect women.

    Clip from "I'm Alan Partridge" where Alan tries to praise the Irish (with Graham Lineham, creator of "Father Ted", "Black Books" and "The IT Crowd"):

    (video link)

    In preparation for the release of the movie there were some recent Alan Partridge features including the "Mid Morning Matters" series, but Alan Partridge was most popular for the two series of "I'm Alan Partridge" where Alan has first moved to an obscure radio station in Norwich due to the failure of his tv series, is stuck living in a hotel having split up with his wife and his only friends are Lynn, Alan's highly religious publicist who is oddly dedicated, and Michael, an ex-military Geordie bellboy who somehow seems to like Alan in spite of his regular jibes at Michael's accent.



    In the movie Alan is even more of a hanger-on than ever, even in his small-time local radio station. He's still accompanied by 'Sidekick Simon' from "Mid Morning Matters". Another DJ working there is his old fellow DJ from "I'm Alan Partridge" who reveals, often at inappropriate times, that he has been through some dark days since then. Michael is back, this time as a security guard for the radio station building. Alan's publicist Lynn also eventually comes into the story too.

    There's another hanger-on DJ in the form of Pat, another middle aged DJ (and Irish btw) who is pretty much universally recognised as being old fashioned and boring, played by Colm Meaney. The radio station is switching owners and job losses seem inevitably so Pat asks Alan to put in a good word for him. However, when Alan realises that the managers are deciding whether to axe him or Pat, he quickly changes his tune.



    Upon losing his job Pat brings a rifle into the radio station studio and holds the other DJs and the managers hostage. Pat, not knowing that Alan actually suggested the managers sack him, says that Alan Partridge is the only person he will speak to. Seeing the situation as a media opportunity and a personal ego boost, Alan Partridge agrees to help.

    The jokes come thick and fast, though there are a few parts that were a bit lost on me. Early on there's a whole scene of Alan Partridge singing along to a song on the radio and I didn't feel like that scene really worked. Though interestingly that section of the film is actually available on Youtube, so you can see hear what a weaker joke in the movie is like and I think that gives a clue as to the overall quality on offer here:

    Clip from an early scene in "Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa":

    (video link)

    Overall I thought the comedy was excellent. Though I will say that the script seemed to hold back from ever making Alan Partridge as outrageous as he was in the tv series. Armando Iannucci said in an interview that Alan Patridge's main advantage as a presenter is that he can always fill dead air. No matter what happens he will not stop talking, even when he has talked himself into a corner. In the series "I'm Alan Partridge" we could see that he's also like this in real life, never knowing when to give up and stop talking. He is also very quick to bring forward his own opinions in a discussion even if he has nothing relevant or helpful to add, often missing the point of the initial discussion. These are elements that the film, despite its longer runtime, didn't really seem to have time for. Certainly Alan is still Alan, but the faster moving story left him less time to just be his ordinary pathetic over-talkative self.



    On the other hand, this may be a positive. Even though Alan's normal habit of embarrassing himself when he speaks doesn't get to the same excruciating levels as in the series, this probably makes the film more accessible to newcomers and in any case Alan is still very much the same character. Also this means that the humour works in a rather different way from that seen in the various Alan Partridge tv series. This isn't just a movie for the sake of it. It's an entirely new Alan Partridge story with a very new approach. That being said, there was one thing I wish they hadn't missed out. At no point does Alan shout "A-ha!" This was his catchphrase on his failed tv show and it's weird that it should be entirely absent here.

    Clip from the parody tv show "Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge":

    (video link)

    Darren Boyd, who played the bully in "The World's End", is also here as a police officer. He is second-in-command to Anna Maxwell Martin who plays the officer in charge of handling the seige. But perhaps most awesome of all, Sean Pertwee turns up as the Firearms Officer. Pertwee is as awesome as ever here playing the straight man, unwilling to take any of Alan's nonsense.



    Still the majority of the action takes place inside the radio station, so the main focus is firmly on Steve Coogan and Colm Meaney. Alan and Pat work very well together with Alan being a complete coward and also perfectly happy to run a radio show no matter what happens, even if a mad man has taken the studio hostage and forced him to act as a co-presenter at gunpoint. (Particularly since the gun is mostly pointed at Sidekick Simon.)



    While the pacing never slows down, the writers haven't been tempted to make an overly convoluted storyline. A seige situation provides a claustrophobic environment for the action to take place. Steve Coogan is as funny as ever in the central role. The camerawork contributes well to the comedy moments and there's a definite feel that this is a full feature film rather than just an extra long tv episode.

    As I said before, there were a few jokes that didn't ring for me quite as well as they ought to, but that's a really minor complaint. Comedy is highly subjective and, in any case, I laughed a hell of a lot in this film. I think the only thing that perhaps lowers this in my estimation slightly is that I only recently saw "The World's End" and, of the two, I must admit that was my favourite. That being said, we've been very lucky to receive two excellent British comedies, even if it does seem like a rather odd time of year for them to be released. (Both had opening weekends of 3 million which is fine, but I cannot help but feel that they'd have done better had they not been released at the hottest period of the summer.)



    Alan Partridge is as hilarious as ever. This film is brilliant. Loved it!

    A+





    Clive Anderson interviews Alan Partridge (aired in 1997):

    (video link)

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    Justin Timberlake song altered so that it's a metal song. And it's SO good!


    (video link)



    Andy Rehfeldt does some absolutely amazing genre-switching like this. Check out his Youtube Channel for more awesome stuff if you haven't heard of him before.

    He also sometimes does "Radio Disney Versions" of songs where he changes heavy metal songs into cheesy rock. One of the first songs I ever heard from this guy was his radio disney version of "Wait and Bleed" by Slipknot. (If you haven't heard the original of that one it might be worth checking it out for comparison. The joke works better if you know what it's supposed to sound like.)


    (video link)

    On a separate note, anyone not yet heard this awesome mashup of Korn and Taylor Swift? Jonathan Davis' voice is just so amazing.


    (video link)

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    Argo (2012)

    Okay, so this was the big 'Best Picture' Oscar winner then? Oddly this was apparently pretty popular in Iran with sales of the bootleg DVD going through the roof. Some interpret this as a need to see the other side of a story that is well known within the country in the form reported by the government and other citizens of Iran with a vested interest. Others see it as mainly a means to show disdain for the current government leaders in Iran, entirely ignoring their demand for a ban on the film.



    The story is about a raid on the American embassy in Iran in response to the US harboring the Shar, a dictator and tyrant who was overthrown by Iran's revolution. The embassy is raided and captured by rioters and, while trying to burn as many documents as possible, survivors try to make an escape in the chaos. A small group are able to be kept safe by Canadian embassy workers.

    The initial introductory part of the movie isn't great. I never knew about this embassy raid and yet it told me very little that I didn't already see in the excellent animated film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis".



    There was a little bit of controversy over Ben Affleck playing the part of the real life CIA agent Tony Mendez, but in actual fact it turns out that he does not think of himself as hispanic. On his mother's side he has Irish, Italian and French heritage. On his father's side there's presumably some hispanic in there, but while his father's family originated from Mexico he doesn't really think of him as hispanic. So that's that sorted out.



    Ben Affleck's character is very self-contained. A confident but unemotional figure for the most part. The initial scenes are a pretty great introduction to his character and his situation, with him trying to find some alternative to the current doomed plans to send the survivors of the embassy raid into the mountains with bicycles in the hope that they can cross the border. Ben Affleck has always been a pretty bland actor, but he's a good actor nonetheless. He just needs the right role. This role doesn't seem to fit him as well as his role in "The Town" did, but he does a good enough job with it anyway.

    The plan eventually formed to save the embassy workers is to smuggle them out as filmmakers planning to shoot a movie in Iran. A sci-fi movie no less. Probably the best part of the film involves the producers of the film, played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin, trying to gain funding and build up hype for a fake movie that they can use as a front when they try to leave with the embassy workers. The promotion of this fake movie goes to unexpected lengths and that's quite fun. And of course in the meanwhile there are all the attempts to persuade other staff at the CIA that the scheme will work, with the ever-excellent Bryan Cranston as Affleck's superior there.



    Where the film falls down for me is Iran itself. The embassy workers are not only given little character development, but very little in the way of identity. And these aren't poor actors. The execution of the other embassy workers who were captured naturally sets up the tension of their situation and they represent their paranoia and stress very well, but since we've had a rather silly section of the movie played for laughs since then about a fake sci-fi movie, it's hard to get that atmosphere back without some serious empathy for the characters. And there's just no characterisation to speak of here.



    I would say that the most recognisable actress is Clea DuVall except I must admit, to my shame, that I had her mixed up with Ellen Paige. I've seen enough to know that she's a good actress ("The Faculty" and the first series of "Carnivale" are the main things I know her from but I feel that's plenty to make a judgement), but she's simply not given enough in the script to make an impact here. Similarly under-used is Christopher Denham, who was so fantastic in "Sound Of My Voice" which was finally released that same year.

    The actor who gets the most chance to make an impact as an embassy survivor is Scoot McNairy, who many may remember as the lead actor from the movie "Monsters". He has to deliver a whole load of dialogue in Farsi. This is clearly supposed to be a very emotional moment in the film and admittedly McNairy does a fantastic job. However, I didn't real feel like the movie had the right level of tension during that scene to make it work, which is a real pity considering McNairy's wonderful performance.


    Left: Scoot McNairy in "Argo". Right: Scott McNairy in "Monsters".

    Now it might be argued that the real focus in the second half is on Ben Affleck and not on the embassy staff at all. But sadly I really don't feel like Affleck is a strong enough actor to take that kind of burden. He's fine when interacting with others and it must be noted that in "The Town" his interaction with Jeremy Renner was a major source of the movie's strength. Here in "Argo" it feels like in this second half we are expected to be invested in the movie solely on the basis of Ben Affleck's performance. Clearly for some people that was enough, but for me this was just not enough.



    I hate to say it, but for much of this movie I was pretty... well... bored. When the movie came out some people noted that the ending of this story is common knowledge. As someone who was pretty unfamiliar with the story, I would have liked it if there was a greater attempt to set up some real dramatic tension. I know that Indiana Jones is going to survive too, but I normally still care whether he gets out of his scrapes all the same.



    Argo is fairly workmanlike film with some promising elements in the first half which simply aren't handled in an interesting way. The film stumbles towards the inevitable ending without much of the cinematic quality you'd expect, particularly from an Oscar winner.

    C-



    Life Of Pi (2012)
    I was fairly sceptical of this one. The early teaser trailers didn't make it look like the CG was going to be that great. I'd enjoyed the book, but didn't see much need for it to be adapted to the big screen. And I was kind of concerned by the comments I was hearing about the way the religious theme was tackled in the film.



    Naturally the main story is about an Indian boy who is stranded in a lifeboat with a tiger. However it takes over half and hour to get to the storm which causes him to end up in that situation. This is because the film initially needs to introduce us to the protagonist, why he is called Pi, his strange religious attitude whereby he wishes to believe all religions contrary to the advice of his highly rational father and his agnostically Hindu mother. (One element that has been cut out is an argument breaking out between a priest, imam and pandit, who were all convinced that Pi was a devoted follower solely to Christianity, Islam or Hinduism respectively.)



    A love interest has been introduced into the story. Now while that may seem rather pointless, it's actually used as an opportunity to explore some themes of the story. Pi is interested in what she can tell him about the meaning of Hindi dance moves which is an interesting parallel with the problem of interpreting a tiger's gestures. As a child Pi's father, who owns a zoo, makes very clear to him how easy it is to anthropomophise Tigers (to treat them as if they thought and acted like humans). But interpreting the tiger's body language becomes vital when he is trapped with the tiger on the lifeboat later in the story.



    Some of the visual imagery is very impressive and I don't just mean that the events in the story are shown in a pretty way and I'm not just talking about the fantastic work that has clearly been done on the tiger (which looks a hell of a lot better than the initial teaser trailer would suggest). The film makes use of abstract imagery at times and uses poetic license in its depictions at certain points. The film is visually stunning and the central performance is highly engaging, but there's also some very strong themes which are very well developed.



    So here comes the point where I absolutely MUST tackle the religious side of the story. It had actually been a problem for me when reading the book. We are told that the story is supposed to make us believe in God at the beginning of the book and there's some flimsy call back to that at the end. Certainly the quirky way the character of Pi embraces all religions and is forced to balance his faith with reason when at the mercy of the elements is important, but the opening and epilogue of the book didn't really feel terribly relevant to any of that.



    In the film this element is actually handled much better. I fully expected the final message to have me groaning, but I found it far more effective in the film than I ever did in the book. I suppose if I were to summarise what the message about religion meant to me, it would be that religious ideas are often less about understanding the mysteries of the universe and more about understanding ourselves. The story we are told in "Life of Pi" is an exploration of Pi as a character and what inspires him about religions is their relevance to his inner life. That ties very neatly with the message of the film and I found myself empathising strongly with the character from beginning to end.



    The majority of the credit must go to Suraj Sharma, an actor with no previous acting credits to be found on IMDB, and yet he handles the role of Pi for the majority of the filming time. He's the one that really has to get us emotionally invested in the character and he does one hell of a job.

    A+

    (Life Of Pi deserved every award it got. And the one awarded to Argo? It deserved that too!)



    Amour (2012)

    Michael Haneke is not known for particularly upbeat movies and a movie from him about an elderly woman dying of a terminal disease struck me as an especially trying experience. His last movie "The White Ribbon" was admittedly very well made, but it was also pretty slow paced and highly miserable experience.



    It's quite common for Haneke to make use of a fixed camera, going for interesting camera shots rather than interesting camera motions and then keeping the camera fixed in that spot for extended periods. That is still the case and yet oddly this film is nowhere near as miserable as expected.



    In fact there are interesting characters who have engaging conversations together. The film doesn't suddenly go silent when the terminal illness kicks in either. Sure there are some parts which, by the nature of the topic are somewhat unsettling, but in the end this is the story of a loving relationship and that context makes the harsher elements worth the effort.



    The director claims he didn't intend to use this movie to talk about Euthanasia, but he definitely handles the subject.

    A very central theme seems to be human dignity. Particularly when one nurse treats the wife like a child, brushing her hair to make her look pretty in spite of clear signs that the wife is uncomfortable with this. This is contrasted by the husband's frustration and anger when his wife tries to prevent him from giving her water which causes him to lash out. In both cases the wife who is dying of a terminal disease is essentially assaulted, but the director clearly intends to suggest that one is mean, humiliating and possibly even dehumanising, while the other comes from a place of love and, in the words of Dylan Thomas, a struggle against "the dying of the light". The husband seems completely unwilling to give up on his wife even when she is happy to die of hunger and thirst. There are some successful attempts to keep dignity alive by singing together. Even though his wife can barely speak she clearly feels great joy attempting to sing old songs.



    For the most part, while you might infer certain interpretations from what happens in the film, this is essentially a film without a message. It's about real people going through something which is very hard to handle in a film and very hard to watch, so it's quite remarkable that the narrative is as strong as it is. However, it is the characters rather than the story which do the most to make this work.



    The final scenes do finally go a little abstract. Perhaps too abstract. There's some theme involving a pigeon flying inside by accident, which is supposedly supposed to become meaningful at the end. I think the main reason for making the ending so abstract may have been to avoid finishing on a completely dour note. So many films focus on the inevitability of death and that isn't what Haneke wants to say to us here. And to that extent he is successful. This is definitely more a film about life than a film about death. However, I would have really liked to know what the hell our male protagonist was writing in that letter towards the end. His will? Memoirs?



    While I might be slightly annoyed by the way the film ends, I can see that it was a clever alternative to just ending with death or trying to end with some overly literal vision of the afterlife. There are parts where the film drags and I don't think the slow pacing is always necessary. But overall this is a very impressive achievement and well worth checking out.

    B+

    (I still feel that "A Royal Affair" should have received the "Best Foreign Language Film" Oscar.)

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    It's odd how much crazy hype there is around superhero movies. I remember back when "Daredevil" came out they were feeling a bit like videogame-to-movie adaptations, since they generally weren't great but the film studios seemed to insist on making them anyway.



    I think part of the reason why comicbook movie fans get so agitated about movie news surrounding superhero properties is possibly because many of these fans KNOW they are going to see the latest superhero movie, possibly even on opening weekend, regardless of what the critics say. They are hardcore fans and whatever dreck they are fed and however awful it ends up being, they are going to be compelled to check it out, if only to see what they are missing.

    So I wonder what the majority of them are thinking about the recent revelation on the new "Batman" actor to replace Christian Bale in the upcoming "Batman VS Superman" movie. Because, in case you haven't heard, it's been announced that Ben Affleck will take the role.



    Personally I could take or leave this "Batman Vs Superman" movie. I've managed to avoid the temptation to see "Green Lantern", I don't suspect I'll watch "Kick-Ass 2" (in spite of adoring Matthew Vaughn's initial movie), and if wasn't for the glowing review of "Man of Steel" on Geek Girls Rule I'd probably be skipping that too.



    Ben Affleck is consistently mediocre and we've seen him play Batman badly already. Sure it was called "Daredevil" back then but it was about a guy who was orphaned by a criminal, who has a respectable persona during the day and leaps about in a costume at night, and who essentially sleeps in a tomb. That's as close to Batman as makes no difference.



    If the argument is that a better director'll get a better performance out of Affleck, you might as well bring Clooney back. Early rumours suggested that they wanted an older actor for the role so that would make Clooney perfect. (Unless that was just a ruse to put people off the scent, in which yeah, Clooney's probably too old for the role.)



    Affleck's not a bad actor, but he needs a good script, a good director and a good supporting cast. I do not believe he can carry a movie in a role like "Batman". He just doesn't have the charisma for it.

    But that's just my two cents.


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  • 08/25/13--14:07: Article 0
  • This is the second part of a set of reviews covering all ten movies in the "Child's Play" and "The Omen" franchises. The first part, reviewing the original "The Omen", directed by Richard Donner, can be found here.


    Child's Play (1988)

    I didn't remember being at all impressed by Child's Play the first time I saw it. I think my expectations may have been somewhat skewed by the film series' indirect connection with the Jamie Bulger killings. "Child's Play 3" was accused of inspiring one of the ten year olds who abducted and murdered James Bulger, a 2 year old boy. In actual fact, at best it seems like the Jon Venable's father, not the boy-killer himself, may have rented the movie on one occasion. Jon Venables actually claimed to dislike horror movies.

    A detective on the case claimed the police had checked 200 movie titles rented by the killers' families. They were looking for any signs that they may have directly inspired the Jamie Bulger murder. So strong was the media's obsession with 'video nasties' at the time. The detective announced that: "If you are going to link this murder to a film, you might as well link it to The Railway Children."



    Still, that the movie could cause this controversy made me expect something rather different. I was under no illusion that a Child's Play movie could lead someone to murder, but I did at least expect the movie to be scary enough or gory enough to stir up controversy. When I first watched "Child's Play" I wasn't yet a big fan of horror comedies. What I saw seemed cheesy as hell.




    Watching it this time around, I'm now familiar with the fourth movie in the series: Bride Of Chucky. You only need to look at the cover of that DVD to know that it's not taking itself seriously. It turns out that if you go into the original "Child's Play" expecting comedy, it's not disappointing at all.

    As the film begins, Brad Douriff is cornered in a toy shop and begins the most ridiculous chant with what seems like a mixture of Latin, extremely-badly pronounced French and the most blatant magic words ever: "Give me the power I beg of you!!!" These words send his soul into a children's doll, enabling him to escape justice. But there's a time limit. If he doesn't act soon, he'll be stuck as a doll forever.

    Admittedly "Child's Play" does have some seriously creepy moments. At this late stage the Child's Play series is so well known that everyone can tell how this is going to play out. However, for much of the film it's always a possibility that it is the central child, Andy, who is committing the murders. Certainly it's the explanation that seems most sensible for the adult characters within the movie when Andy keeps saying "the doll did it!"

    This time around I quickly recognised the detective investigating the murders as Chris Sarandon who played the vampire-next-door from the original "Fright Night" (and also interestingly voiced Jack Skellington in "The Night Before Christmas"). He's not got the same impact here as he had in "Fright Night", but then again it's not the same juicy role.



    Catherine Hicks is also pretty awesome as Andy's mother. She has a very appealing and endearing onscreen presence which she also made use of in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (the one where they go back in time to save humpback whales) where she essentially played Captain Kirk's new girlfriend. (In the original series Kirk would often latch onto a girl on the random planet where they land, only this time it just so happens that the planet is present-day Earth. Still, this meant that Hicks' role was also to help newcomers to the Star Trek film series not to feel alienated. Arguably Hicks deserves the credit for getting Star Trek IV shown on TV at Christmas year after year after year.) So yeah, Catherine Hicks is great.



    I suspect the reason why this film once had a reputation as a scary movie is to do with the quality of the effects. They've made the effects better and better as the series went on and even in this first instalment they haven't dated as much as they could have. But these effects are lacking the novelty today that they had on first release. Movies like "Toy Story" and "Small Soldiers" were a long way away. "Puppetmaster" and Stuart Gordon's "Dolls" would not come until later. The concept was pretty fresh and unexpected in a way that's a bit hard to give it credit for now.

    Personally, I think I prefer Chucky to Freddy. He's funnier than Freddy (and it's not because Freddy keeps on calling every woman a 'bitch'. Chucky does that just as much). He also has clearer rules behind what he can do. Freddy seemed to be able to do absolutely anything so long as you were asleep, and even with that limit the movies would often cheat and say a character had fallen asleep already. On the one hand Chucky relies on people disbelieving that he is alive. On the other hand, even if people decide to try to stop him, he is seriously hard to kill. The whole trope whereby the bad guy is never really dead is taken to extremes with Chucky, so that he fits neatly not only into the Not Quite Dead trope but also the Rasputinian Death trope too. Chucky is an uncompromisingly evil villain who manages to be funny anyway.



    Child's Play gets a lot of respect points from me for being fun and if you recognise that a great deal of this is comedic you'll be much more likely to enjoy yourself. Take it too seriously and you'll inevitably find it too cheesy. This isn't perfect and it's neither as funny or (to be quite frank) as scary as Bride Of Chucky, but the way the relationship between Andy and the doll is handled is quite impressive and the film can really pull you in if you give it the chance.

    B+

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    Damien: Omen II (1978)

    I must congratulate the casting director for making such an awesome choice of actor for the role of the teenage Damien. When watching, I was convinced that it was actually same actor grown up. Not only does the actor catpure that distinctive look of the Anti-christ from the original movie, but he also has a real on-screen charisma to him which makes him easily relateable. Should the Anti-Christ be relateable though? This question is rather central to this first sequel to "The Omen".



    This time around, the Anti-Christ is being sent to boarding school by his loving upper-class adopted parents and seems to be really good friends with his now-long-adopted brother. But within their father's company and even within their new boarding school, certain figures begin to guide Damien towards his destiny.




    In the boarding school Lance Henriksen (Aliens, The Terminator) becomes the first person to reveal to Damien who he really is. This leads to a rather narm-y scene where he runs to abandoned dock to shout "WHY ME?" as loud as he can.

    In "The Omen" it always seemed that Damien must already know his purpose. Since we were told that he's not really a human being, part of the appeal of the character was that he was this soulless child. A monster in the form of a human child with absolutely no remorse. Still, just as in Christian theology there are some who interpret Jesus as knowing his role from the moment he was born and others who, recognising Jesus' humanity, suggest that he may not have realised his full purpose on Earth until later (some suggest at his baptism by John the Baptist). What we have here in "Damien: Omen II" is more of a sort of 'adoptionist' theory of the Anti-Christ, whereby while he always has his powers (and even uses his powers) he has to learn his identity and destiny gradually. The point being that he's not just a semi-Satan hiding in a semi-human body in this movie, but actually truly experiences human emotions.



    Portraying this more human Anti-Christ figure is Jonathan Scott-Taylor and since the film needs him to react emotionally as he realises his true identity, he cannot get by on blank inhuman expressions. I think he does a great job portraying the Anti-Christ as a conflicted adolescent. We get a few occasions where he consciously uses his powers on people he meets, but afterwards he needs to come to terms with what he has done and what it all means.

    The random supernatural pre-destined deaths continue this time around, except this time they are often connected to a raven. While Damien appears to be unaware of these deaths, there's a suggestion that he might be subconsciously responsible. These killings are especially extravagant this time around and I must admit finding them a lot more satisfying as a result. These deaths are often a real spectacle. The raven appears to be taking the place of the black dog from the first movie and while you can't get a raven to growl at people, instead the director uses a close up of the raven's eye with the light glinting off it that makes for a very cool effect.



    Even though "Damien: Omen 2" is quite cheesy in places, these cool payoffs do a lot to make up for it. I wonder whether the "Final Destination" movies aren't somewhat inspired by the "Omen" series. The idea that the world around us is actively trying to kill us. I'm always more impressed by the animal-related deaths though, since the idea that random coincidences are plotted by Satan is a little hard to take seriously. But if Satan has sent an animal after you as an omen of your imminent demise, then THAT is something I can get behind.

    I think perhaps the most annoying thing about "Damien: Omen 2" for me was the 'famine' character. Famine is, of course, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. As you might expect, he doesn't appear as a cloaked figure on a horse but rather as a figure in Damien's father's company. He is encouraging the company to take control of farming land across the world. The controversy is, of course, that a corporation will be in control of the land the country relies on for food. The company guy insists that the company is perfectly trustworthy and that those countries will benefit from the company's involvement. The odd thing is his specific words are that the company's "future profit lies in famine". Now if the scheme is to provide food to hungry people, that's not famine at all. That's pretty much the opposite of famine. And the company guy keeps using the word 'famine' in order to ensure we all know who he is supposed to be, but for the people around him the use of that word makes no sense in the context. - Seriously annoying!



    Overall though this was a really good film and, mostly thanks to the actor playing Damien, I actually preferred this to the first movie. Sure it's pretty much a repeat of the first movie, but the change in Damien's age makes Damien a more interesting central figure and tying the rise of the Anti-Christ to adolescence works very well thematically. If I'm right in thinking that "We Need To Talk About Kevin" takes some inspiration from "The Omen" then clearly the theme of child development is a very important one in this sort of story. The fear of Damien isn't just because he's a creepy child, but because he is growing into an even more dangerous man.

    The work that "Damien: Omen 2" does on the character of Damien leaves a lot of interesting routes for development in later sequels. Unlike in the first movie Damien is now able to emotionally react to things that happen around him. There's some sign that his experiences will have a definite effect on him in the future. By the end of this movie there's more scope than ever for Damien as a complex character. As cheesy as "Damien: Omen 2" is, there's a lot going for it, even beyond the spectacular deaths (which are admittedly pretty cool).

    B+


    Previous reviews in this series include:
    The Omen
    Child's Play

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    The Hunt (2012)

    As much as I love Mads Mikkelsen as an actor, some might still feel that this film was still inevitably going to be one I disliked. Many may remember my review for "Monsieur Lazhar" where I ranted and raved since the main message seemed to be "you should let teachers put their hands on children and to hell with child protection safeguards".

    So here's a film about a teacher who is wrongly accused of child abuse at a primary school. Mads Mikkelsen is great and I don't know that it's really the film that I should be getting angry with here. The primary school basically makes every mistake they could possibly make in handling suspicions of abuse. Though it might also be argued that it was unrealistic that a school would fail so spectacularly in following child protection procedures, particularly when they specifically inform the parents that they must stick to procedures.

    Here's the mistakes that were made. Firstly the young girl kisses the teacher. He's quick to inform her that this is only for parents and that she shouldn't kiss him, but he doesn't inform anyone about this incident and there's never any suggestion that he should have reported this behaviour from the child.
    The child also gives him a gift and he suggests that she should give it to another child in the school instead. Neither of these incidents happening that day is discussed or reported.

    Later the child makes some statements which sound odd and suggest that foul play might be involved. The teacher takes this seriously as well she should. However, she does not appear to write a statement of precisely what was said to her. It is vital when noticing any telltale signs of abuse that anything seen or said is written down as accurately as possible. There should be a reliable record and that should be sent on to the relevant authorities.

    Next a man, who seems to be more like a friend of the headteacher rather than a child protection official, asks the girl what she said. The girl didn't actually mean to accuse Mads Mikkelsen's character of anything. There's a misunderstanding from the very beginning, but here she is asked questions that she doesn't really understand. All she knows is that she is missing out on play time. So what does she do when she is asked questions? She nods.


    One of the most important rules when dealing with child protection issues is to never ask leading questions or to name names. The accusation must come from the victim as must the details of the incident. The person listening to the details should not try to fill in the blanks. And certainly anyone with the least bit of child protection training should have noticed that the child was nodding at everything and not actually providing any details at all. (Of course if they'd written a proper report in the first place, the adults in charge wouldn't feel it was anything like so urgent to get the child to repeat what they believe were her previous claims.

    Finally instead of asking whether there'd been any odd changes in behaviour at home, the headteacher announces to the parents that there had been accusations of abuse in the school and that their daughter was a victim. Of course, with Mads Mikkelsen's character being told not to come to work, it was not hard for people to work out that he was the teacher under suspicion.


    Not only that, but he has a fair while of being mistreated by various members of his close-knit community before the police get involved at all, including getting beaten up unprovoked by the security guard at his local supermarket.

    There's a theme of characters asking whether a child would ever lie, which is odd since the child in the movie doesn't ever lie at all really. I had trouble going along with the film because it felt so unrealistic that a school would be so ridiculously ignorant of basic child protection rules. And I didn't really feel like the film had much of a message.

    The basic gist seemed to be that if you work with children you better make sure you report any odd behaviour immediately because otherwise the school could end up letting you down badly. Except that aspect of the story was given barely any attention at all.

    I looked up some information about the film to check whether it was based closely on a real event. Perhaps I was being unfair? well, it turns out that in actual fact the story has been constructed to tell a story. It's based on some stories from the past, but "The Hunt" is bang up to date, so it doesn't share the same details, so it feels anachronistic as a result. Seemingly showing an overly naive approach to child protection on the one hand and yet showing a modern setting where the existence of child protection procedures is acknowledged even though none of them seem to be followed.

    So what was the REAL intended message of the filmmakers? Well thankfully it's not like "Monsieur Lazhar"'s message that school rules are just the work of distrusting overprotective killjoys who selfishly want to limit the affection that can shown by teachers. On the other hand I was right to notice the whole theme of "would a child ever lie". It's a bizarre focus considering that the child in the movie isn't ever shown to lie. I suppose what the director refers to as "lying" is actually her decision to nod in response to questions where 'yes' would not be the right answer.
    "I was fascinated by the fantasy of children. There is this strange convention that children don't lie, but they do. We even encourage them to lie and that is so interesting to me."

    Personally I thought the message of the film fell rather flat and I'd have rather the writer had done some better research on how children protection procedures actually work. Also, the film as a whole seems a little directionless and plodding. Still, the performances were fantastic and Mads Mikkelsen is as awesome as ever. The relationships between the characters were well-handled, particularly the relationship between the protagonist and his own son. There are a variety of well-handled characters and there's a clear sense that this filmmaker is capable of better things. The central child actor's role in the film is particularly well handled and I hope she gets more similarly demanding roles in the future.

    D+


    While I'm slowly cross-posting my reviews of The Omen and Child's Play series from Halloween Candy, I'm still posting new horror reviews in that community. Most recently you can find the following horror reviews. Click on the titles below to see the reviews:

    "Exit Humanity" - A zombie movie set in the southern states of America at the end of the American civil war.
    "Stitches" - An Irish zombie comedy about an evil clown starring Ross Noble.
    "Texas Chainsaw" - The latest attempt to breathe new life into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.
    "Warm Bodies", "Return of the Living Dead Part II", "Return of the Living Dead Part III" - Three horror comedies with zombies.


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    Love Crime (2010)

    Kristin Scott Thomas has suddenly revealed herself as an incredible actress in recent years. While she's had few roles in Hollywood and even her roles in British films have involved being withdrawn, the French film industry seems to now have a never ending supply of fantastic powerful roles for her. Two French films which particularly appealed to me in recent years were "I've Loved You So Long" where she plays a woman going to stay with her sister after a long absence which no one feels comfortable to talk about and "Sarah's Key" where she plays a journalist trying to uncover the story of a young girl who survived the roundup of Jews in France.

    She's still taking roles in mainstream movies. Don't get me wrong. She appeared in the recent films "Bel Ami" and "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen". But her real powerhouse roles are coming from France. Albeit with the exception of "Only God Forgives" where she plays an utter monster of a human being and completely steals the show.


    Above from left to right (presuming all pics display properly): Four Weddings And A Funeral, I've Loved You So Long, Sarah's Key, Bel Ami, Only God Forgives, Leaving

    So now there's "Love Crime" which places Kristin Scott Thomas head-to-head with the young and glamorous Ludivine Sagnier. If anyone here saw that live-action version of "Peter Pan" she was Tinkerbell in that. I first saw her in François Ozon's Whodunnit musical-comedy "8 Women" and was very pleased with her appearance as the Countess in the much underrated "Molière".

    The chemistry between Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier is amazing. And right from the start we see a barely distinguishable ambiguity as to whether Kristin Scott Thomas' character is preparing a protégé in their business for future success or sexually harassing her. It's made clear that while this seems far from simply a professional relationship, Scott Thomas' character genuinely appears to be letting her guard down emotionally with Ludivine Sagnier's character in a way that she wouldn't with anyone else in the company. Ludivine Sagnier seems to admire her boss, but their relationship becomes highly emotionally charged with Kristin Scott Thomas asking Ludivine Sagnier to say "Je Vous Aime". This is notably more formal than "je t'aime" which you would say to a lover or family member, but still a strange thing to demand from an employee.



    The interplay between their two characters is fascinating and Sagnier gives as good as she gets against Scott Thomas's absolutely incredible performance. Every scene the two actresses have together is an absolute joy to watch since there is so much subtlety in their expressions and body language. Also the script gives them plenty to work with and they take full advantage of the dramatic pauses and enigmatic remarks in their delivery.



    It's worth comparing this with the recent remake that's being advertised right now. Sometimes a trailer for a remake will give you little idea as to what might have been changed, sometimes the trailer makes clear that the remake is a completely different type of film, but sometimes the trailer reveals something that is very clearly the same film only crass and overblown. I don't recommend anyone check out the trailer since it basically gives away the entire plot of both films. However, I think it shows why these sorts of roles are not generally available for actresses like Kristin Scott Thomas outside of the French market.



    Renamed "Passion", the remake features Noomi Rapace (of "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" fame) in the role of the younger more naive character played by Ludivine Sagnier. Meanwhile it features Rachel McAdams (from, um, "Mean Girls"?) as her older more established boss. Straight away this seems bizarre since Rachel McAdams is clearly the younger of the two. It's also notable that both acrtresses are almost 20 years younger than Scott Thomas. This should come as no surprise sadly. Hollywood is generally unwilling to give exciting roles like this to actresses in their early 50s, even when they are glamorous and enormously talented.


    Left: Kristin Scott Thomas as a tough older businesswoman.
    Right: Rachel McAdams as... a tough older businesswoman?


    The trailer for "Passion" also features McAdams forcefully french kissing Rapace. A sight that might have sold a few extra tickets, but clearly lacking the subtlety of the relationship between Sagnier and Scott Thomas in "Love Crime".



    Anyway, enough slagging off of films I haven't seen. Back to "Love Crime" which, I must now admit, is not flawless. While the scenes between Scott Thomas and Sagnier are amazing, there's a point in the film where Scott Thomas bows out for a large chunk of the runtime. During that time the film rests wholly on Sagnier's shoulders and that's not exactly a bad thing. Sagnier is great. But I felt upset that I couldn't continue to enjoy the interplay between them.



    There's nothing wrong with the second half, but it's rather less of a novelty than the pairing of Sagnier and Scott Thomas in the first half. Overall though this was a really great little film and well worth giving a try. It's the sort of film that apparently Hollywood just can't handle and that's got to be a good reason to check it out right? In the end the two brilliant female leads are the main draw here and trust me, they do a fantastic job.

    B+


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    Working (very) gradually backwards through the years, I'm redoing my 'best of' movie lists. Inevitably trying to release a best of list at the end of the year is tough since you often haven't had the time to see all the movies by then and in the attempt to meet the Oscar rush many movies are released in December in the US yet take months and months to get a UK release (and sometimes the bigger the wait, the bigger the disappointment, such as with "Hitchcock" for example).

    So it's inevitable that I'll need to do a reconsideration of my upon-the-new-year best of list for 2012, but I have so far done far more satisfying lists for 2011 and 2010:


    For 2011 I felt the very best movie was Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman. Click here for my full Top Ten movies of 2011


    For 2010 I felt the very best movie was Winter's Bone, directed by Debra Granik and starring Jennifer Lawrence. Click here for my full Top Ten movies of 2010

    So without further ado...




    10. Triangle (2009)
    UK release: 16 October 2009

    Possibly Christopher Smith's best movie yet, combining time travel with the slasher genre with some very interesting Kubrickian shots in a large ship. So far so weird.

    Triangle actually turns out early on to be the name of a yacht, though it seems pretty clear that the title was originally intended to indicate that the movie took place in the Bermuda Triangle (which was precisely why I initially thought I should completely avoid this film). Fortunately the Bermuda Triangle actually has no relevance to anything.

    I was very happily surprised by how good this movie was. It's creepy, yet intelligent and gives the audience something more than you'd expect from the average horror movie. It's difficult to explain what happens in this movie without spoiling it. This is a simple but effective plot. But essentially it's about a group of people who go on a sailing trip on a yacht and, when their yacht is blown over in a storm, find themselves taking refuge on what appears to be a large empty ship. Is the ship haunted? Is the ship evil? Or did the real evil come on board with them? Seriously, the film is so much better than any of that sounds. Check it out.



    My review here

    Christopher Smith is on pre-production for a movie called "Get Santa" about a father and son who have to help Father Christmas who is on the run from the police having crashed his sleigh (what???). This is apparently expected to star Jim Broadbent (presumably as Father Christmas).


    9. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
    UK release: 27 May 2009


    After all that time-wasting making naff movies like "The Gift" or making those cheesy Spider-Man movies, Sam Raimi finally gets back to what he does best: horror-comedy. "Drag Me To Hell" is about a woman who finds herself stuck with a curse that will inevitably lead to her being dragged to hell. Just like with the deadites in the "Evil Dead" movies, the demon consistently taunts her but any fighting back seems futile. She's being toyed with. Still she tries a number of different methods of getting rid of the demon and eventually enlists the help of a woman who has faced this demon once before.

    You need to expect to laugh in order to enjoy this movie really. A lot of what happens is ridiculous and often the scariest moments are hilarious at the exact same moment. The clearest sign that this is supposed to be a comedy is when there's randomly an anvil suspended from the ceiling by a rope. Blood and other fluids are regularly squirting around the place, often into the protagonist's mouth.

    "Drag Me To Hell" is a creepy, yet hilarious slapstick masterpiece. It's right up there with any of the "Evil Dead" films and has a very similar style to Evil Dead 2 and 3. Hopefully Raimi will make another film in this genre (perhaps the ever-awaited "Evil Dead 4") soon.



    Sam Raimi has not yet confirmed what his next film after his "Wizard of Oz" prequel will be. (Make it horror, make it horror, please please make it horror!)



    8. Up (2009)
    UK release: 9 October 2009


    While not everyone shared my love for "Brave", few would doubt the excellent quality of "Up". Following in the footsteps of the thoughtful sci-fi movie "Wall-E", my personal favourite Pixar movie, "Up" had a lot expected of it. However, the first ten or so minutes of the movie have been particularly highly praised capturing emotional highs and lows majestically in the depiction of a couple's passage through life together.

    The rest of the film is about an old man who decides to complete his life's dream by travelling to an exotic location by piloting his house like an air-ship through the careful use of huge numbers of balloons. A stowaway boy scout ends up complicating his plans.

    "Up" looks gorgeous, has endearing characters, is regularly hilarious and pulls hard on the heart-strings. It's one of the best Pixar movies and has the best of everything we've come to expect from 3D animated movies at the moment.



    The two directors are both working on separate upcoming Pixar titles. Bob Peterson is filming "The Good Dinosaur", while Pete Docter is on pre-production for "Inside Out", which apparently will be told from the perspective of the emotions inside a little girl.



    7. The Hurt Locker (2008)
    UK release: 28 August 2009


    I'm personally not a fan of "Point Break", "Strange Days" or "Near Dark". Kathryn Bigelow's work in the past has always struck me as rather cheesy and poorly paced. So I was extremely surprised to see how much I enjoyed "The Hurt Locker". This movie is essentially "Die Hard in Iraq". We have a cowboy bomb-disposal guy who seems to have a good heart, but is not very good at following the chain of command. Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes both show up in this movie and bring some good performances, but the heart of the movie is always Jeremy Renner.



    Kathryn Bigelow's latest project was "Zero Dark Thirty" about the hunt and eventual assassination of Osama Bin Laden.



    6. The Wrestler (2008)
    UK release: 16 January 2009


    Mickey Rourke plays a washed-up wrestler who is finding that his life is coming to a dead-end. His career is basically over since keeping up with it is taking a big toll on his health. Changing jobs at this late stage in his life is proving to be depressing for him. He's not been a good father and now he has a bad relationship with his child as a result. The one thing he can rely on is the cheers of his fans, who still want to see him in the ring.

    Marisa Tomei clearly needs to be in more films. She was great in "My Cousin Vinny" and she's great here. This is one of a number of excellent performances from Mickey Rourke recently including "Once Upon A Time In Mexico", "Sin City" and "Iron Man 2", but this is probably the best performance of his I've seen.

    This is probably the most down-to-earth and least arty of Darren Aronofsky's movies, but as always it has this crushing emotional weight to it. And even without Clint Mansell providing another of his awesome soundtrack score's, Darren Aronofsky still comes through with another incredible cinematic experience.



    Darren Aronofsky is currently working on "Noah" starring Russell Crowe as the well-known Biblical figure.



    5. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
    UK release: 18 September 2009


    This is one of my favourite animated movies of all time. The story of an inventor whose inventions regular cause big problems, but who becomes super-popular when one device causes food to rain down from the sky. Think that sounds a bit weird? Well that's no surprise, the whole thing is nuts. The main appeal of "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" is that it is so beautifully creative and absolutely hilarious. While his main appeal has always been his highly expressive face, the presence of Bruce Campbell as one of the voice actors is still very welcome. The lead actor, Bill Hader, appears to have been absolutely nothing else. He's known for his work on Saturday Night Live and it looks like he has a talent for comedy voice work. The lead actress, Anna Farris, however has been in a much of stuff and is always hilarious and it's always good to see her appear in something that isn't utter trash. It's difficult to explain why Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs is so good without just listing all the gags and I'm not going to do that. Just trust me that this crazy movie demands your attention.



    My review here

    Phil Lord and Chris Miller had a lot of success with their movie of "21 Jump Street" and are now returning to animation to make "The Lego Movie".



    4. In the Loop (2009)
    UK release: 17 April 2009


    I didn't review this particularly well because I was unfamiliar with the tv series when I first saw it. The absurd level of swearing completely took me by surprise and it was hard to get the hang of the format. However, now that I've seen the series, the movie has risen exponentially in my estimation. As a feature-length international version of a tv series normally confined to an office building, this film is quite incredible.

    Plus all the actors from the tv series are included but while they have similar characters to normal, they are playing brand new roles. For example, Joanna Scanlan who plays Terri the almost universally disliked PR manager convinced of her own high level of professionalism is, appropriately, working at the protagonist MP's local clinic and her character manages to be possibly more unhelpful than ever. There's also Alex Macqueen who plays Julius, a highly reserved Labour politician, who in the movie is organising votes at the UN. Naturally these casting choices mean much less if you don't recognise the actors involved, and it's worth noting that the film is still highly enjoyable for complete newcomers. "In The Loop" is just generally a work of genius and if you haven't seen it yet, make sure you watch at least the first two series of the tv show first.



    My review here

    Armando Iannucci directed 6 of the first 8 episodes of "Veep", a version of "The Thick Of It" set in America and based around the Vice President of the US. He is executive producer on the recent Alan Patridge movie: "Alan Patridge: Alpha Papa".



    3. Moon (2009)
    UK release: 17 July 2009


    It's weird to think that Duncan Jones has still only made two films so far. My admiration for his work is enormous. "Moon" is definitely the best of his two films, but I greatly enjoyed "Source Code" too. (All the more remarkable considering he was brought on to direct "Source Code" quite late on.) "Moon" stars Sam Rockwell as a man who is expected to look after a vital project, guess where, on the moon! Then one day he runs into a clone of himself and has to figure out what is really going on. Sam Rockwell is a great actor, but his performance is particularly impressive here. This isn't an opportunity for him to play everything for laughs. It's a rather more subtle role and he handles it perfectly. There are clear similarities to "2001" in the style of this film, but don't be fooled. This isn't anything like so glacially-paced or pretentious as Kubrick's space opera.



    My review here

    Duncan Jones is said to be on pre-production of an, as yet untitled, Ian Flemming biopic. It's also been announced that he will direct "Warcraft" a movie adaptation of the videogame "World of Warcraft".



    2. Let the Right One In (2008)
    UK release: 10 April 2009


    This adaptation of the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist does a great job of capturing the central relationship between Oskar and Eli. Oskar is a child facing harsh school bullying, while Eli is a never-aging vampire who was a child when she was transformed and lives off human blood. There's something deeply twisted about how heartwarming this story becomes. I'm not sure what the remake "Let Me In" was really for since not only is it almost a shot for shot remake, but the original has better performances, better cinematography and even better special effects - meaning that the only reason not to choose this version is if you REALLY hate subtitles. In spite of the grim subject matter, "Let The Right One In" is a very sweet film.



    My review here

    No movie has been announced from Tomas Alfredson since he released "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" in 2011.



    1. A Serious Man (2009)
    UK release: 20 November 2009


    I'm a big fan of the Coen Brothers and having watched all of their movies I have come to the conclusion that every single one of their films is a black comedy. I'm actually more drawn to their weird and wacky films (e.g. Raising Arizona) than to their drier ones (e.g. No Country For Old Men). A Serious Man is particularly black in its humour, yet it's also subtley yet thoroughly bizarre. There's a lot of Jewish references and in particular it would be a good idea to familiarise yourself with the Cliffnotes on the Book of Job in the Bible if you want a good grasp of the film's central concepts. Then again, the Problem of Evil is one of the most well recognised challenges in Philosophy of Religion and even a child can understand the question "why does God let bad things happen to good people?" But the main reason why I recommend this film so highly is because it had me in stitches for the vast majority of the runtime. Perhaps my sense of humour is simply bizarre, but for personally I think this is one of the funniest films I have ever watched.



    My review here

    The Coen Brothers' next film is "Inside Llewyn Davis". It's about a singer-songwriter living during the 1960s and I haven't a clue what to expect. I can't wait!


    Honourable Mentions:

    Watchmen (Director's Cut) (2009)
    UK release: 6th March 2009


    There are few cases where a movie adaptation helps you understand the appeal of the source material. I suppose for many people "The Lord Of The Rings" feels like that, since many who would have had little patience for Tolkein's prose are extremely passionate about the sword and sorcery movie adaptations. I found Alan Moore's original graphic novel rather pretentious and was extremely confused as to who had superpowers and who didn't. (Apparently only Dr. Manhattan is supposed to have superpowers, though super strength seems to be displayed all through the comic.) While the giant squid was a spectacular image, it was hard enough to take the "it's an alien" stuff seriously in the original comic and I really don't think it was ever going to work in the movie. The initial cut of Watchmen is alright, but the director's cut is incredible. (I haven't seen the even more extended cut with the pirate cartoon woven into it, but I think I'll pass. Though that cartoon was surprisingly really good, especially seeing as I found those parts of the comic extremely unappealing.) My biggest complaint is Nixon's comedy nose. It looks normal when he faces the screen, but when he turns to the side it looks bizarre and silly. Overall this is visually spectacular, captures emotion in a way that the original artwork couldn't hope to, comes to subtly altered and much more easily comprehensible conclusion, and features an opening sequence that even detractors from the movie find jaw-droppingly detailed and provocative. Watchmen is one of the best superhero movies of recent years and it's sad that for many people the novelty of the material has done more to turn them off than to fascinate them. I think the voices of more purist fans of the original graphic novel have also triumphed, making a preference for the movie over the comic seem like the less cultured response. But in spite of how often I've heard it stated otherwise, Zack Snyder needed to appreciate not just the outward style but also the heart of the graphic novel to produce an adaptation both this faithful and this dramatically-effective.



    Zack Snyder's next project is "Batman Vs Superman".



    Coraline (2009)
    UK release: 8 May 2009


    Henry Selick, the director of "A Nightmare Before Christmas" adapts a Neil Gaiman story in glorious stop-motion. The creepy "other mother" really pushes the boundaries of how dark you can make a children's film and one Horror Etc. podcast reveals that the daughter of one of the show-hosts absolutely adores this film. Horror for children is something I strongly approve of, having very pleasant memories of watching the "Gremlins" movies as a child. This animation is not just creepy, but also enchanting and beautiful. The eponymous central protagonist is a somewhat flawed human figure rather than a bland goody-two-shoes. I find Neil Gaiman a bit hit and miss, but I have to admit that his writing here produces a traditional dark fairytale feel (as opposed to the glossy Disneyfied fairytale that we more often see). There are parts in the film that are very sweet, but there are also plenty of parts that are downright terrifying - and I loved it!



    Henry Selick is currently filming "The Shadow King".

    Another 6 good movies from 2009:
    Finally a small roundup of the runners up for the top ten.

    An Education (2009)
    UK release: 30 October 2009


    This was a big vehicle for Carey Mulligan as the smart yet naive heroine whose new boyfriend offers an excitingly different way of living. This is a wonderful little drama with a fantastic cast.

    My review here

    Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (2009)
    UK release: 24 April 2009


    Chris O'Dowd has come a long way since he was only known as Roy from "The IT Crowd". Now he seems to have roles all over the place from the US tv series "Girls", a variety of US films like "This Is 40", "Friends With Kids", "Bridesmaids" and even the upcoming "Thor" sequel, as well as an Australian film called "The Sapphires". He's also got a new UK show called "Family Tree" and a voice acting role as "Dr. Cockroach" in the "Monsters Vs Aliens" cartoon series. He's doing a lot.

    Anyway, FAQ About Time Travel has a similar feel to "The World's End". It's not such a tight production and it's not as funny, but it's still a fantastic little production with some great use of sci-fi themes. The theme is time travel in case you didn't guess, though this goes a little more extreme than your average time travel story. And Anna Farris turns up every now and then. YAY!

    My review here

    Frost/Nixon (2008)
    UK release: 23 January 2009


    Michael Sheen plays the famous presenter David Frost (who sadly passed away very recently) interviewing Frank Langella as President Nixon. (Langella has played Dracula and Skeletor, so clearly this was an obvious progression.) Both give fantastic performances and this is an absolutely brilliant drama. Though I haven't seen his entire filmography, I would strongly argue that this the best film Ron Howard has directed.

    Bolt (2008)
    UK release: 6 February 2009


    Oddly under-the-radar and not really benefitting from a 3D release, the promotional material for this film is deeply misleading. While initially seeming like a cheesy 'superhero animal' film, it turns out to be more about comicbook geeks and self-delusion. In the first ten to fifteen minutes of the movie nothing is what it seems and what follows is a much more down-to-earth story and the whole thing is absolutely hilarious. Of course in 2009 "Bolt" is up against "Up", "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" and "Coraline", so it's far from the best animated film of the year, but I was very impressed at the way it matched up to Pixar's quality levels.

    Johnny Mad Dog (2008)
    UK release: 16 October 2009


    While this is a dark disturbing topic and the film doesn't shy away from being a very dark film, the black humour makes it surprisingly entertaining. After we've established the scenario of child soldiers who are brainwashed, ruthless and uncompromising, we see the telltale signs of unfinished childhood. One soldier, for example, insists on bringing a pig with him. Also upon seeing a particular gun used by Chuck Norris, it is suggested that the soldiers look out in case Chuck Norris is around. And when a teacher ends up becoming a captive, well let's just say you don't want to be the one to tell an over-confident child with a gun that they aren't as smart as they think they are...

    My review here

    Cherry Blossoms (2008)
    UK release: 3 April 2009


    After a fairly slow and very sad start, this film turns into a beautiful tale of self-discovery. There's a neat little misdirect involved and the film starts to go in a remarkably upbeat direction. A beautiful German film set mostly in Japan. It deserves to be seen by more people. It's sort of bittersweet humour, but just generally a really touching drama.

    My review here

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    Child's Play 2 (1990)

    Child's Play continues the theme of ambiguity as to whether Chucky is alive or just a doll. It's a little late to do this now seeing as we all know for certain that he's alive by now, however the movie exploits the fact that there is still no one who believes Andy. (His mother is completely missing from this movie, presumably because they couldn't get Catherine Hicks back.) While we in the audience never seriously entertain the idea that Andy is the killer, we can see why no one else believes that the doll is alive.



    After what happened to Chucky at the end of the last film (and seriously, he was in a really bad way by the end) clearly we needed some kind of explanation as to how he'd be in a position to go incognito again.

    Turns out there's a pretty good explanation. (Perhaps moderately contrived, but I could go with it.) The company that makes the Good Guy dolls has received a lot of bad publicity from media coverage about Chucky. While nobody believes that the doll was alive, there's still questions over whether the voicebox of the doll was altered and was possibly even instructing Andy to do the killings. The whole (in this case remarkably justified) paranoia around the doll speaks to the video nasty era in which this was made. Moral panics about the effects of a toy on a child's behaviour would not seem quite so strange at the time.

    A very enterprising employee at the company that makes the dolls decides to retrieve the remains of Chucky and rebuild the doll as much as possible to look as good as new. The idea is then to do quality tests on it, show that there's nothing wrong with it, and thus refute any connection between the doll and the murders surrounding Andy. It's actually not a bad plan, but when the tests begin there's a Frankenstein-esque scene where lightning shoots out of the Chucky doll and Chucky's eyes glow. Chucky is reborn!



    It wasn't so long ago that I saw "Bride Of Chucky", but until re-watching the original "Child'S Play" I'd completely forgotten how central Andy is to the storyline. In any case, the early rules are a lot clearer here and Chucky is compelled to go after Andy because it's his only way to stop being a doll any more.

    So begins what feels less like a serious attempt to swap souls with Andy and more of an attempt to cause Andy to be chucked out of his current foster home. All the claims that the early Child's Play movies were scary and that the comedy of Bride Of Chucky was out of place is sounding like complete and utter nonsense at this point. Child's Play is DEFINITELY a comedy. It's not such a consistently funny comedy as Bride Of Chucky, but it's certainly not what I'd consider a scary movie either. Then again, neither was the first one terribly scary (though I suppose they both have their moments).



    The same boy from the first movie returns to take up the role of Andy from where he left off. He turns out to be pretty good in the role, in spite of starting out so young. He certainly does a lot better than some of the other actors here. I was particularly surprised by this when I thought that Ellen Burstyn (from "Requiem For A Dream") had played the woman in charge of the foster centre, but it seems that was actually Grace Zabriskie (the senile lady from "The Grudge" and clearly a very capable actress, but not quite Ellen Burstyn's calibre all the same). Giving a remarkably flat performance here is Jenny Agutter, who seems to be really struggling and failing to provide a convincing American accent.

    Beth Grant from Donnie Darko ("sometimes I doubt your committment to Sparkle Motion!") is playing the same obnoxious figure she is so great at playing and it's actually sad that she doesn't get more screen time. In the short time she's on screen she gets to commit some of the most unethical teaching practice short of abuse, by locking Andy in a classroom on his own. Seriously dodgy, but then again this is a slasher flick and it's normal in this genre to have at least some of the victims DESERVE their fate.



    A major part of the third act takes place in the Good Guy doll factory. It's a very impressive and creepy setting to bring us to, even if it's not entirely obvious WHY the action should end up there. Like with the first movie, the ending takes full advantage of Chucky's status as a villain that just WILL NOT DIE. The final confrontation goes on quite a while and yet feels properly exciting and engaging.



    Child's Play 2 is hilarious and inventive. However, it's also often rather cheesy and the acting is really not great, even from actors who I know can do better. Naturally it's probably best to blame the director John Lafia whose other credits include "Chameleon 3" and the less well-known Henriksen movie "Man's Best Friend". Still I feel that Don Mancini's script with it's overall sense of fun and the effects work that is done to bring the character to life (along with Brad Dourif's awesome voice work) makes this a lot of fun and well worth checking out.

    B-


    Previous reviews in this series include:
    The Omen
    Child's Play
    Omen II: Damien

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    The Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)

    This time Sam Neil takes on the role of Damien Thorne, the Anti-Christ. I was extremely excited about this piece of casting. Sam Neil has played evil (or at least highly villainous or disturbed) figures in plenty of other films I've seen before and I've loved it.

    Event Horizon, Daybreakers, In The Mouth of Madness, and even John Carpenter's comedy with Chevy Chase "Memoirs Of An Invisible Man" have all showcased Sam Neil's ability to portray particularly sinister characters.



    Still, the opening scene does not feature Sam Neil. The Final Conflict starts by showing us where the meggido daggers have got to. Anyone who has seen either of the previous two Omen movies will know that these are the only weapons that can kill the Anti-Christ.



    After changing hands a number of times at an auction and through private sales, the meggido daggers eventually arrive in the hands of a group of poor monks in an obscure monastery. So yeah, this is totally realistic right? It's not like they'd end up in some rich guy's private collection. Heck, if anyone selling the daggers even knew what they were called, why didn't the rich businessman Damien Thorne end up discovering them? With just a little thought this opening is seeming all too unconvincing.

    That being said, we should probably forgive this opening since the scenes of attempted assassinations using the meggido daggers are probably the best scenes in this film. While Damien's initial adopted father was told that he needed to stab Damien with every single one, the monks have clearly decided that one will be enough. (And apparently with the second coming of Jesus at hand, Damien's powers are weakened.)



    Our initial sighting of Sam Neil as Damien Thorne in this movie comes straight after we see a random short film-within-a-film being screened. The short film begins by informing us about the ice age, both under-estimating its length and over-estimating the devastation it caused. We are then informed that a more recent financial crisis is causing similar devastation in modern times (to which I find myself saying "no shit, Sherlock").

    Finally we discover that this short film is in fact the worst advert ever seen. On the plus side, our first appearance of Damien Thorne allows him to complain at how awful it is, but that doesn't exactly make things better. I almost found myself pining for the comparative subtlety of the corrupt businessman in "Damien: Omen II" who would regularly inform people how he was going to "profit from FAMINE!!!". I don't care how dreadful your marketing department is. There's no way they are going to start an advert to promote how they are helping the poor victims of a global financial crisis by saying: "Hey, a global financial crisis is a bit like the ice age, isn't it?"

    Presumably the writers thought this sounded clever. They thought they were tying the early years of humanity to the final years of humanity. Another way they try to tie things up is by returning Damien to England (just like where his adopted parents worked). Damien's found some random apocryphal scriptural text which predicts that he's going to fight the second coming of Jesus in England, so off he goes.



    Here's the biggest problem with this film before it even gets started. Since we've shifted forward to Damien as a fully grown adult with the second coming at hand, we all know how it is going to end. In the first movie the filmmakers couldn't celebrate the murder of a child and in any case it was predicted in the Bible that the child would grow up to become the Anti-Christ. Now that Damien is an adult, those same prophecies which predicted his rise to power are pretty similarly certain of his defeat. Unless this movie can convince us that the Anti-Christ might defeat the second coming of Jesus (and naturally we are going to be pretty damn sceptical on this point, since those same prophecies seemed pretty reliable in the previous movies), then the fear built up in the last few movies simply isn't going to manifest itself.

    If anything, all this talk about the imminent birth of what Damien calls 'the Nazarene' just serves to undermine the attempts on his life by the monks with the meggido daggers. I won't spoil how these encounters play out, except to say that one particular encounter ties in neatly with the way we've seen animals interact with Damien. (For example Damien gets on very well with dogs because dogs suck. No sign of cats, because clearly the Anti-Christ would hate cats. That's my ENTIRELY UNBIASED appraisal.,) Having returned to England he takes part in some fox hunting and so there are a range of animals around when the confrontation takes place. The Meggido dagger attacks are definitely my favourite parts of "Omen III: The Final Confrontation" and this attack during the fox hunt is probably my favourite moment in the film.

    On the other hand we have the news that a strange movement in the stars points to the birth of Christ's second coming in England. So we have Damien the Anti-Christ, who was seeming pretty powerful and intimidating as a child in the previous two movies addressing quite a large crowd of followers and I'm afraid I found him a little pathetic. He basically says that he needs his followers to kill the Nazarene or they're all screwed. (Naturally they don't know which baby is the Nazarene, just the time at which it was supposed to be born. Anyone familiar with the birth stories of either Jesus or Moses can probably tell where this is going.) Now why does the Anti-Christ need his followers to kill someone? Well apparently the arrival of the Nazarene has dulled his powers somewhat. But yet even though we have a bunch of Satanists involved in widespread murder, we are expected to believe that somehow every single crime looked sufficiently like an accident.



    Damien's seeming over-reliance on his followers and the lack of supernatural deaths makes this a rather less intimidating version of The Anti-Christ. What's more Sam Neil doesn't really seem to have mastered his sinister performance at this stage in his career. That's not to say that he gives a bad performance, but simply that in later years Sam Neil gets a lot better at providing an intimidating onscreen presence and it's somewhat frustrating not to see the same level of presence here when it is so sorely needed to make up for some poor scripting decisions.



    It should come as no surprise to hear that we have a Deus Ex Machina ending here, but it really does have all the negatives that term would suggest. On the one hand as a well-known two thousand year old prophecy which is clearly acknowledged from the start, this kind of ending has naturally been pretty well foreshadowed. Yet the way it is executed, while clearly intending to try to give us a bit of a surprise, ends up feeling like a massive cheat. Still, I suppose they didn't want to finish with a "Jesus Vs The Monster" type ending, no matter how cool that would have been and how obvious it seems to me that this is EXACTLY the kind of ending they should have gone for...

    But yeah, they didn't do that...

    C-

    While the poster for Omen III clearly states that it is the end of the movie series, they don't actually finish there. There's yet another movie.


    Omen IV: The Awakening (1991 TV Movie)

    Okay, so as was made pretty clear in my last review because, let's face it, it's unavoidable: the third movie finishes with the second coming of Christ. Now the second coming of Christ is a pretty final thing. There's not really room for ANOTHER Anti-Christ once that's happened. So this movie basically ignores that entirely. So here we go again, with a brand new Anti-Christ figure...



    The problem remains, where the hell did this new Anti-Christ come from anyway? The most obvious explanation would seem to be that Damien Thorne knocked up his girlfriend in the last movie, though the idea that she would ever have gone through with that pregnancy strikes me as unlikely. In the books that continued after the movie series had ended, it's made clear that the (awkward!) sex scene in "Omen III: The Final Conflict" actually involved anal sex. And the act of sodomy results in - um... - an anal birth. (Giving birth to "the abomination".) Somehow I'm kind of glad that isn't given as the explanation for why the new Anti-Christ figure, Delia, has turned up.



    So yeah, this time the Anti-Christ is a girl. Sort of. Actually it's more than a little annoying. First we have a Catholic clergy man saying that there's no reason why the Anti-Christ couldn't be female. I was more than a little irritated by this liberal reading of scripture. That the Church would say on the one hand that there's no possible way that a woman could perform the role of priest, representing Christ to the congregation, and yet on the other hand say "oh sure, why NOT imagine that the Anti-Christ is female". UGH!!! And to make matters worse, the filmmakers aren't prepared to follow through with a female Anti-Christ. Oh sure, she's definitely evil, but she's not technically the Anti-Christ. There's a convoluted and stupid twist involved here which I won't spoil, but I'm afraid that while the priest in the story thinks that the Anti-Christ could be a girl, the filmmakers are apparently not so progressive.



    I had lowered expectations for this because I know that this was originally intended as a tv series pilot. It only ended up being turned into a movie when they realised the series would not be picked up. As a result the powers displayed by the Antichrist aren't always so spectacular. For one thing there are practically NO animal-related deaths here. Most of the deaths here are heart attacks, but they just seem to happen randomly whereas in the movie even when resorting to heart attack as the cause of death there'd normally at least be an evil animal staring at the victims to give us some sense of cause and effect involved. There is, however, one death. At one point a figure from the movie is involved in a cult and is demonstrating how protected she is from evil by handling snakes. When it turns out that she wasn't really so protected after all, she ends up looking kind of silly to be frank.


    These snakes show how protected I am from evil. Clearly nothing can go wrong with this plan!

    This is a terrible film. The line delivery is often flat. There's little success from the filmmakers in building up tension. The pacing is slow and unfocussed. But what you do have here is enjoyable snarking material. Sometimes little details can be utterly bizarre, like the private detective who brings a cat with him wherever he goes which often calmly paces or lies across the counter at bars. I mean seriously, even if you COULD get a cat to stick around at a bar counter, wouldn't you end up getting kicked out because of health and safety regulations? Heck, how would you even get the cat to come with you? Cats HATE being put in cages and I don't suppose they'd be that keen on having a leash put on either, so getting the cat from place to place would be hell.

    But the most hilarious part of "Omen IV: The Awakening" is when Delia's evil powers are discovered by her hippy nanny. She first recognises Delia's power when her protective crystal is turned black. She actually turns out to have a whole draw full of massive crystals in her room. (Seriously, where does she keep all of her outfits if her chest of drawers is for massive crystals?) To make amends for trying to get Delia interested in her hippy crystal stuff and only getting an entirely negative reaction, the nanny tries to make up for this by taking her to... a psychic faire! Wow, sounds wonderful right? Can't imagine a child, particularly one who has so far insisted that hippy crystal stuff is BS, not being absolutely THRILLED at being taken to a psychic faire! *groan*


    A photograph of her aura. Clearly damning evidence that the child is evil, right?

    At the faire there is a guy lightly banging a gong, there's a stall selling tat like unicorn figurines, there's a stall where you can get your aura photographed and there's a whole bunch of people reading fortunes. Just like Chessington World of Adventures, eh? Oh, almost forgot, there's also a guy who juggles fire. Yay! Something actualy entertaining. It seems that in THIS psychic faire all the psychics are genuine. When Delia turns up, every single one of them starts becoming alarmed as her evil clouds their visions. Then when Delia gets angry that fire juggler suddenly turns out to be a bit of a safety hazard.



    With her encounter with new agey stuff being the catalyst for Delia's mother's later suspicions that her child might be dodgy, she later takes a book about new age mysticism to her priest - and he talks about it as if the two belief systems are completely consistent. He doesn't really explain how, but we are given the impression that they must have discussed new age ideas together. But in the discussions on Catholicism, asides from possibly the idea that the Anti-Christ could be female (which is really not so liberal when you think about it), he seems to be pretty strictly towing the party line in regards to the Catholic faith.

    I'll finish by referencing one more hilarious element in this film. The Satanic carol singers. One moment they are singing a carol. The next they are in white face paint singing about the Anti-Christ. Oh the cheese!



    "Omen IV: The Awakening" is just as awful as you'd expect and even as snarking material it is slow and plodding. The supernatural deaths are pretty sparse and not always terribly satisfying. The acting is horrendous and the plot is laughable. But still, there are some watchable elements to it, so it's not exactly an abomination in spite of its massive massive flaws.

    D-


    Previous reviews in this series include:
    The Omen
    Child's Play
    Omen II: Damien
    Child's Play 2

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    Rush (2013)

    I'm not into Formula One racing. I'm not much into spectator sports in general really. But in many ways "Rush" is a lot like Ron Howard's previous film "Frost/Nixon". I didn't know a lot about Richard Nixon and all I knew about David Frost (who sadly passed away recently) was that he'd been quite an old and (to my mind, sorry) boring political interviewer. I had no idea about his wilder youth or the importance of this famous interview for him.

    Similarly I had little knowledge of either James Hunt (played here by Chris Hemsworth, best known for his role as "Thor") or Niki Lauda (played here by Daniel Bruhl, best known for his role as a Nazi war hero in Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" but also performing in some great German films like "Goodbye Lenin" and "The Edukators"). But these are such fantastic actors and this film is so well put together that I didn't have to know anything about it.



    I saw the documentary "Senna" last year. I didn't feel much need to review it because, as good as it was as a documentary, I didn't feel like I needed everyone and their aunt to see it. I have to say that, to my shame, the cars driving around and around in circles didn't really interest me much, so it was only really footage of F1 car wrecks that really kept my attention.

    Here in "Rush" a lot of effort has been put into capturing the noise, the speed, the adrenaline and the general riskiness of these past F1 races. With some neat effects (seemingly much more of them CG visual effects than you might expect from watching it) allowing the camera to get closer to the cars than you'd normally expect, allowing for a very clear view of crashes when they happen and allowing us to see what the view from a Formula One car is like without being the camera-view rattling around (as cameras on fast moving vehicles are generally more likely to do).





    The writing is damn good here too. The central storyline is focussed around the two contrasting figures of James Hunt, a British charmer and unreliable life of the party figure, and Niki Lauda, a cliched ultra-serious Austrian with no people skills at all. Yet there's a certain extent to which the two of them are, deep down, very similar. They both share a similar passion which has, at its heart, a strong risk of death. (We are told that at this time F1 racing was extremely dangerous and fatal crashes would happen quite regularly.) While James Hunt is a ladies man while Niki Lauda seems to have a tough time even making friends, it becomes clear that when it comes to the deeper emotional level they both find relationships similarly awkward.



    The conflict between the two racers, as well as their personal quirks, becomes a great source of comedy. Just as David Frost was a quirky and somewhat comedic figure, so are these two. It's a proper human drama though, with real life events being wonderfully dramatised into a narrative. The movie is also gorgeously filmed.

    Still, not only is this a wonderful story with brilliant engaging characters who, even as real life figures, were always a bit larger than life. And not only is the story wonderfully presented. The film also has incredible performances, not just from the two leading actors, but from a superb cast. I kept on recognising people because it seems like nearly everyone in the cast is absolutely brilliant in their own right.



    Early on in the film there's a brief appearance from Natalie Dormer as a nurse. She's probably best known for her role as the ambitious Queen Margaery Tyrell from "Game Of Thrones". However, she also played the blonde agent who decided to randomly try to seduce Captain America in the recent Marvel movie (causing Peggy's homicidal jealousy). Her role isn't that different here, kissing James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth). So that's Captain America and Thor she's snogged so far. Which Marvel character's next? ;)



    Christian McKay plays James Hunt's financial backer. He stuck out strongly in my mind because of his fantastic performance as Orson Welles in the Richard Linklater film "Me and Orson Welles".

    At one point Alexandria Maria Lara turns up on the scene looking pretty glamourous. I know her from "Control" as the girlfriend Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis has a long affair with while touring with the band. I also know her from "The Baader Meinhof Complex". However, the main thing I know her from is as the central secretary character in the movie "Downfall" about the final collapse of Nazi Germany. She's an amazing actress and it's great to see her appearing here.



    There's a great appearance from Stephen Mangan, who I only know from one episode of "I'm Alan Partridge" and one episode of "Hyperdrive", but he really made an impression. (He's the one that sings 'agnostic hymns' with Miranda Hart.) Another figure I recognised on James Hunt's team was Julian Rhind-Tutt who I last saw in the movie "Stardust", but also know for his appearances on "Black Books" and "Smack The Pony". He was also the second-in-command to the main baddie in the "Tomb Raider" movie. Bizzarely neither of these two actors seem to currently be listed on the IMDB cast list.



    Ron Howard's filmography has been a bit up and down with some films I have absolutely loved ("Willow", "Apollo 13", "Frost / Nixon") and some which I have absolutely hated ("Angels & Demons", "A Beautiful Mind", "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"), one which gave me nightmares as a child ("Cocoon") and at least one which I don't think you could pay me to watch ("The Dilemma"). And while there are plenty on the list that I haven't seen, I don't think it is even controversial to say that "Rush" is now the best movie of Ron Howard's directing career.

    A+

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    Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)

    I was keen to see this particular film from Hitchcock because of all the connections made to the recent Chan-Wook Park movie "Stoker". I can see the connection, but "Stoker" is a much more subtle film. In any case though, it would be silly to consider them side-by-side. This movie needs to be considered as a piece of work in its own right.



    We are shown fairly clearly towards the start that the figure of Uncle Charlie is a crook. Of course, that doesn't mean that Hitchcock isn't messing with us, but that's clearly what we are expected to believe. However, Uncle Charlie isn't the central character here. Instead it's his niece Charlie. There's apparently always been a special connection between the two of them.



    Uncle Charlie has decided to come to live with his sister and her family (which naturally includes his niece Chalie, our protagonist). Straight away we can see Charlie piecing things together. She doesn't think anything bad of Charlie at all, but she knows he's got a secret.


    Perhaps the biggest problem with this film is the actions of the police. They have a very roundabout way of persuing their suspicions about Uncle Charlie, but it gets to the point where the only thing holding them back from an arrest is a fear that they could upset our protagonist's mother (Uncle Charlie's sister). To be quite frank, I cannot imagine them holding back from making an arrest.



    The pacing of the story feels a little poorly handled and, to be frank, the central character of Charlie is a little hard to relate to. She's all mopey and depressed at the beginning of the movie and she's naive for most of the rest of the movie. However, there are some great characters in her family. The mother is a brilliant character (who actually seems more likely to 'fail to hear' accusations against Charlie than to collapse with grief, since she always seems keen to only recognise the best in people).



    Then there's Charlie's younger sister who has made an oath that she will read two books a week and has strong views that she's not afraid to voice.



    There's also Herbie who likes to have morbid discussions with Charlie's father about murder mystery ideas (posed pretty explicitly as ways they could kill one another) and he's a particularly wonderful character.



    There's a lot to like in "Shadow Of A Doubt", mainly in regards to the characters, but sadly the story really failed to grip me in this one. There either needed to be more mystery about whether Uncle Charlie was really guilty or we needed the story to be actually from Uncle Charlie's perspective. Or alternatively they could have made the police detectives more peripheral to the story, perhaps to the extent that the figures following Charlie might not have been police detectives at all.



    This has some really good elements, but overall I cannot say that this was a good film. There were some serious problems here. There was also a visual cue that I found rather annoying. Transitions between scenes would often show a brief glimpse of a formal dance. Presumably this is a setting where Uncle Charlie is supposed to have committed at least one of his crimes, but since we never see a formal dance within the actual story of the film itself, it just felt confusing.

    D+


    Upon seeing "A Shadow Of A Doubt" I then rewatched "Stoker" again and I have to say that, upon a second watch, it's pretty clearly still the best film I've seen that has been released this year so far. Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode are just so fantastic in the film and clearly WentWorth Miller needs to write more scripts, because what he came up with here was just amazing. I can see how "Shadow Of A Doubt" might have been an inspiration, but it takes the idea of a connection between the niece and her uncle much more seriously. When we discover in "Shadow Of A Doubt" that the uncle is pretty much a psychopath, the idea that the two of them REALLY have a connection becomes a lot harder to take seriously. But in "Stoker" the idea that the innocent girl is actually just as sinister as her Uncle is developed very cleverly indeed.



    Interestingly a recent Horroretc Podcast has suggested some ways in which Stoker is kind of like a vampire story. I think the connection is pretty subtle, but then again that's true of the film as a whole. But in a way, aren't all psychological thrillers about psychopaths and serial killers kind of about vampires too?



    (video link)

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    (video link)

    Wow, that is just beautiful...

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    Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

    I'll admit it, nothing about the promotional material for this made it look terribly appealing. I was about as likely to watch this as "House At The End Of The Street". Heck, at least the latter was a horror movie, even if every single critic hated it. Why do I mention those two titles together? Well, they both star Jennifer Lawrence and that is my main reason for taking an interest.

    Naturally the director is also a draw here. I haven't seen much by David O. Russell, but I DID really love "The Fighter" the other year. And I seem to have fond memories of "Three Kings" from way back when.

    I'd love to say that all my reservations were misplaced and that this blew me away, but I cannot say that. There was a lot to like here, but the film was in dangerous "Dramedy" territory here...



    Here's the problem with the trend of indie 'dramadies'. 'Dramedy' is term that has come to be used of movies that seem like they are supposed to be comedies in some ways and seem like they are supposed to be dramas in other ways. When judged as a comedy, the argument can be made that they aren't funny enough. But the real death knell, to my mind, is if you can then say that as a drama they aren't dramatic enough.

    It seems to me that 'dramedy' is, for the most part, an excuse for bland mediocre indie movies that have a airy-fairy comic tone to them and yet don't really include much that is likely to make you laugh. Making a clear balance between comedy and a darker tone can make for some pretty amazing films, but not every director can do what the Coen Brothers do.



    "Silver Linings Playbook" didn't make it entirely clear whether it was intending to be a comedy or not, but there were definitely funny moments. Moments which worked. And I must say that I was very pleased with the (basically cameo) appearances of Chris Tucker. But before I explain Chris Tucker's role, I probably need to explain the premise of this film.

    Bradley Cooper plays a man who is being released from psychiatric care. He split up with his wife, refused to honour her court order preventing him from seeing her and was sent away for treatment as a result. Chris Tucker is a friend he makes in the institution and there's a regular gag where Chris Tucker will turn up, give an obscurant technical explanation as to why the authorities had to let him go and, in many (or possibly all) cases, turn out to be an escapee.



    Some friends have Bradley Cooper's character over for dinner in a blatant attempt to set him up with Jennifer Lawrence's character. Both of them have clear psychiatric issues which make them anti-social. So anti-social in fact that they don't even actually get to the meal.

    Jennifer Lawrence encourages Bradley Cooper to help her win a dance competition as a means to do something constructive and, she argues, to therefore impress his estranged wife. She also promises to pass on letters from Cooper to his wife secretly, thus allowing him some indirect communication with her. Lawrence is clearly convinced that Cooper re-connecting with his wife is going to be fruitless and clearly wants Cooper for herself.



    Moreso than in any of the other films I've seen with Jennifer Lawrence, particularly "Winter's Bone" where she was dressed in baggy clothing and wore no kind of make-up at all, as suited the drab setting and her lowly situation within the film. Here she's not only made-up, but she's showing off her figure in a way that we haven't seen before. (It's one positive element of "The Hunger Games" that, as someone being put forward as a fierce killer, they didn't make a big deal out of her figure.) I don't feel like this is a point that needs much detail, but it's a point I felt I ought to mention since I think most people will feel struck by this point when they watch the film.



    Anyway, here's my problem. I already noted that initially Lawrence and Cooper are both clearly playing characters who are mentally unbalanced. However, the mental illness they display seems to quickly fade into the background as the movie goes on. The explanation appears to be that Cooper has gone back on his meds (and Lawrence has too? Possibly?) so that's why he doesn't act weird any more.

    The element I was most interested in regarding this film was the idea that it was about two people with psychological issues who found, in a bizarre sort of way, that they had a strong bond with one another in spite of their quirky, and sometimes possibly conflicting, behaviour. But actually by the end of the film they just seemed like a typical couple.



    On the other hand, Robert De Niro, who plays Cooper's father, turns out to have a kind of OCD related to betting on American football games. He's convinced that if Cooper sits and watches the games with him it will make his team more likely to win. This quirk that is not related to Cooper or Lawrence but De Niro becomes the vital element for the climactic third act of the film and I'll admit, it works. However, the psychological difficulties of the two main characters seemingly have to be almost completely sidelined to MAKE it work.

    Initially "Silver Linings Playbook" is a very promising film. The performances are consistently brilliant from everyone involved. The film is well placed and tone of each scene is handled very well. Admittedly there's some rather blatant iPod sponsorship, but I guess we can argue that away as yet another character being oddly quirky, which is kind of a theme of the movie.



    But where I think "Silver Linings Playbook" falls down is that it isn't really about mental illness at all. It needs quirky characters and a few scenes take mental illness semi-seriously to make that work. But in the end, you take a pill and the mental illness just goes away. Even though by the end Cooper's mental illness is no longer apparent while De Niro's OCD is looking more destructive than ever, the idea that there could be any treatment for De Niro's character is never even considered. In the end mental illness has a closer relevance to the premise of the movie than it does to the plot.

    "Silver Linings Playbook" is a better-than-average cheesy chick-flick. And it's sad because I feel it had the potential to be something more than that.

    C+


    I should probably also add that I still have practically no idea what the title means. The main problem being "what's a playbook"? I mean, I know it's to do with sports and that's one reason why I wouldn't know much about it. But I'm fairly sure that it's a term generally used in a America. I don't know of anyone talking about football in the UK (i.e. the sport Americans call "soccer") talking about keeping a 'playbook'. In any case, what's a book that records sports results got to do with finding a silver lining in your life? Perhaps some people think the third act of the movie makes this really clear, but I was left kinda mystified.

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    Seed of Chucky (2004)

    Naturally we see the return of the character of Tiffany played by Jennifer Tilly. She is clearly the best thing to happen to this series. It is absurd to me that some people think these last two films, the fourth and fifth in the series count as some kind of aberrations. The series had clearly been plodding along from sequel to sequel and the main thing that had been keeping everyone on board was Brad Dourif's charisma. And then Jennifer Tilly comes along and suddenly the two of them have this dazzling, amazing and utterly hilarious chemistry which breathes all new life into the series.



    This time around there's some self-referential stuff. The Chucky and Tiffany dolls are being used to tell the story of Chucky in a movie, but that's before those dolls then come to life AS Chucky and Tiffany later on. Meanwhile Jennifer Tilly appears to be playing the role of human not-yet-doll Tiffany in this film-within-a-film. And guess what? Actual-Tiffany is a big fan of actress Jennifer Tilly, very amusingly claiming (still being voiced by Jennifer Tilly of course) "she's got a voice like an angel!"



    Of course, the other side of this is the child fathered by Chucky at the end of the last film. An interesting decision is made to make him pretty normal asides from some sharp teeth. He doesn't seem to be a monster at all. In fact, having been picked up by a random guy checking out American cemeteries, he's been brought to England where he's being used in some kind of goth festival ventriloquism act. A bit bizarre, but the English setting seems to mean that he comes off like Oliver Twist. Owned by a cockney and born in America somehow he seems to talk frightfully posh. (In the musical "Oliver!" this is supposed to represent Oliver's upper class heritage. So goodness knows what they are trying to say here when Chucky is his dad, but anyway...)



    There's something very original about what is done with this son of Chucky who will later be known as Glenn... or possibly Glenda. (He's not anatomically correct, so who's to say whether he's a he or a she? And Tiffany wants a girl.)

    I won't say that the comedy is perfectly consistent. Things don't always flow fantastically well. However, there are some absolutely brilliant moments. The highlight for me is when Tiffany decides to use the 12 step program to deal with her addiction to murder.

    Unlike "Bride of Chucky", "Seed of Chucky" is more consistently a comedy. There aren't really that many killings here and we have a few thrown in that happened offscreen without our knowledge. Many of the early killings in the film are fake-outs, turning out not to be real for one reason or another. I want to give "Seed of Chucky" a lot of credit for being different and often being very clever. However, when you've decided to make comedy your main focus, you've got a whole new target to meet. "Seed of Chucky" is often very funny, but the comedy isn't always particularly consistent. Without the horror element to fall back on this really needed to be funnier than "Bride of Chucky" and I don't think it is. (Though comedy is a very personal thing.)



    "Seed of Chucky" is far from the worst entry into the series. It's actually pretty good. It's not so horror-based, but it has plenty of dark humour and let's face it, EVERY Chucky movie is essentially a black comedy. "Seed of Chucky" is not a betrayal of the series and I really hope that the upcoming "Curse of Chucky" brings back many of the elements they set up here (though sadly it seems that Jennifer Tilly is not returning - but no hard feelings presumably, since apparently she's tweeting updates about the next movie even in spite of being left out).

    B-



    Previous entries in the Omen / Child's Play retrospective can be found at the following links:
    The Omen (1976)
    Child's Play (1988)

    Damien: Omen II (1978)
    Child's Play 2 (1990)

    Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)
    Omen IV: The Awakening (1991)

    Child's Play 3 (1991)
    Bride Of Chucky (1998)


    The final instalment of this retrospective will involve a good hard look at the 2006 remake of "The Omen" -  It turns out that, having finished the entire series, I actually have a lot to say...

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    Cloud Atlas (2012)

    I am keen to note that book adaptations are always difficult. The original Cloud Atlas novel featured a series of stories all leading up to the final chapter where the stories would finally tie together. The Wachowskis have instead decided to run all the stories concurrently so that they finish in one big climax. This book was deemed "unfilmable" and I'm guessing that's true because if it's anything like this mess it's probably unreadable too....



    The stories are pretty hard to link together. We begin the story with a scarred-faced Tom Hanks bitterly telling a story next to a fire. He turns out to be living in a distant future where society has long broken down and many people are living a much more primitive existence. Another story features a gay musician committing suicide (which is kind of an annoying cliche, but okay...). Another story is about a writer (who tells us that he doesn't like to skip back and forth in time, which gave me a brief glimmer of hope that the movie wouldn't decide to do so for the entire running time. That hope was cruelly dashed). Another story is about a journalist investigating a conspiracy. And the story with most of the cool effects is from the perspective of a clone whose job is to serve at a futuristic fast food place.



    Essentially this is an anthology movie, except that instead of playing as individual stories they are all blended together; like an off-the-cuff cocktail whose colourful ingredients now combine into an ugly muddy brown. That said, a muddy brown cocktail can still have a lot of flavour, but does this?

    I think the problem comes back to the book the film is based on. That's not to say the book isn't good. I haven't read it myself, but I've heard good things from some quarters. The book clearly requires all these stories to come to a single conclusion. But an anthology movie requires its individual stories to have an individual climax. The result is a film where none of the individual stories seem to climax and the whole project seems to be betting on it all paying off at the end.

    Personally, I don't think it succeeds. I didn't feel like the stories paid off. The attempts to make the stories relevant to each other never really felt convincing to me. The transitions between a random scene in the middle of one story to a random scene in the middle of another often felt utterly ridiculous



    Actually to explain my issue with some of the scene transitions, I need to go on a bit of a tangent. One annoying element in the "Watchmen" comic, which was thankfully left out of the (to my mind, superior) Zack Snyder movie, was a tendency to have text related to one situation continue while the artwork transitioned to a different scene. The intention seemed to be to suggest parallels between the different stories, but all I really found it meant was that I lost the thread of the story. Similarly in "Cloud Atlas" someone will be saying a particular line (often clearly with the expectation that I should find this line profound) and the movie will transition to part of another story where the line means something entirely different. I found this technique extremely tacky and was annoyed rather than inspired every time it happened (and the Wachowskis seem to love repeating old tricks).



    Of course, we know the Wachowskis are big on their old philosophy, but after "The Matrix" was a success they got a bit overindulgent with that, giving us long meandering speeches about "Purpose" or "Choice" (both words are capitalised of course). Here we have a speech that is apparently supposed to be highly inspiring and what's the main focus? The importance of freedom? The inalienable rights of mankind? The untapped potential of humanity? How great it is that she ran into superhumans who could allow her to make this broadcast before they all get finally blown to bits? What could she possibly say that is so inspiring...?

    "To be is to be perceived."

    I mean sure she says a lot of other stuff, but that's her opening line. And apparently this is viewed as highly inspiring. Quite frankly, I'd have thought there were more inspiring philosophers to quote than Rev. George Berkeley. Perhaps picking someone who actually has something to say about politics, for example. Okay, so anyone watching the movie can probably just about work out what the point of the quote in the movie context is. If you aren't seen you cannot have an identity. That's the whole point of this broadcast, to allow her to make a statement. However, I think you need to say something more important than simply that it's good to be making a statement. You need to actually have something worth saying too. And anyone looking into the origins of the phrase "to be is to be perceived" is just going to find a load of writings on Epistemology and nothing terribly earth-shattering as far as social politics is concerned.



    Then there's the identity jumping. In the different sections of the film the same actor will be shown in a different role. One person on my f-list here on LJ said that it simply suggested that reincarnation is true, but I'm afraid that doesn't really make much sense. There's very little connecting the different characters, with the possible exception of Hugo Weaving's parts who are all unilaterally nasty people. It's also more than a little distracting. It's weird enough that there's there's an expensive prosthetic 'yellowface' method employed here, making white western actors look asian for the future scene in Japan. (So they ALL got reincarnated in future Japan? Why?)



    Thankfully the film balances things out by having the central protagonist from the future Japan scenes play a small part in at least one other scene. Except that it's rather odd to see a racist father accepting his son's clearly asian wife while ranting in favour of slavery. Still, finding myself unsold on the reincarnation theme, I think I'd rather they just had a bigger cast. Or perhaps even a smaller cast with more actual development for individual characters.


    This picture doesn't make it look too bad, but in the actual movie anyone with their race altered by prosthetics looks similarly bizarre.

    I think what I'd have liked more than anything else here though is a point to the story. Individual stories don't have individual meanings and the overall point to the film as a whole felt rather elusive to me. The idea that it's a message of hope seems rather hard to accept when the latest storyline in the timeline seems to conclude that those humans still with access to advanced storyline are in a situation where they are all dying. Though that whole story in particular is hard to follow since there's some weird baby-language dialect in the future



    I think the point where I really gave up on this movie however was part way through the story starring Jim Broadbent as a publisher. He has a violent Irish client played by Tom Hank. Hansk in this story is sporting possibly the most nail-bitingly awful Irish accent I have ever heard, to the point where some people were convinced that it must be cockney. It becomes clear that he definitely was trying to be Irish after all when his Irish friends played by actors who actually sound Irish turn up to harass the publicist, Jim Broadbent's character. Apparently trying to deal with horrendous debts, Broadbent finally ends up on a train and suddenly starts reminiscing about an old girlfriend. Before we know it an old frenemy with a hidden grudge ends up paying for Broadbent to be kept in a retirement home run by a frumpy matron played by Hugo Weaving. We probably spend more time in this storyline than any of the others (or perhaps it just feels like it) and it's just a horrendously cheesy farce.



    Rather than acting like a welcome relief from the dark serious tone of the rest of the film, Jim Broadbent's 'runaway publisher' story just becomes a bizarre tangent and makes the whole film's mood very odd indeed. Perhaps the whole film is intended to be darkly comic? As much as there've been a lot of black comedies that I've really loved in recent years such as "Submarine" and "A Serious Man", it is always a rather difficult genre to pull off. Perhaps my problem is that "Cloud Atlas" is, at heart, a black comedy which just didn't click with me?



    I found "Cloud Atlas" to be long and meandering with a lack of focus. It pretty much entirely failed to engage me emotionally because while some scenes set up the tone well, I just couldn't engage with the large array of under-developed characters. For me this film is more than just a bad movie. It's messy and pointless. You can say that it was overly ambitious if you like, but the end result is the same. A movie that I found deeply unsatisfying.

    E+

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    Wow, we're finally at the end of my reviews for both "The Omen" and "Child's Play" movie series. Time to celebrate!


    (video link)

    Ah, but one more thing remains. The 2006 remake. Don't worry, I'd already made the mistake of buying this cheaply from the thift shop down the road. In fact I'd already watched it once and given up on it part way through. I sat down for it this time in full snark mode and found it somewhat less disappointing when expecting absolutely nothing from it.


    The Omen (2006)

    This remake of The Omen had a pretty high profile release with marketing proudly noting the release date of 06/06/06. But clearly it wasn't viewed as a particularly big success. While it more than broke even (if we presume the break even point is twice the budget it made nearly 70 million worldwide), it did extremely poorly with critics (the current RT score is 27%). What is perhaps more worthy of note is that going by the US box office figures (since box office mojo does not appear to have the worldwide figures for the original "The Omen" movie) the original movie actually did marginally better back in the seventies (without correcting for inflation) than this fairly high budget remake.



    So perhaps it is no surprise that this film never had any sequels. There was certainly nothing in the plot that would have prevented the film series progressing in a similar way. The plot is pretty much frame for frame identical. So what I'm going to do now is compare the original and the remake directly. If you have see the original already there is nothing to be spoilt since the plots of the two movies are identical. If you haven't seen the original seventies version of "The Omen" yet, I'd note that the main thing about that film is the atmosphere rather than the plot, but even so I'd insist that you should probably watch the original seventies movie before reading this review. In case you hadn't worked out already, the original is better.



    Okay so, in case any skim-readers missed that, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS OF THE 1976 ORIGINAL MOVIE OF "THE OMEN" (and by extension, for the 2006 remake obviously, since they are practically the same film shot-for-shot). IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN "THE OMEN" (1976) EXPECT SPOILERS!!!


    The most positive thing about "The Omen" remake from 2006 (and I'm not even joking, this is a really big point in the movie's favour) is some of the casting choices. In the original you'll remember (and if you don't, I'll remind you) that there was a crazy priest played by Patrick Troughton (second of the Doctors on "Doctor Who" in case you don't recognise the name) and a photographer played by David Warner (baddie on "Time Bandits", klingon ambassador from "Star Trek VI", servant of Master Control in "Tron", and just generally awesome guy. Ooooh and he's in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret Of The Ooze"!). Turns out Leo McKern, who plays the archaeologist with a box of sacred daggers and knowledge of how to use them, is actually quite an accomplished actor. I'm not sure I've seen him in anything else myself, but he does play Number Two from the tv series "The Prisoner".

    Anyway all three of those roles have been taken over by some fantastic actors for the remake. These actors are such powerhouses that every single scene they are given suddenly brims with drama and tension generally missing from the other scenes.

    First of all, the crazy priest is played by none other than Pete Postletwaite who people may know from a number of films including: "In The Name Of The Father", "Alien 3", "Brassed Off", "Amistad" and "The Town". Sadly he is no longer with us, but he is a fantastic actor and no less brilliant here. Patrick Troughton may have been one of the best of the Doctors, but he's still not in the same league as Pete Postletwaite. See here side-by-side the priest from the original "The Omen" and in the remake:


    And see here Patrick Troughton about to be hit by a falling bar in the original and a CGI bar quickly falling towards Pete Postlethwaite in the remake:


    The replacement for the photographer in the remake is none other than David Thewlis who I suspect most will recognise best as Remus Lupin from the "Harry Potter" movies. He becomes almost like a mentor figure to Harry in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban". He also plays a central role in both "The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas" and "The Lady", which were kind of average but he is great in both of them. As great as I think David Warner is, I think that David Thewlis actually out-does him here. Big shoes to fill and David Thewlis rises to the challenge.

    See below the photgrapher role in both the original and the remake:



    Finally, and I didn't see this one until I decided to watch the remake all the way through for this review, the new slightly unhinged archaeologist is played by Michael Gambon. Michael Gambon really is one of my favourite actors. He's in the tv mini-series "Longitude", the Doctor Who episode "A Christmas Carol", and he presented the "Greek Myths" series of "Jim Henson's The Storyteller". He's in the movies "Layer Cake", "The King's Speech" ... oh and he plays Dumbledore in those Harry Potter movies too... He really brings something new to this role, coming off particularly alarming, eccentric and insistent on bloody child murder.

    See below the role of the archaeologist Buchanhagen in both the original and the remake:


    Sadly the main stars are not very good in this at all. Gregory Peck is replaced by Liev Schreiber and Lee Remick is replaced by Julia Stiles. Here are the two of them:


    Now I actually quite like Liev Schrieber. He's generally best at playing bad guys and I thought he was pretty good in films like "The Manchurian Candidate", "Salt" and "The Painted Veil". However, here there's no comparison between Gregory Peck's highly expressive face and Liev Schreiber's mostly blank face. (Though admittedly Liev Schreiber does some convincing crying on occasion.) Of course Liev Schreiber is younger, but even so I'd expect a little more than he gives here. While the previous three roles I mentioned are played by such fantastic powerhouses, it feels like someone like Liev Schreiber is not able to counteract the lame direction here.


    Why am I so quick to blame the director? Well, actually if an actor generally gives better performances my first instinct is normally to blame the director. However, I have more reasons than normal on this occasion. This is a film by John Moore, the same director who delighted me so little with his horrendous cash-in Die Hard movie "A Good Day To Die Hard" earlier this year. After remaking "The Omen" and before destroying the Die Hard franchise, his only other film in between was the widely despised movie of "Max Payne".

    And I'd also note that I think this film could probably have got by better than it did with an average central performance. Liev Schreiber isn't exactly bad here, but he's uninspiring. The direction in the movie generally isn't amazing. It's pretty clear that most shots have been almost directly taken from the original, rather than doing anything new and interesting with the material. Also the latin chanting of the original soundtrack is entirely missing this time around and the loss of atmosphere is enormous. To make up for this John Moore chooses to insert dream sequences. The dream sequences are a little bizarre

    Okay, so this guy looks pretty cool, but what the hell is he supposed to be?


    And what the hell is this guy doing? Sure the baby doesn't look so obviously doll-like in the actual film since it is shown so briefly, but the guy looks just as daft as ever.


    Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the dream sequences however, was Julia Stiles forgetting how to brush her teeth.


    Julia Stiles is actually pretty good here though. Prior to this I'd only ever known her from two of the Bourne movies and while she's still not up to the level of Lee Remick she makes a pretty good stab at this role.

    But let's talk plot now. So the child is being brought up by his two adopted parents. The father knows that the child is adopted, but the mother, having apparently lost her actual child during a difficult childbirth, does not. The way that events seem to unfold to cause supernatural deaths in the "Omen" movies has always put me in mind of the "Final Destination" franchise, however never more so than the brand new death scene inserted into this remake.

    Mr. Thorne knows that he will be accompanying the new ambassador to Great Britain. Accompanying? But I thought that was actually to be his role. Aha! First death required for the Antichrist child, Damien Thorne, to reach his destiny!

    So we have some roadworks going on and we randomly have some guy dragging a manhole. The scene felt utterly bizarre to me. It was practically like the guy was taking his pet manhole cover for a walk. It just feels so ridiculously unnatural (not "spooky" unnatural, just "blooming idiotic" unnatural).


    This bizarre manhole dragging knocks a prop out from the wheels of a lorry carrying huge amounts of petrol and you can imagine what comes next.

    With Mr. Thorne having received his sudden promotion, the couple travel to their new house. The house is absolutely enormous in both versions of the film, but while the original has Mrs. Thorne jovially boasting that it's suitable for her as the potential future First Lady, the remake has the couple lacklustrely saying whistfully to each other "it's big. Isn't it big? Perhaps it's big." And I'm like "Of course it's big, it's effing enormous! Why are you being so blasé about being ludicrously rich?"


    Before you know it, we've reached Damien's first party, where the nanny becomes hypnotised by the arrival of the evil black dog. In the original the dog looks like this:


    Do notice the glint in the eye. That becomes heavily used with the raven (or possibly crow) in the sequel "Damien: Omen II". Now, I can't stand most dogs. I'm really NOT a dog person AT ALL. But even I can tell that the dog in the remake of "The Omen" is possibly one of the cutest dogs I have ever seen!:


    Awww, don't you just want to pet him? ... I mean, oh of course, the soft violin music in the background clearly means he's evil. Obviously... (*SO CUTE!!!*)

    Maybe the director is trying for subtlety? .... (ROFLMAO!)

    The result of the dog's hypnotism leads to the nanny killing herself. Apparently they couldn't have her fall through a window when she hangs herself this time around, but we are supposed to be impressed by the way they've filmed her shoe falling off and falling down towards the camera.

    What's interesting however is the reaction shots. In the original, the reaction shots of the crowd of birthday guests as the nanny calls Damien's name (before she kills herself) are shown as follows:




    In the remake? Well first of all it's pretty similar. Mrs. Thorne once again, though she doesn't instantly rush to pick up Damien:


    And then...


    Yes, that's right! Some Punch and Judy dolls decide to look up. Is this supposed to be a comedy? Was this actually meant to be a spoof movie all along? Why are two puppets, i.e. two gloves with no actual eyes controlled by a person hiding out of sight, looking upwards towards a calling voice?

    And here's an excellent opportunity to compare the two Damien actors. Let's look at them on their parent's shoulder in the aftermath of the nanny's death:


    There's seemingly a pattern here of the new Damien looking mostly bored. And that's actually pretty consistent. I think he's been told to look blank-faced with the presumption that this will make him look evil, while Richard Donner has clearly had no issue with showing Damien regularly smiling. The reason why Damien is scary is not because he's a child who doesn't smile, but because we don't know what's going on in his head. We don't know what is behind the smile. At the end of the original Omen movie Damien's face goes from blank-faced to smiling and it's not the blank-face that is creepy. They are at a funeral. You'd expect a child at a funeral not to show so much emotion. But when Damien in the original movie smiles at the camera it seems pretty clear that Richard Donner is most likely telling him jokes in the background.


    The new Damien ends the remake with this expression.


    It's also worth noting that the original Damien is younger with the first movie's Damien, played by Harvey Stephens, having been 5 when filming and the new Damien, played by Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, having been 7. I know that's only 2 years difference, but at that sort of age it can make a big difference. The younger the child is the more the lack of clarity in their communication, even in basic expressions. The original Damien is happily in his own little world and goodness knows what is under the surface, but the new Damien provides us with a blank face yet seems quite clearly aware of and disinterested by his surroundings. The increase in maturity isn't exactly huge, but it's enough to change how we appreciate the child's expressions. Once again, I don't think the problem is necessarily the actor, but the director's decisions on how to use them.

    In the remake, after Mrs. Thorne's bizarre dream about forgetting how to brush her teeth, she gets up to find Damien making a sandwich as a midnight snack. She's shocked to see him standing there, admittedly because the first thing she sees is him in the dark holding a knife, but it's not long before he's looking at the camera as if to say "whatever mum..."


    The next few important scenes in the movie are all signs of Damien's evil. Firstly on route to a Church. Secondly at a zoo. Naturally Damien Thorne isn't keen on the prospect of entering a Church and the drive towards the Church involves him getting very disturbed and eventually going into a kind of violent fit. Sure, remake-Damien appears openly troubled. Not simply bored this time:


    But the original Damien is doing rather more than pouting...


    Damiens' at the zoo:

    "ZOMG I AM SO BOOOORED! FEEL THE EVIL OF MY BOOOOREDOM!" thinks Damien.


    "Teehee! I'm safe inside this car and you baboons are all afraid of me, sensing my evil power! Mwahaha!"

    The attack of the animals is actually more impressive in the original too. In the remake we see a gorilla trying and, as far as we can tell, failing to escape from its enclosure:


    In the original, the baboons swarm over the moving car!


    A little earlier in the film we have already seen the arrival of Mrs. Baylock to replace the nanny who hung herself. The original movie had Billie Whitelaw playing this role. I saw her when doing my Hitchcock retrospective in a tiny part within the movie "Frenzy". It was a small part, but she absolutely stole the show while she was there. I've also seen her in "Hot Fuzz" as one of the members of the village council as well as in the fantastic mini-series "Shooting The Past". She's absolutely incredible in the original "The Omen" as a strict traditional nanny who is highly professional yet seems unwilling to accept no for an answer at some points.


    Now I have to say that the creepiest thing for me about Mia Farrow in the role of Mrs. Baylock in the remake is that she looks quite blatantly like a woman who has been having Hollywood beauty treatments to keep her looking younger. She claimed that she'd been nannying for forty years and from what I could tell, that meant she started when she was about 12. In actual fact she was 61 when making the remake of "The Omen".


    There's an odd decision to have her feeding Damien with strawberries before a vital scene. This is part of the film where Damien is responsible for knocking his pregnant mother off the landing into a potentially fatal fall to the hall below. In the original the nanny looks on gleefully as Damien rides around and around in circles on his tricycle. She then opens the door to the landing so that he can continue pedalling away towards the mother who, by a creepy coincidence is balanced precariously as she waters the plants.


    In the remake however, the tricycle is changed for a scooter and so the idea that Damien wouldn't know exactly what he was doing is lost. He's looking straight ahead and he can see his mother. I would argue that the creepy thing about the original Omen movie was that Damien always just seems innocent even as deaths occur around him - and that includes the tricycle scene. In the remake Damien seems to actively aim his scooter in order to knock his mother offbalance, making him less of an Antichrist and more of a plain old murderer.


    With Damien seeming mostly bored in the remake, the main villain of the piece ends up being the nanny, not because she seems any more evil, but more because Damien himself feels so utterly unthreatening. Even during the scooter incident, the instigator of the event appears to be the nanny. Unlike in the original where Damien was already busy on his tricycle and the nanny simply opens the door for him, in the remake the nanny seems to be the one to decide that Damien have a go on his scooter just as soon as she's finished feeding him strawberries. - Oh and when his mum hits the floor he flinches. Wuss! :P


    I originally decided to stop watching during possibly one of the most tense scenes. It was partly because it had essentially become the "evil nanny show" by this stage (as opposed to the "evil child show" that I'd been expecting), but it was also because of the way Julia Stiles showed her suffering. In the original the nanny has managed to sneak into the hospital and throw Mrs. Thorne out of the window. In the remake she gets a syringe and injects air into her drip while Damien um... hypnotises the security guard? Anyway, Julia Stiles is watching the air bubble flow through the drip into her bloodstream and the look of terror on her face produces possibly the only genuinely disturbing moment of the whole film.


    It felt more nasty than fun, since to be frank, the villains here are not really up to scratch. Mia Farrow is doing a good enough job in her role (though her plastic surgery is seriously weirding me out in the wrong sort of way), but she's not been in the movie long enough to establish herself as the villain. We're clearly supposed to be creeped out by Damien Thorne and in this remake he seems mainly bored rather than evil.

    And don't get me wrong. Mrs. Baylock is certainly extremely creepy in the original "The Omen". And she turns out to be a much more formidable here in this fight with Mr. Thorne in the original movie:


    As opposed to her rather easier demise in the remake:

    (That might be less clear than the other images. That figure
    doing a loop-the-loop in the air is Mrs. Baylock after being hit with the car.)


    Just a few more stupid things to point out before I wrap up this review with the inevitably low score. While Mrs. Thorne is being brutally murdered back in England, Mr. Thorne has travelled to Italy to seek out the priest who persuaded him to adopt Damien in the first place. He has discovered that the maternity ward was consumed by fire, but the priest is still alive, covered in horrible burns. Recognising that they simply didn't have the budget to do burn prosthetics, the original movie mainly keeps the priest offscreen only very briefly flashing this shot of his face:


    However, in the remake they are clearly very proud of the effects work they've done and the camera fixes on the burnt priest to reveal that he looks just like an Orc from "Lord Of The Rings"!:


    The climax of the movie is, of course, Mr. Thorne being shot by a policeman as he tries to murder his son with special Meggido knives. I'm actually a little puzzled as to how a policeman armed with a gun ended up arriving so fast. Ordinary police do not carry guns around with them and a speeding car would be no reason to send an armed response. So the remake, still set in England, is even more bizarre since Mr. Thorne is put down by an entire armed response team armed all trailing laser-sighted guns on him:


    There's an attempt to tie everything that is happening to the Vatican and I can only presume this would have become relevant in a sequel since the vatican priests do absolutely nothing here. I suppose they are mainly for exposition since they find a set of comets which apparently herald the apocalypse along with 9/11 and the Asian tsunami. (Apparently the twin towers during 9/11 are referenced in scripture as mountains of fire. Yeah, I think that interpretation is a bit of a stretch...)

    Basically this remake had nothing to add to "The Omen" and in spite of some great talent in some of the smaller roles, the film is only a pale imitation of the original seventies classic (which I certainly didn't think was perfect). Many fantastic elements from the original like the awesome soundtrack are left out of this version, yet the film is shot practically scene-for-scene the same as the original. Some decisions for changes are utterly ludicrous and, perhaps most unfortunately, the central child is not creepy. The director has completely failed to understand the appeal of the original version of "The Omen" and as a result the final product is almost entirely devoid of merit. I feel very sorry for all the actors involved who were clearly doing their best in spite of the hack director in charge.

    In short, *phew* thank goodness that's over!

    E-



    So the final rankings of the movies in the two movie series of "The Omen" and "Child's Play" are as follows:
    1. Bride Of Chucky (1998) A+
    2. Damien: Omen II (1978) B+
    3. Child's Play (1988) B+
    4. The Omen (1976) B-
    5. Child's Play 2 (1990) B-
    6. Seed of Chucky (2004) B-
    7. Child's Play 3 (1991) C-
    8. The Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981) C-
    9. Omen IV: The Awakening (1991 TV Movie) D-
    10. The Omen (2006) E-

    0 0

    Over the past year I've been making my way through all the Star Trek films. I'd seen most of them before, but I'd missed out several of them after they started being about the "Next Generation" crew. I'm actually almost entirely ignorant of the content of the tv series. (Of what I've seen of the tv stuff, my fondest memories are of Deep Space Nine.)

    In many ways Star Trek is a lot like Doctor Who. Naturally there are some big differences, but there's a few things that need to be understood when anyone gives their opinions on something to do with Doctor Who or Star Trek.



    Star Trek and Doctor Who both represent old classic cheesy sci-fi. The writers, producers, etc. for both franchises are often trying to do something new and different but without the resources to make it work well.

    However, as a result of this any failings in production values and sometimes also actors' performances are often made up for by sheer charm.


    Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

    Often disapproved of by Trek fans, this movie had a big name director (Robert Wise) and many of the effects were strongly inspired by "2001: A Space Odyssey". It is a source of complete bemusement to me that this wonderful beautiful and deeply atmospheric film is often shunned, while the long pretentious and meandering Kubrick film is revered as a cinematic classic.

    The biggest problem with the film is the opening section where it takes forever to reunite the old cast. It's kind of like the end of the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy. Fans had been on such a long journey with these characters that it seemed to undermine that familiarity to just dismiss them (or in this case, welcome them) too quickly. Now admittedly I personally think that "Return Of The King" could happily have most of its ending lopped off and I also think the opening here could be a great deal tighter, I still really like how we aren't rushed into the action here too. There's a real sense of the history these characters have been through even if you haven't seen many Original Series Star Trek episodes.



    That being said, perhaps I'd have more problems if I WERE a little more familiar with the original series, since apparently the plot is copied from a tv episode. Still, I found the storyline here absolutely brilliant. Also, while I understand that the effects have dated greatly, I still get a thrill out of that first appearance of the Klingon warships. It's excellent model-work. It's wonderful how, while effects may have moved on, the abstractness of a lot of the visuals here makes them often quite timeless.

    A-




    Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

    After "Star Trek: TMP" was deemed a failure, the budget went WAY down and BOY can you tell. I don't know that the pacing is vastly improved here and perhaps I'd care about this film rather more if I were familiar with the appearance(s) of Khan in the original series.

    It must be noted that this is the last of the first 6 movies that I saw. "The Wrath of Khan" was the only Star Trek movie with a "15" rather than a "PG" rating and, as you might imagine, I was into Star Trek movies long before I was 15.



    There's a short recap at the beginning of the next movie, so unfortunately the potential Spock death was completely unsurprising. (Though then again, just the title "The Search For Spock" was always going to be a bit of a give away.)

    While the film is very cheesy and Khan is a little ludicrous as a character, the revenge story is highly effective dramatically in spite of clear budget limitations.

    B-




    Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)

    The cheapness of "Wrath of Khan" continues here, but without the compelling plot or villain. As cool as it might seem to have Christopher Lloyd ('Doc' from "Back To The Future") playing the main Klingon baddie, he's rather lacking in nuance. Though that's partly how the character has been written.

    The scientists discovering a reanimated Spock (of sorts) have to do a fair bit of sciency explanation without really having terribly compelling characters to make their parts interesting.

    But still, the main crew themselves are as engaging as ever. In fact the absence of two major crew members (either missing or not in their right mind) seems to have led the scriptwriters to give more attention to other important crew members than they've received in the previous movies.

    In the end, this movie is mainly an explanation of why Spock is back. Certainly the way Spock returns is not forgotten and it becomes very important in the next movie, but the storyline of the Klingons here is not particularly compelling. That the main klingon villain is dispatched with the words "I have had enough of you!" speaks volumes as to how much less intense this conflict was than the conflict with Khan in the previous film.



    Admittedly there is a plot element here involving Kirk's son that becomes important in the sixth movie. However, watching movies two and three makes clear that Kirk barely knows his son and that the family bond between them is pretty feeble, which rather undermines the importance of his son later on.

    "The Search For Spock" is a sweet little Star Trek film, but it's lacking in plot development, development of new characters and there's no shortage of cheese here either. But the typical Star Trek charm is as present as ever.

    C+

    0 0


    Arbitrage (2012)

    I wasn't sure how much to expect from a movie about Richard Gere as a businessman getting into trouble making money out of hedge funds. Still this had a seriously high score on Rotten Tomatoes and Mark Kermode (who adores Richard Gere) was very keen to talk up this film.

    Gere's character seems pretty clearly dodgy from the start, particularly when he sneaks away from his family in order to spend time with his girlfriend on the side. I suppose this is partly due to being shown this character's flaws so clearly, but I didn't find the character's charisma was working with me at all. I just hated this guy.



    So I suppose the fact that the film held my attention as well as it did deserves some credit. I think it helps that Gere is often surrounded by other characters who are a great deal more sympathetic. There's his daughter who works at his firm (played by Brit Marling), there's the black friend-of-the-family that Gere gets to help him out (played by Nate Parker), and there's also Gere's wife in the film (played by Susan Sarandon). Whether these characters will be better off if Gere gets into trouble or gets off scot free depends on the character and that makes us rather more inclined to care about what happens to this over-priveleged and entirely undeserving central figure.



    I don't think Gere gives a particularly impressive performance. I think the film could have been improved by placing a better actor in the central role. However, I think Gere's style of acting somewhat fits the role and that he does a very reasonable job here.



    This wasn't a bad film, but it didn't blow me away. It ticks all the boxes, but there's not much in the way of emotional thrills here. It's a good film and if you see it around you might want to give it a try. Though I wouldn't suggest you actively seek it out, I don't think you'd be disappointed by it if you did.

    B-



    Mud (2012)

    It seemed strange that Jeff Nichols should switch straight from a psychological thriller that was bordering on becoming a zombie movie (depending on your interpretation) to a Tom Sawyer-esque story about some children who make a pact with a fugitive they find hiding out locally. Just as strange as it is to see Matthew McConaughey switch from appearing in any old cheesy rom-com (often in a leaning pose) to taking genuinely interesting roles.

    There's still elements here of the same intensity that we saw in Jeff Nichols directing debut "Take Shelter", but this is a much more upbeat film in general. The film captures a lot of drama, but it's fused with a childlike innocence. Personally I felt even Matthew McConaughey's character 'Mud' also seemed to show that innocence to a certain extent. He's a character who has reached the point he has by being misguided and foolish so, while he may pontificate about the code he lives by, he's still seems somewhat naive and unrealistic in his understanding of the world.



    The story here is that two children who live near the water row out to explore a tiny island. There's a boat in a tree (seemingly blown there in a big storm from the looks of it) which they plan to use as their own private den. But they see some food items inside the boat and realise that there is somebody living in it.

    They keep their knowledge of the fugitive a secret and help him get back in touch with a woman (played be Reece Witherspoon) who is directly linked to his status as a fugitive from the law.



    The story is essentially quite simple, but the characters are well defined and well developed and the strange blend of intensity and innocence gives this film a unique quality. I had a lot of fun watching Mud and it's a clear sign that Jeff Nichols is a director to continue to follow. Matthew McConaughey also seems (rather suddenly and out-of-the-blue really) to be a talent to watch out for these days.

    I wouldn't exactly call "Mud" a 'heart-warming story', but it certainly has a lot of heart involved in it and whether you think the characters are troubled or just idiots, you cannot help but be pulled in.

    A+


    The Halloween Candy Horror Movie Marathon has begun (at candycorncomm) I have four entries there so far here, here, here and here featuring my first 10 reviews (out of 31?).

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