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- 10/18/13--16:59: _Long Live The New F...
- 10/20/13--08:11: _Star Trek Movie Ret...
- 10/22/13--13:06: _"American Mary" Is ...
- 10/24/13--19:05: _Maniac Is Beautiful...
- 10/25/13--13:00: _Time For A Bit Of C...
- 10/26/13--06:43: _More Movies From Th...
- 10/26/13--14:10: _A Horror Movie Abou...
- 10/31/13--10:19: _Happy Halloween!
- 10/31/13--14:02: _Action Film About H...
- 11/01/13--16:45: _Star Trek Movie Ret...
- 11/02/13--05:05: _American Civil War ...
- 11/05/13--13:58: _The Second Thor Mov...
- 11/07/13--11:03: _"Stitches" - Part T...
- 11/08/13--13:36: _Gravity Is Beautifu...
- 11/09/13--10:54: _Request To The Inte...
- 11/10/13--16:10: _Director Showcase: ...
- 11/12/13--15:01: _Steven Soderbergh's...
- 11/13/13--14:35: _"Texas Chainsaw" Ig...
- 11/16/13--09:23: _My Top 10 Favourite...
- 11/19/13--11:06: _A Sweet Central Rel...
- 10/20/13--08:11: Star Trek Movie Retrospective: Part Two
- 10/25/13--13:00: Time For A Bit Of Classic Who!
- 10/31/13--10:19: Happy Halloween!
- 11/01/13--16:45: Star Trek Movie Retrospective: Final Part
- 11/09/13--10:54: Request To The Internet: Please Stop Using The Term "Plot Holes"...
- 11/10/13--16:10: Director Showcase: Lucky McKee
- 11/16/13--09:23: My Top 10 Favourite Movies of 2008 (Plus some honourable mentions)
Sooo... Brandon Cronenberg, son of the renowned director David Cronenberg, has made a sci-fi movie. Brandon's movie is quite clearly apeing a lot of what David Cronenberg used to do in his earlier movies and, you know what? Brandon Cronenberg's "Antiviral" easily holds up against David Cronenberg's old classics like "Videodrome" or "Scanners".
Basically "Antiviral" feels like what David Cronenberg WOULD be making if he was still doing nightmarish sci-fi body horror movies. There's the same twisted visual tone, the same sort of twisted body horror themes and the same twisted charm.
I could very easily have been saying things in my review like "well, it's unfair to Brandon that his film is inevitably going to compared to his father's superior work", but actually I think "Antiviral" is a clear sign that David needs to stop making cute little costume dramas with Keira Knightley and get back to making films which are properly sinister and bizarre.
"Antiviral" explores the modern cult of celebrity, taking it as far as it will go in a future setting. Now people who are obsessed with celebrities can feel even closer to them by sharing their diseases (with sexual diseases costing even more because of a greater demand from fans). These specially neutered diseases (since the companies don't want to give anyone something that might kill them) are even copyrighted so that people cannot 'share' their virus with another potential customer without using special technology to remove the copyright protection first.
And it's not like sharing celebrities' diseases is even the most extreme thing in the movie. There are all sorts of ways that people are experiencing celebrities. One thing I love about "Antiviral" is the level of creativity involved. And even as the film explores all the twisted ways that celebrities are shown devotion in this bizarre future where all the buildings seem to have pale white walls, we never actually find out what these celebrities are famous for. They could be fashion models, singers, actors, but none of that is ever revealed. They are just a focus for obsession more than anything else.
It's also a very intelligent film. It was quite unexpected when the film referenced a real person, Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells were taken and used in experiements without her permission. Because her cancer cells were able to be replicated and grown, her cells live on still, being used in scientific research all over the world. The relevance of this reference to the subject matter of the film is made very clear.
Celeb Landry Jones plays a very withdrawn figure, but not one with much of a personality. However, this is a figure who is supposed to be constantly ill and we certainly get to feel rather than just see how unwell Landry Jones' character is.
Celeb Landry Jones works in a company which sells celebrity diseases, but he's also secretly bootlegging those diseases to the black market. However, when he goes to collect a sample from their main superstar disease-donator Hannah Geist, he makes some hasty decisions with major consequences.
Another element I should mention is the humour. I wouldn't say that "Antiviral" was a comedy, but I do feel like there's a deep-set mirth below the surface. When you've finished watching this you will no doubt feel shell shocked by the experience. However, you should then imagine describing the final scene to someone who has not watched the movie. (Just imagine, of course. Naturally I don't want you to spoil it.) I think anyone who has seen this will agree, the final scene, described in abstraction from the rest of the film, is bizzare in a twistedly humourous way.
Both "Excision" and "Antiviral" have endings that are pretty bizarre and twisted. But I think if you told someone the ending to "Excision" they'd say "that's really sad", but if you told someone the ending to "Antiviral" they might well burst out laughing. The ending is almost like a punchline and the joke is the cult of celebrity.
Brandon Cronenberg's movie is visually impressive, creative in a way that supports its central themes, highly atmospheric and has a strong grasp of what made David Cronenberg's body horror so effective in the past.
This isn't just a great film. It's my new favourite film of 2012. This is a superb film that pressed all the right buttons for me, combining my love of horror and sci-fi in a way that is so twisted it borders on ridiculous. I cannot wait to see what Brandon Cronenberg does next.
cross-posted to Halloween Candy
The first part of my Star Trek movie retrospective can be found here. I grew up watching the Star Trek movies, but I've now made an effort to catch up with the ones I missed. I can now say that I've seen all of them and here I go through my impressions of each of them, having rewatched the ones I'd seen before and having seen others for the first time. The three below are all ones I enjoyed as a child.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it. "The Voyage Home" is the best Star Trek movie. I hear that some Trekkies hate it, presumably because it moves our beloved Enterprise crew into modern day Earth and often plays this for comic effect. However, this is still definitely Star Trek.
I also found the central science fiction theme fascinating. Admittedly, I'd read (or at least had read to me) Douglas Adams' "Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy" by this point, so the idea of ordinary creatures on Earth having a better connection with alien life than we do didn't seem anything like as bizarre to me.
Of course, the "let's send them to modern day Earth" trope can annoy a lot of people. I loved "Masters of the Universe", but I cannot pretend I wasn't disappointed when it didn't take place in Eternia. Of course, it's also a handy way of dealing with budget issues if most of the locations you are filming are everyday locations rather than requiring special effects or laborious set design work. Still, the most important thing is what you do with your premise and I think "The Voyage Home" takes full advantage of its opportunity to demonstrate the contrast between the future tech of Star Trek and our modern day lives.
It should also be noted that this was my first Star Trek film. Heck, how could it fail to be? It was shown on television seemingly every Christmas. But then, that was partly because it was such a great crowd-pleaser. The fact is that, whether you are a Trek fan or not, "The Voyage Home" is very accessible and a real joy.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
This film gets a lot of flack and admittedly it definitely deserves some of it. Prior to the "Captain Kirk is climbing a mountain" bit, the opening scene is really quite impressive, especially if you are familiar with Star Trek themes. It is revealed that a particular character is a vulcan and then he begins laughing. (But vulcans don't express emotion!!!) It's not at all clear how we are supposed to take this revelation, but it's certainly intriguing.
The decision to crowbar in a relationship between Uhura and Scotty felt rather bizarre. Some moments in the film didn't work particularly well. That being said, there was a lot of the humour that I found very impressive indeed and there were some very sci-fi dramatic moments that I found very impressive indeed. The whole scene handling the mysterious vulcan's ability to remove emotional pain from those who will let him I found worked especially well.
Of course, the main appeal of this movie is the central theme of "Kirk versus God". (Guess who wins...) That central premise is pretty damn impressive.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
This can reasonably be referred to as the Star Trek movie about the Klingons. Sure, Klingons have been a part of previous Star Trek movies, but it is only here where the relationship between the Klingons and the Federation is properly explored.
Christopher Plummer is particularly awesome here as the klingon who constantly quotes Shakespeare. However, David Warner is very awesome as a Klingon ambassador.
When Spock volunteers the Enterprise and crew to accompany the Klingon ambassdor's ship, Kirk is livid. He hates the Klingons and has little faith in the planned peace process.
Spock himself gets to be pretty intense as a wise vulcan passing on his wisdom to his potential replacement. It's been clear that as much as Vulcan's might love logic, their psychic abilities and their occasional rituals are quite religious in tone. By this point Spock is seeming almost priest-like.
The main plot of the film is a kind of sci-fi whodunnit and it's very well handled. Unfortunately there are also parts that seem quite cheesy too. Still, while the effects have dated, I think there's a clear advance in the budget here. Perhaps the appeal of Star Trek: The Next Generation had given them a bit of a boost, seeing as Commander Worf from TNG appears as a young defence lawyer at one stage.
"The Undiscovered Country" is great fun and one of my favourite Star Trek movies. There's a lot to like in this film.
American Mary (2012)
Katherine Isabelle started out in "Ginger Snaps", an excellent werewolf movie. Though she's consistently done tv appearances (pretty much all of which has been in shows I haven't watched), her movie career has been rather less successful. She was amongst the group of potential victims in "Freddy Vs Jason", she had a pretty minor part in Chris Nolan's remake of "Insomnia", then after a long gap I saw her in an absurdly tiny part within the straight-to-video sequel to "30 Days of Night" (which admittedly I loved).
Apparently she plays a pretty big role in the American version of Being Human and I'm almost tempted to find out more about that. (Except that I'm not even tempted to check out series four of the British version so meh...)
Katherine Isabelle in Ginger Snaps (left) and Freddy Vs Jason (right)
But now Katherine Isabelle is finally in a starring role again. "American Mary" is about a surgeon in training who, getting behind in her bills, decides to try to earn some extra cash in a strip club. However she ends up being promised a rather healthy up-front sum of money in exchange for some makeshift surgery.
When word gets out of her skills, it's not long before she has clients keen to make use of her talents for some particularly extreme body modification surgery.
There's body horror involved here and a slow gradual shift in the main character to what becomes a completely new persona. I really enjoyed this film, particularly when things get a bit twisted. That being said, there's one scene in the film (not surgery related) that is kinda nasty because it involves r*pe. I feel I kind of owe you guys a heads up on this, but be aware that this involves a revenge theme. That being said, revenge isn't the main focus really. It's more about Mary and her career in providing extreme body mods.
I think perhaps my biggest issue is with the ending. It's not that it was a bad ending, but I felt like the elements being set up were leading to something rather more interesting. Essentially my biggest complaint is that there wasn't more of it, which isn't the worst complaint you can have of a movie.
"American Mary" is, at its heart, a pretty simple film. The surgery elements are quite creative, but the plot as a whole is not. Still the atmosphere is great, some of the characters are awesome and there's plenty to enjoy here. So while I wouldn't say "American Mary" was perfect, I'd still highly recommend it.
Before we begin with the review, I absolutely have to share this awesome song from the soundtrack. It's another Drive-esque synthy song and I absolutely love it.
When I first saw the original 1980s movie "Maniac" I decided that it could not possibly be remade because to do so the original movie would need to have some kind of unique plot that set it apart. That's not to say that the original had nothing to set it apart at all. It was essentially a showcase of Tom Savini's gore effects and that makes it special in its own way. However, a remake clearly would not be a showcase of Tom Savini's gore effects (or at least, if it was, Tom Savini had better have some pretty amazing new tricks up his sleeve to make it worthwhile).
Incredibly the remake has somehow managed to make some distinctive story points which fit the original and part of how it managed to achieve this is by making the story clearer and stronger. In the original movie the insane murderous protagonist possessed a whole load of shopfront mannequins without any real explanation. This time around it turns out that he makes his money by restoring classic mannequins and selling them to collectors. His hideout is actually at the back of a store devoted to this craft.
In the original movie there's a point towards the end where the protagonist briefly ceases to be a gibbering sweating wide-eyed weirdo going on and on about how guilty he is and how much he wishes his mother loved him. Out of nowhere he suddenly has this relationship with a woman, acting like a completely normal individual. In this remake the relationship takes longer to build up and the personality of the protagonist is rather more consistent.
Joe Spinell in the original 1980s "Maniac" movie
The pacing is greatly improved this time and I'm thankful that the protagonist no longer spends half the time ranting and raving. A really interesting choice when filming this remake was to film almost the entire thing from the perspective of the killer. Elijah Wood can be seen, but only in reflections. Wood is able to give a wonderful balance between vulnerable and manic to his murderous protagonist and the way kills are set up means that there's a real tension and atmosphere involved. In the original movie I just felt bored waiting for YET ANOTHER person to be killed by the protagonist, but Wood makes me want to plead with him not to kill again or even to turn himself in. The film is much more successful in making us feel a connection within the protagonist and one element is that, at times, we share in his deluded visions of the world surrounding him.
There's a very arty feel to this remake of "Maniac". I'm not surprised that the film has been compared with "Drive" though I wouldn't say that it was a strong comparison. There's some synthy music in the soundtrack, though that's clearly an attempt to callback to original 80s movie rather than any kind of inspiration from "Drive". On the one hand there's the wonderful song from the composer (who seems to just be named Rob) called "Juno" (embedded above), but the film also uses a song many will recognise from the movie "Silence of the Lambs" called "Goodbye Horses".
Meanwhile the visuals are very distinctive with surfaces looking clean and pristine consistently through most of the film's runtime. Admittedly the original also featured large well-decorated apartments on occasion, there were also more gritty ugly scenes too. One criticism might be that the scalpings performed by the killer (yet another element kept in from the original film) don't involve as much effort as you'd expect and also the colouring used for the effect looks a little too bright and shiny and overly purple rather than your typical muddy-red blood colour. But you have to realise that this film is a piece of art with a distinctive style which is more important than realism. There are plenty of other points where the effects are very realistic indeed, not to mention nail-bitingly shocking.
"Maniac" is not just a slasher film with effective gore and tension. It also has a heart to it from its effective use of Elijah Wood in the central role as well as a distinctive visual style, not least the first person perspective which pulls in the audience more than ever. What with this, Piranha and The Hills Have Eyes, Alexandre Aja (who wrote not directed in this case) seems to be making a name for himself through developing a better class of horror remake.
There's been this thing recently where newcomers to Doctor Who are getting upset whenever the actor playing the Doctor changes and instantly complaining about the new replacement. They are also realising that the one they like the best often has some connection with when they began to watch the show. "That was MY Doctor" they say.
I can get behind this theory pretty easily because personally MY Doctor has always been Sylvester McCoy. A lot of old school Whovians thought he was a bad choice, but for me he defined what Doctor Who is supposed to be. This Doctor had a mixture of silliness and darkness to him. He has an odd way of speaking which I did not realise at the time was a result of him covering up his remote Scottish accent. As a result he has a tendency to roll his rs which is actually something I've always loved about his performance.
The first Doctor Who story I ever saw was "Remembrance of the Daleks", but I hadn't realised at the time quite how important it was that I came to Doctor Who at that precise time. My first ever Doctor Who storyline was also a number of other firsts:
- The first (and actually the only) Doctor Who story where Sylvester McCoy confronts the Daleks.
- The first Doctor Who story to actually SHOW how Daleks get up stairs.
- The first Doctor Who story to feature Ace as the fully fledged new companion.
I thought Ace was great straight away. Sure, she was a tomboy essentially. She wears a black bomber jacket, she makes explosives and she can handle a baseball bat pretty well. She's a companion who is prepared to face right up to a Dalek shouting "Who are you calling small?" She actually has a love interest in "Remembrance of the Daleks" but I wasn't concerned with that and was happy when it didn't work out. After all, at just five years old I wasn't interested in lovey-dovey stuff.
I had a brief stint working my way through re-watching some of the series I saw as a child. I've also checked out a few other Cybermen-related classic Who storylines.
Doctor Who - Dragonfire
Okay, sorry, what? This cannot be Doctor Who. It is so ridiculous obvious that it is a television studio and a very brightly lit one at that. Doctor Who is being offered a treasure map (seriously?) and his companion is loudly and enthusiastically hamming it up like a cheery enthusiastic primary school drama teacher.
The introduction of Ace here is just weird. This is the first story where she turns up, but she doesn't become the companion until the very end. She's only just met the Doctor, but she gets started right away calling the Doctor "Professor"; a trend that would get existing Whovians extremely annoyed.
Anyway, it turns out that she is randomly living on a planet in outer space in the distant future, but she actually comes from 1980s Perivale (a suburb of London). Having been kicked out of school for causing an explosion there, it seems she then accidentally caused a time storm in her bedroom using her A level chemistry knowledge (though apparently she failed A level chemistry).
Anyway, there's an interesting moment where the old companion and Ace both come face to face with a dragon (one of the most ridiculously blantant "man-in-suit" moments I've ever seen, even in Doctor Who). The previous companion instantly lets off a high-pitched scream, as if on cue. But meanwhile Ace stops in her tracks and puts on this haunted stare. Ace is character who certainly gets frightened, but she generally holds her ground.
It's awkward to tell whether Ace is supposed to be working class or middle class. She has lines that suggest she's more on the common side, but whether she delivers them that way is a bit hit and miss. It might be argued that she's a posh-voiced actress who cannot deliver working class lines convincingly, or it could be argued that she's playing a middle class character who pretends to be more common than she really is to seem tough and cool. One pretty strong argument for the latter is that, while she has a bomber jacket covered in badges, one of those badges is a Blue Peter badge, lol!
The story is also infamous for its ridiculously forced cliffhanger. Sylvester McCoy randomly lowers himself down the edge of a cliff by his umbrella (which has a question mark hook for a handle) for no reason at all. He then appears to be slipping down. He gets straight back up in the next episode and it's never clear why he was ever hanging off the edge of a cliff in the first place.
It was interesting to see how Ace first arrived in Doctor Who, but this must be one of the most boring Doctor Who stories I have ever seen. I'd never realised before how much the quality picked up in the next story, "Remembrance of the Daleks", nor how awful things had been before.
Doctor Who - Genesis of the Daleks
Naturally I have already seen "Remembrance of the Daleks" a million times and I think its an absolutely wonderful Dalek story, so I decided to skip that one here. However, I would absolutely recommend it to anyone. "Remembrance of the Daleks" is pretty definitely my favourite Doctor Who story of all time.
However, I decided to try out a classic Dalek story to see how well it stands up by comparison to Remembrance of the Daleks. I checked out "Genesis of the Daleks", the first story to ever feature the creator of the Daleks: Davros.
Many people keep saying that Tom Baker is the best Doctor, but I must admit I'm not seeing it. I mean sure he has random things in his pockets and he likes jelly babies a lot, but I'm feeling like he's a little over-hyped.
Here we have the typical situation where we are shown aliens who look exactly like humans. It seems that the Kaleds, knowing that they are going to mutate as a result of the horrific war they've been waging with the Thaals, decide to take matters into their own hands. They decide to try to engineer their species' progression to minimise the damage. However, an evil genius called Davros is taking this as an opportunity to develop the Kaleds into cold unfeeling creatures wholly lacking in mercy.
I saw "Resurrection of the Daleks" which also featured Davros and there's some kind of Kenny from South Park thing going on in Doctor Who. "Oh my God! They killed Davros!"
Odd canon issue here. Davros questions the Doctor for details of previous victories against the Daleks. He reveals a number of things, but the method of stopping the Daleks that Baker describes in relation to the Dalek invasion of Earth is not from the storyline with William Harnerll. Instead he talks about the Daleks' weakness to the magnetic pull of the Earth's poles. That is the weakness from the tv movie starring Peter Cushing!
Now sure, I suspect with the BBC not actually repeating old episodes all that often, people were probably more familiar with the movie. But does that make Cushing's tv movie (where his character is literally called "Doctor Who" - as opposed to "the Doctor") part of canon? I don't think we're supposed to be believe Tom Baker's Doctor is lying in this scene.
Genesis of the Daleks is okay, but it's no Remembrance of the Daleks. Remembrance of the Daleks still remains my favourite Dalek storyline of all time (including NuWho stuff - though I did love the "Dalek" ep of NuWho). Annoyingly I'd basically seen the most important element of the story in little clips of old Doctor Who episodes. The Doctor is given a major moral dilemma in this story and its a really cool moment, but it's actually quite a short moment and in the scheme of the story as a whole I didn't think it really had much weight.
Genesis of the Daleks is a good Doctor Who story and well worth checking out, but I've come to expect a lot better than this from ClassicWho. If I were to recommend a ClassicWho Dalek story which isn't contaminated by enormous levels of nostalgia, I'd have to pick "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" with William Hartnell. Sure it's old, slow and dated, but I love it all the same.
Doctor Who - The Happiness Patrol
This is definitely a step down in quality from the "Remembrance of the Daleks" storyline, but it's nothing like as slow and boring as "Dragonfire" and Ace is still awesome. On a planet in the future, the government has a strict rule that everyone must always be happy. Anything negative or sad is banned and punishable by death.
I'd heard that this was supposed to be a critique of Thatcherism, but Thatcher would certainly have no trouble letting experience sadness. It's not until towards the end of the final episode that we finally have a confrontation with the Doctor which gives us some idea how Thatcher might have any relation to the dictator on this planet at all. I mean sure, we see protests by workers, but that's hardly unique to Thatcher.
Some people have been really annoyed by the villain "the candy man", a villain who makes sweets which kill people by overwhelming their senses. The problem seemed to be that he is a man made out of sweets who looks almost exactly like the Bertie Bassett figure found on packets of Licorice Allsorts.
But I must admit that as a child the idea of this weird monster who, from what I could tell, turned people into sweets (I did say I was young at the time) was an extremely creepy concept. Some villains come across more creepy when you are children, while others are creepy no matter how young you are. But it mustn't be forgotten how vital it is to Doctor Who that it feature genuinely sinister bad guys. That is why the introduction of "the Silence" in recent series (terrifying creatures who you forget you have seen when you stop looking at them) fit the Doctor Who mould so well. Still, coming back to it this time, while I still think the Candy Man is pretty cool even in spite of his high pitched squeaky voice (nostalgia reigns supreme!) I still recognised that he was a rather more comedic character than I remembered. The Doctor stops him with lemonade. Twice! I mean, I know the Doctor can stop Daleks with a jammy dodger, but the Candy Man's level of threat drops significantly when he's actually taken down the exact same way, twice.
The use of comedy is great here too, mind you. I particularly like the bits with the census taker, Trevor Sigma.
Trevor Sigma: Galactic Census Bureau, I ask the questions.
The Doctor: You ask the questions?
Trevor Sigma: I'm sorry, that's classified information.
The Happiness Patrol is a really good Doctor Who story. It's not Sylvester McCoy's best, but I'd still highly recommend it.
Doctor Who - The Greatest Show In The Galaxy
This storyline is creepy as hell. The story takes a long while to actually get going, but what we DO get is a clear sense that something is seriously wrong with the Psychic Circus which Ace and the Doctor are visiting. This is Doctor Who with evil clowns and our first view of the main evil clown is when we see a black hearse driving along and see him revealed within when he winds down the driver-side electric window. Meanwhile we see other workers from the circus making a run for it but, apparently, being tracked by kites with a giant eye painted on them.
An evil circus is a fantastic setting for Sylvester McCoy's doctor. A wonderful combination of comedic and sinister as hell. And things only get creepier as the story goes on. The Doctor meets up with another traveller and there's an interesting contrast between him and the Doctor.
While both the Doctor and the traveller they meet travel seemingly out of curiosity, the Doctor cares a great deal about what and who he finds while this other traveller is clearly out for everything he can get. Ace trusts the Doctor a great deal but she knows that he has a lot of secrets. She doesn't know who he is really. This other traveller seems to have a companion too and it seems clear that he would happily ditch him companion the moment he gets tired of her. Both companions are in a similar position in that they are relying on the traveller who is taking them along for the ride and while Ace has more reason to trust the Doctor, seeing this strange parallel cannot help but make her question her situation.
The Greatest Show In The Galaxy begins with a cheesy rap and some may find that deeply offputting. I personally found it a lot of fun (nostalgia alert!) However, no one can help but love the explosion at the end. Sylvester McCoy does one of those "walking away from the explosion" moments towards the end. Explosives actually represent a really impressive element of McCoy's era. Sure, the budget is cheap as all hell, but when they blow something up BOY do they blow it up. (I think there's a good reason why they made Ace an amateur explosives expert.) However, towards the end of this one they made the charges a bit larger than intended, but Sylvester McCoy, being cool as all hell, just walks on barely flinching at all. Awesome!
Just to make a quick side-note about explosives in McCoy's era. One of the DVDs I watched had an extra talking to an explosives expert regarding both NuWho and ClassicWho. He takes a few awesome scenes from "Remembrance of the Daleks" and actually notes that these were explosions that they would not ever be allowed to do these days. The explosions were taking place in clearly recognisable areas of London and the idea of getting permission to use explosives that powerful in the middle of London in this post-9/11 era (not to mention post-7/7 era)? Not a chance. Just another reason to love McCoy's era and "Remembrance of the Daleks" in particular. (Okay I'll shut up about that now.)
"The Greatest Show In The Galaxy" has a few bits of bad acting and its notably cheap, but it really puts proper horror and tension into Doctor Who. Sure, it takes a long while to move the story forward, but there is no let up in the mood of this piece and I have to say that watching this as a grown up, it is STILL disturbing. With the low budget you could easily distance yourself and if you were wandering in and out of the room while it was playing you might not see what the big deal was, but if you sit down with and let the music and the performances and the (admittedly low-budget) imagery pull you in, you will most likely find yourself deeply unsettled. This is one of McCoy's better ones. DO check it out.
Welcome to the Punch (2013)
A seemingly pretty well received British crime drama with a whole roster of great actors. I mean just listen to this: Mark Strong, James McAvoy, Angela Riseborough, David Morrissey, Peter Mullan, I was also surprised to find I recognised Johnny Harris (who I think I mainly recognise for his role in the movie "Black Death" as a character known as 'Mold') and he was also pretty damn good here.
That being said, reviewers aren't exactly raving about "Welcome To The Punch". It was in the upper 60s for a while on Rotten Tomatoes and now seems to be down to just 50%. I think it is mainly the acting talent involved that has allowed to it stay as high as that.
We open in the middle of what appears to be some kind of heist with James McAvoy in pursuit. Armed men in suits with briefcases (presumably filled with money) are marching confidently through Canary Wharf to the docks. James McAvoy, a policeman here, is told to wait for backup and not to go in unarmed. He decides not to take this advice.
Okay, so the level of stupid involved in just this first scene is phenomenal. Canary Wharf is the main business area in London, but you are unlikely to find huge amounts of cash or valuables being stored there. It's where the business deals are made, but it's certainly not where the money is kept.
Getting into a boat on the docks would in no way be the end of the chase. Clearly the docks would be pretty easily observed by police helicopter. The idea that the villains would get away if one unarmed policeman didn't pursue them is utter nonsense.
So James McAvoy pursues the theives and ends up getting shot in the leg by the leader of the criminal operation, played by Mark Strong. Bizarrely, in spite of being entirely undisguised, Mark Strong doesn't decide to shoot a few more times and kill James McAvoy. In fact it appears that everyone knew full well who Mark Strong's character was and had been pursuing him without any luck for a while.
As the movie goes on we see McAvoy is somewhat anxious for revenge and shaken up by the trauma of his bullet wound. On the other hand we see Mark Strong being contacted by his son calling in distress after being shot in a failed heist. As the film goes on, we see that both these storylines seem to be being followed side-by-side and it becomes clearer that we aren't going to be expected to see Mark Strong's character as the scumbag he was set up as. Unfortunately we are never really given much reason why we should empathise with him.
Meanwhile Angela Riseborough plays McAvoy's rookie partner in the police. While McAvoy is struggling to care and unwilling to question his superiors, Riseborough is keen to learn from his expertise and is motivated to put what she learns into practice. Unfortunately, not to give too much away, Riseborough goes from being the best character in the film to being put completely on the back burner.
There's a pretty unsubtle theme here of suggeting that the police should be armed which, to be quite frank, is over-sold. Many police officers in the UK do not WANT to be expected to carry guns and there's a question whether arming ordinary police will actually make them any more effective in tackling crime. But even with the politics left out, this turns out to have an extremely contrived storyline.
A while back I saw "Up In The Air" and was quite amazed when a scene turned up which I seemed almost identical to a scene in the comedy "Intolerable Cruelty". Both scenes involved the protagonist giving a speech about how he had changed his mind and suddenly he believed in love and marriage when he had been sceptical about them before. Heck, the protagonist was even played by the exact same actor in both cases. The difference was that in "Intolerable Cruelty" this moment turns out to be the set-up for a gag, whereas in "Up In The Air" the scene is played straight.
"Welcome To The Punch" does something similar with "Hot Fuzz". "Hot Fuzz" was a movie where an effective policeman is insisting that there's no need to over-dramatise his job, right up until the point where he takes on a conspiracy stacked to the nines with guns. And "Welcome To Punch" makes pretty much that exact same flip from traditional police work to loading up with weapons to take on a conspiracy. Except here, in "Welcome To The Punch", that shift in emphasis is played entirely straight.
In spite of some wonderful British acting talent involved in this project, the writing is apalling, the story is contrived and the whole film is utterly stupid from beginning to end. The actors are doing the absolute best they could possibly do with this abysmal material, but there's nothing here I could take seriously. The conspiracy involved is just so pervasive and so unrealistic that it could probably have only worked if this was set up as a mindless over-the-top action movie. But this is very much trying to sell itself to the audience as a serious and themeatically important crime drama - and as such, it is an utterly ludicrous waste of space.
The Last Stand (2013)
The lastest Arnold Schwarzenegger movie comes from Kim Jee-Woon, director of the bizarre twisted revenge flick "I Saw The Devil" and the bizarre Korean re-imagining of Clint Eastwood's classic western "The Good, The Bad and The Weird". One issue I sometimes have with east Asian films is the uneven way that they sometimes combine darker elements and comedy elements. Sure, when it's done well it's fantastic and that's surely one of the appeals of anime series. But when it's done badly it can be seriously offputting. Certainly another favourite Korean director, Chan-Wook Park, has some titles such as "Thirst" where the comedy feels rather out of place.
I'm not sure if fans of "I Saw The Devil" noticed the attempts at comedy. But perhaps one of my biggest problems was that I didn't enjoy the joke. "The Good, The Bad and the Weird" has a great deal of very obvious comedy, but it has its dark side too. I just felt that the actors were enjoying themselves rather more than myself in the audience.
The parallels between "The Good, The Bad and The Weird" and "The Last Stand" seem pretty obvious to me. Occasionally there are some pretty neat flourishes with the camera. Even while the bad guy's plan proves to be utterly ruthless and even cruel, the film still pushes forward with a deep sense of fun. In spite of my displeasure with Jee-Woon's prior work, I'm surprised to find myself considering him a rather good choice for this one.
The premise that Arnold Schwarzenegger is an old retired sheriff seems rather daft, but in the end this is more about an old Schwarzenegger at retirement age. He's given some background in military ops before becoming a sheriff. And of course, the whole thing is just silly fun at its heart. The idea is that this is a small policing force that generally have very little to do, now dealing with the henchmen of a vicious criminal determined to cross the border.
It's great to see Eduardo Noriega here as the villain. He starred in one of my favourite films, "Open Your Eyes", as well as "Tesis", which was also directed by Alejandro Amenábar, and the last thing I saw him in was "The Devil's Backbone" (directed by Guillermo Del Toro). He's an excellent Spanish actor and he's well suited to villainous roles.
There's no shortage of great actors here, with Forest Whitaker as the FBI agent in charge, Peter Stomare as one of the henchmen, and Johnny Knoxville is actually a pretty great comic relief character as the weird gun collector in the small town where Schwarzenegger acts as sheriff.
Still, I don't think the pacing is fantastically well handled and the story is pretty bland. Naturally the action genre is one where the standards have historically been pretty low, but one thing that IS expected of an action flick is excitement and fun. There are big fights and explosions that are very satisfying and the actors are doing a good job playing up their roles, but in the end no amount of acting or directing can get over this script. There aren't enough cool lines, there aren't enough story beats and so I guess I should admit that Ji-Woon did a great job here even while I note that the film as a whole, while quite fun overall, drags in places and is generally underwhelming.
Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Mark Kermode listed this as his joint-favourite movie of 2012 along with "A Royal Affair" (which was my personal favourite of the year at the end of 2012). As is often the way when choosing reviewers, sometimes the most interesting thing about following Mark Kermode's reviews is how much I often disagree with him. He always gives a fresh perspective on things. Also, he used to work for Fangoria and has a strong interest in horror films.
Mark Kermode's favourites of the year have often at least been films that I've liked. His favourites over the past nine years were:
2004 - Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
2005 - A History Of Violence
2006 - Pan's Labyrinth
2007 - The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
2008 - Of Time And The City
2009 - Let The Right One In
2010 - Inception
2011 - We Need To Talk About Kevin
Asides from 2007 where I thought his top choice was horrendous ("Assassination of Jesse James" was glacially paced) and 2008 where I've not been inclined to watch the documentary he picked ("Of Time And The City" is a black and white film about changes in Liverpool *yawn*), I've got to admit that all the other choices were great.
So is "Berberian Sound Studio" another great choice or a bit of a dud? Well it's difficult to say. Mark Kermode's co-host Simon Mayo was particularly enthusiastic about "Berberian Sound Studio", not only because of the excellent central performance from the ever-awesome Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Mist, that one episode of Doctor Who...), but also because it is all about sound effects which, as a radio DJ he finds of particulr interest.
The premise is that a sound recording technician is called over to Italy to work on a seemingly somewhat cheesy Giallo movie. We never see any footage from the movie he is working on, but we hear the screams, creepy music and sound effects that are meant to accompany those unseen visuals.
A whole range of sound effects methods are used, such as smashing up watermelons to suggest someone being beaten or the snapping radishes to suggest breaking bones. By focussing on the process of making the sound effects and Toby Jones' deeply uncomfortable grimaces as he watches the screen, allows the audience to come up with their own imagined ideas of how horrible the content of the film must be.
For Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode this movie must have been the perfect blending of both their interests. The film acting as a clear homage to Italian horror films of the past clearly appealed strongly to Mark Kermode, while the ever more inventive sound effects appealed strongly to radio Five Live DJ Simon Mayo.
However, in the end I felt that Berberian Sound Studio was a film that didn't know quite how to end. In a way, this is intentional. There's a sense in which Toby Jones is trapped working on this film and there's a certain cyclical feel to the events on screen. Though the means by which the movie tries to tie things together towards the end didn't entirely work for me, I could see how the film was turning itself into (a very high production value version of) the same kind of Giallo movie that Toby Jones' character is meant to be working on.
There's a sense in which Toby Jones' character, who just loves to work on sound effects, is having something of himself destroyed by his work on this Giallo film. At one point he tries to impress some of his fellow film crew and cast members with a little trick to use a light bulb to make a UFO sound. It's a beautiful sound effect in stark contrast to the hellish sound effects he's expected to provide for the Giallo film itself. And considering the content of the film-within-a-film "hellish" is just the right term to use.
This was a simple and effective film that has some absolutely wonderful work. But in the end it could have done with, if not a stronger story, a clearer sense of how it would establish itself as not needing one. In the light of my Lucio Fulci reviews not so long ago, I found a lot which really appealed here. Still, if you are going to make a movie that makes all the same mistakes as a Giallo film then that should probably also include imitating the typical low production values. However, if you've decided that you are not going to make ALL the same mistakes, then providing a more solid ending than most Italian horror movies might be another good choice.
Berberian Sound Studio is a really impressive film and will give you a great time if you approach it in the right way. Think of it like you would a Lucio Fulci (low budget Italian horror) movie. It's not going to be fantastically complex, but it will certainly leave an impression.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
Ahem! People of the internet, you have misinformed me!
Okay, so admittedly some of you out there must have informed me correctly or I'd never have watched this film. But strangely enough this film wasn't the bucket of fail that I'd been persuaded it would be.
I suppose the issue is that Jeremy Renner had just played Hawkeye and a lot of people were expecting more from him. The thing is, he's playing a cynic here and basically playing second fiddle to Gemma Arteton who is, quite frankly, AWESOME. Not that I'd know much about it, but her American accent seems pretty good, but more's to the point, she's playing a VERY different part to what she plays in "The Disappearance of Alice Creed". She's a very confident character here and kind of a badass.
Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arteton have some great on screen chemistry, though in one scene where the two are reunited their chemistry is perhaps a little TOO good, with the two of them seeming perhaps a little bit over familiar with one another for a brother and sister.
The witches in this movie are very much like the deadites in the Evil Dead movies. When Bruce Campbell in "Evil Dead 2" says "let's head on down into that cellar and carve ourselves a witch" the 'witch' that he's referring to there looks pretty similar to the witches here. This isn't the 'creepy woman living alone' kind of witch, but more of the cackling monster who'll feast on your children's souls.
After an initial scene where Hansel and Gretel enter the gingerbread house (here an elaborate house made of sweets because presumably most children don't eat gingerbread anymore) and defeat the monstrous cackling witch, we then see a whole set of wonderful moving artwork depicting them killing monster-witches in various ways.
As with most fantasy (though some seem to forget this) this isn't set in our past. Lord Of The Rings isn't set in the medieval era. If that world had developed anything like the way ours did, that world features massive anachronisms. (A fact which Terry Pratchett like to take full advantage of in his Discworld novels, such as by introducing cameras with Imps inside who draw the image.) Here Hansel and Gretel essentially have a machine gun at one stage. There's some rather tongue in cheek anachronisms in some places, like when the milk bottles are brought out with little "missing children" labels attached to them with string. (The idea of having missing children messages on milk cartons is something I've only ever seen in American films, so this makes pretty clear that the world Hansel and Gretel live in is not the world of the Brothers Grimm in the eighteenth or nineteenth century.)
Peter Stomare (the eye doctor in "Minority Report", Satan in "Constantine", secret service boss in "Lockout") turns up early on denouncing a woman as witch and insisting that she be burnt. Hansel and Gretel, however, note that she's not a hideous monster and that even on close inspection there's no sign of any evil in her (and apparently these monster-witches cannot handle that kind of scrutiny). Hansel and Gretel make themselves known to the town and reveal that they have been hired to return the missing children and defeat the local witches.
It turns out that the head witch in the area is played by Famke Janssen, who is awesome in everything and plays a pretty awesome head witch. She's actually referred to as a "Grand Witch", which I like to think of as a nod to Roald Dahl's awesome book.
Quickly we see what is involved in catching a witch with Hansel and Gretel in pursuit dodging the results of spells and struggling to hit the witch with their weapons. We get a clear idea early on of just how tough catching a witch is. I don't know that the direction is fantastically inspired, but we can clearly see what is going on at least and the action is pretty inventive.
This film has a simple but effective plot and I think it ends up being rather more than just a switch-your-brain-off movie. I found it highly enjoyable with a good pacing, lots of inventive costume designs (particularly towards the end) and this was simply really good fun. I heard that there were plans to release a sequel to this and I now wish there'd been more buzz for this movie when it came out to make that possible. I'd be totally up for more witch fighting and I think there was scope to expand the mythology even further.
Great fun, good performances, Gemma Arteton and Jeremy Renner hunting Evil Dead-style Deadites. What more do you want?
This set of reviews is part of a series:
- I introduce the series and review the first three movies here.
- I review the fourth, fifth and sixth movies here.
So now finally in this entry I review all the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" movies (as well as giving a quick mention to the new rebooted Star Trek movies). At the end I'm also including a full ranking of the 12 Star Trek movies released so far.
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Generations was always going to be a bit of a tough one since it marks the transition of the Next Generation from tv to the big screen. It felt especially odd for me as someone who had not really watched much of the "Next Generation" Star Trek series. I cannot really say I'd been terribly impressed with what I had seen so far, but I was open-minded about the movie. After all, original series Star Trek didn't really match the thrill-ride of the movies either.
The opening scenes of the movie do not bode well seeing as we have what appears to be an action scene involving Kirk climbing ladders and opening drawers. He's trying turn on some device on the ship that apparently requires pressing some particular switches on a particular deck rather than controlling it from the main control deck like they usually do. While Kirk is apparently successful in his little climbing down ladders, opening drawers and pressing buttons mission, he is (as far as we can tell at the time) killed when a chunk of the ship is destroyed. Naturally, we can tell that Kirk must not really be dead, though I was hoping for a better explanation than "TA-DAA MAGIC!" (More explanation on that later.)
A ship that is rescued during these early climactic scenes involves both Malcolm McDowell and Whoopi Goldberg being saved from a ship before it explodes. We are then told that our new storyline with the Next Generation crew takes place seventy five years later. On the one hand that raises some questions about the age of Commander Worf who was a young defence lawyer in the sixth Star Trek movie and doesn't look anywhere near retirement age here. (Though perhaps the guy in the sixth movie was his father?) There's some question as to why Whoopi Goldberg and Malcolm McDowell have not aged at all in those years. McDowell reveals that his character belongs to a race known for their listening skills, so perhaps both he and Whoopi Goldberg belong to this race and take hundreds of years to age?
Anyway, we are cleverly introduced to the Next Generation crew on what appears to be an old maritime ship seemingly many centuries before the time of Star Trek. This is a particularly confusing way to introduce fans of old Star Trek to the holodeck. I must say that I find the Next Generation crew insufferably good tempered and cheery. There was often so much tension to be dealt with amongst the old Star Trek crew, particularly between Bones and Spock. Here we have one female crew member sulking because the robot Data knocked her harmlessly into some water straight after she told him to "be spontaneous". Furthermore we have Captain Picard whining about the prospect that he might not have children. It feels at this stage like the Next Generation crew are distinctly lacking in the strength of character I'd come to expect in my Star Trek stories.
Still, there's a different style here and I guess you've got to give it time. But the other problem is the central TA-DAA MAGIC storyline. Okay, so apparently, wise ol' Whoopi Goldberg informs us, the 'nexus' thingy that looked like it killed Shatner at the beginning and which nearly killed her when it blew up the ship she was rescued from, has the power to make anyone caught in it feel like they are in some kind of heaven where time has no meaning.
My automatic interpretation of their description was that the nexus slows down time, so while you are in the nexus you feel like an eternity is passing where all your dreams are coming true. However it turns out that someone experiencing the nexus in the vacuum of space seventy five years previously is still just as alive and well in the nexus as someone who entered it while standing on the surface of a planet.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
I was pretty disillusioned after "Generations", but being mostly unfamiliar with the tv series the opening to this movie was my first experience of the Borg. I can't say that it struck me as hugely novel. The design of the Borg is certainly very impressive, but the idea of combining humans with technology was found all through Doctor Who (to give just one example) and the idea of an alien collective that takes control of human beings goes back at least as far as "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers". So how I took this new villain all hinged on how they were handled.
Unfortunately I don't think even fans of the tv series would say that the Borg were handled well here. The introduction of a central mastermind "Borg queen" figure rather takes away from the mystique of these villains. An unstoppable force of what are, essentially, cyber-zombies is far more creepy if there is no central mind behind them. The whole point is surely that they are a collective with no individuality, yet the Borg Queen seems to be very much a person in her own right. An individual acting independently.
I also found it rather odd how Picard seemed to be able to wander down a corridor seemingly without being noticed by Borg. Perhaps in the series the limitations of the Borg are made clearer. Also, the holodeck makes another baffling appearance. I say baffling because having already been expected to believe that the hologrammatic deck can simulate large bodies of water, I am now expected to believe that within the holodeck you can create guns out of thin air and then use them with lethal force against other people in the simulation. Personally I think if on the Enterprise I would be opting never to use the holodeck in my entire journey. The ability to produce lethal weaponry or environments out of thin air seems extremely unsafe.
Early on in the episode the decision is made to travel back in time. Not only did this feel like a rather shameless copy of the plot device in the fourth Star Trek movie, but it was rather less courageously employed. In "The Voyage Home" the writers had to handle how Star Trek's futuristic technology would work in a modern day environment. Sure, it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but there were some genuine challenges to be handled. In "First Contact" perhaps I'm being unfair, but it feels to me like only lip service is paid to time travel paradox concerns.
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
I only recently checked this one out for the first time. Perhaps low expectations were helpful here, though I was certainly more than a little sceptical about this one when Captain Picard decides to use Gilbert and Sullivan music to distract their android 'Data' who is malfunctioning.
However, when things get going it turns out that there's a pretty interesting plot involved here. And actually we finally see something in this movie that's been missing from all the other Star Trek movies, but is actually pretty important during the series. Of course, I'm referring to missions where the federation monitor life on other worlds.
For some reason Data has broken the prime directive and revealed the Federation's presence, but what caused him to malfunction is unclear. Meanwhile we have some aliens on the planet who look just like human beings. (What is it with this in the Next Generation films? First Malcolm McDowell is an alien scientist who looks just like a human and now we have a whole planet of aliens who look just like humans. Presumably it's a budgeting issue?)
Meanwhile the Federation is handling some aliens who have apparently have some interest in this particular monitoring mission. These ones actually don't look human and I liked that they had an element of satire to them. They have extremely stretched faces and it turns out that they have devices to regularly stretch their faces out. They also regularly check their blood toxins. Essentially it seems like cosmetics are a central part of their culture.
When the mysteries start to become clear it turns out that there's some genuine political issues being raised (unrelated to the satire about cosmetic surgery) and we get an opportunity for Picard to give us some proper moral outrage. I felt this was a great improvement from his whining about his lack of offspring in the last movie.
The effects aren't always great, but I felt they did the trick to tell a good story. The main problem I found with this movie was the decision to give Picard a love interest. It felt like it was done for the sake of it.
The big strength of "Insurrection" is that it is a movie with charm and intelligence. It has a specific message and it knows how to deliver it. It has a plot and it knows how to provide drama and surprises for the audience. Quite frankly this is one of the better Star Trek movies and its poor repuation astounds me.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
I'd generally avoided this one having been underwhelmed by Generations and First Contact and having heard bad things about Insurrection. I was tempted a few times but without sufficient motivation I just never ended up checking it out. Until now.
We start with a meeting of the Romulan senate and I'd never realised before the connection between the name of the species "Romulan" with the story of Romulus and Remus, the two children believed to have started Rome. I never really heard much about the Romulans in the older Star Trek movies, though they were always there. In the sixth Star Trek movie "The Undiscovered Country" I'd always mistaken the representative of the Romulans for simply another Vulcan. Here they look more distinctive. And to make the Romulus and Remus comparison more obvious, we also finally see the Remans. A race on a closely neighbouring planet who are often in conflict with the Romulans.
The Star Trek crew pick up remains of a prior model to that of Data, while the new Reman leader called Shinzon turns out to be a younger Clone of Picard. At times Data's predecessor "B4" seems a little too Jar Jar for my liking. I suppose it's difficult to have a robot with learning difficulties without having them act like a human with learning difficulties, but it felt a little uncomfortable all the same.
And in the case of the relationship between Picard and Shinzon, the biological determinism issues seem a little overplayed. Picard worries that he would be acting the same way as Shinzon if he had grown up in Shinzon's environment. He feels like any of Shinzon's moral failings reflect poorly on his own moral character. Picard Seriously, identical twins are born all the time. Get over yourselves!
Tom Hardy does a pretty awesome job with Shinzon, but he can't get around the fairly limited plot and dialogue. In the end Shinzon's plotting and planning isn't particularly mind-blowing, as great a job as Tom Hardy does in portraying him as a Machiavellian mastermind.
The best thing about Nemesis however, has to be the spaceship fights. The effects seem to be much more impressive this time around. The costumes are pretty cool. The sets are pretty cool. There's some pretty decent CG. But the spaceship fights let us know significantly better than previous films how the Enterprise can be a formidable fighting ship. The Enterprise doesn't have to turn its great bulking mass around in order to fire at something behind it. The photon cannon fires liberally in all directions. The shots we get of the spaceship fight are limited since clearly they require a lot of CG effects work each time, but what we get to see is visceral, exciting and really quite pretty.
Oddly enough the finally feels like a callback to "Wrath of Khan" in some ways, though it's much subtler than the callbacks to "Wrath of Khan" in the recent movie "Into Darkness". Yet oddly it now feels like "Into Darkness" is borrowing more from "Nemesis" than from "Wrath of Khan" in a way. Benedict Cumberbatch's version of Khan is closer to Tom Hardy's Shinzon character than to the original Khan. Certainly the way Tom Hardy's villain contrasts a sob story with uncompromising vengeance is shared by the "Into Darkness" villain.
And I'll tell you another thing. Despite how little I really understand the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe and as little familiarity as I have with Data as a character (though that was greatly improved by watching "Insurrection") and as thin as the plot may be here. When the chips were down and drastic action had to be taken towards the end, this time I really cared. I cared more than I did watching the final act of "Into Darkness" and I cared more than I did watching the final act of "First Contact". I know I'm completely contradicting popular opinion here but by my reckoning, "Insurrection" is the best ST:TNG movie for intelligence and charm. However, if you are looking for the actiony fun ST:TNG movie then don't listen to those pushing "First Contact". Oh no, "Nemesis" is the way to go for Next Generation movie thrills.
Star Trek (XI) (2009)
(My original review here)
A lot of fans of old Star Trek were unimpressed by "Star Trek". Personally I liked it, but I wouldn't rate it enormously. I've always felt that it was the first in a new franchise rather than a great film in its own right. The central macguffin of "red matter" that will destroy your planet, yet will send your spaceship back in time, kind of bugged me. Still there were some neat little touches and there was a lot of potential for future instalments. The old Star Trek crew that we all loved so much was back again, but the situation was different and there was every hope that updated original series stories or even brand new stories set in that era could be employed. Nero the Romulan was a pretty lame bad guy, but the cameo from Leonard Nimoy as Spock from the distant future did much to redress that. And while none of us knew who Chris Hemsworth was quite yet, his opening scene as Kirk's father was a real highlight.
Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)
(My original review here)
I think I've said all I need to about this one. Zachary Quinto shouting "KHAAAAN!" is now Star Trek's equivalent of Darth Vader's "NOOOOO!" In an interview Abrams said that they didn't decide to make the villain Khan until they were about half way through the script, and it really shows. Benedict Cumberbatch's character just blatantly ISN'T Khan. Still, we pretty much finish this movie with little having changed since last time, so perhaps a new director can come in and tidy up this mess? Suffice it to say, I'm now extremely sceptical about what JJ Abrams is going to do with the next Star Wars movie. (Thank goodness he's only got to live up to the Star Wars prequels. That's a helpfully low bar to surmount.) One positive thing about "Into Darkness" is it is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Everything about it is beautiful and at the half-way point where I still had some hope, I was quite keen to see a decent movie about Klingons. The new 'Bird of Prey' Klingon warships were very impressive for the short period of time they appeared.
My Complete Ranking Of The Star Trek Movies
Exit Humanity (2011)
What do you do when you want to make a film with a neat twist on the zombie genre, but you've basically got a choice between paying for quality special effects or quality actors? Well the makers of Exit Humanity have an interesting solution. Pretty much all the zombie killings that would require a bigger budget to pull off are done through animated sequences. Now admittedly animation can be pretty expensive too in its own way, but the animated sequences here manage to be simple but effective.
Clearly there still can't have been that much in the way of budget. Brian Cox is criminally underused when he is brought on simply as the narrator. I know the idea is that he's an ancestor of the guy playing the lead reading the diary he left behind. But couldn't the lead actor just as easily read what is supposed to be his own diary?
The diary recounts a zombie outbreak within the southern states at the end of the American Civil War. We get a real sense of the despair of the lead character as he is forced to kill his wife after she becomes a zombie and is then left searching in vain for his son.
Unfortunately this story of horrific misery is also slow paced and the second half doesn't really make it worth the slog. We come across some authority figures who are unsure how to respond to the plague. We also have Dee Wallace playing a woman who has withdrawn from the rest of civilisation since being branded a witch by the locals.
Now Dee Wallace is a pretty good actress. I really liked her in Peter Jackson's "The Frighteners" and have every reason to believe that she has a lot of talent. Sadly here I didn't find her all that convincing. I'm not sure if that's because of how her character was written or simply because of her performance. In any case, the information dump (once again portrayed through animation) that we receive in relation to her character towards the end of the film felt a little out of place in a film that had been progressing so slowly towards the beginning.
I think this film had a lot of potential and I really appreciate the budgeting balancing act that must have been going on here. However, in the end I always judge a film on its entertainment value and I can't ignore that in much of the first half I was bored because not enough was happening and in the second half I was bored because everything was becoming way too predictable. The issues here are story issues, not budget issues.
That being said, there is a lot to like here. Mark Gibson gives a great performance in the lead role and really makes us feel his pain. A side character of particular note is played by Adam Seybold. Admittedly he is aided by having some of the best lines. For example our protagonist says to him "you can't kill a man who is already dead" (referring to himself being dead inside) and Adam Seybold's character replies "I kill lots of men who are already dead!"
If the idea of a zombie film set in the aftermath of the American Civil War appeals to you, you may need to check this out. It's perfectly adequate, however I've got to warn you, it does not really meet its potential.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Okay, in short, it was great. Some were a little concerned that this would be a dark and gritty tale since, let's face it, we've come to expect our Marvel movies to be sweet and cheerful. The first "Thor" movie was very much a sweet and cheerful film overall, particularly the fish-out-of-water stuff with Thor wandering around in modern day America trying to purchase a horse at a pet shop. Anyway, I'm here to put your minds at rest and confirm that this film is of a similar tone to the other Marvel movies.
That being said, Marvel Studios are still raising the bar after "Avengers Assemble" (I'm going to keep using that title while it continues to be the title on the all the DVD boxes over here, okay?). I had big problems with "The Incredible Hulk" and "Captain America - The First Avenger". Also, though I thought "Thor" was good, it still wasn't great. Superhero movies in general have tended to be far from masterpieces, but Marvel Studios seems intent on really raising the bar now and I must admit, I'm feeling quite impressed now.
I felt "Avengers Assemble" was overrated, being touted as one of the most fantastic films of all time rather than, as I saw it, a better than average supehero film. However, I still thought it was great fun and gave it an A+. Unlike Nolan's Batman films it wasn't really aiming for intense atmosphere with dark and gritty visuals. Marvel Studios movies have all been more about the comedy - and Avengers Assemble was very funny. (Not as funny as "The Amazing Spider-Man", but I'll refrain from re-opening that can of worms.)
With comedy now the main deciding factor in my opinion of Marvel Studios movies, it is perhaps unsurprising that I ranked "Iron Man 3" as the best Marvel Studios movie yet. So the question now should presumably be, was "Thor 2" funnier than "Iron Man 3"? Well no, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was any worse.
"Thor: The Dark World" follows straight on from "Avengers Assemble" with Loki being imprisoned and Thor working to regain control of the various worlds. However, a story of an old history between the Asgardians (like Thor) and the Dark Elves (like Christopher Ecclestone basically dressed like an Engineer from "Prometheus" only with a pigtail), sets the scene for the story-to-come. The Dark Elves are awakened and there's a new macguffin that they want that's going to spell the end of the world once again. Oh YAY for the originality...
Naturally as things build to a head, we get a big showdown scene. But it's here where I'm going to give a lot of credit to "Thor: The Dark World". This is the first one of the films where we have reached the end finale, it's been exciting with a lot at stake and I've remained emotionally invested. At the end of this review I'll go through previous finales to really spell this out for those who don't mind the inevitable spoilers that will involve. (That will be at the bottom of the article, so if you don't want spoilers avoid that bit at the bottom of the page.)
Regularly in Marvel movies the filmmakers have rolled out the seemingly obligatory big battle scene to end the movie and it's been the most boring part of the film. In this final part the big baddie clashes with the hero and "oh noes, who'll win?" *yawn* But this time it was so much fun, the characters all seemed to have something to do, the visuals were utterly incredible, the stakes felt properly high and it didn't feel like the showdown was just there for the sake of it.
Anyway, "Thor: The Dark World" is a lot of fun and I'm willing to put it equal with "Iron Man 3" as the best of the Marvel Studios movies. They are good for different reasons, but while "Iron Man 3" mainly appealed to me with its comedy, "Thor: The Dark World" had to use more convincing world-building to pull me in. The story isn't exactly complicated and things do get a little goofy in places, particularly in relation to Stellan Skarsgard's scientist character, but the tone of the film is always so much fun that I felt I could just roll with whatever was thrown at me. There wasn't a dull moment from beginning to end.
On the plus side, Natalie Portman has a lot more to do this time around. On the negative side, there's another female character who is pretty unceremoniously fridged and I felt that was uncool. Ooooh and there's a surprise appearance from Chris O'Dowd (Roy from "The IT Crowd") and he's hilarious! :D
So yeah, great film. I hope Marvel Studios can keep this up. Perhaps now I won't hate the next Captain America film (even though it appears to completely randomly resurrect the most boring character from the first Cap movie and also introduce a weird character with metal wings. Look ethnic minority superhero characters are cool and everything, but we already have War Machine, a black male superhero who uses a flying machine which DOESN'T involve ridiculous goofy metal wings. Come on!)
Another thing I'm going to say that Marvel Studios are doing really well right now? "Agents of Shield". I've seen four episodes so far and I've enjoyed every last one. I do NOT understand the bizarre hate for that show.
Anyway "Thor: The Dark World" is great. (Though I feel like some people may not be trusting my opinion on this now. Admittedly I think those are mostly people are going to be watching this anyway no matter what, so there's that.)
Oooh, one final thing. Stay right to the end. There's more than one after-credits sequence. When you see the one with Benicio Del Toro playing the most ridiculously goofy character ever, the movie is still a way from over.
Sooooo SPOILERS FOR ALL THE MARVEL STUDIO MOVIES THIRD ACTS. SPOILERS FOR MARVEL STUDIOS MOVIES BELOW!!!!
DID YOU SEE THE SPOILER WARNING? GOOD! HERE WE GO!
Iron Man - Iron Man fights another guy with another metal suit that we know full well isn't actually going to be superior. Iron Man is obviously going to win.
The Incredible Hulk - Hulk goes up against another monster. There's a suggestion at one point that Bruce Banner is just going to land with a splat on the cement after jumping out of a helicopter without a parachute, but we're not buying that for a minute. Hulk fights other monster. Fight isn't even that well choreographed. Eventually Hulk wins. No one is surprised.
Iron Man 2 - Iron Man and War Machine fight a whole load of expendable drones. They are pretty clearly in no real danger. Big boss guy gets taken out fairly quickly with no expectation that he'll be any tougher to spot.
Thor - Thor fights Loki on the rainbow bridge, before eventually sending him flying into space. This was actually less impressive than the fight with the robot earlier in the movie, where Thor defeated the robot with the power of selflessness. Lame!
Captain America - Huge armies of men with death rays are being amassed. They mostly get stopped seemingly by ordinary people offscreen. Captain America fights just the main big bad guy on his own and the fight isn't really very exciting. According to the new Captain America trailer he can jump out of a plane without a parachute, but at the end of this movie that doesn't appear to be true.
Avengers Assemble - Loki gets beaten up by Hulk. Really really easily. Plus there's loads of expendable aliens. They cause a lot of damage, but it turns out that all they needed to do was blow up the mother brain and all the aliens drop down dead. Um... okay. Big fight scene focusses around silly macguffin item that could potentially spell the end of the world. What-EVAR!
Iron Man 3 - Big finale at the shipyard. Involves a lot of funny jumping around, but there's no real concern about how many villains need to be dispatched because none of that actually matters. Unlike some of the earlier action scenes, the finale at the shipyard is just a setting for more gags and an opportunity to bring the film to a close. What happened in the action sequence there had very little actual weight. Still blooming funny though.
SPOILERS FOR MARVEL MOVIE ENDINGS IN THE SECTION JUST ABOVE
If you are interested in my views on Iron Man 3 (along with a quick rundown of the other Marvel Studios movies) click here...
For my Avengers Assemble review, click here...
In a way, it's hard to explain what is wrong with Stitches. The child characters (when they grow up a bit) are endearing (though it somewhat feels like an episode of Grange Hill). The death effects are inventive. But I'm afraid, as a big horror-comedy fan I found it was never terribly funny, nor did it ever successfully build up an atmosphere.
"Stitches" tells the story of a party clown who ends up being treated particularly badly by the children he is supposed to be entertaining. Unimpressed by his tricks, the children end up playing an off-the-cuff prank which causes him to stumble and fall head first - onto a knife. After witnessing this death th protagonist sees some kindof clown cult amassing late at night at a nearby church. He's not sure whether this was just a nightmare connected to his guilt or something he really saw, since nobody ever believed him. However, if the cult was real the suggestion seems to be that Stitches the clown could still come back to take revenge.
Now in his late teens, the protagonist finally gets the courage to have a proper birthday party with his friends. But Stitches the clown has been waiting for this moment...
Let's face it, the worst thing a slasher movie can do is just give us one death scene after another. They need to build up the threat of the villain and have people desperately trying to escape - at least when they are under attack. But here, the first victim barely knows he is under attack before having his head opened with a tin opener.
I have a lot of respect for the more recent scandinavian "Cold Prey" slasher movie series where, while they might not have the most inventive kills, they really do know how to build up the sense of threat and atmosphere - and for a horror movie that really ought to be the priority.
Still, with Ross Noble, a comedian, playing the 'evil clown' villain, perhaps the film simply isn't going for atmosphere. Perhaps this is supposed to be full-on comedy? Except that, and perhaps this is the problem, I didn't find any of it funny.
There's clear signs that "Stitches" is trying to ape the old "A Nightmare On Elm Street" movie series. There's a mean supernatural villain who kills his victims one by one with visually impressive effects while coming out with puns. The effects are pretty inventive with Stitches even being able to take off his red nose and send it sniffing out his victims. Some of Stitches' murder weapons include an umbrella, an ice cream scoop and a balloon pump. But still, even at his silliest Freddy Kreuger was creepier than this and, even with Ross Noble involved, I'm afraid the puns aren't any funnier than the ones Robert Englund used to come out with.
Now it may seem strange to be saying this by comparison to Freddy Kreuger who seemed to call every woman he ever spoke to "bitch", but I think Stitches the clown is just too mean. If this is a revenge story, the kills should have some relevance to the crimes committed. Yet the first victim is seemingly the first victim for no other reason than because he is fat and his death actively shames him for this. When we note that he seems to be the only gay character and that, shortly before he is killed off, he has just stood up for the protagonist and proven himself to be one of the more noble characters of the piece, his position in the kill list becomes particularly problematic.
Later on Stitches tells a plus-sized girl that she "has the stomach for it" when she finds the body of one of his recent victims. Now obviously he's a villain, but if they are expecting me to appreciate Stiches' kills, I'd rather he wasn't fat shaming all the time.
"Stitches" is a horror-comedy that isn't creepy or funny. There's some pretty good characterisation (even if they do have a 'children's television' feel to them), but in a villain-centred piece like this, there's no ignoring the elephant in the room.
Ross Noble puts his all into his body language and the special effects team have been very creative, but the audience needs a reason to care. With each character being ambushed out of nowhere, there's more time spent on killing the characters than there is on chasing them, leaving Ross Noble's performance ever divorced from the victims he is pursuing. As a result, watching Stitches the clown work take revenge on the children that killed him one by one is a fairly joyless experience.
Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. We've all seen the trailer where the two of them are involved in some kind of massive wreck in outer space. So guess what happens to the ethnic minority character who's also with them in the opening scenes? *gulp*
So anyway, in the opening scene we have Sandra Bullock as a rather nervous woman who is less sure of herself in space, feeling rather nauseous in zero gravity, but whose special prototype medical technology is being tested out there.
Meanwhile, George Clooney is an experienced astronaut who likes to joke with the voices at Houston. He likes to tell stories about his life on Earth and the voices at Houston are clearly well-used to listening to those stories.
While Bullock is carefully trying to prepare her mechanical equipment for testing, Clooney is doing some carefree space walking. Also the ethnic minority character (played by Phaldut Sharma, who it seems is a regular on "Eastenders" in case anyone actually cares about that rubbish) celebrates fixing a panel on the satellite with some nifty outer space dancing.
This is followed up by an outer space catastrophe, leaving Bullock spinning in space. You might think the whole film is going to consist in Bullock drifting alone with her thoughts and certainly that seems like the most likely outcome at this rather early stage.
The camera passes with ease between the empty blackness of outer space and the cramped inner life of an astronaut's suit, with condensation on the visor and a rather limited view (particularly when the astronaut in question is stuck spinning over and over again). Space inside the suit is scant, but space outside the suit is vast and infinite. As such we get a sense of both claustrophobia and agraphobia at the same time.
The effects here are absolutely incredible. Bullock comes across structures orbiting the Earth that are bigger than herself and yet they seem no less like they are weightlessly floating. How Alfonso Cuaron coordinated this is uncertain and perhaps it's mostly CG? I have no idea. It all looks extremely real to me.
It rather annoyed me that they chose to give Bullock's character depression that set in since she lost her daughter. (Don't worry, this backstory is revealed quite early on.) I have heard discussions in the past about "Aliens" where reviewers consider it important that Ripley be female because of her 'maternal instinct'. I find that to be a bit of a cop-out and arguably actually a rather male perspective. "How can we make this a more typically female character? Oh I guess we'll make the character more 'maternal'. That'll work!" Then again, while it might have worked and have been rather less stereotypical to make Clooney's experienced, cheery, story-telling astronaut the female character and to have made Bullock's work-focussed-but-secretly-depressed-about-a-lost-daughter character male, that would mean that the lead actor here was male too. So I guess it's swings and roundabouts for gender representation here.
Another thing which kinda bugged me was where Bullock is upset that no one ever taught her to pray. Sure, if she decided when facing her own mortality that she should probably give prayer a try, that would have been fine. If she then found it didn't sound right and wished someone had taught her how to form a traditional prayer at that stage, I'd have no trouble with that. But to randomly start expressing how unlucky she was never to have been taught to pray struck me as odd. Perhaps it's just me...
Overall, Gravity is a beautiful film. The music works fantastically with the atmosphere and in spite of my few qualms the characters are engaging. This is a simple, but highly effective story. While perhaps not my favourite film of the year, this was an amazing cinematic experience and I highly recommend it.
I went to a relatively early evening 2D showing of this film and the cinema was fairly empty as a result, asides from a few brats who came in part way through and insisted on talking through most of the movie. Gah! That was particularly unfortunate for the start of the movie which involves the silence of the space and then gradually allowing us to hear clearer and clearer the broadcasts between the astronauts and Houston. I kinda missed most of those initial broadcasts because I had low-attention-span brats who couldn't stay quiet for one minute sitting behind me. Um... try to avoid having that problem when you watch it?
Oh I don't know. Maybe I need to see more 15-certificate and 18-certificate movies where children are kept out entirely. In "Thor 2" I was surprised to find a woman had brought a baby with her (and remarkably I didn't notice it was there at all until the third act). Most shocking was at "Iron Man 3" though where one aisle full of children looked like a complete tip when they left it. Rubbish from cinema snacks and split coca cola was littered all down that aisle. Shocking. (Okay, so enough middle-aged ranting. "You kids! Get off my lawn!")
Okay, so here's a grumpy rant about a term I've been hearing over and over on movie message boards and I am fed up with it. "Plot holes" is a term where the meaning appears to be deeply unclear (at least in the way most people use it). In some cases a short review of a film could actually be as simple as: "It sucked because it was full of plot holes." I am here to argue that such a review is practically meaningless.
Before I even worry about whether "plot holes" is a good term or not, perhaps I should show some evidence than anyone actually uses it. I found myself rather annoyed to see it being used a reviewer. I've recently discovered a reviewer on The London Film Review website called David Ollerton. In an article about "Looper" he said the following:
"Looper is full of plot holes right from the start, and I'm not even talking about the time-travel logic (which makes little to no sense throughout), I'm talking about some of the basic ideas."
I immediately groaned. I keep on hearing this term in IMDB message boards and it is frustrating as hell. However, to be fair to Ollerton (who actually seems to write some pretty good reviews) this wasn't his review of "Looper", but rather an article breaking down what he believed to be some less-recognised issues with the film which people might have missed.
There already is a major problem with using the term "plot holes" in a review. If it is possible for most people to watch the film without even recognising a plot hole, how is it an important criticism of a film? Am I really going to have a poor movie-going experience due to a factor I cannot recognise while I am watching the film? Anyway, more on that later...
Is The Term "Plot Holes" Really Used THAT Much?
Looking at reviews by ordinary internet users on Rotten Tomatoes the following is just a small sample:
From Paris With Love:
"It's just one of those action films that tries to tell a story set in the real world, but isn't really. Too many plot holes, inconsistencies and unbelievable character decisions make this a work of pulp, that shows little respect for the worth of a human life."
"The story makes you think and keep you on your toes the whole time and even though there's small plot holes here and there that I wish were explained better, they didn't completely destroy the experience like they can with other movies in this genre."
"Boll's attempt at humor is executed poorly in a story with plot holes, which shouldn't matter, but they do anyway."
"I didn't like it at all. It wasn't even that scary and it had too many plot holes to take seriously. It was nothing like the original REC and I thought it was really stupid."
"Though it's far from the most intelligent of movies, Salt has some exciting chase sequences, and it manages to patch over most of its plot holes."
"The Transporter like all the other Besson action flicks is adequately written and filled with plot holes, what makes it special, is Statham's unbelievably energetic performance."
"There were a few plot holes and some of the writing by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen were not that great."
Wrong Turn 4:
"There are obvious plot holes which do annoy at times, and sometimes some awful acting really upsets a scene. Other than that, it's fairly kick-ass action horror, that doesn't put me off a 5th visit."
How Much Do Critics Use The Term "Plot Holes"?
In one forum post on Rotten Tomatoes an ordinary RT user said this about "The Godfather":
"There were many gaping plot holes in this movie (which critics usually attack other movies for, but not this one)"
Actually I don't think this is true. I think most critics don't actually use the term "plot holes" very often at all, never mind randomly missing out that term in relation to "The Godfather".
I did a quick search on Google of the Rotten Tomatoes website. The first few examples I found were actually from the critical consensus comment left by the Rotten Tomatoes website itself:
Next (Critical Consensus)
"Numerous plot holes and poorly motivated characters prevent Next from being the thought-provoking sci-fi flick it could've been."
Shooter (Critical Consensus)
"With an implausible story and numerous plot holes, Shooter fails to distinguish itself from other mindless action-thrillers."
However, I only found a few examples of official critics (as opposed to ordinary users) using the term "plot holes" in their reviews:
"The Collector must be the laziest horror film of the year - the camerawork stinks, the action's boring and the plot holes are so glaring they wouldn't get past a lobotomised goose."
News of the World
"As usual, Bay stages the action at a breakneck pace that's never frenetic enough to obscure his film's plot holes and logical lapses."
Naturally these are from small quotations used to sum up a reviewer's position. It's possible that the term is used a lot more often in general. However, it is at least rare enough that it is only found in a few instances like this in concluding statements about a film.
However, I have a couple of other reviewer quotations which I have missed out because they not only use the term "plot holes", but they make use of it in a phrase that has become a particularly irritating cliché for me...
"Plot Holes Big Enough To Drive A Truck Through!"
Oh please Lord make it stop!
There are plenty of examples of ordinary users on Rotten Tomatoes using this phrase in their reviews:
"A bizarre film, bearing only a slight resemblance to the Hansel and Gretel tale, with plot holes big enough to drive a truck through, but entertaining, nonetheless."
"Predictable from the start and filled with plenty of plot holes big enough to drive Mack trucks through."Sadako 3D:Obviously nobody gave the script a second thought after the first draft was turned in cause the final product is absolutely ridiculous and littered with plot holes you could drive a semi through...The Human Centipede II:Of course the plot is totally dumb with some plot holes you could drive a Land Rover through.
Star Trek (XI):
"This movie has plot holes big enough for the Enterprise to fly through!"
So who are the official Rotten Tomatoes reviewers who've not only used this stupid phrase, but have allowed it to make it into their quoted summary?
"Gothika is a stylish, creepy, and well-acted psychological thriller/ghost story. It also has plot holes big enough to drive a truck through..."
David M. Kimmel
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
"It's silly, has plot holes big enough to drive a truck through and is little more than a gothic version of Law & Order, yet it has a macabre charm that will keep you interested for the film's duration."
We Got This Covered
And one case the phrase was even used in Rotten Tomatoes' movie info section!:
Range Riders (Movie Info)
"What stands out about this film is the hopelessly abysmal acting of everyone concerned, plot holes you could drive a truck through, the fact that many scenes are totally out of focus (apparently the cameraman had better things to do than look through his viewfinder), and an audio track that rises and falls like a roller coaster."
Plot Holes Don't Matter!
There is one user comment which uses the dreaded phrase which I think helps to make clearer why I dislike the term "plot holes" in the first place.
"Talk about your plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. But hey ... I'm a sucker for time-travel flicks. Even if they suck I love them."
I'm going to go one further and not just accept that you can love movies with plot holes, but that plot holes don't matter.
There's a section on IMDB called "gaffs". This highlights elements from a film where there are mistakes. The first time I heard about a film's gaffs being explored in detail was "The Matrix", but it wasn't really seen as a negative thing. "The Matrix" is a film where reality is questioned. As such, it actually ADDED something to the film to discover that when Keanu Reeves is jumping out of his seat and terrified, dealing with the fact that his mouth has disappeared, the reflection in Hugo Weavings indoor sunglasses shows Reeves still sitting down and unemotional.
It's fun to find out about little tiny inconsistencies in films, but even a list of 100 of them isn't going to make us love our movies any less. Sometimes we even notice little inconsistencies during a movie and still love it. However, mostly we don't notice at all due to a phenomena that is dealt with on the TV Tropes page on "Fridge Logic". We can happily accept all sorts of bizarre events in films and so long as we are caught up in the action, it is only when we pause the film and get up to get something from the fridge (or some other reason for having a short break from the film) that we snap out of the film's spell and think "Wait a moment!"
I'm going to state right now that the plot isn't the main reason why we watch most films. In some genres the plot plainly doesn't matter.
The Addams Family can be doing anything they want and I'll still be entertained. The plot is handy to keep me interested, but there are parts of the Addams Family movie which are irrelevant to the plot, yet I don't think the film would be better without them. (Wednesday Addams plays the game "Is There A God?" with Pugsley by electrocuting him, yet he's still alive for the rest of the movie. Oooh what a plot hole! *facepalm*) One "plot hole" pointed out in internet lists regards "Back To The Future". Marty McFly uses 1985 money in the 50s. How does he do that? Does it matter? "Back To The Future" is a comedy and the premise is an opportunity to make the gags. It's a very thoughtful comedy, but problems with time travel are not a big issue so long as we are having fun and are entertained enough not to ask questions.
For some films a major focus can be the atmosphere. Does anyone love "The Exorcist" for the plot? I don't think so. Characters, atmosphere, performances and visual impact are all elements as important or perhaps even more important than plot. And what do we even MEAN by plot? We mean the structure of the story. If the structure of the story is so flawed so often (if all these IMDB commenters are to believed) how would so many filmgoers be able to leave without a problem? And why does it seem so difficult for these same commenters to explain their problems a lot of the time? Plot structure is a difficult thing to critique. As such "plot holes" is not acceptable as a throwaway comment. The term "plot holes" simply isn't specific enough and if it's to be any use at all, each example needs to be fully elucidated for the reader (by which point you might as well have never used the stupid term in the first place).
You know what? Using the term "plot holes" does not sound smart AT ALL!
A Case Study: Prometheus
It's been bugging me for a while now that most people hated "Prometheus", while I actually preferred it to the original "Alien". So why was that?
Well "Prometheus" captured my imagination because in the end it's all about the savage origins of religion. The premise of an alien race who are keen on self-sacrifice and the cycle of death and rebirth, while having absolutely no time for human fear of mortality or their attempts to preserve themselves though creating automata to imitate them.
I also loved the idea of an advanced alien civilisation that has more in common with our old harsh tribal mentality than they do with our more compassionate modern mentality. There was something very Lovecraftian about the entire premise. We want to discover our creators, but when we meet the old gods will we like what we find and why would they care about us? (Not quite extreme as the perspective of "there are gods, they've been asleep, and if they wake up seeing them will send us mad and then they will eat us. But the same sort of gist anyway.)
The main appeal of the film for me was the atmosphere. The Lovecraftian feel wasn't just in the premise but in the whole build-up of the film. Of course another element of horror asides from the aliens is the robot they bring with them. He is able to recognise the nightmare still to come and, instead of warning them, actually make them more vulnerable. There was a certain level of predictability in "Prometheus" which played to the film's advantage. Being able to see what is coming yet being unable to do anything about it. Just like that (literally) eye-popping scene in Lucio Fulci's "Zombie Flesh Eaters".
One element I have since realised that I was prepared to give the film a pass on which many people could not forigve was the depth of the characters. There's practically no depth to the characters in "Prometheus" whatsoever. I'm not really convinced that there was a lot of depth to the characters in the original "Alien" either, but that's not the point. "Prometheus" gives us some fairly obvious tropes and in some cases isn't even terribly consistent with them. The most obvious inconsistency in character being the geologist who claims both that he is only there for the money and that he loves rocks.
I've watched a lot of horror movie series recently and many of them have utterly stupid and bland characters. In a movie with a good enough atmosphere you don't even need a strong protagonist. Sometimes it is the events which happen TO the main character which matter more than anything else. Still, it has to be said that the main focus of Prometheus is firmly on the robot David and Michael Fassbender provides an AMAZING performance in that role.
So what about plot holes? Well I'm inclined to say that the plot of "Prometheus" is pretty simple really. It's not so different from the plot of "Predator". People go somewhere and get picked off one by one by a big bad, except for the ones who survive (which isn't many of them). I'm inclined to say that "Prometheus" followed that plot structure fine without a hitch.
The problem is better highlighted by looking at my opinion of the recent Star Trek film "Star Trek: Into Darkness". There are lots of people who absolutely loved that film. The critical reception was extremely positive and box office takings were pretty consistent. Yet I found myself just groaning throughout. Why? Because I wasn't caught up in the story. And without being caught up in the story, I was able to focus on the parts that were bothering me instead. There were just certain elements about the film, not tied to performances or visuals or atmosphere, that just did not speak to me.
I feel that the reason why people disliked "Prometheus" is because they had a similar issue with that film that I did with "Star Trek: Into Darkness". In neither case is that issue a minor complaint. I do not mean to dismiss anyone's issues with "Prometheus" any more than I wish to dismiss my own concerns with "Star Trek: Into Darkness". I'm not going to start re-writing my "Into Darkness" review here, but I will note that if someone is unable to accept my views on that Star Trek film it is likely to be because they could immerse themselves in the film in the way I simply could not. And no amount of time spent rating about "plot holes" was going to change that.
(And my main reason for not being exactly a massive fan of the first "Alien" film is that, plot holes or no, I find it hard to get excited about people running back and forth down corridors. Give me a choice between watching "Alien" or watching "Alien Resurrection", I'll choose the daft one with half-alien Ripley every time because at least I won't be bored. Sorry!)
"Plot holes" only matter when you are unengaged enough to spot them. If a reviewer says "there were plot holes" and a reader replies "yes, I saw them too" there's no guaranteeing that they are talking about the same plot structure issues. If a reviewer says "there were plot holes" and a reader disagrees, that is also unhelpful since there may well have been genuine plot structure problems which the reader simply missed. "Plot holes" only matter if, once you are told about them, you find it harder to engage with the film again afterwards. In any case, the actual term "plot holes" is very unhelpful indeed since it is not specific enough, it often comes across as emotive, and in many cases a film can be full of plot holes without being any less beloved by audiences who know about every last one of them.
Just knock it off with the term "plot holes" okay?
Director Showcase: Lucky McKee
May (2002) - This was a really strong showcase of Angela Bettis' ability, playing a fragile socially-awkward young girl who cannot handle friends. She has a doll who her parents gave her as a child, almost as a consolation for her inability to make real friends. It's easy to get the impression early in the movie that the doll has some kind of supernatural power, but it becomes clear eventually that a lot of the movie is taking place within the protagonist's head. (B+)
(My review here)
Sick Girl (2006) - A "Masters of Horror" episode rather than a movie. This horror-comedy short feels rather like a Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode. It's a sweet story about two young women who are attracted to one another. Angela Bettis being the more mature of the two as well as being a bug expert who really loves her work. The film is more funny than scary, but it's absolutely great fun. (A+)
(My review here)
The Woods (2006)- Perhaps I'm only negative on this one because of my general dislike of ghost stories, but I had real trouble getting on board with this one. A girl in a mysterious boarding school finds she has trouble settling in and also finds that something more malicious may be at play in the background. There's weird urban legends and a slowly unfolding story which, while featuring some cliched elements, comes together to form something rather different from what you may have seen before. The appearance of Bruce Campbell is highly appreciated, but in the end the film mostly felt rather naff to me. (B-)
(My review here)
The Woman (2011) - Co-written by Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum, this is actually a third entry in a whole series of Jack Ketchum stories about a group of cannibals who live in the forest. The eponymous 'woman' being the last remaining cannibal from Jack Ketchum's story "The Offspring". The introduction to this particular movie appears to suggest that the woman was raised by wolves, but her origins aren't vital here. The point is that she is some kind of wild savage woman who randomly lives in the forest away from 'civilised society'.
Angela Bettis appears in a smaller role here, but is no less awesome. But the central character is her lawyer husband who decides to kidnap the woman, keep her chained up, and to attempt to 'civilise' her. It's a deeply worrying premise, but Lucky McKee has a keen interest in focussing on feminist themes as well as including a sense of fun alongside his disturbing horror. I haven't read Jack Ketchum's novels, but Lucky McKee's style seems well-suited to adapting it here, and I would argue that this is Lucky McKee's best film so far.
(my review here)
All Cheerleaders Die (2013) - The next film Lucky McKee is working on is actually a remake of an early low budget film he made over a decade ago "All Cheerleaders Die". Apparently it finally reached the UK on the 12th October... at a film festival *groan!* Looking forward to a proper release as soon as possible. Recently saw this awesome trailer for it:
There's just one more Lucky McKee film that I never reviewed before. Oddly it was taken away from Lucky McKee part way through and taken over by Trygve Allister Diesen, a director mostly known for directing Norweigian television. Still, there are some scenes that are notably Lucky McKee's work. As I understand it, rather sadly for Robert Englund, Englund signed up particularly because he was keen to work with McKee and ended up not working with him at all.
"Red" is the name of the dog owned by the protagonist (played by Brian Cox). He's an older man with a small shop who has a close connection with his dog, as is not unusual for some old lonely men. In an early scene he is fishing with his dog by his side and a group of teenagers turn up and have a chat with him after an unsuccessful hunting trip.
Intially this scene seems fairly banal, but there comes a certain point where it becomes clear that the teenagers are going to rob him. The more dominant of the teenagers clearly isn't happy with their unsuccessful hunting trip and he feels like taking it out on someone. The old man doesn't have very much to offer them and out of spite the more dominant teenager decides to shoot the dog. The teenagers then walk off laughing. Brian Cox's subtle performance makes very clear the sense of helplessness during this scene.
This initial part of the film does an excellent job of establishing the importance of the dog to the protagonist, his sense that some kind of justice be done - no matter how small, and the deeper sense of loss stretching further back that still haunts him.
The protagonist tracks down the home of the teenagers and asks their father if he will ensure that his children are punished in some way for what they have done. However, the father is unwilling to accept his children's guilt and would much rather just pay money to make the complaint go away.
There's a very interesting balance here between the plight of Brian Cox's character who wants justice no matter the price and the family that will pay any price not to acknowledge his complaints. Of course, the law doesn't have an awful lot of protections for dogs so in some ways Brian Cox's actions seem more extreme than theirs, initially at least. So while Brian Cox seems very much the hero of the story, there's an ambiguity as to which side is truly in the right.
This is yet another Jack Ketchum adaptation and once again there's this theme of the darkness behind civilised society. The rich upstanding family appear to have a shocking cruelty and callousness behind their actions and a brutal unwillingness to accept responsibility for wrongdoing.
While "Red" is a very interesting film, there are a few points where it drags and where the story doesn't move forward quite as well as it should. It's not clear to me why the film should have been taken away from Lucky McKee, but I'd be willing to bet that this would have been even better if McKee had been left in charge.
Side Effects (2013)
So. It seems that this is Steven Soderbergh's last film. For cinemas at least. Apparently. Presuming you don't count the one I'm reviewing straight after this. Anyway, whatever.
So "Side Effects" stars Rooney Mara plays a character who has to basically be spaced out for most of the film. Her character massively depressed and on anti-depressant drugs. I'd been a little unimpressed by Rooney Mara so far, having seen her in the "A Nightmare On Elm Street" remake where, despite being the main star, she was outdone by Kyle Gallner, as well as "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" where she seemed to be unconvincing even as a mostly emotionless, violent introvert. Here however, even though her character is withdrawn, she still has a certain level of subtlety to her performance which I haven't seen from her before.
The first half of this movie was pretty cool, but I wasn't entirely sure where it was going. Things perked up in the second half. By the very final parts of the film I found myself enjoying the film a hell of a lot. It was a long (though not dull) build-up and the payoff turned out to be absolutely worth it.
I'd heard this described as Hitchcockian and I'm not sure I really see the Hitchcock connection to be honest. But I found Jude Law's performance great here and it did a lot to restore my confidence in him as an actor after his somewhat cartoonish performance in "Contagion".
Side Effects is a much better film than any of the promotional material could make clear. It's a tough movie to sell to the audience, not least because focussing on early parts of the film and avoiding spoilers inevitably made it look like some kind of critique of the pharmaceutical industry - which was hard to get excited about as a premise. The actual story is so much cooler, not least because of the way it plays with you.
Rooney Mara is certainly playing a major role here, but this is really Jude Law's movie. It's generally his perspective from which we view most events in the film, particularly once it gets going. I don't thik I've ever seen Jude Law in a central role like this before. Oddly the nearest I've probably seen him to being a movie's protagonist is Guy Ritchie's naff "Sherlock Holmes" movie where Law was at least the protagonist's side-kick. But Law certainly steps up to the plate and puts on a great show here.
Behind The Candelabra (2013)
So, after being told that Steven Soderbergh is never releasing another movie in cinemas, we then immediately saw this movie released in cinemas. The explanation? In American it was on HBO. That's no guarantee that it was going to be on cinemas here, mind you. "The Girl" with Toby Jones was released on HBO (and was head and shoulders better than the movie "Hitchcock" by my estimation), but that didn't receive a cinema release over here.
I've heard it suggested that "Behind The Candelabra" didn't make it into cinemas in the US because of the seemingly more widespread homophobic vibe dominating American politics. However, I'm not sure this is a terribly gay-affirming movie anyway. The story is about Liberace in a highly manipulative relationship with a younger man. Matt Damon's character starts off explaining his dreams of being a vetinarian, before Liberace, portrayed here by Michael Douglas, employs him full-time as, basically, his boyfriend.
The performances here are top notch. I haven't really seen a lot of stuff to do with Liberace before, but nevertheless I found Michael Douglas' peformance to be very impressive indeed and Matt Damon was once again on top form. There are elements in both characters which remain unstated, but the actors' faces convey brilliantly. Liberace is prepared to be manipulative in order to keep hold of a young man who will love him in spite of his age, while Scott Thornson (Matt Damon's character) is unwilling to openly admit how much money plays a factor in keeping him there. But the interplay between these characters is much more multi-faceted than that and I don't want to spoil the surprise.
Of course, this IS a biopic and that means that the film is limited to some extent by the unfolding of real events. In real life events do not unfold quickly and the order in which they unfold is often important. That's not to say that this was boring or even badly paced, but at two hours there is an awful lot of it. What's more, real life stories don't always have well-placed endings. It's not unusual for a biopic to end with a death and this is sadly no different.
"Behind The Candelabra" is a great movie and I don't think the ending spoils it at all. But while "Side Effects" has pretty great performances and an amazing ending which really blew me away, "Behind The Candelabra" has amazing performances which really blew me away, but a rather mediocre ending. It's a pity, but that's the problem with biopics I guess.
Texas Chainsaw (2013)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series has been an odd one. Just a (very) quick recap on the series so far. (Don't worry, there's not much in the way of plot elements and few of the films have been popular enough to have their ideas carried on into the next entry.
The first Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie is an absolute horror classic. It threw down a gauntlet for Tobe Hooper's career that, in spite of a few beloved hits like "Poltergeist" and "The Funhouse", he never managed to live up to.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre was banned during the video nasty scandal, making it illegal to sell or screen to the public. However, it strangely was not on the Department of Public Prosecutions' list of movies deemed capable of psychologically damaging and corrupting their audiences. The reason for this is rather interesting. Apparently it was believed that the movie would be acceptable to screen, but it would need some cuts to be made first. Yet when it came to cutting the movie, no matter how they tried to cut it, the sense of terror remained fully intact.
The longest lasting victim of the movie is also in a small role in this new movie "Texas Chainsaw". In fact many actors from previous instalments, particularly the original one, have a role in the opening scene. In a featurette, this actress notes that part of the horror comes from the women who just will not stop screaming, fully recognising that this comment mainly refers to herself. Constant screaming can just be boring sometimes (and certainly I found it that way in the low budget zombie movie "Colin") but in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre there is plenty going on to scream about so it doesn't feel like annoying distraction but rather feels like the only sane response to what is happening in the movie.
"Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" turned the series into a horror comedy, or at least it tried to. This was a highly compromised work since apparently the studios didn't want Hooper to put comedy in the movie. Though for Hooper it wasn't such a big change since he maintains that the original movie was hilarious in the first place. I can sort of see what he means, but in that first movie I found myself far too disconcerted to laugh. I'm the first to laugh when I'm enjoying an extremely spectacular or gory spectacle, but there is no real gore to speak of in the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There's just pure terror. While in the sequel, I'm not always sure what Hooper is going for. The bit where the female protagonist seduces Leatherface while he's holding a chainsaw next to her crotch was a bizarre move, but the final flourish of the chainsaw at the end was bizarre enough that I felt semi-happy that I'd seen a bizarre horror comedy. (That finale had a similar sort of feel to Rodriguez' "Planet Terror".)
"Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw III" was clearly a point where there was practically no budget, no inspiration and no longer any real hope for the series. Yet I think this is probably my favourite of the sequels. Leatherface actually isn't terribly central. The big appeal of this one is the extended family that accompanies him, particularly the inclusion of a young sadistic child and, rather awesomely, Viggo Mortensen.
Once again (both here and in the previous sequel) we have a sequence where a central character is captive for a meal where it looks like they are about to be the food. (It's this common element that made me inclined to call "The Loved Ones" a spiritual sequel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sure it's not quite the same there, but the tense atmosphere is very similar.)
The sight in front of the guy from "The Loved Ones" (right) might not be quite the same as the family gathering in "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (left), but it's not far off.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation may have Matthew McConnaughey and Renee Zellwegger, but I'm afraid neither of them did much to counteract the general awfulness of this film. This is definitely the most painful-to-watch of the sequels up to this point with little sense of direction. So little sense of direction, in fact, that in the final act we get some weird kind of X Files nonsense, with a random mysterious figure showing up and getting angry because apparently Chainsaw Massacre stuff was part of some kind of social experiment that was "Supposed to be spiritual". Um... wot?
So finally we reach "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", the first of the dire horror remakes to be put out by the company "Platinum Dunes". After seeing this and "Friday the 13th" remakes perhaps it's not so surprising that the "A Nightmare On Elm Street" remake way exceeded my expectations. By my reckoning this remake is by far the worst of the three (though "Friday the 13th" gets pretty close to this level of awfulness, believe me). While the initial film in the series was about seemingly well-meaning southeners who turn out to actually be rather overly keen on meat. There's a whole theme in regards to the unused slaughterhouse nearby. Here in the remake the main focus seems to be on a fake policeman and his very intentional sadism. Perhaps what's so interesting about the original is that it wasn't about people being horrible because they are psychos, but rather about quirky quaint figures who just happen to enjoy eating human flesh.
So this new movie "Texas Chainsaw" completely ignores the remake and all the sequels and reboots the series from the moment the first movie ended. It takes some cues from the sequels in that the second and third instalments introduced additional family members. Apparently a whole load of extra family members have turned up ready for a stand-off with the police. It looks like a well meaning black sheriff is going to successfully defuse the situation, but the mayor calls for a massacre and the family are completely wiped out and their homes burnt to the ground.
Sadly the best moment in this whole film is probably the recap of Texas Chainsaw Massacre prior to that initial scene. Naturally this film was originally in 3D so the camera navigates it's way through these scenes in an interesting way that still looks cool in 2D.
After the initial scene and the destruction of the house, a woman turns out to have survived with her baby. One of the families involved in destroying the cannibalistic Sawyer family decide to adopt the child after unceremoniously killing the mother.
Through some contrived logic-bending, the child, having grown up into a women in her very early twenties, is told she has inherited money from her birth-mother. How anyone knows she's entitled to this inheritance is unclear. Rather than telling her outright that there might be something dangerous in the house, the lawyer hands her the keys and tells her to ring a number - which naturally she doesn't view as particularly urgent.
It should come as no surprise given the posters for the movie that the house contains Leatherface and that he rampages and kills various people in the house she has inherited. There are lot of cliched horror cues like the kids who decide to randomly have sex, the guy who decides to call out his friends' names loudly in a place where he knows full well his friends aren't going to be, the car that won't start, the hiding place that would be a lot more effective if you didn't insist on making so much blooming noise, the police officer who decides not to take sound advice like, y'know, waiting for backup... The list goes on.
Most contrived of all however is the decision to make the central protagonist randomly decide that she takes the side of her cannibalistic relatives and that she'll fit in with the sadistic butchers and fully embrace the role of nursemaid to a mentally-deranged chainsaw wielding freak who likes to wear the faces of his victims. Um.... okay?
There's a scene where Leatherface's creepiness is emphasised. Leatherface is sowing a new face onto his own. This is admitteldy a pretty effective little sequence, but its place in the film means that it has very little impact. In the end the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films aren't really about Leatherface. They are about the whole Sawyer family. Leatherface is simply the most iconic one. This film at least recognises the importance of the family as a whole, but having massacred the vast majority of them in the opening scene there wasn't really much scope for them to explore this side of things.
"Texas Chainsaw" is just generally a really really bad idea. It's better than the Platinum Dunes remake, so I guess that makes it a return to form of sorts. But unfortunately that's a return to the form of producing lousy, practically indistinguishable sequels over and over again.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre Films Ranked!
("Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" is not included because that would be a whole 90 minutes I could never get back. Sorry.)
6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) - E-
5. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) - E+
4. Texas Chainsaw (2013) - D-
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) - D-
2. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) - C+
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) - A+
This is the third of my new lists charting what I now believe to be the best movies released in the UK in previous years. My others include: 2011, 2010 and 2009. My favourites from those previous three lists were the following awesome films:
Click here to see the full list for 2009
Click here to see the full list for 2010
Click here to see the full list for 2011
Below is my list of what I consider the very best movies of 2008...
10. Mongol: The Rise to Power of Genghis Khan (2007)
UK release: 6 June 2008
"Mongol" had a bit of a mixed reception when it first came out, annoyingly with many people wondering why it only focussed on the very early years of Genghis Khan's life and not really coming to a satisfying conclusion. In actual fact it was always intended as the first part in a trilogy and it's clearly a take on Genghis Khan that we haven't seen before.
In spite of being an unsurprisingly male-centric movie, this just about passes the Bechdel Test. The relationship between Temudjin (Genghis Khan's original name) and his wife is very interesting and was a good set up for somone who would go on to be a very strong character in her own right, had the intended sequels been made.
Even accepting that sequels may never come about, this is still a wonderful film in its own right. The acting is fantastic, the story is engaging and atmospheric and the whole thing also happens to be gorgeously shot. While the film does not exactly have a message, we do get to see Genghis Khan as a figure with a different sort of code than that we are used to rather than simply a mad dog barbarian. As far as biopics go, this is head and shoulders above the usual fare. While it may be taking massive liberties in its portrayal, it had me so caught up in the story being told that I didn't care whether it was true or not.
Sergey Bodrov has been involved in fairly small time projects since "Mongol", but is currently working on "Seventh Son" starring Jeff Bridges.
9. [REC] (2007)
UK release: 11 April 2008
Looking back, I actually think this is as important an addition to zombie lore as "28 Days Later" or "Shaun Of The Dead". (These both being rather less controversial examples than Romero's original "Night Of The Living Dead".) "28 Days Later" took zombies in a whole new direction having, while not the first instance of zombies that run, certainly the most influential example. The idea of a 'rage virus' caught the imagination of many filmmakers and changed the portrayal of zombies in many films (much to the annoyance of many of the more purist fans of the genre). Similarly "Shaun Of The Dead" showed the comic potential of the zombie genre and while it wasn't the first time that zombies had been played for laughs (my personal favourite being "Return Of The Living Dead") it did give zombie comedies a second wind.
REC hasn't been as influential as either of the previous two. It isn't the first of the found footage horror movies and nor does it generally seem to be the first one referenced when the genre comes up. However, REC is, to my mind, the very best found footage movie that cannot be classed as a faux documentary (unlike "Troll Hunter" which is clearly documentary footage plus outtakes, REC is more of a continuous roll of footage). What I have always found particularly impressive from the start is how natural the inclusion of the camera seems (with good excuses found for why the camera might actually be an essential tool rather than an unnecessary hassle during the most climactic points in the story). REC also preceeded all the hype around the found-footage monster movie "Cloverfield" and I think REC was the superior of the two.
Asides from the found footage element, there's another way that the REC series distinguishes itself from other zombie mythologies. I don't really want to reveal this since it's a spoiler for the first two REC movies. This new direction can seem rather jarring upon first discovery and not everyone is entirely sold on it, but then again it's good that this approach to the genre remains unique to the REC series. The main hallmark of the first two REC movies are the very creepy atmosphere of the appartment block which actually seems to affect and interfere with the camera itself at times. The REC films are quite inventive in the way in which they make use of the medium in which they are filmed and presented.
Jaume Balaguero is currently working on "REC 4: Apocalypse". It will follow straight on from "REC 2" though it is possible that at least a few elements from "REC 3: Genesis" might become relevant.
8. Persepolis (2007)
UK release: 25 April 2008
This is simply the story of an ordinary Iranian girl and yet I think its impact may partly explain why I was so underwhelmed by the film "Argo". The wonderful animation style and plucky-yet-fallible central protagonist introduce us clearly to life during this period of huge political change and conflict in Iran. We also see the odd relationship Iran has with the west, both from inside and outside the country.
The film is an adaptation of an auto-biographical graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi. She now lives in France and it's difficult to tell to what extent Marjane is playing to her audience since the Iranian characters all generally felt pretty French to me. All the characters are wonderfully expressive and there's an awful lot of great humour here.
As a side-note, there's one point in the film where we hear a French impression of an English accent. (I'm sure most people here are familiar with Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Pather movies. Well this is the opposite of that. Someone speaking in French with a mockingly put-on English accent.) The voice is used when representing the British giving advice to the Shah and I found that very entertaining.
Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi went on to direct "Chicken With Plums" together. The latest movie Marjane Satrapi has directed is "The Voices" starring Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Ryan Reynolds, which is currently in post-production.
7. Burn After Reading (2008)
UK release: 17 October 2008
Often rather hurriedly dismissed as one of the Coens' more quirky movies, there's an unusual structure to this film. As with all the Coen brothers' movies, this is a black comedy. Pretty much all characters here are flawed, but none of them really deserve the bad stuff that happens to them as a result. The film seems to present itself initially as a film about spies, but it becomes clear relatively early on that this is merely a misunderstanding by certain characters (though it is teased at times that the spying element could easily blow up into something more serious). In the end this film seems to essentially be about cosmetic surgery, though you wouldn't know that until it all ties up in the absolutely hilarious and wonderfully nihilistic finale.
"Burn After Reading" has a similar style to "A Serious Man" which follows it, except that in "Burn After Reading" the characters seem to mutually destroy each others' lives while in "A Serious Man" everything seems to be aimed squarely at destroying the life of the protagonist. Even when the Coens come up with ridiculous characters they still seem to feel like real people and it can be difficult to accept that you are supposed to laugh when everything goes drastically wrong for them.
The latest film from the Coen brothers is "Inside Llewyn Davis" starring Oscar Issac and Carey Mulligan.
6. Son of Rambow (2007)
UK release: 4 April 2008
Garth Jennings' directorial career has been a little odd. He moved from directing music videos to taking on the thankless task of trying to adapt Douglas Adams' beloved "Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy" into a movie. While many elements were wonderfully realised, the original material was highly episodic with much that was tangential and any attempt to form it into the narrative of a single movie was always going to be frought with difficulty. Most fans are inclined to stick with the books and the radio play or even the extremely naff tv series, so the movie seems to be generally viewed as a failure.
And yet straight after that, Jennings followed it up with "Son Of Rambow". The promotional material made it hard to tell what exactly was being promoted and made it seem like more of a children's movie than the "12A" certificate might suggest.
"Son of Rambow" is about two children. One, Lee Carter, is keen to win a filmmaking competition by borrowing his brother's camera. The other, Will Proudfoot, is brought up in the tradition of the Plymouth Brethren and thus is not allowed to watch television. When Lee inadvertently shows Will the movie "First Blood" it strikes Will as the most amazing thing ever and he happily works on recreating the same excitement for Lee to film. The two go from unlikely to inseparable friends, until Will's newfound confidence starts taking on a life of its own.
"Son of Rambow" introduces two absolutely fantastic child actors Bill Milner and Will Poulter. Bill Milner instantly became something of a sensation, acting alongside Michael Caine in "Is Anybody There?" and playing Ian Dury's son in the biopic starring Andy Serkis: "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll". He has continued to get steady work every since. Meanwhile Will Poulter seemed to mostly drop off the map, but has had a resurgence recently in the really good British movie "Wild Bill" and the seemingly dreadful American comedy "We're The Millers". Still, both have as yet to out-do their incredible debut appearances in this unique, original and bizarre film.
Funny, strange and absolutely captivating. Everyone should see this film.
Garth Jennings' latest credits appear to be as a voice actor in "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and as cinematographer for a tv series called "Country Man". However, Jennings has received special thanks on all three of Edgar Wright's 'cornetto trilogy' movies, including the latest one: "The World's End".
5. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
UK release: 20 August 2008
Guillermo Del Toro was told after he made "Pan's Labyrinth" that he needed to make this movie really good, otherwise everyone would think "Pan's Labyrinth" was a fluke. He clearly took that to heart since, whether you look at the theatrical version of "Hellboy" or the director's cut, this sequel defies all comparison. While still holding enough to make it recognisably a Hellboy movie, elements such as the troll market and the various fairy-folk hiding from the human world expand the mythology of "Hellboy" a great deal.
While the references to Lovecraft in "Hellboy" were mostly hidden by cuts, the incredible fantasy elements in "Hellboy 2" are utterly inescapable here. "Hellboy 2" refuses to follow the typical superhero movie structure and brings us something far more heartfelt and magical instead.
Guillermo Del Toro is currently filming a tv movie based on his book "The Strain", in pre-production on a horror movie called "Crimson Peak" and believed to be working on an Incredible Hulk tv series. (While there were rumours, there is at yet no sign that Del Toro will actually make a third Hellboy movie.)
4. WALL-E (2008)
UK release: 18 July 2008
While the second half is this film is in no way as strong as the first half, it is still my favourite Pixar movie so far. There's something exceptional about the first half with the robot alone on the abandoned and ruined Earth.
The second half, involving the human survivors in space, is rather less artistic and much more obviously a cartoon, but by that point I'm so sold by the non-speaking lead character that I'm pretty much willing to go wherever the movie takes me and it's still a damn great cartoon. But, as I said, the first half is on a whole other level.
The director, Andrew Stanton, went on to make the live action sci-fi fantasy "John Carter" which was relatively mediocre in spite of its huge budget and the star, Taylor Kitsch, wasn't really a big enough name to draw in audiences and prevent it from being a huge bomb; in spite of him providing a pretty strong lead performance. Andrew Stanton's next movie will be "Finding Dory", a sequel to his other awesome Pixar movie "Finding Nemo", which will be released in 2016.
Pixar have three original projects due in 2014 and 2015:
- The Book of Life (A Romeo and Juliet adaptation set during the Mexican "Day of the Dead" celebrations.)
- Inside Out (A story told from the perspective of the emotions inside a little girl's mind.)
- The Good Dinosaur (A story about a teenage Apatosaurus who makes friends with a boy called Spot.)
3. I've Loved You So Long (2008)
UK release: 26 September 2008
This was the first movie that made me realise quite how incredible an actress Kristin Scott Thomas is. None of her English-speaking roles have ever seemed to give her the opportunity to shine like the roles she is now taking in French films. (The big exception seemingly being her role in "Only God Forgives" this year where she is totally kick-ass.)
This is the story of a sister with an, initially, unspoken dark past, going to live with her sister. This isn't exactly a dramatic story, but it's a very character-driven story and every character had me completely captivated. Every beat of the story pulled me in and I fell totally in love with this film.
I don't think I'm generally terribly sold on soppy 'emotional journey' type indie films and I guess this kind of fits that bill. But somehow this just completely ticked all the boxes for me. It's an absolutely wonderful film and everyone should see it.
Philippe Claudel's next film after this was "Tous Les Soleils" which I have heard little about. His next film is "Before The Winter Chill" which once again stars Kristin Scott Thomas and is being released in France this month.
2. Julia (2008)
UK release: 5 December 2008
While arguably "Julia" finishes by trying to suggest it is one of the "soppy emotional journey" films like I mentioned before (and that's debateable), for the majority of the runtime it is anything but. Certainly the Rotten Tomatoes page is littered with negative reviews citing the utterly horrible, immoral and amoral protagonist played by Tilda Swinton as the reason for their failure to recommend this brilliant black comedy.
Tilda Swinton plays Julia, an alcoholic who recognises the that her life is in a rut and decides to bet everything on an opportunity to make some big money in an entirely abhorrent way: kidnapping. She isn't really a character who makes long-term plans, so her kidnapping, along with everything else she does, is very much on the spur of the moment.
All the way through I found myself asking what Julia could possibly do to make things worse, and yet she'd keep finding ways. And all the way through, Tilda Swinton's incredible performance keeps us engaged with the protagonist and she is wonderfully expressive. This is, without a doubt, my favourite performance from Tilda Swinton.
My review here
Erick Zonca has not made any films since "Julia".
I reviewed all Erick Zonca's films so far here
1. In Bruges (2008)
UK release: 18 April 2008
I wasn't as impressed as some with the movie "Phone Booth" and after "The Recruit" I was left convinced that Colin Farrell was completely hopeless as an actor. However, I checked out "In Bruges" because of the hype and was happily surprised to find that, in his natural accent and in the genre of comedy, Colin Farrell is absolutely brilliant. I have seen more evidence of this since then. In the film "The Way Back" Colin Farrell has a somewhat comedic role (considering the subject matter) and I think he's the best part of the film as a result.
"In Bruges" is a black comedy. When black comedy is done badly it can be pretty awful, but I find that when it is good it is very very good. And "In Bruges" is a bloody good film.
"In Bruges" is beautifully filmed with powerful themes and an exceptionally hilarious plot. It's difficult to tell whether the tourism advertisers in Bruges should feel good or bad about this film which both highlights the beauty and fairytale-like elements of the place and yet also recognises the (well-earned) reputation of "Bruges" for being extremely dull. I doubt there are many who have ever visited Bruges who could doubt either interpretation.
While Colin Farrell is utterly brilliant here, Brendan Gleeson is also hilarious and Ralph Fiennes (who is not really known for comedy) also manages to be completely hilarious. "In Bruges" is one of those one-in-a-million perfect movies. As much as I may wax lyrical about a number of films, there are few that deserve the praise so much as "In Bruges". My second and third choices for 2008 are both utterly amazing films and yet there's not a doubt in my mind that "In Bruges" is the undisputed champion over the both of them.
Martin McDonagh's latest film was "Seven Psychopaths" but his next project has as yet to announced. His brother John Michael McDonagh came out with the similarly awesome "The Guard" the other year and his next film "Calvary" (once again starring the awesome Brendan Gleeson) is due out in the UK in April next year.
UK release: 26 November 2008
I've long been a fan of Angelina Jolie, but she's generally been best in action movies. There's no issue with liking an actor only for action movies. I've never really thought of Schwarzenegger as a great actor, but I still love to bits what he brings to his action movies.
However "Changeling" is different from movies like "Tomb Raider", "Salt" or "Hackers". It's a very serious drama telling the true story of a woman whose child goes missing. A child is returned to her and all her complaints that the child is not actually her son fall on deaf ears. This is quite an incredible story, yet it's a (mostly) true story. (Certainly the parts where the history might actually be questionable aren't the most bizarre elements at all.)
It would be nice if I could highlight a whole string of excellent character dramas where Angelina Jolie has put on a great serious performance, but nevertheless this still stands as a clear denouncement of all Jolie's detractors. She can act. Very well indeed, in fact.
There were more powerful dramas this year and, as well dramatised and as engagingly directed as this is, it's still a pretty damn miserable story. Still, it's a really good film and does not deserve to be forgotten. (It's actually bizarre to me that it didn't win an Oscar.)
My review here
Clint Eastwood is currently in post-production on "Jersey Boys", a musical biography of the "Four Seasons" starring Christopher Walken.
Another 7 good movies from 2008
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
UK release: 11 January 2008
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Ethan Hawke's manipulative brother in this dark and twisted family drama. They plot together to rob their own family's jewellry shop and things go very very wrong.
Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
UK release: 11 January 2008
I'm surprised I haven't heard more people talking about this film. Tom Hanks stars as a sleazy politician who finds himself heading the government plans to send arms to Afganistan so the Afghans can fend off the Soviet invasion. In spite of how that might sound, this is a comedy more than anything else. I'd also say this was one of the stronger performances I've seen from Julia Roberts.
UK release: 24 October 2008
The director of Ong Bak, followed up his success with this story of an autistic girl who learns martial arts. With her incredible martial arts ability gained through unending repetitive practice, she chooses (and wins) some rather misguided fights in the hopes of helping her sick mother. As with Prachya Pinkaew's previous effort, the story is fun and engaging and the martial arts action sequences are fantastically well choreographed.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
UK release: 19 September 2008
Anime movies aren't often great on plot, so it was really cool to see this bizarre anime film about a girl who can literally 'leap' to different points in time and find that it actually has a very clear and satisfying ending, with a story that seems to make sense all the way through. Most anime films with this level of quality are usually made by Studio Ghibli, but this is a definite exception to the rule.
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
UK release: 4 July 2008
Okay, so actually this is fairly run-of-the-mill, but if you don't watch it you are not going to get the most out of watching the absolutely brilliant sequel from 2011. This is a good little animated movie and I have no qualms recommending it, but until you watch the sequel you might be a little surprised to find it in this list.
My review here
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
UK release: 21 March 2008
The first performance I ever saw from Ryan Gosling. He plays a quiet man with possible autism or asperges syndrome, who decides to deal with the pressures placed on him by ordering a doll and treating it like a real woman. His relatives are completely confused by this, but the psychiatrist they send him to explains that their best option is to humour him. While this is a comedy, it's perhaps more moving than funny. It's a very strange film but unforgettable and Ryan Gosling's performance really sells the premise well.
The Mist (2007)
UK release: 4 July 2008
Frank Darabont does another Stephen King adaptation, except this time it's actually about horror and monsters rather than another real life (or semi-real-life) tearjerker storyline. A mist envelops a small town and monsters come out of the mist. A whole group of people stay indoors to try to hide from the monsters and while they are gathered together a cult begins to form inside. I can now see some level of similarity with "Children of the Corn" in that it is about a religious cult which forms in response to an otherworldly threat. The ending has split audiences somewhat, but this is certainly a very interesting contribution to the horror genre which is sure to make an impact regardless of how much you actually enjoy it.
My review here
Bellflower starts with some random clips of events still to come in the movie, making it very clear that something distressing for the characters is coming later in the film. But then it gets straight into setting up the main premise of the film. Two very close male friends, Woodrow and Aiden, have long been excited about getting a fancy muscle car and flamethrower so that, if a Mad Max style end of the world as we know it scenario comes, they will be the ones in charge. There's at very least a kind of bromance between them, with Aiden flattering Woodrow by saying his eyes remind him of Lord Humungous from "Mad Max 2". That's the highest form of flattery for these two.
Anyway they go out and Aiden makes a fool of himself, turning out to be actually very good at socialising. Woodrow meanwhile very awkwardly begins a relationship with Milly. It's the most adorable believeable relationship I've seen on the big screen in quite a while and things only get better when their first date involves the two of them daring each other to have their meal in the sleaziest dive they can think of. Woodrow recommends somewhere a long drive away and Milly gets to see his car with whiskey on-tap on the dashboard on their way there.
At this stage whether we are talking about the two friends or this adorable couple, there's a sense that they need to grow up a bit. They've got this ridiculous childhood Mad Max fantasy and there's signs that Milly is getting on board with it too, but a fantasy about the end of the world clearly isn't going to work out in practice as well as they are planning it in theory.
And before you know it the timeline has skipped forward, the relationship is on the rocks and even worse stuff happens. And from that point on the character of Woodrow gets very self-involved and mopey. Then the film itself gets mopey too. We have a sequence in which one character is actually fantasising about how much worse things could still get with his ex-girlfriend and it gets seriously dark (especially considering that we never really saw how the relationship came to break down to the extent that it did).
By the end of the film it has taken a turn for the seriously misogynistic. Not saying what actually happens in the plot, towards the end of the movie we have some speech about how Woodrow is basically Lord Humungous and so he doesn't need to worry about "some bitch". So yeah, that ultra-sweet realistic relationship not only breaks down offscreen, not only breaks down violently and disgustingly in one character's bizarre self-destructive fantasties, but we're then told that it was never worth it in the first place right at the last minute.
It's sad that I so often find myself happier to give a good score to a film that is consistently naff all the way through than to a film which gives me plenty to love at the start and then ruins it all towards the end. There was so much to love. That initial relationship was set up brilliantly and the three main actors are all great. Tyler Dawson who plays Aiden and Jessie Wiseman who plays Milly have both been in very little so far (they've both got a couple of films on the way). Evan Glodell who plays Woodrow also wrote and directed and it's interesting to see that most of his work so far has been in cinematography.
Glodell doesn't actually do the cinematography in "Bellflower", but he clearly knew what he wanted. The film is quite beautiful, with bright yellows and oranges and a feeling that the images are often flooded with light, though not in a way that detracts from what is shown on screen. And it has to be said that when the two friends try out their flamethrower, it's very visually effective and wonderfully filmed.
So in spite of a great beginning, the second half of "Bellflower" is self-indulgent, navel-gaving, disgusting and misogynistic. A pretty movie with one of the sweetest relationships ever in the first half, but which loses its way so badly in the second half that it probably isn't worth your time.
"Primer" paints a pretty accurate picture of what engineers creating a time machine would be like. Unfortunately that's because the people making it are more engineers than storytellers.
The movie has a reputation for having an extremely complicated plot. But that's to ignore that pretty much ALL time travel movies are complicated. The difference is that normally time travel is a device to tell a story. "Primer" is unusual in that examining the potential paradoxes of time travel is the main focus.
The initial opening scenes of the film are kind of boring, but to be fair that's somewhat missing the point. It's a very important aspect of the story that time travel isn't revealed with a flourish or fallen into by accident, but is rather a banal discovery which, when first invented, the inventors have no idea what they are even dealing with.
The story is that a group of engineers find that they are able to produce some kind of weird quantum field. They don't know if it can do anything important, but they are keen to try to make something new and different and it's initially a small personal project which they hope they can patent and sell.
However, they come to realise the real world implications. And from there they slowly start exploring the rammifications of time travel. No time cops, no robots from the future, no mafia body disposal. Just some people messing around with a time travel machine they have inadvertently created.
From this point forward the film is admittedly pretty neat. Everything proceeds systematically and the story around it is clear. It's only in the last 10 or so minutes that the film really goes weird and boy do things get confusing in that short period of time. The issue isn't so much that the film is confusing but rather that there is a sudden information dump, some events are happening pretty much entirely offscreen and it wasn't until reading the tv tropes page that I really understood what was going on in the final scene. (I suppose I should have guessed. A character is working on some enormous unnamed industrial project, so guess what they are building? I didn't take the fairly obvious leap.)
To be quite frank, the end of the film is mainly confusing because it doesn't involve the same quality of storytelling found earlier in the film. There's some mention of personal relationships towards the end of the movie, but outside of the two main characters, personal relationships have played so small a role in the film as to be practically unimportant. It's almost like the earlier scenes entirely forgot to mention "oh yeah, we know some other people too".
"Primer" is worth a watch and it's very clever and admittedly all the convoluted and poorly explained stuff at the end does line up with what has come before well, even if the presentation of that information is ridiculously rushed. For the unique take on the time travel premise alone, this deserves your attention.