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Articles on this Page
- 11/20/13--15:01: _Three Zombie Comedy...
- 11/25/13--04:19: _Two Movies About Se...
- 11/26/13--15:01: _Even More Beautiful...
- 11/28/13--14:23: _"John Dies At The E...
- 11/29/13--10:38: _Two "Hills Have Eye...
- 11/29/13--16:37: _Google, I Want To C...
- 12/01/13--12:53: _"The Golden Child" ...
- 12/03/13--14:34: _A Selection of Horr...
- 12/04/13--15:44: _Philosophy Cartoon ...
- 12/05/13--15:15: _The New "Amazing Sp...
- 12/07/13--17:15: _Another 90s Style F...
- 12/07/13--19:14: _The New Remake of "...
- 12/09/13--14:39: _Two Child Phobia Mo...
- 12/11/13--13:11: _Something About The...
- 12/12/13--15:38: _My Top 5 Favourite ...
- 12/14/13--15:25: _A Hitchcockian Thri...
- 12/16/13--05:45: _Suddenly Much More ...
- 12/18/13--05:36: _Awesome Song: "Midn...
- 12/20/13--05:25: _Langella Raises Up ...
- 12/21/13--18:17: _Vacation Nightmares...
- 11/26/13--15:01: Even More Beautiful Metroid Images
- 11/28/13--14:23: "John Dies At The End" Is Inventive And Unique...
- 12/03/13--14:34: A Selection of Horror Reviews...
- 12/04/13--15:44: Philosophy Cartoon - The Hobbesian Dog!
- 12/07/13--17:15: Another 90s Style Fan-Made Spider-Man Trailer
- 12/09/13--14:39: Two Child Phobia Movies - "Who Can Kill A Child?" and "Mama"
- 12/12/13--15:38: My Top 5 Favourite Movies of 2007 (Plus some honourable mentions)
- 12/14/13--15:25: A Hitchcockian Thriller + Vampires, Aliens and Psychotic Killers
- 12/16/13--05:45: Suddenly Much More Interested In "Frozen"....
- 12/18/13--05:36: Awesome Song: "Midnight City" by M83
- 12/21/13--18:17: Vacation Nightmares! "The Impossible" and "The Reef"
Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)
The first movie began with a worker at a depot showing the ropes to a new recruit or possibly a boy on work experience. This time around the two of them are here again, but this time the older of them is collecting skeletons (and essentially graverobbing at the same time) and he's once again showing a new guy the ropes. These two are still funny, but they've got nowhere such a good script this time around.
At the heart of the film we have a child actor who manages to be pretty much the only other interesting character. Still, the zombies look pretty cool and there's still a clear sense that this is the same movie series as before.
The problem is that both a sense of horror and a sense of humour are both mostly missing from this film. The zombies aren't scary and the jokes are falling flat.
Still, while the story meanders I wouldn't say this was an unpleasant experience. As a poor attempt to recreate the first film, I can't say I was completely bored by it. But it's definitely not a good film, all the same.
Straight away this was an improvement on the second movie in the series. It's not long before we see the zombies being experimented on and this time we begin from the perspective of the shady US military faction dealing with the zombifaction problem. Apparently it's been decided that zombies might have some military application if they can easily freeze and store the zombies to quell an outbreak.
Unfortunately one of the military professionals working on how to handle the damage caused by the toxic substance that creates the zombies has a rebellious son with a girlfriend who is a bad influence. Little does he know that his security card has been stolen and that his son and his son's girlfriend are going to sneak into the complex.
The girlfriend is a bit of a goth and seems to actually be sexually excited by the idea of zombies, which is a little odd... Anyway, the two lovers decide to leave town, there's an accident and the girlfriend breaks her neck. The boyfriend knows of one surefire way to bring her back to life and he returns to the complex. And you can guess where things go from there.
In the original "Return of the Living Dead" there was a zombie commonly known as "tar man" he certainly looked distinctive, but he looked less like a dead body and more like a cartoon character. Next to a canister of the toxic substance we see a brief appearance of a zombie in the second movie. This time around there's also a rather awesome zombie, this time with his face splitting apart during the struggle revealing the skull underneath.
As the boyfriend is trying to run away with his now-undead girlfriend, they bump into a latino gang. One of the actors involved in this group I recognised from Rodriguez' "Desperado" and he's not made best use of here. Another figure the two lovers run into is a black man who calls himself "river man" but actually seems to be living in the sewers next to a storm drain. He's playing a rather cliched helpful and wise and yet half-mad figure, but I must say the acting from him is probably some of the best in the film. So it's all the more emotional when he gets turned into some kind of robo-zombie later on. (The military's backup plan is to provide zombies with remote controlled metal exoskeletons which are powered by the perpetual motion of the zombies. Not least since zombies appear to need no food or water yet never seem to run out of energy.)
We already noticed that the girlfriend (now zombie-girlfriend) seemed to have some weird fetishes when she was alive. Now as a zombie she seems to become a self-harming zombie. In order to discourage herself from eating her boyfriend's brains she puts spikes through her body. It's not quite in line with the first movie where the zombies eat brains to quell the unbearable pain of being dead and decomposing, but it's a cool new idea anyway, so I found it easy to forgive.
The plot is a bit meandering and after the initial awesome zombie I mentioned, there's not much cool gore here either. There's some pretty cool ideas here and I must say that I enjoyed the robo-zombie idea. Essentially it's the ideas that make the zombie film what it is. While I'd say part two was on the lower side of a D+, this is probably on the higher side of a D+, but the fact is that neither movie is terribly good. And both pale by comparison to the hilarious first entry.
This was one of the films I was excited about at the beginning of the year and admittedly it was because of the trailer most of all. Nicholas Hoult is a great actor and it was obvious just from the trailer that he would be on top form here and, just to clarify, he is AWESOME here.
Still, any director can have an off-day or a film you don't get. Also, I couldn't ignore that perhaps my biggest problem with "50/50" was being completely unimpressed with Seth Rogen. I had every confidence that "Warm Bodies" would be different.
Let me first acknowledge that the first, what, 15 minutes of "Warm Bodies"? That whole section is BRILLIANT. It's amusing, inventive, silly, clever and just generally great fun with a combination of Nicholas Hoult's performance and a highly engaging voiceover of his internal mental monologue. He comments on how he needs to do more with his life and how he really wants to connect with someone. He even has a best friend who he often sits with and fails to communicate with as the two of them stare and grunt meaningfully at one another.
One element that I really enjoyed in "Warm Bodies" and was probably my favourite part of this new zombie mythology is that we not only have zombies eating brains, but we see that they gain the memories of their victims. So when our zombie protagonist eats the brain of the female protagonist's boyfriend, he falls in love with her.
All Nicholas Hoult's zombie can remember of his name is "R" and the female protagonist is called Julie. Guess which story made famous by Shakespeare is being aluded to here? Julie is the daughter of the leader of the anti-zombie resistance, playing by John Malkovich, while R is an ordinary zombie who persuades the other zombies to leave so that he can hide Julie from them.
R gets Julie to hide out in the abandoned aeroplane that has become his personal den. Somehow he's got a record player in there which he can control perfectly well (which I thought was a bit of a stretch). He and Julie. It's finally at this point where I think things are getting a little too mushy and a little too hipster-Twilight. A boyfriend who scares the female protagonist, but who likes the same music while they spend time together mostly not speaking. And we are stuck in that aeroplane for far too long.
Eventually they get moving and it becomes clear that the plot has nowhere to go. The trailer revealed that love changes zombies back into human beings and yeah, that's what happens. The sign that you are changing back into a human? Your heart beats. Meanwhile, the zombies that have completely lost their humanity, called "bonies" will kill anything with a heartbeat. So we do get some pretty cool fight scenes towards the end.
In the end, this is a film that could have been a LOT better and while there are plenty of great elements, there are also points where the film drags and is a great deal more predictable than it should be. I'd like to give particular kudos to Rob Corddry, who plays R's zombie best friend. I can't quite think of where I've seen him before though apparently he's been in both "Arrested Development" and "Community" so presumably I've seen him there. But he's really good here.
Not awful, but I was expecting something a lot better.
Maggie Gyllenhaal seems to be rather ahead of the mindsets surrounding her as a figure who wants to help women to be educated. We clearly see that her independence of thought is viewed as a potential sign of hysteria. ('Hysteria' being the origin of our current term 'hysterical' which is often used misogynistically.)
The historical condition of "Hysteria", prevalent in the Victorian era, is a bizarre condition. Women in the 19th Century would act in rather strange ways (or at least the sources describe them doing so), they'd be sent away for treatment and, perhaps most bizarrely of all, speak in very positive and sensible tones about how the treatment had helped them.
Maggie Gyllenhaal isn't actually the main character here, but is actually the love interest for Hugh Dancy's character. He's a doctor who ends up losing his job at the local hospital because the head of the hospital isn't convinced or impressed by his more modern scientifically tested medical techniques. He finds himself working for Jonathan Pryce, who plays a private doctor providing paroxysms (basically orgasms, but they refuse to admit this) to women suffering from mild cases of hysteria. Having no luck getting a new medical post after his last reference, Dancy's character takes the job.
The film has a certain level of charm to it. It's a silly comedy and it has sweet characters and everything is all very on-the-nose.
One problem is that it's not entirely clear what the message is supposed to be. Certainly the film is entirely lacking in any historical realism. The device in question was initially circulated to help massage out muscular aches and pains (replacing the awkward steam-powered version). Another device around this time was originally intended to help with eating disorders. Applying the device to women's private parts was clearly seen as scandalous misuse. This story, for entertainment's sake, has Hugh Darcy's character run into the device being developed by a friend and using it to massage his hands after a long day providing paroxysms. He then naturally recognises the potential use in his clinic.
While the story about the use of vibrators is somewhat entertaining, the important thing is the impact of the issue on the characters. The intention of the filmmakers is to attach the subject of vibrators to an underlying theme of feminist empowerment as voiced by the sceptical and basically anachronistic feminist played by Gyllenhaal. Eventually we get to see how accusing a woman of being hysterical is an excuse not to see women as people.
However, right at the end of the film things take a turn right away from the comedy and it looks like, within a court of law no less, we are about to see just how horrendous the accusation of hysteria could really be. But at the last minute this horrific outcome is averted in the most twee and silly way possible. I'm going to have to put a spoilers section right at the end of the page because this happens right near the end of the film, but it really is annoying.
Then on the other end there's Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal's romance. It's not so much that they don't have chemistry. They are both great actors. Maggie Gyllenhaal is well known for her performances in movies like "Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind", "Adaptation" and "Secretary", and Hugh Dancy is recently doing a fantastic job with the fole of Will Graham in the "Hannibal" tv series. They are clearly doing the best job they can with the material. But the problem is that Hugh Dancy's character shows no regard whatsoever for Gyllenhaal's feminist endeavours and the sudden change making the two into a couple feels entirely forced because of the way it has been scripted.
I didn't find it hard to watch this, but I thought the movie did a really bad job relaying its point and that the film was just too sweet and silly for its own good.
A Dangerous Method (2011)
When I first heard that David Cronenberg was making a movie about Freud's psychoanalysis I must admit I groaned at the prospect. While I absolutely love Cronenberg's 'body horror' work, making the horror elements feel visceral and physical even when dealing with clearly supernatural and ethereal topics like psychics. But in the background of all his work there's always been a clear indication of the influence of psychoanalysis on Cronenberg's work. Thankfully in most films I can pretty much ignore that element for the most part, but here that would not be possible. And what's more, a biopic? Seriously? That's not what I want from Cronenberg...
But I was somewhat open-minded on this nonetheless. Cronenberg is always a bit hit and miss for me, but some of his best recent films like "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises" hadn't really been horror films at all and yet I'd absolutely loved them. Still, the most obviously Freudian Cronenberg film would seem to be "Spider" starring Ralph Fiennes as a figure whose psychological issues seem to be linked to his relationship with his mother as a young boy. (Even with a C- I feel I rather overrated that one.)
The big positive for "A Dangerous Method" however (asides from changing the title from "The Talking Cure" which was rather hard to get excited about), was that it starred Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender in the lead roles as Freud and Jung. In fact the story is mostly centred around Jung and there are some interesting points such as that Jung had access to a large fortune through his wife.
Naturally a major name I've not mentioned yet is Kiera Knightley, who in a way is the central focus of the movie, but Cronenberg is not great at representing female characters and so in spite of being the centrepoint we never really get inside her character properly. Michael Fassbender's portrayal of Jung instead holds the spotlight.
Kiera Knightley's character first appears displaying the bizarre symptoms of extreme hysteria I mentioned. Sadly the treatment of hysteria in this movie is, if anything, worse than in the movie "Hysteria". We have no real explanation as to why she goes from acting like a spoilt toddler to being a serious ultra-sensible academic other than that the right man talks to her and they share an interest in psychoanalysis. Admittedly, the point where Knightley's character observes a psychoanalysis session involving word association which Jung performs on his own wife felt disturbingly realistic. But that scene says more about Jung than it does about Kiera Knightley's character.
Knightley's character is Sabina Spielrein. In the movie the explanation for Spielrein being 'cured' of hysteria is that she uncovers a sexual neurosis related to being disciplined: A masochistic desire (which Jung is happy to help her out with). It doesn't really feel like quite enough of an explanation, but then I suppose the source materials available don't really make things much clearer either.
Jung just comes across as an idiot. Certainly he's clearly acting as a man from the time would realistically act, so it's not really him being an idiot, but rather him sharing different values to those I'd want to see from an enlightened male figure. Still, I became so frustrated watching this character proceed in his early 1900s mentality, seemingly using his more liberated view of sex as an opportunity to justify cheating on his wife. I just did not want to spend any more time with him at all. And when Knightley's character runs off to spend rather more time with Freud I really wanted to go with her. Viggo Mortensen's portrayal of Freud seems much easier to relate to.
I think this film would have been much more interesting if it had followed Sabina Spielrein rather than Carl Jung. Or alternatively I guess it could have told us something (ANYTHING) about what psychoanalysis actually involves (besides that it links stuff to sex, which is pretty much the limits of the explanation here). Having left Soviet Russia in what appeared to be a state of insanity she returned to Soviet Russia a respected published scholar (the first female scholar on psychoanalysis) and set up a kindergaten allowing greater freedom for young children to develop naturally. (It was closed down after three years after spurious accusations of sexual misconduct. But interestingly Stalin had apparently sent one of his own sons there under an alias.) It seems like the story still left untold about Spielrein would actually have made for a much more interesting ending to the story than "oh and then WWII began". Spielrein's eventual demise at the hands of the Nazis is then haphazardly shoved into the title cards at the end! Heck it seems like biopics don't necessarily have to mention a person's entire life accomplishments, but they always have to tackle the figure's death. Why?
sabrina_ilwrote a great post on this which is a far better review than I could hope to write. In her post she says the following about the book upon which this film is based:
Ultimately this movie was based on a pop psychology book that sort of set out to say EVERYONE CREDITS FREUD WITH THE INVENTION OF PSYCHOLOGY, BUT REALLY IT WAS JUNG WHO MADE IT HAPPEN. Which is like, if you know anything about Freud and psychoanalysis you probably know about Jung's role in it as well, and if your knowledge is superficial this movie certainly won't explain to you in depth what either Freud or Jung contributed to the field. I guess it's fun if you're a Jung fanboy with a wish? So, congrats to the author of that book?
It's interesting that she should say this because I actually finished the movie feeling far more positive towards Freud and feeling downright disturbed by Jung. Particularly Jung's strange aloofness to his own wife, who seems to happy to do whatever Jung wants so long as she can have lots of babies from him. (I mean, really?)
Still, I had an awful lot to say here. Even if I didn't get the message the movie was intending to provide, much here is thought-provoking. Also Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender are nothing if not great performers. Kiera Knightley (ignoring the Russian accent which Sabrina-il rightly decries, but is clearly used to seeing all over the place by now) gives a much better performance here than any of her other work would have given me reason to expect.
But it feels like this is a movie which requires you to do extra homework. What you get out of this will depend somewhat on what you know about psychoanalysis already and your own personal view on it. And even then, I don't think anything here is really going to be totally satisfying. Still, I feel disinclined to call this a 'bad' movie. Just not terribly inspiring, exciting, or even engaging. It is well-performed and moderately interesting. And I suppose it could be worse...
SPOILERS FOR HYSTERIA (2011)!
YOU SAW THE SPOILER WARNING RIGHT?
SPOILERS FOR "HYSTERIA" STARTING NOW.
Maggie Gyllenhaal's character is offered the option of going to a hospital for forced sterilisation to treat her hysteria rather than going to prison. Everyone thinks that's a reasonable option and it seems like she's going to have to accept this judgement..... Then Hugh Dancy comes to the stand and says that hysteria isn't real. They all happily accept this, laugh about it and let Gyllenhaal go free. How lovely. And let's all forget that they were planning to forcibly sterilise her just a few minutes ago, shall we? *groan!*
*SPOILERS FOR HYSTERIA IN THE SMALL SECTION ABOVE*
My last Metroid post with a whole selection of cool Metroid-related artwork I discovered can be found here.
I've been mainly finding this artwork on the Samus Aran and A Metroid Fanatic tumblr blogs.
(I also did a similar kind of post related to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe here.)
John Dies At The End (2012)
Don Coscarelli's previous film was "Bubba Ho-Tep" starring Bruce Campbell as Elvis, taking on a mummy that attacks a retirement home. It was pretty crazy. His latest film is similarly crazy. "John Dies At The End" is an adaptation of a book from one of the writers on the website 'Cracked'. The trailer was absolutely crazy and I've been long awaiting this film's actual release.
More fool me, I suppose, since this film still has as yet to be released in the UK. Eventually I lost patience and made the decision to order the region one DVD and use some software to override the region encoding.
And was it worth it? Actually I think it was.
"John Dies At The End" isn't perfect. (Heck, what film is?) But it's really good fun and very different. The visual effects are consistently inventive. At one point there's even a demon made entirely out of meat products. Even in more visually understated moments the ideas in the story are wonderfully inventive.
To the extent that there actually IS a story, I suppose. "John Dies At The End" features a bizarre drug which appears (to the main character at least) not only to affect his perception, but also to alter the world around him. The drug is given to the protagonists' friends at a party and then the next day a police detective is asking him questions about it. Eventually it becomes clear that the police detective knows something supernatural is behind the case because he becomes more than a little crazy as a result of his experiences.
The film contains some wonderful performances. Naturally Paul Giamatti is awesome as always. Like with "Cosmopolis", with only a very small role in the film he is able to dominate with his screen presence. Giamatti here plays a journalist listening to the protagonist's story.
Another cool actor is Glynn Turman who plays the detective. I'd previously seen him as the local science teacher who studies one of Billy's mogwai in the movie "Gremlins". Nothing is entirely serious in "John Dies At The End", but Turman manages to work a great balance between being seriously unhinged and rather sinister and yet fitting in fantastically with the comedic mood of the film.
Clancy Brown (perhaps most well-known and beloved as 'the Kurgan' from "Highlander", but just generally awesome) plays a Las Vegas magician called Marconi who, it seems, actually has genuine supernatural powers. It's not a terribly big role actually, but Clancy Brown is suitably awesome anyway.
Doug Jones (most commonly known for a variet of costumed appeaarances) makes a rather creepy appearance at one stage. Also Tai Bennett makes a great performance as the Jamaican psychic (known as Robert Marley lol!).
Interestingly though, there are a few major connections here with the web series "Video Game High School" from the youtube channel of "FreddieW". The lead actor, Chase Williamson, has a small but regular role in the second series as a sacastic major player in the strategy games team. But I was amazed to see one of the lead actors from VGHS, Jimmy Wong, randomly turning up towards the end of the movie. (In VGHS he plays the protagonist's roommate.) He doesn't have a lot to do here, but it was great to see him anyway. He's probably my favourite element in VGHS and I think I was probably more affected by his relatively brief appearance as a result of my familiarity with the actor elsewhere.
"John Dies At The End" is a little weird in that the protagonists don't generally seem to care about the end of the world scenario they are faced with. They often seem aloof unless something directly affects them. There's a kind of overwhelmed nihilism to the movie. (By this I mean, they might almost care if the world around them wasn't so bizarre.)
This is a very different film than anything else you'll see. It doesn't follow a strict narrative and I don't know that the jokes are always as great as they could be. However, the whole film is just so inventive that I cannot help but be absolutely captivated by it. The visual effects are wonderful, the whole style of the film does a great job capturing some absolutely bizarre and somewhat abstract ideas, there is a great sense of the weird and sinister atmosphere, and the actors do a great job and have great comic timing no matter how good the actual joke.
Though I think your mileage may possibly vary, this film really spoke to me and I had a great time. Quite simply you are not going to see another movie quite like this one any time soon. It's a rollecoaster ride of absurdity.
Trigger warning!: Elements of both "Hills Have Eyes" movies feature r*pe and those scenes will be somewhat discussed .
The Hills Have Eyes (2006) / The Hills Have Eyes (1978) / Convoy (1977)
I had the remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" hanging around so I decided to check it out. This is another remake written (and this time directed) by Alexandre Aja, of "Piranha 3D" and "Maniac" fame. I'm pleased to say that this did not disappoint.
This remake gets straight into the action, going straight from hearing about the use of nuclear testing in America to seeing official-looking guys in radiation suits with giger counters get brutally attacked by a deformed madman with a pickaxe. Awesome!
The family we then get introduced to seem a little on the cliched side, but they are all quite well developed characters anyway and the contrast between the gun-loving republican ex-police redneck-y father and the gun-phobic democrat soft-skinned son-in-law is quite effective especially since those will be the two figures expected to go out on their own in the desert to find help later.
The film only gradually introduces the hill-dwelling mutants to us. The point where we really get to spend an extended amount of time with them doesn't really occur until the rapey scene. I say "rapey" rather than "rape", because (and this possibly makes it worse) the rape isn't the only focus of the scene. This is the point where the mutants get to show just how awful they can be.
By this point in the movie we've already had something bad happen to a dog and a pretty brutal attack on another member of the family. It might sound strange, but here we have an attack on a little budgie that is no less disturbing than either of those. The scene is supposed to be horrifying and Aja does not hold back. Perhaps most horrifying for me is where one character actually begs a mutant to shoot them. This behaviour doesn't feel out of place and I think the effectiveness of this moment shows just how skilfully the whole scene has been portrayed. The rapey scene is also the point where all hope seems lost, where the mutants seem unstoppable and where it becomes clear that the protagonists are going to need to start being a lot more proactive if they are to have a hope in hell of surviving this.
It's here where things take a whole new direction and it surprises me equally to say that on the one hand much of this final act is entirely new to the remake, yet on the other hand that there are number of elements of the final act that are taken pretty fairly faithfully from the original. So even while the ending might introduce a lot of drastically new elements, this isn't a tacked one extra for the remake. More of an embellishment. (And in fact I would come to see that the whole theme of radioactivity is much more explicit here in the remake - and this drastically 'embellished' ending is part of that.)
There was one actor in the cast that I recognised and that was Dan Byrd. Apparently he's a regular cast member in "Cougar Town" but I've never seen that, he was apparently the closeted gay friend in "Easy A" but I don't think that was where I recognised him from either. Turns out that just the previous year he was in Tobe Hooper's, to my mind underrated, "Mortuary" where he was the central protagonist. He's really good and he does a great job here too.
Virtually unrecognisable here is Aaron Stanford, who apparently played "Pyro" in the second and third X-Men movies. I have to say, I didn't recognise him at all.
I've got to say I think Alexandre Aja's remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" is fantastic. The central theme connected with America's past nuclear testing program is strong, the acting is good and some character development works well, and the horror is taken very seriously and builds up with a great atmosphere that is genuinely disturbing rather than coming across as an immature attempt to shock.
The Hill Have Eyes (2006) -A+
So how does the original compare? Well, one thing that comes up much earlier and seems to be much more central is the use of a CB radio in the trailer. One element involving the CB radio early on is where the characters hear heavy breathing like an obscene caller and in the remake that is actually shifted so it takes place offscreen.
It also turns out that the baddies are using CB radios all over the place too. They've got hand-held radios which they are regularly using both to contact one another and to listen in on their victims.
I say baddies rather than mutants because it's less clear in the original movie that they are mutants. The theme of nuclear testing is pretty ambiguous. We hear that the area the family are driving through might be next to (or possibly in) an area used for nuclear testing. We also have a few planes flying at supersonic speeds, spooking the dad and leading him to swerve violently to avoid a rabbit sitting in the road. (I mean seriously, spooked by planes or not he knows not to swerve for small animals right?)
There's not so much in the way of prosthetics for the baddies here. The leader has cuts across his face which doesn't really suggest that he's mutated. Also one unfortunate actor who often seems to have his face on the box is not wearing prosthetics at all, seemingly having been chosen because he looks weird. We're eventually told that the wild men in the hills are actually all essentially the grandchildren of the local gas station attendant. Apparently their leader was the mutated child of the gas station attendant and his wife. The child grew up way too fast and, as far as the father is concerned, the child was and is a monster. This child then kidnapped a prostitute and had lots of children. This storyline doesn't necessarily have any relevance to nuclear testing at all and so this seems to be more of a tale of wild men living in the hills, which I feel to be a rather less interesting theme.
So anyway, here's where I feel like I need to introduce a film I also saw recently which all the CB radio stuff in "The Hills Have Eyes" couldn't help but remind me of....
OKay, so this might seem like a weird comparison but hear me out. Convoy is a film about a bunch of redneck truckers who contact one another on CB radios. They get extorted by a corrupt police officer and then there's some suggestion that he's going to wrongfully book the black trucker amongst them. So they have a big bar fight where they punch out not only the corrupt cop but also the two other cops who turn up to back him up. (It seems that having a big bar fight where lots of things get smashed up is all part of the fun. Whether it makes sense or not.)
So at this point suddenly they are on the run for the state lines. All of the truckers get into a convoy of lorries and the police struggle and fail to stop them. Even when it looks like they have them pinned down, the main trucker "rubber duck" (yes it's a stupid nickname) played by Kris Kristofersen, reveals that his truck is full of explosive materials. If I let you know right now that this film loves its ridiculous over-the-top moments, consider then whether you think the truck will actually explode at some point...
Anyway, new truckers bizarrely decide that they want to join the convoy and it reaches a point where it is miles and miles long and seems to be on the verge of becoming a political movement. (Though what they actually stand for seems to be unclear.)
The whole film is actually based on a song, which is an odd inspiration. (Heck, and you thought basing movies on videogames was somewhat misguided...) The movie "Convoy" is based around the trend of using cb radios just like "Wayne's World" is based around the trends of metallers or "Easy Rider" is based around drug-taking and the hippy movement. The movie is trying to capture a culture which I'm inclined to say has already been lost to the past, but is certainly entirely alien to me.
It's a profoundly silly movie, the plot doesn't entirely make sense, the pacing could do with being a bit faster, and the characters are pretty thin, but I must admit that I could see people (and certainly Scott Johnson from Filmsack seems to be one of them) who could get fully on board with the culture of it and be all the more able to embrace the full silliness of it. As much of an outsider as I felt, I couldn't help but be drawn in somewhat by the sheer audacity of the film, particularly when at one point there are truckers chasing police cars and ramming their way through buildings in order to do so. (There's a distinct anti-police theme to "Convoy" which is just something you've got to accept early on. With one policeman introducing himself by saying "My name is Bob Bookman, sir, and I hate truckers.")
"Convoy" is a profoundly stupid movie, but it's stupid in such a way that, were it about aliens or vampires, I'd probably be praising the hell out of it.
Convoy (1978) - C-
So why do I bring up "Convoy" here? Well it's a film about rednecks going around talking into CB radios. And the original "Hills Have Eyes" is also a film about rednecks going around talking into CB radios. So even though "Convoy" is not a horror movie, I couldn't help but connect the two.
It feels like this whole CB radio focussed era must have coincided with the original "Hills Have Eyes" too. And looking now at the years it's interesting to note that Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes" was actually released the year before "Convoy".
Naturally having been based on a song, the soundtrack to "Convoy" is very important (though I certainly wouldn't say it was going for any kind of atmospheric effect). The original "The Hills Have Eyes" suffers from having very little in the way of a soundtrack. There are some attempts to use creepy noises to produce fear, but I didn't find them terribly effective and certainly nothing like in the remake where it all seemed to be very skilfully handled. This is especially surprising considering how central the soundtrack was to "A Nightmare On Elm Street".
Another thing not handled as well as in the remake is character development. It should be noted that the actor I recognised and was keen to see a performance from here was Dee Wallace who was the lead actor in The Howling, but I am most fond of for her performance as the girlfriend of the dead serial killer in Peter Jackson's "The Frightening" (with Michael J. Fox). Anyway, not to give too much away, she isn't around any more by the final scenes and in the time where she is on screen I didn't feel like she had much chance to make an impact.
Dee Wallace plays the married daughter of the redneck father, out there with her husband. However, this time around there is no right-wing, left-wing divide between the father and son-in-law. But oddly in this version while, like in the remake, the son-in-law goes for help further down the road for help while the father goes back to the gas station for help, in this movie that basically means that the son-in-law is absent from the story for half the movie. He explains where he has been when he gets back, but it's not clear what he's describing and certainly I don't think he's seen the same thing as the son-in-law in the remake. He seems to have come across an abandoned set of army vehicles since he claims that with all the stuff he found "you could open your own army surplus store". In either case though, I think it's fair to suggest that in both versions of the movie the abandoned items he discovers are there because the people in the hills have killed the original owners.
A great deal of what happens in the rape scene (sorry, gotta be discussed) is pretty much identical in the remake, but in the original I don't feel the performances are so impressive, the tension is lacking (and certainly the poor soundtrack doesn't help here), and the horror of the event doesn't seem to be appreciated enough. I suppose calling it the rape scene is misleading. A lot of horrible stuff happens here and it's just that the decision to include a rape as part of it, naturally makes it more controversial.
In both films the rape aspect is only really implied and that is especially true of the original where you could potentially suggest that it never happened were it not for the way the character seems traumatised afterwards.
The remake has better prosthetics to make the mutants genuinely hideous and I think that helps. In the original there's a sense that perhaps parts of the scene are intended to be comedic (a problem I also had in "Last House On The Left" where certain points were DEFINITELY played as comedy). In the remake we also understand the helplessness of the victims. Certainly it could be argued that in the original the female characters seem to be much better at fighting back against the aggressors, but then again Dee Wallace seems to do a hell of a lot of random ineffective flailing before actually making any kind of serious attack on her assailant.
Of course, to give this violent scene appropriate weight to it, the way the film tackles the aftermath is also important. There's perhaps a little too much focus on the son-in-law character feeling sorry for himself (not least considering that we in the audience have had very little chance to get to know this character in the first half), however there's also a rather touching scene of him comforting another dying character and that has been kept in the remake. Though I think the remake improves this scene, credit needs to be given that it was present in the original too.
However, another point which felt like inappropriate comedy in the aftermath of this scene involves one female character screaming and screaming and eventually being told angrily to give it a rest. Certainly the film can have flawed characters, but if you decide that a character is going to angrily shout at a rape victim because they have the audactity to be traumatised, you are probably best off not expecting me to care what happens to that character later in the movie. And the problem is that the movie clearly DOES expect me to care about this figure.
It's this second half of the film where the remake has made a lot of changes and to my mind it was a vital improvement. With CB radios having played such a big part in this original film, a trick played on them in the second half is so ridiculously blatant as to make the protagonists seem like utter morons.
While the remake is always from the protagonists' points of view, the original has a number of scenes spent with the hill people and when the leader of the hill people is making a speech over the CB radio threatening them I'm inclined to suppose that this scene is not supposed to be comedic (though I could be wrong), but rather than seeming sinister it just comes off as laughable.
To my mind, the actor in the original movie without prosthetics playing a mutant who is often on the front of the DVD box is clearly being played for laughs. And certainly I think he might actually have been more suited to this movie if it was explicitly a horror comedy.
Of course, the premise here is somewhat ludicrous and that seems to be an important part of it, so the remake's changes to the ending involve making it even more ludicrous than ever in a very visually impactful way. The extent of the mutations are made even more extreme and the ties to the nuclear testing angle are made even more explicit. But also the sense present in both movies of the protagonists being prepared to do what is necessary to fight back is also made more clearly in the remake.
The final scene of the original invovles a POV shot that, to be frank, is laughably bad. This is really doing absolutely nothing to quash my opinion that Wes Craven is a really bad director. Poor performances, poor characterisation, poor dialogue, poor soundtrack, poor pacing and even I'm recognising poor camera work. This is not a good film and considering how little I enjoyed the original movie it seems remarkable that the remake remained so close to it in so many details.
One particularly remarkable similarity relates to the two dogs the protagonists have brought with them on their road trip. We first see them when they jump up at the window of the camper van and bark at the gas station attendant. Now, I hate dogs, so I was completely unsympathetic to these viscious animals from that point on. Also one of the dogs turns out to be a pretty proficient killer and I found myself thinking "wow, what message is this sending out? Train your dogs to kill human beings and they can murder locals you find threatening when you go travelling." Then I rewatched the remake and came to realise that pretty much everything the dogs do in the original is played out again exactly the same in the remake. Yet somehow the remake handled it so that I felt like I was on the dogs' side. Don't know how they managed it, but I think that's a clear sign that Alexandre Aja is the more effective filmmaker.
So the scores are:
The Hills Have Eyes (2006) A+
Convoy (1978) C-
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) D-
Just spent a while working out that I am now not allowed to post a comment to Youtube as "Fatpie42" any more.
I was a little confused at first, but now it all makes sense. You can't just post a comment on Youtube any more. You now have to be part of Google+, which is basically just Facebook only owned by different company.
Google seem to be trying to systematically ruin everything they provide that I enjoy. First it was Google Reader. Google Reader no longer exists. (Thankfully I now use Feedly and it's working pretty well so far.)
And now it's Youtube they are trying to ruin for me. I hadn't been following my subscribed channels that closely recently, but I certainly don't want people on Youtube knowing my real name. Now when I post comments I have to be known as Phil, because apparently I cannot use the name "Fatpie42" because it's not a real name. Never mind that it's the name of my Youtube account and that all my OTHER comments are in that name.
Oh, and when I post comments it asks me a load of stupid questions about who I want to share the comment with. Gah!
So yeah, this is stupid and frustrating as hell. Please sign this petition to get them to stop being so blooming daft, yeah?
The Golden Child (1986)
There's a lot of horror elements here. In fact you might just about argue that this Eddie Murphy vehicle is in fact a horror comedy. Charles Dance is as awesome as ever as the central demonic villain, while Eddie Murphy's job is to find lost children. The child that's missing? A Tibetan spiritual saviour, essentially a magical Buddhist rinpoche, whose destiny will affect (you guessed it) the fate of the entire world.
So Eddie Murphy does some investigating into what appear to be Satanic rituals, is told he's the chosen one, has a bizarre dream, and gets taken by his kick-ass female asian sidekick to Nepal to uncover a special magical knife.
We have pretty neat effects, particularly the stop-motion dancing coke can (no seriously, it's awesome). Did I say Charles Dance was awesome? Well he is.
Eddie Murphy's one-liners are a bit hit and miss, but he still acts as an appropriate goofy central protagonist here. The plot is a pretty basic A to B affair. While some of the effects are slightly less effective than others, Eddie Murphy's comedic lines have dated a lot worse.
But overall this is a great fun film and well worth checking out. If you want a bit of silly entertainment, you could do a lot worse. Probably the best Eddie Murphy film I've seen. (Asides from possibly a Shrek film or two?)
The Driver (1978)
This ended up going on my rental list when "Drive" came out and I'd kind forgotten it was there. I actually found that a more fitting predecessor to "Drive" was actually Michael Mann's "Thief" rather than "The Driver". Still there was a place where I'd seen this movie referenced. There's actually a computer game based on the movie "The Driver" because it's actually mostly known for its car chases and car stunts.
The premise is that there's a guy who acts as the driver during various heists who keeps eluding the police. One police detective has decided that he's willing to go to extra lengths, risking his badge, in order to take down this criminal. The corrupt police detective is played by Bruce Dern who I now know from a whole big selection of films, mostly ones from Joe Dante ("The 'Burbs", "Small Soldiers", "The Hole"), but also Hitchcock's "Family Plot" and a small but significant cameo in Tarantino's "Django Unchained".
Bruce Dern is pretty great as the dodgy police detective who is willing to bend.... no, break, definitely 'break' the rules, in order to take down the man he knows is guilty. The script may have to go to extreme lengths to make the detective into a villain, but Bruce Dern does a fantastic job with this smarmy, corrupt, single-mind and over-confident character.
The central character however is the driver himself. I don't recoginise the actor Ryan O'Neal from anything and I wouldn't say he exactly gave an amazing performance, but he does okay as a strong silent type. There is a connection with "Drive" to the extent that this driver protagonist makes the role of 'driver' seem like a much more central role in a heist than the role would normally be viewed. That heightened status of the role of the driver can also be found in the "Transporter" movies starring Jason Statham.
But the major highlights of this film are the scenes involving cars, but strangely I think my favourite scene is not a car chase at all. Instead it's a car stunt scene with no chasing involved. Some criminals decide to doubt whether the protagonist is really as good as his reputation would suggest. So he gives them a demonstration, travelling at high speeds, in a mostly-empty multi-storey car park full of pillars... For me, this scene was the real highlight of the film and I thought that was great fun.
Overall this film is a little overly cheesy, but there's a certain extent that, if the plot were just a teensy bit better (particularly in the third act) then I think I would have absolutely loved this movie, cheese and all.
In the end, as the "Driver" videogame adaptation shows, this film is pretty much only worthwhile for its chase scenes. It's not in any way a movie that I could take seriously. Still, I'm really not a car person and I have to say that the car scenes were still very entertaining.
Children Of The Corn (1984)
Sarah Connor (i.e. the actress Linda Hamilton) appears here as the female character to get kidnapped and she is accompanied by her male lover who is able to seemingly solve the whole issue really really easily (after all, they're just kids right?)
There's a distinct sense that this film must have missed the point of the original story. When the exposition which leads to the baddie being defeated is a small child suddenly remembering that a policeman left a page from the Bible lying about with a particular verse highlighted, it's clear that we must be missing some important details here.
But initially this movie was looking pretty promising. We begin with a rather sinister scene where the children are happily killing all the adults. We don't know why they are doing it, but they don't seem terribly sad about it.
Next we skip forward to young boy with a suitcase trying to leave the town of the murderous children. And he's nearly lucky enough to meet up with the aforementioned travelling adult couple. One of whom is a doctor, no less!
Anyway, the murderous nature of the children is very much tied to their own personal cult which seems to involve leaving bits of corn everywhere and killing anyone who grows up beyond a certain age. Apparently "he who walks behind the rows", seemingly the subject of the cult's worship, demands that the kill the couple who have driven into town.
But the couple first of all meet two particularly young children, one of whom seems to be able to draw things that will happen in the future. She's psychic, y'see. (What is it with Stephen King and blooming psychics? I must admit it's not one of my favourite elements to see in a film. In "The Shining" I was more annoyed by the psychic stuff than I was by the ghosts. - And it should be noted that I do NOT like most ghost stories at all.)
So anyway, as I said the female adult is kidnapped and prepared for sacrifice and the male adult eventually tracks down where this is happening by kicking some immature arse. Everything is resolved far too easily and all the (quite good actually) attempts to build up atmosphere at the beginning feel completely wasted.
Did I mention I'd been trying to read Stephen King's "It" when I'm not massively busy with other stuff? There are so many characters! Each with their own backstories! I've read the backstory of about seven characters and the main story still doesn't seem to have got started yet! I am going to have so many blooming names to keep track of, hmmph!
Maybe I'd have been better off checking King's short stories instead. Any advice for me? Certainly from rhoda_rantsaccount of the Children of the Corn story it sounds like I'd have much preferred that to this rather hum-drum story in the movie. It sounds like the human side of the story is much more important than the whims of "he who moves behind the rows" (which seems to be all that really matters here). This adaptation of "Children of the Corn" is watchable, but it's not particularly good.
Sleep Tight (Mientras Duermes) (2011)
While Jaume Balaguero's co-director for the REC films was working on the third instalment (which has mostly underwhelmed audiences), he was working on his own personal project about a janitor for an apartment block who holds a dark secret.
Now this dark secret is revealed pretty early on. We see him wake up next to a woman, get up, go downstairs begin work. And then when the woman comes down herself it is quickly very clear that she does not see him as a lover or even a friend. He is an acquaintance because he acts as the door man and janitor for the building, but she clearly didn't know he was sharing her bed that morning.
So what is going on? It turns out that he absolutely HATES seeing her happy every morning, he has become obsessed with her for that reason and it is gradually revealed that he has a regular programme of drugging this woman and sleeping in her bed every night. It's seriously twisted and the movie is well aware of that.
However, maintaining this plot is not easy and the janitor finds himself in a position where a little girl on the same floor as the woman he is secretly (secret even to the woman it seems) harassing starts expecting to be bribed to stay quiet about it. There are further issues which cause him difficulties.
This is a particularly nasty kind of psychological thriller, such that it doesn't need to actually show us any kind of abuse and certainly no gore. We are quickly able to understand the full horror of what is being done and yet there's something strangely fascinating about horribly disturbing human beings like this.
This is a fascinating film and well worth checking out. I would say that some of the answers that are eventually provided as to WHY this guy is like this weren't entirely clear to me and the finale of the film wasn't really as satisfying for me as I think was intended, but these are personal issues more than anything else. This is a very well made film and well worth checking out.
What is it with Kiefer Sutherland? I wouldn't say he's one of the best actors out there, but on a good day he's absolutely brilliant!
In Mirrors he's an ex-cop working as a security guard. Not a strange career transition. Turns out that he had alcohol issues, he's estranged from his wife and he's now living with his sister. His new job turns out to involve patrolling a burnt out old shopping mall. The building has been tied up with all sorts of legal red tape meaning that in the meanwhile it needs to be protected from intruders or looters, but nevertheless is pretty much always entirely deserted.
Despite the place being abandoned and run down, inside the building all the mirrors are absolutely pristine. Kiefer Sutherland is told that this is because the previous security guard was keen to keep them clean. Rather bizarre.
The idea that there's a malign force that can hurt people if they are caught in reflective surfaces is quite cool. The suggestion seems to be that it could choose to hurt people everywhere, but it is particularly tied to the mirrors in the abandoned shopping mall and it has a one-tracked mind towards a very particular purpose.
If anyone's ever spent a long time looking into a mirror and had the impression that the person looking back is not really the same one looking in, you'll know how reflections are a ripe source for horror ideas.
Sadly I feel "Mirrors" was let down by the finale. An explanation is provided for how the malign force ended up in the shopping mall (and while the malign force can remain a mystery, some explanation of why it is in a shopping mall seems important) and I was wasn't entirely happy with the explanation provided. Things seemed to take a turn towards the generic in the final act. Still, that being said, the actual ending of the film was very cool indeed.
Another thing that annoyed me. Naturally nobody believes Kiefer Sutherland about the mirrors for the most part because it's a ludicrous suggestion. The mirrors are out to get you? Seriously dude, what IS the doctor GIVING you? (Sutherland's character is on medication, apparently to stop him turning back to alcoholism.) Yet there is a point where another character says "I should have believed you." ... Nonsense. Why would you believe him? Can you even believe it yourself having seen it first hand? The most obvious response is to rationalise it all away because the whole idea is bizarre, stupid and ridiculous, not to blame yourself for not believing the patently ludicrous.
This was a very interesting horror movie and while though the character development isn't handled perfectly, they do all seem like real people. The ideas brought in at the third act are somewhat problematic, but I don't think they detract from my enjoyment of the film. I'm giving this film a lot of credit for its original premise. Perhaps a little too much? What can I say, I had a good time with this one.
He may not think he's a good doggy, but zomg is he adorable!!!
Quick explanation: Hobbes claims that a "state of nature" is a society without rules i.e. a state of anarchy, such as you'd find in the more chaotic periods of a civil war. (Hobbes himself lived through the English Civil War.) Under a state of nature, as Hobbes puts it: "life is nasty, brutish and short".
For Hobbes, the whole purpose of a society was to avoid this state of nature. That is why we all agree to follow the laws of the land, such as those proposed by a King.
However, there is always the risk that society might collapse and we might revert back to a state of nature. In that case all out rules concerning what is good would be somewhat irrelevant since people would act out of desperation in whatever way they needed in order to survive.
Okay so, this is the sort of crazy stuff we'd expect to see in the dark 90s comics. And I feel like the new trailer released for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" looks closer to that than ever before.
Finally it looks like we're going to get villains that are actually villains rather than ones that are Peter Parker's best friend, best friend's father, teacher, work rival or the random thief who killed his father. He's going to discover all these villains when they are committing crimes for a change. Reminds me of how when Raimi's first Spider-Man movie came out, the videogame was actually more entertaining. It shoved in a load of Spider-Man villains straight away: Shocker, Vulture, Scorpion. Spider-Man is rather more suited to having a ton of baddies thrown at him than other superheroes.
Hey perhaps we can finally have a villain that doesn't have multiple personality disorder? (Unlike Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus, The Lizard actually has multiple personality disorder in the comics, so that kind of made sense. But we need to finally have a Spider-Man villain who is actually responsible for his own crimes.)
The previous trailer made by this guy can be found here. This is the same again, but with clips from the latest Amazing Spider-Man 2 trailer included too.
If anyone is unfamiliar with the 90s cartoon intro that this is based on, you can see it here.
Whenever there's a new remake there's a word that gets used a lot which I find rather inappropriate. Time and time again I keep hearing that a remake is "unnecessary". Look, NO movie is "necessary". Naturally any remake is "unnecessary" right up to the point where it turns out to be awesome. Was David Cronenberg's "The Fly" necessary? Was John Carpenter's "The Thing" necessary? And if we look at more recent remakes. Was the Coen Brothers' version of "True Grit" a necessary remake?
Some people swear by the American remake of "The Ring" or by the 70s remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". They would see those remakes as necessary. I see them as unnecessary for the simple reason that I think they are inferior to the original. If I thought they were better than the original, I wouldn't see them as unnecessary. Obviously.
I suppose the issue here is that the original movie and this remake are very similar. Naturally both are based on a book, but let's not ever-egg that excuse. I remember that excuse being used for "Let Me In" where the movie had far less in common with the book than the original Swedish movie "Let The Right One In". The fact is that Carrie in the original story was overweight and that is just one example of how this remake is sticking closer to the original movie than the book for its source material.
So please forgive me in that I'm going to begin by poking holes in DePalma's original movie of "Carrie". Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the original Carrie. However, that original movie has some serious problems which must not be ignored and inevitably a review of the remake needs to be compared to its predecessor. (Sadly I have not seen the tv movie starring one of my favourite actresses, Angela Bettis.)
Just to quickly make clear for any newbies to the Carrie story, it's about a girl with an ultra-religious and kind of crazy mother. The girl has not been given a proper education from her mother about periods, so early in the movie she freaks out when she gets her first period in the school showers. The response from her classmates to her distress is outright ridicule. Whether it's a coincidence or a direct result of her treatment is unclear, but Carrie turns out to have telekinetic powers. She can affect things around her with her mind. With the release of this inner power, Carrie also grows in the confidence to assert herself and to stand up to her oppressive mother.
Basically I think the biggest problem with the original is that the characters didn't seem realistic to me. The bullies in the school didn't have much in the way of personality and Piper Laurie who played Carrie's mother was hamming things up to a ridiculous level. The only character that really felt believable in original to me seemed to be Carrie herself.
Now I must admit straight off the bat that one of the biggest problems with this remake is Chloe Moretz's performance. Sissy Spacek is a hard act to follow and there was something about Spacek's haunted eyes. Moretz is missing that element. This isn't a huge criticism. Chloe Moretz is a great actress. But there is an argument to be made that she has been miscast here. Spacek and (though I haven't seen her performance) Bettis both have something a little bizarre in the way they look that might lend itself to this character. Moretz has the timidness down fine and her emotions are all expressed very well. She gives a great performance, but not a haunting one.
That being said, this is less of a horror movie in general. The focus here is much more on the characters than on the tone. Then again, that's why the characters are far more believeable here in general. The main bully is absolutely spot on here. Portia Doubleday's performance is uncanny. She completely denies all guilt, tries to push the blame onto others, claims she is the one being mistreated and generally tries to play the system in her favour and it was amazing. I have seen real kids act this exact way. The portrayal was perfect. And yet, this portrayal is no less cruel than the bullies in the original movie. In fact, with the advent of Youtube the bullies are able to be even more heartless than ever. But the bullies all feel like real people, not just generic villains.
In DePalma's original movie another problem was the way Carrie ends up at prom. Naturally her prom experience is a vital part of the story, but she's such a pariah that no one would ever ask her there. In the original film, one of the bullies asks her boyfriend to take Carrie to the plot. I'd always presumed this was a trick and was confused as to how Carrie ever fell for it. But this time there's much more development regarding the girl who asks her boyfriend to take Carrie to prom. It's another example of how much more developed the characters are here. Also the boyfriend himself is much better fleshed out. In the original movie he mostly just seemed grumpy, but here in the remake he is a lot more sympathetic.
One element in the remake which is widely receiving positive remarks even from naysayers, is Julianne Moore's performance as Carrie's mother. Not only is her portrayal brilliant, but we understand her a lot better. It turns out that she has a job as a dressmaker, but she has a lot of trouble dealing with other people. She is also involved in regular self-harm. It's less that Carrie's mother is judging her daughter harshly and more that she is overwhelmed with religion-inspired guilt and forces that same guilt onto her daughter.
The final act (and I won't spoil this for people who somehow don't know what is coming) uses a lot of special effects and is quite an impressive show. Anyone still sceptical about the improvements in the character development should bear in mind that even if they don't enjoy those, the spectacle at the end is still awesome. Though for me it is the character elements in this film which make it so great, not the effects work.
I don't know if I'd have given an A to the original "Carrie". The pacing of the original wasn't great and the character problems really make it hard to stay engaged, as wonderfully haunting as Sissy Spacek might be. Much of the original "Carrie" simply feels like one long build-up to the final act, whereas in this remake I actually really enjoyed just spending time with the characters. Well, though I say "enjoyed", some of these characters are quite horrible. Still, even in those moments I was fully engaged when I was hating them and, what's more, they always feel like characters with depth. That's why Julianne Moore's performance is such a breath of fresh air. The writing combined with her performance finally allows us to see the personal weaknesses which formed the hateful figure of the original movie. We see that behind her vile behaviour is a deep sense of personal insecurity and guilt with creepily plausible origins.
The original Carrie has an oppressive atmosphere and a certain level of bizarreness, both of which allowed it to gain its place as a horror classic. This new remake is more drama than horror and it is the drama side of things where it makes its mark. If we could combine the drama of this remake with the atmosphere of the original, I think this would be absolutely incredible. But on a personal level, I think depth of character is rather more important than having a creepy atmosphere. Characters are what give us the reason to care. For that reason, while I wouldn't have given an A to the original, in spite of its good qualities, I AM giving an A to this remake. It's a great film and deserves a lot more credit that it's generally receiving.
It's a rather cool theme in horror movies to play on a fear of children. I considered a selection of 'child phobia' movies at the end of my review of "The Omen" and there are two more reviewed below that I watched for the first time this year.
Who Can Kill A Child? (aka "Death is Child's Play") (1976)
The original audience must not have known what was about to hit them with this movie. We start off with an accounts of several different wars and atrocities across the 20th century. The holocaust being just one amongst them. And in each case we are told about how awful the situation was for children in particular. These accounts are accompanied with black and white footage and an official-sounding voice behind them. At the end of each one we hear children singing a short but annoying tune. This gets REALLY repetitive. But the message is clear. Children have had a tough time through history.
The opening bit looks like this. It's a Spanish movie (even if the leads are English actors speaking English) so we keep seeing Spanish writing in this red handwritten style on screen, with the black and white footage and photographs from real life wars and atrocities in the background and that official-sounding documentary-style voice over (also in English) explaining how bad children have had it. At the repeated singing bit we see children's hand prints on the screen.
So with the audience nicely softened to the plight of children, now to begin a story where children are actually going to be quickly revealed as the bad guys. But first we are introduced to a couple of English tourists who decide to get away from the crowds and spend some time on a quiet local island. On the island however, it becomes clear that things are actually a lot quieter than they ought to be.
The visuals of crowds of children are extremely eerie. The movie takes its time, but I don't think the pacing ever feels unneccessarily slow. And when we come towards the end there's a pretty shocking revelation which I did not see coming. (If you reach a point where you think the movie has wrapped up too easily then don't worry, it's not over yet.)
Initially "Who Can Kill A Child?" feels like a version of "The Birds" only with children instead of birds. But it should be said that just having children just standing and watching like a flock, is more unnerving than a flock of birds hanging around since children so rarely organise themselves like that. The closer connection between ourselves and children is also a source of horror here. It's not just that children are not acting like we'd expect, but also that we think we can empathise with children.
In "Life of Pi" when Pi is told that he shouldn't think of a tiger like it has human feelings but should remember that it is a violent predator, we can more easily say "okay sure" no matter how cute a tiger might seem at times. But trying to believe that a child isn't being genuine? Trying to believe they are dangerous? Trying to think of them as cold killers behind those eyes? It's tougher to accept, which makes the slow build-up of this film all the more appropriate.
"Who Can Kill A Child?" is a horror classic, plain and simple. I felt that this was quite a devastating watch, but it's not because of gory scenes. Instead it's more because of the psychological element to it. I'm not actually sure that I'm even as fond of children as some people are (after all, I was kinda bored by the repetitive accounts of harm to children in the 20th century), so for others this might hit even harder.
Yet another Guillermo Del Toro produced horror movie. Have had a pretty mixed response to these. I hated "Julia's Eyes", finding it to be a complete misfire with some intriguing ideas at the beginning leading to what I viewed as a pretty cheesy finale. Meanwhile I found some plot details revealed about "Splice" completely put me off ever seeing that. (The creature design might be great, but I do NOT want to see that film.)
But strangely, contrary to most other people's opinions, I LOVED "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark". I felt that it was well-made and while many had criticised the film for revealing the monsters so quickly, I found their Gremlins-esque behaviour really spoke to me.
I was a little unsure about the trailer for "Mama" but I was seriously intrigued by the premise. Children lost in the woods are recovered, but they've become somewhat wild after their experience. But when they come to live with a foster parents back in a civilised environment, it turns out that some kind of spirit from the woods was keeping them safe and it isn't prepared to give up its hold over them just yet.
I'll come right out and say it, I was disappointed by this one. Which is a real pity because in the first half there are some moments which I thought worked very well. Sure in the first half there are also some of the those now-cliched jump-scare "booms" to emphasise important moments, which are intended to make things creepier. But these were moments where I felt that more natural sounds would have been far more effective. A child scampering away timidly on all fours like a woodland creature is surely much more disturbing if you hear the actual scampering than if you hear a horror-movie "boom" noise?
The question over whether the foster parents are really suited to their task is well handled. Jessica Chastain shows how much of a chameleon she can be, this time playing a rock chick. Her husband is an artist, but she is in a punk rock band and her lifestyle is partly tied with that. You may be wondering how these two ever found themselves in the massive house in the trailer? Well, I think it's an early enough plot move for me to reveal. The mental institute who are treating the children offer the couple the opportunity to live in a house owned by the institute (which has the space for them to care for the children) so long as the institute can continue to study the children and document their progress.
So, now in this big house, we have the children's weird behaviour on the one hand, but we also have clear hints that the "mama" figure which the children credit with looking after them in the forest is a spirit that still lives with them in this new house.
A big problem for me here is that this movie is a "ghost" movie. I wasn't expecting a ghost, I was expecting a forest spirit. But no, "Mama" is actually a ghost. A very specific person with a whole lame backstory.
The point where I think the movie goes downhill is where a woman in an archive says to a psychologist and therapist: "Do you believe in ghosts?" He answers "no" and the archivist immediately decides to tell him exactly what ghosts are. And then he presumably believes her. No no no no NO! I'm sorry, but firstly SHE knows nothing about what ghosts are. What is her basis for that knowledge? Archiving old documents and artefacts? REALLY? She's not a ghostbuster or "paranormal investigator" or psychic medium or something like that? So why does the psychologist believe her? He has reasons to think that a ghost might be involved and he says that he needs "extraordinary evidence" to back up the extraordinary claim, but hearing someone with no evidence or backstory at all state in no uncertain terms that ghosts are the twisted remnants of a persons life, or some such rubbish, would be more likely to have this guy dismissing all his notions of supernatural activity.
And what's the motivation of the ghost? To protect the children, right? Nope! (Yeah, I was confused too.) I won't say what actually happens at the end becuase I don't do spoilers. But I'll just say that the second half of the movie really loses track of its "protective spirit" premise.
I feel confident in saying that, whether you like ghost stories or not (and I'm definitely in the NOT category), this is going to be a disappointment.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
There were mixed reviews for the first "Hunger Games" movie and so I was pretty surprised to find that I loved it. It wasn't the best film of that year, but it had a lot going for it and in spite of the bizarre premise it had me hooked every step of the way. In actual fact, the politics of "The Hunger Games" was rather more interesting than the battle scenes. Making it an interesting contrast with "Battle Royale" where the politics was barely developed at all, the characters all felt like cartoon characters and the main thing going for it was the bloodthirsty action. With "The Hunger Games" the weak point really seemed to be the action in the games themselves, but the characters and the scenario was set up so well that it didn't matter very much.
I've been a little confused by all the hate against Gary Ross as a director. People claimed that there was too much shaky-cam in the first film, but the most obvious examples of that which come to mind are all shot from the main character's perspective and there's an important sequence where our protagonist has been drugged. I think perhaps one of the most successful aspects of the first movie was the way it helped us to share the perspective of the protagonist, Katniss. I'm not sure that I ever really understood Katniss terribly deeply. She's an emotionally closed-off character for the most part. But I had a good sense of her struggle and her determination in the face of adversity.
So now Gary Ross is replaced by Francis Lawrence, a director I mainly know for the movie "Constantine": A bit of a jumbled film that failed to make up for its miscast lead actor (Keanu Reeves is completely out-acted by Rachel Weisz in it), but had a splattering of interesting visuals.
I will admit straight off the bat that "Catching Fire" has a greater sense of scale than the first movie. The dystopian capital now looks like a combination of Nazi and Roman design (since the Nazi aesthetic was based somewhat on that of the Roman Empire). Also during the actual "Hunger Games" we have a much better idea of how the arena is laid out. This isn't necessarily a criticism of the first movie, since we often had the impression in the first movie of Katniss hiding in the thick trees and basically being lost in the woods. But in this film, the layout of the arena is much more important and the design is rather more intricate. Still, there were some very interesting shots in the original movie and I rarely found anything was quite as moving this time around. The scene in the original movie where Katniss has a memory of an explosion in the mines, for example, where we see her home exploding from the inside, really stood out for me.
It's a long long time before the games actually get started and I remember checking my watch quite early on wondering when anything was actually going to happen. But what is surprising about this is that the pre-games section of the movie is all about the politics and in the first movie that was my favourite bit. But this time I felt that the politics was rather less impactful. Once you've seen one rebel unceremoniously gunned down by a faceless stormtrooper you've seen them all. There were a few points where it felt a little more weighty. An actual named character is beaten in the town square, Peeta goes off-script to express sadness at one of the competitors who died during their games, the question is raised whether the stormtroopers are prepared to kill a celebrity Hunger Games victor for speaking out in compassion, and even Katniss' clothes designer starts trying to make political gestures. But in the end there's not enough follow-up on any of these points. Overall this felt to me like a typical book adaptation where the film is more interested in getting us through each key point from the book, than in telling a decent coherent holistic story in the film itself.
Perhaps if we had a better idea of the motivations of the villains that might have helped. In the first movie there was a great moment where the leader of this dystopia explains that the Hunger Games is basically a show of force to keep the various districts in line. He notes that he could just as easily take a couple of random children from each district, line them all up and shoot them. But the point of the Hunger Games is to make all the districts complicit in the act, because they all have the hope that one of their own children might survive and become a celebrity. That was a very short explanation, but it tied together pretty much everything that happened in the first movie.
In the second movie we are told that Katniss' gamble to save both herself and Peeta at the end of the last game with a feined romance has turned Katniss into a hero. The interesting side of this is that Katniss is not obviously a hero unless her romance with Peeta is fake, so she is ordered to make her relationship with Peeta seem real so that the state can more easily dismiss the idea that their survival in the games was an act of defiance. This initially seems interesting, but over the course of the movie it gets pretty tiresome and it's here where the decision to randomly introduce a love triangle becomes particularly problematic. If Katniss genuinely loves Peeta as anything more than a friend then it completely undermines the whole opening premise of the film. What is more, when Katniss' feelings for Peeta grow in this movie I'm not really emotionally on board. It didn't feel natural to me.
Then again you can say that about everything that happens here. The movie as a whole generally fails to convince me of most of its emotional beats. We are supposed to accept that the cruel woman who happily and joyfully accepted Katniss as her district's tribute in the first film is now supposed to be a sympathetic character - and what's more, comic relief. I'm not buying it.
Katniss makes a defiant gesture against the state in her try-outs for the games and gets no comeuppance for it (but naturally no one did that in the last movie because everyone really really wanted to be there). I'm not buying it.
Katniss seems to be the only one to get a present sent to her in the games this time, but she claims that it's from Haymitch not her sponsors (though I suppose it wouldn't be from rich sponsors in the capital when she's acting so defiantly against this dystopian empire prior to the games). Haymitch cannot just send whatever he wants into the games and we've no reason to accept that Katniss has sponsors this time around so, once again, I'm not buying it.
Someone who acted in defiance against the state gets killed just before Katniss is about to enter the games and she freaks the hell out. People have been killed for defying the state all through the movie, but apparently this one surprised her. Whatever! I'm not buying it.
And one last thing, Katniss is experiencing PTSD and it's triggered when she's doing some of her regular hunting. Fine. And it's not triggered when she gets back to killing people in the next set of Games. Fine again. And she's getting nightmares. That makes sense. And she asks Peeta, this guy she knows is attracted to her and who the state is forcing her to fein romantic feelings towards, to get into bed with her to help her sleep. Sorry, no. Not buying it.
So yeah, I have a lot of problems with this movie.
Even with PTSD I thought Katniss was crying way too much. It's all about how you present these things and I wasn't given the impression that Katniss was trying to be brave but just couldn't help it. I got the impression that filmmakers wanted Katniss to portray herself as being emotional because she is female. After all, Peeta claims to be having nightmares too, but he always seems cool, calm and collected. It's just Katniss who is shown as letting her emotions overpower her. Peeta is, of course, played by Josh Hutcherson, and once again he's the best thing in the film. Nothing on his performance as Clapton Davis in "Detention", mind you. And while I'm never on board with the idea of a romantic connection between Katniss and Peeta, their chemistry as friends is very good. Also as Peeta, Josh Hutcherson has some of the funnier lines in the film.
I hate to say it, but my issue with "Catching Fire" is that I was board and unmoved. I know there are plenty of people who found themselves much more excited and engaged by this sequel than they were by the original and I'm sure plenty others who found it perfectly good at holding their attention. But I spent most of the runtime waiting for the movie to start pulling me in. I really wanted to care, but I didn't feel like the movie's presentation was making that possible.
I loved the first "Hunger Games" film and I was totally up for a sequel. I've been a sci-fi fan longer than I've been a horror fan and the idea of dystopias fascinates me. And yet, for some unclear reason, this film just did not work for me. I didn't get the oppressive atmosphere of this dystopian state. It just felt like more of the same with no new twists and no clear new motivations. I was never even entirely sold on Katniss' importance, but I thought this would be something the movie would build on. I don't really think it did. One unassailable issue seems to be that the most stupid decision anyone could possibly make if trying to deal with a heroine who made a name for herself in a televised blood sport, is to put her back on tv in another round of that same televised blood sport. Considering that this dystopian state is supposed to be so practiced in media manipulation, it's hard to understand why they are making so many rookie mistakes. But I wanted to forgive the movie everything, if only it could just pull me in. And that just never happened.
I feel almost guilty giving this a low score. Like it must be my fault. I realise that I'm giving this a lower score than "John Carter", but to be quite frank "John Carter" did a better job of pulling emotional strings and making me care. And in my own review, I have to be honest about how I feel. My scores are based primarily on how entertaining I find a film and in the case of "Hunger Games: Catching Fire"? I was not entertained.
This is the fifth in a series of movie lists I've been making charting my favourite movies of each year (working steadily backwards).
My top films of 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were the following:
Click here to see the full list for 2008
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
5. Molière (2007)
UK release: 13 July 2007
"Molière" is an absolutely hilarious French film with an invented story to explain the rise of the eponymous French playwright. Certainly the idea is somewhat inspired by "Shakespeare In Love", but I found this film far superior. Romain Duris gives an electrifying central performance which holds together the farce-comedy storyline and the quirky characters. I loved every second of this.
Director Laurent Tirard's last film was "Astérix and Obélix: God Save Britannia". He does not appear to have made anything up to same standard as "Molière". However, the main star Romain Duris' next film is "The New Girlfriend" from director François Ozon. Ludivine Sagnier was recently in "Love Crime" alongside Kristin Scott Thomas and her next two upcoming movies are "Lou" and "Tristesse Club".
4. The Fountain (2006)
UK release: 26 January 2007
Though many seem to need to watch this one twice in order to fully appreciate it (which I know doesn't sound like a promising proviso), it helps to have an idea when watching this of what is going on with the different relatively unrelated narratives. On the one hand there's the central story of a doctor and scientist (played by Hugh Jackman) who is desperately trying to find a cure for his wife's illness, even while his wife (played by Rachel Weisz) is coming to terms with her imminent demise. In the meanwhile, we keep seeing segments of a fantasy story written by Weisz's character exploring themes of the human quest for immortality and the struggle for survival. Bridging these two narratives is a symbolic story of a meditating figure (also played by Hugh Jackman) floating in a bubble transporting a tree into a star. This third, mostly symbolic, storyline can be especially jarring on first watch, but by the end the film comes together. This is why it is helpful to watch the movie through a second time recognising how the different themes will eventually come together.
Another wonderful element to this film is the soundtrack, which I think represents Clint Mansell's best work. The beautiful and overwhelming musical score ensures that the emotional beats towards the end of the film really pack a punch. It's the powerful ending of the film which really drew me to give the film a second chance and now it's in my top 5 of this particular year.
(music video link)
My review here
Darren Aronofsky's next film is "Noah" starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson.
3. Hot Fuzz (2007)
UK release: 14 February 2007
Edgar Wright's follow-up to "Shaun Of The Dead" finds Wright beginning to properly leave behind the style he used in the tv show "Spaced" and to provide something rather more cinematic. There are references to films like "The Omen" and "The Wicker Man" underlying the more obvious references to police crime dramas and action films, but the film has plenty of gags in its own right.
There are two major themes for the comedy here. One is the contrast between actual real-life efficient policing and the kind of crime dramas often seen in films where people jump around with guns and blow stuff up. The other, however, is the potential sinisterness of small isolated and close-knit communities that might seem on the surface like ideal utopias and/or retirement spots.
Basically, Edgar Wright is a comic genius and gets a fantastic performance out of the comedy duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Until the release of "The World's End", this was my favourite of his films.
Edgar Wright is working on the "Ant-Man" superhero movie for Marvel Studios.
2. Eastern Promises (2007)
UK release: 26 October 2007
David cronenberg seemed to get a second wind in his career at this stage, releasing three films in a row with Viggo Mortensen. The first was "A History of Violence", a graphic novel adaptation starring Mortensen as a pacifist character who turns out to have been running away from a very different identity than that people had previously seen from him. The third was "A Dangerous Method" where Mortensen gives a strong performance as Sigmund Freud in a story about his professional relationship with Carl Jung. This third film was clearly tackling a topic which meant an awful lot to David Cronenberg, but personally I thought it was a little weak.
Bang in the middle of these two is "Eastern Promises", a film actually starring Naomi Watts where Mortensen's role seems pretty small to begin with. Eastern Promises centres around Russian gangsters in London involved in, amongst other things, sex trafficking. Watts plays a midwife who takes it upon herself to identify the family of a child whose mother dies in childbirth using her diary. She unwittingly contacts a misleadingly charming local mafia boss, not realising what secrets the diary holds and why the mafia boss might have a vested interest.
Eastern Promises contains violence characteristic of a Cronenberg film, but here the violence is visceral because it feels realistic rather than because it representing the fantastical body horror that made audiences' skins crawl during his early movies. Eastern Promises is a powerful drama with a strong cast.
David Cronenberg's next film is "Maps To The Stars" starring Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson and Carrie Fisher
1. This Is England (2006)
UK release: 27 April 2007
Shane Meadows is an odd sort of director. Setting pretty much all of his films in the most depressing midlands setting he can find, the first film I saw of his was the revenge thriller "Dead Man's Shoes" starring Paddy Considine. The interesting thing about that film was the way the villains felt like typical real people and the mistakes they made were what you'd expect actual real life scumbags who are out of their depth to make. Point being, the characters felt like real people. Not ones you'd want to get to know well, but real nonetheless.
"This Is England" is more personal to Meadows than most, seeing as it is semi-autobiographical. Particularly notable actors in the film include Stephen Graham (now perhaps most well known for his role as Al Capone in "Boardwalk Empire") and Joe Gilgun (who took over from Robert Sheehan in series three of "Misfits", but is probably most well-known for his role as the impulsive and crazy convict in the movie "Lockout" starring Guy Pearce). Another actor well worth mentioning is Thomas Turgoose, who is the child actor in this film and I'm sure we will see great things from in the future.
"This Is England" looks into the origins of skinheads from the perspective of ordinary people, making the interesting point that early skinheads were part of a scene strongly connected with Jamaican Ska and Rocksteady. So while our current historical viewpoint makes it very easy to see the skinheads as a ridiculously bad influence right from the start, it isn't until the figure of Combo comes out of prison that we see how the influence of Nationalism and the accompanying racist sentiment is creeping into the movement.
The saying is "write what you know" and you can clearly tell here that Meadows understands the world he is portraying and has a lot of affection for the characters he portrays. Even the particularly unbalanced character, Combo, is very much a real person not a stereotype. "This is England" is a wonderful film by itself and I'm not sure we needed three tv mini-series to follow this up. (I have seen "This Is England '86" and didn't really feel much drive to check out '88 or '90 as a result).
Shane Meadows' latest film was "Made Of Stone", a documentary film about the Stone Roses (of whom Shane Meadows is personally a big fan).
Another 7 good movies from 2007
Black Book (2006)
UK release: 19 January 2007
Paul Verhoeven stops making cheesy Hollywood movies and goes back to make a wartime drama is his native Dutch. Sebastian Koch (who also starred in "The Lives Of Others" in the same year, see below) and Carice van Houten (whose most notable roles these days all seem to be witch-themed, playing a necromancer in Christopher Smith's movie "Black Death" and Melisandre in the tv series "Game of Thrones"). Black Book is a fantastic wartime storyline (getting the Jewish revenge storyline in well before Tarantino had any plans to make "Inglourious Basterds"), but a rather dodgy understanding of how insulin works causes problems in the third act.
Black Sheep (2006)
UK release: 12 October 2007
A New Zealand horror comedy which tries to make us scared of sheep and just about succeeds. Following in the footsteps of Peter Jackson's "Braindead" this is a very silly yet highly entertaining film. The limitations of the movie's effects become particularly obvious in the final act, but the charm and humour never lets up.
Cold Prey 2006
UK release: 22 October 2007
Pretty much representing the perfect slasher movie. Most slasher movies have all sorts of problems, perhaps the biggest of which is relateable interesting characters. All the characters here are wonderful, the kills are well-shot, well-portrayed, engaging and impactful. The storyline moves forward in a sensible logical order with a good pace. This first Cold Prey movie is essentially Friday the 13th at a skiing resort (though not as cheesy as that sounds) and the sequel would go on to be essentially "Halloween II" only at a hospital next to a skiing resort.
The Lives of Others (2006)
UK release: 13 April 2007
A wonderful heart-warming story about a Stasi official in East Germany tasked with monitoring a playwright who is a strong believer in communism. It is made very clear, very early on, just how heartless and inhuman the tactics of the Stasi were. There's also some pretty harsh plot points. Still, this story about an unflinchingly loyal member of the Stasi dealing with a conflict between ideology and duty takes the story in unexpected directions.
Planet Terror (2007)
UK release: 9 November 2007
I've never seen the full Grindhouse movie because it has never been released in the UK. All I've seen is the extended cuts of the two movies "Death Proof" and "Planet Terror" which were released here separately. I don't know how well the shorter version of "Planet Terror" worked, but here as a separate piece it doesn't feel like a second is wasted. A rather cool little side-story related to this film is that Rodriguez filmed a whole load of extra scenes so that his son wouldn't realise that he was killed off part way through the movie. Awwww! Anyway, Planet Terror is definitely up there as one of my favourite zombie movies as well as one of my favourite horror comedies.
Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle (2007)
UK release: 5 October 2007
This film caused controversy when it was placed in the "Foreign Language Film" slot at the BAFTAs. Sure it's not in English, but to claim that Scottish Gaelic is a language foreign to Britain is definitely a mistake. "Seachd" was a great celebration of traditional Scottish storytelling and a heartfelt tale about old traditions, the language being a part of that. I don't know that it's one of the best films you'll ever see, but it is a high quality feature and utterly unique.
UK release: 19 October 2007
Another one from Matthew Vaughn, director of "Layer Cake" and "Kick-Ass". It's based on a story written by Neil Gaiman so it has all the dark fairytale elements that come with that. It also has a pretty awesome cast with Peter O'Toole playing a small but significant role and with some rather awesome performances from Mark Strong and Michelle Pfeiffer. A great fantasy story which is pretty much entirely awesome asides from possibly a slightly mushy part towards the end.
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
This was quite a bizarre film in many ways. An old black and white film with a mixture of fairytale and Hitchcock. The 'hunter' in question is a crazy yet charming man claiming to be a preacher who roams the country preying on widows. Having only been caught with a stolen car, he finds himself in prison with a man imprisoned for murder and robbery and works out from what the man says in his sleep that thousands of dollars are hidden somewhere on the man's property.
The actual opening scene of the film has a woman giving children lessons from the Bible and warning against false prophets. There is a very clear theme in this movie of how those claiming to speak 'the word of the Lord' can actually be very scary people indeed. Some of the ways that the 'hunter' (the character is called John Powell) uses religion to manipulate those around him are very creepy indeed. While I found myself amused by the way no one questioned him having "LOVE" and "HATE" on the knuckles of each hand, that became easier to accept as the film went on.
I felt that "Night of the Hunter" had a pretty slow start, but when it gets into it things get pretty hairy and I really enjoyed how things unfolded. There are also some pretty amazing visual moments.
On the less positive side, the pacing isn't perfect. In between some great moments, there are some parts that drag a little. But by far the biggest problem is the ending. And by that, I don't so much mean that the ending spoils the movie. Just that the ending goes on too long. There's a very definite cut-off point where I feel the film should have just stopped and instead the film just keeps on going with elements towards the end being quite simply trivial. This is quite clearly a Hays Code issue. The audience needs to be shown that all crimes are punished and that everything is alright in the end and to hell with a decent ending to a dark film.
Still, the story as a whole is pretty awesome and some individual moments are downright creepy as hell. I had no idea from the relatively clunky beginnings of the film that this would lead to such a mixture of disturbing and beautiful moments, nor that the film would take on a fairytale like style with the wicked stepfather and a magical Snow White-esque 'lost in the woods' section.
4. The Moth Diaries (2011)
A new year begins at a boarding school where many of those attending are dealing with past traumas. Our protagonist, Rebecca, has an extremely close friend, Lucy, who she credits with her progress in coming to terms with the death of her father. But a new arrival at the school called Ernessa serves to drive them apart. Rebecca hates Ernessa from the start, but Rebecca's hatred serves to drive Lucy all the more to take an interest in her.
It's never much of a surprise that Ernessa is a vampire. She's clearly highly suspicious and she seems to be unsubtly suggesting that Rebecca commit suicide like her father did and at other times Ernessa seems to be describing, or at least hinting at, her own death before becoming the undead thing she is now.
But while this tale still draws from the Victorian conception of the vampire, it takes its inspiration from an earlier story than that of Bram Stoker: the story of Carmilla. Carmilla is a story of a female vampire that preys on other women and certainly there seems to be a lesbian implication to the story and there's at least one moment in "The Mother Diaries" where that element becomes explicit in the main story. However, for the most part "The Moth Diaries" isn't about sex, but close female relationships at an age when friendships can be very intense; all the moreso in a boarding school environment.
And the girls are concerned with boys too. Right from the start there are certain girls expressing a concern that they lose their virginity. There's also a question of whether Scott Speedman's teacher character, who introduces the vampire literature and who takes a strong interest in Rebecca's father, might also be a vampire. However, he's actually more of a side-character with his main importance being to display a different sort of predatory approach to the creepier subtler kind put forward by Ernessa.
There are some wonderful moments in this film and the themes are brought out pretty well. I wouldn't say that all the performances were perfect though and more than that there are parts of the film that feel a bit clunky particularly towards the beginning. I also felt that overall the film felt a little too directionless. I felt the ending could have been tied up rather more neatly.
When I say that certain elements were clunky, the most obvious culprit is an annoying bit of product placement. I'm not sure if it was product placement for the "Rock Band" game or for the band "Garbage". Admittedly Garbage have gothic elements, but "Why Do You Love Me?" from their disappointing album "Bleed Like Me" doesn't seem like the most appropriate choice and the message in that scene of "we're all getting along really well asides from the creepy new girl in the corner" felt a little heavy-handed.
I also felt that the film could have done with less actual diary entries. Voice-over is not the best way to push forward a film plot.
Still, I cannot deny that this is a very original take on the vampire legend (or at very least using unoriginal elements in a way that we haven't seen used anything like so often). There's a real mystery as to what kind of vampire Ernessa really is. For example, having made clear that she died of drowning there's a scene where she's forced to do swimming as punishment for being late for gym class where she seems to be practically drowning as she tries to do a length of the pool. For someone who is already dead, she seems strangely vulnerable.
This is a character-driven drama and we get a very clear idea of the mixture of jealousy, fear, psychological trauma, and suicidal inclinations that come over Rebecca, pushed on by the manipulations of Ernessa.
Weird monsters turn up in Ireland and Richard Coyle (from "Coupling" and the adaptation of Pratchett's "Going Postal") plays an alcoholic police officer in a small town where nothing ever happens. He must team up with Ruth Bradley, who plays a teetotaler who is more concerned with doing things properly. Some weird alien monsters appear and Russell Tovey (from "Being Human") plays a scientist who can help them analyse what to do with the alien.
I would avoid revealing this, but I think it's a major source of the appeal of the movie, so the promotional material is already shouting it all over the place... The aliens have a major weakness. They are harmed by alcohol. Attacking someone who is drunk weakens and kills them.
So you can probably guess some elements of what is coming, but I must say that the central romance (as unlikely as it seems at the beginning and, in fact, for most of the runtime of the movie) is handled very well. I was criticised for using "chick-flick" in a derogatory way in my review of "Silver Linings Playbook" recently and its probably a criticism that is absolutely deserved because I do think "chick-flick" is a derogatory term, as do many women who I've heard using the term. But that doesn't mean I have a problem with a decent romantic comedy. Even one with a happy ending where the relationship plays a central role. But I need the relationship to not be utterly banal, I need the comedy to be reasonably funny, and I need the storyline to treat both sexes like real people rather than pushing some kind of "men are from mars, women are from venus" BS.
So yeah, Grabbers has a central romance and the whole storyline is utterly ludicrous from start to finish and sure, the comedy isn't fantastically consistent. But the film is just so much fun that it doesn't matter. And Russell Tovey is awesome of course. Oooh and also the effects work (which was presumably somewhat on the cheap) is really rather good too.
This is a great little horror-comedy for when you feel in the mood for something light, sweet and fun.
6. Hostel (2005)
Ever since I discovered that "Saw" was not so much 'torture porn', but was actually highly derivative of "Se7en", I've been wondering whether "Hostel" would better fit the bill.
Now admittedly once we get to the fifth movie in the "Saw" series the films had become more of a case of traps with a boring irrelevant police drama surrounding them rather than genuinely seeming like they might have some kind of point to them. (Though I'm fairly sure the fans always believed that the police drama elements were leading to a satisfying conclusion that would tie everything up neatly. Even if I don't think the movie series ever really provided anything like that.)
So is "Hostel" more like 'torture porn'. Actually I'm not sure it is. I'd been surprised to hear that "Hostel" had been promoted by Quentin Tarantino considering its reputation, but in the light of "Inglourious Basterds" it actually makes a lot of sense (as I'll explain further on).
We start with a bunch of obnoxious lads getting drunk, partying and chasing women in Amsterdam. To make clear just how sleazy this group of protagonists really are, we regularly see the camera leering at women, clearly showing us the way that these characters are looking at their surroundings in Amsterdam.
There's one character who seems less inclined towards treating women like a cattle market, but he's not actually supposed to be any better than the rest of them. He's more of a 'nice guy (TM)' really, trying to disguise his own feelings of inadequacy and his own lack of confidence as a sign of moral superiority. So this is a case of a group victims being introduced ready for the slaughter to come later in the movie.
The threat comes when a stranger shows them a set of well-lit pictures that look like they come straight out of soft porn, which he claims are pictures he took at a little-known hostel in Slovakia. The pictures clearly show him the middle of a bunch of attractive women, so like lambs to the slaughter our obnoxious protagonists get straight on a train to Slovakia.
On the way to Slovakia, the gang are approached by a man who starts getting a little too familiar with the 'Nice Guy TM' figure. He becomes very angry with the man, so when they see the same man in a bar near the hostel he takes time out there to buy the man a drink and apologise for his outburst.
In Slovakia things look pretty much how they expected initially. All the men seem to quickly find attractive women to hook up with. However, things are not as they seem and there's a clear indication that members of the group have torture and death to look forward to. While the torture and death elements of the film are pretty nasty, the film does not have a one-track focus on it even to the extent of the first "Saw" movie. This film is very much about context and relevance. The majority of the film is more concerned with a growing paranoia and sense of mounting dread rather than with just "showing us another trap" like we might expect from a "Saw" sequel.
Hostel is actually a very intelligent film in many ways. While it might be said that Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes" and "Last House On The Left" were both about what happens when ordinary people are driven to extremes and choose to fight back, "Hostel" is makes that message much more forcefully in my opinion. In the light of having seen "Inglourious Basterds" and heard Eli Roth (Hostel's director) talking about how wonderful he found Tarantino's movie speaking from a Jewish perspective, I really do believe that Hostel is also related to the holocaust and the wish-fulfilment that would come from being able to make a Nazi pay for what they have done.
I hope I'm staying reasonably vague on this. I haven't really explained what is going on at the hostel in Slovakia asides from a general hint of "torture and murder" which I think was probably pretty obvious already. But what I want to convey here is that "Hostel" is, as opposed to anything you might have been told to the contrary, a movie with a proper message at its centre. A message that properly hits home, rather than just a message for the sake of justifying some bloodthirty torture scenes. (We're not talking about "Saw VI"'s cheesy "medical insurance policies suck" message which, while an important enough message, was mostly an excuse to string together a new set of traps.)
So, against all expectations, (particularly during those opening scenes) I ended up loving "Hostel". It's a great horror movie and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Okay so initially I saw the godawful trailer for "Frozen" and all the interest in another movie from the creators of Tangled (my review of "Tangled" here) just felt entirely smothered and smooshed out by the clear suggestion that no one older than 5 would have any interest in this. The problem was the bizarre cuts straight after lines from the snowman character as if those were intended as fantastic one-liners.
Anyway since then gothrockrulz posted the following awesome scene. I've also heard wonderful stuff about the whole premise behind the snowman character on the Kermode and Mayo podcast which makes me a lot more interested in that character now. Frankly, they'd have been better off just using this scene as their advert for the movie:
So here's the interesting bit. An ex-LJ blogger from my f-list beckielric has apparently moved to tumblr and it was there that I found this awesome re-interpretation of the above video. Check it out:
I suppose I'm probably the last person to hear about this, right? The latest Horroretc Podcast had this playing at the beginning and I instantly had to get it....
Turns out these are the same guys who did the amazing soundtrack for the movie "Oblivion". Rewatching that movie recently I was struck by how much more effective that movie was made by its soundtrack, so it seems that the talents of M83 were a major factor in my enjoyment there.
Robot & Frank (2012)
Frank Langella plays a retired man with early signs of Alzheimers. He has two children who are concerned about him. He has his son, played by James Marsden, who is very busy with work but still makes the effort to come and visit him and receives little in the way of cooperation for his efforts. Then on the other hand we have his daughter, Liv Tyler, who is a big leftie spending most of her time on projects abroad (supposedly voluntary rather than professional).
The film is set in the future, so Langella is actually essentially what men currently in their 20s and 30s are going to become when they grow old. One figure in the film pretty much treats Langella as a relic because he lived during the era of 'the printed word'. Still, Langella is clearly not a technophobe. He has little trouble with the advanced technology around him, happily communicating with his daughter via a video screen.
Marsden decides to give Langella a robot to look after him. Langella is not entirely keen on the robot, partly because it's newer technology than he's used to, but also because he doesn't want a nanny. However, and this is the main point of the film, he finds himself becoming very attached to the robot, particularly when he realises that it doesn't have any moral qualms about stealing. Langella's character actually being an ex-cat-burglar who, feeling rather bored, misses his glory days planning robberies.
Initially I thought this film was being extremely clever, since Langella seemed to be able to get away with stealing all too easily. I wondered whether the 'victims' actually knew he was stealing all along and that it playing into their hands somehow. But sadly the film wasn't anything like so subtle and towards the end there were a few twists that were as heavy-handed as they were underwhelming.
The relationship between Frank (played by Frank Langella) and his robot is very well handled and some of this film is very funny. However, the filmmakers appear to have had absolutely no idea how to end this film. It's a real pity because what was a wonderfully enjoyable watch ended up feeling rather flat and inconsequential.
Do not underestimate how much the ending played in causing me to mark down this film. This is well worth checking out and it's very possible that you won't be so let down by the ending as I was. But for me the ending is a massive stumbling block to what might otherwise have been easily a B+ movie, at very least. The film has a lot of heart, some very thoughtful moments, a great deal that is very funny and Frank Langella is utterly brilliant in the central role. There was even a rather clever central theme paralleling Frank's story with that of Don Quixote. This film had a great deal going for it, if only the filmmakers had a better idea of how to wrap things up.
Mary and Martha (2013 TV Movie)
There's an odd combination of talents here. On the one hand there's Phillip Noyce, director of "Salt" and "". The main stars are Brenda Blethyn (one of the actresses who always reminds of Julie Walters but isn't her) and Hilary Swank. James Woods is apparently in this, but even when I worked out which part he was playing I still couldn't quite believe it was him. And finally (and this may be the odd one out here) Richard Curtis is the writer.
Richard Curtis knocked everyone's socks off with "Four Weddings And A Funeral" and while he's done a fair amount else that has been very entertaining (not least the wonderful Van Gogh centred Doctor Who episode), very little of it has really reached the same standard. A great deal of Curtis's work seems to be following a formula to play on the heart strings and can be hard to really take seriously.
I can see how Phillip Noyce felt this was an important film to make. He's clearly putting his all into making every scene work emotionally and visually. But unfortunately there's just line after line which just grates somehow. Hilary Swank's character keeps referring to people as bastards. She's not saying this about people around her, just people she references. At one point she refers to a figure in African history as a bastard and then later on she even refers to the fictional character of Marty McFly from "Back To The Future" as a bastard (seemingly because he has a time machine and she doesn't *shrugs*).
While it's quirky for some characters to meet an African in Mozambique who prefers country and western music, little quirky details like this became a bit tired after a while.
On the one hand, Brenda Blethyn plays a working class British mother with a drop-out son who goes on a gap year to teach in Mozambique and dies of Malaria after giving away his preventative pills to the orphans living in the school where he teaches. Meanwhile, Hilary Swank plays a super rich American mother who decides to take her son out of the state school where he is being bullied; not so she can put him into a wonderful private school which she could so clearly afford, but rather to teach him herself during a life-changing trip to Mozambique. While in Africa, it turns out they inexplicably managed to buy a battered mosquito net with big a hole in it. Her son gets bitten and is too far gone before she can work out what is wrong with him.
The two mothers eventually decide to campaign for the American government to provide increased levels of aid to Africa in order to lessen the enormous numbers of deaths.
The first half of the film is rather sweet, but the second half gets excessively preachy. I felt rather betrayed by the way that the film went from dealing with multiple real characters to a couple of mothers involved in mutual navel-gazing grief. It would have been nice if some of the native Africans could have been made into 3 dimensional characters, rather than spending a whole load of time in the second half over in America watching a rich American woman lobby her local representative.
The Impossible (2012)
I included this in my Halloween marathon this year during October. It might seem like a bit of a sneaky pick in a horror marathon, but to be quite frank this film about the Asian tsunami shows truly horrific imagery, often using what I'd consider to be techniques we'd normally expect from a horror genre movie. Okay sure, there's no inappropriate loud bangs and the whole thing is well-lit, but what difference does that make? Perhaps the horror elements are so strong at least partly because director Juan Antonio Bayona is a horror director. His previous film (all the way back in 2007) being "The Orphanage".
As with most horror movies we begin by being introduced to the victims. They are a typical British family going on holiday to Thailand. When they get to the resort they are told there's been a booking error, so instead of getting the sea view room they discover they are going to be staying in a gorgeous villa situated right next to the shared pool. They are all expecting a wonderful holiday.
And there's also foreshadowing. The middle child finds himself very easy scared, while the oldest child seems very cocky and doesn't worry about anything. Could that be important to character development later? I say this as if its a cheesy plot element, but it's just one example of how the film builds up proper characters rather than having indistinguishable 'happy family' members.
Not long into the movie we get the moment we've been expecting. The tsunami hits and everything is sent into disarray. I'd presumed that this would end fairly quickly and it wouldn't be long before we were just watching the family members try to reunite. However, the terror of being caught in an utterly brutal tsunami wave is captured fully and we see very clearly later in the film how their actions are coloured by the traumatic events they've experienced.
After the initial wave hits (and there's some pretty amazing and highly realistic effects to portray that) the first thing we see straight after is one character hanging onto a tree screaming. And the nightmare has only just begun...
There are admittedly some more sentimental parts of this film, but it earns every last one of them. New York Magazine's negative review of "The Impossible" complains that it is "not so much an inspiring tale of survival as it is an action flick". Many of the negative opinion of this movie is directly connected to its genre movie stylistic elements.
But I'm not the only one to see this as a plus. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (yes, I am getting all these quotes from RT, why do you ask?) calls the film "... a terrific horror movie, one that genuinely grips and shocks its audience and forces empathy with the would-be victims." I see no reason to avoid counting movies like "The Impossible" or "Black Swan" as horror just because they are well-made, have a decent budget and are not cheesy.
Ewan McGregor isn't pretending to be English or American here and I think he has a much more natural performance as a result. I find it a lot harder to emotionally invest in his character in movies like "The Ghost" where he's trying to pretend he's not Scottish. Naomi Watts on the other hand IS putting on an English accent, but having actually been born in Kent she doesn't find it hard to switch to that from her everyday Australian accent (as we saw in "Eastern Promises").
Naomi Watts is getting a lot of heat right now for her performance in the recent bio-pic "Diana" about Princess Diana. Partly because the film is apparently horrendous, but also because she was very cagey and walked out of an interview with Simon Mayo in spite of the questions being pretty unambiguously inoffensive. But even if not all Naomi Watts' projects are brilliant, she is an incredible actress and some people on the IMDB boards were asking, quite rightly I feel, whether she wasn't more deserving of an Oscar for this than Jennifer Lawrence was for "Silver Linings Playbook".
One last thing I'm going to need to bring up because apparently a source of controversy is the race issue. To start with the strongest criticism, it has been noted that the Asian Tsunami affected a whole variety of countries populated with POCs and so the decision to pick a white western family as the focal point of the disaster in its depiction on the big screen seems somewhat dodgy. I'm not sure why nearly every family depicted in American movies seems to have an enormous house you'd have to be massively rich to ever hope to afford. I'm not sure why Spielberg feels so keen to release World War II movies where practically everyone involved in the war seems to be American. I'm not sure why so many leading male actors are allowed to be lacking conventional beauty while pretty much every leading female actor seems to be expected to be practically a model. There is something highly bizarre in the priorities of filmmakers and I realise this. However, I don't think "The Impossible" is one of the worst cases of this by a long shot.
In Thailand a large proportion of victims were holiday makers for the simple reason that tourists mostly wanted to stay close to the beach while locals tended to live in cities further away from the sea. As a result, there were nearly as many tourists killed as there were Thai people killed. To focus on tourists is not failing to be representative of the deaths involved in this tragedy. Tourists made up nearly half the people killed in Thailand by this tragedy and many of them (including the family this film is based on) wanted their story told. But there is no lack of Thai people in the film and the variety of nationalities affected by the catastrophe is also made very clear indeed. Interestingly many of the extras were actual tsunami survivors.
But one thing I need to make very clear is that the family at the centre of the movie were not 'white-washed'. To say the original family were hispanic is misleading. They weren't from Latin America, they were from Spain. As such, they were no more "non-white" than Italians or Greeks. What's more, this is very much a Spanish film. It has a Spanish director and a predominately Spanish crew and while I'm sure they'd probably have been similarly happy with Javier Bardem (who comes from the canary islands and starred in the Spanish movie "The Sea Inside") and Penelope Cruz (who is actually Spanish) if they could get them, it would have been far less appropriate to bring in Mexican actors like Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas just because they speak Spanish. Personally I'd be just as upset with Mexicanising the family as I would be with Americanising them. Sure not everyone in the world is white, but similarly not everyone in the world is from the American continent.
The family "The Impossible" is based on at the film's premiere.
The original family were European, so they are portrayed as a European family of tourists and the crew were extremely pleased to have Naomi Watts and Ewan MacGregor to take those roles. So while I agree that there is an opening for a tsunami movie about locals rather than tourists and that perhaps that should have come first, I think the accusations of white-washing here are entirely misplaced.
"The Impossible" is both terrific and terrifying and it doesn't surprise me to hear that the 12A certificate misled audiences as to what to expect so much that there were audience members throwing up and fainting in the cinema. (And "Amelie" is still a '15'. What the hell?) As important as this film is, it is not a film for children. I'm quite pleased to accept horror movies for children, but this is not Gremlins. It is nothing so tame as that.
The Reef (2010)
This is a simple story of a group of people who find themselves having to swim for shore if they don't want to drift out to sea and drown. But there are sharks in the water and it's risky.
The story is pretty simple. We have a group of five people going sailing. They get into difficulty, they have to abandon the boat. They have to try to avoid shark attacks.
One handy thing for a horror movie here is that most of the movie consists in mind-numbing fear of a threat that cannot be seen. The focus is able to stay with the characters and build up the paranoia. There doesn't need to be much spectacle.
"The Reef" is performed pretty well and it builds up the fear pretty well, but I didn't feel like there was an awful lot in the way of content. It felt like the story was stretched out and that the pacing was a little uneven. While I finished the movie thinking "that was really good" I can't help but notice how forgettable the film seems to be afterwards.
This isn't a film that will disappoint you, but its not a classic either. This is a good little enjoyable film, but it's not going to make many top ten lists. Except possibly a 'shark attack movies' top ten list since that's rather specific and so I guess managing that much is nothing to sneeze at.