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- 12/24/13--05:24: _Happy Christmas To ...
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- 12/28/13--11:29: _A Superb Cast In "B...
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- 01/01/14--07:06: _Last Minute Reviews...
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- 01/09/14--09:52: _Movies about horror...
- 01/11/14--11:46: _"Warrior King" is s...
- 01/12/14--08:50: _Awesome Song: "Radi...
- 01/13/14--14:43: _Zombie Movies! "Wor...
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- 01/15/14--15:09: _Welcome To Fatpie42...
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- 12/24/13--05:24: Happy Christmas To Everyone On Livejournal!
- 12/30/13--15:31: Horror Movies! Vampires And Found-Footage
- 01/01/14--11:51: Movie Guide: January 2014 - March 2014
- 01/02/14--15:39: Movie Guide: April 2014 - June 2014
- 01/03/14--12:11: Movie Guide: July 2014 - December 2014
- 01/05/14--06:57: Movie Guide: Movies Without A UK Release Date
- 01/05/14--17:38: Upcoming Movies At A Glance: All My Top Movie Picks For 2014
- 01/09/14--09:52: Movies about horror directors James Whale and Friedrich Murnau
- 01/12/14--08:50: Awesome Song: "Radioactive Dreams" by Sue Saad
- 01/14/14--19:18: Awesome Song: "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)" by Tom Waits
- 01/15/14--15:09: Welcome To Fatpie42's Blog!
- 01/17/14--14:39: Blooming Ghost Stories! "The Changeling" and "Sinister"
- 01/27/14--15:25: Two Very Musical Movies: "Frozen" and "Inside Llewyn Davis"
I hope all my friends and readers on livejournal have a wonderful time this Christmas!
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
I was rather happier with the first Hobbit movie than everyone else, to say the least. I've read all the Lord of the Rings books and I'd generally been pretty unhappy with the films Peter Jackson made. It's not so much that I thought they were awful, but I was generally pretty disappointed. I could not begin to understand the recognition given to the movie of "Return of the King" when the movie I saw in the cinema was essentially one great big long battle scene finishing with 15 consecutive endings. Admittedly I preferred the extended editions, but not enough to wax lyrical about the movie series.
Immediately I preferred "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" because I felt it did a much better job at capturing the mood of the book. I was also surprised to find myself extremely pleased with the decision to extent the Hobbit to multiple films. For the first time, The Hobbit movies are introducing me to the various elements from the appendices that even many Tolkien fans could never be bothered to read. Finally these movies reveal what has been happening in the background and what information Bilbo Baggins was always missing. The Arkenstone, introduced to us in the first movie, is actually found in the original "The Hobbit" except neither Bilbo nor the reader ever fully understand its significance. Finally the mystery has been solved.
Naturally, as with any adaptation, some liberties have been taken with the original material, but perhaps the most interesting changes here involve the character of Bard. In the original novel Bard had one task to complete in the story. While the importance of that task is made pretty clear in the novel, not much time is spent on it and the character of Bard was never really developed very far. In the movie Bard is a fully-fledged character with a wider importance for the central narrative of the story. This allows us to understand his character properly without it feeling tacked on. (And we also get a rather neat little character played by Stephen Fry in relation to this section of the film.)
Another element here is that we are given more clues as to the malign nature of Bilbo's ring. I had found myself deeply confused when I first heard the beginning of Lord of the Rings. The idea that Bilbo's magical ring was actually evil always struck me out of left field. It's like being told that Link's Master Sword from Legend of Zelda was evil. What was previously just a helpful item is now revealed to be something disturbing. And in the first Lord of the Rings movie it quickly became so clear how evil the ring was that it became confusing how Bilbo could ever have missed it. Well here we see more explicit clues as to the true nature of the ring along with clear signs of how Bilbo might fail to acknowledge those clues.
Another element here is the introduction of not simply a new female elvish character but also a cross-species love triangle. It kind of works, but not quite (in my opinion). But overall, the elves expertly taking down Orcs was entertaining enough that I could forgive a lot. Where I found myself less able to just go along with things however, was in the final scenes.
You can tell from the title of the movie that towards the end of the movie we are going to see the dragon Smaug. I didn't realise til afterwards, but the dragon is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. He does a fantastic job in the role. However, to make for a longer and more entertaining climax, there is a lot of running around in the final scenes and it is here where I feel that the filmmakers make a terrible mistake. All through the final act I find myself constantly asking myself "why doesn't the dragon just breathe fire on everyone?" It seems like the dragon has endless opportunity to annihilate all his enemies. Yet he keeps missing those opportunities, over and over again. Now admittedly I have no problem with the use of slapstick in these movies. I think that element is really playing to Peter Jackson's strengths and I think it works much better with the tone of the Hobbit than it did when Legolas the elf slid down an elephant's trunk in "Return of the King".
Overall "Desolation of Smaug" was a lot of fun. But it didn't pull me along in quite the same way as the first movie did. I think part of the problem here is that this is the middle child of the trilogy. It has to act as a bridge between the opening movie where anything is possible and the third and final movie where everything is to be wrapped up. It is, admittedly, a hell of a lot of fun. However, I found it difficult to be fully pulled in this time. Still a lot more fun than the Lord of the Rings movies mind you...
In a police station seemingly plagued by nepotism, Brian Cox plays the old retired head of a local police station, while Stephen Graham and Paul Bettany play the two brothers who are now working in the police station that their father used to run. Apparently there was a time when their father was also their boss and he also showed favouritism towards them, giving less recognition to Mark Strong's character who also worked there and still works alongside the two brothers.
Brian Cox's character regularly tells stories about the heavy-handed methods that were used in the past to extract information and confessions from suspects. The two brothers become convinced that they should use similar techniques with their current case, but something goes wrong.
The big mistake causes guilt to well up in both brothers and Mark Strong's character seems to be better at sniffing out clues than they give him credit for. Meanwhile, even with Alzheimers, Brian Cox's ex-police chief character has a sense of what is going on around him.
Sadly overall the film is rather formulaic. The problem is that the film is wonderfully acted and wonderfully directed but rather flimsily written.
There's a wonderfully effective scene where Paul Bettany is deliberately upsetting a witness with obsessive compulsive disorder while undermining his testimony. The effect of each action he does, such as moving the witness's household items around or touching things the witness wouldn't want touched, is made abundantly clear to the audience. But the problem is, obsessive compulsive disorder is becoming rather tropey these days and when this character is thrown in out of the blue, it feels rather cheap to give him this disorder. So while the direction and acting in that scene is magnificent, the whole premise of it feels fake.
This isn't just a one-off issue. It's prevalent throughout the film. Everything is wonderfully acted and all emotional points are laid out well by the director, but the story is just too cliched for its own good. And over the course of the storyline it's not simply that the ending feels inevitable, like in a Greek tragedy, but that the way the plot fails to move on feels frustrating. It's not even a pacing problem. It's a "for goodness sake won't you just stop being an idiot" problem.
"Blood" had a lot of potential, but the script needed a severe re-write.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)
Riz Ahmed appears to be making a career out of projects related to the East/West divide and the War on Terror. I first saw him in a TV mini-series called "Britz" where he played a Pakistani who decided to enlist with MI5 to spy on potential Islamist terrorist threats within his local community. The second part of the drama was about his sister gradually becoming radicalised, which I found rather messed up what had been done in the first half. Still, Riz Ahmed was an entertaining lead.
I saw him again in the Islamist terrorist comedy "Four Lions". That was a bit of a weird project and I felt a little uncomfortable about the idea, but I gave it a watch. Initially it turned out to feel a bit like "Only Fools And Horses" with Islamist terrorists. It's about a group of ridiculous people who have a goal they are clearly never going to achieve, except that instead of becoming millionaires it's blowing themselves up as martyrs. That actually worked well for a while, but when they turned out to be capable of wiring a bomb up properly in the second half my opinion of the film dropped dramatically. Still, once again, Riz Ahmed was a confident lead.
So is "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" finally the awesome project which is going to shoot Riz Ahmed into international stardom? Probably not. But is it finally a film which does Riz Ahmed justice? Well, I'm afraid I'm not sure. Riz Ahmed's is still clearly giving a strong performance, but as with all these projects I find it hard to fully suspend my disbelief. Perhaps this is a problem with the kind of projects Riz Ahmed selects, but I didn't have this problem with "Zero Dark Thirty" or "The Infidel" (to pick two sides of the spectrum). It may just be that Riz Ahmed's performances do not ever seem genuine to me. I can appreciate what he is doing, but I can't ever seem to take it at face value.
Here Riz Ahmed's protagonist starts off by working for a big financial company. He has to work very hard to get in and Kiefer Sutherland is fantastic as his pushy boss. Eventually though, he finds his ethics being pushed to breaking point by the job. He's a pretty liberal Muslim, drinking alcohol and having pre-marital sex. Rather these are ethical considerations which might test any reasonable person. And eventually Ahmed's character decides to go back to Pakistan and become a teacher.
But where we start the film, Ahmed is already a teacher and he is telling his story to a journalist, who actually seems to have ties to the CIA. Perhaps it's Ahmed's innocent face, but I actually have real trouble accepting he's a villain. Liev Schrieber who plays the CIA guy/journalist(?) clearly suspects him and Ahmed makes a few incendiary comments, but it's all too clear that the film is just playing with expectations. There's never really any good reason given to the audience why they should suspect Ahmed of anything and the whole storyline of his career as an economist in the US ends up feeling like a massive tangent, when perhaps it might have been better off being the main focus of the film.
As a Pakistani economist who faces racial profiling and racial hatred after the 9/11 attacks and becomes disillusioned as a result - I can just about buy into that storyline. But the insinuation that he then went back to Pakistan and became a terrorist? I know this is based on a book, so perhaps they skipped over a vital step, but we never seem to have any explanation as to why he is under suspicion.
In the end "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" is a bit of a mess. I really wanted to like this and I really think there's a more suitable project for Riz Ahmed out there somewhere. But somehow so much of the War On Terror-related fiction seems to be lacking in depth. Perhaps "Zero Dark Thirty" made the right decision by showing events as face value and withholding moral judgements. Whenever these types of films try to get preachy it generally seems to fall flat. (I should probably point out that "The Infidel" isn't really about the War on Terror, so it doesn't have the same problems.)
A Hijacking (2012)
Admittedly I saw this quite a while back. My main disincentive for seeing "Captain Phillips" was that, to be quite frank, it didn't have a hope in hell of being as good as this. Heck, the trailer for Captain Phillips had Tom Hanks and the leader of the pirates talking sociology together. (And after the bizarre simplified politics of "Green Zone", not to mention the fairly vacuous 'revelations' of the Bourne movies, I'm not sure I can trust Greengrass to handle a subject like this well).
"A Hijacking" is a Danish movie which splits its attention between the crew on the ship and a member of the company tasked with negotiating with the pirates. As an expert negotiator when it comes to contracts, our protagonist safely back in the company building is not prepared to delegate responsibility for the crew of this ship to anyone else. He takes the whole business very seriously. However, the pressure doesn't only come from the crew being kept at sea with their lives in danger, but also from the other company heads who are rather less than patient with the whole negotiation process.
The pacing is fantastic and I feel like the film is made more tense by the distinct lack of a musical score. There's almost a documentary feel to the movie, not because of a shaky cam or anything like that, but just because the tension comes from the situation and not from dramatic music.
The way the pirates are handled would also very interesting. Most of the pirates do not speak any language that the members of the crew we see can understand. There's one that we spend more time with than any other and while he's not always completely standoffish, he never stops holding his gun facing pretty much straight at the captive crewmembers and there's always a sense that he's more toying with the crew rather than making friends with them. There's also a very manipulative figure who speaks perfect English and seems to be in charge of negotiations, but refuses to accept any suggestion that he himself is a pirate. He claims to be as much at the pirates mercy as anyone else, though it seems fairly clear that this isn't true.
The most interesting element of this film are the mind games involved. That is why the focus on the company negotiator is so clever. While we see the helplessness of the crew, we also see the helplessness of the negotiators who have very little control over the situation. Not a minute is wasted in this excellent drama.
Recently a lot of people have been feeling a bit vampired-out. It seems like we've seen practically every single possible interpretation of the vampire mythos imagineable. Still one of the most interesting recent takes on the vampire tale was "Let The Right One In" which managed to bring the vampire tale into the modern day in a very genuine way without losing the original sinister side of the vampire.
"Byzantium" follows a similar pattern of making the vampire myth seem realistic without forgetting the vampire roots. There's a great cast here with Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement", "Hanna"), Gemma Arteton ("Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters", "The Disappearance of Alice Creed") and Caleb Landry Jones ("X-Men: First Class", "Antiviral"). There's also an appearance from Daniel Mays ("Vera Drake", "Made In Dagenham").
Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arteton are on top form. Right from the start it feels hard to understand why these two people would be together or why, as becomes obvious in flashbacks, they should remain so unchanged (not just in appearance, but also in character and behaviour) from centuries past. It turns out that there is a rather clever explanation for this. The vampire lore here is very well thought out while also being suitably enigmatic.
Caleb Landry Jones, just like in "Antiviral", is playing a very sickly character. I was concerned initially that he might be trying and failing to put on a British accent of some sort, but as it turns out, his character's American accent is intentional.
The way the story unfolds, tying together the past and the present and examining the timelessness of the vampires' lives, is quite extraordinary. The relationship element isn't as well fleshed out as in "Let The Right One In", but it makes for a pretty interesting story all the same.
This is a fantastic urban fantasy vampire story from the director of "The Company of Wolves". Excellent casting helps to ensure that this interpretation of the vampire mythos is brilliantly realised on screen. While this is clearly following in the footsteps of earlier vampire stories, it still has a unique feel and is a must-see for fans of urban fantasy like "Night Watch" or "Let The Right One In".
The Bay (2012)
This admittedly had pretty widespread poor reviews, but every now and then I'd hear something semi-positive about it and I became convinced that it must have something good about it. Apparently the science elements have been pretty thorough. However, the inescapable problem is that "The Bay" is supposed to be a found-footage horror movie and it is so horrendously booooring. It is boring as hell!
Found footage movies often have various tricks up their sleeve to make up for a lack of musical score and dramatic music. They have ways of building up mood and tension. "The Bay", however, just feels like one long series of scenes gradually revealing what is causing the catastrophe at the bay. But there's very little to actually get me interested in what is happening.
Pretty much any individual scene is great. There are some great actors here including Kristen Connolly (from "Cabin In the Woods"), Stephen Denham (from "Sound of my Voice") and Stephen Kunken (who I've never seen before, but who is brilliant as the unfortunate doctor who tries to help the victims of the catastrophe). But the film ends up looking like simply what it is: a collection of scenes haphazardly edited together. There's no real sense of narrative to the piece apart from that forced in there by uninspiring narration.
The director, Barry Levinson, is perhaps most well known for his movie "Rain Man" starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. He's clearly a capable director, but this is an experiment which does not pay off for him. I wonder whether it isn't the director's reputation which has kept the Rotten Tomatoes score as high as 77%. But there is no excuse for a film this unengaging, least of all from an accomplished filmmaker who we know can do better.
I liked the first V/H/S. Sure the middle sections connecting the anthology of short films were dire, but the individual short films themselves were mostly pretty good. There was more to like than not to like and I counted that as a win.
Little did I know that this sequel would absolutely wipe the floor with it. Sure, the early reviews and the trailer both gave me reason to hope, but I always took such claims with a pinch of salt, but I must admit that V/H/S/2 is superior to the original film in pretty much every single possible respect.
There is one less short film here than last time and I suspect that is at least partly because of the length of the segment entitled "Safe Haven" by Timo Tjahjanto, who has worked on a number of small-time horror projects before, and Gareth Huw Evans, who directed the martial arts film "The Raid: Redemption". The 'Safe Haven' short film in V/H/S/2 is definitely the main attraction. It is the story of a creepy cult and when things move in a more Lovecraftian direction it just gets better and better. I wasn't a huge fan of "The Raid: Redemption" because I found the martial arts work became repetitive. Possibly more of a movie for hardcore martial arts fans who can better appreciate the fighting moves on offer, rather than for more general audiences like myself who are looking for an easily comprehensible spectacle (such as is provided by Prachya Pinkaew in movies like "Ong Bak", "Warrior King" and "Chocolate"). Still, there is no doubting Evans' skill and I am glad to see that he is planning more joint horror projects with Tjahjanto in the future.
'Clinical trials', the first segment of V/H/S/2 is okay. It's a ghost story, but it's effective. Considering that I hate most ghost stories, take that as a compliment. The initial premise is a robotic eye, which doesn't seem that different from the video glasses segment in the last movie or, indeed, from movies like the Pang Brothers' "The Eye". However, when our protagonist specifically asks towards the beginning whether he can turn the camera off and is told emphatically "no", that's your first clue that this particular horror trope is going to be used well. Being forced to see things which shock you is a pretty primal horror trope and this story is given a short period of time to really bring that message home. It does so admirably and makes for a good start to this anthology.
The second short film, 'A Ride In The Park', turns out to be showing us a zombie's perspective. To the filmmakers who made the ultra-low budget "Colin": Take note! THIS is how you do a zombie perspective movie that doesn't bore your audience to tears, okay? Short, effective, brilliant. We start off with an ordinary guy wearing a 'Go' camera strapped to his head, we see what he sees, he gets bitten by a zombie, and from that point on we have a zombie-cam. The film is quite inventive in the scenarios it puts out first-person-perspective zombie through and this was some great intense found-footage horror as a result.
Sadly, V/H/S/2 does not leave the best til last. 'Safe Haven' is the third segment, but the final segment, 'Slumber Party Alien Abduction' , is by far the least impressive of the films here. That being said, this is still good enough to easily compete with the films from the previous 'V/H/S' movie. On the one hand, aliens keep announcing themselves with a foghorn/vuvuzuela noise and it really got on my nerves. On the other hand, we get to watch a lot of the action through a camera attached to a dog and that was a pretty fun idea. The characters in this section are annoying. Still, this is a good fun little short film and as a the runt of the litter it doesn't do too badly. If the whole of V/H/S/2 was this bland, I'd be singing a rather different tune though.
Another rather bland aspect of "V/H/S/2" is the wraparound sequences (known here as "Tape 49"). That's still an improvement on the first "V/H/S" movie since the wraparound sequences were barely watchable in the first film. The final ending is kind of satisfying. Still, V/H/S/2 is, once again, more about the short films than the central narrative tying it together.
Anthology movies are rarely absolutely perfect from start to finish, but for me this is up there with the classic "Creepshow" (though rather more genuinely horrifying).
Jason Statham has made a name for himself by taking on mostly action movies. His first big central movie role was in "Snatch" where he played the character of Turkish. In the movie "Snatch" Statham acted alongside Stephen Graham who went on to become rather more sought-after because of his performance as the racist ex-con Combo in "This Is England" (and Graham has since taken on the role of Al Capone in the series "Boardwalk Empire"). Both Statham and Graham have been playing mostly tough guys since that earlier outing in "Snatch", but for Statham this was becoming a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, playing ultra-tough guys has made him a household name. On the other hand, we're now snowed-under with so many Statham action flicks that he's at risk of being associated more with disposable entertainment than genuinely entertaining films. More of a Van Damme rather than Schwarzenegger? (Not sure everyone will find that characterisation of the problem works for them, but you get the idea.)
Early on it's easy to get the impression that "Hummingbird" is a revenge flick. While there's a kind of element of revenge involved, that's not the main focus. Much more important, however, is the personal connection which Statham makes with the nun Cristina who runs a local soup kitchen. Her nunnery are known as the "Sisters of Redemption" and it is from here, rather than any genuine themes in the film, that the title of "Redemption" ended up being substituted on American release.
The really interesting thing about "Hummingbird" is the sense that Statham's character of Joey and the nun Cristina are somehow living in a world outside of the typical one. In their own different ways they are rebels who nevertheless somewhat regret their rebellion and are really seeking a kind of order. There's a deep sense of religious guilt from both characters.
I have an issue, however, with the way Statham's prior stint in Afghanistan is handled. It's not always clear what the point is supposed to be in relation to those elements. There's often a sense that there must be some kind of political point being made about Statham's time as a soldier, but actually I think the only really point there is simply that his time in Afghanistan looms over him in the form of PTSD. It's something he can never leave behind. This is demonstrated through the theme of drones watching over him, even in London. It's not a theme that works well, but I can see what the director was trying to do all the same.
Still, the main interaction between Statham's protagonist Joey and the nun Cristina makes for a very compelling film. We also get to see the actor Benedict Wong here as part of the Chinese mafia. Wong is often brilliant. I first saw him in the tv series "State of Play". He's generally pretty understated in his performances, but my favourite performance from him may actually be his appearance on the comedy show "The IT Crowd" as 'Prime' the leader of an underground group formed from winners of the tv quiz show 'Countdown'. Here we see him in possibly his best serious role yet. There's a real gravitas to his performance and it's great to see him being given a role which really allows him to shine, while also taking full advantage of his more understated approach.
"Hummingbird" is perhaps a bit inconsistent in pace and tone and the significance of Statham's character's past in Afghanistan often feels a little enigmatic. However, the central characters are well-developed and this is a really intriguing little story. Perhaps not really trailblazing into new territory, but a highly accomplished piece of work all the same. Jason Statham gets the opportunity to be a rather more 3-dimensional tough guy than normal here and makes the most of it.
This here is my main reason for scepticism when "X Men: Days Of Future Past" comes out next year. I'd heard that this wasn't great, but I hadn't expected "Jack The Giant Slayer" to be this bad. After being disappointed with Nicolas Hoult's other film this year, "Warm Bodies", I was hoping this would at least feature another great performance from him. Sadly, while Hoult is still clearly a great actor, he comes off as a pretty bland protagonist here. And he's not the only one coming off worse than expected.
I haven't seen Eleanor Tomlinson in anything else, but she was a pretty bland love interest. Ewan McGregor, who was so wonderful in "The Impossible" this year, is doing his ill-fated posh English accent again and feels horribly miscast as a Royal Knight. Stanley Tucci is actively awful here as a treacherous and sinister figure. Ewen Bremner (Spud from "Trainspotting") does rather better, however, as Tucci's semi-comic relief second-in-command.
The film begins with a whole computer animated section which feels rather dated now that we have wholly computer animated movies of far higher quality. Guillermo Del Toro had an animated section for background information in "Hellboy II" but while he used distinctive stop-motion puppetry, Bryan Singer appears to have chosen fairly uninspiring CG effects that would look pretty unimpressive in a cut-scene from a five year old video game.
Unlike the far superior "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" which followed on from an existing fairytale, "Jack The Giant Slayer" actually alters the background of the original story. Jack grows up hearing a story about magical beans, as well a magical crown which controls the giants. In fact, it feels like the film might have done better without a connection to the "Jack and the Beanstalk" story at all. The connection is so flimsy and secondary to the main story that it feels a little forced.
In the end, "Jack The Giant Slayer" is a generic, predictable children's blockbuster film with bland flat characters and mostly uninspiring action sequences. I was pretty bored during this one.
Sophia Coppola is an odd sort of director. Her first film "Lost In Translation" benefitted from some very funny improvised lines. However, the film as a whole wasn't a comedy at all and unfolded very slowly. Perspectives on the film as a whole vary from either "beautiful and moving" to "boring as hell". I'm inclined towards the latter camp. However, I was much more impressed by "Marie Antoinette" which used modern music in the beautifully shot costume drama to show us the bizarre paradise in which Marie Antoinette lived. However, it is now becoming clear that Coppola is a filmmaker who has more interest in the visuals and tone of her movies than in a compelling narrative.
"The Bling Ring" once again is beautifully filmed. We get a clear impression of the passions of this small group of vain teenagers who are obsessed with fashion and celebrity. While they are somewhat obnoxious, we are immersed into their world and get to see the appeal. The only problem is that being immersed into their world is a rather repetitive experience overall.
The story of "Bling Ring" is of a set of older teenagers who idolise celebrities like Paris Hilton. I found myself struck by the fact that I was often being shown images of celebrities who I had never even heard of. Most of these teenagers are girls, but one is a boy. It's never openly stated that the boy is gay, but it's fairly clearly implied. He's entirely uninterested in romantic opportunities with any of his female friends and his style of dress also doesn't strike me as emulating typical heterosexual male celebrities.
These teenagers all go to loud clubs and drink together, seemingly allowed in and unquestioned because the girls are attractive and therefore good for business there. (Some of them might well be 18, but none appear to be any older than that. In some states that may mean they can legally drink so long as someone else buys the alcohol for them, but in any case the venue looks like one where you'd normally expect them to be simply booted out.)
When they decide to find the location of Paris Hilton's house, easily make their way inside and even walk off with Paris Hilton's belongings, they begin doing so at many other celebrities homes too. Paris Hilton's home is actually used to film many scenes in the film, so we get to see just how extravagant the home they discovered really was. (Paris actually has her own face on the cusions.) While the protagonists are expressing how amazingly beautiful Paris' home is, I was personally remarking on how amazingly garish the place appeared to me.
It feels fairly unsurprising to see that some of the girls are home-schooled with a very airy-fairy philosophy. What was rather more surprising was that not only their home-schooling, but even their local Church apparently took many cues from Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret". "The Secret" is a self-help book which promotes a concept which is best described as "cosmic ordering". The idea is that if you want something enough, you will get it. It hardly seems surprising that this kind of philosophy would lead to an attitude characterised by the character Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer as: "Want. Take. Have." The idea seemed to be that if you want something enough you will receive it. The home-schooling even uses celebrities as inspiration for the children.
While it's amazing to see the audacity of these teenagers in stealing from celebrities and then wearing and selling the items they steal and even inviting friends along to the celebrity houses, the film could really have done with rather more happening. It's actually quite interesting to see what happens when some of them are finally caught, but it actually felt like a more interesting film was about to start right when the film wraps up. The consequences of these crimes don't work out quite how you'd expect.
Emma Watson is great in the lead role and in fact all the actors do a great job here, however way too much of what we see here is filler. There's a great story to be told here and this film barely seems to get started telling it. This is beautifully filmed and sets up a clear tone, but I didn't really feel like I was told a story.
Okay, look, I know Jack Black is acting his heart out here. This is, admittedly, the closest I've ever seen him to playing a different character from normal. However, I still think his acting is rather limited in scope. Still, the real problem here is that this is a film trying to pose itself as a comedy and yet almost entirely lacking in jokes. As it turns out at the end, this was based on a true story, but for most of the runtime this appears to be treated as a secret, but the story would have been a great deal more interesting if I'd known it wasn't simply made up by a scriptwriter.
There's a bizarre choice by director Richard Linklater to set this up in a faux documentary style, so half the time is spent hearing various figures from the town in which the film is set gossip away. Most of these characters being interviewed are given very little to do within the actual film.
Matthew McConaughey actually seems to be the best at balancing the tone here, but he doesn't really seem terribly important until the final act of the film. In fact, nothing seems to be very important until the final act of the film. If they were going to make this into a faux documentary, it might have made sense to centre the entire film around the court case towards the end, but that simply isn't the film we're presented with here.
The premise of "Bernie" is actively advertised as being about a funeral director who kills a woman. Now this murder doesn't happen until a seriously long way through the film. The point is that Bernie is a character who practically everyone in the town seems to love, while the person he ends up killing is someone who most people in the town did not want anything to do with. I can see how this scenario might be ripe for black comedy, but this film simply wasn't funny and that's all there is to it.
Earlier this year I was seized with the desire to watch everything from writer/director Joe Ahearne. He worked on a tv series back in the 90s about vampires with Jack Davenport and Idris Elba called "Ultraviolet" and a rather interesting tv series about exorcisms starring Martin Shaw in the early 2000s called "Apparitions". Both are well worth your time.
In between those two Ahearne released a tv movie called "Trance". Danny Boyle had apparently been quite interested in possibly making this at the time, but in the end it didn't happen and Ahearne ended up making it himself. Boyle decision to return to this project and give it a go seemed to be accompanied with an acknowledgement that his early films still represent his best work. He accepts that there is something grittier about "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting" to which he'd like to return, so "Trance" was apparently his opportunity to get back to that. Having now seen Boyle's remake of "Trance", I feel it was a bit of a vain hope.
"Trance" explores the process of hypnotism and the functioning of the mind. Themes such as trust and power are vital to this story. The problem with the original film was that the ending felt a little convoluted, but overall I didn't feel like this was an enormous problem. Here in Boyle's movie however, I actually think it feels more convoluted. Boyle is clearly attempting to make things tie up better, but while on the one hand that means that the surprises don't come out of nowhere, it also makes them a great deal less surprising too. The main shocking moment towards the climax of the original tv movie just falls entirely flat here, partly because of changes to the plot and partly because the implications are too foreshadowed to leave any kind of surprise.
The original movie "Trance" featured an inside job by the main character to steal a painting. Unfortunately during the heist our protagonist receives a blow to the head and the trauma means that he forgets where he put the painting. The painting isn't where it is supposed to be by the end. When it becomes clear that the protagonist is not faking it and genuinely cannot remember, the leader of the group decides they should try hypnotherapy. However, it becomes difficult to let the hypnotherapist work without telling her what she is helping with. So when the hypnotherapist realises what is going on she asks for a cut.
In the original movie the explanation for why the heist didn't go to plan was, to my mind, very well handled indeed. There's another side of the plot to do with how characters relate to one another which went a bit convoluted, but I didn't feel it was a problem. In Boyle's remake, the issue with how characters relate to one another was a little clearer, but the main explanation for why the heist didn't go as planned was much less satisfying. Also the use of pubic hair as a memory trigger was very bizarre indeed.
In the end though, the biggest problem here is the way characters are handled. Boyle introduces a lot of fancy imagery, so a lot of the intesting dialogue and character development is lost here. Some of the lines are taken straight from the original script, but because of the change in context they just aren't as effective as they were the first time around.
Boyle had a great cast at his disposal here, along with a tried and tested script. I have no idea why he made some of the more outlandish changes to the script (why pubic hair? Why?) and I also have no idea why Vincent Cassell, who I know can play extremely charming characters, seems to have absolutely no chemistry with Rosario Dawson here. This not only fails to be better than the original, but ends up turning a silk purse into a sow's ear. This film is utter rubbish. Watch the original instead.
Happy New Year everyone!
Here is my movie guide for the first three months in 2014. It looks like the beginning of the year is going to be crammed full of exciting films. What films are you looking forward to this year?
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund
UK Release Date: 24/01/14
A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
Another film from the Coen Brothers and their first film since "A Serious Man" (which remains my personal favourite of theirs).
SOME OTHER INTERESTING RELEASES:
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)
Director: Justin Chadwick
Stars: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Terry Pheto, Robert Hobbs
UK Release Date: 03/01/14
A chronicle of Nelson Mandela's life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
Just the idea of Idris Elba taking on the role of Nelson Mandela in a film about this iconic politician and freedom fighter (and one about his actual struggle rather than about rugby this time...).
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt
UK Release Date: 10/01/14
In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
I'm more interested in this for Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance than anything else.
Director: José Padilha
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Douglas Urbanski, Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman
UK Release Date: 07/02/14
In 2028 Detroit, when Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) - a loving husband, father and good cop - is critically injured in the line of duty, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer.
While there's been a lot of scepticism in regards to this Robocop reboot recently, I am actually very interested to see what Jose Padilha, director of the Elite Squad movies, decides to do with the property. The Elite Squad movies were all about the militarising of the police force and issues of corruption and the influences of right-wing charismatic television personalities. Whatever happens, Padilha is definitely
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara
UK Release Date: 14/02/14
A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that's designed to meet his every need.
Director Spike Jonze has had a pretty consistent track record with "Being John Malkovich", "Adaptation" and "Where The Wild Things Are". A movie about a man who falls in love with the artificial intelligence in his phone sounds right up Spike Jonze's alley and I'm excited to see what he does with the premise.
The Lego Movie (2014)
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman
UK Release Date: 14/02/14
An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directors of "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, take on yet another bizarre animation project and I'm expecting similar brilliance this time around.
ANOTHER INTERESTING RELEASE:
The Invisible Woman (2013)
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander
UK Release Date: 07/02/14
At the height of his career, Charles Dickens meets a younger woman who becomes his secret lover until his death.
Until I saw "Coriolanus" I was quite interested to see what Ralph Fiennes would be like as a director. However, I'm still interested in seeing the performances from Kristin Scott Thomas and Felicity Jones here.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe
UK Release Date: 28/03/14
The Biblical Noah suffers visions of an apocalyptic deluge and takes measures to protect his family from the coming flood.
I've been following Darren Aronofsky's directorial career ever since his art film "Pi: Faith in Chaos". He hasn't been as prolific as some other directors in that time, but his five movies so far have all been excellent. His latest movie "Black Swan" was arguably the best yet. The Biblical story of Noah is a strange choice of subject matter, but with Aronofsky in the director's chair that just makes me all the more intrigued.
SOME OTHER INTERESTING RELEASES:
The Zero Theorem (2013)
Director: Terry Gilliam
Stars: Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges
UK Release Date: 14/03/14
A computer hacker's goal to discover the reason for human existence continually finds his work interrupted thanks to the Management; this time, they send a teenager and lusty love interest to distract him.
Director Terry Gilliam is a little inconsistent, but he's still a visionary all the same. "Time Bandits" and "Twelve Monkeys" remain my favourite films of all time. This looks like a bizarre dystopian story rather like Gilliam's movie "Brazil".
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Stars: Chris Evans, Frank Grillo, Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson
UK Release Date: 28/03/14
Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.
Joe and Ant Russo are most well known for directing work on comedy tv series including "Community", but the last film they directed which reached cinemas was "You, Me and Dupree", a film with very little in the way of acclaim. I've had a lot of fun with the Marvel movies and they only seem to be getting better, but "Captain America" was the most disappointing of the lot. I know that the Winter Soldier is a major Captain America storyline, but the idea that they are going to bring back the most boring character of the series as a zombie that is now randomly being controlled by the Russians (or some other sinister group) is just beyond bizarre. Perhaps I'll be surprised. I hope so.
The movie guide continues!
Click here for my recommendations for movies being released in January, February and March (based on UK release dates).
For my recommendations for movies released in April, May and June read on...
The Sacrament (2013)
Director: Ti West
Stars: Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Kate Lyn Sheil
UK Release Date: ??/04/14
Two journalists set out to document their friend's search to find his missing sister.
Ti West's films "House of the Devil" and "The Innkeepers" were both great films (particularly the latter). I can't wait to see his latest project.
(No trailer yet - imdb page here)
The Double (2013)
Director: Richard Ayoade
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Jesse Eisenberg, Chris O'Dowd, Sally Hawkins
UK Release Date: 04/04/14
A comedy centered on a man who is driven insane by the appearance of his doppleganger.
Richard Ayoade has worked on some wonderful comedy series like "The IT Crowd" and "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace" and his debut movie "Submarine" was excellent. I'm very interested to see his next one. Chris O'Dowd is everywhere in movies these days, but he's always a welcome presence. Sally Hawkins and Mia Wasikowska are both absolutely brilliant actresses. This should be good.
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen
UK Release Date: 11/04/14
After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.
John Michael McDonaugh, director of "The Guard", working with Brendan Gleeson once again as a priest who is given a death threat during confessional; not out of anger or revenge, but because the killer knows that he is a good priest. Brendan Gleeson is a brilliant actor with a great sense of comic timing, so it's very exciting to see him working with this director again.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Director: Marc Webb
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti
UK Release Date: 18/04/14
Peter Parker runs the gauntlet as the mysterious company Oscorp sends up a slew of supervillains against him, impacting on his life.
Not everyone was as impressed as I was with Marc Webb's first "Amazing Spider-Man" film, but seeing as Spider-Man was pretty much the only superhero comic I ever read as a child I guess this movie series had a particular importance to me. I'd been utterly appalled by what Raimi did with the franchise and Webb's first Spider-Man movie seemed so much closer to the tone of the Spider-Man comics I read in the 90s. With Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti and Jamie Foxx all on board as villains and the latest trailer looking closer than ever to the comics of my youth, I couldn't be more buzzed for this. I hope I'm not getting too overcome by the hype. That was what led me to feel so very let down by "Star Trek: Into Darkness" last year.
Director: Wally Pfister
Stars: Johnny Depp, Kate Mara, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman
UK Release Date: 25/04/14
A terminally ill scientist downloads his body into a computer. This grants him power beyond his wildest dreams, and soon he becomes unstoppable.
Wally Pfister has been cinematographer on all of Christopher Nolan's movies since "Memento". This sci-fi film starring Johnny Depp is his directing debut. Let's see what he can do.
SOME OTHER INTERESTING RELEASES:
Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
Director: Randy Moore
Stars: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton
UK Release Date: ??/04/14
In a world of fake castles and anthropomorphic rodents, an epic battle begins when an unemployed father's sanity is challenged by a chance encounter with two underage girls on holiday.
This was an interesting-sounding concept for an indie movie and made waves at the Sundance Festival last year. It appears to be a horror movie which tries to make Disney theme parks seem disturbing. Another part of the appeal is the audacity of the filmmakers to have filmed secretly within the theme park itself without Disney's knowledge. However, feedback hasn't been wholly positive. In the light of all the other great releases this month, this one may have to wait til DVD.
Director: David Ayer
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Olivia Williams
UK Release Date: 25/04/14
Members of an elite DEA task force find themselves being taken down one by one after they rob a drug cartel safe house.
David Ayer, director of "End of Watch", is working on this movie starring Arnie Schwarzenegger. I've long been a big fan of Schwarzenegger's work, even less popular titles like "The 6th Day" or "Eraser", so I'm definitely interested to see what writer/director David Ayer does with him.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe
UK Release Date: 16/05/14
A giant radioactive monster called Godzilla appears to wreak destruction on mankind.
I loved Gareth Edwards' debut movie "Monsters". That being said, there wasn't much monster destruction action in "Monsters". In fact, there were very few moments where the monsters were even visible. We mostly saw the aftermath of the monsters' destruction. That being said, Gareth Edwards has a much bigger budget this time around and a 'less is more' attitude may be just what this movie needs. Though Godzilla seems to be obscured by the smoke from his own destruction this time around, rather than disappearing magically into the subway without trace (as happened in the Rolan Emmerich movie from the late 90s). There's a fantastic cast on board here and I can't wait!
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender
UK Release Date: 22/05/14
The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.
I'm admittedly a little sceptical on this one. Bryan Singer's last movie "Jack the Giant Slayer" was dreadful, even with actors like Nicolas Hoult, Ewan MacGregor and Warwick Davis involved. However, after Matthew Vaughn's entry "X-Men: First Class" raised the bar the other year, I cannot help but be interested. I was never actually a massive fan of Singer's first two X-Men movies, but with all the wondeful cast members returning for this (such as Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender, both playing the part of Magneto thanks to the time travelling plotline) I am having trouble not getting pulled in by the hype.
SOME OTHER INTERESTING RELEASES:
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Lara Pulver
UK Release Date: 30/05/14
A soldier fighting in a war with aliens finds himself caught in a time loop of his last day in the battle, though he becomes better skilled along the way.
I've enjoyed Doug Liman's movies before, such as "The Bourne Identity" and "Mr and Mrs Smith". Yeah, I know Tom Cruise's money is all going towards SeaOrg and causing widespread misery. The problem is, sci-fi is my favourite genre and last year the movie "Oblivion", also starring Cruise, was kind of awesome. This film is based on a book called "All You Need Is Kill". It looks a bit strange and book adaptations can easily face big problems, but I'm going to need to keep my eye on this one.
Director: Robert Stromberg
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton
UK Release Date: 30/05/14
The "Sleeping Beauty" tale is told from the perspective of the villainous Maleficent and looks at the events that hardened her heart and drove her to curse young Princess Aurora.
Angelina Jolie is great and in the movie "Changeling" she proved her chops as a serious actress. Imelda Staunton is also a promising name on the roster. (I had heard that Miranda Richardson was involved, so it's a pity to see she's dropped out.) Still, I'm not sure about the premise. This feels at least partly like an attempt to cash in on the success of "Wicked" which is the story of the wicked witch from "The Wizard of Oz". I haven't seen "Wicked", but I cannot help but feel like the wicked witch of the west would have a more interesting backstory. I'm open to being proved wrong though and so I'll see how this is received. Let's see what Robert Stromberg does with his directing debut...
22 Jump Street (2014)
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Stars: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Brad Pitt
UK Release Date: 06/06/14
After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt and Jenko when they go deep undercover at a local college.
I guess I ought to pick at least one movie for every month where there are any options at all, so while I didn't give the previous movie in this series "21 Jump Street" an A, it was very enjoyable and it was the amazing Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs") responsible. They are back for this sequel too, so while I highly doubt I'll actually see this in the cinema, I certainly wouldn't resent the suggestion and I'll definitely be checking this out at some point, even if it's more likely to be on DVD.
ANOTHER INTERESTING RELEASE:
A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Stars: Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris
UK Release Date: 06/06/14
A cowardly farmer seeks the help of a gunslinger's wife to help him win back the woman who left him.
I still haven't seen "Ted" in spite of some strong recommendations from friends. Just looking at the marketing for "Ted", I cannot really imagine how it could actually be any good. As such, I'm not sure what Seth McFarlane is like as a director. However, one of my favourite movies, "Hellboy II: The Golden Army", features a fantastic performance from Seth McFarlane as the ecoplasmic scientist: Johann Krauss, so I'm keen not to underestimate what McFarlane is capable of.
(No trailer yet - imdb page here)
The last two movie guide entries tackled the action-packed first half of 2014. Now this entry deals with my choices of movies in the latter half of the year which already have a UK release scheduled for 2014.
Click the following two links for:
My Movie Guide: January 2014 - March 2014
My Movie Guide: April 2014 - June 2014
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
Director: Dean DeBlois
Stars: Jay Baruchel, Kristen Wiig, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill
UK Release Date: 04/07/14
It's been five years since Hiccup and Toothless successfully united dragons and vikings on the island of Berk...
I was not expecting much from "How To Train Your Dragon" when I saw the trailer. While not surpassing the Pixar movies of that year, I still had a great time. Dean DeBlois who directed the first movie (as well directing the Disney movie "Lilo and Stitch") is returning to direct the sequel and I'm very interested to see what he does this time around.
SOME OTHER INTERESTING ALTERNATIVES:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Kodi Smit-McPhee
UK Release Date: 17/07/14
Survivors of the simian plague trigger an all-out war between humanity and Caesar's growing forces.
I've seen every movie in the Planet of the Apes series, so unless this gets a really low rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I'll probably be checking this out in the cinema. (Ever since I ignored the Rotten Tomatoes score for the atrocious "Terminator Salvation" I've been disinclined to do so again.) However, I'm more than a little bugged to find that Rupert Wyatt isn't going to be making the follow-up to his game-changing reboot. I'm even more concerned now that Matt Reeves has been brought on board to replace him. Matt Reeves first film "Cloverfield" looked great, but had characters that annoyed the hell out of me. His next film after that was the lazy remake "Let Me In" which I absolutely hated. I don't have much hope for this sequel now, but at least it can't be worse than Tim Burton's reboot.
Jupiter Ascending (2014)
Director: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Stars: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne
UK Release Date: 25/07/14
In a universe where humans are near the bottom of the evolutionary ladder, a young destitute human woman is targeted for assassination by the Queen of the Universe because her very existence threatens to end the Queen's reign.
I've seen most of the Wachowski Brothers' movies and was a huge fan of "The Matrix". (I was actually also a big fan of "The Matrix Reloaded", but that was because I thought "The Matrix Revolutions" was going to actually resolve the plotlines properly. Never give too much credit to the first half a movie, even if the first half is released as a stand-alone entry.) I couldn't finish "Speed Racer", I actively hated "Cloud Atlas" from last year, and while I enjoyed "Bound" there are some pretty daft bits in that too. Still, part of me always wants to give the Wachowskis the benefit of the doubt.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Director: James Gunn
Stars: Lee Pace, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana
UK Release Date: 01/08/14
A jet pilot gets stranded in space, and must unite a diverse team of aliens to form a squad capable of defeating cosmic threats.
I've been regularly following the Avengers series and I'm becoming a bit of a fan. Sure, talking racoons and trees sounds like the most ridiculous thing ever, but then again, I'm keen for the filmmakers to surprise me. I was sceptical of "Avengers Assemble" when the marketing was in full force for that, so I may well find myself proven wrong here too. I'm invested enough in this series now that I'm keen to be proved wrong and I've no doubt I will be finding out whether this bizarre premise really works in a cinema rather than on a DVD.
Sin City: A Dame to Die For (2014)
Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Stars: Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
UK Release Date: 29/08/14
The town's most hard-boiled citizens cross paths with some of its more reviled inhabitants.
Asides from Robert Rodriguez' children's movies, he's never really let me down. Frank Miller is here because, in the end, this is his property, but Rodriguez is the real mastermind here. Rodriguez and Tarantino have a close friendship and "Sin City" felt rather like Rodriguez's equivalent of "Pulp Fiction" (though I'd say that "Desperado" was still Rodriguez' best movie). Frank Miller has admittedly been going rather loopy in recent years. But so long as Rodriguez can keep Miller in check, this should be awesome.
(No trailer yet - imdb page here)
No suggestions for September 2014
The Book of Life (2014)
Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez
Stars: Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Christina Applegate, Ron Perlman
UK Release Date: 24/10/14
An animated movie described as a Romeo and Juliet-inspired love story set during a Day of the Dead celebration.
A Pixar film set around the Day of the Dead celebrations. I can already imagine all sorts of possibilities for the imagery. I'm not entirely sure what to expect and that's part of the fun. Guillermo Del Toro's involvement as producer is an added bonus...
(No trailer yet - imdb page here)
ANOTHER INTERESTING ALTERNATIVE:
Director: David Ayer
Stars: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal
UK Release Date: 24/10/14
A crew of Americans in Nazi Germany toward the end of World War II embark on a brave mission.
On the one hand it's David Ayer who directed "End Of Watch". On the other hand, Americans in WWII? Really? It doesn't help that David Ayer was responsible for writing "U-571" which changed a British mission into an American one. I mean, how about we mix it up and talk about what the Canadians did for a change, eh? Canada actually got involved in WWII during the first year and I know that there are plenty of real life stories to be told about their involvement. Anyway, I'm sure writer/director David Ayer will come up with a compelling story. Perhaps this time it will be based on actual American manoeuvres rather than giving Americans the credit for British successes.
(No trailer yet - imdb page here)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine
UK Release Date: 07/11/14
A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.
Oddly enough I've generally been least impressed by Nolan's films with "Dark Knight" in the title. I'm a big fan of him as a director, I've seen every film he's directed and I'm hopeful that this will be on the same level as movies like "Memento" and "The Prestige" in the past. Plus it's sci-fi, yay!
ANOTHER INTERESTING ALTERNATIVE:
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014)
Director: Francis Lawrence
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Sam Claflin, Liam Hemsworth
UK Release Date: 21/11/14
Katniss Everdeen reluctantly becomes the symbol of a mass rebellion against the autocratic Capitol.
Actually, after the sequel "Catching Fire" I'm not terribly interested in this one anymore. I really enjoyed the first "Hunger Games" movie, but the sequel just felt like more of the same. Still, there's always the possibility that they can up their game for the final instalments. (Though I've heard that the third book in the series takes a downturn in quality.)
(No trailer yet - imdb page here)
The Hobbit: There and Back Again (2014)
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch
UK Release Date: 19/12/14
The Company of Thorin has reached Smaug's lair; but, can Bilbo and the Dwarves reclaim Erebor and the treasure? And, if so, can they hold on to it?
The finale of "The Desolation of Smaug" rather lost its way, but this is still a really fun series of films and, by my reckoning, much more enjoyable than the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. I am keen to see what they do with the battle between Gandalf and the Necromancer (now revealed to be Sauron), since that was an event relegated to a few measly lines in the original book of "The Hobbit" while being nonetheless vital to the continuity between "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings". This story will be new to anyone who hasn't ploughed their way through Tolkein's appendices and I cannot wait to hear it.
(No trailer yet - imdb page here)
Monsters University (2013)
With the extremely poor critical reception of "Cars 2" (which I haven't seen) and the ho-hum response from general viewers to "Brave" (which I thought was underrated), Pixar's reputation has taken a hit over the last couple of years. "Monsters Inc." had never been one of my favourite Pixar movies, but I was still prepared to be open-minded about this attempt at a prequel. That is, until I saw the teaser trailer featuring Sully (the big blue furry one) bullying Mike (the green one-eyed one) by using him as a makeshift disco ball. I was entirely unamused and felt this did not bode well at all.
Turns out I need not have worried. The disco ball scene isn't even in the final movie. Monsters University is actually very funny for pretty much the whole runtime. What's more it has that ability to hit you right in the heart for which the best Pixar movies have come to be known.
The movie is full of intricate details and it may take several viewings to catch these little touches. Also, while there's clearly a John Hughes influence here, the movie does not follow the route you might be expecting.
The animation is beautiful, the comedy is consistent and the emotional side of the movie is hard-hitting. Personally I would say that this was a better film than the original Monsters Inc. Who says Pixar are no longer at their best? Other studios are getting better at following Pixar's lead, but Pixar themselves are still the definite article.
I made a post early last year about my favourite anime movies and asking other people for their favourites. I was given a number of recommendations, none of which I've really been able to follow up on just yet, but I DID check out "Paprika".
One thing which has to be said first of all is that the animation is beautiful and inventive. Unfortunately there's very little in the way of a coherent plot. It's one of those films which prides itself on completely blurring the divide between imagination and reality. On the one hand that makes it possible for all sorts of wonderful pieces of imagery. One the other hand, it also makes the story rather hard to swallow (and it already begins with a pretty out-there kind of sci-fi storyline whereby a device allows you to enter other people's dreams).
It seems reasonable to excuse some elements because of the Japanese setting. sure, MY dreams wouldn't look anything like that, but this is a different culture and so the imagery is inevitably going to be rather different. However, one thing I don't think is so likely to differ across cultures concerns the police detective. We are told that he previously worked in film and then became a detective later. Now sure, that's not impossible (and it's more plausible than a lot of things which happen during the movie), but it's strange to hear it suggested that the police detective 'fell back' on the role of detective because his dreams of becoming a filmmaker fell flat. I'm sorry but police detective is not a role you 'fall back' on. It's a role you have to work seriously hard to achieve.
Admittedly "Perfect Blue" also had a lot of imagery blurring imagination and reality, but in the end the plot seemed to reach a point where the lines were clear. Here in "Paprika" the lines seems to get pushed further and further forward until everything seemed ridiculous. It was very exasperating. The last thing you really want to do is put forward an "it was all a dream" scenario which undermines your central storyline - and there was arguably some of that happening here.
Paprika is a beautiful movie, but this felt more like a long bizarre screensaver than a coherent story.
Naturally I hope that all of these films will have a UK release date (at least for a DVD release) before the end of the year. But right now in January 2014 there appears to be no release date for the UK planned (according to IMDB at least). So, we begin with movies just with no UK release date (and in some cases no US release date either btw) and then the next list is of movies with no release date at all (just the clear intention that they be released in 2014).
ANTICIPATED MOVIES WITHOUT A UK RELEASE DATE
[REC] 4: Apocalypse (2014)
Director: Jaume Balagueró
Stars: Manuela Velasco, Críspulo Cabezas, Mariano Venancio, Héctor Colomé
Spanish Release Date: 10/10/14
The young reporter Ángela is rescued from the building and taken to an oil tanker to be examined. However, it is unbeknown to the soldiers that she carries the seed of the mysterious demonic virus.
Jaume Balaguero co-directed the first two "REC" films. He also recently made the creepy and effective Spanish horror film "Sleep Tight”. Having let the other REC director, Paco Plaza, do what he wanted with "REC 3: Genesis", Jaume Balaguero is back to resolve the cliffhanger from REC 2 in this final instalment.
Europa Report (2013)
Director: Sebastián Cordero
Stars: Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz
German DVD Premiere: 22/10/13
An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter's fourth largest moon. (90 mins.)
This is an interesting concept and I've heard a few recommendations, but so far there seems to be no sign that this is actually getting a DVD release in the UK, never mind a cinema release. This was out in America way back in August and the latest release date on IMDB is for the German DVD release and even that's back in October last year. I suppose being the OTHER movie set in space asides from "Gravity" has made it seem like a particularly hum-drum project, but I'm still keen to check it out all the same.
Director: Alexandre Aja
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Heather Graham, Kelli Garner
Dutch Release Date: 06/11/14
In the aftermath of his girlfriend's mysterious death, a young man awakens to strange horns sprouting from his temples.
Alexandre Aja wrote the awesome remake of "Maniac", wrote and directed the remarkable remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" and has also been critically acclaimed for writing/directing a number of other horror movies which I have as yet to check out. This book adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe about a man who finds himself growing horns seems very intriguing.
Saving General Yang (2013)
Director: Ronny Yu
Stars: Ady An, Adam Cheng, Ekin Cheng, Vic Chow
Japanese release date: 14/12/13
Northeast China, early Northern Song dynasty, AD 986. The Khitan army takes its revenge for a past massacre...
Released back in April in Hong Kong, this doesn't seem to have received any kind of western release. The latest release date on IMDB is for Japan last month. Still, I'm intrigued to see Ronny Yu's Chinese costume action thriller. Strangely enough this is the director of "Bride of Chucky" and "Freddy Vs Jason" two highlights from film retrospectives I've done in recent years.
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Stars: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt
German release date: 03/04/14
In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine.
This is seriously frustrating for me. Half the cast are British and most of the others are American and yet neither the US nor the UK have received this one yet. Meanwhile France (presumably because this is based on a French graphic novel) has already shown this to general audiences. Naturally South Korea has also already seen this since the director is possibly my favourite Korean director Joon-Ho Bong, who made "The Host" and "Mother". Plus it's a sci-fi movie where those humans still surviving in an icy cold future are all confined to a single train. Bizarre, but massively intriguing and I have every confidence that Joon-Ho Bong has pulled it off with aplomb.
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Peter Blok, Robert de Hoog, Sallie Harmsen, Gaite Jansen
Japanese release date: 18/01/14
During his 50th birthday party thrown by his wife, Remco's life takes a turn for the worse. His business partners are scheming behind his back to sell him and his former mistress shows up pregnant.
Apparently released last month in the US and back in March in Verhoeven's home country, the Netherlands, but still no sign that it's coming to the UK. Verhoeven's Dutch language movies like "Soldier of Orange" and "Black Book" might not be as flamboyant as "Robocop" and "Total Recall", but they have a greater sense of respectability. This appears to be no exception.
Upside Down (2012)
Director: Juan Diego Solanas
Stars: Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall, Blu Mankuma
Swedish DVD Premiere: 26/02/14
Adam and Eden fell in love as teens despite the fact that they live on twinned worlds with gravities that pull in opposite directions. Ten years after a forced separation, Adam sets out on a dangerous quest to reconnect with his love.
Once again, it's already been released in America. I think it's only the sci-fi premise that keeps me interested in this one since the reviews have not been kind. Still the idea of a romance between two figures who literally live in a higher and lower world with one from the lower level reaching up to make a connection with the one from the higher level. It's a very clever concept which I could imagine someone like Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry doing wonderful things with. But Juan Solanas doesn't have the same reputation.
ANTICIPATED MOVIES WITH NO RELEASE DATE
ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
Director: Rodney Ascher, Kristina Buozyte
Stars: Martina García, Ian Virgo, Andy Nyman, C. Ernst Harth
I haven't seen the first ABCs of Death horror anthology movie yet, but I've heard good things and I'm looking forward to it.
(No trailer yet - imdb page here)
All Cheerleaders Die (2013)
Director: Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson
Stars: Caitlin Stasey, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Brooke Butler, Amanda Grace Cooper
A rebel girl signs up a group of cheerleaders to help her take down the captain of their high school football team, but a supernatural turn of events thrusts the girls into a different battle.
I'm a big fan of Lucky McKee and his previous film "The Woman" (a collaboration with Jack Ketchum) was his best yet. I'm really looking forward to this.
The Host 2 (2014)
Director: Park Myeong-Chan
Joon-Ho Bong is still on board as a producer for this sequel to his 2006 movie "The Host". The short clip released so far looks pretty awesome.
Maps to the Stars (2014)
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack
Complex look at Hollywood and what it reveals about Western culture.
Director David Cronenberg's films seem to have taken a bit of a dive in quality recently with "A Dangerous Method" and "Cosmopolis" (particularly the latter), but it's always worth keeping an eye on his projects.
(No trailer yet - imdb page here)
Ninjas vs. Monsters (2013)
Director: Justin Timpane
Stars: Daniel Ross, Cory Okouchi, Jay Saunders, Devon Brookshire
In this final installment, the Ninjas and their friends find themselves pitted against the most evil and memorable monsters of them all - Dracula...
This was supposed to be released last year, but it's a very low budget film so it may take a long time to come to DVD and I guess I'm unlikely to see it released in cinemas. I had a good time with both "Ninjas Vs Zombies" and "Ninjas Vs Vampires" and I'm keen to see the end of the trilogy. It's horror/comedy/action, 'Buffy the Vampire' style.
Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Noah Taylor, Christopher Kirby, Sarah Snook
The life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.
The Spierig Brothers have released two very interesting films so far. They began with "Undead", a film about both zombies and aliens, and "Daybreakers" a kind of urban fantasy movie paralleling the vampire's lust for blood with human greed.
(No trailer yet - imdb page here)
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My Movie Guide: January 2014 - March 2014
My Movie Guide: April 2014 - June 2014
My Movie Guide: July 2014 - December 2014
Her - 14/02/14
The Lego Movie - 14/02/14
March - April
May - June
July - August
September - December
No Release Date Yet...
"Gods and Monsters" and "Shadow of the Vampire" are both tributes to old horror directors. The first stars Ian McKellan as James Whale, the director of the classic Universal Frankenstein movies. The second stars John Malkovich as Friedrich Mullan, the director of the silent classic "Nosferatu".
Gods And Monsters (1998)
Ian McKellan is just great isn't he? Whether he's playing Magneto, Gandalf or Richard III, he is always brilliant. Here he plays James Whale, the director of the classic Universal Frankenstein movies. We see Whale here towards the end of his life, if anything feeling a little embarrassed by his Frankenstein legacy which seems to be the only thing anyone wants to talk to him about.
The other actor McKellan is playing against here is Brendan Fraser who has kind of fallen off the map recently. He was in the remake of Bedazzled, which I thought was horribly underrated (especially now that I've seen and hated the original) and he was great when he guest starred on a few episodes of Scrubs. Obviously he was in Joe Dante's Looney Tunes film and he didn't really make a good impression there. So all this is a big fall from grace after his time as the action star at the centre of the "The Mummy" movies. I wasn't particularly keen on the first of those, but I thought the sequel "The Mummy Returns" was absolutely great fun.
So, in "Gods and Monsters" James Whale is not expecting to live very long, he seems mostly bored and he's a bit of a dirty old man. He finds that he has developed a condition which causes him to experience flashbacks of his past as a result of some recent strokes. Having taken a fancy to the gardener (played by Brendan Fraser) he asks him to pose for a portrait. However, his motives change a bit when he finds that looking at his handsome gardener sets off old memories. However, the relationship between him and this (entirely straight btw) gardener becomes even more conflicted because the memories stirred by Brendan Fraser are so mixed. Some are happy memories, but some are deeply sad and troubling memories. Memories of old love affairs are a source of great joy for James Whale, but he also gains memories of his social class growing up, which turns out to be a major source of personal shame for him.
Brendan Fraser's gardener figure is entirely fictional, but the condition which afflicts James Whale during this time is not. Brendan Fraser finds James Whale's past very interesting and somewhat inspiring. He acts as an outsider to whom James Whale can reveal his history and his secrets, but the way the two characters relate to one another also allows us to explore the historical figure of Whale in a more interesting way through the use of this contrasting and less cultured character.
When "Bride of Frankenstein" is playing on tv, Brendan Fraser's character makes a point of getting his friends to watch it with him. When James Whale asks him whether he laughed at the movie, he is quick to assert that he didn't, keen to show the utmost respect to James Whale's work. I was pleased to hear James Whale here saying that this was a pity since the film was supposed to be funny.
James Whale feels a bit washed up, since what he planned to be his big cinematic masterpiece (not a Frankenstein movie) ended up being highly compromised. Now Whale is feeling his age. Nevertheless, McKellan captures the various aspects of James Whale's emotions, including his highly eccentric personality.
"Gods And Monsters" is not a biopic. It is a made-up story intended to explore the life of James Whale. Rather than simply recounting the events of his life, this explores the facets of Whale's personality. And it needs an entirely made-up character in order to make this possible.
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Shadow of the Vampire stars John Malkovich as Friedrich Murnau, the director of "Nosferatu" and Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck. The film takes seriously a rumour from the time that Max Schreck was as effective in the movie as he was because he was actually a real live vampire.
This is actually a wonderful tribute to the original "Nosferatu" with clear tributes to particular scenes from the original film scattered all the way through. And some of those scenes owe a lot to Eddie Izzard. I must say that, asides from this, I have not seen much evidence that Eddie Izzard is much of an actor. While I'm a big fan of Izzard as a stand-up comedian, I wasn't terribly keen to see him trying to act.
As it turns out however, I think that Izzard is particularly suited to this role more than any other because it's always been clear in his stand-up comedy that he has a real knack for miming. (This guy can really make you believe that he's actually talking to a frenchman with a table, chair, cat, mouse and monkey set up so he can finally use those helpful phrases he learnt in school. - Okay maybe that will only make sense to those who've seen his "Dressed To Kill" DVD.) He gives the impression of someone expertly performing careful motions, but who is nevertheless rather overdoing his facial expressions (as silent era actors were wont to do). Having seemed so over-the-top in the relatively recent "Day Of The Triffids" tv adaptation, here he seems to fit right in as a silent era actor.
The main talent here is undoubtedly Willem Dafoe who blends right into the role. He and John Malkovich have a wonderful chemistry and deliver some blackly comic lines with awesome timing.
"Shadow of the Vampire" might be a comedy with little to really tell us about the real filmmaker, but its still a wonderful tribute to the original silent movie of "Nosferatu" nonetheless. So much so that I actually wish I had enjoyed the original movie. As with many other silent movies "Nosferatu" was no exception in that it made me want to fall asleep. xerinmichellex recently posted a wonderful little clip of Murnau's early moving camerawork in her review of "Gravity" and I'm sure there must have been some such elements to admire in "Nosferatu" too, but I just couldn't get into it.
But even though I cannot appreciate the homage elements as much as some, "Shadow Of The Vampire" should be lauded for being able to make me feel bad about that. (And also some of the scenes from the original movie are shot pretty similarly in Werner Herzog's remake of "Nosferatu" which I really enjoyed, so I can appreciate them from that too.) But most of all it should be lauded for being a wonderfully funny black comedy which reminds us how important the role of cinema has been in establishing the modern vampire myth.
One element that I didn't like about "Shadow Of The Vampire" was the opening credits sequence. It's irritating that, of all the elements to pay tribute to, they should choose to pay tribute to over-long boring opening credits sequences. There's a set of boring images, some music that completely fails to give any impression of the style of the movie to come and by the time that opening credits sequence was over I was in the worst possible mood. It's fortunate that the film was as good as it was, because otherwise that opening sequence could have killed off all good will entirely.
If anyone here is unfamiliar with Eddie Izzard as a stand-up comedian (as if!) then what better introduction than Eddie Izzard talking about horror movies and, of course, Dracula!
Warrior King (aka "The Protector") (2005)
The director of Ong Bak and Chocolate produces yet another wonderful action movie with fantastically inventive fight scenes, awe-inspiring choreography and a really sweet story behind it. There's a level of majesty in the early scenes which doesn't quite carry on through, but the portrayal of an elephant funeral was very moving.
I suppose I should explain. This movie is about a man who grows up in a community that greatly values elephants, so when his elephants are stolen by poachers, he sets out to do whatever it takes to get his elephants back.
The story isn't entirely unimportant, but its clear that the set-pieces are the main attraction here. I was actually randomly shown a scene from this years ago where there's a long continuous moving camera shot capturing a long involved fight sequence. It's quite incredible.
I know "Warrior King" isn't perfect, but it's still amongst the best action movies I've ever seen. Prachya Pinkaew is an absolutely incredible action director. I know there were people who were really impressed with "The Raid" last year, but for me it doesn't hold a candle to Pinkaew's work. You can absolutely amazing martial arts fighting, but unless you can find creative ways to portray it I'm going to be bored. This movie even involves martial arts fighter Tony Jaa being attacked by guys on skateboards. The camera captures everything and the director refuses to let things get repetitive. There is no way you are going to get bored.
I think the plot perhaps gets a little TOO silly in places, but this is a minor complaint compared to the majesty of the action sequences. And the storyline was still extremely entertaining. Petchtai Wongkamlao (who was also the comic relief in "Ong Bak") returns once again and is just as wonderfully entertaining as ever.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
A cheesy 80s comedy starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine. I've long been confused by the appeal of Steve Martin. He over-acts to the extreme and I have rarely found anything he has done funny. The one exception would seem to be the movie "Bowfinger" with Eddie Murphy. Here in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" Martin has his moments, but he is clearly playing second-fiddle to Caine. I wouldn't normally see Caine as a comic actor, but there's no doubting that he is absolutely hilarious here and wipes the floor with Martin. (A bit like how Joseph Gordon-Levitt was way funnier than Seth Rogen in "50/50" *oh snap!*)
The film "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" follows two confidence tricksters. One small time (played by Steve Martin) and one big time (played by Michael Caine). Caine's character has set up an area as his personal territory and does everything in his power to move Martin's character out of there. Eventually they decide to make a bet to decide who is allowed to continue fleecing the local women of their money.
The bet centres around one young woman played by Glenne Headly. I was convinced that I'd seen this actress in all sorts of things, but asides from perhaps "Mr. Holland's Opus" and "Dick Tracy" (seriously not a fan of either of those) the only other significant thing I seem to have seen from her filmography is the tv series "E.R." where she played Dr. Keaton. Clearly she made a big impression on me in that role, because I was really pleased to see her appearing in this, convinced that I knew her really well from all sorts of things.
Steve Martin gets a little over the top in places and I found those parts weren't funny at all. Michael Caine is consistently great, but the script is rather sweet and silly and it generally hasn't dated all that well. In the end "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is just silly fun. It's entertaining, but it's not one of the best comedies even to come out in the same year. That same year saw the release of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", "The Naked Gun" and I'd say the British comedy "Just Ask For Diamond" was better than this too. Whereas "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is pretty run-of-the-mill.
Recently I've been listening to a podcast called "Radiodrome" and they occasionally finish up with an obscure song. They played this song at the end of podcast number 156 and my instant reaction was to try to find out who the artist was. However, looking up the lyrics didn't seem to do the trick. It turns out that the song is only found on the soundtrack of an obscure 80s apocalypse movie called "Radioactive Dreams", so I guess no one bothered to write the lyrics up anywhere. Anyway, having tracked this song down I've just got to share. I have now bought the entire Radioactive Dreams soundtrack, but this song seems to be the best.
The movie is here if you are interested. Doesn't appear to have a DVD release.
Naturally I've had a bit of a kick for music that sort of pretends to be from the 80s in the style of the movie Drive. So I guess it was only a matter of time before I got similarly excited by a song that is actually from the 80s. Check it out:
The theme for this post is zombie movies. First of all we have the global zombie apocalypse movie "World War Z", supposedly intended to have a connection to the popular novel, but more of a zombie movie if taken from the perspective of the UN instead of from the perspective of small isolated groups of survivors.
Secondly, I review the intentionally cheesy 80s buddy-cop movie "Dead Heat".
Finally I've included the movie "Citadel", another horror movie from 2013. "Citadel" focusses on hoodies rather than zombies, but the hoodies come to seem more and more like a special kind of zombie as the movie progresses (which isn't so strange considering that the zombies in "28 Days Later" were infected with a virus which produced the rage-fuelled behaviour of a savage mob).
World War Z (2013)
I seem to remember being told that this wasn't that good. Am I really such a zombie fanatic that I'll accept any old rubbish? Seriously, this was great! Okay, so I haven't read the book. I understand that it most likely has very little relation to the book at all. I've heard it suggested that this film would have been much more widely accepted had it been given its own distinctive title like "Zombie Tornado" rather than the title of an existing book. Still, as a zombie movie which looks at the global scale of the zombie apocalypse scenario rather than simply the carnage in individual spots this was pretty awesome.
I will admit that there are a couple of points where you really have to accept "I am watching a movie" in order to accept what is happening. First of all, no one just walks away from a plane crash. Perhaps we could accept a zombie doing so, but not a human being. Secondly, it's always annoying when events happen overly conveniently. If you are in a war movie and an attack is launched on the base just as the protagonist arrives, that makes sense because they are expecting new attacks all the time. But in "World War Z" there's a point where an area is overrun not very long after our protagonist, played by Brad Pitt, arrives on the scene and it happens in such a way that it is confusing that it never happened before. (Zombies are attracted by noise and the area has planes and helicopters flying in, so it's bizarre that the particular noise we come across could ever be the catalyst for an additional influx of zombies.) There's a trope on the tv tropes website called "fridge logic" where you only recognise the problems with a film after you leave to do something else. But these two issues above are barely even fridge logic.
That being said, the film is so much fun that I can forgive it a few odd little foibles. The novelty of this zombie movie is that our protagonist works for the UN and has the task of helping a medical researcher to try to find a solution to the zombie outbreak. Like in the movie "Contagion" the focus is on the source of the infection (if it even IS an 'infection' at all).
I regularly find myself reflecting on how far Brad Pitt has come, since some of his early films did not impress me at all. I think even fans of "Interview With A Vampire" (of which I am not one) recognise that Brad Pitt gives a pretty bland performance there. His role as a stoner in "True Romance", while great, didn't give much of a hint of the successful career he had ahead of him. And "Legends of the Fall" struck me, personally, as absolutely dire, and I found myself lumping a lot of blame on the actor in the starring role. But now Brad Pitt has starred in a cacophany of fantastic films where his acting skills are made very clear indeed: "Se7en", "Twelve Monkeys", "Fight Club", "Snatch" and "Burn After Reading". "World War Z" needed an actor who could carry this film and keep us invested and Brad Pitt was clearly a great choice.
This is not strictly a horror movie. Brad Pitt is rarely stuck somewhere long before he gets to fly away again, in a plane or a helicopter. This is not claustrophobic like a zombie movie would normally be, except perhaps the scene at the end. I heard that the final scene had been added in at the last minute, but it actually follows from the previous scenes very well. Also, in that final section they clearly pulled out all the stops, pulling in some incredible acting talent including Peter Capaldi (who has just started as Doctor Who but is probably most well known for his role as the sweary Scottish spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in "In The Loop"), Moritz Bleibtreu ("Das Experiment"), and Ruth Negga (Nikki, the teleporting girl from the tv series "Misfits").
In apocalypse stories there's generally either no authority figures left at all, or the authority figures are taking up all the resources for themselves and are over in their own private bunker. Here we get to see what the authorities are trying to do while the world falls into chaos around them and its not a side of things that has really been handled very much in zombie movies. Whenever any figure has a bigger piece of the pie when the apocalypse comes, they have generally been shown to be wholly unscrupulous. An obvious example would be Dennis Hopper's entrepreneurial character in "Land Of The Dead". Here Brad Pitt is working for an organisation that genuinely seems to want to take steps to solve the crisis (though admittedly they aren't saints either).
There's some interesting satire along the way and in some ways this is a much more cerebral zombie movie than you'd normally expect. The effects appear to have been tidied up from the rather messy effects in the trailer and the larger scale images which trailers were so keen to show off are used more sparingly in the movie. The ant-like towers of zombies we see in a lot of promotional material are not used too often, but I have to say that I was very impressed by this new approach to zombie behaviour. It's yet another example of a larger scale perspective on the zombie infestation problem being examined here.
I don't know that World War Z is perfect. What film is? But it makes great use of a high quality cast, it has an interesting and original approach to the zombie genre and it's generally a wonderfully entertaining film to watch. What more do you want? And let's put things in perspective here. There are far less problems here than there were in the "28 Days/Weeks Later" movies, even if this isn't doing the same groundbreaking work in its depiction of the zombies themselves. "World War Z" is more consistent in quality than we are normally used to from zombie films.
Dead Heat (1988)
I heard about this movie from the podcast "Filmsack". They often deal with cheesy movies and this is no exception, but the premise was just so intriguing I had to check it out. This is a campy buddy-cop-comedy movie with zombies. The two detectives (one sensible, one making wise cracks all the time), discover that some criminals are actually zombies brought back to life by a machine. When one of the two officers is killed in the line of duty his partner is able to strap his body into this contraption so that he can be revived as a clear-thinking zombie and help to catch the people who killed him.
The jokes don't always hit the mark and I'd actually say that Joe Piscopo is doing a better job in his delivery of the lines than the material really warrants. Both the lead actors deserve credit for keeping us engaged, since the production values aren't really terribly high here and I'm not entirely convinced by the quality of the direction either. Yet the film still feels like great fun all the same.
While the effects work isn't always brilliant, I think full credit needs to be given for one scene in a Chinese restaurant. Things get pretty crazy in that scene. The pacing here is great throughout though and wherever anything might be iffy, the film never really slows down enough to give you time to think about it.
I think it helps that the film is fully aware of how silly it is, but doesn't draw attention to it too much. This is an 80s buddy comedy with all the tropes you'd expect and that already includes being pretty silly. The inclusion of zombies however, completely removes any idea that this film is set in the real world. Perhaps the best example of this kind of film is "Big Trouble In Little China".
Another awesome thing that I must point out... Vincent Price is in this movie! Naturally he is brilliant as always. He must be in his late seventies by this point, so it's not a massively involved part, but he's awesome all the same.
Dead Heat is pure silly escapism. If the idea of an 80s buddy comedy with zombies sounds at all appealing, then you can expect to have fun with this. It's no masterpiece and admittedly there have been much funnier zombie comedies, but if you are a zombie fan, I'd say this is a must-see.
I've been waiting for this one for a long time. While I'd seen a few reviews, all I had really grasped in advance was that it is a horror movie somehow linked with a fear of hoodies. The last time I saw a movie dealing with that, it was the movie "Heartless" where the lead character seemed to be hallucinating that under the hood they were some strange kind of lizard people. "Heartless" had an interesting urban fantasy set-up. It had a fairytale-esque story where a strange kind of demonic figure living at the top of a block of flats offers the lead character the opportunity to undo his facial scarring. However, the ending felt like a bit of a cop-out.
Left: Portrayal of scary hoodies in "Citadel". Right: Portrayal of scary hoodies in "Heartless".
The movie "Citadel" seems to work the opposite way around from "Heartless". It begins with everything seeming down-to-earth and gradually comes closer to urban fantasy as the film goes on. There's some ambiguity though, since the main protagonist is dealing with severe agraphobia as a result of an attack on his wife by hoodies. He is frightened to leave the house and the way the story unfolds, it appears as if the world around him is conspiring to make things even harder for him. There are supposed to be plans for redevelopment of the council estate, but there's no sign that the redevelopment will ever happen. When he tries to get some details sorted from his old flat, he discovers that the bus route no longer goes all the way there.
On top of all this, our protagonist has a new born baby. The attack on his wife killed her but the baby survived. We hear from an expert how his behaviour currently marks him out clearly as a victim because of his extreme fear and the main thing he is frightened for is the safety of his baby. A good friend at the hospital is keen to help him and to assure him that everything is alright. However, his attention is drawn in by the priest who oversees his wife's funeral, who seems convinced that the hoodies in the block of flats really ARE after him and may not even be human. The main theme here is that the movie establishes the fear and paranoia of the main character and this distorts the way the film represents the world around him.
The pacing isn't perfect and not all of the atmospheric effects work as well as intended. For example, on the one hand the visual image of a blinding light shining through the doorway representing the fear of the outside world is very effective. However, when we are waiting around for the film to move forward and watching our protagonist get more and more frightened, the decision to use a loud irritating buzzing/humming noise to convey the lead character's frustration and anxiety served to be more annoying than atmospheric.
I am prepared to give a lot of credit to this film for being willing to stick through to the end with its controversial choice of villains. It could easily have gone the same way as "Heartless" and undermined prior events in the film, but instead it follows through - and there's actually a pretty moving character arc for our main protagonist. "Citadel" is not without its problems, but I have a soft spot for it all the same.
This is an old favourite of mine. A little more mellow than the songs I've been posting over the past year. Also quite funny. Listen carefully to the lyrics.
Best Reviewed Movies In 2014:
More reviews coming soon....
Next anticipated movie (January 2014): Inside Llewyn Davis
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Movie Guide 2014
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Reviews follow an old-fashioned report card grading system:
A = Excellent
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C = Satisfactory
D = Unsatisfactory
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U = Barely qualifies as a movie
I give each rating a + or - to suggest how close it was to being in the next grade up.
Why do I keep doing this to myself, eh? Ghost stories. I often have a real problem with them. But then again, every now and again there'll be a big surprise like the American version of "The Grudge" or "Thir13en Ghosts" or (if it counts as a ghost movie, since I realise that's a bit of a stretch) "Hellbound: Hellraiser II".
Still, one benefit of taking part in a horror movie marathon over October is that is makes me try out horror movies which I'd normally consider beneath me. Horror movies which I'd probably pass over suddenly seem worth checking out when trying to get through a whole bulk of them.
There's actually been quite a bit of buzz around "Sinister" and while it didn't look like my sort of film at all, it definitely had plenty of fans amongst horror lovers. I had higher hopes, however, for "The Changeling", viewed as a personal favourite by Tony from the Horror Etc Podcast. Still Tony is the sort of person who takes the prospect of ghosts very seriously while I am the sort of person who has real trouble suspending belief on that sort of thing.
The Changeling (1980)
This 1980 horror movie begins with a slow burn approach. That is, after the opening it does. Before the movie has even really begun, our protagonist watches his wife and daughter die in a tragic accident. The next thing we know he's packing up the contents of his enormous apartment in New York and associates a red ball in particular with time spent with his daughter.
I have to say, at this stage I couldn't help but wonder how much money our protagonist makes (or perhaps how much his wife made). Anyway, when he's boxed up all the contents of the apartment to move to Seattle, he then visits a friend in an absolutely enormous house. Both our protagonist and his friend are revealed to be teachers (or more like lecturers). Our protagonist will turn out to teach an "advanced music" course, but he appears to be rehearsing for a concert too. Still, neither of these things explain his massive house. So it seems that either his wife had a high-paying job or one or the other of them inherited an enormous sum of money. That'll be important to the plot later.
Anyway, his friends suggest that he get a new place, so what could be better for a lonely man who has just lost his wife and daughter than to lease an enormous mansion? Yes, really. This is not an exaggeration at all. It's like the mutants' school in X-Men. It's colossal. There's one point where the protagonist has just got home from work and he's parked the car in the garage and he's making his way to the front door. There's creepy music in the background, but I'm rather more concerned as to why there's such an enormous waste of money. He hasn't reached the inside of the house, yet already there are lights on in around 6 different rooms on the ground floor. What a waste of electricity!
Anyway, there are some odd noises in the house during the night, but it's all very ambiguous since old houses can be expected to make noises. But it seems like the noises have been part of a whole series of hints intended to help our protagonist find a secret hidden room which holds the key to a dark secret. Not long after finding the secret room, there's some weird phenomena in the house regarding the red ball that used to belong to the protagonist's daughter. It appears to have teleported to the top of the stairs in order to bounce down. Doing a bit of a test with this item of such enormous sentimental value to him, the protagonist confirms that the ghost is definitely teleporting this item to the top of the stairs.
It's at this point in the plot where, out of nowhere, it is revealed that the college where he works has an entire wing devoted to the study of psychic phenomena. This is the point where I really find my suspension of disbelief tested. It's one thing to imagine that ghosts exist, but to imagine that there's a large psychic investigation department at a university that is looking forward to investigating our protagonist's situation, finds the idea of object teleportation to be perfectly typical phenomena and who, while recognising that 99% of the cases they investigate are fraudulent, still feel excited about this 'big creepy haunted mansion' story. They bring in a medium and after the session is over it turns out that the recording contains the actual voice of the ghost entirely unambiguously.
Still, while the actual medium stuff is going on it felt very much like a template for later scenes of a similar nature in other movies. When the medium is asking "why do you remain in this house" I couldn't help but think of "The Others", which is one of the major exceptions to my ghost-movie-hatred.
It turns out that the child, that is now a ghost, died because of some kind of inheritance scheme. (I won't give any more details than that.) Anyway, some other character turns out to be the current inheritor of the money, but he's not the murderer. In fact, the murderer is dead by now. Yet the figure in question seems to be seen as the rightful subject of the ghost's retribution. Never mind that he didn't do anything wrong. Unless inheriting money is wrong, of course; in which case I want to know: Where did the protagonist's money to lease this enormous mansion by himself come from?
The initial build-up is a really slow burn and that could be fine if it were building to some kind of worthwhile climax. But when the ghost starts getting a chance to really let loose, the film gets ridiculous. When a woman is being chased across the landing by a wheelchair, that's when I started cracking up. Yes, you read that right. One character gets chased by a wheelchair. Yeah, I'm a cynic. However, the issue for me here wasn't so much the ghost's superpowers (though that's still very much a problem) but rather the cheesy tropes involved here.
Once again we have someone with far too much money to spend. Seriously, where do they GET all this money? A writer who has had one successful 'true crime' book, followed by a string of two rather disappointing follow-ups, has decided that he'll get better results on a fourth true crime book if he buys the house where a murder took place, with one girl now missing. Sure this is recognised as a bit of a gamble, but the family have not sold their old house and the wife of the writer does not appear to have a job (hence how she is so easily able to uproot and move house with her writer husband).
Anyway, leaving aside where the money comes from, the true crime angle actually interested me. However, even if he's wrong to think this is a typical true crime story involved here, Ethan Hawke's protagonist writer character still seems to be asking the wrong questions. I don't get the impression that this person is at all thorough enough to get a massively successful true crime hit - even as a one-off.
There's some question over whether the protagonist has brought things on himself by lying to his family and moving them into a house with a disturbing past simply in order to advance his own writing career. Then again, this is a pretty unlikely and convoluted premise in the first place which might actually have been more creepy if there had been real world results rather than supernatural ones. (The police claim they are presuming that the missing girl is dead at this stage, so the case is seemingly over and there's no reason why very down-to-earth sinister elements couldn't return to the house.)
Early on in the film and the main focus of all marketing is that there is a box of cinefilm in the attic. And the protagonist even asks how it got there along with a whole other set of questions. It seems pretty clear that this whole set of cinefilm clips belong to a serial murderer. Ethan Hawke knows this and he's acting as a private investigator and he has his whole family living in the house where the cinefilm was located, so why isn't he desperately looking at down-to-earth clues to work out how it could have got there? Sure, he might not find any because it's all basically MAGIC *groan*, but he could at least make an effort, right?
Instead our protagonist decides to attach a load of photos together with string. And comes to the surprising conclusion that these murders must be linked. He reluctantly decides to let an actual police officer help him, providing him with little information to actually go on and not mentioning the cinefilm at all. Okay, so this character is an idiot, but I thought he might at least do SOME actual 'true crime' investigation work.
In actual fact, mostly what he does is try to work on vague details and watch cinefilm clips at night only to wander around and get freaked out in the dark. It doesn't help that his son suffers from night terrors and will often sleepwalk and scream.
Eventually (and this is in the trailer too) he discovers that an occult symbol is linked to all the murders. Finding this occult symbol is about the most solid investigative work we ever really see from our protagonist. An expert explains that the symbol is connected to old mythology about a demon that 'eats children' by taking them to some other ethereal realm. Our protagonist never really considers which one of his children might be in line for this fate, which I suppose is unsurprising since he's in denial about this possibility even when he's gone completely paranoid and seems to have entirely bought into the supernatural option.
My main problem with "Sinister" is simply that I found it boring. The performances are good. The main monster is a demon, not a ghost, so I am happy with it having super powers. The central conceit is just so stupid though. There's nothing tying this creepy premise to the real world at all and while there is plenty to praise in regards to the use of sound effects in the film, the build up of the mythology was kind of uncompelling. To be quite frank, for all the criticism of the red-faced Darth-Maul-alike demon from "Insidious" I found him much more interesting than the demon in "Sinister", even if I think "Sinister" is a much better movie overall (albeit still not great). Sure, "Sinister" doesn't do the build up of violins and feedback, but in a way it might as well do that because the 'bangs' it keeps doing on their own are rather uninteresting.
The movie didn't really seem to me to be able to give a good explanation of why this is a creepy and compelling scenario before it started trying to scare me with it and I think in a better movie with better plot progression, the revelations at the end might have been a lot more effective. "Sinister" is a load of reasonably good elements bundled together in a topsy turvy way and the whole is not as good as the sum of its parts. Some good camera effects, good acting, good sound and even some quite good ideas in-the-making, doesn't matter much when the overall film is just stupid and boring.
I was also rather annoyed with the role the protagonist's wife gets lumbered with where she's this killjoy trying to stamp on his dreams. She says she supports him, but that if the book doesn't do well she's going to take the children and move to another state with relatives. NO PRESSURE NOW! She later suggests that her husband should really just quit being a writer and give up his dreams because (and this is the worst part) "your children are your legacy". Oh yeah, heaven forbid he be remembered for something HE did. Instead he should just accept that the only memorable thing about his life will be the brats he spawned to replace himself. Oh great. I feel sorry for the actress expected to play this miserable character and really worried by the way the film expects us to accept this point of view as the unquestionable morally superior perspective.
Ethan Hawke made a really good stab at trying to sell this to me and the individual lines aren't even that bad, but the overall plot just entirely failed to grip me. To quote Dave Lister from "Red Dwarf": "Can't you tell the story is not gripping me? I am in a state of non-grippness, I am completely smegging ungrippered!"
I had high hopes when I heard this was made by the creators of Tangled. Then I had low expectations when I saw the trailer. Then I was suddenly told it was marvellous by everyone. So the other week, we finally decided to give it a go. (Great thing about childrens' movies is that they stay in the cinema for weeks and weeks.)
Now there were three things that I loved about "Tangled". The hair effects (particularly when she does a whole action-movie bit swinging across a chasm), the horse (OMG the horse! So funny!) and the relationship between the daughter and her mother. It was cool the way we had a villain who felt like a real person for a change. And it was even rather creepy the way that the mother figure was possessive and manipulative like you'd expect from a real person rather than, say, Skeletor.
There was something I really didn't like about Tangled though. It wasn't a huge issue, but it did leave it with an "A-" instead of an "A+". That was the songs. I hated the songs. I found every song was a period of time I would have to sit and wait for things to start happening again. It was never something I actually enjoyed.
In "Frozen" we still have the songs. On the one hand I'd say that the songs are somewhat better this time around and I actually really like Orlof the snowman's song "In Summer".
However, I do generally find myself wishing they didn't sing so much. The first song to REALLY annoy me is the one where the protagonist (or at least A protagonist, since it's two sisters at the centre of this) starts singing about how much she wishes she had a man *groan!* Okay okay okay, so there's 'reasons' and everything, but did we really need to have to sit around while she SINGS about it?
Anyway, as for effects, there are fantastic effects here. The snow is done brilliantly all the way through. The main feature here is that one of the princesses has ice powers and they are amazing. Another factor here is the realistic villain. For most of the movie we don't exactly have a villain at all since the snow queen (their parents die in an accident early in the movie, so the sisters aren't BOTH princesses anymore) is actually not really to blame. She doesn't want to hurt anyone and she's actively hiding away to avoid affecting anyone else.
Both princesses are actually really well formed characters. The more ordinary younger sister is generally the main protagonist, holding an important role in spite being the biggest victim of her older sister's powers. With both sisters having been kept away from the outside world for most of their young life and the younger sister having absolutely no real idea why, she is suddenly extremely keen to try out being social when the opportunity arises and proves to be very clumsy when over-excited. It's very sweet and entertaining.
The real replacement for the horse in Tangled is Orlof the snowman. Yeah okay he's funny, but I don't think he's on quite the same level. But yeah he's pretty cool.
In the end, there was something in this film stopping me from entirely getting involved. Perhaps my expectations were too high by the time I actually saw it, but there's a major twist about one of the characters and I saw it coming pretty early. And there's a love triangle. It's been pointed out to me that there aren't actually a lot of love triangles in Disney movies like this, where the initial first choice turns out to be the second choice in the end. (I mean did anyone EVER ship Belle with Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast"? Not a chance. So not really a love triangle in the same way.) Even so, the whole love triangle thing where the lead female character realises she was looking at the wrong person the whole time is a common trope outside of Disney movies and I found it annoying.
And, oh my goodness, so many damn songs!
Okay so, basically I'm admitting here that there were a lot of elements that I really enjoyed. In a version of this without the songs it would be scoring a lot better. But I have to give an honest grade taking into account all my own peculiar tastes and so for me the incessant and constant songs and the story elements that were predictable (not ignoring that there were several neatly subverted tropes here) mean that in the end this was more of a pleasantly good film rather than a very good film. This is a good score, but feel free to call me a grumpy guts for not scoring it higher. ;)
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Okay so ironically we move from a film where the worst thing for me was the songs (Frozen), to a film where the best thing about the film was the songs.
I love the Coen Brothers' movies a lot and it has come to my attention that every single last one of them is a black comedy. Heck, even something that seems pretty light-hearted like "Raising Arizona" is about a couple who kidnap a baby. That should not be sweet and cheerful stuff. The sweet and cheerful portrayal is not because the Coens' don't care about baby kidnapping, but because there's a darker side to the story. There's a cheerful nihilism in the background of the Coens' movies, laughing at the misfortunes of the characters. Heck, what other filmmakers would start a movie with a man happily doing a running job in order to commit suicide from his office building? ("The Hudsucker Proxy" btw.)
The last Coen Brothers' movie was my favourite so far. "A Serious Man", the story of a man for whom everything consistently seem to go from bad to worse and in the most hilariously tragic ways. "Inside Llewyn Davis" has a similar format. This is a folk singer who just cannot catch a break. And things take a turn for the ridiculous when he leaves a friends flat only to be followed-out and locked out with their cat. For most of the film he is carrying a cat around with him.
Even the songs which aren't supposed to be as good, are brilliant here. There's a song called "Please Mr. Kennedy" which is actually really really catchy, but our protagonist Llewyn kind of resents being involved in it. He wants to work on 'serious' music.
And admittedly Llewyn's own work is extremely good. We see some amazing performances from the actor, Oscar Isaac, who plays Llewyn. However, he consistently fails to get serious credit for his craft and it's clear that people all around him are also having a tough time getting their work recognised.
One problem with "Inside Llewyn Davis" is that it isn't as funny as previous Coen Brothers' movies. That's not really a huge criticism, since the Coens' movies are often absolutely hilarious, but it does mean that this was never going to be one of my favourites of the year. A bigger problem however, is the random car ride with John Goodman. Sure, John Goodman's character is monsterously funny and says some extremely amusingly horrible things. (Goodman plays a Jazz musician who completely looks down on folk music.) But in the end the car ride to Chicago feels like a little too much of a lull in the plot. The random amateur poetry reading given by the driver in the service station felt particularly jarring.
Still, all the performances are wonderful. Carey Mulligan is great as Jean, who holds Llewyn in complete contempt, and Stark Sands as Troy Nelson, who is always positive about everything no matter what happens. The central character of Llewyn is wonderfully flawed. His insistence on never compromising can often be a curse for him. Also, even while he's getting frustrated at the lack of recognition he is receiving for his music, it's also notable that he is generally unwilling to give credit to people around him for their work either.
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is a funny film, but with more songs than plot. Admittedly they are fantastic songs and there are very funny moments here, but this is not the Coens at their best. It's not the Coens at their worst either mind you. This is really good film and there is plenty to enjoy here.
The ABC's of Death (2012)
This isn't really one movie. As much as I disliked the wraparound sections of the V/H/S movies, I have to at least give them credit for tying their various short films into one consistent piece. ABCs of Death is not trying to do that and I cannot help but feel annoyed about that. Also, since this involves 26 short pieces, most of them are extremely short. A few of the films make reference to the anthology they are part of, and it can feel annoying when there is so little actually connecting any of them. Basically every filmmaker has been given a letter and been expected to include a death in their story. That's pretty much the only stipulation provided here, so don't be fooled into thinking this is consistently horror. The V/H/S movies are trying to produce a horror atmosphere, but ABCs of Death really is a complete free-for-all. Many of the films here aim for comedy and not always successfully.
Below I'm going to consider each short film individually sorted into grades with the A grade's first and the E grades last. This really does go through the full spectrum. But right now I'll reveal to you the proportions of good to bad. Just 7 of the 26 films have an A. It should be recognised that I'm not really that stingy with my A grades and there was rather less room for criticism here with the films often being so short. However, 27% isn't all that bad for a proportion of A grades. 38% (10/26) have at least a B-. That's less impressive. That basically means that I disliked well over half the movies in the selection. So I think that's an important point. There is more to dislike than to like here, by far. In fact, 42% (11/26) had a grade of D- or lower, meaning that there was a larger proportion that I actively found painful to watch than there were films that I enjoyed here.
So, what was good, what was bad and why?
7 A-Grade Segments
Title: D Is for Dogfight
Director: Marcel Sarmiento
Previous work: Deadgirl
My grade: A+
I've not seen "Deadgirl", but I'm intrigued about it now. This was the first impressive short film of the bunch. It has no dialogue although it's often clear that people are talking in the film, with any vocal noise blurred out. We begin the film watching a boxer get ready for a boxing match, but he's surprised when he discovers that this isn't going to be a typical boxing match. There's a very neat twist at the end.
Title: H is for Hyrdo-Electric Diffusion
Director: Thomas Cappelen Malling
Previous work: Norwegian Ninja
My grade: A+
I'm guessing that no one here has heard of "Norwegian Ninja", but perhaps we all should have done? This short film is set in WWII but it features anthropomorphic animal characters. It's not a cartoon (in the sense that it isn't animated pictures), but it is very cartoon-like. Our main character is a fighter-pilot bulldog in full fighter pilot gear including flying goggles, going into a nightclub to see a show. On the stage there is a dancer who seems to be a furry's wet dream: a literal (not figurative) fox. But the fox isn't what she seems and some absolutely crazy, pulpy, cartoony antics take place - making this film an absolute joy.
Title: L is for Libido
Director: Timo Tjahjanto
Previous work: "Safe Haven" (segment of 'V/H/S/2')
My grade: A+
I have been revealing all the A grade movies in the order they appear in the film, but this is probably my favourite film in the entire anthology. I was feeling increasingly disappointed with everything and then this one came up and it just seemed to be in a completely different league. Sure, it's weird as hell, but it's just so well crafted that it stands out from the pack. I now seriously want to see more films from Timo Tjahjanto and I'm inclined to say that he, and not Gareth Huw Evans (director of "The Raid: Redemption"), was the real mastermind on "Safe Haven" (segment from "V/H/S/2").
This short film involves (and please try not to be too squicked out), a masturbation contest, to the death. Okay, don't stop reading yet! Trust me this gets better. Our protagonist is no less freaked out than the viewers are. He wakes up surrounded by people in masks, there's a strange woman next to him keenly observing and on stage there is a dancing woman. Our protagonist is tied to a chair and next to him is another man tied to a chair. The loser of this contest is killed by a spike underneath his chair. There is more than one contest involved here, but the way it is filmed ensures that we are focussed on the real horror and bizarreness of the scenario rather than on being squicked out. This film is very well-crafted and is very successful in creeping out (rather than simply grossing out) the audience. It's bizarre and brilliantly so. A surprisingly awesome piece of unique and original horror fiction.
Title: O is for Orgasm
Director: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Previous work: Amer
My grade: A+
Actually quite an arty piece. This short film begins with someone blowing bubbles. It becomes more obviously sexual as the film goes on, but only ever implies sexuality rather than having anything pornographic about it. The imagery often involves 'o' shapes. However, this is not just a set of arty-farty imagery. It actually has a clear beginning, middle and end, so even if there isn't really much a story here we can still feel like we are being introduced to a character rather than an installation for a gallery. This is very well executed and while I'd be annoyed if all the films had been art pieces like this, I found this a very welcome entry. As with H above, there is nothing really related to the horror genre here.
Title: T Is for Toilet
Director: Lee Hardcastle
Previous work: An Alien Claymation, Pingu's "The Thing"
My grade: A+
Most of Lee Hardcastle's work is freely available on Youtube and I've posted both "An Alien Claymation" and "Pingu's The Thing" before (Hardcastle has since replaced the latter with a version involving cats, but the original version with Pingu continues to stick around elsewhere on the internet.) I'm a bit of a fan.
Hardcastle does not disappoint here. Even though he's working with claymation he still comes up with some of the scariest stuff in this supposed horror anthology. As with "An Alien Claymation", there's a sweet side to the story. I'm more of a gore person than a creepiness person and, what with my love of horror comedies, I prefer my horror over-the-top and silly rather than serious. But there's real heart behind Hardcastle's work too. This isn't completely just gore for the sake of it. While there's some crazy spectacle here, this is also a proper appreciation of a child who is frightened of the toilet and it never gets trashy or vulgar (unlike certain short films we'll be dealing with later).
And while "T for toilet" is too short for a full story, the same isn't true for "Ghostburger", the sequel now available on Hardcastle's youtube channel. (Though if all the stories in this anthology are supposed to involve a death, then this sequel suggests that Hardcastle may have cheated.)
Lee Hardcastle's own Youtube channel
Sequel to "T is for Toilet": Ghost Burger
Title: U Is for Unearthed
Director: Ben Wheatley
Previous work: Kill List
My grade: A+
Ben Wheatley is an odd director. He seems to have developed a bit of a following and while he's not really a big name like Christopher Nolan or Edgar Wright, the release of recent strange black and white film "A Field In England" in all formats at once somehow managed to make the news here in the UK. I still haven't seen that one. I have, however, seen his other two movies: "Kill List" and "Sightseers". "Kill List" had a lot going for it, but the ending was just so daft that I felt it ruined the movie as a whole. His next film "Sightseers" was a horror-comedy about caravanners. It sounded like such a wonderful premise and I was really excited about it, only to be completely underwhelmed by the final product.
Still, there is no doubting Ben Wheatley's ability as a filmmaker. Here we have a first-person perspective short monster film. I won't say more than that, since I think working out the kind of monster is part of the fun. But it's filmed as if it were one continuous shot and this is very effective. It may well be that Wheatley will make a movie in the future which keeps me engaged and excited like this for a full 90 minutes or so. Who knows?
Title: X Is for XXL
Director: Xavier Gens
Previous work: Frontier(s)
My grade: A-
Xavier Gens is known for making a horrible French horror movie called "Frontier(s)". I haven't seen that one yet. Along with "Martyrs", it's a film that I feel I ought to see but have not yet had the guts to rent. The theme of fatphobia is one that I feel quite strongly about, so when we have a plus-sized woman being abused in the street here, I was rather nervous about how it would be handled. The main reason why this has an "A-" rather than an "A+" here is because the first thing the lead character does when she gets home is eat - and the way she eats is quite horrible. While I know the idea is that the eating is a reaction to her underserved treatment and that overeating for comfort is not unusual, I felt this portrayal was sending the wrong signals to the audience.
All this being said, the way the film goes next (and I won't spoil it) was actually very interesting, utterly horrible and extremely clever. Perhaps people familiar with the director's work can guess what direction this was going, but I was completely taken by surprise and found this one of the more satisfying films by the end.
3 B-Grade Segments
Title: N is for Nuptials
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Previous work: Shutter
My grade: B+
I've never seen Shutter and don't know anything about it. I know absolutely nothing about this director at all. However, this love story gone wrong was really good fun. This is much more comedy than horror and I must admit, I thought it was pretty funny.
Title: P Is for Pressure
Director: Simon Rumley
Previous work: Red White & Blue
My grade: B-
This took its time setting things up. It tells the story of a prostitute trying to make ends meet and hoping to buy a bicycle for her daughter's birthday. Eventually she finds a way to make the money and it's not what you'd expect. Fairly simple, not hugely effective, but I certainly didn't resent having watched this one. It was a good little film, if not one of my favourites.
Title: W is for WTF?
Director: Jon Schnepp
Previous work: "Metalocalypse" cartoon comedy tv series
My grade: B-
The director works on a twisted cartoon called "Metalocalypse". I decided to check a few out online. They are a little ridiculous. The initial part of the video just features a cartoon involving a warlock, a woman and a warrior, but after that they decide to do more live action stuff and things get seriously weird. While it's not really terribly coherent, it's quite interesting the way they bring a whole load of different random elements together by the end and it certainly fits the title.
4 C-Grade Segments
Title: B Is for Bigfoot
Director: Adrián García Bogliano
Previous work: Here Comes The Devil
My grade: C+
This was pretty run of the mill. A man is looking after his young cousin, but he and his girlfriend want to have sex undisturbed. So they make up a story about a kind of boogie man to make her stay in bed. I think you can tell where this is going. There's nothing really terribly clever in the execution here.
Title: Q Is for Quack
Director: Adam Wingard
Previous work: "Clinical trials" (segment of 'V/H/S/2'), You're Next
My grade: C-
I haven't seen "You're Next" yet, but I've heard that it's a good horror comedy, so naturally I'm looking forward to it. Still, this whole video was a fairly mediocre joke albeit well executed. I can tell the director can do better, but I don't think he was really putting a whole lot of effort into this one.
Title: V is for Vagitus
Director: Kaare Andrews
Previous work: Altitude, Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero
My grade: C-
This started out looking like a really good live action adaptation of "Appleseed". Okay, with a completely different plot, but the basic image from the Appleseed DVD cover of a woman teaming up with a giant robot was perfectly realised here. The basic premise is that the woman is working for an evil totalitarian government in the role of policing unauthorised births.
As you might imagine, she comes to question her role. But then again who wouldn't question their role when a guy with a skull drawn on his face turns up to congratulate them on a job well done? (I think he's played by Michael Cerveris who played the head fundamentalist nutcase in the movie "Stake Land", so yeah, not ridiculously obvious that he's evil at all right?) This one started out fantastically well, particularly for the budget, but it got too talky, too convoluted and too in-your-face for me to really enjoy by the end.
Title: A Is for Apocalypse
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Previous work: Timecrimes
My grade: C-
Simple story. Too simple. Some pretty awesome gore work, but the explanation at the end is a bit underwhelming. We never have any idea what this apocalypse actually entails. Not exactly bad, just really really mediocre.
8 D-Grade Segments
Title: J is for Jidai-geki
Director: Yudai Yamaguchi
Previous work: Versus
My grade: D+
I suppose you should know you are getting something weird when it comes from the "Versus" director. A man has been given the task of finishing off a samurai committing hara-kiri (killing himself 'honourably' by forcing a sword through his own guts). It's odd subject matter for comedy. Yeah sure, perhaps not so surprising for black comedy, but this is pretty much out-and-out slapstick involved here. There's some pretty crazy effects here and I appreciated that, but I have no idea what the point of this story is supposed to be and I guess I just didn't get the joke. Perhaps if you are more familiar with the genre of jidai-geki (a particular kind of Japanese historical costume drama) then maybe it is more funny. I could not say myself and so that is why I have to rate it so low.
Title: Y Is for Youngbuck
Director: Jason Eisener
Previous work: Hobo With A Shotgun
My grade: D+
With the director of "Hobo With A Shotgun" I suppose you should expect pure shock value. Admittedly this was somewhat better than "Hobo With A Shotgun" in that the imagery all tied up. Still, the film seemed to be trying to be silly and serious at the same time and I wasn't really sure how to take this. It starts off seeming like it's about an animal taking revenge on a hunter and then the hunter is revealed to be a paedophile. I judge films on entertainment value and I was definitely not entertained. Some well-executed imagery isn't enough.
Title: C is for Cycle
Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Previous work: Mirageman
My grade: D-
A man's girlfriend tells him there's someone in the house. He goes to check and doesn't see anyone. Then he goes into a kind of portal the next day accidentally and becomes the intruder hiding in the house. The portals do not stop there, but they might as well have done. This is all rather pointless.
Title: E is for Exterminate
Director: Angela Bettis
Previous work: Roman
My grade: D-
I mainly know Angela Bettis as an absolutely fantastic actress who regularly appears in movies by Lucky McKee. She was in his latest awesome film "The Woman" and she also starred in the movie "May". I knew that she was involved in directing. She made a film called "Roman" which I haven't seen, but which I heard might be seen as a companion piece to May (only featuring a male rather than female protagonist. This piece seemed to be written well, but I'm afraid I don't think Bettis' directing is on anything like the same level as her acting. It all felt rather flat to me. The basic premise is that an insect is bothering a man trying to masturbate. The problem is not simply that it's a vulgar premise, but also that the direction made it hard to work out what was actually going on.
Title: I is for Ingrown
Director: Jorge Michel Grau
Previous work: We Are What We Are
My grade: D-
I get the impression that Grau thought that he was making something really poetic here. There's a voiceover narration and the lead protagonist poetically narrates her own death. I can see what they were trying to do, but there's nothing exciting about this one, nothing funny about this one, and all-in-all nothing terribly interesting in this one. A snuff film accompanied by bad blank-verse poetry? Count me out.
Title: K is for Klutz
Director: Anders Morgenthaler
Previous work: Rest In Peace
My grade: D-
Morgenthaler's documentary "Rest In Peace" is apparently an in-depth look into corpses, decomposition and our whole understanding of death. That appears to be Anders' only prior work, so perhaps it will be surprising to hear that "K is for Klutz" is a cartoon about a living (and squeaking) poo chasing a woman around a toilet. Some people have claimed to really like this one, but I found the literal toilet humour rather unappealing.
Title: R Is for Removed
Director: Srdjan Spasojevic
Previous work: A Serbian Film
My grade: D-
The director of the controversial "A Serbian Film", which I admittedly have not seen, produces this barely coherent story of a man with horrible scarring on his body requiring treatment. He goes on a killing spree as a 'climax' for the film. But no amount of action or gore is any good unless we have some reason to care and to invest our attention in what is happening. This story never ever gives us any real context.
Title: S is for Speed
Director: Jake West
Previous work: Evil Aliens
My grade: D-
I've actually heard moderately good things about the movie "Evil Aliens" from the guys at the Horror Etc. podcast, and this did look like a pretty interesting film initially. But when it pulls off a whole "it was all a dream" kind of ending, I felt extremely betrayed. I mean, why is our protagonist imagining running around with guns in a in a mad max scenario anyway?
4 E-Grade Segments
Title: F is for Fart
Director: Noboru Iguchi
Previous work: Mutant Girls Squad, Robo Geisha, Zombie Ass: Toilet Of The Dead
My grade: E-
While all four of the segments receiving an E grade were bad, be in no doubt that this was the worst of the bunch. It's about as bad as you'd expect from the title. Every attempt to make it more interesting through reference to religion just makes it seem all the more stupid in the end.
Title: G is for Gravity
Director: Andrew Traucki
Previous work: The Reef
My grade: E-
A first-person perspective of someone going surfing. That part was okay. But then this very short film finishes with the camera going underwater and then stopping. We are somehow supposed to know from this that the protagonist was sucked under. Unfortunately it just looks like they stop surfing, decide to do some underwater swimming and then the film randomly stops. It's odd that the director was happy with this.
Title: M Is for Miscarriage
Director: Ti West
Previous work: The Innkeepers
My grade: E-
A film about a woman going to get a plunger in order to unclog her toilet. Seriously, that is the whole thing. I don't understand how the same director who created wonderful films like "The Innkeepers" and "House of the Devil" is also making such horrendous shorts. His segment in the original "V/H/S" was also rather poor.
Title: Z is for Zetsumetsu
Director: Yoshihiro Nishimura
Previous work: Mutant Girls Squad, Tokyo Gore Police
My grade: E-
What... the hell....? Put it this way, the main event here is when we have a woman being attacked by a Nazi lady with a giant penis. The woman fights back, chopping the penis into pieces which then go into sushi. Meanwhile there's a man in a wheelchair wearing glasses (clearly a reference to "Dr. Strangelove") calling out weird slogans. The film finishes with him getting an erection. There's reference to Nazis and nuclear bombs and it's all very silly. Zetsumetsu means "extinction" by the way.... What a load of pointless rubbish. *sighs*
So, that's a summary of all the short films contained in the ABCs of Death. There's more bad than good here. I suppose overall I might give it a D+? There's some TERRIBLE work here, but there's a little bit of really good work here too. You'll have to make your own mind up whether it's worth your while.