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Articles on this Page
- 01/30/14--15:07: _Awesome Song: "Sund...
- 01/30/14--15:40: _Halloween Franchise...
- 02/01/14--10:51: _Halloween Franchise...
- 02/04/14--16:44: _Halloween Franchise...
- 02/05/14--09:25: _Proud Ignorance...
- 02/06/14--14:44: _Halloween Franchise...
- 02/11/14--17:39: _Halloween Franchise...
- 02/12/14--14:44: _My End-Of-Year Favo...
- 02/15/14--16:50: _Valentine's Day Vie...
- 02/16/14--17:42: _My End-Of-Year Favo...
- 02/16/14--18:28: _Film Review Index: ...
- 02/19/14--11:01: _Halloween Franchise...
- 02/22/14--08:36: _Halloween Franchise...
- 02/26/14--14:39: _Two Films I Didn't ...
- 03/01/14--09:15: _"The Lego Movie" Ma...
- 03/02/14--11:55: _Beautiful Song from...
- 03/03/14--08:25: _Halloween Franchise...
- 03/04/14--14:03: _Curse of Chucky Is ...
- 03/08/14--12:28: _Two Surprisingly Gr...
- 03/10/14--06:02: _The Best Things Abo...
- 01/30/14--15:07: Awesome Song: "Sunday Drive" by Ladyhawke
- 01/30/14--15:40: Halloween Franchise Review Series - Part 1: Halloween (1978)
- 02/01/14--10:51: Halloween Franchise Review Series - Part 2: Halloween II (1981)
- 02/05/14--09:25: Proud Ignorance...
- 02/12/14--14:44: My End-Of-Year Favourite 20 Movies List For 2013 (Part One)
- 02/15/14--16:50: Valentine's Day Viewing: Muriel's Wedding (1994)
- 02/16/14--17:42: My End-Of-Year Favourite 20 Movies List For 2013 (Part Two)
- 02/16/14--18:28: Film Review Index: Good Movies (A+ to B-)
- 02/26/14--14:39: Two Films I Didn't Finish....
- 03/02/14--11:55: Beautiful Song from The Cure: "Dredd Song"
- 03/08/14--12:28: Two Surprisingly Great Films: "Escape" and "The East"
I decided to check out the wikipedia page for "Radioactive Dreams" and it said that the style of music counted as "New Wave". Looking at the wikipedia page for "New Wave" it seems to be some kind of code for "nearly every single band or artist you have ever loved". Either that or the people contributing to the page just felt like name-dropping cool bands as often as possible.
I mean check out this list of some of the bands mentioned on the "New Wave Music" page on wikipedia:
One element that I've always felt was the main strength of "Halloween" is the way that it is, at heart, a monster movie. This distinguishes it from other slashers like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Black Christmas".
While, Leatherface in "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is a nightmarish figure, in the end he's just a weird guy who likes to wear other people's faces. The (horrendous) Plantinum Dunes remake of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" tried to change this somewhat and it just didn't feel like a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movie to me as a result. The more recent "Texas Chainsaw" reinstated Leatherface's inner vulnerability (even if that movie wasn't any good either).
But it is only when we get to the series more closely following Carpenter's approach to the genre that we get the real 'monsters'. The lumbering Jason from the "Friday the 13th" sequels and Freddy from the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series. (See my reviews for both those series here.) Watching them run around causing havoc is not really so far removed from Dracula or even Godzilla. A central inhuman villain with a supernatural side to them where we are excited by their pattern of attack and keen to figure out their potential weaknesses.
Where "Halloween" really holds its own however is the down-to-earth plausibility (initially). The setting doesn't feel odd or quirky. The only thing strange about the picture is the villain, the monster, who seems to go beyond what we think should be possible.
We begin the film with a first-person perspective of the killer, but then it is revealed that the culprit is a fairly young child and a pretty normal-looking one. We want to know what led him to become a killer, but no explanation is provided and, from what we can tell, no explanation exists. This is a normal child who, for some unfathomable reason, has decided to kill.
This sort of scenario is not unknown and it's unsurprising that when we jump forward to the main movie we discover the our killer, Michael Myers, has been in regular meetings with a psychiatrist called Dr. Loomis. What is more surprising is that, having seen this child stay pretty much silent for around 15 years in a secure facility, Dr. Loomis has decided that Myers is evil. It's an unusual diagnosis and in this, Halloween is following the framework of Dracula. Dr. Loomis is our Dr. Van Helsing here. Van Helsing was a doctor who insisted on belief in the occult. Loomis is a psychiatrist who insists on belief in pure evil. This does not mean that Van Helsing is a bad doctor and it does not mean that Loomis is a bad psychiatrist. It simply means that they are aware of unusual exceptions to the norm. But naturally in real life we would berate them for their unconventional views. It just so happens that within the fictional worlds they inhabit, it turns out that they are right.
Naturally Mike Myers, all grown up, gets out and on the loose. He shouldn't be able to drive since he's never practiced. He shouldn't be able to overpower people in struggles because he's been confined mostly to a cell for years. He should not be able to single-handedly move a gravestone. But Myers is more than just a man on the loose. He is evil. And there's nothing gratuitous about the kills he performs. It's often just one quick stab and it's over.
Speaking of "one quick stab and it's over", can I just quickly talk about the sex in this movie? Why does everyone take such a ridiculously short time having sex. This is supposed to be the movie that inspired the "if you have sex, you die" rule for slasher movies, but in opening scene I barely had any idea that anyone ever had sex at all. Mike Myers' sister takes her boyfriend upstairs and he barely has time even to get undressed and re-dressed before he's back downstairs saying goodbye and goodnight. If it were not for the sister being randomly still undressed and staring into a mirror upstairs I don't think there would be any clue at all what had been going on up there. In another sex scene too, one moment it looks like they are just making out and the next minute it's like, "What, you just had sex? And you've finished already?" Ah, whatever.
Anyway, overall I have to admit I find "Halloween" a little on the dull side. I must say I think it makes "Scream" rather unnecessary, since it already has a number of points where it is spoofing its own genre and, to my mind, much better than anything done in "Scream". (The notable example being the subverted 'weird noises down the phone' scene.) The acting is kind of awful, but the writing is worse. It's off-putting how much older the actresses look than the ages they are supposed to be portraying (with one of them being 29, a full 11 years older than they are supposed to be). But as a monster movie, "Halloween" has some very effective moments and an underlying sense of fun (which every horror movie needs).
Halloween II (1981)
This is a sequel which ups the ante in every possible way. Loomis now has first-hand evidence that Myers is completely inhuman and he is out for blood. The killings by Myers are more impressive and now that there's a greater sense of urgency the pacing has been upped too. There are even some impressive effects towards the end. And while I wasn't as impressed as I wanted to be with the first person perspective scene at the beginning of the first "Halloween" movie, I was absolutely thrilled by the one here. This time around, watching Michael Myers pick up a knife in first-person perspective was a genuinely troubling moment and I was very impressed by how the whole section towards the beginning was handled.
As for the movie as a whole, the central premise is that most of the action takes place at the hospital. Michael Myers is still after Laurie and so he makes his way into the hospital. The odd thing though, is that hospitals are never really all dark and abandoned like this one. Even when less busy you'd generally expect to find bright lights all over the place. Still, it's a neat little horror premise and while movies like "Halloween" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" admittedly get a lot of deserved credit for what they are able to achieve without much, or even any, gore at all, I am glad they decided to increase the amount of gore for this instalment.
I want to give a shout out at this stage of the review to "Cold Prey 2". The sequel to "Cold Prey", the Norwegian slasher movie set in the mountains in an area popular with skiiers, owes a great deal to "Halloween II". As with "Halloween II", "Cold Prey 2" is a slasher sequel set in a hospital which also expands the mythology of the serial killer. I am very impressed by the way the first two "Cold Prey" movies successfully learn from earlier slasher movies and manage to exemplify the very best the slasher genre has to offer.
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as 'Jannicke' in "Cold Prey 2"
Expanding the mythology of your villain in the sequel is a good idea. It's all very well showing us the monster again (and Myers is still mysterious and monsterous), but we need some new hook to keep us guessing about that villain. The vampire genre is constantly being re-invented and each new vampire movie adds some new spin to the vampire lore. Even the traditional Hammer Horror movies would avoid finishing off Christopher Lee the exact same way every time and each new demise gives us new insight into vampire weaknesses. But here it's revealed part way through that Laurie was actually being directly targeted by Mike. That's not really what we see in the previous movie. We only really see Myers going after her because she walks into the house he grew up in to find her friends. However, it is randomly decreed in this sequel that Laurie is actually Myers sister, now adopted into a new family with no recognition of their shared origins.
Still, that's not really my big problem with this film. I am more annoyed with the obnoxious doctor who sings vulgar songs to himself. He's clearly being set up as a victim for Michael from the moment he turns up, just as the nurse he's trying to pull is there to introduce some "obligatory" nudity. Their whole section of the film is an annoying distraction from the main plot and it's a pity because the rest of the film is great and there's a very exciting finale with Dr. Loomis finally playing a much more vital role in the story (rather than just waiting around near the Myers' house and yet strangely failing to notice the teenagers going into the abandoned house to have sex).
I recognise that "Halloween II" needed the first film to set up the premise and to enable us to leap into the action in the way we do. However, I feel like it does a great job building on what has come before and provides a much more exciting and rather better paced horror movie than what came before. Basically, "Halloween" felt like one long tease and "Halloween II" finally gives us a proper payoff.
"Halloween II" still isn't fantastic. This was still early for this particular wave of slasher movies and I don't feel like we really get much inventiveness here. However, "Halloween II" is very effective for a slasher movie of the time playing it straight and this was a very satisfying piece of entertainment.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
I was going to say that this movie has the most boring poster ever, but then looking for an image of the movie poster I came across these other rather cool images:
Clearly at least some of these are fan made. The main one seems to be the dull one right at the top of this review, which I think is pretty unappealing. Perhaps laser beams from the eyes is kind of overselling it, but this movie really is a lot more creepy and a lot more fun than its reputation and the most common DVD cover would lead you to expect...
Admittedly it looks like they cranked this one out pretty quickly. It was released just one year after the previous film and clearly with a lower budget than the previous instalments. This movie gets a lot of hate and part of the reason for that is that it doesn't actually feature Michael Myers who is very much the main focus of the Halloween series. That being said, it would be ridiculous if they brought Myers back after the last film. Dr. Loomis was blown up and Michael Myers was destroyed by fire. It felt to me like there wouldn't be enough of Myers left to return anyway.
I must admit there is a sense that perhaps Halloween III might actually be related to the previous two films when we start off seemingly with multiple Michael Myers figures. By that I mean that we start with several calm figures who seem to have nothing on their mind but cold blooded murder. They aren't wearing masks, they are wearing suits. In the initial scene, a man is running away from these homicidal, super-strong, calm and unemotional psycho-killers and it turns out he is carrying a halloween mask...
As a result we now realise that the constant adverts for Silver Shamrock halloween masks have some kind of malign intent behind them, but we still do not know what it is. Meanwhile a tv report claims that one of the stones from stonehenge has mysteriously disappeared.
When another of the unstoppable killers turns up at the hospital and finishes off the job on the man who was running away before, the doctor at the hospital decides to help the bereaved daughter to work out what happened.
There's a definite John Carpenter feel to this movie. Even if he didn't personally direct it, his fingerprints are all over this thing. The acting isn't quite up to scratch, but the atmosphere is thick and there are some seriously creepy moments here. And when the background of the unstoppable killers is revealed and their connection to the widely marketed masks, things really start to become fun.
I know this is going to have people side-eyeing me, but I have to say that this is my favourite of the Halloween movies so far. I don't even think it's because I've seen the central slasher-killer genre played out and done to death in my Friday the 13th retrospective. I saw "Halloween" before I saw any "Friday the 13th" movies and I still preferred "Halloween II". I think it is simply that this feels more like the John Carpenter movies that I love. Sure, it's utterly crazy but it's also one hell of a lot of fun. Also Dan O'Herlihy is absolutely fantastic as the head of the Silver Shamrock company. (Most will recognise Dan O'Herlihy as the boss of OCP in the Robocop movies.)
I'm not going to hate on slasher movies. I watched through the Friday the 13th movies and really liked some of those. But this was a real horror movie. It brought together a bunch of creepy elements, it had some neat effects and it had an awesome central villain with a real personality. It's not perfect: the acting isn't great, the 'romance' element seems forced, the direction is unpolished, but this is still a better sequel than "Halloween" ever deserved and arguably the best sequel it ever got.
If anyone's been following Pharyngula, they will already know that Bill Nye has decided to debate a creationist. Lots of people think this was a bad idea because its easier for creationists to poke holes in science (not least because scientists are always actively looking for how to poke holes in the research themselves) than it is to defend science. Ignorant criticisms are short and easily stated, but decent explanations can be long and complicated.
It was also suggested that the creationists would just use this to promote themselves, which already seems to be demonstrated in that Ham's own organisation is going to be profiting from the DVD sales of this event.
Bill Nye, "the science guy" (from an American tv show), not to be confused with Bill Nighy, the British actor.
Anyway, some guy on Buzzfeed decided to ask creationists what questions they had for people who weren't creationists. Here's an example:
Oh dear... (and the use of 'their' rather than 'there' is not great either)
Yes. Yes it is.
If horses come from ponies, why are there still ponies?
If chocolate comes from cocoa beans, why are there still cocoa beans?
If you are going to hold up a question revealing such a high level of ignorance, why are you still grinning like you've written something clever?
(More daft creationist questions in posed photos on Buzzfeed)
Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers (1988)
This begins with some utterly stupid continuity errors. What's more, the filmmakers know damn well that these are utterly stupid continuity errors, but they simply do not care. They've tried starting a brand new storyline and doing something new with the franchise and the fans and box office figures clearly indicated that this would not fly. They now needed a sequel that brought in as much familiarity as possible, so by hook or by crook they brought us back to the same old scenario of the first two movies.
The blatantly obvious continuity errors are as follows. Michael Myers should be dead (not to mention blind). Doctor Loomis should be even deader. Yet bizarrely Myers is in a coma (which, no surprises here, he comes out of - and just as strong as ever too), while Loomis has some fairly minor-looking scarring on his face (especially for someone who had his head next to an exploding gas cannister. I suppose this was the only plausible way to bring back the two main characters into a storyline that had pretty thoroughly ended with the second movie.
We can see how cheap things have become when we are given the tour around the institution where Michael Myers is now being kept. We now seem to have a director who has no idea how to evoke an atmosphere and everything is just screaming at us "well Michael won't be in a coma for long NOW then, will he?" The film really could have done with reminding us of Myers' legacy here. There should have been some indication that even in a coma, Myers is still creepy. Or perhaps they could highlight that a man in a coma doesn't really live up to the myth? But everything we see here is rushed. They want Myers on the loose again, so they set up some contrivance to make that possible and want to get him back out there as soon as they can.
Jamie Lee Curtis did not want to come back as Laurie; not while she's busy working on "A Fish Called Wanda" (super-stardom, here I come!) So instead we get some vague indication that she's now dead and from now on we follow her daughter who has been adopted into another family. Laurie's daughter Jamie is haunted by nightmares which makes for a pretty neat little fake out in an early scene.
I thought one of the weaker elements of the first Halloween movie is the bit where bullies are teasing the boy Laurie babysits saying "the Boogieman is gonna get you!" It's pretty tough to get bullying right, which is one reason why I had so many good things to say about the recent "Carrie" remake which captured the demeanour of a real life bully so well. I am at a loss for words when the bullies in Halloween 4 are mocking Jamie saying "Jamie's uncle's the boogeyman!" and repeatedly chanting "Jamie's an orphan!" This is not something that is set up. It just comes out of nowhere with Jamie coming off as entirely passive. Now I know school children can be absolutely horrible sometimes. But yelling "You're an orphan. Ha ha!" at someone completely randomly and without provocation was beyond daft.
However, there was one point where I suddenly realised what potential this film had (which was sad feeling considering how thoroughly it was squandering almost every opportunity). Dr. Loomis goes to track down Michael Myers only to find himself in a small petrol station surrounded by bodies with all the phones disconnected. Suddenly he realises that there's an obvious culprit. Before you know it he's staring down a corridor at Myers, with his newly acquired mask on. He pleads with Myers to leave the people of Haddonfield alone, before firing at the figure. But Myers seems to have disappeared faster than the bullets can be fired. Outside Myers steals a vehicle and destroys one of the fuel pumps in an explosion, sending Dr. Loomis flying back, as he drives off. Sure, like most of the movie, this was distinctly lacking in the quality of the execution, but it made clear how exciting the rivalry between Myers and Loomis could be.
I can see how the filmmaker is trying to keep things exciting in the second half. There are attempts to keep Jamie safe in a house defended by some local police. Meanwhile there's a local malitia forming with the sole aim of hunting Myers, who are not helped by the fact that so many people seem to be wearing the same Myers mask. (Seriously, why are they still selling that thing? Wouldn't the whole community see that mask as in ridiculously poor taste?) There's even a final, utterly ridiculous twist (hey look, they aren't just playing it safe), which might have been somewhat worth it if there were some follow-through in the sequel. (But guess what, there isn't.)
Halloween 4 is a poor film which showed some clear promise in places. There are bits which are moderately effective and the relationship between Loomis and Myers is somewhat interesting at times. There's a clear sign the scriptwriter did at least understand what made Loomis interesting, not least when he finds himself paired up with a crazy end-times preacher and we realise that he and Loomis are not really so different.
I think so far I'm probably over-selling this, so let's get this straight. The whole film looks cheap, the content of the film feels like a repeat of everything we've seen before only with most of the atmosphere missing. While the ending could be argued to be an interesting idea, it's a bit cheap to suddenly introduce something interesting at the last second when the rest of the film has been so uninspired. (And to be frank, I found that final 'twist' to be a complete anti-climax.) A few interesting ideas are dotted about and that's about the most positive thing I can say about this very stale sequel.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Blooming eck, these titles are getting interchangeable. Perhaps the best part of this film is the sequence at the beginning where they completely redo the final since of Michael in the previous movie. Michael crawls away and manages to survive even though, according to this new interepretation of events, we are supposed to believe that the police tried to ensure that Michael was dead with the use of a grenade. Michael crawls to safety and, it turns out, is still on the loose.
But the film the picks up a year later, Jamie is now being treated by Loomis in a psychiatric ward and it's really sad to see this because I'd always presumed that Loomis was a good psychiatrist who was unfortunate enough to be given an untreatable patient. But here he's clearly the worst psychiatrist ever. While he's right to think that Jamie has some kind of supernatural psychic connection with Myers, his methods of getting her to share what she knows are pathetic. He just comes off as a bully, not a sensible doctor-figure at all.
Living in a psychiatric institute because of a violent knife attack on her own mother doesn't seem to make her less endearing to those around her. One of her older sister's friends, Tina, is now extremely close with her for some unfathomable reason. Still Tina is being set up as a fairly 'loose' girl, so while she feels (unbelieveably) obligated to spend time with Jamie, she also really wants to go out with her boyfriend and other friends. This is actually a pretty reasonable request (and much moreso than the suggestion that she go to her friend's younger sister's play) and so I'm not sure why the script felt the need to put the 'slut' label on her. I suppose it's because of the whole 'sex leads to death' theme established in horror movies by this stage.
There's a scene where Tina doesn't realise that the man in the car with her (wearing her boyfriend's mask) is actually Myers and not her boyfriend at all, is a brief effectively creepy moment. But as was the case in the last Halloween sequel, everything is too rushed for us to really feel any tension.
At a Halloween party Tina goes to there are two comic relief policemen who are teased by Tina's friends pretending to attack one another in Michael Myers masks. (Seriously, why are those things still being sold? The guy was only terrorising the town the previous year!) At the party there is also a sex scene in a barn which is remarkably realistic. It's doesn't show the sex as being stupidly short like in the original Halloween, but it also doesn't feel like the two young lovers are especially capable either. It was quite a nice portrayal, if a complete side-track from the main story. Oh, and randomly there are kittens in the barn. Why not, eh?
Eventually the young Jamie has joined her sister's friend Tina at the party because she believes Tina is in danger from Michael Myers. Why Michael would be after Tina is a little strange. Perhaps it is because he knows she is connected to Jamie's sister and so he is going after her in order to lure Jamie out. Once Myers has found Jamie though, we can finally get the big Myers rampage we've been waiting for. It's not brilliant, but when they end up back at the Myers house (of course), there's quite a cool scene with Jamie trying to hide from Michael in the laundry chute. But in the end this final section is inconsistent. One minute Myers is desperately stabbing at Jamie, the next he's showing her his face under the mask, then Loomis is pretending to let Myers kill Jamie before trying to beat him to death with a plank of wood. It's a set of bits with no clear consistent plotline tying them together.
We do not even have a satisfying ending here either, since Michael is captured by the police and then immediately broken out of police custody with use of explosives. This all being related to a random figure in weird boots who has been hanging around for the whole film.
With "Halloween 5" the Halloween franchise has finally reached the same mind-numbing level of the lowest quality Friday 13th sequels. The internal logic is hard to swallow, the characters are hard to relate to and there is nothing particularly thrilling about the whole thing. And I wish I could say that this was the bottom of the barrel, but I've actually already seen part 6....
Sorry this has taken so long. This has been a really busy couple of months for me.
It's impossible for the average movie-goer to say what the best movies of the year were actually AT the end of the year, because inevitably most of us cannot afford to see every single movie at the cinema and there will inevitably be high quality movies already on DVD from that year that we still won't have had a chance to check out. Still, that doesn't stop me from making a preliminary list, just like I did at the end of last year. (A more informed 'best of' list for 2012 will be forthcoming later this year.)
So what follows is my list of my favourite 20 movies from 2013. Naturally it can only include movies that I've actually seen and naturally I still have a lot of movies from that year I need to check out, but this is at least a helpful guide for highly enjoyable films.
20. John Dies at the End (2012)
UK release date: 22 March 2013
This was ridiculous fun and simply full of ideas. There's not much in the way of a consistent plot but, and this is somewhat hard to explain, the lack of plot is kind of intentional. What you are left with is a highly creative film where absolutely anything can happen, and often does.
Don Coscarelli was the director of the Phantasm movies and, more recently, "Bubba Ho-Tep". This is as bizarre as you'd expect from him and wonderfully enjoyable.
(My review here)
19. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
UK release date: 25 January 2013
While "The Hurt Locker" was like 'Die Hard in the army', "Zero Dark Thirty" seems to take itself rather more seriously. While the central character comes off as rather cold, that's also what makes her unique as a protagonist. By not making moral judgements on what happened during the War on Terror leading up to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the film is able to give us a believeable almost fly-on-the-wall account. It's not the first film where the message has been unclear, but I think if they'd tried to make the message clear it would not have satisfied anyone. Sometimes leaving things ambiguous is the right way to go and as a result this is a film that I think we'll still be talking about for years to come.
(My review here)
18. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)
UK release date: 7 August 2013
It's been a long wait. I was still in secondary school when the series "I'm Alan Partridge" was on television. But it's been a very welcome return for Steve Coogan's most well-loved comedy character. With Armando Ianucci doing the writing and with an excellent cast, this is unsurprisingly hilarious. Alan Partridge is as morally bankrupt as ever, just as we like him.
(My review here)
17. Side Effects (2013)
UK release date: 8 March 2013
Steven Soderbergh has a really varied career and he seems to be making some of this best stuff in recent years. In 2013 he actually released two different films and "Behind The Candelabra" (which was released in cinemas over here) very nearly cracked this top 20 too. (For the record, the performances in "Behind The Candelabra" were AMAZING. But I thought the way it ended was a bit flat. It can be tough to work out how to end films about real life because in the end, events unfolded in a particular way and you cannot do much to change that when adapting it for the screen.) Side Effects seemed pretty good initially, but the ending was just fantastic. Jude Law does a fantastic job here as the therapist treating Rooney Mara for depression, whose career runs into problems when she murders her husband after taking a new experimental drug he prescribed.
(My review here)
16. Carrie (2013)
UK release date: 29 November 2013
Remakes are a tough thing to do well, particularly when the original is a sacred cow. Still, while not better on every level, this version has some significant improvements over the original. The improvements can be summed up as follows: the characters. In the original movie, I found it hard to believe in any of the characters. Carrie's mother was hammed up to all hell and her peers in the school seemed very strange indeed. And the decision by one girl to encourage her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom just felt stupid in the original. I'd always presumed that the girl in the original movie did this to help set up the central horrifying prank in the film, but this adaptation makes me question whether that was ever the intended interpretation. The actress playing Chris, the main bully of the film, does a very convincing job of portraying an entitled, selfish and generally obnoxious teenage bully. That performance in particular was extremely true to life. What's more, the performance by Julianne Moore as Carrie's mother gave that creepy character a humanity we never saw in the original movie. The main thing that this Carrie remake is missing, however, is the creepy atmosphere of the original. Comparing the two movies, there's an element of swings and roundabouts here. But the "Carrie" remake is formidable enough not to seem like an inferior knock-off.
(My review here)
15. V/H/S/2 (2013)
UK release date: 14 October 2013
The mark-up in quality here is very impressive. While the original V/H/S was stunted by an unbearable wrap-around segment and an embarrasingly poor entry from Ti West, V/H/S 2 has a more interesting wraparound story this time as well as the incredible Lovecraftian "Safe Haven" film. There's also an excellent first-person perspective zombie film here and even the lowest quality entry has a neat element in the form of a 'dog-cam' (camera strapped to a dog = cool). V/H/S/2 is genuinely creepy and consistently good quality.
(My review here)
14. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
UK release date: 30 October 2013
After the enormously positive reception which greeted "Avengers Assemble", Marvel seemed to put even more effort into continuing their series of action-comedy movies this year. Thor 2 was exciting and funny and Natalie Portman didn't seem so wooden this time around. Loki has gone from being a character with ridiculously mixed-up motivations in the original "Thor" movie, to being arguably Marvel's most popular character. There was further exploration of Loki's character here, a good balance of attention on the background characters too and some quite wonderful ideas and imagery related to the dark and brooding villains.
(My review here)
13. Iron Man Three (2013)
UK release date: 25 April 2013
The third Iron Man movie paid very little heed to the continuity of the Marvel series, instead focussing on being a stand-alone comedy. This was by far the funniest of the Marvel movies as well as having some of the most impressive set-pieces so far in the Marvel Studios series. Perhaps the funniest element of all was related to the villain, played by Ben Kingsley. Though apparently infuriating fans of the comics, this scene was arguably the most brilliant moment in the Marvel movies so far. Shane Black takes the actor whose career he re-invigorated with "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and takes a crack at his now iconic role of Iron Man with huge success. While there's been no end to bitching by fanboys on the internet, as a Marvel Studios sceptic this was actually the superhero movie that captured my imagination the best. If it were not for a rather less polished fight scene finale in a shipyard, this might well have cracked my top 10.
(My review here)
12. Pacific Rim (2013)
UK release date: 12 July 2013
The main star Chris Hunnam was rather less interesting than his co-stars Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi, but they were amazing enough to counter-balance that. But the real attraction here is Guillermo's imagination, building a whole exciting mythology surrounding the robotic suits that require a combination of two minds to run and their struggle to fight the mysterious giant monsters. While far from being Del Toro's best film, it fully expresses his sense of fun and inventiveness.
(My review here)
11. Maniac (2012)
UK release date: 15 March 2013
Elijah Wood played a serial killer in the movie "Sin City" and he does so again here. This remake of the super-low-budget horror 'classic' inserts an interesting and compelling plot into the mix. The decision to film the whole film from the perspective of the killer is inspired. There's a very interesting aesthetic here as well as an impressive soundtrack. This elevates the original horror movie in about every possible way.
(My review here)
My end-of-year top ten movies of 2013 will be coming soon!
Muriel's Wedding (1994)
I don't think I really fully understood this film when I saw it in my teens. Oddly, far from recognising the references to Abba here, my whole understanding of who the band Abba are pretty much comes FROM this movie.
Here in the movie that first made Toni Collette the star she is today, she plays a young woman with no self-confidence who likes to sit in her room and listen to Abba. She has entirely obnoxious vapid 'friends' who she looks to for guidance and inspiration. She desires more than anything that these people accept her, even though in actual fact they do nothing but poison her self-esteem, barely even hiding their complete contempt for her.
Not to give away too much here, she meets up with an old school friend who shares her love of Abba and who helps her to accept who she is. However, in the background she still has an obsession with getting married, which in her mind has become the only way she can consider herself a success and prove her worth.
One scene that I don't think I understood so well as a child involved Muriel's first sexual encounter. She's barely even begun to get her clothes off before she is laughing hysterically and everything around her goes fantastically wrong. The whole scene is absolutely absurd, but looking back at it again now I finally understand how uproariously hilarious this scene really is.
"Muriel's Wedding" is funny, moving, sometimes tragic and there's something magical about this film.
One more thing though. Was there some kind of special deal involving using Abba's music in Australian films in the 90s? The other big 90s Australian film which comes to mind is "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" which was released the same year and also involved an obsession with Abba from some of the characters. (Perhaps these references were both part of some kind of marketing push? Certainly it didn't do Abba any harm. Their 'best of' album was in the top ten best-selling albums of the year in Australia in 1994.)
If you missed it, you can check out the movies I ranked between 11 and 20 here.
Below is my top 10 movies from 2013. Do be aware that this is an end-of-year list and, not being a proper movie critic, there are tons of movies that I have as yet to see and review. But this selection below are the best so far.
10. Monsters University (2013)
UK release date: 12 July 2013
The demise of Pixar has been hugely exaggerated. It may be Pixar's marketing strategy that is suffering the biggest decline. I found the marketing for "Brave" to be somewhat uninspiring, but absolutely loved the final product (not least because of similarities to my favourite Disney movie of all time, "Sword In The Stone"). In the case of "Monsters University" I was actively horrified by the teaser trailer showing Mike, the smaller one-eyed green monster, being bullied by Sully, the giant blue furry monster, and treated like a living disco ball. Yet strangely this prequel to one of the Pixar films which never really spoke to me turned out to be enormous fun and absolutely crammed full of clever little details. I'd actually argue that this is one of the better Pixar movies, not the mediocre entry I was expecting at all.
(My review here)
9. Gravity (2013)
UK release date: 7 November 2013
On the negative side there's a typical "oh no, what can my life possibly be worth without children" element to the central female character which I found enormously irritating. On the positive side however, there are great performances from the two actors. (I don't count the voices of Houston or the Eastenders actor whose face is only shown in a photograph. There's only really Clooney and Bullock giving a performance here.) And of course the biggest positive point is the absolutely incredible spectacle. There's some wonderfully creative artistry involved here. Sorry astronauts if this didn't entirely capture the way everything works in outer space, but you've got to give it some poetic license and full credit for the incredibly ambitious vision involved here. As Bullock's character travels across space doing whatever she has to do to survive there's a kind of 'action movie' feel here.
This was a welcome surprise considering I'd imagined that this movie would mainly feature a woman stranded in the empty blackness of space having an existential crisis as she contemplates her inevitable death. "Gravity" isn't perfect, but it's both a fun and an intense cinematic experience. Wondering why it received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture? Heck, flipping "Avatar" received an Oscar nomination and that was nowhere near so worthy. If technical achievement is going to swing in a movie's favour at the Oscars (which, let's face it, normally isn't how it works) then "Gravity" seems like a film more worthy of that kind of special treatment. The wow-factor is strong with this one.
(My review here)
8. Mud (2012)
UK release date: 10 May 2013
Matthew McConaughey's "McConaissance" continues. ("McConaissance" is a term which McConaughey adopted himself, though I'm not sure where the term originated, to describe his movement back to serious acting after a long period making mostly naff romantic comedies.) He seemed to be the best thing in "Bernie", a major highlight in "Magic Mike" and his plethora of excellent performances recently have meant that he will be the main star in Christopher Nolan's upcoming sci-fi film "Interstellar".
Here he plays a mysterious fugitive two boys encounter on a small local island when they find he's been using the area they intended to make into a secret den as a hideout. This is a big change in style for the director, Jeff Nichols, whose previous movie "Take Shelter" was a damn creepy psychological thriller which occasionally looked like it might even turn into a zombie film at times.
Apparently this film has connections with Huckleberry Finn. I'm not actually terribly familiar with Huckleberry Finn myself, but I know enough to have a basic gist of what is meant by that. It's essentially the Southern US equivalent of 'William and the outlaws'. A bunch of children who get into scrapes which are partially their own fault and partially due to a certain level of naivety. Though certainly there's a darker and edgier side to things here which you wouldn't find in the William stories.
In the end though "Mud", overall, is pretty much a feel-good movie. A part of me admittedly would have wanted this movie to be darker, but I cannot argue with the quality, nor argue that I didn't have a great time watching it.
(My review here)
7. Byzantium (2012)
UK release date: 31 May 2013
A vampire movie with a difference. These aren't exactly traditional vampires, but this is a film somewhat in the style of "Let The Right One In" (though it suffers somewhat from a direct comparison). The book of "Let The Right One In" had some flashbacks to the early days of the central vampire which were left out of the movie, but here they have decided to use flashbacks to earlier history as a means to build up a specific mythology.
Initially the differences between Saoirse Ronan's character and Gemma Arteton's character seem jarring, but eventually it becomes clear that these are two people stopped in time. They are forever fixed as the people they used to be and, due to the circumstances of their era, they ended up being very different people. These two central performances help to ground the movie, allowing us to gradually recognise the subtleties of these new kinds of vampire brought into modern times.
(My review here)
6. Rush (2013)
UK release date: 13 September 2013
Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl face off in this exceptional biopic about the real life rivalry between James Hunt and Nikki Lauda. Brühl in particular is absolutely incredible here, but both actors have a wide range of exciting British talent backing them up.
It seems that CG has been used in order to give us a F1 car's perspective. Though I wouldn't have known this, were it not for the sheer impossibility of the filmmakers ever catching certain shorts if they were shooting from a real F1 car. Not to mention the shots seemingly taken from within a F1 driver's helmet.
Beautiful, brilliantly acted and compelling in a way that few biopics achieve. Even while covering a deeply tragic true story, this is a wonderfully fun tribute to two electric personalities.
(My review here)
5. A Hijacking (2012)
UK release date: 10 May 2013
A fantastic Danish movie about the experience of a hijacking by Somali pirates, both from the perspective of a crew member aboard the ship and from the perspective of a company man entrusted with the responsibility of negotiating with the pirates. Even though the film centres around scenes at the negotiating table taking conference calls, that does not prevent it from being extremely tense at all times. I was often on the edge of my seat. This is an amazingly realistic portrayal of a hijacking with brilliant natural performances. At times it felt more like expertly-edited fly-on-the-wall documentary footage than a staged film with actors.
(My review here)
4. The Impossible (2012)
UK release date: 1 January 2013
Perhaps it is not surprising to hear that there is a horror director at the helm on this feature film about the tsunami. While here in the UK the film received a 12A rating, there were reports of audience members throwing up and fainting in the aisles. Some amazing work has been put into making the audience feel the pure brutality involved in being a tsunami survivor. (A very different project from his prior movie "The Orphanage" about ghosts.)
We've all already seen the footage of waves sweeping aside huge areas and hundreds of people aside as if they were nothing, but this film gets you inside the head of a victim suffering through the huge torrents and desperately holding onto life.
I hope future films do more to show the plight of ordinary people native to the countries affected, since this was focussed entirely on a country where 50% of the victims were tourists. Still, it seems that Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and the three child actors have done a fantastic job of portraying the experience of one particular family of Spanish tourists who were separated by the enormous waves that day. This has heart-warming and heart-breaking elements is a massive rollercoaster ride of emotion.
(My review here)
3. Django Unchained (2012)
UK release date: 18 January 2013
A return-to-form for Quentin Tarantino. I know there are a lot of people out there who loved "Inglourious Basterds" but I'm afraid I'm not really one of them. Tarantino's films are never exactly awful (not even "Death Proof), but "Django Unchained" seemed to me to be closer to a consistent storyline than Tarantino has offered for a long while. Add to that the awesome central performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as the general sense of fun and you're looking at one of the best movies of the year. Sure, "Django Uncgained" insists on constantly reminding you that you are watching a movie, but I cannot fault Tarantino for the quality of entertainment he provides here.
(My review here)
2. The World's End (2013)
UK release date: 19 July 2013
I am fed up with hearing about how "Shaun of the Dead is still the best" of Edgar Wright's movies. "Shaun of the Dead" was about as unoriginal as you could get. It was a zombie comedy and we were up to our ears with zombie comedies long before it was ever released. Movies like "Return of the Living Dead", "Reanimator", "Braindead" are, to my mind, all superior zombie comedies to Edgar Wright's effort. And let's not forget that Wright had already done zombie comedy elements in his tv series "Spaced".
Now don't get me wrong; "Shaun of the Dead" is a great movie. However, everything else that Wright has released has been absolutely game-changingly incredible. "Hot Fuzz" contrasted police action movies with elements of real life policing ("actually we call it the 'service', not the 'force'") and then tied it with classic horror tropes from movies like "The Omen" and "The Wicker Man". "Scott Pilgrim" was naturally an adaptation, but it was a very ambitious adaptation which was like nothing we had seen in film before.
"The World's End" however, struck me as Edgar Wright's best film yet. His experience with action from working on Scott Pilgrim is very obvious. While Edgar Wright has always been meticulous in any set pieces he commits to film, the choreography for some of the fights here is quite incredible. This also has more emotional depth than previous films, featuring some very strongly defined characters who feel more real than in any of Wright's previous outings. The premise appeals particularly strongly to people of my sort of age, coming to realise that the places they grew up feel alien to them now. However, the most important point is arguably that this seems (to me at least) to be by far the funniest of Edgar Wright's films. This is thanks to the fantastic anti-hero role of Gary King, played by Simon Pegg. It's the most obnoxious character ever and it's quite clear that he's an enormous loser (and a pretty tragic one too) and yet I absolutely could not stop laughing at every little thing he says and does.
"The World's End" has some neat little references to a number of movies, particularly "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", but also "The Day The Earth Stood Still", "The Thing", "They Live" and towards the end there's even a "Mad Max" connection. I also felt the pub setting made this quite strongly reminiscent of the more recent "FAQ About Time Travel". However, "The World's End" is very clearly its own unique movie and it is a brilliant addition to Wright's filmography. I cannot wait to see what he does next.
(My review here)
1. Stoker (2013)
UK release date: 1 March 2013
I'd been losing interest in Chan-Wook Park as a director as his movies seemed to be getting sillier and sillier (though he always kept a consistently awesome visual style). I wasn't at all sure what he was going to do with his English-language debut.
What we get here is kind of more serious take on "The Addams Family", sort of. It's about a quirky female character who realises that her Uncle who arrives out of nowhere, has a sinister edge to himself. But this is also a coming-of-age tale with the lead character Mia recognising a sinister edge within herself too. Mia Wasikowska is absolutely amazing in this central role and Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode are similarly brilliant as her mother and uncle respectively.
Dark, beautiful, haunting, thrilling, stunning, and every scene is wonderfully composed. This is a film with clear themes which are subtly explored and beautifully realised. There is a lot of room for interpretation (though it has been pointed out to me that there's more than a little poetic license here too), but there's also a sly wink and a nod involved here. As creepy as this movie gets, there's a biting satirical edge. Just like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" which forever twisted the popular conception of salt-of-the-earth southerners, this movie takes a harmless setting and makes it deeply disturbing. For example, at one point India and her uncle decide to form an alibi around a television performance of an opera. There's a strange contrast between this extremely civilised activity and the brutal and twisted activities that the characters are really involved in.
"Stoker" is a cut above the rest of the films I saw this year. It is ridiculously underrated and if you haven't seen it yet, prepare to be astounded by this diamond in the rough.
(My review here)
(Plus some comparison with the Hitchcock movie "Shadow of a Doubt" here)
Reviews follow an old-fashioned report card grading system:
A = Excellent
B = Good
C = Satisfactory
D = Unsatisfactory
E = Unacceptable
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.
Reviews of movies with a C+ or below here
A+ (Reviews from 2014)
Monsters University (2013)
World War Z (2013)
Shadow Of The Vampire (2000)
Gods And Monsters (1998)
Muriel's Wedding (1994)
A+ (Reviews from 2013)
The World's End (2013)
Django Unchained (2012)
The Impossible (2013)
A Hijacking (2012)
Pacific Rim (2013)
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)
Side Effects (2013)
John Dies At The End (2013)
Behind The Candelabra (2013)
Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
Evil Dead (2013)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Life Of Pi (2012)
The Girl (2012)
Margin Call (2011)
Juan Of The Dead (2011)
The Hunger Games (2012)
Cold Prey 2 (2008)
Bad Biology (2008)
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Richard III (1995)
Basket Case 2 (1990)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Basket Case (1982)
Who Can Kill A Child? (1976)
The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974)
Strangers On A Train (1951)
A+ (Reviews from 2012 and earlier)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
A Royal Affair (2012)
Cabin In The Woods (2012)
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Avengers Assemble (2012)
Sound Of My Voice (2011)
Take Shelter (2011)
The Gray (2011)
The Innkeepers (2011)
The Revenant (2009)
Young Adult (2011)
Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (2011)
Another Earth (2011)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
The Guard (2011)
The Woman (2011)
Source Code (2011)
Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Sarah's Key (2010)
Tucker and Dale Vs Evil (2010)
Point Blank (2010)
Troll Hunter (2010)
Black Swan (2010)
Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)
The King's Speech (2010)
Oranges And Sunshine (2010)
The Fighter (2010)
True Grit (2010)
Easy A (2010)
30 Days Of Night: Dark Days (2010)
Winter's Bone (2010)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
The Infidel (2010)
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010)
Black Death (2010)(rating change)
Rare Exports (2010)
Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within (2010)
A Town Called Panic (2009)
Get Low (2009)
The Loved Ones (2009)
Made In Dagenham (2010)
Animal Kingdom (2010)
A Serious Man (2009)
An Education (2009)
In The Loop (2009)(rating change)
Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009)
Let The Right One In (2008)
Sin Nombre (2009)
The Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call - New Orleans (2009)
Mary And Max (2009)
Where The Wild Things Are (2009)
Julia (2008)(longer consideration)
Johnny Mad Dog (2008)
Cherry Blossoms (2008)
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Eastern Promises (2007)
Black Sheep (2006)
The Fountain (2006)
Cold Prey (2006)
The Fall (2006)
A History Of Violence (2005)
Grizzly Man (2005)
The Descent (2005)(director spotlight)
Red Dust (2004)
The Grudge (2004)
Freddy Vs Jason (2003)
Harry, He's Here To Help (2000)
La Vie Rêvée Des Anges (The Dreamlife of Angels) (1998)
In The Mouth Of Madness (1995)
Death Becomes Her (1992)
Gremlins 2 (1990)
The 'Burbs (1989)
They Live (1988)
The Fly (1986)
Return Of The Living Dead (1985)
The Thing (1982)
The Beyond (1981)
Soldier Of Orange (1977)
A Boy And His Dog (1975)
Death Race 2000 (1975)
Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
The Birds (1963)
The Little Shop Of Horrors (1960)
North By Northwest (1959)
The Fly (1958)
To Catch A Thief (1955)
Rear Window (1954)
A- (Reviews from 2014)
Warrior King (The Protector) (2005)
A- (Reviews from 2013)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Stage Fright (1950)
A- (Reviews from 2012 and earlier)
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
Treacle Jr. (2010)
The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec (2010)
The Ghost (2010)
How To Train Your Dragon (2010)
The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009)
The Cove (2009)
Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
The Mist (2007)
The Grudge 2 (2006)
Children Of Men (2006)
Rescue Dawn (2006)
Le Gout Des Autres (2000)
Le Petit Voleur (The Little Thief) (1999)
Bride Of Chucky (1998)
Escape From LA (1996)
Dead Presidents (1995)
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Jason Lives: Friday The 13th Part VI (1986)
Zombie Flesh Eaters (Zombi 2) (1979)
Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964)
The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)
The Trouble with Harry (1955)
Dial M For Murder (1954)
House Of Wax (1953)
B+ (Reviews from 2014)
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Halloween II (1981)
B+ (Reviews from 2013)
Only God Forgives (2013)
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
American Mary (2012)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
End Of Watch (2012)
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Hotel Transylvania (2012)
The Moth Diaries (2011)
Sleep Tight (2011)
Love Crime (2010)
Death Note (2006)
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Body Bags (1993)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Child's Play (1988)
The Funhouse (1981)
Damien: Omen 2 (1978)
The Night Of The Hunter (1955)
B+ (Reviews from 2012 and earlier)
The Descendants (2011)
Iron Sky (2012)
21 Jump Street (2012)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Wild Bill (2011)
The Eagle (2011)
My Week With Marilyn (2011)
A Separation (2011)
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)
Attack The Block (2011)
X-Men: First Class (2011)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
The Town (2010)
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010)
The Unloved (2010)
A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)
Cold Souls (2009)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Eyes Wide Open (2009)
The Informant! (2009)
The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)
The Road (2009)
The Messenger (2009)
The Hole (2009)
The House Of The Devil (2009)
Anything For Her (2008)
Frozen River (2008)
Anvil: The Story Of Anvil (2008)
Me And Orson Welles (2008)
The Counterfeiters (2007)
Elite Squad (2007)
The Host (2006)
Pusher 3 (2005)
Pusher II (2004)
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)
The City Of Lost Children (1995)
Quick Change (1990)
Pet Semetery (1989)
A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Critters 2 (1988)
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Local Hero (1983)
The Road Warrior: Mad Max 2 (1981)
The Evil Dead (1981)
Escape From New York (1981)
Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979)
The Brood (1979)
Assault On Precinct 13 (1976)
Aguirre - Wrath Of God (1972)
Witchfinder General (1968)
Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (1963)
It Came From Outer Space (1953)
B- (Reviews from 2014)
Dead Heat (1988)
B- (Reviews from 2013)
Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Magic Mike (2012)
The Reef (2010)
Ninjas Vs Zombies (aka "Zombie Contagion" (2008)
Seed Of Chucky (2004)
Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)
Child's Play 2 (1990)
The Golden Child (1986)
Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (1982)
B- (Reviews from 2012 and earlier)
Fast Girls (2012)
Like Crazy (2011)
Killer Elite (2011)
J. Edgar (2011)
The Muppets (2011)
A Screaming Man (2011)
Inside Job (2010)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The Way Back (2010)
Please Give (2010)
The Hedgehog (2009)
Julie and Julia (2009)
Black Lightning (2009)
La Horde (2009)
Monsters Vs Aliens (2009)
The Damned United (2009)
REC 2 (2009)
The White Ribbon (2009)
Five Minutes Of Heaven (2009)
Star Trek (XI) (2009)
FAQ About Time Travel (2009)
The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus (2009)
Public Enemies (2009)
Trick 'r Treat (2008)
The Woods (2006)
Jar City (2006)
Cry Wolf (2005)
Thir13en Ghosts (2001)
Jason X (2001)
Small Soldiers (1998)
The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)
Night Of The Living Dead (1990)
The Witches (1990)
The Blob (1988)
Big Trouble In Little China (1986)
Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (Zombi 3) (1988)
Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)
The Company Of Wolves (1984)
Repo Man (1984)
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) (rating change)
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Friday The 13th Part II (1981)
The Fog (1980)
Humanoids From The Deep (1980)
Halloween (1978) (reconsidered here)
Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958)
Earth VS The Flying Saucers (1956)
The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
We've had the 'Return', the 'Revenge' and now the 'Curse'. However, this time the title actually has some relevance to the content of the film. We start the movie in some kind of strange institution. Grown-up Jamie is having a baby which is then taken away and has some kind of occult ritual down on it. Then Jamie is given the opportunity to get out of there just before Myers steps in and starts murdering people. The whole thing is totally nuts.
Loomis appears at the beginning announcing in a tired but happy voice that he is now retired as his claim to fame as the man who stopped Michael Myers on previous Halloweens is announced on the radio. While this is clearly an indication that he's not going to be staying retired, Loomis really doesn't seem up to the job here and not without good reason. The dedication "in memory of Donald Pleasence" actually appears at the end. This was Pleasence's last movie and watching it I almost felt complicit in his death. It practically feels like Pleasence is slowly dying as the movie progresses.
While they may have become embarrassed enough by the number of instalments to leave out the number '6' in this sequel, the filmmakers clearly want us to think there's a clear continuity while they watch this. One of Loomis' co-workers is back and Paul Rudd is playing one of the boys Laurie Strode babysat back in the very first movie. To be quite frank, I'm not quite sure why Paul Rudd has been chosen for the role of Ant-Man. What else does he actually have in his career other than Halloween 6 and the Anchorman movies? Certainly neither of those films really suggests that he has much talent to offer.
This movie clears up the 'mystery' (if leaving a character entirely unexplained counts as a mystery) of the guy with boots from the last movie. Apparently he belongs to some cult connected with the mysterious mark which only appeared on Michael Myers for the first time in the last movie (and yet which we are supposed to pretend has been there all along).
Michael Myers is still going after members of his family because that's the corner this series has backed itself into. He's also still inclined to return to his childhood home. So helpfully all the people living in this house are part of the Strode family.... except that the Strodes were the family that adopted Laurie and took care of Jamie. None of them are actually related to Michael, who we all remember has the surname 'Myers'.
This movie tries to expand the mythology of Michael Myers in the most lazy way imaginable. It expects us to believe, out of the blue, that Michael Myers' entire murderous rampage has been orchestrated by some kind of druidic cult. The introduction of druids is presumably an attempt to tie in with the one-off Michael Myers-free "Halloween III: Season of the Witch" except that if any such ties were intended, they are not made explicit here. (Presumably the intention would be to wait until a further sequel to 'solve the mystery'. Like they did with the mysterious man from the fifth movie.)
The deaths are less interesting here, the characters don't have any, Loomis is tired and lacking the passionate warnings about Michael, Paul Rudd is a particularly lame central character to follow and the background story about the druidic cult is convoluted and unengaging. I'd rather be watching "Jason Takes Manhattan". The problem with Halloween 6 is that it just solidifies more than ever the sense that this is a joyless franchise. The franchise's own reputation seems to work against it since, after being praised so highly (whether warranted or not) in its first instalment, the failings of the sequels are all the more devastating as a result.
Halloween 4 had some promise because it suggested that there might be more interesting stories to tell about the relationship between Myers and Loomis. Halloween 6 makes clear that no more interesting stories about the relationship between those two characters are going to be told (at least not with Pleasence in the role). The writers simply do not know what to do with these characters and with the death of Loomis it feels very much like the death of the series as a whole.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
It should probably noted that his appeals to be one of the most stupid movie titles in the history of cinema. Well it wasn't going to take much now for this film to out-do the last sequel. Moustapha Akkad's run of shameless cash-ins had pretty much run this series into the ground. The return of Laurie with a semi-reboot here was a bit of a relief. Or at least it would have been, if the filmmakers had any interesting new ideas on what to do with the franchise.
I have to say that H20 feels like the same as we've seen before only with less brutality from Michael, less of a creepy horror atmosphere and just as contrived as ever. Oh and no Loomis this time. What we get instead is the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, whose recent hits at this time included "True Lies", where she was pretty much out-acted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and "Fierce Creatures", a fairly unspectacular sequel to the moderately amusing comedy "A Wish Called Wanda" she was in the year Halloween 4 came out. (She would also follow up the success of "Halloween H20" by starring in a widely panned sci-fi horror film called "Virus".)
Simply put, Jamie Lee Curtis is not really a great actress from whom this series was crying out for an encore. The only reason to bring her back would be if the filmmakers had something worthwhile to do with the character of Laurie Strode. And, just like Donald Pleasence before her, they clearly have no idea what to do with her character at all. In the 20 years since her appearance in "Halloween II" it seems that she has managed to become a headteacher at a school, but is nonetheless secretly an alcoholic as well as being over-protective of her son due to a long-standing paranoia that Myers might return. This actually reminds me of the bit in "Black Sheep" where the lead character explains that he has "the completely unfounded and irrational fear that one day *this* is going to happen!" Except that "Black Sheep" was a comedy, but "Halloween H20" takes itself ultra-seriously.
Well, ultra-seriously in every respect except for LL Cool J's character. He's a security guard who spends most of the movie on the phone to a stereotypically loud gossipy girlfriend who we never see, but who is loud and brash enough that we can hear her voice while LL Cool J is on the phone. In a movie which is mostly dead-pan and dull it's quite jarring to have this entirely unfunny attempt at comedy.
Jamie Lee Curtis's son here is played by Josh Hartnett and he's basically playing the same character he played in "The Faculty", except at least there he would make distinctly more sense as a misfit drug-dealer who pretty much everyone finds wholly irritating. Michelle Williams isn't anywhere near "My Week With Marilyn" levels of quality in her acting here, but she is able to make it half-way believable that there's some chemistry between her and Josh Hartnett - and that's a miracle and half.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems in this movie is that we spend so much time with Josh Hartnett's character and his friends. The other two as yet unmentioned friend characters are actually much more interesting, but when Michael Myers turns up they do not really get to stick around very long. They are mostly just there as cannon fodder when Myers turns up.
That we even have a mostly cannon fodder approach to victims is surprising seeing as we spend most of the movie waiting for Michael Myers to do something. We keep seeing his face appear in reflective surfaces thanks to Jamie Lee Curtis' character having paranoid visions of him. We also have one lame fake-out jump scare where she nearly walks straight into Janet Leigh (the main actress in Hitchcock's "Psycho"). It would be nice if the scares were coming from the genuine threat from Michael Myers rather than from our main female protagonist being clumsy. If any of this were helping to build up an atmosphere that would be helpful, but most of the film actually takes place in broad daylight and as a result it's all about as unscary as it gets. Admittedly, we do get an appearance from Michael Myers himself during the day, but all he does is steal a woman's car keys.
Perhaps the worst of the tease and fake-out scenes is where one of Josh Hartnett's school friends loses something down the sink and decides to retrieve it by reaching down the plughole into the waste disposal mechanism. We are shown his hand, we are shown the button that works the waste disposal, we're shown the hand, we're shown the face of the character and this is all repeated over and over until I'm practically begging the film to mash up this characters hand and get it over with. Telegraphing a scare can be effective, but when the film spends most of the runtime proving to be a complete tease it gets extremely tiresome and the whole effect is lost. Couldn't they even have used Carpenter's original musical theme a bit more? The lame orchestral theme did very little to establish an effective mood here.
I should probably mention the utterly contrived plotline whereby all the schoolchildren are going on a camping trip, so that the remaining 6 or so students (in the whole school, really?) are left behind to study Frankenstein with the headteacher. This allows for a mostly empty school for Michael Myers to stalk, when he finally gets around to it. However, when the trip only seems to be aimed at seniors part of me is wondering where all the younger children in the school have disappeared to.
And it's a real pity that the film is such a bore, since the opening scene of the movie actually had a lot of promise. A woman discovers that her house has been invaded and none other than Joseph Gordon Levitt turns up to help. He's playing a loud-mouthed bratty figure and he plays the role perfectly. He ends up being the most realistic character in the entire film and it is really sad when, as you have probably already guessed, he is dispatched by Myers before the film can actually get started.
The opening ties a neat bow around the Myers and Loomis situation, since it seems clear that Myers is invading a house filled with files about him because the house actually belongs to his nemesis Dr. Loomis and there's a photo of Donald Pleasence on the side. Also Myers' neat escape in this opening scene showcases the intelligence that the writers so often seem to want to attribute to Myers and yet so rarely seem smart enough to work effectively into their scripts.
After the long dull middle of the film is finally over, the final section of the film allows the character of Laurie Strode to finally take on Michael Myers head-on. That seems to be the only reason to bring back Jamie Lee Curtis. Unfortunately, for someone who knows that Michael Myers can survive 5 or more bullets to the chest without slowing down and still wasn't dead after being blown up and practically burning away at the end of "Halloween II" she still seems to think arming herself with an axe is going to be enough to do the job.
The run-around between Laurie and Mike at the end of the movie is just too little too late and I did not actually find the scenes of her crawling around under tables while Myers ineffectually pursues her were terribly compelling. For all the promise that bringing back Laurie Strode might have offered to reinvigorate this tired series, the actual result is fairly lacklustre. At best, it could be said that the ending promised to finally put the series out of its misery. But the film as a whole is lacking the intensity of even the weaker entries in the franchise.
The last time I felt compelled to write about movies I was unable to finish was just over a year ago. The movies were "The Conformist" and "Perfect Sense". (Read my entry on those here.)
Another movie I felt unable to finish watching was "Fantastic Mr. Fox" a little over three years ago. (Read what I wrote about that here.)
Earlier than that was "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (before I recognised how unfair it is to grade a movie I didn't see to the end). I actually tried to finish off "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" at a later date but it didn't take long before I felt compelled to turn it off again. I have never reached the point where Penelope Cruz turns up. (That entry is here.)
I've now seen another two films which I've felt unable to finish. Read on...
The Wolverine (2013)
I watched this at a friend's house around Christmas time, so I might well have finished it if I was watching it on my own. But having already been bored to death by the first half, I'm rather lacking the motivation to get hold of the DVD to see the second half. (I'd already seen leaked footage of the after-credits sequence when the film was in the cinema.)
I was a little confused when the movie began with Wolverine wandering in the woods. I had presumed that the film would start off with Wolverine already in Japan rather than taking us there. Our metal-clawed hero takes pity on a bear that is dying in the forest. He then makes his way into a local bar to find the people responsible for its death. I was a little unsure at this stage why we were wasting time on this, but then Wolverine gave a little speech. Logan, the Wolverine, is no fool. He's worked out that one of the hunters has been using an illegal poison which sent the bear mad. So even while this hunter is boasting about how savage the bear is and how great it is that they took the bear down, he's failed to recognise (or at least he's not acknowledging) that he's actually responsible for some of the damage the bear caused. Logan's also not very happy that this hunter failed to finish off the bear properly too.
The first thing Logan does? He stabs the hunter in the hand with the dart. When the hunter denies that he was using illegal poisons, Logan gruffly replies "well you've got nothing to worry about then." This was the first and last part of the movie where I was excited. We do not even get to see Wolverine kick arse here, because a Japanese woman (with her own X-man powers) turns up to break up the fight.
In Japan there's some business owner who is inexplicably still alive after being shielded from a nuclear fire by a sort of manhole-cover shaped piece of metal. He's grown to be an old man since the Wolverine helped to shield him when one of the nuclear bombs hit Japan at the end of the second world war. And it's hard to think of him terribly fondly when he's asking to take Wolverine's healing powers for himself.
However, it's not long before the plot devolves into a fairly generic damsel in distress plot. Logan's old friend finally dies and he has left his company to his daughter. Some other guy is not happy about that and is openly trying to kill her. Meanwhile, somehow the process whereby Wolverine loses his healing power is started by a sinister figure and so I spent half the time wondering why he wasn't experiencing high blood loss from the gaping wounds he regularly makes in his own arms with the razor sharp blades he uses.
The damsel in distress figure had very little personality. The same goes for the jealous figure who wanted to inherit the company. With the character moments being so flat, it was hard to be excited by the fairly ho-hum action sequences.
One side-character psychically knows how and when everyone is going to die (but yet sometimes the future is clouded in uncertainty - whenever it works best for the plot). This was a ridiculous power. It was introduced without much fanfare and I had trouble taking it seriously.
While I cannot give this a rating without finishing it, you can be fairly sure it wouldn't be high. Hugh Jackman is great, but he has very little to work with here. It's difficult to imagine what Darren Aronofsky was planning to do with this story before we walked out on the project. Weirdly, it seemed to me that the film went downhill the moment Wolverine went to Japan, which is strange since the idea of Wolverine in Japan actually had me quite excited. This isn't unbearable, but it's bad enough that I'm disinclined to give it a second go. (D- perhaps?)
I should make clear from the start, I actually like Family Guy. (Well, 'liked' Family Guy. I reached a particular season, didn't laugh at all in most of episodes I watched, and pretty much gave up on the series after that. And yes, the early seasons involved this whole politically incorrect 'shock' humour and yes, the character of Peter Griffin was pretty obnoxious and at times the humour could wear thin. But what Family Guy had going for it was the creativity made possible by the cartoon format. Whether it was spaceship sperms, exploding donkeys, an epic fight with a man in a chicken suit, a police officer in a wheelchair who is infinitely more manly and capable than anyone else in the show, or a monkey who points angrily on cue, there was always something surprising and unique in the show. You simply had no idea what was coming next, so whether it was due to cleverness, satire, irony, silliness, shock or just because you were caught unawares by the pure randomness of it all, the volley of hit-and-miss jokes would generally be pretty successful in keeping me laughing.
So now we have "Ted" which begins by pretending that will be a straight-up inspirational children's movie. The first indication that it won't be, is when we are told that it is a Christmas tradition to "beat up the Jewish kid". The 'Jewish kid' in question, cycling into frame wearing glasses and looking relatively nerdy. (The intended joke here being that neither the bullies nor even the 'Jewish kid' being beaten up by them has any interest in being friends with the protagonist.) This is just one of many pointless references to race, sexuality or gender that litter this movie and, I felt, failed to work as humour.
The first point where I did give a chuckle was when I realised Patrick Stewart was the narrator and he pulled off a gag exactly like you'd expect from his character in "American Dad". The line goes like this: "Now if there's one thing you can be sure of, it's that nothing is more powerful than a young boy's wish. Except an Apache helicopter. An Apache helicopter has machine guns AND missiles. It is an unbelievably impressive complement of weaponry, an absolute death machine."
Perhaps they could have done with keeping a narrator throughout the movie, because it was one of the better opportunities for randomness. For the most part, the only thing that is out of the ordinary is that there is a talking teddy bear. Asides from that the world the characters are inhabiting is pretty much plain and realistic. And it's a real pity, because there are certain points where the over-the-top crazy style of a Family Guy episode would probably have worked a lot better.
For example, our protagonist (played by Mark Wahlberg, now that's a terrible casting choice for a start) is obsessed with the movie "Flash Gordon". Initially I was annoyed because it simply made me wish I was watching that instead, but it turns out that Sam Jones, the actor who played Flash, actually appears in the film and offers the protagonist and his talking teddy bear some cocaine at a party. We have a whole dream sequence where the protagonist is basically in the Flash Gordon movie, flying about with Flash on some flying device. But in "Ted" this just feels like a fairly plain blue screen moment and I can't help but feel there would have been more scope for creativity if this had been animated in the "Family Guy" style as a more exciting and action-filled sequence.
And unfortunately we also have one of the most racist moments in the film connected with Sam Jones character. We are told earlier that in Ted's new place he has asian neighbours - at which point he also comments "at least they don't have a gong" (seriously?). Sam Jones is dared to punch through the wall and unsurprisingly the neighbours get upset by the hole in their wall. One of them comes rushing into Ted's flat shouting "I live here long time" (seriously???) and Sam Jones, in drug-fuelled haze, decides that this unfortunate stereotype is Ming the Merciless from his movie.
(Yes, that's right, he is carrying a live duck - and not only when he's being mistaken for Ming the Merciless.)
Earlier on in the film one of Mark Wahlberg's co-workers claims that he cannot remember, but apepars to have texted someone and asked them to beat him up that night. This seems like a fairly promising absurd moment, until Mark Wahlberg starts asking him whether he is gay and whether he belongs to some kind of "gay beat-up club". At the time he claims that he's not sure if he's gay. This same character apparently scheduling attacks on himself later introduces Ryan Reynolds as his boyfriend, because that's supposed to be funny? I guess?
That's not the only homophobic joke in the movie, another one stood out for me was where Mila Kunis says they've got turkey burgers for dinner and Ted responds by saying "have we got homosexuals coming to dinner tonight"?
As I've already said, Mark Wahlberg seems characteristically flat. I was quite impressed with Mark Wahlberg as a boxer in "The Fighter" since he always seems to have the demeanour of someone who spends much of his time getting punched in the head, but I've always held his extremely bland and lifeless performance in Burton's "Planet of the Apes" remake against him. It was rather more surprising, however, to see how bland Mila Kunis comes across here.
Seth McFarlane takes on the voice acting role of Ted, but he feels less like a character and more like a stand-up comedian lumbered with mostly lame material. He throws out as many gags as he can and very few of them hit the mark.
Joel McHale (Jeff Winger from Community) is actually pretty good here, initially at least. He plays an obnoxious boss who consistently hits on Mila Kunis. But when he actually gets a chance to go on a date with Mila Kunis' character, the material apparently becomes harder to work with.
About the only thing here that is consistently great is the CG animation of the central sentient teddy bear, Ted. But while these animated computer graphics are fantastic, I feel the film in which those effects are employed is distinctly unworthy.
It may well be that the jokes here are intended in the name of satire and McFarlane presumably wants to avoid any kind of racism, homophobia and misogyny with close friends. However, the fact is that the jokes here do not have any obvious point. They don't seem to be there to make a fool of particular characters or to highlight problems in the world. Rightly or wrongly, they just seem to highlight either bigotry in the writer or a presumed bigotry in the audience. I was left feeling particularly uncomfortable while watching the movie because there is practically nothing that I found funny here.
I'd heard that "Ted" was a surprisingly heartfelt film for Seth McFarlane, but to be frank "Family Guy" and "American Dad" have had the odd heartfelt moment here and there. The problem is that "Ted" feels like a more openly offensive cheesy romantic comedy. Most of these kinds of romantic comedies have some level of offensiveness to them, so this fits right in. Except that those sorts of romantic comedies mainly manage to appeal to their audience because they are some of the few films out there with multiple female protagonists. "Ted" cannot boast the same and so in the end, this is the same sort of romantic comedy format with an increased and more explicit offensiveness, a distinct lack of any decent humour - and what's more with a male audience in mind, who surely have an enormous number of male-dominated alternatives which are both funnier and more exciting than this.
I mentioned "Flash Gordon". Now admittedly it's well-known that Flash Gordon has racist elements in the Ming the Merciless character and quite daft sexist elements too. The acting from the protagonist is not very good. But "Flash Gordon" is distinctly more fun than "Ted" and I think not being any fun is a pretty heinous crime from a movie like "Ted".
I cannot give "Ted" a rating because I didn't finish it (though I got a fair way through nonetheless), but needless to say, this is a bottom of the rung kind of film. (E+ at best.)
The Lego Movie (2014)
I'd been looking forward to this ever since I realised it was being made by the insane genuineses behind "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs", who also managed to make a pretty damn good movie out of "21 Jump Street" in spite of its enormously cringe-making trailer.
So I was rather upset when a good friend IRL and good friend on LJ both independently informed me that it wasn't that funny. Still, after some deliberation, I decided that I'd be checking it out for myself anyway. And I'm glad I did.
After initially feeling rather sceptical, it didn't take long for me to open up to this. It's a pretty similar style of humour to "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs" and by the second half I was laughing pretty consistently at everything.
So anyone watching the trailer probably already knows there's a great comedic Batman character, but actually my favourite character was Unikitty played by Alison Brie (Annie from the tv series "Community"). She's a strange cat/unicorn figure who wants everyone to be happy and gets pretty mad when things don't go her way. The character is cute, unpredictable and hilarious.
Anyway, awesome cast members include Morgan Freeman (as a kind of Obi-Wan style mentor)and Liam Neeson (as a mean police officer who pursues the protagonists, but who has a bit of a twist to him). I hadn't realised that Will Arnett (who plays Batman) was the guy who played Gob Bluth in Arrested Development. But, as with Cloudy, I have absolutely no idea who the guy playing the main protagonist is. (Just in case you recognise the name, he's called Chris Pratt. Apparently we'll be a lot more familiar with real life Chris when the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie is released.)
The animation in "The Lego Movie" is impeccably gorgeous. I can only presume that this involves mostly CG effects since some parts of it seem like they'd be impossible otherwise and if they were doing stop-motion, Wallace and Grommit style I think this would probably have taken decades to complete. The amount of detail here is endless and EVERYTHING is represented in some way by lego. Billowing smoke from a steam train is represented by clumps of lego and at one point the sea is an ever shifting body of lego moving in a style akin to waves of water.
While the connection between this and Cloudy is fairly obvious, I couldn't help but be reminded of "A Town Called Panic". "A Town Called Panic" is an animated movie entirely comprised of stop-motion animated toys; particularly an indian, cowboy and a horse. Horse is the sensible character who gets into trouble because of his two mischievous bickering housemates. The movie was endlessly inventive and funny in a similar way.
One element of this movie which appealed to me greatly were the sly winks to "The Matrix". Sure, it could be said to be linked with references to other sci-fi films like Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tron and possibly also Chronicle. Certainly anyone who's seen the trailer knows that there is a "chosen one" theme here. But inevitably when setting a film in a world of lego, animated using either real legos or CG animated ones (I'm pretty sure they use the former and you will have real trouble working out where exactly they used the latter), there's some indication that there must a world outside the Lego world. I'll say no more, but ZOMG Matrix references!!!
(When the Matrix sequels came out, I was SOOO convinced that the third movie was going to be a highly satisfying conclusion to the story set up in Reloaded. And then when the third movie was released I started desperately convincing myself that Reloaded worked perfectly well as a film on its own. I was a massive fan and still have a real soft spot for those films, recognising the inferiority of the sequels, but kind of loving all three, flaws and all.)
One thing I've heard in a number of places now is that this is more aimed at children than adults. Now for me, that is a pretty harsh criticism, because I don't think children should be seen as a lesser audience. I think that children are often more accepting of trashy materials because "it's for kids" is often used as an excuse for not worrying so much about the quality of the material they are given. The material foisted on children is often of a lower standard, so they are less discerning viewers as a result. I discuss how and why children can be more positive about awful awful media that is pushed on them in my article "In defence of Jar Jar Binks" (Read that here).
I would have to say that if the target audience is children, "The Lego Movie" has a major failing in that half the jokes reference things they will never have seen. Children aren't going to understand the references to "The Matrix" and they certainly aren't going to recognise the clear reference to a scene from "2001: A Space Odyssey" (so that's another joke they'll miss). While "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" was highly entertaining for adults and children alike, it didn't make so many 'grown-up' references.
I mentioned above that Batman was great and that Wil Arnett from Arrested Development does a fantastic job of comedically parodying the Nolan Dark Knight version of the character. Nolan's "Dark Knight" movies are definitely not intended for younger viewers. When "The Lego Movie" references The Dark Knight, surely that means it's a bit of an inside joke for the adults? And we're talking about one of the main highlights of the film here? Batman is present pretty much throughout the film and while admittedly there are versions of Batman that young children have seen, those aren't the versions being parodied here really.
The end credits of The Lego Movie features quite a wonderful display of Lego building inventiveness, so I didn't rush to leave the cinema. I finally made my way out when the traditional white-on-black scrolling credits appeared. As I was exiting the screening room this special Batman song played, which will give a good idea of what Batman is like in the film:
(full lyrics here)
The Lego animation is beautiful and enchanting, the characters are fun and interesting, the jokes are well-timed and hilarious, and the film in general is a fantastic piece of entertainment. I don't think this is better than "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs", but it's definitely better than "21 Jump Street" (which I still thought was pretty damn good) and if you enjoy Phil Lord and Chris Miller's brand of humour, I would think that you'd be pretty likely to enjoy it here too.
It's bizarre that this song was connected to the Judge Dredd movie starring Sylvester Stallone. Or any Judge Dredd property for that matter. It doesn't really suit that character at all. The cynical Dredd is not likely to say to anyone "believe in me as I believe in you".
However, it is nonetheless probably my favourite song from The Cure. It's really uplifting and beautiful and I absolutely love it:
Halloween Resurrection (2002)
This marks the return of the director of "Halloween II" and while the script isn't great and the inclusion of Busta Rhymes seems like a massive misstep, there's a more familiar tone here which is very welcome after the flatness of the previous movie.
And y'know what? While Busta Rhymes has little in the way of acting skills and looks ridiculous when he starts doing kung fu high-kicks towards the end of the film, he does at least have experience as a showman. Unlike LL Cool J's role in Halloween H20 which actively had me groaning, I at least found Busta Rhymes fun here. He's completely over-the-top and ridiculous, but he also has an energy to his performance. He makes up for lack of acting talent with enthusiasm and it's that sort of thing that at least helps to elevate this from the dreck we've seen in earlier sequels.
And we even have some semi-decent actors here too. They've got little to work with script-wise, but they put proper effort into the delivery and the director captures their performances well and it ends up at least being entertaining. Katee Sackoff, of Battlestar Galactica fame, here plays a girl hoping to use a cheesy reality tv program (yeah I know, I know) as an opportunity to reach fame and fortune.
The idea of having a reality tv program which unleashes a group of ordinary people in the house of a known murderer on Halloween seems just about plausible. Broadcasting it live on the internet and then expecting it to be massively profitable seems rather less plausible. Still, every actor has a definite character (even if they are often cliched) and Michael Myers has plenty to do over the course of the film. Even if there isn't a fantastic story here, there is an atmosphere all the same.
The opening worked a lot better than I was expecting. The previous movie finished with the final triumph of Laurie Strode over Michael Myers. That would seem to be the final end of series. Jamie Lee Curtis doesn't want to carry on making sequel after sequel, so the only way this movie could "resurrect" the series after that would be to somehow reverse things so that Michael lives and Laurie Strode is dead. How can they possibly do that?
Naturally the solution was first to show that Michael had never really died. It turns out that the figure in the final scenes of the last movie was not Michael at all. There was a crucial window for Michael to crush the voicebox of a paramedic and switch clothes with him before leaving. So the body wheeled out of the school was not Michael at all. The clever part of this is that when "Michael" had been struggling and trapped at the end of "Halloween H20" it is now explained that this was because the man was trying to remove his mask and reveal his true identity.
We are now told that Laurie Strode has spent the last few years in an institution processing the guilt. She seems suicidal since she has been found on the roof a few times. But is Laurie Strode really giving up? Not a bit of it. There's a proper showdown between Laurie and Michael which I won't spoil the ins and outs of here. When Laurie inevitably fails to destroy Michael forever, she kisses him and tells him "I'll see you in hell" before she dies.
This film has set Michael back up as the central figure in his own franchise and might at least have given the opportunity for a series with rather less baggage since Michael's connection finally seems to be solely to his old house rather than to tracking down the same old family members over and over again. Then again, perhaps the series loses something without repeated appearances from specific protagonists to counter Michael as an antagonist. Dr. Loomis was a welcome presence because he was the Van Helsing figure who could inform whatever hapless victims Michael was facing that year what they were up against. But if Michael is just a faceless killer who waits in a paticular location for whichever idiots decide to ignore the warnings, then he's no different really from Jason Vorhees in the Friday the 13th series. Having an informed protagonist who knows full well what they are up against should, arguably, lead to more interesting stories. But then again so far it really hasn't led to anything of the sort.
"Halloween Resurrection" is an effective series of suspense and kills, making it a proper passable slasher film. It also has, as all decent slasher movies should, a sense of fun. It is, however, horribly written. This is in no sense a good film, but it is a passable slasher flick which is much more than could be said about the last two entries.
If you are interested in checking out previous entries in this series you can find them at the following links:
Curse of Chucky (2013)
While the Child's Play series isn't consistently brilliant, all the Child's Play movies are fun, with "Child's Play 3" being the only one I'd say was completely mediocre.
It seemed quite bizarre to me that so many apparent 'fans' of this series dismiss "Bride of Chucky" and "Seed of Chucky" for being comedies. ALL the Child's Play movies have some level of comedy in them. But Don Mancini, who has written every "Child's Play" film, has clearly decided to respond to this strangely pervasive opinion amongst fans of his series. So now "Curse of Chucky" is the first to try to play it pretty much entirely straight. But even here there are some (very welcome) silly moments.
Brad Dourif is, as always, playing the voice of Chucky, but here we have his daughter, Fiona Dourif, playing the lead protagonist. She plays a young woman confined to a wheelchair, but lucky enough to be living in an enormous house with its own elevator.
As much as Don Mancini might be trying to be ultra-serious here, there's something sweet and silly about the various characters set up here. Still, there's a definite logical order to the events in the movie and questions like "why is Chucky randomly in THIS home?" and "how did Chucky even get here?" are all answered clearly.
Personally I miss the comedy and to be quite frank, I found "Bride of Chucky" extremely creepy and I don't really feel like that about "Curse". It's clearly a horror movie, but I never really felt particularly tense. Still, this is perfectly entertaining and the central performance from Fiona Dourif really helps to hold the film together. We also get an all-too-short appearance from Tiffany, played by - and actually inhabiting the body of (see "Seed of Chucky") - Jennifer Tilly.
This is a perfectly adequate Child's Play movie. If you were upset by Bride and Seed and the main thing you didn't like about them was the comedy, then congratulations, you got your plain old serious Child's Play movie. I hope you are satisfied. Personally I felt like this could have done with more comedy.
One other thing though. You should stay til after the credits. Since this was going straight to DVD, Don Mancini realises this could be the final movie in the series. As such, he's filmed a cool little finale to tie things up, just in case he never gets the chance to do so again. What with the after-credits sequence and the rather cool way the movie ends, I'm actually pretty excited for another instalment.
Ranking and summing up the "Child's Play" series:
6. Child's Play 3 (1991) C-
Better acting than part 2 before it and a genuine sense of fun, but there's a clear sense that the ending was neutered here. When we are expecting the seemingly inevitable 'all hell breaks loose' finale, the movie suddenly falls flat. This film had so much potential and the spark of wit that Don Mancini brings to each instalment is still here. However, Child's Play 3 is a rather hollow entry in this otherwise highly enjoyable series.
5. Seed of Chucky (2004) B-
This movie moves into self-parody and is full-on comedy, but while not all the jokes are great, there are some scenes which had me in stitches. Tilly rather upstages Chucky in this movie in the drama surrounding their roles as psychopathic parents. And her attempts to overcome her addiction to serial murder were absolute comic gold. While Glenn (or Glenda) wasn't the monsterous progeny we expected from "Seed of Chucky", you have to give Don Mancini credit for not making Chucky's child a less interesting clone of Chucky himself. It's hardly sensible to berate a movie for surprising us, particularly when it is done in such a creative way.
4. Child's Play 2 (1990) B-
The acting isn't great (strangely even from Jenny Agutter), but there's a lot of creativity, particularly in the factory towards the end. There's still the same creepy atmosphere as well as the campy silliness. (Though arguably the scene where Chucky spanks the teacher with the ruler wasn't funny enough.)
3. Curse of Chucky (2012) B-
An attempt to play things straight, presumably after there was so much badgering of the creator for a Chucky movie that wasn't comedic. I'm glad they didn't remove the comedy entirely though. Jennifer Tilly's appearance was very welcome. The main highlight here, however, is Fiona Dourif as Nica. I seriously hope Nica appears in further sequels (which I'm sure are forthcoming).
2. Child's Play (1988) B+
I didn't actually like this the first time I saw it because I thought I was supposed to take it seriously. If you are expecting a serious horror movie this is extremely cheesy. Now that I recognise the comedy elements, I actually think it's extremely effective. Funny, but extremely creepy too.
1. Bride Of Chucky (1998) A+
Hilarious AND creepy. Plus the addition of Tiffany adds a much-needed extra dimension to the Chucky saga. This is wonderfully inventive and one of my favourite horror comedies.
It wasn't so long ago that I released my "best movies" list for 2013, but I've already seen two movies probably more deserving of a place on that list (at very least in the top 20). My reviews are below.
There's been an odd tendency recently for horror directors to try out a kind of atmospheric period piece horror. Neil Marshall (director of "The Descent" and "Doomsday") made "Centurion", a film about Romans being massacred by Picts in Northern England (starring Michael Fassbender btw). Then Christopher Smith (director of "Severance" and "Triangle") made "Black Death", a film about a bunch of Church-sanctioned mercenaries investigating claims of necromancy in a village mysteriously unaffected by the plague (starring Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne).
This film, "Escape", is from Roar Uthaug, the director of "Cold Prey". The first two "Cold Prey" movies feel like someone watched every single slasher film, worked out a formula for what was best about all of them and then flawlessly applied that formula. "Cold Prey" is a slasher film with genuine characters and genuine terror and there's no other slasher film that can hold a candle to it.
"Escape" takes place ten years after the Black Plague. A family is travelling down a mountain pass when they are attacked by some kind of savage group of bandits led by a mysterious woman who has a remarkable level of influence over her male helpers. Out of the family, only the daughter is left alive. The group of bandits' plans for her are not pleasant and her only option seems to be to escape, but how?
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal plays the part of the mysterious and creepy woman. She played a major part in "Cold Prey" and has since been practically unrecognisable as one of the witches in "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" and rather suitably played Sergeant Angua, the werewolf guard, in Terry Pratchett's "Going Postal".
Left to right: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal in "Cold Prey", "Hansel and Gretel:Witch Hunters", "Going Postal"
The atmosphere and tension is really strong here and there's some surprising child bonding that is sort of reminiscent of "Let The Right One In". But the main attractions here are the performance from Ingrid Berdal and the sheet brutality that the movie is prepared to present. Thanks for Berdal's performance, it doesn't seem to matter how cruel her character gets; we can still empathise with her nonetheless.
The setting after the plague isn't entirely essential to the story here, but I think it helped me to accept the horrific opening premise more easily. These are characters who have lived through an era seemingly without hope. The bandits are disinclined to venture too far with either trust or compassion because neither has served them well in the past. And as savage as their small group of cutthroat villains might be, there's a twisted culture of loyalty present all the same, particularly towards Berdal's central figure. If I were to talk about "honour amongst theives" here, you shouldn't start picturing a Robin Hood scenario.
The atmosphere in "Escape" is thick, the acting is brilliant, the action is brutal, but the thing which holds "Escape" together more than anything is the characters. The main female actors here (two of them children) can convey so much to one another with just a look. Ingrid Berdal is particularly impressive in the way she comes very close to encouraging full-blown sympathy, rather than just empathy, when her character is utterly monstrous.
I thought "Cold Prey" was a brilliant slasher movie, but "Escape" is a brilliant film regardless of its genre. It is criminal that this film has not been seen by more people. It deserves more recognition.
The East (2013)
Another script from Brit Marling, here once again teamed up with director Zal Batmanglij. Since they worked together on "Sound of my Voice", one of my favourite movies from 2012, I'd actually been quite keen to see this at cinemas. But unfortunately I ended up missing it. The reviews haven't been terribly positive in spite of the more high profile cast this time around.
I will admit first of all that this is not quite on the same level as "Sound of my Voice". Nevertheless, I think there is a similar high level of quality here. Instead of a couple who wish to expose a dangerous cult, this time it is a trained corporate spy actively employed to track down a dangerous anarchist group.
From some accounts you'd have thought this was a whiny anti-corporate rant, but in actual fact the script takes great care not to push too far one way or the other. On both sides there are pragmatic elements which get in the way of doing the right thing. The anarchist group are aware that small-time stunts do not make headlines and constantly have the temptation to cause more harm. Meanwhile the firm uncovering the group are disinclined to step in and take action on the anarchists unless they can obtain a fee for doing so. The anarchists are in danger of taking their demands for justice too far, while the corporations are in danger of putting profit above integrity.
Of course, at the centre of the story is Brit Marling's character. As a highly trained spy she's kind of a badass. Through her, we see a character who is very efficient, capable and quick-to-adapt, but also very human. She makes no complaints about the job she has taken on, but we can see how she has a tough time keeping her life at home separate from her life out with the anarchists. The attempt to keep them separate clearly takes its toll.
I never feel at ease with the anarchist group, which clearly retains some degree of the emotionally manipulative elements of the cult in "Sound of my Voice", but equally the way things unfold makes Brit Marling's corporate spy firm seem similarly worrying, albeit in a different way. The anarchist group are shown protesting against genuinely serious corporate evil and their responses to those evils are carefully planned to be somewhat proportional. I think that was necessary. If these anarchists were like the Animal Liberation Front, sending bombs full HIV-infected needles to scientists involved in important medical research because they make use of animal testing, then it would have been hard to make the story compelling.
In the end, this is a film more about the characters than any political message. Brit Marling's protagonist started out the film completely convinced of her mission and, to be frank, so did I. It's no surprise to our protagonist's boss that she is getting too close to her targets, but thankfully the final ending isn't all about joining the rebels against the establishment, nor is it about celebrating the demise of the anarchists. Marling is a smarter writer than that and finishes with a rather less obvious conclusion.
Ellen Paige didn't exactly blow me away here. I thought Alexander Skarsgard did a pretty good job. In the end the only person who really held a candle to Brit Marling herself was Patricia Clarkson as her boss.
Overall I'd say that this wasn't quite as good as "Sound of my Voice", but was better than "Another Earth". Those were both films which I was highly impressed by and I cannot wait to see what script Brit Marling brings to the big screen next. She's an excellent writer and an excellent performer and it'll be interesting which she starts getting big awards for first. (Interestingly, while she's been nominated for both, she's only actually won an award for directing, shared with Mike Cahill for their work on the documentary "Boxers and Ballerinas".)
Man of Steel (2012)
I was not really terribly interested in seeing "Man Of Steel" until I saw a clop from one of the fight sequences on Youtube. there's a female evil Kryptonian working for the villainous General Zod who seems kind of cool and we get to see her throw Superman through a series of buildings, only finally stopping when he hits a reinforced safe door. I found the way the speed, strength and brutality of these extraterrestrial immortals was portrayed so beautiful and exciting that the cheesy yet well-delivered lines in that scene failed to put me off. I felt disinclined to miss the film, especially considering that I don't always agree with the popular opinion on films. (And heck, opinions aren't wholly negative. While only 56% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes liked the film, it has a score of 7.4 on IMDB right now.)
Another reason why I was interested is because of the director Zack Snyder. I've generally enjoyed most films of his I've seen. I think "300" is beautiful and engaging even if a little silly and I love everything besides the Queen of Sparta scenes in that movie. I actually prefer Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" remake to the original (which I've always felt was by far the worst paced of Romero's initial zombie trilogy). On top of that, I think the director's cut of "Watchmen" is one of my favourite superhero movies of all time (even if this genre isn't exactly brimming with masterpieces). So overall I've been a bit of a Zack Snyder fan and the only films of his I haven't seen are the cartoon about warrior owls ("Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole") and the glorified music video ("Suckerpunch").
As I sat down to watch "Man of Steel" I had mixed feelings about the opening. On the one hand, Krypton is now a fantasy wonderland with "Dark Crystal"-esque animals wandering around and some liquid metal technology all over the place. It's fairly pretty, but Krypton ends up feeling less like less a mysterious and allegorical location like it seemed to me in the original "Superman" movie and more like a real place. The additional background information provided about Krypton this time around makes it all the harder to accept the bizarre political situation going on there, which has now been made more convoluted than ever.
But before we get to all that Kal-El, the boy who will become Superman, is born, immediately seems to look about five years old (probably more because newborn babies always seem to be nowhere near newborn in films rather than because of alien physiology) and, what's more, is born entirely bloodlessly. Clean as a whistle! (Kryptonians do HAVE blood, right?) His father, Jor-El (played by Russell Crowe), has decided to send his son off-planet to grow up on Earth. As in the original movie, Jor-El is entrusting his son with a hologrammatic version of himself - only this time the magical crystals are replaced by... a memory stick?
So anyway, let's discuss the politics in this opening section. In the original movie this element is rushed through pretty quickly. Zod and friends are sentenced to the phantom zone for their crimes against Krypton and then the council discusses the planet's imminent destruction. For some reason the council has decided that no one should be allowed to leave the planet and Jor-El is unable to convince them that the planet is doomed. For that reason he decides to send his son to Earth.
In this reboot, the council seem to fully recognise that the planet is about to die, yet we seem to be expected to believe that it is due to both depleted natural resources AND artificial reproduction methods. At this early stage Zod actually seems pretty sensible since he objects to the council for dooming the planet and rebels against them for that reason. Seems like he has a pretty good reason for complaint and a good rationale for desperate measures. The decision to make Zod a megalomaniac and genocidal psychopath seems rather forced after these initial scenes.
But with everyone recognising that Krypton is doomed it's confusing as to why absolutely nobody leaves the planet. An evacuation of the planet seems like such a clear and obvious decision and yet nobody attempts it.
Things are further complicated since we are told that there are Kryptonian outposts across space, but apparently they have withered and died and it is not very obvious why. In the original movie it seemed accepted that Kyptonians were all settled on Krypton. In "Man of Steel" there's actually a thousand-year-old Kryptonian spacecraft buried in the ice in the Antarctic, suggesting widespread space travel by the Kryptonites. So why did the Kryptonian outposts perish? They died of homesickness?
The high quality visual effects carry on throughout the film and the action scene I saw before, along with several others, is as gorgeous as expected. Nevertheless, in the context of the movie it was hard to engage with because it was so hard to assess the motivations of the characters. This is not least because we do not have much in the way of characters with genuine believable personalities here.
There's very little in the way of 'character moments' throughout the entire film. Our new Clark Kent feels like a blank slate. Amy Adams' Lois Lane character tries to come off tough a few times, but mostly just seems like a damsel in distress figure. Russell Crowe's Jor-El pulls off his role well enough as an enigmatic goody-goody figure, but there's seemingly no space in the plot for a long term mentoring role to his son here. Michael Shannon's character of Zod, as already mentioned, nearly has a personality before he is reluctantly twisted into the more traditional 'evil' figure we were expecting.
I'd have to say that there was only one actor in a major role who I felt had any real genuine character moments where I thought the performance had some resemblance to an actual person. That actor was Kevin Costner, who plays Superman's adopted human father. I never one thought when I put this DVD on that I would be heralding Kevin Costner as the best thing in the film, but I have to say, I was impressed. It can't have done him any harm that everything else felt flat and fake, but I think he deserves some credit for what he managed to achieve. He had the same lame dialogue as everyone else, yet somehow he seemed to be able to give a performance with gravitas anyway.
In the second half, Superman just feels like one action sequence after another, but we never seem to have much at stake. Superman attacks Zod because his adopted mother's life is at stake, but we soon forget about that as the battle sequence moves to the local town. Superman needs to stop some giant gravity machine, but luckily for him, he knows how to create a mini-black-hole (somehow). Also in the context of the movie, the lines from female Kryptonian I saw in that little fight scene clip were even less impressive than ever. She says some twaddle about how morality is an evolutionary disadvantage and "evolution always wins". The problem is, we know from the early scenes that Kryptonians haven't been doing any evolving at all. They've been born artificially for generations - so no natural selection was involved at all.
Here's my biggest problem with this: I've long felt that the original Superman movie was more of a Jewish allegory than a Christian one. Certainly it allows for Christian interpretations too and this is undoubtedly intentional, but it is a story of a figure whose race has been decimated and who finds a safe haven in America. The central character establishes a new identity in America and becomes as much an American as anyone else, but ordinary people would never know the awesome power he holds nor the tragic history he carries. It is easy to see the parallels with Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution. But here, the eugenics program is held by the Kryptonians themselves, not just the villainous Zod and his supporters. What's more, Zod and his fellow rebels hold their identity due to their commitment to the roles the eugenics program has given them. In "Superman II", the Christ metaphor essentially posed Superman as battling demons, Kryptonian 'angels' fallen from grace. But here in "Man of Steel" the evil Kryptonians have a whole Nazi-esque ideology connected with their status as genetically-engineered soldiers for Krypton. The idea of changing Superman's own people into born and bred Nazis makes me very uneasy. But perhaps I'm taking this all too seriously. Perhaps I should be rather more upset by the fact that writer David S. Goyer seems to have no idea what "evolution" means...
Like "Superman Returns" before it, "Man of Steel" is an impressive showcase of Superman-related effects. Most of the movie is highly visually impressive, asides from one small scene where Amy Adams is screaming in a kind of pod that is falling to Earth, with the camera spinning in a circle to indicate that she is tumbling through space. The visuals here actually looked extremely cheesy. But as a general rule what "Man of Steel"'s effects have over and above the "Superman Returns" effects is how visceral they are. We can really feel how Superman reacts with his environment when he flies and it's these effects which make the action sequences between the Kryptonians so exciting even without the character motivations to hold our interest.
But in the end I'd rather be watching "Superman Returns" with Kevin Spacey and Brandon Routh parroting lines from the original seventies Superman movie, than watch this hollow sugar-coated eye-candy garbage. When Kevin Costner's character in the movie dies it was the one moment that I had any kind of emotional attachment in "Man of Steel" and it was less because of the scenario ("save the dog!") and more because it depicted the demise of the most interesting character in the film.
David Goyer has proven himself to be a pretty dreadful writer with no co-writers to tidy his work up (see "Blade") and an absolutely dire director (see "Blade Trinity") while Zack Snyder has proven himself to be best at directing someone else's good quality material (see "Watchmen" and "Dawn of the Dead") and much less impressive when he tries to write for himself (see "Suckerpunch" and any scenes not completely lifted from the comic in "300"). So I find it hard to get excited about the upcoming "Batman Vs Superman" movie co-written by David Goyer and Zack Snyder (and starring Ben Affleck). After this train wreck I have a hard time expecting anything but an unmitigated cinematic catastrophe - and about the only upside left now is that the computer generated effects will most likely be absolutely gorgeous.