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    Premium Rush (2012)
    I wasn't entirely sure how appealing I would find "Premium Rush". A story about cycle couriers, with the protagonist being a thrill seeker who rides without breaks or gears.

    Still there's something ridiculously endearing about the way Joseph Gordon Levitt plays this fairly average figure. His charm is a blessing and a curse sometimes since while his transformation in "Hesher" was very effective, JGL makes a character who runs down a small child with his truck a little too easy to forgive. What's more, his gangster character in "Looper" still seems strangely sweet and cuddly, even when he's profiting from murder.

    JGL's surprisingly relateable thrill seeker character has a number of co-workers in the cycle courier business. Sure it's a bit of a cliché the way one is a female love interest and the other is a friendly male rival, but they are written well enough that they feel like real people.

    The world the characters inhabit, on the other hand, is a different story. Funnily enough, I'm reminded of the film 'Cargo'. "Cargo" introduced the audience to a world centred around truck drivers, their values and their concerns. 'Premium Rush' does the same with bike couriers. There's something somewhat unreal about the world they live in and the characters are sometimes exaggerated to fit into that world, but 'Premium Rush' is enough fun that you can run with it even where the situation is implausible or oversimplified.

    I especially liked the short 'Run Lola Run'-esque sequences where JGL's character quickly assesses his best route through potentially fatal traffic conditions.

    And let's not forget the absolutely fantastic performance from Michael Shannon as the villain. Even while some elements of the plot seem like a bit of a soap opera Shannon is consistently brilliant.

    As silly fun, Premium Rush is excellent. It's not a comedy, it's not an action film, it's not a visual extravaganza, but it's a fun and engaging piece of entertainment and I was very satisfied.

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    Game of Werewolves (2011)

    I'd received a pretty strong recommendation for this from the horror movie blog "John Of The Dead". I don't always agree with "John Of The Dead", but he gives some pretty interesting recommendations. I'd probably never have watched the "Death Note" movies if it weren't for this blog.

    One thing that made me want to see this movie was, as far as I could tell, a spoiler for a rather cool gag. The following image is on John of the Dead's review.

    It's a funny sight of werewolves being asked to put their hands in the air. But what would it look like if the wolves followed the instruction and DID put their hands in the air?

    Sadly that gag does not actually play out in the movie at all. A lot of the gags fell flat. Mark Kermode suggested that the comedy in last year's "I'm So Excited", from Pedro Almodóvar, might have been lost due to the language barrier and this was met by much scepticism. I'm similarly sceptical as to whether the humour in this would be any better from a Spanish perspective. I like plenty of foreign comedy movies such as "Goodbye Lenin", "Life Is Beautiful", "The Taste of Others", "Amelie" as well as some darkly comic movies like "The Host" and "Mother" from Joon-Ho Bong. The problem here is that, whatever language is being used, the timing is all off.

    The werewolf effects are wonderful and there are some great elements here. There's clearly the potential for a much better movie. Unfortunately random asides about characters committing bestiality in their youth somehow weren't really working for me.

    JohnOfTheDead refers to this as the best of the modern day werewolf flicks. I don't know if he's counting "An American Werewolf In London" in that list and, if we ignore that classic for the sake of argument, I still think that "Ginger Snaps" is still head and shoulders above the (remaining) competition. "A Game Of Werewolves" (known here in the UK as "Attack Of The Werewolves") is run of the mill and frankly dull. As a big fan of horror comedy myself I found this to be lacking both decent humour and decent atmosphere and without either of those it made for a pretty dull experience.


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    The Amazing Spider-Man 2

    I haven't found many people who shared my love for the first of the Amazing Spider-Man films. I actually said at the time that I preferred it to "Avengers Assemble" and I continue to hold that opinion. I think part of the appeal is that I was a fan of the Spider-Man comics in my teens and it was great to finally see the character properly realised on the big screen. (I've never really thought that the character played by Tobey Maguire in Sam Raimi's films had much resemblance to Peter Parker.) The first Amazing Spider-Man film was laugh-out-loud funny, well choreographed, emotionally touching and a major selling point was the fantastic chemistry between Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey. It was an absolute delight for me.

    So with that in mind, it should come as little surprise that I didn't think this second Spider-Man movie was as good. While the studios have clear plans for the series to go on forever, the director Marc Webb has a trilogy of movies in mind before he passes the reins to a new director and this feels very much like an awkward middle-child of a trilogy.

    But I should make clear right now that all the elements within the movie are brilliant. While comedy isn't the main focus and I didn't think this was quite as funny as the first film, there were points where I laughed out loud. The chemistry between Garfield and Stone is still smoking hot and now that Peter Parker is less awkward in the relationship, he's able to be extremely charming. Some of the funniest moments actually involve their realistic interactions as a couple. A major strength of this superhero franchise over any other is definitely that it is the only one where the love interest is a highlight rather than an obligatory extra.

    There were complaints from the first film that Peter Parker was a bit of a tosser and while the filmmakers haven't decided to make him suddenly flawless, we can already see a much greater sense of responsibility in light of the events in the previous instalment.

    All the performances in this sequel are brilliant. Emma Stone is as incredible as ever and she is very much the pro-active character rather than the damsel in distress. In fact I think it is vitally important to the way that this movie unfolds that the character of Gwen Stacey here is one that refuses to be helpless. Another rather cool element is that their shared understanding of science actively contributes to the storyline (though those who are more science-savvy will have to judge how well that actually worked).

    Jamie Foxx is fantastic as the Oscorp maintenance worker with ultra-low self-esteem who becomes convinced that Spider-Man is his only friend. Paul Giamatti, however, has a smaller and basically a comic relief character. I mean, put it this way: We pretty much start the film with Giamatti's character speaking broken English in a Russian accent, while Spider-Man tries to stop him stealing a bunch of Plutonium. Cliched but entertaining and you can tell Giamatti is relishing every ridiculous moment of it.

    Dane DeHaan is brilliant as the rich inheritor of the Oscorp estate and Peter's old friend from childhood. Admittedly the scene between him and Chris Cooper (playing his dying father) feels very As-You-Know-Joe to fill us in on their troubled relationship, but I guess after the complaints of the last movie, they don't want to leave anything unexplained.

    Up and coming British actress Felicity Jones is sadly rather under-used here as Felicia Hardy, but I think she's being set up for a more important role in the next film (which is not much of an excuse, but is an okay consolation).

    Not being familiar with the early comics, I hadn't realised that Felicia Hardy, one of Peter's many potential love interests in the cartoon, was actually the same character I had seen working with Peter against the villain 'Carnage' in the persona of 'Black Cat'.

    The effects are gorgeous and we get to see some far more inventive useage of Spider-Man's powers than we have ever seen before. His super-strength powers are more evident than ever. And having got over the 'dark past' side of Spider-Man in the last movie, there's a wonderful sense of fun here. There are some very inventive and visually impressive moments and some very clever shots. One example would be an electricity-based villain standing in the middle of a road surrounded on both sides by cars with their lights flashing and their alarms going off - and at the end of the road? The bright lights of Times Square. It's one of many cool visual moments in the film. Another cool visual which some people might actually recognise from the trailer is Spider-Man being chased through electric pylons. I actually think I am going to enjoy this film even more when I rewatch it in 2D, since I find the 3D often detracts from my enjoyment of action scenes - partly because it reminds me that I'm watching a movie and partly because it darkens the image. (Though I'll admit that there wasn't the blurring and awkward focus that I've normally encountered in 3D films.)

    "Amazing Spider-Man 2" wastes no time in filling us in on the "untold story" promised last time. The sequence at the beginning of the last movie is completely explained and Spider-Man's backstory is building up nicely. The problem is that overall, while this movie might have a great sense of fun and some wonderful character moments, its own plot is fairly simple, predictable and a little fragmented in its pacing and consistency. In the end, this is a film a little overly focussed on setting up a longer storyline. Still, while the overall plot might be a little lacking, the individual elements are fantastic.

    I personally reckon that "Amazing Spider-Man 2" is still a better than average superhero movie and light years ahead of Raimi's three attempts, but I don't think it's on a par with Marvel Studio's post-Avengers efforts. Though goodness knows how anyone else would rank this. There seem to be people out there who think that Marvel Studios movies are getting worse and there are tons of people out there who hated the first Amazing Spider-Man movie and, of course, who loved Sam Raimi's movies. Perhaps the important point to make then is simply that "Amazing Spider-Man 2" is great fun. I think it would be fairly uncontroversial to argue that this is the least mopey Peter Parker has ever been in a Spider-Man film.


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    Three more films in my John Hughes retrospective. I've been working backwards from John Hughes' final directing credit "Curly Sue" to his directorial début "Sixteen Candles". So far I reviewed "Curly Sue", "Uncle Buck" and "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" in the first instalment which you can find here. Below I review "She's Having A Baby", "Weird Science" and "The Breakfast Club".

    In my reverse retrospective, "She's Having A Baby" should have come after "Uncle Buck". However, in desperation I jumped straight into "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" - with unfortunate results. So having received my worst John Hughes experience of all time from the movie enjoyed by 47 out of 50 reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes (94%), I figured that "She's Having A Baby", with a score of 48% was unlikely to be any worse.

    She's Having A Baby (1988)

    There was brief ray of hope in the opening scenes of this movie when it had a sort of Coen Brothers, black comedy feel to it. Our central protagonists are about to get married and their extended families on either side of the Church are utterly unimpressed by the pairing and often badmouthing the other family.

    Right from the start of the movie the groom, played by Kevin Bacon, is being offered the chance by his friend and best man, played by Alec Baldwin, to drive into the sunset and leave this whole scenario behind. His best man is already married and divorced and this is his final warning before whatever comes next.

    Anyway, the moment the wedding ends and the marriage starts, it becomes clear that isn't going to be much of a comedy. Sure, there are the occasional funny moments (which is more than I could say of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles), but as the film goes on it's cynicism evaporates. I'd feel better about that if I didn't personally feel more reason to be cynical as the film progressed.

    Kevin Bacon's character starts fantasising about AND actively pursuing another woman. We are seemingly not expected to judge him to harshly for this. On the other hand there's an occasion where the female protagonist (Elizabeth McGovern) is given the option whether to cheat on him with Alec Baldwin. I think I am supposed to feel like it would be a big moral failing in her if she cheats, rather than wondering what is so sexually appealing about Alec Baldwin showing up drunk and just insisting that he is irresistible. We are seemingly NOT supposed to find Bacon's character annoying when he gets frustrated at not being particularly fertile. But I don't think it's an accident that McGovern's character comes off straight away as a nagging shrew.

    The point is, these characters do not seem suited right from the start. Bacon seems naive, McGovern seems sensible. Bacon is led astray, McGovern is committed to monogamy. In spite of apparently struggling to find decent jobs, they are soon living in an absolutely enormous house and arguing about the funds they don't have, but then clearly do have. But Bacon dreams of becoming a successful writer, yet McGovern's character never seems to have any dreams at all until the prospect of having a baby arrives.

    The more this film shed its cynicism and took itself seriously, the less I enjoyed it. It's a self-satisfied middle-to-upper-class fairytale about an immature (yet 'loveable') man and his overly sensible wife (who is also lacking in personality) and their joy in realising that their goal in life is to create more copies of themselves.



    I was trepidatious about revisiting this one. This retrospective hasn't been fantastic, I didn't remember this film being the best thing ever and had every expectation that, in the light of Hughes other films, it would turn out to be awful. But I decided to trust my 14 year old self that this would be a lot more fun than the last few John Hughes films.

    Weird Science (1985)

    The premise of this movie initially sounds appalling. A couple of teenage losers who cannot seem to get a girlfriend decide to use their computer and make themselves a woman. But you have to realise that it is very much an accident that they are successful. It's more of a computer-centred ritual rather than an engineering job, with cultish behaviour like wearing bras on their heads playing a part. The woman they create appears to have magic powers and in the end of the end this is like a modern story about a genie granting wishes.

    The initial gag is simply that, when faced with a woman, these teenagers have no idea what to do with her. As much as she might claim to be their possession, they clearly have no power over her at all. In this respect it's probably helpful that Hughes, who seems to have an aversion to cynicism, is the one directing the film. The story does not move into the darker territory which the premise might suggest.

    So as the genie (the character is called Lisa, but I'm going to refer to her as a genie from now on) offers the protagonists everything they have ever wanted, they become better aware of what it is they really consider important.

    Returning to this film after all this time, I now recognise that the appearance of some bizarre bikers reeking havoc, is actually a reference to the movies "Mad Max 2" and "The Hills Have Eyes" (not least since at least two of the actors in that scene come from each of those films). It's an odd reference, but cool all the same.

    There is some absolutely wonderful effects work in "Weird Science" which I think holds up remarkably well. Some of the work involving the destruction (and reconstruction) of the house would have been done with CG today and must surely have cost a fortune.

    Genies never actually really grant your wishes. Our two teen protagonists find themselves increasingly disturbed by what they are offered. However, the point of the story is that they grow in confidence and realise that they do not need the wishes after all. A more cynical storyteller would take us down the road of a Faust-ian corruption from which there could be no return. But Hughes is happy to have the protagonists grow out of their immature wishing and to realise that they just needed confidence to do things for themselves.

    This is the sweet inspiring type of John Hughes film that I'd been hoping for throughout Hughes' filmography. The consensus review on Rotten Tomatoes says: "Hardly in the same league as John Hughes' other teen movies...," yet here I am, having watched 6 out of the 8 films Hughes directed and, besides Ferris Bueller, "Weird Science" seems to be very clearly the best one.


    So, with my faith in Hughes mostly restored, it was now time to check out his most highly acclaimed film: "The Breakfast Club". I knew nothing about what to expect. All I knew was that it was supposed to be the big highlight of this retrospective.

    The Breakfast Club (1985)

    It did not take long for me to start hating this film. It doesn't seem like a great decision to put your moral in voiceover narration at the title credits, but I suppose the point was that we were supposed to recognise the clichés that are listed in the characters. The initial narration tells the teacher not to judge his pupils in simple pigeon-holed stereotypes which are listed as: a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal.

    So with that defiant message and the tune of "Don't You Forget About Me" we are introduced to each of the characters who have been put into a day-long Saturday detention. It is suggested to a girl that it might be a bad idea for her to skip school to go shopping and she sighs as if she is too cool to listen. Of all the characters being dropped off for school, the only one I can sympathise with is the 'brain' who is told by his mother that he should make sure he makes any excuse he can to use the time for studying (since the intention is apparently that the students should sit in silence and think about what they have done).

    So besides the teen who wants to study, I feel like pretty much everyone at this detention needs to give me a reason to like them. Right now, I'm disinclined to like pretty much any of the five kids. So imagine my surprise when the most obnoxious of the teens who has been doing nothing but insulting everybody gets up to open everyone's eyes about how hard it is being an anti-social arsehole.

    He enters into a discussion about school clubs and his lack of membership to any of them and decides to endear himself to me by mocking the 'brainy' student for being "a dork" and "demented and sad".

    Of course, this is all after he's already got up to loudly and enthusiastically suggest: "...why don't you go close that door. We'll get the prom queen --impregnated!"

    Yes, that's right. The character who is going to open our eyes is the same character who starts the film by trying to instigate a gang rape. Nice...

    Towards the end of the film, the suggestion that the students need to stay in their seats is over. They are dancing around the library to loud music, getting high on pot and even giving each other makeovers. There are no real events in the film really. Just long drawn out conversations. Essentially this is "Dinner With Andre" set in a high school.

    The "princess" explains that she won't be anyone's friend back in school and the "basket case" cannot stop stealing items the whole way through the film and admits to being an inveterate liar. So they prove to be pretty much exactly what their stereotypes would suggest. Except that the 'basket case' is actually prettier than the 'princess'... particularly BEFORE her unnecessary makeover.

    The athlete gives a sob story about how he did not really want to be a horrible bully, but he had pressure from his dad to do so. Over the film he suggests that he has no choices in his life and is being bred like a racehorse and while Emilio Estevez might be a good enough actor to make the dialogue compelling, it doesn't take a lot of thought to recognise that what he is saying is not true. He's clearly just as free as any teenagers in school to make his own decision.

    The "criminal" blames his behaviour on his upbringing. In fact, all of the teenagers seem to blame their parents for their mistakes. Naturally the best a school can do to deal with bad behaviour is ensure that children have the fixed rules and expectations which are not provided in their homes and to report to relevant services any evidence of actual abuse. But for the purposes of this movie, I'm expected to forget all that and to believe that detentions represent pure vindictiveness against poor innocent children. And to ensure that I make that naive appraisal of the situation, we get to see the teacher in charge actually threaten to beat up the obnoxious teenager.

    The 'criminal' character is clearly an obnoxious bully, but we are expected to forgive him because he's had a tough life (as if one negated the other). There have been trials where lawyers have tried to make similar arguments when defending serial killers. Sob stories do not undermine guilt.

    "The Breakfast Club" seems to take jokes like the one in the following sketch entirely seriously:

    (video link)

    Finally the 'brain' explains the reason he is in detention. Apparently he had a weapon in school with every intention of using it to commit suicide.

    In response to the brain's confession, all the other characters laugh and ask him to write their paper for them.

    This movie disgusts me.


    Just "Sixteen Candles" and a rewatch of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" to go. This retrospective has NOT gone well...

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    The Nanny (1965)

    A later Bette Davis performance. A child comes home from a special school intended to sort out his poor behaviour. In the house the boy's mother seems highly reliant on the nanny and she's seen more like part of the family than as a paid assistant, but the boy himself is rude to her and refuses to have anything to do with her.

    The central child actor is brilliant and the interplay between him and the excellent Bette Davis is wonderful. The film very cleverly teases out all the details of their odd rivalry and there are actually some quite twisted moments.

    The film seems to be somewhat spoilt by the ending which seems to pull away from the seemingly inevitable downbeat ending. I thought this must be due to the Hays Code of the era which demanded that any crimes in films are punished. However, one website notes that the inclusion of children smoking cigarettes and the clear reference to abortion would put this film firmly outside the constricts of the Hays Code anyway. In any case, the Hays Code would seem to require a fuller and more definite punishment and a more obviously happy ending. You only have to look at the ending of "Night of the Hunter" to see what kind of superfluous and pointless sweet and cheerful blandness the Hays Code required from otherwise brilliant yet dark tales.

    Still even with my qualms with the ending in mind, this is still a tense, clever and brilliantly performed film. The tension is built up masterfully and the shocking nature of the film's content actually makes it seem ahead of its time.

    "The Nanny" explores some very interesting themes like the difference between being an adult and a child and the way that a carer can control or even infantilise those they care for.

    "The Nanny" is brilliant, terrifying, thought-provoking and wonderfully acted. Oddly enough this was the last of the black and white Hammer Horror films (making me wonder whether the change to colour was a terribly good move on their part).


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    Good Vibrations

    I was a little worried when this seemed to be trying to be quirky at the beginning. There's a strange little sequence to indicate that our protagonist lost an eye when he was younger and an insistance that he will see the world differently as a result. (Actually missing an eye means that, through that eye at least, you won't be seeing anything. But let's move on.)

    This is a film based on real life and our protagonist is Terri Hooley who ended up being a really important figure in the music scene in Ireland at the height of 'the troubles'.

    The situation in Ireland seems to be very easy to misrepresent on film, so it was good here to see people with a real handle on how things actually worked. (As much as I love the series "Burn Notice" the episode where Fiona meets back up with one of her old IRA pals was pretty cringeworthy. The writers seemed to have absolutely no conception of how horrible the situation in Ireland really was and wanted to make it a matter of 'good guys' and 'bad guys' rather than a horrifying mess.)

    Terri (played by Richard Dormer) finds that his friends get pulled into either side of the conflict in Northern Ireland and he generally finds that he's too left-wing for either of them, making things pretty dangerous. Early in the film he falls in love with Ruth (played by Jodie Whittaker from "Attack The Block" and "Venus"), but Terri decides that they are not going to leave Belfast. They are not going to let the violence stop them.

    This is where this film does something that only a biopic can really achieve. Something happens which you would normally dismiss as being too ridiculously far-fetched and yet it really truly happened. Terri buys up a shop in the most-bombed half mile in the whole of Europe and calls it "Good Vibrations". He does not care about the gravity of his decision. He has a big smile on his face the whole time. He is convinced that if he re-introduces the joy of music to the people of Belfast (and he particularly points out Reggae as a good source of joy, though we actually hear very little Reggae over the course of the film, even this early) then he can help to turn the tide and bring people together.

    It's crazy. There's little reason why this record shop should succeed. But Terri is a very interesting character because you can see how he'd be forward-thinking enough to buy up and organise a record shop, but not forward-thinking enough to worry about all the things that could go wrong.

    What's even crazier is that what feels like it must be the beginning of a tragic story, is actually a success story (mostly). There's a wonderful style of filming going on in "Good Vibrations" and wonderful acting. There's also a very interesting contrast between the upbeat attitude of Terri and genuine footage of nightmarish violence going on around him. We run into some British soldiers at one point and they find it completely bizarre that Terri should have Protestants and Catholics riding around together with him. In fact, we need that scene in order to make clear this important truth that for most of the time we are following Terri is generally unstated. He really does create a space around him where, as far as possible, none of the violent rivalries in Belfast matter.

    There are some wonderful moments in "Good Vibrations". Our protagonist's discovery of punk rock is beautiful. The importance of John Peel to the story is rather fun. Seeing the way Terri tries to introduce people across Northern Ireland to punk rock and the way it is embraced in order to both bring joy back into their lives and yet protest the various authoritarian figures surrounging them makes for a very interesting and compelling message. Overall, there's just something extremely sweet about "Good Vibrations" in spite of its depressing setting and even though it never lets you forget where all of this is taking place.

    As with any biopic, the problem is where to end it. I think that considering the upbeat style of the storytelling it should be fair to note that they do not follow the overdone trope of finishing with Terri's death. Of course, one somewhat follows from the other. This story is not a tragedy and so it doesn't need a tragic ending. I would still note that it was unclear to me why we finished the film where we did, but it was pretty satisfying.

    My biggest criticism is probably that they didn't flesh out Jodie Whittaker's character enough. Her role for most of the story seems to be to get upset because she is neglected when Terri is too busy with his various achievements. It felt like we could have done with seeing what she is up to while Terri is away and getting more sense of her as an independent figure in her own right. The nearest we really get to that is seeing her trying to act as a truancy officer, but that's a very throwaway part of the film and we don't really see her interact with anyone in that job. When you have such a great actress in the role it seems strange that the part isn't more fleshed out than this.

    "Good Vibrations" has some more minor issues too. If you don't think that the song "Teenage Kicks" is the best song, or even the best punk song, on the soundtrack here, then you may feel a little odd about one particular scene. As a biopic where the events in the film are decided by what happened in real life, the major hurdle Terri faces in the second half concern time and money. These are clearly very realistic and genuine problems, but not quite as compelling as the threat of bombs, guns, kidnap and torture which were raised in the first half. The pacing of the film suffers in the second half as a result.

    I think it is fair to say that while the achievements of Terri Hooley are absolutely incredible, the story of how he manages it and the ins and outs of what he does make for a fairly plain story. It is the way that "Good Vibrations" has been put together as a film which make the story as enjoyable as it is. And it is, REALLY enjoyable. This is definitely a very fun watch and it feels like, no matter how embellishment is involved here, Terri Hooley must have been a very larger than life character. While a little uneven in the pacing, this is well worth checking out.


    Here's some examples of the punk rock music from the movie. There's some pretty great stuff here:

    (video link)

    (video link)

    (video link)

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    "Almost Home" is a really sweet and funny short film also acting as a trailer for the upcoming animated movie "Home".

    (video link)

    I think it's good that this is a role that seems to suit Steve Martin's over-the-top delivery. While I know some people are inclined to suggest that Steve Martin is past it, I have to say that the performances I've liked best from him have generally been later in his career - my favourite being "Bowfinger".

    This short film is funny, pretty and emotionally touching, so if the full movie manages to keep that up it could be quite wonderful.

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    The Exorcist (1973)

    In light of my recent dissatisfaction with the box office smash hit horror movie "The Conjuring" I decided to go back to the source. The granddaddy of all exorcism movies: "The Exorcist".

    Recently a number of films have tried to revisit this genre including: The Rite (seemingly promoting a rise in Catholic exorcisms under Pope Benedict), The Possession (involving a Jewish exorcist) and the tv series "Apparitions" (involving a quite liberal priest in a larger-than-life story written by an atheist who's done their research).

    I considered including The Exorcist in a list of films involving a fear of children. However, I'm not sure this film fits on the list. The child is always posed very much as a victim. The religious view being that the child is subject to a demon possession. The sceptical position being that time kind of issue with the brain or psychological issue is causing her to act in a bizarre and hostile way.

    The effects work to demonstrate the child's possession makes a more sceptical position seem more than a little ludicrous. I wonder whether the filmmakers didn't intend for the effects to be rather more subtle. Then again, when furniture starts sliding across the room the psychological explanation becomes especially daft.

    In fact an occasion where a piece of furniture moves was one of two occasions where I laughed out loud. The other was when the words 'help me' appeared on the girl's body.

    The contrast between the serious and intelligent discussion in this film and the ridiculous over-the-top possession effects is jarring and makes this feel like two different films stitched together. But of course, these ridiculous effects are original to this film and I cannot help but feel that "The Exorcist" is preferable to later films inspired by this film that manage to maintain a more consistent tone (being consistently ludicrous).

    I think a lot of the character scenes and intelligent discussions are pretty good and there's a really good filing style, but I'll be honest, as much as I admire the pioneering possession effects, I do not really like those scenes. My dislike of ghost films comes in here. Once it is blatantly obvious that the girl is possessed by a demon, the question arises as to why it doesn't have anything more interesting to do with its telekinetic powers than slide furniture around, levitate the bed or open drawers. (It's like in John Dies At The End when he asks why you would use psychic powers just to scrounge beer at parties.) The demon is a character in its own right and I needed it to have a clearer motivation. When it is pretending to be a dead relative of the priest, for example, that's a very odd way to try to make him doubt his faith. I think this is why Joe Ahearne's "Apparitions" series is still my favourite portrayal of an exorcism, since it actually explores the motivations of the demons to make them more compelling villains.

    One last negative point to bring up is the hysterical acting from the mother. It's clear from Aronofsky's "Requiem For A Dream" that Ellen Burstyn is an incredible actress, but the way she plays her character here is exasperating. Though I realise this is a rather more petty criticism, I was also rather annoyed by the possessed girl's screaming at times.

    Overall the Exorcist is an interesting film and outside of the possession scenes there's a very interesting examination of faith and rationality. The possession scenes, while daft, are still pretty impressive, even now. But it should be noted that the scenes which squicked me out the most were the down-to-earth medical scenes involving some unpleasant procedures and some thoroughly terrifying machinery. "The Exorcist" is very much a product of its time with an unfortunate legacy, but it deserves that it still remains superior to its many imitators through the years.


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    As I began working through these films I had only seen the second one. I hadn't actually seen the first one at all. The poster was like a lot of posters at the time and while there appear to be some who think that "Scream" was rescuing the horror genre, it led to an awful lot of horror movie posters showcasing 'hot' young actors all lined up. One look at the original "Final Destination" poster had me convinced that I would never want to see it any more than I wanted to see "I Know What You Did Last Summer" or the "House on Haunted Hill" remake. During this era a bunch of trendy attractive kids lined up on the video box cover was bad news and if I hadn't recognised Robert Rodriguez' name I might never have watched and loved "The Faculty".

    My general rule of thumb back when these came out? If it has a line of pretty young teenagers on the cover... don't bother.

    I think it was only when studios were releasing the third Final Destination film that I actually came to understand what the purpose of the films actually was and finally checked out the second movie when it was on tv. I thought "Final Destination 2" was trashy but fun, but having heard that the films were only going downhill I was disinclined to check out the fourth movie terribly quickly. For one, I had already missed movie three and also making 3D a big selling point was a complete turnoff for me.

    But the central premise intrigued me in these movies. Not the psychic stuff. (Seriously, when I heard that this film was about psychic visions I thought it sounded unbelieveably stupid.) Rather the idea that little coincidences could line up to lead to your death. I think the concept might have its origins with the "Omen" movies. Damien the Antichrist rarely actually confronts people in order to kill them in those movies. Often they'll be visited by some kind of animal, but in many cases the power of Satan just seemed to work through simple coincidences. Weird unexplainable accidents would serve to finish off characters. It's a really interesting idea that death is potentially everywhere you look and that ordinary events from getting in a lift, to walking down stairs, to simply enjoying your dinner all have the potential to be life-threatening activities.

    Final Destination (2000)

    The first movie in the series isn't expecting you to know what is coming and it takes its time setting things up. It hints and nods to what might possibly be on the way, but in the most bizarre way. There's an opening credits scene which focusses on a fan turning from side to side blowing into the room, while in the room there's reference to um... the black plague? Seriously, I have no idea what the opening scene is trying to suggest, but simply that it's way too long and boring as hell.

    Then we move to our initial setting on an airport. There's some very heavy-handed dialogue about coincidence and fate. The major familiar face in this movie at the time would have been Seann William Scott, the actor known most for his role as Stifler in the American Pie films (and yet another reason why I really was not at all interested in this film). He's an okay actor and thankfully he's not doing the obnoxious sarcastic dickhead routine from "American Pie", but he's given very little to work with here. Or at least, he provides little evidence that he has much to offer outside of that irritating role.

    There's also Ali Larter, who is now known for her role in the tv series "Heroes" as well as the role of Claire in "Resident Evil:Extinction". However, at this stage pretty much all she was known for was the remake of "House On Haunted Hill" (yet another horror-movie with Scream-style 'hot' young actors lined up video box cover). I have tough time enjoying her performance in this first film, but I think it was probably her performance in the second movie, with her character having been hardened by the events of the first film, which made me want to check out this series in the first place.

    The basic premise of all Final Destination movies is technically a spoiler though it happens in the first 15 minutes of each film. If you are really keen to avoid hearing it you may as well stop reading these reviews entirely right now since it will be repeated several times...

    The basic premise of all Final Destination movies is that certain people have a sort of 'psychic' ability to see 'death's design' ahead of time and to make changes to it. By this, I mean that everyone is destined to die, but sometimes someone can see ahead exactly how everyone is supposed to die and then help them avoid their fate. In this first movie a select group of school children avoid their fate when they make a fuss and get themselves thrown off a plane which one child has forseen will blow up. Initially it doesn't seem like a vision at all though. Instead it seems like he is on the plane and the plane is coming apart at the seams with him inside. At the point where the catastrophe affects him personally he 'wakes up' to discover that the accident hasn't happened... yet, but events are repeating themselves and it's only a matter of time.

    The early sequence involving the plane coming apart might have been really impressive, if I hadn't already seen it done better. That might seem unfair, after all this film came out in 2000. But the film where I've seen it done better came out the year before. I am, of course, talking about David Fincher's last decent film, "Fight Club" (yes, I am being horribly opinionated with that throwaway remark, I know). It might even be argued that "Fight Club" provided the entire inspiration for this initial scene. The side of the plane comes apart and entire aisles get sucked out by the vacuum and Edward Norton's character wakes up to reveal to us that it has all been his own self-destructive fantasy. But here in "Final Destination", it was not a fantasy, but rather a vision of the future.

    Having left the plane, the teenagers watch as it leaves and explodes. They are traumatised by this event, watching the death of their fellow students. No one is quite sure what to think about Alex, the one child who knew the event would happen before it did. The police are a little suspicious too.

    Eventually we start seeing deaths happen and the exposition is a little unconvincing. Apparently the order of deaths forms the same pattern as the malfunction in a computer chip on the plane. It seems this film requires us to buy into ridiculous coincidental conspiracy theory nonsense. The premise would simplify itself a great deal in the sequel, but here it is more about psychics than it is about the power of death, so we just have to grin and bear it when psychic powers are entertained to stupid degrees.

    Another aspect of this first movie ditched in the second is that death is allowed to cheat here. What we have here is a classic example of my "ghosts can do anything criticism" except that this isn't even supposed to be a movie about ghosts. Death's method of killing its first victim here (reclaiming the life that was spared from the airplane failure) is to make water leak out of a pipe so that the individual strangles himself on a shower curtain. This death doesn't look entirely convincing, but that's not the big problem. The problem is that after the strangulation has taken place, the water flows back into the leaky pipe and the pipe seals itself up. In later movies that would seem like a complete cheat and a betrayal of the central premise, but here the rules have not yet been set. What's more, it seems that death is trying to deliberately set things up so that the police will think Alex was responsible. Now that's actually much more acceptable. If there's one consistent thread through these films it seems to be that death wants to mess with his victims.

    I won't spoil the various deaths in the film, but I will note that computer monitors do not EXPLODE when water is spilt on them. That is silly!

    The best deaths in the Final Destination series are the ones with small intricate details, but they haven't realised that yet in the first movie. The finale gets way over-the-top and not in an intricate way, but just in a "look how easy it would be to get killed!" way. But of course, the reason why this series is so effective is because it often kills people in ordinary everyday scenarios. If things get too over-the-top then we start remembering that at any time death could just strike them with lightning and get it all over with.

    I appreciate this film for setting up the "Final Destination" concept, but it's by far the least impressive of the actual "Final Destination" movies (even if not actually the worst). In spite of its reputation, I actually think I was right to dismiss it at the time. It's not awful, but every other movie in the series does more with the premise than this.


    Final Destination 2 (2003)

    The director of the first movie, James Wong, did not come back for this first sequel. Clearly he thought he'd done everything with the series he wanted to, at this stage at least.

    Final Destination 2 is directed by David R. Ellis who is mainly known for action. As a result he does incredible work with the initial catastrophe which sets the story in motion. What is clear straight away here is that psychic are not being portrayed as a common phenomena. They are not people who have spent their whole life getting 'emphatic signals'. There's no indication that someone at a psychic fair or a Las Vegas show is going to act as their mentor. They cannot read mind or sense auras. Any indication that being psychic has some kind of significance by itself has gone by this sequel.

    In this movie all being psychic means is that you get these visions out of nowhere. The only benefit of that is that you know in advance what to do to avoid dying. And even then, death is still going to just try to make sure you die some other way.

    Even though it looks like we are working with an entirely fresh cast this time around a character from the previous movie does show up. By that of course I mean a victim. Tony Todd is also back with his deep voice of doom to know way too much about why things are happening. And eventually all the characters are given a connection to the previous instalment.

    While Tony Todd appears in several of the films, the victims are generally brand new. Final Destination 2 has the most continuity with previous instalments out of all the sequels.

    This film is often pretty silly, the acting doesn't exactly blow you away and the 'solution' at the end doesn't work that well. But the various sequences are so well-presented and so much fun that I must say that I have LOT of affection for this film.


    Final Destination 3 (2006)

    It has been pointed out to me that that the psychic technically should have prevented the whole disaster this time around. In the intricate death sequence at the beginning (all the movies have one), which really wasn't as thrilling as it wants you to think it is, appears to be mainly the result of a character's handheld video camera. That character is one of those that are rescued, he brings the camera with him, therefore the whole catastrophe should have been entirely averted. There should have been been rather more survivors for death to pursue this time around rather than the small group numbering less than ten that we actually have here. But anyway...

    After his hiatus, James Wong returns to direct this third movie. This time there is absolutely no continuity with previous movies at all and technically even Tony Todd isn't here either. They make use of his awesome deep voice, but he doesn't actually appear in the flesh anywhere in the film. Instead we have a whole bunch of new victims and a new psychic randomly selected for a vision that will appear out of the blue to mess with death's design, only for death to rush in to correct the mistake with a load of coincidental 'accidents'.

    This time instead of using subtle clues about where the next death will be all around the victims, instead the clues are all found in a set of photos taken before the initial catastrophe. It's an interesting idea I suppose, but it feels a bit like the camera is supposed to be magic and that made it harder to suspend belief.

    Mary Elizabeth Winstead acts pretty well here, gasping in shock and mourning her fellow students. We get much more of an emotional performance than we did in the last film. There's a much clearer indication that she is mourning the loss of her friends and feeling emotionally conflicted, rather than simply piecing together a puzzle. Unfortunately, the script is dreadful. She keeps delivering lines about her being a 'control freak' and while her delivery of the material is just fine, she's never given anything to actually do which would indicate that she was a control freak in any way. It's something we're expected to just take for granted because she keeps saying it, which just feels bizarre.

    The cast in general is actually pretty good here. Asides from the lead actress, pretty much every actor in the film appears to be Canadian. I probably wouldn't have noticed this had I not recognised two actors from the awesome Canadian werewolf movie "Ginger Snaps". (If you haven't seen "Ginger Snaps" yet, check it out. It's way better than any of these.) Jesse Moss and Kris Lemche both turn up here and both play major parts in "Ginger Snaps". Jesse Moss is also in "Tucker and Dale Vs Evil" (a fantastic horror comedy, which is also better than any of these Final Destination movies) along with a number of other of these cast members.

    The one actor who I think, bad script or not, was no damn good, was Sam Easton. He's a misogynistic character who is supposed to be acting as comic relief, but he ended up just being horrendously irritating. Perhaps he is better elsewhere. Perhaps its just an unsalvageable script, but I the movie would have lost nothing by leaving him out entirely.

    The most well-recognised death sequence in this movie and perhaps one of the most renowned of the entire movie series is the one that takes place in the tanning salon. Annoyingly, the director didn't seem to want to play it out in one go, continuously cutting away to what other people are doing elsewhere. I know we needed a sense of the time involved, but continuously cutting away took away the tension quite a bit.

    Another issue with this film is that there isn't the same intricate build-up. Sometimes the coincidences involved in the deaths are quite well-planned, but there are not many times where we are really teased, thinking to ourselves all the possible ways things COULD go wrong.

    By the end I also have no idea what Kris Lemche's motivations are all about. So as much as the lead actress is selling the emotional side of this story, the actual way things unfold is generally unconvincing.

    I felt like this had a lot of promise and the potential to be a much better film, but there's also some goofiness, particularly from Sam Easton, that brings it down too.


    The Final Destination (2009)

    Somehow the choice to make 3D a big selling point for this one seems to lead to some rather cheesy CG effects. There's no magic camera this time. Instead we are back to visions. We have a number of cryptic and rather awkward to decipher imagery using some fairly naff CG effects. But what really matters here are the death sequences.

    David R. Ellis returns to direct this one which means that the death sequences are now more interesting and there's a lot more teasing about what might cause the next death. We also get into the action a lot quicker. David R. Ellis doesn't really spend so much time on the emotional element, preferring to focus on the spectacle. Yet he also has a better idea of what tone to give to the action sequences too.

    One particular character in "The Final Destination" is a white supremacist racist guy. We all KNOW that he's going to die. (Heck, we know that most, if not all, these characters are doomed.) But the WAY that he is dispatched has me laughing out loud, just as the director intended.

    I haven't really found any of these films do much to make things creepy. Not even the first one, in spite of what some might have wanted me to believe. So I am pleased to see this film fully embracing over-the-top death scenes which are comedically gory rather than worrying too much about scaring me. The filmmakers know full well that I was barely taking this premise seriously after one movie, so by the fourth movie there's no point trying to suddenly worry about atmosphere.

    "The Final Destination" isn't acted brilliantly, isn't written brilliantly, has some dodgy CG effects in places and doesn't regain the semblance of a horror atmosphere we sort of still had in part 2 (though technically we haven't really had much of that since the beginning). However, it is endlessly entertaining. All the fun of the second movie is back with a vengeance and there are parts which had me in hysterics.

    The final act went a little far, particularly when the protagonist appears to have to deal with the most stubborn sprinkler system ever. (Look, if an actual fire doesn't set it off, what is your lighter supposed to achieve?) But even so, overall this was a LOT of fun and while it's incredibly silly, I would actually still highly recommend it - so long as you approach it in the right mood.


    Final Destination 5 (2011)

    Finally we have a film from a new director. You wouldn't know it though. The problem with Final Destination 5 is that it tries to combine elements from both director's styles and ends up being a poor imitation of both.

    The opening death sequence this time takes place on a bridge. It's pretty visually spectacular, but some elements are thrilling, but others are less so and the whole thing feels boring before the end. The sequence seems to lack Ellis' flair for action direction, yet the new director wants to spend a similar length of time on it.

    We have a series of characters and we have some sense that they are traumatised by what has happened to them, but they never really feel terribly fleshed out. It's not until the final act of the film that the film finally decided to do something interesting with the characters and built something new into the mythology, which I'll try to address in a non-spoilery way below.

    The death scenes try to be both horrific and comedic at the same time and the result is that the tension is poorly handled AND the comedy is badly timed. So often we actually get the worst of both worlds here. There are a few points where I thought I was going to be teased about how the death could take place, but in most cases this doesn't really work very well. The one exception being early on with the athletics display sequence. It's very intricate and very well-handled, but I get the feeling like it drained all imagination out of the other scenes. The scene where I was most on edge was the laser eye surgery scene, but it ended up being way too straightforward and, to be frank, more than a little anticlimactic.

    Two main strengths of this film are, first of all, the return of Tony Todd. He's the creepy mortician again and unlike in the second film, we don't need an existing character to get the characters to consult him. Also, unlike in the first film, the characters don't just sneak into the mortuary for absolutely no reason at all. The method for introducing him is kind of genius actually. Where do you find a mortician? Funerals and when the body is collected from a crime scene. When they keep seeing Tony Todd turn up, our protagonists/victims are unsurprisingly suspicious particularly when he keeps making comments about "death's plan".

    The other major strength of this film is the ending. Now a bad ending can ruin a good film, but I'm not convinced that a good ending can save a bad one. However, the final act admittedly does bring in some new mythology to the series, which was sorely needed. It also ties into the old films, providing some continuity. After the last two films contained an entirely new and completely unrelated set of characters, some connection between these new characters and what has come before was good to see. Unfortunately bringing all these elements in at the last minute was just too little too late. Which is probably the best way to describe this film as a whole.

    "The Final Destination" went over-the-top in order to finish the series with a bang. "Final Destination 5" (or "5inal Destination" as it was nearly called. True story!) tried to bring the series back from the brink and keep the sequels rolling out. I think it failed and I'm not very pleased to have to say that.


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    The Double (2014)

    This is the second film to be directed by Richard Ayodade, who is probably most well known for his role as Morris Moss the hilarious geek from "The IT Crowd". His first film "Submarine" was a somewhat darkly comic coming-of-age film. As a follow-up "The Double" is also darkly comic, but with rather higher aspirations since it is based on Dostoyevsky's novel (of the same name).

    "The Double" is the sort of comedy where a character works in a boring job, lives in a cramped flat, and where a large number of people are committing suicide. This is not a laugh-a-minute kind of comedy, but at sometimes the surrealism of the film is very funny and on occasion there really are lines that are hysterical. Like with the Coen Brothers' "A Serious Man", the majority of the jokes are at the protagonist's expense, so there's the same balance between empathy for the protagonist and hilarity at his misfortunes. All the while with a sinister setting in the background.

    Right from the start, "The Double" is beautiful. In the very first scene we see the light dancing around as Jesse Eisenberg is sitting on a train. The lighting effect makes this grimy and plain setting look absolutely beautiful and the film looks similarly bland or grimy and yet beautiful all the way through the film.

    I've heard that the style of the film is derivative, but I honestly could not say that I've ever seen anything quite like "The Double" before. Still, the most obvious example that comes to mind is Terry Gilliam's "Brazil". Certainly "Brazil" shares the darkly comic tone, being basically a comedy verion of Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four", though "Brazil" is too cheerful to really match the disturbing tone of "The Double". But what the two films have in common is the bizarre office rooms and the old technology distorted to look futuristic. Gilliam had everyone using typewriters because if you try to represent futuristic technology now, it will inevitably feel dated when people return to it later. Similarly, in "The Double" we have an extra-long photocopier with extra flashing lights. It looks futuristic, but it's not really doing anything more than your typical photocopier. All the tvs are old chunky ones, not new flat screens. The styles of dress seems to come from the 40s with everyone consistently dressing formally. (I am not an expert on costume styles btw.) The only really new stylistic element is that we regularly see people drinking a bizarre blue drink.

    On the tvs we regularly see a very low-budget sci-fi tv series looking like Flash Gordon with the budget of old classic Doctor Who. Paddy Considine is excellent in these short bursts of ridiculously cheesy sci-fi heroism. It amazed me when Paddy Considine, who I knew from gritty roles in films like "Dead Man's Shoes" and "My Summer of Love", was used for a purely comedic role in "Submarine" and was absolutely brilliant. Here in "The Double" he has very little time to set up the comedy, with just one ludicrous cheesy one-liner available to him, and yet he regularly had me in stitches.

    Paddy Considine in his role from "Submarine". I've had no luck finding images of him from the ridiculous sci-fi show-within-a-film in "The Double", but trust me, he is similarly ridiculous and hilarious there too.

    But I still haven't even begun discussing the plot of this film. Jesse Eisenberg stars as both Simon James, our protagonist, and James Simon, a mysterious doppelganger who arrives out of nowhere. Simon is hardworking and sensitive, but lacks confidence. James is lazy and mean, but he finds it very easy to interact with people and manipulate them. Basically James is essentially Mark Zuckerberg from "The Social Network" while Simon is essentially the role Eisenberg played in "Roger Dodger".

    There's a dreamlike element to the whole film. There's something not quite real about the way the world of the film is presented. And yet there is a clear progression in the order in which events take place.

    Mia Wasikowska is essentially playing the object of Simon's affections and yet even while she is often in the background she's a strong character in her own right.

    "The Double" is often incredibly funny, even in spite of its tense atmosphere and a bleak scenario. Even while we are meant to laugh at Jesse Eisenberg's central character who is barely recognised as an employee in his own company, we are able to strongly sympathise him as he tries to deal with the presence of a new employee who instantly gains the respect he has been so desperately seeking. Stylistically impressive, fantastically acted, well-paced and generally brilliant. As of now, this is my favourite movie of the year. Over the next eight months, this is the movie I'll be judging other films against.


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    Confused? Egg day, day of new life, egg-based pokemon, right?

    Yesterday I decided that perhaps I really ought to get hold of some chocolate eggs for the big day only to discover that they'd ALL GONE. All sold out! Never had this problem before. Didn't even know to expect it.

    So anyway, I hope everyone else intending to gorge themselves on chocolate eggs successfully got theirs in time. And I hope everyone is enjoying a well deserved break.

    Finally, I'll just leave you with this link to a Daily Mash article snarking about the true 'reason for the season':
    "Jesus died to give us two bank holidays"

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    A Field in England (2013)

    Three strikes and you are OUT Mr. Wheatley!

    I've been consistently recommended Ben Wheatley's films and each time I keep thinking that the NEXT one will be the one which I finally enjoy. Well that ends RIGHT NOW.

    His first film, "Kill List" came highly recommended by the critic Mark Kermode. Kermode doesn't always make the most fantastic choices, but it's generally fairly wise to give some of his obscure recommendations a shot. "Kill List" had a dark atmosphere and a very down-to-earth horrifying feel, but the ending was ludicrous and felt like a complete anti-climax.

    Then Wheatley's second film was "Sightseers" which seemed to be an entirely different beast. It was a horror-comedy about some caravan holidaymakers who decide to take up serial killing in this bland setting. Unfortunately I simply did not find the film funny.

    So by that point I had decided that Wheatley's films were not for me, but something made me change my mind. In the very mixed and mostly poor anthology film "The ABCs of Death", Ben Wheatley's contribution 'U is for Unearthed' turned out to be one of the better entries. This short but simple film showing the capture and slaughter of a monster from the monster's perspective was actually rather clever.

    So, now recognising that Ben Wheatley was capable of doing a satisfying piece of work, I decided to try out his latest film "A Field In England". This time it's a black and white period piece, set during the horrors of the civil war yet mainly exploring the angst of the characters in a mysterious field. The main stars are Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley, both of whom I know perhaps most fondly for their work on Edgar Wright projects. (Though Reece Shearsmith has long been most recognised for his work on the dark and twisted comedy show "The League of Gentlemen".)

    The most obvious issue to begin with here was the way the actors talk. On the one hand, the most upper class of the characters talks in an olde-timey way, but on the other hand the lower class characters talk much more closely to our modern way of speaking. Certainly they are much easier to comprehend and their swearing is undoubtedly modern swearing.

    Another problem is the large amount of "As You Know Joe" dialogue. Being stuck in a field, it seems like the main characters have little to do besides tell us their life stories.

    Yet another problem is the decision to inflict a badly sung folk song with dubious relevance upon the audience. Apparently the song "Baloo, My Boy" was a popular song in England during the period, but the chap singing it is given centre-stage for his performance, making his awful singing voice inescapable.

    Then there's the pretentious abstract imagery. Look, I'm fine with a film to include random elements, but the randomness needs to flow naturally from the narrative. When our characters are suddenly freeze-framed with our protagonist (Shearsmith's character) pointing in an awkward pose and a strange rope is introduced out of nowhere, it is both a completely unsubtle plot device and yet a completely incomprehensible one at the same time. With this rope our characters drag in arguably the only interesting character in the film, a magical Irishman (yes, really *groan*) played by Michael Smiley.

    Eventually all plot is rejected in favour of long-winded kaleidoscope effects. While some of these effects are quite impressive they go on way too long and, what with the meandering and slow-paced narrative of the film, the kaleidoscopic effects also lack in dramatic force.

    Overall I found "A Field In England" to be a bit of a boring waste of time. Though perhaps the main conclusion to be drawn here is that there's something about Ben Wheatley's style as a director which simply doesn't appeal to me. As varied as his projects might seem, I find they consistently fail to appeal.


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    Calvary (2014)

    Calvary is the latin name for the place of Jesus' death, often known as Golgotha. At the start of the movie Calvary we see the following phrase attributed to St. Augustine: "Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned." Oddly enough, googling as hard as I could, I found no reference to the original passage from St. Augustine. All I could fine was references to Samuel Beckett who claimed to be inspired by this quotation and attributed it to St. Augustine. It may be that the phrase actually originates from somewhere rather more obscure or is the result of paraphrasing by Beckett. Still, the important thing here is the reference to the crucifixion.

    Director John Michael McDonagh sets up the theme immediately with a confession. A man explains that he was abused by a priest when he was young. The priest responsible is dead and the victim has decided that he is going to take it out on a good priest. Our protagonist, the priest listening to this confession, will die because he is innocent.

    But it becomes clear as the film goes on that our protagonist is not only taking on the sin of the one priest who abused one of his congregation as a child. He is taking on the sins of his organisation as a whole. Nobody trusts priests any more, the Church's reputation is in the mud, and with the more recent financial issues in Ireland the Church's prosperity also makes it seem like a target for blame. With all this in mind, our protagonist and his role of listening to sins and enabling confession seems anachronistic. Many of the congregation feel no sense of shame and the Church seems like the wrong organisation to blame them. What's more, many are openly angry and the protagonist becomes the target of that anger.

    As with McDonagh's previous film "The Guard", there is some black humour and some strong emotional moments. However, like with "The Guard", the characters often feel a little bizarre and a little larger-than-life. This was fine in "The Guard" where the focus was clearly on the comedy, but here in "Calvary" the comedy often takes a backseat to drama and so the lack of realism in the characters becomes more of a problem.

    While it might be said that "Calvary" is a little too on-the-nose with its themes, it is also very well-constructed. Brendan Gleeson is always a joy to watch and he is fantastic in the central role. The performances in general are very impressive.

    In some ways this is a very well-written film, but the tone of the film feels somewhat confused. It would have been good if the comedy felt like it was carefully placed in this darker tale. Instead it felt like it was intended as a comedy and then the darker elements became too dominant for the writer to consistently make jokes.

    Still, there's a consistent atmosphere and comparisons with "The Guard" are very rewarding here. While "The Guard" was portraying Galway as a very miserable setting, the setting in "Calvary" is much more pleasant before the issues of the inhabitants come to the fore. The opening scenery shots of the film could easily be an advert for the Irish tourist board.

    While the figures in "Calvary" are caricatures, they are pretty well-written caricatures. The themes are somewhat heavy-handed, but they are also well-explored. The acting is brilliant all around, particularly from Brendan Gleeson. I'm sure many will feel I am underrating this film (and I'm wrestling with it somewhat myself), but the inconsistent tone brings this down for me.

    This is a solidly good film and well worth checking out, especially if you are fan of the director's previous film. However, this doesn't meet the same standard and without the consistent humour of the director's previous film, the drama could have done with being better realised. This is a great director and I'm looking forward to his next project, but "The Guard" is definitely still his best work at this stage.


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    Tales from the Crypt (1972)

    A British horror anthology movie which ties up together a lot better than most. The central storyline involves a mysterious figure talking to a bunch of people who are lost touring an old crypt. Each of them has their own story, told to them by the cryptkeeper.

    The story elements include a serial killer, a Scrooge-like figure, a magical item akin to the Monkey's paw and a remarkable number of zombies.

    Every story has some quality comedy thrown in, making this very similar to Creepshow only British and ten years older. I'd actually go as far as to say that I prefer this to Creepshow. Every single segment of this horror-comedy anthology is brilliantly creepy AND funny. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.

    Heck, consistent high quality is often a problem in anthology movies. So this is a rare find indeed.


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    Just discovered this bizarre trailer for the movie "Wolf Cop". It's from the director of a recent horror film called "13 Eerie". One actor who seemed more familiar, Jonathan Cherry, turns out to have been one of the stars of "Final Destination 2". He played a drug addict and acted as comic relief in the film.

    I'm always up for a good horror comedy and this has potential.

    (video link)

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    Prisoners (2013)

    "Prisoners" benefits a great deal from a strong cast. In particular the two central roles of Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman, both of whom are on top form here, as well as a wonderful performance from Paul Dano.

    On the one hand there was a very interesting and intense film here concerning a detective struggling with a difficult child disappearance case and a father who cannot handle feeling helpless and is prepared to go to extreme and unconscionable lengths. The father does this because waiting for the detective makes him feel powerless. He lives by strong principles to always be self-reliant and prepared for anything. He feels guilty and weak when his children are taken so easily and none of his preparation seems to help. The two performances made this side of the film work very well and I was very impressed.

    On the other hand, another vital part of this film is the case itself. There's some bizarre motifs here, including trunks full of snakes and a book full of maze puzzles. To be quite frank, the whole disappearance case was nonsense.

    One of the clues around about half-way through the film involves a priest talking about a man who came to him to confess. We are told that the man told the priest that he was on a mission against God. Now naturally that is quite easily the sort of thing that a crazy person might say, but as the film progressed it felt like it was a message the filmmakers expected us to take seriously.

    Towards the end, it seemed like "Prisoners" was pretty much lifting from the movie "The Vanishing" and not really doing it so well. The plot became far too convoluted and the resolution felt like a bit of a cheat.

    But as I said before, half of this film was very well done indeed. In spite of the ridiculous crime drama/mystery side of the plot, the interplay between Gyllenhaal and Jackman is very well handed indeed. There's a wonderful atmosphere throughout the film and it's a real pity that this film wrapped up the way it did when there was so much potential here. I wouldn't be surprised to see a really fantastic film from this director, but they need a better story to work on than this.

    I can see why some people might be able to accept the way the crime drama side of things played out and would therefore really enjoy this film. But I personally felt really let down.


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    I am so excited for this!

    After leaving his co-director Paco Plaza to make a fairly generic horror-comedy for the third instalment, Jaume Balaguero returns and so does Angela Vidal, our heroine from the first REC film. The action takes place on a ship and it looks like it is sailing when the action kicks off, so I guess this is an isolated setting once again.

    Jaume Balaguero's film the other year "Sleep Tight" was seriously creepy. I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us.

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    Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)
    My first encounter with Bill and Ted was the trailer for this movie, so I don't think I fully appreciated back then how ridiculous the whole premise of this film really was. In the first film Bill and Ted are approached by a time traveller who promises to help them with their history report. In this sequel thing go absolutely crazy and it almost feels like a plot spoiler considering how far it is into the film before this actually happens, but I think it's essentially implied by the title: Bill and Ted die and have to deal with becoming ghosts.

    Last time around Bill and Ted were given essentially the dream of any up and coming band. There were informed that they would produce music that would be so influential and amazing that it would correct the course of history. So perhaps unsurprisingly, it's all very confusing for them in the beginning of this second movie when they still suck. (Their girlfriends from Medieval England are better musicians than they are. "I mean Medieval England, Iowa...")

    The initial interplay between Bill and Ted and their evil robot counterparts from the future is pretty funny. Their eventual confrontation with the grim reaper is also a pretty funny part. However, over the course of the film this is mostly more about inventiveness of ideas than laugh a minute comedy. That being said, it is still funny and endearing.

    The final ending is too rushed. Everything gets sorted out a little too easily considering what has come before. Still, it's sweet and fun to the end. (I know that no song was ever going to be good enough, but "God Gave Rock and Roll To You" is the song that brings humanity together? Really?) The biggest problem for any suggestion of a "Bill and Ted 3" however, is less the time between movies, and more because the finale of this movie outlines the whole of Bill and Ted's music career. I think the only way to do a third film would be to have the whole thing take place in the future, because in the present everyone should already know who Bill and Ted are.

    I do not have a clue why everyone keeps shouting "Station!"

    I think Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey succeeds just as well as the first film, "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" in providing some silly and highly enjoyable fun. I could imagine them making a pretty awesome third movie if they wanted to.

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    I'm not at all sure what the hell is going on with a bizarre upcoming movie called "Frank" about a band fronted by a figure I remember appearing on channel four during the nineties. But Michael Fassbender stars as the masked frontman and apparently the film also features Maggie Gyllenhaal playing a theramin.

    Anyway, this song comes from the movie and regardless of what the film is like, it's a pretty cool song. There's a slight almost out-of-tune element which shouldn't work, but kind of does:

    (Song found here on Nialler9)

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    From Beyond (1986)

    Star Jeffrey Combs and director Stuart Gordon, worked together on one of my favourite horror comedies: "Re-Animator". Here they rejoin to work on another HP Lovecraft adaptation. This time the subject is no longer zombies, but rather creatures in another dimension of reality normally beyond our perception and comprehension.

    The initial scene of the movie was highly promising, with Combs turning on the machine and seeing a strange floating worm with big teeth which went on to attack him. His fellow scientist working with him on the project insists that they turn the machine up even higher. He is amazed by the results. Things don't go quite like the fantastic short story from Lovecraft, but it's pretty close all the same.

    However, that is just the beginning of the film. Combs is in an asylum believed to be suffering from schizophrenia. However, a scientist has decided that she wants him to try to replicate the experiment. They enter the house to establish what happened.

    The tone of the film isn't quite so consistent as in "Re-Animator". There's plenty of neat practical effects involved here, but the storyline is a little meandering. Things get pretty boring later on when we leave the house entirely.

    To my mind, the biggest problem with this film is that the creatures beyond our perception become tied closely to the human libido, basically making this a poor imitation of David Cronenberg's Videodrome. As great as the practical effects may have been, they didn't have anything like the inventiveness of David Cronenberg's classic body horror film.

    The point where the female scientist decides to dress herself in leather bondage gear things really start to get cheesy, particularly since the focus becomes less on the strange unexplored dimension of existence filled with savage monsters and more on the fact that Comb's partner in crime on the experiment had multiple sexual partners and sadistic tendencies.

    Less comedy, less horror. This is nowhere near the level of Stuart Gordon's "Re-Animator" movie and my advice would be to watch David Cronenberg's "Videodrome" instead. A much better movie. I wish I could say that this was simply cheesy fun, but in the end the good bits are just too few and too sparse.


    Jacob's Ladder (1990)

    This was a horror film I was recommended, though by the time I got around to checking it out I'd completely forgotten who recommended it. Even calling it "horror" is a bit of a weird one, since it doesn't fit terribly neatly into the genre at all. (You might as well call "Twelve Monkeys" a horror movie. That has more in common with this than most films I've seen.)

    So with no memory of what horror fans might have recommended this, the first time I CAN remember being recommended this is during a brief period in university where I became interested in the ideas of Christian gnosticism. I don't think I ever took those ideas terribly seriously, but they were different enough from anything I'd normally heard about religion to peak my interest. And of course there was no shortage of fanatics who took it very seriously indeed, connecting their ideas with Buddhism, the works of Carl Jung, and so on. The idea that the physical world is an illusion was a pretty big element (for some of them at least), so perhaps that's why the movie "Jacob's Ladder" seemed so appealing to them.

    Of course, I'm still interested in religious ideas and with a title like Jacob's Ladder I was expecting something pretty awesome. Jacob being the prominent Biblical figure who famously wrestled with God and was honoured with the new name Israel (which means "wrestles with God") as a result. The ladder in question led up to heaven and was seen by Jacob in a dream, once again showing this figure's newfound connection with the deity. So you can imagine my disappointment in finding out that the lead character is called 'Jacob' and that 'the ladder' turns out to be the name of some weird experimental drug. Sure you could argue that the Biblical stuff is still relevant to the film's themes, but to be quite frank the biggest problem with this film is that it is all themes and no substance.

    What's the most annoying ending you can think of to a film? There's probably a fair number of answers that could be suggested here, but certainly any long answer to that question would at least need to acknowledge the "it was all a dream" ending. Early on in this film it's made clear that things are not as they seem. Jacob is both married and divorced. He has both a wife and a post-marriage girlfriend. Sometimes his son is dead, sometimes his son is alive. Basically it seems like he's losing his mind and it's a long way before the end of the first half when he suggests that he might actually be dead. He can see people with distorted demon-like faces all over town, so the idea that he might be in hell becomes an option.

    There's a brief moment in the film where it seems like there might be a plot after all. The film actually started in Vietnam and a bunch of his Vietnam vet friends decide they might try to sue for what experimentation may have been done to them in Vietnam. There's some suggestion that a conspiracy may be at play. This element of the film is a really irritating tease, not least since the film tries to pretend this element of the film still matters even when it has been rendered irrelevant.

    This film has no sensible plot progression, meandering in a dream-like way, and generally involves following a character who is nervous and confused. That is, until Danny Aiello, playing a mysterious chiropractor, randomly tells us exactly what is going on.

    This film was a massive waste of time.


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