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    Catch Me If You Can (2002)

    I'd been meaning to rewatch this one for quite a while.

    When I first watched this, I only knew Leonardo DiCaprio from the film "Titanic" and from his reputation as a pin-up for teenage girls. It wasn't until I saw "The Aviator" that I was finally convinced of DiCaprio's enormous acting talent.

    I remembered being rather disappointed with the ending, but I also remembered enjoying this more than my stubbornness had allowed me to expect.

    As it turned out, the part I thought of as the ending was earlier than I remembered. The very ending of the film is pretty cool. But there's a point during Tom Hanks pursuit of DiCaprio where I feel the film loses its momentum. The film starts feeling like a series of bits. I suppose the point is that DiCaprio's character wants to stop running around doing cons, but he has no choice but to keep going. So we have to fully recognise that the cons are just going on and on and stop feeling so keen to see what outrageous stunt he does next. But the result of it is that the film's suddenly feels rather less fun.

    But even before we reach that point "Catch Me If You Can" has that unreal 'sweet and chirpy' feel that Spielberg films sometimes have. There was a similar sort of feel in "The Terminal" and though this never gets quite so banal as that did, I couldn't help but feel there was a grittier and more compelling film struggling to get out here - and that DiCaprio more than had the chops to have provide it if given the chance.


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    Just saw this article:
    Disillusioned British jihadists beg to come home

    Okay, correct me if I'm getting this mixed up in any way, but this gist of this seems to be...

    - Some idiots in Britain decided it would be a good idea to leave home and join a terrorist organisation abroad.
    - They are now finding that the terrorist organisation they joined isn't very nice.
    - They are worried that after joining a terrorist organisation they might be charged with being a terrorist.
    - So they want to avoid taking responsibility for their terrorist affiliations (and goodness knows what horrible stuff they might have done as a member of that terrorist group) by just being given a "de-radicalisation course" instead of prison.

    And what's even crazier is there seem to be certain figures treating this like it might be a reasonable proposition:

    "The ICSR (International Centre for Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence)'s Professor Peter Neumann told newspaper: "The people we have been talking to... want to quit but feel trapped because all the Government is talking about is locking them up for 30 years."

    I've heard of some pretty drastic and draconian things done in the name of the War of Terror, but locking up a known member of a terrorist organisation who went abroad to a major war zone especially to fight with that organisation is definitely not one of them.

    These people are unbelievable!

    "We are committed to setting up an Islamic State using military force.... until it gets difficult and then we want to go home without taking responsibility."

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    Locke (2013)

    One man in a car. How exciting can it possibly be?

    Well, I guess it's a testament to Tom Hardy that I was absolutely gripped for the entire second half (and well on the way for much of the first half). Hardy builds up a character who is perhaps a little deluded about his own moral notions, but is convinced that if he follows a logical plan he can right all wrongs. There's a Greek tragedy element to the story, except perhaps without such obvious inevitability.

    Locke, Tom Hardy's central character, is a fascinating centre point for the story. However, he's also backed up by some neat voice work from Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur, Hot Fuzz, Rev (TV), That Mitchell and Webb Look (TV), Ruth Wilson (Luther (TV)) and Andrew Scott (Sherlock (TV)) amongst others.

    I said that the main character is deluded about his moral notions, but perhaps others will disagree on this. That's the interesting thing about the film. There's this big question at the centre. Is he ruining his life or is he doing the right thing? And being stuck in a car on the motorway only able to communicate from a distance on his car phone, it is pretty certain that there is very little he can do to influence events. Having made the decision to make this journey, all the most important details are set in stone and the protagonist can only hope that everything falls into place how he wants it to.

    I cannot help but think of Buried where the character spends the whole time on the phone from within a coffin buried underground. Yet even without the 'buried alive' aspect involved here, "Locke" is somehow a far more thrilling and gripping drama. Steven Knight (who released the surprisingly cerebral Jason Statham movie "Hummingbird" last year) is clearly a quality filmmaker who is keen to experiment and it really pays off this time.


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    Pride (2014)

    I was tredipdatious going into this film. So many British films with fantastic casts which don't pay off. (A trailer has been released for "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" by the way and yes, they have got Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy all returning for even more of that rubbish.) However, I must say I was very pleasantly surprised. The material here is such that the actors have plenty to work with and the director captures their performance with perfect effect.

    The story is, as you might have worked out from the title, about the history of the Gay Pride march. What you may find yourself a little surprised by, however, (and I certainly was) is the focus on the miner's strikes of the 80s. "What's this got to do with the Pride march?" I thought to myself. Well, if you don't already know, I'm not going to spoil the surprise.

    I mentioned the excellent cast, but I hadn't listed them yet. Bill Nighy for the first time does NOT appear to be playing himself. (Sure he's still playing a buttoned-down awkward sort of guy, but not in quite the same way as normal. You'll have to see for yourself.) Imelda Staunton is as awesome as ever. Dominic West, playing one of the gay characters, gives the best performance I have as yet to see from him outside of the role of McNulty in "The Wire" (and I'd actually say his performance here was actually superior to his role in that show). There's also a fairly important appearance by Andrew Scott (who many will recognise as Moriarty from "Sherlock"). It's quite incredible that, with so many great actors involved here, all these characters nevertheless appear as fully formed characters all with important roles within the film.

    A character openly admitting his sexuality for the first time who is, for the most part, our entry point into the story, is played by George MacKay. I struggled to remember where I'd seen him before, but I knew I recognised him. He was actually one of the central characters in the tv movie "The Best of Men" which I was so impressed with earlier this year.

    Another important actor to mention if Joe Gilgun. He's most known for "This Is England", the tv show "Misfits" and a role as a villain in "Lockout". He is absolutely hilarious and even while playing a pretty sensible character here, I adored his various little faces. He's a very expressive actor and while more subtle here, he was no less emphatic in his performance.

    Paddy Considine has what could have been a pretty tough role, bridging the world of the gay community in London and the world of the miners. But he knocks it out of the park. Considine is definitely one of my favourite actors, consistently providing brilliant eclectic performances (with equal flair for drama and comedy, as has been proven by his absolutely hilarious comedic performances in Richard Ayoade's movies "Submarine" and "The Double").

    A completely new face for me, but nevertheless in one of the most important roles in the film, is Ben Schnetzer. Apparently he's also going to be in "The Riot Club" which I've seen advertised around the place, as well as in the upcoming "Warcraft" movie from director Duncan Jones. He's surrounded by a lot of much more well-known actors and I'm not sure that his performance is really able to shine when surrounded by so much raw talent. Nevertheless, he does a good job in the role.

    One last actor to mention (and yes, I realise most of this review has just involved naming actors) is Russell Tovey. He doesn't have a big role, but he has a very important one. In just one very very short scene, I was left absolutely shaken. I don't generally cry in films, but my eyes watered right up for that bit. My goodness.

    Can I say anything negative about this film? Well... there's a scene where most characters are presumably gay and yet we see two straight kisses and only one gay kiss. *shrugs* There is a chirpy and cheerful feel to the film which might be annoying if the film somehow doesn't manage to completely win you over. A villainous character might seem a little overly villainous and not entirely 3-dimensional (then again, I didn't think that seemed like a particularly unrealistic portrayal). Oh well, I tried. :P

    "Pride" is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. It's also pretty consistently funny. It perfectly balances the parts between the different performers in this incredible cast, and in each scene reaction shots are carefully captured not just to ensure we get the full force of the performances, but also to further build the comedy or drama in the scenes. This film is a rich tapestry of emotion and meaning. One of the best films of the year so far.


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    Short Term 12 (2013)

    On the one hand this was recommended avidly all over the place. On the other hand it's a gritty drama about neglected youths. In a way, I got exactly what I ought to have expected. It's a good little drama and it's kind of miserable.

    This is a film about a group of young people working a care home for helping neglected youths. However, the young carers often have neglected backgrounds of their own (and the only one who doesn't have his own background of neglect is shown making a fool of himself on his first day).

    While the carers are shown as very caring, it feels like they could never possibly allow themselves to get that emotionally connected to the children they are helping without pretty quickly burning out. That being said, that's precisely what happens, so perhaps it's not so unrealistic after all.

    Another issue for me was that not many children suffering from abuse are able to present a well-crafted story about an octopus and a shark explaining the issue. Hints tend to be rather more subtle than that. Still, I recognise that the film needs to present information dramatically and it does, admittedly, mean that the film is rather more engaging as a result.

    One last thing though. I feel like therapists become rather unfairly scapegoated here. Perhaps the writers have just heard a lot of stories about therapists making bad decisions, but it feels almost like therapists are villains here - and that seems a little extreme.

    But overall, what can I say? It's well-acted. It's pretty well-written. But on the other hand it's not exactly amazingly exciting and while the characters act in realistic ways, I don't entirely recognise them as real people a lot of the time. But in the end, what is holding the score back a little with this film is that it's just a little too miserable for me. Okay so it's a miserable story, but I feel like for this to reach top marks it really needed to be little more hard hitting, rather than just being like "it sucks to be a neglected youth" - which I think we all already knew.


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    At the beginning of the year I made a number of posts talking about my most anticipated films for 2014. Some anticipated movies have been excellent, some anticipated movies have been extremely disappointing. Some movies that were merely considered have turned out to be excellent and some really awesome films this year were entirely unknown at the beginning of the year.

    But now, with a lot more movies announced, what follows is an updated list of films I'm expecting to be released here in the UK within the final four months of the year. Movies are either "anticipated", meaning I'm really looking forward to, or "considered", meaning that I simply think the film is worth keeping an eye on.



    Pride (2014)
    Director: Matthew Warchus
    Stars: Bill Nighy, Andrew Scott, Dominic West, Joseph Gilgun
    UK Release Date: 12 September 2014

    U.K. gay activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984.

    Okay, so this technically isn't one I'm anticipating. I've already seen it. However, having attended an advanced screening of this one I can assure you, this is one of the best movies to be released this year. Telling the story of how an unlikely sequence of events led to major advances in gay rights within the UK, it's a heartwarming, dramatic, emotional and consistently funny film. With a fantastic cast, all of whom seem to have fully-formed characters and brilliant performances, this couldn't be missed out of a guide on films to see this September.

    (video link)

    Grand Piano (2013)
    Director: Eugenio Mira
    Stars: Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bishé, Tamsin Egerton
    UK Release Date: 19 September 2014

    Moments before his comeback performance, a concert pianist who suffers from stage fright discovers a note written on his music sheet.

    After Elijah Wood's incredible turn as a psychopath with mummy issues in the remake of "Maniac", I was very excited to hear about his appearance in this thriller about a piano player who faces a death threat. I do not know much about this film, but I'm very excited all the same.

    (video link)

    Maps to the Stars (2014)
    Director: David Cronenberg
    Stars: Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, John Cusack
    UK Release Date: 26 September 2014

    A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity, one another and the relentless ghosts of their pasts.

    David Cronenberg's last couple of movies have been quite disappointing for me. I wasn't terribly keen on his Freud and Jung period piece "A Dangerous Method" and his philosophical 'economic meltdown' piece was seriously up its own arse. But looking at the trailer of "Maps To The Stars" with Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska, it just looks so much more interesting and daring than Cronenberg has been for quite a while now. I can't help but feel that perhaps Cronenberg might finally be back on form (and it was only ever a matter of time).

    (video link)



    Horns (2013)
    Director: Alexandre Aja
    Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Heather Graham, Max Minghella
    UK Release Date: 29 October 2014

    In the aftermath of his girlfriend's mysterious death, a young man awakens to strange horns sprouting from his temples.

    An adaptation of a novel by director Alexandre Aja. After being so impressed by Alexandre Aja's remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" and the remake of "Maniac" (which he wrote the adapted screenplay for), I'm finding myself pretty excited for this film starring Daniel Radcliffe. The trailer certainly makes this look pretty cool.

    (video link)

    Nightcrawler (2014)
    Director: Dan Gilroy
    Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Ann Cusack
    UK Release Date: 31 October 2014

    A young man stumbles upon the underground world of L.A. freelance crime journalism.

    My entire interest in this film stems from Jake Gyllenhaal's performance in the teaser trailer. I mean just watch it, he's incredible. Normally I'd advise against checking out the trailers I'm posting here, unless you really feel the need to know more about the film. But this one? It's only a teaser and even if you don't ever see the film, the teaser contains one hell of an awesome performance from Jake Gyllenhaal that is well worth 50 seconds of your time.

    (video link)


    The Book of Life (2014)
    Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez
    Stars: Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo
    UK Release Date: 24 October 2014

    Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears.

    I had mistakenly believed this to be a Pixar film, but actually there do not appear to be any ties to Pixar here at all. This is a Guillermo Del Toro-produced animation and the decision to base it around the Day of the Dead celebrations should lead to some interesting visuals. I'm still interested enough to keep an eye on this.

    (video link)

    Fury (2014)
    Director: David Ayer
    Stars: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña
    UK Release Date: 24 October 2014

    April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered and out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

    While I was highly impressed by David Ayer's "End of Watch" with Jake Gyllenhaal, his recent "Sabotage" has fairly consistently failed to impress (which has put me off checking it out myself) and I'm not entirely sure about David Ayer's past track record (having enjoyed "Training Day" more for Denzel Washington's performance than for its fantastic writing). Also, when one of David Ayer's writing credits is for "U-571" which tried to give America the credit for capturing a Nazi Enigma machine, it's worrying to see another movie where seemingly everyone fighting in World War II seems to be American. (I mean seriously, this is supposed to be the final days of the war when everyone was closing in on Berlin and somehow the Brits are nowhere to be seen?) Still, a war movie with Brad Pitt might well be worth keeping an eye on.

    (video link)



    Interstellar (2014)
    Director: Christopher Nolan
    Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin
    UK Release Date: 7 November 2014

    A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

    I've loved pretty much every single Christopher Nolan film, particularly the ones without "Dark Knight" in the title. Nolan's last sci-fi film was "The Prestige", but this time he's taking us into space and Matthew McConaughey is in the starring role. I've high hopes that this will be incredible.

    (video link)

    The Imitation Game (2014)
    Director: Morten Tyldum
    Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong
    UK Release Date: 14 November 2014

    English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, helps crack the Enigma code during World War II.

    Benedict Cumberbatch starring in a film about Alan Turing? Count me in. Must admit, I'm basing my anticipation on the trailer here, but I must say, I'm excited.

    (video link)

    What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
    Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
    Stars: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer
    UK Release Date: 21 November 2014

    Follow the lives of Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement)...

    The writer and director of "Eagle Vs Shark" is working on this movie which basically takes the main stars from the awesome musical tv series "Flight of the Conchords" and makes them into vampires. It looks absolutely hilarious and the gags in the trailer seem remarkably fresh considering how much you'd have thought the vampire genre had already been explored. I suppose when there's already tons of scope for comedy just putting a load of quirky housemates together, it should be unsurprising to find that there's still loads of scope for comedy when all those housemates happen to be vampires.

    (video link)


    The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014)
    Director: Francis Lawrence
    Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson
    UK Release Date: 21 November 2014

    Katniss Everdeen reluctantly becomes the symbol of a mass rebellion against the autocratic Capitol.

    In spite of being underwhelmed by the last instalment, I suppose I'm probably going to end up checking out the next film with the great Clapton Davis anyway. (Naturally when I say Clapton Davis I'm referring to Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta. You've all seen the movie "Detention" by now, right?) As much of a fan as I am of Jennifer Lawrence, I didn't think director Francis Lawrence did a particularly good job directing and capturing her performance last time. Her character seems to go from being tough as nails to fits of tears and as cool as ol' Clapton Davis might be, I'm not buying into this love triangle nonsense. Still, who knows, perhaps it'll be great? I certainly enjoyed the first movie.

    (video link)



    Get Santa (2014)
    Director: Christopher Smith
    Stars: Warwick Davis, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham, Nonso Anozie
    UK Release Date: 5 December 2014

    A father and son who team up to save Christmas once they discover Santa Claus sleeping in their garage after crashing his sleigh and finding himself on the run from the police.

    Christopher Smith's last project was a ghastly Da Vinci Code rip-off tv movie. But before that he made "Black Death" with Sean Bean; a medieval horror combining the horrors of the plague with the clash of religions from "The Wicker Man". And his project before that was the remarkable time-travelling slasher film "Triangle". The idea of Jim Broadbent playing a Santa Claus on the run from the police is intriguing. It seems rather far from the horror genre, but then Christopher Smith has done comedy before in the movie "Severance". The inclusion of Stephen Graham and Warwick Davis can only be a plus.

    The Pyramid (2014)
    Director: Grégory Levasseur
    Stars: Ashley Hinshaw, James Buckley, Denis O'Hare, Christa Nicola
    UK Release Date: 5 December 2014

    A team of U.S. archaeologists unearths an ancient pyramid buried deep beneath the Egyptian desert. As they search the pyramid's depths...

    Alexandre Aja often co-writes with Grégory Levasseur and so now that Levasseur is directing for himself (with a rather awesome looking trailer already released), I'm quite excited. The last Mummy movies to be released with more like Indiana Jones rip-offs than horror films (though I still have a lot of affection for "The Mummy Returns" with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz), so it's cool to see the curse of the Mummy's tomb as a proper horror concept being brought to the big screen like this.

    (video link)

    The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (2014)
    Director: Peter Jackson
    Stars: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett
    UK Release Date: 12 December 2014

    The Company of Thorin has reached Smaug's lair; but can Bilbo and the Dwarves reclaim Erebor and the treasure? And, if so, can they hold on to it?

    Admittedly I was pretty annoyed by the way the last film ended and there wasn't enough Radaghast in the second film of the trilogy for my liking. Still, I've found the Hobbit films to be a great deal more fun than the Lord Of The Rings films ever were. Hopefully the filmmakers will feel sufficiently humbled not to decide to give this one 15 endings in a row like they did with Return Of The King. It's still possible that this could be an excellent third part and the last two films have at least made that seem possible. Certainly the Hobbit films have as yet to be boring...

    (video link)

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    Scarface (1932)

    I'd already partially seen DePalma's version, but I was interested to check out the classic black and white gangster movie classic it was based on. Oddly enough, the reason I never got through the original is because my parents decided they'd given up on it (yes, it was so long ago that I was still living with my parents). They were unimpressed by the decision to try to make Scarface sympathetic by having him suddenly pull put of a bomb plot when children are at risk.

    Anyway the original is a very different film. In both films Scarface is able to be as successful as he is because he is ruthless, but in the original 30s movie, the plotline surrounding his family turns out to be pretty compelling too.

    The more I watched the 1930s Scarface, the more I forgot that I was watching an old 30s film and the more I became sucked in.

    I was also quite amused when Scarface becomes fascinated by the choices of a female character in a contemporary play. The play, called "Rain" was also released as a film the same year starring Joan Crawford and its theme of religious hypocrisy displeased audiences. It was interesting to see Scarface strongly empathising with the leading lady's choice between the soldier and the priest.

    I wouldn't say that Scarface in the original 30s movie was exactly sympathetic, but he is a very likable anti-hero nonetheless. There's also some pretty great comedy here, mostly from the henchman Scarface picks to be his (hopeless) secretary.

    I quite like how the filmmakers try to get local censorship regulators off their back by beginning the film with an passionate plea to the government to tackle real life gang crime. Even without the Hays Code in place it seems that local censorship was still an issue and with the level of violence here, uncharacteristic of the era, there's little surprise about that.

    The 30s version of Scarface is an absolutely fantastic piece of cinema which has aged remarkably well. The drama is still compelling and the violence is still shocking. Great stuff!


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    The Zero Theorem (2013)

    Gilliam's style seems to be a burden rather than a blessing here. Gilliam made wonderful comedy movies in the past, yet "The Zero Theorem" has little in the way of joy. But with all the overtness of Gilliam's imagery, the story is portrayed in a particularly unsubtle way.

    "The Zero Theorem" is a sci-fi movie, set in a dystopian future, about a man who refers to himself as "we" rather than "me", who is socially awkward, introverted, convinced that he is dying and believes that the only way he will find meaning in his life is if he receives a phone call. For this reason he insists that he be allowed to do his data-processing work at home. The mysterious 'management' decides to accept his request so long as he works on the "Zero Theorem", a project intended to assess how the whole of reality can be reduced down to nothing in the universe's eventual 'big crunch'.

    Gilliam has handled the same sort of existential themes before in "Time Bandits" and he's handled a dystopian future before in "Brazil". He's also combined the two very strongly in "Twelve Monkeys". But "The Zero Theorem" is so obsessed with its subtext that there's none of the adventure and excitement which made those other films work.

    Gilliam's films in the past (and certainly his most popular titles) have normally taken the form of an adventure. Whether it's the boy in "Time Bandits", the confused time-traveller from "Twelve Monkeys" or even the number-crunching bureaucrat from "Brazil", there's always a sense that there is an adventure involved. There's no adventure in "The Zero Theorem". It's about one man messing around on his computer for most of the film and while things happen around him, this simply isn't a story about an adventure. It's mostly about people standing around talking.

    The annoying thing is that Gilliam's style does not appear to suit the 'talky' script. His visuals sometimes seem like a distraction from the ideas being discussed. And it becomes increasingly obvious that aspects which initially seem like they might be clever background details are actually important elements of the film taken to stupid extremes. For example, the protagonist lives in a Church. The idea that people in the future would be living in Churches and barely acknowledging that they are doing their washing up in the baptismal font, with strangers entirely failing to comment on their stained-glass windows and with characters seemingly unaware of the original purpose of the benches they sit on. However, it turns out that the protagonist knows exactly what kind of building he lives in. Out of the blue he mentions that his home used to belong to an order of monks and that it was damaged in a fire. Apparently no monks broke their vow of silence to call out "Fire!" Nice joke. But once the Church setting is acknowledged, it completely undermines the symbolism.

    Some bizarre elements are just plain cringeworthy, such as Tilda Swinton's character performing a rap song at one stage. It also would have been nice if random background elements, such as adverts for "The Church of Batman The Redeemer", could have been fleshed out a little more.

    Apart from the use 'management' has for the "Zero Theorem" (which turns out not to matter all that much), nothing is very surprising about the finale. And annoyingly the love interest figure, bizarrely referred to as a teenager in the synopsis despite being played by a 31 year old actress, is ridiculously objectified and never given an opportunity to develop much of a personality. After Gilliam's "Twelve Monkeys", or even "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus", this female lead seems like a big step backwards and is also a major reason why I still suspect many of the problems may actually originate from the script.

    I'm not even entirely sure that Gilliam's style actually NEEDS to be such a problem as it appears to be. Richard Ayoade's "The Double" has been accused by some of borrowing too much from Gilliam's work. Yet that does a much better job of using its imagery in an under-stated way. "The Double" introduces comedy into a grim scenario and juggles excitement with existential dread, with the imagery subtley complimenting the themes rather than drowning them. It seems like Gilliam's brand of insanity could easily have handled this kind of material, so perhaps he is now being left behind by younger, more dynamic filmmakers?


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    Norwegian Ninja (2010)

    From the director of the 'H' section of "The ABCs of Death".

    On the one hand it is low budget; inventively and endearingly so. On the other hand there are many absurdly funny details. The ninjas will disappear in clouds of smoke and this effect is used with hilariously gratuitous frequency.

    Perhaps the funniest gag in the film is the ninja base being protected by feng shui, demonstrated when the ninja master moves a lion statue in order to take down oncoming assailants.

    In another great moment one ninja resuscitates another by plugging a car battery into himself and then shocking the other ninja's heart with his fists until it restarts.

    Sadly the acting and story had much to be desired and I found the film to be awkwardly paced.

    Also the film acts as a satire, claiming to be the 'true story' of an agent denounced as a traitor for selling secrets, purporting to show that he was really a hero all along. Not being familiar with this part of Norwegian politics, the satire rather went over my head.

    I'm not sad to have checked out Norwegian Ninja but, in spite of a few very amusing touches, it's just honestly not a great film. The tone and pacing are both way too inconsistent and much of the humour was entirely inaccessible to me. And with all these other elements not working for me, it was hard to forgive the low production values.


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    Her (2013)

    Wow, what a disappointment! I've loved all of Spike Jonze previous films. His last film "Where The Wild Things Are" pretty much had me in tears. But in this film about love, I found myself completely unaffected. It didn't help that I found Joaquin Phoenix to be an entirely uncharismatic lead actor.

    I'd heard from plenty of people that, in spite of all the images of his odd moustache and dress sense, Phoenix wouldn't actually be playing a withdrawn character but would actually be playing an ordinary person. No sorry, that character Phoenix is playing is definitely a withdrawn figure - and what's more a withdrawn figure who mostly talks with breathy mumbling. Yeah sure, he's in love, whatever. The point is that he's very inexpressive. I've seen plenty of characters intentionally played as withdrawn and socially awkward who've been a lot more expressive than Phoenix is here.

    And that's my biggest problem here. Not only did I feel mostly unmoved, but I was thoroughly bored. Okay, so the central idea of the artificially intelligent operating system who is pretty much a person in its own right is explored in a very cool way. That part works very well and seeing as she was brought in late on after the work with Samantha Morton apparently didn't have the intended effect, Scarlett Johansson does a very impressive job here. Heck, ironically she ends up coming across as the most realistic character in the entire film.

    Unfortunately, the world outside of the operating system just never feels real to me. Our protagonist is playing a computer game where a character he meets in the game swears at him and acts like an obnoxious teenager. It's really weird and I find it hard to understand why the protagonist would want to play that game. Meanwhile the protagonist's job is to write love letters for other people, because he can be more poetic and eloquent than they can. But I couldn't help but be confused as to how such an enterprise would work. Wouldn't they notice that their loved one isn't normally poetic like that? Wouldn't Pheonix be lacking the intimate knowledge of their partner which you'd need in order to write something that personal? When he finally sent these letters isn't it likely that many of them would turn out to be entirely unsuitable? (One letter talks about hitting another woman until she has the same crooked tooth that he loves so much on his girlfriend. What kind of person even wants a letter like that from their boyfriend?)

    I was made to feel pretty awkward from early on in this film when the protagonist is lying in bed and going onto phone sex lines. I guess the point is that you can have a sexual encounter with just a voice on the end of a phone line and that Scarlett Johannson as an operating system is able to be much more intimate. I understand the purpose of this early scene. However, during the scene itself I felt enormously awkward - and in fact I felt pretty awkward for the vast majority of the film. There are occasional attempts and I found myself entirely unamused by every single one of them.

    I think I'd have liked this film better if it was streamlined. We just needed everything outside of the central relationship kicked right out of there. The world in which our protagonist lives doesn't make sense, the characters surrounding him don't feel like real people and the protagonist himself is withdrawn and I found him hard to empathise with. The only thing that really worked for me was the development of the central operating system, which does at least mean that at least one character develops in an interesting way - so there's a small saving grace. But what about the entire rest of the film?

    It's a film about romance and chemistry, but I'm afraid I found that, while the film is pretty enough, it simply didn't click with me. I am incompatible with this film.


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    Bad Milo! (2013)

    It's about the most bizarre premise you could imagine. A monster which lives in a man's backside and is created as a result of stress.

    A comedy monster movie sounded right up my alley so long as the central concept was handled well and the humour didn't get too purile. To that extent at least, I was not disappointed. The way the monster acts as a metaphor for the protagonist's buried emotions is handled very smartly.

    However, despite having Peter Stomare as a crazy therapist, the comedy isn't as consistent as you might hope. I was particularly disappointed to discover that Gillian Jacobs' role (Britta from Community, playing the protagonist's wife, no less) is tiny! She has barely any lines at all, so little opportunity to showcase her comic talent.

    Patrick Warburton isn't exactly great here either, though he seems to have a limited number of suitable roles. His performance as the eponymous hero in 'The Tick' was hilarious. But as the mean boss (and one source of the protagonist's monster-forming levels of stress) Warburton comes off particularly flat.

    Still Ken Marino from the tv series 'Party Down' is a funny and endearing lead. For a film about an arse monster, the film has a remarkable amount of soul. But sadly not quite the quality of humour or consistency of tone to make me wholeheartedly recommend it.


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    Man of Tai Chi (2013)

    "Man Of Tai Chi" is a fairly quirky martial arts film. The premise is that the protagonist has been taught a martial art fighting style based on Tai Chi, which is actually simply a meditative form of exercise for lessening stress and increasing 'spiritual health'. This allows for an interesting symbolism contrasting a peaceful exercise with violent conflict. Admittedly this is the same message nearly all anime and live action Asian movies seem to have about steering clear of anger and greed to achieve inner peace, but the connection to Tai Chi makes it a little more interesting. What is even cooler though, is the martial art itself. The fights are spectacular and visceral.

    If you were coming to this for Iko Uwais from "The Raid" then you may be upset to that he only really has a cameo.

    However, in spite of a major fight scene with the rather less proficient Keanu Reeves towards the end, it works really well. I wonder whether there aren't special.effects involved since the fight is filmed in a way which really emphasises Keanu's size. I was reminded of his line from the movie "Speed": "Yeah? Well I'm taller!" He wasn't kidding was he? There's something more symbolic and larger than line in that final fight (besides Keanu's legs) which makes the less complex martial arts moves from the villain rather suitable.

    Keanu makes for a great villain. Though his grumpy anti-hero sneering in "Constatine" did not quite fit for me, his angry villain sneering makes for a cool, albeit cliched, bad guy.

    Man Of Tai Chi is a fairly predictable film which wraps things up a little too easily at the end. However, it more than makes up for this with its fast pacing, excitement and visual spectacle.


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    The Kick (2011)

    Prachya Pinkaew has been a pretty consistent martial arts director for me, not simply because of the talent of the fighters or the quality of the camerawork, but because he knows how to keep things interesting. For all the praise of the "The Raid" movies (though I have as yet to see the sequel) I had trouble with the repetitiveness of the fighting. Not being a connoisseur of fighting styles there's a limit to how long you can satisfy me with plain old punching and kicking. Prachya Pinkaew knows to mix things up by setting a fight on a tree or pitting the fighter against an army of skateboarders. Essentially he's working with the same philosophy which has served Jackie Chan's career so well: What matters is the choreography.

    So, "The Kick" follows the trend of quirky premises. A family who are competing in taekwondo at the Olympics find themselves in trouble after they stand up to some organised criminals.

    Every member of the family gets a chance to do some fighting moves, including the youngest who can't be older than 5.

    Still while there is a fair bit of humour here and some cool little set pieces, the action isn't as interesting as in previous Prachya Pinkaew films and, even with Petchtai Wongkamlao, the comedy isn't really good enough either.

    Overall "The Kick" is a sweet fun film and a highly enjoyable watch, but while it has a lot of potential, it seems like the family-friendly tone also holds it back from being as spectacular as it could have been.


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    Joon-Ho Bong is, for me, the most consistently awesome director of Korean cinema. While Chan-Wook Park's films have sometimes gone a little too bizarre and while I've been really unimpressed with some of Kim-Ji Woon's output, Joon-Ho Bong has always impressed me.

    Memories of Murder (2003)

    I'd meant to review this quite a while back. It's the movie Joon-Ho released before his movie "The Host" which was much more widely recognised. I was just really unsure how I felt about it.

    Apparently "Memories of Murder" has some political allegory involved. I don't have any idea how characters might represent politicians. However, I can see how there's a clear distinction between the old fashioned rural methods (which include torture) and the more modern and scientific methods developed in cities.

    What really helped me to appreciate this film however, was rewatching Joon-Ho's other film "Mother". There are so many parallels.

    In "Memories of Murder" a mentally disabled (discriminated) suspect is tortured and intimidated to get a confession. In "Mother" our protagonist is concerned that her mentally disabled son may be facing poor treatment and may have been persuaded to confess because this is the sort of behaviour seen from the Korean police in the past.

    In both films the mentally disabled suspect is guided through an entirely unconvincing reconstruction of the crime.

    I had never realised how closely connected.these two films were until recently.

    I have always liked how Joon-Ho balances the darker elements of his films with more comedic elements without it appearing goofy or mismatched. Here I don't think that is quite so successful. The pure silliness of the scene where the mentally disabled suspect is mistreated feels inappropriate.

    Still, in the second half, with the expert from the city trying to convince the rural police of his more scientific methods, the tone of the film becomes rather more exciting.

    I liked the unexpected resolution to the case, but I found the very final scene puzzling. There's clearly an intentional ambiguity involved but I do not understand the purpose of it (beyond perhaps just a sense of despair).

    I don't feel like "Memories of Murder" matches the quality of Joon-Ho's later work, but even so, it's still a very impressive crime thriller.


    The Host (2006) (aka "Gwoemul")

    Originally reviewed here

    This was the first film I ever reviewed on livejournal. Pneumonia first watch I was rather confused by the quirky ending and the way the man-eating monster isn't the main villain.

    Also, while I'd been following Park-Chan Wook's films, the overt comedy in "The Host" didn't put me off like it did in, say, "I'm A Cyborg". Both directors follow that distinctly Korean trend of combining humour with ultra-dark storytelling. (I actually made a comparison to "Battle Royale" in my original review.) But while watching the clash of these two moods was jarring, I've since come to realise what an expert Joon-Ho Bong is when it comes to black comedy.

    As a result, my issues with the way the plot flows turn out to be entirely solved on a second watch. On a second time around, I am completely caught up in the craziness from beginning to end.

    I remember at the time the effects were mind-blowing (and I came to the film 3 years after its original release). Those effects are somewhat dated now, but still look pretty awesome all the same.

    This is a classic monster movie and a must-see for fans of Korean cinema.


    Mother (2009)

    Originally reviewed here

    I loved this movie the first time around and it still holds up on a second watch. But what impressed me (as I said before) was the way my viewing experience was impacted by having seen "Memories of Murder". Once again, Joon-Ho Bong perfectly balances dark storylines with hilarious comedy and characters who seem ridiculous at first turn out to have a great deal more depth as the film progresses. As I recognised in my original review, this is not an easy movie to predict and the ending ties up the story nicely.


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    I've still not seen "Barking Dogs Never Bite", Joon-Ho Bong's first full-length feature. But, besides that, I seem to be all the way up to date now. Sadly becoming fully up-to-date has involved some rather more extreme steps than I'd have liked to take. I would LOVE to see Joon-Ho Bong's latest film "Snowpiercer" in cinemas, but it looks like that's not happening. In fact, it looks like I'm going to need to wait for the DVD release - in the US! Because there appear to be no plans to show the film to us here (and French and Spanish DVD releases don't have the English subtitles needed for the parts in Korean).

    But first, here's a review of an anthology movie called "Tokyo" to which Joon-Ho Bong contributed one of the three segments.

    Tokyo! (2008)

    Three directors, two French and one Korean, submit short films about Tokyo.

    The first short film, "Interior Design",comes from Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). We start off with a fairly slow but character-focused drama. As if to make up for a first half that wasn't quite quirky enough, in the second half one of the characters experiences a very visual transformation which I won't spoil here.

    This was probably my favourite segment of the film though admittedly behind the quirkiness there's a pretty sad story here.


    The second segment, "Merde", is from the other French director Leos Carax (Holy Motors). This short film is some of the most self-indulgent nonsense I've ever seen.

    An actor with a scragley beard and one blinded eye is shown emerging from the sewers and marching down the streets of Tokyo harassing people, eating flowers and eating money. We see some media reactions before he returns from the sewer again, this time hurling some grenades he has found.

    All of this would make for a bizarre yet interesting short film if it wrapped nice and early. Unfortunately, with the strange lunatic having been caught by the Tokyo police, a French lawyer then turns up to represent him. Why a French one? Well, because the lunatic is from France I guess. Not that the lunatic spoke French. The lawyer communicates with him in some kind of squeaky animalistic baby-talk.

    The lawyer reveals that the lunatic's name is Merde which seems an odd choice when it becomes apparent that this is intended as a tribute to Godzilla. Arguably this might be seen as quite an inventive student film, but considering the reputation of the director and the
    relative quality of the other two contributions, this segment just seems like a bit of a bad joke.

    Needless to say, I was not impressed by the representation of Godzilla as a crazed Frenchman who lives in a sewer, speaks in baby-talk and whose name means "shit".


    The final contribution, "Shaking Tokyo", comes from Korean director Joon-Ho Bong (The Host, Mother).

    This is the story of a hikikomori, a Japanese man devoted to a life of solitude in intentionally cramped conditions. He wants to live as simple a life as possible and he delights in small details.

    The life of a hikikomori is explained beautifully by our protagonist. We are encouraged to share his passion for living amongst piles of magazines he has read and piles of old pizza boxes. It's not easy to empathise, but that's what makes this short film so effective.

    However part way into the something happens which sends his whole way of life into turmoil. At this point the story also takes on a sci-fi element.

    In the final part of this short film I felt that the protagonist changed character rather too quickly. But there's no doubt that this was an effective and moving little story.


    I've been desperate to watch "Snowpiercer". It was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. It's now been out in America all summer long and there is no announcement of even an American release. It's bizarre that there's still no indication that it will ever be released over here in the UK. However, I couldn't wait to see the film itself and I've gone out of my way to check it out.

    Snowpiercer (2013)

    The cast list for this movie is incredible. Chris Evans (Captain America, not the Radio 2 DJ), Jamie Belle, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, as well as awesome Korean actors Kang-Ho Song and Ah-Sung Ko. It's absurd that anyone thought this would be hard to market.

    "Snowpiercer" is quite simply one of the best sci-fi movies in years. There've been complaints from some that the symbolism is too on-the-nose and yet from others that the film is unrealistic. Apparently it's so symbolic that some people didn't recognise the symbolism at all. Honestly, they are both right, though kind of wrong in that they completely miss the point. The symbolism is intentionally on the nose in order for you to recognise that this setting is intentionally unrealistic.

    The premise is that the whole of humanity is living on a train. An attempt to save the world from global warming has backfired and caused most of the world to become a frozen wasteland. Within the train there is enormous inequality, with your position on the train now becoming like a caste system, where those at the front are believed to deserve a more decadent lifestyle and those at the back treated like scum. Tilda Swinton is a "true believer" announcing to those in the rear coach "keep your place".

    Chris Evans' character leads a rebellion, aiming to work his way all the way to the front of the train to control the engine. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that the train might be more sinister than even those oppressed passengers in the rear coaches had realised.

    Joon-Ho Bong's penchant for black comedy continues here, with some very dark themes and yet some absolutely hilarious comedy too. One of my favourites scenes is on the coach which acts as a school classroom. In the classroom the children are fed propaganda about the history and purpose of the train and sing songs to enforce their beliefs. It's pretty creepy, but the way it is portrayed in the setting is inevitably so bizarre that you cannot help but smile. I don't know how much of this is found in the original French graphic novel, but it just seems to suit Joon-Ho Bong's directing style to a tee.

    I guess the critics of this film couldn't accept the silliness of the film alongside how seriously the characters take their predicament. It's difficult to enjoy a comedy when you do not get the joke. And admittedly Korean films often seem to couple their humour with some very dark themes. But there is just so much excitement and inventiveness here, all unfolding with such perfect pacing, I have trouble understanding how anyone could fail to be enchanted.

    The social commentary is not that far removed from that found in "The Matrix", but the themes are explored rather more clearly without the same focus on religious allegory (though I know some have found a level of religious allegory in "Snowpiercer" nonetheless). The central principle is the same though. To use the quote from Morpheus:

    "The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."

    In "Snowpiercer" the system is not a computer simulation, but a train. And somehow it works beautifully.


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    Wow, these are a whole bunch of old reviews I thought I'd already posted. Well, better late than never I guess!

    We've got a Wes Craven theme going here, except I don't mean several Wes Craven movies. I mean one Wes Craven movie that I've always meant to sit down and watch: "Scream". And on top of that, two films which were released under the banner of "Wes Craven Presents" (in spite of having practically no involvement from the man himself).

    Scream (1996)

    Not so long after this film came out I remember a friend showing me the opening scene. At the time I was completely unfamiliar with slasher films. (Anyone who has been following my blog for the last couple of years or so has seen my reactions to seeing slasher series for the first time.) Without any understanding of the slasher horror genre, the opening to "Scream" is somewhat unappealing. If nothing else, it has to be recognised that "Scream", the opening at least, is a love letter to the slasher genre. So when I first checked it out I didn't care, asides from realising that I'd been spoiled for the ending of Friday the 13th (before anyone was really using the word 'spoilers').

    I must admit that the opening sequence is still kind of good. It's certainly a good start for the film. But I have realised that there was one element I didn't entirely understand at the time. The baddie is using a mobile phone. He's not ringing up from a nearby house. That simply wouldn't do the trick. He has to be able to walk and talk and a portable phone attached to the landline within the actual house isn't really going to work here either.

    Unfortunately I don't think the writer had a clue how mobile phones actually work or phone records in general for that matter. Later on we have the police recognising the need to request phone records for a mobile phone. They seem to entirely forget that they can get the landline records for the house very easily indeed and that would mean that they would know the exact times of the calls.

    But anyway, apparently having given up any hope of checking which students in the school have mobile phones or parents with mobile phones, they have no other option but to interview every single child and teacher in the school of the film's initial victim.

    Now I know that Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox were considered big names at the time, but to be quite frank they aren't any more. And that's not just bad luck in their careers. These are not terribly good actresses anyway. It was surprising however to see Rose McGowan appear here, since I know her for a movie released ten years later: "Planet Terror". Skeet Ulrich, who plays Neve Campbell's boyfriend seems extremely suspicious for the whole film, not least because he acts pretty much exactly the same as the way he played his dirtbag character in "The Craft" (a film which I still love). Another actor I've seen being better elsewhere was Matthew Lillard, who was the nervous psychic in the silly horror comedy "Thir13en Ghosts". I think Matthew Lillard is pretty great here too and I wonder whether he might have a more active career today if it weren't for him having taken on the thankless role of the live action version of Shaggy in the "Scooby Doo" movies (which I feel blessed not to have seen).

    Scream's attempts at self-referential cleverness become rather more rewarding towards the end when a geeky character starts putting forward rules for how to survive a horror movie. Never have sex, never do drugs, don't 'split up' and that sort of thing. It's not even the best version of those rules here, but the rules are at least presented well. We then see the rules applied to the movie "Halloween" with the characters gathered around the television to watch it. Basically this made me wish I was watching "Halloween", which is surprising considering that I wasn't exactly blown away by "Halloween" in the first place. But I was pretty certain that, whatever issues "Halloween" might have, it was a hundred times better than the boring disposableness of "Scream". (And I'd actually argue that "Halloween" already does some pretty cool horror movie deconstruction, such as the 'obscene caller that isn't an obscene caller'.)

    The earlier parts of the film are handled with a serious tone. The final act of the film is utterly stupid. The one actually clever idea here, I felt, was the hidden camera with a time delay. That actually tickled me a little bit. Outside of that, I mostly felt like I was waiting for this to end. So far "A Nightmare On Elm Street" is still by far my favourite Wes Craven movie and I still think that has massive problems. I think perhaps Craven is better at coming up with visuals than he is at directing actors and "Scream" simply doesn't have the exciting visuals that "Nightmare On Elm Street" did.


    Wishmaster (1997)

    When I was first told about "Wishmaster" I was put off by the suggestion that Wes Craven was involved (having a bad personal reaction to the film "The People Under The Stairs" still fresh in my mind). However, it seems that Wes Craven had very little involvement here at all. This is actually the work of an effects guy from the "Nightmare On Elm Street" films.

    The style here is clearly very similar to that used in films like "Nightmare On Elm Street" and it is wonderfully inventive. In an early sequence we see the power of the genie showcased extremely creatively with a whole selection of horrifying transformations occurring. The one that particularly stood out for me was where a man's own skeleton forces its way out of his body.

    Eventually we move to modern day and, while I don't think all the acting is all that great, the effects are wonderful, the premise is explored wonderfully, and I felt that the script was pretty well written. The genie doesn't seem to need anyone to actually say "I wish". Simply to express a desire for something to happen appears to be enough. One actor who does do a fantastic job is Andrew Divoff who plays the genie (or djinn as it is known here). I also need to give props to Jenny O'Hara, who I found pretty damn impressive here and I'm surprised not to see more high profile films in her filmography.

    By the way, asides from the reference to a specific number of wishes, the concept of the Djinn here seems accurate. According to Islamic belief, angels are creatures of light whose wills cannot falter from the will of God, while the djinn are creatures of fire who have free will to choose good or evil. In the Arabian nights djinn are often discovered trapped and getting a wish is often in exchange for freeing them. Djinn genuinely seem to be able to use supernatural powers to satisfy human desires, but you cannot trust them. That being said, none of this really marks them apart from demons. One controversy I'd just like to bring up though. Shaitan (the arabic word for the evil figure of Satan in Christian mythology) is believed to be an angel who chose to rebel against God. But that is impossible, since angels have no free will. As such, there is some suggestion that Shaitan must actually be a djinn and not just a fallen angel that commands djinns to do his bidding.

    "Wishmaster" features some cool cameos from Kane Hodder (the most well-known and long-running actor to play Jason Vorhees from the Friday 13th films) and Tony Todd (Candyman, the mortician from Final Destination, etc.).

    "Wishmaster" is great fun, well-made and if it had some better acting, particularly in the leading roles (not including the djinn mind you) then this could be an A-grade film. I don't think it was far off.


    They (2002)

    It's a bit of a non-specific title and when I read about this film online a while after seeing it the first time around, I wasn't entirely convinced it was the same film. Most descriptions of this film on the internet generally talk about how bad it is, which I found surprising. The main reason why that surprises me? Because this is, to me, better than anything I have EVER seen from Wes Craven. When I see "Wes Craven Presents" in the promotional material for this film, my concern isn't that they were using Wes Craven's name, but rather that they would downgrade their movie like that.

    "They" is all about the most basic kind of fear. Fear of the dark. The baddies are monsters that live in a weird realm parallel to ours which can be found in the dark corners, under the bed, in the cupboard, and anywhere else you can think of. You know when you look into the darkness and you can't quite make shapes out properly and it seems almost like the darkness is crawling around? This film is playing on that.

    The film focusses on a group of people who grew up with night terrors, but as adults they have found that the night terrors have returned. The suggestion is that the monsters that took them in the dark as children have marked them and, now that they are adults, the monsters in the darkness have come back to get them once again.

    At the same time, the main protagonist is studying to be a psycho-therapist. She pretty much diagonoses herself at one stage, not just as someone regularly paralysed with fear of the dark, but as someone having schizophrenic episodes. But, like "Take Shelter" handles much more expertly, knowing that you are most likely suffering from a recognisable psychological condition doesn't mean you can deny the reality of your terrifying visions.

    The ending felt really powerful to me. It's horrible, but really stuck with me. I don't even know why they even include the alternate ending on the DVD. Apparently some idiot thought it might be a good idea to have an "it was all a dream" ending where pretty much everyone in the film is a worker in a psychiatric hospital. What a stupid idea? A major theme of the film is that the main protagonist is able to assess her own psychological condition. The idea that the entire world around her is a delusion completely undoes anything that matters in the film. Thankfully they didn't choose that ending.

    The main actress is able to do a good haunted look, but her performance is a bit lacking in subtlety. The guy played Riley in Buffy The Vampire Slayer here plays the boyfriend, and he's pretty much just playing Riley again - which is fine. (Confession time here: (i) Season four is my favourite season of Buffy and (ii) while the 'Riley' character isn't great, I think he's massively underrated.)

    While the lead actress isn't perfect, everything in the film is well-handled. The theme is explored in a really interesting way and the film is genuinely creepy. I think the film unfortunately slows a little too much in pace in a few places. But this film is an intelligent horror movie with some fantastic imagery. I'd have been really interested to see what Darren Aronofsky might have done with this. This a really good film, with clear potential to be excellent and perhaps the biggest problem is that it seems to end rather suddenly. It feels like a serious of inter-connected moments, but it doesn't build to a crescendo. I think most of the best moments are probably in the first half. But this is a hideously underrated film and I'd pick this over "A Nightmare On Elm Street" any day.


    Blade: Trinity (2004)

    I haven't seen the original "Blade" in over ten years. I thought it was a bit meh even back then. I wasn't incredibly impressed with the second one either, but after becoming familiar with Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" I can appreciate it rather better. Perhaps, like with "Hellboy", a director's cut of "Blade II" will be released and it'll be much much better. Who knows?

    Blade Trinity doesn't have Guillermo Del Toro involved, but it does keep on the writer of the first two Blade movies: David S. Goyer. Except this time he's not only writing, but directing too! And if this movie is at all representative, he utterly sucks as a director.

    The main positive point I'd often heard for this film is Ryan Reynolds comedy. Ryan Reynolds has been in the enormous flop "Green Lantern", a number of cheesy romantic comedies, and "Buried" (which I liked, but is actually quite a serious film). So when this film turned up in a bargain bin, I thought I might at least finally discover what made him so popular for his comic acting. I'm afraid that aspect of the film completely eluded me. He appeared to have no comic timing whatsoever (though it cannot have helped that none of his lines were even within the same vicinity as 'funny'). Strangely I wasn't impressed when he shouted at a female vampire that she was a "c**k juggling thunder-c**t". (What the hell does that even mean???)

    But if there's one thing that WAS funny about this movie, it's the Dracula figure. The vampires dig him up in a tomb somewhere in mesopotamia and he first appears as a cool looking monster, but it's not long before he opts for a less imposing shape. He chooses to look like some kind of wrestler or perhaps a contestant on Jersey Shore (not that I've seen that). He likes to wander around exposing his smooth hairless chest and decides at one point to lay waste to a shop selling Dracula-themed tacky items (like Dracula vibrators *eyeroll*).

    The action is hard to follow and therefore boring, the characters have none, the plot doesn't plot, the tension isn't tense, and it's pretty hard to care about anything that happens from the moment Dracula reveals his male-model appearance onwards. A particularly poor moment is where one character is mourning another character's death and Blade is standing in the background insistently repeating "use it, use it, Use It, USE IT!!" over and over again. I eventually deciphered that he meant to use the pain they felt from the loss of their friend in order to fight the vampires better, but to be frank that was so poorly set up that he could have meant anything.

    After the success of "Blade II" this film clearly wasn't lacking in budget, so there is no excuse for how appalling this was. You want a good vampire action movie? Look somewhere else. ANYWHERE except here.


    The Good Son (1994)

    There's something strange about this film. Macauley Culkin is an odd choice. The very idea of a film where Macauley Culkin acts side-by-side with Elijah Wood feels particularly odd to me. Naturally the promotional material has to make clear that this is a creepy film about a child capable of murder, yet this film has the most inappropriate soundtrack imaginable.

    I think the film is being posed as a drama, so this means that early in the film we have 'children playing together isn't it lovely' music and even later when things get darker later on, we still have 'bad things are happening' drama music. This film is desperate not to be seen as a horror movie. Having seen what was done in "We Need To Talk About Kevin" it's much harder to make allowances for the way things are presented in "The Good Son". Even when we've got the sweet and lovely music in the early part of the film it is already clear that Culkin's character is, at very least, a jerk. A realistic jerk admittedly. I remember growing up with children just like that who tease and play power games and who think that kicking each other under the table is just how things are. But even with that in mind, the sweet and cheerful music felt out of place right from the start.

    Elijah Wood does his trademark horrified expression that we've now seen so much of in "Lord Of The Rings". Macauley Culkin is essentially playing a psychopath (or something akin to that) and he fits the role pretty well, but he doesn't do subtlety very well and his creepy look involves squinting, which feels wrong somehow. This is a keenly intelligent figure who is constantly looking at how to manipulate people to his own advantage. I felt like he should have his eyes wide open.

    The writing is often very well handled and so while it was a surprise to find that this was written by Ian McEwan of "Atonement" fame, it helps to explain some of the subtleties in the writing. However, this was a project taken away from McEwan and put into rewrites without consulting him, so while much of the film may bear his mark, I doubt this entirely fits with his original vision.

    Certain parts of the film feel very twee and some themes feel hammered home so much that they barely feel clever any more. I am not sure that Culkin's character is always consistent in the extent to which he can hide his feelings.

    This film was actually banned in the UK upon release because it was unlucky enough to coincide with the murder of James Bulger, which had a big impact on the country. Still, it was released after there'd been a bit of a gap, albeit with an "18" certificate which feels rather over the top. However, even in his early teens Elijah Wood is still clearly a good actor, and there's a lot to like here. But the offputting soundtrack is a big problem, not least since my biggest problem with "The Good Son" is that it didn't pull me in - and the soundtrack really didn't help me with that.

    I think some people might enjoy this a lot more than I did. Perhaps I'm being unfair. But the whole style of the film rubbed me the wrong way and the emotional beats of the film didn't push my buttons in the right way. I felt like I was constantly a step ahead of the film waiting for it to catch up. Perhaps if the film was willing to think of itself as a psychological thriller (I mean, why the hell not?) then perhaps it could handle these issues a lot better. This movie will pass the time and it's not exactly a bad film, but I feel a bit meh overall about this one.


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    Grand Piano (2013)

    After Elijah Wood's awesome performance in the remake of "Maniac" I now find that just his name and a decent premise is enough to get me interested.

    So here, the premise is that a fantastic piano player is putting on a special memorial show dedicated to another musician who acted as a mentor to him in the past. Apparently our protagonist embarrassed himself by messing up the last few bars of a piece several years earlier, so having arranged to play a set of fiendishly difficult pieces, he has stage fright, concerned that he might make a similar mistake.

    So, at this helpful juncture, a mysterious figure threatens his life if he makes a single mistake. Oh noes!

    Anyway, besides Elijah Wood there's another awesome actor in "Grand Piano". What, John Cusack? No, I'm talking about Alex Winter who played Bill in the Bill and Ted movies! It's been a long time but he still has the same distinctive expressive eyebrows.

    Sadly, while the way the tension builds is awesome and Elijah Wood's horrified performance holds my attention beautifully, the final act of the film is a little messy.

    Still, as a simple and effective thriller, "Grand Piano" is fantastic, with a far better pacing, performances, and story structure than "Phone Booth" (another single location thriller whose premise is somewhat similar).


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    All Is Lost (2013)

    When I heard "All Is Lost" was a film all about Robert Redford on his own in a boat, I wasn't sure about this movie. But when I discovered that the director of "Margin Call" was responsible I became much more interested. As it turns out, I should probably have gone with my first instinct.

    The film begins by showing an upturned boat with a voiceover from Redford apologising. I thought the film would gradually go about explaining what Redford's character was sorry for, but this is never actually addressed. There's not even any mystery regarding why the boat is upturned. Right at the start we see a huge hole made in the side of the boat just above the water line.

    So there's no subtext here at all really. It's just a guy trying to survive at sea and there's nothing else to help make things interesting. Redford's performance is awesome, sure. But unfortunately, even I, with no experience and little understanding of sailing, I can still tell that you can't get out of your upturned inflatable lifecraft in the middle of a powerful storm and then right it and get back in. Frankly there were a number of points where he should have been simply swept away.

    Heck, with this filmmaker involved, it was never going to be unwatchable, but I still found "All Is Lost" decidedly pointless.


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    After a really busy year, I've been gradually catching up with my reviews. Now the October horror marathon is once again upon us. It has been dubbed "Hoop-Tober" on Letterboxd, even for those not including Tobe Hooper films (and I drained that lake dry already). But I still have a bunch of horror film reviews to post which have been a long time delayed. So here goes...

    Possession (1981)

    Fairly low budget arty horror piece starring Sam Neil. This actually gets pretty Lovecraftian and I really liked that aspect. Unfortunately the film goes from slow-paced and frustrating to fast-paced and completely bonkers.

    The final scene suggests all sorts of possible interpretations but none of them seem to fit terribly well with the rest of the film.

    There are some wonderful ideas here and some creative visual techniques establishing the presence of a malign supernatural force. And naturally Sam Neil is awesome as always.

    However, overall the film is just a mess.


    Slasher House (2012)

    A very low budget project has characters with no memory in some kind of strange prison.

    There are some parts which are a lot of fun and others which are slow-paced and poorly handled. The dialogue isn't great, the acting isn't great and the film generally looks very amateurish.

    The second half is better than the first half and this could have been a lot worse, but nothing here really made it worth the effort.


    Dracula (1958)

    Somehow I ended up seeing this movie's follow-up, "Prince of Darkness", first. I remember that the best bit seemed to be the recap at the beginning. Van Helsing (played by Peter Cushing) is in a proper showdown with Dracula (Christopher Lee). It seemed like a really exciting confrontation. "I wish I were watching THAT movie!" I thought.

    So imagine my surprise when Dracula (sometimes known as "The Horror of Dracula") turned out to be even duller. All the way through I was thinking "The final confrontation will make it all worthwhile." But no! It turns out that without the exciting music from that recap, that 'exciting' showdown is distinctly less gripping.

    Turns out that I preferred "Prince of Darkness" to the original Hammer Horror Dracula, but my favourite Hammer Dracula movie so far is "Scars of Dracula".


    Dr. Moreau's House of Pain (2004 Video)

    A friend of mine had picked up this low budget flick cheap and yet it felt wrong that he'd spent any money on it at all. Highly amateurish. Terrible acting, story, production values, costume design, you name it. Just generally appalling.


    Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

    The more I've been exploring the horror genre in recent years, the more heavily entrenched my love of horror-comedies has become. But I was still a little unsure about a horror comedy based around slasher flicks. Even having completed Jason's Friday bloodbaths, Elm Street's Nightmares, and the various chainsaw massacres in Texas, I still feel like a bit of an outsider to the genre, like perhaps I don't enjoy these movies in the way 'true fans' do.

    So I take great pleasure in revealing that I loved "The Rise of Leslie Vernon". It's made clear early on that this is not just a psychopath. Leslie Vernon is a slasher killer. He has perfected such talents as keeping up with his victims while seeming to only ever be walking.

    There's also a rather cool cameo from Robert Englund, playing what Leslie Vernon refers to as an "Ahab" (which I only later recognised as a reference to "Moby Dick"). Ooooh, also for any Poltergeist fans out there, Robert Englund isn't the only cameo by a horror movie star...

    The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a proper treat for horror fans who enjoy the campy fun of the slasher genre.


    The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

    Admittedly this looks rather dated now, but Anthony Hopkins' performance is still as haunting as ever.

    While categorised as a psychological thriller, a genre often viewed as more high-brow than horror, "Silence of the Lambs" is actually an almost inevitable result of the slasher movie craze. A fictional world in which psychopaths are like evil superheroes whose fiendish intelligence and brutality can enable them to solve complex crimes and to escape from seemingly secure confinements. These psychopaths are like vampires, seemingly set apart from ordinary mere mortals with their own twisted connections with one another.

    Perhaps this interpretation is a stretch, but there is no doubting that the world of Hannibal Lecter fascinates audiences (continuing to do so in the recent tv series). And who can possibly look at those creepy moths fluttering through Buffalo Bill's lair and still think "this is not a horror movie"? Nonsense. It's flipping terrifying!


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    I've been putting horror reviews on the back burner for a while now and quite a few have built up. So here are another six horror catch-up reviews before the big Letterboxd 'Hoop-Tober' horror marathon begins.

    The Borderlands (2013)

    The found footage genre gets a lot of hate and I don't fully understand why. Many found footage films are simply mockumentaries and yet I don't see many people hating on 'This Is Spinal Tap'.

    I suppose part of the issue is that you always need an excuse for why people are filming everything and sometimes the idea that someone would keep filming when their life was in danger can be rather hard to swallow.

    The explanation for the found footage is pretty robust here. The premise is that two Catholic priests and a technician are investigating reports of a miracle. To ensure that their reports are not exaggerated or deluded, they all wear camera headsets at all times. That way anything they claim to have seen can be independently verified.

    While the horror is often a little too silly to be effective, but what is very effective is the comedy. The technician is comically out of place because he isn't really a believer in the faith, but when it comes to miracles he's far less sceptical and cynical than the two priests.

    The revelation about what is behind the miracle isn't an enormous surprise, but it's still a cool idea. I was also quite interested by the technician's musings about the difference between paganism and Christianity. His suggestion is that pagans worship real things in nature while Christians worship something supposedly transcending all of existence. The point being that it'd be sensible to bet on something that is definitely real over something ineffable and elusive.

    The final ending felt a bit forced to me, which was a pity. But the interactions between the characters were so funny and I had such a great time that it's hard to hold the abrupt and silly ending against it.


    Dolls (1987)

    When early on we see a girl's parents being attacked by a giant teddy bear, I honestly thought this movie would be brilliant.

    Unfortunately while the effects work with the killer dolls was often very fun, the acting is awful and the human characters aren't generally so entertaining.

    The problem is not so much the budget. I can look past a few out-dated or unpolished elements in a film. But for a film which is clearly intended as a horror comedy the comic timing feels off.

    Despite some great moments, this film doesn't quite seem to work for me. If you are looking for a film where the characters are tormented by small murderous entities, I'd personally suggest "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" instead.


    Resolution (2012)

    I do not want to give too much away about this film, but I do wonder whether it wouldn't have worked just as well without any supernatural horror aspect.

    The majority of the film is based around two friends meeting up in a abandoned house, one of whom is, at least initially, off his head on meth.

    The two of them are hilarious. Part of what makes their discussions so funny is that neither of them could be said to hold the moral high ground. All this may be sounding a little cryptic, but I don't want to spoil the surprise.

    What I will reveal, however, is that while the two friends are in the house they receive increasingly clear evidence that they are being watched.

    While sometimes it can be irritating when films end ambiguously and rely on the viewer's interpretation, I was very impressed by the under-stated and haunting ending.

    'Resolution' is in equal parts creepy and hilarious. I'm not really sure if this is a horror comedy, since the humour and the creepiness are so completely separate. But the film is a really compelling watch and a lot of fun too.


    The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

    I don't really get on with ghost stories and while exorcism or demon films don't need to follow the same tropes they sometimes do. "The Conjuring" actively combines the two, with the protagonists claiming ghosts to only ever be demons. And the classic "The Exorcist" insists on having the possessed girl cause objects to move around like poltergeist activity.

    But "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" has to keep things relatively grounded because it is all based around a court case, with the possessed girl appearing only in flashbacks. Her bizarre experiences often only seem supernatural because we are seeing them from the girl's perspective.

    The central premise is that the girl died during her exorcism and the priest is being tried for murder. But the interesting part of this is that the prosecuting lawyer is a strong Christian, while the defence lawyer does not hold strongly to a faith. Once the film gets going this doesn't make a lot of difference though.

    Perhaps my biggest problem is that the prosecuting lawyer is so ridiculously unconvincing. When we have characters making speeches in a film, I should at least find it plausible that they would elicit the response that they do. But when the defence lawyer's whole argument is "heck, who knows?" I'm unsure why anyone would be swayed by that.

    What starts off as quite an interesting drama ends up seeming daft because it takes its demonic possessions too seriously. And when the defence lawyer is experiencing paranormal phenomena in her home we have totally entered 'stupid ghost story' territory.

    Since I cannot recommend it enough, I'm going to finish by talking about Joe Ahearne's tv show "Apparitions" again. "Apparitions" is still through best portrayal of an exorcism ever. It seriously imagines what a world where demons are real might be like, it explores the related ideas and imagines what the.demons' strategy might be, it has a sense of fun, and amazingly it managed to get me siding with the exorcist.

    By comparison "The Exorcism Of Emily Rose" expects me to consider seriously whether demonic possession could be genuine and seriously, I don't think it can. The movie could do with an injection of fun. The first half made it look like there might be some fun involved, but the film just became drier and drier as the court case progressed.


    Los sin nombre (The Nameless) (1999)

    After seeing 'Rec' co-director Jaume Balaguero's film "Sleep Tight" I was keen to check out his other work. The next film I checked out was "Fragile" which I thought had good characterisation, but was plagued by the inevitable tropes of the ghost story genre.

    But this latest foray into Balaguero's filmography doesn't feel like it involves real people at all. Characters make very strange decisions, like deciding to wander round an abandoned building alone.

    This is the sort of 'mystery' film where you keep hanging on, hoping that the ending will tie everything together. And sadly, while the ending had a genuine creepiness, it simply didn't work.

    Throughout the film we hear about this cult which venerates evil and in the end you don't have to be terribly imaginative to imagine something more evil than what we are finally presented with.


    Teeth (2007)

    Horror comedy about a girl with the mythical 'vagina dentata'. The joke is that the girl with teeth located in her nethers is actually part of a fundamentalist Christian group promoting purity rings. What she is saving up as something pure and special is eventually going to prove to be horrifying and monstrous.

    While it's not a comedy full of gags, the whole unfolding of the premise and the crazy scenario is funny by itself. There's a great comedic mood to the film.

    I must admit that there's not a fantastic story here and it can feel a little messy in places, but I found it so very endearing that I can forgive a little bit of messiness.


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