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fatpie42 - LiveJournal.com

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  • 10/02/15--11:06: Director Showcase: Ti West

  • Ti West is a horror director who has caused mixed reactions. One youtube reviewer I'm fond of did a long video completely rubbishing his entire filmography. He's uncharacteristic of most horror directors in his consistent use of slow deliberate pacing. That being said, there's also been an element of fun (essential in horrror films!) particularly in his most recent films.

    So now, having seen his earlier films "The Roost" and "Trigger Man", I'm finally up to date with his entire filmography and very much looking forward to his next full-length feature "In A Valley Of Violence" which is due to be released next year. (I'd be less interested in a short film, having not appreciated his absolutely dire contributions to some collaborative anthology movies in recent years.) "In A Valley Of Violence" is a revenge western movie with Karen Gillan, Taissa Farmiga (younger sister of Vera Farmiga) and John Travolta. Could be pretty awesome!

    My ranking of Ti West's movies is after the two reviews.

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    The Roost (2005)

    Ti West at his low budgetiest and slow burningliest ever. Still the interrupting sequences from Tom Noonan are brilliant and the threat when it arrives is appropriately effective. For that reason I'm not all that let down by the lack of decent characterisation.

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    This clearly isn't up with Ti West's other work, but it's not down with his contributions to anthology movies either. ("M is for Miscarriage" anyone?) This is a simple and moderately effective low budget effort with enough style to make it worth seeking out if you consider yourself a Ti West fan.

    If Ti West's slow burn style aggravates you then you'll probably relegate this to the 9th circle of hell where physical torture is no longer effective and the demons have moved on to dredging out the last remnants of life and sanity from the remants of your weary soul. (I know some of Ti West's critics really hate his work that much.)

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    This is a simple, effective horror film, but not a mind-blowing experience by any means. The threat is generally off-screen somewhere. Either outside while they are inside or “over there”, but there’s a distinct charm to the low budget format.

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    The Roost is silly and the sections involving Tom Noonan ensure that we realise that this is intentional, but the rest of the film is sufficiently earnest to keep up an effective atmosphere.

    B-



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    Trigger Man (2007)

    This early film from Ti West mainly seems to be an opportunity for him to experiment. The pacing is slower than ever, even by Ti West standards and the way the camera zooms in and out serves to irritate rather than produce the intense atmosphere West is going for.

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    Early on there's a scene where the camera follows one character as he walks through a corner shop to buy a pack of cigarettes. Why are we shown this? No idea.

    You can tell who the main character is going to be when the action finally kicks in because he's the only one who showed any genuine character traits before that point. This film has some seriously uninteresting characters.

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    Plenty of director's have initial dud films, but this one really feels like it was never intended for an audience beyond personal friends or potential employers. As an ultra low budget film with very limited scope, it's not utterly terrible. But as an indie film for wide release this is really dull.

    D-


    Ranking Ti West's Filmography


    7. "M Is For Miscarriage" (segment from The ABCs Of Death) (2012)
    One of the laziest short horror films I've ever seen. Someone goes to the toilet then realises there's blood in the toilet. - THE END! Good grief!

    E-


    6. Trigger Man (2007)
    No characters, no story, no tension. An experiment in mood but without the story to go with it.
    D-


    5. "Second Honeymoon" (segment from V/H/S) (2012)
    Another fairly lazy short film, it hints at something better on the way, but in the end it's a pretty dull stop-gap before other more interesting segments in the first "V/H/S" anthology movie.
    D+


    4. The Roost (2005)
    A fun little by-the-numbers horror movie with the Ti West atmosphere making up for the lack of interesting characters. Very rough, but Tom Noonan hamming things up is quite a treat.
    B-


    3. House Of The Devil (2009)
    Very slow-burn pacing, but done in a very interesting way. The real problem is that the ending doesn't quite justify the build-up. Still, this is a highly entertaining and super-creepy throwback to late 70s, early 80s horror films.
    B+


    2. The Sacrament (2013)
    Some have complained that this is a little disrespectful of the real-life Jonestown massacre incident. But the fact is that cults are terrifying and Ti West intended this to be a horror movie without the use of the supernatural. I think he does a great job. The film draws us into a seemingly progressive community and then turns the tables dramatically.
    A+


    1. The Innkeepers (2011)
    I'm a real sucker for horror comedies and with an awesome central performance from Sara Paxton, this is one of the funniest horror comedies I've seen. While Ti West's films are generally straightforward, I thought this was actually a little deeper than Ti West's other films. It doesn't surprise me that his follow-up would try to remove the supernatural altogether, since this is arguably a ghost film featuring no ghosts at all.
    A+


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    Instellar (2014)

    Finally giving this film a second watch, I've had to reassess it. Not because I gave it the wrong grade before; I gave it an A+ and it deserves it. But because I think the negative buzz from certain quarters gave me some unwarranted misgivings about my decision.

    A common claim was that there were issues with the sound. On my sound system at home I'm not getting any issues. I don't know if the sound mix on the DVD is different from the version in the cinema.



    My favourite part of the film is still the journey through the wormhole. It's a glorious visual treat.



    While I still recognise that Hathaway's "love is a force in the universe" speech is a weird way for her to express her ideas in that scene. I appreciated this time its relevance to events in the third act. Hathaway is essentially saying, "Well it's 50/50 anyway, so isn't my affection for the scientist there as good a reason as any to pick his planet?" But if she just said that, it wouldn't tie in so well with the third act revelations about the gravity-shifting 'beings'.



    The real mistake I think I made here was ranking Interstellar below Inception in my Nolan rankings. Now Inception has some absolutely gorgeous visuals, but on subsequent watchings I have realised that, for all its exposition, I still may not understand what was going on. The confusion with the spinning top is not so much whether it was about to stop spinning, but rather what significance the spinning top even has. (It's supposed to be a way of checking whether you are in your own dream. But DiCaprio also uses it make his wife think the world is not real. Do we know how long DiCaprio's spinner is supposed to spin for?) But in Interstellar there are no outstanding issues for me. It all fits together and I'm not left wondering what dream was inside whose head.



    I also really like the characters in Interstellar. Matthew McConnaughey is obviously brilliant, but TARS the robot is also a pretty cool character as well as serving as a source of some cool visuals. And despite his short appearance John Lithgow is actually pretty impressive considering his limited screentime. But yeah, Caine, Hathaway, and young and old Murphy are all great.



    So I actually now think this is a new sci-fi classic and definitely not the low in Nolan's filmography others seemed to suggest.

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    The Squid And The Whale (2005)

    Having watched Frances Ha, I came to the conclusion that Noah Baumbach must be a director to look out for. His big recommended movie prior to Frances Ha was the strangely titled Squid and the Whale. Frankly I think I may have missed the reason for the title.

    This is very different from Frances Ha (which kind of felt like a movie version of Lena Dunham's Girls series). This actually feels somewhat akin to Wes Anderson's style. We have a whole group of flawed characters, particularly Jeff Daniels' father figure.

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    This film further solidifies my belief that Jesse Eisenberg's strengths lie on comedy. Here he plays quite a tragic figure whose father's advice is not only making him act like a horrible person, but is also alienating him from other people and making him unhappy. While there are clear ties between his upbringing and the way he acts towards others, it doesn't make him seem any less horrible and so it takes a very nuanced performance from Eisenberg for us to recognise him as a tragi-comic figure who is embarrassing himself rather than simply an obnoxious figure we'd like to run a mile from.

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    I must admit though, I'm very easily turned off by some of these comedies where you are supposed to be embarrassed for the protagonists. Comedies like Peep Show and The Office became impossible for me.

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    But while The Squid and the Whale had me squirming, it is so well put together that it somehow kept me on board. So yes, while the characters are incredibly frustrating, the humour is black, the story is pretty depressing and it's all nowhere near as much fun as Frances Ha, this is still a powerful and cleverly written account of a divorce.

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    Great performances, great script, kind of horrible though. But really this is just another version of the typical black comedy trainwrecks. You simply need to recognise that everything is going to go wrong for the characters and enjoy watching things fall apart. It's actually a testament to the writing and the performances that I could barely stand watching these characters' inevitable demises.

    B+


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    Robot Overlords (2014)

    Ended up watching this one twice. The ending is way too convenient and the third act is rather too obviously trying to wrap things up. However this film is a lot of fun with some very appealing characters to guide you through the story.

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    I'm still not really much of a Gillian Anderson fan, but I have to say her English accent here is very impressive. She has a few awesome-mum moments which she takes full advantage of.              

    Ben Kingsley hams things up a bit, but he's a rather interesting villain. In many ways he seems like a well-meaning and pleasant figure - until you look at what he actually does with his authority.

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    But surprisingly (or perhaps less so if you saw this year's "Mr. Holmes") the stand-out performance is from Milo Parker, who plays the youngest of the children standing up against the robot invasion.

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    A definite step up from Jon Wright's alien invasion movie "Grabbers". I thought "Robot Overlords" was a real treat in spite of a few cheesy elements.

    B+


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    Project Almanac (2014)

    Clearly borrowing from the style of Chronicle, there were actually a few pretty cool moments in this found footage time travel film.

    The time travel ideas are actually quite cool. The ending is sadly unoriginal and pretty much the inevitable finish to films like this. However, along the way there are some neat little touches.

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    Upon every jump into the past or future objects will float in the air spectacularly, which makes for a pretty neat visual cue whenever the time machine is activated. Meanwhile in a world where we could imagine someone selling their old backstage passes for a big festival on ebay, time travellers have some pretty awesome opportunities available to them.

    My issue lies with the characters. Chronicle had to balance three quite distinct characters around which all other characters would revolve. While Project Almanac initially appears to do the same it's pretty clear that only one of them matters: the attractive one (whose missing dad is the source of the machine).

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    At a key point in the film where attractive geek rearranges time so he doesn't mess up things with the popular party girl who likes him. When she discovers that he manipulated time so they would be together she is rightly angry, but she's also insulted that he would think her fickle enough to dismiss their whole relationship in one key moment of flirting. It's the most realistic and interesting character interaction in the film because it rings true. At a music festival emotions can run high and people can stubbornly stick to decisions they make at such moments.

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    But unfortunately I don't like these characters and I get to know very little about any of them. However, they are at least recognisable as real people and so, feeling very much like an outsider to this cliquey group and not identifying with their situation that much, I'm still interested in finding out what happens.

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    I've heard complaints that you couldn't use an X-Box to provide the graphics display like that, but frankly that was one of the film's funnier moments.

    Project Almanac is no Chronicle, but it's not bad at all. They've borrowed from Chronicle and done so in a way that works. Also the time travel logic fits together better than I was led to believe, even if the engineering elements are hokum.

    B-


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    Enemy Mine (1985)

    Last time I was watching Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, I was surprised that the Klingons seemed like they must represent some kind of middle eastern culture. Yet surely the Klingons are based on Soviet Russians? I suppose the mix-up isn't so surprising. A society based around honour but also showing signs of stubbornness and corruption.

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    Yet here in Enemy Mine, the alien seems distinctly Muslim. He has a spiritual leader he regularly reveres (Muhammad), a holy book of the spiritual leader's teachings, (the Qu'ran) and there's a focus on the pronunciation of the holy book's words in their original language and on a musical style of recitation.

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    On top of the clash of cultures between these two characters we also get some rather neat alien life. While not exactly a huge step up from the creatures in “The Neverending Story” (from the same director) they're still colourful and interestingly designed.

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    The problem is that, while the middle of the film is not only very interesting but even bordering on profound, the third act is cheesy as hell. Endings matter because when a moving sci-fi story like this ends in a way that is twee and fluffy, it feels like a betrayal of the more effective scenes.

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    The middle of the film actually drags a bit, making this very much a film which wins or fails based on your response to the ending. For me, the final act is out of a different, much cheesier film. And that's a real pity.

    C+


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    The Signal (2004)

    The trailer showed what seemed to be essentially a live action Akira with Lawrence Fishburne as the government agent/scientist monitoring the boy with special powers.

    That was seriously misleading.

    Good news is Olivia Cooke is in this. Bad news is, despite being possibly the most talented person in the cast, this is yet another film where she is misused. (Check out the mini-series "The Secret Of Crickley Hall" or the tv series "Bates Motel" to see what she's capable of.)

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    Yet more bad news is that this film plods along and the big special powers are prosthetics. The film treats it like some kind of Cronenbergian body horror, but when a boy with poorly functioning legs discovers he's been given super-legs it's difficult to interpret that as horror. And after so long listening to Lawrence Fishburne suggest some kind of horrifying revelations to come, scary prosthetic legs don't really meet the hype.

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    Even while the film is building up to this big revelation, the conversations between the protagonist and Lawrence Fishburne are enormously frustrating. Lawrence Fishburne's character is clearly supposed to be vague and enigmatic, so I guess that works. Still, I'd hoped I would eventually find out why he was keeping everything secret and frankly there was never a good reason for it.

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    But I have even greater issues with the protagonist who feels able to judge how well the people  holding him are funded and yet never seems to ask obvious questions. While it makes sense for Fishburne's character to talk strangely, it is very confusing when the protagonist doesn't talk like you would expect a typical person to talk. I was left feeling incredibly detached from the characters.

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    There was very little in the way of plot. Also, even the internal logic of the film is strained. At one point the protagonist sprays something on the keypad to work out which buttons have been pressed. But bizarrely his friend, who cannot see the results of the spray, is asked to use an algorithm to work out in which order the numbers should be pressed. No guesses. Just by being told which numbers are pressed.

    Even more ridiculous is when these 'geniuses' realise that the numbers written on them add up to 51 and conclude "this must be Area 51". (Whether true or false, it's still dumb.)

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    I think of myself as a sci-fi fan, but this half-baked production really takes the mick. I love sci-fi because it can be exciting and meaningful, but "The Signal" is boring and meaningless.

    E-


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    Ex Machina (2015)

    Wow. Smart character-based sci-fi. How often do we see that eh?

    There are essentially three characters. Domhall Gleeson plays the protagonist: an awkward employee programmer who wins a competition for a one-on-one meeting with the eccentric company boss and is given a special opportunity. Oscar Isaac gives a very full performance as the eccentric boss in question. Finally Alicia Vikander is just as awesome in this English film as she was in the Danish film "A Royal Affair".

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    Visually gorgeous, but mainly relying on its very intelligent dialogue. The film builds up to some rather awesome conclusions and an unusually gratifying ambiguous

    ending. It doesn't take much to be a better exploration of AI than this year's Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, but arguably it does take a lot to be more satisfying to watch than Mad Max: Fury Road. For me, this is the best film I have seen this year by a clear margin. It helps that I'm a fan of sci-fi and am drawn to character-based films.

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    Perhaps I'm missing something with the accusations of misogyny? Certainly we see misogyny from characters, but I don't see that the film is misogynistic. Part of the joy of the ending for me is that it isn't obvious who to side with at the end. The separation between the laddish male characters and the female robot seems important to the creepy us-and-them dynamic between their personalities. (A dynamic which I think is a fully intentional, rather than an accident of the writer’s preferences.) It feels to me that an accusation of misogyny requires a very narrow interpretation of the ending. For me, the male centric rhetoric in the film is justified by its relevance to the plot.

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    I suppose I should make at least one criticism. Does the protagonist choose the music in his room at the facility? We never see him turn it on and its the sort of chirpy 80s pop that could drive you mental if you weren't personally very keen.

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    Interesting, beautiful, thought-provoking, creepy and with a very tight script from Alex Garland for his directorial debut. I hear that Garland wasn't happy with the way Sunshine ended. Perhaps it could have been better if Garland directed that himself too?

    A+


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    Marvellous (2014)

    It seems like you only need to put Toby Jones in a movie to make it great. I even loved his appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He's played a sound engineer, a Nazi scientist, a spy and Alfred Hitchcock and he brings something special to his roles every time.

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    In the tv film "Marvellous" Toby Jones plays a man who is still living, putting the figure of Neil Baldwin in the same rank as Stephen Hawking, David Helfgott, Mark Zuckerberg, and Margaret Thatcher. What's more, however, he actually shows up occasionally to make a comment!

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    There have been attempts in the past to show that people with mental illness often simply have a different approach to life rather than being incapable. However, Marvellous shows a figure whose mental illness seems to give him a better approach to life than most and who finds doors open for him as a result.

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    Whether it's his mental illness, his personality or a weird alchemy when combining them, he presents an endearing sense of humour and finds it very easy to make friends. That he or she is "a good friend of mine” is a regular refrain throughout the film.

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    Neil Baldwin lives with his mother and relies on her for support. He shares her passion for religion, for football, but not for healthy eating. Early on, some priests feel a little awkward that he sees both the hierarchy of the priesthood and of Stoke City Football Club to be equivalent.

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    This is a wonderful story, well-served by its excellent leading man.

    A+


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    Still Alice (2014)

    I've often said that a bad ending can seriously ruin an otherwise great film. It also doesn't help a film that was already a bit iffy.


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    Julianne Moore is great here, unsurprisingly. However, there is still something a bit unreal about the way the scenario is set up. The events of the film feel substantially more plausible than in the other major Alzheimer’s movie of recent years: “Away From Her”. However, I still felt like the events of this film were distant and remote from me in the audience.

    Possibly part of the reason why I had this feeling of distance between me and the characters in the film could be because the film tries to put us in the shoes of the central Alzheimer’s sufferer. But perhaps confusing or alienating the audience isn't the best way to tell a story?


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    I don't feel like the final moments of the story is spoiler and I consider it a major problem with the film. The ending is the point that everything else should be leading up to. I find myself enormously frustrated when I stick with a film in the hopes that it will all pay off in the end, only to be left disappointed. (Though in a film like "The Fountain" it can prove to have been worth the wait.)

    To tie up the events of Still Alice, Kristen Stewart, playing her daughter, reads a bizarre and kind of cryptic text about someone going on a plane and imagining ghosts plugging the holes in the ozone layer. Julianne Moore's character shows quite amazing comprehension skills by saying that this piece of writing is about love. Personally I'm not sure I really agree with that interpretation, but the real concern here is not the weirdness of the passage read to her  or even the possible meanings of the passage. The concern is what this scene is meant to tell us about Alzheimers. I suppose it's trying to tell us there is hope and that's precisely the problem. Answering a comprehension question isn't a sign of hope here. It's a sign that there's still room for things to get a lot worse.


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    On top of that, though albeit as a more subjective note, I found the random passage that is read here weird and certainly nowhere near as inspirational as the scriptwriter seems to think it is:



    “Night flight to San Francisco; chase the moon across America. God, it’s been years since I was on a plane. When we hit 35,000 feet we’ll have reached the tropopause, the great belt of calm air, as close as I’ll ever get to the ozone. I dreamed we were there. The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air, and attained the outer rim, the ozone, which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare as old cheesecloth, and that was frightening. But I saw something that only I could see because of my astonishing ability to see such things: Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles, and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them and was repaired. Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.”

    That’s about love????


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    Julianne Moore's subtle expressions give us a fantastic depiction of an Alzheimers patient. However, the scriptwriters don't seem to know what they want to say.

    D-


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    It's always annoying when you reach a point in the movie where you just cannot bear to carry on. I've sat through plenty of bad films, but there are some times when you only need to watch for a short while before you know you aren't going to appreciate anything about the experience. Here are a few recent examples. Naturally there's no rating because I can't really judge the whole length of these films but, needless to say, I don't recommend any of them.

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    Stage Fright (2014)

    I'm a big fan of horror comedies. Not such a fan of musicals, though I'm not averse, but it wasn't the music which made me give up on Stage Fright...

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    Admittedly I was feeling a bit of an outsider to the setting of a summer camp. We don't really have that sort of culture in the UK. Sure I went on scout camps and there are groups that do activity weeks which may involve camping. But this is a little different. But I was still ready for the film to pull me into the setting. (After all, it's the Friday 13th setting essentially, right?)

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    Then one singer pipes in with an incredibly homophobic line about how he's gay "but not in that way". Okay fine, the song'll move on and I can pretend this didn't happen, right?

    Wrong.

    Immediately this guy is backed up by a whole group of female backing singers all repeating that same horrible line: "He's gay, he's gay, but not in that way."

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    And then another person steps in to sing "I'm gay, I'm gay, I'm actually gay..." At this point I'm relieved that he is responding to all this nonsense. With the movie having made a big deal about homosexuality, this gay character can finally put that into its proper context....

    And then the actually-gay character with the stereotypical effeminate voice sings his next line:
    "... I don't get hard when I see T and A."

    *click*

    I don't know what happens next and frankly I don't care.



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    The Falling (2014)

    I know Mark Kermode loves this film, but by the time I switched this off, one of two female protagonists had already had two sex scenes and yet still had no clear personality. And no, reciting poetry isn't a personality.

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    Nobody in the film really talks like a human being. The scenes unfold slowly, presumably expecting us to be wowed by the scenery. I was bored.

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    Perhaps if there had been more compelling dialogue and character building in between the two sex scenes I might have kept going. But there was simply nothing going on here.



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    The Book of Life (2014)

    I watched this film to about the half way point. Despite some cool ideas on presentation the story is generic and boring. The animation isn't really terribly interesting either.

    While the film tries to portray the main female character as a strong character it mainly does so by misogynistically characterising every single other girl where she lives as shallow, fickle and uninterested in reading.  

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    The plot concerns two boys competing over this one girl. While the script writers have clearly seen Aladdin and get their heroine to argue "I am not a prize to be won", the whole story here seems to be specifically about "winning the girl" (with very little ambiguity about who ought to win).

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    One thing I found particularly weird was why, in a film supposedly about Mexican culture with a guitar toting hero, they would keep including cheesy pop songs? I'm a real sucker for Spanish guitar, but there's very little of that sort of music here. I finally gave up on the film when they started playing a particularly cheesy song which wore out its welcome when it was played endlessly on the radio in the 90s: "If you like my body and you think I'm sexy."

    Good grief!

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    The reviews I saw said this was a bit mediocre. On the contrary, it's dire.


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    The Martian (2015)

    A star-studded realistic sci-fi drama with a good dose of comedy. Matt Damon stars as the astronaut stranded on the red planet.

    Rather than having a man silently overcoming problems and expecting the audience to understand why he does what he does (like "All Is Lost" tried to do with sailing), Matt Damon logs video diary entries, explaining his actions and making jokes.

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    We are also introduced to the various elements of NASA back on Earth and we get some Gravity-style zero-gravity scenes too.

    For all those people who felt a little underwhelmed by Gravity (and even I thought it was more like a silly action movie rather than a serious drama), sci-fi fans need to give it credit for inspiring the studios to develop a run of high-budget outer-space dramas.

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    Quite simply The Martian is brilliant. The performances are excellent, the comedy is effective, the plot is carefully constructed. Admittedly The Martian has an Oscar-friendly feel to it, since the protagonist has an heroic optimism, leading to a lighter tone than one might expect. But this would seem to originate from the novel.

    I find it quite exciting that my three favourite films this year so far are all science fiction: Mad Max: Fury Road, Ex Machina and The Martian.

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    (Just a side-note: While The Martian has a very diverse cast, some have expressed surprise and concern that a character called Mindy Park is blonde and white rather than Korean. Fair enough if the author intended the character to be Korean, but Park is also a Scottish and northern English surname and Mindy is quite often used as an abbreviation of Melinda, so the casting here isn't as inappropriate as some seem to suggest.)

    A+



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    Spectre (2015)

    A bit of a by-the-numbers Bond sequel, less impressive than the last film in pretty much every respect.

    First of all, the opening of the film set during the Mexican day of the dead celebrations is a very cool opening. It's not quite as exciting as the Skyfall opening but it's still a cool action sequence.

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    Then the imagery for the opening song is very cool, but I'm not very impressed with the theme tune at all. It's not even the same league as Adele's theme from Skyfall.

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    The storyline is that there are plans to share intelligence, use drones instead of agents and to scrap the double-0 program. While this is a little different from the plot in Skyfall, the way it is tackled seems very same-y.

    Once again, we have a maniacal villain, but somehow their confrontation lacks the intensity between Bond and Mr.Silver back in Skyfall. We are expected to believe that somehow this new villain is behind all of the threats in the Daniel Craig Bond movies so far, but this idea is never convincing.

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    Sam Mendes knows how to put a film together. When we come to an action sequence he knows how to make sure it's exciting and the well-designed sets are captured beautifully. The problem is simply that the plot is dull. As James Bond goes into each new location, seemingly entirely unprepared, it's very unclear what he wants to achieve. The stakes are often unclear. Essentially we have another villain who likes to threaten Bond, but doesn't ever seem to get around to killing him or doing anything that really matters. Even where he makes use of a quite inventive torture device the villain's threats still end up seeming like bluster.

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    I had fun with Spectre. The car chase was fun, the acting was great and there's a thick atmosphere throughout. But while Skyfall felt like the James Bond equivalent of Nolan's The Dark Knight, Spectre feels like the equivalent of The Dark Knight Rises. As well-shot and well-acted as it might be, the villain isn't as impressive as the filmmakers want us to believe and the story doesn't seem to pay off like it should.

    B-


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    HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!

    Hope everyone has a great evening and enjoys something sweet and tasty. Thanks for following my blog and being awesome people. :D

    (I case anyone is confused by the video posted above, it's from the movie "Halloween III: Season Of The Witch". It's the commercial from the sinister Silver Shamrock company who sell halloween masks to children.)

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    Connie And Carla (2004)

    On the one hand, this is a pretty cheesy comedy and precisely the sort of shallow comedy I'd normally run a mile from. Also it's hard to remain convinced by the central premise of these two women pretending to be men in drag when they are the only ones who never take off their outfits.

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    Still on the other hand, there’s the involvement of Nia Vardalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the fantastic chemistry between her and the amazing Toni Collette. This is a project with such a wonderful body-positive message that appeals to both of them and they throw themselves into the action.

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    Yet one of my favourite parts of the film is actually with one of the Russian (?) gangsters trying to track them down... by visiting every single musical theatre show he can, across the US!

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    The story is almost trivial by comparison to the message. It's mostly a celebration of body positivity, acceptance of people regardless of sexuality and, central to both, musical theatre!

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    Connie And Carla is fun and silly and disposable, but it's a cool feel-good movie and I enjoyed it a lot for what it was.

    B-


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    I haven't been doing the 31 horror films thing this year. However, shaved_apehas been doing it and you can see his final entry for Halloween this year here. I've just been too busy and not organised enough. Doesn't mean I haven't been watching a lot though.

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    Bedazzled (2000)

    This ended up being Halloween night viewing this year. Not a horror film, but definitely suitable anyway.

    When Harold Ramis' remake of Bedazzled came out it received really lacklustre reviews and a real pity because it's possibly the best big screen performance of Brendan Fraser's career.

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    Essentially this is a bit of a ln anthology movie. It's a series of short films (or long sketches) all connected by a strong central story. And considering all the naysayers, I was amazed to discover that the original 60s version of this film isn't anything like so funny.

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    While I must note at this stage that comedy is very subjective, I found the sketches in the original Bedazzled with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore would drag and wouldn't really be very funny. The remake is, for me, better paced, with better comic timing, better performances and just generally a lot funnier. Oh, and the remake doesn't make any bad jokes about rape!

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    What's more, Frances O'Connor, who plays the woman being pursued by the protagonist, is not only present but is actually central to all the sketches in the remake. Whereas the love interest was actually mostly in the background in the original.

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    I find this to be a perfect remake and an absolute joy.

    A+



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    May (2002)

    While Halloween viewing was Bedazzled, the night before was spent watching Lucky McKee's first wide-release movie "May".

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    Even though it's pretty sweet for the most part, I am squeamish as hell about this film. Instead of the escapist hardcore violence I'm used to in films, there's damage to eyes, lips, fingers and other small fragile body parts.

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    There have been other recent films with quirky creepy female protagonists like this such as Stoker and Excision. Yet towards the end of this film, I feel May crosses a line which I find harder to forgive. One friend of May ends up being hurt in a way they didn't deserve and May should have understood that.

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    While not my favourite Lucky McKee film, May is a really compelling story of innocent yet twisted girl with a different way of looking at the world. Really cool.

    B+


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    Hellgate (1989)

    Credit has to be given that the actors do play this in a very fun way. But since both the script and the acting is atrocious, a gold star for attitude doesn't make up for the black spot for the story and characters.  

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    The most bizarre thing for me in this story is not the magic stone which brings back the dead, or the 'ghost town' where loads of people live, or the teenagers who feel compelled to explore a place which they are telling scary stories about.

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    No, the really bizarre thing for me is the 80s glamour anachronistically situated in the 50s. This long-legged tall late-20s/early-30s woman is initially presented as a young girl, possibly even still in high school. It's like some kind of kinky roleplay. Now, actors play people nothing like themselves pretty often and its not unusual for adult actors to play high school characters. But this girl has been chosen less for her acting ability and more for her willingness to be naked or in her underwear for a ridiculous number of scenes.

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    The funniest thing about this is a scene where the girl is supposed to be dead and her father has a photo of her on the wall. This photo ‘from the 50s’ is a close up of her face clearly shot in an 80s photo shoot. And even if it wasn't completely anachronistic, it's simply not the sort of image you would mount on the wall to remember your innocent schoolgirl daughter.

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    Basically there was no point where I wasn't painfully aware that I was watching a dumb movie. The sets are obvious, the actors are winking at the camera even though they are rarely funny, and we're supposed to accept that the town has seriously been called Hellgate by someone not expecting horrible stuff to happen there.

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    The effects aren't always great. There's a very fake looking rubber bat at one point. But my favourite part of the film has to be where various animals are being reanimated and monster-fied by a weird crystal. That brief moment of cool monster effects was very entertaining. The rest of the film probably wasn't helped by its ghost story. There's at least one scene which has a surreal tone borrowing from cool low budget Italian horror, but it just doesn't work.

    D-



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    Dawn Of The Dead (1978)

    I decided to rewatch my least favourite of Romero's first four Of The Dead films. I love the intensity of Night, I thought the experiments with training zombies in Day were really cool (hence why Resident Evil Extinction ripped it off shamelessly), and Land had some pretty cool action moments.

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    But Dawn? It's really slow and the message of, "Wouldn't it be terrible to live trapped in a shopping centre?" is emphasised by making us watch the characters get bored.

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    This time around the characters felt a little more interesting to me. The character interactions are important, with the two macho characters, one less capable character who feels his masculinity is threatened and his girlfriend who struggles not to be left on the sidelines even while pregnant.

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    But really it's only the most annoying character, the insecure boyfriend who is less capable with firearms, who really goes through much character development. While the characterisation isn't terrible, this is more about Romero outlining the long term outcomes of a zombie infested world. It's not really a character-focussed drama.

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    It's undeniably cool that Romero explores the next stage of being overrun by zombies, where the living are running out of places to go. A lot of ideas in this film will be picked up in later zombie films too.

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    But the story isn't interesting enough and the characters aren't interesting enough. It's just way too dull even of it IS first to the table with a lot of key zombie genre ideas.

    And it always annoys me that the zombies are blue...

    C+



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    Clueless (1995)

    The mean boyfriend from the movie "May" is in this! And Turk from the tv series Scrubs! And this is the most 90s film ever!

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    I don't know why Alicia Silverstone's career didn't take off after this, but this is one of my three favourite films with Brittany Murphy. This, Sin City and Freeway all have a different stand-out performance from this actress.

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    The way this romantic comedy acts as a modernisation of Jane Austen's "Emma" is really clever. The film clearly uses the same storyline, but it's subtle enough that it doesn't need to advertise its influences. Clueless has a distinctive style and has aged remarkably well despite being a time capsule for the mid-90s. I didn't even know ska-punk was a big deal yet when this film first came out, yet a big night out features a ska punk band prominently. In subsequent years, friends starting ska-punk bands would be a memorable factor in my life and Clueless was ahead of the trend it seems.

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    Hilarious, well performed, cleverly written and plotted. Just generally one of my favourite films of all time.

    A+


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    Jurassic World (2015)

    So this was the big money-maker of summer was it?

    Colin Trevorrow follows up his boring indie sci-fi film with very little sci-fi  (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) with a boring blockbuster action film with very little excitement. I didn’t even finish watching this one.

    Watching Chris Pratt's performance I couldn't help but imagine how much better Hugh Jackman would have done with this role. He'd probably have seemed way more likeable even while delivering the same borderline-obnoxious lines. But with Chris Pratt in the role, I never really warmed to his character.

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    I actually found myself caring more about Bryce Dallas Howard's character. Promising to take responsibility for her sister's children when she has coinciding responsibilities at the park. Failing to balance commitments to work and family. That's a real world issue.

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    Unfortunately the rest of the characters, including the two children, are even flatter. Much of the dialogue feels too obviously like exposition and I never feel like I'm listening to a natural conversation.

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    But the biggest crime of all here is the way the raptors have been declawed. In the original movie the raptors were like gremlins. They were entertaining monsters with a bit of human-like intelligence to them. And the point we learned was: You can never trust raptors because they are too smart..... And now Chris Pratt claims he's training them.

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    If they were staying true to the first movie, an attempt to train raptors should be doomed to crash and burn. They'd have lost several employees already in their 'train the raptors' experiment and it would only be working now because the raptors had an ulterior motive in pretending to be under control.

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    But no, apparently the raptors are doing what they are told in exchange for treats. ("They don't want to be fed, they want to hunt." He'd need to be tossing them a whole cow, not a few steaks.) Basically it's like watching a Friday the 13th movie and being introduced to Jason's mild mannered best friend.

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    Raptors don't do what they are told and Jason Vorhees doesn't have friends, okay? Stop making sequels to Jurassic Park. They’ve all been terrible....




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    Stalled (2013)

    There are a few cool moments in this zombie comedy film set almost exclusively in a toilet. Trying to set off the fire alarm by catapulting severed fingers, soap getting into glasses and making the protagonist's vision go green, distracting zombies with your reflection in the mirror to get them to move away.

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    Quite simply there was a lot of potential here. The problem is that this movie is not really very funny, nor is it very creepy.

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    The protagonist is pretty much unlikeable. Female characters are treated with utter derision and two of them randomly have lesbian sex in the bathroom having only just finished bragging  about the boys they've shagged. To make matters worse, there's a spoiler I need to reveal now about the lead female character. I normally wouldn't reveal who lives and who dies. However, when the female lead who has been upbeat and positive for the whole film suddenly allows herself to be ripped apart by zombies because she's upset about her weight, that is a huge disappointment. It's especially irritating since the filmmakers are seemingly oblivious to how disgustingly their script treats this character.

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    There's a scene involving drug taking that seems like filler. There's no reason for them to start taking drugs and it adds nothing to the narrative except for an excuse for a dance number.

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    I won't reveal how the protagonist finally escapes, except to say that it is a big anti-climax.

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    Stalled has some good ideas, but also an obnoxious laddish atmosphere, blatant misogyny and a terrible sense of humour.

    D-


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    Murder Party (2007)

    An awesome recommendation from friends on Letterboxd. Before Jeremy Saulnier made Blue Ruin, a fairly realistic and quite slow paced revenge thriller, he made Murder Party, a ridiculous and silly horror comedy.

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    Our protagonist finds a decorated invitation to a "Murder Party" ("come alone") on the way home from work on Halloween. When his cat, Sir Lancelot, won't get out of his chair, he decides to go to the party. But it turns out to be a bad idea - for everyone involved...

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    I'm not quite sold on the rich arrogant guy who appears about half way in. But apart from that I thought this was very cool, very funny and suitably chaotic. This was much more in my wheelhouse than Blue Ruin. An excellent crazy horror comedy.

    A+



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    Chris Pine (y'know, the new Kirk) and Lou Taylor Pucci (Spring, Evil Dead), along with two actresses I don't recognise, are on a road trip to the ocean to escape the ravages of a deadly virus.

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    It's not amazingly compelling, but there are solid characters and a solid story. Christopher Meloni’s appearance adds a dose of class to proceedings. He's a solid actor and his performance as a father trying to save his daughter is very cool.

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    Overall I felt very satisfied. The film doesn't let itself get bogged down in melodrama. The characters are appropriately morally ambiguous, especially Chris Pine's character. I wonder whether the filmmakers were expecting his performance to be a bit more impactful.

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    I was very happy with the ending, but I wish the story had a little more to say about the human condition.

    Still, a solid drama.

    B+


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    Black Mass (2015)

    Johnny Depp is suitably unrecognisable, both in appearance and manner, in this true life gangster movie. However, it is Joel Edgerton, also looking and acting very different as a Boston FBI agent keen to cut corners, who I felt shined the most here.

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    The performances are excellent all round and, knowing the central story is true, the content of the film is fascinating. However, there are some pacing issues. The story drags a lot in the middle. This doesn't have the most exciting filming style.

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    Still there are cool moment and I was sufficiently fascinated by the subject matter and gripped by the story that overall I had a pretty great time. This is an incredible story, competently told but, with a little more engaging pacing and presentation, this could have been exceptional.

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    One other thing. While I understand that the brother of Whitey Bulger was very different from himself, I still feel that Benedict Cumberbatch just seemed too different. That took me out of the story a little.

    B+


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    Movie news has been overrun with promotions for superhero franchises for the past few years, so I'm afraid I'm going to further contribute to that with this list of my favourite superhero movies. No, Sam Raimi's godawful cheesy-as-hell Spider-Man movies will not be on here. This is my list and it's based on my tastes. But I don't think I'm always the contrarian really.

    I've actually wanted to post a list like this for a while, but thanks to the enormously ultra-hyped Star Wars reboot, there's finally a chunk of the year where nobody is releasing big budget superhero franchises. So now seemed to be an appropriate time to get this sorted.

    So without further ado here are the first few of my 31 Favourite Superhero Movies! (Would have been 30, but I missed out one recent release and had to change it to 31 part way through posting the entries to tumblr.)

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    31: Unbreakable (2000)

    While Shyamalan's debut The Sixth Sense was the film where I first recognised cheap horror movie jump scares, I was actually a big fan of his follow-up starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson.

    In Unbreakable, Bruce Willis miraculously survives a train crash. Samuel L Jackson's claim that the explanation is linked to comic books came as a complete surprise to me. (The marketing successfully kept comics and superheroes entirely out of sight.)

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    The film hasn't dated particularly well. Attempts at innovative filming ideas now seem pretty gimmicky. For example an early scene is filmed from the perspective of a person spying from another seat. Seems interesting initially, but there's no actual reason to use that point of view. Another scene involves filming the reflections of the characters in the black screen of a turned-off television. There is also a horrendous example of product placement where the camera is fixed on the logo of a juice carton as the protagonist's son slowly fills his glass and then takes a drink.

    One problem I have always had here is that we are supposed to believe that Bruce Willis' wife would never have married him if he'd stayed on the school football team. She claims football is the opposite of physiotherapy and I never quite understood what she meant by that.

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    Bruce Willis' performance makes his character intentionally rather distant. I would have liked more of the cop-on-the-edge manicness we normally expect from him. Still Samuel L Jackson is great and we get a Pulp Fiction-esque rant. (Though actually, looking back, that rant is more obvious than ever in the way it apes Tarantino's dialogue. It feels out of sync with the tone of the film as a whole.)

    Unbreakable is a cool concept but the delivery is flatter than I remember. Still a very interesting watch and well worth a look.

    B-




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    30: The Crow (1994)

    While this attempts to be an even more serious comic adaptation than Batman and gets seriously dark, in many scenes it ends up a lot cheesier.

    The Crow is about a goth musician who is brought back to life by a magic crow. Having died trying to protect his girlfriend, he now has an opportunity to take revenge for both their deaths.

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    Our resurrected protagonist has powers which make him pretty much indestructible. It's like the reverse of your typical monster movie like Predator. Normally the protagonists would spend most of the film  unable to kill the monster only to get the upper hand at the end. Here instead it is the protagonist who uses special powers to terrorise the villains.
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    Brandon Lee is alright. I'm sorry he died making this but I don't think it was brilliant casting either, but Ernie Hudson makes a very welcome appearance. The aesthetic and creepiness of The Crow elevates the film a great deal.

    B-


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