Well, another week has gone by, and there are another batch of movies to review. Looking back through this blog, it seems like it's been a long time since I've done anything other than just rate the week's movies, so I will look to do another top 10 list in the near future. Possibly my top 10 films of all time (which may be a little difficult to rank - there are about 15-20 movies which I really love, but it's difficult to put them in any definitive order). Anyway, on with the week's reviews:
The Haunting (1963)
In which an academic with an interest in the paranormal gathers a group of very different individuals in a supposedly haunted house in New England. We have Eleanor, a nervous and neurotic woman in her late 30s, who is dealing with her own demons even before she encounters any supernatural phenomena; there is Theo, a brash confident young lady who appears to have a more than platonic interest in Eleanor. Luke, a skeptical and arrogant young man who expects to inherit the house is also along for the ride, and finally we have Dr John Markway, the man responsible for organising the experiment in the first place. As the group spend more time in the house, increasingly odd things start to happen... I've got to be honest - I wasn't really 'haunted' by this movie, despite some critics hailing it as one of the scariest films of all time. To be fair, a lot of the scares come from the eery noises which emanate from the house, and for some reason, the sound on my copy of the DVD would only go up to a certain (fairly quiet volume) before there was too much feedback from my TV to bear. Still, despite the lack of anything terrifying in the house, the film scores highly for some rather unusual camera angles used by the director, Robert Wise, which create a disturbing atmosphere, and for the interesting characterisation of Eleanor, who is virtually on the brink of a nervous breakdown even before she enters the house, and is driven over the edge by malevolent spirits.
I was interested in seeing this film after thoroughly enjoying director Lukas Moodysson's previous effort (Together), a sweet and funny picture about life in a hippie commune in 1970s Stockholm. Lilya-4-Ever is quite the opposite in tone to Together - where the earlier film showed what can be achieved when people work with one another, Lilya shows the awful consequences of everybody you encounter letting you down. The plot focuses on the life of Lilya, a 16 year old girl living in a bleak corner of the former Soviet Union (though some other reviews of this film state that this is Estonia, this is never made clear in the film). When Lilya's mother leaves her behind to start a new life in America with her new boyfriend, it is just the beginning of her misery and degradation, as she is tricked into becoming a statistic of an evil sex-trafficking ring. Her only friend during this ordeal is another young unfortunate, Volodya, whose brutal father's beatings lead to his near homelessness. There is very little hope in this film - the only escape the characters are able to experience comes through huffing glue in a plastic bag. A very well made film which highlights the horrifying realities of the sex-trafficking industry, but (rather like Requiem For A Dream) due to its extremely bleak nature, not a film which I'm likely to return to the near future.
Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
A lightweight but entertaining diversion, this movie came as a welcome change of pace after sitting through the gruelling Lilya-4-Ever. I was surprised by how much I liked the original Kung Fu Panda, and while this movie isn't quite as captivating, and there are certain rather dull stretches of the movie in its middle section, it's generally a worthy follow up to its predecessor. Jack Black and Angelina Jolie reprise their roles as Panda and Tigress, respectively - and there are a host of other household names lending their voices to the other animals. These include Seth Rogen, Dustin Hoffmann, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Jean Claude Van Damme and Gary Oldman (as a villainous peacock), though in many of these cases, the minor part which they play is only given a handful of lines throughout the film. I should also mention that the visuals look amazing - and the film expertly combines the 3D computer animation which is used for the majority of the action with more traditional hand drawn animation, used for certain flashback sequences.
The Tenant (1976)
Roman Polanski's follow up to Chinatown, this film tells the story of a mild mannered Polish immigrant in Paris (played by Polanski himself) who rents out a room in a strange boarding house; the previous occupant of the room committed suicide, and Polanski becomes increasingly certain that his neighbours are trying to drive him to the same fate... This is one bizarre, crazy film. It's hard to know how to grade this one - it's like taking a look into a lurid nightmare going on in Roman Polanski's head. Certain aspects of the film work brilliantly, and in the second half of the picture, Polanski creates an oppressive, creepy atmosphere, with a number of particularly effective scenes, including one where Polanski runs to the bathroom opposite his room (where a number of people have been staring him), only to discover that he can see his own doppelganger still in his room, staring at him through binoculars. Polanski also adds to the madness by dressing in drag towards the end of the film, as starts to believe that he and the previous occupant of the room (who was female) are one and the same person. I'm not sure the plot makes too much sense overall, but definitely worth a look.
American Pie (1999)
It's hard for me to judge American Pie objectively, or too harshly. Watching it reminds me strongly of my first year at University, watching it in a friend's room with a whole bunch of other people. At the time, it was hilarious, and while it doesn't hold up so well now that I'm ten years older, and watching it on my own, there were still quite a few laughs throughout. Apparently, they're making a reunion movie, with virtually all of the original cast coming back (except for Natasha Lyonne, who has had a few legal and drug/ alcohol troubles over the last few years). Should be interesting to see how they've all turned out - though following my disappointment with Scream 4, I'm not expecting too much from the movie.
Right, that's probably enough reviews for one day. I shall return tomorrow with reviews of the rest of the films I saw this week:
Beverly Hills Cop (Parts 1 and 2)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (the original 1950s version)
Until then, my friends, keep watching the skis...