As it's getting (fairly) close to Halloween, I thought it might be worth starting off this week's blog with a few words on horror movies. In particular, having seen Kill List on Wednesday, a film billed as 'utterly terrifying' and so forth, it feels like it's much rarer for me to be properly scared by a horror film than it used to. Although I really enjoyed Kill List (see below for the full review) and found it to be disturbing and creepy, at no stage did I feel genuinely frightened. The only films I can remember in the last six months or so which really profoundly scared me were Rec (particularly the last fifteen minutes) and Suspiria (particularly the first ten minutes). I suppose it's just a question of my watching far more horror films than I used to, and getting used to the way the films work - it now takes something unusual to frighten me. Still, there is one film in my DVD collection which I haven't yet had the guts to watch - the French film Ils (Them). I bought the movie to watch as part of my weekend o' horror (TM) last year, but it will instead be a part of this year's Halloween extravaganza.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
A fitfully amusing pastiche of the music biopic genre, Walk Hard tells the tale of Johnny Cash-a-like Dewey Cox, whose climb to the top of the music industry is beset by problems and by Dewey's own personal demons. For you see, Dewey is constantly haunted by memories of accidentally cutting his brother in half during an innocent machete fight in the barn of his parents' Alabama home... Based purely on the lame pun(s) built into this movie's title, I wasn't sure whether I would care for it. On the other hand, Judd Apatow co-wrote and produced Walk Hard, and his batting average is generally more hit than miss. I really enjoyed the funny middle section of the film (in which Dewey experiments with various different types of music, running into Elvis, Buddy Holly and The Beatles en route), but found the beginning and end to be a little dull and lacking in laughs. I suppose the movie is a bit like a day old steak sandwich - in order to savour the tasty filling, you have to work through the stale white bread at either end.
Blue Valentine (2010)
Blue Valentine is a fine film, and one in which I can appreciate the craft and skill involved in its making, but due to the heartbreaking nature of a number of its scenes, it isn't a film I feel I'm likely to return to in the near future. The film is set partly in the present day, and partly six years beforehand, and flicks backwards and forwards between the early, promising days of a relationship between Dean and Cindy (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams), and death throes of the couple's marriage. I would argue that Gosling and Williams are two of the best young actors working in the movies today, and both put in highly impressive performances as two very different people. Dean is a painter and decorator from a working class background, a romantic and a good father to his daughter, but also a man of modest ambition who has increasingly taken to drinking before breakfast as a way of getting through his tedious days at work. Cindy is pragmatic and rather more ambitious; she is working as a nurse and ultimately hoping to become a doctor. Both of them have been damaged by their respective difficult childhoods; Cindy's parents stayed together, but were trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage. Dean's mother left when he was young, something which caused him great pain. It is possible that these different childhood experiences are reflected in the way in which the pair respond to their ever more serious marital problems: Dean is determined to stay together as a family unit, no matter what, whilst Michelle is more realistic, appreciating that their relationship is irreparably damaged and that it must come to an end. Although the film is generally very bleak, there are a few sweet and funny scenes, most notably Dean's rendition of "You Always Hurt The One You Love" on ukelele. Recommended (but probably for one viewing only).
Kill List (2011)
One of the best British films I've seen for a while, Kill List is a strange hybrid of hitman thriller, domestic drama and disturbing horror movie. The antiheroes of the movie are Jay and Gal (Neil Maskell and Michael 'Tyres' Smiley), a pair of former soldiers now making a living as killers for hire. Following a disastrous mission to Kiev (details of which are never revealed to the viewer), Jay has been taking a self imposed break from his work, but growing financial concerns and pressure from his wife, Shel, (MyAnna Buring) lead to him taking on a new job from a sinister client. Director Ben Wheatley is able to make the film so successful in large part because he grounds the creepy and macabre elements of the film in the drab everyday setting of modern day Britain, suggesting that in the rooms of chain hotels and the disused areas of industrial estates, something evil is lurking. The actors also deserve a great deal of credit for making the characters interesting and believable. Somewhat surprisingly, the movie is also very amusing, particularly in the opening scene, a brilliantly awful dinner party. Only a slightly disappointing final quarter detracts from what is otherwise a fantastic movie, albeit one which the squeamish (or those with a phobia of hammers) may not enjoy.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
An impressive ensemble of young '80s talent came together for this classic teen comedy, based on a script from Cameron Crowe (working on his first feature film). Set in the San Fernando Valley, it focuses on the lives of a number of high schoolers who are working in service industry jobs, dealing with some eccentric teachers and negotiating relationships with the opposite sex. For me, the film works so well because it creates a number of interesting and rather unusual characters, rather than just the broad 'jock', 'nerd', 'cheerleader' stereotypes you get in some teen comedies. Some of the actors, such as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forrest Whitaker and Sean Penn, have gone on to have highly successful careers. Others, like Brian Backer, Judge Reinhold and Phoebe Cates haven't been doing too much since the '80s ended - but there's hardly a weak link to be spotted in this movie. It's funny, it's touching and a little sad in places, and it's well worth a watch.