Monday, 31 October 2011

That was the week that was (24 - 30 October)

A pretty quiet week this week, and one which almost had the ignominy of containing the smallest number of reviews to date on this blog. I was only able to salvage the situation with a double bill of films late on Sunday afternoon...

The Sandlot Kids (1993)

I really like baseball. I enjoy movies set in the American suburbs. I've been known to partake in a good old fahioned wallow in nostalgia. I should, therefore have been the ideal viewer for this film, a nostalgic look back at the adventures of a group of baseball-mad kids, living in suburban LA in the early '60s. Unfortunately, it just didn't work for me. For one thing, the kids in question were just too damned shrill - there's a whole gang of them, and quite frequently the film descends into the kind of screeching contest that only Father Noel Furlong could enjoy. For another thing, while the film is obviously aimed at kids, so perhaps it shouldn't be held to the same standards of historical accuracy as a more 'serious' picture, America's racial troubles have been airbrushed out of its portrayal of the past. The gang which Scotty hangs around with contains kids of various different ethnicities (white, black, Latino etc.), yet this doesn't draw a comment from anyone they encounter - this seems a little unlikely in the early '60s, even in California. Of perhaps more concern is the fact that the conclusion of the movie sees Scotty and pals meeting up with a former professional baseball player played by James Earl Jones, who has photographic evidence proving he played alongside Babe Ruth back in the 1930s. As someone who spent 18 hours watching Ken Burns' excellent Baseball documentary, I'm pretty sure that no black players were allowed to play major league baseball until Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Finally, the actions of the central character (Scotty), which drive the plot, don't appear to make much sense. What 12 year old American kid has never heard of Babe Ruth? Even if he hadn't heard of Babe Ruth, it's pretty obvious that his stepfather's trophy ball is valuable, so why would he steal it instead of coming up with the 99 cents needed to buy a new one? I suppose I shouldn't be too harsh on the film - looking at the IMDB page for it, it's got plenty of vocal fans, so I may well be missing something - but I'm probably too old to appreciate it at my ripe old age (29).

Rating: 4/10

Contagion (2011)

This movie was the first part of my Sunday night 'Kate Winslet is sick' double bill. The ensemble drama is a chillingly realistic disaster picture, showing what might happen if an epidemic of a deadly new disease were to spread across the world. Rather than focussing on any one location, director Steven Soderbergh moves from Hong Kong to London to Minneapolis and Chicago, showing the effects of the rapidly spreading disease on the people in those cities. Just as deadly as the virus itself is the panic which it causes amongst the stricken populace, with angry mobs turning to looting and violence in an effort to get hold of medical supplies. Soderbergh put together a particularly impressive collection of actors for this project - including Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne and Marion Cotillard, all of whom put in solid work in their roles. On the whole, the move worked for me - it avoids a sensationalist portrayal of the epidemic, and gives a real sense of the global scale of the outbreak, while still giving the viewer some engaging characters to empathise with. Unfortunately, Contagion does have a serious flaw: Alan Krumwiede, the blogger played by Jude Law. I'm not sure why old Jude decided to give his character a terrible Australian accent and distractingly fake looking 'bad teeth' (when these things have no relevance to the character he's playing), but these bizarre touches mean that any scene featuring Krumwiede are frequently unintentionally hilarious, and detract from what is otherwise a very good picture.

Rating: 7/10

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

So, this was part two of 'Kate Winslet is sick' double bill, though on this occasion, she's sick in the head, rather than the body. Based on a real life story which scandalised New Zealand in the 1950s, Heavenly Creatures tells the story of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme. The pair were best friends, who developed a made up paradise called Borovnia into which they could retreat, a place in which they are able to escape their humdrum existence as school outcasts and live with their heroes - Mario Lanza and Orson Welles. However, the two schoolgirls' unhealthy attachment to one another would ultimately lead them to commit a shocking crime... This was Peter Jackson's first 'serious' film, but despite the rather grim nature of the subject matter, he is able to bring along a sense of humour to proceedings (which was also present in his brilliant early zombie picture Braindead), as well as some imaginative and well realised sequences set in the girls' fantasy world. It was also Kate Winslet's first major screen role, and she's very good as Juliet, the more outgoing and vivacious of the pair. For me though, she is outshone by Melanie Lynskey, who oozes resentment and hurt as the passive-aggressive Pauline. An excellent film.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 24 October 2011

That was the week that was (16 - 23 October) (Part Two)

Right then, straight on to the second half of last week's movie reviews...

Matchstick Men (2003)

In which Nicolas Cage plays Roy Waller, a conman (though he prefers the term 'con artist') whose obssessive compulsive tendencies are beginning to seriously affect his work. Into his neatly ordered world comes a teenage daughter (Alison Lohman), who wants to be taught the tricks of the trade... This is a film that I really loved first time out, but when I revisited it this week, I noticed quite a few plotholes which hadn't been apparent to me on first viewing.  I guess I'm a little gullible, so I fell hook, line and sinker for the big 'twist' ending on my initial encounter with this movie, but going through the film a second time, a number of things just don't add up.(I should point out that there may be some major spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen the film, you may not want to read on). It transpires that virtually every character in the movie is in on a big con, the point of which being to obtain access to Cage's security deposit box. It all seems like a ridiculously convoluted way to get hold of Cage's money - employing the services at least 5 or 6 individuals for an extended period can't have been cheap - and there was still no guarantee that Cage would provide his newly found 'daughter' with the rights of co-signatory to his account, or that he'd give his 'doctor' the secret passcode. Surely it would have made more sense for the gang to just threaten Cage with violence if he didn't give them access (though I suppose that wouldn't have made for much of a movie). Anyway, my quibbles about the plot aside, there's still quite a few things to like here - Nicolas Cage, Alison Lohman and Sam Rockwell are all great in their respective roles, and the movie is well scripted and beautifully directed by Ridley Scott.

Rating: 7/10

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

Director Lynne Ramsey returns after an extended absence with this adaptation of Lionel Shriver's bestselling novel. The 'Kevin' of the title is the perpetrator of a high school massacre, and the film gets into the head of his mother, Eva, played by Tilda Swinton. We experience a series of flashbacks from her present status as a social pariah as she looks back on Kevin's difficult childhood, trying to establish whether she was ultimately responsible for his actions. Watching this film may well be the most visceral and traumatising experience I'll have in a cinema all year - walking out of the Saturday matinee performance, I felt as though I'd been kicked in the stomach. Still, I can't deny that it's a brilliant piece of work. Tilda Swinton puts in a typically great performance, capturing her character's journey from reluctant mother to numb outcast. Ezra Miller is wonderfully malevolent as Kevin, a character who is as charismatic and articulate as he is evil. There are a number of astonishingly powerful and beautifully shot scenes, including Eva standing next to a pneumatic drill in an effort to shut out the sound of her infant son screaming, a horrifying scene tracking Eva's movements as she attempts to get home on Halloween, and the moment when Eva realises the full extent of Kevin's bloody rampage. Like Lilya 4 Ever, this is a remarkable film, but one which I am in no great hurry to go back and see again.

Rating: 8/10

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Pod people, pod people, taste like peas, talk like people... I have to confess, I've never seen the original '50s body snatchers movie, but having thoroughly enjoyed this remake, I will have to track it down. (Though I doubt I'll bother with the recent Nicole Kidman/ Daniel Craig picture, which didn't get a great critical reception.) Anyway, this one stars Donald Sutherland as Matthew Bennell, a public health inspector in San Francisco who, together with his colleague Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), begins to realise that something fishy is afoot in his hometown. They're right, too - an alien, plantlike species has been drifted into the local vicinity from the furthest reaches of space, and is intent on replacing the human race with mindless vegetable clones working as one to overthrow us. With the help of a disgruntled poet (Jeff Goldblum) and his wife (Veronica Cartwright), Matthew and Elizabeth hope to stop the invasion - but are they too late? This film works really well in building a palpable sense of paranoia and dread, as Sutherland et al start to realise the extent of the invasion within their city. I also liked the special effects used to show the pods gradually morphing into recognisable people - you can guarantee that if such a sequence was made in a modern Hollywood blockbuster, it would be done in CGI, and would look transparently fake - but the way it's been done in this movie makes that transformation seem horribly real. Only the ending seemed a little off to me - relying on a twist which you can see coming a mile away. Nevertheless, this is recommended viewing for fans of horror/ sci-fi fare.

Rating: 8/10

Passport to Pimlico (1949)

One of the classic Ealing comedies, Passport to Pimlico was made (and set) after the end of the second World War. It sees a community in the titular London borough discover that due to a royal decree which had inadvertently never been overruled, Pimlico is actually the property of the Duke of Burgundy, and not subject to the laws of England after all. On learning this, the local residents decide to exploit the situation in their favour, throwing out their ration books and disregarding pub licensing laws. However, they soon discover that living without any law and order has its downsides, and they must negotiate with the government for the right to be British subjects again. Watching this movie was like stepping back in time to the late '40s - it's very much of it's era, and some of the humour now seems rather dated. I should say that I didn't find that to be the case for those other Ealing comedies I've seen - I really enjoyed Kind Hearts & Coronets, The Ladykillers and The Man In White Suit - but I guess that the themes of those films are more universal, and less rooted in the specifics of life just after WW2. Still, there are a few laughs here and there, and it's an interesting relic of a period in history long since past.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 23 October 2011

That was the week that was (16 - 23 October) (Part One)

Quite a few movies to write up this week, so I'm going to split this week's update into two parts. In other news, it looks like I'm going to be away for the weekend before Halloween, so I may have to postpone my horror movie fiesta until the start of November. I've bought a few classics to watch this year - The Fly, The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, The Crazies, Drag Me To Hell, and of course Ils (Them), which I have been putting off for a while now. Rather like the McBain movies, it promises to be a non-stop rollercoaster week of thrills, spills, chills and kills...

Batman (1989)

Tim Burton's original Batman movie was one of my favourite films when I was growing up - the scene in which the Joker gives one of his colleagues an 'electrifying' handshake is indelibly printed in my mind - so I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with it. Whilst the movie wasn't quite as great as I remembered, and certain elements now look a little dated (particularly those scenes where the Prince soundtrack is prominently featured), there's still a lot to enjoy here. Jack Nicholson makes for an enjoyably flamboyant and sardonic Joker, Michael Keaton is a solid Batman, and Gotham City is beautifully realised by Tim Burton as a gothic urban nightmare. On the other hand, Burton isn't the greatest director of action scenes, and these sequences pale in comparison to Chris Nolan's more recent Batman movies. I was also a little irritated by Robert Wuhl's rather hackneyed portrayal of a sleazy Gotham journalist. Still, on the whole, it's one of the stronger superhero movies out there.

Rating: 8/10

Batman Returns (1992)

This is a bit of a strange one - I was sure that I'd seen this movie previously, but having now rewatched it, I'm not sure that I didn't just catch the climactic battle scene between Batman and the Penguin on TV without having seen the rest of the film. Anyway, Tim Burton's second (and to date final) Batman effort is a bit of a mixed bag - it looks fabulous, and is a masterpiece of set and costume design, but is a little lacking in the story department. The rather loose plotline sees the Dark Knight face off against a trio of foes of different stripes. We have the Penguin (Danny De Vito), the hideously deformed son of a wealthy family who has been living in Gotham City's sewers from an early age, nursing a grudge against society. Then there's Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), a formerly mousy secretary, who awakens from a fall from her high rise office building as an enigmatic superpowered feline. Finally, we have evil businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), publicly respectable, but secretly plotting to steal the city's energy resources. Burton's fascination with gothic Victoriana is given full rein here, and it is obvious that his sympathies lie with the freakish Penguin and his cadre of clowns and other circus performers, rather than with Batman (who is pretty much a supporting player in his own film here). As with the first Batman movie, the action scenes aren't particularly well executed, but it's still an enjoyable film to watch - even if it's just to soak in the gothic ambience of Gotham City.

Rating: 7/10

Let Me In (2010)

I absolutely adored the original Swedish version of this movie (Let The Right One In), so I was curious to see how Matt Reeves' American remake would shape up. To be honest, although this is a solid effort, I wasn't blown away by it. It's kind of like seeing a band play a competent cover version of a song you love. Although the song's still great, the magic that's there in the original version has been lost. Very little has been changed here in terms of the storyline (both movies tell the story of a lonely, bullied young boy who befriends a vampire which moves in next door).  Indeed, many of the scenes from the Swedish version have been replicated exactly in the American version, though the action has been moved from suburban Stockholm to Los Alamos, New Mexico (a similarly snowy locale). A couple of the points which have been changed didn't really work for me - for one thing, the way in which the special effects used to show the spider-like movement of the young vampire look distractingly bad at times. For another, the method used by the vampire's assistant to trap his victims seemed a little implausible to me - are we supposed to believe that he'd been able to hide out in the back seat of their cars for years without having the driver or a passenger look behind them carefully?  Anyway, despite good performances from the two young lead actors (Chloe Moretz and Codi Smith-McPhee), and the always reliable Elias Koteas, I definitely prefer the original.

Rating: 7/10

Monsters (2010)

This movie has become comparatively famous for showcasing blockbuster special effects on a shoestring budget (with the monsters in question being created on director Gareth Edwards' laptop). It's a kind of sci-fi/ horror/ road movie hybrid, set in a near future in which creatures from outer space have crashlanded in a large area between the USA and Mexico; the US and Mexican militaries have erected huge walls in an effort to keep the beasties confined to this region, which has become known as the 'infected zone'. Photographer Andrew Kaulder is set the task of getting Sam, his boss's twentysomething daughter through this infected zone and back into the States in one piece. All of that makes the film sound a lot more exciting than it really is - as Sam and Andrew make their way North, they don't encounter too many of the promised monsters, and instead, much of the film's running time focusses on the developing relationship between the two characters. This would all be fine if the characters were more sympathetic, but I didn't find them to be so. Andrew, in particular, seemed pretty obnoxious  - a brash, arrogant fool whose idea of communicating with the locals involves shouting VERY LOUDLY in English. In my opinion, if you're going to call your movie 'Monsters', you may want to include a few more scenes which actually feature battles with evil looking criters. I'm off to get my good friend Lionel Hutz to sue the film's producers. I feel I've been the victim of the most blatant case of false advertising since his suit against the makers of The Neverending Story.

Rating: 5/10

Cold Souls (2009)

Paul Giamatti plays himself (or a version of himself) in this Being John Malkovich-like comedy drama. Unable to prepare properly for a stage performance of Uncle Vanya, he finds himself lured in by an advertisement in a recent issue of the New Yorker, informing him of a company based on Roosevelt Island which offers services in soul storage and transplantation. Unfortunately, as Bart Simpson would no doubt attest, once you've given up your soul, it's pretty damn hard to get it back. Although Giamatti doesn't suffer the indignity of having his soul traded for ALF pogs, he is forced to make his way over to Russia in an effort to track down it down. The idea that Giamatti would give away his soul in order to play a part better seems a little flimsy, but this movie makes the most of its unusual premise. It's rarely laugh out loud funny, but it definitely has the novelty factor on it's side, and I was never bored. Giamatti performs some solid work in the central role, and is ably assisted by Dina Korzun (as a Russian 'soul mule') and David Straithairn (as a sleazy doctor). It didn't get much of a release in the UK (not sure if it even made the cinemas), but is definitely worth catching on DVD.

Rating: 8/10

Coming up in part two:

Matchstick Men
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Passport to Pimlico

Monday, 17 October 2011

That was the week that was (10 - 16 October)

Another week gone, another pretty mediocre batch of films. I can't remember the last time I was really knocked out by a movie (probably when I saw Black Christmas), but it feels like a while ago. Not much activity in the cinema either this week - the only major new releases are the crappy looking new Three Musketeers movie and the new Morgan Spurlock documentary about product placement. Still, next weekend We Need To Talk About Kevin and Contagion come out, so there's something to look forward to after all. (Postscript - I watched The Kids Are All Right after writing the above paragraph - I wouldn't say it knocked me out, but it was definitely a good movie, and a cut above the others I saw this week).

Single White Female (1992)

Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh star in this decent early '90s 'bunny boiler' thriller. I remember first seeing trailers for this film when I rented a video in about 1994 (maybe The Fugitive?), but it's taken me 17 years or so to get around to watching it. That might be some kind of record. The storyline for this one involves Fonda's Manhattanite breaking up with her philandering boyfriend and looking for a new roommate to take his place in her big apartment on the Upper West Side. Unfortunately for her, JJL answers the ad and moves into the flat. She at first seems to be good natured, if a little kooky, but  it becomes increasingly apparent that she's somebody Tony Soprano would refer to as 'wackadoo'.  There's nothing particularly original or groundbreaking about this one, but it features strong performances from both the leads. Bridget Fonda displays a winning combination of confidence and vulnerability, while Jennifer Jason Leigh plays her character is such a way as to be able to engender some audience sympathy for what could otherwise have been a rather one note villain. I'm not sure it was quite worth waiting 17 years for, but it's entertaining enough all the same.

Rating: 7/10

Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)

I'm never quite sure what to make of Banksy. On the one hand, quite a few of his pictures are amusing, and he's done his bit to put Bristol on the map. On the other hand, I find all of his outlaw posturing is a bit annoying - now he's an celebrity artist selling his works for hundreds of thousands of pounds a pop, his claims that he's some kind of renegade outsider seem a little unlikely. (I should mention I really liked Charlie Brooker's old article on Banksy, even if he was a bit harsh - Rather than focussing on the life and times of the elusive Banksy, this documentary looks at the works of one his acolytes, a French emigrant to Los Angeles named Thierry Guetta. Guetta begins the film as an aspiring filmmaker chronicling the street art scene in LA, but with Banksy's help, he ultimately progresses to making his own (highly derivative) artworks as 'Mister Brain Wash'. A number of critics at the time the movie came out speculated that Thierry Guetta was just an invention of Banksy, but apparently he's real (and his art is really is far from spectacular). The movie tells an interesting story (courtesy of some wry narration from Rhys Ifans), with plenty of twists and turns, and although it's a little slight, it never outstays its welcome. I just wish there had been a longer look into the works of the LA street artists, and little less focus on the works of Mr Guetta.

Rating: 7/10

Colors (1988)

In which Robert Duvall and Sean Penn take on the Crips and the Bloods in '80s Los Angeles. Robert Duvall plays Bob Hodges, a veteran of the LAPD who's realised from bitter experience that LA's gang problem is far too large for the actions of one police officer to have much of an impact. He's an advocate of playing the long game, getting to know the people in the crime riddled areas he's policing, in the hope that they will share information on local gang ringleaders. His new partner, Danny 'Pacman' McGavin (Sean Penn) is a hotheaded rookie looking to bust some heads and take some names (and so forth). I'm afraid that watching The Wire has pretty much spoiled me from enjoying this kind of movie too much. Being able to take its time to tell the story over 13 episodes a season, the HBO series was able to look deeply into both gang culture and the police force, and in comparison, a two hour movie like Colors is pretty shallow. In any event, this isn't a particularly strong example of the genre. The 'mismatched partners' trope is a bit of a cliche, and has been done elsewhere far better. Though there are strong performances from the likes of Duvall and Don Cheadle (as a glowering, charismatic gangster), I wasn't too impressed with some of the other actors, particularly Damon Wayans, whose fast talking idiot is incredibly irritating. Not really one I'd recommend - for better examples of this genre, I'd go for Clockers, Boyz N The Hood or Fresh.

Rating: 5/10

Singles (1992)

Another Bridget Fonda movie from 1992, though this one is a little more lighthearted than Single White Female. It's a comedic look at the lives of a bunch of young people living in Seattle in the early '90s, when grunge music was in full swing. Although it's an ensemble piece, the characters who we get to know the best are a verbose highway planner (Campbell Scott), his female counterpart, who works for the environment agency (Kyra Sedgwick), his former girlfriend (Fonda) and her current beau, a dopey grunge frontman (Matt Dillon).  The movie has it's upsides (it's sporadically funny and the soundtrack features songs from Screaming Trees, R.E.M., Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains etc.), but I felt unable to really care too much about these characters. The script (by Cameron Crowe, who also directed) felt like he was trying a little too hard, and at times I was very concious that I was just watching an actor try too hard to breathe life into some unnaturalistic dialogue, rather than actually believing in the characters and the story. As far as Cameron Crowe movies go, it's passable, but it certainly isn't on a par with Say Anything.

Rating: 6/10

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

A very modern family comedy drama - in which Julianne Moore and Annette Benning play Jules and Nic, a lesbian couple who are the parents of two high school age kids. Their lives are fairly settled, though the long term relationship between the two has become a little strained.When the kids make the decision to contact the sperm donor who was her biological father (played by Mark Ruffalo), and he starts to play an ever more important role in their lives, their cosy domestic situation is shaken up... In sharp contrast to Singles, the script here is very funny, without ever straining too hard. I really believed in the characters - Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore and Annette Benning all give highly accomplished performances and bring them to life as fully realised individuals. It all worked so well that I felt a little disappointed at the end - I felt like I knew these people, for better or worse - and would have liked to have seen how their lives continued after the credits had rolled.  One downside: they never play the classic Who song which shares its name with this film.

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Big List 2: The Legend of Curly's Gold

Well, I promised back in June that I would update my 'big list' of all the films I've reviewed, and I'm not not a man who breaks his promises (except to my parole officer - I hate that guy). Here they all are, in order of preference.

What fascinating facts can we glean from this experience? Well, I suppose once again, not many films have gained that elusive '10 out of 10' mark that all the top Hollywood directors speak about as being the holy grail of filmmaking. I just feel that in order to get that perfect score, a film really has to be something special - so while I'm happy to give out a 9/10 if a film's really good, I need to regard a film as an instant classic to merit dishing out top marks.

Similarly, I didn't savage too many films - 85% of the movies I saw got a passing grade of 6/10 or higher. What can I say, I'm just a big softy at heart. When I'm not posting these blogs I spend most of my time nursing sick puppies back to health and reading stories to the elderly and frail.

Anyway, without further ado, here's the Big List, volume 2:

1.       Taxi Driver (10/10)
2.       The Shining
3.       Zodiac
4.       Hanna (9/10)
5.       The Social Network
6.       Se7en
7.       Paths of Glory
8.       Dazed and Confused
9.       Kill List
10.   Dog Day Afternoon
11.   Alien
12.   The Dark Knight
13.   My Life As A Dog
14.   Aliens
15.   Senna
16.   Changeling
17.   Super 8
18.   The Secret in Their Eyes
19.   Sideways
20.   Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
21.   Black Christmas
22.   A History of Violence
23.   Adventureland (8/10)
24.   Lost In Translation
25.   Carrie
26.   To Kill A Mockingbird
27.   Dogtooth
28.   Fast Times At Ridgemont High
29.   M
30.   Unforgiven
31.   The Last Picture Show
32.   The Evil Dead
33.   Existenz
34.   Four Lions
35.   A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
36.   The Terminator
37.   The Fog
38.   Au Revoir Les Enfants
39.   Ghostbusters
40.   Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
41.   Drive
42.   The Sure Thing
43.   Total Recall
44.   Moon
45.   Lilya-4-Ever
46.   Trading Places
47.   Deliverance
48.   Cape Fear (1962)
49.   Get Carter
50.   On Dangerous Ground
51.   Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
52.   Blue Valentine
53.   The Wackness
54.   Nineteen Eighty-Four
55.   Wayne’s World
56.   Slums of Beverly Hills
57.   Wolf Creek
58.   Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
59.   Beverly Hills Cop
60.   Watchmen
61.   The Wedding Singer
62.   Office Space (7/10)
63.   Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
64.   Jaws
65.   The Skin I Live In
66.   13 Assassins
67.   The Guard
68.   Dirty Harry
69.   All The President’s Men
70.   Lolita
71.   Head-On (Gegen Die Wand)
72.   The Guard
73.   Candyman
74.   Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part One
75.   Rio Bravo
76.   A Nightmare On Elm Street
77.   The Descent
78.   Poltergeist
79.   Spartacus
80.   American Pie
81.   National Lampoon’s Vacation
82.   Crazy Stupid Love
83.   3-Iron
84.   Altered States
85.   Buried
86.   The Haunting
87.   The Day the Earth Stood Still
88.   Re-Animator
89.   Made In Dagenham
90.   The Innocents
91.   The Man Who Knew Too Much
92.   Cedar Rapids
93.   Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
94.   The Strangers
95.   The Cottage
96.   The Breakfast Club (6/10)
97.   The Tree of Life
98.   Somewhere
99.   Kung Fu Panda 2
100.       Adventures in Babysitting
101.       Alien 3
102.       They Live
103.       Fright Night
104.       Saw
105.       Frailty
106.       Meek's Cutoff
107.       Dead Again
108.       Of Gods and Men
109.       Melancholia
110.       Iron Man 2
111.       Caddyshack
112.       Barry Lyndon
113.       Thor
114.       Captain America
115.       Wes Craven's New Nightmare (ANOES 7)
116.       Warrior
117.       Hard Candy
118.       Three O’Clock High
119.       Clueless
120.       The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
121.       Doc Hollywood
122.       X-Men: First Class (5/10)
123.       Scream 4
124.       Vice Versa
125.       The Secret of My Success
126.       Teen Wolf
127.       Nightwatch
128.       A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
129.       The Inbetweeners Movie
130.       Funny People
131.       The Claim
132.       Beverly Hills Cop 2
133.       The Amityville Horror (4/10)
134.       Some Kind of Wonderful
135.       The Hills Have Eyes
136.       Severance (3/10)
137.       Final Destination 2
138.       A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
139.       A Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy's Dead
140.       A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (2/10)
141.       Birdemic: Shock and Terror (1/10)

Monday, 10 October 2011

That was the week that was (3 October - 9 October)

One mildly interesting nugget of information to note this week: I think this is the first time when I'd never seen any of the films I'm discussing before. Usually, there's at least a few in there that I'm rewatching, but this time, I went into all six of the films fresh. That was good on the one hand - it's definitely better to see something new rather than endlessly rewatching the same trusty favourites. On the other hand, the new films I watched this week were pretty mediocre on the whole.

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

I've been on a bit of a nostalgia kick recently, watching a lot of films from the '80s, and the "suburbanites outside their comfort zone/ in peril" plotline seems common to quite a few of those movies (i.e. National Lampoon's Vacation, The Goonies, Gremlins, Poltergeist, Risky Business etc. etc.). In this case, the peril is posed by the big, bad city itself, as a babysitter (Elizabeth Shue) has to brave the mean streets of Chicago at night with her young charges (which include Dazed and Confused's Anthony Rapp). The plot suffers a little from something which I like to call 'The Mole Syndrome' (a syndrome I've just invented, named after the character in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut; a kid who wasn't about to grounded for anybody). These kids have little fear of being stabbed to death in a gang fight, murdered by a multiethnic gang of car thieves or climbing around outside of the upper floors of a skyscraper - but they are absolutely terrified that their parents might find out that they've been in the city without permission. This fear drives the kids into ever more dangerous and bizarre situations, which they could easily escape with a quick call to either their parent or the police. Still, Elizabeth Shue is likeable and warm in the title role and the rest of the kids are also pretty solid (Maia Brewton in particular). As a comedy, the movie is only partially successful - it's not exactly a laugh riot, but there are a few chuckles to be found here and there. However, it does teach a few valuable life lessons: for example, should you unexpectedly find yourself in a Chicago blues club, you can't leave until you've sung the blues. Also, you can get $5 off the price of your car repairs if you give the mechanic a plastic Thor helmet. Worth bearing in mind if I ever pay a trip to the windy city.

Rating: 6/10

Melancholia (2011)

Lars Von Trier's latest picture stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as two very different sisters; Dunst's character (Justine) suffers from severe, crippling depression, while Gainsbourg plays Claire who is, on the surface at least, far more easygoing and level headed. The first half of the film concerns Justine's disastrous wedding reception, as her attempts to put a brave face on things gradually disintegrate. While having a certain similarity to the superior movie Festen (directed by Von Trier cohort Thomas Vinterberg), this part of the movie is very enjoyable. It's darkly funny and features engaging turns from John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling as the sisters' divorced parents, who can no longer stand the sight of each other. Unfortunately, the second part of the film doesn't work nearly as well. The sisters are holed up at Claire's husband's country estate, waiting to see whether a planet called Melancholia which has apparently 'emerged from behind the sun' will hit Earth, or narrowly miss it. Despite occasionally impressive cinematography (particularly in the final scene of the movie), the second half really dragged for me. The action progresses at a glacial pace, and by the end, I was hoping that Melancholia would just wipe out the Earth already, so I could leave. Overall then, a film of two halves. I wouldn't say I was sick as a parrot about it, but I was hardly over the moon (or Melancholia) either.

Rating: 6/10

Of Gods and Men (2010)

In which monks who inhabit a monastery in North Africa are faced with a thorny dilemma. When the area is overrun with terrorist insurgents, should they stay put in solidarity with the local people who they've grown to respect and love (but risk death at the hands of the fundamentalists?) or should they admit defeat and go back to France?  This movie won last year's Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, and received rave reviews from a number of critics who I respect, so I was expecting great things. While it was definitely a decent film, it didn't really match up to the expectations I had going in. Although the acting was strong across the board, and the film showed the monks' bravery in facing up to a near certain death through their faith, I was never completely engaged with this film.  Call me a philistine (no, please, call me a philistine...) but I felt that the pacing was a little slow, and my interest levels had started to flag a little by the end. Basically, The Clash discussed the same issues that this movie covers in just over three minutes, so there's no need to spend two hours debating it...

Rating: 6/10

Existenz (1999)

David Cronenbourg's foray into the world of video gaming is as weird and stomach churning as you might expect from the director of The Fly and Dead Ringers. It features Jennifer Jason Leigh as Allegra Geller, a game designer who has to go on the run from a terrorist group which holds her responsible for making an increasing number of gamers lose touch with reality. Jude Law plays a low level corporate flunkey who is dragged along on her journey. Unlike certain other '90s movies about technological advances and that newfangled 'information superhighway' that all the kids are talking about, Existenz hasn't really dated too badly - largely due to the way in which Cronenbourg has incorporated his own personal obsessions into the way the technology is presented in the film. Rather than the clean, shiny, metallic devices which have come to dominate today's marketplace, in the world of Existenz, advances have been made in biotechnology. Therefore, in order to take part in Allegra's virtual reality games, you are connected via a 'bioport' (a hole which has been bored into the bottom of your spine), which is hooked up to a fleshy looking cord into a pink, organic game system, which looks rather like some sort of internal organ. The movie is simultaneously disgusting and fascinating. It's also a little like Inception in the way that there are games within games, so you are never quite sure whether anything you are witnessing is reality. (In fact, Cronenbourg has come up with the perfect excuse for any failings in the movie - if an actor's accent sounds off, or the special effects don't look realistic  - these are just glitches in the design of the game...) This is the one film of the week which I would recommend wholeheartedly. It's an engrossing thriller which some very memorable images (such as a fleshy looking gun which shoots teeth as bullets), strong performances from the leads and a witty script.

Rating: 8/10

The Inbetweeners Movie (2011)

Before I go into this review, I should probably point out that conditions weren't really in its favour. I watched the film on a cold, wet Sunday afternoon in October in a mostly empty cinema, so it was hardly receptive to having a laugh. Having said all that, for me, this movie was a bit of a let down. How on Earth did this become the second biggest grossing film of the year in the UK? I'm a fan of the TV series (though I felt that by the time the third series came along, it was running a little short on inspiration), but watching the movie, it felt to me that they had about enough ideas for an average twenty minute episode of the show, and tried to stretch that material across a feature length running time. The plot involves the four friends finishing six form and jetting off to a tacky destination in Greece for a lads' holiday. Jay is predictably interested in experiencing some 'sun, sea, sex, sand, booze, tits and booze', Simon is attempting to get over the end of his relationship with Carli D'Amato, and Will and Neil are along for the ride. The gang have to put up with a decrepit hotel, aggressive and holiday reps, horrendous hangovers and their own increasingly bizarre behaviour. Despite all this, they still manage to hook up with four attractive young ladies who are inextricably drawn to them. As I've mentioned, I was disappointed with this one. The humour felt broader - less based on character humour and a witty script and more slapstick - and was far more hit than miss (though there were still a few laughs to be found here and there). The characters, who were previously generally likeable if extremely socially inept, have been taken to such extremes that it seems highly unlikely that the four girls would put up with them for more than a few minutes, let alone getting together with them. The big box office numbers might mean that the gang are all back together again next summer, but if the results are the same as this time around, I think it might be time to call it a day.

Rating: 5/10

The Strangers (2008)

Well, I still haven't got around to watching the French horror movie 'Ils' (Them), but I have now watched its American equivalent. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play Kristen and James, a couple who have just returned to their isolated home after having attended a wedding reception at which James' marriage proposal to Kristen was rejected. However, their relationship woes are put on hold when they get a knock at the door at 4am, shortly followed by the entrance of three unwanted guests wearing creepy masks... For the most part, this is a well made and effective little chiller, even though all it really consists of is a protracted 'stalk and slash' scene (with the emphasis firmly on the stalking, rathr than the slashing). I have to admit I was pretty scared during the first two thirds of the film, as the strangers gradually make their presence known in the house. First time director Bryan Bertino builds the tension very well, allowing us to glimpse their shadowy figures and unnerving masks in the background. Unfortunately, after a while he seems to run out of steam - the tension starts to dissipate a little once we get a good look at the three villains, and the ending of the film is rather abrupt and unsatisfying. Still, I'll probably stick around for the sequel which is due out next year, and will definitely have to summon up the courage to watch the French original now.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 3 October 2011

That was the week that was (26 September - 2 October) - Part Two

I have to confess that there was a slight fib in my previous post. I never got round to watching another film last night (instead I caught up on the latest episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Fresh Meat), so there are just two movies left to wrap up my coverage of last week's films.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)

Michael Radford directed this adaptation of George Orwell's classic novel, which chronicles everyman Winston Smith's attempts to survive in a alternate version of England in which a totalitarian regime has taken control of every aspect of society. Smith (played here by John Hurt) works in the Ministry of Truth; his job entails rewriting the previous editions of the governing Party's official newspaper to ensure that there is no record of the Party ever having been in the wrong. The England governed by the Party in 1984 is a drab, bleak place in which society has been divided into a rigid hierarchical structure. Members of the Inner Party live in comparative comfort and are able to indulge in the occasional luxury, but members of the Outer Party like Smith are forced to live in crumbling tower blocks, with their actions subject to constant scrutiny from videoscreens at home and at work. It's an existence almost as horrific as being forced to watch all 11 seasons of Big Brother back to back with only Davina McCall for company. Winston's life is changed when he meets Julia (Suzanna Hamilton), a free spirited young woman who flouts the Party's restrictions on fraternising with members of the opposite sex. This love affair can only ever end badly for Winston, as the Party has agents of the Thought Police scattered all over the city, and he will soon end up in the Ministry of Love, at the mercy of the torturers led by Inner Party bigwig O'Brien (Richard Burton). This is a fine adaptation of Orwell's (even better) novel. While not everything in the book makes it to the big screen, Michael Radford does an excellent job of creating a suitably grey, drab, city in which the populace cower in fear under the all seeing eyes of Big Brother. John Hurt and Richard Burton are particularly good in the key roles of Winston Smith and O'Brien; Burton, in his last screen role, is chilling as the outwardly placid face of evil. It might not quite be doubleplusgood, brother, but it's certainly highly watchable.

Rating: 8/10

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)

Another film from the mid eighties, though this one is far lighter in tone. Chevy Chase heads the cast as a family man intent on driving his wife and teenaged kids from Chicago to 'Walley World' in LA for their annual holiday. Of course, the journey doesn't go too smoothly... the family have to put up with an encounter with their redneck relations, getting lost in the desert and the death of an elderly family member en route, amongst other things. Despite being a little dated now, the film certainly has its moments. It probably won't live long in the memory - to be honest, I'd forgotten half of the plot points writing this now (and I only saw it yesterday), but I have to admit I laughed out loud a quite a few times. Chevy Chase's mugging for the camera can be a bit much, but he can also be very funny. I was also impressed by how far the film was prepared to go in search of a laugh - the end sequence, in which Chase forces John Candy at gun point to give him a tour of Walley World being a case in point. I'm not sure if Hollywood would allow that sort of thing to go on in a 'family' comedy these days.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 2 October 2011

That was the week that was (26 September - 2 October) - Part One

Another week has passed, and as per usual, here's another batch of reviews. This week was notable for a) being one of the hottest weeks on record for this time of the year; and b) my ignoring the fine weather and staying indoors to watch all these films. That's dedication for you...

The Terminator (1984)

Some sixteen years before East Great Falls High student (and Ian Bell lookalike) Chuck Sherman was sent back in time to change the future for one lucky lady, a heavily accented Austrian bodybuilder made an even greater impact on the world of cinema. I'm sure the plot to the movie is familiar to most people (even if they haven't seen the film), but just in case you don't know, it involves a killer cyborg (Scharzenegger) sent back to the year 1984 from an apocolyptic future in which computers have overthrown the human race. His mission is to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who will one day give birth to the leader of Earth's resistance against the machines. Fortunately for her, the human resistance sends one of their own soldiers (Michael Biehn) to protect her.  Looking back, it seems crazy that a guy with Arnie's limited acting abilities could become such a huge star, but the first two Terminator movies are great examples of a director making the most of Schwarzenegger's plus points (a natural screen presence and impressive physique), and using him in a role where his robotic line delivery is a perfect fit. Although a few of the special effects look a bit hokey now (particularly the way in which the Terminator moves in the final sequence) and the music is a little dated, Hamilton and Biehn are convincing in their central roles and there are a number of excellent action set pieces - particularly the scene in which the Terminator singlehandedly wipes out an entire police station.  For my money, the sequel is the better film, this is nevertheless a highly entertaining mix of action and science fiction.

Rating: 8/10

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

This film sees Steve Carell reprise a similar character to the one he memorably protrayed in The Forty Year Old Virgin; this time he plays a set in his ways family man who is stunned when his wife (Julianne Moore) announces that she wants a divorce. While nursing his sorrows at a local singles bar, he meets a slick ladies man (Ryan Gosling) who offers to school him in the ways of lovin' (rather like regular Onion columnist Smoove B). Meanwhile, other members of his family and friends are suffering from romantic travails of their own;  his son has taken a shine to his seventeen year old babysitter, who in turn has a crush on Carell. It's all a little like the J Geils Band song 'Love Stinks'. After a promising opening three quarters, with a number of funny scenes (usually those featuring Carell's forays into the world of one night stands), the film is marred by a rather cliched, sentimental ending in which Carell and his on screen son are moved to get in front of a graduating middle school class and deliver a pair of soppy speeches about finding your soul mate. Still, Crazy, Stupid, Love is an amusing romantic comedy which for the most part exceeds its limitations due to a very strong cast. 

Rating: 7/10

Black Christmas (1974)

Before there was Halloween, and well before Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine and the many other holiday themed slasher movies, there was Black Christmas. Bob Clark's early '70s classic is set in a big, creepy sorority house during the Christmas holidays; the opening credits sees an unseen psycho take up residence in the attic of the house and during the course of the film he progresses from making sick prank phone calls to killing its inhabitants. The movie introduces a number of the elements which became ubiquitous to the genre - a deranged killer making sinister phone calls, shots from the killer's POV, and the murders of a series of attractive young women. However, Black Christmas also brings some important elements into the equation which some of its lesser imitators didn't pick up on. For one thing, the police in this film are, for the most part, pretty competent, realising early on that something is amiss at the sorority house and doing their best to protect the sorority sisters - tapping the house phone, putting a man outside the house and acting as quickly as they can to get to the scene of the crime when it is apparent that something terrible has happened. For another, the film is much more interested in generating suspense and tension than in simply showing off gory effects. When the killings do take place, they are filmed in a chilling and scary way, but the camera doesn't linger for long on the victim post mortem. For me, the scariest aspect of the film are the phone calls made by the killer. He gurgles, screams, shouts obscenities and makes enigmatic comments which appear to relate to his childhood and involve 'Billy and Agnes'. As the killer's identity and motive is never revealed, we can only guess the events to which he is referring, which makes it all more terrifying. Other than Halloween, this is as good as slasher movies get.

Rating: 9/10

Warrior (2011)

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton go head to head in a high prized mixed martial arts tournament in this movie, which is kind of like Rocky for UFC fans. The pair star as brothers who are both dealing with the emotional scars of growing up with an alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). Tom Hardy plays his character, Tommy, as a hulking ball of rage, resentment and hurt. He has recently gone AWOL from the marine corps and is trying to win the $5 million so that he can fulfil a promise to look after his best friend's wife. Joel Edgerton is Brendan, who is the more steady of the pair and is a family man, working as a physics teacher. However, he is even more in need of the money than his brother as the bank is threatening to foreclose on his mortgage and leave his wife and kids out on the streets.  Working in its favour is that the film has two protagonists - all too often in this genre it is abundantly clear that the hero will win the day at the end of the movie, but in this case, we'e left guessing as to who will emerge victorious. On the other hand, a number of the other elements from the film seem to be recycled from other, generally better, underdog sports movies. For example, the story of an unknown who comes from nowhere to challenge for a major title is very reminiscent of Rocky I, while the hulking Russian opponent seems to have been lifted from Rocky IV. The fighting sequences are initially exhilarating, but lose their impact towards the end of the film when it becomes apparent that all of Tommy's fights end in a quick knockout, while in each of Brendan's bouts, he initially takes a beating before getting his opponent in a submission hold. Overall, then, it's fairly entertaining, but a little too derivative of other movies to score too highly.

Rating: 6/10

Right, I'll take a break there for the time being. However, I shall return with my thoughts on the following films tomorrow:

Nineteen Eighty-Four
National Lampoon's Vacation
And one more film (to be confirmed)