#15 It! The Terror Beyond Space (1958)
Best thing: While the effects have dated and often look daft, I still want to credit the way the filmmakers make the most of what they have. Shadows on the wall, a face in the dark or the flailing man in a suit. At one point the creature is kept at bay by an acetylene torch.
Worst thing: The characters are dull. The opening premise is that the survivor of the original mission to Mars is suspected of murder. They don't seem to treat him even remotely like someone who might stab them in the back and he doesn't really feel like someone with any more familiarity with the alien threat than anyone else. Whether it's the script, the acting or the direction, that character's backstory feels completely mishandled and it just doesn't seem to play into the story beyond the occasional naysayer.
I have to admit that the effects are laughable, the characters are boring, the story is flimsy and I really can't recommend this film.
Even so, if you want the quintessential space monster movie with effects which were exciting at the time, even if they don't remotely hold up now, this is the film for you. The script isn't winning any awards but there's enough of a story here that it won't bore you to tears. So what I mean to say is: I don't regret watching this trashy dated sci-fi yarn.
Also it was nice to see the female crew had roles as scientists and doctors. Actually they seemed like they had the most professional expertise in the whole crew.
#16 Maniac Cop (1988)
Best thing: The premise is set up very cleverly as a mystery to be solved. It's very cool how the shots are composed so that we never see the maniac cop's face and we also can seriously believe that witnesses to his crimes won't have seen it either.
Worst thing: While it was disappointing to see Bruce Campbell playing it straight, he's fine in the role - if a bit bland. What was odd for me (and nothing was wrong with the performance) was the way the female officer who arrests people who pay for prostitutes by posing as one still has the same overdone makeup in her uniform. We are now pretty used to seeing female police officers with their hair tied back, but she seems like she's ready for a night out and it just makes her look unprofessional as an officer. Perhaps I’m blaming on her outfit what is really better explained by her performance. I never really get the impression that she’s had police training. (Or perhaps it’s the direction. Bruce Campbell seems distinctly lacking in decorum here too.)
Maniac Cop begins with a series of shots of a police officer dressing, putting on his gun holster, his badge and other accessories. I found it a little dull. I think living in a country where the police generally don't carry guns the image of a scary police officer isn't so creepy. That being said, I'd also note that most deaths here don't involve guns.
The central villain here is scariest while his face remains hidden. When finally his face is revealed, he doesn't look so intimidating. When the film moves away from its initial mystery to an all-hell-breaks-loose scenario I was reminded of the film The Hitcher. That film had a rather creepier Rutger Hauer in the lead role.
Overall this was a lot of fun but lost momentum in the second half when it crossed a line and became a bit too silly. But in the first half the mystery absolutely gripped me.
#17 Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Best thing: Dr. Pretorius is brilliant and has some great darkly comic moments. (And he’s played by Ernest Thesiger from “The Old Dark House”!) I love when Frankenstein asks the servant to send him away, she says "Right away sir!" and leaves through the door, only for us to see Dr. Pretorius immediately emerge from a completely different door.
Worst thing: I always find it very odd that Pretorius is so fascinated with Frankenstein's work when his own creations seems more advanced. I don't want to give away too much for newcomers but Pretorius appears to be able to create life from scratch, not from dead bodies.
Bride of Frankenstein is funnier than Frankenstein, darker than Frankenstein and has more emotional depth. This is definitely a sequel that improves on the original film.
#18 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Best thing: The more Lou Costello imitates Frankenstein and Dracula the more it cracks me up.
Worst thing: It's great to see Bella Lugosi returning in the role, but with this comedy style he seems really sweet instead of terrifying. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a little disappointing.
I never thought I'd be so happy to see the same actor returning as the Wolf-Man. While Abbott essentially plays the straight man he's also the sceptic. Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf-Man, being the most reluctant of the monsters, has to be the one to provide the exposition of an evil plot by Dracula involving Frankenstein. He is wonderful and works very well alongside the two comedic foils.
While I hope to see House of Frankenstein, where the different monsters are also reunited, as yet this is my first Universal horror monster mash. The recent plans of Universal to cash-in on the craze for shared universes make a lot more sense now, seeing how well the different monster worlds cone together here. That being said, Dracula's horror does feel a little diluted as a result (though that's probably because of the emphasis on comedy here).
Can Universal revive a shared universe like this? All these horror franchises have had a long history since the 30s and 40s. There were mixed receptions for Branaugh's Frankenstein and also for the more recent Victor Frankenstein penned by Max Landis. Werewolves are pretty big but while Ginger Snaps, Teen Wolf, and The Howling all have cult appeal, the straight adaptation with Benicio Del Toro was widely trashed. Dracula has had endless adaptations, but the attempt to make him a relateable anti-hero in Dracula Untold seems like a real misstep.
Part of me thinks they should just jump straight into a monster mash, but the film that comes to mind with that format is Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman where the whole thing went goofy as hell (think X-Men 3 levels of chaos. Fun enough, but kind of daft too).
Abbott and Costello's mash-up film is great fun and regularly had me laughing out loud. They have great comic timing and continue the same wonderful charm of earlier entries in the Universal series. It's worth remembering that the Universal movies often include a bit of comedy. Even Dracula has moments with the asylum staff, such as when one announces: "Sometimes it feels like we're the only sane ones here, and I'm not sure about you." Abbott and Costello is very much building on what has come before and carries the same fantastic charm.
#19 Ghoulies (1984)
Best thing: While the ghoulies themselves look very cool, the best thing is the dwarf warrior spirits. In a supposed horror comedy, they were the only ones with any comic timing.
Worst thing: When someone has time to call out "Why?" before toppling to their death down the stairs a second or so later. So dumb!
If this was just plain old creepy it could have been a cool film, but there isn't really much of an atmosphere in this film. The protagonists' friends are pretty boring. Yet on the other hand this isn't really a comedy either. The ghoulies are disgusting and adorable but they pretty much unimportant to the story.
This could have worked but the script needs to be completely reworked, the dad needs to come back sooner (we all saw that coming), the ghoulies need to do something either funny or terrrifying and the deaths need to be way more inventive. But without all these changes? Meh, it's just about watchable.
#20 April Fool's Day (1986)
Best thing: The fools day pranks, such as the collapsing chair, are quite fun.
Worst thing: I heard this was a comedy, but there are no laughs to be had here. There aren't even interesting characters to follow. We have the actor who played Biff in Back To The Future being a bit of a clown and we have a bookish girl stereotype, but the script doesn't really go anywhere with those characters.
There were some really low points when I was working my way through the Friday 13th series. Sure, I'd say there are Friday 13th films worse than this, but even Jason Takes Manhattan is way more fun.
For a film about practical jokes and serial murder this is unbelievably dull.
#21 Room (2015)
Best thing: I had always felt awkward about seeing this film because it is about a kidnapped abused girl/woman. It felt like the film would either be horrifying or it wouldn't be treating the subject matter with enough respect. But I hadn't realised that the real focus would be on what happens to someone after they escape from captivity. The way the child, who has always been told to stay well clear of the one person who isn't his mother, won't address anyone directly. Sadly the film doesn't really explore this terribly well by the end.
Worst thing: Every time the kid does one of his monologues it is teeth-grindingly irritating. It doesn't help that this quiet kid doesn't really seem much like the talkative child doing the monologues. And frankly, the monologues add nothing to the story and are really awkward because they trivialise the drama.
There are some wonderful moments. This is a very well directed movie. Unfortunately the script leaves much to be desired. There ought to be so much to say about the mental and physical consequences of a childhood spent in a small shed. But here that is basically just boiled down to an odd mythological understanding of the world and the real world ramifications are glossed over. There was potential here, but the film doesn't seem to explore the subject matter comprehensively enough to really convince me.
And the tv interviewer who seems to be actively trolling the kidnapping victim by trying to fuel their survivor's guilt? What is up with that?
I am absolutely loving my foray into the old Universal classics. They may be dated and trashy but my goodness is it a lot of fun to immerse yourself in that world! Expect many more classic Universal horror movie reviews in later updates....
Part one here
To see which films I am planning to watch (and which ones I've already seen) check out my Nope-Tober 2016 list on letterboxd.
#5 Misery (1990)
Best thing: There is such a wonderful nail-biting tension in so many scenes in this and this time around that was only exacerbated because I was waiting for THAT scene. But even newcomers to the film will feel like things are about to go very wrong.
Worst thing: It's a pity that they opt for the "Is the baddie really dead?" trope. This isn't a supernatural horror and I'm not convinced that the trope works very well here.
Misery is an incredible film and probably my favourite film that adapts Stephen King's work. It's cool to be rewatching yet another film starring James Caan. This is certainly very different from Rollerball.
Kathy Bates is amazing as our protagonist's greatest fan. Occasionally there's a shot from the protagonist's perspective showing her looming over him and the effect is chilling.
It was also cool to see Frances Sternhagen as the sheriff's wife. Some may recognise her from “Outland”, the sci-fi western with Sean Connery. Both films feature her sharp snarky line delivery.
Stephen King adaptations always seem to be about writers but in other films it's generally been less clear that the character needs to be a writer. Does the kid in Stand By Me need to be a storyteller/writer to habe his adventures with his friends? Does Jack Nicholson need to be a writer to act as a caretaker for the hotel? Does the guy in Tommyknockers need to be a writer?
But no, James Caan's character needs to be writer. It is vital to his scenario that he be a storyteller of some kind. There's possibly a class aspect here too (or possibly an urban /rural divide) since the fan loves all the aspects of the novels that the writer values the least and she cannot engage with descriptions of inner city living. We can see how the fan seems to love the trashy romance world the author has created more than people in real life.
With the current trend of obsessive and protective fandoms often populated by inflexible and pushy fans, this film meant more to me than it did the first time around. I think I just thought the villain was simply evil when I first saw this film. Now I see a much deeper character.
#6 Ravenous (1999)
Best thing: Antonia Bird reunites with Robert Carlyle again after her film with “Face” with other UK talents Ray Winstone and Phil Davis. His fantastic performance really pulls together this new take on vampirism. Carlyle acts here as the Lestat figure with Guy Pearce as the reluctant figure being seduced into that same lifestyle. Wendigo is not the same as vampirism, but the parallels are obvious.
Worst thing: Antonia Bird is also reunited with Damon Albarn whose musical compositions here are a little bland and seem at odds with the tone of the film. Perhaps the intention was to be quirky, but while there are certainly odd aspects to this film and while there's a tongue in cheek aspect, this is still a film which gets very creepy.
I've long felt that Face was an underrated film and I feel the same about Ravenous. Great cast, great performances, great ideas, great film.
#7 Dracula (1931)
Classic Universal horror movie #2
Best thing: While on first watch the most exciting element was Bella Lugosi. This time I had more appreciation for Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing, though I think the 1979 version had a more intense face off between Van Helsing and Dracula. But this time the big standout was Dwight Frye as the unhinged and incredibly loopy fly-eating Renfield. Just such a great performance, particularly when you compare with his sensible normal performance at the start of the film.
Worst thing: The bat on a string. So many scenes feature that bat on a string and it’s terrible. Also, in one scene that is supposed to be depicting an outside balcony it is so obviously a set and you can even see the corner of the studio room.
Dracula has a lot of appeal but nobody has really been too upset about the way the original story is redone again and again. Each version has its own charms and its own odd quirks. Personally my favourites are the two 1979 versions (the one with Frank Langella and the one with Klaus Kinski). But Bella Lugosi has a real charm to his performance and is portrayed here in a fantastic way.
The film as a whole is a bit hokey and and never actually ends so actually it relies in its performances all the way through. (It certainly can't rely on its special effects.) Returning to this film I was hooked by its charm.
#8 Dracula's Daughter (1936)
Classic Universal horror movie #3
Best thing: The comedy scenes with the police officers are actually hilarious. Universal do like to give a bit of comic relief from the side characters and we get more than usual here.
Worst thing: Discussions on how to cure vampirism with the psychologist are a bit tedious and the ideas discussed don't really pay off terribly well.
I remembered this being rather dull, but I was actually pretty engaged with it this time. The practical jokes the male protagonist's secretary plays on him are more fun than anything Dracula's daughter does and the side-plot with Van Helsing doesn't play nearly enough into the main story, but overall this isn't too bad an entry in the Universal series.
#9 White Dog (1982)
Best thing: The dog is incredible. All credit to the director and the animal trainers who were able to capture such a full-on character-filled performance. But I also want to call out the point where the protagonist confronts the old racist.
Worst thing: The female lead is pretty cool, but can come off a bit whiny when she's coming to terms with how bad it is to keep the dangerous attack dog alive.
White Dog is a very interesting film and remarkably intelligent considering how silly and cheesy the trailer makes the film look. I could never have predicted the deep social commentary in the background of this film. There is also consistent tension, wondering when the dog will stay docile and when it will attack.
#10 The One I Love (2014)
Best thing: Mark Duplass gives a very physical performance, distinguishing his real arseholish self and his doppelganger idealised self.
Worst thing: Towards the end things do begin to drag a little and the 'philosophical' aardvark example? Meh!
I feel like this was an interesting premise with some great performances, but the writing was missing something. I found it quite hard to warm to the characters and the film dragged a bit in the middle.
It also felt odd to me that the male doppelganger feels charming while the female doppelganger feels like a Stepford wife. I'm presuming this is intentional and perhaps it is to do with the boyfriend's personal unstated preferences regarding his girlfriend.
The final twist is incredibly obvious and telegraphed to hell, but I don't think that is much of an issue. It's the consequences of that twist that matter and the audience is also free to consider whether the characters can see the twist coming too. It's pretty interesting really.
Admittedly this is more of a sci-fi than a horror, but there's a clear ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ influence. Still, this is a very different take on the concept from ‘Honeymoon’. Almost the opposite concept in fact.
#11 Frankenstein (1931)
Classic Universal horror movie #4
Best thing: Boris Karloff is actually excellent as the monster. The dad/baron is also brilliant as a grumpy old man.
Worst thing: Perhaps if we'd been told that the little girl was blind, that scene would have made more sense. I was a little confused as to why she couldn't just swim back.
There's something very special about the Universal Frankenstein film. The initial creation of the monster is simply wonderful. The story does drag a bit in places though. The same charm remains here as we saw in Dracula. (I also like to pretend that Van Helsing taught Frankenstein and that Renfield became his assistant.)
#12 Driller Killer (1979)
Best thing: Driller Killer has a very naturalistic feel and I really felt for the protagonist as a painter struggling to be taken seriously as an artist while suffering through poverty while he tries to perfect his masterpiece.
Worst thing: Too much time spent on the band that moves in to another flat and very little time spent on what drives the painter to go out driller-killing.
One special effect where it really looks like the killer is actually drilling into a man's head is especially effective. But we are never very clear on why the protagonist decides to kill anyone. I have a theory that he hates what he sees as failings in himself, as a man on the verge of being kicked out onto the street, but frankly the film never really tries to explore this.
The scenes of him working on his art and continuing his relationship with his hanger-on girlfriend and her own drugged up lover are the most interesting.
Listening to the commentary for this film you wouldn't think any thought had been put into it at all. The director sounds like he is on drugs when he discusses the film and seems to be most interested in how high people were when making the film. Nevertheless I think the main protagonist gives a really great performance in what ends up being a very shallow and poorly paced film.
Driller Killer was an interesting film, but in the end, despite a great central performance, it's pretty dull. But with some kind of genuine message rather than just random murders, I feel like this could have been something way more worthwhile. (To give credit where credit is due though, I didn’t realise until now that the central performance that I enjoyed so much is actually performed by the director himself.)
#13 A Horrible Way To Die (2010)
Best thing: I was happily surprised by the ending. The female protagonist is going to alcoholics anonymous meetings and the male killer seems to regret each of his killings. It felt clear that there must be some connection, but I was apprehensive as to how the film would handle those kind of parallels. I was very happy with the way things wrapped up in a very satisfying ending.
Worst thing: There are a lot of atmospheric moments and shots which express the chaotic emotional states of the characters. Generally these work okay, but at one point it becomes especially clear that the camera is just being wiggled around wildly. The intention was to make clear that at this very dramatic point things are not right, but instead it rather took me out of the film.
Adam Wingard made a number of films before You're Next, but they are genrally very short. A Horrible Way To Die is also less than 90 minutes, but it seemed to be the most easily accessible of these early films. (Perhaps I’ll eventually see “Pop Skull” and “Home Sick” too.) There are a few familiar actors here from Wingard’s other films and there's a similarly good structure to the story too.
If Blair Witch (Wingard’s latest movie) is really as bad as some suggest then that's a real pity since their prior work has been so consistently solid. Even this small project is just so great.
#14 The Wolf Man (1941)
Classic Universal horror movie #5
Best thing: The conflicted feelings of the wolf-man are wonderfully played by Lon Chaney Jr. in the central role. There's also a cool plot surrounding the father by the end, even if he doesn't look like he could possibly be Lon Chaney Jr.'s father.
Worst thing: The costume simply doesn't look like a wolf! Now that we have American Werewolf In London, the failings in the effects work are that more obvious, but the real problem is that the story expects us to believe that the werewolf could be mistaken for an actual wolf with genuine-looking wolf tracks. The fact is, as beastly as the wolf man looks, he couldn't possibly be mistaken for an actual wolf.
The Wolf Man is slow, a bit silly and the acting is better than the script. Still I feel the story really finds its footing by the end. The story comes full circle and the main protagonist, once we've got over his creepy pick-up lines and spying on a lady's dressing room with a telescope (seriously!) keeps our interest through the story.
It's time for the October horror marathon. 31 films in the month of October. I've got reviews below for my first 4.
On Letterboxd it's now pretty popular to engage in a marathon known as Hoop-Tober with a load of stipulations for what sort of films you should include. I've decided instead to go with the more relaxed Nope-Tober, just picking out films which I haven't seen. Still some of the stipulations of Hoop-Tober such as to include a movie adapted from Stephen King (in honour of the awesome Stranger Things series), to include an animal movie, to include movies from multiple countries and decades, to include a series of movies. These are all going to be met pretty much by pure coincidence.
My theme this year is going to be classic Universal horror movies. I didn't rate the ones I saw very highly but I found a great deal of charm in all of them and am very keen to revisit them now.
To see which films I am planning to watch (and which ones I've already seen) check out my Nope-Tober 2016 list on letterboxd.
#1 Victor Frankenstein (2015)
Best thing: When Frankenstein is making his argument by shouting "BABIES IN VATS!" it absolutely cracked me up. I love how wonderfully manic and unhinged Victor Frankenstein comes across, making it very easy to see why his work would be dismissed.
Worst thing: When Frankenstein actually DOES come to question his work it felt a bit puzzling to me that he would do so at that moment. The way that scene plays out seems a bit awkward. Also the final act doesn't keep up the same energy and focus of earlier hi-jincks.
Another Max Landis script. I loved American Ultra and both Chronicle and Victor Frankenstein have been wonderful films somewhat diminished by their chaotic and rather less focussed third act.
The introduction of Igor is very cleverly handled and Daniel Radcliffe does a really good job in the role, but the real star here is James McAvoy with his excellently eccentric title character. A conniving untrustworthy figure driven by rather misguided ambitions.
There are some clever thematic flourishes. Igor parallels the monster in that he is a creation of Victor (in a way) and the spying detective parallels Victor in that he is driven by obsession. But on top of that, it's all very very fun.
#2 When Animals Dream (2015)
Best thing: At the funeral our protagonist makes a power play by offering everyone tea. One element of her transformation is emphasised during this fairly mundane act and it becomes a pretty tense scene as a result.
Worst thing: While a simple plot isn't necessarily a bad thing, I feel like there was room for fuller characterisation to make the story more interesting. The characters don't really talk much and while that's sometimes played to good effect there are points where it felt like our protagonists would be more relateable if they expressed themselves a little more.
On the one hand, When Animals Dream is a very interesting film with a really compelling take on the werewolf myth. On the other hand, this film feels way too slow and it could do with more interesting character development. If this is about the angst of growing up, does that really mean that our protagonist needs to be so quiet and withdrawn?
Well worth a watch but, with subtle tension rather than excitement, it might be a bit of a struggle for some (and I wouldn't say it was a walk in the park myself).
#3 Southbound (2015)
Best thing: There are a lot of cool creepy elements here and, while the CG effects might be a bit hokey by modern standards, I really do love the floating skeletal monsters. (And I really appreciate that they are first seen on broad daylight, even though putting them in darkness might have hidden their computer-generatedness (I don't think that word exists but anyway...) However, the creepiest element for me is the smiley masks of the intruders in a later home invasion storyline.
Worst thing: In Southbound, one story moves directly into another, helpfully avoiding the wraparound element that was always so poor in the V/H/S films. However, not all segments feel played out when they finish and I found the worst culprit was the story of the all-girl travelling band. That felt like it could have led to a longer story and when it's cut short it's frustrating. Particularly when we then move to another couple of stories where the characters really don't seem to have the same level of depth.
(Interestingly I think it's a similar problem as I had with Ti West's House Of The Devil. The film had me gripped and yet just when the story is reaching a climax it suddenly stops.)
Southbound is a compelling horror anthology. I wouldn't say it blew me away and I sometimes found the way stories flowed into each other instead of clearly ending was frustrating. However, Southbound is undoubtedly creepy and consistently kept me on the edge of my seat.
If you enjoyed anything in any of the V/H/S movies you probably ought to give Southbound a go. Even if it doesn't reach the highs of V/H/S 2's Safe Haven segment, Southbound is more consistently high quality than the V/H/S movies were.
#4 The Old Dark House (1932)
Classic Universal horror movie #1
Best thing: There are a whole array of colourful characters and they are all pretty great. The god-fearing inhospitable lady and her nervous but polite brother are very cool, but I also very much enjoy the chorus girl and her relationship with the boisterous northern businessman. These are all characters I felt pleased to be spending time with as well as a great source of fun.
Worst thing: The least interesting characters are probably the married couple, but even they are still pretty cool. The decision to have an actress play the elderly grandfather felt a bit odd. But I think the worst thing was when characters kept locking people in rooms. It was pretty much the worst thing they could do and while I understand this was to limit which people could play a part in the story at that stage, it was quite frustrating.
I say this having already rewatched a few of the classic Universal horror films for this movie marathon, so I think I can confidently say: this is currently my favourite of the Universal horror films.
The Old Dark House has a horror comedy tone which naturally makes it especially appealing to me. This isn't unusual for a Universal film though. What impressed me in particular about The Old Dark House was the depth of the characters and their interactions.
Even the more over the top characters still have a depth to them. The two main characters who live in the house are a religious mean old lady obsessed with sin and a polite nervous figure who does not believe in God.
When the brother is saracastically saying of his sister's insistence on saying grace: "She wants to thank him (God) for all the good fortune that has befallen this family." It sets up what we are walking into and is very funny at the same time.
If you enjoy films like The House On Haunted Hill or the original Little Shop of Horrors then you will love The Old Dark House.
Best thing: Obviously the film is absolutely gorgeous, but the very best thing here is Fassbender's performance.
Worst thing: I know a lot of people have been concerned about mumbling here, but I think really all their problem really comes down to is a strong Scottish accent from the cast. I used subtitles and I think that was fine. This is actually a film with very little I feel able to fault. For worst thing, I'm going to opt for the opening child funeral. I know why that scene is included, but I think it's a bit of a flat way to start the film. (Though certainly not a deal breaker.)
A big improvement over Roman Polanski's version is that the film doesn't use voiceover. The lines are always delivered on screen by the actors, so we always get a proper performance rather than actors staring into space while their voice plays in the background.
This version of Macbeth shares the ambition of Polanski's version to be a movie rather than a play caught on camera, but here the solution is that characters are often talking to themselves when lines would originally have been directed towards the audience. (Expressions of betrayal are always stated neatly out of earshot of the betrayee.)
The blood, the passion, the violence, the madness. Everything is here, the performances are wonderful and this also doesn't include the random unnecessary nudity of Polanski's film. The story of Macbeth's opponents is also handled very well, capturing the full emotional consequences of Macbeth's cruelty.
This is an excellent adaptation and, from my experience, one of the better Shakespeare adaptations.
A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Best thing: The central performance of Dick Miller is brilliant. I need to see more films with this actor. So far I've mainly seen him in Joe Dante movies but I also saw him in the original Little Shop of Horrors. He always gives an enthusiastic comedic performance and there's always a twinkle in his eye. It's so wonderful to see him in a leading role and it's actually strange to see him playing a low confidence weirdo rather than the confident out-spoken figures he normally plays.
Worst thing: Well actually the worst thing is how terrible the DVD transfer is. This was a very low quality copy of the film and I feel that will have had a real impact on my appreciation of this film. But dealing with the content, I think the opening is the worst part. We start off with a dreary beatnik poem set to annoying awkward jazz accompaniment. Even though our protagonist is in the foreground the insistent irritating drone of the onstage performer focus us to recognise it and I found it incredibly distracting. Perhaps it's necessary for us to recognise how ridiculously pretentious this art scene is, but wow, was there no other way?
I'm a sucker for horror comedies and this low budget example is a wonderful little gem. Sure it can be pretty silly but that's always intentional and always funny enough to be worth it. The comedy also relies on the tension, producing that wonderful blend of laughter and creepiness that makes me love this genre so much.
Our protagonist wants to be an artist so much he goes to unethical lengths, but he seems to struggle to understand the world around him. There's a sense of innocence to him. Like perhaps he doesn't understand what he's doing and, perhaps more realistically, lies to himself in order not to feel guilty about the positive attention he receives.
I'm sure anyone who has not seen the film yet is getting confused by this point, but trust me, this is one you will not regret checking out.
Educating Rita (1983)
Best thing: Michael Caine and Julie Walters are two incredible performers so seeing them acting alongside one another is almost enough to recommend this by itself. However, I really love the way this handles ideas of class. Both the characters have somewhat misguided understandings of class boundaries, but their respective journeys both reveal the deeper complexities and subtleties of class division. I've long struggled to understand how class works. Having come from a middle class background and left university to find myself stuck in fairly low wage positions, class has always felt like an odd concept for me to come to terms with. But I feel like Educating Rita really helped me understand class divisions better (as they stood in the 80s at least).
Worst thing: The synthy music is terrible. At certain points where it starts up that music is startlingly offputting. That the director felt it made sense to include music like that really dates this film more than anything else.
Julie Walters’ character believes that learning how to write academic English essays will make her higher class. Her boyfriend just wants her to marry him and have his children. Michael Caine is fascinated by her because she is so unlike his students writing identical essays about classic literature and he feels like he would actually be tainting her if he taught her how to churn out the same kinds of essays rather than enjoying literature for its own sake.
Funny, charming, fascinating and deceptively simple.
I don’t get why they changed the title in the UK either. Weird.
Best thing: The fox character. Unlike the endless optimism of the protagonist, the fox is very cynical and it's interesting that it is a cynicism that has developed in response to prejudicial treatment including ritual humiliation.
Worst thing: Zootropolis is clearly supposed to be a comedy, but frankly its not very funny. Zootropolis involves a lot of different background details, some beautiful artwork and some great world building. But I didn't find much that made me laugh. (I wasn't tickled by the sloth scene, I'm afraid.)
Very nearly a good film, but this is a film I found more interested in its visuals and its message than in really pulling me in. I'm glad the humour worked for other people, but I wasn't all that impressed. (Is it me, or did Idris Elba have the best jokes?)
Of the recent 3D animated, non-Pixar Disney movies, I'm surprised to find that Tangled is still the one that appealed most to me. Wreck-It Ralph appealed to me a lot, but when it became stranded in a sweet-themed Mario Kart world I felt it lost its way. Frozen annoyed the hell out of me with its terrible songs, yet while Tangled also had that issue for me, I really loved the abusive mother connection between Rapunzel and the main villain. Also, in Tangled, the horse was BRILLIANT. (Actually Big Hero Six was Disney, so I guess that's actually my favourite.) But Zootropolis? Yeah it was fine. Nice world-building, but I could have done with more effective humour.
45 Years (2015)
Best thing: While the ending felt a bit sudden, the ambiguity makes for some interesting interpretation as to whether the wife needs to reanalyse their marriage or whether she is being unnecessarily paranoid.
Worst thing: It feels like we ought to be going to be returning to the location of the protagonist's youthful love affair. That wait ended up being in vain. That's not a terrible problem, but I felt the actual direction of the film left it essentially stopping dead without a particularly clear resolution.
While there are some awesome performances here, the story is pretty low-key. There are really interesting ideas under the surface, but that's generally where they remain.
The subtlety is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the premise is fascinating and there are great messages about the nature of very long term relationships and raises questions about regrets and compromises in love and life. But on the other hand this is not a film with much of a plot.
Titan AE (2000)
Best thing: The film creates a Star Wars-esque world with a chosen one and a evil villain evoking Nazi authoritarianism. Within that framework there's plenty of inventiveness.
Worst thing: The characterisationis mostly pretty thin, so the movie's attempts at emotional moments really don't work. The scene where the ship dances with the space stingrays dragged particularly badly, especially because of the cheesy music.
I can kind of see the Joss Whedon touches in this science fiction cartoon movie but overall the more charming moments can't quite make up for the unengaging vocal performances or the general feeling of naffness.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Best thing: The colourful visuals. The filmmakers were clearly making maximum use of colour and so everyone is brightly coloured and there's a wonderfully distinctive style.
Worst thing: My goodness this is so ridiculously cheesy! And things really go off the rails when King Richard has to engage in a sword fight against his own palace guards. Much of what characters say about divisions between Normans and Saxons or about freedom of individuals is really so anachronistic, and yet so sincere, as to make it incredibly hard to suspend disbelief.
I received a recommendation for this film from two separate sources both around the same sort of time. One was the podcast "The Canon" and I've forgotten where the other recommendation came from. I've enjoyed older films quite often. I loved Casablanca, M, Double Indemnity, Citizen Kane and I even prefer the original Scarface to the version with Al Pacino. But while Adventures of Robin Hood was sweet, it was incredibly dated.
I know historical accuracy shouldn't be too important in a film like this, but it's incredibly frustrating. I mean, sure, King John made a lot of mistakes and the poor probably suffered under him like they did under most kings, but he wasn't the overbearing tyrant he is made out to be here. Eventually he'd be forced to sign the Magna Carta, which ended up being one of the most important human rights documents in British history. It established habeas corpus, the right not to be imprisoned without trial. In the this would result in slaves being able to gain freedom simply by walking on British land.
Also the Norman/Saxon rivalry seems out of place. The royal family had been Normans since William the Conqueror since 1066. By the 13th century it's not really a central issue anymore.
And Richard The Lionheart returning? Give me a break! He got out of Britain as soon as he could. He returned to France a few times but he had no interest in returning to England. Portraying this warrior from the Crusades, who actually mass-murdered prisoners of war, as the absent 'good king' is beyond absurd.
Robin Hood Prince of Thieves was clearly inspired by this film, particularly in the scene where Robin fights Little John at the river. But, as much as I didn't think Prince of Thieves stood up at all well last time I watched it, I can't help but feel that it improved on the original. Heck, Alan Rickman alone helped to improve one of the weakest aspects: the villain.
Adventures of Robin Hood is an sweet little film, but it's very dated and not really a film I'd recommend.
Dark Places (2015)
Best thing: The film is set in the past and in the present and the parts in the present were brilliant. Charlize Theron is fantastic as the grown up massacre survivor, Corey Stroll is fantastic as the brother convicted of the murders, and Nicholas Hoult is great as the "kill club" organiser who is obsessed with solving old mysteries.
Worst thing: The resolution of the mystery felt far-fetched to me. A deal is struck between two characters which felt a little hard to swallow.
Charlize Theron is a fantastic actress. Like with the movie Young Adult, she plays a bitter and somewhat selfish character, though with her character's childhood trauma the attitude is more understandable here.
This film is an adaptation of a book from the same author who wrote Gone Girl and personally, I much preferred Dark Places. The characters felt more relateable.
I don't really understand why this hasn't received more positive attention. It's a star-studded adaptation from the director that brought us Sarah's Key and while Kristen Scott Thomas' powerful screen presence gives that film the edge, this is a very capable follow-up all the same.
If anything the problems would seem to lie with the original story. In a investigation into a mystery like this, the solution needs to pay off. Perhaps with less flashbacks and more present-day detective work this
could have been more satisfying?
Best thing: I'd forgotten how well the Rollerball games are portrayed. They don't have Tom Savini to splatter the arena with gore, but we get some serious violence all the same. How did I forget about the bit where one of the sportsmen is set on fire? But what really makes the games work is the way the drama surrounding the games builds the tension. (Rather like with real life sports I suppose?)
Worst thing: In the end, as much as I love dystopias, the one set up here doesn't entirely convice me. The treatment of women is one that I struggle to accept. In this world an 'executive' can arrange to be given an ordinary person's wife if he wants them. Major female characters in this film are almost always employed to spy on the protagonist so it's difficult to understand how they experience the dystopian regime.
I'd say that this was the real inspiration for The Hunger Games. A highly politicised sports game intended to distract from real life oppression and to send a message to the people about their own powerlessness.
While it's a very cool vision of the future, they didn't need to spend so long on building up that world. Rollerball feels way too long and not all the scenes outside of the arena were necessary to immerse us in the world. While I really like the scene where Jonathan goes to see the supercomputer, I do not think that scene was good for the pacing. With a runtime of over two hours, I think someone needed to trim some of the fat off this film.
Still Caan is awesome in the lead role, the games are really well handled and frankly it's insane to me that the remake was such utter trash. (I made the mistake of seeing the remake in the cinema.) With newer more expensive effects they could make the arena scenes even more spectacular. Then again they'd also need the emotional aspect to keep the audience on board. Who could fill James Caan's shoes?
99 Homes (2014)
Best thing: Michael Shannon plays a complete scumbag. In the very first scene he is basically joking about a suicide victim, with the dead body right in front of him. But Shannon gives this character real depth and at times he even becomes someone who we could almost admire for his ambition and drive. Though he's still very much an opportunist making money out of taking people's homes. A perfect villain.
Worst thing: Our protagonist really feels like he should have made more of a fuss when he crossed a serious line towards the end. Sure, he's conflicted, but there should have been an argument over it.
99 Homes is an absolutely gripping tale of a man corrupted by an unfair system. When Michael Shannon evicts his family, Andrew Garfield finds himself working for that same man. Ironically working to evict others from their homes just to get his home back.
The drama is driven by the characters and that is what makes it an so exciting. After the global recession, Shannon's villain is fantastically poignant. Gaining the world through exploiting the losses of others and thus losing his soul, only to lure Andrew Garfield down that same path.
(Side note about Garfield. This is quite a different performance from in the Spider-Man movies. But you know what wasn't all that different from his Spider-Man performance? Tom Holland in Civil War. Andrew Garfield set the mould for Peter Parker and I wish he were given more credit for that.)
Also a shout out to Laura Dern. I hear there are some who have never rated her as an actress. Hopefully with her recent roles in Wild and 99 Homes they will be changing their tune? (Personally I've always thought she was wonderful in Jurassic Park.)
The ending isn't all that satisfying, but I don't think it's supposed to be. It left me thinking a lot and that may actually be a strength.
99 Homes is a very strong drama which I highly recommend.
Fantastic Four (2015)
Best thing: The opening of the young Mr. Fantastic building his own teleporter (with a device that including N64 parts for some reason). The friendship between two kids trying out this incredible machine felt like something akin to the recent Stranger Things series. I must also point out that the villain, who is like a cross between Tetsuo (from Akira) and Darth Vader, going around blowing up people's heads is pretty great too.
Worst thing: The end scene where they have an incredibly badly written exchange where they choose their team name. Ugh!
Okay, so Josh Trank's first movie since his debut "Chronicle" is a mess. But then again Kate Mara's scenes wearing a blonde wig are a clear sign of how many late reshoots were involved.
The film feels drained. Trank never really lets things go off the rails, so this isn't a terrible blockbuster in the vain of a Transformers movie or Highlander 2. It's more of an indie movie problem. It's a bit slow and a bit dull.
While this is pure speculation, I think I know what the original plot was. I think the original film had more character moments and that the drama came from them being exploited by the government.
I think the response of Victor Von Doom when he leaves the other world is partly due to seeing how his colleagues are being treated. Perhaps particularly Sue, who he had a crush on. (What with Mr. Fantastic having left to work on a cure, that would mean we'd finally see what Sue really thinks of him, instead of just hearing the jealous comments towards Mr. Fantastic earlier.
Von Doom is unwilling to allow himself to be exploited (as was set up earlier). He isn't attacking the four because he sees them as victims, but he does attack the father because he sees their exploitation as a result of him betraying them. If we'd seen more of the exploitation from the government before Von Doom's arrival, the massacre he enacts might seem like overblown revenge instead of pure evil. In the final film his motive is unclear and I think that is because his motive is cut. We know he chooses to ditch our world in favour of the new world, but there are definite seeds sown to set up that change.
I think the anti-government sentiment along with the horrors of coming to terms with dramatic nightmarish changes to your body is what is missing here. Perhaps I'm wrong, but the first half seems to care about character in a way that isn't paid off in the second half.
Frankly this was still more enjoyable to watch than Man Of Steel. Everyone has more personality than Superman did in that film. But this is clearly a severely compromised work that had a lot of missed potential. And even sadder, the failure of this film has dampened plans to experiment with superhero concepts in ways which deviate from the source material.
With Chronicle Trank had already created one of the better superhero movies and I hope his misguidedly honest tweet doesn't prevent us from seeing more great films from him in the future.
Documentary Review - “Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison of Belief”
Learning about Scientology is always horriying. After watching a few docimentaries on Roman Catholic abuse scandals you wonder how Scientology could really be any worse. And certainly if you go to Islamist extremists groups and see IS training young children to be bloodthirsty monsters, it's clear that there are worse religious groups, but still Scientology is way scarier than it has any right to be.
I hadn't ever heard the therapy ('auditing') sessions explained this well before. As well as explaining the problems of Scientology, the appeal of the religion is also expressed pretty clearly too.
This documentary also explains how significant granting Scientology religious status had. If they didn't get tax exempt status, all their assets combined would only have accounted for 1 quarter of the bill they were facing. It would have destroyed them.
They fought for tax exempt status by getting their members to bombard the IRS and IRS officials with endless lawsuits. When they discovered that just recognising Scientology as an official religion would be enough to stop this, the IRS gave in.
The FBI had been investigating Scientology for forced labour and human trafficking. But when a court case regarding these same issues was dropped on the grounds that the activities being referred to were legitmate elements of the Scientology 'religion', the FBI also dropped their investigations. It's horrifying!
We also get a lot of interesting interviews with L Ron Hubbard along with revealing interviews about the man. The religion has been run by David Miscavage (seemingly progressing into a kind of Stalinist style of leadership) since L Ron Hubbard's death, but Hubbard's approach has shaped what the religion became.
It's amusing to hear that the ex-Scientologists were dumbfounded by the insane 3rd rate science-fiction mythology for the Scientology religion. Yet interestingly the bizarreness of the mythology became a further source of guilt and anxiety. By the time they receive this mythology they are so invested in Scientology (and let's not forget the high fees for auditing sessions) that they can't really laugh away the 'secret information' the Church of Scientology hands to them.
This is a fascinating documentary and everyone should check it out if they want to know how Scientology works and the extent of the harm the organisation causes.
Best thing: There are some very active scenes in Don't Breathe and the film gives us a great sense of where the characters are in the house. There's a great use of the setting and some great choreography.
Worst thing: In one scene it appears to be confirmed that all the windows are barred and yet our protagonist is somehow knocked outside. This is one of the very few points in the film where the action isn't fantastically clear. While I can presume that perhaps the wall was weaker at that spot, it's unfortunate that the action becomes unclear at that moment when everything was so carefully displayed everywhere else in the film.
Normally I don't like horror films that function by trying to make you jump, but what is different about Don't Breathe is that all the jump scare noises are real noises that the characters in the story would hear. There aren't any "this is a horror movie, throw your popcorn over yourself now"-type boom noises.
Don't Breathe does use the screetchy, whistley noises to build up tension and atmosphere but not obtrusively so and I was mostly too caught up in the action to notice.
The reversed home invasion premise is a lot of fun. Burglars dealing with a blind war veteran who is capable and ruthless with more concern with how to get out rather than how to stop anyone coming in.
Really gripping work from the director of the Evil Dead remake. It feels like he has more freedom here and the results are wonderful.
Kubo And The Two Strings (2016)
Best thing: There are countless awesome visual set-pieces in this film and part of me thinks I should pick one of the action sequences where those visuals are particularly well choreographed. However, what really makes action sequences work is our investment in the characters, so I'm going to say that the performances of Kubo's companions by Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey (did anyone else think that voice was George Clooney?) and the wonderful way they interacted was best.
Worst thing: There's really not much I didn't like here, but (staying vague to avoid spoilers), doesn't the ending rather confuse the message of the story? If stories are a way people continue after they die, what does that say about made-up stories? Is he really going to tell stories about how nice that guy is? While that might be a good idea doesn't it defeat the message if you tell stories that are COMPLETE mistruths?
Kubo and the Two Strings is breathtaking stop-motion animation work from the studio Laika.
Right now I'd say Kubo is my favourite Laika film, but it's difficult to say since I've loved all Laika films. I feel that the films have been developing consistently better and better.
The performances are wonderful, the visuals are gorgeous and for the first time Laika are working on a fantasy adventure (though there are still plenty of horrifying monsters and creepy other-worldly entities).
With a mixture of sadness, comedy and general enthralling spectacle Kubo and the Two Strings is a very special cinematic experience.
Best thing: When one character who deserves to be killed by demons more than anyone turns out to be fine, our protagonist seemingly can't believe it and takes what he believes to be the appropriate action. For me, that is the funniest gag in the film.
Worst thing: The villainous group that want the black hymn are a bit lame. It feels like the girlfriend could get more attention, but the character that really gets short shrift is the female member of the villainous Satanic group.
What if metal was really connected to demons? That's the suitably ludicrous premise of this hilarious horror comedy. At the centre is the friendship between him and his amoral fellow metalhead. The result is an excellent addition to the list of awesome horror comedies.
The filmmakers are able to make this work as well as they do due to a clear fondness for the metal genre of music. The film is able to play on the more ridiculous aspects of the culture while also showing a clear love for it. The humour gets better in the second half when the action really ramps up. The characters and premise are set up well in the first half so that by the second half the pacing just doesn’t let up at all.
Best thing: When relatively early on the villain makes a big gesture to make very clear just how committed he is to murdering the protagonist. It's a very effective and dramatic moment.
Worst thing: At one point the protagonist chucks a light into the woods and the killer goes after it. I'm not entirely clear on why he does that considering how careful most of his other decisions are.
I quite liked Mike Flanagan's movie Oculus but Hush actually now has me excited to check out anything he directs. It's a fantastically well made movie. Very well constructed with a protagonist who clearly puts careful thought into her actions.
The premise of a deaf woman facing a home invasion situation felt like it could end up showing how easily a woman with a disability can be victimised. But on the contrary, her deafness simply adds a new aspect to her character and allows for a more creative script. A very neat twist on the genre with a fantastic central performance.
Ju-On: The Grudge 2 (2003)
Best thing: One sequence of events surrounding a mysterious banging in a flat resolves in a way that is both clever and horrifying. It's probably my favourite part of all the Ju-On/Grudge films I've seen so far.
Worst thing: The ending is unfortunate after such excellent horror beforehand. Introducing a new ill-defined character at the last minute needed to be handled better than this.
This is the first of the Ju-On movies to make use of the visual effect which makes Kayako's jerky motions seem particularly unnatural. I found it rather odd when I watched the first Ju-On: The Grudge movie and saw Kayako simply crawling down the stairs after already having seen this wonderful effect used in the remake. Takashi Shimizu seemed to have upstaged himself with his own effects. But this film has no such issues. The creepy special effects work is all top notch.
What didn't work for me so well here was the mixed up timeline. The curse strikes anyone who goes into the house, so you can imagine my confusion at seeing someone already affected by the curse later entering the house for the first time.
I felt that the first Japanese Ju-On: The Grudge movie was too slow without a decent payoff. The same cannot be said of the sequel. While the plot isn't up to much, all the different segments of the film feature very effective horror sequences expertly executed. If I hadn't been so disappointed by the ending I might be calling this my favourite Grudge movie.
The Grudge 3 (2009)
Best thing: The opening scenes involve a pretty cool death involving some quite cool effects.
Worst thing: While the drama scenes surrounding the kills are pretty well acted, they don't build up a horror atmosphere. We don't really get a horror movie. Instead, whiny soap opera antics tackling the difficulties of holding down a job seem entirely separate from the supernatural kill scenes.
I spent most of this film trying to work out where I'd seen the female lead before. Her face was really familiar. Turns out she's Johanna Braddy, the actress who plays Jenny Matrix in the online series VGHS. (I'd suggest you all watch that instead of The Grudge 3.) The actors are all pretty great here, but there is absolutely no horror atmosphere. We have a drama about a family that are getting their income through the now-haunted tenement building and there's a child with high medical bills who needs extra-special care. Meanwhile the older of the two sisters wants to move away to study. The oldest brother is looking after the family, presumably because their parents are dead. It's all very soap opera and not really fantastically exciting.
The deaths often involve some fairly neat effects, but there's not much build-up. The drama scenes feel mostly unrelated to the scenes where the grudge kills tenants. Quite early on there's some cool security camera footage of someone being brutally murdered by the grudge, but like with all these scenes, the build up is too short and the creeiness quickly disappears when we get back into the more mundane family antics.
The Grudge 3 suffers from the loss of Takashi Shimizu. The new director simply doesn't seem to have the knack for developing a creepy atmosphere consistently through the film.
A Frankenstein Story (aka Closer To God) (2014)
Best thing: I give this a lot of credit for taking the cloning debate seriously, even while pushing a creepy horror vibe. We don't get the impression that the clone is evil. I was especially impressed with the handling of the initial press conference where the scientist responsible draws attention towards the question of malformed clones, but the media are too focussed on moral outrage. Perhaps a little unfair on the media, but at least the writers understand the issues.
Worst thing: When the story of the baby clone is completely hi-jacked by the story of a bizarrely super-strong earlier clone maddened by pain. The shift into a slasher format isn't a betrayal of the earlier part of the film, but it's pretty disappointing all the same. The absurd rantings of the religious protesters are pretty terrible too, but I can believe that religious protester rantings could easily be that stupid in real life.
The central performance of the scientist who develops the first human clone is pretty great. All the performances here are pretty good. The build up of tension is also very well-orchestrated. I feel like the only problem is the uninspiring third act.
A Frankenstein Story (awful UK title by the way) is strongest in the way it handles the situation of the scientist after the clone is revealed. Avoiding their location being exposed to the media or opposing religious groups. When it turns into a slasher film, it doesn't feel earned. It feels like the main plot has been hi-jacked.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Best thing: There are essentially two sources of comedy in this film. One is Ralph Fiennes and his relationship with the central protagonist Zero. Ralph Fiennes plays an incredibly charming and yet totally self focussed eccentric gentleman. The trailer had me expecting a Basil Fawlty type of hotel manager who complains about everything and everyone. Instead he turns out to have a very hands-on and efficient but overbearing management style; certainly not the Fawlty Towers incompetence. I also loved how he would regularly give up on politeness and start swearing. I think John Cleese is a definite inspiration for this performance.
Worst thing: The other source of comedy is the constant quick cuts. The side characters don't really get much time for proper development and often one gag is stopped dead by a quick cut to the next one. Saoirse Ronan's character seems particularly stunted by the preference for quick cut visuals over dialogue. But the worst use of this style is the framing device. This film seemingly would never start and took ages to end. Introducing us to a monument to the author and then to the author as an older man, then to the author as a younger bored-looking Jude Law, then to the protagonist as an older man. Then finally we get to see Ralph Fiennes and start the blooming story. The framing scenes are completely unnecessary and lead to excessive baggage to tidy up in the final scenes.
I've never quite understood Wes Anderson. I saw Royal Tennenbaums and I don't even remember what I thought of that. It just completely failed to make an impression. I liked the animated bits of The Life Aquatic and not much else, so I thought I might like Fantastic Mr Fox. I ended up hating the way Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox ditched Roald Dahl's source material in favour of an insufferable version of Ocean's Eleven with animals.
But so many people LOVED The Grand Budapest Hotel, so I figured I should probably give it a shot. The upshot of that? It's okay. Ralph Fiennes is amazing, but I'm afraid the style seriously grated on me. It's so annoying that the film keeps pulling us away from Ralph Fiennes to watch Jude Law looking vaguely interested and punctuating the storytellers words with 'he saids' and 'he continueds'.
So nearly wonderful, but Wes Anderson is lacking a decent sense of timing. His quick cutting visual style makes the whole film jolt around, constantly dragging itself to a halt.
Some Russians wander around being pseudo-intellectual with dialogue that wouldn't be out of place in My Dinner With Andre. The film's world-building around The Zone is so enigmatic as to be pretty much meaningless. There's more colour in the zone and that's about it.
Sci-fi classic? Nah, just a waste of time.
Queen Of Earth
Such incredibly annoying, navel-gazing and totally unrelatable characters. "I love you more than anything in the world you little brat." The trailer made me think this was about a friendship that breaks down, but the two girls seem to completely hate each other from the start. Nobody seems to get along with anyone and nobody particularly feels like a real person. Both unconvincing AND boring.
Best thing: There are so many wonderfully funny moments in this film, but I think I particularly loved the fighting girl scouts.
Worst thing: One great recurring joke is the "I chose the wrong week to quit smoking" gag. My problem isn't so much with how often it is repeated as the way the actor makes faces for the camera in one of the later iterations. Acknowledging the audience can make for good comedy, but it was out of place here.
I think I now enjoy this film better than I did the first time I watched it. The humour seemed jarring to me the first time around. But I think it's incredible how well this still holds up for an audience who may not know any of the pop culture references.
Most people who enjoy this probably haven't seen Saturday Night Fever, never mind the disaster film where they start playing guitar to a sick child.
Though endlessly quotable, Airplane's greatest strength is its visual humour. Wacky and hilarious even if it was sometimes too random for me to get as invested as I would have liked.
Police Squad tv series (1982)
Excellent! I particularly love the street shoe shiner who "wouldn't know anything about that"... until he's given some money and then suddenly he's a world class expert on anything from crime to firefighting to surgery to existential philosophy.
Rewatching Naked Gun after this series, I couldn't help but find it had been diminished somewhat. So many of the gags are repeated. I still adore the movie though, but if you have the time - I'd say the tv series is actually preferable. (Though why not watch both?)
Top Secret! (1984)
Best thing: Much of the pleasure of this film comes from sheer absurdity. One scene in particular was fascinating since it was clearly performed in reverse and then the voices were recorded with the film reversed. It must have been very carefully choreographed.
Worst thing: Val Kilmer gives a really underwhelming performance here. I know that he can be funny, but here all the humour seems to occur around him. I also found the regular musical numbers often interrupted the comedy in a way that was frustrating.
The funniest stuff is in the background. Val Kilmer isn’t funny at all. The musical segments are generally pretty boring. I wanted to like this and there are aspects that are great, but the film as a whole did not appeal.
Naked Gun 2 1/2 (1991)
Best thing: The escaped zoo animals become a running gag and one lion attack in particular had me in hysterics.
Worst thing: The film takes a little while to get started. The opening fancy dinner scene isn’t as strong as the many other sequences later in the film.
Once it gets going, the sequel to Naked Gun reaches similar heights to the first movie. Comedy sequels often struggle to find an interesting way to repeat the same joke, but there were still a lot of gags left from the tv series. Richard Griffiths really brings a lot of charm as the environmental scientist.
So many great sequences and, after a slow start, this does reach the same heights as the first movie.
Naked Gun 33 1/3 (1994)
Best thing: While the humour isn't nearly up to the same standard as the last two films, there are still quality moments. For me, the best moment is the prison riot. It's a scene chock full of creativity.
Worst thing: I'm so glad our culture seems to have moved past this now, but I'm afraid Naked Gun 3 1/3 has a joke about how disgusting someone transitioning to female must be. It includes our protagonist throwing up. I know it's showcasing what an idiot he is, but the problem is that it's simply not funny.
A lot of the sketches here don’t work quite as well as before. The film’s timing as a whole seems off and somehow the film seems a little overly goofy. Everyone is now playing up to the character, and even our protagonist seems to do so more than usual. It’s like they forgot to include straight man characters for Nielsen to play off. Also I guess Anna Nicole Smith was big back then, but her scenes really don’t work. I can’t say if that’s entirely her fault though. The fact that she is being objectified seems to be the joke in all her scenes, so she never really has much to work with. (Actually she has a lot to work with *insert boob joke here*.... Jeez, was that necessary?)
But despite that, much of what we enjoyed in the first two movies is still here. They’ve pretty much exhausted the gags from the tv show by this time, but in the right scenes this film still gets pretty inventive. Nothing like on the same level as the other two films and often a little cringey, but you won’t regret checking it out to complete the trilogy.
Best thing: Our unfortunate father figure tries to not simply commit suicide, but to behead himself. This sequence is quite darkly comic.
Worst thing: The clown demon is not the interesting trickster villain or terrifying force of nature I thought we were building to. Instead we get a pretty run-of-the-mill humanoid monster.
When the clown cancels on the morning of his son's clown-themed party, the estate agent father doesn't know what to do. He feels very lucky to discover a clown outfit in the house he is working on. But the next day, he doesn't seem to be able to take the outfit off. The wig seems to be attached to his head. Even power tools seem unable to remove the clothing.
Peter Stormare is typically awesome as the source of the twisted Scandinavian artifact, but the real strength of the film is the family drama. With both this film and “Cop Car”, director Jon Watts has a knack for stories about children. In the background of the killer clown suit is the consequences for the marriage and the effects on their child.
Sadly, while the build up is fantastic, the final reveal of the monster does not live up to expectations. It's not bad, but it's fairly derivative. The clown monster is fairly by-the-numbers, while some footage of a previous host suggested something much more haunting and potentially with a richer mythology. If the basis of the clown is a colourful monster that lures in children, shouldn't the creature be something more than just a super strong clown with pale skin, sharp teeth and a growling voice?
This is an interesting little horror film with much to recommend it, but the reveal of the monster is underwhelming. The cool elements are the ways characters respond to the threat. The father dealing with his transformation or the mother wrestling with whether to sacrifice another child to save her own. Jon Watt’s "Clown" had potential to be an unmissable horror film and instead it's just a neat curiosity.
We Are What We Are (2013)
I'd heard that this was an improvement on the original. The problem with the original for me was the incredibly slow pacing and the really long wait for not much payoff. I really couldn't relate to any of the characters.
Unfortunately the best thing about the original feels lacking in the remake. The original Mexican film felt deeply unnerving. That tension is mostly missing from Jim Mickle’s (Stake Land) version.
Within the original, the family had a sense of honour and shame connected to the ritual. The older brother was trying and failing to feel worthy of taking their father's place at the head of the family. Meanwhile the mother is angry with the dead father for going to prostitutes (though the twist on this somewhat more typical complaint is that he may have been going to prostitutes to ritually kill them and feed them to his family).
In the remake there's not really the same intense family drama. In the original, the sons were prepared to do whatever they could to gain acceptance from their mother and it was all part of their family custom. In this film, the father seems to be recognised as unhinged and his daughters don’t seem to completely accept his activities as just “the way things should be done”. Even while upping the pacing and making the film more active, the new film all somehow feels tame. It’s not really doing anything terribly interesting with the original premise.
It's probably not a good sign that this remake has me looking back fondly on the prior film which I actively hated. Still, perhaps this is more enjoyable for those who come to it fresh. It's capably made and a great deal easier to watch without falling asleep. But even with the better pacing, I still find the film fails to properly hold my interest.
House On Haunted Hill (1959)
Best thing: Great sense of fun all round, but particularly Vincent Price.
Worst thing: I know it's part of the fun, but why do the old servants float across the floor?
Very silly and so much fun. House On Haunted Hill is a classic fun black and white horror comedy. It never really gets particularly scary, but the central premise of being locked in a haunted house as part of a rich couple's special event is a good source of tension.
The plot gets a little convoluted at times. Not complicated, but there's a somewhat unconvincing twist and not everything seemed to add up by the end. That doesn't really matter though. The important thing is the awesome sense of fun which persists throughout. Loved it!
Review of The Last Witch Hunter (2015)
Best thing: Beautiful imagery e.g. witches with charms to make them beautiful see their real ugly faces in the mirror as they apply their make-up. (Also the trail of jelly babies leading to a jelly baby tree is very cool.)
Worst thing: Vin Diesel's central performance. He's not exactly bad, but he's a very uncharismatic hero and just seems to play this character way too much like Riddick. Those of us who have seen "Find Me Guilty" know that Vin Diesel can play more interesting characters than this.
This is very much a simplistic blockbuster plot and the action scenes aren't all that exciting, yet this is a film which thrives on its effects work. It certainly helps that we have a smorgasbord of exciting acting talent: Michael Caine, Elijah Wood, Joe Gilgun (This Is England), Rose Leslie (Game Of Thrones). With the effects work and the performances we really get the sense of this intricate urban fantasy setting and I found myself getting quite excited.
There are a few too many scenes that make it feel like they are trying to set up a franchise, though I give them full credit for the amount of effort that went into this. I can barely believe this is the same director who made the Crazies remake.
There are so many wonderful distinctive moments in this film and they often tie well into the story. There's an apocalyptic vision of the city reclaimed by nature projected into the protagonist's mind. There's also a memory that Diesel searches for regarding his death and when we see it, we can see him as a burned up husk that is still inexplicably alive.
Visually this film is amazing. Apart from Vin Diesel in the lead role this also features a selection of powerhouse acting performances. Unfortunately Vin Diesel cannot carry this film, the action sequences aren't terribly inspired, and the story comes off, overall, a bit flat. But there was just so much potential here.
This was incredibly underrated, it was so nearly wonderful. And it's still a fun little film, in spite of its flaws. A very cool little fantasy movie.
Mississippi Burning (1988)
Best thing: Gene Hackman's quirky character who reconises the need to avoid being too idealistic, understands the culture of Mississippi and does a better job walking between the lines than his partner. Hackman's performance is full of energy.
Worst thing: The unbelievable fantasy ending which wraps up the story happily by dynamic between the characters set up in the first half and by giving the bad guys the comeuppance they deserve rather than the light slap on the wrist the real life figures received.
I was loving this film during the first act. Gene Hackman really puts on a hell of a performance and his Columbo style way of de-escalating tensions and taking people offguard was really clever. Willem Dafoe was also great as the highly idealistic partner whose over-blown actions often make matters worse. But the film loses all sense of how this dynamic works and by the end their roles are suddenly reversed. Gene Hackman's character is no longer interested in his subtle and more effective approach and Willem Dafoe becomes the one asking him to tone it down and proceed more carefully.
And the solution was to get a black guy to threaten the mayor and have the mayor promise not to tell anyone? Surely nobody with any sense is fooled by this script for one minute....
Finders Keepers (2014)
Best thing: The child actor playing the little girl may actually be the best actor in the entire cast.
Worst thing: Marina Sirtis, mainly known for Deanna Troi in Star Trek TNG, is absolutely terrible and has some kind of offputting attempt at an American accent with a regular very English inflection coming into it. She plays the loud eccentric mad cat lady from next door. Not the most rewarding role, but a pretty terrible performance even taking that into account.
Well this is about as cheesy and lame as horror gets. The film barely even cares about its own mythology. The well-informed lecturer reminds us that the doll in the film is not a voodoo doll, only for the doll to function pretty much exactly like a voodoo doll. Boring jump-scares galore and no fun.
Satan's Slave (1976)
Best thing: There was a pretty cool creepy tone reminiscent of the Italian horror style. So dreamlike does the film become that when am attempt is made to convince a character that everything they saw was a bad dream, I almost believed it!
Worst thing: We needed more of a payoff. Even just shoving in more gore might have done the trick. This horror film is a bit slow and a bit tame and as a result it drags.
I found this quite interesting to check out, but in the end it dragged unnecessarily and didn't really have enough bite. But an intriguing low budget effort all the same. A Satanic cult, a creepy family, a girl with psychic abilities. Interesting ideas and some interesting execution in places, but not terribly satisfying overall.
Legally Blonde (2001)
Best thing: The final trial brings everything together: The way our protagonist is misunderstood, the interplay between the characters, the sense of fun. A good ending can really make a film and this final third act climax helps to wrap the film in a much-needed bow. Reece Witherspoon's central performance is wonderful, but she can only take this cheesy film so far.
Worst thing: Where our central character recommends a move to attract men that she calls the "Bend and Snap". A whole bunch of characters act out this absurd move and a stereotypical gay man turns up to approve. Later in the film, the movie insinuates that all gay men know about fashion and that bisexual men basically don't exist. It's an unfortunate flaw in this fun silly movie.
Legally Blonde isn't on the same level as Clueless, but it has a similar brightly-coloured silly charm. It's also not on the same level as Reece Witherspoon's black comedy Election. However, Legally Blonde deserves credit as a better than average disposable rom-com. The performances help to elevate this so, despite the law lectures at the top-of-the-line law school often involving fairly basic law info, we enjoy following them enough not to mind too much.
It's a character-focused and fun film that is more than worth a look.
La Vie En Rose (2007)
Best thing: Marion Cotilliard is barely recognisable in her highly expressive and physical performance as Parisian singer Edith Piaf.
Worst thing: The timeline is incredibly confusing, with three parts of Edith Piaf's life being followed simultaneously. To make things more confusing, at one point late on in the film we have a title card of "five years later". I have no idea when half the scenes were taking place, yet I know that two of those scenes are five years apart. I'm not entirely sure whether they were claiming that Edith Piaf spent those whole five years deteriorating in rehab or not. It's a pity that the timeline is so jumbled.
Biopics are tough to pull off. They often try the same old tricks to make a lifetime into a three act story and inevitably the ending tends to me something to do with their death. La Vie En Rose mixes the structure up by mixing up the timeline, but the real thing that sets La Vie En Rose apart is the way it captures the central character, sometimes twisting reality to give scenes some real impact. Edith Piaf is an amazing character and her life story is gripping. This film captures her life story fantastically.
The Ring (2002)
Best thing: Naomi Watts plays a more self-assured and quirky version of the mother/journalist character from the original Ring. The original character felt a bit wet to me and that's certainly not true of Naomi Watts here.
Worst thing: The remake of Ring is much more of a jump scare fuelled affair, though not as much as I remembered. The first time I saw it the sound system had me really feeling all the atmospheric sound effects trying to make me jump, but this time around it didn't seem so insistent. Still the jump scare noise before Naomi Watts finds a millipede is still stupid. Another stupid jump scare is where one of the bodies is discovered. Also, particularly ridiculous is Brian Cox's death scene. (He set up a load of electrical equipment in his bathroom just because Naomi Watts showed up?) But the daftest part, to my mind, is where the film expects me to be creeped out by a ladder leaning against a building. Has our protagonist never heard of window cleaners?
Many seem to prefer this version to the original and I cannot even begin to fathom why. For me, the over-dramatic musical cues and the regular attempts to use loud noises to alarm the audience becomes incredibly distracting.
The filmmakers have tried to up the ante by using a range of creepy distinctive imagery/effects. The stand-outs are probably the runaway horse and the fly that escapes from a television screen. But in a way the imagery distracts from the central threat from Sadako (now renamed Samara). In the original Japanese film the imagery in the deadly videotape all acted as clues to the identity of Sadako, but it's not clear that a ladder is terribly relevant. The American movie of The Ring is much of a ghost story and not the unique supernatural mystery that characterised the original.
One piece of new imagery which I thought still pushed the mystery forward was where the ex-husband sees his face distorted in CCTV footage in a corner shop. That was an effective new piece of imagery which didn't feel superfluous to the story.
One reviewer I read praised the sequel for having a version of Sadako who actively misleads the protagonists. But in the original Ring, Sadako doesn't care whether the protagonists solve the mystery or not. She's not misleading them. She simply broadcasts her hatred and anyone who receives the signal dies. Making Samara a character that can be 'helped' is to follow the ridiculous idea of a ghost made more powerful by having died. (Ghost stories so often suggest that dying can give you superpowers.)
I'd also note that if the child in this film knows that they shouldn't help Samara, perhaps he could have mentioned that information earlier? He really feels like the kid from the Shining if that kid were permanently stuck in RED RUM mode. He's such a creepy weirdo rather than sweetly quirky like the kid in the original film.
I find The Ring to be cheesy, far more generic than the original and a bit of a slog. Too many parts just strike me as plain stupid for me to give it much credit. And when its sole existence is to re-sell a great film to audiences who don't like subtitles, I feel quite justified in dismissing it.
Rings (2005) - short film
Best thing: A security guard for an electronics store stops our desperate 'ring' member from broadcasting the cursed video. It was a cool moment because the security guard's recognition shows how widespread knowledge of the evil video has become.
Worst thing: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake director (Jonathan Liebesman) made this and while the shorter runtime suits him, the film still has that same washed out look and the actors still look way too made-up as is often seen in Platinum Dunes movies (i.e. Bay-produced horror remakes). Some may remember that the Nightmare On Elm Street remake had incredibly well-groomed kids apparently suffering from sleep deprivation and the Friday 13th remake featured a girl who had apparently been kidnapped and kept underground for several months, yet looked like she'd just had a makeover. Rings isn't really so bad and the protagonist does look genuinely traumatised by his experiences, but the characters generally seem pretty flat, playing second fiddle to the snazzy (yet pale washed-out) effects work and everyone's fantastic hair just makes it all seem that much less real.
Well, whoever wrote this seems to actually understand the originally intended meaning of the word "ring". All this "before you die, you see the ring" stuff is just so annoying. The Japanese version didn't have a ring image in the cursed tape footage.
I actually think the way this short film makes use of the symbolism of the first movie is more effective. They even make the milipede work better by having our protagonist puke out a huge one that distorts in a way indicative of a television broadcast. Still weird but much more genuinely striking and creepy instead of relying on the jump-scare background noise.
This short film is a little unsatisfying, but it's still good enough to get viewers excited about the next movie which is essentially its purpose. Apparently the next American movie will have this title and I'm quite interested to see what is done with the concept.
The short film Rings is fine. Quite music video-y but a good appetiser nonetheless.
The Ring Two (2005)
Best thing: Great imagery. A bath scene where water rises to the ceiling is spectacular. We also have some awesome shambling Samara movements as she climbs the well in a climactic piece of imagery.
Worst thing: To up the ante from the runaway horse scene in the previous film, this time we have a big herd of deer acting strangely. The CG required for this scene does not hold up well. I still thought the scene in question was creepy and dramatic though.
So this was a flop? I don't get it. This has a genuine mystery, some great imagery, doesn't rely on stupid jump scares. Seems to me, they brought in the original Ring director and he upped the game in every respect.
Yes that's right, I thought this was BETTER than the first American Ring movie.
Are there problems? Sure. But apart from some unfortunately dated CG in one scene, I'd say all the problems were set up in the previous film.
We can't introduce the quirky doctor who knew Naomi Watts' psychic ex-husband in medical school because, in this universe, the ex-husband was neither psychic nor in medical school. Tying him into story through the girl in the mental hospital doesn't work so well either since Watts already pretty much tied up that loose end in the last movie.
So instead Naomi Watts needs to solve her problem with her son without a hare-brained plan to absorb the energy in a swimming pool. That solution simply wouldn't follow naturally. The alternative, which I won't spoil here, felt a little awkward. Still I am impressed by the decision to make use of the biological mother to keep the mystery going. Unlike in the Japanese films, the mother of Samara in the last film was a foster mother. That means Watts is able to track down the biological mother to get some extra clues.
The son is still a bit creepy, though I felt that at the start of the film they'd toned that down a bit, if only to contrast with his later behaviour when Samara possesses him. I get the impression that the spirit possession plot threw American audiences for a loop. Having not only already seen the original Ring 2, but also the failed sequel Rasen (Spiral) before it, I find it hard to empathise with the negative response Ring Two has received. While I found some imagery like milipedes and ladders were unintentionally hilarious last time around, this time I feel Hideo Nakata did about as good a job as could have been hoped for in continuing that version of the mythology and I was impressed.
Sadako 3D (2012)
Best thing: Sadako-shaped animalistic monsters with huge legs and bloodstained mouths. The only genuinely creepy thing in the whole film. The tension in the scenes where they appear isn't exploited terribly well by the filmmakers, but they are still a cool creepy design.
I also liked how the video screens where our protagonist sees Sadako taunting her keep reverting to a J-pop music video. It's a great example of this film's wonderful sense of fun.
Worst thing: Rather than collapsing with contorted faces (or dying of some unrecognisable version of smallpox, as was claimed in Spiral, the more faithful and yet utterly dire adaptation of the second Ring novel), the victims now commit suicide. But one victim appears with a ridiculous Sadako wig (having presumably sprouted Sadako-esque hair instantaneously after seeing the cursed video clip). In a film with a lot of ridiculous elements, that scene just went too far for me.
The Sadako 3D films seem generally recognised as trash so my expectations were lowered (though goodness knows why after how underrated I found Ring Two). Admittedly, Sadako 3D IS trashy, but in quite an enjoyable way. And yes, the cursed videotape is now a cursed video clip on the internet...
Sadako 3D's manga style is a blessing and a curse. It has a level of creativity that the movie series needed, but it's a little silly and melodramatic, yet the characters also have a wonderful charm to them. When the protagonist's boyfriend says encouraging words to her in a flashback to high school, I found my spirits lifted enormously in that scene. So sweet!
Sure we start the film with a maniacal cackling villain and we are very clearly in a comic book world, but I've got to say, I found it was a lot of fun. It almost doesn't matter that nothing in this film is actually even remotely scary.
Sadako's powers have changed a bit. Instead of just a corrosive grip or a symbolic shamble towards doomed victims, Sadako now leaps from computer screens and can also strangle victims with her hair. We even see her form a kind of hair cocoon at one point. Certainly it's a bit silly, but there's an intentional sweet and silly tone consistent throughout.
I also need to address some misinformation spread all across the internet in regards to this film. Every English-speaking website seems to claim that Sadako 3D is a sequel to Rasen. That is utter nonsense! Ring 2 ended with Sadako's body returned to ths sea, but her spirit clearly still tied to the well and desperate to be reborn. (The story is resolved with Sadako seemingly no longer a threat, but then in Sadako 3D she only becomes a threat again because the over-the-top villain invokes her.) Rasen, however, finished with Sadako already reborn (alongside one of the heroes from the first movie, now unexpectedly in league with her). If Sadako 3D were a sequel to Rasen, wouldn't we need some explanation as to where her fully grown clone with all her memories has disappeared to? No, Sadako 3D still has Sadako's spirit stuck in the well. It is clearly a sequel to Ring 2. If the filmmakers really intended it as a sequel to Rasen then they clearly forgot how that movie finished and couldn't be bothered to check (because nobody cares about Rasen).
Sadako 3D was very nearly a solid film and, while trashy and often daft, has a lot of appeal due to some serious charm. For fans of the Ring movies I would actually recommend checking it out. It's not all that great, but I don't think Ring fans will regret having seen it.
Best thing: Occasionally this film goes full Evil Dead with Sadako victims acting like deadites. At one point we see Sadako's well overflowing with blood. My favourite Evil Dead moment features a possessed woman getting her hair trapped in a shredder only to start swinging a whole shredding machine at the protagonist by her hair!
Worst thing: Last time we had a man spontaneously growing long black hair. This time we have a full train of them! There are a lot of unintentional laugh out loud moments, often when the film is aiming to be creepy and a train full of overacting men in suits sprouting long computer-generated black hair while convulsing on the spot really took the biscuit. What was supposedly meant to be a horrifying string of Sadako victims came off as one of the daftest points in the film.
I feel like the filmmakers of Sadako 3D 2 don't quite understand what worked about the first movie. They seem to understand that the first film wasn't scary enough and whatever they still lack in fear they now make up for with gore. We have some really dark manga-esque moments related to our protagonist's memories of her mother's suicide. A bathtub full of blood is used as a recurring image.
Unfortunately there is little familiar here. The main character appears to have died and the boyfriend is constantly at work. His sister is now the protagonist dealing with a creepy Sadako-esque child who draws images of people dying giving all of them Sadako hair. We get a scene dedicated to the villain from the last film, even though he should be dead.
The story felt a bit repetitive and dull for the most part. The child seems more of a character than the sister looking after her, but she's too enigmatic and quiet for us to really relate to. Her father is infuriatingly neglectful, shocked by any suggestion that his child might be connected to the shocking deaths occurring all around her, yet seemingly not interested in looking into what is clearly a reappearance of Sadako.
When the sceptical detective from the last film outlines the situation to the new detective on the case I love how the new detective confesses: "I have no idea what you are talking about." It's refreshing to hear someone acknowledge that the backstory of a psychic who wants to be reborn is batshit crazy.
As cool as all the suicide-related imagery was, it was a major downer. This film had more unintentionally funny moments too which made for an awkward contrast with the darker tone. The reveals in the third act get pretty nuts and sadly they also get pretty exposition-heavy.
Sadako 3D 2 isn't exactly terrible. Sure, it's not a good film, but it's still quite watchable. I'd certainly rather watch this than Rasen or even the Korean remake. But Sadako 3D 2 is one hell of a mess.