2013 / Director. Bill Condon.
In THE FIFTH ESTATE Laura Linney's character questions how history will judge Julian Assange. Even now in 2014 while he is still holed up inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, her question is valid and is fundamental to Assange's platform. Some consider him a hero while others condemn him as a traitor but only time itself will reveal which he is to be... and THE FIFTH ESTATE comes along and paints him in a very poor light and it's very difficult to swallow (for me at least). Firstly it's an American film and the USA is Wikileaks' enemy #1 and while Assange is at first portrayed as a commendable champion of freedom the film gradually takes him on a downward spiral that reduces his figure to little more than a mentally retarded lunatic. I took exception with this. I am personally undecided on my opinion of Julian Assange but I know from the media and interview coverage I have seen that his is not the same personality depicted here. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Assange and he gets full props for his exceptional Australian accent. He nails it. But his whole persona is off kilter. I didn't buy this depiction one bit. Daniel Brühl, on the other hand, is brilliant. Of course I am not familiar with the real life character of Daniel Schmitt and so my praise is purely from his on-screen resonance. I also found the script very plonky... that is to say that it's scattered and simplistic. Director Bill Condon uses a continuous series of fantasy images to depict the mysterious entity of Wikileaks itself and I found these elements to be really contrived and manipulative. He also refers back to Assange's childhood experience with a dangerous cult, which seemed desperate to me. The whole cult thing as Assange's "reason" is absurd and for a better look into that chapter of his life, the Australian film UNDERGROUND is a much better examination. This film does not seem like a fair portrayal of someone as culturally and historically significant as Julian Assange and it plays out more like a collective point of view from an angry America. THE FIFTH ESTATE may as well have been produced by Fox News.
2013 / Director. Jeff Tremaine.
BAD GRANDPA is a big fat wad of hilarity. I am a self-confessed JACKASS fan and puerile humour definitely floats my boat. Unlike the other JACKASS films, BAD GRANDPA adopts an actual narrative and tells the story of 80 year old Irvine (staple character from the previous films) who is travelling across America to deliver his grandson to his loser father. Along the way they catch unsuspecting victims with hysterical pranks and mishaps. In true JACKASS style these moments are caught with hidden cameras and the reactions are genuine. The style is exactly like BORAT and BRUNO and it's a refreshing change from the regular JACKASS format. Johnny Knoxville is at his brattish best but it's his 8 year old co-star who steals the show. Seriously, where is this kid's Oscar nomination? What a brilliant, brilliant little actor. This kid is on fire. His ability to ad-lib and keep a straight face while confronting grown adults with elaborate pranks is astonishing. His knack for delivering believable lines and responding to questions with intelligent answers blew me away. So if you're looking for a night of sophisticated champagne comedy then look elsewhere. BAD GRANDPA delivers the juvenile, thigh-slapping toilet humour in bucket loads. Great fun!!
2013 / Director. Cody Cameron & Kris Pearn.
Yeah, nah... CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 didn't do it for me. I lapped the first movie up like a dog to water and had let the trailers for this sequel get the better of me. Where the first movie had the enthusiastic and loveable scientist, Flint Lockwood, create a machine that turns water into food this sequel continues with his invention evolving and creating mutated food-creatures. Cheesespiders, Flamangos and Tacodiles are just some of the loony creations and the movie takes inspiration from films like JURASSIC PARK, KING KONG & MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. To say that these creature creations are marvellous is an understatement. They are amazing and marvellous... but sadly the same cannot be said about the story. It's certainly not where I would have come up with and the studio actually ignored the legitimate book sequel. Instead what they've come up with is a convoluted, generic and incredibly boring story of an evil scientist who plans to use the invention for his own sinister plan. Yawn. All that kept me from nodding off was the creature designs and the charm they brought to the screen. The first movie was jam packed with originality. There hadn't been anything like it before and it was 100% eye candy. Sadly part two is not a patch of the first one and probably wont find it's way back to my home theatre any time soon.
2013 / Director. Mark L Lester.
Today a friend of mine asked me why people watched crap creature feature movies and wondered what the appeal was. Naturally I took this opportunity to share my enthusiasm and explain my passion towards these schlocky flicks. If you're reading this then chances are you appreciate B-movies and so I wont bother delving into the allure of these beauties. So tonight, while my mind is on the genre, I thought I would give POSEIDON REX a whirl. Twenty years ago director Mark L Lester was making classics like CLASS OF 1984, SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO and COMMANDO (amongst others) and now he seems to be stuck making movies such as PTERODACTYL and POSEIDON REX. A prehistoric dinosaur and it's eggs are unearthed from a giant sink hole in the tropical oceans off Belize. Naturally the dino runs amok, killing fishermen and destroying buildings. It's a mini-Godzilla looking for chow and it's tacky and it's cheesy. The CGI is awful and the acting is as expected. The "smart" women still have their tits out (even when working in lab coats) and the men are mostly shirtless. It's a dodgy movie and certainly lacks the oomph of the competing movies from the likes of The Asylum and Roger Corman. Where their films are high concept and get every bang for their buck, this one flounders and feels like it struggled with whatever tax breaks the Belize government granted them. And unlike those other films (Mega Shark, Piranhaconda, Sharknado) POSEIDON REX lacks heart. It's missing a passion for the genre, as though everyone involved thought "what the fuck are we doing?". I wanted to have fun with this but too little happens and when it does, it's half-arsed. Shame.
2011 / Director. Padraig Reynolds.
Great poster art can be a powerful thing and RITES OF SPRING has some seriously cool artwork. Without knowing anything about it I was suckered by the cool title and a provoking image. Boy was I duped. Perhaps I would be unfair to call this movie a festering bowl of dog snot (thanks RJ) but I calls it how I sees it. The movie combines the home-invasion genre with a hostage/thriller angle crossing paths with a typical backwoods style horror film. It's a big fat mess of cliches and formulas. That's not to say that it hasn't got any great ideas because it's full of decent concepts, good gore and some genuinely creepy imagery... the problem is lousy direction and terrible cinematography... oh and bad acting, woeful lighting and an overblown score. At one point I'm certain an actor looked directly into the camera and almost every shot is handheld... and I'm talking wonky handheld. Even the static landscape shots are wonky. Were this a student film I might have been impressed but as a funded feature film it's pox. --- SPOILER ALERT --- the end scene is lifted straight out of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and the running time is just a tad over 60 minutes (the end credits roll at an ludicrously slow pace to stretch it out to 75 mins).
2012 / Director. Liz W Garcia.
Most of the reviews I have read for THE LIFEGUARD have been negative, bordering on scathing. I've read a whole lot of wanky, self-righteous bullshit and so I'm going to weigh in with a positive review. Not to go against the grain but because I took a lot away from this film. To start with it is a very misleading DVD cover... or at least I felt mislead. It presents itself as a comedy about self discovery and invigoration and while those concepts are prominent, the film goes a lot deeper into taboo areas that many people will reject. Kristen Bell plays a woman about to turn 30 who becomes fed up with the ugliness of city life and moves back to her hometown for a fresh start. She finds company in a group of teenage outcasts and begins to relive her teenage years. In doing so she indadvertedly drags her friends down with her and crosses all sorts of lines of morality. There's no question that the overall story arch is predictable and somewhat contrived, but the dramatic hurdles it takes from A to B are good. I did watch it with my teenage daughter and will warn you right now that most parents will not be comfortable doing that. The sex is explicit, the themes are heavy and the storyline is at times challenging... especially for a teenage mind. But I do think it's an important film for teens to see. I did struggle with a lot of the morally questionable behaviour of adults in THE LIFEGUARD and became insanely frustrated by it. The film is full of awful people doing awful things without very much redemption but it's that irritation towards them that struck a chord with me. I like to connect emotionally with a film, regardless of the type of emotion. Good performances, excellent cinematography and a wonderful soundtrack contribute to a solid little drama that happens to have flecks of comedy throughout. Not everyone's cup of tea, though.
1997. Director. Peyton Reed.
THE LOVE BUG '97 is the fifth instalment of the HERBIE series and is more or less the forgotten sequel. It was made as part of the WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY, which was an ongoing series of feature length films made exclusively for the Disney network. Many of the WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY films were fantastic and their quality was as worthy as any of the regular theatrical releases. 15 years had passed since HERBIE GOES BANANAS when Disney looked to revive the franchise and the result was THE LOVE BUG. It's a confusing name considering that the original 1969 film was also called THE LOVE BUG. I guess Disney were looking to introduce the story to a new generation, which confuses me even more considering that most people identify with the name HERBIE. Anyhow, while the movie loosely rehashes the events from the original film, it also plays very nicely as a sequel to the others. Legendary cult actor BRUCE CAMPBELL leads the party as a down-on-his-luck mechanic & former race driver who takes a chance on HERBIE, rescuing him from the scrap heap. If you love the series then you will consider this to be a very welcome addition. The magic of the previous movies is there and it is a damn-sight better than the atrocious HERBIE GOES BANANAS. Campbell rocks the lead role and plays into the family genre wonderfully. An added excitement factor is the return of Dean Jones, reprising his role of Jim Douglas. It gives the movie credence and makes it a worthy addition to the franchise. The only thing missing is the wonderful George Burns theme music. For some absurd reason Disney have never released THE LOVE BUG 97 to DVD and have excluded it from all HERBIE boxed set collections and re-releases. I don't understand why. It fits in so nicely. The best you will do is finding a good quality VHS transfer on DVD. It's worth the purchase and worth adding to your collection. Lots of fun. HERBIE RULES!
2013 / Director. Pablo Berger.
The film world isn't exactly surging with silent films. Every few years, if we're lucky, a few will come along to thrill us with their classic charm. I remember getting swept away by Rolf de Heer's DR PLONK and being moved by THE ARTIST (though, slightly underwhelming). BLANCANIEVES is a new silent film that has sent my mind into a spin. This fantastic Spanish film has adapted the classic Snow White story and placed it's setting in 1920's Spain. The lead heroine is a female bullfighter who is taken in by seven dwarf carnies. The story is obviously classic and this new setting lends it a fresh new vibrance. The use of black & white is stunning and director Pablo Berger has used every shadow and spec of light to his advantage. The camera angles are inspired and creative and when accompanied by a wonderful score it all culminates into a beautifully conceived piece of modern nostalgia. I read that Pablo Berger was riding high with confidence with his concept but flipped into a furious rage when he saw THE ARTIST midway through production. Thinking that his niche was no longer niche, he almost abandoned the film. Thankfully for us he didn't because BLANCANIEVES is twice the film THE ARTIST was. It was submitted to the Academy Awards but didn't make the grade. Ha. What a shame. Its exquisite. My only criticism is that 100 minutes is to long for a silent film and it would have been even stronger with a leaner running time. If you're needing some classic romanticism in your life then BLANCANIEVES will deliver something beautiful and different. People with short and restless attention spans might bulk at it, but the rest of us will relish it.
2013 / Director. Lee Daniels.
THE BUTLER is a turd of a movie. I went through 3 stages while watching it. At first I likened it to what FORREST GUMP might have been like if Robert Altman has been directing. Then further into it I started to think that it was more like one of those weird-ass Tyler Perry MADEA movies... and by the time to whole stupid thing came to an end I was convinced I was watching BIG MAMMA'S HOUSE 4. Where to begin? To be honest I can hardly be bothered writing anything at all... but for the sake of content... okay. It tells the life of Cecil Gaines, a black man born into slavery, who becomes a long-standing butler at the White House. During his employment he served 5 presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan. Over the course of 34 years he watched the black civil rights movement unfold while his own son became wrapped up in the cause. My first (and possibly biggest) gripe with THE BUTLER is that it proclaims to be based on a true story. Very little truth has found it's way into the movie. The real life personality was Eugene Allen and is actual story was nowhere near as tragic, tumultuous or heartwarming as is depicted in the film. I am not one to criticise creative liberties and artistic licence but surely bastardising a life and presenting it with such inaccurate historical significance is bogus. The movie is jam packed with big celebrity names like Robin Williams, Alan Rickman and Vanessa Redgrave... and there are some really odd inclusions from people like Lenny Kravitz, Jane Fonda and Mariah Carey... you can read the poster to see others but suffice to say that the casting feels more like Altman's PRET-A-PORTÈ. A really odd addition to the film is also John Cusack playing Richard Nixon... there is nothing about him that resembles Nixon whatsoever aside from his retarded put-on mumble-grumble voice... and that's where the movie felt more like a Tyler Perry show. And finally as the characters get older, their make up becomes more elaborate (for lack of better word) and the prosthetics begin to stretch... Forrest Whitaker almost snaps his rubber neck at one stage and we're supposed to just accept it. Fuck that! There are so many historical moments glazed over in the film and none of it feels important... and that's where it plays out more like Forrest Gump. But where THE BUTLER WAS successful was in it's ability to turn my warm and generous heart into a cold, black lump of stone! Bah-humbug.
2013 / Director. Jeff Renfroe.
I have been eyeing off the poster art for THE COLONY for a while. I hadn't read much about the film though, and the imagery alone was enough to spike my interest. It's a post-apocalyptic film set during a new ice age. Humanity has been wiped out, with the exception of several sporadic communities who occupy small colonies. When one colony responds to a distress call from another they set out on a trek through the wintery wastelands of abandoned cities and decrepit structures. It's an awesome looking film and visually inspiring. Most of the interiors were shot in an abandoned aerospace facility in the Toronto, which lends the movie a huge amount of authenticity... but it's the exterior shots that captured my imagination. Using a combination of location shoots, sound-stages and chromakey THE COLONY sets itself apart from the usual formula flick. The SFX are wonderful, inspired and creative and never dodgy. I didn't know what to expect from the film but I do admit that I was hoping for something adventurous... and so it was a little disappointing when the story took a more generic zombie-like turn. Having said that, the movie resists most cliches and doesn't overstay it's welcome. When the violence kicks in, it's nasty. One particular kill had me clapping my hands with glee. This film is swift, engaging and visually stunning and promises a good time. The cast is solid too with Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton lending their talent. Paxton is nicely restrained and doesn't ham it up the way he so often does. What impressed me the most was the final act. Going against the Hollywood norm, THE COLONY wraps things up very quickly and doesn't push for a sappy ending. This film was not what I was expecting but passed the grade with flying colours. Good fun.
1996 / Director. Albery Pyun. Movie #26
OMEGA DOOM is classic Pyun. Rutger Hauer plays the title character, a robot whos killing program was erased when he was struck in the head during a great war. The film has him wandering a post-apocalyptic wasteland where the last remaining humans move underground and the Earth is dominated by two waring robot types; Roms & Droids. The Roms are programmed to kill and the Droids possess a more primitive and subdued design. OMEGA DOOM wanders into the ruins of an old city where the Roms & Droids occupy common ground, searching for a rumoured arsenal of human weapons. Pyun originally envisioned a WESTWORLD type of scenario with aged theme park animatronics operating after mankind is obliterated but for one reason or another (probably budgetary) the film eventually morphed into this underrated and stylish sci-fi drama. Its story owes a lot to Kirosawa's YOJIMO (Pyun was a protege of Kiroswawa) and takes on a classic formula of waring sides competing for supremacy. The film was shot in Romania and the set design, built around ruined buildings, offers a real authenticity to the story. Hauer is good in the lead, though you could argue that he phoned his performance in. The real star of the film is Norbert Weisser, a Pyun veteran. He's a seasoned actor who's also starred in SCHINDLER'S LIST, THE THING and CHAPLIN (amongst others) and yet delivers one of his best performances here in this humble little genre pic. OMEGA DOOM never received the attention it deserved. Being released direct-to-video with lousy cover art and Ruter Hauer's second-rate reputation (during the mid to late 90s) didn't help it any. Now 18 years later it has a deserved cult following and stands up really well. The SFX were simple, practical and effective and didn't rely on dodgy CGI and allow for strong comparisons with some of Pyun's earlier work like NEMESIS and CYBORG. Well worth your time.
1994 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie # 19
In 1997 the English handed the city of Hong Kong back to the People's Republic of China. A few years earlier Albert Pyun made HONG KONG 97 which told the story of an assassin trying to flee the country before the hand-over at midnight. Robert Patrick lead the film as the American contract killer with a $10M bounty on his head. Having just assassinated several high ranking Chinese officials he finds himself on the run, along with two colleagues and his former lover and her grandfather. This movie is amongst Albert's most polished and mainstream efforts. It plays out very fluently and is really well executed. The set design is wonderful with all sorts of vibrant colours saturating the night-scape, giving it a nice oriental ambience and it conjures memories of Ridley Scott's BLACK RAIN. The cast is solid too with Patrick in the lead, supported by Brion James, Tim Thomerson and Andrew Divoff. None of them play into stereotypes and each lend modest and understated performances... although James does have a strange British accent, which coming from him... still works. According to Wiki-whatwouldtheyknow, the film has never been released on DVD. Ha. I guess they don't look hard enough. I managed to source and excellent copy from the Czech Republic of all places. It's been remastered wonderfully and the image is as polished as it is ever likely to get. In terms of Albert Pyun's filmography, HONG KONG 97 is probably most comparable to POSTMORTEM. Clearly different types of films, but both working within a more traditional and classic style of filmmaking. This is more restrained, less experimental and definitely more conformed. When it comes to Pyun films, us fans do prefer the crazy, fucked up and ballsy stuff... but every now and then these solid and conventional outings are necessary to remind us that Mr Pyun is not to be underestimated.
2013 / Director. Paul Greengrass.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is one of the most manipulative films I've seen in a long time... and I loved every second of it. That's precisely what good films ought to do and this one had be in it's grip from start to finish. Director Paul Greengrass has taken the true story of Maesrk Alabama Hikacking and turned it into one of the most gripping and intense thrillers of the year. He has put his personal stamp all over the film and if you recall his previous true story films BLOODY SUNDAY and UNITED 93, then you will have a good idea of what to expect. With a pseudo-documentary style and his trademark hand-held camera work, he has evoked a sense of chaos and urgency that many other directors would struggle to achieve. To help heighten the tension Greengrass has fallen back on some of his more recent Hollywood tricks with a fantastic, fast paced and frantic score. Tom Hanks is superb too and I'm amazed that he wasn't given an Oscar nom. The emotional journey his character goes through is astounding and his performance is flawless. Someone who DID get an Oscar nomination, however, was Barkhad Abdi who plays the film's main antagonist. His turn as the Somalian pirate leader is amazing, especially considering that it's his acting debut. Wow. The action depicted on high seas has been captured brilliantly, as has the claustrophobic interior settings. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is an overall remarkable piece of filmmaking. All of the elements have come together to depict an incredible true story with respect and awe.
1994 / Director. Steve Wang.
1991s GUYVER was a comical manga adaptation produced by Brian Yuzna. It capitalised on the success of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES and offered a softer PG sci-fi adventure. That film established the premise of a global corporation led by disguised aliens. They had created a super-weapon called the Guyver, which enabled ordinary humans to become fully armoured and indestructible with alien powers. That movie became a cult favourite amongst fans, however, it was divisive too. It strayed from its manga origins and pandered to a young audience. And then GUYVER 2 came along. It was given the title of GUYVER: DARK HERO and suggested something more sinister. All of the slapstick sight gags from the original were ignored and the story shifts into deeper sci-fi territory. Our hero from the first film returns (now played by David Hayter) and he's living with the burden of being The Guyver. With the aliens and their corporation destroyed, he finds himself haunted by his affliction. Suddenly he is compelled to travel to the site of an archaeological excavation where he finds images from his dreams carved into stone. The place holds great significance and before long he is once again met with enemy combatants desperate to steal the secret which lays beneath the ground. This is a smarter and (somewhat) more sophisticated film to the first. It is still very much a B-movie and the TMNT qualities of the first movie have been replaced with an adult orientated take on the MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS. The creature costumes are rubbery and fake and the fight sequences are terribly choreographed... and yet it's all so awesome!! Imagine the POWER RANGERS with blood and gore. Throats slitting, blood gushing, bones shattering and flesh tearing. There's even a gnarly Hellraiser-esque moment for gore-fiends. It is a delicious combination of violence and frivolity, while keeping the story itself rather serious and dark. GUYVER 2 is a far superior to GUYVER and fans have embraced it much more. A third instalment was planned but never materialised when the property rights returns to the original owners. Perhaps this is a legacy that's worth rebooting. It has been developed into a popular animated series but I think a movie remake would be very welcome and would be embraced by fan boys & girls the world over. GUYVER RULES!