I was 13 years old when I first saw Santa Sangre. This was at a time when I was discovering world cinema and was addicted to the films shown on SBS. Santa Sangre was one of many that left a huge impression on me... others included Benny's Video, Homework, A Short Film About Killing and The Double Life of Veronique. Once seen, Santa Sangre cannot be unseen and so you can imagine the impact it would have on a 13 year old. Avant Garde is a term you don't hear much of anymore but that describes the film perfectly. Directed by renowned filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, its a Mexican-Italian joint production about a boy who grows up in the circus and witnesses his mother have both of her arms severed by an enraged husband. Ending up in a mental asylum the boy grows up in a primate state, disconnected from being human. As an adult his mother walks back into his life and together they perform as expressionists. She being armless, he stands behind her and acts as her arms, delivering a bizarre and mesmerising show. Before long their attachment becomes a dependancy and an obsession that leads to jealousy and murder. It's a strange and wonderful film. Ultra violent, often sexual and completely unique... its a daring piece of surreal cinema that demands your attention. Watch it as an art film and you will be caught up in its trance. I've watched it dozens of times and it gets better with each viewing. Expect a graphic and beautiful mind-fuck!
I have idolised writer Everette DeRoche for years and he has written some important Australian genre films such as Patrick, Roadgames, The Long Weekend, Razorback and Fortress amongst others. His work has a unique quality and I've collected all of his films over the years... except for Link. This is the one film of his that I had never been able to see. It was only briefly released to home video before being deleted. Occasionally a few copies would pop up on ebay for upwards of $100 and so needless to say it's a film thats hard to come by. I recently found a dvd copy from the Netherlands and watched the film for the very first time tonight. Directed by legendary Aussie filmmaker Richard Franklin, the film is about a zoologist student, Elizabeth Shue, who travels to the English countryside to work for her professor, Terrence Stamp, as he studies and trains chimpanzees. His most intelligent primate is an orangutan named Link. Link displays hostile traits and when the professor goes missing it becomes obvious that Link has a far more sinister and murderous personality. Franklin wasn't able to find funding to make the film in Australia and so he took it to England. It's a slow paced thriller that builds it's menacing tension gradually and the primate performances are incredible. Link predates George Romero's similar film, Monkey Shines, and it's disappointing that this has been lost in time. By no means DeRoche's or Franklin's best work but a bold and original film nonetheless. It might have taken me years but I finally got to see it... the wait was worth it.
Regardless of what cynical filmies might say, Tim Burton is an autuer. His films are unmistakable and you could go into them blindly and know within seconds that he was the director. I've always loved him because he offers a unique and quirky fantasy that few others do. He allows us to be children again and takes us to spooky places. Unfortunately he lost me as a fan for a while when he made movies like Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice In Wonderland. For me his vision was lost and it felt like he was clutching at straws, desperately trying to live up to his reputation. Thank God for Dark Shadows! This is classic Burton in every sense as he reimagines the classic soap opera from the 60s. Stylistically its like a cross between the Adams Family and Beetlejuice with a touch of Sleepy Hollow. This is the umpteenth time he's worked with Johnny Depp and it's a winning combo. Depp does what Depp does best as he presents us with a quirky and completely loveable vampire character who emerges in the 70s from a 200 year imprisonment and sets out to become a family man. His observations of the 1970s culture is hilarious and his delivery is brilliant. For a Burton film I found it to be nicely understated. It's not a movie that relies on special fx and it's a welcome return to the early era movies Burton used to make. It has the charm of Edward Scissorhands and will appeal to several demographics. Burton's next film is a remake of his own short, Frankenweenie. The trailers for it look incredible and its comforting to know that he's got his groove back.
'Bernie' is the film Jack Black needed to make. It's a reminder that he's a good actor and that there's more to him than being the buffoon. It's the true story of Bernie Tiede, a beloved member of a small community who shot and killed his elderly companion and kept her in a freezer. The film portrays Bernie as a sympathetic and loveable guy, as he was considered by his entire community. His crime was an impulsive act in a snap moment of passion as her jealous possession of him reached a breaking point. Jack Black is brilliant and he's a real joy to watch. Also great is Shirley Maclaine as the stone-cold witch of a woman who made Bernie her sole beneficiary. It's directed by Richard Linklater who's proved to be a versatile director having made films like Dazed & Confused, School of Rock, Before Sunrise and A Scanner Darkly. His approach to the material is questionable, however, as he presents the story in a documentary style. He constantly crosses to interviews of locals sharing their opinions of Bernie and I found this really distracting. These were actual real life people who knew Bernie which is fascinating in itself but they were probably better used in an actual documentary. There was potential for a straight narrative but its impact was lost on me with the chosen format. The film is slightly overlong but given that the performances are so solid, its still a great flick worth catching.
The 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz has been recreated and retold with the addition of Tom And Jerry. It's an absurd concept but it works. Of course it's a children's film and so the main prerequisite you need is to abandon your grown-up self before watching it... and a love of the original film will also help. I was impressed by the attention to detail that's been put into this cartoon movie. Everything is where it should be, from the haystack and tractor during 'Over The Rainbow' to the landscapes of Oz and the characters of the Emerald City... and the music is carried over... It's a faithful recreation and film buffs will be surprised. Tom and Jerry are the unmentioned pets of Dorothy and they were inside the house when it was carried away in the twister. Too scared to come out after it lands, they eventually emerge to find that Dorothy and Toto are already hours ahead along the yellow brick road. So their journey to catch up begins and they run into a bunch of characters and find themselves on the bad side of the Wicked Witch of the West... in fact if the original film had of panned to the right during the "Surrender Dorothy" scene, they would have revealed that she also wrote "and Tom and Jerry". LOL. The animation combines the traditional Hanna-Barbara with some swank looking 3D animation. Its good to see some of these classic cartoon characters making a comeback, albeit direct to dvd. A few weeks ago I reviewed the new Top Cat movie. I'm glad kids are getting to experience these old favourites.
Note: I doubt any of you will end up watching this, but if you do, make sure you go to the special features of the dvd or bluray and select "Watch In Classic Style". This will present the first act in sepia, just like the original.
Do you remember that Youtube video that went viral called 'AC Transit Bus Fight'? It was footage of a young black guy taunting an old bloke until the old bloke snapped and beat the shit out of him... (check it out). Well Bad Ass is based on that video and the film begins with that incident and continues the story of the old guy who in this film is named Frank. It's another vigilante film thats best described as a cross between Gran Torino and Death Wish 3. Danny Trejo stars as Frank and if you don't love Trejo then you know how to show yourself out of this group! LOL. He is a bloody legend and now in his 60s he's finally landing lead roles. First Machete and now Bad Ass (with Machete 2 on the way). He has a strong screen presence and as Frank he delivers a great (hammed up) nice-guy who doesn't take shit. Tired of being ignored since Vietnam, he becomes increasingly dismayed at the violent society we've become and when his best friend is killed he launches a one man revenge mission, taking out any thug who gets in his way. It's a very tongue in cheek type of movie and you need to go into it with a flexible frame of mind. Just go with it and you'll have fun. Its almost like Hobo With A Shotgun minus the shlock... and a wink to people who've seen the original youtube video and it's many parodies, there's a great 'Amber Lamps' moment. Thumbs Up!
I remember seeing the original Men In Black at the cinema and I was completely chuffed by it. It was something quirky and new and it's humour felt original at the time. Then number 2 was made and I hated it. It felt like a cheap cash grab with a lousy story and second-rate special fx... so now 10 years has past and Men In Black 3 is delivered. A whole decade between instalments could have gone either way and my hopes were understandably low. It took me a while but I finally watched it tonight and I honestly think that it trumps the original. This is a grouse movie!! It seemingly ignores the second movie with a few subtle character contradictions and continues the story of agents K and J. In the late 60s K (Tommy Lee Jones) defeated a barbaric alien named Boris who is the last surviving member of his race. Boris is imprisoned and escapes 40 years later to exact revenge. He hijacks a time machine and zaps K back into the past, kills him and re-writes history. Its up to J to time-jump to save K and correct history. This instalment is really well written and the set ups are fantastic. Josh Brolin plays K in 1969 and he flawlessly characterises Tommy Lee Jones to the to every finite nuance. And then there's Jemaine Clement from Flight Of The Concords. He plays the film's central villain and he's hilarious. His Boris character is the best in the series and without him it would have been a much lesser movie. The site gags are all great but the most impressive thing about MIB3 is it's narrative arch. It all comes together in a clever, touching and strangely logical way. I loved it. Men In Black 3 is the best in the series IMO.
Battleship is an exercise in style-over-subatance and it's really bad. The premise is an alien invasion at high seas with the US Navy trapped in a battle over Earth. Of course it ultimately all comes down to one rebellious soldier who has something to prove. This steaming pile of shit makes Michael Bay look like Scorsese with an over abundance of multimillion dollar effects sequences and fuck-all story. The acting is atrocious with Taylor Kitcsh in the lead role... he was also John Carter which was equally as turdish. He sucks. This is Pearl Harbour spliced with Skyline... evidently two wrongs don't make a right.
Has anyone seen Yellow Brick Road? I would love to get some opinions and theories about this one. I don't know how to feel having just watched it and I guess that's a good thing. I am confused and don't know what to make of it, however I do know that I enjoyed it. In 1940 an entire small town followed a trail into the mountains and never returned. They left all of their possessions behind, including their clothes. A military search party was deployed and many bodies were found butchered, the rest were simply missing. And so the film takes place in modern times with a group of researchers retracing the footsteps. They are well equipped and each of them serves a purpose (a psychologist, geographer, survivalist etc). And so they walk and walk and walk, documenting various behaviours in each other and trying to understand surreal things happening around them. Their GPS goes haywire and a strange muffled music haunts them. That's all I will reveal because the rest ventures into some really fucked up David Lynch territory. I loved what I was seeing but I didn't always understand it. I think I know and then I don't. It's the type of film that is bound to generate debate and theory. A discussion would be most welcome and I think I'm going to have to sit through this one again.
Peter Jackson's Braindead is 20 years old and remains one of the goriest and most gruesome movies of all time. The passing of time has not ruined its shock value whatsoever and I regard it as one of the best comedy horror films ever made. Peter Jackson is obviously a prodigy... he was born to make movies and most importantly to his craft, he is a fanboy before he is a director. Suffice to say he leapt into Braindead with a deep affiliation for the genre. The story is about a mother's boy, Lionel, who's mum becomes a zombie after being bitten by a Sumatran Monkey Rat. As she spreads her infection the house is quickly turned into a zombie lair and its up to Lionel and his girlfriend to take down the frenzied flesh eaters. The gore is as extreme as the genre can go and its about as creative and original as you'll ever see. According to various sources Braindead holds the record for goriest film (amount of blood per frame) of all time. That is an honour I would hold in the highest regard if I were Peter Jackson. I hope he returns to this brand of horror some day... I reckon he might as there are rumours that he's keen to make a sequel to his first film, Bad Taste.
I've had Babysitter Wanted sitting on my desk for months and recently I read an article about 20 horror films you might not know about but should.... Babysitter Wanted was one of them. And so I fastlined the movie and watched it tonight and I have to say it is not the movie I was expecting. The poster art and trailer set it up as another torture porn and yet the synopsis suggests that its a typical slasher. It carries both of those suggestions but takes a really fucking weird, yet oddly cool, turn and becomes something entirely different. To reveal too much is to spoil it. The movie starts off shaky and there are a few improbabilities (even for the genre) but a forgiving mind will cast them aside and enjoy it for what it is. The acting is decent and the themes are grotesque... there is a lot of gore but it's often restrained and I would love to have seen more. I recommend it... suspend your disbelief and approach it with no expectations and you'll be surprised.
The Woman In Black obeys all of the conventions of a gothic ghost story and yet it still manages to present an unnerving and intriguing mystery. In the early 1900s Daniel Radcliffe plays a poor widower who is sent by his law firm to a remote township to organise the paperwork of a diseased woman. He receives a hostile welcome from locals and is told to leave. Finding himself isolated by tide on the dead woman's estate which is located on the other side of a marsh, he begins to see startling apparitions and a mysterious woman in black. The locals tell him that whenever the woman is seen, children die. The most effective ghost stories usually involve dead children and this film plays to that strength. The suspense is nicely done with an eerie score, albeit overly dramatic at times, and the scattered moments of revelation are startling and brief. The movie takes the familiar formula and does all of the right things. Daniel Radcliffe is not a great actor but this is the precise type of movie he needs to be making... there is little dialogue and most of his on-screen time is spent wandering the halls of an abandoned mansion. The mystery is good and when revealed, I found it satisfying. The film is based on a popular novel which has already been adapted for television and became a long-running play on the West End. Watching it I kept thinking that this would have served well as an instalment of the Tales From The Crypt film franchise... but the film is, however, a HAMMER film... ah-huh! It's great to see Hammer films back on the scene. They also recently made The Resident and Let Me In. I can't wait for more. With horror movies having gone through another violent and graphic era its a welcome change to see something classic like this.
Within the Woods is the 32 minute film that Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell made before Evil Dead. They made it as a reassurance that their vision for a feature could work and it also proved invaluable in finding funding for Evil Dead. This short was proof that these guys knew what they were doing. To this day the film has never seen a release and the only quality available is poor... but I think that adds a huge amount of character to it. Apparently Raimi tried to get the film cleaned up for a dvd release but music licensing stopped that in its tracks. The story is basically the same as Evil Dead. A group of friends spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods and one afternoon they accidentally disturb the ground at an ancient indian burial site. Evil spirits chase them, possess them and kills them. For a micro-budget short film it's skilled and impressive and clearly announces a great new filmmaker. Great editing, great music and excellent gore effects. If you love Evil Dead (what respecting horror buff doesn't?) then you will get a huge kick out of this flick.
Jesus Henry Christ is based on an Academy Award winning short film of the same name and it tells the story of a ten year old boy genius and his decision to find his biological father, the "sperm donor". It's a unique and original comedy drama that snuck up on me. Really well written and flawlessly acted, the film has a quirky surrealism thats imbedded with a strong dramatical arch. The 4 lead players are brilliant and I am strapped to think of a better actor at this point in time than Michael Sheen. He's incredible! Toni Collette also continues to amaze me and she's rightfully one of the great all timers. Jesus Henry Christ is a roller coaster of emotions and a thoroughly rewarding film.
The late 90s were the most influential film years of my life. I was living in Canada and discovered a new realm of cinema that seemed foreign to me at the time. I was consumed with films like Roadkill, The Hanging Garden and City Of Lost Children. As a 16 year old I had my driver's licence and would take myself to art house cinemas to absorb as much of it as I could... it was at the 1997 Vancouver Film Festival that I saw Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills. It told the story of the West Memphis Three, three teenagers who were convicted of murdering three young boys as part of satanic rituals. The film meticulously revealed the entire case to be one of hysteria and fear and through rational examination, it all but proved the three to be innocent. The film generated national outrage and support for the WM3 and it was followed by a sequel in 2000. This second film brought even more evidence to light that absolutely excluded the WM3 as suspects, let alone perpetrators. Over the years I have kept a keen eye on the case and introduced it to as many people as I could here in Australia. At the time I was in Canada I strongly identified with the WM3. I wore dark clothes, watched horror movies and was particularly obsessed with Marilyn Manson, Nick Cave, Tim Burton and various other dark artists. Back here in Aus I held various fundraising efforts including a double feature of the first two films, which I suppose is where a lot of you were introduced to the case.
Cut to 2011 and the WM3 are freed! It was a sudden and unexpected turn of events. After 18 years the three men were removed from their cells and escorted to a court room where they were instructed that they would be released under the rare motion of an Alford Plea. This meant that they would walk free with the freedom to maintain their innocence all the while admitting guilt on the record. It's a stupid legal avenue that is essentially a court's way of recognising their own wrongdoing while saving face (and money). The world can see that. For the 12 or so months before their release Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger were filming their 3rd film "Purgatory". Of course they had no idea that their film would end with the WM3 walking free and it was fortunate that they were able to capture this in time, giving the trilogy a proper conclusion. The film continues the fight and introduces even MORE evidence that proves innocence and actually discovers DNA evidence that strongly implicates Terry Hobbs, a step father of one of the victims. The details of the case are too deep to get into but I encourage anyone to research the case. The fight continues and not only do the WM3 continue their crusade to clear their names unequivocally, but they also strive to catch the real killer. I can definitely see a Paradise Lost 4 in the future. Peter Jackson was recently revealed to have been a silent donator of the defence fund for the past decade and no doubt his financial contributions have made all of the scientific profiling possible. He has also produced a new documentary called West Of Memphis which focuses tightly on the forensic side of the evidence. I cannot wait to see it. And of course Hollywood have got their grubby mitts on the story and a feature film, Devil's Knot is being made with Canadian director Atom Egoyan in charge (I can't think of a more suited director).
Anyhow, Paradise Lost 3 is yet again another astonishing entry into the West Memphis Three case. Of course by the time I saw the film I knew most of it's content from maintaining a close eye on the case. Nevertheless there is a lot of unearthed footage from the original trials and new interviews, particularly with Hobbs, that beg belief. This film was robbed at the Oscars this year when it lost out to some sport-themed documentary. These 3 films have single handedly exposed the American justice system and freed three men from prison (one from death row)... now surely that is cause for accolade!??