The Three Investigators are a series of pre-teen books which bring to mind The Famous Five, Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes. Since the 1960s over 40 books were published and unbeknownst to me they have been best sellers on the children's book lists ever since. Huh! Having watched the first two movies in (what I imagine will be) a new franchise of direct-to-dvd series I am very tempted to read up on more stories. These two movies are great. The time and settings have been updated to appeal to a modern target audience and the two adventures are heaps of fun. These 3 kids operate as private detectives and find themselves travelling the world (thanks to travelling parents) solving mysteries as they go. So many favourites childhood memories came flooding back as I was watching... from Scooby Doo to Young Sherlock Holmes to The Secret Seven... I'm not sure if these have received any screen time on tv but if you use your kids as an excuse to indulge your inner-child then I highly recommend checking out The Three Investigators.
10PM on a work night probably isn't the ideal time to have a Kurosawa urge... but my impulse was too strong and so I watched Ran. It's always been a magnificent film but watching it on bluray was incredible. The format lends itself to Kurosawa's epic story beautifully. The cinematography and use of widescreen is breathtaking and the film has never looked so good. If you've never seen it, it's a Japanese retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear. Combined with Japanese lore the film tells of a ruler gone mad who abdicates his position to his eldest son and divides his land amongst all 3 sons. When one of them rejects the offer believing his father's whim to be out of insanity, he is banished. As the father sinks deeper into madness a power struggle begins between the other two brothers. It's a richly textured film, both visually and thematically. When it needs to be violent the blood is let brutally and when it needs to be tender the emotions are worn on it's sleeve. Many consider this to be Kurosawa's masterpeice and it definitely is amongst his best, but I personally think his next film, Dreams, was his best and most personal. Nevertheless as he was nearing the end of his career (and life), Ran still feels like a personal film. It is very much a statement about the nature of man and I can't help but feel that Kurosawa was disheartened by this. It is even spoken in the film that man seems more content being at war with each other that it wishes for peace. Ran is an epic film made all the more powerful on bluray.
I find Eraserhead to be one of the most alluring and complexing movies of all time. It doesn't make any sense and yet it entirely makes sense. It's beautiful, it's surreal and it's frightening. It's images are now iconic and the film has been classified as culturally significant at the American film registry. If you have never made sense of David Lynch as a film maker then returning to Eraserhead might be enlightening. If you still can't make sense of him then you might never. To watch Eraserhead is to dream awake. A compelling nightmare that makes sense while you're in it, and absolutely none when you're out of it. Lynch has explored his surrealistic storytelling several times over but they all hark back to this debut film. See it and see it again. Expand your mind and let it implode. No review of Eraserhead can be lineal and its one of the few films I have trouble writing about. But it's quite clear that I LOVE it. Damn I love it.
My reaction to Hobo With A Shotgun is schizophrenic. Its packed to the brim with exploitative goodness. And then again its packed with so much trash that it's awful. Strangely I love movies like this so it's all good. lol. This Troma-esque splatterfest began as a fake trailer for the Canadian release of Rodriguz & Tarantino's Grindhouse. Unlike Machete, this extended adaptation is not produced by those two... its shot on a shoestring budget and plays out like a bargain-bin version of Death Wish. Everything is heightened and corny (ala Troma)... set in a dystopian world where rape, murder and pedophilia are part of the norm the movie begins with an old homeless guy showing up in town. Fed up with the ugliness of the world he sets upon a murderous rampage of vengeance and justice. Heads explode, intestines spew and bodies melt... Hobo is a celebration of exploitation. It relishes in very drop of blood and fans of the genre will cheer. Those who aren't familiar with exploitation movies are going to hate this and brandish it the worst film of the year. They clearly don't get it.
I tried to take one for the team here... Why are we feeding our kids regurgitated tripe? The 70s and 80s were full of fantastic children's tv shows and its evident that todays kids are starved for originality. Along with The Chipmunks, Garfield and Underdog The Smurfs is the latest movie to take a steaming shit on a beloved classic. I only made it 20 minutes into The Smurfs before I could take no more. And therefor my review ends now.
The writers of The Hangover team up with the director of The Lion King.... um...... O.K... that's a pretty weird combo and the movie is called Flypaper. The premise is good, two separate robberies are pulled on the same bank at the same time. One group is after the safe while the other is after the ATMs... rather than a shootout they agree to work at the same time in different areas of the bank. The hostages are kept in an office and one of them is a neurotic genius who frantically tries to figure out why the two robberies were pulled at precisely the same time. This is a fun movie. It droops a couple of times but the running time is short and the plot devices are amusing enough to hold interest. Patrick Dempsey did grind on me with his over-performance but the chubby security guard character kept me laughing. One of his lines had me pissing myself "give one blowjob in prison and you never live it down [pause] Never!". ROFL. So yeah, this movie came from nowhere and was released directly to dvd. If you see it around, it's worth watching.
This film opens with a title card which states the following: "The improbability of events depicted in this film is the surest indication that they actually did occur." ... this is an excellent statement to get the audience in the right frame of mine for what is not only a true story, but also an absurdly fascinating one. Directed by Bruce Beresford, the film depicts the true account of legendary filmmaker DW Griffiths attempt to capture the Mexican Revolution on celluloid. Approached by notorious revolutionary general Pancho Villa, The Mutual Film Company & Griffiths agree to film Villa's exploits and send along the studio boss's nephew to head up the film. At first it seems almost impossible to truly capture the nature of war on film and the 2 reel film they produce is laughed off by the film industry. Determined to successfully produce a groundbreaking combat piece, the Hollywood team return to the revolution and attempt to combine real war with the usual manipulations of cinema. Make up, set pieces, script, etc... all the while the ruthless Pancho Villa is in total control over his surroundings. Its a really weird story and had I not already studied Pancho Villa and DW Griffiths then I would have had trouble believing what I was seeing. The film looks good and Antonio Banderas is excellent in the charismatic lead role. He conveys charm and menace with the same breath and gives the movie it's anchor. It was produced for HBO films, however, it was deemed good enough for a theatrical release. The production values are great.
Michael Mann is a celebrated film maker but he has never really resonated with me. Most of his films which are applauded have left me underwhelmed. The Insider, however, is his masterpiece. It makes everything else he's ever made seem like daytime television. The Insider is the true story of Jeffrey Wigand, a whistleblower against a giant tobacco corporation. Approached by a renowned producer at 60 Minutes, his story unfolds in a really scary way. Up against an assault of personal threats, slander & prosecution he fights for what he believes to be a moral obligation. The performances are incredible with Al Pacino and Russell Crowe headlining a stellar cast. Crowe was nominated for an Oscar for this role and he was robbed when he didn't get it. I suspect the Academy knew it too because the following year they awarded him for his performance in the mediocre film Gladiator. I still consider that win to be for The Insider. Its scary stuff to take on some of the world's biggest corporations and hat's off to Mann & co for having the balls to produce such a strong and indicative story. This is easily Michael Mann's best film and (imo) it's also the performance of Crowe's career.
The Killing Fields is an "oomph" film which takes place during the Khmer Rouge's regime of Cambodia. An American journalist, Sydney Schanberg, and his Cambodian photographer/translator ,Dith Pran, are caught in the revolt and are eventually captured. The foreigners are sent out of the country but Dith Pran is taken prisoner. Roland Joffe was at first a seemingly important filmmaker. The Killing Fields was his first film and he followed it up with the equally powerful The Mission. Since then his career has been full of mediocre and atrocious films... what a waste. Along with films like Salvador, Hotel Rwanda and The Last King Of Scotland this powerful true story feels as relevant now as it was when it was made. Its the film that doesn't let us forget the atrocities which fell upon Cambodia and it's people. The performances are incredible. I never like watching Sam Waterson on screen but he is solid this time. The film's powerhouse performance, however, belongs to Haing S Ngor as Dith Pran. Having never acted previously he himself was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge and he considered the film to be his own way of bringing the story to the world. He won the Oscar for best supporting actor but I reckon his role deserved the award for lead actor. He has more screen time and a deeper humanity to his performance. The support acts are great too including John Malcovich, Julian Sands and Spalding Gray (and what the hell is Graham Kennedy doing in this?)... At the close of the film John Lennon's imagine is played over the final moments. When the song begins it seems a little tacky but as the power of Lennon's lyrics and optimism are sung, it highlights the power of the song and the astonishingly disbelieving realism of what man is capable of. I hadn't seen The Killing Fields for years but I'm glad I revisited. A great film.
I don't think I'm embellishing when I say that The Jerk easily ranks amongst the 100 funniest films of all time. Before he became a wholesome house-name Steve Martin's brand of comedy was sporadic, random and outrageous. The Jerk was his first starring role, which he also co-wrote. It tells the story of a simple white man living as a poor black boy. His whole life he has never fit in and it isn't until he's a grown man that he realises he isn't white (and he has no sense of rhythm). And so he ventures out into the real world where he leaps from one situation to another... women, carnies and assassins are all part of his story from rags to riches. Its a brilliant comedy laced with intricate gags and plotted with big ones. I have fond memories of watching The Jerk with friends as teenagers and laughing ourselves stupid. It's a one of a kind film from Carl Reiner, showcasing Steve Martin at his best.
[que ominous music] and then there's The Jerk Too. There isn't a lot committed to the internet about this movie but it's doesn't take a brianiac to know what happened. Seeing potential for a tv series the studio ordered a telemovie which acted as a pilot episode for The Jerk: The Series. Thankfully it never made it past this initial train wreck... it was re-edited and packaged as a sequel on video. It doesn't continue Navin's story but rather re-tells it in some kind of fucked up family-friendly universe. There are a few amusing moments which might have you laughing quietly (but hardly worth the energy of creating noise) but its as you would expect. Crap. There is no substitute for Steve Martin and the studio obviously missed the point of the original movie and why it worked. The Jerk Too isn't worth buying independently but it's available in a double back with the first movie.
The Butterfly Effect was a movie which took me by surprise. When I first saw it I was disturbed by it but it left me less than satisfied. It was generally panned by the critics but I couldn't understand where a lot of their criticisms were coming from. My only problem with the film was it's ending, which I felt didn't fit the mould of the movie and offered an insult to the audience. Thankfully when it was released to dvd it was in the form of a director's cut. The crap ending was removed with a fitting and potent conclusion replacing it. The result (imo) was a strong and enthralling drama/thriller. Ashton Kutcher cops flach but he can be good when he wants to be. I think he's great in this movie. If you didn't' know, his character grows up experiencing blackouts throughout his youth. These generally happen at crucial moments in his development. As an adult he has overcome the blackouts but suddenly begins to slip back through time to those forgotten moments, revealing ugly truths. Tempted, he begins to change the things which happened which (as all time travel movies prove) alters his future reality. Butterfly Effect is more than an average time travel movie though and I reckon it's well textured. Very cool.
The Butterfly Effect 2 is another direct-to-dvd "cash-in" movie. It's a lame reflection of the first movie with a different set of logics. A guy loses his girlfriend in a car accident and flip-flops through time to try and save her. When he's able to do so he becomes cocky and starts messing with time to enhance his life. Blah Blah Blah... things go wrong and BAM, you have a very average movie.
The Butterfly Effect 3 offers us another leap through time. The good news is that following part two, this is actually good. Returning to the basic rules of the first film (and elaborating on some details) this movie is about a guy who has the ability to jump to specific moments in time. He works for the police by witnessing violent crimes and pin-pointing the perpetrators. The concept is pretty cool and this instalment has a dark and menacing look about it. The murders are grisly and it plays out much more as a horror movie than it is a thriller. It not as good as the first movie but it's a welcome addition (imo) to the (apparent) new franchise.
Most people are accustomed to a David Lynch film being a surreal and existential experience. Titles like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire have toyed with our minds and coerced us into a new skewed way of watching movies. Amongst all of his films, A Straight Story sadly gets forgotten. I personally consider it to be his best film. It tells the true story of Alvin Straight, an old man who learns that his estranged brother has suffered a stroke. With a life of regret Alvin makes his mind up to make amends with his brother. His legs and eyes have failed him and he isn't permitted to drive a car and so he cranks up his ride-on lawn mower and rides 240 miles to his brother's door step. This is a really (REALLY) beautiful film. It's a welcome G rated Disney movie from Lynch that's wholesome, life affirming and heart warming. Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin and this would be his final film before he died. He was nominated for best actor at the Oscars and he should have won it. If you have never seen A Straight Story then you should... if you love Lynch then this will be unlike anything you've seen from him before. As with other film's he's released onto dvd, the cheeky bugger has removed all chapters so that viewers cannot skip scenes. He wants us to respect the story, respect his work... and fully give ourselves over to Alvin's amazing story.
Hellraiser Revelations was released on dvd before fans knew anything about it. With the pending Hellraiser remake constantly stalling Dimension films was on the cusp of losing their rights to the franchise. And so within a matter of weeks they were filming and within months the movie was on shelves. Needless to say this installment is really rushed. Doug Bradley has a deep seeded hatred for Dimension Films (they're treated him like shit) and when he read the script he didn't see it as a serious attempt to revive the franchise. For the first time he refused to return as Pinhead.... and so Dimension said “fuck you” and cast someone else in his role. The new Pinhead is atrocious. He looks ludicrous and his fake British accent is terrible. The strangest thing about this movie is how much I actually enjoyed it. In their attempt to pump out a quickie, the writers have returned to the source material and the concepts and rules of the story is very true to the original movie. The box, the cenobites, the fleshy resurrection and the need for blood. To my surprise this 9th movie in the series actually does do the legacy some justice. The gore is vulgar and the plot is the best the franchise has seen in years. A welcome addition (imo) is a new apprentice Cenobite, modeled after Pinhead himself. I'd be happy to see this character in future installments. I just hope they can convince Doug Bradley back on board because without him, they need to drop Pinhead out of the series altogether.
Things are really becoming desperate for the Hellraiser series. This movie is about an online gaming site called Hellworld. A group of players are exclusively invited to a wealthy mansion where the creators of the site are hosting a Hellworld party. Upon arrival the guests are ushered into separate parts of the building where they are tortured by various cenobites. Again based on an independent screenplay, the story was tweeked to fit the Hellraiser franchise. Its pretty much just a House On Haunted Hill scenario and its really lousy. Lance Henrickson was a score to add some cred to the movie, but ultimately his presence is more in line with the b-movies he makes, and not the A. There's a big twist ending which is cliched and disappointing and one wonders whether Doug Bradley should keep Pinhead alive if the series only promises more crud like this.
I don't mind Hellraiser Deader. Visually it comes closest of all the sequels since part 2 to capsulate the essence and atmosphere of the original film. It was filmed and set in Romania which adds to its cold and grim story. Kari Wuhrer plays an American journalist working for a British newspaper. She's famous for going to extreme lengths to uncover seedy stories. She's assigned to investigate an underground cult known as The Deaders, who kill and resurrect themselves at the mercy of a hell-craving leader. Pinhead is pissed off that they've found a back door into his domain and he comes to reap vengeance. It all sounds very typical but its made well and feels right. Pinhead's presence is less cheesy then the last few installments and the concepts fit the mythos. It all comes together for a satisfying Hellraiser movie to reassure fans who endured the previous piece of shit.... although, forums and message boards would suggest that I'm alone with this one! LOL