2013 / Director. Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman.
The 1972 porno film DEEP THROAT changed the pornographic film industry and put x-rated movies into mainstream cinemas. It's story is legendary and so too is the life of its star, Linda Lovelace. She became an international superstar and became an unlikely champion of female empowerment. The story behind the scenes was not so glamorous and her life was controlled by an abusive and drug addicted husband who beat her, raped her and forced her into prostitution. Some years after leaving her husband, Lovelace denounced pornography and lead a campaign against it. The film LOVELACE bases it's insight from Linda's own autobiography and assumes her account to be an honest one. Controversy surrounds her accounts, however, and many industry people believe her recollection to be distorted (the film neglects the fact that she participated in bestiality flicks). With all of that aside, LOVELACE is an excellent film. A natural comparison is BOOGIE NIGHTS and the two films are excellent companions. The 70s era is realised beautifully and it's set design is entirely convincing. Nothing is overdone or exaggerated (American Hustle?) and the film has been cast brilliantly. Thank God Lindsay Lohan was fired from the film because Amanda Seyfried OWNS this performance. This is unlike anything you've seen her do before and she should be commended for her courage to take on such a brave and audacious role (she is also super hot with those big brown eyes). Peter Sarsgaard plays her husband and he deserves equal acclaim for stepping into such an unlikable, vile and deplorable character. He is excellent in this. The rest of cast plays out like a Robert Altman film with notable performances from Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, James Franco and a cavalcade of countless other respectable names. All are very good with Stone and Patrick being the stand-outs. Not all of the big names were necessary with some appearing on screen fleetingly (Sarah Jessica Parker was cut out entirely) and you wonder why they bothered trying to cram so many in? The film itself is powerful and captures Linda Lovelace's story the way she wanted it to be told. I have no doubt that most of it is true and don't at all mind that there may be many false-truths and liberties taken. It's as true as it needs to be.
1991 / Director. Screaming Mad George & Steve Wang.
THE GUYVER is not a serious film and it's title probably does it a disservice. While it is based on a Japanese manga of the same name, the comical nature of the movie is better represented with the European title of MUTRONICS. Released in the early 90s it's very clear that directors Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang were riding the success of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. The movie opens with the premise that Aliens came to Earth before man and created the human race and infected some of us with Alien DNA. Cut to the present and a large corporation (run by aliens) is on the cusp of discovering The Unit, a one of a kind biological device that acts as an armour to humans and turns anyone who wears it into The Guyver, a being with the ultimate resistance. If you've made it this far without thinking "as if" then you're the right type of movie geek for THE GUYVER. It's a far-fetched, hokey and farcical science fiction B-movie that plays out like Ninja Turtles crossed with Power Rangers. The alien creatures are well conceived and suitably comical and there isn't a single moment when the film takes itself seriously. With Brian Yuzna producing we are treated to a Re-Animator reunion of sorts with David Gale and Jeffrey Combs doing what they do best. They're having a lot of fun... the mutant creations towards the end of the film are also reminiscent Yuzna's SOCIETY and BRIDE OR RE-ANIMATOR. Other players include Michael Berryman, Mark Hamill and Jimmie Walker as well as a line up of staple B personalities. I recently watched the director's cut of THE GUYVER but don't recall the theatrical cut enough to speak with any authority. It is basically how I remember it from my youth and probably more comical that my 12 year old self would have thought... but it's light hearted nature gives it a bolstered cult status. For fans who thought that THE GUYVER was too soft then GUYVER 2 (Dark Hero) was given a much more serious and violent treatment. That review is coming up...
1986 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #4
When it comes to Albert Pyun's cult status, VICIOUS LIPS would probably rank as his cultiest film. When you trawl the message boards it becomes clear that this is one of his most revered exploits and possibly his most underrated. It comes from my favourite "Pyun" era which was in the early to mid 80s when every film was ambitious, daring and hugely atmospheric. VICIOUS LIPS tells the story of an intergalactic all-female rock group, which crash lands on a strange planet while en-route to a gig elsewhere in the galaxy. The film is jam packed with synthy 80's pop music, big boofy hair styles and hideous monsters... there is no question that VICIOUS LIPS is a hokey film and that is its ultimate charm. This is the type of film that midnight movies are made of. It plays out like Star Trek on acid and pays homage to the classic sci-fi B-movies of the 50s. It's also full of self satirical gags and references to Pyun's previous films. I should also add that there seems to be quite a lot of influence hidden within this gem. We are briefly treated to a 3-breasted woman (several years before Total Recall laid claim) and it seems very obvious where Bono's fly persona from the 90s came from... just two examples. I'm not sure if the movie's title works in its favour and perhaps that contributes to its obscurity. Nevertheless there is no denying the awesomeness of VICIOUS LIPS and with the passage of time it's magic has grown on people. It's not to be taken seriously. It requires an appreciation of classic B-movie culture and it represents Albert Pyun perfectly. It's right up there with my favourites!
2011 / Director. Rodman Flender.
Anyone who follows such things will know that Conan O'Brien spent years preparing to take over the Tonight Show from Jay Leno. Seven months into his new hosting position Leno had a change of heart and O'Brien was out. It was a messy and turbulent chapter that's been well documented. A condition of his payout was that Conan could not appear on television for the following 6 months. Pent up with anger, he devised an arduous live tour that proved to be far more gruelling than he could have imagined. CONAN O'BRIEN CAN'T STOP documents this chapter in his life and we follow him as he hops from city to city, performing to sell out crowds. I had been wanting to see this film for ages and finally caught up with it tonight. I have a lot of time for Conan and love his more spontaneous comedy (as opposed to his scripted stuff). What the film delivers is a fascinating fly-on-the-wall look at the weight such an undertaking has on a man. At first filled with elation and excitement to be performing outside of TV-land the tour soon proves to be little more than bothersome meet-n-greets, photo ops and sneaky obligations. When all Conan wants to do is unwind and chill out between shows he is forced to be "ON" at all times and can't shake off pesky brown-nosers and ass-kissers (celebrities included). At first there's no feeling sorry for him as much of the fanfare is of his own doing but when there's only so much a man can take and no one around him is listening to his requests, you truly feel for him. With the cameras always on him there is no question that he is in character for most of this documentary but when we get a real glimpse of the man behind the mask, its fascinating. At all times he tries damn hard to be a nice guy but the circumstances and environment around him turn him into a real asshole... The film and it's portrayal was not what I was expecting (refreshing) and his actual live show looked terrible... but spending time with Conan and his entourage was enlightening. Now he's back on television with his own show and isn't looking back. He's a guy who brought none of the shit upon himself and dealt with it fearlessly. CONAN O'BRIEN CAN'T STOP is an almighty "fuck you" to NBC and Jay Leno (I hate Jay Leno and so does Conan).
1993 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #17
During the 80s and 90s Albert Pyun was prolific. He pumped out movie after movie in quick succession and barely stopped to breath. In my interview with him last year he discussed never having a proper day off throughout his career. No sooner had he made ARCADE he had delivered KNIGHTS. This was a return to familiar territory for Pyun with cyborgs being at the heart of this post-apocalyptic sci-fi action film. He also wrote the story, which deals with similar themes to other cyborg related movies he has made. The film stars Kris Kristofferson, Lance Henrickson, Scott Paulin and Kathy Long and is set on a future Earth landscape where cyborgs are running out of life-sustaining oil and a rogue marauding clan of evil cyborgs discover human blood to be a superior substitute. Lead by Lance Henrickson (sporting the most ridiculous robotic claw-arm ever) they prey on human travellers. This is classic Pyun. The acting leaves a lot to be desired but where it lacks in performance, it makes up for in aesthetic. Pyun's use of landscape is awesome and his action is creatively devised in a pre-CGI, 90s kind of way. Daring fights are staged treacherously on cliff edges and are shot from weird and creative perspectives. It would be easy to brush KNIGHTS off as low-grade video fluff but the keener sci-fi geeks will find more to it. Scott Paulin's animated performance is a real show stopper and is the key to appreciating the film's intentional folly. Albert had intended KNIGHTS to be a loose spin-off to CYBORG and intended to make two sequels. Unfortunately the film under-performed and the sequels never came to fruition. I personally think that the title played a part in that... "KNIGHTS" is a misleading name and doesn't summarise the movie the way CYBORG and HEATSEEKER did for similarly themed Pyun titles. Sadly, as far as I know, KNIGHTS has never been treated to a re-release. The only way to see it is on VHS (or dvd transfer) and while it's sad that the film hasn't been as respected as it should have been, there's something wonderful about watching it on an old-school format.
1999 / Director. Craig Bolotin.
LIGHT IT UP is an unfortunate title. It immediately conjures up thoughts of teen flicks like BRING IT ON, GET OVER IT and most of the other three lettered movies that saturated screens in the late 90s (they Stepped Up to two letter titles in the 00s). It's not like those movies at all but rather an unexpectedly smart and provoking dramatic thriller. In an impoverished Bronx highschool a group of students become fed up with their substandard facilities and a faculty who couldn't give a damn about them. When a school security guard overreacts and scuffles with one of them, his gun comes loose and the students taken him hostage. The school is shut down and before they know it, the situation is out of control and they're confronted with a stand-off and subsequent media frenzy. It plays out like John Hughes meets John Singleton in a teen thriller that wholeheartedly respects it's audience. The script is tight and the pacing is fluent. It does become slightly cliched in it's final act but the awesome ensemble lifts it up. Rosario Dawson, Clifton Collins Jr, Forrest Whitaker, Sarah Gilbert, Judd Nelson and Usher Raymond are all really good and make LIGHT IT UP something inspiring and unpredictable. Sadly it's almost been lost to obscurity. Even at the time of it's release it flew under the radar and now 15 years later (wow. I feel old) most people would struggle to remember it. If you come across it then give it a whirl. Recommend it to your friends and give it the attention is deserves. It hasn't dated at all and feels just as relevant now as it did back then. Great stuff.
1973 / Director. John Landis.
Before THE THREE AMIGOS, TRADING PLACES and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, John Landis made SCHLOCK. It was his debut film and put him on course to Hollywood's cult royalty. The film is a low budget comedy, which parodies earlier creature features. A homicidal ape-like creature terrorises a Californian town, killing everything in it's path... and leaving a trail of bananas. Soon enough it falls in love with a blind woman and shows it's romantic side. The film references a whole heap of movies with 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY and KING KONG being the obvious ones. Landis himself adorned the ape costume and gave himself his one and only starring role. SCHLOCK is not a great film by any means but its a great snap-shot of a master finding his mojo. Landis experimented with his humour and wasn't self-conscious about missing the mark. Many of the gags fall flat but a whole lot of them also hit the spot. With a flimsy budget Landis made the most of every location and whatever recourses he could get his hands on... the ape costume was created by the legendary Rick Baker and for it's time, was quite affective. If you're a John Landis fan (and who isn't) then SCHLOCK is a film you should see. It's comical instincts were further explored in his next film THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE and its short running time make it a very easy watch. It's a good fun movie that marks the start of an impressive and legendary career.
2013 / Director. Richard Linklater.
The story of Celine and Jesse is evolving nicely. Perhaps not so much for the characters themselves but definitely for us movie-goers. BEFORE MIDNIGHT is the 3rd instalment of what is hopefully an ongoing series. They met in 1994's BEFORE SUNRISE and reunited in 2004's BEFORE SUNSET and now another 9 years have past and we catch up with them in Greece where they are on vacation with their family. Things are shaky between the two with each of them grasping different ideals and expectations. We know that their relationship has always been a tumultuous one and now it's more fractured than it's ever been. The film follows the familiar formula of both of them interacting in a series of lengthy conversations and now they've got children factoring into their life. The script is amazing. Richard Linklater, Julie Deply and Ethan Hawke are 100% invested in these characters and their attention to detail and their understanding of character traits as well as the tiniest nuances is beautiful. The story unfolds so naturally and you feel like you're catching up with old friends. Time has changed them and yet in many ways they are the same two young lovers we met all those years ago. They're complicated human beings and the conflict between them is stirring. Whether you identify with Celine or you identify with Jesse, the emotional journey they travel will definitely resonate with you in one way or another. What I love about these films is the honesty and the disregard for the audience's finer feelings. Celine and Jesse's life isn't a fairy tale and doesn't meet the requirements that the average viewer might demand. You have to commit yourself to these characters or else it's a waste of time. Do I want them to be happy? Yes. Do I like that they're struggling? No.... they feel like friends and its horrible to see their turmoil.... AND I LOVE IT! BEFORE MIDNIGHT is easily the strongest of the 3 films but BEFORE SUNSET (2) is still my favourite. What will become of them in another 9 years time?
2012 / Director. Rodney Ascher.
ROOM 237 is a cinematic piece of shit. Watching it filled me with anger and took me back to my film-school days when I was contending with pretentious wankers and idiots. This documentary is a dissection of Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING and presents an assembly of different interpretations of the film. Just exactly who these people are is unknown as we only hear their voices and are not presented with their credentials. They cherry pick at tiny nuances and present all kinds of absurd theories and conspiracies... none of which are nearly as intelligent as they're purported to be. Astonishingly ROOM 237 has been praised and lauded by critics and audiences all over the world. I can only suppose that they think they're watching something deep and meaningful when in fact they're just party to a distasteful exploitation of simple-minds. Earlier this evening I watched and enjoyed GROWN UPS 2, a film which was overwhelmingly lambasted. It was savaged by critics as being puerile and pandering to less-intelligent minds... and yet most of those critics went on to celebrate ROOM 237. I take exception to the irony of this because ROOM 237 is nothing but disillusioned and obtuse adults wasting their time searching for meaning where it does not exist. Kubrick would be turning in his grave if he saw this. It's offensive to his craft and not at all sensitive towards his films. Some people will say that I am ignoring the humour of this documentary but that's not true. With so many differing opinions and theories on display it is clearly taking the piss out of these people... knowing this made me feel uncomfortable. I felt like watching a circus freak show but rather than marvelling at the Elephant Man I can see his affliction and I feel sorry for him.
2013 / Director. Dennis Dugan.
This review is now going to sit well with many of you. GROWN UPS 2 was recently voted worst film of 2013 and has been universally panned by critics. You won't find praise for it anywhere and it would be a miracle for you to stumble upon anything remotely positive... until now. Oh hell, it is what it is and if you expect anything but puerile potty humour then you had no right to remark about it. The first GROWN UPS was a hit despite it's scathing reviews and this sequel is guaranteed to become one of the year's most profitable rentals/downloads. While most of you reading this are probably more attuned to sophisticated cinema, there is no denying that people love this shit... more specifically families. And there lies it's worth. I watched GROWN UPS 2 with my family and you should have heard the laughter. The kids were in stitches and us parents giggled at the infantile absurdity of it. There isn't even a story involved and the movie plays out as a series of childish discussions between grown men and random opportunities for sight gags. Groin hits, farts, abnormalities and tits are all treated like precious cargo and if you're not willing to abandon your maturity then what the hell are you doing watching it? If I were Adam Sandler, Dennis Dugan and co. I would take the "worst" accolades proudly and revel in the spoils of exuberant pay checks. At the end of the day it reaches its target audience and gives them what they expect. I personally loved seeing folks like Jon Lovitz, Allan Covert, Steve Buscemi, Tim Meadows, Peter Dante joining in the fun. They're an alumni I always get a kick out of catching up with. GROWN UPS 2 is harmless fun.
2000 / Director. Paul Verhoeven.
I saw HOLLOW MAN at the cinemas back in 2000 and I loved it. I'm a sucker for Paul Verhoeven's films and it lived up to my expectations. I was mesmerised by the awesome special FX, which were Oscar nominated, and loved the whole remerging of THE INVISIBLE MAN. Kevin Bacon might not stack up to Claude Rains but his personality was brilliantly exploited. He plays an arrogant and cocky genetic researcher who celebrates his own genius. Having pioneered a breakthrough invisibility serum, he uses himself as a case study and finds himself trapped in a cloak of invisibility. At first feeling imprisoned he soon slips into insanity and exploits his new "gift". All ethics and morals are pissed upon as he flips out on a rampage of rape and murder. As dire as that sounds, it's a super fun movie. I've revisited it a few times over the years, most recently tonight. I think it holds up well although I wouldn't heap the same praise that I did back then. Surprisingly the CGI is still impressive and hasn't dated much at all. The pacing and performances are good... all except for Elizabeth Shue who is sorely miscast (she's miscast in most films as far as I'm concerned). Verhoeven has a knack for sci-fi and really is an autuer. His flair is unmistakable with his highly stylised action sequences and cheeky misogynistic admiration for the female form. HOLLOW MAN fits nicely into the sci-fi genre but is amply gory and suspenseful enough to cross into the thriller and horror realms too.
1989 / Director. Ann Turner.
CELIA is an almost forgotten Australian film that suffered from it's own marketing. It did receive a lot of acclaim at the time and has gained a respectful following over the years but it's various alternative titles have done it a huge disservice, such as CELIA: CHILD OF TERROR and CELIA: A TALE OF INNOCENCE CORRUPTED. These titles give the wrong impression and suggest that the film is something that it is not. Rebecca Smart (remember her?) stars as Celia, a 9 year old girl on her summer break in 1957 Melbourne. With the death of her grandmother fresh in her mind, she welcomes the arrival of new neighbours and their children. They're a kind family and she attaches herself to them as a solace from her strict and irrational father. When the new neighbours are exposed as Communist sympathisers, the neighbourhood is thrown into panic and Celia's newfound happiness is turned into confusion and turmoil. She creates an imaginary world where adults are monsters and she is a victim turned heroine. CELIA is a belter of a film. It's very much a coming of age tale and it's beautifully made. The late 50's era is wonderfully captured and topical events of the time lay the foundation for the story. Rebecca Smart is insanely good as an innocent child dealing with adult problems and she handles some very grim and potent themes so maturely. It's a confronting film and comparisons have been drawn to films like LORD OF THE FLIES and Traffaut's THE 400 BLOWS. The comparisons are fair, but CELIA is unto it's own. Well written. Superbly performed and skilfully directed... go out and find it. It's an Australian gem!
2013 / Director/ Lloyd Kaufman.
This is NUKE 'EM HIGH for a new generation. It begins with a self referential recap of the original films and glazes over parts 2 and 3 and finally concedes that this is both a remake and sequel. IMDb trivia states that Quentin Tarantino suggested that Lloyd Kaufman split the movie into two volumes, to which Kaufman leapt at the idea. The result of dividing the movie leads to a lot of padding. There's a lot of wadding stuffed into this movie to stretch it out but thankfully it's mostly fun. It's great to be back in familiar territory and you get the sense that Kaufman and the folks at Troma are feeling pretty nostalgic about it. Now that it's no longer "hip" to make political statements about nuclear energy, they've ignored the enviro angle and gone with a basic toxic infection concept. An organic food joint is built on the old power plant site and their ingredients are consumed by students. Thus begins the old formula. The Kredents are back and so are the nerdy classmates lining up for depravity. In typical Troma style the movie is packed with naked chicks, blood & gore, giant cocks and a variety of politically incorrect antics. There is also a very cool narrative from the legendary Stan Lee (he's been a champion of Troma for years). If you've become accustomed to the explicit nature of Troma over the past several years with films like POULTRYGEIST, CITIZEN TOXIE and TERROR FIRMER then you might want to lower your expectations. RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH is a return to some of Troma's 80's sensibilities and is suitably restrained in comparison to those other recent films... this gives it a nice Troma charm. I would have preferred the movie in one single instalment but there's part of me that loves the anticipation of Volume 2. Bring it on!! Heaps fun.
2005 / Director. Steven Spielberg.
I admit that I am overly defensive when it comes to Steven Spielberg, however, it is with absolution that I say that his WAR OF THE WORLDS is quite possibly his most underrated film to date. It's also the one film of his which has attracted the most criticism... well... I won't have any of that. This is a flawless and impeccable film as far as I'm concerned. Taking HG Wells' classic story and placing it in a contemporary setting is it's biggest strength with the various themes baring great relevance to the world at the time. With 9/11 still fresh in people's minds, the confronting images from the film proved to be terrifying. Spielberg chose not to explore any type of character development or potential subplots and, instead, he made a film of relentless terror that moves at a breakneck pace. The action begins almost immediately as giant alien tripods rise from the beneath the Earth and systematically begin exterminating humans. There's no slow-mo here as people are evaporated one after another without giving the viewer any time to reflect. Tom Cruise is excellent too. Detractors be gone! Whatever you think of him, there's no denying the intensity of his performance. Every time I watch the film it sticks in my mind for ages. The images are so visceral and arresting and always disturbing. People are turned to dust. Other people are covered in that dust. Hundreds of bodies floating downstream in a river and a vicious mob mentality brutally assaulting children are just some of the horrifying images put to screen. There's no holds barred in this epic and incredible science fiction horror film. At the time of it's release Australian film critic David Stratton declared WAR OF THE WORLDS as the best film of 2005 and for the first time ever... I wholeheartedly agreed with him. HUGELY undervalued!
1999 / Director. Takao Okawara.
Hollywood are about to reboot GODZILLA with a big new epic blockbuster and the excitement of it's release has cast my mind back to the classic Japanese GODZILLA movies over the years. From the mid 50s right up to the mid 00's the franchise went through 3 generations of inception. GODZILLA 2000 was considered a reboot at the time and kickstarted what is known as the GODZILLA MILLENNIUM SERIES. It ignored all of the previous films attempted to start fresh and the weird thing about it is that GODZILLA is introduced as part of society. He's already an established monster to the people of Japan and they see him as a great protector. We're not given the origin story at all and there's no reference to him being the product of atomic testing (aside from one passing comment about his radioactive skin). And so the film begins with a team of Godzilla chasers who conduct research on the creature. They are racing against time as a private military outfit attempt to kill the beast. Midway into the story a mysterious cocoon surfaces from the ocean and all attention is diverted to it. Godzilla is forgotten for the next 30 minutes as the cocoon reveals itself to be an evolving alien spacecraft, which eventually becomes the alien beast, ORGA. In true GODZILLA fashion it then becomes a monumental smack-down. Beast VS beast as the city around them is destroyed. This is a fantastic entry to the franchise and what bothers me about the American's adapting the story is their lack of understanding. They always take it seriously and while the upcoming Hollywood film looks great, it will lack the charisma of the Japanese series. GODZILLA 2000 was made following JURASSIC PARK and THE LOST WORLD and yet it stuck with the traditional (wonderful) gimmicks. GODZILLA is still a man inside a rubber suit and he still stomps his way through miniatures... and that is where the charm is. I've watched the movie twice in recent weeks... once in Japanese and again with the English dub. Both are so much fun but I've got to fess up and admit that I enjoyed the dubbed version a lot more. The hokey dialogue adds a whole other level of lunacy, which strikes a chord with me.