Island At The Top Of The World is a seemingly forgotten Disney live-action classic. It was directed by one of Disney's most profitable filmmakers, Robert Stevenson. The film is one of the last he made for the company and tells the adventure of a millionaire's search for his lost son. He enlists the help of an American researcher/adventurer and together they set off in a zeppelin towards the arctic following the son's trail. The search turns into high adventure when a lost civilisation is found on an undiscovered island. It's a wonderful adventure with a very Jules Verne-esque flavour. What I love most about this movie is it's special fx. Made in 1972, it makes use of matted back drops, chroma key and miniature models which give the story a fantastical aesthetic. Given that this discovered world is new to the characters, it adds to the viewers sense of discovery when it all looks so foreign. A well made film that deserves a few runs on a Saturday afternoon to introduce it to a new generation.
The Ides Of March is a confirmation that George Clooney is a great filmmaker, let alone actor. His 4th film as director, it follows a democratic governor's presidential campaign trail in the state of Ohio. Ryan Gosling stars as the junior campaign manager who's ideals are tested when the gritty game of politics becomes inevitable. George Clooney uses this film as a statement. He makes no secret that he is very politically motivated with a strong sense of social justice. In the film his governor character stands for all the things Clooney rallies for in reality but they're so absolutely 'ideal' that it's foolish to think he would actually stand a chance using them as his platform. And so I felt a little but disconnected with this aspect of the film. However, on the flip side Clooney may very well be presenting this ironically, in which case the entire film is satirical. Nevertheless the actual public part of the campaign is secondary to a story about the goings on behind closed doors. The manipulation, fabrication and corruption are what this is all about. It's a strong film and Clooney successfully presents the absolute absurdity of politics. Public interest is entirely lost and The Ides Of March is a scary and depressing reality which most of us already knew. It's a strong film.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a once lost episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I don't usually review tv shows in this group but I reckon this one deserves a nod. It's a 30 minute episode based on a short story by Robert Bloch (Psycho author) about a deranged teenager who goes on a small killing spree inside a carnival side show. Made in 1960 it was banned from broadcast. The subject matter and its depiction was far too macabre and gruesome for audiences at the time and the episode disappeared for years. It was eventually found and issued as a bonus feature on many Hitchcock dvds. I watched it as part of the whole Alfred Hitchcock presents collection and its restoration is fantastic. This 30 minute film feels inspired and was no doubt influential. It came about the same year as Hitch & Bloch's Psycho and given the similarities between this killer and Norman Bates, it makes me wonder if this was a sort of test-run. The shocking end scene is the stuff of classics and I have seen it imitated countless times since. I would love to have been alive back then to witness this kind of controversial and audacious stuff for the first time. I can imagine the reaction in lounge rooms IF this was actually broadcast. People would have fainted... people would have been traumatised.... and Hitch would have had a great chuckle at their expense! ♥
Regardless of your political persuasion, Margaret Thatcher's life and leadership was a fascinating one. Her persistence against adversity was admirable. Her leadership was intrepid and her later years have been seemingly lonely. Such a life deserves to be told boldly and The Iron Lady just didn't cut it for me. I can't deny that Meryl Streep is sensational. She never ceases to amaze me and she has yet again delivered an extraordinary performance. She has nailed all of the nuances and character traits of Maggie and her Oscar was well deserved... but sadly I felt disconnected with the story. The film hopscotches along the timeline and feels more like a collage of Thatcher's life as opposed to a straight forward biopic. This method might appeal to some but it irritated me. Too much time is focused on a lonely portrait of an elderly woman suffering dementia. I found this to be a huge liberty that the filmmakers have taken. It adds a fabrication to a public life that distracts the viewer and smells like an agenda. Her youth and political life are well portrayed but the movie scatters the years all over the place. Watching movies should never be an effort but The Iron Lady ended up being just that. What a shame.
I found myself staring at huge pile of Alfred Hitchcock dvds. I chose to watch his 1930 film "Murder!". Its a story about a female circus performer, sentenced to death for murder. She was found with the body and her clothes were bloodied. The film follows her trial and the jury deliberation where one of her circus co-workers has his doubts about her guilt and sets upon finding the real killer. "Murder!" is Hitchcock's 3rd talkie film and despite it's age, it showcased so much style and foreshadowed much of his work that followed. It's laced with humour and I was surprised with some of the things he managed to get away with for its time. Even the title is provocative for 1930. The film does lag in the middle and 105 minutes is long, but it all comes together in one fantastic and shocking finale. Hitchcock was truly one of a kind.
I am inspired by style. Like a music video, a film needn't have a lot of depth if the style is visionary, creative and unique. The Cell starring Jennifer Lopez was a movie which really left an impression on me when it was released. It had such an original vision and I craved more from it's first time director. The Fall is his follow up. With a cover art stating "David Fincher & Spike Jonze Presents" it's clear that this is going to be something special. Watching the film is like being lost inside a Salvador Dali painting. The colours and movements are extraordinary. It tells the story of a little girl inside a hospital in the 1920s who meets a paralysed Hollywood stuntman. They strike an unlikely friendship as the man begins to tell her a story about the origin of her name, Alexandria. The film mostly takes place in the fantasy world he describes where everything is false and completely lucid. This magical story-world doesn't make any sense and so much time is given to its description. A major part of its charm is that its mostly incomprehensible. As the story crosses back to the real world we are treated to revelations about the man and possibly an ulterior motive. The performances are solid and the little girl is really impressive. I read that the interaction between the two was largely improvised. What I love most about The Fall is that upon repeat viewings, what was originally intangible slowly becomes tangible. Like good abstract art, its confusion and complexity makes sense. This is a magical and provoking film. See it.
To have a film described as "Hitchcockian" is a real testament to the old master and his work's longevity. The Vanishing is a unique and chilling French thriller which is undeniably Hitchcockian. A couple travelling through the French countryside stop at a service station for a break. The woman leaves for the restrooms and never returns. She simply vanishes. The film then alternates between her partner's exhaustive 3 year search for answers and her abductor's methodical planning of the kidnapping. It's an unnerving film riddled with detail and observation and commands repeat viewings. The villain of the story is a truly disturbing character portrayed in one of the most understated performances I have seen of a bad guy. The Vanishing is a gripping experience which if seen for the first time is unpredictable and astonishing. When seen several times it proves to be one of the most precise and astounding thrillers of all time. If you have never seen it, do.
Note: Don't mistake this for the 1993 American remake starring Kiefer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges. It was made by the same director but seriously lacks the substance of the superior original.
'Nuts' is a film packed with excellent performances. Richard Dreyfus is great as usual. Maureen Stapleton is great. Eli Wallach is great and James Whitmore is outstanding... but Barbara Streisand is terrible. Now that's a one HUGE flaw considering that she is the lead in this film. So bad is her acting that you even see her squirt a fake teardrop into her eye (wow). She plays a prostitute who has been charged with manslaughter. Her behaviour is erratic and violent and psychiatric evaluations find her to be crazy... and so the movie centres on a court hearing to determine whether she is competent enough to stand trail. I watched this tonight for the first time since the 90s and I was taken aback at how average it is. It's a pointless film with a predictable turn of events. The abused childhood. The abusive ex husband etc... it's all handled so poorly that the entire movie is one big cliche. You will see the outcome from a mile away but what really topped the absurdity was the closing credits explaining what happened next, as though it was a true story. My God, so many wasted performers in one really awful film. Hated it!
It's Friday The 13th and so naturally in my home that means scary movies (any excuse). With the kids on the couch with me we chose Child's Play 1 and 2. These movies are suspenseful enough to scare the kids but not so aggressive as to traumatise them. They're no more frightening than Gremlins, they just have more swearing. Anyhow, the original Child's Play is an excellent horror movie. Director Tom Holland knows the genre and handles the material perfectly. Naturally when making a movie with a killer doll, it impossible to avoid the kitsch but Holland gives this movie villain a pure menace. I suppose its due to the opening scenes which show the killer in human form, but the affect is mostly due to the central character being a 6 year old child. For its time (and even now) that is a rare thing. This kid exhibits genuine fear with his favourite toy ferociously trying to hunt him down and kill him. It's a really underrated movie.
David Cronenberg is a God. During my film school days I idolised him more than any other director. His work in the 70s and 80s remains some of the most visceral cinema ever made. Back then he was a horror director unlike any other. His films were graphic, gruesome and often clinical. Flesh was a major theme throughout his work and each film portrayed gore in a sexualised way. Videodrome is one of his most ambitious and visually arresting films to date. A lot of the references and themes will be lost on today's younger audience but those of us who remember the days of BETA and VHS will comprehend this story a lot more. James Woods plays a scout for an underground television network. His job is to source violent and pornographic programming. He picks up a foreign frequency through his antenna which broadcasts "Videodrome" a continuous scene of torture. It's essentially a snuff film. He becomes obsessed with its images and soon starts to hallucinate grisly visions. Mind control and sensory deprivation bind this story together to make for a surreal mind-fuck. Cronenberg's style and use of practical FX hold up incredibly well with today's standards. No CGI, 100% realistic and there are some fx that still boggle my mind. These days Cronenberg has abandoned horror and is now making some amazing thrillers (A History Of Violence, Eastern Promises) but I am so keen for him to return to the genre that he does so uniquely. Videodrome is amazing!
Psycho is the ultimate horror movie. It set a standard and revolutionised a genre. To this day it remains a benchmark for filmmakers and its significance is irrefutable.... but every movie-goer knows that and the film has been well documented over the years... and so this documentary, The Psycho Legacy, briefly skims the surface of Psycho but chooses to focus on the 3 sequels which followed. In my mind they are all good movies and parts 2 and 3 are particularly well made. The doco has gathered a whole lot of creative players from the series and compiled some rare interviews and footage from departed people like Anthony Perkins himself and director Richard Franklin. It also visits with other filmmakers and aficionados and makes for a comprehensive chronicle of a legendary franchise. I discuss film with people every day (its part of my job) and an automatic reflex many people have to Psychos 2, 3 & 4 is negative. They dismiss them as though cheap bargain-bin replicates but I view these movies in a whole different light. Each one is different from the other and none of them imitate or contradict Hitchcock's masterpiece. They are made affectionately and the character of Norman Bates is examined really ornately. Interestingly I learned from this doco that Anthony Perkins favourite of the sequels was actually part 4. This surprised me because while I like it a lot, it is panned the most. The Psycho Legacy has created a renewed appreciation for the series and will no doubt shed a new light on the sequels to the armchair critics. My biggest disappointment was that the spin-off film The Bates Motel (an attempt to kick start a tv series) was ignored, as was the shit Gus Van Sant remake. I would like to have heard opinions about both.
Disney's 1950 adaptation of Treasure Island was a movie that captivated me as a kid. Along with its sequel (Long John Silver) I wore out my VHS copies. I loved it so much that it was one of the first books I can recall reading at length and I have seen most of the film versions which were to follow over the years. Most of them are pretty crap, notably the Charlton Heston & Christian Bale movie from the 90s. I have just watched the latest treatment and I am really surprised at it's quality. This is a good movie. Made as a tv miniseries it looks as polished as a proper film. The design and authenticity is exceptional and the story stays true with the book (for the most part). Eddie Izzard is an unlikely choice to play Long John Silver but shiver me' timbers, he's probably the best Silver I've seen. He relishes the role. The movie is suitably violent while maintaining a family friendly (10+yrs) value that the book also had. A couple of flaws would be that Elijah Wood's performance as Ben Gunn is weak and the movie does run out of steam in the second half. Nevertheless I think this is a great adaptation and certainly more than I expected. Full kudos to Izzard!
I'm about to open the floodgates but I'm wearing a life-jacket and am ready for the surge... I don't really need to review Alex Proyas' The Crow starring Brandon Lee. It's a work of art, a modern masterpiece and a fucking awesome movie... and so I'll jump straight to The Crow: City Of Angels. On the heels of such a critically acclaimed film, it was a brave thing to tempt fate twice. City Of Angels was not received well and was harshly judged. I never understood the hate... where the first film was a gothic horror, COA was a grunge horror. It's aesthetically different and well made. Director Tim Pope has a long history of stylised music videos, having directed most of The Cure's clips and he brings a new vision to the franchise that separates itself from what people expected and perhaps that was the movie's fault. David Goyer (Batman Begins) wrote the screenplay and he also envisioned something dirtier and more insipid. Now that 16 years have past, the movie has found itself a cult following. Time has served it well and it's a decent film unto itself.
And then there was 3. "Salvation" is the second sequel in the series and again tried to redefine the property. It was a well intentioned entry to the franchise but sadly missed the mark. The story is good enough and the reimaging of The Crow character is pretty cool... but the movie simply lacks a visual presence. It looks more like a television crime show than the horror vigilante movie that it's supposed to be. All's it would have taken to elevate it would have been a different lighting design and cinematography because all of the other components are in place. Still, I don't hate Salvation. It might be a lacklustre sequel in comparison with the previous films but as a stand-alone it works well enough to make it worth a look. What it does have going for it is a really fucking awesome soundtrack.
Oh and here's my review for the 4th Crow film "Wicked Prayer".... it's a turd!
I knew going into 'Bates Motel' that it would be shit... but it's a movie that's always been in my consciousness and I remember seeing it in my local video store when I was a kid. In fact it's cover may have even been my first entry point to the whole Psycho legacy. I was no older than 8 and the video cover was creepy. So finally, some 25 years later, I bothered to sit down and watch it. Of course now I have a comprehensive knowledge of all things Psycho and an extremely low expectation. Bates Motel was made in 1987, shortly after the third Psycho film was released. It was an attempt to kick-start an anthology tv show in the fashion of The Twilight Zone or even Alfred Hitchcock Presents... the airing bombed catastrophically and the series ended right there and then. The result is a 90 minute piece of shit that ignores the Psycho timeline and kills off Norman Bates in the first 5 minutes. He leaves the Bates motel to his friend from the psychiatric hospital and the movie shows this new character renovating the motel. Wedged in-between his story is a weird subplot about a visiting guest who has a run in with a bunch of ghosts from the 1950s. I guess that was their attempt at a "weekly story". Anyway, there are no murders and the main character is not a killer as the poster art implies. A teenage Jason Bateman and Lori Petty also star in the movie which hardly compensates for this bona-fide butchering of a beloved legacy. The whole thing is on Youtube if you're curious to see what type of stink this is.
The Spitfire Grill is an understated film about second chances and redemption. Percy is a 20-something girl who is released from prison. Looking for a fresh start she travels to a small country town with hopes of making a new life for herself. She is taken in by an old woman who runs the local eatery. Friendships are made against the adversity of small-town suspicions and as the movie unravels pasts secrets from various characters are revealed. It's a nice film with some solid and modest performances. Perhaps the story is rushed in parts with some valuable pacing ignored but the result is still a heartwarming and subtle movie that is sadly unknown to most people these days.