There's two ways to look at Upside Down (pun intended). On one hand its a movie with terrible story telling and really bad science, yet on the other hand its an incredible achievement of style and fantasy. Being an optimist I've chosen to embrace the positive side of Upside Down and approaching it as a fairytale has given me an exhilarating and mesmerising experience... with one hell of a throbbing mind-fuck! The movie is bookended by a really poorly written narration that explains that the story takes place elsewhere in the Universe where two planets exist beside each other and share a dual gravity. So close are the planets that a corporation connects the two with a tower. Upworld is a privileged society whereas Downworld is impoverished. The two are forbidden to interact outside of the corporation and the movie tells of two lovers from each world who meet at the closet point between the two worlds (mountain peaks within feet of each other). The premise is stupid but the film is so visually incredible that its easy to become enchanted by it. The entire story is presented in a weird and wonderful mirror image and blending it so seamlessly is a masterstroke of cinematography and editing. Adding to the magical aesthetic is a soundtrack featuring Sigur Rós and a conceptual design that'll blow you away. So my advice is to suspend your disbelief and give in to the fantasy. Physicists will either tear their hair out or die from laughter but anyone with a big imagination and sense of wonder will find something tangible about Upside Down. Go on, watch it... you're eyes will thank you.
Paul Thomas Anderson is an incredible filmmaker and The Master is an extraordinary film. It's the story of a post-WWII drifter, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who is taken under the wing of a mysterious scholar who leads a small congregation of followers who believe in the pseudoscience of metaphysical transcendence. The group is "The Cause" and they condition fragile minds. If this sounds familiar that's because much of the story is inspired by the foundation of Dianetics, the forerunner to Scientology. Other aspects of the story were taken from unused material of Anderson's previous film There Will Be Blood. Above all else this is a performance piece! Regardless of its narrative, you can stare at the screen and get totally lost in these amazing characters. Phoenix steps up and reenforces his reputation for being a solidified, methodical and transcending actor and Anderson clearly understands his talent as he fixates on Phoenix's face throughout the film. The emotions are raw.... and then there's Phillip Seymour Hoffman! Wow! Originally the lead character, it was Hoffman himself who dug into the script and suggested that Phoenix take the lead although, as the film's title suggests, his presence is all commanding. Anderson seems to be a sure thing and hasn't made a bad film yet. He works outside of the Hollywood perimeters and rarely compromises on his vision. I am intrigued also at a curious little fact prior to the film's release. Being a close friend of Tom Cruise, Anderson granted him a private screening of the film. I would love to have been a fly on the wall.... what would Scientology's leading spokesman have thought of The Master?
Scream of the Banshee is another movie from the After Dark Originals collection. I have difficulty criticising these films because they're made by unknown up-and-coming directors on minuscule budgets. Making movies ain't easy and given the restraints the After Dark films are impressive. By no means my favourite of the lot, Scream of the Banshee is nonetheless an affective and gory little fright flick. A university archaeology professor receivers a strange artefact in the shape of a box. Dating back thousands of years the box contains the severed head of an ancient Banshee, a mythical creature from Celtic folklore. The creature escapes and carnage ensues. It's bloodcurdling scream is shrilling enough to rapture eardrums and kill people. The story is similar to Peter Hyam's Relic and what appealed to me most about Scream of the Banshee is the creature concept. They've attempted to give us a new movie-monster, one that we haven't seen before. There are no CGI f/x and the creature harks back to the Evil Dead style of monster. A rotting, putrid, witch-like character with matted hair and elongated claw-like fingers. It's a fantastic character-invention that's genuinely creepy, deliciously repulsive and would have made Stan Winston proud. The story does fall into a lot of cliches but that's expected and easily forgiven due to a creative aesthetic and well paced story. The beauty about initiatives like The After Dark project is that new talents emerge. The director of Banshee has gone on to helm the recent remake of Silent Night Deadly Night. Hopefully we'll see a lot more of him in the future.
A recent conversation exposed the fact that my step-son had never seen Short Circuit. Well, we can't be having this and so seizing the opportunity we sat down and did a double feature movie night with pizza. I personally hadn't seen the original film in years and hadn't seen the sequel since the mid 90s. The first one was just as I remember it, albeit a little more hokey than my memory serves. I love most of Steve Guttenberg's 80s work and Short Circuit came at a time when he seemed to dominate Hollywood. Hi-tech robot type movies were also popular and Short Circuit attempted to replace the science fiction with a humanity as the Number-5 military issue robot programmed for violence is struck by lightening and comes to life with emotions and morality his occupation. It's not a great movie by any means but it represents a great era of filmmaking before CGI became prominent. The robot is a real effect and it's mechanics are created by hand. There's a definite charm to Short Circuit and John Badham's experienced hand at this genre lends more credibility to it's stupid story than most other directors would have done.
Of course with most successful Hollywood movies comes sequels. Rarely for creative reasons and almost exclusively for the sole purpose of capitalising on the original success. When Short Circuit 2 was released it was met with a generous reception. It was critically accepted and renowned film critic Roger Ebert even declared it to be better than the original. I loved Roger but this is something we disagree on. The movie SUCKS! Its terrible. Guttenberg and Alley Sheedy declined to return and so the annoying Indian side-kick guy from the first movie returns to carry the entire thing on his own... well he tries. He was irritating enough as a side character in the first movie but now he's almost unbearable. Number-5 (now Johnny-5) is sent to New York to help this guy mass produce a line of Number-5 toys. In doing so he gets caught up in a dumb diamond heist and ends up chasing criminals across the city. There is nothing here to engage the viewer. No emotional connection and no well-intended sentiments. Its just cheap gags and poorly conceived show-off FX. A 3rd movie was written... thank God it was never made!
Redd Inc is an Australian horror film masquerading as an American one. Right off the bat this is a flaw because the Aussie actors can't quite maintain their American accents and slip up on certain syllables or pronunciations. Fortunately the horror of the film is strong enough to distract you and keep your mind on other things. It's a horrific film and explicitly violent (excellent). Nicholas Pope plays Thomas Reddman, a deranged and psychopathic businessman who holds 6 people captive in an office. Chained to desks they are tasked with data entry and told not to stop. The movie unfolds with a series of gore scenes, each deliciously repulsive as Reddman sets about recreating the perfect work place. Pope is great in the lead and while he has maintained his career over the past 20 years, this is his first prominent lead since Bad Boy Bubby. He's got such a great face for darkly funny films and this is a nice return to the oddball type of character. Horror FX maestro Tom Savini oversaw the gore fx and provides some knarley stuff. He also has a stupid little cameo midway through which has no purpose other than being a nod to the audience. I thought it was tacky with him on camera with a Dawn of the Dead poster behind him... seriously, come on! Anyhow, Redd Inc is a surprising and quirky little movie. It will please gore hounds but probably won't resonate with most others.
In 2011 James Murphy stunned the music world be announcing that he was ending his band LCD Soundsystem and retiring. The news was unexpected and shocking to fans. The band were at the height of their success and had just released what was arguably their best album yet... their masterpiece. The decision was well orchestrated by Murphy and the final album was his first step towards an end. What followed was a monumental 4 hours final show at Madison Square Gardens. Shut Up And Play The Hits is a film documenting this farewell show and Murphy's final goodbye to the rest of his fans. The film is IN-SANE! I was already a fan and their albums are always on high rotation in my home, car and work. The film is mostly comprised of the live performance and it's intercut with a final sit down interview as well as Murphy's life the following day. Retiring was not a decision he took lightly and the film explores his reasons and hopes to bring closure to the fans. The live stuff is incredible and captured gorgeously with an amazing multi-cam set up that's non-intrusive yet grants access to areas of the stage that seem impenetrable. Murphy's emotions are put in the spotlight for the world to see and the film doesn't dance around them. This is a very personal and intimate moment in time of a performer torn and his thoughts are laid bare for us to see. This is not something he is normally comfortable doing but it's obvious that the process he's taken to systematically bring an end to his own career has burdened him immensely. Shut Up And Play The Hits is one of the best music films I think I've ever seen and the incredible blu-ray release also features the entire 4 hour concert in it's uncut entirety. If only we could thank James and his mates for the sublime, exciting and original music they gave us. LCD Soundsystem will continue to be a soundtrack to me life as I'm sure they will be to others. Check out this film.
2012 / Director. Jon Wright.
Grabbers is the best creature-feature I've seen in ages. It's really smegging cool. Wasting no time the movie gets off to a cracking pace from the first frame. A ball of fire breaks through the atmosphere and lands in the sea off the coast of a small Irish fishing island. From it emerges gigantic tentacled creatures which feed on blood. It's established that they're allergic to alcohol and so the entire community stages a lock-in at the local pub and drink themselves rotten. The premise is great and the execution is even better. Watching drunkards battle against alien amphibians is hilarious and the acting is wonderful. You almost wonder if they actually got drunk in reality because the slurred, stammered & unbalanced performances are ridiculously good. I've always been a big fan of creature-features and I've got a strong affection for Irish maritime settings and so Grabbers was a triumphant win from the get go for me. If you dig flicks like Shaun of the Dead and Attack The Block then this is a sure thing. Heavily influenced by Lovecraft with a touch of American Werewolf in London this awesome little flick is bound for another viewing really soon. Check it out!
There is nothing funny about Bachelorette. This is a terrible movie. I could end the review right there but I may as well elaborate a little more. The premise is essentially a gender reversal of The Hangover. Where the characters and their antics in The Hangover have redeeming qualities, the same cannot be said about the women in this movie. These characters are despicable, self centred human beings who take drugs and insult people. Most movies would offer a payoff in the way of an awakening or self-discovery but Bachelorette doesn't think we need it. Instead these women are just as horrible as when it started and we haven't liked a single thing they've said or done. How is there amusement or entertainment in this? I'm only going to laugh at people I can sympathise with in one way or another or at least see them get their comeuppance. The script is forced too with constant clutches for comedy by way of woeful dialogue and foul language. "Lets do coke" is supposed to be hilarious, I gather, and "oh she tries to kill herself all the time" is assumed to be hysterical. People are humiliated for no reason and body image is ridiculed without any sort of payoff. I wanted to turn the movie off at the 20 minute mark but I persisted, expecting (hoping) that everything would come to an uplifting resolution. Nup! It blows!
Before I say anything else I will declare that The Man With Iron Fists kicks ass. It's an action packed genre flick that pays homage to the classic martial arts films of old like The Lady Hermit and Shaolin Temple. Directed by former Wu Tang Clan member, RZA, the film is an exercise in style over substance. For some that's not enough but for me I am happy to relish a highly stylised film if it maintains it's stamina and aesthetic. Being a homage flick the first natural comparison is Kill Bill but beyond that there are other influences like House of Flying Daggers, Ran and even Monkey Magic. I felt a wave of deja vu hit me with some of the township locations and realised that they are almost identical to the design of Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django, which is another comparable film. RZA and Eli Roth (Hostel) developed the script over a five year period and it's an achievement to say the least. The action is written beautifully and shot graphically and the characters, while they lack depth, are deliciously quirky & eccentric (Russell Crowe is especially good as the Englishman). The set and costume designs are magnificent... the weapon design is amazing and the soundtrack is off tap. RZA provides another brilliant hip-hop score and again proves he's one of the leading urban artists working in film (check out his work on Ghost Dog Way of the Samurai). To anyone who argues that the movie lacks depth clearly misses the point. RZA and Roth clearly had a vision and there's much attention to detail in every shot that their vision was obviously reached. I should also mention that elements of the film can also be compared with Tarantino's Django Unchained and in fact both films were originally intended to cross-over. RZA's character was written to appear in Django but due to conflicting schedules and other interfering factors the idea never came to fruition. It would have been great, though and Tarantino subsequently lent his name to this one in a "Presents" complicity. If you love highly stylised martial art fantasy films then you will want to check this one out!
When I was a teenager I was addicted to James Patterson's Alex Cross novels. His chapters were only 3-5 pages long and it made reading easy. There's 20 books in the series and so far only 3 films have been made... but none have hit the mark! Morgan Freeman has been replace by Tyler Perry and here lies the first mistake. Perry is radically miscast and his performance is wooden and shallow. Morgan Freeman tapped into the essence of Alex Cross which allowed his performance to carry what were otherwise average thrillers. The second mistake and arguably the biggest was that this new movie bares little resemblance to the book it's based on. I have a very liberal view on books being turned into movies and I understand and respect the need to make fundamental changes to the material, however, in this case the screenplay is so far removed from the book that its absurd. I don't understand why either because the books are best sellers and a proven formula. What's transpired on the screen here is almost a retelling of the previous movie, Along Came A Spider. So many similarities and nothing original. The screenplay is terrible and the timeline is fucked. Matthew Fox does make an affective villain but he's been given such a cliched character to work with that it just comes off stupid. Another major flaw is the American PG-13 rating (Aussie M). All of the action sequences are edited down to the point that you have to strain to actually find the action. The camera flinches from contact and distorts at the notion of being graphic. I'm really bummed out to see the Alex Cross character being disrespected like this. Sadly another film has already been announced with Tyler Perry returning. Shit! Please bring back Freeman or perhaps turn to Idris Elba (if he'll have ya) who was originally signed to star but was cast aside for Madea... err... sorry, I mean Perry.
Despite my aversion to most Hollywood remakes I kept a lid on my expectations when approaching Red Dawn. John Milius's original 1984 film holds up well and remaking it isn't necessary. The flip side is that an updated retelling could be relevant given the state of the world at the moment. In fact the premise to the new Red Dawn is an eerie reflection of whats actually happening in North Korea. The film began production in 2008 and could not have possibly foreseen the events we are watching unfold in reality. In a prologue it is established that Europe has fallen into an economic crisis, leaving the United States isolated and vulnerable to ever increasing hostility from foe nations. North Korea and Russia seize the opportunity and launch a full scale invasion. The overall premise is the same as the original and most of the narrative follows the same trajectory but with modern filmmaking this movie steps it up to a whole new level. The film excited me and it managed to grip me from the get go, not relenting until it's closing frame. The action is well staged and on a huge scale and director Dan Bradley uses mostly practical FX, choosing to limit the use of CGI. He comes from a stuntman background and has an obvious affinity for the real stuff. It's this factor that ultimately holds Red Dawn together. There isn't a lot of time for character development or tactical explanation but I really didn't care. In Hollywood blockbuster terms the movie made sense and delivered an unexpected thrill. Chris Hemsworth works well in the lead and Josh Peck holds his own in the main support role. I remember Peck as the tubby kid from Max Keeble and Mean Creek... it's almost shocking how much weight he's lost. Anyhow, Red Dawn is entirely unnecessary BUT doesn't do the original any disservice. It's bang for your buck!
Here's another classic slasher from the early 80s. Released at a time when the genre was finding its stride My Bloody Valentine rode the wake of movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th but in hindsight it set itself apart. Much like The Prowler (also released in 81) it paced itself differently, allowing for better set ups which amplified the kill scenes. In a small mining town with a horrific past a class of high school students organise the first Valentine's Day dance in 20 years. With a valentine's day tragedy thought to be urban legend, the town folk start showing up in pieces and the party goers soon find themselves at the mercy of a faceless killer. Obviously it's true to formula and pulls most of the usual strings, but there's a quality about it that stands up against most of it's peers. Like The Prowler it never spawned any sequels and perhaps this adds to its strength some 30 years later. The killer, clad in mining gear, is genuinely scary and not at all hokey and the pace of the film moves along nice and fast. Its one of the highlights of the 80s slasher genre for me and I recommend it to anyone looking for quality horror. Just make sure you watch the uncut version because the theatrical cut is very tame. Oh and if you watch this original then there is NO point visiting the cruddy remake!
Click to view Region 4 artwork.
Relief! I was overcome with it when I realised that Struck By Lightning was not another typical teen-com. My defences were up and the atrocious Australian dvd artwork wasn't filling me with confidence. It stars Chris Colfer (the annoying gay kid from Glee and that alone caused me a little bit of pre-movie anxiety. But as with most films I gave it the benefit of the doubt and pressed play. Wow, what a surprise! This is a smart, witty and observational coming of age story that's unlike others I recall seeing. Colfer plays a brainiac who's IQ and thirst for knowledge far succeeds any of his peers. He's stuck in a life he wants to break free of and ironically needs the help of everyone around him. To get into a prestigious university and chase his dreams of becoming an editor he must first put together a literary magazine... the problem is that he's the only one who gives a shit. And so with the help of a lonely fat girl (Rebel Wilson) he digs up dirt on almost the entire school body and blackmails everyone into submitting written pieces. I admit that I judged this Chris Colfer kid unfairly. His presence on Glee clouded my judgement but now I see in him an absolute talent. He wrote this film based on his own novel (HIS OWN NOVEL) and with a quick wiki search I discovered that he also has two more novels for young adults. That's amazing, he's 22. In this film he addressed issues of depression, abandonment and drug dependancy as well as homosexuality and mental disorders. His view of the world and the belief that with perseverance great things are possible is inspiring. He has written a film far beyond his years and I take my hat off to him. Adding cred to the film are supporting performances from Allison Janney, Dermott Mulroney and Christina Hendricks as well as Rebel Wilson who offers a more subtle character to what she's known for. It was directed by Brian Dannelly who made Saved (another intelligent teen com) and it caught me off guard. Ignore the stupid region 4 cover art and give this one some attention.
The first Diary of a Wimpy Kid is one of my favourite comedies of the past few years. It was a welcome kids flick amongst a seemingly neverending inundation of crap. Number 2 came out and while it was decent enough on it's own it didn't quite hit the spot like the first. And now comes number 3 "Dog Days". It's on par with the second and doesn't reach the hilarity of the original, however, a lot of the puerile humour has been abandoned for a more pragmatic story. These kids aren't little any more and so when they do stupid stuff it's no longer "cute" and as they're all teenagers now their antics become self-centred, irresponsible and annoying.... but the movie knows that and so the parents play a bigger role. The central character of Greg thinks the sun shines of his arse and that he knows everything and so this time his attitude is played against his father (Steve Zahn) who wishes his son would grow up and be responsible for his actions. It's a different type of movie to the previous ones and that's it's saving grace. When you come to realise that you wont be getting the same toilet-humour you're used to then it becomes a coming-of-age movie that strikes a few chords. I've always thought that Steve Zahn was miscast in the series and I still think that, but he handles the softer moments well. As these kids get older, they become less funny. If they strive for Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4 then they've really got to pull out some magic because nothing less could rescue this sinking ship.
To maximise your enjoyment of a movie like Pitch Perfect you've either got to reduce yourself to the mindset of a teenage girl OR watch it with a teenage girl. Fortunately for me I had my 14 year old daughter beside me and my satisfaction meter reached a max factor. I was apprehensive going into the movie with an "Oh no, cinematic Glee" attitude... but I walked away from it having enjoyed the whole damn thing. Satisfaction achieved! Of course it's a generic teen movie and just another slant on the 'Bring It On type' of flick but like Bring It On, it delivers. The premise is stupid... i.e. in the world of competitive A Cappella (permission to LOL) a disgraced all female group re-groups to redeem themselves. With mostly new members they break away from tradition and introduce grungier, funkier and more daring compositions. Its pretty stupid and the whole time you're in a disbelief that you're watching a movie about A Capella. But it's fun and the comedy is good. Rebel Wilson is flying high in Hollywood right now and this is one of her standout performances as Fat Amy. The movie is full of corny (but amusing) puns, interesting arrangements and worthy gags. The music used is slightly alternative and unexpected for a movie like this and various retro movie references make it all the more enjoyable. I'm not ashamed to admit how much I enjoyed Pitch Perfect but I am glad I had a teenage girl in the room to enjoy it with. LOL