Stephen King has his critics but I am a confessed fan. Of his writing there have been great adaptations and there have been terrible ones. A lot of his stories (particularly his horror work) are more visually effective in writing and are so often let down on screen. The stories which work in movie-form are generally the psychological and weighty ones with greater drama (his horror can have incredible drama, ie The Shining, Dead Zone, Carrie etc) and so last night I watched one of the few King movies that i'd never seen before, The Night Flier. It's a vampire story about a black plane which travels during the night, stopping at regional airports and killing whoever resides there. Conceptually its great and the novella works really well... but this movie doesnt. Surprisingly there's some great gore and the creep-factor works in it's favor for the first half, but the whole thing is let down by some really stodgey writing, lousy acting and just about every cliche of the genre. When the vampire's face is revealed its laughably pathetic and what could have been a modest and effective little movie was actually a big waste of time.
During the late 90s & early 00's John Carpenter's reign as a master of horror dwindled rapidly. Once making classic films like Halloween, The Thing and Escape From New York... the tail end of his career wasn't so impressive with mediocre fluff like Village Of The Damned, Vampires & Ghosts Of Mars. And then he retired. After several years of obscurity he resurfaced for a couple of episodes of "Masters Of Horror" and fans got a taste of the old maestro again. And now comes The Ward, his first feature in over 10 years. And what a welcome return it is! This movie is the stuff of nightmares. It takes place in a lunatic asylum during the 60s. A new girl is admitted to 'the ward' where the patients are isolated and under strict observation. There's a ghostly presence residing with them (hello, its a lunatic asylum) and this is the basis for what ensues. The story seems typical and it could have been a tedious genre movie, but Carpenter brings back his back-to-basics approach which has been absent from his work for eons. He handles the material brilliantly and The Ward is the best mental-asylum horror movie I've seen since Session 9.
The Horror Show is also known in part of the world (Australia included) as House 3. However it has nothing to do with the House franchise other than its filmmakers being the same mob. In otherwords it's "House 3" title was a cash grab by association. Anyway, I had forgotten what a great horror movie it was. Brion James said it to be his favourite role of all the characters he's ever played. Its a typical horror story of a serial killer who returns from the dead to menace the cop who framed him. We've seen it before in Shocker and other movies... but I think its done really well in this case. Actually scary and decently gory, its a shame it was associated with the House movies because it's a cut above!
Australia lends itself to the western genre perfectly and yet so few westerns get made here. The Proposition and The Tracker are about the only notable ones I can recall from the past 10 years (at least)... until now. Red Hill tells a familiar story. Its been done before BUT it's story is told in a really unique way. It's a classic western with all the hallmark components and yet it's cast upon a modern setting. Cars and horses share the screen in equal measure and for some reason it works really well. Its filmed in such a was that its also very much a thriller. The score is something from a Howard Hawks film which adds a heightened drama to it all and Red Hill plays out in a very classic way. Cool stuff.
"Invasion Earth: The Aliens Are Here" is supposed to be some kind of tribute to the B movies of the 50s. The entire movie takes place in a movie theatre where insect-like aliens take over management. They play one B movie after another to a dumb audience who seems to be in some kind of moronic stupor... its a real hack job. I watched it expecting cheesy nostalgia but instead got a crap splicing of footage from other movies (War of the Worlds, The Blob, Invaders from Mars etc). In fact the bulk of this is made up of other movies with no more than 20 minutes being narrative footage. Shit, some credit has to go towards the audacity to even dare it. It was directed by Robert Skotak (aka George Maitland) who is a renowned visual effects artists who's FX credits include; Terminator, Titanic, Mars Attacks, Xmen & Aliens amongst others... so you can't blame me for expecting something quirky and tongue in cheek. This movie = FAIL!
Brendan Fraser is hard to take seriously these days. He makes one shit movie after another. Occasionally he'll throw in a good'un like Gods & Monsters but those are few and far between. In Extraordinary Measures he delivers a solid performance that I would ordinarily consider "not bad" but given his CV of crap, this one has to be considered "good". Harrison Ford bungs on his usual grumpy, anti-social character which is becoming so boring... Combine these two players and you get a decent movie which should have been great. It's a true story and its a great story... but it's told in a relatively lacklustre way. Fraser plays a father who has two kids with an incurable condition (Pompe's disease) and Ford is the researcher on the verge of a breakthrough medicine. One pleads with the other and a collaboration begins (one with the brains, the other with the money). It has it's teary moments and I did enjoy it, but can't help but think it could have been so much more powerful had it been handled with greater care.
I'll start by saying that two things irk me. 1) people assuming this is a sequel to The Exorcist. Its clearly not. 2) Mockumentary horror films... they're so common these days that their effectiveness succumbs to the gimmickry. The Last Exorcism is the latest pseudo doco which was championed by Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel). I'm pleased to say that it actually works quite well. Exorcism movies are tough to pull off, after all the benchmark is astronomically high. The ones that work are the ones which deliver something different. Of recent memory The Exorcism Of Emily Rose was one such movie. In this one, the shaky doco feel adds to it's creepiness with spooky moments catching both the characters and the viewers off guard. I think what also works in it's favour is that the characters stop talking to the camera early in the film and it plays out more like a regular narrative. The 3rd act was a nice surprise to me and the plot developments were courageous for a genre where we've assumedly seen it all. Not original by any means, but a fresh take on a generic genre using an exhausted formula.
Helen Mirren teams up with her director husband Taylor Hackford for Love Ranch. Its the true story based on the famous Mustang Ranch which was America's first legal brothel. Mirren plays the Ranch's co-owner and madam alongside her shifty husband (Joe Pesci) and manages the business amidst a life surrounded by corruption, protest & violence. She's an honest decent woman who's had enough of the game and secretly wants out. Added to her burden is her recent cancer diagnosis. Director Hackford nails the era perfectly. I remember seeing Nick Broomfield's documentary from the 70s called Chicken Ranch and this film's production could easily be mistaken for the real thing. The performances are brilliant and it's awesome to see Pesci back on screen. He does what he does best, ie sleazy, gutter mouthed & unhinged. Taylor Hackford's films usually have a certain "Hackford" feel about them but not knowing who directed it, it would be easy to mistake it for a Scorcese film. It's only flaw is in it's narration. I have a pet peeve when it comes to narration... I reckon it should only be used if it bookends a movie. When it's only used at the end (in this case) then it feels like it's just been tacked on because they couldn't think of another way to finish. BUT thats a small grievance and Love Ranch wins!
I thought Morning Glory was fantastic. It far exceeded my expectations, thats for sure. I usually dread watching Dianne Keaton (she's so... samey) but she is fabulous in this. Harrison Ford is brilliant as the stoic, egotistical and arrogant veteran news anchor and you get the sense that he relished the part. The movie takes place behind the scenes of a low-rating morning breakfast program and has Rachel McAdams stepping in as executive producer. The movie is amusing from the getgo but it really gets hilarious during the 3rd act, mostly due to the weather guy getting put thru the ringer. The movie works because it's cast perfectly and more so because it's directed by Roger Mitchell who is yet to make a bad movie imo (Notting Hill, Enduring Love, Changing Lanes etc). Well worth a look... good fluffy fun!