1996 / Director. Billy Bob Thornton
Every few years a modest little film will come along and confront you with a career launching performance. Recently there's been films like Winter's Bone, Frozen River and Beasts of the Southern Wild... back in 1996 we had Sling Blade; written, staring & directed by Billy Bob Thornton. His performance as the mentally retarded matricidal killer, Karl Childers, is one he will never be likely to top. He is outstanding! Having spent all of his adult life in a psychiatric hospital Karl is eventually released and left to fend for himself in the outside world. He befriends a 12 year old boy and is soon taken him by the boy's mother. A strong bond is formed and while Karl makes a best friend, the boy embraces his new father figure. There is so much that is wonderful about Sling Blade... the script is outstanding, the cinematography captures the southern life beautifully and every single performance is flawless. The character parallels between Karl and the boy are written sincerely and themes of domestic violence, mental health and of history repeating are addressed intelligently. John Ritter is particularly excellent as the mother's homosexual best friend. Running at 130 minutes I am always to drawn into this story and I could keep watching for longer. Thornton, however, doesn't overstay his welcome and the film's story is paced nicely with great bookended opening and closing scene featuring the late, great JT Walsh. If you're studying scriptwriting or film, this is one definitely worth consuming. It's perfect in every way.
2002 / Director. Paul Greengrass.
Bloody Sunday is the film, which cemented James Nesbitt as my favourite actor. Sitting in a crowded cinema, I watched the film in awe. It upset me and strangled emotion from me... in fact the entire audience sat in silence as the final credits rolled. The film depicts the infamous 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre of Derry, a township in Northern Ireland. Nesbitt plays Ivan Cooper, a member of parliament who organised and lead a peaceful march through the streets of Derry, protesting for civil rights against internment. The British military opened fire on the crowed, killing 26 of it's members... some children. It was a dark dark day in Northern Ireland's history and an ugly day for Britain. Paul Greengrass has made a lot of great films but this is my personal favourite. He attacked this story in a raw and unflinching way. Shot with hand held cameras, almost documentary in its depiction, he follows people on the ground from both sides of the conflict. Watching the chaos, you get a real sense of how it all unfolded and understand the anger and emotion. It's powerful stuff. Nesbitt is incredible as he desperately pleas with his people to calm down and walk away. I've never seen him better than he is in this film and his final speech is one of the most emotionally charged performances I can recall. I still get chills every time I hear him deliver it. As ugly as the film is, it is a real testament and tribute to the people of this township, and those who were killed. It wasn't until 2010, after a 12 year inquiry, that the British government acknowledged responsibility and apologised for the incident. This is but one small chapter in an overlong and turbulent history in Northern Ireland, but it's a powerful one. Greengass also produced a powerful companion film called Omagh and I highly recommend it also.
2007 / Director. James Wan.
Aussie director James Wan followed up Saw with Dead Silence and this, Death Sentence. By the time he made this film he had well and truly honed his skills and introduced himself as an exciting new genre director. With Death Sentence he has masterfully taken an established genre (vigilante) and given it new life. The story is loosely based on Brian Garfield's sequel novel to Death Wish. Kevin Bacon stars as a father with a perfect family. His world is turned upside down when he watches his son viciously murdered as part of a gang-initiation killing. When the killer is set free for lack of evidence, Bacon's character settles the score and kills him. The consequence is retribution and the gang murders his wife and other son. With nothing to lose Bacon gets all Travis Bickle, shaves his head and engages in a brutal and bloody rampage of vengeance. It's natural to compare this with Charles Bronson's Death Wish, however they are thematically worlds apart. Where Bronson's character was heroic and proud, this guy isn't. There is nothing glorious about what he is doing and his very actions cost him everything. The film is made really well and where the first act deliberately manipulates the audience with a contrived happy-snap of a wonderful family-unit, the story quickly defends into a hellish underworld with some brilliantly staged action. A chase sequence through a car park is masterful and the hallmark of a great director. Wan's vision is clear, his film is uncompromising and the performances he evokes from his actors are excellent. It's one of the best vigilante movies out there...check it out.
1992 / Director. Ralph Bakshi.
Cool World is a good movie, which could have been great. It's production was troubled and the end result barely reflected director Ralph Bakshi's original concept. It's about a famous comic book artist who finds himself inside his own cartoon universe. Every character he ever created lives inside Cool World as well as an unexpected visitor, played by Brad Pitt. This visitor has spent 50 years inside this place, having been snatched by a cartoon scientist who found a way to bridge the two worlds. Ralph Bakshi is a legendary animator and some of his previous films include Fritz The Cat, Coonskin, Fire & Ice and Lord of the Rings. His style is unmistakable and after a 13 year absence from the industry he returned with Cool World. He pitched it to the studio as a dark and twisted horror story and the studio green lit it. Unfortunately midway into pre-production the producer began to meddle with the film and secretly re-wrote the script into a tamer PG story. Losing control over his vision Bakshi made certain sacrifices, eventually managing to maintain some of it's more risqué elements... UNTIL actress Kim Basinger backstabbed Bakshi and convinced the producer to make it even more family friendly (so that she could take it to hospitals for sick children). The stories about her being a difficult actress are notorious... anyhow, the end result is a film that most people rightfully criticised for being a Roger Rabbit knock-off and that's essentially what it looks like. It's still fun movie but I would love to have seen Bakshi's original concept instead. The animation is great and some wonderful cartooney set pieces and backdrops are cleverly blended into the scenes, enabling human and cartoon interaction creatively. It could have been a classic!
2010 / Director. John Rebel
Bear is a B-movie, although Wikipedia lists it as a Z-movie. Either way it's an uber low budget indie flick about four people stranded in the wilderness, trapped inside their car while being terrorised by a giant grizzly bear. Ordinarily I wouldn't recommend it because it's poorly written and miserably acted... however, given their low low budget and lack of filmmaking experience they've achieved something decent. I imagine most of the budget was forked out on hiring the trained bear and they've definitely gotten bang for their buck. Most of the film is dialogue driven with two of the brothers fleshing out life long quarrels. Most of the non-event scenes are shot really well with slow tracking, soft focus and clever framing... but the action sequences are poorly staged and the editing is erratic. On a positive, the movie held my attention to the end and for a first time feature, it's an impressive result. Director John Rebel went on to make Wolf Town so perhaps he's aiming for a nature-creature-feature kind of niche... It's a genre rarely tapped into these days so he might be onto something.
2012 / Director. Mike Birbiglia.
Sleepwalk With Me took me by surprise. I really wasn't expecting what I got... but I'm totally satisfied by it. Written, directed and performed by comedian Mike Birbiglia the film is an autobiographical story of a fundamental time in his life, which is based on his own stage-show and novel. Struggling as a comedian he is also dealing with commitment issues in his relationship and a dangerous sleep disorder. His girlfriend is sweet, gorgeous and in love with him but he's not prepared for the long haul. Wanting time apart he seizes an opportunity to travel interstate to play some low-key stand up gigs. His material is terrible until he includes stories about his relationship out of panic. The crowd reacts and suddenly his private life (and girlfriend) is the butt of his material. The narrative is odd with Birbiglia telling the story face-to-camera while he drives between his gigs and the rest of the film is superbly acted by himself, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane and James Rebhorn. Birbiglia's presence on screen is wonderful and natural and his story comes across so sincerely that you can't help but offer him your emotions. At times hilarious and often heartbreaking, it's a turbulent and honest comedy well worth your time and money. Most impressively the film doesn't pander to stereotypes, cliches or conventions. It is original and unique... and surprising.
1987 / Director. Charles Band.
The Evil Clergyman is a film, which was lost for over 25 years. Director Charles Band made an anthology film comprising of three 30 minute stories, each a sequel to previous successful movies he had made. That film was lost and has been propelled to 'legend' status by horror fans since. In 2011 a VHS work print was discovered and so Charles Band and co. set upon restoring each of the three films. Remastered (to the best quality possible) with a new score by Richard band, The Evil Clergyman is a thematic followup to Re-Animator and the first to be released. It is based on a story by HP Lovecraft starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and David Warner. A woman visits the monastery in search of her missing sweetheart, a clergyman. Upon the news of his suicide she visits the room where he hung himself and is seduced by his ghost. It's a strange and surreal film. Rather than releasing the complete anthology film (Pulse Pounders), Band has chosen to release each chapter individually because of the time that's being invested in their resurrection. On its own I don't think that The Evil Clergyman is all that good. It has its strengths but a 27 year anticipation makes it a disappointing wait. I think it would become a stronger piece if it were released with the other two films, as intended. The other two are a Trancers sequel and Dungeonmaster sequel and both are slated for future release (Trancers 1.5 on dvd in Oct). The most disappointing thing for me was the adaptation itself. Lovecraft's story was actually a letter he wrote, describing a dream he'd had. It was published posthumously and I have read it... sadly it bares little resemblance to this film. The term "adaptation" is used lightly with a huge amount of liberty being taken, which is still okay by me, but this film just didn't resonate. Nice to see it given so much love and attention, though. Band has done a wonderful job restoring it and bringing it to the fans.
2013 / Directors. Lana Wachowski. Tom Tykwer. Andy Wachowski,
The Wachowskis (Maxtrix) have teamed up with co-director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) to make one of the most ambitious big budget films I have ever seen. My mind is officially blown! The film takes place over 6 different periods across hundreds of years. The cast is an impressive ensemble including Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Jim Sturges (amongst others) and each of them play 6 different characters of drastically contrasting appearance and personality. It's hugely impressive. The story itself is impossible to describe other than it's about past lives and the influences each one has on the future... and upon one viewing it won't make a lick of sense. It is, however, apparent that each of the stories are connected in some way or another and I found myself investing a huge amount of trust in these directors. They knew what they were doing and have ultimately constructed a complex and fantastic, dare I say, masterpiece. Cloud Atlas excites me because it has a longevity. I know that I will need to revisit it many times over to fully comprehend its intricacies and I feel gratified that a big studio has actually invested in something so artistic, experimental and dangerous. The performances are all excellent and the design is awe inspiring. At times funny, often brutally violent and always provoking, Cloud Atlas is a great film. I read that Tom Hanks describes it as a "Highfalutin piece of art that makes no sense on first appearance" and Andy Wachowski has defended the film by saying that film critics react defensively and irrationally when something challenges them. That their confusion leads to them faulting the film itself rather than evaluating and learning to understand it more... he's spot on. Cloud Atlas needs to be seen, and seen, and seen again.
2005 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #45
Director Albert Pyun tries his hand at the found-footage genre and where so many fail, he nailed it. Films in this genre have a tendency to be shaky, erratic and ultimately irritating but Pyun has crafted a controlled and highly affective chiller. It's an amazing feat too considering that the entire film is one continuous POV shot (no cuts) as captured by a hi-def dash cam mounted in a police patrol car. The film begins with the car driving deep into a national park at night, along a remote dirt road. With only the headlights and spotlight guiding the way everything is cloaked in darkness except for the road ahead. With reports of a meteorite shower in the canyon, the police officer is looking for a missing fisherman. He finds the man and is quickly infected by whatever has already taken over the man. What a movie. It's simple yet complex and I was totally enthralled by it. It's hard to imagine how and entire film, from one single perspective can possibly hold your attention, but seeing is believing. The dashboard's point of view puts the viewer right into the story. As the car slowly winds around narrow corners, the sense of an escalating tension gives the film a chilling and suspenseful uneasiness. Meteorites randomly flash across the sky and infected people appear from nowhere. Creepy spectres in the distance and noises from behind the camera make it a haunting experience. The script is excellent with the action well paced and the dialogue believable. Ingeniously, Pyun has incorporated a handful of characters into the story while maintaining a believability. In my interview with him recently, his writer (Cynthia Curnan) spoke about Invasion being a high point in their career because of what they achieved. Shot in one night, in one take and with a lot to lose they overcame the impossible and created a unique, original and stylised science fiction thriller. I rate it highly.
2012 / Director. Leos Carax.
Holy Motors makes almost no sense whatsoever and yet it grabs hold of you tightly and sucks you right in. In fact I had to watch it twice before I was confident enough to write about it. French auteur Leos Carax returns from a 15 year absence to direct this abstract, surreal and visceral film that is near impossible to define. I could tout names like David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky to give you a sense of what it's like... but that would do it an injustice. Holy Motors is unto itself. The film begins with a man alone in his bedroom. He has a key for a finger and finds a keyhole in his patterned wall. Upon opening a secret door he walks into a crowded theatre. We then find ourselves spending a day in the life of Mr Oscar, played by Denis Lavant. Throughout the entire film he rides in the back of a limousine where he travels from one appointment to another. The interior of his limo is a mobile dressing room where he dons a different disguise for each of his stops. There are 9 appointments in total and they are each unique and fantastic. One minute he is an elderly beggar woman and the next he is a crazed and highly sexual leprechaun. Yep, this is one hell of a mind-fuck but I didn't, for a second, consider the film difficult to watch. It never phased me that its nonsensical because what I was seeing on screen, sort of did make sense. What I knew was that this strange and wonderful world was fascinating and hypnotic. I am sure there is a deeper subtext to be explored but I'm not there yet. Denis Levant is incredible as Mr Oscar. He carries the film singlehandedly and his performance is one of the guttiest I've seen him deliver. I've always found him to be an eccentric and subversive actor and I think this is one of his most challenging roles ever. He caught my attention several years ago in an amazing music video called Rabbit In Your Headlights and I've tried to see as many of his films as possible. This is my favourite. I don't really get it, but I definitely liked it. So have you seen Holy Motors? And better yet, what did you make of it?
2013 / Director. Marc Forster.
Some details may be considered spoilers, however no crucial plot developments have been ruined.
I don't get to the cinema as often as most people. I have a great home theatre set-up that I prefer watching films at home... but occasionally there are some flicks that need the big screen experience. World War Z is the new zombie apocalypse movie starring Brad Pitt. The film hits the ground running with one of the fastest, most ferocious zombie outbreaks you're likely to have seen. From the get go this is a whip-cracking film and it barely takes a breather. Unfortunately (for me) it's basically 'zombies for beginners'. This is soft core horror... At 116 minutes there isn't ANY blood. I'm serious... there is NO BLOOD! There is no flesh being eaten. There are barely any hallmarks of a good zombie movie. Every time something gruesome is about to happen, the camera flinches away. I was prepared to accept the lack of bloodshed in return for a smart tactical military story but no such reward. $200 million dollars was spent on this film and that really baffles me. Danny Boyle was able to shoot 28 Days Later (basically the same movie) for only $5M and his was an intense, gruesome and intelligent film. World War Z is overly ambitious and definitely had too much money poured into it. The herds of zombies look animated, as though watching a video game and the movie provides us with too many aerial shots as if to boast how "big" it is. The film also suffered various production nightmares with the entire 3rd act being re-written several times. In typical bullshit studio fashion they ignored the creative minds and decided that a new ending was needed, resulting in the film ending abruptly and conveniently. I felt like the writers ended up saying "fuck it, we're done" and where most of the film at least flows fluently, the finale is a slap-bang job... Director Marc Forster ended up losing a lot of control due to studio interference and I would be really keen to see a director's cut. This movie can still be saved! Anyhow If I remove myself from being a horror fanatic, I might be able to muster some faint praise for the movie but that's like saying Twilight is good. This is a genre film for softies and that may be it's one saving grace. This could be a gateway movie for people... World War Z might give some a taste for the genre and if they end up searching for more then the rest of us can direct them towards stuff like Dawn of the Dead and Zombieland. Having said all of that, this movie did actually bring me a huge amount of joy. We took our two kids to see it (11 & 14) and it scared the absolute shit out of them... excellent!
1993 / Director. Anthony Hickox
Warlock The Armageddon is a sequel that divided fans. Julian Sands reprises his role as the Warlock, only there are radical differences in his character. Where the original film cleverly balanced comedy with horror, this second instalment is all horror. It's a much darker movie with gory, graphic violence and a menacing atmosphere. Abandoning the rules and structures of the first movie, the Warlock is reborn during a lunar eclipse and is tasked with bringing together 5 rune-stones, which will bring upon armageddon. The only hope of stopping the warlock is a pact of 4 men, druids from a long bloodline who's calling is to prevent hell from rising. Much of the film's criticism from fans is in regards to the change in mythology. It's been an ongoing discussion and without any clarification or explanation from the writer, it's left to interpretation. My personal take on this story is that he is NOT the same Warlock from before. Where the first warlock was destroyed and his satanic bible banished, this is a new 'minion' sent to Earth, born in the image of Lucifer (as before). In terms of being a sequel, it's a pale comparison. Lacking is the character interactions and dynamics and Julian Sands is left to carry the entire film on his own. I do, however, like this one and Sands delivers a laboured yet enthusiastic performance. Anthony Hickox isn't half the director Steve Minor is, but he has stepped up to the task as best he could. He made this movie back to back with Hellraiser 3 and there are lots of parallels between the two movies. Julian Sands often casts a striking resemblance to Pinhead with his ironic and authoritative commands. His rebirth at the beginning recalls Frank's resurrection in Hellraiser and a nightmarish carnival mirror maze suggests a realm of Laviathan influence from Hellbound. To fully enjoy Warlock The Armageddon a separation from the original film is helpful. It is a fun film, which could have been great if only for a better set design and stronger script. I wonder if Anthony Hickox has an unreleased director's cut, like he did with Hellraiser 3? I would be very keen to see it.
1989 / Director. Steve Miner.
I wouldn't know how to hate Warlock nor would I know how to find reasons to. I've grown up with it, seen it dozens of times and it is still as entertaining and affective as it ever was. I think it holds up fantastically all these years later. I was 11 years old when I first saw it and I remember exactly where I was at the time. It left a huge impact on me and now tonight I have introduced my 11 year old son to it. He came away from it with the same reaction I had back in 1990... wonder, amazement and a sense of being completely entertained. The film tells of a Warlock who conjures a spell and travels 300 years into the future. He has been tasked with compiling Satan's bible, which has been separated into 3 books across the United States. Julian Sands is the Warlock and it is arguably the performance of his career. Despite being a seasoned Shakespearian thespian, he relishes this role as though it were the same calibre as Hamlet. His angelic face lends him an aura of menace that I cannot imagine too many others achieving so charismatically. His archival is Redfern, a witch hunter who has a score to settle. Following the Warlock through time, Redfern pursues him across the country to exact revenge and save humanity. Legendary actor Richard E Grant is fantastic as Redfern as he not only focuses on his pursuit but also has trouble adapting to modern technology. He provides the comical relief in the film and I also think it's a high point for Grant in terms of performance. Directed by horror veteran Steve Miner (Friday The 13th Parts 2, Lake Placid) and written by David Twohy (Pitch Black, The Fugitive), Warlock has appreciated into a cult film that's more appreciated now than it was in 89. Another iconic horror maestro hero of mine, Brian Yuzna also produced Warlock. If you haven't seen it then I hope this endorsement spurs you to find it. It's practically flawless in my eyes and balances horror and comedy marvellously.
1992 / Director. Kenny Ortega.
Newsies is an original musical from Disney, based on the real life Newsboys strike of 1899 in New York City. Christian Bale leads the film as confident and domineering newsie (paper boy) who leads a strike against the press moguls of the city, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolf Hearst. Pulitzer ruthlessly severed the newsies wages in a greedy manoeuvre to stick one up Hearst and the rebellion that followed made history. Momentum spread and the strike blew up into a city-wide strike against child labor. It's a great little flick. It flopped at the box office but over the past 20 years it's earned itself a large cult following. Directed by Kenny Orgega (High School Musical, Michael Jackson's This Is It) it's a throwback to classic broadway musicals with big musical numbers and highly choreographed dance sequences. The songs are solid, the era is captured really well and Disney didn't shy away from risky images of children smoking and brawling. I admit that I felt a little weird being educated by a flashy musical but it's true. I didn't know a lot about the newsie strike and having read up on it, it seems that the film gets the important details right. It's a credit to them (although I would love to see this story told straight). All throughout the film I kept thinking how much I would enjoy the stage show because it seems really well adapted... but low and behold I also subsequently read that the film is an original. It wasn't until 19 years later that a it finally hit broadway. Christian Bale is excellent in a role that sees him step into a more mature and controlled type of performer. Robert Duvall is menacing as Pulitzer and the rest of the ensemble is great also. Tonight was the first time I've seen Newsies.... 20 years too late. Very fun.
2012 / Director. Tanzeal Rahim.
Myself and friends do ghost tours. We have spent weekends away doing lantern tours of places like Port Arthur and the Aradale Mental Asylum. Most of us are borderline skeptics with a hopeful curiosity. So far we've taken photos, which could suggest a supernatural presence or could also be proven to be technical. Recently we have been contemplating a ghost tour of the Monte Cristo Homestead in New South Wales. Believed to be the most haunted house in Australia, it has a tragic past involving murder, torture and accidental death. I just sat through the new Australian fright flick, Muirhouse. Shot inside the actual Monte Cristo manor, we find ourselves inside the house in the middle of the night with one man who is investigating the paranormal. His crew have left him and so he takes it upon himself to film from one room to the next... and before long he discovers that he's not alone. I really need to stop saying that I dislike "found footage" films because too many are coming along to make me look foolish. Muirhouse is a good one. It's very affective. In fact it makes Paranormal Activity look like Casper. I did have issues with the first 15-20 minutes leading up to the house. Some lame acting and a poorly written set-up were leaving me less than enthused... BUT as soon as we're alone in the house, it gets really good. Director Tanzel Rahim knew what he was doing and his use of the house and it's various rooms is totally affective. He builds the tension wonderfully and scatters the frights randomly to create total uneasiness. You have no idea when a scare is coming and in most cases, you jump out of your skin. Well, I did anyway. Like any ghost film, you need to watch Muirhouse properly... at night time, in total darkness with the volume up. Watching alone is preferable for maximum affect. I often hear people say that they aren't affected by ghost movies but then they concede that they watch them during the day, or with lights on. WTF? Anyway if you're into these paranormal movies then check out Muirhouse. It has it's flaws but for a micro-budget indie film, it is impressive. Hopefully it's the start of a long career of frights from Rahim.