2012 / Director. Barry Levinson
Whenever I tell people how much I dislike "found footage" films there seems to be a few of them that pop up to discredit me. The Bay is one of them. Barry Levinson is a good director and he's given us some wonderful films such as Rain Man, Diner, Good Morning Vietnam and Sleepers to name just some. However the past decade hasn't been good for him with a slue of mediocre projects that fell flat on their face. Wisely he has decided to tackle something new and The Bay is his take on the found footage genre. The premise is that on a 4th of July afternoon in a small bayside town, an unknown outbreak kills off almost the entire population. Starting with the statement that the government suppressed all footage from cameras, phones and surveillance the film then begins from the point of view of a web-based organisation who are attempting to expose the truth. Using as much gathered footage as they can find, the film pieces together a story of pollution, corruption and coverup. At 71 years of age, Levinson has experimented in a comparatively new genre here and he's done it well. The footage he's created from various mediums and the tension he's built with it is to his credit. Besides a couple of startling jump moments he has avoided turning to cheap trickery to scare his audience and he lets the panic and uncertainty of the situation frighten us instead. I was impressed. With a nice short running time of 84 minutes the film doesn't overstay it's welcome, although it does finish a little too abruptly... almost as though he threw his hands up and said "that's it. I'm over it". Some more closure would have been nice but nevertheless this is a cool and innovative eco-horror flick!
1989 / Director. Jim Sheridan.
It goes without saying that Daniel Day Lewis is an exceptional actor. After watching Lincoln recently I was struck with awe again and felt I needed to revisit some of his previous work... and so I went right back to My Left Foot, the film that announced him to the world and won him an Oscar. It really is an astonishing film and his performance is outstanding... phenomenal really. It tells the true story of Christy Brown, a man born with cerebral palsy who overcame adversity to become a celebrated artist and author. The film is based largely on his own book. With a performance as dominating and powerful as this, it is a testament to actress Brenda Fricker that her character is the true heart of this film. Playing Christy's devoted mother Fricker offers an understated yet fundamental performance that makes the story all the more powerful. Our family knows a young man with cerebral palsy and so I can say unequivocally that Daniel Day Lewis nails it. It could have easily been a condescending and inappropriate performance but thankfully it's honest. Sadly what the film omits is Christy's death, which occurred in 1981. He chocked on a lamb chop and was subsequently discovered to have been mentally and physically abused by his wife. It's a tragic end to an incredible life, however, its to the film's credit that they ignored this detail. That's not a dignified way to tell his story and so only the hardships contributing to Christy's triumph have been conveyed. Director Jim Sheridan handles the material skilfully. It was his first film and he also went on to enjoy a solid career with films such as In The Name of the Father, The Boxer (both staring Day-Lewis) and Brothers, just to name some. Revisiting My Left Foot was a delight.
1991 / Director. Charles Band.
Trancers 2 boasts one of the worst movie posters I've even seen. Set six years after the first movie, Jack Death has been living a peaceful existence free of Trancers (controlled zombies). From out of nowhere new Trancers appear shortly followed by Jack's future boss inside the body of a 15 year old girl. Unbeknownst to Jack, new time travel technology has been pioneered during his absence from the future and the brother of Whistler (villain from the original) has travelled back in time to create a Trancer farm. As the Americans would say, this movie is bologne. Where the first movie was a high concept B-movie, this one languishes in C-movie territory with very little inspiration. The whole movie takes place in 1991 with no cool future settings that helped make the first movie stand out and the script is dreadful. Watching Trancers 2 is like watching a science fiction daytime soap opera. It is easily the worst in the series with the only saving grace being that all of the original players return and that the next instalment steps it back up a notch. Joining the cast is Richard Lynch and Jeffrey Combs. Impressive talents with nothing to do.
1990 / Director. Jonathan Lynn
Nuns On The Run is a British comedy about two henchmen who double-cross their gangster boss and steal money from the Chinese Triads. With the area covered by police and two criminal organisations after them the two men break into a convent and disguise themselves as nuns. What ensues is a comedy of errors with Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane hamming it up for blasphemous laughs. This type of comedy is hoary and contrived but when you watch it with the classic "Carry On" movies in mind, it's easy to embrace. Most of the gags work and the movie flows nicely making it a guilty pleasure. The score was composed by the Swiss electronic outfit Yello and so the music is full of electro pob beats reminiscent of Beverly Hills Cop (with the added 'chukka chkka's'). I watched it on a cold Sunday afternoon... can't complain, good for a laugh.
2010 / Director. Brad Anderson.
In 2001 Brad Anderson made his 3rd feature film, Session 9. It was a brilliant and haunting psychological thriller that announced him as a director to keep tabs on. He followed it up with The Machinist, which confirmed him to be something of a genius... and then he made Transsiberian, another thriller that left me underwhelmed. It started with a great premise but the second half of the film descended into cliche territory... and so I have been excited about Vanishing on 7th Street, hoping for a return to form. The premise seemed contrived but I have been curious to see what he does with it. A darkness falls upon Detroit and with it, everyone vanishes, leaving only their clothes. A select few have been spared and the film centres on four of them convening at a down town bar where the lights are running off a generator. If the darkness catches them, they will vanish. I definitely entered into this movie with the right atmosphere. I watched it at midnight, had the volume up and had every light turned off. The first act is excellent. Anderson plays with the audience and conjures up a genuinely brooding and spooky ambience. Strewn clothes and creeping shadows subtly placed in the background do raise hairs on the back of your neck and one particular moment gave me a huge sense of the heebie-jeebies as a car drove past my window, casting a lurking shadow across my ceiling. Yikes! And then the film peters out and falls into cliche-town. It essentially turns into a Carpenteresque, Shyamalan type of deal. The shadows become laboured and there's very little suspense to keep the concept afloat. The performances are fine but the script isn't strong enough to maintain its stamina. I honestly thought that Brad Anderson would have been above this brand of genre film and with his next film, The Call, having received mixed reviews I will definitely be keeping my expectations low. He obviously thrives in a low budget, independent environment and perhaps that's where be needs to return to.
2012 / Director. Steven Spielberg.
Doing any kind of review of a Spielberg film is pretty useless for me. I am irrefutably and undeniably bias when it comes to him. He was my hero growing up and he still is. I share his philosophies when it comes to cinema and I always connect with his stories. Like Hitchcock before him, he knows his audience and knows how to reach them. But I digress. LOL. Lincoln is his latest film and it's his third to deal with the issue of slavery, following The Color Purple and Amistad. As a matter of fact Lincoln is a great companion piece to Amistad. The film tells of Abraham Lincoln's final term in office and centres on his struggle and determination to amend the constitution and abolish slavery. It's an impressive and bold film for Spielberg. The historical territory obviously isn't foreign to him but the way in which he has told this story is new. The film is essentially 150 minutes of long, drawn out conversations with very little (no) action. Daniel Day Lewis dominates the entire film with one long speech after another, each as powerful as the last. It's an incredible performance worthy of the Oscar he won... and his likeness is uncanny. Spielberg abandons the sentimental devices he often uses to elevate his films to provoke emotion and he attacks this character with reason, logic and dialogue. I'm sure historically Spielberg has taken liberties but if so, it is to deliver the strongest film possible to best represent the essence of the man. Yeah I have a man-crush on Steven Spielberg but regardless, Lincoln is exceptional and I have to give a nod to James Spader as William Bilbo. He's excellent.
1997 / Director. Richard Fiendenberg.
The Education of Little Tree is based on a memoir of the same name by author, Forrest Carter. It tells the story of an 8 year old half-blood boy who is orphaned and is adopted by his grandparents. His grandfather is a white man and his grandmother is a Cherokee woman. The story meanders its way through a series of life lessons for the young boy as he attempts to understand his heritage from both sides, more notably his indigenous roots. It's a coming of age film, told nicely with a gorgeous wilderness setting and some strong anchored performances. The little guy in the lead is okay... it's not a stellar performance by any means but with the strength of James Cromwell and Graham Greene alongside him, the characters seem genuine. The original novel has caused a lot of controversy in the literature world with its author being exposed as a fraud. He was exposed as having no Cherokee bloodline and his novel was in turn reclassified as fiction. With this sort of controversy you'd think that no one would want to touch the story for an adaptation but this film did, in fact, come along after the fact and so it is presented in an entirely fictionalised way. It is not a true story. I first saw it on home video in the late 90s and enjoyed it a lot. Today I watched it for the first time since and still enjoyed it. If you have children with the patience for good storytelling then I recommend The Eduction of Little Tree.... although I reckon it would bore most kids.
1984 / Director. John Carpenter.
Starman has a complex history in Hollywood. Released in 1984 the script had been hand-balled back and forth between studios for many years. Something like six directors had been attached to it before John Carpenter took the reigns and Steven Spielberg's Night Skies was famously abandoned by Colombia due to similarities with this film. Spielberg ultimately turned Night Skies into ET and broke box office records (suck that Colombia). Starman is essentially an adult orientated ET. Responding to Voyager II's invitation to visit Earth, a space entity crash lands in Wisconsin and clones the body of a recently diseased man. Finding himself stranded he has three days to make a rendezvous in Arizona. With the government in pursuit the star man races against time with the wife of the dead man. The strength of Starman is it's simplicity. It relies on drama, dialogue and character to tell its story and very little emphasis is given to special FX. Jeff Bridges is great as the alien attempting to master human behaviour and Karen Allen supports him nicely. Perhaps because of the subject and its era, there is a definite Spielbergian feel to the movie but John Carpenter turns a heavily handled project into a sincere and affirming tale recalling moments of The Day The Earth Stood Still with it's statement on humanity, or there lack of it. Starman is a movie I never took to when I was a kid but as an adult its appeal is great. A wonderful and understated science fiction drama from the 80s. Good stuff.
1990 / Director. Charles Band & Albert Band.
Doctor Mordrid is a wonderful and phantasmic science-fiction movie about a wizard residing on Earth, guarding the gateway to the Fourth Dimension. He has been on Earth for over a century waiting for the evil sorcerer, Kabal, to unleash his demonic minions, which would ultimately send our world into a fiery apocalypse. If the premise sounds familiar that's because it is. Charles Band (there's that name again) originally had the option on Marvel Comic's Doctor Strange but when that option expired the script was re-written and the characters were changed. I personally think it was for the best because Doctor Mordrid stands well on it's own. It plays out like a magical mashing of Highlander, Superman and Warlock... there's even touched of Thor. The poster art is deceiving and while I personally like it, I imagine it would deter some people. If you love sorcery, wizardry and fantasy then this is a quality movie. Charles Band is an autuer of the B-movie but this is a cut above the rest of his productions. The special FX are great, the score is inspired and acting is decent. I always considered Jeffrey Combs' best performances to be Re-Animator & The Frighteners but Doctor Mordrid comes in a close third. He's wonderful and breaks away from his usual eccentric niche. I know quite a lot of nerdy fanboys & girls who love cosplay and get stuck into fantasy and I'll be recommending this one to them. When I was 10 years old I remember watching this movie and loving it... now 20 something years have past and tonight I watched it with my 11 year old son who was 100% enamoured with it. I felt like a kid again and Doctor Mordrid proves that a movie's age is irrelevant when the storytelling is good!
Curiously, something struck me about Doctor Mordrid. One of the main plot devices is a relic known as The Philosopher's Stone.... this raises my eyebrow because in another Charles Band production (Troll) there is a character named Harry Potter. Makes me wonder what type of movies JK Rowling's been watching!
2012 / Director. Rold de Heer.
Rolf de Heer. There are few filmmakers like him... in fact he's my favourite Australian director. He has never made the same film twice and each one is as far removed from the last as is possible. From science fiction (Epsilom) to poetic verse (The Tracker) to indigenous historical drama (Ten Canoes) to silent slapstick comedy (Dr Plonk). The man is amazingly versatile and The King Is Dead is his most recent story. A newly-wed couple purchase their dream house on a quiet suburban street. On one side of their house is a friendly family but on the other side is a mob of bogan ferrals. With regular drug deals, violent parties and break-ins, they are the neighbours from hell. And so The King Is Dead is a HUGELY satisfying film. Every emotion is tested. One minute I was laughing and the next I was frustrated. It's a story and a scenario that most people can relate to in one way or another. I have personally lived next door to these type of people and have even had my house set on fire (long story). And so at it's core there is a suburban truth that I could connect with. The performances are outstanding and De Heer's script is tight. Once criticism would be that it descents too far into lunacy during the final act and it abandons it's urban nightmare theme... but even then, these moments are still full of fun and the negatives are easily overlooked. Rolf de Heer is one of a kind and every film is an experience. He rarely disappoints and I can't wait for his next... whatever it might be.
2013 / Director. Michael Manasseri
SUCKER landed on my desk a few weeks ago. I had never heard of it but it seemed intriguing enough... I watched it tonight and it is fucking awesome! The best way to describe it is that it's The Fly meets Sin City. A down on his luck nice-guy is unwillingly subjected to an experimental insect repellant, however, all goes wrong when mosquito excretion mixes with radiation inside his bloodstream (from working at a nuclear plant) and he becomes a human mosquito... a disfigured, blood thirsty monster. Using his newfound strength he embarks on a murder spree, killing everyone who's wronged him. This is a fantastic little film. For a low budget, indie movie it looks great. The comic-book stylings of films like The Watchmen and Sin City are captured deliciously on what has to be a fraction of their budgets. It blends noir, vigilante and superhero conventions into a strange and comical experiment. The performances are deliberately hammed up and they're good. Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman has a wonderful role and his presence draws comparisons of James Gunn's film, Super. Its so good when movies creep up on you and impress. SUCKER is definitely one that caught me off guard and I highly recommend it.
1985 / Director. Charles Band.
Ah Trancers. Another classic 80s sic-fi... and the type of movie that fuels my love of cinema. Yet another Charles Band film, it's one of his best. Aesthetically its one of his most impressive with a great production value and well staged action. The story borrows a lot from Terminator with a cop (Jack Death) being sent into the past, to 1985, to hunt down a killer and protect the man he's trying to muder. Time travel is possible with a drug, which when injected, allows the person's mind to possess an ancestor. The concept is pretty cool with a great retro synth-pop soundtrack and Tim Thomerson is great as Jack Death. He is made for this type of role... the hardened cop with attitude and a loose trigger finger. A few years later he played a similar role in Dollman and he has an upcoming documentary that I am very keen to see. Helen Hunt plays heroine in a very early role. She's quite good too and seems to take the role seriously. She returned for two more sequels alongside Thomerson who carried on for four sequels. It's a great franchise that went right up to part 6 and so long as the b-movie core is maintained, I'll happily indulge in more. Just good fun.
1993 / Director. Robert Altman.
Robert Altman's career spanned a prolific 50+ years and there is no question that he defies the word masterpiece by having more than one. Short Cuts is one of them. In the later years of his career (90s onwards) he found a niche and became renowned for putting together enormous ensemble casts. At times he added famous faces just for the sake of it and a lot of these films became convoluted and pretentious and in the case of Pret-a-Porter it became a game of "spot the celeb". With Short Cuts he was able to masterfully create a strong, complex, moving and dramatic multilayer of intertwining stories while juggling one of his most impressive lineup of stars ever. Each of the 20+ featured characters have their own story and they all cross paths in clever and surprising ways. It's just brilliant. At 3 hours long, its such a compelling experience that the time slips away. One of the films earliest scenes as well as its final scene are amongst the most chilling I've seen. The players are all impressive with Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett and Bruce Davison stealing the show, in my opinion. What a film maker. What a film.
1981 / Director. Frank De Felitta
I had never seen Dark Night of the Scarecrow until tonight. I had heard about it for years and listened to respected filmmakers discuss it in various retrospective films. They celebrate it as a classic and use it as a case study. The plot is simple and tows the generic slasher line. A group of country-bumpkin bigots form a lynch mob and hunt down a mentally retarded man they believe to have murdered a little girl. They find him in a field, posing as a scarecrow, hoping they don't find him. They do find him and brutally murder him. Within seconds of the killing they receive a message proving the man to be innocent... and so naturally with a genre film, the retarded man returns for blood in the form of a scarecrow. It sounds like any other slasher film but there is a reason it's so highly regarded. The script is excellent. Every scene and every action has a purpose. The score is dramatic and harrowing. The suspense is incredibly well staged and above all else, the performances are outstanding. Charles Durning is particularly good as the repulsive and menacing man who lead the lynch mob. I regret that it took me so long to see Dark Night of the Scarecrow because it would have become a movie I returned to often. If Hitchcock were to have directed a Friday The 13th movie, this is how it would be. Suspense and a foreboding atmosphere are favoured over violence, which elevates the movie beyond horror. The scarecrow character is hidden for much of the film and what little screen time it has, is super creepy. I love it. I can understand it's praise. I've just watched it on blu-ray and the quality was excellent. If you love good writing, good acting and craftsmanship, then make sure you see it.
2012 / Director. Ted Emery
When Kath & Kim became a sensation on TV I hated it. I'd hear everyone rave about it and that alone was enough to put me off. I've seen episodes and apart from a few moments of hilarity desperately clutching for air, I found the show to be tedious... and so it goes without saying that i'm probably not the best person to be reviewing Kath & Kmderella. It's really shit. What the hell were they thinking? Contrary to my thoughts on the show, I do like Gina Riley and Jane Turner, as well as the other players involved. Glenn Robins, Peter Rosthorn, Magda Szubanski, Rob Sitch etc... sadly they've all accumulated here into a turd of a movie. Winning a trip to a fictional Mediterranean country called Papilloma, Kath & Kim find themselves in an impoverished nation ruled by a ruthless King (Sitch). The king pursues Kath, the prince pursues Kim and its all so bad. At what point in writing the script did they actually think this was a good idea? Amazingly, respected thespian Richard E Grant plays a central character, which really boggles the mind and I'd be interested to know what enticed him... then again he was in Spiceworld back in the 90s. So yeah... I will confess a few things, however. As painful as the movie was, it still managed to extract a few big laughs out of me (few, if any from Kath & Kim themselves). Frank Woodley appears from out of nowhere with a movie-stealing performance and he almost had me on the floor with laughter. Mick Malloy's small role produced the LOL's but I'm pretty sure his scenes were lifted from the series. Anyway, I would avoid the movie like the plague if I were you... the one thing that gives me some solace is that a lot of old folk will probably love it. This one's for them. I can imagine my nana having a really good cackle over this.... and that can't be a bad thing! Love ya nan!