1986 / Director. Tobe Hooper.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Barmy. Absolutely bonkers. Bat-shit crazy.
In 1986, twelve years after the original film caused a worldwide stir, Tobe Hooper returned to Texas, with the aid of Cannon Films, to deliver a sequel to one of the most infamous films in cinema history.
This time, armed with a budget (and Dennis Hopper), Tobe Hopper opted to approach the film as an out-and-out black-comedy (something he says the original film was, though overshadowed by a grim, ultra-realistic verite lens) and a black-comedy he delivered indeed.
It sees the murderous Sawyer family on the run and taking refuge under an abandoned carnival where they continue to wreak bloody pandemonium on Texan society. It's only renegade (and possibly clinically insane) Federal Marshal, Lefty (Dennis Hopper), believes the family are still alive and responsible for the unexplained blood-letting and makes it his duty to track the Sawyers down and bring them to justice with the help of radio DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams).
Much like the abandoned fairground the family inhabit, part 2 is full of fun, bright, eye-popping, hallucinogenic imagery one minute and throws you neck-deep into a shadowy, grim, nightmare territory the next, a far cry from its predecessor's relentlessly stark and brutal oppressiveness.
This installment exists in a realm of utter hyperbole. Any sense of realism that may have followed on from part 1 has been abandoned. Naturalism has been left at the door - of another house. Elsewhere.
Every performance is a caricature in Tom Savini make-up effects. Indeed they are pushed so far outside the spectrum of normal it becomes a lunatic convention that can only be comical and farcical; it's no accident the Sawyer family live under a broken down carnival.
TCM is Hooper's bread and butter so it's interesting to see his evolution as a filmmaker, something that's evident in almost every scene. While the previous installment was like a brick to the face, here, in part 2, his boldness comes from his finesse in the film's quieter moments. Scenes are played out in single takes, his grasp of pace is more even-handed and his ability with actors is much clearer, even if they are anything but natural.
It's not all severe though. There are, believe it or not, laughs to be had even if they do end up being pitch-black in nature. If it's not the satirical stabs at Texas redneck culture then it's the family dinner recipes of 'eyeball pâté'. And all the while the movie is bloody brutal. That's what we've come to expect, isn't it? Given TCM2 has the reputation it does (until fairly recently it was banned in Germany, Australia and Great Britain to name a few), is it as bad as they would have you believe? - The answer is 'yes'.
Even now, 30yrs later, it still pushes boundaries. This, arguably, isn't a film that would ever be greenlit in today's climate. By anyone. Ever. It isn't remembered as fondly as it should be, and that's a shame. Fortunately the fans remember it. The fans remember the 'saw is family'.
2015 / Director. Bill Pohlad.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Any respectable music critic will tell you that the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds is amongst the greatest records of all time. It’s an incredible musical journey that certainly receives a lot of attention in my house. Not only is it an intricate and deeply personal piece of work, it also marks a defining moment in singer/songwriter Brian Wilson’s life. It was the moment he broke out of his cocoon and evolved into an important artist, free of restraint.
You can imagine my delight when the new Brian Wilson bio-film, LOVE & MERCY, spent a lot of time focused on this chapter in his life. Wilson never quite felt connected with the chart-busting band that had brought him fame and fortune, nor was he comfortable touring the world. His crippling fear of flying kept him grounded and with the permission from the band to stay at home, Wilson began work on something new… something unconventional. And so began the creation of a masterpiece. Locked in a studio with session players, he experimented with sounds, manipulated noises and pushed the envelope. Pet Sounds was essentially a one-man album and upon their return most of the band rejected it.
Director Bill Pohlad splits Wilson’s story in to two important time frames. His musical evolution and early mental health issues are explored with actor Paul Dano playing the young musician. We are given an inside look into the psyche of a genius and the personal struggles that sculpted his process. We watch him create something special and we see him spiral into a perpetual state of madness. The dynamics of the band are also explored with the eventual rift being a significant part of the story. The other portion of the film follows Wilson’s life throughout the 1980s, as a middle-aged man locked behind a dependency of drugs and the ruthless grips of a controlling narcissistic phycologist. John Cusack plays the older Wilson and Paul Giamatti is the notorious Dr Eugene Landy who manipulated and controlled every aspect of Wilson’s life, including the estrangement from his family.
Cusack is the least likely person to play a drug dependant Brian Wilson and I admit that I was sceptical. He bares little resemblance and has a distinct style of acting that I was confident would compromise the story. I was wrong. Cusack is excellent and it wasn’t long before my suspension of disbelief gave way to a natural belief that he personified Wilson. With the support of Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti, Cusack offers one of his best performances to date. Flipping back to the 1960s timeline, Paul Dano also embodies the part. His resemblance to Wilson is striking and his emotional connection with the character is legitimate.
LOVE & MERCY is an honest and revealing examination of a musician’s life. Many bio-films of its type have come and gone but few have stuck. This is certainly a cut above the rest and feels more genuine than most. The eras of Wilson’s life are aesthetically different in their recreation and the two periods are recaptured beautifully. The music is exceptional (naturally) and the inside look into the making of a seminal album is breathtaking. This is one of the year’s best films, without question.
2015 / Director. Tom Six.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3 isn't a film I was able to come away from and punch out an immediate review. I needed time to process what I had seen. Seeing it with an audience on the big screen was an assault on the senses and were I not a willing participant, it would have been deemed a genuine mind-rape.
Only those who tempted the first and second films will been courageous enough to face this third (and final) sequence. Where the two previous instalments were wolds apart in terms of story, aesthetic and tone, so too is this third act in director Tom Six's opus. In fact the film is so far removed from what we've come to expect that it is guaranteed to split audiences down the middle. Tom Six will be applauded for being an audacious and dangerous filmmaker by some and he will be condemned and ridiculed by others. Nevertheless he has established himself as a notorious one and that is worth its weight in gold.
The film is set inside a maximum security prison where we follow the outrageous behaviour of the warden and his accountant. He is a psychopathic German with a penchant for depravity. With a general displeasure for anything and everyone he spends his time devising new and creative ways to control his prisoners. When his accountant presents him with copies of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 1 and 2 and underlines the financial benefits of 500 prisoner mouths' to asses, the warden sets in motion a twisted experiment in perversion. With the help of Tom Six himself (yes he appears in the film) the prisoners are subjected to all kinds of mutilation, deprecation and castration. It's a smorgasbord of filth and it's unlike anything I've ever seen.
I was conflicted for the entire duration of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3. One moment I would be telling myself that it is one of the worst films I have ever seen and the next moment I was applauding its fearlessness. On the surface it is a shonky piece of shit. A movie so low-rent that would fit comfortably in the lamest of Eurotrash collections. And yet everything is deliberate and there is a lot more at play than many unsuspecting viewers will realise. From intentional technical blunders to inexcusable overacting, nothing is done accidentally and having proved himself to be an astute filmmaker with the previous two films, we really do need to give Tom Six the benefit of the doubt.
Upon reflection and discussion I am resolved to giving THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3 its due recognition. It is a satirical, farcical and outrageous comedy that keeps loyal fans on their toes. In the full-house session I attended, none of the audience suspected what they saw. People were shocked, disappointed and elated all at once. It wasn't the hardcore faecal-fest they were hoping for, but it was definitely more politically incorrect than they could have ever imagined. With his lunacy levels at full dial, Dieter Laser delivers one of the most absurd and maniacal performances I have ever seen. Like, I'm talking some of the most vile and astonishingly repulsive dialogue and actions I have ever seen. I was repulsed beyond explanation and yet giggling and lapping up every moment of it right to the bitter end. What is wrong with me?
If you're determined (and game enough) to endure this exhausting exercise in surrealism, then ignore the online hate. Be sure to watch it with other people too, because this is an experience. It is an 'event' film that demands an audience reaction. Watching it alone will diminish its impact and lessen your response.
2015 / Jen and Sylvia Soska
Review by Shaun Crawford.
There is a cluster of talent on the outskirts of Hollywood right now and they're making a helluva noise. Whether it's genre-bending, genre-revitalizing or just downright great film making, it's worth keeping your eye on Adam Wingard, Ti West, Jim Mickle and The Soska Twins. Maybe.
After the Twisted Twins $2000 debut, DEAD HOOKER IN THE TRUNK, they gave us AMERICAN MARY, one of the most insanely original horror films of the last ten years.
Hollywood beckoned and they teamed up with WWE Studios (yes, the wrestling federation) and dropped their standards somewhat with SEE NO EVIL 2 - $15million budgets come with conditions, after all.
With VENDETTA, their first film to ditch horror in lieu of action, they've once again teamed up with WWE and the results are disappointing to say the least. Starring a rather portly Dean Cain and Big Show (no, really) it's cop/criminal revenge hokum that sees Cain's detective deliberately committing murder in order to be imprisoned next to the guy who killed his wife.
Where their horror output has been well measured and considered their action stuff pales in comparison. It's stagnant, cliched and cheap. There's really very little to recommend here outside of a curiosity viewing for fans of what the sisters are capable of just so they can see how far they've fallen from grace.
2001 / Director. Jean de Segonzac.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
MIMIC 2 has been dismissed as a second-rate direct-to-video sequel by most people but if it were given more consideration it would hold a greater value and stand alone as a decent monster movie in its own right.
The first film was Guillermo Del Toro's American debut and it was, in itself, a tumultuous and critically savaged movie. Studio interference affected his vision and the theatrical release bore his technical signature but little of his storytelling qualities. Several years later he was able to release his director's cut, which pleased fans and made the film significant again. It was a subterranean creature feature about genetically modified cockroaches that grew to human-size and mimicked people.
MIMIC 2 continues some time after the events of the first film with Alix Koromzay reprising her role as the entomologist from the first film (she was a secondary character then). The Judas breed was thought to be eradicated, however, this sequel sees that it has survived and continued to evolve much further than could have ever been expected. Taking on human characteristics such as obsession and jealousy, the new strain is far more dangerous and tenacious and will stop at nothing to seek a human mate. With a smaller budget the story has been taken out of the subterranean setting of New York's subway system and placed in the darkened corridors of an inner-city high school. And it works.
The premise of MIMIC 2 essentially rehashes the first film but takes the story into a ludicrous and far-fetched direction. This absurd storyline is what fuelled most of the critics... but why hasn't anyone factored in the technical aspects? MIMIC 2 is an accomplished production in terms of set design, ambience and cinematography. It looks great and comes as close to mimicking Del Toro's original atmosphere as a low budget DTV movie possibly could. With a short running time of 72 minutes, it is a taut and action-packed movie that hasn't got time for melodrama and gives the viewer a visual bang for their buck. The characters are nowhere near as cliched as they could have been and for the most part, the essence of the original film has been recaptured. It is not a bad movie by any means as far as I'm concerned.
2014 / Directors. Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I saw no urgency in seeing THE INTERVIEW at the time of its theatrical release. It had arrived with such controversy that the inevitable detractors and haters were all over it like flies to shit. I wanted to avoid the circus and so I waited for the home entertainment release.
I liked it. Yes it's puerile and yes it's ludicrous... but I'm not sure what else people were expecting from a movie directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. I have an ongoing affection for the dynamics of Rogen and Franco. They've been collaborating for over fifteen years and I love watching them click. THE INTERVIEW feels like they said "fuck it. lets go balls out" and that's pretty much what the movie is all about. It's a political comedy that pushes the envelope and casts a satirical, yet scrutinising, eye on North Korea.
Rogen and Franco play two tabloid journalists who score the world's first international interview with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Ung. The American government intervenes and assigns them with the task of assassinating the evil dictator. And so the movie has them travelling to the communist state where their every move is monitored and suspicion runs high. Nothing is sacred and everything is exploited for comedy's gain. The focal point of the film is the ridicule of Jong-Ung himself and every effort to lampoon him is exhausted.
I'm sure most of you are aware of the controversy surrounding the film's release with Sony Pictures having their emails hacked and death threats made against America, should the film be released. The North Korean government issued stern warnings and declared the movie to be an act of terrorism. Of course this only fuelled the interest factor and the movie was eventually released online for free for a short time. It's clearly no masterpiece but THE INTERVIEW hits quite a lot of truths. In fact several organisations such as the Human Rights Foundation and Fighters for a free North Korea had planned to drop copies of the movie into the country before they were threatened with retaliation by way of war.
A lot of critics took issue with Franco's dimwitted character. He takes stupidity to infantile lows and could easily be perceived as going "full retard". I think it was an important aspect to the film, though. To be so critical and scathing of North Korea requires a certain amount of self-awareness and Franco's character acts as a critical reflection of the USA. Also pitting Jong-Ung in this guy's company and having them let loose with drugs, sex, sports and arsenal is a brilliant insult to his militant and ruthless leadership. And at the end of the day, it's a comedy. I take well to toilet humour and the movie worked for me.
2015 / Director. Thomas McCarthy.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE COBBLER is a very strange film and I am still processing it in my mind. I knew very little about it but my response to the theatrical poster was confident. It presented an understated charm and I suspected that it would not fit into the typical Adam Sandler mould. Outside of his generic Happy Madison catalogue Sandler often takes on challenging roles and proves himself to be a competent dramatic actor. My mind was cast back to his performances in films like MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE and REIGN OVER ME and so from the initial point of contact with the poster I was anticipating something more subdued and less comical.
So what is THE COBBLER? It is a comedy. It is also a drama. And it's a thriller. In fact the film's wikipedia entry describes it as a "magic realism" story. Confused? Yep. It was directed by Thomas McCarthy whose previous films include THE STATION AGENT, THE VISITOR and MILLION DOLLAR ARM. This is a director with a strong dramatic sensibility and he brings all of skills as a serious filmmaker to THE COBBLER. The result is a fantasy drama that looks amazing and presents a wonderful washed out lower east side atmosphere. His visual brand is stamped all over the film and the charisma leaps off the screen.
Sandler plays a 3rd generation shoe cobbler who runs his family's store on the lower east side of New York. He is stuck in life and progressively sinking deeper into a depressive state. When his stitching machine breaks down, he dusts off an old vintage machine in the basement and soon discovers that it has magical powers. The machine gives him the ability to step into whichever shoes it stitches and he becomes that person. With a store full of hundreds of unclaimed shoes he is able to become whoever he wants and steps onto the streets to influence his neighbourhood, one sole at a time (as the tagline suggests). The premise sounds completely absurd and it does hark back to the sort of comedies that Jerry Lewis made so many years ago. But the real curiosity of THE COBBLER is that it doesn't play for the comedy. Thomas McCarthy has chosen to take this comical premise and explore it dramatically. We follow Sandler's character as he attempts to use his power for good and finds himself way out of his depth. From surprisingly moving gestures to unexpectedly violent brushes with criminals, the film is in a constant state of fluctuation and on first appearance doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, but in retrospect it's a weird and wonderful journey for the viewer to take, not unlike the TV series QUANTUM LEAP (which is subtly referenced in the film).
The film also stars Steve Buscemi, Dustin Hoffman and Ellen Barkin (amongst others) who all give weight to the concept. Buscemi and Hoffman are particularly crucial to the dramatic arch while Barken's role serves the cliched elements of the story. Sandler looks the part and holds the film well. He refrains from his trademarked aggressive outbursts and plays for a more modest and sincere appeal. The story itself is almost inconsequential with the concept itself taking center stage. It bounces between genres and pinballs between being sentimental and edgy. The film's final act is very nicely handled and various revelations may be unexpected and satisfying for many viewers.
The entire film caught me off guard and the more I contemplate it the more I like it. It is without fanfare and plays for modesty, rather than outrageousness. I will be revisiting it soon.
2015 / Director. David Hackl.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Director David Hackl (SAW V) is clearly a passionate genre fan. He would have to be to tempt something like INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE. Very few directors have made creature features about bears and succeeded. The film does have many shortcomings and whether or not it does succeed will be a matter of opinion but it is certainly one of the most serious attempts that I've seen in a long time.
Most genre fans will cast their mind back to the 1976 film GRIZZLY when they read the synopsis for INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE and while the JAWS-inspired plot does resemble that '76 film quite closely, it is not a remake. A rogue grizzly bear is reeking havoc in the Alaska wilderness and two estranged brothers trek into the 'Grizzly Maze' to find and rescue people who are unaccounted for. The Grizzly Maze is a dense and notorious valley where even bears become disoriented. With a medic and conservationist by their side and a persistent expert shadowing their movements, the brothers find themselves as the hunted and must outwit or outrun the beast before it tears them all to shreds.
The premise is classic survival creature feature and director David Heckl exploits all of the expected tropes of the genre. What sets it apart from other bear-related movies is the use of location and the quality of the cinematography. This is a pristine-looking film and a lot of attention has been placed in capturing the cold density of the Alaskan environment (although it was filmed in British Columbia). The initial premise was inspired by Timothy Treadwell, whose exploits and death were documented by Werner Herzog in the documentary GRIZZLY MAN. Treadwell's own diary entries recalled a rogue bear that terrified him so much that he named it "Red Machine", which was this film's original working title (still used for the European release). Also adding extra resonance to the film is the impressive cast with Thomas Jane and James Marsden leading an ensemble, which includes Billy Bob Thornton, Scott Glenn, Piper Perabo and Michaela McManus. All give strong performances and feel as though they are comfortable living off such a rugged and formidable land.
The film's weakness lies within its special effects. Hackl has attempted to shoot the attack scenes with ferocity, however, it feels as though he bit off more than he could chew. While he has succeeded in blending a gory horror quality to the violence, the film slips when it comes to the point of contact. Insert shots of the bear isolated from the actors are too obvious and the attacks are comprised of split second shots mashed together. I can only imagine how difficult and problematic filming with a bear would be, but that is the film they chose to make and such pivotal moments could have been augmented with more care. There are also some truly disappointing CGI moments in the final act, which might be the breaking point for some viewers.
With these flaws aside, INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE is an atmospheric and entertaining creature feature. I feel that the attack scenes are sporadic enough that their shortcomings can be overlooked and I was able to focus more on the atmospheric appeal and the nicely handled balance of action with horror. The good pacing also helps drive it home. It is a noble entry into the creature-feature genre and is likely to be a divisive film amongst audiences. Generous viewers who are able to see what David Hackl was trying to do should get more out of it than others. It's good fun.
2015 / Director. Simon Curtis.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Much of the promotional art would suggest that WOMAN IN GOLD is a showcase vehicle for Helen Mirren, and indeed, her character is the focal point of this fascinating true story. But it is Ryan Reynolds who owns the film. He is exceptional and clocks up another notch to his dramatic belt that proves him to be a versatile, understated and charismatic actor of his generation.
The film tells the story of Maria Altmann, an elderly Austrian woman who took the Austrian government to court to reclaim a portrait of her aunt, which was stolen from her home by the Nazis during the Holocaust. When the war ended the portrait went on display at the Austrian State Gallery and became the pride of a nation. Maria enlisted the guidance of a friend's lawyer son, Randol Schoenberg, and embarked on a ten year crusade to see the art returned to its rightful owner. With the Austrian government blocking her every step of the way, the story sees the two of them pursue every possible legal avenue. From private negotiations with the government to the art restitution board in Vienna... and all the way to the American supreme court. It was a David and Goliath battle that came with a lot of personal sacrifice and heartache and became a story for the history books.
It's a fascinating story that has been told respectfully with the strength of two sincere and impassioned performances. Helen Mirren is good, of course, and such a role is like a walk in the park for her. With her age and maturity as an actress she understood the character and was able to embody the persona with ease. The knockout performance, however, is Ryan Reynolds, as the young and audacious lawyer. His character was initially in it for the money but soon found himself sacrificing everything in his life to pursue justice. Discovering his own heritage along the way it becomes a deeply personal journey and Reynolds embodies the character and delivers an emotionally charged performance.
The intricate details of the ongoing legal proceedings are washed over and director Simon Curtis has chosen to tell the story through an emotive use of flashbacks and character backstory. Maria's youth is woven throughout the film with cleverly conceived scenes of Nazi occupation and a breathtaking escape to America. These portions of the film are staged rather modestly with most shots being close-up and the remaining wide shots feeling contained and modest. The cuts between the two time frames of the story are well blended and avoid being abrupt and distracting. One particular moment of reflection is incredibly moving and reaffirms that this is a personal drama, rather than a legal one.
The film played me like a cello and I fell for almost all of its filmmaking trickery. I became besotted with Maria's story and I was moved by Randol's personal journey. The imagery tug at my heartstrings and the performances forced the lump in my throat to swell. I have read that a few of the smaller details regarding other characters have been altered for the sake of a fluent narrative and these are liberties I am willing to forgive. Hopefully WOMAN IN GOLD will inspire some of its viewers to explore the story further and gain a better understanding of the various other players in this historical story.
2013 / Steve Stark.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
It all began so well. Kevin Smith arrived on the scene in the early 90s and announced himself as a renegade. CLERKS was an important and seminal independent film that flipped the bird to Hollywood and inspired a generation of filmmakers. With that Smith further explored the same universe and gave us two substantial follow-ups; MALLRATS and CHASING AMY. And then the downward spiral began and his subsequent movies, while not without merit, became less and less amusing. Smith had become a brand and his increasing cult status amongst stoners locked him into a position where he was compelled to feed his trolls. The legions of followers wanted dick jokes and pussy jokes and as many tokes of Jay as possible... and so be it. Smith rewarded them in spades and consequently lost an entire other audience whose threshold for vulgarity had its limits.
Jay & Silent Bob occupy the View Askewniverse, which to date is made up of 6 movies (2 more on the way), a few shorts, a TV series and several comic books. It's a franchise that has afforded Smith many luxuries and a platform to preach an evangelical-like message to the world. He tours the globe with Jason Mewes (Jay) and performs to sell-out venues, mostly full of stoners. I don't knock him for what he has created and the wealth it has brought him, but there is no doubt that he sold out long ago.
The biggest sell-out point in the ongoing View Askewniverse is also its lowest point. JAY & SILENT BOB'S SUPER GROOVY CARTOON MOVIE is an appalling demonstration of vulgarity. Such a term "demonstration of vulgarity" is normally reason to celebrate in my books, but this dumb fucking movie serves no purpose. At a pathetic 60 minute running time we are assaulted with 58 minutes of Jason Mewes spewing a verbal diarrhea of sex, pussy, dope & dick jokes. The plot is too dumb to bother with and involves aliens and superheroes. We are "treated" to erections, ejaculations and penetration... on cycle.
JAY & SILENT BOB'S SUPER GROOVY CARTOON MOVIE is little more than a cash-in project. A poorly animated plop of cartoon that doesn't even come close to resembling the ill-fated CLERKS ANIMATED SERIES. Without the assistance of marijuana there is nothing to be taken from it. Kevin Smith appears sporadically as self-referential animated version of himself and more or less tells the viewer that his pockets are well lined. The funniest thing of all is that no matter how scathing I could be towards this movie, it won't make a lick of difference. It's one for the fans and they will lap it up regardless. This is what they want and we should pity them.... poor little losers that they are*.
The good news is that Smith has somewhat freed himself from the confines of the View Askewniverse and has demonstrated the audacity of his early years with a shift in genre. RED STATE and TUSK are proof that he is still a relevant and daring filmmaker.... but he will keep milking that cash cow all the same and the ball is rolling on MALLRATS 2 and CLERKS 3.
*Said facetiously. Or not. I can't tell.
2015 / Director. Colin Trevorrow.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Movies like JURASSIC WORLD reduce my mind-set to that of a 10 year old boy. With that in mind please let me put this as professionally as possible... Awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome!! Best-movie-ever!!
Okay, so perhaps not the best movie ever... but JURASSIC WORLD has been well worth the wait. The closer the film came to its release date the more concerned I was becoming. The trailers were less than inspiring and the saturation of promotional art was annoying. You can imagine my relief to be treated to a film that matches the original in terms of atmosphere, suspense and excitement. The initial wow factor is removed, of course, because we know what a JURASSIC movie is all about. But that's no problem because this new world is an evolution of its own and is positioned nicely within the franchise.
Times have changed since Richard Hammond dreamed of a Jurassic Park during the early 90s. Technology has changed the way we live and it has changed the way we think. Hand-held devices and social media have turned us into a NOW society where entertainment is on demand and immediate. We want bigger and better and we want it NOW. We have short attention spans and we grow weary too soon. Such is the premise of JURASSIC WORLD where Hammond's dream has been realised and a high-tech theme park has been created. With an ever-demanding public, the park must reinvent itself constantly to keep people flocking. That means new attractions and that means new dinosaurs. When an all new, top-secret and genetically spliced dinosaur escapes its enclosure, the park is thrown into chaos as other creatures get out and park management attempts to bring everything under control.
Cynical viewers will declare JURASSIC WORLD to be a rehash of JURASSIC PARK, and it is. Not only is the same aesthetic recaptured but the overall story arch is a reprise of Spielberg's classic film. Once we're on this ride we know exactly where we're headed but that is by no means a bad thing as far as I'm concerned. I was a loyal fan of the previous two sequels but can still concede that they're a pale imitation of the 1993 movie. And so there is comfort knowing that the creative minds have returned to the tried and true format of the original. Add in a WESTWORLD type of set-up to set it apart and we're the lucky recipients of a blockbuster movie of the highest degree. Director Colin Trevorrow has stepped into helm this beast and he has recaptured the Spielbergian spirit better than Spielberg himself did with THE LOST WORLD.
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard lead the film effortlessly and hold their own amongst a menagerie of pterodactyls, raptors, t-rex's and other weird prehistoric monsters. They understand the material and know how to play the kitsch. Their chemistry is great and Pratt is especially dynamic as the velociraptor expert. He steps into his role like an amalgamation of Sam Neill's Alan Grant and Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm. The film also maintains the franchise canon with welcome references to the original that assist the plot development rather than being tacky homages. Care has been taken.
If you're susceptible to arm-chair criticism then you will benefit from leaving your adult shell at the door. Let your inner-child out to play and let the majesty of this colossal adventure infect you. It is big and it is awesome and it blew my freaking mind!
2001 / Director. David Wain.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER has been on my radar for over ten years and it's one of those films that I've never managed to get to. I have had an insatiable appetite for summer camp movies ever since I fell in love with MEATBALLS and considering the incredible ensemble cast in this film, it was a frustrating anticipation - spread out over a decade.
Finally my time arrived and I can, without a doubt, add WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER to my list of all time underrated comedies. It is almost cut from the same cloth as MEATBALLS and carries itself with a similar sporadic structure that sees our attention pinballing all over the camp grounds, between all of the characters and their antics. The film has gone on to become a cult piece, thanks mostly to the calibre of talent that has emerged from it. Some of the players were already notable, however the movie also spawned a whole new generation of talent. The cast includes; Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Molly Shannon, Ken Marino, Christopher Meloni, Amy Poehler, Marguerite Moreau and a bunch of others.
The story takes place on the last day of summer camp and follows the characters as they enjoy final activities and take advantage of last-chance romances. All of the typical dynamics are in place and we've got the nerds, the sluts, the jocks, the counsellors etc. The film expects you to have a pre-established knowledge of summer camp comedies, as well as an affection for the early 1980s era. Director David Wain exploits a slew of retrocentric cliches and presents us with a film that is screwball and satirical. His movie is riddled with gags - some more obvious than others and it deserves repeated viewings with so many subtleties alluding the viewer on their first voyage. I know that I certainly missed a heap of comedy, having been distracted by many of the bigger laughs.
If you combine MEATBALLS with the nostalgic nuances of FREAKS AND GEEKS you get WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER. It is a comedy that has forged itself a cult status and has lead to an upcoming TV series, which will see most of the original cast return. There is so much to love about this one and I can't talk it up enough. Great stuff.
2015 / Director. Roel Reinè.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Despite its overall poor reception I was a fan of THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS. There is no doubt that it was a flawed film, however I chose to focus on its style and aesthetic rather than the integrity of its narrative. It was simply a fun movie that paid homage to so many fantasy martial arts films before it. The modern hip-hop soundtrack elevated it to a surreal display of violence and bloodshed. It was also a creative collaboration between rapper RZA and horror guru Eli Roth (with the financial and promotional assistance of Quentin Tarantino).
I thought that the audience had spoken and a sequel was the last thing I expected to see. But what would I know because here we are, three years later, with an all new instalment. RZA returns without the guidance of Roth (who remains as executive producer only) for this direct-to-video that has his character journeying to a remove temple of monks in search of redemption and forgiveness for his sins. He is attacked and taken in by local villagers and soon finds himself caught in a battle between the town and an evil overlord.
With the stigma of 'direct-to-video' looming over this sequel, a certain amount of leniency is required. With only a fraction of the original's budget, there is only so much that this movie can do to meet expectations. Without the counsel of Roth, RZA handed his script to director Roel Reinè who has a reputation for getting the most out of DTV sequels. His previous titles include DEATH RACE 2 & 3, THE MARINE 2, and 12 ROUNDS 2) and it's hard to deny his competence as a filmmaker. He has done the best he can do with THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2 and has relied on a contemporary soundtrack and good photography to hold the viewer's attention. The script is weak and lacks vision. It feels forced and desperate but to Reinè's credit, the set design and cinematography lends it a textural quality that's almost undeserving. Where the first film made use of sound stages and false environments, the bulk of the sequel is shot in location. The cinematography is elegant, but the consequence real locations is that the movie lacks the heightened fantasy of the original.
The final undoing of MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2 is the acting. RZA is certainly a bad actor and there isn't a decent performance in sight. It is a dumbed down follow up to a highly stylised film and is unlikely to appease fans.
2015 / Director. Cameron Crowe.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Almost all of Cameron Crowe's films have the same effect on me. I spend most of the duration underwhelmed and thinking that he is an overrated filmmaker, and then he concludes with a third act that carries it home and has me reconsidering everything that I had just thought. ALOHA is another typical example.
Bradley Cooper plays a military contractor who returns to his home state of Hawaii to head up liaisons with the traditional land owners for a multi billion dollar satellite communications facility. Upon return he finds himself swept up in nostalgia with his ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) and falling for fighter pilot (Emma Stone) who feels spiritually connected to her island home. Add in a tumultuous relationship with his commanding officers (Alec Baldwin & Danny McBride) and a ruthless billionaire Bill Murray) and the scene is set for an emotionally complicated homecoming.
The initial strength of the film is in its casting. All of the integral players are very good and Bradley Cooper exudes charisma on screen. He has been paired wonderfully with Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone, and although I have a very low tolerance for Stone, her performance won me over. Bill Murray is a nice addition to the cast as the eccentric and untrustworthy billionaire father figure to Cooper's character. While Murray has very little time on screen with very little to work with, he milks every moment and provides the film some of its most memorable scenes.
The first act of the film feels very odd and disjointed as we are introduced to these characters in a hasty and assertive way, with very little to latch onto. There are several obvious continuity blunders that had me scratching my head, and the structure of the narrative is clunky and sketchy... and probably a little too presumptuous. The audience is expected to catch up to speed with very little backstory, and the onus is on the viewer to have a pre-established understanding of Hawaiian culture and spirituality. Cameron Crowe attempts to explore indigenous issues and presents an ongoing spiritual context that had me spending most of the running time wondering if such themes were better handled by a filmmaker with an actual heritage. I am also conflicted about the title, ALOHA. It seems patronising in its simplicity.
Fortunately the many shortcomings of ALOHA are compensated with likeable characters, good performances and a genuinely excellent finale. In true Crowe form the soundtrack is fantastic and he manages to milk one particular scene for all its worth with the help of 'Everybody Wants To Rule the World' and 'I Can't Go For That'. It gives the film its standout moment and reaffirms what a true genius Billy Murray is. It also reminds us that Cameron Crowe's strength lies in exploiting retrosentric pop-culture and manipulating the audience with nostalgia. He does it well.
I probably shouldn't have enjoyed ALOHA as much as I did, but at the end of the day I am a sucker for kitsch and melodrama. The film does struggle to find its rhythm but eventually comes together in the end. It also finishes with a film-stealing performance by one of the unlikeliest of characters. Oi, Cameron Crowe.... "Why, you!!!!" [shakes fist].
2015 / Director. Doug Ellin.
Review by Jarret Gahan.
Following the dissolution of his short-term marriage, Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) makes the call that the next film he is to star in, he will also direct. When the film is near finished but requiring additional funding to complete post-production, producer Eric (Kevin Connolly) is forced to call upon studio head, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) for the cash. Wary though buoyant, Ari is pushed to seek the capital from the key financier, Texan oil billionaire Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton), who stipulates that his brat son Travis (Haley Joel Osment) must sight the film before any more investment is made. Ari returns to Los Angeles with Travis to attend a rough cut screening turned five hundred plus person party that Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) has organised, however Vince gets cold feet and pulls the film at the eleventh hour. With word quickly spreading through Hollywood that the production may troubled, Ari & Vince's entourage are forced to fight all forms of interference particularly that of Travis and his laundry list of notes to get the film finished and into theatres.
While this is the basic premise of the film, it's not entirely the narrative, as is the case with the television series, it's the sum of the subplots that define the series and that's where the strength in the film lies. The ENTOURAGE film doesn't attempt to break new ground or recontextualise the television series, rather series creator come feature director Doug Ellin understands his audience and allows the film to play out as a marathon of half a season's worth of episodes with a higher budget and it works. Adopting the same approach and insight as this series, ENTOURAGE is a voyeuristic look into both the private and very public lives of fictitious Hollywood players that often draws genuine parallels to industry icons, proving to be as much an exposé as it is entertainment. Loaded with cameos from reprising characters (along with a plethora of celebrities playing themselves), intertextual references and continued adventures/misadventures of the central characters, ENTOURAGE is a perfect fan film, expanding the defunct series into a potential ongoing film franchise. While it may initially seem alienating to those unaccustomed with the television series, the film does stand on its own and will no doubt win a new allegiance of fans once seen.