1978 / Director. Joshua White.
Disco Beaver From Outer Space... HILARIOUS! The first of the National Lampoon's movie franchise this short hour long feature carries on the sketch tradition of The Groove Tune and Kentucky Fried Movie. Made for HBO it was a much more raunchy and daring experiment in political incorrectness. The movie is presented from the point of view of an unseen couple who are watching tv. As they indecisively switch channels we are treated to an random assortment of hilarious sketches. Some are a fleeting second or two long while others are closer to 5 minutes... ALL of them are fantastic. One recurring sketch throughout the film is a late-night presentation of Dragula: Queen of Darkness... a gay vampire who turns everyone he bites into homosexuals. The gay theme runs throughout other sketches too but never in a derogatory way. In fact being a cable network program, the themes and topics are approached very liberally. Dragula is eventually defeated when confronted with a giant beaver (LOL). Hitting his head he sees double and cries "Split Beaver!" and vanishes in to a lavender mist. And then there's the girl who confesses to an addiction to Perrier, which ultimately led her to salads. Disco Beaver From Outer Space was way ahead of its time and still resonates now. The writing is brilliant and just about every gag hits the mark. At just under an hour's length, its a super easy watch and you should track this fucker down! Great stuff.
2009 / Director. Dagen Merrill.
Geeze, I have no idea what to make of Broken Hill. I've just watched it and I'm a bit dumfounded. It's an American film, pretending to be Australian. Most of the cast are Aussie, except for Alexa Vega and Timothy Hutton. The strangest thing is that Hutton is playing an Aussie farmer & footy coach. Listening to him bang on with an Aussie accent was a real mind-bender and while he actually nails most of it, it's the mispronunciations that completely undo his performance... a noble attempt, though. The movie takes place in a remote country town where mining and a prison keep the local economy alive. Luke Arnold plays the famers son who dreams of music. He conducts imaginary orchestras while herding sheep and pines for a bigger life. He meets an American girl and the two get into trouble with the cops and are sentenced to community service... and so they spend their time at the local prison teaching the prisoners to play music. This is his opportunity to impress the big wigs from a city music school when the prison band is selected to play in Broken Hill. Blah Blah Blah... this is such a cliched and derivitive movie. The formula is tiresome and it's only saving grace is the unique Australian outback setting. Its shot well and looks great and some of the musical arrangements are decent enough. I wouldn't say I enjoyed it but perhaps if I were a 13 year old girl I would have loved it. The blending of Aussie and American in such an inland outback setting is kind of stupid and it might have been a solid movie were all the characters local. A few other familiar faces pop up including Andy McPhee, George Kapiniaris and Hung Le and that does add a bit of interest to the movie. I will also give the final scene some credit for not taking the most obvious cliche moment that I was predicting. It does end on a nice note. A mediocre musical drama, not much to love... not much to hate. "She'll be right, mate!". lol
Curiously this film was made in 2009 and released in the US in 2010...... but only found its release in Australia this week.
2011 / Director. Mick Garris.
Bag of Bones is one of the better Stephen King adaptations I have seen and I think it's the best "King" telemovie since Storm Of The Century. The novel was described as a haunted love story and the film captures that theme really well. Pierce Brosnan plays a high profile novelist whose wife is killed in a tragic accident. With the conviction that he cannot write anymore without her he is compelled to spend time away at his lakeside retreat, which is a place his wife would escape to while he was immersed in his work. Before long he starts having visions and believes that his wife brought him to the lake house for a reason. The film follows the book closely and all of King's intentions are represented on the screen. A few slight details are altered and/or omitted for the film, but all for the sake of a stronger onscreen story. Unlike many of King's film adaptations, Bag of Bones doesn't venture into hokey territory, albeit for 2 mysteriously sinister characters... but even then, they aren't forced into heightened caricatures like many previous King adaptations. The film is often scary (actual frights) and it doesn't shy away from the darker themes of the story. Television content is pushing new envelopes these days and where previous telemovies have been restrained, director Mick Garris takes the viewer into these shadows and makes no apologies. It's not a hard-core film by any means but its tone is malevolent and heart wrenching, particularly in it's final act. Pierce Brosnan carries the entire film well and is convincing. The film runs for just under 3 hours and it never wanes. A solid Stephen King movie, for sure.
2009 / Director. Neil Jordan.
All of the right boxes were ticked before I watched Ondine. I'm a fan of Neil Jordan as a director. I am in love with films set in maritime and I am a sucker for anything to do with celtic folklore, particularly the selke (half seal, half woman). It's always the type of fable that lends itself to beauty and romance and Ondine is a wonderful story. Colin Farrell stars as an everyday fisherman who pulls a woman from the ocean in his trawling nets. She is mysterious and allusive and when the fisherman's daughter suspects her to be a selke, it's then that her secret sea-life starts to unravel. Neil Jordan is an atmospheric filmmaker and being Irish, he knows how to shoot the landscapes beautifully. The water and land are important characters unto themselves and Jordan evokes a sincerity and believability from this fable by allowing the environment to set the tone. There are also a series of plot developments, which keep and momentum and curiosity factors high. I'm not a fan of Farrell's but he is understated and affective in this lead. The score to the film is gorgeous and the soundtrack heavily features haunting songs from artists such as Sigur Ros and Lisa Hannigan. It's one of Jordan's more understated films and it's a nice reprise from some of his heavier work. Nicely done.
2012 / Director. Franck Khalfoun.
Earlier this week Franck Khalfoun's MANIAC was banned in New Zealand. Ah-huh, BANNED! I'm still getting my head around that one. The film itself is no more violent or graphic than countless others that have passed the grade, and the one reason the classification board cites is the killer's point of view. Ridiculous - but I'll get to that in a minute. Anyone who follows my blogs will know that I am strongly opinionated when it comes to remaking films. I am not opposed to the idea of remakes but I do believe in rules and guidelines, which I've self-imposed upon myself (and anyone who gives enough shit to read them). The original 1980 MANIAC is a seminal film. It defined the slasher and pushed the genre to new boundaries. Even now, over 30 years later, it still tests audience's limits and remains as potent as ever. With today's extreme torture-porn movie culture, it's not the violence of MANIAC that upsets us but rather the seedy, grimy vulgarity of it. It drips with filth. - So the idea of remaking it didn't sit well with me at first. I couldn't imagine how they could possibly evoke the same kind of response from me. Then when I read that Alexandre Aja was producing it my confidence was restored. I recently saw the new MANIAC and it's flawless. This IS HOW you pull off a worthy remake. Wow - mind blown! Aja and director Franck Khalfoun have resisted retelling the story the same way as William Lustig's original. The grimy and sleazy atmosphere of the Lustig's film has been ignored in favour of a polished and almost materialistic aesthetic. Elijah Wood plays Frank, a reclusive owner of a mannequin store. Having lived an abusive and traumatic childhood, he has become psychotic and obsessive and hits the streets at night time - scalping women. He uses the scalps to complete the restoration of his mannequins (his family). One day a woman walks into his store, amazed at his creative talent and he becomes besotted with her. The storyline is more or less a retelling of the original but it's conventions are new, daring and fresh. The entire film is told from Franks POV. We see his victims through his eyes. We ARE Frank. This POV is the reason New Zealand have banned the film and yet their decision is baseless. They fear that we, the viewer, will be influenced by this killer point of view. Their tiny little minds think that we are going to see killing in a new and wonderful light and will be compelled to take up murder. Ridiculous. What this unique POV actually does is to replace the original film's seedy impact. Where the dank and repulsive atmosphere of the original film disturbed us, the point of view in this remake does the same thing. There's no glorification. It's not glamorous. It is horrific, ugly and disturbing. We catch glimpses of Frank's face throughout the film from reflections and he always appears disconnected. His big wide eyes are those of a child who's innocence was robbed. The film doesn't ask us to be sympathetic to his situation, nor does it provoke us to champion him. If anything it should speak to abusive and neglectful parents. Love your children. Nurture them and don't allow them to disconnect from reality. Of course it is still a slasher film and horror-buffs are going to rejoice with each kill - but don't mistake our jubilation. We're not cheering Frank's exploits... we're celebrating the genre. We're vindicating the creative input from those who made it. We're elated that film-makers are being bold enough to deliver something so gnarly and shocking as MANIAC. It's flawless.
2013 / Director. Mark Hartley.
I saw Patrick this evening at the world premier in Melbourne. The cast & crew were in attendance as well as various other notables. The atmosphere was fantastic and everyone was excited about seeing Patrick. Director Mark Hartley and producer Antony Ginnane introduced the film and explained their intentions when "re-imaging" the story. Of course Patrick is based on the 1978 Australian thriller of the same name. It tells the story of a hospital ward for trauma victims, mostly the catatonic. One patient is Patrick who is kept isolated from the other patients. He is a special case patient and horrible experiments are performed on him. When a sympathetic nurse starts looking after him, all kinds of strange and supernatural things begin to happen. Objects move, people become possessed (for lack of better word) and deadly obsessions manifest themselves. The original was written by genre legend Everett DeRoche, it was directed by Richard Franklin and has been embraced as an influential film of its time. The remake is a curious oddity. Firstly it's important that I state for the record that I really enjoyed it... Hartley has taken the foundations of the original film and built a truly gothic psychological-thriller, unlike anything I've seen come out of Australia. The dark, brooding atmosphere recalls films like The Devil's Backbone and The Others and Hartley told the audience that The Orphanage also lent a lot of textual inspiration. Clearly Guillermo Del Toro's sensibilities have been influential. It's a beautiful looking film. Mark Hartley clearly had a vision and he has succeeded in capturing it. This is a very Hitchcockian piece, which is fitting considering that Richard Franklin directed the original and was a protege of Hitch's. That Hitchcock flavour is all over this film with it's underlying themes and revelations; and the magnificent score by Pino Donaggio is possibly the film's greatest asset... it does have some shortcomings, however, including some questionable FX, which I won't reveal the details of. The use of modern technology throughout the film also bothered me. With such a classic and gothic setting I would rather the film be a period piece because all of the cell phones and computers lessened the suspense considerably. Even the nurses outfits felt colonial. And then there's the hospital itself... it's located somewhere rural and isolated, staffed by only a few. What is this place? In a modern-day setting a huge suspension of disbelief is required because it's hard to believe a place like it could legally exist. But I digress... I should also mention that the audience itself in the cinema was quite detrimental to my reception of Patrick. For a world premier I was amazed at how many people left their seats and wandered in and out of the theatre. Serieously!? Are they here for the film or just for shits n' giggles? Seeing so many people come and go (including MIFF staff) was a real distraction for me and removed my emotional attachment from the movie entirely... anyhow, these squabbles aside I was impressed with Patrick 2013. It doesn't do the original a disservice by any means and it is vividly its own entity. The cast are all excellent and the pacing is great. Hopefully this is the first of many more high concept, quality Australian genre films. I will anxiously await what Mark Hartley brings next.
2010 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #49
The 1982 film The Sword and the Sorcerer ended with the promise of a sequel. 28 years later, it arrived. It's no secret that I am a fan of Albert Pyun's work and I grant him a lot of consideration, however, Tales of an Ancient Empire is a dud. To call it a sequel is a massive stretch. It bares no relation that I can see aside from Lee Horsely reprising his role (presumedly) as Talon for all but 5 minutes of the movie. He is referred to as "The Stranger" and so it's a huge assumption that this is supposed to be Talon. The movie stars Kevin Sorbo and Michael Pare and tells the story of a kingdom overrun by a Vampire queen. The movie begins with a tedious 15 minute opening credit sequence, which sabotages the rest of it. It's a convoluted tale of family lineage and heroics and it's very scattered. The performances are sub-par and inconsistent and the intricacies of who's related to who are not fleshed out enough to make it coherent for the viewer. It's a huge shame because for the most part the film looks great. Pyun's visual style is strong and the production value is good. For an estimated $1M he has produced a polished looking film. If only it had been a fair continuation of The Sword and the Sorcerer as promised, then some of its misgivings could have been forgiven. I am stumped as to why Albert abandoned the established storyline that had become so loved by fans for over twenty years. Surely he owed them more than this and using the same title, which he had boldly promised is a real slap in the face.... and has he done it again? Tales From An Ancient Empire finishes with a familiar promise of yet another sequel, Red Moon. Is it 30 years away? Will it abandon this story? It remains to be seen.
1982 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #1
Continuing my ongoing Albert Pyun retrospective, I have recently revisited his first and most successful film, The Sword and the Sorcerer. It tells the story of a mercenary warrior, Talon, who discovers his royal heritage while helping a princess defeat an evil sorcerer tyrant. It's a simple S&S story, made well and shot nicely. It's an impressive debut from Pyun and he clearly understands the cliches and syrupy nature of the genre and so with a tongue planted firmly in his cheek, he made a fantasy movie that feels classic. Watching it I was reminded of some of the older Hurcules films and Jason and the Argonauts. At the time of its release it was surrounded by an avalanche of likeminded films such as Beastmaster, Conan the Barbarian, Excalibur, Dragonslayer, Krull and a heap more. Sword & Sorcery was an unquenchable flavour at the time and had Albert's film not been churned up in the fold, I have no doubt it would have fared even better. Thankfully audiences are smart and time has been kind to The Sword and the Sorcerer. It has appreciated over the years and its use of practical effect and fantastic make up has given it a longevity. Despite a few brief moments of graphic violence and women's jubblies, I would suggest it's a great film for tweenage boys. I think it stands up well. The film ends with a title card, which reads "Watch for Talon's next adventure Tales of the Ancient Empire coming soon". Cut to 28 years later.
2012 / Director. Pascal Laugier.
I didn't know anything about The Tall Man and so I went into it blindly. It's about a former mining community in rural Washington that is plagued by a spate of child abductions. With the community impoverished and tormented by these tragic disappearances the people turn to an urban legend known as The Tall Man. Some people claim to have seen him enter the woods with children... Jessica Biel plays a widowed mother who's child vanishes. The first 20 minutes of this movie really caught my attention. It felt like a Stephen King story and the mystery was haunting and compelling... but then the movie becomes seriously convoluted with twists, turns & red herrings. Its difficult to make sense of it and the result is a shamble... despite making no sense, my curiosity forced me to preserver. Surely with all of these surprises there must be a logical outcome and reward at the end. But no... well, at least I didn't think so. Missing from the film is a subplot. The resolution and all of it's mechanics aren't explained. There's a back story to be told but they fail to explore it. The Tall Man looks good and builds itself on a great premise but it's such a shame that it got cocky and messy.
2013 / Director. Fede Alvarez.
My hatred of remakes is no secret but if you've paid any attention to my thoughts about them you would know that there are always exceptions to the rule. Evil Dead is one of them. Not only a remake, it also acts as a sequel. Many fans have rejected this film because they think it diminishes the original trilogy... but I would suggest that it builds on it. There is nothing about this new film that takes anything away from the first three and close attention to detail would reveal that this story takes place 30 years later, with suggestions of Ash's (Bruce Campbell) past encounter. This old car is still there, abandoned in the woods and in the time since he was sucked into a time portal, a family had purchased the cabin and subsequently abandoned it hurriedly. The storyline for this new instalment is more or less a retelling of the first movie, but as prophesied in the Necronomicon (Book of the Dead), the disturbance and release of malevolent demons brings with it a sequence.... therefore it's logical that a repeat of past horrors would transpire. There is a lot to love about this new Evil Dead. It's scary, gory and at times amusing (for the more hardcore fans anyway) and there are plenty of very cool new concepts and creations that haven't been done yet within the franchise. I don't think that Evil Dead fans have much to be disappointed about and I say they should embrace it... after all the original creators (Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell) are the driving forces behind this. They've wanted to make it for over 10 years and they, of all people, know their intellectual property well enough not to shit all over it. Exciting news is that 3 more Evil Dead movies are in the pipeline. A direct sequel to this reboot, then an official sequel to Army of Darkness (ED3) and finally a crossover story which sees Mia (from this new one) team up with Ash (from the original). That's very exciting and I can't wait. ***Spoiler Alert*** (but not really)... stick around after the credits, Ash wants to say Hi !
2013 / Director. Stephen Amis.
I was disappointed to have missed the festival screenings of The 25th Reich. All signs indicated to it being my type of movie. Thankfully Monster Pictures have wasted no time in releasing it to blu-ray and dvd. I will dispense with the negatives... the film does meander quite a bit before anything exciting happens and one particular American accent is atrocious. And that's about where the criticisms end. The 25th Reich is a passionate and lovingly crafted homage to the classic sci-fi B-movies of the 50s and 60s. Based on a classic novel (50,000 Years Until Tomorrow) It tells the story of 5 American soldiers deployed to Australia who travel back in time and return 300 years into the future where the Nazi's are giant robot spiders and govern the entire world. That's all you need to know and if that premise hasn't given you wood, then don't even bother with this movie. This is so much fun and director Stephen Amis knows the genre well, with everything from the dialogue to the score being done with a film-buff's attention to detail. The special FX are also fantastic. Watching it I got the impression that it's makers must be young bucks with a youthful "go-get-em" attitude. I was pleasantly surprised to read that Stephen Amis is actually 47 and made his first feature back in 1991. That makes The 25th Reich so much better because only an absolute passion for the genre could have driven a seasoned director to persist with such a daring and audacious project. This film looks great, flows well and has a winking eye permanently cast upon the viewer. Australia needs more genre films like this. Fingers crossed we get 'em.
Do yourself a favour and watch the trailer. It's great.
2013 / Director. John Moore
Uppercase letters are required when stating that Die Hard 5 is CRAP! What has happened to the action series that I love so much? (And yes, I even enjoyed DH4). Once an endearing and sympathetic action hero, John McClane has been reduced to an arrogant, self centred and simple-minded twat. He spurts abuse at Russia civilians because they can't speak English and he ridicules his son for becoming a spy. He has lost all regard for humanity really and it's a sad and disappointing direction for the character to go. I'm surprised that Bruce Willis would allow it. The film begins with him jetting off to Moscow to find his son. Within minutes of landing in Russia, McClane finds himself caught up in a high speed demolition derby of mayhem. He discovers that his son works for the CIA and he screws up a 3 year long operation. And so father and son are stuck with each other as they rampage across Russia, destroying everything in their path. This is a really really stupid movie. Of course heightened action is expected from a Die Hard movie but where there first 3 movies relied on plot, character and structure... the last two instalments have sacrificed all of that for over produced explosions... but at least John was still likeable in part 4 and he faced off against a classic villain. THIS script is shit. The acting is woeful and the catch phrases are tiresome. Bruce Willis spends the whole movie saying "I'm on Vacation" and of course... "Yippee Ki Ay Motherfucker". Yawn. Geographically Russia is the largest country in the world and yet every American film set there ends up at Chernobyl... as though that's all Russia has to offer. Again, yawn! A sixth and final chapter is in the pipeline after which Willis is retiring the character. I would suggest one of three options. 1) give me $10K and 3 months and I'll write it... 2) Don't bother... or 3) Get serious about it and wrap up on a high because Die Hard 5 SUCKS!
2013 / Director. Kathryn Bigelow.
Zero Dark Thirty chronicles the decade long man-hunt for Osama Bin Laden. It follows a young female CIA analyst who was recruited out of high school and assigned directly to gathering intelligence on the whereabouts of him. Beginning with early scenes of torture and degradation of suspects, the film deals with those ugly details quickly before getting stuck into the finite investigation, infiltration and eventual capture. The film's release came relatively quickly following Bin Laden's death and I was initially suspicious of it being one big American pride slogan... and while there is definitely a sense of bravado about it, the film is well restrained and handled sensibly. One can only assume that much of the information we are getting is accurate but it's important to be aware that some of it is bound to be fabricated and/or manipulated for various reasons. And so, while the curiosity factor of the actual story is high, a greater part of me approached the film as though fictional. It's simply a great war film. Kathryn Bigelow is a seasoned pro when it comes to filming action and this film is a worthy companion to The Hurt Locker (though not quite as good). The performances are great with Jessica Chastain holding the entire movie on her own. She ages her character brilliantly, beginning as a young and enthusiastic rookie to an exhausted and experienced professional. Some criticisms over the depiction of torture have plagued Zero Dark Thirty with people arguing that it's a pro-torture propaganda piece. I disagree. While the film definitely does suggest such measures to be beneficial, it isn't an endorsement. The fact is that realistically torture would have brought results in some cases and the film itself also shows where it didn't . The film also depicts the moment when Barack Obama put an end to military torture. So of course torture was a fact and to ignore it would have only drawn greater criticisms. Moving on, I was a little amused towards the end when the movie finally introduces the elite team of navy seals who are to kill Bin Laden... they're mostly made up of Aussie actors. What the? Nevertheless the final assault of his compound is brilliantly recreated. Even though I knew the outcome I was still on the edge of my seat. At a lengthy running time of 157 minutes the film maintains momentum and doesn't over stay it's welcome.
1983 / Director. Ferninand Fairfax.
Nate and Hayes is an Indiana Jones-inspired pirate movie, yet most of the familiar pirate cliches are avoided. Tommy Lee Jones stars as Captain Bully Hayes, a good guy pirate with a moral code. He only kills men who have it coming to them and he never crosses an honest man. After a routine job of escorting two missionaries to a remote island, he soon discovers that the two have been attacked by the notorious pirate Captain Pease. And so begins a rescue adventure which sees gunfights on the high seas, knife fights in the jungle and an assault on a new type of sea vessel... a German steam warship. As far as pirate movies goes, Nate and Hayes is one of the better ones. It came at a time when the genre was a certain nail in any studio's coffin. The action is wonderful and the use of Fiji and New Zealand locations lends the movie an authentic and exotic aesthetic. Tommy Lee Jones is great and relishes the role. He is supported well by Michael O'Keefe and Max Phipps. Curiously there is an opening action sequence that's almost identical to the famous suspension bridge scene from Temple of Doom. Both films were in production at the same time and this one was released 6 months before Temple... and so who mimicked who is not clear. I dare say Spielberg took some inspiration from this...? Anyhow, the movie stands up to today's standards and it's more violent than the usual family adventure (severed hearts, brutal murders etc). For trivia buffs this was also co-written by John Hughes... what a departure from his usual teen angst comedies. Nate and Hayes wipes the floor with Pirates of the Caribbean. Great fun!
1986 / Director. Francis Ford Coppola.
Michael Jackson was a master showman and he loved expanding his music into films. Thriller was his most famous and he continued the concepts with Moonwalker, Bad and Ghosts (amongst others). They were high concept, choreographed, genre-based stories and the most spectacular of them all was also the rarest... Captain EO! For 20 years the only way to see this musical sci-fi adventure was at Disneyland. It was presented in 4D with the cinema being overcome and dazzled with smoke & lasers. I was lucky enough to see it many years ago and it was a fantastic experience. All of these gargantuan music videos he made were directed by big time Hollywood directors like John Landis (Thriller) and Martin Scorsese (Bad). Captain EO was written and produced by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. They don't get much bigger than that but when you consider their calibre, Captain EO is kind of disappointing. The film itself is a bit of fun with cute (annoying) fuzzball puppets and Star Wars style FX. Angelica Houston's "Supreme Leader" character is actually ingenious... but with a flaccid storyline, terrible dialogue and a lacklustre dance sequence (basically the Thriller choreography recycled) the movie's appeal doesn't stretch beyond a kid's audience and die-hard MJ fans. Even the feature song is far below the Jackson standard we know and love. Having said that I would still love to see it receive a proper 3D blu-ray release with additional features and a commentary. Surely its legacy is deserving enough of that!? So anyway if you've never seen it before I have posted the full length version of it here for you to enjoy (or cringe at).