2013 / Director. Seth Gordon.
IDENTITY THIEF is an example of two actors stuck in a rut. Jason Bateman has been banging out the same character for a few years now and Melissa McCartney is caught in typecast hell. She's a super talented actress and in fairness to her, she's clinging to her new-found stardom and rolling with it. I'm personally bored with her already and look forward to seeing something different from her... as for Bateman, well who the fuck cares if he's typecast? I love the guy and can watch his schtick forever. He grounds most of his characters with sincerity and its just so damn likeable on screen. So in this new comedy he plays a guy who's identity has been stolen by a scammer in Florida. The police cite "lack of jurisdiction" and he's forced to track her down himself and bring her back to face the law. Of course it's a typical road movie with an odd-couple slant. It mashes Planes Trains and Automobiles with The Bounty Hunger (with a hint of Dumb & Dumber)... for the most part it's a snorefest. Boring, lame and tedious are words I can describe it with. There's nothing new here and Melissa McCarthy is almost unbearable... UNTIL she actually opens up and showcases some depth and range (if only there was more of it). Jason Bateman rolls with the punches and kept me tuned in. I could have easily switched off but his charm got the better of me. As droll as the story is, it does bring it to a nice conclusion and a vaguely satisfying resolution... but now that I've seen it once and that's enough.
2013 / Director. Jonathan Levine.
The sub-genres of horror come and go in pulses of fashion & trend. Often several of them are running the gambit consecutively and their popularity tends to last about a decade. When Interview with the Vampire was released it launched a decade-long obsession with vampires (Twilight recently had the same effect) and when Saw and Hostel came out we were treated to an influx of torture porn. It's a cycle that's been churning for eons and the years have seen slashers, video nasties, paranormal and various other horror sub-genres being reborn for new generations. In 2004 Shaun Of The Dead launched a new wave of zombie-comedies (zombedies). Some of the have been great and others have been terrible and as with most fads, I tire of them very quickly. For every excellent zombedy (Doghouse) there are 10 equally atrocious ones... and so when Warm Bodies came along I did my best to avoid it. Not because it was bad but because it received so much hype. For one of these movies to actually hook me it needs a great premise (see The Revenant) and it obviously needs to be executed well. Warm Bodies came along with hope and I wasn't going to let the "phenomenon" build up my expectations. So I bided my time and when the fanfare simmered down I stuck the dvd in my machine and hit play - phew - what a relief. It is a great little film and its hook lies with its rom-com approach. It tells the story of a zombie apocalypse. The walking dead have taken over and the remaining humans hide behind a giant wall with a small army at the ready. The story is told from the point of view of a zombie. A teenage corpse who's heart begins to beat again at the sight of a girl. "Love" is the cure. It sounds sappy and it kind of is but with some great performances, an excellent script and a kick-ass soundtrack Warm Bodies turns out to be a wonderful throw-back to the 80s. It has a distinctive John Hughes flavour about it. I'm just about done with these zombedies (zombies in general) and could do with a break. I wonder what the next cycle will offer? Hopefully no more remakes also....
2013 / Director. Mark Lamprell
To put it politely... oh deary me. I was oddly pumped to see GODDESS. I'm a sucker for good musicals and given that it's an Aussie one I was just that bit keener to see it. A good musical, it is not. The musical numbers are lame. It tells the story of a British family living in rural Tasmania. The husband is always away for work and the wife is left with two rambunctious toddler sons. To relieve her stress she sets up a webcam and broadcasts her "sink songs" to the world. The world embraces her and she is whisked away to Sydney to become the face of a new product. Her newfound fame fractures her home-life and relationship and she's faced with the dilemma of pursuing her dreams and being a good wife and mother. Almost everything about the film is nice. It looks great, it's colourful and the choreography is fun. All of the players are good with Laura Michelle Kelly standing out as an obvious stage-goddess. She's a cross between Sarah McLachlan and Nigella Lawson. Ronan Keating and Magda Szubanski lend solid support performances too.... unfortunately none of those positives really matter when the songs (which are the film's crux) strike a chord. They feel slapped together and half-arsed. None of the numbers lift the roof and its embarrassing to watch. The film does rise up (as best it can) in the final act and saves it from complete disaster but overall Goddess is a very average musical experience. Wasted talent all round.
2012 / Director / Joe Knee
Understanding my philosophy for critiquing movies will help you comprehend my thoughts. DRAGON WASPS is a B-movie creature feature and is part of Eagle Entertainments Monsterama Collection. An explorer disappears in the Amazon jungle and his daughter enlists the US military to investigate his disappearance. Of course he was attacked by giant killer wasps (dah). Huge fuckers, reminiscent of classic Corman and 1950s creature features. I'm not too sure how it's possible to criticise movies like this. They're classed as "B" for a reason and so long as there's hives of gigantic insects snatching and killing, then everything else is kind of irrelevant. The acting is sub-par and the script is lame but its shot well enough and the creature VFX, while tacky, are decent. In the right hands Dragon Wasps could have been a wicked theatrical fun-fair... but it was made for tv and is typical of its type. Much like the Asylum movies I don't mind the mediocracy so long as the action is favoured over story and dialogue. I know that sounds stupid but no-brainer escapism can do the mind wonders. This brand of b-movie is making a huge comeback lately and audiences are finally embracing the cheese. We're smart enough to "get it" and submit to the lunacy. It's as simple as Big fat fucking fire-breathing dragon wasps ... and that's all some genre fans need.
2013 / Director. Duncan Cunningham.
I get excited when new local talent emerges and Duncan Cunningham has made a spectacular debut with his violent story of FORESIGHT KILLER INSTINCT. It is one of the best looking micro-budget films I've seen in ages and Cunningham's understanding of genre is unquestionable. It tells the story of a young psychic who crosses paths with corrupt cops. His wife is murdered, he gets shot in the head... and he takes off on a revenge fuelled killing spree using his psychic abilities to lead him. Being a micro-budget film it's shortcomings are unavoidable, yet compared to most other examples, they're minimal. The audio recording is probably the film's biggest weakness with some unwanted atmospheric noise cluttering the ambience... but to Cunningham's credit he has done everything possible to mask it. He distracts our attention with the clever use of score and whiplash editing. The look and style of the film are impressive with really effective colour manipulation and various other filters added in post. The violent and frenzied psychotic flashes are particularly strong! Take a look for yourself and you will agree that it looks far more polished than it's budget should have allowed for. The course language is unnecessarily gratuitous and the performances leave a lot to be desired but they're hardly worth criticising. Considering that Duncan Cunningham has shepherded this movie as a multi-faceted filmmaker and has generously made it available online for FREE, I can't see any reason in criticising it (if only to be constructive). I encourage you all to give FORESIGHT KILLER INSTINCT your attention and support it however you can. Watch it here in the full length video below. Duncan Cunningham is a filmmaker to keep our eyes on and I have some foresight of my own and can very easily see this being the impressive debut we look back on when he's an established name. Get behind local, independent and low budget filmmaking. Support this. Support Duncan.
2011 / Director. Julia Loktev.
The script for THE LONELIEST PLANET must have been about 5 pages long. Let me give you the abridged version; "walk walk walk. walk walk walk. something happens. walk walk walk. leave the audience emotionally drained". This is definitely a film for patient viewers. A newlywed couple hike across the Georgian wilderness with a local guide. It's the trip of a lifetime until something happens suddenly and within a split second their adventurous spark is doused. Very little actually happens and yet you come away feeling that you've experienced something pivotal in these people's lives. The performances are brilliant with the surprise revelation being an understated but powerful performance by local Georgian actor Bidzina Gujabidze. He's outstanding. This is a film that will challenge a lot of people and I imagine many will turn off. I just so happen to enjoy these types of long, meandering movies. It has that grand, sweeping, majestic look that Into the Wild and The Way also had. The landscape is gorgeous and it's photographed beautifully. Director Julia Loktev takes her time. She's in no hurry to tell this story and allows it to unfold naturally. Of course this means huge stretches of silence. Walking. Walking. Walking. Most of the large, panoramic shots are accompanied by engaging music but the scenes cut so suddenly and the music CUTS to an abrupt silence. I personally found this annoying and disconnecting. Others might disagree. Nevertheless The Loneliest Planet is a provoking yet taxing experience. The credits rolled and I sat in silence for a few minutes... like a stunned mullet. Then as suddenly as the film's mood changed, I made haste for the coffee machine. Espresso. Double Shot. STAT!
2013 / Director. Joseph Ruben.
Director Joseph Ruben has kept a low profile over the last 20 years. In the 80s he was a prominent and reliable name with films including The Stepfather, Dreamscape, Sleeping with the Enemy and The Good Son. PENTHOUSE NORTH is his first movie in 10 years and it's not exactly a bold comeback. Michelle Monaghan plays a blind woman who returns to her home to discover her boyfriend dead in the kitchen. The killer is still inside and as events unfold it becomes apparent that something is hidden in the apartment that he desperately needs. His boss arrives and the movie becomes a series of repetitive back-and-forths... "where is it?"... "I don't know".... "where is is?" ... "I don't know" (I've essentially given you the movie's treatment there). With a modest budget and a simple story the entire movie takes place in the one location with the exception of a few flashbacks to the woman losing her sight in Afghanistan (she was a photojournalist). I have no idea why we need to see how she became blind because it bears no relevance to the story at hand. I won't reveal what these bad guys are looking for either but let me say that I felt fairly cocky in assuming to know where it was hidden. Turns out I was wrong and the red-herring I was latching onto would have made it a much better film. Michelle Monaghan is good and plays her blind character convincingly, however Michael Keaton looks bored. He has played this character before and I get the impression he's at a point that he'll take whatever job he can get. It's a shame. He's not bad by any means but he's not the enthusiastic and animated actor he once was. Penthouse North is a lackluster Hitchcockian thriller, which you could demote to the bottom of your "to see" list. Save it for when there's little else to watch.
2013 / Director. Antoine Fuqua.
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN can be summed up with a few simple words; stupid, cliched and rubbish. But I choose to use words like; ka-pow! bam! and ye-har! This big, loud and action packed blockbuster could easily be mistaken for a Roland Emmerich movie and a quick search will reveal that Emmerich actually has just made a carbon copy called White House Down (I am yet to see it). A sudden and unexpected aerial assault strikes Washington DC with brutal force and within 13 minutes the White House has been captured and the president and key staff are held hostage in the bunker. With the entire security force crippled it's up to one lone ex-secret service agent to infiltrate the building and extract the president. It's a typical and generic premise that essentially plays out like Die Hard (exactly like Die Hard). Ah fuck it, I had a great time with this one. The VFX are really bad and the first 15 minutes of the movie could easily be mistaken for an Asylum mockbuster (I'd be keen to see the Asylum's take on this). Thankfully all of these ludicrous and over-indulgent FX are assigned to the initial scenes of attack and the rest of the story takes place from within. Gerard Butler plays the lone agent taking down one bad guy after another (John Mcclane meets Jack Bauer). He laps up this role and his enthusiasm shows. The violence is surprisingly graphic for this type of movie with plenty of bloodshed and brutal kills. It actually thrills me to see a return to this type of movie-violence in a blockbuster capacity... it's a throwback to the big bold bang-for-buck flicks of the 80s. Morgan Freeman plays the acting-president and he pretty much phones his performance in. He's been there, done that and to be honest I'm becoming tired of him lately. I thought the depiction of the president was one of the movie's strengths. Played by Aaron Eckhart, he's a young tough guy. His mannerisms and down-to-earth nature with his staff is a lot different to the way the president is usually portrayed in these types of flicks. An amusing touch was the inclusion of Australian broadcast journalist Hamish MacDonald covering the events. I will assume that various regions of the world were treated to their own local personalities in his place. It's a kitschy gimmick but kind of cool I suppose. Anyway, you can go into this movie with the wrong frame of mind and set yourself up for disappointment... OR you could take it for what it's worth and just go along for the ride. Good fun.
2013 / Director. Jeremy Stanford.
I am friends with a lot of musicians and I know already that The Sunset Six will piss them off. It is a film about musos but its certainly not a movie FOR musos... in fact its incredibly patronising to anyone who plays in a band. However, for everyone else it's a whole lot of fun! The best way to describe it is like The Breakfast Club meets The Commitments. A washed-up rocker form the 80s leads a group of musicians with promises of grandeur and fame. He is stuck in the past and full of empty promises. The film takes place during one of their rehearsals. Holed up together and fed up... emotions are stirred and secrets are revealed. Yeah, it's one of "those" movies but it's delivers a good time. The film could have gone either way for me but thanks to a wonderful performance from Greg Stone in the lead, the story holds together nicely (I adore Greg Stone). He delivers a belter of a performance, even if it is cliched. His reminded me of John Water's character from Heaven Tonight. The rest of the cast are great too with Jamie McDonald, Kristin Holland and Lulu McClatchy bringing an added credibility. First timer Kiki Courtidis is also great on screen as the band's front-woman. Her voice is wow! Amongst the banter between these bandmates, the film busts into some cool little musical numbers. Some covers songs and some original... all really strong. "Send My An Angel" by Real Life is a great moment as well as a revealing rock ballad performed by Jamie McDonald. We don't get a lot of movies like this locally and so, while it's very contrived, The Sunset Six is also something refreshing. Its shot perfectly and features some fantastic panning and tracking shots. It's definitely a good looking movie. Teenagers and those of us who are young at heart should lap it up and for all ye musos... well, suspension of disbelief is a wonderful thing and with it, you might get a kick out of The Sunset Six too.
1986 / Director. Nick Castle.
A common sentiment in my writing is how wonderful and important I think the 70s and 80s were for family-friendly films. Before parents became overly sensitive about entertainment and started rolling their kids in bubble-wrap, films offered a lot more for young and impressionable minds. Adventure was encouraged and challenging issues were confronted. THE BOY WHO COULD FLY is one film that pushed things in a very serious and provoking way. It tells the story of Eric, a boy with autism. He has never spoken a word or acknowledged a single person in his life and he sits on his window-sill, pretending to fly. A new family moves next door and the 14 year old daughter's attention is fixated on this Eric. Her influence over him soon proves to be progressive and with the help of a high school teacher she works with him to try and break down the walls he's build around himself. It's quite a heavy movie with serious and dark issues. On the surface it's a straight-forward fantasy film but to a more mature audience the adventurous story about this mysterious boy masks underlying themes of mental health, depression, suicide, grief, alcoholism and bullying. Most kids will be lucky enough to come away from the movie recognising at least one of those issues but over time the film's lasting impression brings the other things to light. I've always liked the movie and the older I get the more I take from it. I do have issues with the fantasy being pandered to at times and wish they'd taken a more logical and provoking conclusion to the story... but nevertheless it's a potent and charming film that thankfully hasn't aged all that much. Aside from a few computer references and some attitudes towards autism, it's a timeless piece. Jay Underwood is great as the autistic Eric and the cast of supports are all wonderful too. Fred Savage, Lucy Deakins, Fred Gwynne and Bonnie Bedelia are all exceptional. I am particularly smitten with Colleen Dewhurst... she always had such a beautiful presence on screen. And then there's Louise Fletcher... hmm... poor Louise Fletcher... once a nurse, always a nurse. How grateful I am to have been a child before the cotton-wool age. Movies fuelled my imagination, encouraged me to think and stoked my sense of adventure. Ahhh. Now excuse me while I play with my pogo ball and untangle my slinky.
2007 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #47
I am determine to work my way through every Albert Pyun film and the next one in my Pyun retrospect series is LEFT FOR DEAD. This is Albert's stab at a spaghetti western and of his post 2000 films, I think it's his best looking one. It's a very stylish movie and reaffirms that despite his notorious reputation for making bad films, he most certainly knows how to point a camera. I've always considered him to be a seasoned pro at directing action. Even in his truly bad movies, his sense of style comes through. The story is good, too, but is let down by some sub-par acting. Most of the cast are non-English speaking actors and they're never able to connect with the dialogue... not that the dialogue is great. It tells the story of a lone gun-woman on the trail of a rapist. She tracks him to an abandoned mining town, which has a sinister history. She runs into a posse of prostitutes who are hunting for the same man. Also walking the streets around them is the vengeful ghost of a murdered preacher. It's a western story unlike any other and its originality is what binds this intriguing film together. It might test many people's patience but I guess I approached it with an Albert Pyun frame of mind. It was his first time shooting in HD and he shot the whole thing in 7 days on location in Argentina. It's quite an achievement. He has also made use of the landscape really well. The buildings have an otherworldly feel about them and the movie was colour corrected in post production. I am a sucker for these types of artificial aspects. The strange setting and post production adjustments make Left For Dead a surreal and alternative addition to the western genre... with a hint of horror thrown in for good measure. I am always generous with Albert Pyun films and I like to think that I understand his vision on a deeper level... therefore I rate this one well. Better acting would have made it wonderful.
2012 / Director. Brandon Cronenberg.
The first auteur filmmaker I became obsessed with was David Cronenberg. At 15 years of age I consumed his biography and immersed myself in as many of his films as possible. His contribution to the horror genre is monumental and as much as I love his later films I have been aching for him to return the more aesthetically organic and biologically horrific type of storytelling. ANTIVIRAL is about as close as it's going to get. Directed by his son, Brandon, this graphic and distasteful independent film boasts all of the typical hallmarks of David Cronenberg's earlier work. The apple certainly doesn't fall far from the tree with the distinction between the two filmmakers being incredibly blurred. If I had gone into Antiviral unaware, I would have pinned it for David's work. The film is set in an alternative world... a dystopian society obsessed with celebrity. Corporations trade in "celebrity infections". That is to say that they harvest viruses from famous people and charge big dollars to infect everyday people. As the film unfolds, so too does the extent of the obsessions and the lengths at which people will go to feel a connection with celebs. Clearly a social commentary of the world we live in at the moment, it is an unsavoury subject matter and the film is quite explicit in its depiction of disease and consumption. Like his father's earlier films, Brandon presents a sterilised and surgical environment with the contrast of flesh and blood. I found myself transfixed on the visual aspects. It's a good looking movie and the set design is well conceived, as are the VFX. My problem was that Antivirus overstays it's welcome. It meanders for too long and would have benefited from a shorter running time. Nevertheless it's an impressive debut feature, albeit conceptually derivative to David's work (which I enjoyed). I will be keen to see what Brandon brings us next.
2012 / Director. Alex Gibney.
SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD is a revealing and shocking exposition of the protection of pedophiles within the Catholic church. I was aware of the subject matter prior to watching it (obviously) and knew it would be confronting but I was honestly gobsmacked with the detail and scope of which this film has exposed. None of it is here-say either. The film begins in the mid 60s as it focuses on one priestly predator at a school for the deaf and systematically uncovers corruption and cover-up on all levels of the Church all the way to the Pope himself (Benedict). The investigation into the church began with a small group of victims from St Johns School for the Deaf in Milwaaukee, under the guidance of Father Lawrence Murphy. In the late 60s these young men embarked on a campaign to expose Murphy's crimes. From distributing flyers amongst the community to launching legal action against the Vatican 40 years later... their quest for justice met every obstacle possible. As their story unfolds though testimony, evidence and confessions the film slowly expands into a world-wide epidemic of pedophilia riddled throughout the Church, all with the knowledge and silence of the Vatican and Pope himself. Accounts of Vatican's knowledge of sexual abuse of children dates back to the late 1800's and documentation shows that it was an issue covered up for many decades before this story began. Schools for the deaf were common ground for molestation because the victims could not speak up. Children who's parents couldn't understand sign-language were targeted more often. It is a sickening and gut wrenching story... in fact the film is heartbreaking and exasperating. Anger fuels every morsel as the victims are endlessly ignored, chastised and hushed. The bravery these children demonstrated as they carried their abuse into adulthood and mustered the courage to tell the world... its incredible. I dread to think how many took their lives over the years. All documentaries have an agenda and many of them use manipulation to support their statement... this film doesn't resort to that. It is NOT an anti-religious film and treats pedophilia as a crime... it IS a crime for fuck sake! No falsehoods or disputable stories are presented here. The film is driven by fact and supports itself with evidence. I would encourage everyone to see the film. Your faith or lack thereof is irrelevant. It's not looking to debunk religion and/or faith, nor does it support atheism. Religion is not an issue... the ORGANISATION is what's clearly so wrong.
1961 / Director. Andrew Steane.
Wow. Talk about a long forgotten classic. They Found A Cave is a 1961 Australian adventure film about 5 orphaned English children who move to rural Tasmania to live with their aunt on a farm. When she becomes ill they are left in the care of a crooked, malicious house-maid who plans to rob the aunt and run off with her money. To escape her vicious care the kids run off into the Aussie bush where they find a cave and make it their new home. Sneaking back to the farmhouse to pinch supplies they have a fantastic time in their rocky hideaway where they paint themselves with charcoal to look like aboriginals (I know) and get up to all kinds of mischief. It is a curious film... sort of an oddity really. The contrast of prim & proper British accents against ocker country-bumpkin Aussie ones is somehow unsettling. LOL ... but the movie is cheeky, innocent and good natured. I'm sure children of the 60s would have lapped it up. It has the quality of the late 50s Disney features and the colourisation is lovely. Sadly the film has been lost to obscurity. Few people know of it and it's yet to receive a re-release on DVD. There isn't a lot of information on it but according to Wikipedia a 50th anniversary documentary was in the works, which was to also showcase other Aussie classics like Bungala Boys and Bush Christmas... I don't think it ever came to fruition. I'd like to see it.
1993 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #17
Returning to my ongoing Albert Pyun retrospective, today's feature is ARCADE. Conceived and produced by Charles Band this movie is a low budget shot at the early 90s fad of virtual reality CGI adventures. Taking cues from Tron and Lawnmower Man (with a hint of The labyrinth), Arcade tells the story of a new pre-release computer game with an evil agenda. Teenagers are invited to the game's launch where they are given modified take-home versions. Once they connect with the game they are zapped into a virtual world of deadly tunnels, treacherous microchip deserts and giant computerised dragons. They find themselves trapped and their only way to escape is to complete all 9 levels and defeating the maniacal central program, Arcade. This is a super fun movie and it showcases most of the reasons why I love Albert Pyun. He has a knack for style that few people give him credit for. His flare for lighting, cameral angles and framing is under-appreciated. The lame 90s CGI is, of course, amusing but it's also charming and for most gen-Xers it's a nice piece of nostalgia. The movie suffered various production issues including the entire virtual reality world being re-designed in post. Glimpses of the original VFX can be seen on the VideoZone feature on the dvd. If it weren't for the swearing Arcade would be a fantastic flick for kids... but these teenage characters are potty mouthed and given that Pyun originally considered it a horror film, its target audience was for older teens. Legendary Hollywood writer David S Goyer (Dark Knight, Blade, Man of Steel etc) penned this one and his writing lends the movie an added hook. Its the second time Pyun and Goyer have teamed up following Kickboxer 2 and their brief collaboration was fairly solid for the type of films they were making. I highly recommend ARCADE so long as you can suspend your disbelief and watch it with a nostalgic frame of mind. Seeing a young Seth Green act like a douchey teenage dick is also of great amusement. I will be screening this movie very soon alongside Doctor Mordrid and so if you're in Melbourne I invite you to come along for a night of B-Movie magic. Stay tuned!