2013 / Director. Justin Zackham.
The right frame of mind makes a difference to how a movie is received. Sometimes you just find yourself in the right mood and end up enjoying a movie way more than you ought to. That happened the first time I saw Meet The Parents. I loved it that first time I saw it but revisiting it over the years I wonder what I actually saw in it. This applies to THE BIG WEDDING. I laughed my ass off watching this. With low expectations I approached the movie prepared for something typical and droll. What I got might have been typical but the script was better than average and the comedy was well placed. A family get together for the wedding of the adopted son. His adoptive parents are divorced and the father lives with with another woman. Panic sets in when its realised that the biological mother from South America has strong religious convictions and would disapprove of her son's American parents being divorced. And so what ensues is a farcical comedy of errors... everything about this movie suggests that I should have switched off but I found myself completely caught up in its charm. It is a remake of a French movie titled My Brother Is Getting Married. I haven't seen the original but I imagine it provided a strong foundation for this one. I haven't seen Robert DeNiro this good in years. He steals the show. I cannot stand watching Diane Keaton but even she's bearable... Topher Grace, Susan Sarandon and Katherine Heigl are all effective and Amanda Seyfried is left with little to do. Why on Earth Robin Williams has been included in the cast is beyond me because his character is useless... talk about wasted talent. In years to come I might look back on THE BIG WEDDING and wonder what I saw in it but right now while it's fresh in my mind, I still giggle thinking about it. It's crude and unexpected. Robert DeNiro, where have you been??
2013 / Director. Jason Trost.
Superhero movies bore the shit out of me. It's not that I hate the genre (I love it) but the market is so saturated with them that I'm rarely impressed. There are exceptions, however, with some offbeat and quirky takes on the superhero mythos seeping through the cracks. Some recent gems have included Defendor, Super and Kick-Ass (to a lesser extent) and the most recent one is ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE. Knowing the back story to this movie really makes a difference and what has been achieved is amazing. Director Jason Trost had previously made the gnarly low budget turf-warfare dance film The FP which caught a lot of people's attention. With the offer of $20K and just a few weeks to make a movie he went to work on this new and unusual story. Within the space of a couple of weeks he went from the first word of a script to wrapping up the shoot. That's unheard of... and the quality of the movie is stupidly good. 4 superheroes wake up in a small town unaware how they got there. Their powers have been subdued and their bodies have been battered. A broadcast starts up on small television monitors and they discover that they're at the mercy of an arch-nemesis. Dozens of innocent civilians are strapped to bombs, scattered around the town and the heroic foursome must compete in the villainous games, which lay ahead of them. What ensues is a gauntlet of gladiator style fights and barbaric dilemmas. The result is a twisted and fun new take on the superhero genre that plays out as though the The Avengers had been dropped into The Running Man. Considering all of the films restraints (budget, time etc) this movie really couldn't be any better. Of course were it granted more time and money there are a lot of things that could have been done differently and improved... BUT it's the modesty and independence that lends this movie it's charm. The character creations are good and the costumes for each is believable. They look like superheroes out of a DC comic and aren't at all tacky and thrift-shoppy. Their dialogue and sense of justice is well written, once again demonstrating a knowledge of genre. James Remar plays the homicidal villain and if I'm going to be fair, I think he's probably given too much screen time. His shtick becomes repetitive and droll after a while and it could be the case that his celebrity was a draw-card to capitalize on. It's a small bone to pick from what is otherwise a wicked little treat. Find a copy and check it out.
2013 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #50
Today I was lucky enough to have been invited to watch a test screening of Albert Pyun's ROAD TO HELL. It is a spiritual sequel to Walter Hill's awesome rock 'n roll fable, Streets Of Fire. Michael
2013 / Director. Baz Luhrmann.
You know that little bit of skin that annoys you right beside your finger nail? And you know when you pick at it or bite it and the damn thing tears away leaving a thin strip of stinging red flesh? It fucking hurts, right? Well I did that last week and you know what? I enjoyed that experience much more than watching THE GREAT GATSBY. Oh my God, what a tedious film. From the outset it's only fair that I admit to disliking the story in general. I haven't read the book nor do I wish to but I have seen most of the previous adaptations and I hate them all. It's such an uninteresting story and I fail to see its appeal. And so with that said I shouldn't criticise Baz Luhrmann for lacking substance in this film. There was barely little substance to begin with. I can, however, criticise his decision to adapt it in the first place. I do admire his visceral flare and think that he has brilliantly crafted a unique style all of his own. His films are unmistakable and in that sense he is most certainly an auteur. With THE GREAT GATSBY he has taken a safe option and that's possibly due to the disasterous performance of his pervious movie Australia. Perhaps he was a little rattled by that. In this new film he revisits Moulin Rouge with glitzy party sequences, modern pop music and a heightened reality. Its a feast for the eyes but that's where the appeal ends. None of the cast are outstanding and both Leonardo DiCaprio and Toby Maguire practically phone their performances in. What a huge contrast to DiCaprio's incredibly turn in Django Unchained. So yeah... no use me going on about it. THE GREAT GATSBY is a bloated, overlong and excessive exercise in style over substance. Hated it!
2013 / Director. Brad Anderson.
I been worried that Brad Anderson had become the new M Night Shyamalan because he made two truly brilliant films and has followed them up with a steady amount of mediocre ones... Anderson's previous movie The Vanishing On 7th Street was a real fizzer and left me to weigh up the possibility that Anderson wasn't the master filmmaker I had thought him to be. It seemed that he just got lucky earlier in his career... and then comes THE CALL. Where his previous films (even the duds) had a distinct Anderson characteristic about them, this one doesn't. It's very much a typical serial killer thriller. But hey, at least it's a good one. I enjoyed it a lot. First let me address some of it's shortcomings. I hate being distracted when watching movies and Halle Berry's hair is the biggest fucking distraction I've ever had to ignore. She looks like Mom from Futurama... and so theres that! There are also a few typical and predictable genre foibles including some less than subtle Maniac knock-off themes and a patronising "chicks rule" finale. But hey, I can overlook these things because THE CALL works on a basic level. To describe it is to cross The Vanishing with Untraceable and then throw in a little bit of The Cell. Halle Berry works as a 911 operator who is traumatised by a murder she heard and possibly hindered. 6 months later she takes another call which conjures up memories of the other. The phone call between a girl trapped in the boot (trunk) of a killer's car and Halle Berry's character make up the bulk of the movie as the police race against time to find the kidnapper. Anderson handles the tension nicely and effectively keeps the pace going. At times it's gripping and so long as I can enjoy a few edge of the seat moments then I'm happy. This movie provides a few. If it were my movie I would have steered the final act into a different direction but as it is, I can deal with it. I get the feeling that Brad Anderson is settling into an all too comfortable director's chair and he's content to keep his bank account cashed up. I would love to see him stretch himself with his next couple of projects but I really can't see it happening.
2012 / Director. Rory Noke.
10 METRES might be a microbudget film but to call it one is an injustice to its quality. This smart, fast-paced thriller is proof that a good movie simply needs a good story, competent acting and smart direction. Were a Hollywood studio to attempt this with a multi million dollar budget they would only end up with the same movie, albeit with a big name draw card. Shot on the streets of Melbourne the story hits the ground running (literally) with a university student, Scotty, being drugged in a campus mens-room and waking up sitting at a desk during an exam. The notes in front of him declare that a bomb is wired to the inside of his jacket. A red light is attached to his collar and should it light up, the bomber can detonate it. With a 10 metre safeguard distance between the bomb and the detonator Scotty takes off and keeps running in search of help. With the bomber keeping up behind the pace is set for a nail-biting and thoroughly captivating chase movie. Director Rory Noke has executed this so well. He clearly has an affection for the genre and with a tight budget (next to nothing) he has relied on his smarts to carry it to the end. Channelling influences from films like Run Lola Run, Nick of Time and The Bourne Identity 10 METERS plays out like Speed: The Pedestrian Edition. The editing is tight. The music is gripping and the photography is controlled. I imagine a lot of excess fat was trimmed in the editing room because everything we are presented with on screen is necessary. With an 85 minute running time and a constant break-neck pace there is hardly anything dragging this flick down. Half way into the movie I kept trying to work out where I had seen these two lead actors before. Their faces were very familiar and then it clicked. They had their own tv series called Stefan & Craig. And so that explained the excellent dynamics. They've been a collaborative team previously and their chemistry was already well established. Stefan had also been a reporter for Live on Bowen and so I should have picked him earlier. This is a ripper movie. Find it and see it.
2012 / Director. John Lussenhop.
When it was announced to the horror world that the next Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie would be an immediate continuation of Tobe Hooper's original masterpiece there was reason for excitement and celebration. Of course we're a suspicious bunch and so there was also some hesitation. And then they released still images of Bill Moseley as Drayton Sawyer and the elation grew even stronger. I watched this new movie back to back with the original. The film opens up brilliantly with some amazing footage of the original film. The footage has been cleaned up, remastered and converted to 3D and it's never looked better. Having these original scenes introduce the film lulls the viewer into a sense of security. Where the original film ended, this one continues immediately with the police arriving to the Sawyer house followed by a lynch mob of locals. I was kind of confused at this point because inside the house was a whole bunch of other family members that we've never seen before... who are they? Assuming that their identity would be explained and that perhaps it was going to link up with TCM3 I put my faith in the filmmakers and went along with it. The aesthetic of these early scenes is matched nicely with the original and the promise of finally having a great Chainsaw Massacre movie since Hooper's 1985 TCM2 was delivered.... well.... for all but 10 minutes anyway after which point the movie leaps to 20(ish) years later. And now this is where I've become really confused. The original was made in 1974 and a twenty year time frame should place this in the mid 90s... and yet we find ourselves in a modern setting with new cars, swanky fashion and iPhones. Without revealing any spoilers I will say that the storyline relies on one character's connection with the Sawyer family and yet the time frame doesn't match up and its completely and utterly implausible. Plus the story is just plain stupid. Credibility lost. And so the rest of the movie falls into formula and its just another exercise in excess and gratuity. If these guys were serious about recapturing Hooper's original vision then they've done everything wrong in doing so. This should be a small budget, modest, gritty and suggestive experiment and not a glossy, graphically violent and generic torture porn. Where is the menace? Where is the restraint and where the hell is the grotesquely subtle humour? Hooper directed the two first Chainsaw movies and they're both excellent. They were relevant... but all of the sequels and remakes since have misunderstood what made them work. What really baffles me is how positively Tobe Hooper has responded to this new one. He offers commentary on the blu-ray and its perplexing. He loves it.... and he fails to acknowledge all of the inconsistencies. This movie completely ruins the timeline between his own first two movies. A follow up movie to this has been announced and I'm curious to know what they'll do. Will they try to make sense of this? Will they appease the fans? Or will they continue to trash the legacy? The latter is more than likely.
2011 / Director. David Guggenheim.
U2's 1991 album Achtung Baby changed things for me. It marked a maturity in my musical interests and to this day I still regard it to be one of the greatest albums ever made... and definitely U2's best. It was a turning point for the band, which could have easily seen their demise. FROM THE SKY DOWN is a documentary, which explores the band's dynamics during the albums production. The first 40 minutes of the film examines their early years and rise to fame and in doing so sets the scene beautifully for Achtung Baby's conception. U2 can be wanky at the best of times but they're always self-referential and critical of themselves at the same time. In this film each of the band members offer personal insight and they don't shy away from addressing individual shortcomings. Rather than presenting a clinical "glimpse" at the technical production of the album the film focuses on the mind-sets of the band and where they were at emotionally. It's a fascinating journey and director David Guggenheim was granted complete access to private archives. I have never seen any of this footage before and I was amazed at how much of their lives was committed to film during the time. It's mostly personal home footage and its insightful. I have loved the band for 20+ years but was never fully aware of their creative process. I had no idea that Bono constructed songs from gibberish and that multiple songs were often spawned from one original piece. The film also chronicles the creation of one of the band's most famous songs, One, and follows the entire process. It's very revealing. Being a fan I wanted the film to keep going... I wanted to see Achtung Baby's mutation into Zooropa and beyond... and as a fan my thirst was only barely quenched. To be continued? I hope so. I doubt it. I can dream. FROM THE SKY DOWN is essential for any U2 fan and most musicians would also appreciate where this story is coming from. Non-music fans will be bored shitless, however. This is U2 stripped to the bone and in a very vulnerable position.
2012 / Director. Lorene Scarafia.
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD is nicely done. We see all sorts of movies about armageddon and they always deal with panic and military efforts to thwart the inevitable... in most cases humanity is saved at the 11th hour. This nice little film ignores all of that the focuses on two people, alone in the world at the end of days, who meet and become friends. Their names are Dodge (Steve Carrell) and Penny (Keira Knightly). They've got little in common other than being alone and in the remaining days they travel together in a final attempt to reconnect with loved ones. This is a unique film. At times hilarious and often sincere and dramatic... its an unexpected delight. The study of behaviour is interestingly done. When Earth's pending destruction is confirmed Dodge's wife opens the passenger side door of her car and runs away... one of his friends plies his kids with alcohol and others throw caution to the wind with orgies, adultery and even assassinations. For all of its comical stylings, there is a real heart to the film. Carrell is great as always... he does these smaller indie roles so well. Keira Knightly is one of my least favourite actresses but she's tolerable in this and thankfully by the end of it she's completely loveable. The film lags in the middle but picks itself up quickly. The ensemble of bit-roles are great also with Martin Sheen, William Peterson, Adam Brody and Rob Corddry adding some quirky and comical fluff along the way... the final scene of the film is beautiful and it actually evoked a self reflection in me. I put myself into their shoes and wondered how I would respond to their circumstances. I'm looking forward to watching this film again because I suspect there's more depth to it still.
2012 / Director. Len Wiseman.
TOTAL RECALL is a peice of shit. I hesitate to call it a remake because it really isn't... and so lets consider it an adaptation of Philip K Dick's original story... a bad adaptation at that! There's little resemblance to the wonderful 1990 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger but there are a few less than subtle references to it. I guess they're winking at the audience but if other viewers are anything like me they'll be too confused and irritated to respond favourably. The movie hits the ground dragging with the most ludicrous backstory and set-up imaginable. Where the original book and earlier film took place between Earth and Mars this new movie takes an illogical and absurd concept of feuding territories on Earth. At opposite ends of the planet are the two remaining territories (The UK and Australia). The UK is now United Federation of Britain, a wealthy society and Australia is now The Colony, an impoverished territory. Workers commute from each side of the planet via a giant tunnel (gravity elevator) running directly through the Earth's core (yes, that's right) and the whole trip takes less than 30 minutes. Right from the get-go this new TOTAL RECALL insults the audience with it's preposterous set-up. The plot kind of unravels like the original story but so much has been altered and added that it becomes a massive phlegm-wad of convolution, complexity and confusion. It's a HUGE disappointment because the film looks so good. In fact this is aesthetically as close as a movie has come to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner... it could easily be the same universe. The action sequences are well staged but true to form, director Len Wiseman overdoes it. He raises the stakes from a comfortable level of suspension of disbelief into quagmire of improbability. Doing away with the original Mars locations was hugely to the movie's detriment but adding a gravity elevator which travels through the Earth's molten core was to it's complete and utter undoing. TOTAL RECALL 2012: Proof that you can polish a turd!
2012 / Director. David O Russell.
Bradley Cooper was robbed at the Oscars. His performance in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is exceptional. The film itself was divisive amongst people I know. Some loved it while others hated it... although I'm not quite sure why they hated it. Perhaps it was some of the typical rom-com conventions that turned them off but whatever the case the film resonated with me. It has come from a personal place with director David O Russell tapping into his own life of having a loved one with bi-polar disorder. His screenplay feels sincere. Bradley Cooper dug real deep for this role and he channelled something special. I've known several people with bi-polar myself and I recognised so many traits in his performance. What he does on screen is reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. So good. Jennifer Lawrence is also excellent as the slightly crazy love interest. She's also reached deep for this role. Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver play his parents and both are equally good. It's the first role DeNiro has had with substance in a long time (welcome back, mate). I bided my time before watching the films because the hype and Oscar buzz surrounding it was off-putting. I'm glad I waited because my expectations were low and I let the story tell itself. It's a touching dramatic comedy. Yeah sure it might overindulge in the rom-com conventions but... so what? It works. I loved it.
1984 / Director. Richard Franklin.
CLOAK & DAGGER is a wonderful family movie from the mid-80s... but it's something of an oddity. It tells the story of a young boy who dreams of being a secret agent. His imaginary friend is a world-class spy and together with a little girl from his neighbourhood, everyday chores are conjured into high adventure. I say that this is an oddity and here's why. When this kid witnesses a real murder and is entrusted with a microchip hidden inside a game cartridge, he is thrown into a deadly game of cat and mouse. Bad guys need the microchip and they will kill whoever stands in their way, including our young hero. For a family movie it sure is full-on. Richard Franklin brings his well-known Hitchcockian flavour to this movie and delivers a really challenging story for young viewers. The idea of this kid being the subject of countless hitmen is confronting. Of course no one believes him and the adults assume that his over-active imagination is at play again. The film is well cast with Henry Thomas in the lead. He was fresh from ET and a bankable face at the time. I have always found his acting style to be precocious but he's effective nonetheless. Dabney Coleman is excellent in a dual role... he plays both the father and the imaginary secret agent. Both of his characters are completely different and he pulls them off convincingly. The biggest mind-bender, however, is William Forsythe as an overweight computer geek. He's hardly recognisable. CLOAK & DAGGER came at a time when gamer-themed movies were hot property... titles like War Games, Tron and The Last Star Fighter were dominating screens. This film came along on their coat tails and promised a familiar genre... but it delivered something far more daring and unique. This is a thriller for kids and it packs a wallop as far as I'm concerned. Intelligent, exciting and super fun.
1986 / Director. John Carpenter.
I feel a little silly writing about BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. It's a cult classic and it speaks for itself. This 1986 movie follows the tradition of Indiana Jones-style adventures and was one of the supreme Indie-cash-in movies. Actually I take that back... I don't like to think of it as a cash-in. It stands proudly on it's own. The story tells of Jack Burton, a truck driver, who gets caught up in an ancient Chinese gang-war and finds himself leading a group of followers through the subterranean tunnels beneath Chinatown. Facing off against mystical powers and magical sorcerers its high adventure all the way back to the surface. The film's history was long and troubled with the script having floated around Hollywood for some years. It was originally written as a western and with the popularity of Indiana Jones, new writers were brought in to give it a modern setting. A few directors came and went before John Carpenter eventually settled into the role. I cannot think of any better director to steer this baby either. Re-teaming with his Escape From New York star, Kurt Russell, he delivered one of his most outrageous and exciting films. The action is taken seriously all the while having a tongue planted firmly in it's cheek. Russell speaks with a John Wayne accent, which give the audience permission to laugh from the get go. A great script. Fantastically classic dialogue and incredible mid-80s VFX. I watched the movie with my 12 year old son recently and he responded to it exactly as I did some 25 years ago. Evidently the film is timeless!
2012 / Director. Nicolás López.
AFTERSHOCK was inspired by the 2010 Chilean earthquake and much of the film was shot amongst the ruins of the actual event. Eli Roth and Co. have taken the tragedy and made a horror film out of it. I'm not too sure how I feel about them turning heartbreak into entertainment and I did feel slightly uneasy watching it... however I did my best to detach myself from the facts and tried to watch it objectively. It's an interesting concept. A group of friends travelling through South America are inside a popular nightclub when the quake hits. People are crushed and limbs are severed and when panic breaks out the surviving friends frantically look for a way out. On the streets they are faced with the pandemonium, which follows the quake as well as a series of aftershocks. Its a curious film and had the filmmakers stuck to their original intention of letting the natural aftermath of an earthquake tell the horror they would have had something special... but instead they've played up the horror-conventions with gratuitous violence and a stupid subplot of prisoners escaping from a local jail and terrorizing the streets. It becomes absurd and the realism gives way to a gore-laden genre piece reminiscent of Final Destination. Having said that I was not anticipating much from AFTERSHOCK and I always give Eli Roth credit for doing what he wants without having his hands tied (if only all filmmakers had such liberty) and he has tried to offer us something different here... the use of location is good and it's shot nicely. I also have to give them kudos for not taking the shaky-cam, lost-footage angle. This is a nice attempt, could have been great but just misses the mark.
1985 / Director. Jeremy Kagan.
Disney have an affection for wolves but before White Fang and Iron Will there was THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN. It's similar to those films and tells the story of a young girl, Natty, who is separated from her father when he leaves her in Chicago for a job in Washington State. When his letter calling for her to follow is lost in the post she embarks on her own journey across arid country where she faces all kinds of adversities. From angry farmers to smooth talking thieves... and she even has a run-in with a pedophile. Protecting her along the way is a beautiful wild wolf who snarls to her defence when things get dicey. She also meets another drifter (John Cusack) who has nowhere to go and becomes attracted to Natty. It's a lovely film and like so many pre-90s live action Disney movies, it's an exercise in substance. It takes its time and doesn't rush to the next action sequence. It trusts the audience to ride at its pace and in doing so it makes for a heartwarming and picturesque adventure, free from gimmick and too many cliches. John Cusack is good, although he only features in a quarter of the film and Ray Wise is perfectly cast as the desperate father in search of his little girl. And then of course there's Meredith Salenger in her first major role. She was a nice discovery and has obviously gone on to a successful career in show biz. THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN is a wholesome family film which blends Belle & Sebastian with White Fang. If you've got kids then it will make for an engaging and historically educational movie night. Double it up with Never Cry Wolf or Iron Will and you've got a winner!