2013 / Director. Jeffrey Hornaday.
No, your eyes aren't deceiving you. I watched Disney's new TEEN BEACH MOVIE... and here's the kicker - I loved it. Having an affection for the classic beach movies of the 60's starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon definitely helps. Two teenagers living in a coastal surf-side town are magically whisked into a 1960's surf movie where they find themselves part of the plot. Brady knows the movie verbatim and feels like he's in heaven but his girlfriend McKenzie hates the era and feels like she's in Hell. The days are full of singing, dancing and surfing... and the nights are spent at a local diner where everyone sings and dances some more. The surfers hate the bikers and the bikers hate the surfers. I was prepared to be generous with TEEN BEACH MOVIE but there is no need for generosity. It's genuinely good. It recaptures the classic beach-movies brilliantly and all of the teen actors fully understand the kitsch. The guy who plays the dumb surfer hunk is particularly good. He nails it. As the movie progresses the girlfriend embraces the fun starts to re-educate the other girls about women's liberation and freedom to be themselves. It's a clever movie devoid of twerking, sexting and all other modern teenage absurdities. Modesty is sexy and manners define people (it comes off like a tweeny version of Pleasentville). The songs are really good (within the genre) and the choreography is great and I hope that teenagers embrace this. According to my sales reports so far, they have. A final little treat is the inclusion of Barry Bostwick. He plays the surf-shop owning grandfather. He barely says a word throughout the entire film but his very presence lends it a bit of extra oomph. Fun fun fun in the sun!
2011 / Director. Numerous.
I'll keep this one brief. George Romero presents DEADTIME STORIES is a con. The artwork and anthological concept lulls unsuspecting genre fans with false sense of security. People would not be wrong to assume that this is potentially a new attempt to recapture the magic of Creepshow and with Romero himself serving as our host, how bad could it be? The answer - REALLY BAD. I'm not too sure when or where Romero's interluding segments come from but they're very brief. He is glimpsed through a television screen, sitting in a chair, reading from a book. He spurts off shitty little ditties with no actual insight into the pending short. I am going to assume that his appearance was shot for something else and slapped on to this in haste. Like Creepshow, this is presented as an anthology of short films (6) spanning two volumes. I'll be honest... I didn't make it to the end of the first volume and I doubt I'll tempt any more. Imagine attending a first year film school presentation night... the shorts are terrible. They may as well have been filmed on an iPhone and the acting is atrocious. How much involvement George Romero actually had with this project is unknown and whether he actually watched it is doubtful. These DVDs sales probably made some money and it's criminal... fans have been mislead and ripped off. This is rubbish!
2012 / Director. Harmony Korine.
People unfamiliar with Harmony Korine's work will probably be a little shocked when they watch SPRING BREAKERS but those of us who are familiar will him will digest it very easily. I don't think he pushed it far enough to be honest and I couldn't help but think of it as Korine-Lite. This is easily his most accessible film to date and while I don't think he challenged us enough I do still think that it's his best work since Gummo. Four superficial and ditsy college girls are so desperate to be part of the spring break debauchery that they rob a local restaurant. With a new wealth to flaunt they hit the beaches where they participate in binge drinking, drug taking and sex... when they end up in jail they are bailed out by a local drug dealer and find themselves caught up in a sleazy world of violence. The film has two components to it with Korine commentating on the reckless abandonment of youth (a theme he began his career with in Kids) and the materialistic and shallow attitudes of teenagers. And then the film gears up into a dark and twisted underworld story with gangsters, mansions and fast cars. It's so well made. All of the girls are excellent and with most of them coming from a family-friendly Disney background it's a stroke of genius calling upon them for this challenging and confronting story. Of course in doing so the film is attracting a mislead audience and kids are buzzing about SPRING BREAKERS being a new hilarious teen-comedy... I report this from personal experience behind the counter as well as the parent of a 14 year old girl. Of course these kids haven't seen the movie and base their assessment on the poster-art and trailers... I just hope that if they do see it they are able to understand and process it and not be gullible enough to think it's "cool". James Franco steals the show as the predatory drug dealer. He is stupidly good and I would go so far to call this his best performance to date.. "Check out my shit!" ... If I were Harmony Korine I would have taken this film to the extremes of Kids but it is nevertheless very impressive. The use of music and montage is very effective and some of the dialogue is looped to lend the story a fluent yet trippy aesthetic and what at first plays like a polished social commentary actually becomes a smart and layered artistic endeavor. I suspect I will be watching this again soon.
1975 / Director. Gene Wilder.
After writing and staring in Mel Brookes' Young Frankenstein Gene Wilder used his next film as a directing vehicle. THE ADVENTURE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES' SMARTER BROTHER is a companion film of sorts, with a famous character form literature being parodied via access of a related character (i.e. Frankenstein's great grandson... Sherlock's younger brother). Wilder stars as Sigerson Holmes and jealous sibling of the world renowned Sherlock. As with Young Frankenstein, there is great attention to detail and knowledge of the source material. Wilder obviously invested time researching the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle and he has put together a caper that very much bares the essence of Doyle's work. He has also assembled a wonderful cast with familiar faces. Medeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Roy Kinnear and Leo McKern. They're all fabulous. Its impossible to not fall in love with Madeline Kahn whenever she's on screen. Not only is she gorgeous but her flare for comedy is unmistakable. She gelled with Wilder as naturally as she did with Brookes. Where the movie is let down, however, is in the complexity of the story. Wilder tried to get too clever with the intricacies and in turn allowed too many gags to fall flat. When you watch the film for the first time there are several moments of hilarity and a whole lot of mediocrity... but with repeat viewings the subtleties begin to grow and Wilder's shrewdness and attention to detail becomes a lot more obvious. It does over stay it's welcome by about 15 minutes but it is nevertheless an underrated and delightful film. Definitely see this movie if you haven't already, if even just for the kangaroo-hop scene and Dom DeLuise biting Leo McKern's big nose. Hilarious! Some other nice touches include fleeting cameos from Mel Brookes and Albert Finney as well as the casting of Douglas Wilmer and Thorley Walters who play Sherlock and Watson respectively. Both actors are best known for these roles in other official Sherlock films and television. They don't really make them like this anymore.
1994 / Director. Luc Besson.
Watching LEON is like catching up with an old friend every few years. Each time I visit with him I learn something new. My respect for him increases and I always hope to see him again soon. By him, of course, I mean "it"... the film. I also wonder if the peace lilly lives on? I hope it does. No doubt most of you are well familiar with this amazing film from French director Luc Besson. It was made in '94 at a time when Tarantino was making waves. Despite being set in New York, LEON offered a European sensibility to hungry movie-goers, with a heavy emphasis on story. Three incredible performances are showcased. Jean Reno gives a career-defining turn in the lead and Gary Oldman is mind-numbingly good as a psychotic and crooked cop... but it's Natalie Portman's debut role as Matilda who steals the show. At 12 years of age she was charged with conveying some of the deepest, most challenging and controversial themes of the year. When her family is brutally executed by corrupt cops (lead by Oldman) Matilda seeks refuge with her neighbour, a reclusive hit man. Striking a deal he agrees to train her as a "cleaner" and she agreed to teach him how to read. Naturally an unlikely bond forms. This story is a lot for a little girl to handle and she carries it like a seasoned professional. There are two cuts of the film and Besson is proud of both, however, it's the extended cut that will confront you the most. In a parallel to Oldman's character's penchant for Beethoven, the film flows likes an orchestral score. Its eloquent, seemly and powerful. I most recently watched it again last night and now that I am writing this I am ready for it again. A modern classic.
2012 / Director. Paul Shapiro.
RING OF FIRE is an enviro-disaster movie that ought to come with a "Greenpeace Presents" moniker attached to it. It's a disaster movie similar to Dante's Peak and The Core and it essentially toes the same line. A high profit mining company digs deeper than regulations permit and what they thought was a colossal oil deposit turns out to be compressed magma. They cause a volcanic eruption, which triggers a series of further eruptions around the globe. An extinction-level catastrophe threatens mankind. And there you have it. I am going to be more generous with this movie than I should be due to the fact that I enjoyed it... but that's not to say I wasn't shaking my head or laughing at it. It's a movie that reaches for credibility and never quite gets there. It is sincere with it's characters and they're not as contrived as this genre would usually make them. The VFX are good at times and occasionally terrible but the emphasis of the story is on the crisis-management and not the event itself. What bothered me about the movie was it's pacing. It wanders along fairly fluently but rushes into the final act as though the director looked at his watch and said "shit, look at the time. better wrap it up". And so the resolution happens way to fast and what should have been some genuinely touching moments have been reduced to quick hugs and "i love you"s. iMDB list RING OF FIRE as a miniseries but it's running time is just under 2 hours... perhaps I saw an abridged version, which would explain the pacing. This is not something I would rush out to see but if you're having a lazy, couch-bound, sloth kind of day like me then it's an enjoyable and easily digested no-brainer.
2013 / Director. Ian Chinsee.
HOUSE OF CARDS was brought to my attention recently and the poster art was enough to trigger my curiosity. Few martial art style films come out of Australia and it's something I was keen to see. I was expecting a small micro-budget film and I was prepared to be generous with it but now that I've watched it, to say that I have been impressed is an understatement. This is a top-notch independent film with a real international appeal. Director Ian Chinsee has laboured over this film for a decade and was even rejected by Screen Australia in the process. With the product he has delivered its as though he didn't need their help in the first place. This is a guy who had a clear vision and obviously has a rare talent. The story begins with a journalist stumbling on a unique and mysterious symbol near to a murder scene. His investigation uncovers feuding tribes of assassins with a history dating back thousands of years. The plot becomes complex and intricate but it never gets convoluted or pretentious. For a modest low budget film Chinsee has aimed very high with his story and most would consider it a risky endeavour... but he has confidence in his story and the know-how. All of the usual micro-budget trappings are avoided with the brilliant use of soundtrack, editing and cinematography. The script is strong, the performances are competent and it's all cut together so tightly and fluently. Adding to the international appeal the film features an assortment of accents; Aussie, American, European etc... it's a story that could transpire anywhere. What impressed me the most was how well the dialogue was recorded. It's so clear and contained and hasn't got any of the atmospheric congestion that so many small films suffer from. Even in locations of high ambience, the discourse is crystal clear. Add to that some impressive fight sequences. These scenes are staged well, however I concede that they could have been tweaked and sped up a bit for a better impact... but they're so well choreographed that it's easily overlooked. The film was released to iTunes recently and I would encourage y'all to see it. They only thing letting it down is the title. I don't think it does the story any justice... but of course that's just my own opinion. I really hope this finds a distributor and I really hope this is the first of many Ian Chinsee films. Fantastic stuff.
1979 / Director. Gary Nelson.
Once again I am getting stuck into a heap of classic live-action Disney features. I love 'em. THE BLACK HOLE came at a time when Star Wars was dominating popular culture and every studio in Hollywood was looking to capitalise on it. This was Disney's attempt. It tells the story of an exploration crew sent into far space. Along their journey they encounter a black hole and narrowly escape its clutch. On the fringe they also discover another space craft, which is identified as a mission that disappeared over 20 years prior. They board it to discover that the crew have vanished and a mad-scientist has built a unit of robots, He has been planning to travel through the black hole. The film plays out much more like Star Trek meets 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and showcases an impressive use of visual FX. It's a good looking movie and the technology is well envisioned and conceived. It was the first Disney feature to receive a PG rating and the story does delve into some dark themes. Robert Forster is particularly good as the crew's captain who is eager to leave the presence of this lunatic scientist. Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine and Maximilian Schell all offer good support. Where the film falters is in its depiction of a R2-D2-like robot. In a clear attempt to appeal to the Star Wars audience the cartooney & comical nature of this creation comes off more like a cheesy Lost In Space (Danger! Danger!) bot and diminishes the otherwise serious nature of the story. It's definitely a contrived movie and languishes slightly too long on a "talkie" middle act but by the time the final credits appear I always come away from The Black Hole thoroughly entertained... hell, I return to it often for a reason. A new remake is underway with Joseph Kinsinski (Tron Legacy, Oblivion) directing and John Spaihts (Alien, Prometheus) writing. That sounds VERY promising to me.
2011 / Director. Mark Atkins.
Countless Jaws rip-off movies have come and gone over the years. Some have been great fun (Piranha, Razorback, Alligator) and most have been not so great (Cruel Jaws, Shark Zone, Shark Attack)... but NONE have been so blatant as SAND SHARKS. The movie is basically a remake of Jaws with the hook being that these sharks swim in the sand. LOL. All of the Jaws framework is in tact... the island community relying on tourist trade... the mayor who refuses to close the beach... the dishevelled shark-hunter... and the marine biologist. Anyone willing (stupid) enough to actually watch Sand Sharks knows precisely what they're getting into and we watch it for shits-n-giggles. Everything about it is terrible... from the poxy VFX to the incompetent and amateur performances. Director Mark Atkins comes from an Asylum background and so he's a seasoned pro at this brand of shit. What confuses me is his approach to the material. It's hard to tell if he's actually taking this stuff seriously because the irony and satire is sporadic. He could have had a winner on his hands if he'd had his tongue planted firmly in his cheek like Alexandre Aja did with Piranha 3D but the story is played straight for the most part and is pretty damn deplorable. Of course like I've said many times before about creature-feature b-movies... with booze, mates and a fun frame of mind there might be something to this. From a sober point of view its hilariously bad (as you would expect). I wish I had people to watch it with. - FYI a sequel is coming out in a few months. It's called Avalanche Sharks. hehehe.
2009 / Director. John Madden.
Elmore Leonard passed away last week and tonight I gave KILLSHOT a second chance. It didn't sit right with me the first time but I figured I wasn't in the right frame of mind and resigned myself to watching it again before I made my mind up. I haven't read Leonard's novel and I will assume that it's good... this movie isn't. Mickey Rourke plays a professional hitman who wants to leave the game, however, he is drawn into one last job. Teaming up with a low-life criminal (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) he needs to kill a husband and wife before he can finally retire. My biggest problem with this movie is that for such a seasoned professional he sure is shit as his job. Killing these two people ought to be easy and he's given plenty of opportunity to do so, but instead he bungles each moment. Instead of pulling his gun and blowing their heads off he engages in stupid banter or lets his dumbass apprentice cause a scene. What should have been a taught and gripping thriller builds itself up to a farcical comedy of errors. It's not supposed to be funny. I love Mickey Rourke but he's horribly miscast (as a native American WTF?) and Dianne Lane's talent is wasted. It is a shame, too, because its shot well and looks great.
1987 / Director. Michael Apted.
Who doesn't love Richard Pryor? The man was a genius and his legacy is legendary. CRITICAL CONDITION is one of the later comedies he made and while it was in my psyche, I ever got around to watching it. Recently I found it in a bargain bin for a few bucks and snapped it up. Today I watched it... and I think I may have overpaid for it. What a piece of shit. Like several of his other later films, Pryor himself wasn't even a fan. He made it for the money and invested very little enthusiasm. I thought perhaps with Michael Apted directing that it might have been a cut above the rest but I was wrong. It is a shamozzle. Pryor plays a down-on-his-luck businessman who gets framed in a diamond heist. Petrified of prison he pleads insanity and fanes mental illness. He finds himself under assessment in a psychiatric ward of a hospital and when the building is locked down in a power-outage he is mistaken for a surgeon and thrown into a chaotic emergency ward. So bad. For some reason Hollywood found mental illness hilarious in the 80s and there was an onslaught of movies taking aim as "loonies". In the wake of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest the studios clearly misunderstood that film's humour and pumped out hogwash like The Dream Team, The Couch Trip and CRITICAL CONDITION. Richard Pryor looks bored shitless and peddles out a then-automated brand of schtick. Dick jokes, black jokes and sex jokes... that's all it really amounts to. Oh and then a stupid stupid thriller subplot is added to the mix.... so - anyone looking to buy a copy of Critical Condition?
2012 / Director. Pete Travis.
DREDD is a balls to the wall, ultra violent new adaptation of the famous 2000AD comic. It bares no relation to the Sylvester Stallone movie from the 90s other than its source. The first thing that struck me about this new film is how much it highlights the incompetence of the Australian Classification Board. The movie was granted an MA15+ rating and yet showcases some of the most explicitly graphic violence I've seen in a long time. Some recent films like Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning and Rambo were restricted with R18+ ratings, yet pale in terms of violence (still full-on though)... anyway, we all know how much the classification board sucks and so I digress. I loved DREDD. It's story is simple. In a post apocalyptic world cities have fallen and people live in mega-blocks (giant complexes) build on the ruins of a past world. Law enforcement is bestowed upon a squad of officers who act as judge, jury and executioner. I'm sure most of you know the drill from the 1995 movie. Judge Dredd and a new rookie cadet attend a crime scene in one of the mega blocks where they stumble upon the city's biggest drug operation. The building is put into lockdown and Dredd faces off with a seemingly endless assault of gangsters. Thematically it's quite similar to the Korean film The Raid. Karl Urban plays Dredd and he's perfectly cast. Full kudos to him too because it's a selfless role. Unlike Stallone's portrayal, Urban's face is never revealed as he wears the helmet throughout the entire film, as he is depicted in the comic. The film's style is well conceived with an aggressive, gritty and wretched aesthetic. As I mentioned already the violence in the film was surprising and confronting but entirely appropriate. Director Pete Travis never shies away from it and the camera doesn't flinch. He has made a highly stylised and hugely entertaining action spectacle. Don't ya love it when they get things right?
2011 / Director. Timo Vuorensola.
Holy Shitballs. IRON SKY kicks ass. As if the poster didn't already have me salivating, the first 5 minutes of the film gave me a proverbial hard-on. Movies like this are the reason I love cinema... it's a big elaborate and fanciful concept and a delicious dish of escapism. The premise is that in 1945 the NAZIS fled Earth and colonised the dark side of the moon where they have been plotting an invasion of Earth ever since. The movie takes place in 2018 when two American astronauts stumble into the hidden NAZI lair and trigger the impending invasion. This fabulously preposterous chunk of b-movie sci-fi ticks all of the right boxes. Its conception boasts a beautiful design and the VFX brilliantly balances modern expectations with cheesy 50's schlock. Its humour is both blatant and subtle and for every satirical gag that gets a laugh, another one goes unnoticed. Therefore it does benefit from multiple viewings. The running time is slightly long and it would have benefited from losing 15 minutes or so, but nevertheless there is so much to sink your teeth into here. The look of IRON SKY is like an amalgamation of Sky Captain and Manborg. NAZIS are certainly making a comeback lately within the realms of genre filmmaking and in Iron Sky they are ridiculed and lampooned to the point that this could be a warped sibling of The Producers. I'm sure Mel Brooks would be proud. You should definitely check this one out... and perhaps make it a double feature with The 25th Reich.
2013 / Director. Robert Redford.
I like Robert Redford but I am often turned off by his politics. His 2007 film Lions For Lambs almost lost me for good with it's blatant extreme left propaganda agenda... so when THE COMPANY YOU KEEP was released and it was clearly a political piece I became reluctant to watch it. Nevertheless I braced myself - and was pleasantly surprised. Impressed even. The film begins with a housewife (Susan Sarandon) being arrested by the FBI on charges of murder. She was part of an extreme leftist group who considered themselves freedom fighters in the 60s and one of their protest attacks left a man dead. Shia LaBeouf plays a dogged reporter who exposes a local lawyer to be a member of that group, living incognito. Redford is that man and he spends the length of the film on the run, trying to find other members in hiding, determined to prove his innocence. There is a lot about this film that impressed me but none more than its question of justice. Redford could have easily used this project to spruik a left-winged political position but instead he chose to examine the politics with hindsight and distance. The question of whether the end justified the means is an ongoing theme throughout the film and Redford wisely puts the victim of the 1960s attack in focus. Was the life of this family man worth the cause? Of course there is still a left ideology behind the film but that's fine. It's a good ideology and the way it's addressed could make this one of Redford's most mature pieces yet. The ensemble cast is impressive and the script is strong. It plays out like The Fugitive meets Running On Empty and proves to be a steadily-paced manhunt thriller showcasing two particularly good performances.