1997 / Director. Jeff Burr.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I have a soft spot for director Jeff Burr. I grew up with his films and continue to revisit them now. In the early 80s he established himself as a talented horror director, which lead to him becoming the go-to guy when Hollywood needed sequels to popular films. His reputation for delivering quality follow-ups was cemented with movies like STEPFATHER 2, CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 and PUMPKINHEAD 2. He also managed to whip up a few dramatic films, which presented a more personal style of filmmaking. During the 90s he was hired by Charles Band to make several movies, some of which were PUPPETMASTER sequels, while the others were family friendly adventure movies. One of those was JOHNNY MYSTO: BOY WIZARD. By most standards JOHNNY MYSTO is a tacky, no-frills movie that looks as though it was made for television. Heck... it was produced by a low grade, no frills studio and its target audience was children. Whenever I watch films like this I need to ask how my 7 year old self would have reacted? He would have got a real kick out of it. And so as a grown adult I leave my thinking cap on the table and take JOHNNY MYSTO for what it is. Using the familiar formula of A KID IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT the movie tells the story of a boy who fancies himself a magician. When he asks a professional magician for advice he is given a magical ring, which has mystical powers. An innocent disappearing act goes wrong and Johnny's younger sister is transported back to medieval times. Of course Johnny must go looking for her and an adventure through time ensues. The film features Patrick Renna (THE SANDLOT), Russ Tamblyn as the older mentor figure and Tamblyn's daughter Amber, who is now a popular and established Hollywood actress. The movie has a rightful place on television or perhaps sitting on a kids shelf full of dvds and most adventurous minds under the age of 10 will lap it up. The special FX actually hold up pretty well considering the movie's age and most kids would be nonethewiser about it being made before they were born. Fans of Jeff Burr will appreciate some of his hallmark techniques as he brings a unique artificial set design and aesthetic to the project. Scenes of sunbeams breaking through misty forests and spooky medieval dungeons provide an exciting environment for the story to take place. If you don't expect much from this movie, you might just get a little more from it. Not quite as good as his other kids movie SPOOKY TOWN but a fun adventure perfectly fashioned for its demographic.
2014 / Director. Huck Botko.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I had two movies lined up and gave my partner the option of which to watch. One was BAD JOHNSON and the other was NOAH. I told her that we could either watch a movie about a dick or a movie starring a dick. She looked at the running time to see whether she was in the mood for a long dick or a short dick. She opted for the short one and so we went ahead and watched BAD JOHNSON. When something doesn't work it usually gets thrown away. BAD JOHNSON ought to be thrown away. This awful one joke movie is jam packed with jokes that NEVER hit the mark and are never in the least bit funny. It tells the story of a sex-crazed guy whose penis is always getting him into trouble. Whether it's a nightclub quickie of a back seat blowie, he cannot resist an opportunity and his life is controlled by his wang. When he wishes his dick would leave him alone, he wakes up the next morning to find that his dong is gone. The phone rings and his prick is on the other end. Now taking on a human form, his Johnson needs to learn the human way. Holy shit this is a crap movie. I always try to find the good within the bad when I watch movies but I was tapped out with this peice of shit. I didn't laugh once and constantly fought the temptation of using the remote control. 40 minutes into the movie and I had no choice but to concede. I couldn't hack it and so I shut that fucker down. It will very likely make my list of 2014's worst movies.
2014 / Director. Wes Anderson.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
It doesn't matter whether you love or loathe Wes Anderson because whichever side of the conversation you sit on, his films provide such a wonderful point of discussion. I do love him and trying to figure out which film of his is my favourite is near impossible and they do seem to change every time I think about it. His movies have become events and seeing them for the first time is nothing but pure joy. His latest film is THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, which tells the story of a strange hotel perched on a mountain top and recalls its colourful history. Of course being a Wes Anderson film means that it is uber quirky, surreal and comical. True to form he has crammed the movie with a HUGE ensemble of some of Hollywood's best, including staple Anderson players such as Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton and Owen Wilson (amongst others). Newcomers to the Anderson universe include Jeff Goldblum, Tom Wilkinson, F Murray Abraham and Saoirse Ronan (again, amongst others)... but the show stealing performance goes to Ralph Fiennes. He owns this film and gives what is possibly the performance of his career. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL has so much to sink your teeth into and I was personally caught up in it's wonderful use of miniatures and the overall artificial aesthetic that we've come to expect (and love) from Wes Anderson. The film plays out like a classic caper movie with an oddball, fairytale-like atmosphere. The pacing is fast and never skips a beat and every single player delivers accordingly. Unfortunately so many of the awesome personalities on display are only featured fleetingly. When they appear on screen you get a rush of excitement and they give the movie a boost of energy (like a mushroom in Mario Kart) but no sooner do they show up, they're gone... offering little more than a cheeky tease to the audience. I wish that Bob Balaban had been on screen for longer (I adore the man). Is THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL Wes Anderson's best film? I know many people who would argue that it is. It's certainly great -- but my heart still lies with THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS.
2014 / Director. Seth MacFarlane.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I'm not sure I will ever learn. For some misguided reason I always choose the "extended version" of films whenever the option is presented. As though I am expecting to get more bang-for-my-buck I ignore my better sense and usually regret doing so. The extended cut of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is waaay too long and overstays its welcome by at least 30 minutes. 2 Hours is far too long for this type of puerile brand of movie. I am going to have to watch the theatrical cut now and I suspect it will resonate with me in a much stronger way... because despite this grievance I really enjoyed it. Seth MacFarlane has successfully forged his own unique brand of humour over the past few years and watching him subtly (and not so subtly) push the PC envelope is wonderful to see. He has a knack for presenting thinly veiled social statements within the context of vulgarity and juvenility. It resonates with some people and completely sidesteps others. A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is his latest offering and takes place in the wild west with MacFarlane's character observing his community with modern and progressive eyes. It is more or less a one-joke movie with the harsh and brutal nature of the era being showcased in a series of set-ups and one liners. I can see how the film will irritate people but my good fortune lays with my unbelievably puerile personality. The observations and ongoing gags did amuse the hell out of me and as I have always said, when all else fails in comedy... throw in a fart joke... A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is full of fart jokes! MacFarlane leads the ensemble cast well and his charming and likable personality lends an endearing quality to his character. Alongside him are wonderfully satirical performances from Sarah Silverman, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried and Charlize Theron. They're all good but sadly Liam Neeson (as the stereotypical outlaw bad guy) phones in his performance. Looking old and weary he seems out of place... and oddly out of his depth. All in all this is a solid comedy and I did belly laugh through most of it. If only I had watched the shorter cut, perhaps the comedic set-ups would have been less padded and more cohesive. Nevertheless the satire was rich and the observations were spot-on. Two obscure cameo appearances by two very recognisable characters from other films really did the trick for me... and the moustache dance-off hit the spot. Very fun stuff and too jovial by nature for me to pay out on.
2014 / Director. Nicholas Stoller.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
NEIGHBORS was retitled BAD NEIGHBOURS outside of the USA to avoid confusion with the Australian soap-opera of the same name and while I think that is really lame reason for the switch, I do think that the alternative title works in the movie's favour... the US title suggests that it is, perhaps, a remake of the 1981 John Belushi film. Nevertheless NEIGHBORS is a new frat-house comedy starring Seth Rogan and Zac Efron. It tells the story of a 30-something couple who have moved into their first house with their baby daughter. They are new to the "grown up" game and put their best foot forward to become respectable members of their neighbourhood. When a fraternity moves into the house next door, the couple's newfound tranquility is disrupted by drunken students and wild parties. At first the couple attempt to reason with the kids by acting cool and "hip", only to find themselves sucked into the party, getting wasted (and shirtless). When the consistent nightly parties continue they call the cops, which inevitably leads to a war between the two houses... and there lies the movie's plot. It's a fairly generic structure that we've seen before but thanks to a good script and two solid lead performances NEIGHBORS sits comfortably with some of the best. I am a sucker for house-party movies and also have a soft spot for frat-house films... and so this was the perfect marriage of both for me. The party sequences are fantastic and similarly to PROJECT X the audience is thrown right into the mayhem. With the camera acting as a POV on our behalf, we fully get a sense of the atmosphere and feel as though we're part of the madness. Seth Rogan is perfectly cast and his performance is very self-aware. A decade ago he was the go-to stoner-dude in Hollywood and now he's older, facing a transition of maturity and demographic. He plays both sides of the coin hilariously and knows too well that the joke is on him. He is also supported wonderfully by Rose Byrne so really knows how to deliver an F-bomb (no one swears like an Aussie does). Zac Efron is also perfect. This guy really is proving himself in the movie business and he's managed the arduous transition from child actor for adult performer with ease. With a handful of serious dramatic roles over the last couple of years, it's great to see him in a douchey, arrogant role like this. He nails it. His character is supported by Dave Franco, who offers a reliable balance to Efron's madness. Being a party movie NEIGHBORS needs to be seen at max volume with an open mind and, preferably, with mates.
1985 / Director. Gordon Hessler.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The 1980s were jam-packed with martial arts movies. Following the success of ENTER THE DRAGON in '73 Hollywood spend the next decade cashing-in on the phenomenon surrounding Bruce Lee. The majority of the films were cheap and tacky with the most notoriously bad ones being Cannon's NINJA trilogy. When I was a kid who spent most of his spare time raiding local video stores one of the most impressionable VHS covers was PRAY FOR DEATH. Its basic design with a masked ninja on the front always caught my attention and with the branding of an R18+ rating on the front I was also scared of it. I was too young to watch it and my mind conjured up the most bad-ass action film I could imagine. Some years later I finally watched it and tonight I watched it again. Being a product of the 80s the film's R rating has certainly depreciated, however, it still kicks a whole lot of ass. Its story centres around a Japanese family man who secretly moonlights as a master ninja. Looking for a fresh start he takes his family to live in America and not long after arriving he finds himself caught up with a local crime ring. They mistake him for a jewel thief and wage a personal war against him, killing his wife in the process. Naturally this incites his inner-ninja. After forging his own weapons and a hilariously gnarly outfit he soon emerges as a revenge-fuelled master of death. As hokey as PRAY FOR DEATH might be, it definitely remains one of the most underrated martial arts films of the era. The story is given a lot of attention and actual plot development takes precedent over the action sequences. The acting leaves a lot to be desired but is still a hell of a lot better than many of the competing movies of the time. The action is great and story is perfectly paced. There's even ninja kids branding nunchucks beating up bad guys... and you've got to give kudos to any movie that lets kids get punched in the face and run over by brutal henchmen. Most awesome! Sadly PRAY FOR DEATH was overshadowed by AMERICAN NINJA, which was a huge leading title on the home-rental market in the same year, but PRAY FOR DEATH is clearly the stronger movie. Its obscurity lends it an allure of notoriety and helps cement it as a cult classic b-movie. I put it on par with BLOODSPORT and CAGE as one of the best martial arts films of the 80s. Fantastic stuff.