2013 / Director. Alfonso Cuarón.
GRAVITY is one of the best cinema experiences I have ever had. In fact the last time I physically reacted to a movie like this was when I saw a re-release of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Its immense scope and graceful movement induced motion sickness and GRAVITY has done the same damn thing. Usually it's a negative reaction to become sick from a movie but in this case it comes part and parcel with the absolute exhilaration and breathlessness of the film. The story couldn't be any more simple. A crew of astronauts repairing the Hubble Telescope are hit by the debris of a destroyed Russian satellite. Only two of the crew survive and with the telescope obliterated, their only hope is to find their way to the International Space Station. Any other film which takes place entirely in the vast emptiness of space would put most people to sleep but director Alfonso Cuarón has crafted something astonishing. His story is about as gripping and compelling as any I've seen and it's one hell of a convincing delivery. I have read various reviews and responses to the film and am dumbfounded at the amount of naysayers. I guess it's a reflection of the cocky, know-it-all society we've become and anyone who goes to lengths to highlight the film's inaccuracies is forgetting the fact that this is just a movie. Such inaccuracies (including the physics of tears in zero gravity or the trajectory difference of the ISS from Hubble) are irrelevant to the story and are necessary to maintain the audience's attention and emotional connection. At the end of the day, for the most part, GRAVITY is one of the most awe inspiring and technically incredible science fiction films ever made. If anyone has ever doubted Sandra Bullock's talent then they need to see this. She carries the film and she's fantastic. George Clooney is solid too but as good as their performances are, they're secondary to the situation and grandeur of the film itself. If the studio didn't need drawcard names on the poster, the film would have been even more powerful with unknown performers. I was lucky enough to see the film at IMAX and it's hard to imagine seeing it any other way. The 3D is essential and handled so well and I hope that IMAX keep GRAVITY playing on rotation every few years. Owning it on Blu-Ray just won't cut it and so my recommendation is to go out and see it. Don't wait for the comfort of your own lounge room because you're not likely to embrace it.
2013 / Director. Justin Lin.
The Fast & The Furious series has been a guilty pleasure of mine. When the first one was released in 2001 I resisted it. It was almost 2 years before I could bring myself to watch it and when I did, it surprised me. Since then I have watched and enjoyed all of the subsequent sequels and it's proved to be a solid franchise with no signs of abating. The reason for it's longevity is that it has evolved with each instalment and what began as a street racing hoon movie has turned into an action packed cops & robbers style heist series. I watched FAST & FURIOUS 6 last night and didn't think much of it. It is easily the worst of the lot but considering that it's 1 dud out of 6, it certainly doesn't mark an end to the charm. What I did enjoy about this instalment was that it brings the ongoing storyline full circle with many of the original conventions returning. There are some great street racing scenes reminiscent of the earlier films while a whole heap of the newer blockbuster action sequences dominate the screen time. It's ridiculous and indulgent, which we expect (want) from the series. I guess my issues with it relates to a boring plot and overly long action sequences. Hell, there's a runway chase scene towards the end of the film and if you calculate how fast they were travelling and calculate that the scene ran for over 15 minutes then the logical conclusion would be that it was the longest fucking airport tarmac in history. I estimated about 40-45kms long. LOL. With a running time of 130 minutes it would have benefited from a huge trimming of fat. 90 minutes would have made it a tight and exciting movie. There's an exciting hook at the end of the film, which sets up number 7 nicely. We're back in Tokyo where the set up for the next instalment will not only pick up where part 6 left off but will also bring part 3 (Tokyo Drift) into the chronological timeline. With Aussie director James Wan on board to direct it, there's a whole lot of promise.
2012 / Director. Scott McGehee & David Siegel.
WHAT MAISIE KNEW is nothing short of outstanding. Of all the films I have seen this year none have moved me as much as it did. It tells the story of Maisie, a little girl caught in the middle of her parent's bitter divorce. Dragged through the courts, bandied between them like a rag doll and dumped with strangers; little Maisie quietly observes the disruptive and neglectful tornado that consumes her life and she takes in every ugly detail. Each parent becomes involved with new partners, who fall in love with Maisie and offer her the nurture and stability she so desperately craves. It's a beautiful and heartbreaking story that's been captured so brilliantly. Adapted from a novel from the late 1800's the story has obviously been updated to a modern setting and having never read the book it clearly doesn't matter when it is set. At the core of this film is one hell of an incredible performance by 7 year old Onata Aprile. She is in every single scene and practically carries the film on her own. If this kid isn't nominated for an Oscar it would be an outrage and if Quvenzhané Wallis scored a nomination last year for Beasts of the Southern Wild then this girl definitely deserves it! Surrounding her are four rock-solid supporting performances from Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Joanna Vanderham and Alexander Skarsgård. You know those movies that affect you deeply? So much so that you want to jump into the TV and physically harm people? WHAT MAISIE KNEW is one of those films. I connected with the story on a personal level and from my own life experiences I understand and wholeheartedly believe in the importance of step-parents. Rarely does a film come along that shines a positive light on the important role they can play in a child's life and WHAT MAISIE KNEW is a film, which not only believes in their role but champions them. It's technically great too with colourful and vibrant cinematography and a lovely, yet subtle underlying score. As far as dramatic films go, WHAT MAISIE KNEW is triumphant. It effectively broke my heart and repaired it again.
2013 / Director. Todd Phillips.
I was underwhelmed by the first Hangover movie but don't get me wrong... I still loved it. By the time it had come along I was already a fan of director Todd Phillips and as far as I was concerned, it was going to take one hell of a movie to top his previous films Road Trip and Old School. The hype around The Hangover probably affected my reaction to it also and it didn't resonate with me nearly as much as those mentioned movies. BUT it did grow on me eventually and having seen it several times over I do consider it to be essential comedy viewing. My reaction to part 2 was similar to most people's. I was disappointed. It wasn't a bad movie by any means and, in fact, it's probably better than the first... but it played it safe by repeating the original formula. It was essentially The Hangover Redux! - And now for The Hangover Part 3 - yep, this one hit the spot for me. I embraced just about everything about this one. They've resisted a generic recycle of formula and created a new predicament, which builds from consequences of the previous instalments. I won't go so far as to call it "clever" but within the Hangover universe I think that it's definitely credible. The four guys find themselves in a race against time to find Chow, the slimy Asian criminal they met in Vegas. Not that it's a huge spoiler but I wont explain why or how this mission relates to the first movie, only to say that their misadventures have come back to bite them in the ass. The movie's strength is that these characters haven't been tinkered with on paper. Each of them is essentially the same as when we first met them and the writers have refrained from exploiting their traits. The gags are funny, the situations are more subtle and the comedy flows better... I suspect many will disagree with me but I thought this was a great way to wrap up the series and lets cross our fingers that this IS the end. No more. Done. Dusted. Arrivederci!
2001 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #35
The reason Albert Pyun cops such a bad rap is because the studios would often take away his films and recut them. This is why the last several films of his career have been entirely independent. Wherever he's been able to Pyun has put together director's cuts of these titles. Cyborg and Captain America have been two of his more prominent ones and one of my personal favourites is TICKER. This is probably his most extreme alternative cut in terms of being significantly different to the version released by Nu Image and Artesian Entertainment. After taking the film away from Albert Nu Image changed the setting from Chicago to San Francisco and used a shit load of archive footage from other films to pad it out. I recall watching the home video version and it was pretty awful... ie another typical direct-to-video piece of fluff. Nu Image recut Albert's film to capitalise on Steven Seagal's name. This was at a time when Seagal's career was transitioning from A grade Hollywood to D grade gutter trash. The Nu Image cut perpetuated that transition buy making it a Segal vehicle but if they had let Albert's vision become realised the film would have been a respectable addition to his catalogue. With an impressive cast also including Tom Sizemore, Dennis Hopper and Ice-T, TICKER is a well constructed action-thriller about an IRA terrorist playing games with an elite bomb squad. This version sees Seagal stepping back into a co-starring role rather than the lead and it plays out in a far more subtle and engaging way. Pyun's knack for action is strong and his new cut is well edited and makes more sense. All of the performances are decent... Hopper, as usual, is shit at accents and his Irish tongue is atrocious. Nevertheless his onscreen presence is affective and considering that he only worked on the film for one day, what Pyun has achieved with him is a testament to his skill. Albert's cut does suffer from a weird and irrelevant opening credit sequence and finishes on a rather tacky end scene but just about everything in between works for me. The only problem with these unsolicited director's cuts is that Albert is forced to use footage from wherever he can get it. There's a hell of a lot of work-print and temp-footage, which make the film look like a 3rd or 4th generation VHS dub. Pyun has made the most of it, though, even if there are some moments lacking audio... but these things can't be helped. If only he was given the opportunity to release his director's cuts with an official budget. Maybe then the world would come to understand the man's talent some more and he would receive the respect he so deserves.
1990 / Director. Jerry Zucker.
I'm really feeling my age creeping up on me here. I vividly remember seeing GHOST at the cinemas when I was 11 years old. In fact my mum and I saw it 3 times at the Northland Cinemas in Melbourne. It's obviously a movie which stuck with me because I also remember just about every time I watched it on home video too. It's probably been 10 years since I last saw it and so over the weekend I thought it might be a good movie to introduce my 14 year old daughter. Yep, we've got a winner. She loved it. While I know the film back to front I was surprised at how well it stands up almost 24 years later. First and foremost it's script is bloody amazing. Some will fob it off as drivel and others will call it sappy but lets be honest, it was always a melodrama. Having studied film and scriptwriting I watched it for the first time with a new knowledge of the medium and was taken aback at how well structured the movie is. Firstly it's amazing that so many genre conventions can be packed in to one story and yet maintain absolute credibility throughout. Drama, Comedy, Thriller and Horror are all represented. If you've never seen GHOST then I wonder what planet you're living on and would recommend seeing it. Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore star as a couple madly in love. He is killed in a robbery gone wrong and crosses over into a realm between Heaven and Earth. It's only in death that he learns that he was set up and murdered and he enlists the help of a psychic medium played by Whoopi Goldberg to help warn Demi Moore. To enjoy GHOST you have to embrace it and to embrace it you need to understand the type of film it is. Be prepared to have your heart strings pulled and just go with it. Movie making is all about manipulation and GHOST does it brilliantly.
A couple of years ago a Japanese remake was made, which flipped the characters around. I haven't reviewed it but have seen it and would also recommend it. It might be the same story but it reaches for a different emotional level and stands alone as a provoking and sweet drama... with less of a thriller set-up.
1987 / Director. John McTiernan.
PREDATOR was ahead of its time. When it was released it received a negative reception from critics, who mostly dismissed it as simplistic and dull. Schwarzenegger was at the height of his success and I guess people saw PREDATOR as another vehicle for him... but to dismiss it as poppycock is unfair. Fortunately this is an example of the average viewer rendering the critic's opinion as redundant. We fans understand the movie and we wholeheartedly embrace it. I probably don't need to explain the plot details to you... if you're on this site then you've probably seen it... and if you haven't seen it then you SHOULD! To give you a brief run-down, Arnie leads his elite team of mercenaries on a rescue mission into the jungles of central America. An alien also prowls the jungles and hunts the humans for game. Hollywood heavyweight producers Joel Silver and Lawrence Gordon seized upon the success of both Alien and Rambo and combined the genres to create this strangely original and action packed horror movie. The script is stuffed with fantastic lines, most of which come from Arnie's mouth. "If it bleeds we can kill it" and "Get to the chopper" are now iconic. Combine these cheesy gems with sweaty, testosterone injected beefcake and a shit load of machine guns and you end up with a cult classic. The predator design by Stan Winston is incredible and there hasn't been movie-creature like it since. The film exploits some great concepts including thermal imaging for the predator's POV and a brilliant reflective camouflage that grants the creature practical invisibility. To label PREDATOR as simplistic and dull is unfair and frankly - ignorant. It's a perfectly constructed movie that pulses from opening credits to the closing credits at a breakneck pace. Never dull. The fat has been trimmed and what we see on screen is only what is necessary to keep it moving. Time has been kind to the movie and it feels are relevant now as it did back in the 80s. I watched it last night with my 12 year old son. He is the same age I was when I first saw it and his reaction was familiar... that being an exhilarated "HELL YEAH!" Classic!
1987 / Director. Chris Colombus.
While Ferris Bueller was spending a day gallivanting through the streets of Chicago in the mid 80s, Elizabeth Shue was running amok on the same streets at night. She plays Chris, a seventeen year old babysitter who's night turns to shit when she's left with no choice but to rush to the city to rescue her best friend... the problem is that she's in charge of 3 kids with a keen sense of adventure. And so begins a night of danger, music, excitement and high-rise antics. It's a fantastic movie which, for the exception of some course language, is a perfect family comedy. It was also Chris Colombus' directorial debut having previously written a string of hits such as Gremlins, The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes. By the time he hit this film, his talent and flair for adolescent adventure was obvious. Those who know his name will now that he went on to direct Home Alone, Mrs Doubtfire, Harry Potter... amongst others. The cast is great and their dynamics keep the film always amusing and somewhat irreverent. There's also a great cameo from a then unknown Vincent D'Onofrio as a mechanic who is mistaken for the Marvel hero Thor. A recurring commentary on this site is that family adventure films aren't what they used to me. Movies like this challenged kids and gave them some credit. These young characters are put into some really hairy situations and predicaments and with heavy underworld figures out to kill them, there's some dark themes here for young viewers to digest. Of course, it is also a comedy and so all peril is defused eventually. There's a distinct John Hughes-esque flavour about this movie and the structure and conventions are suspiciously similar to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I guess that's proof of a winning formula. ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING was a staple part of my childhood and I just watched it on Blu-Ray. Holy crap, it's never looked better!! Rumours of a remake have been fluttering around for years. I hope it never happens. I wish instead of remaking great movies that Hollywood would just re-release the originals to new cinema audiences.
1996 / Director. John Carpenter.
There are certain movie moments, which define what I love about cinema. One of those moments so happens to be Kurt Russell surfing a tsunami alongside Peter Fonda while Steve Buscemi drives along a highway beside them. Honestly, it doesn't get much better than that for this giddy movie geek. For this scene and this scene alone, ESCAPE FROM LA is a fucking gnarly movie! Oh and it just go happens to be a balls-to-the-wall sequel to Escape from New York. Clearly the original 1981 film is a cult classic and many will argue that it should have stood alone. I disagree, though, and consider this '96 follow up to be a hugely underrated gem. Snake Plissken returns 16 years following his previous exploits and America has become an ultraconservative nation ruled by an extreme right-winged government, who's president has been self appointed to a life term in office. Los Angeles has been separated from the mainland by a mega quake some years prior and as with the first movie, all of the county's undesirables are dumped there for life. Snake has been recaptured and given the ultimatum; rescue a secret government recording from LA or die. And so the adventure begins and while the plot is more or less a rehash of the first movie, this outing is far more satirical and self-referential. John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Kurt Russell co-wrote the script and their tongues are planted firmly in their cheeks. What ensues is a fantastically audacious and action-packed escapade that pushes the limits of acceptance to dizzy heights. As I referred to before, the tsunami surf scene captures the film's essence perfectly. Snake Plissken is a larger than life character and with each jaunt he faces insurmountable absurdities and predicaments. As far as I'm concerned ESCAPE FROM LA has appreciated with time. Carpenter has always had a flare for practical FX and he uses miniatures, forced perspective and chrome-key so affectively. In this sequel he also experiments with CGI and while these effects are hokey, they are still brazen and audacious. With these elements combined with the traditional FX Carpenter has crafted a surreal and exhilarating action-adventure that deserves a new sequel. Kurt Russell has been pushing for a 3rd movie for over 15 years and I reckon it's high time we got one. The proposal was Escape From Earth... How can Hollywood keep ignoring such a kick-ass and iconic character?? Unleash the Plissken!
1986 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #3
As I work my way through the comprehensive career of Albert Pyun it is his earlier films that excite me the most. Fresh on the scene and full of energy his movies packed vibrance. His follow up to the impressive post apocalyptic classic RADIOACTIVE DREAMS was the equally dazzling DANGEROUSLY CLOSE. Combining retro pop hits from the 80s with an arresting and vivid aesthetic it tells the story of a vigilante society roaming the hallways of an elite college who take it upon themselves to weed out the unworthy students... the disadvantaged, the minorities, the ethnics and everyone else they consider to be undesirable. At first their methods are annoyingly troublesome but their hatred soon boils over into a vicious, dangerous and violent campaign of eradication. Pyun handled the material impressively and his gift for strong, visceral filmmaking is unmistakable. His use of colours and cinematography is truly awesome. His use of location and surrounding elements also conjures up thoughts of some of the great music video directors of that era... Russell Mulcahy comes to mind. The mid to late 80s were full of high school themed movies, from satirical comedies like HEATHERS... to schlocky b-movies like CLASS OF NUKE'EM HIGH and poignant teen angst classics like THE BREAKFAST CLUB. With this underrated and largely forgotten film Albert Pyun has contributed to the genre with an impressively dark and pertinent thriller. Up there with his best.