The last couple of years have proven to be revitalising for several prominent directors from the 70s and 80s. Directors like Joe Dante, John Carpenter and Dario Argento have sprung back to life with their first feature length films in over a decade. Now it's John Landis' turn. If you don't know him he is responsible for Michael Jackson's Thriller, An American Werewolf in London, Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Three Amigos, Coming to America and more. He was hot property during the 80s but then a string of bad movies brought his career to a halt. Now 12 years since his last film he is back with Burke And Hare.
These characters are actually real life murderers and you can read about their crimes if you care to... one of their skeletons is even on display in a museum. This film, as you would gather is a macabre black comedy about their exploits and features an array of British actors. Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis star and they are joined by players like Tom Wilkinson, Ronnie Corbert, Tim Curry and Bill Bailey. Christopher Lee and a few others even make brief cameos. Burke and Hare are hard on their luck and stumble upon an untapped supply & demand enterprise.... they provide cadavers to anatomy surgeons for top dollar. They make a small fortune out of it and soon the big wig criminals weigh into it and the whole thing is muddied by multiple parties. Its a funny movie. Lots of classic olde English style gags and plenty of grotesque laughs. As with the aforementioned directors it's great to see Landis back on the scene and I hope its not the last we see of him.
I love it when the Australian landscape is captured like this. Epic, natural and magnificent. So many Aussie films are set in our unique wilderness but few of them actually observe it. The Hunter presents its story with the environment itself as a crucial character. A few Aussie films which have done this successfully were Van Diemen's Land, In The Winter Dark and Picnic At Hanging Rock. Willem Dafoe plays a scientist who is sent to Tasmania on a secret assignment by an unknown corporation to find a Tasmanian Tiger. His mission brings him to a small community populated by loggers and hippies. This makes for a hostile environment. The film divides its time between Dafoe in the bush and then back at his lodgings where he is staying with a mother and her two children. The father went missing in the mountains a year ago and Dafoe's character develops a bond with this broken family. The film develops into a mystery with various agendas and subtexts leaking into the story but I won't venture into a spoiler for you. Dafoe is great and the cinematography is breathtaking. I did, however, have a few problems with The Hunter. The story could have been fleshed out a lot more. There are so many details that were only briefly skimmed over and I would have liked a lot more detail. The locals, the farmer, the missing father... all things that could have been explored more and given the film a greater strength. I'd pay to see an extended version, for sure!! But as it is, this is still a great film. Hopefully a lot of people see it.
Aside from Touching The Void, "K2" is the best mountain climbing movie I can recall seeing. Made in 1991 it flew under a lot of radars and was widely disregarded... and then a couple of years later Cliffhanger came along and stole it's thunder. Cliffhanger was a conventional thriller movie set against the world of mountain climbers and very little of it actually detailed the technical aspect of climbing. K2 on the other hand is all about authenticity. It does try to include a bit of subtext but for the most part its a simple chronicle of a climbing party attempting to concor K2, the second highest mountain in the world. It's a big screen type of movie and I used to watch it on VHS with a small box tv... I just watched it on my 60 inch plasma and the film really stands the test of time. It's big, exciting and inspiring. Michael Biehn and Matt Craven star and they're great but perhaps their lack of star power is what ultimately kept K2 below that radar. So glad I found this on dvd and revisited...
Here's another influential childhood fav. Over the years Monster Squad has gained a massive cult following with midnight screenings being held in various places... I'm proud to say that I was on board from the get go. As a kid this was about as good as it got. Director Fred Dekker's intention was to essentially make "The Little Rascals Meet The Universal Monsters" and thats a fair description. The result comes off as a movie that would get away with being The Goonies 2. The kids are the same age, they're in a club, both movies are named after said club and the characters from each movie pretty much parallel each other. The story has Dracula returning and resurrecting a posse of classic Universal monsters including the Wolfman, The Mummy, Gillman and Frankenstein. Searching for an emulate which will win him the battle of good vs evil, what Drac didn't count on was a local group of kids who specialise in monster-movie-trivia. Interestingly Universal Studios denied the rights to use their monsters in this movie and so fx artist Stan Winston modified each creature slightly as not to encroach on trademark and the effect adds a new quality to the characters. The movie is the ultimate scary kids movie and they should embrace it. Monster Squad shows kids that movie monsters are fun. Thinking back, perhaps this movie influenced my love of horror.... [for fellow geeks, the 2 disc dvd features an excellent 90 minute retrospective].
I love everything about this movie. To me its near perfect. I used to have a copy on VHS and I reckon I worn it down. Its a movie with style and form and it flows really well. The story follows Willie (Timothy Hutton) who returns to his home town for the high school reunion. Its the first time back since he graduated and he is reacquainted with his old gang. Now some 15 years older they have all moved on... some for the better, some for the worse... and some are stuck in the same loop. Its a massive ensemble case (see the poster) and all of the players are perfectly cast. Particularly good are Natalie Portman, Max Perlich and Mia Sorvino. The movie manages to balance the humour with the drama really well and its difficult to distinguish which genre it actually is... it sort of plays out like The Big Chill with moments of laugh-out-loud and moments that are really moving. The small town locations during winter are used really well and add to the movie's charm. Love it.
Frayed is a 2007 horror movie which has only recently found distribution in Australia. It begins with a ghastly act of violence that questions how this movie received an MA rating. The scene is horrific and is really effective in getting the viewer uneasy about what's to come.... if you know the nightclub scene from Irreversible then you will appreciate the type of violence I am talking about. The movie's premise is almost identical to Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween. A child is institutionalised after murdering his mum. His father has been living with the grief for over 10 years when one night his worst fears come true... his son has escaped. Wearing a deformed clown mask he lurks in shadows and butchers unsuspecting victims. It's typical genre fare with some effective imagery. Glimpses of the clown mask in the background keep putting the chills down your spine and the suspense is built up cleverly. The violence throughout the movie isn't too often but it's brutal when he strikes. The movie's downfall is its low budget. Exterior night scenes look great but the lit up interiors look cheap. The acting is b-grade and were they better the movie could be been a real ripper. It's a horror with good intentions but lingers too long on dialogue where its focus should have been on the creepy stuff. So long as you don't have to pay much to see it, only then would I recommend Frayed.
One Night The Moon is a unique experimental musical film starring Paul Kelly and his wife Kaaren Fairfax. They live on a remote farm in outback Australia when one night their young daughter climbs out the window and follows the moon. The film then follows the search party as they desperately fight against time to find her. The story is told through song in a very powerful and emotive way. The sense of loss is huge and the film also deals with black & white relation issues as the farmer and his wife reject the help of an experienced aboriginal tracker. This was produced by an arts experiment production company called 'MusicArtsDanceFilms' who also produced The Widower (see review in this group). Their films are generally short and One Night The Moon has a lean 50 minute running time. It's shot beautifully with scrupulous detail given to the environment and the landscapes are captured gorgeously in widescreen. The songs are great and the film is overall immersive. Well worth seeking.
Christopher Guest is the master of improvisational mockumentaries. After Spinal Tap became a cult favourite he kept the mojo going with films like Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show and A Mighty Wind... each of them are brilliant but my personal favourite is definitely A Mighty Wind. This pseudo documentary follows the preparations for a one night reunion show of 60s folk artists. These include the New Main Street Singers, The Folksmen and Mitch & Mickey. The genius behind guest's films are the little nuances. The actors are given a free pass to just make shit up and it results in a witty, spontaneous and exciting experience. Most of the usual players are back for more and the stand out performances come from Eugene Levy (who co-wrote it), Jane Lynch and Fred Willard ("Hey Whaa Happened?"). The use of pseudo archival footage and photos give the film a real authentic feel and by the time the final showcase arrives, you find yourself genuinely excited.
There have been several films about Ned Kelly over the years but "Ned" is easily the best. lol. It's also (imo) one of the best comedies to come out of our country for a long time. Damn, it makes me feel old to think that Ned was made 10 years ago but watching it again this afternoon I found the gags just as funny and random as they were back in 2003. Slapstick is a difficult art and its hugely under-appriciated for the most part and Abe Forsythe (director & star) is to be celebrated. I don't know why he hasn't made any more movies since but if he had of stuck with it I'm sure I'd use his name in the same company as Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and the Zuckers. The gags are like a full-on assault and they never relent. From the early scenes of the rubber farm to the miniature horse escape... NED is a flick that deserves more praise. We don't get too many movies like it in Oz and we should.
Homo Erectus is a dumb movie that uses intelligence as its punch line. Its takes place during the stone age and centres around the character of Ishbo who is the only intelligent person amongst his tribe. He's determine to advance mankind with useful inventions such as the toothbrush, utensils... and pants. Of course he is seen as an outcast and his life is miserable. It's very funny stuff and is exactly what the movie Year One should have been. Sure, it's a one joke movie but it maintains its hilarity. Adam Rifkin directs and stars in this movie and it's a flick you will either "get" or you won't. I was previously introduced to his brand of humour with Detroit Rock City and if you enjoyed that then you'll probably get a kick out of this. It's a no-brainer with brains and a brilliant end scene!
I knew from the get go that i would enjoy Bridesmaids, that much was clear... however I gave it a wide berth when it was released because the hype was all too much. Over hype is never good. And so I have finally seen it and confirm that the hype was definitely unnecessary.... but that's not to say I didn't enjoy it. I loved it. Most of you have seen it so I needn't explain that it plays like a female version of The Hangover. The characters all paralel the Hangover and some of the scenarios are similar. Bridesmaids does it with a lot more subtlety though. It's the chick flick that blokes won't mind watching. All of the performances are great, the script is well written and the gags are hilarious. It probably overstays it's welcome by half an hour or so (it kind of lags in the middle) but overall its Bachelor Party Chick style! Good stuff.
There's been so many serious Jim Carrey films where you think to yourself 'this is the dramatic performance of his career' and I Love You Phillip Morris is the newest. My god this guy performs! This is one of the most unusual and unbelievable true stories I've seen in the long time. It's about an everyday husband who becomes bored of his life as a cop. He's tired of his family and sick of living a lie. He's gay and doesn't want to hide it anymore. And so he ups and leaves for a new life. As he explains early in the film, being gay is expensive and so he becomes a con-man. A good one too. The story is similar to Spielberg's film Catch Me If You Can and much of it takes place in prison where he falls in love with another inmate played by Ewan McGregor. These two guys perform their asses off. Both roles are demanding and the movie balances the drama with comedy perfectly. This will not be everyone's cup of tea but for me it definitely was. I followed up the movie with a lot of curiosity and researched the real life events... and it sounds to me that I Love You Phillip Morris is more fact than fiction. Wow, what a story.
Reservoir Dogs is one of those movies that takes you back. For me it's the mid 90s right at a time when I was starting to seriously consider working with movies. Tarantino was the newest and hottest thing in Hollywood and everyone wanted to be like him. I watched Reservoir Dogs over and over and over and even had it confiscated at school. Watching it again this afternoon I was a seeing it from a different perspective to my teenage counterpart. Back then I was swept up by its violent undertones and gritty language but now I am much more wrapped up in its flow. The panning shots. The slow zooms. The close ups... and the rhythm of dialogue. Its all so poetic and without sounding pretentious, its a masterstroke. The critics say it's derivative but that's obvious. It was influenced from a whole range of things.... but then so is every movie. Tarantino just copped shit because he wasn't educated thru film school... he was self taught. Add this factor to the mix and its one hell of an impressive film debut. I feel like I'm 15 again watching Dogs.
Water For Elephants is pretty much the same piffle as The Notebook... the difference being that this is good. It all takes place in a travalling circus with Robert Pattinson playing a young veterinarian student who finds himself working for the Benzini Brothers. He immediately buts heads with the ruthless boss (played by Christoph Waltz) and soon falls in love with his wife (Reese Witherspoon) who is the show's main attraction. Its a familiar formula of forbidden love but what sets it apart is the circus setting. Its filmed beautifully and the animals featured are incredible, particularly the elephant (gorgeous). It could have been a mediocre snorefest (ala Notebook) but the performances lift it above that. Reese Witherspoon seemed miscast to me, but I've never been a fan so I'll assume that's my bias. Its an exercise in style over substance but its nice to look at.
Watching Super 8 I was taken back to my childhood. Set in 1979 the movie follows a group of pre-teen friends as they attempt to make an amateur zombie movie. One night while shooting a scene at an old train station platform they witness a monumental train wreck. Miraculously cheating death they come to realise that the train belongs to the US Air Force. Soon the military role in and the town is evacuated. Everything about this film has the Spielberg stamp all over it and while he didn't direct it you can't help but feel that he had a large hand in it (he's known to secretly direct portions of the films he produces). I think back to movies I grew up with like The Goonies and Monster Squad... and Super 8 brings back that sense of childhood adventure. I really hope that the kids of today embrace this one because if it were one of my childhood movies I would definitely look back on it with affection... hell I still might even.