I've had a lot of conversation about Magic Mike with customers in my store. When looking for recommendations this week I have suggested (amongst other titles) Magic Mike. I've had 3 guys already look at me and remark (to the effect) "I'm not a poof! I'm not watching blokes naked!". These man are of course NEANDERTHALS! Perhaps they need to be reminded of all the blokey movies with naked chicks that their girlfriends and wives have sat through? Or maybe they could be educated of who Steven Soderbergh is and the other movies he's made?? He's a dynamo and Magic Mike is a very typical Soderbergh film. As the promos suggest, the movie is a sort of Showgirls flipside. Exploring the world of male stage-strippers the story follows Mike who is nearing the end of his career. The story is very familiar with the old dog on his way out with a young pup nudging his way in... and of course the big boss who's only concern is the end-of-day takings. Soderbergh is tackling a recycled formula but giving it a new and fascinating setting. Channing Tatum is excellent as Magic Mike, the star of the show. I am loving Tatum's work and he's proving to be a real talent. Matthew McConaughey is also excellent as the club owner. The dance/strip routines are brilliantly filmed and the entire movie is booming with energy. My only dissapointment is that Soderbergh didn't push it far enough. In a movie like Showgirls, Paul Verhoven got very explicit and exposed us to a very graphic world... whereas Magic Mike seems to be aware of it's classification and is careful not to push it. To the insecure guys watching it, don't worry... there are no wang-shots! In fact there are no cocks to be seem which for a movie of this kind, dissapoints me! LOL I dont care if they were dudes, I wanted an insight into their world. Regardless its a good movie with solid performances all round.
Y'all probably know that family-friendly horror films are important to me. Spooky and scary movies are an integral part of growing up and The Watcher In The Woods is another one from my childhood that bears significance. It's one of the most daring and intrepid Disney movies I know of. Clearly aimed at a young audience, the movie presents itself as a ghost story and it confronts its junior audience with some very challenging concepts. The story is of a family who move into an old remote homestead where a tragedy once occurred. A young girl disappeared never to be seen again and she makes her presence known to the two daughters of the house's new occupants. Her haunting is very chilling as she appears blindfolded, distressed and calling for help. And so the two daughters set about solving the mystery of her disappearance. I have read that the production was very troubled with 100+ endings being scripted. I do admit that the finale is kind of disappointing as an adult but I recall it being totally mystifying as a kid. The film is excellently paced, well shot and nicely acted. Whether it will appeal to todays generation of kids who demand fast-paced and action-riddled movies, is uncertain but to kids with a sense of wonder and patience, The Watcher in the Woods is a very exciting adventure and a beautiful introduction into horror.
The original The Night Of The Living dead has spawned one of the most complicated franchises of them all. George Romero, after a legal fallout with his co-creator (John Russo), was given permission to continue the franchise with the “of the Dead” moniker while Russo was granted rights to keep using the “Living Dead” moniker... and so both went forward creating sequels which tore the franchise into two directions. Romero's series continued with Dawn or the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead... Russo continued with the Return of the Living Dead series as well as a re-edited version of the original film and a direct sequel called Children of the Living Dead. And to confuse things even more there have been remakes and remakes of sequels... its a whopper to wrap your mind around.
So tonight I have watched two of the most recent entries to the franchise.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D begins as a simple remake of the original film but soon diverts into it's own thing with new concepts and an entirely different genesis and conclusion. Neither Romero or Russo had any involvement and whats most strange about this film is that it takes place outside of the “Dead” universe. The characters watch the original black & white film on the tv and reference it throughout the entire movie... its weird and yet I enjoyed it. Of course it's hokey and cliched but I was prepared for the worst and found myself immersed enough to get a kick out of it. The dvd doesn't have an option to revert to 2D and so I watched the entire thing in it's intended 3D. My eyes are a little sore now but overall the 3D was well done. The director understands the format and makes good use of it. Rather the usual cheap pop-out tricks (except for the occasional one) the 3D is used more for atmosphere. The zombies are true to Romero's creatures, however the film seriously lacks gore. Whether this is a nod to the 1968 film or not, I don't know. I expected a piece of shit but ended up entertained.
The same director followed it up with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D: RE-ANIMATION. It's a loose prequel to the previous movie and it's better. Andrew Divoff stars as a mortician (played by Sid Haig in the previous movie) who cannot bring himself to cremate corpses and so he stores them (hundreds) in a locked basement. They are exposed to toxic medical waste and as you would expect, they rise from the dead. This is a much more understated film that takes its time. Not a whole lot happens and the film focuses much more on Divoff's character dealing with his predicament. Divoff is surprisingly good, delivering an unexpected performance unlike any of the roles he's known for. Combs is also good and the pairing of these two is thanks to some clever casting. While little zombie action actually happens, the gore is certainly an improvement on the last movie and it's handled with enthusiasm for the genre. I really enjoyed the film, more than the other one, but felt let down by some of the self referential gags thrown in for the sake of it. The events of Romero's first 3 entries in the series are referenced as known outbreaks from the past and yet the previous movie lead us to believe that this universe was outside of Romeros... and to contradict these known outbreaks Combs asks whether the re-animated corpses are fast moving or slow... upon learning they they're slow he refers to them as “Romero Zombies”. I get that its a tongue in cheek nod to the audience but its distracting and removes the viewer from an otherwise decent story.
So yeah... two new movies added to a franchise of seemingly never-ending network of stories. I've just read that the 1968 film is, AGAIN, being remade and, AGAIN, in 3D. This time by Simon West (Con-Air, The Mechanic)... oh dear lord!
Driller Killer is a "video nasty" from 1979, directed by Abel Ferrara. It's a psychological horror film detailing the psychotic breakdown of an artist who's distain for the world around him reaches a boiling point. Ferrara plays the lead character of Reno and his performance is neurotic and frenzied. The film is dark... in fact it's the kind of grimy you can't wash off. It treads familiar territory with comparisons to Taxi Driver and Repulsion and later-on Combat Shock but it examines the descent into madness in a more visceral style. Reno's madness is emphasised with hallucinations and distorted camera angles which add an uneasy quality to an already disturbing film. Affectively the surreal elements are more alarming than the on-screen violence, which itself is graphic and repulsive. Of the video nasties from the 70s (that magnificent era of horror) Driller Killer is probably the most experimental and provoking. It isn't aiming for shock value as much as it's probing into social decay and mental illness. A valuable horror film which launched an important filmmaker's career.
The Chernobyl Diaries has been criticised for being disrespectful to the victims of the disaster. My response would be that all urban legends stem from truths and that we celebrate serial killers on film with disregard for their victims. It's not a disrespectful film at all and if anything, it brings the disaster into conversation. It's not something that's taught in schools and so the movie helpspreserve the historical significance of the lives lost. Aside from all of that the film was also poorly received... hmm, well it worked for me. Written and produced by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity & Insidious) its about a group of tourists traveling through Russia and are convinced to take a tour of Chernobyl, the infamous city abandoned after a nuclear meltdown. Keeping a safe distance from the radioactive epicentre the group find themselves stranded when their vehicle is mysteriously sabotaged. The film then proceeds into familiar territory with spooky noises, sudden startles and lurking figures. Its formula fodder that's worked for years and (for me) I found the Chernobyl setting to be a refreshing and unique approach. Its effectiveness lies in the "less is more" approach (aka the Jaws dealio) where suspense is built using environment, sound and light. A nice touch is also the casting of Nathan Phillips, an Aussie actor I've admired for years. I enjoy seeing him pop up in international films. Oren Peli is forging a name for himself in horror and I hope he sticks with the genre. I suspect he has lots to offer and some of his upcoming projects include Lords of Salem, 51 and Paranormal Activity 5 (hey, its a cash cow thats allowing him to make better stuff).
I was drawn to Paperhouse because of it's director, Bernard Rose. I've liked his work over the years (Candyman, Immortal Beloved, Mr Nice) and was keen to find some of his early stuff. Paperhouse was his third film and as soon as I read the synopsis I had to buy it. How this movie eluded me all these years is beyond me. It tells the story of an 11 year old girl, Anna, who is struck down with glandular fever and suffers frequent black-outs. In her boredom she takes to drawing... her first picture is a house. During her black-outs she finds herself inside her own drawing where she meets a lonely boy. She had drawn him in the top window and forgot to give him legs. She soon realises that she can control this world by adding to her picture in her waking hours. At first fun, her fantasy takes a sinister turn when her alcoholic father finds his way into the drawing... his eyes are removed and he wields a hammer and he's hellbent on bashing Anna. If I had discovered this film when I was a kid it would have scared the living shit out of me. The imagery is great and Bernard Rose establishes himself as a serious director. Its a film that needs to be scratched below the surface and I suspect repeat viewings will reveal less obvious subtexts and parallels. While suitable for children (10+) Paperhouse offers a twisted psychological horror that will frighten the pants off the young'uns. Comparable titles are Mirrormask and The Fall. I'm glad I stumbled upon this one... better late than never.
I pressed play on The Amazing Spider-Man with massive apprehension. I feel a loyalty to Sam Raimi who rebooted the franchise 10 years ago with Toby Maguire as Spidey. It was a good movie followed by an even better sequel... in fact part 2 is one of the best super hero movies of them all in my opinion. And then as we know part 3 was a dud... so rather than making a fourth entry and redeeming the franchise they have decided to start again. I view this as a huge kick in the balls to Raimi and I don't think he deserves that. I don't think the audience does either. So anyway I have just watched The Amazing Spider-Man and I honestly think its even worse than Spider-Man 3. I don't understand the point of retelling the origin story and I don't think it's even done all that well. I don't like Andrew Garfield (his face makes me want to punch it) and I've always found him to be smug and arrogant in interviews and it translates to the screen too. And then there's Emma Stone as his high school love interest... she looks like a 30 year old pretending to be 17. Nothing gels here. The film is overlong and feels like 2 movies crammed together and the character of Lizard just looks stupid. His design and personality might be in line with the comic books but on screen he seems ludicrous... as much as the Sandman did in part 3. Maybe I'm being to harsh and perhaps my mind was made up before I watched it but as I've said many times, I am growing very tired of super-hero/comic book movies. They're a dime a dozen these days and all practically the same. The Amazing Spider-Man is almost all fail with the only praise being Martin Sheen's understated performance as uncle Ben.
I think Magnolia is perfection. I watch it and watch it again and can never find fault with it. Paul Thomas Anderson crafted a deep and richly layered canvas of characters who's lives connect in a story of sadness. It moves along like a piece of music, jumping from one person to another but never becoming convoluted or confusing. I imagine it makes for a fantastic study subject with so many themes carefully woven together... chance, coincidence, loneliness, abuse, regret, abandonment and loss are all but some. Giving it strength is a brilliant soundtrack and a phenomenal cast of performers. All praise worthy with Tom Cruise being a particular stand out. His part in the film is personal and reflects aspects of his own life and its right there for us to see. It's 3 hour running time could have easily been 5 hours... it's a very easy watch. Brilliant.
Nervous and introverted during the day, masked vigilante by night... Griff is a mild mannered client relations officer for a small firm in Sydney. He has a strong sense of morality and a self imposed obligation to rid the streets of filth. Unable to hide his secret from a likeminded girl who understands his life's mission, the two form a unique bond that proves to be revealing and uber cute. Griff The Invisible is a real delight. I am really loving Ryan Kwanten's work and love the fact that he keeps returning to Australia to make home-grown films... he has rejected Hollywood's pull and shows pride in his roots (take notes Melissa George). Its a quirky movie with a genuinely poignant touch that makes it more than simple fodder... in fact it reminded me a lot of the 80s movie Malcolm.
Matthew Mcconaughey needs to spend a weekend at home watching his own movies. Only then will it become obvious to him that he's only ever good when he's making serious movies. I imagine he'll facepalm himself at the absurdity of all those rom-coms and wonder why the fuck he didn't stick with credible projects... if he had declined all of those bullshit movies he would be a bonafide legend right now! Killer Joe is a fantastic film!! It's depraved, brutal and sadistically funny. Joe is a Texas detective who moonlights as a contract killer. He's hired by the dumbest redneck family you can imagine. Emile Hirsch plays the dumbass son who calls upon Joe's services to kill his mother for her $50K life insurance payout. Not having the cash upfront, the family agree to use their virginal daughter/sister as a retainer. Mcconaughy has rarely been better and Thomas Haden Church is brilliant as the uneducated ex-hubby who's in on the deal. Be warned that the film is graphically violent. If you squirm at the sight of heads being bashed in or women having their faces beaten, then you might want to think twice. But if you have a sick sense of humour and want to see fried chicken eaten like you've never see it eaten before then what are you waiting for? The film is directed by William Friekdin and it's fair to say that he's an absolute hero of mine. With films like The French Connection, The Exorcist and Live and Die in LA to his name he is an uncompromising and important filmmaker. The film was released in the US without a rating because the MPAA refused it an R classification. Friedkin will never censor his films and thank God for that. After a decade of decent tv movies and one box office flop (Jade) he has delivered 3 brilliant films in a row. The Hunted, Bug and now Killer Joe. I cannot wait to see what he dishes up next.
Watching Game Change is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. If you disliked Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign then you're probably going to dislike her even more... I held back from the word "hate" because the film does portray a woman thrust into a situation completely out of her depth and it's very clear that her catastrophic campaigning efforts were due to wildly neglegent strategists. With John McCain's campaign in jeopardy his advisors orchestrate a daring change in strategy and invite Palin to become his running mate. Cramming a vetting process from several weeks down to just 5 days, they ignored important information about Palin's abilities. While she exuded confidence she lacked a serious knowledge of ANYTHING outside of Alaska. She didn't know that England has a prime minister and that North and South Korea are two separate countries... the film is brilliant. The performances are incredible and Julianne Moore is nothing short of amazing. Not only does she look the spitting image of Palin but she embodies every nuance and minute character trait. She won the Emmy for her performance and were it not a HBO production I am sure she could have won an Oscar. Ed Harris is also excellent as McCain and Woody Harrelson stands out as the chief strategist responsible for the whole thing. According to insiders, the film is an accurate account. While Palin and McCain have called the film (and the book its based on) a false truth, several other key players from inside the camp are on record endorsing its honesty. Sarah Palin herself is an oddity. While you can't help but sympathise with her unexpected catapult into the public eye, there's also a greater feeling of disgust (and horror) that someone so blatantly dimwitted and ignorant can get so close to The White House. It boggles the mind. Game Change is a great political film with rock solid performances.
"Chained" is a taxing movie. It will suck the life out of you and leave you empty. Those are words of praise, by the way. It's described as a psychological thriller but it plays much more like a sadistic horror. Vincent D'Onofrio plays a serial killer who butchers women almost nightly and buries them beneath his house. He lives on an open plain, isolated from anyone within earshot. He drives a taxi and selects only the right (female) passengers as victims. The story begins when he captures and mother and her 9 year old son. The woman is killed immediately and he keeps the boy as a servant. "This is your life" he tells the child. And so many years pass and as the boy grows older he is groomed and initiated into the world of killing. He witnesses brutal and disgusting slaughters... and that is all I will give you. It's obviously dark and twisted and Vincent D'Onofrio delivers a belter of a performance. He's brilliant. Director Jennifer Lynch's first film was the infamous Boxing Helena and she has only reemerged over the past few years with a few more movies and she's finally starting to shake off the whole "David Lynch's daughter" stigma. She's proving to be a talented filmmaker and Chained is possibly her best. The title does suck though and both she and D'Onofrio fought to have it released as "Rabbit" (the boy's slave name). While the title "Rabbit" is too closely associated with her dad's work, surely some other title would have suited the film better. Regardless this is worth your time. Nasty good!
A business man, father of two, is retrenched and has a psychotic breakdown. A proud and strict family man, he gives his kids and wife the day off and drives them to a house in the country where he embarks on an axe wielding rampage. It's a simple but effective plot... an underlying story soon emerges to help fuel the rage but there's not a lot else to the movie. Its kind of a cross between 'Severance' and 'Straightheads' but nowhere near as good. The lead actor plays the psycho well but it's an overall average movie. Seemingly shot on video it looks cheap and there's no real style to any of the photography. At best it feels like a good student film but not something worth more than a buck or two to see. I love a good axe-muder flick and this isn't one I'll turn to next time I need my fix. I'll watch 'Frailty' instead.
Thanks to Re-Animator I have a strange loyalty to Brian Yuzna. He was an influential figure in my early developing passion for horror and yet there comes a point when I have to face the fact that he's not the God I want him to be... hell, he didn't even direct for first Re-Animator (I also have a loyalty to Stuart Gordon). I really want to love his films The Dentist 1 & 2 but sadly, they're average at best with a gross made-for-tv feel about them. I do, however, appreciate what Yuzna was trying to accomplish and he was onto something special. Horror movies tap into our fears and what better subject matter than the dentist?? A script should practically write itself and with absolute conviction it could have been a groundbreaking entry in the genre. There's some good gore and great close up dental carnage but flimsy direction and cardboard performances render the two movies useless. As stringently opposed to remakes as I am, I would actually love to see someone take another stab at The Dentist. There's a good movie in it somewhere and its time to tap into it again.
My appreciation for Event Horizon grows stronger every time I watch it. What I first considered a decent sci-fi flick I now regard as a solid, highly effective horror film. In scientific terms, an event horizon is the point of no return to a black hole... in the film it is also the name of a research vessel which vanished while on an experimental mission generate an artificial black hole. The film begins with the familiar set up from 2001 A Space Odyssey. Years after its disappearance the Event Horizon sends a distress call upon which a salvage crew is sent to investigate. Once they arrive, the crew board the ship to discover evidence of a massacre. The ship suddenly powers-up and sends a shockwave through the crew's own ship, forcing them to board the Event Horizon until their own can be fixed. What they discover is that the Event Horizon actually managed to leave the known universe into another dimension where chaos reigns. Soon they crew begin to experience hallucinations, violent outbursts and complete madness. Its such a great film. It uses familiar conventions with a few cliched elements but it ultimately stands above the ordinary sci-fi horror. In fact I would say its the best sci-fi horror since Alien. Violent, smart and scary.... worthy of repeat viewings!