1987 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie # 5
Whenever Albert Pyun's talents are brought into question I draw attention to movies like DOWN TWISTED. Right through the 80s and 90s he made a whole heap of zingers and this one was a whole lot of fun. In some territories the film is know as THE TREASURE OF SAN LUCAS, which is an equally apt title. It's about a regular girl who lives a quiet life. One night while on the way to the library she finds herself caught up in series of criminal dealings when she is mistaken for her roommate who was supposed to deliver a locker key to dangerous smugglers. Tied up on a yacht with a businessman who was also caught up in the mix-up, they jump ship and swim to shore. Now stuck somewhere in South America with crooks on their trail they must find a way to safety and prove themselves innocent. Nothing is what it seems and the story takes all kinds of twists and turns, keeping the viewer on their toes. This is a whole lot of fun and watching it reminds me a lot of ROMANCING THE STONE. It's a quality movie and hugely overlooked. In fact its never received any kind of DVD release and finding it on VHS is near impossible. Such a shame too because it deserves to be remembered alongside some of the more prominent comedy-action-adventures of the 80s. Pyun's control is showcased with fantastic action sequences, inventive cinematography and his knack for a killer soundtrack. DOWN TWISTED also features Courteney Cox in her film debut. If you pay any attention to Albert's career you find that he's been responsible for a lot of successful Hollywood careers. He obviously has an eye for talent.
If you live in Melbourne then keep your eyes peeled for upcoming screenings of Albert's films. DOWN TWISTED will definitely be on the lineup!
2013 / Director. Andrew Traucki.
Andrew Traucki's first two films were BLACK WATER and THE REEF. Both were exceptionally tense and effective nature-vs-man thrillers and announced him as an important new talent on the scene. When I read that his third feature film was called THE JUNGLE, my heart rate rose a little. Where he had previously dealt with crocodiles and sharks, this new chiller promised big cats. Even more reason to get excited! So I walked into the cinema with reasonably high expectations - and I walked out shattered. The ethos of this site is to reflect on positive aspects of films and glaze over the negatives. The problem with THE JUNGLE is that there aren't any positives. It pains me to write a scathing critique but I owe you my honest opinions, free of sugar-coating. I was expecting the film to be a straight and controlled narrative but was confronted with a lousy and uninspired found-footage movie. Regular readers will know that I'm not a fan of the format. So once I realised what I was watching, I adjusted my frame of mind and accepted it... now lets see how well they handle it... not very well. It tells the story of two Australian researchers who venture into the jungles of Indonesia to document a rare leopard, which is on the verge of extinction. Along with their two local guides they find themselves being stalked by something very large. There is nothing new here and we've seen it so many times before. THE JUNGLE is essentially The Blair Witch Project Redux. It follows an almost identical narrative arch and even has the audacity to rip off most of Blair Witch's tricks (verbatim). Lots of night vision, noises in the dark and an elusive "thing" always nearby, always lurking. That's basically the entire movie and when there's no tension on the screen, we're insulted with terrible dialogue and really woeful acting. I was so so disappointed and while I still regard Andrew Traucki as an impressive new talent, I have reigned in my praise. After making two impressive chillers he has delivered an underwhelming and uninspired stinker and I wont be holding much hope for whatever he brings us next.
2013 / Director. Daniel Armstrong.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
One of my favourite words when discussing cinema is "throwback". I was a child of the 80s and can't think of a better era for genre filmmaking... and when a movie takes me back to some of my fondest memories then it gets my undivided attention. By no means is "throwback" a negative connotation either and MURDERDROME instantly won me over. This is a slasher movie straight out of the 80s that recalls classics like THE PROWLER, MY BLOODY VALENTINE andPROM NIGHT. To say it gave me a horror-geek hard-on (my 1986 self wants to say stiffy) is an understatement. With the tried, true and classic formula of the tormented victim returning to exact bloody revenge, MURDERDROME has the added hook of being set in the world of roller derby. The combination of such a colourful and vibrant sport with the bloody hallmarks of slasher make it an uber fun and unique experience. I won't even bother to go into the storyline because it's irrelevant. What I will say is that it's full of strong, gorgeous scantily clad women, drop-kick blokes and a showcase of fantastic SFX. The girls are on skates for the entire duration of the film and it keeps the movie energetic. Aesthetically it looks pristine with its neon colour scheme and sharp cinematography. The camera is always controlled, especially when weaving in and out of the roller action. Its tone reminded me a lot of Brian Trenchard-Smith's classic DEAD END DRIVE-IN and as one movie-nerd to another, that's a huge compliment. The soundtrack is also killer and the opening title sequence is particularly awesome. I could have easily watched another 10 minutes of into. Good movies need to snag you from the getgo and MURDERDROME does that. There's a wide appeal to it too. It never becomes so gratuitous that it won't appeal to fans of the more quirky kind of subversive cinema. Of course it's full of gory goodness but it never takes itself seriously and its offering of a good time will be its biggest strength. I would consider it an instant cult-classic and I certainly hope it enjoys longevity with a loyal fanbase. It's deserving of it.
The trailer doesn't nearly do it justice but you will get the idea.
2013 / Director. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash.
It really does seem like I've been saving the best films of the year for last. The credits for THE WAY WAY back are now rolling and I still have the remaining tingles fluttering their way out of my system. I'm a sucker for really good coming-of-age films - the kind that stir up emotions - and this has delivered a mighty blow to my system. It tells the story of Duncan, a 14 year old boy who is being dragged along to his mother's new boyfriend's beach house. His mother's attention is on other things and the boyfriend (Steve Carell) is a domineering asshole. Duncan is ghost. Invisible to everyone around him and on his way to severe depression. When he meets a happy-go-lucky manager of a local water-park, Owen (Sam Rockwell), he lands himself a job and suddenly finds himself in an environment that values him. Owen becomes a best friend and protector, encouraging greatness within himself and AnnaSophia Robb plays a neighbouring girl who also takes an interest in him. I admit that I write a sappy synopsis but THE WAY WAY BACK is a beautiful film. The cast is fantastic with Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb and Rob Corddry lending a strong dramatic tone to what is otherwise an amusing story of one kid's journey to the discovery of self-worth. For many years MEATBALLS has been one of my all time favourite coming-of-age films and I think that it's hugely under appreciated. THE WAY WAY BACK recalls the same sense of poignancy and inhibition. Sam Rockwell's character in the film bares a striking resemblance and purpose to Bill Murray's character in MEATBALLS and the character arc of the lead teenager takes a familiar course. A very solid film and one that I will be revisiting soon. Makes some time to check it out.
2013 / Director. Stuart Simpson.
Every review you're going to read about CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY VANILLA is going to draw comparisons to TAXI DRIVER.... and while that's a flattering sentiment, it's not entirely fair because the only parallel is the overall character arch. So I wont compare the two - oh wait...
It's also tricky for me to convince you that I have seen this film without bias. I've made no secret that I love Stuart Simpson's work and I'm one of many who tout him as the next big thing. Having said that, I write it as I see it and CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY VANILLA is quite possibly my favourite film of the year - regardless of it's director. It's the story of Warren, a meek and mild-mannered Mr Whippy driver. Life hasn't been kind to him and when his all time favourite tv-soap starlet visits his van, things begin to look up. Showing him a kindness he hasn't known before but so desperately yearned for, she ignites a passion within him. Some people might say it's an obsession, but I didn't read it that way. The film was written by Addison Heath and his script is surprisingly poignant. I don't know if this story was personal to him or whether he simply tapped into a passion for dark comedy but CSV has been written by someone who ought to be established and lauded. The fact that he's in his mid 20s is absurd! The film itself looks incredible and is a huge departure from Simpson's previous two films. Where Demons|Among|Us and El Monstro Del Mar were hard-edged explorations of carnage and depravity, CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY VANILLA is sincere and heartfelt and while I'm convinced that Simpson is an indie genius and that Heath's talent with words is irrefutable, the film would be nothing without the incredible performance of Glenn Maynard. When he appears for the first time at the opening of the film I was concerned that it was going to be a hammed up caricature performance but within only a few minutes he reaches in and tears your heart out. This isn't good acting, it's great acting. From a child-like innocence and naivety to a self-destructive descent into madness and every emotion in between, Maynard comes across as a man possessed - he's that good. The film looks amazing too. It's controlled and deliberate and as a viewer I trusted that the journey I was on was worth the ride. This ISN'T a Taxi Driver knock-off. This isn't a social commentary about the decline of society. It's a personal and introverted character study that will hopefully force some people to reflect upon their own actions in life.
I hate it when my enthusiasm and elation for films gets the better of me. Films like this evoke passion from me and I can't write about them without sounding fanatical - but so be it. My own personality is incredibly extroverted when filtered through a computer but in reality I am withdrawn and introverted. I understood the character of Warren and found the film moving. It certainly struck a chord and it's easily one of my favourites for the year, if not THE favourite.
2012 / Director. Peter Hewitt.
There's only one place to put your expectations when watching something like HOME ALONE 5 - in the shitter. The first two movies in the series speak for themselves and have become staple Christmas favourites. I was one of the few people who liked the third one and still consider it to be underrated. And then of course a really terrible fourth movie came along. It was made for television and it was cheap 'n nasty. And so when HOME ALONE 5 found its way into my possession I wasn't exactly itching to watch it. It is also a made-for-television movie but I have to confess that there was an added curiosity for me... it was directed by Peter Hewitt. His name might not ring any bells for you but for me this was the suggestion that HOME ALONE 5 might be a return to form (of sorts). Some of Hewitt's previous films include Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, The Borrowers, Garfield, Zoom, Thunderpants and Tom & Huck... and so from a film-geek perspective Peter Hewitt is about as close to the John Hughes/Chris Colombus aura as the franchise could get. Malcolm McDowell also stars as one of the bumbling burglars and that was an added curiosity for me. - So what's the movie like? Better than part 4 and that's about it. The premise is the same only this time a brother and sister are left home alone during a snowstorm and three thieves stage a heist on the house knowing that a valuable piece of art lays hidden in a secret underground prohibition-era bar beneath the basement. It begins with a strong made-for-tv feel but when the action starts to pick up, the quality does improve. Some of the booby-trap creations are well handled and there's some surprisingly creative editing and montage work. I guess that's attributed to Hewitt's experience on larger films. So yeah, HOME ALONE 5... the kids might like it but most parents won't.
2006 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #46
My patience is really tested by films like COOL AIR and even my dogged devotion to Albert Pyun cannot compel me to heap praise on this horrible movie. The story is a loose adaptation of an HP Lovecraft short story about a struggling writer who seeks accommodation and accepts a room in a large hillside house. No sooner than he moves in he begins to smell an obnoxious odour coming from a secret and forbidden room upstairs. The room belongs to a bed-ridden doctor who keeps the temperature at sub-zero temperatures, keeping his flesh from decomposing. The story itself is a good one and while I haven't read Lovecraft's story, I know that it's aesthetically and thematically different to this adaptation. One of the qualities that draws me to Albert's work is his strong visual style. He has created some amazing worlds and where his often lacks substance in story, he compensates with vivid and appealing designs. COOL AIR is the complete lack of all of that. The story should lend itself to a gothic, classic retelling but instead it has been filmed inside a bare, ugly modern mansion. There is almost nothing appealing to the eye and the compositions are bland, boring and uninspiring. I have no idea what Albert shot the film with but it looks a lot like a regular mini-dv camcorder. The only way to adapt a story like this is to have a good production value. A soundstage would lend itself brilliantly. It's pretty shonky. The performances are decent enough, however, with little substance to work with the actors come off a lot worse than they should. The original short story is told though narration, which would work well in writing but this movie emulates that aspect and becomes really grading. Oddly COOL AIR was made between two quality Pyun films. I get the sense that Albert was keen to fill in time and this proved a simple, inexpensive and straight forward shoot. If it were a student film I might be impressed but it's no. Its the product of a movie veteran. It ranks right down the bottom with some of his worst movies but considering that i love so much of Albert's work, I can easily over look this one. To be honest I am surprised that Lionsgate even released it on dvd... especially when they're release came early this year - some 7 years after it was made.
2013 / Director. Don Coscarelli.
I must be one of the last film geeks to see JOHN DIES AT THE END. I missed it's brief cinema run and have been anxiously waiting its legitimate release. All good things to those who wait. Being a fan of director Don Coscarelli (what genre fan isn't?) my expectations were uncharacteristically high. He's a filmmaker maker who bides his time and usually delivers impassioned and loving films. JOHN DIES AT THE END is no exception. Without revealing much, it's the story of two friends, Dave & John, who have gained the ability of premonition through a drug called Soy Sauce. With an impending world invasion these two dufus's find themselves in the thick of it. They consider themselves as guns for hire (sort of) and carry themselves like oafish Ghostbusters and what ensues is a trippy, violent and complex meltdown of reality. This is a wicked movie that plays out like an amalgamation of DONNIE DARKO and SCOTT PILGRIM with the slightest hint of BILL & TED. It's highly original and the film's biggest strength is it's practical SFX. As with his previous films Coscarelli makes brilliant use of puppets and various other physical creations. There are a few subtle CGI moments thrown in but they're blended in nicely so that they mostly go unnoticed. JOHN DIES AT THE END is another fantastic throwback to movies of the 80s. We're starting to see a lot of these nostalgic genre films, which validates the argument that movies were better then. That puppets are better than computers and that actually icky sticky blood is far more effective than any digital composite. Great comic performances and the presence of Paul Giamatti (he also produced) make this movie a cut above the rest. The vision is creative and new and unlike anything I've seen in ages. Coscarelli reigns!
2012 / Director. Éric Falardeau.
Every so often films come along that challenge our limits. Recent years have seen films like A SERBIAN FILM and HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 push audience's thresholds with disturbing, graphic and repulsive imagery. Try wrapping your tongue around THANAMATOMORPHOSE. When the title alone is challenging then you know you've got a a tricky film on your hands. I've had this film sitting on my coffee table for weeks now and I've been waiting until the right mood strikes me. I might be an avid horror fan but I find these sorts of exercises in depravity very taxing. THANATOMORPHOSE is the story of a woman who's body begins to decompose. At first showing signs of bruising, it isn't long before her fingernails start peeling off and her flesh continues to rot. It's when she starts to get sexual gratification from her own decay that the viewer is really tested. Needless to say this is an ugly, repulsive film - but that's not to say that it's a bad one. There is definitely an artistic merit to it. Made on a flimsy budget, the film makes excellent use of it's single apartment location. The cinematography is elegant and an atmospheric violin score gives it an unexpected beauty. The lead performance from Kayden Rose is amongst the most courageous I've seen in years. Sex and death have been explored in art since the conception of art itself but very rarely have the two been intertwined so texturally as this. Watching it recalled memories of seeing NEKROMANTIK for the first time. I have come away from it with the same mixed emotions. I feel exhausted and icky. I like what I have seen as much as I deplore it. These images will stick in my head for years to come, like a phlegm-wad solidifying in my brain. It has me thinking about what Disney film I'm going to watch next. If you gravitate towards these sorts of films then look to Monster Pictures to find it. Very few retailers in Australia (zero major ones) stock it. In fact they've flat-out refused to. And so once again Monster step-up! I can't imagine revisiting THANATOMORPHOSE in a hurry but I expect plenty of discussion about it. Putrid. Disgusting. Nauseating and perverted... yet all the while graceful. Yuck!
1998 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie # 32
Albert Pyun told me that POSTMORTEM was amongst the films he's most proud of because it was one of his few exercises in mainstream filmmaking. It proved to people that he wasn't just a B-movie director and he was capable of breaking free of that mould. It is by far his most accessible film and possibly one of his more controlled and restrained. Charlie Sheen stars as a retired American forensic detective living in Scotland. He lives in a remote house isolated from people, struggling to escape the demons of his previous case. Shortly after a tabloid TV program attempts to muckrake him he receives an obituary via fax of a girl who's still alive. The next day she is found dead in his yard and he is arrested for her murder. As the bodies pile up he is dropped as a suspect and asked to lend his expertise on the case. POSTMORTEM plays out very nicely. It's an understated film and underrated. During the mid to late 90s after a decade of bankable titles and before he made his big comeback on television, Sheen hit a slump and pumped out a string of direct to video releases. Movies like BAD DAY ON THE BLOCK, NO CODE OF CONDUCT, LETTERS FROM DEATH ROW and of course POSTMORTEM. No surprises when I say that I actually like those films and POSTMORTEM is easily the best. It has a decent script, a good story and solid performances. Notable actors such as Gary Lewis, Stephen McCole and Ivana Miličević lend extra confidence and combined with a dreary Scottish atmosphere and good cinematography it strikes a chord. It feels very much like an instalment of PRIME SUSPECT and could be easily mistaken for one. When it comes to Albert Pyun's films I prefer him working in a cultish B-movie realm but a film such as this goes a long way in subduing his critics. It is slightly overlong with an inflated end-scene but that's about as far as I'd want to go with criticisms. I have seen POSTMORTEM a few times and it's strength far outweighs it's negatives.
Terrible American trailer. Does the film NO justice!
2013 / Directors. Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg.
I passed on THIS IS THE END during it's cinema run and I really wish I hadn't. It wasn't for lack of interest... I just had too much shit going on. I would LOVE to have seen it with an audience because I laughed my ass off watching it tonight. I'm talking some serious "throat hurts" ROFLS. Speaking to people who have seen it, there have been various reactions. Some loved it, many didn't. I really dig the brand of comedy these guys make. I've enjoyed almost everything they've produced from Superbad to Pineapple Express... Knocked Up and even Your Highness. I think the key to getting the most out of their films is to fully understand their dynamics. These guys are a tight pack. They're friends before colleagues and understanding their unity elevates the humour. That definitely applies to THIS IS THE END. Its a self referential, high concept piss-take. Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson all play fictional versions of themselves. At a house party at Franco's mansion, hell rises and the apocalypse arrives. The world turns into a furness and mankind is obliterated. All good souls are taken to heaven, leaving these guys alone to fend for themselves. The set up is ripe for the picking and the film comes at you from all sorts of comical directions. From slapstick sight gags to hilarious interactions. Filled to the brim with celebrity cameos, THIS IS THE END feels personal. You get the feeling that the story is partially motivated by the guilt of stardom and an acknowledgement to their audience that they're well aware of the rubbish they make. Well I personally think that their films are smarter than people give them credit for, even at their worst. The movie is slightly overlong but easily overlooked when ends on such a great scene. THIS IS THE END is unexpected, hilarious and just plain fun. Hard not to get caught up in it's satire.
2013 / Director. Peter Landesman.
The casting of PARKLAND reads like a Robert Altman film. It's a who's who of Hollywood and just when you think they can't squeeze any more personalities into the picture, another one pops up... and another... The film chronicles the aftermath of John F Kennedy's assassination in Dallas. It begins with the motorcade, the shooting and the chaotic frenzy that filled the city that afternoon. It's a historical account of the lives directly affected by Kennedy's death, as opposed to an investigation or biopic of the president's final hours. With the film we follow the medical staff at the Parkland hospital who not only worked on JFK but also Lee Harvey Oswald one day later. We also follow the man who filmed the famous footage of Kennedy being shot as well as Oswald's family, and secret service personnel. The film is erratic and volatile and captures the mayhem of the event really well. It never bothers to explore conspiracy theories or accommodate such notions and chooses to depict the events as they occurred. With this in mind and the information provided at the end it's safe to assume that it's a fairly accurate story. All of the countless performances are strong and there are some surprise revelations including Zac Efron and Tom Welling. It's also great to see Jackie Weaver reappearing in all sorts of Hollywood films. Having slogged it out in Australia for several decades she's finally getting the international recognition she deserves. She's excellent in PARKLAND as Lee Harvey Oswald's mentally unstable mother. There have been many films made on the subject over the years and PARKLAND serves as the least bias and potentially most accurate. It plays like a documentary and held me attention from start to finish. A solid film.
1988 / Director. Neil Jordan.
Neil Jordan, Peter O'Toole, Liam Neeson, Steve Guttenberg, Daryl Hannah, Beverly D'Angelo, Jennifer Tilly, Connie Booth, Peter Gallagher and Liz Smith - such an ensemble of talent is hard to refuse. 1988's HIGH SPIRITS seemed like an event. Director Neil Jordan was riding high, having previously made Angel, Mona Lisa and The Company Of Wolves. He seemed to have a knack for atmospheric storytelling and HIGH SPIRITS could have been a fantastic romp. Sadly it's a mess. Actually, it's a steaming pile of funky ectoplasm. What should have been a frivolous and quirky misadventure was reduced to a disjointed and chaotic farce. An Irish family face the threat of losing their ancestral castle and hatch a scam to lure gullible American tourists on the promise of being haunted. The staff dress up as apparitions, banshees and an assortment of other idiotic ghouls but when the guests reject the scam and try to leave, the castle's REAL ghosts have other ideas. HIGH SPIRITS is too shambolic for my liking. It could have been great if only it had adopted more of a Monty Python sensibility. I revisit it every few years on the hope that it will win me over but it never manages to hold me attention. It feels more like a noisy Halloween party or a performance at Draculas restaurant. The tragedy is that HIGH SPIRITS is shot really well and the set design is fantastic. Aesthetically it reminds me of Young Frankenstein and Haunted Honeymoon (two personal favs) but a terrible script and trite performances reduce it to muck. I can't even embrace it as a cult film. I'll try again in a few years. lol (i want to like it)
1972 / Director. Alfred Hitchcock.
I've been on a Hitchcock bender lately and tonight's treat was FRENZY. This was the first Hitchcock film I had ever seen. My parents (gotta love 'em) let me watch it with them when I was 8 or 9 years old. It's imagery has always left an impression on me and the film was hugely influential during my teens. I made it a point to see as many Hitchcock films as possible. Having recently returned to England after several decades making films in Hollywood, he upped the ante with this psycho thriller. With the late 60s and 70s giving rise to risky and provocative filmmakers like Brian DePalma, Roman Polanski and Michael Powell it was finally time for Hitch to test his own boundaries. FRENZY was his final opus. A perverse and darkly comical thriller about a neck-tie serial killer who terrorises the streets of London. The first thing that's so striking about the film is it's sense of pride. London is filmed with solace and shots of the London Bridge and Covent Garden almost feel like Hitchcock has knelt down and kissed his home soil. He was happy to be back. The film itself is shockingly sordid and perverted. The scenes of rape and murder are horrifying and yet thickly layered with humour. With new a new freedom to be explicit, Hitchcock exploited the material with a cheshire-cat grin. He has used many of his classic themes, none more bankable than the mistaken identity angle. This has always worked for him in the past and with several failed espionage films weighing him down, FRENZY was a return to form. A return to sex and murder - only now it's no longer implied - and we get to see it. The players are all great with Jon Finch and Barry Forster belting out two brilliant performances. It would have been nice for FRENZY to have been Hitchcock's final film. What a way to finish a legendary career... but alas he made one more film, FAMILY PLOT, which was easily one of his lesser productions. But never mind that because FRENZY WAS Hitch's last hurrah. FRENZY is .... "lovely".
1932 / Director. Alfred Hitchcock.
NUMBER 17 is one of Hitchcock's lesser films and it was actually a film he never wanted to make. He was under studio contract and had no choice. The story way based on a play of the same name and tells the story of a gang of criminals who have stashed their loot from a recent heist inside an abandoned house. The property is situated beside a railway that leads to the English channel... the perfect place to make a getaway. Their plan is foiled when a detective, joined by a neighbouring woman, walks into the house . It's a strange and perplexing film and to be honest, it's hard to piece together. We're never really introduced to any of these characters and we come into the story as though midway through the plot. The film doesn't bother to explain why the detective is there and why a strange servant lurks in the shadows. Years later Hitchcock spoke about the film and dismissed it as nonsense. He thought it to be stupid and illogical. Watching it 80 years since it's release the movie actually has a lot going for it. The plot becomes irrelevant when the style and technical aspects prove to be enthralling. Hitchcock employed all sorts of tricks and gimmickry to elevate the material and his use of shadows, miniature sets and unexpected camera angles makes it a wonderful and nostalgic viewing. The speeding train sequence is awesome. One of the more curious - and appealing - qualities to the film it's the humour. Hitch's remedy to a script he found to be boring was to jam-pack it with comedy. His wicked flair for antics and slapstick make it even more absurd. Of his early work NUMBER 17 is possibly his worst but the fact that it's still a fun watch is a testament to the master of suspense.