1987 / Director. Mike Firth.
This is my final review for 2013 and I sure as hell wasn't expecting it to be THE LEADING EDGE. An import DVD copy arrived in the post today as a bonus film with another one I had purchased. Having just watched a couple of b-movies earlier, I thought I'd give this one a whirl. I watched it once, years ago but didn't remember much of it. It tells the story of an American snow skier who visits New Zealand in the winter months with an ambition to ski some of the country's more hazardous mountains, particularly volcanoes. During his vacation he meets a whole lot of ocker locals and is convinced to participate in the gruelling four hour Ironman endurance competition. With the help of his new friends he trains for the tournament and has a holiday of a lifetime in the process. In 1976 director Mike Firth made a documentary about snow extreme snow skiing called OFF THE EDGE. 11 years later he returned to the subject with this film, which is almost documentary in it's approach. Despite having a narrative all of the actors are pro-skiers, most who were prominent at the time. In between dialogue and comical set-ups the film is mostly comprised of ski footage. Arial shots of mountainous show fields and picturesque landscapes make it more of a travelog as opposed to a movie. I'm not quite sure what the point of it all is. Without the terrible dialogue it's more or less a tourism pitch. The skiing is professional and it's captured wonderfully but none of it really makes sense. I would like to propose a drinking game. Gather with friends and down 1 shot every time this American dickhead yells "ALRIGHT!" as he flies downhill. At once point an avalanche threatens to wipe him out and all I could think was "ALRIGHT!" It's a shame to end the year on a low point like this... but such is life. At least the movie is full of some epic 80s hairstyles, including a most bodacious mullet - the likes of which has never graced the screens before. "You beauty. Rippa!"
2008 / Director. Erik Estenberg.
MONSTER is The Asylum's attempt to cash in on CLOVERFIELD. Known for their mockbusters MONSTER is one of their smartest exploits, financially speaking. The entire movie is presented as found footage from a video camera of two American sisters who are caught in Tokyo during a gigantic monster attack. At first it's assumed to be an earthquake until glimpses of mammoth tentacles are captured engulfing buildings. I said that it's a smart movie but not because of it's story or it's writing (they're terrible) but because it was made for next to no budget and yet would have sold units to retailers worldwide, this raking in a small fortune for The Asylum. The footage presents a chaotic and destructive atmosphere but close attention will realise that this is all captured with the simple use of a shaky camera and glitchy footage. Any special FX are brief and concealed from the erratic nature of the footage. With constant screaming, sirens and rumble saturating the audio track the film feels frantic when it's really not. Of course MONSTER isn't a patch on CLOVERFIELD and the acting is atrocious, but it's an enjoyable knock-off if you're in a forgiving frame of mind. When the creature is seen, the FX aren't too shabby and fleeting glimpses of fighter jets and destruction are well conceived. There was plenty of room for this movie to be so much better but the Asylum are never about being good. Get yourself shit-faced and take a shot of whiskey every time the two sisters say "but we're Americans" and you might just wake up in the ER getting your stomach pumped.
2013 / Director. Josh Michael Stern.
Upon it's release JOBS was met with a lot of criticism and was most notably dismissed by the people who are portrayed in the film. The co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, was less than impressed about the depiction of his relationship with Steve Jobs. Such negativity is unfortunate because what gets lost is the fact that the film represents the essence of Steve Jobs rather than the man himself. Some of the greatest historical films are build upon falsehoods and creative liberties and JOBS is no different. Perhaps time will be kinder to it. The film chronicles the formation of Apple Inc and follows it's rise-fall-rise through to 2001 when the iPod was launched. When you stop concentrating on inaccuracies and begin to understand the film's focus, it proves to be a fascinating and totally enthralling story. Steve Jobs was a man with a vision to change the world and the film is about THAT story. With a steely determination and refusal to settle for second best, Jobs forged against the odds and created a brand and a product that would become not only the most innovative of our time, but also the most life changing. It's with this knowledge that we watch the film. Many of us will actually watch the film ON an Apple device... heck, I'm writing this on one. The film plays heavily on the idea that Jobs wanted Apple to become an extension of our lifestyle and with iPhones and iPads his dream was realised. The film doesn't paint a rosy picture of the man either and he's portrayed as a arrogant asshole... however his genius is irrefutable. Such greatness is at a sacrifice to qualities the rest of us might admire. According to production notes and various articles, the film was well researched and much of it's content comes directly from interviews and personal accounts (including Jobs' family). How Jobs is represented is an amalgamation of multiple sources. Ashton Kutcher's performance is excellent and with his uncanny likeness, he embodies the man brilliantly. I think this is an outstanding film and I hope that it appreciates with time. Perhaps Steve Jobs' death is still too fresh for such a film so soon and maybe the liberties they've taken have been misconstrued. What the man represented is absolutely captured and THAT'S what the film is about. My only question is - what the hell is James Woods doing in it? He's on screen for 2 minutes MAX! What the?
1998 / Director. David Swann.
Surprisingly (or maybe not) CRACKERS is amongst the cultiest of movies in my video store. Every Christmas, without fail, it's one of the hottest rentals and people come out of the woodwork to reserve it. Australia has very few Christmas movies of it's own and I guess CRACKERS strikes a chord with people. It's a festive movie that celebrates the Aussie larrikin and represents a typical (albeit dysfunctional) Aussie family. We might not all be like this family but I'm sure all of us can relate these characters to people in our own lives. Set during the week leading up to Christmas the film's protagonist, Joey, is forced to endure a stay with his grandparents. The time is spent with daggy relatives and exaggerated Australian stereotypes and offers a light hearted and affectionate take on our own culture. It's not a great movie by any means but it's a fun one. If you think of THE CASTLE and throw in a good amount of DON'S PARTY when you'll know what you're in for. The performances are all good with particularly affective turns from young Daniel Kellie (where's he now?) and the legendary Warren Mitchell. I like the movie and it grows on me every time I watch it. It does lose it's way in the second half and almost forgets that it's a Christmas story, but nevertheless it's done with a tongue in cheek and a wink at the viewer. Overall a nice alternative comedy when you're tired of the same old repeats.
1984 / Director. Joseph Zito.
In the early 80s James Cameron wrote a treatment for a RAMBO sequel and the idea had crossed over many desks. Obviously it passed through the Cannon Group's office because they seized the opportunity and made an almost identical film, MISSING IN ACTION, and managed to release it just two months before RAMBO. Chuck Norris' legend was born from movies like this. It's jam packed with hero shots as he treks into the jungles of Vietnam to infiltrate an illegal POW camp and rescue American soldiers who had been held captive for over a decade since the war ended. As far as war films go, MISSING IN ACTION is a B-movie and lives up to the expectations of a blow-em-up, kill-em-all action flick. It's jam packed with action sequences and doesn't let up. That's what I love about it. Chuck Norris is hard to resist and the hilarious legend (memes really) that has grown around him is easy to understand when you see shots of Chuck rising out of the water in slow motion, branding a fully automatic machine gun... or scenes of him single handedly taking on entire squads of enemy soldiers. The film was shot back-to-back with part 2 and this first film was originally set to be the sequel. At the last minute Cannon decided that this story was stronger and switched the movies around... therefore MISSING IN ACTION 2 is actually a prequel. I can't decide which is the better order to watch them but regardless of the confusion, they're both a lot of fun. The locations are good, the action is excessive and the Asian stereotypes are hilarious... Damn I love the 80s!
2006 / Director. Paul Feig.
Every year our family loves to indulge in festive movies. It's a fun way to spend time together and puts us in the Christmas spirit. We do all of the staple classics but also like to branch out and watch some of the more obscure and unconventional holiday movies (I use those terms loosely). A couple of years ago I attempted to watch UNACCOMPANIED MINORS on my own. I lasted 10 minutes before turning it off. It wasn't in the right frame of mind and it was terrible. This year with the kids in tow I tempted it again. This is a good example of my personal ethos to watching films - always be in the right head space. It's a kids movie. It's not looking to please adults... it's an attempt to elicit giggles from little ones. Upon this second viewing it did just that and it even got some big laughs out of us parents. 7 kids all flying unaccompanied find themselves grounded and stuck in an airport during a blizzard on Christmas eve. Not content to be stuck in a holding pen with other unaccompanied minors, this bunch of motley juveniles decide to evade the grouchy head of security and run amok throughout the terminal. It's low-brow and puerile but a whole lot of fun if you're willing to give yourself over to it. The movie is directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) and features unexpected appearances from the likes of Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch (from Kids In The Hall), David Koechner, Rob Corddry and Kristen Wiig - amongst others. It plays out like a later John Hughes movie and is best described as THE BREAKFAST CLUB for tweens. Plenty of laugh out loud moments with a sincere and good-natured holiday charm. Watch it with kids and you'll get a whole lot more out of it.
1980 / Director. Art Linson.
Anyone who's not familiar with Hunter S Thompson would struggle with WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM. Without that knowledge it's a chaotic and dysfunctional mess... however, with the man's reputation and legacy in mind, the film is superb. One year after making his feature film debut in MEATBALLS, Bill Murray assaulted audiences with this incredible performance. I think it's amongst the best of his career and considering the time it was made and that his career was still in it's infancy, it was a ballsy role to take on. If you loved FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS then you must check this out (if you haven't already). Similar in tone, it depicts Thompson's career throughout the late 60s and early 70s. In a constant state of chemical influence, he leaves a wake of mayhem behind him as he works his way from story to story... and never misses a deadline. Murray's portrayal is excellent. Hollywood legend says that he was so immersed into the character that it took him months to break away from it, to the point that it affected his time on Saturday Night Live. It's also the type of performance he has never emulated again. Peter Boyle co-stars as Hunter's attorney, who becomes a psychotic activist. This character was certainly a real life figure but his name and backstory have been granted liberties. Of course there are other creative licences in the film but to criticise them is to miss the point. The crux of WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM is the whole fact vs fiction thing. Like FEAR & LOATHING this film is more about the man's state of mind, rather than his work itself. It's a wonderful character study and a hugely undervalued film. I'd go so far as to consider it better than FEAR & LOATHING. Bill Murray dug deep and delivered a knock-out.
2013 / Director. Neil Blomkamp.
ELYSIUM is Neil Blomkamp's brassy follow up to his amazing debut film, DISTRICT 9. It could be considered a spiritual sequel, however, it is a whole new story set in another time. It tells the story of a ravished and impoverished Earth in the year 2154 where the wealthy have abandoned the planet to live on a gigantic artificial platform-planet called Elysium, which sits in Earth's orbit and is visible to the poor who inhabit the leftovers. Matt Damon stars as an ex-con who is exposed to lethal doses of radiation in an industrial accident and needs to reach Elysium to be cured. Jodie Foster co-stars as Elysium's ruthless defense secretary who will stop at nothing to protect the wealthy society. The film is a race against time with a vicious undercover agent closing in. My thoughts on this film flip-flop from positive to negative and because I prefer to focus on the upside of any film I will glaze over the negatives... the narrative is stretched to it's limit and tends to drag. The undercover agent character is brilliantly played by Sharlto Copley (star of District 9) but is well overdone and brings the film down. On the plus side, the film looks incredible and is an awe-inspiring conception. So much attention to detail has been invested in both of these worlds and the prosperous outer-world of Elysium is a feast for the eyes. I wish the film were set predominantly there, rather than the familiar District 9 aesthetic of war-torn Earth. Matt Damon is effective in the lead and Jodie Foster is perfectly cast as the film's villain. At the end of the day ELYSIUM is an excercise in style over substance but is a unique and visually arresting science fiction adventure. A few trims around the edges and a shorter running time might just make it superb!
1999 / Director. Jeff Burr.
Even before I had kids I always had an affection for family-friendly horror. This brand of horror is always a lot of fun and it taps into a more innocent sense of fear. Spooky storytelling is an important developmental tool in building resilience and strength in young minds. Movies I grew up with include GREMLINS, MR BOOGEDY and THE GATE. The next generation of kids after me were super lucky to have a series like GOOSEBUMPS come along. Despite my maturity I read a lot of them (I still read a lot of children's literature - it's the best kind) and Jeff Burr's 1999 movie PHANTOM TOWN is definitely cut from the same cloth. To my knowledge it remained unreleased for many years and was given it's first DVD release just this year (retitled SPOOKY TOWN). So last night I invited my 10 year old self over and sat down to watch it for the first time... The premise is great. Three kids (eldest 16) go searching for their missing parents along a desert highway. In the middle of nowhere lays a phantom town that can only be entered in a dream-like state of mind... over the years it has ensnared countless drowsy drivers along the highway. The kids discover the entry point and find themselves back in the 1800's, during the wild west. The place is not unlike WestWorld with the townsfolk seemingly programmed to a perpetual state. The kids soon discover the town itself to be alive and the residents are hideous monsters. Jeff Burr is no stranger to horror, it's what we know him for most and it's wonderful to see him stepping into family-friendly waters. He's brought his experience and horror sensibilities to the story, giving it a nicely conceived dreamlike aesthetic. The movie opens with a terrible introduction with a kid acting as an MC - it's unnecessary. Ignoring that and consuming SPOOKY TOWN in a childlike state of mind, I had a fantastic time watching it. I particularly like the use of set design. Obviously shot on a backlot and on soundstages, the artificial atmosphere adds to the fun (I'm a sucker for pseudo settings - ie soundstages). The average adult would scoff at this movie but from a pre- teen's perspective it's a fun treat (perfect for Halloween). As a filmie I also got a kick out of seeing Jeff Burr grace us with his acting skills. hehe. If you've got little'uns who don't mind a spooky bedtime story then this is worth a gander.
2013 / Director. Scott Walker.
Since I was a teenager, the psychology of serial killers has fascinated me. Before the internet I would sit in my high school library and read as many books on infamous killers as possible. I wore out my Encarta CD-Rom too. Well before I was 18 i was all too familiar with monsters like Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez and John Wayne Gacy. I vividly remember watching Andrew Cananan's cross country killing spree live on CNN and followed it every day right up to the murder of Gianni Versace and his eventual suicide. I was obsessed with one particular serial killer who plagued my mind - Robert Hansen. He was an Alaskan family man who raped and tortured over 30 women and murdered at least 17, that could be proven. He had a pilot's licence and would fly his victims into the remote Alaskan wilderness, where he would often release them and hunt them and leave their bodies to the animals. The case is fascinating and it's taken 30 years for his story to become a feature film. THE FROZEN GROUND surprised the hell out of me. Having known the story I was prepared for a huge amount of liberty being taken, however, this film is VERY true to the case and told with as little embellishment as possible. Obviously some details are slightly altered and/or omitted but for the most part, the narrative plays out verbatim. It's superbly cast with the 3 leads all digging deep and outdoing themselves. Both Nicholas Cage and John Cusack have been hot and cold over recent years but here they have stepped up and given superb performances. Cage leaves Cage and home and brings a real sincerity that we haven't seen from him in over a decade. Cusack, too, manifests a sinister performance far superior to anything he's done in a very long time. And then there's Vanessa Hudgens, an actress I'm not all that fussed about, she also nails it. Director Scott Walker clearly knows his material and he has used the cold, harsh Alaskan landscape as an essential component to his storytelling. The music is also good. It's understated and has a melancholy aching to it. With my expectations low to begin with, it's possible that I am being a lot more generous than I could have been but THE FROZEN GROUND surprised me and it's sincerity and dedication to the murdered women is heartfelt. Each of the 17 confirmed victims are given a moments grace before the filmmakers or cast members receive their end credits. This impressed me. I'm keen to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment.
2006 / Director. Lloyd Kaufman.
When it comes to Troma you're either in or your out. There isn't much of a middle ground and if you're not embracing what they do then you may be one of those people who just don't "get it" (which is understandable) or one of the pathetic twots who criticise it. Obviously I'm a glutton for this stuff and I consume it in copious amounts. Several years ago I ran a series of Troma screenings in Melbourne and showcased some of their classic on the big screen. Around that time Troma was gearing up for it's long-awaited and anticipated in-house extravaganza POULTRYGEIST. Having previously tested the limits of poor-taste with films like CITIZEN TOXIE and TERROR FIRMER, the buzz around the new flick was humming. The result was an exercise in vulgarity, possibly more insolent than anything before it. When a fried chicken fast food outlet is built on the grounds of an ancient indian burial site, the restaurant's produce comes to life as grotesque rampaging chicken zombies. It's ludicrous stuff and exactly what anyone should expect from Troma. With a facetious social criticism against the fast food industry at it's core, the film is an ultra gory, blood soaked exorcism of hilarity. Some things you can expect to see from POULTRYGEIST include a gushing diarrhoea ass shot, anal penetration, deli-style face slicing and the usual toxic vomiting. This and so much more stain the duration of the movie and every putrid minute should be savoured. Troma icon (and co-founder) Lloyd Kaufman stars in the movie as well as directing it and his musical number is a highlight for me. In the lead role he's cast Jason Yachanin who is the uncanny spitting image of a younger Lloyd. Finding him for the movie was a home run. Lovers of Troma will salivate at the sight of titties galore, disembowelment and dismemberment. I watched the movie again this afternoon and my girlfriend was oblivious to what I was watching. Halfway through she came into the room and presented me with an egg sandwich. Possibly the most stomach churning lunch I have ever contemplated. LOL. POULTRYGEIST lives in my heart... may it live in yours.
1987 / Director. Larry Cohen.
Larry Cohen's IT'S ALIVE trilogy is a schlocky B-movie freak-show that masquerades as an environmental horror series. The first film was made in 1973 and for it's time it was horrifying. At a time when man's damage to the environment was starting to become realised, Cohen wrote his little movie about the dangers of so many poisons in the air. The result was IT'S ALIVE, a nasty story of a vicious mutant baby, which terrorised the streets. Five years later he returned with a sequel and expanded on the concept with multitudes of mutant babies unleashed for a frenzied killing spree. Still hungry for more he returned for one more instalment and concluded the series with ISLAND OF THE ALIVE. With the mutant babies under control, they are humanely quarantined to a desolate and remote island. It's not long before they are growing and breeding and unleashing a whole new terror. This is a fun series and the 3rd chapter is definitely my favourite of the trilogy. In classic Larry Cohen form, the movie is so absurd and yet wonderfully realised. He approached the movie stylishly and it comes across as though he respected it as he would a legitimate masterpiece. The cast is great with Cohen regular Michael Moriarty leading the film and Karen Black lending a great support. The movie was made at a time when special FX were really evolving and CGI was starting to make waves... but Cohen chose to maintain his cheap and cheesy creature designs... the mutants are still schlocky-looking puppets and rubber suits and there's no doubt in my mind that it's this stubborn refusal to budge that makes ISLAND OF THE ALIVE so charming and whimsical. It feels very much like a creature feature from the 60s. Heaps of fun. Love this series. Avoid the recent remake of IT'S ALIVE at all costs.
1988 / Director. Roger Spottiswoode.
I was obsessed with SHOOT TO KILL when I was a kid. In Australia it was known as Deadly Pursuit, which is a much more fitting title in my opinion. My folks let me watch films that most parents wouldn't dare expose their kids to and while SHOOT TO KILL isn't the most explicit of them, it's one that stuck with me. I moved to Vancouver in the late 90s and the first thing I did was search for locations from the movie. It's a straight forward chase movie as an FBI agent and a mountain guide pursue a serial killer and his hostage through the Northwest wilderness as the killer attempts to cross the border into Canada. When it comes to wilderness man-hunt films, SHOOT TO KILL ranks up there with First Blood as one of the best. It's a gripping movie and the pace is kept tight at all times with a surprising amount of humour lathered on top. Sidney Poitier and Tom Berenger share a great chemistry on screen and their dynamics keep the story moving along without any unwelcome lulls. The mountain wilderness setting is used effectively and the film's climax through the streets of Vancouver and onto a BC ferry help blend two differing thriller conventions into one exciting adventure. I've always had a lot of time for director Roger Spottiswoode and consider this to be his best film. I've watched it many times over the years (most recently tonight) and it stands up really well. There is almost nothing outdated or aged (except the lack of mobile phones) and it could have easily been made recently. It's a high quality thriller. If you haven't seen it - do.
1993 / Director. Joe Dante.
Whenever I hear people criticising or ridiculing movies like SHARKNADO, MEGA SHARK VS GIANT OCTOPUS or PIRANHACONDA I point them to legendary filmmakers like William Castle and Roger Corman. Those men, amongst others, were pioneers in cinematic gimmickry. They made movies about mutants, aliens and a variety of other grotesquely cheesy creatures. The films were never actually “good” - they were fun. I think the wider modern audience has forgotten how to embrace the genre and with all the big budget, stylised and special FX-dominated cinema saturating the market, the schlocky B-movies are fobbed off. If you pack an audience in to see GI JOE and then pack one into see BIG ASS SPIDER I know which is going to have more fun. In 1993 director Joe Dante made MATINEE, a affectionately nostalgic look back at the classic B-movies of the 50s and 60s. Set during the height of the Cuban missile crisis, two young brothers from a Florida military base spend their weekends at a local movie-house consuming all of the latest creature features. When their filmmaking hero Lawrence Woolsey comes to town with his newest extravaganza, these two kids get themselves a free pass to witness the mayhem first hand. What ensues is a feast for the eyes and a beautifully captured and romantically reminiscent homage to a lost era of cinema. Joe Dante was a protege of Corman's and started his career making films like THE HOWLING, PIRANHA and went on to make further b-movies like GREMLINS, The 'BURBS and INNERSPACE. He belongs to a generation of kids who grew up on these films and his affection for the period is absolute. Many of Dante's regulars appear in the film – Dick Miller, Robert Picado, Kevin McCarthy – and the main cast includes John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty and Simon Fenton (there's even a glimpse of Naomi Watts before she found fame). The film is personal and educational in many ways. My kids are now aware of the Cuban missile crisis and have an entry point to the history and they've also been educated in the classic b-movie days before multiplexes, home video and digital download. One thing most kids will come away from MATINEE with is disappointment that they don't have anything like it these days... well actually, they DO! Enter The Asylum. Rather than dissing what they do, people should embrace it. What they do is nothing new but they are carrying on a legacy of cheap, schlocky and thrilling genre. We don't lap this stuff up for its artistic merits, we relish it's absurdity and audacity. The farther fetched, all the better. MATINEE is such a great little movie that celebrates this form of cinema and every time I watch it I wish I could have lived to experience those times – not the fear of war but the fear of latex movie monsters!
1993 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #15
I often refer to my childhood being spent in the local video store and my obsession with looking at all of the covers. BRAIN SMASHER didn't have the most appealing cover art but something about it always struck a chord with me. In the early to mid 90s I was obsessed with fight movies and some of the bad martial art promotional images sucked me in. The added bonus with BRAIN SMASHER was that it was actually a good movie. I have never been a fan of Andrew Dice Clay and his involvement in a film is usually a turn off... for this movie I grant him the exception. This is really fun stuff and once again showcases what a wonderful action-director Albert Pyun is. It tells the story of a super model who has been roped into smuggling a rare flower from Europe to America by her botanist sister. On her tail is a crew of deadly Shaolin monks who's leader needs the flower to grant him supernatural powers. She meets a burly night club bouncer who also finds himself being chased by these "ninjas". There's nothing exceptional about the story, in fact it's incredibly derivative. It's more or less a knock-off of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA - but that doesn't matter. The movie is riddled with humour, elaborate fight sequences and never takes itself seriously. The visual style is great with effective use of creative camera angles and Albert's trademark lighting design. The film begins with an odd introduction by Andrew Dice Clay giving you the rundown on what you're about to see. It's a stupid pre-credit sequence and completely unnecessary. It feels like it was added to the movie in post production and I can't figure out why. If BRAIN SMASHER receives a directors cut then I hope Albert removes this misjudged moment. Everything else about the movie works well. Teri Hatcher is actually bearable (she's another one I'm not fussed on) and there's even a brief appearance by Lyn Shaye ('bout 5 seconds max. WTF?) Why on Earth Albert Pyun cops a bad wrap is beyond me. I can only assume that people don't approach his movies with the right frame of mind. BRAIN SMASHER: A LOVE STORY is fantastic fun.