2013 / Director. Paul Feig.
If you've seen the trailer for THE HEAT then you can walk away satisfied that you've seen the film. The stuff in between (ie the extra 100 minutes) is a laboured attempt to recreate a classic formula. They want you to think that the gender angle makes it special and/or original but it comes across as a desperate, try-hard movie using its hook to carry it through. It's a buddy-cop movie starring Sandra Bullock & Melissa McCarthy as two cops. One's a stuck up, line-toeing FBI agent while the other is a reckless, foul mouthed and slobbish detective. They're forced to work together to catch an elusive drug boss and that's about all there is to it. They hate each other, they argue... the find common ground, they get along... then they love each other. It's a tried and true formula but THE HEAT just tries that bit too hard. The first mistake they made was their biggest... the casting. These two women just don't have any dynamics with one another. There's no chemistry and it's an awkward marriage of personalities. Even when they're supposed to "click", it feels weird. I like Melissa McCarthy. I think she's got something... but her schtick is being exploited. Since her propulsion to stardom after Bridesmaids she's only ever done the same thing. She's looking like a one-trick-pony and it's boring. In THE HEAT she bursts onto the screen mouthing off one obscenity after another and it feels so forced. As for Sandra Bullock - this has become formula for her too. There's no questioning that she IS a versatile actress but the character she's playing here is more or less her MISS CONGENIALITY routine. It's not the type of performance I enjoy from her. There's also an ugly undertone to the film with McCarthy's character persistently ridiculing an albino character. One or two jabs might have been vaguely amusing but his affliction provides her with an endless collection of lame insults - oh and they made this guy a misogynist, as if that makes it okay. I might be overreacting to THE HEAT but it really didn't do anything for me. Giving some kudos to the film, it does begin to find its direction in the stronger final act but by this time care factor was zero. Could have been great. Wasn't.
2013 / Director. Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
During a recent conversation about the film THE WAY WAY BACK a fellow blogger, John Noonan, suggested that THE KINGS OF SUMMER would make for a good double feature. I knew about the film but had yet to see it and so I hopped online and purchased a copy. Last night I watched it - John was right. THE KINGS OF SUMMER is a throwback to the classic coming-of-age films and immediately cast my mind back to STAND BY ME and more recently, MUD. It tells the story of three teenage boys who become so fed up with their parents that they run away into the woods and build their own house. Two of them are best friends and the other is a strange yet endearing outcast named Biaggio. Their time alone in the wilderness is a funny, poignant and dramatic exploration of teen angst and self-discovery. Through their bond and mateship they grow from boys to men and learn that life is more than just having a good time. The film is wonderfully written and brilliantly cast. Nick Offerman is particularly excellent as the father of one of the boys. He is recently widowed and hides behind a strict, arsehole exterior. I found his performance particularly powerful and heartbreaking. He's really the heart of the film as far as I'm concerned. Some other effectively subtle performances come from a support cast including; Mary Lynn Rajskcub, Megan Mullally and Thomas Middleditch (check him out in SPLINTERHEADS). The story does slump a little in the second act but it picks itself up before it ever gets boring and it concludes on a high. The finale is fitting and strangely reminiscent of MUD. I am exhilarated when films like this come along and I can now put THE KINGS OF SUMMER amongst some of the best coming-of-age movies I know of. Great stuff.
1997 / Director. Raja Gosnell.
Lately I've been revisiting a lot of sequels that I think have been hard doneby and unfairly criticised. HOME ALONE 3 is one that definitely got the shit end of the stick. Understandably it was always going to be held up against the first two movies and, of course, they were fantastic family movies. Originally John Hughes wrote the script at the same time as the previous one and had hoped to make it back-to-back. When plans fell through, partly due to Macaulay Culkin going in another direction, the script was re-worked and a new kid was introduced. This was one of the main criticisms but as far as I'm concerned, this boy (Alex) is the movie's anchor. I watched it with my kids over the weekend and we all agreed that he so much better than the Kevin McAllister kid from the original. Alex Linz embraces the character and gives the film an adorable hook. He's sweet and mischievous and not nearly as precocious as Kevin. The story has him home alone with chicken-pox while his mother is called into work. Having accidentally received a radio control toy car with a top-secret microchip inside it, Alex finds himself fending off 4 international thieves desperate to secure the chip. The film lacks the wonderful bumbling burglar characters that Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern gave life to, but the movie makes up for it with a clever kid, inventive booby traps and hilarious pratfalls falls. I remember Roger Ebert declared HOME ALONE 3 to be better than the other two and his quote even made it to the poster. I wouldn't go that far but there's no doubt its an overlooked movie worthy of more attention. It's a perfectly good instalment with all of the charm and charisma of the earlier adventures and an even more likable child protagonist. It's hard not to love this kid. John Hughes' script is signature to his later-career stylings and maintains the quality of his late 90s films. Perhaps watch it on its own and free your mind of Macaulay Culkin. You might find that it's better than you remember. A sure winner with kids (which is all that really matters).
2012 / Director. Brian Levant.
It's logical to approach A CHRISTMAS STORY 2 with caution. The original 1983 movie has become a holiday institution and remains one of the most endearing Christmas films of all time. The title is also misleading because this is actually the THIRD film in the franchise, following 1994s IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY (aka My Summer Story). The movie should have been called Another Christmas Story - or something to that effect. An added warning sign is that this was a made for television event. So with my expectations lowered to the point of submersion, my family and I pressed play and watched A CHRISTMAS STORY 2. Ha, low and behold the movie was a treat. We all enjoyed it and coming from a film-geek's perspective I was thrilled with director Brian Levant's capturing of the original aesthetic. 1950's America has been recreated wonderfully on all accounts. The wardrobe, set design, dialogue, family values etc. Yes, they've definitely remained true to Bob Clarke's original film - what a relief. The story catches up with the Parker family five years after the events of the original. Ralphie is now a teenager, falling for girls and desperate to get his driver's license. The rest of the family remain the same... Mr Parker is still a frugal tight-wad while Mrs Parker knows best and sweeps up everyone's mess. A lot of the original charm is lost, mostly due to the original creator/narrator (Jean Shepherd) having passed away some years ago. His role has been adopted by writer Nat Mauldin, who does a decent job of it but lacks the enthusiasm that Shepherd embodied. Daniel Stern is also miscast as Mr Parker and he's no substitute for Darren McGavin or Charles Grodin. Once you accept that he has his own take on the character, he still brings some nice moments to the film. A CHRISTMAS STORY 2 was never going to top the previous two movies, but it does offer a suitable alternative for when you've watched those ones to death. If you love A CHRISTMAS STORY then you might just enjoy this and if not you, then perhaps the kids will get a kick out of it. Decent family fun.
2013 / Director. Dan Scanlon.
MONSTERS INC is arguably one of Pixar's best films and I've watched its audience grow over the years as parents introduce it to their kids. Like TOY STORY before it, it tapped into something we could connect with... our childhood innocence. It's been 12 years since that movie charmed its way into people's hearts and now comes MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, a prequel which tells the story of Mike & Sulley's college years. This is the first time Pixar have told a prequel story and it was a wise decision in relation to this tale. The pre-credit sequence shows us a bullied Mike in his pre-school days and then skips ahead to his first day at Monster's University. With his heart set on becoming a professional scarer, Mike finds himself up against adversity. He's not the least bit scary and endures endless ridicule and torment from the larger monster students. Being a Disney film, of course Mike forges ahead knowing in his heart that he's got what it takes. The film is more-or-less a family-friendly take on REVENGE OF THE NERDS. It's basically the same story arc and most of the situations are a reflection (Trivia: John Goodman who voices Sully was the arsehole coach in Revenge of the Nerds). The original film was so charming and endearing that I wasn't sure what to expect with this new movie. More of the same? Something new? A lot of the charm is lost, simply due to the fact that the original movie is etched in our minds. Having said that, there is still a lot of heart and it has it's poignant moments. The old characters are as loveable as we remember them and the new characters are just as fun and endearing. There a good moral for kids to take away from MONSTERS UNIVERSITY without it seeming preachy or contrived. The movie is slightly overlong and could benefit from a few snips here and there but it delivers where it should and proves to be a worthy origin story to one of Pixar's best movies.
1999 / Director. Scott Spiegel.
To get the max out of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2 means that you've got to put the first film out of mind. Everyone knows how awesome the original was and it stands well on it's own. Well the same can be said about TEXAS BLOOD MONEY. Over the years it has been harshly judged and unfairly compared against the first... yet it stands up really well in it's own right. In fact I'll go so far as to call it one of my favourite vampire movies. Aside from Danny Trejo's character, the Titty Twister bar and brief mention of the Gecko Brothers - FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2 has little in common with the previous movie. It tells the story of a band of criminals who've come together to stage a heist. When one of them strays into the vampire's den, he's soon turned into a creature of the night. One by one each member of the team falls... you know, it's classic formula. Clearly that's not where the movie's strength lays and what makes this a cut above the rest is it's audacious style. It's unlike any film I've seen, as director Scott Spiegel treats it like a big experimental film. Almost every camera angle is from a different point of view... from fang-cam to push-up cam... and even a trippy shot from a pedestal fan's point of view. The entire film is insane and watching it sober is enough of a mind-fuck, I couldn't imagine looking at it when wasted. Gauging from various cult forums it seems that FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2 is beginning to gain traction and is earning a loyal fanbase. I think it deserves one. One of the common criticisms the movie attracted when it was released was that it's little more than a blatant cash-grab. Well yes and no. The truth is that both Tarantino and Rodriguez championed to get this made. It's their support that allowed the movie's story to be so daring, not to mention the fact that Scott Spiegel was hired to direct. Any Tarantino fan will know that Spiegel was instrumental in Tarantino's success. Robert Rodriguez even returned to personally write the second sequel/prequel (to be reviewed soon). Harvey Weinstein (head of Miramax at the time) even declared TEXAS BLOOD MONEY to be the company's favourite direct-to-video release of the year). So my advice to naysayers is to give FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2 another chance. Watch it generously and give it the attention is deserves, rather than the comparison that stifles it. Its a wicked fun ride and never lets up! Underrated & undervalued - I Love it!
2013 / Director. Rob Zombie.
HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES was a great little freak-show of a movie and it's sequel THE DEVIL'S REJECT was brilliant (one of that year's best) but then Rob Zombie made two HALLOWEEN movies that were a complete waste of time. I wont go into why I hated them so much, suffice to say you won't shut me up. They pissed me off so much that I had almost given up on Rob Zombie as a filmmaker. His most recent film is LORDS OF SALEM and thank-fuck!! This is an excellent and modest film that recalls classic horror of the 70s, most notably the work of Argento. This film proves that Rob Zombie should only be trusted with his own original material and ought to lay off the remakes and established properties. Clearly my expectations were low, although I was hoping for something good. It's great. A late-night radio show host receives an unusual vinyl record in the mail from "The Lords of Salem" (did I mention the film is set in modern Salem?). When played, the eerie and unsettling music conjures up a discomforting emotion and apparitions of century-old women begin to show up. The music has been cursed and it summons the sacrificed witches of the Salem Witch Trials. This is a refreshing and original horror movie that relies on atmosphere and surrealism to deliver it's punch. It's a slight change in direction for Zombie who had previously put his emphasis on gore and shock. He has drawn influences from films like SUSPIRIA and BLACK SUNDAY to bring an old genre back to life, with a wonderful modern flavour. It's been cast brilliantly too with an assortment of old genre-stars like Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson, Ken Foree and Meg Forster. They add a lovely nostalgia to the film while Bruce Davidson, Michael Berryman, Clint Howard and Udo Kier offer an unexpected credence to the story. And then there's Sheri Moon-Zombie (Rob's wife). He has cast her in every film to date and its becoming a tiresome exercise in tokenism. She IS good in LORDS OF SALEM, I grant her that, but I hope Zombie starts to look beyond his own kin for whatever he does next. She's not THAT great an actress and while she did hold the movie together, she's not that great of an actress. The entire design of the film from wardrobe, set and music is fantastic. There's a brooding and malevolent feel woven throughout and the sense of forebode is strong. I imagine the film will test the patience of a lot of younger modern viewers but for cinephiles and lovers of retro 70's arthouse cinema, this will definitely strike a chord. Wicked fun. Rob's back!
2013 / Director. Gore Verbinski.
I don't like approaching films cynically and that was my mistake when I finally watched THE LONG RANGER last night. I had followed the film's production over the last couple of years and made up my mind that I wasn't going to like it. Being so pessimistic goes against my personal movie-creed and the entire ethos of this site. Right off the bat I will say that the movie is unnecessarily long. It feels like they couldn't decide on the best of 3 endings and so they used them all. For the first hour I was thinking of how much I liked the look of the movie but still resisted the storytelling. It just seemed uninteresting for me... but then something happened. That classic Lone Ranger theme music came on and everything changed. The child in me stood to attention and I was suddenly having a great time (the power of music, huh?). All of my childhood memories of the Lone Ranger came flooding back and I was finally able to embrace the spirit of the movie. The overall story was more or less faithful to the mythology and while the indian character of Tonto has been turned into a foolish buffoon, I didn't mind. Johnny Depp's performance is super-fun and reassures the viewer that this isn't serious stuff. The classic western aesthetic is wonderfully conceived and the action is elaborate and heightened. Now that I have slept on it, I have been reflecting over the film and I'm keen to watch it again. My mind wasn't in it for the first half and I should give it a second chance. What lets the film down is it's clutter. There are so many ideas on the screen that one single movie isn't enough to contain them all. A shorter running time with less characters would have made THE LONG RANGER a much stronger film - and it might not have flopped at the box office. There's wasted talent from people Helena Bonham-Carter, Barry Pepper and Stephen Root. None of them are given the screen time they deserve and their characters aren't worthy of their talents. Perhaps a return to the edit room to split the movie into two parts would pay off - not gunna happen. I hated THE LONE RANGER and then I loved it. The right frame of mind makes all the difference!
2013 / Director. Phil Morrison.
The Christmas season has begun and that means you will start to see some festivally orientated films popping up on this site. The film-geek in me will only watch Christmas movies at - you guessed it - Christmas time. It doesn't feel right watching them at any other time of the year. And so to kick the season off I watched ALL IS BRIGHT. Now here's one misleading and unexpected film. The poster and it's star power would suggest a quirky Xmas comedy and the Australian title of ALMOST CHRISTMAS supports this assumption. "Comedy" is a very generous description because this is very much a dramatic story. Paul Giamatti plays an ex-con, Dennis, who has just been released from prison. He returns to his family to find out that his wife told their daughter he was dead. To add insult to injury she is dating his former partner in crime, Rene (Paul Rudd), the guy who put him in prison. With no money to his name Dennis has no option but to take work with Dennis. They hop in a truck and drive from Quebec to New York to sell Christmas trees on the street. Throughout the course of the film these two former pals contemplate their lives and work to overcome their own demons. There are hints of comedy in the movie but it's far from hilarious. The glum and depressing tone of the film lends itself to drama, and a fairly heavy one at that. Giamatti and Rudd are excellent and give honest and sincere performances. I found it refreshing to watch a Christmas film that strikes at the heart of the festive season without relying on feel-good, happy-pappy & overly sentimental manipulation. Disadvantage and finding hope within your means is the overlying theme of the movie and despite being a bleak and melancholic affair, I found it really gratifying.
1992 / Director. Jeff Burr.
In my recent interview with director Jeff Burr, he talked about EDDIE PRESLEY being one of his most personal films and that is very clear when you watch it. He had complete control over it and there is no doubting it's sincerity. EDDIE is down on his luck. He lives in a van and can barely scrape together enough money for coffee. He's got a story to tell but no one to tell it to. He used to be an Elvis impersonator but hasn't graced a stage for many years and so when the opportunity arises for him to perform at a local club, he reflects on his life and pours his heart & soul into his self-conceived comeback.Throughout the course of the film we come to understand Eddie's predicament and lifestyle and follow him from one hardship to another. He's a likeable guy and I found his story compelling. He hasn't got a bad bone in his body and you can't help but feel that he's tormented by something from his past. When his big performance arrives, things don't go as planned and the night becomes a deep, self-reflecting exorcism of suppressed emotions. All of his woes comes to light, bringing the film to an unexpected and heartfelt conclusion. The screenplay was adapted by the film's star, Duane Whitaker, based on his own one-man-show. The final act of the film is one lengthy monologue, which gives you a good sense of what Whitaker's show was like. Whitaker is a familiar face and we've seen him in films like PULP FICTION, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS and FEAST but I cannot recall ever seeing him in such an earnest and sympathetic role before. EDDIE PRESLEY is his masterpiece. The film also showcases Jeff Burr's talent as a director. His name is synonymous with B-movie horror but every now and then he breaks free of that mould and delivers something surprising and significant. I was personally drawn to the first half of the film more, which follows Eddie in his day to day life. I really enjoyed his interactions and thought his character was well fleshed out. The second half of the film is mostly monologue and while it's a fundamental part of his story, it was long and arduous. Nevertheless I was taken aback by EDDIE PRESLEY and will be returning to watch the extended director's cut soon. This is a pleasantly unexpected film.
2012 / Director. Todd Rohal.
Ten minutes into NATURE CALLS and my girlfriend turns to me and says "this is shit". A little premature, I thought, and I told her to give it a bit longer. Our comedic sensibilities are a lot different but for argument sake, lets say she was right. NATURE CALLS was very underwhelming. I've always had a strong penchant for wilderness movies and the poster art and synopsis for this one conjured memories of THE WRONG GUYS, MEATBALLS and THE GREAT OUTDOORS... heck there was even a suggestion of FOLLOW ME, BOYS. It tells the story of a Scout leader who struggles to keep his troupe of kids interested in the great outdoors. They would rather play video games and reap the spoils of privilege and comfort. When the kids all abandon a weekend camping trip in favour of a funk-food fuelled sleepover with plasma tvs and reclining sofas the Scout leader stages a kidnapping and drags them into the deep woods to teach them about the splendors of nature. Add a lynch mob of angry parents and a BB-gun-toting security guard and you get a stupid, convoluted and chaotic movie. It's also a confused movie. It really doesn't know what it wants to be. It presents itself as a family film with a cast mostly comprised of pre-teen kids and yet the whole thing is riddled with course language, vulgarity, nudity and thinly veiled racism. The adults talk to the kids uncensored and even expose them to pornography and as much as I love most of the above, I found it slightly uncomfortable. There's even a 10 year old kid who tries to seduce a mother throughout the course of the movie, at which point the mum says "you're a fucking weird kid". It did get a few big laughs out of me and I reckon if I had watched NATURE CALLS with friends (and booze) then I might have got more from it but ultimately it's a perplexing and misguided attempt at a genre that's been done so much better by many others before it. MEATBALLS never fails so go watch that instead.
2013 / Director. M Night Shyamalan.
I am feeling ambivalent about AFTER EARTH. There are several ways to approach the film, each baring their own conclusions. On one hand it's a formulaic sci-fi adventure and on the other hand it's an M Night Shyamalan movie. It's also a big budget Hollywood blockbuster as well as a Smith family venture. So having watched it, I am taking it on face value and responding to be as a straight up sci-fi adventure. I enjoyed it. Set 1000 years after the human race abandoned Earth, a military convoy is destroyed in a meteor shower and left with no option but to land on the quarantined and prohibited Earth. The only survivors are a soldier (ranger) and his teenage son. The father is badly wounded and the only hope of survival is for the son to trek 100 kilometres to the rest of the ship's wreckage, where a distress beacon is located. That's pretty much the gist of it. From that description you can tell that AFTER EARTH is fairly uninspired and there really isn't much here that we haven't already seen. Personally, that didn't bother me - after all, the same can be said about most films. The adventure is well paced and exciting enough. The performances are sufficient and the slightly-evolved Earthscape is appealing. What lets the movie down are poorly conceived CGI creatures and a really stupid Alien-monster subplot. While on his mission the teenage son is being stalked by a ferocious alien predator. Totally lame if you ask me. It would have been a far more captivating and thrilling adventure with out that shit. In terms of AFTER EARTH being an M Night Shyamalan film, it's nothing great but passable. Far from his best, but also far from his worst (Last Airbender) ... and so my advice would be to watch this generously. Ignore it's shortcomings and give yourself to the adventure... Consume it like gallati rather than Soufflé.
1991 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie # 11
The late 80s and early 90s were dominated by martial arts movies with Bloodsport and Kickboxer leading the pack. Albert Pyun was in on the action with films like Heatseeker, Kickboxer 2 and Cyborg... and this film, BLOODMATCH. The story is built on a great premise and the movie had so much potential. Sadly it missed it's mark ever so slightly and was delivered in a bland and uninspired way. Having said that, it's nowhere near as bad as so many of the fight flicks of the time. Pyun regular Thom Mathews plays Brick Bardo (a famous name within the Pyuniverse) the brother of a kickboxing competitor who was killed during a criminally orchestrated match fixing scheme. To avenge his brother's death he enlists the help of a femme fatale and kidnaps all of the fighters involved. They are drugged, taped to chairs and forced to fight Bardo to the death - all of them witness to each other's fight. It's a great concept and an original spin on the regular revenge fight movie, which makes it all the more disappointing that it never takes flight. Firstly for such a brutal concept, it's mostly talk. There is hardly any action at all until the 45 minute mark and once the kickboxing ramps up, it still feels timid. It's literally a dark film too with the background shrouded in a constant blackness. Small glimpses of light show us that the movie was shot in an arena, however with the shadowed backdrop, it could have been filmed anywhere - and perhaps it was. Maybe that was Albert's trickery and if so, then a backflip of kudos. BLOODMATCH was released the same year as KICKBOXER 2, which I consider to be one of the best martial arts films of the 90s. I wonder which movie actually came first and what the backstory is. Both have such drastically different direction and aesthetics. If I can get Albert to shed some light on this then I'll report back to you. BLOODMATCH is certainly not the worst of it's kind but it meanders somewhere in the middle. Just the slightest bit of zing would have lifted it.
In some territory's the film is called BLOODCHAMP.