2013 / Director. Ron Howard.
I love Ron Howard. He's a valuable director and has made some important and iconic films. Having said that I can concede that he's made some stinkers... but he's never boring and doesn't repeat himself. He has a wonderful ability to switch genres and explore different qualities. From lowbrow to historical, western to thriller, and everything else between. His latest film, RUSH, is an outstanding true story. I am not a sports fan and I could not care less about formula one racing, however, for a director to capture my attention and hold it tightly for over 2 hours is an achievement. Fortunately F1 is not entirely foreign to me (many of my friends love it) and I was familiar with the story... but rest assured that total lamens could watch RUSH and be completely swept up by it. The film chronicles the famous rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 racing reason. From their competitive sledging to their unspoken respect for one another, the story captures a moment in time that's well documented and renowned. Some liberties have been taken and the extent of their rivalry is exaggerated but it's all for the sake of an entertaining story. The likeness of the characters is uncanny and the racing sequences are amazing... i'm talking AMAZING. Actually some of the best racing footage I've ever seen. Ron Howard has complete control over this film and it's unlike other films he's made previously. I would rate it as probably his most distinguished film since Apollo 13 and will hold it in the same regard. If you're looking for a compelling, high octane docurama then look no further. RUSH impressed the shit out of me! Excellent.
2013 / Director. David Twohy.
RIDDICK has left me with mixed emotions and too many negatives to consider. Right off the bat the title pisses me off. The first film in the series was aptly titled PITCH BLACK and the second was stupidly titled THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK... oh and then PITCH BLACK was later retitled THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: PITCH BLACK as though to blend into an ongoing franchise... and lets not ignore the cool anime chapter titled THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: DARK FURY, which bridged the first two stories. So a third live-action movie comes along and the "Chronicles" moniker has been ditched in favour of RIDDICK. Retarded! But I digress. I loved PITCH BLACK and also thought that the second instalment was underrated (it's a grower and took a few viewings to appreciate). Riddick is such a well conceived character and naturally the promise of a third movie was exciting. In the years between films director David Twohy explained that he wanted to return the franchise to it's modest, low budget, independent roots. Fans were told to expect something closer to PITCH BLACK and we were itching with anticipation. So the film was delivered and as far as my own expectations go, I feel let down. The story itself is good. Riddick finds himself abandoned on a desolate planet (not unlike the planet from the original) and he spends months devising an elaborate and daring escape. Using a beacon call, he sends out a distress signal which catches the attention of two head-hunter crews who set out to capture him. Riddick has other plans and uses the foreboding landscape and all of its native wildlife (monsters) to his advantage. The premise is great but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. If Twohy had kept his promise and filmed RIDDICK as a low budget indie flick then he would have pulled off something truly awesome. Instead we're insulted with TERRIBLE digital FX and poorly executed chromakey, sound-stage landscapes. Generally I love an artificial set design and often defend films that are shot inside studios rather than on locations... but with RIDDICK the difference matters. PITCH BLACK was filmed in the remote township of Coober Pedy in South Australia and offered one of the most unique and original sci-fi landscapes that we've ever seen. In this new film the planet aesthetic is cartoon-like and unnecessarily complex. Too much concentration and emphasis is put into the alien-monster creatures, including Riddick's weird dog companion. It's difficult to invest ourselves in the story when the director and its star/producer seem intent on saying "hey look at this" and "see what we've done here?". Another thing that bothered me was the misogynistic attitude of the movie. I'm rarely one to fuss over such things but I thought that identifying the only woman character as a "lesbo" and baring her breasts to the audience was piggish and insulting. Anyhow... I will watch the film again sometime soon and hopefully cast aside all of these negatives. Will I be able to look past all of that shit and focus on what should be an awesome character and exciting sci-fi franchise? It remains to be seen. Damn you David Twohy!! Richard B Riddick is your creation. He's your baby. Love him right!
2012 / Director. Rodney Ascher.
ROOM 237 is a cinematic piece of shit. Watching it filled me with anger and took me back to my film-school days when I was contending with pretentious wankers and idiots. This documentary is a dissection of Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING and presents an assembly of different interpretations of the film. Just exactly who these people are is unknown as we only hear their voices and are not presented with their credentials. They cherry pick at tiny nuances and present all kinds of absurd theories and conspiracies... none of which are nearly as intelligent as they're purported to be. Astonishingly ROOM 237 has been praised and lauded by critics and audiences all over the world. I can only suppose that they think they're watching something deep and meaningful when in fact they're just party to a distasteful exploitation of simple-minds. Earlier this evening I watched and enjoyed GROWN UPS 2, a film which was overwhelmingly lambasted. It was savaged by critics as being puerile and pandering to less-intelligent minds... and yet most of those critics went on to celebrate ROOM 237. I take exception to the irony of this because ROOM 237 is nothing but disillusioned and obtuse adults wasting their time searching for meaning where it does not exist. Kubrick would be turning in his grave if he saw this. It's offensive to his craft and not at all sensitive towards his films. Some people will say that I am ignoring the humour of this documentary but that's not true. With so many differing opinions and theories on display it is clearly taking the piss out of these people... knowing this made me feel uncomfortable. I felt like watching a circus freak show but rather than marvelling at the Elephant Man I can see his affliction and I feel sorry for him.
2013 / Director/ Lloyd Kaufman.
This is NUKE 'EM HIGH for a new generation. It begins with a self referential recap of the original films and glazes over parts 2 and 3 and finally concedes that this is both a remake and sequel. IMDb trivia states that Quentin Tarantino suggested that Lloyd Kaufman split the movie into two volumes, to which Kaufman leapt at the idea. The result of dividing the movie leads to a lot of padding. There's a lot of wadding stuffed into this movie to stretch it out but thankfully it's mostly fun. It's great to be back in familiar territory and you get the sense that Kaufman and the folks at Troma are feeling pretty nostalgic about it. Now that it's no longer "hip" to make political statements about nuclear energy, they've ignored the enviro angle and gone with a basic toxic infection concept. An organic food joint is built on the old power plant site and their ingredients are consumed by students. Thus begins the old formula. The Kredents are back and so are the nerdy classmates lining up for depravity. In typical Troma style the movie is packed with naked chicks, blood & gore, giant cocks and a variety of politically incorrect antics. There is also a very cool narrative from the legendary Stan Lee (he's been a champion of Troma for years). If you've become accustomed to the explicit nature of Troma over the past several years with films like POULTRYGEIST, CITIZEN TOXIE and TERROR FIRMER then you might want to lower your expectations. RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH is a return to some of Troma's 80's sensibilities and is suitably restrained in comparison to those other recent films... this gives it a nice Troma charm. I would have preferred the movie in one single instalment but there's part of me that loves the anticipation of Volume 2. Bring it on!! Heaps fun.
2013 / Director. Robert Schwentke.
R.I.PD. is based on a comic book but I doubt that the average viewer is going to know that... if you watch the movie unaware then it's going to come across as a blatant MEN IN BLACK rip-off... and lets face it, it kind of is. I was aware of the comic but having never actually read it I admit that the MIB thoughts kept stirring in my mind. I imagined a screenwriter pitching his new "Men In Black 3" script to the studio and being told that number 3 already exists, to which the writer replies "no worries. I'll be back in 10 minutes", only to return with a few modifications. Anyhow that's a fantasy in my head and not at all what happened but it reenforces the fact that RIPD is essentially MEN IN BLACK: AFTERLIFE. Ryan Reynolds plays a corrupt cop who is murdered. Instead of facing Heavenly judgement he is recruited to an afterlife policing agency called the Rest In Peace Department. Their job is to bring to justice the souls who have escaped judgement and live amongst humans. There's a lot to criticise about the movie, especially the horribly conceived monsteresque bad guys. Their designs are good enough but the CGI is so sloppily done... and being a special FX driven movie, that has a big deal. I spent the first 30 minutes with my guards up. I didn't like that it was an MIB clone. I didn't like the FX and I didn't like where the story seemed to be heading. The good news is that once I was able to ignore my grievances I actually started to enjoy it. The key to making it work for you is to embrace Jeff Bridges. The man rarely lets us down and he brings to the movie one of his more typecast character-traits. His quirky performance is fantastic and some of his one-liners are brilliant. As for Ryan Reynolds... well he is Ryan Reynolds. There's nothing new from him here, although he does manage a nice balance between quirky him (Green Lantern) and serious him (Safe House) and he stops himself from being Van Wilder-him. Since watching it 12 hours ago I am slowly warming to the movie and reflecting on it less critically than when the credits first rolled. There is definitely a charm about it and I'm feeling compelled to watch it again.
1954 / Director. Alfred Hitchcock.
People always ask me what my favourite films are. My answer changes all of the time, however, a few films remain true. REAR WINDOW is one of them. It probably isn't Hitchcock's best film, but it's definitely my personal favourite. James Stewart is also my favourite actor of all time and with the added beauty of Grace Kelly REAR WINDOW is an exercise in immaculate, daring and ingenious filmmaking. There's a reason why Hitchcock is touted as the "master of suspense" and you can cherry-pick at all of his films and point to his brilliance. Thank God my parent's introduced me to him from an early age. Stewart plays a photojournalist who is holed up in his apartment with a broken leg. With boredom threatening to send him mad he occupies his time by watching his neighbours. He lives in an apartment complex and his rear window looks out into a courtyard. Before long he knows everyone's business and one particular neighbour begins to raise suspicion when his behavior and a missing wife pose sinister questions. This is as close to a perfect film as you're going to get. Filmed entirely on an amazing soundstage, Hitchcock employed all sorts of techniques, setting the film apart from others. Most notable is the lack of soundtrack. Rather than exploiting a whimsical and suspenseful score, as he is famous for, he uses natural ambience to hold the atmosphere together. In fact you could watch the film countless times and still discover new nuances. The sound of traffic, weather and voices are just some of the noises carefully placed throughout the story. The film is also set during a balmy heat wave, which plays a huge part in the character point of view. The muggy stench of summer keeps James Stewart on edge and suggests that his suspicions are a delusional obsession brought upon by a stifling humidity. With his curious girlfriend and a snoopy call-nurse keen to investigate, the film soon takes a tense and thrilling turn culminating in a brilliantly taut climax. Unbelievably I meet people all of the time who have never seen an Alfred Hitchcock film. Quite often their reasons are because the films are "old". Needless to say these people astonish me. Almost every Hitchcock film is timeless and one of them alone packs more tension and atmosphere than any 10 modern thrillers combined. The thrillers that are made now owe everything to Hitchcock and it wouldn't hurt people to reflect upon them every now and then. REAR WINDOW is an excellent entry point to the world of Hitch and I shouldn't need to encourage people to explore it.
2012 / Director. Lachlan Ryan & Jarrod Theodore.
It would be wrong of me to criticise REVERSE RUNNER as an entire movie. I hit the eject button 15 minutes into it and so I will only address those minutes. I was in the mood for something stupid and something light. REVERSE RUNNER caught my attention a while ago but I never gave it much consideration. It's an Aussie comedy, more specifically a Melbourne comedy and what intrigued me was the fact that Stephen Herek had produced it. This is the same guy who made Critters, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, The Mighty Ducks and Mr Holland's Opus amongst others. And so I was wondering what could have drawn him to a low budget Aussie flick like this... and I'm still wondering. The story revolves around the competitive sport of reverse running and follows the life long dream of one guy to become #1. The film (at least the first 15 minutes of) was shot in rural Victoria, just outside of Melbourne and the scenery is gorgeous. Actually the rolling green hills and farm animals are about the only thing I found appealing. The script is crap, the performances are crap and the jokes are... um... crap. In fact the first 15 minutes of REVERSE RUNNER makes Yahoo Serious' second two films look like Academy Award winners. It seems that the writers of this movie think that running backwards is hilarious. So hilarious that they have written an entire movie around that one gag. Sadly (well, not really) I don't find much amusement in running backwards... I shouldn't say much else because I admit that I haven't seen the bulk of the film. For all I know it could be amazing. For all I know it could be one of the best comedies Australia has ever produced. Hell, this IS the movie that broke box office records at the Colac cinema, after all. All I know is that if a movie compels me to seek laughs from Crocodile Dundee 3 or Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course instead... then 'nuff said.
2013 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #50
Today I was lucky enough to have been invited to watch a test screening of Albert Pyun's ROAD TO HELL. It is a spiritual sequel to Walter Hill's awesome rock 'n roll fable, Streets Of Fire. Michael
2012 / Director. Paul Shapiro.
RING OF FIRE is an enviro-disaster movie that ought to come with a "Greenpeace Presents" moniker attached to it. It's a disaster movie similar to Dante's Peak and The Core and it essentially toes the same line. A high profit mining company digs deeper than regulations permit and what they thought was a colossal oil deposit turns out to be compressed magma. They cause a volcanic eruption, which triggers a series of further eruptions around the globe. An extinction-level catastrophe threatens mankind. And there you have it. I am going to be more generous with this movie than I should be due to the fact that I enjoyed it... but that's not to say I wasn't shaking my head or laughing at it. It's a movie that reaches for credibility and never quite gets there. It is sincere with it's characters and they're not as contrived as this genre would usually make them. The VFX are good at times and occasionally terrible but the emphasis of the story is on the crisis-management and not the event itself. What bothered me about the movie was it's pacing. It wanders along fairly fluently but rushes into the final act as though the director looked at his watch and said "shit, look at the time. better wrap it up". And so the resolution happens way to fast and what should have been some genuinely touching moments have been reduced to quick hugs and "i love you"s. iMDB list RING OF FIRE as a miniseries but it's running time is just under 2 hours... perhaps I saw an abridged version, which would explain the pacing. This is not something I would rush out to see but if you're having a lazy, couch-bound, sloth kind of day like me then it's an enjoyable and easily digested no-brainer.
1985 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #2
Keeping with my Albert Pyun theme, tonight I revisited his classic 1985 post apocalyptic comedy, Radioactive Dreams. Again it's another example of a great film that's all too ignored and is still awaiting any kind of restoration. It's a damn shame because Radioactive Dreams is one of Pyun's more outrageous and surreal endeavours. There's no secret that I love his work but I have a particular weakness for his 80s films. This one tells the story of two children who are abandoned by their fathers in a fallout bunker when a great war cripples the earth. All but one of the world's nuclear bombs have been detonated and humankind is almost obliterated. Fifteen years later the boys emerge to a new world of violence, mutants and fringe cities. Having spent their years of exile consumed with 1950's noir literature, the set about becoming private eyes. Throw marauding gangs, cannibals and giant rodents into the mix and you end up with a completely original, mostly bizarre and highly visceral feast for the eyes. Incorporating 1950's style gumshoe characters with a post-apocalyptic setting is both insane and ingenious. The first 10 minutes are presented in black and white with a nice Wizard Of Oz style reveal of colour when these two guys return to the world above. Its unlike any movie I can recall and with the beauty of 1980s practical FX, what you see on screen is real. No CGI and absolute interaction between the actors and the action. Pyun manages the action and aesthetic masterfully with a dreamlike colour scheme and an industrial punk flavour wrapping itself around gunfights and explosions. The music is also great with lots of power ballads and 80s synth pop. Michael Dudikoff and John Stockwell are fantastic in the leads and their comic attributes are sensibly handled as not to disrupt the more intense moments. You don't get movies like this any more and I urge b-movie lovers to track this one down. The best way to view it is on VHS-transfer, which I quite like. The aged quality lends it a nostalgia that will take any Gen-Xer right back. Hopefully one day, like it's characters, this movie will reemerge from the dingy bunker it languishes in to enjoy a whole new life.
1984 / Director. Walter Hills.
Streets of Fire is a great film. Set in "another time, another place" in a city thats an amalgamate of vintage 1950s and retro 1980s, it boasts itself as a Rock N Roll Fable. And that's exactly what it is. Tom Cody is a drifter and an ex soldier who is called upon to rescue his former girlfriend (now a popstar sensation) from a gang leader who's kidnapped her for his own pleasure. Everything about this film works and its unusual setting and fabricated design bolsters it's status as a timeless classic. The whole film is shot on a soundstage & back lot, reminiscent of West Side Story and the colour schemes against the wet and gloomy cityscape lend it a surreal and heightened reality. The music is so good with two amazingly kick-ass numbers towards the end. Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Willem Dafoe and Amy Madigan are all wonderful. Aside from the entire aesthetic of Streets of Fire, my favourite element is the defeat of the villain. There is no overly long, extended fight sequence... there is no repetitive come-back... its a quick and brutal punch up with no messing around. The bad guy is down, and that's it.... on with the rock music! This is a cult movie that should be in every film geeks collection.
Michael Pare returns as Tom Cody 20+ years later in Albert Pyun's sequel, Road To Hell.
Look out for my review.
1999 / Director. Russell Mulcahy.
Immediate criticisms of Resurrection are that its derivative of SE7EN. Of course it is, but that's not really a justifiable reason to dislike it... most films are derivative of other films. Resurrection is cut from the same cloth and I consider it the best of the Seven-esque movies. It tells the story of a serial killer who is strategically and methodically taking limbs from his victims so that he can rebuild the body of Christ. With the clock ticking it's a race against time to find the killer's motive, pattern and identity. Christopher Lambert reunites with his Highlander director, Russell Mulcahy, for this impressive and under appreciated psyho thriller. Mulcahy has always been a stylish director and he brings a wonderful aesthetic to this film. The colour scheme is well conceived and the use of light, combined with rain is done skilfully. With a great script, clever story and a genuinely creepy killer its slick, atmospheric and ballsy. Lambert serves up one of his better performances (he also wrote the story) and extra cred is lent to the project with Leland Orser and David Cronenberg staring along side him. How Cronenberg became involved is a mystery... I'll try to find that out. Resurrection was released too soon after SE7EN and I wish it had been given more attention at the time. So many films like it have come and gone over the years but this one easily outstrips most of them. It holds up very well. I am keen to organise a screening of this and perhaps invite some key creatives along to talk about it. So stay tuned.
1997 / Director. Stuart Gillard.
There are films that are universally panned by critics and yet become absolute cult essentials to fans. UHF and Freddy Got Fingered are good examples and coincidentally, Harland Williams was in Freddy. In the late 90s Disney decided to take a chance on him and gave him a starring role in their G rated comedy, Rocketman. At the time of it's release it was picking up a heap of bad reviews and if my memory serves me, it was nominated for a Razzie or two... and yet despite all of this Rocketman is HILARIOUS! Easily amongst my top 10 favourite comedies of all time it is an absolute must-see for anyone uninitiated. The movie tells of an annoying and eccentric software programmer who inadvertently finds himself on the crew of a lunar mission. The plot is one gag after another and every joke hits the mark. If you watch it with mates, you will hurt from laughter and will probably recommend it to others. It's disappointing that William's career didn't take off after Rocketman. His on screen presence is clearly unique and there must be so many original and skewed scripts out there... and yet he's been relinquished to crap like Bachelor Party 2 and Spooky Buddies. The man is a comical legend and he needs some cred! If you haven't seen Rocketman then do. It appreciates with time and gets funnier with every viewing!
Riddle of the Stinson is the remarkable true story of a Stinson aeroplane, which crashed into the thick wilderness of the Lamington National Park in Queensland. The story made all of the headlines at the time and when a wide-scale search couldn't locate them, the pilot and passengers were presumed dead. With the search called off, a local man in the area had his suspicions that the search was conducted in the wrong areas and so he takes off into the dense bush to find the crash-site. Miraculously he finds the site and after weeks lost, there are survivors. This is a film I cannot regard any higher. A true story that's so beautifully captured on film with a gorgeous score and magnificent photography. The film notably stars Jack Thompson and Richard Roxburgh and was directed by Chris Noonan who went on to make Babe and Miss Potter. Tragically the master print of the film was destroyed in a warehouse flood at the Kennedy-Miller production house (so I was told) and so the film is unlikely to ever receive an official release. I am fortunate to have possibly the best quality version of the film that exists. If this is a film that interests you then visit the shop section of this site and grab a copy for just $5. It's one of my favourite Australian films and I wish more people could see it.
In April 1988 I visited several islands in the South Pacific. I was 9 years old at the time and the one vivid memory I have of that trip was our time in New Caledonia. The place was heavily occupied by the military and I will never forget being faced with heavily armed soldiers at every turn. My father reassured us that we were safe and so being 9 years old I believed him and never thought much of it. But those images have stuck with me and it's only now, 25 years later, that I realise that a major rebellion was taking place and an international situation was unfolding. Rebellion is a French film that chronicles this event. Being a French territory, a group of Kanaka (indigenous people) separatists killed 4 officials and took another 27 hostage in the jungle. In response the French government launched an attack and killed the insurgents and the incident became a significant moment in the people's fight for independence. The film's main strength lies in it's opening scenes. It begins with the bloody attack, letting the viewer know exactly how the story ends and we are then taken back to follow the 9 days leading to this point. Director and actor Mathieu Kassovitz plays the lead role of a French negotiator who attempts to fine a peaceful resolution. He's caught between and rock and hard place and Kassovitz's performance is outstanding. In fact the entire film is outstanding. It's a true story that the French government would prefer people not know about and the film undertook several years of talks with both French and Kanakas representatives. At the time the world press were reporting the Kanakas to be a savage terrorist organisation when they were actually peaceful freedom fighters who's 1988 infiltration of a military base turned to bloodshed out of panic. This film represents them. Echoes of the Balibo incident come to mind when watching Rebellion and while there's not a lot of information to be found about the events on the internet, you feel that the story is being told faithfully. Excellent script, well paced and incredible combat sequences make Rebellin essential viewing. Check it out.