Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Best Of Decade


The New World (Both Versions) - The New World has two versions, both superior, moving works of artistic genius, about the colonisation of America. Have terrific, subtle performances, moments on otherworldly images amidst seemingly normal landscapes, and terrific use of voice-over to suggest lives living at the moment, unsure of the tragedies and joys that await the characters.

The Sun, Alexandre & Russian Ark - One is about The Japanese Emperor wandering around his garden at the end of World War, one is about an old woman wandering around a make-shift army base and the surrounding area during a war, one about Russian history. All are visually spectacular, subtly emotional masterpieces.

The Werckmeister Harmonies - A stunning Bela Tarr for this decade. Shot after lingering shot of compromised lives, all giving an accumulation of subtle character and mood. An amazing feat of film-making.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… And Spring - The life of a Buddhist man and an elderly man trying to teach him how to survive with grace, the younger man making many tragic mistakes before finding his way, seen through the seasons. A wonderful look at life.

Saraband - Ingmar Bergman’s final film, the story of a once-married couple finding one another years later, seeing the tragedies that befell the other. This is the story of people facing up to their own, and others, flaws. Beautiful.

Femme Fatale - A European fairy-tale of a film, where stories are played then replayed carefully, images have many meanings, and cinematic sequences play out simply for the joy of being a film. One of DePalma’s best films, this has spell-binding sequences, and is the best use of suspense and humour for many years.

Animal Factory - A beautiful small-scale drama set in a prison, the story of a young man trying to survive in a system set-up to destroy him. Full of wonderful seemingly slight moments and sequences, this accumulates powerfully, with characters losing and trying to regain their souls in a mundane hell.

Miami Vice - A love story set in the drug world, a depressed cop goes undercover and begins to lose his bearings, in a brutally violent world. A beautiful, under-rated noir update.

The Agronomist - Jonathon Demme’s humane tale of Radio Haiti and the tragedies that befall it and its country.

Punch-Drunk Love & There Will Be Blood - Paul Thomas Anderson really came of age this decade with these two films, one a twisted love story on the paranoia’s and fears of self-revelation to another, both kind and ugly while the other is about self-destruction and mindless greed dominating a life, leading to psychopathic need for tragedy to everyone.

No Country For Old Men - Coen Brothers best film, a tragic, underplayed story of one simple decision, to go for a quick steal, leading to a brutal manhunt that no-one can escape, all for a money prize that is almost abstract. A tragic comedy.

Mulholland Drive & Inland Empire - Two moments of David Lynch genius, the first a love story seen from various viewpoints, all obscured by self-delusion and need for the relief of fantasy, the second a tragic tale of madness and self-obsession, when there is no real self. The visuals are amazing.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou & The Fantastic Mr Fox - Two wonderful Wes Anderson films, the first a comedy about a diver slowly losing control of his own little world, the second a similar set-up but done from a child-like POV, where people can fight back. Visually inspired both, two works of a unique, kind imagination.

Solaris & Bubble - Solaris is a wonderfully depressed remake of a depressed Russian film, about the fantasy of the person you think you love, while Bubble is about longing in a dead environment, where any achievement is brief. Both have wonderful human moments amidst the quiet darkness of their environments.

Elephant & Gerry - Two Gus Van Sant films of long shots and understated characters, one about a school massacre, another of two men lost in a desert. Both are addictive and focus on the build of people within what seems mundane, both about the accumulation of a life experience, not the artificial peak.

A History Of Violence & Eastern Promises - Two Cronenberg crime stories about identity, both about men lying about his past played by Viggo Mortnernson, both about that man finding life very confusing when pressure is put on lies, where the truth of his character is very ambiguous. Both films take time to appreciate.

AI: Artificial Intelligence - Spielberg makes a Kubrick project, sometimes a bit awkwardly in dialogue, but the film has an epic quality, as a robot boy travels the world to find a reason for being, discovering it in complicated ways that he himself cannot comprehend. It’s a sad tale, reminiscent of early Spielberg like The Sugarland Express of Close Encounters. The first third is especially brilliant.

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party - Its not entirely a documentary, nor is it a concert film, instead it follows the creation of a block party, introducing the reasons for the block party, slowly introducing the event while getting an understanding of the area it takes place in. The inter-cutting of music and neighbourhood is beautiful, with Chapelle acting as host. A beautiful little film.

The Devil’s Backbone & Pan’s Labyrinth - Two Guillimero Del Toro films, both about war-torn Spain, both with child protagonists, one set in a boy’s school and is about the sin of the war and death, the other about a little girl going to live with a fascist, with fairytale logic taking over amidst the tragic reality. Two wonderful films.

The Squid And The Whale - A lovely little drama about divorce, and how difficult people can be, both in the lead-up to, and during, a divorce situation. All the characters are complicated, can be selfish but are recognisably human, which gives the film its warmth.


The Prestige - A truly wonderful film about the mechanics of showmanship, deflection, misplaced rage, mixed with a real sense of the grandeur of magic. Easily Christopher Nolan’s best film.

Speed Racer - One of the most under-rated films of the decade, a kids movie that truly enters that visual head-space of a five to ten year old, throwing up a cartoony world with fast cars in day-glo colours, with split-screens moving from image to image with ease. The first twenty minutes is especially wonderful. Its horrible that a film this good was so totally ignored by all.

Anchorman - Will Ferrell’s finest hour, as a limited local news anchorman in the 1970’s, facing feminism amidst a series of truly oddball sequences (especially the animated sequences after Ron scores with his lady love. An amazing supporting cast, with Paul Rudd a standout as ladies man Brian Fantana. The added film Wake Up Ron Burgendy, is hilarious also, with three stand-out comedy moments cut from the original film, a bank heist gone wrong “I’m not giving you any money. You don’t deserve it. Your masks don’t make any sense.” Champ Kind’s declaration of love to Ron, and the amazingly sick “What I’d like to do to Mother Nature” monologue. Yes, its deleted scenes are funnier than most movies.

The Revenger’s Tragedy - Alex Cox didn’t get the financing to make many films this decade but this one put most directors to shame. Christopher Eccleston leads the cast, seeking revenge on a powerful family that killed his love. It plays as a revenge thriller and a parody of this genre, as well as being the most twisted and inventive take on updating a magic text imaginable, having many moments of Brechtian brilliance. Eccleston is terrific in the lead. Remember, let those who seek revenge dig their own grave first.

Dominion: Exorcist Prequel - Dumped by hits own financiers, remade terribly by Renny Harlin, then released in a limited form when the remake was deemed an abomination, this was a more difficult than most assignment even for Paul Schrader. And it’s a beautiful film. While never terrifying, it has lovely sequences of build and strangeness (best of all the Northern Lights appearing during the exorcism), focusing on a man trying to regain his soul after the tragedy of World War 2. Stellan Starsgard, always a good actor, shines in this, full of subtle reactions that build powerfully, as he tries to find away to face evil and irrationality in the world.

Looney Tunes: Back In Action - Wired but funny as hell Looney Tunes film by Joe Dante. Essentially its Daffy Duck runs amuck through Hollywood, Vegas and Paris. The painting joke sequence is still one of the funniest of the decade. Brendan Fraser’s only good film this decade.

Office Space - The ultimate how to survive in a job you hate comedy, as a man decides not to care and starts getting promoted. Full of funny, twisted office-area interactions and paranoia’s, this works as an accumulation of details, scene by scene, rather than having a few stand-out moments.

The Way Of The Gun - The best pulp heist flick of the decade, where Benecio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe kidnap a surrogate mother for the mob, taking her Mexico way. Is full of rich, interesting characters who reveal themselves in spare, careful scenes, this also has a twisted escalation of stakes as the interactions slowly get out of control. Also has great action, especially when Phillippe accidentally jumps into a hiding spot full of glass, gutting half his arm up.

Avatar - This is still too early to say how well it ranks ultimately with me. I only having seen it once, and recently, but gets poignancy for creating a truly original world out of many influences and then having the patience to stick with this world, showing it in careful detail. It has the naïve melodrama of the original King Kong and that’s no insult.

Hulk & Superman Returns - Hulk is a brilliant, distanced yet personalised look of split personalities within the tantalisation and look of a comic book, both and example of and a strangely affectionate study of pulp, melodrama and personal film-making. Is Ang Lee’s most interesting film. Superman Returns is the most romantic superhero film of the decade, is about the mythical aspects of the genre and the characters, is about a strange god who’s confused and affectionate towards the brave flawed people. The film has a lovely retro style mixed with an interest in bigger, expansive science fiction landscapes and feelings. Its a terrific example of personalised epic film-making.


The Village & The Happening - Two deeply crazy films, the first due to plot, the second due to plot and truly odd dialogue. And yet they are appealing. They village has a great mood to its opening section, a terrific fairy tale feeling, wonderful use of colour. Its end makes sense in a fairy tale type of way but isn’t set-up properly, as there is still a realistic expectation. The Happening is truly awful whenever anyone speaks. But as soon as its silent, when everything relies on images, there are some very interesting things going on. And then someone speaks and it gets awful. Especially if its Mark Whalberg, who’s terribly miscast. (Even more miscast than he was in Planet Of The Apes remake)

Land Of The Lost - This one is a very eccentric comedy that has not gotten a lot of love. But its eccentrically funny but I covered it on the 2009 list.

The Black Dahlia - DePalma’s mega-weird Ellroy adaptation moves too fast, has some plot points that are not elaborated on properly, has some very eccentric performances. Buts its style and oddness, its dark humour, its odd themes of constant doubling, obsession over the dead, mad hysteria driving everyone nuts is very compulsive. The brakes are off on this one and its great fun.

Hannibal - Hannibal is similar to The Black Dahlia. It has many plot problems, has an unadaptable novel, some OTT acting, a crazy gothic undertone, a very romantic but twisted ending. But the central relationship is interesting and odd, the villains and revenge methods are very strange, and the whole thing is rather wonderful, if under-rated.

Southland Tales - Just crazy. Good luck working out the plot in this one. You have amnesia, porn, incompetent revolutionaries. It has an odd, unrealistic tone and problems with mood. But like many on this list section, its flaws and strange obsessions are what makes it work, and be worth a look.

Ghosts Of Mars - John Carpenter’s only film this decade has Ice Cube and Jason Statham, plus some other character actors wandering about getting killed, and the woman from Species. It is set on Mars, has monsters that are spirits who inhabit humans and turn them mad, cutting their faces up, is told out of chronological order. The downside is its not very good, doesn’t really make sense but is loads of b-movie fun. Dr Who has homage it twice, most recently in Water Of Mars (it’s the same plot, using water instead of air).

Alexander: Director’s Cut - This is a really stupid film. I hated it the first time I saw it. It has terrible, terrible writing, the worst wig ever, dull direction that misses many sane set-ups that would tell the story in half the time and with efficiency. The only person who’s any fun is Val Kilmer. And yet its become bizarrely addictive. This one is a cry for help I’m afraid.

The Truth About Charlie - This got a lot of bad press. It’s Jonathon Demme’s remake of Charade, with Mark Whalberg and Thandie Newton. And its not what you would expect. It doesn’t try to have an old-fashioned feel, instead going French New Wave meets eighties Demme style, where characters are established quick then get twisted and revealed using cheeky genre tricks. It’s a lovely, playful film. And most people hate it.


Before Sunset, The Pianist, Black Book, Tideland, Grizzly Man & Rescue Dawn, Public Enemies & Ali, American Psycho, The Terminal, Be Kind Rewind, Tallegeda Nights & Step Brothers, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, Almost Famous: Long Version, Che Part 1 & 2, Peter Pan, Let The Right One In.


Pitch Black, Blade 2, Hellboy 1 & 2, The Mist, Mission To Mars, Spiderman 2 & Drag Me To Hell, Matrix Reloaded & Matrix Revolutions, Star Wars: Attack Of the Clones & Revenge Of The Sith, Kill Bill 1 & 2, Death Proof & Inglorious Basterds, Donnie Darko, Wallace & Gromit: Curse Of the Were-Rabbit, Hero & House Of the Flying Daggers.


W., The Fountain, Pearl Harbour, Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle, A Very Long Engagement, The Lady In The Water & Signs (One director, two terrible films. An achievement), The Producers, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Ghost Rider, Be Cool, Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired, The Invasion, Death Race, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, XXX2 & Die Another Day (Another two film one director achievement) - Can’t be bothered elaborating on their heinous natures. All are despicable or incompetent in one way or another.


Zodiac, The Darjeeling Limited, Hollow Man, Collateral, Burn After Reading & The Brothers Grimm - All terrific directors yet what the hell happened? Yet Mann, Gilliam, Verhoeven and Anderson followed these disappointments with what I consider some of their best achievements.

Red Dragon, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines & Die Hard 4.0 - How not to make sequels to terrific genre series‘. Truly dispiriting in their base cynicism. At least Terminator got redemption with the TV show. The other two have withered and died.

Big Fish - Just boring, obvious, unimaginative with a terribly dull Ewan McGregor performance, hitting the cliché notebook. Burton has bounced back a little since here but it’s a bad, bad film to have on the film list. Horribly sentimental also, but without any actual point. Just father and sons don’t understand one another. Probably the worst of this bunch.



Deadwood - A great western-based drama about the painful and stunted rise of civilisation, seen through the gold rush in Deadwood. Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant were wonderful as the leads, complicated, annoying, slowly losing their moral footing. The supporting cast and the tragedies of these characters made for engaging drama throughout, with major peaks or insanity and grace.

Battlestar Galactica - Great sci-fi, where a group of survivors of an apocalypse, are on the run through space, slowly turning on one another throughout, struggling to find some grace. It started complicated and grew even more complex as time went on, leading to an ambiguous that refused to answer many questions. A very original take of morality and religions.

The Wire - A great drama on institutions, be it drug business, the police, government, schools or the media, where compromise wins always, individuals always struggle, where tragedy awaits. A very humane look at survival in modern society.

Oz- Some of this was shown in the last decade but I never saw it until beyond 2000. And its wonderful, brutal, human and contradictory.

For the rest of the drama is a drop-off to these interesting shows.

Robbery Homicide Division - A Michael Mann produced series, which didn’t last long, it had Tom Sizemore in a rare good performance as an obsessed LA cop. Not a patch on Crime Story yet its still wonderfully compulsive, if alas short-lived.

Dr Who Series 1 - The Christopher Eccleston stories, which set the series up with great verve, which it never quite hit again. This had the most interesting, unpredictable Doctor in Eccleston, who was never entirely sane, who was keeping down a lot of darkness, as well as finding great optimism everywhere, and a terrific central relationship that went stale when Eccleston regenerated. It’s regeneration scene is still a highlight of the revival.

Chuck - The most fun show. Loads of odd situations and scenes, with intriguingly mentally deficient characters. Its exists simply to entertain, with zero pretensions towards itself or the viewer.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Very flawed in many ways but its peaks are terrific. It had an epic, involving story that slowly paid off over time, staying serious in character while keeping its pulpy origins.

The Sopranos - Certain seasons and episodes were terrific, others dull as dish-water. The most inconsistent good show ever, that went on for years too long, repeating the same dynamic in not always interesting ways.

Guilty pleasure - 24 - Not always the greatest drama, with many painful dialogue sequences, not to mention season 6, which was a disaster, but such pulpy fun at its best that its difficult not to enjoy.


Comedy was where this decade was very strong, much more than drama in terms of invention.

Black Books - Genius silly misanthropy from Dylan Moran. Whether it be performing native jungle surgery in Canada to writing children’s fiction, via a 900 page tome on Russian misery, this is a truly wonderful show. Bill Bailey makes a great comic fall-guy.

Futurama - Witty, irrelevant, imaginative show with some terrific characters and a twisted sense of nothing being sacred. Zap Brannigan and Kiff are the funniest double-act of the decade, Bender the craziest, especially when starring in a soap opera.

Jam & Nathan Barley - Chris Morris is a genius and these two shows prove why. Jam is like a twisted comedy version of a J.G Ballard novel, all about disconnection amidst absurd situations. But with dark jokes. Nathan Barley then goes on to prove that people are idiots and there is no way out, that the morons have charm and have taken over the ability of semi-knowledgeable adults to make any headway in life. It was a very frustrated show.

30 Rock - Have already written on this but its really funny. One of its strengths is the smaller characters, who slowly go crazy like Scott Asdit’s Pete, who is resorting to shoplifting to feel anything, or Dennis the Beeper king, a man with no brain, played by Oz’s Dean Winters, who objects to Hurricane Katrina because of what the people did to the stadium. Great throw-away gags like “Empathy is as useless as the Winter Olympics.” are also priceless.

The Thick Of It - The entire series shows the fall of labour, from a fairly functional but slightly incompetent organisation, to a party in crisis trying to find a new leader, to a party left with only the people nobody wants. Painfully funny.

The League Of Gentlemen - A complete, original comic-fantasy world, with dark humour that slowly builds and never stops being a bit disturbing yet funny. Too many hilarious characters and situations to list, its darker, sad under-current a dominant feature.

Arrested Development - Very funny comedy about an extremely dysfunctional and delusional family, this works as it builds a farce around characters who are only slight cartoons, taking recognisable emotions then building them into extreme situations which then build and build into gradual insanity. A great cast with the stand-out of David Cross and Dr Tobias Funke, a closeted gay man who can’t face the truth, going to absurd lengths to avoid basic self-knowledge.

Garth Mareghi’s Dark Places - A brilliant parody of ego gone mad, of bad 70’s TV, as a horror writer creates a show starring himself, and lets loose with every idea he has, few of them good in a conventional sense but wonderful as gags. Even though it has a rich set of characters, Matt Berry stands out as womanising drunk actor Todd Rivers, who plays Dr Lucien Sanchez, best bud of the main character. This guy is always funny, even standing in the background doing nothing. His descriptions of acting technique, from beats to soap opera actors and how they prepare, on the DVD extras is stunning and one of the best comedy moments of the decade.

Snuffbox - Matt Berry then went on to make this show, a six-episode one season show that never got any real press, co-written by and co-starring Berry and American comic Rich Fulchner. It’s a wonderfully inventive, silly sketch show that’s difficult to describe, combining music, silliness then very dark sketches, centred by two disreputable characters who work as hangmen. It has a unique mood that’s not mainstream but is wonderful if you get on its wavelength.

Curb Your Enthusiasm - A terrific show that’s easy to under-rate as its so famous. While it has its own defined formula, as defined as a Looney Tunes cartoon, the like that Larry David manages to do a lot with what he has, bouncing off various strange characters as he tries to get through his day amidst disaster and conversations that will get him in trouble,. Odd conversations range regularly from his manager to wife, to people playing twisted versions of themselves, such as Ted Danson or Jerry Seinfeld, to name two whop have really gone for it in weirdness. High-light episodes are the crazy-eyed killer, the one with the dolls hair and the one where Larry insults a religious group by making comments about the Virgin Mary on Christmas Day. And the beloved death notice and incest survivors group. I could keep listing. Its very inventive.

Dr Terrible & Saxondale - Two terrific less than famous Steve Coogan creations, Dr terrible a wonderfully accurate and subtly funny send-up of Hammer and 60’s/70’s British horror (standout: The Killer Lizard story with the line “Ken this and ken this well!”). Saxondale looks at the failure and anger of a man who’s peak has passed him by and he can’t quite understand how life has gotten so dull, as he deals badly with aging and appropriate rebellion. A very funny creation.

The Venture Brothers - Funny twisted sci-fi parody, which would the be funniest sci-fi show ever if it weren’t for Futurama. The level of invention episode to episode is off the scale. Brock Samson is one seriously twisted character and he‘s the straight-man.


The Simpsons (recent) & Red Dwarf: Back To Earth - Embarrassing to what were two great shows.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Best Of Year List


The Fantastic Mr Fox - I love stop-motion yet many of the films made with the technology can seem a little cold, insubstantial. Wes Anderson lets the characters tell the story, uses the technology for mood that strengthens but doesn’t overwhelm the film, and gives the technology a freshness that its long needed. The film has wonderful settings, distinct characters and set-up, proper defined villains who don’t over-whelm the story, and great jokes. A wonderful film.

Avatar - A naïve but beautiful pulp dream, about a man entering an alien landscape and finding direction. The plot doesn’t really matter with this film, the atmosphere and focus is on almost silent film-level narrative focus to evoke a sense of wonder. Which it does, repeatedly. Its flaws don’t matter. Best seen in 3-D, on the biggest screen imaginable.

Inglorious Basterds - A terrific and cheeky verbal grand guignol, where various outrageous characters face off during the war, walking through cinematic conventions and slowly going crazy, especially the Nazi’s. It has lots of warmth within its genre conventions, as well as a proper sense of its situations apparent absurdities, given life in throw-away gestures. There’s not enough delightful Nazi-hunting movies around.

Che Part 1 & 2 - Great on the process of revolution, its boredoms, hypocrisies, vaguely-realised success at best, depressions and ignored yet utter failures at worst, all based on ideals that few ill ever agree upon, even within the inner circle. Less about Che and more about the idea of revolution.

Let The Right One In - Beautifully moody horror film, a delicate vampire story, one of the best quiet vampire films since Daughters Of Darkness and Martin. Has terrific build-up of depressed lives and lack of options, served against the supernatural, which offers its own failures and lack of options.

Public Enemies - A wonderfully moody, straggly manhunt film, based on the Dillinger story but could be any criminal findings his life options winding down after the flashiness of the life dies and all there is left is desperation, paranoia and depression. Depp is good as Dillinger but Bale is wonderful as a very depressed, conflicted, spare FBI agent hunting him down, in one of his best performances.

In The Loop - The film version of The Thick Of It. That’s not a bad thing. Funny as hell about the delusion and departmental insanities and bickering in the lead-up to war, with characters being frequently stupid and selfish, and of course immoral, always with the back-up of a sketchily thought-out reasoning that looks abject and idiotic within seconds of it being said. Brilliant. Only Starship Troopers is funnier about war and its build-up.


Drag Me To Hell - Its about killing a bank worker and succeeding. Funny horror film with only one thing on its mind, giving the audience plenty of cheap, gratuitous scares. And killing cats. A great heroine and villain, does exactly what it needs to, delivers some funny sequences, especially the exorcism gone wrong.

Star Trek - Its about killing Spock and not succeeding. Terrific if shallow reboot, having few actual ideas but a great pace and sense of humour. The cast are game, the plot moves fast between the emotional points, hiding its flaws, and most importantly, the film captures the essential characters and their optimistic world. Its only the lack of purpose that brings it down but its still a hell of a lot of fun.

Valkyrie - It’s about killing Hitler and not succeeding. This is a little b-movie on a large budget. Its an unpretentious little thriller, about an important assassination attempts that came very close to succeeding, keeping its focus to the difficulties of killing Hitler and its near misses, also working on the logistics of the German government under the Nazis, which makes for an interesting world war 2 film. Its strength is the spare focus of the script, using visualisations rather than reams of dialogue for telling story, its weakness is the early parts of the duelling accents, which take a while to get used to.

Land Of The Lost - Its about killing Will Ferrell’s career and hopefully not succeeding. Just so funny and twisted as a film, with many strange backdrops, characters, with very odd character moments. Ferrell twists his innocent idiot acts into new, demeaning heights/depths as a man oblivious to any kind of logic/sanity, who starts a grudge fight with a T-Rex, suggesting that its dumber than the Polish, which is perfect against the strange, illogical backdrop.


W. - Truly, truly awful film. Just despicable in its soft, sentimental view of a truly dangerous man, not having any guts in character, politics, every character a cartoon. Oliver Stone should be truly ashamed of himself with this one.


World Cinema - Not seen as many good world cinema films as I should this year I’m afraid. I plan to rectify this. But most of the films listed below are my actual best experiences watching narratives this year.

Voyage To Cythera - A truly amazing film by Theo Angelopolous, about a former resistance fighter returning home and trying to stop the sale of land he fought for years ago, this is a visually and emotionally stunning film that’s probably one of the best film’s I’ve ever seen. The final half hour is literally stunning, even though little seems to happen. A masterpiece.

Culloden - Wonderful film about the stupid tragedy of the battle of Culloden, showing how it was under-planned and fought badly, before going on to show the brutality of the victors and the horrific aftermath of the battle for Scotland. Peter Watkins framed this as if making a new documentary, which leant it a real directness and clarity over the tragedy, making the emotions stinging.

Comrades & The Bill Douglas Trilogy - Stunning films, the Trilogy about a boy growing up in poverty and learning painfully how to be a man while Comrades is the story of a Union born and crushed, studying the poverty and tragedy as it takes its tolls on individuals and their families. These are amazing visual experiences that are difficult to do justice to in words.

The New World: Longer Cut - Stunning re-edit and expansion of Malick’s masterpiece, giving a greater sense of the seasons and lost emotions within the tragic first few years of American colonisation. Visually unmatched of course.

The Agronomist - Jonathon Demme’s wonderful documentary and Radio Haiti and its wonderful, tragic owner/manager. A great portrait of the tragedy of a country seen through the story of one man’s tragedy, told by a friend of the dead man. Demme’s best film, showing many emotions through brilliant use of music and documentary image.

The Cremator - The rise of fascism seen through the eyes of an idiot who eventually kills all of his family to be a good Nazi. A hilarious, very dark tale of a man losing his small soul, causing tragedy to all he touches. Scary in that there were probably many like him, and continues to be.

Satantango & Damnation - Bela Tarr does not make films for easy viewing. Satantango is seven hours long. Damnation is shorter but a masterpiece. What seems to be black and white misery are continual stories of people trying to survive complicated, un-idealised lives. Simply wonderful.

The Merchant Of Four Seasons & Fear Eats The Soul - There are other Fassbinder films seen this year but these two stood out, both operating on the failures of working class men and women, everyone trapped by society and their own demons of what they should be. Truly wonderful and far beyond and more complex to what Britain does with social realism.

The Match Factory Girl & Calamari Union - I have also seen more Kaurismaki than these but these two films stood out, the first about a young woman trapped in a working class hell of dysfunctional family and lovers, the second about the attempt to find a life for a large group of men, all wondering around a city with the same name, never finding any true direction. Two masterpieces.

Alexandre - A Sokurov film about an old woman visiting her grandchild in a war zone, finding the war to be more complicated and tragic than circumstances will allow anyone to acknowledge. This film takes its time, showing the humanity and flaws of all. An amazing experience.

How I Won The War & The Bed-Sitting Room - Two Richard Lester farces with more on their mind than jokes, both evoking an atmosphere of dread and lack of basic comprehension. War has an idiot leading a group of soldiers to death in World War 2, always sticking to a social convention that is corrupt and useless. Bed has survivors of World War 3 trying to find a way to survive a surreal landscape, where meaning is gone and direction is absurd. Two intelligently bleak films.

I have also been rewatching lots of Ozu, which I’ve covered before. Ozu is one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century. Practically every film he makes is of stunning quality. It is difficult to spotlight only one or a few of his films.


The Mist - Frank Darabont finally went nasty with this one, easily his best film, a twisted tale of human survivors trapped in a supermarket during a deadly mist, slowly turning on one another. Essentially a very downbeat siege movie, with a decent cast and a killer punch line. Rarely do horror films go as dark as this.

The Orphanage - A terrific Spanish-language film, about a mother looking for her adopted son, slowly trapping herself in a large house, driving herself mad with trying to work out what happened. The twist, when it comes, while perhaps not entirely surprising, does have an emotional punch (even if it has a slightly OTT coda) but the film is creepy, atmospheric and always striking visually.

The Legend Of Hell House - A creepy little movie based on a Richard Matheson novel, about four people trying to solve the mystery of a haunted house, getting the problem right yet wrong. Has a terrific set-up and development of characters into nasty violent and sexual situations, some decent actors working these problems, ad a decent pay-off, which is where these tales usually fail. A nice little ghost story.

Brides Of Dracula & Kiss Of the Vampire - Two wonderfully atmospheric vampire films. Neither of them are the most famous of these films but are among the best, Brides being a Peter Cushing-led vehicle, trapping vampires at a local castle then a girls school while Kiss has a family of vampires trapping a travelling couple. While the plots seem anonymous the atmosphere to both are wonderful, with top-level visual sequences and great individual shots. Kiss almost works as a pulp version of Eyes Wide Shut.

Demons Of the Mind & The Reptile - Top-level eccentric Hammer, Demons focusing on the incestuous madness that traps a rich family, twisting conventions and monster stories to reveal what made the legends of the horror genre while The Reptile has a father trying to protect his daughter, failing and leaving a lot of dead bodies behind. Yet it is affecting. Two truly wonderful, under-seen horror films.

Rasputin The Mad Monk & Plague Of the Zombies - Two oddball hammer films. Rasputin, enthusiastically played by Christopher Lee, who uses his powers to manipulate Russian aristocracy, becoming a unique and twisted monster, while Plague has an aristocrat simplifying the local population for profit, while providing some great atmosphere. While trying to have the normal horror elements, these are actually strong stories that don’t need the horror.

The Curse Of Frankenstein, The Revenge Of Frankenstein & Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell - Three terrific Frankenstein films starring Peter Cushing, the first two showing early promise, starting with an ugly monster, then in Revenge having a handsome monster. Both have wonderful pathos and savagery, Cushing a cruel mean protagonist. Monster From Hell finds Cushing at the end of the series, as an older man, watching yet another monster fail while working in an asylum, the film having time to have the monster story against wilder characters and a wonderful, near absurdist atmosphere. Outside of James Whale, these are the best Frankenstein tales.

Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter & Paranoiac - These two are utterly insane films with great moments that directors being respectable would never manage. Whether it being a vampire who travels through the day, stealing youth instead of blood or Oliver Reed caressing a skull, these two were unforgettable. B-movie work at its very best.

Tarzan The Ape Man & Tarzan And His Mate - Two great Tarzan films, that set up the Johnny Weissmuller-Maureen O’Sullivan films. They have a terrific air of leads, Weissmuller a great Tarzan while O’Sullivan brings the acting and the needed story beats, some terrific villains, both natives and white hunters, and some terrific action. Tarzan movies could never really top these two films. Tarzan and his mate also has nude swimming.

30 Days Of Night - A great little vampire movie, with Josh Harnett leading a group of survivors through a night that lasts for 30 days, while being attacked by vampires. Like the similar Pitch Black, this is superior atmosphere and character-led pulp that eventually lets loose with some terrific monster action.

Halloween (Remake) - This one was very under-rated, a film I fully expected to hate but didn’t, spending time with a young Michael Myers before he goes on his murderous rampage. While the second half horror stuff is fun its not as good as the original. What is terrific is the first half, as young Michael slowly goes mad, with some very striking visual moments. Not a great film in its totality but its moments gives it a lot of drive and its better than many a smug genre title.

Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift - Best full-on trashy b-movie I saw all year. In fact I saw it in January 2nd and twice since then. The plot is basic butt the movie is fun, has a good lead, a great car chase gimmick in drifting, and a general, appealing unpretentiousness and good humour. And its in Tokyo, which is an interesting backdrop. What more do you need for a b-movie. Easily the best of the generally under-achieving series.


Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 - Great ending run to a terrific show. Highlights were the mutiny (especially Zarek wiping out the civilian after they had been spineless and stupid one time too many) and Tigh getting messed around by his various loyalties to human and cylon, and his conflicting emotions, with a terrific moments of thematic threads coming together at the conclusion, topped off with an ambiguous ending and a great final line for Baltar “I used to be a farmer once“.

30 Rock - Funny as hell throughout, with many strange, strange jokes and plot lines, is the most insane current comedy, with the best right-wing parody in Alec Baldwin’s character that there’s been for years. They will parody anyone for a laugh, with a stunningly good run of great supporting characters. Best supporting character, of course, is Dr Leo Spaceman, a man who advises a large breakfast before major surgery. And that’s one of his more responsible decisions.

The Thick Of It - Now focusing on the failure of labour itself, rather than one weak minister, its humour has gotten sadder and tired but is subtly vicious, as everyone looks trapped within a cycle of defeat made by their own horribly stupid ambitions, unable to see beyond them, even the competent people like spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker. No-one has a clue and everyone are like tired animals ready to be put down. The Nicholson-Tucker “This shit just got real” take-away scene might be the funniest of the year.

Chuck - The most engaging show of the year, aiming to please and not being bogged down by angst. It has a terrific lead and outside of 30 Rock, the oddest and funniest supporting cast. It pretty much delivers exactly what it promises, a silly fun spy romp set in the workspace.

Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 7 - Some great comedy, odd situations, such as how to dump your cancer-victim girlfriend without looking like a bastard, best of all was in little moments between Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, two wonderfully twisted individuals.

Futurama: The Wild Green Yonder - A great finale for the series of films, which then led to a renewal and more shows. Has a great nasty sense of humour about environmentalists and industrialists. Fry is even more stupid than usual, which is an achievement in itself.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 2 - Much stronger than the first year, with a wide range of characters, some nasty twists and a brilliant ending. After the disappointment of the films, this one really redeems the Terminator storyline. It has technology versus humanity subtly developing in strange plots, looks at the oddness of time-travel at a personal level, is about the futility of the struggle for most of its characters on the day to day. The characters coming back from the future wars were especially interesting, all doomed in one way or another. The John Connor character also showed interesting, devious moves that suggests a cold, calculating leader, which was very appreciated.

24: Season 7 (makes up for 24: Season 6) - Melodramatic and implausible yes. But grittier and pissed-off than before, with the return of Tony paying off, as he is a frustrated and damned, going full-bore into something that’s usually back-story, about how to truly go under-cover. Interestingly the finale was more about ostensibly supporting characters and their arcs (Tony and a FBI agent Renee, who goes extreme into unconventional methods) rather than Sutherland’s Bauer character. Was the same guilty pleasure that it was before, mixing the compulsive with the insane.

Dollhouse - This came together in the second half of the first season then has started a great build that has developed into the second season, the stories developing a very dark undercurrent of an apocalypse beginning with technological prostitution and dreams of what could be, as people’s memories are wiped and reprogrammed every week, starting small but becoming a larger conspiracy. As the situation becomes increasingly insane and paranoid, it gets more interesting, playing with identity and exploitation in a twisted way. Has a very good collection of flawed and compromised supporting cast-members, they developing to be the dark life of the show around a engaging lead.


Monty Python’s Flying Circus - Brilliant. I’ve only seen individual sketches and episodes before. This year I watched them all and it was terrific, smart, silly, twisted, disrespectful. Bets of all is that they truly went for the insanity in ways that many modern comedies never would. Even the episodes that are weaker had enough connective brilliance to bring them up to a level above and beyond. Some of the better later episodes had episodes that kept the same characters throughout, which gave it another edge of lunacy and darkness as things got crueller and nastier and led to the films.

Star Trek Seasons 1 - 3 (The Shatner episodes) - Shatner being moody then sensitive, then going after any available woman, Nimoy being stable and dignified. Old school effects, decent traditional sci-fi stories that had the appel of freshness in their playing. What’s not to love. Still superior to everything hat followed.

Old Dr Who’s

The Invasion - An old Troughton serial, versus the Cybermen in London. Great fun.

Genesis Of the Daleks, Pyramids Of Mars, The Brain Of Morbius, The Deadly Assassin, The Talons Of Weng-Chaing, City Of Death, State Of Decay - Tom Baker being eccentric and genuinely alien, the plots being gothic yet fresh, the dialogue having lots of subtle humour to it. Best era Dr Who.

The Caves Of Androzani - Best Peter Davidson story is his final story, with lots of crazy factions killing each other and Davidson trying to survive. And failing. Has the best new doctor first line by Colin Baker.

Miami Vice Season 3 - At the point of about to get worse and unwatchable but not quite there yet. Still full of terrific, stylish, dark mood.

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century - 70’s insane camp. Can’t really defend this one but liked it. Oh my.

Friday, 11 December 2009

G. I Joe

G I Joe is exactly the film you'd expect. Its utterly terrible yet fun because its so bad, so utterly without merit, like a fat seagal film with a mega-budget. From the director of Van Helsing.

What's interesting is the slumming actors. There's the usual awful leads, this time unknown but are still terrible. But this was the film that many a decent or known actor figured, it'll be woeful but the part's small (or minor so you're in the shadows for months) so will pay well, as its a megabudget film and Michael Bay isn't directing. So you have Adebesi from Oz slinking in the background, a guy from loads of indies like Three Kings doing the same. Seinna Miller is in it and is one of the best "performances" in the film, as she knows she in a really, really stupid film and plays along, camping it up.

Best of all are the villains. We have Joseph Gordon Levitt (from Myserious Skin) as a freaky scientist up to no good and Christopher Eccleston as an arms dealing scumbag who figures it'll be fun to kill everyone for no real good reason. Now these two obviously read the script and are going all Olivier-ham excessive in their total lack of commitment (or even basic professional courtesy) and should have gotten centre stage because the movie they're in is a lot better than the one we're watching for 90 percent of the time. Levitt wanders around like a man who has escaped from a Marlon Brando acting class and is trying to out-do the master, with a penchant for kidnapping his sister and turning her into a sociopathic whore who wants to destroy paris. He has a gas mask the entire film, that's all I'm saying. Eccleston has the most excessive Scottish accent in history (He did a good one in Shallow Grave so we know he can do it properly) that's a total parody in itself, the accent so insane you know that it's intentional, seeing what he can get away with and get paid, who's leeching on Sienna Miller like a serial rapist, having a thug kill any man that even touches her. (The only bit of sicko acting in the film is Eccleston interacting with Miller. He's obviously thinking things you can't do in a film called GI Joe while slumming in a untoward manner.) Its a shame late-era Brando or Orson Welles are dead because with them and with these two crazy bits of acting in the film, and a script as nuts and as bad as gi joe would make cinematic bad movie nirvana. I think most of the goodwill this film gets from viewers is because its villains are so obviously dismissive of the film that its wonderful. I just hope Werner Herzog sees this one and puts Eccleston and Levitt two together in a film set in a strange country. I think this has to happen.

So while being a truly awful film it has its moments. So its a must see in a strange sort of way.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Okay, so I watched the Rambo movies.

In my defence I have been watching good films such as The Cremator and Che but come the weekend you do get the urge to watch something a bit more brutal. Thus Rambo.

It wasn't even entirely in order. I watched Rambo, the last one, first. Then it was in order. There's a guilty pleasure aspect to the films but I have to admit enjoying them all on some level.

First Blood is the best one in a lot of ways, as it has proper points about returning vietnam veterans amidst a terrific manhunt movie. Its not quite as deep as it thinks it is and while some of the action is terrific (manhunt through the forest and stalking through the town at the end) there are a few dodgy action bits, the bike chase now looking a bit a-team in lots of movements but no-one action getting hurt. I've read the book that its based upon, which is far more serious and intense. The good news is that on DVD you can actually hear what Stallone is mumbling about at the end. Its kind of a strange film in that its good as an action flick but you can see where it could be better.

Rambo: First Blood Part 2 is not a serious film obviously. On the idea of finding POW's years later its a bit ridiculous, as is some the the fashions and comments about Rambo. "What you call hell he calls home," is the best, most insane line. But it works as an action film, which is why it was a hit. Again its a manhunt film, with lots of running, fighting, captures, tortures, and a brutal final action orgy. And the CIA are the actual villains outside the Russians. It's funny how for a film series that's meant to be about a patriotic American hero, the films seem to downright loathe the US military, police and intelligence agencies throughout its entire run. The interesting thing is that it was co-written by James Cameron. Watching the Avatar trailers, having watched Rambo, I kind of wonder how much cross-over will come about, as its about a veteran who comes to hate his own government, going native in the jungle, fighting the military in an orgy of violence. Is Avatar a slight remake of Rambo?

Now to Rambo 3. Its the weakest one of the bunch, a bit weak and repetitive in the action dynamics, as the first half is talk, the second half unrelenting action that loses its way as its simply too much killing without character beats to create interest. I was in a forgiving mood while watching it, and there was a good cave sequence but the script is basic to a degree that it ignores basic action tension requirements. The other problems is that its set in Afghanastan, where the people are seen as to a man noble and brave, without variation, which obviously isn't the situation in reality. The best stuff comes early, with Stallone fighting the guy with sticks for money and the monks, with Rambo trying to turn his back on violence. More of that in the second half might have done well.

The til now final film, Rambo, is a lot better, is the best one since the first. While it is basic in character beats like the third one, the first half being about missionaries in Burma being transported and then caught, the second half being the rescue,with Rambo and some mercenaries, its a lot more to the point. The setp-up, going into Burma, is spare but effective. The action, in catching the missionaries, is brutal. It sets up the situation better than any of the other sequels, then we wait and watch for Rambo to become a brutal fighting machine. When this comes, a good half hour before the end, its very enjoyable, and the resulting rescue then escape through the jungle keeps focused for its duration. And its very violent. Anyone who hates violence in films should stay away. I feel very guilt-free about enjoying this one. While the last two sequels had moments that made you think what am I watching, this is basically a good little genre flick, no more, no less. Rambo finally seems human and haunted, which gives a lot of tension to the build-up, as he reconnects with a few people, and tortured by his own methods. The fact that he has a lot more characters around to interact with helps a lot in making his character work.

So it was a mixed bag in films. I enjoyed them all, some being more guilty pleasures than others. The interesting element is how string Stallone is through the series, despite not saying much ever. As he's been in so many bad films its easy to under-rate him when he's good, but he has real movie-star presence in these films, spare and careful throughout.

In the verbal violence stakes, I've also been watching The Thick Of It, which is terrific and funny and I'll get to in full at the end of the show's run.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

General film views

Still pretty busy and couldn't be bothered going to see what's on my local (2012 and Jennifer's Body), both of which I wnat to see but not just now. It's also been bucketing down and I don't want to drown walking to the bus-stop.

I have been watching some DVD's of course, the good and the bad.

My favourite so far is Che Part 2. Saw part 1 but missed the second part as I was skint then bed-ridden when it was in the cinemas. I intended to see it is what I am saying. Part 2 is a terrific film, more down-beat than the first, in that Che is in a campaign that seems under-funded and lacking in manpower from the off and keeps on going, even as his people are knocked off continually by the army. Its a sad film, about the end of a life, of a man wnating to keep going but not recognising the limitations of the situation around him, all contrasted with the success in Cuba from part 1 (although this was also portrayed as a tenuous action for much of the time). The theme seems to be of the tough process of revolution, not the idealism of it's aims, as the characters, while idealistic, have to survive in the real world and keep working, even when it seems absurd. Del Toro is terrific. I am not sure which section I prefer. I really like both of them.

Now to the ridiculous. W is a silly, silly film, even moreso than Alexander, is the Showgirls of political biopics, except Showgirls was better. The one good thing you can say about the film is that Josh Brolin is good as Bush. But he was better in No Country For Old Men and is beaten down by the rest of the film, which goes through his life in terribly written and played broadstrokes, before doing the Iraq war. Now the probloems are legion. First of all Stone lets everyone go Batman And Robin OTT. Everyone is terrible. Its like a panto (Showgirls actually had stupid characters to explain the acting and made more sense that way). Secondly there is no real dramatic structure. It goes back and forward in time but with no reason. Thirdly Stone has no take on Bush. He's just this guy who had lots of powerful friends and was stubborn. Even though I couldn't stand him, Bush seems far more interesting than portrayed here. Its just a wasteful, lazy mess. Stone has yet to make a good film this decade. He seems to be focusing on torpedoing his credibility.

Have seen a few other good films I'll go into detail with later, such as How I Won The War, The Bed-Sitting Room, The Orphanage.

Have also been watching The Simpsons Season 11. Its pretty good so far. I've been avoiding the later episodes as the quality dipped pretty badly after a time but this season doesn't seem so bad. Yet.

Also watched the Dr Who special Water Of Mars, which was not bad but wasn't as scary as it could have been due to everyone running around too much, yelling and shouting, not allowing an atmosphere to settle. Plus the plot was very reminiscent of John Carpenter's very flawed Ghosts Of Mars, with ex-inhabitants of Mars coming back to haunt the humans on the planet. I'm glad the show is getting a reboot as these specials are essentially useless. Instead of having a series of gutsy end of era stories with real stakes being upped, they simply seem content to be the same old stuff with vague additions to the end.

Anyway, I'm off.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Again am busy

I have been reading, editing and writing, so have been pretty busy recently.

Recently haven't seen much in terms of films, since I'm not near indie cinemas to see the latest decent film and the films around my local area all look awful (like The Vampire's Assistant, gimme a break). There's not even a decent looking horror film coming out locally.

I have seen Tyson, which wasn't as good as hoped, was essentially a magazine article done in film. Just a very dull film. I expected more from James Toback. The Love God is another recent viewing (is not, I repeat not, the Myers comedy The Love Guru). It's from the sixties, star Don Knotts, and is pretty funny. Its not great, is not specific but has some wonderful little scenes and ideas throughout, is eccentric and unusual, in the late 60's kind of way.

Also saw 24 season 7, which was a massive improvement on season 6, and in one of the better years. Its best in it early episodes, where they keep the conspiracy smaller and the style paranoid, getting a bit OTT as it goes on but it keeps the interest up throughout, which is good for 24, a show that always usually has a slump in some part of the season. Its best where it focuses on the characters and their past over the previous years, most now angry and a little broken. But importantly he keeps the suspense going.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Been a tad busy

I have not been blogging much recently due to being busy. I've been helping with Irvine Beat FM's month trial, which went well, and am putting together footage on this event that I shot. I have also been chasing up jobs, doing some writing, some of which will appear on the blog, and have been setting up my new computer and its programmes. I should have a new film, it nearly finished being shot and a documentary being edited so its been nose to the grindstone.

But I still managed to watch the new Knight Rider and it is stunningly terrible.

Friday, 4 September 2009

District 9 and Inglorious Basterds

For District 9 I have to say I wasn't too keen on this one. I've just seen it and found it to be disappointing due to the hype and basic script and film-making flaws. While its one of the better films I've seen released the past few months, that's not really saying much. The characters were base at all times without really being elevated by detail or world ideas that weren't just ripped off better movies. The lead character was essentially a remake of the typical plucky, a bit eccentric and conservative trying to make good under horrible circumstances Peter Jackson character (Brain Dead and Bad Taste to Lord Of The Rings all have that at the centre) but kinda watered down without the horrible details Jackson does. The alien monsters are essentially Dr Who rejects who start off scary but turn out good. (how many ET 80's clones did that in a dull fashion) And then they had all these dull action scenes with cliche-ridden moments or capture and sacrifice that are horribly corny and Black Hawk Down music in the last half-hour to suggest soul. All you get really is racism is bad and corporations are scum. Big deal. This one really needed more work in the planning stages.

Inglorious Basterds meanwhile, is a riot. Its a movie-mad orgy of odd scenes and characters, grand gestures and twisted logic, where Nazi's can be scalped by vengeful Jews, where hunted women can calmly burn down a cinema with Hitler inside while dying from gunshot wounds and where there can be a healthy obsession with German movie propaganda. There are a few off moments (the opening is too on the nose for the first minute in its spaghetti western influences while a Cat People song insert is just a mess)
Some of the best moments came when people were at tables. Firstly we had the German "Jew Hunter" interrogating a farmer hiding Jews, which lasted about twenty minutes and was very tense, while another had some of the Basterds hiding as Germans in a bar surrounded by real Nazis and trying to fit in to avoid being killed. Finally we had a terrific scene where the Jew Hunter tries to sell out Hitler to the Basterds to ensure his own survival. There are other wonderful moments throughout but the table moments stick out.
I read the script in a moment of weakness when it leaked on the internet but it didn’t ruin anything as I had forgotten many details. That script didn’t suggest the mood or tone of the film at all, feeling brutal, without the details of the close-ups and pauses. I don’t know if bits were cut but in the script the first Jew-Hunter scene seemed over-written but was prefect on screen. (It’s that Hawks comment, if it reads well it won’t play well). The script was solid and interesting but the execution raised it.
Of huge importance is the DePalma influence. I was emailing this to a friend how the final section felt completely under DePalma’s influence, from the strangling (which also feels a little Fritz Lang in execution, and that’s a big compliment), the vaguely 60’s paranoia of cynical deals being made by unseen voices (Harvey Keitel if I’m not mistaken) and the sacrifices of many major, sympathetic characters, the Carrie burning section (with a very Hi Mom style of arts being dangerous) and the Scarface like massacre at the ending. I don’t think this was in any way a rip-off, just conscious/unconscious influence within his own ideas (and I’m probably reading too much into them but I’m a massive DePalma fan and I enjoyed spotting the influences)
The other two influences I think were Sam Fuller and his fifties movies (also check out Pitt’s big red one on his uniform (although that was a 1980 film)) and Jean-Pierre Melville films, which were either Resistance or gangster films, the subtle paranoia and pacing of both types were felt throughout Inglorious Basterds.
So Inglorious Basterds is terrific and District 9 is only slightly better than Terminator Salvation, which is no sort of state for the hip sleeper summer hit to be in, is it.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Brief Notes On Films Seen

Am a little busy so these won't be too long.

Let's start with the stupidest. Val Kilmer and his amazingly camp performance in The Saint. This is a film that's way too long, self-serious despite idiocy (cold fusion formula is best placed in a woman's bra, not making this up), and doesn't get around that all the Saint disguises are terrible. But this is definitely one of my guilty pleasures, to be watched every once in a while. Its sheer accumulation of bad or dodgy moments make it irresistible.

For better stupid we have Tron. Its plot is dumb as hell, its pacing basic and very uninspired but it's consistently visually beautiful, now having a wonderful retro feel, a very silent movie meets video game stylisation that's consistently intriguing. Its silliness just makes the entire thing work even better. The sequel is coming and hopefully will stay visually interesting but have a plot worth following.

For brilliantly stupid we have Land Of The Lost. Its this year's Speed Racer, a wonderful film that will alienate most of the audience as it drifts away from conventional set-ups into odd images and very peculiar jokes. The film feels like an update of its very sixties premise, adds a bit of TV Batman knowing ridiculous yet playing it straight (Will Ferrell would make a great TV Adam West type Batman) and some sexual humour. All of its big effects shots are thrown-away in the background while the strange characters discuss the absurdities from strange viewpoints or argue over minor details. Ferrell ends up in a feud with a T-Rex by insulting the T-Rex's intelligence "He's even dumber than the Polish." If you like the sound of that joke you'll love this film. If not, stay away.

In the better than it ever should have been category there is Rob Zombie's Halloween. I thought this was a a terrible idea and the film does have substantial flaws in the latter half, when it has to replay some moments from the first film and isn't as interesting. But the first half, with the young Michael Myers slowly going mad (the kid playing young Michael is great), has some wonderful moments and Zombie does possess some real visual skills that you would not expect from someone called Rod Zombie, and I'm actually glad it was made. Its in the Psycho remake territory in that most people will hate it but if you are on its wavelength there's something intriguing going on.

In the worse than it should have been category we have Virtuality, a TV pilot based on a decent idea, of astronauts going from Earth to our next star system, to find an inhabitable planet, while things go wrong in flight, adding some aspects of reality TV and virtual reality and then messing it all up. The script, by Battlestar Galactica duo Ronald Moore and Michael Taylor, does have good ideas but feels under-written dramatically, with not enough early intriguing events and ending on what felt like halfway through the first story. What's worse though is the casting, where they cast interesting women (with one exception) and dull men. Few characters end up emerging as people you want to follow. The biggest flaw is the direction by Peter Berg. It has no momentum, no building of pace for scenes to contrast, uses the actors horribly, cut ups important scenes so you can't visually follow it or are distracted to lose the point of what you are watching. Its one of the worst directing jobs I've seen in a long time and I think a better director could have gotten better performances from the actors and made the flaws far less obvious, Because the pilot obviously had a lot of potential, despite the flaws, that could be built upon, and was starting to go in an interesting direction by the end. But its probably not going to continue and understandably so.

So that's its for now.

Friday, 24 July 2009

George McBride Remembers Space Zeppelin

From the memories of the late George McBride, edited slightly from what was given in interview:

Space Zeppelin was a wonderful experience, starring actors you probably have never heard of. George Muffin Taylor, Brian Tellidude McNut and little Anne Wainthorpe. Made in the early sixties, it was my first non-exploitation film. It was my first time with a real effects budget. Alas it was not my first time with good actors but at least they were professional and sober.

What makes a good actor. I'll tell you. Focus on the lines. Don't inflect, don't whine, don't shake your arms and any other noteworthy body parts. Be serious. Be courageous in trusting that the writer knows what he is doing. For the first time my actors did that. And that's all you can ask as a director.

You know the plot of course. Zeppelin's appear from space, float into atmosphere and amass all over the world. Then the world begins to get paranoid, madness spreads, mothers killing sons, daughters killing fathers, children killing clowns, while the Zeppelin's do nothing. Of course in the second half the massive robots attack. Kinda like Daleks but we got out three months earlier. Too bad about our publicity budget, as we called them in those days, didn't stretch very far.

You know the writer objected to the robot attack. Said it would be scarier if the Zeppelins remained, were never explained, as they didn't quite make sense, thus would be creepy. What rot! People can imagine space zeppelins and that's all you need as the base for a man versus robot movie. Our way of getting rid of the robots was wonderful. There was rain and they all rusted. That was a wonderful touch by the writer, although he said it was sarcasm. Their winding down I think was wonderfully haunting, as they yell die, unable to move, as their Zeppelins wind down and crash into the cities below. It was one of my best reviewed films, is quite the cult oddity now.

Black and white is a wonderful visual too for a director, especially with models. Nowadays its all colour this and bulging that but in the good old days of acting and craft, black and white could save you a bob or two and give you the reputation as a craftsman.

That's all I have to say about the film Space Zeppelin. It literally speaks for itself.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The New World: Extended Cut

I'll blog on this probably later but the extended cut of The New World is a stunning achievement. The film was already a masterpiece and this cut made it far better. The extended moments added depth to the great images and gave them context beyond what was there in the original cut. I've just finished watching it so will need distance before writing something that is intelligent.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Terminator's Future

This is just me musing as I try and avoid going to bed (or ever see Transformers 2).

Where the hell is this series going? It's vomited all of its goodwill as a film series into the lap of the brain-deadened consumer, especially after Terminator 3. I mean I liked Terminator Salvation more than average but it wasn't the most imaginative of films, as it didn't suggest a truly intriguing world, nor the most interesting of narratives or character arcs, and basically didn't have that kick that a proper film needs. It was like a Planet Of the Apes sequel. Fun, okay-ish, I'd happily watch it on a Saturday night, would watch it over part 3 any day of the week. I like Christian Bale ranting like a madman. But I'd rather watch a Mad Max movie first. Or the first two Terminators. How the hell did they manage to piss away all the audience goodwill from the first two films? I don't think even the most enthusiastic of terminator fans are now that interested in Terminator 5. (I'm probably one of them but a note to G.S. you never read this sentence. Go back to sleep. This entire article is just a bad dream. Look behind you. It's a Bresson film. Or a Bunuel film. What is reality? Is reading this article just a projection of your up-coming madness?)

So the glow has gone and now middle-age, impotence, insomnia, bad backs, premature ejaculation (Terminator 3, sorry, couldn't resist), all that good stuff, has now afflicted the series. And there seems to be no cure.

And yet the TV show grew slowly but surely into something interesting, if a little slow at times. It had solid characters, good b-movie premises that followed on from the film. I admit the dialogue sometimes could be as subtle as using a crowbar to pick your nose but it was better than the last two films by a wide margin. The show actually had a decent, intriguing ending. It had sub-plots over the development of machines that, while not stunning developments, did progress the story well. It's character's progressed and got more interesting over time. It had a sexy Terminator that the hero frankly kinda wanted to bone, which was an interesting story choice. Given a choice, that's the story terminator fans would be more intrigued by.

I say give the guy who wrote the TV show a shot at the films. The films now have to be at a lower budget, which will probably improve them no end as it forces more novel story solutions, and truly need a character and story focus over action. The first two films had stories you remember and had real character moments and continuing beats. The last two films feel like an effects orgy, hoping no-one will notice. They may even be able to do subtle things to bring together the time-lines, or simply follow the end of the TV show. It could definitely open up some kind of continuation, especially of the one line that still has story interest.

Anyway, that's all. I'm off to watch Blade: the Series starring Sticky Fingaz (just kidding).


Torchwood is cheesy as hell in so many ways yet is still a lot of fun, killing off loads of people and damaging others apparently. Still, what's the deal, Dr Who the show kills nobody really (annoyingly actually) but Torchwood is like Friday The 13th of British TV. Anyone who appears is gonna end up dead eventually. And since they all have sex I'm guessing they must deserve it or something.

Of course its dark in a kind of safe way. (Even its gayness is done in a very safe, unsexualised way. Come on, annoy some people please!) Its entertaining but you don't really remember much of it later, unlike Battlestar Galactica, The Wire or Deadwood. The characters still feel like TV safe cliches at the end of the day, not having enough humane and complex elaboration for the situations to stick, something the flawed but more complex show like Terminator eventually developed. For example Torchwood in the past year and a half has killed all but two of its leads and yet nothing as is affecting as the death of a boy in Deadwood, as you saw how it affect an entire community in a complex way over time, like it would in life, or the arrest of a stupid and irritating character in season 2 of The Wire, as it lead to a stunning scene between two character at a children's play park, reminiscing while drunk, which was heart-breaking, as it delivered broken character and the sense of the waste of a generation. Torchwood doesn't fill in these human gaps, doesn't take its time, even in its character moments. Everything is too broad and signalled, even its supposed complexities. It never hit the stunning depths of the mutiny near the end of Galactica's run, where the villain's had a point, conscience, and the deaths were truly a result of the protagonist's inability to treat opponents with the most basic of human rights. Even the Terminator show, which had the same genre and populist constraints, did much better with human moments, the best being the soldier from the future who had to kill his love for a betrayal, something that had tremendous ambiguity and a sense that all had a point of view and and after it all, most of the characters probably wanted to be sick. It had kick as the human moments were built carefully over time and had a real pay-off when the time was right to deliver.

So Torchwood remains in a weird spot. Its better than it should be (its a spin-off of Dr Who after all). It's watchable but without distinction. It has good episodes that are neat but ultimately derivative. Its bad episodes are really bad. At this point I kinda get the feeling that its never going to find its feet to really pull everything together and will wander on for a year or so before disappearing for good.


This is the quickest post I'll ever write. This film is really stupid.

Monday, 6 July 2009

George McBride Obituary

While many a celebratory dies and are feted, no matter how unsavoury some parts of their lives were, some passings go unnoticed. One of those is George McBride, an elderly gay director whose career spanned many eras, from fifties quota quickie sci-fi to sixties nudie zombie biker movies, Roger Corman and American TV.

His producer, Jackson Tulord Breen DeWitt Delauncy 111, an elderly gent himself, (over 100 years old), remembers McBride fondly.

Old George was a strange one. I first laid eyes upon his ghastly nervous shell as he rebounded from a car driven by a thirteen year old child. He got up, took it with grace and got back to work, although the scenes he shot that day for me were a little lacking. Strangely the film made money, yet it was about a dog fighting an alien and its pet floozy in a small English village, so I think it was partially the writing. I remember a great suggestion of repressed sexuality in that one, that George would know all about.

George hated being asked personal questions, especially about his sexuality, which he would try to hide by buying obscene amounts of adult literature. Even the most perverted man could not get through a third of what he bought. He would be an exhausted shell, like the victims in one of George's infamous Nazi-fetish German alien invasion film Herr Slutz Die Neiberling. He was also deathly dull. That line from that semi-remake of George's 1965 bomb Abomination Wolf said it best. "Have you ever talked to a corpse. It's boring." George was like that.

Also, now I come to think of it, many a time could be stunningly unobservant. He always thought I was seventy when I was only twenty years older than him, the cheeky bugger. And his films were deadly and grotesquely paceless, to the point of masochism in regard to watching them, which why he has a following many have observed. They didn't intrigue, rise the passions, dip a little while the writer was drunk, then have have an orgy of either sex or violence (my rule, one, the other, or both!!!!).They meandered on like a serial killer looking for his next skin, like having sex with a vicar, a subject in which many, including myself and George, know a lot about. So they were bloody boring. God, I hated dailies when he was directing coma victims. In my day, producing quota quickies, we would hire the most pervy sicko's just to get through the day, on-screen and off. George had no truck with that so I only saw his films by contractual obligation.

Continuity bothered him even less than me. As I was a producer, that is damning. He didn't really show any interest in actors, actresses, dialogue pacing, story progression, scripts even. His motto was how many pages and where's the pub. And that's an attitude unfortunately lacking in today's directors.

After I fired George for giving oral sex to a leading man five minutes before a start of a day, I never saw him again. Oh I heard of his projects yet I never bothered to look them out as they seemed trashy, probably not in a good way. I never really had any interest in his personal life and would probably have walked by him in the street, given the choice.

I went to his rainy, cheap vulgar funeral, as I felt I should. His few friends had expired years ago from AIDS, there being ten people who sort of knew him. They said it was lung cancer officially but most youngsters sulking around the grave,, trying to cry with passion said it was the booze finally that left him adrift and exiting this mortal.... you know the rest. Ah well. So George McBride is dead. This may sound cruel buts its probably for the best.

A note: Some McBride fans object to the suggestion of why McBride left DeLauncy's employ, most saying it was other studio's offering him work. They also refuse to acknowledge his gayness, which is odd. But McBride was a strange, probably over-rated director. His cult continues to grow.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Brosnan Bond Movies

Basically, why in the hell were the Brosnan movies so bad.

Was just wondering about this. Roger Moore gets a kicking, a lot. but really, save his last one, View To A Kill, the rest were fun and did what you'd expect from Roger Moore. A lot of droll, campy fun, with Moore delivering in a very deft way that looks effortless. Its kind of like Adam West in Batman or Shatner in Star Trek. It's not classical acting, is over the top, but you have to acknowledge a certain skill. And its loads of fun. What more do you want? The Moore films, despite being of their time, hold up very well as entertainment.

Connery- Great, nasty, even in the weaker ones. Shame about the rest of his career where he became one of the worst actors ever to assault the screen, save a few odd moments.

Lazenby- Not a great Bond, a bit thick, but brutal, with one terrific, dark film. He puts Brosnan to shame and was a model to boot.

Dalton- Very under-rated and spare, with a warm sense of humour and sparks of humanity below the darkness. Both Bond films were terrific spy movies. He more or less lead the way to the Craig films of now and is definitely worthy of study.

Craig- Casino Royale was terrific, made with real bite and nastiness but Quantum Of Solace wasn't. It was okay but he really needs a good third film and some expansion in the role before he becomes two one-note. And on a personal note, he still isn't forgiven for The Invasion.

Now Brosnan. Terrible jokes, a bit smarmy. He made the two worst Bond movies ever (yes, worse than the sixties Casino Royale) with Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day. These are unwatchable. His two better ones still had very long minutes of dullness, were very long (could have lost a good twenty minutes each), and had a leading man who wasn't well, very good. Basically both could have starred any other Bond and been drastically improved. Brosnan is a weak actor without much inner drive, which leads to a constant blandness, inertia and vague nervousness that dulls any interest in what he's doing. So why is his stint tolerated, or viewed as good? Lowering standards? Enough explosions? A desire to see a bond movie? Who knows but try watching any of his bond films now.

So that's the rant. If you like Brosnan as Bond I pity you.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Snuff Box

Snuff Box is brilliant. Written by and starring Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher, its a twisted, absurdist romp between the strained friendship of an annoying American and a boorish Englishman. Both work for a hangman, bicker and treat each other and others shoddily, and play multiple characters. There is eventually some time travel, odd brothers and various other absurdities. Yet nothing is taken seriously.

Set mainly in an English upper class club, the fun of the show is that it takes nothing seriously. Its made up of cliches that the creators enjoy then twists these cliches by strange reactions, word use and a haphazard set of events. Nothing is ever close to make sense and no narrative is put into the show for anything other than to parody it. I'm not going to give away any of the jokes as its best to experience this as fresh as possible.

While I'm not familiar with Rich Fulcher, although I've kinda seen him in things, Matt Berry will be recognisable to many viewers who appreciate cult TV as Tod Rivers aka Dr Lucien Sanchez, from the endlessly hilarious Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. Here Berry really is allowed to let loose and is a hilarious swine throughout. Fulcher is the sensitive one and is just as funny, as the butt of every situation.

This show is for people who like the more oddball style of The League Of Gentlemen, Dr Terrible, or Black Books. Its got a wonderful affection for old culture and their absurdities that is very appealing.

Public Enemies

Public Enemies is the new Michael Mann film and it is beautiful. Its about death really, about people hanging onto something, adrenaline, a person, a job, to try and find a heartbeat, as life slowly draws to a close. The film is also about the rise of the FBI, from a series of state-controlled cop shops to one that is organised under J Edgar Hoover, with an eye to stamping down on organised crime.

The film is tied to the general facts, that Dillinger was released from jail, went on a crime spree, was caught, escaped again, things slowly going wrong for him as his people are slowly hunted down one by one by the feds while organised crime turns its back on him, leaving Dillinger with no way out. But its the details that really pump life into it.

We start, as with many Michael Mann films do, is by following the central character, seeing his world. Its is a world of detail, the setting up of the crime, the spread of people, Dillinger working out exactly what he needs to do to be successful while being very careful about the dangerous world he is in. We see the world quickly through details within action but Dillinger is always still, always focused.

Dillinger's problem is that he is defined by his society. He truly doesn't have much to him beyonds his smarts and what he thinks he is fighting for, which is money and to escape a lack of direction through direct action. Society and its appalling sins throughout the 1930's provides an enemy to him, something to define him. So when this society changes and gets wise to him, he has nowhere to go, has to wait slowly for death while those who he has genuine bonds with die one by one, usually in front of him, leaving him haunted, adrift and in hiding. The editing of the film is interesting in that the longer you spend with Dillinger without cutting away to others, this aspect comes through. This is a man in his own tomb, society around him focusing him in a way that leaves him few choices. Depp is great at suggesting a man adrift. I think this might be one of his very best performances, no longer fidgety, bored or distracted, which are some of his weaknesses at times as an actor. Here he always seems to be in the moment, seems challenged. Its pretty awful when you realise how little he is usually challenged by parts, always being too defined as quirky. This and his great turn in Sweeney Todd hopefully will lead to better work.

Bale is great also, is the film's secret weapon in that he's stunningly precise, being given little in elaboration but works on the details to suggest life behind a very careful exterior. Melvin Purvis is a civilised man who has to hunt psychopaths, has to be brutal for the public to survive such types. Bale gives wonderful reactions throughout to suggest both the civilised man and animal hunter existing side by side, always both, always a painful thing he has to deal with. Like Depp he is a good actor who gets half-written parts to elaborate upon. When working with a director such as Michael Mann, the details become the character without speeches so Bale can really do what he does best, which is instinctive, without giving speeches that elaborate and dull what he does best without words. In some ways this is what I wanted to see Bale do with Batman. In this he seems so much sharper and alive than we've seen since The Prestige or Rescue Dawn, two other recent Bale highlights. I really hope he continues to work with Mann as I think there could be some amazing work if Bale moves centre stage in the next Mann film.

Marion Coitallard is also terrific as Dillinger's girlfriend, playing what could be a dull part with a sense of the society that defines her. She doesn't have much screentime but really makes it a presence. Mann also gets back together with Stephen Lang, who plays Bale's lead hunter. Lang was in the masterpiece Manhunter, but more importantly, was the moral focus in Mann's other great work, Crime Story. Here he plays what should be a cold hunter and gives it stunning complexity. The film is great on the hunters of Dillinger, even though nothing much is said as its what's going on with looks and little shrugs, how someone studies a paper. Stephan Graham as the loony Baby Face Nelson is another indelible performance in a short time, as the guy is a nut but is cunning and animal like.

The film is full of moments of grace, from Bale hunting Pretty Boy Floyd, to the bank robberies, which start off as a rush and keep that pace, even as they start to suggest doom and no way out, toe Dillinger's end, one of the great death sequences in cinema.

The film is shot on video and looks terrific. Mann truly has worked the technology to be what he needs it to be. This film again shows that Mann is one of the few serious directors, along with Cronenberg, working today. Its an amazing experience, and like Miami Vice, sure to be underrated in favour of a more flashier type of film-making.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Quick general views on films seen

Been a little busy recently, thus few updates but here are some comments on films I have seen.

Lets starts with the worst, The Invasion. A truly wretched film. I never thought you could mess up Invasion Of The Body Snatchers but this managed it. Its just awful. The first half is full of wandering scenes with dull dialogue that feels to be unmatching to what we just saw. There is no scene that adds tension. Its just a collection of shots with no dramatic purpose. Then suddenly the film has fits and starts into action that don't make much sense and make the situation even more confusing and dull. Or maybe I just fell asleep. Its obviously been hacked around but there's little to suggest a film that was ever any good (in fact the obviously added on ending is actually more fun than the rest of the film).

Now onto a film that got a lot of bad notice but wasn't so bad (at least visually) The Happening. Yes the film has terrible dialogue and acting to match. As everyone acts the same unfocused way you have to blame the director as they couldn't all have made the same duff acting decisions. Some of the dialogue is laughable. And yet the film has many terrific silent sequence, simply of wind blowing, people losing the ability to want to stay alive. If the film was a silent movie it would have been much better.

Finally a no-holds-barred good monster movie The Mist. A group of people trapped in a supermarket after a mist falls on a town, with many monsters within the mist. While the set-up sounds hokey its played for real, from the point of view of people in the situation acting like normal people (some are suicidal, some go religious). While under pressure, things get out of hand between the survivors and they start killing one another eventually, due to basic human weakness. The ending, although badly scored, has a terrific punch as its pretty ballsy. This one is like Tremors or Arachnophobia. It takes a b-movie premise and elevates it due to simple craft and focus.

Terminator Salvation: A decent enough film, not really worthy of the ire its been getting. Its main trouble is that its not very surprising and that the Terminator TV show did a lot more with character detail and expanding the world than this managed, even with all the money it had. Christian Bale is actually fine as John Connor. Not as good as he's been in other films but he did his job. And the future world was interesting to a degree, in that you've seen it all before but it worked in a b-movie way. I think this film is getting the rage than Terminator 3 deserved. Its not a film that's ripe for rediscovery but its fine. In the fun movie blockbuster stage Star Trek is much better but I can imagine Transformers 2 will be much worse. I can imagine now that the Terminator TV show will be the best remembered follow-up to the first two films.

Drag Me To Hell is a riot. Its incredibly shallow but that's not a criticism. The film is simply a scarefest, best seen in an audience full of screaming people. It has loads of sick images and cheap scares but simply delivers on what is needed.

Have been watching some Fassbinder films and Angelopolous but those would take a more thorough posting than I have time for at the moment, as they are a lot more thoughtful, as well as the masterpiece Satantango.