Archive for March, 2009

Kathryn Bigelow

xkbThe South by Southwest Film Festival saw the premier of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq war set Action Thriller.  The film will go on a limited release in America in the summer but there is no UK release date announced for the film as yet.  This is a shame as the film has had some good reviews, based on the real life experiences of Mark Boal a journalist who followed a bomb disposal group in Iraq.  The powerful drama In the Valley of Elah was also based on a story by Boal so this may give an indication of the type of film it may be.  The casting is interesting with some relatively big names, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Evangeline Lilly (best known for Lost) but the three main characters are played by little known actors.  When talking about the film Strange Days Bigalow said:  “If you hold a mirror up to society, and you don’t like what you see, you can’t fault the mirror” It has been suggested that The Hurt Locker is a similar reflection on society and offers the good balance between this thoughtful filmmaking and the action of Point Break.  Hardly prolific but always interesting, it is a good time to look back on her career to see how Kathryn Bigelow has evolved as a director. 


xloveHer first feature was The Loveless (co directed with Monty Montgomery) Starring Willem Dafoe as the leader of a Motorcycle gang.  Made in 1982 the film was released in America but not the UK.  There is a similar story with the DVD, it came out in 2004 in America but we are still waiting in the UK.  Consequently I have not seen the film and can’t tell you much about it other than to say it was the début for both director and star (other than as an un-credited extra in Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate) and has been described as a loose remake of The Wild One. 


xdark1Her genre blending and bending horror masterpiece Near Dark has already been mention in my Vampire blog a couple of weeks ago.  As I said at the time it is possibly one of the best vampire films ever made.  Made in 1987 it offered a stark near realism to a normally supernatural genre, blending this with a modern western and a road movie.  This was in complete contrast to other movies being made at the time such as Joel Schumacher’s teenage vampire flick The lost boys.  Lance Henriksen is great as the head of the vampire family.  Look out for: A young Adrian Pasdar (Nathan Petrelli in Heroes) in the lead role.   In a lot of ways this is Bigalow’s best film.


xblueOf all the films mentioned Blue Steel is probably the one that has not aged well.  A stockbroker (Ron Silver) witnesses a cop (Jamie Lee Curtis) shooting a robber and becomes obsesses with her.  He takes the robbers gun and starts killing people at random at the same time starting an affair with the unsuspecting cop.  Jamie Lee Curtis is a good showing both a tough and vulnerable side but it is far from her best performance, the same can be said of the director!



xpointPoint Break is probably her best known film.  The story of an FBI agent (Gary Busey) and his new young partner Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) who goes undercover to catch a group of surfing bank robbers.  Taking surfing lessons from a local girl (Lori Petty) who turns out to be the ex girlfriend of prime suspect (Patrick Swayze).  Utah quickly becomes embroiled in the culture and the people getting too deep into his cover.  Does this plot sound familiar?  It is remarkably similar to The Fast and the Furious (2001) but borrowing plots is nothing new! and it works better here in the original.  The film is the main reason I took up surfing (it took me 12 years from when I first saw the film!) it had a similar effect of Reeve’s, he learnt to surf for the film and still surfs to this day.  Don’t underestimate this as a mindless action flick or a Keanu Reeves “Dude” movie.  It is a modern classic that has been much imitated and provides some of the best parts for all actors involved.  Also look out for a cameo from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers as rival surfers.


xstrangeStrange Days is a much underrated film.  Set at the turn of the millennium, former cop Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) turned black market dealer in an illegal new technology.  He unwittingly gets involved in a web of murder and blackmail that brinks him into contact with characters from his past.  Ralph Fiennes seems a strange choice for this film but is brilliant in the role but the real star of the show is Angela Bassett as a female bodyguard and friend of Lenny.  The film is set on the eve of the new millennium a few years after in was made, so it is now set in the past but the near future themes are probably more relevant than ever now.  Set in LA and made at a time when the riots of the 90’s were still fresh in the memory.


xwaterThe weight of Water is a very different film for Bigalow, based on a novel by Anita Shreve.  The story is told in two different era’s the first is based around an actual double-murder on the Isles of Shoals in 1873.  The other is set in the present day as a photographer (Catherine MaCormack) researches the murder.  This is a very character driven story with little action.  As you would expect there are great performances from the ever reliable Sean Penn and Sarah Polley but there is also a really good turn from the usually wooden Elizabeth Hurley.  This is not a film about society like her previous films, this is a film about people and relationships.  It is as if the director has taken her usual subject matter and looked at a small part of it with a microscope.


xk19K-19: The Widowmaker is based on the true story of Russia’s first nuclear submarine.  When things go wrong on the maiden voyage the crew have to prevent a nuclear disaster.  The film is high on drama and tension but not on action.  This is a probable reason why it sunk at the box office (sorry I couldn’t resist).  When looking at the cast and the Russian Sub setting I think a lot of people expected a film more like The Hunt for Red October, this is a very different film.  Taking a military setting and Communist one at that Bigalow is able to look at both individuals and the collective group making a far more intimate film than you would expect.


xhurtAs I look back through all these films I get the impression that Kathryn Bigelow has matured as a film maker choosing more thoughtful films that reflect society and more importantly the individuals that make up that society.  Her films are always very watchable, her characters have something to say and there is always a sense of right and wrong even if that line gets frequently blurred.  Kathryn Bigelow is the perfect director to remind us a film does not need a worthy subject matter to be a good film.  Good is good and more often than not her films are good.   I just wish she would make a few more of them I long for the action of Point Break, the amazing visuals of Strange Days and the originality of Near Dark.  Hopefully The Hurt Locker will contain all these elements and mix them with a social commentary that will make its audience think about what it is watching.


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trans4Yet another undiscovered gem that bypassed the cinema. Directed by Brad Anderson who is best known for The Machinist but who has also been responsible for lots of episodes of TV programs including The Shield and The Wire. Starting out with the murder of a drug dealer Transsiberian soon switches to American couple Roy and Jessie in Beijing, played by the excellent Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer. Having been on an aid project in China they travel on the legendry Transsiberian railway to Russia. After their first night on the train they meet the young couple who they will be sharing their cabin with for the duration of their week long train journey. A young American girl Abby (Kate Mara) and her Spanish boyfriend Carlos Eduardo.

transFor the first thirty minutes the film unfolds with the two couples getting to know each other, there is an underlying feeling that Roy and Jessie are being played or conned by the younger couple, you just don’t know how or why. Is the discussion about passports the crux of it or just a red herring? How are they connected to the death at the start of the film? Are they the drug smugglers described by a passenger on the train?

trans3This is all put aside when as the two couples get off the train in a small snowy town. They get to know each other as they wander around town.  But then things start to go wrong, Roy misses the train. Is this just an accident or is something more sinister going on? The story unfolds, sometimes predictably sometimes not! Until in the last thirty minutes it takes a surprising twist.

trans2The film has genuine tense moments and is brilliantly shot emphasising the contrast between the claustrophobic train and the stunning snow-covered landscapes. Emily Mortimer’s Jessie is the character who keeps the film moving. Her good girl with bad girl past is the most interesting character in the film and played to perfection, although some of her decisions are cringe worthy. A great little thriller that really should have had a wider cinema release.

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Taken came out in the UK last summer to mixed reviews including empire magazine who said.

“Liam Neeson’s ill-judged presence should not cause you to even consider going within 30 feet of a fleapit that’s screening Taken”


“A venomous little actioner that mistakes bile for adrenaline.”

taken1I think the reviewer Dan Jolin really hated the film, as well as the scathing review he gave it one star out of five. I have just read the review I wrote at the time. I gave the film a solid three out of five stars (high praise by my standards) but seemed to concentrate on the problems with the film more than the good points. Below is a copy of my review from the time:

Some great action set pieces such as car chases and brutal fights keep this film going, unfortunately there is real sense that you have seen it all before and done better. Best known is probably Roman Polanski’s Frantic staring Harrison Ford, also set in Paris. Arthur Penn’s Target staring Gene Hackman and Matt Dillon was set in Berlin but has the former spy theme again this time looking for Hackman’s kidnapped wife. Taken has its problems, firstly the daughter played by Maggie Grace best known as Shannon in Lost. At 25 she is far too old to play a 17 year old, she compensates by acting 14. The Liam Neeson character’s relationship with his daughter comes across as a little obsessive and creepy. The plot is a plodding and not completely believable. Not a terrible film but not one you will remember as a classic.

taken3Since then it has been released in America and is averaging 8 out of 10 on the IMDB website and has so far taken a healthy $133m and there is talk of a sequel already doing the rounds. Re-watching the film I can see what the empire film didn’t like about it, finding the characters and the movie itself Xenophobic. While I can see it could be seen that way the attitude is essential to the plot as it requires a certain a gulf between cultures in order to portray the innocent person I peril. You do have to get over that if you are going to watch the film. It is worth noting that it is directed by Pierre Morel and produced by Luc Besson who are both French. If it had a bit of comedy in it, it would probably be considered a satire on racial attitudes and American foreign policy but that really would be pushing it! But very much like the list that is the subject of John le Carré’s The Russia House it tells us more about the writers than the writers tell us about the subject. You also need to look beyond the fact that Liam Neeson’s character is a blunt instrument who bulldozes his way through the search for is daughter making some logic defying decisions that leave you thinking he could have more successfully achieved his goal with a bit more subtlety and guile. The same result could have been achieved with far less violence but that would have been a different film (see the poor performing The International as an example). If you can get over these things there is a lot to enjoy as a simple action film, the action comes thick and fast and done without the aid of CGI.

taken21The real joy of the film is not the action but who is doing it, Liam Neeson has a real intensity about him so much so that although you can probably think of a dozen names of actors who could have played the part (some far more famous than Neeson) the film would not have worked half as well with anyone else. When he says: “If you let my daughter go now, that will be the end of it. But if you don’t, I will look for you. I will find you. And I will kill you.” You really believe him. It is easy to think of Neeson as his most famous role Oskar Schindler but he has had some all action parts as well, think of Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars, Rob Roy and Darkman and lets not forget the villain in Batman Begins Ra’s al Ghul (sorry for the plot spoiler if anyone is about to see Batman Begins for the first time!). I have heard his character ex CIA “fixer” Bryan Mills compared to James Bond (Neeson was suggested as a possible Bond in the 90’s), Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, Paul taken4Kersey (Charles Bronson’s character from Death Wish) as well as any charter ever played by Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal (less the ponytail!) and it is true he has a little of all of these in his performance. The film would probably never have been made if not for the success of the recent Bond and Bourne films and its success will spawn countless nasty violent imitators most of them will go straight to DVD bypassing the cinema completely.

If you can’t decide if you want to see the film or not my recommendation is to give it a go but I will warn you may not like it. It doesn’t exactly have the love it or hate it “Marmite effect” but like Marmite if you hate it you will really really hate it. I stand by my three out of five star review.

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phantomThis July will be the tenth anniversary of the release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace so it seemed to be a good time to look back at how, what at the time was the most anticipated film of all time has aged. I actually went to a midnight screening the day the film came out, sad I know! My impressions at the time were somewhat mixed. Looking back I still think the same. 

phantom2The casting of Liam Neeson, Ewan Mcgregor, Natalie Portman and Terence Stamp is great and Jake Lloyd was okay as the young Anakin. There were two fantastic set pieces, the pod race and the final battle. The lightsabre fights are excellent giving a new dimension not seen in the original trilogy.  The rest of the plot was a little strung out and a bit over padded.  The mysticism goes too far mainly the whole immaculate conception of Anakin concept. The designs of the ships and buildings are excellent showing a shiny and new pre war look in contrast to the old dirty and damaged look of the original trilogy. Queen Amidala’s ship was inspired by the Lockheed “Blackbird” jet and looks stunning. The Naboo star fighters are also perfect, reminiscent of X-wings but in keeping with the rest of the design more streamline. They did however miss an opportunity to show a shiny straight from the factory Millennium Falcon.

yodaGeorge Lucas has claimed that the script contains aspects of his first draft for A New Hope (the original Star Wars from 1977). He has also claimed that he had the story ark from episode I to VI worked out from the start. Both these claims seem a little stretched although I’m sure he had some ideas and concepts that he wanted to use. When comparing episodes I and IV some of the connections in the storyline feel a little forced suggesting the story arc was not as evolved as he would have us believe.

jarjarThen we come on to the big problem Jar Jar fucking Binks. Was this character created as comic releif or to entertain kids? It is as if the film makers didn’t know who their target audience was! Did they want to appeal to the kids who had loved the original films and grown up with it. Or did they want to bring a new group of kids in. the result was the kids film and the fans film linked by the floppy eared clown. The problem isn’t limited to JarJar, the entire Gungan race is a problem. Their dialogue is annoying at best, the society they live in doesn’t seem to make sense and is not believable within the context of the film. Queen Amidala’s constant change of outfits and the over the top design of the outfits is a joke. They are clearly designed to make the decoy queen plotline work. Unfortunately it fails; anyone who had looked at a review of the film knew that Queen Amidala was played by Natalie Portman. that’s when the concept failed as it was clear the handmade sent by the queen to observe Qui Gon was Natalie Portman. The characters can be a bit wooden, I refer to the dialogue not the delivery. This I suspect is the reason for Darth Mauls lack of dialogue, it was cut because it wasn’t very good.

But the problem starts before that. The introduction so called credit crawl scrolling up the screen. In the original film we had:

“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire…….”

This is followed by the rebels running for their lives chased by the evil empire and one of the most sinister villains in movie history. Darth Vader. In The Phantom Menace we get:

“Turmoil has engulfed the galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute….”

We are not kids like we were in ‘77, we now have to earn money and pay taxes, we don’t want our fantasy escapism to be about a tax dispute.

queen1In conclusion taken on its own merits it is a good solid film enjoyable film. The first in a trilogy that gradually gets better culminating in Revenge of the Sith . Taken from the point of view of a fan of the first three films it is a bit disappointing and the best of the trilogy, Revenge of the Sith is at best on a par with the weakest of the original films Return of the Jedi. Like the trilogy as a whole it isn’t bad but it could have been so much more. George Lucas has one last shot at redemption. He has stated that the story finishes with the redemption of Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi so the story can not go beyond that point so he has to go back generations to the start of the Jedi and find out how and why the Sith were wiped out. But he won’t do it so we will have to settle for the six films we have. The possibilities for this film could be endless but I know it will never get made.

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shipI have recently seen the Mutant Chronicles on DVD a film that was frequently advertised in the pre movie trailers at my local multiplex but never actually shown there.  A fate I think will be shared by Franklyn, due out last month and not a sniff of it in the cinema! 

Mutant Chronicles is a sci-fi that looks like a video game and has the retro-future look that has become popular recently.  During the ice age an alien machine was sent to earth to turn men into mutants, a sort of zombie type annakilling machine.  A group of monks deactivate it by sealing it deep in the ground.  Years later in 2707 the world (now controlled by four corporations) is at war.  During a battle the seal is broken and soon mutants are taking over the world.  As the population flees to off world colonies a monk (Ron Perlman) from the order who originally buried the machine sets out recruit soldiers to destroy the machine with a small group made up from former enemies from all four corporations.

There is little in the way of plot.  The group travel to the site of the machine twoand have to kill the mutants along the way.  Obviously they lose some of their number, some of whom come back as mutants.  Then we have the final battle to destroy the machine with a nice little twist.  Where the film really works is in the CGI heavy visuals.  It isn’t the best CGI in the world but a great deal of thought has gone into the production design (a lot more than into the plot and character development!).  The steam powered spaceships and art deco skyscrapers are a B movie treat reminiscent of Casshern.  The films origins are as a Swedish role-playing game.  The review in empire magazine refers to the characters as “a band of Dungeons & Dragons-style warriors” and jokes “Perlman even carries the rulebook with him” referring to the text the monk refers to along the way.

aokiThe charters are two dimensional but that is standard for this sub-genre and doesn’t really matter.  We have Ron Perlman as warrior monk with what I think was supposed to be an Irish accent.  His sidekick Anna Walton (recently seen as Princess Nuala along side Perlman in Hellboy) is a nun who is pretty handy with a sword (useful!), she ronhas also taken a vow of silence that she breaks later in the film, she shouldn’t have bothered they didn’t give her anything useful to say.  Thomas Jane is the hero of the film with Sean Pertwee playing his doomed friend (how often does he survive to the end of a film?)  The German actor Benno Fürmann plays their former enemy now fighting along side them.  Devon Aoki is described as “a single mother with 62 confirmed kills” I think the casting director must be a Sin City fan .  John Malkovich’s cameo as a corporate boss was probably only shot to get a big star in the trailer.

As a film it isn’t about to appear on anyone’s top ten list but it was an enjoyable enough piece of nonsense.

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Are American High Schools cooler than British ones? I grew up in England watching American movies and TV shows and rapidly came to the conclusion that they had a lot more fun in American schools than we where having. I know these films are all fiction or just taking the best elements and cramming them into ninety minutes but they where so much cooler than anything British producers could come up with!  These films where all about Sex and drugs, the kids drove cool cars and the American drinking laws didn’t seem to stop them having massive parties. Looking back they weren’t having that much fun in Rebel Without a Cause and I am glad we never had anything like the “hazing” in Dazed and Confused but there are still some examples of high school movies that I look back on fondly. I am not talking about sports films or horror/slasher movies set in high school but films that are actually about the kids.



Dazed and Confused

xdazed1My favourite high school movie came out the year I left school. Looking back you recognise half the cast and wonder how they got so many stars including: Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Parker Possey and yes that is Speedle from CSI (Rory Cochrane) playing Slater the school stoner! Then you remember they xdazed2were virtually unknown at the time. The story takes place over the last day (and more importantly night) of school term in 1976. As with so many Richard Linklater films it was shot on location in Austin Texas a place that is becoming a hotbed for independent cinema. The film is set at the time the director would have been 16: although not as romanticized a view of the past as films like American Graffiti it does look back on the era with great fondness and fun. When watching the film you get the impression he did half the things the characters in the film did, and wishes he did some of the others!  In 2004 ten years after the film came out three of Richard Linklater’s former classmates filed a lawsuit claiming he did not gain their permission to use their likenesses and surnames (Wooderson, Slater and Floyd) and now suffer from ridicule as a result of the film. From the opening bars of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion you get a vibe for what the film will be like and know the soundtrack is going to be good, with highlights including War, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple it captures the mood as well as the era xdazedcarof the film. This is also captured in the classic early 70’s cars driven by the kids most notably O’Bannion’s Plymouth Duster, Wooderson’s Chevy Chevelle SS and Pickford’s Pontiac GTO. The underlying theme of the film is best exemplified by Woodersons credo Just Keep Livin’


“Man, it’s the same bullshit they tried to pull in my day. If it ain’t that piece of paper, there’s some other choice they’re gonna try and make for you. You gotta do what Randall “Pink” Floyd wants to do, man. Let me tell you this, the older you do get the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N”



The Breakfast Club

xbreakfast1A film that has become so ingrained in popular culture that it is referenced in countless films and TV programs. The story is so simple it’s amazing it got through a pitch; it must have been something like. “Five kids all representing a different stereotypes, meet in detention, they start of hating each other but become friends by the end”. It is one of those films that could have been so much different if the casting had been different. Widely regarded as the stand out performance of the film, Judd Nelson (in one of his three good film roles, the others being Phil Hicks in Fandango and Nick Peretti in New Jack City) nearly didn’t happen. First they tried to cast Nicolas cage but couldn’t afford his salary demand. Then cast Emilio Estervez in the part but couldn’t find anyone to play Andrew Clark so moved Estervez to that role replacing him with John Cusack (the only other person suggested who I can imagine in the role) before replacing him with Judd Nelson. He was then nearly sacked by director John Hughes because of his attitude and treatment of co-stars particularly Molly Ringwald, co-star Paul Gleason intervened claiming it was a misunderstanding and Nelson was simply staying in character off camera (he is known to be a method actor). There where also questions over Nelsons age, at 25 he was the oldest of the students in the film and played college graduates in two other films that year; St. Elmo’s Fire and Fandango. The film like so many of the directors other films is set in the fictional (no one told Jay and Silent Bob that!) suburb of Chicago; Shermer, Illinois and was shot on location in real schools. The interaction between the charters was probably helped as the film was shot in sequence having been rehearsed like a play. You leave the film wondering what will happen when the kids go back to school on Monday, will they still be friends, you just somehow know they are going to be okay. The balance between life affirming and rebellion is perfectly portrayed not just by the kids striving to be something else but the janitor who comes across as being a lot more intelligent than the hapless principal.


“Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out, is that each one of us is: a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.”




xheathersWow is this film really 20 years old! Let’s start with the facts, anyone asking why I haven’t included Mean Girls, the simple answer is Mean Girls is a watered down imitation of Heathers and the Plastics are positively nice, friendly and liberal in comparison to the Heathers who are the most evil hateful clique in the history of high school movies. That is why the film is so good.  Everyone who has ever been to school will have said they want to kill one of their classmates at some time.  Most of us didn’t really mean it and the majority of those who did mean it had the sense not to do anything about it.  Heathers is a great “what if” film.  With the extremely black humour and high body count the events should not be taken literally in the way some of the other films should be, however the themes of alienation are a staple of the genre. A note on casting Brad Pitt was rejected for the role of JD as he was considered to nice for the role, if only they could have looked forward a few years to see Tyler Durden! Heather Graham and Jennifer Connelly both turned down roles in the film.   So we ended up with a young xheathers21Winona Ryder in her biggest role to date and a 21 year old Christian Slater who had been appearing in films and TV since he was 7.  Slater is suitably weird; he starts out as the mysterious kid in school but rapidly turns into a psycho.  A perfect film for him as for years to come you never knew what to expect from him, it was around this time he developed his off screen persona as a Hollywood bad-boy.  There is a great device in the film where Veronica has virtually the same conversation with her parents twice, it is then referenced in a later conversation, it says so much about teenagers relationships with their parents.  The hippy teacher or guidance counsellor has become a recurring joke and cliché in American films and TV shows but it was still fresh back in the 80’s and is played to perfection by Penelope Milford.  It is also great to look back on the dodgy 80’s hairstyles and clothes.  On a sadder note, two of the films stars died prematurely: Kim Walker whose character says “Did you have a brain tumour for breakfast?” died of a brain tumour and Jeremy Applegate whose character prays he will never commit suicide at Heaters funeral later committed suicide with a shotgun.


“People will look at the ashes of Westerburg and say, “Now there’s a school that self-destructed, not because society didn’t care, but because the school was society.” Now that’s deep.”



Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

xferrisA film that appears in lists of best comedies and best high school movies; however you look at it this film is a classic! That’s why it is the second John Hughes film in the list.  Ferris Beuller (Matthew Broderick) is a high school kid who has everything going for him.  He is doing well at school, he is very popular, has a perfect girlfriend and doting parents but from time to time decides to take a day off to help him get through the monotony of school life. On this particular day he decides to bring along girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck). His intention to give Cameron something good to remember high school by.  Cameron also has something else going for him, the keys to his dads Ferrari 250 GT Spyder xferris-carCalifornia (sadly a replica, or possibly fortunately a replica considering its fate). The film is basically a cat and mouse chase between Ferris and his nemesis’ his sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) and Principal Rooney. Most of the action takes place out of school as the three friends have a day to remember in the city.  Unlike the other films I have mentioned that gained cult status on TV and Video Ferris Bueller was a massive box office success taking over $70million making it one of the top 10 grossing films of the year.


“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”



Other recommended viewing: 

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, early 80’s comedy with a young Sean Penn and written by Cameron Crowe.  Say xsayAnything, Cameron Crowe writes and directs this time, staring ever reliable John Cusack.  Rebel Without A Cause, Nicolas Ray’s film is over fifty years old now but still good to watch, staring James Dean, Natalie Wood and a 1949 Mercury Coupe, also look out for a young Dennis Hopper who appeared in this and Giant with James Dean.  The Last Picture Show is Peter Bogdanovitch’s 1971 film set in a small Texas town in the 50’s, a wonderfully bleak film.  Rushmore is a curious little Wes Anderson film set in a private prep school, a fantastic cast including the geniuses that is Bill Murray.  “Joel, you wanna know something? Every now and then say, “What the fuck.” “What the fuck” gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.” The famous line from Risky Business an early Tom Cruise film that made him a star.  Napoleon Dynamite is quirky comedy about a geeky high school loser.  American Graffiti isn’t really a high school movie but well worth a viewing.  Then we have the crossover films that incorporate sci-fi or fantasy into the high school movie:  Donnie Darko is xdonnieone of the best films of recent years and made overnight stars of Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, if you haven’t already seen it go for the theatrical version not the directors cut.  Back to the Future, one of the best trilogies ever but the 1985 original is by far the best of the three films.  Not as good as back to the future but Francis Ford Coppola’s back in time high school movie Peggy Sue Got Married is also worth a look.


If you haven’t already seen them take a look at all these films.  If you have they are all worth another viewing.

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suvTwo FBI agents are sent to a small town sheriff’s office to interview the witnesses/survivors to a gruesome serial killers latest attack.  Each person tells their story with flashbacks of what previously happened, showing that some of them are not telling the complete truth.  I somehow think Jennifer Lynch had a little help from her farther David (who produced this film) when it came to attracting actors. Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond have both been in his films previously. It is great to see Julia Ormond playing against type and she did a good job too.  The film itself was interesting, well put together, and suitably grim. It would have been so much better if it had had a twist at the end instead of the inevitable outcome (unless the ending was intended as a twist?). As it was we just had sit waiting for the reveal that was clearly going to come sooner or later. Ultimately it is a nasty little film that lots of people will be repulsed by. I actually enjoyed it and found it far more interesting than films like Saw, Hostel and all their imitators.   

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Friday the 13th

In honour of today’s date I am going to take a quick look back at an old film. 


13thHalloween is the classic of teen slasher movies that everyone tries to live up to but the original Friday the 13th isn’t bad.  At nearly 30 years old it looks a little cheep now but there is enough to still make you jump.  In fairness to the makers of the film writer Victor Miller has made no secret that it was his intention to cash in on the success of Halloween that came out just two years earlier. It worked the film made nearly $40million (about $125million in today’s money adjusted for inflation) from an initial budget of about $550,000 (Halloween made $47 million from a $325,000 budget).  One of the ways the budget was kept down was to film at a real camp; Camp Nobebosco in New Jersey.  The camp is still in existence today and is visited by fans of the film.  It is a surprisingly enjoyable film even in an irony obsessed post Scream era, and look out for a Young Kevin Bacon.  A remake has recently come out but only lasted a week at my local cinema, not a good sign, especially when compared to My Bloody Valentine that with the aid of the 3D gimmick lasted over a month! I must be honest I didn’t get around to seeing either but don’t think I missed much from reviews and word of mouth.  A little piece of trivia, the body count goes up from 10 to 14 in the remake compared to the original. 


By now everyone probably knows the twist at the end but for those who don’t I won’t give it away! 

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leeThe first vampire I remember was Dracula.  Depending on your age this may be Gary Oldman or Bela Lugosi (or any one on the other 206 actors listed on IMDB to have played him in film and on TV) but for me Dracula will always be Christopher Lee.  The film was Dracula: Prince of Darkness, the second of the Hammer Dracula films from 1966.  As I remember it was 1986 and it was shownpitt on Channel 4 as part of a double bill with one of the Hammer Frankenstein films.  A few weeks before seeing the film I had been introduced to Christopher Lee but as a ten year old who had never heard of Hammer let alone seen one of its films had no idea who he was. Following that I watched many Hammer films particularly Vampire films including the other Dracula films and a few others including Twins of Evil, Countess Dracula, The Vampire Lovers and The Brides of Dracula.  I loved all the old Hammer films but anything with Christopher Lee and/or Peter Cushing was my favourite.  
lostAs I approached my teenage years I started watching more modern horrors like Sam Raimi and George A. Romero’s zombie films as well as the slasher films that where popular at the time.  It is worth mentioning at this point that Romero also made a sort of vampire film in 1977, Martin.  It isn’t up to the standard of his zombie films but worth seeing all the same.  The only vampire film I remember seeing at the time was The Lost Boys in 1987.  I think this was the first comedy vampire film I had seen but loved it.  It wasn’t until about five years later that I discovered the 80’s masterpiece Near Dark also form 1987.  Directed by Kathryn Bigelow it was like nothing I had ever seen before.  It moved vampires away from the supernatural and closer to the real word with victims saved with a blood transfusion and not a prayer or ritual.  The nomadic family of vampires combined elements of road movie, serial killers and a darkmodern western.  The main character Caleb is played by Adrian Pasdar who is probably best known as Nathan Petrelli in Heroes.  A bleak but enjoyable film, possibly one of the best vampire films ever made.  It was also around this time I first saw Tony Scott’s The Hunger from 1983.  A film I enjoyed at the time but seeing it again years later I appreciated it even more.  It explores the same themes of the loneliness of immortality as Interview with The Vampire that I will mention later.  On the same subject there is a great book on a similar theme called Glittering Savages by Mark Burnell.  It has been out of print for about 10 years but a copy often comes up on Amazon.  Unfortunately it isn’t cheep, second hand paperbacks goes for £10 and hardbacks anything up to £200.  I was lucky enough to pick up a hardback copy for £4 but haven’t seen it that cheep again!
The early to mid 90’s saw a wide variety of vampire films.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1992 was horrendous, failing to work as a horror or a comedy.  It did however spawn a successful TV series a few years later.  From the same year and far better but not very well know is John  (An American Werewolf in London) Landis’s Innocent Blood staring blood3Anne Parillaud (Nikita). It combines two genres vampires and the Mafia, sounds strange but it works!  Bram Stoker’s Dracula also 1992 went back to Bram Stokers novel and created a story that was supposed to follow he book more closely than previous efforts.  Unfortunately it introduced the love story that completely changed the tone of the story.  Skilfully handled by Francis Ford Coppola it is still a good film if not a great one.  Interview with the Vampire form 1994 also started life on the page.  Adapted from Anne Rice’s 1976 novel.  After Johnny Depp (who had previously auditioned for the part of Caleb in Near Dark) turned down the role of Lestat, Tom Cruise was cast much to the annoyance of the author and many diehard fans.  As it turned out he was excellent relishing the role of carefree killer while Brad Pitt portrays a more lonely melancholic part.  After that things got a little more art house as Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995) and  Michael Almereyda’s  Nadja (1994) provided a cool stylish post modern take on the old themes.  Look out for a cameo from David Lynch in Nadja.
The late 90’s also proved to have a varied crop of films but before I get onto them a TV series is worth a mention.  In contrast with the slick American comedy Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the British Ultraviolet (1998) was a stark, clinical and serious mini series that treated the subject matter as a more science fiction than a supernatural origin concentrating on blood and labs rather than wooden stakes and crucifixes.   From Dusk Till Dawn from 1996 starts duskout as a sort of crime comedy road movie staring George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and Quentin Tarantino (who also wrote the screenplay) half way through it turns into a bloody violent vampire shoot-em-up!  The film is memorable for two reasons, the first collaboration between Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino and an unforgettable entrance by Salma Hayek.  The Wisdom of Crocodiles in 1998 provided a now rare British entry into the genre but is a grim tale that is largely forgettable.  In the same year director Steven Norrington and writer David S Goyer reinvented the vampire movie when they turned the Marvel comic Blade into a movie.  Blade moved vampires from either camp or creepy gothic horror to a slick modern action film.  What they did wasn’t completely new, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires combined marital arts with vampire killing back in 1974 and the more comic Buffy the Vampire Slayer was already on TV with an all action approach to the vampires.  Where Blade seems to differ from the predecessors is that it has caught on with films like Van Helsing and Underworld and Arnold Schwarzenegger taking on an action horror in End of Days.  In 2002 a sequel directed by master filmmaker Guillermo del Toro improved on the original (we won’t talk about the third film or the TV spin-off!).  The by-product is that it has been much imitated leading to a lot of action/horror films that frankly aren’t very good.  
kateThat moves us into the current decade.  The big franchise of recent years is Underworld from 2003 and its sequels in 2006 and 2007.  The second two films are utter rubbish but the first one is worth seeing if you haven’t already if only for Kate Beckinsale’s outfit.  It is also a very slick stylish film that makes the most of its relatively small budget with great Eastern European locations and moody photography.  It also introduces a great theme of a war between vampires and werewolves.  In recent years that strange phenomenon of video games being adapted into movies has reached the vampire movie in the shape of BloodRayne (2005), unfortunately it is a terrible film!  But the recently reliable source material for films, the graphic novel provides far better viewing with the first rate 30 Days of Night (2007) there are a few problems with the plot and there is a very poor sense of time and space but the action scenes are really well handled and there are some real make you jump moments as well as a completely new look for the Vampires.
raveThis virtually brings us up to date.  Last year saw a great old name return to vampire films; Hammer released the film Beyond the Rave in short episodes on the internet.  Hopefully a precursor to new Hammer vampire film with a decent budget and a theatrical release.  The big release of the year posing as a vampire movie was the teenage romance/drama Twilight based on the hugely successful Stephanie Meyers novel.  Despite not being the target audience I have to say it is a well made and surprisingly enjoyable film if not a truetraditional vampire movie .
I have clearly only described a tiny percentage of vampire films and haven’t even mentioned classics like Nosferatu or popular put overrated Salem’s Lot and I have only given Bela Lugosi’s Dracula the briefest of mentions.  There isn’t space to describe every vampire film I have seen and have probably forgotten some of them!  This is merely a look back at how I started watching vampire films and the ones that have stood out to me good bad or indifferent. 
In future weeks I’m sure I will mention other sub-genres I love including zombies and road movies.

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watch1In 2005 Time Magazine compiled a list of the 100 Best Novels.  They have two basic criteria the books mush be written in English and published after 1923 (the year Time was first published).  The list is full of the usual suspects: Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984 but there is one surprise.  Watchmen is a graphic novel or as they describe it “a book-length comic book” and like many of the other novels on the list it has now been made into a film.  Alan Moore the author is reported to have said “I’m never going to watch this fucking thing” not a good start for a movie that has been in and out of development for over 20 years.  I can understand his distaste for film adaptations of his work following the shocking League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  But then there have been some very good based on comic book movies recently including 300 and Sin City as well as last years The Dark Knight.  I actually think Alan Moore would enjoy the film of Watchmen, not that he is ever likely to admit it!


wat1Set in an alternate 1980’s: America have won the Vietnam War and is moving towards a seemingly inevitable nuclear war with Russia. A symbolic doomsday clock is set just before 12 and the end of the world as we know it. Glasnost is not a word used in this film. So more than twenty years on is the story relevant? Fossil fuels and world finance are mentioned keeping the film up to date but it is relevant for a far simpler reason.  The film is not about world politics, it is about people.  More specifically it is about heroes and villains. That is the geniuses of the film or more to the point the graphic novel it is based on. Who is a hero and who is a villain? That is easy, Batman and Superman are heroes and The Joker and Lex Luthor are villains. In Watchmen it isn’t that simple.


ror1Rorschach is an unforgiving violent vigilantly who kills and tortures criminals without a second thought. The brutality of the character is best explained when he is in prison surrounded by inmates he has put there, when his life is threatened he despatches a would-be assassin and reminds the other inmates “None of you understand; I’m not locked up in here with you! You’re locked up in here with me!”. To describe his views as extremely conservative would be an understatement but he is possibly the most heroic character in the film!


com1We see The Comedian murdering innocent people including a woman pregnant with his child. He attempts to rape a fellow masked hero and he works for Nixon. What he did to Woodward and Bernstein is only hinted at, his involvement in JFK’s assassination is more clearly shown. But his character is funny and sometimes engaging.  He is also the most important character in the film his death as much as his life is pivotal to the plot.


drm2Dr Manhattan is the only true superhero of the film, his abilities gained following an accident at a government research facility where he worked. The problem with Dr Manhattan is that as he lost his own humanity to his God like status he has gradually lost touch with humanity and wonders if life on earth in general not just human life is worth saving.


And these are the good guys! The best people are horribly flawed and the worst show moments of good. These costumed masked heroes/villains represent people in general; is anyone completely good or evil?  When the villain is finally revealed it is no great surprise who he is but what he is doing and why is not what you expect.

minuteThen we come on to the music. A film that starts with Bob Dylan and ends with Leonard Cohen can not be bad!  It’s not just a case of using great songs; it is how they fit the mood of the scene.  The Dylan number is Times They Are a-Changing this is used in a breathtaking scene that tells the back story of costumed heroes.  Also used to great effect is Janis Joplin’s cover of the Kris Kristofferson song Me and Bobby McGee.  The song that features the lyrics “Freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose” is used at a point of the film where The Comedian tells Dr Manhattan how detached he has become.  Then we have the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah over the sex scene that starts looking like a soft core porn scene and ends with pure comedy and a cheesy metaphor reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s use of fireworks in To Catch a Thief.  As a Dylan fan I didn’t like the cover version of Desolation Row over the credits but must admit it works well within the film.


silk2The film isn’t perfect, in an attempt to cram in all the source material it feels rushed even at two and three quarter hours long.  Some of the dialogue works better on the page than it does when actually spoken but these are small complaints about a film that was a monumental project to take on where so many others have failed in the past.  Finally Who Watches the Watchmen?  A question asked in graffiti in the film but also a question for the real world.  There are two types of people who will watch the film:  Those who have read the Comic Book and have been anticipating the arrival of the film version for years (some to enjoy it others in the hope of trashing it) and there are the people who have not read the book and are coming to it fresh.I think on the whole opinion will be divide in both groups, some will love it some will hate it. I personally loved it but am I a fan of the book or just another cinema goer? After years of people telling me how good the book was I finally got around to reading it two weeks before seeing the film and was equally as impressed with the graphic novel as I was with the film.

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