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Archive for October, 2009

A special top ten for Halloween. The top ten horror movies of the decade. The problem with a genre list is that you don’t only have to pick films that are good enough for the list but also fit the genre, therefore although good enough to make the list Zombieland (2009) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) have been dropped as they are more comedy than horror.

10  Eden Lake (2008): A British horror thriller with a relatively low budget. From first time director James Watkins. The success and failure of the film relies on a great leading performance from Kelly Reilly. The chav, asbo, hoody kids of the movie are a clichéd Daily Mail representation of all that is wrong with modern society. The characters make stupid irrational decisions that symbolise bad horror. Despite these problems it is still a great little film.

Eden Lake

9 Drag Me to Hell (2009): 2009 is a special year, Sam Raimi is back to doing what he does best, horror with a comic twist. I shouldn’t have to describe the film, if you are reading a movie blog and you haven’t seen this film yet what is wrong with you? For those that haven’t seen it, it is the story of a young woman who becomes the victim of a supernatural curse that threatens to drag her to hell. It is funny, scary and shocking with no Lycia clad superheroes, everything a Sam Raimi film should be!

Drag Me to Hell

8 The Orphanage (2007): Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona the film had Guillermo del Toro attached as a producer, you would be forgiven for thinking it was one of his films. Full of layered characters and strong performances the film is more chilling and disturbing than actually scary but it will still make you jump from time to time. Like any film with Guillermo del Toro’s name on it the photography is nothing short of stunning.

The Orphanage

7 [REC] (2007): Fake documentary horror films with shaky cameras will always be compared to Blair Witch Project but once in a while there is a great example of the genre. This Spanish film is one such example. Set in the confines of an Barcelona apartment block the film chronicles’ the beginning of a zombie outbreak. The simple story with minimal plot and down to earth dialogue is elevated by charismatic performances and some really scary moments. Like the successful Japanese horrors of recent years the film has also had the Hollywood remake treatment.

rec

6 Switchblade Romance(2003): Original title Haute tension, released as High Tension in some countries is a French horror/thriller directed by Alexandre Aja whose remake of The Hills Have Eyes nearly made the list too. It is a simple story of two young women who are terrorised by a crazed killer, or is it? The film is graphic, bloody and violent, it really lives up to the tag horror!

Switchblade Romance

5 Ginger Snaps (2000): Whilst these days we are inundated with Vampire movies, 2000 saw the first good and original werewolf movies since An American Werewolf in London. The eponymous Ginger and her sister Brigitte are slightly weird and moody outcasts at school to begin with, then Ginger becomes a werewolf. This complicates maters somewhat! The film works as a visceral horror as well as a metaphor for puberty.

Ginger Snaps

4 Let the Right One In (2008): When you mention a vampire movie based on a book all people can think of these days is Twilight. While I don’t have a problem with the teen romance vampires of that particular saga this Swedish vampire movie offers so much more. The film centres on the relationship between a twelve year old boy and a girl who appears to be a similar age who turns out to be a vampire. The film explores lots of issues and lingers in the mind long after you have seen it.

Let the Right One In

3 The Devil’s Backbone (2001):  Set during the Spanish civil war The Devils Backbone is one of visionary director Guillermo del Toro’s best films. More an eerie ghost story than an outright horror. Told from the point of view of an abandoned child in an uncertain situation, the characters mirror the political turmoil of the era and setting. The film is both beautiful and unnerving.

The Devils Backbone

2 28 Days Later(2002): Zombies got reinvented as The Infected in Danny Boyles modern horror classic. Cillian Murphy awakening to a deserted London is an amazing creepy and memorable scene. Subsequent scenes offer some gruesome horror and genuine scares.

28 Days Later

1 The Descent (2005): With a relatively unknown cast Neil Marshall created a fantastic film. There is a great sense of foreboding from the start as the group of female friends descends into the darkness of a cave system. Foreboding gives way to unsettling before becoming seriously tense and scary. Great characters, strong performances and horrific images what more could you ask for.

The Descent

When compiling the list it didn’t occur to me until I started adding the photographs that most of my chosen films feature strong female roles often leading roles. Is this a pointer to an ingredient that makes horror movies good or just a reflection on my taste?

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After mixed reviews I approached The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus with a little caution and scepticism.  How could the film live up to the hype of Heath Ledgers last film especially considering the fantastic performance he gave in his last completed film, The Dark Knight?  Regardless of any fears of disappointment I went along anyway as it is a Terry Gilliam film after all!  Whist Ledgers performance was good it was a different member of the cast who caught my attention.  Lily Cole who plays Valentina, the daughter of the eponymous Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer).  Although she looked vaguely familiar, I had never heard of her.  I got home and looked her up on the internet and discovered that she had worked as a model since the age of fifteen and begun acting two years ago with a part in St. Trinian’s.  As Valentina I wouldn’t go as far as to say she carries the film but she certainly binds it together.  Her performance is electric and eye-catching and is at times sweet and innocent and others alluring and downright sexy. 

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

For those who don’t know how the film was completed without Heath Ledgers, with as few plot spoilers as possible:  Part of the film is set within the mind of the protagonists.  Ledger plays Tony in the real world but in the other scenes the part is taken on by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell.  Rather than chopping and changing between actors, each one gets his own segment.  It works really well as each character shows a different side to the character.  Obviously with all the publicity over Ledgers death most viewers will know the reasons for the other actors, if anyone went to the film without that knowledge they would never suspect the part wasn’t always intended to be played by four actors.  the imaginarium of doctor parnassus Tom Waits

The thing that lets the film down is a disjointed narrative that never really gets to grips with where it wants to go and what it wants to say.  Mr. Nick played by Tom Waits is well played but undeveloped as a character as is Doctor Parnassus to some extent.  Although the end itself is good it feels like an epilogue and the conclusion itself that came just beforehand is a week and disorganized.  The origin of the narrative, told in flashback doesn’t quiet fit with the rest of the film, it is as if it originally belong to another story.  I did read somewhere that Terry Gilliam keeps a file of unused ideas that he dips into for inspiration and this film came from there, ultimately I think he may have tried to draw too many of the ideas together to make a completely coherent film.  Having said all this, it really isn’t a bad film, it is visually imaginative and attractive and the characters are likeable and well portrayed.  An average Terry Gilliam tends to be more original than most other film makers can come up with.  And most importantly although its loses its way from time to time it is generally enjoyable. 

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus lily cole

In conclusion not a perfect end to Heath Ledgers tragically short career but certainly not a bad one and a step in the right direction for the young actors Andrew Garfield and the aforementioned Lily Cole.  I am sure we will be seeing a lot more of both of them in the near future. 

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I am relatively lucky living near a large multiplex with big screens, good sound, comfortable seats and best of all a monthly pass meaning with the number of films I see it averages out at less than £2 per film. There is however a problem. Up (in 2D and 3D) has been taking up four scenes and there have been an average of three Bollywood films on every week. I have no problem with this, clearly lots of people enjoy seeing these films and they make money for the cinema however there are a lot of independent and foreign language that are not being shown. This month alone these films have been out but not made it to my local cinema:

Le Donk & Scor-zay-zeeBorn in 68Pontypool

  • Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee
  • Born in 68
  • District 13: Ultimatum
  • Bakjwi (Thirst) – from Oldboy director Chan-wook Park
  • Pontypool
  • Vinyan
  • Colin
  • Ai no mukidashi (Love Exposure)*

Bakjwi ThirstColinVinyan

This is not a complaint but a plea for cinemas to show a few more small films. Without the demand to see a film in the week it opens they could share a print between different cinemas. This worked well in the past with the “Tartan Asia Extreme” festivals when different cities got the films in different weeks.

*Released on 30 10 09 but not scheduled to screen.

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Modern Auteur #1 David Fincher

David FincherIn preparation for this post I have watched my favourite three David Fincher films in a week, it’s a hard life! There aren’t that many directors around these days that you can truly call an auteur, David Fincher is a member of a very select group of directors who makes films accessible, enjoyable and entertaining and can be described as both movies and art. His movies often have an Existential feal without being esoteric or elitist.  For this series of blogs I have decided to limit the directors to those who made their feature début as a director within the last twenty years.  I already have an idea of who I will be writing about but suggestions are welcome.

fight clubFight Club (1999) Based on the novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk Fight Club is better than the book it is based on. Director David Fincher had read the book and tried to buy the rights himself before being hired by 20th Century Fox. He cast Edward Norton against the advise of the studio and Brad Pitt who he had worked with on Se7en. Helena Bonham Carter completed the leading cast, playing against type and beating actresses as diverse as Courtney Love and Reese Witherspoon. One of the most controversial and thought provoking films of the late of recent years it works as a precursor to the lack of hope and direction. The film challenges personal cultural values and consumerism, it is best summed up by the quotes of Tyler Durden: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis”. And: “Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” Poorly marketed the film made a small profit on it theatrical release it found its true audience on DVD, I saw the film at the cinema then went back two days later to see it again to make sense of what I had seen. The other thing about the film that people often forget, it is at times very funny.  But the true genius of the film lies in what it does.   It lulls an unsuspecting viewer into thinking they are watching a dumb action movie about illegal fighting, what it then gives them is an intelligent thought provoking satire. 

 

se7enSe7en (1995) A film about a serial killer with an elaborate theme is not original, we have seen it many times before most notably in Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs. But Se7en was different, not because of the clever (or contrived depending on your point of view) use of the seven deadly sins as both a way of choosing the victims and the manor of their death.  It offered the viewer so much more, or so much less to be precise.  The film is very economical, there is nothing going on that is not relevant and integral to the story.  Even the domestic scenes and the interactions between the characters becomes relevant as the plot unfolds.  One of the most notable things about the film when I first saw it was Brad Pitt, although I had enjoyed some of his previous films this was the first time I actually looked at him as an actor and not a movie star.  Set in an unnamed metropolitan city where it constantly rains the film is filed with despair and is virtually devoid of hope. The dark and gloomy interiors and exteriors have a perverse beauty, shot by Darius Khondji who had previously worked with Jean-Pierre Jeunet on The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen, he went on to work with directors as diverse as Bernardo Bertolucci, Alan Parker, Roman Polanski, Kar Wai Wong and Michael Haneke.  Reminiscent of but more subtle than Hitchcock’s Vertigo the photography is unnerving  for the viewer, this is achieved in the angles, the framing and the use of colour as well as the lighting.  Making full use of the dark build-up the juxtaposition of image and plot is staggering in that the story reaches is darkest despair in the films only bright and sunny scene.  It ends with Morgan Freeman quoting Ernest Hemmingway: “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for”  he follow this by saying “I agree with the second part”.  What else can you say about the film? What more do you need to say about it! 

 

the gameThe Game (1997) After the success of Seven The Game had a lot to live up to. It received mixed reviews and I was very unsure about it when I first saw it.  I felt cheated by the ending.  But watching it again over the last few years I have grown to both appreciate and enjoy it more on every viewing.  Although not as good as Fight Club or Se7en it is still a great film with lots to offer.  The great thing about the game is you are never exactly sure what is going on.  We learn at the start that Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) has been given a gift by his brother (Sean Penn) that is some type of game but the viewer and the character alike are never really told what the nature of the game is.  This combined with the slow building plot helps create a sense of frustration in the viewer and the protagonist.  The unfolding of the plot is like a magicians slight of hand trick, we know he is being played but we aren’t sure how or why, is it the game or is the game a cover for something more sinister?  This is played out perfectly when he is told by Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) that they are after his money.  Is that part of the game, is she playing her part in the game?  The casting is superb, Michael Douglas is totally believable as the cold and ruthless banker, where the baggage of having played Gordon Gekko could be a hindrance to some parts it is a benefit here.  It is the strength of the performance that makes it acceptable to relegate the talent of Sean Penn to a relatively small part.  Set in San Francisco, the director shows great maturity and restraint to avoid lingering shots of clichéd locations.  The film is shot in a very similar style to Se7en although he used a different cinematographer, Harris Savides.   These days he is probably best know for his collaborations with Gus Van Sant but he did work with David Fincher again ten years later on Zodiac.  The film isn’t as dark in its look or subject matter but don’t let that fool you, although a far more hopeful and atomistic film with themes of salvation and redemption it still digs it to the mind sole of its characters and audience.

Filmography ( As director, features only)

  • Alien³ (1992)
  • Se7en (1995)
  • The Game (1997)
  • Fight Club (1999)
  • Panic Room (2002)
  • Zodiac (2007)
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
  • The Social Network (2010)
  • Filming: The Social Network (2010): The story of the founders of the social-networking site, Facebook. Staring Jesse Eisenberg & Justin Timberlake

Next: Quentin Tarantino

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Following my favourite movies of the decade I have been thinking of my favourite TV shows of the decade.  My only criteria for the list is that the show had to first air during the decade so things that started in the late 90’s like The Sopranos or Family Guy are not included.  Harsh but I had to draw the line somewhere.

1Firefly (2002): Original, inventive and believable sci-fi that owes more to the Western genre than other space set films/shows.  It would be easy to say that as it was cencelled after so few episodes that it didn’t have the chance to lose its way like so many other programs, this may be true but taking it on its own merits and looking at Serenity the spin of film I think it completely deserves its place at the top of the list. 

 Firefly

2Battlestar Galactica (2004 -2009): As a kid I used to love the old Battlestar Galactica then a few years ago I watched the film version (I think it was cobbled together from a couple of TV episodes) on TV on a Sunday afternoon.  It was really bad!  For this reason I didn’t bother watching the new show until last year when I saw a rerun of the pilot on TV. I immediately rented the series on DVD and was hooked watching four seasons in a couple of months.  The themes of life death, religion, politics that are explored in it are far deeper and better handled than in any other TV show I can think of.

 Battlestar Galactica

3Mad Men (2007 – ????): To a casual observer who tuned in half way through an episode Mad Men could come across as a soap-opera, some of the storytelling is similar to a soap but it goes far deeper than that.  The attention to detail is incredible the costumes, sets, the prop are all completely believable but this is only the surface the characters are what makes it brilliant.

 Mad Men

4Life on Mars (2006 – 2007): One of only two British shows on the list.  It works predominately for two reasons: The 1970’s nostalgia and the ambiguity of the time travel/dream whilst in a coma setting.  This lets it operate on two levels as both a great 70’s cop show and an exploration of the differences between then and now.  Like the other British show on the list it proved its quality and appeal by being shown around the world and receiving the American remake treatment.  It also spawned a sequel Ashes to Ashes in 2008.

 Life on Mars

5Heroes (2006 – ????): Dispensing with the costumes of a typical super hero show, heroes deals with realistic people (other than their extraordinary abilities) in recognisable situations.  The crisp sharp images and high quality effects make the show the closest thing TV can offer to cinema.  As is often the case the first season was the best and subsequent seasons have failed to live up to that high standard but it is still going strong and has plenty to offer. 

 Heroes

6Lost (2005 – 2010): At times the most baffling show since Twin Peaks and that is what is so good about it.  The completely ridicules and unbelievable becomes strangely believable and plausible as we see it from another point of view or a flashback tells a back-story. 

Lost

7House (2004 – ): If I am completely honest I don’t think House represents first rate groundbreaking TV, it is actually formulaic, repetitive and clichéd.  However it has one thing going for it that elevates it beyond so many other TV shows: a a really good character played to perfection by Hugh Laurie.

House

824 (2001 – 2010): This show has really lost its way in recent years that could have jeopardised its place on this list but it deserves its place for its originality.  Real-time has been used before in films but to stretch that out into a show that covers an entire 24 hour period was a brilliant idea.  The show also gave us an iconic character in Jack Bauer. 

 Jack Bauer

9The Office (2001- 2003): The other British program on the list.  Shot in a documentary style with a completely deadpan delivery that is often painful to watch.  Re-watching it again it is still as funny and relevant as it was when it first hit the screens eight years ago.

 The Office

10True Blood (2008 – ????): Vampires are really in vogue at the moment but they haven’t always been sucesfull on TV.  Since the end of Buffy and its spinoff Angel the shows Blood Ties and Moonlight have come and gone without much interest but True Blood is different.  Not afraid to target a more adult audience beneath the semi clad (or often naked) bodies the show has something to say.  With vampires recently coming “out off the casket” as they say in the show they work as a metaphor for both race and sexuality, this is emphasised by the southern setting and diverse cast.  And getting an Oscar winning movie star to play the lead doesn’t do any harm.

 True Blood

Special mentions:

Top Gear (2002 – ????): A special mention for a non fiction program.  Top Gear, Re-launched, Rebranded and rebooted in 2002 the program quickly became the best car show on TV that also gained viewers not interested in cars for its comedy value.  With 350 million viewers worldwide the show has become a phenomenon thanks to its bickering and opinionated presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Two special mentions for shows that I haven’t seen yet.  From their reputation there is a good chance they would have made the list had I seen them.  The Wire (2002 2008) and Deadwood (2004 -2006). 

Three TV Mini-Series that I have enjoyed: Band of Brothers (2001), Generation Kill (2008) and Into the west (2005).

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Los cronocrímenes (Timecrimes) is a Spanish thriller written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo who also appears in the film.

timecrimes

Whist sitting in the garden of his new house Hector (Karra Elejalde) catches a glimpse of a woman (Bárbara Goenaga) undressing in the woods. While his wife (Candela Fernández) goes shopping for groceries he decides to go and investigate. He finds the young woman naked and unconscious , while he cautiously approaches her he is attacked and stabbed in the arm with a pair of scissors by a strange man with his head and faced covered by a pink bandage. He runs to an abandoned house, this starts a series of events (or have they already started?). Each time he tries to fix things Hector seems to make things worse causing him to try again. Ultimately aside from the twists the plot is small and unmissed making the film is a simple exercise in the theory of time travel. Like Primer (2004) the simplicity of the plot is the beauty of it. The only flaw is the total stupidity of Hector the main character that keeps landing him in ridicules situations. And that ultimately is the flaw, without hectors inexplicable actions there would be no plot. Having said that the film is strangely compelling and has a satisfying conclusion.

And as is the way with so many European films the Hollywood remake is in production.

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During his radio show on Friday film critic Mark Kermode described triangle as “A web of existential time-loop like despair”, I’m not sure if there is anything else to say about the film, indeed if anything else needs to be said about it.  Always up for a challenge, I will try.  It is impossible to review the film without giving away at least part of the plot, having said that a lot of the plot is given away in the trailer so I will limit my spoilers to the information contained within the trailer. 

Triangle poster

Jess (Melissa George) is invited to spend the day sailing with a group of friends on a luxury yacht.  Leaving he autistic son at school for the day she joins the group.  A couple of hours into the trip the wind drops, this is literally the calm before the storm.  The ferocious storm causes the boat to capsize leaving them stranded on the upturned hull.  They then take refugee on a mysterious cruise liner that appears out of the mist.  Although the ship appears deserted it soon becomes clear that they are not alone.  I won’t say any more about the plot as it is best going into the film not knowing too much.  As we come to realise what is going on there aren’t so much twists in the plot but developments and explanations.  This leads to a very satisfying conclusion that makes you want to see the film again to better understand what you have just seen and the nuances of the plot. 

Directed by Christopher Smith who has horror credentials having been responsible for Severance and the underrated Creep, he offers us something different this time.  Psychological thriller, mystery or horror could all be used to describe the film but it doesn’t fit any pigeonhole particularly well.  Fans of gore and torture porn will be disappointed but anyone with an open mind who wants to see a clever well constructed film will relish the attention to detail and the strong leading performance by Melissa George.  George carries the film almost single handed,  once on board the ship the rest of the cast are mealy supporting players for her.  The plot unfolds a little quicker for the viewer than it does for George, a device that works well.  Her strong and emotionally varied performance is essential for the success of the film as a viewer with no empathy for the characters; particularly Jess, will shut off from the film. 

Melissa George

The film is well shot keeping the viewer on the edge of their seats with an eyrie use of steadicam and shots tracking the actors, this results in a few moments to make you jump.  The exterior shots on the deck and promenade of the ship have a bleached look to them giving a slightly washed out otherworldly feeling.  This fits well with the often dream like sense the film has as does the minimal use of background music.  Great use is made of the old cruise liner setting; anyone who has visited The Queen Mary (now permanently docked at Long Beach, California and used as a Hotel) will know how the seemingly endless corridors and faded art deco glory of these old ships can be creepy and eyrie all on their own without mysterious goings on.  To the films credit but the dismay of some viewers the film doesn’t try to exploring the ship’s back-story or explain the reason behind what is happening.  If successful, the film makes may explore this in a sequel or prequel, I hope they don’t as it would surly be rubbish and detract from this film.

In conclusion the film will confuse some viewers and infuriate others, personally I found it compelling, intriguing and cleverly constructed.  My advice; go and see it but don’t watch the trailer or read any more reviews.  It may detract from the overall experience.  And look out for more from Melissa George, with 30 Days of Night she looked to be breaking free from her television origins, with this performance she has proved to have real star appeal.

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