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Archive for September, 2011

Being English my first sporting love is football (that’s soccer to you Kai) but I also love baseball, I have been watching American Major League Baseball on TV since the late 90’s but really fell in love with the sport a few years ago when I went to my first game, San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks at AT & T Park. By a mixture of luck and judgement I had a fantastic seat between home plate and first Base and was lucky enough to sit next to a season ticket holder who helped fill in the gaps of my knowledge of the game. But why am I telling you all this? Simply because I would never have started watching baseball if not for great baseball movies, here are my top five:

5: Major League (1989)

After inheriting the Cleveland Indians the new owner wants to move the team to Miami and its warmer climate, to do this she needs the club to finish bottom of the league. To this end she assembles a team of losers and has-beens. When the team discover her plot they start winning just to spite her. I’m not sure how well loved this movie is, ultimately its all a bit silly but it gets away with it because it has a fantastic cast and is a really good fun watch.

4: Eight Men Out (1988)

When I first saw The Godfather: Part II and heard Hyman Roth talk about the World Series been fixed I didn’t realise it was a true story until I saw Eight Men Out. When I first saw it over twenty years ago I enjoyed it despite knowing nothing about baseball, seeing it again a couple of years ago it has aged really well.

3: The Natural (1984)

1923, nineteen year pitcher Hobbs is on his way to Chicago to tryout for the Cubs. For reasons I won’t go into he doesn’t make it to the tryout, Fast-forward sixteen years and he gets a second shot, seemingly coming out of nowhere to become the star hitter for The (fictional) New York Knights. Combining the nostalgia and romanticised ideas of Field of Dreams with a great underdog story and Robert Redford is excellent.

2: Field of Dreams (1989)

“If you build it, he will come” Iowa farmer Ray Kinchella (Kevin Costner) is compelled by voices he hears in his cornfield to build a baseball diamond on his land. Before long the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson and his team-mates banned in the 1919 Black Sox scandal (see Eight Men Out above) come to play there. On paper Field of Dreams a cheesy and pointless movie, in practice it is cinema perfection that gets better every time I see it.

1:Bull Durham (1988)

Journeyman Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is employed by a minor league baseball team to help educate their hotshot rookie pitcher Ebby LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), a player destined for the major-league if he can learn to control his erratic pitching. The pair don’t exactly hit it off, the problem is exacerbated by the presence of Annie (Susan Sarandon). This is the movie that first sparked my interest in baseball. The casting is perfect with genuine chemistry between the three leads and the right blend of comedy and drama. it’s a sports movie that knows which clichés to embrace and which to avoid.

A movie that didn’t make the list: The Sandlot (1993) simply because I haven’t seen it as listeners of the Milfcast (Man I Love Films Podcast) will know. An oversight I am in the process of rectifying, Once I have seen it, I will report back as to how it compare to my top five.

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Having just re-watched the underrated Land of the Dead (2005) I thought it would be a good time to take another look at the genre in particular what makes a zombie movie.

Early zombie movies concentrated on zombie masters and voodoo rituals: In White Zombie (1932): Béla (Dracula) Lugosi plays a Voodoo master who is employed by plantation owner Charles Beaumont in order to lure the woman he loves Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) away from her fiancé Neil Parker (John Harron). Lugosi’s character known only as ‘Murder’ turns Madeleine into a zombie using magic and the power of his mind. Things never go to plan when you employ an evil Voodoo master and it soon transpires he has his own plans for Madeleine. I walked with a Zombie (1943): Director Jacques Tourneur is probably best know for the brilliant original version of Cat People from 1942, he followed it up a year later with I walked with a Zombie an eerie and atmospheric mystery thriller that is dreamlike and often poetic in its approach to the genre. It is the story of a Canadian nurse, Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) who is sent to a small West Indian island to tend for a young comatose woman. She soon uncovers the voodoo that is practiced on the island.

Those who have a narrow idea of what constitutes a zombie tend to forget that the now accepted idea of flesh eating walking dead was actually invented by George A Romero in Night Of The Living Dead (1968): Zombie movies had died off (terrible pun intended!) until George A Romero reinvented, revolutionized and reanimated (the bad puns just keep coming, sorry) the genre. Romero’s ultra low budget movie is about a widespread outbreak of flesh eating zombies. The reason the film works so well is that it is more claustrophobic and personal; it does this by concentrating on a small group of survivors. Using TV and radio broadcasts to show what is going on away from their personal struggle it is as if we are one on them, only seeing what they see of the outside world. But the film is far more important than that because it set the rules for the modern zombie. They are literally the walking dead, they have little brain activity and “live” on instinct, their only aim to feed in turn creating more of their number as the victims die and are reanimated as zombies. The un-dead are slow moving and shuffle along making it seemingly easy to escape an aspect of their character that has caused much derision more recently. The film was in its day considered to contain graphic violence; this manifests itself more as gore than actual violence, something that found its way into other horror sub genres in the subsequent twenty years. Moving on from the Vietnam references of the first film the second and best of Romero’s ‘Dead’ series Dawn Of The Dead (1978) is at times a satire about consumerism making full use of its shopping mall setting. The movie follows all the same rules as the first film including one that seems to exist to this day, the best was to destroy a zombie is severe trauma to the head. Whether it be a cricket bat (Shaun of the Dead) or a bullet (most modern zombie movies). The idea of shutting oneself away from the problems of the outside world has relevance outside the plot as do so many of the other themes explored like race, greed and selfishness. Some of the themes explored in each of the five films in the series so far have direct correlations to the time they were made. This second film made in the late 70’s has more of a sense of hope and optimism than the first and most recent of the series.

The new bread of zombie are created by a man made virus the zombies are fast angry and violent, the best example of this is probably 28 Days Later (2002): The new zombies are compelled as much by rage as any need to feed. Directed my Danny Boyle and written by author Alex Garland in Their second collaboration. It was garlands first story written directly for the screen and is a brilliant piece of filmmaking that has that combines action, horror, drama and thriller but retains the personal story of the Romero films. It spawned the inferior but not bad sequel 28 Weeks Later and a third film, the imaginatively titled 28 Months later is rumoured to be in the early stages of development. Will there be a 28 Years later? The photography is notably different to a Hollywood film giving it a real feel of something that little bit different. Scenes of a deserted London are haunting and brilliantly executed. Resident Evil (2002) was made and released around the same time as 28 Days later. Resident Evil is based on the popular video game series of the same name. The film has been dismissed as similar to other video game spin-offs like Tomb Rader, although not as good as the other films I have mentioned it still as some merit within the genre. Playing out as more of an action film it follows one main character throughout, Alice (Milla Jovovich) in the way that a computer game does. Using Amnesia as a plot device an element of mystery is included. The cleverest thing about the film is that the narrative is a collection of set pieces that end abruptly and move on to the next when a goal is achieved, much like in a video game. The zombies are similar in to those in 28 Days later, they where created by a man made virus and exhibit more strength and speed than seen in traditional zombie films, an element essential for the action. The film has had three sequels Apocalypse and Extinction and Afterlife, Resident Evil: Retribution is set for release next year.

The Spanish horror film [•REC] (2007) uses the increasingly popular found footage idea. REC follows a television reporter, Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso) who are shadowing a Barcelona fire crew, they get trapped inside a building of infected people following what appeared to be a routine callout. Making full use of the filming technique the movie is full of both the gore and the scares a horror movie needs. The cause of the outbreak seems to have a foot in two camps, the zombies are clearly the result of an infection but the latter stages of the film introduces a religious element as we discover the owner of one of the apartments was an agent of the Vatican who was researching the virus responsible for demonic possession. Putting all this aside, for me it is the best zombie movie since Dawn Of The Dead.

These movies represent three or possibly four different types of zombie movie, for a completely different spin on the genre take a look at director Ryuhei Kitamura’s seminal Japanese action/horror film Versus (2000). For zombies that can run but are otherwise follow the Romero rules see the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. There has been much debate around The Evil Dead trilogy (1981, 1987, 1992) and if the demonic possession in these movies constitutes zombies, whether they are zombie movies or not is irrelevant they are just great movies. Comedy horror is a notoriously difficult combination to pull of, there are two zombie comedies that do it perfectly: Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zombieland (2009). The main reason they work is simple, they stick to the basic ideas (rules for want of a better word) of the genre, this and they are perfectly cast and painfully funny. One final film to look out for Night of the Comet (1984). This is an 80’s teen/horror/comedy that works well as a parody of the cheesier side of low budget horror. It doesn’t have anything new or original to say and won’t change the world but it is good fun.

So where do you stand on the zombie debate; what are you favourite zombie movies, do you like your zombies fast or slow and are the infected zombies?

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First released thirty years ago Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is the first found footage movie that I am aware of. When The Blair Witch Project (1999) came along nearly two decades later it was still a relatively fresh concept having only been used a handful of times. In recent years it has been done to death with movies like Paranormal Activity (2007) (and its sequels), Clover field (2008) and The Last Exorcism (2010). Found footage movies are essentially a sub genre of horror, and like many horror movies they have become repetitive and tedious but every once in a while there is still a great example of the like the Spanish zombie/infection thriller REC (2007).

More by scheduling chance than by design I saw two found footage movies yesterday.  The Troll Hunter (2010): A student documentary about a bear poacher takes a new direction when the filmmakers realise the bear attacks are being staged to hide Norway’s biggest secret, Trolls really exist! Despite the low budget the effects are very good, the absolutely absurd story is played out totally deadpan, surprisingly it really works. An American remake of The Troll Hunter has already been announced.  Apollo 18 (2011): In the real world the Apollo 18 mission was cancelled, the premise of the movie is that it went ahead in secret. The movie is well shot and has a few tense moments, but also has a huge hole in the plot.

I would recommend The Troll Hunter even if you have had enough of found footage movies, Apollo 18 probably one for diehard fans of the genre.

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Kill List

Following a year of writing almost nothing but reviews I vowed to write very few this year. By the time I see most movies they have already been reviewed to death in the mainstream media however the British horror/thriller Kill List directed by Ben Wheatley is yet to be released outside the UK so some readers may not have heard of it yet. Warning, I have tried to minimise plot spoilers but some aspects of the plot are given away below.

Jay (Neil Maskell) has been off work with a bad back for eight months, he is nagged by his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring – you may remember her from The Descent) and persuaded by his business partner Gal (Michael Smiley) into going back to work. It soon becomes clear that his bad back is psychosomatic and there are other reasons he was so reluctant to go back to work. Passing themselves of as travelling salesmen they are actually freelance hit men.

Its difficult to know how much or how little to give away about the plot of this movie, suffice to say it is a different movie to what I expected it to be. Split into three distinct acts, the second follows neatly but violently where you would expect it to go but the final one takes a really unexpected turn. The way the movie shifts genre is reminiscent of Race With the Devil (1975) and another movie I won’t mention as it will give too much away. There are hints early on where the story is going when a dinner guest scrapes a strange symbol (a cross between Blair Witch and The Deathly Hallows) into the back of a bathroom mirror and the sinister way in which a contract is sealed, but these are just hints. Without prior warning I don’t think anyone will see where the story is heading.

Made for a modest budget the movie uses its greatest assets, a good solid (and little know) cast to great effect giving them strong dialogue that they use well. Taken on its own merits each element of the movie is really well made and enjoyable (if a little gruesome in one or two places) but put together it does leave you wondering what is going on and why. One of the scenes are nothing short of excellent, all the better for a lack of CGI. It does leave as many questions hanging as it answers, this shows a lot of confidence for a director working on only his second feature. As infuriating as the lack of narrative closure is at times it kind of work letting the viewer draw their own conclusions. There is a strong theme within the movie revolving around the consequences of peoples action, I get the impression the filmmakers are trying to make some kind of social or political comment; possibly regarding recent wars or the current financial crises but this is never made clear.

Its not a film that everyone will enjoy but there is enough going on to told their attention for the modest 95minute runtime. It also has some genuinely funny moments. I will certainly be interested in future projects by director Ben Wheatley and will seek out his first feature Down Terrace (2009) that has so far passed me by.

Four Stars out of Five.

★★★★

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I often try and say something insightful or relevant in these introductions and probably just come across as glib so I will break with tradition skip any introduction. Before you move on I do have two more recommendations from the genre that nobody chose to write about: La Jetee (1962): A French film constructed from still photographs accompanied by a haunting voiceover. It provided the inspiration for 12 Monkeys. Primer (2004): The ultra low budget (around $7,000) thriller proves great storytelling is more important than flashy CGI even in Sci-Fi.

Time Bandits (1981)

“If I were creating the world I wouldn’t mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o’clock, Day One! [zaps one of his minions accidentally, minion screams] Sorry”

Time Bandits has a strong place in my heart. I fell in love with it at a young age and watching it with my Father is one of the very few good memories I have left of the now missing parent. Thirty years later and I find myself relighting the feelings and enjoyment that I once felt. I would lay in bed at home wishing that my wardrobe would be smashed open by a Black Knight. I longed to be whisked away by a band of renegade Dwarves who had discovered a map that charts all of the universes wormholes, time portals no less. They would take me on there quest for bounty and riches through time and space. Sadly this never arose and I am here stuck at my desk typing this out for you. Ah well.

Time Bandits is the brain child of Michael Palin who teamed up with his Monty Python compadre Terry Gilliam to helm his second project (after Jabberwocky). It is a dark and deranged history lesson for the kids with enough black comedy and gags to keep any Python fan happy. Beneath this strange and fantastic tale is a lovely subtext about how petty and materialistic humanity has become. It is handled with such a deft touch and subtlety that is far greater than its meagre budget ($5m). Terry Gilliam is such a visionary genius. Great characters fill this classic, John Cleese as the vague Robin Hood, Ian Holm in scene stealing form as Napoleon with ‘Napoleon’ Complex believe it or not, David Warner as Evil camping it up big time and a very easy going Ralph Richardson as the Supreme Being. Although this is still a kids film it has enough meat on the bone and some wicked gags to keep the adults laughing to the final credits. Fantastic

By Scott from Front Room Cinema

The Terminator (1984)

“The hardest thing is deciding what I should tell you and what not to. Well, anyway, I’ve got a while yet before you’re old enough to understand the tapes. They’re more for me at this point… to help get it all straight. Should I tell you about your father? That’s a tough one. Will it change your decision to send him here… knowing? But if you don’t send Kyle, you could never be. God, you can go crazy thinking about all this… I suppose I’ll tell you… I owe him that. And maybe it’ll be enough if you know that in the few hours we had together we loved a lifetime’s worth” Sarah Connor

A human being, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), and a terminator suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Their presence was followed with bolt of high electric current…and they were naked. From Reese explanation we learned that only living organism can be transported by the time machine and for that reason they had to travel naked. I have seen and read some time travel stories and Terminator is the only one that let the traveler goes butt naked. For a ten years old girl in the 80s, it was quite a surprise to see that scene. The rationalization of that scene made sense at that time, I doubt it a little now. The Cyborg was mostly composed of metal, in other word dead things. It was a bit unusual for it to travel with the transporting machine even though it was covered with living tissue, wouldn’t the machine be like those machine in airport that can see through?

The time traveler in The Terminator and all terminator series can only travel one way, there was no returning home. The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) knew perfectly well that it could never return and will do everything to eliminate the mother of the future leader who will relentlessly fight the domination of machines over human. The Leader, John Connor, knew the danger that will come to his mother in the past sent his to-be-father knowing he would never see him again.

And here comes the paradox of time traveling!

I deliberately chose the quotes from Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) to her future son because it shows how difficult a time traveling could be. The future and the past are connected in a way we can’t explain. John gave Sarah’s picture to one of his subordinates knowing that that man will become his father, but at the same time how can John be born before his father was even born? What happened to John if Reese didn’t meet Sarah in the past or somehow Reese changed the past? As we could see in Terminator 2, Sarah tried to change the future. I guess this paradox is what makes Time Travel a good story to explore.

I will close this with a quote from Kyle Reese

“John Connor gave me a picture of you once. I didn’t know why at the time. It was very old – torn, faded. You were young like you are now. You seemed just a little sad. I used to always wonder what you were thinking at that moment. I memorized every line, every curve. I came across time for you Sarah. I love you; I always have”

By Novroz from Polychrome Interest

Back to the Future (1985)

“Last night, Darth Vader came down from planet Vulcan and told me that if I didn’t take Lorraine out that he’d melt my brain“. George McFly

Teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is accidentally sent back in time from 1985 to 1955 in a DeLorean car turned it a time machine by eccentric scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). He quickly breaks the first rule of time travel by inadvertently changing the past. All he has to do is find a way to get home to 1985 before he causes any more damage, that and get his mismatched parents to fall in love to avoid a catastrophic paradox whereby he and his siblings were never born.

To make a successful time travel movie you need to create a believable setting in two different eras, if you fail to get that part right before you even displace your protagonist the battle is already lost. That is the beauty of back to the future; the 1985 section could easily be a John Hughes high school comedy while the 1955 scenes could pass for a nostalgic film like American Graffiti. To add to this the cleverer than you think story involves time travel paradox and a fish out water tale that knows exactly how far to push the boundaries of comedy and drama. Director Robert Zemeckis has a light touch knowing when to be funny and when to let the action excite the audience. The casting is perfect following a brave choice to recast the lead four weeks into production. All this comes together to create a film that is both traditional and contemporary.

Back to the Future was a huge summer hit in 1985, we didn’t get it here in the UK until Christmas. I had to wait for the video release the following year, it was worth the wait! Having seen the movie numerous times on the small screen over the last 25 years I saw it where it belongs on the big screen last year, again it was worth the wait! The movie has aged really well hand holds up as a modern classic.

By Andy From Fandango Groovers

Twelve Monkeys (1995)

“Telephone call? Telephone call? That’s communication with the outside world. Doctor’s *discretion*. Nuh-uh. Look, hey – all of these nuts could just make phone calls, they could spread insanity, oozing through telephone cables, oozing into the ears of all these poor sane people, infecting them. Wackos everywhere, plague of madness.”

This is a strange movie, widely revered in the Sci-Fi community that delves into time travel. Unfortunately a lot of the public has given it a bad reputation for being a movie too complicated for people to understand, and though it does lean towards the complex side it’s one the best modern films representing time travel. In it’s complexity is also a ridiculously scary and intelligent, not to mention entertaining film. Mankind has barely survived a virus that destroyed the majority of it’s population. Years into the future, criminals are sent through time travel to find the pieces of the puzzle that ended in mans demise. All signs point to something involving “Twelve Monkeys”. In order to save humanity James Cole (Bruce Willis) is a criminal sent back to find this information.

For some reason he has more tolerance to the travel and can remember more. When locked in a mental home he meet Jeffrey Goines. Brad Pitt’s performance was career defining at this point. The combination of psychotic behavior intertwined with such a reflective level of intelligence almost has you believing what he’s selling. There’s some strange logic to Jeffrey Goines crazy, which makes it entirely plausible that he had the following he did. 12 Monkey’s is a good movie, but it’s something exceptional because of Jeffrey Goines and Brad Pitt.

This movie is a whirlwind up till the climactic shooting by airport security, filmed in slow-motion, of James which is perceived through a young incarnation of himself (Joseph Melito ) watching and witnessing his own death. Talk about twisted. In this one the virus gets us even with trying to alter the time continuum.

Heather from Movie Mobsters

Timeline (2003)

“So you’re saying you accidentally discovered time travel?” – “No, we accidentally discovered a wormhole.”

Plot: A group of archaeological students must travel back to year 1357 to retrieve their missing professor, which happens to be the very day of the bloodiest battle between the English and the French. They must survive 14th Century France long enough before their time marker expires.

I know critics rip this movie to shreds, but I actually find it pretty entertaining. Based on Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name, what makes the story unique is the mix between futuristic elements and the medieval setting. As with a lot of time travel movies though, the concept is often better than the execution. Yes there are logic and consistency issues here, but as long as you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for alittle while and not over-analyze every single thing, this movie is pretty good fun.

It’s sci-fi lite, I mean, they describe their time machine as ‘3D fax machine’ so that should tell you something. I’d imagine the book goes into quantum physics stuff in much more detail, but that’d be impossible to cover in a 2-hour movie. The pace is swift enough with a good amount of chase/battle scenes to keep action fans happy, and an endearing love story thrown in for good measure. In fact, the romance between André Marek & Lady Claire is the major highlights for me.

The movie also looks pretty authentic, as Richard Donner didn’t use much CGI even on the gritty battle scenes. One major quibble I haveis with the lead actor Paul Walker, who is utterly unconvincing and weak. He’s supposed to play Billy Connolly’s son and I really just can’t picture that. But Gerry Butler as André Marek more than makes up for that, even though when I first saw this, I had no idea who Butler was. It was after I saw The Phantom of the Opera a couple of years later that I realized he’s the same actor playing the Phantom! I also like Anna Friel as Claire & Frances O’Connor as Kate, and Billy Connolly, David Thewlis, and Michael Sheen round out the cast nicely.

So yeah, it’s really not as bad as the critics make it out to be. It’s worth a rental if you like time travel sci-fis or just an action romp to watch on a Friday evening.

By Ruth From FlixChatter

Timecrimes (2007)

“He’s like your reflection. You’re looking in the mirror only this reflection shows what you were doing…”

Timecrimes goes a long way to show that the old adage of “curiosity killed the cat” is advice worth heeding. But what fun is a story when a character can’t help himself right? When Hector makes his way home from shopping one day he decides to relax and kick back in the lounge chair on the lawn of he and his wife’s new home. Doing a little nature gazing with his binoculars he sees what looks like a troubled woman in the woods. As he goes to investigate he soon finds himself chased by a strange and hostile figure. He retreats to a nearby house and to save himself is left no choice but to break in. Hector meets a man who offers to hide him from the assailant inside one of his machines. Hector emerges from the mechanical device and learns he’s become an unexpected time traveler (going back in time roughly 30 minutes) and the man who helped him is a scientist who explains the predicament. If you’ve seen Back to the Future II you’ll know what can happen if you have 2 of the same persons running around in the same time…and in Timecrimes it only gets worse and more complicated than that.

Usually most time travel films employ some elaborate device including (but not limited to) flashing lights, gee whiz mechanics and a confusing formula explaining what makes it possible. Well not here and not in the least. Almost like magic, and even just as matter of fact, the time machine doesn’t even give any clear demarcations but still falls into the trappings of other time travel films. Except for the use of night and day you’d have no clue you had even traveled at all and that’s why the less is more approach to this low budget film works so well. Beyond that Timecrimes is layered so damn well showing time travel complexities and conundrums aplenty. Telling the same 30 minute story from three points of view it becomes a lot like watching the progressive seasons of Lost as you’ll be equally amazed how many ways a situation can be spun/altered when looked at from a different angle (and by more than one person).

Actually it’s quite innovative even if there are really no answers to concepts and pseudo science presented in the plot. Hector becomes an unwilling prisoner of the time continuum which deteriorates as he tries to fix the ripple he created. As the film progresses through each act trying to tie up the loose ends gets harder and harder. Don’t feel bad if you start to feels confused and hopeless as Hector. As with anything it’s all in the details and Timecrimes really gets you to pay attention to them. Liken this to early Christopher Nolan films it really is a more interesting film on repeat viewings. If this is the first time you’re seeing it, guaranteed you’ll be blown away by the story that you’ll forget all the shortcomings.

By Marc from Go See Talk

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The “scream queen” has been with us as long as cinema itself but became more notable and memorable when they became audible with the invention of sound (a synchronized soundtrack to me more precise). Possibly the and certainly the most famous scream queen was Fay Wray who appeared in many horror movies but is best known for the classic King Kong (1933). By the 1960’s the scream queen was an archetype of Hollywood movies, even Alfred Hitchcock got in on the act giving Janet Leigh one of cinemas most iconic scenes in Psycho (1960). During the 1960’s and 70’s British cinema developed its own batch of scream queens thanks in part to Hammer horror movies; the most notable of these was the Polish born actress Ingrid Pitt. By the end of the 70’s Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis had earned the accolade of being the “ultimate scream queen” following her role in Halloween (1978). With Halloween, director John Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis gave cinema a great gift, a scream queen who fought back making them heroines and not just eye candy and amusement. This is a trend that continued through movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Fog (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). The interesting result of this is movies that are empowering when they appear to be exploitative.

Many people feared (and some hoped) that that Scream (1996) with its self (and genre)-aware characters and a more satirical approach would be the end of slasher movies and the scream queens that inhabit them, fortunately they where wrong. Detractors of the horror genre and the female place within it will dismiss not only the character but the moniker of “scream queen” as sexist or derogatory. I think these people somewhat miss the point of the importance of these characters within the genre. On a side point it is worth noting a lot of the so called scream queens are also noted for playing kick ass action heroines too, for example: Kate Beckinsale, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku.

This leads to the question who are the current scream queens? Thanks to her appearance in the original Halloween franchise (parts 4 and 5 1988/89) and Rob Zombie’s “re-imagining” Danielle Harris is widely regarded as the current scream queen. If you haven’t already check her out in the apocalyptic vampire survival road movie Stake Land (2010), a great low budget movie likely to appear in my top ten movies of the year. There are two other names that stand out for me, hovering somewhere between A list and genre pictures, they are talented actresses who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty (literally at times) in horror movies when they could have take the easy rom-com option.

Amber Heard: Her breakthrough role should have been All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006), sadly it sat on the shelf for two years and remains underappreciated. She also had a small but significant part in Zombie land (2009). More recently she starred in an American remake of And Soon the Darkness (2010). Also little seen, The Ward (2010 ) is the first feature directed by John Carpenter in the best part of a decade and the best for more than two decades. Despite its title and themes Drive Angry (2011) is more an action thriller than a horror but certainly doesn’t harm her credentials.

Melissa George: Following a successful TV career and numerous small parts in movies Melissa George took the starring role alongside Ryan Reynolds in the remake of The Amityville Horror (2005), she followed this with the Americans in peril abroad movie Paradise Lost (2006) also featuring Olivia Wilde. The highlight of her horror career is a choice between 30 Days of Night (2007) and Triangle (2009), the first an innovative and effective vampire movie, the second brilliantly constructed time slip thriller. Later this month sees the release of A Lonely Place to Die, a film I am really looking forward to having recently heard about it.

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This week saw the official end of summer so what better time to look back on the summer blockbusters. When did the summer start? Based on the UK weather you would be forgiven for thinking it started and ended in April, but for the purposes of this post the summer blockbuster season began in May. This eliminates the underrated Sucker Punch and the surprisingly enjoyable Fast & Furious 5 (aka Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist aka Fast Five).

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Cap’n Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is seeking the mythical Fountain Of Youth, along the way he crosses paths with old flame Angelica (Penélope Cruz), her farther, the legendry pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and a Spanish fleet for good measure. After the tedious parts two and three I didn’t know what to expect from this fourth movie, despite its many faults, it is actually a surprisingly good fun swashbuckling adventure that I enjoyed more than I thought I would. – Budget: $250,000,000 (estimated) – How’s it done? Surprisingly well.

X-Men: First Class: Is X-Men: First Class: a reboot or a prequel? I’m not sure if it really matters, but if it’s a prequel there are some distracting continuity issues, if it’s a reboot it is a fantastic opportunity to restart the franchise in the way the comic books often do. The casting is great, the acting is good, the story is okay, I love the 60‘s setting and there are some very funny moments. It does suffer from too many unnecessary characters and isn’t very well paced. On the whole it is a worth entry into the X-Men franchise that is much better than The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine but not as good as parts one and two. – Budget: $160,000,000 (estimated) – How’s it done? Not bad.

Green Lantern: Budget: If Marvel and DC are in a battle for movie supremacy Batman is standing alone against the might of the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. Green Lantern was DC’s chance to get back into the fight before they bring out the potential big gun, a Superman reboot. I think we are going to have to wait for the man of steel. Ryan Reynolds does a good job in the lead role and the movie is better than the trailer and reviews would suggest, it’s still average at best. – Budget: $200,000,000 (estimated) – How’s it done? Not well.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon: The best thing I can say about the new Transformers movie is that it is much better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, considering how bad that movie was it really is the definition of damning with faint praise. The story and the acting are as bad as ever, some of the action is quite good. The one lesson learnt from the previous movie is to make better use of the human stars even though foremost of those is Shia LaBeouf who lacks charm charisma and acting ability. The sad thing, somewhere in the two and half hour runtime there is probably a decent ninety minute movie; and the surprising thing, I miss Megan Fox. – Budget $195 million (estimated) – How’s it done? Better than it deserves.

Thor: Thor, son of Odin is a powerful but arrogant warrior until he is cast out of Asgard and forced to live on Earth amongst humans. Done badly Thor could be the least accessible and credible Marvel comic book adaptation, in the hands of director Kenneth Branagh it is funny, exciting, entertaining and fun. Advertised as being in 3D, Fortunately there was also a 2D option, no prizes for guessing which one I saw. – Budget: $150,000,000 (estimated) – How’s it done? Very well.

Captain America: The First Avenger: The name says it all, the origin of the first Avenger in preparation for next years Avengers movie. Perfectly cast, well structured and the period setting is spot on. The balance between action and narrative is about right, all in all it as good a film as it could have been allowing for its role as a setup for The Avengers, this is also the reason for the movies only real problem, the modern day sections are conspicuous and could have been handled better or even omitted. – Budget: $140,000,000 (estimated) – How’s it done? Not bad.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2: The problem with the inclusion of this movie on the list is that I can not live or die at the box-office on its own merits. Its success or failure was already sealed long ago with the phenomenon that is the previous movies and the books they are based on. Fortunately it is good, in fact one of the best movies in the series. – Budget: $125,000,000 (estimated) – How’s it done? Highest grossing movie of the year so far.

Super 8: With a tiny budget by blockbuster standards this movie nearly didn’t make the list, however its such a summer movie I just couldn’t leave it of the list. Set in 1979 it is reminiscent of the movies Steven Spielberg (the producer of this movie) was making in the 70’s and 80’s. To add to this the young cast is sensational. The movie is predicable and clichéd, but that really doesn’t matter, it is well made and great fun. – Budget: $50,000,000 (estimated) -How’s it done? Very well.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: I really didn’t want to see this movie. Of the original film series only the first film was any good and the Tim Burton remake was dire at best. However a good second trailer and great word of mouth convinced me. As it turns out the movie is really good, the plot is seriously flawed but on the whole it gets away with it. The effects are fantastic, the story is pretty good and even the acting is good, the best coming from Andy Serkis in a motion capture suite. Certain elements of the plot point to potential sequels, lets hope the are as good as this one. – Budget: $93,000,000 (estimated) – How’s it done? Not bad.

Cowboys & Aliens: Loosely based on a comic book and set in Arizona in the 1870’s, I think you can guess the plot form the title. Boasting a fantastic premise, a great cast (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell) and a talented director with comic book pedigree (Jon Favreau) I had high hopes for this movie. Although it doesn’t live up to its promise, its still well made and good fun. – Budget: $163,000,000 – How’s it done? Bomb

My top five summer blockbusters in order are:

  1. Super 8
  2. X-Men: First Class
  3. Thor
  4. Captain America: The First Avenger
  5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

All things considered it has been a good summer for big budget blockbusters, however there have been at least five better lower budget movies this summer:

  1. The Guard
  2. Senna
  3. The Skin I live in
  4. Stake Land
  5. The Way

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