Category: Blog


X-Men: Fail Class

If you’re a fan of the X-Men or comic book flicks in general, you will undoubtedly have seen at least some of the horrifically shit promotional material produced for the upcoming foray into the universe, X-Men: First Class. As a designer, I find a bad movie poster will have more sway over whether I want to see a film than your average movie-goer, and X4 is so far the best example I have experienced. My personal gripes with aspects of the film aside (beast looks like a gay version of Benecio del Toro’s Wolfman, teen angst forced in to appeal to the Twilight crowd etc.) I was still up for paying £8 to see it come June, but then images like the cast shot above began making their way around the internet and my plans of spending hard-earned money gradually changed.

I see great graphic design all the time, and it makes my brain hurt to think that 20th Century Fox has spent thousands – if not millions – of dollars on terrible Photoshop comps like that. Seriously, what the fuck happened there? Was it really too much to ask the cast for a quick photoshoot? Or if that wasn’t an option, how about assigning the job of making the composite to someone who’s actually good with the software? Still, it was early days when that line-up etched itself onto the eyes of fans the world over, I was sure the real posters wouldn’t be half as bad…

  

Alas, no. What the fucking hell was going on at the studio when these were being made? Did some crazy lunatic bust into the office shouting incoherent bollocks about floating heads and silhouettes and force a trainee designer to produce these two teaser posters in 15 minutes at gunpoint? In fact, considering how epically awful these are it was probably the janitor or tea lady that was forced to churn out these two doozies, because if the man or woman behind these calls themselves a “designer” they are a liar. I can maybe even understand some hack who blagged his way onto a Mac bashing these out, but then he must have had to show them to his peers, his superiors, the people fucking paying him. “Hey Bill, I finished those two X-Men teasers, you want to have a look?” “Yeah sure… Is this some kind of joke?”  But I guess nobody saw a problem, AT ALL.

Something is clearly wrong when work this dire can go through a string of supposedly creative and professional people and not one of them calls bullshit. This has somehow done the unthinkable and out-crapped the poster for Bangkok Dangerous. Say what you like about invisible guns and inexplicable lava, at least Nic Cage’s head isn’t floating in a black illustrator live-traced cut-out.

From what I gather there was quite alot of internet uproar when these were seen by pretty much everyone, and I’m sure that’s the reason for this secondary duo of teaser posters, which to be honest, are pretty good actually:

  

Not bad at all, the whole ‘dark reflection’ thing is hardly original, but it works given the nature of the film. Sadly though, at least for me, the damage had been done. The insanely bad promo material combined with the fact I didn’t think it looked that great to begin with has stopped me wanting to pay decent money to see it. I’d maybe folk out a couple of quid if we still had cinemas at that price (because, ya’ know, it’s X-Men), but we don’t, going to the cinema is expensive, and while I’m more than happy to folk out £10 to see Thor in IMAX, I’m now going to either download X-Men: First Class illegally, or wait until I can catch it on TV. And that is almost solely the fault of the bellends in charge of its marketing.

Getting back to the posters though, it’s almost like the knuckleheads on the board of directors weren’t satisfied with two reasonable teasers and when the time came for the official one-sheet they sent that gun-toting lunatic back into the studio, but this time I’m betting he gave the designer an hour maybe? And the brief probably went something as follows: “We gotta show all the cast, looking cool and walking toward the camera, but don’t do anything that references the source material at all, because we don’t care about the fans, they’re in the theatre already, we need to attract as broad an audience as possible.”

And look what happened…

  

So the film’s about a group of superhero-looking people with broken necks, walking around a blue aircraft hangar with no discernible floor. I’ll admit the second one is slightly better, at least it shows something happening, but movie posters don’t get much more generic than this. They say nothing about the tone of the flick, the characters themselves or really anything useful at all, certainly nothing that would convince me to see the damn thing, and isn’t that what the purpose of a movie poster is? All you’ve succeeded in doing is paying some moron alot of money for something completely and utterly gash.

A quick Google search revealed something I was sure of before even typing the words, that there would be several fan-made posters that shit all over the stuff churned out by the ‘pros’. This is true of pretty much every high profile film (e.g Thor, Source Code, Iron Man 2, Inception), but it’s overly appropriate here as the real ones are just so amazingly bad. These guys (aside from possessing actual talent) probably would let Fox use their work for free if they asked them nicely, and prove that there is original, engaging and excellent material waiting to be mined from your big-budget abortion of an X-Men film. If I saw any one of these presented as an official poster I would be in the theatre with bells on.

  

by Dane Frost

 

by Jeffrey Zang

My favourite ones all reflect the film’s period setting with lovely, retro style. It fits really well and offers so much great imagery. Also after watching the trailers this X-Film seems to be a more serious, almost sophisticated comic book flick, something not conveyed in the official posters at all. Jeffrey Zang’s versions on the other hand make First Class look like The Third Man and Vertigo. These next two are also wonderfully 60s, and give the movie some serious credibility, conveying comic-book sensibilities as well as tension and action:

   

by Bryan Lenning & Michael Dee

Now as much as I dig the retro style posters, I do understand that from a mass marketing standpoint they don’t connect to the kind of audience Fox wants to attract. The basic principle of movie-making is – sadly – to make as much money as possible, and your run-of-the-mill Twi-hard probably won’t see one of the above posters and think “Gee, what a great throwback to the work of Saul Bass.” But the below piece, by Barry Villegas is much more mainstream, even using the same idea as the second teasers, but executed with more of a restrained flare, definitely reflecting the tone of the trailers, and I think it looks really good.

by Barry Villegas

Finally, if seriousness and brooding undertones isn’t your thing you have these two frankly awesome comic-book themed efforts by Erik Johnson and Rory Phillips. These are just crazy cool to me, again channelling a 1960s style and going in a slightly different direction from the others by portraying a more light-hearted comic feel. After all, it is a comic book movie, to ignore that fact is like slapping us fans in the face. Not to mention Johnson’s young Charles Xavier looks way better than James McAvoy’s real version.

by Erik Johnson

by Rory Phillips

These ones remind me of classic spy thrillers, like From Russia With Love or The Ipcress File. A suave, Mad Men-style, which again fits the film really well. Now compare the above to the latest piece of official artwork released:


See what I mean? I really hope this film tanks, people need to learn from this that you can’t be so incredibly lazy with your ad campaign simply because you’ve got a famous name. If anything this should have been the opportunity for Fox to go balls to the wall in rejuvenating the X-series (after one disappointing sequel and one truly awful prequel), to remind us that there’s life in the property yet. But it’s just another million-dollar blunder.

Do yourselves a favour and go see Thor a second time, if you pay to see First Class you’ll be proving these idiots right, and they’ll be laughing at you all the way to the bank.

Post Script – I got all the fan made posters from a competition run by the good folks at Super Punch, check it out here.

It’s Showtime!

Like any decent bloke, my Dad raised me on awesome action and sci-fi movies. In particular, the films of Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of my favourites was his 1987 dystopian future game show flick ‘The Running Man‘. I really loved (and still love) that film, God knows how many times I watched it when I was younger, but because I never got round to picking it up on DVD I went roughly 5 years before seeing it again a few days ago. Aside from the fact it’s still the cheesy as hell, massively fun, violent fun-fest I remember it being, I happened to notice the opening credits are actually pretty damn cool. As a kid I didn’t notice such things, but the retro-obsessed designer I’ve grown into was struck right away with the old school 80’s titles.

They’re nothing spectacular, but I thought I’d show them some love as nobody else seems to have on this world-wide web of ours. They begin with a simple yet typically sci-fi typeface, then we get the video-game, Commodore64-style lettering spelling the name of quite possibly the greatest man in the world (at least, that’s what I thought when I was 10) and the films very memorable title. I think it suits the movie really well, as the format (which has been re-hashed a number of times) is very video game-like in nature, and the cold black background is very apt for the bleak future the film is set in. The animated running men look pretty dodgy when they get 3D-ified, but the shot of Schwarzenegger – or more specifically, The Butcher of Bakersfield Ben Richards – running behind the title is too damn cool not to like.

Either way, check ’em out, and if you’re anything like me this should bring back some fond memories, because as they say, they don’t make ’em like this anymore.


Literature Art Music

“The publication of Perspectives and its sale at a low price that will make it readily available to students has been made possible through a grant from The Ford Foundation, established by the family of Henry Ford. The Foundation is dedicated to works of philanthropy, social welfare and education throughout the world. It is one of the objectives of The Ford Foundation to further friendship and understanding among the peoples of all countries through the exchange of cultural materials. Perspectives will be devoted chiefly to art, letters, and thought of the United States, but its sponsors are also preparing plans for activities aimed at presenting the cultural achievements of many other lands to American audiences.”

It was a couple of months ago now that I picked up two copies of Perspectives from Tombland Books in Norwich. Being a huge design geek when it comes to anything forgotten and retro, two magazines from the 50s was hardly something I was going to not buy. It’s also an added bonus that one of them, is the first ever issue. Now I’ve never heard of Perspectives, or any other design publications pre-1980 for the matter, but by the looks of things this was pretty groundbreaking stuff. I mean, the copyright year is 1952, so I’d be willing to be that a tri-monthly publication focusing on the arts was quite rare to say the least. They’re not even really magazines per say, at least not by todays standards, as they’re bound and of the same quality stock as your average paperback book. Along with issue 1 I picked up number 13 for it’s Bass-ian style cover:


Their content too, is structured and presented much more like a book, which gives these a pretty intellectual feel. And though the emphasis is firmly on ‘the arts’, they’re very well designed typographically. It may have been the 50s, but decent layout is pretty much timeless. This page below is a good example, retro yet intelligent and articulate.


When it comes to the actual articles, alot of it goes over my head, at times sounding more like a textbook with stuff like an essay by Jacques Barzun titled ‘America’s Romance with Practicality’, but there’s some really cool stuff from then new and exciting artists in America. Here’s a couple of the ones I really dug…


Like so much of the stuff I put on Coffee Stained Papers, these are relics of a part of the creative industry’s past that really shouldn’t be sitting outside a second-hand bookshop for £1 each. They should be preserved, cherished and most importantly appreciated. I think it’s weird that these things appear to have been pretty much forgotten about, as several Google searches only yielded a smattering of info and a couple of designers like myself who randomly came across a copy and dug the covers (like this dude here). Which is a shame, as the combined effort and progressive thinking that went into getting something like this published worldwide in the 1950s is a truly wonderful thing. Which I think is a nice note to sign off on, and I’ll leave you with a double page spread of the people responsible for bringing Perspectives to life (I particularly like the look of Lionel Trilling, what a fantastically 50s looking bloke, cut from the same cloth as the great Rod Serling, cigarette on the go, eat your heart out Don Draper).


Roid Rage

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article on my recent foray into the wonderful world of Polaroid photography for design and art culture blog, ‘Hard Up, Hungover & the Bastard Landlord‘. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

“This was the idea of my friend and fellow Norwich College alumni, Joey Dean, who asked me to write an article for this fine blog. I dug the idea primarily because back in college, the guy was a couple of years ahead of me in terms of cool stuff. See, being an immature, Photoshop filter reliant 16 year-old, I couldn’t quite understand what he saw in stuff like film photography. I mean, why would you want off-colours, not-quite-in-focus images and the inconvenience of not being able to see your shot right away? That shit is the past, it’s out-dated.

It wasn’t until my second year of university that the humble beauty of the stuff he had shown me really sunk in. It took quite a while for me to really ‘see’ what he, and the other millions of designers and photographers had been seeing for ages. It ain’t just photographs either, pretty much anything in our industry from times-gone-by excites me now like faux metal tutorials did back in college. Old book covers especially, which I have featured on my own blog quite heavily, have such a fantastic charm, a soul even, that I feel like I started seeing them with a different set of eyes.”

If you like, check out the whole article here.

My Favourite Movies of 2010

Now for the second part of my ‘Best of 2010‘ posts with what was originally going to be my top 10 films of last year. But what quickly became clear as I re-read my original reviews and compiled my list, was that I wouldn’t be able to cram all the ones I wanted to mention into just 10, and I also think it’s somewhat redundant comparing such diverse genres.

I’m pretty late to the party with this compared to movie critics and bloggers, but then those guys generally have alot more time to see the flicks as they are released, while I have had to play catch-up over the last month. This is also by no means a comprehensive best of the year as far as every release goes, as I generally only watch movies I think I’ll enjoy, so you’ll forgive me for not checking out the likes of Little Fockers or Gulliver’s Travels, because we all knew they’d be shite, I’d just be telling you what you already know but slightly angrier at wasting my time with such dross. I also don’t necessarily think that every film below is a masterpiece, or even ‘good’, depending on how you define it. These are films I enjoyed the hell out of regardless, that connected with me, and that I think deserve to be recognised for doing so.

Let’s kick off with the titles that would have to be omitted from an official top 10 because they’re technically 2009 releases. Even in today’s age of online piracy and streaming it takes films far too long to cross the oceans. As a film geek it’s unfortunate to live in the UK, as we often get stuff months or even years later than our American friends (especially the more niche movies, of which I am usually part of the audience.

(Technically) 2009:

Extract
Dir: Mike Judge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Ben Affleck.

What I Said at the Time: “A witty and down to earth comedy, with relatable characters and sharp dialogue, Judge does it again. The  cast here is fantastic (particularly Bateman and Affleck), and there are some truly great moments. One of the years best.”

As soon as I heard Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge was working on another film I was stoked. Hell, they could have announced he was making a feature-length episode of Glee and I’d want to see it. This is because Judge is the man  behind one of my favourite movies ever, the cult classic Office Space. I fucking love that film with every ounce of my being. I don’t think there’s a film that has connected with me as much as Office Space, and while his last flick (2006’s Idiocracy) was pretty good, I was quite disappointed. Extract however, is a fantastic, morose, relatable, down-to-earth flick that I really loved. It ain’t no Office Space, but then I don’t think it should be. It’s a slightly more mature film, but it has a similarly bleak and sarcastic smile on its face. The characters feel so real, largely due to Judge’s script, but Jason Bateman really makes it work. I’m sure the character of Joel was written with him in mind, because he just nails it. Honest, good-natured but fed-up and stuck in a rut, I think most guys can associate, he’s just a great character to spend a film with. The supporting cast are all pretty solid too, but Ben Affleck‘s pothead Dean steals every scene he’s in. I’ve always been a fan of (and often have to defend) Affleck, and he’s wonderful here, this is the guy we only really get to see in Kevin Smith movies. I can’t wait to re-watch Extract, and while it sadly won’t be to everybody’s tastes (Little Fockers made $134 million in the U.S. alone), this was my favourite original comedy of the year.

 

A Town Called Panic
Dir: Stphane Aubier & Vincent Patar
Starring: Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Bruce Ellison.

What I Said at the Time: “Silly, charming, insane and just so god-damn wonderful, I strongly urge everyone to see this. The style may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s refreshing to see something different, and it looks BEAUTIFUL. Seriously, watch this movie.”

I couldn’t agree with myself more. ‘God-damn wonderful’ describes A Town Called Panic to a tee. If any film of the last few years deserved a wider release, this was it. I’d never heard of the film or its creators until I read Capone‘s (spot-on) review on Ain’t it Cool News right at the start of the year. He called it a “…joyous work of pure brilliance.” so I checked out the trailer… “This. Looks. Awesome.” I thought to myself way back in January, and gradually over the year it got pushed to the back of my mind thanks it taking an eternity to reach the U.K. It was only about a couple of months ago I got to finally see it, and it is everything Capone said it was. It’s a completely bonkers yet immensely charming film. It looks great and makes a lovely change from the increasingly boring CG kids fare (though I did rather enjoy How to Train Your Dragon). I urge everyone to try and see this, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll fall in love with it.

 

Black Dynamite
Dir: Scott Sanders
Starring: Michael Jai White, Nicole Ari Parker, Byron Minns.

What I Said at the Time: “A criminally overlooked and under-seen movie, Black Dynamite is a perfectly crafted homage / parody of 70s blaxploitation. Extremely funny, well written and so much god damn good fun. I loved every minute.”

I only really discovered Blaxsploitation last year. Sure I knew it existed and I could see the style in alot of Tarantino’s flicks, but I never actually saw any of them until 2010.  Black Dynamite really does capture the spirit and feel of those classic, low-budget movies perfectly. It even looks like it was made back then. The style is spot on and sits alongside other old school throwbacks like Grindhouse and Machete as being both a wonderful homage and awesome movie in it’s own right. The care and detail the makers went to to re-create the look of flicks like Coffy and Black Samurai is astounding. The music, the editing, the colours, it’s all there, and exaggerated just the right amount. Michael Jai White and everyone else involved (and there are some notable names, such as Cedric Yarbrough, Nicole Sullivan and Bokeem Woodbine) are clearly having a blast sending up the flicks they almost certainly grew up with. White’s portrayal of the titular ‘Black Dynamite’ is inch-perfect, he’s a wise-talking, kung-fu fighting muthafucka, and with line’s like “Freeze you jive turkeys!” what’s not to love? He also wrote the script, which is sharp and hilariously funny. If this came out over here in 2010 it would be at the number 1 spot on my list (that is, if I had one). I have since shown this to friends who haven’t seen a Blaxsploitation flick in their lives and they found it just as funny as I did, so it works as it’s own film too. Another reason why Black Dynamite is the single greatest piece of awesome I’ve seen on my screen in years.

 

Action, Horror & Sci-Fi:

The Crazies
Dir: Breck Eisner
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson

What I Said at the Time: “Man it’s just so great to see a horror flick that doesn’t cater to teenagers or cop out in some shape or form. Eisner clearly knows what’s he’s doing, with good actors, unflinching violence, and just a better understanding of what makes a decent horror flick, The Crazies is a very cool film.”

Most ‘Best of the Year’ lists are filled with dramas and Oscar-fodder, which I think is somewhat unfair as many great titles like The Crazies get forgotten about. Each year we get a slew of unnecessary remakes and dumb horror films that cater to the masses, so when somebody has the cojones to make a clever, smart horror film and succeeds as Breck Eisner did, they should be applauded. Now, The Crazies isn’t exactly Inception. It ain’t smart in the conventional sense, you don’t need a college to degree to figure it out, there are no complicated sub-plots or anything like that. It’s smart movie-making. Eisner and the producers know how to make an engaging, entertaining and thrilling film. It’s highly enjoyable, thanks to it’s slick style and on-the-level presentation. Like I said, no complicated multi-stranded story, just a group of people trying to survive when the world goes to shit. They have chosen great actors too, adult actors, which is even more unusual when you look at how the teen market is clearly the target audience for horror movies. This film and the next entry proved to me that there are directors out there that actually have a passion for the genre and know how to get it right. I wish more people in the industry focused on the basic principle of making a good movie, before making something marketable for teenagers or something everyone remembers from the ’80s. The Crazies was the only decent remake of last year (unless you count Bad Lieutenant and True Grit, which I don’t), much like Zack Snyder‘s Dawn of the Dead, they managed to make something interesting, completely entertaining and more than worthy of carrying the title of the original.

 

The Horde
Dir: Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher
Starring: Jean-Pierre Martins, Eriq Ebouaney, Claude Perron.

What I Said at the Time: “A well directed, modern action / horror. Proving there are still good zombie movies waiting to be made if done correctly. This ain’t exactly ‘The Shining’, but it’s immensely entertaining and delivers on adrenalin, gore and gunshots.”

I had never heard of this French zombie flick until a guy at work asked me about it on the week of it’s release. Working in a supermarket I often see award-winning titles like Transmorphers and Flood grace the DVD shelves at Tesco. You see, absolute shite like that isn’t worth a theatrical release, but they still cost money to make, and with straight-to-DVD they can exploit the average Joe who’s simply too dumb to release that beneath the exclamation pointed taglines (NOT review quotes) and shiny cover there is in fact, a film not worth the disc it’s burned on. So when I had a butchers and saw The Horde on the shelf, I was a little reserved to say the least. Almost immediately I realised it was French, which was intriguing, as foreign films don’t often get decent releases over here, let along bad foreign films, so being a huge fan of zombies since I was a kid, I was interested. After a quick search online and reading some of the festival feedback I had to give it a go. Boy am I glad that guy at Tesco asked me about this, as The Horde (in much the same way as The Crazies) is a rock-solid, well-made and thoroughly entertaining action horror film. It tells the story of a group of police officers who kinda go rogue and decide to attack the gangsters responsible for killing their comrade. The gangsters are held up in a wonderfully dingy apartment complex and both parties are armed to the hilt. Just as things get real, bam! Fucking zombie apocalypse happens! I love how straight forward Dahan and Rocher make it, there isn’t even much backstory to the characters, the film starts right as the cops are about to enter the building, and it’s just flat-out from there. There’s no foreboding shot of a random stranger staggering in the shadows, or a glimpse of the news reporting some strange accident, it just happens smack bang in the middle of what would otherwise be a crime / action thriller.

What I liked even more was the characters react fairly realistically when people start coming back to life and attacking them. If there’s one thing that pisses me off about zombies flicks, is that the characters within them always seem to occupy a world where zombies flicks don’t exist. The first time they encounter someone infected there’s the stereotypical “Oh my god! What’s wrong?! Sir…. are you okay? Shit, this guy looks sick, are you alrig……AAARGH! HE BIT ME! WHAT ON EARTH IS HAPPENING?!” Of course all the time we as the audience are shouting at the screen to just shoot the guy already. But not in The Horde. Nope, when a guy the characters clearly killed gets back up moments later with blood dripping from his mouth, his skin and face all messed up, they take aim and machine gun the motherfucker. They even know to aim for the head. I was sitting there watching this, and thought to myself “Well it’s about time! Thank God, someone finally gets it.” and by that I mean the film-makers as well as the characters. As soon as that happened, I knew I dug the shit out this flick.

The pacing flows quickly, and there’s alot of really great action and gore. The group of survivors who must band together in order to get the hell out of the building are all well acted and the supporting characters are two-dimensional in a good way. This is why it randomly showed up on the shelves at Tesco one week, someone thought here’s a flick that deserves to be seen, and it truly does. If you’re a horror fan check this out at the next opportunity, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

 

Devil
Dir: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Chris Messina, Bokeem Woodbine, Jenny O’Hara.

What I Said at the Time: “Not for everyone I guess, but I found this supernatural Hitchcockian flick really quite entertaining. I dug the small scale and the performances are pretty decent too. Not amazing, but a good, solid flick nonetheless.”

From the Mind of M. Night Shyamalan’… The important thing to remember about this, is that this is ‘From the Mind Of’, and not FROM the director of The Last Airbender and The Crappening. I’d like to think this was just another cool, creepy film idea M. Night jotted down on the back of a cigarette packet and sold to Universal in order to make enough money to post-convert Airbender to 3D. He may even have thought of it back when he made ‘good’ films. All I know for sure is this does kinda fit in with the chilling likes of The Sixth Sense and The Village, and it’s a really solid movie. It isn’t amazing, but it is very decent, and it sucked me in almost from that first scene. The simple concept is executed really well, and it actually benefits from not having any massively famous stars in. I thoroughly enjoyed Devil when I first saw it, but since then, now that I’ve looked back on the largely low quality and forgettable-ness of most horror films that have come out, it deserves to be applauded. Director John Erick Dowdle amps up the tension, with a really sleek and eerie atmosphere. Even though it’s set it daytime, the weather’s over-cast, the colours are worn out and something evil is definitely going on. Every time we see Chris Messina‘s detective and the security guards looking at the CCTV footage it’s absolutely brilliant. I don’t like to try and out think a film, so I honestly didn’t know where we would end up until probably the last third, which is more than enough as far as I’m concerned. In my original review I used the word ‘Hitchcockian’, and I still believe that’s very apt for Devil. It’s the kind of multiple-character driven, all the pieces slowly coming together type of movie that I could quite see Hitch making back in the day. And if that isn’t enough to make you check it out, you probably won’t like it that much anyways.

 

Legion
Dir: Scott Charles Stewart
Starring: Paul Bettany, Lucas Black, Dennis Quaid.

What I Said at the Time: “Cheesy, predictable, and AWESOME. While not quite the epic actioner this could have been, it’s pretty close. Pissed off angels with machine guns? Fuck. Yes. This is the sort of stupid action flick I loved as a kid. Totally implausible, but violent, intense, atmospheric and whole lot of fun.”

Easily the most controversial title in this list, Scott Charles Stewart‘s Legion definitely has more haters than fans. Boasting an impressive 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, I know exactly why most people didn’t like it. You see, Legion, a film in which God decides it’s time to wipe out humanity again, this time with demonic-looking angels and features Paul Bettany as archangel Michael, fighting on our side with semi-automatic machine guns is….. wait for it……. DUUUUUUUUUUUUMB! Who could have predicted this film would be stupid? I bet anyone who went in expecting The Ninth Gate was pretty pissed. And you know what? Good.

Now I’m not going to turn around and say those who say the script is lazy and the plot is thread-bare are wrong. Because, well, they’re not. The script is lazy and the plot is thread-bare. But I had an absolute blast with it anyway. This film tapped into the kid inside me, the same kid who grew up watching films like The Running Man and Demolition Man, and loving the hell out of them. Legion is completely bonkers, it’s just impossible to take seriously. From the design of the angel-demon-whatever-the-hell-they-were-bad-guys to the cardboard cut-out stereotypes that comprise the last remnants of humanity, held up in a diner in the middle of arse-nowhere USA. It it sheer silliness, and I think it takes itself kinda seriously to boot. But in spite of all that, I got right into it.

Badass angels fighting each other with maces and machine guns, random down-on-their-luck guys and gals under siege from supernatural forces armed only with a cop car full of guns, and they’re stuck isolated in the desert. This appealed to me on two levels, the crazy-awesome action and the ‘last survivors’ aspect, which is also why I like zombie films so much. I can’t help but get behind them as they shoot as much evil as they possibly can and try not to die. Just like End of Days before it, I think you have to be a certain kind of person to truly enjoy Legion. It just so happens that that is me, and unlike most of the other titles on this list, I won’t think less of you for disagreeing.

 

Machete
Dir: Ethan Maniquis & Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rogriguez, Jessica Alba.

What I Said at the Time: “Within the first 5 minutes I had a huge grin on my face which didn’t leave until way after the end credits. It’s everything I expected it to be, cheesy, retro, fast paced, action packed and hilariously funny. Easily the most enjoyable movie of 2010.”

I really did get a cheesy grin across my face for the entire film, and Machete was, without a doubt, the most gleefully fun cinema experience I’ve had since it’s forbearer, Grindhouse. Those two films (or 3 if you count the double-bill separately), along with Black Dynamite channel the style, spirit and feel of 70s exploitation, of which I am deeply in love with, so incredibly well. With Grindhouse I was in awe of the scratchy film, the vintage titles (‘Now Our Feature Presentation, Rated X’) and how gorgeous it looked, and if I could add any one thing to Machete, it would be a bit more of that. They haven’t gone down the faux-old route with this one, though it’s still a great throwback nonetheless.

I honestly don’t know where to begin with the wealth of awesome that is Machete. You have one of the most eclectic casts I think I’ve ever seen. Actors who I would never imagine being up for something like this, and looking like they’re having a great time doing so. Steven Seagal as uber-bad guy Torrez is inspired, it’s great to see the action star in an almost self-parodying role, and he plays it as only Steven Seagal could. Then you have Robert De Niro as Senator John McLaughlin… I’m sorry? Did you say Robert De Niro?! Yes, Robert De-Fucking-Niro, as a corrupt gun totin’ Senator. Granted the guy’s career has been a little, shall we say varied as of late (Meet the Fockers, Righteous Kill anyone?) but he’s in Machete? What’s more, is he’s pretty good too. Again, it looks like he’s having a pretty fun time, and it’s a whole lot of fun to see him lie and sneak his way through the flick. Next we have Michelle Rodriguez as Luz. Now a couple of my friends will tell you I’ve had a thing for her ever since The Fast and the Furious and Resident Evil (that’s like 10 years ago!), and it’s about time the rest of the movie-world realised just how amazingly hot this chick is. The role isn’t going to get her a Golden Globe, but daaaaaaaaamn, AND she gets to kick more ass than ever before, I mean, just look at the size of that gun. Everyone else is pretty good too, Lindsey Lohan also has a somewhat self-aware role and it’s probably her best screen performance ever, Jessica Alba is Jessica Alba and the always excellent Jeff Fahey returns from the original trailer.

Wait a sec, I haven’t even mentioned the most important character yet. Danny Trejo, I’d like to think the guy’s entire movie career has led up to this point. I first saw him in Con Air (a lads favourite and dumb classic) and there is something inherently likable about him. He’s also a tough-as-nails hard man in everything, and that includes Spy Kids. This is finally his moment to shine, to do what he does best, and do it he does. Trejo‘s stone-cold charisma fits the style well, and the character of Machete is an action hero up there with John McClane and The Terminator. The wonderful stupidity and craziness of his actions however, is something else entirely. Have you ever seen Stallone swing out of a window using someone’s intestines as a rope? No, no you haven’t. This is the final reason why Machete is a truly spectacular film. It. Is. Insane. Completely and utterly, insane. Unlike Legion, this knows exactly how dumb it is and plays is for laughs too, of which there are hundreds. It took me ages to wipe that dopey smile off my face once the credits had rolled, that’s because this film embodies everything that makes exploitation – and more generally – action movies ridiculously enjoyable and turns them up to 11, and it succeeds in doing so thanks to film makers who clearly love the genre even more than I do. If I could shake everyone involved in Machete‘s hand I would, as this was the best 2 hours I think I’ve ever spent in a theatre.

 

Dramas, Thrillers & Everything Else:

The Killer Inside Me
Dir: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba.

What I Said at the Time: “Wowzers, this seems to upset ALOT of people. Probably because they somehow have us empathizing with a sadistic murderer, which is what makes this flick so damn interesting. Well acted, very well shot, and (brave) dark subject matter. I thought this was a fantastic movie.”

I think I summarised my thoughts pretty well in my original mini-review, and even now, a good couple of months after I saw this, I’m still thinking about it. I’m a big fan of the TV show Dexter, which sees Michael C. Hall play the titular blood-spatter expect who also happens to be a serial killer. Now as a viewer I like and root for Dexter because he’s a good person and only murders bad people, but in The Killer Inside Me, Casey Affleck plays a really dark, sinister and sadistic man who for all intents and purposes we should despise, and we’re somehow still on his side. Now we’re not quite ‘rooting’ for Affleck‘s Lou Ford as we do Dexter Morgan, he plays it deadly cold (a performance which gets even better the second time you see it) and isn’t even THAT likable, but we kinda want to see him get away with it anyway (at least, a part of me did). This is why I think a ton of people were upset and angry at the film. They don’t like the fact they were made to care about such a horrible character.

Without spoiling the whole flick, Affleck‘s Ford is a deputy sheriff who begins an affair with Alba‘s Joyce Lakeland, who in a self-destructing and twisted kinda way make the perfect couple. Ford gets off on hitting people, and Joyce gets off on getting hit by people (I hear Wedding bells! Or is that just the ringing caused by too many blows to the head?). Kate Hudson does a grand job of playing Ford’s girlfriend, and the rest of the cast are equally good in a distant, morbid (almost Coen-esque) way.

The Killer Inside Me will make you think about about yourself as well as the film, at-length. It’s a film that as I’m writing this I want to watch again. I want to revisit the irreverent, almost cheeky, darkness dwelling within Lou Ford. I think this will be snubbed come awards season, especially as we’ve already had a couple and this was nowhere to be seen. I’m hardly surprised, when it comes to the holocaust or some handicapped guy the Oscars light up, but the sinister side of the human condition is a little too much for those old fella’s to handle.

 

Defendor
Dir: Peter Stebbings
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennigs, Elias Koteas.

What I Said at the Time: “An adult ‘Kick-Ass’ if you will, I really enjoyed this flick. Harrelson is brilliant, and as much fun as the aforementioned ‘real’ superhero movie was, ‘Defendor’ is smart, honest and has a lot of heart. It ain’t perfect, but I urge you to check it out nonetheless.”

I called this ‘an adult Kick-Ass‘ when I first saw it,  but I think ‘a more serious Kick-Ass is more accurate. While Matthew Vaughn‘s comic outing (which I liked a great deal) was like a jelly-bean sugar rush meets a serious super-hero flick, Peter Stebbing‘s Defendor is simply a serious super-hero flick. Don’t get me wrong, there are alot of light-hearted moments here, but while Kick-Ass was able to fight crime thanks to getting his bones replaced with metal or something, Defendor is a troubled man with no powers, who truly believes he is a super-hero. And what I loved about Defendor is that it doesn’t matter, he truly is a hero regardless. Woody Harrelson is an actor I’ve come to realise is not only a cool guy in real life, but a great actor who knows how to pick his films. Zombieland, No Country for Old Men, A Scanner Darkly, North Country, The Big White, all freaking superb. His role here as Arthur Poppington is by far the best performance I’ve seen from the dude though, the character is damaged yet incredibly sweet and kind-hearted, and you really get that from Harrelson. In fact, this was the only film I saw last year that almost got me to cry (in your face Never Let Me Go). Arthur truly believes he’s Defendor and it’s heart-breaking everytime someone has to tell him he isn’t. Yet he never gives up, and I found that wonderful.

At the same time as all that it’s also a fun, entertaining and  feel-good flick. It’s a very intelligent take on the super-hero paradigm, with Arthur devising imaginative, yet completely realistic (and often effective) ways of fighting crime and evil-doers. The supporting cast are all pretty decent too. Kat Dennings isn’t overly likable to begin with but she grew on me and Michael Kelly is great as always (easily one of the most under-rated actors working at the moment). Overall, Defendor deserved alot better than the straight-to-DVD release it got. If you hated it, you really can’t have much of a heart in my opinion, well, maybe a black one.

 

Inception
Dir: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page.

What I Said at the Time: “Nolan does it again, with this cinematic event that’s just so slick it makes 99% of what else is being released look like complete rubbish. Intelligent, immensely gripping, and a huge mess of fun, Inception is a truly wonderful, batshit awesome movie.”

There isn’t an awful lot to say about Inception that hasn’t been said already by far cleverer people than me and at length. Heck, even I put it pretty well in my original review. ‘Slick’ is what this film has in droves. Inception oozes cool, it’s got such an intelligent swagger about it, if films were comic-book characters, this one would be Hank McCoy, aka Beast.

It was just great to experience a summer film that didn’t have to rely on Megan Fox running around in slow motion to be a full-blown blockbuster. Back when it came out everyone was pondering if the times were a’changin’ and this would give birth to a new generation of ‘smart blockbusters’. While I didn’t think that was true, it was a nice thought. Everyone wanted to believe this would inspire other like it, but only because we get such utter garbage most of the time. It’s to Nolan’s credit then, that it seems only he can make big-budget box-office hits that appeal to the Frasier Crane and the Kenny Powers both at the same time (though I’m basing that on The Dark Knight as much as Inception). The cast he assembles is a cracking ensemble, and it was rivaled only by The Expendables (because, ya’ know, it WAS great seeing those guys in the same movie) and Machete. DiCaprio, who I’ve liked since Gangs of New York, had a heck of a one-two with this and Shutter Island, Ellen Page I can’t help but like for her Juno-style graceful quirkiness, and Tom Hardy, man, I said the guy deserved to do well after watching Layer Cake and Star Trek: Nemesis for crying out loud.

Inception is an incredibly engaging, action-suspense-look-at-that-the-freaking-roads-are-bending-thriller that had me glued to the screen from the very start. I thought the characters were well realised and the plot (and film in general) travels along like a freight train, constantly delivering great set-piece and scene and another. You’d have to be living under a rock not to have seen this, but if you haven’t, check it out ASAP.

 

Bad Lieutenant
Dir: Werner Herzog
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer.

What I Said at the Time: “I loved it just for how experimental it dares to be. Tonally it’s extremely cool, with Nicolas Cage FINALLY getting his teeth into some decent material, and get his teeth in he does. The dude is unhinged to perfection. Everything else is interesting and pretty entertaining. Herzog’s style had me gripped from the get go.”

Don’t let the bland poster and DVD artwork fool you. But then the studio didn’t really have any other choice but to market this as your average crime thriller. This is incredibly strange at times, daring at others and constantly engaging, intriguing and alot of fun. Werner Herzog is no small fish, when the dude wants to do something, he does it, and here I guess he wanted to see how much he could fuck with the traditional detective film and still make it work as a captivating and interesting story. Tonally it’s somehow all over the place and very much stationary at the same time, and as Nicolas Cage‘s Terrence McDonaugh gets crazier and crazier I genuinely didn’t know where this would end up. And it really is a joy to watch Cage rapidly descend into that madness we don’t see anywhere near enough of. Unhinged would be an understatement, border-line psychotic is probably closer. It’s still the same dead-pan, so serious he can’t possibly be serious but he is Nicolas Cage we still get alot of each year, but he devours the character with such sedated intensity and it’s awesome.

Some people will flat-out hate Bad Lieutenant, and I get it. This is by no means a film for the masses. This is a film for those of us who enjoy our cinema a littler more daring, almost subversive, and I just loved that there is absolutely no telling what will happen next. There is alot of craziness in Bad Lieutenant, and it’s quite possibly the strangest feel-good flick I’ve ever seen.

 

True Grit
Dir: Ethan & Joel Coen
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon.

What I Said at the Time: “Those guys have done it yet again, this is easily my favourite Coen outing since The Ladykillers (well I liked it at least). Superbly shot, captivating characters (all the actors are terrific) and that cold style which somehow feels rich, vintage and very clever. True Grit is a stunning, just brilliant flick.”

The most recently viewed and final entry in my list, and what an entry it is. The Coens are one of the most consistent sources of fantastic films working today (alongside Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith in my opinion at least) so I knew this remake was going to be great. It’s just an established fact now, if it’s made by the Coen Brothers, I will like it. The only exception to this rule is their first film, Blood Simple (and I never got round to seeing Raising Arizona). After the roaring success of No Country for Old Men, I thought True Grit seemed like a rather easy choice, after all ‘No Country is considered a western by some, and it does feel like one at times. But I still knew it would be good at the very least, and ‘good’ this film is not. This film is a whole thesaurus worth of ‘good’ synonyms and then some. Just bloody fantastic. The style is present and works just as well for the period setting and especially well for the subject matter: A young girl hires the help of US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (played with seasoned gusto and old-man-affection by the Dude, Jeff Bridges) to track down the man who killed her father. The film is predominantly the two following the trail, while avoiding rucks and running into Matt Damon‘s Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (pronounced ‘LaBeef’), who is a character Damon knocks out of the park.

Don’t pay attention to the billing though, the true star and main character of this film is Hailee Steinfeld‘s Mattie Ross. At the young age of 15 she not only plays the part impeccably well, but gives her character overwhelming maturity and if you like, balls. This is Mattie Ross’ movie, and she is a great character and the flick succeeds so much largely because of her. Saying that, the trio of Steinfeld, Bridges and Damon is something special indeed. When they’re together they have this great group dynamic, almost like a family. It’s the rich characters that I think I like the most about the Coen’s films, of course that and the vintage style which I will never grow weary of. True Grit is a marvelous movie, a piece of brilliance, and has earnt it’s place as my signing off point. Thank you very much for reading.