Category: Movie Reviews


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.

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Movie Round-Up: May

Punisher: War Zone  (2009)Dir. Lexi Alexander

Alexander managed to asemble a really cracking cast for this flick. Ray Stevenson is a perfect Frank Castle giving The Punisher a great ‘relentles-killing-machine / nice-guy-who’s-lost everything’ ratio.I’ve heard mixed opinions on Stevenson, but I think the guy pulls it off brilliantly, far better than Thomas Jane did (don’t get me wrong, I like Jane, just not as Frank Castle). Colin Salmon and Domic West too, are great as always. Even though they’re characters are about as two-dimensional as you can get, the actors are the kind I’d be interested in regardless of the material.

This SO easily could have been the Punisher flick us fans have been waiting for. They get the violence spot on, with insanely over-the-top gore and action set-pieces that are extremely entertaining, and the overal tone of the film is good too. It’s just let-down by the shoddy script. The basic elements are there, but nothing is exploited to its full potential. The character’s aren’t developed at all, and a few plot revelations just sort of appear from nowhere, it doesn’t FEEL like the writers really knew how to make a solid action flick. In the hands of someone who knew what they were doing, this could have been amazing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun, pretty decent movie at the end of the day. It’s almost like a cross between Iron Man (a cast full of cool, sensible actors, tonally very cool and just very well done in general) and Universal Soldier 2 (made on the cheap, straight to dvd, with a script cobbled together half an hour before shooting). I really, really hope Stevenson gets another shot, the guy definitely deserves it, as he’s the best Punisher I think we’ll ever see.

Civic Duty (2006)Dir. Jeff Renfroe

A pretty decent study into one man’s paranoia and eventual breakdown. The issues are still relevant and it’s good to see it handled without patriotism and American flags being shoved down our throats. Peter Krause does a good job in the lead, and overall ‘Civic Duty’ is a solid and entertaining flick.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) Dir. Hayao Miyazaki

With a pretty complex story, I can see alot of kids not digging this as much as other Ghibli flicks, but as an adult I loved every minute. Absolutely stunning visuals, loveable characters and strikingly bleak at times, ‘Moving Castle’ is yet another awesome flick by the genius that is Hayao Miyazaki

Iron Man 2 (2010)Dir. Jon Favreau

One of the most eagerly anticipated sequels of recent memory, Iron Man 2 delivers on pretty much every level. While not quite as geek-nirvana as it could have been, it’s sleek style and charisma keeps the awesome flowing throughout, and it’s just too much fun not to love every frame.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008)Dir. Alex Gibney

A decent, solid documentary that paints an interesting portrait of the legendary author. Some of the footage of Thompson is downright fascinating, and the interviews remember the man in a reverent and honest way. If you’re into Thompson’s work at all, check this one out.

Movie Round-Up: Week 6

Shutter Island (2010)Dir. Martin Scorsese

If you can see past the plot holes (which you won’t know exist until afterwards anyway), this is an intense and pretty damn entertaining psychological thriller. Scorsese directs this with an uneasy tone and the whole atmosphere is wonderfully dreary. With a gripping story and a great cast, ‘Shutter Island’ is a very cool flick.

Airplane! (1980)Dir. David Zucker

An absolute classic, ‘Airplane’ remains pretty damn funny even after 30 years and multiple viewings. The jokes come at you like a machine gun, never letting up. With a fantastic cast, this is American comedy at its best.

Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)Dir. Ken Finkleman

Even though it’s just a retread of the first, there’s still tons of great stuff to enjoy here. Not quite as ingenious and darkly comedic as the first, but still extremely funny and with another killer cast (William Shatner is awesome). A very good, and very worthy sequel.

Blood Simple (1984) Dir. Joel Coen

I really dig the Coen brothers stuff, but this kinda missed the mark for me. I just found ‘Blood Simple’ to be too stone-faced and distant, with the main characters (McDormand in particular) being pretty dull and unlikable. Also, the score is a horrible 90s keyboard/synth track that gets old fast. Quite disappointing really and a million miles away from the awesome-ness that is ‘The Big Lebowski’.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)Dir. Hayao Miyazaki

Sorry Pixar, but Studio Ghibli is by far my favourite animation studio. Those guys craft the most wonderful stories and stunning visuals, without ever speaking down to their audience. This is a thoroughly entertaining flick with alot of serious overtones, which makes it accessible to adults and children alike.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2009)Dir. Peter Sollett

I think I’ve pretty much had enough of Michael Cera now. The guy’s character here is just too much of a soppy douchebag for me to a) like and empathise with, and b) believe incredibly hot girls like Kat Dennings would be interested in. Saying that, it slowly starts to ware off after a while, and the flick’s not THAT bad. Worth a look, if only for the nice shots of NYC.

Hardware (1990)Dir. Richard Stanely

Trying SO hard to ‘Blade Runner’ is ‘Hardware’. While there are a few nice, campy 80’s style bits, it’s trying to be too different things at once. Low-fi, violent sci-fi and avant garde, thinking sci-fi, and it just doesn’t work. ‘Hardware’ is pretty crass and just not that fun.

Up (2009)Dir. Pete Docter
After all the hype and “OMG! Best animated movie EVER!” I was actually kinda disappointed with this. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Up‘ is a beautifully crafted, lovely film which Pixar knocks out of the park (as per usual), but I actually preferred both ‘The Princess and the Frog‘ and ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox‘. I’m part of a minority, but I still don’t think Pixar have gotten humans quite right, there’s just something overtly artificial about them. (I know, I know, it’s ANIMATION, but) I feel like I could reach into my TV and touch the animals, the toys, the fish, but the human characters look like a series of computer generated polygons from a video game cut-scene. It’s still only a minor gripe and by no means stopped me thoroughly enjoying the flick. You’d have to be made of stone not to at least like this. Very good, but not the best animated movie of last year, let alone ever.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)Dir. Danny Boyle
While not in my Best of ’08 list, this is still a highly enjoyable flick that transcends genres and audiences and connects to pretty much everyone. The cynic in me knows damn well that in real life the scrawny underdog NEVER gets the insanely beautiful girl, but it is a film after all. It’s edited with a modern style that utilizes a pumping sountrack to really plant you in the movie. A wee bit overrated, but a great movie nonetheless.

American Gangster (2007)Dir. Ridley Scott
Masterful stuff from Ridley Scott, who presents this period tale in vivid detail and with sophisticated camera-work. Denzel Washington and Russel Crowe are both fantastic, as are all the supporting cast. Epic, entralling and on par with the likes of ‘Goodfellas‘ and ‘The Godfather‘ (well, nearly).

Wild Strawberries (1957)Dir. Ingmar Bergman
A very enjoyable flick, with a solid performance by Victor Sjostrom and simple, old school direction by Bergman. It plods along at a steady pace as we witness the main character’s outlook on life gradually change, and gives us rich and interesting characters along the way. This movie movie was just too gosh darn pleasant not to like and as strange as it sounds, ‘Wild Strawberries‘ is one of my favourite ‘road trip’ movies now.

The Crazies (2010) Dir. Break Eisner
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 in the name of making more money. Eisner clearly knows what he’s doing, getting good actors (no ‘One Tree Hill‘ or ‘High School Musical‘ alumni here), and using unflinching violence that feels sophisticated because it isn’t just blood for the sake of it (hello ‘Saw XXVI‘). With simply a far better understanding of what makes a good film , ‘The Crazies’ is very cool, and deserves alot more recognition.

Movie Round-Up: Week 3


The Lovely Bones (2009)Dir. Peter Jackson
A pretty decent movie, with good performances (Stanly Tucci is awesome) and some great cinematography. I found a few scenes really didn’t work (hello strange CGI heaven dance montage) which takes you out of the gripping story and detracts from the seriousness of the flick. Overall though, a few innapropriate scenes didn’t stop me thoroughly enjoying this.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)Dir. Jim Sharman
Not so much a homage to vintage sci-fi / horror, as a completely new, wacky genre of subversion and insanity. This remains one of the strangest, campest musicals ever made, and I’ll admit it’s pretty fun. It’s not amazing, but it’s jubilant, throwaway entertainment.

Black Caesar (1973)Dir. Larry Cohen
Fred Williamson is one cool motherfucker, and the soundtrack and editing of this flick are fantastic (a style Tarantino has copied with a clear love for the genre). Which is why it’s a real shame it all peters out after the first half hour or so. It starts promisingly enough, but it gets a bit boring and just ambles along until the inevitable climax. Considering this is meant to be one of the best blacksploitation movies, ‘Black Ceasar’ was a massive letdown.

Pontypool (2008) Dir. Bruce McDonald
It’s an original and interesting take on the genre I’ll give ’em that (I won’t spoil it, but these zombies are quite a bit different to the usual kind). This showed so much promise over the first half hour, a wonderful ambience, clostrophobic setting and some really creepy stuff. Then it all goes down hill, with very strange scenes and nothing being explained about what we’re seeing happen. If you’re going to radically change genre conventions with a new idea, it shouldn’t be so wafer-thin that you can’t explain it to the audience without someone calling bullshit. Another big let down.