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Film7070 Week 6: 1961 & 1990 March 13, 2011

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1961: Tierra Brutal aka The Savage Guns

I had high hopes for Tierra Brutal. It’s a film that’s not easy to find, but, being a fan of Richard Basehart since watching him as Admiral Nelson in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea as a boy, the prospect of seeing him take the lead in what I’d heard described as a proto-spaghetti western (it was filmed in Spain) was hard to resist. So perhaps my expectation were a little high when I finally tracked it down. I was hoping to unearth a hidden gem, what I got was a fairly standard B western that has little of the style of the spaghetti westerns that were to come a few short years later.

Perhaps this lack of continental flavour shouldn’t have come as a surprise, the film was directed by an Englishman, Michael Carreras, a name that’s more familiar to horror fans than western aficionados. Michael was a producer and director with Hammer Films and the son of the studios founder Sir James Carreras. Not the sort of background you’d expect for a western movie director but he does a competent, if decidedly unspectacular, job.

Basehart does well as the gunfighter who’s looking for a place to hang up his guns (yes that old chestnut) but finds it’s never that easy to escape your past. The rest of the cast is made up of minor American actors, attractive Spanish ladies and a presumably hard up Fernando Rey. All of which leads to a frankly rather dull 90 minutes.

1990: The Reflecting Skin

Philip Ridley is a director who divides audiences, is he pretentious and deliberately obscure or a visionary filmmaker who gives us a quirky, and often bleak, view of the world? After watching The Passion of Darkly Noon I was leaning more towards visionary than pretentious and The Reflecting Skin has pushed me further that way.

Told from a child’s perspective but with little of the happy nostalgia such films usually foster, this is a bleak look at depression era rural America. The film lacks any characters you can really identify with, everyone is a little weird, not least our central character, ten year old Seth Dove, and they’re not very sympathetic either. The film has a very dark tone and yet it’s also strangely beautiful, there’s some gorgeous cinematography.

It isn’t without it’s weak points - Jeremy Cooper, making his screen debut as Seth, isn’t a strong enough actor to carry the film and the pace at times is too slow, although whenever you feel your attention starting to wander the film throws another level of weirdness at you that pulls you back in.

I don’t want to give too much away, I knew very little about the film going in and I think that worked in its favour. It’s a hypnotic, at times deeply disturbing drama with some strong supporting performances, Duncan Fraser as Seth’s Father being worthy of special mention, as is Sheila Moore as his tyrannical and mentally unstable Mum. It’s not a film that’s quickly forgotten, there is at least one truly horrifying moment and enough disturbing images for a few nightmares but there’s also the question of what Ridley was trying to say with his portrait of this truly dysfunctional family. Ridley’s view of childhood certainly isn’t the rose coloured golden years that the movies often promote it as. The superficial beauty of the setting contrasting with the dark secrets that all the characters have.

Film7070 Week 5: 1957 March 5, 2011

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1957: The Tall T

I’ve often heard the classic westerns produced by Director Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott spoken of with a reverence reserved for the likes of the Mann/Stewart and Ford/Wayne partnerships but until watching The Tall T my only experience of the pairs output was the superior revenge western 7 Men from Now. It’s fair to say that after watching The Tall T I’m now a fan and you’ll probably see a couple more of their films popping up in Film7070 in the coming weeks.

Several things set the The Tall T apart from the crowd of low budget westerns of the period, for starters there’s the script from Burt Kennedy. The first twenty minutes or so are spent establishing Scott’s character Pat Brennan, and it’s twenty minutes full of information - he’s a rancher, he works alone, he quit his previous job as a foreman on a larger spread to try his luck on his own, he’s unmarried and he’s not adverse to a gamble, the latter fact leaving him afoot when he wagers his horse against a prize bull. The result of all this is that we feel like we know Brennan in a short space of time, and we like him, he’s a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who takes the rough with the smooth and doesn’t bear a grudge, although he’s not one to be laughed at. The beauty of Kennedy’s script is that we get all this information from a few exchanges that never feel anything but natural, there’s no sense of forced exposition. This deftness of touch is apparent throughout the film as we are introduced to other characters.

The film also features two fine performances, firstly from Scott and also from Richard Boone as the films main villain Frank Usher. Scott’s an actor I’ve grown to appreciate more as I’ve got older, growing up I always found him wooden and unconvincing. It took Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country to convince me there was more to Scott than I’d originally thought and I think he’s certainly an actor who improved with age. Here he’s given a wonderfully rounded character to play, and he exudes rough charm and ready wit as Brennan.

It’s rare for a western villain to be as fleshed out a Boone’s Usher. He’s far more than the usual ‘black hat’ for the hero to face. He’s charming, funny and, were it not for some of the acts he’s instigated, he’d be a likeable guy. There’s a sense that, under different circumstances, he could have been living Brennan’s life, the two characters being similar in many respects. I may not have cared for Scott as I was growing up but Boone is an actor I’ve always admired. I’m too young to remember his most famous roll as Paladin in Have Gun Will Travel but I remember watching Hec Ramsey, which started in the early seventies when I was about seven or eight. The Tall T came out the same year Have Gun Will Travel debuted on TV and it’s easy to see how he made the leap from supporting actor to TV star.

Boetticher weaves these elements together to create a tense little film that’s low on gun play but high on character, but when the lead does start flying he handles the action with as much aplomb as the psychological thrills that have gone before. He even manages to make you wonder if things will follow their usual path for a low budget oater i.e. the villains lying dead in the dirt while the hero rides off with the girl, although in this case the girl, Maureen O’Sullivan, most famous (to me at least) as Jane to Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan, hadn’t been a ‘girl’ for some time. It’s one more thing that sets Boetticher’s film apart, it’s not just the maturity with which the film is handled, it’s the maturity of the characters themselves.

I think I’ll stop now as this is coming dangerously close to a full review, something that was never the plan for Film7070 posts, but I will leave you with this - if you are a fan of the western genre then you owe it to yourself to seek out The Tall T. Trust me you won’t regret it.

Film7070 Week 4: 2007 February 19, 2011

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2007: Hot Fuzz

Well if the idea behind Film7070 was to see how films have influenced each other over the years then I doubt I’ll find a film where the influences are easier to spot than Hot Fuzz. There’s no subtlety to Hot Fuzz’s filmic referencing, the characters talk about then, we see the videos on display and, just in case you’re a complete novice when it comes to the action movie genre, we even get clips from a couple (Point Break and Bad Boys II). It’s this OTT action movie lovefest that sets the film apart from the same creative teams superior Shaun of the Dead.

Shaun payed tribute to it’s zombie forbears with a nod and a wink, and if you missed it in didn’t matter, the film worked perfectly well without. Shaun was a horror comedy while Hot Fuzz is a spoof, and as a spoof it requires you know what’s being spoofed, because if you don’t the film doesn’t work. This may sound like a complaint, and to some degree it is, but a good spoof can still be an entertaining film, just look at Airplane or Blazing Saddles. It’s also something that’s very hard to do well, just look at…well pretty much every other spoof.

Hot Fuzz does it well, it hits the target far more than it misses and even scores a couple of bulls-eyes. It’s not as well written and it’s characters aren’t as believable as those in Shaun of the Dead; who do you relate to more, Pegg’s supercop or Shaun who works in a shop, has trouble with his girlfriend and likes a drink down the pub? That was a rhetorical question by the way, unless John McClane’s reading this. It’s our identification with the characters that makes Shaun such a joy to watch, with Hot Fuzz it’s the situations that elicit the humour.

I guess what it comes down to is I’d rather watch a comedy than a spoof, but if I’ve got to watch something being lampooned then I hope it’s as entertainingly done as Hot Fuzz.

Next up some classic western action from 1957 with Randolph Scott in The Tall T.

Film7070 Week 3: 1970 February 7, 2011

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1970: The Dunwich Horror
This early attempt to bring the work of H.P. Lovecraft to the screen owes as much to Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby as it does to the master of cosmic horror. There’s little of the Old Ones here, the focus of the movie is Wilbur Whateley’s attempt to seduce innocent Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee) over to the dark side and in so doing put a devilish bum in her virgin oven.

Producer Roger Corman may have been the antecedent of Asylum, modern purveyors of direct-to-dvd knock-off trash, but at least when Corman did it he did it with class. He also knew talent when he saw it, with many great filmmakers getting their start with him and The Dunwich Horror features an early screen credit (as writer) for future Oscar winner Curtis Hanson.

The Dunwich Horror is no classic, but it does have some things to enjoy. Dean Stockwell’s creepy Wilbur (could there be a less menacing name for a villain?) ranks at the top. There’s a perverse malevolence to Stockwell’s performance and he’s always good value for money in villainous roles.

Another plus is the films restraint when it comes to showing Wilbur’s monstrous sibling. Rather than show the obligatory craptastic monster, it keeps it hidden, either offscreen or behind a very sixties psychedelic light show, making the viewer add the details from their own imagination. Whether this is down to a stylistic choice by the filmmakers or to the fact the monster was so bad they dare not show it I don’t know but it definitely works in the films favour.

I can’t say I’d recommend The Dunwich Horror to any but the most diehard horror fan, there have been far better Lovecraft adaptations since (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Shatterbrain and Dagon come to mind) but there are far worse ways to spend 90 minutes.

For more Film7070 check out Jordan McGrath’s review of the classic 1943 western The Ox-Bow Incident

Film7070 Week 2: 1978 February 2, 2011

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1978: The Shout
What to make of The Shout? Well this late seventies attempt at art house horror was, for me at least, a disappointing failure. It doesn’t lack for quality acting talent, Alan Bates is as broodingly demonic as only Bates can be, while John Hurt does a decent job as the philandering husband who’s household Bates insinuates himself into, although sadly the late Susannah York’s talents are underused, she’s little more than a symbol for the two men’s power struggle and not a fully fleshed out character. The concept is also not uninteresting, Bates character utilising mystical powers he’s learned while living with the Aborigines in the Australian outback to exert his influence over York and Hurt.

Or does he? The structure of the film leaves you wondering just how much of what you’re seeing is actually real, the film being told by Bates while an inmate in an asylum. This too works in the films favour, giving it an element of mystery that means you’re never sure where the film is heading, always a plus in this age of by the numbers plotting.

No, what ultimately disappointed me was the films climax, for it felt as if not only did the viewer not know where the film was heading but neither did the director. After a slow and purposeful buildup the film hurries headlong into a frenetic, madcap and, frankly, downright silly final ten minutes. It felt as if all concerned had grown bored with the films concept and decided to wrap things up as quickly as possible. While there were certainly things I enjoyed about The Shout, ultimately it’s the feeling of dissatisfaction the ending engendered that has stayed with me and it’s left me with little desire to seek out any of Jerzy Skolimowski’s other films.

I’m already behind on these write-ups having just started week 4’s viewing, so I’ll try and get week 3 done this week as well, which will feature the rather less highbrow Roger Corman production of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror.

For more Film7070 check out EatSleepLiveFilm.com and Movie Waffle

10 Films that made me Laugh, Cry and Squirm in My Cinema Seat in 2010 January 30, 2011

Posted by Ian W in : Rants & Raves, DVD Reviews , add a comment

So now that we’ve covered what I missed and got those that under-performed out of the way it’s time for my top ten films of 2010. Just to qualify the list before we start - these are the ten films I enjoyed the most at the cinema this year, I make no claims for their artistic merit. They provided me with a good time at the cinema and it’s in order of my level of enjoyment that I’ve listed them in here.

My Top 10 Films of 2010

10. Date Night - That this is the only comedy on my list probably shows that it’s not my favourite genre. Having said that I do like a good laugh, although my sense of humour may not be considered normal (I find Jerry Lewis funny and I’m not even French). 2009’s top grossing comedy The Hangover barely raised a smile so the fact that Date Night is on here may mean it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I loved it. Steve Carell and Tina Fey share wonderful onscreen chemistry and perfect comic timing making a convincing married couple and the film moved at a brisk pace so if any jokes did fall flat you didn’t have long to wait for another. There were also some amusing cameos from James Franco and Will i Am, not to mention Mark Wahlberg sending up his beefcake image.

9. Red Hill - If there were marks for originality Red Hill would score a flat zero. There is nothing in it’s plot or characters that we haven’t seen before, it’s a revenge western albeit one that’s transported to modern day Australia. So why did it make my top 10? Well I do love a good western and, despite it’s lack of originality, Red Hill is a good western. It contains three strong performances - True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten as a young police officer just arrived at his new small town post, Steve Bisley as the town’s veteran police chief and Tommy Lewis as the escaped convict on his way to town with vengeance on his mind. Red Hill may cover familiar terrain but sometimes it’s nice to go for a ride over familiar ground.

8. Solomon Kane - When it comes to the current crop of British horror directors Michael J. Bassett has always seemed to me an also-ran, not in the same league as Neil Marshall or Chris Smith. Until Solomon Kane that is. Bassett does an excellent job of bringing the grim world of Robert E. Howard’s Puritan adventurer to the screen. For all his good work though it’s James Purefoy’s performance as Kane that’s the main reason the film makes my list. When I first heard Purefoy had been cast I was disappointed. I’d always imagined Kane to have a gaunt appearance, in my head he looked liked Peter Cushing in Twins of Evil only younger, and Purefoy looked a bit too well fed for my liking. What a pleasure it was to be so wrong! Purefoy is now Kane in my minds eye and I just hope we get to see him in the role again.

7. The Killer Inside Me - Another film that made my top 10 due to an excellent central performance. Few films have done such a fine job of taking us inside the mind of a psychopath as The Killer Inside Me. Michael Winterbottom’s film is uncomfortable viewing and yet, thanks to a career best performance from Casey Affleck, it’s also totally mesmerising. Good as he was in Gone Baby Gone it’s as disturbed individuals in this and the underrated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford that Affleck really excels. It also contains some of the most disturbing violence I’ve seen this year…and I’m a regular FrightFest goer and not easily shocked.

6. Kick-Ass - Would Kick-Ass have been half as much fun without Chloe Moretz foul mouthed Hit-Girl? Lets just be glad we didn’t have to find out and enjoy the scene-stealing performance of an actress who is sure to go on to bigger and better things. I just hope Matthew Vaughn can do as good a job rebooting the X-Men franchise as he did at adapting Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s graphic novel.

5. The Disappearance of Alice Creed - One of the best debut movies and a wonderfully tense and inventive thriller that manages to make that old chestnut - the kidnap that doesn’t go to plan - feel fresh. There are only three actors in the film and they are all outstanding but Gemma Arterton deserves special praise. She was pretty awful in the equally awful Quantum of Solace and forgettable in the equally forgettable Clash of the Titans but give her a decent part and she really rises to the occasion, giving a brave performance as the titular abductee that’s probably my favourite by any actress this year. Director J Blakeson does wonders with no budget and limited locations, I can’t wait to see what he does with a broader canvas.

4. The Crazies - Okay we should get this out of the way at the start - I’m a huge Timothy Olyphant fan. He’s the star of one of the best shows currently on television, Justified (if you haven’t seen it you should, it’s a cracking modern day western) and he really should be a bigger star than he is. Okay now we’ve got that out of the way lets talk about The Crazies. Back when I first saw this at the cinema I tweeted that it was the best remake since Carpenter’s The Thing and I think I’d stick to that bold statement. While I love Romero’s films, hey I even own Bruiser, The Crazies isn’t his best film by a blood drenched country mile. In fact it comes somewhere in the mid-ground, not bad but not as well realised as the concept really deserved. Director Breck Eisner takes that idea of a town going crazy and, with the help of an excellent cast, creates a horror film that generates it’s scares the old fashioned way, by creating characters you actually care about and putting them in life and death situations.

3. Buried - Ryan Reynolds is a damn fine actor. I make that point because the majority of his work has barely scrapped the surface of his ability, so most people may not be aware of how good he can be. In Buried he is required to carry the film because he is the only actor we see, all the other performances are vocal only. If he’d been nominated for an Oscar it would have been well deserved. Buried is also an extremely well directed film, Rodrigo Cortès doing a great job of capturing the claustrophobic atmosphere that Reynolds character finds himself in.

2. Monsters - Back when I wrote about my biggest disappointments of 2010 I mentioned that there were two alien invasion movies made by directors with a special effects background. Monsters is the one that got it right, although to call it an ‘alien invasion’ movie is stretching things a bit. There are aliens, and they have invaded part of out world (unintentionally, it has to be said) but it’s not the aliens that the film is concerned with. Monsters is actually a love story that uses the aliens and the infected region of Mexico they occupy as a backdrop on which to hang its tale of two people finding each other. If Werner Herzog made a science fiction love story I imagine it would be something like Monsters. Gareth Edwards’s movie is one of the most assured debuts for years and a wakeup call to Hollywood - you don’t need to spend millions to make a great movie, you just need a great concept, talented actors and, most importantly a director with a vision.

1. Inception - But if you have a great concept, talented actors and that visionary director and you throw millions of dollars into the pot as well you could end up with Inception. I’m not going to write much about Inception, it was one of the biggest films of last year and you’ll probably have seen it already and have your own opinion. What I would like to say is a big thank you to Christopher Nolan for performing his own inception on Hollywood, inserting an original idea into a summer of sequels and remakes, showing that you can make a summer blockbuster without aiming your film at the lowest IQ in the audience. That Inception has had people talking about it long after they’ve come out of the cinema is the antithesis of the usual multiplex reaction where you’re lucky if you can remember what happened by the time you’ve made it out of the car park for the journey home. I for one am glad that the next Batman movie will be Nolan’s last, it means we’ll get more original Nolan, and that has to be a good thing.

And there we have it, my top 10 films of 2010, and completed just before the end of January! 2011 has started off mixed, so far I’ve seen one film that may be in the number 1 spot when I do this list next year (Black Swan) another that could make the top ten (The Fighter) and one that’ll be hard to beat for the title of biggest disappointment of 2011 (John Carpenter’s The Ward). We’ll see what the rest of the year brings.

I seem to have caught the blogging bug again, just about averaging my one post a week target. The Film7070 journal will continue shortly with week two featuring The Shout from 1978 and I’ll be making a start this week on the first of those classic Western TV show reviews I mentioned at the start of the year (it’ll be season 1 of Gunsmoke, the grandaddy of ‘adult’ TV westerns).

Film7070 Week 1: 1955 & 1965 January 25, 2011

Posted by Ian W in : DVD Viewing Journal , 2 comments

What, you may be asking yourself, is Film7070? It started off as a challenge Dan Auty (aka MondoDan) set himself for 2011 - watch 70 films, one from each year from 1940 to 2009. There are a few rules - you can’t have seen the films before, you have to watch at least one film from every continent (with the exception of Antarctica), you can’t go back to a year until you’ve completed all seventy…you get the idea.

Word spread on Twitter and others took up the challenge - eatsleepjordan, gilesedwards, MrWengWeng, KYUSS123, emilybwebb, moviedan to name just a few. Some set up their own additional rules - doing the films in chronological order in eatsleepjordan and moviedan’s case.

Always up for a movie watching challenge I jumped in too, like most of the Film7070 crew I saw it as an opportunity to fill in some gaps in my cinematic education, watch some neglected classics that have been sitting on a shelf gathering dust and, at least in my case, spread my horizons a little further afield than my regular viewing, for example I’ve got some Czechoslovakian SF lined up for 1963. Which brings us to this post. Rather than just watch the films and tweet about them after I decided I wanted to write a little more, not a full review but more than the 140 characters Twitter allows, so this is the first of my weekly Film7070 journals where I’ll express my feelings about the films I’ve watched that week.

1955: Kiss Me Deadly
The first film I plucked from where it sat, unloved, on my shelf was Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly.

I don’t know what I expected from Kiss Me Deadly. My vision of Mickey Spillane’s PI Mike Hammer was coloured by Stacy Keach on TV and by Armand Assante in I, the Jury (one of my guilty pleasures). Ralph Meeker is something else again.

Meeker’s Hammer isn’t afraid of a little violence, in fact I think it’s fair to say he positively enjoys it. The film features a couple of fight scenes between Hammer and hired goons Jack Lambert and Jack Elam but it’s his encounter with little Percy Helton that stuck in my mind. Helton’s morgue attendant makes the mistake of trying to extort money from Hammer but soon learns the error of his ways when he gets his fingers trapped in a desk drawer. What struck me about the scene wasn’t the level of violence, you don’t really see anything, it was the look of pleasure on Hammer’s face as he tortures the diminutive doctor. It just serves to reinforce the notion that, while Hammer is the film’s lead character, he’s no hero.

Robert Aldrich isn’t a new director to me, I’ve seen a fair few of his films. He’s a director that can’t be pigeonholed, he directed the action classic The Dirty Dozen but could also turn his hand to disturbing psychological thrillers like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. So the fact that Kiss Me Deadly was so well crafted came as little surprise. What did surprise me was how influential the film feels. Surely this must be a favourite film of David Lynch, there’s a sense of almost Lynchian weirdness to much of the film and characters, Percy Helton’s previously mentioned morgue attendant for one and Gaby Rodgers waif-like but deadly femme fatale for another.

But it’s not just Lynch’s imagination that must have been fired by Aldrich’s hardboiled classic. The films glowing ‘great whats-it’ was surely the spark that ignited the radiant car-boot/case/ark in…well you dont need me to tell that you I’m sure. It’s that sense of filmmakers feeding off each other that was one of the things I was hoping to discover with Film7070 and for that aspect alone Kiss Me Deadly would have been a great first film but it’s also a first rate thriller in its own right.

1965: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Like Aldrich, Martin Ritt wasn’t a name unfamiliar to me, his work with Paul Newman on Hud and Hombre being particular favourites. He seemed an odd choice to helm an adaptation of a John le Carrè cold war thriller though, as I associated him with hot American deserts not drab English and German streets.

How wrong I was! He captures the gritty realism of the spy game just as well as the arid landscapes of the West. Shooting in black and white was a master stroke, everything seems so much more oppressive.

I used to think of Harry Palmer as the antithesis of James Bond, but Richard Burton’s Alec Leamas makes Palmer seem positively whimsical by comparison. Burton’s performance as the broken down, alcoholic spy sent on one last mission behind the Iron Curtain is the heart of the film. That grim black and white cinematography is how Burton’s character views the world, drab and pointless. Only his relationship with an idealistic young woman gives him any respite from the dirty, backstabbing world of espionage and yet he’d rather face death on the job than suffer the slow death of a desk job.

The film isn’t without it’s flaws - a final act that feels rushed, a wayward accent from Sam Wanamaker - but Burton makes it worth seeing. There are also excellent, if a little too brief, turns from Cyril Cusack as spymaster Control and Michael Hordern and Robert Hardy as communist spys.

Like Kiss Me Deadly, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold feels influential, but this time that influence has been felt more on the small screen, from the obvious Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People (both adapted from le Carrè novels and featuring the character George Smiley who makes an appearance in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) as well as Callan in the sixties and The Sandbagers in the seventies and even Spooks now.

So that’s Film7070 week one done and two years, and two very enjoyable films down, sixty-eight to go!

For more on Film7070 check out eatsleeplivefilm.com

And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that promised top ten, that’ll be coming very soon.

Cinematic Disappointments January 14, 2011

Posted by Ian W in : Rants & Raves, DVD Reviews , add a comment

Apart from how many I’d missed (see previous post) the other thing I noticed when looking through 2010’s cinema releases was how many of the films I did see turned out to be major disappointments. That’s not to say they’re bad, well not all of them anyway, but they didn’t live up to the expectations their stars/directors/hype engendered. So here’s the second top 10 of 2010 -

The 10 most disappointing films of 2010 (once again in no particular order)

Ninja Assassin - I really enjoyed James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta, a film with more depth than the usual action blockbuster. I excused him for The Invasion on the grounds that it wasn’t his film, he was just brought in by the studio after Oliver Hirschbiegel failed to give them the film they wanted (although taking the job was perhaps not a great career move). But Ninja Assassin, that he carries the can for. Despite some entertainingly gory fight scenes McTeigue managed the near impossible task of making ninjas boring.

Edge of Darkness - What should have been the triumphant return of Mel Gibson to the big screen after a seven year hiatus proved to be anything but, although given later real life events it wouldn’t really have mattered if this was a five star classic, Mel’s career would still be in the toilet. Edge of Darkness also featured some of the most obvious stunt doubling I’ve seen in a film for a long time, so even if Mel does manage a comeback with The Beaver it’s definitely time for him to give up on the action hero roles, or at least find a decent stunt double.

The Wolfman - When I heard Benicio Del Toro was to take on the role of Lawrence Talbot I had high hopes for this. Del Toro was the only actor I could think of who could even come close to capturing the mournful sense of tragic fate Lon Chaney Jr brought to the original. Sadly production problems and a cartoonish performance from Anthony Hopkins, along with unnecessary changes to the originals plot, resulted in the usual Hollywood ham-fisted remake. Only Hugo Weaving comes away with any credit, his “Pint of bitter please” scene being the films highlight.

From Paris with Love - While not without some entertainment value this was a huge step backward for director Pierre Morel after Taken. In fairness though the blame must fall more at the feet of the writers than the director, who once again showed that he’s one of the top action directors working today.

Clash of the Titans - Louis Leterrier, another great French action director, also turned in a misfire last year. Titans has it’s moments, but ultimately falls flat because of an uninspired and charisma free performance from Sam Worthington (I wouldn’t follow this guy to the pub if he was offering free beer let alone on a life and death mission). British thesps Liam Neeson and Ralph Finnes trying to out ham each other didn’t help either.

Robin Hood - Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, a pairing that will be likened in years to come with the great cinematic actor/director teams like Wayne and Ford, De Niro and Scorsese…well I’m sure that’s what they’d like to think. Five teamings so far but only Gladiator comes close to classic status. Robin Hood though marked there nadir. There’s so much wrong here that it’s hard to pick a low point although Cate Blanchett’s arrival, in full armour, at the head of a band of pony riding kids, to the films big final battle with the French has to be a contender. Robin Hood wasn’t just a disappointment, it’s an outright bad film. Let’s hope Russell doesn’t get cast in the Alien prequel.

Let Me In - If you can read there’s no reason to see this over the original Swedish Let the Right One In. Despite good performances from two talented young actors this offers nothing new and must count as a failure for director Matt Reeves who showed such originality and flair with Cloverfield, two things that are sadly absent here.

Skyline - Last year three guys with a special effects background directed two ‘alien invasion’ movies. One of them did it right, the other two made Skyline. The Strause brothers showed what they were capable of with Aliens vs Predator - Requiem…and yet I still walked into the cinema for Skyline.

We Are What We Are - Who’d have thought cannibalism could be this boring? Critics may have loved this Mexican horror-movie-come-family-drama but when I saw it at this years FrightFest it was all I could do to stay awake, and it was on at four in the afternoon! I’ll stick to the other side of the Rio Grande for my cannibal families from now on I think.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - There was much to like about Edgar Wright’s adaptation of the cult indie comic, it gave the director a chance to show the visual flair that Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz didn’t really require. And clearly there was much pent-up flair waiting to burst forth, filling the screen with colour and the air with sound. Ultimately though I was reminded of Huey Lewis’ line in Back to the Future - “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud'’.

So there we have last years biggest letdowns.

Coming next it’s time for the good stuff - My Top 10 Films of 2010.

Top 10s, New Year’s Resolutions and all that jazz… January 8, 2011

Posted by Ian W in : Rants & Raves , 2 comments

Over two years since my last post! No prizes for guessing what my New Year’s resolution was. Apart from a couple of guest reviews over at Blogomatic 3000 this is the first thing I’ve written in all that time, so I apologise if I’m a tad rusty and for the lack of new content. If things go to plan (and resolutions don’t get broken!) I promise (threaten?) there’ll be something new here at least once a week. There will also be a bit more focus than in the past, with the key ingredients being reviews of low budget horror movies and classic western TV shows, a strange combination I’ll grant you but hopefully both will find an audience.

It’s traditional as the new year starts to look back on the previous twelve months and pick your favourite films, and that was my original plan here, but as I was looking through the list of films that garnered a cinema release last year I realised how many of the year’s more critically acclaimed films I’d failed to see. And not just critically acclaimed films either, there were more than a few films that were never going to be the critics’ darlings that nevertheless had been high on my list of ‘must see’ films but, for one reason or another, they’d passed me by (and still do, despite many now being out on DVD and Blu-ray). So, I thought, why not do a ‘10 films I wish I’d seen in 2010′ list? That way people wouldn’t think I just didn’t rate Shutter Island as highly as the films in my top ten, they’d know I just hadn’t seen it.

So before my ten favourite films of last year (and the 10 most disappointing too) here then (in no particular order) are the 10 films released last year that I wish I’d seen:

A Prophet - The French have blown me away in recent years with their horror and action movies and this year they should have done the same with the crime genre had I not failed to see this and the equally critically lauded Carlos. I did see Mesrine though, and that would have made my “10 best” list had I not ruled it out as I didn’t see it at the cinema.

Shutter Island - Scorsese reunited with DiCaprio after the triumph that was The Departed, with supporting turns from Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow…how did I miss this? Okay I admit to not being a Mark Ruffalo fan, but that’s hardly a good excuse not to see this…but it’s the only one I’ve got.

Centurion - Despite the disappointment that was Doomsday I’m still a Neil Marshall fan and eagerly awaited this, yet it too passed through the local multiplex without me.

Toy Story 3 - Now this one I have a good excuse for skipping - 3D! I don’t get 3D. I don’t mean I don’t understand its appeal, I just literally don’t see it. Poor vision in my left eye means it doesn’t work for me, and I object to having to pay extra and wear silly glasses just so I can see the film in glorious 2D! Okay rant over, on with the list.

Black Dynamite - One of the best trailers of the year left me with a strong desire to see what looked like a pitch perfect blaxploitation spoof. A strong desire…but not strong enough apparently.

Winter’s Bone - The critics raved about Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in this bleak indy thriller. Me? I forgot to go.

The Town - Ben Affleck apparently shows that Gone Baby Gone was no fluke and gives one of the best performances of his career to boot. Sadly I was suffering from a cinematic overdose after FrightFest and couldn’t generate enough energy to go.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest - The third part of a trilogy that I’d already seen parts 1 and 2 of…it’s not hard to see why this was on my must see list. Missed due to ill health, bad weather and screenings that were either on too early or too late. See, sometimes I do have a good excuse!

Machete
- Another one with a fairly decent excuse - it played for just one week at all three local cinemas. What film plays for only one week, especially one as hotly anticipated as this one?

The American - George Clooney as an assassin in an intelligent thriller that’s more interested in character than explosions? Like The Town this came out post FrightFest or I’d have doubtless jumped at the chance to see it.

And just for the record, I haven’t seen The Social Network but I just can’t get excited about it. Maybe it’s my aversion to Facebook, or my disappointment with Fincher’s last two films (yes I know I’m in the minority, but hey what’s blogging for if not to give voice to opinions that may not follow the public or critical herd?), or his pending adaptation of perhaps the most pointless and unnecessary Hollywood remake ever?

So those are the top films I didn’t see, some of which would doubtless have made my top 10.

Coming next: The 10 Most Disappointing Films of 2010

Sci Fi Day: Transformers September 7, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : DVD Viewing Journal , add a comment

Prior to Transformers I’d say I’ve probably got more entertainment from Paul W.S. Anderson’s films than Michael Bay’s, so it’s fair to say I’m not a fan. It’s not that Bay is a bad director, when it comes to action he can orchestrate mayhem like few others. My problem with Bay is that, when you take out the gunfire and explosions, you’re left with clichéd stories, paper thin characters and not much else.

So why did I enjoy Transformers so much? Is it cleverly plotted? Not really it’s about two factions of big robots looking for a cube. Does it have three dimensional characters who give us a deeper understanding of what it’s like to be in life or death situations? Nope, it’s full of beautiful people shouting, running and firing guns. No the reason Transformers works is because it doesn’t need those things, it’s as cartoon brought to life and its charm is simply this – robots are cool, big robots are even cooler and big robots fighting other big robots is uber-cool. As a bonus the film also has a charismatic lead whose star is very much on the rise in Shia LaBeouf, a smokin’ hot action heroine in Megan Fox (she’s probably got more balls than LaBeouf) and a script with a good level of humour that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The only downer is Jon Voight and John Turturro overdoing it a little on the ham and cheese.

Forget Pearl Harbour, Armageddon and the rest, with Transformers Bay has found his ideal subject matter. Roll on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen! Now if only someone could find a way to stop him producing all those pointless horror remakes I could almost start to like the guy.

Dipa’s review can be found here.

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