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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).

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.

Burning Rubber August 15, 2008

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Fast cars (and bikes) are the subject of this weeks viewing journal.

A film so over the top that it feels more like a spoof than a genuine attempt to do for motorbikes what The Fast and the Furious did for cars. Problem is it’s silly but not funny and ends up just being tedious.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Am I alone in thinking Lucas Black is cool? Maybe I am but he’s definitely the best thing in this second sequel to the 2001 hit, although it’s a sequel in name only, having no ties to the other films in the series (save for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo right at the end from Vin Diesel). Aimed at a younger audience, with a cast of twentysomethings playing high school kids, it’s The O.C. on wheels on holiday in Japan. If you’re under twenty you might love it, for anyone older it has little to offer but it’s still far better than John Singleton’s deadly dull 2 Fast 2 Furious.

The Diver
This is a great thriller from Walter Hill. Yes it could have been better, the part of The Driver has Steve McQueen written all over it, but it’s got some cracking car chases and a gripping game of cat and mouse between The Driver and The Detective. Ryan O’Neal, while lacking the McQueen cool does a good job in a part that’s a world away from the romantic dramas and light comedies that made his name. Bruce Dern, for a change on the right side of the law, is great as the cop who’ll stop at nothing to get his man. It may not be big on character but this is one of the best car movies ever made.

Vanishing Point
And while we’re on the subject of best car movies ever, this one gets my vote. The late ‘60s/early ‘70s were the golden years for cinematic vehicular mayhem and this film gives us one of the most iconic movie automobiles ever in the white 1970 Dodge Challenger driven by Kowalski (Barry Newman). Kowalski is in a hurry to get to San Francisco from Denver (we never find out why) and takes a job delivering said Dodge Challenger. In between outrunning the police and encountering oddball characters (like Dean Jagger’s desert dwelling snake hunter) we get snapshots of his past - as racing driver, cop, lover - none of which explain his need to get to Frisco, but then the why isn’t really important. Newman is cool, not McQueen cool but still pretty damn cool, and you’re routing for him right up to the films nihilistic yet oddly exhilerating climax.

Keep Watching the Skies… July 2, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : DVD Viewing Journal, DVD Reviews , 1 comment so far

Sometimes they’re cute and cuddly, like ET (or Jeff Bridges) but not all aliens are nice as this  weeks viewing shows…

The Thing from Another World
There is much to enjoy in The Thing from Another World and then there’s James Arness’”Super Carrot”. The character interplay sparkles, although I could have done without having a woman stationed at the Arctic base (does a horror movie of this type really need a love interest?), and the isolated setting adds greatly to the sense of unease but then they show us too much of the monster and it all falls apart. It’s not fair to blame Big Jim, you could have put anyone in the veggiesuit and it would have looked silly. Important rule of horror moviemaking – if you have a crap monster don’t show it anymore than you have to.

Body Snatchers
I don’t know the background to this adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel of alien invasion but there’s certainly an unlikely combination of talent involved. Genre veteran Larry Cohen gets a credit for screen story while ‘Master of Horror’ Stuart Gordon is one of the scriptwriters and Abel Ferrara handles directorial duties. It seems an odd choice for Ferrara, a director who’s not exactly known for mainstream horror, more so as it followed his most famous film, Bad Lieutenant. He does a good job though and certainly creates more tension than the latest big budget take on the story, last years Invasion. If there’s a complaint it’s that it fails to make the most of its cast in particular Forest Whitaker and R. Lee Ermey, but Meg Tilly’s very good in her alien-stepmom role. The military base setting makes sense - surely alien invaders would target military installations? -  and adds to the central characters feelings of isolation. Not the best (or even second best) version, but certainly a worth a look on a classic story.

When I first watched Signs I saw it as just another alien invasion movie, albeit an unusual one, watched again now it’s more a film about loss - loss of faith, loss of a loved one – than it is about unfriendly aliens. Director M. Night Shyamalan is unfairly branded a one trick pony, but there’s far more to his films than just a twist ending, if there wasn’t there’d be little reason to re-watch them. He also knows how to get good performances from his stars, and not just the full grown ones either - Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin aren’t overshadowed by big names Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. Damn creepy looking aliens too, and all the more effective for the little we actually see them.

Evil Aliens
Jake West is the Benny Hill of horror, not intelligent, not classy, but, if you’re in the right mood, he’ll provide you with some low brow laughs. He doesn’t so much tickle your funny bone as rip it out and beat you to death with it. The acting is pretty awful, including Zone Horror presenter Emily Booth, but that’s part of the films low budget charm, and West throws so much at you that some of the gore and jokes have to hit home. And any horror film that uses The Wurzels “I’ve Got A Brand New Combine Harvester” has to be worth a look for novelty value alone.

Horror Day: Inside June 21, 2008

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Dipa: “Oh my GOD” is the only reaction I can think of right now. I have been ever so proud of having a strong stomach when it comes to gore but this one has changed everything! I don’t think I have EVER seen anything quite like this. I was warned that it was violent and not a film for the weak hearted and I can assure you that a warning is necessary where this film is concerned. What an end to horror day- total madness.  

Ian: I first saw this at the Frighfest Allnighter and was stunned by how violet and unrelenting it was. This second viewing, where I’m slightly more awake than I was then, is even more stunning. Yes it’s violent and there isn’t a whole lot to the story but it’s also extremely well made. There’s style in abundance on display here. I’ve seen the future of horror and it’s French. Off to bed now, although after that I’m not sure I’ll sleep!

Horror Day: Silence of the Lambs

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Ian: More thriller than outright horror this still has a lot of horror elements, not least Anthony Hopkins theatrical take on Hannibal Lector. There’s always been a “who’s the best Lector” debate, Hopkins or Brian Cox, but I love them both. Cox may be the more believable but Hopkins gives us an almost mythic bogeyman, always in control. Jodie Foster is every bit Hopkins equal but for me the unsung hero of Silence of the Lambs is Scott Glenn, who underplays Crawford to perfection. One of the best thrillers of the ‘80s. 

Dipa: Absolute masterpiece. I haven’t seen this film since I was much younger and therefore couldn’t really remember it very well. Having seen the sequels more recently, I must say that The Silence of the Lambs is by far the best. It was extremely engaging all the way through (which helped me stay awake without the aid of caffeine!) and generally captured all the best aspects of a thriller as well as a horror film. Foster and Hopkins’ performances are mesmerizing and made it the classic that it is today.

Horror Day: Brain Damage June 20, 2008

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Dipa: This is another film that Ian has introduced me to which I have strangely enjoyed. I found it both disturbing and amusing at the same time which was a nice contrast. The symbolic and metaphorical value of the film was bizarre and yet creatively presented. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before (and may not again!)

Ian: I love Frank Henenlotter’s films and Brain Damage is the best of them. So long as you have a unique and vivid imagination budget doesn’t need to be a constraint and Henenlotter is nothing if not unique. It offers the cheap gore thrills of your standard horror flick but instead of a mindless killer we get an analogy for drug addiction. I’m looking forward to his new film, Bad Biology, sixteen years is too long without a new Henenlotter film!

Horror Day: From Beyond the Grave

Posted by Ian W in : DVD Viewing Journal, DVD Reviews , 1 comment so far

Ian: I Love a good anthology and in the ‘70s Amicus produced some corkers. From Beyond the Grave has some clever little tales and a cast of famous faces all linked by a typically impeccable performance from Peter Cushing. Some are creepy (David Warner’s haunted mirror), others more humorous (Margaret Leighton’s elemental battling medium) and one manages a bit of both (the Pleasence double act of father and daughter). They don’t make them like this anymore, mores the pity.

Dipa: This has been my favourite of the day so far. It had the perfect blend of creepiness and humour as Ian suggested in his comment. I felt that Margaret Leighton’s performance was top notch, she was eccentric and amusing to watch. Although Peter Cushing wasn’t a name I was familiar with his face certainly was and thanks to Ian’s filmic knowledge I’ve now discovered he was in a film I loved as a child, Horror Express (until now I didn’t know what the title of the film was but Ian recognised it from my description).

Horror Day: Night of the Lepus and Night of the Hell Hamsters

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

Ian: Two different sorts of funny, one intentional the other not. Lepus features a bunch of Hollywood stars past their prime taking on giant killer rabbits. It’s funny in parts but the joke wears thin and while there’s a surprising amount of gore for its time, it never manages to be remotely scary. Its biggest problem is that rabbits are just too darn cute, even giant killer ones. Hell Hamsters is a silly UK/Australian production about demonic hamsters. It revels in its low budget, using the extremely crap hamsters to get extra laughs. It also references numerous horror classics, not least of which is The Exorcist. A fun 15 minutes.

Dipa: I found Night of the Lepus a tad bit disappointing because I was expecting it to be more of a laugh out loud horror comedy and it seemed like a film that would generally be appreciated by a much younger audience. I agree with Ian that the joke gets worn out very quickly making the rest of the film rather dull. As a hamster owner, I must say that I will never look at my hamsters, Hamsterdam and Piglet, in the same way again! I thought it was 15 minutes of pure genius and would definitely recommend it.

Ian: I should just add that my brother, Andrew, has been bigging up Night of the Lepus since we were kids and he got to see it as part of the BBC’s horror double bills when, for some reason, I didn’t. It’s not the classic he made it out to be, that’s for sure!

Horror Day: Purana Mandir

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Dipa: I had first seen this film when I was just four years old and it used to scare the crap out me but today, the same effect can be achieved from a spider running across the arm of a sofa (which actually happened while we were watching this film). Watching it again after many years, I find that it’s more funny than scary although it retained some moments of horror towards the end. In places it seemed that there were too many subplots that didn’t essentially connect to the main storyline. However, it was a joy to watch it again and it brought back childhood memories and nightmares!

Ian: I’ve always thought of Bollywood as the McDonalds of the movie world, not just because they’re films are produced really quickly but also because of the songs. The songs are like fries, and, as everyone knows, fries go with everything. When Purana Mandir focused on being a horror film it didn’t do a bad job, but it also wants to be a martial arts flick (with India’s answer to Bruce Lee, or at least he thinks he’s India’s answer to Bruce Lee), a comedy and a love story. It over eggs the pudding a bit but at least the songs gave us time to put the pizzas in the oven. And the spider was by far the scariest thing that happened while we were watching this!

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