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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.

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

Blog Related New Year’s Resolutions and Future Plans For Mine Was Taller January 1, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : Rants & Raves, Site News , 3 comments

It’s New Year, the perfect time for starting some new regular features on Mine Was Taller, and for making a few resolutions.

First up the resolutions:

1) Watch more DVDs than I buy. I seem to have become unable to pass up a bargain, and with the Bargain Forum so helpful in pointing them out it’s resulted in a large “To Watch” pile (actually pile is the wrong word, I wouldn’t want to think how high they’d go if stacked on top of each other but doing so is certainly unfeasible). I’m going to start passing up on some of those previously irresistible offers and also up the number of DVDs watched each week; time will tell how successful I’ll be

2) Read more some books. Since moving up to the midlands several years ago I seem to have lost the ability to read books. I’ve never been what you’d call a speed reader but I’ve always had a book on the go, yet in the last few years I’ve only completed one book (Don Siegel’s very enjoyable autobiography). It’s not like I’ve completely ignored the written word, I’ve read magazines and continued to feed my childhood comic addiction but books have fallen by the wayside. Hopefully that will change and you’ll see some of the fruits of that change here, including a review of Anthony Holden’s biography of Laurence Olivier (thanks for the Christmas present Kevin!).

That’s it for the resolutions, at least the one that might have an impact on this blog, now for the new features.

Over the last few months I’ve been doing themed days, this was partly to make choosing which DVD to watch a little easier by breaking down the aforementioned “To Watch” pile into smaller, less intimidating, sections but also because I used to love the “seasons” of films the BBC would do when I was younger and this gave me the chance to do something along similar lines. It’s been pretty successful, the number of hits has increased, as have comments, and if nothing else I’ve managed to reduce the number of animated films on DVD that are awaiting a first viewing to zero. With that in mind I’ve decided to add to these “seasons” and the week on Mine Was Taller should now look like this –

Monday: I Spy – Espionage in the movies, everything from Bourne to Flint, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold to The Spy Who Loved Me.

Tuesday: Literally Speaking – Book adaptations, both classic and not-so-classic.

Wednesday: Watching the Detectives – Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Wong and Mr. Moto continue, interspersed with one off films, including several starring Humphrey Bogart.

Thursday: Comic Tales – Superman to Man-Thing, Hollywood’s interpretations of classic comic book characters.

Friday: The Friday Night Fright – More horror, both classic and modern with The Last Man on Earth kicking the New Year off this Friday in “honour” of the latest version of Richard Matheson’s classic novel, I Am Legend.

Saturday: Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting – From Roadhouse to Ong-Bak, movies that kick ass.

Sunday: SF and Fantasy Sunday – A slight change to Sunday’s viewing, with the addition of fantasy films to the regular helping of science fiction. Again tying in with I Am Legend we start the New Year with another last man on earth film, The Quiet Earth.

Saturday/Sunday: The Weekend Western – More western action, both regular and the spaghetti variety.

Also continuing will be TV Tomb, which will delve into TV’s past on an irregular basis.

Well that’s the plan, we’ll see how it goes starting from tomorrow.

The FrightFest All-nighter November 9, 2007

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Horror, Rants & Raves , 1 comment so far

Back in August I attended FrightFest at London’s Odeon West End and had a great time. However there were some upcoming horror flicks that I dearly wanted to see but the festival organisers were unable to acquire, one such film being George Romero’s Diary of the Dead. So when the line-up for the FrightFest all-nighter at the ICA was announced and not only was Diary kicking off the event but the great man himself was going to be there, attending was something of a no-brainer.

So on Friday Dan (of Is There Food) and I took the train to London, wondering if we’d survive until morning. With five films spread across ten hours (starting at 9pm) this was going to be even more of an endurance test than the full festival. Still the films promised to be worthy of the effort, alongside Romero’s latest was Robert Rodriguez’s half of the Grindhouse project, Planet Terror, Savage Streets starring Linda Blair and a couple of French goesfests - Frontiere(s) and Inside.

We arrived a little after 9pm (sadly missing out on Mr Romero’s signing session) to find the place full. We quickly made our way to two of the few remaining seats and almost as soon as we sat down things got underway.

George Romero is the godfather of the modern zombie movie. How many people can lay claim to have reinvented a classic monster so successfully that it’s overshadowed what came before? When I think zombie, it’s George’s flesh eating walking dead that come to mind first, not some dusty old voodoo zombie, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Land of the Dead, Romero’s previous film, had been a disappointment but it was a disappointment because it was a Romero zombie movie not because it was a bad film. Had it been made by anyone else it would have been greeted more favourably but when your name is George Romero and you’ve made the three best zombie films ever committed to celluloid…well let’s just say expectations are higher than normal. With Diary of the Dead he’s gone back to his low budget roots, leaving the restrictions of Hollywood behind and in doing so he’s rediscovered his mojo.

Chronicling the exploits of a group of college film students (and one alcoholic professor) who try to make their way home to there families when the dead start to get up and walk, this is Night of the Living Dead for the modern world, a world obsessed with the media, where everyone has not only an opinion, but a platform to voice it on. How do you kill something that’s already dead? What happens if you get bitten? These are questions the protagonists have to discover the answers to, often the hard way and at great personal cost.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, as we get treated to one of the funniest characters ever to appear in a zombie film. Samuel is pure comedy gold but Romero doesn’t let him outstay his welcome. In fact he gets everything right, the effects are superb but the film never becomes an effects show, the young actors are a perfect ensemble cast with everyone getting time in the spotlight, and the films message isn’t heavy handed, coming as it does from the films basic concept.

Diary of the Dead is the film Zombie Diaries wanted to be, it’s a film that can hold it’s (severed) head up alongside Romero’s original Dead trilogy. Horror can be scary, gory fun and still make a point or two about modern society and Diary is the film that shows how to do it.

The Q&A after the film showed George to be a funny, self deprecating talker and the crowd gave him the welcome he deserved. I wish I hadn’t missed out on the pre-film signing, not just because it would have been nice to get something signed (I’d brought my copy of The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh with me) but because I’d like to have shaken the guy’s hand and said thanks for entertaining us all these years.

Next up was Planet Terror; could Robert Rodriguez manage to keep me awake? The answer was yes, with a film packed full of explosions, blood and over the top violence how could anyone fall asleep? Planet Terror isn’t high art but it is cheesy fun of the highest order.

The cast all got into the spirit of the z grade style the film was aiming for. Rose McGowan was an obvious standout but for me Josh Brolin steals the film as the barking mad Dr William Block. Brolin gets better with every film and really should be a big name by now; hopefully the Coen’s No Country for Old Men will see him move into the big time.

Well with Planet Terror we’d had imitation Grindhouse but with Savage Streets we got a taste of the real thing. Before the event I though this would be the film I’d have trouble staying awake through most but thanks to a cup of black coffee and a Yorkie bar I was probably more awake than at any other time during the night.

I don’t think I’ve laughed so much at a bad film since…well since I watched Ultraviolet a couple of weeks ago. Bad dialogue, an ‘80s soft rock soundtrack, some of the most well developed high school students you’re ever likely to see and John Vernon playing the school principle as if he’s in Animal House 2, what more could you want? I was half expecting Vernon to say “The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me” at one point.

Setting the scene for Savage Streets was Trailer Trash, a collecting of trailers for some very bad films (although I like C.H.U.D.). Pick of the bunch was Abby, a hysterical blaxploitation take on The Exorcist.

The first of the French films followed. “Oh god, subtitles at 4am!” thought I, but in fact they helped keep me awake. Having to read meant having to concentrate more and that kept my mind active (relatively speaking).

I’m not sure what to make of Frontiere(s). It started off like some kind of subversive action movie before heading into the country and introducing us to the most fucked up family since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In fact, imagine the family from Chainsaw only with Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man as the head of the cannibalistic clan and you’ll have some idea of what this hugely derivative film has to offer.

It’s short on original ideas and instead tries to outdo the likes of Haute Tension, Sheitan, Ils and The Ordeal in being relentlessly grim and explicitly violent. In that it succeeds but the French obsession with what’s been dubbed “torture porn” is getting a little old. Still at least they’re better at it than the Yanks and I’d be interested to see Frontiere(s) again when I’m a bit more alert as I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of socio-political message in there that my mind was too fuzzy to grasp.

I’d have said it was impossible to fall asleep watching the night’s final film, Inside, but for the fact that there was a gentleman at the back of the auditorium snoring loudly during some of the early scenes. It’s another grim film from France but instead of aping other movies, directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury have come up with something original and truly scary.

There isn’t much plot, pregnant woman terrorised in her house pretty much sums it up, but what they do with that basic idea stands as probably the most intense and horrific hour and a half I’ve ever spent in the cinema. There are shades of ‘70s Italian giallo, scenes that have a hint of Asian horror, and of course the graphic violence that is the trademark of the new wave of French horror, but it never overplays its influences like Frontiere(s) does.

Not only did I not have trouble staying awake, once it had finished I wondered if I would ever get that final nightmarish image out of my mind and be able to sleep again. It’s an image that would come back to haunt me a few days later when watching an episode of Nigel Neale’s ‘70s TV series Beasts, giving the somewhat dated TV production far more power to shock than it would otherwise have had.

Bustillo and Maury are currently working on the Hellraiser remake and for once this is an updated version that I really want to see. Let’s just hope they live up to their promise and don’t disappoint as Alexandre Aja did with his The Hills Have Eyes.

So that was it, we’d made it! Best film of the night? I’m torn really, Inside was without doubt the scariest but Diary of the Dead was definitely more fun and will no doubt be the one I watch more often when they come out on DVD. Here’s hoping the mooted Argento Three Mothers night comes off.

How a Zombie Killed Michael Myers September 4, 2007

Posted by Ian W in : Rants & Raves , 3 comments

This isn’t a review, for that check out The Devil’s Manor, I doubt you’ll find a better review anywhere on the web. This is just me having a little rant about what went wrong in the hopes of getting it out of my system, after all Halloween is one of my favourite horror films and I can’t let someone fuck it up this badly without some comment. You should be aware before you read on that there are a couple of spoilers, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Rob Zombie is obviously a fan of the original (there are numerous references to it) and yet he seems to have no understanding of what made Michael Myers work as an iconic horror character. When the original Halloween came out the idea of a suburban kid killing his sister was shocking and, while it wouldn’t seem quite as horrific today, it would still have more power than a stereotypical trailer trash kid doing the same. Even upping the body count doesn’t change that. By developing the Michael character (at the expense of Laurie and friends) he de-mythologises him. Loomis may deliver virtually the same line at the end of the film but this isn’t the bogeyman, he’s just a man, albeit a big, nasty, brutal one.

I also got the impression that Zombie sees Michael as the hero. His victims are all unsympathetic, either because they are written that way (William Forsythe) or because they aren’t developed enough (Dee Wallace and Pat Skipper as Laurie’s adoptive parents). The ending shows us whose side Rob is on as much as anything in the film. He must have grown up feeling sorry for Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster and Lon Chaney’s Wolf Man and there is nothing wrong with that (I did myself) but this isn’t some misunderstood creature, this is a brutal psychopath and in taking his side Zombie makes his biggest mistake. We don’t want to empathise with Michael or Jason, they are blank slates on which we write our own fears. That’s why they’ve lasted so long and why Rob Zombie has succeeded where countless teens failed, he’s killed Michael Myers both literally and figuratively.

If you want to see Halloween do yourself a favour and watch the original instead and if it’s a film about a cold blooded psychopath you want, wait for Uwe Boll’s infinitely superior Seed.

FrightFest Day 5 August 29, 2007

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

The cast and crew of Zombie Diaries:

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All good things must come to an end and FrightFest is no exception. The last day was a mixed bag that gave us one of the best films of the festival and also the most disappointing.

Arriving too late to join in the mass zombie walk I found Leicester Square overrun with zombies, including junior members of the walking dead (see pic left). Fighting my way through the flesh hungry hoard I made my way to my seat for the day’s first film, Zombie Diaries.

Making allowances for the films obvious micro budget, this was a nice blend of Night of the Living Dead and The Blair Witch Project. The acting was variable and elements of the films structure could have been better (the final scene with the army weakened the ending) but this showed promise and an abundance of enthusiasm from all concerned.

During the Q&A that followed the directors were asked the budget of the film. Michael Bartlett rather than name the figure responded with “What was the budget? It almost cost me my marriage. It almost cost me my home.” Co-director Kevin Gates added two girlfriends to the tally. Clearly these guys were passionate about their film.

Talking to Bartlett after the screening he asked me about The Signal and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, two films he’d wanted to see. Horror it seems wasn’t just a genre he picked because it could be done cheaply but something he had a real interest in.

KM 31 retold the oft filmed The Crying Woman legend for a modern audience. Competently made and visually pleasing this nevertheless failed to capture me or, if the attendees for the director’s interview after the screening are any indication, many of the audience. It was a case of seen it all before as Rigoberto Casteneda blended traditional ghost story elements with some very Asian style shocks.

Not yet having seen Hatchet the showing of Spiral was my first introduction to Adam Green and his films. This was a dark, leftfield love story about one of life’s misfits. A little like Love Object without the inflatable woman or, as Green put it, as if “Hitchcock pulled Woody Allen over and fucked him in the ass.” A slow pace, no gore and yet the audience was captivated. The performance were spot-on from co-director Joel David Moore playing the socially inept Mason to Amber Tamblyn as the kind of girl every nerd dreams about and Zachary Levi as Berkeley, Mason’s only friend.

Adam Green’s reception showed he’s a FrightFest favourite and he knows how to work a crowd. All the other festival guests were accompanied by one of the organisers (usually Alan Jones) but Green was alone onstage. He answered a few audience questions before regaling us with his Twisted Sister story. I could attempt to retell it here but I’m not going too. The story will be on the Hatchet DVD, so go out and buy that, even if the film is crap (something I doubt very much after seeing Spiral) the story is worth the cost alone. I didn’t just like Green’s film but also the man himself, finding him open and honest, rare things in the movie biz.

Before the next big film we got treated to the In the Wall short, described by its director, Mike Williamson, as Edgar Allen Poe meets EC Comics and he was true to his word. This was Poe’s The Black Cat with an EC punchline, brilliantly scored by Clint Mansell with a first rate performance from Chris McKenna, it had the polish of a feature film. Best short film of the festival by a country mile.

Next was the day’s big disappointment that further showed Russia to be the weak link of the festival after the poor The Sword Bearer on Friday. Day Watch was one of the films I’d looked forward to most at the start of the festival but it was overlong, downright silly in parts and committed the Hollywood sin of throwing lots of explosions at the screen to try and mask the films inadequacies.

Alan Jones had been bigging The Orphanage up since day one and with Guillermo Del Toro’s name on it this was potentially the film of the weekend. Getting its first screening outside of Cannes this was another ghost story but this one showed how it should be done.

There are obvious Del Toro influences but this isn’t Pan’s Labyrinth 2, although it does make a nice companion piece to that film. Juan Antonio Bayona involves us with the characters just a Del Toro did with this years Oscar nominated foreign film but the fantasy elements of that film are replaced with a traditional ghost story. One member of the audience would later remark that it had similarities to Poltergeist and that’s true but the atmosphere is much more intense.

The films real ace though is Belen Rueda as Laura . It was revealed by the director after the film that she had shared a similar experience to the character she plays in the film and she must have used that in her performance. At one point she lets out a cry of such tortured anguish that even now, twenty-four hours later it reverberates in my head and has the power to move me to tears. To say too much about this film would spoil it but it delivers more shocks than any other film in the festival (it made the FrightFest crowd jump and that’s no mean feat) and yet shocks aren’t what it’s about. It plays with your emotions not just your fears and that’s what stays with you long after the movie has finished.

I stayed for the Q&Q session after the film. I shouldn’t have, I needed to get to Golders Green in order to catch the coach back to Leicester but it just seemed rude to get up and walk out after seeing such a powerful film. Luckily my coach was ten minutes late or I’d have been stranded in London overnight.

So now safely home what are my fondest memories of the festival? Well two films stand out from the crowd – WAZ and The Orphanage – and two people – Uwe Boll and Adam Green.

The big question is would I do it again next year? And the answer is a definite yes. I’ll be armed with my trusty cushion and if I get lucky maybe I’ll get one of the prized Premier seats.

Big thanks to Alan Jones, not just for being one of the festivals organisers but also for signing my copy of his Profundo Argento book. I’ve been reading Alan’s articles and reviews since Starburst first came out in 1977 (I was twelve). That was one of the factors that nurtured my fascination with the dark side of cinema and ultimately led to me going to FrightFest.

The photographs used are by Andrew Woolstencroft, my brother who put up with me using his flat as a hotel and also provided a taxi service when I got stranded at Purley (the sort of place where zombies can be seen walking the earth in the wee hours).

FrightFest Day 4

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Horror, Rants & Raves , 3 comments

The day got of to a bad start as I missed the first film, Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, due to unforeseen technical difficulties getting to London (the details would make it sound like the plot from a horror film but it was nowhere near that exciting). So my planned three films for the day were cut down to just two – Botched and WAZ.

Botched was a British comedy horror (with a touch of heist movie thrown in) from first time director Kit Ryan. It delivered the requisite amount of gore and a few laughs as well. Some wavering Russian accents (Sean Pertwee as a Russian mob boss) didn’t detract too much from the fun and this was a pleasant enough timewaster, if nothing really special. Special would come later in the day.

Planning to skip the Uwe Boll double-bill if favour of seeking out a zombie mask for tomorrow’s zombie walk I headed off for Forbidden Planet. At 6pm I returned to Leicester Square, my search unsuccessful, and decided I might as well go and see Seed.

Uwe Boll introduced the film and won me over with his comment about Hostel. Decrying Tarantino’s hype about it being the most extreme horror in years , he described it as American Pie in Eastern Europe (I think I may have started the applause for that one). With Seed he set at to make a film that really was the most unrelenting, nihilistic and downright nasty film we’ve seen in years. He succeeded. Two people walked out during the screening, no big thing at an ordinary showing but for a packed audience of dedicated horror fans it was a real achievement. The film was short of plot (executed killer gets buried alive after the electric chair fails to kill him, digs his way out and sets about killing those responsible)but it’s not about plot, it’s making a statement about mans inhumanity to man and killer Max Seed says everything that needs to be said without uttering a word. A gory death is usually met with applause by the FrightFest crowd but when Seed kills a woman with a hammer the smattering of applause died out quickly. This wasn’t the fun gore of Wrong Turn 2, this was something different. Even with some dodgy CGI towards the end of the sequence this was still the most unsettling and, yes, extreme thing I’ve seen in years.

Boll did a Q&A after the film where he got ranted at by a member of the crowd (swiftly shouted down by the audience) and complained that he’s unfairly treated by IMDb, something that the rating for Seed backs up. He was an enthusiastic talker, a genuine horror fan and I did something after the film that if you’d told me I’d be doing at the start of the festival I wouldn’t have believed you, I stood in line for his autograph and shook his hand. My Boll I salute you for providing the biggest surprise of the festival.

Seed wasn’t the best film of the day though, that was WAZ. Dark, disturbing and emotionally affecting (I had a tear in my eye by the end) this had much in common with Se7en (rookie cop partnered with seasoned vet looking for a serial killer) but it was much more than just a cheap knock-off. Melissa George was great as great as the young cop but it was Stellan Skarsgard and Selma Blair who walk off with the acting honours. Skarsgard has never been better (and that’s saying something) and Blair gives the performance of her life. It’s a film that’s stayed with me long after the credits and even now, writing this the next day, I’m a little chocked up by it. Film of the day unquestionably.

Before WAZ we were treated to some exclusive footage from The Cottage, the new film from the director of London to Brighton. The film looks like it could be a winner in a similar comedy/horror vein to Severance. Lets just hope they didn’t show all the best bits.

I decided to avoid Skinwalkers. I’d seen the cut version and didn’t feel that another 20 minutes was going to turn a turkey into a swan.

Only one day to go, a real marathon, with all five films worth watching.

FrightFest Day 3 August 28, 2007

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

Nothing exceptional today but no duds either. First up Cold Prey showed that a change of locale and some genuinely likable characters could breathe new life into the slasher film even if the end result felt a bit like Jason takes a holiday in Norway. Director Roar Uthang did a pretty good job although keeping the identity of the killer a secret was pretty pointless as anyone into this kind of film will know who it is by the end of the credits. He did a short Q&A after the film and told us the film had been a big hit in Norway and another horror film (not directed by him) was in production there.

Next came a new entry in the creepy kid sub-genre. Joshua brought back memories of Rosemary’s Baby and other films of that era, its slow burning atmosphere a nice change of pace from the usual fare. Vera Farmiga impressed as Joshua’s mum, who after giving birth to a second child, a little girl, goes a little nuts (with more than a little help from young Josh). Sam Rockwell as the father gets better as the film goes on, but the real star of the film is Jacob Kogan as the titular character. Playing the part with so little emotion can’t have been easy, particularly with the histrionics of the other actors but he never falters throughout. This wasn’t a film I was really looking forward to but I was pleasantly surprised.

Then it was time for Short Film Showcase. It started out ok with We’re Ready For You Now coming across like a short Tales of the Unexpected episode with added gore. Things went downhill with Dead@17 but picked up a little with the one joke The Dear Hunter. Best of the bunch though was Little Brats, which (sick as it may sound) made killing kids funny. Pig Tale brought them to a close with a decent idea hampered by the desire to spell everything out for the viewer.

If anyone was expecting something along the lines of Everett De Roche’s Long Weekend from Storm Warning they were in for a surprise. Although the build up could leave you to think that was what you were getting the over the top climax was something else altogether. Giving the audience the best set piece of the festival so far (that met with applause from the audience) this delivered a healthy helping of gore that acted as a nice warm-up for Wrong Turn 2.

The ketchup really started to fly with Joe Lynch’s sequel to Wrong Turn. This was the world premier of the film that’s going to be a straight to DVD release (they’d never get that much gore past the MPAA anyway) and the audience were suitably appreciative. This fit the bill perfectly for all the gore-hounds and the free can of Kirin beer before hand no doubt added to the audience’s enthusiasm. The cast all did a nice job but it was Henry Rollins that stole the film. Imagine Predator era Arnie taking on the Texas Chainsaw family and you’ll have some idea how much fun this was.

Lynch introduced the film and answered the crowd’s questions after. Tatantinoesque, the highly animated director was thrilled to be there and justifiably pleased with the reception his film got. He told us he set out to make a video nasty and if this had been released in the ‘80s this would doubtless have joined that infamous group of films. Lynch is without doubt a horror fan and I think we’ll be hearing a lot more of him in the future.

Prior to Wrong Turn we had the FrightFest quiz. I won’t tell you how many I got right but I will say it was in single figures (there were 20 questions).

That was my lot for the day as an early night was preferable to seeing Disturbia for a second time and the Ozzie comedy The Devil Dared Me To for the first. Tomorrow it’s Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door and Waz that are the pick of the bunch with the Uwe Boll double bill allowing a much needed break (the festival is an endurance test as it is without adding Boll).

FrightFest Day 2

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

Having skipped the Hatchet DVD commentary (not having seen the film before I didn’t fancy having someone talk all the way through the film) the day started with The Sword Bearer. It wasn’t the greatest start. A love story with characters you don’t like and don’t care about and a score so overblown you’d think it was an opera. You can get away without explaining a lot in genre films (The Signal that followed this is a case in point) but a guy with a fucking sword that shoots out of his arm isn’t one of them. Worst film of the festival so far.

Things picked up big time with The Signal, a film that owes more than a little to Romero’s Crazies but had enough originality to keep it fresh. I’m assuming the three directors each did one of the segments (or Transmissions as the film refers to them) and whichever one handled the middle section is the pick of the bunch. There’s a lovely streak of black humour running through it that’s mostly absent from the other parts. In fact one of the films main problems is its a little pretentious and has a climax that’s far too drawn out.

Next up 1408 based on a Stephen King short story. It’s well made, well acted but a little to over the top. It feels like they’ve thrown every possible scare tactic into the film, including that perennial favourite, bleeding walls. Still, Cusack is on good form and Sam Jackson steals the film (and delivers the best line) in what amounts to an extended cameo. This may have made more money than any other King adaptation but it’s far from the best. This was followed by a short Q&A with the director, Mikael Hafstrom.

I decided to skip Teeth (the last minute replacement for P2) because my bum needed a break (even with the cushion). I was back in time for All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. This was one of my most eagerly anticipated films of the festival and it didn’t disappoint. Reinventing the slasher sub-genre for an age that produces college spree killers this was Friday the 13th with brains. Well realised characters, incisive dialogue and visually impressive direction aren’t things you normally read in conjunction with a slasher film but they all apply to this must see movie. Amber Heard, who plays Mandy is destined for big things. Film of the day definitely and maybe film of the festival.

Giving Shrooms a miss in favour of sleep I headed home after Mandy Lane.

We also got our goodie bags today. I don’t know if they’re all the same but here’s a rundown of what was in mine –

Film 4 FrightFest Collectors Edition Program

A copy of GoreZone horror magazine

A copy of DVD World Magazine

A promo brochure for Neil Marshall’s Doomsday

A Horrorcide comic by Steve Niles

A small plastic sheep (with Black Sheep written on its back and blood round its mouth

A tub of 28 Weeks Later virus slime

A 28 Weeks Later lighter

A can of Kirin Japanese Beer

A Third Light – Iodine E.P CD

A Rasputin the Mad Monk DVD

A Samurai Commando Mission 1549 DVD

And another copy of the special FrightFest Edition of Bizarre magazine (we ll had one on our seats on day one)

Very nice indeed, particularly the Doomsday brochure (originally done for ComiCon) and the Samurai Commando DVD.

Day 3 stuff to look forward to - Cold Prey, Joshua, Storm Warning and Wrong Turn 2 plus the Short Film Showcase. I’ll be skipping Disturbia (already seen it) and The Devil Dared Me Too (looks a bit crap) in favour of an early night.

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