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The Strangers (2008)
Unbalanced and tedious 70s style 'horror'
Oh great. After years of horror films going over the top with CGI-enhanced gore, it appears that the pendulum has now finally swung back around to the old way of doing things: 'Suspense', 'suspense' and 'suspense' and very little ever actually happening.
Too much gratuitous blood and guts swiftly turns horror to comedy, but lack of shock value can also be a bad thing: Undeveloped characters trapped in a house under siege for no purpose whatsoever was crap then and it's crap now.
There is almost nothing original about 'The Strangers', and had it been filmed on grainy VT, it could pass for something from the early 1970s, where the only things that made horror films scary was the reputation that they were scary.
The film contains just about every cliché of old-school suspense-horror imaginable - masks, stuck vinyl records, peering behind curtains only to find nothing there. It's like the production team took a handful of contrived elements from other films and spun them out in slow motion, relying on the imagination of the viewers to fill in the gaps.
I guess everything comes full circle, and it's now the time for a whole host of Living Dead remakes and small-cast unventful suspense flicks. Wake me up when this latest fad is over, please.
A Mighty Wind (2003)
Folktastic Musical Mockumentary
Without a doubt this is both the best comedy AND the best musical I've seen this year.
The spoof rockumentary format is not original, and the big climax is to be expected of a Christopher Guest film. The reward lies in the detail - the subtleties of the dialogue, the intricacies of the characters, and the spot-on pacing.
The music is top notch throughout - excellent '60's Americo-folk with beautiful harmonies and arrangements that stick in your mind, with wonderfully pointed references to a greater ouvre of work. In this area, the talent is second only to Neil Innes' Rutles.
The characters are numerous, and surprisingly well-defined, given the very short space of time each one was allocated, although the brilliant acting of Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer and Guest himself means that every single line delivered helped to develop the personalities.
My only criticism is that the film is too short (a lot of good stuff got cut out - see the DVD). Maybe one day we'll see a DC/SE running two hours plus, and with all the musical numbers reinstated in their definitive versions, padding it out into a full-blown musical.
This film deserves to be a classic, but will probably assume the mantle of 'largely unknown cult movie' which is a shame - it hasn't even got a release in the UK yet, and if I hadn't been in the US when it was showing, I would never have heard of it.
And, like Mitch Cohen, I would've been poorer for it.
The Prowler (1981)
Textbook early 80s slasher flick with more intelligence than some
I waited over 20 years to see this film, and for that reason, it has always held a fascination for me.
At one of my earliest visits to the cinema at the age of four, I remember seeing the poster for 'Rosemary's Killer' which was showing at the same time. Of course, being four, I didn't see it, but the image of the guy with the white eyes - pretty scary when you're four - stuck in my mind.
This was a forbidden film of terrors I could only imagine - the unknown horrors might've even given me a nightmare or two.
Once I was older, and having by then seen plenty of horror films, I discovered that this was one of the UK's 'original' banned video-nasties, and couldn't be seen uncut anywhere, so I forgot about it again for a while.
Flash forward to 2003, and it's out on DVD, so I finally get to see 'The Prowler' uncut. Ooh, goody. Will it have been worth the wait?
Well the introduction adds a touch of classiness/cleverness to the gore which follows, and for a low-budget 1981 slasher flick about a masked guy with a big fork, it's pretty much perfectly executed. There's more gore than most, yet more plot too, and I can see why it's regarded as a minor classic by fans of the genre.
But the mystique is now gone for me, and it's one of those films that leaves me wondering why it was banned in the first place. Were creative ideas for killing the victims and buckets of fake blood really such a big deal?
24 Hour Party People (2002)
More irrelevant than irreverent
It amazes me how 'The Parole Officer' was panned indiscriminately, while this film was almost universally acclaimed as a masterpiece.
If anything I enjoyed Coogan's first big-screen venture more than this one. Quite a lot more if I'm honest, and cheap street-cred be damned.
The problem is, I just couldn't identify with a lot of the values in this film. Coogan himself as Tony Wilson is brilliantly funny and creative as ever, and the delicious subtleties he brings to all his roles are worth the cost of admission (or the DVD) alone.
But a celebration of the grim predictable conformity of Northern dance and drug culture in the 80s and 90s is simply a party to which I was never invited, and which I find it utterly impossible to get excited about.
We're meant to like and/or respect a lot of the characters represented in this film, and if, like me, you expressed utter indifference to them in real life, then it's unlikely you'll have a lot of time for them in a film in which they supposedly represent the credible creative muse against which Tony Wilson reacts.
And Ralf Little as Peter Hook? I really hope there was a deliberate irony in casting perhaps the least-talented child actor as the New Order bassist, one of the few genuinely gifted musicians represented in the film.
Overall I was disappointed, but then my expectations were probably way too high, given the subject matter. Hopefully now Coogan's got this adolescent dream out of his system, he can go on to something slightly wider-reaching and challenging.
The Life of David Gale (2003)
Thought-provoking and insightful drama
This took me by surprise.
I knew nothing whatever about this film when I wandered into a quiet cinema on a cold, snowy afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee with nothing better to do, and it wasn't due for UK release for another few weeks.
Expecting to pass away a couple of hours of my holiday with trivial pleasantries from Winslet and Spacey, I have to admit, I was captivated from the first five minutes right through until the final twist. This was far deeper and more though-provoking than I would've expected, and it's to it's credit that one can't truly work out if the underlying ideology is really pro- or anti-captial punishment.
Yes, in many ways it is a hybrid of other films. It's Live From Death Row meets 8mm meets American Beauty meets Erin Brockovich. But the way they resisted the happy Holywood ending which threatened for a while shows just how mature the industry has become when dealing with sensitive issues such as the death penalty, and wrongful rape accusation, and also shows a marked maturity from Nicholas Cage in his debut as producer - five years ago he would invariably have had a last action hero(ine) come to save the day and wrap up all the loose ends, so he's come a long long way.
I'll go and see this again when it's out in the UK, as I suspect it's the sort of film that will improve with repeated viewings, and mature as one observes subtle new complexities each time.
hot shemales, crap production
At the lower end of the gonzo genre, you find films totally lacking in any sense of production values.
This film has no structure, no sense and for most of it no sound (or a very low sound mix that features only occasional incidental noises). Most of the set-up, for what it's worth is awful:
Someone who clearly can't play the piano erm... playing the piano (it's not even funny, just childish and cringeworthy), another shemale who pretends to smoke a cigar which clearly isn't lit ('cause that would eat into the budget in a big way) and the sex is let down by the use of condoms (though I'm not saying you shouldn't play safe, kids!) and the male participants - including the weaselesque Mr. Silvera himself - bring nothing to the action.
Having said all that... if you want to see a hardcore film involving some of the most beautiful shemales in Brazil, then watch this one. (There are a couple who aren't so hot as well unfortunately). And let's face it, the unique sexiness of feminine curves combined with throbbing cocks is the sole reason you'll be watching in the first place.
Impeccably executed British Comedy classic. Timeless.
There are a great many films which are painful in their bland mainstreaminess.
And a very few which manage to pull it off, and remain funny to virtually everyone, over a period of several years.
This John Cleese vehicle from the mid 1980s manages to fit into the latter category - it is simply such a very well crafted traditional comedy, that it is impossible not to be touched.
Here we see Cleese very much in Basil Fawlty mode, as an aspiring head-teacher for whom things just don't run smooth when it really matters.
The other classic elements of British Farce are there - major misunderstandings, people getting undresses, well-intentioned old ladies who say the wrong things at the wrong times, and of course Geoffrey Palmer as a straight man.
And just a touch of poignant surrealism in the way the final minute leading into the credits is played out, to offset the traditional production values.
It's straightforward, and unchallenging, and probably the best film about lateness ever made. High praise indeed, for something so mainstream.
The Supergrass (1985)
One of the best high-end comedies ever
A lot of 'alternative' comedy in Britain in the 1980s was insular, misguided, overly-political, and unfunny, and the worst of the Comic Strip Presents... stuff fell into this category.
But this is at the other end - a remarkable film that works on different intellectual levels.
Is Dennis a criminal mastermind or is he lying?
Is he telling the truth, bluffing, double-bluffing, counter-doubly-bubbly-bluffingwhatever?
I've probably watched Supergrass 20 or 30 times, and I still can't decide 100%. That's the wonderful thing.
As well as Ade Edmonson, there are big roles for other early Comic Strip mainstays - French & Saunders, Pete Richardson, Alexei Sayle, Keith Allen, Nigel Planer and Robbie Coltrane, though curiously enough not Rik Mayall.
All of the Comic Strip cast - however much I disliked the hidden agenda of some of their members - are convincing actors, and turn in superb performances in this big-screen outing, while the Richardson-Richens writing team's work is so often pure genius, with nice little touches of detail throughout.
Ultimately this is a study of crime, criminology and human nature, in all it's wondrous complexity. And very funny with it. You will not be disappointed.
sweeter than it is lame, but not groundbreaking
It was a slightly surprising development when the makers of South Park took their excellent homoerotic cartoon show to the big screen after just a couple of TV series, but it's easy to see why - the massive cult audience of the show guaranteed instant interest and profits.
But with 'Bigger, Longer and Uncut' they didn't quite make the most of it. They had already toyed with 2-parter episodes on TV, and given that this isn't much more than an hour in length, one has to ask what it is that justifies turning this particular storyline as a film.
War, religion, T&P, angry parents, swearing, Canada, Satan and Saddam Hussein were all themes and concepts which had already been exploited in the TV series. The film brought nothing new to the audience, apart from losing the beeps on swearwords, more expensive cgi effects and slightly bigger musical numbers.
Very little new ground was broken, and I think many of the season 2/3 TV shows from the same era are actually better than the feature film. Sorry Matt and Trey, I love your work, but admit it, this was a bit of cash-in.
That said, if you like South Park it's well worth watching, just don't expect it to be radically different.
Oh dear oh dear
Laughs, not many. Cringes aplenty.
This is the low point of Rowan Atkinson's career. After an initial handful of strong - if very mainstream - Mr Beans for television, the shows increased in frequency, and decreased in quality to the point of patheticness.
It all started to go wrong when they started giving him lines to say.
So what then to do after no-one cared about the TV show any more? Take it to the big screen and try and sell it to America. Big mistake.
This film is essentially a rehashing of some of the TV moments, within the context of a simple and somewhat directionless plot. And there are some attempts at 'humour' which simply make me cringe, not to mention a tacked-on ending, which looks and feels completely different from the main plot.
This is not a good film, and it's worse than the weakest of the TV shows. Now we are apparently getting a new animated series of Mr. Bean. Could it be that Atkinson has run out of original ideas?