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Only good for unintentional laughs
This is a truly terrible movie. It's manipulative and predictable, badly acted and badly written - BARELY written might be more accurate as it's mostly a compendium of cliches, and it's edited like the world's longest movie trailer.
I love comic books and I love big comic books-style movies. But there are good comic books and bad comic books, and Armageddon is like a glossy and expensively-printed comic book written and drawn by untalented and uncaring hacks. The science is not just bad, it's not even science. Racist stereotyping abounds.
Yet I had a good time laughing at it. Never with it, only at it.
High Art (1998)
Intimate and intense
This is a great little movie, well acted and made, with nice visual that aren't overdone and an excellent soundtrack. I ran across it by accident on late-night tv and have been looking for a copy to buy ever since. Ally Sheedy and Radha Mitchell are both excellent.
The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)
One of the greats
What better movie is there than this? It gives you everything: thrilling surgery scenes, exciting car chases, nailbiting stripper-fight tension, a talking severed head, a seven-foot-plus pinhead monster (sensitively played by Eddie Carmel), and some stunning scenes of verbal philosophy. Plus one of the greatest pieces of theme music ever recorded.
Do yourself a favour and rent The Brain That Wouldn't Die today.
A horror master in the making?
Dante Tomaselli's first movie, Desecration, is far from perfect: the acting and dialogue is terrible, the story is vague, there are some silly ideas, and there's a cheap look to some of it.
However, in terms of atmosphere and imagery and outright fear, it's a winner. It took me a little while to get into it, but once I was it had an almost unbearable creep-out factor. If Tomaselli had abandoned the story altogether and made a totally abstract piece of surrealism, it might have been a total success. As it is, it's still one of the scariest horror movies of the last few years.
I can't wait to see Tomaselli's second movie, Horror. He has the potential to become the most exciting young horror filmmaker around. If he can adapt his style to fit a more mainstream storytelling sense he may become huge. If he descends further into surrealism he'll almost certainly end up a cult favourite. Either way, he seems to be someone with a unique and compelling vision, which horror has been missing for too long. Bravo!
Finally, a decent doco about the Friday the 13th series! There's some good interview footage here with Sean S. Cunningham, Kane Hodder, Joe Bob Briggs etc and some perplexing footage of the guys from American Movie.
The only qualms I have are: no interview with Tom Savini, and no footage from any of the first eight Fridays. Paramount owns the rights to those movies (this disc was from New Line who only did the last two) and it's way past time for a special edition of at least the first Friday the 13th, with a decent doco on the series at bare minimum.
For the moment, though, this'll do.
Return to Oz (1985)
Brilliantly dark kids' film
Return to Oz is a great children's movie with a dark sensibility, to the point of being basically a horror movie for kids. Of more recent children's movies, only Babe: Pig in the City comes close to being this dark. Some people might have a problem with this - and both these movies were commercial failures - but I loved spooky things as a kid, and neither of these two movies are scarier than some early Disney movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Sleeping Beauty, or indeed The Wizard of Oz.
Fairuza Balk is great as Dorothy, with just the right mix of wide-eyed innocence and slightly grown-up-ness. It's no surprise she grew up to be a great, quirky actor. Most of the best roles are taken up by the various bizarre Oz creatures, many of which have a very Jim Henson feel to them; when Brian Henson turns up as Jack Pumpkinhead, it feels very natural.
It's probably too intense for some kids, but many will love it. You'll know within the first ten minutes if they can take it or not!
River's Edge (1986)
One of the greats
I love River's Edge. It reminds me of my teenage years, and the people I used to hang out with, and the stuff we'd get into. Not that any of us killed out girlfriends, you understand, but pretty much everything else, yeah.
I'm surprised that so many people took this as a "moralising" movie. I thought it did a great job of staring at the whole situation pretty coldly.
Crispin Glover was sooooo good in this movie. Hell, even Keanu was okay.
My Dinner with Andre (1981)
My Dinner With Andre is one of the best movies I have ever seen. I expected to be a little bored by the movie, and only saw it because of its experimental nature. It didn't work out that way. It takes what should be a non-cinematic subject - two people discussing life experiences and philosophy over dinner - and makes it into an enthralling and entertaining movie.
The subject matter is wonderful, ranging from the everyday to, frequently, the outlandish and the fantastic. But the real joy comes in the characterisations. Upon hearing of this movie, I thought that it might be better suited to a stage production, and part way into it, it occurred to me that a radio play would also be a great way to stage it.
Although either of these approaches might have been rewarding, I believe that film is the ideal medium for this script. First of all, the projection of voice required in the theatre would rob the acting of much of its subtlety and authenticity; two people sitting in a restaurant do not shout at one another constantly, and appropriately much of the dialogue is virtually whispered. And secondly, both theatre and radio eliminate the possibility of playing off facial expressions and reactions. Many of the reaction shots of Wallace Shawn are wonderful, changing the impact of Andre Gregory's statements.
Many people will not be able to appreciate this movie. That's as much as matter of taste as of anything else. But for me, aside from anything else, it reaffirmed the value of good conversation. If the idea of the movie appeals to you at all, you must see it. Ten out of ten.
Deadbeat at Dawn (1988)
Totally f**king awesome!
Deadbeat At Dawn is one of the best movies I've ever seen. Its miniscule budget works in its favour, and the amateur acting, while unpolished, is mostly very convincing. The acting honours go to Mark Pitman as Bone Crusher; despite minimal screen time and dialogue, he's unforgettable. Writer/director/editor/make-up supervisor/stunt coordinator/star Jim Van Bebber does an excellent all-around job, abetted by Michael King's cinematography. The psychedelic kaleidoscopic transitions are a bit much, but otherwise this is an excellent movie.
The Last House on the Left (1972)
Inept, yet disturbing
Last House on the Left is a movie that's legendary for being disturbing, and in another camp legendary for being awful. I think it's both. The screenplay & direction by first-timer Wes Craven are very amateurish, and the comedy scenes are cringeworthy. A lot of the acting is poor, and the movie has an awkward structure and pace, as well as many huge credibility problems where the story depends on massive coincidences.
And yet, it's one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen, and manages to push its anti-violence message with amazing force. David Hess is excellent as the sadistic Krug, and although Sandra Cassel and Lucy Grantham are laughable in the early scenes, when the movie actually gets going their performances improve dramatically so that you can almost physically feel their terror.
Although Craven has made a number of better written, directed and acted movies with much higher production values, I don't think he's equaled the impact of this shoddy, squalid little film. It's art, of a sort.
I wasn't sure about this movie, and I took a long time to getting around to seeing it. I shouldn't have worried; it's a consistently entertaining, and often hilarious, movie.
It was also nice to see a movie that's recognizably set in Wellington.
The tv series that spins off from Hopeless, called Love Bites, isn't bad, but it's sabotaged by changes made to the characters to soften them. They are played by the same actors, and many of the episodes are written by the same creative team who made the movie, so I can only assume it was due to studio interference. Shame really; I would have loved to have seen a genuine continuation of the characters from Hopeless, instead of a toned-down version (which was put out with no promotion in a terrible timeslot and then pulled when it, unsurprisingly, failed to rate - way to go TV3).
The funniest scenes in the movie involve the character of Richard, who slowly evolves from being a harmless weirdo to seeming quite dangerous. I'd recommend it highly - particularly to Kiwis.
The Unborn (1991)
Intelligent & well acted
The Unborn is a pretty good low-budget horror movie exploiting the fears associated with pregnancy. It's very well acted by the always-good Brooke Adams and b-movie stalwart James Karen, although the supporting cast is pretty average for a b-grader. The music, by Gary Numan of all people, is good too. Henry Dominic's script is quite intelligent for this sort of thing, although there is a hint of misogyny about it. Rodman Fender's direction is merely adequate, and there are some unnecessary cheap scares. If you're a fan of Adams, whose movie career is nowhere near as illustrious as it should be, check it out; she's great, as always.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The best thing since Suspiria
Despite being an Australian movie in the year of Lord of the Rings, Moulin Rouge is my favourite recent movie. It's pure cinema, a melange of sight and sound, song and dance, tragedy and comedy and True Love as it only exists in the movies. Having two of the best actors in movies, Nicole Kidman and Jim Broadbent, doesn't hurt either.
Moulin Rouge is pure spectacle in the manner of Dario Argento's 1978 horror movie Suspiria. Despite dealing with very different emotional sets, these two movies go together in my mind. They also fit nicely in the "love it or hate it" category. Baz Luhrmann's previous movies, Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet, were nice surprises for me; I expected each of them to be crap, but enjoyed both thoroughly. I ended up with high expectations for Moulin Rouge, and I was not disappointed. Toss your cynicism out the window and have fun with it.
Operazione paura (1966)
A great old-style horror movie
I've got a soft spot for horror movies that are horror movies through and through, with crumbling castles, vengeful ghosts, frightened villagers, period dress, etc. This is a particularly good one. Mario Bava is one of horror's premier stylists, second only to Dario Argento in my mind, and this is one of his best.
Operazione paura still works if you view it as a product of its time; you couldn't make it now with audience sophistication so much higher. But even if you can't overlook the cheesy plot and occasional silliness, you can watch it on mute and enjoy the continual painterly images that Bava has created. This is a visually beautiful movie.
Everyone else who's commented has spoiled this movie for you by saying explicitly what it's about. What a shame. I saw an excellent print of Anguish at the movies at the Incredibly Strange Film Festival in Wellington, New Zealand a few years ago, and it was great. It demands being watched in the cinema, preferably with Dolby. You'll know what I mean when you see it. Don't read anything else about it, just see it (you probably won't get a chance to see it theatrically so just rent the video). Bigas Luna is a great director (see also Reborn and Jamon Jamon).
Unusual and compelling (Christian) religious horror
Bigas Luna is a truly original filmmaker, and this is a very strange, but very interesting movie. It's kind of a second-coming movie, only very different from what you'd expect. Michael Moriarty and Dennis Hopper are both great. I'd mostly recommend it to fans of strange low-key horror.
Baron Blood is one of my favourite Mario Bava films. As usual, Bava seems dismissive of things like story, character and acting, and concentrates on creating a memorable mise-en-scene, which makes a lot of the juxtaposition of the old and the contemporary: an ancient castle with a Coke machine, Elke Sommer in a miniskirt running through old fog-shrouded streets, etc.
Immediately after Baron Blood, Bava filmed what I consider his masterpiece, Lisa and the Devil (also with Sommer) which was sacrificed by its producers to splice with new footage for an Exorcist ripoff called House of Exorcism. Baron Blood fared much better, suffering only from being rescored and cut by eight minutes. If you want to know where Dario Argento learned his tricks, look at Bava.
Pretty good, actually
I was surprised by this movie. It's not bad at all. It's basically your standard "psycho-in-a-strip-joint" movie, but this time the psycho is pretty memorable. Oh, and the main stripper is Maria Ford, who is incredibly gorgeous.
As movies set in strip joints go, this is nowhere near Exotica (obviously) but much better than Showgirls or Striptease.
When the drugs began to take hold...
Oh yes. Now this is the stuff. An absolutely 100% perfect movie version of Hunter S. Thompson's brilliant book seemed impossible, but Terry Gilliam did it. This movie has no faults.
A friend I saw it with said, "I could have done with less closeups of vomiting," but what does he know. "Fear & Loathing" is the best drug experience movie ever made, it's Terry Gilliam's best movie since "Brazil" and it's one of the best movies ever made, point blank.
You don't need drugs to appreciate this movie. It's all the drugs you'll ever need all by itself. Johnny Depp is superb as Duke (aka Hunter S. Thompson), Benicio Del Toro is perfect as Gonzo (aka Oscar Zeta Acosta), the supporting cast of familiar faces is brilliant. It's just the best movie ever, go see it. Oh man.
The greatest of all slasher flicks
Mm-mm, what a movie. Stage Fright (as it was called when I saw it) is easily the best slasher flick I've ever seen. It has everything: stylish cinematography; mean, nasty characters you want to see die; a likable heroine you want to see survive; many different weapons for especially-gruesome death scenes; a great cheesy '80s soundtrack, courtesy of Simon Boswell; and more blood than is usually shed in these things. Michele Soavi is the best Italian horror director since Dario Argento, and he even turns in a funny cameo as a cop in this, his directorial debut (if you discount his documentary on Argento).
Plus, after many disappointing, silly endings in other slasher movies, we finally get one that really delivers. Yeahhh! Watch it on a date with someone who likes chainsaws.
The Funeral (1996)
Another flawed Ferrara masterpiece
All of director Abel Ferrara's movies are deeply flawed, but he is willing to take you into darker places than almost any contemporary filmmaker. His best movies are the bleakest kind of cinematic art, and The Funeral is one of the best.
To complain about the lack of action in this gangster movie is to miss the entire point. This is a character study of people who have made choices in their lives that have left them without hope, in much the same way as Ferrara's "Bad Lieutenant". Although it is often pretentious and a little boring, it also contains many potent, unforgettable scenes, most notably those featuring Chris Penn, who I frankly didn't think could act until I saw this movie.
"The Funeral" is an unremittingly dark film that at times achieves a terrible beauty. I'm not sure that I would recommend it, but I am extremely glad to have seen it.
Manhattan Baby (1982)
My favourite Fulci film
Manhattan Baby is a dreamlike masterpiece. Director Lucio Fulci all but abandoned gore in this movie, instead giving us beautiful visuals, an onieric atmosphere and a story told totally in dream logic.
Fulci's obsession with eyes is well in evidence here, the main difference being that they're generally not being skewered this time around. This movie requires a lot of patience, and isn't one for gorehounds, but if you love Dario Argento's movies and don't mind plot incoherence, you should check this one out.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
A work of genius.
Hilarious and brutal, Mars Attacks! takes aim at America and scores a bullseye. This is the movie that should have made the bucks, not the flag-waving patriotic idiocy of Independence Day.
Jack Nicholson portrays the President as a man who is unable to come to any decision without asking everyone he knows what they think first. That sounds closer to reality than Bill Pullman's gung-ho hero to me.
The ensemble cast is great, particularly the women: Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Pam Grier, and of course Sylvia Sydney as Grandma. I took Mars Attacks!' failure at the US boxoffice as a sign of America's unwillingness to laugh at themselves, or even recognise their own faults.
Someone's Watching Me! (1978)
One of the best tv horrors
John Carpenter's first tv movie, Someone's Watching Me! is perhaps the best tv horror movie this side of The Night Stalker. Made, I believe, right after Halloween, it's obviously inspired by that movie, but also stands up on its own.
All of Carpenter's trademarks are present, from a strong female lead to some beautifully orchestrated scares. It's interesting to see his visual style, usually full cinemascope, applied to a tv screen.
Despite the cheesy title and tv pedigree, I'd rate Someone's Watching Me! up there with the best of Carpenter's early work. As of this writing, I don't think it's on tape. Why the hell not?
Night Train to Terror (1985)
A genuine classic
Night Train To Terror is a genuine modern classic. It's a three-part horror anthology edited from three movies, two of which were released separately (Cataclysm and The Death Wish Club) and the third of which was never properly finished. It doesn't make any damn sense, although Richard Moll appears in two segments complete with hair.
The stories are hosted by God (played by "Himself," really Ferdy Mayne) and Mr. Satan (played by "Lu Cipher," ha ha indeed) who sit on a train where a terrible breakdancing '80s band plays the same song over and over again. Highlights include, well pretty much everything. The first segment (the unfinished one) is the most extreme, featuring lots of sadistic violence and gratuitous nudity. The second, The Death Wish Club, is the weakest, although it's still basically a series of cheesy, fun death scenes. The third segment, Cataclysm, has been punched up with new footage of badly-animated stop motion monsters throwing dolls of the characters around.
Not one of the three stories is coherent, but the whole thing is immensely entertaining for fans of strange bad movies. Sit down with some friends and some kind of intoxicating substance (by which I obviously mean beer or other alcohol, I wouldn't advise anyone to take anything illegal, no sir) and you'll have a whale of a time with this one.