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Note: This list also ranks one or two mini-episodes that are of particular significance.
Note: I have completed and thoroughly explored the features of all these games.
Listed in order of release.
BEWARE OF SPOILERS!!
Note: If anyone on this list dies after 19/06/2012, they shall not be replaced.
The Horror is the Comedy
The directorial debut of Frank Marshall, otherwise known as the producer of everything you ever loved from the 1980's, Arachnophobia is a creature-feature that was heavily marketed as both a comedy and a horror film. It is one of the better regarded disaster films from the 1990's, the decade that saw a dramatic resurgence of the genre, with a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. At best, it deserves a low 60.
Strangely for a 90's disaster movie, Arachnophobia's acting and screen writing are both quite sturdy. The reliable Jeff Daniels plays a dry-witted but rather pleasant urbanite GP called Dr. Ross Jennings, who has arrived from San Francisco with his family (all of whom are played reasonably well). Jennings, who (big surprise here) suffers from arachnophobia, clashes with the colourful locals before having to confront a sodality of aesthetically displeasing arthropods from the rainforests of the Amazon. The plot is largely logical and believable in its progression, bar a few inexplicabilities here and there. While it is all rather run-of-the- mill, it is competent, enjoyable, and at times even clever.
But where the film thrives on writing and performance, it falls pathetically short of the mark on matters of tone and technical ingenuity. For being an individual with the titular phobia, I found this film profoundly flat and pedestrian. You'd think that if Alfred Hitchcock was able to instil blind terror with the mere sight of a flock of disgruntled birds, then Frank Marshall would be able to at least quietly unsettle with the image of spiders invading a living room. It would be unfair to say he did not manage to extract any terror from those scenes, but where Marshall could have spent a nice chunk of his 103 minute runtime building a pronounced aura of menace, he instead tries to crack jokes so tepid a late 80's sitcom wouldn't dare touch them with a ten-foot pole.
The film, quite simply, should not have been a comedy. Besides the Sam Raimi-esque camp of the climatic showdown between Jennings and the boss spiders, the jokes just do not work. Some of them are even downright grating. Halfway through the film, the arach-attacks start taking centre stage, and the narrative is given a sudden surge of suspense. What does the film do then? Why, it devotes an inordinate amount of our time to a stupid comic relief character called Delbert, because that makes sense. It's not as though there's infinitely more interesting material to be followed up about extremely venomous spiders; no, what we all need nay, what the 90's needed was an insect exterminator (played by John Goodman) whose entire humorous conceit is that he's fat, has a weirdly effeminate voice, and may or may not be very good at his job.
Worse still, the production values have a television film vibe about them, particularly the music. Composer Trevor Jones gets some nice strings and brass involved in the climax, but otherwise the whole thing sounds more dated than the incidental music for 'The X-Files'. Delbert's leitmotif is the undoubtedly the worst offender. You could overlay it on the 'Too Many Cooks' video and it would be a perfect fit.
The film's best moments are its scenes of rather understated horror. There's no grey-blue style Platinum Dunes lighting, few grating musical stings, and the actors never play fear as some grotesque pantomime of terror. It's subtle and it's sincere. In conclusion, Arachnophobia is an enjoyable but forgettable creature feature that might serve as appropriate viewing for a rainy Sunday afternoon, but little else.
Marble Hornets (2009)
Slender Men and Thin Plots
The Internet is a weird place. One moment it's making you laugh at Russian men with brilliantine hair and amazing eyebrows sing lyric- less songs from the 1970s, and the next it's making you scream at a tall albino in a nice suit who resides in a forest. The latter is of course the infamous Slenderman; a tall, vaguely Lovecraftian creature that feasts on your fears and is always, always watching you (despite not having a face). Though Slenderman originated on the forums of Something Awful, it was the ARG web series Marble Hornets that truly put the character on the map.
The premise of the series is relatively simple; a guy named Jay stumbles upon some tapes of an old friend's unfinished college movie that contain images of a creepy tall man stalking the production crew. From there, Jay gets embroiled in a Blair Witch-style scare fest where he desperately searches for answers.
Having finally concluded last year - adding up to a total of three seasons - Marble Hornets did tend to try its luck a bit when it came to concealing information from the audience. And much like other supernaturally-orientated mystery shows, it concluded with about as much resolution as a report commissioned by a bureaucratic committee. It also had a habit of being repetitive, with one episode out of every five using the 'wondering-aimlessly-through-the-forest- while-supernatural-freak-trolls-you' format. Yet what it lacked in originality it more than made recompense with good writing and a meticulously-conceived atmosphere of foreboding.
And if none of that sells it for you, just imagine the game Slender as a web series. That should do the trick. Best avoid though if you're the sort who masturbates to the thought of Damon Lindelof and his ilk being strangled by the threads of his own tangled 'plotting'.
The Moonraker Blows
Most agree that the 70s was not kind to 007. It was an age of dramatic change and rebellion, where the auteur and the art-house were fully realised as commodities and the exploitation genre arose from a lack of the social inhibition that the previous decades so delicately cultivated. The Bond films, too civilised to be exploitation and too mainstream to be art-house, had simply lost their audience. That was until 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me, which shocked many by embracing the uniqueness of Bond instead of limply re-contextualising the spy in then popular genres like Blaxploitation and Kung-Fu. It was fresh, it was inventive, it was over-the-top, and it was strangely poignant in regards to the treatment of Roger Moore's lothario Bond. It was, in short, a resurrection, attracting rave reviews and great box office.
So producer Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli, having made Bond cool again, was faced with the unenviable task of preserving said coolness. So what does he do? He makes the same film IN SPACE! Enter 1979's Moonraker. And let me tell you, dear readers, I'm not joking about this being the same film. As a bit of an interesting exercise, try comparing the opening sequences of 'Moonraker' and 'Spy'. Perhaps you may notice a few similarities, like the villain hijacking a vehicle, M asking for 007 and getting an innuendo, Bond being lured into a honey trap by villains who want him dead for vaguely defined reasons, and finally Bond in free fall until the last minute when he suddenly has a parachute. Yeah, original.
And the similarities don't end there! You also get a billionaire Blofeld surrogate (this one played rather well by Michael Lonsdale) with a plot to destroy the world, Jaws, a rival intelligence agent as Bond girl, and a final scene where Bond embarrasses his superiors by engaging in a round of decidedly un-private fornication. I understand that a franchise as long running as the Bond series cannot avoid repetition, but this is ridiculous!
Even where this film does distinguish itself from its predecessor, it is flagrantly ripping off Star Wars. The final thirty minutes of this picture essentially constitute the highlights of that picture with a smug, alcoholic, sex-crazed sociopath thrown into the mix. The special effects are laudable, but you barely notice for all the Megalodon- jumping camp they represent.
And speaking of 'jumping the shark', what precisely were the producers thinking when they conceived of a hovercraft gondola? And a midget girlfriend for Jaws? AND A BLOODY DOUBLE-BLOODY-TAKE PIGEON!
What I find particularly aggravating about this film, though, is how little it resembles the book it is based on. Ian Fleming's Moonraker was one of the better entries in his iconic espionage series, with a simple yet suspenseful plot and some good, old-fashioned racism against the Germans, and to not see it realised on the big-screen simply because it wasn't 'ambitious enough' for Broccoli's tastes is utterly infuriating.
This is undoubtedly my least favourite Bond movie. Even Roger Moore, who I unashamedly love as Bond, couldn't save it. In fact, his persona is so exaggerated for this instalment that he comes dangerously close to being insufferable. The film does have some positive qualities the mise-en-scene is lovely and John Barry delivers another superlative score (though his lyrics for the theme song are straight out of a George Lucas movie) but in the end the whole product amounts to an utterly horrid piece of self-depreciating camp that revels in the fact it doesn't give a damn anymore about telling a compelling story.
Klaatu Barada Keanu
1951's 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' was one of the better tales of spacial conflict from an era that was otherwise rather lacking in intelligent sci-fi. Unlike its peers, 'Day' was more of a cautionary tale about nuclear warfare than it was B-grade exploitation. It centred around an alien named 'Klaatu' who came to earth on behalf of a group of alien civilisations to warn mankind that, if we did not cease and desist with our atomic shenanigans, than we would, for lack of a better phrase, be turned into puppy chow.
Although some parts of Robert Wise's film have not aged particularly well, such as the awkward Americana and the inexplicable decision of the aliens to land specifically in Washington DC when there are over a hundred different Earth capitals that would surely have offered equally impressive photo opportunities, they're all relatively minor sniggles that ultimately do not detract from the enjoyment of what is a clever, thoughtful, and even occasionally witty piece of Cold-War sci-fi.
The same, however, cannot be said for the 'sniggles' I have with the 2008 remake of the film.
Forgetting the bland performances, the humdrum special effects, and the prosaic direction, this film still manages to be shockingly bad on the level of how it tackles some of the admittedly interesting ethical conundrums it sets out to explore, mainly because it mistakes its solutions to these problems as foreshadowing an advancement in human evolution when really they just mark the beginning of an arduously prolonged and humiliating end for the species. But even though I love the original, don't think I regard this film with pronounced vitriol just because it isn't an exact replica. I'm perfectly willing to admit that that film had its problems (some of which I outlined above), and I'm even willing to admit that I found Keanu Reeves' Klaatu a lot more interesting than Michael Rennie's take on the character (though I still regard the latter portrayal affectionately), but it's a pretty sad indictment of a film to say that the best thing in it is Keanu Reeves' acting.
Also, Jaden Smith might possibly be the worst actor in the history of the world. Just putting that out there.
The Boys from Brazil (1978)
Stupid, But Fun
Ira Levin's novels were known for containing outlandish plots that, against all odds, appeared plausible due to the understated way with which they were portrayed. What they were not known for was an intelligent prose style. As such, they were perfect fodder for film adaptations. After 'The Stepford Wives', 'Rosemary's Baby', and 'A Kiss Before Dying' were successfully brought to the screen, 'The Boys From Brazil' was the next viable candidate for the film treatment. And for good reason. It's plot - which I refuse to impart - is so absurd that even William S. Burroughs would do a double take. All the film needed to excel was a fresh-faced auteur with a knack for subtlety and nuance to capture the quiet menace of Levin's novels. Instead, it got Franklin J. Schaffner. Now we have Laurence Olivier as a Jewish grandpa, Gregory Peck as a Nazi (Dr. Josef Mengele, to be precise), and Steve Guttenberg as a Zionist. And that's only the first fifteen minutes...
However, whilst Schaffner abandons any attempt at capturing the quiet menace of the book, he does deliver the sort of well-structured, competently made thriller that an old-school director of his ilk is so adept at making. You're intrigued to follow Olivier's Yiddish caricature around the world as he pieces together the perverse conspiracy, encountering bizarre, scene-stealing characters along the way played by the likes of Rosemary Harris, Uta Hagen (making a rare film appearance), and Bruno Ganz. And you're intrigued to watch a group of Nazis viciously and spectacularly murder a bunch of old guys for no apparent reason, especially when Peck is hamming it up as their leader.
It's a seventies thriller through and through, replete with killer Dobermans and a gloriously Germanic score by Jerry Goldsmith that could legitimately rival the best of Wagner and the Strauss dynasty. You either like that sort of thing or you don't. But for my money, it's cheesy, it's stupid, and it is VERY memorable.
The Company You Keep (2012)
In the wake of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, it's only appropriate that we should get a generic political thriller to remind us of one of the US' earlier international farces: the Vietnam War. 'The Company You Keep', directed by and starring Robert Redford (yeah, he's still alive), is that thriller.
Redford plays Jim Grant, a widowed lawyer and father who gets exposed by investigative journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) as a former member of Weather Underground (Google it) responsible for the death of a security guard during a botched bank robbery. Forced to go on the run, Grant must dodge the police as Shepard starts to doubt whether Grant is actually guilty of the guard's murder.
Seeking to combine a chase movie with a detective story, the film is bogged down by superfluous characters, caricatured villains, and a third-act that feels more like a soap-opera than a suspense picture. I wouldn't go so far as to say the film has a bad script, but it does have a clunky one. What makes this even more egregious is that 'Company' is filled to the brim with great veteran actors such as Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Julie Christie, and Susan Surandon (to name a few ), which almost always indicates that the producers have less faith in the script than they do that a Justice League film will actually be made (we all know it won't).
I don't want to make out that this was a bad film, though. In its own unambitious and minor way, it's reasonably entertaining. It could be argued that the actors alone are worth the price of admission. But I can assure you of one thing: when you leave the multiplexes after seeing this, you'll be hard pressed to remember even the last minute of it.
Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to View
THIS REVIEW IS ON THE THEATRICAL CUT OF THE FILM
Spielberg, what horror have you wrought?
Buoyed by the success of 'Jaws' and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (both films that I consider to be somewhat overrated), the young auteur Steven Spielberg decided that the time was right for a vanity project. The project? A screwball WWII film littered with numbing spectacles straight out of Cecil B. Demille's period epics.
On paper, such a project boasts great potential. One cannot deny that, amid all the atrocities and horrors of the Second World War, there was an underlining sense of heightened and morbidly hilarious tragedy that, in the right hands, would be the perfect fodder for farce. It also has the added benefit of attracting the adoration of critics for it's gutsy agenda and subject matter. Yet, through the lens of one of Earth's most naturally gifted filmmakers, it is an unparalleled abomination of comedy.
If one wanted to summarise in a mere four words just what is wrong with this film, I would humbly suggest that you use these so ordained vocables: 'IT NEVER SHUTS UP!' Every single second of '1941' is filled with explosions, car crashes, plane crashes, brawling, and gun fights. I gathered that the film was supposed to be a farce, but farces only really work when one has a sense of escalating catastrophe. With '1941', there is no sense of escalation because nothing really escalates; it's uninhibitedly mad from the get-go and it's uninhibitedly mad by the end. Indeed, the only vaguely quiet scenes in this film are those featuring the villains (Toshiro Mifune and the great Christopher Lee deserve to have their name associated with a better Spielberg picture than this), and even they are sullied by a grating cameo by Slim Pickens.
The controlled and demonstrably contrived anarchy of '1941' made the hour and fifty minutes it took to watch this film feel like the longest and most grueling one hour and fifty minutes of my life. It's not that I have a distaste for screwball shenanigans, considering that almost all of my favourite comedies in some shape or form incorporate such pantomimic elements of that titanic arena of absurdity that we call farce; it's more that I dislike comedies that have almost no concept of the constitutions of a good joke. Though such a thing is considered subjective, I dare you to deny that my definition is an all-encompassing one. The constitutions, or rather constitution, of a good joke is a sharp contrast. Take any joke, good or bad, and you'll find that the reason it is either good or bad is because the contrast between two separate ideas is either elegantly or poorly highlighted.
Well, the contrast in '1941' is very, very poorly highlighted. I'm guessing, from the film's narrative, that it was something along the lines of 'War is a serious business, but the participants are adult children'. Well, it gets the 'adult children' aspect right, what with the crew of a Japanese submarine emerging from the water with a naked night swimmer on their periscope and fighter pilots blowing up the petrol stations of innocent, elderly citizens to the sound of heroic themes by John Williams; and what with US military personal rioting in Hollywood Boulevard whilst a Benny Hill sex romp ensues between a zoot suit wearing dancer and a sex-crazed soldier (that culminates in what appears to be a rape... charming) and an officer having sex with a girl he fancies as the two pilot an aeroplane over a crowded city with reckless abandon; aaannnndddd what with a platoon shooting out lights in Hollywood Boulevard whilst people are still standing beneath them just because an air raid siren has sounded and a black out has not gone into immediate effect... AND WHAT WITH civilian patrolmen stationing themselves in Ferris Wheels that can somehow roll perfectly down peers just in case any 'Japs' show up on the horizon (which of course they do).
What it doesn't do is highlight anything resembling the reality of war, something the film sorely needed to do if it wanted to get a laugh out of us during the many elaborately choreographed slapstick sequences that I'm sure cost more money than the United States presently owes to China to film. Instead, we get innumerable scenes of intricate physical comedy that seems uncertain about whether it wants to emulate Jacques Tati or 'The Three Stooges'.
Perhaps I wouldn't mind so much if the film had some colourful dialogue that I could endlessly quote to befuddled acquaintances. But it doesn't. In fact, the film has so little wit that I'd swear it was a big-budgeted 'Death at a Funeral', but then I would be doing that film a disservice for failing to acknowledge it's ability to recognise a need for contrast. The only vaguely witty jokes in this film are the ones about ethnicity, and it's a bit of a sad thing when the best jokes that a big-budget film like this can cough up are to do with such a pedestrian topic.
And it's almost pitiful that the man responsible for such brilliant films as 'Duel', 'Schindler's List', and 'Minority Report' can produce something so obnoxiously unfunny. And I thought 'The Terminal' was bad...
After Hours (1985)
A Scorcese Comedy Doesn't Sound Right for a Reason
Martin Scorsese's idiosyncratic 'After Hours' is, if nothing else, an interesting film. It explores thematic and visual avenues that most films would barely dream of exploring. Regrettably, it chooses to pursue these avenues through comedic means rather than dramatic or thrilling quasi-philosophical ones, which is highly detrimental toward any effort to maintain the paramount stable of great comedy: that every single scene and story element must have some type of structural or humorous payoff. This is not always necessary with thrillers or epics (though it is certainly beneficial), but with comedies it is absolutely mandatory. It is arguably the cinematic equivalent of telling a joke well; no matter how witty or inherently funny the concepts that are addressed within the gag are, the transference of the joke teller's understanding of the humorous merit of those concepts will only be actuated successfully if every cadence (camera shot), pause (edit), and phonetic (actor) involved in the regalement is predetermined with tremendous precision. Frankly, Scorsese just wasn't up to the task.
The editing is just absurdly ostentatious. We're not even ten seconds into the film before over two dozen shots are thrown at us. Once again, if this was some type of Nicholas Roeg-esque Lovecraftian Horror film (or a pop-political conspiracy movie), that would all fine and dandy, but this is a midnight Kafkaesque cringe comedy an emotionally disturbed 'Out-of-Towners', if you will ; we're not supposed to get a headache until the third act! It was a sign of Scorsese' declining adeptness as a filmmaker, really, and it is perhaps the recognition of these tragic auspices of directorial ineptitude that make the film just that little bit harder to watch. Yet, while the editing is distracting, 'After Hours' is no 'Cape Fear (1991)'.
The screenplay brazenly borders the line between Daedalian farce and abrasive pointlessness, revealing its amateurish design with every plot turn (though more frequently 'plot contrivance') and development. By no means aiding the credibility of the script is the fact that the writer, Joseph Minion, plagiarised a good deal of the damn thing (some esoteric comedian's standup routine was the primary fatality). There are flashes of genius in it, of course (a cash register key is a surprisingly efficient plot device), but the lack of polish is really quite repellent at times.
I suppose 'After Hours' is successful at being a work of particularly grim jocularity, but it is essentially the cinematic equivalent of a joke without a punchline. With less Kafka and more farcical frivolity, the end product might have been an open-ended joke of a more satisfying mould.
Me and the Big Guy (1999)
Comic Relief from Orwellian Dystopia
Whether you love it or loathe it (I am of the former category), you cannot deny that reading George Orwell's modern literary Dystopian classic is one hell of a depressing experience. The book realises every fear that one could possibly harbour against governments, feeding the reader's suspicions of 'their obedient servants' possible totalitarian tendencies and reducing them to nothing but paranoid carapaces of their former selves. Well, this little known comedy short should act as the perfect tonic for accelerating your convalescence.
'Me and the Big Guy' tells the story of Citizen 43275-B, a subject of the oppressive Oceanian regime, whom eerily celebrates his oppressed lifestyle whilst maintaining a disposition so jovial that any sane man would want to put a bullet in the back of his head within five minutes of meeting him. Each and every evening, he returns to his sterile apartment to engage in a somewhat one-sided conversation with a live, two-way video-feed of 'the Big Guy' (known by the greater populace as 'Big Brother'). One day, after Citizen 43275-B tells a story so mind- numbingly inane that even the cast of that pathetic sitcom 'Gavin and Stacy' would take offense, 'the Big Guy' vents his frustrations on this scrawny dapifer of verbal diarrhea and, after 43275-B tries to play word games and all other manner of flippant activities with the very manifestation of omniscient authoritarian callousness, permanently shuts off the surveillance feed. It is then that we learn that 43275-B is in fact a closet political dissenter and aspiring revolutionary whom has just tricked the pansophical Big Brother into switching off the telescreen. 43275-B then retrieves a hidden diary and mentally recites an alleged quotation from Jean-Paul Sartre: "So long as a man can look into the eyes of his oppressor, he is free."
It is a genuinely inspirational message (a rarity) that makes you wonder why Winston Smith just didn't feign masochistic inclinations when O'Brien was 'coercing' him into proclaiming that two plus two equals five. For that matter, why was he so blatantly morose all the time?! Surely the thought police would have been focusing their iniquitous gazes on the introverted intellectuals rather than the loud and obnoxious patriots. As Mel Brooks once said, 'if you're loud and annoying, people don't notice you'.
In terms of the short's production values and acting, I wasn't exactly mesmerised. The two principles were by no means bad, but neither did they exactly excel at playing their respective parts. Frankly though, none of that interests me here. I was just too damned inspired by that supposed quotation.
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
A Dull Dostoyevsky Dramedy
If one is going to merge two short films together, one should at least establish stronger links between them (a tenuous one in the form of a blind Rabbi simply does not suffice). Yet Woody Allen is evidently content with the near-terminal drudgery of his screenplay as he directs his duel tale of existentialist infidelity and Jewish despondency.
To give you a brief overview of these stories, half of the film follows the catastrophic developments of affluent ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal's (Martin Landau) affair with emotionally volatile stewardess Dolores Paley (Angelica Huston). Dolores wants Judah to annul his marriage to the blissfully ignorant Miriam (Claire Bloom), but Judah is not too keen on the prospect. Unfortunately, Paley is not too keen either on the prospect of Judah just discarding her like a Mark Twain novel and decides to put pressure on her lover. This proves to be an unacuminous move on her part as Judah recruits his brother to annul her metabolic processes. It works, but Judah ends up having moral reservations over the murder. The other half of the film depicts the HI-larious trials and tribulations of frustrated filmmaker Clifford Stern (Woody Allen) as he is forced by his disenchanted wife (Joanna Gleason) to direct a documentary about his successful and impossibly obnoxious brother-in-law Lester (a very amusing Alan Alda). However, Clifford is bewitched by one of the film's producers, a woman named Halley Reed (Mia Farrow).
The film, of course, ends with the separate protagonists meeting by happenstance at a wedding reception and engaging in a pseudo- philosophical discussion about the nature of guilt and the unfairness of the universe. And, Allen, of course, has to telegraph his nihilistic leanings by having amoral cad Judah 'walk off into the sunset', as it were, and Lilliputian moralist Clifford look morosely into the camera. An Oscar nominated script, people!
It just defies believe that the screenplay for this film was actually nominated for an Academy Award. How exactly can great Gordian farces like 'Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)', 'Kind Hearts and Coronets', 'Nuns on the Run', 'The Dinner Game', and 'Burn After Reading' be snubbed whilst blunderous trite like this gets a top mention? Now, I have always tried to respect the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their encouragement of higher technological and intellectual content in films, but really, the Academy is not doing themselves any favours by blindly bestowing Oscar nominations on venerated screenwriters just because they are venerated. It was bad enough that 'Raging Bull' lost to 'Ordinary People' for Best Picture in 1981 and that 'Miller's Crossing' was all but entirely snubbed during the 1991 Oscars.
Thankfully, Woody Allen's sophisticated and intermittently acerbic wit prevents the task of viewing this film from falling into a level of internal haemorrhage inducement. The acting is generally passable, too. And, to Allen's credit, he did make a penance for his sins with 2005's 'Match Point', a true Hitchcockian triumph whose screenplay was deservingly nominated for an Oscar.