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|137 reviews in total|
High Tension is the film that launched Alexandre Aja's international
career, winning him the director's seat for the recent "The Hill Have
Eyes" remake. It is not hard to see why High Tension garnered Aja so
much attention. The film is wonderfully gory in a way which hearkens
back to glory days of horror excess in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the
film is hampered by one of the worst central characters in horror
history and a criminally stupid plot twist that essentially ruins the
entire film, eroding all of the "high tension" that had been brewing.
The film starts with the simple premise of two female university students, Alex and Marie, going to stay with Alex's family in the French countryside. Marie barely has time to spy on Alex in the shower and masturbate (as you do), before a stranger knocks on the door and proceeds to slaughter Alex's family. The violence is visually stunning, with Alex's parents suffering particularly brutal deaths. The gore is for the most part extremely well done, with the exception of the incredibly fake piano decapitation.
While the stranger methodically kills Alex's family and hog ties Alex, Marie hides under the bed. This is the first in a long series of events that makes Marie such a dire horror heroine. She silently watches the family being slaughtered, never thinking to intervene. Marie even watches the killer pursue a child and her only response is to search around for a telephone. This behaviour might be a smart way to stay alive but it makes for a rather unsympathetic heroine. Things get worse as Alex is kidnapped and Marie hides in the van. Marie's most helpful action is to tell Alex to "shut the f**k up".
The entire film spins out of control from the point when Marie leaves the van at a petrol station and decides to go all Rambo and rescue Alex. The change in attitude is so unsubtle that the ludicrous twist comes as little surprise. I'm all for directors trying to be inventive, just not to the detriment of their film's credibility (which in this case, was rather stretched to begin with). This twist leaves so many questions unanswered that it is simply insults the viewer. I don't like to be spoon fed by a director, but some plausibility would be nice.
Despite the general atrociousness of the film's last half an hour, there is some relief in the form of an awesome chainsaw death and a rather grim injury from a shard of glass. Aja does straightforward horror so well, I wish he would just steer clear of trying to create psychological drama for the rest of his career. Apart from the gore, this film has little to offer. Cecile De France is completely unappealing as Marie. Her transformation is unconvincing and poorly conveyed. The rest of the cast is competent but not exactly dazzling.
High Tension is an interesting addition to the horror genre. Aja handles the blood and gore with the deftness of an expert. I just hope his future output is not marred by the sheer stupidity that permeates this film.
Scott Ryan has fashioned a spectacular debut film on literally the
sniff of a wet rag. The Magician displays a level of ingenuity and
confidence rarely seen in the Australian film industry. This film
certainly makes a mockery of all the crud that has been churned out
lately with significant AFC funding.
The Magician is a very funny mockumentary about a hit-man, Ray. The film is really nothing more than a series of vignettes which show Ray carrying out his occupation and chatting with the documentary filmmaker, Max. This film really should have been an exercise in boredom. However, The Magician manages to be one of the most entertaining Australian films to see the light of day in a long time, almost entirely due to the efforts of writer/director/actor Scott Ryan. Scott Ryan is mesmerising as Ray. This character manages to be abhorrent, hilarious and strangely moral without ever slipping into parody. As well as making a convincing hit-man, Ray is also the perfect mouthpiece for Ryan's witty jabs at everything from the legalisation of drugs, to the prevalence of gays in Hollywood.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film for me is that it is so Australian-centric, for want of a better word. This film isn't trying to imitate Tarantino (like ever other debut film featuring a gun fight), nor is it making a desperate grab for international attention, like most of the dreary "quirky" (i.e. crap) comedies receiving funding from the government. The result is a highly distinctive film that feels completely original.
There are a couple of minor problems with the film that most likely stem from the tiny budget. With the exception of Scott Ryan's fine performance, and perhaps Ben Walker's engaging turn as Tony, the other actors are clearly amateurs. The character of Max is also somewhat perplexing. There is no explanation for his rather amoral and perversely non-judgemental approach to documentary film-making. The extensive use of Max's hand-held camera is also somewhat disorientating to begin with. My biggest complaint would have to be the film's ending, which seems forced and came around much too quickly.
I'm glad that films like The Magician can still get made in this country and I hope that it works as a calling card for the outrageously talented Scott Ryan. I'm really perplexed why it (or "Wolf Creek" for that matter) didn't win a swag of AFI awards. I guess that both films made the mistake of actually being entertaining.
Akshay Kumar, India's answer to David Hasselhof, stars in yet another
Bollywood melodrama about a doomed love triangle. Hum Ko Deewana Kar
Gaye is one of his least entertaining efforts, mainly due to the fact
that the film lacks the action sequences which make Akshay's films
Hum Ko Deewana Kar Gaye revolves around a pretty standard love triangle. Akshay plays Aditya, an auto engineer who is engaged to Soniya, a fashion designer. While on a business trip to Canada, Aditya falls in love with Jia, who in turn, is engaged to the rich and powerful Karan. Everything proceeds rather predictably, with Jia and Aditya slowly becoming closer without being unfaithful to their fiancés.
The film is not particularly bad, just overly formulaic and unusually boring. Hum Ko Deewana Kar Gaye focuses on the developing romance between Aditya and Jai, ignoring the usual action sequences that Akshay is famous for. There is only one fight scene in which Aditya battles three thieves. The musical interludes are also less entertaining than usual. There is a fun musical number in a restaurant when the family drink spiked juice and another hilariously over the top segment in which Aditya and Jia sing while riding a motorbike and dance on top of snowy mountain peaks. Unfortunately, such scenes are few and far between.
In addition to the inimitable Akshay, the cast includes several rising Bollywood stars. Katrina Kaif is lovely as the emotionally torn Jia, while the ridiculously beautiful Bipasha Basu shines as bitchy Soniya. Vivek Shaq also offers some much needed comedy relief as Nawab. Despite these fine performances, the film really revolves around Ashkay and he provides further evidence for being the cheesiest actor ever to grace the silver screen. And yet, I see all of his films. Go figure.
Hum Ko Deewana Kar Gaye is worth checking out on video or DVD, when you can fast forward all of the romantic rubbish and enjoy the hilarious dance numbers.
As far as recent creature movies go, The Cave is actually pretty good
if you overlook the idiotic script, bad acting and shameless stealing
from "Alien". In my opinion, the film more than compensates for these
failings with stunning underwater photography, stylish direction,
impressive stunt work and a rather cool flying demon.
The Cave is so stupid, it almost hurts. The whole premise of cave dwelling Romanian parasites that turn people into flying demons is really scraping the bottom of the entertainment barrel. Personally, I couldn't care less. The plot provides an excuse to send a group of good looking (if rather talentless) actors into the caves and the director makes the most of the spectacular location by staging a series of set pieces involving diving, caving, rock climbing and abseiling - usually with one of those crazy Romanian demons in hot pursuit.
The star of the film really is the location and the beautiful photography. The Cave is one of the few recent films that I wish I had seen on the big screen instead of on DVD. The cinematography is spectacular. I was not surprised to learn that Bruce Hunt was an assistant director on the "Matrix" films and "Dark City". He does a good job of creating a brooding atmosphere and exploits the claustrophobic location for all it is worth. The film also benefits from some exciting stunt work and competent creature effects. It's a shame that the creatures have such little screen time. Their acting performances were far superior to those of the humans.
The most distracting element about the film for me was the dire performances. While not exactly an A-list cast, the actors are not novices. Cole Hauser, Eddie Cibrian and Piper Perabo are usually better than this. Members of their group die violent deaths and no one bats an eyelid, despite the fact that they are all supposed to be old friends. My favourite bad acting moment is when Lena Headey nonchalantly diagnoses that Jack is transforming into a cave demon. From her facial expression and tone you would think that Jack's condition is as exotic as the common cold. In addition to the acting, I was disappointed by the lack of gore. With the exception of one decapitation, the film is strangely tame.
The Cave is dumb fun. The film never wastes time trying to be credible. Instead, it aims to be entertaining and it succeeds.
Cut and Run is one of Deodato's strangest films due to the bizarre mix
of genres. The film balances horror, action and adventure elements with
gritty cocaine smuggling and hostage situation subplots. There is even
an Apocalypse Now inspired crazy Colonel living with natives in the
jungle. To say that the film bites off more than it can chew is an
understatement, but that the fact that the film works at all is a great
testament to Deodato's unique talent.
There is little point passing comment on the film's plot because it virtually makes no sense. There is, for example, no explanation at how the Indian killings in the Amazon jungle simultaneously take place in Miami and the entire subplot involving Colonel Horne remains a mystery. The jumbled plot does have the advantage of giving Deodato the opportunity to dabble in different genres and he shows yet again why he is such an underrated filmmaker. Deodato's direction is technically brilliant and he brings his usual sense of flair to the film's action and horror set pieces. The dramatic moments are less successfully handled and unusually for a Deodato film, some sentimentality creeps in towards the end of the film.
The film really picks up every time the Indians attack. Horror fans might be annoyed by the infrequency of the gore, but when the killings do occur, Deodato does not disappoint. There are beheadings, spears through the neck, darts in the neck and one of Deodato's best ever deaths when a man is literally ripped limb from limb (according to Deodato, inspired by the Vietcong). Part of the fun is watching legendary genre actor Michael Berryman camping it up as a demented Indian. He has several great moments in what is one of his more memorable roles. The other actors are also pretty good. Lisa Blount makes an impression as Fran and Richard Lynch always does a good job of acting crazy, making a perfect Colonel Horne.
Also worth a mention are Claudio Simonetti's great synth score and the beautiful photography of the jungle landscape (Venezuela doubling for Colombia). Fans of Deodato should check out the accompanying "Uncut and Run" documentary in which Deodato rather amusingly talks about the shoot, stealing Wes Craven's job as the director and even bluntly says which actors he did not enjoy working with. Cut and Run might lack cohesion but it remains a highly enjoyable minor work from a truly great director.
Class of Nuke 'Em High is one of Troma's best loved and most seen
films. This film helped to define the Troma formula that crap addicts
the world over would grow to love - gory violence, gratuitous nudity
and black humour, all mixed with a large dose of irony and an
incredible lack of taste.
Class of Nuke 'Em High was released just after "The Toxic Avenger" and it shares a similar nuclear theme. In this case, a nuclear waste facility is leaking toxic goo into the local high school with some rather unfortunate consequences for the student body. Unlike the poor nerd in the film's brilliant opening sequence, our heroes are not directly exposed to the toxic waste. Rather, Warren and Chrissy smoke marijuana grown on the grounds of the nuclear power plant. This ultra-potent pot not only makes Chrissy incredibly horny, but mutates her unborn child and imbues Warren with super-human strength.
The film then focuses on Warren's rivalry with the Cretins (former honours students who have turned into freaks after smoking one too many toxic joints) and Chrissy's rampaging miscarried foetus (which lives in the toilet and hides out in a vat of toxic waste). These situations provide the filmmakers with plenty of opportunities for hilarious sight gags, gory violence and camp action - and they deliver.
As with much of Troma's early output, this film has been crafted with considerable care and attention to detail, despite budgetary restrictions. The plot has its own ludicrous sense of logic and the direction is captivating - Kaufman, Herz and Richard W. Haines all share a directorial credit but the action sequences reek of Kaufman's mercurial style. I love the scene where Warren literally punches one of the cretins through the mouth, down into his chest. The special effects also deserve a mention. The creature effects used for Chrissy's mutant foetus are hilarious.
The Class of Nuke 'Em High does not quite match "The Toxic Avenger" for originality or style, but it is a great example of what Troma does better than any other studio and why they are still around 20 years later.
Poor White Trash is an unexpected treat. I hired this movie thinking it
would either be a gross-out comedy or trashy action film, which was a
pretty fair assumption, given the tacky packaging on which Jaime
Pressly brandishes a huge gun and even bigger cleavage. In actual fact,
Poor White Trash turns out to be an astutely observed, sweet natured
comedy about family values.
The film revolves around the unusual mother/son relationship between Linda and Mikey. Mikey dreams of becoming a psychiatrist and Linda will do just about anything to help him get to college. When Mikey and his best friend, Lennie, get arrested for stealing imitation beer, Linda and the boys begin a hugely inept crime spree in order to finance his defence and college tuition. Helping them along the way is Brian, a younger man who Linda picks up in a bar.
Sean Young makes an astounding return to form as Linda. After stumbling through the 90s in string of bad TV movies, Sean displays some of the ability that briefly made her a major star in the late 80s. Her performance is brilliantly judged, conveying Linda's world weary desperation in a convincing and hilarious manner. Tony Denman and Jacob Tierney show a lot of promise as Mikey and Lennie. I'm surprised that they have not gone on to bigger and better things since this film. Jason London turns in another good performance as Brian, I'm really not sure why this talented actor seems to be stuck in low budget movie hell. It's also great to see former scream queen Danielle Harris as an ex-Crystal addict waitress. Oh and forget the poster. Jaime Pressly's role is little more than a cameo, meaning she only manages to taint the film very briefly with her extraordinary lack of acting ability.
Michael Addis deserves a lot of credit for a very funny script, which unlike many recent comedies about "poor white trash", manages to be funny without ridiculing the characters and their circumstances. The dialogue is witty and memorable (About Hank Williams - "turn off that drug addict and put on some Garth!") and the sight gags are generally pretty clever. The film does lose its way towards the end, descending slightly into farce, but the good natured conclusion draws the film to a satisfying conclusion.
Poor White Trash is a surprisingly well made film, bursting with memorable performances from a very talented cast. This movie is well worth seeking out.
1900 is not Bertolucci's best film. That honour would go to his one
true masterpiece, "Il Conformista". It is, however, his last great film
before a 1980s slide into movie mediocrity that only recently showed
signs of coming to a halt with "The Dreamers". 1900 encapsulates all
that was great about Bertolucci - confronting themes, stunning visuals,
copious nudity and lashings of gratuitous violence. Unfortunately, 1900
also contains some of the rot that would later stain his output to an
increasingly large extent.
Despite the colossal five and a half hour running time, 1900 is, at heart, a rather simple tale of friendship between Alfredo, born into nobility, and Olmo, a peasant. This friendship is set against the political landscape of early 20th century Italy, with the rise and fall of fascism and the growing influence of socialism. 1900 succeeds brilliantly when examining the central relationship between Alfredo and Olmo, and their vastly different experiences with fascism. It is far less successful at conveying the context of events, wallowing happily in stereotypes and historical inaccuracies. Bertolucci has a message and he is intent on relentlessly beating the viewer over the head with it.
The clumsy handling of historical events is not the only problem with 1900. Like many of his later films, Bertolucci strongly favours style over substance. Every effort has been made to turn the film into a visual feast, yet considerably less effort has gone into the film's plot, character development and dialogue. Characters haphazardly appear and disappear, there are various pointless subplots which detract from the film's momentum and the minor characters are such caricatures that 1900 sometimes feels more like an incredibly elaborate soap opera (with lots of animal violence and frontal nudity) than the masterpiece it is held out to be.
Despite these many flaws, 1900 somehow manages to hold your attention over the most of the running time and offers some of the most arresting and unforgettable images captured on film. 1900 benefits immeasurably from Bertolucci's inspired direction, which is effortlessly beautiful and fluid. The performances are similarly magnificent. Gerard Depardieu is especially fine as Olmo. He is engaging and utterly convincing. Robert De Niro reminds you how good an actor he used to be in the role of Alfredo. While the beautiful Dominique Sanda almost steals the show as Ada, the only three dimensional female character in the film. I particularly love the scene where she pretends to be blind at a dance. Donald Sutherland, never the most subtle of actors, is so over the top as the evil Attila that it almost defies belief. This degree of overacting would shock Christopher Walken. Nevertheless, there is something mesmerising about his creepy performance and his character is responsible for some of the film's most shocking images.
1900 is still a controversial film by today's standards. The penis fondling depicted in the infamous threesome scene may pale in comparison to the rampant sexual activity contained in films like "Nine Songs" and "Intimacy", but the shock value of the child murder and animal cruelty is undiminished. I really hope that was a "stunt kitten". I also can't say I've seen too many recent films which show an old man explicitly rubbing a horse's anus to stimulate defecation. Bertolucci's talent is such that these confronting images are captured with the same sense of poetry as those which are intrinsically beautiful.
1900 is a film that demands your attention. It may not be able to keep it over the full five and a half hours, but it comes very close. Though occasionally frustrating and uneven, 1900 is a film that is hard to ignore and even harder to forget.
The Legend of the Chupacabra belongs to that sub-genre of Horror
involving documentary filmmakers capturing horrific events before
usually dying a very unpleasant death. These films range from the
sublime ("Cannibal Holocaust") to the ridiculous ("The Blair Witch
Project"). This film belongs to the latter category but it is far more
entertaining than "The Blair Witch Project" because something actually
happens in this movie - it does not simply involve an ugly woman
speaking into a camera.
The Legend of the Chupacabra can really only loosely be described as a horror movie. The film is in no way scary, just a little bit gross in the tried and true Troma fashion. Troma has distributed far better movies, but this one is camp and ridiculous enough to be worthy of carrying the Troma seal of approval. Apart from the mildly amusing spoof of "The Blair Witch Project", the main reasons to watch this film are the intentionally atrocious special effects and the amazing latex Chupacabra suit.
The special effects in this film are a joy to behold. I haven't seen anything as crap-tastic as the paper-mache corpses that litter the Chupacabra's lair in a long time. Almost as funny are the fluffy toy animals used as slain goats and the severing of an obviously plastic arm. However, it is the breathtakingly obvious latex suit of the Chupacabra that deserves the most praise. The Chupacabra suit harks back to the creature effects of the 1950s. It must have involved literally minutes of not so meticulous work to design this amazing monster.
The Legend of the Chupacabra never tries to be anything other than a high camp, B-Grade horror film. And for that I am truly grateful. This is far from Troma's best but genre fans will enjoy it regardless.
The Civilization of Maxwell Bright is an unexpected gem. The film is
not only very funny but also surprisingly insightful and endearing.
David Beaird has crafted one of the most winning American indie films
of recent times with the help of a uniformly great cast.
Maxwell Bright is one of the most despicable anti-heroes to come along in some time. Max is a close-minded misogynist, living a painfully unhappy life in Los Angeles. After breaking up with his girlfriend, Max deems modern women too demanding and decides to buy an Asian mail order bride, hoping to purchase a sex slave and house cleaner in the one subservient package. Needless to say, Max gets more than he bargains for with Mai Ling.
At the core of the film is Max's transformation from a clueless Neanderthal to a reasonably well-rounded human being. This could have been incredibly trite in the wrong hands, but Beaird's acidic writing manages to keep any kind of sentimentality at bay. Beaird's writing can not be praised highly enough. He has crafted a truly hilarious screenplay with hidden depth. My only objection is Mai Ling's Buddhist nun back-story which seems very far fetched and out of place in a film so anchored in reality. The same could probably be said about the scene where Max takes Mai Ling to see a preacher.
Funny dialogue would be useless without the right actors and Beaird has collected a wonderful cast for the film. Patrick Warburton is a revelation as Max. Warburton gives a brave and honest performance, never shying away from the fact that Max is generally a bad person and knows it. This self-knowledge has the counter intuitive effect of making Max strangely endearing. Marie Matiko is good as Mai Ling but is somewhat hampered by the "wise Asian" syndrome, with some of her dialogue veering dangerously close to Grasshopper territory. Luckily Matiko is a good enough actress to imbue her performance with enough grit to be believable.
Eric Roberts almost steals the show as an uncharacteristically sympathetic character. Roberts, so renowned for playing sleazy thugs, is hugely affecting as Max's best friend, Arlis. The scene in which Max ends their friendship was the highlight of the film for me. I love Jennifer Tilly, so it was nice to see her in a small cameo as Max's doctor. The same can be said for the inimitable Missi Pyle, who has a memorable turn as a foul mouthed police woman.
The civilization of Maxwell Bright is a bitterly funny tale of one man's redemption. While I didn't quite buy into Max's "civilization" and found his fate somewhat theatrical, I still enjoyed the film immensely as a fascinating character study of an unpleasant, but very real, human being.
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