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Pina (2011)
27 January 2019
Excruciating. That's the only term I can think of for this colossal blight on the cinematic landscape. If I wanted to watch people writhe spastically in dirt, walk into walls, spit on each others faces, and generally act like complete and utter imbeciles I'd go to the closest mental health facility and hand out hallucinogenic narcotics.

I don't like expressive dance, or dance in general to be honest, but I went into this documentary hoping to at least learn a little bit about the titular person. Instead I was presented with an odious waste of time with no narrative populated by a group of bizarre people talking about this Pina person like she was some kind of cult leader. I came out despising the subject material even more, which is truly an achievement.
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VHS memories
7 September 2016
Everyone of a certain age has VHS memories. You know the ones I'm talking about - those hazy, barely remembered evenings of mediocre pizza and even more mediocre straight-to-video horror films. Films that you simply couldn't resist as they stared at you from the shelf with their box-art that promised more than the cassette inside could ever hope to deliver. Ghost in the Machine is one of my hazier VHS memories.

I know I saw it when it made its way to video stores in the early 90's, but the details had long faded, like an old newspaper, or Eddie Murphy's career. I couldn't remember much of it, though one image had stayed with me - the bodies of a murdered family sitting together on a couch. After re-watching the film for the first time in almost twenty-three years, it's hard to see why that moment stuck with me - it's not really spectacular, or particularly gruesome - but it's NOT hard to tell why the rest of Ghost in the Machine didn't stay with me at all.

That's not to say there's isn't fun to be had with this sci-fi supernatural thriller, but the proceedings do have an unshakeable cheap, straight-to-video flavor. Rachel Talalay - director of the most wretched of the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, Freddy's Dead - is responsible for this one. This was her sophomore effort, and it came only a couple of years before she obliterated her big screen career with the epic box-office bomb Tank Girl. She was then banished to directing random episodes of Ally McBeal for the next couple of decades. It seems she's found a groove in TV direction lately though, working on Doctor Who and Sherlock... but I digress. Let's get back to the movie at hand.

Ghost in the Machine was almost certainly green lit when hungry, drooling executives noticed The Lawnmower Man scraping in those Pierce Brosnan bucks and decided they wanted a piece of the early 90's tech-thriller pie. The plot centers around an individual known as the "address book killer" (yes, seriously). He crashes his car during a police chase and dies on the operating table. Since this happens in the middle of a lightning storm, naturally his consciousness inserts itself into nearby electrical equipment, leaving him free to continue murdering with the help of his newly acquired powers to jump into computers and dishwashers and stuff.

Ghost in the Machine was made in an era when the public at large was still unaware of the impending societal paradigm shift that would come later in the decade. I'm talking about the rise of the internet, of course. As a result, the script is filled with hilarious talk of hackers, and nonsensical computer discussions that would make even the most tech-illiterate grandma of today giggle.

What it does manage surprisingly well, is to tackle themes of technological fear. The personal computer was still a relatively new thing, and the idea of bringing something with so much unknown power into the home is a very real concern. We do it all the time now in the form of new cell phones and the social networks they connect us to, but there is always that worry we're messing with something we shouldn't be. It also played on the fear of the online stranger - the catfish - before it became the tangible boogeyman it is now. There are scenes where the young protagonist receives threatening messages from the killer, and in some ways these themes make the film more relevant now than it was upon release. Bargain bin fodder like Ghost in the Machine usually ages for the worse in all aspects, so kudos to the writers for making something so forgettable somewhat prescient... I guess.

There are also some interesting special effects on display. Sure, much of it is terrible 90's CGI, probably stolen from The Lawnmower Man's cutting room floor, but there are a few moments of cool practical work. The camera zooms in and out of machines on a microscopic level as the villain causes mayhem, and a ridiculous scene involving a microwave is impressively gruesome.

That's where the good stuff ends. The cast aren't given much to work with. Karen Allen plays the concerned mother with a Dana Scully haircut, Rick Ducommun appears as a nerdy goofball, and Chris Mulkey is a knight in shining armor that's as boring as a budget airplane meal.

It's all very bland, and I guess that's why it's gone mostly forgotten. The 90's-isms are embarrassing rather than charming, the story had already been done in other similar films, and it never really goes far enough. One thing I do wonder though, is if this film had any influence on the Final Destination series? Lists of people dying accident-like deaths at the mercy of an unseen supernatural force? There are enough similarities for me to believe it. But similarities to marginally better films aside, it's unremarkable at best. Maybe I should have left it as a VHS memory... like that dead family on the couch.
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Green Room (2015)
Horror will always be punk rock!
24 May 2016
Recently, director Guillermo Del Toro wrote a series of passionate tweets praising his contemporary John Carpenter, and lamented his relative lack of success when taking into account his incredible talent and catalog of classic directorial efforts. Del Toro capped off the tweet-storm with the proclamation that, "Horror will always be punk rock!" While I'm more of a heavy metal person, I agree with the sentiment. The best horror will always exist on that line just outside the mainstream, in realms that the "normal folk" don't want to tread.

Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room is literally one of those punk rock-type films that Del Toro is talking about, and appropriately follows a young punk rock band in their attempt to scrape up a living with their musical talents. They're playing in seedy bars and living in their van when they manage to secure a gig at a secluded venue owned and frequented by white supremacists. Things go way downhill when they witness a murder and become trapped in the titular green room by some very nasty individuals.

While the plot and tone are reminiscent of certain chainsaw massacres and their ilk, the punk rock aesthetic lends an air of originality, and the dark, grimy tone is set early and successfully in the piece. It's clear that this movie refuses to pull any punches. The violence is graphic and unflinching, bringing to mind the style of grue that was so popular in the French new wave of the 2000's. This is what real horror fans have come to see. None of that PG-13 bullshit. We're here for the flesh being torn, busted bones hanging limply, and screams of pain and terror. On those accounts, Green Room delivers, but at the same time doesn't become gratuitous. Although… the folks seated a few rows across from us who walked out presumably wouldn't agree.

There's a realism to the approach taken by Jeremy Saulnier, who also directed 2013's fantastic Blue Ruin with similar flair. It's filmed in a somewhat documentary-style, with great use of shadow and uneasy color tones. The soundtrack is authentically punk, underscoring the on screen mayhem with an appropriate aural backing.

The cast is likable and feel genuine, and we're quickly on board with them through their trial. Macon Blair (who also starred in Blue Ruin) is of particular note, and Patrick Stewart's turn as a calm, collected neo-nazi is very fun - although I was left wanting a little more.

As the film progresses, it feels as though there is a rush toward the end. The first half is wrought with tension, but the second half sadly loses its rhythm, and the ending feels anticlimactic. After the fantastic setup, it's a shame the story takes the direction it does, and saddles the characters - particularly the villains - with some questionable actions and decisions. Things unravel too quickly. Far more could have been done with the toys the filmmakers had to play with here.

Even if I wasn't entirely convinced by the way it ended, I appreciate what was achieved with Green Room. I love Saulnier's style, and the atmosphere he wrings from his work is unique and filled with dread. I also love the gore effects, which appear to be almost entirely executed via traditional, practical methods. While perhaps not as strong as Blue Ruin, this film is refreshing in its ability to make us squirm and wince. With a little more work, this could have been a real classic, but as it stands, it's a solid, visceral horror/thriller with a novel setting and I can't wait to see what nastiness Saulnier drags us into next.
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White Zombie (1932)
When the cinematic zombie was a fresh idea
6 April 2016
The legendary George Carlin once said that zombies are unreliable, and while he wasn't referring to the quality of the films they appear in, I'll hijack his statement and agree with him. I'd also add that they're inconsistent in their behavior. Sometimes they run, sometimes they shamble, and sometimes they come back for revenge.

The undead behave a little differently than what we as modern viewers have come to expect in"White Zombie." No, I'm not referring to Rob Zombie's industrial metal band - I'm talking about the 1932 film directed by Victor Halperin and starring Bela Lugosi. It's considered by many as the first feature-length zombie film, and its walking dead are less of the shambling, flesh-eating than they are voodoo and mind-controlled variety.

The story takes place in the West Indies, and gets into swing when a witch doctor turns a newly-wed bride into a zombie slave. He's been doing it to the natives, but people only really start to care when he does it to a white woman. The commentary on slavery and racism here is daring for a movie of its time, though I'd be hesitant to claim it has anything particularly interesting to say about its subject matter. Bela Lugosi stars as zombiism-practitioner 'Murder' Legendre (could you have a name more badass than that?) and he chews up the scenery in a performance with more than a passing similarity to his one in "Dracula" a year earlier. I think the only difference is his facial hair. He glares at the audience and wears comical expressions throughout, and is a joy to watch whenever he's on screen. His ham is well complimented by the rest of cast, who bring a slice of their own cheese to this black and white sandwich.

There's some inventive cinematography on display, but only occasionally, as the film resembles a stage play for the majority of its runtime. There are a couple of impressive, albeit primitive matte paintings, and a bizarre effects sequence where the screen is split in half with a Star Wars-style screen wipe that doesn't quite work. On a technical level, the film is ambitious. Sadly, the version I watched came in one of those "10 movies for 5 bucks!" packs and it wasn't exactly what I'd call "lovingly restored." The dialogue sounded like it was recorded on a potato.

It's not just the technical elements that make films like "White Zombie" and others from its era a little more challenging to watch nowadays. 34 years after it was released, George Romero redefined - or, more bluntly - DEFINED the zombie genre with "Night of the Living Dead." It's difficult to see how scary "White Zombie" was to viewers in 1932 since our perceptions of horror have been molded by our experiences with another century worth of the genre's evolution. In fact, the most effective thing in the film was a large bird of prey that sounded like a woman screaming. If it wasn't so funny, it would be disturbing.

"White Zombie" hasn't lost all of its impact, however. It's still entertaining, and admirable for its claim as the first zombie film. There's a lot to appreciate about these films that did something new in their genre, and it's truly mind-boggling to think that there was ever a time history when the cinematic zombie was a fresh idea!
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Great claustrophobic story with fine performances... and a twist
9 March 2016
Full disclosure: The year is 2007. A trailer hits cinema screens advertising a mysterious film named "Cloverfield." Nobody knows what it's about, except that it's riding on the wave of the found footage genre, and that it seems to depict a giant monster attack on New York. Speculation immediately breaks out all over the internet, but nowhere more fiercely than on the IMDb forums, with many folks being caught up in the genius viral marketing. I myself was one of those people, along with my wife. Yes, we met on IMDb's Cloverfield forum. She moved from the US to Australia a few years after, we got married, and we've lived together happily ever since.

Yes, that is the power of film; it can bring people together in the most unlikely ways possible.

So, it's with some excitement that we were blindsided by the brief and vague advertising campaign for 10 Cloverfield Lane. Does it have any connections to the original Cloverfield? What's JJ Abrams playing at here, exactly? Without giving too much away, it's not a direct sequel, but rather a sequel in tone. I'm assuming Abrams is going for an anthology style series here, with each entry being a different story tied together by their themes and science-fiction setting. It's clearly a marketing thing, but if that means we'll get more films like this, I'm certainly okay with it.

10 Cloverfield Lane eschews its predecessor's found-footage trappings, and immerses us in a classic style bottle thriller. The setting is limited and claustrophobic, and the cast small, but the story and tension will grab you and not let up until the end. The nature of the mystery means your opinion will hang very precariously on whether you like that ending, and I suspect it will be divisive. There's not a great deal of resolution, and if I'm correct in assuming this will be an anthology series from now on, I doubt we'll ever get any. But that's fine, because I don't think the story that would follow the film really needs to be told.

What matters are the performances. John Goodman is the real draw card here. He gives a stunning turn that is delightful, sympathetic and absolutely terrifying in equal doses. He's had so many great roles in the past, but he is unforgettable here. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also very likable as the resourceful protagonist. Perhaps a little too resourceful at times, but for the most part we're with her happily throughout.

The film looks fantastic despite the cramped environs, with great use of color and shadow and some interesting cinematography. There are some nice designs and special effects toward the end of the film, even if they may be considered a little derivative. The score is tense and effective, and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The script is great with very little flab, and if you like these kinds of stories which lock characters together in tight, paranoid spaces then you'll find a lot to enjoy here. Just don't go in expecting Cloverfield 2, because this is not it. It's its own beast, and has a brave ending that you'll either love or hate.
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A rough classic
16 September 2015
Anyone reading this knows how much of an impact Wes Craven had on the world of horror. He was a legend, spawning not one but two genre icons in the form of Freddy Krueger and Ghostface. But many years before he terrified mainstream audiences, he hit it big with a nasty little piece of work known as Last House on the Left. This was Craven's first film, and was a collaboration with Sean S. Cunningham - the man who went on to create the Friday The 13th franchise.

Made in a time when cinema was breaking all sorts of boundaries, Last House was originally intended as a hardcore film. During early production, Craven and Cunningham came to believe the project would be able to stand on its own legs without needing the support of adult cinemas, and they toned down its content before they began filming.

While they may have toned down the sexual content, they certainly didn't shy away from nasty torturous violence. Many films lose their shock value over time as standards shift and audiences become more jaded. This phenomenon doesn't affect Last House at all. It's still just as grimy and unpleasant as it was back on release. The old adage applies here: they just don't make 'em like they used to.

The film as a whole is amateurish, but there are shining moments of real terror here, and that's why it's had such a lasting effect and influence on everything that followed in its footsteps. The grainy film stock and cinéma vérité style lend to the filthy atmosphere in a way that slick, modern digital simply can't replicate. David Hess is excellent as Krug. Chillingly cold and intimidating. His cohorts played by Fred Lincoln and Jeramie Rain are equally unsettling, and their performances are good enough to make us forget they're not actual sadist criminals.

But even with all of that praise, it's hard to call it genuinely "good". It wasn't exactly made with noble intentions. It's an exploitation film, and not a fantastically well made one. It has many of the same drawbacks as other low budget movies of the time. The writing isn't particularly good, and there's a completely out of place subplot featuring bumbling cops that could have been transplanted from a goofball comedy. The bizarre folk-ish music (written and performed by David Hess) is odd and distracting, even though it's certainly unique and is part of its time. It just doesn't gel with the film's brutality.

It doesn't really feel fair to criticize it on its technical merits. It is what it is, and its modern day audience will appreciate it for that. If nothing else, Last House on The Left can be thanked for introducing the world to both Craven and Cunningham - men who went on to essentially run the slasher genre throughout the 1980s alongside fellow horror alumnus John Carpenter. It's an incredibly important classic, but it's a rough one in every single way.
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Too sloppy and strange for anyone but the most hardened horror buffs
7 September 2015
It would be reasonable to assume "Death Times Five" might attempt to explain why creepy horror movie children feel the need to murder, maim, and generally be little terrors that keep us "adults" second guessing the true intents of kids everywhere. Unfortunately, it never really does - it doesn't explain a lot of anything really - but what it does do is deliver a group of five psychologically disturbed children participating in a range of creative homicides that might please fans of this specific sub-genre, depending on their standards of quality.

Like the classic "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" which was made in the same year, "Devil Times Five" revolves around a group of unsuspecting characters falling prey to a bunch of crazy people out in the sticks. Those crazy people just happen to be a little younger and a little less redneck, but the parallels are definitely apparent. Both films are low budget, genuinely disturbing, and managed to push the limit of their subject matter for their time. Where the comparison ends is that TCM was beautifully shot and tightly edited. This film is the complete opposite.

Reportedly a troubled production, "Devil Times Five" is incompetent in just about every single way. Huge continuity errors abound, and every single shot seems to be framed just a little too low, leaving bizarre dead space above all the actor's heads. What are we supposed to be focusing on up there? The ceiling? It's not very interesting. That wall is lovely, but pan down, would you? The cinematographer seems to have been in a drug haze - it was the 70s after all. In fact, the original director (who had to be replaced half-way through production) turned in a final cut that only ran for 38 minutes. He is said to have been placed in a rehab or psychiatric facility shortly after. All hearsay, but the film is definitely the product of a damaged brain.

The cast is strange mix to say the least. Boss Hogg from "The Dukes of Hazzard" makes an appearance, along with Shelley Morrison who went on to star in "Will and Grace". Future teen heartthrob Leif Garret plays one of the children, his hair giving one of the film's best performances, metamorphosing wildly from scene to scene as a result of re-shoots due to the departure of the film's director. His real life mother and sister round out the cast. It's a real family affair.

Fans of 70's horror will find a few things to enjoy here. Beyond the distinct atmosphere of the era, there's a bizarre psychedelic murder scene (that goes on for a little too long) where the children take turns beating a man to death. There's a random cat fight that obviously results in exposed breasts. There's a psychotic albino who dresses like a nun. Also, there's death by piranha. But even with that, it's impossible to recommend the film to anyone but enthusiasts. It's just too sloppy and strange for anyone but the most hardened horror buffs to enjoy.
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Still waiting for the triumphant return of the rubber monster
3 September 2015
Drinks have been few and far between for fans of cinematic rubber monsters of late. After the art form's halcyon days of the 1980's passed by, creatures of the silver screen have generally been created with computer graphics, much to the chagrin of genre fans who prefer their talons and tentacles a little more tangible. We've been suffering a prosthetic drought, and this particular reviewer is very thirsty.

Enter Studio ADI's successful kickstarter for Harbinger Down, which came with a promise of delivering an old school practical effects-driven horror/sci-fi film - an oasis in the desert of creature features. A savior clothed in fake gore and torn foam latex.

ADI have a long history of helping some of cinema's greatest monsters come to life, so on paper the concept looks great. Add genre favorite Lance Henriksen into the mix and things start to get very interesting. So how did effects wizard Alec Gillis fare at pulling all of this together from the director's chair? Unfortunately, not as good as we hoped.

On its surface, Harbinger Down is an admirable homage to the classics, drawing its aesthetic and plot directly from Carpenter's The Thing while making numerous visual and dialogue nods to Alien, Jaws, Predator and other beloved creature features. Sadly, in being so reverent it fails to develop its own identity and never becomes anything of its own. Yes, we all love the classics; but being so stuck in reference and homage causes stagnation.

All of that shouldn't matter as long as the creature is good. There are some cool, creative moments of practical effects, but they're fleeting and lit darkly, and you're rarely sure what you're looking at. The film is shot so claustrophobically to hide the limitations of the set that you never feel that much of anything is real, including the monster. We don't find much out about its abilities or the way it operates, and to be honest, it's so derivative that it really doesn't matter.

But it wasn't just the monsters that made Harbinger Down's major influences work. Those films were generally populated with casts full of character actors that generated an on-screen sense of camaraderie and implied history between them, which went a long way to bringing home the horror when their friends fell victim to whatever unknown force they happened to be dealing with.

The cast here falls flat. Lance Henriksen's presence heightens the bar slightly, but he looks tired and probably would be more comfortable rocking away on a porch with a glass of cold iced tea in one hand and a paycheck in the other. Our protagonist lacks any charisma whatsoever, and spends the entire film looking a little too perfect for the setting. Her make-up is freshly applied and her hair meticulously straightened in every scene, even though she's among a crew of grizzled sailors fighting a gooey alien enemy on board a rusty old tub. We don't get enough time to know any of the other characters, as the film's run time is so short that it can only barely be called a feature.

With all of its problems, it's still a fun, dumb, nostalgic ride. It just comes nowhere near competing with its influences. We need a practical effects monster movie to hit the screens with a force of originality and show that there's still plenty of life in this art form rather than reinforce the idea that it's a thing of the past only worthy of homage and fondness for the good ol' days. Harbinger Down had plenty of opportunity to be that film, but missed the mark by a long way.

So we go back to waiting for the return of the rubber monster.

Always, waiting.

Note: Harbinger Down features repeated use of a particular squeaky door sound effect. It's used so many times (often more than once in the same scene) that it becomes comical. This is the "Wilhelm Scream" of squeaky door noises. Once you become familiar with it, you'll start hearing it in every single movie. It cannot be unheard. Harbinger Down wins for having the most uses of this sound in any movie I've ever seen. Congratulations, Harbinger Down.
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Poltergeist (2015)
21 May 2015
The late Heather O'Rourke once gleefully and excitedly told audiences "they're here!" It's more than appropriate that when this rehash of Poltergeist tasks a new young girl with repeating that classic line, she is unable to muster nearly as much liveliness in her delivery. Her blank stare and monotone voice mirrors my enthusiasm for yet another instance of a film studio reaching into its back catalog and violently digging up a franchise... much like the horrific exhumation of those poor bastards buried under the Freeling household.

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea of a remake, as long as the filmmaker has something fresh to say and do with the intellectual property in question. Unfortunately, Gil Kenan's Poltergeist brings nothing new to the table. To be fair, Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper are a hard act to follow. This remake is very safe, without much discernible style beneath its slick, modern surface. This is a typical PG-13 horror film - disposable and forgettable.

At the very least, you'd think the advances in special effects would afford a more thrilling, spectacular haunting, but the result is the opposite. If you watch this film and the original back to back like I did, you'll miss the beauty of the old school optical creature effects that make the 1982 version so special. In fact, this is a far tamer and subtler film, which is surprising considering remakes usually try their best to outdo the material they're derived from. There are a few fun gags here and there (particularly in 3d considering it was filmed natively in the format) but there's nothing that we haven't seen before, and done better in recent films like Insidious and The Conjuring.

The performances are serviceable enough with Sam Rockwell being his usual likable self, and Jared Harris playing a strange replacement for Zelda Rubenstein's character, but the family at the center of the story never really gels together and only serves to make you appreciate the ensemble in the original film. It also brings home just how much of a talent Heather O'Rourke was, and how important her on screen personality was to making Poltergeist work.

Also missing is Jerry Goldsmith's beautiful and creepy score. The music here is forgettable in comparison.

The original film had something to say about the culture and politics of greed in the 1980's, where profit, progress and building a new housing development on the cheap was more of a priority than respecting the dead and their sacrifices that modern society was built upon. While this message is still just as relevant in 2015 as it was back then, it's a little lost in the remake due to the omission and reshuffling of certain characters. There seems to be more of a focus on the modern obsession with social media and digital devices, with the little girl being literally lost to her family inside a television screen. Obviously, this also happened in the original, but has taken on new meaning nowadays and is probably the most interesting aspect of the film. The new relevance of this story element is the best justification I can think of for the film being remade, but it's really not enough.

It saddens me to see Sam Raimi's name on this thing. I actually liked the Evil Dead remake from a couple of years ago. While not quite reaching the creative height of Raimi's own Evil Dead films, it was brutal and off-the-wall enough to satisfy fans. In comparison, the nicest thing I can say about Poltergeist 2015 is that it's better than Poltergeist III. Anyone who's seen that film can tell you it's not much of a compliment, since Poltergeist III is a gigantic pile of brown, sloppy... uh... ectoplasm. We can only hope the Poltergeist curse will strike this film and turn it into a ghost at the box office, deterring future pointless horror remakes.
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Great piece of blockbuster filmmaking
19 July 2012
TDK is a wonderfully made piece of blockbuster entertainment. The technical side of the film makes it a complete joy to watch. The editing, the cinematography, and most of all... the score. Oh, the Hans Zimmer score! I swear half of this film's power comes from the presence of that hammering, pounding score. It's great.

Sure, there's a lot of problems. It's far from a perfect film. There's too many characters meaning there's not enough character development or screen-time for the major players.

The film moves so fast that the multitude of plot holes come and go before the audience even gets a chance to know they're there - it's only after leaving the cinema that you have time to reflect on what you've seen and certain plot elements begin to unravel. That's one of the problems with Nolan's films - they throw so much at the audience that perceived small things tend to be glossed over. His surgeon-like perfectionism in other areas of filmmaking cause these issues and plot-holes to stick out a lot more than they would otherwise.

Even though the script is overly ambitious and at times loses itself amongst its giant cast of characters and weaving plot strands, it manages to tie up the series in an emotionally satisfying way (despite Nolan's usual sterile atmosphere, I felt TDK was even lit like a hospital).

As a piece of entertainment, I thought it outdid BB and TDK. For me personally, TDKR is on the same level as the original Burton films. Regardless of what people think of Burton's Batman, that's a big thing for me.
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The Thing (I) (2011)
A pale imitation of Carpenter's masterpiece
12 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Let me preface this review with two things: first, I apologize for the pun/cliché in the title; second, I'm a major fan of John Carpenter's 1982 effort. I've watched it countless times and always cite it as my favorite film. With that in mind, I approached this remake/prequel with great caution.

To get the good stuff out of the way, I have to praise the filmmakers for keeping very close to John Carpenter's style. The lingering shots of cold, mysterious hallways while atmospheric synth music plays notes of dread are present and accounted for. The creature transformations are interesting and despite being computer generated, are generally well executed. The script is cleverly written, hitting all the notes needed to work as a prequel as well as a story that will work for new audiences.

All around, the film is entertaining brain candy. There's lots of action, creature effects and explosions to ensure you won't be bored. Its faithfulness to the style of its predecessor and its willingness to please fans and audiences are why I'm giving this film a 5 instead of something much lower.

But that's where the good stuff ends.

The effectiveness of The Thing's story relies on its mysteries, and our fear of the unknown. What happened at the Norwegian base has been a subject of debate amongst fans for many years, and finally someone has gone and ruined that debate. That's the central problem with the movie—it's a story that never needed to be told, and in telling it, the mythos becomes damaged. At least we still don't know what happened to Macready and Childs!

At the risk of sounding sexist, I'll state outright that casting a young woman as the main protagonist was a major mistake. The 1982 film was unique in that the cast was populated by a bunch of grizzled, old character actors. By including women, we lose a lot of the subtext afforded by the all male cast in Carpenter's version. Also, the film asks us to stretch our disbelief by wanting us to accept a group of Norwegians—already reluctant to bring anyone else in on their discovery—are willing to bring in a young American woman to help. Opening up the story outside of Antartica at its very beginning also brings us away from the sense of isolation so thick in the 1982 film.

While I said earlier that the creature transformations are interesting and fun to watch, they still don't hold a candle to the amazing practical effects and prosthetics created by Rob Bottin almost thirty years ago. As the runtime wears on, it sadly devolves into another "kick-ass chick brandishing a flame thrower being stalked down dark corridors by a computer-generated creature" movie, and that's not what The Thing was ever about. Where Carpenter's film was subtle, this one is loud and obnoxious, and I'm not trying to say that Carpenter's version was ever a hugely subtle movie.

The film rolls along at a steady pace of hitting every single beat found in the 1982 version. There's not enough here to make it an original entry in a franchise, as it substitutes slightly different ideas for ones better executed by Carpenter. It's a bizarre beast, one that looks new, acts as some kind of prequel but in reality is a thinly veiled remake.

It's ironic that Carpenter's The Thing, a movie about an imitating creature was itself imitated, even down to the studio's refusal to change the title. The film is at its best when emulating Carpenter's style, and the scenes over the credits put a smile on my face. Thankfully, the movie itself is respectful enough of the 1982 classic, and you can tell the filmmakers really tried their hardest to please everyone. It's just a shame that it's a story that never needed to be told.
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Road Kill (2010)
13 August 2010
Australian genre films are rare, and good ones are even rarer. Unfortunately this isn't one of the good ones.

Flat, uninspired characters populate this Duel/Jeepers Creepers/Maximum Overdrive/Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Wolf Creek rip-off. Not one of the characters is interesting or well acted enough to inspire anything but annoyance from the audience. The script is a failure in all departments.

The whole film is just... off, from direction to editing, to acting and writing. Sure, it's clear they had a low budget... but it's also clear they had enough of a budget to make a good movie. There were some interesting ideas there with the truck and whatever the whole story was behind it, but it was all undercooked and fulfilled the small amount of potential it presented.

There's a definite underlying psycho-sexual theme in there too, replete with phallic and yonic imagery. Too bad the film isn't good enough to earn a thorough analysis of the stuff going on underneath the surface.

With such a small selection of genre films emerging from Australia these days, one tends to pin their hopes on any new entry that trundles along the beaten path. It's sad that out of all the scripts out there, this is the one that got made.
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Avatar (2009)
Incredible scope and spectacle
16 December 2009
A film with the scope of James Cameron's Avatar was always going to be a risk both artistically and financially, especially in today's economic climate. Whether it will pay off monetarily is a question only time can answer, but this viewer can at the very least attest to it being an artistic triumph.

Avatar brings us as close as cinema ever has to actually visiting an alien world. The beautiful environs, the exotic creatures and incredibly lifelike natives of Pandora arrest the senses, visually, aurally and emotionally. The world in Avatar is the true star of the show. The amount of detail and work that has gone into bringing this new world alive is seriously impressive, and it will be a while before we see anything that overtakes it in scope and quality. WETA Workshop and ILM have truly outdone themselves.

Relative newcomer, Aussie Sam Worthington provides a solid human heart amongst all the science-fiction/fantasy beauty and Zoe Saldana gives an impressive performance as the 8 foot tall Na'vi, Neytiri. Even though the characters they both play are blue, giant, catlike aliens, they managed to evoke a chemistry and likability that pierces through the special effects.

That's not to say that everything is perfect. The story is basic and dare I say, clichéd and predictable. We have seen it plenty of times in all forms of media. The bad guys are cartoonishly evil, and sadly paper thin. The love story, while charming, is also clichéd despite being between man and alien. But in the face of these shortcomings, Avatar is a success because its storytelling lies in the brilliant visuals.

Avatar is a beautiful piece of film and a true event. It does exactly what cinema was always intended to - it takes us away from our problems and worries for a few hours and gives us memorable images which will undoubtedly and deservedly enter into the cultural lexicon to stay for the foreseeable future.

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District 9 (2009)
The first science fiction masterpiece in years
13 August 2009
I do not give out ratings of 10 lightly, but here it is - the first film in years that has been deserving of the rating.

Neill Blomkamp brings to screens a fantastic, gritty, realistic piece of science fiction with District 9. Not since Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner", John Carpenter's "The Thing", or James Cameron's "Aliens" have we seen a science fiction film with a vision of this caliber. After viewing District 9, it will be clear to one and all why Peter Jackson put so much faith in Blomkamp and took him under his wing as protégé.

Abandoning the usual settings of Hollywood sci-fi and placing us in the harsh slums of South Africa, we are given an original piece of work which takes risks in the way it tells its story. Not only does it go against the expectations of audiences who have been trained to expect mediocrity from their sci-fi, it goes above and beyond the call of duty to provide us with spectacle as well as something to ponder after we've downed our popcorn.

There is, thankfully, not an overused, overexposed celebrity in sight, and every unknown face in the film gives a solid performance. The aliens themselves, brilliantly realized with top notch CGI even manage to make us feel something, only rivaled by Gollum from "Lord of the Rings".

District 9 has so much to like. It's spectacular, darkly funny, entertaining and thoughtful all at the same time, and it's all done on a meager $30m budget. There is true talent on show here. If only there were more films like this, the world of cinema would be a more interesting place.
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Doesn't live up to the classic original and first sequel.
8 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The movie is not as bad as some would have you believe. The action was impressive... sound design was great. It was top notch from a visual and aural standpoint, apart from the shaky cam during the action, which gets a bit much.

The story was OK... but there was a bunch of problems with it. For one, Skynet was completely, and utterly retarded. Why wouldn't it kill Kyle Reese straight away? And how would it even know he's John Connor's father, unless it had access to the police and hospital videos from T1 and T2? Why was Skynet kidnapping people when it was clearly established in T1 and T2 that its only goal was to destroy humanity? And why did Skynet need big screen monitors? And keyboards? It's a farking computer program! And then why did Skynet have to give a Bond villain speech using Helena Bonham Carter's face? I'm usually OK with retarded stuff in movies. In general I can forgive it, but when it comes from a pedigree like Terminator... I mean, come on. The writing was pretty weak as a whole, but at least there were a bunch of little nods to the previous films that I enjoyed.

Christian Bale seemed to have phoned in his performance. Sam Worthington was pretty good - looks like Hollywood has a new action hero. Go Australia! ;) Anton Yetchin was pretty decent as a young Kyle Reese... BUT - that rapper guy sucked. Moon Bloodgood sucked. The little afro kid sucked. All three characters played by these people were completely and utterly pointless and out of place. Cut them all out and you instantly have a better film. Also, the biggest problem with the casting was Bryce Dallas Howard. Too young, too weak, too pretty and make up laden. She's supposed to be 16 years older than Claire Danes was in 2003, and did not look it at all. She's too young and it made no sense. Overall, the acting was pretty hammy and it shows that McG does not have the ability to get good performances out of his actors. Also, Michael Ironside is cool. Too bad he got such a small role.

Also, although I DID like the look of the post-apocalyptic world... I thought they should have kept it more in line with the look of the future war in the first 2 movies. The sky darkened by nuclear ash, more vicious, relentless Terminators... People just trying to survive. Even T3 got that right when they briefly showed the future war there.

T3 was just a jokey, self-parodying rehash for the most part... BUT... the best parts of T3 were better than the best parts of T4. That said... I did enjoy T4... at least for the action, design, sound and the tiny consistent things they got right. From that standpoint, it was good.
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It had its heart in the right place...
2 April 2009
It had its heart in the right place... but that's about it. What we see here is a tired piece of low budget zombie film making. The script hits on just about every cliché in the book, the characters aren't memorable, the comedy isn't punchy enough, and the horror element fails to evoke any kind of reaction whatsoever.

For a super low budget film, what we see on screen is commendable - but is it worth the time it takes to watch it? Probably not.

This is a weak movie, and while I think the filmmakers have some talent, and potential, it's just not showing here. What this needed was a stronger script, better characters, more blood/gore, and more originality! It's just not good enough.
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A fun, clever send-off to one of the greatest animated series of all time
14 February 2009
And here we are, folks. We've reached the final installment of the four direct-to-DVD Futurama films. It's been fun, but sadly, all good things must come to an end.

While "Into the Wild Green Yonder" isn't the strongest of the four films, it certainly offers up laughs and plenty of the clever, over the top sci-fi concepts that the series is famous for. Unfortunately, for every joke that hits the nail on the head, another joke comes across as contrived, or simply falls a little flat. Not to despair though, as the jokes that work, work really, really well.

The animation is, as always, top notch. The characters we all know and love are once again brought to life by the wonderful cast, and we get a couple of bonus cameos here thanks to Penn Jillette, Snoop Dogg, and Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane.

As with the other 3 DVD Futurama movies, the story is a tad messy, jumping from plot thread to plot thread, with each episode only vaguely maintaining a semblance of continuity until everything is tied up neatly at the end. That said, the overarching story in this outing is actually very clever, and the ending is spectacular and well designed.

The story ties up some loose ends, but also leaves us on an ambiguous note, perhaps hinting at a future series of DVD movies, or a theatrical film, or, hopefully, an entire new season to grace our TV screens. Fingers crossed that we get more Futurama, as this series is no where near reaching its use-by-date.
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Australia (2008)
Uneven, hulking monster of a film
25 January 2009
This film struggled throughout its epic length to stay upright. Unfortunately at the end it stumbled and fell like a pile of bricks.

It tried to juggle so much but in the end, it all turned out to be too little. The film starts like a corny slapstick comedy, turns into a romantic fantasy, then into an outback adventure, then into a war movie, a heartfelt drama, a comment on the stolen generation, a comment on racism... etc, etc. It's just too much. Yes, it's supposed to be an epic, but things like this need to be handled with finesse. Unfortunately, it isn't in this case. The themes were too muddled, the script too stretched - it's a mess. The characters are cardboard cutouts, the acting is over the top and cheesy, the pacing is off, the bizarre use of Somewhere Over the Rainbow... It's just a broken film.

Being an Australian, I did hope that this movie would be alright, but it turned out to be almost 3 hours of wankery that disgracefully cost our taxpayers over $40m.

On a more positive note, on the whole it wasn't BORING, and it was aesthetically and aurally pleasing - even though it made use of countless, shameless green screen shots which were simply unnecessary.

There was ONE great scene in the film, and that's when Hugh Jackman and his Aboriginal friend enter the ruined pub. That was absolutely excellent. Too bad the rest of the film couldn't live up to that in the slightest.
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Gran Torino (2008)
Good? Yes. Great? No. Too uneven.
31 December 2008
I expected a far more serious film than what was delivered. The themes of racism and redemption were a little too heavy-handed, and sloppily presented. There were several bits of dialogue which were too blatant - the script had no faith in the viewer to figure out what the meaning was, and instead felt the need to have Clint talk out loud to himself, or to the priest in an effort to explain it all for the less bright people in the audience.

While the film was intended to illustrate how out of touch Clint's character was, I think the film would have benefited from being a little more natural in the way it presented the younger characters. The script, and staging of many scenes was awkward and worked against the movie as a whole.

I enjoyed Clint, and his performance was definitely amusing... but does he deserve an Oscar, or even a nomination for it? I'd say, no.

The film simply didn't know what it wanted to be. A comedy? A drama? It never really stuck with one thing, and while sometimes this works well in cinema, it felt a little too uneven here.

That said, it is a good movie for sure, but I'd decline to say it's one of the best of the year.

The ending was sappy, and Clint singing over the credits was a final nail in the film's credibility.

I'd give it a 7/10, for entertainment value alone... But there was too much cringe worthy stuff in there to rate it higher, and honestly, I think I'm stretching in giving it a 7...
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Resident Evil (2002)
Horrible, horrible, horrible movie
5 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
OK, so I'm incredibly bored and this movie is on TV now and I forgot how bad it is. So, I'm going to fill the next hour and a half with this pap and write as I watch. There is not one memorable character in it at all, apart from Milla Jovovich, who I would decline to actually refer to as a "character". She spends most of the runtime looking at things with a stupid, wide eyed glare, only taking a break to bullet time kick a dog in mid-air. Oh, and then there's Michelle Rodriguez looking angry, and sounding angry. Scary.

Everyone else is just a cardboard cutout, never fleshed out or even given a decent line. They jump through a window at the beginning - I guess that's what Paul WS Anderson considers "character development"... All the dialogue that follows after that is a bunch of useless, boring exposition. Who are these people and why the hell should I care? There's too many of them, all of them generic and never given anything to do.

The film simply looks ugly and drab - nondescript metal corridors and rooms full of boxes and hokey machinery. A talented DP could make this look good, but instead it comes across as overly sterile. And the insulting computer generated map of the facility is just... ridiculous. Could this movie be any more aimed at morons? The zombies are pathetic. The action is poorly filmed. Most of the time we get a shot of someone firing a gun, sometimes in slow motion. The gore level should have been much higher, at least there would have been something to look at, but instead there is barely a drop of blood. Zombies drop to the ground in a bloodless heap while dusty squibs explode sporadically and unspectacularly. Aside from a few shots, you'd think they were aiming for a PG-13. Maybe they were, knowing PWSA.

Why PWSA felt the need to stray so far away from the original atmosphere and story of the game is beyond me - surely, a talented writer could have structured a tense, claustrophobic zombie story set in the mansion, with the STARS team as characters? Instead, we got a derivative, half assed rip off of a bunch of different horror/sci-fi/action movies, and none of it works. There is no story here, just a bunch of crappy clichés and poorly orchestrated "scary jump" sequences where something crashes into a window. No tension at all.

You know, there's movies as silly as this one, but they succeed because they KNOW they're silly. They wink at the audience. Instead, PWSA treats his audience with contempt. This is completely soulless, franchise film-making. You just know he came into the suit's office and pitched how he could make a dumb movie on the cheap, and the fans of the game would come in and see it regardless of how bad it was. He didn't even ATTEMPT to make a good movie.

Back into another smoky corridor, suddenly filled with zombies. Horrid, obnoxious industrial metal music blares at the viewer while Milla "kicks ass" in slow motion again. Poorly edited, poorly filmed.

Random guy: "We're all gonna die down here." Milla: "No, we're gonna get out. All of us." Ergh, this is gonna go on for another half an hour isn't it? Oops... Time for some weird flashback. OK, there's an antivirus. Fantastic... Who cares at this point? Oh, and "Spence" was the guy who released the virus... Who the hell is Spence? I guess he's one of those random cardboard cutouts that have been walking through the movie for the past hour and a bit. He looked so much like 3 of the other background characters, and didn't have barely a line of dialogue, so I would have never suspected him. What a brilliant twist! So now we have a Licker... crappy CG but it's by far the best thing in the movie so far. Too bad every shot of it is so short that we never get to really see it in action. And now we have another classic cliché - the action/thriller countdown, conveniently displayed on screen in big, digital numbers. Oh, and followed up by the return of a character that we all thought was dead! How surprising. I can't wait for the next cliché. Hahah, there it is. "Spence" is a zombie and he jumped at Milla - shocking! She then uttered a one liner and hit him in the head. Just lucky we have the big green digital watchface counting down to the end of the movie! Can't wait for it to end.

So, now the Licker is jumping around inside the train. Sparks are flying everywhere... This must be the "climax". Milla just bullet-time shot it in the head. Didn't see that coming... Oh... and it's dead already. That wasn't very impressive. Michelle Rodriguez turned into a zombie and got shot in the head... How tragic. I was so very attached to her "angry" style of acting.

FINALLY! The movie is over - and the last shot was probably the most impressive thing in the movie. It looked kinda cool... But that was very unsatisfying. And now there's some awful, lame nu-metal blasting over the credits. Horrible. Absolutely horrible. PWSA should be ashamed. And if you liked this mess, you should be too.
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Big Bad Wolf (2006)
A fun little throwback to 80's horror
20 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I enjoyed this movie. It definitely had it's heart in the right place for a low budget horror film. The tone was just right, striking a balance between tongue in cheek and all out cheese. Any fan of horror will appreciate the nods to films of yesteryear... I spotted a load of them.

I liked how it began with the old horror cliché of kids going out on a trip, ala Texas Chainsaw Massacre... A lot of the tone of the film was lifted directly from Evil Dead, with the cabin and POV shots... Not to mention the nerdy main character. Plenty of references to American Werewolf in London and the The Wolfman with Lon Chaney... Hell, even Crisp (yeah, Kindergarten Cop) talked and sounded like Freddy Krueger when he was in lycanthropic form...

Anyway, good fun all around and funny when it wanted to be... There's definitely room for a sequel.

Note: It's funny that this earned Australia's highest classification - R18+, simply because there were a few brief moments of tongue in cheek sexual violence... Sure, have as much gore and violence as you want... but sexual violence... They definitely don't like that here!
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Ignore the negative opinions.
20 August 2008
This is worth watching if you're a fan of Star Wars. It's just good, solid fun.

The animation, while obvious that it was developed for TV, is actually very well done. The facial animations are stiff, yes, but when there's lots of stuff happening on screen, it's fascinating to watch. It's just an all out action fest, with beautiful designs and well choreographed action.

I went in expecting it to be completely kiddie, but it really wasn't. There's plenty of fun in there for both adults and children. It manages to add a little bit of extra depth to the prequel trilogy, which it desperately needed.

The voice acting, while it could be better, isn't particularly cringe worthy, like the acting in the prequel trilogy was at times. I think the prequel-era is actually more suited to animation, to be honest. On the whole, the script wasn't too bad and shows that Star Wars is better when Lucas doesn't write it, nowadays...

The new characters aren't much to write home about, but Ahsoka was relatively likable. Ziro the Hutt takes the cake as possibly the most disturbing Star Wars character yet - a transvestite Hutt! I guess it kinda makes sense, as I remember reading that Hutts switch between male and female and reproduce asexually. I was kinda taken aback by the choices made with that character.

The space battles were excellent. The ground battles were spectacular. The movie started off running and never stopped. It's just fun - which is what Star Wars is all about. Of course, people have decided what to think of this outing before even seeing it, which is kinda sad, but if you want to dip back into the Star Wars universe, it's worth watching.

The Clone Wars succeeds at what it sets out to do, which is to provide a fun, spectacular ride... And nothing more. For that, I'd give it a 7/10, and while it's not that deep, it doesn't need to be. I, for one, can't wait to watch the series when it starts.
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Symbolism does not a good movie make
20 August 2008
I'm familiar with Wes Anderson's work, though I've never been a rabid fan at all. This film was too steeped in it's own aspirations to be intelligent and full of symbolism, that it forgot to do what movies are meant to do - entertain. If you're going to make a film that is full of symbolism which you'll only really pick up on during repeat viewings, then ensure your film is worth watching more than once! I watched the film with a friend, who fell asleep 15 minutes into it. I managed to make it all the way through, but toward the end I was on the PC and looking up explanations of the symbolism in the film, because otherwise, there is no point. I didn't feel like thinking about the movie too much, because the characters were so droll and thinly painted, it just didn't keep my interest.

It doesn't help when the movie is constantly slapping false emotion in your face with blaring, "quirky" music and slow motion. That does NOT help get a point across. In my case, it simply annoyed me.

There were one or two moments in the film where something actually happened, and I was entertained for a split second... But then it collapsed back into overly long scenes of dry, inane dialogue. The performances were bland, and it really didn't seem as though anyone was into the story at all - even the director. I'm sure the idea sounded smart on paper, but the execution was incredibly weak.

Yes, the art design and cinematography were interesting to look at - that is where the film succeeded. When you take the symbolism into account, there IS potential for an interesting story in there somewhere, but as it is, it's hidden amongst a bunch of boring dialogue and (some subtle, some blatant) visual cues. I'll give it a 5/10 because the idea was there - too bad the execution was so soulless. In reality it probably deserves a 4...
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P2 (2007)
The epitome of average
20 August 2008
I feel like I've seen that story about 50 times over... It's just your run of the mill stalk and slash film. Competently made in a technical sense. The acting was serviceable, the editing fine, the music suspenseful enough... But it was so damn predictable. They hit every clichéd note in the book... The script was completely redundant. Everything was recycled from other movies. Totally and utterly forgettable in every sense, except for one brutal scene. Yes, it was brutal... nicely done to all involved for that one scene... The rest? Boring as *beep* but slick. Probably deserves 4/10, but I'd give it 5 just for decent execution of tired ideas...
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