Last year, between the two of us, we watched an average of 317 movies.
This year our goal is to top that by watching at least one a day.
And as an extra special torture, we've decided to write about all of them.

30 April 2008

Teeth, dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein (2007)

NIKKI says:
Wow, did I feel stupid. I really thought someone was seriously making a horror movie about a vagina with teeth. I didn't expect for a second that the film would be in anyway comedic or satirical. Steve says: "How could you possibly think they could do this seriously?"

Well...! I just don't know. Who knows what horror people will do these days. I figured on a Hostel-type thing, and got the sort of film Psycho Beach Party wanted to be, only with deeper, more compelling undertones.

Dawn is the leader of a chastity group in her hometown. She doesn't believe in sex before marriage, and is content to remain a virgin until she finds the right guy. When the right guy appears to come along, Dawn's hormones begin to rage. She decides a little closeness with her boyfriend might not be so bad. A little closeness becomes a lot of teasing, and her boyfriend takes out his frustrations by raping her. Unable to cope, Dawn's vagina clamps his offending penis and snaps it clean off.

Dawn is horrified to learn she embodies the Greek myth of the vagina dentata, and requires a hero to free her of this evil curse. But is it such a curse? What if Dawn could learn to control her condition? What kind of heroine could she become?

It's easy to dismiss this film as a sick and twisted tale of perversion. I made the mistake of skimming the IMDb board responses to it and most of them missed the point entirely (as they usually do about everything from I Spit on Your Grave to, say, Transformers). This is not a genital mutilation fantasy, so much as a female empowerment story. It's about owning one's body, taking charge of what Dawn calls her "gift". It's just a mildly weird way of getting that message across.

But I'll tell you -- the bitey-vagina is a horror angle I've never seen before. And in a genre that craves originality, there's a win right there. It also gets points for a brilliant female lead, who balances so well her dramatics and campishness to make her believable in such an unbelievable role.


STEVE says:
Teeth wasn't nearly as uncomfortable to watch as 98% of the reviews out there would have you believe. Only because you see it coming. Once the Vagina Dentata is revealed - and that's in the opening five minutes - it's only a matter of time before some penises start getting chomped off. It becomes a waiting game.

And when the waiting is over, it's effective because of the storytelling - by this point, you pretty much want to see this particular kid get his penis (or his 'dick', or his 'rod', or his 'johnson') cut off - but it's not all that squirm-inducing because the nature of the story prepped you for it. (And if it didn't, you just weren't paying attention.) More effective is the bathtub scene in I Spit on Your Grave. No way could you see that coming, so when it does, you're shocked. With Teeth, not so much.

Lichtenstein definitely took a More is More approach here. Getting graphic wasn't necessary because - especially in a case involving denticular castration - the more you leave to the imagination, the better. Instead, we're treated to bloody shots of penisless groins over and over again, as well as one completely unnecessary shot of a dog swallowing the, erm, "other half", let's say. To what end? I don't know. I think Less is More would have made me squirm.

Apart from all that, it was a good movie - again, because of the story and not because of the special effects.


The Maltese Falcon, dir. John Huston (1941)

29 April 2008

Alvin and the Chipmunks, dir. Tim Hill (2007)

NIKKI says:
This movie worked for exactly the reason I expected it to: The chipmunks were adorable. Usually, I'm anti-CGI and might rail against such a movie for not using real chipmunks like they used real pigs in Babe and just CGI-ed the mouth movements. But these little guys were so well animated that I never once stopped to shake my head at the fake-ness of it all.

Be cuter than the chipmunks!

The story, however, was ultra-standard, and would really have benefited from even the slightest bit of edge. There was, maybe, one or two jokes aimed at an older audience, but, the most part, this was purely little kid territory. Even the usually sardonic David Cross kept his performance tightly within the film's G-rated confines.

The premise is this: Struggling songwriter Dave can't get a job to save his life. Then he accidentally brings home a basket full of chipmunks who sing in perfect, if screechy, harmony. He sees his meal-ticket. So does evil Jett Records producer, Ian, played by David Cross, who proceeds to turn the chipmunks against Dave.

By this point, Dave is starting to view the chipmunks like his kids and Ian's scrupulous vision for them does not suit him at all. Of course, the chipmunks are digging the success and they side with Ian. It doesn't help Dave's case that early on, he resisted the chipmunks living with him in a family-type situation.

Dave must win them back, by proving that he does, in fact, see them as family.

It's a blueprint for kid-movie success, if ever there was one. There are plenty of happy, funky moments with the chipmunks playing games and dancing about. This is measured by a heavy dose of hug-happy sugar. But it's hard to resist the ultra-cute and cuddly chipmunks. They are just so ridiculously cute and I was with them all the way through.

So, that's another staple of our childhood up on the big screen. I'll sit back now and wait for the Jem movie.

3/5 (for cuteness)

Definitely, Maybe, dir. Adam Brooks (2008)

NIKKI says:
Ryan Reynolds in a romantic comedy meant I was in. I still don't know how much I enjoyed the premise. Basically, Ryan and his wife are divorcing and his little daughter, played by Abigail Breslin, wants to know how he came to fall in love with her mother.

He proceeds to tell the girl three stories of his three great romances, and she has to pick which one is her mom. Slightly creepy, considering all the making out, but still...

Now, you would think that reliving this story might make him realise that he does indeed still love her mother and will perhaps amend whatever it is in their relationship that broke so severely. This, of course, would make the little girl happy, and isn't that whats all movies like this are about?

Well, not in this case. Here, we find out that the woman Ryan is divorcing and the woman he really, truly loves are two different women. This almost renders that third story superfluous, and it ends up meaning very little, if anything at all. I can't remember exactly what that story teaches Ryan, but I know it meant for some overlong scenes with Kevin Kline that could have been chopped to make this movie the 90 minutes it should have been.

Now, doesn't the fact that he ends up with another woman mean that he was never meant to be with the mom in the first place? And doesn't that then mean that the daughter was conceived within a partnership doomed from the outset? Nobody brought this up. The daughter was happy to send the mother off knowing the dad was supposed to be with someone else. I just don't think that works. And if it was playing with convention, it should have let me know somehow.

Still, Ryan Reynolds is always enjoyable to watch. And I did like the political setting. Ultimately, if didn't work because too much was going on, and the focus was all over the place, and I don't think it had a clear vision of what Ryan wanted and needed. The supposed great love he ends up with feels like just another turn down just another road, not necessarily the right one.


Suburban Girl, dir. Marc Klein (2007)

NIKKI says:
I know I say this a lot but ... it started out so well. Associate editor meets big-time publishing magnate and started perhaps an ill-advised romance. He ends up helping her with her work, until she discovers he is rather intensely flawed. She must then question her own wants and needs. In effect, he becomes her editor, fixing her flaws, and, as he says, making her better.

Great premise, and the literary references throughout had me positively shivering with glee. (Why don't we ever meet people who can quote Dante?)

Problems! Oh golly, the problems. Basically, it all begins to unravel when Sarah Michelle says "Who's Jackson Browne?" She not that young. I think it was at this point that we began to pick the movie's large faults. Basically, Sarah Michelle's character is set up as wonderfully smart, and yet she is so blind to her surroundings, and acts, at times, so horribly immature that she becomes hard to take seriously.

Take, for instance, her reluctance to quiz Alec Baldwin (who plays her older man) on his past relationship with her new, feisty boss. Instead of just asking him why he kept such information from her, she opts to get wasted at a society event and make a damned fool out herself, which works only to demonstrate to Alec how young his girlfriend really is. This doesn't seem to faze him all that much, though.

Which begs another question -- how did she not realise that the relationship was not going to be long-lasting? She even peruses a photo album in his home filled with young women he's been in relationships with. It's impossible to think that Sarah Michelle didn't figure herself another notch on a particularly long belt.

But then the movie wants us to think that even for Alec, Sarah Michelle was something special. Only she is so immature, and a little dumb. She criticizes him for being self-involved when he rails at her for her lateness: "Don't blame me for you being a bad father!" she yells. I wanted him to scream back, "Then don't blame me for you being a stupid brat at that party!" The guy is going through massive alcohol-fuelled family-trauma, and she's having a go at him for saying exactly what's within his right to say. To what real end?

Anyway, the movie's got issues. I liked its main point, that people can be edited and shaped, but I don't think the older man/younger woman thing was necessary to make that point. It just brings up too many complications. And we hated that Alec, at 50, was made out to be as old as Moses when visiting Sarah Michelle's family. Fifty is not that old. Even Sarah Michelle does it by calling Alec and his friend "the cast of Cocoon". O ... kay.

So much potential that went so far astray. Still, it was generally entertaining, and it was nice to see Alec doing his gravelly-voiced thing.


28 April 2008

Night of the Living Dead - 3-D, dir. Jeff Broadstreet (2006)

STEVE says: I'm almost embarrassed to tell y'all this... but I didn't hate this movie.

In fact, I kinda enjoyed it.

I was prepared to hate it, of course. A remake of Night of the Living Dead? This is hallowed ground; real "Where Angels Fear to Tread" territory. And in 3D, no less. Throw Sid Haig in there and it loses its last shred of credibility. (Nothing against Sid, but he's clearly here for his camp value and nothing more.)

So 33 minutes in, when I was still not hating the movie (even though they'd opted not to use the line from the original, possibly the most iconic lines in horror movie history, "They're coming to get you, Barbara!"), I decided - better late than never - to give it a chance.

It was not a masterpiece, by any stretch of anyone's imagination. And it was only very tangentially a remake. It had all the elements of Night of the Living Dead but it used them in different ways. One is tempted to call it a "re-imagining", but it's closer to the truth to say they pulled a Lawnmower Man with it: there was an already valid, interesting story here, into which the film maker's decided to shoehorn a bunch of references to Night of the Living Dead - characters named Barb, Johnny, Ben, etc.; farmhouse; Zombies - and they needn't have done because the story was fairly solid on its own.

After being attacked by zombies at her aunt's funeral, Barb is rescued by Ben. They head off to the Cooper farmhouse where we meet Henry and Hellie, their daughter Karen, and Owen the "hired help". Seems the Cooper's have quite a good crop growing on their farm, and Ben was coming around to make a purchase. Already, we're so far removed from the original that you have to be asking yourself why, apart from name recognition, they bothered at all.

Once we wade through the obligatory first few minutes of disbelief, everyone gets on the same page and they work together (kicking the original movie's "basement vs. upstairs" argument and Ben and Harry/Henry's antagonism right out the window). Haig stops by, here playing the guy who runs the local cemetery, and we learn that this whole thing is pretty much his fault. He's afraid of fire, y'see, and he hadn't cremated any bodies since his dad died two years back. And when the experimental chemicals he was also supposed to burn accidentally leaked into the mortuary...

See what they did there? New characters; an explanation for the Zombie outbreak; a fairly contained area instead of a global epidemic. This so easily could have been its own movie, and once I put the original out of my mind, it was easy to kick back and enjoy it.

The 3D pretty much sucked, though. Apart from the money-shots, it was like watching a regular movie. (Still, better than fucking Amityville 3D in my opinion.) So, as much as I'd love to rate this a 3, it's losing half for masquerading as a remake of a classic, for not living up to its potential, and for improper use of a gimmick.


NIKKI says:
Wow, it really didn't suck. It was a masterpiece, either, but it held my interest. I am, however, starting to get very suspicious of this whole 3D thing. This was worse than AMityville in terms of it's 3D design. At least the master shots in Amityville had depth of field. This one didn't seem three dimensional at all. I could see the red and green outlines, but with my 3D glasses on, nothing changed. Nothing jumped out, nothing looked even remotely 3D.

So, that was monumentally disappointing, especially considering how much just the 3D-ness of a shit movie like Jaws 3D can make me love it. This movie was actually okay, so some good effects would have bumped up who knows how many stars! Instead, it stays on 2.5 because it gypped me.

I also like the Sid Haig twist. I couldn't believe it when he lifted that shovel! But, Steve's right -- with that twist, it could have just been its own movie. It didn't need to be a remake or a reimagining of George Romero's film. That is all.


27 April 2008

The Jammed, dir. Dee McLachlan (2007)

NIKKI says:
I had minimal interest in this one until I read a snapshot review in The Age that referred to it as "the best Australian film of 2007". That same day, a reasonably decent (ie. foreign film hirer) customer at the shop told me it was superb film. My interest certainly grew.

I love a good Australian film. I used to be one of those people who turned away from local productions due to the lack of good work out there. For every Noise, there's about 10 You and Your Stupid Mates, and that takes its toll after a while.

Lately, though, there's been a lot of good stuff out there -- or at least stuff that does its best to rise above the standard. The Jammed is one of those movies. It's not excellent, but it is sincere in its efforts to tell its awful story. Technically, it's excellent. On a story level, some tightening and focus might have helped.

My main problem had to do with a lack of understanding on behalf of the exploited women. The film is about a Melbourne woman, Ashley, roped into helping a Chinese mother find her missing daughter, Rubi. Rubi has fallen victim to human trafficking that sees young immigrant women forced to work in brothels to "pay debts" incurred by the securing (actually false) of immigration papers. The trick is, the women believe they owe these traffickers money, and if they try to get help they will be deported or held in detention. So, that's their catch-22 -- which is the better of two evils, as presumably the situation they leave is worse than the one they're now in.

Or is that in fact the case? The film doesn't really go into that. Is Vanya, the Russian immigrant, better off working as a prostitute in Australia? What was her situation back home? There's never an opportunity to understand these women. They never really even comment on what they are forced to go through, why they came out here. Because they don't speak English, we never hear from them, and just shake our heads in shame as they get repeatedly raped and tortured. But what do they feel? Horrible imagery -- Vanya getting urinated upon, for instance -- is one thing, but I wanted to know these women, not just see them abused. Violence and abuse of this magnitude would no doubt go on in regular brothels, exploiting Aussie women, so how is this different?

I think the film failed to give insight into the lives of these women. The film's dealing with them felt very surface to me. As far as Ashley's crusade, perhaps that needed to be the film's focus. The bureaucracy, and politics. Instead, we have two halves of a story that culminate in a poor ending that sees one dead (no police visited that death scene?), one locked up, and the other free to wander the Melbourne streets. Then Ashley rings her mum and is reminded that she doesn't have it so bad.

To what end? The message rings loud and clear -- this happens and there's nothing you can do about it and you should be thankful you don't have it so bad. It almost trivializes the situation rather than offering solutions, or even daring to leave Ashley hopeless, which is essentially what we are in these circumstances.

A good effort that falls short.


26 April 2008

Bug, dir. William Friedkin (2007)

NIKKI says:
Probably one of the weirdest films I've ever seen, and that's why I liked it. It challenged everything in me. It was crazy, horrible, and dirty. Nothing was fully explained. It was dream-like. Ashley Judd was in it. Everything existed here to turn me off, and yet, I found myself glued.

I learned watching the making-of on the DVD that this is a movie about paranoia. I figured that, but I was looking for something more. I felt through much of the film that I was missing some grand point. Turns out I wasn't -- Friedkin talks about it as a paranoia piece, while the actors talk about it's love story elements. Michael Shannon says he wants everyone to walk away from it loving each other a little bit more.

To find the love story here is dig through a lot of grit, blood, and screaming. But he's right -- it's there. At the core of it, Ashley Judd's character needs something to believe in after the disappearance of her child. She blames herself, and in walks Michael Shannon, this stranger who thinks there are bugs in his brain and that's he's being controlled my the military. She think she's nuts, but his belief is so fierce that she starts to believe it, too. Eventually, his weirdness becomes hers and she uses his theories to explain her situation. She can deal with her loss. But, more importantly, she believes Michael Shannon. He is insane, but she believes him. That's the love part. Sure, she's kind of insane, too, but watching as they decide to take vengeance on their controllers is so fucked up it's actually kind of beautiful.

Bizarre, challenging, and fascinating.


Prey, dir. Darrell Roodt (2007)

NIKKI says:
Technically, Fulci picked this one. We selected three horror movies from the to-watch pile, laid a treat in front of them, and waited. Prey it was. Fulci spent much of the movie running up to the screen to bark at big animals, so something tells me his selection was far from informed.

So, Peter Weller marries a women 25 years younger then him and takes her to Africa with his kids -- one cute, one snotty -- and sends them on safari while he stays back at camp to build something. The new wife and the kids wind up trapped in a truck with savage lions lying in wait nearby.

The movie is basically 90 minutes of them in the car trying to figure out what to do. There are tense moments, sure, but it's mostly just boring. And I hated seeing the lions so callously gunned down -- it was a bit exploitative. As I always say in movies like this -- the lions were there first!! Leave them alone!!

Not a great movie, not utterly horrible. Just ... boring.


25 April 2008

The Tattooist, dir. Peter Burger (2007)

NIKKI says:
Honestly, I wasn't expecting much. This was, after all, on a preview disc with Children of the Corn IV. It was a fun surprise, then, to discover an engaging movie.

The rundown is this: Jake Sawyer travels the world learning various forms of tattooing. In Singapore, he encounters Samoan tatau, which looks like it really fucking kills. He's into it, so much so that he carelessly steals a tatau tool. Little does he know, that tool was used in a tatau gone wrong, and when Jake accidentally stabs himself with it, a spirit is released that torments and kills anyone Jake's hand tattoos.

Of course, Jake only realises there's a problem after he gives his new girlfriend (Sina, one of the tatau artists) a lotus flower on her back.

Weird premise, yeah, but it was actually handled with great sophistication. The characters were intriguing, there was some classy writing going on (particularly the banter between Jake and the girlfriend), and the horror was genuinely affecting. As was the emotional ending involving the spirit in a mirror. I was simultaneously creeped out and on the verge of tears -- something about beauty and horror, blood and art, and all the juicy contradictions tattooing evokes.

A good film, about a fascinating subject, with some really awesome New Zealand actors (and Jason Behr, who was also very cool).


24 April 2008

The Lookout, dir. Scott Frank (2007)

NIKKI says:
The pacing of this one stuck out the most. It very steadily tells its story, and I think it's testament to how well-written parts of it are that the pace doesn't drag it down.

It's quite slow getting going, but it's character driven, and perhaps atmosphere driven, that it works to build this dark world in which these dark people move about. The story isn't especially compelling, but the mood of the piece is at times.

If that makes sense...

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is turning into Heath Ledger more and more with each film. Not only does he look like Heath, he's developing Heath's intensity. He's turning into a smart actor, and I enjoy watching him in most things.

So, the movie... Chris has a car smash that kills or severely injures his best friends. Following the accident, his brain is fucked up and he can't remember things properly, so writes down everything in his life in a little notebook. He can't connect with people, and lives with his blind friend, Jeff Daniels, while working as a bank janitor.

Chris's job makes him the target for a group of bank robbers. They cajole him into assisting with their robbery plans by taking him in, offering him friendship, and making him fall for a girl. He realises the benefits of the extra cash and goes along with the scam. But all, say it with me, is not as it seems...

It's a movie about a guy who deals with a poor decision by making poor decisions. It's about a lack of connection, about attempts made to steer straight. I enjoyed it, though I didn't love it. One of my main concerns was how movie-like the final reel was, with the shootouts and things. Something about those crisp, choreographed battle scenes just distracted me from the story.

What am I trying to say? The dude with the glasses, the all-out killing machine -- he only exists in movies. Look at Dog Day Afternoon -- now that's more realistic. These caricatures of evil men don't work for me -- even Matthew Goode's character was over the top and unrealistic. It was his connection to Lukas Haas in terms of his look and actions here that made me think of Brick. This was far more accomplished than Brick, but suffered from some cheesy bad guys.

Still, smart enough and dark enough to be enjoyable.


23 April 2008

Amityville 3-D, dir. Richard Fleischer (1983)

STEVE says:
I went 25 years without watching this fucking thing. A quarter of a century; 67.5% of my life - possibly longer than I've ever purposefully not watched any other movie. Tonight the streak was broken, and the wait more than completely justified.

There really was no excuse for this movie. The story, as it was, deftly side-stepped that set-up in the first film, choosing instead to go with some ghostly tom-foolery, and then went nowhere for what seemed a really long time, but was in fact only 89 minutes. Long enough, I suppose.

Adding insult to injury, the 3-D isn't used to any particular effect. The occasional "shock-shot" of a hand reaching out toward the screen, yeah, but how many times can we see that in the same movie and still be bothered to care?


NIKKI says:
Just when I thought I'd never watch another non-3D movie again... This was just horrendous. I'm starting to think Jaws 3D was actually a shameful film that blinded me with its fish effects.

I said to Steve, perhaps I would have been blind to this film's dumbness had the 3D effects been better, It would appear we had a slightly colour-skewed print, so not all of the 3D worked. This was bad. The main shots were good -- people and walls and stuff were very 3D, but the money-shots -- pole going through car window, hands reaching out, flies and ghost-forms buzzing around -- all split the red and blue in two. So, instead of seeing something coming at us, we just saw it big and twice, as though we had a weird double-vision.

So, that was disappointing.

Not as disappointing, though, as the movie itself, which was stupid, boring, and made very little sense. That is all.


Corey Haim: Me, Myself and I, dir. William L. Boyd, Brooke McCarter (1989)

NIKKI says:
So, I wake up in the morning, come out to the computer, flick the monitor on, and I see this. Well, I see Corey Haim, crayon in hand, writing his name on a wall. It's Corey Haim's video diary from 1989. Little does Steve know, he has just found my Holy Grail.

Or perhaps he did know... And, to be honest, my Holy Grail became something far different as of about 1992. Still, watching this "film" so many years after my Haim-obsession was just brilliant. It was everything I thought it would be and more. So, so much more.

I told Steve I had the most success with this when I stepped back into my 1989-self, back when I was going to marry Corey and would save all my pocket money to buy Teen Beats with his picture on the front. I could more easily view this as I may have then, loving Corey as he played tennis and drive his Alfa Romeo down Sunset Boulevard. I needed to put myself back there, because this really is a sad, sad piece of work.

I don't blame Corey. He was 17 at the time, and probably spent much of his teens being told he was the shit, and that everybody loved him, so he acted like it. He really does love him some self here, parading for the camera, saying stuff he thinks is funny or deeply profound, and spending much of his time getting pampered and primped by make-up girls. It's no wonder he acts the way he does.

Research informs me that this video was not a fan piece, but a PSA from Corey Camp that he was off drugs and ready to start his adult career. Apparently, he'd had some law troubles at this time, though I don't remember hearing about that in my only source of Corey news: the teen mags. Funny that. At the end of the movie, Corey tells us to stay in school and avoid "getting messed up". It's all so sincere, and then a make-up girl comes out. Well, maybe she doesn't, but she may as well have.

As ridiculous as this movie is -- it's 37 minutes of Corey playing sports, winking for the camera while floating in his pool, hitting some keys on his synthesizer, doing a fashion show, and talking about how can't wait to live in a mansion in Tahiti -- it's a product of its time, and really shows how blinded we fans were to the lives of our fave stars. There was no Internet, no YouTube, no E! Hollywood Story -- just the teen mags and the movies. We could believe in our favourite stars' innocence for a lot longer than kids can today. I think that was a good thing.

1/5 for content;
because my life is now complete.

Steve did not view.

22 April 2008

The Border, dir. Tony Richardson (1982)

NIKKI says:
Remember when movies were like this? If I could go back in time, anywhere at all in world history, it would be to this time, when Jack Nicholson could slap Valerie Perrine and we'd understand him fully.

To be continued...

STEVE says:
I couldn't believe Nikki had yet to see The Border (Lyndall, I'm looking at you...), but I'd only seen about 10 minutes of it myself, and that as a kid of 11 or 12, so I couldn't throw stones. Not too hard, at least.

The Border was less plot-driven than we'd expected and more of a character piece. Nicholson plays Charlie Smith, newly relocated to Texas from California, and working as a Border Guard. Here he finds all sorts of corruption, from the Chief (Warren Oates) all the way down to his neighbour and co-worker Cat (Harvey Keitel), which makes him take a look at his own life, and decide to do something good for a change by helping a young Mexican woman find her kidnapped baby, thereby attaining redemption for his own transgressions in the past.

Again, not a great movie, but definitely a very good movie. Watching Nicholson and Harvey Keitel together for the first time was a cinematic gift. Not a bad choice for Nicholson's 71st birthday!


21 April 2008

Jaws 3-D, dir. Joe Alves (1983)

NIKKI says:
The skeleton hand! Ahhh!

This movie kinda restored my faith in the art of the 3D sequel. After Friday 3, I was a bit concerned that the gimmick had worn thin. As awesome as those opening sheets were in that movie, the package as a whole felt like a waste of time. The movie underneath the 3D effects was just that terrible.

This one, though, wasn't so bad. And it was the perfect setting for a 3D film -- under the sea. It's not set under the sea, as such, but there are lots of shot of underwater worlds, with fish swimming right by your face. The sharks pop out, we get stuff in a syringe splurted in our faces, the skeleton hand comes right out and grabs you by the head (pretty much), and it's all very tense and scary.

Okay, so it's not tense or scary, but there are moments in the end when you think one of the dolphins has perished. And that was pretty moving.

Dennis Quaid, if I've got this right, is an architect at an underwater, sea-based theme park. His girlfriend takes care of the dolphins. They learn that a shark family has broken through the sea barriers and entered the park. It's potential devastation for all, obviously. So, they devise a plan to get the sharks out, before everyone visiting the park perishes.

Fairly standard, but not boring. And Bess Armstrong is just a great heroine -- she's dedicated to her dolphins, in love with her boyfriend in a cool, non-obsessive, non-bitchy way, and she's sure of herself. Not once do you hear cries in this movie that a chick can't save the day.

Not the best movie of all time, but certainly right near the top of the list of 3D sequels.


STEVE says:
The best part about watching any 3-D movie is the first few minutes, when Nikki is just getting used to the effect. Priceless.

Though I've only seen this movie once before (in the theater on its initial release), I remembered quite a bit of it - a whole lot more than I do from other films I saw only once 25 years ago: Shawn Brody's fear of the water (which he got over real quick, by the way, thus making it a set-up with no pay-off); the POV shot as Simon "Manimal" McCorkindale gets smashed up inside the shark; the fact that there were two sharks involved this time (which Benchley would later echo with giant squids in Beast); the massive underwater shark explosion and the triumphant dolphins. Clearly the film had an impact on my young mind. I mean, it's not a great movie, but the fact that I recalled as much as I did has gotta be testament to something.

Compared to Friday the 13 part 3 in 3-D, Jaws 3-D was a freakin' masterpiece. On its own, however, it was really just kind of average. But I'm giving it an extra half-point for effort.


20 April 2008

Slow Burn, dir. Wayne Beach (2005)

STEVE says:
This was a good-but-not-great Noirish thriller whose only failing, as far as I'm concerned, is that it relied too heavily on the Usual Suspects/Keyser Soze gimmick with its Danny Luden character.

This is one of those movies where red herrings abound, so when it's pushing you too far in one direction, you can be sure it's the wrong one. Usual Suspects never falls into that trap because the film posits that Keyser Soze might not even exist in reality, so you're never sitting there trying to guess which one of the gang is hiding his identity. With Slow Burn, it's a constant shell-game, where each new lead points to a different character. And when it starts pointing too insistently, you instinctively start looking elsewhere. The twist-upon-twist-upon-twist ending was a bit much, I'm sitting there thinking, "End already!" but it was solid enough to keep me interested for the duration, even though we figured out pretty early what was going on.

None of which means that it deserves the caning it's receiving over there at

The critics are just ripping Slow Burn to shreds, which is unfortunate and unfair. It's not like it's trying to bring anything new to the thriller table; it's taking the conventions of the genre and using them as necessary. Does that merit a 12%? I think not.


NIKKI says:
You know, I never once thought of The Usual Suspects while watching this movie. Looking back, I can see that movie's influence all over this one. Still, I was happy with the goings on. I thought figuring out LL Cool J was the killer and then realising he wasn't then thinking he was again was actually fun.

There were bits and pieces here that I didn't like. Mainly that the Assistant DA would even think for two seconds that her DA boyfriend (Ray) would believe her story for a second. I'm questioning, too, the fact that Ray never once suspected her of anything during the months she was seeing someone else.

So, yeah, if you pulled a thread, the whole thing might unravel. I still liked it. Perhaps I just liked watching Ray face off against LL? But who wouldn't like that? I also loved the movie's soundtrack. Some really great soul tunes in this one.

So, did you notice how Ray Liotta aged badly in his 40s, and now seems to be aging REALLY well in his 50s? I said to Steve in the movie that Ray would be approaching 50, as all my crushes from the early '90s seem to be, and here I find Ray's 53! He looks 40 in this movie. Svelte, healthy, delish.

There's a point right there.


19 April 2008

The Hive, dir. Peter Manus (2008)

STEVE says:
Two minutes in and we were ready to shut this off. I don't know why neither of us brought it up - maybe we thought we deserved this after so many good horror movies - but we didn't. We suffered through it.

In 2005 Tom Wopat could be seen on Broadway, playing James Lingk in Glengarry Glen Ross. Now he's appearing - top billed, but still - in Sci-Fi Channel shite like The Hive. Tom, can I send ya a few bucks?

I don't know what to tell you: Ants decide they're taking over Thailand or something; some exterminators are called in but the ants have become self-aware and are able to create tentacles and smash people to the ground. Pseudo-scientific jargon is bandied about, lines like "We don't negotiate with ants" are delivered without a trace of irony, then suddenly there's a giant ant made up of billions of ants, a glowing alien mosquito-looking thing, Wopat becomes a suicide bomber and then it's over.

This ranks right up there with Shockwave. Avoid at all cost.


NIKKI says:
The streak had to run out sometime.

If if wasn't midnight, and I wasn't really tired after work, I would have turned this off. Thinking about it now, I turned it off in my head about 20 minutes in. I thought Steve was going to query why I was bringing up random things to him during the movie. It was because the movie was going on in front of me, but in my head I was thinking about my writing, my drum lessons, Steve's play, my dog, work, anything.

I thought we would get a crappy-but-fun little ant movie. But it was horrible and dumb. It had big wormhole-looking ant cobras floating about making pattens of DNA.

Ugh, that's all I can say. You get it.


18 April 2008

Noise, dir. Henry Bean (2007)

NIKKI says:
When I read the synopsis, I thought of Falling Down, the movie where Michael Douglas gets fed up with his day job and starts to go mental. Here, we have Dave Owen, a guy who is so tired of New York City's car alarms disturbing him at random moments in his life, that he goes around smashing windows and cutting battery lines. Obviously, the law is not on his side, and so he finds himself in trouble. Still, Dave has a purpose. He is the only man who believes in keeping the peace.

I enjoyed Dave's story. It was funny, and there were a lot of good discussions throughout the movie about the meaning of peace, and how we struggle for it. I even understood Dave's insanity as I, too, can't stand the incessant and often unnecessary noise of daily life. I close the door at work so I can't hear the voices and the traffic; I often go to sleep with a pillow over my head; I'll turn on a fan to block out noise... Steve and I used to live behind a motorcycle repair shop -- that almost drove us both out of our minds. So, Dave's plight was one I could get behind.

What I didn't enjoy about the film was the cartoonish characterisations of those Dave was up against -- the mayor and his lackey, for instance, played by William Hurt and William Baldwin. What is with Hurt these days? Every film he's in, he seems to be some weird version of his former self, with bizarre hair and a weird voice.

I also didn't like Dave's sexual experimentation while on his mission and separated from his wife. Steve mentioned something about the importance of the discussions going on in those scenes, that they were oddly philosophical, and I did notice that. But I felt jumping from Dave's relatively playful journey into intense sex scenes involving talk of him making a young woman come and the beauty of another woman's "pussy" was just a bit strange. I don't know what those moments contributed. The "pussy" woman spoke of Dave finding a "heaven for the ears" while she wanted a "heaven for her body" (she wanted a more beautiful vagina) -- why couldn't she have been talking about her eyes, or her lips?

Anyway, my prudishness aside... I liked it. It had its faults, but Dave's story was strong enough to overcome those.


[REC], dir. Jaume Balagueró / Paco Plaza (2007)

NIKKI says: I thought he meant Wreck, as in a boat capsizes and there are zombies or something. Oops.

What is going on with all this good horror? I'm not used to enjoying so many of them in a row. We're going to have a hell of a time picking our Top 5 for this month. So much has been great.

This one just heads straight to the top of the list. I never would have guessed we'd see another film this year that would match the frights or the smarts of Welcome to the Jungle, Cloverfield, and Dead in 3 Days.

And, yet, not a day later, we watch this one, which manages in 70 crazy minutes to top all three.

Yep, [Rec] is brilliant. It is so cleverly written that each mark the movie hits, you just want to stand up and applaud. The first bite comes without warning, and it's absolutely frightening. Then the second person goes down, and the method in which that happens is even worse than the first bite. And so it goes... it just gets scarier and more effective as it goes on.

Assisting here, too, is some excellent character development. We meet some of these people so briefly, bit we're somehow devastated to see them go.

Steve and I both noted, too, the screaming of a lot of the dialogue. You know how in movies when victims are being pursued by rampaging killers, they're scared, screaming, maybe sweating a bit and breathing heavy? Well, here they do things a bit more realistically. The panic in the voices of these actors is perfect. I've never heard dialogue delivered this way in horror before. I sometimes felt they were really freaking the hell out of the girl playing the lead the way she spews out her words at times with such terror. Whoever requested that of her, and the others, is a bit of a genius, I reckon.

So much about this was fresh and different. And that's saying something in a genre so overcrowded. From the dialogue and its delivery, through to the actual horror itself -- some great effects here, and absolutely no punches pulled in the grossness of neck bites and hatchet kills. And then there's final ten minutes of the thing which pretty much sent us over the edge of what we thought we could handle, movie-wise.

Good luck, horror makers, topping this one.


STEVE says: [REC] left me speechless. Even now I'm having a difficult time articulating what it was, exactly, that made the movie work for me, because so little of it actually felt like a movie.

I can tell you what didn't work for me: There's a bit early on where Angela asks Pablo to run some footage back for her, and we actually see the footage rewind and watch it again. And the voice-over bit at the end where one of Angela's lines from earlier is repeated once she meets her fate. If we're meant to be experiencing their footage as it was shot, these little flashes of clever film making don't help. They take me out of the movie - or, rather, bring me back into it - which was my major problem with Diary of the Dead (the narration and the score) in that you're dragged right out of the drama and reminded that, no matter how good the movie is, it's still just a movie.

But [REC] is second only to The Blair Witch Project as far as presenting a believable reality. The only reason I'm not rating it any higher, apart from the aforementioned, is the pseudo-explanation for the Zombie outbreak. While certainly original, it raised more questions than it answered, serving only to stretch the movie for an extra five minutes. And damn it for that, because I would have loved to give this a perfect score.

[REC] was scary as all fuck.


17 April 2008

In 3 Tagen Bist Du Tot (aka. Dead in 3 Days), dir Andreas Prochaska (2006)

STEVE says:
One question, before I get into this: When the hell did Austria start making teen-slasher flicks? I like to think I've got my finger on the pulse of the teen-slasher flick market, but the Austrian contingent has apparently left me alone in the dark.

Makes me wonder what I've been missing all these years 'cos this one rates right up there with the best of the sub-genre.

If I'm being honest, though, it really wasn't all that original - kind of a re-telling of I Know What You Did Last Summer, but with a grisly twist - yet it felt like what that film wanted to be. Like this was the original and Last Summer was the pale American imitation. It was very tense, well-acted and beautifully shot... which already separates it from Last Summer by leaps and bounds. And our teen heroes weren't complete knobs, either, which scores the movie extra points in my book. For once I didn't want to see everyone killed in nasty ways.

The sad bit is, no one is going to rent this one because of the sub-titles. Yet shite the likes of Saw IV and Hostel 2 is leaping off the fucking shelves. Too bad.

Apparently there's a sequel on the way. Normally, that would bother me. But here, Prochaska is returning - not only as director, but also as writer this time around - as well as Sabrina Reiter as Nina, Julia Rosa Stöckl as Mona and Andreas Kiendl as Officer Kogler. I don't know how they're going to make it work - as in I Know What You Did Last Summer, a sequel seems as implausible as it is inadvisable - but I, for one, am very interested to see what happens next.


NIKKI says:
We were supposed to watch a Spanish movie called Rec but the version we had didn't have any subtitles. Man, were we pissed. So, at was nearly midnight, my holidays are over (sigh) and we needed something stat -- somehow a Masters of Horror episode just doesn't feel, to me, like our daily movie quota filled.

I scrabbled through the preview tapes looking for something 80 minutes long that screamed HORROR and came up with Dead in 3 Days. We fretted, but went with it. Lately, the second-thought movies have been some of the best.

This was really good. We enjoyed it right from the start. The scenes with the kids finishing school were genuinely funny, and the classic slasher set-ups were in place -- happy kids who have no idea what's coming to them, a sneaky nerdy kid who seems to dislike them, and a scene involving roadkill that shifts our mood from jovial to wary. Stuff can turn on a dime. Ah, horror movies. How can you not love the art?

And then the kids start getting weird calls, and start disappearing, and it's all so tense and interesting. The film hits every mark. It throws us red herrings then proves they can't be responsible. It reveals possible reasons behind the slaughter at mid-point and by the middle of the movie, everything that needs to be set up is set up and so we're not scratching our heads, but nodding along because it makes perfect (inevitable) sense. And it reveals it's basic truth right at the very end, which is the classic tying of loose moral ends.

This is a smart, stylish horror movie that knows what it's doing. That's all we ask for in horror, right?


The Damned Thing, dir. Tobe Hooper (2006)

STEVE says:
Hmm, yes. Another entry from the Masters of Horror collection; this one from Tobe Hooper, written by Richard Christian Matheson and based on a story by Ambrose Bierce.

Not a bad pedigree, and one it almost lives up to. But only almost.

Starts off okay, with young Kevin witnessing his dad go from genial family man to shotgun-toting lunatic in mere seconds. "It found me," he says. "The damned thing." After killing Kevin's mom, dad chases Kevin outside, through a field, and up a tree, and just before he's able to shoot Kevin down, some unseen force tears at his chest, rips him open from nave to chops, and spins him around a bit before we -

Cut to: Present Day. Kevin (as played by Sean Patrick Flanery) is now Sheriff of Cloverdale. When townsfolk start going mad and turning on one another - and in some cases, themselves - Kevin realizes it has to do with the Damned Thing that did his dad in. He learns that the same thing happened a few towns over in 1959. Some of the townsfolk who survived - including his own father - relocated to Clovafield. Now the Thing is back, and it's found them.

There is never any explanation as to what this Damned Thing is, where it came from, or why it's after any of the survivors - and, it seems, their offspring - from the 1959 incident. No matter. Kevin figures the Damned Thing wants him and will go away if it gets him, so he sacrifices himself to save his wife and child - not realizing, I guess, that the Thing would want his child as well. Which is where it ends, Kevin's wife and kid being done in by the Thing as well.

This was very unsatisfying in the end, but I was with it up until then. It was good - not Black Cat good or Homecoming good, not by a long shot, but still not as horrendously bad as this series tends to be. I'm rating it on a special Masters of Horror curve.


NIKKI says:
It started out well. I enjoyed the opening scenes with the dad going slightly mental on his family after the black stuff dripped through the wall. And then I was reasonably interested in why the townsfolk, all those years later, started doing themselves in in mass numbers.

What annoyed me, though, was that old thing of, well, here we are however many years later, and the thing is back and it wants YOU, Sean Patrick Flanery! It was a bit Here We Go Again. But that's the nature of horror and supernatural stories -- so much ground has been tread since the Poe days that not much is going to be shocking and new.

Still, this one perhaps could have upped the ante a bit. Instead, it went exactly where one expected it to go. Flanery's kid was in peril, wife went mental, thing ate Flanery. Ho hum. Man, do I hate the Monster At The End ending. It's lazy, it bores me, it's the main reason why I broke up with Stephen King. Note to horror writers: Big mud monsters are not scary.

I do wish Flanery would get more work. And the scene where the guy kills himself with a hammer has to be seen to be believed -- these shows do not hold back horror-wise. That's a plus.


16 April 2008

Il Mistero di Lovecraft: Road to L., dir. Federico Greco / Roberto Leggio (2005)

NIKKI says:
I said to Steve last night -- April has become "Handheld Month". We've had Diary of the Dead, Cloverfield, Welcome to the Jungle, and now this. Although not entirely handheld, the scary bits were mainly seen through a camera lens. I've decided movie directors are right: Things are scarier when presented in that style.

In this movie, the group is down in some abandoned tunnels. They stumble across some gutted fish. The one guy is all, hmm, let's go back. And then he looks forward and sees... briefly, quickly... SOMEONE! They scream and head back. Because this is Lovecraft territory, and we know it's not a person but a giant FISHMAN!

Not that we see the giant fishman. But still... we know.

The situation is this... A group of American filmmakers come to Italy because of a manuscript that has been found that features journal entries by H.P. Lovecraft that suggest he visited certain parts of Italy prior to writing his most famous works, Call of Cthulhu and Shadow over Innsmouth. The entries specifically mention the creepy things Lovecraft supposedly saw in those abandoned places.

The filmmakers want to solidify this apparent connection by finding something specific that proved Lovecraft was inspired by Italy, and not just his imagination.

So, they take their cameras and they start their seeking. Meanwhile, the main director guy just becomes more and more of an arrogant prick, and alienates everybody, so they get very little done. It's not the area that's doing this guy in, he was an asshole from the start, so we get this weird juxtaposition of an angry group in an angry area that just wants to be left alone. It's an interesting tension. And separates this film from Cloverfield with its camaraderie in a bad situation, and Welcome to the Jungle, in which the stresses of the situation turn those guys against each other.

Here, it's tense from the outset. Very cool twist on this sort of group-tries-to-solve-mystery sub-genre. This group eventually finds what they're looking for, and the final moments of the film are really creepy. I was afraid of fishmen in the house for a little while after it ended. The best scene, though, was the group asking some old fishermen for directions... man, that was harsh. Oh, and the scene where they hear music playing FROM NOWHERE!

Good movie, interesting story, love the concept, and there was some phenomenal acting by the one guy -- Fausto -- who just couldn't take the director's smarminess for one more second.


Double Indemnity, dir. Billy Wilder (1944)

STEVE says:
Well, what can you say? Double Indemnity is simply one of the best films ever made. Where do you go from there?

Showed this one to my class tonight. I've got them looking into Film Noir this term and since Double Indemnity was the first Noir I saw (not the first I'd watched, but the first I really saw for something other than just "an old movie"), I decided to open with it. As I'd hoped, it blew them away. The dialog, the plotting, Edward G. Robinson's "little man"; it all made an impact, and elicited some spirited discussion afterwards.

Something I learned while researching the movie for class: It's based on an actual event. In Queens in 1927, a woman named Ruth Snyder talked her boyfriend into killing her husband Albert, after having Albert take out a big insurance policy with a double-indemnity clause. This inspired James M. Cain to write not only his novel Double Indemnity, but also The Postman Always Rings Twice. Apparently this story struck quite a chord with Mr. Cain.


Nikki did not view.

15 April 2008

La Terza Madre (aka. Mother of Tears), dir. Dario Argento (2007)

NIKKI says:
Did somebody say this movie was Dario "back to form"? I'm sure I heard that prior to watching it. It's very true, at any rate. For the first time since discovering Tenebrae or whichever Argento I watched first way back when, I felt genuinely creeped out, by the story, the effects, the horror, and I genuinely cared for the woman in peril.

My god, how gruesome. New wave horror has nothing on Dario. The blood spatter here proves that old school horror/violence is still the most effective, even if you can tell the spike through the eyes is so totally fake. It just looks good. And I don't think much of it was CG, which is even better. The woman at the start stumbling around in her own intestines -- gross! But awesome.

The story wasn't bad, either. This is apparently the final film in the Three Mothers trilogy that includes Suspiria and Inferno. Here, Asia Argento plays the daughter of a woman killed by the Mother of Sighs from Suspiria. In this movie, she and a friend at a museum open an ancient urn, inadvertently bringing into this realm, the Mother of Tears. Asia must steel herself against the witch and her powers, which see the entire city turning on itself in horror and fury.

Asia goes to an old house to face off against the witch, ad stumbles across an awful party scene where the women are all chanting and singing for the one main witch in the little red dress. It's all so creepy and weird. Asia ends up swimming through a body-infested sewer, and -- ugghh -- it's just awesomely revolting.

But it never feels exploitative. I did find myself cursing Dario when not one, but TWO, babies found themselves at the receiving end of his horror vision, but that's Dario, I guess. Taking me places I don't want to go so sharply and so quickly that I barely have time to register it. These days, with the drawing out of the gore, they've just got it so wrong. It's so much harder to process Dario's type of violence that aims not to gross out, but to shock. It's fast, and it's mean. Just dare to watch the woman get her mouth ground open (AHHHH!), or the spike up the dress, or the spike through the gullet, or the poked out retinas. Snap, snap, snap.

This was a fitting conclusion to the director's weird vision.


Angel-A, dir. Luc Besson (2005)

NIKKI says:
I haven't seen Wings of Desire, which this apparently borrows from in terms of theme and style. Had I seen that film, my perceptions of this one might have been different. In any case, I enjoyed Besson's little fable, and while I realise Angela's eventual means of making Andre believe in himself are a little simplistic, I still found it moving.

The style, too, adds much. What a beautiful picture to watch. The Parisian streets, the landmarks, the quadrangles overlooked by the Eiffel Tower, the bridges. I think Angela comments several times in the film just how beautiful Paris is, and at the end, when she's rising above this gorgeous backdrop, in full flight, it's even more exquisite, with this heavenly feel.

I remember reading that Angela's "job" was supposed to be some great secret. As if knowing she was an angel would ruin the thing like finding out Bruce Willis was actually dead the whole time. I don't think that's true. You'd have to be quite the simpleton not to see what was going on. She shows up out of nowhere, she's absolutely stunning, her name is ANGELa, and, at one point, she stands up against a statue, the statue's cement wings protruding up as though out of her back. It's a brilliant shot, and purposely reminding you this woman is otherworldly.

So, visually it's brilliant. The story is funny and touching, and a tiny bit inspirational. I thought the end was a bit too easy. I think Andre should have taken Angela's advice and gone off to live his life. But the movie chooses a different fate for him. If only what happens to him could happen to us all. Suicide might be eradicated, that's for sure.


14 April 2008

10 Items or Less, dir. Brad Silberling (2006)

NIKKI says:
This was pretty much exactly as I expected: a cute movie about two different people who manage to strike a bond and influence each other's lives.

In a way, it was quite standard -- the young and willful young woman who needs calming down is given a sort of peace by the sage-like older man. He's been there and done that, and he knows the screaming and the kicking won't do anyone any good. He gives her self-belief, that she is worth something.

What does he get out of it? I'm not so sure, really. He is in town researching a role for a film, and that's where the two meet. But what is his goal beyond finding the inspiration for a character? He does say something about life being in the conversations, the interactions with people in their daily lives. He goes around making little impacts -- smiling in appreciation of a woman putting on makeup, watching a little boy show off his golf swing, things like that.

He's also afraid of committing to his latest project, so perhaps he goes around researching, getting what he needs from people for life, and then shying away from the working thing. I'm rewriting the movie -- perhaps that could have been explained a bit more.

His goal seemed to be real interaction. There's truth within all human being if the surface is scratched even just a little bit. If that was the movie's (and Freeman's) overall reason for being, then I can handle that. A nice little movie.


Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, dir. Sidney Lumet (2007)

NIKKI says:
Never has a film directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman promised so much and delivered so little. Although, admittedly, I appear to be on my own with this, as the film is receiving positive reviews all over town.

I just didn't care. I started caring because the story started out so interesting -- brothers in need of money, one seemingly well-to-do, the other a hopeless fuck-up, plan to rob their parents' jewellery store. Things go wrong, and our story starts.

But as it played out, I found myself less and less interested in where these down and dirty lives ended up. I found myself only interested in just where Ethan Hawke was going to take his character, acting-wise. His performance was extraordinary, and just made me think how much I have missed him in movies. This was the first time, I think since Tod Anderson, that I've genuinely been enthralled watching him. Usually, he seems a bit bored. Here, he appeared to care a bit more.

I'm so sad that I didn't. I felt the movie just ached with melodrama -- and not the good kind. This was just sad people doing sad things. And I realise Phillip Seymour was really at the end of his rope, but how he ends up dealing with it just didn't ring true to me.

A good set-up, but ultimately disappointing.


13 April 2008

Untraceable, dir. Gregory Hoblit (2008)

NIKKI says:
You know, I expected this to be far worse. Usually, with these sorts of procedural films, the stupidest people in the audience are catered to first. So, we have lots of Law and Order-like expository banter buzzing about, and inept investigators who don't know their nucleic acid from their dermal papillae.

This had elements of that, but I didn't find myself scoffing every five minutes, as in Murder By Numbers or any Ashley Judd film based on a James Patterson 'novel'.

I wonder, though, if the reason for my non-hatred of this film was due to Diane Lane. Steve and I both felt that had Judd or Sandra Bullock starred in this one, we may have tossed around a few more jibes. After all, the set-up isn't particularly clever -- guy angry at horror-obsessed media takes his revenge. And the situations the killer manages to create are too sophisticated, his connections to chem-labs and his web smarts are a bit too convenient. But throw Diane in, and something clicks. You believe every crease on her face, every emotion in her voice. You believe her, you suddenly believe a college student might rig up a sulphuric acid tank in a suburban basement.

So, in praise of Diane:


Diane has done much good work lately. She was great in this. She was the second best thing about Hollywoodland. And she adds class to every film she's in that would otherwise drown in lameness: The Glass House, Murder at 1600, even Jumper. I'd love to see her in better movies, where her greatness can be used not to lift poor films, but to further elevate good ones.

In short ... Untraceable was not entirely awful, even if we'd seen the story before, and guessed who the killer was from the names in the opening credits. (We pretty much said: "If it's not this guy, it's that guy, and if it's not that guy then that guy will be killed by the other guy." We were right.) And Diane Lane can make anything watchable.


Welcome to the Jungle, dir Jonathan Hensleigh (2007)

NIKKI says:
Here's how this goes: We're watching Southland Tales and the phone rings. It's my dad. "Why aren't you at the Club," he asks? Oh crap -- we forgot we had a family dinner. We stop Southland Tales and get ready to go out. We're 29 minutes into the movie.

I'm brushing my hair, and Steve says to me: "So, what do you think of the movie?" I reply: "Um, I was gonna wait until the end before I said anything ... what do you think?" He says: "So far, I'm not impressed." I can then release my held breath and blurt: "I'm hating it!"

We discussed our issues a bit on the way to the Club. On the way home, we decided to pick something else. I looked through the movies and preview tapes and happened to pull out Welcome to the Jungle, the cover of which is adorned with bloody skulls. Perfect -- when in doubt, Crappy Horror. I tell Steve the rating on it says it has cannibalism, strong horror violence, and gore.

He says: "You had me at cannibalism." And we went with it.

OH MY GOD. Welcome to the Jungle was as far from crappy as we could ever expect to get. It was some of the most compelling, frightening, shocking filmmaking EVER.

We fucking loved it.

It starts out fairly well -- four friends get together to hang out in Fiji, and decide to shoot over to New Guinea, specifically Irian Jaya, to find missing rich guy Michael Rockefeller. They go, and it's all fun, and then they realise, as we do, that New Guinea may not be the most inviting nation to solve great mysteries in. The good thing is, these are not your average horror movie teens. They're actually smart and funny, and we like them. A-plus.

The friends get shot at, briefly captured by some sort of border rebels, before heading into the wilderness in search of Mr. Rockefeller. I kept waiting for the shit to really hit the fan, but it just wouldn't. Instead, a power struggle erupts between the four friends, and the playful ones begin to break away from those more focused on the plan at hand.

Eventually, the camps separate. And ... mmm, yes.

Jonathan Hensleigh has some good credits to his name. Die Hard 3, for instance, which was kinda cool. I'm surprised this wasn't more popular the way horror movies are going at this point. Why does shit like See No Evil and Catacombs get on the New Release wall, while this one lingers in obscurity? Especially when it is just so good?

This is effective, smart horror. Its handheld, doco-style and unknown stars add a realism, and the director knows how to build tension, and when to reveal his hand. The least graphic scenes, such as the natives walking the riverbanks (ahhh!!), are some of the most tense film moments I've encountered. Just superb. I want to buy copies for everyone.

We have decided that we will go back to Southland Tales. Someday. Bad as it may end up being, it inadvertently pointed us to this great movie (oh my god, the spearmen!!), so it already has points.


12 April 2008

Pierrepoint (aka. The Last Hangman), dir. Adrian Shergold (2005)

STEVE says:
Pierrepoint is a harsh movie. A biopic of Britain's most celebrated and prolific hangman (between 1933 and 1955, Albert Pierrepoint was responsible for the hangings of 608 people), it wasn't going to be a laff-riot.

Although it's pretty free and loose with the facts - not the least of which, that Pierrepoint was not Britain's last hangman, despite the movie's US title - I can't hold that against it because I wasn't exactly conversant with the facts in the first place. But facts, to paraphrase Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read, should never get in the way of a good story.

And it was a good story: Pierrepoint tried to keep his job as Executioner completely separate from his daily life as a grocer, and later a publican, but it would eat away at him over his 22 years of service, as he first tried to live up to his father's reputation as Executioner, then avoid the same pitfalls that destroyed his father later in life. It's a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, really - I can only wish it had been told with more care.

As I said, it wasn't so much the shuffling of the facts that bothered me about Pierrepoint; it 's that it felt rushed. I know it's difficult to go through 22 years of a man's life in under 90 minutes, but this was a bit much. Early in the movie, Pierrepoint is shyly trying to ask Juliet Stevenson's Annie to a movie. Then they're dancing, then they're married and she's serving him dinner, then they're at the cinema watching newsreel about Nazi War Crimes. Hang on - that's something like 13 years in the space of only ten minutes. Then it's 1950, and then the movie's over. While I didn't feel as though I missed anything, I also didn't feel like any time had actually passed. Simply superimposing the year in the corner of the screen every now and again would have gone a long way in keeping me temporally grounded.

And it has to be said, I've a newfound respect for Timothy Spall (who I'm now coming to think of as The Great Timothy Spall). To this day, I've always found it difficult to separate him from his role as the pitiful-yet-creepy Dr. Polidori in Ken Russell's Gothic, but he was moving and utterly convincing as this man who basically led a dual life, and was almost destroyed by it.


NIKKI says:
Steve is right: This movie needed more time to tell its complex story. So much went on in Pierrepoint's 20 years at the gallows, and though the film did very well in eliciting concern for the man, respect, and pity, I felt there was more to his life that could have been explored.

This was very much the snapshot version of a life, so instead of viewing it as a biopic about Pierrepoint, I think I appreciated it more as a lesson in history. Just how Britain selects its hangmen, what they have to do, how they cope -- all intriguing elements of this story. I was enthralled by Pierrepoint's handling of his position. The manner in which he dropped the floor on 13 Nazi war criminals (men and women) without batting an eye was just fascinating. What it does to him in the end is even more so.

The routine-ness with which Pierrepoint carries out his duties speaks to this sad time in world history. This is not the place to get into issues of capital punishment, but I would have liked to know a bit more about Pierrepoint's eventual change of heart, speaking out against the death penalty as a means for revenge. What does Pierrepoint think of the fact that he put innocent men to death? I realise he's carrying out orders, and who gets to the gallows is not his decision, but that has to do something to a person?

His downfall began when he became famous for his work, and when he put a friend to death. But what of these other things? Again, reason this was too short. There's so much to explore here. Still, a good film about a horrible thing.

Abolish the Death Penalty.


11 April 2008

See No Evil, dir. Gregory Dark (2006)

NIKKI says:
Apart from my oft-mentioned addcition to baaad horror movies, I wanted to see this one simply because The Condemned, another WWE Films production, was so enjoyable. I had a sneaky feeling this, too, would be smart and satirical, with Kane sending up his status as a mad wrestling machine, as Steve Austin did so well in the other movie.

Well, how wrong I was. See No Evil appeared to take itself quite seriously. I think we were actually supposed to be scared of all the goings on. Instead, we were simply amused. Or, we may have been amused if we cared to be anything at all.

The gist? A group of hot prisoners (already your disbelief is well-suspended) are sent to a big old mansion on day release (I assume) to help an old woman tidy up. Before the prisoners (all about 20, all in suspiciously non-regulation hot clothes) do any work at all, they settle in for the night. One showers, two get it on, another looks for a escape hatch. Soon, though, the reverie is disturbed by giant marauding Kane, who catches his hot, young prey with a giant hook attached to a chain.

As expected, the kids start dying off one by one until the remaining few realise something is up and attempt to rescue their friend who Kane has locked in a cage.

Throughout, Kane has flashbacks to his own childhood locked in a cage. His mother tells him all about dirty pillows and sinful, lusty kids who need wiping out. Kane, she believes, is the Hand of God, eradicating sinners from the world. Quite an elaborate scheme she cooks up, though, with the prisoners. No seeking out hookers on Main Street for Kane.

Kane like to gouge eyes out, too.

So, it all goes downhill where it never really went uphill so bad storytelling becomes worse as the thing progresses. The kids become more annoying, the revelation about the old woman and Kane is just dumb, and the eventual killing of Kane is downright disappointing because by the end of it, I was hoping Kane would win. He'd killed his insane mother in order to save one of the girls, and then he was eventually overthrown by a guy who earlier in the piece threw something at the head of a stray dog. Who's my hero again?

Confusing, really, that I should be made to feel sympathetic towards poor, tortured Kane, and then feel good when he gets a pole through the head. Indicative, I guess, that the writers here had no idea what they were doing. It's world's removed from The Condemned.


STEVE says:
I did not expect See No Evil to be any good at all, and in that regard it did not disappoint. A horror movie produced by the WWE, with zero star-power and helmed by a former porn director, in my book, is the absolute definition of poor quality. It was destined to suck.

And suck it did. But then you've got to get into degrees of suckitude. Was it worse than 7eventy-5ive? No, clearly not. The story, while heavy on cliché, was at least coherent. And porn director or not, Gregory Dark knows not to close in on three empty pizza boxes to get the point across. Was it worse than Prom Night? Yes, but in different ways and for different reasons. Death Row? Hmm... unknown cast heads into spooky prison/hotel (or other convenient single-set location), are attacked by ghosts/ax-wielding creep (or what have you), and only three make it out alive. Yes, that's about the level we're looking at here.

But in the end, does it really matter? Each of these movies only received .5 ratings, so are any really either better or worse than any others? You could argue either way, but it would only waste more time than has already been wasted just watching the movies.

Hey, at least we watched a half-decent movie before blowing our evening on this one.


Cleaner, dir. Renny Harlin (2007)

NIKKI says:
Where did this movie come from? Until last night, I'd never even heard of it. It's weird that a movie with these themes and this cast should pass by us. Alas, we just found it on a preview disc alongside something called Bats: Human Harvest.

It wasn't a bad little movie at all. Sam Jackson plays a crime scene cleaner hired for a particularly sticky job at the home of a local businessman. A master of his profession, Sam leaves the place spotless.

He has cause to head back to the place the following day, and learns from the woman of the house, that he shouldn't ever have been there at all. Has he just cleaned up a fresh, evidence-filled crime scene? An ex-cop, Sam is intrigued, and must get to the bottom of the thing, especially when he links the scene to a corrupt official.

And so the story plays out -- Sam is a step ahead of his cop friends, and starts putting pieces together while attempting to help his young daughter come to grips with the death of her mother. So, we have crime drama and family drama playing out simultaneously, and though they wind up connecting through circumstances the end, I'm not sure I fully understand why.

Still, at 88 minutes, this was a tight little thriller. Nothing particularly new is added to the genre, but the performances, and the twisty plot certainly made for entertaining viewing.