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.

31 July 2008

Donnie Darko, dir. Richard Kelly (2001)

Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy, dir. Kelly Makin (1996)

The Room, dir. Erik Lieshout and Rutger Hauer (2001)

NIKKI says:
A really interesting meditation on life and death starring Rutger Hauer and Rutger Hauer's twin who's 30 years younger than him. Did they clone Rutger Hauer for this? Couldn't they have cloned another one for the Hitcher remake?

It's about a man, Harry, who talks to us about this room he used to see when he was young. He could only see inside it a little way, he could see books and hear the music playing inside. When he gets older and looks for a place to settle, he ends up in the room, but now it's empty. He talks about his life, his loves, his experiences, always tying them back to the room, and its enticements. How he comes to view the room in the end is poetic and highly moving.

Rutger Hauer and his clone, Mattijn Hartemink:

To see Rutger Hauer, this juggernaut of a man, sit and reservedly discuss the end of his life is just fascinating. The film is beautifully shot, the tale told fully and intensely in less than 10 minutes.


China Lake, dir. Robert Harmon (1983)

NIKKI says: Oh my holy fucking GOD. Where the hell did this little movie come from? It may just have become my favourite short film. We watched it at about three in the morning, and it was just the perfect atmosphere for the kind of random horror Charles Napier spreads over the countryside.

This opens with Napier's cop character revealed as on holiday. Then we see him in uniform, pulling over a woman and asking her to take a sobriety test. She is clearly sober. And then things just turn weird. There's no real violence, just stuff that happens that will make your skin crawl right off your body.

It's just a tight little movie about a deranged cop going a bit mad while taking some time off. Could be a metaphor for how we all feel crunched up in reality, and needing a bit of free-wheeling now and again. Not that we all go to these extremes, of course.

The other great thing about this movie is the photography. Apparently, it was made to showcase Robert Harmon's abilities as a cinematographer, and man does it do his all kinds of justice. The film is beautiful, and if he made it about something so awful to contradict the calming landscape, then he's even more of a genius than I thought. Weird he didn't go on to do more in this field. Stil, perfect little movie. And Charles Napier should be damn proud of himself for playing one of the most evil men in film history. You rock, Charles Napier!


[Steve also watched The Dark Knight again.]

30 July 2008

Vanishing Point, dir. Richard C. Sarafian (2001)

NIKKI says:
So, this is what Death Proof wanted to be? Maybe, something like that? All I remember is the girls in that movie talked about car in this movie like it was some kind of gift from the Gods. Oooh, the white car from that movie no one's heard of! We're so cool that we know that! Unless of course this movie is way more well known than I'm figuring it is. Quite possibly. Anyway, had Quentin modelled his pic a bit more on this pic, it might not sit at the very top of my Most Disappointing Movies of All Time list.

This was a bit like Easy Rider, in that I felt it was very much a comment on the times. Man on a mission through 1970s intolerance, hippie-dom, the techno-boom, the post-Kennedy police state, racism, fascism, sexism, all the good stuff. It's quite a good film, a slow and steady rumble through the jungle and I really found myself enthralled. I wanted the guy to get to San Francisco so damn badly because it meant I could get where I wanted to go too regardless of the roadblocks. But this is not that movie. Still, I'm very pleased to have discovered it.

Well played, Death Proof.


29 July 2008

Horton Hears a Who!, dir. Jimmy Hayward & Steve Martino (2008)

NIKKI says:
It was a last minute decision arrived upon after our selected movie (The Alibi) had some sound issues that meant Rebecca Romijn wasn't really speaking her lines but mumbling as though in the middle of a large mouthful. 

I had high hopes for Horton. I read the book as a kid, and have always loved the Seuss-ian Whos. They're pretty much the cutest things ever. It's a sweet story, and deserves to have it's adorable (and ever-timely) message out into the world, and this movie is the perfect vehicle for that. I loved it. Shoot it right to the top of the best-of-2008 list. Finally, there's something there that's not a horror flick.

There's not that much else to say here. Everyone knows the story, everyone knows the big-name actors involved. Everyone is reliable, the story is extremely faithful to its source, and the animation is some of the most realistic I've ever seen. The field of pink clover and the water in Horton bathing pond were especially remarkable. How do they do that? The details in this were amazing, especially in Whoville where every inch of the screen was filled with something interesting. The care taken here shows. I've not been so impressed by an animated film for ages.

(Losing half a point because I still think Kangaroo gets off too easy!) 


28 July 2008

The Dark Knight, dir. Christopher Nolan (2008)

STEVE says:
I thought Tim Burton's Batman was dark. I mean, compared to Adam West's camp comedy and Joel Schumacher's neon-loaded glam-fests, of course it was. But Christopher Nolan's new movie makes Burton's look like a little girl.

Even compared to Nolan's own Batman Begins, The Dark Knight has upped the darkness quotient. It's got a whole different feel to it. More realistic. Like it's, for once, not a comic book movie, but a movie set in the real world, of which Batman happens to be a part. Like Heat with a superhero.

But nobody's talking about the production design, or how good Chicago looked doubling for Gotham. It's all the Joker. So let's get this out of the way.

Heath Ledger was good. Very good. Different from the Joker of days past - no C├ęsar Romero, this guy, and definitely (let's be very clear about this) better than Nicholson's portrayal where he showed up and, basically, gave us Jack Nicholson in white-face. Ledger took the Joker to a whole new level of dark, playing him as an anarchist instead of insane. Deeply psychotic, still, but the anarchist thing was new. So, having said that, let me say this:

Wasn't he really just doing Christian Slater?

Everybody's talking about how he channelled Jack Nicholson, but I just don't see it. First of all, you put those two performances side-by-side, and Nicholson comes off as a try-hard, playing a thug with a grudge - which is all the script really allowed for him, to be fair. But I don't see any Nicholson in Ledger's performance. If anything, it's Slater he's channelling, from Heathers.In that movie, Slater's Jason Dean was a deeply psychotic anarchist who wanted to destroy the school and everyone in it just for the sake of doing it. Ledger's Joker really isn't that far removed. Sure, there were Slater/Nicholson comparisons when Heathers hit the screens, and they weren't inappropriate. But can we please, for the love of God, stop rolling out "Nicholson" every time someone does something brilliant in a movie, huh?


I Know Who Killed Me, dir. Craig Sivertson (2007)

NIKKI says:

Doesn't that poster look like the cover of a Virginia Andrews novel? That is so Flowers in the Attic over there, and, you know, I probably would have cut this movie some slack had it in fact been based on a Virginia Andrews book. Such heavy-handed imagery, the discovery of -- gasp -- a twin, and some parental mischievery are staples of her books, and thus somewhat enjoyable (okay, maybe when I was 10). And V.C. would never have had Lindsay strip, so we would have been spared that had she been behind this.

Alas, somebody else penned the flick, and his less competent friend directed it. So, instead of being purposefully melodramatic, this is actually just bad. But Lindsay ends up with missing limbs and the reasons behind that have to be seen to be believed. I've been recommending this one at the shop at just that -- it's so bad, you have to watch it. It makes very little sense, it discards characters left and right, it resists explaining anything at all -- like why the piano teacher has limbs hanging from his ceiling -- and it not so much hits you over the head with its red means this and blue means that colour imagery than rapes you with it and then whacks your ravaged body with a blunt shiv.

Oh Lindsay.


27 July 2008

The Deliberate Stranger, dir. Marvin J. Chomsky (1986)

NIKKI says:
You know, I really didn't think Mark Harmon could pull it off. But, even without really showing him being abusive and violent until the end, he was, in this movie, downright freaky. He didn't play it freakily, he didn't channel Ted Bundy in any noticeable way. He just had that look about him, that perfect balance of normal guy and sociopath. He did exactly what he needed to do here -- play it straight, with that edge of terror. Mad props, as the kids say, to Mark Harmon.

Incidentally, my co-worker Steph told me the day we watched this that she planned to go to America and marry Mark Harmon so she could become famous. Yeah, I don't get it either. And, incidentally again, Mark Harmon is married to Pam Dawber and is about to turn 57. What?!

For a three-hour telemovie, this moved surprisingly fast. It steadily crafted the story of this up and coming young politician with a secret life as a mad killer. It resisted exploitation, and genuinely tried to tell the story smartly and interestingly. Granted, there were too many times characters longing wished for Ted's "kind of future" that made us cringe a bit, but for the most part, this was very good. And it was filled with a million and one faces from the '80s that we could sit and point out. That was fun.

Oh, Ted Bundy. Has there ever been a stranger incident of sociopathy? There've been more depraved and weird killers, but did any lead the sort of life Ted did? He's a case unto himself, I reckon. And while Dahmer and Gacy did some horrific things, Ted's the guy who gives me nightmares. I've gone home with cute, smart strangers myself. I've helped them out of jams. Who hasn't? It's because of Ted, too, I think, that I'm convinced everyone has a secret life of crime.

Anyway... good movie. Great work from Mark Harmon, but no awards. I may need to go start a Facebook petition to get Mark a retrospective Emmy nomination for this. Now, there's a crime.


26 July 2008

Spinning Into Butter, dir. Mark Brokaw (2007)

NIKKI says:
Extremely disappointing retread of all the arguments you've heard before. The mystery surrounding racial attacks on a student at a prestigious Vermont school is the centre of numerous arguments and discussions about race in contemporary America. But when Sarah Jessica Parker condemns her black reporter friend with references to him wearing chains, I almost choked. I understand racism exists all over the world, but this movie felt like it should have taken place in the 1950s. These did not feel like modern arguments.

Perhaps it had to do with the executive set at the school all acting like their black students were one dance party away from swinging from the trees and raping their women. I just don't see that as the pervading American attitude anymore. Racism, sure -- out and out fear of black people... still? I don't know what point Miranda Richardson's character was ever trying to make with her hardly contained racism. And Sarah Jessica as this white knight for these kids? And the mystery turning out to be something so predictable -- racial attacks on one student was meant to mean the entire black student body was at risk? No one thought to dig a bit deeper into the one kid's life? Ugh -- it was so frustratingly dated and pointless.


25 July 2008

Shutter, dir. Masayuki Ochiai (2008)

NIKKI says:
Oh man. We knew it was going to suck. So, we have no one to blame. But, you know, it didn't suck as much as it could have. There are so many Asian-horror remakes around that star teen TV stars from the '90s, and for one to stand out as not totally lame is really pretty good. This one wanted to be smarter than The Grudge remakes and The Eye, and it really showed. It's just a pity it didn't come together. The chick in it acted her heart out, and I think her intensity was one of the main reasons I felt it was almost very nearly a sort of okay movie.

The scares were better, as in, not so CGI. But the end was a dead giveaway from the start. Why else is scary-faced kid from Nip/Tuck even in the thing? But ... meh. And who still uses film anyway? So much film-use in this movie ...


STEVE says:
Yeah, it was lame. But something was different.

This wasn't like The Ring or The Eye or The Grudge or Pulse or Premonition or any of the other myriad remakes of Asian horror flicks in the cineplexes these days. I'd like to say it was because I hadn't seen the original, as we had with The Eye and The Grudge and The Ring, and therefore had nothing to compare it to, but I hadn't seen the original Pulse or Premonition before we watched those remakes, and both bored me up the wall regardless.

Something about Shutter seemed... earnest. Someone was trying their damnedest to make a scary movie here, and - though failing on many, many levels - it shows. The performances by Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor were honest, real. While much of the plot was pretty standard, we could overlook it because these characters weren't just plodding their way through the paint-by-numbers script like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Naomi Watts and Sandra Bullock before them.

I want to shun all Asian horror remakes, but when something like this comes along, something that raises the bar, even slightly, I know I'll end up seeing the remake of A Tale of Two Sisters when it's released next year as The Uninvited. Maybe someday they'll get it right.


Fight Club, dir. David Fincher (1999)

STEVE says:
Conrad had never heard of Fight Club. Not "never seen" Fight Club, but had never even heard of it.

Some people's kids, I'll tell ya.

So we took care of that tonight and he went home suitably impressed.

I'm not sure the movie has the same impact it did for me when I first saw it, but I'm attributing that to the fact that this was the ninth time I'd viewed it since its release. It's lost its shine over the years, but never its ability to fascinate.


Nikki did not view.

The Happening, dir. M. Night Shyamalan (2008)

STEVE says:
I'm a sucker for apocalyptic survivor stories, let me say that first. My favorite book is Stephen King's The Stand, I can't seem to stop watching Romero's Dead series, I enjoyed the recent Right at Your Door, and I even have a soft spot for I Am Legend - although I think everyone involved should be dragged through broken glass for not sticking closer to the book.

So I was in from the word go when I heard about The Happening. Shitty title or not. The lesson, here, being that I really need to be more discerning.

People are dying all over New York City. Not just dying, but killing themselves - a woman stabs herself in the neck, people thrown themselves in front of cars, construction workers step off buildings into the open air. Off to a good start. Next, we're in Philadelphia. Mark Wahlberg is talking to his science class about the sudden disappearance of hundreds of thousands of bees. "Science will come up with some reason to put in the books, but in the end it'll be just a theory. I mean, we will fail to acknowledge that there are forces at work beyond our understanding."

So, now we have the film's thesis, and we can spend the next hour and a half not worrying why this is happening, and just be terrified by the fact that it is.

Not so.

Turns out that the earth is sick of humanity and is trying to shake us like a bad cold. It's literally eco-terrorism.

Now I think that sucks.

Wahlberg and his band of survivors happen upon a model home in a community called Clear Hill (get it?) and see a billboard advertising same, with the slogan "You Deserve This!" (Get It?), but it would have been much more fun if we hadn't been told that it's some new (or primordial) toxins the plants are giving off that's causing all this to happen. It would have been far less heavy-handed if we'd been left in the dark, and allowed to figure it out on our own. Far less patronizing. As it is, it's just sad to watch all this talent - I'm talking about Zooey Deschannel, Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo - go to waste.


24 July 2008

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, dir. Sam Peckinpah (1974)

STEVE says:
You can't beat that for a title, can you?

I saw this movie first about 15 years ago, and remembered it only in bits and pieces. Since we started up our Peckinpah retrospective last month with Convoy, I've been wanting to watch it again, hoping that it was every bit as good as I remembered it. 

According to IMDb: "An American bartender and his prostitute girlfriend go on a road trip through the Mexican underworld to collect a $1 million bounty on the head of a dead gigolo." Yeah, but that's only the set-up. Said bartender, Warren Oates, soon learns that his prostitute girlfriend recently spent three days and three nights with Alfredo Garcia, which only serves to make the idea of decapitating him more appealing. When Oates learns that Garcia is already dead, killed in a car accident, it only makes his job easier - but also goes a long way in making him more despicable. For a while, anyway.

It's strangely crafted: I thought the first half dragged, with all the talk about dreams and finding a better life, but come midpoint I realized its purpose, and understood just how necessary all that talk was. The first half of the movie is the calm before the storm...


Knowing Richard Black, dir. Jon-Marc Sandifer (2001)

NIKKI says:
There were so many things I enjoyed about this film. I loved listening in on calls between Jon-Marc and his friends, I thought the discussion Jon-Marc had with a friend and a female stranger at a bar at the end was fascinating, and I especially enjoyed Jon-Marc's roving-reporter stuff when he interviewed his colleagues about interracial dating. Sadly, these things were asides to the film's main purpose which involved Jon-Marc securing a date for a woman he'd only met once, who was in town for one week, and wanted to "experience" a black man for the first time. 

The catch, if it can be so called, is that the woman wanting the date is also black. And so while Jon-Marc spends most of his time chasing up friends to go out with the woman, Marilyne, I wanted to hear more in the way of discussion about the fact that Marilyne, in her early 40s and living in Africa, has never been romantically involved with a black man. Whenever the film brings this topic up, it becomes extremely compelling. When discussion ends and we go back to Jon-Marc and his pimping (which is essentially what he's doing), tedium sets in.

Still, Jon-Marc is great. He's so charismatic and his friends are so interesting that I was never actually bored, just frustrated at his choice of focus. Chasing the dates was not that interesting. Without rewriting the film, I thing Jon-Marc should have confessed at the start what he was doing. To listen to the men react to dating Marilyne knowing her background surely would have created some great discussions. 


23 July 2008

The Big Lebowski, dir. Joel Coen (1998)

Smother, dir. Vince Di Meglio (2007)

NIKKI says:
What is it with Diane Keaton and her new career as a meddling mum? How is it that there's become a "meddling mum" genre at all? The Family Stone, Because I Said So, Mama's Boy ... and now this. I liked Diane when she was funny and vital and used her talents for good instead of banal. Smother is apparently so bad, no one in America wants to release it.

Well, it wasn't that bad. It was pretty bad, but I'd recommend it over Because I Said So. Dax plays a guy who loses his job right when his wife, played by Liv Tyler, wants to start trying for a baby. At the same time, Liv's writer cousin comes to stay, as does Dax's mother, who is convinced Dax's dad is having an affair. Shenanigans ensues and mum ends up getting a job with Dax, ruining his relationship, getting drunk at a bar, and vomiting on the floor all in the space of a few days. And then, of course, she starts to feel sorry for herself and she and Dax begin to see each other's points of view and its all happily families at the end when mum drives off with the writer cousin.

But, it's all so very weak. The jokes are lame, the smothering mother angle has been done to death, as has the baby-wanting wife scenario, and no matter how much effort Dax gives his performance, everyone involved just looks they want to be somewhere else. More over, the final scenes take place at a funeral where Diane and Dax make a mockery of a woman's death with their petty fighting and we're not supposed to care because the dead women was so insufferable. So -- dead old hag jokes, that's about where we're at with this one.

Sorry Diane, but you're losing me.

Had the movie played up its dramatic storyline involving a 60 year old woman losing her husband to infidelity after so many years, maybe we would've had something. But it only briefly touches on that, which is most disappointing.


Steve did not view.

22 July 2008

The Killer Elite, dir. Sam Peckinpah (1975)

NIKKI says:
A few years ago, Steve and I went on this '70s movie kick where we caught up on all the classic '70s movies we'd either not seen or not seen in a really long time. We discovered some brilliant stuff. The Killer Elite would have fit that period perfectly, and may have have come out looking a bit better then -- with our minds and hearts drenched in '70s-ness -- than it did tonight.

I didn't dislike the film, but I felt it was a bit of a mess, unsure of exactly the story it was trying to tell. I don't know if it was a revenge film, an investigation into CIA off-shoot groups, or the story of a man getting back on his feet after intense physical rehabilitation. It may have been all of these things, but issues were raised and dropped throughout as the film moved from one almost-plot to the next.

The film opens on elite agents Caan and Duvall at a party. They go on their way to a stakeout point, and are the best of friends. We ascertained that either one was to die, or betray the other. Steve noted that as big names, death wasn't likely. And so one betrayed the other. Caan gets shot in the knee and the elbow and is left, in the movie's words, "a cripple".

So a great chuck of the movie is then spent on Caan's rehabilitation. There was very little conflict during these scenes. He simply took it like a man and did his stretches. I wonder to what end did we need to see this? Establishment that he was taking it like a man may have taken one scene and a montage. Here we got scenes after scene of hospital bed, walking up steps, walking over bridges, falling down in restaurants... But no outwards intensity seemed to build.

And then he's just back in action, and gets himself a job that will see him go head to head with Duvall. And then it all plays out just as you might expect -- shoot-shoot-chase-chase-someone-ends-up-dead. But to what end? What was my purpose here? To see Caan exact revenge? If so, it wasn't nearly as satisfying as I had hoped. Was it so gain a greater understanding of these off-shoot groups, as suggested by the written introduction to the film? Well, I didn't really gain much knowledge at all, expect that such groups exist and are rather corrupt.

This isn't to say the film wasn't entertaining. Peckinpah's direction was intense at times, and the actors were reliable. But, it didn't shoot fireworks off for me the way The Parallax View did, or The Conversation, or even Peckinpah's Straw Dogs. Feels like a miss to me.


21 July 2008

Brutal, dir. Ethan Wiley (2007)

STEVE says:
When you're a die-hard 0ld-school horror fan, like me, and you see the names Jeffrey Combs and Michael Berryman in the cast list, there's really no doubt that you're going to watch the movie, no matter what else it has to offer.

And in the case of Brutal, let me tell you, it ain't much.

"Hostel meets The Silence of the Lambs", says Stuart Wilson from Independent Film Quarterly.

Yeah, he's full of shit, that guy. Either that, or he's seen neither Hostel nor Silence, because Brutal was neither as gory as the former nor as well-plotted as the latter. In fact, the words "well-plotted" don't even really apply here, as the film was only on nodding acquaintance with screenplay structure, anyway. Arguably, Berryman's introduction could be viewed as the midpoint, but I think that's more coincidence than anything. There was no discernible turning point between Acts 1 and 2, no character development of any kind, and dialog so laughable as to make Ed Wood cringe.

And y'see that guy in the poster, there? Yeah, I don't know who he is. He's not the killer, that's for sure. The killer looks something like Bun E. Carlos, circa 1975. That guy on the poster, I don't know. Kind of Billy Zaney? Either way, whatever - he's not anywhere in the movie.

As for Combs and Berryman; Combs starts off alright as the likable small town sheriff, but turns quickly into the stereotypical bad guy sheriff usually played by the likes of Joe Don Baker. His transformation is so quick, in fact, it might have been an afterthought. "Hey, you know what? Let's make Combs a bad guy, too!" It was fun to see him play out-of-character (he even has a love interest, here), but turning him into a creep by the end was such an obvious move, it speaks to the ineptitude of Wylie as a screenwriter (he of House, House II and Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror). Berryman, on the other hand, plays a much more interesting character than is usually his lot - he's an autistic bloodhound trainer - but is criminally underused.

We could have spent less time on the boring murder scenes and more with Berryman helping with the investigation; less time on the melodrama between the sheriff and his deputy and more on actual police work; less time trying to be clever and more on research into police procedure and, you know, learning how to write.


NIKKI says:
Wow, I had a feeling it would be bad. I had no idea it was going to be as bad as it was. Usually, when I project like this has a couple of interesting names attached, it's somewhat above schlock. Not so Brutal. Schlock is too nice a word for what we have here.

So, some animal mutilations are occurring in Black Water and before you know it, bodies are showing up chainsawed to pieces and buried with their hands sticking out of the soil. We may, the sheriff's eager deputy, Zoe, stipulates, have a serial killer on our hands. You know, because they usually start out killing animals (sorry, Wylie, but I don't think these things run quite so concurrently). Sheriff Re-Animator does not believe his cohort, who he is also sleeping with despite being married with a family and up for re-election soon. Even the flower the killer leaves behind on the body and the fact that it directly correlates to the street the victim lives on does not convince the Sherrif that this is the work of a serial killer. "Black Water is full of church-goers!" he argues.

You know, it's one thing that the flowers won't force him to admit he's got a serial killer on the loose, but what about the fact that five grisly murders have occurred in his small, back-end town? He reckons more than one individual is behind this? Isn't that a more frightening prospect?

Anyway, five grisly deaths and someone decides it's time to call in the FBI. Ace reporter, Rick, tells the cops that there's no need. They're better off without the FBI who have nothing but a history of fucking up investigations with their, and I quote, "science". So, instead of launching a proper investigation and getting in the CSI crews, a coroner, or an ME (the local vet does these autopsies), Zoe enlists the help of an autistic bloodhound owner to help her sniff out the crims.

Are they serious? The FBI was called in to find out who leaked song on the 'net from Guns 'n Roses' Chinese Democracy record, I think they might get a call when girls show up mutilated one after the other in the span of about a week. (That, of course, being how your average serial killer does things.)

By the way -- it is only after the autopsies that the cops find out each body was missing a heart, which goes nowhere. And the killer is a teacher involved in a flower-planting project at school -- something a quick canvas of the neighbourhood might have revealed. The Sheriff's own son was involved in the flower project, but he failed to make any connection.

Okay, so investigative techniques and intelligence were left on the cutting room floor. This is still is a silly movie with one redeeming factor in Michael Berryman. I was also forced to high-five Steve when his prediction dor the end of the film -- that while the killer slays every girl he meets within moments, he will capture Zoe, torture her for a bit, explain his system to her, his motives, taunt her a bit more, before raising the axe and getting shoved aside at the very last crucial moment -- came true to the very last detail.

So, the writer knows something about convention, I guess.

1/5 (for Berryman)

20 July 2008

Good Will Hunting, dir. Gus Van Sant (1997)

NIKKI says:
Steve rings me at work: "What time do you finish?"

I say: "Six, but I'll likely be home about 5.30."

And then he says: "Claude and I will wait for you then -- we're watching Good Will Hunting."

And it's not even my birthday!

Claude, who is somewhat of a piece of young, innocent clay that Steve and I are moulding into the next David Mamet-slash-Martin Amis, comes over to our house to get schooled on all things books and movies. It's great to have him around, to share stuff with him, and have him respond so well. Apparently, I told him to watch Good Will, that I thought he would like it, and so it was his selection for this night.

I was thrilled, needless to say, as it's one of my favourite movies. A life-changing kind of film that made me cry like a baby that anything so perfect could exist purely for the purposes of entertaining me. It's the way I feel when I hear Bruce Springsteen's "Independence Day" or Don McLean's "Empty Chairs". I always think -- what if this talent went unrecognised? And we didn't even know we were missing out?

Ah, but Good Will always gets me pondering in big, melodramatic strokes. I just love this film. I love the story, I love its intent, I love the grand statements, the tiny details, the writing, the music, the direction, the big speeches, the little interludes. It's just a great piece of work. It builds so well to an inevitable and fitting conclusion. It's funny and tragic, and it gives us Ben Affleck pre-dental work -- and isn't that what the film's all about? That flawed men are worth putting some effort into?

Still brilliant after 10 years.


19 July 2008

Dario Argento's World of Horror, dir. Michele Soavi (1985)

NIKKI says: What a weird choice for a Saturday afternoon movie. To be honest, after watching it, I didn't even feel like I'd watched a movie. It's more snippets of Dario's best scenes interspersed with some dialogue and melodramatic narration. An Eye for Horror is much better, more informative, structured documentary. I'm not entirely sure what Soavi was going for with this one? Perhaps it's a promotional film? Still, I learned a lot about Dario's genius for in-camera effects, and I won't soon forget the bee who had the big operation to get his stinger removed and was then tied to some fishing wire to swarm about Jennifer Connelly's head in Phenomena.

A big operation! They put it under with ether and everything.

Dario's mind is a scary one. But he talks a lot here about how his movies are visual reflections of and reactions to his dreams and nightmares. He says at the end that he doesn't really know himself all that well, and would love to tunnel into his own mind and live there for a while just to get to know himself better. Something about living in Dario Argento's mind for any length of time is pretty scary, but the fact that the man himself longs to do it is sort of scarier.

It is indisputable that the man is a brilliant artist. This movie demonstrates that. It's just a pity it didn't focus more on Dario and the why and hows of his dreams and visions. There's lots of behind the scenes stuff, lots about the effects, and the music, and the enthusiastic Dario running about bringing everything together. But there are too many drawn out scenes from movies like Zombi that one figures the audience watching the documentary would no doubt be familiar with.



STEVE says: This documentary is 23 years old, which may go a long way in explaining why it seemed to offer so little - I was already familiar with most of it.

While it was interesting to learn about the insects and other effects in Phenomena, the huge crane shot in Trauma, and the film stock used in Suspiria, that's not really what I signed up for. From a doco called Dario Argento's World of Horror, I expected to learn a little more about, you know, Dario Argento's World of Horror.

There were some interesting points, glimpses into Argento's childhood, and confessions that he doesn't really know himself and how murder is beautiful, but these last come off as someone who's trying to sound creepy, rather than a true artist discussing his creativity. Like that interview with Stephen King where he says, "I have killed a few people, but they haven't found the bodies, so I think I'm alright." Way to fuel the stereotype there, bud.

As an Intro to Argento sort of thing, World of Horror might be alright, but I'd still recommend the more recent An Eye for Horror to get a comprehensive view of the guy.


18 July 2008

Arthur, dir. Steve Gordon (1981)

NIKKI says:
We both just wanted something familiar to kick back to. I chose They Live! and was vetoed. I know, right? So, then I thought of Arthur, and it was just so perfect. Ninety minutes we both knew so well, with laughs maybe every five.

There's not all that much left to say about Arthur. It's just a perfect romantic comedy that brings to mind all those phrases along the lines of "they don't write 'em like that anymore". Because they don't. The comedy here is effortless and unforced. Dudley Moore entertains just by being there, and Liza Minnelli is edgy and charismatic without overdoing the sexy/needy/wrong side of the tracks thing. And it's a sweet story about a man learning how to love himself enough to give himself to someone else. He's learning, in basic terms, how not to be alone.

I just learned the writer/director only ever wrote this and The One and Only with Henry Winkler, and a handful of episodes of shows like Barney Miller and Chico and the Man. He died in 1982 at only 44 years old, which kind of makes this movie all the more poignant. Wow, that's really sad. Still, the guy left behind a genuine classic, that's going to be funny and moving forever.

Some of Arthur's best lines:
Arthur: "You're a hooker? Jesus, I forgot! I just thought I was doing GREAT with you!"

Hobson: "Thank you for a memorable afternoon, usually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature."

Hobson: "Good afternoon. If you and your undershirt will take two paces backwards, I could enter this dwelling."

Arthur: "Not all of us who drink are poets. Some of us drink because we're not poets."

Arthur: "I often think ... fish must get awful tired of sea food. What are your thoughts, Hobson?"

Hobson: "A little tart like that could save you a fortune in prostitutes."

... and on and on and on.


17 July 2008

Lost Boys: The Tribe, dir. P.J. Pesce (2008)

STEVE says:
The only reason - seriously, the only reason - to watch this movie is to see Corey Feldman reprise his role as Edgar Frog.

You know it's bad when a Feldman cameo is the selling point, eh?


The Lost Boys, dir. Joel Schumacher (1987)

STEVE says:
I saw this in the theatre in 1987, and I remember being a fan (even bought the soundtrack - on vinyl!), though today I can't remember why. It's all style-over-substance, everyone being so ultra-cool in a pre-goth, new-romantic kind of way that is completely belied by their mullets.

At first glance, the correlation of the Lost Boys of the title to the Lost Boys of Peter Pan is brilliant. Boys who never grow up, never age, never die. But the premise is handled so poorly, it almost seems as if it was dismissed entirely. It's hinted at during the opening credits sequence, with a "missing child" poster here and a face-on-a-milk-carton there, then completely ignored for the rest of the film. Surely that's a massive oversight. Did Schumacher not get the reference? Or was he too busy worrying whether Haim's wardrobe was gay enough?

Then there's the tone. Kiefer Sutherland's gang of Lost Boys are the prototype for the dead greasers from Sometimes They Come Back, all over-the-top with their tough-guy taunting and their inane giggling at inappropriate moments. All but Sutherland's David, who's still over-the-top, but in an Ace Merrill kind of way. Jason Patric plays Michael completely straight (in keeping with the homo-erotic theme, perhaps; Will he come to the other side with the Boys, or stay human and be with his new girlfriend, Star?), where Corey Haim, Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander play their roles for comedy. This all works fine until they all get together and the serious Michael is up against melodramatic David while Sam and the Frog Brothers are cracking wise. It just doesn't fly.

Worth noting is the fact that we were plagued with phone calls during this movie and not once did Nikki think to quote Tim Roth from Reservoir Dogs - "Motherfucker! I'm tryin' to watch The Lost Boys!" I mean how many times does that opportunity arise in life, huh?


NIKKI says:
Regardless of Schumacher's overall point, I still enjoy this movie. Is it great? No. Does it have some glaring issues? Yes. Still, it's a CLASSIC! Like all classics from the '80s -- think Mannequin -- it has its issues, its flaws, its hero-lines, and over-the-top outfits. Should a movie be faulted because it's a product of its time? For the most part, The Lost Boys follows the rules -- it's well-structured and well-paced, and scary when it needs to be. (Steve made me watch the scalping bit again and even though I know it's less than half a second long, it's still scary as hell!) So, give it a break!


Again, though, I have to agree, in part, with Steve. The main problem is a messing up of tone. Jason Patric and Kiefer Sutherland are so super-serious all the time that the Frog humour doesn't quite gel in the way it perhaps wants to. The humour grooves it all up for the teens, but no-one told Jason and Kiefer they were in a groovy teen flick. What we see in their performances is the pre-stages of two intense acting styles, both actors forceful on screen no matter what their roles, both never to be seen again in such lightweight fare. It messes with things, but perhaps the movie wouldn't have the intensity it does have were these actors acting any differently?

I just love this movie. And I love my memories of its key role in my life -- watching it with my mum, watching it at my 11th birthday party, getting accused of stealing it off a friend's sister, taping Corey Feldman's interview on Sally-Jessy after it where he wears the big spotted tie and says he's clean when you can tell he clearly isn't ...


16 July 2008

Twilight Zone: The Movie, dir. John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante & George Miller (1983)

NIKKI says:
Somehow, I'd never seen this movie. But then, I guess I'd not seen that many classic sci-fi flicks before meeting Steve. What was I doing with my time? Oh yeah, I was watching The Breakfast Club again.

This one didn't really do it for me. Apart from the final segment, directed by George Miller, about the gremlin on the plane wing, I can pretty much take or leave the rest. In fact, I think I'll take Joe Dante's and pretty much just leave Spielberg's and Landis's. I thought the ideas in Landis's were interesting, about the bigot forced to endure damnation at the hands of Nazi extremists, American soldiers in Vietnam, and the Ku Klux Klan. But his brief time with each group really doesn't teach him anything. He'd already be fearful that he'd slipped into an alternate reality, so the specifics of those realities aren't really going to alert him to his bigotry. So, it becomes a bit fanciful rather than meaningful. I would have made him prejudiced against one group, and then perhaps the story could have focused on that. The way it is, it's a hodge-podge of ideas that trivializes, in a way, prejudice and bigotry.

The Spielberg story was too whimsical for me. It reminded me of the more cloying Amazing Stories episodes, where magic is at the hands of everything. Dante's was better, but ran on too long, and didn't explain enough about what was going on. Not that I suppose a Twilight Zone episode needs to explain itself, but I didn't get a sense of overall purpose beyond "be careful what you wish for", which is bor-ring. And Steve is right that some of it was more over the top than it needed to be.

But the gremlin on the wing is just perfect. Scary and freaky, with a performance from John Lithgow that could go over the top, but doesn't. And the gremlin is damn scary. The shots outside the plane are so realistic. It's something else that makes me never want to fly again. If only they could have extended that scene maybe 80 minutes -- that would have been a movie!


15 July 2008

Chapter 27, dir. J.P. Schaefer (2007)

NIKKI says:
This is one of those movies centering on an ugly topic that likes to think its edgy and daring. There's an element of daring to it, but only in that Jared Leto went to such extreme lengths to resemble Mark Chapman, and that much of it is filmed outside the Dakota building where Chapman shot John Lennon. It's a portrait of a disquieted mind, of a man who resented what he believed to be the "phoniness" inherent in Lennon's celebrity lifestyle that he convinced himself that killing the singer was absolutely necessary. The problem is, if you've read Jack Jones's book, Let Me Take You Down, or know anything really at all about Chapman, this movie doesn't cover any new ground. All it does is put us beside a visual representation of the man in the three days leading up to his horrible actions. I'm challenging myself to come up with a point for that, a reason for the film to exist?

It's the stuff of legend, is it not, that Chapman waited outside the Dakota for Lennon to emerge, to get his autograph? And when Lennon did emerge, he signed Chapman's record and went on his way, only to return with Chapman still there, this time primed to shoot? I believe most people are aware of the bits and pieces found in Chapman's apartment, and that he equated himself with Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. So, Chapter 27 is simply a visual representation of these very famous facts.

In the beginning of the movie, Leto as Chapman says he could tell us about his family life, but he just didn't want to. Yet, for me, that's where the story is. We all know what happened, I was interested in finding out why. We don't know much about Chapman at the end of this movie. We know he's damaged, but how did a respected, world-travelling aid worker residing in Hawaii get to this point in his life? Why did Salinger's book impact him so deeply? Where did his obsession with Lennon come from? Was his madness recognisable to anyone else in his life, his wife, his friends?

I feel like the film took the wrong focus. I commend Jared Leto on a brilliant performance, but I wonder to what end have his efforts led? I have no greater understanding of this act. I'm still aware Chapman was a bit mental, but I knew that going in and that's all I'm taking away.


Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Director's Cut, dir. Steven Spielberg (1977)

NIKKI says:
Very happy to take a second look at this movie in its new Director's Cut edition. I like the movie. I get caught up in whimsy and the adventure of the whole thing, as I'm sure I'm supposed to. I really enjoy Richard Dreyfuss in all-out manic mode as the man who knows something is out there. But I found watching the movie for only the second time, that I felt bad to Dreyfuss's family who were really just abandoned while he went on his quest into the unknown. I can understand him perhaps leaving his wife behind, she who didn't fully support him in this thing he was going through. But his children?

The scene where Dreyfuss is in the bath, just losing his mind -- those kids really experience something there. That is a tragic moment for them as much as it is for their dad. I feel like Spielberg really did something great there, letting us see how this whole business was affecting the kids. But then the kids just leave and Dreyfuss never gives them a second thought.

I really struggled to fully be with Dreyfuss in those final moments where the aliens take him away. I know I was meant to feel good for him, and happy that his journey was about to take its inevitable next step. But I just sat there thinking -- what about the kids? If this whole thing was just so big that it blocked everything else out of his thinking, then the movie should have let us in on that. Or simply done away with the kids in the first place.

The other thing that bothers me -- why doesn't Dreyfuss take the mud and trees in through the door? Why doesn't he build the thing outside?

Ignoring those issues, it's a good movie. I don't know how much the original cut differs from the director's version, but this one we watched was well-paced and gripping when it needed to be, it had that glittery Spielberg innocence, and some dashes of great humour. It's Spielberg back when he was trying to tell stories instead of trying to change the world.


14 July 2008

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, dir. Jake Kasdan (2007)

STEVE says:
There's a scene in Walk Hard where a young Dewey Cox is waiting in the wings with Buddy Holly as The Big Bopper performs Chantilly Lace. He's understandably nervous about following the Bopper, so Holly (a pointlessly cameoed Frankie Muniz) offers to go on next and take the heat, allowing Dewey to then follow. Moments later, the stage manager alerts everyone that Elvis (Jack White, for some reason) wants to get out early, so he'll be on after Holly, and Dewey will follow them all. I guess it's meant to be funny, and it was in a cute, obvious sort of way, but that's not the reason I bring it up.

See, before we watched Walk Hard, Nikki and I had just finished a 30 Rock marathon - eight or nine episodes back to back because we just couldn't turn it off - and I can't help thinking that maybe Walk Hard would have been funnier if it hadn't had to follow such a brilliantly put-together show.

Not likely, though, considering Walk Hard was co-written by "the guy who brought you Knocked Up and Superbad", Judd Apatow. The more movies I see advertised with "From the Guy Who Brought You" in relation to this guy, it seems less a selling point and more a condemnation.

I was very surprised to find that, for an Apatow movie, Walk Hard followed the proper screenplay structure, but I credit that to the other half of the writing team, director Jake Kasdan. Jake's dad, Lawrence Kasdan, is the guy responsible for writing The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat and Silverado, to name a few, and it seems some of that genius has rubbed off. Still and all, Apatow was involved here, and his vision extends about as far as Vern Troyer's dick, so instead of a hilarious take on the rock star biopic, Walk Hard ends up being a tepid spoof of only two such movies, Ray and Walk the Line - which, structurally speaking, were pretty much the same movie, anyway.

Was it funny? I gotta be honest, here... I don't remember laughing more than once, when Dewey and his band went to India and inadvertently met the Beatles. In yet another spot-the-celebrity scene, Jack Black did the worst Paul McCartney ever - with what sounded like an Irish accent - but Justin Long, Jason Schwartzman and the ever-trustworthy Paul Rudd played George, Ringo and John, respectively - and rather convincingly - as the tensions within the group began to flare.

With Apatow involved, I was expecting a poorly structured rock star cliche that drags on for longer than it has any right to - basically a rock-themed Talladega Nights - but Walk Hard, while by no means great, was nowhere near that bad. It couldn't be.


NIKKI says:
Yet another Apatow-penned film people kept telling me was just HIL-arious that turned out to be funny in spots but mostly just annoying. I wasn't annoyed at the concept or the star, what bothered me was the lazy, hack-ish presentation. It's a rip-off of Ray and Walk the Line, two similar, equally boring and unfocused TV movies that somehow made the big screen. When you're going to parody such films and you have loads of better, more influential, more powerful films at your fingertips, why go for just these two? Is it because the audience you're aiming your movie at will only know these two movies?

What about The Buddy Holly Story? La Bamba, The Doors, Coal Miner's Daughter, Sid and Nancy? On NPR, the introduction to an interview with Reilly and Kasdan says the movie takes on "old music films", but but Kasdan and Reilly admit it's not movies they ripped off but famous stories about musicians. And that might be true, but where do Dewey's 22 children fit in? Which famous rock star killed his own brother? And then his father? What are we parodying exactly? A parody of rock-star biopics and no-one dies in a plane crash?

The movie is not really a parody of biopics, but a parody of rock styles in general. Dewey emulates everyone from Bob Dylan to Mac Davis. The Dewey Cox character develops as the times developed, and his style of music shifts and changes in a way mirrored by no actual musicians. It's a series of "hey wouldn't it be funny if" moments that don't pull together.

The film bothered me because it didn't know if it wanted to be a parody or an outright send-up. The broad, often stupid humour didn't fit, and worked only to bring the film down to a slapstick-y, funless level. It's a case, I reckon, where the joke is king. Dewey doesn't really have a story of his own. He has the obvious turn out of the spotlight and eventual comeback, and he learns that family is all that matters. But so what? If you're gonna put the effort in, you should have something to say. This movie just points out that a lot of music careers were fuelled by the same things, and that deaths of family members are just so funny. And?


13 July 2008

Re-Cycle (aka. Gwai wik), dir. Pang Brothers (2006)

NIKKI says:
So, Oxide Pang says it's not an anti-abortion film. And while that makes me feel a bit better about the whole experience, I don't know if he's entirely telling the truth.

Consider: Angelica Lee runs through a giant red blubber hole full of aborted fetuses that she's told are "discarded" things along the same lines as her childhood toys. She is informed of this by a little girl who reveals herself to be Angelica's aborted baby. "It's not that I didn't love you," Angelica says to the little girl, holding her, and crying. And she resists following up that thought, but we're aware by this stage of the danger of discarding things.

The whole movie about the place things go when casually tossed aside. Is it irresponsible of the Pangs to compare childhood toys with aborted fetuses? The movie is about a woman who is forced to confront the supernatural world where her discarded things reside -- most prominently, her discarded story ideas. She's a novelist suffering writer's block brought on by the pressures of writing another blockbuster. She's not in the best frame of mind to create, and what she does write, she invariably deletes or tosses into her wastepaper basket. The basket begins to stir, and she starts seeing weird things like dark figures and a broken elevator.

Soon, she's in a fantasy world where dead bodies hang in trees and deformed human figures squirm, twitch and unnaturally bend, following her, stalking her. She must get to the a place called the Transit for safety, and must venture through this land of discarded things. She meets characters from books she hasn't finished writing, images and ideas left hanging when she's hit the delete key. There's even a giant pyramid of discarded books, from which other books fall and slide -- so many discarded ideas, she could have written hundreds of bestsellers.

The Ideas Hell is a fascinating concept. And that part of the film kept me interested. As a non-practicing fiction writer myself, I know the hell of ideas conceived and lost, invented and left to languish. I know the horrors of the blank page. I have the repertoire of excuses. And I felt genuinely creeped out at the prospect of my ideas living in me somewhere, waiting for their opportunity to develop and grow.

But is this the same as the babies my body waits to have? I just don't think it is. If Oxide Pang is truthful in that he meant nothing more by the fetus-bubble than simply as a plot device that causes issue for Angelica, then fair enough. But it's the part of the movie that struck me the most. I can't free myself of it. When you choose to say something like that in your movie, you have to be aware of the wider effects. It goes beyond story telling and starts to become something else. Too sensitive? Maybe. Or maybe I just wanted my Pang movie to feature Angelica running from ghosts and bloody things, and not charging headlong into them.

It's an interesting idea. It's provocative, and absolutely beautiful to watch. It, too, makes me want to get some ideas out of my head, lest they fester and mould and start twitching.


After watching the piss-weak remake of The Eye earlier this week, I was excited - nay, burning to see another horror movie from the Pang Brothers.

This, however, wasn't it.

Re-Cycle starts out as a conventional HK-horror flick - young female writer, haunted by visions, etc. - but then takes a quick, unexpected turn into the land of Dark Fantasy. There were elements of horror all the way through, but elements don't make the whole, and I was left with a bit of cinematic whiplash, which is maybe why I didn't get into this one so much.

The concept was great - the writer finds herself in the Land of the Discarded, confronted with things from her past ranging from toys and books she had as a child to characters from her own unfinished stories and her own aborted daughter - but it got very heavy in the end, almost a Pro-Life PSA, which, having been duped once already by the Horror/Dark Fantasy bait-and-switch, I wasn't at all into.


12 July 2008

Alien Resurrection, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (1997)

STEVE says:
Couple weeks ago, Claudius and I watched Alien. He was impressed enough to borrow the box set, but only got to watch Aliens and Alien 3 before heading back to Melbourne. (Not one of those who'll borrow something and hang on to it for six years, Claude returned the set before going back.)

So tonight, searching for something to watch, we decided to finish up the Quadrilogy (having now officially replaced tetralogy as the word for a series of four).

I like Alien Resurrection. Sure, it's nowhere near as awesome as the original, but what is? And maybe it's not as good as Alien 3, but it sure beats the pants off Aliens, in my opinion. In truth, it's probably somewhere between those two in its action-to-creepiness ratio, but has the distinction of being a Jeunet film, which in this case makes all the difference. I'm talking, here, about the weird eroticism inherent in Act Three, specifically in the scene where Ripley is taken to the Alien hive, and later when she confronts the Alien-Baby. Jeunet, you wacky Frenchman!

(Note: Five years later, this same plot would be used, almost beat-for-beat, in Jason X. Like they just took the script and replaced all "Alien" references with "Jason". It takes balls for the tenth movie in a ridiculously popular horror franchise to rip off the fourth movie in another, and I salute them for it.)


Nikki did not view.