Macbeth

*Originally written in 2004 – I actually included this version of Macbeth in some of my University work on Shakespeare on film, along with Throne Of Blood… that work was probably better than this post

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Famous for going through several cuts, budget and time problems, and for being slammed by critics at the time for its strange imagery and dark and foreboding tone, Welles’s Macbeth has now been recognised as a good, if not great adaptation made even more admirable by the constraints which constantly surrounded it.

The story of Macbeth is simple and well-known: Macbeth, proud soldier and follower of his King Duncan, stumbles upon a Witches’ Haven one night with his partner Banquo. The Witches give their prophecy that Macbeth will eventually become King, and that the sons of Banquo will also reign. This worries both men, but they decide to discuss it later. On hearing the prophecy, the ambitious Lady Macbeth inspires Macbeth to murder Duncan and usurp the throne, which he does. Soon guilt sinks in along with deep paranoia and Macbeth believes that everyone is out to get him.

Welles keeps fairly close to Shakespeare’s dark work in dialogue and plot, and certainly gives his film the same feel which the play itself gives. The setting is dark, rocky, full of shadows and isolated, and the choice of Black and White filming adds greatly to the tone. Welles shows he is a master of lighting, shadow, and contrast, and uses this ability to its fullest. As Macbeth’s paranoia grows, the imagery becomes more surreal and ominous – hangman’s trees stooping in the background; long takes to emphasize the growing worries in his mind. Overall, Welles captures the play’s atmosphere perfectly. His portrayal of Macbeth as a man not in control of his own fate is good, and of course his acting is fine. The rest of the cast is also strong, including big names like Mcdowall, Herhily, and Napier. Much has been said about the heavy accents but it’s something I personally overlooked. The final scenes, full of religious imagery, are very good although Macbeth’s death has been done better and it seemed that the Holy Father character was only included so that Macbeth could end on…well, I won’t spoil it. Not as good as Kurosawa’s, take but a very different film with a very different style.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of this version of The Scottish Play!

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Halloween II and III

*Originally written like 2001 or roundabouts when I had no clue what I was doing. Spoiler Alert – I still don’t. These are crappy reviews so I’ve stuck them both together for a double dose of pain.

Halloween II

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After the smash of Halloween it seemed inevitable that there would be a sequel. Carpenter’s films have a habit of ending with a cliffhanger, and fans wanted to see whether Michael would return. He does, just as Laurie is taken to a nearby hospital. Loomis is still on the prowl, and Michael follows Laurie to hospital intent on finishing his work, killing any unfortunate doctors, nurses or patients who get in his way. Once again Laurie and Michael are alone to chase and fight to the death.

Unfortunately this for the most part feels like a cash-in, and is a much inferior sequel complete with weaker performances and more elaborate deaths. There are good points though, Curtis and Pleasance are still great, while the setting is quite atmospheric. Many of the original cast come back for a short while, helping to keep us interested with the plot, and there are plenty of kills. However, much of the film lacks the tension which Carpenter can easily create, and we do not care about any of the new characters. Michael now seems to be entirely unstoppable which further distances us from the reality of the first film. This is okay, and definitely worth watching if you’re a fan of the first.

Halloween III

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Firstly, yes this has little or nothing to do with the other Halloween films, and it is the worst so far. To gave it credit though it must be said that Carpenter wanted to take the series in this direction, telling a different story in a different film each Halloween. This was an ambitious and exciting idea which had potential, even if that potential was limited. Unfortunately this film is a mess, and flopped, ending Carpenter’s idea. Viewers were expecting more Myers mayhem and were disappointed by the complete change of direction here.

An evil toy maker decides to kill millions of children via his Halloween masks. He is the owner of the company Silver Shamrock, and infuses all the masks with black magic which will burn any child who wears it on Halloween night when a special jingle is played. After a successful advertisement campaign it seems that his mask is a massive hit, and his plan will be complete. Only Doctor Challis and Ellie can stop the evil, but will they?

This was the first Halloween movie I saw, when I was very young, and a few moments have stayed with me since then-  Cochran’s goons on patrol, killing anyone who gets in their way, and the jingle which is admittedly creepy, though a familiar tune. The idea is good, but it falls on its face through a combination of bad acting and poor storytelling, and in the end little makes sense. The shock ending is still good though, but its potential impact is decreased by the fact that we don’t care for the characters, that we don’t really meet any kids, and that we have become bored by the end. Little is explained, most of the deaths are bizarre, while sufficiently bloody. Plus the whole thing looks cheap and doesn’t have enough scares. If there had been a better cast, more thought with the story, and better direction it could have been a lot better. It even could have become an effective satire on Commercialism, especially during the holidays. For fans of the series, watch it once, but don’t expect much.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of the first Halloween sequels and their place in the series!

Hard-Boiled

*Originally written in 2004

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One of the true ‘must see’ action films of the Nineties, not only because it was the first to fully establish John Woo as the master of action movies and Chow Yun Fat as a superstar (at least in the West), but because it has had a massive influence on every action movie made since, and is easily one of the most entertaining, over the top, gung-ho action movies ever. Slick, stylish, violent, funny, clever, with interesting characters, a superior plot which will keep you guessing, and filled with set pieces, explosions and chases, Hard-Boiled is a genuine classic.

Chow Yun Fat stars as Tequila, a cop with a love of Jazz, a man whose skills are never questioned, but whose methods are sometimes checked as they have a tendency to end in death and demolition. He also enjoys the odd bit of existential musing, and is always trying to win back his love, who happens to be a superior within the force. The film opens with a fight between cops and arms dealers which ends in the death of Tequila’s partner. Tequila kills all possible subjects so they are left with no evidence as to who the boss is. We meet Tony, played by Tony Leung, who is one the arms dealer’s lead men. He does his job flawlessly, and at all costs, but doesn’t want to see his boss harmed. However, when a rival with greater ambition wants to recruit him, Tony double-crosses his old boss. Tequila intervenes and many more are killed. Tony and Tequila continue to come into contact with each other, and we learn that Tony isn’t who he appeared to be. Soon Tequila works out where the massive armoury is, and a massive gunfight ensues, taking up the last 40 minutes of the film. Will Tequila get revenge, will any more twists enter the story, who will make it out alive?

The film is incredibly clever for an action film, with a twisting near-convoluted plot, but this is all the more astounding when you witness the level of action which takes place. The set-pieces are almost overwhelming, with so much going on at one time they beg to be re-watched repeatedly. Each actor is convincing, and it seems Fat and Leung were born for these roles. The final hospital scene has some of the best, most exhilarating action ever filmed, and no-one is safe as patients, doctors, kids, cops, and bad guys are slaughtered. Almost every window is smashed, all manner of guns are fired, and Woo is on top form. His slow-motion style and balletic gun play have never been better, and there is one Steadicam shot which goes into a lift, moves between floors, and features many deaths and explosions, plus dialogue -it’s one of the most awesome things you’ll ever see and must have been a nightmare to film. Few action movies can suck the viewer in like this does, so that we care about the characters and are not just watching vacantly. Hard-boiled succeeds on all levels, and must be seen by all action fans. It is the benchmark of the genre.

Jeepers, my old reviews were all plot, weren’t they? Let us know in the comments what you think of Hard-Boiled and how it ranks alongside John Woo’s other films!

Kids

*Note – Originally written in 2003

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Larry Clark’s debut is a bleak and unrelentingly honest look at how city teen life can be. It stirred up much controversy upon its release and is still powerful today. Drugs, sex, violence and no remorse for one’s actions all make this daring film-making, and almost essential viewing.

It is Telly’s mission in life to have sex. Preferably with under-aged girls and if they are virgins – all the better. The film opens with his seduction of one such girl; he spouts all the sincerity and caring words he can muster and she gives in. As soon as it is over he is out the door, mission accomplished, telling his friend Casper everything that happened in gory detail. We follow the two around their city as they steal, talk about sex, fight, get drunk, get stoned. They are part of a young gang which seems to have spread throughout the whole city. Morals are non-existent, but they believe that homosexuality is evil, or at least a joke. AIDS is a joke too, and all other STDs, as none of them have ever heard of anyone who has had any. We see the juxtaposition of guys and girls talking about their experiences, and planning ahead for the night. Jennie has only been with one guy, Telly, and because one of her friends has been with 9 guys, she decides to go to the sex clinic as support. Her friend comes out clean, but Jennie tests positive for HIV. Jennie begins a very slow race to find Telly, perhaps before he can destroy another girl’s life. Telly is once again on the prowl.

Each performance here is outstanding, particularly Leo Fitzpatrick and the late Justin Pierce as Casper. None of the characters repent what they have done – it’s all they have, and they enjoy it. Even Jennie appears to be passive, taking drugs when she should be finding Telly. None of the sex scenes are particularly explicit, but it is the fact of their age, of course, which caused such an uproar. However, this behavior obviously does go on, you only have to hang around most city streets at night to witness it. The violence is also cleverly edited, but like the sex and drugs, we only need a glimpse to set our imagination and disgust off. There are no happy endings or answers here, perhaps giving fuel to those who say this is just exploitation. For me, Clark is simply exposing a particular reality, maybe in the hope that we can do something about it. The fact remains that (some) teens have, and probably always will continue to do these things, but maybe not with such a lack of remorse.

Let me know in the comments what you think of Kids and if it has any message to get across.

Kickboxer

*Originally written in 2001

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Probably the most famous of Van Damme’s early work, Kickboxer is another simple story of revenge and a showcase for his skills as a martial artist. It has some good fights, and some interesting moments showing the arduous difficulty of training and trying to achieve your best while not losing your focus. Although it suffers from some cheesy acting, dialogue, music, and a highly disturbing dance scene, this is a must for Van Damme fans, and those with an interest in martial arts movies who don’t want to stray too far from the West.

Van Damme stars as Kurt Sloane, the younger brother of a flashy American Kickboxer. They train together, but his brother Eric seems to be more interested in looking like a good fighter than actually finding the ability and skill to be one. Eric takes part in a fighting competition and is crippled and almost killed by Tong Po – a fearsome Kickboxer with a great rage and discipline. Kurt decides to avenge his brother, but no-one will train him as they believe Tong Po is too popular and strong. Eventually he finds a wizened old trainer in the middle of nowhere who teaches him to reach his full potential and push through barriers which he never though he could surpass. He also meets Winston Tyler who provides some laughs, and Mylee who provides a potential love interest. Of course it is the fights that matter, and the revenge plot is safe enough to give the fights reason. Rather than cheap montages, we see the tough training regime Kurt goes through, and see Tong Po kicking a cement wall to build up the strength and invulnerability of his foot. Sounds odd yes, but how else would we know he’s a hard lad? Throw in a sub-plot about gangsters and kidnapping and it all builds to a thrilling in ring climax. A good film for fight fans, light-hearted, fast, and worth watching.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Kickboxer – just another crappy action movie or one of Van Damme’s better films?

The Windmill Massacre

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Another Frighfest film – which can be hit or miss – The Windmill Massacre has a few things going for it from the off, namely a sort of interesting premise and a rarely used location. The cast has a few semi-recognisable faces, the director (who also writes) is an unknown, and as yet I haven’t seen this spoken of in the horror community. Is it any good?

In grand horror tradition we have a group of individuals getting picked off one by one by a masked villain. Before we get to that point, we meet each of the group in The Netherlands and it seems that a few of them have secrets to hide. Jackson, an English soldier, is there for some R and R with his mates, but after some sort of event with a prostitute he needs to keep his head down. To run down the clock before he checks out, he decides to go on a bus tour of the countryside, visiting various windmills and sites of interest. There he meets Jennifer, an Australian who has apparently been working as a Nanny but hiding her true identity – she too hops on the tour to avoid the police. They meet a Japanese tourist, a father and son, a photographer, a doctor, and the tour guide. As the tour embarks we are drip fed information about each person and it soon becomes apparent that they all have a dark past.

As is inevitable with these things, the bus breaks down, the group becomes stranded in the middle of nowhere, and a psycho with a fetish for scythes kicks off an evisceration party. This is where the premise kicks in – the killer only seems interested in people who have not atoned for their sins. Which of the group will show remorse when that means admitting what they have done? Who in the group knows more than they are telling? Who will run? Who will die? You know the drill.

Although we do get some pieces of backstory for the characters, there isn’t much discussion on morals or repentance or reasons given for their sins. Having said that, we do sense the conflict between the person and their past, and indeed between certain members of the group. The movie has some early moments of atmosphere, and it does burn slowly until the first kill. We are treated to some efficient and nasty kills, there are some twists, but I was looking for the story to take me somewhere else – there were a few points where I thought the plot could have taken a different turn or surprised with a more shocking twist, but instead it plays a safer game. Technically fine, Jongerius gets the most out of his cast and the settings shot in daylight are nice. Most of the second half of the film is set at night so the location loses its impact. Most people will probably recognize Noah Taylor from his Game Of Thrones days and Patrick Baladi from The Office. The slasher killer isn’t charismatic or scary enough to truly make an impact, but for a simple one-off view it’s fine. This is one horror fans should give a go if they can find it, but it’s not going to be on many ‘best of year’ lists.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of The Windmill Massacre!

Ghosts Of Mars

*Originally written in 2004

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What is increasingly, and unfortunately looking like John Carpenter’s last feature film (2017 note to past self – not quite!) Ghosts of Mars is another genre-blending experiment typical of his illustrious career. Set in the distant future, Ghosts of Mars is a mix of sci-fi, action, horror, and western which follows a large group of people including prisoners and prison guards who must work together to overcome a deadly, massing foe, much like Rio Bravo and Assault on Precinct 13. There is a lack of trust between each character, minimal dialogue, a sense of claustrophobia, and the usual cliffhanger ending. Ghosts of Mars is a good film, much better than most critics and fans have said, yet inferior to Carpenter’s past classics. It does unfortunately suffer from some cheap looking sets and odd casting choices – perhaps if Kurt Russell had been here instead of Ice Cube it would have been a greater success, but this choice would have been too predictable and samey for Russell.

A group of Prison guards are sent to Mars to transport a dangerous criminal, Desolation Williams (Cube) from a remote mining community to a maximum security prison. When Commander Braddock (Pam Grier), Melanie Ballard (Henstridge) and her team arrive, they find the community ominously empty and quiet. As they look around, the sense that someone is watching them rises, and as the team splits we get their two different perspectives of events. Upon further investigation it seems that the inhabitants of the town have somehow been possessed and have become ultra-strong, vicious killers, ready to butcher any intruders. What soon becomes clear is that the survivors must work together to find a way out of the place alive, while not letting Desolation and his team get free. However, certain team members may also be possessed, and they are greatly outnumbered.

Even though everyone gives a good performance, Ice Cube has his critics and sometimes seems as if he is trying too hard to look as serious as possible. Many have spoken about the appearance of Mars, and the lack of logic behind the physics involved, but I’ll assume that as this is 200 years in the future technology will have magically changed. And that it is science fiction. Yes, the sets do not look like expensive buildings for millionaires, but this was the desired effect, a ghost town which has been worn down over the years which adds to the atmosphere of isolation. Perhaps there are too many characters, the dialogue is not as strong as in other films, the score will put some off and it is not as memorable as others. It is quite gory though, with some good effects when blood and death is involved, and there is plenty of action.

Although we can probably predict some of the survivors, there is enough intrigue to make us wonder who will be next to die, or turn. The direction is sound, and the split perspective at the start is a good idea. Henstridge is strong, Statham gives probably the best performance – one reminiscent of past Carpenter hits – Clea Duvall is also good, and Grier is fine in a short-lived part. Most fans expect greatness from Carpenter, and something fresh – this is something he has done all his career so it is hardly surprising when he just makes a fun movie which doesn’t try to be serious, and when there is not much originality. The B-movie feel will likely alienate many people, the characters and plot have been seen before, but for gory action this is sure to please, as long as you are not expecting a masterpiece.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Ghosts Of Mars!