Nightman’s Updated Top Ten Movies Of 1998!

Greetings, Glancers! We continue my new series of posts which will detail my favourite films of every year since 1950. Why 1950? Why 10? Why anything? Check out my original post here. As with most of these lists the numbering doesn’t really matter much, though in most cases the Number 1 will be my clear favourite. As I know there are plenty of Stats Nerds out there, I’ll add in some bonus crap at the bottom but the main purpose of these posts is to keep things short. So!

As always, I look at the films which narrowly missed out on my Top Ten. American History X  is a film which sadly has become increasingly relevant since its release, rather than less so. While recent cultural events have seen – not a rise in racism, but an increase in the number of existing racists feeling like they have a voice in society and that their sad little opinions deserve to be heard. Even if its events had become a relic of a less enlightened past, it would still remain a powerful, flawlessly written, directed, and performed film. 

Apt Pupil makes for the perfect partner if you’re looking for a seriously depressing double bill. Based on the riveting Stephen King Novella, it follows a deranged youth with a fasciation for Nazism realizing that a friendly old man in his town is actually a former Concentration Camp monster hiding in the US. Featuring career bests from Ian McKellan and Brad Renfro, it’s one of the most underseen movies of the year.

The Big Lebowski is just a lot of fun, a lazy laidback movie which it is deliciously easy to slip on in the background and find your happy place – and I’m nowhere near the biggest fan of it, while The Idiots is Lars Von Trier hitting his stride and entering the ‘I will offend everyone’ stage of his career.

Mulan is a late in the day hand drawn classic by Disney which was overlooked somewhat at release, and has been somewhat re-evaluated in the aftermath of it being remade, while Run Lola Run was a film like no other at the time, a film told from different angles in a looping Quantum Leap manner while we hope for a happy ending. 

10: Wild Things (US) John McNaughton

A dirty, perverted, hilarious thriller by the man who brought us Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, this is a teenage boy’s dream. Certainly for me, the idea of another Neve Campbell movie was more than enough to get my attention, but throw in the odd sweaty boob shenanigans with her and Denise Richards and a cast featuring Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, and Bill Murray, tied around a script which twists and upends Noir tropes, and you have a wonderful little film which people only remember for its threesome – it’s certainly a lot more. 

9: The Truman Show (US) Peter Weir

I always championed Jim Carrey as a great actor, seeing behind his slapstick japes and face-pulling, but he never got the material to prove himself to Critics until The Truman Show came along. He’s the lynchpin which holds this high-concept drama together, and the focal point for the world wide reality show hit he is the star of. He lives in your typical ideal Good Old USA town, has the perfect job, perfect wife, and yet yearns for me – triggered by memories of lost love. Turns out his entire life has been designed for our entertainment and everyone he has ever known is an actor – his town a giant set, and every action he performs nothing more than the latest episode of a long running TV show. Slowly he begins to realise that something isn’t right and he tests the boundaries of his neighbours, friends, and family unsure if he is having a breakdown or if he is part of some big conspiracy. It’s charming, the perfect fuzzy comfort movie, and everyone is on hot form – Carrey, Ed Harris, Natasha McElhone, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich.

8: Dark City (US/OZ) Alex Proyas

I’m probably one of the few people who saw this before seeing The Matrix. Due to my love of The Crow, I wanted to see what else Proyas had up his sleeve – while this isn’t on the same level as The Crow, it is another twisted dark fantasy with signature cinematography and some bamboozling ideas. While it has plenty in common with The Matrix it equally draws comparisons to The Truman Show, Memento, Inception, and any number of European movies of the 60s and 70s, yet the same acclaim and fame has so far eluded it. It stars Rufus Sewell as a man who wakes in a bathroom with no memory, a corpse in the next room, and a group of trenchcoated freaks in hot pursuit. As the film progresses, he picks up clues about his life and surroundings including the fact that he can manipulate his surroundings with the power of his mind, and yet he seems to be the only person questioning the world’s perpetual darkness. It’s one of those films who have to see for yourself, and descriptions don’t do it justice. If the idea doesn’t pull you in, the shifting Expressionist city visuals should, but if those aren’t enough to entice you, the cast also includes Keifer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, Melissa George, William Hurt, and the great Richard O’Brien. 

7: Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (US) Terry Gilliam

Speaking of films which should be experienced rather than trying to explain, Terry Gilliam’s take on Hunter S Thompson’s Gonzo classic is the perfect example. Avoiding such niceties and narrative and plot, it loosely follows Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro’s drugged up shenanigans in Las Vegas as they encounter bats, giant lizards, motorcycles, rotating floors, horrendous casinos, and familiar faces such as Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Gary Busey, Flea, Cameron Diaz, Ellen Barkin, Verne Troyer, Jenette Goldstein, Harry Dean Stanton and others. It’s a complete mess, but in the best possible way. 

6: Saving Private Ryan (US) Steven Spielberg

There’s surely a case to be made for Saving Private Ryan being the best War movie ever made. Some War movies focus on character with the violence and brutality in the background, while others may wallow in violence or patriotism or dubious political asides. Saving Private Ryan is very much an American take on WWII, but it takes the best of the best war movies, showing as a range of characters and the impact of War on them, all without shying away from the visceral realism of the battlefield. This being Spielberg, there are heavy doses of sentiment and the film feels like it plays out like a sequence of iconic scenes – but I’d prefer that over a sequence of forgettable ones. It’s also as star-studded as the epics of the past, but focuses on familiar faces if not huge A Listers in minimal roles – Tom Hanks and Matt Damon are the big hitters, but you also have Tom Sizemore, Ted Danson, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, Paul Giamatti, Nathan Fillion, Dennis Farina, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, Edward Burns etc etc. When first watching this, you got the sense that it was creating a new world for War movies and opening the eyes and doors for the next generation of Directors.

5: What Dreams May Come (US) Vincent Ward

I don’t think I’ve made such a list yet, but if I did so this film would likely be my Number One Robin Williams movie. The great man’s comedies could be sometimes hit and miss for me, but maybe because he made so many, but often his more dramatic moments are those which stick in the memory. What Dreams May Come is a tough one to watch in the aftermath of Williams’ death, dealing as it does with notions of suicide and the afterlife. But it’s a uniquely beautiful movie, a love story which transcends life, death, and religion, and features some visuals you’ll never forget. Based on the novel by the great Richard Matheson, the movie was always going to be a hard sell with its philosophical leanings, the tragic story of a man who dies and leaves his wife alone, having lost their children a few years earlier in a car crash. The man goes to Heaven but travels to Hell when his wife kills herself wracked with guilt over the deaths of her husband and children. It sounds rough, and it is utterly heart-breaking, but it is also a lovely film which ultimately ends up in a place of hope.  

4: Fallen (US) Gregory Hoblit

I’m still mystified that nobody has seen Fallen. It’s a police procedural which deals with demonic activity – it’s hardly the first time these lines have been blurred – but it does so in a fun, classy, sardonic way. Denzel Washington stars as a Detective hot on the tail of a serial killer who he just happened to have already caught, sent to death row, and watched die. Yet the guy seems to be back, knowing intimate details that a copycat or accomplice couldn’t. The film didn’t make back its budget, possibly because it simply dropped in the wrong month, the wrong year, the wrong climate. Or maybe I’m elevating it to a point it doesn’t deserve to be on – I’ll let you decide – but any film featuring Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, Embeth Davidtz, James Gandolfini, and Elias Koteas is likely always going to get three thumbs up in my book. 

3: Blade (US) Stephen Norrington

I’ve gone on record multiple time on this blog bemoaning the cookie cutter nature of both Marvel and DC’s recent movies. They’re absolutely huge blockbusters, but I just don’t care about any of it. I don’t find anything unique or engaging about any of them, and they end up being about as exciting as jogging down some steps and as memorable as whatever I had for lunch three weeks ago. Comic book movies were a rarity in the 90s, and possibly because of this the movies we did get seemed fresh. Blade is one such example, seeing Wesley Snipes as the half-vampire half-human renegade working and quipping and killing his way to block a demonic apocalypse. It’s cool, it’s violent and bloody, it’s stylish, and Blade is a more interesting character to me than most of the other hundred thousand superheroes out there.

2: Ronin (US) John Frankenheimer

Another film which is rarely spoken of when discussing the great films of 1998 or the Nineties in general, Ronin is a perfect blend of action, drama, and crime thriller, directed by someone who had more than a little experience of each. John Frankenheimer’s penultimate movie features one of the best car chases of all time and brings together a fantastic international cast – De Niro, Sean Bean, Jean Reno, Natasha McElone, Jonathan Pryce, Stelland Skarsgard, and Michael Lonsdale. It’s like watching Reservoir Dogs unfold in the correct order but with twists and double-crosses peaking out from every frame. 

1: Ringu (Japan) Hideo Nakata (Top Ten Of All Time)

Check my Top Movies Of The Decade post.

Let us know yur thoughts in the comments!

The Ghost And The Darkness

BBC One - The Ghost and the Darkness

*Originally written in 2004

In Colonial Africa, Col. Patterson is trying to build a large bridge for the British Railway, leading a large group of African and Indian workers. He has a strict deadline, but is known for always getting the job done. However, the attack by two lions in the area puts great fear into the workers, and over 100 are killed. Patterson comes up with several plans to catch and kill the lions so that he can continue with his work, while the locals are planning to leave believing the lions to be pure evil, calling them the ghost and the darkness according to a legend. They begin to lose confidence in Patterson because they were first attacked when he arrived. The lions seem unusually clever and vicious, and Patterson is out of his league. Enter Remington, straight out of a Haggard novel, an aging hunter who his renowned for his ability. Along with a friend Samuel, they go hunting.

The film deliberately moves at a slower pace than most films of this type, but this approach does not work. No real tension is created, and Kilmer’s Patterson always seems to have a smile on his face in spite of the death around him. For a cast of good actors, no-one particularly performs well, Kilmer is guilty of an awful accent, and Douglas is basically the same character as he played in Romancing the Stone, but without the wise-cracks. Until Douglas appears, there is little excitement, and the banter between characters, obviously trying to recall Jaws, is vastly inferior to Spielberg’s hit. However, there are a few decent moments, even if everything is immediately predictable, and at least the lions have not totally been butchered by Mr. CGI. The final hunt scenes are good, but the film should have been shorter to increase their impact.

Based on a true story with the usual changes to suit the modern audience, which hardly harm the story, The Ghost and the Darkness is worth watching if there is nothing on TV, but I would not recommend going out of your way to buy or see it.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Ghost And The Darkness!

A Dark Song

A Dark Song - Film Hub Wales | Canolfan Ffilm Cymru

A Dark Song is a film to be nerdy about and one which embraces its nerdy ways. It would be more precise to call the film detailed, committed to being authentic. It’s something rarely seen these days, unless said detail is Product Placement. It’s also another one of those films which I was touted as being ‘the scariest of all time’ which both intrigues and worries me, because horror is subjective and because that’s usually a blurb to cover the cracks of a shitty film. Luckily, it’s not a shitty film, nor is it the scariest ever. It’s a solid, grief driven horror movie more concerned with detail, foreboding, and creating a somber tone – and it largely succeeds in delivering on each of those points.

If you weren’t aware, I always enjoy limited scope films – films with a single set or a very tiny cast or some other limitation which tends to mean filmmakers are more creative to work around those restrictions. A Dark Song is essentially a two character, or two actor movie, and for the most part is set in a single location. That location is a large Country House in the middle of nowhere, and the performers are Catherine Walker (Sophia), and Steve Oram (Joseph). Sophia is a grieving mother who has sought out the Occultist Joseph in order to perform a serious of rituals which will allow her to eventually speak to her dead son. Joseph is angry, bad-tempered, distrustful, while Sophia is guarded and defensive meaning the two clash regularly. Part of the ritual means they must live together in this house for many months, without ever leaving or making any contact with the outside world, following various increasingly difficult rites which bring forth both demons and angels to torment and test the pair. The plan is that if someone is worthy enough to complete these rites, a guardian angel will appear and grant any wish.

The film almost plays out like a Mike Leigh film – if Leigh was concerned with the Supernatural and Occult Rituals. It has that kitchen-sink realism and gritty downbeat British tone, all wrapped up in the overall theme of the lengths we go to with grief and guilt, and propelled along by depictions and discussions of the various exercises one must perform to step through the various realms of Heaven and Hell. These involve sleeping in certain places, types of mental and physical torture, drinking blood, chanting, drawing arcane symbols etc. With the fraught relationship between the pair, and the months of punishing tests, tempers fray throughout the movie and the viewer is never sure if it’s all an exploitative joke.

I’m curious to see how viewers will react to this film – horror fans and non-horror fans alike. For horror fans, you’re made to wait until closer to the end before anything overtly horror related makes an appearance while the first half of the film or so is intriguing enough to me in exploring the characters’ relationship and snippets of the history and background of what is being performed. There is a pay-off, and it mostly worked for me, but I imagine others may be frustrated by the ending. I would argue that the ending is exactly what the character needed, and for the viewer it should be the journey that matters – some questions concerning the mother and son aren’t answered, and people may feel those should have been resolved.

Oram is his usual warts and all self – he’s a physical actor who always seems to be eating or scratching or gesturing, while Walker plays the exhausted woman well. Director and writer Liam Gavin shows a genuine interest in the rituals and mythology taken from the Abramelin books and adds enough open-ended intrigue to make me want to go down the rabbit hole. It’s an assured handling of tension and of whatever scares come later, but he does seem more concerned in the build up and the lore and the emotion, than making a scary movie. It’s his movie, and that’s fine, but the marketing may suggest it’s something that it’s not. For me, it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking film of the sort which is rare these days.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of A Dark Song!

Game Night

Movie Review: Game Night (Spoiler Free) | ReelRundown

It’s a pain trying a find a movie that my wife and I will both like. I follow tonnes of movie sites, blogs, fan pages, and am constantly updating lists of movies I want to see. She does none of these things and therefore generally won’t have heard of a lot of the movies I suggest. Of course, I’m constantly suggesting things no sane person would choose to watch, but when she essentially only knows the biggest, most recent blockbusters or whatever her friends have been talking about, reaching a compromise can be difficult. I’ll generally watch anything, though Romance and Musicals are at the back of that list, so I’ll let her decide and say yes to the first thing she picks. As I was putting the kids to bed one night recently, I came downstairs to see she had picked Game Night. Having vaguely heard of it when it was released, and given that it didn’t sound too irritating, I agreed, hoping it wouldn’t fall into the traps most modern mainstream comedies do.

Game Night sees a husband and wife, played by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, organizing their weekly Game Night with friends. We’re introduced early to the film’s ongoing conflicts – husband and wife are competitive, but a team, and are planning to have a baby. The husband has unresolved sibling rivalry issues with his much more successful brother who just happens to be attending the upcoming Game Night, and they live next door to an unusual Police Officer who used to be part of their Game Nights until he got divorced and went a little weird. When the brother (Kyle Chandler) shows up, he suggests he hosts the following week’s festivities, which turns out to be a Murder Mystery Night. Things take a turn for the Hitchcockian when a genuine kidnapping takes place, leaving the three playing couples wondering what’s real, who’s winning, and spinning the plot off in different overlapping narratives filled with maguffins and red herrings.

I enjoyed Game Night a lot more than I was expecting. I hadn’t read any reviews beforehand and only loosely knew the synopsis. The blend of humour and mystery pays off, the characters are more than lewd walking one-liners and feel suitably threshed out for the most part, and while the twists and turns do leave themselves wide open for plot holes, I was too wrapped up in the story and shenanigans to overthink things. Rachel McAdams has an unfortunate habit of being used in Rom Coms – and while this could loosely fit that mould, it gives her a greater opportunity to show off her comedy chops. She has always been an engaging presence and deserves better material than she tends to be given. Jason Bateman does his usual straight-man shtick here, but again it works, and the surrounding cast each get a chuckle at some point. The Directing duo and writer keep the audience guessing, even if there is ultimately nothing overly surprising, and everything from the slapstick action to the tense moments are handled well. The most notable moments to me were the faux Tim Burton-esque miniature shots to make the world and the actors seem more like players on a board. Like an actual Game Night, this is a fun and diverting time and will only be as enjoyable and as memorable as you choose to make it. I was all in.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of Game Night!

Street Hawk

*Originally written in 2004

Another classic Eighties TV show in the vein of Knightrider and Airwolf, Street Hawk follows the exploits of Jesse Mach – a cop who also solves crime undercover using a souped-up black motorcycle. Although only 13 episodes were made, it remains one of the best shows of its type, with plenty of action and humour. And like those other shows it also has a great soundtrack, this time by Tangerine Dream.

The pilot tells the story of Mach, a cop with a love of motorbikes who is often getting in trouble for his reckless ways. When his partner is killed by the drivers of a mysterious black van reported as part of a crime spree throughout his city, Mach seeks vengeance. However, he has been suspended from the force, and warned against revenge. When he is contacted by a rather nerdy man with a new prototype motorcycle, Mach reluctantly accepts to meet. When he sees the bike though, and hears its specs, he wants to ride it immediately. They go for a trial, and Mach loves it, though Norman the creator is edgy, geeky and doesn’t want to see the bike mistreated and ruined. The unlikely pair and the bike set out to prevent crime, while Mach looks for that Black Van.

After the pilot, the series follows the usual formula of helping those in need, while Mach tries to hide his double-life. The banter between Norm and Jesse is charming, akin to KITT and Michael, String and Dom, BA and Murdoch etc. The performances are good from the central cast, as well as from the standard weekly guests. The action is high with plenty of chases, the bike is very cool, and it is a pity the series never continued, ending on a semi-cliffhanger – unfortunate when there was, and is so much rubbish about. While some may say it is cheesy, it has its charm and remains a cult show which should be visited by all fans of eighties TV.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Street Hawk!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2000!

It took me a longer time than it usually does to find a suitable list of movies to include for this post. Sometimes you get those years where very few films stink up the nose holes.

Kevin And Perry Go Large

More difficult than me finding ten movies I didn’t like this year, is finding a British sitcom which translates successfully to the big screen. In the case of Kevin And Perry – they came from more of a sketch show rather than a sitcom, though their particular sequences in the various Harry Enfield series essentially acted as a mini sitcom. Being in my early teens when the Harry Enfield series were prime time viewing, maybe I should have related more to Kevin and Perry, somehow, even though they were clearly mocking annoying teen culture and clueless parents. They weren’t my favourite sequences or characters though – I still liked them but I liked other parts more. Maybe what irked me most was the fact that these guys were held up as the ‘mascots’ of the series – everyone was doing impressions and one-liners of these guys to the point that it was clear they hadn’t watched any other part of the show. The movie itself sees the teenagers heading off to Ibiza for a steek-fest, in the hope of getting drunk and getting laid, and it sadly became a celebration of 90s Lad Culture instead of a satire. Plus, it isn’t funny, it’s badly directed, and the characters are too thin to sustain a feature.

What Lies Beneath

Big budget horror movies with big names, fully backed by a powerhouse studio? Honestly, these never work for me anymore – the recent attempts at classy horror like this, like The Others, lack the scares and don’t show me anything new. It wasn’t until A24 came along and pulled the same trick, but did it with authenticity and originality. What Lies Beneath sure looks the part – A-list cast, it’s pretty, it’s classy. But it has zero balls, it’s bland, it relies on a twist which is fairly obvious from the opening minutes, and it is painfully long.

Billy Elliot

It’s a British comedy about a boy who just wants to dance. Was there any way this wasn’t going to make my list? The only other question is why I ever watched it in the first place.

Book Of Shadows

As much of a divisive film as it is, I love The Blair Witch Project – not only for what it did and achieved, but because it was for me an extremely effective horror film with an ever increasing atmosphere, a crippling of characters’ mentality, just enough world-building to intrigue, and a wonderful finale. I fully understand those people it didn’t work for – different things scare different people. I fail to understand how anyone could enjoy Book Of Shadows, on anything more than a base level. It fails as a sequel, it fails as a standalone due to its general incoherence and amateur feel, and it fails as a horror film – we’ve seen it all before a thousand times better and worse. I only ever saw it once when it was released, so maybe my feelings will have changed if I saw it again now – doubt it.

Red Planet/Mission To Mars

Honestly, I can’t remember which one of these it was, or indeed if it was both. I think it had Val Kilmer in it, but then again Mission To Mars sounds like the film I remember him being in – which isn’t the case. All I remember is looking out the window more than at the TV. In truth, both weren’t great but one was particularly grueling.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas

I only saw this one during a recent Christmas break, as something festive to watch with the kids. A mistake on my part, and on everyone involved. This is the sort of monstrosity I assume that the Cats movie is, but I struggle to see how anything could be more painful than this. Now – like the previous entry, there’s every chance I’m confusing this or merging it with The Cat In The Hat movie with Mike Myers. In any case, both are abominations which should never be spoke of again, unless as part of some arcane incantation to invoke the undead holy power of Nzzgrprtkaghk.

Snatch

Guy Ritchie has yet to make a movie I’ve tolerated, never mind liked. This and Lock, Stock were all over ever twats’ walls in poster form when I went to University. I don’t get it. Of course, I can’t stand any of that Cockney shite that people seem to love – I can think of fewer things I like less than films set in London’s criminal underworld.

Ginger Snaps

This film angered me because it seemed to get a lot of plaudits and credit and acclaim when it immediately struck me as a try-hard Buffy clone. While nobody actually seemed to be talking about Buffy and how important it was, critics were fawning over the stuff that wouldn’t have existed without it. In the late 90s, a lot of Buffy clones made it on to our TVs – young, sexy, self-aware, smart teens quipping in school and juggling daily lives and some wider conspiracy or secret. Ginger Snaps is precisely this, but told in a more irritating way and without an ounce of the originality it is claimed to have.

Meet The Parents

Are any of these good? Actually, don’t answer that, I don’t care. The first was bad enough.

Let us know in the comments which films of 2000 you would slap onto the naughty list!

Bordello Of Blood

At some point in the early 90s, British terrestrial TV began showing the Tales From The Cryptkeeper cartoon. Monsters, horror, twisty gruesome stories? What more could I want from a cartoon? In truth, I don’t remember much about it now. It was my knowledge of that series though which alerted me to a Tales From The Crypt movie one night a few years later – that movie was Demon Knight. I can’t recall what I expected from it, but I do remember watching it in bed and being disappointed that it wasn’t scarier. Knowing what I do now about the whole franchise, it was foolish for me to expect anything other than a camp mixture of slapstick gore and comedy. Flash-forward a few more years and I found out that another movie had been made – Bordello Of Blood – and that it starred Corey Feldman, who I was a fan of, and Erika Eleniak who I knew from Baywatch and emerging topless from a cake. Flash-forward one final time a decade or so further and I finally had the opportunity to see Bordello Of Blood.

It’s a hoot. The film has an unexpectedly hilarious script – offensive 90’s material delivered in sardonic 1940’s PI style by Dennis Miller. I had no idea who Miller was – I had to search to find that he was a stand-up comedian – and that makes sense for is performance here. The plot isn’t important – an ancient vampire is holed up with her brethren in a brothel, trapping horny men inside for a feeding frenzy. Corey Feldman is one such horn-dog, and after a fight with his chaste older sister (Eleniak), he finds himself in the brothel. The rest of the film sees Eleniak trying to find her missing brother with the help of an asshole Private Detective (Miller), and them uncovering the centuries old vampire mystery. It’s all dumb fun, and an excuse for the cast and writers to drop as many one-liners as they can in the midst of a lot of boobs and blood.

And really, what more do you need for a late night Friday movie when you’ve had a sucky week of customers or managers or people getting all up in yo shit? Feldman doesn’t appear as much as I would  have liked – he’s really only a supporting characters in the opening and closing moments, but the parade of familiar faces is entertaining if you grew up during the decade of grunge. Chris Sarandon is back to his slimy best, and people like Phil Fondacaro, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Sadler, and Aubrey Morris all pop up. Nowadays it seems to me that the film has an innocent charm, even though it is sleazy and offensive, but maybe I feel that way because it’s comforting discovering a 90’s movie which takes you back through the years. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a must see for horror fans because it does fit into a nostalgic niche, and I don’t see many non-horror fans getting anything out of it beyond a series of eye rolls, but if you were a kid of the 80s or 90s and enjoy the sort of silly humour and gore which the Cryptkeeper franchise delivers, then you’re bound to get a kick out of it.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Bordello Of Blood!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2001!

In 2001 I started some genuine ‘study’ or ‘criticism’ with regards to Cinema, thanks to picking up a few Film modules in University. I say ‘genuine’, but what I really mean is ‘watched for more than mere entertainment’. This just happened to coincide with me fully branching out to watch everything I could get my hands on. Unfortunately it meant I watched a tonne of crap and discussed those with an honest critical hat on. I have long abandoned any hope or desire to being any sort of critic – I just call it as I see it, and reserve in depth discussion for those films I love. Today’s list – I don’t love.

Valentine

A few years too late to both the post-Scream horror world and post ‘David Boreanez is hot’ landscape. This is a by the numbers, contrived 90s slasher with none of the smarts of the best of its genre, and few of the scares. I lay in bed watching this when it first aired on TV, and that was the absolute best place I could have been to view such a snoozer.

Bridget Jones’s Diary

It’s a British big screen comedy, so that’s one black mark. It’s a romantic comedy, so that’s another. Hugh Grant and Colin Firth are doing their thing, so that’s two more. And there is nothing in the positive column.

Moulin Rouge

Your yearly musical, and really the first one to bring the Musical back to the big time. Perhaps its greatest travesty was ensuring that no matter where you went or what you did between 2001 and 2004, you were subjected to hearing that awful Lady Marmalade song – absolutely one of the most terrible creations in the history of music. The 70s version was bad enough, but throw in Aguilera’s uncomfortable gyrating and skin-tearing caterwauling and you have one of the purest torture instruments since the good old ‘grenade under foreskin’.

Jurassic Park III

The Lost World wasn’t amazing, but it still had ideas and felt like an adventure. Part 3 devolves into camp and converts a solid enough cast into a bunch of bumbling tools acting out an extended Scooby Doo episode, but without the sexual intrigue or fun.

Ghost World

It’s the movie that your annoying proto-hipster pseudo-friend wouldn’t stop harping on about because they thought it reflected them and their life (spoiler alert – it did; both are worthless). There’s one of these every year or so, and they’re never as good as what people claim they are. I probably got a couple of grins out of this, mainly because of Buscemi’s antics, but the whole ironic nerd-gazing anti-pity party tone in this sort of movie always irks me.

The Others

I wanted to like The Others as it claimed to be a throw-back to the good old atmospheric ghost stories of days of yore. And to a certain extent it is, except that you realize that that sort of movie with that sort of tone just doesn’t work anymore – we have progressed as a culture and as an audience to the point that films going for that tone and atmosphere need to bring something new to the table. Most of the movie hinges on a twist, which is glaringly obvious from round about the opening scene of the movie, and an atmosphere which always felt to me more detached and gloomy than foreboding and dread-inducing.

Zoolander

I have no clue why this was a hit at the time or why people still talk about it. Sure, I didn’t see it at the time and came to the party quite late (mainly because I’m not a big Ben Stiller fan), but when I did it confirmed everything I had anticipated – not funny, a chore to finish.

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone

I only watched this film for the first time last year, avoiding it and the novels all of these years. I had no desire to watch it upon release and then when my kids were born I thought it would be a great series to watch alongside them, given all the rave reviews and hype. So we watched it last year – wow, what a pile of crap. I appreciate the first in a series is all about creating a world and establishing characters – but the world depicting is bland and unimaginative, the characters are hackneyed and show no progress over those seen in something like The Worst Witch, and the central performances of the (then) child actors are uniformly terrible. I get that they’re child actors picking up this huge mantel, but man there is a monumental level of sucking here. The plot is very much ‘lonely boy realizes he’s special, and goes off to a new place to learn why he’s special’ but with no drama, no laughs, and no endgame. It has all but destroyed any desire I had of watching the others in the series, but more crucially, my kids have zero interest in pursuing it.

A Beautiful Mind

From Day One this looked and smelled like Oscar bait. From the late Seventies these Oscar Bait movies became increasingly prevalent. I almost never enjoy them, especially when they are Biographical in nature. Usually it’s because the biopics are based on people I don’t care about and whose life holds no great interest for me. It’s the same with  A Beautiful Mind – it’s by no means a bad film, it’s simply no different to me than a made for TV movie with a big name cast concerning a person and a story that I’m never going to care about.

Ocean’s Eleven

This one comes down to personal taste more than anything – though of course the same could be said for any entry. The fact is – I’m not a fan of the Rat Pack, at all; their movies, their music, the image – it’s all hateful to me. So when this was announced I was skeptical. It’s not the same as the 60’s outing, but it’s a similar enough exercise in style and dialogue and approach that this was never going to be for me. Credit to bringing together a cast like this, but the whole suit wearing, high life, wise-guy, shtick is to me what being hit in the face with a basketball is to toddlers.

I’m sure there are some favourites in there for any readers – feel free to tell me what I’m missing and add your picks of least favourite movies of 2001!

Children Of The Corn

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I can’t be specific on dates, but Children Of The Corn was one of the first horror movies I remember discovering. Like I mentioned in my Creepshow 2 review, posters can have a powerful effect on a growing, inquisitive, impressionable mind. Over time I somehow gained information about the story and the movie and began to form my own version of it in my head, but I didn’t get to see it until years later. There’s a danger of being let down after consciously or subconsciously hyping a movie, but where Children Of The Corn is concerned, the mystery and tone conveyed in the opening portions of the movie aligned with the picture I’d created in my mind. Watching again years later, it’s clear that there are better King adaptations and it that it has plenty of shortcomings. I still feel that it captures the essence of the unknown which juvenile and growing horror fans find so alluring, even if it doesn’t have enough bite to hold an adult audience in its thrall.

Adapted from King’s 1978 Night Shift short, Children Of The Corn is the first of (somehow) ten movies in a series which I can only assume grows increasingly <corny> as it progresses. King wrote the original screenplay, but as was normal for the time another writer would come in to usurp the script and focus more on violence than drama. The original story is a simple one – a bickering couple are driving through the US heartland, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, only to become lost and encounter a savage backwater. The key difference here being that the savages are a bunch of kids, creepy religious zealot kids who follow an unseen God known as ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’. The movie keeps the basics in check, albeit offering less in the way of marital distress and more in the way of heroic dads and wholesome family dynamics.

We open in pleasingly creepy fashion, as Isaac – moon-faced pre-teen leader of the group sends the crazed Malachi and friends on a poison and murder spree through their hometown, Gatlin. It’s a simple farming town, and the crops have been failing, which Isaac takes to mean their God is not pleased. And we all know how to appease an angry, malevolent God. Cut to a few years later and a ‘just about to be famous for Terminator’ Linda Hamilton (Vicky) and boyfriend Peter Horton (But) heading up river to start a new life. Driving through endless miles of nothing, their subdued fears about the future are disturbed by the sudden appearance of a child bouncing under the wheels of their car. After initially thinking they hit and killed him, they come to understand that he was already dead. The boy was trying to escape Isaac and his murderous ways, but ended up being sacrificed to the God of Buick. Should they leave him and go on their way? Should they drop the body off in a local town? Should they take him to a big city hospital, or the Police Station in local Gatlin? This being a horror movie, the pair make the wrong choice and quickly find themselves in a world of pitchforks and pasty teens.

The film isn’t as shlocky as some early King adaptations, surprising perhaps given the subject matter. Likewise, it isn’t anywhere near the level of his biggest films of the period – Carrie or The Shining. To its credit, it isn’t all silly surface scares – that sense of the unknown and of being lost permeates the atmosphere in the opening scenes and its an atmosphere which works for me personally having been a child with a heightened fear of being lost or left behind in a new place. Outside of personal feelings, the film is an obvious parable for religious fundamentalism and the dangers of allowing any cult to take power. I like this angle, as ham-fisted as it may be delivered here, and I’m sure a more dedicated experienced director and writer combo could do something stronger with the material viewed in this way. There are of course numerous departures from the source material, fleshing out the cult and delivering a less downbeat ending for example. It’s well enough shot, using the open and wide landscape to decent effect, and by and large the cast serve their purpose – all the more impressive given that many of them are kids. Hamilton doesn’t get to show off her later chops, but is more than the withering lead lady of the piece you might expect from such a film, and gets just as much screen time and action as Horton. They work well as a couple and spend much of the film apart dealing with various factions within Gatlin, again equipping themselves admirably.

Is it top tier King? No, but that’s generally reserved for his more classy material or when a classy director gets a hold of his work. But it’s serviceable enough for most viewers to get something out of it, and good enough that many King and horror fans might rank it as a second tier adaptation. In any case, in this strange time of locked doors and empty streets we find ourselves in it’s worth a watch to remind ourselves what the outdoors look like – and that what’s out there may want us for lunch.

Let us know what you think of Children Of The Corn in the comments!

February (The Blackcoat’s Daughter)

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Two things brought me to this film – beyond it simply being a horror movie. The first, is that I love Emma Roberts as an actress, and second is that the guys over on The Shockwaves Podcast wouldn’t shut the hell up about it. No-one else loves horror more than those guys and as well as being involved in the industry, their regular show features horror writers, directors, actors and more – with one episode featuring February’s director Oz Perkins (son of Anthony). I’ve watched it – is it any good?

Aside from what I’ve mentioned already, the film has two major things going for it – how it looks, and its atmosphere – both cold and distant, both interweaving, and that coldness blitzes its way into every other aspect. The characters speak and act in a disaffected way, there are long staring shots of emptiness, and the snowy landscape a la The Shining adds to a sense of unease and claustrophobia. It’s a frequently beautiful, startling movie which aims at the heights set by Let The Right One In, but doesn’t quite get there. The unease is shown to be formed by and coupled with an unraveling mystery and twists which, me being me, were fairly obvious. Unfortunately the film by its very nature will likely frustrate casual viewers and if Perkins has his heart set on loftier ideals and audiences the coldness emitting from the characters is one I reciprocated towards them – I just didn’t care about them or any of what was going on, as intriguing and watchable as it was.

February (or The Blackcoat’s Daughter) will find a cult audience but I don’t think it’s a movie which will demand the rewatches which cult movies often do. Certainly once certain reveals are made some may want to revisit to tie the various strings together, but for me a revisit needs to be fun. Ostensibly, the film is about girls in a secluded Catholic school, staying behind while most of the students and staff have left for a week. One of the girls is an unusual Freshman, the other a promiscuous older teen. It would be unfair to say more, but there are creepy figures, rituals, blood, and blades. It’s a film which has been marketed as a straight horror film but it’s not so simple dealing instead with mental illness, possible possession,  guilt, and loss.

The cast fare well with the material – Shipka, Boynton, and Roberts are each compelling performers, and the cast is rounded out by the likes of James Remar and Lauren Holly in minor supporting roles. There’s plenty for them to do but they are restrained by Perkins’s direction and vision for the film meaning that most lines are delivered as if from behind a curtain, most performances being more like a ventriloquist’s dummy. That’s what they’re going for and if you’re into the style then it’s perfect. For me, I felt like I was being asked to care about these people but being given no reason to. Unlike many horror films, the characters aren’t jerks – they’re just faceless shells who suffer some terrible shit. The film isn’t as good as it thinks it is, or as it needs to be, but what do I know – check it out for yourself.

Let us know what you thought of February in the comments!