If there’s anything to learn from The Password Is Courage it’s that Dirk Bogarde was a bad-ass. Check out any biography or discussion of his past, his own part in World War 2, and many other antics; bad. ass. The Password Is Courage was by no means the first POW movie, but it’s one of the most underrated and lesser known, with an opening 10 minutes which must rank among the most entertaining I’ve seen in the genre. Make no mistake, this is neither gruelling nor overtly political, or even particularly serious, sharing more similarities with something like The Great Escape.
The film opens with Bogarde’s Sgt-Major Coward and cohorts already in a POW camp. We don’t get to see this camp actually being as horrific as we know they could be (there were of course limits to what movies could show and what audiences could tolerate back then) but we know the Allied soldiers want freedom. Coward consistently makes a nuisance of himself and is trying to look for ways to escape – on a forced march he slips away and hides in a farmhouse. Unfortunately for him, this farmhouse is already about to be taken over by the Germans as a hospital – luckily, the Germans are idiots and they mistake Coward for an injured German soldier and award him the Iron Cross in a particularly amusing scene. All of these antics are merely set up for his actual escape as he is quickly recaptured and sent back to his POW camp. A brave move to have a fake-out escape in the opening moments and which takes up a fair chunk of the running time.
The rest of the movie follows Coward continuing to lie, cheat, and steal his way from Camp to Camp – pissing off both Germans and Allies equally in his search for freedom. He gets a friend, he meets a pretty lady, and there are moments of both action and humour. The film never comes close to striking a serious nerve and while I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a jolly romp through the worst period of the 20th Century so much as offering a clearly fictional more light-hearted take on the audacity, bravado, and luck of some of those involved.
Let us know in the comments what you think of The Password Is Courage!
If movies have taught us anything, it’s that travelling to space will either lead to jolly adventures with feisty bikini clad Princesses and furries, or gruesome/slimy/explosive death. Life explores the second option, placing the viewer in a realistic present day landscape rather than the not too distant future of Alien – one of several movies it is more than inspired by. By camping us inside the orbital real world ISS alongside a skeleton crew of cross-continental familiar faces, yet giving us fleeting glimpses of what is happening back home – births, parades, cute kids asking cute questions – Life aims to alarm us into thinking what if the guys up there right now discover something hostile?
We join our crew of six as they collect soil samples from Mars which may contain evidence of <insert title here>. Turns out there is life out there, of the single celled variety, and turns out the cell just needs a touch of glucose to get it up in the morning. One taste of sugar and the little bastard begins sprouting, stretching, and expanding. Like all babies, translucent or otherwise, it wants to explore and wreck shit. Once named (by some cute Earthlings), Calvin crushes his daddy’s hand, yeets out, and begins an adolescent rampage. While the film has rightly been called an inferior mixture of Gravity and Alien, it’s probably more accurate to say that it’s a retelling of every parent’s experience with a toddler ever, with more CG. Like every movie set in space, there’s a frantic race against time, lots of clamouring to solve impossible problems, and people picked off one by one as they fight for survival and try to prevent the ever growing, increasingly wobbly Calvin making his way to the good ol’ US of Earth.
It’s a fine watch from start to finish, without really offering anything new. It feels more like a case of updating every aspect of the movies it apes; updated special effects, updated creature effects, updated dialogue – everything to make the film more appealing to today’s audience. The only time the movie puts its neck on the line is with its ending – a refreshingly un-Hollywood ending but one you know is coming so that, once again, it comes as no surprise and dilutes any shock value it was meant to generate. Most attempts at fleshing out each character – and to the film’s credit it does try to do this – most of these attempts feel trite and not genuine. Rather than any individuality, the film offers a stock archetype and then gives each one a single thing which marks them as different from the other. Sanada is Japanese, and has a kid on the way. There’s the disabled dude who, for some reason, becomes obsessive at bringing Calvin to life, Gyllenhaal is calm and cold, but is perfectly happy living in Space, Ryan Reynolds is Ryan Reynolds etc. Each aspect totalled up amounts to a perfectly average film – if you haven’t seen Alien or Gravity then maybe this will have more of an impact on you and for a night in it passes the time without forcing you to think or become too invested, while equally staving off the boredom.
Let us know what you think of Life in the comments!
For any unadventurous Americans, Canada should be right up there with Australia and the UK to get used to the concept of Foreign Cinema. Many big budget and hit films and TV shows are filmed in Canada with a Canadian crew and cast to save money, while the Country also has its own expansive and dedicated industry featuring both English and French language productions.
Key Gateway Films: Black Christmas (The original slasher), Eastern Promises (sex trafficking and gangsters with Viggo Mortensen), Ginger Snaps (incredibly overrated but watchable teen werewolf fare), Incendies (twins discover war and mystery in The Middle East), The Decline of The American Empire (sex and laughs between intellectuals), Resident Evil Series (zombies and freaks loosely based on the game series), Meatballs (it’s not Star Wars), Porky’s (sexy teen romp), Scanners (head explosions), Splice (man makes creature and gets horny), Trailer Park Boys (movies based on the show).
Notable Directors: James Cameron (The Terminator, Avatar), David Cronenberg (Scanners, The Fly), Sarah Polley (Away From Her Take This Waltz), Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Prisoners), Jason Reitman (Juno, Up In The Air)
Notable Stars: Malin Akerman, Dan Aykroyd, Pamela Anderson, Will Arnett, Raymond Burr, Genevieve Bujold, Neve Campbell, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Hume Cronyn, Michael J Fox, Lorne Greene, Corey Haim, Laurie Holden, Michael Ironside, Joanne Kelly, Margot Kidder, Eugene Levy, Evangeline Lily, Rachel McAdams, Rick Moranis, Carrie Anne Moss, Ellen Page, Mary Pickford, Anna Paquin, Christopher Plummer, Matthew Perry, Keanu Reeves, Seth Rogan, Donald Sutherland, Keifer Sutherland, Jennifer and Meg Tilly, Michael Wincott.
The first thing to clarify for any newbs is that China and Hong Kong are separate entities – different place, different business, different movies, though there are obviously many similarities. If you want any more info, go to a news site as we’re here for da movies. Ho. China is huge, and it does make huge movies with many focusing on history and martial arts, yet I’ve seen far fewer films than those which fall under Hong Kong.
Key Gateway Films: Red Sorghum (Zhang Yamou drama about… pissing in booze), Raise The Red Lantern (that man again, gorgeously shot drama about one of many wives), Farewell My Concubine (Leslie Cheung masterclass about a circus/opera group destroyed by love and politics), The Opium War (ignore the plot and enjoy the sights), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (swordplay and skipping over rooftops), Hero (more epic swordplay), The Ghost Inside (fairly conflicting horror story with a dash of realism, or vice versa), Thru The Moebius Strip (3D animation sci fi), The Warlords (Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro are badass), Red Cliff (John Woo goes epic).
Notable Directors: Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine), Diao Yinan (Night Train), Feng Xiaogang (Aftershock), Huang Shuqin (A Soul Haunted By Painting), Tian Zhuangzhaung (The Blue Kite), Zhang Yimou (House Of Flying Daggers).
Notable Stars: There is too much of a crossover here with Hong Kong and Taiwan, so I’m not going to even bother – I’ll leave this for the Hong Kong entry.
There are also notable films from Chile, Croatia, and Czech Republic but I don’t know enough movies from those countries to adequately comment. If you have seen any from those places or any other ‘C country’ let us know what you thought in the comments!
Here is my updated list of favourite films of 1994 – there aren’t actually any new entries, I’m simply adding a few blurbs on each film. First, the few which missed out on my Top 20 – Heavenly Creatures which saw Peter ‘I kick ass for The Lord’ Jackson, branching out from his shlock horror comedies and making something more emotionally substantial and mainstream. The Last Seduction aimed to single-handedly bring the noir genre kicking and screaming back to life, with a great performance by Linda Fiorentino, while The River Wild is Die Hard in a dinghy.
And now, the Top Twenty:
20: Little Women (US) Gilliam Armstrong
I don’t know why, but I generally enjoy the Little Women movies. That’s not strange in and of itself – what’s strange is that I can’t stand the original novel. This movie is gorgeously shot and has all of the hair and clothing and all of that crap that people seem to love, but more importantly it has a badass cast of people just coming into their own or at the top of their game – Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Christian Bale, Samantha Mathis, Gabriel Byrne, Trini Alvarado, Eric Stoltz and more. As acclaimed as this one was at the time, it’s a bit sad that it will now be overlooked by the overblown success of the 2019 version.
19: Ace Ventura (US) Tom Shadyac
Jim Carrey was maybe on the greatest sequence of starring roles in history in 1994, with a trio of all time classics. All three are on my list, this one and the next one are interchangeable in their quality and my enjoyment of them. This and The Mask are great fun. Pity the sequel is balls.
18: The Mask (US) Charles Russell
17: Stargate (US/France) Roland Emmerich
I loved Stargate when it was released – it was such a spectacle, plus it dealt with a period of history I have always been curious about, and it was done in a cool 90s way. AND you get Kurt Russell. It has since been overshadowed by the epic TV spin-offs but this was the starting point of one of the greatest, most underrated expanded universes in fiction.
16: Forrest Gump (US) Robert Zemeckis
It’s one of those films which I never feel like I need to revisit. It was fun, heartwarming, sure a little saccharine, but features one of the most iconic performances of the decade, one of the most recognisable characters in movie history, and some memorable one-liners. It’s an all round good film which hasn’t lost any of its potency.
15: The Lion King (US Disney)
It’s The Lion King. People love this a lot more than I do, and while I agree it is massively overrated, it’s still wonderful. Superb anmiation, great songs, amusing characters – classic Disney – before they sold out.
14: Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (US/Japan) Kenneth Branagh
Lets face it, the 90s produced arguably the best movie version of Dracula and almost certainly the best movie version of Frankenstein – coming from a big fan of both Universal and Hammer. It’s not without its problems, much of that is simply to do with bringing the story to the screen in the first place, but it gets the pathos and the monstrosity of the original text correct, and offers Robert De Niro the chance to portray the sort of character A-listers wouldn’t usually come within 50 miles of.
13: Timecop (US) Peter Hyams
Did I ever do a TTT for Jean Claude Van Damme? I don’t know man, I’ve been doing this blog for generations. Timecop is the movie Looper wishes it was, with added mullets.
12: The Shawshank Redemption (US) Frank Darabont
Frequently listed as the greatest movie of the decade, and often as the greatest movie of all time, it still gives me great pleasure when ardent anti-horror or anti-Stephen King fans begrudgingly admit how good this is. Sure the movie succeeds based on Darabont’s direction and the terrific cast, but it all comes down to the story by King – a story of hope and of crawling through all of the shit life pours on you. It’s another fine example of The Academy completely ignoring Horror – or even anything with the stench of Horror attached to it – as the film was overlooked in every category it was nominated in (though fair enough, there were some excellent movies and winners this year).
11: Ed Wood (US) Tim Burton
Ed Wood is Tim Burton Oscar bait… I think. It’s one of those movies about movies, about the love of making them, about the whole system and the business. While movies like this have always been critical darlings, Burton decided to flip the whole shtick and make the focus one of the most notoriously ‘bad’ filmmakers in history. Wood is presented as an exuberant guy with a dream, a man who refuses to allow reality to crush his pursuit of making his dream come true or dull his love of the movies. Depp and Landau are on top form here, and it’s another Horror adjacent movie which The Academy couldn’t avoid.
10: Natural Born Killers (US) Oliver Stone
One of the most controversial movies of the 90s, this was certainly ahead of its time with its protagonists/antagonists taking their murder and mayhem to the road accompanied by an orgasmic media. Lewis and Harrelson have a natural born chemistry and whip out career best manic performances, ably backed up by a ‘remember me, everybody’ Robert Downey Jr, Rodney Dangerfield, Tom Sizemore, and Tommy Lee Jones. Few films whip up such controversy in their wake and few films have such a unique mish mash of styles and genres, creating an orgiastic fever-dream of drama, comedy, and violence.
9: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (US) Wes Craven
If you want to breath life back into a dying series, you can do worse than handing back the reins to its creator a decade later. In a precursor to his meta mega-hit Scream, New Nightmare upends series and genre tropes as it peels back the curtain and blurs the increasingly more fragile walls between the real and fictional world. Wes brings back original cast members to tell the story of Heather Langenkamp – actress most famous for her performances in the Elm Street series – whose fictional arch enemy Fred Krueger has somehow found a way into the real world. The movie dispenses with much of the humour of the popular sequels, instead posing questions about fandom and the impact of fame and exposure to violent material on those who are both part of these worlds and help to create it. The film doesn’t scrimp on the gore even as it dispenses with many of the creative setpieces and kills which the series had become known for, but ends up being all the more nasty and interesting for it.
8: Clerks (US) Kevin Smith
There have been few better or equivalent Indie first times movies than Clerks – a movie of its time which capitalized upon the torchlight being shone on Indie film at the time, but which nevertheless remains fresh, vital, and hilarious even decades later. Smith would hone his writing and directing skills over the years, but this may be his most pure effort, pulling together friends and familiars and shooting on a shoestring, yet managing to create a much funnier, much stronger product than almost any other studio comedy of the decade.
7: True Lies (US) James Cameron
James Cameron doesn’t make many films, but when he does they’re either record-breakers, masterpieces, or at worst perfectly entertaining B genre fare. True Lies is neither a record breaker nor a masterpiece, but he did release it in between T2 and Titanic, so it can be viewed as a palette cleanser. More than that, it’s a send up of the spy/secret agent/Bond genre as Arnie leads a double life as a boring family man and a world-saving action hero. It’s the lightest, funniest film in the Cameron-verse, bolstered by an amusing trope-twisting script and fun takes by Jamie Lee Curtis and Bill Paxton.
6: Speed (US) Jan de Bont
The undisputed action movie event of the year, and one of the best of the decade. While the 80s featured muscle-bound bullet dodgers mowing down hordes of faceless bad dudes, the enlightened audiences of the 90s needed something more. Something like a bad dude who used to be a good dude, and a good dude who is flawed and hasn’t experienced the bicep sprouting pleasures of steroids, and a story more inventive than ‘bad dude kidnaps x and good dude must destroy everything’. Speed is one of the finest examples of the 90s take on the genre – reckless rookie Keanu Reeves comes up against crazed ex good guy Dennis Hopper and has to stop him blowing people up. The bulk of the movie takes place on a bus – a bus filled with passengers and Sandra Bullock – a bus armed with explosives which will go off if the bus goes under 50MPH, but there’s also a gripping climax involving a subway. Like its central plot device, the thrills, action, and tension never let up once they start, and the cast have a whale of a time.
5: Pulp Fiction (US) Quentin Tarantino
See my favourite movies of decade post.
4: Interview With The Vampire (US) Neil Jordan
See my favourite movies of decade post.
3: Leon (France) Luc Besson
See my favourite movies of decade post.
2: The Crow (US) Alex Proyas
See my favourite movies of decade post.
1: Dumb And Dumber (Top Ten Of All Time) (US) Peter Farrelly
I seem to start a lot of posts these days with the phrase ‘if you’re a regular to this blog’, which suggests I’m covering a lot of the same topics on a loop, but if you’re a regular to this blog then you’ll know I love fiction and movies set around theme parks, fun parks, carnivals and the like. In recent years we’ve had a few films in this vein, expanding out to also cover the Escape Room craze, and in 2018 alone we confusingly had Hell Fest and Blood Fest – two films set inside the curious theme parky world of Horror-Cons.
Blood Fest begins promisingly, with a mother and son snuggled up watching horror movies on the sofa. The mum goes into the kitchen to grab more popcorn, and when she doesn’t come back the son goes to the kitchen only to find a masked killer standing over his mum’s bloodied body. Flashforward to present day and the boy is now a teenager obsessed with Horror movies, while his dad is a psychologist who argues against Horror and other violent forms of media as they lead to the sort of disorders or crimes which led to his wife’s death. It’s a decent setup, and even though all I expect or want from a movie like this is some fun chase and kill shenanigans using the location in an interesting way, this had the potential to discuss some deeper topics.
It’s odd then that the setup doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s no sense of grief within the family, there’s little real discussion on the ills, perceived or otherwise, of Horror movies on impressionable people – which is especially strange because the entire plot hinges on that exact device – and it means that I was left a little disappointed by the final product. Had a more generic setup been in place I would have taken this as a simple fun slasher, but as it suggests its going to have more depth – when it doesn’t deliver on that promise I ask what the point of it all was.
We should bear in mind though that the movie is a comedy – it’s a comedy set in the world of Horror and Horror fandom, with plenty of nods and in jokes both broad enough for casual fans to get, and more specific such as a moment recalling The Exorcist 3’s famous jump scare. There’s quite a lot of gore – of the over the top, spurting Asian variety – but there isn’t an ounce of tension or true horror here. It’s 100% in the Comedy genre, like a poor man’s Shaun Of The Dead. The teenager hero and his two friends are planning to attend Blood Fest – a celebration of all things Horror, with rides, celeb meet and greets, booze, music, and everything else you would expect from an overblown Con. The twist is that once the guests arrive, all doors are locked, all gates are electrified, and all bets are off as the Con’s host – an overly camp Owen Edgerton – wants to film the greatest Horror movie of all time by killing all of the guests throughout the different areas of the park. The park is split into different areas matching a particular Horror theme or trope – zombies, vampires, killer clowns – and each area is filled with maniacal killers or monsters. Again, there’s a cool idea in here – a Horror based Battle Royale – but we focus on our small group of survivors, and the park’s areas are only given cursory glances. I’d have enjoyed more of a thorough Running Man style chase through these areas with a sense of progress and threat and a chance to feel the different atmosphere of each. A larger group of survivors, seeing them get whittled down as they make their way towards the Exit or the centre, would have been cool.
Our heroes are not the most exciting bunch – lead horror geek, his feisty love interest, his geeky friend, the hot blonde, and ostensibly the hot blonde’s jerk boyfriend and a cowardly horror actor. They never feel like they are in any real danger, and even when they begin to get picked off we’re not given any reason to care – and the survivors don’t react much. A sharper script would have improved matters, but there’s a much better film in here as I’ve alluded to; that idea of survival in a Horror version of Disneyland, complete with cameos from famous faces from within the genre, and by all means spice it up with social commentary or meta influence. As it stands, Blood Fest is a let down on most fronts – the laughs are flat, the commentary may as well not be there, the gore is silly, the plot is uninteresting, and the location is underused and not fleshed out. Still, it’s a brief enough watch and if you’re into films set in the same sort of universe and location as this, you’ll likely get some basic enjoyment out of it.
Let us know what you thought of Blood Fest in the comments!
1996 is a year I love, so my picks this year are less on the ‘I hated this side’ and more on the ‘meh’ side. Brassed Off is a shining example of this – there’s nothing wrong with the movie, and it’s certainly a damn sight better than the usual 90s English comedy fare I despise. But still, it is a quirky English comedy so it’s never going to be more than ‘meh’ for me.
Everybody loved Fraiser, right? Sure, it wasn’t as laugh out loud as Friends, and it lacked any emotional connection, and it presented a world of high class intellectualism that few of us could relate or aspire to, but it was still a good show. Kelsey ‘that’s not a real name, and neither is my surname’ Grammer attempts to cash in on his flagship show’s fame by making this Police Academy/Airplane knock-off. It’s funny in places, but it feels out of place in the 90s.
Lets get out the checklist again, shall we? English? Costume Drama? Quirky rom com? Gwyneth Paltrow. Oscar Bait? This was a cert for my bottom films of the year as soon as it was announced. I like Jane Austin as much as the next English Literature University Graduate, but I much prefer these texts on page than on screen. It’s the story and characters I care about – not the costumes or the setting which are admittedly… pretty? Don’t care. But you ruin it by throwing Paltrow in there who, by her third starring role, I’d long since given up on ever making something I’d be remotely interested in.
The English Patient
This is more of the same, but at least they dispense with any quirky comedy, replace Paltrow with Binoche, and have the film set in a period I’m actually interested in, but they hike up the sentimentality and the Oscar bait to ridiculous levels. You knew this was down for Best Picture as soon as it was announced, regardless of quality. It’s fine, but not my thing.
Escape From LA
John Carpenter didn’t have the best of decades in the 90s – he made a batch of interesting films and relative flops, some less interesting material too. Escape From LA feels like a last gasp attempt to win his fans over again, a sequel to one of his most culty cult favourites and featuring one of his most beloved characters. But it’s horrible, mostly a rehash of what was done better in the original, with the added slap in the tits of some shocking special effects. There’s some interesting stuff here – the casting, the score, the nihilism, but there’s also all of this silly misplaced humour… I’m not sure what went wrong but another go over the script, and update of the effects, and a few tonal shifts and I’m sure it would have been a much stronger film.
The First Wives Club
I’m not sure why I even put myself through this in the first place as a glance as the synopsis was enough to make me vomit through every pore in my body. It must have been because Hugh Wilson helmed, and he gets a pass for me every time thanks to Police Academy. But Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton – actresses I’ve never cared for – and even worse they have Maggie Smith and Stockard Channing in supporting roles. Silly comedy and a silly story, annoying characters, and the whole thing is aimed squarely at the middle aged woman market who lapped it up like a discount Yoga DVD. All together now – not. for. me.
Jingle All The Way
This should have been for me – Christmas movie and Arnie? What could go wrong? Well, nothing in the entire movie goes right. Brian Levant has never made a good movie – Beethoven is about as close as he came – and what’s more, he’s been attached to a Police Academy reboot for a while, so God help us all. I know it was successful, and I know it was a festive release, but who the hell was this for? It’s an utter mess from top to bottom with not even an Arnie one-liner to redeem a single second.
I’ve probably mentioned it before, but as much as I dislike quirky English comedies, I equally can’t stand Irish drama. There’s so much potential here, but they end up being so dour, so divisive, and so Award-baity. Michael Collins is each of those things, with the added bonus of featuring a character and story I’m never going to be interested in. It’s mostly well acted, and Neil Jordan knows his way about a movie, but it’s yet another example of the sordid history of a group of island nations whose greatest heroes are also war-mongering murderers.
How exactly do you have a movie called Striptease and not show any boobs? At least Showgirls had the dignity to, you know, show girls. Sadly, the film is so boring and uneventful that there probably were boobs all over the place but I was too bored to notice. Look, it was a good year so I’m struggling with what movies to pick – this one is legitimately bad.
There you go – any favourites above? What other terrible movies were unleashed in 1996? Let us know in the comments!
Sion Sono is one of the finest directors working today – a true auteur and one whose films never shy away from controversy. Due to this fact, his films can be an acquired taste running the gamut from tasteless to touching, from being wildly inventive to morally dubious. Forest Of Love is no different – a film (and later a longer Director’s Cut transformed into a TV series rather like Tokyo Vampire Hotel and Love Exposure) based on a real life series of crimes which… yeah, you don’t really want to read about those. Having been unaware of the crimes, or the fact that film was loosely ‘inspired’ by the story surrounding the crimes, I was left with a confusing duality in my opinion about the film. The film walks a very thin line between who we should feel sympathy for and places its antagonist in such a Patrick Bateman-esque lead, bombastic position that you can’t help but be enchanted by his presence. I imagine that was half of the point – to attempt to show just how some people can become so wrapped up in the charm and mystique of a person that they would kill or die for them. Japan has a history of such cult figures, and Sion Sono has covered this type of character and belief system in many of his films. Forest Of Love may feature his most charismatic lead yet.
If you’re not familiar with Sono’s work, Forest Of Love’s opening moments can be jarring. There’s a multitude of characters interspersed over seemingly unrelated story arcs, and he plays fast and loose with title cards, editing, and musical score. The characters we meet early on include con man Joe Murata (in a star turn by Kippei Shiina), outcast film nerd friends Jay and Fukami, virgin loser Shin, and rebellious loner Taeko. Through shared secret pasts and hopes for the future, these groups come together, but further secrets are continually revealed as individual motives bubble violently to the surface.
Murata is a bewilderingly charismatic presence, at various times through the movie appearing as a screen writer, director, professor, businessman, pop star, cultist, masochist, and more, and the viewer can’t help but enjoy his performance and character. As things become aggressively darker in the second half, we’re forced to re-evaluate or opinions. His character is not the only one to make us question our feelings, with a number of core characters twisting 180 degrees or further. When the closing text reveals that the film was based on a true, recent series of murders we need to re-evaluate further. What is the purpose of it all?
Sono enjoys making already muddy waters even more enticing and dank, seemingly revelling in the ambiguity of his stories, characters and audience reaction. In a film dealing with all manner of violence, from self harming to suicide, from torture and murder to body disposal, he directs with a wink and a smile, and with the auteur energy of a much younger, overly enthusiastic master. It’s easy to draw parallels to far such as Man Bites Dog or Natural Born Killers, but this is very much its own thing with its own style and fog-shrouded lessons. I can’t recommend it as a good time – even as I thoroughly enjoyed it – but I can recommend it as yet another top tier engaging opus from Sono. I know Sono is branching out with Nic Cage this year, hopefully bringing his madcap skills to a new Western audience, but there’s little stopping people from jumping in the bandwagon early as this is available on Netflix for everyone now.
Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Forest Of Love!
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)
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 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!