Winter Soldier

Winter Soldier (1972)

*Spoiler Alert – this post contains ludicrous generalizations

Americans. They love their guns and war. Obviously I’m painting with crude, broad strokes, but as a non-American, that is your stereotype. British people have weird teeth and may all be lair-dwelling super villains, Germans are efficient pool-side lounger-grabbers, the French are from France, The Irish are Drunk, people from the Middle East are terrorists, people from Africa are starving, and Americans are loud, overweight, obnoxious, gun-toting zealots. Stereotypes are bullshit, but sprinkled with nuggets of truth. Look at the way veterans of Vietnam were treated, especially those speaking up about the truth in this stunning documentary. Look at what is happening today, with warmongering and tweet-tiger-poking. History repeats itself, humanity loses, and the rich get to work on getting richer and making the rest of us forget.

In case you hadn’t yet surmised, the Winter Soldier I’m talking about today is not a Marvel action fest, but a timely documentary made numerous filmmakers and is based around the Winter Soldier War Crimes hearing of 1971 – something I had no clue existed prior to watching the film. The film interviews and documents testimony and eye witness accounts, from US soldiers mainly, of the terrible acts they saw committed in the name of their flag, their Country, their freedom, acts which are far and away from the regular horrors of war. We learn how many of the soldiers signed up or were conscripted under the old lie of fighting for freedom of good old Uncle Sam, white picket fences, Sunday baseball games, and all the other bullshit, but were not in any way prepared for the nature of combat physically or mentally, were trained to be blinded to the suffering of others, to follow orders without question even though the orders were clearly wrong, and were not made aware of little things such as the Geneva Convention. Basically, if your superior told you to crush a baby’s head under your boot, you were required to get stomping.

Witness accounts tell, in detail and often with fury and disbelief of Vietnamese children being shot to pieces just because they happened to be walking down the road, of hostages being taken just so they could be dropped out of helicopters for fun, of innocents being slaughtered indiscriminately for the crime of not being American, and so on. Most of the interviews are from soldiers only recently returned from the war, and filmed in black and white to give a news reel feel, but there are snippets of colour footage of troops in battle.

If you didn’t already have a ready made assumption about the recent history of US war, then you will after viewing this. Especially given what you may know about the continued treatment of ‘the enemy’ in subsequent wars – one only needs to see how prisoners – and often innocents – were treated post 9/11 in American camps to know that there is a deep, awful, and unavoidable history and systematic problem with savagery, with evil, within American society. At least where it concerns the Military, and those who sent men and women to war. It has been over a year since I first watched this film, and over 50 years since the US was arsing about needlessly in Vietnam – and yet very little has changed. People in power will abuse said power, people with guns will fire them at anyone and everyone as long as they don’t have the finger or the trigger turned inwards, and the media, the flag-wavers, the people at the top will turn a blind eye to it all. If you think you’re Country cares about you – you are wrong. If you think your Country cares about others – you are wrong. If you think your country cares about Veterans – you are wrong. Your Country simply wants all the toys, all the control, and wants to wave its dick around to show it’s the baddest motherfucker around. Wake up – for the good, honest Americans and people around the world, it’s only your voice and power which will make a change.

It’s no surprise then that Winter Solder was ignored upon release and that all mainstream stations refused to show it for decades. Can’t have people knowing we’re sending our boys away to kill actual boys and girls, then bringing them back more broken than ever with only a couple of badges and a pat on the back to keep them warm at night – because of course we’re not going to really look after them are we? Winter Soldier should be required viewing for everyone, or at least anyone with an interest in history, but especially for the flag-waving Right who may be faced with the sound of their own screams in their own echo chamber of bias, and the Left who need reminding that change is absolutely necessary, and for everyone else regardless of affinity who should know the extremes people will go to for the Stars and Stripes.

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2000!

It’s 2000! Sure it took until 2020 for The Great Plague to come and strike us all down, but for a while in 2000 people were freaking out. Also – there were movies. Here are some of my favourites. Brother was Takeshi Kitano testing his toes again in the US – it’s fun, mainstream. American Psycho is all chainsaws and suits and nudity. Amores Perros is another classic of South American cinema which still feels fresh, while Baise Moi has nothing ‘fresh’ about – it’s scary, filthy, and unmissable. Erin Brockovich is one of the rare Oscar bait movies which I enjoy. In The Mood For Love is trippy, sexy goodness. Memento is trippy trippy goodness. MI 2 is probably my favourite in the series, though everyone else says it is the weakest.

10: Almost Famous. (USA) Cameron Crowe.

Almost Famous dropped at the right time for people like me, of my generation. I was 16/17, ready to set off in the world and make an impact,brimming with dreams and wonder and a desire for experience. Plus I was already a big fan of a lot of the rock music of the 1960s and 70s. Almost Famous has that hopeful, free vibe flowing through – a great cast, terrific soundtrack, and hits my personal sweet spot as a coming of age story too following a kid trying to break into a world of writing, music, heroes, and rock and roll excess.

9: Gladiator (USA/UK). Ridley Scott.

Regular readers will already know this, but it’s worth calling out here for those of you who only read the list posts. From a very early age, I had an obsession with Greek and Roman myths and legends which eventually became intertwined with the genuine history of those countries. I studied Latin in school for 7 years, and part of my University Studies was in ‘Classics’ – the literature, language, and philosophy of Greece and Rome. My Latin class in School (there only was eight of us) actually went on a School trip to see Gladiator after the rave reviews one of my classmates was giving it. Aside from finally getting a decent version of the Trojan Epics, this is the best film someone like me could have hoped for. It’s an epic without all the faff which came later to the ‘genre’, a story of personal grief, struggle, and justice, a remarkable depiction of Rome with bloody battles and at least a couple of great leading performances. Super soundtrack too.

8: Best In Show (USA). Christopher Guest.

Just a quick update since I originally wrote this post – after the great Fred Willard sadly passed away. What a massive loss to the comedy world it is.

I went through a Christopher Guest phase in the early 2000s, repeatedly watching this, A Mighty Wind, and Waiting For Guffman while laughing my ass off and gobbling down illegitimate muffins. This one is a large step up in laughs from Waiting For Guffman and is just as strong a movie as This Is Spinal Tap. Set in the, already laughable, world of Dog Shows it follows various hopeful Dog Owners as they prepare their pooches, in often surreal situations, for a chance at stardom at the prestigious Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. All of the usual Guest favourites are out in force – Eugene Levy (who literally has two left feet), Catherine O’Hara (whose promiscuous past keeps catching up with her), Fred Willard (as the scene stealing over exuberant co-host of the event), and John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean (as the bitchy gay couple).

Like the best mockumentaries, this has a fair level of understanding of the subject matter meaning the satire and detail hit the mark more often than not. The cast are all comedy veterans and are both at ease and having great fun with the material, so it makes for comfortable viewing – there are no try-hards and the jokes range from dialogue based to slapstick, from visual to surreal, all with a light-hearted sprinkle of vignette silliness.

7: Dancer in The Dark (Denmark). Lars Von Trier

There’s a strong case for Dancer In The Dark being Von Trier’s best movie. It works on a number of levels, but most crucially it doesn’t feel like either exploitation or experimentation – it works as a brutal and downbeat drama with less of a focus on the director’s quirks and ego, and more on the character and plot. Bjork is spellbinding, the soundtrack features a few great songs, and the rest of the cast give notable performances. Is it manipulative? Sure – it’s a Lars Von Trier movie so that is part of the package, but it asks a lot of questions of the viewer and wrenches its answers unflinchingly.

6: Unbreakable (USA). M Night Shyamalan

Unbreakable remains Shyamalan’s best work – The Sixth Sense continues to get the plaudits, namely because it was first and people were so taken in by the twist, but Unbreakble is more accomplished in almost every level – a gloomy take on the comic book genre which you don’t even realize is a comic book movie until the final scenes, unless you’ve been paying attention closely or reading these spoilers.

5: Pitch Black (USA). David Twohy

I’m probably remembering this wrong, but I’m almost certain I saw the trailer for this a solid year before it was actually released. I remember catching the trailer and thinking ‘what the hell was that, that looked epic’. But nobody else mentioned it afterwards and I began to think it was all a dream. Then a year later it returned and I grabbed a couple of people and raced to the Cinema shouting ‘this is that trailer I told you all about’! What was even better was that Aeryn from Farscape was in it – of course nobody in the screening knew what the hell Farscape was and told me to shut the hell up. Plus you have Keith David in a legit big screen outing! But the film is all about Vin Diesel and his Riddick character – one that would become less interesting with each sequel, but here he has just the right amount of mystery to make him an enigma. Oh yes, it’s also set on a planet filled with near-unstoppable monsters in near-unstoppable numbers which only come out in the dark, and it just so happens that the planet is entering it’s ‘Winter’ Season when all light is extinguished. It was the best pure alien creature feature since Aliens. 

4: X-Men (USA). Bryan Singer

The only reason I really wanted to watch X-Men was because I loved the 90s cartoon. I’vev never been a big comic book fan and the comic movies I’ve enjoyed are few and far between, given how many there have been. When I like them, I love them and X-Men seemed more interesting given the cast and director. It was better than I expected and while it lacks much of an emotional core, it is more clever and socially relevant than whatever passes for superhero entertainment these days. Plus there’s a tonne of kick-ass action and the cast are committed.

3: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (China/HK/Taiwan/USA). Ang Lee

By 2000, I was already well versed in Asian Cinema, particularly Kung fu movies. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Wuxia type movies, preferring realism in my tales of revenge. Ang Lee brought a heightened sense of realism to the genre, removing much of the magic but keeping the romance and string-work, bringing the beauty of the best of Hong Kong and Chinese Cinema in a more palatable way to Western audiences – without the flag waving patriotism in other words. Established stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat give a sense of familiarity and credibility, while Zhang Ziyi became a household name thanks to her blend of teeth shattering beauty and baddassery.

2: Final Destination (USA). James Wong

It’s in my best of the decade, so check for more info there.

1: Battle Royale (Japan). Kinji Fukasaku

It’s my favourite film of the decade. It’s also the best film since 2000.

How Many Of My Films Were In The Top 10 Grossing Of The Year: Two

How Many Of My Films Were Nominated For the Best Picture Oscar: Two (including the winner)

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2002!

So I thought I had written this post and was ready to submit before the Least Favourites Of 2002. But I had not, so I’m blasting this one out quickly. Dog Soldiers is one of those rare good Werewolf movies, one which is filled with action, humour, and plenty of bloody violence. It also established Neil Marshall as a new and exciting director. Bubba Ho-Tep reminded horror fans that yes, Bruce Campbell was still alive and yes, Don Coscarelli was still making movies, and yes both were still capable of making a hit. It has cult written all over it, what with its unique cast and story by Joe Lansdale – an ancient Mummy attacks an old peoples’ home and only a pair of residents, who claim to be Elvis and JFK, can save the world. It never quite reaches the heights I hoped it would, but it’s still a fun, silly, and sometimes poignant ride.

10: City Of God (Brazil) Fernando Meirelles

I didn’t know much about South American cinema but by the time 2002 had rolled around I had expanded into modern Spanish territory and was beginning to pick up the odd cheap South American DVD wherever I could. City Of God came with a tonne of acclaim and by the time I saw it I understood why – I’ve never been a fan of conventional crime or gang based movies – British stuff particularly winds me up, but when the film has a fresh setting or a take I’m unfamiliar with then it’s all the more likely to win me over. Add to the fact that this doubles as a coming of age story and it has a foot and leg over most films in this genre. Meirelles hasn’t been able to replicate this for me, even with his later critical darlings, and he doesn’t make a lot of movies – but this is still an early 2000s classic.

9: Equilibrium (US) Kurt Wimmer

Speaking of people who don’t make a lot of movies, Kurt Wimmer bowed out after the disaster that was Ultraviolet. It’s a shame, because Equilibrium is probably the best of the post Matrix action movies before superheroes came and blandly stomped all over everything else. It’s stylish and detached and has a more interesting visual approach and message than something more popular like V For Vendetta has. Plus there’s a  lot of guns and Christian Bale.

8: Hero (China) Zhang Yimou

I had been a fan of Zhang Yimou for a while, but it wasn’t until Hero that he became a more familiar name in the West. Hero ticks plenty of boxes for me, and for being a worldwide hit – but maybe the most important and long-lasting factor is simply how beautiful, stunning it all is. In a time when much of Hollywood’s output could be bland visually, Hero was a revelation, bursting with colour and creativity. On top of that there are wonderfully choreographed fight scenes and a rousing score.

7: Infernal Affairs (HK) Andrew Lau/Alan Mak

I mentioned crime thrillers at the top – Infernal Affairs isn’t exactly outlandish or particularly unique – but it does have a twisting narrative and focus on character and world building without relying on the usual quirks and beats police procedural movies do. It’s also a who’s who of Hong Kong/Chinese cinema with many familiar faces putting out stellar work – Andy Lau and Tony Leung, along with Eric Tsang and Anthony Wong are the most notable figures. Even if you’ve seen The Departed, it’s worth going back to catch this.

6: The Pianist (France/Germany/Poland/UK) Roman Polanski

Say what you will about Polanski the person, there’s no doubting the power and skill possessed in his movies. The Pianist sees Adrian Brody as the title character as WWII erupts in Warsaw – his transformation over the years as the city becomes increasingly devastated, and his part in various uprising and survival attempts. There’s no obvious, visual, big bad to get behind here, only a city becoming a ruin and the exterior sights and sounds of war, Brody gives a once in a lifetime performance, and Polanski relays perhaps parts of his own childhood into scenes of sadness, degradation, and hope.

5: Dark Water (Japan) Hideo Nakata

I didn’t immediately love Dark Water – at least not in the same way I did Ringu. Although it feels inaccurate to use the term action packed when it comes to Dark Water, it definitely moves a notch or two faster than Nakata’s breakout masterpiece. It still has a greater focus on introspection and atmosphere than noisy jump-scares and it still has an abundance of creepy long-haired shenanigans, and it’s another movie based on a Koji Suziki piece – it should feel familiar to Ringu fans. Overall it’s a story of motherhood, guilt, protection, wrapped up in a supernatural mystery as a young mother and her child in the midst of a divorce move into a low rent apartment block with various… plumbing issues. It’s an unexpectedly moving story with a drip drip drip of scares before a brief flood towards the end. See, I can do cheap metaphors too!

4: The Eye (HK/Singapore) The Pang Brothers

The Pang Brothers, for a while, were among the most exciting filmmakers on the planet. I loved everything they did and this early foray into horror took the influence of Ringu and added(literal) explosive elements to make a more rollercoaster type horror movie. Scares come from any and all directions here, and the use of audio is second to none in setting up many of the film’s most tense moments. The film has some of my favourite scares to date and retains a creepy power even after all these years and viewings. For anyone not in the know – it’s a film about a young woman who has an eye operation to regain her sight. This being a horror movie, it’s more of an eye transplant.. and oh the things the previous owner must have seen. Blind from an early age, the operation is apparently successful as she begins to pick up shapes and objects -even if some are a little odd and disorienting. Dismissing these as a natural side effect, her sight soon returns, along with the bonus gift of being able to see ghosts. And the ghosts know she can see them. It’s a fun, B-movie idea explored before, but to the film’s credit it doubles down in the first half on the scares before delving into an interesting quest for the second half – it never feels boring or routine.

3: The Twilight Samurai (Japan) Yoji Yamada

I’ll be honest – in 2002 I was picking up any old Asian film which sounded like it might be interesting (which of course led to me seeing plenty of rubbish). I didn’t know who Yoji Yamada was back then, and I got this because it starred Hiroyuki Sanada and had a cool name. The Twilight Samurai may be ‘the best’ movie released in 2002. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and absolutely should have won. Sanada is a poor Samurai working in a small town in, basically, an office job. Times are tough and the world seems to be moving ahead without him and his skills, yet his honour and family give him a sort of contentment. The opening of the movie sees the death of his wife, leaving him as the patriarch and matriarch of his household, much to the dismay of the townspeople. He does not have time for frivolities with his co-workers, instead spending his time looking after his daughters and elderly mother. It’s a very – pro traditional Japanese values type of film, one which honours the sacrifices made by the main character and treats him as the everyday hero he is. Don’t worry – there’s plenty of sword swinging too. Sanada deserved an Oscar nod here too.

2: 28 Days Later (UK) Danny Boyle

It’s 28 Days Later – of course it’s going to be here. It’s also in my Favourite movies of the decade post, so go read that.

1: Sympathy For Mr Vengeance (SK) Chan Wook Park

This brutal, gut-wrenching classic also made my Favourite movies of the decade post – so go read that.

How Many Of My Films Were In The Top 10 Grossing Of The Year: One (The Winner)

How Many Of My Films Were Nominated For the Best Picture Oscar: Two

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2004!

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This year was a whopper for seeing films which either pissed me off or let me down. SO much so that I have a few dishonourable mentions to get through first. Troy was the latest in the mini battle-epic trend which erupted in the wake of LOTR. It’s not a bad film by any means, but given that the books the movie is based on are the single greatest pieces of written art in history… it kind of deserved better. If you’re going to adapt The Illiad in a single film then you’re not going to get much better than this, but that’s precisely the problem – that book deserves a trilogy, connected to a trilogy for The Aeneid and The Odyssey. Do it like LOTR did things, and you’ll have some of the best movies ever made. The Notebook is one of those Nicholas Sparks things – you know, soppy romances for soppy humans – someone always has a rare disease, the characters are always cardboard cut outs – you know the deal. It’s the same as all the others. King Arthur is the movie I confuse Robin Hood with. Any of the Robin Hood’s actually. I think Keira Knightly was in this one. A classic story with an engaging mythology and room for plenty and ripe for a fitting adventure story boiled down to a Cockney night out.

Sideways takes a bunch of irritating twats you’d be praised for stabbing in real life, played by performers I don’t care about made by a Director who is yet to have made a single thing I’ve liked. Actually, Nebraska was fine. Casshern is a movie I used to make people watch just because how damn cool it looked back in the day. There wasn’t really anything like it. But it’s completely incomprehensible. It would be, presumably, like showing someone the sixth Harry Potter movie when they haven’t seen any of the others, or read the books, or speak English. I’m not sure whether it should be on my favourites list or this one. Alfie is a badly cast, ill-advised remake. The first worked because of 60s culture. The Noughties were a cultural void and London hasn’t been relevant in decades – moving the action to New York they should have just cast a native. Jude Law… Jude Law has looked human in precisely two movies, and ironically in one of those he was a vampire. The Wisdom Of Crocodiles and The Talented Mr Ripley. Every other movie who sort of looks like an emaciated squirrel. Izo was a Takashi Miike film I looked forward to – the synopsis of which (which may be the greatest of all time) is simply that a lethal killer goes back in time for the express purpose of killing, well, everyone. That’s the film. Like Casshern, I’m not sure if it should be on this list or on my actual favourites – it has a ridiculous cast, but there is almost no plot, the violence is over the top yet after a while it loses whatever made it amusing in the first place, it’s epic but way too long – all in all I was disappointed. Now lets move onto the top ten.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

This is the one which most people who watch movies, fancy themselves a critic, or pass by my blog will shout about. It has pedigree from top to bottom in the cast and the crew. The performances are really the only thing going for it in my mind, with people being ‘shocked’ Carrey could do serious stuff even though he already had. But it’s just another one of those manic pixie dream girl movies, with Kate Winslet not being best suited to such ideals. Michael Gondry’s visual style and general movies are not things I’m a big fan of and it all comes across as too cutesy and twee, no matter how much soap-lite tragedy is plastered all over it. Add in a Charlie Kaufman script, whose stuff always sounds more interesting to me than it ever ends up being, and who almost never makes me care about any of the characters and we have a film with a good idea which doesn’t scratch any of my itches. It’s Total Recall, but without the violence and with only two breasts.

The Chronicles Of Riddick

I saw Pitch Black on release night and loved it. As a big Farscape fan at the time, it was cool to see Claudia Black on the big screen, and as a sci-fi horror dude it was great seeing a new voice hitting the scene. It seemed like a cult hit in the waiting and felt like it would make the careers of several of those involved. While it didn’t quite turn out that way, it still led to a couple of belated sequels. This first sequel, is a turd. The first film was simplicity tied up in a complex world. Alien feels complex when it is simply a story of cat and mouse – Pitch Black works so well because it played the same trick. The Chronicles Of Riddick adds layer upon layer of new faces, mythology, and useless plot, and in the end it feels less like a film, more like a visual glossary for study purposes.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Back when the first Resident Evil was released, I was a fan of the games. RE 2 was my favourite and while the first movie was ultimately a let down and only related to the games in the most surface way, I was still keen to see more. That has always been my history with the movie series to be honest – thinking that maybe they’ll get it right with the next one. Apocalypse is the worst of the bunch, largely due to the terrible, truly awful, direction by Alexander Witt. It’s an ugly, ugly film, the action is distorted to be unrecognizable, and the story – not that it matters much – descends so far into convoluted guff that the series never recovered. At least the later films had fun buying into how ridiculous it all was. Uwe Boll wishes he made a film this bad.

Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason

As if the first one was bad enough, shit enabling, fake plastic people trip-trapping from one quirky mishap to the next, we knew there would have to be a sequel. It’s more of the same really, but even more predictable. More worthless characters, terrible dialogue straight from the quill of a Carrie Bradshaw fan-fiction wannabee, and poncey hair whose sole purpose seems to be to encourage terror attacks on London.

Closer

Billed as a return to form for Mike Nichols, it certainly seemed that way when he brought together a decent cast and garnered positive reviews. When I first heard about it I was more interested in the Natalie Portman pole-dancing stuff. Alas, when I got around to seeing it there was little of the spark of Nichols’ earlier work. Instead we got a cold, grey, depressing look at relationships in the 21st Century where no-one is ever happy and everyone wants to be somebody else, but fails to say anything insightful about such a state of existence. The only notable point worth bringing up with regards to the script is the amount of swearing as it seeks to rival motherfucking Goodfellas, but the characters are faux-articulate walking lungs, mindlessly wandering through life just like a used condom traverses a swamp.

Blade Trinity

Also known as Blade: Ryan Reynolds Is A Twat.

9 Songs

There were some positive movements in British music in the early Noughties. None of those are used in this turd. Modern Britain’s answer to, well Confessions Of A Window Cleaner, it’s a series of kind of explicit sex scenes between two of the least screen-friendly performers you’d want to see getting their kit off and having their respective parts sucked. It’s empty and vapid and without merit as a narrative, the music is shit, and you can’t even wank to it because everyone is so ugly.

Ab-Normal Beauty

Ever since first catching Bangkok Dangerous and proclaiming it as one of the greatest films of all time, I’ve tried to catch everything the Pang Brothers have made – together or on their own. That has led me to crap like this – another good idea let down by too much plot, too many misguided attempts at artistry, and by making little sense. This one is about a conflicted, complex woman who becomes obsessed with death after seeing and photographing a car crash. It makes the list because not a lot happens, it’s difficult to find any point to it all, and it’s such a letdown when we know what the brothers are capable of.

Survive Style + 5

Did I get this free on Amazon? I think I did, otherwise I’d be horrified that I paid for it. In fact I’ve probably reviewed here on the blog. I know a lot of the Japanese stuff I watch is incomprehensible without actually being Japanese (I’m speaking from a cultural standpoint), but this is on another level – as well as simply being crap. Going back to it, it has its moments – the great Tadanobu Asano features in one segment, his is probably the most interesting one as he repeatedly kills his wife only for her to keep coming back. The stories loosely intertwine but it’s messy and manic, and beyond scratching that itch for some offbeat Japanese weirdness, it doesn’t offer much.

Let us know in the comments which movies would make your list!

The Stuff

The Stuff is another one of those movies which was just out of my reach in childhood. I was born in 1983, so many of the classic VHS titles of the 80s were familiar to me, but I couldn’t get near them until the DVD boom or today’s streaming. Thanks to a bunch of older friends and relatives, and older siblings of my friends, and thanks to be frequent jaunts into the video stores in my town, there was always a list of titles floating around my head as movies I absolutely had to see at all costs. In many cases these were movies which those acquaintances spoke of in hushed tones – everything from Basic Instinct to Evil Dead.  In mot cases it was the VHS artwork which caught my eye and solidified the movie’s position in my hallowed list. The Stuff had a great cover – some dude’s melting face, writhing in agony and despair as some sort of white gunk spilled from his empty eye sockets and mouth. Surely it was the greatest film of all time?

The Stuff  isn’t the greatest film ever made, but it is one of Larry Cohen’s best. Before I knew who he was, and before I’d seen The Stuff I was already familiar with his work. Q The Winged Serpent was a personal favourite of my youth and Return To Salem’s Lot was a curious sequel. Once I became more savvy towards film it became obvious that Cohen was somewhat of a political filmmaker – his often not too subtle satire veiled under the shlock of the time and other B Movie delights. The Stuff is no different, a clear attack on big business, advertising, consumerism, and the herd mentality of created needs and addiction. Surprisingly, it’s not the goriest film in the world – The Stuff (is it wrong that it looks delicious and I want to try it?) does frequently spurt from people but more often than not you simply see it slushing and slithering around like a gelatinous mass or worm, as it does a Body Snatchers number on whoever tastes it. Interestingly, Cohen would go on to write the story for Abel Ferrara’s 90s Body Snatchers movie.

So if it’s not overly gory, and if it has all this overt political stuff in its plot, why should the less discerning Horror viewer want to watch? Well, because Michael Moriarty. Here he is at his most smug, smarmy best – all Wall Street suits and ties, a walking ballbag of quips and testosterone who doesn’t appear to have thrown a punch in his life yet is just as efficient in a fight to the death as James Bond. His character is hired by a bunch of unsavoury Ice Cream moguls, seriously, to investigate the makers of The Stuff and find out what it is to either shut it down or share a slice of the pie. As he investigates he learns a lot more and finds his dubious allegiances tested. Along the way he meets a kid escaping from his Stuff-obsessed family, a hot executive, an old friend/rival, and a gun totin ex-military maniac. It’s like The A-Team, but weird. It’s also quite funny, and all the more amusing in retrospect thanks to the effects and how advertising works today.

As much as 80s Satires go, The Stuff is right up there with the most outlandish but effective. Cohen always makes an interesting movie and Moriarty always does whatever the hell he wants. Don’t go in, like 8 year old me did, expecting a bloody, scary, melt-fest. Go in expecting a few chuckles and some charming nostalgia and weirdness, and it gets the job done.

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2005!

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So 2005 is another one of those years where I forgot a bunch of movies I love and didn’t include them in my original list – silly boy. I’m going to update it to 11 – adding a new film which should have knocked Land Of The Dead off the list first time round. The order doesn’t really matter anyway. In my almosts, I’m adding a few of the great films I forgot about too,

Corpse Bride is that rare ‘modern’ Tim Burton movie which reminds us that he can be a great filmmaker when he’s doing his own thing. It’s just creepy enough to make the kids snuggle up to you on the sofa, but not scary enough to give them nightmares. It has the Tim Burton look and style, and is enjoyable for the whole family. The Devil’s Rejects is also fun for the whole family, if your family are inbred murderers of the Texan variety. It’s probably still Rob Zombie’s most enjoyable movie and the distilled prime example of everything he is as a filmmaker – that Southern vibe, that 70s grindhouse look and style, sadistic characters, sick humour, and lashings of violence. It’s a sequel to House Of A Thousand Corpses – but you don’t really need to have seen it first, though it’s good too. A History Of Violence is Cronenberg, so it should be one any film fan’s list regardless. It takes him in a fresh new direction from his body horror roots, acting more like a twisting drama filled with secrets. Viggo Mortensen firmly leaves Aragorn behind with a chilling performance in this one, and everybody else is good.

Serenity was Joss Whedon’s first bash at big screen stardom, a fan-pleasing coda to the short-running Firefly. I’m not as huge a fan of the show as most, but the film is a fun watch. Election is Johnnie To’s finest work, almost up there with Infernal Affairs but focuses more on the criminal underbelly than twists and double-crosses. It’s another must watch once you get into Hong Kong cinema.

11. Noroi (Japan) Koji Shiraishi

Found footage and creepy Japanese long-haired shenanigans – that’s possibly a hard-sell. I know plenty of horror fans who dislike one or both of those sub-genres but usually I persuade them to watch by saying that while found-footage it isn’t run around the woods nausea inducing, and while there are long-haired shenanigans they are not of the Ringu or Ju-On variety. On top of that, the director had a history within the found footage genre to the extent that by the time he made Noroi he was savvy enough to deliver the unexpected, and he would go on to make the notoriously nasty Grotesque. 

Noroi follows a film-maker and documentary expert on the paranormal who is working on his latest show – investigating a curse and a number of people who claim to be embroiled in different types of paranormal activity. We see his capturing of these incidents and over time the word, or name ‘Kagutaba’ comes up repeatedly. Without getting into spoilers, the stories are somehow connected and a sordid history of abortions, theft, murder and all sorts of goodness oozes out. It’s a film which doesn’t go near jump-scares or obvious answers but instead succeeds because it’s so unnerving and goes places where few films dare to tread. It’s also one where you need to watch all the way to the end for some mid-credits extras. If you want a J-Horror film which doesn’t fit the mold and which hardly anyone knows of, you can’t do much better than Noroi. 

10: Land Of The Dead (US) George A Romero

Back to our original Top Ten – I was as hyped as anyone when it was announced that Romero was returning to the genre he created, decades after. So it’s not as good as his first three Dead movies, but it’s still a fun ride, and it’s still political. Moving the action to a more familiar location (of sorts) it’s set in the present day in a world which has learned to survive alongside the walking dead. Quite understandably, the wealthy are still safe from most of the problems the rest of the world face, living in skyscrapers while everyone else slums it on the streets, protected by the military, the average gun-toting civvy, and by a convenient river acting as a moat. Dennis Hopper is one such rich guy, hamming it up in one of his most amusing final roles, while John Leguizamo and Simon Baker play two soldiers who make dangerous journeys in a Mad Max style souped up vehicle for medical supplies and more. Leguizamo shines as the opposing force to Hopper’s white politician and there are a slew of in-jokes and cameos to enjoy. Mostly it’s an excuse to give Romero a big budget and let a master do what he pleases. In the wake of The Walking Dead it does feel a little like 1 series of that show condensed into a single movie, but it’s also a thank you to the fans.

9: Hostel (US) Eli Roth

I feel very much that this is the one film most likely to drop off my list when I get around to seeing more movies from this year. Eli Roth is always hit and miss for me – his humour is usually very misjudged though generally the ideas are sound. Hostel is notorious as a standard bearer for torture porn – an excuse to cut up nameless nobodies for our entertainment. There’s  much to be said in support and opposition to that statement, the obvious political asides being as simple as using the template as a satire on US Imperialism and as an extreme reaction to the torture tactics used by terrorists, military, and government alike. While I won’t say Hostel is clever, I will say it’s not as dumb as most people think. It’s just a bloody good time which takes mainstream US brutality to new levels as it follows a group of Millennial backpackers who are captured in Europe and find themselves as unwilling guinea pigs in some sort of Millionaire-led murder business. Basically, if you have enough money, you can pay to hurt and kill another human in whatever way you please – with our protagonists being the victims. There’s plenty of blood and to Roth’s credit the first half of the movie is spent trying to get to know these people. There’s not a lot to know about them, but at least they’re not standard slasher fodder.

8: A Bittersweet Life (SK) Kim Jee Woon

A Bittersweet Life is another prime example of the sort of boundary pushing film Hollywood used to make but seems to have given up on in lieu of treading increasingly safe and tame waters. The plot of the film itself is safe, tame – a hitman is employed by his boss to kill the boss’s cheating girlfriend, and he refuses. Stuff happens. What raises it is the fact that Kim Jee Woon directs – expanding upon his eye for detail and grim truths as exemplified in his previous film A Tale Of Two Sisters. He has found a niche in capturing breathtakingly beautiful shots against horrifying or violent backdrops and situations, and he rarely cares for conventions. Throw in Lee Byung-hun as the hitman with a change of heart who keeps everything grounded. Like any number of South Korean movies from this period – it’s a must-see.

7: Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (SK) Chan Wook Park

The final entry in Park’s esteemed trilogy is maybe the weakest, probably my least favourite, but still head and shoulders over 90% of what was released this year. It may be the most accomplished and beautiful of the bunch. Like the first two films it is presented as a straightforwards revenge story, but as revenge is never clean there are plenty of twists and complexities. It follows a woman (Lee Young-ae) as a woman just released from prison for a murder she didn’t commit, and her quest to hunt down the real perp. Starting out as a seemingly reformed model prisoner due to newfound spirituality, we slide down her rabbit hole and are dragged along another characteristically grim tale. As with the above entry – this one demands your attention.

6: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (US) Shane Black

Without knowing it for much of my life, Shane Black had been one of my favourite people for most of my life. Predator has been an all time favourite of mine for as long as I can remember but in my younger days, while I knew the character names, I really only remembered Arnie’s name when it came to the cast. Later he would three further all time favourites – The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout, and Last Action Hero. It wasn’t until I started to think about how movies were made and who made them that I began to connect the dots. Of course by that point he had dropped off the face of the planet, seemingly to never return. Then  it was announced he would be directing his first film – this is the result. There’s no way I wasn’t going to at least enjoy this, but it’s a typically incisive, funny, violent story with the usual macho leanings upgraded for a new decade. It’s great to see Val Kilmer back on screen, it was a launch pad for Downey Jr to get back on track. It’s more of a Noir than anything he had done till that point, but his trademark writing keeps it unique as 100% Black.

5: The Descent (UK) Neil Marshall

Neil Marshall had gained my attention a few years earlier with his debut Dog Soldiers – an adventurous werewolf movie with more comparisons to Aliens than any Universal classic. The Descent drops much of the fun of that movie, dispenses with the more macho influences, and instead gives us one of the most tense, atmospheric, and claustrophobic movies in recent years. It’s the best of a spate of similar sounding movies from the period which saw a group of travelers going into some sort of underground world and meeting with various mishaps. Where this one differs is with its reliance on character and emotion – yes it’s a film about being trapped underground, yes it’s a film about the monstrous creatures which you may find once trapped, but it’s also a film about grief and guilt, about escape and resilience, about friendship and loss. Marshall also wisely makes the first half of the movie simply about these women, their fears and motivations, and their struggles to keep it together once they head into hell. It’s a shock then when the first creature does appear, and the film takes on a new edge. My only complaint remains that the cast are too similar in features which can make distinguishing them in the gloom problematic first time around.

4: The 40 Year Old Virgin (US) Judd Apatow

Much of the comedies which have been successful this decade and up till present day haven’t worked for me, either descending or focusing on bro-bullshit or because the dialogue is delivered in this faux unscripted manner. Or simply because they’re not very funny. Judd Apatow sometimes strikes the right balance between juvenile humour and honesty, a blend smoothed out by likable performers and a solid script. The 40 Year Old Virgin is probably my favourite of his movies with plenty of zingers and a more refined Carrell who doesn’t need to do his whole straight man-The Office-shouty shtick. For the most part. Of course the usual Apatow pals show up in supporting roles but the clincher is having Catherine Keener as the object of Carrell’s affections.

3: Revenge Of The Sith (US) George Lucas

For a while it seemed like this was the end – the culmination of Lucas’s grand plan. Since then Disney has released another 15 Star Wars movies and has plans for another 83. Per year. Jokes! Revenge Of The Sith, is easily the best of the prequels. It’s not without its faults, with Padme being reduced to a birth vessel and the whole not being as emotionally powerful as it should have been. I think that’s more of a fault with how the trilogy was laid out, with casting from the outset, and an overburdened script that was never set up to allow us to scream, cheer, and cry. But still, it has some of the best action of the whole series, it does feel like the collapse of good and the success of evil, and Ian McDiarmud deserved an Oscar nomination at the very least for his performance.

2: Sin City (US) Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino

The benchmark for visually unique and authentic comic book movies, Sin City nails the tone, look, and dialogue of Miller’s series – a collage of disturbing and violent and sexually charged intersecting stories which truly does feel like flicking through the ragged pages of a seedy comic you picked up on a whim for a few bucks before the last metro home. Rodriquez and Tarantino both do their thang and pull together a terrific ensemble, including such repulsive and creepy creations as whatever the hell Elijah Wood and Nick Stahl are supposed to be. It’s a mixture of pulp, thriller, action, with obvious twisted noir principles, swept along with a cool, detached pace.

1: Batman Begins (US/UK) Christopher Nolan

It’s in my Top Movies Of The Decade post, so if you want to read my thoughts, go check it.

How Many Of My Films Were In The Top 10 Grossing Of The Year: Two

How Many Of My Films Were Nominated For the Best Picture Oscar: None

Let us know your picks in the comments!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2006!

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Welcome back. No doubt there will be some turkeys this year, and probably a few bad movies. Lets see what I picked.

Nanny McPhee

This was one of those films which rubbed me wrong (and not in a good way) from the beginning. The title, the cast, the trailer, it was something I convinced myself I would never like, and hopefully never see. These sorts of British comedies fill me with bile and it reminded me, obviously, of Mary Poppins, which I can’t stand. But wouldn’t you know, once the kids come along you inevitably get pulled into watching stuff like this, especially when my wife keeps telling me the kids can’t watch Robocop. In all fairness it wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating and it’s perfectly fine for kids. There wasn’t as much singing and polite ‘humour’ as I had feared would be there, but it’s not as inventive or interesting as it thinks it is. So this makes the list purely for being one of those movies I will never like, but kids might enjoy it. Not as much as they would enjoy Robocop.

Ultraviolet

On paper it seemed like a no-brainer; Milla Johovich, vampires, tight clothes, guns – it was basically Underworld. Unfortunately it doesn’t make a lick of sense and it lacks a single cell of the style of Kate Beckinsale’s vamp slaying series. When it comes to crap like this, I’m not hard to please – hot woman killing monsters – go! Not everything can be elevated to Buffy levels but it’s not difficult to knock out a better than average brainless action flick. It has been highly publicized that director Kurt Wimmer and Johovich were blocked out of several aspects of the movie which goes some way to explaining what a complete mess this is. Wimmer went from the pretty great Equilibrium to this – and hasn’t directed a movie since.

V For Vendetta

What a load of egotistical tosh. A film with so many words but absolutely nothing to say, preaching in the echo chamber of basement dwelling fanboys and faux anarchists whose idea of rebellion is celebrating when the train conductor forgets to check them for a ticket and they get away scot-free. A film which unleashed a bunch of teenage freedom fighters so brave they fight behind a mask and a screen. It’s a film with a message so bland that any extremist from any angle can hold it as sacred. It’s the politics of entitled suburbia, or in truth it’s politics for profit – just like every politician you claim to despise. If these people were in charge of a Revolution, I’d want to be on the other side. Plus it’s almost as incoherent and drab as Ultraviolet. Almost. Do a faithful retelling of Moore’s work, then we might have something worthwhile. Sadly it’s one I was hyped for – it looked great from early pics, it features Natalie Portman, it…. had cool masks. Pull the mask off and you have little more than misguided nihilism and a generic story about a fight against a totalitarian state. It’s a film I wanted to love, but it just made it so damn hard, like a dog who keeps shitting in your shoes. While wearing a mask which clearly makes it look like an idiot.

X-Men The Last Stand

Bryan Singer made two of the best comic book movies ever in his first two X-Men flicks. He stepped down for part three, and it all fell apart. Brett Ratner, whose career remains a mystery to anyone who has ever seen a film or been near another human, took over, slapped a helmet on Vinnie Jones and let him headbutt doors. You take the well established characters and their relationships, piss all over them, kill most of them off, and ignore the series’ own mythology. And lo, what was left was the worst comic book movie since Superman IV: Nuclear Dude. 

Superman Returns

Singer dropped from X-Men for Superman. Back then, when I cared more about such things, I was hyped. Then I watched it and eehhhhhhhh. I guess Routh looks good in a cape. Eva Marie Saint’s in it. Kevin Spacey is Kevin Spacey, pretending to be Lex Luthor – and Luthor has never looked so tame. Does anyone remember what happened in the film? Something about Lois being pissed off that Superman flew away? Then stuff blows up? It never made me care and I have no interest in revisiting.

Dead Man’s Chest

Black Pearl was one of the most fun adventures for years – unique and with a great cast, pace, and plenty of thrilling action. Dead Man’s Chest, like all of the sequels, should really be called Pirates Of The Caribbean: Which One’s This Again? Guys, it’s a movie based off a rollercoaster – the original had a simple plot. By the time this rolled around it ballooned into one of the most needlessly convoluted plots you’ve ever had the displeasure of not giving a fuck about, the amount of retcons is ridiculous, and the cast clearly don’t want to be there. It looks good though. Like boobs.

Little Miss Sunshine

I picked this up as part of some buy 5 DVDs for x quid in an Xtravision closing sale shortly after this was released because my wife ‘had heard it was good’. Now, movie fan that I am, I knew it had been an Indie critical darling and had one or two names in the cast I enjoyed. Maybe it was the hype, maybe it was all the awards and praise it had received, but when I watched this – with a completely straight face growing more dour with every passing minute – I wondered how much the filmmakers had paid The Academy to get all those glowing reviews. I don’t get why this is a comedy. Comedies, even when they’re bad, have jokes, wit, something. This has a bunch of twats in a van and then one of them dances and it’s over. My wife, who would be more inclined towards this sort of thing shifted in her seat uncomfortably when it ended, looked at me, and said ‘sorry’. Making me watch this, she knew, was the equivalent of cheating, and she felt just as guilty as if I’d caught her in bed with the postman.

The Black Dahlia

American Crime novels getting a glossy, gritty big screen adaptation generally leads to great results. The Black Dahlia is a personal favourite novel and Brian De Palma seemed like a strong choice for helming the violent, twisting tale. I don’t know where this went wrong – the lead characters of Bucky and Lee don’t feel right, and the narrative – already fairly complex – shoots off in meaningless directions without ever being tied up. Turns out the film had around an hour cut from it, hence the puddle of chaos we’re left with. It looks the part, at times, but what should have been a worthy successor to LA Confidential feels more like a bad Chinese translation of an episode of Police Squad – without the laughs.

Babel

I loved Amores Perros when it was released. I kind of liked 21 Grams. I was bemused by Babel moreso by the praise it garnered than how plain the film was. It’s certainly well-edited and directed and Brad Pitt is better than he’d ever been (he’s best when he’s not trying to play an outlandish character), but Jeebus you’d think there’d never been a film before following different characters and narratives which, shock, are actually tied together. The Morocco piece is the only section worth watching, everything else feels incredibly tacked on – we know early on that that’s the narrative and all the rest is dressing. It’s a shame then that the characters of Richard and Susan, are kind of dicks. The supporting actress Oscar nods here are complete mysteries, but at least Inarritu got back on track shortly after this.

Dreamgirls

My almost yearly musical pick, Dreamgirls features a fantastic Eddie Murphy acting rings round a bunch of nobodies. If there was ever a mainstream, big budget musical I was going to enjoy, it was going to be this, given that it focuses on actual decent music – not something musicals ever do. Sadly, it stains the Motown style with modern day hacks and their sensibilities, completely stomping all over everything which made Motown worthwhile. With less emotion and complexity than my left bollock, it’s yet another self-serving story which confuses character with costume, performance with camp, and soul with glitter.

Another year in the sack, and another list of films which I know some hold dear. For me though, they represent both the worst, the most disappointing, or the most undeserving of praise when there were many more movies which you should be talking about. Let us know your picks in the comments!

Nightman’s Updated Top Ten Films Of 2006!

I’m doing something a little different here – I’m adding another film because I somehow missed it in my original list and given that it’s one of my favourite films of the decade, it should have been there. Silly me. I’m not changing the order – I’m just adding it as Number 11, even though it would probably have been at 3, 4, or 5 if I’d remembered to put it in first time round.

11. Black Book

We begin with the one I’d missed first time around – even though I saw and loved it at release. Sometimes when making these lists it’s easy to forget. Nevertheless, Black Book is Verhoeven’s Magnum Opus. It’s not my favourite from him – given that he’s made Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers etc, but it’s not far off. It’s his return to more legitimate film – not sci-fi – and a return to WWII. It’s just as powerful and violent as the stuff he’s widely known for and in Carice Van Houten he has a powerfhouse lead performance. This deserves to be mentioned alongside Schindler’s List as one of the all time great WWII movies.

10: Paprika (Japan) Satoshi Kon

There’s a case for Satoshi Kon being the greatest animated feature director of all time. He never had the chance to make a bad movie. Well, he had plenty of chances, but each movie he released before his untimely death is unique and brilliant, filled with ideas which others have shamelessly riffed on, and visuals forever etched in your memory. Paprika was his final film, following Tokyo Godfathers (classic), Millennium Actress (excellent), and Perfect Blue (an all time great). Put quite simply – there would be no Inception without Paprika, just like there would be no Black Swan without Perfect Blue. Yet nobody knows these films, in the West at least. It is startling and inventive from top to bottom, yet the story can feel labyrinthine. A crowning achievement by one of the greatest filmmakers the world needs to learn from.

9: The Host (SK) Joon-ho Bong

I’ve always loved monster movies – one of my earliest movie memories is of a Godzilla movie – no idea which one, and something about the mix of special effects and the ability of a film to make me sympathize with a creature I should be terrified by turned me into a big fan of creature features. I’d been watching plenty of South Korean movies since the late 90s, but I believe The Host was the first monster movie I’d seen from the country. Like many Western movies it blends humour with the action and horror, but where is stands out is in the emotion, the dedication to character, and in the numerous gut punches which Hollywood movies typically shy away from. The effects are a little dodgy in places, but putting that aside it’s one of the best movies of its kind.

8: Death Note (Japan) Shusuke Kaneko

I’m not a huge Manga or Anime person, so any time a live action movie comes out based on one or the other, it doesn’t mean a lot to me. I watch the films on their own merits, and I typically only watch those with a premise which sounds interesting or from a director I enjoy, or if it features some actor I like. When I saw this starred Tetsuya Fujiwara of Battle Royale fame my interest was piqued. Then I read the synopsis – a student finds a book with the power to kill anyone whose name is written in its pages, and decides to use that power to make the world a better place. The book thing sounded a little YA and silly, but that moral core – killing anonymously to make the world ‘better’ sounded ripe for goodness. What I didn’t count on was a giant fuck-off animated apple eating angel/demon thing lurking in the background. Yeah… it’s a strange hybrid film.

The film, and the series steps away from its premise to become a game of wits between the holder of the book and a brilliant and eccentric (and teenage?) detective called L. It twists like a bizarre noir thriller as private and personal and public struggles collide and intertwine and Light – the holder of the Death Note – seeks to consolidate his power without losing touch. It was more enjoyable than I was expecting, and the rest of the series is pretty good too.

7: Idiocracy (US) Mike Judge

What is it about MIke Judge? His stuff is always entertaining – Beavis And Butthead was one of my favourite shows growing up, King Of The Hill remains sorely underrated, Office Space is the definite workplace movie, and Idiocracy – clever at release – seems increasingly prescient with each passing month. It stars Luke (I’m not Owen) Wilson as a military librarian (is that a thing?) who is selected for a brief suspended animation experiment alongside a prostitute. As always happens with these things, they are forgotten and left there for 500 years, waking in a future where materialism and advertising are the only things which matter, and society has been dumbed down to such extremes that they try to water plants with Gatorade. The satire is on point, but the humour wide enough that everyone can get a laugh out of it, and the visuals are surprisingly unique. With endearing performances and plenty of laughs, it’s one of the best comedies of the decade.

6: Children Of Men (US/UK) Alfonso Cuaron/Pan’s Labyrinth Guillermo Del Toro.

First time around I somehow missed Pan’s Labyrinth – unacceptable. I’ve slapped it in alongside Children Of Men for no reason. It probably remains Del Toro’s finest work, detailing his love of fantasy and horror to heart-rending extremes, placing the story in a very real time and place against a frightening backdrop. It features some of the best creatures in modern cinema and some of the most knuckle-gobbling set-pieces which never fail to set your heart on edge. As well as being brilliantly acted by the young heroine Ivana Baquero and her wicked step-father Sergi Lopez. One of the easiest ways to get people into non-American Cinema is to stick this on.

Children Of Men brings an oft-ignored authenticity to dystopian fiction – it looks just like our world today, shunted a couple of steps to the right. With the wrong steps taken today, you can imagine ourselves in a world just like it in the future. Clive Owen is never better, and the action has a gritty realism to it – anyone who has witnessed or been part of a riot, a car crash, a skirmish, or outright war will have familiarity with the pulsating set-pieces here. Such incidents are not clean, they are not lived through step by step – they happen around you, absurdly, leaping at you unexpectedly, and the best you can do is keep your head down, react instinctively, and run. It’s another Cuaron masterwork.

5: The Hills Have Eyes (US) Alexandre Aja

Who would have thought it – a remake of a filthy Wes Craven classic by some French guy – would not only be better than the original, but one of the best horror movies of the era? There are some caveats – The Hills Have Eyes original isn’t that well thought of and in truth it’s not a particularly special movie. And this isn’t just some French guy, but the director behind the glorious High Tension from a couple of years earlier. His vision for The Hills Have Eyes doesn’t stray very far from the original at all – it’s still the time honoured story of a family outing gone wrong, of the wrong road taken, and of the lengths suburban white folks will go to for survival, for revenge. It’s wonderfully brutal, excessively so, with a a streak of black (blood red?) humour throughout. Crucially, it has the bigger budget and a more accomplished cast behind it. It’s more fun than people remember and is something easy for a weirdo like me to stick on and chill out to.

4: The Departed (US) Martin Scorsese

When I first heard this was announced I thought ‘cool, Scorsese is doing a trilogy’. Then I heard it was actually taking elements from the three Infernal Affairs movies and squeezing them into one movie, and I was apprehensive. America’s recent attempts at remaking Asian classics, usually in the horror genre, had not gone well but if anyone had a good shot and doing it well then it was Martin Scorsese. Turns out I had no grounds for concern because it’s at least on par, if not much better than the originals. Something about having the familiar cast of faces and having it on more familiar cultural territory lends a different vibe and I find that I watch this one more than I go back to the originals. With a stellar cast including Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Di Caprio, Farmiga, Sheen, Winstone, it’s the crime movie fans had been waiting for since Goodfellas.

3: Apocalypto (US/Mexico) Mel Gibson

How is this film still so little known? I don’t get it. People clearly must be put off by the language, by the setting but Apocalypto is easily more thrilling and action packed than any number of Marvel movies and is equal to the achievements of Braveheart and The Passion Of The Christ. I much prefer this to those two movies – it shaves things down to the bare essentials; a tribesman is captured by a powerful cult and taken to their city to be sacrificed, leaving behind his heavily pregnant wife and child in a pit steadily filling with water. Not only does he have to escape and overcome insurmountable numbers, but he has to return home to rescue his family before they drown. It’s a pedal to the metal chase movie, a mixture of First Blood and Mad Max, which just happens to be set hundreds of years ago in the South American jungles. It’s wonderful, and you owe yourself a watch.

2: Borat (US/UK) Larry Charles

I believe Borat made my Decade movie list, so I’m not going to talk much more about it here. It’s lung-collapsingly funny, that should be enough

1: Casino Royale (US/UK/Czech/Germany) Martin Campbell

Same as number 2, this made my decade list, so go read that for more info. I love Bond, and this is one of the best.

Let us know your favourites in the comments!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2007!

So 2007 saw me struggle to pick ten movies I genuinely loved – I wonder if I will also struggle to find ten films I was truly disappointed by or thoroughly disliked.

Spiderman 3

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Spiderman 3 – it’s just that the previous Raimi movies were so much better that this always felt like a let down. We all know the memes, we all know the story which throws too many bad guys on the screen, and we all know that the film has been ridiculed ever since. It’s fine, it just loses the core heart from the previous films by having less focus on Kirsten and Tobey, and by making The Sandman a non-entity. In other words, this is a tough year for me to find 10 films worthy of appearing on this list.

Black Sheep

It’s New Zealand and comedy gore. It’s zombie sheep. There’s no reason on Earth why I shouldn’t love this. But for whatever reason, I sat there shaking my head throughout, wishing it had the magic of an early Peter Jackson monstrosity. I saw this in the Cinema while my wife was at a Rod Stewart concert – make of that what you will. It’s just a silly tale about zombie sheep killing a bunch of annoying New Zealanders, and it’s not as much fun as that sounds. Still, I’d pick that over seeing Rod Stewart.

Live Free And Die Hard

Another sequel, and another film which I didn’t dislike as much as others seemed to. It’s just that it became indistinguishable from any other action movie. Willis seems tired, kicking off this latter portion of his career where he doesn’t give a shit. The Die Hard movies were always great precisely because they stood out from other straight action movies – they had a wisecracking charm and they were inventive. This is just a perfectly serviceable action movie in need of an injection of what made the first (and third) movies so great.

The Invasion

I so dearly wanted to love this – the fact that I didn’t is probably why it’s on this list. Honestly, the original idea behind The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers should be the gift that keeps on giving. The first three movies adapted from the book – the 1950s, 70s, and 90s versions each appeared in my Top Ten movies of their respective years. I love them all. There’s just so much that can be done with the idea of a creature taking your face and slowly taking your town – in today’s political climate I shouldn’t need to spell out how powerful, and how good a Body Snatchers movie could be. The Invasion even has a great cast. It’s just so beige – there is no emotional connection, little tension, the stakes feel low. Watching it you feel like one of the clones – staring at a series of sounds and images which mean nothing to you. Hell, I even still sort of enjoyed it, but just kept wishing it was more.

Into The Wild

A movie which celebrates the life of an idiot. It’s certainly well made, it looks gorgeous, and it has a decent soundtrack. Decent cast do good work, but man it’s one of those movies you always find on people’s ‘most underrated lists’ or on those clickbait ‘most amazing movies we guarantee you’ve NEVER seen’ sites. It’s just an okay drama in which not a lot happens, and we get to watch a privileged asshole ruin his life and emotionally destroy his family, all because he wanted to ‘find himself’. It’s your standard white-boy gap year bullshit which takes a tragic turn because the dude believed he was untouchable.

Atonement

This film has a lot to answer for. It was one of the first to slap Keira Knightly into the typecast period drama mire she has found herself in ever since, it brought us Saiorse Ronan who has yet to make a film I’ve fully enjoyed, and it was so overrated to balloon proportions that people still hold it up as a masterpiece. It was never a masterpiece, it’s another film which focuses on people you would choke while simultaneously holding underwater, and is more generic than Stabby Joe Part VI: Stabby’s Back. The only thing going for it is that, admittedly breathtaking, landing one shot. Beyond that it’s just vapid, emotionless pap – an episode of Downton Abbey blown up for the big screen. It was Joe Wright’s breakout – he’s yet to make a film I’ve liked.

I Am Legend

We’ll get this out of the way – I liked I Am Legend. It’s not on the list because I think it’s a bad movie. Well, the CG is routinely awful but that’s to be expected. It’s on the list because I Am Legend is my favourite book of all time. It is legitimately one of the most important books ever written, not purely because without it there would be little to no of what we know as Horror Cinema and Fiction today, but because it’s an extraordinary piece of work which hasn’t aged a day since the 1950s, one which takes its subject matter seriously, and is both emotionally devastating and prescient. It deserves, not just a good film, but a great film. What we get instead is a Will Smith action vehicle, light on scares, on heart, and while it has been praised for it’s depiction of a post apocalyptic world, it really doesn’t come close to Matheson’s original vision. I’ve enjoyed every version of his book that I’ve seen on screen, but I suspect every one is going to disappoint me.

A bland year all round for me, with little to recommend or remember. 2007 is frequently heralded as one of the best years in Cinema history, but for me it is decidedly meh. Of course there’s still a bunch of movies I haven’t seen, from Critical darlings, commercial smashes, and little known potential gems so if I ever revisit this list in the future, it may look different. For now though, let me know in the comments if you agree about any of the films I’ve included, or if any of the above are your personal favourites!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2008!

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Lets continue our descent into ineptitude with 2008 – a film which saw many good films, and many bad films. Just like any other year then. Here’s a few films which stink more than a Congressman’s spunk.

Donkey Punch

If I ever do a worst of decade post (I won’t) this abomination would be somewhere near the top. Every single molecule of this dangling testicle should never have existed, every second is pain incarnate, and it makes me angry that money was spent to hearken it forth into the world. I want to use the word despicable, but I don’t think I can quite pull it off. It’s just badly made shit, like when you mistakenly go into a public toilet at 2.00 after the drug-crazed loon with vomit in his hair staggers out – inept performers, hateful characters with zero redeeming qualities that you wish would be killed off within the first thirty seconds of meeting them just so you can look at the yacht’s interior for the next 90 minutes in peace. Harry Knowles loved it – that should be on the poster as the best warning to keep viewers away that money could buy. A more angry blogger than I might say that everyone involved in expelling this turd from the bowels of inadequacy deserves to be fisted into oblivion by Andre The Giant.

Doomsday

It’s not that Doomsday is a bad film (it isn’t very good), it’s that after Dog Soldiers and The Descent I was hoping for something amazing now that Neil Marshall had more than a couple of five pound notes to rub together. What we got is Mad Max Vs Snake Plissken. Even that sounds awesome, but somehow it’s just a little shoulder shruggy. The action doesn’t quite live up to expectations, and all the future cyberpunk stuff isn’t all that interesting. It feels like the film a teenage boy would make if he had the money and loved those aforementioned films. It’s fan fiction which brings nothing new to the table. It’s a fine middle of the road action movie to catch if you’re channel hopping, but instantly forgettable.

Funny Games

Hey, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this movie. I liked it. It’s just – what’s the point? It does nothing that wasn’t done in the original, beyond giving the great Michael Pitt another chance at stardom. Just watch the original.

Iron Man

The one that started it all, eh? Except that it wasn’t, but we can ignore those others which really came first, eh? Honestly, I’d love to be able to ignore this too, but the monster which sprung from it has been unavoidable. I never cared much for the character of Tony Stark and while RD-JR gives the film some life (except that it’s the same shtick he pulls in every film) it’s just your bog standard generic superhero origin story, but without the emotion. It does have hundreds of millions of moneys thrown at it, so it doesn’t look like a piece of shit. Credit for putting the framework in place for building a world I couldn’t care less about. By no means a bad film, just one big meh.

Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull

Look, I didn’t hate it like most people did. I grew up with the original trilogy and was as excited as anyone that we’d be getting another. Yes it was unfortunate that it didn’t come ten years earlier, but what are you gonna do. The adventure is still there, Ford is still good if too old to be swinging about jungles, but the script is totally bogged down by unnecessary pap, and a little of the magic is gone. Plus, those monkeys… who thought that was a good idea?

Hellboy II

I loved the first Hellboy. It didn’t take itself seriously, it took a different approach and had a different look to most comic book movies. The second one struggles – the story isn’t as engaging, they don’t build upon the world or the characters, and it doesn’t hit the same beats as the first. It’s not bad, I still enjoyed it, but it was a let down given how much I enjoyed its predecessor.

Mama Mia

Welcome to your yearly shitty musical entry. Look, I get it – just like there are people who enjoy fox-hunting, there are people who enjoy musicals. They’re not for me. To its credit, it doesn’t do what most musicals do by either having the cast members’ singing voices dubbed or casting theatre types who can sing but have no screen presence. Also to its credit, you can’t go wrong with ABBA. Except… you can, because they only have about ten worthwhile songs and the rest are retreads of those ten. And they build a nonsensical plot based around the lyrics of some of these songs and throw a host of unlikable performers onto the screen to meander through the hackneyed dialogue. Even the likable performers don’t come out unscathed. And it’s at least 50 minutes too long. It’s a movie for your mother in law – by which I mean – it’s not a movie. It’s a musical on screen. Imagine how different the world would be if the money spent on, and made by, this movie had gone towards building a hospital. Or a recording studio to allow people to make good new music. Or a bunch of smaller budget movies.

I Want To Believe

Another X-Files movie – great. Honestly, I was a big fan during the series initial run, and came back for both return seasons. But the over-riding thought after seeing this was – what was the point? It is literally an extended standalone episode with no link to any of the show’s over-arching mythology. Normally I wouldn’t care, and I’ll take more X-Files where I can get it, but this particular feature length episode is bland mid-season filler. It feels like this was a script which had languished for years as a straight to DVD thriller before someone had the bright idea to retcon it into the X-Files universe to guarantee a few million in return. It’s worth a watch, but I fail to see who is really going to enjoy it – people who haven’t seen the show won’t care, and those who have won’t get what they want. A very strange choice and a very strange movie. I still liked it… but what was the point?

Mirrors

Yikes. Every year there’s a horror film which gets under my skin for all the wrong reasons. The original ‘Mirrors’ is a fairly decent example of K-Horror – nothing special. This is dumb, devoid of scares, and doesn’t make a lick of sense. There’s one scene in this movie which gore-fans point to, but it washed over me without incident. A horror movie with Keifer Sutherland and directed by Alexander Aja should work for me, but this was just balls all round and not worth typing further about.

Bangkok Dangerous

Every year we are treated to roughly ten Nic Cage movies – 80% of these are straight to DVD shite, and the other 20% are straight to DVD WTF. Every so often you get a good one or a legitimate one. Normally none of those movies would make my list because you expect them to be balls, but this one I looked forward to, foolishly, because the original Bangkok Dangerous is one of my favourite all time movies. It’s just wonderful. This remake takes the very bare bones from that movie – basically the mute hitman – saps it of all style and emotion and humour – and that’s about it. It’s tragic that so few people have seen or heard of the original, and given that it’s a foreign movie, when I try to recommend it to people, they invariably reply ‘isn’t that a shitty Nic Cage movie’? Seriously, find the original and watch it – not this.

There you go – a less controversial selection this week, with a few clangers and a few many people enjoyed if not outright loved. Let me know your picks in the comments!