Children Of The Corn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2003!

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We veer ever closer towards the tail-end of the Nineties with another batch of ill-advised films which either were not made for me, or which were made precisely for me but fell far from giving me the happies. It’s a nice balance of mainstream films and offbeat foreign films which fewer readers will be aware of.

Open Water

Open Water is one of those horror movies for people who don’t like horror movies. It’s also complete shit. I’m always on the look out for a good shark movie. I say ‘good’, but what I really mean is ‘a movie where a bunch of idiots are eaten’. Open Water takes a more realistic approach – it’s supposed to be more drama, more tragedy than horror, but the problem, or one of the problems is, that in a shitty shark movie at least we know they shitty characters are going to be picked off one by one. Here we have to watch them bob up and down for 90 minutes contemplating nothing before we fade to black. Every so often there’s a splash in the water, or a fin passes by. I get what they tried to do with this, to make us feel up and close the terror of being lost in the ocean and surrounded by sharks. But I felt nothing close to fear, or empathy, or caring for any of it. It failed to draw me in, and mostly I kept thinking how cool it would be to be in a film like this, to be out there in the ocean, swimming, and arsing about with sharks.

Calendar Girls

Every year or so Britain comes up with a piece of shit comedy which breaks through to the mainstream. Every one of them is terrible. This one exists and dies entirely on its premise – a bunch of old women get their baps out. If that’s your cup of tea, enjoy.

Dreamcatcher

Stephen King’s works don’t always translate well to film. Even some of the more simple stories don’t even work. When you have shit weasels, aliens, and King’s fondness for magic handicapped folks you have your work cut out to make anything out of it. I love King, and I’ll watch any of his adaptations. This is the worst of the bunch. Not Graveyard Shift, not any of the Children Of The Corn Movies, not Golden Years – this. Everybody involved drops several rungs in my ladder of estimation – Morgan Freeman, Jason Lee, Olyphant, Jane – some of whom are King regulars. But Damien Lewis… I don’t know what movie he thought he was in but if this had been the first thing he’s been in I guarantee it would be his only credit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse performance in my life. The curious thing is, while the book is definitely a remake of IT in all but name (Pennywise even shows up at one point) you can see someone talented making a decent flick or mini-series out of it. It wouldn’t be amazing, but it might be entertaining enough for the low bar I’d set. This slithers far below that far and right up its own ass.

In The Cut

The movie which was billed as bringing back Meg Ryan, or finally showing what a powerhouse dramatic performer she could be. Really? Really? I’m sure can be fine, with the right material, but has she ever really been good? In anything? I’ll give her The Doors, in which she had little to do, and as ‘the woman’ in Top Gun, Inner Space, Armed And Dangerous, she’s adequate. Most known for terrible romantic comedies, this was a step out of the shadows for her, into something darker. And once again, she’s fine. It could have been anyone. The film is just another proceedural thriller with a slight saucy edge, but it’s more Indecent Behaviour than Basic Instinct. It’s hardly surprising with the overrated Jane Campion at the helm. Mark Ruffalo shows up too!

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Or, The Avengers prequel. Or, the film so bad it ended Stephen Norrington and Sean Connery’s careers. Or, the film so bad Alan Moore refuses to acknowledge its existence. Or, the film so bad it belongs in an abandoned banshee’s naval. Or, the film so bad its mother ignores its phone calls. Or…. you get the idea.

Lost In Translation

I think this may have been the movie which prompted me to admit to myself that I didn’t really like Bill Murray. I still like plenty of his movies, and I still like him in them, but his shtick wears very thin very quickly for me. I feel about Lost In Translation the way people feel about The Godfather III. It’s well made, looks swell, it has a bunch of famous faces, but it’s as far from a pleasurable viewing experience as you can get without having someone talk to their mates on the phone throughout. It’s another example of me not getting the swelling of praise it received – it’s an anti-romantic comedy, except that it is a romantic comedy through and through, and as far as dramas go nothing of import or relevance happens. I get that’s half the point, but what I don’t get is why nobody else was left so uncaring by the end of it. It’s insulting, borderline racist, and like many comedies of this type I don’t think it garnered a single grin on my behalf. For stuff like this to work its magic on me, I have to like, or at least tolerate the people involved. I don’t. Why should I care about entitled, soulless harpies? I don’t care about them or about any of it, and for that reason it’s one more forgettable movie which could as easily have been made by a nobody rather than the child of a somebody, and starring people you’ve never heard of.

Love Actually

We didn’t just get one dodgy Brit Rom-Com this year – we got two! And shock of shocks, they’re both drivel. Perhaps the worst slight this film caused the public at large is that it’s going to continue to be shoved down our throats every Christmas. There are boundless amounts of fantastic British comedy just waiting to be discovered worldwide, but it’s shite like this which we are fraudulently known for.

Once Upon A Time In Mexico

El Mariachi was great. Desperado is fantastic. This final part in the trilogy is depressingly poor. Rodriguez films follow a very simple pattern – the less money he has, the better the movie is. This should have been a no brainer, continuing the adventures of Banderas and Hayak, but it brings in a host of new characters who take the focus away from the characters we actually give a shit about, and they drop much of the action and wit which made the first two kinetic delights. The film is worth it for one thing only – the Mexican or Mexican’t line – and that’s not even that funny.

Save The Green Planet!

Another film I was dearly looking forward to after loving Shin Ha-kyun in Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, this film is worth watching just because it’s almost impossible to describe. Right up my alley in terms of all encompassing weirdness, it does take a darker turn towards the end but unfortunately by that point I’d mostly tuned out. It’s another case of me getting hyped up and ultimately being disappointed. I still like it and revisit it, and it still makes me laugh and cringe – it’s really good, unique, but I’ve no idea how I could recommend it to or how to sell it. Just the sheer amount of wonderful stuff coming from South Korea at this time meant that this one didn’t measure up when I thought it would.

Battle Royale 2

If we’re going to talk about hype and disappointment, then BR2 has to top my list. Considering the first film remains my favourite movie of the last twenty years, its sequel had a lot to live up to, When visionary director Kinji Fukasaku died mid-filming, my doubts began to creep in. I was already skeptical about a sequel in the first place but given my love for the first one, surely the second couldn’t truly be bad. It’s not. It’s not bad at all. But it is more bloated, less action packed, not as funny, more of a dig at American politics and culture than Japanese, and it dispenses with much of the heart and innocence of the first. Crucially, it shoves the heroes of the first movie into the background and instead we get a more faceless batch of kids and adults, topped off by Riki Takeuchi – never one for subtlety but here dialed up to fifty seven. It’s not afraid to court controversy – it’s opening scene depicting the annihilation of ‘twin towers’ if you will, and placing the viewer alongside the terrorists, and ending with our protagonists fleeing to Afghanistan… it’s trying to say something potent but doesn’t really know how. The tension is certainly lacking and its best moments are when the people we actually paid to see show up. I just wish they had have gone in a completely different direction with the story.

Let us know in the comments your take on the movies above, and which films of 2003 would make your list!

Best Visual Effects – 1977

Official Nominations: Star Wars. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

The Academy had persisted through the middle of the 70s with Special Achievement Awards, but by the time 1977 rolled around it became clear that more and more films were pushing the bar where Visual Effects were concerned and a dedicated category was needed like any other category. Having said that, it would still be a while before The Academy fully relented and gave a complete batch of nominees. Here, we have two of the seminal effects movies of the decade vying for the win. Both are great, but the win has to go to Star Wars. It just blew open the door for everything which came after and pioneered so much that it’s one of the most obvious wins of all time.

My Winner: Star Wars

My Nominations: Star Wars. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. A Bridge Too Far. Hausu. Pete’s Dragon. Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger. The Spy Who Loved Me.

I tryto spice things up by adding a few other notable entries – Pete’s Dragon is not a movie I enjoy but it did do some pioneering work in the merging of animation with live action. A Bridge Too Far is a war epic coming a few years too late, but still manages to bring plenty of effects to the table to extend the realism of the piece. The Spy Who Loved Me has all manner of amusing visual gags, while Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger continues Harryhausen’s amazing run with Cavemen, a Saber-Toothed Tiger, baboons, monsters, and plenty of nifty transformations.

My Winner: Star Wars

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2003!

As always, the not quites: Big Fish is that increasingly rare Tim Burton film where he seems to be free of studio influence to do whatever he wants and tell a sweet, offbeat story. Freddy Vs Jason takes one great horror franchise, and one pretty crap franchise, and smashes them together in a funny, bloody fan’s dream. House Of 1000 Corpses is probably Rob Zombie’s best movie to date, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to recapture what makes it so fun again. Dogville is Lars Von Trier doing what he does best – pissing people off, experimenting with Cinema, and creating something unique. It’s bizarrely engaging and while it shouldn’t work, it really really does. The Last Samurai dropped at jsut the right time, as my love for Japanese cinema was at its peak. Ignoring all the White Guy Saviour stuff, and all of the wonderful hair, it’s a gorgeous movie and features a couple of great performances in Cruise and Watanabe. School Of Rock is quotable, fun, and reminds me of a lot of my the favourite movies of my youth – Bill And Ted, Kindergarten Cop, Wayne’s World etc. Jack Black is at his best, and it’s one of those movies you get sucked into watching every time it’s on.

10: The Dreamers (UK/US/France/Italy) Bernardo Bertolucci

Bertolucci should be enough to grab any movie fan’s attention, but through in Michael Pitt and Eva Green, and this seemed like it was made just for me. Naturally there’s a lot of nudity and sex here which may put some off and likewise invite a lot of idiots to watch it for the wrong reasons. There’s a lot of callbacks – to classic New Wave Cinema, to cultural shifts in the 60s, to Bertolucci’s life and career, but in essence it’s a captivating story with a great central trio.

9: Underworld (US/UK/Hungary/Germany) Len Wiseman

As Buffy was ending I needed a new sexy vampire heroine. Kate Beckinsale steps in, all leathered up and guns firing to save the world from a deadly vampire/Lycan war. It’s all very silly and serious, it’s all very stylish, but in terms of post-Matrix action movies it’s one of the best.

8: Kill Bill Vol 1 (US) Quentin Tarantino

This was the first Tarantino movie I ever saw on the big screen, and it felt like a big event. It had been half a decade since his previous film and it was a packed screening. Most of those there didn’t seem to ‘get’ the movie, but I enjoyed every second, spotting a myriad of Easter Eggs and enjoying the onslaught of violence and visuals. It might be his most straightforward, enjoyable movie.

7: A Mighty Wind (US) Christopher Guest

It honestly took me a while to come around to This Is Spinal Tap. I’d always liked it, but it took me longer to love it than most. A Mighty Wind I loved immediately – perhaps because I was more used to the format, perhaps because it wasn’t lampooning anything I cared about. There are some great songs and performances here from Guest regulars, and it’s an easy going movie which continues to unwrap subtle jokes with each viewing – sometimes a visual gag, sometimes a single line or word of dialogue you missed before, or sometimes an actor’s reaction. All of Guest’s movies are gold.

6: The Curse of The Black Pearl (US) Gore Verbinski

Is there a better example of a Theme Park attraction being turned into a movie than this? Depp should have received his Oscar, and it’s the closest we’ve come to a rip-roaring Indiana Jones style romp since The Mummy. It’s funny, rattling along like raft cutting through the waves, and everyone involved seems to be having the times of their lives. It’s such a shame the sequels are trash.

5: Zatoichi (Japan) Takeshi Kitano

Kitano had been steadily pumping out underrated film after underrated film – an amazing accomplishment for the quirky funny man best known in the west for Takeshi’s Castle. While many of his films dealt with common themes – masculinity, violence, inner turmoil, they were typically set in a modern, Yakuza setting. With Zatoichi he goes back to the legend of the blind Samurai to make the best film version of the character, starring as the title character himself. He does things with sound and editing in this film I’d never seen before, and uses the story to showcase those common themes with a keener eye for detail while not letting up on humour and action. Like many Asian movies of this era, it’s a travesty this saw zero interest by The Academy.

5. Oldboy (SK) Chan Wook Park

Each of the remaining films on my list are covered in more detail in my favourite films of the 2000s post. Check it. Suffice it to say, this is essential viewing.

4: A Tale Of Two Sisters (SK) Kim Jee Woon

Gorgeous. Haunting. Should have had a Best Actress Oscar nod.

3: Ju On (Japan) Takashi Shimizu

Wonderfully creepy J-Horror classic

2: The Return Of The King (NZ/US) Peter Jackson

The excellent climax to maybe Cinema’s greatest trilogy.

1: X2 (US) Bryan Singer

Probably the greatest comic book sequel of all time.

Let us know in the comments which films of 2003 make your list!

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!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2004!

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As always, here is the group which didn’t quite cut it: Napoleon Dynamite is one which always makes me laugh, but there’s something so… desolate about it? The Passion Of The Christ is just a well made gore-fest, while Team America has dolls fucking. It’s not Meet The Feebles, but what is? The Terminal is one of my favourite underrated Spielberg movies, Dead Man’s Shoes is one of Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows’ best. Hellboy drops in and out of my Top Ten – it’s great fun, even if I don’t love it as much as some – probably because I’m not a huge comic book guy.

10: District 13 (France) Pierre Morel

Merging real life stunts with little or no string work or CG guff, and the parkour and martial arts skills of a talented cast, District 13 is one of the action movies I show people who claim to not like foreign movies. It blows them away, every time. It also has the benefit of having a simple plot which still pulls the viewer in to the world of an over-populated Paris ghetto. Over time, gangs take over the ghetto and the police stay out, leaving millions fighting and stealing and trying to survive. We follow an undercover cop and a brother trying to rescue his sister from one of the marauding gangs. It’s a story you’ve seen a hundred times, but it’s told at breakneck speed with likable faces. Yet, it’s the action which keeps you coming back, a world away from CG superheroes punching CG supervillains out of CG Skyscrapers.

9: A Very Long Engagement (France) Jean Pierre Jeunet

Jeunet, and Tautou’s follow-up to Amelie was always going to be an impossibility – that movie was universally loved. A Very Long Engagement is a very different story and film, a romance of sorts told with a larger cast over a number of years, against the backdrop of War. The visuals are what it has most in common with Amelie as it is one of the most delicious looking films of the era. Jeunet’s usual suspects show up, along with supporting turns from the likes of Jodie Foster and Marion Colliard in a film about undying love and hope in the face of hopeless odds and loveless tyranny.

8: R-Point (SK) Kong Su Chang

It’s still annyoing that so few people know about this film. Even plenty of my online pals who enjoy Asian horror haven’t seen it. I get that it may be a hard sell given its unusual approach and confusing plot, but if anything I liken it to something like Aliens, but with ghosts. It’s a war film with a supernatural bent, it’s like the twisted sister to Session 9, with a similar atmospheric setting. It hits a lot of my sweet notes, without giving too many spoilers away, but there may or may not be something funky going on with time, reality, madness, it has hardened soldiers going up against a mysterious foe, and it does give two shits about convention. Just go in knowing that it’s set during the Vietnam War as a group of soldiers respond to a distress call, and knowing that I’ve recommended it.

7: Shaun Of The Dead (UK/US/France) Edgar Wright

Is it Edgar Wright’s best movie? Probably. Plus it came out at just the right time, when zombie movies were suddenly popular and legitimate, but before they over-saturated the market. I was never the biggest Spaced fan but I knew Simon Pegg from plenty of other things and him and Nick’s laid-back everyman approach to the apocalypse, as well as the filmmakers obvious love for the genre made it a treasure trove for me. Great gags, kills, and plenty of hidden treats in the cast including the great Peter Serafinowicz and George Dawes. That’s right, Matt Lucas will always be the man with the scores, George Dawes, none of that Little Britain wank.

6: Spider-Man 2 (US) Sam Raimi

One of the finest examples of how to follow-up a successful debut and continue a franchise. Of course it all went horribly wrong in Part 3, but everything goes right with Spider-Man 2. It’s bigger and better than the first part, adds a terrific villain in Doc Oc, and all of the surviving players from the first film step it up here. It has everything I want in a blockbuster comic movie, with the added bonus of me actually giving a shit about what happens.

5: House Of Flying Daggers (China/HK) Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou had been making breathtaking movies for many years, but beyond Asian film fans like me and well traveled critics, his films were completely unknown in the west. Then Hero came along and made a lot of waves, presumably riding on the wave of success of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. That movie gave him a new status and fame across the globe and House Of Flying Daggers only spread that further. It’s an almost unbelievably beautiful film, spattered with energetic and exuberant martial arts set pieces. The use of colour, of music, puts most films to shame, and the lead trio of Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Zhang Ziyi have rarely been better. At its core it’s a love story, but in many respects the plot is irrelevant – it’s just one of the most beautiful sights to behold.

4: Saw (US) James Wan

Saw was released smack bang in the middle of ‘Torture Porn’ but while that often unfairly vilified, often admittedly vile sub-genre generally focused more on gore and effects, Saw is 100% concerned with plot and the viewer. It wants to trick the viewer and take us on a horrific, twisting journey. While the series would keep it’s increasingly nonsensical twists it would become ever more reliant on gore and unique kills and lose what made the first so special. The story is convoluted without being obtuse, it’s more of a thriller in a horrifying scenario than a straight horror, and it’s bolstered by a great cast. It introduces one of horror’s more engaging serial killers – Jigsaw – and for much of the running time we don’t know what his end-game is, beyond wanting to punish people through the lens of his twisted morality. The film becomes an overlapping game of wits and cat and mouse and we have several intertwining plots – the two men who wake up handcuffed in a room, with only a corpse and a saw between them. The cops hunting Jigsaw. A man holding a woman and child at gunpoint. These are spliced together with various flashbacks and scenes depicting other characters and victims of Jigsaw, and it’s all blended together seamlessly in a swift running time. I can’t say I love the MTV camera thrashing effects which the series is known for, but I’m used enough to those now that I don’t care anymore. For a film which is essentially an extension of one particular scene in Mad Max, it keeps the viewer guessing, and flinching throughout.

3: The Grudge (US) Takashi Shimizu

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I loved the Japanese Grudge (and to a lesser extent the prior TV versions), I loved Ringu. I didn’t like the US Remake The Ring and I therefore wasn’t overly hyped by The Grudge getting a US remake. Over time more promising details emerged – Grudge creator Takashi Shimizu would be directing, Sarah Michelle Gellar would be starring – suddenly I was hyped. Honestly, The Grudge is on par with the Japanese originals, going for a bigger budget, more bombastic version of the exact same story. Most of the original scenes and scares are in place, but what made those effective for me is that there are slight twists on what I expected – a jump scare from a different position or moment – all enough to give me a great time viewing it. Of course I saw this in a packed screening, and people were going nuts at the scares, especially when it was obvious they hadn’t been exposed to the originals.

2: Kill Bill Volume 2 (US) Quentin Tarantino

Volume 2 is distinctly different from Volume 1. Both are great, but both have completely different styles and tones – different enough that they can be enjoyed individually. This one is interesting because it is both a slower burner than the first film, but has the benefit of also racing towards a conclusion. We get more information on Bill and The Bride as individuals, as partners, and we dispense with much of the over the top stylized sequences of the first for a more introspective, near Western style flick. As you would expect, the cast and dialogue are uniformly great, it’s funny, insightful, it has a huge rewatchability for me, and it wraps up in a satisfying way.

1: Dawn Of The Dead (US) Zach Snyder

This one made it onto my Top Movies Of The Decade post, so go read my thoughts there.

Let us know in the comments which movies you would pick!

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.

February (The Blackcoat’s Daughter)

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

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

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

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

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

The Girl With All The Gifts

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The Girl With All The Gifts feels like the sort of film Sean Bean was meant to be in. The hardened, gruff military man whose heart will soften over the course of the film thanks to a precocious youth and a saucy minx. But he’s probably going to die in the end, maybe sacrificing himself along the way. At its heart though, it’s not about some burly man – it’s a film about a dying world, a mutating world, in which the surviving humans find themselves no longer relevant, much in the same way as I Am Legend suggests, except the focus in more uniquely on the relationship between a girl and her teacher.

As with most YA fiction and apocalyptic movies, there’s is a certain amount of world building and exposition to wade through before we get to the meat of the story and characters. We learn early on that a fungal based disease has wiped out most humans, with those infected being 28 Days Later type creatures. The central twist is that a group of kids who were born half infected are able to somewhat control their monstrous natures and retain portions of their humanity. Scientists have learned from these kids and are in the process of finding a cure and working on ways to further restrain the mutation from taking hold in the children. Gemma Arterton stars as the teacher, Glenn Close is the lead scientist, Paddy Considine is the Sean Bean, and Sennia Nanua is (insert title… maybe). There are varying degrees of distrust and desires between these leads and their factions but when an attack on their safe space makes them outcasts in a dangerous world, they need to find away to work together to survive.

The Girl With All The Gifts is that rare YA adaptation which almost entirely dispenses with notions of romance – there’s no tacked on boy meets girl here which is refreshing in a genre so devoted to pining teens and brooding hunks. While the world and the scenario isn’t exactly unique, there’s enough dedication to design to make this Britain feel believable, and enough quirks in the story and plot devices to keep it distinct. With the cast above you know it’s going to be a well acted affair, and I was surprised by how cold it is throughout – there are difficult decisions and moral dilemmas and characters seem troubled by these as well as the actions of others, while still seeking to meet their own needs or wishes. It’s pleasingly dry and bleak too when it comes down to the wire, and doesn’t allow for any surprise twist or heroic shock to save the day. It’s pretty clear from the opening minutes that humanity is fucked, but it takes until the closing minutes just to realize how much.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Girl With All THe Gifts!

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!