Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 1999!

Notting Hill review – a year-round treat, not just for Valentine's | Notting Hill | The Guardian

1999 was a pretty favourable year for me, as you’ll have seen in my Favourites post. There were plenty of movies I enjoyed outside of those Twenty movies, so it was tricky finding enough I didn’t like for this post.

Angela’s Ashes

There’s no valid reason for me having this on the list – I just don’t like Irish films for the most part. Maybe because it’s too close to home, because they’re grimy and filthy, and offer me no escapism that they become nauseating. It’s well made, well acted, and disturbing. But it’s on the list.

The Haunting

Man, this just takes everything which makes the original movie (and haunted house movies in general) interesting, and throws it out the window in favour of dodgy effects, tepid characters, the atmosphere of a vet’s waiting room, and endless aimless dialogue. There are a few unintentionally funny moments here and there but not enough to make it worth anyone’s time.

In Dreams

I was looking forward to this, being a fan of Neil Jordan’s work (excluding some of his Irish stuff) but I generally don’t care for Annette Bening or Aidan Quinn. Having crafted some of the more interesting horror movies in recent decades, this should have worked, but once we get into so called twisting psychological territory, things fall apart quickly with the same old tired tropes and obvious twists signposted early on – plus the whole thing has a drab visual design.

Lake Placid

This is another movie I had looked forward to, hearing it compared favourably to Jaws and Tremors. Both comparisons are insulting with Lake Placid being more similar to Jaws 3 or, well, Tremors 3. The camp humour is risible, the script clueless, and it fails to either entertain or scare or engage in any manner.

Notting Hill

Another year, another dastardly British ‘comedy’. If it’s not a shitty musical, it’s one of these. It reeks of Richard Curtis – smarmy faux slapstick comedy, toff scum, English ideals and character types who don’t actually exist. The annoying thing is that I actually like the central idea – a Hollywood superstar just randomly stumbling upon some nobody’s life. I could do without the falling in love part, and Hugh Grant will never be convincing as anybody other than Hugh Grant. With that idea alone, an overhauled script, new cast, new director, you might have an enjoyable movie.

Runaway Bride

Sorry, Julia Roberts, I think you’re a very good actress – you just have an annoying habit of picking shitty material. Master of the shitty Romantic Comedy, Gary Marshall, created yet another inexplicable hit – did he ever make a good movie though? There’s nothing you need to see here.

Stigmata

Yet another film I was pre-disposed to like – horror, religious iconography, Patricia Arquette, and a Natalie Imbruglia song on the soundtrack to top it off. Sadly, it’s just not very good. Not interesting, not scary… I’m not sure what it was trying to be.

Let us know in the comments what your least favourite movies of 1999 are!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Movies Of 1999!

We’re into a new (old) millennium in our trawl back through my yearly lists, and this time we’ve stumbled upon our first mega-list. Twenty movies! This might take a while…

20: The Sixth Sense (US) M Night Shyamalan

I get pissed off quite easily by hype, or by acclaim – or at least I used to. Maybe being such an outsider led me down the narrow vine-choked path of assuming that anything popular is crap. There is a lot of truth in that line of thinking, but it’s also misguided. In the end, you have to view things for yourself and be aware of your biases so that they don’t influence your opinion. In other words, it took me a while to come around to The Sixth Sense. Everyone loved it, from horror fans to serious critics – as a horror fan we tend to become sceptical when one of our dirty brethren becomes accepted by the establishment. I can’t say I ever fell truly into that category of fan, but I understand the sentiment – especially when so many wonderful horror films have been overlooked. I tend to feel like the movie isn’t as powerful with repeat viewings – most will say the opposite is true. Once the film has revealed its secrets, there isn’t a lot for me to enjoy here. Naturally the twist is one I guessed fairly early on, but with all round decent plotting, a heady atmosphere, and strong performances, it remains a seminal and entertaining horror movie.

19: Girl, Interrupted (US) James Mangold

It’s the film which catapulted Angelina Jolie into the A Listers, but I was always more invested in this because of Winona Ryder and Brittany Murphy. Mangold was fresh off Cop Land which was one of my favourites of 97 so I was keen to see what we could do with a mostly female cast. There are all round great performances here, a timely soundtrack, and even though it’s a period piece it feels very modern – there are problems here which society hasn’t adequately solved yet. It’s not a film I revisit often, over most of the others on this list, but it packed a punch first time round.

18: The Green Mile (US) Frank Darabont

It’s not every day that you take a Stephen King novel and adapt it into one of the most well-loved films of all time. Frank Darabont did it twice. While The Green Mile isn’t as acclaimed as Shawshank, it is an equally epic character journey set in a hopeless world and is one of those rare occasions where the director successfully understands the core of the King’s work and is able to translate it. It is a little more sentimental than his earlier feature, but lets not forget it’s a film about the rape and murder of two young girls and a man suffering the torment of life on Death Row. Similar to Shawshank we have a terrific cast knocking it out of the park, and a story which reminds you that sometimes there is light at the end of the tunnel.

17: Shiri (SK) Kang je Gyu

I can’t say for sure, but Shiri was the the first film I saw from South Korea that I understood was a South Korean film. Growing up, I knew my martial arts movies from China, my action movies from Hong Kong, and my horror movies from Japan – but South Korea was some other strange entity. Turns out they could do the aforementioned genres as well as anyone else. Shiri is a crime thriller which is likely the least seen movie on this list. It’s also a fish – which may be important. There is a fast pace with the stylish direction of much of 90s HK action – fans of those movies should be at home here – and while it does often feel like a homage, there’s enough cultural nuance to make it fresh, at least for someone like me.

The film starts out with a group of North Korean soldiers – best of the best types – who are sent to South Korea to commit acts of terror, espionage, and murder. We then follow the South Korean forces in charge of hunting down these spies, leading to plenty of gunplay and startling revelations. Those unfamiliar with SK Cinema will recognise a few of the performers – namely Yunjin Kim (Sun from Lost), and Song Kang-Ho (Parasite, Snowpiercer) so it is a good place to start if you’re interested in exploring movies from this region.

16: The Iron Giant (US) Brad Bird

In all honesty – The Iron Giant is a badly written story by Ted Hughes. Seriously, it does read like it was written by an illiterate child. Create to Brad Bird then for scrapping the bullshit and getting to the emotional core of the story – the fear and paranoia and friendship. WB really dropped the ball on this one, as it is easily one of the best animated movies of the decade, and if you want to go up against Disney you need to market correctly. No-one saw it at the time, but it has since gained a new audience and respect, and it’s every bit as essential at the best output of the year, animated or otherwise.

15: American Pie (US) Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz

I shouldn’t really like American Pie, but I suppose it is my Porkies. Or my Dazed And Confused. Every generation has their balls-out teen oriented movie which caters towards those of that age at that point in time, and that just happened to be me in 1999 or thereabouts. It’s the age old story of a bunch of horny teens trying to bust a nut before Prom, whether that be with a girlfriend, a model, a milf, or indeed – a pie. It’s somehow charming and helped launch a lot of careers, many of which didn’t go anywhere, and launched a franchise with rapidly diminished returns, and launched a series of clones none of which were very good. So it’s all the more remarkable that this one is still fairly funny and works as a snapshot of what teen life was like at the end of the 90s.

14: Existenz (Canada/UK/France) David Cronenberg

While David Cronenberg had continued to make interesting films through the 90s, I felt his movies, if not his subject matter, had become a little too…. tame? Mainstream? While the budgets were higher and I think he clearly grew as a Director, the films didn’t mean as much to me when compared with his 80s work. Existenz is a nice merging of his big ideas, his mainstream flirting, and his body horror, exploring humanity’s leap forwards into software, videogame technology, escapism, and reality. It’s like a pseudo-sequel to Videodrome and every bit as captivating, even as it keeps you at arm’s length. Suffering a little from going up alongside The Matrix, the film follows a game designer who is stalked by assassins in a world where two major competing companies look to design the most realistic virtual reality experience. As you would expect, there’s a lot of bizarre visuals and ‘nothing is at is seems’ shenanigans, but the stellar cast including Sarah Polley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem Defoe, Jude Law, and Ian Holm keep matters as grounded as is possible.

13: Ghost Dog (US/France/Germany/Japan) Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch has always been one of ‘those’ directors. People know him and either love or hate his work, but he does whatever the hell he wants. I think Ghost Dog is my favourite movie by him, and it may be his most accessible film. Essentially, Forest Whitaker is a hitman of the Leon variety – quiet, solitary, and lives by a code – specifically an ancient Samurai code and book called the Hagakure. He works for the Mafia but finds himself conflicted and hunted after a hit early in the movie. The film is him processing his thoughts and morals and methodically going about the business of killing, but it’s done in a fairly stylish way with an air of detached cool. It’s probably the first Jarmusch film I would recommend to newbs.

12: Music Of The Heart (US) Wes Craven

What the hell is this doing here? There’s no reason I should enjoy this, but I do. It’s the same old story you’ve seen before – a passionate teacher goes to a ‘dangerous’ school, and teaches them about art/music/life/literature/love instead of guns and drugs and sex. It’s that film, but for whatever reason I always enjoy these.

11: Office Space (US) Mike Judge

Mike Judge always makes watchable, addictive stuff. He has had a fairly sizeable influence on my life, or my entertainment preferences, with Beavis And Butthead and King Of The Hill being two of my favourite formative TV shows. It took me a while to get on board with his movie work, but they’re all gold. This is the most meme heavy work – there are images from this film I’d wager most people have seen without knowing the origin. Even twenty years on, the film is still the most accurate depiction of office life I’ve ever seen – nailing the dialogue, the malaise, and the characters to a T. All that would be great, but it’s stupidly funny too.

10: The Mummy (US) Stephen Sommers

The Mummy is just one of those pure popcorn entertainment films which ticks all my boxes for a good Cinema time. The effects were excellent at the time, the cast were great fun and you could tell they enjoyed every moment of making it, and it remains an excellent throwback to Indiana Jones escapades of my youth.

9: Fight Club (US/Germany) David Fincher

In all honesty, it took me a while to come around on Fight Club. It pissed me off that the film was revered so highly as this huge game-changing, life-changing thing, and it pissed me off that it seemed to be creating a cult of disciples too dim to realise that the very film they worshipped was mocking them. Taken purely on its own merits, it’s a dark and dirty treat which questions aspects of masculinity and 20th Century vice, and it’s shot with Fincher’s trademark gloom as if every camera is a recovering addict just emerging from a pit of toilet filth. Plenty of good performances abound, lots of one-liners – I just don’t buy the whole life-changing aspect.

8: Man On The Moon (US) Milos Forman

Growing up far from the US in a post 1970s world, I didn’t have any idea who Andy Kaufman was. Over time, as I got more into comedy and film, I learned about Taxi and heard Kaufman’s name, but I wasn’t aware he was such a big deal, and suh a fascinating character until this film was released. I was miffed that this flew so far under the radar at the time, and I tried telling people that it was Carrey’s best performance. It’s only in recent years that the film is now being re-evaluated, especially in the aftermath of that Jim Carrey Documentary. In any case, this is a comedy fan’s masterclass, a film with laughs, absurdity, and pathos in equal measure, with an Oscar worthy Carrey performance and great support.

7: Dogma (US) Kevin Smith

I’m not Catholic, but I did grow up never far from Church, Bible, Preacher, and Verse. If there’s any connective tissue between most religions of this world, it’s their attempts to make you feel inferior, guilty, and to keep you under control – like a virus, they do these things to give themselves meaning. Or do they make you a more positive, caring person? Bottom line – we’re all different, religious or not, dicks or not. Kevin Smith takes aim at, well, dogma, with his simple plot probing more questions than you would expect in a film which features a giant turd monster. The film follows Affleck and Damon as two Angels who find a loophole which allows them to get back into Heaven, having been expelled by The Lord. Unfortunately, we learn that if they succeed then that would prove that God is fallible, and the world, the universe would crumble and cease to exist. Along for the ride are plenty of View Askew familiars, Alan Rickman, Alanis Morissette, Chris Rock, Linda Fiorentino, and Salma Hayek in a bikini – which is of critical import. Like Smith’s best work, it’s funny, provocative, challenging, and stupid in equal measure.

6: End Of Days (US) Peter Hyams

1999 was a strange time. I was there to see it, to laugh at the paranoia, to get drunk at all the best parties, and to consume all of the cultural oddities from film to music which cropped up. Thankfully, humanity at large took it all in the best of spirits, whereas I feel like if 1999 was more like today’s culture – we’d all be fucked by Right Wing Crazed extremists preaching censorship and control, and using the End Of Days as another tool to make themselves the big boys of the yard. In 1999, we were all a little more innocent, hopeful, but that didn’t stop Arnie adorning a sidearm or two and going to war with Rapey little Gabey Byrne’s Satan. Byrne’s Satan is a lovely malevolent creature, fucking your wife right in front of you, then asking you to pay him for the pleasure, hunting for babies to munch on, and patting his lips with glee at carnage created or witnessed. The tail end of the 90s wasn’t the most impressive for Arnie – his star was on the wane and his political ambitions were at the fore – yet he still had enough clout to take on the Dark One and save us all from eternal damnation. Or allow us all to live long enough to see a different sort of demon expose the failings of humanity from atop perch bought with ignorance and hate.

5: Audition (Japan) Takashi Miike

Miike makes a dozen films each year, but perhaps none have had the impact of Audition, culturally and critically, and commercially. This is the Miike film that people who haven’t heard of the man know. This is also a film which can make a grown man wince and cry and look sidelong at the woman sitting beside him and wonder internally why she wears a wry smile during the film’s final ten minutes. It’s gloriously shot, a film of two halves tied together by two captivating leads and an unnerving sense of dread, of something being not quite right. It’s one of those films which makes Hollywood Only fans reconsider their short-sighted fandom and dare to peer beyond their sunny but bland shores.

4: South Park (US) Trey Parker

I watched this as a double header with American Pie at a friend’s 17th Birthday. Both accompanied each other well, but this got the most laughs, and the least uncomfortable boners. It’s one of the very few select instances of a TV show making a good movie. It’s not just good – it’s fantastic. Plus it does the near impossible, and makes a Musical…not shit. The songs are funny, you’ll laugh till your tears turn red, and you’ll wonder why the hell else other great shows can’t match the feat.

3: The Matrix (US/OZ) The Wachowski Brothers

If you were to choose maybe ten movies which defined the 90s, there’s a strong possibility that The Matrix would appear on that list. And on most people’s lists. It’s one of the most influential movies of the era, one of the most visually striking, but it’s also simply a fun and action packed ride, delivering blockbuster thrills, and engaging story, and plenty of dialogue which every dick has been misquoting or mismeme-ing since. It’s a pity the sequels were what they wore, but for a few years this was the peak and the future of action. It made or re-made stars of Keanu Reeves, Fisbourne, and Hugo Weaving, and made it cool (apparently) to strut around in long black coats and shades in the Summer Sun, or at pitch black night. I did this before it was cool, and when people began calling me Neo, I would state plainly that I was mimicking a Terminator – the philistines.

2: The Blair Witch Project (US) Daniel Myrick Eduardo Sanchez

Covered in my Top Movies Of The Decade, so check it out.

1: Bangkok Dangerous (Thailand) The Pang Brothers

Covered in my Top Movies Of The Decade, so check it out.

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

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

The Last Boy Scout

*Originally written in 2003

tony-scott-last-boy-scout

One of the last great action movies, before the days of massive CG explosions and battles kicked in, The Last Boy Scout signalled the end of an era- No-one wanted to see the ‘one man taking on an army’ kind of film anymore, though cleverly this film subverts that genre with its sharp script.

Halle Berry stars as a dancer, her character is not the sharpest, she falls for a simple trick and is killed. The men who treat women badly in the film are shown to be scumbags, and each of these men gets what they deserve. In the case of Joe’s wife, she is strong, but side-lined for most of the film (she was screwing her husband’s partner), but his daughter, played by the magnificent Danielle Harris, is witty, intelligent and strong, and saves the day on a couple of occasions. Yes it is a macho film, but it is aware of that fact, and that within this genre such a fact can be subverted. Admittedly this has been done much better in other films, but The Last Boy Scout still tries to be ‘one for the men’ mainly.

Joe, a washed up ex-bodyguard, played by Bruce Willis, is hired to protect a washed up ex-NFL star’s dancer girlfriend. Wayans – The NFL star doesn’t like it, believing he can do the job himself. When she is killed, the two form an unlikely partnership and investigate her death. They uncover a plot which involves senators, and coaches, and they race to save the life of the scumbag Senator Willis once worked for. Joe’s daughter is kidnapped, and he comes to remember that family is the most important thing he has, and he will not let anything harm that. After many explosive fights, the 3 square up against the bad guys in a final encounter.

The stunts are worthy of mentioning in the same breath as those of Die Hard, but as they are not confined spatially, they have less of an impact. However, the script is far superior than most action movies, and it probably ranks in my top 10 most quotable movies. It seems that every line of dialogue is repeatable. Wayans is excellent, almost equalling Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop performance, Willis is perfect as Joe, Harris proves she is easily one of the best actresses around, but for some reason she never gets the big parts, and the rest of the cast is strong. There are countless funny moments, the action is adrenaline charged, and the direction is fast and controlled by Tony Scott. This was widely overlooked for a variety of reasons, but all self-respecting action fans should definitely get this on DVD as you won’t be disappointed.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Last Boy Scout!

The Ghost And The Darkness

BBC One - The Ghost and the Darkness

*Originally written in 2004

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

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

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

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

The Man Who Knew Too Much

*Originally written in 2003

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – Journeys in Classic Film

Hitchcock remakes his own 1934 film, making it much longer and bringing in stars James Stewart and Doris Day as the distraught parents drawn into an international murder plot. This is another effective mystery from Hitchcock featuring a few exciting and tense scenes, and some good twists.

Dr. Mckenna, his wife, and young son are on holiday in Morocco. When their son Hank accidentally strips a woman of her veil on a bus, Louis Bernard intervenes, easing the situation. Later he decides to meet them for dinner and agrees to show them around. However, he acts suspiciously and Jo Mckenna believes he may be a spy as he asks them probing questions in a clever fashion, never revealing anything about himself. When he is called away on business, declining to have dinner with them, the Doc and his wife go out with another old English couple. They see Bernard at the same restaurant and the Doc becomes suspicious. However, the next day Bernard, (disguised as a local) is murdered, but before he expires he tells Dr. Mckenna of an assassination plot which he must not reveal to anyone else. While Mckenna is being questioned by the Police, their new friends The Draytons look after Hank. When the Police have finished, the Mckennas return to their Hotel to find the Draytons have kidnapped Hank. Without police help, and only their own wits and Bernard’s words they set out to save their son, and stop an assassination.

Hitchcock is in full control here, pulling the viewer whichever way he wants, and James Stewart is as good as ever. Day on the other hand seems out of place, only there to sing a song which may save their son, a song which won an Oscar, a song which is plain annoying. The rest of the cast are good, but hardly shine. The scenes at the Royal Albert Hall are full of suspense, and the preceding scenes as the couple catch up on the Draytons are well constructed. Also, Hitchcock manages to fit plenty of humour in, looking at married life and the arguments which can arise, and the confusion of friends looking in from the outside. Overall an enjoyable film which has plenty of good ideas and moments, but which lacks the finer touches which made some of his other films masterpieces.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Man Who Knew Too Much!

Retro Review – Tears Of The Sun

*Originally written in 2004

Tears of the Sun | War film Wiki | Fandom

After a slow start, Tears of the Sun turns into a decent semi-action movie with a fair amount of tension. Bruce Willis stars as Lieutenant Waters who, along with a small group of soldiers, is sent into Nigeria to ‘rescue’ any American citizens from impending death, as rebel fighters are entering the area intending to kill any outsiders. They have just wiped out the President and his family, and are taking control, and the US is not authorized to interfere. Primary target is Dr. Kendricks played by Monica Bellucci, the foreign widow of an American. Secondary targets for rescue are nuns. Tom Skerrit plays Willis’s superior, and sends the team in with strict orders not to engage the enemy. Of course, when they reach the doctor she refuses to leave as she has many injured patients. Willis reluctantly agrees to take 70 refugees with them, knowing that only the Doctor will be airlifted out. However, when the remaining doctors and patients are killed, Willis disobeys orders and returns to take the 70 refugees over the border to safety. However, the rebels are on their tail and no help is coming, and a twist reveals an important person among the refugees.

The film’s main faults lie in the fact that as an action movie there is little action for the majority of the movie, and as a drama there is not enough interaction between the characters to make us care for them too much. However, the performances from Bellucci, Willis and co. are all good, there are some tense scenes, the surroundings are stunning, and the final chase when the enemy catches up is very well executed. The issues of American intrusion, good vs evil, and morality are tackled well for a film of this type and much sympathy is aimed towards the victims of the conflict. Unfortunately some of the other soldiers are not given much screen time, and many look similar so we do not know who is who, undermining the emotional impact of the battle scenes. However, they all come to see that their jobs as soldiers is not to help their own citizens, but to protect the innocent at all costs, regardless of race. Overall a good attempt at mixing action and drama.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Tears Of The Sun!

Retro Reviews – Spiderman 2

Originally written in 2004*

Remembering 'Spider-Man 2,' 15 Years Later - mxdwn Movies

After the hype surrounding the decent Spiderman, I was looking forward to this because it introduced Doc Oc, one of my favourite comic book bad guys, but I wasn’t expecting it to be vastly better than the first. I was proved wrong. This improves over part 1 in every way, with the performances stronger, the effects better, it is more exciting and there is a less teeny feel about it. Not quite as good as the X-men movies, but better than most other recent comic book movies.

Peter Parker has been masquerading as Spiderman for some time, helping the city from crime, but he still has his critics. More importantly though he is trying to get on with a normal life, earning money and thinking about MJ. However, after the events of the first film, the three people Peter cares for most are becoming distant from him in different ways. MJ has fallen for someone else and Peter keeps letting her down, his best friend Harry, whose father (Green Goblin) was killed by Spiderman is closing in on his discovery and is becoming increasingly hate filled and paranoid. Aunt May is also getting older and becomes estranged from her nephew when she realises what Peter did in the first film. As well as this, Peter seems to be losing his powers. He decides that he must give up his alter-ego. Meanwhile, Doctor Octavius sees one of his experiments going disastrously wrong, simultaneously destroying the Osbourne company and turning the Doc into Doc Oc. Doc Oc goes on a crime spree, and puts New York in danger, particularly Peter’s closest friends. He must be stopped at all costs, so Spiderman is reborn.

Firstly the writers and Raimi deal with the many intertwining plot lines brilliantly, squeezing everything into the two hours, and leaving space for tonnes of action. Fans of the comic will enjoy seeing the appearance of later important characters such as John Jameson and Doc Connors. Each storyline is followed carefully and we feel sympathy towards Parker whose gift is becoming a curse. However, as this is primarily marketed as a summer blockbuster it is the stunts, action and effects which will matter to the masses. And they are excellent. The fights between Spiderman and Doc Oc are some of the most impressive action sequences to date, especially when the pair are flying through the city at break-neck speeds. Once the action starts, the excitement rarely fades, juxtaposed by the impending threat of peter being uncovered, and Harry finding out the truth. The film also sets itself wonderfully for sequels and spin-offs, as fans will know about the appearance of Venom, Doc Connors and the Hobgoblin. Maguire performs much better here than in the first, and his character’s depth certainly increases. Dunst is also much better, possibly her best performance since Interview with a Vampire, and Molina is perfect as Doc Oc. Franco as Harry also admirably shows range as he struggles between sanity and madness, and although he seems to be losing he still is capable of getting sympathy from us. Overall an excellent comic conversion, and a significant improvement over the original.

Let us know what you think about Spiderman 2 in the comments!

The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project' Premiered at Sundance 20 Years Ago

*Originally written in 2003

The wild hysteria surrounding this movie proves that the majority of the cinema going audience can still be fooled into believing anything they see or hear, or think they do, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is an extremely convincing and effective horror flick. A certain number of people on these boards (written originally on IMDb so refers to IMDb message boards), and who have reviewed Blair Witch Project HATE the film for varying, understandable reasons. When I first watched this, I watched intently, knowing exactly what the directors were playing at, and I found great enjoyment in watching the reactions of those who thought it was real. Did it unsettle me? No. Did it make me jump like the horror movies that rely on loud noises to scare (the recent Ring remake) – no. But it was the first horror movie in a very long time to put a smile on my face, and make me shiver. If you can remember back to when you played hide and seek as a kid – the feeling you had when the person looking for you was 10 feet away and coming closer – that is what this film gives, in a much greater quantity.

It is slow moving, and if you do not enjoy the pace, then you may not enjoy the film, but it compensates this by being short and concise, juxtaposed against how the 3 campers must have felt as the hours dragged by – the point I take from this is that in life we only remember a series of memories, images pasted together to make little sense, and life seems much shorter than it actually was.

The camera use and grainy feel again may be fuel for hatred or love, but it works perfectly – they don’t know what is going on, and neither do we, but that doesn’t matter because in an uncertain and threatening situation, the natural human reaction is to run or fight. Drained, exhausted, paranoid, they run. Ever had a nightmare about running away from something, but not knowing exactly what it was, or why you are running?

The best part of the movie (apart from the hilarious ‘I kicked the map into the river’ scene) is the last few minutes when Michael and Heather enter the house following Josh’s screams. This is perfectly spine tingling, and the ending is excellent as our feelings and fear somehow build and climax  in perfect harmony with what is happening on screen. The actors are clearly convincing, again look at the audience hysteria for proof, and although they are not called upon to do much, they do it well. Few great horror films come along these days, this is one- embrace it, let yourself be sucked in to feel the full effect, don’t be critical, and realize how good it is.

Let us know what you think of The Blair Witch Project in the comments!

Retro Reviews – Seven Samurai

*Originally written in 2003

Adventures and Quests: Seven Samurai (1954) | Detroit Institute of Arts  Museum

Kurosawa’s most famous film, and arguably the most famous film ever to come out of Japan over 50 years after its release. Endlessly influential, often touted as the first action movie, and full of rich cinematography, brilliantly constructed set-pieces, humour, sorrow, and some timeless characters portrayed by excellent performances. The Seven Samurai is still seen today by fans and critics alike as one of the best films ever made, almost flawless in every department and still as appealing and relevant as it was 5 decades ago.

The film begins by telling us that Japan over 400 years ago was a place of fighting and poverty, with Samurai and bandits wandering the countryside, some with honour, some stealing from the poor. We meet a group of 40 bandits who travel from village to village through the year, ransacking and taking whatever they can find. In the past they have murdered farmers, raped their wives and daughters, and taken their livelihood. They decide to raid one village once it is time for the farmers to harvest. A few villagers over-hear this and try to prepare. Some believe they should fight, some say they should plead with the bandits, others say they should just give in as always or they will be killed. Eventually their Patriarch Gisaku says they should hire some help, Samurai who will help them in exchange for food. This seems like an outrageous plan as Samurai are proud, but a small group of farmers led by Rikichi leave with some food to find such Samurai in the hope that their village will be saved, the alternative being worse.

They struggle at first and we see how there is no pity for them, that most people are too busy with their own affairs. Just as they give up hope they witness Kambei, a Samurai performing a selfless deed. They follow him and ask for help. Joining Kambei is a young apprentice Samurai Katsushiro who also saw Kambei’s deed, and following them is a fiery man who claims to be a samurai-Kikuchiyo. Kambei listens to them and eventually agrees, believing they will need a total of seven Samurai. He and Katsushiro make two, and they begin to look for and test others. Kambei’s old friend Schichiroji who he believed was dead arrives making 3. A woodcutting, quirky Samurai called Heihachi joins along with masterful swordsman Kyuzo making 5, and a man nicknamed ‘strongman’ makes 6. They leave for the village, followed by Kikuchiyo who wants to be part of their group even though no-one believes he is a Samurai. He proves himself and makes 7 when the villagers do not come to welcome their rescuers. We see how the Samurai and farmers mix, and we see mistrust and fear. Many emotions come out adding depth so rarely seen in action films. There is a love story, many twists, prejudices and hidden truths. As the bandits approach, the farmers are trained and a plan is made, but there will be many casualties.

As so many books have been written on this film alone I can only offer a summary. Each actor is excellent, with Mifune standing out. Shimura, Miyaguchi, Tsuchiya, and Kimura all give emotive performances and when a character dies or feels sorrow we genuinely grieve with or for them. There is so much going on and so many story lines that we are completely pulled into the lives of each character. Kurosawa’s direction cannot be faulted, and although it is slow at times and the search for Samurai takes up much of the film, we are captivated throughout. The action scenes, groundbreaking for their time still manage to create awe today simply because they are filmed so beautifully. This is an immortal story of winners and losers, of truth and honour, of love in all its guises, and of overcoming personal prejudice which will stay in the mind forever.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Seven Samurai!

Cell

CELL: Phoning It In | Horror Movie | Horror Homeroom

I bought Stephen King’s Cell when it was first released, back in 2006. It was one of the books which felt infused by King’s new found cynicism after almost being wiped out by an idiot in a car – the very same accident which wormed its way thematically and psychologically into the final chapters of The Dark Tower. Already in 2006, cell phones were the norm and much of the criticism of the book was from people who claimed the story would have had more foreboding impact had it dropped five years earlier. When I first read the story – I got the subtext, but I was much more interested in the simple fact that it seemed to be King’s take on the zombie genre, having spoken out in support of movies like 28 Days Later. I quite enjoyed the book, even if it was on the silly side and didn’t always make the most coherent sense. I additionally felt that the book would make a very entertaining movie – the zombies were fresh enough that a cinematic take could be unique, and there were several setpieces which could have translated well from page to big screen. I waited for years watching rumour after rumour drop on a film version – I was keen to see what Eli Roth could do when he was attached, and then I was excited when I saw the triple threat of cast of John Cusack, Samuel L Jackson, and the great Isabelle Fuhrman. Is it any good?

Where to begin with this mess? I saw some reviews when the movie was released – they weren’t good. I hoped that these were simply the usual snotty elitists who can’t appreciate a King translation for the silly fun they are usually meant to be. I waited until the film was available on Prime to stream, and lordy, it’s not good. The plot is taken wholesale from the text – an artist is in New York away from his family when some sort of attack takes place. Basically, anyone who was using a cell phone (making a call) is turned into a blood crazed maniac and begins bashing anyone and everyone in sight. Clay, the Artist, escapes this initial wave, allies with a group of survivors, and plans to make his way back to his family in the hope they were not turned. Throw in a Big Bad who can control the zombies, some psychic dream nonsense, and you have a recipe for something already convoluted and junky. King’s gift in the story is making all of this, if not plausible, but relatable. We know it’s silly, but we trust King’s eye for character detail, emotion, and story-telling. The film has none of these things –  major plot points are dropped (or not) without explanation, and the story unravels in sequence without emotion, suspense, or meaning – it’s just a bunch of stuff that happens.

King’s gifts are not equated by director Tod Williams or screenwriter Adam Alleca. Williams, I have gone on record as saying that he made the best Paranormal Activity movie – so he knows what he is doing. I can only assume the production was the negative opposite of lightning in a bottle – the stars aligned to ensure that the worst possible outcome in every facet of the movie was achieved. Cusack seems like he’s having a stroke when trying to force out a tear, Samuel L Jackson seems bored, a few of the supporting characters are apparently genuinely damaged people that the filmmakers decided to put on camera for a bit of a laugh. Stacey Keach is fine for the three minutes he’s there, and Isabelle Fuhrman thinks she’s in a better movie than she actually is, or at the very least she’s trying to elevate things. On top of this, the soundtrack is filled with bizarre musical choices, the dialogue is low in the mix, and there are are three endings which you are free to choose as the one you want to be real.

Cell is a film I did want to love – I hold out hope that one day someone will make a good version of this, but I can’t see it. It’s a messy story, already dated, and that’s only going to get worse with time. There’s not a lot here for anyone to enjoy and everyone who you think would choose to watch the thing – horror fans, Stephen King fans – will be disappointed.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Cell!