Monday, 30 December 2013

My End of Year 2013 Movie Review

So, it’s been a while because I’m lazy and there’s no other excuse. So, instead of listing my favourite films of 2013 during this 2013 list-making season, I’ll instead talk about the last 5 movies I watched during the 2013 list-making season. That and I haven’t written anything in ages so to do several mini-reviews will make up for not writing anything in ages. So, good or bad, here are my list of movies I watched at the end of 2013

Phantoms (Joe Chappelle, 1998)

After the death of Peter O’Toole, I wanted to watch The Lion In Winter, one of the greatest movies, in terms of performance, ever. Failing to find a good copy of that I instead watched Phantoms, probably his lowest point. He did admirably, all things considered, and there is one awful moment of shit dialogue he had to contend with, he was pretty cool in it. Though I don’t usually side with the Ben Affleck haters, I will agree he really wasn’t great in this one. Liev Schrieber was fantastically creepy, however.

One thing that impressed me as a kid watching this is that the common sense thing happens: the military gets called in and scientists check out the bullshit supernatural thing. They all die, of course, some of them in particularly horrific ways (some I had forgotten since I’d watched it as a kid), and their role was simply to have more bodies to add to the kill count. There were some good creepy moments, and it’s strange that such a bullshit film like this will set up and pay off stuff, whereas bigger budget, better received films don’t bother and cut shit out completely and confuse the audience. I’m referencing a scene where two main characters drive through a ghost town, and find a car sitting there with the engine running and no driver, as if the driver simply vanished. Later, when they find that their car wont start, one of them gets and idea and they return to that first car to find that it’s dead as well. Its nothing much, but it tells you something about modern movies that many things aren’t set up well enough of the pay-off is erased completely.

Aside from the gross-out moments (there aren’t a lot, but a mutating dog is gross enough for me to look away) you’d be surprised the kind of mileage the director Joe Chappelle can get out of mundane, un-horrific things. A friendly looking dog, sitting under a street lamp, is an ominous sentinel for a larger monster. A silent, staring man is creepy, and its surprising how simple and effective back-lit silhouetted people in terms of freakiness. Some of the scares are undercut with cheese, like two severed heads in a bakery oven (?) because the monster wanted to store them for later?

There is one scene in particular that is very nostalgic for me, and one of the reasons why I wanted to revisit this film. Once a bunch of the main characters meet up they find themselves in an inn. They hear music from upstairs and split up to investigate. Now, when I was younger, in the primary-to-early-high-school age, I spent a lot of time with this one guy. He was exposed to shitty movies like this (he had cable before a lot of us had) and thus we’d end up watching shit movies like this on DVD, or a bad cam version someone had burnt for him. One night I was over with my folks, and while he and I watched Phantoms his mum, a piano teacher, and my mum, who can sing and taught the choir, played music and sung songs together. Loud enough that I thought that the music I was hearing was the one that was freaking out the characters. It means very little to anyone but me but that was very nostalgic for me to revisit.


Virus (John Bruno, 1999)

Would you believe I watched this before I made everyone breakfast on Christmas day? Virus is one of those movies that I had seen as a poster in the back of comic books and decided once years ago that I had to tape it from the TV when it showed up. It’s a very simple movie, but it stood out in my mind as one of the few horror movies that uses cyborgs as a source of terror, as opposed to zombies or other monsters. The other film from this time period is Star Trek: First Contact, never the less I suppose that the fear of technology element was a response to Y2K, but maybe not as this film was written by Chuck Pfarrer, a former navy SEAL who wrote this as a comic book in 1992 as Hollywood didn’t have the technology to create it competently back then, or so the reasoning was. Pfarrer is an interesting guy, who wrote many a screenplay and one of the first to write about the assassination of Bin Laden.

The plot is basic, as a living energy bolt takes over the MIR space station, and gets beamed down to a Russian research vessel. There it takes over the machine shops, churning out little robots before using the crew as spare parts. A salvage crew (Donald Sutherland, Jamie Lee Curtis (she considers this her worst film) and William Baldwin) come to take the ship and claim the money but inadvertently wake up the virus and begin bullshit all over again.

The movie has some great production work, with the robots and cyborgs and such, little techy gears and wires and animatronics and puppets and that sort of thing. But other than that, it’s a dud, but an ok way to pass the time. One other thing to note, is that this is one of the post-Once Were Warriors Hollywood films that Cliff Curtis was in. That movie sent him and Temuera Morrison to the states. Morrison ended up in Barb Wire (1996) and Speed 2 (1997) during the 90s, and Curtis did things like this and Deep Rising (1998), where he played another sea-fareing dangerous Maori.


Battle of the Damned (Christopher Hatton, 2013)

I saw a trailer for this and wanted to give it a try. It’s a pastiche of Escape from New York, Hatton’s other film Robotropolis (2011), and a series of zombie movie clichés. Dolph Lundgren’s character Max is sent into Singapore to locate a rich man’s daughter, and escape the zombie plague contained within. In aid of this he uses killer robots that the stumbles across.

This has all the makings of schlocky trash, which means it could be fun. It certainly has better CGI than Sharknado, that’s for sure, and there’s generally a level of care put into the production. It borrows a lot of shaky-cam from the 28 days films, and has a cold washout effect placed on all the visuals, which can get pretty boring.

Max is a pretty boring character, despite Lundgren’s presence. He isn’t cheesy or silly enough for him to be fun in the context. There are moments of making him a little bit interesting, like how he has to use old-man glasses to read maps, that kind of thing, but not enough to make him stand out in a cheesy, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon kind of way. One super-distracting thing for me was how badly Dolph runs now. Its like he has a really bad back, or knees, and runs with his shoulders back like it hurts, its really noticeable, as zombie movies have tons of running. The rest of the cast is ok, none of them really stand out. David Field, who is an amazing Aussie actor and does these great Oak commercials, is pretty substandard as the prerequisite human villain of the piece. He does get one amazing moment when he literally screams ‘BETRAYAL’ just before he’s killed, though.

All in all it felt like it was a waisted opportunity. The thing about these straight to DVD b-movies is that the marketing, the title or the trailer, is always infinitely more cheesy and more fun than the actual film itself. They had oppourtinities to make this film super self-aware and fun but it just doesn’t work. One character saying ‘serious nerd-gasm’ upon seeing the robots felt both out of character and forced. Now if the whole this was filled with this kind of cheese, it just might have worked.

Matt Doran, who plays Reese in the movie, lives near me, and I missed out on serving him at work recently. I was going to tell him I kind of enjoyed the movie, in a trashy way. I’ll have to wait until next time.


DOA: Dead or Alive (Corey Yuen, 2006)

I just wanted to watch something a little sexy on Christmas, so I thought about this. I never got around to seeing it when it came out, knowing full well that it was going to be shit, but I was more lenient in my assessment this time around.

The film is very simple, as a host of characters from the video game meet up on an island to have a fighting tournament. Of course there’s something a little bit more sinister going on, involving Eric Roberts as the main villain (a lovely surprise to see him here) but that’s because a movie needs a plot, whereas games don’t. In fact, why DOA is popular is because the designers of the original game worked out a way for the breasts to bounce on all the girl characters in a titillating way, and thus turned an otherwise unremarkable fighting game into something legendary. Hence the need for a beach volleyball scene, as in the game the breast bounciness was so appealing in the volleyball sub-game they made a whole volleyball game around it.
Its along these lines that I must mention that, while the girls are all very lovely, none of them have the soft, bouncy breasts of their videogame counterparts.

The fights are all great. The film is a mess in terms of focus, scope and visual styles (one character is a master cat burglar, the other like someone out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, etc.) but the fights are all well done. Its like you’ve made a car-racing movie; the plot and the acting can be crap, but if the car races look like shit then you’ve failed on a fundamental level. So at least it has that.

One scene I want to point out is a fight between the wrestler character Tina (Jaime Pressly) and her dad Bass (Kevin Nash). It was set up by Eric Roberts to be this whole thing as a fuck you to the characters, but it ended up being fun. The daughter beats the father and he’s proud of her, and gives her a big smile and a thumbs up. She doesn’t hate him but he embarrasses her like a proud father tends to do. It’s refreshing to see that, in Hollywood populated with post-Spielberg-daddy-issues-for-all-main-characters style directors, we could have a father and child ACTUALLY come to blows and have them still love each other afterwards with no moody angst. I mean, the movie is trash but that bit made me genuinely happy. That and all the hot girls.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson, 2013)

The movie looked great. And we saw it in 48 frames, which was amazing. The cast were all top notch, the action was amazing and the locations, the sense of scale, was staggering. Martin Freeman is a triumph as Bilbo, particularly in the scene where he meets Smaug and he makes the most out of every second. That’s just about it. I want to watch it again.


Faster (George Tillman Jnr, 2010)

Here’s a movie that suffers from a bad title. I don’t know what you’d call it but Faster is the shittiest name you could have used. It’s a movie that’s surprisingly involved, one of those kind of movies where you’ll just pop it on while you do other stuff and find that it takes a lot more to watch. The film has style, with a lot of great music. Some scenes have tremendous pace and energy, others don’t, and sometimes the film slows down the momentum to its detriment. It’s also a surprisingly long film.

The story revolves around The Driver (Dwayne Johnson), who gets out of prison on a trail of revenge over the murder of his brother. While on his rampage Driver is being stalked by The Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) who is out to stop him, and The Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) a slick assassin hired to take him out.

To the films credit it goes into great detail with these main characters, which is good as it gives them all strong motivations. You feel for all of them, and understand them, which is a rare thing for dumb action movies and that sort of thing.

(spoiler zone)
What I want to talk about mainly is the disconnect between the poster and the title, which seem to market this film to the Fast and Furious crowd, and the tone of the film, a ballsy 70s action crime revenge film. This also plays to the soft ending, where he gets his revenge and moves on with his life. The trailer shows us the original ending, more nihilistic, where I assume the Driver dies in battle with the Killer. Its even suggested that the Killer’s wife (Maggie Grace) kills Driver, if the movie stills are to be interpreted as such. This fits the tone of the film and the 70s crime dramas its imitating: the Killer could have chose to leave the Driver but is constantly testing himself and is obsessed with seeing who will win. A theme of the film is that not all people he wants to claim revenge on are unrepentant in their crimes, others have made amends and the path of revenge isn’t always righteous. As such he should have died at the end, confirming this message, that his path will ultimately end in destruction. They even have a scene where he visits his ex-girlfriend to find that she has a husband and a family to this new guy, and the child he had impregnated with her had been aborted. Thus he has no ties to anyone anymore, there’s only revenge. The final action scene suggested in the trailers was pretty sweet as well, unfortunately, so the end is a bit of a let down.

All in all though, it was worth watching. Especially for the first 10 mins alone.


wow I'm a lazy fuck. Happy new years

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