Viewed: January 5th
Plot: An examination of the widespread fan disenchantment with George Lucas.
The People vs. George Lucas would be better off entitled Fan Rage: The Movie, as the majority of this documentary is dedicated to various fans of various walks of life discussing why they feel that George Lucas has betrayed them. To the credit of those behind the documentary, it is full of information and remains eminently watchable from start to finish, but I was left feeling that it's a bit gutless. It opens up a huge can of worms on this topic, but can only watch them wriggle around. One can't help but deem this somewhat of a missed opportunity, as more could've been done beyond vilifying Lucas for 90 minutes.
Viewed: January 5th
Plot: A timid magazine photo manager who lives life vicariously through daydreams embarks on a true-life adventure when a negative goes missing.
Viewed: January 7th
Plot: Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna's sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.
The promotional campaign for 2013's Frozen has been selling an entirely different motion picture, which thankfully renders the finished product a delightful surprise. Whereas the trailers foreground both the action beats and the bumbling slapstick comedy, the heart of Frozen is something else entirely, and the resulting picture is staggering in its visual artistry, originality and heart. It's not just good, but genuinely great, a magical throwback to the Disney animated movies of the 1990s when princesses were the order of the day. Frozen will be a godsend for those who adore Disney princess movies, but it will also work for anyone seeking a fun time, as it's smart and playful enough to engage viewers of just about any demographic. This is Disney's best animation in years, and that's saying something with Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled also under the studio's belt.
Full review here
Viewed: January 9th
Plot At the age of 21, Tim discovers he can travel in time and change what happens and has happened in his own life. His decision to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend turns out not to be as easy as you might think.
Although About Time is only Richard Curtis' third directorial undertaking, the writer-director has been penning romantic comedy screenplays since the 1990s, developing a filmmaking voice that's sentimental yet affecting and thoughtful. Although it features a few rom-com clichés, About Time is probably the most original thing that the worn-out genre has offered up since 2009's (500) Days of Summer. Heartbreaking and often unpredictable, this is a smart, wonderful movie which provides entertainment for both males and females, not to mention it feels surprisingly natural when it could have been an artificial feature-length sitcom episode.
Full review here
Viewed: January 10th
Plot: When a structural-security authority finds himself set up and incarcerated in the world's most secret and secure prison, he has to use his skills to escape with help from the inside.
With action titans Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger finally teaming up to play major roles alongside one another in an action flick, many have decried that Escape Plan should've been produced twenty years ago. This, however, is pure bullshit - Escape Plan arrives at a time when we need it the most, with the two iconic screen legends delivering an exceptional beer and steak extravaganza in the midst of a dire cinematic era populated with superhero movies and CGI-laden blockbusters. Not just an old-school action film, Escape Plan is also a prison breakout adventure, another extraordinarily manly cinematic subgenre that we don't see enough of in this day and age. More pertinently, Sly and Arnie still have what it takes to deliver the goods, and it helps that this is not just a fun time but a genuinely good motion picture as well. Smart and well-structured, it's an incredibly enjoyable sit which belongs on the biggest possible screen, showing that you don't need a $200 million budget and CGI aplenty to create an exciting slice of cinematic escapism.
Full review here
Viewed: January 12th
Plot: Dracula, who operates a high-end resort away from the human world, goes into overprotective mode when a boy discovers the resort and falls for the count's teen-aged daughter.
Although the very concept of a CGI animated feature was once considered novel and special, we've reached the point of utter over-saturation. 2012's Hotel Transylvania looked like just another unremarkable kiddie fare at first glance, but thankfully it's a lot more fun than anyone had a right to expect. Directed by TV veteran Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of The Powerpuff Girls), the picture bursts with brilliant visual inventiveness, and the inherent silliness and quirkiness of the enterprise won this reviewer over by the end. It's not the best animated movie you'll ever see as its attempts at depth come off as half-hearted and perfunctory, but I laughed consistently and never felt bored. It's also more creative than most other pictures of this ilk. It's a good fun movie which kids will love and adults will not need to simply endure. Adam Sandler should only do animated movies from now on.
Viewed: January 13th
Plot: A widower returns to his hometown to search for answers to his wife's murder, which may be linked to the ghost of a murdered ventriloquist.
Dead Silence is the "black sheep" horror movie of James Wan's filmography. He caused such a stir through the polarising Saw in 2004, and 2010's Insidious won him much praise and box office success. And now with Wan's The Conjuring, there's just no stopping the guy, and it's interesting to look back at his other works before he was a big filmmaking name. Released in the same year as Wan's vigilante actioner Death Sentence, 2007's Dead Silence is the very definition of a merely decent little horror film. It's hugely atmospheric, to be sure, and there are chills throughout the picture which show us why Wan went onto greatness. However, the screenplay is less assured, with the police investigation subplot feeling completely Hollywood, and with a last-minute twist that comes off as hoary. Still, Aussie actor Ryan Kwanten is an amiable anchor worth rooting for, and the movie is slick enough to make for an enjoyable sit on a rainy evening. Horror buffs should probably seek it out.
Viewed: January 14th
Plot: Four interwoven stories that occur on Halloween: An everyday high school principal has a secret life as a serial killer; a college virgin might have just met the one guy for her; a group of teenagers pull a mean prank; a woman who loathes the night has to contend with her holiday-obsessed husband.
It took two years for Trick 'r' Treat to reach cinemas, as Warner Bros. delayed its 2007 release indefinitely... only to dump it with little fanfare in early 2009. Watching it, it's hard to fathom exactly the studio had little confidence in the movie, as it's a low-budget horror gem with more creativity than most of its contemporaries. Despite his directorial inexperience, Michael Dougherty marshals the picture with utmost confidence, moving between black comedy and straight horror with a sure hand. However, since this is an anthology of shorts, it's a bit hard to get invested in the film as there's no character to really latch onto. More pertinently, there are some sequences that simply don't sit right. Sure, we attend horror to be unnerved, but Dougherty crosses the line by letting us hear the sounds of cannibals ripping apart a bunch of kids...
Viewed: January 14th
Plot: The purportedly true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.
On New Year's Day of 2009, 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot by a nervous BART police officer who had apparently intended to use his taser, and the young man died in hospital soon afterwards. Fruitvale Station sets out to recount Oscar's last day, constructing a portrait of the young African-American who was working towards putting his life back together following a drug-related stint in prison. Trying to cover for losing his grocery store job due to tardiness, Oscar (played by Michael B. Jordan) spends his New Years Eve figuring out his future, hoping to land a steady job and continue providing for his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and young daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal). After celebrating his mother's birthday, Oscar and a number of his friends take a train into the city to watch the NYE fireworks, unaware that this will lead to Oscar's terrible fate at Fruitvale train station...
Full review here
Viewed: January 15th
Plot: When two brothers organize the robbery of their parents' jewelry store the job goes horribly wrong, triggering a series of events that sends them, their father and one brother's wife hurtling towards a shattering climax.
Now this is how you make a proper thriller. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead wound up being the final film to be directed by Sidney Lumet, a filmmaking mainstay who debuted with the exceptional 12 Angry Men in the 1950s before creating other memorable titles like Dog Day Afternoon and Network. It's a remarkable curtain-closer for Lumet's career, a twisty, hugely intense thriller carried by an exceptionally capable selection of actors. Lumet holds an astonishing control of the complex material, weaving a multifaceted psychological story chronicling a rapid decent into desperation and hell. Although a bit long in the tooth, Devil rarely loosens its grasp, with unexpected twists and turns maintaining interest until the bitter end. It's not Lumet's best feature, but it's definitely up there; this is a blistering, riveting slice of moral-smashing cinema that you will not easily forget. Devil is not a film you'll conventionally enjoy, but it absolutely deserves to be watched.
Viewed: January 17th
Plot: A new street drug that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return as no longer human. Can two college dropouts save humankind from this silent, otherworldly invasion?
John Dies at the End is the work of writer-director Don Coscarelli, who made a splash many years ago with the cult film Bubba Ho-tep, a story about an aged Elvis Presley fighting mummies in a nursing home with an old black man claiming to be JFK. Coscarelli's penchant for the peculiar is retained here, with a very offbeat and audaciously unique fantasy-horror-comedy which almost defies explanation. It works to an extent, with various scenes and set-pieces so wildly entertaining that you can't help but get swept up in the picture's innate weirdness. Nevertheless, it's hard to walk away entirely satisfied. It's clear that Coscarelli's vision was hampered by the lack of funds, leading to some cut-rate visual effects, and many scenes ramble on without much direction or purpose. It's worth seeing, but it falls short of its potential.
Viewed: January 18th
Plot: Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.
With film studios now desperately throwing as many brand name characters at the wall to see who sticks, it's Jack Ryan's turn to get another look-in. An iconic character from various novels by the late Tom Clancy, Ryan has previously appeared on-screen in four action-adventures, portrayed by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck to varying degrees of success. With Star Trek actor Chris Pine now assuming the role, and with a completely original story in place not based on any pre-existing material, 2014's Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a confident resurrection of the unique character, who's right at home in today's new high-tech world. Shadow Recruit is not as solid as Patriot Games (the best Ryan film) or The Hunt for Red October, but it's better than the character's other two cinematic outings, which is largely thanks to director Kenneth Branagh (last seen in mainstream waters with 2011's Thor), who creates an exciting ride despite the occasional dollop of Hollywood dopiness.
Full review here
Viewed: January 20th
Plot: A postmodern, surreal voyage into the bowels of "family" entertainment; an epic battle begins when an unemployed, middle-aged father loses his sanity during a close encounter with two teenage girls on holiday.
Escape from Tomorrow has a very interesting, unique gimmick. For his feature film debut, writer-director Randy Moore took consumer cameras and iPhones into Disneyland and Disney World to covertly shoot without permission, using the "Happiest Place on Earth" as the backdrop for a surrealistic, black-and-white horror movie that's fundamentally David Lynchian in its construction. There's not so much a narrative here, as Escape from Tomorrow is more of a series of vignettes in which Moore attempts to turn Disneyland into an unnerving maze of discomfort. And to Moore's credit, a few scenes do work. Problem is, the whole picture is seriously flat, as if Moore was so proud of himself for getting away with his fundamentally illegal footage that he forgot about the need for compelling dramatics. Furthermore, the movie cannot escape the look of an awkward student movie, with clumsy cinematography throughout, and ham-fisted green screen sequences for stuff that would draw too much attention in public. Audio mixing is dicey, too, as iPhones were used to record audio. Of course, unprofessionalism in itself is not a deal-breaker, but the movie itself is just not interesting enough. It doesn't add up to anything, and it feels like the work of someone who wanted to make something self-consciously clever.
Viewed: January 22nd
Plot: Norman Bates returns for this "prequel", once more having mommy trouble. This time around he is invited to share memories of mom with a radio talk show host, but the PYSCHO fears that he may kill again for his beloved is impregnated with his child and Norman cannot let another PYSCHO loose in the civilized world.
It has been stated before and it deserves to be repeated: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho did not need to be sequelised. But that didn't stop sequels from materialising, leading to the unexpectedly strong Psycho II and the underwhelming Psycho III. Released in 1990, Psycho IV: The Beginning is the final instalment in the Psycho franchise (save for the remake and the recent TV show), and the last motion picture to feature Anthony Perkins in his most iconic role. Although the last two sequels were released theatrically, Psycho IV debuted on cable television, hence it's a fairly low-key affair, for better or for worse. The good news is that this fourth movie is better than Psycho III, and is actually a fairly decent movie in its own right, but of course it falls far short of the timeless classic that spawned it.
Full review here
Viewed: January 22nd
Plot: Robocop saves the day once more. This time the half man/half robot takes on ruthless developers who want to evict some people on "their" land.
Viewed: January 24th
Plot: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.
2013's The Wolf of Wall Street is both an idiosyncratic Martin Scorsese picture and a considerable change of pace for the seasoned filmmaker. After dabbling in the PG-rated, family-oriented Hugo in 2011, Scorsese returns to his old stomping grounds here, creating an insane R-rated romp beset with profanity and nudity, not to mention scenes of drugs, alcohol and intense violence. Yet, The Wolf of Wall Street can also be considered Scorsese's first outright comedy, as it's predominantly pitched at a darkly comic tone and there are countless belly-laughs to be had. It's a satiric document of boys behaving badly, but Scorsese also permeates the production with plenty of gravitas, finding a perfect tonal balance to allow us to both take the material seriously and have fun along the way. Whereas Hugo was sweet and warm, Wolf is ruthlessly profane and hedonistic, and it deserves more acclaim than it appears to be receiving.
Full review here
Viewed: January 26th
Plot: The ghost of a teenager who died years ago reaches out to the land of the living in order to save someone from suffering her same fate.
Coming from Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali (late of cult films Cube and Splice), 2013's Haunter is fundamentally a feature-length Twilight Zone episode, and there's nothing wrong with that. While most contemporary horror films are built on flimsy, well-worn premises, writer Brian King cooks up a very intriguing little movie here which shares similarities to 2001's The Others but is otherwise an unpredictable, unique beast. At the centre of the production is an extremely strong turn by the reliable Abigail Breslin, who's nuanced and hugely convincing in the lead role. She emotes beautifully and seems consistently committed to the material, at times delivering acting that even some veterans would be envious of. Breslin is a huge asset, as is the gorgeous cinematography and generally handsome production values, ensuring that the movie is watchable throughout.
Yet, Haunter never quite achieves greatness. It continuously flirts with becoming a great movie, but it doesn't come together by the end, as the plot's complications begin to pile up and King struggles to find a way to close the thing. Due to this, the deus-ex-machina ending seems like a bit of a cop-out, more like something from a television episode than a major motion picture. Not to mention, it's hard to feel truly invested in Haunter - Breslin is amazing, but the movie still keeps you at arm's length. Despite its flaws, though, this is still a solid horror movie, effectively creepy and very stylish. Horror aficionados should seek it out.
Viewed: January 27th
Plot: A hard-partying high school senior's philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical "nice girl."
The Spectacular Now was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the two scribes who were also responsible for 2009's indie smash (500) Days of Summer (let's forget about The Pink Panther 2). In a perfect world, all romantic comedies should be penned by this pair, as their scripts are full of raw honesty and tender humour, eschewing a Hollywood approach to present a realistic rom-com tale that manages to be both satisfying and entertaining. Based on the acclaimed novel by Tim Tharp, and directed by relative newcomer James Ponsoldt, The Spectacular Now is simply enchanting. Most every scene throughout the movie's 95-minute duration possesses such a natural disposition that it often feels like we're watching real people unaware that they're being filmed.
Full review here
Viewed: January 28th
Plot: Ninjitsu master Casey is back and out for revenge when his pregnant wife is murdered.
Nobody will ever accuse 2009's Ninja of being a good movie from any serious critical standpoint, but it was a lot of fun, effortlessly recapturing the spirit of '80s actioners. Four years on, Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear is a worthwhile follow-up, retaining the characteristics that made its predecessor such an enjoyable little gem. Director Isaac Florentine returned to helm this instalment, showing yet again that he understands the appeal of star Scott Adkins, who's allowed ample opportunities to demonstrate his martial arts prowess. Adkins is an insane fighter, while the team of stuntmen surrounding him are just as adept, and Florentine lets the gorgeous choreography speak for itself by capturing the action in steady full shots instead of resorting to shaky-cam or rapid-fire editing. To Florentine's credit, too, the movie moves at a decent pace as well, and there is some great variety here with the story heading to Burma for a fair chunk of the runtime. Production values are still on the cheap side, but this stuff is all part of the movie's goofy '80s-style charm. Ninja II is good fun, and you don't feel guilty about enjoying it.
Viewed: January 28th
Plot: Documents one family's descent into darkness, using a compilation of found home-made footage.
Oh boy, here we go -- another "found footage" horror movie which purports to be real despite the inclusion of extensive end credits. Home Movie is another paint-by-numbers attempt at the subgenre, though it's not as bad as other films of this ilk. Due to the inherent limitations of found footage, it's not an entirely satisfying watch, and the question of "Why do they keep filming?" becomes prominent in a few scenes in particular. However, writer-director Christopher Denham does something creative by including the camera in the evil machinations, as the kids embrace the photographic equipment to record their sadistic activities. The first two-thirds of the picture are very rote, but things admittedly begin to pick up into the final act, leading to some very creepy, intense scenes. It doesn't have much replay value, and I probably won't ever watch it again, but it was a decent sit.
Viewed: January 29th
Plot: To obtain a supply of a rare mineral, a ship raising operation is conducted for the only known source, the Titanic.
Based on the novel of the same name by Clive Cussler, Raise the Titanic is very much a quaint product of its time. Produced merely a few years before the wreck of the RMS Titanic was finally discovered, this movie is a reminder of the world's former optimism about the state of the sunken ship, which was in fact completely obliterated when it sank in April 1912.
Although Raise the Titanic has been heavily maligned in the years since its release, and was a box office failure back in 1980, it's not as bad as its reputation suggests. It's an entertaining adventure film, and there's enough intrigue to see the picture through to its conclusion. Added to this, it's a visually and technically accomplished little movie, even if not all the special effects entirely stand up all these years on. Indeed, the massive model Titanic looks very impressive in long shots and in isolated sections underwater, but at other times it looks like the miniature that it is. But perhaps the biggest issue with Raise the Titanic is that all of the political underpinnings are simply not needed. A motion picture simply about finding, raising and trying to salvage the ship would be fascinating in itself; the motivation of raising the ship to find a rare mineral renders it on the iffy side, and there's very little payoff. Moreover, although John Barry's score is certainly flavoursome, it dates the film spectacularly and is overly intrusive, unable to sell the grandeur of the great ship like James Horner's score did for James Cameron's Titanic in 1997.
Another big issue is the acting. Richard Jordan is a charisma-free hero, while most everyone else around him is ordinary at best. The only actor to make a positive impression is the late Sir Alec Guinness, who's absolutely lovely despite his limited screen-time, coming across as warm and authentic as he reflects on his memories of the great ship. Raise the Titanic is overstuffed and patently ridiculous, but it's certainly fun enough, warts and all.
Viewed: January 29th
Plot: After being "marked," Jesse begins to be pursued by mysterious forces while his family and friends try to save him.
The Paranormal Activity franchise has been on the decline for years, reaching an all-time low with Paranormal Activity 4 in 2012. And now 2014's Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones arrives not in the trademark Halloween month, but in the dumping ground month of January, which is a red flag in itself. It's worth noting that The Marked Ones is technically not Paranormal Activity 5, as we'll apparently get that further down the line - this is instead a spin-off which aspires to launch its own separate series, because money. The director here is Christopher Landon, who has written every instalment since PA 2, hence he delivers the bare minimum of what's required for a PA film; a handful of jump scares, a malevolent atmosphere, a few unexplainable supernatural occurrences, and even the obligatory Katie Featherston cameo. But there's no sense of innovation here, only fatigue - The Marked Ones is painfully by-the-numbers, perfunctorily observing people who willingly put themselves in danger while refusing to put the fucking camera down. It's admittedly creepy from time to time which may be sufficient for some, but horror fans deserve a lot better.
Full review here
Viewed: January 30th
Plot: A pair of aging boxing rivals are coaxed out of retirement to fight one final bout - 30 years after their last match.
Grudge Match seems like an odd career choice for Sylvester Stallone, who seems determined to do as many old-school action movies as possible before the aging actor's bones give out. Yet here's a boxing dramedy directed by Peter Segal, who was last seen behind Get Smart and a couple of Adam Sandler movies. Thankfully, however, Grudge Match is a home run against all odds; a perfect feel-good flick which is funny and heartfelt in equal measures. The gimmick at the centre of the production, of course, is the fact that it pits Stallone against Robert De Niro, staging a boxing bout between Rocky Balboa and the Raging Bull at long last. Yet, Grudge Match doesn't call it a day with the gimmick in place; this is a mighty fine movie filled to the gills with hilarious dialogue, not to mention it has an interesting story at its core.
Full review here
Viewed: February 2nd
Plot: Marcus Luttrell and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd, in late June 2005. Marcus and his team are left to fight for their lives in one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare.
The last time director Peter Berg attempted a contemporary war picture, the result was 2007's The Kingdom, an average-at-best action film kneecapped by its overt patriotism and wobbly execution. Added to this, the rest of Berg's résumé fails to inspire much confidence, with titles ranging from serviceable (The Rundown) to interminable (Battleship, Hancock). How pleasantly surprising and refreshing, then, to witness 2013's Lone Survivor, which is arguably Berg's best movie. Based on a tragic true-life story, this is a powerful, harrowing war movie, permeated with enough gravitas and emotion to emerge as one of the year's most impressive motion picture achievements. It's very much the cousin of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, as it depicts a disastrous military operation with a violent, boots-on-the-ground sensibility.
Full review here
Viewed: February 4th
Plot: During WWII, a Soviet sabotage and recon unit encounter a Nazi bunker deep within the woods of Eastern Europe, where scientists are attempting to create a brand of super-soldier using corpses.
If you come to 2013's Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz simply seeking a fun, violent straight-to-video action diversion, then this little British movie delivers with confidence. While not as intense or as skilful as the original Outpost, this is a far stronger, more entertaining follow-up than 2012's slipshod Outpost: Black Sun. The good news is that Spetsnaz is a fast-paced, stylish actioner, relying on practical effects to sell the violence and bloodshed, rather than the cheap-looking digital shit that has been plaguing the STV action genre. Action scenes here are fluid and hard-hitting, and production values are competent for such a little project, if not exactly remarkable.
On the downside, Rise of the Spetsnaz is very simplistic, playing out like a single level of a Call of Duty spinoff. While fun in the moment, it lacks the bone-chilling intensity of the first Outpost. Zombie horror this is not -- Spetsnaz is an R-rated action fiesta which throttles ahead with maximum momentum. A prequel presented the Outpost masterminds with the chance to make a truly epic period movie tracing the origins of the Nazi projects, delving into how they achieved the invincible super-soldiers glimpsed in the original movie. Instead, we get a few small soundbites and a couple of minor tidbits, but nothing substantial. It feels like a missed opportunity on the whole, but Rise of the Spetsnaz is fun enough for unfussy action fans.
Viewed: February 5th
Plot: Following a deadly viral outbreak, private military soldier Max Gatling leads a handful of survivors and a ragtag band of robots against an army of the infected.
Even for a straight-to-video action movie, Battle of the Damned should be a lot better. Here's an R-rated zombie apocalypse movie with Dolph Lundgren and robots, and a simplistic set-up for what should be a devilishly fun time... But instead of an easy home run, it's a bargain basement diversion which would barely pass muster while drunk at 3am. It plays out like a bad second-generation Walking Dead episode -- and I'm referring to the lesser episodes of that hit-and-miss show.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Battle of the Damned is that writer-director Christopher Hatton was utterly unable to earn the picture's 90-minute running time. If this were a half-hour short movie, it would probably work a lot better -- as it is, the movie is padded out with some of the worst screenwriting this side of Twilight. Hatton relies on first-year film studies action movie cliches, with random non-sequiturs and even more random betrayals. Even worse is a "twist" that's introduced right at the end, and feels so haphazard and random that it was probably inserted a full five minutes before filming.
But all of this malarkey wouldn't matter too much if the movie was at least fun. Unfortunately, a handful of halfway cool moments aside, Damned is a goddamn bore. The zombies look like bored extras who were told to run around and fall down when prompted, and apparently these undead can be killed by means of choking and throat slitting. Huh? The robots, meanwhile, only arrive in the final third and are brought to life with awful CGI, even by STV standards. Worse, it's clear that the actors aren't even firing guns -- all of the muzzle flashes are very obviously digital, which detracts a certain visceral punch from the action scenes. Add to this the woefully shaky cinematography and the ugly, washed-out colour palette, and this is a boring fucking movie. It looks like a typical home-made YouTube production, except without the low-budget creativity that the best YouTube filmmakers exhibit.
Some STV movies are fun. Battle of the Damned is a misfire.
Viewed: February 6th
Plot: Two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks must put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to change the course of history - and get turkey off the holiday menu for good.
Remove a few of the fine details from the premise of Free Birds, and one quickly realises just how formulaic this CGI-animated endeavour really is. Indeed, you've seen a lot of this stuff before, and done better. Nevertheless, it's a credit to director Jimmy Hayward (a former Pixar animator) and co-writer Scott Mosier that the movie is actually watchable. Belly-laughs are rare, but the film often retains a healthy sense of humour, keeping its tongue firmly planted in cheek. And while it's not the most lavish animated movie in history, it definitely carries an attractive, polished look, and Hayward's sense of pacing is agreeable. There are dead spots, and there are times when you can literally hear the gears of the plot grinding into place, but it's a pleasant enough sit which will both satisfy the kids and keep adults moderately entertained.
Viewed: February 6th
Plot: Three sixty-something friends take a break from their day-to-day lives to throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas for their last remaining single pal.
Last Vegas will be inevitably branded as the geriatric version of The Hangover, as it's set in Las Vegas and features a cast of males who head to Sin City to drink and party. But rather than R-rated debauchery and immoral shenanigans, this party is intended more for the older demographic, with milder content and non-offensive humour. The picture was written by Dan Fogelman, who cut his teeth on several Disney animated films (Tangled, Bolt, and Cars) before penning the superlative romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. in 2011. Fortunately, the strengths of Crazy, Stupid, Love. are carried over to Last Vegas, with touching story dramatics and plenty of big belly-laughs, not to mention the characters at the centre of the tale feel remarkably real and lived-in. The big draw of the movie, of course, is the presence of Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, who keep the movie consistently watchable with their limitless on-screen charisma.
Full review here
Viewed: February 7th
Plot: A documentary filmmaker interviews the now-famous Trevor Slattery from behind bars.
I guess the cat is out of the bag by now: although Iron Man 3 revealed that The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) was in fact a drugged-up English actor named Trevor Slattery, All Hail the King reveals that the real Mandarin exists, and is still out there. Some may see this as a cop-out; I see it as Marvel having their cake and eating it too. The twist in IM3 was hilarious, and one of the more interesting things that Marvel has done with their cinematic universe. And now the fans can have their version of the Mandarin as well in future movies if this path is further pursued. Brilliant.
As for the movie? IM3 co-scribe Drew Pearce writes and directs this short, and it's a great deal of fun. Dialogue remains as sharp as ever, and Kingsley is a very funny presence as the goofy British actor. Moreover, Pearce brings a '70s vibe to the picture which was also present in IM3 -- both the opening and closing titles are '70s-esque, with retro music and design. But the centrepiece of the movie is a failed television pilot clip featuring Kingsley as Slattery. All Hail the King is great fun, with the same type of energy and wit that made the last Iron Man adventure such a home run. Plus, there's a surprise cameo that cannot be spoiled. It's just a shame that this short ends so soon. I want more!
Hey Marvel? Let Pearce make a feature out of the continuing adventures of Trevor Slattery plz.
Viewed: February 8th
Plot: A District Attorney has his life turned upside down when he's involved in a hit and run and another man is arrested for his crime and charged with murder.
Reasonable Doubt should be a great movie. The title and premise suggest an intense legal drama, perhaps something akin to 12 Angry Men or The Lincoln Lawyer. But in the hands of director Peter Howitt (Johnny English) and writer Peter A. Dowling (Flightplan), this is a motion picture which utterly rejects intelligence, adopting a B-movie thriller stance without much in the way of suspense or mystery, or even courtroom proceedings. It's a big red flag that the movie was unleashed in the dumping ground month of January, and received a video-on-demand release without much fanfare. Even taken as just a trashy thriller, it's still pretty unsatisfying, as it doesn't do enough to register as a fun guilty pleasure.
Full review here
Viewed: February 9th
Plot: In 2028 Detroit, when Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) - a loving husband, father and good cop - is critically injured in the line of duty, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer.
Now here's a familiar sight - a PG-13 remake of an ultraviolent Paul Verhoeven classic. First there was the critical and commercial failure of Len Wiseman's Total Retard back in 2012, and now we have 2014's RoboCop remake, which was spearheaded simply because MGM is in desperate need of a new money-maker. Several years ago, Darren Aronofsky was attached to direct a (presumably R-rated) RoboCop reboot, which would've been something worth seeing. Alas, in its current form, RubberCop is a flaccid action flick; soulless, generic, committee-designed pap. Written by Joshua Zetumer and directed by Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha (Elite Squad), it's riddled with plot holes, inconsistencies, vague character motivations, and iffy CGI. Even if it wasn't a remake of an '80s masterpiece, RoboCrap suffers from plenty of major issues as a standalone motion picture.
Full review here
Viewed: February 10th
Plot: James Cameron and Bill Paxton, director and actor of the 1997 film Titanic, travel to the final undersea resting place of the fated ship of dreams.
I've already reviewed the 90-minute extended edition of Ghosts of the Abyss here, but this is the first time I've watched the original 60-minute feature in 3D, so we're going to discuss that.
Abyss remains utterly spellbinding. The images of the Titanic wreck are breathtaking, all the more so in 3D when you feel as if you're on the ocean floor alongside James Cameron and Bill Paxton. However, the movie is very much constrained by its 60-minute mandated runtime, with the focus at times being put on the things that don't really matter in the long run. I wanted more images of the wreck, and I do have to wonder what a 60-minute dialogue-free 3D tour of Titanic's gravesite would've been like...
Viewed: February 12th
Plot: Conservative street cop DaSilva reluctantly agrees to terminate an international terrorist who has demanded media attention. But DaSilva's "at-home" tactics are very much put to the challenge.
Nighthawks is an entertaining little action-thriller, which is bolstered by the acting prowess of Sylvester Stallone, Billy Dee Williams and Rutger Hauer. The project was originally developed to be The French Connection III in pre-production, and the movie actually retains the tone, style and sensibility of the previous French Connection movies. There are a handful of great set-pieces here (for which Sly often insisted he do his own stunts), and the bloodletting is very entertaining, especially for fans of Stallone who enjoy seeing him do his trademark thing. However, it's not perfect. Stallone has said that Universal had little faith in the project and re-cut it quite extensively during post-production, and there are earmarks of studio interference on the finished product. Running at 95 minutes, the movie is slow-going in its first half, but overly rushed in the second half, leading to a climax that feels overly slight. It's a fun enough sit, but one can't help but wonder what a director's cut might look like.
Viewed: February 13th
Plot: Batman: Gotham Knight is a 2008 animated direct-to-DVD anthology film of six animated short films set in-between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
Presented as a collection of six short movies ranging from 10 to 15 minutes, Batman: Gotham Knight feels a bit like a succession of episodes from Batman: The Animated Series with superior animation and the freedom of a PG-13 rating. And there's nothing wrong with that. While the shorts do not exhibit the same level of intelligence or brilliance as the series, this is a strong omnibus for the most part, and a satisfying anthology of original Batman stories.
As with any anthology, Gotham Knight is uneven. However, the only dead spot is the very first segment, as it suffers from so-so scripting and dreadful animation which looks to have been constructed using Microsoft Paint. However, the other five segments are clear home runs, with gorgeous anime-inspired visuals and strong stories, not to mention the exciting, hugely fluid action sequences. For the most part Batman seems to be wearing body armour, too, as opposed to the simplistic fabric costume seen in the other Batman animated movies. It's the visuals which really excel here, as the design of the five latter shorts is stunning. Everything from the involving composition, the lighting, and the levels of violence here make for a really riveting sit. Plus, thanks to the omnibus structure, pacing is never an issue.
Another huge asset is fan favourite Kevin Conroy reprising his role as the Caped Crusader. Conroy remains an ideal Batman, and his stern delivery is far better than Christian Bale's mixed work in Nolan's movies.
For Batman fans, Gotham Knight is an absorbing treat, with enough exhilarating action highlights to make it a worthwhile sit. I enjoyed the hell out of it -- it's far more entertaining than The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises.
Viewed: February 13th
Plot: A young man blocks out harmful memories of significant events of his life. As he grows up, he finds a way to remember these lost memories and a supernatural way to alter his life.
The Butterfly Effect is a somewhat turgid affair which suffers from rocky pacing and features some uncomfortably graphic content, but it's a fascinating, wholly original fantasy endeavour which is worth seeing for its ideas alone. Playing out like an episode of The Twilight Zone, the movie features a number of standout set-pieces, and the feeling of hopelessness experienced by Ashton Kutcher's Evan is contagious. Kutcher was trying to put his dramatic chops to the test here, and to his credit he does a decent job, but he's not brilliant -- one can't help but wonder what an actor with more gravitas could've brought to the film. Still, this is a worthwhile sit, and it leads to a powerful ending.
Viewed: February 14th
Plot: After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), All is Lost is one of the manliest movies of 2013. It does not earn its manliness by including action, violence or cigars - rather, All is Lost is a low-budget man vs. the elements survival thriller which warrants its "manly movie" label through its depiction of one man's determination, grit and courage in a desperate situation. This is not exactly a plot-driven movie, but rather a cinematic experience - it allows us to experience being trapped in the middle of the ocean surrounded by nothing but water. If Life of Pi was stripped of its cloying philosophical bullshit, it would look a bit like All is Lost. The movie is also structurally similar to Alfonso Cuarón's critically-acclaimed Gravity, but with a far more interesting leading man in Robert Redford.
Full review here
Viewed: February 16th
Plot: A millionaire offers a group of diverse people $1,000,000 to spend the night in a haunted house with a horrifying past.
Horror remakes might be frowned upon, but a contemporary reimagining of the campy 1959 Vincent Price chiller House on Haunted Hill is a welcome idea. With the benefit of updated special effects and production values, and a strong cast, this House on Haunted Hill is an often thrilling effort with a number of unsettling set-pieces. It also gets credit for toying with expectations, as we're unsure about what's really going on: Is this another of Price's elaborate tricks? Is Price's wife behind this? Could the house be really haunted? However, this movie isn't perfect. Some of the digital effects look dated, there are some idiotic moments, and sometimes it's hard to get involved in the movie since there's not much substance here. It's an entertaining watch, nothing more.
Viewed: February 16th
Plot: A bold, amateur kidnapping goes wildly awry in this thrilling fictionalized account of beer magnate Freddy Heineken's 1983 abduction, which would go on to become one of The Netherlands' most infamous crimes.
Some people might not know it, but Rutger Hauer hails from Holland, and he moved onto English-language motion pictures after starting his career in Dutch movies in his native tongue. The Heineken Kidnapping wound up being Hauer's first Dutch movie in 30 years, and it's hard to think of a more ideal role for the ageing actor. As beer magnate Freddy Heineken, Hauer is exceptional, both sympathetic and intense, not to mention he actually resembles his real-life counterpart. There's no other Dutch actor who could've played this role so perfectly.
Fortunately, the movie built around Hauer is a solid one, with strong performances right down the line. The Dutch aren't usually perceived as major players in the foreign filmmaking scene, but The Heineken Kidnapping is a solid, well-paced little thriller with strong production values, convincingly recreating Holland during the 1980s. After a slow-burning first half detailing the kidnapping, it's gripping to witness a now-freed Heineken intensify as he seeks justice against those who kidnapped him. Moreover, the film's ambiguous moral stance makes for fascinating viewing, as it leaves a lot to chew on both during and after viewing. The movie is for the most part in Dutch, hence you'll need to read subtitles, but it doesn't make the experience any less engrossing.
Further character development for the kidnappers would have been beneficial, as sometimes it's hard to distinguish who's who, and names don't always stick. Also, the movie plays fast and loose with some aspects of the historical record, and the story does feel incomplete. Indeed, some aspects of the story are vague and unclear, and the movie cuts off abruptly. Some form of postscript would've completed the experience beautifully. Flaws aside, this is a great thriller, and it's recommended that you seek it out before the upcoming American adaptation arrives...
Viewed: February 16th
Plot: Jim is an average New Yorker living a peaceful life with a well paying job and a loving family. Suddenly, everything changes when the economy crashes causing Jim to lose everything. Filled with anger and rage, Jim snaps and goes to extreme lengths to seek revenge for the life taken from him.
The last Uwe Boll-directed motion picture I viewed was 2008's Far Cry, one of the filmmaker's trademark videogame adaptations, and I almost lost the will to live. Yet, Boll is still churning out flick after flick, and now we have 2013's Assault on Wall Street, an attempt by the German shit-purveyor to create a "mature" Taxi Driver-esque thriller. Tackling the 2008 Financial Crisis armed with outspoken (if not exactly groundbreaking) views about America's economy and Wall Street in general, Assault had plenty of potential, but it's squandered in the hands of the infamous ToiletBoll, who shows once again that he should never be trusted to write his own screenplays - or direct ANYTHING.
Full review here
Viewed: February 17th
Plot: Belle is a girl who is dissatisfied with life in a small provincial French town, constantly trying to fend off the misplaced "affections" of conceited Gaston. The Beast is a prince who was placed under a spell because he could not love. A wrong turn taken by Maurice, Belle's father, causes the two to meet.
Watching Beauty and the Beast serves as a potent reminder of how thoughtful and worthwhile animated movies used to be. An enchanting tale with valuable thematic undertones, it's another masterwork from the House of Mouse which belies its Disney conventions thanks to the strength of its script, storytelling and visuals. It still resonates all these years on, and it brings back nostalgic memories of Disney's hand-drawn animation heyday.
The sheer artistry of the picture must be admired. Although the animation is not as fluid as more recent animated productions, the designs and detail of the visuals are magnificent, with colourful supporting characters and a genuinely unnerving depiction of the titular beast. It's robust Disney filmmaking, carrying the sense that much love went into every single frame. And as for the 3-D makeover? It's not exactly essential, but the technicians have done a marvellous job considering that this is a 2-D hand-drawn animated feature. The characters seem to have genuine dimension rather than looking like cardboard cutouts, and the sense of depth is absolutely killer.
For a kids movie, Beauty and the Beast is surprisingly dark. The Beast is often terrifying for a majority of the picture, with a frightening temper, and it's only in the final third that his gentler side is brought out by Belle. It makes the finale all the more touching. Furthermore, the songs are wonderful throughout, contributing flavour to the visuals. This is the only hand-drawn Disney animated movie to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar to date; it went up against the likes of Silence of the Lambs and JFK, for crying out loud. It's easy to see why the Academy were so enamoured with this picture, as it's memorable, entertaining and affecting. Nobody should grow up without it.
Viewed: February 18th
Plot: A giant alien spider escapes from a military lab and rampage the city of Los Angeles. When a massive military strike fails, it is up to a team of scientists and one clever exterminator to kill the creature before the city is destroyed.
Studios like The Asylum have utterly desecrated the B-movie genre, churning out unwatchable motion pictures which are assembled with little in the way of wit or creativity. But every once in a while, a film like Big Ass Spider comes into view, reminding us just how much fun a low-budget B-movie really can be. Its sheer invention and sense of humour compensates for the obvious lack of funding behind it, and director Mike Mendez maintains a ripping pace before closing right before the 80-minute mark.
It's not exactly a subtle flick, but Mendez embraces the possibilities of the title with relish. Arachnid action is not exactly in short supply, with the film amounting to a handful of increasingly enjoyable set-pieces spotlighting the giant menace as it rampages around the city. The digital effects are not exactly remarkable, but they're believable enough, and tastefully arranged by Mendez. That said, though, Mendez does cross a line in one sequence when a handful of attractive innocents are slaughtered. It's enjoyable for a little while, but it gets uncomfortable and callous quite quickly. It's fun to see faceless soldiers getting offed in amusing ways, though, so it's fortunate that they comprise the majority of on-screen deaths.
The biggest assets of Big Ass Spider are, surprisingly, the actors. Greg Grunberg possesses the right amount of goofy charm to emerge as the story's unlikely hero, and he delivers the material at just the right tone. He plays it straight and never lets us know he's in on the joke, making him believable and surprisingly human. Equally fun is Lombardo Boyar as the token Latino, playing a security guard who teams up with Grunberg to take down the titular menace. He's a cartoon, to be sure, but he's an amusing presence.
Big Ass Spider is not a lazy, Z-grade effort which belongs on the SyFy channel. Rather, it's a delightfully enjoyable romp which provides thrills and laughs. The budget does show at times, and it's a formulaic creation, but it definitely works.
Viewed: February 18th
Plot: A fleet of ships is forced to do battle with an armada of unknown origins in order to discover and thwart their destructive goals.
There's a long-running online myth that, once upon a time, a respected chef attempted to perfectly replicate a McDonalds Big Mac despite not knowing the recipe, assuming it'd be easy considering that it's such a cheap, nasty, low quality burger. But although he tried his hardest, he could never get it just right. Battleship feels quite a bit like that infamous failed experiment - it's what happens when otherwise smart people attempt to purposely create a product that's below their abilities. In this case, director Peter Berg ostensibly set out to ape Michael Bay's Transformers formula by turning an '80s toy property into a dumb blockbuster with loud explosions and jingoistic military propaganda. But, alas, he cannot quite get there, leaving us with a second-generation Transformers that nobody wanted. Battleship wants to be a fun ride, but it's also exhaustively moronic and much too long, not to mention it features an incredibly bland acting ensemble who put in zero effort.
Full review here
Viewed: February 19th
Plot: A chronicle of Nelson Mandela's life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
The timing of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is impeccable, but not exactly by design. Filmed in 2012, the movie was in the works long before Nelson Mandela's passing in December 2013, rendering the movie more poignant than anyone had anticipated. Based on Mandela's autobiography, it's a strong, competently produced biopic of the legendary South African, adhering to the well-worn structure of delving into many decades of the man's life. It's also commendably honest and underplayed; rather than blindly celebrating Mandela and using manipulative filmmaking gimmicks to wring tears, the movie plays out in a matter-of-fact manner, which is for the best.
To be sure, the structuring of Long Walk to Freedom isn't perfect. It manages to explore a number of key events throughout Mandela's life with sufficient depth, but the script begins to rush once it gets to Mandela's release from prison, giving us the cliff-notes version of his rise to Presidency when a fuller portrayal would be more satisfying. Nevertheless, there's plenty to admire here, especially in the strong performances and robust production values. Idris Elba is pitch-perfect in the lead role, not merely mimicking but wholly embodying Mandela. He's such an engaging and charismatic presence, yet he's also understated, and manages to convince as the character advances through the years. Make-up effects are superb, as well, turning Elba into a splitting image of Mandela in his latter years. Naomie Harris is remarkable as well, full of passion and gravitas. This is predominantly an actor's movie, and luckily these two lead performances are immaculate. Luckily, too, the supporting cast are just as strong.
Long Walk to Freedom is extremely old-fashioned, and it manages to tell its story in an effective manner within the restraints of a PG-13 rating. It's an edifying historical tale of perseverance, and it will likely find a place in school history class in a few years. It also serves as a marvellous companion piece to Clint Eastwood's Invictus. It's not exactly Best Picture-calibre, but it's a sensational achievement nevertheless, immortalising Mandela's life on-screen at just the right time.
Viewed: February 19th
Plot: Inspired by the E.C. comics of the 1950s, George A.Romero and Stephen King bring five tales of terror to the screen.
Stephen King and George A. Romero. Those two names alone should excite any horror fan worth their salt, and entice them to watch this anthology of horror shorts. Creepshow is thick in atmosphere, flavour, and above all creativity, and the '80s sensibility only heightens its charm in today's cinematic age of try-hard PG-13 horrors. As with any film of this ilk, some segments are better than others, and this is very true of Creepshow. The Crate (about a dangerous creature escaping from a crate) and Something to Tide you Over (about Leslie Nielsen the serial killer) are by far the best that the movie has to offer, as they're genuinely creepy and above all engaging. Horror fans will find a lot to appreciate in them, especially in the gory sights of the former and the sight of funnyman Nielsen being a killer in the latter.
Unfortunately, the other three segments are not quite as successful. The first and last shorts are merely decent, but the second short, The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, falls far short of the mark. A segment starring Stephen King himself as a dumb hillbilly whose house is overtaken by alien moss, it falls short of its potential, thanks largely to the central character who's too dumb and irritating. King plays the role well enough, but Jordy is a fucking idiot and it's hard to care about anything that happens as a result. Still, none of this is enough to diminish the movie. Creepshow as a whole is a great deal of fun, and deserves to be seen by horror buffs.
Viewed: February 20th
Plot: The outback once more becomes a place of horror as another unwitting tourist becomes the prey for crazed, serial-killing pig-shooter Mick Taylor.
Despite its mixed critical reception, 2005's Wolf Creek transformed into something of a sleeper hit at the global box office, becoming a cult film with some revering it as the Australian answer to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Arriving nine long years after its forerunner, Wolf Creek 2 is not an unnecessary direct-to-video follow-up, but rather a robust, vicious blast of Aussie horror produced with a competent sleight-of-hand. The sequel was directed and co-written by Greg McLean, who masterminded the original picture before going on to create the 2007 crocodile thriller Rogue. Wolf Creek 2 is a slight step down in quality from its forerunner, but its a worthy successor which doesn't diminish its integrity, and feels like an organic continuation of the 2005 chiller. It's hard to imagine any long-time fans being disappointed.
Full review here
Viewed: February 23rd
Plot: Three British soldiers find themselves stranded in No Man's Land after a failed charge on the German Trenches. Set in France 1916.
Even though Australia is not exactly perceived as a leader in global cinema, war films are more or less a specialty of Aussie filmmakers. Peter Weir's Gallipoli remains a true classic, while more recent efforts like Kokoda and Beneath Hill 60 have managed to tell compelling tales with limited resources. 2013's Forbidden Ground (also known as Battle Ground) was a low-budget, reportedly self-financed endeavour on the part of directors Johan Earl and Adrian Powers, making it a passion project that should've yielded something special. Alas, the finished product is burdened by an amateurish feel pervading most every frame. Forbidden Ground is a flat, underwhelming effort all the way through to its core, and it's hard to see anything but wasted potential on-screen.
Full review here
Viewed: February 24th
Plot: A mermaid princess makes a Faustian bargain with an unscrupulous sea-witch in order to meet a human prince on land.
The Little Mermaid's release in 1989 denoted the beginning of Disney's renaissance era, leading to follow-up titles like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. Decades on, this animated adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story remains every bit as enchanting and enjoyable as it was when it first trawled into multiplexes. It's easy to appreciate the effort that evidently went into every second of screen-time, with each individually-inked frame making for a truly gorgeous experience bursting with magnificent visual artistry. There's a certain charm to this type of animation, and it remains enrapturing.
As with any Disney animated effort, The Little Mermaid is bolstered by a selection of original songs that amplify the movie's enjoyment value. The songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (including Kiss the Girl and the iconic Under the Sea) are still delightful and catchy, and the voice actors are marvellous right across the board. Voiced by Jodi Benson, the film's heroine, Ariel, is one of Disney's finest characters to date; she's both beautiful and sympathetic, and has an adventurous spirit that makes her easy to like. The colourful supporting characters are glorious as well, and Ursula the sea-witch (voiced by Pat Carroll) is a sinister villain.
Writer-directors Ron Clements and John Musker exhibit a careful attention to character development in the film's early stages, and maintain a sublime pace throughout. Admittedly, the film's exciting climax does seem to end a bit suddenly, making the third act feel a tad rushed, but this is about all there is to complain about this animated gem. The Little Mermaid is the type of effortlessly entertaining motion picture that both children and adults can enjoy time and time again. No matter your age, it's easy to give into the movie's charms, with its touching coming-of-age story, tender humour and entertaining characters. With its taut runtime, it just flies right by, and it does just about everything extremely well.
Viewed: February 25th
Plot: Nearly a year after a botched job, a hitman takes a new assignment with the promise of a big payoff for three killings. What starts off as an easy task soon unravels, sending the killer into the heart of darkness.
Any preconceived notions of Kill List being akin to a Jason Statham action vehicle are disposed of quite early into the picture. Masterminded by Ben Wheatley, this is a purposely obscure British horror film which announces its uniqueness with images of eerie cult symbols and contracts signed in blood. What's also interesting about Kill List is the way that it switches gears with astonishingly effective precision. Starting out as a low-key domestic drama before becoming an assassin thriller, the movie eventually dabbles in visceral horror, leading to an intense finale that's not easy to predict. And, amazingly, it all comes together without feeling schizophrenic or contrived.
Wheatley's penchant for the abstract is supported by strong storytelling and robust technical specs across the board. Kill List was produced for a scant $800k, yet it carries a slick appearance, and the sense of atmosphere is gripping at times. Furthermore, the acting all-round is impressive, particularly Michael Smiley who's a far cry from his amusing work on Spaced. Admittedly, the movie isn't entirely satisfying, and its ambiguous nature renders it something that you appreciate more than you conventionally enjoy, but it's nevertheless a solid flick. As long as you're looking for an effective chiller and don't mind heavy themes or disturbing violence, Kill List is recommended viewing.
Viewed: February 26th
Plot: When a Former Special Ops commando visits Pompeii, his wife and daughter are trapped as Mt. Vesuvius erupts with massive force. While his family fights to survive the deadly onslaught of heat and lava, he enlists his former teammates in a daring operation beneath the ruins of Pompeii.
Credit where credit is due: The Asylum's business model always fools me. Although the infamous studio continually releases stinker after stinker, I frequently come back for more, simply because they have a tendency to entice me with awesome plot set-ups. Alas, they also have a more notable tendency to fuck up awesome ideas, and here we are again with 2014's Apocalypse Pompeii, a "mockbuster" which hopes to be confused with Paul W.S. Anderson's big-budget Pompeii. High on concept but low on creativity and funds, the resultant picture is at least marginally better than crap like Sharknado, but it's far from genuinely good. In fact, the whole thing is just so dreary and lacklustre that it's hard to muster up any strong feelings towards it.
Full review here
Viewed: February 27th
Plot: Two American college students on a walking tour of Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists.
The term "classic" is thrown around very loosely these days, but An American Werewolf in London is very deserving of the label. Watchable werewolf movies are few and far between, so it's refreshing to watch a motion picture like this, which manages to be both terrifying and hugely enjoyable. Indeed, John Landis might have been an oddball choice to direct a horror movie, but he was the perfect man for the job.
Rick Baker won an Oscar for his make-up here, which remains just as breathtaking and convincing all these years on. The infamous transformation scene has never been matched, and the "less is more" approach to the beast only amplifies the terror. The sense of atmosphere is often bone-chilling, too, with Landis staging a number of standout set-pieces. The movie wears its R-rating on its sleeve, never baulking from gory killings or dismemberments. And the sound design is hugely effective, particularly the wolf noises that may give kids nightmares. The movie is also funny -- there are a plethora of "moon" songs in the soundtrack (Blue Moon, Moondance, Bad Moon Rising, etc), and some of the dialogue is side-splitting.
The actors are all sensational, particularly David Naughton as the protagonist of the piece. Jenny Agutter is also on hand, and she's absolutely stunning; beautiful and talented. One of the picture's crowning touches is its ending, which flaunts some excellent wolf action before closing on a sudden, humorous note. You half-expect the movie to finish happily, but it pulls the rug out from underneath us in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. It's a satisfying way to round out this classic cult horror movie, which remains just as solid in the 21st Century as it was back in 1981. I can't believe it took me so long to see it.
NOTE: This list was abandoned in April 2014. Due to changing circumstances, I had no computer or laptop access for months, only my phone, and it was impossible to maintain.