Category Archives: movies

The most visually stunning horror/thriller of all time?

Click on the image to buy a Region 2 (European or multi-region only) DVD

Out of all the horror/thriller movies I’ve ever seen, Tarsem Singh‘s The Cell (2000) remains for me the most truly stunning in terms of spectacle for both costume and set design; both are the most beautiful and disturbing designs and creations I have ever seen. Costumes (Eiko Ishoka) and set design (Tom Foden) are themselves worthy of Oscars (though in 2001, it was sadly only nominated for Best Makeup).  (By the way, if you want to buy this movie in the DVD Region 1/US version, click here.)

Besides that it is incredible visually, the film also has one of Jennifer Lopez‘s stronger performances, and deals with an endlessly fascinating subject: the serial killer/psychopath. In this film, however, you experience the reality of one psycho’s world, fully realised. It makes Hieronymus Bosch‘s paintings of the 15th century seem like gentle fairy-tale pictures in comparison.

Unfortunately, while the early part of the following clip — in fact the official Trailer — here does not do the movie full justice in terms of its visuals, it does give you a vivid sense of the growing tension and creepiness that is to be enjoyed. However, from the 1:13 mark (1 minute 13 seconds into the clip), you are then given some real treats as to what’s in store for you.

Not only is it Jennifer Lopez’s best film (likewise, Vince Vaughan‘s; the last time on film he looked sexy!), but also I think it is genuinely unique in terms of the quality and depth of how it presents the inner world of a particular serial killer psychopath. While the film firmly places itself within the serial killer genre – the quality of the imaginative visuals makes it stand out across all the genres of horror, drama, thriller — and the surreal.

As the cliché, goes: Hand on heart…It is an amazing, brilliant film, and greatest tour de force hats-off to Tarsem Singh, the director, and the original script writer, Mark Protosevich.  As for Tom Foden and Eiko Ishoka — you are frickin fabby fabpants fabulous and anyone who says otherwise is a frickin kumquat!

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Leonardo: STOP. Grow up and act accordingly. Puhl-lease?!

Hello, mummy. I'm a child star playing an adult playing an actor playing an adult. Yippee!

Sorry, Leonard DiCaprio, but when is anyone in Hollywood ever going to tell you what everyone in the audience has been thinking for a long time? So let me tell you on behalf of us all: Stop! Yes, please stop accepting roles that you look too young to perform and are too young in terms of acting experience to interpret. Now either a Hollywood producer mogul or famous director is making you believe that you can perform roles years beyond how you actually can appear in the films, or that both that and/or you agree according to some misinterpretation of your own acting ability that you can perform roles way beyond your years. But you keep on doing this – you keep on repeating this same mistake and supposedly great movie directors who should know better – Scorsese and Spielberg – can’t get the magic He-Makes-Box-Office-Stardust out of their eyes. So they follow the money and keep on giving him roles he can’t handle. Now, given that we, the audience, are supposed to believe you have star power for umpteen years, now, and the fact that you can deliver a Box Office success in its first weekend, I fear that you/the Hollywood producers/your gullible fans, don’t question one fundamental observation:

Yes, you seem like a lovely, sincere, genuine guy but you ARE TOO FRICKING YOUNG FOR MOST OF YOUR ROLES. STOP! Let me give you some examples:

1. The Aviator (Howard Hughes) (2004). Real age of DiCaprio:  30. Actual age on screen, even within “aging make-up over 2 hours?” 24!– HELLO?! – CONVINCING AS A TEENAGE HOWARD but, NOT beyond that. Yet the film was supposed to convince us that you were the real shindig Howard Hughes through formative years? Anyone who has seen real-life photos of Howard Hughes during the period that you depicted him will know that you came as close to depicting him as I do to Marilyn Monroe (and I wouldn’t get close to be compared favourably to her butt-crack, if you’re asking)

2. Inception (2010)  – I’m a cool guy that has seen it all, but I look 19 years old. Hello?!

3. J. Edgar (2011)  A 25-year-old actor giving the impression he’s the most formidable and powerful presence on the American political scene. Intimidating, scary and paranoid-inducing to those who really knew him. YET:  In this movie, de Caprio looks like a young hick nobody and about as intimidating as a fart in a breeze.

4. Shutter Island (2010): Come on: We, the audience, are supposed to believe that this teenager not only has survived World War II, but has lost a wife and two children AND is a full-blown detective before we end up realising he’s a fricking nut?Hell-loooo!?

5. The Departed (2006): A guy from the wrong side of the tracks becomes an under-cover cop and is part of a major conspiracy-busting ring. Really? But he looks 12 years old! Hello!

6.  Catch me if you can (2002):  So he’s supposed to be the youngest white collar brilliant criminal ever at such a young age. OK! I give up. It’s based on a true story. But does Frank have to appear so consistently young throughout the entire two-hour movie? No!

7. Blood Diamond (2006):  Yes!  Well-meaning, well-deserved as a script. an important plot and themes. But are we really supposed to believe that this late teenager is a highly-experienced diamond smuggler. At the age of 25? Maybe there are such smugglers. But does he convince you? Thought not.

I won’t go on further. Since DiCaprio has appeared on the acting/Hollywood scene, he has increasingly, relentlessly been given roles way beyond not only his acting ability, but far beyond any credible age he can play; until he stops looking like a twenty-something, he should stay clear of any character outside of that age range. Maybe in another fifty years when he grows some real hair on his face instead of baby fluff. Nuff said.


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Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: Fabulously camp & great fun

Did you see Guy Ritchie‘s first movie interpretation of the legendary genius detective, Sherlock Holmes? Well, whether you did or didn’t, This reviewer will vouchsafe this sequel: it’s wonderful.

But if you don’t like camp, homoerotic relationships, silliness, relentless plotting, amazing (but difficult-to-follow) action sequences – smothered with humour and a smorgasbord of stars having a lot of fabulous time, then don’t see this.

It is great, tremendous fun. A perfect film for the festive and any other holiday season. Well written (by the same writers as the first, but they’re both even sharper and camper than with their first script), Ritchie once again proves that, without the clutches of Madonna, he is and has and does creative, fun, tremendously entertaining films as good as they get.

I loved the first film – saw it several times on DVD. This latest? Better – by far. There are those who were somew legalistic and conflicted in their praise (including the usually superb Philip French. Problems with it? Sure: there’s a mutual metaphorical intellectual masturbation couple of scenes between Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ (and, well, the world’s) evil nemesis, as he and Holmes verbally scale ever greater heights in praising the other. Two gigantic egos doing battle to praise the other out of actual narcissistic self-value; as if to say, I’m so brilliantly clever, I therefore can understand how brilliant clever you are. No YOU are clever. No, nay, YOU are more clever. And so it goes on. Tiresome and unnecessary. Flatulent and fatuous and unnecessary (as if F & F are necessary – ahem).

But, but:  It is hugely entertaining. Visually gripping, a rich plot, consistently fun and engaging performances and more crack-of-the-whip speed than it takes to switch on a light bulb. A thousand times. That’s it’s only other problem: Ritchie is known for his montage sequences and tremendous, sophisticated, clever action scenes, but the time between one split moment and another, even within a montage, is so fast, hundredths of a second, that one’s human eye (or, at least mine) can’t keep up with the visual escapades. This is doubly frustrating, because you want to see the action sequences and what fiendish elements that Holmes sees to be demonstrated in at least sufficient slow motion (is half a second per split screen really too much to ask?! – yes, it seems to Ritchie), yet you are prevented from doing so because everything happens so fast that you are unable actually visually to comprehend exactly what happens. This was the dominating flaw of the first Ritchie Sherlock Holmes in 2009 and the problem is exponentially increased to ridiculous proportions in this sequel.

Actions literally happen so fast that, even in supposed slow-motion (actually not true in itself, as the slow-motion is only a sequence between extremely fast editing that is less than a fraction of a second, preventing you from understanding exactly how marvellous, potentially, how superbly executed, the scenes are).

But, BUT! If you enjoy camp, fun, silly, clever, witty, lighthearted humour; if you appreciate the quality of two grown men who love each other yet cannot name it – their love – fully – but demonstrate it fulsomely in action, if you want action galore and more, then … God yes: I recommend this movie.  Tremendous fun, quick, sharp; it’s the fastest and most entertaining two hours and nine minutes I have ever passed in a cinema. Highly recommended.  If you can’t swallow camp, however, and silliness and tend to take Holmes as an icon beyond dispute or disrepute, then this film isn’t for you. Downey is Downey and what he does best (but the same as in every other film); Law plays foil to Holmes superbly; Rachel McAdams is convincing and Watson’s dog has more magic than Lazarus himself. And Professor Moriaty, as played by Lane Pryce (probably most familar to us in his fab role as Lane Pryce in the Mad Men series) is excellent; albeit Lane Pryce with a beard. If you delight in a delicious sense of humour and frivolity and just simply want to enjoy a couple of hours of maximum fun in the dark room of a cinema: this is that film that will deliver on such expectations. In other words: highly recommended. Have fun, laugh out loud on a few occasions (all the audience did, including me, when I saw it, and enjoy cinema as it is meant to be when it’s not serious but has underlying important messages: great entertainment, well done, well-told and well worth the price of admission.


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Really? A clever, witty, FUN movie about the US Supreme Court?

Click on the image to buy (multi-region/US version only)

While some hold the view that Hollywood is mostly incapable of producing worthwhile, meaningful films on important matters, First Monday in October  is one of those glorious exceptions that would engage even the most cynical critics of Hollywood.  In other words and in this instance: Yes, this really is a clever, witty, fun movie on the  US Supreme Court.

Made in 1981, this wonderful film addresses serious issues in a way that is thoroughly engaging. The script and the acting are sharp, focused and entertaining and the plot is, interestingly, actually subversive of the view held in the 1980s by male-dominated politics – well nothing’s really changed on that score – ahem – that a woman shouldn’t hold a place on the US Supreme Court of Justice:  This fab film sets the record straight with a firm ruling, and makes clear that such a notion is absurd as it is sexist.

Not only is this a deeply intelligent, humane, funny, well-thought out movie – it is also, continuously, wonderfully engaging – most especially from the star performances of Walter Matthau and Jill Clayburgh – besides how it addresses the issues of politics, gender and power.

The great dialogue races along, all the while covering a range of subjects as they’re presented in legal form before the Court, in turn thereby addressing genuinely important matters, US capitalism and free speech among them.

First Monday in October is a joy from beginning to end (and, as with all great Hollywood movies, all supporting roles are entertaining and well-cast), besides being a marvellous way of learning about the machinations of the Supreme Court, constitutional politics and the  ‘battle between the sexes’.  The one disappointing note is that it’s only available to buy in the NTSC/US/multi-region DVD version – a great shame and it doesn’t seem to be online (please do let me know if you find a version!).

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Filed under feminism, First Monday in October, Jill Clayburgh, movie classics, movies, politics, Walter Matthau, women's rights

La Vie En Rose – A stunning movie of Edith Piaf’s life

Click on the image to buy the Region 2 DVD with free worldwide delivery. To buy Region 1, click the link at the end of this review's first paragraph

Unsurprisingly, yet entirely deserved, the actress Marion Cotillard, won the Oscar for Best Actress for her truly bravura performance, capturing Edith Piaf’s sad, tortuous, pained, joyous, complex life (the other Oscar won was for Best Make Up – I presume for when the creative talent had to age her dramatically, plus the colour of her skin from liver deterioration).  A powerful film (2007) about one of the most important 20th century singers, it captures your heart, not only by the quality of the performances all-round of a troubled artist and her peers, but also by the quality of the script by Olivier Dahan (also the director), and Isabelle Sobelman. (Click here to buy the Region 1 DVD.)

It’s a no-holds-barred interpretation of Piaf’s life; it includes Piaf’s most important performances, and makes clear from the outset how her own unique talents led her from the gutters/street life of Paris — typically the way she earned enough just to keep her friend and her going in food, wine and rent – to become the most celebrated singer of France.  Her first success due to Louis Leplee, a Parisian club-owner, played by Gerard Depardieu, fortunately not to be seen peeing anywhere or then later making a pathetic, self-excusing joke of it and himself (oops, sorry,went wobbling off-track there, but my eldest sister said if she was there when he did that, she would have knocked him out. Erm, you don’t want to mess with my sister — I certainly don’t; bless you, Cat, if you’re reading this — eek!), whose instinctive sense for real talent invites her to audition when he finds her singing on a street corner.  Of course, an honest film about Piaf must include her painful self-destruction, and this the film doesn’t shirk from nor does it exploit it salaciously/tabloid-style; the portrayal of Piaf apparently lacking any real core self-worth (contrary to appearances, her fame and some of her grandiose Diva-like gestures), is painful to witness.

However, where she seemed consistently to be resilient, defiant, strong and always true to herself was on stage, singing; in that specific and hugely important regard, it is fair to regard her as a feminist icon; through everything she experienced, she never let go of her voice, its passion and her commitment to singing despite how she felt or what else was going on in her life.  That in itself is remarkable and worthy of recognition as a powerful form of creative and determined self-recognition of value. Unfortunately, as with many truly talented individuals, as with anyone of us, frankly, one positive aspect of one’s life does not necessarily colour those other parts of ourselves that may be negative. After all, who among us can claim to be fully integrated and cohesive selves.  Yet this characteristic failure (a decidedly human one) should not deter us from celebrating Piaf’s incredible attributes as a true artist with a genuinely unique voice (and how refreshing to use the much overused/abused noun/adjective ‘unique’ and know its application here is sincere; unlike endless products and companies and rubbish modern-day ‘celebrities’ who have nothing in common apart from not being unique at all but the opposite).

Beautifully filmed, poignant,  touching with astonishing ‘renditions’ of Piaf’s singing, it is a modern classic about an incredible, enigmatic, troubled artist. It’s difficult to imagine a better film being made about Piaf’s life or a finer performance.  Mind you, I thought that when I first saw Capote (2005), with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s amazing interpretation, only to be then bowled over by Toby Jones’ version in Infamous (2006), the latter film also including a broodingly delicious, intelligently menacing, conflicted Daniel Craig in what I regard as his best performance to date.


Filed under drama, Edith Piaf, Gerard Depardieu, movie classics, movies

Love, Hate, Robert Mitchum and The Night of the Hunter – a movie classic

It’s probably more than likely that most cinema goers now, especially those who love the sinister psychological horror/thriller genre, may view this 1955 movie as no longer carrying the shock or disturbance that it once did on release, even though it’s loosely based on a true story about a man who presents himself as a Reverend and, in his mind and social behaviour, seems to believe this genuinely, preaching the word of God in small town middle America. But all the while he’s in fact on the look out for widows with money, so that he can steal it and kill them. And this view exists, despite the novel being a bestseller at the time and beyond its publication date of 1953; and despite the fact that it was written by a respected and talented American novelist, Davis Grubb, and the novel has since been reprinted in various editions, continues to remain in print and is definitely worth reading.

“Love beats hate every time.” (Subtext: “I’d LOVE  to strangle your hateful neck with my bare hands. Ohyeh, Praise Jesus.”) Please note: if you click on the image, you’ll be taken to the famous scene in the movie in which Mitchum’s character explains the fight between “love” and “hate”.

Novelist Davis Grubb, taken in 1985

Besides which — given this is, primarily a movie appreciation (but what’s a movie without a great script and often a novel to base itself upon?! — the film continues to be recognised as a Hollywood classic and The Library of Congress has deemed it important enough to merit preservation of the original film stock; no small achievement in itself).

But why is the film so great?  Because of the wonderful dialogue, co-scripted along with Laughton — via a number of rewrites and detailed instructions from him — by the famous American writer, James Agee (author of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), who was also the screenwriter for The African Queen).  For just one example of the glorious, compelling writing and acting and sinister undertones of the movie, just click on the DVD cover on the right; it’ll take you to what is probably the most famous scene in the film (note of course, it’s a sound file, if you happen to watch it at work!).

Even more impressive is the way the film’s made: the photography, the scene set ups, the camera angles, the amazing inter-play of light and darkness – all these are terrific.

And, without a doubt, it has one of the two most compelling performances that Robert Mitchum ever gave on-screen (the other, to me, being, Cape Fear (1962) [Region 2 DVD]; click here for a Region 1 DVD, which also is a Collector’s Edition with special features).  At the start of the film, the Reverend Harry Powell is in jail and his cellmate is telling him about a stash of stolen money he has kept hidden away on his farm. And so the plot kicks off, as Mr Powell gets a twinkle in his eye and you know where he’ll be heading next. It’s no coincidence that his character is both sinister and charming, subtle yet bold, dark and light and, yes, full of love and hate, his favourite words to preach upon and that are tattooed on his knuckles, one word on each hand, using them in over the top thespian fashion in what you know is a many-times recited miniature morality play. Nor is it a coincidence but rather a lovely symbolism, obviously, that, like the black widow spider, his evil character kills widow women. Mitchum’s is a genuine tour de force performance.  (Shelley Winters is also in it, but her acting is at the time, while conveying a certain naivety of the character and charm, is nothing compared to how brilliant she became as an actress over the next 10 years and beyond, marked especially by her vivid realisation of a selfish, vindictive, cruel mother in A Patch of Blue (1965), which was the benchmark role for her against which many of her later acting was measured against.)

Besides which, it is astonishing to think it was directed by an actor without any earlier experience of directing a movie before: by that truly brilliant actor, Charles Laughton (FYI, that link takes you to the official excellent site for Laughton – it’s very comprehensive in terms of its resources, links, etc.).  When you consider it’s a cinema classic and that it was his first film, inevitably Citizen Kane by Orson Welles springs to mind for the same reasons.  And yet typically Kane is ranked as the best film of all time and appears often as No.1 of the top 100, and The Night of the Hunter doesn’t appear anywhereat all in that list just linked.

Charles Laughton: One of the best actors of his or any other generation. A master of the art and genius one-time director of The Night of the Hunter. We love you, Charles!

However, at least there’s compensation in knowing that Laughton remains justifiably appreciated as one of the best actors of all time.  (I believe you can see some of his superb performances/films on YouTube, such as The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Mutiny On The Bounty (1935) (BTW, a far superior version than Brando’s in 1962), and Hobson’s Choice (1954).)

Laughton’s own intimacy with – and deep understanding of – acting and the cinema — of photography and lighting, especially— and his distinctive intelligence and sophistication – are all reflected through this film. It also remains a powerful, troubling one and, while not shocking to contemporary audiences in terms of portraying a killer/psychopath, it remains an accomplished, enthralling movie in its own right.  I commend it to all cinephiles.

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Road Kill – A psycho thriller in The Hitcher movies tradition

Just when you thought it was safe to drive in nowheresville America ...You sh*it yourself because of a freakin psycho serial killer nut on your tail

This movie is an evolution of earlier films of this type, beginning with Spielberg’s first smash-hit, Duel (based on a script by the fabulously talented horror writer Richard Matheson, and starring Dennis Weaver in what is arguably his best role ever; utterly convincing as a mild-mannered travelling salesman who unintentionally angers the driver of a huge truck and for the course of the film, is on a hell-bound journey while ironically trying to escape this demon), as well as the classic first Hitcher film scripted by Eric Red, Hitcher (1986), which is a cracking whizz of a thriller, with Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and he also wrote The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting (2007), but sadly, even though it still has C. Thomas Howell (still looking good), this is far from scary and doesn’t merit comparing with the first.

In other words, adolescent innocents are stalked by a psychopath while driving on the highway. While this is a gripping movie — the tension, the acting, the dialogue all work — the one element that frustrates, overwhelmingly so, is the brother in this film, who brings on/invites all the trouble that later occurs.

For that reason, you’re continuously anger/p*issed off that the idiot older brother, has initiated the trouble because of his dumbass prankster behaviour. Having said that, it’s still a tightly plotted, high testosterone movie, with great performances by Steven Zahn — the idiot older brother/prankster — Paul Walker — convincing in his role, and has a certain charm on-screen that you can’t help but be drawn into — and the always gorgeous, multi-talentedly convincing Leelee Sobieski (and who, no matter how many years pass by, seems to keep her teenager looks; I think there’s a picture in an attic somewhere.  The psycho of the film is, appropriately, relentless and terrifying; like all psychos, bless em: nothing will satisfy him save death of those he stalks and, if necessary, himself. But he’s too clever by half.

The only really damning criticism of the film is that Steven Zahn/older brother is such an absolutely irritating frickin moron, So irritating, because you know he initiated the nightmare with his prank that he insists his younger brother should play, that the rest of the film remains on a level of tension entirely to do with the audience’s awareness that he‘s caused the problems in the first place. I just wish they’d found another way of getting chased and terrified by the psycho, because Zahn has a natural charm on-screen and it’s a shame to spend time during the movie thinking “turdbrain!” “MUPPET!”, and “why does his brother go along with this cosmic-sized a-hole?!”

But please do be reassured the movie is genuinely a fuel-driven, high-testosterone, relentless ride of tension and anxiety and the dramatic scenes, of which they are plenty, are played very well. (Interestingly, too, J. J. Abrams co-wrote this script; it must have been one of his early ones, but you can see already his understanding of dramatic plot developments and intense scenes; no wonder he’s since become one of the darlings of Hollywood – one thinks of his scripts for Mission Impossible 3 (Single Disc), Region 2, not viewable outside Europe  — this is the link for Region 1 DVD version, besides his originating Lost, the inexplicable worldwide smash hit series, which I did admittedly want to smash and hit often.)  Worth watching?  You betcha.  Just make sure you keep your seat belts on when you see it, because it’s one helluva ride.


Filed under horror, movies, thriller