Robert Altman injects a healthy dose of fun into the war film genre by focusing on the lives of a group of surgeons operating on wounded soldiers in the Korean War. Very little action or horror is seen, instead focusing on the pranks that the surgeons play on each other led by Donald Sutherland’s rebellious Hawkeye and Elliot Gould’s suave Trapper. Altman was always great at directing ensemble casts like this and here his unique directorial style makes for a joyously anarchic experience full of fast, overlapping dialogue and scenes witnessed from a distance. Fast-paced and chaotic, it’s one of the few war films that can be described as enjoyable.
Shame list total: 1,222
After the grueling The Descent, writer/director Neil Marshall went back to the rough and tumble of Dog Soldiers to deliver a surprisingly fun if brainless actioner. After a mutant virus wipes out a large percentage of the population of Britain, those infected are rounded up and confined to Scotland where they are walled in and left to rot. Years later, the virus reappears in London, so ballsy Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is sent up to Scotland to find a cure, and has to fend off the cannibalistic survivors. There is some terrible dialogue, and with shades of 28 Weeks Later and Mad Max 2 it’s very derivative and slips incomprehensibly into other familiar territory such as Gladiator and The Lord of the Rings. Still, it’s exciting and gory (Sean Pertwee’s Dr Talbot comes to a particularly unpleasant end), and it benefits from some great make-up and effects, and an explosive car chase.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
The reason films based on comics are often bettered by their sequels is that they no longer have to go through the laborious origins of the characters. This is certainly the case with Hellboy II. With a smoother story and script than its predecessor, it’s less a comic book movie, and more like a soap opera with monsters. After the villainous Prince Nuada (an almost unrecognisable Luke Goss; yes the one from Bros, now quite the fantasy baddie) breaks an ancient pact between humans and creatures, it’s up to the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence to step in and stop him from resurrecting the Golden Army which will destroy the human race. There’s a greater sense of teamwork here than in the first movie, with Selma Blair’s fiery Liz and Doug Jones’ Abe Sapien given much more prominent roles. It’s Ron Perlman, though, who returns as the titular anti-hero who really shines. He seems so comfortable in his red skin and gets the chance to both kick ass and drunkenly emote convincingly. Writer/director Guillermo del Toro has created a much more balanced film this time around with more comedy, some great action and even a bit of social commentary. However, it’s the clarity of del Toro’s vision and his magical sense of imagination that make the film so enjoyable.
Taking its cue from George Lucas’ American Graffiti, Barry Levinson’s Diner is heavy on nostalgia and light on plot. This time, though, the focus is not teenage anarchy, but twenty-something angst set against the backdrop of Baltimore in 1959. Five college-age friends hang out for two hours and chat. That’s pretty much it. There are occasional high points in which all of the great ensemble cast get the opportunity to shine, from Tim (Kevin Bacon) drunkenly trashing a nativity scene to Shrevie’s (Daniel Stern) hysterical record collection rant. But a flabby script and some semi-improvised acting make the whole far less than the sum of its parts.
Shame list total: 1,223
Man on Wire (2008)
Filmed with the panache of the best crime thrillers, James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire is a brilliant study of passion and drive. As soon as he saw images of the yet-to-be-completed World Trade Centre, the young Philippe Petit (resembling a cross between Gollum and A Clockwork Orange’s Alex DeLarge) makes it his life mission to tightrope walk between the twin towers and in 1974 he finally fulfils his dream. Marsh mixes actual footage with re-enactments, and interviews with everyone involved to create a tense portrait of this ‘artistic crime of the twentieth century.’ Admirably the film never mentions the fate of the twin towers which makes Petit’s feat such a worthy tribute to them, and it’s the crazy Frenchman’s boundless enthusiasm and fearlessness that makes the film so watchable.
Sex Drive is what happens when you cross American Pie with Road Trip and The Sure Thing, which, as anyone with a childish sense of humour knows, is no bad thing.
Ian (Josh Zuckerman) is eager to lose his virginity and drives across America with his two best friends Lance (Clark Duke channelling Jack Black via Rainn Wilson) and Felicia (the delightful Amanda Crew) in the hope of popping his cherry with a girl he met online.
OK, so it’s nothing new (most of the main characters seem to have crept in from other similar films) but there are plenty of belly laughs in the first half after which the plot kicks in a bit too heavy, and heads towards a slightly too complicated finale. Still, it’s a perfectly enjoyable teen comedy thanks mainly to star turns from James Marsden as Ian’s homophobic older brother and Seth Green is great as a sarcastic Amish mechanic.
Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) has broken up with his wife and has virtually become a hermit. Unwilling to commit to anything or even come to his best friend’s engagement party, he has become a closed book. But when a friend convinces him to attend a seminar hosted by crackpot Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp), he embraces positivity and says yes to everything. Literally everything.
Such a high concept plot (based on Danny Wallace’s typically madcap autobiographical book) should be open to some disastrous results, but the film’s relentless cheer is half-assed and contrived. It’s all too convenient – most of Carl’s adventures end well with a few nasty exceptions (running out of petrol after agreeing to drive a tramp to a park, having an elderly neighbour repay him for putting up some shelves in the most wince-inducing fashion).
It’s a good fit for Carrey and reminiscent of some of his more successful films like Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty, but he seems to be getting more annoying with age. Zooey Deschanel plays the kind of trademark ‘ditzy’ girl that always shows up in films like this to – she’s so kerrayzee that she rides a scooter and carries around a Polaroid camera. The stand out is Rhys Darby (known to many as the manager in New Zealand sitcom Flight Of The Conchords) as Carl’s nauseatingly cheesy boss.
While it’s possible to see Yes Man as a critique of organised religion (when you blindly agree to everything without ever giving it any rational thought, are you absolved of responsibility? Do you cease to be human?), that’s probably being generous. It’s certainly an optimistic film, just not a very memorable one.
I didn’t watch any films last week and I don’t even have a plausible excuse. I am a very naughty boy, and I’m sorry for being so lazy.
Snow Cake (2006)
Alex (Alan Rickman) reluctantly gives young Vivienne (Emily Hampshire) a lift from a roadside cafe somewhere in snowy Canada. En route the car gets hit by a truck, killing Vivienne but leaving Alex unharmed. Wracked with guilt, Alex visits Vivienne’s highly-strung autistic mother Linda (Sigourney Weaver) to apologise and ends up staying with her until after the funeral. What with death, disability and a frosty setting, it may sound bleak, but Snow Cake is rewarding, captivating and imbued with much more humour than you might expect (Linda is unselfconsciously honest which makes everyone around her hilariously uncomfortable). Alex and Linda’s relationship is warm and believable, thanks to some great performances – Weaver is pure magic while Rickman manages to be both grumpy and sinister (two states he normally gives separately) in equal measures.
The Evil Dead (1982)
Five friends take their car to a remote hut in the woods for a weekend. Things take a macabre turn when one by one they are colourfully possessed by the titular ghouls leaving only Ash (Bruce Campbell) to fend them off. The story of Sam Raimi’s debut is a fascinating one: Raimi, Campbell and Robert Tapert were school friends who went everywhere together and shared a love of the cinema. When they decided to make their own movie, they did it all themselves and gave birth to a unique horror franchise. Full of grungy charm and squelchy suspense, with a bit of tongue in cheek humour, The Evil Dead is an enjoyably nasty experience.
Shame list total: 1,224
Apart from a couple of visits to the cinema, I didn’t watch any films this week due to moving from Guernsey to Bristol… which makes those cinema visits all the more impressive since most of the week was spent packing boxes and saying goodbye to friends and family. But now that I’m in Bristol, I’m planning on stepping the shame list up a gear and packing in more films each week.
Catherine Hardwicke’s adaptation of the first in Stephenie Meyer’s series of novels has ‘target audience’ written all over it, but like Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings before it, its appeal spans genders and generations.
Teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves to Forks, Washington to live with her father and immediately becomes a fascination to her new schoolmates. In a welcome break from the tradition of this kind of film, she finds it easy to make friends but is more interested in that oh-so-dreamy guy in her science class, the brooding Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison). When she discovers that the boy comes from a family of vampires, that only deepens her obsession with him and they soon start a relationship. But she soon finds out that being the mortal girlfriend of a member of the undead has its problems.
You know where it’s headed from the get-go so there are no massive surprises. However, it’s filmed and performed with such panache that spending two hours in the company of these characters is actually an enjoyable experience.
It’s also surprisingly original. As a film aimed mainly at teenage girls, it’s more romance than horror – think The Lost Boys meets Romeo and Juliet. The wintry setting lends the film an appropriately cold look. It’s lightly sprinkled with humour (when Bella meets Edward’s family for the first time they are disarmingly normal) and of course, it’s scorchingly romantic – as with many vampire films, it’s really all about sex but it’s handled tastefully.
That doesn’t mean it’s a sissy film. It may be a little slow to start but once it gets going it really has bite. Because it is essentially a chick flick, you almost forget that it’s about vampires so when the film eventually bares its teeth, it almost takes you by surprise.
Not perfect by any means (the film’s turning point occurs during a weird and poorly judged baseball scene and some of the special effects are a bit dodgy) but for a film that arrived with little fanfare, it’s impressive how well people have taken to it. Perhaps that’s not surprising since the books’ popularity and influence has been compared to Harry Potter. Expect sequels.