MONSTERS

10 Films that made me Laugh, Cry and Squirm in My Cinema Seat in 2010

So now that we’ve covered what I missed and got those that under-performed out of the way it’s time for my top ten films of 2010. Just to qualify the list before we start – these are the ten films I enjoyed the most at the cinema this year, I make no claims for their artistic merit. They provided me with a good time at the cinema and it’s in order of my level of enjoyment that I’ve listed them in here.

My Top 10 Films of 2010

10. Date Night – That this is the only comedy on my list probably shows that it’s not my favourite genre. Having said that I do like a good laugh, although my sense of humour may not be considered normal (I find Jerry Lewis funny and I’m not even French). 2009′s top grossing comedy The Hangover barely raised a smile so the fact that Date Night is on here may mean it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I loved it. Steve Carell and Tina Fey share wonderful onscreen chemistry and perfect comic timing making a convincing married couple and the film moved at a brisk pace so if any jokes did fall flat you didn’t have long to wait for another. There were also some amusing cameos from James Franco and Will i Am, not to mention Mark Wahlberg sending up his beefcake image.

9. Red Hill – If there were marks for originality Red Hill would score a flat zero. There is nothing in it’s plot or characters that we haven’t seen before, it’s a revenge western albeit one that’s transported to modern day Australia. So why did it make my top 10? Well I do love a good western and, despite it’s lack of originality, Red Hill is a good western. It contains three strong performances – True Blood‘s Ryan Kwanten as a young police officer just arrived at his new small town post, Steve Bisley as the town’s veteran police chief and Tommy Lewis as the escaped convict on his way to town with vengeance on his mind. Red Hill may cover familiar terrain but sometimes it’s nice to go for a ride over familiar ground.

8. Solomon Kane – When it comes to the current crop of British horror directors Michael J. Bassett has always seemed to me an also-ran, not in the same league as Neil Marshall or Chris Smith. Until Solomon Kane that is. Bassett does an excellent job of bringing the grim world of Robert E. Howard’s Puritan adventurer to the screen. For all his good work though it’s James Purefoy’s performance as Kane that’s the main reason the film makes my list. When I first heard Purefoy had been cast I was disappointed. I’d always imagined Kane to have a gaunt appearance, in my head he looked liked Peter Cushing in Twins of Evil only younger, and Purefoy looked a bit too well fed for my liking. What a pleasure it was to be so wrong! Purefoy is now Kane in my minds eye and I just hope we get to see him in the role again.

7. The Killer Inside Me – Another film that made my top 10 due to an excellent central performance. Few films have done such a fine job of taking us inside the mind of a psychopath as The Killer Inside Me. Michael Winterbottom’s film is uncomfortable viewing and yet, thanks to a career best performance from Casey Affleck, it’s also totally mesmerising. Good as he was in Gone Baby Gone it’s as disturbed individuals in this and the underrated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford that Affleck really excels. It also contains some of the most disturbing violence I’ve seen this year…and I’m a regular FrightFest goer and not easily shocked.

6. Kick-Ass – Would Kick-Ass have been half as much fun without Chloe Moretz foul mouthed Hit-Girl? Lets just be glad we didn’t have to find out and enjoy the scene-stealing performance of an actress who is sure to go on to bigger and better things. I just hope Matthew Vaughn can do as good a job rebooting the X-Men franchise as he did at adapting Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s graphic novel.

5. The Disappearance of Alice Creed – One of the best debut movies and a wonderfully tense and inventive thriller that manages to make that old chestnut – the kidnap that doesn’t go to plan – feel fresh. There are only three actors in the film and they are all outstanding but Gemma Arterton deserves special praise. She was pretty awful in the equally awful Quantum of Solace and forgettable in the equally forgettable Clash of the Titans but give her a decent part and she really rises to the occasion, giving a brave performance as the titular abductee that’s probably my favourite by any actress this year. Director J Blakeson does wonders with no budget and limited locations, I can’t wait to see what he does with a broader canvas.

4. The Crazies – Okay we should get this out of the way at the start – I’m a huge Timothy Olyphant fan. He’s the star of one of the best shows currently on television, Justified (if you haven’t seen it you should, it’s a cracking modern day western) and he really should be a bigger star than he is. Okay now we’ve got that out of the way lets talk about The Crazies. Back when I first saw this at the cinema I tweeted that it was the best remake since Carpenter’s The Thing and I think I’d stick to that bold statement. While I love Romero’s films, hey I even own Bruiser, The Crazies isn’t his best film by a blood drenched country mile. In fact it comes somewhere in the mid-ground, not bad but not as well realised as the concept really deserved. Director Breck Eisner takes that idea of a town going crazy and, with the help of an excellent cast, creates a horror film that generates it’s scares the old fashioned way, by creating characters you actually care about and putting them in life and death situations.

3. Buried – Ryan Reynolds is a damn fine actor. I make that point because the majority of his work has barely scrapped the surface of his ability, so most people may not be aware of how good he can be. In Buried he is required to carry the film because he is the only actor we see, all the other performances are vocal only. If he’d been nominated for an Oscar it would have been well deserved. Buried is also an extremely well directed film, Rodrigo Cortès doing a great job of capturing the claustrophobic atmosphere that Reynolds character finds himself in.

2. Monsters – Back when I wrote about my biggest disappointments of 2010 I mentioned that there were two alien invasion movies made by directors with a special effects background. Monsters is the one that got it right, although to call it an ‘alien invasion’ movie is stretching things a bit. There are aliens, and they have invaded part of out world (unintentionally, it has to be said) but it’s not the aliens that the film is concerned with. Monsters is actually a love story that uses the aliens and the infected region of Mexico they occupy as a backdrop on which to hang its tale of two people finding each other. If Werner Herzog made a science fiction love story I imagine it would be something like Monsters. Gareth Edwards’s movie is one of the most assured debuts for years and a wakeup call to Hollywood – you don’t need to spend millions to make a great movie, you just need a great concept, talented actors and, most importantly a director with a vision.

1. Inception – But if you have a great concept, talented actors and that visionary director and you throw millions of dollars into the pot as well you could end up with Inception. I’m not going to write much about Inception, it was one of the biggest films of last year and you’ll probably have seen it already and have your own opinion. What I would like to say is a big thank you to Christopher Nolan for performing his own inception on Hollywood, inserting an original idea into a summer of sequels and remakes, showing that you can make a summer blockbuster without aiming your film at the lowest IQ in the audience. That Inception has had people talking about it long after they’ve come out of the cinema is the antithesis of the usual multiplex reaction where you’re lucky if you can remember what happened by the time you’ve made it out of the car park for the journey home. I for one am glad that the next Batman movie will be Nolan’s last, it means we’ll get more original Nolan, and that has to be a good thing.

And there we have it, my top 10 films of 2010, and completed just before the end of January! 2011 has started off mixed, so far I’ve seen one film that may be in the number 1 spot when I do this list next year (Black Swan) another that could make the top ten (The Fighter) and one that’ll be hard to beat for the title of biggest disappointment of 2011 (John Carpenter’s The Ward). We’ll see what the rest of the year brings.

I seem to have caught the blogging bug again, just about averaging my one post a week target. The Film7070 journal will continue shortly with week two featuring The Shout from 1978 and I’ll be making a start this weekend on the first of those classic Western TV show reviews I mentioned at the start of the year (it’ll be season 1 of Gunsmoke, the grandaddy of ‘adult’ TV westerns).

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Cinematic Disappointments

Apart from how many I’d missed (see previous post) the other thing I noticed when looking through 2010′s cinema releases was how many of the films I did see turned out to be major disappointments. That’s not to say they’re bad, well not all of them anyway, but they didn’t live up to the expectations their stars/directors/hype engendered. So here’s the second top 10 of 2010 -

The 10 most disappointing films of 2010 (once again in no particular order)

Ninja Assassin – I really enjoyed James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta, a film with more depth than the usual action blockbuster. I excused him for The Invasion on the grounds that it wasn’t his film, he was just brought in by the studio after Oliver Hirschbiegel failed to give them the film they wanted (although taking the job was perhaps not a great career move). But Ninja Assassin, that he carries the can for. Despite some entertainingly gory fight scenes McTeigue managed the near impossible task of making ninjas boring.

Edge of Darkness – What should have been the triumphant return of Mel Gibson to the big screen after a seven year hiatus proved to be anything but, although given later real life events it wouldn’t really have mattered if this was a five star classic, Mel’s career would still be in the toilet. Edge of Darkness also featured some of the most obvious stunt doubling I’ve seen in a film for a long time, so even if Mel does manage a comeback with The Beaver it’s definitely time for him to give up on the action hero roles, or at least find a decent stunt double.

The Wolfman – When I heard Benicio Del Toro was to take on the role of Lawrence Talbot I had high hopes for this. Del Toro was the only actor I could think of who could even come close to capturing the mournful sense of tragic fate Lon Chaney Jr brought to the original. Sadly production problems and a cartoonish performance from Anthony Hopkins, along with unnecessary changes to the originals plot, resulted in the usual Hollywood ham-fisted remake. Only Hugo Weaving comes away with any credit, his “Pint of bitter please” scene being the films highlight.

From Paris with Love – While not without some entertainment value this was a huge step backward for director Pierre Morel after Taken. In fairness though the blame must fall more at the feet of the writers than the director, who once again showed that he’s one of the top action directors working today.

Clash of the Titans – Louis Leterrier, another great French action director, also turned in a misfire last year. Titans has it’s moments, but ultimately falls flat because of an uninspired and charisma free performance from Sam Worthington (I wouldn’t follow this guy to the pub if he was offering free beer let alone on a life and death mission). British thesps Liam Neeson and Ralph Finnes trying to out ham each other didn’t help either.

Robin Hood – Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, a pairing that will be likened in years to come with the great cinematic actor/director teams like Wayne and Ford, De Niro and Scorsese…well I’m sure that’s what they’d like to think. Five teamings so far but only Gladiator comes close to classic status. Robin Hood though marked there nadir. There’s so much wrong here that it’s hard to pick a low point although Cate Blanchett’s arrival, in full armour, at the head of a band of pony riding kids, to the films big final battle with the French has to be a contender. Robin Hood wasn’t just a disappointment, it’s an outright bad film. Let’s hope Russell doesn’t get cast in the Alien prequel.

Let Me In – If you can read there’s no reason to see this over the original Swedish Let the Right One In. Despite good performances from two talented young actors this offers nothing new and must count as a failure for director Matt Reeves who showed such originality and flair with Cloverfield, two things that are sadly absent here.

Skyline - Last year three guys with a special effects background directed two ‘alien invasion’ movies. One of them did it right, the other two made Skyline. The Strause brothers showed what they were capable of with Aliens vs Predator – Requiem…and yet I still walked into the cinema for Skyline.

We Are What We Are – Who’d have thought cannibalism could be this boring? Critics may have loved this Mexican horror-movie-come-family-drama but when I saw it at this years FrightFest it was all I could do to stay awake, and it was on at four in the afternoon! I’ll stick to the other side of the Rio Grande for my cannibal families from now on I think.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – There was much to like about Edgar Wright’s adaptation of the cult indie comic, it gave the director a chance to show the visual flair that Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz didn’t really require. And clearly there was much pent-up flair waiting to burst forth, filling the screen with colour and the air with sound. Ultimately though I was reminded of Huey Lewis’ line in Back to the Future – “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud”.

So there we have last years biggest letdowns.

Coming next it’s time for the good stuff – My Top 10 Films of 2010.

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Top 10s, New Year’s Resolutions and all that jazz…

Over two years since my last post! No prizes for guessing what my New Year’s resolution was. Apart from a couple of guest reviews over at Blogomatic 3000 this is the first thing I’ve written in all that time, so I apologise if I’m a tad rusty and for the lack of new content. If things go to plan (and resolutions don’t get broken!) I promise (threaten?) there’ll be something new here at least once a week. There’ll also be a bit more focus than in the past, with the key ingredients being reviews of low budget horror movies and classic western TV shows, a strange combination I’ll grant you but hopefully both will find an audience.

It’s traditional as the new year starts to look back on the previous twelve months and pick your favourite films, and that was my original plan here, but as I was looking through the list of films that garnered a cinema release last year I realised how many of the year’s more critically acclaimed films I’d failed to see. And not just critically acclaimed films either, there were more than a few films that were never going to be the critics’ darlings that nevertheless had been high on my list of ‘must see’ films but, for one reason or another, they’d passed me by (and still do, despite many now being out on DVD and Blu-ray). So, I thought, why not do a ’10 films I wish I’d seen in 2010′ list? That way people wouldn’t think I just didn’t rate Shutter Island as highly as the films in my top ten, they’d know I just hadn’t seen it.

So before my ten favourite films of last year (and the 10 most disappointing too) here then (in no particular order) are the 10 films released last year that I wish I’d seen:

A Prophet – The French have blown me away in recent years with their horror and action movies and this year they should have done the same with the crime genre had I not failed to see this and the equally critically lauded Carlos. I did see Mesrine though, and that would have made my “10 best” list had I not ruled it out as I didn’t see it at the cinema.

Shutter Island – Scorsese reunited with DiCaprio after the triumph that was The Departed, with supporting turns from Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow…how did I miss this? Okay I admit to not being a Mark Ruffalo fan, but that’s hardly a good excuse not to see this…but it’s the only one I’ve got.

Centurion – Despite the disappointment that was Doomsday I’m still a Neil Marshall fan and eagerly awaited this, yet it too passed through the local multiplex without me.

Toy Story 3 – Now this one I have a good excuse for skipping – 3D! I don’t get 3D. I don’t mean I don’t understand its appeal, I just literally don’t see it. Poor vision in my left eye means it doesn’t work for me, and I object to having to pay extra and wear silly glasses just so I can see the film in glorious 2D! Okay rant over, on with the list.

Black Dynamite – One of the best trailers of the year left me with a strong desire to see what looked like a pitch perfect blaxploitation spoof. A strong desire…but not strong enough apparently.

Winter’s Bone – The critics raved about Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in this bleak indy thriller. Me? I forgot to go.

The Town – Ben Affleck apparently shows that Gone Baby Gone was no fluke and gives one of the best performances of his career to boot. Sadly I was suffering from a cinematic overdose after FrightFest and couldn’t generate enough energy to go.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – The third part of a trilogy that I’d already seen parts 1 and 2 of…it’s not hard to see why this was on my must see list. Missed due to ill health, bad weather and screenings that were either on too early or too late. See, sometimes I do have a good excuse!

Machete
– Another one with a fairly decent excuse – it played for just one week at all three local cinemas. What film plays for only one week, especially one as hotly anticipated as this one?

The American – George Clooney as an assassin in an intelligent thriller that’s more interested in character than explosions? Like The Town this came out post FrightFest or I’d have doubtless jumped at the chance to see it.

And just for the record, I haven’t seen The Social Network but I just can’t get excited about it. Maybe it’s my aversion to Facebook, or my disappointment with Fincher’s last two films (yes I know I’m in the minority, but hey what’s blogging for if not to give voice to opinions that may not follow the public or critical herd?), or his pending adaptation of perhaps the most pointless and unnecessary Hollywood remake ever?

So those are the top films I didn’t see, some of which would doubtless have made my top 10.

Coming next: The 10 Most Disappointing Films of 2010

“Then she’ll carelessly cut you and laugh while you’re bleedin”

So here we are at the start of my third week walking to work (although last week I only walked twice) and the Shuffle seems to be getting attuned to my brain patterns (an unadvertised bonus feature). Picking up on the fact that I was late for work this morning it gave me a more up-tempo trip than usual and eased me in gently for the return trip this evening.

There:

  • “Bad to the Bone” – George Thorogood
  • “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” – The Firm (Not the guys who did Star Trekkin’ but the ‘80s supergroup featuring Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers)
  • “Silver and Gold” (Live) – U2
  • “Tangram (Future Part)” – Tangerine Dream (This makes surprisingly good walking music)
  • “See You in the Next One (Have a Good Time) – The Verve
  •  “Mexican Cantina” – Fabio Frizzi, Franco Bixio & Vince Tempera (From Carambola a 1974 spaghetti western)
  • “I Still Miss Someone” – Johnny Cash
  • “Siamese Twins” – The Rainmakers (It’s a shame Bob Walkenhorst hasn’t released any new material since his 2003 solo album The Beginner but at least many of Bob’s live shows, plus several vintage Rainamkers gigs, are available for download at Internet Archive)

And back again:

  • “She’s Got a Way” (Live) – Billy Joel
  • “She’s Always a Woman” – Billy Joel (The Shuffle was obviously in the mood for some lurve on the way home)
  • “Whiskey Burnin’” – Larry Crane (Crane sounds surprisingly like John Mellencamp, though perhaps not that surprisingly given that the song is from Mellencamp’s film Falling From Grace )
  • “I Love You” (Live) – Ocean Colour Scene (I’m partial to OCS’s retro pop/rock but this dirge sounds like Roy Orbison on a three week bender)
  • “Twenty One Years” – Marty Robbins
  • “Too Many Ways to Fall” – Arc Angels (Charlie Sexton + Doyle Bramhall II + Double Trouble’s rhythm section, Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon + Little Steven on production = classic blues rock album)
  • “Motorcycle Driver” – Joe Satriani

Today’s post title comes from Billy Joel and “She’s Always a Woman”.

“Ooh baby, wanna put my log in your fireplace”

The second week of walking to work didn’t get started until today (yesterday the weather was crap and Monday was my birthday so I caught the bus both days). So here’s today’s list -

There:

  • “Fisherman’s Daughter” – Daniel Lanois
  • “Superstition” (Live) – Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble (A performance that really shows what a great band Double Trouble were)
  • “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)” – Johnny Cash
  • “The Middle of the Road” – Alabama 3 (A surprisingly restrained song from their latest album)
  • “96 Tears” – The Stranglers
  • “If a Tree Falls” – Bruce Cockburn (Bruce the musical eco-warrior)
  • “Is That Love” – Squeeze
  • “The Longest Time” – Billy Joel

And back again:

  • “Morning Glory Wine” – Mark Lanegan (This would have fit in better on the way to work but it’s such a good song it’s always welcome)
  • “Burn Bitch Burn” – Kiss
  • “Rollercoaster” (Demo Version) – Robert Plant (I got a ticket to see Plant and Alison Krauss live for my birthday! Roll on May 5th)
  • “Green Ballet II” – Adrian Legg (Legg’s a great guitarist but this hasn’t really got a beat you can walk to)
  • “Tremor Christ” – Pearl Jam
  • “Lady Luck” – J.J. Cale (Now here’s a guitarist who writes songs that get you moving!)
  • “Tangled Up in Blue” – Bob Dylan (I love a good story song and this is a classic)

Today’s post title comes from “Burn Bitch Burn” by the one and only Gene Simmons and Kiss. But you probably guessed that, right?

“Did you know the president has super super super sex?”

Day two Shufflin’ to work and here’s a pop quiz for you – what song is the title of this post from? While you think on that here’s today’s list -

There:

  • “Wildflower” (Acoustic version) – Sheryl Crow
  • “Since I’ve Been Loving You” – Page & Plant
  • “You Know What I Mean” – Phil Collins
  • “If I Should Fall Behind” (Live) – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Steve, Patti, Nils and Clarence get to give their tonsils a workout alongside Bruce)
  • “Super Sex” – Morphine (Who needs guitars?)

And back again:

  • “Don’t Get Me Wrong” – The Pretenders
  • “Find You At Last” – John Hiatt
  • “Thundercrack” – Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
  • “Rock ‘N’ Roll Mercenaries” – Meatloaf (You can’t beat a bit of Meat)
  • “Glass Jar” – Lloyd Cole (Just over a minutes worth of electronic tinkling from Lloyd’s self indulgent Plastic Wood album)
  • “Babe, I Got You Bad” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (No one writes a love song quite like Nick Cave)
  • “Shriner’s Park” – Melissa Etheridge

Less songs today, am I walking faster of are they just longer tracks? You should by now have got the answer to that question I posed at the start; it is of course “Super Sex” by the unique and sadly missed Morphine. Somehow I don’t think they were singing about George W.

Slippers for Christmas

I got a lot of cool Christmas presents and I’d be hard pushed to pick a favourite but there’s one that gets used more than any other and that’s my funky new slippers -

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Now I know what you’re thinking “Surely nothing so cool and fashionable can be comfortable too” (what do you mean that’s not what you were thinking?) well anyway they are. They’re wonderfully snug and keep my feet nice and toasty (I’ve always suffered with cold feet in the winter). And once you get used to your feet being twice their normal size they’re really easy to walk in…

 

Doin’ the iPod Shuffle

I recently got hold of an iPod Shuffle for free (no it wasn’t a Christmas present, it was a Tesco DVD Rental promotion, 3 months and you get a free 1Gb Shuffle, so technically not really free) with the idea of using it for my walk to work in place of my aging and rather bulky (by today’s standards) iRiver 40Gb player.

Getting the thing working with Vista wasn’t my idea of fun, plug-and-play it ain’t. I was torn between putting it on eBay or getting a hammer and smashing the little bastard to pieces. Instead I persevered, and after, much googleing and several false hopes, managed to get it working. I’m glad I did as it’s a pretty cool little gadget.

Now for a little background info. Prior to Christmas, in fact for the past couple of months, I’ve had a problem with my feet (the left one in particular). Having seen the doctor I was told there were four possible courses of action – a) avoid whatever aggravates it (working in retail and being on my feet all day this was a no go) b) take anti-inflammatory tablets (this seemed to do the trick) c) steroid injections (this didn’t sound like fun) d) an operation (this sounded even less like fun). While the tablets worked the thought of taking them for the rest of my life was less than appealing but this was the impression I was given by the doctor who told me I didn’t need to make another appointment when they ran out, just phone and ask for a repeat prescription.

But, thought I, if I don’t stop taking them how do I know the problem is still there? So with New Year approaching I decided to get off the pills and get back to walking. Walking to work was something I’d been doing for several months and the pain had only got really bad when I stopped and got the bus (caused by a few weeks of crappy weather). I’d told the doctor that I though walking might actually be good for it (surely it was working the tendons in a similar way to the stretching exercises I’d been told to try?) but the doc poo-pooed this saying it was probably a delayed reaction.

Anyway I stopped taking the pills on January 1st and so far the pain is no worse than it was when I was on them (it was always there, just much less pronounced). So today it was time to give the Shuffle a work out, and hope that shuffling wasn’t what I’d end up doing.

I let iTunes autofill the player and here is what it gave me for my journey -

There:

  • “Shame on the Moon” – Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band (I’d forgotten what a great song this is!)
  • “Fortunate Son” (Live) – John Fogerty
  • “Dusty” – Kings of Leon (One of my favourite new(ish) bands)
  • “Pretoria” – Little Steven £ the Disciples of Soul (Silvio Dante gets a bit political)
  • “Jim, I Wore a Tie Today” – Johnny Cash
  • “The Risk” – Warren Zevon
  • “The Thrill is Gone “ – Dishwalla (Great song from the soundtrack to a great film – Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead)
  • “Death of a Train” – Daniel Lanois (I’ve not played Lanois second album for ages but I really enjoyed this so maybe it’s time for a revisit)
  • “Wreck of the Old 97” (Live) – Johnny Cash

And back again:

  • “What Is and What Should Never Be” (Live BBC Session) – Led Zeppelin
  • “Dazed and Confused/Walter’s Walk/The Crunge” (Live) – Led Zeppelin (At a mammoth 25 minutes this got me most of the way home)
  • “Don’t Look Now” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • “State Trooper” – Bruce Springsteen
  • “Oxygene 9” – Jean-Michel Jarre (Definitely the odd one out of this list)
  • “Big River” (Live) - Johnny Cash
  • “Baker’s Song” – Burning Tree (They only made one album but at least it was a great one)
  • “Paper Doll” – Fleetwood Mac

It seems the Shuffle has a liking for the late great Mr Cash (I’ve got a fair bit of Cash but nowhere near as much as other artists), which of course means it has great taste.

Not sure if this’ll be a one off or a regular series, maybe I’ll let my feet decide.

Blog Related New Year’s Resolutions and Future Plans For Mine Was Taller

It’s New Year, the perfect time for starting some new regular features on Mine Was Taller, and for making a few resolutions.

First up the resolutions:

1) Watch more DVDs than I buy. I seem to have become unable to pass up a bargain, and with the Bargain Forum so helpful in pointing them out it’s resulted in a large “To Watch” pile (actually pile is the wrong word, I wouldn’t want to think how high they’d go if stacked on top of each other but doing so is certainly unfeasible). I’m going to start passing up on some of those previously irresistible offers and also up the number of DVDs watched each week; time will tell how successful I’ll be.

2) Read more some books. Since moving up to the midlands several years ago I seem to have lost the ability to read books. I’ve never been what you’d call a speed reader but I’ve always had a book on the go, yet in the last few years I’ve only completed one book (Don Siegel’s very enjoyable autobiography). It’s not like I’ve completely ignored the written word, I’ve read magazines and continued to feed my childhood comic addiction but books have fallen by the wayside. Hopefully that will change and you’ll see some of the fruits of that change here, including a review of Anthony Holden’s biography of Laurence Olivier (thanks for the Christmas present Kevin!).

That’s it for the resolutions, at least the one that might have an impact on this blog, now for the new features.

Over the last few months I’ve been doing themed days, this was partly to make choosing which DVD to watch a little easier by breaking down the aforementioned “To Watch” pile into smaller, less intimidating, sections but also because I used to love the “seasons” of films the BBC would do when I was younger and this gave me the chance to do something along similar lines. It’s been pretty successful, the number of hits has increased, as have comments, and if nothing else I’ve managed to reduce the number of animated films on DVD that are awaiting a first viewing to zero. With that in mind I’ve decided to add to these “seasons” and the week on Mine Was Taller should now look like this -

Monday: I Spy – Espionage in the movies, everything from Bourne to Flint, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold to The Spy Who Loved Me.

Tuesday: Literally Speaking – Book adaptations, both classic and not-so-classic.

Wednesday: Watching the Detectives – Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Wong and Mr. Moto continue, interspersed with one off films, including several starring Humphrey Bogart.

Thursday: Comic Tales – Superman to Man-Thing, Hollywood’s interpretations of classic comic book characters.

Friday: The Friday Night Fright – More horror, both classic and modern with The Last Man on Earth kicking the New Year off this Friday in “honour” of the latest version of Richard Matheson’s classic novel, I Am Legend.

Saturday: Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting – From Roadhouse to Ong-Bak, movies that kick ass.

Sunday: SF and Fantasy Sunday – A slight change to Sunday’s viewing, with the addition of fantasy films to the regular helping of science fiction. Again tying in with I Am Legend we start the New Year with another last man on earth film, The Quiet Earth.

Saturday/Sunday: The Weekend Western – More western action, both regular and the spaghetti variety.

Also continuing will be TV Tomb, which will continue to delve into TV’s past on an irregular basis.

Well that’s the plan, we’ll see how it goes starting from tomorrow.

The FrightFest All-nighter

Back in August I attended FrightFest at London’s Odeon West End and had a great time. However there were some upcoming horror flicks that I dearly wanted to see but the festival organisers were unable to acquire, one such film being George Romero’s Diary of the Dead. So when the line-up for the FrightFest all-nighter at the ICA was announced and not only was Diary kicking off the event but the great man himself was going to be there, attending was something of a no-brainer.

So on Friday Dan (of Is There Food) and I took the train to London, wondering if we’d survive until morning. With five films spread across ten hours (starting at 9pm) this was going to be even more of an endurance test than the full festival. Still the films promised to be worthy of the effort, alongside Romero’s latest was Robert Rodriguez’s half of the Grindhouse project, Planet Terror, Savage Streets starring Linda Blair and a couple of French goesfests – Frontiere(s) and Inside.

We arrived a little after 9pm (sadly missing out on Mr Romero’s signing session) to find the place full. We quickly made our way to two of the few remaining seats and almost as soon as we sat down things got underway.

George Romero is the godfather of the modern zombie movie. How many people can lay claim to have reinvented a classic monster so successfully that it’s overshadowed what came before? When I think zombie, it’s George’s flesh eating walking dead that come to mind first, not some dusty old voodoo zombie, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Land of the Dead, Romero’s previous film, had been a disappointment but it was a disappointment because it was a Romero zombie movie not because it was a bad film. Had it been made by anyone else it would have been greeted more favourably but when your name is George Romero and you’ve made the three best zombie films ever committed to celluloid…well let’s just say expectations are higher than normal. With Diary of the Dead he’s gone back to his low budget roots, leaving the restrictions of Hollywood behind and in doing so he’s rediscovered his mojo.

Chronicling the exploits of a group of college film students (and one alcoholic professor) who try to make their way home to there families when the dead start to get up and walk, this is Night of the Living Dead for the modern world, a world obsessed with the media, where everyone has not only an opinion, but a platform to voice it on. How do you kill something that’s already dead? What happens if you get bitten? These are questions the protagonists have to discover the answers to, often the hard way and at great personal cost.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, as we get treated to one of the funniest characters ever to appear in a zombie film. Samuel is pure comedy gold but Romero doesn’t let him outstay his welcome. In fact he gets everything right, the effects are superb but the film never becomes an effects show, the young actors are a perfect ensemble cast with everyone getting time in the spotlight, and the films message isn’t heavy handed, coming as it does from the films basic concept.

Diary of the Dead is the film Zombie Diaries wanted to be, it’s a film that can hold it’s (severed) head up alongside Romero’s original Dead trilogy. Horror can be scary, gory fun and still make a point or two about modern society and Diary is the film that shows how to do it.

The Q&A after the film showed George to be a funny, self deprecating talker and the crowd gave him the welcome he deserved. I wish I hadn’t missed out on the pre-film signing, not just because it would have been nice to get something signed (I’d brought my copy of The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh with me) but because I’d like to have shaken the guy’s hand and said thanks for entertaining us all these years.

Next up was Planet Terror; could Robert Rodriguez manage to keep me awake? The answer was yes, with a film packed full of explosions, blood and over the top violence how could anyone fall asleep? Planet Terror isn’t high art but it is cheesy fun of the highest order.

The cast all got into the spirit of the z grade style the film was aiming for. Rose McGowan was an obvious standout but for me Josh Brolin steals the film as the barking mad Dr William Block. Brolin gets better with every film and really should be a big name by now; hopefully the Coen’s No Country for Old Men will see him move into the big time.

Well with Planet Terror we’d had imitation Grindhouse but with Savage Streets we got a taste of the real thing. Before the event I though this would be the film I’d have trouble staying awake through most but thanks to a cup of black coffee and a Yorkie bar I was probably more awake than at any other time during the night.

I don’t think I’ve laughed so much at a bad film since…well since I watched Ultraviolet a couple of weeks ago. Bad dialogue, an ‘80s soft rock soundtrack, some of the most well developed high school students you’re ever likely to see and John Vernon playing the school principle as if he’s in Animal House 2, what more could you want? I was half expecting Vernon to say “The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me” at one point.

Setting the scene for Savage Streets was Trailer Trash, a collecting of trailers for some very bad films (although I like C.H.U.D.). Pick of the bunch was Abby, a hysterical blaxploitation take on The Exorcist.

The first of the French films followed. “Oh god, subtitles at 4am!” thought I, but in fact they helped keep me awake. Having to read meant having to concentrate more and that kept my mind active (relatively speaking).

I’m not sure what to make of Frontiere(s). It started off like some kind of subversive action movie before heading into the country and introducing us to the most fucked up family since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In fact, imagine the family from Chainsaw only with Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man as the head of the cannibalistic clan and you’ll have some idea of what this hugely derivative film has to offer.

It’s short on original ideas and instead tries to outdo the likes of Haute Tension, Sheitan, Ils and The Ordeal in being relentlessly grim and explicitly violent. In that it succeeds but the French obsession with what’s been dubbed “torture porn” is getting a little old. Still at least they’re better at it than the Yanks and I’d be interested to see Frontiere(s) again when I’m a bit more alert as I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of socio-political message in there that my mind was too fuzzy to grasp.

I’d have said it was impossible to fall asleep watching the night’s final film, Inside, but for the fact that there was a gentleman at the back of the auditorium snoring loudly during some of the early scenes. It’s another grim film from France but instead of aping other movies, directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury have come up with something original and truly scary.

There isn’t much plot, pregnant woman terrorised in her house pretty much sums it up, but what they do with that basic idea stands as probably the most intense and horrific hour and a half I’ve ever spent in the cinema. There are shades of ‘70s Italian giallo, scenes that have a hint of Asian horror, and of course the graphic violence that is the trademark of the new wave of French horror, but it never overplays its influences like Frontiere(s) does.

Not only did I not have trouble staying awake, once it had finished I wondered if I would ever get that final nightmarish image out of my mind and be able to sleep again. It’s an image that would come back to haunt me a few days later when watching an episode of Nigel Neale’s ‘70s TV series Beasts, giving the somewhat dated TV production far more power to shock than it would otherwise have had.

Bustillo and Maury are currently working on the Hellraiser remake and for once this is an updated version that I really want to see. Let’s just hope they live up to their promise and don’t disappoint as Alexandre Aja did with his The Hills Have Eyes.

So that was it, we’d made it! Best film of the night? I’m torn really, Inside was without doubt the scariest but Diary of the Dead was definitely more fun and will no doubt be the one I watch more often when they come out on DVD. Here’s hoping the mooted Argento Three Mothers night comes off.