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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!

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– 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

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Sci Fi Day: Transformers

Prior to Transformers I’d say I’ve probably got more entertainment from Paul W.S. Anderson’s films than Michael Bay’s, so it’s fair to say I’m not a fan. It’s not that Bay is a bad director, when it comes to action he can orchestrate mayhem like few others. My problem with Bay is that, when you take out the gunfire and explosions, you’re left with clichéd stories, paper thin characters and not much else.

So why did I enjoy Transformers so much? Is it cleverly plotted? Not really it’s about two factions of big robots looking for a cube. Does it have three dimensional characters who give us a deeper understanding of what it’s like to be in life or death situations? Nope, it’s full of beautiful people shouting, running and firing guns. No the reason Transformers works is because it doesn’t need those things, it’s as cartoon brought to life and its charm is simply this – robots are cool, big robots are even cooler and big robots fighting other big robots is uber-cool. As a bonus the film also has a charismatic lead whose star is very much on the rise in Shia LaBeouf, a smokin’ hot action heroine in Megan Fox (she’s probably got more balls than LaBeouf) and a script with a good level of humour that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The only downer is Jon Voight and John Turturro overdoing it a little on the ham and cheese.

Forget Pearl Harbour, Armageddon and the rest, with Transformers Bay has found his ideal subject matter. Roll on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen! Now if only someone could find a way to stop him producing all those pointless horror remakes I could almost start to like the guy.

Dipa’s review can be found here.

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Sci Fi Day: Donnie Darko – The Director’s Cut

Is Donnie Darko SF? Yes, but it’s much more than that, it’s a drama about family relationships, a mystery that will have your brain working overtime, it even flirts with horror at times. For me though it’s a love story more than anything else. Would you commit the ultimate sacrifice to save someone you love, knowing that in doing so they’d no longer even remember you – that is the essence of Donnie Darko and what makes the final half hour such an emotional experience second time around, when you know what’s going to happen. It’s a film that can not only be enjoyed on repeat viewing but actually improves with them.

Jake Gyllenhaal is outstanding as Donnie, but there isn’t a duff performance in the entire film. Richard Kelly directs with an abundance of style, an ear for music, and a deft touch when it comes to the family scenes. Even if he never makes another film of this calibre again, which from what I’ve heard of Southland Tales may be the case, at least we have this gem to treasure.

“Donnie Darko? What the hell kind of name is that? It’s like some sort of superhero or something.”

“What makes you think I’m not?”

What indeed.

You can read Dipa’s first impression of the film here.

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Sci Fi Day: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

This is really Sci Fi Day Part 2, picking up where we left off last weekend.

Spielberg’s classic family film is essentially Lassie meets Close Encounters, of course the ‘dog’ in this boy and his dog tale is far more intelligent than any of the human protagonists, although, come to think of it, that’s true of most Lassie films.

Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore give excellent performances, particularly given their age and lack of experience at the time. While most child actors don’t make the transition to adult roles (co-star Robert MacNaughton being a perfect example) both Thomas and Barrymore have gone on to successful careers, particularly Drew who we’ll see again shortly in Donnie Darko.

The film still pushes all the right emotional buttons and has a timeless quality which will ensure it remains one of the all-time great family films, despite Spielberg ‘doing a Lucas’ and making unnecessary changes. Just for the record we watched the original version.

You’ll find Dipa’s thoughts on revisiting this childhood favourite here.

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Sci Fi Day: Aliens vs Predator – Requiem

I’m one of the few who liked Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien Vs Predator, so maybe I’ve got a higher than normal tolerance for crap films but this follow-up makes Anderson’s film look like a classic. It takes the slasher film mentality, i.e. spend the first half of the film introducing the victims and the second half killing them off, the only difference here is the bogeyman is extraterrestrial in origin. Whereas the first film had the Predator as (sort of) the good guy, here it’s a free for all with the humans caught in the middle, so think Freddy Vs Jason without the humour.

Full of stereotypical characters who follow predictable story arcs anyone who’s seen Friday the 13th or any of its ilk will be able to predict who’s going to die. In fact we had more fun predicting who would be next to croak than we did watching the film. A lot more.

The Strause Brothers direction generates no tension or suspense, the action is poorly choreographed and it doesn’t even deliver on the gore front (even in this Unrated Cut). It’s sad to see just how far these once mighty monsters have fallen, let’s hope they leave them in peace now.

And the ‘twist’ ending was complete bollocks and made no sense at all.

For Dipa’s equally negative review click here.

That’s the end of Sci Fi Day for now. Like an all-you-can-eat buffet we attempted to devour more than we could possibly cram in in one sitting but we will do the remainder of the films (E.T., Transformers and Donnie Darko), probably next weekend.

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Sci Fi Day: Phase IV

This is the 2001 of ant movies! Part alien invasion part Animal Planet it has Nigel Davenport and Michael Murphy out in the desert trying to understand recent changes in ant behaviour and, in the end, find some way to communicate with them.

Director Saul Bass is best known for his revolutionary credit sequences, particularly for some of the Bond films, but here he crafts an intelligent SF film, with some amazing footage of the ants. In fact the ants are almost like characters themselves, and this is the only film I can think of where one cast member literally eats another.

 Davenport steals the acting honours, going a tad bonkers after one of the ants gives him a bite on the hand while Murphy is too emotionless, perhaps unsure what the hell it’s all about. Just what it is all about is open to interpretation but I’d love to see Bass’ original version with its trippy 2001 style ending. As it is though I’m just glad I’ve had to chance to see this again.

For a bugphobe’s perspectve read Dipa’s review here.

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Sci Fi Day: Godzilla

This original Godzilla film will come as a shock to anyone who’s only seen later entries in the long running series. The main difference is that the Big G we see here is very much the villain rather than the reluctant hero he would become. It’s also a much more serious film, with Godzilla an analogy for the American atomic bomb. It also asks how responsible a scientist is for his creation, coming down in favour of culpability.

There’s some good old-fashioned Godzilla mayhem too but it’s not as much fun as later films, we get to see the affect it has on people rather than just wholesale mass destruction. A worthy film but not one I’d consider a true masterpiece.  

You’ll find Dipa’s less enthusiastic opinion here.

Sci Fi Day: The Incredible Shrinking Man

Richard Matheson’s Tom Thumb for the atomic age is part character study, part action movie. The first half of the film focuses on Scott Carey’s gradual disintegration, both mental and physical and gets the audience to empathise with Carey, thanks to a terrific performance from Grant Williams. Then we’re thrown down the cellar with him, into a primal world where food must be won and life is threatened by a creature as fearsome as any horror movie monster, before ultimately reaching a philosophical climax that leaves the film with a note of optimism.

The set design is amazing, Matheson’s script, from his own novel, is literate and moving and Jack Arnold’s direction fuses them together to create a true science fiction masterpiece. This is probably my favourite ‘50s SF movies and one I never get tired of watching. Given how good he is here I’ve never understood why Grant Williams got stuck in B Movies and TV.

I think this is also the film that’s responsible for my fear of spiders.

You’ll find Dipa’s view here.

Sci Fi Day: Forbidden Planet

The day kicks off with a real classic. Groundbreaking special effects that still look good today, a unique score that’s more electronic bleeps than music but fits the film perfectly, and a cool monster – what more could you ask for? How about Leslie Nielsen as a proto-Kirk, he’s even got James T’s eye for the ladies, or Walter Pidgeon as mad scientist Doctor Edward Morbius, or one of cinemas most memorable robots in Robby? The only bum note is Anne Francis who lacks the innocence to make the Altaira character believable, coming across as a bit of a flirt.

You’ll find Dipa’s thoughts here.