Gran Torino

To many a boy Clint Eastwood is the ultimate man’s man.  His personality on film is often that of the gruff outsider, the guy who people don’t like but need to get the job done.  Fistful of Dollars is one of my earliest film memories and I remember very clearly watching it on my grandparent’s big colour TV (my parents only had a black and white at the time).  I was totally taken with the man with no name.  A guy who’s smug demeanour could never be dented because he absolutely knew he was the strongest fastest man in the room.  I didn’t encounter Dirty Harry until many years later.  I never took to him in the same way, he just wasn’t as cool.  Now of course it’s Dirty Harry that defined Eastwood’s 80’s career.

When Eastwood directed Unforgiven in 1992 it was a spectacular way to draw the man with no name character to an end.  To clearly show what the past could do to a man.  The character had made a concerted attempt at redemption but found himself drawn back in to the life.  16 years ago it seemed like a career closer for Eastwood but here we are again with him directing his closure to Dirty Harry.
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Peurs du noir, Fears of the Dark

To anyone left cold by successively more gory hollywood horror you may find that a more back to basics approach is what can really creep you out.  Why for example is the simple monster design in Pan’s Labyrinth, a character with eyes on his hands that moves oh so slowly, infinitely scarier than say Saw’s indestructible Jigsaw.  In my mind as we get older our fears move from the boogie man in the walls not to real life psychos but job worries and indeed the ticking of time itself.  Strange then that Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale for adults resonates so easily with the forgotten fears of childhood.   It’s his tag line that is emblazoned across the French animation Fear(s) of the Dark UK website..

“Rusty alleyways and vaporous ghosts painted by the masters of dread. Razor-sharp images that will slice your eye and nest there forever. Thrilling, disturbing, and haunting ..”

Wow, really going to have to work on my review prose if I want to create film images as well as that.   The film simplifies out any over-arcing story with a series of short films all inspiring that childlike fear of unknown while skilfully playing with the nerves that concern us older kids and of course the end result is in no way suitable for younger audiences.

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What Could Have Been of the Dead

OK, I’m only 24 years late on this one but I was watching Day of the Dead again recently only to find out that it really wasn’t the film it was planned to be.  Romero apparently saw it as as his zombie Gone With the Wind and the original epic script basically combines much of the themes of Land of the Dead.  No one can say if the end result would’ve been any better or worse than the original Day of the Dead.  The film would’ve lost much of the original’s claustrophobia in the underground complex.  Also the science themes are I think better served by the mad Dr. Logan and Bub.

Land of the Dead however might’ve been very much more complete.  The decadent corruption is more interesting, the village of outsiders sounds even more degraded, and specifically the religious elements sound like something Land could really have done with to fit it’s Bush themes.

Read the whole thing here.

Bruce Campbell in Person Q and A and is My Name Is Bruce Review

So where to start, the man or the movie. Well In this case they complemented eachother pretty well. In My Name is Bruce, Bruce Campbell plays and directs himself.  Bruce is down on his luck, committed to starring in successive Cave Alien sequels, the kind of movie where even as the star he commands minimal respect. The bulk of his existence amounts to his dump of a trailer, avoiding devoted autograph hunters, and drinking cheap “Shemp” whisky from a dog bowl. When a nearby small town has an ancient Chinese ghoul problem, the town’s biggest/only Campbell fan takes it upon himself to kidnap Bruce, surely the only hero up to the task. Of course the “real” Bruce is not quite the man he appears on screen.

Following the film the man himself appeared for an hour long Q&A. The self depreciating sense of humour throughout the film was more than evident. He didn’t disappoint and never shied from the less than fan pleasing answers.  He seemed a man very at satisfied with his career and his position in the industry as well as having pragmatic insight in to it.
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Dead Set Review

The zombie apocalypse is upon us, a mindless nation of meat is fed a diet of crap TV.  A diet with zero nutrition, a mere distraction from the real world, a new religion to placate the masses and keep everyone in line, happy consumers with simpler dreams and minimal ambition…

The popular consumer culture that was satirised so well in 1978 in Dawn of the Dead has provided the framework for a million zombie flicks since and in Dead Set it is updated to take a stab at that most vile of TV productions Big Brother.  Of course setting your zombie tale within the Big Brother house means that we viewers have to suffer the kind of people that appear on the Big Brother program.  Now perhaps elsewhere in the world Big Brother attracts reasonable people with some mildly perverse idea that it could be an interesting experiment (I suspect not), but in the UK the viewing public demands it be populated with the most irritating, nymphomaniac, fame-starved, wannabees our wee island can produce.  An interesting challenge for Dead Set to take care of.
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Best of 2008 So Far

Here follows my favourite films of the year so far.  I’ve also listed my original score and linked the original reviews, but it’s the order listed that matters here.

1. No Country For Old Men 10/10
I’ve watched this a couple of times now and I’m not prepared to say it’s anything less than fantastic.  Read the review for the full details.

2. Son of Rambow 9/10
I’m eagerly awaiting next month’s DVD release so I can see this again but it sticks firmly in my mind as a brilliant vignette of 80’s childhood nostalgia in only the good ways.

3. Once 9/10
A musical with great music and real soul, a rare beast indeed.

4. I’m Not There 8/10
It’s a more cerebral than emotive capturing of Dylan but an interesting one none the less.

5. In Bruge 8/10
Black comedy at it’s best, even bigoted hitmen have souls.

6. Wall:E 8/10
I’m trying not to get swept up by this and stick it even higher in the list but it’s a nimble, skillful dig at everything that makes Disney its money and manages to do it with more sentiment than 100 Sleeping Beauty 2s.

7. In To The Wild 9/10
The thinking man’s Robinson Crusoe, if it makes you think too much maybe your employer should be worrying about your retention prospects.

8. Persepolis 8.5/10
As beautiful and touching as you could ever expect a history lesson to be.

9. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters 9/10
An honest documentary masterpiece.  Gamesmanship, drive, ambition, and a bad guy, all the things a good sports film needs applied to Donkey Kong.

10. Shoot ‘em Up 8/10
Stupidity incarnate but all in good spirits.

The not quite good enoughs:
2 Days in Paris 8/10
I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK 8/10
Juno 7.5/10
There Will Be Blood
Chocolate 7/10
El Orfanato 7/10

This is England

I was certain I was going to hate this one from the start.  I’m not a fan of the English Hooligan genre and remain unconvinced about writer/director Shane Meadows, seemingly a poor man’s Ken Loach.

Still I always liked 24/7 and I’d had too many recommendations to ignore.  It was an exceptional film that never took the easy road, those watching this to see some good times gang violence will be sorely disappointed.  The thugs in this film are for the most part not the simple stereotypes and the film successfully portrays the ways some people can fall into the worst kind of racist groups.  Stephen Graham may get to do the star psycho turn (and very well I might add) but it’s the young Thomas Turgoose that’s so engrossing.  His turn as the young initiate is more than a simple blank slate observer role.

Meadows recently released Somers Town again starring Turgoose and I’m looking forward to getting to it.  For UK viewers this seems to be on Film4 reasonably regularly check it out.

July Micro review RoundUp

Quite a mainstream selection this month, but well it’s July so where better to escape the few measly weeks of Scottish sunshine than hiding in a dark movie theatre pretending to be somewhere else.

Embarrassingly I actually enjoyed this, I may as well admit that I have a tendency to see most of the big blockbusters although I don’t report them here and it’s basically a given that I’ll see the Superheroes ones.  Well apart from pretty rough effects I really enjoyed this.  If you’ve seen the trailer you can basically guess the entire film.  Hancock has basically all of the power of Superman but lives the life of a drunk.  His help is unwanted by the city as his temper and unpredictability make him a liability.  It gets a bit ropey towards the end, but you always knew in a film starring Will Smith he’d make good eventually.  The best bit though is when he’s bad he’s proper bad.  I found it funny anyway 🙂

Just when you thought Miyazaki had a monopoly on touching enchanting children’s entertainment, Pixar trumps him by rolling it up with one of the most biting satires I’ve ever seen in a Hollywood picture.  What seems to start out as a vague eco-fairy tale with a charming central character in the second half of the film starts taking digs at popular culture the likes of which I’ve not seen since Fight Club or Idiocracy.  And Pixar have managed it all while working for Disney!

I went home thoroughly impressed and with perhaps even a slight dampness in the corner of my eye.

The Dark Knight
As interesting a production as a Hollywood studio could ever make and one that had me thinking more than I had any right to expect.

There are a few problems, firstly for a film that takes itself so seriously there are some bits that are just really silly, the batvoice has to be reined a little for a start.  It’s comic origins work against it in a few segments as well, they do a spectacular job of making the film really feel like an exaggerated real world but still lose it from time to time.  Also the critically adored performance of Heath Ledger is a little slight, sure it’s great but he has what seems like 10 minutes total screen time.

This is a far braver transformation than Batman Begins though and when I was 15 and addicted to the animated series this would be my dream film, even more so than Burton’s Returns sequel.

The thinking part came from the politics suggested.  I am in no way coming round to the point of view it promotes but certainly it made me think more critically of my politics than any film I can think of (most films seem to support my positions than question them).  A very strange prospect indeed.

I'm Not There Reviewed

Todd Haynes is a director that I’ve heard a lot more about than actually seen films of.  While I was not a fan of Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven was interesting.  I’m Not There is assuredly nothing like either of these films.  In case you haven’t heard the film’s ruse is to take the biopic and turn it on its head.  Six different actors play the different Dylan characters from various periods of his life.

We quickly realise this will not be a traditional biopic when we are introduced to 11 year old version played by the young black actor Marcus Carl Franklin.  He lives a transient life in railway cars playing his music to whoever will listen and going by the name of Woody Guthrie.  He is painted as full of pragmatic optimism and streetwise life experience.  While Christian Bale, furthers that idealism as a fervent protest song writer and later the 80’s dedicated Christian Dylan.  Heath Ledger gets to play the part of the superstar actor losing his touch with people at large and building a general ambiguity.  Cate Blanchett gets the interesting role as the nihilistic and belligerent transitional Dylan who first goes Electric.  Finally Richard Gere plays an older Billy the Kid, Dylan in his later years.  An ambitious plan but is it more than a gimmick?

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The Fog MiniReview

So slightly delayed but the Edinburgh summer inspired me (I can currently see about 200m at the most).  Anyway as promised after viewing The Mist I gave John Carpenter’s classic ghost story The Fog a viewing.  While the Mist’s failings were mostly acting it had a very interesting character dynamic and interesting conflict.  The Fog’s characters are more traditional, there aren’t any arcs here just chess pieces to positioned in varying degrees of peril.

There are strange goings on in a small town on the California coast.  A malevolent fog has descended and it appears something hiding within is taking its revenge on the townspeople.

Carpenter can shoot a good ghost flick and he skilfully manages his phantoms and manages to keep them scary with just makeup and well placed lights.  The low budget is only occasionally glaring but the film’s supernatural elements obviously make it easier to ridicule than his breakthrough production Halloween.  Still between Carpenter’s talent with the smoke machine this has aged surprisingly well.

The gore by today’s standards is extremely tame but the violence has a certain enthusiasm that still carries bite.  It’s amusing that the film was actually recut by Carpenter before release to insert more gore and to compete with other films of the time.

Its classic status is assured but don’t go expecting anything deeper than a well made ghost story and you’re sure to have an enjoyable evening.

The Special Edition DVD is available for a mere £7 from with two documentaries.