April 24th: At least it isn’t Blair Witch 3.

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92. The Objective (Daniel Myrick, 2008)

Back in 1999 Daniel Myrick was hot property. Along with Eduardo Sánchez he had just released one of the most profitable films in the history of cinema. Costing next to nothing to make and, remarkable at the time, marketed with an aggressive internet campaign – The Blair Witch Project was an absolute sensation. Despite being about 10/15 minutes too long (yes, you’re lost – I get it) the film worked pretty well at building sustained tension and had a brilliant closing scene to cap it off.

What then of this hot talent – would Myrick move up to making major Hollywood films with a lot of money behind him? No, he is making low budget horror films like The Objective instead. CIA agent Jonas Ball leads a squad of Special Ops Reservists deep into Afghanistan, their objective isn’t exactly clear but they’re looking for a local holy man. What they find is madness, something is stalking them through the desert – there are strange lights, bizarre objects in the distance and horrible events begin to befall the group. The objective has several interesting ideas and a solid premise and also reminded me a lot of The Last Winter. There are some scenes of excellent tension and for most of the film the digital effects are simple and effective. Unfortunately it appears that the Myrick had absolutely no idea how to end the film, it just peters out into some farcical mash of poor CGI and unexplained events. A shame, because parts of the film managed to be genuinely chilling and tense but it leaves a poor taste in the mouth – unlike Myrick’s early breakthrough effort.

April 23rd: One you’d rather forget.

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91. 1941 (Steven Spielberg, 1979)

I’d read that this film was the one that sticks out like a sore thumb in the Spielberg canon. I’d read right. As far as I can tell this is the only time that he’s attempted a comedy and it’s woefully misjudged. Despite a star cast and what appears to be a whopping budget something has gone very wrong in making this particular film. It doesn’t hang together, the slapstick seems off somehow. How badly this is might be open to interpretation, comedy is after all the most subjective genre. But from the opening parody of Jaws I felt a bit bemused by the whole thing. How many directors do a comic re-interpretation of their own smash hit a mere four years after the original? Very odd. On top of this Treat Williams’ character spends the entirety of the film attempting to rape a woman. How I didn’t laugh. Having said all that, there are scenes that work well, particularly the bar fight/dance competition which manages to strike the right note of choreographed chaos. But these moments are the exceptions rather than the rule and the stellar cast goes to waste.

April 21st: It’s gone up.

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90. The Red Balloon (Albert Lamorisse, 1956)

Weighing in at a massive 34 minutes long this film managed to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in the category that is open to feature length films. The story is about a young boy called Pascal who finds a red balloon. The balloon seems to have a life of his own, it follows Pascal and they seem to become friends. Soon however, the other children want the balloon and the chase is on. This is a simple and elegant piece of film. Enchanting and beautiful, it manages to be pleasant without ever being too saccharine. The final shots are amongst the most pleasing I’ve seen recently.

April 19th: What is it good for?

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89. Lord of War (Andrew Niccol, 2005)

Lord of War has a superb opening credit sequence showing the life of a bullet from being made to being fired. It’s a grandstand opening to tell the story of Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian born American whose life takes off when he starts dealing in arms. He starts with small time stuff before working his way up through the ranks internationally. Soon Yuri is on top of the trade but how long he stays there is down to his ability to avoid the authorities, keep it suitably secret from his wife and family and reconciling the trade with his own inner demons. Nicolas Cage has been in the wild since the late 90s, starring in a series of meaningless big budget films without making an impact. Perhaps only Adaptation really tested him. But it seems that the days of exciting indie films like Wild at Heart and Leaving Las Vegas were exchanged for the adrenalin of The Rock, Con Air and Face Off. Unfortunately the quality of the big budget stuff was short lived. Lord of War is interesting and brave in making its protagonist a massive scumbag. There are some excellent sections in the film that suggest Andrew Niccol could be a film-maker to watch. Unfortunately there is also an annoying voice-over, very annoying. It consists of Nic Cage droning on about things that are happening on the screen. A very simple rule about voice-over is that less is more. Thus, it is preferable if you don’t have one at all. If you do have to have one – don’t just describe what’s happening on the screen. This is not using the language of cinema very well at all. It suggests a lack of confidence on behalf of the film-maker. Overall this is better than a lot of Cage’s recent output and there are some good performances. Not from Jared Leto though, his role is under-written and leaves him looking uncomfortable and uneven.

April 17th: Dumb fun

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88. Get Smart (Peter Segal, 2008)

Many thanks to Matt and Jo who gave us a room overnight in London and also, very kindly, rented this high concept comedy via the medium of their X-Box so that I could crack on with my viewing. Based on the 60s TV series produced by Mel Brooks it seemed to have been batted around Hollywood as a potential prospect for some time before settling with the growing star of Steve Carell in the lead as the bumbling superspy wannabe Maxwell Smart. There’s a solid cast and fairly typical story but the whole thing is held together by Carell. Comedy is a highly subjective matter but this man is just plain funny. He doesn’t usually have to talk before I start laughing. Without his presence this would be a shallow contrivance but with him it is a decent if unspectacular blockbuster effort.

April 12: In Bloom.

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87. Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005)

The recent phase of Bill Murray’s career has been an odd one indeed. He seems to be doing chunks of cameo/voice-over work to pay the bills and devoting his time to smaller, more introspective films. There’s a mixed reaction to this, some people want him to just be funny but it is really just a continuation of some of the strange and melancholy work that he was doing during the early part of his career in things like The Razor’s Edge. In Broken Flowers Murray is Don Johnston, an ageing lothario whose latest squeeze leaves him as he receives an anonymous letter from one of his exes. The letter states the he has a son who is looking for him and sets Don on a journey to find out who sent the letter. I’ve not seen much by Jarmusch but I really admire his style – it’s very noticeable. There is a patience and stillness to his scenes that would seem to prefigure another of Murray’s directors, Wes Anderson. It is a slightly frustrating film as there is no real sense of closure but it instead offers a wry wink in direction of Don, whilst he seems to have gone on a journey little has changed externally. But internally the journey has affected him. A thoughtful and attractive film with excellent performances from Murray and the supporting cast.

Chris vs… Fangoria

Fangoria Magazine #281

I prepared for my recent holiday by purchasing some reading material. One item of which was a copy of legendary horror magazine Fangoria, my first purchase of the gore-hounds favourite publication and unfortunately, at five English pounds, probably the last. Price aside, as a horror fan I’ve always fancied a read so it seemed as good an opportunity as any. The days of the magazine may not be numbered but there is change in the air for folks in print/publishing. Margins are getting tight and the internet is eating readers left and right. I wonder if specialist publications like the affectionately named ‘Fango’ might survive or have to change. But one quick flick through the magazine reveals two crucial things.

1. These folks really do take their horror quite seriously, whilst they touch on big budget films with an aspect of horror (Alex Proyas’ Knowing in this iss.) the meat of the magazine is straight up, knock down, drag out horror. Whilst the quality of the copy varies the quality of the information is strong. These writers know their stuff and when they review they do so with a huge weight of knowledge and insight into the methods of production, especially the difficulties associated with low budget film-making. There is a lot of attention given to the minutiae of production design and (as you’d expect) make-up and effects.

2. Fangoria isn’t just a magazine, it’s a radio show, a series of conventions and a fairly hefty internet presence in its own right. It’s managing to cover the bases pretty well.

Whilst I’d advise that you don’t read with your lunch due to the explicit pictures this is truly the finest publication for horror-fans. Any worries about an American-centric slant are assuaged by the positive coverage given to the current crop of French horror films. A cracking read undone by paying the import price of 5 quid.

April 11th: Tonight, He Comes…

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86. Hancock (Peter Berg, 2008)

This is the third film I’ve watched this year that has been directed by Peter Berg (the others were Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom). Unfortunately Hancock is comfortably the weakest of the three. Existing in script form since 1996 as a 226 page beast called Tonight, He Comes this film has been through the development wringer in a big way. There are comparison pieces all over the net but if you are interested in the process between what is supposedly the initial script and the final film then the best is probably Rob Hunter’s article from Film School Rejects.

The final product is a film riven in two by a large plot twist. The first half of the film has the eponymous super-powered chap tear-arsing around from boozy night to botched rescue causing havoc and managing to befriend a PR guru and his family. It’s funny, irreverent and well paced. The second half of the film is none of these things. It has plot holes all over and crowbars an unlikely villain into the piece in an attempt to contrive a conventional resolution. A massive wasted opportunity and I’d have positioned it as a mis-step in the career of a promising director but Hancock has Will Smith box office levels and managed to easily make its money.

April 5th: Blammo!

86. Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1981)

Firstly, and most importantly, a man’s head blows up in this film. This is fantastic and brilliant for the very simple reason that his head blows up. Bam. Bolognese everywhere. Exceptional stuff. Aside from that Scanners is a heavily symbolic psychological thriller about people with ‘special talents’, telepathy and telekinesis, whose mind-reading talents take a physical toll on those people who they scan. Hence the head explosion. Cronenberg inveigles these characters into a corporate espionage/terrorism tale allowing for a wonderful take on computers and communications networks being a nervous system in their own right. This was very much pre-internet but Cronenberg’s uniquely superb take on ‘body-horror’ has proven itself quite prescient.

I watched the film at the same time as a couple of other bloggers one of whom, the delightful Sarah, has written about the film with a good deal more eloquence and insight than myself. So do yourself a favour and read her review here at Paperhouse.

April 4th: No gadgets?

85. Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005)

Time for something a little more cerebral from the king of American cinema. I’ve always been of the opinion that Spielberg’s best films operate as cinematic theme park rides providing brilliant visceral thrills in an escalating fashion. Duel, Jaws, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark/the Last Crusade and Jurassic Park all fit into this pattern and, with the exception of Duel, they are classics of the summer tentpole blockbuster genre. I’ve not watched much of his serious output so now seems as good a time as any. Munich is the story of the alleged vengeance killings carried out against the perpetrators of the 1972 Olympic massacre of 11 Israeli athletes. It’s made with a steady assured hand and the narrative is admirably neutral in terms of judging the events. I’d expected a Jewish bias of some kind but it isn’t there, this is a human story about the effects of violence on people and how it can be carried with you. Eric Bana is absolutely superb as I’ve come to expect as was Ciarán Hinds (previously brilliant in Hallam Foe) and their friendship lends the film a warmth which it would otherwise have lacked. Daniel Craig’s South African accent could have done with a bit of work though.

Here’s an alternative view from my good friend Tom Figures (Stifler on the comments board)…

“I found it lacking in shooty bits and the baddies didn’t have eye patches and scars and other distinctive ‘baddy’ features. So it made it dead hard to work out who was who.

And the goodies plan was a bit boring, trying to secure railway lines to all these European cities on the orders of “his rail”. We never even find out who the chap who owns the rail company is! This left me confused for much of the film. Bond did nothing whatsoever, he just sat in cars (which had no gadgets) being useless all the time.

Worst. Bond. Film. Ever.

5/5 stars, see it now!”