Another year has whizzed by and Sci-Fi is still pulling the punters in at the Box Office. Genre movies seem to have polarised this year – science fiction gets the big budgets and whizzy special effects, while horror films have tended to lurk in the darkness, veering towards the cheap, nastier and grimier end of the market. And sadly there were fewer cult specials or fantastic foreign films this year.
Year of the Matrix
Matrix Reloaded / The Matrix Revolutions
2003, we were reliably told by those happy souls at Warner Brothers, was The Year of The Matrix. Or the year of two Matrices, a pile of anime, some dodgy sunglasses and a bug-ridden (or was that meant to be ironic) computer game. Neo and Trinity are back for 4+ hours of slow-mo, gravity defying fisticuffs and embarrassing smooching. The residents of fashion conscious woolly-jumper clad Zion are still concerned about the imminent destruction of their frankly rather grim city by machines intent on using them like giant Duracell batteries. It’s up to messiah-in-waiting Neo, aided and abetted by various cohorts, to wrestle with existential cod-philosophy, cryptic mythical character names and multiple copies of panto-cackling MIB Agent Smith. Although the wire-work has become ubiquitous over the past few years The Matrix still packs a punch visually.
Hey it’s got vampires and, get this, werewolves too. And they don’t like each other. Add some weapons, lots of gothic sewers and some fashionable industrial-metal music and entertainment must surely follow. It’s not art but it sounds pretty cool. Sadly the end results are cool in an entirely different way. Sub-Matrix slow-mo shrapnel vie with Goth-chic Crow-style sets and lighting. The results are messy, the effects average and even an occasionally easy-on–the-eye cast in tight leather can’t generate more than a modicum of enthusiasm. Half the time the editing is so sloppy you don’t know what’s going on, the other half of the time you wish you didn’t know as risible dialogue puts the final stake into the heart of this limpid effort. Grief, the vampires hardly even feed and half the time they just shoot at each other. They are supernatural creatures, let’s have some shape-shifting and razor sharp teeth not Uzi’s with “special ultra-violet, steeped in garlic and covered in hawthorn” bullets. Waste of time.
With a list of influences as long as the arms of that stretchy guy from the Fantastic Four (more on that next year… maybe) The Returner is a pot pourri of science fiction and action clichés wrapped in a bundle of garish time-twisting effects and gratuitous violence. Hit-man (or Returner) Miyamoto (check: cool shades, check: trenchcoat, check: cool guns and slow-mo wirework) accidentally shoots a girl from the future and has two days to sort out this conundrum whilst falling in love and shooting lots of people. Cool, surprisingly poignant and just cracking good entertainment – what popcorn blockbusters are meant to be… minus the price tag.
Trench-coats. Shades. Guns. Lots of guns. Slow-mo wire-work. Expressionless faces. Sound familiar? 2003, year of the Matrix rip-off, although this time blended with some Orwellian-lite society and a nod towards THX1138. And having a “society without emotion” does not “explain” the quality of the acting.
Heroes, Villains and Those Who Are Quite Undecided
He is Ben Affleck aka Daredevil – blind super-lawyer by day defending the weak and victimised against corporate criminals, blind leather-clad super-hero by night defending the weak and victimised against any sort of criminals. Worst of this dastardly bunch is Kingpin, the city crime, er, kingpin who probably bumped off Daredevil’s parents. Before you can say “angst-ridden multi-millionaire” we’re into a hotchpotch of superhero modus operandi – Crow-style city and bar fight, Spiderman-style swinging around, Batman-style OTT super-villains and misunderstood love-hate nemesis side character with spin-off potential. It’s all fine and dandy in a “Goth-chic constantly raining city” kind of a way and everyone wanders around with either po-faced severity or in panto-villain mould, which is pretty much expected. But therein lies the problem, there’s nothing wrong with Daredevil per se but nothing particularly noteworthy either. Diverting but no more.
Jim Carrey, a newscaster whose dream job of lead anchorman is dashed by some upstart at his TV station, is having a not-good day. Being set upon by street punks, losing his job and crashing his car are only the start. Then it rains on him. Our hero blames the only entity he can – God – claiming he could do a better job. Unusually God, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Morgan Freeman, gives the disgruntled Bruce divine power and promptly nips off for a well-earned vacation. At first all is fine, he can metamorphose those pesky punks, make love like a sex machine and part soup in bowls with his celestial vigour. But naturally, as is inevitable, it’s not all rosy – omnipotence has its downside. So far so Groundhog Day with a different prime concept but, rather like this year’s other big Hollywood comedy Anger Management, once the concept has been gleaned the script plods along with clockwork tedium. And despite the 12 rating (one single use of the f-word, stop this madness please, that’s you Master and Commander too) there is nothing dangerous to edge the comedy. You could set your watch by it.
Word of mouth caused Hulk to be the biggest week-to-week drop of any film this year. The general consensus was that the graphics were rubbish, the action unbelievable and it took far too long for anything to happen. Piffle. Perhaps people just aren’t used to films with scripts, characterisation and dramatic tension anymore. Emotional vacuum Bruce Banner (confusingly played by Eric Bana) wrestles with his angst and tries to come to terms with his psychologically scarred childhood. Naturally he’s a scientist and a shocking accident results in unusual side effects. These side effects, as fans of the popular TV show will no-doubt fondly recall, result in muscular gain, wrecked clothes and a tendency for skin tone to head towards the green side of the spectrum whenever he gets riled. Where the TV show adopted a low-tech approach to transformation, Ang Lee’s Hulk is all multi-million CGI, leaping from mountain peaks like an elephantine gazelle and hurling military hardware about like a kid with the wrong Tonka toy at Christmas. All top destructive stuff but the complaints came nonetheless – apparently the effects weren’t realistic. Excuse me? It’s about a giant green bloke who rips all his clothes off bar the ones covering his modesty and goes on city trashing benders – realism isn’t built into the concept. Hulk is all the better for stylising its mayhem, externalising its character’s psychological hang-ups and painting them in large expressionist brush-strokes. Ang Lee’s deliberate comic-book framing and editing, his expert use of character development and uncluttered focus have turned what could have been a by-the-numbers comic-book film into a pulp drama.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Wouldn’t you know it – the revolution against the machines is in trouble again? So is John Connor, again. So they send another machine back in time to protect him again. It still looks like Arnie and it’s still several models down from the “unstoppable beast of liquid metal blah blah blah” that those naughty robots have sent from the future. Again. Only this time the unstoppable mecha is a chick. With the largest green-lit budget of all time it would have been nice to have had a script in there, but you can’t have everything. This time round Johnny boy needs help; mommy’s dead and there’s no suitably empowered female to replace her. Instead we are, for the most part, in whimpering abused woman territory here except, of course, for the sexy robot woman because all women who look like that are clearly evil. And thus 100 minutes of boys jumping from exploding stuff unravels in a mildly diverting manner while Arnie delivers a “side-splitting” collection of “hilarious” quips. The film is rarely dull but ultimately you’re left with a huge portion of “what’s the point?” with a side order “been there done that”. And as for the 12 rating, what did they think they were doing?
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life
One time cinematographer Jan de Bont takes the reigns for Lara’s second big screen outing. Angelina Jolie’s Dunlop lips and pneumatic add-ons appear, much like her digital counterpart, to be growing substantially between sequels. Perhaps if there is a Part 3 someone should coax Russ Meyer out of retirement. This time Lara’s quest is to thwart more ancient machinery shenanigans being planned by a mad despot. This time the crucial “bad idea” is to introduce an ex-lover and full time scallywag into the equation to help/hinder her in her globetrotting excursions. This undermines the whole “one woman defeating a world of scurrilous men” concept that made the first one so enjoyable. That said the film is dynamic and pretty to look at. The stunts are impressive and tactile, something many of this year’s blockbusters have failed to address – if you have a car chase, film it using cars (that’s you 2Fast2Furious2Tedious2Mucheffort).
Ultimately though, Tomb Raider doesn’t quite make the grade for all its side-saddled gunplay and tourist-friendly Britishness, because of haphazard pacing and lazy peripheral characters.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
If the much publicised rifts are to be believed, this should perhaps have been titled The Beleaguered Film of Not-So-Gentlemen as Stephen “treat them like cattle” Norrington and Sean “I’m an A-list star, young whippersnapper” Connery slugged out the artistic differences. In the end fans of the comic are likely to be perturbed by the Americanisation of the League (box office, you understand) and everyone else by the general pace. It certainly looks the part, dark and fantastical, with the Nautilus in particular being a triumph of design over practicality, but this is very much a film that foregrounds the design over the substance and revels in its eccentric anachronisms. All very nice but the character interaction is all based upon event rather than any tangible emotion. That said there’s always something to look at, the snow sequences are marvellous, the action suitably grandiose and there’s even time for Nemo to let rip with some wacky martial arts. Somehow you can’t imagine James Mason doing that…
Apparently they are still not what they seem as the plot opens out from what, in part one, was effectively a 100 minute prologue. X2 (as it apparently likes to be called, quicker to text probably) opens with a tight combination of suspense, action and intrigue as an audacious assassination is perpetrated by a mutant that can seemingly teleport at will, leaving just a whiff of smoke in its gargoyle looking wake. But naturally things are not as simple as they first seem. Rather like the Nazi connections in part one (which also strain to Singer’s Apt Pupil) X2 doesn’t hide from “big issues”, acting as a metaphor for society’s treatment of race and disability and, more importantly, the ways that society’s underdogs react to their predicament. Magneto is not so much irreconcilably evil as reacting against a society that persecutes him; fellow Shakespearean heavyweight Dr X(avier) prefers a softer approach. Ultimately the real evil is humanity and politics, grabbing for power while honest mutants struggle to understand their roots and their place in a world that doesn’t trust them. Overall the combination of action and emotion with a script that has at least some intelligence (in other years one might veer towards the expression “pretentious” but 2003 was “Year of the Matrix” so we’ll let it pass) is something to welcome in the vacuum that is the modern tentpole flick.
The Core suffers from a number of fundamental flaws. Firstly a film full of woolly democratic-republicanism was never going to win the “hearts and minds” of a deeply polarised public just prior to a war starting, more a point of bad timing. Secondly the film took itself far too seriously and advertised itself as (you may want to sit down at this point) Science Faction (geddit?). When boiled down you have Armageddon inside the Earth with a cast of highbrow Hollywood actors hamming it up in a ship, while every twenty odd minutes some form of groovy new catastrophe hits a major world landmark. Get the oddball crew together, spot the flawed but decent character who’s inevitably going to redeem themselves by selfless self-sacrifice, then add a touch of Seventies disaster flick and Fantastic Voyage. So there’s more cod than the North Sea (but then that’s not too tricky) but at least for once the heroes rely on brainpower, not macho posturing. The opening is a real oddball puzzler with people just dropping dead and a The Birds rip-off in Trafalgar Square sets things up nicely. It becomes formulaic and “deadly grim 50’s scientist” serious after that but at least they tried. Hey, the French guy kicks the corporate Coca Cola machine too.
Films about writers, particularly Hollywood screenplay writers, have long been a small but defined genre-ette. In A Lonely Place, Lost Weekend, Paris When It Sizzles the formula is simple – writer, normally alcoholic, struggles in vain to realise his (always his) former potential whilst wallowing in self-doubt and misery, normally uplifted by female level-headed intervention at some point. It’s easy to see why – these are written by Hollywood screenwriters struggling in vain to realise… etc etc. Charlie Kaufman has, however, gone one step further by putting himself into the script as the central character with a (fictional) brother, both of whom are writing very different screenplays. Charlie’s trouble is that he is basically adapting an inadaptable book about illegal orchid hunting. The film is about the book, adapting it and not adapting it, and about how reality and Hollywood clash. Whether this is clever or not is hardly relevant because it feels clever. Cage gives flawless performances as the two brothers and the self-references to Jonze/Kaufman’s previous film Being John Malkovich is a nice touch.
Bizarrely, despite the brief impressive effects shots with their oh-so-processor-heavy volumetric renderings, Solaris is basically a chamber piece, with four people in a drawing room (albeit one millions of miles from home) where people sit and ponder as though in a Chekov play, and loads of weird stuff happens, involving spirits that seem to be re-creating important individuals in their past lives. And, wouldn’t you know it, the guy sent to investigate these spooky-but-oh-so-existential psychological projections is none other than, you’ve guessed it, a Chris Kelvin, who’s lost his wife and is going a bit loopy. Now Tarkovsky fans may bemoan the lack of a ten-minute single take around a ring road or the savage bisecting of the three hour plus running time, but this is a big studio production with a big star that dares to be intelligent, thoughtful and languidly paced. It’s (please sit down) a real science fiction film. From Hollywood no less! You should be rejoicing. Rated 12A for one use of the ‘f’ word and George Clooney’s bottom.
Charlies Angels: Full Throttle
Apparently the general consensus was “silly”. It’s Charlie’s Angels you know! More high-octane gratuitously over-the-top action with totally unnecessary glamour shots and innuendo assault the eyes, while the ears take a pounding from the pick ‘n’ mix MTV soundtrack. That hair-sniffing fruitcake from part one returns, although sadly Bill Murray has been replaced by the decidedly inferior Bernie Mac. But who cares as the bubbles get unleashed, bombs explode, wirework kung-fu goes even more slow-mo and there are really stupid motorcycle fights to contend with? Somewhere in all this there’s a plot but frankly we’ve forgotten it. Not as riotously fun as the first film but still a big bundle of low attention span eye candy that never gets bogged down in real world physics. As predicted last year the trend for women who fight was just that and any hope of equalling Hong Kong’s impressive range of female fighting flicks has drained away by Charlie’s Angels lack of box office clout. C’est la vie.
Shanghai Knights/Medallion/Tuxedo – A Jackie Chanathon
Shanghai Noon remains Jackie Chan’s only half decent Hollywood outing, mainly due to the interaction with Owen Wilson and a discernable Hong Kong feel to the fight scenes. Second time round and things ain’t so rosy. Transported to a bizarre alternative Victorian London complete with characters both fictional and real, the bungling buddies are out to save Wang’s sister and inadvertently prevent the devious massacre of the royal lineage to appoint that bloke off Queer As Folk as king. All very alternative history but B-movie acting, an incomplete script and some fairly lacklustre fight scenes take its toll. What’s more the chemistry between the two leads in part one has evaporated. What’s more bizarre is that as bad as this is it is still head and shoulders above Jackie’s other two outings this year. The hugely delayed Medallion (originally Highbinders) is a laughably inept fantasy outing with ludicrous wirework and ropey effects. Meanwhile The Tuxedo is one of the most painfully embarrassing pieces of celluloid tosh ever to grace a cinema as Chan becomes a spy by donning a high-tech James Bond gadget strewn dinner jacket. It’s virtually impossible to describe the sheer awfulness of this loathsomely unfunny venture into science fiction.
The Horrors, The Horrors
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake)
A slight change in the title spelling and a bit of trendy “retro seventies” styling can’t disguise that this is a pointless exercise on par with the van Sant remake of Psycho. Here the gore is laid on to “hard-R” levels because the kids need viscera (apparently) without realising the whole point of seventies horror cinema was its intense inescapability. The original film was banned here for two decades not because of gore, but because there was nothing that could be cut without intrinsically ruining the film. First time round you covered your eyes when you thought you saw the hook go in; here you see the hook, the shock’s over in a blink and you’re left with an average slasher at best, a blasphemous travesty at worse.
What with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake trying to bring back the mid-Seventies horror (unsuccessfully) Wrong Turn looks, oh, a few years later to the time of hideous mutants gorily dispatching their nubile victims in some backwater inbred part of the Southern states. Here Deliverance meets TCM meets The Burning as Eliza Dushku (you know, Faith from Buffy) and her cohorts are hunted like animals by skilled, but oh-so-ugly, crossbow wielding cannibals. Gasp as bits are hacked off, shudder as they have to stay quiet as their friend is being carved up on the table and marvel at the number of sudden jumps that you knew were coming but made you jump anyway. Lowest common denominator film-making but done with a sense of gleeful nastiness and gratuitous early-80’s teen nudity all too often absent from modern horror.
The Fangoria revival, where the make-up crew are more important than the cast, is well and truly upon us. A group of youngsters go for a holiday in a remote cabin in the country (can you see where this is going yet?). There they set light to a diseased raving nutter who manages to slosh around vast quantities of puss-laden blood over the car, the house and them before running off and, unbeknownst to them, contaminating the water supply. Soon the youngsters start falling foul of a hideous flesh eating disease, have to contend with the world’s most insane cop and a community of, yep you’ve guessed it, creepy yokels. A love poem to exploitation slashers, Cabin Fever is a delirious, unrepentant, gross horror nasty that knows its sources and adds some touches of its own. However the BBFC must have nodded off for about half of the film because how this ever got a 15 rating is anyone’s guess.
Freddy vs Jason
Take one inexplicably successful 80’s to 90’s horror pop icon who’s never been in a half decent movie (except that 3-D bit with the bloke’s eye in Part 3). Add one inexplicably successful 80’s to 90’s horror pop icon who’s only stared in one decent film (if you don’t count New Nightmare). So that’s about 15 films between them. Not great odds, especially as crossovers are notoriously contrived and rather dodgy. And yes Freddy vs Jason is convoluted, base and shamelessly exploitative. But it’s also a Ronnie Yu film, he who managed to turn the Child Play franchise from sub-Freddy tedium to the deliriously ludicrous heights of Bride of Chucky. And he doesn’t disappoint here. There are enough bizarre dreams, blood gushing walls, OTT wirework fights (might be de rigueur in Hollywood now but remember Yu was doing Bride With The White Hair years ago), needless heavy petting, massacres, twists, deaths and corpses to fill a trilogy. Yu knows he’s making popcorn fodder pure and simple, this is flamboyant but unpretentious film-making, albeit one with a deeply pongy screenplay…
The Ring remake
Why oh why oh why? That’s the question when faced with a US remake of yet another non-American language film, in this case the “so recent the original had barely finished shooting” Ringu. It could never have lived up to its slow-burning creepy low budget predecessor. To be fair it is effective in some places and nowhere near the unmitigated disaster it so clearly should have been. It succeeds with the newly added material that has nothing to do with the original, where it falls badly is in the recreations of Ringu’s key scenes; all the gore and make-up effects in the world can’t match the frisson of the original.
The thing about haunted houses is that it’s usually obvious that you shouldn’t go inside one. They look big, gothic and generally have creepy butlers so are a bit of a giveaway really. But change the setting to a block of flats and suddenly it doesn’t seem so implausible. Yoshimi is the woman in terror trapped in her own home, haunted by fleeting Don’t Look Now style visions of figures in the rain. And it even rains inside, dark mucky water that envelops the sound and drips with creepy intensity constantly keeping the viewer on edge. To add to her phantasmagorical problems she’s also trying to maintain custody of her daughter, protecting her from… well that would be telling. Hideo Nakata stirs up the creeps yet again in another understated, slow-burn high shiver masterpiece. Await the “pointless Hollywood remake”™ with the same dread as all of his other (superior) films.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Aye, aye, me hearties. Shiver me timbers. Ooh arrr yer scurvy dog etc. The box office disasters of huge budgeted flicks such as Pirates (Polanski) and Cutthroat Island (Harlin) had put the cutlass well into the dead man’s chest. Until now. Mercifully the pirate film is back with a vengeance and a yo ho ho. Prepare to have your buckle well and truly swashed for over two hours of zombie ghost ships and sword fights. The scripting is great, the undead angle inspired, the action is old school meets new and the whole thing zips along at a tidy pace. Johnny Depp shows his mettle with this year’s most barnstorming performance but Geoffrey Rush holds his own in true eye-rolling fashion. Gore (the bloke behind the pointless remake of Ringu) Verbinski has come up with the summer’s best popcorn flick by a mile. Based (improbably) on a fairly lacklustre Disney World ride we await with eagerness the inevitable spin off It’s A Small World. With multinational zombie children of course…
Prison dramas are nothing new. You know the genre conventions– someone is shoved in the slammer for a crime they didn’t commit and the new fish has to cope with the prison hierarchy, the sadistic guards, the “food rations knocked to the floor” and the regular punishments. And normally there’s forced labour too. All these elements are present and correct but with a twist because this time it’s a kid cast into a hard-labour camp for juvenile delinquents on trumped-up charges pertaining to the stealing of some charity training shoes. And work he does, digging huge holes in the desert heat day after day, watched over by the guard under the command of the mysterious and cruel warden. Naturally there is a nefarious plan afoot and some poisonous lizards to contend with. With a fragmentary structure that slowly reveals a superbly constructed plot, excellent scripting and uniformly consistent acting this is unpatronising, thoroughly engaging and dramatic. An intelligent film for families? John Voight acting? Whatever next…
Snake of June
It’s Shinya Tsukamoto. It’s cheap, black and white and has a central love triangle with two men and a woman, one of the men played by Tsukamoto-san himself, who also edits, writes, shoots most of it and probably makes the lunchtime ramen for everyone too. Here the central character is eventually empowered by initially humiliating erotic blackmail games involving highly dubious technology in an outpouring of orgone energy that threatens to disrupt the whole fabric of the film. Kinky, controversial, underground cinema at its best but not recommended for those of a delicate disposition or a tired desire for films that equate cutting edge with the size of the budget rather than the quality of the imagination. This year’s “must see” cult film…
There he is! Film over. Nope, seriously Pixar’s latest delight is a delightful as you’d expect although unfunny clownfish Marlin’s constant self-loathing can grate a bit, as can the repetition and the repetition. The usual collection of easy to identify characters with bizarre traits, microsecond perfect comedy timing and fishy gags make this a true family film in the best sense of the term. Surfer turtles, sharks trying to beat their carnivorous habits in self-help groups and a tankful of idiosyncratic sea-life populate all corners of the film. Marlin’s son Nemo has been fishnapped by an Australian dentist and it’s down to the widower (he lost his wife and his other few hundred kids in a brutal pre-credit attack) to get him back, aided by Dory, a fish with a memory as long as a… sorry what was I on about?
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
So Peter Jackson finally reaches the final hurdle, galloping past the three hour mark and annoying Christopher Lee in the process. So is it any cop? Well it’s spectacular to be sure, those dollars have been well spent (T3 looks crap: $180million=100mins LOTR looks fab: $300million=600mins you, as people with different usage of the English language might well hypothetically say, do the math) and Jackson sure knows how to fill the screen. However leaving Lee out was a BIG mistake. Ultimately the threat of hoards of horrible beasties is pitched right and the scale and detail of the battles is very succinct, but there is no real adversary that the audience can relate to. It’s all too abstract, just some flame-eyed wotsit on a stick and some blokes so scary they are hidden by big cloaks. The running time fair whizzes by but there is a feeling that perhaps the Star Wars style ceremony should have concluded proceedings, leaving those of us who imagined the Shire being ravaged by old Sharky still a distinct possibility. They could even have stretched out a straight-to-video coda for that. Still we’re nit-picking, because ultimately this is a tremendous achievement.
Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary
Imagine pitching this one to Jerry Bruckheimer: “Jerry, you’re gonna love this – it’s Dracula, you know that old book, done properly but like, get this, entirely through the magic of ballet. That’s right, ballet Jerry, and what’s more we’ll set it to the music of that foot-tapping master Gustav Mahler. And film it like a silent film with super 8 stuff and everything! Jerry? Jerry?”
Insane Canadian genius Guy Maddin’s intense reworking of Bram Stoker’s novel is based upon the production by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Before you turn away this is one of the films of the year, a dizzying blur of fast editing, stylised sets and black and white photography emphasised with crimson-tinted blood. Quite simply stunning Maddin has transformed the, let’s be frank here, mad concept into a rare beast – a rollercoaster of an art film. Exquisite cinematography mix with distinctive use of sound (you can hear footsteps when they are relevant but all the characters speak through title cards) to make, and we don’t use this term lightly, a unique cinematic experience. Another classic from one of the world’s most distinctive auteurs.
Wiping forever (hurrah!) the rancid memory of that Spielberg atrocity Hook comes PJ Hogan’s take on the Peter Pan story complete with curious Al-Fayed involvement. So what do you get? You get a pile of visually arresting special effects, wire-work and sword-play that goes together to make a coherent and internally consistent film. Shock. This is what effects are meant to do – take you to another place, one that’s NOT like the real world at all. We are in CGI Mary Poppins land here, albeit with a darker edge, big fluffy clouds you can bounce on, whole years mirrored in a day and fjords of fairies (fjord, of course, being the collective noun for fairies) sprinkling glittery magic dust on the land. Fabulous. Tinkerbell is morally confused. Peter is suitably hedonistic, wondrous and a little bit creepy. Richard Briers is an excellent Smee and Hook is a perfect combination of evil, dastardly and conniving. Wendy’s turn “to the dark side “ (so to speak) is both believable and frightening. Visually gorgeous, imaginative, exciting, emotional, literate and fun. No modern day re-imaginings. No Robin Williams. Just great entertainment with a heart and soul. And, in case you’re asking, we DO believe in fairies. Yep, we do. We do.
Not only a remake but also a pop-friendly reinterpretation of the classic Cartesian mind-body problem Freaky Friday scores many plus points for its deconstruction of modern society and the rocky relationships between children and parents. Jamie Lee Curtis is a popular author and psychoanalyst who becomes swapped in mental form with her hard rocking grungy-but-with-a-heart-in-there-somewhere teenage daughter. This allows for that rarity in family films – one in which the kids can rightly bemoan their parents’ behaviour and vice versa. That it manages to debase the two scourges of modern society – mobile phones and psychoanalysis (daughter dispenses with all the analytical crap and just tells is like it is) is merely the icing on the cake. Good solid fun, it’s not the greatest thing since unsliced bread but is a cracking romp nonetheless.
Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over
Three evil Sylvester Stallones are responsible for an insidious plan to rule the world through an interactive immersive video game platform that is, apparently, impossible to win. Yuni must take on the game and reclaim his sister’s life! Think eXistenZ but like, you know, for kids. Oh and you get cool but headache inducing 3-D glasses to don at appropriate moments (in fact most of the film). Not up to Rodriguez’s first Spy Kids films but a lot of fun nonetheless, with relentless action and constantly impatient but coherent camerawork (Rodriguez, like Tsukamoto below, edits his films, shoots, does the music etc – he just has more money). It’s fast, short, frothy and fun and you can play the “spot the cameo” game too. Also from Rodriguez this year the bizarre Once Upon A Time In Mexico, a distillation of Mexican spaghetti westerns with some delirious imagery and “man of the year” Johnny Depp in fine form.
The Bride has been put in a coma for six years following a massacre on her wedding day that left everyone dead, apart from her. Naturally she’s not impressed with events but rather than seek therapy she takes matters into her own hands. You see Bride was once part of an elite gang called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, so she’s not someone to cross lightly. Problem is the very people who instigated the hit are her ex-comrades and their boss Bill. Now Bride has made a list of who’s been naughty and she’s working her way towards killing Bill. First let’s get this straight: there is one big, big problem with Kill Bill – it’s only half a film. That said it is a very good half, packed to the gills with cool stuff and more exploitation classic references than you can shake a bo stick at. For those of us weaned on Shaw Brothers films, Baby Cart, Jack Hill, Larry Cohen and Kinji Fukusaku this is like the cinematic “best of” cover-version of your favourite gleefully unsound films. There’s an anime section, silhouette scenes and lots and lots of cherry coloured blood gushing in torrents over the beautiful oriental sets. It’s got Sonny Chiba in it! Its got snow, zen gardens and The 5678’s. It’s got the music from Battles Without Honour Or Humanity in it. Someday all entertainment will be made like this, only three hours long.
Oh my God! It’s Billy “Oh my God!” Connolly. Saying “Oh my God!” A lot. Exploiting (as you do) a wormhole to 14th century France, what better bunch of people to check out the retro-warfare action on offer than a troupe of military grunts and an ark of fresh-faced archaeologists? A “fax machine for objects” has the side effect of journeying people to the aforementioned French countryside but, wouldn’t you know it, travelling too many times makes your arteries go skew-whiff. Billy “Oh my God!” Connolly has got himself stuck in the past and it’s up to his son and a variety of companions to get him back. Cue wildly fluctuating accents, the entire cast insisting at every turn that they are not English and a case of Star Trek “spot the red shirt” that pretty much decides who gets it when from word go. By no means a total disaster, this is cod-strewn light entertainment with most of the action taking place in-camera rather than in-computer and is the better for it. Oh my God!
This updating of Treasure Island in a sci-fi setting is a jolly good ride marred only by irritating Ben the robot, but mercifully his unfunny mannerisms don’t see the light of day until two thirds of the way through. Inventive, spectacular and fun it was, of course, a flop. Like Atlantis.
And the winners are (paradiddle pur-lease):
Best Horror: Dark Water
Best SF: Solaris
Best Fantasy: Holes
Special Yo Ho Ho Award for Most Enjoyable Romp: Pirates of the Caribbean
Smug Award for Best Film Last Year: Spirited Away