Coming soon...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

MARTYRS (2008) - Pascal Laugier

Lord knows where to start with Martyrs. Advance word came through that this was the most controversial film of the year. However, whenever I hear this statement, I always find the films to be either complete rubbish or undeserving of such a description. As I sat down to watch Martyrs, I knew little to nothing about it other than it was a French film and whatever the two line plot description on IMDB. I was unprepared for what I was about to witness.

Anna and Lucie are two orphaned girls. In the opening of the film, we see a young teenage girl, battered and bruised, running through what looks like an abandoned industrial complex. She is terrified and clearly fleeing something awful. She escapes and ends up in an orphanage where she is withdrawn and alone until another young orphan befriends her. Years later we see a family sitting down to have breakfast. They are happy. The perfect picture of a family. They young kids playfully bicker while the parents discuss what the older boy is going to study in college. This picture is violently interrupted by the arrival of a young woman bent on bloody murder. This is the older Lucie. She murders the family and calls Anna. There is something desperately wrong with Lucie. She is haunted by something which we are not clear anyone but her can see. Anna arrives at the scene of the mayhem and must clean up what Lucie has done. And as events unfold, things descend into something that can only be described and a horrific nightmare.

As I sit here wondering what to write next, I find it very hard not to go into detail. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, as Martyrs has to be seen to be believed. But that’s not a recommendation. It’s more of a disclaimer as nothing I can write can really do justice to what happens on screen. Martyrs is probably the most incredibly difficult film I have ever had to sit through. I’ve seen quite a few difficult films. Some were difficult due to the physical brutality the characters had to endure. Other, far more effective films were difficult due to the emotional hardship endured by the protagonists. Few films I’ve seen seemed to go out of their way to emotionally assault the audience. And Martyrs seems to want to do that in ways that the makers of the reprehensible Saw franchise could only hope to.

The film is split into two separate parts that, while connected by story, are completely different in terms of sub-genre. One half of the film feels like a psychological horror that relies on a creature we’re never quite sure is real or imaginary. The violence in this part of the film is pretty hard core in terms of blood and guts and is difficult watching. However, about half way through, the film takes a complete change of course and becomes something quite different to what came before. And it’s at this point that the film becomes a real test. The violence, both physically and emotionally, is relentless and brutal. At points I questioned myself, worried that I was becoming desensitised to what I was witnessing, but thankfully, found myself appalled at just how far things were going.

There’s one part of me that admires what the filmmakers have done. In ways, the film is comparable to the Saw franchise. But when put next to Saw, Martyrs makes Saw look pretty tame. The difference between the two is in execution. Saw relies on elaborate traps and imaginative death scenarios. Martyrs doesn’t have that kind of thing. It’s just about beatings. And beatings. And beatings. This is far more difficult to sit through than someone with something that resembles an iron maiden attached to their head with a key implanted behind their eye. That kind of thing is just ridiculous, where as we all know what it feels like to take a punch. And the despair that the film creates just never lets up.

The unfortunate thing with Martyrs is that the premise just doesn’t justify the violence. Immediately after the film, I found myself comparing the film to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. I initially thought where Funny Games was an answer to the audiences’ fixation on violence in 1997, Martyrs was an answer to those who love Saw and Hostel and those kinds of films. However, Pascal Laugier, the director of Martyrs just doesn’t give us a film that justifies what he puts the audience though. The concept, when explained, is quite novel. But it deserves a better film. By the time you finish Martyrs, you will just ask yourself; ‘why?’

It’s abundantly clear why Martyrs is the most controversial film of the year. In fact, I don’t think many films have ever come as close. The screening I was at was packed. But after three quarters of the film had passed, people were leaving. It’s just so difficult to sit through. My jaw hit the floor when I was told afterwards the film has a 97 minute running time. It feels more like a two and a half hour film.

I’m quite conflicted by Martyrs. It’s a very well put together film. The production values, make-up effects and acting are very good. I have to admire just how far the filmmakers were willing to push the boundaries. And the boundaries are destroyed, trampled into the ground and then defecated on. However, the script and plot really don’t justify the volume of violence in the film. You want to have a very, very strong script and one hell of a pay-off to justify what you’re put through in Martyrs. And I really don’t know what that pay-off would be. But Martyrs unfortunately doesn’t deliver. What is very clear about it is, it’s extreme. Few films come close. I won’t watch the film again for a very long time, if ever. I’d love to watch it again, to get a clearer view of how I feel, but I don’t think I could put myself through it. It may seem like a cop-out. But watch it and see if you could put yourself through it twice. As was once said in Futurama- You’ve watched it. You can’t un-watch it. A disclaimer for Martyrs if ever I heard one.



I love a good documentary. And I love documentaries about filmmaking or the film business in general. SO when I got tickets to Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story Of Ozploitation!, I didn’t know what I was in for, but I was sure it’d be pretty entertaining.

Not Quite Hollywood kicks off at a time when the Australian film industry was on par with that of Iceland and Venezuala. In other words, there were few films that ever came out of the country. Sure, some productions shot there. But they were films that used the Australian landscape as a backdrop. They weren’t Australian made films. And then, taking a leaf from Russ Meyers and bawdy English films of the sixties, Australians started doing it for themselves. Comedies gave way to horror and the Australian film industry was born. It went through it’s ups and downs, but never gave in and did it all with a sense of humour that only the Aussies have.

The documentary itself is highly entertaining. Essentially, the film is a bunch of talking heads interspersed with clips from the films the filmmakers are talking about. But it never once becomes a dull, boring affair. The people involved in the making of these films are in themselves entertaining characters. And while a few names will be unfamiliar, their stories are no-less hilarious. Some of the films that crop up are recognisable, notably, Razorback and Mad Max. But a great many of the films are obscure films few of us will have seen. Having said that, there were a few curiosities mentioned that I wouldn’t mind checking out!

Of course, there are a few familiar faces. Quentin Tarantino pops up with his encyclopedic knowlege of exploitation flicks and offers a few insights. Jamie Lee Curtis, the star of the Aussie horror, Roadgames has some things to say. And crazy old Dennis Hopper provides a lot of laughs as his antics on and off the set of Mad Dog Morgan are recounted with a wry grin. But it's the many unfamiliar faces of the Australian exploitation scene that provide most of the entertainment.

It’s not a documentary that will set the world on fire. Nor will it be mentioned at the Oscars. But Not Quite Hollwood is the perfect balance of information and entertainment. It never takes itself too seriously and provides us with a view into a part of the film industry we’d probably never see. A great documentary that’s well worth checking out.


BURN AFTER READING (2008) - Ethan & Joel Coen

The Coen brothers are riding high on success, both financially, and critically of No Country For Old Men. The film was a dark thriller, so to follow it up, the Coens shot a comedy, something they have had success in the past with The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou. In Burn After Reading, they set up a premise that sounds like a thriller, but fill the cast with characters who are both incredibly stupid and belong in a screwball comedy.

Osbourne Cox is a CIA analyst. His alcoholism has caused the powers that be to review his work situation and downgrade his status. Enraged, Cox quits the agency and begins his memoirs, which threatens to expose certain ‘explosive’ elements in his career. Cox’s wife, Katie is sick of Cox, plans to divorce him and hook up with Harry Pfarrer, a serial internet dater she’s been having an affair with. Katie makes a data CD of Cox’s computer information which inadvertently ends up in the hands of Chad Feldheimer and Linda Litzke, two idiotic fitness centre employees who decide to use the information to blackmail Osbourne Cox for money so that Linda can get cosmetic surgery.

And so the ensemble cast have a great time getting laughs and hamming it up. It’s just a shame they’re the only ones really having a laugh. The trailer for Burn After Reading was very promising. It showed some of the craziness of the cast and provided a few laughs. But unfortunately they showed pretty much all the laughs. I warn you, if you’ve seen the trailer for this movie, you will see everything, and I do mean everything coming way before it happens. The little plot twists are blatantly obvious, the laughs are already had and there is little left in the way of mystery. It’s a prime example of why trailers should be kept to the very minimum of footage.

Firstly, the story is very thin. It’s not that complicated despite the many prime characters and their various motivations. The characters themselves are a mish-mash of the sort of dumb secondary characters that have populated the Coens’ films over the years. They’re eccentric and have little quirks that set them apart from the average joe. In this respect, it feels like the Coens are at a stretch to fill the film. There’s not quite enough plot, so the characters are there to distract the audience. Having said that, the characters do provide some laughs. But it’s just not enough to bolster a rather weak script.

The performances, from a very very impressive cast are pretty good. Everyone has played a version of their character before, so they’re in relatively comfortable shoes. There are highlights, though. John Malkovich’s Osbourne Cox is a well-spoken, but dangerously on-edge kinda guy. He’s the person you don’t want to piss off, and Malkovich does this very well. It’s great to see him play this kind of role outside kids’ movies. It’s just a shame there’s not much more of him. Richard Jenkins, a brilliant character actor who’s been around for years has the role with the most meat, despite how little his screen time is. Jenkins’ character really is the most normal character in the film, with motivations that are more real. And Jenkins’ creates a character that’s actually believable amongst many cartoons. And Brad Pitt’s Chad Feldheimer provides most of the laughs in the film. He’s a blonde, idiotic, image-obsessed personal trainer. Yet he does have something of a heart of gold. He’s got ideas that he cannot execute and really dodgy plans. And Pitt plays this brilliantly. He makes Feldheimer someone you feel sorry for when things go wrong for him. Yet you pray for things to go wrong so that the laughs begin. George Clooney’s played the idiot before. In both O Brother Where Art Thou and Leatherheads. His character feels like an extension of those roles, so we’re seeing nothing new there. Tilda Swinton, as Katie Cox also has played the no-nonsense ruthless business type before, and it’s something she does well. And Frances McDormand, who plays the other idiot of the piece has a few choice moments and a few laughs.

Burn After Reading is rather smug. But it’s just not that funny. The ending is far too abrupt and is told to us rather than shown. Which breaks the cardinal rule of screenwriting- show, don’t tell. It’s not a remarkable film, and considering it’s from the Coens, I had hoped for far better. It won’t really jump out in the cannon of Coen films. There are a few entertaining moments, and Brad Pitt continues doing some of the best work of his career. But other than that, it’s all kind forgettable. Burn After Reading is an appropriate title. Because you most likely will forget after watching.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

MIRRORS (2008) - Alexandre Aja

Horror movies. There are a lot of them. And unfortunately, a lot of them are crap. Simple as that. As audiences become more savvy in the art of cinema, special effects and the techniques of making them jump, it is up to the filmmakers to become more inventive and creative. Unfortunately, this is rare in Hollywood. Most horror movies are either remakes or adaptations of previously made Asian films. Alexandre Aja’s new version of Mirrors is one of the later.

Ben Carson is an ex-cop. He’s currently not on the force after killing a man by accident. He’s an alcoholic and has been kicked out of his home by his pathologist wife. He misses his son and daughter and wants to get his life back on track. In order to do this, Ben takes a job as the night watchman in an abandoned shopping mall that has been destroyed by fire. The building is old, ornate and was clearly once beautiful. And it is filled with mirrors. The mirrors are unusual in that they’re untouched and unblemished and as Ben’s job unfolds he notices strange things in the reflections. People appear in the mirror, but aren’t there in real life. And Ben’s own reflection acts strangely. And as things start going wrong in Ben’s life, he must figure out he’s going mad, or if there’s something more sinister in the mirrors.

Why oh why must directors rely on loud noises and animals jumping out at the protagonist in order to get scares. It simply just does not work. There is something to be said for building mood and creepiness. Atmosphere is far more frightening than loud noises. What you can’t see is infinitely more terrifying than what you can. Yet in horror movie after horror movie, the same old tactics, the same old techniques pop up, and there is nothing there to elicit more than a raised eyebrow from those of us who are used to this kind of thing. And Mirrors is no different.

The horror elements aside, the other problem with Mirrors is the script. It’s lazy. And takes twists that are either bafflingly poorly judged or else blatantly obvious. Kids aren’t scary any longer. It’s done. Unless the kid is Damien from the original version of The Omen, you’re going to get very little in the way of creepiness. Yet in Mirrors, we have a normal kid who goes spooky. Done, dull, move on. You could literally tick off the horror clichés while watching Mirrors. And then, in the climax, there are three separate and different endings. It’s like Aja and co-writer, Grégory Levasseur watched three distinct types of horror movie and lifted the endings of each, jamming them into the ending of Mirrors. None of them work within the context of the movie, and yet, if two endings were lifted, the remaining ending wouldn’t work either. It’s terrible.

Kiefer Sutherland, doing this while on hiatus on the filming of 24 does his best. And he does fairly well. Being a frantic, stressed to the point of breaking, can-do father is something Sutherland has nailed while doing 24. So he’s just repeating that here. And that’s fine. Paula Patton, who plays Carson’s wife does the usual concerned turned screaming feminine role. And Amy Smart has little to work with playing Ben’s sister. The rest of the cast is pretty ineffectual. And there’s the scary kid.

There is one gruesome moment in Mirrors that was pretty entertaining. But it’s a fleeting moment and lends little to the rest of the film. It’s just dull. Little in the way of scares, and clichés galore. Dull. There’s no other way of describing it.


NEW Watchmen poster

Friday, October 17, 2008

First look at 'Inglorious Basterds'

Well, it's been a long, LONG time coming, but Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds (and that's not a misspelling) is finally going ahead. And here is the first image of Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of the titular Basterds. Personally, I think Tarantino needs to return to the form he last showed with Jackie Brown. His last few films have been more self-indulgent than entertaining. But with a World War II backdrop, perhaps Inglorious Basterds could be a really great flick. Provided the pop culture references and foot fetish is kept to a minimum.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Star Trek update

Just released are a slew of new images for J.J.Abrams' Star Trek reboot. And... here they are...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Night Terror

A very talented friend and ex-colleague of mine, Ian Kenny has shot a short horror film called Night Terror. The guy's sickeningly talented, and the short is pretty excellent! It's about a woman returning home on a dark, stormy night and finding out all's not well in her house. Ian wrote, directed, and shot the entire thing... in fact he did everything but star in it, so he's quite the auteur!

Anyway, head on over to and check out the behind the scenes materials. It wont disappoint!

Night Terror

Night Terror from benjaminkenjamin on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

APPALOOSA (2008) - Ed Harris

It seems yonks since 3:10 To Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford came out. It was only last year. 2007 was the year of the western. That Ed Harris’ Appaloosa comes well after the release of these films gives is a good thing for the western. If you were to put Appaloosa up against these films, it would be seen as the weakest of the three. It’s a noble effort. But due to some problems with the script and editing, Appaloosa is ultimately a solid, but flawed film.

Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch arrive in the town of Appaloosa looking to bring law and order to a town that seems to have lost it’s way. The town is suffering due to the threat of Randall Bragg, a violent rancher with men who are less interested in law than they are in rape, theft and murder. Cole’s methods are stern. But he sees them as the only way to harmony. When Allison French arrives in the town, Cole sees the potential for a stable life. Something he has never had. But the threat from Bragg, and Allison’s less than reliable loyalty to her man threaten the town, and Cole’s dream of a happy life.

Appaloosa has a lot of strengths. The performances, from a pretty strong cast, are almost spot on. Ed Harris, who directs as well as stars as Virgil Cole is just as strong as he’s been in any film. What’s strange about Appaloosa is the light-heartedness that runs through some of it. Maybe we’ve become accustomed to heavy-handed westerns in everything from Unforgiven to There Will Be Blood. And it would seem that this light-heartedness is entirely intentional. Which isn’t a bad thing. When the film starts it’s shooting (and this is a western. I wanna see plenty of gunfights) it’s pretty good. But unfortunately, for a film that clocks 2 hours, these moments are rare and brief.

The problem with Appaloosa lies in the writing and editing. Harris, and co-writer Robert Knott have plenty to say about love, friendship and all the other things that buddy-movie, love and westerns usually say. However, in a script that could use a lot of trimming, these themes get somewhat lost. The film feels like a mish-mash of ideas that are a little all over the place. Scenes are either too long or too brief with cuts that feel like they’re made just before some more dialogue is spoken. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but there are moments where you feel a little lingering on characters or landscape would be great. And then there are moments that leave you going ‘wait, go back to that!’

As I said, the film is full of great performances. Harris seems to get all the comedy. And he mixes that with the dour nature of Cole pretty well. Viggo Mortensen is, as usual, brilliant. I dunno if directors keep perfectly casting him in roles, or that Mortensen has the uncanny ability of putting himself in any role and make it look like it was written for him. Maybe it’s both. Regardless, he’s yet again the best thing in the movie. Jeremy Irons again proves he makes a great villain, being both loathsome and likable at the same time. And it’s great to see Lance Henriksen get a meaty role for once. The guy deserves more screen time. Renee Zellweger yet again forces the question ‘can Renee Zellweger act?’ There are moments when she’s perfectly fine in her role. Yet there are other times when she just comes across as if she’s been at the stash of marijuana I’m sure one of the grips has stashed away on set.

As I said, Appaloosa isn’t a bad film. It’s just a flawed one. A film that needed a little more focus and direction. Harris does a good job. Just not a great one. The performances are for the most part, excellent. And there are some great moments. It’s just a shame the film wasn’t tidied up a little more and polished.


Monday, October 6, 2008

TAKEN (2008) - Pierre Morel

Luc Besson used to direct movies. He made one of the greatest western action films ever in Leon. Commonly known as The Professional in the US. But in the last while, Besson has spent most of his time writing and producing. Oh, and making Arthur and the Invisibles... Some of his recent projects haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but maybe Taken, directed by Pierre Morel will buck the trend.

Bryan is an ex-agent of some sort. We’re not given any indication as to what agency he worked for, but you can bet it involved shady operations. Whatever it was that Bryan did, it cost him his wife and daughter. Bryan is retired and now lives close to his daughter in order to build a relationship with her. He objects when she comes to him looking for permission to travel to Paris. He eventually changes his mind, but tells his daughter to keep in contact. The girl arrives in Paris. While on the telephone to her father, Kim and her friend are kidnapped by unknown assailants. Bryan leaps into action, calling on old friends and skills and leaving bloody mayhem in his wake as he searches for his daughter.

If Liam Neeson brings one thing to a film, it’s gravitas. But all the gravitas in the world can’t stop Taken from being an grotesque and frankly, hideously racist action film. Morel did a decent job with District 13, an over the top actioner that showcased Parkour, the sport of free-running. However, he’s tried to put brains to the action here, and instead, ended up with a dreadful script, frenetic and confusing camera work and a waste of Liam Neeson. The film tries to be dark as it uses human trafficking as it’s main plot device. It’s sometimes shocking in moments. But the gravity of the situation is somewhat lost by the ridiculous amount of bodies Liam Neeson leaves behind him on his quest.

It seems there are no consequences to peoples’ actions in Taken. No matter where Neeson goes, no matter who he batters, stabs or shoots, he’s able to walk away with neither a scratch nor a reprimand. And that’s even weirder considering one of the top policemen in Paris knows Neeson’s the one killing his way around France. The other thing that is baffling about the film is the level of racism. Not a single European or Middle Eastern person is portrayed as anything other than stupid, evil or corrupt. It seems everyone exists solely to get in Neeson’s way. At one point there is an American bad guy. But he’s dispatched with little more than a minute of screen time.

Neeson deserves, and can do better. Hell, he even made the woeful Phantom Menace entertaining. There’s no real excuse here. Unless Neeson thinks he’s getting on a bit and has to get the last few punches he can manage out of his system. But he’s still a massive, imposing presence on screen. It’s just a shame his burly nature wasn’t given more to do here. The rest of the cast are inconsequential. Seriously. Maggie Grace is purely a plot point as Neeson’s daughter. Famke Janssen just plays a bitch. Everything else is just set up for Neeson to act like Jack Bauer. If it’s agency-trained violence and torture you’re after, you’re better off watching a season of 24. Taken? Taken the piss more like.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Really? Another Indiana Jones?

I never thought I'd see the day where the news of a new Indiana Jones movie fills me with at best, apathy. And at worst, dread. But it seems that a follow-up to the (in retrospect) pretty dreadful Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a very real possibility. At least, according to Harrison Ford.

I'd be all for a new Indiana Jones movie. But only if we can all agree to completely ignore KOTCS. Keep Mutt Williams, by all means. But leave out the aliens, heavily reduce the CGI, drop the cutesy animal bullshit and actually let Indy do something other than sit on the side-lines. If it goes ahead, hopefully Lucas will have seen the mistakes made in KOTCS. Yeah, and Michael Bay may do a low budget drama after Transformers 2...

Indiana Jones 5?

Friday, October 3, 2008

You just cant kill a zombie...

Despite the lukewarm reception for Land of the Dead, and the frankly dreadful Diary of the Dead, George A. Romero is back shooting another zombie flick. Now, don't get me wrong, Night of the Living Dead is a genre classic, and one of my personal top five horror movies of all time (coming soon). But really, when do you stop looking for new twists on a tired concept and realise you're flogging a dead horse? Hey, I could be wrong. Romero could knock this one out of the park. But having seen Land and Diary, I think it's ambitious to hope for something on a par with Dawn of the Dead. Or even Day of the Dead.

Island of the Dead?....
Romero rises again for zombie film.
BloodyDisgusting report