Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011: Review of the Year

Well, that's it for 2011 so I thought it would be a good idea to do a round up of the year. But rather than go through all stuff that's come out in the cinema I'm going to go through stuff I've bought (mainly because I've just not been out to the cinema much this year, partly due to a lack of interest at what's on).

Favourite movies I saw at the cinema this year
Of about the five films I did go to the cinema to see, Drive probably had the biggest effect on me. Very slick direction, long periods of silence, jarring horrific violence, pitch perfect casting. Refn's movie was a breath of fresh air, a real wake up call to how stale a lot of big studio pictures have become. A lot of people have pointed out that the film is highly reminiscent of an early Michael Mann and they are absolutely right; there's a lot of similarities between this and Thief and Manhunter with heavy emphasis being put on the soundtrack. My favourite Drive related story has to be the woman who tried to sue the makers for making the trailer look like it would be Fast and Furious-type movie.

Monsters (2010)
You're going to notice that there's a big gap between what I enjoy at the cinema (introspective, arty flicks) and what I watch at home on DVD (stupid mindless action films). Monsters was another very artsy movie with long periods of silence. I thought it was a genius idea to have a science fiction film that, for the most part, ignored special effects and massive fights/explosions in favour of just telling a story of two people caught in the middle. And I'm completely in awe that the film was shot mostly on-the-fly. The relationship between the two main characters really drew me in and for a first time director Gareth Edwards had a very strong handle on what he wanted. Looking forward to revisiting it again soon.

Favourite movie bought from the 2000s
I can't remember whether I first watched this movie this year or just got around to buying it on DVD. Primer again is a movie by a first time director who took a creative, low budget approach to making a science fiction film. Essentially, it's about two amateur scientists who accidentally create a fully working time machine. This film really messes up your head trying to follow the plot (you'll want to watch it again as soon as you've finished, trust me). Part of the difficulty is down to the slightly rushed running time and part of it seems to be a creative decision by the director to put you in the same state of mind as the scientists as they repeat the same timeline over and over.

Favourite movie bought from the 1990s
Taking Care of Business
I should really be adding Richard Stanley's Hardware but I wanted to avoid putting another Sci-fi film on this list. I'll cover that movie eventually. In the meantime, the only other film I bought this year from the 90s was Taking Care of Business, a rather formulaic but enjoyable comedy with James Belushi. Charles Grodin plays an uptight businessman who loses his filofax, which he depends on so much it ruins his day. Meanwhile Belushi, an escaped convict picks it up and starts taking over his life. This was a nice little reminder of what comedy films used to be like. I grew up in the 90s and used to watch loads of movies like this as a kid but never managed to catch this one before. Random trivia: This film was JJ Abrams' first script.

Favourite movie bought from the 1980s
The Gate
Man, the eighties had some awesome horror comedies: Gremlins, Monster Squad, House. They just don't make stuff like this anymore. The Gate was one of the few I'd missed. Essentially, a young Stephen Dorff finds a hole in the garden at the bottom of his garden that unleashes little demons that wreak havoc. I liked this a lot, it's low budget but the effects work is very creative and it's actually pretty horrific at times. This deserves to be known a lot more than it does at the moment. Apparently, Alex Winter (Bill from Bill & Ted) is directing a remake next year:- “Don't mess it up Preston!”

Favourite movie bought from the 1970s
Animal House
I've watched loads of “college hijinks” movies over the years: everything from Revenge of the Nerds to PCU to Van Wilder to Real Genius and I like the genre a lot, however I realised I'd never seen the original; the prototype. I'm glad to say I enjoyed it a lot. It's got a very meandering plot (that by the end you realise isn't very important at all). John Belushi's performance as Bluto still stands up today. It's an almost completely silent performance but it's perfectly played. It was also very awesome to see Karen Allen looking even cuter that she does in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Favourite movie bought from the 1960s
I know a lot of people will think I checked this out because Tarantino's doing Django Unchained next year but I actually picked it up a few months before that movie got announced. I went on a bit of western binge this year following watching Young Guns 1 & 2. Django was one of my purchases, it's a very good spaghetti western, very stylish and violent (much more than Leone's Dollars movies). Franco Nero is great as the lead character and the ending in the graveyard is brilliant. I also got the “official” sequel Django Strikes Again which I'm sad to say wasn't very good, and at times very very weird.

Worst movies bought this year
This is an eye-gougingly bad movie. I'm going to blame Mitch at Video Vacuum for this one (Damn you). I read a review mentioning how the film was vicariously tied to the Deathstalker series, going so far as to reuse a fair bit of footage and was intrigued having watched the campy (and somewhat enjoyable) Deathstalker movies earlier in the year. This film is massively disjointed and embarrassingly acted even by producer Roger Corman's lowest standards. The worst character has to be Wooby, who seems to be a Ewok(!) and whose costume is so low tech you can see the stitching on the bottom of his feet.

Ten Dead Men (2008)
As a (sometime) amateur filmmaker I'm always interested in low (or very low) budget films. This film was made in Britain by a bunch of filmmakers for something like £100,000 so it feels bad to really rip into it. Brendan Carr plays a former hitman out of revenge on his old colleagues, killing them one by one. I've got to say I was rarely bored watching this but it wasn't very good either. The technicality of some of the fights was good but the direction, acting and everything else was poor. It's a shame because with a better director this could have been an interesting film.

Favourite movie-related TV series
The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones
(Vol 1-3)
I completely dismissed this show as a boring piece of trash when I was younger but felt an urge to rewatch it recently. For DVD it's been reedited from the original broadcasts, cutting out the 90 year old Indy bookends (which admittedly were very cheesy) and mashing two episodes together to make a series of 23 x 90 minute movies. The show wasn't really about Indy at all (none of the episodes have the same feel as the films), it was just a way of getting kids interested to history. Sean Patrick Flanery was pretty good as the teenage Indy and the adventures during his time in World War I (which made up most of the series) were, for the most part, pretty riverting. Funny how being older made me appreciate this series more.

FX: The Series (Season One)
I'll be covering the FX movies with Bryan Brown in the New Year. I picked this box set up as I was intrigued to see how they converted the story to the small screen. It's a quite formulaic show (as were a lot of shows in the 90s) but the effects work is fun and Australian actor Cameron Daddo actually makes a decent laconic lead. I'm a sucker for stupid little formulaic action TV shows like this. It's not something I watch compulsively but is good for when you've had a long day and you just want to switch your brain off for 45 minutes.

Favourite movie related books
X-Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker
by Alex Cox
I like Alex Cox a lot as a director. His films are very unique but sometimes frustrating in terms of quality. After his career suicide movie Walker he's been forced to work on increasingly smaller budgets. We'll likely never see anything a big budget as Repo Man or Sid & Nancy again. X-Films documents each of his movies from 1984-2008 in intricate and brutally honest detail. I'm currently slowly making my way through the films, watching them on DVD then reading about them in the book, which helps makes some of his more ropey efforts more enjoyable.

John Dies at the End by David Wong
Not really a movie tie-in (yet) but Don Coscarelli (the genius behind the Phantasm movies) is currently filming/editing the movie version with Paul Giamatti and it's set to be released next year. Check this book out now, its very, very funny. Two slackers face off again an increasing number of evil demons and hellspawn. The writer David Wong works for and carries over a lot of the same humour from that site. He wrote it installments and it feels like it, constantly stopping and starting, but overall the books a great read.

Lost Journal of Indiana Jones by Henry Jones Jr
As you can tell I went on a bit of an Indiana Jones shopping spree after rediscovering my love for the series (thank you Lego Indiana Jones on the PS3). This is a very funny but quite short book that's written as if it's Indy's own journal. Lots of sketches, letters and funny memos that correspond with the events of both all four movies and the TV show. The best bits are the few pages where Short Round starts writing his version of what happened during the events of Temple of Doom, mostly told through broken English and crude stick men drawings of Indy and Willie.

Movie collections I've completed this yearDeathstalker 1-4
The Substitute 1-4
American Pie 1-7 (Don't judge me!)
Van Wilder 1-3 (Seriously, don't judge me!)
Friday the 13th 1-10
Tremors 1-4
Missing in Action 1-3
Young Guns 1-2
Teen Wolf 1-2
Bronx Warriors 1-2
Highlander 1-4 (part 5 doesn't exist)
National Lampoon Vacation 1-4
Hellboy 1-2
Die Hard 1-4
A Nightmare on Elm Street 1-7
Sniper 1-4
Tron 1-2
Waxwork 1-2
The Crow 1-4
Lost Boys 1-3
Every movie John Carpenter has every directed (Hell yes!)

Most embarrassing movie I've never seen until this year
Lethal Weapon
, all of them. Yep, never watched them. Not sure why but I rectified that quickly one weekend. Ironically I've seen Loaded Weapon, the spoof with Emilio Estevez and Samuel L Jackson, countless times. In hindsight I probably should have watched them when I was younger as I didn't find them as engaging as I was hoping.

Well, that's it for 2011. Check back in the New Year for more reviews!


  1. Great list! I want to say more, but I think I'm still in utter shock and disbelief that you've never seen any of the Lethal Weapon films until now. I will just pretend that I didn't read that. lol. I'll have to track down that Alex Cox book. I love reading that stuff and seeing where his career is now, I think it would make for a fascinating read.

  2. I know, it's utterly shameful that I've only just seen Lethal Weapon. Guess I'm more of a Die Hard kinda guy. I think everyone got a list of "classic" films they've just never seen for whatever reason.

    The Alex Cox book is pretty good. Also, just got a book on John Carpenter by Gilles Boulenger for Christmas and devoured it in a day. Good stuff.

  3. Agree with you about the monster movies from the 80's, they just dont want to spend the time and effort needed to do something practically anymore. I applaud any filmmaker who goes down this route again, this is why I love the Hellboy films which kind of mix both practicall with computer effects.

    I need to see that Django film! I hear good things about it..

  4. True, Del Toro is one of the few directors who still recognises the power of practical effects.

    Definitely catch Django as soon as possible. It really opened my eyes to Spaghetti Westerns other than Sergio Leone's Dollars movies.

  5. So what did you think of the Lethal Weapon flicks? Which one is your favorite? Also, whats the name of that John Carpenter book?

  6. I thought the Lethal Weapon films were okay but I didn't find it as spectacular as say Die Hard or Predator. It's weird I've never got around to seeing them until now. I should have tried watching them when I was younger. I thought they were all okay, the first is probably the best. I'm a little uncertain as to whether I like Richard Donner's directing or not.

    The book is called John Carpenter: Prince of Darkness, it's a great book if you're a fan. He gets interviewed on each film he's been involved with from Dark Star to Ghosts of Mars.

  7. Dude, I'm all over it. If I can find it, it will be a definite purchase.

    In regards to the Lethal Weapon films. I love them all, for different reasons. Part 1 is by far the best, darkest and most violent. I think Shane Blacks script was just phenomenal. Part 2 was a lot of fun and even without the addition of Pesci, a lot sillier and lighter but still with a helluva lot of action to satisfy a fan. Part 3 to me was just as enjoyable as all of them. It didn't lose anything that made the first 2 awesome. Part 4 I felt they were reaching too far for the comedy angle, but didn't stray too far. It was still good overall, but I just didn't like how Gibson didn't look much like Riggs in that one with the short hair, clothes and painfully obvious dye job. I mean dude, his hair was already gray in part 1, yet in part 4 it's as jet black as it could possibly get.

    I'm with you on Donner's direction. At times it can be brilliant, and at others half-assed. I think his most visually impressive would have to be part 3. A lot of really great visuals in that one. I do wish though that they had gone with someone else for each one after the first. Just to spice it up a bit.