Thursday, January 3, 2013

2012: Review of the Year

Well that's it for another year so let's see what caught my interest over the last 12 months.

Favourite movies I saw at the cinema this year
The Raid: Redemption (2012)
This film was absolutely the funnest time I've had at the cinema in years. A perfect storyline, non-stop violence and a brilliant score to boot. I went in with pretty high expectations after all the reviews I'd read. Everyone was comparing it to Ong Bak, saying that Iwo Uwais was the new Tony Jaa. And you know what, I think they might be right. Though I'd give a lot of credit to Yayan Ruhian, who played the psychotic henchman Mad Dog, as well. I really enjoyed the crazy atmosphere of the fights, the way the bad guys didn't get cleanly knocked out but instead got their arms or legs broken and were left screaming on the floor. That was something I hadn't really seen before. And director Gareth Evans captured all the action in clean, straightforward camera work. In a world of PG-13, shaky cam nonsense it was a breath of fresh air. If you haven't already, check out Evans and Uwais' earlier collaboration Merantau. It's a little slower paced but just as enjoyable.

The Avengers (2012)
Sorry, I've picked two very obvious choices this year but I really did feel this was a great movie. I'm a pretty big comic book fan (admittedly more DC than Marvel) and this was hands down the best comic book adaptation I've ever seen. What made it so good for me was that writer/director Joss Whedon didn't play down or rework ANY elements from the comic books. He presented all the characters pretty much exactly as they appear in comics. Not that I'm saying there's anything wrong with re-interpreting a comic book like Chris Nolan did with his Dark Knight movies. But it's a far harder (and much more commendable) task to make the characters work without toning them down and without resorting to campy nonsense. Easily the best performance was Mark Ruffalo who I greatly enjoyed as both Banner and the Hulk, I really hope they hurry up and let him have a solo movie soon.

Favourite movie bought from the 2000s
Ripley Under Ground (2005)
This was ridiculously hard to track down. For some reason it's never been released in the UK or US. I had to get a copy from Holland. Anyway, it was worth the wait (just about). I'm a massive fan of the Patricia Highsmith books and what I liked about this version, rather than the Mighella movie or the John Malkovich one, is that it had a sense of humour. I think too many people take the Ripley books seriously. I've always read them as being darkly humorous farces rather than serious psychological studies. Anyway, Barry Pepper was a nice offbeat actor for the lead, not as conventionally attractive at Matt Damon or Alain Delon, and all the better for it. The story was pretty faithfully adapted and the new material - having Heloise turn out to be just as ruthless as Ripley - was an interesting way to give the film more a solid ending to compared to the book's more open one. It's a great shame that no distributor has picked this up.

Favourite movie bought from the 1990s
Pacific Heights (1990)
Damn, this is a great little underrated film. As previously mentioned in my review for The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, I'm a sucker for yuppie horror movies. Michael Keaton is brilliant as the schizophrenic tenant from hell. No one does crazy as good as Keaton. It's still one of my favourite bits in Tim Burton's Batman where he's Bruce Wayne in Vicki Vale's apartment and he gets cornered by the Joker so he picks up the fire stoker and starts shouting "You wanna get nuts! Come on, let's get nuts!". Pacific Heights has lots of flaws - a weak performance from Matthew Modine, a lumpy story, little explanation behind the villain's motives - but it's full of great moments. I just love that weird bit where Melanie Griffiths goes down to the garage looking for a torch and Keaton's just sitting there in his car, a few feet away, watching her while he twiddles with a razor blade in his hand.

Favourite movie bought from the 1980s
Blue Thunder (1983)
They don't make them like this anymore. A superb little techno-conspiracy film from John Badham, who did the equally great WarGames the same year. Roy Scheider plays a helicopter pilot who assigned to fly a super stealth helicopter and uses it to discover that the helicopter's makers are pretty evil people with diabolical plans for the public. Sure, it's highly predictable - for example, early on the main bad guy Malcolm McDowell tells Scheider that it's impossible to do a loop the loop in a helicopter and then guess what, at the end Scheider does manage to do it and McDowell dies trying to chase him - but none of that matters because it's so well told. One of the best performances came from a young Daniel Stern who plays Scheider's peppy co-pilot Lymangood who injects the film with some much needed humour. The stunt work and aerial photography was utterly breath-taking as well. Move over Airwolf, this is now my favourite suped-up helicopter.

Favourite movie bought from the 1970s
The Seven Ups (1973)
More Roy Scheider? Damn right! I've been meaning to track this down for ages. It was directed by Philip D'Antoni who produced both French Connections and Bullitt and it definitely fits in well alongside those films. Once again stunt co-ordinator Bill Hickman pulls off another lengthy seat-of-your-pants car chase that's worth the price of admission on its own. Scheider plays basically the same character as he did in French Connection, heading up a small group of cops who go after the biggest criminals out there (the one who will likely get sentenced to 7 years and up, hence the title). Anyway, things get complicated when a couple of conmen start kidnapping mafia bosses while posed as policemen and Scheider has to sort them all out. Great early performance from Richard Lynch (who sadly died this last year) as one of the disfigured con artists but the film really belongs to Scheider. No one does hard bitten, cynical cops like Scheider.

Favourite movie bought watched from the 1960s
Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Shame on me, I haven't bought any films from the 60s this year (bar the Django ones that I've been covering recently). However I did finally get to see this long forgotten TV movie. I'd consider myself a moderate fan of the Beatles back catalogue and really enjoy the two films they did A Hard Day's Night and Help! This is a quite a different beast to those two films. Much more experimental and bizarre, like a long form music video. According to the documentary about it, that I also caught, much of it was improvised and it shows. Plot threads and skits start and then abruptly stop and the whole thing goes nowhere. Still as trippy psychedelic 60s films go you could do far worse. There's a great sense of humour and a lot of the surreal sketches feel very much like something out of Monty Python. It very rough around the edges but feels quite intimate because of that. Also, the soundtrack is, as expected, excellent.

Worst movie bought this year from any decade
Hellraiser Revelations (2011)
I'm not usually one for hyperbole, I try and see the best in any film that I watch, but 'Dear God' was this bad. I'm not even a super-fan of the series but this was a really tough slog to watch. Apparently the film was written, prepped and shot in a hurry and it really shows. It's more or less a remake of the original film but instead of Frank and Julia we have two teenagers Steven and Nico. I didn't really have a problem with this because the series had drifted pretty far from it origins so it made sense to get back to the original story. I even thought the idea of having two teens made an interesting change (after all who is more immoral than a teenager). But just everything sucked. The script, the acting, the sets, the lighting. I collect a lot of DVDs and rarely ever get read of them but this is one that is definitely going. There's no need to see it once let alone more than once.

Favourite movie-related TV series
Swamp Thing (1990-1993)
This was a complete blind buy and I'm so glad I got it. Yes, it a ridiculously formulaic and cheap show but it's so easy to watch. The 20 minute episode run-time means that it's like watching a show on fast forward. Dick Durrock is excellent as the title character and the make up, despite the rest of the show's budget, is actually quite effective. The plot lines are total cheese-fests but it's so earnest I can't help but like it. Right down to the Swamp Thing's hamfisted monologues at the end of every episode. Easily, my favourite bit is the fact that the first season ended on a cliffhanger with the lead character Jim, a ten year old boy, getting kidnapped. A decent beginning to a two part episode you might think, but the studio decided before the second season started that they wanted to get rid of Jim and put in an older teenager in his place. So they just never made a follow-up episode, the ten year old Jim never ever gets rescued. Hilarious.

Favourite movie related books
Seagalogy: The Asskicking Films of Steven Seagal by Vern
Vern is an absolute genius. His reviews seem quite simple at first. They meander all of the place, purposefully spelling words wrong and obsessing on the little details of movies. But it's all part of his plan and it makes them unique and genuinely hilarious. Treating the trashiest of movies like they were high art. I actually bought a lot of the crappy DTV Steven Seagal films he reviews in this but it's not essential, the reviews are plenty funny on their own even without the visual aids. The thing I like is that Vern always seems like he's only half joking and actually a lot of the points he picks up about Seagal seem genuinely true - such as insistence on never playing an active CIA agent, only ever a retired one. And his insistence on always having a scene in which the bad guys discuss Seagal's characters back story and how badass he is. Definitely pick this up, it will make you see On Deadly Ground in a whole new light.

Ghostbusters: Ghost Busted by Matt Yamashita and Chrissy Delk
Well, it seems like Bill Murray is never going to agree to do another Ghostbusters movie so it looks like the comics are probably the closest thing we'll come to seeing anymore of Ray, Egon, Peter and Winston. This was a bit of strange beast. It's not a translation of a Japanese comic but an original American venture, drawn in the Manga style. You get six stories about the gang that sort of link together. The writing and art actually aren't that bad. It's not quite the razor sharp wit of Akyroyd et al but it's not far off. The first story, about a haunted broadway show, is easily the best of the bunch. If you're a fan of the cartoon you might be interested in checking it out. Sadly, Tokyopop closed a few years ago so I don't think we'll get a follow-up to this but IDW picked up the franchise a few year back and have made a few graphic novels that I'll try to get on to soon.

Crystal Lake Memories by Peter M Bracke
Got this for Kindle because it was a little cheaper than the paperback. It's an absolutely enormous book of interviews with everyone involved in the franchise from Kevin Bacon to Kane Hodder. It's great to read through some of the stories but I think it would have been nice if they were cut down a bit. There's a fair bit of repetition here and there and some interviewees are more interesting than others. Still if you're a fan of series you really should get this. I particularly enjoyed the early stuff about how Sean Cunningham worked on loads of cheap pictures (some borderline pornos) in order to make a living. And how the first film got announced and advertised before they even had a script! Still only halfway through it at the moment, it's that big!

Movie collections I've completed this year
All George Romero's Zombie films - Night, Dawn, Day, Land, Diary & Survival
All Kevin Smith's films
Crackerjack 1-3
Feast 1-3
Friday the 13th 1-11
Hellraiser 1-9
The Hitcher 1-2
Midnight Run 1-4
Ong Bak 1-3
Resident Evil 1-4
Saw 1-7
Taxi 1-4

Most embarrassing movie I've never seen until this year
Red Dawn (1984)
How the hell did it take me so long to check this film out? I've had this sitting on a pile of DVDs for ages but I only just got off my ass and put it in the player a few weeks back when I heard the remake was coming it. Holy sh*t, this was tons of fun. Yes, it's a Republican's wet dream and as a dripping liberal I should be opposed it but it was so engrossing. I love how there was no hint of irony or humour. This was deadly serious, the Russians have invaded and they are killing American kids on American soil. I love how director John Milius gives you no time to get your bearings. Within the first two minutes the kids are in school and Russians are parachuting down in the distance. Also, Basil Poledouris' score is utterly brilliant. I don't know how I got to 29 without witnessing Harry Dean Stanton yell "Avenge Meeeeeee!"*

* I'd like to think it's this line that got Stanton the cameo role in The Avengers.


  1. Nice round-up, I still need to get to my post on all the 2012 movies I saw. I haven't seen The Raid: Redemption but have heard good things. Agreed about The Avengers. Somehow Red Dawn has slipped past me too as I haven't seen it yet. I'm still surprised they remade it, though not surprised the remeke was re-tooled and sat on the shelf for 2 years.

  2. Hey Chris, yeah definitely check out the original Red Dawn and The Raid. Would love to hear what your favourite movies of the year were.

  3. Excellent post. You watched\bought some amazing stuff. The Raid was fantastic and Roy Scheider rocks in The Seven-Ups\Blue Thunder.

  4. Thanks Ty, yeah. I'm going to have to curb my spending soon or I'll be broke. Will have to do a Scheider month sometime soon.

  5. That is a great idea! Same here on curbing spending...but there are so many things to buy. Haha.