Tag Archives: 2005

My Life In Movies

My Life In Movies (Half Century Edition)

A few years back, when Twitter was still a reasonably okay place to hang out, the hashtag #ThisIsYourFilm was making the rounds where you had to choose your favourite movie from every year you’ve been alive. As I’ve just reached the major milestone of 50, I thought it might be fun to look across half a century of cinema and list my favourite movies from every year I’ve been alive. Remember, it’s favourite movies, not ‘best’ movies otherwise this could have ended up being a bit controversial. So, without further ado, for better or worse, here is My Life In Movies:

1974 Blazing Saddles

One of Mel Brooks’ earliest efforts is still one of his very best. Generationally amusing, it rewards repeated viewings as you get older as more and more jokes reveal themselves to you. Start with the cowboy bean feast and go from there.

1975 Jaws

Responsible, to this day, for my wariness whenever I swim or wade or paddle in the sea, anywhere.

1976 Logan’s Run

Weirdly timeless and yet hopelessly dated, Michael York seems an odd choice for a leading man but this is smart sci-fi that only resonates more as you get older. Also, Peter Ustinov.

1977 Star Wars

As if I could pretend there would be any other choice for 1977. I was too young to see it when it first came out – it would be on the 1978 re-release (the one which added the “Episode IV” to the opening crawl) that I’d finally see it but it would shape cinema for the rest of my childhood.

1978 Grease

This was a close run choice between “Grease” and “Superman: The Movie” but given Randal Kleiser’s 1978 musical forms the basis of my earliest memory of going to the cinema, the man of steel will have to sit this one out, and it’s not the only time he’ll miss out on the number one spot.

1979 Monty Python’s The Life Of Brian

I may only have discovered it in my teenage years but that doesn’t stop Life Of Brian from being my favourite 1979 movie. He may not be the messiah, but this was a very easy choice.

1980 Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

This is the first year that really gave me a tough choice. It could easily have been “Airplane!” and maybe it should have been “Superman II” (and when I say “Superman II” I mean the theatrical Richard Lester version. [Blasphemy!]) but there’s no resisting the power of the darkest of Lucas’ original trilogy.

1981 Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Not even the cynically trenchant observations of the writers of “The Big Bang Theory” can diminish the fact that this is peerless swashbuckling adventure cinema. One of those films which, when you happen upon it, regardless of how much you’ve missed you’ll want to watch the rest.

1982 Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

One of my favourite movie of all time. Yes, it’s Star Trek, which for some seems to prohibit it from being considered a true great but it’s a masterclass of screenwriting, the epitome of how to successfully bring an old TV series back to big screen life and features career best performances from the entire cast.

1983 Trading Places

Hilarious, archly satirical and still painfully relevant, Aykroyd and Murphy are on top form, Jamie Lee Curtis is on mischievously topless form and veterans Denholm Elliott, Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche class up the joint. Director John Landis gets the best from his top drawer cast and Star Wars finally misses out on being the best thing released that year.

They say that it’s around the age of 12 that you start to firm up your personal cultural touchstones, the things you watch, listen to and do at the cusp of your teenage years forms the benchmarks against which you judge everything from then onwards, especially anything which attempts to riff on your childhood favourite. That may go some way to explaining why I found 1984-1994 trickier than almost every other year. Were there just many more great movies in that decade or is it the rosy glow of nostalgia?

1984 Amadeus

For the longest time, this is the film I claimed was my all-time favourite movie but then I grew old enough not to care if people got sniffy about The Wrath Of Khan. Still, I do adore the sumptuousness of Milos Forman’s lavish adaptation. It remains one of my favourite movies of all time (even if my family weren’t similarly wowed when I finally shared it with them) and it made me a fan of F Murray Abraham forever. 1984 was an epic year, though, and could easily have gone to “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom”, “Ghostbusters”, “Gremlins”, “The Last Starfighter” or “Police Academy”.

1985 The Goonies

Indiana Jones junior shenanigans, its appeal is often alleged to be based more on nostalgia than quality, but that’s deeply unfair. The Director/ Producer/ Writer team of Richard Donner, Steven Spielberg and Christopher Columbus gives it a timesless quality that still plays well for kids these days and while it’s a bit ramshackle in places, it’s just so much fun it’s irresistible. Sorry, “Back To The Future”, “Rocky IV” and “Teenwolf”

1986 Aliens

Actually a better benchmark for ‘superior sequels’ than “The Empire Strikes Back”, Cameron’s follow-up to Scott’s original monster movie ramps up the actions and the aliens while underpinning it with themes of motherhood and corporate greed. Just the right amount of cartoonish tropery means you care about each and every grunt who meets their heroic or deservedly grisly death. Whether you’re watching the original or Director’s Cut, there’s simply too much here for “Big Trouble In Little China”, “Labyrinth”, “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and “Poltergeist II” to overcome.

1987 Robocop

What about “The Lost Boys”? you may howl but for me, “Robocop” is the movie of 1987, just edging out “Predator”. It wasn’t an easy win, though, as I had “Spaceballs” pencilled in here for a while too. Peter Weller’s far too sincere performance in Verhoeven’s schlocky and gratuitous satire, though, gives this a rewatchability which sets it above its contemporaries.

1989 The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad!

My overriding memory of seeing this in the cinema is my sides literally aching from having laughed so much only to nearly fall out of my seat at that last visual gag of Nordberg (O J Simpson) in his wheelchair careering down the bleachers and pin wheeling over the railing onto the baseball field right at the very end. And that’s my justification for choosing it for 1988 over “Die Hard”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, “Coming To America”, “Beetlejuice”, “Crocodile Dundee II” (my favourite of the Crocodile Dundee movies or even one of my guiltiest pleasures: “My Stepmother Is An Alien

1989 The Little Mermaid

The beginning of the Disney Renaissance and my personal favourite of Disney spectacular 1989 – 1994 run. ‘Under The Sea’ remains my showstopper benchmark for every subsequent Disney musical. Sorry, “Batman”, “Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade”, “The Abyss”, “Back To The Future Part II”, “Lethal Weapon 2” and “Parenthood”.

1990 The Hunt For Red October

The first Tom Clancy Jack Ryan adaptation remains the best (the last one the worst) and it’s a shame Alec Baldwin didn’t continue in the role rather than the effective but workmanlike turn by Harrison Ford. 1990 was one of the toughest years to choose, too, and Red October may have squeaked through due to the crowded field: “Total Recall”, “Die Hard 2: Die Harder”, “Arachnophobia”, “Kindergarten Cop” and “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” would all have been good choices too.

1991 Beauty And The Beast

Robbed of the Best Picture Oscar (up yours, “Silence Of The Lambs”), my favourite movie of 1991 is a tale as old as time, which may go some way to explaining why the recent remake left me cold. If Belle and the Beast hadn’t got this year in the bag it could easily have gone to “The Addams Family”, “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, “Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves”, “Hot Shots”, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” or “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey”. And maybe “Silence Of The Lambs”…begrudgingly.

1992 The Muppet Christmas Carol

Sorry, Prince Ali Ababwa, but Kermit & Co’s note perfect Dickens adaptation is the only film I could have chosen for favourite of 1992. Nothing else even comes close

1993 Jurassic Park

An adventure 65 million years in the making and my current record holder for ‘most times seen in the cinema’, 1993 belongs to the Spielberg/ Crichton collaboration, despite “Mrs Doubtfire”, “Addams Family Values”, “Demolition Man”, “Cliffhanger” and the vastly underrated “Last Action Hero”.

1994 The Shawshank Redemption

Who couldn’t choose Shawshank in this year? Well, nearly me thanks to “The Lion King”, “True Lies”, “Stargate”, “The Mask” and maybe even “The Santa Clause

1995 Apollo 13

Free of the golden decade, the choices become easier again. Houston, we have no problem in choosing Ron Howard’s gripping true life drama as my favourite film of 1995.

1996 Scream

It may not be my favourite scary movie, but it’s my favourite movie of 1996 and catapulted Neve Campbell into my affections.

1997 The Devil’s Advocate

I’ve got a real soft spot for this satanic legal satire; there’s deliciousness to the acting prowess imbalance of Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino sharing the screen which adds to the fun. In the current age of remaking movies as TV series, this is one I’m genuinely surprised hasn’t been plundered for a new series. “Hell-A Law” anyone?

1998 The Wedding Singer

Yeah, an Adam Sandler film. Don’t @ me. I’m only joking; of course you can @ me. In fact, I’d love to hear what your favourite movie of 1998 is, but for me it’s this loving homage to the eighties powered by the almost immesurable chemisty between Sandler and Drew Barrymore.

1999 Fight Club

Fincher’s, Pitt’s and Norton’s finest. This nihilistic masterpiece of self-congratulatory masculinity may have a queasy edge of toxic machismo nearly twenty years later and its twist, like “The Sixth Sense” loses its impact after the first viewing, but there’s still so much to enjoy, not least of all the sheer number of people who embrace the movie while completely missing the point.

2000 Pitch Black

Gravel-voiced action megastar Vin Diesel gets his big break in this gritty, imaginative indie sci-fi horror which spawned two sequels of varying insanity and quality.

2001 The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring

Arguably the best of the trilogy (or sextology if you include “The Hobbit” films) – and what an argument to have – it’s everything that was great about Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth odyssey and like nothing we had seen before at this stage.

2002 Blade II

Another superior sequel, better in every conceivable way than its predecessor even despite the slightly awkward need to retcon Whistler’s ‘death’ in the first movie. Marvel has never been darker or as badass as this again.

2003 Big Fish

It was a close run thing, with “Kill Bill Vol. 1”, “X2” or “Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World” all vying for attention but there’s something about Tim Burton’s kooky and sentimentally sunny biography of tall tale teller Edward Bloom. Seeing as I couldn’t choose “The World According To Garp” for 1982, this is the next best thing.

2004 The Incredibles

Simply the finest version of “The Fantastic Four” ever brought to cinematic life. Not just a perfect animated family movie, but a perfect comic book/ superhero movie too. How Brad Bird has not yet been snapped up by either Marvel or DC simply beggars belief. He’s the one man I would trust to rehabilitate Superman within the current DCEU.

2005 King Kong

Christopher Nolan’s gritty and much needed retooling of the Batman mythos gets pipped at the post here by Peter Jackson’s sumptuous remake of the 1933 classic.

2006 The Devil Wears Prada

Bitchy with performances to die for, Streep is magnificent while Tucci, Hathaway and Blunt give as good as they get. I’ve watched this multiple times and love it every single viewing.

2007 Hot Fuzz

The definite high point of The Cornetto Trilogy, Edgar Wright’s sharply observed and affectionate spoof of overly macho action movie tropes is perfectly realised in the idyllic English countryside, magnifying the comic potential.

2008 Iron Man

Yeah, I chose “Iron Man” above “The Dark Knight”. Both are great movies in their own right, both were followed by sequels which failed to live up to them but only one launched an unparalleled cinematic franchise while the other arguably crippled an attempt to create another. This is probably also a good time to reiterate that this is a list of my favourite movies from each year, not my list of the objective best movies of each year.

2009 Watchmen

There is nobody finer than Zack Snyder when it comes to bringing the panels and imagery of a comic book to painstakingly recreated life on the big screen. Where he’s working from an established text and therefore doesn’t need to take responsibility for story and character, he’s phenomenal. For me, “Watchmen” remains his benchmark.

2010 Inception

Christopher Nolan finally claims a top spot with three movies in one. This sci-fi thriller our-Bonds Bond and manages to deliver both kick-ass action and philosophical food for thought in equal measure.

2011 Arthur Christmas

Aardman brings their magic to bear on Christmas with a twinkly and imaginative spin on the legend of Santa Claus, providing a satisfying explanation for almost every aspect of the myth.

2012 Avengers Assemble

It seems so obvious now, but it’s worth remembering just how huge it was that not only did this film work, it worked brilliantly. Still one of the best cinema experiences of my life, the theatre was buzzing from start to finish and I came out of seeing it on a high I don’t think I’ve ever really come all the way down from.

2013 The Wolf Of Wall Street

Gratuitous, foul-mouthed and gob-smackingly true, this is the film Leo should have won the Oscar for. Absolutely flies by despite its three hour run time, and packed with great performances from the entire cast.

2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel

Like a cardboard theatre brought to ideosyncratic life, it’s simply exquisite to look at and listen to. Sublime.

2015 Tomorrowland: A World Beyond

A movie hill I am willing to die on, this movie was ahead of its time and cruelly rejected. It’s deeply Ironic this movie failed to find an audience with its message that negativity and nihilism breeds its own self-fulfilling prophecy but I adored its pro-science, pro-intelligence optimism. Little wonder the world which rejected this movie and its moral ended up voting for Brexit and Trump.

2016 The Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Packed with character and sly humour, Taika Waititi beautifully realised, quirky adaptation of the story of a kid and his foster uncle going on the run in the bush deals with weighty themes whilst keeping everything light and frothy.

2017 The Greatest Showman

It was love at first listen for this movie – for the whole Craggus family. And even after relentless repeated listenings to the soundtrack in the car and at home and multiple cinema viewings, including sing-alongs, I still love this movie sincerely and unironically.

2018 Avengers: Infinity War

Stunning, thrilling and that shocking climax – if your taste in superhero movies tends towards the MCU, then this was an astonishingly successful start to the end of a 22-movie story arc. Worth the midnight screening I went to and the three more times I saw it in the cinema in the couple of days that followed. And the two more after that. And the countless rewatches at home.

2019 The Favourite

You might have been expecting Avengers: Endgame to take this top spot but it’s my least favourite Avengers movie because it’s an ending and I didn’t (and still don’t) want the Infinity Saga to end. Instead, I was absolutely beguiled by Yorgos Lanthimos’ dizzying comedy drama which brought a touch of Blackadder to the big screen.

2020 Emma

Another period drama surprise, this updated Austen adaptation crackles with sexual tension thanks to a magnetic performances from Anya Taylor-Joy.

2021 Encanto

An exuberant, affirmative celebration of Columbian culture infused with every-one-a-banger songs, wonderful character design and an emotional payload that rewards repeated viewings. Disney’s finest of the past decade.

2022 Violent Night

Absurd, gratuitously violent, funny and still somehow heartwarming and magical, Violent Night may be the 2022 movie I’ve rewatched the most thanks to David Harbour’s flawed Saint Nick.

2023 Saltburn

In a year which featured both Barbie and Oppenheimer, it’s Emerald Fennell’s deliciously dark and twisted Saltburn that ended up being my favourite of the year. To those who only caught on to it on the small screen, you missed out by not catching it on the big screen.

2024* Dune Part Two

Epic, immersive and explosively kinetic, for once a sequel lived up to the hype and while it’s still early days for 2024, the bar’s been set pretty damn high already. By the way, this almost went to Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, a film I watched on my actual birthday and absolutely loved.

* Up to April 2024

So there you have it. Just over 50 years’ worth of favourite movies. Looking forward to updating this again in a few years’ time.

King Kong (2005) Review

Peter Jackson’s King Kong honours the original without ever aping it.

The second, superior, remake of KING KONG returns the story to the 1930s and also reverts to the filmmaker looking for a hit rather than the predatory petrochemical conglomerate of the 1970s. In doing so, Peter Jackson lavishes the potential of the original with everything that modern filmmaking technology can allow to produce an immersive, expansive KING KONG experience which honours, enhances and elaborates on the original without ever quite eclipsing it.

In the depths of the Great Depression, 1933 New York is a troubled city. Struggling actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) has lost her job and is penniless and hungry when she runs into filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) who is facing troubles of his own. Under threat of being closed down and run out of the film business, Denham convinces Darrow, actor Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) and his friend and playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody) to board the SS Venture to complete his new film in Singapore. In truth, Denham intends to sail to and film on the mysterious Skull Island where he believes he will be able to get footage that will save his career.

Jackson had long wanted to make a version of King Kong, ever since he saw the 1933 original at the age of nine years old. He made an attempt to get a remake off the ground with Universal in the 1990s following the success of THE FRIGHTENERS but the project fell by the wayside when the director got distracted by a modest sword and sorcery project based in New Zealand. After THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and THE TWO TOWERS were massive hits, Universal reached out to Jackson again to see if he was still interested in reviving KING KONG and, after production wrapped on THE RETURN OF THE KING, Jackson found himself on board and bound for Skull Island with his long time writing/ producing team of Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.

Their version of the tale uses the luxury of its extended run time to develop and deepen many of the characters who felt a little one-dimensional in the original and while that may rile the critics who decry Jackson’s fondness for indulgent world-building, the evocation of 1930s New York and its Dickensian gulf between the rich and destitute is a note perfect beginning for a story which, at its heart, deals with stark dichotomies. Rich and poor, man versus nature, fear or compassion and, ultimately, beauty and the beast.

Although decidedly loyal to the 1933 version, Jackson certainly takes some inspiration from Dino De Laurentiis’ 1976 remake, especially in the casting of a renowned comedic actor in the pivotal Carl Denham role. Like Charles Grodin, Jack Black was predominantly known as a comic actor and musician but his role in KING KONG gives him the chance to bring his manic, amiable energy and hone it to a fine point of callous determination, bordering on obsession. A more significant change from the original is that here, the human romance is kindled between sensitive playwright Driscoll (Brody) and Anne (Watts) rather than superficially dashing leading man Baxter. This frees Kyle Chandler to play up Baxter’s vainglorious Hollywood vacuity, something he has tremendous fun with and the experience must have given him a taste for life among the kaiju given his more recent involvement in GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS and GODZILLA vs KONG. Jackson, clearly aware of his title character’s scene-stealing capacity, arrays a star-studded line-up against the giant simian with the likes of Andy Serkis, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks and Jamie Bell along for the ride with Black, Brody, Watts and Chandler (Fay Wray was offered, but wisely – I think – declined, a cameo). Serkis, who plays the ill-fated ship’s cook, pulls double-duty as the eponymous ape too, through the wizardry of motion capture performance.

Of course, the special effects in this version of KING KONG are the finest the story has ever benefitted from and while Skull Island is brought to life with all manner of feriocious flaura and fauna, it’s Kong himself who emerges as the film’s greatest triumph. The character design is superb and the interpretation of Serkis’ performance, emotions and expressions is exquisitely detailed. So much so, that when Kong succumbs to the airbourne onslaught and falls from the Empire State Building in the emotionally devastating finale, the animation is so acutely observed that you are witness to the exact moment the spark of life leaves his eyes – if you can see through your own tears by that point, of course.

Where the original KING KONG was a masterpiece, this remake is a masterwork of filmmaking, directorial vision and performance. Like the other versions of the story, there were plans and discussions of making a sequel, a project for which Jackson favoured Adam Wingard to direct. The plans came to nought, and Jackson soon found himself distracted once again by the goings-on of Middle Earth but, for Wingard at least, Kong would still be waiting for him fifteen years later.

Team America: World Police (2005) marks its 15th anniversary by being slightly less alarming than present day American foreign policy

Back in the heady days when ‘America: f**k yeah!’ was hilarious satirical hyperbole rather than a Presidential election-winning political philosophy, the creators of South Park set out to spoof the overbearing machismo of Michael Bay-style action cinema through an inspired homage to the genius of “Thunderbirds” creator Gerry Anderson.

The world is ever more dangerous and only a crack team of heavily armed American special forces have the brass cohones to keep us safe. But the team needs someone with a particular set of skills to tackle the latest growing threat identified by INTELLIGENCE and patriotism comes calling for actor Gary Johnston who must tackle terrorists, celebrities and even the evil dictator Kim Jong-Il himself to defend freedom, justice and the American way!

Celebrating its fifteenth anniversary, it’s become a victim of the passage of time but more in that its prescience at the time makes it look lazy and obvious now. It’s full of the trademark Trey Parker and Matt Stone equality of offence humour which plays very differently in today’s more neo-puritan climate but I’d be lying if I said the movie didn’t make me laugh until I cried then and still cracks me up now. As you’d expect from the “South Park” duo, they weaponise racism, sexism and any other kind of -ism you may care to be offended by in service of underlining the stupidity and irony of such sincerely and uncritically held attitudes.

Whether or not you appreciate it’s sharp but sophomoric humour, you can’t deny the artistry and filmmaking skill on show as they both lovingly homage and gently parody the art of puppetry and Supermarionation in particular. The sets are packed with exquisite little details and while the parade of celebrity parodies often borders on cruel or silly, its commentary on celebrity interventions in geopolitics feels more on point now than ever. It’s a wonder, really, that this film hasn’t been picked up and mistakenly championed by the MAGA crowd given they embrace so much of the hawkish paper tiger sabre-rattling this film is lampooning so mercilessly.

As you’d expect from Parker and Stone, the film also has plenty of musical numbers with whip-smart lyrics, from the opening which parodies the musical ‘Rent’ to the savagely on target ‘Montage’ song. At the movie’s heart is actor and reluctant international man of action Gary, who in retrospect bears more than a passing resemblance to the then up and coming Chris Pine but if it is intended to be Pine, he still gets off lightly compared to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who arguably gets worse treatment than the Hodor-esque pastiche of his Good Will Hunting writing partner in a song skewering his performance and acting skills in the movie “Pearl Harbour”.

It gets the triumphs and follies of Bruckheimer-style action movies absolutely spot on in both character and set-pieces and it’s both a celebration and roast of a very particular genre of cinema, from the wanton collateral damage in pursuit of the bad guys to Chris’ backstory of why he hates actors, now cinema’s second most traumatic story of Cats, right behind the 2019 musical itself.

Of its time and slightly uncomfortably of the present day, it may not be to everyone’s taste but if you’re a fan of their work, Trey and Matt will definitely pull your strings with this action puppetry epic.

10/10 

War Of The Worlds (2005) Review

Dakota Fanning brings the raw emotional terror of alien invasion to life in Steven Spielberg’s visually stunning but narratively stunted War Of The Worlds

I’ve always had a love for H G Wells’ “The War Of The Worlds”, borne out of many a childhood listen to Jeff Wayne’s musical version. While I enjoy the contemporary 1950s version and even the pre-MAGA patriotic fever dream of “Independence Day” (less so its dumber than dumb cousin “Battleship”), I’ve always kind of yearned for an authentic adaptation of the novel, set in the proper time period and exploring the alien invasion from an authentically Victorian – and British – perspective. When Spielberg’s adaptation of the story was first announced, I hoped that this would be the one I had been waiting for, but alas it was not to be. Still, as we find ourselves on the eve of the BBC finally bringing a period-set version of the tale to the small screen, I decided to revisit the 2005 offering.

“War Of The Worlds” is unlikely to top anyone’s list of Spielberg’s cinematic masterpieces and while it may be ‘lesser’ Spielberg to some, that still gives it a fighting chance of being in the upper echelons of movies in general. Aware of how many previous adaptations there have been, Spielberg wisely brings his focus tight around the fractured family of Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) – a surrogate for the evidently splintered and factional human race and in doing so makes this a story less about alien invasion and more about how fragile and vulnerable society itself is when faced with disruption and crisis.

Unfortunately, at times, the relentless focus on the family conflict sometimes bogs the film down in soapy melodrama especially in relation to the Ray’s eldest child Robbie (Justin Chatwin), who’s badly underwritten, evidenced by how much the film picks up once he’s rather unceremoniously written.

Ultimately, like the invading Martian death machines, the film stands on its own tripod: three factors, two of which propel it towards greatness and one which holds it back. The first firm footing the film has is in its Director. Spielberg’s visual genius, and the cinematography of Janusz Kaminski, suffuse nearly every frame with bleak yet beautiful imagery. Yes, some of the visual flourishes are just indulgences, the wow factor overriding logic, such as the floating clothes of Martian victims which make for a macabre and memorable visual but a weapon which incinerates flesh but leaves clothes untouched makes zero sense, especially to an invading force which seeks to use humans as a food source. It’s undeniably cool looking, though.

Spielberg certainly doesn’t hold back the darkness in this film, though, and he delivers a plane crash aftermath which tops the one “Lost” delivered a year before while the train on fire and the attack on the ferry are similarly standout sequences. There’s some real darkness on offer too, arguably darker than anything Speilberg has embraced before – in one of his action-adventure movies that is – such as the family drowning in the cars falling off the ferry and, especially, the river of corpses which take Rachel (Dakota Fanning) by surprise during one of the movie’s deceptively peaceful moments.

Dakota Fanning is the second factor which gives “War Of The Worlds” its power. Her performance is simply astonishing and she absolutely should have been in the running for Best Supporting Actress, at the very least. Time and time again, she absolutely nails the emotional intensity of a world gone awry from a child’s point of view and provides a chilling evocation of the very real, present day horror of having to raise a child into an increasingly violent, dangerous and unpleasant world.

The film’s third factor, the one that works against it, is its star, Tom Cruise. His performance is actually pretty good but he’s badly miscast as the blue-collar asshole divorced selfish asshole who’s not really interested in his kids but finds himself stuck with them during the crisis. He feels far too clean-cut, square-jawed and heroic to really deliver the necessary grittiness of the role and it works against the film and the family story Spielberg’s trying to tell and so it’s no surprise when most of that dynamic fades quickly from the performances even as the script tries to continue fanning the flames of the conflict. Ironically, it might have worked much better if Tim Robbins and Tom Cruise had swapped roles. Robbins would have been more believable and layered as the deadbeat dad while anyone who’s seen Cruise’s Oprah’s couch moment can attest to how convincing he is as a delusional maniac.

The finale feels very abrupt but it’s mostly down to the breakneck pacing of the film up to that point and actually, it doesn’t really end so much as just kind of stop. It’s something of a misstep for the rescue from the basket of the tripod to be the defacto action finale set-piece which should probably have been reserved for a better showdown between the dregs of the US Army and the afflicted invaders than we get to see. It’s a nice nod the fifties version of the story to give Gene Barry and Ann Robinson cameos at the very end, but it’s also here that the movie makes its most egregious mistake by bringing back Robbie, alive and well, undermining everything the audience has just seen the other characters endure.

It’s a polished sci-fi disaster epic that with a few casting changes could have been something really special and, while it’s never not nice to hear the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman’s voice, his opening and closing narrations feel a little unnecessary.

The Batman vs Dracula (2005) Dractober Review

“The Batman” is one animated incarnation of Batman which passed me by, but he seems to have been the only one I can find who tangled with the Prince Of Darkness himself. Walking a slightly darker path than the more kid-friendly TV series did, this feature-length direct-to-DVD spin-off features not only the title combatants but also The Joker, the Penguin and features Vicki Vale making her first ever animated appearance.

The story begins, as do so many other Batman adventures, with The Joker escaping Arkham Asylum along with the Penguin, both intending to recover a cache of stolen loot hidden in a crypt in Gotham Cemetary. Batman soon intercepts the Joker, who falls to his apparent death in the river after being electrocuted by his own joy buzzer. Meanwhile, the Penguin continues the search for the treasure, prying open crypts with his sword umbrella. But when Penguin accidentally cuts himself forcing opening another sarcophagus, his blood revives the long dead and desiccated Count Dracula, who enslaves the Penguin and sets out to take control of Gotham itself.

There’s a bit of a necessary narrative fudge to explain why Dracula is in Gotham but once you get past that bump, it’s a pretty darn good Batman and Dracula movie. There’s a dark appeal to the idea that Dracula would find the existence of the Batman flattering and believe that he was somehow responsible for inspiring the identity through his legacy. It’s also an interesting development when Dracula begins to attack the local citizenry how quickly the authorities and public opinion turn on Batman, assuming he is responsible for the sudden rash of ‘disappearances’.

Of course, it’s a feature-length tale featuring Batman, so it can’t – by law presumably – pass up the opportunity to tell Batman’s origin story again but there’s an admirable dedication to not over-powering The Batman in the face of a foe as malevolent as Dracula. Batman’s usual tricks and tactics prove ineffective and he struggles to go toe-to-toe with the ancient vampire, raising the stakes more than the run-of-the-mill Batman adventure. Things escalate when the Joker, vampirised by Dracula, returns to the scene and Batman must search for a cure for his victims and a way to destroy Dracula himself, a task which the story pretty much sets up as impossible were it not for the tiny detail that Wayne Industries has been working on a new energy source which may as well have been called Chekhov’s Solar Generator.

The voice cast from the series are dependably solid in their roles and in Peter Stormare, the movie has a fantastic Dracula. It’s a pacey, action-packed horror-tinged adventure for Batman and a great fun entry for the penultimate #Dractober.

7/10 

Sharkman (2005) Review

With great power comes great risibility

We’re back in the realms of mad science with 2005’s “Sharkman” (the internet’s most often confused movie. It’s sometimes called “Hammerhead” and not to be confused with the apparently unavailable (believe me I tried) 2001 film “Sharkman” from which I think the poster I’ve used is taken but plenty of other sites credit this to the 2005 version so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). This time, it’s the trusty myth that sharks don’t get cancer that’s at the heart of the drama but don’t switch off just yet – this movie puts our toothy protagonist on a different footing

Dr Preston King (Jeffrey Combs), desperate to save his son from cancer experiments with hammerhead shark DNA but accidentally turns his son into a hybrid shark-man instead. But with great power comes great appetite and when a delegation from the pharmaceutical company sponsoring his work arrives at his island laboratory, it’s buffet time for our boy.

So, first off this has Jeffrey Combs in it so you know at least some of it is going to be watchable and so it is as he anchors the picture with a typically creepy and intense performance. Thankfully there are also some pretty good practical creature effects going on too and when we’re given a glimpse of him, the shark man is goofily scary. The practical blood and gore is pretty decent too, even as it spatters across the pantomime performances from the rest of the cast.

Regrettably, SharkMan ends up being a run-of-the-mill monster rather than a misunderstood anti-hero on his way to superherodom (when will we get a shark based good guy (not you, Shark Boy)?) but given he’s as at home on land as in the water, at least this movie has a valid excuse for the trope of hiking through forests which many other low budget shark movies seem to use to pad out the runtime.

Unlike ‘Crocodile’ Dundee, there are no native islanders to give him a cool name like Jabba-Jahda-Ah-Der-Ahd, but nevertheless, the shark who walks like a man (and has a frankly ridiculous looking tail) is a decently grimy sharksploitation flick with a gruesome spin on the whole idea. It’s a wonder this hasn’t been scooped up for a big-budget remake but, hey – who knows what barrel they’ll be scraping by the time we get to “The Meg 5”

Sky High (2005) Kurt Russell Blogathon Review

This post is published as part of Realweegiemidget Reviews and Return To The 80s‘ Kurt Russell Blogathon.

“Sky High” was released in 2005, when the superhero movie boom was beginning to look like a flash in the pan. The output had turned mediocre (“The Fantastic Four”, “Constantine”*) to poor (“Elektra”, “Son Of The Mask”). “Batman Begins” would signal the coming of a brighter, albeit darker and more grounded future, and “Iron Man” was still three years away from redefining the entire genre. From the perspective of today, “Sky High” was way ahead of its time and its hardly a surprise that talk of a sequel continues to bubble up every so often, most recently towards the end of 2016.

Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the son of Steve (Kurt Russell) and Josie Stronghold (Kelly Preston), aka the world’s premiere Superheroes: The Commander and Jetstream. Together with his best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker), Will is starting high school, specifically “Sky High”, a secret high tech high school training facility for superheroes. But Will has a secret: his powers haven’t manifested yet and, even worse, one of his Dad’s arch nemeses is intent on taking his revenge.

It may not be particularly coy about being a superhero spin on Hogwarts, but there’s an undeniable fun tone that makes this a joy to watch. It’s saved from feeling like just another Disney Original Movie by its impressively stellar cast. With up-and-coming young stars in Michael Angarano, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Danielle Panabaker, the real treat is in the filling out of Sky High’s staff and faculty. “Kids In The Hall” alums Kevin McDonald and Dave Foley head up the Mad Science and ‘Hero Support’ (read PC terminology for sidekicks) Cloris Leahman is the x-ray vision powered School Nurse and Bruce Campbell is a super-loud PE teacher. There’s also room for a delicious cameo for Lynda Carter as Principal Powers who gets a wicked throwaway line referring to her most famous superhero role.

Riffing on many of the same themes as the previous year’s “The Incredibles”, this is a sunnier, less litigiously dystopian view of a world of super-powered folk. It doesn’t spend a huge amount of time in explaining its world or many of the tropes and conventions it gently spoofs because it assumes the audience will be familiar with much of it. But this is meant to be a Kurt Russell blogathon review, so why have I chosen a movie where he’s barely in it. Simple: Kurt Russell is the reason “Sky High” works as well as it does.

Although he’s a supporting player, Russell’s presence permeates the film and he brings a real twinkle-in-the-eye gravitas to both the role of Will’s father and the square-jawed old-fashioned patriotism of the Commander. He even makes the underwhelming costume look good. Having him as The Commander sells the entire concept of the world. He’s easy to accept as a superhero and his legacy of badassed coolness, curated from dozens of his previous movies, lends the whole setup a credibility from which it can build out its fun, colourful world. In any other hands, the film wouldn’t feel as solid and cohesive. “Zoom”, the similarly themed movie starring Tim Allen which came out the following year, doesn’t work nearly as well because Allen doesn’t have the laid-back charisma and tough guy charm that Kurt brings.

“Sky High” delivers a winning blend of high school comedy, coming of age teen drama and super-heroics, pulling together a plot which doesn’t shortchange any of the three genres. On its own it’s a good movie, but adding Kurt makes it great.

8/10