Sunday, October 4, 2015

Australian and Kiwi films and TV

The first movie I bought on DVD was Dead Alive (1992), directed by Peter Jackson. From the opening scene with the Sumatran Rat-Monkey, to the unbearable mother and romantic connection between Lionel and Paquita, this movie stands out from the glossy Hollywood movies of the time. And once the priest is enlisted into fighting the zombie creations, the action just doesn't stop. From the first time I saw it, I was impressed with the pacing, the goriness, and the unabashed passionate movie-making. Since then, of course, Peter Jackson has gone on to portray the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films just as passionately, as well as King Kong, Heavenly Creatures, and The Frighteners.

The next group of talented New Zealanders are Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Taika Waititi, and Rhys Darby. Their introduction to America was Eagle Vs. Shark back in 2007.  Then Flight of the Conchords (2007-2009) hit it big, which broadcast the music of Bret and Jemaine, as well as introducing Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal. Next up, we saw Jemaine in Gentleman Broncos (2009), Men in Black 3 (2012, as Boris the Animal), and Muppets Most Wanted (2014, as the Prison King). Meanwhile, Bret did the music for both The Muppets (2011, for which he won an Oscar) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014). Taika Waititi is mostly credited as a director, while Rhys Darby has the most acting credits on his IMDb page, and may be most known as Murray in Flight of the Conchords. The four of them came back together for What We Do In the Shadows (2014), a full-length film that started out as a short directed by Taika back in 2005. The idea of ancient, supposedly mythological, creatures living in a modern environment, being flatmates, trying to reconnect with lost love via the internet, and having a turf war with werewolves who struggle to remain human, is played with such humor, and becomes a brilliant combination.

Even more recently, I've come across some TV shows via Netflix that have become integral to my viewing patterns. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is set in 1920's Australia, and stars Essie Davis, who has also starred in The Babadook (2014), and who will be Lady Stork in season six of Game of Thrones. Miss Fisher is a strong character, defender of children and less-accepted members of society, and also a staunchly independent and sensual woman. She is an ahead-of-her time detective who tries to work with the police, but goes her own way more often than not. If you appreciate the classic Agatha Christie stories, but would like to see them portrayed with more liberal politics, this is a fun option. There are three seasons available on Netflix now.


Another show I've enjoyed and watched more than once is The Almighty Johnsons. A family of four brothers finds out that when each of them hit the age of 18 that they are the living incarnations of Norse gods. The entire show is the story of them seeking to find meaning in their lives, whether it's through their powers, their history, or shunning those things in favor of modern options instead. Along the way, they receive the help, and/or hindrance, of youngest character Axl's roommates, the Johnsons' grandfather Olaf, and a group of goddesses on the same quest, with occasional visits from the living incarnation of Thor (who is the opposite of Chris Hemsworth, if ever I saw it). There are currently two seasons on Netflix, and it is an adult drama, with plenty of sexual content, and characters acting under the influence of various substances.


Finally, there is Housebound.  The tension was strong throughout, from the beginning when Kylie goes into home detention until the end when we discover from which direction the true harm is coming. What would you do if you felt unsafe in your own home, but were not allowed to leave? This  film explores issues like making choices, coming of age, the value of boredom vs excitement, and the feeling of isolation vs embracing your family. The characters seemed familiar, although it is set on the opposite side of the world. I enjoyed this even more than The Babadook, which got a lot of praise for its atmosphere as well.

Back At it!

Happy October, the best month of the year!

The reason I view October as the best month of the year is because a) the weather cools off and it becomes tolerable to be outside again, b) autumn/harvest foods are delicious, and c) it includes Halloween. Because of that, I decided to spend the weekend watching scary movies.

Today I was in a mood to tackle spooky British isles movies. I considered rewatching favorites such as 1973's The Wicker Man, The Dark, The Others, or even though it's less rural, Thora Birch in The Hole. Also considered The Descent, because it feels like a British film even though it's set in America's Appalachian Mountains.

Since I wanted to find something new, I started browsing through Netflix's offerings and found Blood Lands (a.k.a. White Settlers).
It's a story of a London couple (Pollyanna McIntosh & Lee Williams) trying to escape from the busy life into a low-pressure fixer-upper Scottish home, and discovering how unwelcome they are. The start was a slow build, getting to know the characters, which turned into a home invasion film, akin to You're Next, but ended more satisfyingly than any of the other films in that genre that I've seen. I'm giving it a score of 6.

After that, I tackled Eden Lake.
This is another urban couple (Kelly Reilly & Michael Fassbender) going to a rural setting. First off, I thought it had a cabin in the woods feel, then it began to feel more like a road trip/adventure movie.  Michael Fassbender is always amazingly engaging, so even though the situation was disagreeable, I hung in there to see where the story would take the characters. So unpleasant, and at 40 minutes in, there is some gratuitous torture porn. I give it a 4.

Next up, for a change of pace, we're off to the theater to see Matt Damon in The Martian.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A New Year

This week I've had the chance to watch The Social Network and Despicable Me.

Mark Zuckerburg, creator of Facebook is played by Jesse Eisenberg.  I watched this movie straight through, then watched it again with each commentary (director, then cast & crew). I've enjoyed Jesse Eisenberg's work over lookalike Michael Cera's since I first saw the two of them, and the fact that he's so open about his panic attacks that come on when filming big scenes, and the need to take anti-depressents, only makes me like him more. He came across as cocky as the character needed to be (Mark Zuckerberg was supposedly always thinking that he was better than everyone), and despite not knowing how to type or hack as well as the character demanded, he figured out ways to perform these tasks as needed for the film. The characters played by Justin Timberlake and Brenda Song were also so much better portrayed than I expected. Bringing the cockiness level down and becoming more than just a two-dimensional pretty face were two positive attributes that their acting brought to this film ("What's this?" "My inhaler" was a memorable bit). And I usually enjoy anything Rashida Jones is in (Freaks and Geeks, I Love You Man).

I also enjoyed learning more about some of David Fincher's thoughtful choices and the reasoning behind those choices. Choosing NIN's Trent Reznor as the composer instead of using less modern source music was a wise decision. Also, finding out that the wardrobe person used mostly shirts worn by the man himself when choosing what to put the actor in, and that there was a scene they had to change all printing to appear backwards, so the film could be run backwards to reverse the direction of running... fun details. I will watch this one again, just to remind myself what comes of being too sure of yourself, not considering the consequences: basically the follies of being young.

And then I put in Despicable Me. From the beginning, I could not concentrate on this film. I can imagine how seeing it in the theater, when there are fewer distractions, might make for a better viewing experience, but although I admired the smooth animation, the amusing situations and characters, I didn't care about the orphans, the villain, or Vector. Steve Carrell, Russell Brand and Jason Segel do perfectly adequate jobs as the main characters, but can't say much more. Was a bit of a yawn throughout, but yes, if you've got children under the age of 10 who aren't picky about what you put in front of them, go ahead and try this. Just don't expect any messages deeper than those of Monsters Inc.

Friday, October 22, 2010

more October

Over the last two weeks, the only new releases I watched were House of the Devil, Night of the Demon, and Get Him to the Greek.

House of the Devil was filmed using 80s techniques, set in the 80s, and seemed one of those babysitter thrillers, where you spend most of the running time getting to know the character. The actual suspense wasn't as intense as I like, the characters (beyond the babysitter) weren't developed at all, but the set design was awesome. Loved seeing the old phone on the wall, with the looooong cord, and other 80s details. Was also nice seeing Dee Wallace and Mary Woronov in horror films again. But otherwise I wasn't stimulated, and won't remember this movie in a month.

Night of the Demon, on the other hand, I did like a lot. It's a remake of the 1988 film, and Adam Gierasch chose just the right amount of blood, boobs and guts to copy. I like Monica Keena (Dirty Bird, Freddy Vs. Jason, Crime and Punishment in Suburbia) and it was odd seeing her breasts being the smallest of the cast.

Shannon Elizabeth played the senior member of the party, with black hair and lots of attitude (departure from American Pie or Th13teen Ghosts demeanor). Eddie Furlong (Pecker, Terminator 2) was the low-level drug dealer, and was almost unrecognizable due to getting very pudgy. Speaking of unrecognizable, the makeup was outstanding. Once the characters start getting demonized, due to kissing or exchanging other bodily fluids with other demons, they become unique. There are seven characters, to correspond with the seven higher demons who are looking to become flesh. The story is unfolded rather ridiculously by characters who either know too much or act too dumb, but the effects are beautiful, so it's easy to overlook. I would definitely recommend this one to anyone who likes gore and breasts, and doesn't mind swearing in their horror.

Get Him to the Greek: I did like Russell Brand a lot as Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so I was eager to see this. Didn't get around to seeing it in the theater, so watched it first off as soon as I got the DVD. As before, his character is stellar and captivating, although it's a bit Wayne's World when he starts showing emotions beyond sexual desire. Fun seeing him reunited with his da, Colm Meaney of Star Trek fame. And every musical production number had me laughing out loud. But the in-between story was less compelling. Didn't really feel for Jonah Hill's character or situation which felt very cardboard. The bulk of time was filled with celebrity cameos, which didn't add to the story. Seeing Sean Combs as producer Sergio was a fun ride though, and the whole "furry walls" drug trip will be remembered. (Song/video here.) Aldous' long-time girlfriend Jackie Q also had some fantastic songs, such as "Ring 'Round."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"new" releases October 2010

Frozen: Sound design decent, some music, but mostly ambient sound of wind and animal howls and crunching. Three kids pay a chair lift attendant to go up one last time before the end of the weekend/weather rolls in, and when he goes off duty on Sunday night, there is miscommunication about how many customers are still on the mountain. Two best guy friends and one's recent girlfriend are the protagonists.
Their choices range from jumping down off the highest point, climbing up to the cable and sliding along to the next chair/post and down that ladder or trying to last until the next Friday. Effective frostbite makeup, frozen tears & snot, skin tearing from sticking to metal... Open Water on a ski lift (will all survival movies be compared to that one from now on? Thirst was "Open Water in the desert..."). Emotional intensity is nice but sudden switch from nice guy to asshole is odd for Shawn Ashmore. Wish there had been more lead-up, more gradual transition there. And the plot line about urination was a nice touch too, realistic.

I watched 45 minutes of The Human Centipede (before getting sick to my stomach and turning it off). Typical stranded tourists in a foreign country, getting caught up in situation beyond their control (can't begin to count how many movies contain that plot line). The specific punishment meted out by the madman who captures them is new, and portrayed well enough, but really not planning on seeing the sequel either. Ugh.

The Oxford Murders: I love Spanish directors. I loved earlier works by Alex de la Iglesia such as Accion Mutante. Stars Elijah Wood as a physics/math student who has come from America to study under a specific professor (John Hurt) who embarrasses him at first meeting.
Alex Cox (of Repo Man, Sid and Nancy fame) appears briefly as Kalman, a crazy mathematician in The Oxford Murders. It's like a cross between Pi, The Butterfly Effect, Johnny Depp's The Ninth Gate and another Spanish movie I got from Redbox, Fermat's Room. I like the characters, the setting, the build-up, the pacing, and the bulk of the plot. Not sure if it was the editing or the original script, but something was off, making the plot not as satisfactory as it could have been. Feels like it should've made for more of an academic ending, but became more simplistic instead. Worth at least one viewing, but I won't be buying it.

I did buy Suck! The Movie, a Canadian release by Alex Stefaniuk. Very much fun, all the way through! I got this, sight unseen, because Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Dave Foley, Henry Rollins, Moby, Alex Lifeson of Rush and Malcolm McDowell appear in it, and was highly satisfied with how the director utilized them. I liked the surreal colorization, the bizarre world it's set in (complete with stop-motion animated travel sequences), and found the plot and characters interesting enough to follow into a sequel, if that's where it leads. It's about a second-rate band that's been together for about ten years when they run into Queeny (Dimitri Coates, who looks naturally like Johnny Depp's Hatter makeup from the most recent Alice incarnation). The first character to be transformed into a vampire during this story is played by Jessica Paré, last seen as the topless girl having sex with married time-traveler Craig Robinson in Hot Tub Time Machine. Her vampire makeup is most excellent, with blue blue eyes (making her look less like Liv Tyler), pale pale skin and fabulous red lips. The sleazy band manager who sees them going nowhere (Foley) comes back to the band once she transforms the other members one by one, and they start becoming popular. The band members have the familiar choice whether to stay immortal and feed on humans or go back to being negligible talent. Check out for more info!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Brittany Murphy

Brittany Murphy's last films to be finished up after her death include a made-for-TV movie called MegaFault, a spooky sexual thriller called Across the Hall, a possession thriller called Dead Line, and Abandoned, a mind-fuck up there with Spanish Prisoner. Something Wicked is still in post-production. Here follows the thoughts I have on what I've seen.

She's got scary collagen lips and eyes bulging out of her head, likely due to drastic working out and weight loss. I like her personality; I like when she plays crazy. In MegaFault, she's a scientist with a husband and daughter who is trying to save lives from the earth's upheaval. She is convincing, but the movie is pretty typical made-for-TV.

Dead Line is a step up from the corniness of the previous title. She's a writer, not quite as convincing as an intellectual loner. But when things start repeating and when she reacts to the potential ghosts/imagined issues around her, she does well.

Across the Hall is a serious thriller, where she's a woman screwing around with the feelings and bodies of two best friends. The jump scares are conventional, but the tension that is built up is top notch. There were a few times when I actually held my breath for fear of the character appearing on screen hearing me. Total suspension of disbelief.

I am just finished watching Abandoned, where she stars with Dean Cain as a girlfriend taking her boyfriend into the hospital for orthopedic surgery. The hospital is transferring all patients over to another location for reconstruction, and somehow her boyfriend slips through the paperwork and can't be found post-op. Is she having a psychotic breakdown due to her mother's death four months ago? Is her boyfriend a figment of her imagination? Or is there something bigger going on? I was caught up in the plot twists, though we've seen them all before, because of the believable performances, well-done sound design and subtle editing. Not sure about the hair/wardrobe, which seemed a little unrealistic, and all of a sudden springing an important plot point more than half-way through the film was a jarring note, but otherwise, this is definitely worth a viewing, especially being her last role.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


In many ways, I am the opposite of the troublemakers known as SpielBay. They detest the machinations, repetitions, money-hungry smash-bash-and-grab cash movie-making practices of Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay and any other Hollywood types. I wait to have an opinion until the final product has arrived, maybe because I'm more comfortable participating in an audience scenario than as performer. Many times I agree that the old, pre-CGI films were better, but there are occasions when I can see the value of a remake, of a new retelling of a story that wouldn't be appreciated if it were only told in the old way. Hopefully we all take each others' opinions into account, and finally decide for ourselves what is of value to us, rather than making universal, snap judgments.

I recommend watching their videos and other projects HIGHLY.