The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson achieving guru status.

A lot of fans of my videos have asked me to write an analysis of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. I still haven’t done it, even though the film has been on my ‘to do’ list for years. Something has put me off and I think it’s the final act of the film, which I found unsatisfactory. But Anderson’s latest film I found much more satisfying.

Many years ago I read a book on the subject of the father of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. I don’t know how historically accurate it was, but it was fascinating and hilarious and for years I’d intended to revisit it. Watching Anderson’s incredible new film The Master I quickly recognized many details  as coming from the realm of Scientology, for example the guru of the story theorizing that each of us have lived millions of past lives (some on alien planets) and that we carry many traumas from those lives in this life and must be cleansed of them by the guru’s “revolutionary” techniques.

It’s easy to assume that Anderson’s new film is basically just a negative critique of Hubbard. Given some of his theories, the Scientology founder is easy to ridicule, but Anderson establishes in an early scene that the man wasn’t untalented – in fact his communication skills were incredibly sharp. The scene I refer to involves Lancaster Dodd (the fictional version of Hubbard in the film) using hypnosis techniques to break down the pathological lying and emotional defence barriers of the film’s main character, Freddie Quell. It’s a very powerful scene, which prevents the film from simply being an anti-Scientology statement. The rough and ready alcoholic Quell is cleverly used, through his questionable “friendship” with Dodd, to make statements about both the talents and shortcomings of L. Ron Hubbard’s motives and brand of communication.

I don’t want to give any more spoilers here, so I’ll simply advise you to get out and watch The Master if you haven’t already. It’s a masterpiece.

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Snowtown – intelligent, challenging and darker than hell – dare you watch it?

I watched a little Australian film from 2011 called Snowtown about three or four months ago … once. And I haven’t summed up the courage to watch it again.

Snowtown is probably the most psychologically dark film I’ve ever seen. If we had to put a genre label on it then we’d likely call it a “serial killer thriller / drama”, though I think of it more as “a challenging document of how savage and depraved humans can become given sufficient paranoia and negative peer pressure”.

I deliberately didn’t read up about the real Snowtown Murders before watching the film. This only made that first viewing all the more unpleasant almost to the point of being unwatchable. Since I’m recommending the film here on its intellectual and social commentary merits rather than commercial appeal (frankly, I find it hard to see any emotional enjoyment to be had from the film) I’m going to give some basic plot spoilers. If you want the full psychologically disturbing impact of seeing the film then stop reading now. If you want to go into the film with a little emotional preparation read on.


Snowtown attempts to tell the story of how Australian serial killer John Bunting persuaded a handful of people to assist him in torturing and murdering 12 people over a seven year period.  The “justification” as largely perceived by the group came from the notion that the victims were paedophiles, but with a specific emphasis on homosexual paedophilia. As the years go on the group begin preying on others within their own group and targeting victims for much more obscure reasons, such as them being “junkies”, “yuppies”, “mentally hanicapped” or “gay”.

Historical accuracy?

Though Snowtown is very well acted, the strong Australian accents and sometimes vague dialogue make the exact events a little hard to follow at times, though this sort of works in that the story is told primarily from the POV of one of the youngest members of the group, James Vlassakis, who was gradually groomed against his will into taking part in the murders. Our knowledge of exactly what is going on is largely restricted to his awareness. This results in a story structure that prevents us from witnessing any of the murders until near the end of the film.

After watching I did a little reading up on the real case, not in a great deal of depth, but enough to ascertain that much of what we witness in the film is speculative, though certainly believable. The murders themselves were of course real, as was much of the evidence of how the victims died, but accounts of how Bunting persuaded his peers to engage in acts of sadism and murder are based on hearsay from the surviving group members. It’s possible that those witnesses played with the truth to deflect blame to one another. The forms of torture administered to some of these victims were so cruel and sadistic that it’s hard to believe that any “normal” person could engage in them, even under strong peer pressure and even against their worst enemies … but the facts of the Snowtown case strongly challenge that wishful assumption. Though I have no desire to describe the grizzly details of the murders, I will say that having already done a lot of research on the subjects of sadism and serial murder while scripting my short film The Victim, I thought I’d read the worst, but this case shocked me further.

Naturally, the film Snowtown does not show us the worst acts committed against the victims. If it did it would be correctly condemned and banned universally. We only witness one of the murders, that of Troy Youde, but what we see itself is disturbing enough because the scene is unnecessarily prolonged in my opinion. I also found it strange that the film shows Troy sexually abusing his younger half-brother James (the protagonist) early in the film. This apparent sexual abuse may have just been hearsay and false justification in the real case, but the film takes it as gospel and shows it. The same also applies to the apparent abuse of James by his Mother’s partner early in the film. Being that James was key witness during the trial of Bunting and his accomplices, and probably with an interest in distancing himself from legal responsibility, I have a question mark on these aspects of the film.

An important film

Historical accuracies aside, Snowtown hits us hard with some important facts about the human condition and some key failings of modern society. This wasn’t a group of born killers. They seem to have just been average people who were led down a very dark path by a cunning psychopath. How much each of them were dragged unwillingly along that path and how much they enthusiastically went of their own free will is open to debate.

It’s also debatable whether John Bunting was the sole influence on the group’s desire to kill. Their perceived justification that they were cleansing society of undesirables, especially paedophiles, was not unique to Bunting or the group. Pathological hatred of paedophiles is extremely common – a subject upon which many people today refuse to entertain notions of mental illness and broader sociological cause, preferring instead an attitude of “lock ’em up and throw away the key”, “execute them” or “make them die slowly”. I witnessed this mentality in 1993 when I was living within a short walking distance of the railway where three year old James Bulger was tortured and murdered by two ten year old boys. The local community was so seething with anger that anyone who was seen being detained for questioning by the police, even when no charges were made against them, was consequentially harassed and threatened. Some families had to be relocated. Hundreds of people showed up outside the courts during trial to scream their hatred and desire for a lynching, but the vans they thought contained the boys were decoys. It was the witch hunt mentality all over again.

Having worked in a paedophile halfway house several years ago, I had a chance to meet and observe several paedophiles in person. I encountered the pathological lying, denial of responsibility, selfishness, immaturity, and social inadequacy that often accompanies these people, but at the end of the day they are people and each one has his or her own unique personality. They’re not always the classic predatory types depicted in the media and, in conversation, many of them express confusions about their own condition in relation to a society in which pre-pubescant girls are seen in the media and on the streets dressing prevocatively.

Snowtown shows us that those who most scream for the blood of paedophiles, or any other group that happens to be hated at a particular point in history, are often guilty of being the very thing they claim to despise. The gang of sadists in this film commit acts that are far crueler than most paedophiles ever get near to committing. A visual hint of this is present in two scenes. When Troy sodomizes his younger brother James, he pins James’ face to the floor. After Troy has been tortured and murdered, James having interrupted the torture to administer a mercy killing, James is traumatized by the experience. Bunting then pins James’ head against a car window as he lectures him about toughening up and the supposed justifcation of their horrific act. James has a new abuser.

Snowtown is probably too unsettling to be nominated for Oscars or widely viewed by the general public. It is bleak, bleak, bleak and offers no reassurance or comfort to the viewer. Despite some strong reviews, I suspect the film will fade into the background of cinematic history, only to re-emerge if and when society is ready to deal with the issues it raises.



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KUBRICKS – a new indie feature film

A while back we had a handful of mouth watering media coverage of Rodney Ascher’s film Room 237, which explores the growing community of people coming up with deep interpretations of Kubrick’s The Shining.

This new film Kubricks sounds even more off the wall. Dean Cavanagh is interviewed at about the project.

Are we seeing the beginning of a new trend here? Movies about the man himself? This could get really interesting.

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Prometheus – first thoughts after initial viewing – and no plot spoilers

The formula trailer for Prometheus dampened my enthusiasm to the point where I almost didn’t go to watch it, but then I saw the ‘David 8’ trailer, which is both a Prometheus trailer and a short film in its own right, after which I regained my appetite. It was clear from David 8 that Prometheus wasn’t going to be an attempted rehash of either of the first two Alien films, but that the film makers were going to take the story into new territory. And that’s what they’ve done.

Glancing at other reviews this morning, while trying to also avoid plot spoilers, I was pleased to read that there “wasn’t much action” (so not a commercial blitz like the last few forgettable installments in the franchise – with the exception of Aliens of course) and that it was “thought provoking” and “open ended”.

Having just watched it this afternoon on the good old trusty 2D screen of my local cinema I have to say that, with the exception of two or three scenes, the film thoroughly held my attention from start to finish. It’s multi-themed. It’s not predictable. It’s visually impressive, but not distractingly so. And, to my surprise, it did have a couple of really good scares that were right up there with the most visceral moments of the first two films. One scene had me literally cringing with tension in a way that topped the classic John Hurt “chestburster” scene. The acting is generally good with not too much Hollywood posing and only the occasional “smart-ass” one liner. Fassbender, as widely reported, stands out as the android, David, whose behaviour includes a variety of thematic cross overs with Ash from the original film.

The plot of Prometheus is fairly complex in terms of character motivations. Multiple crew members have hidden and conflicting agendas that come together in interesting ways as the history of the space jockey creature from the first film is slowly, albeit not completely, revealed. That’s all good stuff, but what is surprising is how the film manages to branch into so much new territory without betraying the themes and plot details of the original film. At no point did I feel like I was watching a story written as an after thought, especially since a lot of unused designs and ideas from the production of the first film are brought into the mix.

Thematic elements of Bladerunner (Ridley Scott’s other sci-fi beast) also make their way into Prometheus, as if Bladerunner and Alien somehow take place in the same universe. That’s a nice surprise and gives Prometheus an artistic or auter framing that confirms Scott has genuinely returned to his intelligent sci-fi platform, which many would argue is still his strongest territory.

The only thing I felt created a perhaps unnecessary visual separation from the first two films was that the skies of the LV426 planet are much brighter (correction 8th June 2012 – it was actually a different moon LV223, which also explains several plot discrepancies with the derelict in the first film). The score is fairly standard, but then how many composers today could compete with the legendary Jerry Goldmith? If I had to offer a real gripe it would be that a couple of the supporting cast felt unnecessary and stereotypical, but not to the point of severe annoyance.

Alien certainly is the better film in terms of believable characters, but I always felt that the first half of Alien outdid it’s “creature kills the crew one by one” second half. Prometheus kept me engaged all the way.

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Excellent character analysis of There Will Be Blood by Darren Foley

There Will Be Blood has been on my film analysis list for too long. My disatisfaction with the film’s ending was always what discouraged me from writing a review, but I think Darren Foley has resolved that issue for me with his excellent analysis video. The basic parallels between the film’s main character, Daniel Plainview, and his false brother, false son, and the false prophet Eli I’d already picked up on, but I hadn’t tied them up properly with the film’s ending. If I ever do an analysis of the film there are some additional aspects I’ll be including, but when it comes to interpreting the characters I’ll have to give a nod to Darren Foley.

Enjoy and please be sure to give Darren a thumbs up on Youtube. He’s got my subscription as I’m certainly looking forward to more from him.

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The Thing 2011 – first thoughts (warning: plot spoilers)

Just watched this film today. For the first fifteen minutes I had my usual aesthetic gripes in line with modern features – excessive use of hand held cameras when stationary cameras would suffice, forced depth of field (too much stuff intentionally out of focus in the foreground and background in nearly every shot, giving it that shampoo commercial look), characters trying to appear cool with cliched posing and cocky dialogue – but once the story got going the director stopped relying excessively on those gimmicks.

From approx fifteen minutes in I started to enjoy The Thing 2011 and my enjoyment lasted for a good hour. The special effects were better than expected; there were only a handful of moments where the CGI aspect spoiled it for me. While it can be argued that the film makers show too much of the creature and have too many action scenes, the minimalist approach may not have worked here being that we’d already seen many of the horrors of the creature in the first film.

There were lots of monstrous transformations and some very creepy moments. Drilling into the block of ice to acquire a sample of the frozen Alien was an effective and unnerving scene and some of the group arguments had a very effective feeling of paranoia. To my surprise, the inclusion of American characters to justify English dialogue brought a new element of conflict; people siding with each other according to nationality instead of logistics of who was likely infected. It would have been nice to see paranoia of nationality “fleshed out” into a social, rather than incidental, theme. The language barriers would also likely have been more menacing if subtitles for Norwegian dialogue were not given.

The film doesn’t use much of the slow burning paranoia of Carpenter’s “sequel”, in which many events are not shown but creepily link together; hinting at the creature’s frighteningly intelligent tactics. Instead it bombards the characters with several threats going on at once, and in some scenes it works. When suspects have been reduced down to four people out of a room full of eight, not only do the pressures of loyalty based on nationality interfere with the situation, but the entire group, suspects included, are suddenly forced to work together to fight an unexpected and immediate threat elsewhere. The Thing 2011 is more about panic than paranoia.

During the hour long section in which I mostly enjoyed the film, occasional yet unnecessary lapses of logic and the odd cliche “scare”stopped it from being thoroughly engrossing. A character sneaks in to look at the block of ice encasing the creature and is startled in a standard “boo”-from-a-joking-character moment. It’s a tired old build up followed by anticlimax technique, completely unnecessary here. The Thing itself, still encased in a block of ice, somehow manages to thaw out while the surrounding ice remains frozen, allowing for a bog standard long-silence-followed-by-screaming-creature-bursting-out-of-something moment.

Two very important story devices from the first film were almost entirely omitted. The first is temperature. The unrealistic creature thaw isn’t the only instance of this. It’s now able to assimilate other creatures in the freezing night time outdoors. I could be wrong on this, but the impression given in the first film was that a room temperature suitable for humans was required for an assimilation to take place. How can the creature assimilate in an environment that can freeze it? The first film made effective use of temperature in that we saw characters shivering and near frost bitten, but in this “premaquel” (as I’ve heard it referred to on my forum) characters mostly don’t react to the cold. The other lost story device, which is heavily referenced in my updated analysis of Carpenter’s The Thing is clothing. It was made completely clear in Carpenter’s film that the creature tears through clothes when it takes people over, yet assimilated characters show up in this new version wearing the same clothes they were in while attacked, without a tear mark or blood stain.

On the other hand a new addition here is that the thing can’t imitate tooth fillings, ear rings or other inanimate objects when assimilating people. It’s a nice little plot device that wasn’t in the first film and it had me wondering about other possibilities such as tattoos and birth marks that could have been used to discern humans from imitations. In fact it raises an important factor about the scientific plausibility of such a creature existing. The human body is full of dead material. Bone, hair and skin all contain dead cells. The creature would have to be able to imitate them to be a convincing replica of the victim.

A missed opportunity that I thought might have been played on as a new device is sexuality. Imitating a character of one gender, the creature could have seduced an opposite sex character as a lead up to assimilation. And what a horrifying scene it would be, bringing a new dimension of sexual fear that wasn’t in Carpenter’s version. The only film I can recall that did something along those lines is a forgotten 80’s horror called Society (which is begging for a high budget remake).

I found the last twenty minutes of The Thing 2011 very disappointing. The film gets away with its female hero lead for the most part (actually that’s an understatement, she’s pretty good), but making her survive beyond the events that lead to Carpenter’s film seemed like a cop out. The ending leaves little sense of mystery because almost all plot elements are neatly tied up. I say almost for two reasons. In Carpenter’s version we see Norwegian footage of a massive explosion used to uncover the alien ship, but in this version the ship is hidden beneath the ice until just two characters chase it back to the ship at the end of the film. They certainly wouldn’t have time to set up cameras, blow up the ice and deliver the tapes back to the now virtually destroyed Norwegian camp, nor would there be a motive to. And that brings me to the other loose end. In this new film the alien ship is in working order. The alien tries to get the ship started again to take off. If that is the case then why did it crawl out and freeze in the first place? And why, in Carpenter’s film, would it bother creating a new ship out of helicopter parts when it could have stolen a helicopter and gone back to the original ship to get parts or simply start the engine? The inclusion of a good ten minutes of the ending taking place inside the alien ship, with its design almost a rip off of the ship in Ridley Scott’s Alien, broke any sense of reality for me personally. Suddenly I felt like I was watching Aliens Versus Predator. The maintenance of convincing environment and character interactions was essential in making Carpenter’s film believable.

These may seem like finicky gripes, but straight narrative films that become classics usually have these kinds of issues worked out. I’ve only watched The Thing 2011 once, so there may be aspects of the film I have wrong here. It’s worth a watch though.

For a long time I’ve had a treatment in the back of my mind for a Thing sequel. Maybe I’ll post a breakdown of it sometime.

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For film reviewers wishing to write negative reviews there’s no shortage of source material. As a general rule of thumb my own reviews and film analysis are geared toward great movies, the logic being that by drawing attention to quality work I can encourage other film makers to improve their craft and audiences to up their tastes.

Here I’m going to break my “positive reviews only” rule for two reasons. 1) I watched Drive last night and, where as normally I would have left the cinema within 20 minutes of a film being low standard, I sat all the way through Drive on account of having asked my girlfriend to see it with me (she doesn’t walk out of films she starts). 2) The reason I went to watch Drive to begin with was due to the almost universal praise it has received – positive comparisons with classics such as Walter Hill’s The Driver and the Mad Max series, a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes etc.

What those reviews don’t explain is that Drive is a transparent commercial exercize in pasting together supposedly cool elements from other films, which it doesn’t even do a remotely good job of.

In 1978 Walter Hill released The Driver, a seemingly simple story of two cunning characters, a cop and a getaway driver, playing a hardball game of cat and mouse merely for the sport of it. The dialogue was extremely reductionist, but in a way that came off as intelligent rather than dumbed down. The Driver also showcased a series of high speed car chases and stunts, which later influenced the excellent Terminator. Embedded in the film was a subtle nod to the spaghetti westerns of Sergie Leone. The lead character is nameless, only speaks when he really needs to, hides his emotions behind a stone cold exterior and his only leisure activity that we witness is his playing of cowboy songs on a pocket sized radio.

The old argument of a film “ripping off” as opposed to being “inspired by” earlier classics can usually be settled by examination of what the new film brings to the table of its own design. Unlike it’s spaghetti western inspiration sources, the protagonist in The Driver doesn’t use guns. In fact the film makes intelligent plot use of his “never carry a gun” rule. Instead he uses cars as weapons, replacing the gun fight with a game of chicken against his adversaries. The film also did away with good guys and bad guys. all of its characters are “players”.

Four year’s later Mad Max 2 was hailed for it’s Leone and Kurosawa inspirations. Unlike The Driver, the Leone inspirations were evident visually, the characters rugged and dirty and the dusty settings scorched by the hot sun. Like The Driver, Mad Max 2 replaced guns and rifles with cars – delivering what many (including this reviewer) still hold up as the greatest car chase sequences of all time. Also, like The Driver, Mad Max 2 brought original elements of its own to the table. It was set in the future as opposed to its source inspirations being set in the past. It fused punk and biker imagery into its visuals in a way that would forever influence those genres. It contained a visual theme of humanity returning to an animal state. It even topped John Wayne’s final shot in The Searchers, the supposed “hero” fading into the landscape – lost in a no man’s land due to his fear of reconnecting with humans and his unwillingness to hand himself over to life with the savages. The Driver and Mad Max 2 are strong examples of films that take inspiration from earlier classics and combine them effectively with new ideas.

So what about 2011’s Drive? Well, I’ll get the positives (what few there are) out of the way first because the film does this itself in the first ten minutes. The opening introduces our getaway car driving protagonist as he helps a couple of hoods with a robbery. The scene tries to imitate the opening scenes of The Driver and the first two Mad Max films, except … there isn’t much action. Our “hero” outsmarts the police with careful bursts of acceleration and stints of quietly parking in the shadows. The scene works well in its own right.

At this point I was naively thinking “Ok, the action scenes in those other films were a little over the top, so maybe they’ve decided to go for a more intelligent and cunning protagonist with this film. That’ll mean less gratuitous violence and a well thought out plot.” Not a chance. As the rest of the film shows, its creators either lacked the courage or the budget to do a decent car chase scene. In a single minute of The Driver and Mad Max 2’s action scenes there’s more driving mayhem than in the entire 100 minutes of Drive.

Drive attempts to compensate for its lack of car chase action by importing scenes from gangster films like Goodfellas. Our “hero” stomps an assassins face in as if he’s Billy Batts from Goodfellas. A “bad guy” sticks a fork through a guy’s eyeball (not that that would actually work – eyeballs are very tough) then repeatedly knifes him in the throat … just like Billy Batts in Goodfellas.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Drive imports most of its “cool” elements from superior films, but those elements simply don’t work when plucked away from the originals. Why? Because unlike those classics, Drive lacks a central premise. There’s no purpose in this film other than to imitate. The film makers apparently thought that what made the lead characters seem intelligent in The Driver and Mad Max series was their lack of dialogue and their blank stares either at other characters or into the camera. And so this is what we get an abundance of with our lead in The Driver – prolonged expressionless stares and sparse dialogue. Ryan Gosling’s dialogue is so unbelievably basic that he comes off as an idiot, but it should be the henchmen of his opponents who are the idiots. He says nothing that indicates intelligence and there are no snappy put downs as we used to get from the likes of Clint Eastwood or Ryan O’neall in The Driver. With those characters there was always an impression that if they did let their guard down and talk they would be really interesting to listen to.

And the expressionless stares in Drive are too frequent and too long. Occasionally they’re broken with a cheesy smile, at which point what little tough guy credibility Gosling had built up goes out the window. Even the staring matches between Gosling and the young boy he’s trying to protect are lifted from Mad Max 2 with a complete lack of awareness of context. The young boy who befriended Max was speechless for the entire film. He had been raised in a land of savages. It is only revealed to us in the boy’s adult voice over at the end of the film he could talk. In Mad Max 2 there were approx three, maybe four, shots of the boy and Max staring at each other as kindred loners … and they never really connect because Max abandons him at the end. But regardless of these simple character and plot elements Drive imports the tough guy versus kid staring competitions and hits us with them too many times and for too long. They especially don’t work because the kid is a normal healthy boy.

The film makers overlooked the simple factor that made Mad Max and The Driver “cool” characters. They acted intelligently. They may have had emotional hang ups, but when it comes to taking on bad guys they’re cunning and prepared. Our “hero” in Drive walks or drives head on, like an idiot, into dangerous situations where the danger could be seen a mile away. An example of how this kind of intelligent action should be done is when Ryan O’neall’s character in The Driver is set up by a crook. The crook is aware of the driver’s reputation of “never carrying a gun” and is planning to kill him. The driver, being aware of his opponents perceptual blind spot, breaks his own rule by carrying a gun and catching him off guard. Or how about Mad Max, who uses his car as a trap by having a dog trained to attack anyone who touches it, and as a back up has planted a bomb near the fuel tank. When he is captured by a would be thief he announces the existence of the bomb. Naturally his captor tells him to switch the bomb off. Anticipating the possibility Max has a knife hidden under the car to take his captor out. It’s this anticipation of enemies and smart planning that makes Max, The Driver or Dirty Harry come off as “cool”. The cold stares and sparse dialogue don’t work without it.  Another film full of such examples of intelligent characters playing convincing and complex games of chess with each other is Scorsese’s The Departed, which is infinitely smarter than Drive.

Shall I go on with this review? … Yes, I’m afraid I must as a catharsis after 100 minutes of utter boredom.

The shallowness in Drive goes on. Our “hero” marches into a dressing room to attack one of his enemies with a hammer. It’s a nice excuse to show a dozen or so pairs of breasts, many of them fake, much like the film’s pretence. Despite the violence from our “hero”, several of the girls hang around to watch, which conveniently allows us to watch their breasts for lack of anything else interesting in the scene. Our “hero” threatens to hammer a bullet into the forehead of his scumbag opponent. Is that actually possible? He lifts the hammer back over his shoulder, at which point I had a vision of him slamming down, missing the bullet and breaking his fingers. Seriously, the film is that badly thought out.

What else? Oh, there was a moderately interesting sideline story. The “love interest” is a neighbour whose boyfriend is released from prison. To its credit the film doesn’t turn the boyfriend into a girlfriend beating demon so as to justify a little mindless violence from our “hero”. The guy genuinely wants to get on the straight and narrow, but is being harassed by gangster associates to pay debts. Our “hero” tries to help him out. At this point the story was moderately interesting, but our “hero” gets the guy killed in a pathetic attempt to help him pull a heist – thus killing the interesting subplot too. Now our “hero” is free to express his love interest in his neighbor without stepping on the turf of a husband and father who was trying to make it up to his family.

Even with a seasoned action star in the lead role Drive would be an awful film, but it’s even worse for the fact that Gosling is not a convincing action hero. He’s got muscle, but he’s far too boyish in the face for this kind of role. His version of the tough guy stare is more akin to the timid Cameron character in  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

After watching Drive I just had to go back online and double check all the rave reviews to make sure I hadn’t dreamt them. Yes, they’re there. 8.6 rating on IMDB, 93% on rotten tomatoes. Apparently the film got a standing ovation at Cannes. It got a 5 star review in The Independent and a 4 star review in The Guardian. What is going on here? Have these people ever watched the classic films Drive lifted it’s cut and paste ideas from? Or has the market become so saturated with garbage that this half-baked effort actually seems good by comparison?

I’ve also been reading quite a bit about Drive being stylish. Well, that’s true if you like meaningless MTV pop videos. Excessive slow motion, depth of field and long supposedly meaningful stares aren’t style. They’re today’s fads ported in from tv commercial aesthetics. At least Drive didn’t use excessive shaky hand held camera movements to try and make us think “Woah, it’s like I’m really there man!”

My last critique, for now, of Drive is its cheesy soundtrack. Totally unfitting for this type of film.

For anyone out there who thinks I’m being snobbish with this review, please be aware that I enjoy a lot of dumbed down action films. In my DVD collection I have copies of everything from Rambo and Predator to Citizen Kane and I love them all for different reasons. Hell, I’ve even got copies of the old Sho Kozugi ninja flicks. What I won’t have in my collection is films that pretend to be something that they’re not. I can honestly say that Drive ranks in my worst cinematic disappointments of all time, alongside Armageddon and Hannibal.

After near tearing my hair out while watching Drive, I’m tempted to go back to my old strategy of deciding which new films to see. Ignore the hype when a film is released and if people are still talking about it 18 months later then it’s probably worth seeing.

End of rant.

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Triangle (2009) – excellent suspense film

I’d never even heard of this film until I was emailed about it last week. Triangle is a reality-bending brainteaser film, similar in style to Shutter Island. It failed at the box office despite strong reviews, great direction and a very strong script. The story structure is exceptionally well thought out. While Inception pretty much announces its themes and structure so that non-thinking viewers can “get it” after a first viewing, Triangle offers a fine balance of mystery and revelation. It’s consistently entertaining in a way that other multiple plot twist films become tedious and its ending revelations offer a psychological paradigm that goes beyond superficial justification. A major plus point is the lack of CGI. The lack of teenage “wow” moments, in preference for Hitchcock-like subliminal detail, combined with a limited promotional campaign (who’d have thought the UK Film Council would back a film like this) are likely the source of its box office failure. Writer / director Christopher Smith is a new talent to look out for.

Watch it. Promote it.

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RECcomended horror series

About a year ago I watched the spanish zombie film REC. It was a fun piece of straight zombie entertainment with some interesting variations on the genre.

REC employed the handheld camera narrative device also found in Blair Witch Project – a filming technique in which everything we see is footage shot on a camera supposedly held by a character within the film. This camera-within-a-film narrative device merely serves as a justification for lower budget shooting techniques; film makers are reluctant to make visually imperfect films, though the makers of Cloverfield seemed to think the technique makes for a more engaging film even at the high budget level. But the positive side of camera-within-a-film shooting is it demonstrates audiences couldn’t care less about visual perfectionism. They don’t need perfectly smooth camera movement or shot compositions following the rule of thirds and other cinematography myths. Blair Witch was psychologically interesting, but visually primitive. In other words the better a film is conceptually the more corners can be cut in terms of eye candy.

Recently I watched REC 2 and was engrossed from start to finish. What a shame this film uses the handheld camera narrative device all the way through (though it suits the last ten minutes of the film perfectly). The story, for a straight narrative horror film, is outstanding. It combines some of the best elements of The Exorcist, Blair Witch Project, Evil Dead series and Romero’s original zombie trilogy and has a handful of excellent plot twists. I enjoyed this even more then Frank Darabont’s Walking Dead series.

Although REC 2 is much better than it’s predecessor you’ll need to watch the two films in order to get the full effect.

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Brilliant 1960’s Outer Limits episode “Demon with a glass hand”

As a child I used to watch this excellent sci-fi thriller with my father (video recorders being the new big thing at the time) and I rediscovered the episode a few years ago.  It tells the story of a man who finds himself on the streets of a US city, not knowing who he is or where he came from. He has a transparent-computer fake-hand attached to his left wrist. The computer advises him in combating a race of humanoid aliens who are tracking him down. I don’t want to spoil the plot so I’ll just mention that the epicly imaginative, award-winning story involves time travel, interplanetary warfare, historical warrior mythology, fist fights, gun battles and the possible extinction of the human race … all crammed into less than an hour and told in a moody film noir style, accompanied by the superb orchestral themes of the Outer Limits. This is a gem.

Many modern classics such as Bladerunner, Terminator and The Matrix owe a great deal to the influence of this made for TV episode – most of the episode occurs in the same building location used as J.F. Sebastian’s home in Bladerunner.

Demon With A Glass Hand is absolutely begging for the big budget remake treatment with a good director attached. Having recently enjoyed The Walking Dead, I think Frank Darabond could be the right guy to remake this.

I very much recommend the boxsets of 1960’s Outer Limits episodes, but for all you freeloaders Demon With A Glass Hand is currently available on Youtube. Here’s a link to part one.

Demon With A Glass Hand – pt 1


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