Monthly Archives: May 2012

the best part of Exorcist 2: The Heretic

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We are one-year old today……………

Headhunters (2011)

Synopsis:

A successful headhunter leads a double life as a vintage-art thief to finance an increasingly extravagant lifestyle. Things take a turn for the worse when his latest heist involves stealing a painting from a ex-mercenary who may well be romantically involved with his wife….

Review:

“Headhunters” is topsy-turvy thriller and never quite what it seems. The basic plot involves our art thief on the run from the world’s best ‘tracker’, a former soldier of fortune with some considerable expertise in hunting down men….but this is all complicated by the inclusion of a woman who shares pillowtalk with both of them and a very big ‘deal’ about to come to fruition in the headhunting industry. The scene is therefore set for some loopy plot-twists and a huge dose of male-bravado-loving action sequences.

Technically, the film is very well-made. There are all kinds of shots, zooms and interesting angles as well as some great views of chillingly metallic corporate structures and the desolate Norwegian countryside. A top-notch cast and an involving script are other big positives in a film which really clicked with me. I liked the fact that the movie’s arch-villain switches after the first 40 minutes or so; “good guys” become “bad guys” and vice-versa.  As an example, we end up feeling surprised at the level of empathy we harbour for a crooked gun-toting  security officer (and prostitute-enthusiast) when he meets his sorry demise.

This is a multi-layered movie which is littered with (un?)intentional comedy and some marvelously eccentric characters. Both come together to leave the audience with a number of really memorable moments. One in particular concerns our protagonist burying himself in human excrement beneath the floorboards of an outside-lavatory to avoid detection by his relentless pursuer.

My minor gripes are really quite pedantic. I don’t like the voice-over narration at the beginning and end of the movie – it is a bit needless and annoyingly philosophical in a similar way to the one employed in “Blade Runner”  – and nor did I find the whole thing very plausible. But then again, this is a film, not the real world. I, as a movie-goer, just want to be entertained.

I finished this one wanting to stay in my seat for the next screening – that’s how much I enjoyed it. A great movie.

Note:  “Headhunters” is in Norwegian with English subtitles.

hotdog rating: 8/10

My Darling Clementine (1946)

Synopsis:

Former lawman Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and his brothers are now cattlemen but when their youngest sibling is killed by cattle-rustlers outside the town of Tombstone, they decide to don their tin stars once more to bring justice to the perpetrators. This inevitably ends with the gunfight at the OK Corral……

Review:

This is a Western stuffed  full of acting talent and directed by the most-accomplished of all genre directors, John Ford, which has achieved something of a mythical status. Oft-referred to as “the best Western”, you can see why critics and audiences have been so kind. Yet, this isn’t a movie which resonates completely with me.

Ford’s wide-shots of the landscapes of the West are as powerful as ever and the use of darkness and shadows (particularly on character’s faces) are an early indication of a trend in Ford’s movies which would reach an epic climax in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962). The script is also tight and there are some great pieces of dialogue – usually but not exclusively between Fonda’s Wyatt and Mature’s Doc.

Henry Fonda plays Wyatt Earp to perfection and with a reserved-ease fitting of the man legends are made of. Victor Mature is surprisingly fascinating to watch as the disintegrating Doc Holiday, for Mature himself is on the record as preferring golf to acting. Ward Bond offers rock-solid, but under-utilised, support as Wyatt’s brother, Morg Earp. Conversely, Walter Brennan was mis-cast in my opinion; I don’t like him as the cattle-baron Old Man Clanton. Although to be fair to Ford, he seems to have realised this and much of the film concentrates on the relationship between Doc and Wyatt; Brennan’s role being more of a bit-part than anything like an arch-villain.

Unfortunately, the final shoot-out at the OK Corral is a bit of a let-down, being both poorly choreographed and rather dull. I thought this was strangely out of character for a director whose action-sequences are so frequently entertaining. This is a problem with drags the entire film down in retrospect because the whole point of Ford’s film is to build-up to the final confrontation, yet this is indeed where the film really stutters and staggers.

Despite the title, this is not a film which offers much substance on women in the West – Ford’s characterisation is too concerned with the male characters and there is little relevance or screen-time afforded to either of the female ‘leads’, Linda Darnell and Cathy Downs.

Whilst these words may be anathema to purists, I don’t think My Darling Clementine is as good as it is often thought to be. There are much better Westerns out there, both from Ford and others.

Of course, “My Daring Clementine”  is a good movie and more than enjoyable. Just don’t believe all the hype.

hotdog rating: 6.5/10

The Orphanage (2007)

Synopsis:

Laura, a young woman, sets up home at her former Orphanage in an attempt to build a place of refuge for ‘special’ children.  Simon, her adopted son (who is also HIV positive), tells her of the imaginary friends he has made – one of whom is a mischievous masked-boy who has told him that he will die soon. Laura initially dismisses such talk as childish fantasy but when Simon disappears, she becomes certain that his imaginary friends are involved and that the Orphanage is harbouring a dark secret.

Review:

“The Orphanage” is what used to be called a ‘chiller’ rather than a ‘horror’ movie.

The plot is strong and I liked the parallels with the story of “Peter Pan”.  This is a sad and emotional film which needed a strong cast – and gets one.  Fernando Cayo is very convincing as the sceptical husband and Montserrat Carulla is immensely creepy as the elderly former-employee with a horrible secret, “Benigna”.  Of course, Belen Rueda as “Laura” is the star of the show, putting in a shockingly empathetic  performance of a woman hurdling towards grief-induced  insanity.

The film looks great and the setting of the Orphanage on the coast allows for some nice touches to an already startling cinematography. There are welcome nods to the haunted-house movies of the past. We have an intriguing team of paranormal researchers, reminiscent of the group from “Poltergeist” (1982) and there are murmurs of Peter Medak’s excellent ghost story “The Changeling” (1980) throughout the film.

Director Juan Antonio Bayona  resists temptation and doesn’t descend into pushing the film as a cheap-shock thrill ride – there are no “House on Haunted Hill”-type gimmicks to be found in this movie. Bayona never quite pulls the trigger on the audience – all the more impressive given this is his first feature-film –  and the end result leaves the viewer in a sheer sweat of anticipation with some sequences almost unbearable to watch. For the first time in a while, I was actually wanting to look away from the screen.

Bayona also manages to keep the audience interested in the storyline , which is not just an excuse for either some ‘scary goings-on’ or the advertisement of technical skill with a camera. The script is genuinely enticing and we become interested as to why young Simon has disappeared and what exactly happened at the Orphanage all those years ago. The final third of the film unravels the mystery in a convincing and unsettling way, although there are some questions which are intentionally left unanswered.  Nevertheless, the revelation at the end of the movie is quite sickening, so if you cry easily, make sure you have some tissues at hand.

Overall, a mighty haunted-house movie, which unfortunately is an all too-rare occurrence nowadays.

Note: “The Orphanage” is in Spanish with English subtitles.

hotdog rating: 8.5/10

PS (contains spoilers): Personally, I found that this film reminded me heavily of some of the themes (mother’s revenge) and images (the mask on the deformed child) of Friday 13th Parts 1 and 2. If anyone else thought this, please do comment on this post. Am I going crazy>?

The Uninvited Guest (2004) aka El Habitante Incierto

Synopsis:

Felix, a slightly manic architect,  has just broken up with his girlfriend and is feeling a little low. One night a stranger calls at his door, asking to use the telephone to make an urgent call. Felix, of course agrees, but becomes alarmed when the stranger disappears after he is left alone for a few moments….throughout the next few days Felix becomes convinced that the stranger is still hiding in his house……

Review:

One of the best hitchcock-esque thrillers I have seen in years. The movie begins as expected if you read the synopsis but about mid-way through takes a very different turn and you begin to wonder who the ‘bad’ guy actually is.

Sexual repression and ugly voyeurism are the parasitic under-belly of this film –  Monica Lopez who doubles both as Felix’s ex-girlfriend Vera as well as his wheelchair-bound neighbour Claudia is elegantly deviant; and Felix himself is played by Andoni Garica in a brilliantly disturbed manner. There are clear echoes of Jimmy Stewart’s performance in “Vertigo” here, particularly around Felix’s descent into complete and utter paranoia.

A great soundtrack and some camerawork which I can only describe as ‘intrusive’ propel this film way above the happy medium of mediocrity. The shattering climax manages to be both mortifying and exhilarating at the same time, even though the final twist is actually pretty tame.

“The Uninvited Guest” is a film which demands a second-viewing for reasons of its sheer complexity and originality. If Hitchcock had been alive today, he would have made this film. Quite outstanding really.

Note: This film is in Spanish with English subtitles.

hotdog rating: 8.5/10

Dolls (1987) Poster

Just because I mentioned this movie yesterday…..and I love this poster. Dolls is actually a wonderful film.

Child’s Play 2 (1990)

 

Synopsis:

Andy Barclay (the charming Alex Vincent)  is once again stalked by the possessed “good-guy” doll Chucky. Time is running out for Chucky, who must transfer his soul into Andy’s body very soon, else he will be trapped in the doll’s body forever….

Review:

“Child’s Play 2” suffers from one big problem – the brooding suspense which made the original 1988 horror-thriller so exciting is all gone. By the sequel, we know the doll is actually alive  (it’s not all in Andy’s head; if only they had listened to the kid!) and we know why Chucky needs Andy’s body….

Nevertheless, the film works on a number of levels, although plot-wise this is simply a re-run of the first movie.

Firstly, I suppose it is this film which transforms Chucky from the rather creepy ‘haunted’ doll of the original into the wise-cracking anti-hero of the later films. Chucky has more dialogue in this movie and Brad Dourif’s voiceover work really comes to the fore with some gloriously funny one-liners.  It’s all very entertaining stuff but it does detract a little from the ‘fright factor’ – you can’t be afraid of a villain you find so amusing. A similar problem emerges in the latter entries in the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise.

Secondly, there are a couple of well-executed set-piece sequences. The most impressive of these is probably the film’s grim finale in the Toy factory – where the machines used in the manufacturing process provide a  bizarre array of weapons for our anti-hero to use against his set of hapless victims. The another sequence I really like involves the ‘swing’,  as this is one of the only parts of the movie which attempts to generate any real anticipation of an impending shock amongst the audience (something the original movie did so well).

There is a higher gore-content in this movie which will please some horror fans although it’s nothing compared to the more recent proliferation of torture-porn type movies such as “Saw” and “Hostel”.

My last thought is that “Child’s Play 2” could have really done with stronger leads – there are no characters similar to Chris Sarandon’s ‘sceptical detective’ or Catherine Hicks’s ’emotional mother’ from the first movie. All we have are basically faceless b-movie actors, but you can’t expect much more.

All-in-all, an enjoyable romp of a killer-doll movie with an edgy script – it’ll make you laugh but you aren’t likely to hide behind the sofa at any point.

If you enjoy this, there are plenty of other killer-doll films out there. The best of the bunch being “Puppet Master” (1989) and Stuart Gordon’s frankly magnificent dark-fairytale of a movie –  “Dolls” (1987). Of course, there’s “Child’s Play 3” (1991) and the other sequels too.

hotdog rating: 6/10