Underrated Horror Films

Josip Knezevic

Tis the season to be scary, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. Here are horror films you might have missed that deserve to be ranked among the best.




Possibly the least well known film on this list, May is one of the creepiest slow burns American cinema has produced. This is all credit to the leading actress Angela Bettis who plays a young shy misfit who begins to develop a crush on a man who takes a shine to her awkwardness. Without giving too much away, as does the trailer, May’s personality begins to take an obsessive turn and leads into one hell of a buildup that is bound to leave you with a weird taste in your mouth. If you don’t mind the slow burn nature of the plot and the semi low budget production values, May is definitely a film for you. Check it out.




It’s Dead Space meets Resident Evil meets The Descent – and it has Dennis Quaid. Pandorum is a sci-fi horror film that plays out like a lucid dream with elements borrowed from films such as Memento and The Matrix. I know. How much else can it take. But thankfully Pandorum takes the best of all those films and combines it into something that still maintains its originality. This is one of those films that truly makes you not want to gaze into the dark because what lies in the distance soon comes at you with visceral pace and fear. Ben Foster delivers a hell of a performance as well and again reminds us of the underrated abilities he possesses as an actor.



Funny Games

It won’t matter if it’s the original French or remade American version, Funny Games delivers on Michael Haneke’s perfection of horror cinema that not only is completely terrifying but also incredibly smart. Both are directed by Haneke and deliver an experience that will be frustratingly difficult to watch without giving too much away. But this is the point. Set in a house by the lake, a family soon begins to be terrorized by two brothers who have a twisted game set up for its poor occupants. Shot expertly and written purposefully, Funny Games aims to horrify and comment on society at the same time. A masterpiece from a masterful director. 




Easily the scariest film in this list, Martyrs follows the plight for revenge on those who kidnapped her and other young women but on her search, finds an even more horrifying truth. Criticized as grotesque torture porn, Martyrs is often overlooked as a B-grade horror film without any joy but this is what makes it deliver so crucially on the horror aspect. It’s a dark, bleak and terrifying film. This is horror in its purest form minus the Hollywood glam that has been drizzled upon in recent years. It also has one of the best endings of any horror film, akin to that of The Descent’s famous cliffhanger. For fans desiring to expand their horror catalogue, Martyrs is the film for you.



Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead/Dead Alive (Braindead)

For the best scenes of explosive diarrhea and a lawnmower chopping faces off the undead, look no further than this double bill of Poultrygeist and Dead Alive. I’ve combined both these films into one as they follow the same trend of being some of the best over-the-top splatter films. The latter film being written and directed by New Zealand’s most famous export, Peter Jackson. Yes, before he was winning academy awards for epic films about Hobbits, he was busy killing the undead with basic kitchenware. Whereas Dead Alive follows the rise of the human undead, Poultrygeist bests it by introducing the rise of the chicken undead. I know. Can it get any better?! These films won’t be for everyone but if you love intentionally bad dialogue and laughing your head off to the most ridiculous scenes of prop gore, then this double bill should be right up your alley.




Finally. Japan. Enough of American cinema. Horror and the Japanese reach new heights when it comes to delivering tension and creepiness in ways you haven’t imagined, and Audition is yet another slow burning masterpiece that waits till the very end to bring in the ultimate pay off for what you wait for. Don’t get me wrong, the film is still interesting enough to watch throughout as we follow the life of a lonely widower who begins to seek love once more in that of a withdrawn but gorgeous woman. Slowly we realize there’s more to this lady than meets the eye and even if all the time you’re screaming out “there’s something wrong with her!”, nothing can prepare you for the final act.

Special mentions: What We Do in the Shadows, Last Shift, It Follows, It Comes at Night, The Host.

Images courtesy of  Universal Pictures Video, Icon Film Distribution, Madman Entertainment, Kojo Pictures, Jigsaw Entertainment, Siren Visual Entertainment


Is Rotten Tomatoes Ruining the Art of Film Criticism?

Hollywood is blaming Rotten Tomatoes for its rotten summer – but do they actually have a point?

Rhys Graeme-Drury

The northern summer just gone has been one filled with quality cinema; from filmmaker-driven fare such as Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver to franchise films like Wonder Woman and Spider-man: Homecoming, audiences have been treated to some excellent tentpole films, not to mention some smaller original films such as Logan Lucky, Wind River and The Big Sick. In short, there has been plenty of good stuff for cinephiles to gorge on

And yet, despite this, domestic box office takings for major Hollywood films are down. The last weekend in August drew so few people to the theatre that you’d have to go back to September 2001 to find a weekend where fewer people made the trip to the theatre. The blockbuster season of 2017 raked in approximately $3.8 billion in the United States, which roughly translates into a 15 per cent decline from the same span last year.

So, even with the aforementioned films in theatres, what has caused this marked decrease? Could it be that people are strapped for cash? That the theatre experience is increasingly eclipsed by home formats and streaming? That for every quality film there are five crap sequels, reboots or remakes?

Even though all of these, and others, are likely contributing factors, major industry figures and filmmakers are pointing the finger squarely at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, according to a recent op-ed from The New York Times.

Yes, believe it or not, the combined might of Hollywood’s studios have supposedly met their match, and it comes in the form of a website. Back in May, director Brett Ratner (best known for X-Men: The Last Stand and Rush Hour) was of the opinion that Rotten Tomatoes is a persistent pain in the ass for filmmakers and the main reason fewer people were making the effort to see films in the theatre.

“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes,” Ratner said. “I think it’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that.”

Does Ratner have a point here? In a sense, I can see what he is getting at. Rotten Tomatoes’ metric – the way in which it calculates a score for a film – is inherently very black and white. The website essentially asks every reviewer to boil their overarching sentiment towards a film into two camps ­– fresh or rotten.

If 200 reviewers submit a review for a film and 120 of those deemed the film ‘fresh’, said film would be furnished with a 60% score on the website. Even if they felt the film was only worth three stars or 6 out of 10, a fresh rating is a fresh rating, the same as if they felt the film was worth five stars or 10 out of 10. There is no room for shades of grey. A glowing review is afforded the same weight as a so-so one; a scathing review no less damning than one that presents both sides.

This is where things can go awry. If said film were to receive 200 reviews of precisely three stars, it would be heralded as perfect by the Rotten Tomatoes metric – 100 per cent. Except, this is a wholly inaccurate appraisal of a film that 200 critics felt was merely good and only worth three out of five.

This must be incredibly frustrating for filmmakers like Ratner. That you can spend upwards of a year toiling away on a film only for an increasingly popular website to slap it with a 30% ‘rotten’ score must be a real kick in the teeth.

In foregoing nuance, Rotten Tomatoes is oversimplifying film criticism. In our increasingly digital world, sites like Rotten Tomatoes are presented as the go-to destination for film appraisal. Just as one would skim through user reviews for a restaurant on Zomato or a bedsit on Airbnb, filmgoers cast a glance towards Rotten Tomatoes when seeking a verdict on this week’s slew of new releases.

Though I concede Rotten Tomatoes does indeed have its merits, I can’t help but feel a little bummed that more and more people are relying on a system so fundamentally simplistic as their primary means of engagement with film criticism.

So even though it might be a touch harsh to pin all of Hollywood’s woes on one website – I mean, if they just made better films, this wouldn’t be a problem, right? – I do think there needs to be a greater understanding surrounding Rotten Tomatoes and how its scores aren’t necessarily the be all and end all of film criticism.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures / Inglorious Basterds 

Guide to Spoiler Etiquette

Navigating spoilers on social media and at work can feel a bit like creeping through a minefield – but it doesn’t have to be such a stressful and strenuous task.

Rhys Graeme-Drury

A lot of people will joke that they didn’t know Bruce Willis was a ghost at the end of The Sixth Sense if you bring it up, such is the notoriety of that film-altering twist. But then there are those who act annoyed or even angry if you drop spoilers like that, which is just plain ridiculous – the film came out in 1999. So what’s the shelf life for spoilers with a film? How long does one have to wait before discussing spoilers is socially acceptable? When does a twist like those seen in The Sixth Sense or The Empire Strikes Back become accepted as ‘common knowledge’? Until it hits DVD? A month? A week? A weekend? In my mind, it varies depending on their potency.

For a major blockbuster film, you really don’t have long before something is everywhere; a week at most. For something like Logan (spoiler alert: Logan dies), Wonder Woman (spoiler alert: Chris Pine dies) or Rogue One (spoiler alert: everyone dies), I’d wager you get even less, possibly only the opening weekend. If you really cared about spoilers, you’d be there for the midnight screenings to be honest.

For other stuff, that grace period starts to grow. Films like Hidden Figures or Lion can sit on the shelf unspoiled for maybe a month; some people might even seek out spoilers so that they can rest assured that everything and everyone gets a happy ending.

TV is where things start to get a little trickier. By definition, television offers a shared viewing experience unlike that of a blockbuster film – for example, you and a dozen other people in the office might have seen which generic blonde girl was booted off The Bachelor last night, but there’s always that one person who doesn’t want to know because said episode is still sitting, waiting on their DVR.

TV can be live-tweeted and recapped; it’s pivotal moments immortalised into GIF form within minutes. Trying to avoid spoilers for TV shows is inherently trickier than film.

Arguably, the ultimate watercooler show right now is Game of Thrones. The 48-hour period after each episode is rife with detailed examination of what just happened and wild speculation about what will happen next, which is why avoiding spoilers (or even the faint whiff of a spoiler) is so gosh darn hard when you spend even as little as two minutes on social media.

Opposed to film, TV has a much, much shorter life span when it comes to spoilers. Fail to watch Game of Thrones when it airs and you might as well start calling yourself Jon Snow (because he knows nothing, har har).

However, Game of Thrones is its own worst enemy when it comes to spoilers in recent times; as the show moves towards its crescendo, HBO has been plagued with damaging leaks, with entire episodes such as The Spoils of War and Beyond the Wall leaking online long before they actually air on television.

Given Australia’s affinity for pirating and torrenting content, it was probably too idealistic to think people would wait until the show had actually aired legally on Foxtel to watch and start discussing major plot points on social media. Quite the opposite in fact, which changes the game entirely; spoil a show that aired last night and I’ll be a tad grumpy, but spoil something that hasn’t even aired legally and I’ll cut you.

The third and final prong in this equation is streaming. Platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Stan and SBS OnDemand have changed the way we consume content by popularising the strategy of releasing all episodes for a certain season like House of Cards or The Handmaid’s Tale all in one go. It’s a strategy popular with those of us who have no self-control and love to gorge on episode after episode, but not so great for those of us who actually have social lives and/or jobs to go to.

But it also means no one is on the same page; how can you blather about the cliffhanger of episode eight if everyone in the office is still languishing on episode five? How long are you expected to sit on that particular juicy nugget of spoiler-filled gossip before you just have to share it with someone? Streaming has created a world where we’re on different pages and moving at our own pace – which you’d think would help solve the issue, but only serves to muddy the waters further.

At the end of the day, the basic principle undercutting my argument is this; don’t go around being a twat. If you’ve stayed up until 3am watching every episode of The Defenders, don’t waltz into work the next day and lord it over everyone. No-one (and I mean no-one) likes that guy. And don’t be the guy who expects everyone around him to simply not talk about the final season of Breaking Bad even though it ended four years ago. No-one can go through life wrapped in spoiler-resistant cotton wool and you are bound to stumble across something you wish you hadn’t on Facebook from time to time. It happens.

Image courtesy of Buena Vista & Buena Vista Home Entertainment 

Best Stephen King Adaptations

Corey Hogan

Hollywood sure loves master of horror Stephen King. Since the late seventies, there have been over a hundred films and television series based on his writings, making him one of the most adapted living authors ever. Of course, with that many there’s bound to be a few stinkers; arguably the worst is the sole directing effort of King himself, Maximum Overdrive, which even King admits was moronic (he claimed to have been “coked out of his mind” during production). But for the most part these range from good to great, to some of the most beloved gems in cinema history.

The latest is the new version of King’s behemoth novel It, already being hailed as one of the best King adaptations. But will it withstand the test of time against these classics? Here’s five of his greatest book-to-screen takes.

Carrie (1976)

09 September - Stephen King Carrie

The very first King adaptation still stands strong as one of the best, and though it is a terrific horror film in the traditional sense, Brian De Palma wrings the real dread from putting us into the everyday nightmare of simply being a teenager. Sissy Spacek defines the titular Carrie White, a girl terrified by the physical and mental changes of her blooming womanhood, thanks to some particularly cruel classmates and her horrifically over-the-top religious mother (Piper Laurie, in a demonic performance). It’s almost a relief when, after having a bucket of pig blood dumped on her at her high school prom, she snaps and has her revenge by massacring her entire school with telekinetic powers she was unaware of – but it’s also pretty damn shocking. A disturbing horror classic, Carrie got a sequel and two remakes; none of which could match the sheer ferocity of this.

Misery (1990)

09 September - Stephen King Misery

More than a few of King’s characters are, unsurprisingly, writers, but this occupation really comes into play in Misery, the second of Rob Reiner‘s films to use King’s novels as a source. The then-unknown Kathy Bates is a monstrous revelation in her Oscar-winning role as Annie Wilkes, the “number one fan” of author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who, unsatisfied with the ending of his romance series, kidnaps him and forces him to write a sequel. It’s an escalating game of cat-and-mouse as Paul’s attempts to escape are met with horrifying consequences, and though a lot of the novel’s gory sequences are dropped, the claustrophobia and psychological horror are ramped up, making the infamously unbearable hobbling scene after Annie breaks Paul’s ankles with a sledgehammer all the more effective.

Stand By Me (1986)

09 September - Stephen King Stand By Me

Interestingly, a number of the best King-based movies aren’t horror, but rather sensitive character dramas. For Stand By Me, Rob Reiner took on King’s novella The Body, about four small town boys who go on a hike to find the dead body of a missing child. A simple premise, but the film draws so much from it, taking us on an adventure where boys are forced to be men for the first time as they face challenges like bullies with switchblades, leeches and outrunning oncoming trains. Its nostalgic glow has turned it into one of the quintessential coming-of-age films. King apparently had to leave the cinema to compose himself after it was screened for him the first time, returning to thank Reiner for making the best film out of anything he’s ever written.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

09 September - Stephen King Shawshank Redemption

Famously the permanent fixture atop the IMDb Top 250 Movies, Frank Darabont’s prison drama lives up to its reputation as being one of the greatest films of all time. King expressed concern about the story being too talky to make a good movie, but it’s the iconic narration and mantras of Morgan Freeman’s Red that have allowed the film to become so memorable. He tells Tim Robbin’s Andy Dufresne to “get busy living, or get busy dying” – which he does, in one of the greatest twist endings and prison breaks ever. It’s a true tearjerker and a great metaphor for prison as a purgatory of rehabilitation. Darabont went on to successfully adapt King’s work twice more with The Green Mile and The Mist.

The Shining (1980)

09 September - Stephen King The Shining

Quite possibly the best horror movie ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s thrilling masterpiece is famously loathed by King for misinterpreting and distorting his novel into something else entirely. But this is part of its appeal, making it one of the few adaptations to surpass its source. Kubrick took a fairly straightforward tragedy of a decent man who loses his mind and transformed it into a smorgasbord of supernatural elements, claustrophobia, family fears and madness; so multilayered it spawned an entire documentary (Room 237) devoted to its possible interpretations and hidden meanings. Its notoriously troubled shoot and chilling ambiguity only add to its horrifying brilliance. King has made it clear that he much prefers the more faithful 1997 miniseries; it’s doubtful that anyone else does.

Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment & Roadshow Films/Entertainment 

Nazis in Modern Film

Michael Philp

301 days have passed since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, and 228 since his inauguration. In that time, he has revealed a deep wound in the American psyche. Recent horrors, like the events in Charlottesville, highlight an undercurrent of hatred that has festered in the dark for the past few decades. Militant, evil, and shockingly prevalent, neo-Nazis are once again dominating the news cycle. That is the reality of 2017.

For some of us, the natural response to that statement will be to go looking for one of them to punch. For others, hiding under the covers with ice-cream and normal people seems most appropriate. This list represents my version of a middle-ground between the two. It’s a list designed for a movie night with nice people, where you get a chance to debate the finer points, while also confronting those points in powerfully immediate ways. Some of these films are satisfying because the Nazis lose; some of them are challenging because they don’t; all of them are must-sees.

Welcome to Leith (2015: documentary – currently on Netflix)

09 September - Nazi Films Welcome to Leith
In 2012, white supremacist Craig Cobb attempted to democratically take over the small town of Leith, North Dakota. Cobb’s plan was simple: legally purchase land, invite other white supremacists to live on it, and slowly develop a voting majority. What followed was two years of hell for the townspeople, who became trapped between the legality of their new neighbours, and the poison that came with them. Welcome to Leith is perhaps the most confronting film on this list, purely for the fact that it challenges several pillars of the democratic process. Fictional neo-Nazis tend to be distant villains or incompetent terrorists at worst, but in Leith, they are a genuinely terrifying force; a cancer that tempts people into destroying the moral building blocks of their society, just to cut it out.

Imperium (2016: drama)

09 September - Nazi Films Imperium
Daniel Radcliffe destroys his Harry Potter image playing an FBI agent undercover with white supremacists. It’s a heady concept, made weirder with the addition of Toni Collette as his supervisor. Thankfully, director Daniel Ragussis grounds it all with detailed depictions of the various groups caught up in the investigations. There’s the “above ground” intellectuals, the hot-headed skinheads, and finally the underground militants, all coming together to create a riveting tapestry of hate. For a broad overview of the many factions within the white supremacist movement, there are few films as effective as Imperium. The intellectuals, in particular, serve as a disturbing reminder that these groups hide in plain sight. They are your neighbours, your co-workers, your friends; normal people but for their penchant for swastika cupcakes (a real thing) and cross-burning.

The Anatomy of Hate (2009: documentary)

09 September - Nazi Films Anatomy of Hate
This one goes a little wider than the other films. Director Mike Ramsdell’s vision is more about a broad overview of several different manifestations of hate: the Westboro Baptist Church, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Al-Quaeda, and the white supremacist movement. It makes for a useful discussion tool, as it puts the groups in their proper context and offers insight into the psychology behind extremism. Though Ramsdell’s ambition often exceeds his grasp – the limited production values are a sore point – I have nonetheless included the film for its message of hope. Using real world examples, such as The Combatants for Peace, the film proves that it is possible to address the extremist issue without resorting to more violence. To some, that might sound like pacifist garbage, but it’s a perspective that’s important in a world already filled with hate.

Green Room (2016: horror/thriller – currently on Netflix)

09 September - Nazi Films Green Room
A poor punk band inadvertently books a gig at a white supremacist compound, witness a murder while trying to leave, and subsequently get trapped in the titular backstage lounge. Caught between a rock and murderous Nazis, the band is forced to think on their feet to escape, leading to some extraordinarily tense moments. Green Room is a gory thrill ride of a film, fascinating in its subtleties, but not for the faint of heart. Arms meet knives, bodies meet ravenous dogs, and through it all the film expects you to maintain a level head and keep up with several different conflicts. For those who can stomach it, a second viewing will prove highly rewarding, just to pick up on its surprising intricacies. Its villains are smart and vicious, making it all the more terrifying when they score a hit, and immensely satisfying when they get taken out.

Look Who’s Back (2015: comedy – currently on Netflix)

09 September - Nazi Films Look Whos Back

Without question, Look Who’s Back will be the most controversial film of the night. Its central conceit is simple enough: Adolf Hitler (Oliver Masucci) wakes up in the present day and gets picked up by unemployed writer Fabian Sawatzki (Fabian Busch). Sawavatzki thinks it’s all an insane act and attempts to turn his new friend into the latest television hit. Yes, this is a film about Hitler getting his own TV show. And honestly, it kind of works.

What makes Look Who’s Back so gripping is the complete erasure of the line between scripted sequences and improvised interviews. Certain portions of the film are simply Hitler interacting with normal German people and capturing their reactions. Think Borat or The Colbert Report, but far weirder. The point is to get people to realise that their ideas resemble Hitler’s, but the film refuses to plainly condemn those ideas, thereby forcing you to come to your own conclusions.

At times it can feel like it isn’t doing enough to distance itself from the evil at its centre, but that’s a deliberate choice designed to encourage more discussion around how a modern day Hitler would function. It’s the perfect film for a movie night like this one because it’s both hilarious and thought-provoking. Don’t be discouraged by its ambiguity, stick with it to the end and I promise you won’t regret it.

Images courtesy of First Run Pictures, Transmission Films, Under the Hood Productions/Redwood Palms Pictures, Rialto Distribution and Netflix

Kathryn Bigelow: Eclipsing the boys at their own game

Tom Munday

Even today, female and minority actors, writers and directors  still find it difficult to break into A-list status. The studios play it safe, with pre-established properties and major projects regularly given to white, male directors. Of course, filmmakers like Steve McQueen and Lee Daniels buck the trend, however, fewer female directors are given first chances, let alone second or third ones. With the glowing success of this year’s Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins could lead a new, welcome trend for different voices in Hollywood.

Another much-talked-about movie coming to Australian cinemas later this year is Detroit. Detroit provides a capsule in time, depicting the excruciating events of the 1967 12th Street Riot. Commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the incident, the movie sparked outcry, with many discussing director Kathryn Bigelow’s stance on issues in black America and police brutality. Several lashed out, claiming society did not need this brought back into the spotlight, however, the majority praised the movie for drawing shocking parallels between 1967’s America and today’s.

Bigelow is nothing short of a fighter, a director unafraid to tackle Hollywood politics and topics of immense discomfort. Her career began with dashes of pure escapism and genuine thrills. She directed Willem Dafoe in his first starring role in 1981’s The Loveless before going to helm cult vampire flick Near Dark in 1987. Both films showcased her potential, but it was 1991 action-thriller Point Break that gave her that first big shot at stardom.

For the uninitiated (spoilers ahead), the plot of Point Break sounds almost out-of-this world unrealistic. The movie sees former college football player turned FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves, at his most clueless looking) going undercover to track down a gang of bank robbers touring California, known for wearing ex-president masks while committing their crimes. Utah, while surfing the state’s biggest breaks and diving into surf culture, comes across local legend Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and his crew of fun-loving misfits. Of course, the crew turns out to be the criminals that Utah and the FBI are hunting down.

For a movie with such a silly plot, Point break has inspired twenty years of buddy-action flicks and over-the-top action. In fact, if you look closely, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious has almost the exact same plot. Bigelow turns what could have been straight-to-video-quality material into a fun, balls-out action-thrill ride. Yes, indeed, many aspects are wholly conventional. It would not be an action-thriller from the era without the attractive lead actor falling in love with the wrong woman and making enemies with a threatening badass. However, Bigelow’s stellar direction gave Reeves and Swayze the tools to deliver charismatic performances. Most importantly, the movie’s action sequences have stood the test of time. One in particular, a foot chase between Reeves and Swayze’s characters in the second act, has twists and turns copied by very action director since (and parodied by Edgar Wright for Hot Fuzz).

After Point Break, Bigelow delivered only a handful of new output. It was 2009 that gave Bigelow another crack at superstardom, with war-drama The Hurt Locker striking a chord the world over. The movie sees Jeremy Renner play a bomb disposal expert who ventures into Iraq numerous times to carry out his job. Renner’s character, Sergeant First Class Will James, must look out for colleagues Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), both still recovering from their former superior’s horrific death in the field.

The first set piece alone is a masterclass in action filmmaking. The opening sequence establishes the movie’s level of suspense and dread, putting us right in the characters’ position. During their operation, the scene cuts between our main characters and different people watching it all take place. It all builds to one iconic shot – Guy Pearce’s character running away from the scene while a bomb is detonated on the street. The tension only increases from there, with similar sequences unveiling just how nerve-wracking their lives are. The movie never shies away from the truth, with our lead characters dicing with death for a living.

After The Hurt Locker’s Oscar-winning success, many anticipated Bigelow’s follow-up feature. In 2012, she re-teamed with writer Mark Boal to chronicle the biggest manhunt in human history. Zero Dark Thirty focuses on the investigation into Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Set between September 11, 2001 and Bin Laden’s eventual demise, the movie follows Maya (Jessica Chastain) on interrogations, operations and discussions with key leads before turning to Seal Team Six for help with the final part of the decade-long mission.

Like with The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is a tense, nail-biting and ultimately unforgiving look at one of modern history’s most important times. Bigelow’s direction never gets in the way, with her and Boal providing an honest, objective version of events. Maya’s journey is 110% relentless, with the director putting herself and the audience in the lead character’s shoes. Like Bigelow in Hollywood, the lead character wrestles with difficult situations while surrounded with male colleagues on a regular basis. Maya goes out of her way to rise above expectations, get everyone on her side and get the job done with aplomb. Bigelow stitches every set-piece, conversation, and detail together seamlessly throughout an overwhelming two and a half hours.

Despite not having an extensive filmography, Bigelow is proof that directors of different ages, genders, races etc. will bring varied perspectives to a project. She’s not just committed to each movie, she finds new angles and choices to the tables that most would not have even considered.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 


Movie Review – An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Angrier than ever, Al Gore delivers a fiery sermon of a documentary.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Eleven years have passed since Al Gore’s influential Powerpoint presentation, An Inconvenient Truth. To this day, the film remains an invaluable resource for anyone looking to educate themselves on the climate crisis. It debunks several myths surrounding climate change, sets out in clear terms the problems of the new millennium, and encourages people to make themselves a part of the solution, all while being admirably apolitical. It also bordered on preachy though, with Gore occasionally sounding like a televangelist, and its focus on raw data left it feeling dry at times.

In the past decade, the conversation has changed dramatically. The facts are now only disputed by conspiracy theorists and oily lobbyists; discussion on solutions has shifted from taking the bus to talking to your representatives, and we now have a US president who is virulently anti-climate change. There is no space for an apolitical climate change documentary; we are beyond it.

That is the world into which An Inconvenient Sequel strides. Now confident in its audience’s understanding of the topic, and their interest in changing the status quo, the film only rarely circles back to the data on climate change. When it does, it’s often to emphasise that we’ve gone far further down the rabbit hole than scientists originally thought we would. In place of that raw information, directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk instead focus on Gore himself – a double-edged decision that threatens to sink the film at times. Gore is a fascinating individual, and his fiery presentation is cathartic in its confrontation of the opposition, but it also means doubling down on the preachy aspects of the original film. Indeed, Gore now describes scenes of horrific flooding and tropical storms as biblical, and he mentions his southern Christian upbringing at least once.

On its own, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but accompanying it are interviews with Gore and a narrative structure that come across as self-serving at times. After my screening, several people expressed interest in Gore’s leadership course, and it’s hard not to feel a little uneasy about that. The film doesn’t entirely go down the guru path, but it certainly flirts with it, and definitely to the detriment of the film’s educational aspirations. It’s supposed to be a film about the world, but at too many junctures it puts Gore in the frame instead.

That isn’t to say Gore’s work isn’t important. There’s a fascinating late dramatic arc with Gore attempting to convince India to join The Paris Agreement, and, through those efforts, you get a sense of a man quietly working behind the scenes to save us from self-destruction. It’s also important to acknowledge that Gore’s leadership courses, when taken at face value, encourage the next generation of climate activists in a way that’s sorely needed.

At the end of the film, having danced around the Trump issue constantly, An Inconvenient Sequel acknowledges his election with a message of hope: there will always be forces conspiring against you, the trick is to keep up the fight anyway. The film might be preaching to the choir, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t hear its rallying cry. Show skeptics the original film, show believers this one, but don’t let either film be forgotten.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is available in Australian cinemas from August 10 

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Pet projects: more wrong than right

Tom Munday

Once you have reached the bright lights and stardom Hollywood entails, you can get lost in its overwhelming sheen. Superstars, after a lifetime of big-budget content, have fewer and fewer people able to say ‘no’. The top actors, writers and directors are given all the leeway in the world once reaching a certain status. Once in a while, their most beloved ideas come to fruition favourably. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln almost went to HBO. The Oscar-winner’s clout finally pushed it into theatres and Oscar buzz.

For every overwhelming success story, there are three examples of self-indulgence gone awry. Rich and famous people usually drive these productions before sending them skidding off the rails. In fact, many have an exact moment where they fall over. With the release of Luc Besson’s long-gestating Valerian, here are a few examples of pet projects that came, saw and conquered nothing. It’s these examples that prove someone should always tell the emperor whenever they have no clothes on.

The Mummy (2017)

05 June - Mummy

Hollywood megastar Tom Cruise was given the keys to Universal’s kingdom of classic monsters. The a-lister’s string of action movies – from sci-fi blockbusters Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow to action franchises Mission Impossible and Jack Reacher – gave the studio confidence that he could deliver. Their thinking: Really, what can’t he do? The movie was supposed to kick off the Dark Universe, giving the Mummy, Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein etc. their own movies before bringing them together to fight an even bigger evil. Hype built before release, with acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz taking that now infamous photo of Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp.

Sadly, The Mummy was released to the sad, faint sound of crickets and tumbleweeds. Critics and audiences destroyed this franchise starter/killer for its forgettable story, unlikeable lead characters and all-around stupidity. In addition, the universe building took control of the narrative in the second act. What should have been this franchise’s Iron Man ended up dead on arrival. Since its June release, numerous think-pieces and news reports and delved into what went wrong. Multiple reports suggested Cruise himself was to blame, seen to have more control of production, post-production and marketing than many had first thought. Whether it was Cruise’s responsibility, The Mummy marks one of 2017’s most embarrassing misfires.

After Earth (2013)

After Earth

From another mega-rich superstar to another, we go to a 2013 sci-fi flick with enormous potential and woeful execution. Will Smith is still regarded as one of Tinseltown’s most popular and charismatic performers. The actor, rapper and producer is not shy to taking on blockbusters, teary dramas and everyone in between. We first saw he and his son Jaden in true-story/heart-warming drama The Pursuit of Happyness, earning the Fresh Prince an Oscar nomination. Despite not winning for his efforts, Smith and son delivered dedicated performances living up to hype. Following Jaden’s Karate Kid and Day the Earth Stood Still appearances, the Smiths turned up together for M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth.

The premise was intriguing; a spaceship captain/warrior and his son crash land on a dangerous labyrinth formerly known as Earth. However, the final product was full of plot-holes, emotionless characters and excruciating dialogue. It was difficult finding the right person to blame for the critical and commercial disaster. M. Night Shyamalan was an easy target, having delivered The Happening, The Last Airbender and Lady in the Water beforehand to lacklustre reviews. Like with The Mummy, rumours arose of the lead actor’s controlling behaviour. Hearsay of Smith’s involvement in the story, screenplay, casting direction and promotional material painted a picture of the movie’s patchy development. Smith and co. have since accepted that After Earth was a classic example of nepotism gone too far.

Sucker Punch (2011)

Sucker Punch

Action-adventure director Zack Snyder has earned his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most visually arresting, but polarising filmmakers. His adaptations of Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen earned him enough power to develop any project at his disposal. They exceeded expectations thanks to Snyder’s sumptuous cinematography, with sequences that took audiences by surprise. Sucker Punch looked set to be Snyder’s ode to girl power, anime and every blockbuster convention known to man. Based on an original concept, the end result proved Snyder was lost without pre-established material to draw from and adapt for the screen.

Sucker Punch is an eleven-year-old boy’s gross, underwhelming wet dream padded out to two hours. Even describing the premise would make anyone icky. Five girls are stuck in an insane asylum. During their stay, they are forced to conduct dance recitals for men to drool over. During their routines, the group transcends time and space to enter steampunk dreamscapes complete with robot samurais, war-torn lands, and robots. Critics and audiences savaged the movie’s bonkers storytelling and fetishistic imagery. Snyder’s vision forgets logic of any kind, instead throwing a slew of influences together without explanation of consistency. The movie’s dark, oppressive, uninspired aura illustrates just how boring it is to watch other people playing video games.

Why do they fail?

There are plenty of examples I could have picked for this list. Movies like The Water Diviner, The Man With the Iron Fist, Beyond the Sea, Battlefield Earth, Alexander and Gangs of New York are classic examples of lead actors/big directors content with getting their way and forgetting about the audience. Many of these movies failed critically and commercially. The aforementioned failures also all share fascinating production and post-production stories. They detail how just how out of touch some Hollywood heavyweights are. These examples – on a narrative and thematic level – appeal to the people involved and barely anyone else. Peculiar choices, script revisions and production issues will more than likely distort and warp what could have been something special.

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures & Roadshow Films

Luc Besson is a Girl’s Best Friend

Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Hollywood may be progressing, or haphazardly fumbling its way, toward a more gender-balanced work ethic, but one cannot shrug off the itchy feeling that it’s trying too hard. Flipping beloved all-male classics into all-female remakes is a cheap and glib way of making a statement. Suddenly erupting with female-led historical biopics and fantasy epics seems like an expedited way of apologising for decades of underappreciated women on screen. It’s too much too soon; some things just need time.

But out of this cloud of muddy guilt there are a few whose consciences can remain clear. Luc Besson, like Quentin Tarantino, has always believed, since his formative years, in the raw charisma of that second X chromosome. Some of his best films have been about strong, confident women.

His most enduring female figure is unquestionably Nikita (Anne Parillaud), a savage killer exacting lethal justice on the world in a decade where beautiful women were playing little more than scantily clad sex magnets. Nikita, yanked from death’s door by the government and reconditioned into a hardened assassin, proved to a global audience that women were capable of executing a “man’s job” with just as much skill. She carved open a new arena for cinematic women, one soon inhabited by the likes of Trinity in The Matrix (1999).

Almost immediately after the success of Nikita, Besson directed four movies with formidable women in quick succession: 1994’s Léon: The Professional, 1997’s The Fifth Element, Joan of Arc in 1999 and Angel-A in 2005. Léon, of course, toyed precariously with notions of child violence and paedophilia, with Jean Reno’s titular hero fawning over the thirteen-year-old Natalie Portman while he taught her the assassin’s trade. It did, however, act as a springboard for Portman, whose razor-sharp performance propped her up against the veteran Reno and quite nearly stole the entire film.

Both The Fifth Element and Joan of Arc starred Milla Jovovich, who was married to Besson at the time. The Fifth Element does a sneaky thing; its hero is ostensibly Bruce Willis, with his questionable blonde hair and clumsy machismo, but it is really Jovovich’s Leeloo who has the strength and gumption to rescue the world. Leeloo, who is basically the indestructible re-materialisation of alien DNA into a messianic figure, would later serve as Besson’s template for Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), a hero who becomes so powerful she need only glare at you to set your hair on fire.

The cinematic landscape of today begs for filmmakers like Besson. Audience appetite for relatable, fun, confident on-screen women has never been more voracious. All-female gross-out comedies are fast becoming hip. Doctor Who recently dominated television news with an earth-shattering announcement. People will pay to see intelligent women kick ass, especially when they look so much better doing it than men. Atomic Blonde is currently playing and looks very much like something Besson would think up. He, of course, is too busy with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the new romping sci-fi epic filled with blistering visuals and unlikely heroes. How Cara Delevingne slots into Besson’s army of leading heroines is anyone’s guess, but I suspect she won’t be someone you want to mess with.

Image courtesy of Palace Entertainment Corporation & Madman Entertainment 

5 Films That’re So Bad They’re Good

Gather your mates, crack open a few bevvies and revel in some of the best worst movies ever committed to film.

Rhys Graeme-Drury

There are good films; there are bad films; then there are films that are simply so bad that they have transcended terribleness and transformed into something good again.

This exclusive club is populated with all manner of strange B-movies, cult classics and botch jobs that have garnered widespread appreciation once they’ve hit the shelves.

From the realm of the weird, wacky and downright woeful, I’ve cobbled together some of my favourite bad films that I still not-so secretly love.

The Happening (2008)

08 August 2017 - Bad Movies The Happening
Even though The Happening isn’t M.  Night Shyamalan’s worst film (an accolade belonging to his adaptation of The Last Airbender), it is possibly his strangest.

What is so strange about The Happening, I hear you ask? Well, why don’t we start off with the premise; this is a 90-minute B-movie where the primary antagonist is essentially a gentle breeze that causes people to top themselves in increasingly inventive and gruesome ways. It should come as no surprise that this absurd concept has little to no ability to sustain itself over the runtime, and instead becomes hilarious as people are run over by rogue lawnmowers or eaten by tigers.

What makes The Happening even more amusingly absurd is the decision to cast a perplexed Mark Wahlberg and a dead-eyed Zooey Deschanel in its lead roles; a pair that couldn’t be more mismatched if they tried. Both sleepwalk through Shyamalan’s creaky script and deliver some of the best worst line readings ever committed to film. Remember guys, the only way to survive is to stay ahead of the wind.

Batman & Robin (1997)

08 August 2017 - Bad Movies Batman and Robin

Batman & Robin is the crowning jewel of atrocious 90s blockbuster cinema. It marries the worst Batman (sorry George Clooney) with neon-soaked set design, action figure-inspired costumes, a Saturday morning cartoon script and some of the worst puns ever cooked up.

However, as any pun aficionado will gleefully tell you, the worse they come, the better they are – and Batman & Robin is no exception. The pun master himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role of Mister Freeze, essentially speaks in nothing but puns that revolve around anything cold; ice to see you, break the ice, cool party, stay cool, everyone chill – you get the idea.

The insanity doesn’t stop there; Uma Thurman’s Posion Ivy gets in on the pun action, Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl shows up just in time for a studio-mandated third act costume switch (got to get that action figure money!) and director Joel Schumacher struggles to hide the homoerotic undertones. He repeatedly fills the frame with close-ups of Batman’s leather-clad butt and sculpted breastplate, the latter of which is fitted with erect bat nipples, naturally.

Best seen as a group and with copious amounts of alcohol, Batman and Robin is infinitely watchable owing to its ability to entertain and baffle in equal measure.

2012 (2009)

08 August 2017 - Bad Movies 2012

Roland Emmerich has built a career out of staging cataclysmic, end of the world events and framing them with compelling human drama, such as in Independence Day and, to a lesser degree, The Day After Tomorrow.

However, Emmerich proved three isn’t always the magic number when he tried to triplicate the success of the aforementioned films with 2012, a film that used the popular myth of the Mayan doomsday calendar as a springboard into wall-to-wall destruction for an arse-numbing two-and-a-half hour runtime.

With John Cusack front and centre, 2012 imagines what would happen if the entire world was to spontaneously undergo a string of increasingly destructive natural disasters, from tsunamis to volcanic eruptions and devastating earthquakes. Filled with terrible visual effects, the most ludicrous plot humanly imaginable and some of the most annoying characters this side of The Bachelor, 2012 is one of those films that makes you question if anyone green lighting projects in Hollywood has an ounce of sense – they spent $200 million on this?

Yes, indeed they did ­– and you owe it to yourself to chuck it in the Blu-ray player and soak in its awfulness as soon as physically possible.

Face/Off (1997)

08 August 2017 - Bad Movies Face Off
Let’s be honest, most of Nicolas Cage’s back catalogue falls into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category – Con Air, The Rock, The Wicker Man and Knowing spring to mind – but its John Woo’s strangely acclaimed sci-fi action film Face/Off that earns its place on my list for its absurd premise alone. An FBI agent (John Travolta) undergoes a face transplant to assume the identity of an international terrorist (Cage), but the plan goes awry when that same terrorist undergoes the same procedure to impersonate the FBI agent. Hilarious hijinks masquerading as a genuinely serious action movie ensue.

Few films boast a premise as utterly ridiculous as Face/Off – that two people could get matching face transplants is nonsensical in itself, not to mention the fact that the rest of their body, posture and mannerisms wouldn’t change and would give the game away in an instant. But it’s the baffling screen presence of both Cage and Travolta – both charismatic enigmas in their own right – that sells us on the concept and makes it worth watching, even if at its core it’s an amazingly bad film.

The Room (2003)

08 August 2017 - Bad Movies The Room
The Room isn’t just a bad movie; it’s the all-conquering cult leader of bad movies, complete with an ardent and insatiable following of lunatics. Starring, written, directed and even funded by Tommy Wiseau, The Room’s zealous fans are to this day enamoured by its myriad of unconventional quirks, which include, but are not limited to glaring continuity errors, odd storytelling choices, clunky writing and some of the most amateur performances this side of a primary school nativity.

The Room plays to packed out cinemas – including Perth’s own Luna Leederville – on a regular basis, with audiences encouraged to actively recite lines, heckle the actors and fling plastic spoons at the screen. Such is its level of infamy for terribleness, a film about its troubled production process – titled The Disaster Artist and starring James Franco and Seth Rogen ­– is set to arrive later this year.

Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox, Roadshow Films, Sony Pictures and Valhalla Holdings