Rating: The Good – 75.5 Genre: Horror Duration: 112 mins Director: James Wan Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston
Bone chilling 70’s-set possession story adorned with all the hallmarks of the best vintages. Married couple Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are the married paranormal investigators called upon to help a terrorised family who are being haunted by a particularly nasty demon. By now, we all know the final score and how the points are scored but James Wan’s movie nuances the familiar plot in all manner of creepy ways to exact as much out of it as possible. Forsaking the safety net of gore, Wan and company rely completely on mood, timing, and no small number of innovative devices to generate the scares. Using the investigative couple’s background in the occult as a basis for both tension and sub-plot, there are essentially three horror stories spun together here but not so anything is taken away from the central plot. In fact, as is often intended but rarely transpires, they compound each other so that they generate a cumulative terror. The result is genuinely one of the scariest movies to emerge from Hollywood in decades.
The Conjuring looks and sounds the part too thanks to some comprehensive production design, Joseph Bishara’s even score, and Kirk M. Morri (visual) and Joe Dzuban’s (sound) elegant editing. The final piece to the puzzle is the casting. Without breaking the bank, the four leads are all household names which not only nests the events in a priceless familiarity but also ensures a degree of class that most horror movies lack. This only adds to the film’s earnestness and thus magnifies the fear factor. Wilson is, as usual, slightly stiff but again, as usual, in a manner that suits his character. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston are equally strong as the beleaguered mother and father. However, Farmiga makes the most of her character with a steady turn as the compassionate but strong psychic. It all gets very loud towards the end and while this is perhaps one of its more unsubtle touches, it doesn’t destabilise the movie as is often the case. On the contrary, from beginning to end, The Conjuring is utterly text-book in its construction.
Rating: The Good – 74.2 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 103 mins Director: David Cronnenberg Screenplay: David Cronnenberg Stars: Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Jennifer O’Neill
A terrific horror written and directed by David Cronnenberg who strikes just the right balance between mainstream and skewed story telling. This is a film accessible enough to engage everyone but inaccessible enough to leave them slightly uncomfortable. It tells the story of a telepathically gifted group of humans (scanners) in North America who are caught between a defence contractor who wants to use them in its weapons programme and a more sinister force led by the always great Michael Ironside. The film does come across slightly dated by now though the special effects seem all the creepier because of it (check out those grotesque pulsating veins). Stephen Lack is completely wooden and a little laughable in the lead role. However, all shortcomings on the acting front are made up for by Patrick McGoohan as the scientist studying the scanners and in particular Ironside who devours the scenery as one of the great sci-fi villains, Darryl Revok.
Rating: The Good – 77.1 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 137 mins Director: David Lynch Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Francesca Annis
David Lynch’s much maligned adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal novel has been criticised by lovers of the book (which, let’s face it, were always going to be difficult to please), those desperately hung up on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed adaptation (which, let’s face it, was mouth-watering in its potential), and those who seem to have a mind about as open as the vault door at Fort Knox. However, no matter what your bias or leaning, there’s no denying that Lynch brought a level of abstraction to this version that was startling and in its own way defining. The epic story is one of political intrigue 8,000 years in the future between powerful houses fighting over a planet which holds the key to the most valuable natural resource in the known universe. Kyle MacLachlan plays the prince of one of these houses who must realise his destiny on this strange planet and he is surrounded by a host of quirky characters played by equally quirky performers. This film is probably unlike anything you will have ever seen and the sheer breadth of its unfamiliarity will leave you disorientated and at times deeply uncomfortable. And of course, for a film set so far in the future that’s exactly the point! The one major criticism that is not levelled often enough against sci-fi films is their failure to give the viewer the impression that what they’re looking at is alien. Dune is a raging triumph of alienation and disorientation. Once you acclimatise to it, however, the film becomes a rather fascinating experience and while cheesy in places (often due to MacLachlan’s bright eyed naivety being dialed a tad high) for the most part it plays out as extremely sophisticated science fiction. Not for the feint willed, but if you’re a student of sci-fi in particular and film in general, Lynch’s Dune is a must see.
Rating: The Good – 90.5 Genre: Horror Duration: 98 mins Director: Brian De Palma Stars: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving
Brian De Palma brings Stephen King’s horror classic to life with bags of wit and style in this seminal addition to the horror movie genre. From the very opening shot we see that De Palma’s innovative style and penchant for long slow tracking shots are perfectly suited to telling the story of a troubled high school girl who spends her days being bullied in school and her evenings being psychologically abused by her fanatically religious mother. A target for her classmates’ cruelty and a vessel for her mother’s self-delusions, Carrie is about to blow and given that she has recently discovered that she can move objects with her mind, neither is going to want to be around when she does.
Carrie is a case of inspired writing and screen adaptation (kudos Lawrence D. Cohen) being brought to life by a confident young director who was (along with others of his generation) both heavily influenced by the old maestros yet also changing the shape of modern cinema with bold new ideas and innovations. And Carrie is chock-full of both. This film glides along and shifts almost effortlessly in tone from seriously dark and creepy in places to whimsical, carefree, and downright fun in others (just check out that tux-buying scene). Pino Donaggio’s score helps hugely in the latter instances but really comes into its own when Carrie is using her powers.
Sissy Spacek is phenomenally good in the title role given that the two sides to her character’s personality were so disparate. William Katt’s always positive presence brings a ray of sunshine the party and Nancy Allen and John Travolta are excellent together as two of the twisted bullies. Of course Piper Laurie is just plain scary as Carrie’s mother and adds that final touch of class needed to elevate this masterpiece into the high echelons of great cinema.
Rating: The Good – 73.5 Genre: Science Fiction, Action Duration: 129 mins Director: Paul Verhoeven Stars: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer
Paul Verhoeven’s surprise hit is worth every bit of the hype that surrounded it on and since its release. It tells the comic-book story of an Earth of the future that is at war with giant alien bugs which inhabit far reaching planets human kind has attempted to settle on. Starship Troopers is full of hugely impressive ground and space battles and the special effects are startlingly good even to this day. The cast does uniformly well in engendering the story with a carefree sense of fun and Basil Poledouris’ score is suitably rousing to the occasion. Verhoeven and writer Edward Neumeier clearly decided to make a point with this one and as the film progresses the volume is slowly turned up on a delicious commentary regarding colonialism and propaganda. The film is all the richer for it as it not only gives the proceedings much greater weight but makes the whole damn thing seriously funny to boot.
Rating: The Good – 82.2 Genre: Horror Duration: 144 mins Director: Stanley Kubrick Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Kubrick raises a brilliant Stephen King novel to a whole new stratosphere of terror in this sublime horror masterpiece. Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall arrive at the isolated Overlook Hotel as winter caretakers with their young clairvoyant son (Danny Lloyd) in tow. As the days and weeks drift by Nicholson becomes increasingly uncorked as he threatens to emulate his predecessor, who ten years previous murdered his family with an axe. Along with 2001 and Barry Lyndon, The Shining was the film that was complemented most by Kubrick’s sense of visual symmetry and whether static or moving there isn’t a shot in the film that isn’t breathtaking. While the aesthetics transfix you, his balance of diegetic and non-diegetic sound (with the latter coming in the form of harsh mechanical sounds) steadily lures you into their increasingly scary world. As you’d expect from Kubrick, the production design is magnificent and the sight of the three family members pottering around the splendidly captured expanses of the hotel adds significantly to their sense of alienation. Nicholson is of course excellent in a role tailor made for his style of acting but he is matched all the way by Duvall while young Lloyd is damn near perfect as their beleaguered son. A last word should go to that astonishingly foreboding Wendy Carlos/Rachel Elkind score which ensures the opening to the film is so completely memorable.
Rating: The Good – 69 Genre: Action Duration: 104mins Director: Bryan Singer Stars: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen
Even better than the original due to a darker script that involves the X-Men working together to fight a common enemy in the form of a secret government project that is designed to get rid of the mutant threat once and for all. The relationships are developed further than the original as they head into more interesting territory. Singer ups the ante on the action front also so get ready for some nicely choreographed fight scenes which provide a better opportunity to showcase the various mutants’ abilities.
Rating: The Good – 64.9 Genre: Action, Fantasy Duration: 132mins Director: Matthew Vaughn Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
As tedious as origin stories are at the moment, this one had potential primarily because of an interesting and talented cast but also because its director Matthew Vaughan has shown some promise that he’s going to be more than just another journey man or studio lap-dog like the host of directors who are normally hired to shoot these popcorn movies. Set in the 1960’s, First Class stars James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the two heavyweight mutants of the future, Professor X and Magneto, with the story centring on their battle with an even nastier mutant (Kevin Bacon) as he attempts to manipulate both the US and the Soviet Union into World War III. However, the moral differences between both Professor X and Magneto regarding where relations with the human race fit into the new emerging mutant order constantly threaten to break their uneasy alliance.
The two leads are superb together and their charisma alone makes this movie enjoyable to watch. The visual effects are excellent too and the action sequences are handled competently by Vaughan even if they are a little uninspired in places. The biggest let down however is the script which at times reaches the level of mindlessness. Lines such as “A ‘war’ suggests both sides have an equal chance of winning” are uttered without a hint of irony (or even an awareness of how stupid they are) while the more dramatic moments are rife with flat cliche. The plot at times isn’t much better and who knows what they were thinking of when it came to choosing the mutants who would take part in this movie (Angel Salvadore and Banshee were just ridiculously lacking in the intimidation factor). Ultimately, First Class counts as an opportunity missed but the quality of the actors playing the three main mutants plus a decent and well shot climax does make it worth a look.