Thursday, 31 December 2009

Best films of the decade

2000 to 2009 was the decade of great superhero films and epic trilogies, and sometimes those grand trilogies were comicbook movies... Admittedly, I have a strong bias towards SF and fantasy cinema, but – simply put – that’s the kind of stuff that appeals to me the most, so I usually rate genre films more highly than anything else. Favouritism aside, I think all these should be regarded as key films of early 21st century cinema.

Hulk (2003) director: Ang Lee
Getting a filmmaker who’s best known for serious art–house dramas to helm a highly commercial blockbuster was a daring move. However, the risks paid off, handsomely, resulting in the very best film of the last ten years. What Lee created is the first sober epic of superhero cinema, rich in mutated genre themes and supremely iconic images – derived, in part, from the very same influential mythological and literary sources which had obviously inspired the comicbook original Hulk’s creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, back in 1962. Honestly, this masterpiece blending of SF adventure and monster-movie remains far superior in every way to unnecessary sequel/ unfortunate remake/ somewhat unsightly franchise-reboot, The Incredible Hulk (2008) – which I did enjoy, of course, but still think is nothing to get excited about if compared to Lee’s instant classic.

The Dark Knight (2008) director: Christopher Nolan
Building on his success with Batman Begins (2005), gifted auteur Nolan delivers the goods with this exhilarating and tightly orchestrated action thriller. A mix of superbly performed characters and livewire confrontations between terrorist-psycho the Joker (Heath Ledger, aiming for legendary status), and Christian Bale’s thuggishly dynamic masked crusader, this eclipses Bond and Bourne, and it presents the new benchmark in superhero cinema, wholly intended for a mature audience, with intense drama of such power that Zack Synder’s flawed Watchmen (2009) could not hope to match it.

Black Hawk Down (2001) director: Ridley Scott
The battle of Mogadishu in 1993 gets a vivid big–screen treatment from a filmmaker at the height of his technical and creative powers. Here’s a horror story of a mission going tragically wrong. It shows what happens when professional soldiers confront a warlord’s vast militia forces, as tactical advantage is lost, and thoroughly outflanked American troops are besieged by Somali belligerence and ferocity. Gritty and messy scenes of modern warfare are unnervingly mixed with a traditional sort of gung-ho US Rangers action, epitomised by Tom Sizemore’s battalion commander, striding purposely through sundry guerrilla strikes in urban mayhem, a fearless portrait of unflinchingly single-minded heroism, staring into the face of so much sudden death and wanton destruction. It’s one of the greatest war films ever made.

Hellboy (2004) director: Guillermo Del Toro
Much as I admire Del Toro’s Spanish fantasy productions – Devil’s Backbone (2001), and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – I prefer the accomplished mix of quirky humour and uncanny action that distinguishes Hellboy from the rest of recent superhero cinema, although Timur Bekmambetov’s hugely appealing and imaginative Russian offerings, Night Watch (2004), and Day Watch (2007), explore similar generic territories. For Hellboy, the director continues the good work that he put into Blade II (2002), adds doomed romance to existing secret agency and darkly weird otherness tropes, and so this comics-based adventure delivers more levels of madcap fun and winning pathos than either of those equally lighthearted – but much less interesting – Fantastic Four (2005/ 2007) super–team movies. It’s rather saddening to note, however, that sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) proved to be a bit of a letdown.

Mulholland Drive (2001) director: David Lynch
Classification resistant and impossible to pigeonhole, this mystery about murder and identity on the borders of sanity abandons reason but not hope, in a convoluted story that hinges on Lynch’s apparent fascination with Jungian psych, effortlessly blending dreams with harsh realities. The artistic filmmaker’s ingenuity is utterly beguiling, as paired female characters switch from emotional transparency to morally opaque in a realm charting the mechanics of creating films and the overpowering quest for bright mesmerising images, whether the director intends visuals to be revelatory or illusory.

Pulse (aka: Kairo, 2001) director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
And so to Asian films... Many were seen, few are chosen... My shortlist had Grudges, Rings, and other ghost chillers galore, but this SF apocalypse shines through murky shadows and creaky slasher plots with its creepy virtual viral menace, emerging from a realm of cyber hell where spooks might lurk behind every PC screen. It’s the end of the world and nothing’s fine. Avoid the pointless and feeble US remake. Escapism in cinema is always welcome, but confrontation (with or without topical issues) is more intriguing.

Adaptation (2002) director: Spike Jonze
With a brilliant dual–role for Nicolas Cage, and an excellent supporting cast (not to mention Brian Cox as story-maven Robert McKee!), this offbeat deconstruction and dissection of screenwriting and the nature of movies is bursting with searing pathos for profoundly creative struggles that never succumbs to entirely maudlin sentiment or gentle whimsy, but freely explores various modes of documentary realism, bizarre fantasy and - shockingly - almost everything in between! This is essential viewing for any fans of innovative cinema.

Requiem For A Dream (2000) director: Darren Aronofsky
Some films are unforgettable. This one is not usually classified as genre horror, and yet that’s exactly what this scary, downright weird and crushingly depressing drama, about the psychological and physical dangers of addiction, really is. Horror without a pause, bloated with grisly scenes of intense human suffering, amidst socio-economic depravity in a devastatingly bleak emotional landslide of startlingly evocative images.

Martyrs (2008) director: Pascal Laugier
The choice pick from the recent batch of extraordinarily good French shockers (which include Switchblade Romance, Them, Frontiers, and Inside), this serves a maelstrom of electrifying violence, anguish, inhumanity and ultimate misery that makes all those sordid little ‘torture porn’ flicks look rather tame and quite silly. Watch in dismay. See it right through to its bitter surprise-ending for the revelation of a new level in radical horror cinema.

The Lord Of The Rings (2001-3) director: Peter Jackson
I had to include a trilogy in this listing and, because Pirates Of The Caribbean movies were so uneven, and the otherwise laudable X-Men set ended with a disappointment, this ambitious adaptation of Tolkien fits the bill. An undeniably spectacular epic with tremendously good production values, it is flawed and curiously uneven in the pacing of both its narrative and overlong journey, but many sequences offer stunning fantasy entertainment. Taken as a whole, the scale and visual brilliance of this unpretentious saga established new standards of technical proficiency and won critical acclaim for a milestone work of popular cinema. I liked all three extended editions on DVD.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Horror film reviews

My latest 'Blood Spectrum' reviews column for Black Static magazine (published by T3A Press) has DVD and blu-ray coverage of Flick; The Uninvited; Vinyan: Lost Souls; Blood Rain; Blood: The Last Vampire; Silent Night, Deadly Night; The Hide; A Perfect Getaway; Dorian Gray; Pontypool; Thirst; Feast II: Sloppy Seconds; Halloween in hi-def with Dawn Of The Dead; Night Of The Living Dead; A Tale Of Two Sisters; plus boxset releases Euro Killers - essential collection (Man Bites Dog, H6: Diary Of A Serial Killer, Tattoo); Three Extremes 1 and 2 (Dumplings, Cut, Box, Memories, The Wheel, Going Home); Park Chan-wook double-bill (JSA: Joint Security Force; I'm A Cyborg, But That's Okay); and Asian Horror - the essential collection (Audition, Dark Water, The Eye).

Friday, 11 December 2009


The 13th issue of Midnight Street magazine includes my overview article about several films based on Jules Verne's Journey To The Centre Of The Earth.

My reviews include the well-known 1959 adaptation, the Spanish production Viaje al Centro de la Tierra, the recent 3D version, and TV stuff.

This is the last printed issue of Midnight Street, but the 'journeys into darkness' will continue with electronic publication as PDF download. For more info and news about subscriptions or submissions, visit the publisher's website at

Friday, 4 December 2009

VideoVista new look

Quite pleased with update for VideoVista monthly webzine, using a fresh page template.

December's issue has great retrospective articles on Hollywood before the Hays code (by Gary Couzens), and German expressionist cinema (by Jonathan McCalmont), both of which include top 10 listings of relevant films.

In the main reviews section, there's two different opinions about Star Trek.