Horror Marathon: Friday the 13th/The Evil Dead/A Nightmare on Elm Street – Part One

 

Over the last year or so, I’ve been watching three series of horror films that are linked by fictional crossovers: Friday the 13th, The Evil Dead and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The plan was to view every movie in the order in which they were released, jot down a few thoughts, and give each one a score out of 10. (I also sampled the pilot episodes of some TV spin-offs.)

At times it was a struggle to remain sane through 13 months, 24 movies and three TV episodes of violence, terror, murder, carnage, gratuitous nudity and an awful lot of dreadful acting. But there were surprises along the way too – and a few decent films.

Here’s the first part of my journey into darkness…

Spoiler warning: I’ve not blown every surprise or twist, but some of the more famous plot points are revealed.

1. Friday the 13th (1980, Sean S Cunningham)
The counsellors at New Jersey summer camp Crystal Lake are terrorised by a mysterious murderer…

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Young, attractive people being persecuted by an unknown killer who first murdered years previously (as seen in the film’s prologue) and now strikes in barbaric and often theatrical ways? A shameless copy of John Carpenter’s 1978 hit Halloween, the slasher film Friday the 13th is as crass as anything. But it’s also fun in a low-budget, hammy-cast, shlock-horror kinda way. There are some differences from the Halloween format, however. There’s more nudity on show here – a well as having sex, these kids go swimming and play ‘strip Monopoly’! There’s also more gross-out gore, courtesy of visual-effects genius Tom Savini. Creepy locals, a shock twist concerning the killer (spoiler: it’s a middle-aged woman) and a bizarre dream-sequence ending give the film extra interest too.
Six rainstorms out of 10

2. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981, Steve Miner)
Five years later: trainee camp counsellors at a site near to Crystal Lake are attacked by the not-dead-after-all Jason Voorhees.

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There’s very little tension in this hastily knocked-together sequel, which repeats the same basic storyline as the first movie. This time, an even more moronic and less memorable batch of attractive young people are picked off one by one. Then for the second film running, after the killer has dispatched all the other victims with ninja-like stealth, a ‘final girl’ puts up a fight that takes quarter of an hour. Part 2’s biggest addition to the series – to horror cinema as a whole, actually – is the retconning of its main villain. In the first film, Jason Voorhees was a child who’d drowned 20 years earlier. Now we learn he actually survived and has been living rough in the nearby woods.
Four chainsaws out of 10

3. The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981)
Five friends rent an isolated house in the Tennessee woods, but on their first night they invoke an ancient, malevolent force…

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We now switch focus to a different series… Not a slasher film in the vein of Friday the 13th, The Evil Dead is perhaps the blueprint cabin-in-the-woods movie. A group of pals drive deep into the forest to stay in a ramshackle house, but when they find a mysterious old book and an audio recording, they accidentally summon forth an evil spirit that attacks and possesses them one by one… Despite clearly being made on a limited budget, this movie succeeds thanks to a cast who are memorable enough to care about (including Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams) and a remarkably inventive job of direction by Sam Raimi. It’s genuinely tense, with a spooky atmosphere and effective scares right from the start. The camerawork and editing are clever, stylish and innovative – especially the low-angle, prowling shots from the evil spirit’s point of view. The sound mix and incidental music add a great amount as well, and once the characters start to turn into grotesque, screeching zombies – and the film becomes a gleeful splatter-fest – the special effects and gory make-up are just wonderful. A love of horror cinema is imbued into every frame.
Nine collapsed bridges out of 10

4. Friday the 13th Part III (1982, Steve Miner)
Having evaded capture, Jason continues his killing spree – this time targeting some kids on holiday at a nearby cabin.

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The action in this Friday the 13th film begins on the same day that Part 2 ended. Jason has escaped and moves on to butchering a group of young people holidaying in the area. The gang are another selection of poor actors, but maybe because they’re sketched in vivid strokes – the pregnant one, the fat one, the dopeheads, the hunk – they’re more likeable and watchable than their predecessors. The pick of the characters is Chris (Dana Kimmell, pictured), a glamorous beauty who had an encounter with Jason a couple of years previously. As a gimmick, the film was shot in 3D so there are lots of instances of characters holding objects close to the camera lens, and there are a few good gags such as a serial prankster not being believed while he’s bleeding to death. The film has far too many artificial scares to build any genuine tension, but it more or less keeps the interest. Note: this is the first film in the series where Jason dons his signature hockey mask.
Seven yo-yos out of 10

5. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984, Joseph Zito)
Having evaded capture (again), Jason continues his killing spree (again) – this time targeting a group of kids (again) on holiday at a nearby cabin (again)…

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After a recap that neatly merges the first three Friday movies into one story, we’re into what was genuinely intended at the time as the last film in the series. The script is the usual guff – horny teenagers (one of whom is Back to the Future’s Crispin Glover) are on holiday in the woods and are killed by Jason Voorhees in violent, gruesome ways. A twist comes from the fact there’s also a local family involved, the son of which is a horror fan called Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman). As humdrum as all this sounds, the film is reasonably entertaining thanks to Joseph Zito, who directs with pace and a knowing sense of humour. Jason is barely seen, at least until the now-ubiquitous duel with a ‘final girl’ (Tommy’s boring sister). We then get a truly oddball ending which sees Tommy use his amateur horror-movie make-up skills.
Seven corkscrews out of 10

6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven)
A group of young friends are haunted in their dreams by the same terrifying man…

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We now cut to another rival series… In the town of Springwood, teenagers (including a young Johnny Depp) have all been dreaming of a scarred man with knives for fingers, and he has the ability to kill them in their nightmares. It’s a terrific concept for a horror film and writer/director Wes Craven builds a very effective story around it. The villain, Fred Krueger (Robert Englund), has less screentime than Jason Voorhees or Halloween’s Michael Myers, but he’s a much more flamboyant personality: all sarcastic quips and pointed menace. And the first time he murders someone is genuinely terrifying: while asleep, schoolgirl Tina (Amanda Wyss) is flung around her bedroom, defying gravity, and is ultimately hacked to death in a bloodbath. As well as this shock factor, the film’s most interesting feature is the way it cleverly meshes reality with dream sequences. There are flashes of subtle surrealism, but mostly the nightmares are solid, vivid and feel real, so you’re sometimes not quite sure where you are. This pretention to something psychologically deeper than a usual slasher movie means that A Nightmare on Elm Street is less schlocky than Friday the 13th or The Evil Dead. It also has a more compelling lead character than anyone seen so far in those series: the resourceful, smart, brave Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), who deliberately goes after Fred in the dreamworld, intent on destroying him.
Nine boiler rooms out of 10

7. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985, Danny Steinmann)
A few years after his encounter with Jason Voorhees, Tommy Jarvis is sent to an offenders’ rehabilitation camp in the woods. But when people start dying, has Jason returned?

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Back to the Friday the 13th series… Although only a year had passed since The Final Chapter’s release, this relaunch of the franchise is set several years later. Tommy (recast with John Shepherd) has been suffering since the previous film. He’s plagued by nightmares and is sent to a hippie-ish halfway house for troubled young people. But then locals begin to die and it seems that Jason is back… The storytelling is staggeringly slapdash. It feels like a compilation of scenes from different films and the plethora of characters – another cast of nobodies – aren’t worth any attention. Sadly, not much else is either. The tone is often going for goofy (comedy rednecks, stupid cops, a waitress who flashes her tits at herself in a mirror, diarrhea jokes) but it’s *never* funny. We then get a couple of ‘shock’ twists at the end, one of which is quite sly, one of which is just silly. (A fun side note: at one point Tommy dreams about when he was a child, so in the dream the character is played by original actor Corey Feldman. He shot his one scene on a day off from The Goonies.)
Two chocolate bars out of 10

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, Jack Sholder)
Five years after Nancy Thompson’s encounter with Freddy Krueger, the killer returns to torment a new victim…

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Teenager Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) has moved into Nancy Thompson’s old house, but is soon plagued by dreams of Fred Krueger (Robert Englund), who then starts to possess him and use him to kill people… This is a weirdly limp film; it relies on music, make-up and special effects for its impact, rather than writing, acting or dramatic staging. For example, the nightmare sequences are more ‘far-out’ than in the first Elm Street film and use more ‘movie-ish’ special effects – an opening scene involving Freddy driving a school bus ends up looking like something from a Terry Gilliam film. But there’s no oomph, no rising menace. As many people have spotted over the years, there’s also an undeniable thread of homoeroticism: Jesse is often seen topless and sweaty (sometimes in his Y-fronts); there are scenes in boys’ showers and a gay bar; and a sadistic PE teacher is stripped naked and towel-flicked on the arse before Jesse/Freddy kills him. You almost have to admire the movie for its sheer unusualness. Almost.
Four parakeets out of 10

9. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986, Tom McLoughlin)
Jason Voorhees is resurrected and continues his killing spree around Crystal Lake…

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After his traumas in the last couple of Friday films, Tommy Jarvis (recast again, this time with a lively Thom Mathews) is determined to make sure that his nemesis is dead. So, during a thunderstorm at night, he digs up Jason Voorhees’s corpse. But a bolt of lightning resurrects the killer a la Frankenstein – d’oh! We then, um, cut to a spoof of the famous James Bond barrel-of-a-gun logo. That’s right: Part VI is essentially a comedy… and you know what? It’s a hoot. Some jokes, such as the many visual gags and witty cutaways, wouldn’t feel out of place in Airplane! (1980). In fact, this self-aware tone is pretty much a precursor of Wes Craven’s postmodern horror film Scream (1996). Upon encountering a machete-wielding Jason, for example, one character says she’s seen enough movies to know he’s bad news. Because of all this tomfoolery, the film doesn’t really generate any scares or tension. The gore levels are also noticeably reduced from previous Fridays. But it doesn’t especially matter. The plot might be hokum – Jason indiscriminately kills camp councillors, paintballers and yuppies, while Tommy tries to warn people – but the film has zip and is a lot of fun.
Eight crotch shots out of 10

You can read part two of my multi-series odyssey here…

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My 10 favourite James Stewart films

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James Stewart – perhaps Hollywood’s best ever ‘everyman’ actor – had a film career of over half a century, from a supporting role in 1935 crime movie The Murder Man to a voice part in 1991 animation An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. In between he starred in some of the biggest and most important movies around, so on what would have been his 111th birthday, here’s a list of his 10 best.

10. Destry Rides Again (1939, George Marshall)
James Stewart appeared in several Westerns throughout his career; it was a genre he especially enjoyed. This was his first – and it’s often played like a comedy. He stars as Tom Destry Jr, an unconventional lawman who takes on a criminal gang but refuses to carry a gun. Marlene Dietrich is top billed as the local saloon owner and gets as couple of songs to sing. Other decent Westerns starring James Stewart include two films directed by Anthony Mann – the episodic Winchester ’73 (1950) and the predictable but well made The Man from Laramie (1955) – as well as…

9. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, John Ford)
A classy team-up with director John Ford and his favourite star, John Wayne. In the late 19th century, US Senator Ranse Stoddard (Stewart) arrives in a low-key town to attend a funeral. The bulk of the film is then a flashback to 25 years later, showing Stoddard’s first visit to the town during which he encountered and stood up to a savage local thug. There’s a good supporting cast – Vera Miles as the love interest, Lee Marvin as the heavy – as well as effective themes about how memories and myths can’t always be trusted.

8. No Highway in the Sky (1951, Henry Koster)
A character part for Stewart here, as he plays an aviation engineer who fears that a new fleet of commercial aircraft will fail. His character, Theodore Honey, has a razor-sharp intellect and a passionate determination – but is also a befuddled widower who forgets where he lives. This fun British film has a smart, understated script and some terrific production values. Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns, Jack Hawkins and a young Janette Scott co-star.

7. Harvey (1950, Henry Koster)
A delightfully breezy comedy about a man who has an imaginary friend in the form of an invisible six-foot-tall rabbit. Elwood P Dowd (Stewart) is a benign eccentric, but his sister attempts to have him committed – which leads to a farce-like plot of misunderstanding, whimsy and humour.

6. Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939, Frank Capra)
This social satire sees Stewart as a naïve man elevated to the US Senate by cynical political operatives; they think they can manipulate him into voting their way, but don’t count on his guile and decency. The plot peaks with a grandstanding sequence where Jeff Smith (Stewart) filibusters for 25 hours to block a dodgy bill passing through the Senate, but there’s also lightness and romance along the way too. (This was the second of three times Stewart worked for director Frank Capra.)

5. Rope (1948, Alfred Hitchcock)
The highlights of James Stewart’s career were often his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock; the two men made four films together. In the decent The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Stewart plays one of his classic everyman roles – a husband and father who gets caught up in international espionage. But his first character for the Master of Suspence was Rupert Cadell, a sly university professor who attends a party hosted by two of his former pupils. Slowly it dawns on Cadell that the men have done something dreadful: they’ve murdered a friend as an intellectual exercise, hidden his body in a trunk, and then invited his loved ones round for drinks… The movie, famously shot in long takes, is absolutely gripping throughout. Click here for a full review.

4. Anatomy of a Murder (1959, Otto Preminger)
A courtroom drama shot like a film noir with a jazz score by Duke Ellington. Stewart stars as Paul Biegler, a small-town lawyer who takes on the defence of a man accused of killing a love rival. It’s a dark film, cynical and seedy at times, but so engrossing that its long running time (160 minutes) is never an issue. Part of the reason for its success is, like all great legal dramas, the details of the case are investigated with such precision; part of the reason is the strong cast (George C Scott as the prosecution lawyer, Ben Gazzara as the defendant, Lee Remick as the defendant’s girlfriend); and part of the reason is Stewart’s endlessly watchable performance as Biegler, a melancholic character who likes fishing and playing the piano.

3. Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)
Stewart’s second role for Hitch was, like Rope, in a concept film. This time he plays LB Jefferies, a photographer who’s housebound due to a busted leg. During a heat wave, from his apartment window, he watches life going on outside – and then comes to belief that he’s seen his neighbour committing murder. The camera never leaves Jefferies’s side, so we see events totally from his point of view. It’s a spectacularly effective piece of filmmaking. Click here for a full review.

2. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)
For a long time, there was a cliché that was often pedalled about It’s a Wonderful Life: that it’s an overly sugary, sentimental film without much depth – the very model of a ‘feel-good’ movie. But it’s now become just as much a cliché to point out that that’s not the case. Yes, there’s a stunningly upbeat ending – an explosion of joy and positivity and happiness that has no equal in cinema. But before we get there, this is a dark, shaded drama about a good, decent man who’s driven to the point of suicide. Stewart excels as small-town guy George Bailey, a role that allows the actor to display his astronomical charm and comic timing but also show us what a great dramatic performer he was. George is in virtually every scene and you feel every setback, every dent to his dreams.

1. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)
James Stewart’s final role for Alfred Hitchcock was in a movie that has sometimes – such as in Sight & Sound’s most recent big poll of experts – been called the greatest ever made. A twisted, seductive story about obsession, Vertigo sees the actor as Scottie Ferguson, a retired cop who’s hired to keep an eye on a troubled woman. When she dies in front of him, Scottie is racked with guilt. He then becomes unhealthily focused on the dead woman, and later happens to see another woman who looks uncannily similar… Alfred Hitchcock shows a masterful command of both form and feeling; Stewart carries off an enormously complex performance throughout.

Five years of reviews…

When writing reviews for this blog, I usually end with a score out of 10. It’s just meant as a bit of fun, but because today (Tuesday 2 April 2019) marks five years since my first review I thought it’d be appropriate to explain the grading system.

The mark is simply a reflection of how much I enjoyed seeing or listening to the thing. It’s a gut reaction, just a number that feels right. However, I do have some principles that I try to stick to. Firstly, I want to keep an optimistic frame of mind. I go into a review hoping I’m going to like the film/show/album and, when writing the blog post and deciding on the score, I try to accentuate the positive. This isn’t always possible, of course – have you *seen* Carry On England?! – but popular culture is important and it’s worth celebrating when we can.

I’m also keen to judge a work on its own merits – in other words, how does it rate against other examples of its type? (There’s no point slagging off a low-budget comedy for not having huge action scenes, that kind of thing.) This can mean that the scoring system is not really consistent across the board. A 10/10 episode of Blake’s 7 is not necessarily as good as a 10/10 James Bond film. Those series have differing qualities, expectations and levels of success.

Anyway, once I’ve watched the movie or the TV show or listened to the album, I come up with a score out of 10 to express how good I think it is. Here’s a guide to what I think the numbers mean…

10 – A masterpiece. Something I adore and think is essentially perfect (it may have flaws but they simply don’t matter). Something I enjoy returning to often. Something that is pretty much as good as it can be.
Examples: action film Die Hard, Beatles album Abbey Road, Hitchcock movie Rear Window, the Fawlty Towers episode The Kipper and the Corpse, all three Back to the Future films…

9 – Excellent. It perhaps lacks that stratospheric element that would push it up into the 10s, but it’s still extremely impressive, very enjoyable and something I think is worth shouting about.
Examples: superhero film Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the pilot episode of Firefly, the Blake’s 7 episode City at the Edge of the World, silent movie The Lodger, the idiosyncratic Escape from the Planet of the Apes

8 – Very good. Better than the majority, obviously, and perhaps better than it needs to be. There’s something notable that lifts it above the crowd.
Examples: Hammer horror Dracula A.D. 1972, 80s comic-book movie Superman III, sitcom Blackadder the Third, Hitchcock’s Marnie, Tarantino’s Django Unchained

7 – Enjoyable. Given that I select projects to review, and rarely choose something I know I won’t like, 7/10 can be considered par. It denotes something that is solid, decent, entertaining, but may have some issues. Every review starts out as a 7, so the film/show/album must do something significantly bad to score lower or have something especially admirable about it to score higher.
Examples: 80s comedy Weird Science, 90s Bond picture Tomorrow Never Dies, Spielberg’s first film, ABBA’s final album, Star Wars spin-off Rogue One

6 – Yeah, it was good. Far from perfect, but I liked it. Nothing special but nothing offensively bad or anything.
Examples: the remake of The Karate Kid, blaxploitation chiller Blacula, Oasis album Be Here Now, Marvel movie Thor: The Dark World, sci-fi sequel Alien: Resurrection

5 – Hmm, that’s got problems. It *fine*, I guess. I don’t regret watching/listening. But maybe I found more things I disliked than liked.
Examples: the schlocky Alien vs Predator, the slooooow first Star Trek movie, 90s vanity folly Four Rooms, the clunky 70s remake of King Kong, superhero misfire Suicide Squad

4 – Oh, come on. That’s not great. A movie, episode or album that makes you question whether you’re wasting your time.
Examples: Tim Burton’s lumpen Planet of the Apes, the worst series of comedy show Red Dwarf, limp kids film The BFG, the empty The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the rotten remake of The Omen

3 – Fairly awful. We’re talking properly rubbish here. Something that, while maybe showing promise, really doesn’t work as a piece of entertainment.
Examples: the horror spoof Stan Helsing, the worst film Alfred Hitchcock ever made, the irritating-as-hell Natural Born Killers, the first Ewoks TV movie, the 1960s Casino Royale

2 – ARE YOU SERIOUS? THEY RELEASED THIS? Something that is undoubtedly dreadful. Our lives would be better off if it had never been made. But perhaps there’s one element – a performance, say, or a certain scene – that prevents it getting the worst score possible.
Examples: the depressingly tatty Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the disco-themed vampire flick Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula, the stunningly misjudged Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, an inept 1965 episode of Doctor Who, a jaw-droppingly awful Carry On TV special that contains comedy paedophilia…

1 – Without merit. Total crud. Something that is not only disastrous, it also *annoyed* me when I reviewed it.
Examples: the putrid fifth Die Hard, the Coen brothers’ worst film, the pathetic Carry On Emmannuelle, the amateurish kinda-sequel to The Wicker Man, the gobsmackingly cheesy Star Wars Holiday Special

40 years, 40 films…

Today (Saturday 16 March 2019) is my 40th birthday, so I thought it would be an interesting challenge to see if I can nominate my favourite film from each of the previous 40 years. ‘Favourite’ is the key word here – they’re not necessarily what I think is the *best* movie (though in many cases that means the same thing). They’re the films I love the most, the films I most enjoy going back to again and again.

Narrowing it down was a really tough task, and I’ve had to exclude so many movies that are precious to me – the first two Aliens, A Christmas Story, Return of the Jedi, the first two Terminators, Clue, Withnail & I, Die Hard, DOA, Heat, Seven, 12 Monkeys, Fargo, Grosse Pointe Blank, Jackie Brown, Edgar Wright’s last three films and many, many more.

Here’s my roll call of favourites…

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)

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The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)

WarGames (John Badham, 1983)

Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)

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Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)

The Living Daylights (John Glen, 1987)

A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988)

Licence to Kill (John Glen, 1989)

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The Hunt For Red October (John McTiernan, 1990)

JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991)

Sneakers (Phil Alden Robinson, 1992)

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

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The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)

From Dusk til Dawn (Robert Rodriguez, 1996)

L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)

Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, 1998)

American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

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Timecode (Mike Figgis, 2000)

Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

The Bourne Identity (Doug Liman, 2002)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinksi, 2003)

Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)

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Serenity (Joss Whedon, 2005)

Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006)

Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Star Trek (JJ Abrams, 2009)

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Easy A (Will Gluck, 2010)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Steven Spielberg, 2011)

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)

The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski, 2013)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony & Joe Russo, 2014)

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (JJ Abrams, 2015)

The Nice Guys (Shane Black, 2016)

Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard, 2018)

Now I’ve completed the list I can see trends: a dominance of Hollywood; a childhood love of films with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg connections; teenage years dominated by crime movies; a recent affection for big-budget escapism; a recurrence of James Bond.

Let me know in the comments section below if I’ve picked something you love too (or hate!)…

My 10 favourite John Carpenter films

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To celebrate the 71st birthday of film director John Carpenter, here’s a list of what I think are his 10 best films.

10. Prince of Darkness (1987)
A group of post-grad students spend the night in an old church to investigate a mysterious cylinder which may contain the essence of Satan. As you’d imagine, things soon start to go wrong… It’s a film full of fascinating ideas and themes – real science, empiricism, religious mythology, dreams, time-travel, a cameo from Alice Cooper – but sadly not enough storytelling focus. The second half of the film gets quite intense and features some really out-there horror, but none of the characters is compelling enough for us to care.

9. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Carpenter’s love letter to kung-fu movies is a breathlessly directed comedy. It gets quite samey in the middle, but it’s often fun and is worth seeing for the amazing sets and Kurt Russell’s subversively inept action hero.

8. The Thing (1982)
A remake of a famous 50s B-movie, this has brilliantly bizarre monster make-up and special effects. It’s also tense and claustrophobic. Shame we don’t care more about the large cast of all-male characters, though.

7. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Carpenter’s first mainstream film. (He’d previously directed Dark Star (1975), a low-budget sci-fi comedy that spoofs 2001: A Space Odyssey but replaces the awe and wonder with mundanity.) It’s a Western-style siege plot, but the story plays out in a grimy, gritty, modern-day inner city. There’s bad dialogue and flat performances all over the place, but you’re pulled through by the amazing incidental music, the bursts of ultraviolence and the general sense of menace.

6. They Live (1988)
A sci-fi actioner about a man who uncovers an alien conspiracy in modern-day LA. The social satire is very good, as is the visual device of sunglasses allowing you to see the truth. Again, it’s a shame about the lacklustre characters. There’s also a punch-up that seems to last about half an hour.

5. Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
A sweet if overly lightweight Chevy Chase comedy-thriller. The story’s slight and predictable, but the special effects are wonderful. The film was made slightly before the digital revolution, so we get a fun mixture of practical and optical tricks – all inventive. (Sadly, nothing Carpenter’s done since this film is worth seeing. Especially bad are the cheesy Vampires (1998) and the dunderheaded Ghosts of Mars (2001).)

4. Starman (1984)
A very charming film about an alien (an endearingly childlike Jeff Bridges) stranded on Earth. It’s not just the story’s similarity to ET that makes you think of Steven Spielberg; it’s the sense of wonder too (and the presence of Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s Karen Allen, excellent as the widow who helps the alien get home).

3. Escape From New York (1981)
A brilliantly cynical sci-fi thriller set in a dystopian 1997. Kurt Russell plays former special forces soldier Snake Plissken (‘I heard you were dead…’), who’s coerced into a mission to rescue the US President (Donald Pleasance) when he crash-lands in a city-wide, lawless prison. Dark, twisted and a lot of fun. (Avoid the belated sequel, though.)

2. The Fog (1980)
A gorgeously atmospheric ghost story about a coastal town being terrorised by a century-old secret. There’s an ensemble cast of interesting characters and everything is so eerily evocative. Despite very little explicit horror – there’s almost no gore – it’s extremely scary and tense. Beautifully filmed too.

1. Halloween (1978)
This is a stripped-down, economical movie: trim, taut and terrifically constructed. For a film about a violent killer, there’s actually little gore on display; Halloween is more about tension and scares. In her first ever movie, Jamie Lee Curtis is very good as virginal lead character Laurie Strode; Donald Pleasance adds a bit of class as Michael’s manic psychiatrist, Dr Loomis; and the excellent incidental music (written by the director) is both creepy and catchy.

Horror Marathon: The Halloween film series

To celebrate 40 years since the release of influential horror film Halloween, I recently rewatched it… and then delved into all the sequels, spin-offs and reboots. It was often fun. It was often dispiriting. And that was just trying to keep track of all the times films ignore previous entries in the series. Here’s my journey into darkness…

Spoiler warning: Minor plot points may be revealed.

1. Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)
Fifteen years after he murdered his sister, psychiatric patient Michael Myers escapes hospital, returns to his home town and targets a group of young friends…

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It’s a staggeringly simple story – a ruthless, seemingly unstoppable killer picks off victims one by one – and has been copied endlessly ever since. But the first modern slasher film is still the best. Made for just $325,000, it’s a stripped-down, economical movie: trim, taut and terrifically constructed. Carpenter’s script has no flab on it and his shooting style is a masterclass in how to create mood and suspense. The widescreen anamorphic format keeps you looking for threats and danger in every corner of the frame, while long Panaglide shots give scenes a formal, elegant beauty. (The latter also sometimes act as Michael’s point of view, such as in the film’s bravura opening: a four-minute long take as he stalks and murders his sister.) But for a film about a violent killer, there’s actually little gore on display; Halloween is more about tension and scares. In her first ever movie, Jamie Lee Curtis is very good as virginal lead character Laurie Strode, one of the horror genre’s definitive final girls. Donald Pleasance adds a bit of class as Michael’s manic psychiatrist, Dr Loomis. And the excellent incidental music (written by the director) is both creepy and catchy.
Nine jack-o’-lanterns out of 10.

2. Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal)
Later that same night, Michael Myers continues to terrorise teenagers in the town of Haddonfield…

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This direct follow-on picks up at the very moment that film one finished. John Carpenter co-wrote the script and produced, but later said he didn’t think he did a very good job. An injured and shaken Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis again, though given far less to do this time) spends most of the film in the world’s quietest hospital as Michael’s killing spree continues. Meanwhile, Dr Loomis continues trying to hunt Michael down. It’s a shlockier film than the original: there’s deliberately more gore, because the horror genre had moved on swiftly in the three years since the original, and more nudity too. But it’s still tense and scary enough to be basely entertaining. The imaginatively staged deaths are far more interesting than the new sacrificial characters, while the incidental music is again fantastic.
Retcon alert! In the first film, Michael targeted Laurie simply because he happened to see her near his childhood home. But we’re now told that they’re siblings: Laurie was adopted at a young age by the Strode family after older brother Michael went loopy. Not even Dr Loomis, Michael’s long-time psychiatrist, knew about the link until this film.
Six hydrothermal baths out of 10.

3. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982, Tommy Lee Wallace)
A doctor and a grieving daughter investigate a mysterious toy company… 

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The oddity of the Halloween series: a self-contained horror story that has nothing to do with Michael Myers, Laurie Strode or the town of Haddonfield. In fact, it’s not even a slasher film. Season of the Witch is more like the kind of plot later seen in The X-Files – there’s horror and there are deaths, but it’s a conspiracy thriller about a spooky business run by a man with a secret, and the film is more about computers and CCTV cameras than a crank with a carving knife. It’s *wonderful*, a real gem that deserves a much better reputation. There’s a fantastic oddball tone to the whole thing (while still being scary), as well as an amazing score by producer John Carpenter and some very classy camerawork by cinematographer Dean Cundey (Halloween, the Back to the Future series, Jurassic Park).
Retcon alert! The original Halloween film actually exists in this story’s fiction – characters watch a TV advert for an upcoming screening.
Eight Shamrock Novelties masks out of 10

4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988, Dwight H Little)
On the tenth anniversary of his killing spree, Michael Myers escapes once again and returns to Haddonfield to target his seven-year-old niece…

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He’s back. After Season of the Witch’s attempt to morph the series into an anthology of different threats, Michael Myers was resurrected and wheeled out for a third iteration of the same basic slasher storyline. It’s 1988, 10 years on from the events of the first two films, and Michael learns that his sister Laurie has died in a car crash. (Jamie Lee Curtis, by now a huge star thanks to world-class comedy turns in Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda, didn’t want to come back.) So instead Michael goes after her young daughter, the aptly named Jamie played a not-bad Danielle Harris. Meanwhile, poor old Dr Loomis gives chase again, this time with a scarred face and a walking stick after the trauma he suffered in film two. Original co-writer/director John Carpenter had left the series after Season of the Witch, which may explain why this film is so plodding and why most of the deaths lack the shock factor of the original or the flamboyance of Halloween II. But let’s give the movie an extra mark for its unsettling – and genuinely unexpected – ending.
Retcon alert! Both Michael and Loomis were patently killed in Halloween II, but now we’re told that they were ‘nearly’ burnt to death.
Five roofs out of 10

5. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989, Dominque Othenin-Girard)
A year later: the presumed-dead Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield (again) to continue his persecution of his niece…

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After a recap of film four, which has some new footage to explain that Michael actually survived a hail of bullets and crawled away into the woods, we cut to a year later. It’s Halloween again and the town of Haddonfield is tempting fate again by celebrating it. After her trauma in the last movie, young Jamie (Danielle Harris, impressively intense throughout) is now in a children’s hospital. She’s troubled, mute and scared, while Dr Loomis (a frail-sounding Donald Pleasance) is still keeping a watch over her. And we meet a whole new gang of kids for Michael to kill: a desperately drab gang, one of whom is a prick who dresses up as Michael Myers *as a prank*. This film was directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard, who later made the appalling Omen IV. He does a terrible job. It’s shot and cut like a TV movie; many scenes feel rushed or abrupt; Michael’s first kill is confusing because the camera ‘crosses the line’; there’s precious little tension; the story is forgettable; and the deaths lack theatricality. The script is atrocious too.
Retcon alert! Not so much a contradiction, more a confirmation, but Michael’s supernatural quality is finally made explicit in this film. In earlier films we’ve been invited to question whether he’s something more than a man – he’s repeatedly survived being shot and burnt, for example. But now we learn that he has a psychic connection with his niece.
Three comedy cops (scored by cartoon incidental music) out of 10

6. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995, Joe Chappelle)
Michael escapes from a secretive cult who have been holding him prisoner for six years and continues his quest to murder his family…

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Decidedly unscary and exceedingly boring, this film sees the series sink lower than ever before. Jamie (recast with JC Brandy) is now a teenager and has been held captive by ritual-loving weirdos for six years. She gives birth, then escapes with her baby. So uncle Michael gives chase – back to Haddonfield (again)… A lost-looking Paul Rudd (Clueless, Friends, Ant-Man) plays Tommy Doyle, a character who was a child in the original film; he’s now an adult with a Michael Myers obsession who pervs at his next-door neighbour who just happens to be related to Laurie Strode and lives in Michael’s childhood home. A visibly unwell Donald Pleasance returns for a final time as Dr Loomis (the actor died before the film was released), and the plot picks up hints from Halloween II that there’s a supernatural reason why Michael always strikes on 31 October. But this is a truly abysmal film. The script is half-arsed horseshit, and it’s directed with the nuance of a wrecking ball. There’s an obsession with empty, artificial, horror-movie clichés, for example, while none of the characters feels even remotely real.
Retcon alert! At the end of Halloween 5, we saw a mysterious ‘man in black’ character take Michael away but leave Jamie behind. Now, we’re told that he kidnapped Jamie too – and both have been locked away in an underground bunker ever since.
Two radio phone-ins out of 10

7. Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998, Steve Miner)
Having faked her death, Laurie Strode is living under an assumed name and working as a school headmistress. But then, two decades after her encounter with brother Michael Myers, he returns…

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Laurie Strode is living under a new identity, having gone into hiding after the events of Halloween II. She has a 17-year-old son, who goes to the secluded private school where she works, but she’s dogged by nightmares and has a drink problem. On the 20th anniversary of her encounter with Michael, her brother shows up again intent on killing her, so Laurie decides to fight back… A *galactic* leap up in quality from the previous few movies, this project was instigated by Jamie Lee Curtis. The script has life and bounce to it, while there’s a confidence and a competency to the staging. Because it’s the postmodern 1990s, we also get plenty of knowing references to other horror films – the Friday the 13th series, Scream 2, Frankenstein, Psycho… (Among several nods to the granddaddy of slasher films is the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis’s mother, Psycho star Janet Leigh, in a small role.) The school setting, teenage characters and funny dialogue are also reminiscent of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while a more-interesting-than-usual guest cast (Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, LL Cool J) only add to what is a very enjoyable slasher movie.
Retcon alert! The last three films are wiped from the narrative slate completely. Laurie’s off-screen death, Laurie’s daughter, Michael’s extra killing sprees – all are now ignored. This presents the oddity that Michael and Dr Loomis’s deaths in Halloween II are being retconned for a second time.
Eight ice skates out of 10

8. Halloween: Resurrection (2002, Rick Rosenthal)
A group of kids take part in a reality show filmed inside Michael Myers’s childhood home. But they don’t know he’s in the house too…

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After an opening 15-minute sequence that’s basically an extended Jamie Lee Curtis cameo so she can be on the poster, we cut to Haddonfield University. A gang of students (all thoroughly dull except for Katie Sackhoff’s spirited Jen) win places on an internet reality show called Dangertainment. The plan is for them to spend the night in Michael Myers’s long-abandoned house and for people to watch them online. In other words, the postmodern pep of Halloween H20 has given way to noughties narcissism. Unfortunately for the contestants, Michael has sneaked into the house and rather slowly bumps them off one by one… It’s rarely tense or scary and you never really care what’s happening. But in the film’s favour, there’s some satire of reality shows – the producers have salted the house with artificial scares, for example, while viewers assume the murders are staged. There’s also a neat bit of writing when the murders kick off: a friend of a contestant is watching online, so texts her with guidance (‘He’s climbing up the stairs,’ etc). Meanwhile, Busta Rhymes plays Dangertainment’s producer and almost keeps a straight face when he confronts Michael: ‘Trick or treat, motherfucker!’ It’s not a great movie, but it’s not as awful as some of the previous ones.
Retcon alert! Halloween H20 ended with Laurie decapitating Michael Myers, but we’re now told that it wasn’t Michael. He’d earlier switched places with an unfortunate paramedic who was unable to tell Laurie who he was because his larynx had been crushed. (Why he didn’t remove the mask, though, is another matter.)
Five internet Emmys out of 10

9. Halloween (2007, Rob Zombie)
After a killing spree, a young boy called Michael Myers is committed to a psychiatric hospital. But 15 years later he escapes to go after his surviving sister…

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This remake of the 1978 original also acts as a prequel. It begins with more than half an hour focusing on Michael Myers as a child – a topic covered in less than five minutes by John Carpenter. We see him kill his elder sister, his stepfather and a school bully – all of whom have it coming because they’re so obnoxious – then his sessions with psychiatrist Dr Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). So rather than Michael being a character-less, motiveless ‘Shape’, we see events from his point of view and understand why he is how he is. All this means it’s nearly the halfway point before we meet teenager Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and enter a dreary retelling of the 1978 plot. The grown-up Michael is played by the 6’9″ Tyler Mane, while Danielle Harris (Jamie in Halloweens 4 and 5) plays Laurie’s pal Annie and has to suffer the indignity of acting topless for several scenes after Michael attacks Annie while she’s having sex. That coarseness sums the whole movie up, really. This is the kind of horror film that’s all about a sustained tone of unpleasantness, a focus on suffering and pain, and characters who are pricks for no reason. It’s a dreadful, depressing couple of hours, full of caked blood and sharp edges and gore and rape and a grimy colour palette.
Retcon alert! Obviously, being a reboot, all the previous movies are ignored. In a change from the 1978 original, Michael and Laurie are siblings straight away here.
One taco deluxe supreme out of 10

10. Halloween II (2009, Rob Zombie)
A year later: Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield…

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Just like Rob Zombie’s first Halloween movie, this sequel has a fetishist fascination with gore, blood, suffering and general unpleasantness. The film goes intense and graphic early on, which means there’s never any chance of suspense or dynamic storytelling: if it’ll show *that* early on, you think, then it’ll do anything. After a looooong opening sequence which is then revealed to be a nightmare, the body of the film takes place a year after the events of the previous film. Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) has PTSD: she’s now a wild child and says fuck a lot. Meanwhile, Dr Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is living off the fame of the Myers case, while the not-dead-after-all Michael Myers has been having Freudian dreams about his mother. (Soon, for some reason, Laurie’s having dreams about her too – a woman she hasn’t seen since being a baby.) Michael then heads back to Haddonfield and begins killing again… This dreadful, ham-fisted, charmless travesty has two light-hearted things of note. It’s the first Halloween film to mention Mike Myers, the Austin Powers actor. And, because she’s been to a fancy-dress party, Laurie spends the last third of the story dressed as Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Retcon alert! Michael Myers was shot in the face in the previous film, but now we’re told that no body was found.
One shaggin’ wagon out of 10

11. Halloween (2018, David Gordon Green)
Forty years after his killing spree, Michael Myers escapes custody and heads for the victim that got away: Laurie Strode…

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Thankfully, the latest entry in this up-and-doooooooown series is a really entertaining slasher film made with thought and craft and decent storytelling. Wisely turning its back on the humourless, hackneyed tone of the Rob Zombie reboots, this sequel to the 1978 original may be yet another Halloween film that pretends previous films don’t exist – but it’s so entertaining that doesn’t really matter… Forty years after Michael Myers tormented her, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a hardened, embittered and lonely women. She’s kept at a distance by her grown-up daughter (Judy Greer) and has spent four decades preparing for Michael’s return. (In promotional interviews, Curtis likened this version of Laurie to doomsday preppers.) When Myers (inevitably) escapes and goes on another murderous rampage, Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) gets in the way… This is a horror film that never forgets that horror only works in relation to other stuff: we need to know and care for the characters; the darkness must contrast with the light. So we get plenty of moments of humanity and humour, and a well-cast and interesting group of characters. As well as Laurie and her family (all very good), Allyson’s babysitting mate Vicky and the young lad she’s looking after are especially fun. All that means that when the tension builds, it’s effective. And when the violence comes it’s savage. Add in some clever callbacks to John Carpenter’s original and you have a terrific way to cap forty years of carnage.
Retcon alert! Yet again, lots of previous sequels are ignored… including the last time Laurie Strode returned to the series and ignored previous sequels! Also, the fact Michael and Laurie are siblings is now downgraded to a rumour.
Eight basements out of 10

seaQuest DSV: Season one

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Today is the 25th anniversary of science-fiction show seaQuest DSV beginning on American television. It’s always been a much-ridiculed show (‘Star Trek glug, glug, glug,’ my mother used to call it). But I’ve always been very, very fond of it – especially the first season, which was set 25 years into the future (ie, 2018). So here’s a list of the 10 best episodes from that opening year…

10. Knight of Shadows (31 October 1993)
Shown on Halloween, this episode abandons the rest of the season’s plausible science and just has ghosts in it. A Titanic-style ship is found after lying on the seabed for 105 years.

9. To Be or Not to Be (12 September 1993)
The pilot episode, shown 25 years to the day before this blog post went live. It introduces the characters and concepts very well.

8. Games (3 October 1993)
A Hannibal Lector type inveigles his way aboard the ship and plays cat-and-mouse games. Creepily directed with a terrific score by John Debney.

7. Treasures of the Mind (26 September 1993)
A well-written, early episode about international diplomacy after a long-lost cache of antiquities is found.

6. Give Me Liberte (24 October 1993)
Crew members have to be quarantined after being exposed to a deadly virus in this mystery episode, guest starring Udo Kier.

5. Brothers and Sisters (17 October 1993)
A nice, low-key plot about a young boy who has to be convinced to abandon a dangerous location. ER’s Kellie Martin is excellent as his friend.

4. The Good Death (15 May 1994)
A stylishly directed action episode about a South American military dictator (Luis Guzmán).

3. Nothing But the Truth (9 January 1994)
SeaQuest does Die Hard as terrorists storm the boat while there’s a skeleton crew aboard.

2. Greed for a Pirate’s Dream (16 January 1994)
A deliberately slender plot because it’s the drama concerning the guest characters – a group of treasure hunters on an island about to destroyed by lava – that’s more interesting.

1. Bad Water (7 November 1993)
A shit-hits-the-fan story about a sunken tourist sub and crew members stranded in a hurricane. (It’s easily the piece of television this blogger has seen the most often.)

 

My 10 favourite Christopher Nolan films

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To celebrate the 48th birthday of film director Christopher Nolan, I’ve ranked his 10 movies to date in order of wonderfulness…

10. Following (1998)
Nolan’s self–financed debut is a story about a wannabe writer who stalks strangers out of curiosity. It has many of the elements you’d expect from a 1990s low-budget crime movie: a story told out of sequence (because, you know, Tarantino); a cast who aren’t as sharp and believable as you’d hope (to save money, Nolan only allowed one or two takes); black-and–white photography (because that makes it look moody, right?); and handheld camerawork (because that’s quicker than setting up elaborate shots). Mildly diverting to begin with, it then starts to drag.

9. The Prestige (2006)
An interesting film rather than an entertaining one. It’s about Victorian stage magicians competing to find the perfect trick, but it feels clinical and cynical. The craft is there, but not enough heart.

8. Insomnia (2002)
An orthodox crime thriller elevated by a really great performance from Robin Williams as the bad guy and the generally weird setting of Alaska in the never-ending daylight of summer.

7. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The weakest of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, this sees a reclusive Bruce Wayne forced to suit up to fight the muffled-voiced terrorist Bane. It’s too long, too convoluted, and has too many risible moments (most famously, an entire city’s police force gets lured into some tunnels) – but it’s still a fun watch. Anne Hathaway is especially good as the cat burglar Selina Kyle.

6. Inception (2010)
Mindboggling at times, but fascinating nevertheless. It’s a film full of complex concepts and it expects you to keep up. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the leader of a gang who can secretly access people’s dreams and plant ideas in their subconscious. (The gang are an enjoyable bunch, with chalk-and-cheese members like Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As much as it’s a sci-fi ‘concept’ film, this is also a heist movie.) The visual flamboyance on show is absolutely staggering. Many scenes take place in a dreamworld that’s spatially surreal and yet still solid, while CGI and inventive camerawork are expertly used to tell the story and embellish the settings. Also, Hans Zimmer’s *much*-copied incidental music makes everything feel monumentally huge.

5. Batman Begins (2005)
A retelling of the Batman origin story that turned its back on the kiddie-friendly slush of the most recent entry in the series. With the character rebooted, the story was played straight and given psychological rigour. It takes a while to get going, but once we’re into Bruce Wayne fighting crime in Gotham City the film sings with theatrical style.

4. Interstellar (2014)
A science-fiction movie with real sweep and panache. In a near-future blighted by ecological problems, Matthew McConaughey plays Coop, an astronaut sent on a vital mission into the depths of the solar system. Due to the differences in relative time, decades will pass on Earth while he’s away… There’s plausible science mixed with speculative theory and even spiritualism, an adventure plot merged with family drama, as well as shocks and twists. Jessica Chastain is also tremendous as Coop’s grown-up daughter.

3. Dunkirk (2017)
The evacuation of Dunkirk seen from various points of view – young soldiers stranded in France, airmen providing the cover for the retreat, and the crew of a fishing boat crossing the Channel. The three subplots take place over different time spans (an hour, a day, a week), yet feel totally concurrent due to the film’s artful editing and Nolan’s sense of storytelling. The 70mm photography takes your breath away, while several epic action sequences are impressively staged for real. Moving, well cast and engrossing.

2. Memento (2000)
A superb, noir-ish thriller with – famously – its scenes in reverse order. Devilishly clever and admirably bold, with a great central performance from Guy Pearce, this is the story of a man hunting for his wife’s murderer. The biggest problem? A medical condition means he can’t form any new memories so must rely on self-written notes and photos he can’t remember taking. As with later films Interstellar and Dunkirk, the unusual chronology never feels confusing or clunky. Instead, it puts us into Leonard’s point of view: we don’t know what happened earlier because he doesn’t.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Big, bold, complex, provocative and dangerous, this is the superhero genre’s equivalent of The Godfather Part II or The Empire Strikes Back. It’s monumental. Daunting. Impressive. Threatening. Challenging. Fascinating. *Ambitious*. Heath Ledger commands the frame whenever he’s on screen as the Joker, while the IMAX-shot action sequences are thrilling.

 

Four years of reviews…

To celebrate four years since I began this blog, here’s a list of every review that’s gained a maximum score of 10 out of 10…

Rubber Soul (1965)
Revolver (1966)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (1967; actually, I gave it 4,000 out of 10, but that’s the same thing)
Abbey Road (1969)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The Wicker Man (1973)
Fawlty Towers: The Builders (1975)
Fawlty Towers: The Hotel Inspectors (1975)
Fawlty Towers: Gourmet Night (1975)

Jaws (1975)
Star Wars (1977)
Alien (1979)
Fawlty Towers: Communication Problems (1979)
Fawlty Towers: The Kipper and the Corpse (1979)
Fawlty Towers: The Anniversary (1979)
Fawlty Towers: Basil the Rat (1979)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980; actually, because it’s so good I gave it 11 out of 10)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Hatful of Hollow (1984)
Back to the Future (1985)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Aliens (1986)
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
The Queen is Dead (1986)

Die Hard (1988)
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Batman (1989)
Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Licence to Kill (1989)

Red Dwarf III (1989)
Back to the Future Part III (1990)
Aliens: Special Edition (1991)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut (1992)

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Schindler’s List (1993)

Definitely Maybe (1994)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
GoldenEye (1995)
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995)
Fargo (1996)
The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition (1997)

Jackie Brown (1997)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Masterplan (1998)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Firefly: Our Mrs Reynolds (2002)
Firefly: Out of Gas (2002)
Firefly: Objects in Space (2002)
Serenity (2005)
Casino Royale (2006)
Love (2006)
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (2007)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Star Trek (2009)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)
The Lego Movie (2014)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Logan (2017)

My 10 favourite Ridley Scott films

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To celebrate the 80th birthday of visionary film director Ridley Scott, here is a list of what are – in my opinion – his 10 best movies…

10. Black Hawk Down (2001)
It might be a bit one-note, and too long, and too quick to paint foreigners as evil, but Scott’s based-on-a-true-story war movie is incredibly well staged.

9. Hannibal (2001)
A decent-enough sequel to an admittedly better film (The Silence of the Lambs, 1991).

8. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Ridley’s Crusades epic was cut down by studio executives before its release, but was still a good film, full of rich imagery and historical context. Thankfully, the director then released his edit on DVD – running at three hours, it’s much the better version and adds back in some necessary character detail and subplots. Only the blank central performance from Orlando Bloom disappoints.

7. Black Rain (1989)
Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia head to Japan in this fish-out-of-water cop thriller, which is stylish and thoughtful.

6. Gladiator (2000)
Made on the cusp of the CG revolution, this movie uses still-impressive computer graphics to extend its huge physical sets and the result is a totally convincing historical world. Russell Crowe, as a Roman general forced to become a gladiator, has rarely been better.

5. Thelma & Louise (1991)
Despite its serious subject matter – oppression, misogyny, death and rape – this is a huge amount of fun, thanks to a smart, witty script, two world-beating central performances from Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, and Ridley Scott’s visual panache and sense of pace.

4. The Martian (2015)
Superbly charming and likeable sci-fi disaster movie with a sense of humour. It’s based on a really good book, and carries over its playfulness and droll line in comedy. Matt Damon’s excellent, the supporting roles are really well cast, and the situation is genuinely affecting.

3. Robin Hood (2010)
One of Ridley’s most maligned movies, this does have one significant flaw. At various points of his career, lead actor Russell Crowe has attempted a vaguely English accent – see Gladiator, Master and Commander, Man of Steel, The Mummy… Nowhere, however, is it quite as ear-scrapping as in Robin Hood. The actor once walked out of an interview when a journalist suggested he sounded Irish. I’d go more for a mix of Irish, East Midlands, Cornish, Australian, Geordie, Welsh and Dick Van Dyke. But this is just a blemish on an otherwise excellent piece of work. Basically Robin Hood: The Origin Story, the movie ticks the usual boxes – the Crusades, King John, Marian, the sidekicks – but also weaves Robin’s story into a tapestry that involves palace intrigue, civil rights and a coming war. Beautiful to look at, well cast, exciting, funny, and with a fascinating backstory informing everything, this deserves to be much more liked.

2. Blade Runner (1982)
See full review for more, but basically it’s a masterpiece.

1. Alien (1979)
Beating Blade Runner by a Jonesy the cat’s whisker, Alien is not only one of the best science-fiction films ever made and one of the best horror films ever made, it’s one of the best films of any description ever made – see my full review for more.