I caught The Sixth Sense (1999) for the first time the other day. As I was holding my baby at the time, I couldn’t take notes as I usually do, hence this shorter than average collection of thoughts.
The Sixth Sense is of course the film that saw a relatively young M. Night Shyamalan burst onto the scene. From there, he has turned into one of the most interesting directors working today with a range of well-received thrillers sitting alongside other works considered amongst the worst ever screened in a cinema. Of course it is basically impossible to watch the film now, even as a first-timer like me, without knowing the big twist at the end. It would have been great to have seen the film without knowing it, and having that knowledge does influence every aspect of watching the film. But that simply means the film operates on a different plane than it did when breaking out in ’99. No longer is it a buzzed about film that is going to blow your mind. Now it is a well made, vaguely Hitchcockian thriller, but with bonus supernatural overtones. It is predicated on a rather stupid central premise though, which the filmmaking team does a good job of overcoming.
Bruce Willis gives an excellent performance here, perhaps the best of his career. There’s something heightened and otherworldly about what he is doing, which plays well in retrospect. Haley Joel Osmond is likewise excellent, nailing the big lines of the film and sucking you right into the ‘creepy kid’ elements of the story, which are the best parts of the film. The script is good at establishing Osmond as a troubled kid, though overall it is a little up and down. Those creepy kid bits are also enhanced because they give Shyamalan license to really show off his stylistic chops as a visual storyteller. Overall the film is a throwback in terms of both tone and look, in particular recalling The Omen (1976) for me.
Verdict: There is no denying that watching the film for the first time today, knowing full well where it is going, dilutes the experience of this story. It certainly doesn’t make it a bad film. But it reduces it from classic status to atmospheric, slickly made thriller but no more. The elements are all there. But it’s just a touch too contrived to totally cohere into awesomeness. Stubby of Reschs
The James Bond movies were among the most formative of my film journey, hence making the effort to get out and see Spectre (2015) on opening day. I didn’t take notes as I wasn’t planning on writing a full review, so hopefully these thoughts aren’t too scattered.
A lot of reviews of the film seem to boil down to, ‘well it’s no Skyfall (2012).’ It’s not, and that’s not the worst thing in the world if you ask me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of that film, despite feeling that it doesn’t deserve a lot of the plaudits that it received. But what Spectre does so well is return to the roots of the series. Roots that have been more or less ignored since Daniel Craig assumed the tux (which you may think is a good thing, and which I don’t think is wholly bad). The pre-credits sequence is an absolute cracker, Mexico City playing host to explosions, a Day of the Dead foot-chase and a duel in a tumbling helicopter that is legitimately breathtaking. Perhaps no sequence in the rest of the film is a slickly constructed and executed as this.
Where the film falls down, if anywhere, is a pretty patchy script. It does some things well. The Bond nerd in me adored the origin story the film lays down for an iconic villain I won’t name. In fact there are numerous little homages to Bond flicks past for fans to pick up on, without them ever feeling too wink wink or taking you out of the world of the film. But the script does lag at points and the film lacks narrative thrust for much of the run time. The film is hurt by being too long and for the plot being a pretty underwhelming retread of ideas we have seen in other films of late. For me though, this just felt like such a fun remix of so many of the past films I adored so much. There is a fast car, quips, Q, creative chases, silly henchman and a really excellent central villain. Though the film is hamstrung by trying to shoehorn that villain into the mythology that the series has been building up throughout the Craig era. It is unnecessary, and frankly part of what makes the film stand apart is that it is not wedded particularly to the Bond character built up over the last few films, one that does not really resonate with the folklore of the character.
Performance wise it is the villains who stand out. Christoph Waltz is really good, especially given he has begun to feel like he is constantly playing the same character of late and here he offers something a little different. Dave Bautista wordlessly brings his pro-wrestling physicality to bear on the film in a couple of excellent sequences, including one aboard a train that is one of the better hand to hand combat sequences the series has ever offered up. Elsewhere, Andrew Scott is his typical excellent self, though it does feel like he is channelling his Moriarty from the Sherlock TV show a little too much. Lea Seydoux is very good as Dr Madeline Swann, a Bond girl straight out of the 60s. In the world of this film, that does not really bother me. You don’t watch this series for the progressive politics (though the film is an extended, though simplistic, jab at surveillance culture), but what frustrates me is the marketing obsession every time one of these films rolls around to assure us this is a very different Bond girl. Make no mistake Seydoux’s character is exactly the same as a majority of the Bond girls the series has ever brought to the screen. Ralph Fiennes as M and Naomi Harris as Moneypenny continue to impress as reinterpretations of those classic stock characters and I’m hoping they continue to play bigger parts in future films.
Verdict: This is the most Bondy feeling Bond film of all the Daniel Craig entries into the series. The story is neither here nor there. But the characters are fun, the chases thrilling enough and the set-pieces, though perhaps needing one more, are certainly thrilling enough. Pint of Kilkenny
Well this Worth Watching is exceptionally late. As you may have seen, my beautiful son Theodore arrived recently, meaning writing and viewing is on the backburner for now. But I did manage to get through a fair amount of really good stuff in September, including digging into the filmography of Wes Craven. His passing really motivated me to explore his work more and I am loving it. There are a couple of 1001 reviews of his films in the pipeline too. Hope you’re all well and watching some cool stuff.
- The People Under the Stairs (1991), Wes Craven – I adore the title and poster for this, and the film functions as a throwback in a similar vein. The genre mishmash hybrid of classic adventure, comedy and horror works much better than it really should. It is an interesting and highly political world Craven is operating in. Predatory landlords, the woes of capitalism, racial inequality and the American health system are all dealt with in a reasonable amount of depth. The film is simultaneously very grounded in reality, yet much of it takes place in a house of heightened gothic ludicrousness. Legitimately one of Craven’s best.
- Dial M for Murder (1954), Alfred Hitchcock – This is very classical, and very fun Hitchcock. Much plotting intrigue, an inversion of thriller conventions. As far as Hitchcock thrillers go, this is very much at the lighter end of the spectrum. Functions perhaps more as a mystery film than thriller. There is an extended murder sequence that shows his mastery – lurking in the curtains leading to sheer violence. Grace Kelly is luminous onscreen, a classical mysterious woman at the heart of the story.
- Deep Red (1975), Dario Argento – My intro to Argento. The synthy 70s soundtrack is as ace as advertised. This is a trippy film, plunging you into a totally different (and frightening) world right from the start. It’s a strange tonal experience, descending into almost slapsticky comedy at some points. The acting is a little patchy as well. But this is utterly stylish. A thrillingly put together fish out of water detective story. With much blood. Disturbing and otherworldly.
- Cursed (2005), Wes Craven – I am a sucker for a werewolf film and this teen take on the genre did just enough for me. There is plenty of roughness, especially with the script. But Craven clearly has a reverence for classical Hollywood horror which results in some decent imagery. The creature looks cool which is such a plus for a werewolf film and it is stylish on the whole. The acting in particular is really overtly stylised, a decision that does not uniformly succeed but makes for a point of interest at least. Rather uneven, with plenty of teen film silliness (a mirror maze anyone?), but Craven pulls it out.
- Persepolis (2007), Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi – Gotta love this style of animation – feels hand drawn, playful, artistic and nicely unrealistic. The film combines a background rich with historical fact with a great burgeoning revolutionary for a central character. Coupled with the animation style, scenes seem to surf through events. Without ever feeling dry, it’s an insider’s view of the shifting atmosphere and tone of life in Iran. Nicely weaves in whimsical elements to better convey very real emotion and feelings. Autobiography in fleeting memories and experiences rather than a point A to B plot.
- The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976), Charles B. Pierce – Really is an ace title for a horror film. Set in immediate post WWII, the film combines pseudo-documentary seriousness with exceedingly silly slapstick. The result is something that feels surprisingly modern. There is some great direction and iconography around the murderer, which makes it surprising that the character has not become more of a classic. The comedy interludes jar with the callousness of the killer and their murders. Much of it plays like a really good crime procedural novel. Also astute regarding how a community reacts to a killer in its mist.
- Focus (2015), Glenn Ficarra & John Requa – Starts off with a funky old school vibe, cool soundtrack and cityscapes. That sort of passes in the second half, but the film still gets by mainly due to the charm of Will Smith and Margot Robbie in the lead roles. Is good to see Smith playing a smooth, suave old school Hollywood type. There is a lot of fun banter between him and Robbie, who is utterly excellent. She conveys such a sense of fun and takes you along with her. It’s silly. But fun and frothy silly.
- Mission Impossible 2 (2000), John Woo – Starts off more as campy comic book film than spy flick. Russians, evil pharmaceutical companies and borderline super powered Tom Cruise. An interesting franchise in that it allows individual directors to retain their own style – Woo really works the slow-mo and some very non-blockbustery arty shots in here. Stylish as. Some great set-pieces as you would expect, the highlight being a hybrid chase/fight on motorcycles. There is also some cool plotting throughout in a charming throwback kind of way.
- Shocker (1989), Wes Craven – Starts with a power ballad and really hammers that teen film vibe early. Much of this feels like Craven remixing the tropes and hallmarks of Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), just not as successfully. So 80s, though more psychologically brutal than something I’d expect from the era. I like the idea of the villain being able to pass from one physical body to another. The last act is kinda bad. I’m a fan of this, though it has dated more than most of Craven’s filmography.
- The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014), Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – So meta man. Mimics the structure of the first film as well as the real life reception of that film and its yearly screenings. Don’t like the change to the mythology, with the killer talking. Pretty frightening and looks great though. Stylish angles and shots. But that creativity does take you out of the world of the film a bit. Love the way it engages with the original and real life. Has quite a lot of resonance and heart to it. There is so much tension and genuine horror throughout that unfortunately the reveal at the end sort of clunks in comparison. Still, a great way to revitalise a long-dead property.
- The Great Beauty (2013), Paolo Sorrentino – This is mad arty and shit. About beauty in all its forms, including the horrific. Also pretensions and the breaking down of them. It’s quite funny too, in the way it skewers convention. Makes you stop and consider the themes, talent and the gulf between those that have it and those that really don’t. At some level, the imagery and situations depicted are quite disturbing. Sorrentino has a hell of an eye for cool looking shit. Exquisite, painterly, but unique. A dark comedy about maintaining a distancing facade and the inevitability of that crumbling.
- Red Eye (2005), Wes Craven – Rachel McAdams plays the world’s most uber-capable hotel receptionist. Script is a little shitty, especially at the start. Though the film does a food job of invoking national security concerns and using the airport/plane settings to heighten that. Craven does tension so well and he shoots even the arbitrary scenes in this film in a way that enhances that. Almost his take on a Hitchcock film. The switch in Cillian Murphy’s character is chilling. It’s a great performance, one that could have been too silly. A cracking little thriller.
- The Visit (2015), M. Night Shyamalan – A collision between a funny film about film and some relatively standard found footage scares. It’s well acted, the two young Aussie leads are really talented. Even if it never entirely works as a classical horror film, Shyamalan invokes a lot of classical tropes. But the doco stylings, unforced found footage conceit and the fact it never takes itself too seriously means this is his best film for an age (not that hard I know).
- Sicario (2015), Denis Villeneuve – A lean & brutal coiled spring of a film. It occasionally loses its story. In large part cause the characters we go into the film through are essentially powerless. Functions excellently as a rumination on the nature and fulfilment of violence. The fact that violence inevitably gives rise to violence. Also the willingness of America to export violence. Acting is really good, especially from Brolin & Del Toro. Blunt is good but it’s an awful female character really. It’s a dark essay shot in bloody glorious widescreen. Will leave you pretty battered and downbeat.
- Community Season 5 (2014), Dan Harmon – Acting is so strong, helps to pick back up these characters and this world so easily. Everything, including the performances, is delightfully meta. Alison Brie is a super underrated comedic performer. Perhaps no show has ever interacted with pop culture as well as this one. Most of the episodes are pretty creative stylistic exercises, toying with the form. Combines silly and pathos so well.
Not Worth Watching
- Mission Impossible (1996), Brian De Palma – Can really see the Bond influence on this one. Haven’t seen it in 15 odd years. Recalled not liking it, but decided to revisit after loving this year’s. It still doesn’t really work for me. Loads of clunky dialogue and dumb plotting. It’s not all bad. The score elevates the extended espionage sequences, the casting is super interesting and there are three excellent set-pieces. The approach is just not there as a whole though.
- Everest (2015), Baltasar Kormakur – Frankly this is a pretty appalling piece of storytelling, failing at the most basic level to spin a yarn. The film is unable to keep track of its characters and tell a cohesive narrative. It’s a film that should look cool in 3D and there are some cool images, but it’s dim and washed out to the point of being almost unwatchable. There are some good performances, Josh Brolin and Jason Clarke especially. But it also really wastes talent such as Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington. A strangely uneventful film with basically nothing to recommend it.
- Adult World (2013), Scott Coffey – An unbearably twee and hip chronicle of a pretentious wannabe artist. That’s hard to watch, even if it is someone I like as much as Emma Roberts playing the part. The film reflects its protagonist too much. The writing is really bad, comedic beats fall flat and the occasional insightful note about the creative process is more than drowned out. Gets a little more genuine as more characters are introduced and her self-centredness strips away to some extent. But there is no flow to what should be a breezy story. Quite labourious.
If you only have time to watch one The People Under the Stairs
Avoid at all costs Everest