Tag Archives: 1001

Casino

casino poster

Perhaps no American director seems to have created more cinephiles than Martin Scorsese. I have never been his most ardent fan though, generally liking rather than loving most of his work. But he’s also one I feel I need to continually revisit to see if I will ever find the spark of genius that so many others find.

The plot of Casino (1995) sees Robert De Niro playing up and coming member of the mob Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, making his way in the world of organised crime. An advanced party for the organisation’s tentative excursions into Las Vegas. He runs a casino which in turn funnels huge sums of money back to his superiors. Ace’s mission is complicated by having to keep an erratic, violence prone, ‘made’ (unlike De Niro) member of the mob Nicky Santoro (played by Joe Pesci), in some kind of check. All sound pretty familiar? That’s because Casino is painfully similar to Goodfellas (1990). So close it could be a remake. The grand sweep of the arc is the same, the ups and downs, machinations of the mob and a focus on ‘street level guys’ all reappear. The films mainly look the same and many of the same actors appear. Even specific plot beats echo loudly from one film to the other. There are some slight differences – the love triangle dynamic is well set up here involving Sharon Stone’s Ginger McKenna, and the notion of a film structured like an American epic but really only being about a casino intrigues for a little while. But the similarities certainly consume any tangible differences. In addition to these similarities, the film also loses its narrative core regularly along the way, feeling too vague. Some of the story elements, Ginger’s drug habit for example, are really muddled in the way they are conveyed, which lessens the impact of that part of the story.

casino de niro

Style wise, Casino does not do a whole lot out of the ordinary, and what it does is a mixed bag. The duelling voiceovers are tiresome and the cutesy stuff such as ‘back home years ago’ subtitles are ineffective. But there is a gaudiness to the colours that Scorsese employs well, helping the glitz and seediness of Las Vegas pop off the screen. Similarly the performances range from the disappointing, to the stock standard to occasionally good. Pesci is perhaps the best of them all. I don’t really care for his character, it’s basically the exact same little wired psychopath vibe we’ve seen before. But he performs it very astutely, becoming the focal point of the scenes he is in. At the other end of the scale, particularly in terms of the writing of the character, but also performance wise is Sharon Stone. The film asserts that she is “the most charming woman you ever saw”, but at no point does that come out. Stone plays Ginger as a blank slate and neither the writing or the performance gives us any clue as to why she becomes such a contested part of the story.

Verdict: In the end, I feel the same about Casino as I do about a lot of Scorsese films. It is a fine, watchable experience. But ultimately a pretty hollow one. For me, the film does not have anything to say and it is further weakened by being essentially the exact same film as Goodfellas. Stubby of Reschs

Progress: 139/1001

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: The Wolf of Wall Street and The House of Caine: Get Carter.

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12 Angry Men

12 angry poster

In 2016, the title 12 Angry Men (1957) is enough to send a shiver down the spine. There are too many angry men all around us, in real life, online and in the movies we consume. Perhaps Sidney Lumet’s best film though is thankfully not as infuriating as the title would suggest.

12 Angry Men is essentially a high-concept drama, taking place in a single room. The 12 of the title are the jury in a murder case, one that initially seems cut and dry, but that quickly becomes rather more complex. Henry Fonda gradually wins some of his peers over to his point of view, told through the camera as an isolated character gradually being joined in shot by more and more characters. The film functions as a reverse crime procedural – only it is not the police who are poring over the evidence and considering every angle of the case, but the jurors. The film argues both sides in terms of questions of what constitutes justice, can it be pure and how much respect the system deserves, through the simple plot. Unlike most other courtroom dramas, this film structurally starts at a very interesting spot. We do not see one second of the trial, rather it is deemed unimportant as the film starts as the jurors begin deliberations. Or rather than the trial being marked as unimportant, perhaps it is more accurate that in the end the power in the system rests not with the lawyers or even the judge, but with the 12 doing their ‘duty’. It’s a great script. Men sitting around a table talking about a case could go wrong in a multitude of ways. But this is sharply written with writer Reginald Rose delivering something that is simultaneously all exposition and none. It is layered and definitely talky, but never in a showy way.

12 angry pano

It is difficult to make 12 dudes sitting around a conference table arguing look visually arresting. Or even moderately interesting for that matter. But from the get-go, Lumet uses the camera to both create interest and more importantly impart meaning. The film opens with awed shots of the courthouse where the action will take place. This reverence for the hallowed place of the law in our society will be both reinforced and challenged over the course of the film. Lumet is not afraid to put his close-ups right out there too, filling the entire screen with a face. The shooting is simple, but the use of these shots is astute, providing moments such as a change of vote with a jolt of meaning that other films may choose to deliver through sound design. For what is in narrative terms a simple story, there is a lot going on here. And as such every interaction, every shot, feels as though it is laden with meaning. The narrative focused on single murder is used to examine the whole of society in unfortunately still relevant ways. The film has a progressive bent, especially in terms of the examination of race. How white people look down on others, the dismissal of “slums” that are a “breeding ground” where undesirables are allowed to run rampant. White men discussing an ‘other’ that they (for the most part) have zero experience with or even any interest in. This culminates in a ridiculous rant about “them” and the accused’s “type”. Lumet wants us to see how foolish this crusty old man looks as he screams his backward ideas into an abyss as more and more people lose interest. Hopefully a whole society of them.

Verdict: With its high concept, single room location and unexpected narrative structure, 12 Angry Men is a pretty experimental classic. It works well as a crime flick, a courtroom piece as well as a thematic consideration of justice, the possibility of it and the role of it in society. Pint of Kilkenny

Progress: 138/1001

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Serpico and Network.

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My Brilliant Career

career poster

Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career (1979) is based on the iconic Australian novel of the same name written by Miles Franklin in 1901. It is one of those books that you are forced to read for school or uni that you dread, but then end up really quite liking (well at least that’s what happened for me).

career sam

This film adaptation may be one of the best reflections of a literary character onscreen that I have come across. The film, like the book, immediately inserts the writer into the action. The film is a character study, never wavering from the focus on Judy Davis’ Sybylla Melvyn, who may literally be in every single scene of the film. Both the writing and the performance of this character beautifully capture her sass and aspirational nature, as well as the rebellious streak and “illusions of grandeur” that she holds as dear to her as any other aspect of her personality. Some of this sounds cliché, but this is a rare idealist character that does not exist solely based on shallow braggartism. Rather that is balanced, undermined and heightened by the really well drawn element of insecurity and uncertainty of a person that age. Sybylla herself refers to herself as a “misfit and a larrikin”, her persona as an artistic dreamer content in her own world, never overwhelms her with an unnecessary self-seriousness. The film is certainly not plot-dense or dripping with incidence. It does have a perfunctory love story going on as well. Perfunctory in the sense that it really exists only to better illuminate the main character and what is most important to her. But it does that very well and the line of “I’m so near loving you … but I’d destroy you” perfectly captures the journey of the character, her coming to realise her shortcomings and how to best interact with those around her. Something she has been experimenting with and often failing at, throughout the film.

The performance of a very young, almost unrecognisable, Judy Davis is essential to the main character and by extension the film. There is a twinkle in her eye that so perfectly reflects how readers would have imagined the character and a cheek to her line delivery that charms no matter what she is saying or how she is behaving. In comparison, everyone else in the film exists solely to be acted upon by Sybylla, to bask in that force of nature. So the good performances of folks such as Sam Neill, Wendy Hughes and Robert Grubb are a little overwhelmed by the central character.

career rain

Thematically My Brilliant Career is a distinctly feminist film. Sybylla has a sense of social justice that she is not afraid to share with anyone around her. Perhaps even more than gender though the film is concerned with classism. Sybylla is righteous about the poor and their importance to society. This extends to an exploration of unnecessary class structures and high vs low culture, in particular the stuffiness of the former versus the ingenuity of the latter. Like everything, the thematic exploration serves to embellish the character of Sybylla, to tell the audience something new and interesting about her.

Verdict: My Brilliant Career really is a genuinely exceptional character piece. Sybylla is such a fleshed out and genuine character, whose journey is supported and reflected by a quite decent love story underneath.  Pint of Kilkenny

Progress: 137/1001

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Oscar and Lucinda and  Mad Max: Fury Road.

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Network

network poster

With minimal changes, Network (1976) could easily apply directly to today’s media landscape. It is shocking just how ahead of its time the film is. Or perhaps it is shocking just how little mainstream news media has evolved over the past 40 years

Network is straight satire, which is a hard genre to pull off. This is true of the film early on. It is a little disjointed, consisting solely of jokes and neglecting to craft any narrative to go along with them. The employees of the network in question have their heads so far up their arse that they basically miss the profession from the protagonist Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) that he intends to kill himself on air. It’s a funny, but not exactly subtle setup, reminiscent of Wag the Dog (1997) in this and other ways. The jokes often feel too straightforward as does the satire that initially focuses mainly on examining the primacy of business over personal interests. You have to dig a little deeper for the clever satire, concerning the commercialisation of a revolutionary (or anything) that goes so far it eventually cannot be controlled. There are very occasional moments of personal warmth between the characters. However these mainly serve to highlight that the film is very cool and distant, lacking that personal connection or story. Overall it feels in a way that a first viewing of the film (which is what this was for me) is really just to familiarise yourself with the material. It is a truly weird film and I think further viewings will be required to absorb it properly.

network finch

Sidney Lumet is considered a master director, and he has a way of shooting films that captures the eye, even if what is being presented is mundane. Here he mixes things up, shooting conversations in a pretty standard way and letting the absurdity of the script grab the attention. But that is contrasted with some really creative cityscapes, canted angles and split screens in other moments. The acting is excellent throughout the film and helps to anchor a script that, whilst brilliant, is quite wild in its construction. Faye Dunaway is marvellous, impassioned and conveying the intelligence of her character. But it is Peter Finch who propels the film. His performance takes you on a surreal psychological journey from downtrodden browbeater to prophetic visionary. This character arc is simultaneously the strangest and most successful aspect of the film.

Verdict: Network is a much weirder film than its reputation would suggest. It is dark and cynical, feeling quite ahead of its time in that regard. Whilst it is a little hard to take it all in on first viewing, the film still works despite being devoid of drama. The work of Peter Finch as Howard Beale is probably worth checking this out for on its own. Also does anyone else feel like Anchorman 2 (2013) is essentially a remake of this film? Stubby of Reschs

Progress: 137/1001

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Serpico and  SUFF 2014: The Dog.

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Reservoir Dogs

 

 

res dogs poster

The more I think about Quentin Tarantino, the more conflicted I feel. He’s perhaps one of only two directors in the history of cinema (Hitchcock being the other) to have made himself into a genre and he’s also responsible for some of the purest blasts of cinema seen over the past few decades. On the other hand, I seem to like his films less than most, a lot of them being just ok. I also have a strange propensity to like his sillier works such as Death Proof (2007) and Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) more than the more serious efforts that have garnered the director major acclaim.

That is all a longwinded background to where I was coming from when I sat down to watch Reservoir Dogs (1992) for the first time recently. This is the film that blasted Tarantino into stardom and it is a pretty perfect summation of where his career would go. On one front it is a little disappointing. All of his flaws (except for maybe the recently acquired tendency for his films to be vastly too long) are on display here, though it must be said, also are many elements of his filmmaking genius.  This film is incredibly talky, with characters talking over each other about, well bullshit a lot of the time. The rapturous reception, to what is an admittedly pretty original conceit of having characters engage in lengthy side-conversations about movies and music, may have done Tarantino’s work a disservice in the long run. Almost in contrast to my feelings about Tarantino’s filmography broadly speaking, here he is best when being serious. The film is much better when painting something like Tim Roth’s desperation to live rather than the riffing on pop culture bulllshit. It’s all about story. If he is dicking about with the script, but it’s in service of the story, then I am in. But otherwise it is just tiresome. On a plot level, this is a mixed bag. Here we see Tarantino’s flair for mixing up narrative structures in a way that increases both the enjoyment and intrigue you will take out of it. But after you tease out what is going on, it is a pretty thin tale, with a twist that really falls flat.

res dogs faceoff

In case you hadn’t noticed, Quentin Tarantino has a stratospheric ego. Here, in one of his interminable cameos (Hitchcock shows us how director cameos should be done – requiring no skill, playful and SHORT), Tarantino gives himself all the most attention seeking, motor mouthed lines in a display that shows off his woeful acting chops. It is interesting to see how actors deal with the script that really does have a lot of rubbish in it. Some flounder, whilst others are able to excel despite the weaknesses on display. Most notably among the latter in Reservoir Dogs is Harvey Keitel, and to a lesser extend Michael Madsen. Somehow those two cut through the weakness of the writing and deliver performances that actually service the plot. They make you believe the dialogue, rathe than feeling you should be sitting back and admiring it for its cleverness.

Verdict: Weirdly, I really don’t have all that much to say about this film. It didn’t move me any more than the fact it is a moderately interesting crime flick. An alright film and notable for being the start of a great career, but no more. Stubby of Reschs

Progress: 136/1001

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Sabotage and  Worth Watching January 2016 (includes my review of The Hateful Eight).

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Bride of Frankenstein

bride of frank poster

Perhaps none of the original suite of Universal Monster films has such an enduring reputation as James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935). It is frequently highlighted as the high point in this series of iconic films.

Narratively Bride of Frankenstein plays almost like an early example of fanfic. It is a story “suggested by” Mary Shelley’s novel, functioning as an extension of it. The film opens with Mary Shelly and Lord Byron inserted into the film. This leads into a pretty incredible early example of structurally recapping the first film, as Shelley goes over the events of Frankenstein (1931) with cut scenes from that film playing onscreen. Unfortunately though, after this quite inspired beginning, the narrative is pretty unsatisfying, mainly because of where attention is focused. Namely, the focus is more on the human characters and elements of the story rather than the monsters. Frankenstein’s monster is denied agency throughout, which is generally not how these characters are treated in the Universal canon. The very basis of the plot – a bride for the monster – does not come from the monster. Some scientists just decide to make one for him, denying the character the agency to determine their own path. The story being driven by the humans, makes the plot drag badly, rather than the more kinetic progression that would have made the film stronger. On a much more simplistic level, this film needs way more bride of Frankenstein. She shows up with maybe six minutes to go. We’re are talking Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) levels of not giving the people what they want. It’s a bummer too because she is such a great character, both in terms of appearance and what she brings to the story.

bride of frank couple

The film is at its best when being unique and quirky, rather than the more stock horror elements. There is a wildly fantastical touch when some miniature people show up. Similarly fantastical are the scenes of the monster walking through the woods as a mythic feeling soundtrack plays. It appears James Whale was experimenting with the content and form of these films, and his boldest expressions work the best. The main joy that I took from the film came from these little touches. Boris Karloff is now billed simply as ‘Karloff’ whilst the iconic ‘?’ credit now goes to the monster’s mate. Also, like all these Universal films, it looks great. Such a creativity to the set design and the film always feels so atmospheric even when the story fails to deliver.

Boris Karloff is such a cerebral actor and this may be one of his best performances, even though the film is weaker. He has such a physical presence. And it is not just that he looks hulking, but also in the way that he acts with his whole body. The performance is even more impressive given the character is much more ill-defined than in the first film. At times he is tender, at others viciously murderous, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why he acts a certain way at each point. Perhaps the major misstep is having the monster talk. It is totally unnecessary as the character was already iconic without that ability. This choice amplifies a broader clumsiness in the film, that is the characters speak the themes, rather than the story embodying them in any coherent manner. In addition to Karloff, the other standout performance comes from Colin Clive as Dr Frankenstein. He is able to convincingly convey the experience of a beaten, battered man going through torment. A man torn apart that provides a solid emotional core to the film.

Verdict: I had high hopes going in, but I have to say Bride of Frankenstein is unfortunately one of the lesser Universal Monster flicks. The choice to deny the original monster of any real agency, and the bride of any real screentime, means we are stuck with less interesting human characters to accompany through the story. Schooner of Carlton Draught

Progress: 135/1001

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Frankenstein and  The Mummy.

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Star Wars

star wars poster

Like everyone, Star Wars has been on my mind of late. So when I saw the original trilogy pretty cheap on VHS a while back I snapped them up, for a more faithful(ish) experience compared to the far too tinkered with blu-rays that are out there. These were never formative films for me in the way that they were for so many others, or the way the James Bond films or Jurassic Park (1993) were for me. I saw them as a kid, recalled liking them, but that was the extent of it.

star wars droidsFor me, Star Wars (1977) is miles away the best film in this franchise. It delivers a lean narrative, heavily influenced by classical adventure story tropes, with a sense of fun. It goes character intros (without labouring unnecessary mythology), a big action beat, regroup, bigger action beat. It really is as simple as that. But within that structure Lucas delivers a film that would spawn a legacy probably unmatched in some ways in film history. That the storytelling feels so informed by classical tales is not altogether a bad thing. Lucas is repackaging beats that have been go-tos for centuries, but making them feel at least a little inspired.  It helps that with all the classical inspiration, the film is also happy to do a few unconventional things. For example, Darth Vader is revealed in no time flat. Most films would hold that back for an age, whereas this one sends him out front and centre within five minutes. The world-building of the film is an interesting aspect. We are exposed to different worlds early on and that is effective. But it’s based totally on design and physical details (or often a single physical detail) rather than any level of in-depth world-building.

Carrie Fisher gives the pick of the performances and gets reasonable screen time to go along with that, unlike Star Wars The Force Awakens (2015). Her badarse heroine s is perhaps the most original feeling character too. As good as the characters of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are, they are very much archetypes. Lucas’ propensity for kiddie characters is apparent from the get-go too, though not overbearingly so. It’s one of the paradoxes of the Star Wars phenomenon I guess that those characters are pretty interminable in the movies, but also played a large part in driving the phenomenon that the series would become. This one is more of an ensemble piece than I recall, with Obi-Wan and the droids playing large parts, along with the three central figures. Given our current CGI saturation, the effects in Star Wars jar initially. But that fades quite quickly as the artistry, particularly in the model work, becomes apparent. That level of design artistry is so important, because let’s face it some of the character design could have gone so wrong. Designs like those of C3PO or Vader, could have looked totally silly if they were not executed so very well.

star wars wide

Of all the achievements of this film (and I think the original trilogy more broadly), it is John Williams’ score that may be the pinnacle. By now truly iconic, in the world of the film it is so lush and heightening. It’s not just that the score is so damn good, it’s that Lucas uses it so well. The introduction of the character of Luke, such an important moment for the entire franchise, is basically made by the soundtrack. The sound design is similarly exceptional, the whooshes of the dogfights obviously, as well as smaller flourishes like Vader’s laboured breathing. The editing though has the bemusing quality of a film student looking to impress. It is distracting and recalls Homer Simpson’s obsession with star wipes so much that I was almost a little bummed we didn’t see one here.

Verdict: Star Wars is a film of simple charms –clear adventure storytelling, a worthwhile set of sci-fi worlds, decent characters and great space-set dogfights. Here, George Lucas delivers those charms in a way that he, or anyone else, has never been able to replicate since. Pint of Kilkenny

Progress: 133/1001

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Spoilertastic Star Wars The Force Awakens review and  Guardians of the Galaxy.

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Dawn of the Dead (1978)

dawn poster

George A. Romero’s ‘Dead’ series of zombie films with a side of social commentary are about as beloved as classic horror gets. Perhaps none more so than the second in the series Dawn of the Dead (1978) which arrived a round decade after the decidedly more lo-fi Night of the Living Dead (1968).

Unfortunately for me, a little something got lost in that decade. There is much to admire in the ideas and devices of the film, but not all that much to truly enjoy. The environment is chaotic from the start. Initially that chaos is restricted to a TV studio and then, for the majority of the film, a mall. In theory there should be a nice flow of the chaos being restricted, then spiralling out, then being restricted again. But in reality, it’s a little boring, which a zombie apocalypse in the mall outing has no excuse for. The plot is high concept in that it really is just a small band of folk trying to turn back the zombie hordes in a confined space. In execution though, Dawn of the Dead lacks storytelling clarity. In addition to the lack of a clear destination for the characters to be working toward, the aims and stakes of individual sequences are never well articulated. There is a big long set piece involving a bunch of trucks at one point. But it is never explained exactly what the characters are trying to achieve with this daring operation and why they are making the decisions they do. These elements are all the more frustrating because the best moments of the film are the characters carrying out well articulated pieces of minutiae such as body disposals or building walls to barricade themselves.  Neither is the film able to give a sense of the scale of the outbreak in a worldwide or even USA-wide way. It is very much operating on the micro level with no attention paid to the status of the macro struggle. This leads to the trajectory of the plot being ultimately far too flat.

dawn horde

So sure aspects of it look cool, but to what end. Early on there are some nice moments toying with the idea of how since the events of the first film, the zombie horde has very much become a part of daily human life. Blokes hang around drinking and taking pot-shots at their undead brethren. Romero really does not seem to have an eye for shooting or constructing action. The film is nothing particularly creative to look at in these sequences and just lumbers along. Perhaps in part that can be blamed on the fact that the lack of speed in the zombies is really apparent, muting the fear they should inspire. The main positive of the gnarly gore is in the end not enough to overcome the unshakeable sense that this is an aimless and plotless venture. Italian Giallo maestro Dario Argento had some level of involvement with the film. Goblin provide the soundtrack and initially there is a definite influence of Giallo in the stylistic approach of the film. That had me very excited for something left of centre, but the arthouse chops faded quite quickly. The soundtrack endures a little better though, and I am a big fan of it. This is kinda understated Goblin, vibey but not overly intrusive. The effects of the film are a mixed bag. The bloodiness and gore elicit most of the reaction that the film brings. But the dull greyness of the makeup is not much chop at all to look at.  There is a continuation of a number of themes from the first film, with social commentary on racial tolerance and classism popping up. The setting also influences the themes, with commentary on capitalism, on greed and the inability to share a bounty. The destruction of a department store standing in for the breakdown of capitalism, zombie consumers being mindlessly drawn back to this shopping palace. But whilst these work ok in isolation, they do not feed into the main plotline of the film or vice versa.

Verdict:
There is a reasonable amount to like in the sheer violence and social commentary of Dawn of the Dead. But it underwhelms on most storytelling fronts, remaining aimless to the very end, to such an extent that this horror classic is a major disappointment.  Schooner of Carlton Draught

Progress: 132/1001

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Night of the Living Dead and  Quick Review: Wyrmwood.

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Quick Review: The Sixth Sense

sixth sense poster

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.

sixth sense osmond

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

Progress: 131/1001

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: The Omen and  The Happening.

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The Terminator

terminator poster

No amount of derision for the late sequels can dim the love of folk for the first two Terminator films. The lacklustre reception to Terminator: Genysis (2015) reminded me that I had never really gotten around to seeing the classic entrants into the series, so it was time for Terminator (1984).

Gotta love the hair a young Bill Paxton is rocking here.

Gotta love the hair a young Bill Paxton is rocking here.

For a beloved sci-fi, the story is actually pretty stripped back. Taking place on separate timelines, 2029 and 1984, a lot of the early exposition is handled by a single screen of text explaining the rise of the machines. From there, a couple of mean dudes arrive in ’84 from the future, and the story is underway. It’s astutely written, setting up the goal of the plot (i.e. kill/protect Sarah Connor) without explaining why. It allows the action to fly from the very start, but maintains intrigue as to exactly where the plot will go. Even today, the violence in the film is quite bracing in its brutality. The body count is ultra high and with major characters possessing zero empathy, they mow numerous people down without a care. The Sarah Connor character, at least in this film, does not feel like a particularly strong one. It’s a traditionally matriarchal spot for her in a film. She has to be fought over by men, to preserve her abilities as a mother. Whilst that could be more modern, thematically the film remains resonant. You could easily patch drones onto this plot with no troubles at all. It’s a cautionary tale of the dangers of over-automation, particularly in the military sphere.

Linda Hamilton, who is so good as Sarah Connor

Linda Hamilton, who is so good as Sarah Connor

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a decidedly awful actor. But he does have an undeniable and unique presence to him. As such it is easy to see why the Terminator has become his most iconic role as it is designed for someone with his abilities. He doesn’t have to emote, in fact it’s better if he doesn’t. The film’s much lauded effects have undoubtedly dated to a degree. But they are yet another example of how you would take dated practical effects over dated CGI any day of the week.. It is impossible not to respect the level of craftsmanship and artistic creativity that went into the process. But there is no doubting that some of the effects work toward the film’s conclusion has a bit of a Harryhausen vibe, and not in a good way. Overall though, the design is one of the strengths of the film.  Arnie’s body and the way it breaks down looks great, whilst the interaction and fuzzy borders between man and machine is rendered effectively. In addition to the lean writing, much of the tempo can be attributed to the soundtrack. Brad Fiedel’s score is electronic, but with a real authentic sounding beat, a combination that sets the pace of a lot of the action.  

Verdict: Deserving of its place as an action/sci-fi classic, The Terminator still holds up despite some of its elements showing their age. It did strike me as not particularly setting up for a sequel, so I will be interested in how forced the storytelling of future films in the series feels to me. Pint of Kilkenny

Progress: 130/1001

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