The word ‘Epic’ has recently been devalued and just used to mean something that is striking or enjoyable, but the correct meaning of the word indicated narratives in the ‘Epic’ mould – those which surpass the ordinary in scale and reach heroic proportions – this applies to films too. I’m taking a look at some of the truly Epic movies from the early 1980s that showed extraordinary ambition in their story and spectacle.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that The Matrix is a great science-fiction movie, but there is more to it than that. For its 20th anniversary I’m going to take a look at all the elements that made The Wachowski’s movie such a cinematic milestone and how it raised the bar for all subsequent genre movies. When The Matrix was released in 1999 it opened up new vistas of imagination in screen science-fiction – a domain of cyber existence that no film had yet explored. It was a sci-fi movie that changed the genre. It was, in fact, a movie that changed film-making in general.
The fight for the future begins.”
This year sees the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s Alien, and to mark the occasion 20th Century Fox is releasing a 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray package that will be available in the UK from April 1st, 2019. Don’t miss the chance of seeing the alien, bursting out of John Hurt’s chest in glorious HD! Alien is one of the most discussed, dissected and academically analysed movies in modern cinema. Considering so much has been said about it, the film seems to be simplicity itself: a tense, linear storyline, an innovatively envisioned setting, sparse dialogue – simple, but close to perfect.
“In space no one can hear you scream.”
In March 2019 Arrow Video is re-releasing Hideo Nakata’s Ringu in celebration of its 20th anniversary; restored from the original negative in vivid high definition.
Ringu is based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, (known as the ‘Japanese Stephen King’) and for any western viewer this film is the starting point for any exploration of modern Asian horror.
“How did the rumours about the video even start in the first place? This kind of thing… It doesn’t start by one person telling a story. It’s more like everyone’s fear just takes on a life of its own.”
At the outset of American Animals the words “This is not based on a true story,” appear onscreen, then three of those words disappear leaving the statement – “This is a true story.” Although American Animals is a heist film at its core, British documentarian Bart Layton, in an impressive feature debut, relies closely on a factual account of real events which took place in 2004. Intercut with the dramatization of the robbery played by actors, are interviews with the actual men who committed the crimes. This makes for an interesting and unusual combination of documentary and dramatic fiction.
“The perfect heist is a work of fiction.”
As a British kid who had little interest in American High School movies, I was shown the original 1988 film Heathers by an American friend and was much surprised and amused by the sly subversiveness of its pitch-black satire. It offered the conventional ‘Mean Girls’ social dynamics, but offset that with extremes of murder and suicide.
Made a decade before the tragic shootings at Columbine high school, Heathers is a film that appears more controversial now than it was at the time that it was made.
“Best friends, social trends and occasional murder.”
Created by writer Joe Kelly and artist J.M. Ken Niimura, I Kill Giants was first launched as a limited comic book series from Image Comics in 2008, and compiled into a graphic novel in 2009. Now a full-length feature film from director Anders Walter, I Kill Giants tells the story of pubescent girl Barbara Thorson who spends much of her time focused on the task of luring, trapping and killing the giants that she believes threaten her small coastal town. I Kill Giants does offer a family, fantasy adventure that is brave enough to deal with some distinctly adult themes.
“I find giants, I hunt giants. I kill giants.”
In 1818 Mary Shelley produced one of the most influential texts in literature: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Her novel attracted a huge degree of critical attention and gained increasing cultural importance, so much so that the circumstances of its composition has achieved a kind of mythic status. One might expect that the film would indicate how Mary was shaped by the many losses, difficulties, and disappointments of her life, but instead filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour tends to revel in the love story, the costumes and the poetic flights.
“Her greatest love inspired her darkest creation.”
There isn’t much I haven’t already seen when it comes to horror films. I’ve been watching them ever since I was old enough to get away with it, or even before (on one occasion I got in to see The Exorcist while underage because I was accompanied by a priest!). I’ve seen all the regular horror tropes play out in scores of films, with varying degrees of success.
Although the overriding premise of Ari Aster’s first feature, Hereditary, isn’t a particularly original one, the unfolding and execution of that premise is exceptional.
“Every family tree hides a secret.”
Writer/director Dan Bush says of his film, The Vault, that his vision was to make a movie where ‘Heist meets horror’. He couches this ambition in a story dealing with sibling loyalty and conflict.
When Michael Dillon gets into trouble with a vicious gangster, he has to come up with a great deal of money very quickly in order to save his life. His two estranged sisters, Leah an ex-con, and Vee who has spent time in the military, come up with a plan to recruit some heavies who will help them rob a nearby bank.
“No one is safe.”
It’s becoming easy to recognise a film by Edgar Wright – there are trademark aspects: a sense of wit, sharp editing, and a rousing soundtrack. Baby Driver, Wright’s first-ever solo screenplay, offers a premise that is a cinematic convention, but told in a wholly energising and original way. The action-movie potential of the virtuoso driver is hardly a new concept. It’s a proposition that has had its twists and turns, from Walter Hill’s The Driver, The French Connection, Bullitt and Ronin right through to Ryan Gosling’s nameless specialist in Refn’s Drive.
“All you need is one killer track.”
It’s a while since we’ve seen a cinematic anthology of horror tales, but Ghost Stories revives that tradition with a trio of supernatural stories in the style of English portmanteau movies of the 1960s and the Ealing classic Dead of Night. The film’s writer-directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson have adapted Ghost Stories from their successful stage show. (Nyman is an actor, writer and magician who has devised productions for Derren Brown; Jeremy Dyson is actor, writer and co-creator of The League of Gentlemen) Their film offers a tribute to an array of old-school horror tropes.