Montreal Film Journal

THE DIRECTORS SERIES (7)


1987
Bad Taste 51
[ Cheap-ass sci-fi comedy about "extra-terrestrial psychopaths" with a (bad) taste for human flesh fast-food who target a small New Zealand village for invasion. The acting is wretched and the production values are almost non-existent, but Jackson already displays intoxicating visual energy and the gore scenes are good for a few laughs. ]

1989
Meet the Feebles 23
[ Ever wonder what the Muppet flicks would be like with added gore, sex, scatological humor and hard drugs? Me neither, but I thought this might make for a funny watch. It does – for about 5 minutes. Then, as the same juvenile one-joke premise is repeated ad nauseam, it gets mighty obnoxious. ]

1992
Braindead (aka Dead-Alive) 62
[ The final film in Jackson's "splatstick" trilogy, it still suffers from rotten acting and questionable humor, but the Kiwi filmmaker orchestrates all the mayhem and gore like a mad genius. An evil rat-monkey, the mother from hell, a kung-fu fighting priest and more raging zombies than you can wave a lawnmower at: this is what cult movies are made of. ]

1994
Heavenly Creatures 65
[ The opening is terrific, setting up both ‘50s New Zealand and impending tragedy. We then move to the Christchurch Girls High School and watch as Juliet and Pauline develop an intense friendship rooted in their fertile imaginations. Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey (in their debut performances) are both wonderful, managing to make these ditzy, smug, "stark raving mad" young women sympathetic. The direction is epic and the special effects are awesome, which is surprising for what is basically your usual teen angst drama... But with a lesbianish fairy tale vibe! These quirky flourishes don't quite add up and, while the film often toys with brilliance, some stretches fall flat (everything about the parents notably). However, uneven as it may be, this is definitely a memorable film. ]

1995
Forgotten Silver 64
[ A mockumentary about an unsung pioneer of early cinema in New Zealand who brought sound, color and complex visual composition to film, all before 1920, then embarked on the tragically troubled making of huge biblical SALOME, with cruel clown Stan the Man and Josef Staline as producers! This is a clever hoax, most notable for how convincingly Jackson recreates the look and style of various kinds of silent era moviemaking. ]

1996
The Frighteners 72
[ A surprisingly potent sci-fi thriller that's like a twisted cousin of "Ghostbusters", with Michael J. Fox as a con man who charges people to rid them of spirits he unleashed himself. Things become more hardcore when Fox must go head to head with the ghost of a mass murderer, played with chilling intensity by Jake Busey. "The Frighteners" is premium B-movie fun, with awesome special FX and plenty of madcap imagination. ]


THE LORD OF THE RINGS

2001
The Fellowship of the Ring 93
[ review ]

2002
The Two Towers 94
[ review ]

2003
The Return of the King 95
[ review ]

***

2005
King Kong 67
[ Overblown, overhyped and overrated, Peter Jackon's remake of the 1933 classic at least gets its Beauty and the Beast right. Naomi Watts is more lovable than ever, going from vaudeville comedienne to all shook up jungle queen to chorus line girl on top of the world - literally. And Kong truly is a mesmerizing creation, with lots of personality, maybe even soul... And he's totally badass when he's kicking a T-Rex's ass or swatting at biplanes! Where the film almost lost me is in its endless series of non-Kong action sequences, which are loud and chaotic but desperately lack a hero for us to root for. I'm a fan of Jack Black and Adrian Brody, but the obsessive filmmaker and the sensitive writer they respectively play aren't particularly compelling. Where's Indiana Jones when you need him? ]

2009
The Lovely Bones 17
[ It's pretty crazy how the same filmmaker can make a bunch of goofy genre flicks ("Bad Taste", "Braindead", etc.), then somehow deliver a trilogy of all-out masterpieces ("The Lord of the Rings"), go for a so-so encore ("King Kong"), and now... this? On paper, Peter Jackson's latest sounds like a throwback to his previous small, intimate character drama ("Heavenly Creatures"), but even though that one was somewhat uneven, it's miles less clumsy than "The Lovely Bones". Right from the start, alarm bells rang out in my head because of Saoirse Ronan's cloying voice-over narration, the melodramatic music, the 1970s period recreation that calls a bit too much attention to itself and, of course, Mark Walhberg, an actor who, depending on the movie, is either awesome or awful (hint: he's awful here; castmates Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon and Rachel Weisz are pretty bad too). Worst of all is Jackson's direction itself. He's never been known for subtlety and restraint, but that was generally all right for the kind of material he handled, which called for over the top visuals. But I'm not sure a story about a murdered teenage girl and her grieving family should be full of swooping camera movements, elaborate CGI landscapes, a lot of smoke and mirrors, you know? All in all, this is a truly misguided picture. ]


NEXT: UNTITLED TINTIN SEQUEL (2012)