2000 to 2009 was the decade of great superhero films and epic trilogies, and sometimes those grand trilogies were comicbook movies... Admittedly, I have a strong bias towards SF and fantasy cinema, but – simply put – that’s the kind of stuff that appeals to me the most, so I usually rate genre films more highly than anything else. Favouritism aside, I think all these should be regarded as key films of early 21st century cinema.
Hulk (2003) director: Ang Lee
Getting a filmmaker who’s best known for serious art–house dramas to helm a highly commercial blockbuster was a daring move. However, the risks paid off, handsomely, resulting in the very best film of the last ten years. What Lee created is the first sober epic of superhero cinema, rich in mutated genre themes and supremely iconic images – derived, in part, from the very same influential mythological and literary sources which had obviously inspired the comicbook original Hulk’s creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, back in 1962. Honestly, this masterpiece blending of SF adventure and monster-movie remains far superior in every way to unnecessary sequel/ unfortunate remake/ somewhat unsightly franchise-reboot, The Incredible Hulk (2008) – which I did enjoy, of course, but still think is nothing to get excited about if compared to Lee’s instant classic.
The Dark Knight (2008) director: Christopher Nolan
Building on his success with Batman Begins (2005), gifted auteur Nolan delivers the goods with this exhilarating and tightly orchestrated action thriller. A mix of superbly performed characters and livewire confrontations between terrorist-psycho the Joker (Heath Ledger, aiming for legendary status), and Christian Bale’s thuggishly dynamic masked crusader, this eclipses Bond and Bourne, and it presents the new benchmark in superhero cinema, wholly intended for a mature audience, with intense drama of such power that Zack Synder’s flawed Watchmen (2009) could not hope to match it.
Black Hawk Down (2001) director: Ridley Scott
The battle of Mogadishu in 1993 gets a vivid big–screen treatment from a filmmaker at the height of his technical and creative powers. Here’s a horror story of a mission going tragically wrong. It shows what happens when professional soldiers confront a warlord’s vast militia forces, as tactical advantage is lost, and thoroughly outflanked American troops are besieged by Somali belligerence and ferocity. Gritty and messy scenes of modern warfare are unnervingly mixed with a traditional sort of gung-ho US Rangers action, epitomised by Tom Sizemore’s battalion commander, striding purposely through sundry guerrilla strikes in urban mayhem, a fearless portrait of unflinchingly single-minded heroism, staring into the face of so much sudden death and wanton destruction. It’s one of the greatest war films ever made.
Hellboy (2004) director: Guillermo Del Toro
Much as I admire Del Toro’s Spanish fantasy productions – Devil’s Backbone (2001), and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – I prefer the accomplished mix of quirky humour and uncanny action that distinguishes Hellboy from the rest of recent superhero cinema, although Timur Bekmambetov’s hugely appealing and imaginative Russian offerings, Night Watch (2004), and Day Watch (2007), explore similar generic territories. For Hellboy, the director continues the good work that he put into Blade II (2002), adds doomed romance to existing secret agency and darkly weird otherness tropes, and so this comics-based adventure delivers more levels of madcap fun and winning pathos than either of those equally lighthearted – but much less interesting – Fantastic Four (2005/ 2007) super–team movies. It’s rather saddening to note, however, that sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) proved to be a bit of a letdown.
Mulholland Drive (2001) director: David Lynch
Classification resistant and impossible to pigeonhole, this mystery about murder and identity on the borders of sanity abandons reason but not hope, in a convoluted story that hinges on Lynch’s apparent fascination with Jungian psych, effortlessly blending dreams with harsh realities. The artistic filmmaker’s ingenuity is utterly beguiling, as paired female characters switch from emotional transparency to morally opaque in a realm charting the mechanics of creating films and the overpowering quest for bright mesmerising images, whether the director intends visuals to be revelatory or illusory.
Pulse (aka: Kairo, 2001) director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
And so to Asian films... Many were seen, few are chosen... My shortlist had Grudges, Rings, and other ghost chillers galore, but this SF apocalypse shines through murky shadows and creaky slasher plots with its creepy virtual viral menace, emerging from a realm of cyber hell where spooks might lurk behind every PC screen. It’s the end of the world and nothing’s fine. Avoid the pointless and feeble US remake. Escapism in cinema is always welcome, but confrontation (with or without topical issues) is more intriguing.
Adaptation (2002) director: Spike Jonze
With a brilliant dual–role for Nicolas Cage, and an excellent supporting cast (not to mention Brian Cox as story-maven Robert McKee!), this offbeat deconstruction and dissection of screenwriting and the nature of movies is bursting with searing pathos for profoundly creative struggles that never succumbs to entirely maudlin sentiment or gentle whimsy, but freely explores various modes of documentary realism, bizarre fantasy and - shockingly - almost everything in between! This is essential viewing for any fans of innovative cinema.
Requiem For A Dream (2000) director: Darren Aronofsky
Some films are unforgettable. This one is not usually classified as genre horror, and yet that’s exactly what this scary, downright weird and crushingly depressing drama, about the psychological and physical dangers of addiction, really is. Horror without a pause, bloated with grisly scenes of intense human suffering, amidst socio-economic depravity in a devastatingly bleak emotional landslide of startlingly evocative images.
Martyrs (2008) director: Pascal Laugier
The choice pick from the recent batch of extraordinarily good French shockers (which include Switchblade Romance, Them, Frontiers, and Inside), this serves a maelstrom of electrifying violence, anguish, inhumanity and ultimate misery that makes all those sordid little ‘torture porn’ flicks look rather tame and quite silly. Watch in dismay. See it right through to its bitter surprise-ending for the revelation of a new level in radical horror cinema.
The Lord Of The Rings (2001-3) director: Peter Jackson
I had to include a trilogy in this listing and, because Pirates Of The Caribbean movies were so uneven, and the otherwise laudable X-Men set ended with a disappointment, this ambitious adaptation of Tolkien fits the bill. An undeniably spectacular epic with tremendously good production values, it is flawed and curiously uneven in the pacing of both its narrative and overlong journey, but many sequences offer stunning fantasy entertainment. Taken as a whole, the scale and visual brilliance of this unpretentious saga established new standards of technical proficiency and won critical acclaim for a milestone work of popular cinema. I liked all three extended editions on DVD.
Thursday, 31 December 2009
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
T3A Press) has DVD and blu-ray coverage of Flick; The Uninvited; Vinyan: Lost Souls; Blood Rain; Blood: The Last Vampire; Silent Night, Deadly Night; The Hide; A Perfect Getaway; Dorian Gray; Pontypool; Thirst; Feast II: Sloppy Seconds; Halloween in hi-def with Dawn Of The Dead; Night Of The Living Dead; A Tale Of Two Sisters; plus boxset releases Euro Killers - essential collection (Man Bites Dog, H6: Diary Of A Serial Killer, Tattoo); Three Extremes 1 and 2 (Dumplings, Cut, Box, Memories, The Wheel, Going Home); Park Chan-wook double-bill (JSA: Joint Security Force; I'm A Cyborg, But That's Okay); and Asian Horror - the essential collection (Audition, Dark Water, The Eye).
Friday, 11 December 2009
The 13th issue of Midnight Street magazine includes my overview article about several films based on Jules Verne's Journey To The Centre Of The Earth.
My reviews include the well-known 1959 adaptation, the Spanish production Viaje al Centro de la Tierra, the recent 3D version, and TV stuff.
This is the last printed issue of Midnight Street, but the 'journeys into darkness' will continue with electronic publication as PDF download. For more info and news about subscriptions or submissions, visit the publisher's website at www.midnightstreet.co.uk.
Friday, 4 December 2009
Quite pleased with update for VideoVista monthly webzine, using a fresh page template.
December's issue has great retrospective articles on Hollywood before the Hays code (by Gary Couzens), and German expressionist cinema (by Jonathan McCalmont), both of which include top 10 listings of relevant films.
In the main reviews section, there's two different opinions about Star Trek.
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
This month's issue of Interzone magazine has the last in a line of great covers by Adam Tredowski (who's also interviewed on the publisher's T3A website).
My 'Laser Fodder' column of DVD and blu-ray reviews looks at Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, Big Man Japan, Kitaro, season one of TV series Sanctuary, and Tidal Wave.
Thursday, 12 November 2009
Excerpt from a review of Interzone #224
Read the full review at Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News & Reviews.
My favorite non-fiction section would have to be the movie and TV reviews by Nick Lowe and Tony Lee. Both are phenomenal at making reviews entertaining. They’re not just reviews, but little stories told through criticism. Both Lowe and Lee have unique review styles and I had a lot of fun reading through their biting remarks. I can’t say this is true of any other review section in any magazine. I rarely read the reviews in Realms of Fantasy or Analog (or any others I happen to get from time to time), but I know that I will always go to this section first when reading Interzone.
Read the full review at Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News & Reviews.
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
With its best cover design (two flies on crimson splatter!) of the year, this month's issue of top British horror magazine Black Static (published by T3A Press) has my regular 'Blood Spectrum' column of blu-ray and DVD reviews sprawled over 10 pages. BS#13 includes coverage of a bumper crop of genre films - Haunted Echoes, Alone In The Dark II, From Within, 13: Game Of Death, Footprints, It's Alive (remake), Far Cry, Messengers 2: The Scarecrow, Sick Nurses, Amsterdamned, Dr Chopper, Mr Halloween, Tormented, Wasting Away, Necromentia, Pig Hunt, Rogue, Walled In, Inside, Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, Staunton Hill, Drag Me To Hell, I Sell The Dead, plus new blu-ray editions of Sleepy Hollow, Freddy vs Jason, Anaconda, The Deep, Ghosts Of Mars, Blood: The Last Vampire, and news about launch of the Brain Damage DVD label in UK (with a batch of six films noted, including Serum, Prey For The Beast, and Death Of A Ghost Hunter.
Today, I also finished my latest 'Laser Fodder' column for next month's Interzone... And IZ #225 will include my reviews of anime sequel Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, Japanese CGI'd fantasy Big Man Japan, Kitaro, season one of TV series Sanctuary, and Korean disaster movie Tidal Wave.
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
- 50 years of the British Science Fiction Association
editor: Ian Whates
A solid but sadly unexceptional collection, with stories that range from whimsical surrealism and cranky genre satire to uniquely British retro and speculative fiction reflecting (via alternate worlds) on familiar 20th century SF tropes or delivering riffs on edgier 21st century themes. It's a book that's quite suitable for collectors of SF literature but is hardly essential reading for general sci-fi fans.
Monday, 14 September 2009
This month's Interzone (#224, published by T3A Press), includes my DVD and blu-ray review column, which covers the final season of Stargate Atlantis, Outlander, Dragonball Evolution, Dollhouse: season one, Push, Man In The Moon, Watchmen - director's cut, and Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus.
Thursday, 27 August 2009
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
Here's a quote from page 38 of editor Stephen Jones’ introduction to The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 20th anniversary edition (Robinson)...
"After an uneven start with its first two issues, Andy Cox’s Black Static finally began to find its own identity...
Although it did not reach the standard of The 3rd Alternative... the magazine presented some impressive short fiction...
However, the periodical’s best bits remained the regular columns by Christopher Fowler, Stephen Volk, Mike O’Driscoll, Peter Tennant and, especially, Tony Lee’s insightful DVD reviews.
Lee also provided DVD reviews to Black Static’s attractive sister publication, Interzone."
Very chuffed - but, oh dear! I’m going to be unbearably smug this afternoon, and probably for the rest of this week...
Friday, 21 August 2009
Or, how I learned to stop writing and faff about (even more than usual) on the Internet
While making progress with re-designing The ZONE website for a 'new look' based on the page template created by Lawrence Dyer (Traffic Folder), I actually managed to learn something, including how to add favicons to my other websites.
A favicon is a tiny logo (B for blogger.com, F for facebook, etc) which appears in your browser's address bar, and in bookmarked lists of your favourite sites.
Already got a logo? Then it's simple to make a favicon.
Your image can be in any format, JPEG, GIFF, PNG, etc... but it must be a square and of a typical size: 16 x 16, 32 x 32 pixels, or larger.
I created my simple favicons in Paint Shop Pro 5, but any popular graphics program should be able to produce a suitable image.
Go to http://www.enetplace.com/create-favicon/ upload the image from your computer, and save the favicon.ico file that's generated.
If you haven't got a logo, or a suitable graphics program, you can draw one (16 x 16 pixels only) using this site -
- which displays a handy preview of your artistry before you download the completed favicon.ico file.
You then need to upload this icon (via FTP) to your website's root directory (not your graphics or images folder!).
Although some favicon-making guides sites do suggest adding a bit of code to the header tags of your web-pages, it does not seem to be necessary if you're using a recent or the latest version common browsers: Internet Explorer 8, or Firefox 3 (or later).
If the favicon does not appear, as expected, try refreshing your browser's cache (CTRL + F5).
Have a go...
It's fun, it's free, and it - usually - adds 'identity' and professionalism to your site's image.
Monday, 17 August 2009
The 'innards' of Black Static magazine #12 include my latest Blood Spectrum column, reviewing great or simply gory new horrors - Embodiment Of Evil, Tokyo Gore Police, Fox Family, Killing Room, Infestation, Grotesque, Dead Snow, Let The Right One In, Passengers, Goth: Love Of Death, Hellraiser, House By The Cemetery, Macabre, Sleepless, and Cradle Will Fall.
Sunday, 16 August 2009
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
My column in this month's Interzone (from T3A Press) has DVD reviews of live-action manga Cutie Honey, the last season of TV show Battlestar Galactica, British oddity Franklyn, and the second season of Canadian TV science fiction ReGenesis. I also review 20th Century Boys, Walerian Borowczyk's Goto: The Island Of Love, sequels to The Cell and Donnie Darko, quirky TV series John From Cincinnati, end-of-the-world movie Knowing, Robot Chicken: Star Wars II, and David Lynch's DumbLand.
One again, cover artwork is by Adam Tredowski - but, must admit, I'm not sure about that pink fairy...
Monday, 13 July 2009
Got back yesterday from two days in Manchester. We stayed at Sachas Hotel (part of Britannia chain), and the city-centre location put many things of interest in easy walking distance. Saw live-action cartoon Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, which is everything you might expect from Michael Bay’s sequel to Transformers but seeing this film at Odeon IMAX was a cinema experience (premier seating, £11), anyway. There’s no denying Transformers 2 provided visually–stunning sci-fi action, with plenty of epic battles, military hardware, and weapons of mass destruction... yet the benefits of watching this on such a giant screen has confirmed my view that Bay’s recent films have almost nothing to offer – except for spectacular CGI. Take away the widescreen spectacle and the film's genre appeal, even for brainless thrills, dials back to nearly zero.
On Saturday morning, I walked around the city centre, and all along Deansgate to visit the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), which has interactive displays and galleries including exhibits charting Manchester residents’ varied contributions of technological progress to Britain, and the world... I found the adjacent Air & Space Hall of special interest for its helicopter stand, a tandem-rotor Bristol 192 Belvedere.
Main event was The Eagles at MEN Arena (last UK venue of a 100+ date world tour), where the band’s line-up included the core of front-man Glenn Frey, drummer Don Henley, guitarist extraordinaire Joe Walsh, and bassist Timothy B. Schmit (Don Felder was fired in 2001), plus a spare guitar player, other keyboards man, a violinist, and trumpet and saxophones players. The concert started promptly at 7.30 - just as we found our seats. They played many old classics (surprisingly, Hotel California was included in their first set) but recent double-album Long Road Out Of Eden (the band’s first new recording for 28 years!) was quite heavily promoted. Very pleased to report they also played Joe Walsh’s amusingly cockeyed view of fame and fortune, Life’s Been Good (cue head-cam antics), followed by Don Henley’s barbed critique of media celebrity, Dirty Laundry. Lighting arrays, background images (retro and contemporary), artfully composed movies, and a pair of video screens ensured there was always plenty of visual streams to admire, in addition to the dark-suited players on stage. I have always liked the Eagles for the lyrically romantic nostalgia of their Californian pop-rock blend, but also for the brooding melancholy of their darker and often sagely-critical worldviews. The show embraced a variety of moods and musical styles, from country ballads to heavy rock.
I don’t have a complete set-list, but songs included: opener How Long, Guilty Of The Crime, Witchy Woman, Lyin’ Eyes, In The City, and The Long Run, before a break. The band returned for a brief sit-down session with No More Walks In The Woods (a cappella), and No More Cloudy Days, before continuing with other familiar material including (my favourite Eagles' song) Take It To The Limit – introduced as "the credit card song," new album centrepiece Long Road Out Of Eden (a lengthy yet brilliant dissection of modern times’ woes and wonders), One Of These Nights, Funk #49 (a psychedelic improvisation?), Life In The Fast Lane, Take It Easy, and closer Desperado. With five guitarists, two drummers, and a four-man horn and string section, the band produced a slick and super-sized sound of excellent technical quality making this one of the most polished and sharpest performances of arena style rock that I can remember. Despite the £85 ticket, this really was a great show that surpassed all expectations and was certainly worth the money.
Monday, 29 June 2009
Got #1 of first English version of the long-running L'Ecran Fantastique... www.ecranfantastique.net, which offers a choice of Terminators or Transformers cover.
It's a large format (nearly 9x12 inches) and 100 pages, with guest columnists (like Jon Gulager), previews of Emmerich's 2012, and Argento's Giallo, coverage of My Bloody Valentine 3D, plus DVDs, cult stuff and other fanzine-stye features.
A breakthrough in publishing history, or just a replacement for Starburst and Shivers in the crowded media-zine marketplace?
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
My 'Blood Spectrum' column for the June-July issue of Black Static magazine (T3A Press) has review coverage of Demons, Baba Yaga, Cold Prey + Cold Prey 2, Thirst, Shuttle, Zombie Virus On Mulberry Street, Jack Ketchum's The Lost, I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer, Amusement, Haunted Airman, Dark Floors, Boston Strangler: Untold Story, Laid To Rest, Grudge 3, Machine Girl, Raising Jeffrey Dahmer, and The Unborn. It's a batch of blu-ray and DVD releases that reflect current trends in screen horror. There's a few really good films, some rather mediocre stuff, but far too much that's blatantly derivative, uninteresting, or just boring.
Thursday, 11 June 2009
I watched 30-year-old sci-fi, The Black Hole, directed by Gary Nelson as the first PG-rated Disney movie. Compared, overall, to the calibre of creative filmmaking on 1979’s genre milestones, Alien, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (still my favourite 'Trek film), this once-intriguing picture seems much worse (than remembered) with each re-viewing.
Despite a notable Hollywood cast, including Anthony Perkins as the star-struck scientist, Robert Forster’s unflappable spacer, and Ernest Borgnine’s treacherous newshound reporter, it appears - in retrospect - this film was as jinxed as the plotline’s mission of exploration. Pulp sci-fi clichés abound: from Joseph Bottoms’ hotshot pilot yahoo, to the duelling sentries, and anthropomorphic Disneyfied droid Vincent (voiced by Roddy McDowell). Overshadowing the straightforward heroes is the mysterious, twisted genius Dr Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell, channelling Captain Nemo), whose dream of journeying through a black hole is the point of this adventure.
There are incidental pleasures... the apparently derelict starship ‘Cygnus’ - which unexpectedly lights up (“like a Christmas tree”), vast architecture of the doomed ship (later echoed in Event Horizon), the gaudily unscientific depiction of a black hole as a swirling vortex, and the luscious Yvette Mimieux (Weena in the original Time Machine, 1960) wrapped in foil.
Ultimately, what kills the genre appeal of this film is its blatant cribbing from the unsubtle imagery of Star Wars. It seems very likely that this project was intended to be a serious and quite brooding space drama (clearly, its allegorical setup, and transcendental ending, were influenced by the profundities of Kubrick’s 2001, and Tarkovsky’s Solaris), but - with its team of meddling writers - nearly all the genuine science fiction was deleted to be replaced by the ‘fun’ and familiar tropes of space fantasy. The proverbial ‘bad robots’ here, once acceptable sci-fi kitsch, now seem irredeemably a lethal curse on this film’s otherwise interesting design elements.
Tuesday, 2 June 2009
This month's VideoVista webzine includes (as usual) a mixed batch of genre/ non-genre films, both old and new... Including differently styled Norwegian horrors Cold Prey and Cold Prey 2, with the demented fun of Machine Girl from Japan for contrast. (I'm looking forward to seeing Tokyo Gore Police.)
With recent wartime heroines of Female Agents and Black Book, followed by adventuresome 'biopic' stories about male resistance-fighters in Defiance and Max Manus, it's curious to note the apparently-nostalgic thinking behind this current mini-cycle of WWII films. I'm not sure that Valkyrie fits into this subgenre, at all, but it's worth a mention, if only as yet another movie where Tom Cruise hides behind facial disfigurement (or a mask). What's up with this man? Not happy with his looks? Is he fixated on getting ugly for his movies?
Thursday, 28 May 2009
Friday, 22 May 2009
Monday, 18 May 2009
#222 of Interzone magazine (T3A Press) includes my Laser Fodder column, which reviews War Inc., The Signal, Day The Earth Stood Still remake, X-Men trilogy, The Promise, The Spirit, and The Man From Earth, plus Alien Agent, Inkheart, Screamers 2: The Hunting, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Myth, Star Wreck.
The book reviews section, features a Premonitions: Causes For Alarm, reviewed by Andy Hedgecock... "an energetic and passionate collection."