Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Best Films: Hono[u]rable Mentions, Part II

Ponty is a good chap, but brevity isn’t exactly his strong suit.  That is a fortunate for the rest of us, because it means we get more of his meaty, delicious commentary on films!

My good buddy from across the pond did quite a bit of fretting over his honorable mentions lists.  He initially promised (threatened?) three installments, then insisted he could whittle it down to two, then realized it would have to be a trilogy after all.

In my mind, three posts means one fewer I have to write, so bring it on!  Let a thousand honorable mentions bloom!  Ponty probably would write one thousand installments, divided into extreme micro-niches (“Italian body horror with practical effects werewolf transformations and witchcraft,” for example), but he has more important literary endeavors, and I don’t want to exploit the old boy.

All friendly teasing aside, Ponty’s done it again, with an extensive list of films.  He ladles tons of love into the action/sci-fi genre, featuring some instant classics.  Again, I’m prompted to ask myself, “Why didn’t I think of these films?”

With that, here is Ponty’s second installment of his Hono[u]rable Mentions:

Well, here we are again, dear reader, for another collection of great movies. In my zeal to keep the first part short (trust me, it really was), I missed out on some other great thrillers like Seven (1995), Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Usual Suspects (also 1995) but hey, if I’d have elaborated as much as I could, you’d still be reading these pieces at Christmas. You’ll also be aware, astute as you are, that I have included science fiction again with action and creature features. That’s because I missed a few good films from the original list and also because these movies are predominantly action. With that out of the way, let’s get on with the penultimate part of these honourable mentions.

Action/Sci Fi/Creature Features:

I’ll kick things off today with a creature feature classic, Tremors (1990). Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward are superb as handymen Val and Earl, Reba McIntyre and Michael Gross as the guns and ammo couple and several giant worms trying to pick off the inhabitants of small town Perfection; what’s not to like? It’s a very simple story but it’s very witty, very warm and very quaint. Every character has their unique qualities whether it’s the annoying Melvin who plays his jokes one too many times, Burt and Heather who are obsessed with guns (which comes in quite useful in this situation) and Walter who owns the only store in Perfection and who enjoys bartering with our two handymen, Walter usually coming off best. It’s an easy film to watch and like and it has some great moments, yet the one I’m including is short and sweet. Burt tries to shoot one of the graboids (a term coined by Walter) through the dirt which doesn’t work prompting Heather to say:

I love that accent and have used that quote on several occasions, whether relevant or not. There have been some great creature features over the years, before and after Tremors (the old King Kong comes to mind, and Jeepers Creepers, too), but none are better in my opinion. I’ve watched this film over a dozen times and I’m sure I’ll rewatch it a dozen more.

Highlander (1986) is a film that could have quite easily made my guilty pleasures list but it’s so good, it just had to be included here. A great fantasy action that flits backwards and forwards in time, we come to understand who our hero Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is and what he has had to do to survive. In flashbacks, his sword skill, sloppy at best, is honed by a slick swordfighter, Ramirez (Sean Connery) so that he can be ready when he faces off against the villain of the piece, the Kurgon (Clancy Brown). With an excellent soundtrack provided by Queen, this gripping tale of an immortal struggling to face the tragedies of his condition while staving off the insatiable Kurgon is a must watch. There are some great scenes in this film but the one I’m going to highlight today is the opening segment, where Connor appears to be the only one at a wrestling match not baying for blood, the camera circling the arena before it highlights on him sitting amongst a bunch of shouting men remembering a past battle. I thought it a really good way to set up the character; someone battle scarred and not as amenable to violence and mayhem as those sitting around him, wallowing in his own past, remembering the very real tragedies of war rather than the confected environment he currently inhabits.

Has anyone read Philip K. Dick’s fantastic short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”? It’s a very short story, only a few pages from what I remember, but there’s enough in it to flesh it out and that’s exactly what Paul Verhoeven did in his superb sci fi/action flick, Total Recall (1990). The film charts the story of Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarznegger) who is having recurring dreams of Mars. He goes to a company, Recall, to have a memory implant of a 2 week vacation to Mars (against the wishes of his wife, Lori, played by Sharon Stone) but the procedure goes wrong and Quaid finds himself questioning who he really is. When he is attacked by a work colleague and his own wife, he sets out to Mars to find answers, meeting a young woman who is fighting for the rebellion while trying to figure out his own place in this war against the tyrannical Cohaagen (Ronny Cox).

Amongst all the action – and there’s a lot of it – there’s enough subtext to keep you interested. Is Quaid living his experiences through an implant or is this real? There’s a good deal of intrigue in the first part of the film as Quaid attempts to figure out what he’s supposed to be doing, who he really is/was while fighting off any attempt against his life by Cohaagen’s ruthless henchman, Richter (Michael Ironside). And once again, we’re treated to a stunning soundtrack, provided by The Omen’s Jerry Goldsmith, which beautifully mirrors the story Verhoeven takes us on. I love the scene where the mutant Kuato urges Quaid to open his mind and as the camera zooms slowly towards Quaid’s eyes, we’re taken on a sweeping tour of his mind, with Goldsmith’s gorgeous score making its own statement.

That is just a fantastic piece of music. Still makes my skin tingle when I hear it.

From mutants and planetary exploration, we come crashing back down to earth, Middle Earth in fact, with Peter Jackson’s superb The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-3). Except it’s not a trilogy, it’s a saga since it is one story split into three. That technical detail out the way, Lord of the Rings tells the story of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) who inherits the Ring of Power from his uncle, Bilbo (Ian Holm), and who is sent by the wizard Gandalf to the fires of Mount Doom to destroy it in order to bring down the evil Lord Sauron. Throughout the films, other stories weave their way into this mammoth tale. For instance, the story of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), a man who has abandoned his destiny for fear he will turn out like his ancestor; the story of Gollum (Andy Serkis), who used to be a gentle river dweller until the ring took hold of him and changed him irrevocably. The tales of the different factions across Middle Earth, finding a way past their own hazy histories to come together and fight for the common good. The entirety of these films centre around journeys, real and emotional and each of our characters must toil through their own mires, in order to reach either a destination or a goal.

Jackson, by fleshing Tolkien’s book into three films, gives the audience the time to get to know these characters, what they have been through and where they will go. Their stories are worth investing in and we cheer and whoop and groan and recoil as they evade and fight and eventually achieve their destinies. And we feel as knackered as they do, after all the battles and conflicts and the vast journey they have taken when we reach the end, for it has been as long and arduous for us as it has been for them. But what stories, what characters. The special effects are great in these films but the real power lies in a set of fantastic actors, and Orlando Bloom, fulfilling their duty, giving us films we can treasure again and again.

There is a lot of light in these films and a lot of dark and it is to the latter I take you for my memorable scene. The very beginning of Return of the King, which details Gollum’s transformation. Of all the segments in Lord of the Rings, this is, for me, flat out the murkiest in the entire saga.

This scene comes immediately after Smeagol/Gollum has just murdered his best friend for the ring. It’s gripping, it’s incredibly dark and it gives us further insight into Gollum’s character and what he has been through to get to where he is. It also shows us the real power within the ring and the evil it inflicts on its unsuspecting victims.

Returning to Arnie, that pivotal mainstay of 80s/90s action movies, his adventures this time take him not to Mars but to the jungles of Central America, as he and a team of mercenaries are sent on a rescue mission but find their way back thwarted by a mysterious creature intent on picking each of them off one by one. Predator (1987) was a great analogy for the ineptitude of the US military during the Vietnam war but is is also a fantastic sci fi/action classic. It’s a proper man’s movie – cheesy one liners, big blokes with bigger guns and a seemingly impervious enemy that can alter its physiology to blend into its environment. One of my favourite lines in the film is this:

‘I ain’t got time to bleed.’ Brilliant! And once again, another quote I’ve often used.

One of the things I love about this film is that for once, Arnie isn’t the man machine we’ve come to know and love. Amongst his colleagues, yes, but to the predator, he is shorter, weaker and vastly outmatched. He has to use his brains, his wits to survive, something that, to my knowledge, he hasn’t had to rely on in any other action film. Which makes this film unique amongst the Arnie collection. The special effects are really cool too, the slightly mirrored visage of our predator in the forest of Central America making his scenes appear like a Where’s Wally book, the viewer (as well as the characters) squinting to spot him in the vast canopy of green.

It doesn’t matter how strong, how equipped they are, hunting an enemy that can’t be seen is going to be a tall order and our mercenaries find that out the hard way.

Staying in the 1980s, we return to another Verhoeven masterpiece with the futuristic action/sci fi Robocop (1987). The film tells the story of new Detroit cop, Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), who is murdered on his first day on the job. He is selected for a special law enforcement programme, which turns him into Robocop, the ultimate arse kicking policeman. Except Murphy starts to remember who he is, which spells trouble not only for the criminals who killed him but for the corrupt element in his own force.

There’s a lot more to this film than just a humanoid kicking butt. As Murphy’s memories start to return, his grief is overwhelming. In this poignant scene, he returns to the home he shared with his wife and son, visions of past conversations coming back to him with each step, the anger at what he has lost becoming too much.

I tend to think that some of that anger is directed at those who brought him back. Like the Frankenstein argument, man playing God, it never works like the creator thinks it should and it’s going to be the monster, in this case, Robocop, who loses out.

I also like Verhoeven’s media obsession, interspersing the odd news coverage with some daft advert or crap TV programme. What does it point to in this film? Well, the fact that the media are more interested in parp than offering up solutions to rising crime. That’s what I got from it anway. He uses the same device in other films, for instance, propaganda related in Starship Troopers (1997), showing the power of the medium while offering an insight into the evils of too much media.

I couldn’t get through an action section without talking about what I believe to be the best stand alone action film of all time, Point Break (1991). Once again, this is a movie Tina swears she doesn’t like, which obviously has nothing to do with the fact that one of its stars is the irrepressible Keanu Reeves. I keep telling her that like Winona Ryder in Stranger Things, Reeves might surprise her in the future but I don’t think she believes that will ever happen, certainly not after hearing his voice performance in Toy Story 4, which, I admit, is so bad, it would have been easier to push that stuntman around by hand and make brum brum noises.

Point Break is about a young cop, Johnny Utah (Reeves) who infiltrates a group of surfers he and his partner believe to be the notorious ex Presidents bank robbers. The more he gets involved with them, the more difficult it becomes for him to do his job.

Action movies are not meant to tax your brain nor should they. All they need is great characters, a good story you can follow and brilliant action sequences and stunt effects. In this film you have the action that takes place during and after robberies, the sting operations that come before, foot chases, car chases, surfing and skydiving. If anyone wrote a list for what an action film needed to have, this one would have them and more. Patrick Swayze, as Bodhi (makes a great villain), Gary Busey provides Reeves with an interesting and humorous sidekick and the soundtrack contains some great 80s and early 90s rock. Kathryn Bigelow’s direction was the icing on the cake, beautifully painting the scenes while tastefully allowing the story to flow as it should. The scene I’ll include is the foot chase involving Bodhi and Utah, ending with a shot Hot Fuzz (2007) reverently used. Though it features every action cliché in the book, it remains a great watch.

If you check out top ten lists for action films, if Point Break isn’t at the top, it’ll probably be Die Hard (1988), an explosive heist movie starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman. In a review for this film on another site, I classed this as my favourite Christmas movie and I stand by that. Die Hard 1 and 2 are set at Christmas, feature lots of Christmas songs, and have decorations and/or snow so, for me, they are Christmas films. And how better to celebrate the season than with guns, explosions, the odd witty retort and a guy getting thrown out of a building? There are many reasons why this is a great action film but the main one has to be Alan Rickman. I’ve often wondered whether this film would have been as good if another actor played Hans Gruber and I don’t think so. It’s the little quirks, like the below scene, where a snippet about a suit fits nicely in with everything else.

And last but not least for this section, one cannot complete a list without Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2 (1991). Schwarznegger is brilliant, first as the unstoppable villain in the original movie and then the reprogrammed hero in the second. I love the stop motion effects in the first film and the computerised effects in the second, in particular for the scene in which the T-1000 comes out of the floor.

The subtexts of both films are interesting, especially the question of furthering technology to the point where it could gain understanding and turn on us, but the tension is played out well in both films. I do prefer the first to the second, mainly because Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is just a man and his fights against the machine are going to be much harder, the threat more real and intense. Also because it provided the love story between him and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the result of which would become the primary focus in the second film. I also preferred Arnie as a baddie than a hero. He was much more menacing in The Terminator, not neutured by a no kill order as he was in the sequel or the butt of jokes on machine/human interaction. And lastly, The Terminator gives us a brilliant view of the US Democrats.

Sick and Twisted:

Before you ask, I haven’t included this category for the sake of gratuity or to taint your minds with pointless depravity. These films are actually pretty good but they take a strong constitution to watch. I’d also like Audre to take note of the films I highlight in bold because they are not likely to corrupt the radiance and purity of Audre’s soul.

Peter Jackson’s early films, filmed in his native New Zealand, are what I’d call visceral and not in a great way. Braindead (1992) was not as linear or fun as Bad Taste (1987), the latter of which has some great, down to earth comedic moments, but both films are rich in blood and guts. My advice would be to stay away from Braindead and go for Bad Taste, an alien invasion movie about three guys trying to save the world (or their little town).

There’s the Japanese flick Ichi the Killer pitting the most depraved sadist and masochist against each other. Like Bad Taste, there are some comedic moments interspersed with the actions of the two main characters, not for the faint hearted.

Then there is The House That Jack Built, a Lars Von Trier film starring Matt Dillon as an unhinged serial killer. The fantasy elements are interesting but, to stress once again, this is not a film for the faint of heart. I’m loathe to find a trailer or clip from this movie lest it disturb you into not watching it. What I enjoyed, if that’s the right word, about this film is it’s as cerebral as it is visceral but trying to understand or empathise with Dillon’s character is a push too far. Has anyone here seen Hostel, the Eli Roth film about a torture factory in Romania? If you have then The House That Jack Built makes Hostel look like Peppa Pig. Tina won’t watch Hostel because she doesn’t like torture in films and I know she won’t go near THTJB again, some of which she watched between her fingers. It’s difficult to fully identify why this film should be viewed but anyway, I thought it worth a mention.

Lastly, there’s the original South Korean thriller Oldboy (2003), directed by Park Chan-Wook. I have absolutely no desire to watch the remake, which I believe stars Josh Brolin, because I loved the original, even though it has many elements I’d describe as a little disturbing. Oh Dae-su is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years before he is inexplicably released. He uses his new found freedom to find out why he was taken in the first place. While the reason is simple enough, his journey isn’t, as Dae-su comes to terms with the man that he was, the repercussions of his actions and the twisted web he now finds himself in. The story is rivetting, sure, but it’ll make you recoil, certainly the more you find out.

Some may find the Saw movies (2004-23) a little sick and wrong but there’s a decent thread dissecting certainly throughout the first 6 movies. However, as inventive as some of the traps become as the films progress, the first Saw movie (2004) is definitely worth a watch. Starring Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannel (who also wrote the script), Laurence and Adam find themselves imprisoned and chained in a room, a dead body sprawled out between them. Finding clues, they must discover what is was that brought them there and what there connection is to each other. It’s a great mystery and very chilling.

And with that, happy debating and see you next time for Part III.


10 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Best Films: Hono[u]rable Mentions, Part II

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