Films I Love That Everybody Else Hates

Any film geek worth anything will occasionally find themselves alone in a sea of vitriolic criticism. The one voice of reason who dares to defend that film no one else seems to get. Should you find yourself in that predicament it's good to remember that every geek has at least one of those films on their conscience. Often more.

This is a list of the ten worst offenders from my list. At least, I think these are the worst. I've tried ordering them based on how much hate I get when I defend them, number 1 being the one I feel most alone on.

So, without further ado... Here's the list.


10) Knight and Day (2010)

This feels like the kind of movie Cary Grant would have made 50 years ago, probably with a lot less shooting and killing, though. It's an absolutely hilarious and charming romantic-spy-action-thriller.  The main selling point is the irresistible chemistry between Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. They are just magical together! Diaz is not the usual ditzy blond, Cruise is not the usual faultless hero (it's clear that he's more than a little nuts), and together they elevate the film far beyond its station.

Just ignore the MacGuffinistic (is that a word?) new energy source plot and the dubious depiction of the inner workings of CIA, don't expect a Bourne movie, focus on the love story, and you will succumb to its charm.

9) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

I never read the comic book this was based on, so I had no preconceived notions of what it should look like or how the characters should behave. Perhaps that's why I instantly fell in love with the film version of this universe.

The film is visually dynamic (no one wold disagree with that, surely), and even though the casting is terribly uneven - either Sean Connery is out of place, or everyone else is - I still enjoy this rip-roaring, old-fashioned adventure story in a modern packaging. And they did Jekyll & Hyde as a practical effect! Brilliant!

8) Hard Rain (1998)

Renowned cinematographer Mikael Salomon decided to hang up his light-meter and turn to directing. This, only his second feature film, was such a massive failure that he would spend the next 15 years (and counting) languishing in TV hell, directing random episodes of random shows, and a couple of high-profile miniseries - the kind you always forget to watch. Consequently this is Salomon's finest hour in the director's chair.

Hard Rain is a decent enough B-movie, with plenty of OTT performances, a suitably ridiculous plot, and some quite striking visuals. It looks and feels like a massive undertaking. These days disaster movies are always about destroying the entire world, and you never believe anything they put up on the screen anymore. Perhaps that's why I keep returning to Hard Rain. It pre-dates today's heavy CGI use, so the scenes comes across as very real. You walk away from the this feeling soaked to the bone, and with a big smile on your face. If you're me, anyway.

7) Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

I'll be the first to admit that the "photo-real computer animation" looks about as real as South Park, and that the whole pseudo-religious-new-age-nonsense about gathering spirits is so utterly stupid that I wouldn't wipe my rear with it, if it was printed out on paper, but never mind that.

Aki (voiced by the beautiful Ming-Na) is a likably heroine (even if she doesn't look real), whose mission is a pleasure to follow (even if it is a bit nutty), and I love the sense of doom for mankind that lurks around every corner.

The visuals here are nothing short of stunning. The hardware and the environments are perfectly animated, so it's only the characters' stiff faces you have to get over. Combined with Elliot Goldenthal's brilliant score, this is one pretty damn epic science fiction movie.

6) Crossroads (2002)

Yes, yes, yes, I know. It's a Britney Spears movie, but remember, it's from her good period. Back when she couldn't be stopped, no matter how many times you punched her, and before she turned into a white trash cliché. It also features Zoe Saldana, before she turned blue, and Justin Long, before he was everywhere.

Crossroads is essentially a road movie, where we follow three girls - Spears, Zladana and Taryn Manning - childhood friends who reconnect on the brink of adulthood. They take a cross-country trip to find themselves and do girlie things, like singing into a hairbrush. No-no, I promise you it's quite irresistible.

5) WiseGirls (2002)

Unsurprisingly billed as "a Mariah Carey movie", this is actually Mira Sorvino's movie, and to some extend Melora Walters'. It's a fairly gritty gangster story, where we follow a woman who gets a job at an Italian restaurant in New York, which turns out to be owned by the mob. And then she gets into some serious trouble.

It's not a chick flick, and although it's not Goodfellas either, it's closer to that style than the casting of Carey would have you believe. Actually it's got a few quite gruesome and intense moments.

Directed by David Anspaugh - of Rudy (1993) and Hoosiers (1986) fame - WiseGirls is a descent little drama that gives a solid lead role to Sorvino, whom I've always loved, and she takes full advantage of this, delivering an effective, heartfelt performance.

4) 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

Everyone seems to agree that Peter Hyams' follow-up is inferior to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and everyone is wrong.

2001 is a film about space exploration and mankind's first encounter with an alien intelligence, directed by Stanley Kubrick who has no interest in either space exploration, mankind or alien intelligence. 2010 is a better film on almost every level, except when it comes to pretentiousness and boring pointless scenes. Kubrick still wins in those categories.

2010 is full of lovely designs, magnificent visual effects and a fascinating plot! Unlike Kubrick Hyams actually wants to tell us a story, with characters we can relate to, which makes all the difference. And if you love the books, the film is the only one that captures the spirit of Arthur C. Clark's stories.

3) Legion (2010)

The basic plot "we're up shit creek on a diner in the middle of nowhere" feels very familiar, but when you add angels and demons fighting a bloody battle for mankind, then you've really got something! A mercurial mix old and new, thematically similar to The Prophecy (1995) (and - full disclosure, my own film), but much more elaborate. Turning the dim-witted idea of religion into something usable - the basis for an action oriented horror apocalypse movie - is an honorable mission, and the only way to make a satisfying film about heaven and hell.

Legion features some gruesome demonic moments, and scores extra points for committing fearlessly to its core concept, even as it is taken to an almost ridiculous extreme. Plus any film that gives a job to both Paul Bettany and Dennis Quaid is alright in my book.

2) Red Planet (2000)

Another space movie! Another space exploration movie even. Those are the best kind, aren't they? Okay so the basic concept "let's make breathable air on Mars and move there" is slightly wonky, but no matter. Red Planet is hardcore, unapologetic science fiction. It's got a dangerous, almost suicidal mission, survival on a foreign planet, and the whole thing is topped off with just a hint of a love story. Val Kilmer is surprisingly likable and low-key as the robot-wrangler and heroic lead, while Carrie-Anne Moss giver her character just the right mix of sexy bossiness and maternal instincts.

I'm sure that other Mars film - Brian De Palma's awful Mission to Mars - is to blame for the giant crosshairs on this film's back. If De Palma hadn't ruined everything, Red Planet would undoubtedly have been a blockbuster of extraterrestrial proportions.

1) Surviving Christmas (2004)

This is the perfect Christmas film, there I said it. The look on James Gandolfini's face is ME for the entire duration of December. The absurd dynamic that develops, when Ben Affleck's overeager executive buys a family to relive his childhood Christmas, is completely in sync with the absurd nature of the real-life Christmas rituals we're all forced to got through.

It makes fun of the hypocrisy of Christmas, ridicules the pitiful fools who take it too serious, and yet somehow brings it all around and manages to leave you with a nice dose of Christmas mood, free of the yokes of materialism and forced gift-giving. What's not to love?


This list was inspired by my friend Alexander's admission that he loves The Village! Yes, the M. Night Schamalama abomination - the one with the Shed That Shall Not Be Named! Can you believe it?! Well, as he pointed out, we've all got a list of titles we love that everyone else hates. Before I can make fun of other people's lists, it seems only fair that I should publish my own. So here it is, for all to see.

Feel free to trash me in the comments below, but know this: Only comments from those who volunteer a title from their own list will be published.


Old School Effects: Three Quickies

So you're in the mood to remember the good old days of visual effects, before CGI took over. What do you do? Well, what I usually do is take an old issue of Cinefex down from the shelf and flip through it.

Just in case you don't have access to this particular magazine, here are three alternatives you can dive into, if you're in the mood for some old school movie magic.

1) Get "BBC VFX: The Story of the BBC Visual Effects Department"

The title says it all. I just got this book, and I haven't even had time to read it properly, I've just been flipping through the pages. It covers everything from 'Allo 'Allo to Doctor Who, with a ton of unique images.

The interesting thing is that the book covers titles which haven't already been covered a million other places. These aren't big Hollywood movies, the ones that come with glossy making of books. These are more or less obscure British TV programs - comedies, dramas, even documentaries - and many of them you will never have heard of before, but that doesn't make the magic any less compelling.

2) Watch "Bringing Godzilla Down to Size"

This hour-long documentary is about the geniuses behind the effects from the original Japanese Godzilla films. It can be found on the DVD "Rodan and War of the Gargantuas" from the Toho Masters Collection.

It's an absolutely wonderful walk down memory lane, with plenty of interviews with the old masters and it ends with a fascinating recreation of one of the classic effect shots - a volcanic eruption, created by using a water tank. Somehow this film will convince you that a man in a rubber suit stumbling around between models buildings is the greatest thing ever.

3) Join "P.E.G. Practical Effects Group" on Facebook

This is a magical place - a veritable cornucopia of awesome pictures of old school effects. The members of this group will spit in your face if you say the C-word (CGI), and they'll spill blood defending models and miniatures!

They'll post never before seen images from classic films, work in progress from current productions, video clips and drawings, whatever your heart desires. And many of the people who worked on those classic scenes will chime in and offer inside details. You can waste days going through old posts, but you'll have a wonderful time doing it.


No big point or conclusion here, just felt like sharing these three gems which have provided me with so much pleasure. Hope you'll feel the same way.


Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) & Grave of the Fireflies (1988)


Kiki's Delivery Service deals with the 13-year old Kiki who lives in a world where witches are commonplace and quite pleasant. As tradition dictates she must leave her home and strike out on her own, and so she heads out on a broom with her talking cat Jiji, and comes upon a cosy little town, where she takes up lodging with the local baker. She starts a delivery service to pay for the rent, but soon discovers that it's not easy growing up.

Grave of the Fireflies takes place during World War II, where we follow the young boy Seita who's forced to take care of his younger sister Setsuko, when their mother dies during one of the horrible firebombings. They struggle to find proper shelter and get enough food, and slowly they starve to death while the war rages on and destroys everything around them.


What do these two films have in common? Kiki's Delivery Service - a fluffy film about a teenage girl, clearly made for a pre-teen girly audience, and Grave of the Fireflies - a brutal depiction of what happens to simple civilian folks during war. The answer is: Very little. The interesting part is not how similar they are, but how different they are.

After watching Kiki's Delivery Service (for the first time) I was trying to come up with something to say about it, but I was drawing a complete blank. What can you say about a film that wants to accomplish so little, and completes the mission in such a subtle way? On the other hand, the themes of Grave of the Fireflies seem almost too big, to squeeze into a mere film review.

When Kiki heads off into the world she's got every possibility at her feet. Seita, on the other hand, begins his story by finally succumbing to hunger and malnourishment, and the entire movie plays out as a flashback after he's dead.

Animé fans hardly need a lesson in how varied the genre can be, but rookies (and I count myself among them) could be surprised that a film like Grave of the Fireflies can exist in animated form. But perhaps we shouldn't be. The animated sequences in the The Wall (1982) were quite grotesque, and certainly left an impact, and there's also a film like When The Wind Blows (1986), which shares some themes with Grave. No, animated films can definitely tackle big subjects, If we let them.

Kiki's Delivery Service, though, is sweet and fluffy through and through. What surprised me the most was that Kiki meets almost no opposition along the way, Sure, she loses her powers at some point, but it's pretty obvious that's just a bump in the road. Otherwise she just runs around with a smile on her face, happy that everyone is treating her so nice. I kept thinking something dark would happen, or that the story would turn a corner, but it never did.

Providing the polar opposite, Grave of the Fireflies feels almost too real. Seita and Setsuko must watch their entire town be obliterated, then they lose their mother. She didn't just disappear in the rubble, no Seita gets to watch her mutilated body, wrapped in bandages, beyond any help, with only more suffering to look forward to before death. And that's just the beginning, then it gets worse. So much worse.

The horrible images of war are both heartbreaking and beautiful, and painted in exquisite detail. None of us are strangers to images of war. We see it every day on the news, and through countless feature films, documentaries and other venues. The real power of Grave of the Fireflies lies in what comes after. The parts we never see on TV.


Kiki and Grave both come from Studio Ghilbi, so it's not surprising that they have some identical DNA. From 1989 and 1988, respectively, both films have an almost timeless quality about them. They could have been made in the 40's for all I know. Perhaps that's just the nature of good old-fashioned hand-drawn animation, and if that's the case, why have all the major studios switched to CGI? Just look at that beautifully rendered European-looking town in Kiki, or the disturbing sight of Japan burning in Grave. These images have a certain unmistaken cartoon realism to them - if that makes any sense. The images look more cartoony than the real world and more real than the cartoony world. It's a perfect balance.

The films also feel timeless in terms of their stories: Was there ever a time when young girls didn't need to know how to stand on their own two feet, and was there ever a time when the brutality and futility of war wasn't important to dwell on? Grave in particular is so effective that every every soldier, general and politician - anybody who plays a part in the war machine, however small - should be forced to watch it - Clockwork Orange-style for full effect.

And finally, both films would also be excellent starting points for someone trying to get into Animé. Kiki for younger kids, Grave for the older kids and the grownups. They are both very square, they have a loose episodic feel, and no complicated narrative threads. They rarely rely on straight up cartoon magic. Even Kiki, despite the fact that she's a witch and flies around, is surprisingly grounded (pun intended).


Kiki's Delivery Service and Grave of the Fireflies have just had their debut on English Blu-ray, courtesy of Studio Canal. They both feature excellent video quality, the original dialogue and English dubbing (don't bother with that), and assorted extras in the shape of storyboards, interviews and other bits.

It's definitely worth getting these types of animated films in high definition, so that every detail in the drawings can be fully appreciated.


It's nothing short of fascinating that animated films can tackle two so different subjects. I guess that's an attitude brought on by a Western upbringing. I blame my mother.

I'm slowly familiarizing myself with the works of Hayao Miyazaki and other Studio Ghibli films as they arrive on Blu-ray. Kiki's Delivery Service and Grave of the Fireflies were both excellent stops on this journey, and even though there isn't much meat on Kiki's bones, I still had fun with the film. It's harmless, but doesn't feel like a waste of time. Grave is an entirely different beast, but one it's absolutely essential to suffer through.

Thanks to StudioCanal and Edith Chappey for making this review possible.