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fatpie42 - LiveJournal.com

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    The Hateful Eight (2015)

    Wow. I've been waiting for Tarantino to make something like this for about 10 years. As much as I loved the uniqueness of Kill Bill, I feel like he's been doing that same bombastic hodgepodge ever since. But with Hateful Eight it seems we've finally returned to the drama Tarantino left behind with Jackie Brown, where the film is just as much about hanging out with the characters as it is about the film's central storyline.

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    But as if all that wasn't already awesome, Hateful Eight also acts as an homage to one of my favourite films of all time: John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. Even while set within the Western genre, we have an isolated group in a snowy environment working out who is a threat. We even have Ennio Morricone doing the soundtrack and the film's star Kurt Russell in a major role too.

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    Tim Roth's posh accent is a bit out of place (though not nearly as out of place as Zoe Bell's genuine kiwi accent. That a New Zealander would be here is a big stretch). Is that Channing Tatum previewing his Gambit accent?

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    But as characters I just loved them all. I've heard it claimed that this film is too long. I wouldn't cut a second of it. I can't really judge where this film stands until I see it once or twice on DVD, but it's great to finally have a Tarantino film I would genuinely rank alongside his first legendary three.

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    Like Tarantino's first three films, Hateful Eight is a masterpiece. Just brilliant.

    A+


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    The Revenant (2015)


    Very pretty, but I couldn't connect with DiCaprio's character at all. Don't get me wrong, he's a wonderful actor  but I felt his role was either written or directed poorly. Sure, I understood that he was suffering, but we've had so many revenge films and I didn't particularly identify with the protagonist here.

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    Much more impressive was Tom Hardy's performance. He does unhinged so very well. I think I actually enjoyed the drama with Domhall Gleeson, Will Poulter and Tom Hardy better than the main story of Leonardo DiCaprio.

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    The well-advertised bear fight is clearly a masterwork in visual effects. It had me thinking of the scuffle between two characters in John Carpenter's "They Live". The fight comes out of nowhere and goes on for ages, but that doesn't really matter because it's so awesome.

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    Less awesome were the dream sequences. What was with the Eastern Orthodox Church? I'm pretty sure that no character here is Eastern Orthodox. Not Leo and certainly not his half Native American son. And seriously, could they give the "tree with strong roots" stuff a rest?

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    Why, in a film that is so very long, is there so much filler? With such a simple story they could probably trim an hour off of this and lose nothing. I understand that you have a whole load of gorgeous footage, but I'm sure that David Attenborough has the same problem when he's putting together his nature documentaries and those are far better paced.

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    It's not that I think The Revenant is a bad movie per se. I can understand why it appeals to others, but for me it was a dazzling yawn-fest. It’s gorgeously short and, as Mark Kermode once said of a Jane Campion movie, "it gorgeously shot me to tears". Wow, this was boring!

    C-

    P.S. Shout out to the smaller zombie (sort of) movie also titled “The Revenant”. An excellent low budget horror-comedy that deserves more attention.

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    There are quite a lot of films I probably still need to see from 2015, but before I check out all the odds and ends I've missed this is my current top 10 of 2015. I feel like I'm unlikely to change my mind all that much, but who knows?

    Certainly in my best of 2014 list only the last three films were pushed out by the end of 2015. My 2013 end of year list had just one more film pushed out with four new titles appearing on the list after a year of catching up, but interestingly three of those made it into the top five!

    I've got to be the only person who cared about that last paragraph, but the point is that there are often wonderful surprises still waiting after the year is over - and in recent years those have rarely been the movies that are released in the end of year Oscars rush.

    Cool films pushing their way into the 2013 and 2014 lists were films like low budget horror gems like "Antiviral" and
    "Afflicted", along with wonderful foreign films like"Wadjda" and "We Are The Best". I wonder what the big new gems from 2015 will turn out to be when 2016 is over?


    10. Spring
    Beautiful monster romance film. I loved it. While this is the first film that might get knocked out of this top ten, it's hard to imagine it not being at least an honourable mention at the end of the year.


    9. Coherence
    One of the smartest sci-fi films of recent years. Yet this has been a pretty great year for intelligent sci-fi in general. Nice to see Nicholas Brendan has still got it.


    8. Big Hero Six
    Marvel/Disney's best superhero film. All the quality of Pixar combined with the delight and passion of a Marvel Studios production (even though Marvel Studios wasn't actually involved). Baymax is a REALLY cool robot.


    7. Inside Out
    Not Pixar's best ever, but certainly up there. Pixar work their magic on emotional states. Pity about the pre-movie cartoon about the singing volcano. It'll be good to check out the DVD and skip that bit.


    6. Wild Tales
    Absolutely brilliant anthology movie featuring a series of crazy segments on revenge. Wonderful.


    5. Mr. Holmes
    Ian McKellan gives an incredible performance as Sherlock Holmes investigating his last case. It was the case which made him give up detecting, and yet as an old man he cannot remember why. It turns into a really interesting mystery while remaining a much subtler drama than any of the other recent Sherlock incarnations.


    4. Mad Max: Fury Road
    No sensible top 10 list for 2015 could miss out George Miller's extraordinary sequel to Mad Max. While a very simple story, this is an unforgettable movie experience and a must-see for any lover of modern cinema.


    3. Ex Machina
    Alex Garland's directorial debut is an excellent examination of the ethics of artificial intelligence and the treatment of people as things. There's also a level of ambiguity that is rarely pulled off so effectively. There's a definite sense of mystery, even when the film is all wrapped up.


    2. Cop Car
    I originally checked out Cop Car to get a glimpse of what the director of the upcoming new Spider-Man movie had going for him. I was completely blown away by the sweet and highly satisfying indie movie it turned out that I had uncovered. Cop Car has nothing in common with spectacular superhero flicks, but it what it has in spades is comedy, drama, compelling characters and originality. Perhaps Jon Watts can get this superhero movie over and done with nice and quickly, so he can get back to making awesome dramas like this?

    Kevin Bacon is cool but the real stars are the two child actors. And how often do you hear that?


    1. The Martian

    Ridley Scott is a pretty cool director, but I've never bought into the hero worship. Blade Runner is very slow paced and Harrison Ford has no personality in that movie. (I know that's the point, but it still makes him a seriously bland protagonist.) And while I love Aliens (and am a big fan of Alien 3 actually) I've always found Alien rather poorly paced. Oh and Ridley Scott's big award-winner Gladiator? Bored the hell out of me....

    Having established myself firmly as a philistine, I will now confess that until now my favourite Ridley Scott film was "American Gangster": a very cool crime film starring Denzel Washington.

    Still there are plenty of Ridley Scott films which I enjoy very much. I like Black Hawk Down, I love Thelma and Louise and I'm a bigger fan than most, it seems, of Prometheus. I also must admit, the most recent version of Blade Runner (the "Final Cut") seemed to me a marked improvement on all previous versions.

    But by my reckoning, nothing in Ridley Scott's filmography holds a candle to "The Martian". Like last year's "Pride" it expertly juggles a galaxy of characters, keeping each one distinct and giving pretty much everyone a chance to express their individual depths

    Apparently this isn't a perfect adaptation. As per usual with adaptations of novels, much is cut out or changed and readers rarely find these alterations to be for the better. However, having not read the book, I have to say that the film moved forward at an excellent pace and the the soundtrack did a wonderful job of setting the mood. Never before has a film about someone stranded in space been so upbeat and that's not a result of ignoring the seeming futility of the situation.

    I believe The Martian to be Ridley Scott's best film and, so far, it is the best film I have seen from 2015.

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    Okay, so I was warned when starting a blog on tumblr that it is chock full of ideologically unhinged people. That's somewhat proved to be true. Still Tumblr is great for seeing cool artwork. (I'm reblogging loads of Metroid artwork. Love it.) Also there are also a fair fewcool blogsdedicated to reviewsand movie stuff.

    But on the other hand I have real trouble finding blogs which don't look like incredibly eclectic scrapbooks. I recently had about 10 new people start following me all at once. Their blogs look very very similar, they all seem to posting the same images of cosmetics and food, and occasionally reblogging the same random inconsequential comment. I think there's a strong possibility that many of these were actually the same person. Or possibly all bots running on the same algorithm.

    The ideology stuff is crazy sometimes. It's like there are these weird cliques and certain words are set off major disagreement. The most bizarre thing was seeing post after post straight after the Paris attacks claiming that the terrorists weren't Muslims. I even saw a post being reblogged in a number of places trying to assert that ISIS didn't have any copies of the Qur'an.

    But the biggest thing that is irritating me is the bleeding Vine videos. They drive me frikkin' nuts and they are NEVER FUNNY.




    Going back to the ideological stuff, in a recent conversation it was suggested to me that these kids on tumblr have no real influence. So I was quite surprised to see this post today: http://regeek.tumblr.com/post/137896094662/how-trigger-warnings-are-hurting-mental-health-on

    The assertion of the article is that 'trigger warnings' are genuinely hurting people in real life. Now at first glance this sounds ridiculous. I'm certainly going to continue to say "trigger warning" before any reviews of films including r*pe because I think it's only reasonable. What the article says is that helping people avoid contact with ideas that trigger them will ensure they can never heal. I can tell there are plenty of people shaking their heads wondering what the practical relevance is of this news. A trigger warning on a review certainly isn't ensuring that someone never hears about triggering content. It's just making it easier to avoid than it might have been otherwise. Someone who is easily triggered may still read the review, but they just have a warning beforehand.

    Well here's the practical problem and frankly I don't think anyone needed this article to recognise that what I'm about to describe is absurdly unhealthy. On university campuses (universities ffs!) there has been an increasing move to include "safe spaces" where people can avoid being offended or unduly upset. And it seems like the major example of how wrong this has gone can be seen best when we look at Goldsmiths University in London:



    The comedy society at Goldsmiths ended up cancelling a talk by Kate Smurthwaite (a comedian they invited) because they worried that what she had to say about free speech might breach their safe space policy. Apparently they were expecting her comedy gig to be picketed by the feminist society. http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/feb/02/goldsmiths-comedian-kate-smurthwaite-free-speech-show-feminist-campaigners

    A talk by Maryam Namazie (an ex-Muslim giving a talk on, guess what, free speech) was disrupted by members of the Islamic society. She was shouted down and harassed. At one point the computer she was running her presentation from was shut off. (This is in a university btw.) Afterwards, the Islamic society claimed that the event never happened, but there is video footage of the event. Afterwards the LGBT society and the feminist society at the university both gave their full support to the Islamic society because they believed this was a matter of the Islamic society have its space space breached. (No, seriously.) http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/muslim-students-from-goldsmiths-university-s-islamic-society-heckle-and-aggressively-interrupt-a6760306.html

    On top of that Bahar Mustafa, the diversity officer for the Student Union got into trouble because she organised a public event where white men would not be allowed to attend and tweeted: #killallwhitemen  While I can understand why certain societies on campus might want private meetings, that's different from Student Union meetings as a whole and certainly isn't excused by saying "well I can't be racist or sexist because I'm not white or male". http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/bahar-mustafas-racism-controversy

    This comes at the same time as a wider issue concerning segregation in universities being advocated to cater to more extreme Muslim beliefs: https://youtu.be/2d25-rXuJyo



    A safe space which prevents women speaking on free speech, is not a progressive move. It is regressive.

    That demands for segregation are not progressive should be obvious. And certainly when it is to cater to Islamic beliefs, it is privileging the most extreme patriarchal elements of that religion. (And it cannot be even be argued to be privileging traditional elements of Islam. Men and women mingle together in many Islamic societies and actually pray side by side during the Hajj).

    Bahar Mustafa may just be a bit misguided and the furore around her actions may be a bit of a storm in a teacup, but she represents the same wider attitude which silenced Smuthwaite and Namazie on those other two occasions. This also isn't at all limited to Goldsmiths. I was shocked to hear that Maryam Namazie was actually banned from Warwick University, though thankfully it seems that they've recognised that this was a mistake now.



    A left which supports Islamist extremists over the free speech of women and sets up a safe space where challenging the status quo is banned is not progressive. And while social media generally doesn't matter, these polarised unhealthy attitudes are finding their way into the mainstream and, frankly, I'm a little worried....

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  • 01/24/16--15:48: Movie Guide UK: 2016
  • It's nearing the end of January and so it's about time we got this sorted. I've already seen two films in January, though I can promise I had "Hateful Eight" lined up beforehand. Didn't actually have "The Revenant" lined up because I wasn't expecting the buzz surrounding it to get so insistent when it was released.

    There are a fair few anticipated films from last year's movie guide that I still haven't seen:
    Terminator Genisys
    Fant4stic Four
    Regression
    The Final Girls
    Crimson Peak
    The Good Dinosaur
    Krampus
    In The Heart Of The Sea


    While not all fantastically well reviewed I really do intend to see all of those. There are a number of "considered" titles which I expect I'll be giving a look too.

    I feel like I made a pretty cool movie guide last year. Five of the anticipated movies made it onto my top 10 of the year, with Kingsman only narrowly missing a place on that list.

    Of the anticipated movies, several of them were C grades, but none of them were utterly terrible. The less impressive ones included:
    Wild- Some cool moments and a great lead performance, but rather disjointed and the philosophical musings at the end weren't as mind-blowing as the writer seemed to believe.
    Kill The Messenger- It was a bit of a gamble, but the trailer was SO good!
    Avengers: Age Of Ultron - Quite fun, but a complete mess. If I hadn't grown to love the characters so much I don't think I'd have been impressed at all.

    I also want to comment on Spectre here. I revalued Avengers: Age of Ultron after a second watch and I've got a sneaking suspicion I'm going to do the same with Spectre - but I need to see it a second time first. It had some cool action sequences and it was certainly incredibly stylish, but the plot was incredibly dumb.



    ANTICIPATED IN JANUARY 2016

    The Hateful Eight
    UK Release Date: 8 January 2016

    Quentin Tarantino's newest film. 'Nuff said.


    A War
    UK Release Date: 8 January 2016

    This is directed by Tobias Lindholm of "A Hijacking" fame i.e. the really GOOD film about Somali pirates in the year when Captain Phillips came out. It seems that it's a film which, like "A Hijacking" brings a whole bunch of perspectives together in a clever and nuanced way. Apparently this came out in cinemas already, but I can't say I noticed. I only saw the trailer online last week.


    Spotlight
    UK Release Date: 29 January 2016

    Pretty much anticipated entirely based on the trailer, but buzz has been good too. Journalists vs the Church in the story of how the scandal was uncovered. A pretty awesome cast, though Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo were the ones I noticed the most in the trailer. It's a really important story and if the reviews are to be believed, this tells it well.


    ALSO CONSIDERED IN JANUARY:
    The 5th Wave
    UK Release Date: 22 January 2016

    J Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) directs an adaptation of a YA novel. Perhaps it's doomed but I want to give 5th Wave a chance. Also Chloe Grace Moretz is a good leading lady, so that must surely work in the film's favour. Still, early reports suggest that this is actually more of the same YA trash we've seen before. A real pity, but if I hear enough reports that this was underappreciated in initial reviews I'd be happy to get on board to see what Blakeson has done with the material.



    ANTICIPATED IN FEBRUARY 2016:

    Hail, Caesar!
    UK Release Date: 26 February 2016

    I know nothing about the upcoming Coen Brothers film. After all, it's the Coens, so what do you need to know?


    ALSO CONSIDERED IN FEBRUARY:
    Trumbo
    UK Release Date: 5 February 2016
    Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) in a role where he really gets to chew the scenery. Sadly I'm already hearing so-so reviews.

    Deadpool
    UK Release Date: 10 February 2016

    Frankly I'm not sold on this movie at all. Deadpool was funny in a Marvel videogame I played and I loved the online vid "Rorscach and Deadpool" as much as the next guy. But as much as I enjoyed "The Voices" this year, I'm still not convinced that Ryan Reynolds is funny enough to pull this off.



    ANTICIPATED IN MARCH 2016:

    Kung Fu Panda 3
    UK Release Date: 11 March 2016

    Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2) returns from part 2 to direct the third in the trilogy. I thought part 2 was a clear step up, so I'm pleased to see the same creative mind steering the ship.



    ANTICIPATED IN APRIL 2016:

    Midnight Special
    UK Release Date: 15 April 2016

    Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud) takes on a kind of supernatural thriller and of course he still has Michael Shannon involved. With so many superhero films expecting us to think superpowers are just wonderful (and with studio interference seemingly getting in the way of Josh Trank's attempt at a Cronenbergian 'body horror' counterpoint to that idea), this story of a child with supernatural powers that are terrifying is quite exciting.


    Captain America: Civil War
    UK Release Date: 29 April 2016

    I didn't think I'd care all that much about an argument between Iron Man and Captain America about whether superheroes should register their identity. However, when the trailer came out around the same time as the Paris attacks, I found myself unreservedly in support of Iron Man's stance that superheroes who don't take responsibility for their actions are no better than bad guys.

    With the Russo Brothers returning to give us the same rough action movie antics we saw in Captain America Winter Soldier there's plenty to get excited about. Community tv series)


    ALSO CONSIDERED IN APRIL:
    Eddie the Eagle
    UK Release Date: 1 April 2016

    Taron Egerton from last year's "Kingsman" stars as an unusual sporting figure who became an Olympic ski jumper against heavy odds. Hugh Jackman looks like he'll be amazing as the guy who agrees to train him. Also this isn't the first film from director Dexter Fletcher who previously made the rather fun "Wild Bill" as well as the musical "Sunshine On Leith" about which I've heard some good things.

    The Jungle Book
    UK Release Date: 15 April 2016

    Jon Favreau makes a live action (though largely CG animated) version of The Jungle Book. Could be good, but it's always risky when you remake a classic.


    ANTICIPATED IN MAY 2016:

    X-Men: Apocalypse
    UK Release Date: 19 May 2016

    I loved the last two X-Men movies. We're still focussed on the X-Men: First Class cast. A few of the new cast additions sound intriguing. This could be brilliant. I'm excited for this more than any other superhero release this year.


    The Nice Guys
    UK Release Date: 20 May 2016

    This is my top choice for the month. The trailer makes this look very similar in tone to Shane Black's comedy "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang". I think even those who weren't keen on "Iron Man 3" (and personally I loved it) have to recognise that the superhero movies are heavily produced. In "The Nice Guys" we'll get to see Shane Black with full creative control and the inter-play between Crowe and Gosling in the trailer looks hilarious.


    ALSO CONSIDERED IN MAY:
    Green Room
    UK Release Date:13 May 2016

    The latest from "Blue Ruin" director, Jeremy Saulnier. I'm a lot more interested in this movie though, since seeing Saulnier's debut film "Murder Party". ("Murder Party" is a horror comedy and I'm a bit of a sucker for those.) The trailer shows Patrick Stewart being seriously creepy. Eeep!

    ANTICIPATED IN JUNE 2016:

    Warcraft
    UK Release Date: 3 June 2016

    Duncan Jones' long awaited follow-up to "Moon" and "Source Code". Commiserations are due, seeing as his father died early this year. It must have been tough working on such a big project like this knowing that David Bowie was in the later stages of cancer AND having to keep quiet about that. I am excited for whatever he has cooked up. I have no doubt that it will be amazing.



    ANTICIPATED IN JULY 2016:

    Star Trek: Beyond
    UK Release Date: 22 July 2016

    Simon Pegg on the script was really good news. It looks like the humour is back to the kind we saw in "The Voyage Home" and now we'll finally see the Star Trek crew doing some proper Star Trekking.


    The BFG
    UK Release Date: 22 July 2016

    After "Bridge Of Spies", I'm more excited than ever for the next Steven Spielberg project. Spielberg's hits have been so varied from "Jurassic Park" to "Jaws". I'm really keen to see what he does with a classic from what is probably my very favourite childhood author.


    Finding Dory
    UK Release Date: 29 July 2016

    Sure it's a Pixar sequel, but Dory is definitely a character I wanted to see return to the big screen. And frankly, I think "Monster University" was highly underrated. And look at the Toy Story movies! Pixar CAN do AMAZING sequels.


    NOTHING IN AUGUST AS YET....
    Usually September is the month in which I have no recommendations, but actually I have one for this September already...


    ANTICIPATED IN SEPTEMBER 2016:

    Kubo and the Two Strings
    UK Release Date: 9 September 2016


    Another film from Laika. Boxtrolls will be a tough one to follow. After Boxtrolls, Paranorman and Coraline, Laika now have quite a repetoire. This stylish fantasy movie looks to be a real treat.



    ANTICIPATED IN OCTOBER 2016:

    Gambit
    UK Release Date: 7 October 2016


    It turns out that Doug Liman (Edge Of Tomorrow, Mr & Mrs Smith, Go) is working on this solo movie for a character so far sadly missed from the X-Men movie universe, but highly beloved in both the comics and the popular Fox cartoon series. Channing Tatum has been making waves in his career with films, showing genuine charisma in films like Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street. Once again, the X-Men franchise is the more exciting to me this year.


    A Monster Calls
    UK Release Date: 21 October 2016

    Based on a children's book, but with J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) behind the camera, I'm keen to see what we get. (Bayona also made "The Orphanage" and while I personally wasn't a fan, that movie also has a big following.)


    ALSO CONSIDERED IN OCTOBER:
    Doctor Strange
    UK Release Date: 28 October 2016

    Very keen to see Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor entering the Marvel universe. Not so keen to see the director of "Sinister" in the director's chair. Marvel movies have strict producers and that seemingly saved "Ant-Man", so presumably that'll be the deal here too. Still, I'm a little nervous about this one.


    NOTHING IN NOVEMBER YET...
    I suspect I'll be slipping a few titles into this month by the summer.



    CONSIDERED IN DECEMBER:
    Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
    UK Release Date: 16 December 2016


    I've always got to keep watch on anything Gareth Edwards does. Monsters was amazing. But while Godzilla still showed that spark, it was a bit of a mess so I'm a little worried about him taking on yet another enormous high-pressure project like this. Perhaps it'll be wonderful?

    Passengers
    UK Release Date: 23 December 2016
    The director of "The Imitation Game" (which I thought was pretty good), but the main draw is the cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Michael Sheen (Frost Vs Nixon, The Queen), Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix, Contagion, Event Horizon, The Tuskagee Airmen), and that Chris Pratt guy ... (Guardians Of The Galaxy). And they are all in this mysterious sci-fi movie. I'm intrigued.

    Assassin's Creed
    UK Release Date: 30 December 2016

    I'm mainly interested in this for Michael Fassbender. It's based on a videogame though, so that's not generally good sign.


    NO RELEASE DATE AS YET:
    10 Cloverfield Lane
    Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (Portal: No Escape - short film)


    Band of Robbers
    Interesting trailer, starring Kyle Gallner


    Detour
    Directed by Christopher Smith (Triangle, Black Death)

    The Devil's Candy
    Directed by Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones)

    Hardcore Henry
    Directed by Ilya Naishuller (debut film - but an incredible trailer)

    In a Valley of Violence
    Directed by Ti West (The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, House of the Devil)

    The Neon Demon
    Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Bronson)

    Southbound
    Directed by various directors including Radio Silence (V/H/S segment "10/31/98") and David Bruckner (V/H/S segment "Amateur Night")

    War on Everyone
    Directed by John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Calvary)

    The Wave
    Directed by Roar Uthaug (Escape, Cold Prey)

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    The Big Short (2015)

    A comedy and drama about the financial crisis. I've always had a problem with the so-called dramedy, especially when, as we see here, the comedy isn't all that consistent.

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    But what helps here is that the drama is very compelling. I don't think we reach the same heights as Margin Call here, but it's certainly way more interesting than the documentary Inside Job.

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    The premise is that several different groups of people are involved in investing in a short, which is essentially a bet against another investment. The short in this case is against the housing market. The level of borrowing involved was going to inevitably lead to a crash, but with seemingly everybody convinced that a crash was impossible, those backing the short find it hard to convince themselves that they've made the right bet.

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    Ryan Gosling is pretty great even though his character isn't really written all that well. Brad Pitt stands out as a mild-mannered under-stated figure. I've actually no idea what was going on with Christian Bale's character. Steve Carell is in a pretty serious role here and he does it very well.

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    In the end though, the impact of the film isn't helped by the consistent breaking of the fourth wall or the jokey tone. I feel this would have worked better as a straight drama. It could still have funny moments as a straight drama, but the actual movie's attempts at straight-up comedy often left me unmoved.

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    There's much here that is incredibly interesting and several scenes are clever and memorable. However, overall I don't think the direction is really up to snuff and as a result the film misses its potential.

    C+

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    Spotlight (2015)

    A great cast, including Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, portray journalists in Boston who take on the story of paedophile priests.
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    I must admit, I was surprised by this story. I knew all about the Catholic child abuse scandal. I knew why many children failed to come forward until they were adults. But I didn't know, beyond the Church's bureaucracy and a failure of major figures in the Church to cooperate, what could hold back an investigative news team.

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    There are a whole series of interacting forces here. The lawyers, the press, the Church, the community, charitable organisations and the victims themselves. And every one of them is balanced very carefully. This isn't a story with ultra-good characters on one side and ultra-bad characters on the other. The journalists discover that their whole community, themselves included, have some level of complicity in the scandal. And even when there are characters who seem clearly evil, there's always another level or another aspect to their story.

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    What is great about Spotlight is that it tackles the issues surrounding the scandal rather than just putting bad priests on one side and exploited victims on the other. While there's no doubt that the abuse was terrible, we already knew that. We've all seen Deliver Us From Evil or Mea Maxima Culpa by now. Spotlight gives us more. It goes beyond the horror of the cover-up and handles the way the community shows reluctance to believe that something this terrible could be allowed to happen even while they dismiss the revelation that it did. There's also the trouble even the journalists have coming to terms with what they discover.

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    I've heard it said that the direction is boring here. Needless to say this isn't an arty film. But the way it balances the characters is beautiful, the performances are excellent and the framing is good.

    The director also worked on the script and interestingly also worked on the scipt for Pixar’s “Up”. Sure, some might wonder what Aronofsky might have done with this, but perhaps Spotlight is better off without overdoing the imagery and the emotions? Spotlight doesn't feel dry or slow, yet it doesn't explicitly manipulate the audience to up the drama like you might expect this kind of film to do.

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    Spotlight is just brilliant.

    A+


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    My original Movie Guide with full explanations at the beginning of the year is here.

    Below is my Movie Guide 'at a glance' with updated UK release dates.

    January 2016

    The Hateful Eight - 8 January 2016
    A War - 8 January 2016

    (The 5th Wave - 22 January 2016)
    Spotlight 2015 - 29 January 2016

    February 2016

    (Trumbo - 5 February 2016)
    (Deadpool - 10 February 2016)

    The Devil’s Candy - 27 February 2016

    March 2016

    Hail, Caesar! - 4 March 2016
    Kung Fu Panda 3 - 11 March 2016
    10 Cloverfield Lane - 18 March 2016

    (Eddie the Eagle - 28 March 2016)

    April 2016

    Midnight Special - 8 April 2016
    Hardcore Henry - 8 April 2016

    (The Jungle Book - 15 April 2016)
    Captain America: Civil War - 29 April 2016

    May 2016

    X-Men: Apocalypse - 19 May 2016
    (Green Room - 13 May 2016)
    The Nice Guys - 20 May 2016
    (The Free State of Jones - 27 May 2016)

    June 2016

    Warcraft - 3 June 2016

    July 2016

    Star Trek Beyond - 22 July 2016
    The BFG - 22 July 2016
    Finding Dory - 29 July 2016


    September - December 2016

    Kubo and the Two Strings - 9 September 2016
    A Monster Calls - 21 October 2016

    (Doctor Strange - 28 October 2016)
    (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - 16 December 2016)
    (Passengers - 23 December 2016)
    (Assassin's Creed - 30 December 2016)

    Gambit - (Previously expected 7 October 2016 - pushed back to 2017)

    No Release Date

    (Ava’s Possessions)
    (Band of Robbers)
    Detour

    Hunt for the Wilderpeople
    In a Valley of Violence
    The Neon Demon
    Southbound
    War on Everyone
    The Wave


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    Trumbo (2015)

    An open member of the US Communist Party and supporter of Stalin during the height of the Cold War is shocked that the government might blacklist him for it.

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    The true life figure of Trumbo supported Josef Stalin and North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung, so portraying him handing out leaflets on the first amendment is a little rich.

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    But even if I judge the character purely on how he's represented in the film, everything still feels far too naive. He explains to his daughter that communism is all about sharing and she's left confused as to why anyone would hate communists. Those of us who have seen Bridge of Spies will have seen how children at this time were bombarded with propaganda and were aware of communists as: "Those people who want us all dead." With the prospect of a nuclear strike against the US, no one was surprised by hatred of communists.

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    Like all actors in this film, Helen Mirren gives a great performance as a contrived villain. She's apparently THE media figure threatening to bring down Hollywood moguls because of her unbridled anti-semitism. Naturally threat of exposure from the media and the anti-semitic undercurrents make sense, but in the film it's as if this one woman is powerful enough to bring down the movie studios. That's ridiculous and, what's more, the way it is portrayed in the film is entirely unconvincing.

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    That being said, there's somewhat of a comedic tone to the film and certainly Bryan Cranston's central performance as Trumbo is highly entertaining. There's also a very funny scene with John Goodman's character.

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    The trailer made it look like Trumbo would be a morally ambigious figure. For parts of the second half this feels true to the actual film, but the entire first half seems to want me to think of him as a saint and a hero.

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    At the end we get a speech looking back at the past, just like in "Good Night And Good Luck" and Trumbo points out during this speech that people died as a result of blacklisting. The thing is, in Trumbo the only death is due to cancer. In "Good Night And Good Luck" there is a case of a tv personality driven to suicide and in "The Lives Of Others" a director is driven to suicide due to blacklisting by the Stasi. But Trumbo has no such examples. Blacklisting does not cause cancer.

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    Trumbo and his friends are guilty of being Communists. They don't even bother to try to convince us that they wouldn't pass national secrets to Russia, but I'll presume they never would, or at least that they never had the opportunity. What is interesting about them is the way they manage to dominate the film industry, in spite of their blacklisting and in spite of their guilt.

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    Trumbo's big script that puts him on the map was a delightful surprise, I must admit. There was a delightful irony involved. However, this biopic is tonally inconsistent, unconvincing and morally suspect. It's dealing with subject matter already handled much better by "Good Night And Good Luck" as well as by "Bridge Of Spies" just last year. The performances do much to make this enjoyable and l laughed out loud at several different funny moments, but the script comes off as hideously naive.

    D+


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    The Pink Panther (1963)

    It's almost like two films combined. A fairly mediocre crime drama on the one hand and a Peter Sellers comedy on the other. It only really becomes explicitly comedic outside of Peter Sellers scenes in the most active moments of the third act, with multiple ape costumes and an intentionally disjointed car chase.

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    I enjoy the Peter Sellers parts very much and I quite enjoy the film as a whole. The Indian princess who isn't really Indian feels a little bizarre. (She's from an unspecified country, but it's clearly supposed to be India though that doesn't really fit.)

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    The scene where the princess gets drunk drags and the Pink Panther's plan to kidnap the princess's dog seems particularly dumb now I come to rewatch the film.

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    But there is so much to like here and perhaps if the two tones of this film were to gel a little better it could be amazing. As it is, you really need to watch this bearing in mind that Peter Sellers hijacking the film is the main reason to check this out.

    C+



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    A Shot In The Dark (1964)

    Peter Sellers returns in the role of Inspector Clouseau, this time firmly in the central role from the start. It's an Agatha Christie-esque story with a neat Peter Sellers twist to it.

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    The vibrant colour of the blood when it shows up just adds to the character of this exceptional spoof.

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    For the first time we are introduced  to the chief inspector who hates Clouseau with unhinged passion and his rather calmer assistant Francois. The film as a whole is much more clearly centred around Clouseau this time, yet somehow that makes this feel like a smaller film. In the big crime drama in the first instalment Clouseau was

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    just one piece in a much wider puzzle whereas this is more like The Clouseau Show. Yet it's still a real blast and certainty has the advantage of being more consistent this time around.

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    Oh and don't forget that Shot In The Dark also sees the first appearance of Kato: Clouseau's somewhat incompetent yet hard working and devoted sparring partner, instructed to attack Clouseau at random moments to prepare him for a genuine assassination attempt.

    B+


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    The Return Of The Pink Panther (1975)

    Bizarrely, the big box set of Pink Panther DVDs misses this one out. Unsurprisingly Paramount are unwilling to give up the rights to this one.

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    I had previously believed this one was the best of the bunch. It benefits from a return to the dual tone format of the original, but with more exciting James Bond-esque serious sections. The Pink Panther has been recast with Christopher Plummer who, despite looking completely different and way too young, is one hell of a performer.

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    Unfortunately the weak link is actually the Peter Sellers sections this time. His material this time around really doesn't match up to his work in Shot In The Dark. He's still incredibly funny though.

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    Overall this is still quite a strong entry in the Pink Panther series. Like all the entries it's a bit of a mixed bag, but it's rather more consistent than the first entry even if it's a bit of a dip in quality after Shot In The Dark.

    B-


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    The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

    I was pretty shocked when I put this in the DVD player, partly because I was expecting Return Of The Pink Panther, but also because I'd never even heard of this film before.

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    In the opening scenes Inspector Clouseau has the most ridiculous costume ever: An inflatable hunchback outfit - which causes him to float off the balcony!

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    This time around the chief inspector who hates Clouseau has gone full megalomaniac villain and is forcing a scientist to develop a devastating ray for him to hold the world to ransom.

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    I never even imagined it was possible for The Pink Panther to jump the shark quite this badly. Clouseau's attempts to break into the ex-Chief Inspector's castle hideout are ludicrous in a remarkably unfunny way.

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    When the chief inspector's laser beam removes someone's legs but doesn't stop them running away (because it's just a cheap blue screen effect) we really have reached the bottom of the barrel for this series.

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    Still I won't say that this is no fun. The failed attempts to assassinate Clouseau are generally very entertaining. There are too many jokes that fall flat and the premise is too daft for words, but for a bad film this is pretty watchable.

    D-



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    Revenge Of The Pink Panther (1978)

    Having seen Strikes Back I was able to appreciate this a lot more. Nobody seems to remember the Ex-Chief Inspector's time as a horrifying terrorist supervillain. While Kato's side-plot is incredibly daft he gets more of a genuine personal character than ever before as a result.

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    One of my least favourite aspects of this film on previous watches was the costume shop which seems to rely on Clouseau for its livelihood. This makes more sense if we've seen his ridiculous costumes in the last film. And I must admit, I found the shopkeepers to be very funny.

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    The dual tone is back once again, with a genuine serious crime organisation pitted against Clouseau’s wacky antics. Though the organisation has plans to kill Clouseau they aren't obsessed with this goal, so Clouseau is able to be a small cog in a big machine again.

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    This had always seemed like a weaker entry to me before, but after Strikes Back it's a real return to form and it while a bit messier than Return it seems just as consistently funny.

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    Allowing Kato to be involved in the car chase scene in the third act worked well. Clouseau's ridiculous costumes are pretty funny. This film has actually rather grown on me.

    B-


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    Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

    I didn't see the first Kung Fu Panda movie when it first came out. In fact, it wasn’t until I heard a rave review for the sequel that, confused by this high praise for a cheesy-looking cartoon, I finally decided to catch up with the first movie. I really enjoyed the first Kung Fu Panda movie, but the sequel completely blew me away.

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    I think the third movie might actually be the best yet and certainly the combination of the three movies now makes for an absolutely incredible trilogy. I love how the last two movies have made Po's relationship with his adopted father into a central focus for the series.

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    The animation is absolutely gorgeous. The action sequences are frenetic and beautifully captured. The comedy is just as funny as ever. And on top of this, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a wonderful ending to a perfect trilogy.

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    And heck, even if you don't think the Kung Fu Panda trilogy is the best thing ever, presumably we can all at least agree that this trilogy is the best thing Jack Black has ever done. Jack Black is charming and funny, but his range is rather limited. But Po is an absolutely wonderful protagonist character.

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    I can't wait to marathon the whole trilogy when this comes to DVD.

    A+



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    Hail Caesar! (2016)

    It's the Coens. It's not The Ladykillers. No review is really necessary....

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    But, to give some more details, Hail Caesar's tone is like a cross between Raising Arizona and A Serious Man. On the one hand, every scene is wacky and crazy in the most fantastic way. On the other hand, we also have a religious contemplation element and this sense that something bigger is at play.

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    The portrayal of communist scriptwriters is a big contrast from Trumbo. Part of the absurdity of the film is the implication that the central film-within-a-film is almost certainly scripted by communist-sympathisers and yet it doesn't matter to the Hollywood industry at all. There's also a sense that the communists' understanding of Hollywood isn't really wrong and yet that doesn't matter either. Hail Caesar depicts Hollywood as a chaotic capitalist enterprise where the content matters very little. (Which isn't as dark as "A Serious Man" which depicted the whole of life as chaotic, meaningless and also cruel. By comparison the absurdity of Hollywood feels like a triumph of the human spirit.)

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    Naturally if you want to understand the horrors of the McCarthy witchhunt, Good Night And Good Luck will do much more to expose its horrifying consequences than either Trumbo or Hail Caesar, but unlike Trumbo, Hail Caesar isn't trying to be a serious consideration of that issue. One sequence with the communist scriptwriters gets unbelievably wacky in the most wonderful way.

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    It's taken me a while to get around to reviewing this film. Partly because I've been busy, but I think also because, as much as I love this film, I can't help but point to other Coen Brothers films I love more. Burn After Reading is more consistently funny, A Serious Man is more intense, and Raising Arizona is more exciting. Yet I still think Hail Caesar is in the upper echelons of great Coen Brothers movies.  

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    Another point I want to note is that George Clooney is so hilarious in Coen Brothers movies that I'm surprised he isn't used for comedy roles more often elsewhere. I still have no idea why Intolerable Cruelty isn't more widely lauded since Clooney provides consistent comedy gold all the way through that film.

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    Hail Caesar is a delight and an unmissable addition to the Coen Brothers filmography.

    A+


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    V/H/S Viral (2014)

    The first VHS was mostly pretty solid outside of its wraparound section. VHS2 was even better. Sadly VHS Viral is a bit of a disappointment and that's perhaps particularly sad since it's clear how hard people are trying.

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    The director of Timecrimes does a parallel universe story which starts out clever yet quickly takes a beating from the stupid stick. (Satanic monster penises? Seriously?) The directors of Resolution and Spring have fun with some sports cameras filming their skateboarder characters in a punch-up with zombie monsters, but their story is way too flat.

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    The wraparound story about a runaway evil ice cream van is perhaps the most interesting wraparound sequence of the series. On the other hand it becomes too bizarre to actually seem genuinely creepy. The finale, in particular, is too daft to really be disturbing.

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    The only really great segment this time, by my reckoning, is the first segment about a magician. There's a sorcerers' showdown towards the end which makes good use of foreshadowing and involves some consistently snazzy effects work. For me, it was one of the best segments of the VHS series.

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    Watch that first segment, but after that it's time to eject the DVD.

    D+



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    Hellzapoppin' (1941)

    Apparently this movie is a big influence on Joe Dante and, while it sounds odd to say it, Hellzapoppin' feels like possibly his biggest influence when making Gremlins 2.

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    The film is non-stop craziness. After 5 or 10 minutes the characters introduced so far grumpily accept the suggestion that the film needs a plot. But they are told what the central love triangle involves in brief, so that we can jump straight into the same slapstick nonsense. Awesome.

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    There are some good recurring gags too like the man who starts out trying to deliver a something in a plant pot and by the end is wheeling around an entire tree.

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    With musical numbers and general wackiness, I couldn't help but think of ---- Jones and The City Slickers. It's such a wonderful wacky tone and it's hilarious in a very endearing way.

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    Even while feeling very obviously 'of its time', I feel like it's also ahead of its time. This kind of satire that breaks the fourth wall is more (sorry for using this term) meta than I'd expect from a black and white film. That may be naive of me.

    A+



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    Ladyhawke (1985)

    A fantasy movie with Rutger Hauer as the legendary badass and Matthew Broderick as the comic relief scoundrel who, Ferris Bueller style, always falls on his feet. With Richard Donner on the case, known for directing Superman and The Omen, this looked like a slam dunk, but I was not impressed.

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    The action scenes are terrible. Even when I remember that movies in the 80s and 90s often don't feature amazing fight choreography, the problem remains that the climactic fight scenes in the third act simply aren't exciting. The central premise of lovers doomed to remain apart would be more compelling if I ever felt remotely convinced by their romance.

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    I actually quite like the music. Sure it's a big mismatch to have such a synthy score in a fantasy movie, but if the film was awesome that wouldn't matter. Just think about the music for the movie Labyrinth....

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    Ladyhawke is boring, poorly written and cheesy. The ponderous pacing suggests that the filmmakers thought they had something far more emotionally affecting on their hands here and I'm sad to say that I was thoroughly unmoved.

    D-


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    The Stupids (1996)
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    Part terrible cheesy comedy, part incredible comic genius. I think my problem here was that the ideas were often funnier than the execution.

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    Some of the big exceptions to that rule are: Firstly, the scene where one member of the Stupids family, while walking through a prehistoric history display in a museum, becomes convinced that he has time travelled and develops some terrifying notions on how to use this to his advantage.

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    The other unforgettable element is Christopher Lee's cameo as Sender, the evil mastermind Mr. Stupid believes is trying to steal all the letters by redirecting them to himself.

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    The part where Tom Arnold starts singing "I'm My Own Grandpa" is a real low-point for the film. Also for much of the film I found myself more facepalming than laughing at the gags. The film feels very staged and I had trouble getting into it as a result.

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    I want to give this film more credit. I can see a lot to admire. But sadly I cannot say that I personally liked the film. It's funnier to think about the film's ideas afterwards than while actually watching it.

    C-




    Wolf Children (2012)
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    From the director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I still haven't seen Summer Wars and naturally I haven’t seen Mamoru Hosada’s latest film “The Boy And The Beast”, but I'm going to be keen to catch up on those now. (I’ve also heard that a similar team worked on “The Place Promised In Our Early Days”, though Hosada’s name doesn’t appear to be on that one.)

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    Wolf Children has a slow start comparatively to the rest of the film. But once it gets going it regularly pulls on the heart strings as well as being funny, dramatic and beautiful. It’s the story of a woman who falls in love with a werewolf and then finds herself left alone to bring up the children; children who are as much wolf cubs as they are human.

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    The world they describe feels weird initially, but as I was pulled into the landscape of the movie it became easier to engage with the mythology. Wolf Children deviates from the typical  werewolf mythology, but it has some interesting ideas on how to utilise the concept.

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    Wolf Children is a very character-driven drama and I loved every single one of the characters, except perhaps the initial werewolf character who is left more enigmatic than most. Once the central wolf children begin to grow up and develop personalities, the film never ceases to have interesting developments. Now it's probably time to re-rank my “best movies of the year” list for 2013, since this feels like this must be in the top 10.

    A+



    Fire In The Sky (1993)
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    These kind of "believe it or not" stories about alien visitations always seem dodgy to me. So it's a good sign that I liked this as much as I did.

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    We never actually see anything unambiguously alien and whenever anything distinctly alien is seen it's part of a story someone is telling. It's  never depicted as straight-up fact. There is an alternative story that you could tell where aliens aren't involved. But by the end the filmmakers clearly want you to think "Wow, aliens are real," and frankly that's less not interesting to me than the more plausible question of why people might THINK they've seen aliens or been abducted.

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    The acting isn't bad, but the style is very televisual. The story seems to be told in chunks rather than having a consistent set of themes being built up. It's like episode after episode of was it-wasn't it? And frankly I never really cared if it was aliens.

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    I was fascinated when someone released Roswell footage back in the 90s, but I've seen realised that the interesting part of the true life alien stories is the people who believe in the aliens, not whether the aliens are real. So thank goodness that aspect of the story is here. Robert Patrick doesn't want to believe in aliens, but he sees no better way to interpret his experience. The friend who goes missing reappears the worse for wear after several days out in the woods and he has confused memories of his time alone which seem a bit like an alien environment.

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    A bit cheesy, a bit plodding and not really compelling or cinematic enough. But "Fire In The Sky" is alright.

    C-



    Phenomena (1985)
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    Not so long ago I finally checked out Argento's Suspiria. I was not a fan. There are some gorgeous shots, but for me it paled by comparison to Lucio Fulci's gore-filled nightmare-scapes.

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    Still, with Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence, an awesome theme tune by Goblin and a recommendation from Joss Whedon (while promoting Cabin In The Woods), I thought I might like this more.

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    I will say that I found it had more consistent pacing, but I wouldn't say it was good. It would have been nice if the English dub was consistent. The film keeps on reverting to the Italian dub.

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    Another sound issue was the way the incredibly unsuitable music would play loudly over the scenes. Motorhead plays while a dead body is taken away by the police and the tone is just all wrong. The exciting part of the Phenomena theme tune by Goblin plays while Jennifer Connelly is slowly following a firefly. The music really never feels very atmospheric.

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    The writing is terrible, the acting is terrible and the visuals aren't really that cool for the most part. Still, there are aspects I really enjoyed. There's a kind of insect-controlling version of Carrie going on here and when the protagonist's special powers come into play in the final act it's pretty satisfying, even if not perfectly executed. There's also a swimming pool full of dead bodies which is pretty awesome.

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    I'd actually argue that Phenomena suffers because it's not weird enough. Fulci's films are wonderful because they are like nightmares on film. A lack of acting quality is trumped by the atmospheric quality. But Phenomena doesn't have that level of atmosphere, leaving it feeling more like just a naff film for the most part.

    C+



    Xtro (1982)

    I can barely believe this isn't an Italian horror. The imagery is wacky and creepy and the creeiness matters more than the plot. The special effects aren't incredibly convincing, but they are effective. It's a nightmarish dream-like film.

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    The story is that a boy's father disappears in an abduction. Most people don't believe it was an abduction. They just think the father walked out on his family.

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    When he comes back the dynamics of the family are thrown into chaos. The new boyfriend gets territorial and the mother loses patience with both of them. But there's something strange about the father now he's returned.

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    Chock full of Fulci-esque gore and Cronenbergian weirdness, Xtro is an exceptionally and beautifully bizarre low budget horror. It has a bit of a slow build-up, but the film regularly rewards your patience and the results are rarely predictable.

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    The finale left me utterly stunned. Xtro is an unforgettable atmospheric sci-fi horror.

    A+


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    As I catch up with movie reviews, here are a few films that I am not technically reviewing them because I couldn’t finish them. But while I won’t be giving them a rating, I WILL be saying why I gave up on them part way through....

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    Carol (2015)

    Is Rooney Mara supposed to be the protagonist here? She's like a non-person by comparison to Cate Blanchett who dominates the screen wonderfully. Unfortunately for much of the film we are stuck staring at Cate Blanchett's eponymous character through Rooney Mara's eyes.

    We don't really have much reason to worry about Mara because Carol is rich enough to cater to her needs. We also know that later the two will still be very much a (surreptitious) couple because the film helpfully starts with a scene from a future part of the timeline so that the drama is sucked right out of the film.

    Carol almost looks like she may have genuine problems except that her husband seems to know that his wife is a lesbian and rather than berating her for that he, rather more understandably, is upset that his wife is pretty openly cheating on him.

    I don't know if the drama picks up later because I gave up part way through this film. As a result I have no rating for this film, but you can take a pretty solid bet that I still probably wouldn't be recommending it if I'd reached the end.

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    The Good Dinosaur (2015)

    I kept being told that Pixar was in a slump while they continued to pump out films that I love.

    I've got to admit first of all, that I have never seen either of the two Cars movies. In fact, I actually considered the first of those to be a low point for Pixar. (So I went back to check out Ratatouille recently, which I also missed around the same time. I didn't really like it much.)

    I was told that Brave was bad, yet I had a great time. (It actually felt like it had a lot of callbacks to Sword In The Stone, my favourite 2D Disney animated movie.) Then I was told that Monsters University was bad, yet I ended up preferring it to the original film Monsters Inc. There's a vulnerability to the characters in the prequel which made them more appealing to me. Plus I felt the neat twist at the end of the film was pretty cool; and tough to pull off seeing as we knew the future destinies of the characters already.

    So here's the thing: Unlike with Brave,  Monsters University and Cars, people seemed to give The Good Dinosaur a pass. Yet this is the first time I've genuinely hated a Pixar movie. I couldn't relate to the main characters, the themes were confused, the emotional moments felt forced and the attempts at humour consistently fell flat for me.

    Also, was that Pixar's equivalent of the pink elephants sequence from Dumbo? I'm sorry to say this, but I felt the Easy Rider drugged up sequence kind of pathetic.

    I couldn't even finish this film. For me, even though I won't be rating the film, this is the worst film Pixar have ever made. And I'm not happy about that.

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    Slow West (2015)

    Wow, what a boring film! Slow paced and pointless.  Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender wander aimlessly around the wild west while Fassbender regularly reminds Smit-McPhee that his ideals are worthless and that his principles will lead to a horrible death.

    The final straw, however, is where

    Smit-McPhee meets a character who is blatantly supposed to be Werner Herzog (the character is even called Werner) who talks about the Native Americans like a modern day anthropologist before disappearing into thin air.

    When the filmmakers stopped taking their lofty pretentious western seriously, you could be damn sure I wouldn't be wasting any more time.


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    The podcast in question is the Cat Cave Cinema podcast I've discovered on Tumblr. While I mention them in my "We Are Still Here" review, they actually recommended both of the movies I am about to discuss and if it weren't for them the general responses to "The Witch" would have completely put me off. (I was actually worried that "The Witch" would be slow-paced, atmospheric and lacking in interesting characters, like a disasterous combination of "Carol" and "A Field In England".)



    Link for the Cat Cave Cinema tumblr blog
    Cat Cave Cinema Podcast soundcloud channel

    We Are Still Here (2015)
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    Best thing: Gore! And a great sense of fun, which makes for a great combination. I've heard it suggested that We Are Still Here is a horror comedy and, while I disagree, I do think this film deserves a lot of credit for being so much fun.

    Worst thing: Not all the acting is great, particularly a short performance from a girl in a bar. That being said, some performances are brilliant, particularly Larry Fessenden.

    I normally hate ghost stories. There are a larger and larger number of exceptions and I've previously listed my various issues with regular ghost tropes. Basically if you didn't like the movie "Mama" that might possibly clue you into what kinds of elements annoy me. But even a 'classic' ghost story like the original 60s 'The Haunting' left me cold. These subtle fear inducing effects are boring to me.

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    But somehow the uncompromising and barely-human vengeful spirit (or even a plain old demon) appeals better to me. Throw in Fulci/early Peter Jackson style gore effects and I am sold!

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    What I particularly love about "We Are Still Here" is the subtlety. The set-up is revealed gradually and everything falls into place. The father seems mean and grumpy on the phone to the electricians and that seems out of keeping with his character in the rest of the film. Except that the electricians he is angry with are locals who don't want to go anywhere near the house and (though we don't understand this for a while) don't really think they will need to send anyone. The electrician the couple eventually hire is the only non-white character and that is because he is from outside of the local area.

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    Creepy locals, conspiracy and also a neat twist on hippie new age beliefs leave plenty to sink your teeth into, but this is not a film that is afraid to be silly (to say the least). Horror should be fun. “We Are Still Here” does horror properly.

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    A shout out is owed to tumblr's Cat Cave Cinema Podcast (a horror podcast that ranks movies from 1 to 5 cats) for highlighting this film for a special recommendation. (Actually when I listened to the end, it turned out they didn't rate this as highly as I had expected.) After listening to the initial portion of the podcast they pushed me from moderately curious to hear about the film to excitedly anticipating watching the movie. I hadn't fully understood from what I read elsewhere how visceral and explicit the horror would be, rather than simply relying on subtle implicit terror.

    A+



    The Witch (2015)
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    Best thing: The ending. Just wow.

    Also knowing that much of the dialogue comes from accounts of witchcraft from the period. This film is a showcase of the paranoia of early settlers, adapting their horrifying tales into a chilling yet bizarre tale.

    Worst thing: Shouldn't the parents have rather more to say about their youngest children's odd "Black Phillip" lyrics? I understand they are just messing around and the parents have better things to do. Still, when they are singing to the goat "we are your servants" I thought the parents, who see God and the devil in everything, might at least have something to say.

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    Despite some claims that seemed to suggest The Witch would be all atmosphere and little payoff, the actual film gets pretty gritty very quickly.

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    The acting is great. I worried at times that things might go all "A Field In England". Wheatley's attempt at a creepy drama in the middle of nowhere had annoyed me with its unconvincing old timey language and its attempts to be artsy (leading to an ill-advised kaleidoscopic trip-out sequence). The Witch avoids all these issues.

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    Interestingly I've heard that the substance growing on their crops might be hallucinogenic, but The Witch doesn't go all Easy Rider on the audience.

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    Part of the reason for that is that the film takes the accounts of settlers mostly literally. This devotion to the source material also contributed to more authentic-sounding dialogue. There's a Pan's Labyrinth feel to this movie. The entirely human natural world crosses over with the supernatural world, but somehow neither seems compromised. The natural and the supernatural is blended to line up with the understanding of the time period.

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    The Witch is not so much scary as deeply uncomfortable. I don't know how twisted this makes me sound, but I had fun. There's a lot of meat on the bones here. The characters are all clearly individuals and there is a lot of room for interpretations, particularly by the end. So in the end, any atmospheric moments felt fully justified to me.

    A+


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    Q (1982)
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    Best thing: Tricking mafia thugs into being eaten by a giant flying monster.
    Worst thing: Slow pacing and expecting me to care about a singer/wannabe-hoodlum who can't sing (yes we are forced to watch a performance). Also his "I'm so stressed and that makes me hit my girlfriend" routine, which would make me disinclined to engage with the character anyway, isn't helped by the stilted dialogue from both him and the girlfriend.

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    A large bird-like creature is supposedly terrorising a modern city.

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    It's a really dumb premise, the film isn't paced all that well and the central monster is barely seen.

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    Yet the actors work really hard to sell us on the material. There are actually a number of points where I was pulled into a scene in spite of everything.

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    John Carradine's charm really helps, so it's annoying that most of the film involves a screw-up getaway driver wannabe. The actor playing this role is distinctly lacking in subtlety (though I really don't think the script helped).

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    Overall this felt like it had a remarkable amount of potential considering how utterly stupid the basic ideas appeared to be. The idea of an Aztec god/monster terrorising a modern city has more power than you might expect.

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    Q is an interesting film but, on balance, I wouldn't say it was a particularly good film. I can't say I regret seeing it, mind you.

    C-



    The Time Machine (1960)
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    Best thing: Awesome depiction of time travel with a mixture of strangely timeless effects work and wonderful iconic designs (particularly for the time machine itself and for the fearsome Morlocks)

    Worst thing: Betrays the central moral of HG Wells' original story with some potentially worrying consequences.

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    This old classic sci-fi film is pretty well paced (and I certainly felt it was better paced than the old movie of War Of The Worlds) and it features some very engaging characters, especially the charming protagonist.

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    The third act takes some liberties with the story which helpfully add to the action, but annoyingly negate the conclusion of the HG Wells short story.

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    Spoilers for the original short story:
    In HG Wells story there are two races of humans that have developed by the future. One is descended from the upper classes and the other descended from the lower classes. One has lost all necessity to adapt, while the other has adapted to being kept in the dark out of sight. The result is that the upper classes are now food for the lower classes. In the movie the time travel actively destroys the lower classes to save the upper classes. He has no cautionary tale to send to modern day humanity about the need for a more equitable society in the film. The film lacks HG Wells cynicism and satire.

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    Still, the film remains fun and visually engaging, but HG Wells' original story had a more powerful meaning while the story in the film feels rather slight.

    B-



    Big Man Japan (2007)
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    Best thing: Interviews with a Kaiju fighting shape-shifting man, becoming apathetic about his fledgling career.

    Worst thing: The actual fight scenes depicted with terrible 3D animation.

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    While there are many powerful scenes about the background of the kaiju-fighting hero Big Man Japan and while the comedy works quite well in places, it's never really enough to make for an entertaining movie. The movie's heart is in the right place, but in the end I found this more weird than funny and was never properly able to suspend disbelief.

    D-



    Seconds (1966)
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    Best thing: A very compelling premise gradually revealed and unfurling into a wider mystery.

    Worst thing: Rather too long spent at a pagan bacchanal. Also the protagonist isn't terribly relateable.

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    Seconds involves a secret company who offer an opportunity to rich people who want a second chance at a happy life.

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    The initial set-up is brilliant and the ending is brilliant. Yet I found the film dragged in the middle and that the romance elements were a bit unconvincing. The most annoying scene for me involved a bacchanal where everyone gets naked and stomps grapes. It's a symbolic and arty scene and yet I found it entirely unnecessary.

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    This is very clever sci-fi and mostly a very effective exploration of its speculative ideas.

    B+



    Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead (2014)
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    Best thing: Zombie gas as fuel and psychic zombie-control powers. Some definite original ideas are brought to the zombie genre here.

    Worst thing: A lack any depth of personality from the characters.

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    An Australian zombie movie with humour, action scenes and some pretty twisted lab experiment scenes.

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    Still, the ending of "Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead" felt like it was setting us up for an exciting sequel and I couldn't help but feel that we could have reached that stage earlier and had a more compelling third act as a result.

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    Wyrmwood has  lot of characters to balance and in the end most of them felt rather thinly written. Even Leon Burchill's very funny aboriginal character is more funny than a genuine personality. At certain stages in the film, characters sacrifice themselves to save others, but the characters didn't appear to have really bonded enough to make those scenes work.

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    A lot of the humour didn't land for me. The action didn't always feel like it was filmed in the best way, with quick cuts making those sequences hard to follow. Still there's a lot of excitement, a lot of cool ideas and overall there's enough here to make it worthy of a recommendation.

    B-




    First Men In The Moon (1964)
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    Best thing: Great character interactions and humour. Also awesome timeless effects from Ray Harryhausen.

    Worst thing: A bit of a rushed ending.

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    It's interesting that this film pre-dates the moon landings. That was such an iconic moment in history so it's rather quaint that we start with this alternative version of the event at the start of the movie.

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    And what do the astronauts find on the moon? A small Union Jack flag and a note from the prior visitors. And it turns out that one of those named has been claiming to have visited the moon and ridiculed for it for many decades.

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    The first half of this film is excellent. The characters are clearly defined and have great chemistry. Their interactions are very funny. Also the Harryhausen effects are brilliant, long before we go into space. The effects involving the anti-gravity material the scientist develops are very impressive.

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    In the second half, the aliens on the moon look petty cool. Also there's a cool concept that the aliens shove members of their species into suspended animation whenever they aren't needed. But the plot seems to lose direction once our protagonists meet the aliens. The film even pulls out The War Of The Worlds ending because they didn't want to use the ending from the book.

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    Nevertheless I loved the first half so much and even in the second half and all the way to the eventual ending, there's a delightful comic tone. I had a great time.

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    I haven't read the novel so perhaps I'd be less impressed if I knew how far it was deviating from HG Wells original message. However, this is so much fun that I can't imagine my opinion changing all that much.

    B+





    Terminator Genisys (2015)
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    Best thing: Kyle Reece in a one on one fight with the original terminator was probably my favourite part, though I also loved the nano-bot effects of the new terminator.

    Worst thing: John Connor. It's tough enough trying to portray the indispensable military leader and saviour of mankind. But it's even harder to then explain why he would be fighting against his own ideals. In the end, the film doesn't even try to deal with this. The entire explanation is "he's insane" and that is a real pity since that is the entire central premise of the film being given short shrift.

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    I think I feel the same way about this as a lot of people felt about Jurassic World. Plenty of people thought that was a wonderful tribute to everything that was great about the Jurassic Park movies. Personally I thought Jurassic World was boring and stupid and the decision to neuter the velociraptors absolutely turned me against that film.

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    Terminator Genisys is a mash up of events and ideas from the other terminator movies. The liquid metal terminator, the reprogrammed model 101, Kyle Reece, badass Sarah Connor. It's all here.

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    Arnold Schwarzenegger is brilliant, reprising his dad-machine role from T2 with a bit of the psychology knowledge from T3. Even as early as T2 there has been a comedic side to Arnie's terminator and this film really runs with that. The main protagonists being arrested and interviewed was very funny to me and JK Simmons' inclusion as an outsider watching from the sidelines is genius.

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    Jai Courtney is not remotely the train wreck that he's been made out to be. (And I'll also note that he was better than Bruce Willis in the horrifyingly bad 5th Die Hard movie.) Heck, Michael Biehn's performance in the first film is not all that great anyway. Jai Courtney is dealing with a film with a very different tone and being a misery guts growling, grunting panting and wheezing through every scene would not have worked, even if it would have been closer to Biehn's original performance.

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    Now admittedly the horror tone is lost here. So, like with the velociraptors in Jurassic World, if you think toning that down is a deal breaker you are not going to like this. Personally I don't mind Terminator Genisys just being fun without being terrifying.

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    I really do wish the plot was more compelling though. Why do the protagonists want to travel forward in time anyway? It felt like the backstory about Sarah Connor's childhood raised by a terminator and her attitude towards her destiny was much deeper and more interesting than the central story of stopping Skynet... again.

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    It's not the best terminator movie and, missing the horror roots of the series, it couldn't be. It is, however, a lot of fun and a much better end to this franchise than Terminator Salvation would have been. I had a great time.

    B+


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    Get Santa (2014)

    Best thing: Jim Broadbent being Santa... in prison.
    Worst thing: The unshakeable feeling of boredom.

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    I've been following Christopher Smith's career for quite a while now, but it's not such a fun journey as it once was. I have to give him credit though, since I can't deny that Santa on the run / Santa trying to look tough in prison is a very cool concept. But it's neither dark enough nor sweet and fun enough to work. I just never really got into it.

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    Christopher Smith's heyday was back when he made the horror-comedy Severance, the paranormal slasher movie Triangle and the medieval horror Black Death. When Black Death came out shortly after Neil Marshall's much less interesting Centurion, I was convinced that Smith was the superior filmmaker. Now, after a long gap in Smith's career, followed by a godawful mini-series adapting a Dan Brown knock-off, he's not looking anything like so strong. (Meanwhile Marshall is working on high quality tv like Game of Thrones and Black Sails.)

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    The basic takeaway here is that Smith isn't suited to light hearted comedy. Get Santa isn't funny enough and isn't endearing enough and was plain painful to watch at times. The filmmaking is solid but, even in spite of some clever moments, the script felt weak and I always felt removed from what was happening on screen.

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    And it's especially sad since there is such a cool cast here. Warwick Davis! Stephen Graham! Jodie Whittaker! Rafe Spall! And they are all great. It’s just that the project itself feels unworthy of them.

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    Perhaps Smith will have a return to form with his upcoming movie Detour because he seems to be in a creative rut right now.

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    I could imagine others being able to roll with this a bit better. I couldn't really jive with the reindeer poo gun or the Trunchbull-esque probation worker. But I can't pretend it wasn't rather watchable.

    C-


    American Ultra (2015)

    Best thing: So many funny moments. Perhaps the scene where he kills a baddie by deflecting a bullet off of a frying pan?

    Worst thing: Wasn't a big fan of the animated sequence at the end. Also, does Tony Hale have to play the exact same character in everything? Whether he’s in Arrested Development, Veep or this film, while hilarious, he always seems to be the same person.

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    Max Landis, writer of Chronicle, has now had a few more of his scripts made into full length films. I actually think I preferred this to Chronicle.

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    This is an action-stoner-comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg. What's not to love? The really weird thing is that Kristen Stewart is actually pretty good in this film. Oh, and she doesn't bite her lip once!

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    Hopeless stoner gets anxiety whenever he tries to leave, has relationship where he feels inadequate, then suddenly finds he has super fighting ability when he is 'activated'. Jesse Eisenberg plays the central role and is hilarious. What with this and his role in The Double I'm becoming a big fan of Jesse Eisenberg as a comic actor.

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    In case anyone is unfamiliar MK Ultra was a intelligence program in the US which experimented with controlling people with drugs. It's not looked upon favourably and is seen as a dark and sinister chapter in the history of US intelligence. To some extent, the film reflects that history. On the other hand, things get pretty goofy. Leguizamo's loveable thuggish drug-dealer is quite a wonderful addition.

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    Quite simply, American Ultra is a hell of a lot of fun. I loved it and can't wait to see more Max Landis scripted films. Sure he's no Charlie Kaufman, but since Kaufman insists on writing more naval gazing fare than ever these days and then insists on directing it himself, Landis is actually a more welcome prospect right now.

    A+


    Regression (2015)

    Best thing: As Ethan Hawke is imagining the "fornication" alleged to have taken place in a barn in the middle of a Satanic meeting, we see his visualisation of a naked couple making out materialise inside the car that is parked in there. The Satanic visions are often (intentionally) hilarious. In another film we might be expected to take those same sequences seriously, but anyone who knows the slightest thing about the Satanic Panic will understand why that is not the case here.

    Worst thing: Sometimes imitates the cheesy supernatural BS movies a little too accurately. When a woman is terrified by a domestic cat, I couldn't help but remember the stupidity of similarly styled movies like "The Rite" with Anthony Hopkins or "White Noise" with Michael Keaton. Despite the inevitable reversal, Regression can often feel rather more sincere in its depiction of superstitious hogwash than is really appropriate.

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    Alejandro Amenabar is a director who seems to hold an obsession with unusual twists on the concept of the afterlife (Open Your Eyes, The Others) and the opposition of faith and reason (The Sea Inside, Agora). It's a little unfortunate that audiences mainly seem to be disappointed by this film when they discover that there WASN'T a massive baby-murdering conspiracy organised by hooded Satanists - as if that were a massive surprise! (For once, a film claiming to be based on real life actually tells the truth.)

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    The real mystery here is how anyone comes to believe in hooded Satanists if there, in fact, weren't any. It is the subtext that much of what we see in the film is the product of mass hysteria which really made the film interesting to me.

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    As for performances, Ethan Hawke and David Thewlis are both brilliant. I've actually heard some people claim that Emma Watson is the best thing about this film, but it seemed clear to me that her accent wasn't even as convincing as in other films where she's used an American accent before.

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    Perhaps a rather odd comparison I'd like to make is with "The Witch". You see, "The Witch" showed events as they were described by settlers. Similarly "Regression" shows events very much from the perspective of Ethan Hawke's detective character. What we see in the film is the hysteria of unfounded fears from an insider's perspective and that is something common to both films.

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    So what is this film’s take on the satanic panic? Well the clue’s in the title. The key to everyone believing the crazy statements devoid of evidence so completely is the supposedly “scientific” methods of ‘hypnotic regression’. This crosses over with some Satan-centred rhetoric on television and at the local Church to produce an explosive combination. One criticism I’ve heard is that a lot of those coming forth with dodgy statements were much younger than Emma Watson’s character and were fed their stories much more forcefully, but I think the filmmakers are keen to show this from the perspective of a well-meaning relateable police officer who is trying to do his job well. That would be a tough sell if he were shown badgering young children in the interview room.

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    While I greatly admired many aspects of Amenabar's previous film "Agora" I recognise that it has a number of failings. But Regression was a very interesting and compelling cinematic experience for me and I simply do not understand the hate.

    A+


    The Final Girls (2015)

    Best thing: Central theme of a girl who wants a movie character to be her mother. Very deep (and rather bizarre now I try to sum it up at the beginning of this review).

    Worst thing: The comic relief misogynistic character. He didn't really feel so much like a slasher movie character as a comedian brought into this meta-horror film as comic relief and possibly doing a better job making the cast laugh offscreen than he does making the audience laugh.

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    The premise of a group of movie-goers who find themselves thrust into the world of the movie can easily become navel-gazing, but that doesn’t happen at all here. The neat twist being that one of the girls who enters the film finds herself very attached to a particular character in the film. Why so attached? Well, the character was originally played by her now-deceased mother and therefore, in the world of the movie, it is like being reunited with her.

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    The Final Girls doesn't really feel like a film from huge geeky slasher fans. It's more like a film that plays with a few very general slasher tropes. To that extent, however, it's a lot of fun. The jokes aren't always that amazing and the characters are alright, but the movie really shines in exploring a world limited by movie rules. There are some neat effects and the slasher killer is genuinely imposing. When the protagonists are failing to run away from the world of the slasher film we genuinely care. While this is a bit average as a comedy, the dramatic timing is very effective, so I was consistently engaged with a few chuckles along the way.

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    I was expecting The Final Girls to be hilarious, but in the end it was just good fun. For hilarity I'd suggest Tucker And Dale Vs Evil or Cabin In The Woods, but for some intelligent satire with some genuinely touching character moments, The Final Girls is well worth your time.

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    The way the film thrusts its characters into flashbacks, slow motion and end credits consistently kept my attention and kept me excited. Taissa Farmiga is pretty cool in the lead role, but Malin Åkerman (who people may remember from Watchmen) is absolutely brilliant here as both the exuberant young mother and the naive sexually-blossoming slasher-movie victim.

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    Spoiler: Is she really the final girl if her boyfriend is still alive?

    A-



    What We Did On Our Holiday (2014)

    Best thing: Acting is good.
    Worst thing: Script is terrible. Completely misses out everything which made Outnumbered the series work. The filmmakers seem to care more about gorgeous visuals from Scotland than they do about making a decent comedy.

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    Worst episode of Outnumbered ever.

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    No it's not an episode of Outnumbered, but it's the same format and the same writers. A new batch of young children provide  semi-improvised interactions with the intention that it will lead to funnier and more naturalistic performances.

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    Unfortunately Billy Connelly seems to hog the spotlight so the children don't really get the chance to be funny. There's generally none of the chaos of the series. Even when we finally reach the over the top point in the story which should be hilarious, it is played entirely straight (prrsumably with music selected by Scotland's board of tourism in the background) until all the comedic momentum is lost. We are then bizarrely expected to laugh once the joke is old news.

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    Seriously, if I spoilt this third act revelation for you, it's pretty much inevitable that at least a few people would chuckle at the description alone. It's amazing to me that this section of the film is so unfunny. An episode of the series would never waste a gag like this.

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    In the original series there's a very well established main character who regularly talks intelligently about crazy things he's researched and incompletely understood from the internet. In one episode he's analysing everyone's behaviour using Freudian psychology. In this movie there's a boy who is obsessed with Vikings and he explains in the most scripted passionless way possible that Odin "goes around testing people's hospitality". It doesn't fit the child's character for him to say this and it doesn't sound like he's parroting from the internet; it simply sounds like the line is in the script and he's doing his best to make this ill-fitting line sound natural.

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    The actors do the best they can with this terrible material, but all the charm of the series is entirely missing. This must seem pretty mediocre to newcomers, but as a fan of the series I found this to be an unacceptable travesty.

    E



    Turbo Kid (2015)

    Best thing: The female character called Apple; particularly when she's using her fighting techniques. Gnome stick ftw!
    Worst thing: While the over-the-top gore was awesome, the excessive swearing got to me. Nowhere near the level of Hobo With A Shotgun, but a similar concern as I had with that new-grindhouse film.

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    A mixture of Mad Max and Escape From New York. This vision of the future features a viewfinder filled with images of dinosaurs, a power glove, a device seemingly powered by a plasma ball (remember those?) and a walkman playing hair metal. Because in this alternate history, the apocalypse occurred during the 80s and the distant future is the late 90s.

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    Michael Ironside makes for a great villain, with his unique brand of hamminess. (He has the most incredibly charming evil smile.)

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    While some people might find the character of Apple annoying  (not least since, initially, that is clearly the intention), I found that she really developed as a character. She's such a wonderfully sweet manic pixie dream-droid and so light-hearted without abandoning the black comedy tone of the rest of the film, I just loved every scene Apple was on screen.

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    The lead protagonist has a tougher role, being naive and unsure of himself yet trying to be tough. But when, for example, he seriously  utters the words, "Prepare to take a turbo charge... of justice... in the    face!" his naivety and sincerity is funny yet remarkably compelling.

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    Turbo Kid is emotionally involving, wonderfully fun and overall made for an absolutely great time. Don’t be fooled by the title though. There’s nothing “kiddy” about Turbo Kid.

    A+


    Bay Of Blood (1971)


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    Best thing: Italian horror atmosphere
    Worst thing: Pretty boring. Twists and turns of who is a villain and who is a good guy were a little confusing, but mostly just uninteresting.

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    I love a lot of Italian horror, particularly Lucio Fulci (Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond). I recently very much enjoyed Demons. But Bay of Blood is just rather boring.

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    It's not offensively bad. It even has a bit of charm to it. Yet I simply was not entertained.

    D-


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    CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

    Best thing:
    Spider-Man bringing the humour

    Worst thing: Sharon Carter and Captain America have an entirely unearned unromantic kiss because the comics continuity needs them to.

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    I've generally judged the Marvel movies based on the amount of humour and Captain America: Civil War isn't as centred around comedy as my favourites like Iron Man 3 or Thor 2.

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    Still, it should be no surprise that my favourite aspect of Civil War is Spider-Man finally having free reign to be funny. Andrew Garfield was a lot of fun in the role, but any appearance by Spider-Man in the big central fight scene is dedicated to him being funny (and his opponents complaining that he talks too much - which is new to Spider-Man movies.)

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    Another cool thing is that the big cluttered spectacle fight is in the middle of the film. This time around the final scenes are genuinely character driven.

    And actually the character drama as a whole is remarkably compelling. The central premise is pretty similar to that of the recent Batman Vs Superman film. A feud develops between the superheroes based on reactions to deaths caused by their crime-fighting antics. But the response is not to simply get angry with one another. There's a political thriller storyline here that is remarkably subtle for a superhero film.

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    Interestingly, the film technically has no villains. Certainly there is at least one character who does terrible things and could be seen as a villain as a result. But there's no straightforward Loki figure, doing terrible things for approval or personal glory. There are mainly victims here, with Spider-Man being perhaps one of the least angsty characters for a change.

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    I was genuinely siding with one 'team' just watching the trailer, but surprisingly I didn't spend the movie just shaking my head at the other team. Captain America's naivety still annoys me (and I find it seriously puzzling considering he's meant to have first hand experience of the horrors of WWII warfare), but here Cap's naivety is both acknowledged as well as reduced. Cap seems to recognise gray areas now and his principles are challenged more than ever before.

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    In a movie series which has now reached its 13th instalment after just 8 years, it's amazing that quality has remained as consistent as it has. The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is baffling but personally I find it hard not to respect at this stage.

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    Fight scenes are well-choreographed, effects are impressive, there's still humour even if it isn't the main focus, yet perhaps for the first time in a Marvel movie the drama is the most impressive element. Despite not being centred around comedy, this may actually be my favourite Marvel Studios film.

    A+


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    Wow, I've been so busy. I've been gradually writing up little reviews on my phone now and then when I get a chance, but it's taken this long for me to get them uploaded with pics and the like. I've got a lot of film reviews still to write and actually a pretty large number already written and ready to post. I'll get to those soon enough. But yeah, I'm alive and kicking and actually pretty positive about life right now. Which is good.



    Hope those of you who still use livejournal are doing okay. Stay cool everyone! (And speaking of staying cool, the UK weather right now seems to be hot and muggy with dark cloud cover and the occasional shower. Oh, to be in England... Ugh!)

    Burying The Ex (2014)
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    Best thing: A man's girlfriend is reborn as a zombie and becomes very fond of being dead. The scenes where she tries to insist her boyfriend join her are the most entertaining and there's certainly no problem with the performances.

    Worst thing: Somehow the overall comic and dramatic timing seems to be lacking. No Joe Dante movie has ever felt this flat before and I cannot really explain it.

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    I'm afraid all worst fears come true from this premise. We have an over-emotional ex who loves environmentalism and veganism and who stuffs her boyfriend's classic Italian horror posters into a drawer because "they're not even in English". It's only really once she becomes a zombie and can delight in being the villain she was set up to be from the start, that she really gets to be an interesting character. The intro certainly doesn't work in setting her up as a character and since she's the main monster, not a goofy side-character, that's a real problem.

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    We'd have been better off starting with her already zombified. The opening drags and there's a very funny and kinetic scene towards the end where the characters all fight that revealed the potential of the premise. Perhaps if the film wasted less time setting up and jumped into the fun part, the film might have been more entertaining.

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    So much of the plot is predictable and often not terribly funny at the same time. Do you think the protagonist might prefer to sweet geeky ice cream seller over the irritating stay-at-home petty environmentalist harpy? Will the slobby half-brother (blatantly modelled on Nick Frost, but I suppose it's a staple of comedy stereotypes) give bad advice?

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    It's a bit bizarre how little the humour worked for me in this film, but even the less effective Joe Dante movies have normally been more exciting than Burying The Ex. I hope Dante tries again soon.

    D+




    Super (2010)
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    Best thing: Ellen Page as the comic fan who goes borderline psychopathic when she becomes a superhero’s side-kick.

    Worst thing: How come nobody ever catches him? If they don't care, then how come nobody ever dies from being hit in the head with a wrench? How come no drug dealers ever just shoot him? ... Also, Liv Tyler is pretty bad.

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    While undermined by the success of Kick-Ass, Super has its own unique take on superheroes, this time with no actual superheroes to contrast with the protagonist.

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    This is basically the real world, where you'd have to be crazy to become a superhero, so our protagonist clearly is.

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    I can't help but feel that this film thinks it is funnier than it is. The comic timing is misjudged. This changes when Ellen Page becomes the sidekick. I actually think perhaps  she should do more comedy. Her character is used to explore some of the darkest aspects of an unhinged real-life superhero team, yet she also delivers some of the funniest lines.    

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    Liv Tyler's intolerable breathy voice is almost justifed by her role as a drugged up trophy girlfriend for Kevin Bacon's casual drug dealer villain character. But I really cannot stand her inexpressive performances.

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    Certainly the second half of Super was a lot more engaging for me than the first half, but my big problem is that the filmmakers seem to be promising comedy and I generally wasn't laughing.

    C+




    Thief (1981)

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    Best thing: Great central performance from James Caan and some very cool visuals.

    Worst thing: Slow pacing. Also, I don't understand why the female lead agrees to the protagonist's very insistent,  possessive, unromantic and frankly very creepy relationship proposal.

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    Michael Mann has an aesthetic I don't think I've ever quite understood. What is apparently gorgeous visuals of the urban landscape has never quite spoken to me.

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    Still when we reach the big heist in Theif, I felt I understood why others would be taken with the visuals. The firey blaze of a torch opening up the front of the safe is definitely beautiful, though considering how the camera lingers on this, it was perhaps not leaving me as spellbound as the director hoped.

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    What I DO understand is James Caan. He's very good at playing characters who are somehow relateable despite having an attitude. However, the film stretches how relateable I'm able to find him when he forces the love interest to join him in a cafe and then shares with her his creepy 'future plans' collage.

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    All credit to both lead actors, they commit to this baffling central relationship, but in the end I felt the actors did more to sell it than the script or the direction. The pacing is slow and this was not really a story I found particularly fascinating.

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    I can understand the comparisons to Drive. This is a simple story told simply with an emphasis on the aesthetics and with an odd central romance. But personally I found it hard to accept the romance and hard to appreciate the aesthetics, so this wasn't for me.

    C-




    The Tale Of Princess Kaguya (2013)
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    Best thing: Beautiful, with a distinctive artistic style. Another unique Studio Ghibli story.

    Worst thing: Incredibly miserable. Has that repetitive element present in fairytales, which might still work for you if you can immerse yourself in the story.

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    Princess Kaguya has all the imaginativeness and beauty we expect from the Studio Ghibli, which tend to be consistently high quality. However, I find there's also an odd tone to many Studio Ghibli films, and anime in general.

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    Princess Kaguya is more like a traditional fairytale than ever before and it has the darkness of a fairytale. It might seem unfair to count the deep sadness of the story of Princess Kaguya against the film. However, I found that the film dwelled on that misery while the plot plodded onwards.

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    Yes, the expectations on high society women back then were ludicrous. Yes, life is hard. Yes, people are terrible. And yes, the flowing animation style depicts the story in a way that is emotionally rich. It's just no fun.

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    Princess Kaguya is beautiful, smart and interesting. I felt it was a bit of a struggle though. Even though I appreciated the film a lot, it really dragged and I did not entirely enjoy the experience.

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    I’m stunned by the visuals and the premise of a magical fairy princess finding herself smothered by the high society cultural expectations is very interesting, yet I actually found it hard to fully immerse myself in this world. I never really understood the protagonist as a person rather than as a concept.

    B-


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    The Nice Guys (2016)
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    Best thing: The endless carnage in this film where background characters regularly take direct hits when caught in the crossfire is hilarious. When our protagonists manage to avoid getting shot in this urban setting, in most cases some innocent bystander ends up being gunned down instead.

    Worst thing: Kim Basinger has a pretty small role as a pretty cold character which somewhat suits her wooden performance. I'm also a bit confused as to what our protagonists believe they are doing with a case full of money at one stage.

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    Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe turn out to have some great comic timing. Crowe plays a thug-for-hire with aspirations to become a private detective, while Gosling plays a private investigator with money troubles.

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    We are also introduced to Angourie Rice who plays Gosling's pro-active daughter. (She's no sooner met Crowe than she's trying to hire him to beat up one of her friends.) She actually somewhat reminded me of the girl in the cartoon 'Inspector Gadget' (though naturally she wasn't regularly getting out a computer to communicate with a dog). She's regularly going off to try to find things out herself, thanks to Gosling's lax parenting.

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    It seems that I was laughing a lot more than the rest of the audience. Clearly the nihilistic violent black comedy appealed to me quite specifically. Is it twisted that I was laughing out loud whenever an innocent bystander was killed? There are several points where the characters are dodging gunfire or wrestling with a gun and it's a bizarre how direct these accidental shots end up being. It's like nearly every bullet that misses the protagonists is a direct hit on an unfortunate individual.

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    The humour is very similar to the kind found in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and both films are detective stories only with bumbling amateur(ish) detectives. With Nice Guys, however, the big focus is the setting of the 70s. The aesthetic of the film is very colourful and distinctive and it really pulled me in.

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    Hilarious, action-packed, well-acted, characterised by Shane Black's distinctive style and with quite a smart little mystery at the centre of this bizarre nihilistic world. This is a strong favourite for me.

    A+


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    Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)
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    Best thing: Cruise brings the same fun we saw from him in Edge of Tomorrow. We are regularly invited to laugh at Hunt's impossible predicaments.

    Worst thing: The exact same premise of seemingly every single Mission Impossible movie. Also I never seem to like Ethan Hunt as much as I'm supposed to or invest in the action as much as I'm supposed to.

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    Ghost Protocol was dumb fun, but it was somewhat elevated by the spectacular visual eye of director Brad Bird. Rogue Nation doesn't have the same level of visual flair, but it still looks pretty cool and the action scenes are still exciting.

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    What Rogue Nation has over its predecessor is a much more interesting plot. It's not exactly a gripping intricate mystery, but it does come together nicely rather than feeling like a set of action sequences loosely connected to each other.

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    The premise, like in seemingly all Mission Impossible movies, is that IMF have been disavowed and now need to do their mission unsupported... again!

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    I like the actress Rebecca Ferguson, who is brought in here as a double, triple, quadruple agent to make us question loyalties and throw a spanner in the works. Still, I never really believe that her character has parallels with Ethan Hunt, in spite of the way the film insists.

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    Tom Cruise seems less smug this time around with more of the self-deprecating humour we saw from him in Edge of Tomorrow. The best parts are still the stunts where Ethan Hunt seems like his super spy skills might not be enough. Just like the malfunctioning wall climbing gloves were the most exciting part of Ghost Protocol, a ridiculous amount of time in which Hunt needs to hold his breath is the best scene in Rogue Nation.

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    I'm not fantastically gripped by every scene (the car/bike chase overstays its welcome a bit), but the film is still good solid fun. This is probably the best Mission Impossible movie so far.

    B+



    The Man From UNCLE (2015)
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    Best thing: Hilarious and a lot of fun. The three central actors have fantastic chemistry and the addition of Hugh Grant to the mix works very well too.

    Worst thing: The villains don't really matter. Though actually the film isn't desperate to make the villains matter. The focus is on the lead actors.

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    The best spy movie of the year. Forget MI:Rogue Nation and definitely forget Spectre. This has all the fun and all the action we normally expect from a good Bond movie, but the interesting chemistry between this set of characters gives the film its own unique take on the genre.

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    Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair, Ex Machina) is very cool in a very central female role. Meanwhile the rivalry between Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer goes to places you would never see in any other film when they start arguing about women's fashion. Still, Vikander is not simply facilitating their rivalry. She is very much a character in her own right and has an even share of the gags.

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    There's rarely a moment in The Man From UNCLE where I am not laughing. Every single scene has a wonderful sense of fun. I must admit that I could never really get into the re-run episodes of the old 60s tv series and so I've no idea how much the film veers from the original premise. However, as a project in its own right, “The Man from UNCLE” is impeccable.

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    For me, this is undoubtedly Guy Ritchie’s best film ever. I liked Lock Stock a lot and I also enjoyed Snatch very much even though I felt it was somewhat of a mixed bag. (I feel Brad Pitt rather stole the show in the latter, but the rest of the film didn’t always work so well for me.) I haven’t even tried his two flops, “Revolver” and “Swept Away”, because of their terrible reputations, but I have seen (and failed to be impressed by) his supposed return-to-form movie “Rocknrolla” (where I thought the protagonist suddenly seemed interesting at the last minute, but the rest of the movie was boring as hell). While quite fun, I thought “Sherlock Holmes” was a very formulaic and failed to be an engaging story, so I completely skipped the sequel. (I don’t think it helped that there were so many Sherlock adaptations being released concurrently.)

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    But “The Man From UNCLE”? I wish I’d seen it in the cinema. I’d love to see a sequel. And it isn’t just a good script either. The film has a pretty gripping visual style which serves both the drama and the comedy very well. Amazingly, when I’d pretty much dismissed Guy Ritchie as a hack and had begun to attribute his initial successes to the involvement of Matthew Vaughn, he’s suddenly completely turned things around and made me want him back in the director’s chair for the next instalment.

    A+


    Crimson Peak (2015)
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    Best thing: Great performances, particularly from Tom Hiddleston and the ever awesome Mia Wasikowska.

    Worst thing: Early on in the story there is an unidentified murderer. Nobody saw who it was? I feel like it should have been harder to avoid detection when committing a crime like that.

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    Guillermo Del Toro is an awesome director who at very least brings an incredible visual style and creature design to his films, but has also shown that he can be an excellent storyteller.

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    My favourite Del Toro movie is still Pan's Labyrinth, but he's also responsible for one of my favourite superhero movies: Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Looking back at Del Toro's older films, I was surprised at how unimpressed I remained with Blade II.

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    Another important element in Crimson Peak, on top of Guillermo’s storytelling skill, is Mia Wasikowska in the lead role. Stoker, Tracks, Maps To The Stars, The Double. She has starred in so many great films lately and this is no exception. Seeing her act alongside Tom Hiddleston here is a real treat.

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    This is very much a ghost story and there's no bizarre twist. The ghost is not a metaphor and it is real. Often I'm irritated or at least underwhelmed by ghost stories, but I loved Crimson Peak.

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    Great performances (including a notably awesome performance from Jessica Chastain too, which I really can’t afford not to mention), fantastic visuals, and a gripping gothic story. Great!

    A+




    Wer (2013)
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    Best thing: Great effects reminiscent of those in the film Afflicted.

    Worst thing: Pointless unnecessary head shaving scene and an unfortunately less compelling third act.

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    Begins with a cool mystery, with a legal defence team trying to understand how a figure weakened by a rare illness could possibly be responsible for a violent murder. Convinced that the authorities have made a mistake and that their methods of handling the suspect are unethical they pursue a case to acquit the suspect.

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    For the first half there is a very cool build-up and then in the second half we get some very cool action sequences. Unfortunately the action gets a bit repetitive and the final showdown leaves something to be desired. One character randomly shaves their head, which seems a bit silly. The finale then seems a little padded out, doesn't resolve the character drama particularly well and the resolution feels a little underwhelming.

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    Still I must admit I had fun. It's quite an interesting take on werewolves and, until the final act ran out of steam, I was enjoying myself very much. And I will note that this isn’t an ending which ruins the whole experience. It’s just that the first half promised so much and the final scenes feel rather humdrum after all that build-up.

    B+


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    Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (2008)
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    Best thing: Frances McDormand's incredible expressive comic performance, regularly transitioning into heartfelt drama.  

    Worst thing: I'm having trouble. Just generally the issue is that this is a bit light, but that's intentional. Amy Adams seems a bit inauthentic in roles like this, but here her cartoonishness fits with the cartoonish tone of the film as a whole. But if you aren't able to go with the light floaty unreal tone (and I initially struggled) you may find this is a problem.

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    Is there anything Frances McDormand cannot do? She has a perfect English accent and does the sort of great charming comic performance we'd expect from Emma Thompson - only better.

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    She plays the role of a nanny who finds herself 'accidentally' hired as a personal assistant for a highly sexed aspiring actress (Amy Adams) and finds herself oddly suited to it.

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    Always love to see Mark Strong do his thing and he's basically the villain here.

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    Just generally Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day is a delightful and hilarious comedy almost guaranteed to be a great time for anyone.

    A+


    Fargo (1996)
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    Best thing: There are so many wonderful moments and superbly quotable lines. "I'm cooperating here. Darn tootin!" "I'm going crazy out there at the lake." It's not the lines, but more the delivery. There's an absurd calmness and ordinariness about the horrifying things that happen.

    Worst thing: The scene with the old friend whose wife has died. What did that add to anything? What was the point of that scene?

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    People have mixed reactions to Fargo sometimes and I can understand this. It's my contention that the Coen Brothers are going for the same basic tone every time: black comedy. But it's harder to totally embrace the comedy in their darker films like No Country For Old Men or Miller’s Crossing.

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    The comedy is more explicit in Fargo than some of their films, but the instinct is to suppress that laughter when you've just been told (lied to) that this story is completely true. It's harder to laugh at supposedly true events. I think it's easier to enjoy this film knowing that the opening disclaimer that this is all being told "exactly as it occurred" is itself a joke. In the recent tv series the disclaimer joke is made much more obvious by announcing "exactly as it occurred" in big loud letters which dominate the screen, with the absurd events being montaged in the background, so hopefully this will help more people enjoy the film.

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    For me this is a film that has always improved in subsequent viewings. I think becoming more familiar with the Coen Brothers' style of comedy has helped me to love this film rather simply like it. There are more comedy-centric Coen Brothers films I like more, but this is definitely up there as one of my favourites.

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    The story is that a down-on-his-luck car salesman who gets involved in the crime world to improve his lot in life. Essentially this is the same plot as the tv series, but they are sufficiently different in where they each take that premise. I'm now really enjoying Fargo as an extended universe. I don't think anyone would have imagined that a tv series could enrich a classic film, but I really think that is what has happened.

    A+

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    Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015)
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    Best thing: Mel Brooks as the great grandpa vampire. Cool cameo and also a very funny character and his appearance is a good shot-in-the-arm for the third act.

    Worst thing: The road trip with Dracula's buddies goes on a bit long. Adam Sandler's voice acting buddies like Kevin James don't bring much to their roles.

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    I mostly really enjoyed the first Hotel Transylvania. It didn't reach the Pixar magic we have now come to expect from animated movies, but I did feel engaged by the characters and I did find it funny. However, the songs (particularly the autotune) did bug me and monsters referring to a 'zing' between couples that are meant-to-be seemed a bit daft. This time around there are no songs and there's only a brief mention of zing in passing.

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    I must admit that much of this film's charm comes from being cute. The vampire/human couple have a new child and our Addams Family-esque gags, of monsters doing normal things weirdly, centre around a beaming young child with wide eyes and big bouncy red hair. The joke about his first words isn't exactly a laugh riot, but it's sweet and endearing and that tone helps to bring me on board with the film as a whole.

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    There are some real issues of identity here with a clash between the vampiric/Romanian(/Jewish?) side of the family and the human/Californian side of the family. I say "clash" but actually it's more like two groups muddling through their differences. One family has quirky old traditions while the other is totally at home with modern living but isn't entitely sure how to be welcoming to groups they see as quirky or quaint.

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    Naturally this isn't original. One need only mention the Addams Family to see this same idea arguably explored more subtly. But these themes are handled well, all the same.

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    I found this a lot of fun. I'd rather we'd had the Popeye film or the Dark Crystal sequel that director and animator Tartatovsky had promised, but Hotel Transylvania 2 proves that he can adapt. Perhaps the success of these Hotel Transylvania movies will eventually allow Genndy Tartatovsky to get a personal passion project off the ground. (His Clone Wars cartoons are still the best thing to come out of Lucas' Star Wars prequels.) In the meantime, this was fun.

    B+



    Macbeth (1971)

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    Best thing: I like how brutal it all is, but my favourite scene is probably the appearance of Banquo's ghost.

    Worst thing: The voiceover. There's something engaging about an actor talking directly to the audience, like Ian McKellan does in Richard III. To make this more like a conventional film, the solo parts are delivered as voiceover in the background, but that makes these lines into less of a performance. It's much more interesting to see these lines performed than to see a blank face staring into space while their inner monologue speaks in the background.

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    While Macbeth is a great story and Polanski admittedly has interesting ideas on how to present it, I still find many points where the format made the story lag where a theatre performance would not. Voiceover is never going to be as engaging as a full body performance directed at the audience.

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    The fight/battle scenes towards the end aren't fantastically choreographed. But prior to that the fevered dream sequences are actually pretty effective and the inevitable fulfilment of the witches' prophecy of the moving forest is a bit amazing.

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    There's a lot to love here, but I think it's a bit of a mixed bag. I'll be interested to see how the new film with Michael Fassbender compares.

    B-


    Peter Pan (2003)
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    Best thing: Jason Isaacs is awesome as Pan's nemesis Hook. Possibly my favourite moment in the film is when he deliberately kills a fairy by saying "I don't believe in fairies" right behind it. I also love Ludivine Sangnier's slapstick and mimed performance as Pan's fairy, Tinkerbelle.

    Worst thing: The boy who plays Pan feels a bit out of place as the ONLY American in the film, but the bigger problem is that the his arc in the film is that he needs to love Wendy. Seriously? He clearly loves her from the moment he turns up! If the point is that Wendy needs to get Pan interested in girls, then that's very uncomfortable. These are clearly children and I'm not sure I'm on board with a plot about awakening Pan's sexuality.

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    A fun live action adaptation of the story. Weirdly I actually saw this in the cinema when it first came out. I remembered it pretty fondly, but not enough to return to it before now. The visuals and the performances were as good as I remembered, but the writing isn't so impressive. Even though this version of Peter Pan is very well presented and the acting is great, it's still very much a "shove your kids in front of the tele for a few hours" kind of affair. There was potential for more here, but it's too cheesy, too formulaic and the final act just completely lost my interest.

    D+

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    Sense And Sensibility (1995)
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    Best thing: All performances are great, but I love Elizabeth Spriggs and Imelda Staunton's roles as a well-meaning but gossipy mother and daughter.

    Worst thing: Kate Winslet's character walking in the rain too long because she is so sad. It comes off as a bit ridiculous, which is perhaps an intentional part of her character, but it feels odd at that moment.

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    This Jane Austen adaptation from ultra-versatile director, Ang Lee, is just as great as I remembered. Probably my favourite straight adaptation of Austen's work. (Though I have a special place in my heart reserved for Clueless.) Great cast, great storytelling and a good sense of humour.

    A+



    Saving Private Ryan (1998)
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    Best thing: The fantastic immersive and gory Normandy landings sequence.

    Worst thing: While there are a lot more problems than I remember, the biggest issue might actually be the ultra-patriotic music that regularly swells in the background. This film is schmaltzy enough as it is without the music almost sending it into self-parody.

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    I hadn't seen Saving Private Ryan in a long long time. I knew it wasn't perfect, but my memory was that the biggest problems were the American flag/modern day sections at the start and the end and the way the film drags in the middle. This time around though, I realised that I don't particularly like the climactic battle in the third act either. I was able to go with a lot of the somewhat tiresome banter in the middle of the film and those scenes have their moments, but the third act simply isn't a strong enough payoff after such a long wait.

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    Still, I was caught completely off-guard when they discovered the wrong Private Ryan. It was Nathan Fillion! Captain Mal Reynolds from Firefly is in this. That was pretty cool.

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    What is still absolutely brilliant in Saving Private Ryan is the opening Normandy landings sequence. This is a fantastic piece of cinema and will always be worth returning to. It's just unfortunate that this level of quality dips irretrievably after the first half hour is over.

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    A blockbuster with one awesome action sequence, even one on a level of genius like this, still remains a flawed film overall. Saving Private Ryan is comfortably bearable to watch, but it really drags. The only really worthwhile scene is the opening fight on the beach, but that sequence is REALLY worthwhile - even if you don't bother with the rest of the film.

    C-


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