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- 02/05/17--14:15: _First Cinema Trip o...
- 03/02/17--18:08: _Movie Guide 2017: J...
- 03/06/17--04:07: _More Reviews! Inclu...
- 03/06/17--04:11: _Movie Guide 2017: J...
- 03/06/17--04:46: _Movie Guide 2017: A...
- 03/13/17--16:48: _A Rewatch Changes M...
- 03/19/17--11:12: _Reviews of the late...
- 03/25/17--13:16: _Get Out and other, ...
- 04/01/17--15:39: _Rambo Movie Series ...
- 04/14/17--18:08: _More Movie Reviews....
- 05/21/17--13:42: _A GOOD Version Of T...
- 08/20/17--06:41: _After A Long Hiatus...
- 09/27/16--15:50: _Another Big Bag O' ...
- 10/09/16--19:35: _An awesome Shakespe...
- 10/11/16--15:16: _Nope-Tober: The Mor...
- 10/25/16--15:03: _Nope-Tober: The Mor...
- 10/31/16--15:17: _Nope-Tober: The Mor...
- 11/13/16--08:15: _Nope-Tober: The Mor...
- 11/22/16--14:15: _Yet Another Bloomin...
- 11/27/16--16:08: _Post-Tober 2016 Rev...
- 02/05/17--14:15: First Cinema Trip of 2017: Denial (+ Loads More Reviews)
- 03/02/17--18:08: Movie Guide 2017: January - June
- 03/06/17--04:07: More Reviews! Including a review of The Lego Batman Movie...
- 03/06/17--04:11: Movie Guide 2017: July - December
- 03/06/17--04:46: Movie Guide 2017: At A Glance
- 03/19/17--11:12: Reviews of the latest X-Men movies. And then even more....
- 03/25/17--13:16: Get Out and other, mostly horror, reviews
- 04/01/17--15:39: Rambo Movie Series Reviewed!
- 04/14/17--18:08: More Movie Reviews....
- 09/27/16--15:50: Another Big Bag O' Reviews
- 10/11/16--15:16: Nope-Tober: The More Relaxed Horror Marathon (Part One: Movies 1-4)
- 10/25/16--15:03: Nope-Tober: The More Relaxed Horror Marathon (Part Two: Movies 5-14)
- 11/22/16--14:15: Yet Another Blooming Bunch of Reviews...
- 11/27/16--16:08: Post-Tober 2016 Reviews Part 1
Best thing: The obvious choice would be Timothy Spall. At one point someone shoves on a tape of one of David Irving’s events and it took me a while to realise that it wasn't real life footage. So fully had Spall immersed me in his character that I genuinely now saw him as that figure and had completely suspended belief. But I think my favourite thing might be the conflict for Rachel Weisz when she ends up feeling compelled to tell a holocaust survivor they can speak at the trial. This might not seem controversial but within the context of the film it's a key moment that provides some real depth.
Worst thing: For an academic Rachel Weisz's character seems oddly unable to maintain distance from the subject matter. I don't really have a problem with her getting offended when they are visiting the holocaust, but I did get a little irritated in a later scene where she finally realises, "Oh I see now! You were gathering facts for the trial!" Still I think this still raises interesting questions about her character: her feelings of mistrust and that she should be more fully in control of proceedings. Also her feelings of personal responsibility for the outcome of the trial.
British historian David Irving sues American historian Deborah E. Lipstadt for libel because she called him a holocaust denier. The result is a situation where it seems that the historical truth of the holocaust is on trial.
The performances are wonderful and I found the whole premise incredibly interesting. There's an analogy to be made with internet trolls and what is now called the "alt right". David Irving is an example of a figure who courted extremist sentiments by being a bit of a showman. He says what they want to hear, over-eggs the extent of his evidence and is seen as legitimising bigoted historical revisionist positions.
The protagonist finds herself in an odd position. It's strange enough to find the UK legal system requires her to shoulder the burden of proof when she is sued for libel. (She has to prove that her writing is not libellous.) But her situation becomes even odder when she is told that she should not speak at the trial. That holocaust survivors must not be brought forward. The trial strategy is essentially: "Do not feed the troll."
Naturally a trial is a very specific context and on the internet "don't feed the troll" isn't always the best advice, but David Irving’s approach is nevertheless very much that of an internet troll. I'm also reminded of "The Intruder" where William Shatner plays a figure who riles up bigoted sentiments. Social media today seems to help such figures find and unite the niche groups with specific extreme views.
Denial is a film championing those who call out the progenitors of misinformation. It is a film about free speech: the dangers when it is abused, but also the overall necessity of that principle of free speech. It also features an array of great performances and engaging characters. Awesome!
ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
Best thing: For me, by far the best segment (and I so wish the rest of the film was this good) was "W is for Wish". It's like an advert for He-Man toys turned into a horror movie. It's pretty amazing.
Worst thing: The big chubby guy going nuts is perhaps not the worst thing in the film. But that segment is a good example of the film's problems. It's hard to enjoy the majority of this short film because it's not clear what is happening. In the end the explanation is a cheap gag. The result of this is that even the good aspects of the film are wasted because of the format.
I've been meaning to review this for a while. None of the films are as bad as they get in the first movie, but then none of them are as good as those apart from (in my opinion) Steven Kostanski's "W is for Wish" segment. (I really feel like I ought to see Manborg now.)
My favourites from the first were "L is for Libido" (from the director of the VHS segment "Safe Haven") and "T is for Toilet" (from youtube Claymation sensation Lee Hardcastle). Nothing in this sequel has that level of creativity and certainly none of the films seem to be allowed the amount of time that made that segment work. But I've got to admit that we also don't get anything as pathetic as Ti West's "M for Miscarriage" from the last film either.
The war crimes tribunal by semi-cured zombies against surviving humans was a lot of fun. I actually wish that segment had been longer so it could do something more interesting with the concept.
Frankly ABCs of Death is fine, but it quickly becomes tiresome. There are generally no real standouts here and anything that is good feels cut short too soon (while for some of those less impressive efforts sometimes even the shorter runtime feels overlong). Watching this film is generally a pretty unrewarding experience.
Midnight Special (2016)
Best thing: The spectacular visuals at the finale are awesome. And unlike Spielberg's Close Encounters the film doesn't try to insist that we should necessarily be overjoyed in spite of the darker elements seen in the film.
Worst thing: I don't really get much of a feel for the characters. They aren't written or played badly. The scenario just remains at such a level that they don't really get much opportunity for little individual personality quirks.
While it's a strength that the film keeps its darkness and doesn't tell us what to think, that also results in characters who don't really force us to take sides. And it's interesting how nobody is demonised here either.
Spielberg-type alien films normally suggest or even openly state that the military is evil. But here the military are just out of their depth and while more powerful they seem to be less at fault than the protagonists overall.
Joel Edgerton is a complete chameleon. Once again hiding in plain site by simply acting in a slightly different way and yet somehow becoming completely unrecognisable as a result.
On the one hand it feels like this story takes place in the real world. But on the other hand these seem like fairly bland characters. There are cool ideas but the character interactions are rather less gripping, though certainly well-performed.
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Best thing: It's got to be the costume. Here we have a 50s movie centred around a guy in a rubber suit and yet even with the camera directed straight at the monster it still looks amazing. In fact we regularly see the creature swimming and it looks perfectly natural and perfectly convincing.
Worst thing: No surprises here I'm sure. The female character who comes along with the expedition randomly decides to go for a swim in the lagoon. Even other characters in the movie think she's daft doing so. And she's such a sensible and intelligent character that it just seems bizarre.
I love Creature From The Black Lagoon. The pacing lags a bit and the music is a bit cheesy at times, but the monster is such a wonderful design and every appearance is thrilling.
And I actually really like the music too. Sometimes the dramatic music doesn't seem to fit with the Creature creeping around the boat, but when we get some genuinely action-packed scenes the music fits much better and the music builds to crescendos that I found really quite impressive.
Like, Bride of Frankenstein, it has its problems, but Creature of the Black Lagoon is still one of the best Universal movies; even without the comedy elements other entries rely on to give them some extra charm.
As Above So Below (2014)
Best thing: The lead actress, Perdita Weeks, does manage to be convincing as the Indiana Jones/Da Vinci Code protagonist. Her character is very well formed as intelligent, passionate about her special subjects (such as the history of alchemy), but also willing to ditch people who get into trouble during her trips.
Worst thing: When a random guy who they find in the tunnels randomly attacks one of them and beats that person to death, I felt like the film had really lost its way. I was especially bored at that stage and the relentless attack at that moment by a man who should be severely outnumbered just confused me.
I'd heard from a number of places that As Above So Below was underrated. Now I've seen it, I'll have to disagree. The setup at the beginning is pretty cool and there are some pretty neat effects in places.
Perhaps my issues with ghost films come into play here since I felt that the supernatural forces seemed to be able to do anything and the protagonist generally only seemed to escape unscathed because the supernatural forces simply choose not to use their powers to kill her.
When one character is sucked into a magically conjured-up burning car by unseen forces, it becomes clear that nobody is safe from the magical unseen doohickeys and that whether any character lives or dies is purely coincidence (or 'because it's in the script').
A lot of time spent wandering around corridors doesn't end up making for a good film. (A similar problem as found in the second half of Ridley Scott's Alien, right? Oooh controversial!)
Joyeux Noel (2005)
Best thing: Daniel Bruhl is awesome as ever and I like his enigmatic, conflicted and somewhat untrustworthy character. He seems to have been given the character with the most depth.
Worst thing: I suppose the idea that someone would go back to the wrong trench at the end with plans to escape isn't unthinkable, but the way it happens in the films felt very contrived. There are a number of somewhat contrived moments or lines through the film but most of the time the performances are good enough to make up for it.
The film aims to capture the magic of the true life event where the various armies briefly held a truce at Christmas during the Great War.
And, to that extent, it succeeds. That the German army actually had Christmas trees placed all the way along the trenches at the front line is one of those things that is so ridiculous that it has to be true.
I don't want to under-value this film. It's a very well put together film and it has its moving moments and it earns all of them. The characters are engaging too.
But there's a less cinematic feel to the film. It felt more like a tv production and as a result the events very consistently came across as a dramatised version of events rather than really pulling me in. It was still clear that this dramatised version of the events is well-performed with solid dialogue but the direction and writing isn't exciting or compelling enough to provide the engrossing experience I'd have liked.
Nevertheless, Joyeux Noel is still very enjoyable and well-performed and it certainly has its moments.
The Imposter (2012)
Best thing: I love how the central imposter tells the story and manages to continue to avoid being recognised as a con artist even when it feels utterly ludicrous.
Worst thing: An attempt to leave the audience in suspense at the end annoyed me. If there's no new information, just say so.
I don't watch all that many documentaries and I dislike rating them. A bad documentary can be incredibly dull but what might seem like a good documentary can turn out to be very misleading. Also if a documentary has important subject matter (and they often do) then lower marks seem like disrespect to the subject matter rather than simply to the filmmaker.
But The Imposter in many ways feels like a story rather than an enquiry into a particular topic. The really weird thing is that the story's main villain is essentially the narrator for much of the film. He tells us exactly how he managed to manipulate the system in order to be incorrectly identified as blonde haired blue eyed American boy despite being a brown-eyed dark-haired young adult frenchman.
It's a good story well-told. If this were a normal film I'd criticise the ending, but since this is all real life I guess you can't fabricate a conclusion. (That being said, the attempt to tease the audience with a possible conclusion annoyed me.)
This is a solid documentary and very enjoyable. I recommend it.
Movies I Couldn’t Finish:The Lobster (2015), Life After Beth (2014), Love And Friendship (2016) and Anomalisa (2015)
The Lobster (2015)
I did not appreciate the bored-sounding yet cynical voiceover. Also it became increasingly clear that the film was intending to be funny the longer it spent not making me laugh.
I'm all for weird sci-fi scenarios and I'm often quite fond of black comedy, but frankly The Lobster was no fun whatsoever. This director doesn't key in to my sense of fun at all. I didn't find Dogtooth fun, I didn't find The Lobster fun and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't find Alps fun either. Ugh!
Life After Beth (2014)
I could barely even tell that the opening scene was supposed to be a funeral. It didn't feel like any funeral I've ever seen. I could forgive that. I'm sure there's an explanation anyway.
But I gave up on this film pretty early. None of the jokes were landing for me. When we not only get the protagonist masturbating with his dead girlfriend's scarf AND his arsehole brother catching him and berating him for it, I decided I'd never get on board with this film. Neither a guy masturbating nor a brother giving him hell for it is funny. Perhaps this film picks up later, but frankly I'd seen enough.
Love And Friendship (2016)
This seemed like a very awkward adaptation. We have a quickfire introduction to several different characters through title cards, which is a great way to confuse me since I'm far better with faces than names.
Since the original book consists in letters to a friend, there are scenes which feature nothing but gossip about people who aren't there and those scenes require you to be fully faniliar with everyone's name and how they relate to one another. I was lost.
Then there's the attempts at humour with the awkward character because he's an idiot. It just wasn't working for me.
Kate Beckinsale is great and if this were a film that makes better use of the visual medium, I would have enjoyed this a lot more. But here I found myself losing interest.
I'm willing to admit a possible failing in myself here. If I'm struggling to keep up with the characters and very possibly some of the language too, then that perhaps indicates a problem with me rather than the film. But it wasn't so long ago that I rewatched Sense and Sensibility and I found that absolutely delightful. At very least, Love And Friendship doesn't seem to take proper advantage of the visual medium in this adaptation.
I couldn't finish this film.
Seriously, when is Charlie Kaufman going to let someone else direct his scripts? Or are his scripts all so bad now that nobody wants to touch them? I have no idea what anybody liked about this film.
The animated puppets look kinda cool I guess, but the protagonist just seems like a complete dick and by giving everyone Tom Noonan’s voice the film pulls me into the protagonist's misanthropic viewpoint. (And just to make it even worse, he decides to escape from the noise of the airport by listening to a bunch of Tom Noonans failing to sing a beautiful classical piece. I definitely didn’t find it as soothing as the protagonist seemed to.)
Charlie, I understand that you don’t want to compromise on your “vision”, but frankly you are still supposed to be making a piece of entertainment. When Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and George Clooney took on your scripts they knew that. You seem to think making something entertaining is selling out.
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Okay so this year’s movie guide is a bit late, but we're only two months into the year so it'll be fine. Besides with cinema ticket prices through the roof I won't catch much til the DVD release anyway.
So here, better late than never are my anticipated and considered movies for January and February. I will be quickly following up with my guide for the rest of the year.
Anticipated movie in January
UK release date: 27 January 2017
I've already seen this one and really enjoyed it. Some great performances from Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall as you'd expect, but the main draw was the timely premise focussed on free speech and intellectual honesty. A real must-see. More negative reviews accuse it of being a glorified tv movie and I suppose I can see where they are coming from, but I'm glad I made this my most anticipated release this January.
Also considered January release:
UK release date: 26 January 2017
A starring role for Andrew Garfield who I loved in The Amazing Spider-Man movies as well as his more recent performance in 99 Homes. Could be a bit schmaltzy but I'm intrigued about a story of a pacifist signing up as a stretcher bearer in WWII.
Anticipated movies in February
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
UK release date: 3 February 2017
I am a big fan of Milla Jovovich as an action star (Resident Evil: Extinction, Ultraviolet, Joan of Arc: The Messenger, The Fifth Element). Sure this might not be great but I've seen all the other Resident Evil movies and I do not want to miss out on the final instalment.
The Lego Batman Movie
UK release date: 10 February 2017
The LEGO movie's Batman character was so much fun. So naturally I'm very excited to see more, so I'm keen to see what Chris McKay (Robot Chicken) does with this.
UK release date: 17 February 2017
Even before the Oscars ('cause seriously, who cares about the Oscars) there were multiple positive reviews for this film. A drama surrounding a gay young black man coming dealing with their place in society, cultural norms, all with fantastic performances, sounds like well worth checking out.
The Mind's Eye (UK title: Supernatural Forces)
UK DVD release: February 13 2017
I loved Joe Begos' John Carpenter-esque low budget horror movie "Almost Human" so I'm keen to see what he does with a psychic horror film in the mould of Cronenberg's "Scanners" (which I presume this is going to be).
Also considered February releases
UK release date: 3 February 2017
I've seen pretty much all the other movies in the Ring franchise so I guess I ought to check this out for completion's sake. (Though I'm infinitely more excited about Sadako Vs Kakayo which pits the evil psychic girl from Ring against the Ju-On ghosts.) Rings looks dumb as hell, which is a pity, but after finding The Ring Two was so horribly underrated I'm not inclined to trust the reviews. (Especially considering how overrated I found Verbinski's convoluted remake of Ring.) It's got to be better than Spiral (Rasen) right?
The Great Wall
UK release date: 17 February 2017
Yimou Zhang's "Hero" was an awesome film and frankly the idea that the wall of a China was used to keep out um... lizard men? Well, that sounds like a lot of fun.
UK release date: 17 February 2017
Black women working as mathematicians for NASA while the civil rights movement is ongoing. It's a very interesting premise. Unfortunately it apparently doesn't sound like it's as convincingly dramatised as it could be. One clip I recently heard seemed to feature an overly dramatic scene where a speech about the lack of access to blacks-only toilets is meant to be mind-blowing but comes across as inauthentic. Still, intriguing...
Anticipated movies in March
UK release date: 17 March 2017 (UK)
An incredible trailer for this film exploring a fear of white people and mind control has me very excited.
UK release date: 31 March 2017
Steven Kostanski made the "W is for Wish" segment from ABCs of Death 2 which was particularly appealing for me because it was like a horror interpretation of the science-fantasy world of Masters of the Universe. (Kostanski also created Manborg which I am now keener to check out than ever. A John Carpenter-style Lovecraftian horror will always appeal to me, but this looks awesome. Also Ellen Wong (Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim Vs The World) is in this too!
Also considered March releases
UK release date: 1 March 2017
While I didn't like the last Wolverine solo movie at all an interesting trailer for Logan has me intrigued. Besides, by this stage you can probably expect me to check out any X Men movie universe film at some point.
Kong: Skull Island
UK release date: 10 March 2017
Another King Kong movie potentially leading on to a showdown with Godzilla. It looks like a lot of fun.
UK release date: 23 March 2017
Dean Israelite's debut "Project Alamanac" was a bit awkward and was understandably criticised as a Chronicle rip-off, but it showed enough promise for me to be excited by his (also Chronicle-esque) Power Rangers reboot.
Ghost in the Shell
UK release date: 31 March 2017
The more I see of this film the more excited I get. Scarlett Johansson in those action scenes looks awesome and the visuals are amazing. I'm just not certain that Rupert Sanders (Snow White And The Huntsman) can pull this off.
Anticipated movie in April
UK release date: 14 April 2017
It's the latest from Chan-Wook Park and while I found his films after Oldboy were a bit hit and miss, I was absolutely blown away by his last film: Stoker. I've no idea what to expect from The Handmaiden, but I'm hearing good things.
Also considered April release
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
UK release date: 28 April 2017
By now, like most people, I've become an avid follower of the Marvel Studios films. Guardians of the Galaxy actually wasn't a favourite for me, but I'm still keen to keep up.
Anticipated movies in May
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
UK release date: 12 May 2017
Some have been understandably perturbed at seeing a Guy Ritchie adaptation of the Arthur legend where Arthur Pendragon comes across as "a geezer". Still, after The Man From UNCLE, which I loved so much, I'm prepared to give this project the benefit of the doubt. This looks like a more fun version of John Boorman's “Excalibur” and I'm looking forward to a unique take on the material.
UK release date: 19 May 2017
Ridley Scott's The Martian was awesome and I was actually a fan of Prometheus. (The concept of a terrifying cultish alien race responsible for our existence really captured my imagination.) I love the alien movies (at least the second and third anyway) and I'm so glad we are getting this expansion of that universe rather than the semi-reboot that Neil Blomkamp was promising.
Also considered June release
UK release date: 16 June 2017
I loved Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man movies, particularly for how moving the central relationship was in the movie. (I've been meaning to check out 500 Days Of Summer.) His work particularly impressed me considering how much he seemed to be succeeding in spite of dodgy script decisions and studio interference. There's nothing particularly impressive about the premise but I may need to check this out.
I might actually be up to date with reviews on this site someday, but as it is I'm just trying to keep up as best I can and I have a lot of reviews still to post. But anyway, here's some new ones. Sorry that I haven't been keeping up reading everyone's blogs. I've miraculously managed to find a few people on tumblr who actually write rather than just posting nothing but images. I'm also on letterboxd (where these reviews ultimately end up) and I'm keen to discuss movies and stuff there. Hope everyone is doing well. I've made some moves to change my career path recently and that's made me a lot happier.
Anyway, on with the reviews!
The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
Best thing: The Joker's face while Batman is talking about their 'relationship' is just brilliant.
Worst thing: Okay, I'm kind of clutching at straws here, I know. However, I was annoyed when they brought in Voldemort. Look, I'm not much of a Harry Potter fan. My favourite part from the movies I saw was the magic bus and the Rastafarian shrunken heads scene from Prisoner of Azkaban (and I believe that wasn't even in the book). Having briefly introduced all the Batman villains it really annoyed me when centre stage ended up being given to random villains from other franchises that I didn't really care for. (But on the other hand, combining franchises like this is just one element that makes this film unique.) I'd actually have liked to see more of the actual Batman villains (particularly the ones we haven't generally seen in movies before).
From the start of the film it's almost like Batman is giving us a DVD commentary track on the film. I love how they use Batman's constant need to comment on everything that happens as an opportunity to highlight his own self-centredness and also to make clear where he might be questioning his own arrogance for a change. The way that Lego Batman is an endearing arsehole reminds me of the online series "Strongbad Emails" (from www.homestarrunner.com - is that still going? Oooh, there's a youtube channel now.) He's a character whose arrogance is clearly a bid for attention and there's a real charm to his unbridled optimism. It's also clear that he wouldn't ever actually want anyone else to come to harm, even if he wants the focus to be on himself.
There's so much on screen at once, the jokes are genuinely funny (even if there's a lot of clever references involved a lot of the time), and I really cared about the characters. While this might be somewhat limited by being a sequel to "The Lego Movie" with a focus on the Batman, which means this doesn't have the same scope to make absolutely anything anything happen, it's an incredibly fun follow-up all the same. Anyone who was worried that there was not enough new that could be done with the Lego Batman character, can rest easy. The Lego Batman can handle a movie all to himself and does so with aplomb.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016)
Best thing: There are so many fun little bits in the film, but I think my favourite bit might be the fake suicide note (and what happens after the protagonist writes it).
Worst thing: Honestly, while it's still quite funny, I think Taika Waititi's cameo as the priest might be the worst thing for me. Most of the film feels relatively realistic, but his priest figure feels too ridiculous for me to really suspend my belief.
Taika Waititi seems to do nothing but spin gold. And I had no idea how he was going to make a story about an ASBO kid who thinks he's a gangster appealing. But it's so fun and so charming.
Rima Te Wiata is amazing and I would really like to see her in more films. I first came across her when she seemed to be the only source of humour in the movie “Housebound” (I felt like that movie was just dead boring whenever she wasn't on screen). She has such a expressive face and such charm. Sam Neil isn't quite such a strong presence but that's because of the type of character he is playing. A cynic and a loner who wants to hide his insecurities by avoiding social interaction where possible.
I believe this is the only one of Taika Waititi's films to be adapted from a book. I think that somewhat limited the film and certainly a friend of mine was disappointed that this wasn't the laugh riot that we saw in What We Do In The Shadows. But Hunt For The Wilderpeople has a lot of heart and demonstrates that Taika Waititi is capable of doing a straight story as he begins filming the new Thor movie. (Hunt For The Wilderpeople is also not quite as weird as Boy or Eagle Vs Shark.)
Being pursued by a social worker who thinks she's the Terminator and repeats "no child left behind" in the same way a Dalek might repeat "exterminate". The overblown manhunt that makes up the bulk of the film is very enjoyable and I was just completely immersed in the action, chuckling away.
Mississippi Grind (2015)
Best thing: Ben Mendelsohn captures the role of a gambling addict perfectly and helps us to completely empathise him even though he's playing a completely pathetic scumbag. He helps us understand his weakness clearly.
Worst thing: There's not a problem with Ryan Reynolds here. In fact this is probably the best Ryan Reynolds performance I've ever seen. However his character is such a closed box of a mystery. I think this secrecy is intentional but I never really understand why that secrecy exists.
This is mostly just a cool character drama and Ryan Reynolds is better here than any other performance I've seen from him. Though the real star is Ben Mendelsohn. He's incredible.
The plot is fairly unimportant. This is a road trip movie so that doesn't matter so much, but I'm not sure that it built up to anything. But it's a pretty awesome journey anyway. This film successfully puts us in the mind of a gambling addict and that's pretty impressive.
Best thing: Taika Waititi's direction and his own performance as the deadbeat dad really helps to capture a boy idolising a terrible father figure. My favourite part is where the central 'boy' is looking on proudly while his dad pretends to fire a large stick like a machine gun. (Though second place has to go to the bit where the younger brother imagines destroying a bus with mind powers. Haven't we all had that at some point?)
Worst thing: The worst I can really say is that perhaps the pacing could be a bit faster. But then again there are little details everywhere and the gradual build allows the film to develop emotional resonance.
Like a lot of children growing up in the 80s, I used to love Michael Jackson. So it was quite cool seeing that MJ fever in the background here. (When the protagonist shows off his 'dance moves' it was hilarious. Ask anyone to dance like Michael Jackson and what do they do? Scrape their feet slowly backwards, lol!)
But at its centre this is about a boy recognising that his father is not worthy of his admiration. Which is obvious to the audience pretty early on since the dad is fresh out of prison.
There are so many wonderful moments in this film and it meets that same awesome quality we saw in Waititi's debut film Eagle Vs Shark. Waititi is an incredible filmmaker who blends comedy and emotional moments beautifully.
Easy A (2010)
Best thing: I love the scenes with the parents who can't take anything seriously. Sure they are unrealistically quick-witted, but their scenes are all very very funny.
Worst thing: Why make reference to John Hughes movies? How are they relevant? Breakfast Club is not a romantic movie. In Breakfast Club the character she seems to want to romance her starts the movie joking that they should gang rape Molly Ringwald's character. And there's Emma Stone distressed that her life isn't like that movie. What the hell?
Wow. I'd forgotten how wonderful this film is. Also cool to see that Aly Michalka from "iZombie” and Johanna Braddy who plays Jenny Matrix in VGHS are both here.
Difference is, I've now seen all John Hughes' movies and feel fairly confident in saying this is better than any of them.
Money Monster (2016)
Best thing: When a loved one gets brought in to talk down the armed intruder it is pretty great. I won't spoil what happens, but I thought it was pretty funny.
Worst thing: The mystery is solved perhaps a little too easily.
Isn't George Clooney great? I'm not really sure why he isn't constantly appearing in comedy films. The Coen Brothers seem to be the only ones who recognise his awesome knack for comedy. He plays a pretty similar character here as the one he plays in Intolerable Cruelty. A privileged smooth-talking figure who essentially talks for a living (only here he talks on television rather than in a courtroom).
Okay admittedly this isn’t exactly a comedy, but there are plenty of laughs anyway. Money Monster is a drama which neatly balances tension and humour. Money Monster taps into our anxieties over the econonic crash, but admittedly it's not really about that. There's a very specific fictional company to blame here and it's not a story about a widespread market crash. Nevertheless the story still taps into those same emotions.
Money Monster is a lot of fun, engagingly directed and a good solid piece of entertainment. Sure it's not exactly a work of art, but it's very satisfying all the same.
Force Majeure (2014)
Best thing: The point where the moment of betrayal takes place is quite neatly and naturally done. (Though perhaps a little too natural and subtle since my parents, who hadn't heard the premise, didn't notice anything wrong.)
Worst thing: When the sympathetic friend is up late at night for ages arguing with his girlfriend that he would never be similarly cowardly in the same situation it starts off funny but it just goes on way too long.
What a boring film. It's quite interesting to look into how someone might be looked down on after he abandons his family in a moment of crisis. But in the end this just feels so incredibly trite and petty.
Best thing: As with pretty much anything with Toby Jones, Toby Jones was the highlight. Not to badmouth Cillian Murphy, but Toby Jones is simply amazing.
Worst thing: The worst thing was simply not feeling engaged by the content and nowhere is that worse than during the final siege where, were I more engaged by the characters, I would be absolutely on the edge of my seat. Yet I felt strangely distant from these scenes of our protagonists in a brutal gun battle with Nazis.
This is the story of a plan to take down the main Nazi figure in charge of the occupation of Czechoslovakia. It's not a story I'm familiar with, yet much of the story feels very generic. It's interesting to hear that the resistance movement objected to a mission which aims so high. They knew that the Nazis would retaliate harshly against the Czech people. But the film seems bizarrely lacking in tension.
On paper this has everything. Romance, a unique spin on a wartime event, a great cast, harrowing violence and yet somehow it all just left me cold.
It's a real pity because there are some great individual moments. One character's use of cyanide and another character's brutal torture are very impactful. But as a whole I found this pretty forgettable. Cillian Murphy is a great actor but I didn't really engage with his character's personality.
The Girl With All The Gifts (2016)
Best thing: The teeth chattering done by the infected is genuinely creepy. The whole opening set-up of a facility where children are taught lessons while strapped into chairs to prevent them eating the facility staff is pretty twisted.
Worst thing: The film feels very televisual. And in a time when tv shows no longer look televisual that's really not good. When a new set of child zombies turn up and the children briefly take centre stage, I found myself deeply unmoved by the portrayal. Anyone who has seen the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where beer turns students into literal neanderthals may understand where I'm coming from. I found the tribe of feral children hard to take entirely seriously.
For the most part, I don't think this is the novel take on zombie stories that was promised, but I'll certainly give them credit for being prepared to go weird.
I found the ending deeply unsatisfying, but I can't say it was predictable. I'm really not sure what Gemma Arteton's character's motivation is though, and that is true consistently throughout the film.
Anyone who has seen the trailer would think Arteton's motivations were pretty clear cut. The most intelligent zombie child saved her life so, as a result, she sees the child as having more importance. In the film, however, we see that Gemma Arteton cares about all the children long before that event ever happens and the central child acts like the world's creepiest teacher's pet. When we finally reach the scene from the trailer it's not clear that she saves Gemma Arteton at all, but it definitely shows that she is able to take down armed soldiers and rip out their jugular veins with her teeth.
Yet Gemma Arteton consistently defends the child as if she weren't blatantly a monster and when we hear about where all the monster children came from it's even harder to understand. And that's okay. Characters with odd motivations can be interesting. But by the end of the film it seems like we are supposed to understand her perspective and I really really don't. I found it much easier to engage with Glenn Close and Paddy Considine's characters who feel much better written.
This has a great cast but perhaps something didn't translate from the novel, since the story seemed to be missing something. The ending seemed to be portrayed as upbeat and I wonder whether it was supposed to be darkly comic. But frankly, I'm at loss.
Anticipated movies in July
UK release date:7 July 2017
Jon Watts' Spider-Man movie is highly anticipated. Not just because Spider-Man is the only superhero that I've actually properly followed in the comics. Nor because Tom Holland takes the best aspects pf Andrew Garfield's performance and is making full use of the jokes the movie scriptwriters are finally giving Spider-Man. The main reason I am excited is because of Jon Watts' independent movie "Cop Car". Add in Michael Keaton as the Vulture with some Iron Man for good measure and I can't wait.
War for the Planet of the Apes
UK release date: 14 July 2017
The latest in the Planet of the Apes franchise. I'm not sure how this is distinguishing itself from the last movie, but whatever. The last film was exciting enough and interesting enough to have me anticipating Matt Reeves' follow-up. (poster art source)
UK release date: 21 July 2017
I've been following Chrisopher Nolan's career for a long time now (I still think of Memento and The Prestige) and I think we can probably agree that he needs to do something new. A historical WWII drama would seem to be something new, so that's cool.
The Dark Tower
UK release date: 28 July 2017
I'm not really a fan of Stephen King so I've no idea what to expect, but I like Idris Elba and I've been excited to see a new film from Nikolaj Arcel ever since his costume drama "A Royal Affair" with Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen absolutely blew me away. This could be great.
Anticipated in August
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
UK release date: 4 August 2017
Luc Besson is a bit hit and miss sometimes. I like The Fifth Element overall but not all of it works that well. I thought Angel-A was terrible and I hate to think what Lucy is like. Still the fairly recent adventure film, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, demonstrates that Luc Besson still has the knack and the trailer for this film is beautiful and captivating. If it's up to the same level as The Fifth Element I'll be happy.
UK release date: 16 August 2017
It was sad to see Edgar Wright quit the Ant-Man project, but with his latest film, The World's End, becoming my favourite of his Cornetto trilogy, I'm keen to check this out, no matter how uninspiring the title might be.
UK release date: 25 August 2017
Doug Liman isn't really a director that I generally follow. I always preferred Paul Greengrass's sequels to the original Bourne Identity. Up until recently the only film I really loved from Doug Liman was Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which I know isn't generally rated that highly. But after Edge of Tomorrow completely blew me away I'm keen to see what his next film (also starring Tom Cruise) will be like. This may not be a genre film, but I'm excited anyway.
Also considered September release
UK release date: 22 September 2017
I really enjoyed Joseph Kosinski's "Oblivion". I loved Angela Riseborough in that film and it combined a lot of very cool sci-fi ideas into a pretty compelling story. For me, it's another solid Tom Cruise sci-fi movie. As much as I hate that he is funding one of the most horrible cults in existence today (who can at least pat themselves on the back that they aren't Islamic State), he seems to keep picking all these awesome sci-fi films: Minority Report, Edge of Tomorrow, Oblivion, the Mission Impossible movies would count as sci-fi too, and while Vanilla Sky was a terrible remake his enthusiasm to be in a remake of the awesome film "Open Your Eyes" also shows some great taste. But now Kosinski is moving away from genre to real life drama. Tron Legacy didn’t impress me, but after Oblivion I'm interested to see how Kosinski handles this film about a wildfire in Arizona. It could be pretty awesome.
Anticipated movies in October
UK release date: 13 October 2017
Tomas Alfredson has been on my radar ever since his awesome debut "Let The Right One In". It's been a long time since his last film ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), so I'm really excited to see what he does with this. But the premise doesn't really excite me as much as I'd like and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" hasn't been a film I return to fondly like "Let The Right One In" was. I'm still hopeful though.
UK release date: 20 October 2017
I'm a bit of a Spierig Brothers fan. Predestination was certainly very interesting, Undead was a pretty cool debut, but the real highlight so far is still "Daybreakers" (which I know didn't thrill everybody as much as it did me). A friend encouraged me to watch the entire Saw series and, while I don't regret seeing them, the first felt to me like a rip-off of David Fincher's "Se7en" while the rest of the films generally seemed to rely on promising (yet not really delivering in any satisfying way) answers to loose threads in the sequels. But with the Spierig Brothers on board I have no idea what to expect. I don't think they'd ever sign on as just another 'gun for hire'. If they are taking on the project they must have some pretty cool ideas and I can't wait to see what they bring to the table.
UK release date: 27 October 2017
After Taika Waititi's adaptation of the book "Hunt For Wilderpeople" he's now shown that he can adapt other people's material in a way that is full of heart. Of course, we mainly know him for his comedy work like "What We Do In The Shadows" and "Eagle Vs Shark". I cannot wait to see what he does with a Thor movie. My opinion has generally been that the best Marvel movies are the funniest ones, so bringing Waititi on board feels like an awesome decision. (And the Thor promotional short films have been so much fun.)
Also considered October release
Blade Runner 2049
UK release date: 6 October 2017
I generally haven't been that impressed with Denis Villeneuve's films. Sure, they generally look great and the performances are generally great. But there always seems to be something that doesn't work for me. Like they lose track of the story or something. In Prisoners there's some indication that there's some kind of magic cult (Boxes of snakes? People drawing mazes? What is all that about?), while in Sicario Benicio Del Toro goes off and does some stuff all by himself in a way that seems completely disconnected from the story surrounding the main character. As for Arrival, while I know a lot of people are blown away, there's something very odd about an emotional moment where a mother compares her daughter to a disease and then they have a big hug. And frankly the whole task of learning a whole new alien language is dismissed as a rather ridiculous montage that suggests that it just involved playing charades while holding up whiteboards. (No, that would not work. Think about it and, if you are still confused, look up a basic summary of Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Language and get back to me.)
But even so, Villeneuve's films visuals and performances have never been a problem and I've always felt that he showed potential. Perhaps Blade Runner 2049 could be the one that really impresses me? We'll have to see.
Anticipated movies in December
UK release date: 8 December 2017
Pixar generally produce pretty awesome. The last really great one was Inside Out, but Finding Dory worked out pretty great. Wall E is still my favourite. It's one of those films that once it starts I just can't stop watching. (Like, literally, Wall-E was on one day and me and my friend just ended up watching the whole thing. Love it.)
Quite a while back Pixar announced that they were planning a movie based around the "Day of the Dead" celebrations. A different studio ended up releasing "The Book of Life" a lot quicker (and frankly it was terrible), so now it's been long enough that most people have forgotten that film and Pixar finally appear to be about to release their own take on the concept. Could be awesome.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
UK release date: 15 December 2017
Rian Johnson's movies Looper and Brick have been pretty great. Looper showed that he can handle a cool sci-fi flick with special effects and major talent involved. Who is the last Jedi? Well, with Kylo Ren still on the dark side, all Luke's padawans slaughtered and Rey not yet trained in the art of the force (even if she IS a natural) and Leia having chosen to focus on war rather than force powers, that would seem to leave Luke Skywalker (currently) as the last of the Jedi. After all, that's why they were trying to find him last time around. We finished the previous movie having tracked down the last of the Jedi and now in this next movie we finally get to find out why he's been in hiding. By this point, "at least it won't be as bad as the prequels" has at least been proven true. So that's a good place to move on from.
Anticipated movies with (as yet) no UK release date
After Alex Garland's excellent debut Ex Machina, I'm very glad to see him returning to the sci-fi genre. This time we are promised a place which does not follow the laws of nature.
I haven't seen Blair Witch yet, so everything I have seen from Adam Wingard so far has been absolutely brilliant. Whether it's The Guest, A Horrible Way To Die or You're Next, his films have made a big impression on me. I found it very easy to enjoy the first of the Japanese live action Death Note movies, but the second (which completes the story) felt rushed and did not impress me. I am keen to see if Adam Wingard can provide something more satisfying in his English language version.
The Devil's Candy
The Loved Ones was a long time ago, but it is an all-time favourite. I've been waiting a long long time for Sean Byrne to direct another film, but it's finally here. I can't wait!
Iron Sky: The Coming Race
Timo Vuorensola follows up Iron Sky with another film based around outlandish ideas. This time he takes on David Icke's crazy theories that the world is run by lizards, even including a hollow world (I believe Icke's theory involves a hollow moon) where Nazi dinosaurs live. As with Iron Sky, it's hard not to get excited by the premise. (Particularly when they release crazy promotional videos of Putin doing amazing athletic dance moves before showing his lizard-like eyes and, even more randomly, a video of Jesus coming off the cross in order to take revenge.)
"We Are Still Here" was an absolutely brilliant horror film and now Ted Geoghegan is releasing yet another horror film so I'm sure it'll be another brilliant one. The director's name is all I know about this so far and I'm happy to come to this one ready for anything.
Joon-Ho Bong is my favourite of the big Korean filmmakers (even more so than Chan-Wook Park) Snowpiercer, The Host and Mother were all fantastic films. Apparently this new one is a Netflix film, which hopefully means that people in the UK will actually be able to see it this time. Snowpiercer was never released in the UK and that's absolutely nuts.
Sadako vs. Kayako
The latest Ring and Grudge movie - combined! I'm still waiting for a UK release and, after Sadako 3D was more fun than I'd expected, I think it's unlikely that I'll be disappointed.
A Storm in the Stars
The director of the incredible "Wadjda", Haifaa Al-Mansour, now takes on the story of Mary Shelley. On IMDB it looks like they may have decided to simply title this Mary Shelley to avoid confusion. Wadjda was both a powerful drama and a very fun film. I'm very interested to see how she tackles Mary Shelley's story.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh has left us waiting a long time now. Seven Psychopaths wasn't quite on the same level of In Bruges, so I'm hoping that this long gap will have allowed Martin McDonagh to make sure his latest effort represents his abilities to the full.
Other films with no UK release date under consideration....
Amityville: The Awakening
Directed by Franck Khalfoun, who directed the Maniac remake.
Directed by and starring Aisha Tyler, one of the main lead actresses in the "Archer" tv series.
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Directed by S. Craig Zahler, who directed Bone Tomahawk.
Recommended by a Letterboxd friend
How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who directed Rabbit Hole.
Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, who directed Mustang (which I haven't seen yet, but I've heard good things).
The Meyerowitz Stories
Directed by Noah Baumbach, who directed Frances Ha
Directed by George Clooney, whose previous directing projects Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind and Good Night And Good Luck both really impressed me.
May (and June) 2017
August (and September) 2017
No UK release date
Midnight Special (2016) (Rewatch)
Best thing: At a key moment in the film the boy finally knows why he is different and what he needs to do. When he reveals this information his companions at that moment are all amazed, but they also have to accept that they may lose their child forever. I don't think I missed the subtle touch at the very end of the film where a kind of magical glint is reflected in a characters eyes, but this time I better recognised its significance in relation to that central scene.
Worst thing: I still wish the kid had more explicit character traits. I'm glad that the film is not from the child's perspective and I like that the film doesn't waste time with backstory. However I feel the boy should get a little more chance to express himself more than just quietly reading Superman comics. (I think that makes 'the satellite scene' cool though, because it shows that while the boy is quiet, he is still reacting to his surroundings in ways his father and any other human companions can't see.)
I often leave quite a gap between seeing a film and reviewing it. That's not because I'm carefully gathering by thoughts. It's because I make a point of reviewing every film I watch and I struggle to keep up. (As I write this I have a further 20 films I am in the process of writing reviews for. With plans to see Logan at the cinema very soon.)
I remembered thinking Midnight Special was an A grade film, but I couldn't remember why. The characters don't have standout character quirks or quotable lines and many elements are not expanded on leaving them feeling like unfinished loose ends.
The basic plot is essentially the same elements of any Spielberg-esque magical alien film pitching kids against government authorities (like Attack The Block, which I quite liked, or Starman, which I really didn't).
However, Midnight Special actually pulls a lot of emotion into the cold world it builds for us. And watching a second time, my interest did not lessen. Having already been given all the clues made it quite exciting to see the story unfold with an understanding of where the story would go.
In fact, I now feel like I understand the scene where Adam Driver 'solves' the problem of where the child is going. All the clues are actually there and importantly we don't need to know Adam Driver's complete solution. He has a whole load of coordinates on the board and Driver's character comes to realise that those are all taken from the child listening to radio waves. He realises that the coordinates are all narrowing in on a single location. His discovery reveals why the cult have multiple sets of coordinates revealed by the child; one of many puzzle pieces involved here.
Midnight Special is a fascinating and magical take on the concept and os all very cleverly put together. The story is played for drama, not for comedy or action. That's inevitably a bit jarring, but it's also what makes this unique. This never goes silly or schmaltzy. It elevates the concept above the cheesy Spielberg portrayals by never telling us how to feel or insisting that we should find some emotional meaning at the end. These are ordinary people who are as spellbound as us because what we see them discover is amazing and without the over-dramatisation we'd normally expect, this feels much more plausible as a result. I severely underrated Midnight Special in my first review. This film is one of a kind.
So yeah, anyone who was commenting on my original review when I posted it on Letterboxd, I was listening to you. But I needed to rewatch the film to really figure this out for myself. I had trouble believing that I could have really loved the film all that much and yet be unable to remember WHY I loved the film that much. But having rewatched Midnight Special now, I think I love it even more. (I’ve still no idea what the title means though...)
P.S. So Jeff Nichols latest film got a release date in the UK for February and it has already been and gone at the cinema? How in the hell did that happen? I feel a bit silly having now left it out of my movie guide for this year.
Son Of Saul (2015)
Best thing: Having the horrors of the holocaust only visible at the edges of the frame or out of focus in the background is interesting. I was surprised how well it immersed me in the setting and part of that is because important elements are always pulled into focus so we are not alienated from the protagonist's journey even though our mind is left to fill in the blanks on the violence occurring out of view.
Worst thing: Perhaps the struggle to understand the protagonist's motivation is part of the point of the film, but just as hard to work out is how he keeps on wandering all over the place and doing the wrong tasks without any consequences.
Yes it's a depressing holocaust movie. Yes it's very well shot and put together. Did it feel worth watching? Eh, not really. Pretty weird film. All credit to those who enjoyed it, but this isn't a film with wide appeal really. This is probably (hopefully) the nearest thing we'll ever get to a holocaust found footage movie so I guess it has that going for it...
Best thing: When a character from the school asks to see the kestrel he is amazed and astounded and we in the audience share in that. At that moment it is clearer than ever how amazing it is for this awkward schoolchild to be a kestrel trainer. Without that context its a nature documentary, but when we are immersed in the story the kestrel scenes are awe-inspiring.
Worst thing: Is it me or did the ending seem a bit predictable? The trailer on the DVD appeared to suggest that this movie offers some deep revelations about society and I didn't feel that was present in the actual film.
I feel the ending is less interesting than the main body of the film. Ken Loach leads us into a pretty miserable ending, but at its core we have an deep look into the character of Billy as he trains a kestrel even while doing very very badly at school.
I certainly understand that he is held back by his home life, but the idea that a troublemaker from a poor background can do something great when they are interested and focused is not the massive revelation that the trailer for this movie (also on the DVD) seemed to expect me to think. It also doesn't change how terrible the boy is sometimes. When he steals from the corner shop owner who employs him to deliver papers I felt that was pretty low.
Then again, he's surrounded by a lot of people who are horrible and this film does fulfil an important aspect of a naturalistic film in that it genuinely feels real. For me that's a distinct improvement on, say, Mike Leigh's Another Year. Yeah, I'm not normally a big fan of this sub-genre but I must admit this was pretty cool.
Phantasm Ravager (2016)
Best thing: Any time Angus Scrimm is on camera, he's just amazing. It's really sad that this is his final turn as the Tall Man, but it feels entirely worth it. His performances are always chilling.
Worst thing: The ambiguous ending followed by cooler content after the credits. Seriously, I know Phantasm movies always have a dream-like quality, but the dreams just seemed to make the ending meaningless. And if there were some more fun characters to introduce, couldn't they have appeared before this 'story' ended?
I won't complain that we got another Phantasm movie before Angus Scrimm passed away. This is by no means a travesty and it has its moments. Still, the film is so meandering and the Slaughterhouse Five time/dimension jumping just feels so pointless.
I mean seriously, arguably the best part of the film (besides the occasional Tall Man scenes) is all found after the credits. What kind of sense does that make?
It was nice to return, but I wish this could have been a better send off.
Best thing: The evil orc mage is genuinely very cool. Also the half-orc character is interesting because she's able to emphasise the differences between the cultures due to not fitting in with either.
Worst thing: None of the characters are interesting. The half-orc, Ben Foster's Guardian and the central orc chieftain character all make a stab at it, but the script is just so bland they haven't got much to work with.
I can see how some people would think this isn't all that bad. But it's just so incredibly unengaging. I can see how this story COULD have been one that I cared about but I never felt terribly immersed. Perhaps this would have worked better if the film had settled on one character to be the main point of view character.
Frankly I had more fun with Fant4stic Four. We have an evil orc mage here who steals life force to fuel his magic but personally I thought the Darth Vader-esque Dr Doom figure in Fant4stic was creepier. We also have some big colourful magic powers being used, but I was more excited by the out of control fire and rock powers in Fant4stic.
I'm not sure how Duncan Jones managed to make a film that feels so emotionally flat. It feels like it must be something to do with the structure of the film since the acting seems fine. What with all these disappointing films from promising directors (Fant4stic Four, Noah, Get Santa, Sin City 2, War On Everyone) Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla movie is looking pretty good by comparison.
And hang on, the orcs have killed every living thing in their world and NOW they are wondering whether perhaps they are the bad guys? Seriously?
And if you are making a fantasy adventure film, perhaps make it a bit more fun?
Finding Dory (2016)
Best thing: Baby Dory is adorable and once again this leads to a Pixar movie where the heartstrings are tugged like nobody's business.
Worst thing: Towards the end of the film we kind of jump the shark (so to speak). I know Finding Dory isn't exactly going for realism but when we have a huge stunt that should essentially kill everybody that cannot help but take me out of the film.
I was pretty excited to see this film. Several years ago I came to believe that Andrew Stanton was the strongest creative mind at Disney. I felt it could not be a coincidence that favourites Finding Nemo and Wall-E both had him sitting in the director's chair... then he made John Carter (which I feel is quite an interesting failure).
While it is great to see Dory return and baby Dory is utterly adorable, I feel the film struggles to recapture the excitement of an adventure travelling across the ocean.
Admittedly there is some interesting exploration of a sea life centre to give that a new twist and there are some pretty crazy memorable moments. In all honesty Finding Dory is a lot of fun. I just found that in the third act I was struggling to go along with it.
Finding Nemo had its crazy moments, but I feel that by the end Finding Dory has crossed beyond the limits of suspension of disbelief even within the already crazy world it portrays.
Still a pretty great Pixar film. I'd personally put it on a similar level as The Incredibles or Monsters Inc, but for me that's not as great as Wall-E, Up, Finding Nemo or (and I know I'm unusual) Monsters University. But, needless to say, Pixar's films generally have a very high standard and Finding Dory is no exception.
Eddie The Eagle (2016)
Best thing: Whenever Eddie does a big jump I'm terrified that he's going to die, even though we all know he survived in real life. It's a sign of great dramatic tension when you are still caused to worry even though you know the hero will be fine. Also Hugh Jackman is awesome.
Worst thing: The head of the Olympics committee, played by Tim McInnerny, is a particularly over-the-top moustache-twirling villain considering that this was a real person.
Eddie The Eagle seems to have been dismissed by a lot of people for being sweet but insubstantial. But I felt really stirred up by this film. When Eddie looks out at the view from the higher jumps I can feel the tension every time. I was fully immersed in this story.
Taron Egerton is very engaging in the lead and Hugh Jackman is awesome as the ex-ski jumping alcoholic. When we see him do a 90 metre jump it's shown in such a stylish way and Jackman is so cool.
Eddie The Eagle is a really fun feel good film. I happily watched this two days in a row. It's the sort of film I could happily watch over and over again. Eddie The Eagle is an absolute joy.
Unfinished: War On Everyone (2016)
Wow, how did the of The Guard director manage to make something this dire? This isn't so much funny as horrible, and the attempts to make use of the same blackly comic style as The Nice Guys (or, y'know, The Guard!) just completely fall flat.
The main villain is an entirely uninteresting moustache twirling bad guy. Since he looks remarkably like James Franco, I was at least glad that his English accent was fine, but since it’s actually an English actor I must simply say that his character is completely dull. And as for what in the hell Caleb Landry Jones is trying to do in his role as the henchman, I have no idea. I mean, perhaps his semi-effeminate fragile-yet-abrasive upper-crust-scumbag performance would be a really distinctive and memorable part of an effective black comedy, but here he's just one more unfunny piece of bad taste in the whole unfunny bad taste freak show. In the past few years there have been several bad films from directors I admire but this really takes the biscuit.
Best thing: While technically the best thing is finally having a superhero film which carefully builds up themes and emotions without going schmaltzy or silly. But I'm going to say the Wolverine Vs Wolverine fight is the best thing (clearly taking a page out of Superman III's book *kidding*).
Worst thing: Technically I could say the worst thing was the teaser for Deadpool II. (Seriously, they told us the film had started and then showed us Deadpool. What the hell?) I really don't find movie Deadpool all that funny. But if forced to pick an aspect the film itself I'd have to go with Richard E. Grant's villain character. He's more of a comedic actor and I didn't think he was as convincing as the rest of the film.
I think Logan may actually be the best superhero film ever made. Not so long ago I made a list of my favourite 31 Superhero movies. Some would argue that my top choice of "The Matrix" wasn't even a legitimate choice (after all, isn't Luke Skywalker a superhero on the same basis?) and "The Matrix" is one of my favourite movies of all time, but I am actually actively considering whether Logan is better than that too.
Marvel Studios have been able to keep a significant level of quality by focussing on a generally sweet and cheerful style and giving the audience consistent hits of comedy. Even if themes get dark in a Marvel Studios movie, it's never long til the next joke.
When you make a darker more serious film you are setting yourself up for a less forgiving audience. If you spend enough time making the audience laugh, themes and story beats aren't going to seem like such a big deal. But when the film goes dark, then anything ridiculous is going to be more irritating. (And what is more ridiculous than a superhero story?)
Personally I thought the best Batman film was Batman Begins. The Dark Knight's themes felt less clear to me. ("Hi Harvey! I just killed your girlfriend, so why not go on a crazy killing rampage?" What??) And I don't really think the themes in The Dark Knight Rises themes are consistent at all. Logan has the same plausibility that Nolan's Batman films had, but the themes feel like part of the story rather than being spelt out by a mentor or a heavy-handed set-up. The story of Logan flows smoothly and there's a lot of depth to the performances. I should also note that the story gets crazily dark in places.
But let's not forget the brutal violence. Even with a central child, this film never goes soft on us. Even Aliens struggled to keep up its dark atmosphere in scenes where the child actor was thrown into the mix. But in this film our central child actor is just as brooding and hardened as Wolverine and his action sequences are just as visceral and gory.
And while the trailers make it look like Logan is set at the end of the world it felt to me like a new beginning. Can these be the "new mutants"? Could the future of this world be, at very least, a spin off from the X-Men movie universe? X-Men: Apocalypse felt like much was repeated from what we'd seen before. Logan offers us something new and different and, if possible, I'd like the X-Men universe to continue surprising us. I'd actually really like to see what happens next with these brand new mutant characters.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Best thing: The opening scene where an ancient Egyptian society conspire to bury Apocalypse in his own pyramid is pretty cool. (This is a film that gets fairly consistently worse the longer it runs and unfortunately it's incredibly long.)
Worst thing: I thought the cheesiest line came in a short expository scene where some generals and politicians are informed that all cities above tectonic plates are doomed. "He's talking about the whole goddamn world!"
This starts out seeming pretty cool. Then it becomes fun yet goofy. Then it becomes overblown and stupid. Finally it becomes boring and insipid. The action sequences are big, but I didn't understand the motivations and therefore had little interest in the outcome. In the third act there are so many dramatic or sentimental moments that feel completely unearned.
Oddly, while many people thought Magneto destroying Auschwitz was a problem (and certainly, having recently seen "Denial" I have the importance of the camps as a testement and memorial to what happened fresh in my mind) but in context, this seemed like a stronger moment to me. Magneto is at a stage where he has given up on society. He's no longer interested in teaching them about past errors to ensure they do not repeat past mistakes. He has no expectation that a significant portion of society can understand his loss and remember it with him. He now intends to destroy the entire foundations of society his powers have been enhanced, so Auschwitz is a large unpopulated area for him to test his powers and it's symbolic of his disgust of the kind of society that built that place.
Outside of that scene, Apocalypse's followers do not seem to have logical motivations at all. Heck, why would anyone want to destroy the world? In the movie "X-Men: First Class" the baddie wanted to cause huge devastation because he believed those with superpowers would come to dominate afterwards. But when Apocalypse want to destroy the world it's not at all clear why. (He also doesn't seem to like nuclear missiles for some reason.)
By the end of the film it looks like Magneto either decided he wanted to indiscriminately kill every single person in the world or he has been mind-controlled by an evil force. So by the end of the film either people should need to deal with his reasons for resorting to mass-murder, or he should feel pretty shaken up about being controlled. But instead everyone just seems to suddenly become Magneto's best pal. It's so weird!
While the new Storm looks cool she doesn't really get much to do. Even Mystique (who is still awesome as ever, by the way), doesn't really seem that important by the end.
I was nicely entertained in the first half, but for much of the final third act I found this film unbearable. I didn't care too much about the unsatisfying ending because I mainly just relieved that it was finally over.
EBeyond The Gates (2016)
Best thing: The central concept of an evil VHS board game is set up pretty well. The random appearance of gates to hell in the house and the failed attempts to quit the game all successfully build the tension.
Worst thing: I felt something was missing in the storytelling. A central theme seemed to be the animosity between the two brothers but it didn't feel like that was ever properly tackled. Even the one brother's 'dark secret' seemed to end up mattering very little.
I was really interested in the premise but this didn't end up being the Lovecraftian Jumanji I feel was promised.
It's certainly creepy that the board game gives them tasks which seem to have horrifying unexpected consequences, but those consequences always seem to be worse for peripheral characters.
Beyond The Gates is pretty creepy and the characters are quite fun, but the film seemed to be missing a proper emotional payoff. Sure they miss their dad, but I never feel like the relationship is terribly fleshed out within the film. Also, while we do explore the relationship between the two brothers there just doesn't seem to be any payoff.
The Keeping Room (2014)
Best thing: Muna Otaru, who plays the central black slave character, is really fantastic. She really seems to evolve as a character over the course of the film. Certainly moreso than Brit Marling's lead role.
Worst thing: While Brit Marling is great, there's very little distinctive or interesting about her character. Of the three women at the house, she is simply 'the one in charge' but there's not much exploration of her character.
I feel very glad that I recently saw Gone With The Wind or else I might have struggled to recognise this as being a civil war story set in the south. As it was, I instantly thought back to Scarlett O'Hara shouting to the heavens: "With God as my witness, I'll never go hungry again."
Sam Worthington seems to do much better as a stoic quiet villain than he ever did as a relateable hero. Still I feel that perhaps we were supposed to engage with him a little more.
I wonder whether I should have put the subtitles on. I was able to clearly comprehend the vast majority of the dialogue with no trouble at all, but towards the end the dialogue seemed to be mumbled and at one point a single noise uttered by Brit Marling, something like 'baay', turned out to represent the phrase: "But it ain't."
There was certainly potential for more here. The film was pretty cool and I was glad that the keeping room seemed to be some kind of safe room rather than literally a room where women are "kept". I felt this film was solid.
Sing Street (2016)
Best thing: The first song "The Riddle Of The Model" was a nice 80s style song that I could just about believe that a school band could come up with.
Worst thing: The love interest is solely there to be something for the lead character to fixate over and to 'win'. Perhaps that might seem unfair, but when she reveals that her dad raped her the protagonist seems remarkably unconcerned and unsympathetic.
I was told that this was a fun uplifting film so imagine my surprise when it turned out to be utterly horrible. The parents are going through a horrible separation, the headmaster forcefully and violently washes off the protagonist's make-up and actually punches a schoolboy in the face, a bully makes some borderline sexual demands while threatening the protagonist with a catapult, and the love interest is a victim of incestual rape.
The protagonist forms a band with a token black member. The film clearly sets him up as the token black member so I was waiting to see him display distinctive characteristics in his own right, but that never happens. But frankly the protagonist doesn't ever really have much personality and he has the most screen time in which to form one.
The central point of focus is his relationship with the love interest; he forms the band for her. And while their love of the art is a connection between them, the suggestion is also that their horrible homelife brings them together. But the protagonist's parents' separation isn't really on the same level as sexual abuse and when the protagonist starts trying to guilt trip her in the second half he struck me as a complete dick even though the film clearly wants us to be on his side.
The earliest songs from this fake band sound like eighties throwback tunes like The Departure (All Mapped Out is a great song) or Franz Ferdinand. By the midpoint of the film, however, they sound more like a post-hardcore/emo band from the early 2000s like Jimmy Eat World
I think perhaps the film would have worked better if it weren't set in the 80s. There's nothing particularly 80s about the story and there are brand new bands who sound more consistently 80s than this movie's soundtrack.
Was there a thematic reason to set the story in the 80s? Frankly, Sing Street has no message. 'Middle class boy just needs to believe in himself and then his hidden talents will be recognised and the girl he likes will realise she loves him' is a story that has never felt more tired. Please stop making "Stand By Me", "Igby Goes Down", "Almost Famous", "Me, Earl and the Dying Girl", "Perks Of Being A Wallflower". We've seen this story enough times and it's not getting any better!
The Neon Demon (2016)
Best thing: Naturally the best thing is the incredible visuals and atmosphere, but I'd particularly like to highlight the scene where Keanu Reeves is called to check out a possible intruder in the protagonist's apartment. What they find there surprised me and the reveal is also gorgeous.
Worst thing: The ending seemed to drag on a bit. I like where it ultimately goes, but it was so jarring and it annoyed me that the protagonist is removed from the story for that segment.
The Neon Demon is a beautiful film with a powerful atmosphere. However it is also a film where there is less story and more mounting dread. The world of fashion is portrayed as toxic, but like with Drive we discover a darker side to our protagonist.
I'm not sure how to feel about the ending. If the focus ceases to be on our protagonist all of a sudden, that's difficult to handle. Admittedly on Only God Forgives we suddenly realise the film isn't really centred entirely on Gosling, buy at least that is made clear a long way before the end. But then again (and this is going to be harder to understand of you haven't yet seen the film) it's arguable that our protagonist never stops being the focus in The Neon Demon.
The film turns explicitly supernatural at one point. And that decision is hard to come to terms with. The ending of this film alienated me, that definitely negatively affected my enjoyment and I judge films on how enjoyable I find them.
But there's no doubt that The Neon Demon is an incredible experience and, up until the final section, no matter how weird things became before then, I found this moody oppressive thriller to be fantastically intense and gripping. I really enjoyed The Neon Demon, but I did not find the resolution to be as satisfying as I had hoped.
Song of the Sea (2014)
Best thing: When we meet the witch we discover that she is consistently applying her magic to everyone including herself. It made for a really interesting villain and made the scene with her very effective. She is a victim of her own magic and the harm she does is essentially out of love.
Worst thing: I didn't feel entirely pulled in by the main characters, so I often felt quite distant from the story as a result. It's one of those stories where one thing happens after another, so you really need the central characters to keep you excited during the journey and they aren't really quite interesting enough.
A lot of my issues here may be simply a matter of taste. I'm not keen on the animation style for the most part and I wasn't blown away by the "solve the problem by singing resolution".
I was fascinated by the Irish folklore stories and ideas, but I'd rather those were the whole focus rather than the story set in modern day. This felt like this was using child protagonists to appeal to a child audience and personally I could have done without that. There were certainly appealing aspects to the child characters, like when the boy is drawing a map of his journey, but I got a bit tired of the siblings squabbling.
The parts involving the selki were very cool and the witch was my favourite part of the film. But for all the parts I enjoyed, I can't say I was consistently engaged by the material here.
Review of Get Out (2017)
Best thing: Horror films love to make innocuous things terrifying. Anyone who makes scraping sounds in their teacup when stirring their tea can get the hell away from me. So creepy!
Worst thing: Perhaps it's because I'm so used to horror films ending on a downer. But the ending felt a little too soon. Are they leaving it open for a sequel?
There's a film I love called "Judgment Night". The premise is that a group of yuppies become stranded in the run-down dodgy area of town and find they cannot get out. The opening scene of "Get Out" is the exact opposite of this. The protagonist in that scene feels very uncomfortable walking in a fancy suburban area of town.
Get Out is reminiscent of other horror films too. The obvious comparison is The Stepford Wives which I admittedly haven't seen (unless you count the remake, of which the less said the better). The black characters acting unnaturally happy as servants in an all-white community are an obvious parallel to the "perfect" submissive wives in that story.
Another comparison I want to make is to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Get Out isn't going for the same sort of oppressive tone as Tobe Hooper's movie (though admittedly Tobe Hooper always thought his film was hilarious). However, what Hooper's film did was to take something seemingly safe and wholesome and make it horrifying. Hooper's film puts a twist on "southern hospitality" and Peele's film puts a twist on embarrassing white liberals.
This isn't a film about racists per se. It's about liberal white people who are supportive of black people and mean well, but have some embarrassing residual racist sentiments. And Peele takes their faux pas comments and takes them to a genuinely horrifying place.
Part way through I thought I knew exactly where this was going and I couldn't have been more wrong. The fear comes from not knowing the nature of the threat but simply knowing that something is wrong. When I thought I understood the threat I briefly became a bit frustrated, but the film quickly got me back on board and I was soon horrified again.
There's a comic relief character here, played by Lil Rel Howery, who is mostly separate from the main action. He isn't as realistic as the other characters and displays some comedy tropes which somewhat at odds with the horror atmosphere of the rest of the film. When he's talking out loud to himself it's clearly playing up to an audience and the only audience is the one watching the film.
I'm very pleased to see Caleb Landry Jones back in top creepy form like we saw from him in thd underrated sci-fi body-horror "Antiviral". Allisom Williams from Girls is also very cool as the girlfriend. I think I'd only seen Daniel Kaluuya (our protagonist) before in Sicario, but he has to give a lot of subtle reaction shots here and he always helps us to clearly understand his character without any need to explicitly tell us his thoughts.
Get Out is clever, different, emotionally powerful, funny (and there are plenty of subtle jokes where I didn't even know they were setting up for a joke until later), dramatic, horrifying and generally everything you would want from an instant horror classic. If you love horror, you will love Get Out. And as a horror comedy fan I think all that is missing is lashings of gore, Evil Dead 2 style, but otherwise this is frikkin' perfect.
Review of The Church (1989)
Best thing: At a key moment a pile of naked bodies rise from under the church floor. It's spectacular imagery. I loved it. The Bahomet costume also looked very cool.
Worst thing: Some schoolchildren seem remarkably well-informed about this weird church. They even know that there is a device that will bring the whole building down. They also talk about some weird idea that if you go to sleep you will see your best friend who will have your face. Or something. This doesn't tie into the rest of the film and made no sense to me.
The Church is an Italian horror with the dream-like style with explicit gore you'd expect, but wow, some of the visuals are incredible.
Sure there are cheesy moments and admittedly the pacing in the middle isn't great. However, the opening third really impressed me and the visuals in the third act are often unbelievable. Okay so we could do with better characters and Hugh Quarshie should have been given more to do from the start, but the tension is always very skillfully driven up throughout the runtime and I had a lot of fun.
Review of Grandma (2015)
Best thing: I really enjoyed the scene where she is making a fuss in the coffee shop because it isn't an abortion clinic any more and the coffee is bad.
Worst thing: I felt that the central grandma character should have had sense enough to realise that old books probably weren't going to get her as much money as she was hoping. Sure, she's deluding herself but when an old friend says they aren't giving that much for them she should realise she's on to a lost cause rather than going off her rocker.
Grandma is essentially an indie comedy and I'm sure I'm not the only one hearing warning bells at that prospect. But I really enjoyed the ideas explored here.
This is a grumpy traditional feminist responding to her granddaughter's distinct lack of female liberation. She's a free spirit, a bit of badass, and takes no sh*t from anyone. But she also has been left a bit of a cynic.
The eponymous Grandma sees her granddaughter as suffering from a lack of self-respect. But a central focus of the story is a pro-choice message and the grandma is determined that she not turn away her granddaughter when she is trying to have an abortion. The freedom to choose is a vital principle for her
It's a little sad that simply having a woman view a right to one's own body as a basic right without feeling any need to debate or question feels like a daring position for the character to hold. But this was a really uplifting film overall.
The film is also very funny with a satisfying simplicity. I very much enjoyed Grandma and the ending tied things up better than I thought it would.
Review of Creep (2014)
Best thing: Mark Duplass' performance is great in spite of the dearth of decent material. He's a real showman and is able to capture our attention well.
Worst thing: Someone clearly insisted that they needed to have jump scares in order to call this a horror film, so Duplass keeps on jumping out at the camera guy to scare him. It gets incredibly tiresome. And the decision to have a whole section of the film where we can't see anything was pretty bad too.
I'd heard mixed views on Creep, but positive reviews highlighted Mark Duplass's performance. Having now seen him in "The One I Love" I was intrigued.
I now know why the positive reviews mentioned Duplass. He's the only good thing about this film. Essentially Duplass has to show enough enthusiasm and be enough of a showman to keep us from noticing that there is absolutely no story and no payoff.
To be fair, Duplass actually is so good that this works for a while. But by the third act the jig was up. It became clear that we weren't really building up to a big climax and that the film was mostly just biding its time to reach movie length.
I also think this was intended to be a comedy. Certainly Duplass is a funny guy, but the script (if they even wrote a script) doesn't give us gags with a build up and payoff. Duplass just occasionally says funny things as part of having a quirky character. By the very end the film had gone full-on goofy and it just didn't feel consistent with a found footage (and therefore semi-real appearing) film about one quirky creepy figure.
A waste of talent and, if they just had some more inspired ideas on how to end this, it could have been far more satisfying and possibly even pretty good.
Review of Creepozoids (1987)
Best thing: I actually cared about the characters and despite less than stellar acting and cheap-as-hell sets, I was pretty invested in the story as they explored the abandoned bunker/facility.
Worst thing: If you want to tease us that the monster is still alive at the end, it'd be nice if you didn't blatantly re-use the exact same shot as we saw earlier.
Well towards the end, we get something that looks like Chucky in Space. Mind you, that's not as good as it sounds.
This has a ridiculously low budget, but it's still quite fun. It almost even feels like there might be an interesting explanation for the monster. In the end this feels to me like a rip-off of Leviathan, which itself is often viewed as a rip-off of Alien.
Any fights with the alien are incredibly unconvincing. We have a monster with enormous claws, yet the fights just involve pushing and shoving. By the end of the movie I actually became bored by the protagonist consistently shoving the monster away over and over again.
For a trashy daft movie, this wasn't half bad. Not terribly good either, but not half bad. I wouldn't quite recommend it, but if you want something silly with some low budget charm you could do a lot worse.
Review of First Blood (1982)
Best thing: The filmmaking style gets us into the head of the traumatised protagonist despite his intentionally inexpressive withdrawn character. He's easy to root for even when he's clearly out of control.
Worst thing: The police are villainised to an absurd degree. It's bad enough when they seem to be being mean to Rambo for the hell of it, but when one of them decides to shoot at him from a helicopter while he's unarmed and climbing a rock face, it just dives into absurdity.
I don't feel like First Blood is really a film to be taken seriously, but it is an action film which pulls you into the head of its central character. First Blood captures the issues surrounding returning Vietnam veterans in a compelling, albeit overblown, way.
Stallone plays a Vietnam veteran who goes to visit a fellow soldier and ends up on a rampage after receiving unjust treatment by the police.
I'm not sure how I feel about Stallone's characters breakdown in the third act. It feels like over-acting but then again Stallone is playing a traumatised character. Still, First Blood seems like quite an important film in the way it captures the mood of the time.
Review of Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
Best thing: I quite enjoy the relationship between Rambo and his superior officer on one hand and the leader of this new operation on the other. The politics behind it is quite interesting, even if it's not all that deep.
Worst thing: It's one thing to have a protagonist that is a more skilled fighter than the enemy, but it's quite another to have him standing in plain line of fire and inexplicably remaining unharmed by machine gun fire.
John Rambo turns into a superhero. In the last movie he was a trained killer, traumatised by his experiences experiences in Vietnam, and more than a match for the local police force.
In part 2 he is brought out of retirement to go up against the Russians, rescuing prisoners of war held by the communists. And it turns out that, just like with local police, he can take on Russians single-handed too.
The action isn't even all that exciting. Rambo has no strategy this time. He stands in plain sight and machine guns are fired at him while he slowly draws back his bow to fire explosive arrows. On top of that the film is incredibly cheesy.
Charles Napier is great as the asshole boss. The way the film handles his story is ludicrous, but his performance is great and there was potential to do more interesting things with his character.
Rambo: First Blood Part 2 is dumb, but I can see how some might enjoy it. Frankly I found it to be a pretty mediocre action film. Also John Rambow is such a great soldier, could we have some more deliberation before he flagrantly ignores the direct order: "do not engage the enemy"?
Review of Rambo III (1988)
Best thing: They show Rambo cleaning out a wound by lighting gunpowder inside his body. I don't know if that's realistic or sensible but it looks amazing.
Worst thing: The story is so incredibly boring. We don't even have a good guy turning villainous to make things interesting. Rambo befriending the Afghans seemed like a cool idea but what is the payoff on that? In the end the story is about Rambo, his old commanding officer and the Russians.
As much as First Blood part 2 didn't impress me, it was at least a distinctly different story from the first film. Rambo III is pretty much a less interesting repeat of First Blood part 2.
And yet at the beginning I was fully on board. Rambo is living at a Buddhist monastery and yet he is also competing in street fight matches for some extra money. That's a really interesting contrast. It represents how he is pursuing a more peaceful existence yet cannot leave the violence behind. But fighting in a controlled environment isn't the same as a war, so when asked to go back into the field, he refuses. Nothing in the rest of the film is ever that smart again.
Also the action is less interesting and sometimes it's hard to tell what is happening. When Rambo is running around corridors or even having bombs dropped on him I'm unclear where Rambo is by comparison to the enemies.
I began thinking this might be the best of the original Rambo trilogy. I quickly downgraded my expectations, instead presuming this would be on a par with First Blood part 2. But while I was still reasonably interested in seeing Rambo blow up the Russian baddie in part 2, in Rambo III nothing was holding my attention at all. The idea of Rambo helping the Afghans kick out the Soviet Union seemed like it held a lot of promise, but by the end the premise felt entirely squandered.
Review of Rambo (2008)
Best thing: Did they use CG for the violence? It feels like they must have and yet it looks so incredibly real for 2008. People get ripped to shreds and completely decimated by machine fire. In X-Men Apocalypse people being beheaded by sand looked utterly ridiculous. I'd expect people being ripped apart by machine gun fire to have a similar issue, but here it looks disturbingly real. It's amazing.
Worst thing: Wait, where's the ending. Obviously the film ends, but the film sets up characters with contrasting perspectives from the SAS guy who just wants to get out as soon as possible and the missionaries who are completely opposed to violence. There's no real finale to tie this up really.
Rambo has apparently been wandering in Asia since his exploits in Afghanistan. The film really shows how utterly horrifying the exploits of the Burmese military can be and does not pull any punches.
Sure, the violence is gruesome and plenty have noted that it's not 'fun' violence. But in a way that is actually a strength of this film. The violence is horrifying because the situation in Burma is horrifying. The fact is that while this violence might not be 'fun' it is awe-inspiringly impactful.
I quite like the neat twist on expectations towards the beginning. When Rambo agrees to help Christian missionaries, it feels like we might see him being 'saved' from his hopeless existence through faith. But this is a far too cynical movie to go down that path.
I'm surprised we don't see more of Julie Benz (Darla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in this film. She's set up as important at the beginning and I don't actually think she has an arc. One of the main things I wish they had done to wrap up is to have some final meaningful exchange between her and Rambo before the film comes to a close. The ending is very abrupt.
But still, I don't think anyone can say the violence is boring here. Horrible, certainly, but in a way that forced you to pay attention. Rambo's victories are always a little hard to believe, but I felt this was a more plausible story than other Rambo films. While this fourth Rambo film still lacks depth, I think this is the best film in this movie series.
Review of Manborg (2011)
Best thing: As much as the effects are cheap and terrible, when we cut to an advancing demonic claymation monster I found that to be awesome. Though actually my favourite aspect is probably the villain's awkward attempts to woo the female prisoner, hoping that she'll date him even though he's a horrifying monster from hell who is currently keeping her in a cage.
Worst thing: The acting from the good guys is all terrible.
With "The Void" on the way and having found "W is for Wish" to be by far the best segment of The ABCs of Death 2, I decided to check out Steven Kostanski's first film "Manborg". It seems to be a part of the series of fake grindhouse films and, like Rodriguez's Planet Terror, that use visual effects to provide the payoff that older exploitation films could only promise.
While the effects here are very obviously cheap, there's a distinctive style and a great deal of charm.
Unfortunately the acting is frikkin' horrendous, particularly from some of the heroes of the film. I understand that it's tough to be expressive when you have to speak in robotic monotone, but let's just say, the protagonist doesn't hold a candle to Peter Weller in Robocop.
I had high hopes for Manborg. Ultimately it wasn't a film I'd really recommend, but there were aspects that worked very well and flashes of brilliance. I can't say I'm all that confident about The Void after this, but if The Void turns out to be as brilliant as the trailers make it look, the seeds of that brilliance are clearly visible here even if the full project leaves much to be desired.
P.S. The animated short film "Fantasy Beyond" in the extras on the DVD is actually really cool. Warriors armed with musical instruments seek to beat back a Lovecraftian evil force that lurks within the paintings in an art gallery. It's pretty awesome.
Also the fake trailer for“Bio-cop” is hilarious. It's about a police officer who has been covered in some kind biological agent and now cannot die. His boss and his fellow officers just act as if nothing is wrong and tell him to get his head back in the game, while meanwhile bio-cop is throwing up pools of acid and his eyes are falling out of his skull. Crazy, gross and very funny.
Review of London to Brighton (2006)
Best thing: There are a lot of great aspects here, not least the central performances, but I'm going to point out my favourite moment here. There's almost a sadistic pleasure when the pimp gets particularly savagely treated by the gangster in the car.
Worst thing: I want to say this without spoiling the film, but my biggest concern is with the ending. One Letterboxd review asks, "So what's the moral then?" I don't think there is a moral here, but I have my suspicions that perhaps the filmmakers think there is one. I hope not.
The prostitute seems to become a mother figure to the runaway girl almost in spite of herself. Perhaps partly due to a maternal instinct and partly because she has limited options, as she seeks to look after the young girl they build a really interesting relationship.
Both performers are excellent. The younger actress is amazing here. Her performance is an open book. Whether she's pretending to know what particular words mean or nervously drinking more alcohol than she's used to or facing a seemingly imminent death, she is completely believable and natural.
There's a sense of inevitability to the story. While the pimp is a completely despicable character (not least for being a pimp at all), there's a sense that he can't afford to say no to either of the gangsters. Not to the dad or to the son. At one point he is envious of a friend's flat. He clearly pines for a better life and it's as if he never chose his life. He doesn't see any option other than being a scumbag.
And the prostitute mostly has the same problem. She solves problems by hooking and she initially only weakly resists the plan to pimp out a young girl. And even when she is finally convinced to put a stop to things, it's the little girl's actions that make the real difference. The girl seems to be the only one who seems to have some real level of choice left. Even the powerful gangsters seem to be trapped in a cycle of violence.
London to Brighton may not be a traditional tragedy in the Greek sense, but it still has that sense of inevitable impending doom. I like what it does with that kind of story very much. In the horrible world where it takes place, this was a pretty exciting story and the central relationship kept me invested from beginning to end.
Review of Burnt Offerings (1976)
Best thing: Some of the creepy elements in the house are done very effectively in a way that seems to preempt those used later in The Shining. The theme of a family isolated in a house which seems to be working against them is so close to that of The Shining that it's hard to believe it is simply a coincidence.
Worst thing: Did anyone fail to see the big reveal coming a mile away? And is the sight of the female protagonist sitting in a chair and wearing that makeup really worthy of Oliver Reed's over the top reaction? For what had been quite a cool slow burn horror film, that was about the most ludicrous overblown way they could possibly end it.
For all my prejudices against ghost films, I actually quite like the idea of a cursed house. I quite like the idea that a fear of ghosts is really a fear of going mad.
Moreso than in “The Shining”, the haunting in “Burnt Offerings” is by the house as a whole, not individual ghosts. There's a sense that the whole house is working against them, both physically and mentally. We even have protagonists attacked by the trees outside!
Initially I was fully on board with this film and the presence of Bette Davis does the film no harm certainly. This is well made and well acted. Unfortunately towards the end it gets tiresome and the ending is a bit dumb. (In a film based around a slow build, it is a particularly big problem to be building towards an anti-climax.)
Review of Volver (2006)
Best thing: At one point our protagonist plays a bit of a sneaky trick that appealed to me. She pays back some friends more than she owes, saying that she doesn't want them to think she'd ripped them off. But then she immediately ropes them into helping her move a fridge freezer for her.
Worst thing: When Penelope Cruz's character decides to sing it's quite clearly dubbed. I guess Penelope Cruz wasn't a good enough singer for them to just let her do it herself in the scene.
In some ways, Volver is a pretty simple film. There's a kind of soap opera feel to the story, which I think is somewhat intentional.
The ending felt a little abrupt to me since I feel there was much that could still be resolved. But Volver's strength is that it is so different. The film is about the bond between the various female characters and there is always an affection between them no matter what.
I'm not sure why Penelope Cruz is the only actress who seems to have that level of glamorous makeup. It's not simply because she's more attractive. She's actively presented in a more glamorous way than the rest of the cast.
There are a few plot strands that just seem to be dropped. (Does she own a restaurant now?) But this story is quirky, fun and unique. Still, while the film is designed to tug at the heart strings, it's all a bit too light and silly to give much insight into even the fictional world it sets up.
Review of My Fair Lady (1964)
Best thing: The songs are pretty much all brilliant and I am personally especially fond of "I Could Have Danced All Night".
Worst thing: The choreography during the song “Ascot Gavotte” is terrible. (Or perhaps it’s great and the camera is pulled in too close for us to tell?) But all we see is one person walking past each other. No symmetry, no interesting motions, formations, expressions to make it remotely interesting to watch.... ... Okay, actually.... now I come to post this review I now realise that the problem must be with the format of my DVD. It clearly wasn’t a proper widescreen version I was watching since all the complexity and symmetry I thought was missing is clearly present in the youtube clip. I still feel the choreography of the songs generally wasn’t exciting enough, but perhaps this song isn’t the best to highlight as the main culprit after all...
Musicals often seem to work better as stage shows than they do as films. The stage show I saw of Oliver! was way better than the film and, from what I've seen of the film of the musical version of The Producers, that worked way better as a stage show too. My Fair Lady was also a stage show first and it doesn't translate too well to the big screen.
When I was younger, this was one of a number of musicals performed as a school production in my school. With young children performing the roles, it helped to reduce the impact of the horrible characters featured here.
The character who sings about stalking ("I'm on the street where you live") didn't seem so creepy in when performed by a child.
Also somehow I don't think I previously realised that the female protagonist's father basically tries to SELL his daughter to the rich professor.
I think the professor himself always seemed like a sexist pig. After all, he has a whole song, that is even reprised later, asking: "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" But I think in a children's production it was easier to soften towards him by the end.
But even with the darker elements in the story taken for granted, I felt the choreography was also a problem. While we are hearing the fantastic songs from this musical, the action on screen wasn't always that interesting, the main issue seeming to be the way the camera captures these segments.
Most of the songs are brilliant, but I especially like "I could have danced all night". It's actually a bit unfortunate that the song designed to make us soften on the central professor, "Accustomed to her face", is probably one of the least impressive songs, but it's certainly not bad.
The story of a man who decides to show a common girl how to talk and act like a lady is a lot of fun. Audrey Hepburn’s initial accent is incredibly annoying, partly because it's intended to be, but just as much because it sounds inauthentic.
However, one of my favourite aspects (after the songs of course) is when she's talking like a commoner in a super-posh accent. The line that cracked me up the most was: "Seems to me, them as pinched it, done her in."
In the end, I watched this professional film with the constant feeling that it was less fun and even less emotionally impactful than a children's production! It may be that this musical simply works better on stage, but goodness knows this particular film didn't quite work for me.
Review of Bugsy Malone (1976)
Best thing: The character of Fat Sam is just perfect. Whether he's shouting at his hoodlums and calling them numbskulls or sadly exclaiming in Italian while beating up an effigy of his main rival, he's always wonderfully expressive and absolutely hilarious.
Worst thing: Occasionally the child acting isn't perfect. It's often fantastic and Jodie Foster is certainly brilliant, but not all the lines are delivered as well as they could be. That being said, there's no single moment that I can point to and say, "That scene lets the film down."
Holy crap! That’s Dexter Fletcher, the director of “Eddie The Eagle”! He plays a small role as a character called “babyface”.
I can't even believe this is a seventies film. I mean, if I think about it, I know full well that Jodie Foster was no longer this young by the early 90s, but the style of the Bugsy Malone production just doesn't feel seventies to me somehow.
I have no problem with musicals, but Bugsy Malone was made for the big screen and as such I think it works better AS a film than most musicals do. For that reason, I'd say that Bugsy Malone is my favourite movie musical of all time. It's funny, the songs are great, and the choreography is wonderfully exciting.
My favourite song and dance number is probably "Bad Guys". The action during the song is just non-stop. Plus the song is super-catchy. And to finish with with Fat Sam coming out to shout at his hoodlums again just tops it all off nicely.
I also find Bugsy Malone pretty moving. The central song "Ordinary Fool" from the lead actress really gets to me every time. And let's not also forget the whistful song "Tomorrow" by the black dancer stuck sweeping the floor. Bugsy Malone has proper sweeping emotional beats, the story is well paced never keeping you waiting long for the next exciting development. And it just becomes more and more fun the more you watch.
Bugsy Malone is a childhood favourite and remains deeply special to me. It's just a wonderful feel-good film and genuinely great time. The whole gangster/noir style with children is just so fantastically realised. While the 1920s setting is brilliantly designed, there are some very inventive creative decisions on how to make this film suitable for children. For one, the decision on how to avoid showing blood is excellent (and I won't spoil that for you if you don't know already) and while you can't have children driving cars the old style vehicles in Bugsy Malone are all operated with pedals!
If you haven't seen Bugsy Malone, you should get right on it.
So why not give this a first, second, heck hundreth watch? Let me get you started:
"Someone once said, if it was raining brains Roxy Robinson wouldn't even get wet...."
Review of Pieces (1982)
Best thing: This is a genuine whodunnit murder mystery, but it's also very much a slasher film. So as a result we get a pretty awesome final scare.
Worst thing: A lot of the acting is a bit stilted. But this is typical for a slasher film. I think perhaps the higher quality storytelling aspects make the typical slasher/exploitation aspects more obvious.
I have always thought that horror films are best when they are fun. Some way, somehow, the horror film has to insert some fun in there somewhere to contrast its horrifying themes or oppressive atmosphere.
Pieces is more explicitly fun than most, particularly with its perky peppy female undercover officer on the case. I particularly like how the film often leans heavily into making us suspect a particular character. Early on the film is practically screaming at us "look at how weird that gardener seems while holding that CHAINSAW!"
On top of that, the characters are often pretty endearing and the opening murder is undeniably disgusting (actually reminding me of the video nasty "Nightmares In A Damaged Brain").
As a murder mystery this would be pretty by the numbers, but the slasher movie elements make it something very different. I found Pieces to be lot of fun and an excellent slasher film. Daft in all the right ways.
Review of “In The Heart Of The Sea” (2015)
Best thing: The effects are incredible. It's a pity that there is such a bland grey-green tinge over everything, but the visuals are certainly very impressive all the same.
Worst thing: Tom Holland is the protagonist? Seriously? We are apparently hearing the story from the perspective of Tom Holland's character, who grows up to become Brendon Gleeson, yet in many of the scenes Tom Holland is simply not around. While Chris Hemsworth is clearly the central character.
After Ron Howard’s “Rush”, I was really excited about his next project to star Chris Hemsworth. It felt a bit odd to hear that the protagonists were whalers and the villain was a whale, but I was happy to go with it.
I had trouble believing the reviews that said that this was deeply underwhelming. I don't think the greeny-grey filter really helped much. Some parts of the film look fantastic and the effects were incredible, but the colour palette is rather drab.
It's odd how, even with Brendan Gleeson and Chris Hemsworth in central roles, I struggled to relate to the characters. Also, with Chris Hemsworth clearly playing the main character, it was confusing to discover that the story is supposed to be from the perspective of Tom Holland, particularly considering that he is entirely absent from vital scenes early on in the story.
Frankly I think this would be a lot more interesting if they just adapted Moby Dick. If the reason for opting for the events upon which Moby Dick was based was in order to make the story feel more real and thus more emotionally impacting then I'm afraid this struck me as an utter failure. (I realise that it’s because someone wrote a book called “In The Heart Of The Sea” and they got hold of the movie rights to adapt it, but seriously - wouldn’t Moby Dick be a more interesting work to adapt? Goodness knows, this adaptation particular cannot be doing this story justice.)
It's strange, since Rush was also an attempt to excite and move us with a true story and it worked so well, but In The Heart Of The Sea simply falls flat.
A real pity.
Star Wars: Fall Of The Jedi (Neon Noir fan edit) (2015)
Best thing: One part that stood out for me was the mother's funeral. While once again using low-key moody music and no dialogue, we see quick cut flashbacks to Anakin's slaughter of the raiders who kidnapped his mother while he stands at her grave and silently mourns her. No dialogue about how "I killed them all!" Just pure effective visual storytelling that turns cringy moments into genuinely emotional moments.
Worst thing: The part where Anakin kills one of the Jedi to save the senator still doesn't quite work. But with the dialogue and running time reduced we now see a clearer parallel with an earlier scene. The senator says of Count Dooku, "He was too dangerous to be left alive." Even so, the suggestion by Emperor Palpatine that he is simply a victim while he’s firing out creepy lightning powers from his fingertips, is always tough for me to accept.
Star Wars: Neon Noir (as it is generally known; the actual title is "Fall Of The Jedi" but that seems to be the title of several fan edits. “Star Wars: Neon Noir” is the really the best way to identify this version.) is a fan edit which cuts the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy down to just 1 hour and 40 minutes. The idea of cutting together all three films is not a new idea although the most well-known example was re-edited is by Topher Grace and hasn't been made widely available.
What makes the Star Wars: Neon Noir fan edit by user 'Only Yoda Forgives' truly unique is the way it bases its style on the 'neon noir' style of recent films from Nicolas Winding Refn like "Drive", "Only God Forgives" and "The Neon Demon". This means a dialogue-light approach, a dark tone, with the film lingering on beautiful visuals while generally synthy-heavy music sets the tone in the background.
The Star Wars prequels were films that made many in the audience actively angry. Part of the reason for this was that it was part of a beloved movie franchise, also because fans had been promised these films for over a decade, and yet another source of vexation was that it felt so uninspired despite being from the visionary mind of George Lucas.
But I think another aspect to this is that what made the prequels so frustrating is that the qualities required to make a great film seemed to be present. The visuals are incredible, John Williams returned to do the score, a selection of incredible acting talent filled major and minor roles. (How many people even noticed that Joel Edgerton was in the prequels playing Anakin's half-brother?)
So much effort was put into the prequels and so many hopes were set on them. And with each new instalment somehow the hype managed to convince us that the next one would be better, because heck surely it ought to be?
So perhaps that explains why so many fan edits seem to be trying to save the prequels. This 'Neon Noir' edit recognises that one of the biggest problems with the film is the dialogue. Certainly when I tried making my own edit of the Anakin and Obi-Wan lightsaber battle from Return of the Sith I could see how beautiful it was as, essentially, a scene entirely free from dialogue; essentially a silent film.
What most people never really thought was a problem is the John Williams score. In fact, surely that is part of what makes it Star Wars? So it's quite a surprising and daring move to try to remove John Williams from the film entirely. In many scenes sound effects have been carefully dubbed onto the new soundtrack, but the film has more trouble keeping the old music out when characters speak.
Amazingly this new edit keep all major plot points of the second and third prequel movies firmly intact. The Phanton Menace has only ever really been a pre-amble to the story in the other two films, so that is how it is used here. We jump straight into the action by beginning with the fight with Darth Maul. Anakin is introduced at Qui-Gon's funeral and we transition to Anakin grown-up plagued by nightmares possibly connected to Qui-Gon's death. The picture of Anakin and a troubled figure is made clear right from the start.
Emotional moments work a lot better with this re-cut. Since Anakin and Padme share scenes where they mostly just look at each other silently, rather than speaking inane dialogue to one another, their chemistry as a romantic pairing seems to work much better as a result. One clip of Padme shooting robots in The Phantom Menace is edited into a montage of battles from the Clone Wars; yet another way she is portrayed as a more pro-active figure in this cut.
Some have suggested that by removing dialogue and changing the music, that essentially changes this into a series of music videos. However, I think that reductive appraisal ignores the fantastic editing choices and the way the visual storytelling of this cut of the film is streamlined to make extra dialogue entirely superfluous to the story being told. This version of this trilogy is, at times, genuinely emotionally affecting for me in a way that simply was not true of the original films. The less loud and obvious background music with a moodier is better suited to what has always been quite a dark and sad story.
Quite frankly this is by far the best version of the prequels I have ever seen. There's a limit to how good it can ever be, even with the audio issues cleaned up, because the original material is very limiting. Still, considering what they were working with this is an exceptional piece of editing work.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Best thing: I could put the humour or the action or the visuals or the much improved chemistry between the characters. However, I've got to put Kurt Russell here as the best thing. (Sure, Baby Groot was sweet and goodness know Groot was the best thing in the first film, but Kurt Russell is just so perfect here.)
Worst thing: Sylvester Stallone only has a small part, but he stands out like a sore thumb. Is this really the same guy people were suggesting they should have given an Oscar for acting the other year? I mean I haven't seen Creed, or any of the Rocky movies for that matter, but Stallone is pretty clearly the worst actor. (Full credit to Dave Bautista playing Drax who is a wrestler with no real acting experience outside of these two films and yet not only fits right in but even has great comic timing.)
Guardians of the Galaxy really wasn't one of my favourite Marvel Studios movies. In a movie series which I most often judge on how much it can make me laugh, I didn't think Guardians of the Galaxy was as funny as I was hoping for.
Add to that Thanos and Ronan being two of the most boring villains ever and I really didn't see why Guardians of the Galaxy was being picked out for special praise over and above Thor 2 and Iron Man 3.
Now I think part of the issue was that they had to introduce the characters in the first film. A team of five brand new protagonists to be introduced in just one film is not an easy undertaking. The antics of Thor and Loki or Tony Stark were able to be as funny as they were because I was so familiar with them (and they weren't as funny in their first movie either).
I was particularly pleased to see Karen Gillan's character Nebula given more to do this time around. Previously she was pretty much just a henchman for the villains, but now we get much more focus on her relationship with Gamora. Yondu is also given a much more interesting character this time around as we explore his history with Starlord. The humour flows more easily from the characters this time because we know the characters better.
One thing I don't think is better is the soundtrack. Sure some of the songs were pretty cool, but we had some Bowie last time, y'know? And I think that “Father and Son” song has been ruined for me by Boyzone....
But while I may not have ranked the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie as one of my favourites, that certainly isn't true of this follow-up. Marvel Studios seem to be remarkably capable at hammering out great sequels only making these characters more entertaining as the Marvel Universe expands.
Somehow that bubble hasn't burst yet.
Best thing: Natalie Portman's performance is excellent. There's so much depth to her depiction of Jackie Kennedy.
Worst thing: The score is so intrusive and, frankly, completely at odds with the tone of the film. Jarring violin sounds would be in line with the state of mind of Natalie Portman's character in Black Swan, but in Jackie we begin to see that she's actually taking control of things despite how vulnerable she might feel. And when the loud distorted violins threaten to prevent us hearing Jackie's carefully planned verbal exchanges, nothing could be less appropriate.
Jackie tackles a really interesting concept. Jackie Kennedy is not only making an effort to manage perception of herself in the media, but is also trying to engineer JFK's legacy.
And as Jackie handles the question of how her late husband is to be remembered, Natalie Portman's portrayal of this figure is highly impressive. Both strong and fragile at the same time. Portman tends to do best in roles where she has to cry for some reason.
Sadly overall I found the film a bit plodding. The film didn't really seem to make the most of the framing device of a journalist listening to the details after the fact. Events mostly seemed to unfold like a chronological story with occasional flashbacks with little interest in what our initial journalist is asking. I felt like I saw enough here for me to recognise that there was probably a more gripping way of telling this story.
Also the strings music felt completely wrong, giving an awkward horror atmosphere for what should have been more subtle political intrigue. We could tell that Jackie felt somewhat stressed and insecure due to her husband's death from Portman's performance. We didn't need a distracting whining violin sound to make that any clearer.
District 13 (2004)
Best thing: The opening chase scene really showcases parkour skills in an awesome way as well as being a spectacular action sequence. I wish the action sequences were all that effective.
Worst thing: The banter between the police officer and the protagonist isn't all that interesting. Frankly the police officer is a bit of a weak character.
District 13 promises to be an action movie with a difference by making use of parkour. The opening chase sequence shows how much scope this idea has (and certainly James Bond would be ripping this off not long after), but I cannot feel that the movie really fails to make the rest of its action sequences live up to that initial chase.
Strangely, the sequel makes even less use of parkour and even reduces the amount of action in general. I wonder whether the filmmakers thought the main selling point was the politics.
Frankly I found the politics pretty hard to care about. The film begins pretty dramatic, but the way they tie it up is so very on-the-nose. I think that sequence was intended to come off as both triumphant and funny, but it had been so telegraphed that it was hard to care about the ending at all. (I felt a stronger climax would have demanded an explanation. The mythology of District 13 ends up pretty thin.)
Another strong element is the humour. The interaction with the big drug gang is a lot of fun. One major gang thug, a big guy with his name shaved into his hair, has the charisma to help lighten what is, at times, a seriously grim premise.
Just wondering though. If the gang is stuck working within an entirely closed-off suburb of Paris, how do they make much money? To keep exploiting drug addicts you need the addicts to have money; either their own money or money that they have to beg, borrow or steal. With a wall around a poor suburb, that must really limit their profit.
District 13 is a solid action film and a lot of fun, but I can't help but feel that it could have made more of its unique position as a "parkour" action flick. The opening chase is incredible, but the rest of the film is mostly plain old silly fun. Well worth a look, but not the classic it could have been.
Under The Shadow (2016)
Best thing: The indignities the mother suffers, including being denied the opportunity to study to be a doctor because of the whims of the Islamic Republic, are really interestingly portrayed. I'm very pleased to have already seen Satrapi's Persepolis to give me some much needed background on the situation.
Worst thing: For me, the comparison to “The Babadook” is all too obvious. But while The Babadook was all about being a well-meaning but bad mother, Under The Shadow is also about being under-valued in the midst of Iraqi bombs. The relevance of the 'ghost' became a little overly muddled for me and when we are 'shown' the monster, I wasn't clear how the analogy with real life was supposed to work. Perhaps "Under The Shadow"'s biggest problem is that "The Babadook" exists.
Under The Shadow promises a great deal more depth than it ends up delivering. Iran in the relatively recent aftermath of the Islamic Revolution makes for a very interesting setting.
Our protagonist has to deal with being barred from ever becoming a doctor simply because she expressed political views prior to the regime. She also has bombs to contend with, snotty relatives and on top of that her daughter has heard tales about a djinn causing trouble in the building.
The djinn actually seems like a kind of ghost, but thankfully there are potentially psychological explanations for the experiences which develop our understanding of the characters. (While the djinn could be real it is left helpfully ambiguous for the most part.)
But I was expecting a great deal more depth here. In the end all the central message of this film seems to come down to is "Is she a good mother?" And here's where "Under The Shadow" seriously pales when compared alongside "The Babadook".
While in The Babadook the protagonist is struggling to raise a child while also coming to terms with her husband's death (on the night she gave birth, no less), the protagonist in Under The Shadow is understandably more concerned with bombs falling. She sometimes has her husband being supportive on the other end of the phone line and, while she feels silently judged by him, I cannot help but feel that she is doing just fine as a mother.
While the building is handling the threat of bombs, the daughter is concerned about her doll. Frankly the protagonist feels completely justified in telling her daughter that a doll doesn't matter and they can just replace it. That's perfectly reasonable parenting.
In The Babadook the mother is clearly terrible. In Under The Shadow, the movie seems to want me to think she's a bad mother but simply will not commit to the idea. And what is the significance of this djinn? It comes on the wind? So what?
If The Babadook weren't fresh in my mind, perhaps I'd have given this more credit. I tend to dislike ghost films, but by tying all the hauntings strongly to the psychology of the characters, that made this more grounded. I really wish this film had taken its ideas in a more original direction.
Best thing: While I know most people hate to see bad things happen to dogs (or perhaps because most people seem to love dogs) I think I gain a greater sense of justice than most people when a clearly vicious dog is killed, particularly when the owner gets upset about what has happened to the growling savage merciless 'defenceless animal'.
Worst thing: The problem here isn't so much that the story is carried out badly as that there is nothing here that we haven't seen before. While I like the idea of a 'nice guy' villain (i.e. someone who creepily insists 'you should be with me because I'm so nice'), I don't understand this guy. At times he seems smart, but how can he possibly expect to clean up the mess he makes?
I decided to check this out because it was scripted by Alexandre Aja. It's quite a basic 'one location' thriller. I suppose the twist on the genre is that the villain wants the protagonist to think he's nice, though I doubt it's the first time that's happened.
And that's the problem really. This is a well-structured and acted thriller. It's simple and solid. It's just not anything new or different.
P2 is absolutely fine, but it's unlikely to impress anyone particularly.
Deepwater Horizon (2016)
Best thing: Okay, so the visual effects that make us believe we are really watching a disaster on an oil rig are by far the best thing about this film. However, one character interaction appealed to me. In the relevant scene there are two of the characters isolated from everyone else and one has realised that their only option for survival is a death-defying jump from an absurd height. The way that plays out felt very real to me in a way that most scenes did not. (Though any scenes with Kurt Russell deserve an honourable mention here.)
Worst thing: Most interactions between characters felt unrealistic to me, particularly in the first half. What made this annoying was the way so many scenes have characters bantering with one another in a way that is supposed to spell out 'typical working men'. Perhaps these scenes are actually pretty authentic, but as a viewer I found it felt fake, and in any case these 'casual' conversations served to make me feel isolated from the story.
I can't quite believe so many people were praising this film where it came out. I think I should have gone with my gut when I heard 'disaster movie starring Mark Wahlberg from the director of Battleship'.
Actually, for a dumb disaster film this isn't bad. John Malkovich and Kurt Russell give the real standout performances, but really this film wouldn't be much without its fantastic convincing effects work.
That the story is being told at all is pretty cool. It's told in a generic way, but it's still interesting to see how the oil rig disaster took place, with the visuals revealing the level of devastation involved and the bravery required.
Personally I really didn't feel this was worth my time, but it certainly had
some good aspects. However, Mark Wahlberg is not one of those.
Bolgen (The Wave) (2015)
Best thing: I very much enjoyed the visual effects work here and perhaps the most effective moment for me takes place in a car (though the excitement doesn't let up at that point).
Worst thing: The worst part would probably have to be the exact same moment. The effects sequence I liked most involves a remarkable survival and it's probably the point where it is least easy to suspend belief.
Now THAT is how you do a disaster movie. For all the awesome effects work, this is always centred around its characters.
Roar Uthaug's focus on character performances and consistently engaging visual storytelling is how his Cold Prey movies managed to outdo most slashers ever made. It's how his period horror "Escape" managed to outdo both Neil Marshall's "Centurion" and Christopher Smith's "Black Death" (which were both going for a similar mood). And it's also how his "Tomb Raider" film starring Alicia Vikander is going to blow away all expectations for that film.
The whole genre of disaster movie had become a bit of a joke, so it's not perhaps such a surprise that this is now my favourite disaster movie. But goodness knows I was not expecting this to be one of my favourite films of 2016.
Exciting, emotional, a bit of a visual feast. The Wave is a fantastic drama and a really powerful piece of cinema. It sticks to the demands of the disaster film and isn't afraid to have a miraculous survival at the end of one of its most spectacular set-pieces. However, it also transcends the limitations this genre has set for filmmakers and provides something beyond the disposable nonsense audiences have come to expect.
If you like disaster movies, you'll love this. If you don't like disaster movies, you may still love this. It's just really great.
Best thing: The attacks are wonderfully choreographed with the baddie and his dog working in tandem to hunt down our protagonists. Very exciting.
Worst thing: The story is fairly simplistic and I'm not sure I understand the message, beyond simply that we are all human beings deserving compassion regardless of borders. (Which we all knew already, right?) Perhaps if we had more clues as to what drove the villain to do this?
In the end this is a pretty well told simple story. It's also very well directed, with great performances and all the action very clearly framed and shot. However, this isn't really a film with a great deal of depth.
Perhaps the really creepy thing about the villain is supposed to be that he's 'just an ordinary guy' who happens not to think of those illegally crossing the border as people. There's no maniacal laughter or cold stare. When not hunting down mild-mannered human beings, he seems like a simple man minding his own business with his dog as a trusty companion.
So I guess that might be the point? That he's in no way demonised, because all you need in order to make him a villain is to show him shooting people in cold blood.
But I think you'd have to be pretty sick to ever side with someone who shoots ordinary people for fun. There's not really much of a message here. No keen insights. Just a pretty cool film about people struggling to escape a psychopath. (I say 'psychopath' because of the clear lack of empathy his character must possess in order to justify his actions to himself.)
At some point the protagonists need to handle the dog. This film actually reminds me of the surprise hit "Don't Breathe" with its 'man and a dog' villain set-up. Having recently watched P2, 'man and his dog' seems to be a surprisingly common threat in horror films. In Desierto, taking out the dog felt particularly satisfying to me.
This was solid entertainment and the acting and camerawork only served to elevate it for me. Simple but effective for what it is.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Best thing: Mia Wasikowska is always brilliant and she seems to play the most interesting character here as the perpetual everlasting immature troublemaker.
Worst thing: Tom Hiddleston's character (who writes music) is spellbound by a fairly boring musical act where the music sounds rather similar to the music he composes himself. Why is he so impressed? (And seriously, of all the people to like, they are big Jack White fans?)
I had problems with this film, but I have to say, the pacing wasn't the issue. I know this director is known for his slow paced films and I was pleased to see that I could run with that.
Unfortunately, as the film went on I found it very hard to care what happened to these insufferable eternal hippies. I much preferred Mia Wasikowska's rather more fun-loving hanger-on character.
I quite liked Tom Hiddleston's atmospheric music, but I was entirely unimpressed by the singing act that wows his character in the final act.
Definitely worth a mention is Anton Yelchin who makes for an awesome straight man to contrast the weird arty types. (You want a wooden bullet?)
There's one famous name mentioned that I didn't recognise at all and Hiddleston instantly gives full details of who that guy is. Apart from that, we have endless names of incredible famous figures through history with the implication that the vampiric protagonists have spent time with all of them. It's hard to really believe any of these figures would have given them the time of day and if they met them before they were big and it's way too much of a coincidence to suggest that they just happened to hang out with most of them BEFORE they were famous.
I know the scriptwriters have picked especially well known figures so they don't have to spend half the film explaining who these people are. However seeing as it is blatant that they are doing this, it is harder than ever to take it seriously (never mind to be wowed, as the film seems to expect me to be).
Only Lovers Left Alive is not boring and initially I quite liked the characters. But by the end of the film these pretentious hippies had rather outstayed their welcome. And sometimes their choices of treasured art seem a little odd (Infinite Jest? Seriously? And they love Jack White?) I'd rather have spent more time with irresponsible immature free-loading Mia Wasikowska. I could completely believe in her character.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
Best thing: An early scene where Buckaroo Banzai jumps through to another dimension is a neat bit of effects work and quite a cool opener for a sci-fi film.
Worst thing: Jon Lithgow has the most ridiculous accent and there are so many scenes of him ranting towards the end of the film and shouting commands at an alien that seems to have been named 'Big Booty'.
This sounded like a fun wacky sci-fi adventure with a protagonist who travels through weird dimensions. ("Adventures... across the 8th dimension" is in the title!)
Instead this feels like a terrible Doctor Who knock-off. The film all takes place on Earth. The film regularly tries and fails to be funny by going a bit wacky. The protagonist is supposed to be an ultra cool dude who everyone is happy to be associated with, including the president.
It's such a pity this isn't better when there's such an incredible cast list. Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Peter Weller and Jon Lithgow all in the same film? What a waste of their time this turned out to be.
The plot is a mess, the humour doesn't work, the effects look cheap. Also Jon Lithgow has a ton of scenes where he shouts nearly incomprehensible commands in a ridiculous fake Russian accent.
Raising Cain (1992)
Best thing: I love how the filming style keeps you guessing. Much here is trashy and ridiculous in such a wonderful way.
Worst thing: This film just gets so weird, Lithgow's accent (as the dad) is really off putting, the multiple personality premise now feels really overdone, but the worst thing for me is one scene where a character escapes police custody way too easily after an utterly ridiculous lapse in security.
Brian De Palma is such an odd director, but that's part of what makes this film so much fun. If it wasn't great enough having John Lithgow squabbling with his identical twin, we then have Frances Sternhagen being awesome. (I also know her from Outland and Misery.)
Multiple personality is pretty much always misrepresented on film and it's always hard to take seriously. It helps when the film is already a bit overblown like Fight Club and that is certainly what makes it work here. Still as a film where multiple personality is part of the mystery, that can't help but come off a bit goofy. It's in danger of reaching the levels of stupidity found in the movie "Identity".
Essentially Raising Cain is silly fun. I loved it.
Movies I Couldn’t Finish: The Greasy Strangler (2016)
Fun horror comedy they said. More like boring people standing around and occasionally taking those off too.
When the greasy strangler actually turns up I was not particularly wowed. The funniest part joke was an Indian character trying to say "potato" (and goodness knows they took that joke as far as it would go). That Indian character is then immediately killed off, so I simply lost interest.
I should have known something was up when about half of the hosts of the Cinema Eclectica podcast were incredulous that "The Greasy Strangler" be proposed as a highlight of last year, while those recommending the film gave a mischievous giggle. I do wish the naysayers had been a little more insistent.
I know comedy is subjective, but seriously there's not even a decent level of horror to fall back on here either. And this comedy really is the absolute lowest brow you can get. (One reviewer mentioned Little Britain. If, like me, you really aren't keen on Little Britain, you'll most likely hate The Greasy Strangler.)
In A Valley of Violence (2016)
Best thing: I have mixed views on Ethan Hawke and rarely think he is the best thing about the projects he chooses. Yet here I actually found myself puzzling over why Ethan Hawke has never been used in a Western before. Here he plays a Eastwood-style 'man with no name' type character - only with a dog. (Making it, I guess, a bit more like Mad Max 2?)
Worst thing: I've heard this film criticised for being generic and while I think the film's simplicity is a positive element, I'll admit that if you've seen the Fistful of Dollars trilogy you're unlikely to see anything here that surprises you. (Still personally I find the careful pacing of this film a lot more fun than something like "The Good, The Bad and The Weird" that keeps breaking that deliberate pace with fairly inconsequential action sequences.) And seriously if you put on a Django film, wouldn't you be annoyed if you discovered the Django wasn't actually going to kill everyone? Don't films like this need to stick to that trope?
Ti West brings us a Sergio Leone style western that hits all the right notes. This was simply so much fun.
Who ever would have imagined that Ethan Hawke could be this much of a badass?
It's difficult to compare this with Ti West's other films because it is so different. But this is certainly one of his very very best if not perhaps even THE best.
And if your issue with Ti West in the past has been slow pacing and unsatisfying finales, I think you'll find yourself very happily surprised.
Best thing: Fight our way out? Sneak around to get a phone? No. We should just wait til 3pm! - Genius!
Worst thing: While I found much of the film hilarious, there were some lamer jokes at points too. The poop joke where one character 'forgot to wear gloves' felt particularly egregious to me.
Elijah Woods is choosing some interesting projects and there is much in this child-zombie comedy that is hilarious. But unfortunately there are a number of gags that simply fall flat (though that's no fault of the cast).
So many parts of this film are wonderful and its a real pity that it isn't consistent. The filmmakers also seemed to have no idea how to end the film.
Still I have to say that, even as a film I wouldn't especially recommend to anyone, this was still a pretty enjoyable time.
I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore (2017)
Best thing: Elijah Woods' character was just wonderful. A geek who thinks he's some kind of zen master.
Worst thing: I guess this is just one silly element amongst many, but the idea that the villains would coerce an outsider to carry a gun and threaten people for them felt a bit odd.
The opening of this film felt so miserable and nihilistic that my girlfriend actually gave up on it....
Which was a pity because the protagonist then immediately decided to stop moping and to do some personal detective work to track down items stolen from her. And when Elijah Wood gets involved this film becomes a lot more fun.
As dark as this film can seem at times, it's a pretty charming little story. It's odd to suddenly be seeing Melanie Lynskey in films now when she started out with Kate Winslet in the film 'Heavenly Creatures' all those years ago. In this role she has to do a lot of exasperated sighing and she's consistently very watchable. She's great.
Elijah Wood is a quirky character to contrast her, particularly Wood's optimism in the light of Lynskey's pessimism. An unlikely pairing of characters is a common trope, but it's interesting that, while Wood is clearly the weirder character, Lynskey has the drive to produce the more chaotic results. In some ways, she's the less predictable of the two, even as the ordinary rational character.
P.S. Not seeing an awful lot of mention of Jane Levy’s performance here. Sure, she doesn’t have many lines, but she still has a strong screen presence even in this smaller role.
Supernatural Forces (aka The Mind’s Eye) (2015)
Best thing: As with Joe Begos' previous film "Almost Human", "Supernatural Forces" (originally released as "The Mind's Eye") has some really effective effects sequences despite its moderate budget. When one guy gets ripped in two using mind powers I was pretty impressed.
Worst thing: Not enough background is given on the main characters. Now actually I think this wouldn't matter if they just made Lauren Ashley Carter (from Jug Face)
the main character. She has really expressive eyes and it's very easy to get on board with her despite the lack of background. (There's a reason Liam Neeson is brought in as important characters who have little screen time in films like "Kingdom of Heaven", "The Next Three Days" and "Silence". If you don't have time for background, you need someone with an especially strong screen presence.) Graham Skipper simply isn't strong enough to carry the film without any backstory or build-up. When we get to climactic scenes where Lauren Ashley Carter is missing, it's difficult to understand the stakes and to care about the protagonist.
I was pretty excited about Joe Begos' latest film. Particularly since he was going from a film inspired by John Carpenter's The Thing to a film inspired by David Cronenberg's Scanners.
Unfortunately the limitations of the budget seem way too obvious and the hamminess isn't really terribly satisfying because we aren't given much opportunity to bond with the protagonist. In Almost Human we get to see him coming into conflict with his boss at work. There's no down-to-earth aspect to our protagonist in The Mind's Eye beyond that he has a girlfriend and a dad (which is pretty thin characterisation however you look at it).
Some parts of The Mind's Eye were a lot of fun and there are some cool visuals (though on my tv the blues and purples seemed way over-saturated at times).
With some better characterisation from our protagonists, I might have adored this. As cool as some of the scanner action was, it was difficult to be fully invested. This should have felt more intense. This was interesting, but it wasn't enough fun for the level of cheesiness.
The Grand (2007)
Side note: When searching for the DVD of this film in the UK, you’ll need to look for a DVD entitled “Loser” starring Woody Harrelson, but when you actually watch the film, you’ll find that it’s still called “The Grand”.
Best thing: Werner Herzog playing a vicious psychopath is always fun and here he is absolutely hilarious.
Worst thing: The final card game has less of a focus on the humour. It's used as an opportunity to give us the emotional payoff for each character, which is fine, but the game itself just baffled me (they don't just look at the players cards but also the cards in the centre of the table, and I'm not entirely sure how that works), so the lack of jokes in that section felt annoying to me.
I had thought this was a Christopher Guest film. This definitely seems to be borrowing from the style of films like "Best In Show", but honestly I don't remember Best In Show being this funny.
Woody Harrelson is great, but he is just one of a number of desperate or intimidating gamblers. We also have some announcers who are very funny too.
So many new comedies try to make the audience laugh by being random or throwing gags in the hope something sticks. But The Grand is a solid comedy that draws its humour from the situation, albeit sometimes using especially quirky characters, with fantastic results...
... except for a brief section towards the end where there are pretty much no laughs at all. The filmmakers decided to finish with a real card game, meaning that I had pretty much no clue what was happening and jokes could not be so easily scripted in. This section does resolve some character arcs, but I'm not sure they needed a real poker game.
But this final card game in no way detracts from the film as a whole. It's just an odd decision. The Grand is brilliant and well worth your time.
Best thing: You've got to wonder why there aren't more zombie films that compare the condition to terminal illness. Gradually transforming into a being without any human dignity makes for such a clear parallel and it makes for a really interesting parallel.
Worst thing: Not only is this film seriously dull (and the grey filter over everything really doesn't help), but thr further the film goes on the less successful it feels as an analogy with real life. Maggie mostly just felt to me like hopelessness for the sake of it.
Starts off interesting but then gets dull. Maggie seems to promise to be an interesting allegory of some kind but, since it doesn't follow through with that, I found it difficult to be enthusiastic about the generally rather contrived family drama.
Arnie Schwarzenegger is fine. I think his strengths are in comedy, but his on-screen charisma always helps a great deal. But when he's reminiscing about their past, not only was I annoyed that the story was being put on hold, but I wasn't really becoming any more convinced that Arnie had really spent the years raising a child on a farm.
Maggie is neither a smart zombie more nor a fun zombie movie. If anything, the drama is undermined by the decision to crowbar zombies in there. Also the pale colour palette doesn't help in any way.
Camp Blood (2000)
Best thing: The guide they employ has a cool attitude and her interactions with the other characters provide some much needed drama.
Worst thing: A topless scene early on in the film is particularly shameless, but what made its trashiness especially egregious to me was that it was shot like porn. There's a lingering shot straight up at the topless girl while she pretends to be having sex. Clearly the actress was expecting it be artistic, but instead it just looks like porn.
Well I guess that's what I get for trying out my friend's dirt-cheap horror DVD.
I'm not sure why the whole film has a horrible green tinge but I'm fairly sure it's to disguise the horrible quality of the footage they shot.
Sadly I think these actors probably aren't that bad. Unfortunately they are stuck in a seriously cheap and lazy production. The script is utterly dire.
I think I've already written way more than this film deserves.
Holy shit, there are sequels to this thing? How can this possibly have sequels?
Blair Witch (2016)
Best thing: There's a neat twist on the original film's ending which makes good use of the found footage format. I like that this film builds on the original film's mythos.
Worst thing: The original Blair Witch Project had less characters and felt much more personal as a result. As much as Wingard is trying to copy the original Blair Witch Project's style (and setting himself a pretty tough challenge as a result)
Okay so admittedly this is Adam Wingard's worst film. (Well at least the worst of his films longer than 80 minutes. I haven't seen his shorter early films because they seem to be practically impossible to acquire.) However, I have pretty much loved all Wingard's films, especially his previous film "The Guest".
Adam Wingard has tried to recreate the original style of The Blair Witch Project and he has also made some clear attempts to change things up a bit. But it turns out that The Blair Witch Project provides a pretty limited template. It surprises me to see people criticising the introduction of a drone camera. Surely a new type of camera footage is a sensible extension from the original concept. (And while you'd expect it to help them find their way out of the woods, the fact that it fails to help them is another spooky element to the story.
When this was being released I suddenly saw a huge number of people reminiscing about Blair Witch Project as an untouchable classic. I feel like history must be being re-written somewhat. Here in the UK I distinctly remember my first time watching Blair Witch Project and, as someone enjoying himself, I felt somewhat out of place.
I initially saw Blair Witch Project on a bootlegged videotape with Korean subtitles that had been taken into school. It was the end of term and our A Level Religious Education group were allowed to watch the video. But we didn't finish the film in one school period. So this ended up being one of the few times I have ever gone to the cinema alone. I was very keen to see the end of this film.
I found myself sat next to a whole group of horror fans all wearing black t-shirts. I got the distinct feeling that I was being glared at during the film. I don't know if it was because I was laughing and the guy next to me didn't see the humour, or whether it was because they were just annoyed that I was enjoying myself. Either way, it made me disinclined to identify myself as a horror fan for many years.
When we left the negative vibe from the audience continued. And that's generally how I thought most audiences felt about The Blair Witch Project: negative. The internet was not a big thing in the UK (internet access is still not free in the UK and back then it really didn't look worth the money for your average Joe). And certainly by the time Blair Witch Project reached the UK nobody was about to believe it was real. I don't really know of anyone who was massively blown away by Blair Witch Project. It was fun, but even speaking as someone who enjoyed it (and I really ought to rewatch it to make this judgement) I'd be hard pressed to say the original was superior to this sequel.
I still maintain that there's a sadistic pleasure and dark humour in watching the Blair Witch Project protagonists become ever moreterrified and lose all hope. While I don't think our protagonists in this new sequel have the same level of despair, the film certainly has the same sense of fun (which horror movies are generally better off having).
We don't really get a lot of depth to the characters in either movie, but I found myself caring for the characters in both cases.
This sequel definitely expands on the mythology of the original. How does footage get found without also finding the bodies? What powers do those stick man charms hold? Why do victims stand in the corner? This film points us a little closer to answers, while keeping the mystery. I guess we all hoped Adam Wingard had something a little more impressive up his sleeve when he announced this project. It certainly must to have been amazing for the film festival patrons to see a film called "The Woods" only for it to be revealed - out of nowhere - to be a Blair Witch Project sequel. That surprise would have been something really special.
For the rest of us? Yeah sure, it's a Blair Witch Project sequel. Well done Adam, but I think there are better projects you could be working on.
Children Of Men (2006)
Best thing: While I'm not so sure that we'd have the military blowing up immigrant camps, it's still a very interesting concept. Rather than being due to bombs, monsters or disease, this is an apocalyptic setting simply because human beings have become infertile. As Grace Jantzen noted, a world without new beginnings is a world without hope. It's a remarkably powerful concept.
Worst thing: Would he really still be saying "pull my finger" that calmly by that stage?
Children of Men is an intensely miserable film, but it is the concept that makes it that way rather than the story itself. For the most part the film is quite dramatic and exciting with some jaw-dropping single-shot action sequences. (Seriously, wow.)
Clive Owen is pretty great as an average cynic. Michael Caine is his eccentric old friend. Considering his upbeat temperament it always feels odd to me when he's elected to listen to "Living In A Glass House" by Radiohead. Naturally Michael Caine is fantastic.
Unfortunately the concept is inevitably pretty miserable, but that leads to some pretty neat creepy quiet moments, such as the empty school that has fallen into disuse and disrepair.
But while the idea that there are no children left is pretty interesting, the idea that the rest of Europe has fallen into violence is less convincing. I guess the idea that the UK is isolated from violent turmoil because of the English channel. And I suppose that worldwide nihilistic terrorism prompted by the seemingly imminent end times is rather more plausible now that Islamic State is already doing just that. Still, the film leaves the circumstances behind the violence intentionally vague and that makes it harder to take seriously.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (2016)
Best thing: The visuals are incredible. One of the female protagonists (the main woman in the fighting team we follow from the start) looked particularly real to me. And then there's the action sequences. Our protagonist can throw his weapon in order to teleport himself to a distant location. It makes for some seriously exciting action sequences.
Worst thing: The dialogue and the story felt like garbage to me, not least since I found the ending made no sense. Apparently who the princess marries is important? Oh really? And why is that exactly?
I'm apparently quite rare in that I really liked Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The effects were ahead of its time and while the premise of alien souls causing havoc on Earth was pretty weird, it was also quite a cool concept.
The plot of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children did not seem so sophisticated (but then again I've never played the game). However, the action sequences were mind-blowing. Sword fights on motorbikes! So cool!
So how does Kingsglaive compare? Well much of the film is pretty effective. I suspect that I would be a lot more satisfied with it if I had any experience of the games. The action is impressive and the characters are alright. The story though? Um...
I very much like the modern-day fantasy setting that combines a modern city with cars on the one hand, with castles and swords on the other. (They have guns too but magic swords are better.)
Initially the story was very intriguing. The division between the magically protected inner kingdom and the ravaged outer kingdom was quite interesting. However, some later reveals were hard for me to buy into. In particular there's a "Luke, I am your father" level reveal about a major villain that makes me wonder how they could possibly have kept up that deception while a war was going on.
The level of destruction in the third act is so extensive that I was confused as to what they were fighting for. There's some suggestion that if the princess is taken to marry some guy we never see, it will somehow fix everything. Okay, so this is a world of magic, but I still found the proposal of deus ex marriage particularly implausible.
During the fighting sequences the teleporting throwing daggers allow for some very inventive skirmishes. The Final Fantasy filmmakers are very good at clearly depicted action choreography and, while perhaps not quite such an amazing over-the-top spectacle as in Advent Children, it's still pretty amazing.
Final Fantasy: Kingsglaive is confusing and bizarre in a way often found in anime movies and in a way that I couldn't really forgive on this occasion. That being said, it is exciting and beautiful and I suspect those familiar with the games will find this a great deal more rewarding.
Inside Man (2006)
Best thing: Denzel Washington is always the best thing in films where he is the star, but Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer and Clive Owen (as much as I found his American accent a bit hard to come to terms with).
Worst thing: It's actually difficult to pick a worst thing here. I loved pretty much everything. I suppose the bit where the detectives are leering at some of the suspects, that was awkward - but breast size IS a clue here and, while it is played for laughs, really we're laughing at the detectives. Perhaps Jodie Foster's storyline could have gone further?
Inside Man is actually better than I remembered it. Clive Owen is an actor I mainly knew from television and while I could see him edging his way into a number of films, I couldn't really take him seriously with an American accent. I think I was being a bit harsh.
Even knowing where the story is going this is a very intriguing mystery and Denzel Washington is able to really lighten the mood with his upbeat yet cynical detective on a case that isn't really proving to be the lucky break he hoped for.
In some ways the story feels unfinished. Did Spike Lee plan on a sequel or is it enough that we know that the investigation isn't over yet? I felt a firmer conclusion could have been given to Jodie Foster's aspect of the story.
Still, overall Inside Man is an excellent heist mystery and an awesome Denzel Washington film with an all-round awesome cast and a very well-constructed script.
Too rubbish to finish
The Love Witch (2017)
See filmista's review here.
Wow, I can’t sum it up any better than this. Watched about half an hour of this film before shrugging and giving up. I heard some refer to this as a comedy. Was I supposed to be laughing? I wondered whether it was a parody and I was just missing the jokes because I was unfamiliar with the material being referenced.
There are a lot of gorgeous visuals (though I’d note that the cars are all very modern-looking and that kind of detracts from the period-piece aspect to the production). The film is colourful and pretty (and the lead actress is undeniably beautiful), but in terms of characters nobody ever seems remotely real. There’s a slow abstract portrayal of a very simple story and I found myself regularly thinking “...so where are you going with this?”
After half an hour I decided I was no longer interested in knowing where the film was going with any of its ideas. I really have to connect with a film’s concepts to accept a slow deliberate pace, so while I was absolutely gripped by “The Witch”, I lost interest in “The Love Witch”.
I don’t get why they changed the title in the UK either. Weird.
Best thing: The fox character. Unlike the endless optimism of the protagonist, the fox is very cynical and it's interesting that it is a cynicism that has developed in response to prejudicial treatment including ritual humiliation.
Worst thing: Zootropolis is clearly supposed to be a comedy, but frankly its not very funny. Zootropolis involves a lot of different background details, some beautiful artwork and some great world building. But I didn't find much that made me laugh. (I wasn't tickled by the sloth scene, I'm afraid.)
Very nearly a good film, but this is a film I found more interested in its visuals and its message than in really pulling me in. I'm glad the humour worked for other people, but I wasn't all that impressed. (Is it me, or did Idris Elba have the best jokes?)
Of the recent 3D animated, non-Pixar Disney movies, I'm surprised to find that Tangled is still the one that appealed most to me. Wreck-It Ralph appealed to me a lot, but when it became stranded in a sweet-themed Mario Kart world I felt it lost its way. Frozen annoyed the hell out of me with its terrible songs, yet while Tangled also had that issue for me, I really loved the abusive mother connection between Rapunzel and the main villain. Also, in Tangled, the horse was BRILLIANT. (Actually Big Hero Six was Disney, so I guess that's actually my favourite.) But Zootropolis? Yeah it was fine. Nice world-building, but I could have done with more effective humour.
45 Years (2015)
Best thing: While the ending felt a bit sudden, the ambiguity makes for some interesting interpretation as to whether the wife needs to reanalyse their marriage or whether she is being unnecessarily paranoid.
Worst thing: It feels like we ought to be going to be returning to the location of the protagonist's youthful love affair. That wait ended up being in vain. That's not a terrible problem, but I felt the actual direction of the film left it essentially stopping dead without a particularly clear resolution.
While there are some awesome performances here, the story is pretty low-key. There are really interesting ideas under the surface, but that's generally where they remain.
The subtlety is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the premise is fascinating and there are great messages about the nature of very long term relationships and raises questions about regrets and compromises in love and life. But on the other hand this is not a film with much of a plot.
Titan AE (2000)
Best thing: The film creates a Star Wars-esque world with a chosen one and a evil villain evoking Nazi authoritarianism. Within that framework there's plenty of inventiveness.
Worst thing: The characterisationis mostly pretty thin, so the movie's attempts at emotional moments really don't work. The scene where the ship dances with the space stingrays dragged particularly badly, especially because of the cheesy music.
I can kind of see the Joss Whedon touches in this science fiction cartoon movie but overall the more charming moments can't quite make up for the unengaging vocal performances or the general feeling of naffness.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Best thing: The colourful visuals. The filmmakers were clearly making maximum use of colour and so everyone is brightly coloured and there's a wonderfully distinctive style.
Worst thing: My goodness this is so ridiculously cheesy! And things really go off the rails when King Richard has to engage in a sword fight against his own palace guards. Much of what characters say about divisions between Normans and Saxons or about freedom of individuals is really so anachronistic, and yet so sincere, as to make it incredibly hard to suspend disbelief.
I received a recommendation for this film from two separate sources both around the same sort of time. One was the podcast "The Canon" and I've forgotten where the other recommendation came from. I've enjoyed older films quite often. I loved Casablanca, M, Double Indemnity, Citizen Kane and I even prefer the original Scarface to the version with Al Pacino. But while Adventures of Robin Hood was sweet, it was incredibly dated.
I know historical accuracy shouldn't be too important in a film like this, but it's incredibly frustrating. I mean, sure, King John made a lot of mistakes and the poor probably suffered under him like they did under most kings, but he wasn't the overbearing tyrant he is made out to be here. Eventually he'd be forced to sign the Magna Carta, which ended up being one of the most important human rights documents in British history. It established habeas corpus, the right not to be imprisoned without trial. In the this would result in slaves being able to gain freedom simply by walking on British land.
Also the Norman/Saxon rivalry seems out of place. The royal family had been Normans since William the Conqueror since 1066. By the 13th century it's not really a central issue anymore.
And Richard The Lionheart returning? Give me a break! He got out of Britain as soon as he could. He returned to France a few times but he had no interest in returning to England. Portraying this warrior from the Crusades, who actually mass-murdered prisoners of war, as the absent 'good king' is beyond absurd.
Robin Hood Prince of Thieves was clearly inspired by this film, particularly in the scene where Robin fights Little John at the river. But, as much as I didn't think Prince of Thieves stood up at all well last time I watched it, I can't help but feel that it improved on the original. Heck, Alan Rickman alone helped to improve one of the weakest aspects: the villain.
Adventures of Robin Hood is an sweet little film, but it's very dated and not really a film I'd recommend.
Dark Places (2015)
Best thing: The film is set in the past and in the present and the parts in the present were brilliant. Charlize Theron is fantastic as the grown up massacre survivor, Corey Stroll is fantastic as the brother convicted of the murders, and Nicholas Hoult is great as the "kill club" organiser who is obsessed with solving old mysteries.
Worst thing: The resolution of the mystery felt far-fetched to me. A deal is struck between two characters which felt a little hard to swallow.
Charlize Theron is a fantastic actress. Like with the movie Young Adult, she plays a bitter and somewhat selfish character, though with her character's childhood trauma the attitude is more understandable here.
This film is an adaptation of a book from the same author who wrote Gone Girl and personally, I much preferred Dark Places. The characters felt more relateable.
I don't really understand why this hasn't received more positive attention. It's a star-studded adaptation from the director that brought us Sarah's Key and while Kristen Scott Thomas' powerful screen presence gives that film the edge, this is a very capable follow-up all the same.
If anything the problems would seem to lie with the original story. In a investigation into a mystery like this, the solution needs to pay off. Perhaps with less flashbacks and more present-day detective work this
could have been more satisfying?
Best thing: I'd forgotten how well the Rollerball games are portrayed. They don't have Tom Savini to splatter the arena with gore, but we get some serious violence all the same. How did I forget about the bit where one of the sportsmen is set on fire? But what really makes the games work is the way the drama surrounding the games builds the tension. (Rather like with real life sports I suppose?)
Worst thing: In the end, as much as I love dystopias, the one set up here doesn't entirely convice me. The treatment of women is one that I struggle to accept. In this world an 'executive' can arrange to be given an ordinary person's wife if he wants them. Major female characters in this film are almost always employed to spy on the protagonist so it's difficult to understand how they experience the dystopian regime.
I'd say that this was the real inspiration for The Hunger Games. A highly politicised sports game intended to distract from real life oppression and to send a message to the people about their own powerlessness.
While it's a very cool vision of the future, they didn't need to spend so long on building up that world. Rollerball feels way too long and not all the scenes outside of the arena were necessary to immerse us in the world. While I really like the scene where Jonathan goes to see the supercomputer, I do not think that scene was good for the pacing. With a runtime of over two hours, I think someone needed to trim some of the fat off this film.
Still Caan is awesome in the lead role, the games are really well handled and frankly it's insane to me that the remake was such utter trash. (I made the mistake of seeing the remake in the cinema.) With newer more expensive effects they could make the arena scenes even more spectacular. Then again they'd also need the emotional aspect to keep the audience on board. Who could fill James Caan's shoes?
99 Homes (2014)
Best thing: Michael Shannon plays a complete scumbag. In the very first scene he is basically joking about a suicide victim, with the dead body right in front of him. But Shannon gives this character real depth and at times he even becomes someone who we could almost admire for his ambition and drive. Though he's still very much an opportunist making money out of taking people's homes. A perfect villain.
Worst thing: Our protagonist really feels like he should have made more of a fuss when he crossed a serious line towards the end. Sure, he's conflicted, but there should have been an argument over it.
99 Homes is an absolutely gripping tale of a man corrupted by an unfair system. When Michael Shannon evicts his family, Andrew Garfield finds himself working for that same man. Ironically working to evict others from their homes just to get his home back.
The drama is driven by the characters and that is what makes it an so exciting. After the global recession, Shannon's villain is fantastically poignant. Gaining the world through exploiting the losses of others and thus losing his soul, only to lure Andrew Garfield down that same path.
(Side note about Garfield. This is quite a different performance from in the Spider-Man movies. But you know what wasn't all that different from his Spider-Man performance? Tom Holland in Civil War. Andrew Garfield set the mould for Peter Parker and I wish he were given more credit for that.)
Also a shout out to Laura Dern. I hear there are some who have never rated her as an actress. Hopefully with her recent roles in Wild and 99 Homes they will be changing their tune? (Personally I've always thought she was wonderful in Jurassic Park.)
The ending isn't all that satisfying, but I don't think it's supposed to be. It left me thinking a lot and that may actually be a strength.
99 Homes is a very strong drama which I highly recommend.
Fantastic Four (2015)
Best thing: The opening of the young Mr. Fantastic building his own teleporter (with a device that including N64 parts for some reason). The friendship between two kids trying out this incredible machine felt like something akin to the recent Stranger Things series. I must also point out that the villain, who is like a cross between Tetsuo (from Akira) and Darth Vader, going around blowing up people's heads is pretty great too.
Worst thing: The end scene where they have an incredibly badly written exchange where they choose their team name. Ugh!
Okay, so Josh Trank's first movie since his debut "Chronicle" is a mess. But then again Kate Mara's scenes wearing a blonde wig are a clear sign of how many late reshoots were involved.
The film feels drained. Trank never really lets things go off the rails, so this isn't a terrible blockbuster in the vain of a Transformers movie or Highlander 2. It's more of an indie movie problem. It's a bit slow and a bit dull.
While this is pure speculation, I think I know what the original plot was. I think the original film had more character moments and that the drama came from them being exploited by the government.
I think the response of Victor Von Doom when he leaves the other world is partly due to seeing how his colleagues are being treated. Perhaps particularly Sue, who he had a crush on. (What with Mr. Fantastic having left to work on a cure, that would mean we'd finally see what Sue really thinks of him, instead of just hearing the jealous comments towards Mr. Fantastic earlier.
Von Doom is unwilling to allow himself to be exploited (as was set up earlier). He isn't attacking the four because he sees them as victims, but he does attack the father because he sees their exploitation as a result of him betraying them. If we'd seen more of the exploitation from the government before Von Doom's arrival, the massacre he enacts might seem like overblown revenge instead of pure evil. In the final film his motive is unclear and I think that is because his motive is cut. We know he chooses to ditch our world in favour of the new world, but there are definite seeds sown to set up that change.
I think the anti-government sentiment along with the horrors of coming to terms with dramatic nightmarish changes to your body is what is missing here. Perhaps I'm wrong, but the first half seems to care about character in a way that isn't paid off in the second half.
Frankly this was still more enjoyable to watch than Man Of Steel. Everyone has more personality than Superman did in that film. But this is clearly a severely compromised work that had a lot of missed potential. And even sadder, the failure of this film has dampened plans to experiment with superhero concepts in ways which deviate from the source material.
With Chronicle Trank had already created one of the better superhero movies and I hope his misguidedly honest tweet doesn't prevent us from seeing more great films from him in the future.
Documentary Review - “Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison of Belief”
Learning about Scientology is always horriying. After watching a few docimentaries on Roman Catholic abuse scandals you wonder how Scientology could really be any worse. And certainly if you go to Islamist extremists groups and see IS training young children to be bloodthirsty monsters, it's clear that there are worse religious groups, but still Scientology is way scarier than it has any right to be.
I hadn't ever heard the therapy ('auditing') sessions explained this well before. As well as explaining the problems of Scientology, the appeal of the religion is also expressed pretty clearly too.
This documentary also explains how significant granting Scientology religious status had. If they didn't get tax exempt status, all their assets combined would only have accounted for 1 quarter of the bill they were facing. It would have destroyed them.
They fought for tax exempt status by getting their members to bombard the IRS and IRS officials with endless lawsuits. When they discovered that just recognising Scientology as an official religion would be enough to stop this, the IRS gave in.
The FBI had been investigating Scientology for forced labour and human trafficking. But when a court case regarding these same issues was dropped on the grounds that the activities being referred to were legitmate elements of the Scientology 'religion', the FBI also dropped their investigations. It's horrifying!
We also get a lot of interesting interviews with L Ron Hubbard along with revealing interviews about the man. The religion has been run by David Miscavage (seemingly progressing into a kind of Stalinist style of leadership) since L Ron Hubbard's death, but Hubbard's approach has shaped what the religion became.
It's amusing to hear that the ex-Scientologists were dumbfounded by the insane 3rd rate science-fiction mythology for the Scientology religion. Yet interestingly the bizarreness of the mythology became a further source of guilt and anxiety. By the time they receive this mythology they are so invested in Scientology (and let's not forget the high fees for auditing sessions) that they can't really laugh away the 'secret information' the Church of Scientology hands to them.
This is a fascinating documentary and everyone should check it out if they want to know how Scientology works and the extent of the harm the organisation causes.
Best thing: Obviously the film is absolutely gorgeous, but the very best thing here is Fassbender's performance.
Worst thing: I know a lot of people have been concerned about mumbling here, but I think really all their problem really comes down to is a strong Scottish accent from the cast. I used subtitles and I think that was fine. This is actually a film with very little I feel able to fault. For worst thing, I'm going to opt for the opening child funeral. I know why that scene is included, but I think it's a bit of a flat way to start the film. (Though certainly not a deal breaker.)
A big improvement over Roman Polanski's version is that the film doesn't use voiceover. The lines are always delivered on screen by the actors, so we always get a proper performance rather than actors staring into space while their voice plays in the background.
This version of Macbeth shares the ambition of Polanski's version to be a movie rather than a play caught on camera, but here the solution is that characters are often talking to themselves when lines would originally have been directed towards the audience. (Expressions of betrayal are always stated neatly out of earshot of the betrayee.)
The blood, the passion, the violence, the madness. Everything is here, the performances are wonderful and this also doesn't include the random unnecessary nudity of Polanski's film. The story of Macbeth's opponents is also handled very well, capturing the full emotional consequences of Macbeth's cruelty.
This is an excellent adaptation and, from my experience, one of the better Shakespeare adaptations.
A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Best thing: The central performance of Dick Miller is brilliant. I need to see more films with this actor. So far I've mainly seen him in Joe Dante movies but I also saw him in the original Little Shop of Horrors. He always gives an enthusiastic comedic performance and there's always a twinkle in his eye. It's so wonderful to see him in a leading role and it's actually strange to see him playing a low confidence weirdo rather than the confident out-spoken figures he normally plays.
Worst thing: Well actually the worst thing is how terrible the DVD transfer is. This was a very low quality copy of the film and I feel that will have had a real impact on my appreciation of this film. But dealing with the content, I think the opening is the worst part. We start off with a dreary beatnik poem set to annoying awkward jazz accompaniment. Even though our protagonist is in the foreground the insistent irritating drone of the onstage performer focus us to recognise it and I found it incredibly distracting. Perhaps it's necessary for us to recognise how ridiculously pretentious this art scene is, but wow, was there no other way?
I'm a sucker for horror comedies and this low budget example is a wonderful little gem. Sure it can be pretty silly but that's always intentional and always funny enough to be worth it. The comedy also relies on the tension, producing that wonderful blend of laughter and creepiness that makes me love this genre so much.
Our protagonist wants to be an artist so much he goes to unethical lengths, but he seems to struggle to understand the world around him. There's a sense of innocence to him. Like perhaps he doesn't understand what he's doing and, perhaps more realistically, lies to himself in order not to feel guilty about the positive attention he receives.
I'm sure anyone who has not seen the film yet is getting confused by this point, but trust me, this is one you will not regret checking out.
Educating Rita (1983)
Best thing: Michael Caine and Julie Walters are two incredible performers so seeing them acting alongside one another is almost enough to recommend this by itself. However, I really love the way this handles ideas of class. Both the characters have somewhat misguided understandings of class boundaries, but their respective journeys both reveal the deeper complexities and subtleties of class division. I've long struggled to understand how class works. Having come from a middle class background and left university to find myself stuck in fairly low wage positions, class has always felt like an odd concept for me to come to terms with. But I feel like Educating Rita really helped me understand class divisions better (as they stood in the 80s at least).
Worst thing: The synthy music is terrible. At certain points where it starts up that music is startlingly offputting. That the director felt it made sense to include music like that really dates this film more than anything else.
Julie Walters’ character believes that learning how to write academic English essays will make her higher class. Her boyfriend just wants her to marry him and have his children. Michael Caine is fascinated by her because she is so unlike his students writing identical essays about classic literature and he feels like he would actually be tainting her if he taught her how to churn out the same kinds of essays rather than enjoying literature for its own sake.
Funny, charming, fascinating and deceptively simple.
It's time for the October horror marathon. 31 films in the month of October. I've got reviews below for my first 4.
On Letterboxd it's now pretty popular to engage in a marathon known as Hoop-Tober with a load of stipulations for what sort of films you should include. I've decided instead to go with the more relaxed Nope-Tober, just picking out films which I haven't seen. Still some of the stipulations of Hoop-Tober such as to include a movie adapted from Stephen King (in honour of the awesome Stranger Things series), to include an animal movie, to include movies from multiple countries and decades, to include a series of movies. These are all going to be met pretty much by pure coincidence.
My theme this year is going to be classic Universal horror movies. I didn't rate the ones I saw very highly but I found a great deal of charm in all of them and am very keen to revisit them now.
To see which films I am planning to watch (and which ones I've already seen) check out my Nope-Tober 2016 list on letterboxd.
#1 Victor Frankenstein (2015)
Best thing: When Frankenstein is making his argument by shouting "BABIES IN VATS!" it absolutely cracked me up. I love how wonderfully manic and unhinged Victor Frankenstein comes across, making it very easy to see why his work would be dismissed.
Worst thing: When Frankenstein actually DOES come to question his work it felt a bit puzzling to me that he would do so at that moment. The way that scene plays out seems a bit awkward. Also the final act doesn't keep up the same energy and focus of earlier hi-jincks.
Another Max Landis script. I loved American Ultra and both Chronicle and Victor Frankenstein have been wonderful films somewhat diminished by their chaotic and rather less focussed third act.
The introduction of Igor is very cleverly handled and Daniel Radcliffe does a really good job in the role, but the real star here is James McAvoy with his excellently eccentric title character. A conniving untrustworthy figure driven by rather misguided ambitions.
There are some clever thematic flourishes. Igor parallels the monster in that he is a creation of Victor (in a way) and the spying detective parallels Victor in that he is driven by obsession. But on top of that, it's all very very fun.
#2 When Animals Dream (2015)
Best thing: At the funeral our protagonist makes a power play by offering everyone tea. One element of her transformation is emphasised during this fairly mundane act and it becomes a pretty tense scene as a result.
Worst thing: While a simple plot isn't necessarily a bad thing, I feel like there was room for fuller characterisation to make the story more interesting. The characters don't really talk much and while that's sometimes played to good effect there are points where it felt like our protagonists would be more relateable if they expressed themselves a little more.
On the one hand, When Animals Dream is a very interesting film with a really compelling take on the werewolf myth. On the other hand, this film feels way too slow and it could do with more interesting character development. If this is about the angst of growing up, does that really mean that our protagonist needs to be so quiet and withdrawn?
Well worth a watch but, with subtle tension rather than excitement, it might be a bit of a struggle for some (and I wouldn't say it was a walk in the park myself).
#3 Southbound (2015)
Best thing: There are a lot of cool creepy elements here and, while the CG effects might be a bit hokey by modern standards, I really do love the floating skeletal monsters. (And I really appreciate that they are first seen on broad daylight, even though putting them in darkness might have hidden their computer-generatedness (I don't think that word exists but anyway...) However, the creepiest element for me is the smiley masks of the intruders in a later home invasion storyline.
Worst thing: In Southbound, one story moves directly into another, helpfully avoiding the wraparound element that was always so poor in the V/H/S films. However, not all segments feel played out when they finish and I found the worst culprit was the story of the all-girl travelling band. That felt like it could have led to a longer story and when it's cut short it's frustrating. Particularly when we then move to another couple of stories where the characters really don't seem to have the same level of depth.
(Interestingly I think it's a similar problem as I had with Ti West's House Of The Devil. The film had me gripped and yet just when the story is reaching a climax it suddenly stops.)
Southbound is a compelling horror anthology. I wouldn't say it blew me away and I sometimes found the way stories flowed into each other instead of clearly ending was frustrating. However, Southbound is undoubtedly creepy and consistently kept me on the edge of my seat.
If you enjoyed anything in any of the V/H/S movies you probably ought to give Southbound a go. Even if it doesn't reach the highs of V/H/S 2's Safe Haven segment, Southbound is more consistently high quality than the V/H/S movies were.
#4 The Old Dark House (1932)
Classic Universal horror movie #1
Best thing: There are a whole array of colourful characters and they are all pretty great. The god-fearing inhospitable lady and her nervous but polite brother are very cool, but I also very much enjoy the chorus girl and her relationship with the boisterous northern businessman. These are all characters I felt pleased to be spending time with as well as a great source of fun.
Worst thing: The least interesting characters are probably the married couple, but even they are still pretty cool. The decision to have an actress play the elderly grandfather felt a bit odd. But I think the worst thing was when characters kept locking people in rooms. It was pretty much the worst thing they could do and while I understand this was to limit which people could play a part in the story at that stage, it was quite frustrating.
I say this having already rewatched a few of the classic Universal horror films for this movie marathon, so I think I can confidently say: this is currently my favourite of the Universal horror films.
The Old Dark House has a horror comedy tone which naturally makes it especially appealing to me. This isn't unusual for a Universal film though. What impressed me in particular about The Old Dark House was the depth of the characters and their interactions.
Even the more over the top characters still have a depth to them. The two main characters who live in the house are a religious mean old lady obsessed with sin and a polite nervous figure who does not believe in God.
When the brother is saracastically saying of his sister's insistence on saying grace: "She wants to thank him (God) for all the good fortune that has befallen this family." It sets up what we are walking into and is very funny at the same time.
If you enjoy films like The House On Haunted Hill or the original Little Shop of Horrors then you will love The Old Dark House.
I am absolutely loving my foray into the old Universal classics. They may be dated and trashy but my goodness is it a lot of fun to immerse yourself in that world! Expect many more classic Universal horror movie reviews in later updates....
Part one here
To see which films I am planning to watch (and which ones I've already seen) check out my Nope-Tober 2016 list on letterboxd.
#5 Misery (1990)
Best thing: There is such a wonderful nail-biting tension in so many scenes in this and this time around that was only exacerbated because I was waiting for THAT scene. But even newcomers to the film will feel like things are about to go very wrong.
Worst thing: It's a pity that they opt for the "Is the baddie really dead?" trope. This isn't a supernatural horror and I'm not convinced that the trope works very well here.
Misery is an incredible film and probably my favourite film that adapts Stephen King's work. It's cool to be rewatching yet another film starring James Caan. This is certainly very different from Rollerball.
Kathy Bates is amazing as our protagonist's greatest fan. Occasionally there's a shot from the protagonist's perspective showing her looming over him and the effect is chilling.
It was also cool to see Frances Sternhagen as the sheriff's wife. Some may recognise her from “Outland”, the sci-fi western with Sean Connery. Both films feature her sharp snarky line delivery.
Stephen King adaptations always seem to be about writers but in other films it's generally been less clear that the character needs to be a writer. Does the kid in Stand By Me need to be a storyteller/writer to habe his adventures with his friends? Does Jack Nicholson need to be a writer to act as a caretaker for the hotel? Does the guy in Tommyknockers need to be a writer?
But no, James Caan's character needs to be writer. It is vital to his scenario that he be a storyteller of some kind. There's possibly a class aspect here too (or possibly an urban /rural divide) since the fan loves all the aspects of the novels that the writer values the least and she cannot engage with descriptions of inner city living. We can see how the fan seems to love the trashy romance world the author has created more than people in real life.
With the current trend of obsessive and protective fandoms often populated by inflexible and pushy fans, this film meant more to me than it did the first time around. I think I just thought the villain was simply evil when I first saw this film. Now I see a much deeper character.
#6 Ravenous (1999)
Best thing: Antonia Bird reunites with Robert Carlyle again after her film with “Face” with other UK talents Ray Winstone and Phil Davis. His fantastic performance really pulls together this new take on vampirism. Carlyle acts here as the Lestat figure with Guy Pearce as the reluctant figure being seduced into that same lifestyle. Wendigo is not the same as vampirism, but the parallels are obvious.
Worst thing: Antonia Bird is also reunited with Damon Albarn whose musical compositions here are a little bland and seem at odds with the tone of the film. Perhaps the intention was to be quirky, but while there are certainly odd aspects to this film and while there's a tongue in cheek aspect, this is still a film which gets very creepy.
I've long felt that Face was an underrated film and I feel the same about Ravenous. Great cast, great performances, great ideas, great film.
#7 Dracula (1931)
Classic Universal horror movie #2
Best thing: While on first watch the most exciting element was Bella Lugosi. This time I had more appreciation for Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing, though I think the 1979 version had a more intense face off between Van Helsing and Dracula. But this time the big standout was Dwight Frye as the unhinged and incredibly loopy fly-eating Renfield. Just such a great performance, particularly when you compare with his sensible normal performance at the start of the film.
Worst thing: The bat on a string. So many scenes feature that bat on a string and it’s terrible. Also, in one scene that is supposed to be depicting an outside balcony it is so obviously a set and you can even see the corner of the studio room.
Dracula has a lot of appeal but nobody has really been too upset about the way the original story is redone again and again. Each version has its own charms and its own odd quirks. Personally my favourites are the two 1979 versions (the one with Frank Langella and the one with Klaus Kinski). But Bella Lugosi has a real charm to his performance and is portrayed here in a fantastic way.
The film as a whole is a bit hokey and and never actually ends so actually it relies in its performances all the way through. (It certainly can't rely on its special effects.) Returning to this film I was hooked by its charm.
#8 Dracula's Daughter (1936)
Classic Universal horror movie #3
Best thing: The comedy scenes with the police officers are actually hilarious. Universal do like to give a bit of comic relief from the side characters and we get more than usual here.
Worst thing: Discussions on how to cure vampirism with the psychologist are a bit tedious and the ideas discussed don't really pay off terribly well.
I remembered this being rather dull, but I was actually pretty engaged with it this time. The practical jokes the male protagonist's secretary plays on him are more fun than anything Dracula's daughter does and the side-plot with Van Helsing doesn't play nearly enough into the main story, but overall this isn't too bad an entry in the Universal series.
#9 White Dog (1982)
Best thing: The dog is incredible. All credit to the director and the animal trainers who were able to capture such a full-on character-filled performance. But I also want to call out the point where the protagonist confronts the old racist.
Worst thing: The female lead is pretty cool, but can come off a bit whiny when she's coming to terms with how bad it is to keep the dangerous attack dog alive.
White Dog is a very interesting film and remarkably intelligent considering how silly and cheesy the trailer makes the film look. I could never have predicted the deep social commentary in the background of this film. There is also consistent tension, wondering when the dog will stay docile and when it will attack.
#10 The One I Love (2014)
Best thing: Mark Duplass gives a very physical performance, distinguishing his real arseholish self and his doppelganger idealised self.
Worst thing: Towards the end things do begin to drag a little and the 'philosophical' aardvark example? Meh!
I feel like this was an interesting premise with some great performances, but the writing was missing something. I found it quite hard to warm to the characters and the film dragged a bit in the middle.
It also felt odd to me that the male doppelganger feels charming while the female doppelganger feels like a Stepford wife. I'm presuming this is intentional and perhaps it is to do with the boyfriend's personal unstated preferences regarding his girlfriend.
The final twist is incredibly obvious and telegraphed to hell, but I don't think that is much of an issue. It's the consequences of that twist that matter and the audience is also free to consider whether the characters can see the twist coming too. It's pretty interesting really.
Admittedly this is more of a sci-fi than a horror, but there's a clear ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ influence. Still, this is a very different take on the concept from ‘Honeymoon’. Almost the opposite concept in fact.
#11 Frankenstein (1931)
Classic Universal horror movie #4
Best thing: Boris Karloff is actually excellent as the monster. The dad/baron is also brilliant as a grumpy old man.
Worst thing: Perhaps if we'd been told that the little girl was blind, that scene would have made more sense. I was a little confused as to why she couldn't just swim back.
There's something very special about the Universal Frankenstein film. The initial creation of the monster is simply wonderful. The story does drag a bit in places though. The same charm remains here as we saw in Dracula. (I also like to pretend that Van Helsing taught Frankenstein and that Renfield became his assistant.)
#12 Driller Killer (1979)
Best thing: Driller Killer has a very naturalistic feel and I really felt for the protagonist as a painter struggling to be taken seriously as an artist while suffering through poverty while he tries to perfect his masterpiece.
Worst thing: Too much time spent on the band that moves in to another flat and very little time spent on what drives the painter to go out driller-killing.
One special effect where it really looks like the killer is actually drilling into a man's head is especially effective. But we are never very clear on why the protagonist decides to kill anyone. I have a theory that he hates what he sees as failings in himself, as a man on the verge of being kicked out onto the street, but frankly the film never really tries to explore this.
The scenes of him working on his art and continuing his relationship with his hanger-on girlfriend and her own drugged up lover are the most interesting.
Listening to the commentary for this film you wouldn't think any thought had been put into it at all. The director sounds like he is on drugs when he discusses the film and seems to be most interested in how high people were when making the film. Nevertheless I think the main protagonist gives a really great performance in what ends up being a very shallow and poorly paced film.
Driller Killer was an interesting film, but in the end, despite a great central performance, it's pretty dull. But with some kind of genuine message rather than just random murders, I feel like this could have been something way more worthwhile. (To give credit where credit is due though, I didn’t realise until now that the central performance that I enjoyed so much is actually performed by the director himself.)
#13 A Horrible Way To Die (2010)
Best thing: I was happily surprised by the ending. The female protagonist is going to alcoholics anonymous meetings and the male killer seems to regret each of his killings. It felt clear that there must be some connection, but I was apprehensive as to how the film would handle those kind of parallels. I was very happy with the way things wrapped up in a very satisfying ending.
Worst thing: There are a lot of atmospheric moments and shots which express the chaotic emotional states of the characters. Generally these work okay, but at one point it becomes especially clear that the camera is just being wiggled around wildly. The intention was to make clear that at this very dramatic point things are not right, but instead it rather took me out of the film.
Adam Wingard made a number of films before You're Next, but they are genrally very short. A Horrible Way To Die is also less than 90 minutes, but it seemed to be the most easily accessible of these early films. (Perhaps I’ll eventually see “Pop Skull” and “Home Sick” too.) There are a few familiar actors here from Wingard’s other films and there's a similarly good structure to the story too.
If Blair Witch (Wingard’s latest movie) is really as bad as some suggest then that's a real pity since their prior work has been so consistently solid. Even this small project is just so great.
#14 The Wolf Man (1941)
Classic Universal horror movie #5
Best thing: The conflicted feelings of the wolf-man are wonderfully played by Lon Chaney Jr. in the central role. There's also a cool plot surrounding the father by the end, even if he doesn't look like he could possibly be Lon Chaney Jr.'s father.
Worst thing: The costume simply doesn't look like a wolf! Now that we have American Werewolf In London, the failings in the effects work are that more obvious, but the real problem is that the story expects us to believe that the werewolf could be mistaken for an actual wolf with genuine-looking wolf tracks. The fact is, as beastly as the wolf man looks, he couldn't possibly be mistaken for an actual wolf.
The Wolf Man is slow, a bit silly and the acting is better than the script. Still I feel the story really finds its footing by the end. The story comes full circle and the main protagonist, once we've got over his creepy pick-up lines and spying on a lady's dressing room with a telescope (seriously!) keeps our interest through the story.
#15 It! The Terror Beyond Space (1958)
Best thing: While the effects have dated and often look daft, I still want to credit the way the filmmakers make the most of what they have. Shadows on the wall, a face in the dark or the flailing man in a suit. At one point the creature is kept at bay by an acetylene torch.
Worst thing: The characters are dull. The opening premise is that the survivor of the original mission to Mars is suspected of murder. They don't seem to treat him even remotely like someone who might stab them in the back and he doesn't really feel like someone with any more familiarity with the alien threat than anyone else. Whether it's the script, the acting or the direction, that character's backstory feels completely mishandled and it just doesn't seem to play into the story beyond the occasional naysayer.
I have to admit that the effects are laughable, the characters are boring, the story is flimsy and I really can't recommend this film.
Even so, if you want the quintessential space monster movie with effects which were exciting at the time, even if they don't remotely hold up now, this is the film for you. The script isn't winning any awards but there's enough of a story here that it won't bore you to tears. So what I mean to say is: I don't regret watching this trashy dated sci-fi yarn.
Also it was nice to see the female crew had roles as scientists and doctors. Actually they seemed like they had the most professional expertise in the whole crew.
#16 Maniac Cop (1988)
Best thing: The premise is set up very cleverly as a mystery to be solved. It's very cool how the shots are composed so that we never see the maniac cop's face and we also can seriously believe that witnesses to his crimes won't have seen it either.
Worst thing: While it was disappointing to see Bruce Campbell playing it straight, he's fine in the role - if a bit bland. What was odd for me (and nothing was wrong with the performance) was the way the female officer who arrests people who pay for prostitutes by posing as one still has the same overdone makeup in her uniform. We are now pretty used to seeing female police officers with their hair tied back, but she seems like she's ready for a night out and it just makes her look unprofessional as an officer. Perhaps I’m blaming on her outfit what is really better explained by her performance. I never really get the impression that she’s had police training. (Or perhaps it’s the direction. Bruce Campbell seems distinctly lacking in decorum here too.)
Maniac Cop begins with a series of shots of a police officer dressing, putting on his gun holster, his badge and other accessories. I found it a little dull. I think living in a country where the police generally don't carry guns the image of a scary police officer isn't so creepy. That being said, I'd also note that most deaths here don't involve guns.
The central villain here is scariest while his face remains hidden. When finally his face is revealed, he doesn't look so intimidating. When the film moves away from its initial mystery to an all-hell-breaks-loose scenario I was reminded of the film The Hitcher. That film had a rather creepier Rutger Hauer in the lead role.
Overall this was a lot of fun but lost momentum in the second half when it crossed a line and became a bit too silly. But in the first half the mystery absolutely gripped me.
#17 Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Best thing: Dr. Pretorius is brilliant and has some great darkly comic moments. (And he’s played by Ernest Thesiger from “The Old Dark House”!) I love when Frankenstein asks the servant to send him away, she says "Right away sir!" and leaves through the door, only for us to see Dr. Pretorius immediately emerge from a completely different door.
Worst thing: I always find it very odd that Pretorius is so fascinated with Frankenstein's work when his own creations seems more advanced. I don't want to give away too much for newcomers but Pretorius appears to be able to create life from scratch, not from dead bodies.
Bride of Frankenstein is funnier than Frankenstein, darker than Frankenstein and has more emotional depth. This is definitely a sequel that improves on the original film.
#18 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Best thing: The more Lou Costello imitates Frankenstein and Dracula the more it cracks me up.
Worst thing: It's great to see Bella Lugosi returning in the role, but with this comedy style he seems really sweet instead of terrifying. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a little disappointing.
I never thought I'd be so happy to see the same actor returning as the Wolf-Man. While Abbott essentially plays the straight man he's also the sceptic. Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf-Man, being the most reluctant of the monsters, has to be the one to provide the exposition of an evil plot by Dracula involving Frankenstein. He is wonderful and works very well alongside the two comedic foils.
While I hope to see House of Frankenstein, where the different monsters are also reunited, as yet this is my first Universal horror monster mash. The recent plans of Universal to cash-in on the craze for shared universes make a lot more sense now, seeing how well the different monster worlds cone together here. That being said, Dracula's horror does feel a little diluted as a result (though that's probably because of the emphasis on comedy here).
Can Universal revive a shared universe like this? All these horror franchises have had a long history since the 30s and 40s. There were mixed receptions for Branaugh's Frankenstein and also for the more recent Victor Frankenstein penned by Max Landis. Werewolves are pretty big but while Ginger Snaps, Teen Wolf, and The Howling all have cult appeal, the straight adaptation with Benicio Del Toro was widely trashed. Dracula has had endless adaptations, but the attempt to make him a relateable anti-hero in Dracula Untold seems like a real misstep.
Part of me thinks they should just jump straight into a monster mash, but the film that comes to mind with that format is Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman where the whole thing went goofy as hell (think X-Men 3 levels of chaos. Fun enough, but kind of daft too).
Abbott and Costello's mash-up film is great fun and regularly had me laughing out loud. They have great comic timing and continue the same wonderful charm of earlier entries in the Universal series. It's worth remembering that the Universal movies often include a bit of comedy. Even Dracula has moments with the asylum staff, such as when one announces: "Sometimes it feels like we're the only sane ones here, and I'm not sure about you." Abbott and Costello is very much building on what has come before and carries the same fantastic charm.
#19 Ghoulies (1984)
Best thing: While the ghoulies themselves look very cool, the best thing is the dwarf warrior spirits. In a supposed horror comedy, they were the only ones with any comic timing.
Worst thing: When someone has time to call out "Why?" before toppling to their death down the stairs a second or so later. So dumb!
If this was just plain old creepy it could have been a cool film, but there isn't really much of an atmosphere in this film. The protagonists' friends are pretty boring. Yet on the other hand this isn't really a comedy either. The ghoulies are disgusting and adorable but they pretty much unimportant to the story.
This could have worked but the script needs to be completely reworked, the dad needs to come back sooner (we all saw that coming), the ghoulies need to do something either funny or terrrifying and the deaths need to be way more inventive. But without all these changes? Meh, it's just about watchable.
#20 April Fool's Day (1986)
Best thing: The fools day pranks, such as the collapsing chair, are quite fun.
Worst thing: I heard this was a comedy, but there are no laughs to be had here. There aren't even interesting characters to follow. We have the actor who played Biff in Back To The Future being a bit of a clown and we have a bookish girl stereotype, but the script doesn't really go anywhere with those characters.
There were some really low points when I was working my way through the Friday 13th series. Sure, I'd say there are Friday 13th films worse than this, but even Jason Takes Manhattan is way more fun.
For a film about practical jokes and serial murder this is unbelievably dull.
#21 Room (2015)
Best thing: I had always felt awkward about seeing this film because it is about a kidnapped abused girl/woman. It felt like the film would either be horrifying or it wouldn't be treating the subject matter with enough respect. But I hadn't realised that the real focus would be on what happens to someone after they escape from captivity. The way the child, who has always been told to stay well clear of the one person who isn't his mother, won't address anyone directly. Sadly the film doesn't really explore this terribly well by the end.
Worst thing: Every time the kid does one of his monologues it is teeth-grindingly irritating. It doesn't help that this quiet kid doesn't really seem much like the talkative child doing the monologues. And frankly, the monologues add nothing to the story and are really awkward because they trivialise the drama.
There are some wonderful moments. This is a very well directed movie. Unfortunately the script leaves much to be desired. There ought to be so much to say about the mental and physical consequences of a childhood spent in a small shed. But here that is basically just boiled down to an odd mythological understanding of the world and the real world ramifications are glossed over. There was potential here, but the film doesn't seem to explore the subject matter comprehensively enough to really convince me.
And the tv interviewer who seems to be actively trolling the kidnapping victim by trying to fuel their survivor's guilt? What is up with that?
I've needed a bit of extra time to get the reviews written for the last stretch of Nope-Tober, but sadly I didn't reach the full 31 movies by the 31st. I spent some time with my parents and they are rather more picky about their horror and weren't in the mood for a random Universal film. So just 29 films this year.
Still, I plan to carry on with the Universal films and I have a few Post-Tober films in order to finish up. I will start off Post-Tober with a rewatch of Gods And Monsters (about Frankenstein director James Whale), Plan 9 (Bela Lugosi's final film) and Young Frankenstein (a Mel Brooks spoof of the Universal horror films).
Best film: Misery
A rewatch after over 10 years and this holds up way better than I ever would have expected. A really gripping horror film and probably the best of the Stephen King adaptations.
Best classic Universal horror film (so far): The Old Dark House
Quite an awkward one to get hold of but a wonderful film about strangers finding shelter in a creepy house. And a fantastic comedy aspect here too.
Most 'out there' discovery (i.e batshit crazy film): Southbound
Some of the creators of the "V/H/S" film produce another anthology effort, this time with the stories more closely connected rather than on entirely separate videotapes. Creepy face masks, sinister 911 call operators and ghosts such as you've never seen before. Some real originality here.
Best surprise: A Horrible Way To Die
Reviews weren't great for this, nor for Adam Wingard's Blair Witch Project sequel (Blair Witch) which I have yet to see. I was beginning to worry that "You're Next" and "The Guest" might have been a fluke. So many cases where I've been excited for a quality filmmakers new release have led to disappointment: "Noah" (Darren Aronosky), "Get Santa" (Christopher Smith), "A Dame To Kill For" (Robert Rodriguez), I wasn't a fan of "Her" (Spike Jonze) and I still have as yet to find out whether I'll be as disappointed as most were with "Warcraft" (Duncan Jones). But it's great to see that this early 'before they made it big' entry from Adam Wingard is a real gem and I wasn't expecting that.
Best horror comedy: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
I mean sure, my favourite Universal horror film was also a horror comedy, but this was funnier and I feel it deserves special credit. My first Universal monster mash-up movie and I was very impressed by how well it all came together.
Worst film: April Fool's Day
Some are disappointed with the ending, but my real problem was everything that led up to it. I was told this was a horror comedy which probably put up my expectations. I found myself wishing I was watching "Black Christmas". Better kills, better characters, better story and actually a lot more fun than April Fool's Day.
Biggest disappointment: Dark Water
After my recent "Ring" movie marathon I'd become very impressed with Hideo Nakata and wanted to check out this classic Japanese horror movie that I'd missed before. Sadly, I just don't think it works. It's especially annoying because Hideo Nakata's wonderful filmmaking style is still present and I'm sure others out there will absolutely love it. The film just doesn't come together very well for me personally.
#22 The Invitation (2015)
Best thing: What an ending! It's always good when a film knows how to finish and knocks your socks off at the last minute rather than dragging things out.
Worst thing: The story gets a bit repetitive. Not badly. But the protagonist keeps getting reasons to be suspicious followed by reasons why he shouldn't be so suspicious. This back and forth builds up tension but it's unfortunate when the pattern becomes a bit too obvious.
A man still struggling after a tragedy and a divorce is invited to a reunion party by his ex-wife. It turns out she has discovered a bizarre self-help group to overcome her grief. The party seems strangely sinister, in part because of the odd over-friendliness of the hosts.
It feels like something must be wrong, but our protagonist's fragile emotional state makes him naturally insecure.
A very compelling horror with a tense and subtle build-up and a great payoff. Wonderful.
#23 Late Phases (2014)
Best thing: A fantastic central performance of the badass blind war veteran.
Worst thing: Wouldn't the police be a little more concerned about an animal that can smash your door down?
A sense of fun and some great creature effects. This is another film I probably would have missed were it not for Letterboxd. There's a reason this is getting so many good reviews. It's a wonderful little film. If you liked Ginger Snaps you'll most likely love this.
Werewolves in the retirement community and a blind veteran who seems to be the only one who can work out what is happening. Our blind grumpy protagonist's abrasive attitude actually makes for a pretty compelling redemption story (of sorts).
Werewolves often don't look great, particularly in low budget features and I think even the cult favourite, Dog Soldiers, has this problem. Ginger Snaps also had its limitations. Late Phases has some exceptional effects work and also a pretty super transformation scene. Wonderful.
#24 The Mummy (1932)
Best thing: Well clearly the best thing is Boris Karloff as the Mummy. I don't know about anyone else but I always grew up thinking of the Mummy as a zombie-like creature in bandages groaning and following Scooby Doo down a corridor. But all credit to the Stephen Sommers films for transitioning the mummy from the bandaged undead creature to a revived healthy-looking human being with special powers.
Worst thing: It becomes repetitive, with the female protagonist switching between lying down in a daze or wandering off to see the Mummy again. I found myself feeling like she should just be allowed to go to him. While it’s stated pretty clearly that she is under a malign magical influence, the impression is often that she’s met an exciting man who she would really like to see again and, in the meanwhile, she’s kept essentially under house arrest by an unwanted admirer on the pretence that it’s for her own good. I still feel that it’s only a matter of luck that the boyfriend is correct in thinking she needs to be kept away from Imhotep. I think he’d be trying to keep her away from Imhotep regardless of whether she was being magically mind-controlled or not.
The Mummy suffers from being in incredibly slow and repetitive, but I do love Boris Karloff's performance as the villain. The opening is very cool but the rest of the film doesn't seem to know where to go next.
#25 Dark Water (2002)
Best thing: Great atmosphere, themes, acting, build up.
Worst thing: Not really a horror film.
I've long had a problem with ghost films and I actually liked that Ring wasn't really following the format of a ghost story. Dark Water IS following that format though and it's one of those ghost films where the ghost presumably represents something in real life but I'm stuck as to what the message is meant to be.
If you take your ghost stories literally then you'll probably be annoyed. As someone who prefers when ghost stories are more allegorical, I found the message never seemed to move beyond "divorce sucks". Wouldn't this film have made that point more effectively without the leaky-ceiling ghost story?
Dark Water is really well made. I just have no clue what the point was. I simply don't get it.
#26 Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Best thing: The performance by Basil Rathbone as the actual son of Dr. Frankenstein is great (and makes me think of Tom Hiddleston's performance in Crimson Peak), but the real star here is Basil Rathbone the inspector with the prosthetic arm who was once a victim of the monster.
Worst thing: Is the son of Frankenstein so stupid that he doesn't recognise when things are out of his control and he needs to come clean to the inspector? It would have been good if his stubbornness made more sense.
This film just started so well. The villagers are insanely suspicious of Frankenstein's son and the more they shun his father, the more inclined he feels to pursue his father's research. Igor is wonderfully creepy after his close brush with death on the noose. (Apparently everyone has forgotten that the character is called Fritz in the first Frankenstein film.) And the make-up job completely hid from me that it was Bela Lugosi providing this wonderful performance.
But after a while the film loses its way. The son of Frankenstein passionately pursuing his father's legacy is great, but when he is sitting around feeling unable to act for fear of being condemned by Igor's testimony, the film becomes rather dull.
Overall the first half makes this well worth checking out. If only it were a bit more consistent. One more thing to note though: I find it endlessly entertaining that the ultra-posh British parents have a child with what sounds to me like an American accent from the deep south.
#27 Ghoulies 2 (1988)
Best thing: The Ghoulies tormenting people on the Ghost Train was brilliant.
Worst thing: There turned out to be absolutely no character arcs by the end of the film. Nothing that happened really matters to thr outcomes for the characters. When we began it seemed as if the film was about trying to produce a successful Ghost Train. By the end of the film that clearly isn't the aim anymore.
Great intro, a bit of a slow start, sone excellent antics in the middle and a rather uninspiring third act. Ghoulies is a seriously mixed bag.
This is certainly a massive step up from the first film, but it never really lives up to the opening scene. The characters aren't terrible but they have defining traits and not a lot beyond those. There's the man with dwarfism frustrated that he's not taken seriously as a Shakespearean actor, there's the drunk who feels like he's a burden and there's a morally unscrupulous rich guy exploiting his limited power. They are all admittedly more interesting as characters than anyone from the first Ghoulies movie, but there are no arcs for any of them.
When we reach the third act it's pretty obvious that we are simply wrapping up the story and while the effects work is fun it still makes for a pretty flat finale because there are no stakes beyond not wanting the characters to die (and it's pretty clear that they aren't going to be killed off).
I started Ghoulies 2 with such high hopes and there are some very fun moments, but it just runs out of steam.
#28 Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)
Best thing: The opening quarter of the film involving the reintroduction of The Wolfman was fantastic. Lon Chaney Jr is brilliant in the role as The Wolfman.
Worst thing: A medical doctor, Dr. Mannering, goes mad a little too easily. On top of that the film ends very abruptly.
The return of The wolf man is absolutely wonderful thanks to Chaney's super performance but I was wondering in the beginning how The wolf man would fit into a story about Frankenstein's monster. The answer is he doesn't really fit at all. There is no reason for Frankenstein’s monster to appear in this film and yet I very nearly bought into it. The idea that Frankenstein's work on life and death might hold the secrets for allowing the wolf man to die almost works. But the logic becomes hazy and the filmmakers ditch this premise so they can finish with the showdown the audience is expecting.
Once again we have the wonderful sense of charm from the universal horror films. The pairing of Frankenstein's monster and The wolf man cannot help but make me smile. Sadly some unconvincing over the top villainy from one of the villagers and an all too abrupt ending prevent this from being one of the better universal horror films.
#29 The Enfield Haunting (2015)
Best thing: All the performances are very effective and actually the film is directed very well. If only the subject matter weren't utter twaddle.
Worst thing: The film seems to want to have its cake and eat it. On the one hand it depicts something that simply has to be a real haunting. Characters witness and experience impossible things. Yet there's a sense that the characters know that it's probably not real and that maybe this is about something beneath the surface. However this can't be both a real haunting and an allegory. The way the film is set-up makes this impossible, particularly when
they bring back the medium for no reason other than to give Timothy Spall's character some closure. The last time the medium visited the haunted house she has terrified everyone. Why would they bring her back? Particularly when she herself said it was a bad idea. Yet Matthew Macfadyen's character mysteriously insists it is worth it and lo and behold, Timothy Spall's character benefits in a way that surely couldn't have been forseen. It was almost as if they staged that entire encounter for his benefit. If this is a story about people making things up, that calls into question everything we are shown.
Considering that I most often hate ghost stories, it's perhaps not surprising that the Enfield haunting didn't completely work for me. It was actually pretty well made, but I couldn't help but feel that its attempts to introduce ambiguity were surely only going to irritate everyone. If you believe in ghosts then it suggests people are making everything up, whereas if you don't believe in ghosts it just seems completely inconsistent.
Maybe it wasn't helpful that I kept imagining what would be really happening if there were no ghosts. Yet I think that is precisely what's the film makers expect us to do. When the mother explains, "There were more of us than you. You couldn't see everything," the suggestion is that she knows the children were tricking the paranormal investigators. It's a pity that they missed out the other part of the story I heard where the ghosts disappear because the children get really into the musical Grease (actually I’ve only heard that piece of trivia from Stuart NLA from the Now Playing podcast and I am as yet to find any mention of it anywhere else). It seems that essentially this is a story about a bunch of kids making stuff up, but I’m not entirely sure what point the film was trying to make about this. This is quite well made, but I can’t help but feel like I’m missing the point.
Best thing: The action sequence with the numbered bullets was very cool.
Worst thing: The villain is played by Ed Skrein, the guy who was rejected from Game of Thrones before being a terrible knock-off Jason Statham in the failed attempt at a Transporter reboot. He's a terrible actor with no charisma and he plays an incredibly boring villain here.
The humour in Deadpool was really hit or miss for me. There were a lot of gags with pop culture references that I didn't recognise like when he calls someone "less-angry Rosie O'Donnell". Rosie O'Donnell is apparently one of the hosts on the American daytime television show The View, which seems like a pretty odd reference to expect to play for an international audience.
I quite liked the references to the X-Men universe, but Deadpool's story is boring. While I enjoyed Ryan Reynolds in The Voices, I don't think he had a terribly good script here.I know a lot of people had way more fun with this film than I did, but in a film that relies on one-liners I either need an interesting story or interesting character interactions to keep my interest. I didn't feel this had either of those.
It might be fun to have Deadpool break the fourth wall in the superhero world, but in this solo movie his own story did not feel interesting to me.
Best thing: The film often looks beautiful and our introduction to the world of the cartels as understood by a desperate American task force with carte blanche to do whatever is necessary is really tense and powerful.
Worst thing: Our protagonist doesn't get much in the way of answers and at a key moment Benicio Del Toro's character takes over as the focus of the film even though we know practically nothing about him. But my big issue is the scene where Blunt holds Del Toro at gunpoint. She has no idea what is really going on, yet she sees someone getting into a car and instantly reacts by pulling a gun on him? How does she know he's not just following the orders he was given?
Overall this is a solid thriller with some great performances and tension. The message feels a bit hazy by the end, but the central theme of a police officer frustrated by the task force's complete failure to follow any typical procedure was interesting. When the strict procedures of policing are ditched to allow some real progress to be made against the cartels, Blunt is troubled by the consequences.
I feel like the film seriously loses focus in the second half, but it's still a really interesting film all the same.
Fright Night (2011)
Best thing: Anton Yelchin being charming and quite funny particularly alongside Toni Collette as his mother.
Worst thing: While I was very annoyed to find that Colin Farrell didn't feel terribly intimidating until they pulled out the crazy CG effects, he wasn't too bad. The real weak link here for me was David Tennant. He is so over-the-top and so completely failed to charm me. And he's not a patch on Roddy McDowell.
I like how Evil Ed's arc comes straight from the character's classic sarcastic quote from the original film: "You're so cool Brewster. I can't stand it." He represents the dark side of the geek. Our protagonist became less of a geek and is now friends with the popular kids while Ed resents him for it and that's what leads Ed to become a vampire to get back at him.
I found the third act of this film tedious and because I wasn't feeling invested the shoddiness of some of the visual effects work became more starkly obvious. (I'm glad they kept the distinctive ultra-wide toothy smile of the vampires, but fire effects seemed rather unconvincing.)
For me, this is another unnecessary remake (and by "unnecessary" naturally I basically mean "I didn't like it"). The original Fright Night just seems so obviously superior to this bland studio film.
Me, Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Best thing: Olivia Cooke is great as the character with conflicted feelings about her illness and her unexpected friendship with the nerdy protagonist.
Worst thing: The protagonist is a quirky budding filmmaker, which feels very self-indulgent of the makers of this film. It's never very clear to me that their small parody films work very well with the rest of the story. It all feels somehow both pretentious AND a rip-off of "Be Kind Rewind". What is perhaps especially annoying about this is that the black friend seems thoroughly undeveloped. He clearly seems to be from a rough area, yet he is fully invested in working on pretentious art films. Outside of those two things we learn very little about him and our first introduction to him is hearing him confidently but inappropriately blurt out "titties". Compare that with Mos Def's character in "Be Kind Rewind" refusing to do a remake of Driving Miss Daisy and we can see a clear difference in the levels of characterisation in these two projects. The black friend here ends up falling into the wise black man trope (though fortunately not magical) and while it's nice that he has that level of character at least, he's still very much a sidekick and not a full character in his own right.
"Me, Earl and the Dying Girl" has a good cast trying to deliver a sweet and quirky movie and as a result it is very obvious that it is desperate to be a sweet and quirky movie. Every step of the way the film comes across as a film that wants to be sweet and quirky. It also wants to be funny, but rarely actually is. (Full credit to Nick Offerman for his remarkably amusing comic performance as what seems in context like a very contrived character. Then again, he’s basically doing what he did in the second series of Fargo and he was funnier there.)
Is it fatigue at having seen too many "creative, imaginative misfit male teen" movies? Or is it just that this is another dramedy that is neither very funny nor much of a drama? Whatever the problem, this really didn't grip me. It's fine and perhaps others will enjoy it more. Certainly there's nothing wrong with the performances. But it's a filmmaker trying to tell a quirky story about a kid who loves filmmaking - and the self-indulgence shows.
Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993)
Best thing: The Phantasm is a pretty cool villain. It's never really clear why he has magic powers, but he looks cool.
Worst thing: Incredibly dull and not helped by the way it flicks to regular flashbacks that entirely fail to increase the drama.
I must admit, I always found the Batman animated series pretty unengaging. I quite enjoyed the Spider-Man animated series even though it was a little naff, but despite enjoying the Batman movies that cartoon failed to interest me.
So perhaps it's not surprising that a full length movie didn't work for me either. It really is what you'd expect from the cartoon. To help the kids keep up with the story, there's endless expositional dialogue. But on top of that it's not even that exciting. Some of the scenes involving the Phantasm are quite cool, but for the most part this was remarkably boring.
The story of this incredibly uncharismatic Bruce Wayne punctuated with the occasional action scene feels like it is missing a whole bunch of commercial breaks. Also this is "tv show" artwork not "beautiful animated movie" artwork involved here.
Someone's Watching Me! (1978)
Best thing: Lauren Hutton's central performance is awesome.
Worst thing: The opening theme and some of the music is more than a little dated. Couldn't John Carpenter have done the theme himself? Any tension set up in the opening scene is ruined by the cheesy opening titles sequence (though actually, I think the film could have done without that prologue scene anyway).
The final film to complete my John Carpenter filmography was the made-for-tv thriller "Someone's Watching Me". Leigh Michaels, played by Lauren Hutton, is a very interesting protagonist because she has a smart sense of humour, a consistently bouncy self-confidence and, even when put under pressure, this side of her does not deteriorate. She's interesting precisely because she isn't the sort of character to give in. Certainly, she is made to feel scared, but she is never hysterical. She's a very rational character and the story is more grounded as a result.
After the Elvis film had suffered from biopic-itis, feeling long-winded and bland, I was worried that this made-for-tv John Carpenter film would involve the same sorts of problems. But actually this film relies on the ability of the director to build tension and John Carpenter rises to the challenge. And he doesn't rely on showing extreme distress from the actress to bring out the tension. This is a realistic story about a true-to-life villain and Carpenter clearly takes inspiration from Hitchcock's filming style to produce this thriller. I actually felt that Lauren Hutton's character somewhat reminded me of Tippi Hedren's character who likes to pull pranks in Hitchcock's "The Birds".
Also this passes the Bechdel test. Adrienne Barbeau from "The Fog" and "Escape From New York" has several conversations with Laren Hutton where men are not the subject. Passing the Bechdel Test doesn't always mean a film has a less objectifying view of women. (Just take the 2009 "Star Trek" movie where it passes by virtue of Uhura and Gaila (the green girl) who talk about something other than men while Kirk is spying on them changing...) But in "Someone's Watching Me!" I think praise for the depiction of a strong female protagonist would be well-deserved. The protagonist is a live tv director, she's a successful woman and she's never passive.
Surprisingly enough, I think this final movie to complete John Carpenter's filmography may actually be one of my very favourites. Tv movie or not, it's a great film and I would highly recommend it to any John Carpenter fans.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Best thing: The crazy visual effects. I mean sure, you expect great effects, but the kalaedoscopic patterns produced by the buildings are amazing. This may be similar to some of the effects found in Inception, but they are taken to such an extreme that this becomes something very different. Also when we have a fight scene while time is going backwards and the inventive effects make it one of the more effective third-act fight scenes in a Marvel movie. Oh and that awesome cloak-with-a-mind-of-its-own is visual effects too isn't it?
Worst thing: There's a big visual effects set-piece in the middle of the film where they really let things go a bit barmy and the suggestion is that in that moment the evil sorcerors have the upper hand. For that reason I'm a little puzzled as to why our protagonist isn't squashed like a bug. If your antagonists can bend buildings and the entire city scape is morphing around you, how can you possibly hope to run away. That moment of the film seemed to spend so long wowing us with effects that the filmmakers forgot that our protagonists were supposed to be in genuine peril.
I've often judged Marvel movies on how much they make me laugh and this Marvel film is chock full of jokes. Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton all get their funny moments. There's also real heart to the film.
Okay, so Mads Mikkelsen is another quiet villain and as a result he seems under-used, but I think we are left with the possibility that he could come back. When he's giving the "actually my evil plan makes sense when you think about it" speech, Mikkelsen is able to be much more convincing than a lesser actor could.
In some ways this feels like a re-tread of the story from the first Iron Man movie, but Doctor Strange is still a distinct character and the third act is a lot smarter. Consistent pacing, inventiveness and an awesome cast make this perhaps the best Marvel movie yet. I really wasn't expecting that from the director of "Sinister".
Gone With The Wind (1939)
Best thing: The female protagonist turns into a bit of a badass, doesn't she? Tough businesswoman with a no-nonsense attitude and prepared to kill a guy if threatened. It's good to see that change after her initial whiny character at the beginning. It’s just a bit odd that the film often seems to want me to dislike her for what seem to be her most positive traits.
Worst thing: The rape isn't a good moment obviously. And it's awkward that we are seemingly supposed to dislike the protagonist more than her dickhead rapist husband. But in the end the worst thing has to be all the title cards saying, "Remember the good old days of keeping slaves in the south? Isn't it terrible that it's all gone?"
There were some good moments but my goodness this film is so very long. There are old films that I think hold up very well, but Gone With The Wind feels incredibly dated.
I'm glad that the film perks up in places but there are so many parts of the film that drag like crazy. I was gripped by “Citizen Kane” all the way through (after the intentionally stilted fake broadcast at the start) but while the performances in ”Gone With The Wind” are great, the storytelling failed to keep me on board.
I've been going ahead with Post-Tober, finishing off a set of horror films that I either planned to watch during the big Hoop-Tober horror marathon (such as "Maniac Cop 2"), hoped to watch but couldn't get hold of in time (such as "Baskin") or was inspired to watch as a result of the horror marathon dominated by classic Universal monster movies ("Gods and Monsters" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space").
#1 Gods And Monsters (1998)
Best thing: Well naturally Ian McKellen, but also Lynn Redgrave and Brendan Fraser. They are all wonderful. Whatever happened to Brendan Fraser eh?
Worst thing: There are points where the attempts to give Brendan Fraser's character an arc are a little too obvious. Essentially the main purpose of his character is to act as an outsider who is drawn in, just like the audience, as well as to provide a contrast between McKellen's portrayal of James Whale. He is young, Whale is old, he is heterosexual, Whale is homosexual, and then there's their differing experiences of the military. But what is Brendan Fraser's character supposed to have learned from the experience in the end? That he should settle down and have a family? That's the take-away from his time with an ageing homosexual film director with mental illness? Really?
Gods And Monsters is an absolutely wonderful film with an amazing central performance from Ian McKellen. All the character interactions are interesting, there are moments of humour and there are plenty of surprises. I like that when James Whale's condition makes him relive the past he is ashamed of his class background that he has spent his life trying to leave behind and he is not at all ashamed of his sexuality. This was a very refreshing perspective and, as understand it, true to the historical figure. I'm glad that common movie themes weren't allowed to trump historical accuracy in this case.
After watching all the Universal films it was easy to see how the big fan in the movie would be excited to see all the old movie stars together. Comparing John Betts in "Gods And Monsters" with Boris Karloff in "Black Sabbath" they clearly did a fantastic make-up job.
Gods And Monsters is a film that relies on the character interactions and the performances to make it all come together and they chose the right cast for that. I was gripped from start to finish. It's the same small and powerful drama as we see in Bill Condon's later film "Mr. Holmes".
#2 Baskin (2015)
Best thing: Undoubtedly the best thing is the horrifying character that appears towards the end. He is intensely creepy and the third act of the film is utterly terrifying as result of his appearance.
Worst thing: I had a bit of trouble distinguishing between the characters in the early scenes. When you have a group of utterly despicable characters it can helpful in a film like this to be able to work out which ones are least despicable.
There's much that is original in the film Baskin; not least having frogs as an omen of doom. Frogs are a regular motif throughout the film.
Baskin is a genuinely horrifying film, but I feel a little lost on the meaning by the end. The film spends quite a while on the build-up but then things go very crazy very fast. So by the end the build-up feels like it was a bit chaotic. Nevertheless there's no doubting that by the end of the film we have a seriously creepy atmospheric climax. Yet even so, I feel that there was room for another stage in the film. Perhaps some clue as to the scale of the powers of the main villain or some further clues to his philosophy?
I'd be surprised if Baskin doesn't leave the majority of viewers a little puzzled, but you don't need to understand the larger meaning to have a great time. This is an intriguing horror film and deserves further scrutiny.
#3 The Visit (2015)
Best thing: Towards the end we have some somewhat out of place music, revealing to us that a character in the film has edited the footage together. That was a nice touch.
Worst thing: The film is chock full of false starts supposedly intended to build tension. The scene in the trailer where the granddaughter is asked to get in the oven in order to clean it is remarkably flat in the actual film. When the film is reaching its climax Shymalan still doesn't seem sure what to do with the tense moments.
Towards the climax, a character is fixed in fear.... and he gets a nappy put on his head. Perhaps that could have seemed threatening. In the movie it just felt silly and detracted from the creepiness.
While they say "write what you know" it can be annoying when writers write about writers and filmmakers make films about established or budding filmmakers. Here, the two kids want to make films. The brother wants to be a performer (and unfortunately likes to rap) and the sister is more interested in the behind the scenes aspect. I find it harder to relate to these characters because the distinguishing characteristics of them are that they are filmmakers and performers. It also makes it harder to forget that these are actors.
I feel that people give this a lot of credit for being a Shyamalan movie that is capably put together. But while it might not be terrible, this remains a pretty dull film and the climax doesn't really seem to pay off as well as it should. The twist is fine, but it doesn't make up for the rest of the film.
More aspects that are set up feel they should pay off in the third act. Paying attention to what the old couple say they seem to have some weird mythology producingan internal logic. By the end it seems like they are just nuts and that's all there is to it.
This is a film that doesn't reward the viewer for taking it seriously and isn't crazy enough to amuse those who don't.
#4 Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Best thing: While not exactly a completely terrible movie, the best things about this film are its charming flaws. I think the best thing is probably the performance by Dudley Malove as the alien managing the zombie attacks. He has some of the most memorably terrible lines such as, “You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!” And what makes it better is that he delivers them so passionately.
Worst thing: There are any number of flaws to list here, but they are all such endearing flaws. The real problem with this film is the pacing. But then again, to give this faster pacing would have required the director to recognise that he was failing to build a spooky atmosphere.
Plan 9 definitely works better once you know the story behind it. Not least that this film shoehorns some ill-fitting footage of Bela Lugosi into the story.
Weirdly zombie Bela Lugosi swishes his cape like Dracula. Then again Vampira very much looks dressed as Vampira and not as Bela Lugosi's dead wife. And of course the narrator is very much still a cheesy fortune teller. Ed Wood clearly made this film by bringing his friends together and not worrying too much about the mismatched results.
Just considering his flying saucers on string. Most of the time the effect isn't so bad but when the wobbling of the saucers gets out of hand it starts to look ridiculous. What gives Plan 9 its charm is that Ed Wood genuinely wanted to make a great film and comes close enough to making a serviceable mediocre film as to make his ridiculous dialogue and production flaws charming and hilarious.
While this is certainly not a good film, anyone watching this with the benefit of proper context cannot help but be amused and fascinated by this heroic failure.
#5 Krampus (2015)
Best thing: Santa's evil killer toys. An evil toy robot, an evil teddy bear and an evil toy angel all terrorise the family in glorious Gremlins style horror-comedy violence.
Worst thing: Krampus is such a poorly realised villain. In Rare Exports the main villain is only seen as two enormous horns sticking out of a block of ice and yet it still feels like a more well-realised villain.
I've mentioned my hatred of ghost stories many many times before. One of many reasons a ghost story can frustrate me is the lack of clear consistent rules. I've heard it said that ghost stories are exploiting a fear of going mad, but that's not what is happening here. The family are perfectly clear thinking, but the situation they are in is distressing, as well as quite wacky. Instead of giving us a consistent villain we just see the protagonists barraged by wave after wave of different threats and the family antics aren't compelling enough to make up for the lack of a consistent villain.
It's really unclear what Krampus wants to achieve and so I was left frustrated. That's especially annoying considering the humour in this horror comedy feels a bit lacking too.
Krampus has a lot of potential and that's clear even before the monsters show up when we are presented with a horrifying vision of Christmas shopping. But instead of being drawn in, the family drama between this catalogue of stereotypes just felt more and more contrived as the film went on. There were promising moments with the villains but without a consistently interesting human story it was hard to care.
A mostly cliched and unfunny comedy interspersed with some isolated moments of horror-comedy excellence. A real pity.
#6 Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
Best thing: There's a very original kind of car chase sequence. Sparks flying from a wheel with no tyre and a woman with her arm handcuffed to the wheel. So cool!
Worst thing: Is this how you go about assessing whether your officers are fit for duty? This is a seriously chaotic process.
I wondered how Maniac Cop 2 could live up to the original. The best part of Maniac Cop was the first half where the cop always seemed to be mysterious and in shadow and a big part of the plot was a mystery. When we get to see what he looks like and he turns out to be a Terminator-esque unstoppable killing machine, I felt the film became much less interesting.
However, Maniac Cop 2 starts again with the same trick of having the central villain's face in shadow again. And, as it turns out, there's a good reason for this. The villain's features have further deteriorated and he looks seriously badass as a result. The modus operandi of the maniac cop changes somewhat in this film and so we do get a new source of mystery and it's actually a bit more consistent this time around.
There are some very cool action sequences including the car chase sequence mentioned above and also a sequence where the maniac cop is on fire. And the maniac cop seemed more intense this time too.
While this lacks a compelling performance from Tom Ellis (who plays the central detective in the first film) , it still feels like the better of the first two Maniac Cop movies to me. The action is more exciting and the tone is more consistent. Maniac Cop 2 is a lot of fun.
#7 Young Frankenstein (1974)
Wow, this is awkward. Look, I love The Producers, okay? I think that is a fantastic and hilarious film. And I grew up enjoying Mel Brooks' Star Wars spoof "Space Balls". But it seems that I don't like Mel Brooks most beloved classics.
I saw Blazing Saddles nearly 10 years ago and I wasn't all that impressed. I wasn't sure whether the problem was a lack of familiarity with old westerns, a lack of familiarity with current race issues in America or simply not finding the comedy was to my taste.
Now rewatching Young Frankenstein, I think we've finally resolved that mystery. Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks' spoof of the old Universal horror films. Thanks to recently checking out those films, there's no way that familiarity with the subject matter could be a problem. (And certainly many elements here are taken directly from Son of Frankenstein.) There's also no contemporary social context that could cloud the issue. And I was convinced that, despite being a bit non-plussed by Young Frankenstein when I watched it as a child, I would definitely enjoy it a lot more now I'm older and know the references.
Yet I found very little amused me. After "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" had me in stitches, it's baffling how little I seem to be entertained by "Young Frankenstein" where oddly I feel the 70s humour feels even more dated.
After Gene Wilder had finished screaming at the lightening, in what felt more like a typical performance as Frankenstein rather than parody, I decided to call it a day.