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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...
- 09/19/17--14:43: _More Movie Reviews....
- 10/01/17--14:58: _More Movie Reviews....
- 10/18/17--16:21: _More Movie Reviews:...
- 10/28/17--18:01: _Saw The New Saw! Fr...
- 10/28/17--18:03: _Yet Another Review ...
- 11/05/17--17:05: _Yet Another Enormou...
- 11/12/17--14:47: _Chan-Wook Park's La...
- 11/25/17--08:28: _Some More Reviews -...
- 11/25/17--10:00: _Movies I Couldn't F...
- 12/02/17--05:55: _VERY BEST MOVIES OF...
- 12/04/17--15:15: _Very Best Movies of...
- 12/10/17--06:00: _Very Best Movies of...
- 02/10/18--07:19: _Latest Star Wars, L...
- 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....
- 09/19/17--14:43: More Movie Reviews.... (Gradually Catching Up With The Backlog)
- 10/28/17--18:01: Saw The New Saw! From The Spierig Bros, And Several Others
- 10/28/17--18:03: Yet Another Review Update - Nearly Completely Up To Date!
- 11/05/17--17:05: Yet Another Enormous Reviews Update
- 12/02/17--05:55: VERY BEST MOVIES OF 2007
- 12/04/17--15:15: Very Best Movies of 2015
- 12/10/17--06:00: Very Best Movies of 2006
- 02/10/18--07:19: Latest Star Wars, Latest Thor, Loads of other Movie Reviews
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”.
Review of Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
Best thing: The Bin Laden song is frikkin hilarious. Like seriously, actual genius. (Though SEAL explaining where he got his scars was a pretty close second: "F**king wolves!")
Worst thing: This is a comedy that throws a lot of gags at the screen and some really don't stick. One clip of the press going overboard with all the flasks they are drinking from, felt more weird and random than funny...
The star, Andy Samberg, who also plays Jake Peralta in the comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, has a band called Lonely Island. It's parodying the kind of music that I'd never listen to. It's not like Flight of the Conchords where the songs would still be amazing even if they weren't hilarious. Nevertheless, the music isn't bad and the lyrics are hilarious.
This is one of those weird comedies where everything is just thrown at the audience to try to elicit as many laughs as possible as often as possible. It's all loud and obvious, rather than dry and careful. It's the sort of comedy that Phil Lord and Chris Miller do very well and Adam Sandler does very badly.
While not all gags landed for me, overall I had a lot of fun. This is more disposable than I'd have preferred, but I found it solidly enjoyable and it had some excellent moments. I cannot deny that there were points where I was laughing out loud.
Review of Jack Reacher (2012)
Best thing: Werner Herzog as the villain is inspired. It looks like the movie “The Grand” (comedy movie about gambling starring Woody Harrelson) did it first, but still....
Worst thing: Well I'll tell you what ISN'T the worst thing: Jai Courtney. (I seriously don't get the hate for that guy. He was the only bearable thing in Die Hard 5.) I guess the worst cliché in the whole string of clichés was the whole "one of your bosses is a villain so watch yourself" thing. I mean seriously, what help is that, Mr. Reacher?
A fairly average action movie. I can see how the books might work better, but this adaptation is a bit dull really.
No problem with Tom Cruise's performance. It wasn't clear during the film why the character needed to be a big guy, but I can see why fans of the book would be annoyed.
Review of Train To Busan (2016)
Best thing: Any antics involving the zombies are brilliant. I actually really liked the wall of zombies idea in World War Z, but Train To Busan takes that ant-like swarm-like behaviour of zombies to a whole new much more creative level.
Worst thing: The worst thing WOULD be the scene where someone seems to have pretty flimsy reasoning for dooming an entire carriage of people to a zombie massacre. However, the very worst thing has to be the little girl's singing. I know it's intentional, but seriously, we in the audience are still subjected to this unbearable din...
I'm a keen follower of the movies from Korean directors Chan-Wook Park and Joon-Ho Bong. It seems that Korean cinema sets a high bar for itself and there's a trend for a combination of wacky elements and darker themes (so Train To Busan is no exception).
This certainly isn't a horror movie with a bunch of bland disposable characters. Certainly there are archetypes, sometimes making characters somewhat comical, but for the most part these are singular vibrant individuals. It is remarkable how easy it is to distinguish such a wide range of characters. And we have a central child actor who gives a reassuring strong performance.
I love the zombies that are somehow both silly and almost cheesy and yet absolutely terrifying at the same time. It seems like zombie movies have been so often now that you'd think nearly everything had been done already, but the action sequences where the characters are escaping from zombies are fresh and inventive.
I'm not sure I entirely buy into the irrational paranoia expressed in the second half. I'd have thought the characters would all understand the rules by then. I think the zombie plague is being used as a source of satire and that may explain why it's occasionally a bit odd how things unfold. The choice as to whether to help others or to selfishly look out for number one is a big theme...
Train to Busan has all the weirdness we have come to expect from Korean films and this is both a pro and a con. Korean movie weirdness is what makes films like Snowpiercer and Oldboy unique, but this style can also make these films less accessible for some viewers. But if you feel you can handle Korean weirdness, you are in for a real treat.
Review of Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Best thing: As per usual, Simon Pegg's Scotty is the best thing in the new Star Trek movies. Though that's certainly not the fault of Pegg's script which gives more even coverage of the characters than the last two films. (Particularly pleased to see Bones and Spock more closely paired this time, since their love-hate relationship has always been my favourite element in Star Trek.)
Worst thing: When Uhura recognises a fact about the villain it seems quite implausible that anyone could have spotted it. That this big reveal about the villain is left until the the third act means that, like with Into Darkness, the villain's background is left rather limited. Poor villains seem to be a flaw neo-Star Trek now shares with Marvel Studios, but this film at least deserves credit as far as the audience is left begging: "Please we need to know more!" If only the last minute details were conveyed a little more clearly.
As we all know, Simon Pegg is a bit of a geek. This was perhaps clearest for me when Charlie Brooker released his zombie mini-series Dead Set (where the cast on Big Brother are unaware that all the crew outside of their enclosed area has been infected with a zombie virus). It was dark and remarkably joyless, considering the subject matter, (rather like Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror series). However, Simon Pegg's response was to write an essay on why the zombies should have been the traditional slow and shambling zombies.
There was no particular need to write that essay. Shaun of the Dead had been and gone and it had been a big hit so this wasn't part of a self promotion. So Simon Pegg similarly cannot have needed much cajoling to write a script for the new Star Trek film. He was central to the script-writing process on Edgar Wright's Cornetto trilogy and he combines his knack for comedy with his passion for the series in his writing here.
That being said, there are definitely third act problems here. Some of the later action scenes fail to stir the level of adrenaline that they ought to and the villain has Marvel Studios syndrome, not really drawing us into his motivations with much depth.
Still, of the new Star Trek trilogy, this instalment breaks the mould by being clearly better than the preceding two entries. Fun, beautiful, fairly smart and with a lot of nods to the original series; this was a satisfying entry.
Good work Simon. You did your fandom proud. But could the next film push these characters to a new level? For all the dramatic stakes, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of personal stakes for these characters.
Review of The Signal (2007)
Best thing: The violence is genuinely horrifying, there's a consistent sense of tension, and the way the film shows the mind-warping effect of the signal is very effective.
Worst thing: The film drags in the middle. In the middle segment the story is set up around a character clearly set up as a villain in the first section. This section carries on with neither of the other protagonists present and it's not such an interesting segment as a result.
Having really enjoyed Adam Wingard's films, it was cool to see some familiar cast members show up here. AJ Bowen has been in many of Wingard's films including "You're Next", "The Sacrament" and "A Horrible Way To Die". Meanwhile Justin Welborn's connection is a little more tenuous. Adam Wingard directed segments of both V/H/S and V/H/S 2. In V/H/S Viral, Justin Welborn plays the evil magician in my favourite segment of that film.
The Signal has a similar combination of wacky, creepy and awkward to the VHS anthology films. The decision to combine all three sections of the film didn't work very well for me. In particular, the second segment would have probably worked better as a stand-alone.
All in all this semi-anthology, The Signal, is fine. But I can't imagine ever wanting to return to it. All the segments rely on each other and by the final segment it has really lost steam. But it's pretty well put together and has some great moments.
Review of Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
Best thing: Angelina Jolie's performance is brilliant. She's always excited about danger, she's always got a knowing smile and she just perfectly represents the super-confident and capable, thrill-seeking millionaire playgirl. All those elements that made me adore her in the first Tomb Raider movie are still here.
Worst thing: There are many bad elements here; not least the central macguffin. But there's one scene towards the end where we have the gunshot *gasp, who fired the shot?* and when the camera pulls away, not only has Angelina Jolie NOT been shot, but apparently she was holding a gun at the ready by her side the whole time seemingly without the threatening figure noticing. So dumb!
As dumb as this film is, the big step-down is the action sequences. The first Tomb Raider had some pretty brilliant choreographed action. Even coming out just after The Matrix, the bungee fight in the hall of Croft manor stood out as a really creative sequence.
Yet while films at this point, such as Equilibrium, were continuing to pick up the gauntlet laid down by The Matrix, Tomb Raider 2 reverts to the lazier James Bond sequences with its gunfights that just involve shots fired from a distance. I suppose the aim was to thrill us stunts rather than martial arts action, such as when Croft freefalls off a skyscraper to escape the bad guy. But whenever Tomb Raider 2 features a gunfight it always seems lame.
Lamer still is the CG. It's really sad because someone clearly put a lot of effort into a 3D computer model of a shark. But it's simply way too obvious that the shark isn't there. It might be that CG effects were not so well developed back then, but I think it's also because the director has insisted on the CG work being added in post rather than allowing them to do the preparation required to make their shark effect blend with the scenery. The CG monsters in the final scenes are pretty cool. I don't want to say the effects work is simply bad, but it doesn't blend with the live action elements and looks horrible as a result.
Angelina Jolie is fantastic and deserved a better sequel. Gerard Butler is frikkin' terrible.
And the whole convoluted idea that Pandora's box released a virus is dumb. Isn't it enough that Pandora's box released all the evil in the world?
We start the film with Lara Croft discovering an ancient hidden palace of Alexander The Great and that was wonderful. That's pretty much where the tomb raiding aspect of the film ends. The rest of the film is in modern settings (the great wall of China is just there so they can say "Hey, we're in China!') until Pandora's Box is found in some random area of Africa.
The romance with Gerard Butler is clearly intended to be the source of drama here the way the death and legacy of Lara Croft's father brought drama to the first movie. But, whether it's Gerard Butler's acting or the boring script, I never really care about the central relationship.
Review of The Black Cat (1934)
Best thing: Bella Lugosi and Boris Karloff both give intense central performances. It's difficult not to be enthralled by the scenes between them, even when the plot is going nowhere fast.
Worst thing: Sure, this has nothing to do with Edgar Allen Poe's "The Black Cat", but then again Corman's "The Raven" was nothing to do with Poe's poem and it was still pretty fun in its own right. The problem is that this film about war crimes and satanists just seems to lack any kind of focus. The film tries to leave things mysterious ("my servant has to pretend to be the villain's servant so he can help us and that's why he won't let us leave to get help" - eh?), but the result is that the story feels completely ungrounded.
Despite the two central powerhouse performances (and despite being mainly known for their horror performances these are seriously awesome showmen) the actual plot is, when it comes down to it, garbage.
What seemed to be an intense thriller about old secrets, bad blood and the threat of exposure of those secrets, turned out to have a very cheesy satanic cult explanation that I felt cheapened it.
The actors are chewing the scenery, but it's a bit of a bland meal.
Review of Jaws (1975)
Best thing: Y'know, I've heard that the model used for the shark looks pretty unimpressive in real life. So there must be some amazing movie magic at work here, because the shark in the movie looked very convincing to me.
Worst thing: Naturally I love this film so I'm seriously nitpicking here. The mayor refusing to take the shark threat seriously just seems dafter and dafter every time I watch Jaws. Also, while I know that film is a visual medium, should you really show the protagonist researching the shark threat by opening a book and immediately skipping to the pictures?
Jaws is a classic for a reason. The iconic monster, the hidden threat, the simple but effective techniques to build tension.
And let's not forget the endless ripoffs of Jaws that were released.in subsequent years exploiting our fear of various sea creatures and forces of nature in general.
I don't need to tell you that Jaws is brilliant. You all know. If you haven't seen Jaws already, get it on your bucket list.
Review of Baby Driver (2017)
Best thing: As per usual, Edgar Wright makes use of incredible choreography. Displaying every action sequence clearly with a lot blink-and-you'll-miss-it details.
Worst thing: You've known the guy for less than a week. You've known each other, what, three days?!! Seriously! I get that you both like music, but even so...
Baby Driver veers away from Edgar Wright's comfort zone. This must be the first Edgar Wright that is not a comedy. Even so, the comic moments are still the best bits.
Nevertheless World's End was funnier, more moving and had better action sequences. Tye Sheridan really does not make for a particularly interesting protagonist. Edgar Wright's painstakingly choreographed action sequences would be cool with anyone in the lead role, but Sheridan doesn't seem to bring any extra pizazz.
Baby Driver is fun, exciting and a really fun time at the movies, but it's the first Edgar Wright film where I haven't been blown away. Shaun of the Dead has always felt a little overrated to me, but that's only because his other films seemed so much stronger.
As much as Scott Pilgrim felt weird, oddly paced and jumbled, I still felt immersed in that film in a way that I simply did not in Baby Driver's geeky Transporter musical.
Wright's films will always be worth your attention and Baby Driver is no exception, but I think comedy is Wright's strong suit and I hope he doesn't lose sight of that in future projects.
Review of Fortress (1992)
Best thing: Intestinate! (Also Jeffrey Combs is great.)
Worst thing: Noooooo! The barn exploded!
Why did anyone ever think Christopher Lambert should be the star of their sci-fi action movie?
Hearing him pretend to be American is so odd. Somehow he sounded more convincing as a Scotsman in period piece sections of Highlander, yet I cannot forget how ridiculous it sounded when he snarls in that odd squeaky way, "I'm from a lot of different places."
Accepting that Christopher Lambert is an odd choice for a leading man, he's perfectly fine here as the man captured trying to help his wife escape to have a second baby.
If it wasn't cool enough that we have a prison where even your dreams are monitored by the guards, we also have Kurtwood Smith (from Robocop) giving us insight into the wider mythology of this dystopian world with his mysterious prison-controller character.
One scene where the film gets incredibly trippy and we're expected to believe, essentially, that our protagonist is having his brain melted, it really drags. The effects aren't as interesting as the filmmakers seem to think in that scene and, seriously, we know you aren't killing off the protagonist before we are even half way through the film.
Still, while a little cheesy this is a really fun sci-fi action movie. Fortress is a little more consistent than Christopher Lambert's more well known action movie, Highlander, but it also doesn't have such great memorable moments and visual flourishes. Christopher Lambert benefits in Fortress from an array of co-stars to keep us engaged, particularly Jeffrey Combs as an engineering expert.
Not perfect, by any means, but a solid exciting sci-fi action film that explores some interesting concepts. Pretty cool.
Review of The Independent (2000)
Best thing: The wacky examples of films from the independent director are often very funny. For example, "Bald Justice" about bald men being macho action heroes.
Worst thing: For me the worst aspect of the film was the interviews with real filmmakers about the fictional independent filmmaker. I often didn't recognise the figures they interviewed, but that wasn't the problem. My least favourite of these interview segments was with Ron Howard very long-windedly explaining that he didn't like the (fictional) movie “Bald Justice” until he went bald. It already wasn't a terribly funny gag even before Ron Howard stretched it out for five minutes. The filmmakers are not comedians, often aren't performers and asking them to tell funny stories about an entirely fictional character is not playing to their strengths.
Fellow Letterboxd user Audrey Karloff, who almost always carries a cheery disposition in his online writing, regularly cites this film as an unsung gem. He must have been trying to get me (and anyone else who'll listen presumably) to watch this for at least the past 5 years.
The Independent is a sweet story about a washed up director of trashy low budget films struggling to maintain recognition in his later years. While his daughter tries to help him move his career forward, we are regular filled in on his long career of rip-offs and misguided social commentary films. It's a great concept.
Yet when actually watching the film, I must be honest, I found it a bit dull.
The opening is a bit jarring, showing us a load of talking heads, without much to clarify that we are not, in fact, beginning a documentary about a real person... until the main actor stands up and shouts into the valley (and even then it's still pretty unclear).
Sure, the scenes from the set of the protagonist's latest movie (of which I shan't spoil the details) firmly reveals the wackiness we should expect.
Still, the half sitcom/half mockumentary combination does the film no favours. The sitcom is constantly interrupted by talking heads and fake movie footage. Meanwhile the clear fiction of the sitcom sections makes it all the clearer that the talking heads are just random industry bods making stuff up on the spot.
I wonder whether the mocumentary section would have been improved for me if I could identify half the people being interviewed?
The Independent is a sweet enough film, but it wasn't funny or exciting enough to really make much of an impression on me. It's a pity to be unable to respond to a friend's beloved personal favourite with much more than a weak shrug.
Review of Prevenge (2016)
Best thing: When the unborn baby is telling the mother to kill, she seems to have a posher accent than her mother. The film actually makes reference to this when the protagonist mother is informed that her foetus can't speak and she replies, "No, actually she's very articulate."
Worst thing: One of the earlier people to be stalked by our protagonist is so obnoxious and so oblivious (both to how obnoxious he is and how likely it is that the protagonist will murder him) that it's difficult to suspend disbelief.
Horror comedy about a woman encouraged to take revenge by the urging from her unborn baby.
Alice Lowe wrote and directed this herself. It's a wonderful blend of themes, savage murders, funny lines and some occasional morbid puns.
Quite a harsh and gruesome black comedy, but if horror comedy is your thing (and it's certainly mine) you don't want to miss out on this little gem!
Review of XX (2017)
Best thing: The first story in particular is simple, effective and really gets under your skin.
Worst thing: The werewolf-esque story “Don't Fall” isn't as smart as the other segments and was the only part where I found myself looking at my watch.
I preferred the first entry. “The Box”, to the rest of the anthology, but I thought it was pretty strong set of stories overall.
Oddly enough, nearly all of the segments seemed to be about parenting in some shape or form except for one rather generic werewolf story (that was no Ginger Snaps). Is that because the directors were going for especially feminine stories for this anthology?
The first segment has such a dark edge to it. One child has a secret whispered to him by a stranger and suddenly has a strange inexplicable change in behaviour. He refuses to eat.
Okay, yes, it is similar to the Radiohead music video for their song "Just". Except that involved a load of people lying on the street. The prospect of a child intentionally, calmly, opting to starve himself is much more haunting and a hell of a lot more plausible.
Melanie Lynskey's attempt to rescue her daughter's birthday party and the woman handling her son being reclaimed by his father, the devil, were both pretty great segments too.
Overall XX is a solid anthology and well worth the attention of horror fans.
Review of Free State of Jones (2016)
Best thing: Free State of Jones is a very interesting tale of a rebellion within the southern states of America even while the civil war was ongoing and it only gets more interesting once the civil war is over.
Worst thing: I don't know if this was a book adaptation or just an interpretation of the historical events, but either way the story seemed to be covering too long a period of time to provide us with a well-paced story. We seem to jump forward to each part of the story.
Free State of Jones is a fascinating film. The story is pretty great, but it feels like it is trying to cover a bit too much. The films spans the American civil war, the period after the war and even has a few scenes in the 20th century.
The relevance of the history to the race issues in America today are clear. I've heard some fairly dismissive comments about this film simply because Matthew McConnaughey is a white protagonist, but the film makes very clear that this story is about a real historical figure and puts pay to the idea that blacks in the south were supported in any real way by the northern victors in the civil war. Far from being a white saviour our protagonist is a very frustrated activist for equality who finds himself despairing of the lack of support from his supposed allies in pursuing what ought to be an obvious noble goal.
Free State of Jones has exciting moments and sad moments. It's a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Still, it has that biopic / book adaptation feel where the film feels like it's stretching to fit in all the story elements it wants to include. And since this covers such a large timespan it would be a miracle if the film didn't feel that way.
A lot of fun, well-acted, moving and powerful in places, but trying to cram in so much. Well worth your time. Don't believe the haters.
Review of Frailty (2001)
Best thing: I think the most fantastic aspect of this film is its "fear of faith" theme. The way this is explored is very dramatic and powerful, pulling you into the mind of the young protagonist. The voiceover narration doesn't even detract from this either.
Worst thing: Not to give away spoilers, the final part of the film involves a shift in perspective that also alters the tone of the film. Basically the twist doesn't work that well and the ending seems rather tone-deaf and possibly a little cheesy.
The ending makes all the difference. Sadly what seemed like an incredible unsung gem became bafflingly cheesy in its final act.
Certainly the seeds for that ending were present but the presentation and execution at the end feels like an entirely different director must have taken over at the last minute.
At the half way point I was very impressed. By the end I was a bit non-plussed. A real pity.
Special mention needs to go to the excellent child actors. They remain the emotional core of the film and give absolutely remarkable performances.
Review of The Warriors (1979)
Best thing: There's a remarkably grounded mythology to The Warriors. Different New York gangs all looking for greater control and grander reputations, seeking a promise of unity. The different gangs express themselves with their own unique themes or outfits. There's a neat simplicity to it all.
Worst thing: Unfortunately this neat simplicity has its problems too. Not an awful lot really happens in the film, but the real issue is that I never fully warm to the characters it doesn't happen to. Our main protagonist and leader of the gang suggests to a girl that they might "pull a train" on her. Even if it's just posturing it's hard to look kindly on what are basically just a bunch of thugs...
A really interestingly styled film with some cool moments, but not really any characters that I'd root for or even any I particularly understood.
Still, The Warriors is a unique curiosity which is sufficiently cool and well-structured to make up for its more alienating aspects.
The unique mythology is spellbinding.
Review of The Ninth Life of Louis Drax (2016)
Best thing: There's a bit of a mystery involved here and the big misdirect is that the film initially looks like it's a children's film. There are moments where it looks the filmmakers might be buying into magical nonsense, but the biggest clues that isn't a magical children's story is the scenes with the police detective. She's blunt and won't accept any nonsense and clearly has a much clearer idea of what is going on than the adult doctor we follow for much of the film.
Worst thing: The opening of the film where the child protagonist is introducing himself. I can't stand cutesy kids doing voiceover narration directly to the audience. I now know this was intentionally disarming, but my response was a moan of dismay. "Hunt For The Wilderpeople, this ain't," I thought to myself. If a young child is talking confidently to the camera it is likely that they have a background doing drama. Our protagonist most likely isn't supposed to have this background (or if they do that's a remarkably handy coincidence), but the actor does. As a general rule, this sort of set-up will always pull me right out of the film.
Alexandre Aja is a pretty interesting director, starting with the bizarre horror movie Switchblade Romance and then moving on to the remakes Piranha 3D and The Hills Have Eyes, before bringing us the Joe Hill adaptation Horns. Aja also wrote some pretty cool films like the Maniac remake and P2.
At the opening of Ninth Life of Louis Drax I thought this was a major misstep for Aja. A whiny kid is introducing himself in a kind of wacky way.
I think a lot of viewers have failed to recognise how this opening has been engineered to put the audience offguard. There are a worrying number of reviewers who have referred to this as a children's movie. This film contains the line: "Are you f**king her?" This is not the kind of question you'd expect from a police officer in a children's movie. And that's intentional. Things are not what they seem.
The contrasting tones are a bit jarring, but the performances are great and by the end the film had completely won me over.
Movies I Couldn’t Finish (Sort Of): The Funhouse Massacre (2015)
I always make a point of not giving a score to films I didn't finish. This is a little different. I DID finish it. I just fell asleep through a sizeable chunk and have no interest in returning to check out the bits I missed. Personally I found this pretty dire.
A group of murderous misfits take over a funfair and then proceed to massacre the customers.
I always reckon there's nothing like a good horror comedy. And this is nothing like a good horror comedy. It's cheap and lame and a waste of time...
Review of Dunkirk (2017)
Best thing: This is a film focused more on visual storytelling than having the story moved on by character interactions. This distinguishes "Dunkirk" quite sharply from previous Nolan films like The Prestige, Inception or even Interstellar, all of which were quite exposition-heavy. As such, I think my favourite parts are those with the mostly silent RAF pilot Tom Hardy. Hardy had already proven his ability to produce drama by just sitting in the driving seat of a vehicle and looking concerned in "Locke". Tom Hardy is a real showman and is very good at dominating the screen with subtle expressions.
Worst thing: With its 'slice of life' approach, I generally didn't feel all that close to the characters. Also two central characters are, at one point left stranded, and I'm not really sure how they escaped from that situation.
I've been a fan of Christopher Nolan since Memento and I was absolutely blown away by The Prestige. (Naturally I also loved his take on Batman in “Batman Begins”, especially considering that the previous Batman film was “Batman and Robin”. All the same, I thought “The Dark Knight”, while great, was substantially overrated.)
But even as a fan of Nolan I've found his most recent spectacular sci-fi outings, “Inception” and “Interstellar”, to be a little uneven. I definitely love these films, but I expect more from Nolan so I've still felt a little frustrated by them.
Dunkirk is the best Nolan film in years, not least because it plays to all his strengths. Nolan has always seemed to struggle with female characters, so this is a very male setting. (There are female characters, but it makes sense that they tend to be background characters.)
Nolan's sci-fi films were sometimes a little overstuffed with exposition, but Dunkirk has some characters who practically never speak. Dunkirk is a very visual film perfectly suited to Nolan's colder filmmaking style as the tension builds.
Nolan's best films have always played tricks with the chronology, most excitingly in Memento. Nolan performs a similar trick here with one timeline lasting an hour, one lasting a day and one lasting a week and yet all three arcs are presented side by side.
The only thing missing here, I feel, is characters. I loved the characters in The Prestige. I loved Guy Pearce's character in Memento. In Dunkirk no characters really stand out. Tom Hardy was my favourite character and he barely even speaks.
Still, I view this as amongst Nolan's best work and, for me, better than his Batman films.
Review of Castaway on the Moon (2009)
Best thing: One of many absolutely fantastic bits of imagery in the film features our protagonist having a really bad job interview while flailing in a swimming pool. If you think of some of the imagery in Trainspotting like dropping into the carpet or the baby crawling on the ceiling, there is similarly interesting use of visuals.
Worst thing: I recognise that both main characters were in bizarre unreal worlds that develop as a reaction to their specific circumstances. However, the girl's constructed world, whereby she avoids all contact with the outside world and even all sense of time, was particularly hard to relate to.
A bit awkward to get hold of, but well worth it. It's always a good sign when not only do you find that every single review from friends on letterboxd is positive for a particular film. However it's even better when every single one is absolutely gushing with praise.
Gushing praise can sometimes be very annoying and the few exceptions where someone disputes a movie’s “masterpiece” status can feel like a bit of a relief, but there's a reason why Castaway on the Moon seems to have no such exceptions. It's an absolute delight.
Hilarious, strange and fascinating. The premise of two isolated characters somehow both stranded within a city is explored in an absolutely wonderful way.
All the weirdness you'd expect from a Korean film and yet somehow incredibly accessible and utterly adorable.
Review of The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Best thing: Woody Harrelson is hilarious as the consistently chilled-out sarcastic teacher.
Worst thing: I don't want to say this film is perfect, but I'm struggling to come up with a worst thing. I guess occasionally the protagonist's self-obsession goes a bit far.
It's really tough to explain how great this film is. While it would be fair to put it in the same league as films like Clueless or Easy A, it's not really the same type of film as either of those. Of course, being unique is a good thing.
The main thing that made me want to see Edge of Seventeen was a clip of Woody Harrelson in one of the earliest scenes in the film. Harrelson plays a cynical history teacher and he's absolutely hilarious.
Hailee Steinfeld from the Coen Brothers' “True Grit” shows that she is clearly a very versatile actress. She does not seem in any way like she did in "True Grit” and she's still playing a very compelling character.
Our protagonist gives a whole new take on the awkward teen. The scene where she is ultra awkward at a party will feel very familiar to most people, I'm sure.
Edge of Seventeen is one of the best comedies of recent years and is well worth checking out.
Review of Brainscan (1994)
Best thing: While a little generic, there's no doubting that The Trickster is a great character.
Worst thing: Edward Furlong isn't really a strong enough acting talent to carry this film. Perhaps if he had a little more stage presence then we'd understand why the girl next door likes him so much. (I feel like Joseph Gordon Levitt would have done a better job, if he was old enough at the time...)
Brainscan is a sweet little 'out of control genie' kind of story. Our protagonist is an oddball with personal issues to resolve who gets pulled into a world that takes advantage of those issues.
The ending is a bit predictable and doesn't play out particularly smoothly. The 'trickster' is pretty fun despite being quite obviously the same generic character we've seen before in any number of stories like this, without much to make him stand out as unique.
Review of A United Kingdom (2016)
Best thing: While the British politicians and civil service members can often appear like moustache-twirling villains, the wife of the male protagonist's uncle who had been acting as regent, has a really powerful scene. She gives her full case for why she doesn't think a white British woman should be queen and unlike the British politicians it's nothing to do with any support for the apartheid system that they have in place along with neighbouring South Africa. She argues that the female protagonist is in no way suitable for the responsibility, has no understanding of their culture and represents a further imposition by a white foreign nation over their small African nation. Rosamund Pike makes no reply to this and clearly sees no other option but to grimace and stay silent.
Worst thing: As with most biopics, this story is limited by the real life circumstances to which it needs to remain true. While the film generally avoids awkward preachy speeches or unnatural expositional conversations, it still feels slightly unreal. Sure, people change over time, but with the amount of time passing it's not clear how these changes occur. (Still this is handled pretty well. It's not like in Dune where they realised that they wouldn't be able to show ANY sign that the central relationship was developing and they just added voiceover narration that said, "And their love grew!" A United Kingdom makes a good effort, but just struggles to reveal long term relationship changes within a short film with a lot of political change to convey too.
After his fantastic turn as Martin Luther King in Selma, David Oyelowo takes on another real life figure, this time playing Seretse Khama. (Though for many of us, David Oyelowo will always be especially well established in our minds for his time as Danny in the tv show Spooks.)
Amma Asante's previous film, Belle, was also a sort of biopic, but nothing much was known about the real life protagonist beyond one painting. The film ended up feeling a bit contrived to me because the protagonist seemed too self-aware, often seeming almost like a time traveller rather than someone with a unique perspective within that society.
Much more is known about Seretse Khama and, while the story is presented well and the performances are great, there's still something a little flat about the film. Individual scenes can be very emotionally impactful, but the film as a whole feels a bit rushed and not quite fleshed out enough.
In particular I feel a major dramatic moment is left entirely unresolved. One of Seretse Khama’s female relatives gives Rosamund Pike's character hell for wanting to be Queen of their country. I would have like some more indication on why this perspective changes beyond just gradually softening over time. (Particularly since time seems to rush forward all through the movie.)
A United Kingdom has similar biopic issues to those I found with Free State of Jones. However, what I feel gives A United Kingdom the upper hand (and please recognise that I would recommend both films) is the way it moves forward so smoothly. Sure, A United Kingdom is not a film that slows down enough to bring much in the way of depth, but the way it carries us through the narrative does at least feel clear and focused. On top of this, the sweet and upbeat personality of A United Kingdom makes for some very pleasant and engaging storytelling.
It's a great story worth telling and you're pretty much guaranteed a good time with this solid, if not mind-blowing, well-acted biopic.
Review of Nemesis (1992)
Best thing: The action sequences are pretty impressive and I like the way they use subtle ways to indicate that the characters are robots or cyborgs. It feels like they are making good use of a relatively low budget and it reminds me of Freddie W's action sequences in his youtube shorts and his online Video Game High School series.
Worst thing: It doesn't help when your lead actor expresses all his lines in a dull monotone, clearly doesn't speak English as a first language and has absolutely terrible lines to deliver. But that alone probably wouldn't undermine this as a dumb action film. The problem is that the final action sequence involves a stop motion robot fight and it looks utterly ridiculous and not really terribly exciting.
I'd heard mixed things about this cyberpunk action film, but I hadn't expected it to look so cheap.
An action movie where the main star clearly doesn't have English as his first language and struggles to emote.
A movie with dialogue that is stilted, unnatural, boring and often even manages to be expositional and confusing at the same time.
Yet with all that being said, I was very interested by the way they managed to be sparing with the effects. For the most part the robots are indistinguishable from humans and in many scenes the indication that a character is a robot is that they recover or survive when a human would be dead. There are also the occasional scenes where a character's head will open up to reveal robotic parts inside. Until the robot fight in the final act, the effects limitations force them to be subtle and the result is that the final act fight is comparatively less enjoyable.
I'm not entirely sure why one scene involves gratuitous nudity while our protagonist prepares to strike. If the nudity was because the two characters were distracted by each other, that would at least make sense. But instead, the two characters are arguing the whole time and they talk about how the protagonist is after them. So why is that female character standing around in the nude? I get that this is exploitation filmmaking, but the nudity here makes no damn sense.
Clearly cashing in on Terminator 2, released the previous year, this is clearly a poor imitation. Sure, Nemesis has its moments, but for the most part it's a bit dire.
Review of Paterson (2016)
Best thing: Adam Driver is still a compelling performer even when playing a dull character.
Worst thing: Not only is this a film where very little happens and yet much of what happens manages to feel contrived anyway, but the poetry is (and perhaps I'm being a philistine here) terrible.
I first heard about Jim Jarmusch when he released Only Lovers Left Alive which drew attention with its three awesome big name stars: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska (not to mention a smaller role given to Anton Yelchin). But it also drew attention by being about vampires.
I heard that this was a director who normally didn't involve outlandish fantasy elements like vampires in his films, so I was keen to try out a non-vampire
Jim Jarmusch movie. The vampire mythology in Only Lovers Left Alive felt weak to me, but I was impressed with the way the director was able to feature so many quiet moments that remained consistently engaging.
Sadly, in Paterson, I found the whole story utterly pointless. A guy whose life is so empty that he sits quietly drinking alone every evening is not particularly interesting. His poetry seems to have nothing to say, except perhaps to reveal how bland and trivial his life is.
The protagonist does not seem to engage much with other people he meets. He seems proud of his connection with the town where he has always lived and with which he shares his name, yet I feel this film completely fails to convey why anyone would want to live there.
At one point the protagonist goes out with his wife to see a classic black and white film and I envy them because I'm stuck watching Paterson.
Review of Jigsaw (2017)
Best thing: There were so many points in this film where I was made to really squirm in my seat. My favourite example.is where the camera shows a point of view shot of someone as they reach down to pick something up. It's wonderfully effective.
Worst thing: All Saw films essentially have two plots going on at once: The 'game' Jigsaw's victims are forced to play on one hand and the detectives and medical staff investigating, on the other. By the second half, everyone involved in the investigation starts acting really suspicious. My biggest issue being, if you think someone who works in the morgue might be connected to the killer.... you should have someone ELSE do the autopsy in order to demonstrate an alternative suspect's guilt. Seriously, follow proper police procedure guys!
A good friend of mine loves the Saw movies and encouraged me to watch every single last one of them.
Annoyingly enough, the first one struck me as an inferior imitation of the movie “Seven” (serial killer sets up intricate deaths to shame the victims) and then I felt that even in the sequels where the Jigsaw 'game' section was good, the movies were still spoilt by the focus on the parallel detective storyline.
And Costas Mandeloy made for the most disappointing protégé for Jigsaw imaginable. Whenever he was in a room of people discussing who might be responsible for the latest deaths, he'd look ridiculously guilty. It's like they still wouldn't notice a murderer if they saw Hannibal Lecter covered in blood and making his trademark 'nice chianti' hissing noise. Mandeloy always acted evil and suspicious no matter what context he was in and it was always bizarre when none of the police staff seemed to notice.
I was reassured by the promise that this new movie would bypass or simplify the convoluted and increasingly disappointing plotting of the previous films. But the bigger reason to be hopeful was the choice of director.
None of the sequels have been directed by anyone known for much outside of that series. (I suppose there will be fans of “Repo! The Genetic Opera” out there and anyone seen “Jessabelle” with Sarah Snook? That’s about the extent of it.) Even in the case of the first film, James Wan's film career has been quite inconsistent to say the least. But the Spierig Brothers have three pretty great films in their filmography already. Undead, a sporadically funny but wholly entertaining horror comedy featuring both zombies and aliens. Daybreakers, a remarkably effective thriller about a world of vampires where human blood is a depleting resource. Finally, Predestination, a Robert A. Heinlein adaptation featuring a unique take on time travel.
In my view, the Spierig Brothers have delivered. We have a straightforward set of traps where tension is built up effectively. Admittedly, the detective section is still the weaker element, but it's still done pretty effectively. However, the 'game' is where the film really delivers. The game area is pretty well-lit without compromising the sense of being trapped.
This film series hasn't featured enough of the Jigsaw doll on a unicycle, so this film milks the arrival of the doll for all it's worth showing close ups of its little fake legs pushing the pedals to move it slowly along.
The requirements of the traps regularly had me squirming but they don't really go over-blown. We are told that all the best games are simple and I think they were right to take that approach.
I'm pleased to see that this is a Saw movie that can act as a stand alone film without requiring you to already know the prior continuity. If I were to suggest a set of the best Saw films I'd suggest Saw, Saw II, Saw VI and Jigsaw. But during Saw VI the indictment of American healthcare insurance is regularly interrupted by the convoluted side-plot involving thd detectives. Frankly, Jigsaw is the only Saw movie I'd actually recommend and the original Saw is good enough (mainly because of Danny Glover) to make it worth watching for context.
I'm tempted to give this film an A simply because of how much more satisfying I found it than the rest of the series, but I think that's going a bit overboard. This doesn't make a massive leap but I think the main audience would feel slighted if this completely abandoned the formula. It needed to be recognisably a Saw film. Nevertheless, I found Jigsaw to be a very satisfying horror film and worth a watch even if you haven't been following the Saw franchise.
Review of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)
Best thing: The return of Iain Glen was pretty great to see, but only because Wesker had been an absolutely awful villain for the last two films. The way he's used doesn't really feel consistent with prior films, but hey, whatever excuse you need to bring him back...
Worst thing: I heard there were issues with the way the film was cut, but I wasn't convinced that it could be that bad... It really is that bad. I can barely tell what is happening in half the action sequences and often the camera doesn't focus on any action long enough for me to enjoy it.
Discussing a movie series, particularly when focusing on the concluding chapter of that series, I think I'm going to have to presume you have seen at least the previous sequel already.
To recap the last film (Resident Evil: Retribution), Wesker reveals that he has turned on Umbrella (and that's why he's working with a special agent: the iconic game character Ada Wong). They help Alice escape from the facility where the Red Queen and take her to The White House. Wesker, who has some kind of super speed power, rushes over to Alice and injects her. He tells her that he has given her back her superpowers. We even see footage of her bloodstream, watching the creatures previously injected to repress her powers dying off, confirming that Wesker is telling the truth. Wesker finally tells them they will need to fight to save humanity.
So in the beginning of this film the White House has blown up, Wesker is back in control in an Umbrella facility and the Red Queen informs us that Wesker betrayed her and only pretended to give her back her powers.
So naturally I don't believe this for a moment. I saw that the injection works. I remember that the Red Queen wants everyone dead and I remember that Wesker rescued Alice from the Red Queen so that they could defeat the Red Queen together.
So naturally my thoughts were that Wesker must be trying to fool Umbrella into thinking he is not about to betray them and blowing up the White House and seemingly leaving Milla Jovovich for dead was a ruse to allow him to convince Umbrella he is still on their side.
When Red Queen talks to Alice, she tells Alice that they need to release an anti-virus that will destroy everything infected with the T-virus. Now let's not forget that besides monsters and zombies the main people we know to be infected with the virus are Alice and Wesker. Since my first instinct is to mistrust the Red Queen (since she was the clear villain in the previous film) I figure that Wesker and Alice are probably still working together against her.
As you've probably guessed, I was over thinking things. When the big reveals are made at the end, my neat little explanation for why the beginning of this film does not seem to tie sensibly with the previous entry in the series turned out to be completely mistaken.
It's nice that we finally get an explanation of the Umbrella Company master plan that makes sense but, apart from that, this is amongst the dumbest movies in this franchise and the reason for the massive retcons is unclear.
What's more annoying than anything else is that I would happily enjoy this as a fun ridiculous non-sensical bombastic finale to this ridiculous action movie franchise... if only I could see the action sequences properly! The action sequences are quick cut to pieces and that just made it impossible for me to enjoy.
Someone will probably reboot this series. Considering that my clear favourite of the series was directed by Robert Mulcahy, it's not hard to imagine that taking this out of Paul WS Anderson's hands will only make Resident Evil better. But frankly this finale is not a high point for a movie series that generally required lowered expectations at the best of times anyway.
Review of Another Man's Poison (1951)
Best thing: The on screen chemistry between Bette Davis and Gary Merrill (we're not talking about romantic chemistry by the way) is excellent. Their interactions are the best parts of the film.
Worst thing: A major part of the film relies on us buying into Bette Davis stealing the fiancé away from her young secretary. The problem is that, while Bette Davis might not be that much past her prime here, she's not an easy sell as a knockout by this stage, particularly since her outfits are always quite conservative.
After being blown away by The Nanny, I was keen to check out another horror film with Bette Davis.
Frankly it ends up being a pretty average thriller by the end. I enjoyed it for the most part, but the ending wasn't really terribly smart. In a film which relies on building up tension, that's a bigger issue for this film.
Bette Davis is great and so are several of her co-stars, particularly ACTOR'S NAME and for the first half I was pretty gripped as the mystery unfolded. But in the second half, there isn't much of a mystery left.
It's fine, but personally I was a bit let down.
Review of The Burning (1981)
Best thing: Most slashers go for one death at a time, but there's one scene in The Burning that really goes for an out and out massacre. We don't see the killer but we certainly see the carnage. Very well handled.
Worst thing: There is no logic to the killer's attacks. He's upset with some boys who burnt him in a prank, yet nearly all his victims are women! Quite often in revenge slashers there's a sense that the victims who get picked off first are often the ones who (in the killer's eyes at least) deserve it. Not so much here....
The Burning shares the low budget and the rough edges that characterise a typical 80s slasher movie.
While certainly inspired by Friday 13th I don't think it would be fair to call it a rip off since, if anything, Friday the 13th part 2 stole some ideas from The Burning. Let's not forget that Friday the 13th did not feature someone taking revenge for what was done to him as a child. And perhaps more importantly the style seems to be closer to Friday the 13th part 2 than it is to the original Friday the 13th film. There's even a bit of a rebellious female character who turns out to be in a relationship with the guy in charge of the camp. That's quite a specific similarity.
It's also cool to see that this is the slasher from which Final Girls took its in-movie backstory. (Final Girls is a fun horror-comedy/spoof that lampoons slasher movies.) I suppose the title should have made it obvious, but somehow I wasn't expecting that.
The Burning has all the trashiness of a typical 80s slasher. I'd say it wasn't a more refined slasher like Black Christmas and certainly not like Hooper's Texas Chain Saw Massacre (or Psycho). Recognising that this is a trashy slasher film with the limited depth and limited acting quality that comes with that, this still remains one of the better slasher movies and I had a real blast.
Satisfying kills, runs at a good pace and features character interactions between the potential victims that I found properly engaging. In spite of having already seen a number of eighties slashers now like April Fool's Day, Silent Night Deadly Night, Christmas Evil, Pieces, Maniac, Nightmares In A Damaged Brain, Driller Killer and all the Friday 13th films, I felt this was surprisingly successful in ramping up tension. If you want a good typical slasher, The Burning is a pretty great choice, even if it doesn't break the mould.
Review of Ed Wood (1995)
Best thing: Martin Landau as Bella Lugosi, performing his lines about how he will create a race of atomic supermen like a true thespian.
Worst thing: While Depp is doing the kind of over the top performance that audiences seem to be annoyed by these days, it generally works pretty well here. The performance I'm more concerned about is from Bill Murray. Why does Murray come across as so flat here?
I've never got along with Tim Burton movies. He kept releasing films with fantastic premises and great visuals that nevertheless consistently disappointed me.
Edward Scissorhands left me cold and the sappy ending was cheesy as hell ("I was that little girl!"). Beetlejuice mostly left me scratching my head. Even Batman had its slow moments. (And "Nightmare Before Christmas" isn't a Burton film, it's a Henry Selick film.)
So when I was told that Ed Wood was the best Tim Burton movie I still wasn't convinced that I would enjoy it. I was so wrong. This is the only Tim Burton that I absolutely love. It's such a wonderful depiction of the friendship between Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi.
Funny, moving, well performed and generally just an utter delight. Even if you are a Burton denier like me, you should still give this a go.
Review of The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
Best thing: Father and son talking about the autopsy process (which makes up most of first half) is quite interesting, with great on screen chemistry between the two actors.
Worst thing: The entire second half turns into a cheesy jump scare fest. While this isn't technically a ghost story it still has that old ridiculous ghost movie trope: Being dead gives you superpowers!
I absolutely loved “Troll Hunter” so, despite all indications being that “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” would not be the sort of film I'd enjoy, I found myself excited anyway. For me this wasn't going to be a film about a 'haunted' autopsy room. This was the latest film from André Øvredal and anything could happen...
The first half set up a lot of clues and I was really excited to see how the mystery would be resolved. With the father emphasising the need to be scientific and methodical, I wondered how they'd handle this seemingly supernatural phenomena.
Sadly, when answers come in the third act, it turns out that there wasn't really much mystery to unfold. The dead body is supernatural. Why does the body have damage inside while being unblemished on the outside (the mystery set up right at the beginning)? Well, not to be too specific, the answer is basically magic.
The turning point in the film at the mid point involves all the lights in the autopsy room shattering. I hate when there aren't proper rules for a supernatural entity. If the 'ghost' can make the lights smash with no explanation, it potentially could pretty much do anything and that means that it could kill off the protagonists whenever it wants. (Yes, I know it's NOT a ghost, but these are clear ghost story tropes).
I'll note that in Evil Dead 2, the deadites can do whatever they want because they are clearly toying with the protagonist.
It's actually ridiculous how lazy the film becomes in the second half. All the typical creepy noises are put into effect, we get that typical generic horror movie score and we have quick cuts so that we aren't sure exactly what is attacking our protagonists. The film goes from being an interesting introduction to a father and son working in a morgue, to a boring ten-a-penny straight off the assembly line, disposable horror flick. What a disappointment!
Review of The Girl On The Train (2016)
Best thing: Emily Blunt is excellent in the lead role and keeps you on her side in spite of some quite shameless behaviour from her at times. The central premise of the film is that she is essentially stalking a couple, albeit from her train window, but Blunt’s performance somehow pulled me into that story.
Worst thing: The mystery unfolds pretty slowly and it's not always clear why we should care. 'The girl I'm stalking is cheating on her boyfriend. That's terrible.' Yeah, okay psycho. In the movie "Julia", Tilda Swinton similarly played an alcoholic anti-hero, but she had a much more interesting story to go with her performance.
Watching this film I struggled to see why it had received such a lacklustre response, but as the story unfolded the issue became rather clearer.
The Girl On The Train is well directed, it's well acted and the way it gradually unfolds is mysterious. Nevertheless, it's actually a pretty dull story.
Serious credit should be given to the filmmaker who milks every dramatic and tense moment. Unfortunately it's not enough to make up for the content. I'm inclined to blame it on the book. I think its possible that this novel simply isn't suited to the screen.
I think comparisons to Gone Girl are reasonable. It's a slowly unfolding dark story about relationships. But while Gone Girl had an intense and unexpected final act. The third act of The Girl On The Train does not really feature much of a payoff and the 'twist' isn't that much of a revelation.
Also, and I can't speak for anyone else, but I found the focus on the desire to have children didn't ring true to me. All three central women in the film seem fixated on their attitude towards having children. Sure, it's possible, but at some points that fixation seems to be expected to be a source of tension in the film. I guess if you are adapting this story, you get your dramatic tension wherever you can.
The Girl On The Train is well structured and perfectly adequate film. The story didn't really interest me that much, but I can't say I had a bad time watching it. I probably wouldn't ever watch this again but, for what it is, I'd say it was good. Not great, just good.
Watch for Emily Blunt, but don't expect much payoff at the end of the story. It all wraps up very neatly but the revelations won't blow you away.
Review of Beasts Of No Nation (2015)
Best thing: Naturally Idris Elba is the best thing, but what I especially liked about his performance is the way he often comes across like a father to the child soldiers. This made clear why our protagonist would want to join this group and would actually become a loyal child soldier committed to the cause.
Worst thing: Beasts of No Nation is way too long. There are a lot of lingering moments that dwell on the misery and frankly it didn't need to dwell so much. I can tell the situation is horrible and what I really needed was an engaging story. I have no problem with long films, so long as the pacing of the story makes it less obvious while you are watching. Here, the extreme length was painfully obvious.
I think anyone could have guessed that this would be a well-shot film with great performances (particularly from Idris but also from the child actors), but that it would also be miserable and ponderously slow-paced.
Well done. You were right. Now give this movie a miss and watch Johnny Mad Dog instead....
Review of Rings (2017)
Note: Not to be confused with the 2005 promotional short film released just before the American “The Ring Two”.
Best thing: Doesn't the 'ring' of people watching the tape and passing it on, parallel the typical cycle of life and death? Might someone try to defend against being shown Sadako's killer visions by blinding themselves? In such a maligned film it was a surprise to see these subtle new ideas raised, even if they aren't actually explored properly in the end.
Worst thing: The ending of a movie matters a lot. While you can accept some common themes across a movie series, sequels need to either start with something new or build to something new. Rings essentially builds to: “We're rebooting the movie series guys!” Promising a follow-up that most likely won’t be coming any time soon. If you saw the trailer, you know how this movie ends. You won't understand why unless you watch because, heck, how could THAT be the final reveal? - The ending is really THAT disappointing.
I'd heard bad things about this film, but in a movie series where I have now seen nearly every single entry, including the Sadako 3D movies, it's easier to be a bit more forgiving.
Basically, Rings becomes less interesting the more it progresses. It starts with a professor experimenting with his own students' lives to study the connection between the effect of the video clip (not a video tape any more).
Quite early on we get a full on reveal of Samara with a really cool version of the Samara-attack effects with water flooding out of a television screen.
Eventually we are promised a real change in this series. The video clip belonging to the female protagonist has corrupted. The file can't be copied and it has extra visions included in it.
Sadly what follows is basically a redo of the original The Ring, only with the payoff where Sadako shows just how horrifying she is having already been done (which perhaps made it inevitable that the ending would disappoint).
It perhaps shouldn't be surprising to hear that a review of a sequel may involve discussion of plot details from the first film in the series. But, in any case, SPOILER WARNING FOR "THE RING"....
The extra visions in the new distorted video give a whole new line of enquiry for a mystery to unfold. While there are differences between the Japanese and American versions of the first film, the basic structure is pretty much identical. So we can see that what then unfolds follows that structure quite closely.
The visions provide different clues. The protagonists follow those clues to uncover the story of Samara (or Sadako in Japan). Samara seems to have been mistreated and the protagonists try to find a way to resolve that for her. And here is where the real spoiler comes in: Samara doesn't care about having her issues resolved. She is projecting her hatred from the well where she was trapped and all she wants is for you to die. If you can pass the curse onto someone else that's fine, but failing that, Samara has no reason or mercy.
The mystery unfolded more clearly here than in the American version of "The Ring". The clues are a bit more specific. In "The Ring" there's a vision of a ladder because there was a long ladder up to the place where Samara slept. A horse becomes very distressed possibly in connection with large numbers of horses living near where she lives. In "Rings" pretty much every vision seems to be a necessary clue.
The attempt to resolve issues for Samara in "Rings" is actually pretty solid, but it's not terribly exciting in the way it is portrayed. I actually wonder whether this isn't the part of the film cut and/or re-shot. In the trailer, Vincent D'Onofrio helps to explain the mark that Samara leaves on the female protagonist's arm, suggesting that he might have indicated where the filmmakers were planning to take the series next. I suspect the problem is that nobody wants to try to use the follow up novels to the original source material. I've seen Spiral (Rasen) and, however well it works as a novel, it just came off as ridiculous nonsense.
It's from the Spiral storyline, however, that all the sequels (barring perhaps Sadako 3D) take their theme of Sadako/Samara attempting to be reborn. It's just that the novels wanted to characterise this as Sadako transferring her genetic code and somehow becoming a fully grown adult super quick so she can seduce someone. (It's been a while, so I may be misremembering, but I think Sadako was also trying to have an evil baby.)
In any case, if there were any daring forays into the more wacky elements from this source material, then it must have all been rejected since the final result is a very humdrum ending that feels more like a tease for a further sequel that is unlikely to ever be released.
But in spite of all the negative feedback I think this had potential and I actually preferred it to the first American remake that has always struck me as a dull jump scare fest.
(I am never going to stop harping on about this because it is my go-to example of 'dumbest jump scare ever' but The Ring features the 'milipede in an envelope' jump scare. Whenever you write a review saying that the American version of Ring is better than the original, an angel loses its wings. Stop doing it, okay!)
Review of The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
Best thing: It's great going back to films like Fargo and The Man Who Wasn't There, where the humour originally felt out of place. Now that I can see that all Coen Brothers movies are black comedies, this dark nihilistic tragedy is hilarious. My favourite bit? Probably: "We're not late. We're-on-time Ed!"
Worst thing: This isn't necessarily a big problem, but I've never really understood the significance of the UFO towards the end.Just a wonderful black comedy (and nobody does black comedy like the Coens). Billy Bob Thornton knocks it out of the park as a quiet empty man whose attempts to make something of his life cause all hell to break loose.
Like with the Coen Brothers' later film "A Serious Man", there's a sense that the world is absurd and unfair. Yet while the protagonist of "A Serious Man" was distressed by the way his life is out of control, Billy Bob Thornton remains cold and stoic no matter what is thrown at him.
I suppose Billy Bob Thornton is expressing the same cold stoicism of a noir movie detective, only as someone who already knows the case better than anyone else rather than as someone trying to solve the case.
Definitely one of my many favourites in the Coen Brothers' filmography.
Review of Blow Out (1981)
Best thing: The way the film returns again and again to its main set of clues: the recording made by our sound technician protagonist, played by John Travolta. It's very stylish and creative, the way the film explores that aspect.
Worst thing: The scene where they show Travolta working with recording apparatus for undercover police, the setup felt unconvincing to me. If someone is working undercover, running in to meet then is going to be the worst thing you can do. If you blow their cover, the criminals may well kill the both of you.
Such a fantastic thriller and definitely a major highlight in John Travolta's career.
Blow out has a neat premise. A sound technician recording sounds for a horror movie goes out late at night to record sound effects to use on the film. While still recording, he sees a car accident where a car goes off the road and into the water. After saving a woman from the wreckage, he is asked not to talk to the press, but when the incident makes the news anyway, Travolta's character realises something is very wrong.
The theme of the film seems to be that the powerful step on the weak. This is a story about exploitation and corruption. Which makes it all the more annoying when the film seems to try to excuse the conspirators.
We're told that the conspirators are somehow shocked by what is happening as much as we are, which seems inconsistent to me. Perhaps it's a realistic inconsistency for powerful men to want terrible things but don't want to hear about the blood on their hands, but nevertheless the film seemed to be trying to let the conspirators off the hook and that's an annoying compromise in an otherwise uncompromisingly dark thriller.
The downer ending is powerful and i absolutely love it, even if it's a bit of a drag. This is a film that has always stuck with me and it was a real pleasure to revisit.
Review of Before I Go To Sleep (2014)
Best thing: Colin Firth is always great and the way he seems both a little sinister and yet also utterly charming and harmless at the same time works really well. Mark Strong has a similar ambiguity in his performance.
Worst thing: Not everything makes sense by the end. Whether you enjoy the film or not, it must be admitted that the plot is a little preposterous.
I guess 14 years was enough time to justify a new take on the amnesiac condition explored in Nolan's "Memento". A woman wakes up to be told that she cannot make new memories and that she is married. She then gets a call from a doctor, of whom her husband is unaware, who reveals that she has a camera with a series of self-dictated videos stored on it.
As the story unfolds the question is, which of these men can she trust? She doesn't remember the doctor, but she doesn't remember the husband either. It's actually quite difficult to fully be convinced by this set up.
If she was married before the attack surely she should remember her husband. If she couldn't make new memories when she was married, wouldn't she be too vulnerable for a commitment like that? After all, by the day of the wedding she wouldn't remember any of their wedding plans.
Actually we do have an explanation for this but, like I say, the film doesn't do a great job convincing the audience with its dialogue. What really helps pull the audience in is the awesome performances. Colin Firth in particular, absolutely knocks it out of the park.
Overall this is pretty straightforward solid drama. I had a lot of fun. And the performances definitely elevate the material.
Review of Judgment Night (1993)
Best thing: The extent to which the protagonists seem trapped in a crime-ridden underworld is almost surreal at times. At one point they are on a late night bus route and the bus absolutely refuses to stop for them. It's like they are locked out of the world they come from and trapped in a nightmarish lower class world of dark streets, abandoned buildings, council flats and street gangs. Michael Leary seems less like a gang leader and more like a monster that preys on the weak.
Worst thing: The decision to try to sell us on Emilio Estevez as some kind of badass.
A kind of horror film that practically turns into urban fantasy. A group of friends find themselves in the wrong part of town and help a man they believe they hit with they hit with the car. When it turns out that he is running away from some creepy figures from some kind of powerful organised crime gang things start to get seriously hairy for our band of unfortunate bystanders.
The protagonists find themselves seemingly trapped in the dingy under-belly of the city and when their lives are on the line it tests their friendships and their personal integrity.
Much better first half than second half, but the main two figures of the gang are seriously creepy. Overall I found this to be fun, but I remembered it being better.
Review of Blood Simple (1984)
Best thing: M. Emmet Walsh as the cynical tactless private eye is really great and must be my favourite character here.
Worst thing: While wonderfully put together, this lacks the humour of later Coen Brothers. It's a little irritating that I can see how the misunderstandings between the characters COULD have been played for comedy, whereas here I'm just frustratedly shouting at the characters to, please, communicate with one another.
Blood Simple is an odd duck in the Coen Brothers filmography. There are plenty of films in their filmography where the comedy is harder to recognise. After all, even in their dark-as-hell Oscar winner No Country For Old Men there are still some comedy moments such as when a potential victim is simply confused while the villain explains that he is deciding his fate in a coin toss. But in no Coen Brothers film is the comedy so difficult to recognise as in Blood Simple.
There's almost a farcical aspect in the way some characters make assumptions about the other characters' intentions. But the film never plays this for laughs. It seems more like this aspect is supposed to be creepy. Almost like we are being encouraged to second guess even elements that have been clearly spelled out. The Coen Brothers always love playing with their audience's perception and they would only get better at this.
Frankly "Blood Simple" is an interesting debut, but it's not as much of a must-watch as most Coen Brothers movies. It's a bit slow and arguably a bit dull. But it's also very well put together with some great performances. It's jusy unusual to have a Coen Brothers film that is solid rather than brilliant.
Review of Ghost In The Shell (2017)
Best thing: While pointing to the gorgeous visuals might seem like a bad sign, I could easily point to Scarlett Johansson's performance or even how badass Takeshi Kitano is as Daisuke Aramaki. But yes, the way the director brings these scenes from the original movie to life is absolutely wonderful. This film works as both a prequel and an homage, which might make it difficult of they were deciding what original visuals to put into a sequel (so I guess it's a relief to the filmmakers that, from what I hear, they won't have to make that decision). Even some new visuals, like Major sending her consciousness into a hacked mind for clues, are really impressive.
Worst thing: The central mystery isn't really all that complex, particularly by comparison to the slow build of the movies. (Then again Ghost In The Shell movies and tv series have that anime tendency of making everything confusing almost for the sake of it. Perhaps a version that's easy to follow isn't such a bad thing.) Part of me feels this should be more complex.
More of an homage to Ghost In The Shell than either an adaptation or a separate story in its own right. Still, as an homage it's really not bad.
It's not as smart as it could be, but I'd question whether the original Ghost In The Shell movies are really as smart as they like to think they are anyway.
Scarlett Johansson is actually a pretty great fit for what has always been quite a cold character and I really feel I was misled by claims that her expressions were “robotic” in this movie.
And yeah, Major's robot body has arguably always been white. In a film with a far wider range of races than the original Japanese cartoons ever had, I think criticising this American homage for whitewashing is more than a little daft. (If they just set it in America with all white actors, like they did with "The Ring", are we saying that would have been better?)
Compelling visuals that pull you into a living breathing portrayal of the world from Mamoru Oshii's anime films. A solid central performance from Scarlett Johansson. Some neat links between this and the original movie make this a cool little prequel to the beloved classic, even while it brings memorable moments from that same film to life.
Review of Commando (1985)
Best thing: When I first saw this, Arnie had just become Governor and I think I had Arnie fatigue. It's difficult to say what it was about this viewing that made me so much more engaged. I think the best thing is always Arnie's charisma and comic timing. Arnie clearly has so much fun with this role and that joy is not infectious.
Worst thing: Dan Hedaya pretending to be the dethroned dictator of a non-existent country is kind of painful.
Arnold Schwarzenegger never could have achieved his incredible film career simply by being big. Apart from in Hercules In New York and possibly Conan the Barbarian, Arnie has always had a great charm and sense of humour.
Apart from a line towards the beginning of the film where Arnie seems to be saying, "Perhaps the Stasi were right about pop music," which I found a little awkward, Arnie otherwise remains a likeable ex-soldier with unparalleled skills in pretty much everything other than remaining inconspicuous.
Actually he also turns out not to be able to fly a plane so what luck that he happens to meet a trainee pilot, who oddly seems to decide to stick with him on his mission before either.realise how vital she will be.
Sure, when Arnie growls, "I lied," at one of the villains, it's one of the many points in the film where things get a little unintentionally comical (though there's a tongue-in-cheek feel to the whole film). But Arnie's charm is such as to make those moments not only enjoyable, but actually highlights of the film.
I must have completely lost interest when this was playing in the living room that one time and I have no idea why. I think this may actually be one of Schwarzenegger's best films.
Review of Death Note (2017)
Best thing: While the obvious choice would be Willem Dafoe going full Green Goblin as the death god Riuk, my favourite aspect would be Lakeith Stanfield as the mysterious L. He captured the bizarre intelligent awkwardness of the character very well.
Worst thing: Not sure why L has special glowing sci-fi sleep glasses. Is that in the manga?
You know how it is. You wait with baited breath for the latest film from one of your favourite directors. After so many disappointments from cherished directors (including, say, Joon-Ho Bong's ridiculous "Okja" movie already appearing on Netflix), you are a little apprehensive.
But then you find, against all expectations, the film is fast-paced, fun, visually dynamic, and a very satisfying experience in general. Perhaps not the very best thing the director has ever done, but a strong entry nonetheless.
Then you read the reviews and it turns out everyone hates it.
I'd seen the first two Japanese live action films. The first didn't finish and the second became convoluted. Frankly it was a bit of a slog. I must admit that I preferred the more sweet and cartoonish appearance of Riuk the death god in the Japanese movies. Willem Dafoe unsurprisingly plays a demon by reprising his Green Goblin performance from Spider-Man, but one creepy aspect of Riuk is how he acts like a friend. However, I think the actor playing L in this new version completely nails it. (Following on from his great performance in a supporting role in Get Out.)
I've heard some purists arguing that the protagonist anti-hero Light is not enough of a megalomaniac in this version. Frankly he is, he just does a better job of lying to himself about it. This is dealt with in more depth by placing our protagonist in opposition to another character similarly keen to play god right from the start, leading to quite a cool little power play between them.
I personally feel that Adam Wingard has managed to create a deeper live action adaptation than the Japanese managed, even while ramping up the pacing.
Review of Wonder Woman (2017)
Best thing: Wonder Woman crossing no man's land. It's a spectacular action sequence.
Worst thing: I don't even begin to understand Wonder Woman's personality. She loves fighting but hates war. She knows that mustard gas is normally sulfur based, but doesn't understand the idea of a war having 'fronts'. She can produce a powerful blast by throwing her wrists together but doesn't use this technique very often. Why?
Is this actually any better than Man of Steel? In that movie Superman was written to seem remarkably bland (particularly considering how much character Henry Cavill had in The Man From UNCLE) and similarly Wonder Woman here seems incredibly bland.
Chris Pine is alright as the male love interest, not least because he seems to have been given an actual plot. Wonder Woman spends most of the film hunting for a villain who might not even exist and, once that side of that story unfolds, she doesn't end up having to work out anything for herself. Everything is spelled out for her and the stakes in her final action sequence and completely unclear.
The only point where I really felt we could cheer for Wonder Woman is where she crosses No Man's Land. For someone who says the whole conflict is unnecessary and solely due to the interference of a god of war, she seems remarkably happy to fight Germans. Still, we can at least recognise that to cut the gordian knot she needs to cause some real damage. No one ia going to be able to cross No Man's Land while the opposing force are still defending their trenches.
So when Wonder Woman is shielding herself from machine gun bullets with her shield and knocking down armoured vehicles with her bare hands it's admittedly pretty cool. Then again, I'm not sure why she doesn't just use her special move where she causes an explosive blast by putting her bracelets together. It looks like enough to knock down an German aircraft if necessary. If she just kept using that, it doesn't look like she'd need much else.
Wonder Woman isn't one of the worst superhero movies, but I'm not accepting the suggestion that it is one of the best. Mediocre and bland. Pretty to look at but with nothing terribly gripping actually happening. If you thought Man of Steel was bad (as I did), I’m not quite sure why you’d find this to be preferable...
Review of Spider-Man Homecoming (2017)
Best thing: Spider-Man interrogating Donald Glover (an actor/comedian who had a whole sketch around enthusiasm on the Internet for him to take the Spider-Man role). Loved it!
Worst thing: So is Spider-Man completely invulnerable now? For all his superpowers, I'd always thought that Spider-Man would be genuinely at risk if his spider-sense didn't help him avoid most attacks. I thought stopping a train with his body in the second Raimi film was going a bit far and there's a similar test of Spider-Man's strength here, but one scene really seems to go too far. I won't spoil how this film pushes Spider-Man's powers beyond the limit, but Spider-Man has a big fight scene straight afterwards and doesn't seem to struggle with any injuries while fighting.
Any review of this novie inevitably has to make reference to the previous attempts at Spider-Man movies. The old tv movie that kick-started the live action tv series didn't really have the same character as the comics, but it did get us excited about a guy who climbs up walls in a cool costume.
I have never understood the praise given to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies. I liked aspects of them. Some of the slapstick style Raimi brings to it works very well, but Tobey Maguire's awkward super-nerd take on the character felt way too on the nose. While the action became more kinetic and there was some decent humour at points in Raimi's Spider-Man 2, but some of the sickly sentimentality became worse than ever. When Peter Parker starts randomly quoting poetry to the girl he dumped who has already happily moved on, it was just so painful.
But enough of me bitching about Raimi's films. His vision of Spider-Man for the big screen had a strong influence on the way we understand Spider-Man but, as a reader of Spider-Man comics during the 90s, I found Mark Webb's Amazing Spider-Man movies were much closer to the comics and much better at pulling on the heart strings. The greatest strength of Webb's Spider-Man movies would have to be the way it portrays the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey. But Webb seemed to be struggling to provide the best product in spite of controlling producers and problems with the writing and I feel that what killed off this series more than anything else may have been the decision to rush into the death of Gwen Stacey. Emma Stone was one of the strongest elements of these films and I can't help but feel that when they were deciding what to do next with the series, the loss of Emma Stone cannot have helped.
So now we have the introduction of Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It definitely can't be accused of being a repeat of what has been done before. Finally Spider-Man has a sense of humour. Tom Holland definitely takes a lot of cues from Andrew Garfield's performance, only he has lots of jokes in the script.
While I think giving Spider-Man a computerised suit is an odd choice, Marvel have pulled their usual trick of making their film very funny, highly entertaining and they've bunged the tried and tested favourite, Iron Man, into the mix to keep the punters happy. But there's no doubt that Tom Holland is the star here and he gives one hell of a performance.
Review of Freejack (1992)
Best thing: The future world with its satirical elements is a lot of fun.
Worst thing: The attempt at a twist at the end was a bit lame.
Freejack is a sci-fi movie that looks a bit cheap and the villains are a bit too cartoonish. In spite of this I found this to be a highly entertaining and surprisingly compelling dystopian sci-fi action film.
The filmmakers don't seem sure on how to end the film, but they definitely know how to make it a fun ride.
Review of The Take (aka Bastille Day) (2016)
Best thing: Even I could tell that Idris Elba's American accent didn't work here (and I was completely convinced that he was American in The Wire). But, despite this, Idris Elba is still a really strong screen presence and a strong central focus for the action and story.
Worst thing: The scenes where Paris is overtaken by rioting show a masked ringleader consistently encouraging the violence. These scenes didn't work for me, partly because they are presented in a way that I found contrived, but also because we saw in the London riots how the violence took on a life of its own. Expecting that rioters are going to follow one lead figure and be united in their spontaneous reactionary violence seemed to expect a high level of suspension of disbelief. Particularly since the filmmakers wanted me to take this seriously.
Idris Elba is great and there are some action moments that work really well. Nevertheless overall this film is just way too dumb.
I don't want to be overly harsh. I didn't have a terrible time. But there is no way I would ever recommend this film.
Idris Elba isn't technically the protagonist. There's a suspect that he ends up teaming up with who doesn't have anything like Elba's charisma, but who we seem to be expected to empathise with for some unclear reason.
The Take is a mediocre action film, but you could definitely do worse.
Review of Okja (2017)
Best thing: The relationship between the little girl and her genetically engineered super-pig is very emotionally powerful.
Worst thing: While it's clear from the extreme swearing that this isn't a children's film, I thought the (*trigger warning dammit!*) savage animal-on-animal rape was going too far. The darker elements and wackier elements don't blend as well as they normally do in Joon-Ho Bong films. However, nowhere is this clash more jarring than in Jake Gyllenhaal's character, a foul-mouthed washed-up children's television personality. His squeaky voice irritated the hell out of me. Gyllenhaal's character here is unbelievable, unbearable and I found him a bit confusing really.
I've always loved Joon-Ho Bong as a director, particularly for his skill in matching clashing tones of humour and dark themes.
In "The Host" he balanced the theme of a savage monster and a viral outbreak against a comic relief family where each family member had their own unique quirks (and yet each has their own emotional moments too).
In Snowpiercer, Tilda Swinton is involved in oppressing and ordering the slaughter of the rear passengers of the train, but in many scenes she's almost child-like. She has a look of innocent joy on her face as she enjoys a piece of on-train propaganda with a class of schoolchildren.
In Okja, Joon-Ho Bong once again combines dark themes with wacky comedy, but these elements do not seem to blend very well.
The opening scene of Okja, telling us about the creepy company run by Tilda Swinton's character, was irritating as hell. It's a big piece of marketing but I can't really imagine anyone getting very excited about it.
It's also hard to understand why it is presented the way it is. Does the audience within the film not understand that the Super-Pigs the corporation is rearing must be genetically engineered? The presentation insists it is not genetically modified and I'm left wondering why the audience are dumb enough to believe it.
And when Tilda Swinton says, "They need to taste f**king good," the use of swearing seems unnecessary, jarring and completely unsuitable for the context. This continues to be the case as the film goes on. Okja often feels like a film for children and the sequences with the little girl protagonist and her cute Super-Pig friend fit that tone and are the parts of the film that works best.
Okja is a big disappointment but it is also a very interesting film. I guess not all of Joon-Ho Bong's films can be perfect. Still there's so much unmet potential due to the way the clash between dark themes and humour falls uncharacteristically flat for Joon-Ho Bong this time.
Review of Tales of Halloween (2015)
Best thing: Neil Marshall's segment concludes the film and, perhaps unwisely, begins by trying to tie the disparate strands together. It features an unconventional villain (that I won't spoil) and it is wonderfully silly.
Worst thing: The voice of the cartoon alien. It was weird enough that they did an 'alien versus Jason' kind of story, and weirder still that the alien is a cutesy cartoon. But that voice? In a film where so many of the stories fail to make that much of an impact, it seems wrong to claim that the worst part is featured in this rather more creative and memorable entry. But seriously that squeaky, yet otherwise perfectly average, voice. It just completely pulls me out of the film in a really annoying way.
The main names that attracted me to this film were Lucky McKee and Neil Marshall.
McKee chose a great actress for the main role and had some great visual ideas for her character's creepy appearance. Unfortunately the ending of that segment feels like a bit of an anti-climax.
Neil Marshall's segment is actually pretty cool. The problem however, and this is true of all the segments, is that nothing in this movie really blows me away. I find myself appreciating anthologies like VHS2 and XX all the more because they have those high points.
Tales of Halloween is fine. That's about it. It has its John Landis cameo and its “Jason vs an alien-possessed body” sequence, so it's not wholly unmemorable. But there's nothing really creepy, really gory or really spectacular here.
Review of Before I Wake (2016)
Best thing: Heck, any of the magical dream sequences are brilliant. This film has a brilliant and creative premise. A child whose dreams become real while he sleeps allows for some pretty cool imagery.
Worst thing: Final resolution seems a little too easy for a number of reasons. Both logistically with the adoption authorities and emotionally considering all the horrifying events leading to that point. That being said, it's not a horribly unsatisfying ending by any means.
Mike Flanagan's "Before I Wake" struggled to be released so after Flanagan's "Hush" became a highly lauded Netflix original it's perhaps not surprising that they were willing to release this film too. (Apparently this was released in UK cinemas, but I must say, it went under the radar.)
The concept is actually brilliant. A child's dreams become real, but so do his nightmares. A boogeyman in his nightmares sometimes escapes and eats people.
The film also has grounding in reality through the adopting couple whose own child died while young and they clearly aren't over it yet.
In the second half the move to a conclusion is a bit awkward. The explanation is quite clever, but I still found the resolution a bit hard to accept. When you are experimenting with anything you generally have to prepare for the possibility that it could go wrong. That has to count double when you are experimenting with the supernatural. Particularly a supernatural entity that can swallow you up making you disappear forever.
Before I Wake is essentially a fantasy movie, but it's also a horror film because magic is creepy. Dreams coming to life can be spectacular and uplifting, but it can also be horrifying. It's a great concept, but I didn't engage that much with the characters here.
Review of House (1985)
Best thing: Such cool inventive supernatural monsters. Very keen on the Vietnam soldier zombie.
Worst thing: The Vietnam scenes may actually be the least believeable part of the film (in a film with flying sentient gardening tools). When the soldiers get surrounded by Vietkong and escape by quickly shooting the enemy troops down it feels very obviously untrue to life. It's okay though, because the fun tone of the film and the general dream-like feel to the scenes mean you can roll with it.
I love a good horror comedy and House is just so much fun. And it helps that we have great characters to follow.
When you have a ghost story it helps when it is grounded by real life elements. Here there is a suggestion that the hauntings may actually be connected to the protagonist's flashbacks to his time in Vietnam.
While the ending makes no sense it's somehow fitting and the film is fun enough that it doesn't matter.
There's something really sweet about House. There are parts that are a little cheesy and the film allows itself to get a little too silly in places. But this is a solid fun film and well worth checking out if you want a light fun horror comedy.
Review of Alien (theatrical cut) (1979)
Best thing: This is a film that benefits from being simple but effective. While shots of the main alien are short and, having seen the sequel first, I'd already seen the alien in all its glory, the really interesting part for me is the face hugger. The shot where it starts tightening its grip with its tail around John Hurt's neck is awesome.
Worst thing: The alien is so fast you cant see it coming, even when it is right on top of you. Yet Ripley is able to spot it on route to the shuttle without it seeing her and decides in this long inter-weaving set of corridors that there is no other way to the shuttle. This glimpse of the alien is so short and unclear that I’ve wondered for years why she decides to shut down the self destruct. Now I know, but it's confusingly presented.
Yeah I know, everyone loves Alien and thinks its the best of that series. Fine. But I was actually shown Aliens first so I'd seen far more lingering shots of the alien before, not mention lots of aliens before. Plus the aliens I'd seen seemed to be able to move much in a more graceful manner.
In my opinion, the moment the alien finishes with John Hurt, the pacing in Alien takes a massive hit. I really get tired of all the running down corridors. I tried the director's cut a while back and was surprised to find that, despite being shorter, it drags even more. I definitely had a much better time here with the original cut.
And another thing that's really bugged me. There's one scene where it appears to be raining inside the ship. Is it a big leak somewhere? The ship maintenance technician in that scene doesn't seen alarmed and in fact decides to wash his face in the dripping water! Nobody else bugged by this? Just me?
Naturally, for all my qualms, I do still like Alien. It's a pretty simple horror film, but the first half with the face hugger is so good and there are enough cool moments in the second half to tide me over.
I very much like the dystopian totalitarian Mother computer system that dictates what they do from a creepy plain black screen. But overall not much is really done with this aspect. It isn't used to develop the kind of wider themes we see in Prometheus or Covenant. But, like I said, it's simple and effective.
Alien is a cool little sci-fi horror movie and I'm glad it has been so influential. But for me, I think it becomes very dated the minute you see James Cameron's bigger bolder sequel.
Review of Aliens (Director's Cut) (1986)
Best thing: The discovery and skirmish with the alien queen is incredible. This is a film that is made by its last act. It actually drags a little at some points in the middle, but that finale turns out to be well worth the wait.
Worst thing: Can Noot please just shut the hell up? She has the most annoying voice ever!
Thinking back, I only really like three of James Cameron's movies. The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Aliens. Somehow James Cameron's sensibilities at the time matched very nicely with the Alien mythology and he really had something to say with his 'marine corp in space' concept.
The concept of the alien queen fits in so neatly and so nicely, it feels almost like they must have had this concept in mind from the start. The design of the queen, however, was absolutely mesmerising.
I was watching the director's cut and I think that's my preferred version of the film. That being said, I always find it jarring when Captain Hollister from Red Dwarf shows up as someone helping to manage the colony.
Aliens is now a classic sci-fi action movie along with Cameron's similarly iconic Terminator films. This is an absolute must-see
Review of Aenigma (1987)
Best thing: As you'd expect from Lucio Fulci, there are some very inventive deaths. My favourite involved a girl trying to get out of a room with her boyfriend's decapitated body. But every door she opens comes back into the same room. Great stuff!
Worst thing: The opening to this film is incredibly dumb. "We thought we'd set up a complicated prank involving setting up microphones around her fake date and then driving our cars at her." What? Also the death by snails is a bit hard to take seriously.
Okay it's official. I'm a massive Lucio Fulci fan now. Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond (oh my god!), A Cat In The Brain and now Aenigma. Seriously, this stuff is great. Nightmarish, crazy-gory and creepy as hell but with that sense of fun that all good horror films need.
Aenigma is about a girl taking her revenge from a coma by possessing a new girl to the school of the girls who bullied her. (I thought Fulci's work was supposed to be misogynistic? The character of the new girl felt very anti-slut-shaming and the film features the violent murder of predatory man.
It's not quite the same visceral horror as you get from zombie attacks and Aenigma isn't always as gory asFulci's other films, but this is still a strong horror film and surprisingly plot-driven for a Fulci movie.
Review of Blade Runner: Final Cut (1982)
Best thing: Rutger Hauer is amazing in every scene. The whole way he moves and acts is so creepy in such a fascinating way. It's easy to see why Anne Rice envisioned him as the vampire Lestat. However, the visuals will always be the very best thing about Blade Runner. When I first watched the film it seemed darker and less captivating, possibly because it was on VHS. I don't know if it's the improvements in the Final Cut or just that I'm watching a DVD, but it's brighter and I can finally make out all the little details.
Worst thing: Seriously, what is the point in the rape scene here? It's hard enough to connect with Harrison Ford's character without him being an utter prick. Is it to show how low Rachael has sunk? We met her as a secretary in a smart outfit and now she's on the run and in an abusive relationship. That's pretty dark, but it's a side-show to the story of the replicants confronting their creators.
When I first saw Blade Runner I didn't get it. It was a dark dingy vision of the future. In some scenes it was actually hard to even make out was happening. The characters were often intentionally weird because they are robots and the lead protagonist is withdrawn and we never really come to know him. There was also a slow dull scene where the protagonist is sitting around playing piano and dreaming of unicorns that seemed to go on forever.
Watching the Final Cut, everything is better. The visuals are clearer. The unicorn dream scene doesn't seem to last so long or drag so much. Somehow Ford seems to have a little more personality this time. I have read that they cut a swear word and replaced it with father, but in a film where, on first viewing, I struggled to understand the point, a line like "I want more life father" feels more suitable thematically.
I keep hearing people complain that Blade Runner: The Final Cut removes the ambiguity over whether Harrison Ford is a replicant. Frankly, if he's not a replicant, the unicorn dream is a dumb waste of time. The Final Cut's final scene shows us clearly what silver origami animal Harrison Ford picks up and the better pacing made it easier to grasp the full significance of this. It makes this a proper ending rather than just leaving me cold like the original director's cut did.
The Final Cut is the only version of this film that I actually like. Besides, Rutger Hauer, the main characters are still too flat and this is a film more focused on mood than story or character. I know Blade Runner is viewed as a classic, but for me it's just 'fine'.
P.S. This video indicates that another change in the final cut from the director’s cut is an increase in the amount of gore. We’re only talking about a few short clips, but I think it really does help to add to the drama and up the stakes. It’s one thing seeing that Rutget has stabbed himself with a nail, but seeing that he has to shove it all the way through his hand? It’s more impactful and makes it clearer how short term this solution must be. The upcoming demise of the replicants as they track down their creators is a vital part of the film, so it’s not just gore for the sake of it. It’s an important part of the dramatic progression of the film. Drama that I thought was way too lacking in the first “director’s cut”.
Review of Dirty Harry (1971)
Best thing: Do ya punk?
Worst thing: How long have you been a detective? You don't know how the law works? I can understand Dirty Harry being frustrated by how the system works, but as a seasoned detective it's hard to understand why he's so surprised that a perp will walk in those circumstances.
Dirty Harry felt like it was full of clichés, most likely because it was the first film to do any of those things. Dirty Harry is the original "I work alone" cop-on-the-edge.
Clint Eastwood is great, of course. He's a little too chilled at times, mind you, but that is how his character is written. There's a scene where he's saying he'd rather they didn't cut off his trousers to remove a bullet. Seriously dude! You'll at least have a bullet hole in them anyway, not to mention bloodstains.
But in any case, Dirty Harry is a classic for a reason. Some elements struck me as a little ludicrous, such as when they are being attacked with a machine gun and no one is calling for backup, but I had a lot of fun.
My Review of 21 (2008)
Best thing: Kevin Spacey being intimidating or ethically questionable is always great.
Worst thing: Right from the beginning this film had me screaming at the screen: "Stop saying chicken dinner!" Seriously how did they think the protagonist targeting the audience with a condescending voiceover would be a good idea?
The premise is pretty cool but none of it ever comes close to seeming real.
A bright kid is frustrated by his lack of money, but he discovers that one of his teachers is showing groups of students how to win at Blackjack by counting cards.
The film seems to follow a clear formula and the presentation of the film isn't that exciting. It was actually frustrating how close this was to being a good film.
21 is annoyingly average, but too much of the film is plain naff for me to recommend it.
Review of The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? (2015)
A pretty thorough documentary on the unmade film "Superman Lives!" The main aim seems to be countering the ridicule on the internet brought on by a photo of Nicolas Cage mid-blink, wearing an ugly purple Superman outfit. This is mainly established by some behind the scenes footage, though the documentary puts that footage into a clear context. The highlight of this documentary is the big reveal of a suit with internal lights that is quite spellbinding.
All that being said, there's limited benefit in unpacking the making a film that was never made. It feels quite clear that much of what was done did not lead to a movie for good reason.
This documentary on Superman Lives still demonstrates some interesting things:
- That Kevin Smith's script probably wasn't all that good.
- That the producer Kevin Smith worked with really WAS desperate to make a movie that included a giant spider.
- The reason that studio projects continue to go through development and investment for long periods with no sign of a release date is basically ‘sunk cost fallacy’. (The more creative turmoil the project goes through and the more they spend, the harder it is to accept that they should just give up on the project.)
- The way that the intentions for Superman Lives! fed into later iterations i.e. that it should have a greater level of action, that it should involve the ‘death of Superman’ story line, that it should re-imagine Superman's home world of Krypton. (These are all elements that Singer's Superman Returns would shy away from.).
As a pleasing portrayal of a variety of interesting aspects of a failed production, including old behind the scenes footage and more recent interviews, “The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?” certainly feels worthy of your time if the subject matter appeals to you. I enjoyed it.
Review of Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Best thing: Kong is admittedly a film that relies on its action sequences. My favourite is probably the initial confrontation between Kong and the attack helicopters. What better way to show the distinction between traditional Kong and this super-sized behemoth than to have him take out far more threatening craft than those that knocked Kong off the Empire State Building and to have him handle them so easily.
Worst thing: I know you wanted John C. Reilly for the role. I get that. But how do you possibly explain him putting on that much weight when he's stranded on an island? And even if we imagine that he's found some kind of ultra sugary fruit and simply overindulged over the years, why would he resize his army uniform rather than wearing clothes like the tribe he is living with?
Kong: Skull Island is a solid action film with some great visual touches. There isn't much of a plot, but the film is still consistently fun.
The original King Kong is a classic that has been remade way too many times already, but Kong: Skull Island isn't just a repeat of the same old story. In fact Kong is barely even the same character. He's as big as a blooming skyscraper! If he tried to climb the Empire State Building it would collapse!
Sure Kong is silly, but my goodness is it a lot of fun. The characters successfully pulled me in. This isn't a top pick for the year, but it is a satisfying watch and a lot better than I'd been expecting.
Review of The Unknown Girl (2016)
Best thing: I think the sheer ballsiness of the protagonist is probably the best thing. I spent the film asking myself why she keeps putting herself at risk, but I never found it hard to believe that this character WOULD do those things. The protagonist has a very consistent and uncompromising drive for some kind of personal redemption, driven out of proportion by her own feelings of guilt.
Worst thing: This isn't what I'd call a particularly exciting film. It's interesting, sure, but I didn't get a lot of catharsis out of this personally.
The Unknown Girl doesn't have spaceships, it doesn't have gore, and it doesn't have character's shouting dramatically and while the camera gives us a closeup of the lines on their face.
The Unknown Girl has its dramatic moments but it doesn't play them up. It's quite naturalistic. I actually feel naturalism in film is a bit of a dirty word. I can't say that I really like the decision not to emphasise the drama, but I do appreciate the tense moments a great deal.
I can't much relate to the protagonist's decisions, but I do find it interesting. Even as a film that I'd say wasn't really my thing, I must say this was a pretty interesting little drama
Review of Lucy (2014)
Best thing: The visuals are exciting and beautiful. I've heard it said that Lucy becomes way too powerful for the film to have any stakes. But actually I think the visuals are so cool that I was not worried about how unlikely it was for Lucy to be defeated.
Worst thing: Naturally the whole premise that we don't use more than 10% of our brain is nonsense and the claims about what would happen if we used more are therefore even dumber. Nevertheless the idea of a woman who is able to reach abilities beyond the reach of the average human being makes for an interesting concept and the way that unfolds almost compensates for the dumb explanation behind it. What I actually find to be the worst thing is the way Min-Sik Choi is completely wasted as the villain here.
Luc Besson is a director I generally find pretty solid. The first Besson film I saw was Leon which is one of my all-time favourite films. He followed that up with The Fifth Element which is a fun sci-fi adventure (also seemingly taking some inspiration from Blade Runner). After that he released his action movie about the life of Joan of Arc, titled The Messenger, which I found incredibly underrated. After a gap Besson released Angel-A which convinced me that Besson must have really lost his edge, but then I was really impressed by Adele Blanc-Sec. Besson then released The Family which I thought was fine, which brings us to Besson's sci-fi action movie Lucy.
On the basis of the trailer, I was convinced I would hate Lucy. Frankly, even in context, the concept came across as dumb as expected, and even Morgan Freeman's authoritative tone couldn't give it credibility.
What kept me on board, however, was the exciting visuals from Besson. As silly and hollow as the plot might be, Besson does a great job depicting Johannson as a woman losing her connection to humanity as she becomes ever more god-like, transcending our ordinary perspectives on time and space.
I've heard it argued that Johansson's character has too much power for the baddies to be a serious threat. My issue though is that the baddies simply aren't relevant to the story. We never know enough about them to justify their sub-plot.
Perhaps the idea is to contrast petty violence with perfect wisdom, but considering that your villains have wherewithall to create intelligence-boosting super drugs, not to mention their willingness to engage in a full fledged gun battle with the police even when it looks like the jig is up, they seem to be beyond the typical comment on the vulgarity of human nature.
In the end the visuals are used to try to make it look like this film has something to say, but it isn't quite enough to make up for the fact that the plot is dumb as hell.
Luc Besson has an excellent grasp of cinematic catharsis and is able to build up emotional response in a way that, for example, George Lucas' Star Wars prequels completely lacked. I feel like Luc Besson had higher ideals for what he wanted to convey with this premise than the lazy pseudo-intellectual script could really support. The visuals in Lucy are actually smarter than the dialogue.
There's more potential here than I would have expected, but I still can't recommend it. But this still has a bit of the Luc Besson magic.
Review of The Void (2016)
Best thing: The Void is a wonderful Lovecraftian nightmare-scape reminiscent of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond and John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness, among many others. It's not just the visuals but also the incredible oppressive atmosphere they invoke that makes this so thrilling.
Worst thing: Somehow The Beyond could have no plot and yet it didn't matter. For me, The Void doesn't manage to reach that same level. I was very aware that The Void features a few fairly thin characters and pretty much no plot
Okay so the central couple are the least interesting characters, but the supporting characters occasionally get some great moments. Particularly when Ellen Wong forces us to consider, would you try to perform a caesarian if you had almost no idea what you were doing but were both the mother and unborn child's only hope for survival?
There are some deliciously evil characters, some hood wearing creepy henchmen, and some characters a little more informed on the situation who gave up on conflicted emotions and ethical qualms several hours ago.
The effects are creepy, gruesome and spectacular. I wish the filmmakers would linger a bit more on the special effects model-work here but we still get great monster effects all the same.
I also absolutely love the glimpses of the world inside the void. It's another source of spectacular visuals that really build up the nightmarish Fulci-esque atmosphere.
Style over substance? Yeah probably. But this is a horror film with some serious style.
Review of Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
Best thing: The young actress, Lulu Wilson, does a great possessed girl act and the scenes where she gets to be evil are a lot of fun.
Worst thing: This is a film that loses its way in the third act. There's a bit of a mystery, but the resolution felt incredibly contrived to me.
In the first half there was a cool period-specific horror piece and I loved how it set up the family. The best possession effects are generally in the first half and if you've seen the trailer you've seen the best bits. Still, the way those elements play out is a lot of fun.
But in the second half where they start trying to give the ghosts a backstory, that's where the film fell down for me. Plots about helping ghosts or resolving a ghost's unfinished business often fall flat for me.
I fully accept that I am biased against ghost stories (though not necessarily possession stories, so this wasn't a foregone conclusion), but for me, having really enjoyed the first half, this final act was a mess.
Review of Silence (2016)
Best thing: The scene where Andrew Garfield finally meets up with Liam Neeson is really interesting.
Worst thing: In all the arguments with the Japanese authorities couldn't there have been a little more mention of how immoral it is to slaughter innocent people? I know Christendom wouldn't shy away from violence to establish themselves, but I still don't understand why that line of argument isn't more prominent.
Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson in a film from director Martin Scorcese with positive buzz? Clearly I had to check it out. 99 Homes had me really excited to check out Andrew Garfield's post-Spider-Man work and I was even more excited when I heard that Andrew Garfield is quite clearly the central protagonist here.
I have to admit that, as you'd expect, this is a very well made film. The acting is great, the film is shot very well and the film is consistently tense.
My issue was that after a while I felt I lost the point of it. Silence hammers home how horrible the situation is. I understand that the film takes a different direction in the third act, but that was perhaps the most confusing part.
I like that Silence has an ambiguous ending and goodness knows that this film is thought provoking. But, for me, Silence is too slow and grim for me to really love. I can still recommend it all the same, just as long as you know what you are letting yourself in for.
Review of The Handmaiden (2016)
Best thing: There is a scene where a character 'demonstrates' a sexual position for an audience. It is a shocking moment and also marked an unexpected shift in tone for the film.
Worst thing: Though it is possible that actual lesbians may say that this is a tasteful depiction of a believeable lesbian relationship, I must say, I'd be surprised. I haven't asked any at this stage. In the first half I thought the film was being pretty tasteful, holding back from going too gratuitous. By the second half it was clear that the film would be showing no restraint at all. (Not that anyone goes to a Chan-Wook Park film expecting restraint, if they have any sense.)
The Handmaiden is a visually spectacular costume drama with a mystery unfolding in a very compelling way. It's a 'dangerous liasons'-esque plot involving a woman being seduced and taken in marriage.
Our protagonist has been sent to try to set things up behind the scenes. She's a practised thief and goes in knowing full well that the plan is to cheat a young woman out of her fortune.
There are some pretty gratuitous erotic scenes, but the intention of the filmmaker is clearly that they should be respectful of the characters involved. Naturally since this is a Chan-Wook Park movie, we also get gratuitous violence and some of that is absolutely awesome.
Is there inconsistency in that the villains are a bunch of pervy men when the film is quite clearly going to have much that would appeal to pervy men? I'd like to think not. There is a clear division made between the perversions of the men and the loving relationship on the other.
Chan-Wook Park really seems to have honed his craft now. I wasn't a fan of Thirst or I'm A Cyborg and thought those were rather messy and tonally confused. But both The Handmaiden and Stoker are utterly brilliant and I'm now completely back on board as a Park fan.
Review of Scrooged (1988)
Best thing: There are some fantastic touches in this film. My favourite is probably the ghost of his old boss. This scene involves some amazing effects as he turns up still drinking and smoking in a body that is falling apart.
Worst thing: In some parts of the scenes with the ghost of Christmas present, she was annoying as hell.
I was a bit frightened to revisit Scrooged because I don't remember it being all that special, but I do remember enjoying it.
Thankfully Scrooged holds up much better than I expected. Bill Murray's comic ability makes this film what it is.
Bill Murray plays a television producer who exhibits the narcissism that Murray's characters so often possess. Murray has had a busy day. He fires an underling just before Christmas for raising a concern. He sends various people towels for Christmas. However the big event was releasing a trailer for the studio's adaptation of A Christmas Carol that pretends it is a high-octane action thriller. With all that done, an old boss comes back from the dead warning him to change his ways and advising Murray to expect a visit from three Christmas ghosts.
The appearance by Murray's boss is actually one of my favourite scenes in the movie. He's drinking even though it escapes from holes in his body even while he's drinking. It looks like the man's body is a dried up husk that could easily fall apart, even while he's casually chatting to Bill Murray with the bravado of a high flying businessman.
The ghost of Christmas past as a taxi driver is pretty cool. The woman in a fairy outfit as the ghost of Christmas present was pretty irritating, particularly with her high pitched voice and the prevalence of slapstick in her scenes.
The humour isn't always consistent, but it's still a lot more consistent than I feared. The finale is a bit too talky. Quite often films seem to struggle to work out how they should wrap everything up, but I'm not sure they needed to stretch out the final segment for that long because that's a long section where Murray is not really so funny as in the bulk of the movie.
Remarkably solid Murray comedy. Not up there with Groundhog Day or Quick Change, but pretty great nonetheless.
Review of Wrong Turn At Tahoe (2009)
Best thing: The initial meeting between thve two protagonists and the criminal kingpin played by Harvey Keitel is intense and kind of classy.
Worst thing: The final twist is incredibly lame and completely unearned.
Another film from director Franck Khalfoun who worked with writer/director Alexandre Aja on some of his other projects like Maniac and P2. There are good aspects and Harvey Keitel brings a lot of class, but in the end this is all a bit predictable.
Not exactly bad, but really not great. All hell breaks loose in the second half in a way that is quite fun, but personally I didn't think the final twist made much sense.
Review of Alien Covenant (2017)
Best thing: Michael Fassbender's turn as two different androids is an incredible performance. This interaction also serves tie up the film's themes in a really exciting way.
Worst thing: Some of the CG effects are great, but some has that overly shiny effect. Normally effects artists will get a lighting reference of some kind when filming that they can use to make the lighting on the computer generated elements look more natural and allow them to blend in better. There are particular moments here where that doesn't seem to have worked.
Okay, so I'm a Prometheus supporter. We may not be a majority, but I think more people out there would be willing to say they enjoyed Prometheus than, say, Masters of the Universe (of which I am also a fan).
Prometheus had some gorgeous visuals, some very interesting ideas on religion and on ancient concepts of sacrifice. It also had a fascinating central character in the form of David, the android with daddy issues.
Sure Prometheus has some characters making stupid decisions and some of the dialogue was pretty hokey, but there's always an over-arching theme. When a character decides rather unwisely that he will take his helmet off without doing full safety checks, the film is illustrating faith. When two characters seem to be practically suicidal in their lack of caution as they approach a creepy snake-like creature, these are two scientists and the scene evokes the old adage curiosity-killed-the-cat.
In Covenant I think the characters feel much more like characters in their own right, rather than symbols for themes. As with Prometheus, there are a number of characters who are mainly canon fodder and I had a harder time keeping track of all the crew members on the ship this time. Still while the main players aren't such larger than life figures as Charlize Theron in Prometheus, I found there were a wider range of engaging ordinary-seeming people.
The symbolism and larger-than-life performance is saved for Fassbender's two android characters. David comes back again, but the new ship called Covenant has its own Fassbender droid called Walter.
The themes of creation and responsibility for your creation are quite focused in Covenant. Ridley Scott is exploring some deep philosophical themes in a genuinely interesting way.
One aspect of this film I heard complaints about was the proto-morph. I've heard it questioned why the proto-morph seems to be more deadly than the Alien. Why does the android David call the Alien "the perfect organism", considering its weakness by comparison to the proto-morph?
But it's not all that odd really. The proto-morph doesn't have a life cycle. It takes its form based on the life around it but it is formed from the black substance and does not breed. The purpose of the black substance introduced in Prometheus is to destroy all living organisms. It isn't a spoiler to say that we are moving towards the birth of the Alien which very definitely DOES reproduce. So that is the important difference between them. But that doesn't mean the Alien is more powerful. I actually quite like that the proto-morphs birth quicker, grow quicker and are much more brutal.
The Lovecraftian goo births from organisms a powerful being, that doesn't breed, to destroy the organism from which it was born.
What makes the Alien perfect is that same destructive force breeding and reproducing forever. The proto-morph is the temporary by-product of a biological weapon of mass destruction aimed at destroying the biological life on a planet. The Engineers could use that to destroy a creation of theirs that has gone awry, but they could return a better creation to that planet afterwards. But the aliens are pure destructive horror and perpetually reproduce and destroy. Arguably like humanity, they dominate and destroy at a faster rate than their environment can sustain.
I would have liked to have seen more from the Engineers, but I was pleased to see them appear at all. I hope the next instalment will have the Engineers and the Aliens pitched against one another. (And doesn't the first Alien movie make that inevitable?) A fantastic piece of fan art has me really excited to see this show down on the big screen.
Ridley Scott has decided to take a new direction with this science fiction universe and I, for one, really appreciate his efforts. I've always been a fan of sci-fi first and horror second and the sci-fi aspect of these new Alien films is the bit I think works best.
Review of The Visitor (1979)
Best thing: There are some quite incredible visuals here, but my favourite part of the film is possibly the ice skating fight. (Yes, you read that right.)
Worst thing: I actually think this film suffers from progressing a little too logically. The clues that this is an Italian horror are present, but the dream-like quality that you'd see in a Fulci movie doesn't seem so consistent here. It also doesn't help that this is light on gore too.
This is completely nuts and I love it.
The trailer promised an over the top Italian production that is both bizarre and beautiful. The pacing is a bit weird, but the visuals and the atmosphere do much to make up for it.
In order to enjoy this, you really need to be on board with the Italian movie style. While this doesn't have the extreme gore of the Fulci movies I love, it still has that same captivating style like a waking nightmare.
The Visitor is essentially a version of The Omen where the evil child is the daughter of an evil alien rather than the son of the devil. Also you can have more than one evil alien child, so the daughter is constantly trying to persuade her mother to have another child. (So creepy!)
The Visitor is a gorgeous film and a weird film, but it also drags in places. Some of the dialogue felt a bit odd to me. I had a lot of fun, but the Italian style both enhances and detracts from The Visitor in pretty much equal measure.
I had a lot of fun but, in spite of some beautiful imagery in places, it's trashy fun.
Review of Singh Is King (2008)
Best thing: When a comic character who keeps pretending not to be partially deaf and blind suddenly appears in a Michael Jackson outfit, that was a lot of fun (and a musical sequence that fit much more solidly with the plot)
Worst thing: One of the more romantic songs is not only less fun than the other songs, but doesn't even come close to earning the emotional response it seems to expect to elicit from us.
A foolish figure from a Punjabi village is persuaded to leave his village because he causes so much trouble. The excuse used to get him to leave is that his brother, who is a drug kingpin in Australia, needs to come home to see their sick father. When he tracks down his brother, his brother ends up being incapacitated, so our foolish protagonist becomes the new ‘King’ but encourages his hoodlums to embrace Sikh values and cease their involvement in crime. Meanwhile there is a romantic storyline going on, which is where the focus of the story is really. The romantic plot resolves as you’d expect.
I'm not really terribly familiar with bollywood films. There is much in this film that is very charming, but it's pretty tough to stay engaged when there's so little at stake.
As fun as this film often is, it is all incredibly contrived and goofy. I enjoyed the various sequences, I eventually started to enjoy the musical sequences, but I was never really particularly gripped by the story.
The typical story cliches are here. The heir to a fortune is engaged to a mean and selfish man when she ought to be with the poor but good-hearted man, but this is telegraphed so far in advance that it just feels shallow. Another example is the question of whether bad people are irredeemable or whether they can change, but the bad people are so quickly and easily persuaded to leave their life of crime that the question is practically irrelevant.
Silly and sappy nonsense, but well-performed and quite fun. The performers put their all into this show, but the writing is incredibly shallow.
What the hell is the point of having Snoop Dogg do a version of the theme tune at the end? I mean, listening to his lyrics, I doubt he had any idea what the film was even about.
Review of Anti-Birth (2016)
Best thing: Chloë Sevigny has a really strong screen presence, even moreso than the protagonist. I was convinced that I had seen her in many other films, but I only really seem to know her as the secretary from American Psycho.
Worst thing: The story gets way too dark and convoluted. It's revealed early on that the protagonist's friend is involved in drug dealing and they have a mutilated drug addict being exploited by them. The film seems very relaxed about this and it didn't fit with the fun tone in the rest of the film. (Even the straight-up horror in the final scene seems more sweet and silly than a film with mutilated female drug addicts being casually mistreated.)
This was a less well-known horror film, but I must admit that I was intrigued by the title. Responses to the film weren't wholly negative and I went in ready for anything.
Frankly I found this to be a bit of a mess. I felt the central character was reasonably well rounded, but there wasn't any obvious connection between her situation and her position of being mysteriously impregnated.
Was the intention to say something about drug addiction? The way an addiction gets inside you and takes over your life, or something? Or was this movie actually about sexual assault? I really don't know. It mainly seemed to be about the dangers of having a friend who becomes a drug dealer with her drug dealing boyfriend.
Some good performances and the finale had some pretty cool, albeit goofy, effects. Nevertheless I found this film to be pretty dire.
I honestly didn’t just try to watch a whole series of films in a row, losing interest in each one. (Though now I’ve been introduced to Netflix, it looks like that could happen pretty easily.)
Stresses involved in moving house and switching jobs meant that I ended up with an enormous backlog of films to review. Having now finally reached the end of that backlog, it now felt like time to clarify why I haven’t ever reviewed the following films. These are often films that were recommended very highly or that I was very keen to watch.
I generally try to watch a film to the end before reviewing it. These are films I am not reviewing. They proved not to be my sort of thing and I have written an explanation in each case.
Manchester By The Sea (2016)
Dull miserable film. Our first introduction to the protagonist involves him starting a fight while drunk. The filmmakers seemed to be daring me to hate their protagonist and so, well, congratulations on that front at least...
The Toxic Avenger (1984)
Does anyone actually think having a bunch of attractive scantily clad actresses makes up for the complete absence of entertaining plot, dialogue, and any sort of quality filmmaking in general? This is why Bio-Cop wasn't made into a full film. Toxic Avenger would make a great fake trailer, but the joke isn't good enough to last through a full length movie.
The BFG (2016)
Spielberg, is this really what you think London is like? Roald Dahl's stories are dark and often terrifying and that's why we love them. When the protagonist is first picked up by the BFG we are supposed to find this frightening. I mean how could being plucked from your bed by a giant hand fail to totally freak you out? This is a story about giants that eat children and the tone is all wrong. Perhaps if I'd left it longer? But we'd already seen a kidnapping by a giant portrayed as an exciting action sequence. If you want a great Dahl adaptation, watch The Witches. If you don't want a great Dahl adaptation then congratulations, Spielberg's The BFG is the film for you... ugh!
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
I just don't get it. I don't know what to say. I like Pride and Prejudice. I like zombies. I don't think this attempt to combine the two is even remotely coherent. The Bennett sisters would not engage in armed combat. It's just impossible for me to see them as the same characters. And I just feel the entire universe set up here is a bit flat. Apparently Matt Smith is good in this film, but I couldn't hang on long enough to find out.
Surely no one can relate better to the idea of wanting to identify with He-Man than myself. I put so many plastic swords down the back of my t-shirt as a child; naturally with the intention of then pulling the sword from behind me, raising it above my head and shouting, "I have the power!" So why is it that the point in the film where Chappie is introduced to Masters of the Universe is the point where I completely gave up? Perhaps after the film had already felt so ridiculously contrived for so long and after the Die Antwerp duo had already struck me as incredibly irritating, seeing Die Antwerp introducing our robot protagonist to He-Man in a contrived way was the final straw.
Pulse (Kairo) (2001)
I heard that this was a good Japanese Horror in the vein of Ring with a terrible remake. However, on v checking out the original movie I was surprised how slow and dull it was. I really tried, but so little happens, the colours are so washed out, and the lead character is so flat. I just lost all interest.
Mistress America (2015)
After Frances Ha was so sweet and instantly appealing, I thought this would have the same charm. I did not expect self-absorbed mumbling. I haven't watched Frances Ha for a while but I remember it being genuinely funny right from the start. This is most definitely not.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
I just want to begin by saying, I haven't changed my mind about Andrew Garfield. I still think he was great in the Amazing Spider-Man movies and continued to be great in 99 Homes and Silence. And actually he is still great here, but the way this film is written is atrocious. Nobody seems to talk like a human being. Garfield's protagonist has the most contrived sweet innocent relationship and then when he meets his contrived quirky troupe of soldiers it just became all too obvious that I wasn't connecting with any characters here. I didn't even get to see them go to war. I couldn't bring myself to return to this film.
Father's Day (2011)
I was hoping for a step up from Manborg but this obnoxious vulgar unfunny cheesy nonsense is definitely a step down. Manborg had some absolutely terrible acting and effects that were clearly cutting corners, but it has a unique style that I liked and some of the jokes really clicked with me. Father's day starts with a murderer going to town on a body in a gross scene that is intended to be taken seriously. It feels like about 10 minutes watching a serial killer being gross and about 30 seconds of him being dispatched by a vigilante. It's very unsatisfying. Once we finally move past this entirely unappealing opening we are finally introduced to what is presumably our protagonist - and he appears to be about to prostitute himself, offering a blow job to a stranger..... Give me a break.
The Babysitter (2017)
I heard this was a lot of fun. In order to have fun with a film I need to connect with the characters and in this film nobody talks like a real person. I felt like perhaps the weird lines from some bullies was supposed to be funny, but I couldn't see how. The titular babysitter randomly turns up to give our protagonist a lift home and acts like his best friend, clearly ignoring the way he is leering at her and how inappropriately close their relationship might seem to the boy. I felt a bit creeped out by that to be honest.
Jungle Book (2016)
That kid is SO frikking annoying!
And why have they taken a children's film and made given it a long dark slow-paced intro? It seems to be following a kind of Batman Begins-esque mould except that the protagonist feels like a LESS believable character as a result of the slow build-up. Also, giving us a deeper insight into this world makes it more obviously a silly children's film. If predators agree not to eat prey during the dry season, they'd die. A world where carnivores agree not to eat other animals for months is a world completely divorced from reality.
Having re-watched some films and checked out some for the first time I've finally come up with my list of movies released in 2007 in the UK that I recommend most highly. I previously only had a top 5 for this year (and I think the top five is pretty much unbeatable), but I've finally worked out a full top 10 (and there are even a couple of honourable mentions here. Recommendations get stronger and stronger the further you work your way down....
The Lives of Others
1.This Is England
The monster-love story seems somehow beautiful and natural. Our protagonist goes on holiday after the traumatic death of a loved one and meets someone who is very different from anyone he’s ever met before; perhaps even more different than he initially suspects….
An awesome anthology film of some crazy stories. Comparisons have been made with Quentin Tarantino, which doesn’t really fit as a compliment, but I can see what they mean. There’s a bit of a Pulp Fiction feel in places since the stories often move in extreme and surprising directions involving some gritty violence and dark themes. The final story involves a wedding that goes out of hand in the most hilarious way. Wild Tales is a superb black comedy.
I had no idea that Alex Garland had something this awesome up his sleeve. I couldn’t get into his novel The Beach and his screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine both seemed to come into difficulties in the third act. Ex Machina presents itself initially as being about the Turing Test, and in a way that’s precisely what it is about, but it goes further than that. This is about proving the inner higher level consciousness and that means our ability to empathise and to deceive. This is about the whole dark gammet of the human psyche. Does an artificial intelligence creep us out more by being not quite like us or by being exactly like us? And how do you test the ability to deceive without using deception? Ex Machina is a genuinely philosophical film. The Matrix skirted over a whole bunch of serious philosophical questions, but Ex Machina prompts so many complex questions and explores those ideas. With tour de force performances from Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac and Domhall Gleeson, this is one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time. Its strengths are its intelligent sci-fi elements.
1. The Martian
I said Ex Machina was one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, so do I think The Martian is an even greater sci-fi film? Well… sort of.
The Martian is a fantastic film, but part of the appeal is the grounded-ness of it. The Martian might be said to be about mortality and the triumph of the human spirit, but it’s not so focused on abstract concepts. The Martian is essentially about a potential future mission by NASA. It’s able to feel grounded because it is based on the current capabilities of the NASA space program.
The Martian is definitely a sci-fi movie, but only because what it something taking place in a future not yet reached. But in essence it has more in common with a true life drama like Apollo 13. I definitely had similar feelings about both films. It has been noted before that you may be more excited by Apollo 13 if you are not already fully informed on the real life story. The Martian benefits from Ridley Scott’s exciting visual presentation, our lack of familiarity with the idea of being trapped on a planet, but mostly from the colourful characters.
The most exciting character is obviously Matt Damon’s protagonist, but Jeff Daniels and Sean Bean are also great. I found Benedict Wong great as the head of the engineering team and Donald Glover has a small but memorable role as a NASA problem solver.
The Martian is an emotional rollercoaster, a comedy, a drama and a remarkably realistic and grounded story about a NASA mission that is, for now, beyond our capabilities.
Review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Best thing: Luke Skywalker has changed over the years. I love the way his mysterious character is explored.
Worst thing: I think there are some pacing issues for the simple reason that the film is so very long. Also I don't feel that Rian Johnson is that interested in slowing down to pull on the heart strings. When major plot points unfold we quickly rush into the next scene, making this film quite exhausting.
This is possibly the most fun and action-packed Star Wars movie ever. I know everyone seems to love Empire best but, watching it as a child, I've always felt the ending was unsatisfying. (And naturally, not knowing the twist, I believed Darth Vader was lying. When Obi-Wan is confronted in Return of the Jedi, I was puzzled when he didn't say, "What I told you was true! You're believing Vader over me?") Even while doing a mid-trilogy bridging film, Rian Johnson is keen to ensure this has a very definite and complete feel to it.
The first Star Wars movie i.e. Star Wars (now known as "Episode 4: A New Hope") has always remained my favourite and the one advantage Star Wars has over The Last Jedi is that it is more willing to take its time. The Last Jedi is a non-stop rollercoaster ride and that isn't always a positive thing. We often don't have time to think about the significance of the cataclysmic events. And that's a real pity because there are some really important developments in Last Jedi. I care about Rey a lot more every time it's emphasised how easily she could turn to the dark side at any moment.
Another aspect which really appealed is the suggestion that we're not limited to hereditary force powers any more. This 'awakening' is spreading and things could easily go a bit Hogwarts from the looks of things...
Add to that some awesome creature designs, a fantastic performance from Benicio Del Toro and the welcome return of a certain badass stormtrooper. Last Jedi is exciting, fun, fast-paced, goes in unexpected directions, puts some real meat on the bones set up in Force Awakens and amazingly Carrie Fisher is a million times better here than she was in the last film. (Making it a real pity that she can't return in episode nine.)
I still believe the rumours that Snoak is actually Darth Plagius, the dark jedi/sith that the Emperor believed he'd killed and who apparently has powers over life and death. I think there will be more revelations about him in the next film.
For me, The Last Jedi is a fantastically fun extravaganza and for me it's the best Star Wars film since the original movie.
Review of Thor Ragnarok (2017)
Best thing: The rock warrior Korg is hilarious. (As it turns out Taika Waititi actually plays that character himself.)
Worst thing: I generally have an issue with how bitty this film is. It has great moments, but it feels like it is trying to cram too much in and that makes the pacing a bit awkward. Oddly enough the moment that bugged me the most probably wouldn't have mattered if I'd been a little more immersed. It's the scene where a character uses machine guns against the sword-wielding fantasy villains. Were those enchanted guns? The Asgardians are used to battling enemies holding laser guns so machine guns shouldn't be much of a trump card.
I kept hearing that this film was too focused on humour. Did I miss something? ALL the Thor movies have focused on humour!
The first movie had its fish-out-of-water gags. The second movie actually had its serious side edited down and hilarious banter between Thor and Loki added instead. And let's not forget that Darcy is missing from this film so she cannot provide the comic relief. (Seriously, I understand that they couldn't bring back Natalie Portman, but Kat Dennings? She couldn't make it?)
There are so many fantastic scenes here, whether we are talking about humour or action. Taika Waititi might be a slave to the producers' whims, but that doesn't stop him seriously putting his stamp on this project.
The colourful sets are amazing, the stylistic tone of this film is great too. And seriously, was that Sam Neill?
I seriously wish I'd missed the trailer, because a vital scene was clearly intended as a surprise, it was definitely one of the least predictable elements in the film and I knew it was coming.
While Cate Blanchett is cool in her role where she is youthed by CG effects (or perhaps just really great makeup?), her thunder is stolen a bit by the "secondary" villain played by Jeff Goldblum.
Frankly, while everybody seems to fawn over the original Iron Man movie I feel that also had a bit of an over-produced feel to it. For me Thor Ragnarok is a step down from a recent high streak but it doesn't go below par. For me, it's still up there with the movie that set the ball rolling on this franchise.
There is so much fun to be had in this film. Even if the overall story feels like a bit of a mess, this fantasy adventure still manages to carry the audience through in an enjoyable way.
That being said, it'd be tough to fully enjoy this film without being caught up on the film series as a whole. There are a LOT of callbacks to other films and some are entirely unnecessary. (Stephen Strange has very little purpose here.)
I recommend Thor Ragnarok with the proviso that it didn't blow me away as much as I had expected overall, even if there were individual scenes that seriously DID blow me away. I hope they give Taika Waititi another shot at one of these.
Review of Rampage (2009)
Best thing: You'd think the best thing in a movie called Rampage would be the 'rampage'. But actually those action sequences were not a highlight for me. I mean it would be pretty cool if there were dramatic stakes, but watching someone go on a meaningless murder spree is not engaging. I was actually intrigued by the Fight Club-esque dissatisfaction politics that we see in the background and which, as it happens, turns out not to matter at all.
Worst thing: When the reason for the rampage was finally revealed, it was so lame.
The movie should be called 'dick head'. The protagonist is a complete arsehole. I spent the whole movie wondering what justification he had for his rampage and the weird thing is that he not only seems to have no good reason for his rampage but the film seems to expect us to be impressed.
The early part of the film looked like it might be a Fight Club esque satire on modern society. Quite early we see the shopping channel in the background selling an African diamond. I wondered whether this was a comment on capitalism and a reference to blood diamonds. Talk about the dissatisfaction growing in society makes for a very intense first half that completely fails to pay off in the disgusting mass-murder sequence in the second half.
Basically the best part of the film is meaningless padding for the abhorrent part of the film where Uwe Boll decides to champion a nutcase on a murder spree.
This is the only Uwe Boll film I've ever seen and I'm pretty sure it will be the last.
Review of The Beyond (1981)
Best thing: Coming back to this, I absolutely love the soundtrack. Both the creepy piano music and the funky theme tune.
Worst thing: We have the cliché of a the woman being freaked out by visions of the evil, while the man is sceptical and even-tempered. Frankly we tend to identify with the woman because, seriously, who wouldn't be freaked out? (Thank goodness he doesn't slap her to calm her down. I felt we came close a few times...)
The Beyond doesn't exactly have a plot, but it is a sequence of genuinely terrifying sequences with a very distinctive visual style.
It also has some over the top sections which are a bit daft but I love them anyway, like the girl being backed into a corner by an acid spill.
The elements combine in a way that is simply unforgettable and I find it so wonderfully entertaining that Lucio Fulci is now a favourite director of mine.
Watched a version claiming to be the 'uncut' version. However, I am fairly sure it is exactly the same version I saw before. I have as yet to see a version of this film in widescreen. Perhaps if I get the Blu-Ray? Anyone have any advice?
Review of Absentia (2011)
Best thing: I like how the supernatural elements are grounded in a real situation and its emotional impact.
Worst thing: The metaphor is seriously strained.
The opening scenes about a woman coming to terms with declaring her husband dead 'in absentia' after his disappearance are heartbreaking and highly emotionally powerful.
Unfortunately when the supernatural elements enter the frame I really struggle to understand the point. If the threat is taken literally, it's always in the background and there are seemingly no rules. If the threat is taken as a metaphor, what does it represent? The police officer quite rightly asks how a missing person could keep their wallet in all the time they were missing, yet resort to eating animals. What real life scenario does any of this relate to?
This feels like an over-extended version of a short film. With a much shorter runtime, the threat could remain more of a mystery without frustrating the audience.
Review of And Now The Screaming Starts! (1973)
Best thing: Herbert Lom (probably best known as the chief inspector in the Pink Panther movies) is great as the evil grandfather? Uncle? And the line that is delivered in response to his villainy "The deeds you have done this day... will be avenged!" is really effective.
Worst thing: I understand that it's supposed to be symbolic, but seriously? That guy's son looks exactly the same as him? It just felt weird to me.
This is a bit of a slog, isn't it?
I absolutely love the fun and kinetic Amicus anthology "Tales From The Crypt", but And Now The Screaming Starts is not even remotely fun or kinetic.
A lot of visions and fainting and accusations that the lead female character is hysterical. I just found the plot dull and repetitive until it finally decides to up the drama with a rape scene.
This was just absolutely no fun whatsoever and that was a real disappointment.
Review of The Vault of Horror (1973)
Best thing: Tom Baker's story about a painter seeking revenge through magical paintings is quite a lot of fun.
Worst thing: Did the ‘Indian’ snake charmer need to be a white person covered in make-up?
This Amicus horror anthology movie is perfectly adequate. Nothing like as fun as Tales From The Crypt, but if you want more of the same this does the trick.
Reviews of Tales From The Dark Side: The Movie (1990)
Best thing: Wow, they upped the budget for that monster didn't they? That is one hell of a monster design.
Worst thing: The first story is a bit predictable.
For all its ups and downs I've been finding the episodes of Tales From The Dark Side to be a lot of fun. Considering that this movie might as well be Creepshow 2 (since this genuinely is a collaboration between George Romero and Stephen King, unlike the actual Creepshow 2), I think it actually makes for a very high quality follow-up.
Better segments than the average tv episode. A higher level of quality than Creepshow itself. Like the tv show, it is a bit silly and admittedly.
Stephen King's segment does drag a bit in the middle (but what a payoff!).
If you enjoyed Creepshow or if you've ever enjoyed an epidode of Tales From The Dark Side I really think you should give this a go.
Review of In The Mouth Of Madness (1994)
Best thing: Sam Neil gives a great central performance as a cynical insurance investigator who is a bit of an arsehole, yet somehow endearing anyway. Neill really makes us feel his character's fear, even while his character dismisses the horrors around him with a strictly sceptical outlook.
Worst thing: One creature feature that appears when Sam Neill is trying to leave the town of Hobb’s End looks a bit too fake. The effects and make up seems to vary in effectiveness in this film. Some look amazing, but others look a bit cheap.
Still one of my favourite John Carpenter movies. A Lovecraftian horror film about an evil author based on a combination of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King.
Sam Neill's character believes that the claim that the author has disappeared is most likely a publicity stunt. He and a publisher go in search of the popular author and discover that some of his literary works may not actually be fictional.
Quality monster effects and a great sense of fun, as well as some genuinely creepy moments, make In The Mouth Of Madness a fantastic horror film. Fans will recognise the phrase, "Do you read Sutter Cane?" A seemingly innocuous phrase that has greater significance in the film.
It also amuses me that I've seen an idiot online (sure, who hasn't?) trying to suggest that this is relevant to Harry Potter. Only if JK Rowling is secretly bringing about the apocalypse. I think we're safe on that front...
Review of Raw (2016)
Best thing: The sequence of events surrounding the finger.
Worst thing: My personal biggest issue, beyond my general lack of engagement with this paper-thin plot, is the widespread hazing. I mean seriously, how are these ridiculous antics accepted in a serious vetinary school? A girl painted blue, a boy painted yellow, told to stay in a room til they are green? With no build up to this stupid ritual? Who cleans up after this stupid messy idiocy?
The idea behind Raw seems quite promising. A girl who is brought up to be a vegetarian then gets a taste for human flesh. The story is essentially a coming-of-age film. Add to that a sibling rivalry and you've got a pretty neat quality horror film - in theory.
Unfortunately, I had real problems with the storytelling here. I had real trouble engaging with the lead character. Our protagonist is quiet, withdrawn, hungry for human flesh and experiencing a sexual awakening, but I never get much in the way of personality from her. (The sister has personality, but she's basically a villain.)
This is not necessarily a big problem. Sometimes protagonists can be less strong characters because the important thing is their reactions to their surroundings essentially as an audience surrogate.
However, the other characters never really do much to take center stage. Beyond the finger-eating scene I didn't feel like any events in the story felt climactic. In fact, in the second half I found that the film felt very repetitive. And the conceit that they all find themselves compelled to join in with ridiculous hazing rituals, which have become a requirement in this supposedly prestigious vetinary college, just struck me as dumb.
Shouldn't hazing rituals normally involve an audience who may laugh when the deeds are done but eventually congratulate the individuals when they complete their task. But here there's something bureaucratic about the hazing system here, with students queuing up to eat some random bit of raw meat. Normally a challenge should be built up to gain significance, but here nobody seems to care much about any of the rituals. Not to be over-dramatic, but doing horrible activities simply for the purpose of box-ticking seems kind of fascist to me. Was that intentional?
Also, while I know he's a side character, the gay flatmate who doesn't stay gay (which is fine by the way) seems to have no life of his own. Does he have any gay relationships in this film before he sleeps with a girl? I feel like he's only gay so we'll be less surprised that he's our protagonist's roommate and more surprised when he sleeps with a girl.
Frankly, seeing the potential in the movie Raw makes me all the more disappointed by the final product. It's all a bit... under-cooked!
Review of Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Best thing: The phantom's outfit is amazing, parricularly the box attached to it that allows him to speak. But besides that outfit I think the best thing is Beef (played by Gerrit Graham), a figure chosen to have a very different style of performance from that intended by the protagonist, but still having an amazing style of his own. He also ends up being a more fully formed character than most.
Worst thing: Look, the music is great, but there is no consistent theme. A good musical has tent pole themes which firmly mark the stages of the story, but this just feels like the same thing over and over again. The connection between the lyrics and the scene is often very hard to ascertain.
Phantom of the Paradise is a very inventive film. Our phantom's face is broken by a factory record press. We have a rock concert instead of an opera. The villain even has a kind of Dorian Gray thing going on.
Unfortunately the lack of clear obvious choruses to help structure the story means that the film often drags in spite of the fun elements.
I admire Phantom of the Paradise a great deal and there are aspects that I very definitely enjoyed. But I felt this was too aimless to really like much as an overall film.
Review of Cheap Thrills (2013)
Best thing: I love how naturally
Ethan Embry and Pat Healy’s characters evolve over the course of the film.
Worst thing: Sara Paxton (Claire from Ti West's “The Innkeepers”) doesn't get much opportunity to shine here.
Simple but effective. A couple who seem to have a ridiculous amount of disposable income start offering money in exchange for bigger and bigger dares to two friends who both haven't been having a great deal of luck.
Thanks to some great compelling performances and a highly capable production this turned out to be a very entertaining film with a very satisfying finale.
Review of A Monster Calls (2016)
Best thing: The effects of the monster are incredible. We see it in a number of contexts and it Liam Neeson is fantastic in the role.
Worst thing: Sigourney Weaver gives an awkward performance like she is having to constantly remind herself to put on an accent. You can practically see Weaver reminding herself to say mum and not mom.
A Monster Calls is a fantastically well made and, besides Sigourney Weaver's uncharacteristically awkward performance, the production is pretty much perfect. However, there is still a question of how well the book has been adapted or how suited the novel is for a big screen adaptation.
The monster is genuinely terrifying on first appearance in a way that Spielberg's BFG ought to have been. A giant grabbing you in its huge hands SHOULD be scary and that's not inappropriate for a children's story. (Spielberg's BFG decided not to focus on fear from the child protagonist, instead focussing on the BFG doing Metal Gear Solid style stealth moves.)
Admittedly the giant monster only wants to tell stories, but then he says he wants a story and return. While its obvious that this must involve telling a personal truth and we know from the way the monster poses the demand that it's not going to be easy, but it's harder to work out what secret this child could be hiding.
The deeply held secret that the monster wants the protagonist to reveal is worth the wait. However, after that reveal I felt the film took rather longer than necessary to wrap up. The emotional punch of the secret meant that the final moments of the film were just too plain and predictable by comparison.
I'd also note that we don't get much in the way of a third story. And what is the deal with the bully who gives off serious 'sexual predator' vibes. I'm all for varying depictions of bullying and showing the psychological rather than physical traumas of bullying, but it's strange to have a disturbing and unusual kind of bully like this and not follow up with any further unpacking of the situation.
Still, this is a strong emotionally powerful story that doesn't feel like it is condescending its young audience.
Review of Ghoul School (1990)
Best thing: The sense of fun and the clear enthusiasm of the main cast members.
Worst thing: What to choose... I think I'll go with the band's song that is completely out of sync with their playing of the instruments. The biggest problems are with technical abilities of the filmmakers and in that scene their limitations are particularly apparent.
There is, admittedly, a certain level of charm to this ultra low budget monster movie. However, the film isn't as funny as it thinks it is. It's like a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode if the technical crew for effects, set-design, makeup, etc. all went missing from the studio along with the main cast members.
It's a seriously dumb film but somewhat watchable despite its extensive flaws.