SCORECARD

DECEMBER

  • Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom ☆☆☆☆
  • Gremlins ☆☆☆☆
  • Tokyo Godfathers ☆☆☆☆
  • Toy Story 2 ☆☆☆☆
  • Toy Story ☆☆☆☆
  • Trading Places ☆☆☆☆
  • Guardians of the Galaxy ☆☆☆☆
  •  The Empire Strikes Back ☆☆☆☆
  • The Fellowship of the Ring EE ☆☆☆☆
  • The Return of the King EE ☆☆☆☆
  • The Two Towers EE ☆☆☆☆
  • Nebraska ☆☆☆☆
  • Robot & Frank ☆☆☆☆
  • The Cat Returns ☆☆☆
  • Frank ☆☆☆
  • Home Alone ☆☆☆
  • Kingdom of Heaven DC ☆☆☆
  • X-Men DOFP ☆☆☆
  • Scrooged ☆☆☆
  • Batman Returns ☆☆☆
  • Die Hard 2 ☆☆
  • Lucy ☆☆
  • The Zero Theorem ☆☆

Review Roundup - The fine line between clever and stupid

LUCY (2014)

As one of the last science fiction type films I'd see towards the end of this year I was actually looking forward to this from an action stand point rather than anything else. Many years ago Luc Besson directed the likes of Nikita and Léon, and while the genres in his back catalogue are not straightforward these stood out has having both explosive stopping power and solid character material that made them engaging on more than one level.

So here it's a shame that this failed to deliver on either front. As for the science fiction elements, these are the parts that work least of all and everything begins to come apart as they take precedence in the storyline. Early on it felt like there could be potential so what makes it stumble so much?


Review Roundup - Christmas 2014

Part 2 of 2 (PART 1)

SCROOGED 


Speaking of unsettling daytime movies, what time do they usually broadcast this one? The first ghost visit which replaces the Scrooge and Marley scene is kinda disturbing, and so is the poor dead guy who gets found in the sewers towards the end. A film which has a far stronger opening half while Bill Murray is being a total jerk to everyone. While it gets less effective when the Ghost of Christmas Present shows up, there's still a lot of fun stuff (who doesn't want to see The Day The Reindeer Died) and I like the past scenes which all work well - it's good to see Karen Allen outside of Raiders.

Movie Rating: 3/5
Christmas Rating: Richard Donner (3/5)
Festive Moment: 'Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples!' 


TRADING PLACES


I guess we're moving into all the familiar viewings here, but it's good to get in a John Landis comedy, and one with a pre let's-play-everyone Eddie Murphy. It falls a part a bit once the big plan at the end comes along with the train party / gorilla stuff going on for far too long and the stock exchange plot pushes it away from being a real xmas viewing, but what the heck it fits the bill and has plenty of laughs. As they say 'Merry New Year! Ah-ha-hah-ahhaa!'.

Movie Rating: 4/5
Christmas Rating: Clarence Beakes (2/5)
Festive Moment: Eating salmon through the worst ever Santa beard


BLACKADDER'S CHRISTMAS CAROL


In a rare break from the usual format I will include this seasonal episode of Rowan Atkinson's acidic anti-character as its stands alone from the other episodes. This is never really as good as the two series of the show which get included as dream / spirit visions (the second and third seasons) but it has its moments because of the writing. Plus the idea of this story being done in reverse and the kind, generous man realising he could benefit from being cruel is pretty good spin on things.

Episode Rating:
3/5
Christmas Rating:
Robbie Coltrane (3/5)
Festive Moment: 'Ill-conceived love I should warn you, is like a Christmas cracker. One massively disappointing bang and the novelty soon wears off'   




TOKYO GODFATHERS


I was never a big fan of the likes of Paprika or Perfect Blue but this is by far the best of Satoshi Kon's movies for any time of year. Those others showed great skill and imagination but this is the one that manages to cram in the charm, tragedy and character depth pushing them to new levels. By keeping in all those weird cuts and odd moments he enjoys including of course, it builds up a magical experience in spite of the more down to earth story setup of homeless people struggling with their demons. The idea of coincidences driving the plot forward makes for interesting viewing without ever becoming over done, and the darker elements provide some somber moments that flesh things out but never become too morbid. A real animated gem. 

Movie Rating: 4/5
Christmas Rating: Uncle Bag (3/5)
Festive Moment: Gin saved by an angel

Review Roundup - Christmas 2014

KISS KISS BANG BANG


So to kick things off this holiday season, where better to start than with some Shane Black. The man has a fetish for this time of year for some reason no matter how tenuous the link to the actual plot. So for whatever reason I don't have a copy of Lethal Weapon to hand, so this is good enough. It remains the kind of movie where you sit and think ... wow this is still really funny and sharp. Val Kilmer never gets material this good. And Robert Downey Jr. looks so weird with a clean shave. It's a great double act.

Film Rating: 4/5

Christmas Rating:
Shane Black (2/5)
Festive Moment:
Perry's secret weapon


DIE HARD... 2

 

So here's the thing, I already watched Die Hard a few weeks ago. It remains an 80s classic with plenty of shootouts and fights, some nice pyrotechnics and of course Alan Rickman. But now December is here this will have to do. It's got...snow I guess. This still takes place on the right dates, but the sequel remains a guilty pleasure because of the awkward acting, stupid dialogue and endlessly gratuitous violence and cursing. At one point someone in the airport control room confuses ground level and sea level and nobody notices, that's just the kind of quality writing we're talking here. But it does have that ejector seat moment.

Movie Rating: 2/5
(Add one if you're amused at death by turbine)
Christmas Rating: Renny Harlin (1/5)
Festive Moment: Icicle in the eye

BATMAN RETURNS





Okay here we really start to get in the swing of things. Christopher Walken, PVC outfits, gross Stan Winston effects and sexual innuendo. Christmas has arrived... well depending on the type of holiday you have planned I suppose. While I'm not the biggest fan of Tim Burton's outings in Gotham City, they are still plenty of fun for the most part. This one has endless amounts of scenery chewing and weird creepy stuff, while Bats himself has to contend with numerous baddies dividing up screen time, I figure it's a fair split.

Movie Rating 3/5

Christmas Rating:
Danny Elfman (2/5)
Festive Moment: Mistletoe can be deadly  


GREMLINS


Moving onto something just as gross but a little more festive, Gremlins is all about keeping the tone right. It manages to balance the creepy elements of the first half where it feels almost like a b-horror picture, and the bonkers moments later on with flash macks and Snow White. Plus you know, chainsaws, car accidents and tales of dead Santa, just the kind of thing to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.It's also one of those films you should never watch on TV as they always chopped things like the more gruesome moments at the end so that it can be broadcast at dinner time.

Movie Rating: 4/5
Christmas Rating: Amblin (3/5)
Festive Moment: Mrs Deagle's just desserts

(PART 2)

Review Roundup - In the not too distant future

ROBOT & FRANK (2012)

Frank Langella stars in this science fiction drama, a story which despite featuring advanced robotics has no hint of dystopia or society on the verge of collapse. It's a cosy world, more Star Trek than Blade Runner in that respect. Though the scenes in which Frank's local library books are replaced by a 'virtual community' environment could perhaps be considered a little unsettling, this more of a backdrop to events which provide enough cause for concern on a human level. The technology here is reminiscent of real life developments - the title characters design has similar features to the Honda ASIMO project - but the other elements like phones and less sophisticated machines are added subtly to allow for a realistic feeling to the world. But this is a character piece with the dressing of a near future used as one small aspect of the story.


The real depth in the story comes from the title characters, and yes the robot is always just that, he's never given a name. In spite of this, and despite it stating more than once that it's just a machine and not alive; a lot of the best character moments are between these two. Frank is an aged jewel thief with a growing mental illness which affects his memory and his day to day life, and so against his wishes a helper is left by his son to provide lifestyle improvements like planning hobbies and diet. Frank's distaste for this slowly falls away when he realises that these projects could include lock picking at super fast speed and burglary planning - which the robot allows as this all goes towards aiding his brain power. The dynamic of the grumpy older man and the innocent monotone robot works really well as he slowly becomes attached to his faceless helper, ignoring the fact that any hints of his new friend being subversive or unlawful are all just programming; Frank's health are its only concerns. But of course it's only human that this level of anthropomorphic thinking transfers to the audience, and they make a likeable double act.

All this adds extra layers to a story about someone trying to recapture the past, even if they've never been entirely happy with how being a crook or doing jail time affected their children growing up. Ideas like books being taken away to be replaced with computer displays build on the other aspects of Frank's world when at times he begins to forget how old his family are or even smaller things like how long local restaurants have been closed down. When things are so downbeat it's easy to root for them and get invested as bumps in the road come along to shake up the big heist plans. This kind of sadness also adds to the atmosphere of the movie which balances out the more humourous parts of the script and any which might otherwise become too sickly. As this all comes to a head there are a few developments that feel a little rushed and the conclusion does raise a few questions on first viewing, but this is forgivable.

4/5

BONUS REVIEW
NEBRASKA (2013)


From one drama to another, albeit one more concerned more tragic story elements; Nebraska follows Woody (Bruce Dern) and his son as they travel across states to collect on what is clearly a phony million dollar sweepstakes prize. David is more concerned with his father's health and seems to be going along with the idea just to spend time with someone he feels distant from - it's clear as they travel and meet even more awkward family members along with people from his past that there's a lot he doesn't know about the man beyond the fact that he has a big alcohol problem and is slowly coming apart at the seams. The stark black and white photography adds a coldness to the proceedings which are already very melancholy, but it's interesting to see how the visuals add to scenes in which regrets and mistakes of the past are discussed. It's also a story which comments on the nature of family and friends, the choices that begin these relationships, and how dark their true colours might be when it comes out that Woody is going to be 'a millionaire'. In spite of this there are moments of warmth here, and it has a bleak comedic element going throughout that makes it a complex and compelling watch.

4/5

Review Roundup - Talking heads

FRANK (2014)
 
When talking about a film like this it can be difficult to nail down the exact components and pigeon hole it in a way that makes it simple enough to discuss. Even suggesting a genre proves to be a challenge, after all strangeness in itself is not enough to define a story. Of course it's billed as a wacky comedy with an odd collection of musicians trapped in isolation while they attempt to record an album, but under the surface this is a much darker and melancholy tale. The underlying character study is far more unwieldy, and like the eccentric characters taking centre stage there are many troubled layers beneath the mask.


Michael Fassbender dons the big head of Chris Sievey in a story which takes only a small inspiration from the television personality, opting instead to tell a story about the problems of musical inspiration and the nature of talent, or perhaps even genius. The performance, or lack of is both touching and alienating. The enigma of a man who refuses to show his face offers both intrigue and frustration as a core to the movie, as often he is not the focus. Despite the title, this story is really about Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) a keyboard playing songwriter, and an outsider looking in at this established group. Whether they look different, speak different languages or simply have a better grasp of their place in the scheme of things, they are all detached in some way or another. The limits of his ability are immediately clear and while Frank and the group's manager seem welcoming it's obvious that the other members question his worth; and perhaps they are justified in doing so as his lack of creativity slowly gives way to ego. While the device of such a character plays on the idea that the band are outcasts, Jon is rarely likable and his dependance on social media is both a distraction to the story and a jarring visual element. I'd prefer to have Twitter as something that exists outside of the screen personally.

In spite of my issues this is mainly a story about music, and it's great in that regard - Frank is both a great personality and front man. The experimental rock sound has hints of Jim Morrison, with one scene during the recording sessions in particular suggesting the more bizarre sections of The End a little. Perhaps it's worth just hearing to get a better idea; personal tastes and where similarities can be drawn will differ from person to person. But as soundtracks go this is a recommendation. Ultimately a lot of this is very good but the idea of it being a comedy is never central, it's a misleading label. As the elements about suicide attempts, mental hospital patients and panic attacks come into play, these are the issues which become thematic as things progress. It's interesting to view these characters as unknowable, and it's a thought provoking idea that the nature of inspiration may be a mystery with or without disorders and neuroses - but at the same time I would have liked more time to explore that side of things. Like the mask this draws you in but always keeps things at a distance despite there being moments of real depth. There a many great scenes which develop a sense of emotional weight yet it can feel cold and unfocused at times, showing care with many issues while keeping them at arms length. Ultimately it may be worth a look just for those moments. If that simple description of weird is appealing, of course.

3/5

Review Roundup - Et tu Koba?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

Reboots, and even worse the dreaded re-imagining, are something of a sore point for any film fan most of the time. After all, we all have our favourites and on most occasions remakes simply add a 'no the other one' moment in a cinema discussion and nothing of any value. It was interesting to see then, that Rise of the Planet of the Apes did the unthinkable by escaping the shadow of a much maligned Tim Burton effort some years before and even managed to go beyond the trite "Rise" style title which usually signifies a shoddy effort on the part of the writers. But they pushed forward with motion capture technology, provided a story with some emotional resonance and managed to provide many with a good time. They were some questionable inclusions - some poor casting, a few cliches and perhaps some unnecessary shout outs to the original Charlton Heston film... but overall it was impressive to see once things got moving. As a sequel, Dawn has a lot of food for thought and a good deal of character from the apes once again, but whether it could be called fun is probably pushing it.


In fact it's a slower, more somber affair all round. In case some viewers missed the end credits sequel bait in the previous story, an opening repeats that flight path infographic and shows that right off the bat things will be a bit darker - with a pandemic destroying much of the human race. With its creators long gone there isn't room for any kind of story about the problems of gene therapy and lab testing, instead it's about survival and everything jumps forward a decade to allow ape culture to grow and the ruins of the old world to remain abandoned just long enough for it to be a surprise to them when homo-sapiens arrive back in San Francisco. This is a culture clash film about the failure of communities to engage properly, a staple of sci-fi. It's heavy handed but this is a film throwing the 'apes as humans' imagery at the audience the whole time, so it works. Unlike say Avatar there are no one dimensional villains, love interests or clean cut heroes - even if it is very predictable. The apes that turn out bad are easy to spot - it's not the one called Blue Eyes. Which might have made it more interesting rather than expected. But the tone carries it - the characters on both sides are worried about losing things in life which everyone can understand; nobody is just obsessed with land or money. They explore the good and bad of each side fairly well. But as everyone knows this will never end well, it's in the title.

Beyond the character drama this is an impeccable effects movie. As with Andy Serkis playing Caesar the first time or as Gollum, the realism is never quite perfect but the character is what makes things believable. He gets top billing for a good reason, but many of the apes impress. On the other side you have a reasonable amount of human characters with varying levels of actual humanity so it's good to see things building up. When the fireworks do start it's not overblown or drawn out, there are just enough action beats to add to that tension which is building all the way through. The violence is also surprisingly brutal while never being explicit. In place of that feeling of rooting for the underdogs as they escape zoos and laboratories, it's a more complex world where even the gun collecting humans are motivated by fear rather than being archetypes that have no backstory and are evil for the sake of a bad guy in the script. The big climax does feel a little out of place as a contrast to the rest of the film's tone (perhaps even a bit Spider-Man esque) but it's a small moment of excess. It does feel its length at times but overall this is a worthwhile viewing in a summer filled with comic book heroes and films which are all spectacle and zero charisma.

4/5

Scorecard

 NOVEMBER

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark ☆☆☆☆☆
  • The Thing ☆☆☆☆☆
  • Dial M for Murder ☆☆☆☆
  • Guardians of the Galaxy ☆☆☆☆
  • Source Code ☆☆☆☆
  • Strangers of a Train ☆☆☆☆
  • Vertigo ☆☆☆☆
  • X2 ☆☆☆☆
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ☆☆☆☆
  • X-Men Days of Future Past ☆☆☆
  • Edge of Tomorrow ☆☆☆
  • Brain Damage ☆☆☆
  • Cleopatra '63 ☆☆☆
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much '56 ☆☆☆
  • Halloween ☆☆☆
  • How to Train Your Dragon ☆☆☆
  • Meet the Feebles ☆☆☆
  • The Princess Bride ☆☆☆
  • Under the Skin ☆☆☆
  • Godzilla '14 ☆☆
  • The Robe ☆☆
  • Flying Swords of Dragon Gate ☆

Review Roundup - Cherry Bomb

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

It's easy to become cynical when things constantly promise to be a good time. After all, the hype machine is always a hollow money grabber in some way or another. For all the easy targets to be hit in the name of popcorn adventure stories, too often there's a John Carter, a Green Lantern or a Star Trek Into Darkness. Tedium and horrible writing take the place of real fun. The pieces that make up simple entertainment are apparently too easy to fumble. Luckily the brass at Marvel Studios more often than not have their heads screwed on, so far. With The Winter Soldier nailing the slick action vibe earlier in the year, James Gunn's oddball space fantasy gets the lighter and more colourful angles covered. Yeah... the Slither guy, who knew? There are a lot of weak notes here including a one dimensional villain with vague motivations, and a pre-packaged plot device in the guise of yet another coveted object promising to grant it's wielder ultimate power. But it's nice to be suprised once in a while.


Most of the time a story like this would consist of a string of convoluted plot points, too much silly exposition and a collection of stock characters that have no personality beyond the expected clichés. But by flipping this over and using those tropes differently, things seem to have worked out nicely. The gang's all here, it shouldn't work. Complete with a dumb brute, a misunderstood badass and a jerk waiting to grow into a hero, this should be serious eye rolling material. Instead they sprinkle in a few little touches that allow these characters to feel a bit more fleshed out without getting too heavy handed - the writing is often profane but feels natural instead of vulgar and gives everyone some breathing room. Creations that are entirely done in post production have chemistry, and even casting a sports personality fits here. It's true that the big bad is one note and blowing up the universe again is a horrible element in any story, but with everyone else carrying the picture those tired space opera ideas are forgivable. I like that the supporting cast is so weird (oh it's Michael Rooker and Peter Serafinowicz too) so it's a fun experience without even getting to the eye candy action spectacle scenes. It's a bit oldschool '60s Star Trek and bit '80s sci-fi, and who doesn't like that?

The film works best when things are being planned, and subsequently falling to pieces. These characters all get to do their stuff, each showing off a variety of skills and flaws. For your money there's a prison break, a few good chases, plenty of fighting and an standard finale with an assault on the evil doers capital ship. But these are broken up by little moments that carry it through. When the heart of the story includes a talking plant I guess it's hard not to throw that good stuff in here and there. Bipedal trees haven't provided this much movie magic since The Two Towers. The enemy mooks may be faceless (literally) cannon fodder but it doesn't ever get too ridiculous or grim, and the pauses in the action allow in some nice emotion which is welcome. And yes, the original soundtrack is complimented by David Bowie and The Runaways. By flipping the bird on screen to its antagonists and off screen to dumb slow-motion hero walk sequences and notions of cheap romance, this is a satisfying journey into new and strange possibilities. Let's hope things don't become messy with the inevitable cross over movies.

4/5

Review Roundup - Continue? Yes/No

EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014) 

In a return to science fiction, Tom Cruise stars in this adaptation of Japanese novella All You Need is Kill, keeping it's story of an alien invasion in which soldiers become trapped in a time loop. While that title and the cast has unfortunately been Westernised (Edge of Tomorrow is very Star Trek) this is at least an improvement on his previous vehicle Oblivion. Taking cues from the likes of Groundhog Day and more recently Source Code, this is never as good as either of those films but at least offers an action filled adventure that manages to maintain a sense of humour and has a well paced story. While it has a lot of fun and some fine spectacle, several aspects lead to it being essentially flimsy and it lacks the depth that could have been afforded by having such a brain wracking central concept. It also doesn't help that some elements lead to clichés and strange plot holes that could have been avoided considering the amount of rewrites the script went through. Still, while it's never excellent it mostly works.


Officer Cage (Cruise, originally written as Keiji) a PR man thrown onto the front line for attempted blackmail, finds himself reliving the military's last ditch attack after being killed in the assault. He has no experience of warfare, he's just a talker. By teaming up with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt, keeping the original name) a veteran who has been through this but lost that power, they plan a way to win what is at first a futile battle by learning more and more, one day at a time. With death required to send him back in time, the makers seem to understand there is comedy to be mined instead of just having an all out dark and gritty look at the futility of war. This brings a problem to the table however, in that darker ideas and character development are left aside in place of popcorn entertainment. Which isn't a negative thing entirely, but they could have expanded on certain elements while keeping a fun balance. A single scene shows the toll this is taking; having tried endlessly to get through the lines with Vrataski, Cage starts to think this will never work out - at least for the both of them. He's seen the way it all plays out so many times that it drains any motivation. But it's brief and later gives in to unnecessary saccharine with a predictable ending. Despite the deliberate use of European beaches to convey a sense of seriousness this is at the core just a throwaway action film. Real characterisation is never reached even if the cast is likeable throughout.

The real issues arise from any closer examination of the story as it unfolds. Cage is shown as a TV personality selling the war effort, but nobody he meets knows him or believes his story about being forced into the battle; instead they are all told he's a deserter and never question this. Maybe troops in Britain don't get the US news? They go further later on by taping his mouth shut when he tells them about the future; it's played for laughs but seems a little strange when he knows such fine details. Rita is being shown to the public as a hero but she still has to go in with the other grunts, and they never explore this propaganda angle or offer any satire. The enemy is named as "the Mimics" but they never mimic anything except a mass of writhing tentacles. By the time the finale comes along this silliness starts to pile up, but this kind of shallow writing is just weak rather than something which derails the whole story. The military use of powered armour (the kind they had to cut from Starship Troopers) offers some fun visuals, even if like the aliens they are not particularly well designed. They should have looked to the original illustrations for sleeker costumes. But overall this is still a good time, and for once in this genre the pace and fun factor keep things moving along to avoid it becoming a complete shambles.

3/5

BONUS REVIEW
UNDER THE SKIN (2013)



Scarlett Johansson drives a van around Scotland to lure men into an alien soup. Yep, that's it. As a premise this allows for a number of weird and sinister moments - as well as some neat visuals - but the film has a number of other elements fighting for attention and doesn't ever consolidate them into a fully formed narrative. The horror aspect is the strongest and offers some very creepy material, but the use of hidden camera footage comes across as jarring when it's clear that the non actors have been asked to take part in the other parts of the film. By suggesting this early on it's a distraction to have time to think who is real and who is acting. A third act in which our nameless woman starts to do more than hunt for human prey is a nice turn of events, and there are various scenes that suggest her view of our society as she she explores it - but this is never fleshed out. They do manage to convey a sense of character from someone that has little dialogue but like everything it could have gone a little further to give it all more weight. Still if you're looking for a slow, atmospheric and unsettling piece of sci-fi come drama it might be worth a look.

3/5

Review Roundup - Monster Miss

GODZILLA (2014)

After the fun but immensely shallow Pacific Rim, and having seen Gareth Edwards previous film Monsters the stage was set; he could build a perfect bridge between the two. His first feature's strength was it's subtle use of giant creatures as a back drop for some good human drama. While it was nothing mind blowing there was a lot of potential to be seen in the world building, the clever use of low cost effects and the misdirection of the title. The problem is that while it's true that these elements are present in his move into big budget film making, there are a number of other problems that overshadow this. In what should have been an absolute victory for the Big G having last been wasted by Hollywood in the 1990s, things don't work out. Instead of balancing the two elements, neither the spectacle or the drama is handled in a way that works.


Straight off the bat the parts done really well stand out. Brian Cranston dealing with a nuclear accident in the opening scene sets the scene for the major strengths - engaging characters with motivations that work, and tension building through growing disaster events. It would be easy to plan out a story that brings his emotionally wrecked engineer into a collision with Ken Watanabe's biologist as both are invested from differing viewpoints. But the focus shifts early on to bring a lot of one dimensional military characters instead, for reasons that are unclear. Rather than delivering on what could be dramatic scenes between these two, Cranston's son played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson comes in after the plot moves forward in time several years. His family melodrama has no weight, the character has zero personality, and to makes things worse the way the monster parts of the story unfold are written in for complete convenience from his job as a bomb disposal expert to the path of destruction managing to arrive just where he is at the time. This weakness could have been saved by pure monster power but the problems don't end here.

Introducing the idea that these are ancient animals reliving their old life cycles is a great idea, and the way things play out to reflect current world concerns in a great use of the themes from the original 1954 movie. But not once but twice, the big battle scenes are cut short. Instead of a first and second act finale to hit those beats and keep things going, cameras cut away awkwardly to show other events instead. It's cringeworthy when they decide to end a sequence early and show it on someones TV in the background of another scene, or literally close the door on an attack when survivors get into a shelter. Maybe they had financial problems? This might have been acceptable if the sequences at the very end where amazing but the problems persist and they have way too many obscured shots from the perspective of ground troops or moments shown in dark and dusty nighttime environments. The great designs are shown off several times but don't get utilised nearly enough. All the excitement is sucked out, and it's very confusing to see the build ups done right and the outcome then totally fumbled. It's hard to say what went wrong when they clearly have the tone down and know how to build up tension in several great scenes. They even manage to give the creatures some humanity in what are the best moments, playing against expectations. But it's a big shame that these are fleeting.

2/5

BONUS REVIEW
X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST


X-Men as a screen franchise has had a troubled history, so while this latest entry is thankfully a great time I am always amazed it came back from the depths of a wasted Last Stand and the shambolic Origins: Wolverine. Hitting a number of the same notes as First Class, this remains a light but fun story using the younger cast members and real world history and a stepping off point for some absurd but entertaining set pieces. In what could happily be a final note for the series, a Terminator style future filled with death and grey wastelands collides with a colourful alternate 1970s where scary robots are created by evil mustache wearing scientists. As a result there are far too many mutants, many being on screen only to display their own visually impressive powers. At this point it's clear which ones are being introduced for special effects scenes rather than characterisation. But it balances the bleak and the fun pretty well in the end, despite a lack of real focus - while First Class worked best when it was trying to be a Magneto film this could have done better being more about Mystique or Professor X. Still, it's great to hear the X2 theme again and their is a lot to like even if at times it feels episodic.

3/5

Review Roundup - Hammer Time

THE RAID 2 (2014)

In an effort to follow up both the original film and use an earlier script that was previously considered too expensive, The Raid 2 (sometimes subtitled with it's original name Berandal or "Thug") is a strange thing to see come together. In what was originally the story of a prisoner befriending a crime boss's son and joining a mob war, this is now an undercover cop film - the nameless thug being replaced with the hero Rama from the first outing. If this all sounds a bit unwieldy, it's because it is. But whether this all collapses under it's own weight or if they manage to throw in enough eye watering set pieces and imaginative moments for it to work is something for consideration. The result is both an improvement and a step down from it's predecessor.


The lean approach on the first movie was a big part of what made it work, and here the film makers have bigger ambitions. The main problem is that by combing two ideas of an original story and a sequel which was never planned, the running time is incredibly long. They could afford to lose 30 or maybe 40 minutes here and still have a pretty spectacular film. There large number of characters to introduce; the protagonist, the crime boss, his son, and their rivals on both a Japanese and Indonesian organizations amongst others. A lot of time is given to the central dynamic in which the hot headed son wants to gain more power, something he considers his father is holding back from him. It's a fair story line for this kind of genre, but adding to this the plot strands about undercover work, corrupt cops and the other gangsters - things become a bit strained over nearly two and a half hours.

But I sound overly critical here and it isn't as bad as it could have been. This is a martial arts film after all, and the action is what makes it work. The art direction may be nice to look at during these more talkative scenes, but people are here to see the spectacle of real stunt work. Thankfully the bulk of the story is book ended by imaginative and often incredible fight sequences that are both lengthy and impressive. Not content with just the hand to hand fighting, director Gareth Evans throws in a car chase and a fight, simultaneously. The comic book elements were restricted to an absurdly awful tower block in the first film, but again things go further this time around with homeless hit men, Yakuza bosses and a prison so bad that ten or twenty man brawls can take place. Characters credited only as "Hammer Girl" and "Baseball Bat Man" are introduced in the third act (no points for guessing what they get up to) and things are ramped up to excessively violent levels as the mob conflict comes to a head. The original drab grey setting has been thrown out in favour of bright colours and visually intricate city scenes that use both incredible camera work and talented performers. The characters are as clichéd as you'd expect but it works. During the mid section it feels like it might come apart at the seams, but by gathering steam at the right time every comes together for a satisfying KO.

4/5

Scorecard

OCTOBER
  • The Terminator ☆☆☆☆☆
  • The Raid 2 ☆☆☆☆
  • Encounters of the Spooky Kind ☆☆☆☆
  • Jackie Brown ☆☆☆☆
  • Let The Right One In ☆☆☆☆
  • Nosferatu: The Vampyre ☆☆☆☆
  • Rasputin The Mad Monk ☆☆☆☆
  • Seven ☆☆☆☆
  • The 7 Golden Vampires ☆☆☆
  • The Abominable Snowman ☆☆☆ 
  • Captain Kronos ☆☆☆
  • Dracula (1958) ☆☆☆
  •  Fright Night ☆☆☆
  • Scars of Dracula ☆☆☆
  • Nosferatu ☆☆☆
  • Only Lovers Left Alive ☆☆☆
  • The Host (Goemul) ☆☆☆
  • The Thing From Another World ☆☆☆
  • The Vampire Lovers ☆☆
  • Straight on Till Morning ☆☆
  • Tales from the Crypt ☆☆
  • Dracula ☆☆
  • Salem's Lot ☆☆

Review Roundup - HALLOWEEN 2014

BLOODSUCKER FEST - 1st-31st October

PART THREE: LEFTOVERS


Time to go even further forward in time. Fright Night is a nice return to the '80s after a few older school viewings. Despite some weird vampire seduction moments (how old are these school kids?) and a story about creepy neighbours that has been done many times already, it's about as entertaining as you can expect from the era of suburban teen horror.

There's nothing exceptional here but I like the period over acting, especially from Roddy McDowell (most films from Planet of the Apes). You get a few splatter moments and some fun practical effects for your money, including wolf transformations and dissolving vampires. A standard but decent electronic score from Brad Fiedel (The Terminator) helps.


This third and final segment will be a bit of everything, so I have to add Salem's Lot. Like the evil clown film 'It' this is a two part TV movie based on the works Stephen King. Unfortunately this isn't really as good as a whole. There are some good elements here; but while the vampires are pretty damn creepy the whole thing is a bloated mess with too many plot holes, or what I have to assume are unexplained book elements.

The vampire genre always has a lot of rules to explain, and when they choose some but don't keep to them it makes things hard to follow. It's also a problem that it's full of rambling Stephen King tangents that don't serve enough of a purpose. I'd like to see this re-edited but even then there's too much material that doesn't work. Does it really need a lengthy section about a guy catching his unfaithful wife if neither of them is a main character? While James Mason adds a touch of class and the main vampire is great, most of it is just a head scratcher.


Keeping with the theme of mixing things up, I have to add a foreign language release, and one that is by far the most successful entry to this viewing session; Let The Right One In. It's deeply unnerving but also deeply character driven. The story is dark and weird but has a strong bond of friendship at the centre... even if it's one that will being ruining the lives of every day people - an idea which it doesn't shy away from exploring. The vampire is more than just a monster and its victims are more than just faceless goons to increase the body count.

It asks questions about the nature of innocence as troubled boy Oskar meets the vampire Eli - he may have a sadistic streak waiting to surface and Eli may have a lost childhood under the cold immortal exterior. Looking at the amount of bloodsuckers on this list the kind of depth here is nearly unheard of. Even if some of the even darker elements of the original story are glossed over, this is an adaptation that really works.


The same can't quite be said for Interview With The Vampire. I get the feeling a whole lot of this has been either chopped down or removed to fit the running time, or at least it's told in a way that gives it that vibe. While what's left is interesting enough, Brad Pitt feels miscast in a role that isn't energetic enough for him. Antonio Banderas arrives later but it doesn't help as he spouts a bunch of pseudo philosophy just leads nowhere.

Lestat (Tom Cruise) is total unlikeable but at least he's got a personality you can hate, and I thought he could have been given more to do here. It's bloody when required with few great Stan Winston effects, and it really picks up when scenes of action and revenge come into play. But as a horror story it lacks any real chills. It has a lot of period drama style I guess, so if intricate costumes and sets are your thing it won't disappoint. In the end that issue on the story feeling cut short means that it lacks depth and closure, which is problem when a whole life story is being told.


I'll bring this all to a close this with a newer entry in the genre, Only Lovers Left Alive. It does what the title suggests at least, but whether the melancholy romance elements and that sombre idea of living forever works against more quirky elements is questionable. I really like Tilda Swinton's performance as a wise and immortal figure but I didn't think it worked so well with other parts like John Hurt has a vampiric Christopher Marlowe or some of the more out-there concepts like human blood being toxic because of 21st century living.

It works a lot better when these characters are simply drawn as artists, writers or musicians. Adam (the suicidal rock guitarist) and Eve (the considerate naturalist) make a good pair but others like her sister Eva (the immature monster) seem a bit too much when most of the story is more thoughtful and low key. But it's all nicely filmed and has enough thought provoking stuff along the way, so it's a good note to go out on.

(Part one) (Part two)

Review Roundup - HALLOWEEN 2014

BLOODSUCKER FEST 1st-31st October

PART TWO: SHLOCK-TOBER


While the first segment of this little marathon focuses just a few of the incarnations of Dracula that have come about over the years, sequels and spin offs were always slightly different in tone. Which may be putting it lightly when it comes to Hammer releases in their later years. To be brutally honest, most of their sequels to their first attempt with Christopher Lee... are varying degrees of bad. Scars of Dracula is the only one I can enjoy for what it is. Considering all the direct follow ups in terms of story, it's strange that this one appears to be a stand-alone effort (even if they start it with yet another absurd resurrection scene). Where do they keep finding Dracula's ashes if they blew away in wind in 1958?

Lee actually gets some dialogue this time, even if it's just in a few early scenes which is good to see. It's been reported that many of the films have no speaking part for D though whether it's because he refused to read them or if they didn't write anything in the first place has been disputed. The fake bats are still really awful and there are some comedy moments which are out of place, but it's still entertaining for the most part in a silly kind of way. Their attempts at adding more violence and sex this time are still really tame which is kind of endearing, and I guess adds to the fun.


On the subject of adult content though, I found that The Vampire Lovers is case of reputation over content. Hammer's take on the Carmilla story is oddly uneventful, it's cult status and the advertising material for it are pretty misleading seeing it for what it is - a product of it's time from a mainstream studio. A few decapitations are all this does in the way of real horror and most of the vampire moments are done in vague dream scenes which lack any kind of atmosphere.

All the supposed erotic content is very low key unless the idea of a few shots of naked skin are to be considered adult content. How racy! As for the story itself, Ingrid Pitt is fine but the character isn't developed and whether miss Carnstein is evil or just lonely isn't explored in any depth. Some weird plot threads are left hanging (she has a few helpers early on who are not explained) which doesn't help. Worst of the General played by Peter Cushing is barely in it. What a crime.


Luckily he appears as Van Helsing in one of the strangest entries here, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. The good doctor is in China... for some reason. Something about discovering if local folk tales are true, unfortunately the local academics will have nothing to do with it. Also in town is Dracula (Not Christopher Lee) for reasons even more vague. He's set up shop disguised as a priest while a group of golden masked vampires terrorise the locals for him, or so it appears.

The thing is they actually were doing this before he showed up, so their arrangement is less than crystal clear. In fact he's totally superfluous, appearing in the opening and then being dispatched in mere seconds right at the very end. I guess at this stage Van Helsing is just a pro. But story isn't the focus here - it's all about the undead action. This is a collaboration with the Shaw Brothers, and the team up brings plenty of fight scenes to the film. It's all complete nonsense but this strange set of circumstances could only ever result in a strange movie.


The nonsense continues with Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter. A British military captain who uses a Japanese sword and has a rather German accent (yeah I have no idea) travels the land, often taking off his shirt and occasionally fighting evil. It's kind of a kitchen sink approach, as you can see with his sidekick - both a professor and hunchback. After a while it's easier not to question this kind of thing.

They throw in some unique (perhaps fabricated) vampire lore, including a life draining kind rather than the usual ones that drink blood, and there's an idea about using dead frogs to discover if someone is the undead. I guess you'd have to call this an adventure story rather than any kind of horror, but it kind of works. Where else are you going to get a finale where the hero smiths a sword and duels with the vampire?

(Part one) (Part three)

Review Roundup - HALLOWEEN 2014

BLOODSUCKER FEST 1st-31st October

PART ONE- DRAC ON DRAC ACTION


Well to get this all off to a start to an appropriate start, I had to take things back to the first, and most illegal adaptation of Bram Stokers novel, Nosferatu. I quite like the name, along with the name they gave the Count in this. Both were chosen to (unsuccessfully) avoid a lawsuit at the time. Though A Symphony of Horror is a bit of an odd subtitle for a silent film surely? The film is of course iconic and the moments with Count 'Orlok' are impressively creepy considering its age, particularly the scenes on the boat and where he first attacks Jonathan 'Hutter'.

These are totally standout moments, but I also really like what few special effects they created. They're just simple animated techniques showing the supernatural powers of a vampire but they retain a lot of charm. My issue is that when he's not on screen the rest of the film is a bit lacking, particularly the part where Renfield (or whatever he isn't called in this version) escapes, as well as some of the usual period over acting. Still, it's good to revisit your roots.


Now there are other versions of the story but first I have to mention the direct remake of this one, Nosferatu: The Vampyre. Like The Fly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing, it's another example of 70s and 80s remakes actually using their imagination to bring something new to the table. Kinski's version of Dracula is a melancholy and sympathetic take on the mythos. He comes across as lonely, but he is also explicitly a bringer of disease and the scenes with rats are greatly expanded.

The stark horror moments from the black and white original are lost here, but instead there's an uneasy atmosphere to the whole thing and the last chapter throws in a lot of new material including some unsettling scenes of the aftermath of a plague. It also looks impressive since most of the film is shot on location with some great European scenery in both rural and city scenes. Towards the end things really divert from the original plot, and they throw in a few odd moments of dark comedy along the way. It's subtle, and overall it's an improvement for it me despite it lacking those original iconic moments.


Now going back the the 1930s, the first sound version of the story is another pop culture icon. After all, so many versions of the character sound like they are emulating this one when speaking. I found that I was kind of disappointed though after finally getting around to seeing it. After a great introductory build up with Lugosi who is definitely the star here with the film descends into wooden romance and stage drama. While Renfield is also a highlight - his raving 'rats, rats!' speech is great - the story has too many holes by the end. The 3 vampire women from the novel are here, but after changing the coffins containing Dracula's home soil into specifically being 3 boxes, they never show up again. Why not leave them in the castle or keep the invasion plot?

Lucy still becomes a vampire but after being reported in the newspaper as attacking children she vanishes from the plot - no staking here. It's been censored and you have to see the Spanish version (filmed on the same sets at the time) to see even a hint of it. Also Renfield is seen creeping towards a maid as if he will now hurt something bigger than an insect, but nothing is shown - does he do anything? This might have been forgivable if the ending wasn't also so neutered but the weird anti climax is just limp and toothless. It makes it look like the Count just illogically went to sleep knowing Van Helsing was right outside when he thought his helper had betrayed him in the last scene.


But moving on it's time for a burst of 1950s technicolour. In an apparent effort to do one over on Universal's first release, Hammer's version of Dracula (or Horror of Dracula) throws out the slow build ups in favour of pure speed - it's faster, gorier and sexier. Check out how quickly they get in Dracula's first lines in place of the slow intentional dialogue of Bela Lugosi. The way he bursts onto the scene when his female companion tries to seduce Jonathan Harker is great, he's all red eyed and hissing.

The cobwebs are totally blown away; even the opening has blood being splattered onto the screen when the coffin is revealed. Even the showdown is all running and jumping - it's weird to see this much action with Peter Cushing. The film itself isn't perfect by any means and they still never get into the meat of the original story, but it's entertaining and brightly coloured. Ultimately it's just fun to see how this has evolved over time through each iteration. Dracula will rise once again in this run down, but stay tuned as next up there will be a little more ... variety.

(Part two) (Part three)

Weekend Retrospective - Wasteland

MAD MAX 1979 - 1985

I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land. 
But most of all, I remember the Road Warrior

George Miller's original biker gangs thriller come dystopia chase movie is a curious piece of work. The well staged car crashes are here, the oddly charismatic psychos are entertaining, and the downbeat revenge notes are eventually played out; but as a film it's not a tightly wound story - the pieces are here but as a whole it's a little sloppy. There's a certain independent movie charm about the original Mad Max which is enjoyable and the b-movie performances are fun, but many things crop up which make it less than great.

The music is oddly out of place in a number of scenes with rousing chords and romantic themes feeling as if they have been taken from another soundtrack, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's stock music. It's also strange that they have a few elements hinting at a society on the verge of breaking down but it's vague and day to day life is going on in many places - they might have the need for fascistic leather clad cops with souped up day glow vehicles, but they still have to deal with an outraged lawyer who turns up at one point to defend the bandit they picked up. They even talk about doing paperwork. The world itself is a little too green and pleasant, and Max is just an average, undefined character who isn't centre stage until half way through. Overall it's likeable and there are memorable moments like the comic style eye popping close ups, but the pacing is way off, it drags too much with material that could be trimmed before the finale of vengeance and fiery death plays out. The film makers seem to be finding their way, but they'd get there soon enough. In great strides.


Soon after a short but sweet mythology building narration, the V8 Interceptor roars onto the screen in new found wide screen glory. An immediate style and tone is established as soon as Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) begins - it's got a new level of confidence. It's more of a Western, or a throw back to lone wanderer stories like Yojimbo - stripping out the police work cliches and family melodrama and focusing on wasteland survival. The reasons that this film has had a such a lasting impact on pop culture are very apparent straight away. The make shift vehicles, the barren landscape, all those oddball raider outfits and mohawks; it's something you can find the influences of every time you see a post apocalyptic story in any medium from film to videogames. The story itself may be overly simplistic but I like the idea that this is just a 'day in the life' on the travels of a scavenger who could be pushed into heroism in the right circumstances.

Of course the popularity of this sequel hangs on two main ingredients - the colourful characters and the hair raising death and destruction of the car chases. Between the boomerang throwing Feral Kid, Bruce Spence's twitchy Gyro Captain and the strangely Scandinavian villain "The Humungous" - all wild gesticulating and speeches - the screen is never without a certain level of intrigue and entertainment value because of this assortment of caricatures. With no real back stories or build up, they just story of exist in this world and it's easy to go along with them in anticipation of what will happen next. Mel Gibson in the title role is far better this time as a worn out anti hero who is a much better fit for the ragged bike leathers than before. The action set pieces that soon come along are all pretty nail biting thanks to some intricate camera work and plenty of real stunts. The level of carnage is eye watering at times as vehicles are destroyed and stunt performers spin through the air. Even Brian May (not that one) puts in a solid musical score to accompany the mayhem, adding rhythm and tension. Everything works here, and it thunders along like the fuel tanker at the centre of these events. It's a taught, relentless and pitch perfect chase movie. Unlike the third entry in this series...


Beyond Thunderdome was intended to be a stand alone film, an original story. So when things go off the rails and the plot begins to follow a group of "lost boys" style children in the wasteland, that's the reason it feels out of place. They cut out that part of their first idea and book ended it with all the stuff about Max in town a town ran by... Tina Turner. It's really odd and feels messy; a big departure from the slick, back to basics approach in part two. Having avoided even seeing this for many years I was pretty disappointed that it was even more awkward than I'd always been led to believe.

None of the elements feel like they belong in the world they created before, even the first act set in "Barter Town" is too busy, with a focus on big crowd scenes and detailed costumes rather than getting the story told. The mad cap ideas about a methane fueled town and a dwarf overlord riding about on a larger servant is just too far outside the established tone, it's like another genre or something you'd expect from an kids film made in this era. When they get to the lost valley of children it goes to pieces entirely. They start talking about an actual nuclear holocaust and the subtle references to the decline of society offered in that great Road Warrior monologue are forgotten. By the time they go completely off the deep end and start racing a steam train my patience was barely intact.

With the promise of a new reboot (or even just a sequel set earlier in this timeline) it's interesting to consider that the creators have taken a look at this as a step in the wrong direction, and things might be taken back to the 1981 methods with proper physical effects and a simpler, vehicle chase style plot. Fury Road has been a very long time coming and it has a lot of potential to be a let down, but at least they won't give us any more of Master and Blaster... probably.

Score Card

SEPTEMBER

Mad Max 2 ☆☆☆☆
Pulp Fiction ☆☆☆☆
Samsara ☆☆☆☆
Big Trouble in Little China ☆☆☆☆
Critters ☆☆☆☆
Dredd ☆☆☆☆
First Blood ☆☆☆☆
Shadow of a Doubt ☆☆☆☆
The Raid ☆☆☆☆
They Live ☆☆☆☆
Strange Circus ☆☆☆
In the Mouth of Madness ☆☆☆
Mad Max ☆☆☆
My Neighbors the Yamadas ☆☆☆
Nikita ☆☆☆
Tremors ☆☆☆
Die Hard with a Vengeance ☆☆☆
Event Horizon ☆☆☆
Ghidora the Three Headed Monster ☆☆☆
I'm a Cyborg but that's OK ☆☆
Transcendence ☆☆
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome ☆☆
The Amazing Spider-man 2 ☆

Review Roundup - System shock

TRANSCENDENCE (2014)

The promise of a return to slower moving but thought provoking science fiction offered by Wally Pfister's directorial debut was something that easily got my attention. As a fan of the idea of A.I. and the blurring line between the human the synthetic, I was hoping to get an older style movie where sci-fi would be used to tell a good story or offer some kind of parable instead of just having being an excuse to blow up some cars and buildings (not that I don't have time for pyrotechnics). The cinematographer had been a long time collaborator with Christopher Nolan and so the chance to see him taking what had been learned working on the likes of Memento and The Prestige and using that on a project of his own. But does this plot of artificial intelligence have any brains, and is there more to it than stylish photography?


Straight away you can see that this has the slick visual look of the Dark Knight series. It's a great looking film, but the issues come across with just about all of the other aspects of the story. Shots are beautifully constructed but often linger for far too long and there is never any urgency to any of the proceedings - it really drags it's feet even as things spiral out of control. The premise of a man considering death and using himself as a test subject to forward his own ambition and that of his partner is a great setup and the dangers of creating an intelligence that far outmatches it's creators is of course a well worn plot device. But how this plays out lacks any serious drama considering the amount of existential dilemma which could have been mined from the subject and the kinds of every day fears it might have played up. It's surprisingly flat and emotionless, and the idea that these characters are scientific minds is odd when so many strange choices are being made.

It's also strange to see a story which lacks any real central character. Considering that Johnny Depp is plastered all over the marketing, it's an odd thing to find that he isn't a focal point for the plot. His partner (Rebecca Hall) is used as the irrational heart of the film and his colleague (Paul Bettany) is the concerned brain of it, but they are never really used as an anchor to tie all of this together. Which isn't to say that the cast aren't doing a good job - a positive aspect when the material is so clunky at times. I like Bettany but along with everyone else he feels under used. When things finally come to pieces and everyone realises what kinds of problems they might have been a part of, it never picks up the pace and the nano-technology elements just come across as silly as science jargon about computer viruses and internet connections get thrown about. Nothing seems to work here and it's a big shame.

2/5

BONUS REVIEW
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2


This is a film with three writers. Which I suppose might explain what a mess they made of it. With the dull re-hashing of the origin story out of the way, there was room to go almost anywhere with this material; after all they had a huge amount of comics to draw from. Unfortunately they decided to throw in all kinds of random ideas and see what would stick, and none of it does. Recycling the Harry Osbourne plot from the Sam Raimi films but condensing it all into one plot would be bad enough, but adding to that a story about Jamie Foxx becoming the villain Electro in another laboratory accident means that any kind of real focus gets thrown out the window. This only gets worse as these elements collide with tangents about Spider-man's missing parents and his love life. Scenes come across as random and often feel like they have been stitched together from different films, quirky romantic moments and trashy super villain material clash with coming of age drama. None of the casting works, the big set pieces are overblown and have unconvincing effects and it's impossible to care about any of it - even as the story aims to heighten the drama in the finale.

1/5



Short Film Safari - L4ST

Maybe not enough infected but for 8 minutes of your time this is a short and sweet tribute to The Last Of Us, and let's be honest it may deliver more of the appropriate tension and mood than the inevitable feature film could.



Review Roundup - Attack the Block

THE RAID (2011) 

With sequel now here I took a fresh look at what was touted by some as the "best action movie of the last ten years" at the time, having never given it a proper write up. While this hyperbolic quote is a little absurd and there have been many greats in martial arts cinema during this period from the likes of Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen, it does sum up the kind of impact it must have had on general audiences on release. Having seen Warrior King (The Protector) and Ip Man amongst many others, a new entry in the genre was never going to blow me away like this, but it has to be said this is a solid piece of work that should sate all but the most sadistic action fans. (Side note - did that "Redemption" part of the title get dropped or was it never on screen in the film itself? Anyway, it was a terrible idea).

Gareth Evan's ultra no frills drug bust movie is a dark, dirty, bloody, brutal affair. It's certainly a nastier experience than you'd normally expect in this kind of picture. In sharp contrast to the dance like movements of the fighting, there's an excess of stabbing, gouging and point blank shooting to the head. But in a way, a film about violence should not hold back from showing the results, and censoring everything detracts from the reality that guns and weapons have unpleasant outcomes. I mentioned this in our Winter Soldier review but of course Steven Rogers never brutally murders anyone with pieces of glass - the content suits the genres. I find it hard to believe anyone in Hollywood is considering a remake of this, I don't think they have the stomach for it. Even hearing this had been directed by a Western film maker at the time I almost expected fight obscuring shaking cam to appear, but there is no such thing as backs break, blood spurts and sharp objects go through their victims to scrape against nearby walls. It's an eye watering experience.


This contributes a strange horror atmosphere to it all, along with the decaying urban setting and a number of moments where the police unit becomes trapped without weapons in the dark and dirty corridors - there's a constant level of tension through most of the film. It some how has a John Carpenter vibe in places, almost like Precinct 13 but with the siege indoors. Everyone looks so unhealthy, both the cops and the thugs hunting them are pale and sweaty. The colour grading of the film itself adds to this with a heavily desaturated look to everything; it's a grimy film. I have to mention that amongst all this grit the soundtrack is surprisingly nice in a number of quieter moments, and of course it's used  to amplifies the parts where the rhythm picks up to match the choreography.

One of my only real problems with this is that it probably peaks too early. The initial raid itself is so explosive with a shoot out and a kitchen siege scene, it takes time for the later sequences to regain momentum. There's also a night stick versus knives fight in the first half, and I found that to be one of the most memorable set pieces. It's an almost exhausting experience by the end that the final showdown feels a little small in scale. But these are small issues. It might not have any real character depth and the bits of development that do take place are clichéd but it's at least full on in the parts that matter. Despite holding no surprises it delivers where it counts.

4/5

Review Roundup - Master of Puppets

THE MASTER (2012)

Recently I got around to seeing Paul Thomas Anderson's western epic come oil drama There Will Be Blood. It was a real treat; an impressive piece of work all round, full of historical details and amazing photography. It was slow burning (with of course some bursts of fire from the characters and their drilling operation itself) but at the same time it was incredibly engrossing;  the soundtrack was strange and sinister, and best of all the human drama was extremely intense. A dark and blackly humorous look at ambition and greed but at the same time simply a well crafted story. So looking at The Master and seeing many similarities, I have to report that unfortunately it's a let down. After coming to anticipate something more it wasn't engaging in the same way. But comparing the two the pieces all seem to be here. What is it that creates such a lack of satisfaction?


This is certainly another acting master class, and again it all looks and sounds amazing, but beyond the quality of the players and how it's all staged their journey is oddly inadequate in comparison. It never comes to any apparent conclusions about the nature of the subjects at hand, which is a shame since it has a number of fascinating ideas to explore. Is it a study of the weak under pressure or those who are easily led in tough times? Is it a look at ego and ambition? Is it a look at post Second World War culture clashes and the negative effects of fledgling pseudo sciences? All of these ideas are touched upon but in surface detail only and this lack of narrative focus undermines the experience. Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) is a charismatic but twitchy writer and figurehead, who beams under flattery but crumbles and devolves into anger when questioned. This alone could have made for a great character study. In a darker turn Amy Adams plays his wife, perhaps the puppet master behind the scenes pushing him along and directing their followers, but their aims and ideals are vague and never explored. Is it a simple fraud case or are these real believers? The claims that Dodd is a nuclear physicist and his hypnosis methods could cure leukemia are very disturbing, but whether this is fantasy or actual faith isn't explained. The plot meanders and offers a lot of good character moments but never moves towards any real arcs or a solid outcome.

The story itself follows Joaquin Phoenix as Pacific War veteran Freddie as he comes across this nefarious couple and their group, The Cause. At the centre of the film it's an amazing creation, someone who is visibly broken by wartime experiences having fallen into alcoholism and can no longer function within normal social standards. Perhaps he never could as flashbacks suggest he didn't quite fit into military life. He's a twisted and slowly unraveling wreck of a man - but to what end? What he feels The Cause can offer him is never really explained and what he offers them in return besides a test subject for their persuasion techniques or the occasional hired help is unclear. There's certainly a friendship between him and Dodd, who perhaps means to exploit his weaknesses or is just interested in seeing his own less acceptable desires being expressed without inhibition. What exactly makes Freddie so actively violent towards the naysayers in the group or those speaking out against his new found club is not obvious since he never fully accepts their ideas. How he comes to a point that makes it acceptable to move on in his life is also unclear, though he has developed by the end in some ways. The cult itself moves from house hold meetings and court room scandal into book publishing and more worryingly school openings, yet it's uncertain if this is a real success for it's leaders and how these things are actually moving along, or if this is temporary and the damage they are doing through the "self help" being offered is going to come back and bite them later on. There are a lot of cryptic moments and unexplored ideas here. Whether this is worthy of further exploration or is just as vapid and hollow as the cult itself; that remains to be seen.

3/5

BONUS REVIEW
I'M A CYBORG BUT THAT'S OK (2006)


What happened Park Chan-Wook? From the teeth pulling nastiness of the Vengeance trilogy and the human drama of JSA, things seem to be going well. But for whatever reason things haven't quite panned out and much like Thirst, here there are plenty of wacky scenes but the real ideas are never developed into a story that works. This suffers more for it, and the gravity of a plot containing elements about psychological trauma and the treatment of mental illness should really have been dealt with in a manner which allows for some serious depth. Instead the tone doesn't ever work as the occasional somber moments collide with the more frequent comedy sequences. They showcase a lot of problem people but never explore their issues in a meaningful way, opting instead for crazy special effects and oddball humour rather than actual therapy. The abrupt ending just serves to amplify this feeling of confusion in what is a wasted opportunity overall.

2/5

Review Roundup - Bionic Commando

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

Jump starting the 'phase two' Marvel Studios releases after a shaky start seemed like a tough job, but Steve Rogers returns to put things back on track in what is a surprisingly satisfying spy thriller come action fest. The emphasis being on the latter. Where Thor: The Dark World was full of unconvincing fantasy plot elements and distracting CG, and Iron Man 3 meandered too much with questionable character developments, it's an unexpected move for this latest entry to be packed with intrigue, stunt work and what almost verges on paranoia conspiracy material. Almost. Though it falls into the trap of overblown spectacle and another doomsday device type countdown during the finale, it's far from the silly universe squashing ideas in the previous outing for the God of Thunder and uses the man out of time idea in a few interesting ways without going for more easy fish out of water comedy. Despite managing to build on a new tone for the series the darker moments aren't taken too far; and this is still a lot of fun.


While there may be one too many generic sequences and giant explosions in that third act, it's got to be said that this has a refreshing amount of real car chases, great fight choreography and a new level of grit for the Avengers franchise as a whole. It's noticeable just how many people are stabbed, shot and exploded from a pure action movie point of view. It was nice to see a vibe which has mostly been lost in recent mainstream adventure movies. Of course I don't mean that in a sadistic way but in that it allows for a certain level of impact, something which can be sanitized in a genre where primary colours and humorous banter are prevalent. It's not as intense as a lot of the material in The Dark Knight with all it's pencils and gasoline, but this time around Marvel does seem to be pushing the certificate in a new ways, and it works really well in creating a comic hero movie which doubles as a watchable thriller. While the attempts to have a plot which throws back to hidden agenda espionage stories aren't that successful, the action style seems to have gone back to the 90s. They avoid the simplistic three action beat formula and deliver a number of visceral and highly entertaining set pieces and don't pull any punches. But this is only ever as successful as the film as a whole right?

Luckily what brings all of this together is the story, though as I say it's not entirely outside the usual superhero tropes. But while this is far from a serious critique of surveillance culture, reviving the 'trust no-one' message results in a particular sense of urgency as the central characters discover the roots of their dilemma. Everyone knows by now which ones are going to be safe and sound as the credits roll, but it still comes together well enough to keep a degree of tension going. The simple virtues of the Captain himself remain a strength in a time when other protagonists are brooding and conflicted, and this is advantageous for the plot allowing it to show contrasting ideals and have him play off the other heroes - for all the subterfuge and double crossing this isn't a laugh free effort which I appreciate. That being said I still don't buy Black Widow and Nick Fury as real personalities, but they at least get a few moments. Even the titular Winter Soldier feels under utilised in what is a slightly overlong film but perhaps this can be expanded on in the future? For once I look forward to it.

4/5

BONUS REVIEW
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
(2013)



Another oddball work from Joel and Ethan Coen, this musical journey has a lot of melancholy and a good deal of sly and dark humour as folk singer Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) struggles with his musical career, personal problems and a cat he doesn't own. It's a back and forth journey as he goes from one awkward disappointment to the next, and one night's sleep on a sofa to another; and it becomes clear that his decisions along the way may not be particularly wise and his own baggage may be causing issues he is unwilling to deal with. This type of character study doesn't paint a likeable portrait as many of his acquaintances are vocal about but it never creates a real arc. He is offered real friendship at least once but seems unable to build on this or take creative options that compromise his ideas a little, he'd rather have what he wants or quit entirely. This all or nothing outlook is perhaps a realistic view of artistic temperaments and I like a lot of what is done here, but in the end it isn't quite the fulfilling experience I might have expected.

3/5

Score Card

AUGUST

The Godfather ☆☆☆☆☆
Captain America: The Winter Soldier ☆☆☆☆
Close Encounters of the Third Kind ☆☆☆☆
Escape From New York ☆☆☆☆
The Untouchables ☆☆☆☆
There Will Be Blood ☆☆☆☆
Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan ☆☆☆☆
The Andromeda Strain ☆☆☆☆
The Godfather Part II ☆☆☆☆
Iron Man ☆☆☆☆
Inside Llewyn Davis ☆☆☆
Noah ☆☆☆
Once Upon A Time In America ☆☆☆
Star Trek The Motion Picture ☆☆☆
The Master ☆☆☆
This is Spinal Tap ☆☆☆
Ghostbusters II ☆☆
The Godfather Part III ☆☆

Review Roundup - Space Oddities

STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)

So the original cast Star Trek film that even I watch the least... is it unfairly maligned or just tedious? As a fan of the exploits of Shatner and friends on the small screen and in many of their cinema outings, this certainly sits as the one which gets over looked. Shamefully I have probably sat through part five, The Final Frontier more often despite it's bigger shortcomings. But while The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country stand as fine dramatic pictures as well as retro space adventures, does this first step on their post-television journey hold up? They do call it the No-Motion Picture after all. Or is that the Emotionless Picture?


This film has an Overture. This isn't supposed to be David Lean you guys. Oddly in the wake of Star Wars (which I have no doubt spurred on the studio in producing this) they seem to have looked back to the 60s not only in reviving the content of the original show but also in terms of style - this owes more to Kubrick than Han Solo, just look at those space helmet close ups of Spock. But while it doesn't all move at a geological pace, there are still one or two ridiculously drawn out moments. The shuttle trip to the Enterprise in the opening is incredibly slow and very awkward with too many cuts to a silent Kirk and Scotty as they stare in awe at a ship that as transformed from a cheap TV effect to become a immense Douglas Trumbull miniature. The first sequence showing the interior of alien cloud threatening life on Earth also goes on forever. I appreciate they wanted to show off the differences with the budget now available, but by this point many sci-fi movies have given audiences this kind of experience already even if many of the visual and special effects are neat. I do like the glimpses of Star Fleet and Vulcan here but a lot of the other sequences could be edited down.

But those issues aside, it does try at least to tell a proper sci-fi story about an existentially troubled life form, even if the cues it takes from TOS episode The Changeling are distracting and it's evident that this plot by genre novelist Alan Dean Foster was actually planned for their canned "phase two" TV series. Maybe this explains the stretched running time against the amount of spoken dialogue. As for the other aspects of the movie, things shape up unevenly. Did they really need to go with the transporter death scene? It's kind of unnerving to start such an early part of the film with this, like someone planning the script thought they should show that after so many years of it never going wrong. The sequel would out do this in pure gross factor, but it's an odd choice.


Besides philosophy and politics, Star Trek has always been about the people. Here the characters are fine but not particularly animated and Bones and Spock seem a little rusty; a bit out of practice. They do get a few good moments but everyone involved would go on to become far better in these roles. To me the weakest aspects are the new characters and they don't get enough to do before the climax takes them away from future excursions. It feels like they are plot devices and not real crew members. Of course any discussion of this production has to include those outfits... I am certainly no fashion designer but really, what is with the weird colours, the belt-less buckles and the bib shaped shirts? The primary colours of the show might have needed altering a bit, but not like this. The Admiral's uniform that William Shatner wears in the opening was pretty swish so why not go with that look for everyone? They'd kind of do this and opt for a smarter, less pajama style uniform later on. I am amazed that after ditching most of it the silly security guard armour got kept though - it's like something from a sci-fi sports videogame.

Overall though I can't say this is bad at the core. They pose enough intrigue on the journey and it has a decent amount of atmosphere - on my look back at science fiction through this decade it's probably the last of it's kind, almost a throwback as things evolved into the 80s. Some of the effects are neat in a big widescreen way, though I am unsure which parts belong to the Director's Cut and where sections have been trimmed or replaced thanks to the home releases available. In spite of the flaws it would still have an impact and go on to revitalize this series with the sequel being a favourite to many. But it's certainly better than part V or most of the TNG films... right?

3/5

Review Roundup - Waterworld

NOAH (2014)

You're gonna need a bigger boat ~ Methuselah

Never one to be tied into a particular genre, Darren Aronofsky has always managed to maintain a certain level of thought provoking intrigue to his body of work, from the time warping spectacle of The Fountain to the low budget grit of Pi. So when the next project he would be working on was announced as a new take on a Biblical epic I wasn't too concerned despite it appearing to be on the surface a fantasy blockbuster in the vein of so many The Lord of the Rings imitators. The likes of The Ten Commandments are hardly going to make a come back in the modern era, so a fresh approach would be interesting to see with a little intelligence applied to the oldschool mythology the makers clearly have a passion for. Even with the rumblings about CGI creatures I kept an open mind, after all good writing would be something to support any number of deviations from the traditional ideas suggested by this story. But ultimately whether they managed to create a balance between interesting character depth and big budget set pieces is up for discussion.


Noah is an impressive looking movie. Utilising the primordial landscapes of Iceland means that they avoid any of the distracting green screen back drops which made The Hobbit films seem so phoney. It's almost post apocalyptic at times. The volcanic blacks and barren open spaces manage to evoke a very interesting idea of how the world might have looked in it's earlier days. Whether this is a typical idea of the Earth created in the Old Testament is up to interpretation, and indeed the most impressive sequences offered here are those which blend ideas about fallen angels, Eden and the descendants of Cain with beautiful images suggesting the evolution of both the galaxy along with primitive life growing from fish to reptiles. The time lapse style effects are used a number of times during the story for both exposition and to further the plot, and are easily the best moments. There are hints of magical elements in the earth and even a look at animals which will soon be extinct, and these small hints are fantasy in the established lore are nice. Whether the real meat of the story and the characters portrayed are as strong as this, is another question.

In a surprisingly dark turn of events, the reality of a world destroying flood and the mental toll it has on the protagonist and his family are not shied away from. Screaming survivors are crushed by waves and the idea of whether the last humans deserve a similar fate once they have done the task at hand is questioned. These elements offer several tense scenes during the third act as the situation sinks in, it allows for a good amount of character depth as emotions run amok. There are somber hints that despite the events taking place even the chosen few are capable of depravity. The build up to the Ark's voyage on the other hand has a number of weak links, particularly when rock monsters and Ray Winstone are involved - and some big moments use both. I appreciate that the sins of man are something which needs to be shown before they are washed from the face of the planet, but at times they feel like something from another film particularly when battle speeches get churned out and the less subtle effects work arrives. I actually like the idea that banished creatures from Heaven have been cursed to become bound to the Earth itself but the Golem type designs here also seem out of place.

Despite the cast all being good with some interesting moments from Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and Crowe as Noah himself there still feels like a clash at times as intrigue and subtlety meet dumb blockbuster action beats. It succeeds in many respects and taking it as a genre picture it certainly outshines the bigger, louder films Peter Jackson has released in the past few years, but I feel like they could have pushed further with the philosophical ideas rather than going with scenes of evil being equated to mining, hunting animals or picking flowers. It all feels a little conflicted as silly meets the sublime, though for the latter it's worth seeing.

3/5