Review Roundup - Chasing the Dragon

T2 TRAINSPOTTING (2017)

Fraudulent sequels made decades after an original movie (or series) are one of my least favourite kinds of release. There's usually huge amounts of hype ... followed by a period of denial, regret, and self imposed amnesia. Remember this? It's back! Just older and more lacklustre! Once in a while a film maker will have retained all their marbles into later life, but these magic moments are the exception to the rule. Trainspotting is still Danny Boyle's greatest directorial effort, something that holds up - perhaps looking better than ever today. It's awful, it's funny, and it's engaging. But despite a lot of unease about a follow up, I tried to look at the positives. The sequel book did take place some years later, and everyone involved in adapting it to the screen seemed to be back. But whether this succeeds or is just another failed attempt to recapture past glories needs closer examination. The results are pretty uneven.


Scorecard

JULY

FILM OF THE MONTH Subway ☆☆☆☆
Goodfellas ☆☆☆☆
Predator ☆☆☆☆
The Birdman of Alcatraz ☆☆☆☆
Back to the Future ☆☆☆☆
Bernie ☆☆☆☆
John Wick 2 ☆☆☆☆
Dead or Alive 2: Birds ☆☆☆☆

Horror Bites - Got Milk?

GOZU (2003)

I feel trying to write an introduction to a Takashi Miike film is often of a pointless endeavour, since just finding his work and watching it without any research is probably the best approach. You generally know what you're in for - to expect the unexpected. Whether the synopsis features yakuza thugs or modest businessmen, the stories never really stick to any standard archetypes. So when I offer a brief explanation that Gozu is about two gangster friends, one who is tasked with taking his colleague to be killed because he has begun to lose his mind... you know that this is probably not going to be an exploration of the expected tropes. While there are some themes of brotherhood and loyalty, much of the plot here is far more bizarre.


Horror Bites - Meat Train

TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)

It takes something a little more out there to get me interested in yet another zombie film these days, beyond just making them run around like rabid lunatics again or having the setting be something mildly novel like a train. In this case things did seem to be looking up, with an emphasis on adrenalin fuelled chases and claustrophobic passenger compartments instead of the usual focus on bloody effects. I was certainly interested to see how a Korean take on the genre would pan out and what outlandish elements might be introduced outside of Hollywood. However a few too many of the old clichés have been retained along the way.


Review Roundup - Double Down

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017)

While Sad Keanu Chapter One was a slick sleeper hit that struck a nerve with many people who were tired of shaking cameras and censored violence, part of me was left wanting more. It was stripped down and stylish, but there was always something a bit restrained about it all. I may be hard to please but I've sat through Hard Boiled far too many times to immediately accept something like this as a new breed of shoot 'em up spectacle. But it laid some interesting ground work and showed people that actually being able to see movie violence could be a thing again. Fortunately a second time around means that they can push things a little further, and it's just the kind of push a sequel like this needs. Is it the double tap hit of adrenalin that I was hoping for previously? Well yes and no.


Review Roundup - Making Bacon

OKJA (2017)

After a number of years, director Bong Joon-ho returns to mixing up different genres under the guise of a creature feature. Just like the 10 year period in this story where the titular 'Super Pig' has been grown in the rural wilderness of South Korea, it's been a long time coming. Since The Host visual effects technology has developed and the cinema landscape itself has mutated and evolved. This is of course a Netflix release which has seen only a very limited theatrical run. But what has changed for the film maker over this time? Does the blend of satire and giant monster feel more refined after this lengthy period? Do the shifts in tone feel more natural and more finely tuned? Those anticipating another quirky but charming story know what to expect, but those stabs at the modern world are still pretty blunt.


Scorecard

JUNE


FILM OF THE MONTH: To Live and Die in LA ☆☆☆☆
Don't Breathe ☆☆☆☆
Ghostbusters ☆☆☆☆
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ☆☆☆☆
Ronin ☆☆☆☆
The Full Monty ☆☆☆☆
Tomorrow Never Dies ☆☆☆☆
Total Recall ☆☆☆☆

Weekend Retrospective - No Ticket

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)

Like the third instalment in the Star Wars trilogy, this was always a favourite of mine as a youngster. It's sillier and has more action, so I suppose it makes sense. However looking back the series suffers from a clear, if minor, effect of diminishing returns. And yet, it still remains a classic that caps of the trilogy in ways that are satisfying. The faults - things like recycled ideas from Raiders or a weaker first act that tries to explain away far too much of Indy's back story - are always very obvious on repeat viewings. But they are still essential viewings. There's still a lot to enjoy in terms of characters, action, music and set pieces - the essential ingredients in each of the films.


Review Roundup - Blind Fury

DON'T BREATHE (2016)

After the Evil Dead remake, Fede Álvarez apparently decided that it was opposites day; to take another shot at horror but in different direction. The excessive gore is nowhere to be found, and the home invasion plot is flipped so that the thieves quickly become the victims. So while his take on the Sam Raimi favourite left me less than impressed, it's appropriate that this is far more effective and ultimately more satisfying as a taut thriller with a few sharp moments of grotesque horror and panic. It's a fine example of taking a simple idea and running with it, in this case the set up being that our would be burglars are trapped in the home of a blind war veteran. It might push things beyond their limits as it progresses, but this is a minor misstep that I will get into shortly.

Short Film Safari - Rakka

Review Roundup - Near Miss

HEADSHOT (2016)

Despite the tired premise of an amnesiac action hero trying to figure out their past whilst fighting against sinister forces, the idea of an Indonesian Bourne Identity held some appeal for me. Starring Iko Uwais from The Raid series under the direction of  Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto AKA the Mo Brothers, there were certainly a few good elements that could give it enough flair to escape the trite plot ideas at the centre. If anything the mixture of horror and action expertise would be interesting to see. However despite the names involved this doesn't really come together as a solid martial arts adventure, and unfortunately it falls short of the potential for satisfying mayhem they could have brought to this kind of project.


Scorecard

MAY


FILM OF THE MONTH: Trainspotting ☆☆☆☆
Blow Out ☆☆☆☆
Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD ☆☆☆☆
Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2 ☆☆☆☆
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation ☆☆☆☆
Mission: Impossible ☆☆☆☆
Mon Oncle ☆☆☆☆
RoboCop ☆☆☆☆
Shallow Grave ☆☆☆☆
The Big Lebowski ☆☆☆☆
The French Connection ☆☆☆☆
Where Eagles Dare ☆☆☆☆

Weekend Retrospective - Back in Black

PERFECT SCORE: TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991)

'Good morning, Dr. Silberman... how's the knee?'

It's a big cliché but it is really hard to imagine a time when computer effects were so primitive that film makers couldn't just do anything they felt like. Someone would have an idea they wanted to see on screen, and more than one approach could be considered. Throw in some puppets, a bit of animation, a couple of miniatures. It's all part of a bag of tricks. Even Jurassic Park, lauded for its computer advances was planned as a feature that would use stop motion as well as the big practical creations. It could have been the swan song for Ray Harryhausen's style of movie monsters, or even boosted the popularity of those classic techniques. But there was a new deal breaker on the horizon. Shows like Insektors and ReBoot began to use computer animation and it gained traction even before Pixar broke new ground with Toy Story. All it would take was one idea to make it a big deal for live action films.

 

Weekend Retrospective - Bullet Ballet

PERFECT SCORE: HARD BOILED (1992)

"John Woo is..."
"...God"

These words appear on a series of title cards that are show in a trailer for this Hong King cinema classic. The press quote they've chosen to splice into the footage sums up the madness that is Hard Boiled, a crime thriller created by a master at the height of his powers. It's also described as 'gob smacking mayhem' and 'more exciting than a dozen Die Hards'. All of this hyperbole seems ridiculous but it's a pretty apt description of the story's content, an exaggerated and often excessive exercise in explosive action.

After setting the stage with the previous action greats A Better Tomorrow and The Killer, John Woo returned to the heroic bloodshed genre he helped create to give us his magnum opus. It would be the perfect distillation of everything that had come before, showcasing his fascination with meticulously staged gun battles and brotherhood themed tales. Ideas of loyalty and corruption would be explored one more time, while giving the forces of law and order a chance to be the heroes.


Weekend Retrospective - This Time It's War

PERFECT SCORE: ALIENS (1986)

'These people are DEAD Burke! Don't you have any idea what you have done here?!! Well, I'm gonna make sure they nail you right to the wall for this! You're not gonna sleaze your way out of this one!! Right to the wall!'

The behind the scenes history of the sequel to Alien being made sounds like a horror story all by itself. People from either side of the Atlantic fighting over things like work schedules and tea breaks while filming in England sounds like a nightmare. It's the sort of thing that should never happen, but the culture clash and lack of respect from the crew for the film makers set on doing a sequel to Ridley's 1979 classic created a lot of problems. It's been said they refused to even watch a private screening of The Terminator to see they weren't being pushed around by a complete hack.

On top of that there was also friction between two Jims Cameron and Horner as deadlines to finish the music approached. The original DOP was fired because he refused to light the set the way the director had envisioned. James Remar was let go because of drug problems. So it has to be asked, is this a true story of art through adversity? Perhaps, but luckily all the stress paid off. Much like the first two Terminator films, I have often had trouble deciding which is the better movie. They're all fantastic in different ways but let's explore why this particular sequel works so well.


Weekend Retrospective - State of the Art Bang-Bang

PERFECT SCORE: ROBOCOP (1987)

"Thank you for your co-operation. Good-night."

Aside from being one of my all time science fiction favourites, RoboCop is a film which contains so many things to enjoy. It's a story that goes beyond just being a blend of futuristic ideas and contemporary 80s culture satire. It's a film that has it all. It has the biggest squibs, and the biggest guns. It has the best mens' room scene. It's got a frequently horrifying mixture of grim, nasty violence, and offers a particularly bleak and cynical look at privatisation and greedy ambition. But at the same time it manages to be consistently funny. It's frequently excessive from the amount of blood to the over acting, but these ingredients are perfect in portraying a world full of, well excess. A film about a cyborg that fights crime is a recipe for some of the most trashy kinds of cinema, however the whole thing is crafted in such a way that all the moving parts are engineered to be exactly right, from the script, the performances, and the robot effects.


Review Roundup - Father and Son

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL.2 (2017)

With the exception of The Winter Soldier, the ever expanding Marvel franchise hasn't had a great track record with those tricky follow ups. Because of the nature of this universe it doesn't generally have that typically bigger and better first sequel (and inevitably disappointing third entry) that other distinct trilogies usual manage - these are all pre-planned as a single behemoth. Or so they say. Which means that they usually focus on sequel hooks and cameos to tie things into upcoming releases. However here James Gunn has apparently been left to his own devices, to write characters that are allowed to develop and expand as they face more personal challenges instead of simply fighting against bigger, louder problems. Of course the galaxy itself is still under threat, and there are plenty of eye melting visual effects sequences - but how these two elements combine to form the difficult second album is worth looking into.


Scorecard

APRIL


FILM OF THE MONTH: Duel ☆☆☆☆ 
A Shot in the Dark ☆☆☆☆
First Blood ☆☆☆☆
The Prodigal Son ☆☆☆☆
Time Bandits ☆☆☆☆
Nikita ☆☆☆☆
Paths of Glory ☆☆☆☆
Planet of the Apes ☆☆☆☆
Goodfellas ☆☆☆☆
Slither ☆☆☆☆

Retrospective - What awful people

PERFECT SCORE - TIME BANDITS (1981)

'Heroes? What do they know about a day's work?' 

Terry Gilliam's body of work has always contained a certain amount of abstract, eccentric, and utterly absurd things and nonsense; whether it's tales of piracy and banking in The Crimson Permanent Assurance, or the time travelling nightmare future of 12 Monkeys. But one feature stands out above his other successes, defying classification as either a simple children's adventure or just another series of bizarre Monty Python sketches. It's a richly detailed, layered story, filled with amazing visuals and memorable characters, as well of lots of rather silly jokes and dialogue. The plastic clad henchmen and eerie set pieces are all present and correct, but it's a film which grows beyond the sum of its parts to become truly one of a kind.


Weekend Retrospective - Ecstacy of Gold

PERFECT SCORE - THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)

"When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk"

In the past I gave some consideration to whether this should be given the honour of being the best ever Western. At one time I could easily have given that title to Leone's own Once Upon a Time in the West. But over repeated viewings this just held up better for a variety of reasons. It was the most purely entertaining, the most engaging, it had a certain tone and a certain character to it all which was never quite replicated anywhere else. So I was forced to reconsider... maybe this is the best. With more thought it eventually made it into the perfect score list.

The previous two films in the so called "dollars trilogy" are watchable, but very hit and miss in terms of overall quality and consistency. Revisiting them recently the flaws are more evident and they certainly aren't nearly as fun as the third instalment, despite the similarities in many places. The music is still good and they have their own memorable set pieces and characters. Clint is iconic in the poncho and they have the same kind of style at times. But they aren't paced as well, and they certainly don't have this much personality. They're just practice runs all building up this one, where every comes together.

He's tall, blonde, he smokes a cigar, and he's a pig!
 

Retrospective - Prepare to meet Kali

INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)

While it's not without a few problems, I feel that this is a greatly underappreciated entry in the original Indiana Jones trilogy. Even by its own director. I mean sure it has notable flaws. Some even dare to suggest it's worse than the ill-guided forth instalment that I promised not to bring up again. But their kind of course needs a good slap in the face for blasphemy. Some enjoy Temple as much as the others, or even consider it to be the greatest Indy adventure, though there will always complaints that come up regarding two elements which seem to be given far too much attention, as I will discuss.

But this is an example of how to do a sequel right; where prior success with a previous release allowed for a lot of freedom. Since Raiders was a hit they had no reason to rehash it, so a huge amount of creativity was poured into the follow up in terms of both set pieces and fantasy visuals, and in that department it is unmatched.


Scorecard

MARCH 


FILM OF THE MONTH: Barry Lyndon ☆☆☆☆
2001: A Space Odyssey ☆☆☆☆
A Clockwork Orange ☆☆☆☆
Aliens ☆☆☆☆
Arrival ☆☆☆☆
Dr. Strangelove ☆☆☆☆
Full Metal Jacket ☆☆☆☆
X2 ☆☆☆☆
Slaughterhouse-Five ☆☆☆☆
The Shining ☆☆☆☆
Logan ☆☆☆☆

Review Roundup - Darmok and Jalad

ARRIVAL (2016)

In a time when Star Trek has been reduced to nonsensical action schlock, it's nice to see something that seems to have been made using real science fiction ideas to tell a proper story. Once struggling through opposing ideals and communication problems to solve a crisis would have been prime material for the series to cover, but today it's been left to a smaller scale, far smaller budget release like this to do something truly interesting. It's visually cold, it looks sterile and bleak. But under the grey and uninviting surface there are strong character moments, engaging emotional hooks, and one or two central concepts that have real weight to them. It also adds a new genre to the filmography of Denis Villeneuve, signalling a promising future for his upcoming sci-fi endeavours.


Retrospective - Crystal Balls

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)

Revisiting this was never going to be pretty so I apologise in advance. Nearly a decade later I barely remember the film in question. Instead there's just a mental block covering over the let down of what could, and should have been. A vague feeling of frustration, denial... and boredom. It took so long to make. Surely that means all the best ideas have been used to create it I told myself. It's got to be good because they took some time and care. To bring back an icon like this takes some effort right? As it turned out the opposite was true. Nobody really cared or even tried. I have to temper my thoughts, after all this is following up a classic series containing the greatest film of all time. I've been through worse. But I suppose I just need to get this one off my chest. Going back to see if things look any better with a few years just makes the flaws much more apparent.


Retrospective - Ape Escape

KING KONG ESCAPES (1967)

Somewhere out there, you can find a movie box set that includes the original stop motion classic King Kong. It comes packaged with several other tenuously linked features including the butchered US edit of King Kong vs Godzilla and the ape versus robot madness that is King Kong Escapes. I have to wonder why, did someone include them just for laughs? Did someone working for the distributor actually think these made enough sense as sequels? Maybe both are true; at least I certainly like to think so.

In any rate, once upon a time this oddball bundle led to me what was one of my first viewings in this genre; an entry in the wave of films which followed 1954's original Gojira. This particular monster mash is still entertaining now, and it has since become a firm favourite of mine amongst the many rubber suit creature movies which have been produced over the decades. It's a shame Toho didn't keep the rights long enough to make more of these, instead opting to use other monsters along the way whether it makes sense or not. I would have certainly liked a few more instalments which feature their take on Kong.

What could possibly go wrong?

Review Roundup - One Last Time

LOGAN (2017)


For whatever reason, the X-Men series on screen has had a wildly oscillating tone when you consider the last 17 years of releases. The films erratically move from laughably bad CGI to sombre deaths and concentration camp memories, sometimes in the same story. This time around the title provides a clue of what they are aiming for; much like other comic book adventures in recent years that deemed it necessary to swap out the colours and camp, they've dropped the usual superhero alias for a more serious moniker. If the number of years since the initial Bryan Singer outing introduced us to Hugh Jackman's Wolverine makes you feel ancient, then this is a movie which will certainly magnify that feeling. Like the tone the quality also varies within the franchise, but fortunately this one hits a high point... while being a depressing and down beat affair. If you thought the changes between his first and second solo outing made quite a difference, then this takes things to new extremes -- while maintaining a few staple ingredients, for better or worse.

Scorecard

FEBRUARY


FILM OF THE MONTH: The Time Machine ☆☆☆☆
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ☆☆☆☆
Hard Eight ☆☆☆☆
Inception ☆☆☆☆
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ☆☆☆☆
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ☆☆☆☆
Inglourious Basterds ☆☆☆☆
Jurassic Park ☆☆☆☆
Return of the Jedi ☆☆☆☆
Rise of the Planet of the Apes ☆☆☆☆

HFC Review - Papier-mâché Menace

THE NEON DEAD (2015)


The title of this movie throws up a lot of warning signs, whether it’s the zombie fatigue of non stop flesh eater stories in modern day mainstream media, or the quirky technology angle which highlights that this will be a wacky comedy. Both ideas are pretty exhausting to even think about. I’m pretty sure the name isn’t an attempt to have it confused with a certain Danish film maker’s psychological horror release from this year. But they did previously call it Invasion of the Undead so I can’t be certain. Fortunately the makers are a little less cynical than someone as jaded as me, and they have a few interesting ideas up their sleeves to lend this all a certain likeable quality. This is a film about home made monster masks, sword duels and grinning creatures with flashing eyes and torch light smiles. Let’s take a look into how this all fills out as an actual feature.

>>READ MORE

Retrospective - Top. Men.

PERFECT SCORE: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)

"South America, 1936" 

With that subtitle, something small and innocuous, begins the greatest adventure ever filmed. It has to be one of the best openings on film, a slow atmospheric build up that hides the lead character in the shadows waiting to show his face, and his abilities. Following a sinister trek through the rainforest our hero makes his entrance with the crack of a whip. The no nonsense approach shows us what we need to know; Indiana Jones is revealed through actions and not words.


Review Roundup - Skux Life

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016)

I'm the first to admit it but the kind of stories that really push my buttons usually involve a lot of horrifying technofear spectacle and gruesome blood letting. My all time favourite ends with a Gestapo agent's face melting on screen after all. But sometimes the best movies come from unexpected places, and real warmth and humanity also work their magic on my black heart when done effectively. This New Zealand production from the makers of quirky mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows offers a similar amount of oddball characters and offbeat laughs, but also allows for a huge amount of surprisingly excellent character drama that goes well beyond silly gags. While still including plenty of them of course.


Scorecard

JANUARY 


FILM OF THE MONTH: Hunt for the Wilderpeople ☆☆☆☆
Hot Fuzz ☆☆☆☆
I Live in Fear ☆☆☆☆
Captain America: Civil War ☆☆☆☆
Red Beard ☆☆☆☆
Star Wars ☆☆☆☆
Team America ☆☆☆☆
The Bad Sleep Well ☆☆☆☆
Thief ☆☆☆☆
Under the Shadow ☆☆☆☆
Up ☆☆☆☆

Review Roundup - Disco Nightmare

THE GREASY STRANGLER (2016)


There's no way to avoid saying it, this is a pretty weird release. Everything about it has been purposely chosen to feel odd or off the wall in some way, whether it's the gaudy pink outfits or the spoken rhythm of almost every character. Mixing comedy, horror and high levels of strange and grotesque imagery, the story of a father and son love triangle is surrounded by all kinds of slimy, disgusting moments. Of course this all takes place during the reign of a serial killer, the eponymous strangler. Is Brayden's dad Ronnie covering his naked body with grease before going out to murder people that have mildly annoyed him? The answer of course is yes. Does this joke have enough to sustain a feature length running time? Well, we'll see.

Review Roundup - The Cellar

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)


There are some things here that shouldn't really work on the surface. A script repurposed to form a quasi-sequel to a found footage movie from 8 years ago is one of those things. So getting past the idea the name was slapped on to something to get people in cinemas is tricky, but the film we actually get is surprisingly entertaining in its own right. Instead of shaky infra red camera work and mysterious creatures, the story here is centred on far more human problems as a trio of people are trapped in a custom built shelter that may or may not be protecting them from a disaster above ground. It's more akin to Misery than you might be expecting, and personally a focus on people and small surroundings instead of visual effects is a far more interesting prospect than simply more destruction mayhem.

Review Roundup - Take Shelter

UNDER THE SHADOW (2016)


An Iranian take on The Exorcist might not sound like the most obvious idea for yet another '80s period horror feature, but somehow it all comes together in Babak Anvari's story of both man made and otherworldly disturbances. While the setting and some of the mythology take some getting used to, there is something slightly familiar about a potentially supernatural problem surrounding a young child as her parents have domestic problems which, at first, seem to be the real cause of the problem. This joint venture between UK-Qatar-Jordan production companies to make a Persian language chiller is a solid mixture of established ideas and intriguing new ones which adds a few added layers of war time subtext to make it complete.

Horror Bites - Maniac Mansion

PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)


If there was ever such a thing as the quintessential Vincent Price horror, this is probably it - at least in terms of those with a period setting. Choosing just one no simple task of course, but this is certainly a high point. Building on what had been done in The House of Usher, this is another instalment in the Roger Corman series of Poe adaptations which use just some of the story ideas as a basis. There's another spooky mansion in the middle of nowhere, another mystery and another journey into madness which is quite what it seems at first.

HCF Review - Join Us

ASH VS EVIL DEAD - Season 2 (2016)


So in what seems like no time at all, the second season of this show has landed and a third is already scheduled. With the promise of more chainsaw related injuries, silly dialogue and monster mayhem, it’s a good time to be a deadite. By now everyone knows what to expect as they ride the line between the gruesome original movie and the more ridiculous moments from Army of Darkness. But can they keep up the momentum, or the shock factor for so long?

READ MORE >>

Scorecard

DECEMBER


FILM OF THE MONTH: Onibaba ☆☆☆☆
Police Story 2 ☆☆☆☆
Return of the Jedi ☆☆☆☆
Drunken Angel ☆☆☆☆
Forbidden Planet ☆☆☆☆
Back to the Future ☆☆☆☆
Star Trek IV ☆☆☆☆
Star Wars ☆☆☆☆
The Hateful 8 ☆☆☆☆