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All reviews - Movies (38) - TV Shows (1)

House (1977) review

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 8 June 2011 11:30 (A review of House (1977))

Bizarre and beautifully kitsch Japanese horror where six teenage girls travel to a remote mansion to stay with the head of the group, Angel’s, long unseen aunt. Unbeknownst to them, the aunt has turned into some kind of life-sucking demon whose house kills unmarried girls so she can live.

While it would be easy to dismiss this film as 70s trash, it should be praised for its sheer ingenuity and diversity. Where else could you see stop-motion animation, blue-screen work, early CGI and actual handpainted backgrounds used to this effect? The girls die in extremely unexpected and wacky ways, the one that caught my attention in particular involves a demonic piano, and there are just so many totally random, non-sensical moments (such as a man turning into a load of bananas because he tells someone he doesn’t like melons) that you sit with a huge grin on your face the whole way through.

It’s not going to change your life but it is an enjoyable romp where you can switch your brain off for an hour and a half.

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The Dinner Game (1998) review

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 8 June 2011 11:30 (A review of The Dinner Game (1998))

Very enjoyable French farce in which a hapless tax inspector who likes to build world landmarks from matchsticks is unwittingly invited to a “dinner for idiots” by a rather mean businessman. In this classic story, Brochant, the businessman, stands to win a significant bet by bringing the most idiotic guest, and believes that Pignon will earn him the prize.
Unfortunately, things do not go as planned and Pignon ends up spending an evening of misadventures with Brochant where each man learns a lot about the other.

The star of the show is easily Jacques Villeret as the dunderhead Pignon. Although he’s hapless and hopeless there is something charming about him and you root for him to overcome Brochant’s bigotry, but you certainly wouldn’t want him anywhere near your affairs.

The film is at its best when the situation starts to escalate within Brochant’s apartment (which the film barely leaves), where Pignon’s actions infuriate and exasperate Brochant in increasing amounts, and his actions slowly ruin Brochant’s cosy if complicated life.

You can tell this has been adapted from a play as the action and limited locations do restrict the flow at times, but the acting and comedy is superbly timed and performed that you can forgive it this minor inflection.
Definitely invest your time in this version rather than the awful recent US remake.

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Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) review

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 8 June 2011 11:28 (A review of Q: The Winged Serpent (1982))

This film doesn’t mess about. Within the first few minutes a window cleaner is decapitated by an unknown beast and a sunbathing beauty is plucked from a rooftop. David Carradine and Richard Roundtree’s cops are sent to deal with a mysteriously flayed corpse. And a seeming random crook takes part in a diamond heist.
The first half hour of this movie really sets up your expectations – a mad monster movie with wise-cracking cops with attitude. Sadly, it doesn’t quite live up to this premise, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie. It’s just not a 50s-style B-movie.

The lead character of Jimmy (played by an excellent Michael Moriarty) is an unusual choice. The film follows him and his criminal ineptitude until he finds Q’s nest at the top of the Chrysler building. From there he thinks of a way that the beast can solve all of his problems, not all of them financial. He is yellow, he is twitchy and somewhat unsound, and he’s hard to identify with but that’s what makes him such an interesting protagonist.

Carradine is excellently deadpan as the homicide detective, trying to piece together a connection between the mysterious giant creature seen in the skies and the seemingly ritual killings, and his rapid acceptance to the idea of human sacrifice for the beast is a little ludicrous but in a short running time, necessary.

In all the characters are what drive the film more than the Q of the title, and that makes it a little more interesting to watch.

It surprises me that this film was made in the 80s. The special effects are diabolically bad, with the Q himself looking like he was knocked together in someone’s garage (he probably was). But that does add a little low-budget charm to it that is hard to ignore.

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Drillbit Taylor review

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 8 June 2011 11:28 (A review of Drillbit Taylor)

There are worse ways to pass the time than to watch this Owen Wilson vehicle, but then there are also much better ways, even within Wilson’s own back catalogue.

In this film his inept titular character is hired by three heavily bullied kids to be their bodyguard to protect them from the overly vile Filkins, a bully whose motives remain unclear throughout the movie. And during this employment, Drillbit realises his own flaws and tries to overcome them for love.

So far, so average. And that’s what this film is in spades. Average.
I am a big fan of Wilson’s brand of hero - aloof and dim but usually genuine. For me, this is where this particular movie falls down. You don’t especially care for Drillbit and his actions paint a much vicious character for Wilson than you’re used to. Given his central role as the “loveable rogue” something about it just doesn’t work (especially in those moments where his behaviour causes the kids to be physically hurt.)

Of course, Drillbit does come through by the end of the movie and the horrible bully gets his comeuppance, but as the credits roll you can’t help but switch it off and instantly forget it, so little is there in substance to remember.

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The Exorcist (1973) review

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 8 June 2011 11:28 (A review of The Exorcist (1973))

A full-blooded psychological horror that is still shocking today. Watching sweet girl Regan turn into the foul-mouthed twisty-headed demon still sends shivers down even the most hardened of spines.

The key element to the success of The Exorcist is the religious dialogue present throughout the film. Watching Father Karras mourn his own mother and battle with a crisis of faith is unendingly more fascinating that the supposed possession, with the latter happily serving up material for the former to explore.

Of course, the possession itself is riveting and, in the most literal sense of the word, horrific. Linda Blair’s performance is so immaculate that it is easy to forget that there is a young girl of 13 acting beneath all that make-up and dubbed voices.
And what a voice. The deep, multi-layered growl is haunting and disturbing, adding extra fear into the scenes, leaving a distinct impression long after the film has ended.

Despite its age, The Exorcist has proved to be timeless in its power. We can joke about the dodgy fashions or the décor on display but the issues within the film are timeless, and no other supernatural film before or since has rivalled its authority as a pinnacle of the genre.

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Black Swan review

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 8 June 2011 11:27 (A review of Black Swan)

When the credits first rolled at the end of Black Swan all I felt was disappointment mixed with a little anger. It wasn’t the film I had expected and I felt a little cheated.
But then I went home and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And a week later I was still thinking about it. It’s become ingrained in my mind and the more I think about it the more impressed by it I become. That’s how subconsciously powerful it is.

First off, I have to reiterate the fact that this film is not for everyone. Like Aronofsky’s other work it is dark, it is brutal and it is taxing on your emotions. I got the impression that a lot of people in the cinema were there to watch what could be an Oscar-winning performance from Natalie Portman without realising what sort of film they were about to see. And it was interesting to see how many distressed faces there were when the lights came up at the end.

Natalie Portman’s turn as the titular ballet dancer is fragile, sad and demure and watching her descent into madness is upsetting and troubling. From the first glimpses of a possible double in the opening half hour to her full on psychopathic frenzy in the last you really watch her unravel and gain insights into her broken mind.
This is what the film does best – portrays a deteriorating mental state through hallucinations, sounds and actions. It becomes difficult towards the end to know what is real and what her mind has created in the effort for her to become the Black Swan Queen.

The supporting cast are perfunctory and somewhat clichéd, which was one of the main problems I had with the film (the other was the clichéd use of mirrors/reflections). Mila Kunis’ Lily in particular seems to be purely a token opposite for us to judge Nina by; her strengths are Nina’s weaknesses and vice versa. Vincent Cassell’s Thomas is passionate and sleazy but ultimately two dimensional.
The shining light amid the supporting cast is Barbara Hershey, a terrifying and domineering force on Nina as her mother, who seeks to control and pacify her only daughter.

So, since that initial disappointment and anger I am desperate to see Black Swan again.

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Closely Watched Trains (1966) review

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 8 June 2011 11:26 (A review of Closely Watched Trains (1966))

An odd little film from the Czech Republic focusing on a young man’s appointment at a rail station and his experiences there during the Nazi occupation.

From first impressions the film appears to be a comedy, albeit a black one. Milos tells us of his doomed forefathers and the amusing ways they met their demise; and this is followed by his first interactions with the somewhat motley crew that populate the station. He is clearly a fish out of water but he’s keen to do well and become a man.
His sweet relationship with a young woman is convincing and heartfelt, but things take a much darker turn when he cannot perform sexually and he tries to take his own life shown in quite a graphic way for the time and the genre. From then the story loses interest and falls into such sentimentality and ribaldry that by the end I had switched off didn’t feel like I cared.

Having said that there is stuff to enjoy here as the acting is delicately nuanced and the film is shot with what seems like an uncertainty between documentary and fiction which gives it visual charm. It’s just a shame that the narrative loses its way.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) review

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 8 June 2011 11:25 (A review of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010))

Pointless and dire remake of Wes Craven's horror classic.

I’m tempted to leave this review at that but I guess I should elaborate further.

The original Nightmare is one of my favourite horror movies, and 80s films, but I am always open to a “reimagining”, especially when it involves characters as iconic as Freddy Krueger. Plus, I have really enjoyed certain horror remakes such as Dawn of the Dead and Texas Chainsaw so I went to this with quite a positive attitude.

And all I can say is that this particular film sums up all that is wrong within the horror genre today. The characters are bland. There is no tension. Gore is favoured over terror. And an iconic and frankly disturbing villain is turned into a paedophile.

Why on earth the writers felt they had to tap into that all-encompassing fear of men who work with children I don’t know – Oh! He likes kids. He must be a paedophile! Let’s burn him!
When Freddy was a full-on child murderer who actually used those knife-fingers and might have gotten a sexual thrill while doing it he was much scarier; much easier to fear. You never knew why he did what he did; only that he enjoyed it. Now, with the new back story and flash backs you’re instructed to only feel disgust towards him, not fear. And therein most of Freddy’s potency as the producer of nightmares is lost.
Team that up with a thoroughly mediocre performance from Jackie Earl Haley and such stiff makeup that it’s hard to read any expression on his face, and Freddy is rendered banal.

So, a crap villain, horrendous “young” actors who no one could care about, and nightmares that are not nightmarish. That was the other main bugbear – the nightmares just weren’t scary. The key to the original Freddy films is that you can imagine having nightmares like those Freddy produces. The long Freddy snake, the tongue that comes out of the phone, the dangling of a human as puppet using his veins – all truly nightmarish visions that you can imagine a twisted psyche and imagination creating. Endlessly running down a corridor or Freddy making you slit your own throat not nearly as scary.
And the main thing I really missed? That horrible screeching noise as he drags his claws across metal. Here he just gives off fireworks.

It’s inevitable that there will be a sequel which just deepens my despair of the contemporary horror viewing public. Do they not know there could be much better horror than this?

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The A-Team review

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 8 June 2011 11:23 (A review of The A-Team)

This bold “reimagining” of the cult 80s TV series starts well but sadly loses its way in the last quarter.

The casting is spot on. Liam Neeson is gravelly and dominant as Hannibal; Bradley Cooper arrogant and chiselled as Face, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson comedic and bad ass as BA, and Sharlto Copley deliciously maniacal as Murdock. The four of them work perfectly together, each ricocheting off the others with ease and believability.

The storyline itself is a bit feeble but that’s not a huge problem as you watch a film like this mainly for the action and the characters. And the action doesn’t disappoint. The film is a non-stop rollercoaster ride of ridiculousness. Key points being the paragliding tank (which is perfectly absurd) and the set piece in the container dock (which does become a little bit too silly if that is possible in this film).

The problem comes in the final 45 minutes – when things become slightly too convoluted with double-crossing and back-stabbing and side-changing happening so fast that it’s hard to tell what’s happening and who’s good and who’s bad and makes it a little hard to care. Also, the sheer body count grossed in the film is not mentioned at all as the Team kill the US’s own soldiers and henchmen, which you would think would be a very bad thing and would surely lead to some kind of prison sentence alone. But then this is in essence a “fantasy” action film and is not meant to be taken seriously but it does leave an emotional hole.

I can say that I enjoyed the characters so much that I hope they get another shot with a better story and even more explosions just so I can see more of Murdock driving aircraft with that inane grin on his face.

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Blade Runner review

Posted : 7 years, 6 months ago on 8 June 2011 11:22 (A review of Blade Runner)

I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about with Blade Runner. It is quite often quoted as the best Sci Fi film of all time as well as Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott’s best, but personally I find it duller than dishwater.
The last two times I tried to watch it, I fell asleep approximately 40 minutes in. Today I managed to make it to the end, but kind of wished I hadn’t bothered.

For me the story is weak and lacklustre. Deckard’s search for the runaway replicants plods without any momentum save for the street chase with Zhora that ends in a spectacular sequence of smashing glass and the final scenes with Roy hunting Deckard through the abandoned house. Aside from these two moments, the narrative crawls along with nothing much happening making the 2 hour running time drag.
The love affair between Deckard and replicant Rachel is stilted and somewhat unbelievable. The notion that Deckard may be replicant and only feels attracted to one of his own is interesting but could have been explored more. As it is the idea of any romance between them is implausible and the acting duplicates this with both of them wooden and no sexual chemistry coming across at all (again this could all be planned, but it is boring nonetheless).

The main aspect of the film that rings ludicrous is Roy’s transition from strong, silent type to crazed, quipping lunatic in the final half hour. Again, you can read more into it should you choose – the death of Pris has awakened primitive emotions within Roy and he is unable to express them fully – but his then sudden turn to saving Deckard from certain death only to simply sit and die is frankly bizarre.

The one redeeming feature to Blade Runner is the stunning visuals. From the intricately detailed buildings and cities, to Pris’ makeup and Sebastian’s automatons, each detail is breathtaking and beautifully shot. It makes me sad for the loss of a film that could’ve been given the elements involved, rather than the bland snoozefest the actual end product is.

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