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Best Movies Reviewed In 2016:


Click any of the above posters to see my most positive reviews this year...

Next anticipated movies (September 2016): Kubo and the Two Strings, Don't Breathe, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Blair Witch, The Girl With All The Gifts

Click here for my 2016 movie guide

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Denial (2016)
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Best thing: The obvious choice would be Timothy Spall. At one point someone shoves on a tape of one of David Irving’s events and it took me a while to realise that it wasn't real life footage. So fully had Spall immersed me in his character that I genuinely now saw him as that figure and had completely suspended belief. But I think my favourite thing might be the conflict for Rachel Weisz when she ends up feeling compelled to tell a holocaust survivor they can speak at the trial. This might not seem controversial but within the context of the film it's a key moment that provides some real depth.

Worst thing: For an academic Rachel Weisz's character seems oddly unable to maintain distance from the subject matter. I don't really have a problem with her getting offended when they are visiting the holocaust, but I did get a little irritated in a later scene where she finally realises, "Oh I see now! You were gathering facts for the trial!" Still I think this still raises interesting questions about her character: her feelings of mistrust and that she should be more fully in control of proceedings. Also her feelings of personal responsibility for the outcome of the trial.

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British historian David Irving sues American historian Deborah E. Lipstadt for libel because she called him a holocaust denier. The result is a situation where it seems that the historical truth of the holocaust is on trial.

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The performances are wonderful and I found the whole premise incredibly interesting. There's an analogy to be made with internet trolls and what is now called the "alt right". David Irving is an example of a figure who courted extremist sentiments by being a bit of a showman. He says what they want to hear, over-eggs the extent of his evidence and is seen as legitimising bigoted historical revisionist positions.

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The protagonist finds herself in an odd position. It's strange enough to find the UK legal system requires her to shoulder the burden of proof when she is sued for libel. (She has to prove that her writing is not libellous.) But her situation becomes even odder when she is told that she should not speak at the trial. That holocaust survivors must not be brought forward. The trial strategy is essentially: "Do not feed the troll."

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Naturally a trial is a very specific context and on the internet "don't feed the troll" isn't always the best advice, but David Irving’s approach is nevertheless very much that of an internet troll. I'm also reminded of "The Intruder" where William Shatner plays a figure who riles up bigoted sentiments. Social media today seems to help such figures find and unite the niche groups with specific extreme views.

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Denial is a film championing those who call out the progenitors of misinformation. It is a film about free speech: the dangers when it is abused, but also the overall necessity of that principle of free speech. It also features an array of great performances and engaging characters. Awesome!

A+

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ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
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Best thing: For me, by far the best segment (and I so wish the rest of the film was this good) was "W is for Wish". It's like an advert for He-Man toys turned into a horror movie. It's pretty amazing.


Worst thing: The big chubby guy going nuts is perhaps not the worst thing in the film. But that segment is a good example of the film's problems. It's hard to enjoy the majority of this short film because it's not clear what is happening. In the end the explanation is a cheap gag. The result of this is that even the good aspects of the film are wasted because of the format.

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I've been meaning to review this for a while. None of the films are as bad as they get in the first movie, but then none of them are as good as those apart from (in my opinion) Steven Kostanski's "W is for Wish" segment. (I really feel like I ought to see Manborg now.)

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My favourites from the first were "L is for Libido" (from the director of the VHS segment "Safe Haven") and "T is for Toilet" (from youtube Claymation sensation Lee Hardcastle). Nothing in this sequel has that level of creativity and certainly none of the films seem to be allowed the amount of time that made that segment work. But I've got to admit that we also don't get anything as pathetic as Ti West's "M for Miscarriage" from the last film either.

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The war crimes tribunal by semi-cured zombies against surviving humans was a lot of fun. I actually wish that segment had been longer so it could do something more interesting with the concept.

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Frankly ABCs of Death is fine, but it quickly becomes tiresome. There are generally no real standouts here and anything that is good feels cut short too soon (while for some of those less impressive efforts sometimes even the shorter runtime feels overlong). Watching this film is generally a pretty unrewarding experience.

D-




Midnight Special (2016)
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Best thing: The spectacular visuals at the finale are awesome. And unlike Spielberg's Close Encounters the film doesn't try to insist that we should necessarily be overjoyed in spite of the darker elements seen in the film.

Worst thing: I don't really get much of a feel for the characters. They aren't written or played badly. The scenario just remains at such a level that they don't really get much opportunity for little individual personality quirks.

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While it's a strength that the film keeps its darkness and doesn't tell us what to think, that also results in characters who don't really force us to take sides. And it's interesting how nobody is demonised here either.

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Spielberg-type alien films normally suggest or even openly state that the military is evil. But here the military are just out of their depth and while more powerful they seem to be less at fault than the protagonists overall.

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Joel Edgerton is a complete chameleon. Once again hiding in plain site by simply acting in a slightly different way and yet somehow becoming completely unrecognisable as a result.

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On the one hand it feels like this story takes place in the real world. But on the other hand these seem like fairly bland characters. There are cool ideas but the character interactions are rather less gripping, though certainly well-performed.

B+



Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
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Best thing: It's got to be the costume. Here we have a 50s movie centred around a guy in a rubber suit and yet even with the camera directed straight at the monster it still looks amazing. In fact we regularly see the creature swimming and it looks perfectly natural and perfectly convincing.

Worst thing: No surprises here I'm sure. The female character who comes along with the expedition randomly decides to go for a swim in the lagoon. Even other characters in the movie think she's daft doing so. And she's such a sensible and intelligent character that it just seems bizarre.

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I love Creature From The Black Lagoon. The pacing lags a bit and the music is a bit cheesy at times, but the monster is such a wonderful design and every appearance is thrilling.

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And I actually really like the music too. Sometimes the dramatic music doesn't seem to fit with the Creature creeping around the boat, but when we get some genuinely action-packed scenes the music fits much better and the music builds to crescendos that I found really quite impressive.

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Like, Bride of Frankenstein, it has its problems, but Creature of the Black Lagoon is still one of the best Universal movies; even without the comedy elements other entries rely on to give them some extra charm.

B+



As Above So Below (2014)
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Best thing: The lead actress, Perdita Weeks, does manage to be convincing as the Indiana Jones/Da Vinci Code protagonist. Her character is very well formed as intelligent, passionate about her special subjects (such as the history of alchemy), but also willing to ditch people who get into trouble during her trips.

Worst thing: When a random guy who they find in the tunnels randomly attacks one of them and beats that person to death, I felt like the film had really lost its way. I was especially bored at that stage and the relentless attack at that moment by a man who should be severely outnumbered just confused me.

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I'd heard from a number of places that As Above So Below was underrated. Now I've seen it, I'll have to disagree. The setup at the beginning is pretty cool and there are some pretty neat effects in places.

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Perhaps my issues with ghost films come into play here since I felt that the supernatural forces seemed to be able to do anything and the protagonist generally only seemed to escape unscathed because the supernatural forces simply choose not to use their powers to kill her.

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When one character is sucked into a magically conjured-up burning car by unseen forces, it becomes clear that nobody is safe from the magical unseen doohickeys and that whether any character lives or dies is purely coincidence (or 'because it's in the script').

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A lot of time spent wandering around corridors doesn't end up making for a good film. (A similar problem as found in the second half of Ridley Scott's Alien, right? Oooh controversial!)

E



Joyeux Noel (2005)
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Best thing: Daniel Bruhl is awesome as ever and I like his enigmatic, conflicted and somewhat untrustworthy character. He seems to have been given the character with the most depth.

Worst thing: I suppose the idea that someone would go back to the wrong trench at the end with plans to escape isn't unthinkable, but the way it happens in the films felt very contrived. There are a number of somewhat contrived moments or lines through the film but most of the time the performances are good enough to make up for it.

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The film aims to capture the magic of the true life event where the various armies briefly held a truce at Christmas during the Great War.

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And, to that extent, it succeeds. That the German army actually had Christmas trees placed all the way along the trenches at the front line is one of those things that is so ridiculous that it has to be true.

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I don't want to under-value this film. It's a very well put together film and it has its moving moments and it earns all of them. The characters are engaging too.

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But there's a less cinematic feel to the film. It felt more like a tv production and as a result the events very consistently came across as a dramatised version of events rather than really pulling me in. It was still clear that this dramatised version of the events is well-performed with solid dialogue but the direction and writing isn't exciting or compelling enough to provide the engrossing experience I'd have liked.

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Nevertheless, Joyeux Noel is still very enjoyable and well-performed and it certainly has its moments.

B+



The Imposter (2012)
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Best thing: I love how the central imposter tells the story and manages to continue to avoid being recognised as a con artist even when it feels utterly ludicrous.

Worst thing: An attempt to leave the audience in suspense at the end annoyed me. If there's no new information, just say so.

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I don't watch all that many documentaries and I dislike rating them. A bad documentary can be incredibly dull but what might seem like a good documentary can turn out to be very misleading. Also if a documentary has important subject matter (and they often do) then lower marks seem like disrespect to the subject matter rather than simply to the filmmaker.

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But The Imposter in many ways feels like a story rather than an enquiry into a particular topic. The really weird thing is that the story's main villain is essentially the narrator for much of the film. He tells us exactly how he managed to manipulate the system in order to be incorrectly identified as blonde haired blue eyed American boy despite being a brown-eyed dark-haired young adult frenchman.

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It's a good story well-told. If this were a normal film I'd criticise the ending, but since this is all real life I guess you can't fabricate a conclusion. (That being said, the attempt to tease the audience with a possible conclusion annoyed me.)

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This is a solid documentary and very enjoyable. I recommend it.


Movies I Couldn’t Finish: The Lobster (2015), Life After Beth (2014), Love And Friendship (2016) and Anomalisa (2015)

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The Lobster (2015)

I did not appreciate the bored-sounding yet cynical voiceover. Also it became increasingly clear that the film was intending to be funny the longer it spent not making me laugh.

I'm all for weird sci-fi scenarios and I'm often quite fond of black comedy, but frankly The Lobster was no fun whatsoever. This director doesn't key in to my sense of fun at all. I didn't find Dogtooth fun, I didn't find The Lobster fun and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't find Alps fun either. Ugh!

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Life After Beth (2014)
I could barely even tell that the opening scene was supposed to be a funeral. It didn't feel like any funeral I've ever seen. I could forgive that. I'm sure there's an explanation anyway.

But I gave up on this film pretty early. None of the jokes were landing for me. When we not only get the protagonist masturbating with his dead girlfriend's scarf AND his arsehole brother catching him and berating him for it, I decided I'd never get on board with this film. Neither a guy masturbating nor a brother giving him hell for it is funny. Perhaps this film picks up later, but frankly I'd seen enough.

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Love And Friendship (2016)
This seemed like a very awkward adaptation. We have a quickfire introduction to several different characters through title cards, which is a great way to confuse me since I'm far better with faces than names.

Since the original book consists in letters to a friend, there are scenes which feature nothing but gossip about people who aren't there and those scenes require you to be fully faniliar with everyone's name and how they relate to one another. I was lost.

Then there's the attempts at humour with the awkward character because he's an idiot. It just wasn't working for me.

Kate Beckinsale is great and if this were a film that makes better use of the visual medium, I would have enjoyed this a lot more. But here I found myself losing interest.

I'm willing to admit a possible failing in myself here. If I'm struggling to keep up with the characters and very possibly some of the language too, then that perhaps indicates a problem with me rather than the film. But it wasn't so long ago that I rewatched Sense and Sensibility and I found that absolutely delightful. At very least, Love And Friendship doesn't seem to take proper advantage of the visual medium in this adaptation.

I couldn't finish this film.

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Anomalisa (2015)

Seriously, when is Charlie Kaufman going to let someone else direct his scripts? Or are his scripts all so bad now that nobody wants to touch them? I have no idea what anybody liked about this film.

The animated puppets look kinda cool I guess, but the protagonist just seems like a complete dick and by giving everyone Tom Noonan’s voice the film pulls me into the protagonist's misanthropic viewpoint. (And just to make it even worse, he decides to escape from the noise of the airport by listening to a bunch of Tom Noonans failing to sing a beautiful classical piece. I definitely didn’t find it as soothing as the protagonist seemed to.)

Charlie, I understand that you don’t want to compromise on your “vision”, but frankly you are still supposed to be making a piece of entertainment. When Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and George Clooney took on your scripts they knew that. You seem to think making something entertaining is selling out.


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Brooklyn (2015)
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Best thing: There are a lot of sweet little moments I could pick, such as our protagonist being coached on how to eat pasta for the first time. But I think I'm going to pick a character: the horrible shopkeeper our protagonist works for at the start of the film. (Though a near second place unsurprisingly goes to Julie Walters because, y'know, it IS Julie Walters after all.)

Worst thing: Is it me or does the Italian boyfriend feel a bit fake at times? Charming, sure, but in a bit of a fake way. It's not a massive flaw since this is a really great film, but I'd buy into the relationship more easily if he seemed a little more genuine.

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Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan as an immigrant to America going through the cultural changes and the hurdles to start a new life. This isn't abcomedy, it doesn't get wacky or self-referential. It's a straight-up real life drama to capture the situation of an Irish immigrant to the US in the 50s.

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It's beautiful and powerful and it's interesting how the story uses an ordinary character to capture the whole culture surrounding Irish immigration during that decade, rather than making a biopic about a particular famous person who arrived in the States this way.

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Essentially I guess this is a romance, but this is not a film that lets relationships take centre-stage. Brooklyn is a simple yet gripping drama which pulls on the heart strings. It's not so much a story with heroes and villains, but rather one that captures humanity.

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Brooklyn is a unique and beautiful drama and I highly recommend it.

A+



10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
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Best thing: John Goodman is regularly amazing and even in more ill-advised projects like King Ralph or The Flintstones, he's still wonderfully charming. Here, as the bunker-building conspiracy theorist, he portrays an unhinged character who presents as well-meaning, this id not so far removed from his performance in The Big Lebowski.

Worst thing: To be reasonably vague about a scene in the second half, if someone is wildly stabbing through the wall of a container it's a bit unrealistic for them to keep barely missing the way they do here. That being said, this is just dramatic license really.

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10 Cloverfield Lane is a tense thriller. The film works pretty well as a stand-alone film and I'm pretty sure this involves some major changes to the Cloverfield mythology. (Wasn't the original Cloverfield creature man-made?)

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Simple, effective, well-acted, tense, exciting, comedic elements; I also thought I saw a few homages to Psycho, even from the opening scene when our female protagonist starts by packing up to run away from her current home and relationship.

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10 Cloverfield Lane is a massive mark-up in quality from the first movie in the department which matters most: the characters. I'm now pretty excited to see what this franchise throws at us next. Considering that I wasn't sure if I'd ever rewatch the first movie, that's a pretty big turnaround.

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But even if the next few Cloverfield films were to turn out to be hopeless, I'd still be happy with this small independent instalment.

A+




Eye In The Sky (2016)
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Best thing: Honestly Alan Rickman is brilliant here. I was very impressed and it's all the sadder that is now one of his last ever roles.

Worst thing: Admittedly the liberal handwringing from the politicians becomes more than a little ludicrous at times. But then again, I think that is the point of the film. By bringing a perspective less confortable with warfare into the scenario, we get to explore the basic concepts more thoroughly - even if it possibly means that we miss out on some rather more realistic moral quandaries.

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Can I have a remote control beetle camera? Wow, so cool.

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There have been plenty of films now about the reasons that terrorists organise bombings and even when we enter Eye In The Sky with that information on our minds, it doesn't make the villain seem any less evil to me. It's quite frightening how realistic the main villains are here. (In fact, it seems that one villain here is based directly on Samantha Lewthwaite, the white widow, currently believed to be residing in Kenya and assisting Al-shabaab.)  I wondered whether the depiction of areas controlled by Al-shabaab might be a little unrealistic but it doesn't look like anyone is questioning that.

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Eye In The Sky doesn't feel like a real scenario but it is an interesting exploration of the morals of global warfare and a great showcase of acting talent.

A+



Foxcatcher (2014)
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Best thing: The performances in Foxcatcher are excellent and Channing Tatum perhaps deserves particular credit. He doesn't have all that much dialogue and so through his performance we see his character transition through rage, jealousy, admiration. C-Tates has come a long way as an actor.

Worst thing: The film is way too long. This is not a film that needs to take over two hours. Naturally this is subjective, but I really felt the length this time.

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Can I just check, does this film involve sexual abuse? I feel like it might be implied but it's never terribly clear.

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There are all sorts of clever little details such as when Channing Tatum's character is given a chalet to live in and yet he watches the tv crossed legged on the floor rather than using the furniture. Also when the rich benefactor adds two wrestling medals to his trophy room he bizarrely goes on a tangent belittling his mother's love of horse riding and everyone around him feels unsure how to react.

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Still considering the extreme length of the film, much still seems unclear. As much as the film feels genuinely tense and we get a real sense of the extent of the rich benefactor's bizarre behaviour, the film seems to be missing any real point and after the stretched out 2 hour running time, I really needed some point to it all.

D+

Resident Evil (2002)
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Best thing: Zombie dogs and Milla Jovovich's awesome roundhouse to take them down.

Worst thing: Annoying flashback sequences which reveal a completely uninspired 'twist'.

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I feel there would have been much more tension if the movie had followed the basic plot of the game. The moment we start the film we are told all about the evil Umbrella Corporation, but in the film we begin with a kind of haunted mansion setting and only later realise that biological weapons research underground is responsible. Admittedly fans of the game would know it was coming, but for dramatic tension it's a pretty neat structure.

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The dialogue is stilted. And it's bizarre that the armed security for a secret facility decide to respond to a potential viral outbreak by taking a local police officer and two employees with amnesia straight into their top secret research labs without gas masks. But the most confusing thing for me is perhaps the mechanism which floods the mansion above with nerve gas to render the occupants (i.e. employees on the security staff) unconscious. Who's crazy idea was that?      

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The first Resident Evil movie is incredibly dumb, but it has enough charm that I was willing to return for the sequel. The Marilyn Manson music is awesome and the world of Resident Evil has a lot of potential in spite of all the issues. Like with so many Paul WS Anderson movies, the strong filmmaking which gave us Event Horizon seems to be lurking in the background promising something more. Annoyingly, while the film ends on a high, it felt less like a careful build-up and more like the film took way too long to find its footing.

C+

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Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
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Best thing: Milla Jovovich takes down a long-tongued monster by aiming a motorcycle at it, sending both flying in the air and then shooting the tank of the runaway  motorbike to produce a glorious mid-air fireball. That being said, perhaps the best thing is that we are introduced to characters who we can actually care about and will continue to do so in the third movie (which I have long considered the best in this series). We have a latino umbrella soldier with a heart of gold, a black character with an inflated sense of style who is often joking around, and then there's Jill Valentine the revealingly dressed (suspended?) police officer who has impossibly perfect aim with a gun.

Worst thing: The filmmakers keep using a sort of time lapse effect on shots of random hordes of shambling zombies in the street and it looks quite bad. Much of the film looks quite tacky but that's possibly the example that most annoyed me. Also, while much of the action is pretty cool, the main battle with Nemesis is mainly done through quick cuts which make the fight awkward to see (probably because Nemesis is a guy in a bulky suit who would struggle with fight choreography).

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Resident Evil Apocalypse tries to increase the scope of the series and has some spectacular action sequences, yet it feels cheaper than the first movie.

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When I first saw this film in the cinema I thought the ending was very confusing. This time it makes more sense, but it's a lot to expect us to swallow in such a short time.

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Apocalypse looks cheap, feels naff and so the attempts to bring some fun to the series with some fun new characters are let down by stilted dialogue and mostly lame action sequences.

D-


Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
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Best thing: While this film has the best zombie make-up of the movie series so far, the best part was the clear reference to Hitchcock's The Birds. A huge swarm of infected crows settle around the survivors' vehicles before mercilessly dive bombing in order to peck at the human victims. Brilliant sequence and a surprising complement to the references to Mad Max and Day Of The Dead.

Worst thing: Unfortunately while the costume for the final villain is awesome, the visual effects work used for their special abilities looked very unconvincing. It's unfortunate that these distractingly fake-looking tentacles detract from a cool final showdown.

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Yeah sure, Resident Evil: Extinction pulls ideas from other movies from Mad Max to The Birds and even lifts one scene pretty much directly from Day Of The Dead. But how is that a bad thing?

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With Russell Mulcahy on board I feel he brings some real class to this series. Mulcahy doesn’t make award-winning films, but he does genre films very well. Highlander and Razorback are both on the more awesome side of trashy and I feel he pulls out that same magic here.

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In spite of a few points where lines are delivered a bit flat and despite sharing some of the awkwardness of the previous two entries, I think Extinction is a genuinely great zombie movie in its own right. The character interactions are more interesting, each sequence is varied and fun, there's good use of the Nervada desert setting and there's a clear continuity with the prior films (leading to the most compelling climax of any of any Resident Evil movie).

B+


Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
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Best thing: I thought the zombie dogs that split themselves in half were very cool. (I also like the giant zombie with an absurdly huge axe, though he has no reason to be there.)

Worst thing: The flatly delivered monologues in the first half are incredibly dull. And after WS Anderson undoes everything exciting about the climax of Extinction we don't get a decent action scene until we reach the third half. The pacing is utterly horrendous and the monologues demonstrate the biggest problem. Too much talk, not enough fun.

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Less "after life" and more "bored to death". I don't find this as offensively terrible as I did the first time around, but it just isn't remotely exciting enough because the pacing is so bad and the drama falls flat. And it annoys me so much that Resident Evil Afterlife squanders the clone army and Alice's superpowers set up in the previous film.

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Also frankly Wesker is a terrible villain and his action sequences are boring.

E


Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
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Best thing: The music. Isn’t that theme song just amazing?

Worst thing: No consistency in characters, no real stakes, but perhaps the worst thing is the complete failure to capitalise on anything good. I'll discuss that further in the review so here I'll just go with Wesker's accent. I mean seriously, where the hell is he supposed to be from? He seemed to be American before, but now it seems like he's trying to sound English. The hell? (Is this to parallel his oddly fluid accent in the various games?)

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Old characters are coming back as clones, so perhaps there's some question of whether they'll remember their old lives or share traits from before. Wasn't a clone army of Alice's really helpful before?

No, it just means the same actors get to guest star. There's no relevance to the plot.

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Okay then, so an Alice is regularly being reborn in a peaceful suburban neighbourhood where she gets to have a happy life with her love interest from a previous film. That must have raise some important character-building issues for our heroine right?

Nah, it just gives her a little girl to look after because WS Anderson wants to rip off Aliens.

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Oh alright then, but Umbrella have replicas of various cities which are regularly populated with people and subjected to the virus. That's got to be a game-changer, right?

Not really. It just gives us more locations for fight scenes. It's not even clear what Umbrella gains by re-enacting a zombie outbreak over and over again when there are no unaffected cities on the surface.

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Okay, but this time Wesker isn't working with Umbrella. Does that change things around at all?

Not really. The appearance of Ada Wong in the movies for the first time is pretty cool (like in the games, she works for Wesker), but without Leon Kennedy to flirt with and seeing as her crazy stunts aren't that different from what Alice does every five minutes, this isn't really the same character we loved in the games.

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As per usual Resident Evil: Retribution does nothing terribly new and continues to take the Resident Evil series nowhere. Okay, so the Russian zombies with guns and a tank are cool and the concept of the underground test areas is cool too, but I need some over-arching stakes to make me genuinely care about the outcome of this braindead action flick. Mind you, knowing in advance that there would be no actual plot and just an array of fairly uninvolving action sequences, made this rather more enjoyable this time around.

D-

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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Best thing: The interaction between the new Imperial authoritarian character and Moff Tarkin (somehow played by Peter Cushing resurrected specially for the occasion) is wonderful and culminates brilliantly at one of the films best dramatic moments towards the end. Oh and Darth Vader's scenes are all amazing too.

Worst thing: Sorry Forest Whitaker. I had trouble understanding your character's motivations and history with the protagonist. I also found the voice you put on felt a bit forced. I still think you're great, but this role didn't work for me.

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It's always important to get your endings right. The times when I often feel most annoyed by a film are when I've stuck with it only to feel like there was no payoff by the end.

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So Rogue One has things the right way round in having a bit of an iffy first half where characters feel unformed, leading into a powerful second half where everyone has something to do and where the pace never slows, leading to an emotionally charged third act.


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If you are a little concerned that this isn't the experience you hoped for after the opening scenes with Mads Mikkelsen have finished, just don't worry and stick with it.

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One thing is for sure, this is the most beaitiful Star Wars movie ever made. Talk about 'out of this world', the visuals are spectacular.

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I took a bit longer to get this review written than I'd hoped, so I've now seen a few people complaining about the depiction of Peter Cushing's Moff Tarkin using computer effects. Frankly I thought that was brilliant. How do you make us believe someone is specifically Peter Cushing's character? Put Peter Cushing on screen! And it's a great Peter Cushing performance too.

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Another character who appears towards the end felt a bit too shiny to be real. But I was mostly convinced by Moff Tarkin here. (Personally I'd say he was heads and shoulders better than the cartoonish Snoak figure from The Force Awakens.)

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Donnie Yen is especially great. Felicity Jones is cool in the lead role, but my favourite performance would have to be Ben Mendelsohn as an ambitious figure working for the Empire.

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Star Wars has not been this good for a long time.

A+


Passengers (2016)
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Best thing: Zero gravity issues with a swimming pool? Pretty awesome visual trick.
Worst thing: During a key point in the film, a space suit turns out to be remarkably resilient. It felt like a bit of a cheat.

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I may have had lowered expectations. Having already booked up our cinema visit in advance I was pretty shocked to see reviews mostly settling around between 2 and 2.5 stars out of 5. But I've got to say, I don't seem to share any of the issues mentioned.

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The story is essentially of a man stranded in space. The difference is that he's actually stranded in time. While the crew hibernate for over a lifetime's trip through space, our protagonist awakes too early, doomed to spend the rest of his life in transit.

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What results is a simple yet compelling sci-fi tale of people stuck in the hyperspace version of a luxury cruise-liner. But our protagonist is told that hyperspace hibernation pods never malfunction, so is something else at play?

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Now it's on the poster pretty clearly that Jennifer Lawrence is in this film too. How does she end up awake too? Our protagonist makes a seriously dodgy decision and many people have held that against the film, but I feel the consequences of that choice are not ignored. Parrots are not on the same intellectual level as human beings, but it has been observed that they go mad if caged and ignored for long periods. Our protagonist is going through a kind of cabin fever and that leads him to make a horrifying decision.

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One interesting suggestion was what the story might have been like from Jennifer Lawrence's perspective. I'm actually interested to know what it would have been like if she was the engineer and Chris Pratt was the writer. Or if she woke up first. I think this opens up a number of potential combinations, but I'm happy with the combination they went with.

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There is an aspect of the third act resolution which pushes credulity a little bit, but Passengers has enough charm and humour to look past that. (Michael Sheen's contribution as the bartender robot cannot be ignored. He's awesome!) Like Gravity, this has a simple story, some fantastic effects, a sense of isolation and a few good characters to guide us through it. The story is arguably a little better here than in Gravity.

A+

Europa Report (2013)
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Best thing: While this film certainly tries to be sparing with the special effects, the limited contact the protagonists make with the planet's surface is all the more magical as a result. That dramatic build up makes a final visual effects sequence particularly breathtaking.

Worst thing: Once we've reached the fantastic reveal near the end, there's too much time spent wrapping everything up. It rather undermines the impact of the climactic moment to have us hanging around afterwards.

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It's been a long time that I've been planning to see this obscure sci-fi title. Reviews on Letterboxd have been fairly mixed but intriguing enough to keep me interested.

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While this was definitely over-shadowed by the release of Gravity I don't think the filmmakers allow let the lower budget here to hold them back. The limited visuals outside of the ship only make us more excited for what we do see and sharing the experience of the astronaut on the surface is quite magical.

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If anything it is the format of the film that lets the film down. Not the found footage sections, but rather the documentary-style expository wraparound sections. They seem to be trying to set up the mystery and they simply aren't needed. A title card is enough.

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We do get some exploration of the characters but we could do with more and the wraparound sections detract from that.

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Even with its problems this is still good, but it's a pity because aspects of this that are brilliant. Some aspects are awe-inspiring, some are deeply creepy and the scene that clearly SHOULD be the very end of the film absolutely knocked me for six. But sadly there are pacing issues here because they keep on interrupting the story.

B-




Tale Of Tales (2015)
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Best thing: I love all the effects work surrounding the flea. It gets pretty crazy in a way that I think needs to be seen to be believed.

Worst thing: In true fairytale style I’m often very unsure how to feel about what happens. This isn't a clear Disney fairytale format with clear morals, which makes this more awkward for the viewer but probably isn't actually a bad thing for the film.

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I recently watched the old series of Jim Henson’s Storyteller and there are clear similarities between the kind of stories there and even the dark themes. However, while Storyteller was willing to make things sweet and cheerful and skew towards a happier outcome, Tale of Tales makes no such concessions.

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Great performances, beautiful filmmaking, incredible effects work and, while there are fun moments, overall this film features a deeply unsettling tone. There's very definitely a resolution to the stories, but not one that is interested in skewing towards happiness or in necessarily tying up loose ends in a bow. (Not a neat bow anyway.)

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, I find Toby Jones to be one of the main highlights here. He's always brilliant and Tale of Tales is no exception. Vincent Cassel is in a role similar to those he has played before and he does that role just as well as ever. Shirley Henderson is also a very welcome presence here.

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An all-star fairytale extravaganza. While it might leave you scratching your head, the ideas and visuals will stick with you. This is a film providing an experience unlike anything you are likely to see anywhere else. I should note, however, that the European sensibilities of the director mean there is quite a bit of nudity here. I think most will agree that this isn't really suitable for younger audiences.

A+





Arrival (2016)
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Best thing: The aliens: Both their appearance and their language script. I was wondering when watching the trailer how the alien could possibly live up to expectations, but it worked and I think both the visual and the sound design helps to really sell the otherness of what is essentially a giant octopus (albeit with Giger-esque elements).

Worst thing: Distracting the daughter from her own illness by calling her "unstoppable". She literally goes from saying to her daughter that both parents were arguing about an illness, then she says that the illness is "unstoppable like you" and the daughter exclaims "I'm unstoppable?" and smiles. Why isn't the daughter asking about the illness? Or even asking in what ways she's unstoppable? They just have a hug and the whole moment is completely unrealistic. Children aren't generally satisfied to stop with profound statements. They ask questions. They are persistent too. They don't shift from "why are mum and dad arguing?" to "I'm unstoppable? Let's have a hug!"

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Is it me, or is Arrival incredibly similar to Christopher Nolan’s film Interstellar? An alien force provides us with a new opportunity, the state is not sure how to react, the protagonist's relationship their daughter is connected somehow and the result is a new era for mankind. Meanwhile we have some sentimental orchestral music in the background.

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But frankly I thought Interstellar worked better. Perhaps less importantly, Interstellar has some action moments like a character being rescued by a robot, at least one space explosion, and some intense spacecraft manoeuvres.

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I don't agree with the claims that this is a return to intelligent sci-fi. Certainly it's very well made in terms of the atmosphere it builds up, but it I don't feel that it remotely pays off on its central premise. Just as The Martian tackled the question of how practical engineering and botanical solutions could help you survive when stranded on Mars, Arrival seemed to promise to tackle the question of how to make first contact with an alien from a linguistics perspective. Yet sadly the film only really pays lip service to the problems its protagonist should be solving.

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Wittgenstein's philosophy of language established pretty convincingly that meaning is use. You can't just write a word and point to it in order to establish meaning. It needs a social context in which it can be used and in which the rightness or wrongness of a term can be established. Otherwise we have what Wittgenstein referred to as a beetle in a box. If you and I both have closed boxes containing what each of us calls a "beetle" and yet neither of us shows the other what the object is, we have no real way of knowing whether we are referring to the same thing.

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When discussing linguistics Amy Adams seems to acknowledge these problems. Kangaroo could mean "I don't know", the word 'purpose' could vary in meaning depending on who is refers to, the sankrit word for 'war' means "a desire for more cows". Language is more complicated than just pointing at something while a word is written on a notice board. And when Amy Adams realises that just showing the word "Louise" won't be enough to make a proper social connection and insists on putting her hand firmly on the glass screen which separates the aliens from the humans, that suggested to me that the film was taking these problems seriously. "Now that's a proper introduction," she announces. Just saying words or writing words for the aliens isn't enough to provide a meaning. There needs to be a social connection; a shared context in which those words attain a meaning for both parties.

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Imagine I point at two nuts and say "booglavoo". What might booglavoo mean? It could mean nuts, but it might mean two. Or it could mean the colour brown (if the nuts are brown). It could mean food, or 'look over there', or dangerous, or poisonous. This is called ostensive definition; just pointing at things to establish meaning. Ostensive definitions are not enough to develop a language. It's easier to translate foreign languages because they often have similar grammatical structure and, even when they are further removed, humans already have similar purposes with which they use that language. Wittgenstein would say that if a lion (or in this case, alien octopus) were to speak to us, we would not understand him because lions are a completely different form of life. How could we possibly establish a common purpose with an alien life form which has an entirely separate culture, biology and thought process?

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But what is Amy Adams' method anyway? "Ian Walks" is written down and then they watch Ian walk back and forth, so presumably they also did "Ian Runs" and "Louise Runs" and "Louise And Ian Jump". But later on their translations of the alien text seems to connect specific human terms to specific symbols and one of the terms is "death process". How did they teach "death process"? Did they point to something dying with the phrase "death process" written down? Imagine the opportunities for that to be misinterpreted! Am I weird in thinking that they glossed over the most interesting and intelligent aspect of the story and, frankly, the most central aspect of the story? If this is about how we would communicate with aliens, it seems to me that this whole concept was ditched in favour of cheap sentimental manipulations through the concept of a dying young girl.

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Arrival has a twist that completely overrides the main concept. The main concept is how to communicate with an entirely different life form. Early in the film we are told that an expert linguist is required to solve this problem. (A white female linguist who apparently was the only person who they could enlist to translate what was being said by Farsi insurgents, which seems a little weird. Nobody in the military speaks Farsi?) By the end of the film any questions of linguistics and a shared meaning between humans and aliens are almost entirely irrelevant. The final revelations of the film do connect with a particular linguistic concept, but they reach so far beyond that concept that we may as well be talking about magic.

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During the first half of this film I was still gripped. By the end I was thoroughly disappointed. So many other people seem to be able to just roll with what they are given here, but I just found it all way too frustrating watching the filmmakers give up on such an original and promising central premise.

D+




Slaughterhouse House 5 (1972)
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Best thing: The war story segments are great and it was interesting to see the encounter with the academic defending the bombing of Dresden even while our protagonist, an American soldier and survivor of that event is in front of him.

Worst thing: The weird luxury greenhouse he's transported to. This becomes a vital part of the story and I think it could have done with a more interesting filming style if it's really supposed to be other-worldly. It just looks like a sofa in a studio set. It's almost like we've been transported to a mediocre American sit-com.

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I really ought to read the book at some point but it's pretty clear to me that this is a poor adaptation. The war drama is fine but the sci-fi elements just feel ludicrous. I don't feel like the film sells it to me.

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I actually was pretty gripped by the war drama parts, but this is very much a sci-fi story and to enjoy the film to the end requires that you embrace the ludicrous sci-fi elements and I just don’t think the filmmakers pulled off that end of things at all well, leading to what I found to be a very unsatisfying finale.

D-





Hardcore Henry (2015)
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Best thing: Brilliant action sequences that are wonderfully exciting, as well as a very cool menacing villain.

Worst thing: The attempts at humour fell a bit flat for me. There's some very laddish almost homophobic humour here which I thought grated. When prostitutes are crowding round the protagonist to "make him feel better" it's quite a dumb attempt at male fantasy fulfilment, made more annoying by the fact that those unnamed prostitutes are quickly killed off.

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"Shut your brain off" is never a good piece of advice when it comes to movies, but fortunately that's not exactly what this film asks you to do. There are interactions between characters as well as exciting visuals. The first person style is also used to full effect to produce some very neat adrenaline fuelled chase sequences.

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People have compared it to a videogame and it certainly looks like a first person videogame, but to transfer that to live action is highly impressive. It's impressive enough when Freddie W does it on his Rocketjump youtube channel, but here the CG that I'm sure was probably involved at some point is completely unrecognisable. As cartoonish as the story might be, the world in which it takes place feels entirely real.

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This is a strong found footage film. The adrenaline fuelled journey from place to place with a wonderful level of exciting variety in the violence and setting kept me consistently on the edge of my seat. The story is admittedly pretty simplistic and Sharto Copley's character can get annoying at times. (The attempts at humour with his character really didn't appeal.) I'm not entirely sure what Tim Roth is doing here either...

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Anyway, it's a lot of fun.

B+





Housebound (2014)
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Best thing: The mother is absolutely hilarious. Were she in every scene she might have been able to single-handedly carry this film. It's not only her line delivery but also her reactions. She livens up any scene she is in.

Worst thing: Unfortunately the main protagonist is a scumbag. She is caught trying to steal an entire ATM machine to pay for her drug habit and she treats her parents horribly when she is forced into house arrest with them. Yet for some reason the story is from her perspective and we are expected to invest in this human vermin. Perhaps a better actress could have made us care about this character? Perhaps a better script would have made her obnoxiousness funny rather than irritating? But what we get is an unlikeable uninteresting central character.

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Horror comedies are my genre of choice, so when I heard Housebound was getting some good buzz I was excited. But frankly I don't understand the appeal.

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It's not very funny, it's not creepy and the story is ludicrous. Perhaps there was a good film in here somewhere, but the script and the filmmaking would need a complete overhaul. As it stands, I was bored.

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Music would occasionally pipe up as if to say "look, that thing happened!" But with no investment in the scumbag main character (and not enough focus on the long-suffering mother, played by the actress with the genuinely brilliant comic expressions and timing) I wasn't pulled in by the drama at all.

D-




A War (2015)
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Best thing: The child performances are great. They feel like genuine characters and they are never irritating. We get a real feel for what these children are like.

Worst thing: The suggestion that one child's bad behaviour was his father's fault for being away in the army felt a bit unfair.

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This is naturalistic filmmaking done right. It feels natural and yet there is never a dull moment.

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I'm also impressed that what is essentially a courtroom drama is nearly as gripping and tense as being threatened by gun-toting Somali pirates. The director has a good feel for effective drama.

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Awesome.

A+




Love And Mercy (2014)
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Best thing: Paul Dano
Worst thing: John Cusack

Okay so my best thing, worst thing picks for this review kinda over-simplify things. But I feel that any of the scenes in the past where Paul Dano is central are brilliant, but generally the scenes where John Cusack is central tend to leave me less enthusiastic.

And the real problem here is that of the two stories being told, Paul Dano is central to the more interesting one.

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While Paul Dano gets really interesting interactions between his grumpy sceptical and resentful father, his spellbound hired musicians, and his more outgoing  brothers with different priorities. All while being part of the Beach Boys phenomenon.

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Meanwhile John Cusack gets an unconvincing romance while Paul Giamatti reprises his 'evil producer' routine from "Private Parts". John Cusack is no longer part of the Beach Boys phenomenon. We're supposed to be intrigued by John Cusack's story because he's not enormously successful anymore. It's really unclear to me why the movie ends where it does other than because it's the latest point chronologically. (Which doesn't seem all that important when the movie constantly jumps back and forward in time.)

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There are parts of this movie that are brilliant and I think if you cut out the John Cusack parts I might even love it, but judging it as a whole I found it dragged.

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Great performances and the Beach Boys stuff is fascinating (even speaking as someone who has never really taken much interest in the Beach Boys' music).

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Biopics are tough to get right, but this does something very special with Brian Wilson’s story, regardless of my misgivings about the movie as a whole.      

C+





Ava's Possessions (2015)
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Best thing: I like the demon possession effects and the regular use of neon lighting.

Worst thing: The complete lack of humour. And possibly the song that gets written about her within the film.

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The trailer for Ava's Possessions was hilarious and as a big fan of horror comedies I couldn't wait to see this film. The sorry-not-sorry attitude of the protagonist regarding her transformation into a demonic pea-soup belching creature just felt like it had so much potential.

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But the film doesn't have that pacing, energy or comic timing. The story is simplistic and while there are some cool ideas, they don't come up often enough.

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It's amazing that the trailer isn't just funnier than the movie, but somehow actually contains more genuinely funny jokes than the whole movie. Jokes should work better with a proper build-up, but here it seems like the trailer editor has a far better sense of comic timing than the filmmaker.

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Ava's Possessions is unbelievably dull and bland and, considering that it is a comedy, I have to hold that heavily against the film.

D+

Seriously the trailer is MUCH better...

https://youtu.be/fyY2SupD49c




The Wages of Fear (1953)
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Best thing: There are so many great moments in this film. I'm going to pick the scene where our protagonists have to back up their vehicle on a rickety platform. I was just so tense during that scene.

Worst thing: Early on, when we first meet the love interest character she is shown acting like an animal and rubbing her face on the hand of her lover. She  seems to be badly objectified in those early scenes. Though in the second half she finally seems to become a character in her own right.

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By the time this movie appeared I'd forgotten why I wanted to see it. I guess this must be a Letterboxd recommendation, probably discovered because people were checking out the original movie later remade as Friedkin's "Sorceror" (a movie whose chances of success were decimated when it was released at the same time as George Lucas' Star Wars which changed cinema forever.)

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But I can't really see how Sorceror could really improve on this. Apart from perhaps streamlining the first quarter of the film, there doesn't really seem to be much room for improvement.

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A simple story of four men driving two trucks of high explosives for a potentially huge payoff, knowing that one false bump in the road could leave them blown to smithereens. Wages of Fear is one of those unforgettable epics like Laurence of Arabia or Schindler's List. It is poignant yet fun and the central moments will stick with you.

A+



Bone Tomahawk (2015)
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Best thing:  Richard Jenkins is almost unrecognisable giving a wonderful performance as the bumbling acting deputy.

Worst thing: Shouldn't there be more background music to build atmosphere? Heck, James Tolkan, the overbearing teacher from Back To The Future, turns up as a drunken piano player and yet we never hear any piano music!

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This is the year for violent Westerns starring Kurt Russell isn't it? First Hateful Eight and now Bone Tomahawk. While Bone Tomahawk definitely serves up the better violence, Quentin Tarantino clearly does a better job preparing dramatic tension.

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Still Bone Tomahawk is an interesting film and a lot of fun with a very satisfying ending.

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It takes a long while to see the villains up close, but when we get to them they are well worth the wait. But couldn't that wait have built up to the climax better? Perhaps some background music to compliment our character development, particularly in the earliest scenes when the film seems slowest.

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Pretty good film all the same though. Zahn McClarnon (the native American character from Fargo season two) has a short but sweet appearance to clarify that the evil native American villains are barely human cave dwelling cannibals.

B+



The Intruder (1962)
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Best thing: Possibly the best performance of William Shatner's entire career.

Worst thing: The ending feels a little forced. Not overly so, but when you have an out-of-control mob on your hands it's hard to see every one of them agreeing to dismiss their cause. Just look at Trump. His failings were broadcast across the media and he still kept his followers.

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"The Intruder" is the film that persuaded Roger Corman to steer the films he produced clear of anything political. (He actually worried that Death Race 2000 was too political.)

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A town full of white people convinced that, while they all opposed integration in principle, they are best off grudgingly accepting the law enforcing it. The characters use the n-word quite freely in a casual way that would naturally be demeaning to a black person in the room, but isn't expressed aggressively. But the hatred and inhumanity beneath the surface is stirred up by a reprehensible scoundrel who comes to town to use the racial tensions to set himself up as an influential and powerful figure.

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The Intruder is incredibly poignant and intense film which, barring the very neat resolution in the end, doesn't seem to need to cheat. Compare this with Mississippi Burning where the filmmakers expect us to believe that a black man could get away with threatening the mayor or that an FBI agent could get away with attacking a deputy with a razor blade. The Intruder felt a great deal more plausible.

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If you love Corman classics like Death Race 2000, The Little Shop of Horrors, X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes, or The Pit and the Pendulum, then why not see what a serious political Corman film is like?

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It's quite sad to think what other gems we might have had if audiences hadn't shied away from this hard-hitting topical drama. What else might Corman have had up his sleeve as a follow-up? Corman is known for his stingy budgets, but a drama like this can rely on its script and performances. It doesn't need a big budget.

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I'd also note that by the end there's at least one black character with a really strong role. Perhaps it's a weakness that there aren't more central performances from the black actors (though I'd note that Mississippi Burning  has that same issue), but the black children being integrated into the school do get their moments.

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When Shatner does his big speech to rile up the local townsfolk (including casting accusations of communism) I actually think its incredible. Powerful, frightening, creepy. You can clearly see that this is a man both pretending to be civilised yet intentionally aiming to stir up a mob. That scene alone would be enough to recommend the film, but the rest of the story lives up to it that standard too.

A+




Total Recall (2012)
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The complaint is often made regarding the original Total Recall that Arnold Schwarzenegger is obviously not the lowly construction worker he thinks he is. So I'm given to wonder why Colin Farrell is more toned and amazingly non-average than in possibly any other of his films I've seen.

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I know you have to give sci-fi a bit of leeway for its crazy ideas and certainly I let Snowpiercer run with a lot of ideas that didn't really add up. However, the lift that goes through the centre of the Earth is not an interesting concept or at least, it isn't portrayed in an interesting way here.

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The performances here are fine, but the direction just feels incredibly boring. It's remarkable how dull this manages to be. The stakes aren't built up properly.

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At least they aren't in the first half. I didn't stick things out any further than that.

Post-Tober 2016 Reviews Part 2


We decided after the big October Horror Marathon we needed to rewatch a few films and one was Cabin In The Woods. I also wanted to make sure I watched the early Cronenberg films I managed to get hold of. Cabin In The Woods is still great, but I'm afraid Cronenberg's earliest films are kinda terrible. It's more based around Cronenberg's obsession with psychoanalysis and has some of the intensity, but it's not engaging, enthralling or even coherent like Cronenberg's less early works like "Rabid" and "Scanners".

We also watch another Universal horror film (the follow-up to "Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man") and I'm hoping to check out more of those very soon.

#8 Cabin In The Woods (2012)

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Best thing: As much as I'd love to pick a favourite monster, I feel it's really the amazing range of threats in this crazy film. I feel that the giant bat has a particularly big star turn.

Worst thing: While I know it's supposed to be weird and uncomfortable, the erotic dance just feels a little too close to the kind of film this is supposed to be critiquing. Then again, as a film critiquing horror clichés, the almost identical 'gratuitous erotic dance by the fire' scene in the Friday the 13th remake (a film entirely comprised of horror clichés) does rather vindicate this.

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(Above) These two scenes were created entirely independently. One of those films is making fun of clichés, while the other is just one big cliché.

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Cabin In The Woods is still such a wonderful exploration of the horror genre, if a bit harsh in its thesis that all horror is following a single formula. If anything the third act craziness shows what a vibrant array of villains the horror genre involves.

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In many ways, mind you, Cabin In The Woods is actually a love letter to the horror genre. There are references to all sorts of ideas and tropes from the horror genre. To parody (or in this case, subvert) something well there really needs to be some affection for the subject matter and Cabin In The Woods has that. The outcome of the other horror film taking place in Japan is a particularly wonderful statement on the differences within the genre.

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Cabin In The Woods is just generally a great time. Love it.

A+



#9 House of Frankenstein (1944)
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Best thing: Boris Karloff as an evil scientist is awesome. Oddly he seemed to remind me of Jeremy Irons. Anyway his character is deliciously evil and I loved it. I only wish we could have seen his plans come to fruition.

Worst thing: Did they have bigger plans for the climax and no money for them. Our evil scientist is constantly promising to do some weird brain swap operations and instead the story just stops dead. It's a real pity because otherwise this could have been one of the very best Universal horror movies.

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Can I just point out that Dracula gets into a chase scene on horseback? This film is crazy.

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Sadly, after a really great first half, the second half really doesn't pay off. But Dr. Niemann is a fantastic new character played deliciously by Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney is an absolute delight whenever he returns to play the wolf man. The side-plot surrounding Dr. Nieman's Igor-esque sidekick also works very well. But for all that is good about this film, the ambitions of Dr. Niemann serve as a complete tease.

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While it's nice to be able to say "this film leaves you wanting more", but I'd rather we actually had the payoff we waited for.

B-



#10 Stereo (1969)
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David Cronenberg early work #1: Stereo

Some dull black and white footage of someone wandering around what is blatantly a university campus while a narrator lectures us.

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I briefly thought it might be about to get interesting when the narrator mentioned a psychic drilling through their own head for release. This is a clear reference to Michael Ironside's role in Scanners. I thought we might be about to see someone drill into their own head...

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But it was just an aside. We see someone rub their forehead and then we are back to the same endless dirge.

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And when I gave up on this there was so much left to go. My goodness, this was unbearable



#11 Transfer (1966)
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Best thing: It was almost funny and the quick cuts to different locations helped add to the surrealism.
Worst thing: It's all about a patient and his psychoanalyst and frankly it's not very interesting but, worse than that, the acting is terrible.

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When I put on a disc of early Cronenberg I didn’t realise it would be some short student films where the characters discuss psychoanalysis. I guess I should have known better.

E



#12 From The Drain (1967)
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Best thing: There is actually a decent twist this time and the surrealism of having the whole thing take place in a bathtub is interesting.

Worst thing: If the acting was better perhaps this would be enjoyable. But while the amateur actor is clearly acting his heart out, I found he came across as annoying rather than funny. And the quieter actor was quite terrible.

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A weird little short film set in a bathtub. The script is adequate but the performances are horrendous.

E



#13 Crimes Of The Future (1970)
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Best thing: There are a few little touches that work to subvert expectations. Such as a person licking their glasses clean or where it is revealed that the male physician just happens to be wearing bright red nail varnish.

Worst thing: It was just so incredibly boring and nothing really seemed to be all that important.

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These short films by David Cronenberg are all just terrible and Crimes Of The Future is no different. It just feels so long and it's all blatantly just people wandering around a university campus. I give David Cronenberg credit for trying, but overall this was rubbish.

E



#14 A Cat In The Brain (1990)
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Best thing: The rotting head in the microwave? The victim in the wheelchair falling down the stairs? I actually think the best thing actually may be Lucio Fulci with a wild look in his eyes as he marches forward lunging with a knife.

Worst thing: While there are so many wonderful visuals, there are some points where the flow of the story is a bit awkward.

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Apparently the horror elements here are all clips to promote other horror films. It doesn't make any difference to my enjoyment though. Combining Lucio Fulci's nightmarish surreal style with the excuse that the gory scenes are hallucinations makes for a pretty sensible plot when compared to Fulci's "The Beyond".

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The wonderful opening scene portraying a literal cat clawing into a brain is a wonderful way to start this film about Lucio Fulci going crazy and being plagued by gory horror visions.

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Thank you to everyone on Letterboxd who recommended this wonderful film. This is up there with “The Beyond” and “Zombie Flesh Eaters” as one of my favourite Lucio Fulci movies. This time it’s actually a “horror comedy” (my favourite genre!) and I adored it.

A+



#15 Green Room (2015)
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Best thing: It's a pretty fantastic performance from Anton Yelchin and I'm all the more horrified by what happens to his character considering the horrifying real life suffering that would have lead to his recent death.

Worst thing: I was trying to work out why Patrick Stewart's claim that "this will not end well" doesn't seem so creepy as it did in the trailer. I think it's because there is very little use of a creepy soundtrack here. And while the situation is certainly pretty sinister without extra dramatisation, the decision not to use sound to heighten the audience's anxiety feels like a mistake.

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Murder Party was incredibly fun. The 'failed McGuyver' scene is absolutely brilliant. Before I knew about Murder Party, I'd already seen Blue Ruin. Blue Ruin was a film that was often quite slow but had some great moments and it was a very novel approach to a revenge story.

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Green Room is probably my least favourite of Jeremy Saulier’s films. It's fine, but it gets pretty talky without really building up tension. There is some pretty great gore but there aren't that many moments where we are really forced to feel it (one moment involving Anton Yelchin's character being a notable exception).

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I must admit that as much as I enjoyed Green Room I felt oddly distant from it. I can't even quite identify why (is it the lack of background music, is that it?) but something here seemed to fall flat and the movie is diminished as a result. But yeah, it's a good film.

B-



#16 Burial Ground (1981)
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Best thing: Admittedly the gore is great. This should be wonderful. Zombies surround our protagonists, some with maggots crawling over their faces, some set on fire, some biting off a woman's breasts. It's pretty crazy.

Worst thing: While the thing that frustrated me at the time was that the zombies are so slow (a character even overtly points this out), I think the real problem is that the shots linger long enough for us to clearly see how easy it is to get away from the zombies. Characters are able to burn zombies by going right up to them to cover them in (conveniently placed) flammable materials before returning to them with a carefully handled lit match. At other times characters seem to be pretty much offering their necks to be strangled. Quicker cuts might made the action seem more frantic. Also cutting away earlier might make it less obvious that the zombies aren't eating organs out of a dead body but are actually pulling red blocks out of a bag. The effects are fine but we linger too long.

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I seem to be in a minority on this one. Pretty much all my friends seem to love Burial Ground. Yet while I can see similar elements to those I would enjoy enormously in a Lucio Fulci film, it just falls flat for me here. I think perhaps the big difference here might be the music. While Fulci amd Argento would have a rocking soundtrack with creepy chanting there's no such sense of urgency in Burial Ground.

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I wanted to love Burial Ground but instead I was bored. Is there a different cut with better music somewhere? Did I watch the wrong version?

D-

Post-Tober 2016 Reviews Part 1


I've been going ahead with Post-Tober, finishing off a set of horror films that I either planned to watch during the big Hoop-Tober horror marathon (such as "Maniac Cop 2"), hoped to watch but couldn't get hold of in time (such as "Baskin") or was inspired to watch as a result of the horror marathon dominated by classic Universal monster movies ("Gods and Monsters" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space").


#1 Gods And Monsters (1998)
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Best thing: Well naturally Ian McKellen, but also Lynn Redgrave and Brendan Fraser. They are all wonderful. Whatever happened to Brendan Fraser eh?

Worst thing: There are points where the attempts to give Brendan Fraser's character an arc are a little too obvious. Essentially the main purpose of his character is to act as an outsider who is drawn in, just like the audience, as well as to provide a contrast between McKellen's portrayal of James Whale. He is young, Whale is old, he is heterosexual, Whale is homosexual, and then there's their differing experiences of the military. But what is Brendan Fraser's character supposed to have learned from the experience in the end? That he should settle down and have a family? That's the take-away from his time with an ageing homosexual film director with mental illness? Really?

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Gods And Monsters is an absolutely wonderful film with an amazing central performance from Ian McKellen. All the character interactions are interesting, there are moments of humour and there are plenty of surprises. I like that when James Whale's condition makes him relive the past he is ashamed of his class background that he has spent his life trying to leave behind and he is not at all ashamed of his sexuality. This was a very refreshing perspective and, as understand it, true to the historical figure. I'm glad that common movie themes weren't allowed to trump historical accuracy in this case.

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After watching all the Universal films it was easy to see how the big fan in the movie would be excited to see all the old movie stars together. Comparing John Betts in "Gods And Monsters" with Boris Karloff in "Black Sabbath" they clearly did a fantastic make-up job.

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Gods And Monsters is a film that relies on the character interactions and the performances to make it all come together and they chose the right cast for that. I was gripped from start to finish. It's the same small and powerful drama as we see in Bill Condon's later film "Mr. Holmes".

A+



#2 Baskin (2015)
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Best thing: Undoubtedly the best thing is the horrifying character that appears towards the end. He is intensely creepy and the third act of the film is utterly terrifying as result of his appearance.

Worst thing: I had a bit of trouble distinguishing between the characters in the early scenes. When you have a group of utterly despicable characters it can helpful in a film like this to be able to work out which ones are least despicable.

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There's much that is original in the film Baskin; not least having frogs as an omen of doom. Frogs are a regular motif throughout the film.

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Baskin is a genuinely horrifying film, but I feel a little lost on the meaning by the end. The film spends quite a while on the build-up but then things go very crazy very fast. So by the end the build-up feels like it was a bit chaotic. Nevertheless there's no doubting that by the end of the film we have a seriously creepy atmospheric climax. Yet even so, I feel that there was room for another stage in the film. Perhaps some clue as to the scale of the powers of the main villain or some further clues to his philosophy?

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I'd be surprised if Baskin doesn't leave the majority of viewers a little puzzled, but you don't need to understand the larger meaning to have a great time. This is an intriguing horror film and deserves further scrutiny.

B+



#3 The Visit (2015)
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Best thing: Towards the end we have  some somewhat out of place music, revealing to us that a character in the film has edited the footage together. That was a nice touch.

Worst thing: The film is chock full of false starts supposedly intended to build tension. The scene in the trailer where the granddaughter is asked to get in the oven in order to clean it is remarkably flat in the actual film. When the film is reaching its climax Shymalan still doesn't seem sure what to do with the tense moments.

Towards the climax, a character is fixed in fear.... and he gets a nappy put on his head. Perhaps that could have seemed threatening. In the movie it just felt silly and detracted from the creepiness.

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While they say "write what you know" it can be annoying when writers write about writers and filmmakers make films about established or budding  filmmakers. Here, the two kids want to make films. The brother wants to be a performer (and unfortunately likes to rap) and the sister is more interested in the behind the scenes aspect. I find it harder to relate to these characters because the distinguishing characteristics of them are that they are filmmakers and performers. It also makes it harder to forget that these are actors.

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I feel that people give this a lot of credit for being a Shyamalan movie that is capably put together. But while it might not be terrible, this remains a pretty dull film and the climax doesn't really seem to pay off as well as it should. The twist is fine, but it doesn't make up for the rest of the film.

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More aspects that are set up feel they should pay off in the third act. Paying attention to what the old couple say they seem to have some weird mythology producingan internal logic. By the end it seems like they are just nuts and that's all there is to it.

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This is a film that doesn't reward the viewer for taking it seriously and isn't crazy enough to amuse those who don't.

D-



#4 Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
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Best thing: While not exactly a completely terrible movie, the best things about this film are its charming flaws. I think the best thing is probably the performance by Dudley Malove as the alien managing the zombie attacks. He has some of the most memorably terrible lines such as, “You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!” And what makes it better is that he delivers them so passionately.

Worst thing: There are any number of flaws to list here, but they are all such endearing flaws. The real problem with this film is the pacing. But then again, to give this faster pacing would have required the director to recognise that he was failing to build a spooky atmosphere.

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Plan 9 definitely works better once you know the story behind it. Not least that this film shoehorns some ill-fitting footage of Bela Lugosi into the story.

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Weirdly zombie Bela Lugosi swishes his cape like Dracula. Then again Vampira very much looks dressed as Vampira and not as Bela Lugosi's dead wife. And of course the narrator is very much still a cheesy fortune teller. Ed Wood clearly made this film by bringing his friends together and not worrying too much about the mismatched results.

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Just considering his flying saucers on string. Most of the time the effect isn't so bad but when the wobbling of the saucers gets out of hand it starts to look ridiculous. What gives Plan 9 its charm is that Ed Wood genuinely wanted to make a great film and comes close enough to making a serviceable mediocre film as to make his ridiculous dialogue and production flaws charming and hilarious.

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While this is certainly not a good film, anyone watching this with the benefit of proper context cannot help but be amused and fascinated by this heroic failure.

C+





#5 Krampus (2015)
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Best thing: Santa's evil killer toys. An evil toy robot,  an evil teddy bear and an evil toy angel all terrorise the family in glorious Gremlins style horror-comedy violence.

Worst thing: Krampus is such a poorly realised villain. In Rare Exports the main villain is only seen as two enormous horns sticking out of a block of ice and yet it still feels like a more well-realised villain.

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I've mentioned my hatred of ghost stories many many times before. One of many reasons a ghost story can frustrate me is the lack of clear consistent rules. I've heard it said that ghost stories are exploiting a fear of going mad, but that's not what is happening here. The family are perfectly clear thinking, but the situation they are in is distressing, as well as quite wacky. Instead of giving us a consistent villain we just see the protagonists barraged by wave after wave of different threats and the family antics aren't compelling enough to make up for the lack of a consistent villain.

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It's really unclear what Krampus wants to achieve and so I was left frustrated. That's especially annoying considering the humour in this horror comedy feels a bit lacking too.

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Krampus has a lot of potential and that's clear even before the monsters show up when we are presented with a horrifying vision of Christmas shopping. But instead of being drawn in, the family drama between  this catalogue of stereotypes just felt more and more contrived as the film went on. There were promising moments with the villains but without a consistently interesting human story it was hard to care.

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A mostly cliched and unfunny comedy interspersed with some isolated moments of horror-comedy excellence.  A real pity.

C+



#6 Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
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Best thing: There's a very original kind of car chase sequence. Sparks flying from a wheel with no tyre and a woman with her arm handcuffed to the wheel. So cool!

Worst thing: Is this how you go about assessing whether your officers are fit for duty? This is a seriously chaotic process.

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I wondered how Maniac Cop 2 could live up to the original. The best part of Maniac Cop was the first half where the cop always seemed to be mysterious and in shadow and a big part of the plot was a mystery. When we get to see what he looks like and he turns out to be a Terminator-esque unstoppable killing machine, I felt the film became much less interesting.

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However, Maniac Cop 2 starts again with the same trick of having the central villain's face in shadow again. And, as it turns out, there's a good reason for this. The villain's features have further deteriorated and he looks seriously badass as a result. The modus operandi of the maniac cop changes somewhat in this film and so we do get a new source of mystery and it's actually a bit more consistent this time around.

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There are some very cool action sequences including the car chase sequence mentioned above and also a sequence where the maniac cop is on fire. And the maniac cop seemed more intense this time too.

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While this lacks a compelling performance from Tom Ellis (who plays the central detective in the first film) , it still feels like the better of the first two Maniac Cop movies to me. The action is more exciting and the tone is more consistent. Maniac Cop 2 is a lot of fun.

B+


#7 Young Frankenstein (1974)
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Wow, this is awkward. Look, I love The Producers, okay? I think that is a fantastic and hilarious film. And I grew up enjoying Mel Brooks' Star Wars spoof "Space Balls". But it seems that I don't like Mel Brooks most beloved classics.

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I  saw Blazing Saddles nearly 10 years ago and I wasn't all that impressed. I wasn't sure whether the problem was a lack of familiarity with old westerns, a lack of familiarity with current race issues in America or simply not finding the comedy was to my taste.

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Now rewatching Young Frankenstein, I think we've finally resolved that mystery. Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks' spoof of the old Universal horror films. Thanks to recently checking out those films, there's no way that familiarity with the subject matter could be a problem. (And certainly many elements here are taken directly from Son of Frankenstein.) There's also no contemporary social context that could cloud the issue. And I was convinced that, despite being a bit non-plussed by Young Frankenstein when I watched it as a child, I would definitely enjoy it a lot more now I'm older and know the references.

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Yet I found very little amused me. After "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" had me in stitches, it's baffling how little I seem to be entertained by "Young Frankenstein" where oddly I feel the 70s humour feels even more dated.

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After Gene Wilder had finished screaming at the lightening, in what felt more like a typical performance as Frankenstein rather than parody, I decided to call it a day.

Yet Another Blooming Bunch of Reviews...

Deadpool (2016)
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Best thing: The action sequence with the numbered bullets was very cool.
Worst thing: The villain is played by Ed Skrein, the guy who was rejected from Game of Thrones before being a terrible knock-off Jason Statham in the failed attempt at a Transporter reboot. He's a terrible actor with no charisma and he plays an incredibly boring villain here.

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The humour in Deadpool was really hit or miss for me. There were a lot of gags with pop culture references that I didn't recognise like when he calls someone "less-angry Rosie O'Donnell". Rosie O'Donnell is apparently one of the hosts on the American daytime television show The View, which seems like a pretty odd reference to expect to play for an international audience.

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I quite liked the references to the X-Men universe, but Deadpool's story is boring. While I enjoyed Ryan Reynolds in The Voices, I don't think he had a terribly good script here.I know a lot of people had way more fun with this film than I did, but in a film that relies on one-liners I either need an interesting story or interesting character interactions to keep my interest. I didn't feel this had either of those.

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It might be fun to have Deadpool break the fourth wall in the superhero world, but in this solo movie his own story did not feel interesting to me.    

D-





Sicario (2015)
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Best thing: The film often looks beautiful and our introduction to the world of the cartels as understood by a desperate American task force with carte blanche to do whatever is necessary is really tense and powerful.

Worst thing: Our protagonist doesn't get much in the way of answers and at a key moment Benicio Del Toro's character takes over as the focus of the film even though we know practically nothing about him. But my big issue is the scene where Blunt holds Del Toro at gunpoint. She has no idea what is really going on, yet she sees someone getting into a car and instantly reacts by pulling a gun on him? How does she know he's not just following the orders he was given?

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Overall this is a solid thriller with some great performances and tension. The message feels a bit hazy by the end, but the central theme of a police officer frustrated by the task force's complete failure to follow any typical procedure was interesting. When the strict procedures of policing are ditched to allow some real progress to be made against the cartels, Blunt is troubled by the consequences.

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I feel like the film seriously loses focus in the second half, but it's still a really interesting film all the same.

B+



Fright Night (2011)
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Best thing: Anton Yelchin being charming and quite funny particularly alongside Toni Collette as his mother.

Worst thing: While I was very annoyed to find that Colin Farrell didn't feel terribly intimidating until they pulled out the crazy CG effects, he wasn't too bad. The real weak link here for me was David Tennant. He is so over-the-top and so completely failed to charm me. And he's not a patch on Roddy McDowell.

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I like how Evil Ed's arc comes straight from the character's classic sarcastic quote from the original film: "You're so cool Brewster. I can't stand it." He represents the dark side of the geek. Our protagonist became less of a geek and is now friends with the popular kids while Ed resents him for it and that's what leads Ed to become a vampire to get back at him.

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I found the third act of this film tedious and because I wasn't feeling invested the shoddiness of some of the visual effects work became more starkly obvious. (I'm glad they kept the distinctive ultra-wide toothy smile of the vampires, but fire effects seemed rather unconvincing.)

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For me, this is another unnecessary remake  (and by "unnecessary" naturally I basically mean "I didn't like it"). The original Fright Night just seems so obviously superior to this bland studio film.

D-




Me, Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
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Best thing: Olivia Cooke is great as the character with conflicted feelings about her illness and her unexpected friendship with the nerdy protagonist.

Worst thing: The protagonist is a quirky budding filmmaker, which feels very self-indulgent of the makers of this film. It's never very clear to me that their small parody films work very well with the rest of the story. It all feels somehow both pretentious AND a rip-off of "Be Kind Rewind". What is perhaps especially annoying about this is that the black friend seems thoroughly undeveloped. He clearly seems to be from a rough area, yet he is fully invested in working on pretentious art films. Outside of those two things we learn very little about him and our first introduction to him is hearing him confidently but inappropriately blurt out "titties". Compare that with Mos Def's character in "Be Kind Rewind" refusing to do a remake of Driving Miss Daisy and we can see a clear difference in the levels of characterisation in these two projects. The black friend here ends up falling into the wise black man trope (though fortunately not magical) and while it's nice that he has that level of character at least, he's still very much a sidekick and not a full character in his own right.

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"Me, Earl and the Dying Girl" has a good cast trying to deliver a sweet and quirky movie and as a result it is very obvious that it is desperate to be a sweet and quirky movie. Every step of the way the film comes across as a film that wants to be sweet and quirky. It also wants to be funny, but rarely actually is. (Full credit to Nick Offerman for his remarkably amusing comic performance as what seems in context like a very contrived character. Then again, he’s basically doing what he did in the second series of Fargo and he was funnier there.)

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Is it fatigue at having seen too many "creative, imaginative misfit male teen" movies? Or is it just that this is another dramedy that is neither very funny nor much of a drama? Whatever the problem, this really didn't grip me. It's fine and perhaps others will enjoy it more. Certainly there's nothing wrong with the performances. But it's a filmmaker trying to tell a quirky story about a kid who loves filmmaking - and the self-indulgence shows.

C-



Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993)
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Best thing: The Phantasm is a pretty cool villain. It's never really clear why he has magic powers, but he looks cool.

Worst thing: Incredibly dull and not helped by the way it flicks to regular flashbacks that entirely fail to increase the drama.

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I must admit, I always found the Batman animated series pretty unengaging. I quite enjoyed the Spider-Man animated series even though it was a little naff, but despite enjoying the Batman movies that cartoon failed to interest me.

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So perhaps it's not surprising that a full length movie didn't work for me either. It really is what you'd expect from the cartoon. To help the kids keep up with the story, there's endless expositional dialogue. But on top of that it's not even that exciting. Some of the scenes involving the Phantasm are quite cool, but for the most part this was remarkably boring.

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The story of this incredibly uncharismatic Bruce Wayne punctuated with the occasional action scene feels like it is missing a whole bunch of commercial breaks. Also this is "tv show" artwork not "beautiful animated movie" artwork involved here.

E


Someone's Watching Me! (1978)
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Best thing: Lauren Hutton's central performance is awesome.

Worst thing: The opening theme and some of the music is more than a little dated. Couldn't John Carpenter have done the theme himself? Any tension set up in the opening scene is ruined by the cheesy opening titles sequence (though actually, I think the film could have done without that prologue scene anyway).

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The final film to complete my John Carpenter filmography was the made-for-tv thriller "Someone's Watching Me". Leigh Michaels, played by Lauren Hutton, is a very interesting protagonist because she has a smart sense of humour, a consistently bouncy self-confidence and, even when put under pressure, this side of her does not deteriorate. She's interesting precisely because she isn't the sort of character to give in. Certainly, she is made to feel scared, but she is never hysterical. She's a very rational character and the story is more grounded as a result.

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After the Elvis film had suffered from biopic-itis, feeling long-winded and bland, I was worried that this made-for-tv John Carpenter film would involve the same sorts of problems. But actually this film relies on the ability of the director to build tension and John Carpenter rises to the challenge. And he doesn't rely on showing extreme distress from the actress to bring out the tension. This is a realistic story about a true-to-life villain and Carpenter clearly takes inspiration from Hitchcock's filming style to produce this thriller. I actually felt that Lauren Hutton's character somewhat reminded me of Tippi Hedren's character who likes to pull pranks in Hitchcock's "The Birds".

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Also this passes the Bechdel test. Adrienne Barbeau from "The Fog" and "Escape From New York" has several conversations with Laren Hutton where men are not the subject. Passing the Bechdel Test doesn't always mean a film has a less objectifying view of women. (Just take the 2009 "Star Trek" movie where it passes by virtue of Uhura and Gaila (the green girl) who talk about something other than men while Kirk is spying on them changing...) But in "Someone's Watching Me!" I think praise for the depiction of a strong female protagonist would be well-deserved. The protagonist is a live tv director, she's a successful woman and she's never passive.

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Surprisingly enough, I think this final movie to complete John Carpenter's filmography may actually be one of my very favourites. Tv movie or not, it's a great film and I would highly recommend it to any John Carpenter fans.

A+




Doctor Strange (2016)
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Best thing: The crazy visual effects. I mean sure, you expect great effects, but the kalaedoscopic patterns produced by the buildings are amazing. This may be similar to some of the effects found in Inception, but they are taken to such an extreme that this becomes something very different. Also when we have a fight scene while time is going backwards and the inventive effects make it one of the more effective third-act fight scenes in a Marvel movie. Oh and that awesome cloak-with-a-mind-of-its-own is visual effects too isn't it?

Worst thing: There's a big visual effects set-piece in the middle of the film where they really let things go a bit barmy and the suggestion is that in that moment the evil sorcerors have the upper hand. For that reason I'm a little puzzled as to why our protagonist isn't squashed like a bug. If your antagonists can bend buildings and the entire city scape is morphing around you, how can you possibly hope to run away. That moment of the film seemed to spend so long wowing us with effects that the filmmakers forgot that our protagonists were supposed to be in genuine peril.

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I've often judged Marvel movies on how much they make me laugh and this Marvel film is chock full of jokes. Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton all get their funny moments. There's also real heart to the film.

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Okay, so Mads Mikkelsen is another quiet villain and as a result he seems under-used, but I think we are left with the possibility that he could come back. When he's giving the "actually my evil plan makes sense when you think about it" speech, Mikkelsen is able to be much more convincing than a lesser actor could.

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In some ways this feels like a re-tread of the story from the first Iron Man movie, but Doctor Strange is still a distinct character and the third act is a lot smarter. Consistent pacing, inventiveness and an awesome cast make this perhaps the best Marvel movie yet. I really wasn't expecting that from the director of "Sinister".

A+


Gone With The Wind (1939)
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Best thing: The female protagonist turns into a bit of a badass, doesn't she? Tough businesswoman with a no-nonsense attitude and prepared to kill a guy if threatened. It's good to see that change after her initial whiny character at the beginning. It’s just a bit odd that the film often seems to want me to dislike her for what seem to be her most positive traits.

Worst thing: The rape isn't a good moment obviously. And it's awkward that we are seemingly supposed to dislike the protagonist more than her dickhead rapist husband. But in the end the worst thing has to be all the title cards saying, "Remember the good old days of keeping slaves in the south? Isn't it terrible that it's all gone?"

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There were some good moments but my goodness this film is so very long. There are old films that I think hold up very well, but Gone With The Wind feels incredibly dated.

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I'm glad that the film perks up in places but there are so many parts of the film that drag like crazy. I was gripped by “Citizen Kane” all the way through (after the intentionally stilted fake broadcast at the start) but while the performances in ”Gone With The Wind” are great, the storytelling failed to keep me on board.

D+


I've needed a bit of extra time to get the reviews written for the last stretch of Nope-Tober, but sadly I didn't reach the full 31 movies by the 31st. I spent some time with my parents and they are rather more picky about their horror and weren't in the mood for a random Universal film. So just 29 films this year.

Still, I plan to carry on with the Universal films and I have a few Post-Tober films in order to finish up. I will start off Post-Tober with a rewatch of Gods And Monsters (about Frankenstein director James Whale), Plan 9 (Bela Lugosi's final film) and Young Frankenstein (a Mel Brooks spoof of the Universal horror films).


Best film: Misery

A rewatch after over 10 years and this holds up way better than I ever would have expected. A really gripping horror film and probably the best of the Stephen King adaptations.

Best classic Universal horror film (so far): The Old Dark House

Quite an awkward one to get hold of but a wonderful film about strangers finding shelter in a creepy house. And a fantastic comedy aspect here too.

Most 'out there' discovery (i.e batshit crazy film): Southbound

Some of the creators of the "V/H/S" film produce another anthology effort, this time with the stories more closely connected rather than on entirely separate videotapes. Creepy face masks, sinister 911 call operators and ghosts such as you've never seen before. Some real originality here.

Best surprise: A Horrible Way To Die

Reviews weren't great for this, nor for Adam Wingard's Blair Witch Project sequel (Blair Witch) which I have yet to see. I was beginning to worry that "You're Next" and "The Guest" might have been a fluke. So many cases where I've been excited for a quality filmmakers new release have led to disappointment: "Noah" (Darren Aronosky), "Get Santa" (Christopher Smith), "A Dame To Kill For" (Robert Rodriguez), I wasn't a fan of "Her" (Spike Jonze) and I still have as yet to find out whether I'll be as disappointed as most were with "Warcraft" (Duncan Jones). But it's great to see that this early 'before they made it big' entry from Adam Wingard is a real gem and I wasn't expecting that.

Best horror comedy: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

I mean sure, my favourite Universal horror film was also a horror comedy, but this was funnier and I feel it deserves special credit. My first Universal monster mash-up movie and I was very impressed by how well it all came together.

Worst film: April Fool's Day

Some are disappointed with the ending, but my real problem was everything that led up to it. I was told this was a horror comedy which probably put up my expectations. I found myself wishing I was watching "Black Christmas". Better kills, better characters, better story and actually a lot more fun than April Fool's Day.

Biggest disappointment: Dark Water

After my recent "Ring" movie marathon I'd become very impressed with Hideo Nakata and wanted to check out this classic Japanese horror movie that I'd missed before. Sadly, I just don't think it works. It's especially annoying because Hideo Nakata's wonderful filmmaking style is still present and I'm sure others out there will absolutely love it. The film just doesn't come together very well for me personally.

#22 The Invitation (2015)
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Best thing: What an ending! It's always good when a film knows how to finish and knocks your socks off at the last minute rather than dragging things out.

Worst thing: The story gets a bit repetitive. Not badly. But the protagonist keeps getting reasons to be suspicious followed by reasons why he shouldn't be so suspicious. This back and forth builds up tension but it's unfortunate when the pattern becomes a bit too obvious.

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A man still struggling after a tragedy and a divorce is invited to a reunion party by his ex-wife. It turns out she has discovered a bizarre self-help group to overcome her grief. The party seems strangely sinister, in part because of the odd over-friendliness of the hosts.

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It feels like something must be wrong, but our protagonist's fragile emotional state makes him naturally insecure.

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A very compelling horror with a tense and subtle build-up and a great payoff. Wonderful.

A+



#23 Late Phases (2014)
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Best thing: A fantastic central performance of the badass blind war veteran.

Worst thing: Wouldn't the police be a little more concerned about an animal that can smash your door down?

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A sense of fun and some great creature effects. This is another film I probably would have missed were it not for Letterboxd. There's a reason this is getting so many good reviews. It's a wonderful little film. If you liked Ginger Snaps you'll most likely love this.

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Werewolves in the retirement community and a blind veteran who seems to be the only one who can work out what is happening. Our blind grumpy protagonist's abrasive attitude actually makes for a pretty compelling redemption story (of sorts).

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Werewolves often don't look great, particularly in low budget features and I think even the cult favourite, Dog Soldiers, has this problem. Ginger Snaps also had its limitations. Late Phases has some exceptional effects work and also a pretty super transformation scene. Wonderful.

A+



#24 The Mummy (1932)
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Best thing: Well clearly the best thing is Boris Karloff as the Mummy. I don't know about anyone else but I always grew up thinking of the Mummy as a zombie-like creature in bandages groaning and following Scooby Doo down a corridor. But all credit to the Stephen Sommers films for transitioning the mummy from the bandaged undead creature to a revived healthy-looking human being with special powers.

Worst thing: It becomes repetitive, with the female protagonist switching between lying down in a daze or wandering off to see the Mummy again. I found myself feeling like she should just be allowed to go to him. While it’s stated pretty clearly that she is under a malign magical influence, the impression is often that she’s met an exciting man who she would really like to see again and, in the meanwhile, she’s kept essentially under house arrest by an unwanted admirer on the pretence that it’s for her own good. I still feel that it’s only a matter of luck that the boyfriend is correct in thinking she needs to be kept away from Imhotep. I think he’d be trying to keep her away from Imhotep regardless of whether she was being magically mind-controlled or not.

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The Mummy suffers from being in incredibly slow and repetitive, but I do love Boris Karloff's performance as the villain. The opening is very cool but the rest of the film doesn't seem to know where to go next.

C+


#25 Dark Water (2002)
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Best thing: Great atmosphere, themes, acting, build up.

Worst thing: Not really a horror film.

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I've long had a problem with ghost films and I actually liked that Ring wasn't really following the format of a ghost story. Dark Water IS following that format though and it's one of those ghost films where the ghost presumably represents something in real life but I'm stuck as to what the message is meant to be.

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If you take your ghost stories literally then you'll probably be annoyed. As someone who prefers when ghost stories are more allegorical, I found the message never seemed to move beyond "divorce sucks". Wouldn't this film have made that point more effectively without the leaky-ceiling ghost story?

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Dark Water is really well made. I just have no clue what the point was. I simply don't get it.

D+


#26 Son of Frankenstein (1939)
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Best thing: The performance by Basil Rathbone as the actual son of Dr. Frankenstein is great (and makes me think of Tom Hiddleston's performance in Crimson Peak), but the real star here is Basil Rathbone the inspector with the prosthetic arm who was once a victim of the monster.

Worst thing: Is the son of Frankenstein so stupid that he doesn't recognise when things are out of his control and he needs to come clean to the inspector? It would have been good if his stubbornness made more sense.

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This film just started so well. The villagers are insanely suspicious of Frankenstein's son and the more they shun his father, the more inclined he feels to pursue his father's research. Igor is wonderfully creepy after his close brush with death on the noose. (Apparently everyone has forgotten that the character is called Fritz in the first Frankenstein film.) And the make-up job completely hid from me that it was Bela Lugosi providing this wonderful performance.

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But after a while the film loses its way. The son of Frankenstein passionately pursuing his father's legacy is great, but when he is sitting around feeling unable to act for fear of being condemned by Igor's testimony, the film becomes rather dull.

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Overall the first half makes this well worth checking out. If only it were a bit more consistent. One more thing to note though: I find it endlessly entertaining that the ultra-posh British parents have a child with what sounds to me like an American accent from the deep south.

B-


#27 Ghoulies 2 (1988)
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Best thing: The Ghoulies tormenting people on the Ghost Train was brilliant.

Worst thing: There turned out to be absolutely no character arcs by the end of the film. Nothing that happened really matters to thr outcomes for the characters. When we began it seemed as if the film was about trying to produce a successful Ghost Train. By the end of the film that clearly isn't the aim anymore.

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Great intro, a bit of a slow start, sone excellent antics in the middle and a rather uninspiring third act. Ghoulies is a seriously mixed bag.

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This is certainly a massive step up from the first film, but it never really lives up to the opening scene. The characters aren't terrible but they have defining traits and not a lot beyond those. There's the man with dwarfism frustrated that he's not taken seriously as a Shakespearean actor, there's the drunk who feels like he's a burden and there's a morally unscrupulous rich guy exploiting his limited power. They are all admittedly more interesting as characters than  anyone from the first Ghoulies movie, but there are no arcs for any of them.

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When we reach the third act it's pretty obvious that we are simply wrapping up the story and while the effects work is fun it still makes for a pretty flat finale because there are no stakes beyond not wanting the characters to die (and it's pretty clear that they aren't going to be killed off).
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I started Ghoulies 2 with such high hopes and there are some very fun moments, but it just runs out of steam.

C-


#28 Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)
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Best thing: The opening quarter of the film involving the reintroduction of The Wolfman was fantastic. Lon Chaney Jr is brilliant in the role as The Wolfman.

Worst thing: A medical doctor, Dr. Mannering, goes mad a little too easily. On top of that the film ends very abruptly.

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The return of The wolf man is absolutely wonderful thanks to Chaney's super performance but I was wondering in the beginning how The wolf man would fit into a story about Frankenstein's monster. The answer is he doesn't really fit at all. There is no reason for Frankenstein’s monster to appear in this film and yet I very nearly bought into it. The idea that Frankenstein's work on life and death might hold the secrets for allowing the wolf man to die almost works. But the logic becomes hazy and the filmmakers ditch this premise so they can finish with the showdown the audience is expecting.

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Once again we have the wonderful sense of charm from the universal horror films. The pairing of Frankenstein's monster and The wolf man cannot help but make me smile. Sadly some unconvincing over the top villainy from one of the villagers and an all too abrupt ending prevent this from being one of the better universal horror films.

C+


#29 The Enfield Haunting (2015)
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Best thing: All the performances are very effective and actually the film is directed very well. If only the subject matter weren't utter twaddle.

Worst thing: The film seems to want to have its cake and eat it. On the one hand it depicts something that simply has to be a real haunting. Characters witness and experience impossible things. Yet there's a sense that the characters know that it's probably not real and that maybe this is about something beneath the surface. However this can't be both a real haunting and an allegory. The way the film is set-up makes this impossible, particularly when
they bring back the medium for no reason other than to give Timothy Spall's character some closure. The last time the medium visited the haunted house she has terrified everyone. Why would they bring her back? Particularly when she herself said it was a bad idea. Yet Matthew Macfadyen's character mysteriously insists it is worth it and lo and behold, Timothy Spall's character benefits in a way that surely couldn't have been forseen. It was almost as if they staged that entire encounter for his benefit. If this is a story about people making things up, that calls into question everything we are shown.

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Considering that I most often hate ghost stories, it's perhaps not surprising that the Enfield haunting didn't completely work for me. It was actually pretty well made, but I couldn't help but feel that its attempts to introduce ambiguity were surely only going to irritate everyone. If you believe in ghosts then it suggests people are making everything up, whereas if you don't believe in ghosts it just seems completely inconsistent.

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Maybe it wasn't helpful that I kept imagining what would be really happening if there were no ghosts. Yet I think that is precisely what's the film makers expect us to do. When the mother explains, "There were more of us than you. You couldn't see everything," the suggestion is that she knows the children were tricking the paranormal investigators. It's a pity that they missed out the other part of the story I heard where the ghosts disappear because the children get really into the musical Grease (actually I’ve only heard that piece of trivia from Stuart NLA from the Now Playing podcast and I am as yet to find any mention of it anywhere else). It seems that essentially this is a story about a bunch of kids making stuff up, but I’m not entirely sure what point the film was trying to make about this. This is quite well made, but I can’t help but feel like I’m missing the point.

C-

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