In a Nutshell. Mini reviews of movies old and new. Minimum words. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional trout.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (2001)

KKKG is about family. It explores a mother's love, unconditional and all-encompassing, and a father's love, which is tied-up with notions of tradition and approbation. The beginning lays the groundwork, showing where some of the main characters are in their life, before jumping back ten years to explain how a situation that seemed full of promise got turned around.
In addition to the parental side of things, it's about brothers, lovers, and acceptance. It could've been amazing - the assembled cast certainly qualify as such, and the soundtrack is also pretty damn good - but too many unwise decisions with regards characterisation sour the resultant milk.
The scenes designed to pack an emotional wallop hit home for the most part, but the ending didn't work for me; it felt a little too by-the-numbers.

3 elder paths out of 5

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Dark (1979)

In an attempt to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, director John "Bud" Cardos chooses to hide his ridiculous looking alien monster in jeans in The Dark. Presumably the positive would be everything else, but all that's left is a vanilla detective and his overeating partner, a kooky psychic, a hack author and a news anchor. It all ends up to be quite an odd amalgam and a piss poor thriller. The film lacks any kind of imagination with its dated visuals, lack of backstory and weak ending. Leave this one in the dark where it belongs.

1 laser beam out of 5

Piranha (2010)

With a much needed injection of comedy, effects and action, this remake actually exceeds the original. The explanation behind the piranha this time is a tiny bit more sound, but still very cliche. The film taking place during spring break gives an opportunity for a larger body count, more mayhem and ...ahem plenty of flesh. Surprisingly the CG is pretty decent, offering up some wild and gory scenes. Though there are a few overreaching moments. Despite a throw-away conclusion, the film has one of the most satisfyingly bloody climaxes on record and is well worth the ticket. 

3½ blatant Jaws references out of 5

Piranha II: The Spawning (1981)

Every big name director has to cut their teeth somewhere. In the case of James Cameron, Piranha II, a B-movie sequel about ferocious flying fish was his directorial debut. Behind the scenes nightmares plague the film, as rookie Cameron was demoted a week into shooting by producer Ovidio G. Assonitis. While Cameron still shot the footage, he was not involved in the editing. Nevertheless there are instances of JC's future style within certain components of the film, especially the quirky, full-of-spunk characters who tend to populate his films. But many of the small yet humorous setups fall by the wayside as the main storyline deservedly takes up most of the screen time. Besides allusions to a secret government project to genetically alter piranha, this sequel has very little to do with the first film. Despite giving them wings and a slew of advantageous abilities, they somehow have a convenient aversion to daylight. Had Cameron been given a chance, this one could have made a splash instead of a flop. 

2 bad places to fuck out of 5

Piranha (1978)

Initially a Roger Corman knock-off of Jaws, the film starts off well with an effective opening scene into the dangers of these carnivorous fish, but the pace slows to a halt as two particularly dull main characters are introduced. Their flat personalities and tepid attempt at a romance partly hinder the plot. As they attempt to warn people of their impending doom, we're treated to a number of performances from genre favorites (Barbara Steele, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Bartel). Corman regular Dick Miller is especially a highlight in the second half as a corrupt park owner. The piranhas themselves are given a unique tell which alerts us to their presence, but their onscreen and rubbery appearance fails to instill many thrills. Unfortunately the sfx are a little sparse for such a film with only a few really satisfying bloody moments in the climax. Despite these flaws, Piranha creates enough of its own waves to become a B-movie classic. 

3 feeding frenzies out of 5

Monday, 16 October 2017

Heroes Shed No Tears (1986)

Not to be confused with Dir. Yuen Chor's wuxia movie of the same name released six years previously for Shaw Bros, John Woo's HSNT is a war film (a fact that you've no doubt determined already by seeing the cover art).
It was filmed before A Better Tomorrow (1986) but not released until after, by a studio hoping to cash in on the director's newfound popularity. Unless you're a Woo die-hard, it's probably best avoided because it's little more than a series of action set pieces in need of a plot. The scenes are presented as 'movie' action, but are nevertheless still shockingly violent and graphic.
A connection is established between one of the anti-heroes/mercenaries and a barbarous Vietnamese general that the group randomly chance upon, but it's underdeveloped and overshadowed by Woo blowing LOTS of shit up.

2 expensive breadcrumbs out of 5

Friday, 13 October 2017

TNT Jackson (1974)

An attempt to merge the Blaxploitation and Kung Fu genres that seemed like it might work, up until an impressive crane shot. What followed was the first of many fights in which the stunt woman held her own but everyone else flaffed about in some of the worst martial arts scenes that I've ever witnessed.
The basic plot will be familiar to anyone who's seen any of the more well-known Blaxploitation flicks. Miss Jackson (Jeanne Bell) looks the part and has some sassy lines, but she's not a great actress and, unfortunately for her, the camera picks up on her lack of confidence and accentuates it.
It's set in a Hong Kong district but clearly isn't the genuine article; the largely Filipino cast make me think it's probably shot somewhere on location there.

1½ coffin shipments out of 5

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Aliens - Special Edition (1986)

Cameron's Aliens (plural because there's more than one xenomorph - it's the law of sequels) occasionally references the cold isolation and horror that helped make the first Alien (1979) film work, but his style is very different to Scott's; it's still reliant on subtleties, but is much more action driven.
The SE reinstates to the theatrical cut 17 minutes of previously excised footage, including important details of Ripley's personal journey, slowing the pace of the first half to even more of a crawl than it was before.
If you're not a fan of the Heinlein-esque colonial marines and their big guns (I'm not), then it's a slow advance to the good stuff; i.e the last half hour. Even though it's action-heavy then too, it stays relevant by having an interesting subtext present, made more poignant by those initially troublesome extra minutes. So in the end it balances out and I feel that the SE is the more developed and enjoyable option for that reason.

3½ real monsters out of 5

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Coogan's Bluff (1968)

Coogan is a deputy Sheriff in Arizona. At the beginning he's hunting a lone gunman in a picturesque desert locale. It has the feel of a Western but Coogan's in a jeep, not atop a horse. Unfortunately, even the implied similarities aren't enough to save it from being boring about 90% of the time.
When it moves to the big city it plummets ever further down the scale. It could be argued that much of the time there is given over to characterisation, but it achieves little beyond managing to (inadvertently?) make the brash but charismatic cowboy persona that Clint's well-known for seem more like a deft sleaze who's a few steps down from pushy sexual predator. Not good.
A few years later the pairing of Eastwood and Dir. Siegel gave us the first Dirty Harry (1971) movie. I wish I'd skipped Coogan in favour of it.

2 fancy remarks out of 5

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Doctor Mordrid (1992)

It began life as a second attempt at a live action Dr Strange film (Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme), but licensing issues forced it to go in a different direction. Nevertheless, anyone familiar with the comic book character will be in no doubt as to its origins, even if they have been slightly altered to avoid litigation. Had it stayed as it was Jeffrey Combs wouldn't have been a good choice as Stephen, despite having a long-standing B-Movie charm, but freed from the association he does just fine, even in his fanciful blue duds.
The plot is typical of the era (i.e. rubbish), even predictably teaming the magic user with a regular human (Yvette Nipar) because every mysterious figure needs a clichéd sceptic to make them look more enigmatic onscreen~.

2 clear plastic daggers out of 5

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Pom Poko (1994)

When their peaceful but playful way of life comes under threat by "urban development" a tanuki community is forced to abandon the rundown farmhouse in which they live, a building that was previously abandoned by its human occupants. To combat the human push for modernisation the critters call upon the past, rekindling the ancient tanuki art of shape-shifting.
There are references to the role of religion and superstition in the modern world, but foremost is the themes of ethics and nature and how both are often trodden on by an encroaching and money-hungry industry.
It's a Ghibli film directed by Takahata, not Miyazaki, so if you're planning to let kids watch it be aware that there are some unpleasant deaths. And, worse, you may be required to explain what testicles are; good luck with that part.

3½ bald hills out of 5

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Eagles Over London (1969)

A war movie set during the 1940 British evacuation of Dunkirk. The plot has a group of plucky German saboteurs masquerading as British troops on their return to England. The Nazis' goal is to infiltrate the enemy's homeland, then locate and destroy hi-tech equipment that's enabling the Allies to counter the German bombers as they fly over the land with their deadly payload.
There's a spectacular beach scene near the beginning that might fool you into thinking you'll be getting a more explosive drama in all, but elsewhere it's more modest, following a group of British soldiers as they hunt for the invaders despite not knowing how numerous they are or what they look like. There's dogfights and explosions, but the film's most memorable scenes are the ones that deal with men and their dedication and reaction to duty.

3 stolen tags out of 5

Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Prophecy 3: The Ascent (2000)

I can't discuss the film until addressing the numbering. If a second movie uses Roman numerals in it's title, like Prophecy II (1998) did, then the third one should, too. it should be Prophecy III, not 3. You can't just switch to Arabic numerals and hope no one notices. What's next? Prophecy fourth? Prophecy Δ?
Okay, the movie: it continues the story of what came before but it's half-baked. Gabriel features but does little to justify his presence. The coroner is there simply to remind us what happened in parts I and II and then he's completely forgotten about. The excessive smash cuts are infuriating.
Overall, if not for the presence of Walken and Dourif it'd be indistinguishable from many of the second-rate supernatural/fantasy TV series from the 90s.

1½ times born out of 5

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Prophecy II (1998)

A direct-to-video sequel that nevertheless managed to lure Walken back into the role of Gabriel. We met just a few of the heavenly host previously, so we also get to meet more of those guys, with varying degrees of success.
It's a more action-driven experience than before, and at just 75 minutes in length (excluding credits) it feels more punchy too. But the semi-successful introspection of before has been lessened, resulting in a flick that's more comic-booky, more throwaway and altogether less ambitious.
I should probably give it points for the limited amount of philosophising about notions of love and free will that it did include, though.
I liked Brittany Murphy's character. She was slotted into an existing space, but the black comedy somehow worked better with her.

2½ hearts in hand out of 5

Monday, 25 September 2017

The Prophecy (1995)

Stories about war in heaven and angels using Earth as a battleground were less common when The Prophecy was released than they are now, so it's useful to view it with that in mind. Directed by the writer of Highlander (1986), i.e. Gregory Widen, it attempts a similar balance of fantastical and human story. As such, it's less action-packed than some of the other works I alluded to above. It's slowly paced in the first half, but more rewarding in the second.
On one side there's a cop with a religious background who's hunting for answers, and on the other is an angel played by Walken who's hunting for something entirely different, but the two things are connected.
The black comedy misfires about 99% of the time, but there's enough conflict and drama to keep the core subject matter interesting to the end.

3 perched arguments out of 5