In a Nutshell. Mini reviews of movies old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. And often no sleep.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

A fantasy western that plays out like a cross between The Lost World (1912) novel and the King Kong (1933) film. Set in Mexico at the turn of the 20th Century it has a travelling Rodeo Show with a unique attraction, a semi-reprehensible leading man (James Franciscus) with an agenda and a palaeontologist who's hungry for prestige. But best of all it has a 'forbidden valley' that has creatures not seen anywhere else for 50 million years.
I'm not automatically attracted to all things dinosaur, except when they're animated by Ray Harryhausen, like they are in Gwangi. He even succeeds in having us sympathise with the great beasts more than once.
It has some dodgy ADR in places, and characters in need of more depth, but visually it's a fun, fantastical adventure that speaks to the inner-child.

3 horse toes out of 5

Saturday, 19 January 2019

The Viking Queen (1967)

Taking much of its inspiration from the folk hero Boudicca, Hammer Studio's story is set in Britain during the Roman occupation. The political sea change that's forced upon the country's native tribes results in an armed uprising led by Queen Salina, played by Finnish fashion model Carita Järvinen.
Amid the calls to war a romance blossoms, failing to add as much emotional conflict as it ought to have done. The blend of politics, religion, state, and family concerns is equally as underwhelming at times. I'm guessing the makers were aware of the failings, so added some side-boob to spice it up.
The exterior scenes feel authentic, whereas many of the interior scenes have the usual stage-like Hammer theatrics, the kind that I adore.

2½ blue bandits out of 5

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

High-school student Makoto isn't good at timekeeping. Prone to oversleeping, she's often in a rush to not be late for classes, which, coupled with her slightly clumsy nature, can have disastrous results. As summer approaches and the final push into maturity threatens to turn her world inside out, a hard-won realisation that you can't fix everything in life looms at every turn.
The lessons that accompany the coming-of-age concerns are woven into the story wonderfully, as are the relationships that define the school-friends.
A great film on first viewing, subsequent revisits have caused me to fall in love with it more. Although, I do feel that it has a few too many resolutions.

4 rollbacks out of 5

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Kung Fu: The Movie (1986)

A belated continuation of the Kung Fu TV series (1972-75) set still in the American Old West, with Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) the wandering Shaolin monk. It was Brandon Lee's first credited role, which, given his father's contested place in the original show's genesis, may be considered slightly ironic or something of a balance being properly adjusted.
Set in 1865 the story involves murder, opium and a shady cover-up. The usual memory/flashbacks to Master Po (Keye Luke) are in place, but there's an additional mystical slant that might have been a step too far.
Viewers unfamiliar with the series may not care about any of it, whereas those of us that followed the original TV journey may be upset that it often fails to meet its progenitor's standards. It's merely okay, at best.

2½ golden illusions out of 5

Thursday, 10 January 2019

We Are Family (2010)

Aman (Arjun Rampal) has three children with Maya (Kajol), but the couple are divorced. He lives now with Shreya (Kareena Kapoor) and has the fool notion that he'd like his new partner to meet his children in his old partner's house during his youngest child's birthday party. Some guys just aren't too bright.
I'm in no way intending to trivialise the subject matter dealt with in the film, but the resultant story is pretty terrible, the sentimentality forcibly mawkish, and the situations feel much too engineered. If it was a painting it'd be palate knife painted, thick and amateurish. If it was a book it'd be from a first-time novelist. It hits its mark at the end, though, but that's true of many Bollywood films. I'll give it an additional half point, anyhow, because endings are hard.

2½ spaghetti fights out of 5

Monday, 7 January 2019

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

The 20,000 Fathoms part of the title isn’t very relevant, but the Beast part certainly is. Stirred from slumber by scientists testing atomics somewhere in the Arctic, the creature causes havoc as it makes its way purposefully south. I don’t appreciate being rudely woken up, either, so I can kind of relate.
The script, 'suggested' by a short in Ray Bradbury's The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953) collection, toys with the psychology of witnessing the impossible, while exploring a more elaborate scientific reasoning with regards what's actually seen. But the best part of this particular creature-feature is the effects work by Ray Harryhausen. That's two Rays for the price of one.

3 differences of opinion out of 5

Friday, 4 January 2019

The Witches (1966)

In Joan Fontaine's last big screen (i.e. non-TV) role she plays a school teacher named Gwen Mayfield who, after a horrifying ordeal in Africa, dotters about a quaint English village trying to help the local kids achieve their full potential. But, with a few exceptions, when the community and the schoolteacher don't see eye to eye, Gwen begins to suspect there may be witchcraft afoot.
The film is neither sinister enough, nor the psychological strain threads intriguing enough, to keep the drama high and it soon gets tiresome.
The oddball finale, which is somewhere between pantomime and avant-garde theatre, is kind of ridiculous, but is nevertheless the most memorable part.

2 ill wills out of 5

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

The King and I (1956)

A gorgeous film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a widowed British school teacher named Anna (Deborah Kerr) who travels with her young son to Siam (i.e. Thailand) to teach the King's many children.
The self-serving Hollywood need to have recognisable English-speaking actors in key Asian roles was as ridiculous in the 50s as it is now, but Russian-born Yul Brynner somehow makes the role his own, regardless.
The give and take story revolves around a clash of personalities, with the liberated school mistress butting heads with the egotistical monarch.
The theme of slavery is as daring as it gets, but, while it's simple stuff for the most part, it's also hugely entertaining, in the grand musical tradition.

4 etc, etc, etc, out of 5

Monday, 31 December 2018

Chi-Raq (2015)

An uneven blend of serious drama, comedy and musical set pieces from director Spike Lee that's based on the ancient Greek Lysistrata, in which the women of warring men withheld sex in the hope of achieving peace. In Spike's hands it's the gang violence of 'Chi-raq' (a portmanteau of Chicago and Iraq), utilising both the language and music of the era and culture.
The chastity-belted ladies (led by Teyonah Parris) carry the narrative forward, while Sam Jackson pops up occasionally to speak directly to the viewer. John Cusak gives support as a white preacher in one of the film's best scenes. But it's Angela Bassett that kept me watching; when the stylised nonsense threatened to sink the whole affair, she was on hand to save it from itself.

2½ locked gates out of 5

Friday, 28 December 2018

Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956)

Newlyweds Russell (Hugh Marlowe) and Carol Marvin (Joan Taylor) work together putting artificial satellites into space for scientific reasons, but each time communication with the rocket is lost. It's gotta be aliens! The US military typically shoot first and ask questions later, putting the entire world in peril.
It has its fair share of corny 1950s dialogue, clichés, pseudoscience, and stock footage, but I'm a big fan of the film, nevertheless. I adore the classic design of the flying saucers and how they're brought to life by Ray Harryhausen.
The only thing that I'm not keen on is the suited alien design, which lacks the childlike wow factor that the better aspects of the FX have.

3½ clay pigeons out of 5

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

The Studio Ghibli Collection (UK)

This Collection post will be most useful to folks that are resident in the UK, so apologies to anyone who isn't. It's because the numbering on the spine of the UK (R2) DVD editions of the films causes problems when lined up numerically. Anyone viewing the features in that given order will discover that The Cat Returns (2002) comes before Whisper of the Heart (1995), which is the reverse of how they should be seen. Perhaps the distributor (Optimum) numbered them in the order they licensed them? I don't know, but the errors and occasional duplicate numbering for subsequent Blu-ray editions drove many collectors with OCD slightly barmy. If you live in the UK and want to watch the films in the order they were released by Studio Ghibli, then ignore the actual DVD spine numbers [in brackets]. The correct production order is as follows:

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Agent Vinod (2012)

Vinod is a continent-hopping suave agent who does the same kind of things that you've probably seen dozens of other movie secret agents do.
Given that the poster art montage suggests an Indian cousin of James Bond in a Fast + Furious crossover directed by Michael Bay, it's fair to say that I was less than optimistic about seeing the film. Mercifully, it isn't as bad as all that, but nor is it anything worth singing many praises about, because when I watch a Bollywood movie I want something that only India can give. What I don't want is the same kind of boring polish that Hollywood action movies favour.
Much of AV is the latter. It's only when it tries to be slick and fails — making the ridiculous OTT action scenes seem as comical as they are fantastical — that it manages to produce any kind of unique appeal.

2½ life-changing poems out of 5

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Superman: The Last Son of Krypton (1996)

TLSoK is the first three episodes of Superman TAS put together into a one-hour TV Movie. The join could've been better, but the pacing is pretty good. It's the now-familiar origin story of Krypton's finest son, but familiarity doesn't dull it. In fact, the scenes on the doomed planet are the best part. So too is the voice work; the Earth cast are good, too, but not as impressive as Krypton's.
Clark/Superman's (Tim Daly) adolescence is a little hurried, but the key players do each get time in the spotlight, as does the series main villain, the follically-challenged billionaire Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown).
Being sold as a pick-up-and-watch movie meakes the open ending feel a little awkward, so you might want to get TAS afterwards for the rest.

3 special deliveries out of 5

Sunday, 16 December 2018

One Million Years B.C. (1966)

Instead of simply dipping a toe in the cave-girl genre, Hammer dipped an entire lady, Raquel Welch, and created something iconic in the process.
It's a story of early humans (after they'd learned sewing and modesty) with very little dialogue, most of which is Prehistoric language. Despite that, it does manage to be entertaining, least of all in its good girl falls for bad boy scenario; i.e. Loana (Welsh) for the savage Tumak (John Richardson).
Lovers of 'fur' bikinis should enjoy the scenery, while kids and fans of stop-motion can appreciate the wonderful Ray Harryhausen creature effects. Beyond that, there's character growth, some righting of wrongs, and enough tragedy to enable anyone who's seeking an actual story to leave satisfied.

3 skulls on sticks out of 5

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Ruined Heart: Another Lovestory Between a Criminal and a Whore (2014)

I don't know how it is for other folks, whether they be professional, amateur, hobbyist or otherwise, but, speaking for myself, when it comes to putting together words to describe a viewing some are easy, some are challenging, and a special few, like Ruined Heart, are damn near impossible.
It has a dreamlike quality; not in a colourful and floaty way, but in how it moves from scene to scene, from emotive event to artistic intent. With almost no dialogue to aid comprehension it relies on feelings, delivered primarily via a combination of imagery (cinematography by Christopher Doyle) and peculiar music courtesy of Dir. Khavn and bizarre duo Stereo Total, amongst others.

3½ conceptual lines out of 5