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

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Sensation (2010)

Irish farm-boy (Domhnall Gleeson) is forced to make life-changing decisions when he falls for a New Zealand whore (Luanne Gordon) in Writer/Dir. Tom Hall's black comedy. It has some funny moments and the performances of the two leads is commendable, but Donal, the male half of the equation, isn't the likeable kind of loser that's worth rooting for, which really hinders the film's reach. In fact, he's a contemplate git. The increasing absurdity of situations he responds to feel forcibly written and the lack of charm in even the secondary characters eventually make Sensation something of a chore to endure, which is a shame because it starts out with some real potential.

2½ sticking points out of 5

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Road to Paloma (2014)

Co-written, produced, directed by and starring Jason Momoa, Road to Paloma is an understated gem. Made for just $600,000, it has the spirit of Easy Rider (1969) but with a final scene that Dir. John Hillcoat would be proud to own.
Everything works, from the intimate handheld camerawork to the subtle but soulful exploration of main character Wolf's reasons for being on the road to begin with, all tied together with a perfectly fitting music selection.
The expansive environments that the biker travels through somehow act as a reminder that human relationships can be fleeting but meaningful, and that beauty can be found in the most remote of places. Considering Momoa's Hollywood career to date, it's fair to say that he has some hidden depths.

5 family matters out of 5

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Felidae (1994)

A German language animation about cats. You'll notice the rating on the box is a 12, but I suspect that in other territories it might be higher because there's graphic violence, adult themes, and the kind of language that often gets kids in trouble with their parents. It's the story of Francis, the new cat on the block. A number of brutal cat murders have occurred prior to his moving there, and they show no signs of stopping. Francis attempts to uncover the truth about why they're happening and the identity of who is responsible.
It's a noir story with a cat in the lead detective role; the usual thuggish nasties and lowlifes that you often get in the genre are also represented.
Animation is smooth and realistic and the audio, though simple, is good - the soft sound of cat paws on wood is one of life's best sounds.

3½ cold sacks out of 5

Monday, 16 April 2018

Slap Shot (1977)

Reggie (Paul Newman) is coach of the Charlestown Chiefs ice hockey team. Their popularity is waning, and the economic downturn of the general area means the paying audience that they need to stay afloat just isn't there. Salvation comes when an outbreak of extreme violence on the ice strikes a chord with the fans; angry at a faceless system, they crave blood. The more of it that gets shed, the more popular the team becomes.
I don't personally consider Slap Shot to be a 'sports' movie, but it's a movie and it has sporting action, so call it what you will. What's important is that it stands strong by avoiding the woeful clichés that often plague the genre. And while it has a lot of comedy, it's played straight, not slapstick. Even the most violent members, the three Hanson brothers, are bloody hilarious at times.

3½ crazy pucks out of 5

Friday, 13 April 2018

The Towering Inferno (1974)

Previously it was a watery death that an ensemble star cast had to run from, now it's a fiery one. They're opposing elements, but the end result is a similar kind of disaster movie, again produced by Irwin Allen (Dir. John Guillermin).
With a story adapted from two different novels (The Tower by R.M. Stern; The Glass Inferno by T.N. Scortia and F.M. Robinson), the script doesn't rush to the big event, but nor does it dally. An epic establishing shot effectively gets us to where the (hot) shit goes down. Thereafter the two male leads, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, are cleverly kept apart for the longest time but are dependent on each other's skills at crucial moments throughout.
The villains of the piece are hobnobbing rich folks who feel that their life is somehow worth more than that of the average Joe.

3½ corners cut out of 5

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Basic Instinct (1992)

Referenced in popular culture mostly for its audacious beaver shot, Verhoven's film does occasionally has more to offer. It's an odd mix of salacious dime store novel and noir-ish thriller with a self-awareness that isn't always beneficial to the plot. The attraction/sexual tension between the two leads is laid on much too thick in the first half. The intimate moments, while fewer in number, are equally as direct but more successful with regards getting under the surface of the duo's back and forth games. The occasional nod to Hitch's San Francisco set masterpiece hints at a story that might've strived to be more sophisticated had the powers that be wished it so. As it stands, it's semi-trash that's saved mostly by Verhoven's ability.

3 practical applications out of 5

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Shin Godzilla (2016)

Toho's 29th Japanese Godzilla film is another hard reset of the franchise, with a new creature design and a new origin story behind it.
The majority of the film involves politicians, bureaucrats, military leaders, etc, talking about how to deal with the daikaijū threat, with fast cuts to give the impression that things being discussed hurriedly is some kind of compensation for things being interesting - it's not. The first hour in particular is dense with such dialogue scenes, leaving no comfortable entry point for a viewer to connect, or even sympathise, with a single individual.
Godzilla, referred to as male more than once in the English subs, is mostly CGI, mo-capped so that it moves kind of like a man in a suit. Points for good intentions, but ultimately it's a CGI creature with zero personality.

2 bad choices out of 5

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Poetry (2010)

A South Korean drama about a woman named Mija who's having difficulty remembering the names of everyday objects. Mija enrols in a local poetry class but struggles to tap into the creative self that she believes is nesting within her. In her search for inspiration she visits locations that connect to a tragic event, directly affecting her decision making.
Veteran actress Jeong-hie Yun is amazing as the central character, evoking sympathy without compromising her dignity by venturing into mawkish waters. Likewise, Dir. Lee Chang-dong manages to get to the heart of the matter(s) whilst keeping a distanced objectivity throughout.

3½ floral wings out of 5

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)

Real life brothers Beau and Jeff Bridges play onscreen brothers Frank and Jack Baker, respectively, in Writer/Dir. Steve Kloves' mature drama about relationships both personal and professional. The duo are pianists, earning a living playing bars and functions, playing the same hackneyed songs over and over as they provide a soundtrack to other people's lives, but suffer their own. When Susie (Pfeiffer) storms into their midst, her seductive and destructive nature causes deep introspection.
There's a sombre tone, as if a spiralling downward motion is nearing its end, but there's a feeling that its corollary exists therein, waiting to break free.
Performances from the three leads are terrific. Being a counterpoint to the brothers means Pfeiffer stands out, but it's honestly some of her best work.

4 circular motions out of 5

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Made in Britain (1982)

A portrait of a violent, racist and unremorseful sixteen-year-old skinhead named Trevor who lacks any redeeming qualities, although he's more intelligent than the swastika tattoo on his head might make people think. His social worker and the staff at the assessment centre offer their services, but all the youth sees is yet more authority figures to be hated.
It's a slice of life drama presented in Alan Clarke's no-frills realism style, with no moralising or reassuring messages to help viewers sleep soundly in their beds when all is said and done. But Tim Roth's amazing performance in the lead role will surely stick in the memory long after the rest has faded.

3½ chalk options out of 5

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Toy Soldiers (1991)

In what sounds like a preposterous premise when written down, Dir. Daniel Petrie Jr's film has Colombian drug dealers taking control of a boys prep school in a bid to force the US government to meet their demands.
Five friends, troublemakers who're a regular pain in the ass to the firm but (more than) fair Dean, choose to fight back. It's a story in which a group of underachievers show their worth when their backs are against the wall, proving to all and sundry that they can kick it when it counts. Beyond that it's a better than expected 90s late-teens movie with the violence and strong language dial turned to the right a little more than usual. The cast are well-suited to their role, but none more so than Louis Gossett Jr. as the Dean.

3 resolute rejects out of 5

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Woolf was Dir. Nichols' first feature film, which is a hell of a thing to have on your CV. Adapted from Edward Albee's stage play it's an intimate portrait of a middle aged husband and wife, George and Martha (Burton and Taylor), who've been married too long and wilfully consume too much alcohol, a combination that results in a frequent battle of wills, savage one-upmanship, hurtful sarcasm, insults and straightforward spiteful comments, much of which is blackly humorous. The duo are visited late one night by a younger couple and so begins an airing of dirty laundry that's as compelling as it is shocking. The big names are predictably great, but Sandy Dennis is equally fantastic.

4 exercised wits out of 5

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Martian Child (2007)

Dir. Menno Meyjes' MC is about David (John Cusack), a widowed science fiction author, and the bond he struggles to forge with his newly adopted son, a strange kid named Dennis (Bobby Coleman) who claims to be a Martian.
The quirky set-up does its job well, addressing its intended audience. Even the playful but slightly reserved cover art is a hint to the type of film you're getting: a comedy/drama about relationships and self-discovery. I've seen the same kind of thing done better, but if the thought of yet another sweet, sentimental film in which a self-isolated young boy and an adult male with something missing in his life help solve each other's emotional problems is pleasing to you, then it'll probably tick most of your boxes.

3 coping mechanisms out of 5

Monday, 19 March 2018

Brotherhood (2016)

Adulthood (2008) proved that Sam (Noel Clarke) was a character worth exploring. In Brotherhood he's ten years older and, thankfully, somewhat wiser. His current role is one that he takes seriously, but his methods, although not for wholly selfish reasons, are damaging in their own way.
As before, an element of Sam's past is responsible for the external conflict, pressuring him to call upon his violent side in order to make things right again. That's all well and good in theory, but it's presented as cockney gangster scenes that were, frankly, a terrible mistake. When Clarke sticks to what he knows, when he respects his own limitations, there's some REALLY powerful stuff to be found. It's a patchy but worthwhile end to the trilogy.

3 airs of "unlikability" out of 5

Friday, 16 March 2018

The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Dir. Joel Schumacher's filmed version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of Gaston Leroux's famous French novel (1910). I'd hoped for drama, theatrical, fantastical and fraught with emotions, but what I got was half-hearted at best and Baz Luhrmann-esque at worst. There are some neat cinematic tricks on offer, but overall it's not very exciting.
Emmy Rossum (great hair) does okay, and she sure can sing, but, surprisingly, it's Butler that comes closest to displaying any hint of passion, albeit minor; most everyone else is just there, in costume but not so much in spirit.
The memorable part for me was the first half of the cemetery scene that comes late in the running time; the swamped in dry-ice set was beautiful.

2½ strange duets out of 5