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

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

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Summer of Sam (1999)

Set in a NYC  borough during the sizzling summer of '77, when the 'Son of Sam' serial murders were happening (in real life, too), Spike Lee's fictional drama focuses on how the murders affect a group of friends/associates on an intimate scale and how they affect a neighbourhood on a wider one.
John Leguizamo plays Vinny, married to Dionna (Mira Sorvino) but happy to put his cock in any female that looks his way; it's perhaps the best work I've ever seen by Leguizamo. Adrien Brody, on the other hand, as Ritchie, a fan of British punk music, isn't at his best. But the real star of the show is Spike – not his acting, that's for sure, but his ability to indulge his passions as a filmmaker without losing sight of the bigger picture. There's also some very memorable pairings of audio/music with the shockingly violent imagery.

3½ dog collars out of 5

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Cobra (1986)

A violent 80s action movie produced by the Cannon Group that has almost nothing of note to offer a viewer beyond its pure-bred action credentials.
There was some attempt to give the toughened lieutenant Cobra (Stallone) an understated sense of humour, but it's about as successful as trying to pin a badge on smoke. The musical montage is absolutely atrocious (and that's being kind to it). The main bad guy is a jobbing actor that I like but he's written as a crazed murderous meat-machine with no nuance whatsoever.
Amidst all the clichés and copycat nonsense the music adds a suitably menacing tone and is, for me, the most memorable ingredient.

2½ dietary japes out of 5

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Adulthood (2008)

A sequel to Kidulthood (2006) that's set six years after the tragic event that ended the first film. Sam has matured but the streets haven't; youths who are willing to embrace violence as a way of life are still plentiful. To bury his former life Sam must confront his past one more time, which means going face to face with the people that his previous action left most affected.
Not all of the actors are memorable, but writer/director/actor Noel Clarke does fantastic work in his triple role. The aura of regret and sadness that surrounds Sam is never overplayed, keeping relevant the acknowledgement that physical and emotional scars can change a person deep down. The middle section could've been tighter, but the last third drives home the desperation and need for acceptance that a life forged on the streets can lead to.

4 bargaining tools out of 5

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001)

A standard documentary that strives to shed light on Dir. Stanley Kubrick by interviewing actors, collaborators, fellow directors, and family members.
I'm not going to go as far as to call it a cheap exposé, because it does at least try to avoid going down that route, but considering that Kubrick valued his privacy and, even to the detriment of his own public image, preferred to let his art works (his films) speak for themselves, then from a conceptual point of view A Life in Pictures is the antithesis of its subject's beliefs. If it really wanted to respect the filmmaker it would never have been made to begin with; I doubt it would've been if Stanley had still been alive at the time. My advice would be to do yourself a favour and rewatch his best films instead.

2½ East London palm trees out of 5

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Instant Swamp (2009)

Haname (Kumiko Asô) is something of a walking contradiction. She believes only in things that she can see with her own eyes, but misses many of the coincidences that seem to follow her around. She mocks others for reading horoscopes, etc, and yet has a secret desire that fate will deliver her the romantic resolution to her slowly 'eroding' life that she hungers for. But when fate instead introduces her to a hippy (Morio Kazama) and a punk (Ryo Kase), Haname's active imagination is kicked into overdrive.
The film arrives at its message/destination in a roundabout way, but even when chasing its own tail it's fun to watch. The ending is both predicable and wildly unpredictable, but in a complementary and satisfying way.

3 "interesting circumstances" out of 5

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Score (2001)

Nick Wells (De Niro) is a jazz club owner who exists in an almost exclusive mood-lighting environment when indoors. In addition to running his club (which he hardly does) he's a safe-cracking thief, a talent that he puts to use only if the situation satisfies his calculated risk assessment. After decades of such risk he's on the verge of giving up. But there's one final job to be done, the biggest 'score' of his life, which naturally comes with the biggest risk.
It's the type of film that I enjoyed, because it's well-made and the performances of the actors are all commendable, but have no desire to ever watch again. As a one-time thing it passed the hours just fine. It's a slow-boil, purposefully holding back the pace until the last half hour.

3 night shifts out of 5

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Inserts (1975)

It's somewhat ironic that Dir. John Byrum's first feature was for twenty-one years lumbered with an X rating, considering it's a black comedy/satire/direct commentary on the movie business, the people that work in it, and the people that consume its output. At least, I think that's what it's about. It's not explicit in meaning, but it is explicit in other ways, hence the rating for sexual content.
Richard Dreyfuss plays a 1930s film-maker who's left the Hollywood system. Unable to deal with the 'talkies', he now spends his time shooting sleazy silent porn movies in his apartment, a location that the camera never leaves.
With just five characters, including Veronica Cartwright, who I'm a big fan of, it's like a stage play, in which the seemingly washed-up pornographer's interactions with the others reveals the naked truth about himself.

3 genre edicts out of 5

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Fourth-wall breaking Ferris is a confidently cocky role model for liars and phonies. He decides to take a day off school, but needs others to share in his fun lest his calculated brilliance go unnoticed. Enter the reluctant Cameron (Alan Ruck), the film's best character. On the surface Ferris is well-presented, but surface is all he is, whereas Cameron has depth and learns from his experiences. The third member of the group is Ferris' girlfriend (Mia Sara), whose role is mostly to smile wryly or sympathetically in reaction shots.
The determined school Principal (Jeffrey Jones), an authority figure that's mocked not just by students but by his own ill-considered actions, serves as a counterpoint to Bueller's carefree cleverness, but he's borderline slapstick. All in all, FB is an entertaining but much overrated John Hughes flick.

3 close calls out of

Monday, 19 February 2018

Hawk the Slayer (1980)

A cheesy but fondly remembered by many (including yours truly) Sword + Sorcery flick that borrows plot from many sources, including Tolkien, the Western genre, and a well-known sci-fi film that I once again refuse to name.
John Terry is Hawk, the leading man with an impractically-balanced magic sword, but the script doesn't push him to the fore like you'd expect.
Hawk's face-ache evil sibling, Voltan - The Dark One, is actor Jack Palance; he hams it up, but I get the feeling he's slightly embarrassed to be there.
Much of it appears to have been filmed within a few hundred square feet of English forest. I'm sure I saw the same tree multiple times.
Harry Robertson's bitchin' soundtrack is like hearing a 1970s folk band playing snippets of Jeff Wayne and Ennio Morricone, with pastoral interludes.
It's a strange and difficult film to defend, but I'm absolutely a fan of it.

3 [mystical noises] out of 5

Friday, 16 February 2018

Ip Man 3 (2016)

Of the Donnie films that I've seen to date, the role of Ip is the best he's been. His version of the Wing Chun master is a kind soul with a fierce conviction, and the actor's real-world ego is completely absent from the performance.
Ip's two biggest failings are not recognising that his excessive modesty, though admirable in intent, can be misconstrued as sanctimonious; and that his singular focus, a trait that's good for martial arts is sometimes bad for human relationships. An exploration of both those things are at the heart of the film.
As if in response to the previous entry, Ip's wife and son have an active role to play in the narrative; the former bringing a VERY welcome emotional layering. The most interesting of the antagonists (Zhang Jin) is the kind that struggles with his own nature; i.e. he evokes both sympathy and ire in a viewer. And finally, thankfully, the combat stays on the favourable side of realistic.

4 nourishing ideals out of 5

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Kubrick's most controversial film explores two of the most common types of violence: physical and psychological. Which of the two is most damaging in its implication is debatable, but in order to get the message across the execution of story is by turns distressing, repellent, offensive and oddly pantomime.
The language used by Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the Nadsat slang, as it was in Anthony Burgess' original novel (1962), is a peculiar mix of childish wordplay and poetic structuring that's almost Shakespearean at times.
Using Beethoven, with its cultured/civilised associations, as a soundtrack to violence provides additional contrast in support of the larger societal ones.
It's a challenging film, in all respects, but an immensely powerful one.

5 victims of the modern age out of 5

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Mannequin (1987)

A 1980s spin on the myth of Pygmalion, about a sculptor who fell in love with one of his own statues. The love-struck fool in this instance is aspiring artist (i.e. hopeful dreamer) Jonathan Switcher (Andrew McCarthy). His creation, the titular dummy, is Emmy (Kim Cattrall), without whom the movie would be a dead loss rom-com. Emmy becomes Switcher's saviour and muse.
A 'classic 80's movie' claims the box art, twice in case we somehow miss the sizeable one on the front. Opinions will differ on whether or not it deserves the tag, but it reminded me of at least one thing that I do love about movies of the era: screen wipes. I miss screen wipes. But pastel pinks I don't miss.

2 leggy dolls out of 5

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Appleseed Alpha (2014)

Deunan and her cyborg buddy Briareos survive as hired-guns in a post-apocalyptic world. Deunan hopes that one day they will both reach the safety of Olympus, but Briarios isn't convinced that the place exists.
Alpha is an alternate version of events, but given that it's essentially set before the first of Aramaki's Appleseed films, I'd hoped for a return to the earlier animation style, but it's the same as was used in its sequel. Boo!
It's a story of hope, which is something that it reminds us of too often; perhaps they knew that some viewers would be falling asleep partway through? There's at least one new character that's recognisably Shirow in essence, but it was all too flat and lifeless to keep my attention. It'd be more than serviceable as video game FMV, but as a movie... nope. Not even close.

1½ post-war cleanups out of 5

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

An alternative telling of the Cinderella story, supposing that a sixteenth century historical 'truth' was inspiration for the well-known tale.
Drew Barrymore is the young maiden who's mistreated by her wicked stepmom and forced into servitude in her own home. When distanced from her predicament she's more intelligent, outspoken and inspirational than the wispy female that we often get in modern fairy tale versions.
It gives more backstory to the "French" Prince, although he's still pretty bland most of the time. Anjelica Huston is well-cast as the conniving and jealous stepmom (I mean that in the most complimentary way), but my personal favourite character was the middle sister, Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey).

3 everyday rusties out of 5