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

Friday, 16 November 2018

The Rock (1996)

With hand on heart and no trace of facetiousness, I don't understand why Michael Bay's ham-fisted, cookie-cutter brand of bullshit action movie is so popular with moviegoers. With regards The Rock, the most convincing thing in it is Sean Connery. Nic Cage, on the other hand, is unconvincing even when his character is called upon to be unconvincing, if you get what I mean. Ed Harris' character gets one scene where he's not a B+W angry bad guy - the film cuts back to him every now and again to remind us that he's an actual part of it. The plot, something about toxic green balls (I shit you not), is a blundering mess.
Why it's released on the Criterion label is yet another mystery.

2 green flares out of 5

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Outrage Coda (2017)

Dictionary.com defines 'coda' as 'a concluding section or part [...] serving as a summation of preceding themes, motifs, etc.'. Outrage Coda fits that particular description, concluding the trilogy but telling its own story, too.
Otomo (Kitano) now conducts his business from a South Korean island, out of harm's way and under the protection of a powerful Korean organisation, while the old Hanabishi lieutenants back in Japan scheme and bicker over profits and status. When the two operations clash and war looms, Otomo's hand is forced.
As before there's many dialogue scenes, some with a pleasing dollop of Kitano's subtle comedy stylings, but, sadly, his character isn't involved in very many of them. But he's there for some of the violence, which is brutal.
Keiichi Suzuki's score is by turns daring, unusual, and effectively dramatic.

3 responses out of 5

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Stigmata (1999)

Anyone can wear a white clerical collar and pretend to be a Catholic priest, but, strangely, when actor Gabriel Byrne wears one it seems authentic. His role in the film is also the best it has to offer. He's an investigator for the Vatican, finding — and, if need be, discrediting — alleged religious miracles. He's sent to investigate Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette), a young party-going hairdresser who appears to be suffering the stigmata of the title.
There's about 10 minutes, in total, in which the film gets close to being a sophisticated drama with theological concerns firmly fixed but open to interpretation, but then it stumbles over its own telling and reverts to being just another horror with christian themes used for broad dramatic effect.

2 impressions of the truth out of 5

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Cult of Chucky (2017)

To get the most from the seventh film you'll need to have seen the previous six. In lieu of a full explanation, it's self-referential and reliant on knowledge of past characters/events. (It also references other 'horror' films in fun ways.)
It takes place inside an asylum for the criminally insane, so the usual 'nut-house' stereotypes are there, but they're put to good use. There's an ominous build-up and a steady pace, with enough teasing to keep us anticipating the next Chucky scene, and a wicked symmetry adds weight. But in attempting to fit a lot of series history into the plot, it may feel too much like fan-service at times. The final twenty minutes aren't as good as what came before and do feel somewhat unfinished. Once again, look out for a post-credit scene.

3 doll parts out of 5

Sunday, 4 November 2018

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

A creepy drama from Dir. Kim Jee-woon that has a few good scares but is mostly about atmosphere - Jee-woon savours the beauty of a scene, drawing out its potential in an unhurried and altogether deliberate manner. The story, inspired by a centuries-old folktale, about a family (two sisters, their father, and their troubled step-mother) can get a little confusing on first viewing, but things become clearer as it deepens. It's best if I say no more than that. I'll add only that the performances of the four principal actors are great.

3 old photos out of 5

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Inside Man (2006)

It has a number of big names on the roster, but the real star of Inside Man is the person sat behind the camera, Dir. Spike Lee. His technique overshadows proceedings one minute, then works its magic subtly the next. Of the former, having Clive Owens' bank-robbing character speak directly to the viewer and some high-contrast flash-forward moments stand out the most, whereas the latter is perhaps best illustrated by the expert framing and superb camera movements that help tell the story. It's an interesting telling, most of the time, but the narrative itself tries too hard and too often to remind us of how clever it all is, which sometimes backfires, resulting in pushing a viewer out of a scene while Spike's artistry works hard at drawing us in.

3 Steves out of 5

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Of the Disney animated films that I've watched thus far, Atlantis: TLE is the only one that I definitely want to see again. It's because it feels very non-Disney: it's sci-fi, there's no furry things in peril and at times it even has more in common with anime (the beginning and end, especially).
It's a Jules Verne-esque story about Milo Thatch's (Michael J. Fox) lifelong desire to find the fabled city, but beyond that it's about family, it's about truth, folly, fear, compassion, respect, moral choices and following your heart. The story moves too quick for it's own good, but I loved it, nevertheless.
Voice work is superb. The CGI actually works alongside the traditional. And, remarkably, even the obligatory comedy character was bearable.

4 vegetables out of 5

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Robin Hood (1973)

Disney's animal kingdom version of the Robin Hood story has a talking fox (Brian Bedford) in the title role. The primary antagonist of the film is Prince John, a maneless lion voiced by the wonderful Peter Ustinov, who's assisted in his wrongful deeds by a scheming snake named Sir Hiss (Terry-Thomas).
The animal type chosen for each of the characters reflects their different personalities, making them a genuinely good fit; e.g. Robin is cunning and fleet-footed, while the Sheriff of Nottingham is an overweight wolf.
The set-pieces, such as the archery contest and the daring prison break, are the kind of thing that will probably please and/or excite younger viewers, and there's even a few scenes that I suspect some adults will enjoy. Overall, I'd hoped it would be better, but it could just as easily have been a lot worse.

3 collection days out of 5

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Tarzan (1999)

The opening eight minutes of Disney's Tarzan are fantastic - it's pure drama, dialogue-free, a perfect example of how animation alone can be used to tell a gripping story. The protagonists are sympathetic and the four-legged villain is terrifying. But then the animals talk... in English... with US accents and it takes an elephant-sized dive directly into Cocked-it-up Swamp.
The humans fare better in that respect, particularly Minnie Driver as Jane Porter, and Brian Blessed as William Clayton the shotgun-loving hunter.
When the talking animals are absent the whole thing recovers part of its opening appeal, with occasional musings on the importance of family and understanding the emotional needs of others being precise and timely.

3 vine climbs out of 5

Monday, 22 October 2018

One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)

aka 101 Dalmatians

Disney's dalmatian adventure is a simple story that moves from A to B to C without asking too much of a viewer. That's not a criticism in itself, simplicity can be a great strength in animation, but, on the whole, the dognapping yarn had me literally catnapping long before the credits rolled.
I liked the 'classic Hollywood' feeling that was most evident early on, and the wonderfully named Cruella De Vil, a wiry villainess who wants the many pups made into a fur coat, certainly looked the part (she wouldn't seem out of place in a Roald Dahl novel, either), but once again it was primarily the beautifully rendered Disney backgrounds that appealed to me, not the talking animals.

2½ all-dog alerts out of 5

Friday, 19 October 2018

Basil the Great Mouse Detective (1986)

aka The Great Mouse Detective /
The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective

It's Disney's version of Sherlock Holmes but with small animals instead of humans. Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham) is Sherlock; the Watson role is filled by Dr. Q. Dawson (Val Bettin), who also serves as the film's narrator; while Basil's nemesis is a sewer rat named Ratigan (Vincent Price). Under threat is the entire British Monarchy; well, the animal side of it, at least.
After a surprisingly scary opening scene, and despite enjoying the character designs, I didn't warm to the story as much as the writers probably would've liked a viewer to have done - except, that is, during the exuberant finale. Set inside a clock tower, amid mechanical cogs fraught with danger, it put the famous mouse's cognitive skills and quick reflexes to the test.

2½ forces in motion out of 5

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Peter Pan (1953)

Disney's version of J. M. Barrie's most famous play, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (1904) popularised the green duds and elfish ears look that for many people is the definitive version of Peter. The screenplay handles the eve of young Wendy's transition into maturity with ease, but the mute fairy Tinker Bell is the film's most interesting character; driven by jealously for the mischievous Peter's affections she's arguably a more complex villain than even Captain Hook, the film's second best character. The remainder of the cast, especially the Lost Boys, are borderline annoying, but that's maybe just through adult eyes, and kids may feel differently.

3 scurvy brats out of 5

Saturday, 13 October 2018

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Disney's take on the King Arthur tale focuses on Arthur as a "scrawny" boy. With only a brief mention of the rich lore that preceded his birth, the crucial contrast + comparison between son and father is absent. Instead, it explores young Arthur's education by Merlin, a process of learning by doing.
The abridged narrative makes sense given that it's a film targeted at children, but the story is little more than a collection of transformation events stitched together, with lessons regarding actions and consequence failing to hit their mark. Characterisation of Merlin and Arthur is good, I loved the backgrounds, and the squirrel scene had a special charm, but the film is a pretty forgettable attempt at adapting the famous story for a younger audience.

2½ wizard blizzards out of 5

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

An enchantress disguised as a beggar teaches a selfish young Prince a powerful life lesson by making his physical appearance representative of his inner wickedness. All things considered, that's a pretty darn extreme reaction from a woman who, to be fair, is pretending to be something she's not - lie much, witch? In contrast, by merely acting according to his nature, the Prince was being honest. So who's the most contemptible in this scenario?
To break the curse the Beast must win the love of another. Luckily, bookish Belle, living the life of Riley but wanting more than a charming provincial town can offer, stumbles into Beast's castle while searching for her father.
Successfully recreating a Broadway musical style, Disney's BatB is memorable mostly for the titular creature's design and voice work.

3 anthropomorphic household items out of 5

Sunday, 7 October 2018

30 Days of Night (2007)

The premise of 30 DoN is for me the best thing about it. It's a vampire story set in an Alaskan town, an icy location that once a year is plunged into a month of darkness. With no daily sunrise to force them into hiding, the bloodthirsty predators don't have to stop feeding (until they run out of food).
The build-up, i.e, before the invasion begins proper, is very good; it feels as if the town is winding down while the people themselves are gearing-up for the long night ahead. It's a shame that that same sense of interest isn't sustained.
Once the killing starts it's little more than fast-moving menaces stalking another pocket of survivors. There's a troubled relationship element that was a nice idea, but it lacks weight and is, frankly, as bland as shit is brown.

2½ cold cuts out of 5