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

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Return of the Street Fighter (1974)

Sonny Chiba returns as Takuma Tsurugi, this time hired to take down someone dangerous, but he makes an enemy or three along the way.
There's a police investigation sub-plot buried in there somewhere, but mostly film number two is a series of fights that take place in different locations with varying weather conditions. It's not as good as The Street Fighter (1974) and some of the antics are ridiculous, but somehow Chiba makes them almost believable – he's that classy. I love how his eyes scan the room for danger even when he's intensely focussed on the fight at hand.
There's some B+W flashbacks interspersed between bouts, adding either more brutality or some much-needed plot to the violent action.

3 bloodied knuckles out of 5

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Stone Tape (1972)

A ghost story at Xmas is something of a tradition on British TV, possibly because the dark and chilly Blighty evenings mean many folks stay indoors next to a crackling fire, the perfect setting for an evening scare.
The Stone Tape is one such example. It's a TV Play set in a large derelict house. A group of scientists and corporate types move in and set up a makeshift lab, hoping to invent a new type of recording device that'll put them far ahead of their rivals. The schedule is interrupted when Jill, the only female of the group, experiences an eerie chill in the store room.
At its best it's the kind of unnatural occurrence that might eventually receive a visit from Sapphire and Steel, but it's too uneven to recommend to anyone who's not already in love with the genre and, in particular, the era.

2½ weeping rats out of 5

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Cemetery of Splendour (2015)

On the surface it's perhaps not quite as strange as Apichatpong's Uncle Boonmee... (2010) film, but Cemetery has a similar elusive quality infused within every part of it, the kind that makes pinning down what exactly makes it different from other works very hard for me to translate into words.
The plot involves a female volunteer at a makeshift hospital in which a large number of soldiers are being treated for a mysterious sleeping disorder, while outside the facility other soldiers carry out construction work, digging up the beautiful landscape. The temporary ward shares the space it occupies with the living memories of people with a rich but distant history. The watchful camera, slow-paced lifestyle and complete lack of non-diegetic music all contribute to a feeling that something spiritually and culturally profound is unfolding, and to discern it we need only become sensitive to its equivocal splendour.

3 funeral lights out of 5

Monday, 7 August 2017

The Ju-on Collection

The franchise began life in 1998 as two short films directed by Takashi Shimizu that formed part of a TV Movie named Gakkô no kaidan G (1998); they were Katasumi (In a Corner) and 4444444444 (Ten Fours), respectively.
It then moved to V-Cinema for The Curse I+II (2000) before finally making the leap to a full theatrical release with Ju-on: The Grudge (2002). Its success was such that Hollywood soon followed with a series of English language remakes, two of which were even helmed by Dir. Shimizu himself.
If you only want to experience the best that each region has to offer, the Nutshell contributors recommend number 03 in the Japanese language selection below, and number 02 in the English language selection.

Japanese Language Films:
01. Ju-on: The Curse (2000)
02. Ju-on: The Curse 2 (2000)
03Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
04. Ju-On: The Grudge 2 (2003)
05. Ju-on: Black Ghost (2009)
06. Ju-on: White Ghost (2009)
07. Ju-on: The Beginning of the End (2014)
08. Ju-on: The Final Curse (2015)
09. Sadako vs. Kayako (2016)

English Language Films:
01. The Grudge (2004)
02. The Grudge: Director's Cut (2004)
03. The Grudge 2 (2006)
04. The Grudge 3 (2009)

NOTE: Sadako vs. Kayako (2016) is a crossover with the Ringu franchise. For short reviews of films in that series see The Ringu Collection.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Special ID (2013)

A Chinese action movie in which Donnie Yen plays an undercover cop who attempts to take down a gang leader, or something... it was all so bland that I'd forgotten the majority of it seconds after it had ended.
The fight scenes are as unconvincing as the props, except for a brief moment near the end with Tian Jing, during a car chase, where it almost feels like a scene from a Police Story sequel, but it's gone as quickly as it arrived.
The relationships were empty shells. But by far the worst aspect was the music - having none at all would've served the film better than the weak rock band garbage that was used the majority of the time.

1 leg-hug out of 5

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Death Rides a Horse (1967)

An Italian-made (Spaghetti) Western in which four bandits brutally assault and murder an innocent family in their own home, leaving a young boy orphaned and shaken; it's a night of blood and fire that the youth never forgets. Fifteen years later he sets out to put an end to the horror.
There are clear influences from Leone, which is no surprise, but Dir. Giulio Petroni adds some impressive ideas of his own into the mix.
Lee Van Cleef is naturally excellent. If John Phillip Law had managed to recreate even half the charisma of Clint and not just display a similar taste in clothes, then Death Rides a Horse could've been a genuine classic of the genre. It narrowly misses out on being so, but it's still a damn fine addition and even has master composer Ennio Morricone on score duties.

3½ bad investments out of 5

Monday, 31 July 2017

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

It was officially released before Studio Ghibli existed but many of the themes and techniques that the studio is known for were birthed in Nausicaä.
The valley residents harness the power of the wind to survive, but the wind also carries poisonous spores from the polluted forests and swamps that cover the Earth. The relationship between man and nature is a delicate one that's thrown into turmoil when a warlike nation pushes their ambition too far. The titular Princess finds herself in the middle, forced to weigh her reverence for all life against the need to preserve and protect the innocent.
The three-decades-old animation is less sophisticated than modern Ghibli, but when placed in its own time it really shines, with the compassionate, level-headed Nausicaä on her glider being especially memorable.
The ending is abrupt but the scenes played over the credits compensate.

3½ angry ohmus out of 5

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Blow Dry (2001)

I suppose the best way to describe this is as a quirky bite-sized English comedy peppered throughout a nicely touching and incredibly tidy drama. Don’t expect War & Peace and you should be mostly fine, even if you don’t have an interest in hair and the extravagant dressing thereof. The only genuine problem afoot is one of accents. I’m never sure if I should be upset with the one Hartnett affects or Rachael’s completely inexplicable lack of one. Probably both. If you like any of the players, it’s worth a shot, as there’s even some nice symbolism on display.

3 Completely Misleading Posters out of 5

Nutted by NEG.

Stateside (2004)

Stateside’s negatives must be immediately addressed so they can be summarily discounted. I am almost certain that the reason no literal combat is shown is because of the film’s lack of endorsement by the U.S. Armed Forces. While I think it would have been a plus, I assure you that there is more than enough emotional engagement on display. One snippet of a scene seemingly contains a continuity gaffe, but it may have been initially shot to be used earlier in the film and simply re-purposed. I can’t believe I’ve wasted so many words on non-issues! Stateside is so incredibly genuine and the dialogue is awkwardly-truthful PERFECTION. There are moments where it vies to be the most philosophical and poetic thing I’ve ever experienced.

5 Career Defining Performances out of 5

Nutted by NEG.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

It was marketed as a wuxia film in the style of Yimou's Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004), but that was a lie. Okay, there is some martial arts action, but Flower has more in common with a plodding soap opera. It looks expensive but it's terminally boring. Truly, all that glitters is not gold.
Personally I found the colour palette of Hero to be beautiful in its simplicity, with Flower being the direct opposite. And while details in costumes and sets are gorgeous, they're overwhelmed by gaudy golden hues.
If the plotting was up to snuff it would compensate, but it fails there too. Chow certainly looks the part as a moody Emperor, as does Gong Li as his bored housewife Empress, but the drama between them is flat, barren and uninteresting. When something eventful happens it feels hollow. The only memorable character was the Imperial Doctor's wife (played by Chen Jin).

2 threaded chrysanthemums out of 5

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

F for Fake (1973)

In Orson's own words, it's a "film about trickery," which is something that's explored in both the subject matter and through the medium via which it's presented. Part documentary, part biopic, and part essay on the nature of what's real and what's fake, the film twists perceptions while remaining wholly faithful to its own agenda, whatever that may be at any given time.
Its carefully constructed randomness is anything but. Hiding insight inside of hindsight, at times it's as frustrating as it is revealing, but about what exactly is open to debate. Ultimately, it's a work made and narrated by Orson, but might be more about him than anyone else featured in it, real or constructed.

4 authentic mixtures out of 5

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Kite Runner (2007)

I didn't read a single word of the blurb on the DVD box. I hit play with no idea where the film would take me. Others may disagree, but for me it was a story of reconciliation with oneself and redemption through action.
The two boys pictured are best friends Amir and Hassan, one a well-off child and the other the son of a servant. Growing up together in Afghanistan in the late 70s the boys face familiar challenges and ones unique to their situation.
As the years pass and the country is torn apart their lives go in different directions, but even when separated by physical borders and intangible time the bond between them keeps them tethered to each other.
It's not as straightforward as that may sound, there's more complex issues in need of resolve, but you'll discover them yourself if you watch it.

4 fair odds out of 5

Wednesday, 19 July 2017


Clown director Jon Watts is curiously given the big order of bringing Spidey fully into the MCU with the John Hughes inspired Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Wasting no time with an origin story, the film dives right into the action with a band of criminals use the alien wreckage from The Avengers' New York battle to become a threat that might be too big for Spidey to handle on his own.
By ignoring the Uncle Ben story there's little tragedy to flesh out the character of Peter Parker and instead it opts to focus more on his struggles a "normal" teenager.  Apart from this major flaw the film is purely entertaining popcorn escapism in fine form with one of the MCU's best villains to date.

3½ Cappy America Public Service Announcements out of 5


Director Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant is a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to Alien.
A colony ship's crew find a beautiful planet inhabited by a being that has a thirst for hugging their faces and bursting their chests.
As an Alien film it's really quite pointless but tries to make itself relevant by asking many questions about faith, science and the whole evolution jibber-jabber.   In the fog of all the one-dimensional characters it clumsily gives the Xenomorph a backstory that quite frankly neuters the horror of the creature.  Apart from a particularly wonderful action sequence, Michael Fassbender's performance and Jed Kurzel's Jerry Goldsmith-homage musical score, the film is an uninspired bore that really struggles to find a point in existing.

2½ John Denver transmissions out of 5

Mesrine: Part 2: Public Enemy Number 1 (2008)

aka Mesrine: L'ennemi Public № 1 / Public Enemy Number One (Part Two) / Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One

Part 2 covers the years 1973-79, taking us back to the beginning of Part 1. Having notched up an impressive number of bank robberies and jail breaks over the years and embarrassing the judicial system many times over, Mesrine is elevated to their most-wanted. As such, there's an increased police presence this time, even going so far as to give the titular gangster a kind of nemesis by the name of Broussard (Olivier Gourmet).
Cassel's portrayal of Mesrine is still excellent. He's overweight, toying with misdirection, enjoying his notoriety and attempting to use it as a tool in his personal vendetta against the system that abused him.
It has a longer running time than Killer Instinct had, but it isn't as satisfying dramatically. The finale, however, is amazingly good.

3½ profile shots out of 5