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

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Sky Blue (2003)

aka Wonderful Days

A South Korean animation that attempted to blend traditional 2D cel animation with CGI and photographic backgrounds. There's some fine movement at times, but the merger is rarely a complementary one; it's jarring and fairly unsightly.
The story's set in 2142 AD, in and around a living city known as Ecoban. Outside the city the world is poisoned; it's where the diggers live, unfortunate slum-dwellers who work to provide power for the well-off city folk. One such individual, Shua, wants to break apart the unfair societal and class divisions.
The themes that underpin Shua's quest aren't very well-developed and have been explored better in other sci-fi works. On a more personal level, he longs for a world in which the sky is once again blue, free from pollution; it's that, and the operatic final twenty minutes, that make any of it worthwhile.

2½ dust clouds out of 5

Monday, 16 September 2019

Top of the World (1997)

After four years in a Nevada jail Ray Mercer (Peter Weller) heads to Vegas for a quick d-i-v-o-r-c-e from his wife Rebecca (Tia Carrere). Whilst there a heist at the casino that he's not legally allowed to be in spirals out of control.
It's a 'bad day for everyone involved' kind of movie, both helped and hindered by its occasional black comedy. The story has a few clever moments and some memorable stunt-work, but overall it floats just below the average line most of the time. The clichéd movie-Vegas setting doesn't help matters, either.

2 dam odds out of 5

Friday, 13 September 2019

Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)

A follow-up to The Robe (1953) in which the once-slave Demetrius (Victor Mature) gets sentenced to gladiatorial life in the Roman arena, putting him in the sights of emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson), who wants the robe, believing it'll grant him the magical powers that the deified Jesus reportedly had.
Similarly styled but not as beholden to Christian virtues as its predecessor was, the script flirts with sexual obsession, loss of faith and the depths of human despair. Peter (Michael Rennie) returns for a few short scenes, one of which is pivotal. On the flip side, the dramatic reversals happen abruptly and it bothered me that 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' extended only to human life. The ending is less striking than its predecessor, but that's perhaps not a bad thing.

3½ ugly truths out of 5

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The Robe (1953)

The first feature film released in the CinemaScope format, The Robe is a biblical epic with suitably lavish sets and a story that, for the most part, feels like it deserves the extra expense. Besides a few blundering emotional scenes, that are as much a failing of the script as they are of Richard Burton's delivery, it's a compelling story of a Roman Tribune who's sent to Jerusalem as a punishment at a time that just happens to coincide with the arrival of a certain carpenter from Galilee. Accompanying the Tribune is a slave, a Greek man named Demetrius (Victor Mature), a person of principles and honour.
Initially concerned with themes of rivalry and a brazen dislike of Imperial rule, it develops into something more personal, triggered by a momentous event.
The closing scene is pretty terrible, but by then its proved itself worthy.

4 binding measures out of 5

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Borg vs McEnroe (2017)

I've zero interest in tennis, but it didn't matter because the film is a character-driven piece about two determined men more than about the sport itself. Rivals in the media, opposites in approach but less so beneath the surface, the story gets under the skin of Swedish Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and American John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) as they approach and face off in the 1980 Wimbledon final. It probes their moods and modes, their rituals and reasoning, and, unexpectedly but crucially, explores their teenage years.
Language is English and Swedish, but it favours the latter conceptually more and is all the better for it, in all likelihood being more understated and singular in focus than any US made version of events would strive to be.
The cast are excellent, too (even LaBeouf), effectively conveying the isolation and pressure that each one is under, in his/her own way.

4 serious calls out of 5

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Armour of God (1986)

When it's not being an advert for Mitsubishi, Jackie Chan's first outing as treasure-hunter Asian Hawk is a mix of comedy and action culminating in a fun-filled finale that despite being choreographed and rehearsed feels completely spontaneous. It's a testament to Chan's likeability that we can celebrate his ingenuity and daring even though he's stealing and selling at auction holy relics that he has no claim to whatsoever. The titular 'armour' is a collection of five such pieces, which Hawk and his two companions (Alan TamLola Forner) must first acquire and then deliver to an interested party.
Most of the bad guys (dressed in giveaway bad-guy black robes) are idiot fodder that exist to be punched, but there's a trio of more memorable ones.

3 frisbee plates out of 5

Sunday, 1 September 2019

The Love Witch (2016)

A gorgeous throwback to a Technicolor era, lovingly staged, shot and edited on 35mm film. It was written, produced, directed and edited by Anna Biller, who also did the sets and costumes. The stylised presentation was captured by cinematographer M. David Mullen, who deserves equal praise. If judged on all of that alone, it would sail home with top marks. Unfortunately, the story is less entertaining and at two hours is much too long, becoming almost irredeemably prosaic about halfway through. The (deliberate?) strange acting from the cast fails to fill the vacancy in content that floats in the alluring spaces around them, pushing the merits of Biller's feminist approach to its chosen subject into some less interesting spaces. But I did like the ending.

2½ deep feelings out of 5

Saturday, 31 August 2019

The Adventures of Hercules II (1985)

aka The New Adventures of Hercules

A sequel to Hercules (1983), with Lou Ferrigno once again playing the strongman. It starts out remarkably similar to the first film (and I don't just mean the reused footage), before the hero is called upon to recover Zeus' missing Thunderbolts; there's seven of them in all, which the big Z needs to keep the planets aligned. If Hercules fails, the moon will crash into the Earth.
The bolts are hidden inside the bellies of fierce beasts, which Hercules punches his way through in a lively manner, while the viewer is assailed by cheap overlays and more of those wonderful FX - much, much more!
The questing hero is joined by two women, Glaucia and Urania (Sonia Viviani and Milly Carlucci, respectively). And what's this? King Minos, too! Damn!
It's utter nonsense, but it's also tremendous, if you like this kind of thing.

3 dangling souls out of 5

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Hercules (1983)

Lou Ferrigno is Zeus' chosen one, a hero of the people granted incredible strength. In his quest to save his love, Cassiopea (Ingrid Anderson), from the evil King Minos (William Berger) the muscular champion must overcome trials, battle mechanical titans (really) and face off against evil sorcery.
After an extended creation myth opening that's strangely reminiscent of Richard Donner's Superman (1978), the film goes all out to impress with its manly beards, shiny armour and sexy females. Even though its aspirations are greater than its achievements, I found it thoroughly entertaining. And Ferrigno certainly looks the part; even when punching a bear he's a hundred times better then his Pumping Iron (1977) rival's version of the same character.

2½ incarnate energies out of 5

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Battle Creek Brawl (1980)

BCB's plot has Asian action star Jackie Chan in a 1930s Chicago setting. A skilled fighter, he's blackmailed by the mafia into entering the brawl of the title, but there's more on the line than just his honour.
Chan's first attempt to break the US market is notable for being just that; i.e. a first attempt. Dir. Clouse may have struck gold with Bruce Lee in '73, but Chan isn't Lee - his style is different and requires a different approach. But the filmmakers appear to have had an almost complete lack of understanding with regards how to assemble a scene to accentuate his abilities. It was produced by Raymond Chow, but I suspect he was mostly hands-off this time.
The latter half is better than the first in almost every way, but it fails to finish the story in any kind of satisfactory manner.

2 clichéd strongmen out of 5

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018)

Previously it was South Africa that had a worm problem, now it's the snowy Canadian arctic. While digging for core samples in the ice, scientists encounter the giant menaces. Meanwhile, back in Perfection, current manager of Chang's market, Burt Gummer (Michael Gross), is having problems with the IRS.
For reasons that I won't go into, the team must capture a live specimen, which means a bait and trap scenario. But story aside, the direction is annoying and the framing sucks. It's fun seeing Burt, even when he's a shadow of his former self, but yet again Jamie Kennedy is wasteful - he's not even a good foil.
Of the new cast, Valerie (Jamie-Lee Money), the daughter of characters from the first film, is the most memorable. Alas, while better than its immediate predecessor, it's only worth seeking out if you're a big fan of the series.

2½ seismic spikes out of 5

Monday, 19 August 2019

The Professionals (1966)

A great genre cast make Dir. Richard Brooks' ensemble Western better than it might otherwise have been. The task that the four specialists undertake is to ride into Mexico and liberate a rich ranch owner's kidnapped wife (Claudia Cardinale) from former revolutionary leader Jesus Raza (Jack Palance).
Each man is in it for the money, but there's a clash of moral interests, regardless. Lee Marvin stands out as the team's unofficial leader, but there's excellent support from both Woody Strode and Robert Ryan. The only character that I really disliked was Lancaster's, a cynical, tough-talking mercenary, portrayed in the actor's usual hardened style.

3½ recent crosses out of 5

Friday, 16 August 2019

FX 2: The Deadly Art of Illusion (1991)

aka F/X2

A sequel to FX (1986) that was released and set five years after the first film. Structurally it's similar, Roland Tyler (Brown) is hired by law enforcement officers to make something fake look real, but an unplanned element means it goes badly. McCarthy (Dennehy), who's now a Private Investigator, turns up around the 40 minute mark, etc. But ultimately it's a lot worse. The story is weak and the 'logic' is dumb. Tyler conveniently has all the gadgets he needs, for all eventualities, and the twists are ridiculous. It has a few good scenes, but none that stick in the mind (except the dumb logic, for the wrong reasons).
There was no third film, but a two-season TV series followed five years hence, titled F/X: The Series, It's the same characters, but they were recast.

2½ clown moves out of 5

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

FX: Murder by Illusion (1986)

aka F/X

Movie effects guy Roland Tyler (Bryan Brown) is approached by the Justice Department, who want him to use his skills to fake an assassination. The target is an ex-mobster (Jerry Orbach), who's going to rat on his former colleagues. It's a dangerous situation, but the pay is good and the challenge appealing.
The story relies on artificiality, and therefore highlights its own, but it works-well enough; especially during the rare moments when it succeeds in using a viewer's knowledge of what's 'phoney' against them.
Brian Dennehy's police lieutenant arrives late to the party but brings a screen presence that elevates the entire production. It doesn't seem as clever today as it did back in the 80s, but it was enjoyable revisiting it after so many years.

3 false numbers out of 5

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Loving Vincent (2017)

I'd the good fortune of studying Van Gogh academically (FE), so much of the visual side of LV was familiar to me. It's prior experience and the hand-painted (in oils) film frames (66,960 of them!) that kept me interested in the telling, because the story itself arguably doesn't have the power to do it alone. Set one year after the painter's death, it uses 94 of his works, as either inspiration or setting, within which a questioning young man attempts to posthumously deliver the subject's final later to his brother. The people he meets and the opinions they give form a picture of the troubled painter's final days.
The contemporary scenes are rendered in Van Gogh's distinctive style; it works like a rotoscoped film, so is spectacular but can be a little tremulous at times. The B+W flashbacks are much steadier and appear to have more detail.

3 starry nights out of 5