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

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Dogs of War (1980)

It's not until the last quarter of the film that it even begins to resemble the explosive-looking MGM cover art. Prior to that happening it's a tense drama in which a mercenary (Christopher Walken) posing as an ornithologist goes on a dangerous reconnaissance mission to Africa in 1980.
The script (based on a 1974 novel of the same name by Frederick Forsyth that I've not read), the director and Walken himself do a tremendous job characterising the protagonist without taking the focus away from the seriousness of the situation unfolding around him. Likewise, the actor manages to convince us that he's both affected by and distanced from the aura of oppression that fuels every African scene; i.e. while convincing the authorities of disinterest, he allows us to perceive the weight on his soul.

3½ leaky barrels out 5

NOTE: version reviewed is the 118 min UK edition. The US edition is cut.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976)

Roger Moore's only onscreen stint as Holmes paired him with Patrick Macnee as Dr. Watson (his first but not last time in the role). Moore is simply Moore with a deerstalker and pipe, prancing about hurriedly when there's "devilry afoot!" Macnee gives his character a trait, but forcing a voice that sounds like the morning after a potcheen binge was an odd way to go about it.
The story has Moriarty, butt-hurt and angry he vows to commit the crime of the century, one that Holmes will be powerless to solve, thus demeaning the esteemed hero and sullying his reputation. What follows has some interesting twists and turns, and the manner in which Moriarty (a miscast John Huston) uses the Baker Street sleuth's investigative drive against him is a shrewd plot device. Overall, there are better and worse Sherlock films than SH in NY.

2½ profundities out of 5

Friday, 16 June 2017

WAR MACHINE [2017]

Director David Michôd takes some broad satirical jabs at the American military in the darkly comical War Machine.
Loosely based on the real life events of the firing of General Stanley A. McChrystal, Brad Pitt turns in a strong performance as a celebrated general who, while serving in Afghanistan, is put under the microscope by a Rolling Stone journalist.
It's not too subtle and takes the piss out of proud America and it's military with a heavy hammer.  It takes turns being funny, scary and sad but never seems to find a solid footing to make the impact it intends to.  Fortunately it's aided by an excellent cast, some making strong impressions with only a few minutes of screen-time.   It's a case of "tell me something I don't already know" but at least it's got some great honest moments to make some of it memorable.

3 excellent reasons not to switch seats out of 5

HENJEL GWA GEURETEL [2007]

aka Hansel and Gretel

Director Yim Pil-sung gives the old Hansel & Gretel fairytale a bit of a spin in the South Korean dark fantasy Henjel gwa Geuretel.
After narrowly escaping death in a bad car accident, a man gets lost in the forest where he stumbles upon a picturesque cottage occupied by the "perfect" family and soon discovers there's no escape.
It's set-up and atmosphere are fantastic as it's just creepy enough to send chills down the spine but not enough to truly call it a horror film.  Unfortunately the quality of storytelling starts to unravel a bit once things become clumsily clearer.  As a twisted little fairy tale it's a real joy but runs a bit too long, revealing far too many weaknesses before it comes to a close.

3 bunnies dismembering bears out of 5

KRISHA [2015]

Trey Edward Shults makes his film-making debut with his shoestring-budget passion project Krisha.
Taking place over the afternoon before a Thanksgiving dinner, the 60-something year old title character, recovering from some heavy addictions isn't sure if she's quite ready for re-uniting with her estranged family.
Krisha has a raw intimacy that is so uncomfortably personal you almost feel like you're invading someone's privacy while watching it.  Lead Krisha Fairchild is an absolute diamond in the rough as she proves with numerous tight close-ups that ooze with fragile emotion.  Shults' claustrophobic camerawork is quite often effective but occasionally distracts a bit more than it should.  Nevertheless, with a debut like this, it's obvious Schults is a name to watch out for in the near future.

4 awkward talks out of 5

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER [1992]

Producer Fran Rubel Kuzui tries her hand at directing then unknown screenwriter Joss Whedon's comedy/horror script Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
It's the age-old story of a Californian high school cheerleader who is unreluctantly chosen to be part of a long line of vampire hunters.
It has neither the dramatic arcs or colorful characters Whedon's now known for but it still features glimpses of cheeky dialogue that no one but title character actress Kristy Swanson seems to know how to properly deliver.  It's pretty obvious nobody seemed to understand what sort of script they were working with and it results in a tonal disgrace.  It has it's good intentions but it's poorly executed.  With something this forgettable who would have known what was to come in five years time?

2 acoustic stakes out of 5

Josie and the Pussycats (2001)

This is the celluloid embodiment of half of my soul. It's ebullient—manic even—but it's also 100% heartfelt and introspective. It rivals the Neg Era of Super Sentai in being effortlessly inspirational and empowering without ever being schmaltzy. It provides social commentary, flips the usual gender-script on its head, and even manages to make Tara Reid look like a competent actress. Alternatively, you could say she didn't have to act at all~ The soundtrack is nothing short of a miracle and of course informs everything on display. The girls, the boys, the villains…everyone and everything is simply rapturous.

5 Reality-Checked Snuggle-Bunnies out of 5

The Magnificent Seven Collection

It doesn't matter to me whether or not the Western genre is representative of how life really was back in the day. I don't care if it's been exaggerated, romanticised or straight up invented. What matters is that it provides a recognisable framework within which many different types of story can be told: the frontier town, the bandits, the selfless hero, the guns for hire, etc, are versatile tools in the hands of experienced writers. The original Magnificent Seven film is that versatility in action. It's a remake that's respectful to both its Japanese source material and its own parent genre, proving that some stories truly can be universal at heart and it's just the telling that changes. The western appropriation of the seven hired hands is so good that it even spawned a number of imitators and sequels of its own:

The Source:
01. Seven Samurai (1954)

The Films:
01. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
02. Return of the Magnificent Seven (1966)
03. Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)
04. The Magnificent Seven Ride (1972)

The TV Series:
01. The Magnificent Seven: TV Series (1998–2000)

Films Influenced By TMS:
01. Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
02. The Seven Magnificent Gladiators (1983)

The Remake of the Remake:
01. The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Thursday, 15 June 2017

THE HOTTIE & THE NOTTIE [2008]

Non-actress rich girl Paris Hilton isn't as hot as she thinks she is, except she doesn't seem to know it in the apparently funny The Hottie & The Nottie.
Executive produced by Hilton, the story suffers from She's All That syndrome, when a doofus lusts after the so-called Hottie while the not-so Nottie slowly gets better looking over the duration of the film and !spoiler alert! he falls for the now-gorgeous Nottie in the end.
Each character is supposed to be lovably funny but are completely unaware of how shallow they actually are (and so are the writers), so when they actually attempt to expose their inner beauty it makes them even uglier and even more shallow.  I'd probably publicly enjoy pure hot sauce pouring out of my blistered anus rather than endure this intolerable bile ever again.

-1 snot bubble out of 5

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Monster Man (2003)

Equal parts Joy Ride and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the b-movie Monster Man follows two friends on a road trip who piss off the wrong gnarled, backwoods, off-road, monster truck driving maniac. Some might categorize it as derivative, but there are plenty of refreshing twists on genre cliches. The story plods along at first as we are treated to the tumultuous yet hilarious banter between the two leads (Eric Jungmann and Justin Urich). It's their back-and-forth friendship which is the backbone of the film. While comedy plays a large part in MM, gore is the other half, but it's mostly used in a gross-out manner which enhances the humor. Fortunately the effects are 99% practical and done surprisingly well for such a film. The monster man (and his motivations) in question is such an original that it's a pity this gem never received sequel treatment. 

3 amputees out of 5

FIST FIGHT [2017]

Batman versus Superman.  Godzilla versus Mothra.  Mega Shark versus Crocosaurus.  Joe versus a volcano.  And now, Ice Cube versus Charlie Day.
Director Richie Keen's mean-spirited comedy Fist Fight pits the two guys against each other as high school teachers that find they have nothing to lose amidst the chaos that surrounds them.
With the folks involved, the movie should have been funnier even if the script fell a little flat in all it's stupidity.  Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much a script and it feels more like they just cobbled together a bunch of Best Of improvisations which isn't all that great to begin with.  There's a few chuckle worthy moments and the actual fight itself is well worth the time wasted on the rest of film.  In the end, it's not a comedy worth recommending unless you really, really think it'd be a blast watching Cube & Charlie trading blows.

2 horses on meth out of 5

REEFER MADNESS [1936]

Originally intended as an educational warning to parents about the dangers of marijuana, Louis J. Gasnier's Tell Your Children was so outrageous it was never taken seriously and became a cult hit within the exploitation film circuit.
This church produced propaganda film, later re-titled Reefer Madness for mainstream distribution, warns that The Cannabis addiction causes your kids to go into fits of mad laughter, murder people, rape woman, commit suicide and have zany dance parties with jazz music.
It's easy to see why it's considered the "Granddaddy of Worst Movies of All Time" because within all the ludicrously humorous notions it throws upon the unsuspecting viewer, it's really quite boring.  There are a few moments of comic gold but it's mostly quite dry and poorly timed, with long moments of next to nothing happening.  However flawed it might be, it's well worth at least one viewing just to see how lethal the reefer can be.  Stick to heroin, kids.

2 unspeakable scourges out of 5

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

JEEPERS CREEPERS [2001]

Controversial director Victor Salva creates a new creature feature horror franchise with Jeepers Creepers.
It follows a bickering brother & sister as they cross through the countryside where they find they're the target of one of it's bloodthirsty locals.
The first half of the film promises something simple, yet unique, with some tense pacing and effectively frightening atmosphere.  Yet after a simple phone call, the entire movie falls flat on it's face and dives into predictability, silliness and a jumbled mess of bad plotting that doesn't resemble anything scary, suspenseful or smart.  I know it's easy to not like Salva, considering his past endeavors, but if he actually put as much work into the final half of the film, as he did the first, I'd actually award it with more deserving praise.

2½ crazy cat ladies out of 5

DEAD POETS SOCIETY [1989]

Director Peter Weir manages to squeeze out an early straight-faced performance from Robin Williams in the period drama Dead Poets Society.
Williams is impeccable as an unconventional English teacher, in a stuffy all-boys prep school, that takes it upon himself to teach his wide-eyed class about seizing the day and boldly take a free-thinking approach to the life that they want to lead.
It makes no attempt to subtly lay down it's message with many an emotionally manipulative moment that almost insults the viewer.  The heart overpowers it's intelligence, which it's lack of is hidden beneath strong performances, gorgeous cinematography and richly realized tone and atmosphere.  It's got it's heart in the right place but fails to find much of a free-thinking brain to equal it.

3 phone calls from God out of 5

Clash of the Titans (1981)

A heroic fantasy based upon the legend of Perseus and his beloved Andromeda. It's an impressive collection of Greek mythology set pieces stitched into a standard quest structure, directed by Desmond Davis but perhaps remembered most as the swansong of FX man Ray Harryhausen.
The opening is horrifying in its implication. It leads to Perseus (Harry Hamlin) being controlled like some kind of living action figure by the Gods, favoured by Zeus (Laurence Olivier) due to his being an extra-marital offspring of the wild-oats sowing beardy, but jealously despised by some of the others.
In essence, coming out as it did early in the decade, the film also feels as if it's being pushed and pulled from opposing sides: not as alluring as an actual 70s work but not yet full 80s in tone, it's personified best in Perseus' character. For me, Burgess Meredith and the stop-motion FX are the highlight.

3½ head-snakes out of 5