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

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

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING [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

ALIEN: COVENANT [2017]

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

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Mesrine: Part 1: Killer Instinct (2008)

aka Mesrine: L'instinct de mort / Public Enemy Number One (Part One) / Mesrine: Part 1 - Death Instinct

The first part of a two-part biopic of the real-life French gangster Jacques Mesrine, played by Vincent Cassel in both films. The basic structure will be familiar to fans of gangster films, but the presentation is unusual, employing a number of different shooting styles and some clever use of split-screen effects, all in a very French manner. I was forced to concede that even techniques I dislike had a definite power to them.
Equally powerful is Cassel in the lead role. He's clever, sharp and utterly fearless. He's also charming when he wants to be, but a monster when pushed too far. The film begins in 1979, but jumps back to chart Mesrine's activities in the years 1959 to 1972. It's only part of the story, however, so make sure you have access to Part 2: Public Enemy Number 1 before you even begin.

4 off-the-books jobs out of 5

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Babette's Feast (1987)

A tale of two sisters, pious pastor's daughters, and their French housekeeper and cook, Babette (Stéphane Audran). As the decades go by the sisters, Filippa (Bodil Kjer) and Martine (Birgitte Federspiel), dutifully continue their father's religious work, while Babette remains just as dedicated to hers.
Based on a short story by Karen Blixen, Dir. Gabriel Axel's film is a drama with a wonderfully warm and uplifting comical side to it. The feast of the title nourishes in a way that food prepared without genuine heartfelt purpose can't ever hope to achieve, for both the characters and the viewer.
It doesn't feel like a film made in the late 80s; its timeless beauty is as refreshing and as satisfying today as when it was first released.

4½ possibilities out of 5

Monday, 10 July 2017

The Seven Magnificent Gladiators (1983)

If you're as old as I am, then there's a chance you'll have spotted something on the ridiculous cover art that lets you know exactly what you're in for (besides Lou Ferrigno cosplaying the lovechild of Hercules and Conan the Barbarian). Situated in the corner is the telltale hexagonal logo of the Cannon Group. Yes, we're in Cannon territory, folks, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
Like the title implies, it's a ripoff of Seven Samurai (1954) and The Magnificent Seven (1960) but in a gladiatorial era. The leather-fetish-clad figure pictured third in the orderly queue on the cover is the antagonist that Ferrigno and his posse must vanquish, a half-god son of a sorceress.
It's a good-natured romp with scenes stitched haphazardly together and dubbing that's bad but not as atrocious as I'd feared it would be.

1½ sword tricks out 5

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

In a loose sound adaptation of the silent London After Midnight (1927), Tod Browning remakes his own film. Anyone with knowledge of the original's plot can surmise this film's twist, but vampires are to blame for a murder in an indeterminate Scandinavian land. With an original runtime around 80 minutes, studio meddling left it at a mere 60. The result is a less than coherent story. Character motives are foggy, supporting roles are abbreviated, and extreme jumps in tone occur between scenes. On repeat viewings one will easily notice massive plot holes. The film must be taken at face value: a slightly parodied take on the vampire superstition. MotV does however include enough hypnotizing scenes of creepy-crawlies, Bela Lugosi's trademark glare, and one brief but truly haunting vision of a vampire's aerial descent to be considered a memorable horror classic.

3 bat horns out of 5

Vigilante (1983)

After his success with Maniac (1980), director William Lustig widens expectations with the revenge flick Vigilante. Despite upgrading from 35 mm to CinemaScope, the film still retains a gritty feel. This was attained by channeling some of the trashier neighborhoods in New York for its locations. The sleazy satisfaction is still there, but it also scores as a competent drama. I only wish Robert Forster had been a little less stone cold in his acting. Everyone deals with tragedy differently, but nary a tear is shed for his loss. From the building crescendo in Jay Chattaway's score to the satisfying pursuits of each villain, Vigilante is a modern day western.

3½ car bombs out of 5

Scalps (1983)

An early entry in b-movie director Fred Olen Ray's prolific career, Scalps follows a group of archaeological students on an illegal dig where they end up releasing vengeful Native American spirits. In format it's a simple slasher, but the addition of the unique settings, situations and villain help set it apart. Despite this being a severely low budget and almost guerilla-style film, I can't overlook its negatives. It's downright ugly. The lighting is drab, the camerawork amateurish and the continuity uneven. I'll give it points for some creative antagonists and a halfway decent ending, but overall that's not much.

1½ lion faces out of 5

Friday, 7 July 2017

The Sword and Sorcery Collection

Wiki describes the term as 'a subgenre of fantasy generally characterised by sword-wielding heroes engaged in exciting and violent conflicts,' with elements of 'romance [...] magic and the supernatural.' It mentions also that it often overlaps with Heroic Fantasy films, as does my list below.
The Hyborian Conan is the undisputed king, but there are plenty of other heroes for hire; you'll more than likely find them standing stoutheartedly on hills while the sun sets; temporarily chained in dank castle dungeons; or jovially drinking and wenching in taverns. I still love the genre, but I feel that modern film techniques have sucked most of the soul out of it – its heyday is over, sadly. Here's what we've got so far (arranged alphabetically):

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES [2017]

Directors Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg take Captain Jack Sparrow out for a fifth spin Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Once again Sparrow is in search of a mystical treasure while a ghostly revenge-seeking pirate is hot on his trail.    You know the deal when it comes to these films.
After the previous film was so dismally dull it's nice to see the enthusiasm is back, even if the series has clearly run it's course.  It's a tighter story, more well-paced and with lowered expectations there's actually quite a bit of silly fun to be had.

3 ghost sharks out of 5

BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM [2014]

Batsy plays second fiddle to the Suicide Squad in director Jay Olivia & Ethan Spaulding's animated film Assault on Arkham.
Ol' Amanda Waller sends the Squad out on a mission to hunt down The Riddler, imprisoned in Arkham Asylum, who is holding onto a flash drive that contains some very important secret information.
I normally like me a heist film but somehow this one comes off as predictable, boring and easily forgettable.  It misses the opportunity to explore some interesting character conflicts and instead it blindly rushes into the action and mayhem without any reason to give a shit.  Is it better than the recent live-action Squad film?  No.  Not really.  It's about the same with even less flare.

2 bullet-proof prison cells out of 5

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE [2005]

Director David Cronenberg adapts Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner's graphic novel A History of Violence for the screen.
After saving his diner from a pair of robbers, a man must face what comes afterwards when he's considered a local hero.
Loosely adapting someone else's material makes for a fairly normal film for Cronenberg but it doesn't mean it's tame by any means.  With more character than plot leaves more for the actors to chew on and Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello and Ed Harris do it well.  It's violent, funny and intense sometimes simultaneously.  A fine piece of Cronenberg fare.   

4 little punk-ass, chicken-shit, faggot bitches out of 5