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

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Bad Timing (1980)

Wikipedia classes it as a psychological thriller, which is as good a simplified description as any, I suppose, for what Bad Timing is; i.e. a labyrinthine and occasionally uncomfortable psychological/sexual drama with at least one controversial scene that for many people overshadows director Nic Roeg's astonishing technical achievements elsewhere. The non-linear plot jumps around in time but is assembled in such a way that each fragment is equally important, even though some are more emotionally weighty than others.
The strained relationship of the two mismatched leads (Art Garfunkel, Theresa Russell) ranges from intriguing to downright plodding, but neither state prevents the themes that the film explores from rising to the surface.
In both audio and style, it pushes established norms in surprising directions.

3½ observers out of 5

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Equalizer 2000 (1987)

aka Defender 2000

I'm not going to waste any more time on Eq 2000 than is necessary. It's a Mad Max (1979) rip-off set a century after a nuclear war, so expect dusty canyons, a chase scene, and cars with a few spikes and rusty pipes attached here and there to make things look more interesting. The bad guys are a fascist group named The Ownership. The hero is played by Richard Norton. The dishevelled but sassy woman is Penthouse model Corinne Alphen. Gasoline is in short supply but fuel for flamethrowers is plentiful, etc. The only major thing they forgot to include was story. It's 90% bad dialogue, explosions and gunfire.

1½ mountain people out of 5

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)

More faithful to its esteemed source than most, if not all, other films to date, Branagh's Frankenstein had the potential to be something very special. The first twenty minutes hold the same promise, referencing the social side of 18th Century life, the limitations of medicine, the reasons for Victor's infatuation with creating/sustaining life, and introducing some striking symbolism, but the unevenness that follows the set-up undoes a lot of the good work. He paints the work with broad, grimy strokes, when a more delicate touch would have served the layers of feverish obsession and hubris better. The score is often turgid, pushing bombastic heights instead of exploring quiet percipience.
But points awarded for a successful repeated shift of our sympathies, inviting us to question morality in a similar manner to how Victor is forced to do.

3 raw materials out of 5

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Jingle All The Way (1996)

For many years, Christmas was broken in two for me. However, the actions of the person to blame could not erase my memories of the positive feelings and experiences surrounding it that I did manage to make with my Mom and Dad. Or, how much they went out of their way to make sure I had much more than I ever asked for. There are emotional positives to the materialism of the holiday, when partnered with the love and efforts of the people involved. This film demonstrates that more than any piece of fiction I’ve experienced. I remember my Dad leaving to shop at the last minute. I remember doing it myself. It wasn’t as dangerous back then! This doesn’t just capture the joy of buying things for others, though. It’s also (not so) secretly tokusatsu! It’s earnest, wonderfully balanced, and even aware that it's very First World and privileged.

5 Cheers for the Best Clean Comic on the Planet out of 5

Nutted by NEG.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Spartacus (1960)

A slave trained by Roman oppressors to fight to the death as a gladiator in their barbaric games takes his fate into his own hands. Spartacus, the slave in question, applies what he learned in the arena to a cause greater than himself. His words and deeds give voice to the feeling in all slaves' hearts.
It certainly deserves its many accolades, but I have reservations when it comes to scoring. Being wholly subjective, many of the relationships point toward something greater than they themselves deliver upon. It's almost as if the message overpowers some of the emotions, whereas in a perfect world they would've been equals. If the film didn't repeatedly push my thoughts in that direction, then I'd no doubt be awed by it completely, but something ingrained in either it or me keeps me from giving it the full 5 stars.

4 stand up guys out of 5

Friday, 1 December 2017

Ocean Waves (1993)

aka I Can Hear the Sea

A produced by Studio Ghibli but made-for-television anime directed by Tomomi Mochizuki. It's a story about youth and maturity, set in a competitive Japanese high school environment and in the wider world. The three main characters are friends Tako and Yutaka, and the girl who turns both their heads, a transfer student named Rikako. She's self-centred and takes advantage of Tako's good nature, but that doesn't stop him pursuing her.
It felt somewhat uneventful while viewing. But when the credits had rolled and I'd sufficiently pondered on what had occurred, I realised that a fair amount had actually happened. So I decided instead that unassuming or understated was a more appropriate adjective to describe its modest goals.

2½ cultural differences out of 5

Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Next Karate Kid (1994)

Mr. Miyagi gets drafted into helping an old army buddy's granddaughter (Hilary Swank) find inner-peace. She's an orphaned youth with anger issues, striking out at everyone, even those who wish to help her. Her only confidant is a hawk, a kindred spirit with a symbolic wounded wing.
The coachings in responsibility, acceptance and patience are delivered in the sensei's usual lesson-within-a-lesson system, but his having to adjust to the ways of a teenage girl adds an element of humour to the formula.
The three previous films weren't groundbreaking works, so there's no reason to expect any different from the fourth entry. It's a simple and enjoyable story that puts emphasis more on the importance of healing than on fighting.

2½ party monks out of 5

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Karate Kid Part III (1989)

Set one year after the tournament that ended the first film, Part III attempts to move the story forward while also looking back. A character from the duo's past is downtrodden, but has a rich benefactor who's little more than a two dimensional comic book villain replete with fat cigars to chomp on.
Mr Miyagi is at a loose end, too, but all he has is Daniel, who's turning into a jerk, in danger of becoming the thing that he hates. A new love interest adds little of value, so it's left to Miyagi to be the rock that can keep the maturing student on the correct path, but the sensei's role is again lessened from what it was in Part II (1986). He provides instruction only when needed, hoping that faith and common sense will act as guides in his absence.
As enjoyable as it is to see the story continued, it's the weakest of the trilogy, with a retread ending that lacks the power of the original film.

2½ deep roots out of 5

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Karate Kid Part II (1986)

Freed from the 'sports movie' template, and after some convenient missing-cast explanations, the action moves to Okinawa, Miyagi's place of birth. Events in the tiny village enable the father/son and sensei/student relationship that was formed in TKK Part I to evolve in a more engaging way, but this time it's Miyagi who takes centre stage, with Daniel-san playing the support role.
Conflict comes in the form of rekindled feelings for an old flame and an old friend, the latter of which still feels the pain of an old wound.
Parts of the Daniel sub-story play out in a manner that's altogether too similar to how they did before, but there's a maturity to the consequences now, which makes it more meaningful to an adult audience; however, younger fans may find less to latch onto than they did in the first film.

3½ village deeds out of 5

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Karate Kid (1984)

After moving to California with his mom, Daniel quickly makes an enemy of a clichéd high school bully. Both parties have an interest in karate, which adds flavour to what's on the surface a straightforward 80s underdog story.
There are teenager levels of romance to contend with, but it's illustrated with the best intentions, so it's not as forced as it could've been. The real treasure is the believable sincerity that characterises the relationship that Mr Miyagi has not just with the eager-to-learn Daniel but with the wider world.
Actor Pat Morita's understated performance keeps Miyagi as a supporting character while simultaneously elevating him to become the true emotional core of the story; with a single wordless glance he can communicate a whole chapter's worth of feelings. He embodies what belief, patience, wisdom and sensitivity can achieve when each element achieves balance.

3 DIY accomplishments out of 5

Sunday, 19 November 2017

*batteries not included (1987)

The underlying plot of *bni is pretty standard stuff. An unscrupulous property developer wants to buy and demolish an old building. He buys out most of the occupants, and then hires a group of thugs to terrorise the few that refuse to leave, forcing the reluctant residents to band together in defiance.
But there's an additional element that makes it special (for me there are many things, but I'll stick to the task at hand): the unexpected visitors that are flying in through the window in the cover art. Designed to be adorable, they achieve it 100%. I wanted one when I was a kid, and I still do now.
The second other best thing about the film is Jessica Tandy, who sparkles as an old lady suffering from dementia. She too is adorable in her own, confused, warm, sympathetic way.
*bni is one of my favourite childhood films. It never fails to lift my spirits.

3½ mosaic pieces out of 5

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Opportunities don't often just fall from the sky, but sometimes inexplicable events do happen. For Pazu, resident of an elaborately constructed mining town, Sheeta is that event – a young girl with a destiny that Pazu helps shape.
Like in Nausicaä (1984), Miyazaki creates empathy for something that isn't human, a feeling that lingers even when the creature is forced by human ambition to resort to violence. Speaking of which, the different manifestations of greed (riches, militaristic power, ego, etc) are subtly graded in their wickedness but for the most part each one is still presented as destructive.
It's a slow-moving adventure for a long time, but the last thirty minutes have a pace that makes everything prior to them fall nicely into perspective.

3½ deep roots out of 5

Monday, 13 November 2017

Encounters at the End of the World (2007)

The end of the World referred to is not a time but a place, the Antarctic. It's there that Dir. Werner Herzog's peculiar motivations take him, furthering his uncanny ability to be in the correct place with a camera at the correct time, recording intimate musings of individuals against a backdrop of stacked odds and vastness that's difficult to put into perspective even when presented with the statistics to do so. His preoccupation with unmet expectations and absurdity means we learn almost as much about the filmmaker/narrator as we do some of the scientists and tradesmen who attempt to put into words what it takes to survive in such an unforgiving environment and why they chose to be there in the first place. Along the way we're treated to some astonishing sights, including a look at the thick ice from the underside, like frozen clouds come down to explore the secrets of the sea bed.

4 professional dreamers out of 5

Friday, 10 November 2017

Django (1966)

Franco Nero is the charismatic anti-hero dressed in black coat and hat, dragging a full-sized coffin behind him. The mysterious figure and his deathly cargo arrive in a mostly abandoned town, a place under siege from a post-Civil War racist Confederate Major (Eduardo Fajardo) and a group of Mexican bandits, a situation that was no doubt inspired by Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961).
Django stands up for the abused when it suits him, including coming to the aid of a beautiful prostitute named Maria (Loredana Nusciak). He's a well-written character, and thanks to Nero's cool demeanour and handsome eyes is often more compelling than the slow-moving film itself.

3½ muddy feet out of 5

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

The title is like something a cheap summer action movie might use, but MGP is nothing of the sort. It's the story of how one US resident, Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), made it his life's mission to help the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army) save the country's children from the atrocities committed upon them by a group of rebels known as the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army).
At the beginning of the film Childers is an angry, reckless asshole who enjoys making others feel like shit. A path to salvation and redemption seems like a million miles away; but a single random act can shrink such distances to almost nil. The journey from selfish to selfless is based on real life, and even though it's technically only a movie and the FX aren't real, knowing what inspired it makes the onscreen violence seem more horrific than it would be otherwise.

3 adopted struggles out of 5