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

Sunday, 25 September 2016

GODZILLA [1998]

I don't know how he pulled it off but director Roland Emmerich managed to make a Godzilla film dreadfully boring.
After years of pressuring, Toho studios finally agreed to allow Hollywood to take their beloved franchise and turn it into something resembling Godzilla in name only.
To the average movie goer who's never seen a Godzilla film, they're simply about a giant lizard that destroys cities and that's exactly what you get here.  There's no subtext, depth or thematic subtleties floating around here and "big lizard destroys New York" is about all you get in this shallow excuse for a good time.  It's a big, loud and unforgivably soulless shitfest that was clearly a money-hungry attempt to ride on the tails of Jurassic Park.

1 mutant earthworm out of 5

MIRROR MIRROR [2012]

Director Tarsem Singh delivers yet another visually stunning feast for the eyes with his strange adaptation of the Snow White story, Mirror Mirror.
Here we have Snow enlisting the aid of seven tiny rebels to fight against the power-hungry queen and a savage beast that dwells deep within the forest that surrounds the poverty-stricken kingdom.
Singh is no stranger to astonishingly beautiful set-pieces and intricate costume designs but sadly he never seems to shy away from wafer-thin scripts and laughable melodrama.  Fortunately, as a first for Singh, he's inserted some humor into his storytelling and, although, funny, it almost always feels out of place from the rest of the film.  Nothing seems to comfortably fall into place with each other and ends up making for a very uneven mess.  As imaginative and original as it all is, you can't help but feel that everyone involved were all working on a different film.

2½ stilts out of 5

IMPERIUM [2016]

Nearly a decade after his wonderful short film, Haber, director Daniel Ragussis finally makes his feature length debut with the tense crime thriller, Imperium.
Daniel Radcliffe continues to solidify his staying power as a FBI agent going undercover to infiltrate a radical group of white-supremacist's plans of a violent attack.
It's a fascinating reminder that there's plenty of homegrown terrorism spawned from the white-folk around the corner of Mayberry Street.  It still treads over familiar territory with it's "undercover officer loses his self" story but the more subtle humanizing moments and it's very impressive acting from the entire cast makes for a very engrossing, if not extremely unsettling watch.

3½ racist BBQ's out of 5

Chicago (2002)

It's necessary to step outside of your comfort zone from time to time, which accounts for my viewing of Chicago. I'm no stranger to musicals, but it was categorically the first time I've ever sat through the entirety of a film that featured Richard Gere. Happily, it wasn't the rags to riches story I feared it might be. In fact, it was far removed from any of the safe-route assumptions that I held in advance, so kudos to it for that.
Stage-struck dreamer Roxie (Zellweger) frequently uses her imagination to escape the reality she finds herself in, whereas Velma (Zeta-Jones) uses her established reputation to influence her own reality as best she can; in both cases it's the best acting from either lady that I've ever seen.
I've no urge to rewatch it but nor do I regret giving it my time. The songs are vibrant and timely, and the dialogue occasionally clever and sharp edged.

3 stocking fillers out of 5

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Phantasm II (1988)

With production backed by Universal this time, Phantasm II trumps the original in not only scope but linear storytelling. Compromises with the studio resulted in the recasting of main character Mike (now James Le Gros) and a less illusory nature, which somewhat hampered the first Phantasm. The unlikely action heroes Mike & Reggie scour the countryside for the elusive Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) as he leaves a veritable wasteland of abandoned towns in his wake. With a higher budget they were able to pull off impressively disturbing creature and gore effects. Despite this, there are still signs of amateurish cinematography, such as focusing and editing problems. But most fans will dismiss these minor issues in favor of this satisfying adventure. 

3½ gold spheres out of 5

Big Ass Spider! (2013)

A-la Sharknado, BAS! is an incredulously bad B-movie which continually pokes fun at not only itself but the "everyman" action film. The lovable and looking-for-love lead (Greg Grunberg) is (what else?) a blue collar exterminator. When a giant (ass) spider invades Los Angeles, he somehow has the know-how to stop it. Besides some sticky webs, there are no practical SFX. Even after you lower your expectations, the CG is still difficult to stomach. Some actors are obviously only there to pick up a paycheck, (I'm looking at you Patrick Bauchau) while others (Ray Wise, Clare Kramer, Lin Shaye) actually 'get' the material and show commitment to their archetypal characters. There's fun to be had, but the concept wore a tad thin towards the end. 

2 shots in the butt out of 5

Dark Was the Night (2014)

Kevin Durand plays a sheriff in a sleepy rural town, tormented by mistakes made in the past. When an unknown creature begins picking off the local animal life, he has to keep the town's trust by subduing the threat. I've seen this song and dance before, but that doesn't mean it's a poor film. Sure it's derivative, but the characters are complex enough and the acting is above-average for the genre. Durand, who mumbles many of his lines, naturally gives off an air of mystery, but the character's background is what really draws your attention. The film does take itself too seriously; to the point of being bleak. The monster hunt is a slow one as you only catch glimpses of it at first. The plan for the creature to go full-monty in all its less than flattering CG glory was a poor choice in the end. Everything up to that point equaled a solid film. 

2½ peckers out of 5

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS [2016]

Earth to Echo director Dave Green takes over duties for Out of the Shadows, the TMNT sequel to the 2012 live-action comic book adaptation.
This time around the heroes in a half-shell must save the world from a dangerous being from another dimension known only as Krang.
It doesn't really improve or weaken in quality from the first film but instead it finds more fun in the exact same vein as a mindless Saturday morning cartoon, with the hyper-active brains of indigestible sugar cereal.  Based on how much gleeful idiocy you're willing to accept will determine on how much enjoyment you'll get out of this tasty trash.  Really, it's strictly for the kiddies or anyone who just has to see Krang, Bebop & Rocksteady finally make it into a TMNT film.

2 garbage trucks out of 5

HOLIDAYS [2016]

A gaggle of genre directors (including Kevin Smith & Nicholas McCarthy) band together to create Holidays, a pretty tedious horror anthology that is more huge miss than minor hit.
Nobody seems to have brought their A-game to this mess of a film and it hurts the enjoyment of it quite a bit.  There's a few moments of interest, mostly Nicholas McCarthy's hilariously offensive Easter segment but you're better off avoiding this uninspired amateurish shit-fest at nearly all costs.

1 Jesus Bunny out of 5

SWISS ARMY MAN [2016]

Writer/directors Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert produce the most beautifully bizarre film of the year with the wilderness buddy drama Swiss Army Man.
A suicidal man stranded on a desert island discovers a body washed ashore, that develops the power of speech (and flatulence) which helps him see his problems with a great deal more clarity.
With such a simple story, it's astonishing just how much is going on here that at times is hilarious, tragic, heart-wrenching, hopeful and "fuckin' crazy".  With each of it's main stars fully committed to the outlandish scenarios they're given to play in, the film is graced with a bizarre dreamy realism that acts as if it were Charlie Kaufman directing his own version of Weekend at Bernie's.  When all is said and done, the film has all sorts of functions and purpose but you're oddly unsure yet ultimately satisfied with what you collected from it.

4 bus rides out of 5

Friday, 23 September 2016

FINDING DORY [2016]

13 years after the wonderfully crafted Finding Nemo, Disney, Pixar & director Andrew Stanton make a much-anticipated return to their underwater world with Finding Dory.
The lovable blue tang fish with a short-term memory sets out to find her long lost parents leading her to a dizzying adventure in a Californian aquatic park where she meets all sorts of weird and wonderful characters.
I entered into the film a little cautious, thinking it couldn't stand up to the original that didn't really need a sequel but after an awkward first 15 minutes, I found myself at ease and constantly laughing at the story unfolding before me.  It manages to pack in a profoundly emotional punch, some hilarious moments for all ages and enough warmth to forgive any of it's very minor short-comings.

4 septopus out of 5

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE [2016]

Kiwi director Taika Waititi's delightfully hilarious wilderness comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the type of film where once you start grinning you just don't stop until it's long over.
It's a simple story about an orphaned troublemaker and his foster uncle go into hiding in the New Zealand bush as they find themselves at the center of a national manhunt.
It's a pretty low-key little film but it manages to be consistently funny, surprisingly touching and all around good for the soul with it's tale of two lost souls teaching each other a thing or two about themselves.  There might be plenty of kiwi in-jokes but it stands with enough honest sincerity, belly  chuckling warmth and universally funny moments it can be enjoyed from all over the world.

4 haikus out of 5

TRIPLE 9 [2016]

Director John Hillcoat gathers together a pretty stellar cast for his violent heist thriller Triple 9.
The Atlanta Russian mob hires a group of dirty cops to pull off a near impossible job and then hatches a ploy to trick them into killing each other to avoid any loose ends.
Hillcoat's obsession with struggling to find order amidst a world of violence is at it's most apparent here with it's intricate plot that's filled with multiple twists 'n turns.  However, it's missing it's beating heart and the lack of character development is where it hurts the film most.  Thanks to it's clever plotting, powerful cast and intense action sequences Triple 9 is pretty god-damned entertaining but one can't help but feel there's a heavily extended director's cut that could easily fix it's glaring flaws.

3 nines out of 5

THE SHALLOWS [2016]

Director Jaume Collet-Serra momentarily steps away from Liam Neeson to direct Blake Lively in the beautifully shot survival thriller The Shallows.
Lively does a fine job at holding her own as a young woman stranded on a rock just off the Mexican shores after a violent shark attack.
Normally films that take place in a single setting tend to carry a smug look on it's face as if it were breaking new ground but The Shallows is only interested in nail-biting tension and melodramatic ferocity to keep the viewer's attention.  There's not an awful lot of smarts being tossed around the ridiculous narrative, nor is there anything new and exciting but that's where it finds it's highest admiration.  It simply sets out to entertain, breaking the viewer out of their own mundane lives for a brisk 90 minutes.

2½ surfboard seagulls out of 5

PARKLAND [2013]

Journalist Peter Landesman made his directorial debut with the dramatically effective, yet ultimately pointless, historical drama Parkland.
Set in the three days that immediately followed JFK's assassination, we follow an ensemble of ordinary folks who aren't well remembered names that played a big part in the events, such as the doctors, reporters, policeman, secret service men and relatives of the larger than life names.
It offers a unique perspective on the controversial subject matter but it runs off into too many directions to really allow the viewer to become emotionally attached to any of the characters being explored.  There's some excellent performances from the long list of who's who of indie-films, particularly the always wonderful Paul Giamatti, James Badge Dale and Jacki Weaver.  With an extra 45 minutes (yes, that much) I think it could have been a great film but instead it's nothing but a valiant but uncompelling effort.

3 of the world's most famous rolls of 8mm films out of 5