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

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity (1987)

How bad does acting need to be before it gets accused of no longer meeting the minimum requirements of the definition? The answer is subjective, of course, but Slave Girls would make a good case study in that department.
It's pure trash. However, despite the attempt at philosophising the hunter/predator relationship, it probably set out to be, so perhaps its inclusion is an unfair one. If you're drawn to its cheesy charms then it hit its target.
It's one of many films from the 80s VHS boom that had a title better than the actual content, but they were a welcome challenge to the dominance of Hollywood, nonetheless, and I hope their legacy continues to speak to those that understand the even greater need for such challenges these days.

1½ competitive instincts out of 5

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE [2016]

Writer/director Oz Perkins' supernatural chiller I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House had me wanting to hide under the covers while watching it.
It's a simple story of a young live-in nurse that discovers her newest client's isolated country house has a history with things that go bump in the night.
Instead of using jump-scares and excessive gore, Pretty Things relies on prolonged unsettling atmosphere to creep under your skin which makes it hard to shake off.  Most modern horror fans will probably find themselves yawning and texting instead of enjoying it's near poetic creepiness.  Similar to Lynch or Polanski, Perkins conjures up the sense of even though there's nothing there, you can't help but feel something is constantly watching from the dark corners of the room or the other side of the door.  It's the perfect film to watch alone in the dark and get completely lost in it's ominous allure.

4 dried lilies out of 5

DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD [2016]

Pip-pip funnyman Ricky Gervais returns to his David Brent character, made popular by the 2001 BBC series The Office, in Life on the Road.
Continuing the mockumentary storytelling of the TV series fifteen years later, here we follow prodigal deadbest Brent, who now fancies himself a rock star, touring the city in his big ol' tour bus and from hotel room to hotel room.  I repeat: "touring" the city.
Brent is just as cluelessly offensive and grotesque as he's ever been, which still makes for some hilarious scenes that are so awkward it's difficult to watch even as a viewer.  Gervais still manages to find sentimentality in the most offensive of areas but that's what he's best at and often reminds us how clueless we carry our own selves.  It's a forgettable Sunday afternoon time-killer at worst and a quiet but welcome return to the Brent character at best.

3 forgone conclusions out of 5

ARRIVAL [2016]

Director Denis Villeneuve's weighty cerebral sci-fi Arrival is everything I wanted from his film-making and more.
After twelve monolithic spacecrafts situate themselves in random spots on Earth, a linguistics professor is summoned by the U.S. military to communicate with the mysterious beings.
While most films about the arrival of space-folk are grand in scale, Villeneuve opts for a more personal story that thrives on intellectual and emotional stimulation, while still managing to keep us in the dark from what is really going on.  When working with Villeneuve, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson always seems to have a magnificent way with inserting his soundscapes deep into the pulse of the film giving it a life all it's own.  Hardly interested in alien interstellar travel, the film invests it's time in the heart of humanity or the lack of.  You'll decide when all is said and done.

5 communication traps out of 5

Monday, 16 January 2017

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY [2016]

Taking a slight detour from the established Skywalker family Star Wars stories, director Gareth Edwards' Rogue One remains in the same universe but delivers a far darker and violent tone.
In what is essentially a footnote in the original saga, the film tells the story of the scoundrels rebelling against the Rebels, as they go on a dangerous mission to retrieve the plans of the infamous Death Star.
Filled with all sorts of familiar faces, bridging the gaps between the two sets of trilogies, the film clearly panders to it's fans and with a quality film like this it's easy to take in.  Edwards relishes in playing in an already well-established series but he gives it his own stamp of gritty chaos that feels fresh to the universe.  There's a bit much going on in the beginning but once the action starts up it all swiftly comes together as a damned fine pulpy sci-fi thriller.

4 not very nice days on the beach out of 5

MOANA [2016]

Inspired by a collection of Polynesian legends, Disney's Moana is another strong addition to the studios ever-growing library of animated films.
After her tribe is threatened by an ancient curse the soon-to-be chief sets out to sea to find a legendary demigod that can help her set things right.
With it's lively voice-acting and beautiful animation Moana is easy to enjoy even when it does a drag a bit here and there.  Flight of the Conchord fans will love Jemaine Clement's sequence, however it's Dwayne Johnson's demigod character that chews up each scene he's in.  I was afraid The Rock couldn't do voice-acting or musicals but he miraculously pulls it off with flying colors.  To add to all the fun is the rousing music from composer Mark Mancina, Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda and New Zealand's oceanic music act Te Vaka.  Anchored by some well-doing themes and messages Moana is Disney's second big animated winner of 2016.

4 stowaway roosters out of 5

Mysterious Island (1961)

To date, at least ten filmed versions exist of Jules Verne's 1874 sequel to his famous Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) novel; this one is from Columbia Pictures, and like the others is only partially faithful to its source.
Set during the 1865 American Civil War, a small group of Union soldiers escape a Confederate prison via a hot air balloon that's conveniently moored near their cell. Once in the air their luck runs out and fierce winds blow them miles out to sea, crashing them upon the titular mysterious island, a place where strange creatures roam (when they aren't waiting quietly until needed).
The last third of the film is the most interesting provided you're familiar with the aforementioned Twenty Thousand Leagues story, otherwise you'll have to take even more on faith than the rest of us do.

3 lead shoes out of 5

Friday, 13 January 2017

Invitation to a Gunfighter (1964)

A confederate soldier returns to his New Mexico hometown after three years away, but all is not as he left it. Things get out of control and the townspeople hire a gunfighter to do their dirty work. Enter a chiselled-jawed Yul Brynner in a dapper suit and armed with a shitload of attitude. Brynner is a cool-as-ice presence, a powerful and unreadable force that's the opposite of the open book folks that hire him; he owns a scene just by being in it.
The second most important factor is a woman (Janice Rule) who finds herself caught in the middle of a complicated situation that seems destined to end badly for her, regardless of the actual outcome.
Brynner fans will most likely be more than happy with the Russian-born actor's performance, but the film itself might not stir the same feelings.

3½ storefront refurbishments out of 5

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Ben-Hur (1959)

In the time of Jesus, two friends, one a Jewish prince and the other a Roman tribune, have their loyalties tested, divided by heritage and desires.
Famed mostly for its treacherous chariot race, the 1959 version of Hur does well with the heartbreaking elements of the story, too. The part of the novel that brought me to tears is absent, but it had so much ground to cover that something had to get cut. What remains is a journey by the resolute Judah Ben-Hur from riches to chains, and into the very heart of the thing that vilifies him. The biblical moments get more and more heavy-handed as the narrative nears its end, but it's something I've come to accept over the years.

5 gifts of water out of 5

Monday, 9 January 2017

Patrick Still Lives (1980)


Patrick Still Lives is an in-name-only, unofficial sequel to the Australian film Patrick (1978). In terms of B-movie quality, it's somewhere between Italian rip-offs Zombi 2 and Hell of the Living Dead. The premise is severely rushed and absolutely ludicrous as Patrick lies in a coma within seconds, subject of a vengeful experiment by his father. The remaining characters are coerced to vacation at the father's villa, all led there like sheep to slaughter. From this point on there's very little plot as Patrick enacts gory and humiliating revenge with the use of his telekinetic powers. The death scenes are well produced with practical SFX and clever use of editing. The real highlight of the film is the amount of beautiful naked bodies. At a certain point I began to suspect the film was set on a nudist colony. Make no bones about it, PSL is an exploitation title tailor made for fans of Eurotrash sleaze and it excels in this category. 

2 human kebabs out of 5

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Rio Lobo (1970)

Howard Hawks' last ever film was yet another western with John Wayne in the lead role. The Duke plays an authoritative military colonel in charge of an army payroll that doesn't make it to its destination. He's pissed off about that, understandably, but what really irks him is the consequences to men under his command. He makes it his duty to redress the situation, however long it takes.
It's a variation on a theme with scenes and situations similar to some of Hawks' previous works, but it's more than just a carbon copy. It entertains on its own merits, some of the relationships are unconventional, the plot moves at a decent pace, and the trio of ladies play a helpful role in how the day is won.

3½ busy hornets out of 5

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Hidalgo (2004)

Hidalgo appeared a year before Viggo changed from being a handsome but dull leading man into the real emotion-button pushing actor that he is now (his time with Cronenberg was the turning point). It tells the tale of a washed-up cowboy who undertakes a treacherous 3000 miles cross-desert horse race in Arabia, an area that he and his mustang have no prior experience of.
At heart it's the story of a despondent underdog who through hardship finds his own self-worth, but the overproduced, predictable, almost comic book manner in which it all unfolds is much too bland and safe to make an impact; so too is most of the music. There's a worthy challenge within the tale, but there's none for Viggo the actor to get a hold of and it shows.
The attempt to mix old Hollywood values with that of new Hollywood is something that I applaud, but the two things didn't sit well together this time.

2½ distant waterholes out of 5

Sunday, 1 January 2017

The Story of Ruth (1960)

Sold as a child into a religious order, Ruth's teachings become her own held beliefs. But a meeting with a Judean artisan causes her to question her faith.
Prejudices, questionable judicial practices, passions and spirits run high as someone from one side of the river meets a people from the other side, and, of course, tolerance and forgiveness are the lessons of the day.
It's perhaps not as good as some of the more famous biblical epics that were made around the same era, but it has a sincerity that more than makes up for any shortcomings elsewhere, and actress Elana Eden imbues Ruth with a strength of character that won't soon be forgotten.

3½ provisions out of 5

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Before the Flood (2016)

It's been ten years since Al Gore delivered his inconvenient truth, since he used his public profile to educate and inspire us to acknowledge and work toward reversing the climate change that's having a devastating impact upon the conditions for life on Earth. But, alas, the world is still on the road to ruin.
Maybe Leo DiCaprio will have better luck. The actor isn't as well-educated as Gore was on the subject, meaning he's not able to present the hard questions, but he tries and that, as they say, is half the battle, so credit to him.
The documentary is focussed primarily on America, and a little too much on Leo at times, but as before the message is relevant to the world.
Hopefully people won't just watch it and then forget, but will instead become aware of the active role that they can play within the bigger picture.

3 weather patterns out of 5

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Darr: A Violent Love Story (1993)

A Yash Chopra film in which Shah Rukh Khan plays a man named Rahul who is crazy in love with the beautiful Kiran (Juhi Chawla), but it's the kind of crazy that gets a guy arrested. When Kiran's actual partner, naval officer Sunil (Sunny Deol), gets involved, Rahul's affections turn ever more sinister.
The characterisation of the lovestruck stalker is interesting, extending even to the peculiar placement of items in his bedroom, but when it comes to developing the other characters the film is occasionally choppy and uneven. Still, there are no duff actors amongst the cast, so even the superfluous scenes have some merit. Regardless of what I think, it's well-loved by many people and is considered a classic in Chopra's filmography.

3½ projections out of 5