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

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

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Tales from Earthsea (2006)

I've not read any of the works that the film is based on, namely Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books and Hayao Miyazaki's The Journey of Shuna manga, so I'm not able to determine if the reason that the film fails to excite is due to an absence of same in the source texts or if it's the fault of the adaptation, but I do feel that the criticisms singling out Dir. Gorō Miyazaki were grossly unfair. It's a weak story in a boring, overused fantasy setting and he didn't take many risks, but labelling him 'worst director' of 2006 is frankly ridiculous. Even if Gorō had risked the ire of his judgemental father by daring to push the Ghibli envelope into areas new, it wouldn't have helped the plodding story any.

2½ true names out of 5

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD (2014)

A point-camera-at-subject-and-let-them-talk type of documentary that tells the story of 2000 AD's birth and growth into the "galaxy's greatest comic."
It lacks much in the way of illustrative support, so casual fans may have to go searching online for visuals to accompany the words, but long-time fans will be able to sit comfortably while the people who made and contributed to the weekly publication (writers, artists, and editors) tell their tales, without any V/O narrator or audible prompts of the many (mostly male) interviewees.
Pat Mills has the most to say, but there's insight from John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Kevin O'Neill, Cam Kennedy, Peter Milligan, Leah Moore, Dave Gibbons, Grant Morrison, etc. With the personal approach comes a lot of biased opinion and a fair amount of contradiction, which is insightful in itself, if not wholly trustworthy; some lingering grievances are even aired.

3½ powered thrills out of 5

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Bio-Zombie (1998)

aka Hong Kong Zombie

Influenced by Romero's Dead films, this Chinese precursor to Shaun of the Dead follows two burnout losers as they deal with a zombie outbreak in their shopping plaza. With most of the runtime spent on the bro-mance between the main characters and their pathetic existence, the horror takes a severe backseat. The undead element, in levels of makeup effects and movement, is completely uneven. Some very inspired moments in the final act, which play on popular movie cliches, end up tightening the pace and compensate for the meandering first half.

3 Woody Invincibles out of 5

Piranha DD (2012)

Following suit with the 2010 remake of Piranha, the sequel has an even bustier comedic tone with a heavy helping of bare flesh and outrageous deaths. It's pretty obvious everyone involved was having a blast. After a re-opening, a popular water park has problems when those pesky aquatic carnivores (now this is where we suspend disbelief) travel through underwater lakes right into the laps of its patrons. Even if you're a fan of outrageous B-movies and horror-comedies, the events in PDD are difficult to swallow. It doesn't come close to the mayhem unleashed in the first film, but it without a doubt reaches a new low of cartoonish violence and poor taste.

2 old David Hasselhoffs out of 5

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

The Alien franchise should've ended with Alien³ (1992). If you're a Cameron fan you might say it should've ended after Aliens (1986). And even though I like the third film, I'd have been just as happy if it had ended after Alien (1979). It's a debate that'll never end. But I'm guessing that the majority of fans will at least be able to agree that Resurrection should never have happened.
Dir. Jeunet at max idiosyncratic level would've been wholly inappropriate for the series. Jeunet uncharacteristically restrained fares little better and it's not long before the cracks begin to show in the attempt. It's a $75,000,000 B-Movie with a story better suited to one of the tie-in books than a feature-film.

1½ connective difficulties out of 5

Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Stranger (1946)

An investigator for the War Crimes Commission (Edward G. Robinson) attempts to uncover a notorious Nazi who's doing a stand up job of hiding in plain sight, posing as an American professor in Connecticut. With no pictures to help identify his target, the investigator must use his wits as best he can.
Considering what the studio did to The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), it's understandable that Welles took a more conventional approach to The Stranger than he might have done otherwise. It's still a mostly enjoyable feature, with gorgeous Noir lighting to die for, but the feeling that it could've been much more if he'd been willing to apply himself more determinedly beyond the technical side of things is a difficult feeling to shake off.

3 paper trails out of 5

Thursday, 26 October 2017

The Final Fantasy VII Collection

Admittedly, VII, and the universe that grew out of it, exists exalted in the minds of fanboys and those for whom nostalgia is not only king, but verily, everything. While I do have nostalgia for the game itself, I am not actually one of either of those numbers. I have experienced the below items—that I’ve personally reviewed—multiple times over the intervening years. In fact, I engaged with them, and their myriad faults, immediately prior to the time of this writing. As a critical fan, I see not only their shortcomings, but also the strengths buried therein. I am able to continually find inspiration, joy, and emotional resonance in this world’s characters, without having to turn a blind-eye to the problems the individual releases have as interactive and non-interactive pieces of media.

The track is far from the smoothest, but for me,

"There ain’t no gettin’ offa this train"~

Final Fantasy VII
Official Final Fantasy VII Strategy Guide

Sequel Film:
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete

Prequel Anime:
Last Order: Final Fantasy VII

Spin-Off Game:
Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII

Copyright-Skirting Costume Accessory:
Spirit Deluxe Wide Blade Sword

Nutted by NEG.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Grudge 3 (2009)

Due to events in the previous film, the Saeki family grudge now haunts an American apartment building. Had Ju-On creator Takashi Shimizu been involved beyond his producer credit, this direct-to-video sequel could have at least stood a chance at being creative. Instead the plot suffers from too much rinse-and-repeat. From the recasting of Kayako and Toshio to yet another backstory add-on (in the form of Kayako's sister), it really is like beating a dead horse. The lights flicker, the spirits flop around like fish and characters take on personality traits of the fallen Saeki family. It's been done.

1½ Mr. Potato Heads out of 5

The Grudge 2 (2006)

With director Takashi Shimizu on board, the sequel breaks up the plot with two unrelated storylines. One involves the sister (Amber Tamblyn) of surviving Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), sent to Japan to retrieve her. The other follows three schoolgirls who doom themselves upon entering the cursed Saeki home and one who unwittingly spreads the curse to her home in America. Shimizu attempts some very clever paranormal concepts but fails to juggle each successfully. Strangely enough, a far-fetched backstory for Kayako is included, which is very reminiscent of Ringu's Sadako. In a completely lackluster and at times depressing performance, Tamblyn ends up muting the thrills from the second half of the film.

2 peek-a-boos out of 5