In a Nutshell. Mini reviews of movies old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. And often no sleep.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Hawk the Slayer (1980)

A cheesy but fondly remembered by many (including yours truly) Sword + Sorcery flick that borrows plot from many sources, including Tolkien, the Western genre, and a well-known sci-fi film that I once again refuse to name.
John Terry is Hawk, the leading man with an impractically-balanced magic sword, but the script doesn't push him to the fore like you'd expect.
Hawk's face-ache evil sibling, Voltan - The Dark One, is actor Jack Palance; he hams it up, but I get the feeling he's slightly embarrassed to be there.
Much of it appears to have been filmed within a few hundred square feet of English forest. I'm sure I saw the same tree multiple times.
Harry Robertson's bitchin' soundtrack is like hearing a 1970s folk band playing snippets of Jeff Wayne and Ennio Morricone, with pastoral interludes.
It's a strange and difficult film to defend, but I'm absolutely a fan of it.

3 [mystical noises] out of 5

Friday, 16 February 2018

Ip Man 3 (2016)

Of the Donnie films that I've seen to date, the role of Ip is the best he's been. His version of the Wing Chun master is a kind soul with a fierce conviction, and the actor's real-world ego is completely absent from the performance.
Ip's two biggest failings are not recognising that his excessive modesty, though admirable in intent, can be misconstrued as sanctimonious; and that his singular focus, a trait that's good for martial arts is sometimes bad for human relationships. An exploration of both those things are at the heart of the film.
As if in response to the previous entry, Ip's wife and son have an active role to play in the narrative; the former bringing a VERY welcome emotional layering. The most interesting of the antagonists (Zhang Jin) is the kind that struggles with his own nature; i.e. he evokes both sympathy and ire in a viewer. And finally, thankfully, the combat stays on the favourable side of realistic.

4 nourishing ideals out of 5

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Kubrick's most controversial film explores two of the most common types of violence: physical and psychological. Which of the two is most damaging in its implication is debatable, but in order to get the message across the execution of story is by turns distressing, repellent, offensive and oddly pantomime.
The language used by Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the Nadsat slang, as it was in Anthony Burgess' original novel (1962), is a peculiar mix of childish wordplay and poetic structuring that's almost Shakespearean at times.
Using Beethoven, with its cultured/civilised associations, as a soundtrack to violence provides additional contrast in support of the larger societal ones.
It's a challenging film, in all respects, but an immensely powerful one.

5 victims of the modern age out of 5

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Mannequin (1987)

A 1980s spin on the myth of Pygmalion, about a sculptor who fell in love with one of his own statues. The love-struck fool in this instance is aspiring artist (i.e. hopeful dreamer) Jonathan Switcher (Andrew McCarthy). His creation, the titular dummy, is Emmy (Kim Cattrall), without whom the movie would be a dead loss rom-com. Emmy becomes Switcher's saviour and muse.
A 'classic 80's movie' claims the box art, twice in case we somehow miss the sizeable one on the front. Opinions will differ on whether or not it deserves the tag, but it reminded me of at least one thing that I do love about movies of the era: screen wipes. I miss screen wipes. But pastel pinks I don't miss.

2 leggy dolls out of 5

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Appleseed Alpha (2014)

Deunan and her cyborg buddy Briareos survive as hired-guns in a post-apocalyptic world. Deunan hopes that one day they will both reach the safety of Olympus, but Briarios isn't convinced that the place exists.
Alpha is an alternate version of events, but given that it's essentially set before the first of Aramaki's Appleseed films, I'd hoped for a return to the earlier animation style, but it's the same as was used in its sequel. Boo!
It's a story of hope, which is something that it reminds us of too often; perhaps they knew that some viewers would be falling asleep partway through? There's at least one new character that's recognisably Shirow in essence, but it was all too flat and lifeless to keep my attention. It'd be more than serviceable as video game FMV, but as a movie... nope. Not even close.

1½ post-war cleanups out of 5

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

An alternative telling of the Cinderella story, supposing that a sixteenth century historical 'truth' was inspiration for the well-known tale.
Drew Barrymore is the young maiden who's mistreated by her wicked stepmom and forced into servitude in her own home. When distanced from her predicament she's more intelligent, outspoken and inspirational than the wispy female that we often get in modern fairy tale versions.
It gives more backstory to the "French" Prince, although he's still pretty bland most of the time. Anjelica Huston is well-cast as the conniving and jealous stepmom (I mean that in the most complimentary way), but my personal favourite character was the middle sister, Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey).

3 everyday rusties out of 5

Thursday, 1 February 2018

After.Life (2009)

Schoolteacher Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci) and her partner (Justin Long) are failing to connect on an emotional level, as if some kind of unseen veil exists between them, a metaphorical screen that gets replaced by a white sheet on Eliot Deacon's (Liam Neeson) funeral home table.
I felt a similar kind of disconnect to the story; the emotional thread of the film, even with its attempts to take an indirect route, was unable to fully penetrate the muddled presentation. In its desire to be both a psychological thriller and a sophisticated chiller it unfortunately loses sight of both goals. And while at various stages I loved the colours used, the lighting, framing, and even the recurring blood motif, the balance of sombre and sinister never felt quite right, as if each one was being forced into corners that were in different buildings. But kudos to Ricci for doing what was required during the attempt.

2½ appropriate flowers out of 5

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The Four or More Collection

I mentioned in The Trilogies Collection that film series that had gone past three entries were excluded from being listed therein, so Four or More was born. Below the cut you'll find links to film series that probably should've ended sooner and, in some rare cases, ones that ended too soon.
If there was an existing Collection post with links to all relevant films in a particular series, I've linked directly to it instead because it made my life easier... and making my life easier is my new favourite pastime.

NOTE: If text is coloured pink, it means no review currently exists for it.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Giant (1956)

A Texan bigwig (Rock Hudson) travels to Maryland to buy a stallion for his ranch and while there takes a shine to the landowner's daughter (Elizabeth Taylor – well, you would, wouldn't you?). The speedy romance is the beginnings of a family story that spans almost three decades. In that time fortunes change (financial and otherwise) and attitudes are adjusted.
There's almost no onscreen chemistry between the lovers in the first half, but the second half makes up for it a little, with the comfortable feeling that long-time couples can sometimes acquire being much better realised. If not for Liz and James Dean doing their thing, she adding heart and he being a fiercely independent worker who resents his boss, that first half would really drag.

3 resources out of 5

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Getting Any? (1995)

Comedy doesn't always travel well, especially when many of the gags are reliant on cultural knowledge that a foreign audience may lack. But even when taking that into account Getting Any? misfires on multiple levels.
The comedy, though well-timed, just isn't funny; and its structure is little more than a series of absurd sketches loosely documenting a hopeless man's desire to have sex in a car. But first he needs a car. His leaps of logic in service of his lascivious goal make no sense, but perhaps that's part of the joke(?).
Along the way it parodies other films/characters, including Lone Wolf and Cub, Zatoichi, the roles of actor Jô Shishido, kaijū (specifically Mothra), The Fly (1986), and, bizarrely, Ghostbusters (1984), all of which are much better films.

1 labolatory (sic) failure out of 5

Monday, 22 January 2018

The Van (1996)

In an attempt to salvage some self-respect from their seemingly dead-end situation two unemployed men try their luck running a chip van. The vehicle they acquire would be called a fixer-upper by an optimistic fool, but in reality it's a shit-box on wheels. Their newfound sense of purpose is not without its pitfalls, things that won't be hidden by a lick of paint.
Colm Meaney and Donal O'Kelly are the two men in question. Neither of them knows what they hell they're doing, which leads to comedy, as you'd expect, but it lacks the spark of the previous two films in Doyle's Barrytown Trilogy.
The 1996 World Cup moments add a layer of comparative reflection to their changing fortunes, helping ensure that we understand that in life, as on the pitch, sometimes even a draw can be more than it seems.

2½ ransomed penguins out of 5

Friday, 19 January 2018

Adrift in Tokyo (2007)

Takemura (Joe Odagiri) is an average loser, not completely shameless but more than willing to stoop or weasel if the situation calls for it. When a capable debt collector (Tomokazu Miura) offers Takemura a solution to his financial situation, an unusual but ostensibly harmless alternative to punishment, the indebted loser has little choice but to accept. He understands the request on a literal level, but there's more to be gained than he can know.
I adore these kinds of films, simple character studies that have no need for CGI support, that achieve their objective in an adroit way that's quirky but not like an overindulgent Jeunet bomb. Adrift is a fine addition to the genre.

3½ spicy straits out of 5

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Octagon (1980)

An unsuccessful date's end for most guys means returning home to sleep alone. Be thankful, because a failed date with Seduction-Chuck ends with ninjas and there isn't a tissue big enough to solve that problem.
In addition to cock-blocking stuntmen there's a terrorist group threat and a sly lady throwing spanners in the works. It's a lot for the action star to contend with, but Chuck doesn't have the emotional range to make his character anything other than functional, not that the script gives him much opportunity to even try. At best, it's like a live action Street Fighter II ending scenario.
His inner-voice has a bizarre echo effect, like his head is empty. And what's the deal with the angora vest? Oh, my bad, it's Chuck's manly chest hair.

2 red-tinted flashbacks out of 5

Saturday, 13 January 2018

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)

aka House of Fright / Jekyll's Inferno

A Hammer Studios production based on Robert Louis Stevenson's tale, starring Paul Massie as both the Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde characters.
Some intriguing concepts are discussed prior to the inevitable potion and transformation scene, including thoughts on how shame and morality might connect to notions of personal freedom. The talking sections are used to highlight how two opposing forces struggle for supremacy in each and every one of us, a conflict that gets its manifestation in a surprising way, when compared with cinema's handling of the same in previous years.

2½ locked-door keys out of 5

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Longest Day (1962)

It's somewhat fitting that a film titled The Longest Day should have a long running time. And while its 178 minutes don't exactly fly by, because a great many tiny dramas exist within the larger one (i.e. the World War II D-Day landings at Normandy in June, 1944) it rarely drags its heels.
Also noteworthy is the cast. It's packed with famous faces but many have little more than a cameo role. The closest it has to a leading man is either John Wayne or Robert Mitchum, but even they feature only occasionally because the binding thread is the event itself, not any one person or squad. That means we get scenes not just from the Allied side but the French and German sides, too, and in each case it's in the nation's native tongue, like it ought to be.

4 tough nuts out of 5