Thursday, 30 November 2017

City Heat (1984)

Perhaps they weren't at their highest height, but in the early '80s you would struggle to find two cinematic superstars more iconic than Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. Don't get me wrong, we still had plenty of cinematic icons alive and well, but they weren't seemingly at the peak of their powers, whereas Burt and Clint absolutely were. One was The Bandit, and also just Burt, one was Dirty Harry, and so many other memorable characters. Which makes the idea of City Heat a no-brainer.

This was Tango & Cash five years before Tango & Cash, with the added move of making it a period piece, for reasons I still can't quite fathom (although I admit that a couple of fun gags stem from the whole prohibition-era restrictions).

Eastwood is Lieutenant Speer, Reynolds is a private detective named Mike Murphy. The men used to be partners but it's clear from the opening scenes that there's no love lost between them. Murphy has a partner who has unwitingly gotten himself in too deep with some mobsters, Speer is keeping a detached eye on the situation, mainly by keeping an eye on Murphy.

Directed by Richard Benjamin (who I knew as an actor, mainly from the Saturday The 14th films, but was unaware that he has been behind some fun movies, including The Money Pit, Mermaids and My Favourite Year), and written by Blake Edwards and Joseph Stinson, City Heat is a film symptomatic of many that want to pair up two superstars without really knowing how best to use them. There's simple fun to be had just watching any exchange between the fast-talking Reynolds and the much more laconic Eastwood, and there are some good gags here and there (a running joke about hidden alcohol being one, the other involves Eastwood having a supply of larger and larger firearms), but that's about all this has going for it, which is a great shame for all involved. The script should have been full of better lines, the plotting didn't need to seem so convoluted, and there should have been more thought given to creating set-pieces that could involve the two leads.

Eastwood and Reynolds both do very well, and both are much better than the material they have to work with. Jane Alexander and Madeline Kahn are also very good, playing two women who may be inadvertently dragged into the whole dangerous mess. Tony Lo Bianco and Rip Torn play the two mob bosses at odds with one another, and Richard Roundtree, Irene Cara, William Sanderson, and Robert Davi are among the other familiar faces joining in.

Having not seen City Heat since I first watched it on VHS when it was released in the 1980s, I wondered if it would be better or worse than I recall. It turns out that, despite the age of the film and the much older age of myself, I feel pretty much the same way about it as I did way back then. I'll be interested to hear how others view it.

5/10

Having never really been given any special treatment on disc, I recommend picking City Heat up with this set.

American fans can pick it up on Bluray here.


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Morgan (2016)

There's an incident at an isolated lab involving a young girl attacking a woman. That is how Morgan opens. Kate Mara is sent in to appraise and deal with the situation, and within another scene or two the viewers are told that the young girl isn't a young girl. She is a creation. An it. A corporate asset. It's just up to Mara to decide whether it is still a valuable asset or a mistake that should be erased.

Morgan is the feature directorial debut from Luke Scott, the son of a slightly well-known British director named Ridley. It's also the biggest project so far for writer Seth W. Owen. Unfortunately, nothing here gives an indication of a bright future for either one of them. This film is a mess, and often a dull mess (which is hard to get just right). It's almost as if it doesn't know what it wants to do, spending a lot of the first half examining identity and humanity before setting up a third act that brings in some action, a lot of implausible character behaviour, and a couple of twists that are remarkably unsurprising.

Things aren't too bad if we're looking at the whole thing on a purely technical level. The visuals, though drab, are decent and a couple of set-pieces work well enough to make you wish that there were some more scattered throughout.

The major flaws stem from the script, which wouldn't be too bad if it didn't also lead to a complete waste of some great talent. Jennifer Jason Leigh is in this movie, but you might not notice her as she delivers about three lines of dialogue. Michelle Yeoh gets a bit more screentime, but not enough to warrant her presence. Paul Giamatti manages to steal the show with one of the best scenes in the film, Toby Jones is sorely underused, Mara looks stern throughout, and Rose Leslie suffers through the whole thing as a character written without any obvious braincells in working order. She tries her best but the script gives her nothing but one dumb moment after another.

There are other people involved, but they just don't make enough of an impression, despite trying hard (Michael Yare probably does the best out of the supporting roster), or they are just on hand to provide a very brief cameo (Brian Cox).

So you get attempts to explore ideas that end up leading nowhere, some flashes of decent violent action, a lot of wasted cast members and unmemorable characters, and an ending that is supposed to make up for the preceding 90 minutes of tedium (although, trust me, it doesn't). Not recommended. At all.

3/10

Morgan is available to buy here.
And if you're in the USofA you can buy it here.


Tuesday, 28 November 2017

68 Kill (2017)

Based on the novel by Bryan Smith, 68 Kill is another darkly comedic crime thriller from Trent Haaga, and if you don't know of Haaga by now then you should really change that. He has been acting since his years at Troma, making his credited debut in the superb Terror Firmer, and will be very familiar to any fans of the Killjoy movies (thanks to his turns as the titular killer clown). He has been writing films as varied as Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV, Deadgirl, and Cheap Thrills. And he has directed films such as, well, this one and the wonderfully twisted Chop (a film I wish everyone would see ASAP, despite it being made unnecessarily difficult to get hold of, hence the link for the R1 disc there, please take note of that).

Considering his growing body of work, it's a surprise that this is the first feature that Haaga has both written and directed (his debut directorial work was written by Adam Minarovich). But the mix of violence and sheer fun makes it an obvious choice for something that he would want to turn into an entertaining movie, and that's exactly what he does.

Matthew Gray Gubler plays Chip, a young man who ends up in a whole heap of trouble when he is persuaded by his batshit crazy girlfriend, Liza (AnnaLynne McCord), to help commit a robbery. Liza claims that nobody will get hurt, it should be an easy job, but it's not long until blood starts to flow, leading Chip to doubt whether or not he really does want to spend the rest of his days with someone who terrifies the life out of him. And so starts a chain of twists and turns, treacheries, and pain. All doled out with a fine vein of humour running throughout.

There are plenty of supporting characters here, most of them unsavoury types who would rob you in an instant, but it's testament to the script and central performances that McCord and Gubler rule over this entire film. That's especially true of McCord, absent from many scenes but always seemingly ready to reappear and ruin the lives of anyone getting in the way of her grand plan.

It's brisk, it's very funny, it has moments of grim nastiness, and it takes the male sap archetype from film noirs through one of the darkest and bloodiest journeys seen outside of a Quentin Tarantino film. 68 Kill deserves your time, if you don't mind the subject matter, and Trent Haaga deserves to keep going from strength to strength. I tend to look forward to everything that his name gets attached to.

8/10

68 Kill is available to buy here.
If you are in America then order it here.


Monday, 27 November 2017

The Emoji Movie (2017)

I expected the worst from The Emoji Movie, and I am sure I wasn't alone. It's an animated film about emojis. Nobody was expecting a masterpiece, even most of the kids who would still go along to see it for easy entertainment. So you can imagine my surprise when I found that it wasn't actually THAT bad. Not that it's anything great, especially when compared to the many other animated ovies we have been spoiled with in recent years, but it's not bad enough for me to fill this review with numerous Patrick Stewarts (who voices a poop emoji - oh dear, Sir Patrick, oh dear, oh dear).

The plot focuses on a "meh" emoji named Gene (T. J. Miller), living with all of the other emojis inside a mobile phone. Gene struggles to maintain the one expression that is supposed to serve him throughout every day of his life. And this causes him to stress out when it comes time for his first day as a working emoji, setting in motion a chain of events that sees Gene go on the run with a Hi-5 emoji (James Corden) to find someone who can help fix the situation before either Gene is deleted or the whole phone is wiped.

Let's be honest here, the biggest problem that The Emoji Movie has is the central concept. It feels quite obviously cynical and like one big dollop of product placement (are emojis commodities? I guess they can be). But we should be used to that by now. We've had five live-action Transformers movies, we've had two G.I. Joe films, and I believe it's well-known that Joel Schumacher was shown a number of new toys that had to feature in Batman & Robin a couple of decades ago. Some movies are great art, some are great fun, quite a few try to entertain us while selling us stuff (be it cool products or the search for a daydream we keep seeing realised up there on the big screen), and some are just complete poop emojis.

I am sure that many people will disagree with me, but The Emoji Movie manages to avoid being a complete pile of poop thanks to a lot of fun visual gags and the nice way the world inside the mobile phone is visualised. Yes, my eyes rolled when I saw some of the other apps (some being more obvious in their prominent placement than others) but the journey taken by Gene, Hi-5, and Jailbreak (Anna Faris, voicing a character who offers to help them reach an app that may fix everything) is worked out well enough, with decent fun to be had in every main section.

Director Tony Leondis, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Siegel and Mike White (John Hoffman also contributing some material), does a decent job, because enough thought was given to the world and the best use of all the characters. A lot of the gags are obvious, but that doesn't mean they aren't fun.

Vocally, Miller is a good fit for the lead, Corden is at his usual level of annoying overexuberance, Faris is solid, and there are great turns from Maya Rudolph, Jennifer Coolidge, and the superb Steven Wright (if ever there was a voice created for a Meh emoji then his is it).

Kids should enjoy it - the story is simple, the visuals are bright, and the characters are nice enough - and adults should find it relatively painless, but I suppose it's best to sum it up by saying that, well, it's not a very good film compared to so many other films . . . but it's also not a film worthy of numerous poop emojis.

5/10

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Emoji-Movie-Blu-ray-Region-Free/dp/B074F2X559/ref=tmm_blu_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=


Sunday, 26 November 2017

Terri (2011)

There are two ways you can view low-budget, independent movies. One, you can roll your eyes at a lot of the familiar tropes (the quirky characters, the moments of discomfort, the low-key and relaxed way the slim plot unfolds, etc). Two, you can enjoy visiting a small part of a world populated by people who don't have an extra layer of celebrity sheen to act their way through. I prefer the second method, of course, but it's often decided by the quality of the movie itself.

Terri is a good movie, and I hope others share my opinion of it. Considering I had never heard of it before today, I am really not sure of how it has been received by the few who have already seen it.

Jacob Wysocki plays the titular character, a high school student who has taken to attending school in his pyjamas. They are just more comfortable for him, and it saves him time as he is finding it more and more difficult to look after his ill Uncle James (Creed Bratton). But that still doesn't stop him getting into trouble at school, due to his tardiness and worsening grades, which brings him to the office of the School Principal, Mr Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly). That leads to him befriending the troubled Chad (Bridger Zadina), and also eventually helps him make a connection with the lovely Heather (Olivia Crocicchia).

Directed by Azazel Jacobs, who also came up with the story idea that was shaped by first-time scriptwriter Patrick Dewitt, Terri is a character study that just manages to avoid being too irritating and quirky thanks to the fact that a lot of fun moments are injected with an honesty that stems from the motivations of the main characters.

The performances help a lot. Wysocki is very good in the main role, although he is stuck in the role of gentle victim of circumstance looking forward to times when high school is far behind him, but the star turn comes from Reilly, portraying someone who wants to help the kids in his care but doesn't always do things in the right way, because he is just a man who makes mistakes. Bratton is also excellent, most of the time unaware of exactly what he is doing, because of his illness, and Zadina and Crocicchia both do very well, although both are given unsatisfying moments in the third act.

Overall, this is a small film that does so much right that it's easy to forgive some of the mistakes. It's a shame that it builds up to something that doesn't really satisfy as it should, but that's the way of life, and films like this tend to value that approach over easy brownie points.

7/10

This link is region 1 ONLY - available here.



Saturday, 25 November 2017

Justice League (2017)

Messy is the word to use with most of the major DC movies we have seen in the last few years. Ever since Man Of Steel seemed to sorely misjudge the very essence of Superman, fans have been worried about those in charge making too many mis-steps, which has since been confirmed by, well, numerous mis-steps. Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice actually didn't seem too bad the last time I watched it, redeemed by some impressive action scenes and fun individual moments, Suicide Squad was actually FUN, which I wasn't expecting, albeit very messy fun (has any blockbuster film used clips of music so erratically?), and Wonder Woman almost made up for everything else, despite a climactic battle that felt a bit disappointing.

And now we finally have Justice League, the film that you know DC have been wanting to give fans from the very beginning. The film responsible for the messy, rushed approach to their release timetable. And, whaddyaknow, it's messy. But it's almost entertaining enough to make it an enjoyable mess.

The silly plot sees a big baddie named Steppenwolf (impressive CGI voiced by Ciaran Hinds) coming back to Earth to collect a few cubes that will cause devastation and death if linked together for long enough. It's up to Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) to put together a team. He knows that he can get help from Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), but also wants to recruit Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). But will they be enough?

Directed by Zack Snyder (for the most part), Justice League continues in the dark visual style that was set up back in Man Of Steel. Thankfully, that style doesn't mean that the script, by Joss Whedon and Chris Terrio, is too sombre and humourless. A lot of the humour comes from the exuberance and inexperience of The Flash, but there are also some fun exchanges between Aquaman and the other team members.

Starting, suitably enough, with a flashback scene that shows Superman (Henry Cavill) talking to some kids who are filming him on a mobile phone, it's worth mentioning that the DC movies have already tried to give their superhero movies more weight than their Marvel counterparts. Ever since that major moment at the end of Man Of Steel, deaths mean something here, they impact on the characters (which didn't happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe until the pieces needed to be put in place for Captain America: Civil War).

The performances are all decent enough, with Miller, Fisher, and Momoa feeling very comfortable in their roles and Affleck and Gadot suitable leaders, and everyone from the past few movies seems to get a moment or two: Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, and a few others.

The biggest problem with Justice League is how forced it all feels. The plotting often feels as if it was reverse engineered, with everyone involved knowing what the final scenes needed to be but not really knowing how to get there. That may not sound like a major issue, but it is. It allows the whole film to feel as if certain scenes are either completely extraneous or just put together in a slapdash manner to get elements in place.

To sum up then, Justice League does just enough to be a fun time at the cinema. And it's pretty messy.

6/10

Here is the pre-order link for the Blu-ray release.



Friday, 24 November 2017

Experiment In Terror (1962)

It's fair to say that director Blake Edwards is best known for lighter, and often comedic, fare. The Pink Panther movies, Breakfast At Tiffany's, Operation Petticoat, and quite a few others. So Experiment In Terror stands out as one of his darker films, and it also stands out as yet another damn fine one from a damn fine director.

Lee Remick plays Kelly Sherwood, a woman who finds herself terrified one evening when a man accosts her in her own home and tells her that she will rob money from her workplace, a bank. If she contacts the police or attempts to stop the plan from unfolding then it will put the life of her younger sister (Toby, played by Stefanie Powers) in grave danger. Remick somehow manages to get the police informed (headed up by the dependable and assured Glenn Ford) and a tense game of cat and mouse unfolds as the deadline for the robbery nears and the police try to get their man.

Based on a novel by Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon (who gave themselves the imaginative title of . . . The Gordons), Experiment In Terror excels because of the little touches throughout that feel real and tense enough to keep you distracted from the sillier aspects of the main premise. Most of the scenes featuring Ford doing actual police work are very effective, and the two-hour runtime allows the tension to be ratcheted up while viewers get to learn a bit more about the main supporting characters.

Remick is very good in the lead role, often wide-eyed and tremulous with fear, and Ford brings the necessary gravitas to his part. Powers doesn't get to do as much, but is good enough, and Ross Martin is unnerving enough as the asthmatic baddie, often shown in shadow or just moving in the background as he keeps an eye on his prey. Even those with much less screentime - Roy Poole, Anita Loo, Patricia Huston, et al - do solid work.

Directorially, Edwards is as solid as ever. I've never really thought of him as a truly great talent, more so a damn fine one (as mentioned above), but his approach to the material here mixes the tense set-pieces with some plodding detective work in a way that keeps things interesting, well-paced, and genuinely gripping for a large portion of the runtime.

Unjustly overlooked, or forgotten, by many (including myself), Experiment In Terror is ripe for rediscovery. Fans of crime films and thrillers may find that they have a new favourite.

8/10

You know your in good hands when the film gets an Indicator label release from Powerhouse films. Pick it up here - Experiment In Terror


Thursday, 23 November 2017

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring A Very Special, Contractucally Obligated Mention Of Tony Clifton (2017)

Man On The Moon was released in 1999, and it starred Jim Carrey as legendary comedian Andy Kaufman. The film remains a high point in Carrey's career, mixing both the comedy that he was always so great at with an interpretation of Kaufman so accurate at times that it's uncanny. With the tales that came out during the making of the film, from the way in which Carrey made his audition tape to the way he behaved on set, it was clear to many that this was a passion project for the actor, and that he was doing his utmost to BECOME Andy. This fascinating documentary shows just how far he went.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring A Contractually Obligated Mention Of Tony Clifton, which will be referred to anywhere else simply as Jim & Andy, mixes in footage shot while Man On The Moon was being made, archival footage of Kaufman, archival footage of Carrey (who, like many others, toiled away for a long time before becoming "an overnight sensation"), and a lengthy interview with the present day Carrey, who discusses his beliefs, his process, and how he was determined to keep pushing things further and further every day, because he believed it's what Andy would have done.

There are moments here to make you cringe and moments here to make you laugh, but the overwhelming feeling I took away from Jim & Andy was just how Carrey will never ever grab another role like it. Whether you believe his feelings or not, he believes that the spirit of Kaufman came back and took over his body for the duration, basically.

Intentionally or not, and I think it is the former, the film throws up a lot of questions and talking points. How did Carrey get to the end of the shoot without anyone killing him? Where is the line between being a character who is an asshole and just being an asshole? How much abuse do people take on film sets thanks to method performers affecting the mindsets of almost everyone around them? Would Kaufman have approved of all of these shenanigans, or does Carrey idolise the projected persona of someone who built many great career moments from performances so effective that people mistakenly assumed he was the character he was so often playing, even if that character was actually hidden under the everyday costume of Andy Kaufman?

Carrey comes across well here, despite the many instances that show him being a complete asshole. The interview allows him to contextualise his behaviour and explain where his headspace was. Although he rarely admits to just how insane the whole endeavour seemed to be, there are times when he is questioned about going too far, and whether or not he ever felt guilty. And it may be his answers to those questions, and his final statement on breaking away from the behaviour when the film was finished, that show how he was both there at the time and also looking on as an outsider while he felt the spirit of Kaufman at work.

There's also, of course, the final result. Man On The Moon. Considering how great Carrey's performance is, it's hard to think he was completely wrong in his method approach. Although I'm not sure all of the cast and crew would agree.

8/10

You can pick up Man On The Moon here - Think Up Funny And Informative Amazon Link To Place Here




Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Nest Of The Cuckoo Birds (1965)

From the final frames of the print of this film, viewed on MUBI: "The Nest Of The Cuckoo Birds was restored in 2017 from the only 35mm release print known to exist. All original film materials are thought to be lost."

There's also a synopsis on MUBI that details a plot about an undercover agent sent to infiltrate bootleggers who gets his cover blown and finds himself in trouble in the Everglades. He finds himself in a pretty isolated hotel, safe from immediate danger but perhaps not as safe as he'd like to be.

I'm glad that MUBI included the usual synopsis here because I have to admit to already having forgotten the opening scenes of the movie by the time the end credits rolled. That's due to this film often feeling like a bizarre fever dream. The inane dialogue, delivered so strangely by almost everyone involved, sent me into some kind of fugue state.

Written and directed by Bert Williams, who also plays the lead role (and takes on a number of other roles behind the scenes), this is a curio piece for fans of bad cinema. Many scenes have a minor level of general competence, technically speaking, but there's a terrible script that can't be overcome by some terrible performers. Williams himself isn't great, but he seems almost decent compared to the strange turns from Chuck Frankle and Ann Long. Jackie Scelza doesn't fare too badly, thanks to her role as the odd and dreamy potential damsel in distress.

To say this embodies the spirit of independent film is an understatement. You can tell that from the opening credits, featuring all of those jobs for Bert and a couple of credits for his wife, Peggy (responsible for the two main songs on the soundtrack). There's also the odd bit of stock footage that doesn't match the rest of the scene it is appearing in, bit players who couldn't act as if they were getting uncomfortably warm even if you covered them in gasoline and set them alight, and numerous scenes that go round and round in circles without actually developing the plot or characters.

Having said all that, it's not without some charm. There's certainly a decent dollop of atmosphere, a couple of darker moments hint at the potential for a much better film, and it may well make you chuckle at a lot of the unintentionally comedic moments.

4/10

The Nest Of The Cuckoo Birds isn't available to buy anywhere, so why not treat yourself to the Pusher trilogy instead.


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Bag Boy Lover Boy (2014)

One of the films that kicked off the opening night of Dead By Dawn 2016 was a modern day riff on Sweeney Todd named K-Shop. It was the tale of a young man who works in a kebab shop and is eventually driven to murder some of the dregs of society who incur his wrath. I reviewed it here. And I am starting this review with talk of it because Bag Boy Lover Boy walks through similar territory, but moves in another direction very early on, and becomes a much better movie for it.

Albert (Jon Wachter) is a hotdog vendor with limited social skills and no concerns for trivial matters like food hygiene. He has the opportunity to earn some decent extra cash and get close to some gorgeous women when a photographer (Ivan, played by Theodore Bouloukos) decides to use him as inspiration for some of his shoots. This eventually leads to Albert deciding that photography is for him, which leads to him needing women to photograph. But he also has other plans for his "models". Plans that go far beyond even the darkest photoshoot ideas.

A fairly direct descendant of The Driller Killer, this also has some points to make about life in New York and the nature of art. It's easy to see where things could have gone the way of Troma or The Greasy Strangler, but I'm grateful that it remained defiantly its own beast.

Although there are a few decent, although relatively unknown, supporting players here (including Kathy Biehl, Karah Serine, and Adrienne Gori), this film rests on the performances from Bouloukos and Wachter. The former has a lot less screentime, but has fun with what he's given. Wachter, on the other hand, gives a performance pitched perfectly between darkly comedic, slightly pathetic, and properly unpleasant. It's an odd turn, but one that works perfectly with the general tone of the film.

Director Andres Torres, working on his first feature from a script that he co-wrote with Toni Comas, does a pretty great job here, drawing viewers in with small oddities and awkward interactions with Albert that move from the cringe-inducing to the engrossing. The final product is far from perfect, it's difficult to imagine anyone meeting Albert without going out of their way to avoid him completely, but it's an effective peek inside a grimy, damaged mind.

I would tentatively recommend this to horror fans. But I'd definitely advise against eating a hotdog while watching it.

6/10

Bag Boy Lover Boy is out now - get it here.


Monday, 20 November 2017

The Big Sick (2017)

Written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (husband and wife), The Big Sick is a romantic comedy loosely based on how . . . Kumail Nanjiani met and fell in love with Emily V. Gordon. What could have seemed smug and self-indulgent ends up being something fully deserving of all the accolades it has received over the past few months. On the poster and Blu-ray cover you can see phrases like "easily one of the best rom-coms of the decade", "romantic and hilarious", and "sparkling and heartfelt", as well as a few five-star ratings to help sell it. And all of those statements and ratings, originating from sources as varied as the likes of Variety and Glamour, are absolutely correct.

Very much in line with the other films that have been helped into creation by producer Judd Apatow, this is a mix of comedy and drama that gives characters room to breath in a two-hour runtime. Unlike some of the other Apatow movies I could mention, however, this doesn't ever feel as if it is overstaying its welcome.

That is down to the main performances, and the fact that Nanjiani and Gordon have such a great story to spin into cinema gold. Director Michael Showalter doesn't concern himself too much with adding any bells or whistles, happy to rely on the characters and the dialogue, which is a smart decision on his part.

Although Nanjiani happily plays himself onscreen, his wife is portrayed by Zoe Kazan. Kazan is fine, although she spends a large portion of the movie offscreen, or visible on a hospital bed (hence the title, the plot is basically Kumail and Emily having a big fight and then Emily ending up hospitalised and placed in a medically induced coma, which can make it a bit awkward to kiss and make up). Holly Hunter and Ray Romano play Emily's worried parents, and they are both excellent, which is something I never thought I would say about Romano, considering I assumed Everybody Loves Raymond was a deliberately ironic sitcom about one of the most annoying men on the planet. Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff are both very good, playing Kumail's parents, and Adeel Akhtar is Kumail's brother, Naveed. Other comics are represented by Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and Kurt Braunohler, and there's nobody in the supporting cast who drops the ball, including many not mentioned here.

There aren't any major set-pieces here, and few of the laughs aren't BIG laughs, but the laughs are surprisingly consistent, entwined nicely with the drama and the heart of the whole thing. This is from the script and the presentation of the material, but it would be remiss to undervalue just how much of the film succeeds thanks to the sheer likeability of Nanjiani. He has been putting in fun performances for a good few years now, often in material that isn't really deserving of his presence, and I hope we can now see him in some more lead roles.

9/10

The Big Sick is out now. Buy it here - The Big Sick at Amazon.co.uk


Sunday, 19 November 2017

12 Deaths Of Christmas (2017)

AKA Mother Krampus.

12 Deaths Of Christmas is a low-budget British horror movie, which means that it could be great or it could be painful. Well, I don't see any reason to beat about the bush here, this is painful.

Considering the fact that director James Klass seems to have made this at the same time as House On Elm Lake (also involving Scott Jeffrey, who was the main writer here), and that a number of small British horrors are appearing with both of their names attached somewhere, and a number of shared cast members, I'd have to say that someone has done their very best to stretch a limited budget even further, and that getting all of these movies on the shelves is a calculated gamble to get the undemanding horror fan to pick them up cheap enough before they realise what a bunch of shit they have in their hands.

Of course, I could be totally wrong. Maybe the other films churned out by this loose troupe are fantastic. I haven't seen them. Maybe I will be brave enough one day. Today is not that day. I have to recover from this one first.

The plot here involves a vengeful spirit claiming the lives of children related to people who at one time banded together to form an angry lynch mob. That angry lynch mob was responsible for killing a woman they suspected of being a child murderer, and there you have the "interesting" backstory for the events unfolding onscreen. There are one or two twists and turns, with none of them being all that surprising, interesting, or even logical, and it's hard to stay interested as the film stumbles from one clumsy, amateur scene to another. I'd given up on it by the time a "powerful" scene was shown with a score that attempted to emulate the work of Philip Glass, coincidentally about five minutes after Candyman had been referenced. No. Just no.

I don't like to throw insults around when writing movie reviews, mainly because I try to remember that it can take a hell of a lot of work just to get any film made, but it's hard for me to avoid upsetting anyone while pointing out specific flaws here. The script is atrocious, with not one line managing to feel natural, the direction from Klass is generally competent, I guess, but then we also have to consider his ability to get decent performances from his cast members. He doesn't manage it. At all.

Claire-Maria Fox is awful, young Faye Goodwin is awful (and I take no pleasure in having to say that about a child who probably relied more on direction than most of the adult performers), Tony Manders is awful, and Michelle Archer is, you guessed it, awful. Tara MacGowran isn't awful, but she just has to show up and look evil before causing people injury and death. So that worked out well for her, and allows me to double my rating for the film. Dottie James and Tom Bowen bring us back to the more usual awfulness, however, and everyone else appearing onscreen manages to stay on their level.

If you will watch ANY horror movie then give this a go one day, if you're brave enough. I would say the same if you watch ANY Christmas movie. But you should always have other, better, options. Including that Christmas roaring fire video that you can usually find online. In fact, here you go, I will save you searching for it. And save you from ever having to watch this film.


If you haven't been completely put off, feel free to waste your money on the disc here - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deaths-Christmas-DVD-Becky-Fletcher/dp/B07556FV1S

2/10

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Nine Lives (2016)

Here's the thing. I don't tend to always plan this blog. Don't get me wrong, I have moments of clarity in which I remember how much easier I can make my life if I plan more than a day ahead. That means I will start to watch Christmas movies early and plan reviews for December. I will also try to schedule reviews of new releases to coincide with cinema or disc releases, when I remember. But my default approach to blogging movie reviews is to keep watching lots and lots of films and then deciding what reviews I want to write, and when I want to schedule their appearances. Which is why I didn't expect to resurrect this blog and have two Kevin Spacey movies making an appearance in the first week. Feel free to skip over this if you like, but I have already clarified my position at the start of my review for Baby Driver.

There are five writers credited here, and Barry Sonnenfeld is the director, for this very simple story of a businessman (Kevin Spacey) who is so busy with all of his dealings that he is neglecting his family (mainly his wife, played by Jennifer Garner, and daughter, played by Malina Weissman, but he has also failed to appreciate the qualities of his eldest son, Robbie Amell, who works for him). One cat-purchasing encounter with Christopher Walken later, a terrible accident, and Spacey finds himself in the body of the feline that he just bought for his daughter's birthday. Will he learn valuable lessons? Will he be able to ever return to his own body, currently comatose? Will the CGI continue to look worse than most of the scenes in Cats & Dogs (which was over fifteen years ago)?

The cast all seem strangely unembarrassed to be in this, which I have to put down to some very good performances. Spacey only has to give a vocal performance, for the most part, so gets off easier than some of the others, Garner is once again wasted in a role undeserving of the talent that can be drawn out of her, Weissman is very good in the role of the young daughter who still dotes on her absent father, and Amell is just fine. Walken has fun in his small role, Mark Consuelos is the ambitious businessman below Spacey, and there's also a cat, of course, which is cute enough when not being made to look odd with "amusing" FX work to keep it acting and reacting more like a man stuck as a cat, as opposed to a normal cat just being itself.

I could name the five writers here, but their names aren't familiar to me and this hasn't encouraged me to check out anything else they may have been, or will be, involved with. This is bland entertainment seemingly created by throwing words and scenes into a hat, drawing out pairs that are matched up, and then ensuring that all potential fun or excitement is drained from every scenario. And I have no idea how Barry Sonnenfeld ended up directing this, and how he could put this out to viewers as a final product. Everything looks incredibly cheap, making me think that most of the budget went on the cast before anyone realised how much would be needed to get everything to a minimal cinematic standard.

I wasn't expecting this to be the cat's whiskers, nobody seeing the trailer would, but I didn't expect such a stinky hairball.

3/10

For anyone deranged enough, the link to buy the movie is here - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nine-Lives-Blu-ray-Kevin-Spacey/dp/B01JS45VNY


Friday, 17 November 2017

MUBI and me, and Pablo Larrain.

Many of the movies that I view nowadays come from MUBI, a streaming service I considered carefully before signing up to me. Other services seemed like easy choices. Netflix had loads of movies, and their original shows were building up into a strong portfolio. Amazon Prime had some decent stuff on there, although if you have waded through the worst selections then you will see that they seem to allow people to upload ANYTHING in order to push quantity over quality, and also had the added advantage of free prime delivery options on many physical items (and I do love my physical media). And Shudder was advertised as Netflix for horror fans. Sold.

But MUBI was at a similar price point to some other streaming services, while only ever having 30 curated movies on there at any one time. I wasn't impressed by the idea, although I found myself browsing their current selection more and more often, and I found myself consistently impressed by a) what was on offer and b) what they had that I had previously never heard of. So I took the plunge, and I can easily say that I haven't ever had to regret that decision.

In fact, I probably use MUBI more than any of the other streaming services I have. Part of that is down to the selection of movies, but a larger part of it is due to the completist in me (one day I want to have all 30 movies watched, and be waiting to see what will be offered up next). I thoroughly recommend it to cinema lovers. Not only does it remove the element of procrastination that can come with browsing the other services, it also consistently throws up some absolute gems.

Two examples that come immediately to mind are Symbol (2009) and Scabbard Samurai (2010), two films directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto, someone I was already unwittingly familiar with, having also enjoyed the bizarre R100 (2013). All three of these films are HIGHLY recommended.

I wouldn't recommend the films of Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz, on the other hand, who not only makes art that just doesn't work for me, but doesn't seem to be satisfied unless his films are at least 5 hours long. I am not exaggerating. It is also thanks to MUBI that I have endured a number of Diaz films. I have enjoyed one or two, have found moments to admire in others, and have been bored to tears as a large chunk of my days off have been used up exploring his filmography. Such is the downside of being determined to never shy away from any movie, and I am sure that Diaz has his fans. I am just not one of them. If you are tempted though, feel free to try this one. It is only 250 minutes long.

Pablo Larrain. Now HIM I am a fan of. And he was another filmmaker that I was familiar with without remembering, having seen Jackie (2016) and been thoroughly impressed by that riveting performance from Natalie Portman. It turns out that Jackie shares a lot of the qualities that Larrain has shown throughout his film career, so far, while also being as different as it needs to be, in order to showcase the story of such an American icon and physical symbol of public tragedy.

Indeed, Jackie sometimes feels more in line with the rest of Larrain's filmography than his debut feature, Fuga (2006), which looks at lives affected by music, madness, and a large helping of melancholia. It's surprisingly enjoyable, although also a bit more ultimately inconsequential than I expected it to be.

Things take a step up with his next film, Tony Manero (2008). Alfredo Castro (who also co-wrote the film with Mateo Iribarren and director Pablo Larrain) is superb as a rather unpleasant man tying all of his hopes to his ability to emulate the character played by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (hence the title). Sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes shocking, always entertaining, this is well worth your time. It's both a character study and a little look at Chile in the '70s.

Following that, we have Post Mortem (2010). Featuring another great central performance from Castro, this may not be as good as some of Larrain's other works, but it's still an interesting and worthwhile viewing experience, using the story of a morgue employee and his love for a burlesque dancer to also look, once again, at Chile of the '70s, and the end of Salvador Allende's presidency.

In 2012, Larrain gained a boost worldwide with the generally positive reception, from what I can recall, to No (2012). Gael Garcia Bernal plays an advertising exec type who ends up putting his efforts into the "No" campaign on the run up to the vote on whether or not General Pinochet should stay in power for another eight years. The acting is great, with Larrain-regular Alfredo Castro also doing more good work, Larrain directs with his usual assurance, and there's also a more specific sense of time and place given in this instance (speaking as an outsider not fully aware of the modern changing political and cultural landscape in Chile).

Moving from the serious to the not-so-serious, The Club was released in 2015. Well, I refer to it as being less serious but the uncomfortable subject matter and more squirm-inducing scenes hide what turns out to be a rather beautiful and haunting mix of pitch-black comedy and intense drama. The script is sharp, and all of the performances match it. For me, this remains Larrain's best work so far, but that may be because it relies less on knowledge of Chile, and what it has gone through in recent years. Or maybe it just IS his best film so far.

Which brings us back to 2016, in which Larrain gave us both Neruda and the aforementioned Jackie. Both are portraits of individuals, both take very different approaches. Neruda has a decent script, the lead performances are very good, and the whole thing feels like a very brief look in on the life of the main character, as opposed to a detailed overview of all of his achievements. Jackie feels like a more complete, traditional, look at a figure, framed in a way that allows for the usual moments you would expect from that kind of character study as well as a few times in which viewers seem to see a lot more than usual. A glimpse behind the mask being worn to face public scrutiny.

Larrain was born in 1976, making hiim a year younger than me. Ayear younger, and a hell of a lot more talented, dammit. And I will keep watching whatever he makes. I encourage you all to do the same. You won't be disappointed.

Because of discoveries like this, and others, I would also recommend MUBI to those looking to explore more and more areas of world cinema (note - this is NOT an ad, I just wanted an excuse to celebrate Larrain, and to share my rediscovered love of world cinema).

Buy this complete set, and enjoy - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pablo-Larra%C3%ADn-Collection-Made-Chile/dp/B073V9Y3VF/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1510909532&sr=1-1&keywords=pablo+larrain



Thursday, 16 November 2017

Found Footage 3D (2016)

Selling itself as the first 3D found footage horror movie, hence the title (another one of those titles that makes no sense if you end up, as I did, just settling down to watch the thing in 2D), Found Footage 3D is written and directed by Steven DeGennaro. While I am not overly familiar with Mr DeGennaro, I can tell you two things about him right now. First of all, he has been involved with audio work on an impressive number of shorts. Second, he thinks he is much smarter and accomplished than he actually is (cinematically speaking).

The premise of Found Footage 3D is very simple. A group of filmmakers set out to make a 3D found footage horror movie and quickly find themselves in the midst of their own spooky scenario, with a lot (okay, ALL) of the main “real” incidents being foreshadowed by the elements put in place during the plotting of the film.

This is all an excuse to get very meta, and get very meta is what it does. From the opening scenes, and then right through to the final moments. That would all be well and good if it was a) handled in a way that wasn’t as unsubtle as a sledgehammer to the temple, and b) presented in a way that didn’t feel completely patronising and derisive of the target audience. The worst thing that Found Footage 3D does is assume that lazy jump scares and a shoddy approach to the material are sins absolutely forgiven because they have been specifically acknowledged by the characters. That's not how it works. If we were enjoying a day out in a park, having a picnic or something (I don't know why, just go with it), and I made a joke about drowning a bag of cats then that wouldn't stop you from being a little bit pissed off, I would hope, if I later took a bag of cats and threw them into a river. That might seem like an extreme example, and it is, but the underlying principle is exactly the same. Making an observation or joke doesn't help to improve any direct example of that coming along in the near future. And JUST doing that isn't really being meta. It's being very lazy.

There are many specifics that I would like to get into, especially as the third act feels like the DeGennaro was going through a checklist of everything he had previously mentioned, but I won't spoil things for anyone else who may enjoy it more than I did.

Let me finish by running through the cast. Carter Roy is fun as Derek, the writer and money man who wants to control most of the film, Alena von Stroheim is all over the place as Amy (although she is not helped by the script), Chris O’Brien is Mark, the guy filming the "making of" that shows us everything happening, and Tom Saporito is the suffering director. Scott Allen Perry is the sound guy, Jessica Perrin is an assistant named Lily, and Scott Weinberg turns up for a couple of scenes in which he plays Scott Weinberg. A mixed selection of skill levels are on display, but nobody is helped by the general lameness (which I believe is the proper technical term to use in this critique) of the film that they are trying to make work.

2/10
  
Found Footage 3D is currently available on SHUDDER.


Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Tonight She Comes (2016)

I have been hearing about Tonight She Comes for a good few months now, or so it would seem. Unless there's a different film with a very similar title that has been garnering praise from horror fans (no, don't worry, I am not confused with the very good It Comes At Night). But I am pretty sure it was this film. Words like "fun" were used, "throwback", "splattery", and one or two others that made me prick up my ears.

So I had only one question on my lips when the end credits rolled. "What movie did you all watch?"

While Tonight She Comes certainly isn't the worst film in the horror genre, because the worst horror films rank with the very worst of cinema, it's not all that good either. There's a certain degree of technical competence here and there, but the actual story and tone are all over the place. If I cared more about the unfolding events then I would call this a bit of fun. I didn't care though, so I can;t even say that.

Written and directed by Matt Stuertz, this film thinks it is being cool and amusing and playful with all of the genre tropes it utilises. It's not. It's just a hodge podge of potentially good moments ruined by amateur errors and frankly bizarre decisions.

The cast try, with Larissa White particuarly enjoyable in her main role. She's supported by Jenna McDonald, Cameisha Cotton, Nathan Eswine, and Adam Hartley, among others, and the performances are a bit uneven, but not truly terrible.

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned the actual plot here. That's because I really can't be bothered. To describe it in detail would require turning a rambling mess into something that might seem decent and enjoyable in text form. Trust me when I say that the plot isn't worth me describing here.

And yet, despite the many flaws, I didn't hate Tonight She Comes. I liked a few moments, I disliked a few more, and the rest just played out while I tried to figure out if I was going to muster up any interest in the plot developments. Spoiler . . . I didn't.

4/10

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tonight-She-Comes-Larissa-White/dp/B074NG2C7S (and why the hell is this £10 for the DVD but £13.99 for the online version???)


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Aliens Vs College Girls (2017)

AKA Aliens Vs Titanic.

There are some movies that overcome their low budgets, ladle on the charm, and make the most of their shortcomings to become something that, while never topping any all-time favourite lists, can become a nice little recommendation to keep up your sleeve when fellow film fans want to find something that hasn't already been given too much exposure.

Aliens Vs College Girls is not one of those movies. Directed by Jeff Leroy, it's a hot mess that tries to throw enough silliness and gratuitous nudity into the first 10 minutes to keep the easily amused viewer attentive for the remainder of the, thankfully short, runtime. The writer is credited as Cameron T. James, which I assume is another "witty" gag, but IMDb has a story credit for Keith Parker so we'll let him share the blame.

The plot, as slight as it is, goes as follows: The spaceship Titan-1C is struck by a space meteor shower, and in the rocks that hit the vessel there are small aliens. It turns out that these aliens can invade hosts and control them, with humans proving to be quite perfect as a potential breeding ground for their kind. A small band of survivors, nominally led by Lana Vickers (Tasha Tacosa), eventually figures this out and tries to survive until the end credits roll.

Don't get excited by the paragraph above. I have inadvertently made the film sound a lot more interesting and exciting than it actually is. After those opening scenes, which at least have Bree Olson cavorting around for a while, it's all downhill. The characters are hard to care about, at all, the film feels padded out throughout most of the middle section, and most of the first third, and a lot of the finale, and there are special effects on display here that fall far below the standard set even by the very first series of Red Dwarf (coming up for thirty years old next year).

Sadly, Jeff Leroy is capable of doing better with this kind of schlock, as he showed when he gave us the enjoyably daft Creepies. If this had some better humour running through a lot of the scenes, if just a little bit of extra time was done to polish the CGI, or if there was a better way to scatter the nudity and sex throughout without it feeling boring then this could have been easy entertainment for whenever you didn't want something that required too much concentration. It ends up being one to completely avoid instead.

2/10.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Aliens-vs-College-Girls-DVD/dp/B0717465LD




Monday, 13 November 2017

Baby Driver (2017)

Okay, let's address the supporting elephant in the soundbooth, metaphorically speaking. As a movie-related blog, there will be things mentioned here that involve people who have been guilty of very heinous acts. That includes both stars from the past and stars from the present. I will still watch movies starring these people. I still really want to see House Of Cards (I wonder if Netflix will keep it available). And I still hope to enjoy Baby Driver when I next watch it, despite the presence of Kevin Spacey in a supporting role. Different people have taken very different stances recently, in light of events that seem to have led to a dozen revelations a day, with major accusations being levelled against the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Spacey, Louis C. K., Brett Ratner, Bryan Singer, and more. If you want to try and avoid ALL of these people then you do what you have to do. I am still going to be watching as many movies as ever, and playing catch up (the default position of any cinephile), so I am sure that this won't be the only film to feature someone who turned out to be a real piece of shit offscreen. And I am still going to do my own part to help anyone around me feel and stay as safe and unthreatened as they should be, in both the workplace and just in day to day life. Call people out on their behaviour, speak up if a situation is taking a turn for the worse, remove any level of acceptability for the mindset that has led to this world of poisonous clouds and booby-trapped environments that women have had to navigate for FAR too long. What I won't ever do is, for example, buy an autobiography written by Kevin Spacey entitled: "How To Make A Non-Apology And Distract People With Gayness." That will not be happening. If we're all on the same page . . . then we'll begin.


Written and directed by Edgar Wright, who had certainly been thinking about the idea since he made the above music video for Mint Royale, Baby Driver is an astonishingly well-crafted mix of audio and action. If, like me, you have ever wandered around with an iPod soundtracking your day, or just waited for the right tune to get you motivated and moving, then this is a film for you.

The story is fairly standard stuff, and we've seen it all before. It's the "good" criminal (Ansel Elgort, playing Baby) aiming for that one last job that will free him from the clutches of a very bad criminal (Kevin Spacey). But will the last job go smoothly, and will Baby actually be allowed to go free?

The cast are all great here. Elgort is as naive and quiet as he needs to be, livened up when he has his music on, and selling all of the moves and rhythms of his character. Spacey is fine in his role, but Jon Hamm is the best of the supporting players, despite solid turns from Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez, and Jon Benthal. Lily James doesn't make as good an impression as she should, but that is the fault of Wright more than anything to do with her performance.

But how does it fare as a car flick? Well, the driving stunts are damn impressive, with some practical work that showcases precision and style in exactly the way that should be the norm for this kind of thing (*cough* F8 *cough*). Wright shows that he can hande the action unsurprisingly, but that is only half the story. Lest we forget, Baby Driver is also a piece of musical entertainment. It's not traditional, but you could argue the case for this film to sit alongside the likes of The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, All That Jazz, and even La La Land (the most traditional of those three, funnily enough). If you disagree, watch the film while paying particular attention to the choreography, be it of the characters, the editing, every mis en scene element, and then feel free to tell me if you still think I am talking nonsense.

The whole thing is a marvellous conceit, but it's also makes for a film that won't have too many people just thinking it is okay. I suspect most will love it or absolutely hate it. For me, Wright has crafted yet another winner, even if it doesn't have the rapid-fire gag delivery of his previous works (which is no great loss when it allows him to show that he has more than one string to his bow). It will be very interesting, however, to see if he can use his next film to move even further away from what has been his fairly established bag of tricks.

8/10.

Now let's end with a song/the opening scene.


Buy Baby Driver here (UK) or here (USA).
Catch up with me and some other guys talking movies at Raiders Of The Podcast (here).


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Fanning the flames.

I was asked recently why I had left my blog to gasp and die. And I wasn't sure of my answer, even as I was verbalising it. I know that there were times when it started to feel like an obligation. I know that there were times when it felt like adding a teaspoon of water to a sea already rising up enough to send us all into the kind of environment we once mocked when Kevin Costner starred as a merman. And I decided that not writing about movies would give me more time to actually watch movies. You can watch movies without necessarily sharing your opinion of them with others, right?


But that itch has been growing in recent weeks. A small, glowing ember has been fanned into some small flames that may well lead me back here on a more permanent basis. I no longer have the NEED to blog daily, but it's starting to feel like I have the desire again.

That is down to a mix of a few different things.


First, I am still trying to watch as much as I can on Netflix, Amazon Prime, MUBI (no idea why it took me so long to give that streaming service a try), and also SHUDDER.


Second, I am still as big a shopaholic as ever, thanks to Arrow Films, Powerhouse/Indicator releases, Eureka!, and numerous other labels, both big and small. I have been acquiring some great reading material, from booklets enclosed in lovingly-packaged releases to the selection from the impressive Spectacular Optical. And Dark Bunny Tees is still my clothing supplier of choice (all gift cards greatly appreciated). I am not bankrupt yet, but it often seems like it's not from a lack of trying.


Third, I have been enjoying the world of podcasting. Yes, I caved in and joined a few good friends to assault your ears with Raiders Of The Podcast. We're on Twitter (as Raiders Of The Pod), Facebook, and many places were you can quench your podcast thirst. I even do a daily Instagram for movie-related goodness. And my Letterboxd allows me to keep track of all my viewings.


Fourth, last, and by no means least, I have had some wonderful cinema experiences lately. The kind of experiences that make you want to wax lyrical about the power of the moving image. Films like Blade Runner 2049 (okay film, amazing time at IMAX), Thor Ragnarok (blockbuster of the year? maybe), mother! (messy, not an easy watch, and quite brilliant), and 70mm screenings of both Dunkirk (Nolan has won me round again) and Lawrence Of Arabia (gold-plated classic).


I make no promises (or threats, depending on how you view my ramblings). Let's just say . . . . . . . maybe meet up here again tomorrow?