Friday 12 July 2024

One Crazy Summer (1986)

Another teen comedy that pairs director Savage Steve Holland with John Cusack, One Crazy Summer may not hit the heights of their best work (no matter what Cusack might think of the one I prefer), but it's a fun time for fans of many of the main cast members. And there are a few stars given some time to shine in this.

Cusack plays Hoops McCann, a young man who seems to be a bit lost after the end of his high school days. He does a decent job of creating cartoons, but that's not necessarily the way to set himself up for a great future. Or maybe it is. Anyway, Hoops ends up spending a summer holiday on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, in the company of a bunch of outcasts who will be there to help when the time comes to teach a lesson to the irritating and smug Teddy Beckersted (Matt Mulhern).

Savage Steve Holland just knows how to make me happy, whether or not he's successful in everything that he tries to do. This film feels like much more of an ensemble piece than a controlled and focused directorial vision, although that's maybe just the feeling you get when all of these people are together and having fun with each other, but it's certainly none the worse for it, with Holland making the most of his assembled talent to craft some fun narrative strands and enjoyable set-pieces (one Godzilla homage is so hilariously set up that it gives the entire film an entire bonus point for goodwill).

Cusack doesn't have to stretch himself here, nor does he, but this is in line with many of his other roles from the decade, which means that fans of his work from this era should enjoy themselves. Demi Moore is very easy to like, playing a travelling musician named Cassandra, and I think this film does more to show her screen presence than anything in the fairly dire St. Elmo's Fire, and both Joel Murray and Bobcat Goldthwait are good fun for anyone who appreciates that they are very much an acquired taste. Curtis Armstrong is another member of the gang, and I always enjoy him onscreen, and there are enjoyable, but brief, turns from Taylor Negron, Rich Hall, Jeremy Piven, and William Hickey. Mulhern is a suitably douchebro baddie, Mark Metcalf and Joe Flaherty play two different, but somehow equally problematic, fathers, and Kimberly Foster creates some extra tension as the other female in the midst of all of the hormonal men.

Not the best of the teen comedies from this decade, and you could argue that it doesn't really count anyway (the main characters all feel just a bit older, although none the wiser, compared to those in the big movies you would think of in that sub-genre), but this has plenty of little chuckles in between the few big laughs. Holland is a hell of a talent, wonderfully surreal and anarchic with his approach to familiar material, and I hope he comes along one day with another film that recaptures the energy and wit of both this and Better Off Dead.... That's unlikely, but I'll keep my fingers crossed anyway.

7/10

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Thursday 11 July 2024

The War Of The Gargantuas (1966)

It's giant destructive manbaby versus giant destructive manbaby in this latest kaiju movie to pass in front of my eyes, and I have to start this review by saying that this was a tough one to gain access to. Sadly, I had to settle for the dubbed version, although I like to think that either version is just as entertaining for anyone used to spending their time sourcing these movies before we didn't have the relatively easy access provided by the internet.

Two giant creatures start to cause panic throughout Tokyo when they attack monsters, boats, and one another as the cityscape looks ready to be devastated by them. One creature is brown in colour, one is green, and some people eventually figure out that the brown monster (which could be called a gargantua or a Frankenstein, depending on which version of the film you see). Our leads are one Dr. Paul Stewart (Russ Tamblyn) and Akemi Togawa (Kumi Mizuno), but this is yet again a film in which some giant creatures literally and metaphorically overshadow the main human characters.

Directed by Ishirô Honda, who also worked on the story with Takeshi Kimura, this serves as an enjoyable sequel to Frankenstein Conquers The World, but you don't necessarily have to have seen that film to understand this one. The past onscreen events are mentioned, and everything boils down to the fact that two giants (easily identified by colour) might cause parts of Japan to once again suffer at the hands of battling monsters.

Although Tamblyn seemed to be far from a helpful cast member, he does well enough in his role as the standard doctor/scientist so often at the heart of these movies. I've praised Mizuno almst every time I have mentioned her in reviews of other kaiju movies, and she's a welcome addition once again. While they may not be recognisable, buried under a fair amount of false hair and make-up, Haruo Nakajima and Yû Sekita also deserves a bit of praise for their performances as the titular monsters. While I often forget to mention the "man in the suit" when it comes to these movies, Nakajima is the name I should at least credit as often as Honda for the success of these films (having been responsible for bringing so many great creatures to life with his incognito performances).

Better than the movie that preceded it, although not up there with the absolute classics, this is a fun bit of silliness that moves from start to finish with decent pacing and enough of a twist on the familiar material to stop it from feeling like a carbon copy of many other films structured the same way.

7/10

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Wednesday 10 July 2024

Prime Time: Space Cadet (2024)

The only reason that this film wasn't titled NASAlly Blonde is because we'd all assume that it was about some poor young woman making the huge mistake while dyeing her nostril hairs, but you can trust me when I say that this could have easily been given that name.

Emma Roberts stars as Rex Simpson, a young Florida woman who has always dreamed of becoming an astronaut. She had the potential to make that dream a reality, but life threw up numerous obstacles that put her in a kind of limbo for about a decade. Determined to make up for lost time after her experience at a school reunion, however, Rex applies to join the NASA astronaut training program. Having asked her friend, Nadine (Poppy Liu), to polish and finesse her application, she is initially unaware that her resume is full of huge lies. Maybe things will work out though. Simpson has the brains, despite what others may think, she knows how to support those around her, and she has the ability to approach problems from some unusual angles. 

Space Cadet is ridiculous, it feels quite cheap, and it's, well, I have to repeat that it's ridiculous. It's also a bit of fun for anyone who selects it while knowing what they're getting into. Roberts is appealing enough in the lead role, Liu steals a number of scenes as her BFF, and the standard moral about achieving the potential that others may not see within you is a good one.

Written and directed by Liz W. Garcia (her third feature, unless I have miscounted), this should have enough light chuckles and silliness to appeal to those who enjoyed the film it wants to emulate, Legally Blonde (which is beloved by many). There are fish out of water moments, of course, some other wannabe astronauts who react to our lead character in very different ways, and a stuffy authority figure who cannot quite believe he is becoming a bit smitten while he obviously becomes a bit smitten. There's also a soundtrack that was so painful to me, for the most part, that I can only assume that teen viewers will probably love it.

Roberts is consistently bright and perky throughout, as required, and Liu is a great counter to her, but there is fun to be had with some of the supporting cast members. Tom Hopper is Logan O'Leary, the aforementioned stuffy authority figure, and he does what is required for the role, Gabrielle Union is welcome for her few scenes, and Dave Foley is the man presiding over what he hopes will be a successful training schedule to help find those who deserve a shot at space travel. Desi Lydic is the uptight professional who remains suspicious of our lead, Kuhoo Verma is a roommate/friend, and Yasha Jackson, Andrew Call, and Josephine Huang round out the core group of trainees who get enough screentime to feel more fully fleshed-out than those who just pop in and out of the narrative. 

The important thing here is that I didn't hate this. I was never the intended target demographic, and I knew that from the very start, but I hoped that there would be just enough for me to still enjoy it for most of the runtime. And there was. Just. Other viewers may not even find themselves moved to an occasional smirk, but a few will love it for how cute and silly it is. Sometimes cute and silly is just what the doctor ordered.

5/10

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Tuesday 9 July 2024

Monkey Man (2024)

You should either be a big fan of Dev Patel by now or you should be underserving of his great talent. Patel has been delivering great acting performances for a while now, and he has just added another string to his bow with Monkey Man, a savage action movie that marries some astounding set-pieces to smart commentary on aspects of Indian culture (e.g. the caste system, the huge divide between the haves and the have-nots, and the treatment of the individuals who make up the Hijra community).

Patel plays a character simply credited as Kid (in lieu of a proper name), spending his time working at an underground fight club where he is usually given very little money to don a monkey mask and have his ass beaten for the entertainment of the crowd. Kid has something he is moving towards though: Revenge. He wants to get close enough to the corrupt police chief, Rana (Sikander Kher), who he witnessed raping and killing his mother. And he wants to get to the spiritual guru, Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), responsible for giving the orders to the police under his control. Unfortunately, Kid may not be as ready to complete his quest as he likes to think he is, but taking a step back, and being welcomed into the Hijra community, may help him clarify his vision and solidify his path ahead.

It feels like there's rarely a week that goes by nowadays without another film trying to rework/outdo John Wick, and Monkey Man is certainly in that wheelhouse (even overtly acknowledging the influence of that film when a gun seller refers to one particular model as, to paraphrase, "the John Wick gun". Unlike other attempts to use that simple template to deliver something with both incredible fights and a strong heartbeat, Monkey Man actually manages to put a lot of meat on the bones, using the pacing and choreography of the film to show the motivation and development of the central character.

Patel does an excellent job in the director's chair for this feature debut, and he also co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Angunawela and John Collee (two individuals who don't have any past work signifying that they could be such a good fit for this). It's a confident and stylish feature that allows Patel to basically punch film viewers in the face and underline his arrival as a huge talent who has been deserving of recognition for at least a full decade now. Is it too much to view the violence and energy of Monkey Man as a force fuelled by Patel's urge to break through the screen and smash up every obstacle put in the way of his ascent to fully-fledged movie star status? Maybe, but I'll view it that way anyway. The brutality here is jaw-dropping, the action inventive and intense, edited brilliantly in a way that allows things to feel punctuated without them feeling erratic, and the visuals (kudos to Sharone Meir for the cinematography) are accompanied by a fantastic selection of music by Jed Kurzel.

For as good as he is behind the camera, Patel dazzles in the lead role. He's very capable, very suave when he gets the chance, and a classic soulful hero that you want to see win out before the end credits roll. Kher is a solid villain, cocky and irredeemable, and Deshpande is good as the persuasive leader controlling the soldiers sent out to destroy innocent lives. Pitobash is a lot of fun in his supporting role, as is Sharlto Copley (playing the loathsome ringmaster who is happy to pay someone a meagre sum for a beating that will keep audiences happy), Sobhita Dhulipala is a ray of light in the darkness, Ashwini Kalsekar is a dangerous criminal queen, and Vipin Sharma comes along in the second half to make a hell of a strong impression in the role of Alpha.

There are moments here that are cool and cinematic, but there are just as many moments that are delivering a thought-provoking exploration of pain and societal issues. There are also numerous scenes in which someone fights for their life in a way that truly feels like that someone desperately trying to stay alive. The fact that each aspect continually intertwined and works as well as it should is testament to Patel’s skill. I cannot wait to see what he does next, and I will rewatch this numerous times until his next feature comes along.

9/10

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Monday 8 July 2024

Mubi Monday: Hoard (2024)

A feature debut from writer-director Luna Carmoon, after some time spent honing her craft in a variety of shorts, Hoard is a film as strange and difficult to pin down as the main character hiding in the litter-strewn heart of it. It's about mental health and unhealthy ways of showing affection, and it's about repeating cycles, but it's equally about making major mistakes as you struggle to find your place in a world that doesn't always make much sense.

Saura Lightfoot-Leon plays Maria, a young woman who has spent a lot of her life in the care of a foster mother named Michelle (Samantha Spiro). The opening scenes show us young Maria (Lily-Beau Leach) living her life in the orbit of her spiralling mother (Hayley Squires), and it's clear that her past is full of moments that cannot be easily forgotten and shaken away. In fact, things start to come back to the front of Maria's mind, just as Michelle has a visiting guest in the form of Michael (Joseph Quinn), a young man she cared for as a child. Michael and Maria start to connect, but maybe they would be best keeping away from one another.

This is a film with some interesting ideas, but those interesting ideas are often sidelined in favour of moments that don't feel worthy of inclusion. Carmoon has something to say, and she has a clear and strong voice with which to say it, but she seems to have perhaps done herself a disservice by assembling a cast that she knows can sell the more theatrical sequences, which also happen to be the least interesting parts of the movie.

Lightfoot-Leon is superb, giving the kind of performance that marks her out as one to watch over the next few years, and both Spiro and Squires are fantastic in very different ways. Deba Hekmat is also very good, playing Maria's friend, Laraib, and there are solid supporting turns from Cathy Tyson, in a very small role, and Tim Bowie, among others. It's Quinn who proves to be the weak link, sadly, but I blame the script for that more than his performance. He's asked to act in a way that never feels natural, and I know that there's a much better version of this film without his character in it.

The look and feel of the whole thing is great throughout, you can really feel and smell every bit of dirt and nastiness that occasionally fills the screen, and there's a third act that defies the odds to become an ultimately satisfying conclusion to a wildly uneven journey, Carmoon and her team, behind and in front of the camera, all deserve a good bit of praise. It's just a shame that everything is undermined by one or two major problems with the plotting, especially when one important event never seems to lead to the expected major consequences.

Certainly not rubbish, but there are times when you will want to wash your hands after rummaging through everything to find the small nuggets of treasure buried amidst the mess.

7/10

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Sunday 7 July 2024

Netflix And Chill: Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F (2024)

It's easy to see how this film, the fourth feature in the Beverly Hills Cop series, came about, especially when you look at the entertainment landscape and see the money being made from the good old nostalgia train. There may be another new director behind the camera, Mark Molloy (making his feature debut), and the writing team of Will Beall, Tom Gornican, and Kevin Etten also adds plenty of Beverly Hills newcomers, but what matters most is Eddie Murphy being back in the title role, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Paul Reiser, and Bronson Pinchot making themselves available to reprise their characters, and a soundtrack that tries to recreate every sonic beat from the original.

It's all very basic stuff. Axel Foley (Murphy) ends up returning to Beverly Hills when he is informed about his estranged daughter's life being in danger. His daughter, Jane (Taylour Paige), is a lawyer who is about to defend an alleged cop killer, but she suspects that there are some dirty cops trying to frame an innocent man. Billy Rosewood (Reinhold) is now a PI who also believes that there are some cops involved in this crime, John Taggart (Ashton) is now the Chief, and Captain Cade Grant is a main supporting character played by Kevin Bacon in a way that doesn't make his character completely obvious from his very first scene. Okay, it's obvious. This is the Columbo style of mystery story-telling, with the main satisfaction due to be derived from seeing how Foley catches the person he instinctively knows is the main villain. There's also a helpful detective named Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who has just as much interest in keeping Jane safe as they have a shared past as a couple.

Look, it's hard to go into this without knowing what you're letting yourself in for. In that regard, anyone coming away from it feeling short-changed or miserable only really has themselves to blame. That's not to say that this can still leave viewers feeling disappointed, and I was left sadly disappointed, but it basically delivers what it tells you it will deliver. Murphy slips back into his character with relative ease, older, but not necessarily a hell of a lot wiser, and the other series (semi-)regulars turn up to wave and remind you of what you enjoyed about the interactions of everyone the first time around. The structure of the plotting, various lines of dialogue, and the soundtrack choices all work together to ensure that you watch this wrapped up in a cosy glow. It's a shame that there's nothing else accompanying that glow though, and that glow alone just wasn't enough for me.

Murphy has had mixed success in recent years, and it's obvious why he has returned to some past glories (is he currently developing a belated sequel to Trading Places and another 48. Hrs movie? probably not, but I wouldn't be surprised), but he doesn't know how to star in an Eddie Murphy vehicle that also works as well for others around him. Paige is fantastic, and it's good to have someone who actually stands up to the antics of Foley nowadays, even if she has the benefit of being a blood relative, but Gordon-Levitt feels wasted, and sorely out of place, and most of the time watching Reinhold, Ashton, and Reiser is tinged with sadness as viewers are constantly reminded of how age has wearied them. Pinchot is a highlight, as he has been in his previous appearances in this series, and Bacon is very comfortable in a role that he could do in his sleep.

The director and writing team do what they're tasked with doing, but they sadly don't do any more. It doesn't help that everything looks and feels more like a Netflix film than a Beverly Hills Cop movie (a bit tricky to define, but you will know it when you see it . . . something polished that often feels like it has been filmed in front of a whole lot of unnecessary greenscreen). The laughs don't come thick and fast enough, the action is bigger, but not better, and many of the supporting characters feel like popular guest stars on a long-running sit-com. That doesn't make it the worst movie you could choose to watch this weekend, but it does make it the worst of the Beverly Hills Cop movies, despite the fact that it at least has Foley doing some proper detective work again.

4/10

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Saturday 6 July 2024

Shudder Saturday: Shortcut (2020)

Director Alessio Liguori and writer Daniele Cosci have worked together on a number of projects over the years and the one thing I took away from Shortcut is that they should maybe try going their separate ways. This is a bad film in almost every aspect, but it's all built around a particularly weak and dull script.

A bunch of teenagers are on a bus. That's the start of the movie. That bus is going through an area commonly referred to by us normal people as "the arse end of nowhere". Things become eventful when a dangerous criminal gets on the bus, causing some fear and panic among the teens, and then it transpires that there's also a dangerous creature dwelling in the darkness around them, forcing the children to hide in some tunnel areas as they figure out how to fight back and survive the night. Imagine Creep (2004), but rubbish.

I had so many choices this week, and I chose very poorly. I admit that I went for this based on the relatively short runtime ahead of anything else I knew about the film. Having said that though, there didn't seem to be anything here that would be awful. The premise was intriguing enough, and I am happy to watch something that does enough to make up for a variety of limitations. This did not manage to do that, and things went from bad to worse after an opening sequence that introduced viewers to a variety of characters it was difficult to care about.

The teens here are played by Jack Kane, Zanda Emlano, Zak Sutcliffe, Sophie Jane Oliver, and Molly Dew, and none of them are able to improve upon the weak writing that keeps them barely indistinguihsable from one another, aside from some being male and some being female. The only one who almost stands out is Dew, but that's because her character is singled out by others from the start for her apparent intelligence, which she reacts to with the right amount of eye-rolling and embracing of what is clearly supposed to be her defining trait.

Are there some nice shots here and there? Yes. Lighting levels could have been a lot worse, the creature design isn't bad, and some care has been taken to try and ensure that viewers have a good sense of the geography of people and places throughout the second act, when things move away from the confines of the bus. But I can't help thinking that a better team wouldn't have needed to move too far away from the bus in the first place. Turning that negative into a positive could have turned this into a very good little movie, instead of something that feels like a clumsy creature feature hampered by a lack of investment, in both money and the right talent.

One to avoid. There's no tension, no decent onscreen carnage, and nobody that you end up truly rooting for as the characters try to survive until the end credits. And I can't tell you how loudly I groaned, actually groaned, as the end of the film had characters reiterating and solving a lengthy riddle that had been set for them near the start of the film. It was shoehorned in, a literary device that didn't ring true after everything that they'd just gone through, and really underlined how weak the script was as I waited for the whole thing to just finally end.

3/10

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Friday 5 July 2024

Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep (1966)

In my ongoing journey through some of the classic kaiju films, and the word classic is being asked to do a fair bit of heavy lifting there, I have already grown accustomed to being a bit disappointed. The highs are really high, but there have been quite a few low points, especially over the past few weeks. Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep, also known as Ebirah, Terror Of The Deep, is not a low point. In fact, it's a new favourite, and I'm sure that many fans of these movies will already be exasperated every time I offer an opinion that is ridiculously late to the kaiju party.

The story concerns a group of men who steal a yacht. One of them has recently had a brother go missing at sea and he's determined to find him. They end up on a mysterious island, controlled by terrorists, and the waters surrounding the island are home to, as if you couldn't guess already, Ebirah, a creature that looks very much like a giant lobster. Perhaps Godzilla can be called upon to help. Or maybe another one of the gigantic creatures that we've encountered in previous movies.

Written by Shin'ichi Sekizawa, this is a fun adventure film that feels more like Mysterious Island at times than a standard Godzilla movie (and it's worth noting that Big G only really appears for a short period of time during the third act). While the characters are as forgettable as usual, as individuals, there are at least various factions interacting with one another. Yata (Tôru Ibuki) is the missing man, Ryôta (Tôru Watanabe) is his brother, the terrorists are standard baddies, and Daiyo (Kumi Mizuno) is a young woman trying to maintain her freedom on an island that has been turned into a prison. Sekizawa does well to keep bringing things back to these main players, ultimately allowing them to interact with one another until it's time to bring on the monster battles.

Director Jun Fukuda does a decent job, although the island setting means that he doesn't have the opportunity to show any truly impressive destruction, there is no major cityscape to be stomped on here. He keeps everything moving well enough though, helped by the plotting of Sekizawa's screenplay, and proves to be a very solid stand-in for/successor to the legendary Ishirô Honda.

There's no point in mentioning the performances of the cast members. They do what is needed, and Mizuno once again adds some glamorous beauty to the proceedings, but they're really just moving set dressing until the big beasties come along, and those big beasties will keep the fans happy. Godzilla is a delight when onscreen, but Ebirah is definitely one of my favourite creations from the list of many supporting kaiju that I'd never previously heard of. It looks impressive and dangerous, and the practical effects team all work hard to make it feel like a plausible oceanic threat.

A real joy from start to finish, even if it could have done with a bit more screentime for Godzilla, this is one I am glad to have finally seen. And I'd happily rewatch it any time.

8/10

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Thursday 4 July 2024

Snack Shack (2024)

Writer-director Adam Rehmeier has one hell of a filmography. He would have had one hell of a filmography if he'd stopped after his debut feature, The Bunny Game, an extreme and cruel movie that pushed things to the very edge of what is acceptable, and showed him to be as capable as he was fearless. But his last couple of movies have shown him to be brilliantly attuned to some lighter entertainment. Dinner In America is brilliantly witty and punk rock, and now we have Snack Shack, a coming-of-age movie that delivers all of the usual tropes with great energy, great lead performances, and an enjoyably eclectic soundtrack selection.

Conor Sherry and Gabriel LaBelle play A.J. and Moose, two best friends who want to spend the summer months making themselves plenty of money. To that end, they use their stash of savings, no small amount, to overpay for the temporary lease of the swimming pool snack shack. They soon start to see the earning potential of their new business endeavour though, but success depends on them being able to avoid the attention of some bullies and maintain their friendship as they start to vy for the attention of the lovely Brooke (Mika Abdalla).

There's nothing I can say about Snack Shack that won't have you thinking about at least a dozen other teen movies, but don't let that put you off. Familiarity breeds contempt, it's true, but it can also breed contentment, and that is the case here. The lead characters are smart, and lucky, as shown in the opening scenes, and they are allowed to feel like real, albeit quite cocky, teens. This is all thanks to a combination of the writing, direction, and savvy casting.

Sherry and LaBelle are both very good, and they're both different in ways that complement one another as best friends often do. Sherry plays his part a bit more quietly, while LaBelle is quick-talking and more bullish, his character happy to hit the ground running at every opportunity, making an inevitable mess as he gets three steps ahead of those he wants to leave in his wake. Abdalla is a great choice to play the young woman who captures their attention, ensuring that her character is as smart, cool, and pretty as needed to create a sense of competition, and tension, between A.J. and Moose. David Costabile and Gillian Vigman do decent work as concerned parents, Nick Robinson is very easy to like as Shane, a slightly older young man that A.J. looks up to, and everyone else fits perfectly in place, whether they're playing siblings, bullies, or one of the many customers queuing up to buy food and drink at the titular shack.

You can feel the sunshine, you can smell the water of the pool, and you can remember those times as a teen when it felt as if the weeks ahead were full of life-changing potential, because that is what every summer offered, and that's another big part of what Rehmeier gets right here. There are laughs, there are moments of tension, and there are one or two diversions into sadness, but each scene fits into one another as well as the sun, the splashing, and the hot dogs and cokes.

A wonderful teen movie, a wonderful summer movie, and another wonderful movie from a writer-director who seems to be creeping closer and closer to delivering an absolute modern classic at some point.

8/10

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Wednesday 3 July 2024

Prime Time: The Covenant (2023)

Guy Ritchie has had a decent run of movies in the past decade, helped by writers Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies. He definitely needs Atkinson and Davies though, which makes it all the more odd to see The Covenant also listed as Guy Ritchie's The Covenant. Okay, Ritchie has a certain style, a sensibility that pervades most of his movies, letting you know that you're watching a Guy Ritchie film, but he can also work on certain projects that don't feel as if they have been given any stamp of authorship. This is one of those movies. It's good, sometimes very good, but it just doesn't feel as if it needs sold on Ritchie's name.

Jake Gyllenhaal is John Kinley, a soldier trying to stay alive during his time serving in Afghanistan. Having lost his interpreter in a bombing, Kinley ends up being assigned a new man, Ahmed (Dar Salim). Ahmed is viewed with mistrust by some, as are many of the interpreters in Afghanistan, but he repeatedly proves himself a valuable asset as he keeps Kinley and his team safe from a number of traps and tricky situations. In fact, Ahmed ends up saving Kinley's life on a daring mission that sees both men struggling to get back to safety while being hunted by Taliban soldiers who view them as top-priority targets. Can Kinley get a chance to return the favour, or will he be safely back in the USA while his interpreter/lifesaver ends up trapped in Afghanistan with a large price on his head.

A modern spin on a boy's own adventure film, although there's a worthwhile point being made about those who helped soldiers in Afghanistan before being left to languish there and suffer the consequences, this is a surprisingly effective and tense action thriller that does well to balance the issues at the heart of the whole thing with the visceral moments of fighting and gunfire. Ritchie works very well in service of the script, which ultimately helps to turn the film into something much better than it could have been. It’s a bit of a tightrope act, and kudos to him for walking it well.

Gyllenhaal is a big plus in the lead role, as expected. He can do well in a military role, being convincingly sharp and fearless, and he does well in showing the emotional toll that is taken as he figures out how to repay a huge debt. Salim is equally good alongside him, and his character is shown to be just as smart and fearless, arguably even more so, despite being initially viewed with suspicion. The supporting cast all hang back, for the most part, but there are decent little moments for Emily Beecham, Jonny Lee Miller, Antony Starr, and Alexander Ludwig.

You can view this with cynicism, especially if you feel that there’s a bit too much jingoism running just below the surface, but I think it avoids the worst potholes it could have stumbled into. Or maybe I should have used a minefield metaphor, if that isn’t in bad taste. Which I guess depends on your view of this being made in the first place.

7/10

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Tuesday 2 July 2024

Boy Kills World (2024)

It always happens. One great success leads to numerous imitators. That can lead to other successes, as has happened in recent years with a certain kind of action cinema. It can also lead to the occasional mid-step, at best. Boy Kills World is a mis-step, although it’s one that I know plenty of people enjoyed more than I did.

Bill Skarsgård plays our main character, a mute man who narrates his own life in an inner voice (H. Jon Benjamin) that he used to enjoy hearing in one of his favourite videogames. He is living in a strange dystopian world, one in which the rulers occasionally just pick people to kill/sacrifice, and his own loss drives him on a wild and bloody quest for revenge.

What you get here, when it works, is an enjoyably creative killing spree centering on a main character who is skilled and fortunate enough to deal with waves of disposable villains. The action is certainly fun and energetic, and everything is underlined by a streak of hunour that many will enjoy (although it didn’t work for me).

Director Mortiz Mohr, making his feature debut, feels like someone making a feature debut. This has a great idea at the heart of it, it’s trying to boil down a pure and simple action movie aesthetic into something even more pure and simple, but the end result is too messy, with a muddled plot, clumsy tonal movement, and characters that you don’t ever care about, even if Skarsgård has an innate likability to him.

The script, fully fleshed out by Arend Remmers and Tyler Burton Smith, is a mess. I never once believed the world depicted onscreen, and the attempt to add some twists and turns were altogether unsuccessful. Either keep things rooted in pure action madness or try to deliver plotting that people will care about. This moves between both, and that caused it to leave me unsatisfied with both aspects.

Skarsgård makes up for many failings though. His wide-eyed turn is very enjoyable, and he looks more than capable when in full-on rage fighting mode. That’s a good thing indeed, because almost everyone else here is wasted. Michelle Dockery, Sharlto Copley, Brett Gelman, Famke Janssen, all wasted. It should be a crime to waste Janssen this badly. Jessica Rothe is also wasted, as is the fantastic Yayan Ruhian, although he gets a few good moments throughout, and it’s at least good to see him in a fairly central role.

I really wanted to enjoy this. I expected to enjoy it. While I didn’t hate it, I was surprised by how poor it was. Is it worth a watch one evening when you want some bloody entertainment to accompany snacks and drinks? Yes. Is it worth a rewatch at any point, and will it stay long in your memory once you go on to many of the other action movies from the past few years? Absolutely not.

4/10

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Monday 1 July 2024

Mubi Monday: The Delinquents (2023)

A good heist movie is usuaully something that I can easily enjoy. The Delinquents is a good "heist" movie, and it succeeds by focusing on the consequences of robbery, allowing the job to be the focus of the film without it actually being the focus of the film. Does that make any sense? I hope so, but any confusion you feel now may be on a par with some confusion you could feel at the end of this movie. That's not a bad thing. I'm just highlighting how things play out in the film.

Daniel Elías plays Morán, a bank employee who sees an opportunity to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. He doesn't want to be a millionaire. He just wants to give himself the opportunity of a better life. He's done the maths, and he knows that the money will amount to whatever he would have earned if he stayed working for the bank. His plan is to hide the money and then confess to the crime, to be arrested and serve his time in prison while, hopefully, a good friend, Román (Esteban Bigliardi) helps to keep the money hidden until it will be split between the two men upon Morán's release.

Written and directed by Rodrigo Moreno, The Delinquents is a clever and entertaining exploration of morality, relativity, and the value of friendship. The main character doesn't seem unreasonable, whether you agree with his approach or not, and the central premise is really just a way to show someone attempting to use the system, and society's rules, in an impressively unorthodox way. It's a thought-provoking work, whether you're thinking about Morán's position, Román's position, or the emotions of other characters caught up in the whole mess (including a Norma, Morna, and Ramón).

Elías is very good in one of the main roles, although he's justifiably sidelined once he fully sets his plan in motion. He still gets plenty to do though, whether it's time enjoying his freedom before he hands himself in to the authorities or navigating the new rules and bartering system of prison life. Bigliardi is equally good, and he plays his character with enough subtlety and nuance to make it hard to predict exactly what he will end up doing at any given moment. He may be a very good friend, but he's suddenly been entrusted with a very large amount of money. Margarita Molfino also deserves praise for her performance as Norma, a standout from the selection of supporting characters all given names that are anagrams of our leads, and she provides an important point of a triangle that ultimately turns into itself and expands into something much more complicated and intriguing. 

There are issues here, but viewers can decide whether or not they are problematic enough to spoil their viewing experience. The "heist" itself isn't a big deal. It doesn't require a load of planning or specialised skills. It's essentially a snatch job, the real skill being the plan for the aftermath. There's also a lengthy runtime over three hours. It didn't feel overlong to me, but some will definitely have their patience tested. Then there's the ending, one that allows for a variety of interpretations. For as much as I liked the approach to the material, satisfaction is far from guaranteed.

I really liked this, and I'd be very keen to watch it again and see how I might view certain scenes differently. I recommend it heartily to other film fans, but with a fair warning about the runtime and the open-ended structure of the whole thing.

8/10

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Sunday 30 June 2024

Netflix And Chill: Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)

I reviewed Beverly Hills Cop quite a few years ago now. I rewatched Beverly Hills Cop II a few times, but kept forgetting to do anything more than a capsule review for it. But the time was right to finally revisit the undercooked Beverly Hills Cop III, a film that I hadn't been brave enough to revisit since it first hit the home rental market back in the mid-'90s.

The plot is quite simple. Eddie Murphy is back in the role of Axel Foley. The death of Foley’s boss leads him to investigate a crime ring that he believes is operating out of a Los Angeles amusement park. He reunites with Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), and quickly gets himself into a whole heap of trouble while trying to gather evidence that will lead to the prosecution of a bad guy that he KNOWS is the bad guy (Timothy Carhart).

This should have been another great entry in a series that was already two for two. Heroes & villains confronting one another against the backdrop of various  amusement park rides. Writer Steven E. de Souza is someone who has delivered some great action movies, but he’s also written some that were not so great. This falls into the latter category. The action isn’t good enough, the comedy not funny enough, which just leaves the whole thing as another fairly limp star vehicle for Murphy at a time when every Murphy film inevitably felt like that.

Putting John Landis in the director’s chair just have seemed like a very good idea, considering his past glories with Murphy in a leading role, but he ultimately doesn’t have a handle on the tone and what is truly needed for the series. There are the expected cameos you expect from a Landis movie, but not enough care is given to the plot (and let’s not pretend that Foley does any decent detective work here).

Murphy is still good enough in this role to make it watchable, and Reinhold is fun (although he doesn’t get any of the interplay he previously had with John Ashton’s character, notably absent here and sorely missed). Hector Elizondo is okay, but not really good enough as a replacement for Ashton’s character, and Stephen McHattie gets to come along every once in a while to lay down the law as an angry Fed. Carhart is a bit of a weak villain, commanding a small army of bland henchmen, John Saxon is someone you know must be involved somehow (due to being John Saxon), and Theresa Randle tries her best in a role that makes her a potential love interest/damsel in distress. Oh, and it’s fun to see Bronson Pinchot return for a scene or two, having moved from the world of art to the world of heavy-duty self defence.

The cast help make this more fun than it otherwise would be. It’s a bad film, but it’s a bad film that remains watchable, for the most part, if you don’t mind spending time with a likable main character on one of his lesser adventures. And it would have been even better if it had felt more in line with the previous two movies.

5/10

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Saturday 29 June 2024

Shudder Satuday: Body Melt (1993)

Sometimes you have to dig deep into a movie to figure out why it is titled the way it is. Sometimes it feels very random, or a bit too obscure. And sometimes you watch a movie called Body Melt, which tells you that people are about to be in danger of experiencing their bodies starting to melt.

There are a few main characters here, and there is A plot, but this is a film that doesn’t need thorough examination. People are consuming some products that have negative side-effects, to say the least, and a couple of policemen on the case start to figure out how bad things are about to get. Are they fast enough to close the gate though, or has this body-melting horse already bolted?

Directed by Philip Brophy, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Rod Bishop, this is a messy and gory piece of work that proves Brophy to be quite the talent with a relatively low budget and a whole lot of inventiveness. Which makes it all the more surprising that this was the last, and actually the only, feature that he helmed. 

The material is approached with a great mix of fun and commitment to the messy central idea, helped by a diversion into the kind of Outback horror that runs along similar lines to many famous American backwoods horror movies. This is a showcase for some absolutely superb practical effects, but there are also moments for you to get to know each potential victim. Not that you really care about them, but you get to know them.

Cast-wise, there are a mix of familiar faces here (many from Australian TV shows, arguably the most famous being Ian Smith AKA Harold from Neighbours). Gerard Kennedy is fine as the tough detective on the case, Regina Gaigalas gives off a decent femme fatale vibe, and Anthea Davis is working hard under a hell of a lot of disfiguring make-up. Everyone does what is asked of them, which is often to go about their day until their body starts to come apart.

A brilliantly barmy cult curio, Body Melt is a film that has retained a pretty good reputation over the past few decades. It’s easy to see why. It’s well-paced, not overlong, balances the ridiculousness against the horror of the situation, and absolutely delivers on the promise of the title. Many horror fans will have already seen it, but if, like me, you somehow missed it so far then do yourself a favour and check it out ASAP.

8/10

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Friday 28 June 2024

Seize Them! (2024)

Although it seemed to come and go with very little fanfare, I knew that I would be looking forward to Seize Them! from the first time I heard about it. Being a fan of the Horrible Histories style, I figured this would be something along similar lines. I wasn’t completely wrong, although it throws around some swearwords to remind you that it is intended for slightly older viewers. I’m not sure that was the best approach, but we will come back to that later.

Aimee Lou Wood is Queen Dagan, a cold and uncaring ruler, more due to ignorance than malice, who finds herself having to travel incognito when she escapes an attempt on her life by the revolutionary Humble Joan (Nicola Coughlan). The Queen ends up being helped by Shulmay (Lolly Adefope) and a friendly shit-shoveler named Bobik (Nick Frost). She is determined to regain her throne, but there’s obviously more for her to find on this difficult and dangerous journey.

While it’s not usually good to compare something directly to something else, or to critique something more for what it isn’t than what it is, Seize Them! seems to invite such a comparison. And it comes up wanting. This should have been a family-friendly stomp through medieval times, stuffed full of gags and mud and a stench that would come off the screen in waves. Sadly, it’s just a moderately amusing adventure with some language that takes it up to a 15 certificate here in the UK. Younger viewers may miss out, and older viewers have many better options in front of them.

Director Curtis Vowell doesn’t have too many films under his belt, which may explain the lack of any proper guidance for the material here, but writer Andy Riley already has a few gems. It is a shame that this isn’t on par with his past features, especially when he would seem to be such a good fit for this kind of fun.

The cast do all they can to help, but they’re seriously hampered by the script. Frost probably fares the best, providing some laughs as his sweet simpleton character constantly makes mistakes that endanger the central group, but both Adefope and Wood are enjoyable onscreen performers. Coughlan has fun as a main “villain”, as does the wonderful Jessica Hynes, and there’s a very enjoyable cameo from James Acaster, in a role that allows him to be as Acaster as Acaster is wont to be. 

I chuckled a few times while this was on, and I was happy enough to see where the different characters settled by the time their journeys had ended, but I was never overly impressed. They really should have decided to either embrace the silliness and fill every scene with gags and puns or embrace the certification and throw in some more gore and death alongside the smattering of naughty language. Instead, it falls between two stools. Which is a statement on the quality of the film and also an extra pooh gag that feels slightly better than what was served up by this script.

5/10

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Thursday 27 June 2024

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (2017)

Yes, I forgot this existed. Yes, I am sure many of you also forgot about it. It certainly hasn’t endured in the way some other cinematic depictions of the King Arthur tale have endured. That’s probably down to it being quite a bad film.

Charlie Hunnam plays Arthur. He isn’t a king, unaware of his destiny, but he is the kind of determined rogue who can lead a group of men in a campaign against the tyranny of the current ruler of the land (played by Jude Law). Hunnam has the loyalty of a group that includes Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Neil Maskell, and a few others.

Written by Joby Harold, Lionel Wigram, and director Guy Ritchie, this is a film that could just as easily have been called Geezers Of The Round Table, and your enjoyment of it will depend completely on what you think of that phrase. I rolled my eyes as soon as I realised what I had let myself in for, and the film generally lived up to my painful expectations.

I wouldn’t say that this is a film everyone should avoid. The special effects are pretty good throughout, although there’s a tiresome overuse of CGI throughout, and Ritchie makes some stylistic choices during the action sequences that Zack Snyder would be envious of. He has a vision, whether you like it or not, and he sticks to that vision from start to finish. While that juxtaposition of style and content didn’t work for me at all, others may enjoy what is sold as a fresh take on a classic tale.

I cannot really complain about Hunnam in the lead role, he definitely has a certain charisma that helps to make up for weaknesses elsewhere, but the real fun comes from the supporting cast. Hounsou is great, Gillen and Maskell are fun, and Law makes for a hugely entertaining and irredeemable villain. There are also enjoyable turns from Eric Bana, Geoff Bell, Peter Ferdinando, and a few other familiar faces (including David Beckham in a cameo that he does okay with). The women don’t fare as well, sadly, but that at least allows them to forget this is even on those C.V.

Maybe I would enjoy this more if in a better mood, but I certainly went into it with my usual readiness to be entertained or impressed. This did neither, and I could feel Ritchie and the cast all working harder to ensure that this felt more like a romp than the retelling of Arthurian legend. Unfortunately, feeling that energy so misdirected just made me like it even less. Technically fine, and the cast could have done even better with a script that worked, but this turned out to be a knight I would rather forget.

4/10

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Wednesday 26 June 2024

Prime Time: Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967)

It’s been a while since I watched a Gamera movie. Not that long in the grand scheme of things, but long enough for me to already forget whether or not I was truly enjoying this era of the giant turtle beast. This film soon reminded me that I found these films to be middling entertainment, at best, and I usually rate them generously because of my innate love for most films of this kind.

The plot is summed up by the title. Gamera is awakened once more, just in time to battle a creature named Gyaos. Gamera is also befriended by a young boy named Eichi (Naoyuki Abe). Meanwhile, there’s some dull b-plot about the building of an expressway.

It’s tough to muster any enthusiasm for this, a kaiju film that has even less human characters worth caring about than usual, and fights that lack any real spectacle. Everything between Gamera and Gyaos is far less exciting than it should be, and there’s never a real sense of proper large-scale destruction.

Director Noriaki Yuasa returns to the series, as does writer Niisan Takahashi, but you wouldn’t know that they had any experience with this kind of material from the end result here. The opening scenes are some of the best, especially when Gamera befriend Eichi, but it’s quite a consistent slide downhill after those moments.

As for the cast, I will continue to single out Abe as the only highlight. His young character is singularly optimistic and cheerful throughout, and his relationship with Gamera works well, even as he spends most of the movie just looking on and being supportive from the sidelines.

Gamera still has one or two good moments of getting to do Gamera things, but the crude design and unimpressive characteristics of Gyaos leave a lot to be desired. It isn’t a memorable creature, and it never feels convincing when it gets the better of Gamera. 

I have said all I need to say here. In fact, I have said plenty when I had the option to sum this up in one word: Poor.

3/10

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Tuesday 25 June 2024

Challengers (2024)

A film all about tennis, except that it’s not really all about tennis. It’s all about sex, obsession, and power. But it’s also about tennis.

Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor play Art and Patrick, two tennis players who used to be very good friends. Their lives have gone in very different directions, however, and now Art is a pro trying to recover his form while Patrick is trying to win enough money to keep himself able to buy non-luxury items, like food. Both end up in a challenger tournament, and both end up playing against one another, observed by Tashi (Zendaya). Tasha is married to Art, but she is also very familiar with Patrick. Things may become messy and complicated, but it’s important to remember that this film is set in a world of tennis . . . where love equals zero.

Written by Justin Kuritzkes, his first major screenplay, this is a vibrant and steamy look at people who are pushing one another in different directions, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The material is elevated by Luca Gaudagnino’s electric direction, and a strange score from Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor that sometimes fits the visuals, but also sometimes just feels a bit jarring, yet now in a way that spoils the marriage between sight and sound.

The cast also help, absolutely fantastic in roles that allow them to relish being single-minded and fairly unpleasant for most of the runtime. Faist feels like the weakest of the three characters (in his nature, not in his performance), but his journey remains an intriguing one. O’Connor has more hunger in his eyes, although he also has some obvious failings that have held him back over the years. And then there’s Zendaya, casting a large shadow over these two men in a way that they don’t even fully realise until it is too late. Her turn here is wonderfully gritty and dispassionate, portraying someone who has decided to put all of her energy and effort into the career of someone else after her own dream came to a very sudden end.

Told in a non-chronological way, my main criticism is that there are some time jumps that feel a bit unnecessary, although everything becomes clear as you get used to the structure of the film. It feels like the right way to have done things though, especially by the time we get to a brilliantly satisfying finale. Momentum builds, camerawork is dizzyingly brilliant, and there’s a proper crescendo before everything ends, as should be the way of any great tennis match.

I wouldn’t say this is the best film for anyone involved, apart from Kuritzkes (so far), but it’s very good stuff. It’s sweaty, sexy, strange, and occasionally surprising. It’s certainly one of the best films about tennis that I can think of, despite it not really being about tennis.

8/10

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Monday 24 June 2024

Mubi Monday: Hard Labor (2011)

The first feature co-written and co-directed by Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas, who would then go on to helm the excellent Good Manners, this may not be anything truly great, and it's not helped by being too unsure of where it wants to position itself, but it's an interesting and assured debut. There's no subtlety here, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. People don't always appreciate subtlety, and sometimes it can be satisfying to use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.

Helena Albergaria plays Helena, a woman who decides to start up a business as a local grocery store owner. The timing isn’t great though. Her husband (Otávio, played by Marat Descartes) has just been let go from his job, he’s due to find out how difficult it is to find gainful employment again, and the problems and bills soon start piling up as the shop reveals a number of hidden problems. Helena has people working for her, including a young woman named Paula (Naloana Lima), but they need money and a work/life balance just as much as she does.

I don’t always do this, but I checked out a number of reviews for this movie before writing my own. I wanted to ensure that my own interpretation of the film, as simple as it seemed, wasn’t wildly out of whack with how others viewed it. Most people seemed to see it for what it was, I was relieved to find, but most people also seemed to dismiss it as something a bit too messy and painfully obvious for film fans. I disagree there, although I can understand some of the criticism.

Dutra and Rojas aren’t interested in keeping everything neat and tidy. The message at the heart of this is the most important thing, or so it seems, but they still do enough to wrap an intriguing and entertaining movie around it. Things could have been adjusted to help the film lean more strongly into any one of a number of genres, but I appreciate the uneven bobbing and weaving between so many different key moments.

Albergaria, Descartes, and Lima are great as the three central characters. While they are ably supported by a uniformly excellent cast, the leads perform brilliantly while also embodying their own part of the movie’s messaging. Albergaria deserves the most praise, considering the tightrope she walks as her character struggles in a pinch-point that has her poised to be either victim or small tyrant at any moment, but everyone does brilliant work in service to the talented team behind the camera.

There are many ways that this could be better, and I admit that I would have also liked to see things mean much further into the potential horror elements, but Hard Labor is still an accomplished feature debut. There are a number of scenes that will stay in your mind after the film has finished, including a brilliant and darkly comedic final moment, and Dutra and Rojas seem to have succeeded in giving us the film that makes the statement they wanted to make. 

7/10

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Sunday 23 June 2024

Netflix And Chill: Army Of Thieves (2021)

I know that some people rushed to see this when it first landed on Netflix, but I don't know why. A prequel spin-off from Army Of The Dead, focusing on one of the supporting characters in that film, and directed by the actor who played/still plays that character, there was nothing here that made me consider this a priority. I'm glad I finally got around to it now though, and I can tell everyone else that this is actually quite a bit better than the film that spawned it.

Matthias Schweighöfer is Ludwig Dieter, a mild-mannered man who maintains very strict order in his life while spending his spare time mastering the art of safe-cracking, in theory. He dreams of breaking in to four legendary safes, a quartet of huge devices that become increasingly difficult to break into when approached in a certain order, and he has the chance to turn his dream into a reality when he's approached by a group of criminals, helmed by Gwendoline Starr (Nathalie Emmanuel). But the chance to make his dream comes true also comes with the chance of everything turning into a nightmare.

Clocking in with a runtime of just over two hours, because of course it does, the most pleasant surprise about Army Of Thieves is how well it moves through the fairly silly plot, helped by a decent mix of characters and a few fun set-pieces. Writer Shay Hatten keeps the growing zombie threat from Army Of The Dead simmering away in the background, but sensibly focuses on this as an amusing crime caper, centred on an entertainingly nervy and ill-prepared main character.

Schweighöfer is great in the main role, making it easy to remember why his character was such a standout in the previous film. As awkward with people as he is comfortable with lock mechanisms, he's allowed to be the kind of criminal that viewers can easily root for, in it more for the challenge than any big payday, and aiming to get things done with a minimum of fuss or casualties. Emmanuel is an enjoyable screen presence, and she does well enough in her main role here, although it's hard to view her as a strong leader when the cracks in the team start to show. Stuart Martin is the mean and moody one, abd both Guz Khan and Ruby O. Fee are there to be placed in difficult positions as things become more strained. Jonathan Cohen is the determined cop who is always just one step behind, as expected, and there is an end scene that presents the expected cameos reminding everyone of where these events have been leading.

Aside from his acting onscreen, Schweighöfer also deserves some credit for his direction. This isn't his first feature, but all of his previous films have been co-directed with Torsten Künstler, which makes this his first solo outing. I'm sure he was given a lot of support and guidance by those who wanted to keep this in line with Zack Snyder's movie (and that support no doubt includes Snyder himself potentially offering some pointers), but Schweighöfer manages to deliver something that feels in line with the previous film in this series without ever being slavishly devoted to it. It's a character piece, it's a comedic crime film, it's a fun adventure. It's not a film that needs to keep reminding you of every detail and overcooked style of what preceded it.

Absolutely disposable stuff, admittedly, but I certainly enjoyed it enough while it was on. And I'd certainly be more keen to watch another film about this character than I would to watch another zombie-filled Snyder movie at this point.

6/10

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Saturday 22 June 2024

Shudder Saturday: Houseboat Horror (1989)

I've said it before and I'll say it again . . . we live in truly wonderful times for film fans. Many films remain obscure, or almost wiped from existence, but so many films are even more easily available now than they were upon first release. You can get yourself comfortable at home, line up your favourite snacks and beverages, and plan time to watch either a film that has just left, or is sometimes still in, cinema screens, a golden oldie classic, and everything in between. Houseboat Horror comes in the "everything in between" category. It's a shot on video slasher movie that I probably would never have seen if it hadn't now been available on one of my many online streaming services. 

The plot is as simple as you'd expect it to be. A group of people end up in a fairly isolated location, somewhere that makes them more likely to be targeted by a vicious killer. It helps that the main characters are a bunch of rock musicians and the crew filming their music video, which creates instant tension with any locals that they encounter, and also allows viewers to look forward to all of the expected death scenes.

I'm not going to tell people that Houseboat Horror is a great film. It's not even a great slasher film. It doesn't seem too bad, however, when you consider the wild variations in quality that can be found in the world of SOV horror. Despite being far from an expert in these films, I already know some of the most notorious titles, and I know how much of an endurance test they can be. They're also a testament to the passion and determination of many film-makers though, and the best SOV movies still have something running through them that shows the good intentions buried underneath the messy final product. Houseboat Horror is one of those movies, and I spent the duration of it rooting for directors Kendal Flanagan and Ollie Martin to fully win me over. That never happened, largely due to the weak screenplay by Martin (and, yes, I am aware of how many slasher movies have a weak screenplay), but a couple of moments showed a level of care and technical proficiency that I hadn't expected. 

It also doesn't help that the cast are a bit amateurish and clumsy, by and large. I am not going to spend too much time and space being overly critical of people who banded together to have some fun and get this made, but it's unsurprising to see that many of these cast members didn't go on to have lengthy and illustrious film careers, with Alan Dale, despite not being on top form, being the one notable exception. How he ended up in this is a mystery, and I'd love to hear from anyone who has that information, but he helps to lift things slightly just by being a recognisable face of someone you know has acted in more professional projects.

I liked this. It was endearing. The many flaws all worked to highlight just how much was stacked against Flanagan and Martin as they worked to get this made. It's a mess, and there are many scenes that are just disappointingly dull (a common failing of many SOV horror movies), and there's also an ending that lacks any tension whatsoever, but I still found myself smiling as the end credits rolled. I would watch it again. I'd recommend it to those looking for something to fan the flames of their nostalgia for the days of VHS, or to those looking for something undemanding that can be enjoyed in a group viewing. But I wouldn't recommend it to anyone looking for something remotely serious or well-crafted.

5/10

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Friday 21 June 2024

Frankenstein Conquers The World (1965)

I'm not sure that I really needed to watch this film at this time, although I saw it lumped in with a load of other Godzilla and kaiju movies (which I have been trying to make a priority for this year), but I'm still glad that I got around to it anyway. Not that I am saying it's a good film, but it's such an oddity that I'm glad I can now tell others that I actually experienced it. Feeling like more of a bizarre fever dream than a standard movie, Frankenstein Conquers The World (also known as Frankenstein Vs. Baragon) is something almost impossible to believe until you see it for yourself.

Opening with a sequence that mixes wartime intrigue with the discovery of the still-beating heart of Frankenstein’s creature, this is the tale of a young boy (played by Kôji Furuhata) who baffles the scientific community. Growing at an accelerated rate, as well as being resistant to radiation, the boy is named Frankenstein and observed by scientists who hope to stop him from becoming dangerous. He isn’t the only anomaly to arise though, and may actually be able to save people from a greater danger.

Directed by the great Ishirô Honda, and written by Takeshi Kimora (billed as Kaoru Mabuchi), this plays fast and loose with elements of the classic tale being referenced, which was in turn reworked by both John Meredyth Lucas and Shin’ichi Sekizawa, a before settling into a third act that delivers some very familiar fighting between giant figures.

While not anywhere close to the best of this kind of film, particularly when one of the mighty creations is just an overgrown boy wandering through the Japanese countryside, this is so consistently and wonderfully odd that most fans of kaiju movies should still find enough to enjoy. You do get a big beastie, you do get some destruction on a large scale, just not as large a scale as it is in other movies, and you get the usual arguments between military and medical personnel.

Nick Adams and Kumi Mizuno are two of the main figures who try to keep the situation under control, both doing fine in typically thankless roles as they fill time in between moments of spectacle, and Tadao Takashima and Yoshio Tsuchiya are perfectly acceptable as they also struggle to keep Japan safe from a new menace. Furuhata is the star, but he’s unable to make a major impact while his character is kept disappointingly grounded by a lack of any outstanding special moves or abilities (aside from his growth and regeneration).

At once kind of terrible and kind of brilliant at the same time, this is an admirable attempt to do something a bit different with a very familiar template. I will be unlikely to ever want to revisit it, but I am happy that my cinematic quest this year has allowed me to watch something so entertainingly bonkers.

6/10

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