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Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (1981)
Hyde the sausage.
Udo Kier is the eponymous Dr. Henry Jekyll, whose experiments into transcendentalism turn him into the sex-crazed Mr. Hyde, who proceeds to go on the rampage, no woman or man safe from his 35cm long, 6cm in diameter, pointy-tipped and extremely rigid phallus. Jeckyll's beautiful betrothed, Miss Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro), discovers her lover's secret and is forced to take drastic measures to keep her man.
Directed by Walerian Borowczyk, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is Euro arthouse horror by way of sleazy sexploitation, meaning that it bores and entertains in equal measures. When at its most pretentious, it is an insufferable snooze-fest, but the film proves a whole lot of deviant fun whenever Hyde gets freaky deaky with his massive dong.
First to suffer is a young girl, beaten unconscious in a London street by Hyde wielding Jeckyll's cane. A pretty dancer is next to be attacked, her lady parts torn asunder by Hyde's whopping whanger, her belly perforated from the inside. Charlotte, the lascivious daughter of General William Danvers Carew (Patrick Magee), actually welcomes Hyde's attention, obligingly bending over for some rear-entry action as her father, tied to a chair, watches in horror (he later punishes his wanton girl by whipping her bare ass with a length of rope). Then, proving that he has no particular sexual preference, Hyde rapes a curly-haired man. Borowczyk, not one to shy away from a shocking image, gives us several graphic shots of Hyde's engorged member as he goes about his business, and shows the bloody aftermath of each attack in detail. The film also delivers plenty of gratuitous nudity, with lots of boobs and bush, making the film a real treat for fans of exploitative trash.
Fans of Udo Kier might come away a little disappointed: he isn't really given a lot to do, since his demented alter-ego is played by another actor (Gérard Zalcberg, sporting a really bad haircut). The most memorable performances come from Magee, who looks like he's totally off his rocker (or completely drunk), and Pierro, who impresses for a completely different reason: she's stunning!
Every Which Way but Loose (1978)
Give him a cheroot, give him a .44 Magnum, but please don't give him an orangutan for a co-star.
How do you follow a gritty revisionist Western and two violent cop thrillers? Why, team up with an orangutan for a screwball comedy, of course! Following in the footsteps of fellow tough guy Burt Reynolds (who scored big with his good-ol'-boy knockabout comedy Smokey and the Bandit), Clint Eastwood stars in Every Which Way But Loose, in which he plays trucker/bare knuckle fighter Philo Beddoe. The wafer thin plot sees Beddoe hit the road in pursuit of country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor (Sondra Locke), accompanied by his pet orangutan Clyde, buddy Orville (Geoffrey Lewis), and fruit seller Echo (Beverly D'Angelo), and pursued by a pair of vengeful cops (who he beat in a bar brawl) and a gang of Nazi bikers (with whom he has a running feud).
Now I can appreciate the humour in an orangutan flipping the bird, but when that's the biggest laugh to be had in a supposed comedy, I'm going to struggle. Every Which Way But Loose might have been a huge hit with trailer-trash types for whom a brawling no-hoper like Beddoe is an aspirational character, but anyone with a IQ higher than an orangutan will surely see this film for the aimless, plotless, charmless mess that it is - a waste of talent and time, and devoid of genuine laughs. From the moment Beddoe thoughtlessly chucks his chewing gum wrapper out of his truck window, I failed to click with this supposedly likeable schlub who answers every problem with his fists. He leaves his gum under a bar, deliberately provokes the clientele, has no consideration for other the property of other people (ramming a car out of the way with his truck), and hijacks a street-cleaning vehicle (throwing the driver onto the road). And this is the hero!
It's also hard for me to enjoy a film in which everyone is so completely stupid: Philo is so thick that he fails to see that Halsey-Taylor is a scam artist (he also has no taste: she's not much of a looker); the cops that track the trucker are so dense that it's a surprise that they can actually hold their guns the right way round (the scene in which the cop takes the fishing rod from Beddoe is moronic in the extreme); and as for the bikers, suffice to say that, if they can be outsmarted by Beddoe and his pals, they're not exactly Einstein.
The very unsatisfactory ending sees Philoe finally realising that Lynn has been using him (doh!), and then deliberately losing his fight with reigning champ Tank Murdock (Walter Barnes) 'cos he feels sorry for him. What a chump!
Kelly's Heroes (1970)
Fully deserving of negative waves.
When American soldier Kelly (Clint Eastwood) learns of a fortune in Nazi gold being stored in a bank behind enemy lines, he organises a mission to relieve the Germans of their treasure.
With a fun premise, a proven director in Brian G. Hutton (Where Eagles Dare) and a terrific ensemble cast, Kelly's Heroes could have been a hugely enjoyable WWII 'men on a mission'/crime caper, but winds up being an irritating mess of a movie due to its screwball comedy, its 'futility of war' subtext, and its late-'60s/early '70s hippie spirit, most evident in its madcap characters, of which the most oddball is even called 'Oddball' (played by Donald Sutherland).
The flower-power affectations and anti-war message reflect the peace movement of the day and many Americans' sentiments about the Vietnam war, which was in full swing at the time. However, the tone is so completely at odds with the WWII setting that it makes for a very awkward movie. Had they done away with the anachronistic counterculture vernacular and the screwball 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' approach, and made Kelly's Heroes an authentic war movie, I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more.
The catchy theme song 'Burning Bridges', sung by the Mike Curb Congregation with music by Lalo Schifrin, is reminiscent of 'The Self Preservation Society', the theme song from the previous year's The Italian Job, which was written by Kelly's Heroes' writer Troy Kennedy Martin and also revolved around a daring gold heist. The Italian Job is far better than Kelly's Heroes.
3.5/10, rounded down to 3 for Sutherland's hugely annoying performance.
A tad underwhelming.
A down-on-their-luck, low-class family con their way into the employ of a rich household, but events turn sinister after they find a secret in the basement.
Maybe I've just seen too many really messed up movies from the far East, but at the half-way point of Parasite, which sees the discovery of a hidden bunker and an unexpected inhabitant lurking within, I hoped that matters would get seriously twisted in the way that only Asian cinema can; but while things certainly get dark, the film is not nearly as edgy, or as bizarre, or as wild as the premise suggests.
The initial plot twists and turns are deftly handled by director Bong Joon-ho, there are some superbly executed scenes of tension, the performances are great, the cinematography is lovely, and the film's social commentary on how different classes view and treat each other allows for plenty of delicious satire, but the second half of the film still feels frustratingly restrained in terms of sheer audacity. Restrained, and incredibly drawn out, Bong Joon-ho letting too many scenes drag their heels, with the ending taking an eternity to arrive.
In short, definitely worth a watch, but a serious contender for best picture? Surely not.
He's an absolute beginner.
Included as an extra on the DVD of Moon, this earlier short from director Duncan Jones sees British high-tech assassin Ryan (Dominic Mafham) settling down with his wife and son in Switzerland, where he continues his nefarious work using satellite computer imaging to locate his targets and long-range, laser-sighted weaponry to bump them off. When his latest hit goes awry, killing not only the intended victim but his young daughter too, Ryan develops a conscience and leaves home to speak to the dead man's wife. In doing so, he breaks protocol and compromises the security of his family and his superior. As a result, the assassin finds himself targeted by his own deadly gadgetry, his impending fate signaled by a high pitched whistle (either that or someone left a kettle on the hob).
Jones's lack of experience (this was his first time behind the camera) results in a film that is very rough around the edges, with poor storytelling and weak performances (Mafham makes for a forgettable lead) not exactly helping an already far-fetched premise. Moon was a definitely a 'giant leap' for the director, who has since gone on to direct three more features that I have yet to see. I sincerely hope they showed signs of further improvement, because his next film is an adaptation of 2000 A.D. comic strip Rogue Trooper, and I REALLY don't want him to mess that up.
That's a wrap.
The mummy is probably my least favourite classic Universal monster and I don't get the humour of Abbott and Costello (not for want of trying), so I wasn't expecting too much from Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, the comedy duo's penultimate movie and their last to be produced by Universal. As I expected, this is a dreadfully unfunny outing for the stars, who go through the motions, flogging a few desperate gags for all they're worth by repeating them over and over again (not a great idea when they're not that funny to start with).
The film starts with a bizarre show at the Baghdad Cafe, the performers tumbling and doing stunts on a stage that seems to be twice the size of the seating area (not the most economic use of space for a business). Joining the audience are alliterative pals Pete Patterson (Bud Abbott) and Freddie Franklin (Lou Costello), who need to find a way to make some money so that they can return to America. While taking in the show, the pair overhear Dr. Zoomer (Kurt Katch), exporter of Egyptian artefacts, talking about his latest acquisition, the mummy Klaris (Eddie Parker), and decide to pay the doctor a visit at his home to see if they can find work. Instead, they find Zoomer murdered, and themselves hunted by the killers, who are trying to locate a medallion that will reveal the whereabouts of the treasure of Princess Ara. Hilarity ensues (providing you have the sense of humour of a five year old).
Along the way, Lou sees lots of things that scare him but is unable to convince Bud that they are there (par for the course), we get secret revolving doors and spooky passageways (a staple of the genre), a gag involving the inability to whistle (as seen in every other A&C comedy), several song/dance numbers to pad out the run-time, and characters who dress up as the mummy to allow for much confusion. Gags that are repeated ad infinitum include Lou playing a snake charmer flute and getting scared by the rubbery reptile that emerges, and Lou and Bud trying to pass the cursed medallion to each other inside a burger bun. A skit involving the words 'shovel' and 'pick' is a weak variation on the comedians' own 'Who's on first?' routine.
3.5/10, rounded down to 3 for the totally pointless bat attack and the utterly bizarre giant lizard -- more filler in a film full of it.
Sam I am. And so am I.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is coming to the end of his three year contract working for Lunar Industries at Sarang Station on the far side of the moon, where he is the only employee, overseeing the mining of helium-3, a revolutionary fuel. While on a routine inspection of a harvester, Sam crashes his buggy and is rendered unconscious.
Waking in the base infirmary with no memory of the accident, Sam is tended to by the base's artificial intelligence named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). After hearing GERTY communicating with his superiors at Lunar Industries via a communication channel that is supposedly inoperative, Sam starts to become suspicious, more-so after he is confined to the base. Deliberately creating a technical problem that requires him to go outside, Sam travels to the crashed moon vehicle where he finds an unconscious occupant: himself!
Moon is a well acted and well directed sci-fi drama and passes the time nicely enough, but it does feel a bit like a short story stretched over a feature length runtime, director Duncan Jones struggling to maintain momentum after his 'reveal' -- that the central character is a clone, and that his three year 'contract' is in fact his lifespan, after which he will be replaced by another clone. The film would have worked better as an hour long episode of The Twilight Zone, but 97 minutes is pushing it a little. Still... worth a go, especially for fans of isolated/solitary sci-fi such as Silent Running and Dark Star, or of Bladerunner, which clearly provided inspiration for much of the plot.
6.5/10, rounded up to 7 for IMDb.
The Mummy's Curse (1944)
Now let me see if I've got this right...
The first Universal mummy sequel, The Mummy's Hand, took place in 1940. The next in the series, The Mummy's Tomb (1942), was set thirty years later, but still looked like the 1940s (not the slightest glimpse of any flares or flower power). The fourth mummy film, The Mummy's Ghost (1944), takes place some time after Tomb (Andoheb is still alive, but older and shakier), but still looks like the '40s. The Mummy's Curse, the final film in the series (not including Abbot and Costello Meet The Mummy), is set twenty five years after The Mummy's Ghost, which by my calculations would place it anywhere but the 1940s -- but guess what... it still looks like the 1940s.
Puzzling time-line aside, The Mummy's Curse still isn't a satisfying way to wrap things up, with a plot that makes little sense and offers nothing new. Kharis is brought back to life by a loyal follower after the wetlands into which he vanished (in The Mummy's Ghost) are drained. The mummy is revived with a brew made from tana leaves, but no such beverage is prepared for Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine), who inexplicably returns from the dead unaided, crawling from the mud, taking a wash in a river, and looking remarkably fresh-faced for someone who has spent a quarter of a century at the bottom of a swamp.
Kharis's mission is to find Ananka and return her to her sarcophagus, with orders to kill anyone who gets in the way. This results in a few very tame deaths, the mummy throttling its victims, usually out of shot. The horror is ineptly handled, the most comical moment seeing the mummy slowly approaching the car of Dr. James Halsey (Dennis Moore) and love interest Betty (Kay Harding), the couple totally oblivious to the manky creature only inches away; it's a 'Scooby Doo moment', good for a few giggles I suppose. On the other hand, Ananka rising from her swampy grave is supremely creepy thanks to the awkward body movements of the mud-caked Christine, but it's the only effective scene in a sea of mediocrity and tedium.
The Mummy's Ghost (1944)
More of the same.
At the end of The Mummy's Tomb (1942), the mummy Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr.) perishes in a fire and high priest Andoheb (George Zucco) finally dies. It says a lot about the shoddy, muddled, and contrived nature of this follow up that, somehow, Andoheb is back among the living (albeit with a serious case of the shakes) and Kharis isn't even a little bit singed, no explanation given.
This time around, Andoheb passes control of Kharis to creepy Egyptian Yousef Bey (John Carradine), who instructs the crumbling creature to help retrieve the body of Princess Ananka, which is on display in an American museum. However, when the mummy arrives, he finds that Ananka is missing, her soul having entered the body of beautiful Amina (ravishing brunette Ransay Ames), girlfriend of college student Tom Hervey (who looks way too old to still be in school).
At just over an hour long, the film is too short for boredom to set in, but it's not for want of trying, the uninspired antics of the shuffling monster hardly the stuff of nightmares. Several victims are throttled to death by Kharis, but the acting is incredibly hammy and the direction torpid. The most animated performance comes from a cute dog called Peanut, the adorable woofer leading an angry mob to the mummy, who, in true Universal fashion, has carried off the unconscious Amina (whose hair has turned white with shock, Ames looking just as lovely as a peroxide blonde).
In an unusually downbeat finale, Tom is unable to prevent Kharis from disappearing under the surface of a swamp with the rapidly aging Amina still in his arms.
I'm not going to rave about it, but I've seen worse.
Rave to the Grave, the fifth film in the Return of the Living Dead franchise, suffers from a really cheap aesthetic (shot on digital video?), a terrible script and lousy acting, but I still had a better time with it than I did with part II, which was all the more disappointing for being the immediate follow-up to one of the best horror comedies of all time. At least part 5 delivers some fun gore, features lots of hot Eastern European babes (pretending to be American) and throws in quite a few gratuitous breast shots to prevent things from being too boring.
The dumb plot sees high school student Julian (John Keefe) and his girlfriend Jenny (Jenny Mollen, now Jason Bigg's wife) discovering a canister of nerve agent Trioxin 5, which they take to their chemistry student pal Cody for investigation. On discovering that the chemicals inside the canister have psychoactive qualities, Cody decides to make a few dollars by using the contents to create a recreational drug, which he calls 'Z', unaware that it eventually turns the user into a zombie. With 'Z' proving popular with the revellers at a Halloween rave, the scene is set for brain-eating chaos.
This silly set-up allows for several not-very-funny comedic scenarios, but the lack of laughs is more than made up for by the many practical special effects, including eyeball popping, decapitations, an axe in the head, numerous bullet shots to the brain, ear ripping, a lot of skull crunching, and a very impressive looking 'tarman'. Yes, it's all a million miles away from the brilliance of Dan O'Bannon's original, but it's not unwatchable if trashy, frivolous schlock horror is your thing.
4.5/10, rounded up to 5 for IMDb.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Missouri farmer Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) joins a group of pro-Confederate Bushwhackers, hoping to take revenge on the Union 'Red Legs' who murdered his wife and son. At the conclusion of the war, Wales refuses to surrender and pledge allegiance to the Union and is declared an outlaw. With a price on his head, he finds himself on the run from Union militia and bounty hunters, but finds friendship along the way from an old Cherokee, a Navajo squaw, and two pilgrim women.
Although revenge is initially sought, and ultimately achieved by Wales, retribution isn't the driving force of this revisionist Western directed by Eastwood. For the majority of the run-time, the focus is on a man who doesn't go looking for trouble -- trouble just seems to find him. It's a film about unlikely alliances, bravery, and redemption, told with humour and humanity, Wales only drawing his guns when he is given no other option.
Eastwood's character is all too human, but still as cool as only Eastwood can be, Josey never missing a target, whether it be unleashing hell with his six shooter or spitting his tobaccy. Wales might not be quite as iconic as either 'The Man With No Name' or Dirty Harry, but he stands as one of the actor's finest roles, and the film as one of Eastwood's most accomplished Westerns -- two and a quarter hours of epic action and drama, at turns entertaining, emotional, educational (I learnt a few things about the Civil war period) and exciting.
Triple Threat (2019)
Great cast, mediocre movie.
Chinese kung fu champ Tiger Hu Chen, Thai martial arts sensations Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak) and JeeJa Yanin (Chocolate), and Indonesian action star Iko Uwais (The Raid) represent the East; US multi-discipline black belt Michael Jai White and Brit bruiser Scott Adkins represent the West. With such an impressive line-up, Triple Threat could have been up there with The Raid (and its sequel), The Warrior King, and Ong Bak as one of the best action films of the last twenty years. Sadly, it isn't.
The cast cannot be held responsible: they do what they were hired to do -- kick ass (nobody really expected Oscar-winning performances). It's up to stuntman turned director Jesse V. Johnson to shoulder the blame, his handling of the action failing to show his more-than-capable performers in the best light. The plot is uninspired but it allows for plenty of shooting and punching and kicking; unfortunately, the fight scenes lack impact thanks to dreadful camerawork and duff editing, whilst the gunplay relies on CGI for much of the damage inflicted.
With a skilled action director such as Prachya Pinkaew or Gareth Evans at the helm, Triple Threat might have worked despite the rather predictable script, but in the hands of Johnson, the film is a frustrating wasted opportunity.
5/10, minus one point for killing off the lovely JeeJa Yanin way too soon. She goes out in fine style (reduced to a bloody mess by a grenade launcher), but she really deserved to be given as much screen time as her male co-stars.
Laissez bronzer les cadavres (2017)
Stay out of my head!
The directors of Let The Corpses Tan -- Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani -- are more preoccupied with arty shots, clever editing, moments of surreality, and fancy camerawork than in telling a decent story. It's as though the film-makers crawled inside my head, discovered everything I hate about arthouse cinema, and put it all into this one movie. At times, the pretentiousness is so extreme that it feels like a pastiche of arthouse, although I'm fairly certain that this is not the case: no-one in their right mind would waste the time, money and effort to do that.
At the core of the film is a classic 'heist gone wrong' scenario, a group of armed robbers making their way to a remote hideout after stealing a fortune in gold bullion, where greed, betrayal and a stubborn cop causes problems. Many a great film has been made with similar material, but Cattet and Forzani's showy treatment and extremely offbeat visuals make this a totally confusing chore from start to finish. There are lots of close-ups of eyes and gun barrels, annoying out of sequence scenes and multiple different viewpoints of the same action, plus tons of bizarre moments that are never explained: ants crawling on an aerial photo of the hideout, a silhouetted naked woman who pees on a man's head, a lady having her dress machine-gunned off, and gold that turns into liquid when hit by bullets. The last half an hour or so consists of choppily edited gunfire, all shot so as to make it impossible to work out who is firing at who.
1/10. Hifalutin drivel of the worst kind.
To be fair, when Jack tried to get on the door, it tipped up.
A big boat hits a huge lump of ice and slowly sinks. Meanwhile, a chirpy American lad, Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), gets it on with Rose (Kate Winslet), a posh bit of British totty, much to the annoyance of the girl's fiancé, Cal (Billy Zane, putting in a wonderfully loathsome performance).
James Cameron's Titanic is what I call 'factasy'. In other words, it's a factual story combined with fantastical elements to make the finished article more entertaining to the masses. A more recent example of this melding of truth and fiction is The Aeronauts, but where that film played it too fast and loose with the facts and ultimately came crashing down to earth in tatters, Cameron gets the balance of real and imagined just right, making his film both a fascinating insight into one of the most famous disasters of the 20th century, and a thoroughly charming love story.
A master storyteller, Cameron successfully steers his way around any potentially disastrous obstacles that threaten to bring the film to a standstill. Even though there's a good hour and a half before any sight of an iceberg, Titanic is thoroughly engrossing from start to finish, a testament to its director's skill at weaving a good yarn, and to the talent of his impressive cast (which includes Kathy Bates as Molly Brown and David Warner as Spicer Lovejoy). Kate and Leo make for one of cinema's most iconic pair of lovers, and exude a likability and charm that carries the first half of the film. The latter part is mostly about the special effects, something that Cameron excels at, always pushing the boundaries of technology. Even after 23 years, the sinking of the mighty ship is a sight to behold, and still sends chills up the spine.
It's only the film's closing moments that prevent me from giving the film full marks: why oh why did Old Rose (Gloria Stuart) chuck her priceless necklace into the sea? Give it to your granddaughter, donate it to an orphanage, put it in a museum, let Bill Paxton have it, but please don't throw it overboard! And as if that crazy act wasn't reprehensible enough, when the old dear carks it, her spirit returns to the Titanic to be reunited with Jack -- excuse me Rose, but what about your dead husband and father to your child?
The Gentlemen (2019)
Must hold the record for the most frequent use of the 'C' word.
Having spent a decade or so making Hollywood blockbusters (with varying degrees of success), director Guy Ritchie returns to the genre that first made him famous: Tarantino à la UK. Some might see this as a backwards step, but in my opinion, it's what he does best.
This time around, the ace in Ritchie's hand is Hugh Grant, who brilliantly plays pivotal character Fletcher, a tabloid reporter who tries to blackmail powerful drug lord Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), threatening to publish an extremely damaging story if he doesn't receive a payment of £20m within 72 hours. The film unfolds as Fletcher tells Pearson's right hand man Ray (Charlie Hunnam) the story of how he gathered the dirt on his boss. Grant's performance is pure genius: playing against type he is seriously sleazy and frequently hilarious.
Not that the rest of the cast are any slouches: Hunnam is cool and badass, Colin Farrell displays a keen comedic touch as tough gym owner Coach, McConaughey is his usual affable self (but with a seriously dangerous edge), Michelle Dockery impresses as Pearson's spunky wife Rosalind, and Jeremy Strong holds his own as the criminal who wants to buy Pearson's marijuana operation. Even the minor characters are great as well, from the Coach's grime-loving lads 'TheToddlers' to the obnoxious housing estate yoofs who give Ray's 'muscle' the runaround.
Ritchie's writing and direction is possibly his best yet, the script sparkling with wit and the visuals both stylish and confident. The dialogue is extremely funny (and loaded with expletives), the violence gloriously OTT, and the characters memorable. It might be a case of Ritchie 'playing it safe' by revisiting familiar territory, but when the result is as entertaining as this, why the hell not?
Alice in Wonderland (1933)
Down the rabbit hole we go...
Bored twelve year old Alice (played by nineteen year old Charlotte Henry, undoubtedly making some viewers feel a little uncomfortable for finding her hot) risks going up in ball of flames by climbing up to the mirror above her fireplace and passing through it into another world. Having made her acquaintance with a talking clock and several living chess pieces, the girl follows a white rabbit down a hole into an even more unorthodox land, home to such strange inhabitants as the Cheshire Cat, a pipe-smoking caterpillar, twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Mock Turtle (Cary Grant), Humpty Dumpty (W.C. Fields) and a knight who can't stop falling off his horse (Gary Cooper).
Shot during the Great Depression, Alice In Wonderland is an attempt at a feel-good fantasy for the whole family, showcasing much of Paramount Pictures' talent at the time. However, with characters closely fashioned after the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, certain scenes in the film are pure nightmare fuel, the grotesque facial features and bizarre costumery making for some truly disturbing imagery. As if Lewis Carroll's classic wasn't freaky enough already...
Employing elements from both Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland, this version of Alice's adventures suffers from an extremely muddled narrative, and with many of its performers' remaining unrecognisable behind the heavy make-up and masks, it's far from the star-studded success that Paramount was banking on (the studio was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time).
On the other hand, the film's total lack of cohesion and unusual aesthetic do qualify it as a unique and strangely compelling cinematic curio, worth a watch just to experience movie-making at its most eccentric. Alice floating down some stairs and around a corner, a baby turning into a pig, a mouse with a sail on his tail, and a trippy animated segment called The Walrus and the Carpenter are among some of the more crazy moments, while The Duchess, Humpty Dumpty, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee boast the most disturbing make-up.
And don't even get me started on that talking leg of mutton that I am sure will haunt my dreams for years to come...
5/10. Not great, but certainly unforgettable.
The Frankenstein Theory (2013)
Made by A. Weiner.
The Frankenstein Theory is directed by Andrew Weiner, but I'm going to try and resist the temptation to make puerile jokes about his unfortunate name, even though I found his movie an insufferable bore. Yet another found footage horror, Weiner's film follows a group of documentary makers employed by Professor John Venkenheim to document an expedition to the Arctic where the prof hopes to find evidence to support his theory that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a work of non-fiction disguised as fiction. If Venkenheim is correct, somewhere in the frozen tundra, a man-made creature, brought to life by his ancestor, still roams the land...
It's approximately an hour into the film before there is any hint of a monster, meaning that the majority of the running time is spent as the characters prepare for their trip, drive to Canada, interview a local meth-head who claims to have seen the creature, team up with a local guide, and travel to a godforsaken yurt in the middle of nowhere where they wait for the monster to make its presence known. This it inevitably does, making grunting, bear-like noises in the middle of the night, at which point Weiner (fyaf! fyaf!) proceeds to slavishly ape The Blair Witch Project, with night-vision camerawork, a hysterical lead female, and characters who foolishly wander off on their own only to wind up dead.
Like a fool, I kept watching through the dull build up and the derivative 'scares', hoping that my patience would be rewarded with the appearance of an impressive creature in the final act, but Weiner (fnarr! fnarr!) clearly blew all of his budget on snowmobile rental fees: all we get are some blurry long distant shots of the monster, and a close-up of it silhouetted in a door frame. There's certainly nothing resembling the hulking brute depicted on the cover of the DVD. The ending is thoroughly disappointing, but also a blessed relief.
2.5/10, rounded up to 3 for IMDb.
A technical triumph.
It's over seventy years since Alfred Hitchcock made Rope, which tried to tell a thrilling tale of murder in a swanky New York apartment location with as few shots as possible, the director hiding any sneaky splices with clever visual trickery. For First World War adventure 1917, Sam Mendes pulls off the same illusion, only with the advantages of 21st century technology, meaning that his film is far more seamless and able to cover much more ground: the vast, body-strewn battlegrounds of northern France, to be precise, where Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) are given the unenviable task of delivering a letter to advancing British troops heading into a trap that could cost 1,600 lives.
There's no denying that 1917 is an amazing technical feat, with many an impressive shot as Blake and Schofield risk life and limb to head into enemy territory. Director Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins pull off the seemingly impossible on many occasions, the camera gliding and sweeping over muddy war-torn terrain, in and out of trenches, and through numerous ruins, rarely leaving the protagonists, clearly the result of much planning and impeccable timing. As such, 1917 is, for the most part, an incredibly immersive experience, putting the viewer right in the thick of it with the heroes, the action both intense and visceral. Occasionally, however, it's all just a little too clever for its own good, with a few moments that are so technically jaw-dropping that they tend to draw the viewer out of the film wondering how the shots were achieved. It's a double-edged sword, that movie-making wizardry!
The simplistic script also works for and against the film. I liken the story-line to that of a 'first-person shooter' computer game, where the player controls a character who must complete a mission, overcoming various hazards and enemies along the way, There's not exactly a lot of depth to it -- it's about getting from A to B without being killed, and that's pretty much it. On the flip side, the minimalistic plot does mean that there's a fair amount of action to be had, so I'm not complaining too much. I do have a couple of minor niggles, though -- and considering the incredible attention to detail given to the visuals, I wish that Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns had managed to write their way round these issues a little better: firstly, trusting a German pilot who has just been shot out of the sky.... stupid, stupid, stupid. Number two: milk... just sitting there for the taking, with no-one else around (and how convenient for a touching scene later on). And lastly, a whole battalion sat listening to someone sing, with no-one on look-out - it's like they're asking to be shot!
Despite its problems, I would still recommend the film, especially to those interested the whole process of film-making -- the sets, the costumes, the carefully choreographed action, and the camerawork are astounding, and worth the price of admission alone. If you become invested in the characters and their mission, then that's just a bonus.
7.5/10, rounded up to 8 for IMDb.
If you're a fan of The Twilight Zone, then Frequency will most likely be a no-brainer, with a time-twisting story that could easily have come from the fifth dimension. Like a blend of Back To The Future, The Butterfly Effect and Silence of The Lambs, the film sees New York cop John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel) making contact with his deceased fireman father Frank (Dennis Quaid) via an old ham radio set that is able to broadcast through time (the equipment given a fantastic boost by bizarre atmospheric conditions). When John changes the past by preventing Frank from perishing in a warehouse blaze, he sets off a chain reaction of events that lead to son and father tracking down an elusive serial killer.
As with many a film that bends time to its will, Frequency simply asks the viewer to go with the flow, and not dwell on the many paradoxical issues that undoubtedly arise from such a preposterous premise; those that are able to to do so will find this film to be an inventive little thriller with a charming sentimental streak, some decent action, a little humour, and several ingenious trans-temporal touches. It's smartly written, well acted, and confidently directed by Gregory Hoblit, who clearly doesn't give a monkey's about the lapses in logic. Sure, the ending is rushed and doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but the film is just too much fun for me to be too critical.
7.5/10, rounded up to 8 for IMDb.
Over and out!
You were bored stiff? #MeToo
It goes without saying that it is disgusting when men in power abuse their position by taking advantage of women in a sexual manner, but who the hell thought that the Fox News scandal would make for a compelling movie? Never has 109 minutes seemed so long. Director Jay Roach, so good at goofball comedy, bored my socks off with this dreary feminist drama that moves slowly and uneventfully towards its inevitable damp squib of a climax (when sex-pest Roger Ailes gets what's coming to him -- a $40 million settlement from Rupert Murdoch).
It's extremely telling that the thing I found most engrossing about the whole film was trying to decide whether Nicole Kidman's chin was a prosthetic or some monstrous plastic surgery procedure gone horribly wrong. I'm still undecided about that, but I am sure that I will never watch this film again (unless someone wants to pay me $40 million to do so).
J.D.'s Revenge (1976)
I will have my revenge... in thirty years or so.
Young couple Isaac and Christella (Glynn Turman and Joan Pringle) celebrate their friends' first anniversary together by accompanying them to a New Orleans titty bar (who said romance is dead?), followed by a hypnotist show in which Isaac participates; during the show, the amiable young man becomes host to the spirit of 1940s hustler J.D. Walker (David McKnight) who was shot dead after wrongfully being accused of murdering of his sister. Periodically taking over Isaac's body, J.D sets about getting revenge...
Why do vengeful spirits wait so long before taking action? It's over thirty years before J.D. decides to get even - what has he been doing in the meantime? Still, without this delay, we wouldn't have been able to witness Isaac's hilarious transformation from 70s disco-dancing taxi-driver/aspiring lawyer into conk-haired, besuited, fedora-wearing, razor-slashing J.D. Walker. Turman is an absolute blast as the sneering hoodlum, strutting his stuff, talking jive slang, picking up floozies, and being a real jerk to Christella. It's not exactly an Oscar worthy performance, but it sure is unforgettable.
Also acting his little socks off is Lou Gossett Jr. as evangelical preacher Rev. Elija Bliss, whose sermons are energetic to say the least. Director Arthur Marks' handling of proceedings is fairly unremarkable -- there's not a lot in the way of real scares or atmosphere -- but with such lively central characters, a smattering of nudity, and lots of bright red blood (J.D. gets busy with his razor on several occasions), this Blaxploitation/horror hybrid is too much fun to ignore.
6.5/10, rounded up to 7 for the laughs!
Hang 'Em High (1968)
Jed's not dead.
Cowboy Jed Cooper (Clint Eastwood) really cares for his cattle, getting his chaps all soggy to carry a cute calf across a river. So when a posse grab the animal-lovin' ex-lawman and lynch him for theft and murder, we all know he has been wrongly accused. Sure enough, Cooper is found innocent of the crime, but not until after he has been left for dead at the end of a rope, cut down by a passing sheriff, and thrown into jail. Freed by Judge Fenton (Pat Hingle), Cooper takes the job of Marshal, and proceeds to bring justice to the nine men who strung him up.
Having made his name in several classic spaghetti westerns, Clint Eastwood packed his saddle and spurs and headed for Hollywood where he founded his Malpaso production company, Hang 'Em High being his first self-produced effort, directed by Ted Post. While perhaps not on a par with the work of Leone, it's still an entertaining revenge-themed western, with another effortlessly cool turn from its star, great support from several solid character actors (Ed Begley, Bruce Dern, Ben Johnson), and even a brief role for a pre-Easy Rider Dennis Hopper. The inevitable love interest, Rachel Warren, is played by beautiful blonde Inger Stevens, who tragically took her own life at the age of 35.
Eastwood's altercations with a variety of bad guys are clearly intended to be the film's highlights, but the most memorable scene for me is the hanging of six men, a large crowd of onlookers making a day of the event: the build-up is truly harrowing, the emotions of the prisoners about to meet their maker ranging from penitent, to defiant, to just plain petrified. It's a genuine lump-in-the-throat, shiver-up-the-spine moment as the men eventually plummet through the trapdoors. The Wild West can be over-romanticised at times, but this moment drives home just how harsh it really was.
How to build a career in Hollywood.
I can see how 'high-school noir' Brick, the debut feature of director Rian Johnson, has gained a cult following: its heavily stylised dialogue provides something for the viewer to chew over and makes them feel a little special if they 'get it'.
I didn't get it.
As far as I am concerned, the film is impenetrable garbage, the gobbledegook that passes for a script utterly perplexing, the performances grating, and Johnson's direction far too calculated, with every shot over-considered. Nothing flows naturally. It feels like (because it is) an attention-grabbing exercise by someone fresh out of film school - a 'look at me... aren't I clever?' calling card designed to appeal to pretentious film snobs and indiscriminate indie-movie fans, and to get Johnson noticed by industry bigwigs.
In that respect, I guess the film should be deemed a success. Enough people took the bait to help launch a Hollywood career for Johnson.
I hated Rian Johnson for giving us the worst Star Wars film since Attack fo the Clones, but felt a little more forgiving after Knives Out. Having watched Brick, he's back at square one with me.
Britain. The Dark Ages. The early 1980s, to be precise. Director John Boorman's Excalibur is unleashed, a lavish historical/fantasy epic largely based on Le Morte D'Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory's 15th Century telling of the Arthurian legend. Boorman throws everything he has at the screen, his film benefitting from stunning set design, creative costumery and impressive cinematography, but uneven direction and terrible performances are its ultimate downfall.
Writer Rospo Pallenberg's adaptation includes many of the best-known Arthurian elements, from the drawing of Excalibur from the stone, to Lancelot and Queen Guinevere's adulterous romance, to the quest for the Holy Grail, but Boorman fails to capture the magic of the legend, his film becoming a muddled, long-winded bore that ultimately descends into total confusion (consider that his previous two films were the totally insane sci-fi Zardoz and diabolical horror sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic, and it's not all that surprising).
As for the acting, Nicol Williamson is perhaps the biggest offender, his head-scratching turn as Merlin making one wonder whether he was dared by his mates to go through the whole film making inappropriate pauses and extending every vowel. Not quite as bad, but hardly the stuff of legend, is Nigel Terry as King Arthur: he lacks the gravitas for such a role, and comes across as bit of a wimp. Future A-listers Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart and Helen Mirren also fail to make an impression, and nepotism is alive and well, John Boorman casting his children Charley and Katrine in the roles of young Mordred and Igrayne.
The film does, however, provide a few unintentional laughs, some bits almost as silly as Monty Python's 1975 take on the story: try keeping a straight face as Arthur opts to keep his armour on while having sex (imagine the clanking!), or when necromancer Morgana (Mirren) uses her dark arts to protect her son: nothing says 'ancient magical power' more than a couple of handfuls of gold glitter thrown in the air!
3.5/10, rounded up to 4 for the sometimes stunning visuals, and the occasional spot of nudity and graphic gore, which help to make matters a little more bearable.
Vampires: Los Muertos (2002)
Vampire Hunter Derek
Los Muertos is the sequel to John Carpenter's Vampires that almost nobody asked for. And even if you did ask for it, I doubt very much if you wanted Jon Bon Jovi to play the lead. Or an actress who looks like Sharleen Spiteri from pop band Texas as the head vampire.
Jovi plays a vampire hunter called Derek, who teams up with a priest, a Mexican teenager hoping to earn some cash to help his mother, some old guy, a black vampire hunter who displays zero common sense, and a half-vampire who keeps herself from turning full bloodsucker with a miracle drug, the origin of which is never adequately explained. Vampire Spiteri and her nameless followers go about killing off anyone else who might help Derek in his quest against the undead, while also looking for a mystical cross that will enable a vampire to walk in daylight.
Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III, Fright Night Pt. 2), the film starts off promisingly with Derek slaying a vampire hooker by shooting her in the head and heart with a gun that fires stakes. So far, so fun. If things continue in this vein (pun intended), this might not be so bad after all. Unfortunately, as the film progresses, it teeters awkwardly between 'schlock' and 'serious', with a seriously scrappy script and sloppy direction sucking out all the fun. At times, the film is so bad it's almost funny. Almost.
Those who stay the distance will be treated to a few decent gore effects, but will have to suffer through JBJ's awful acting, lots of mediocre vampire slaying action, the quite frankly absurd decision by Derek to take a transfusion of vampire blood so that he can sneak up on Sharleen unnoticed, and a finale that tries to crank up the tension by using the same 'malfunctioning winch' plot device they used earlier in the film. You would think that they would get that fixed as a matter of urgency.
2.5/10, rounded up to 3 for IMDb.