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Dark Shadows: Episode #1.340 (1967)
Episode 340 offers an amount of time spent with some truly unpleasant characters in the form of a scheming Barnabas and an anything-goes Dr Hoffman. I've heard that both characters become sympathetic later in the show, but I do have to wonder how given their cruelty at present. As ever, when life's in peril this becomes unusually compulsive viewing.
Point Blank (2019)
I should say from the start the original French version of POINT BLANK, released in 2010, is one of my all-time favourite thrillers: a low budget affair, starring nobody familiar in the West, which nonetheless turns out to contain so much action and suspense that it's literally a pulse-pounding watch. Following on from the ill-advised remake of another superior French thriller, SLEEPLESS NIGHT, we have the 2019 POINT BLANK, a film which goes through the motions without once igniting the screen like the original. Anthony Mackie is a boring protagonist while a charismatic Frank Grillo is typically dangerous and the best thing in this. The rest is a lukewarm re-tread at best, failing to include all the bits that made the original film so good, feeling sluggish and cliched as a result.
Home at Seven (1952)
HOME AT SEVEN is a film featuring a perennial favourite plot - the 'amnesia' storyline in which the protagonist arrives home only to discover that his missing memory coincides with robbery and murder. Is he himself responsible, or has he been set up? Sadly, this is a lesser outing for the genre, a studio-bound and dialogue-heavy story which is quite frankly boring for large swathes of the running time. Ralph Richardson as actor is fine, but Ralph Richardson as director is far less assured, failing to invest his picture with the necessary suspense to make it interesting. The supporting cast features typically strong performances from old-timer Michael Shepley alongside Jack Hawkins, but there's no getting around this film's long-windedness and the fact that the eventual solving of the mystery is all exposition.
Lo mau (1992)
Cheesy and brilliant
THE CAT is a typically off-the-wall science fiction flick from Hong Kong, liberally scattered with horror and action elements too. The plot appears to have been made up as they went along, although it does feature popular fictional professor Wisely as the protagonist. The main story features pretty space princess Gloria Yip and her black cat which turns out to have magical powers.
The story is quite episodic and slow in parts, although it's absolutely mad at other times and certainly sticks in the mind as a result. There's a scene in which a mastiff is called in to tackle the cat in a scrapyard which is surreal and insane, like a cartoon put on screen. Elswhere, Phillip Kwok plays another absolute bad-ass again (typecast after HARD-BOILED) and Waise Lee gets a chance to play the hero after his memorable turn as the baddie in A BULLET IN THE HEAD.
The film's real star is the special effects, which have to be seen to believed. The main characters are menaced by an amorphous space-being straight out of Lovecraft, so expect scenes of gore, dissolution and gloopiness all round. The director is also obsessed with fire and Kwok performs some incredible stunts as a result. Imagine a bizarre, frenetic mix of THE BLOB, SOCIETY, TERMINATOR 2, WESTWORLD and THE THING and you'll be there; the OTT climax manages to be both incredibly cheesy and bloody brilliant. See it to believe it.
Stan & Ollie (2018)
Somewhat artificial, but its heart's in the right place
STAN & OLLIE is the latest biopic looking at the two most famous film comedians in history. As a massive Laurel & Hardy fan I was interested in seeing this, and for the most part it does a good job of portraying what the duo must have been like in their real lives. After a brief opening introduction featuring the couple during their '30s-era glory days, we move into a tired and haggard 1950s world, with Stan & Ollie touring crumbling British theatres to relive their former glory.
John C. Reilly couldn't look more like Hardy if he tried, while Coogan has all the tics, tricks and mannerisms down to a tee. The story is loaded with sentimentality and it seems to me that conflict between the duo is clumsily shoehorned into the narrative just so it can exist, but the bittersweet tragedy that seeps in towards the end is a step in the right direction.
The Chase (1994)
THE CHASE is an attempt to re-create the old car chase film genre of the 1970s, albeit with 1990s-era sensibilities and styling. It's also an ill-conceived comedy, as on-the-lam con Charlie Sheen hooks up with the original Buffy, Kristy Swanson, who just so happens to be the daughter of a very rich man indeed. Media and corporate satire are the order of the day here, but sadly the film is shot through with MTV styling which leads to over-editing throughout, everything played out ridiculously over-the-top, and some very bad bits of direction. It's a pity, as there are some well-staged car stunts littered throughout. In the end, you're better off sticking with the old classics of the genre like VANISHING POINT.
Murder Without Crime (1950)
Interesting if small scale
MURDER WITHOUT CRIME is an interesting albeit low budget character drama from future Hollywood director J. Lee Thompson. It's obviously made on a tight budget with just four main characters, although when one of them is played by the delightfully slimy Dennis Price you know you're in for an interesting watch. It's a story of accidental murder and blackmail, fleshed out by the usual twists and tension. Derek Farr doesn't make for the most sympathetic of protagonists but an intense Price carries the attention. The crazed set decoration plays a big part too.
Mercury Plains (2016)
A chore to sit through
MERCURY PLAINS is a low budget thriller conceived as a star vehicle for actor Scott Eastwood, but he's going to have to try harder than this if he wants to make his mark. This one's a south-of-the-border story in which Eastwood hooks up with a team of young vigilantes in order to bring war to the Mexican drug cartels. What follows is slow and meandering, failing to inspire either in terms of strong characterisation or interesting plotting. There are a few half-hearted action scenes and the presence of Nick Chinlund hamming up big time as the leader of the vigilantes, but overall this is a chore to sit through.
Dark Shadows: Episode #1.339 (1967)
A burglary and a hissy fit
Episode 339 doesn't do a great deal to further the slow-moving plot. Dr Woodard's house-breaking investigation is the most entertaining part of this, although Roger's hissy fit over the possibility of Burke living with him comes a close second. Watch out for the bit where the cameraman appears to drop the camera.
SHAFT is a lazy Netflix cash-in on the SHAFT franchise and a surprise follow-up to the 2000 Samuel L. Jackson movie. The twist is that Jackson's grown-up kid is no the co-lead in a story of revenge against the usual gang of deadly drug dealers. Sadly, this film seems to have been made in a hurry and it's one that goes through the motions rather than innovating at all. The script is bogged down with endless profanity and no kind of wit at all, while the young guy is a complete bore. Jackson barks his lines with a gruff delight and is the best thing in this, at least until Richard Roundtree shows up in the final act and brings a ton of charisma; he's been away from our screens for far too long. Other than a couple of vibrant shoot-em-up scenes, SHAFT is a missed opportunity.
San Demetrio London (1943)
A solid story, well told
SAN DEMETRIO LONDON is another propaganda piece made by the British during WW2. This one tells of the merchant navy, focusing on a ship scuppered by a German warship and what happens to the survivors on board. The film makes extensive use of miniature effects to depict naval travel and battle, but works best when bringing to life the disparate characters of the small cast. The double act between seasoned engineer Mervyn Johns and a youthful Gordon Jackson is the highlight here, although the tag-along American adds drama. Overall this a solid story, well told, as were so many British films in this genre from the era.
Something in the City (1950)
I found SOMETHING IN THE CITY a dated delight, a film which ably showcases the physical slapstick talents of actor Richard Hearne in his 'Mr Pastry' persona. The story is a complex little fable of mistaken identity and pursuit, as our unlucky hero masquerades as a businessman while secretly working as a street artist. It starts off a little confusing, but once the law gets involved it becomes fast-paced and delightful. Hearne's agility brings to mind the glory days of Harold Lloyd et al, while the supporting cast work hard for laughs; a youthful Dora Bryan as a sassy waitress is a delight. The lengthy police chase in the film's midsection is the highlight here, although the comedy-of-errors climax is a good 'un too.
Dark Shadows: Episode #1.338 (1967)
Episode 338 is another that features Dr Woodard as the protagonist, this time up to his neck in intrigue as he questions Dr Hoffman and Barnabas in detail. Plenty of foreboding here thanks to the opening narration, although the other scenes with Victoria feel like pure exposition.
Possibly Adkins' best film yet
I'll admit to being a massive fan of Scott Adkins, a martial arts star nowadays keeping the straight-to-video action genre alive in much the same way as Van Damme and Seagal did in the 1990s. His best films are those teaming him with Isaac Florentine or Jesse V. Johnston, and this one's by the latter. I loved their SAVAGE DOG and enjoyed TRIPLE THREAT recently, so I was pumped for this one. I'm pleased to say that I found it their most enjoyable team-up yet, an action packed story of gritty revenge with a simple but always-unfolding story keeping it moving along at speed.
Adkins gets a chance to play something else for a change - a Cockney hard-man with a psychotic streak. He has a ball with the part. The rest is a familiar working-class setting from Guy Ritchie's early films, enlivened by the presence of many familiar faces in the cast, including Craig Fairbrass, a funny Thomas Turgoose and Johnston lucky charm Louis Mandylor. I thought the way that the story is told in flashback was cleverly done, and the endless fight scenes are realistic and expertly staged. Things build to a hectic melee which satisfies every viewer expectation, and you'll be delighted at what they achieve on a low budget when plenty of higher-budget films invariably miss the mark.
Blue Tiger (1994)
BLUE TIGER isn't necessarily a bad film, but it is one that's hard to get excited about. Virginia Madsen - hot off the success of CANDYMAN - stars as a mother left grieving when her son is accidentally gunned down. Turns out he was in the wrong place at the wrong time; in the middle of a battle between rival Japanese gangsters, no less. Madsen swears revenge, and this involves her going undercover in the seedy world of the Yakuza; she even get extensive tattoo work. The set-up of all this is quite interesting, although dated in the visuals and particularly the dim blue lighting in a lot of the night time scenes. The second half drops off in quality a bit, turning into a half-hearted romance and ending in a way which is a little weak and drawn-out.
The Equalizer (1985)
Mature viewing, for the most part
Review of the Complete Series:
As an action TV show of the mid-1980s, THE EQUALIZER offers a far more adult and grittier viewing experience than something like THE A-TEAM, although like that series it's still rather formulaic and becomes predictable after a time. Edward Woodward is a neat bit of central casting, virtually reprising his role from the old British TV show CALLAN, playing a vigilante and former CIA agent who's now gone private, helping out various cases in a grim and downbeat New York.
As a prime time show this is far from explicit, yet it covers various adult concepts including racism, child exploitation and rape in a sensitive and even-handed way. Watching it today, it's chiefly of interest thanks to the character-led writing and the slew of guest actors, many of them appearing long before they became famous. The first three series remain solid in terms of quality, with the minor blip of Woodward's heart attack making the third series a little inconsistent. The fourth series is weaker and goes off into esoteric, arty territory which doesn't really work, so perhaps they should have ended with the third.
Dark Shadows: Episode #1.337 (1967)
Hot on his heels
Episode 337 spotlights Dr Woodard as the main investigator, hot on the trail of the sinister Barnabas and determined to bring him to book. The return of the delightfully kooky cryptkeeper is a lot of fun, although it's a bit off-putting given that both characters are now played by different actors. Elsewhere, Roger is ridiculously dim-witted and the scenery is wonderfully gothic.
The Dark Tower (2017)
Should be better
THE DARK TOWER, the ambitious movie version of Stephen King's sprawling, multi-volume fantasy saga, was a notoriously a huge flop on release and watching it now you can see why. Gone is the dark nihilism of the stories to be replaced by a young adult-style adventure, packed with action and effects and very little in the way of depth or freshness. The CGI action spectacle becomes tiresome before long, as it always does, and the actors seem to be going through the motions rather than doing anything interesting. Matthew McConaughey is on autopilot in particular, while Idris Elba has surprisingly little screen time and his natural charisma is underutilised. This is far from the worst film I've seen - and it's not even the worst Stephen King film I've seen - but it should be a lot better.
The King of the Kickboxers (1990)
A real hoot
THE KING OF THE KICKBOXERS is a delight for anyone who loves cheesy fight flicks inspired by Van Damme's KICKBOXER. This one's the ultimate rip-off, a completely laughable enterprise that manages to entertain thanks to incredibly wooden acting, laughable line delivery, hilarious scripting and fight scenes that manage to impress despite being completely over the top and unrealistic. The plot is once again focused on revenge for the death of a murdered brother, with the exceptional Billy Blanks filling the screen as the big bad guy. Loren Avedon goes through his training sequences with relish and even big blond mullet guy Jerry Trimble shows up as a drug dealer. It's a real hoot and the wicker cage fight ending has to be seen to be believed.
Dark Shadows: Episode #1.336 (1967)
Episode 336 is another slow and tiresome one which seems to exist merely due to filler. Dr Woodard does some good sleuthing here, but I'm getting tired of the other characters remaining so ignorant of any suspected supernatural goings on; a way to add conflict to the episodes that is by now both cliched and passe. More incident, please!
Creed II (2018)
Past its prime...
CREED II is yet another instalment in the spin-off franchise from the ROCKY series, with Sylvester Stallone playing his old role for supposedly the last time. The first CREED was okay as a spin-off, but this one stretches things too far despite having a decent premise. As a guy who loves ROCKY IV I was delighted to see Dolph Lundgren return to the franchise, this time as a proper actor rather than a mere musclehead. Sadly, the film is boringly shot and only comes alive in the on-fire boxing sequences, which are few and far between. All of the introspection and character building between the youthful characters is rather dull and tired, not to mention a retread of what's been done before in the ROCKY saga. Let's hope CREED II is the last outing for this former champion.
Eat Locals (2017)
EAT LOCALS is an extremely poor British comedy horror film about a coven of vampires hiding out from the authorities. As a rule of thumb, it's usually best to avoid anything with Jonathan Sothcott's name attached to it as producer, and that goes for this film too. This is an extremely low budget production with a big ensemble cast and an awful, unfunny script from the guy who wrote WILD BILL. It was directed by Jason Flemyng, who must have taken all of two weeks to get through this via his point-and-shoot approach. Elsewhere, there are a few cheesy FX, Annette Crosbie for COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES geriatic-undead name value, and actors like Charlie Cox, Mackenzie Crook and Dexter Fletcher who really should be in bigger (and better) productions.
Fists of Iron (1995)
Hardly high art
FISTS OF IRON is one of those ultra-cheap fight flicks that did the rounds in the mid 1990s. Don't expect budget stuff, FX, or elaborate staging, as this is straightforward and to the point. Michael Worth, the youthful hero, gets involved in the world of illegal fighting when his best buddy is killed and he swears revenge. His acting isn't up to scratch and the screen time slows down for a traditional romantic sub-plot. Matthias Hues plays the stock bad guy role and wears the most awful pair of trousers you'll have ever seen. FLASH GORDON himself, Sam Jones, shows up as a tough and taciturn ally. The fight scenes are over the top, just as you'd expect, and pile on the violence for effect. It's hardly high art, but it does the job.
Dark Shadows: Episode #1.335 (1967)
Episode 335 is something of a confusing one. One of the original actors has left due to a strike, causing him to be replaced by a green newcomer. Actors get names wrong and there's a heck of a lot of chit chat and little in the way of action. Plus, the master tape has gone, leaving this blurry black-and-white in quality.
Dark Shadows: Episode #1.334 (1967)
Episode 334 doesn't have much going on, feeling more like a weak continuation of the previous episode than anything else. Roger comes across as idiotically ignorant, the investigators are on autopilot, and even David's insistence is getting a little tiresome by now.