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There are some that are worth watching. Here's a selection of them.
The Dirt (2019)
Dirty, amusing decadence
The Dirt is very entertaining.
It's pretty wild, as it should be, with an undercurrent of Wayne's World in the first half and, as per the story of the band, gets gradually darker as the movie progresses and also a bit less interesting.
There's an air of Spinal Tap about it, which is unavoidable, since the story of the Crue is not exactly real life - as most of us know it. It would be ironic to suggest the characters are not believable.
Overall, I think the movie makes the band quite cool and likeable; they never took themselves too seriously, so neither should the movie.
The finesse of Bohemian Rhapsody and Straight Outa Compton is missing from The Dirt but it's enjoyable nonetheless.
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Gritty, inspiring and impressive
This is one of the best movies I've seen in recent years. I missed it at the cinema, as I was doubtful it would be any good but having now seen it three times, I thought I'd add this review.
I had bought the album of the same name some years ago but never knew the background story, which turns out to be very inspiring and thoroughly engaging.
Rap legends Dr Dre, Ice Cube and Easy E formed NWA in the late 80s. This biopic tells the riveting story of the band and their stereotypically manipulative manager Jerry Heller and we see some appearances from other characters along the way, like Snoop Dog, Suge Knight and Jimmy Iovine. It focusses on the formation of the band, their music and the events which drove their creativity. Fans of the original album, like myself, will probably get bonus enjoyment from seeing some tracks performed during the movie.
The gangster myth surrounding the band is put in the spotlight here. These kids were no saints but they weren't hardened gang members and had the sense and drive to take their lives in the right direction. There's little difference, aside from the music, between the likes of NWA and other controversial bands like Motley Crue, yet the establishment's prejudice saw them as thugs and criminals.
It's nothing entirely new - other band stories follow a similar theme of inception, climb to fame, controversy and turmoil, band splits, etc. but Straight Outa Compton has fantastic performances from all the cast - especially Jason Mitchell and Paul Giamatti - and is gripping on three levels.
The first is witnessing the birth of the joint genius of Dr Dre, Cube and Easy E and where it takes them as the story unfolds. The second is the rise of the band and the usual issues that arise from fame and money in the music industry. The third and most powerful is the band's battle against the authorities and, in particular, the FBI. There are no dull moments in this movie and, at nearly 150 minutes, is a solid achievement for the writers and director F Gary Gray.
Don't expect the uplifting vibes of Bohemian Rhapsody. It's aptly gritty in places and the movie's tone is in keeping with the hard edge of the band's music.
For me, it does justice to their story and is an impressive film.
I Am Wrath (2016)
A bit of a blow out
John Travolta does his turn in the avenging husband role, as we've seen many times before in movies like Death Sentence, Death Wish and (my personal favourite) Law Abiding Citizen.
It has a pretty decent start but as soon as the revenge parts kick off, it loses all credibility, when a friend (Dennis) decides to be his backup/wing man. It's like, "Hey! You're having a revenge party! Can I join in?!"
The bad guys are very clichéd; the writing in general is pretty lazy. The whole plot and all of the 'twists' therein roll out in conveyor belt predictability. I did nearly switch off half way through but, for some reason thought it might improve at some point, which it didn't.
The acting throughout is reasonable, the action sequences are half decent but the whole thing has a pretty large meh factor because it's been done awfully similar to this before - with the exception of the dumb inclusion of the side-kick. I could be wrong, that might be (to some) the best part of the film but it felt too much like Starsky and Hutch on a joint Death Wish.
If they claimed it was made as a retro-homage to TV movies of the 90s, that would actually make some sense. Otherwise, a tad silly and somewhat uninteresting.
Rats - Notte di terrore (1984)
A vintage Italian cheese
I first saw this, roughly when it was released, as a 12 year old. I remember it being somewhat scary, with a creepy ending and having a very naughty rat in a sleeping bag.
Thanks to 88 Films, I have finally re-discovered this Italian masterpiece.
OK, that's a slight exaggaeration but this one's not a complete stinker.
In a post-apocalyptic world, a bunch of fashion school rejects are looking for a place to stay for the night, in the ruins of an old town. The seemingly ordinary presence of a few rats turns out to be something more sinister ...
In a nutshell, it's a pretty standard but below average, low-budget Italian horror. a bit sparse on gore and FX, so don't expect Argento or Fulci, and a one dimensional plot, with a reasonable twist at the end.
Worth watching? If you're a fan of the Italian stuff or a horror junkie, then yes - I've seen much worse. Otherwise, best be prepared for a rat salad with a side of cliché and not enough sauce to spice it up.
The fun parts: a lead who is painfully like MacReady from The Thing, with flame thrower and beard to boot. But with an Italian, men's neck-scarf. Another character is even called 'Duke' so there's plenty of John Carpenter influence.
There are one or two memorable moments, which lingered in my memory since I was a kid and - amazingly - looked exactly as I had remembered from back in 84. The music score is quite good and, overall, it's not a bad looking film, thanks to the 88 makeover.
The bad: well, it's pretty daft throughout. They could get away with this kind of nonsense in the 80s (ants, bees, spiders etc ...) but it doesn't cut it anymore. Having said that, it feels quite fun a result because it does take itself very seriously and the unintentional cheesy flavour is, in fairness, the only thing that makes it worth sticking with it to the end.
An OK movie to enjoy after the pub, or with some horror buddies.
The Jackal (1997)
Lacks the compelling simplicity of the original
I like this movie but it's not in the same league as the original.
Declan is an unnecessary addition. He feels like Sean Connery's role in The Rock, but with a big question mark hanging over him. Have the FBI not heard of identikits? His existence in the movie just makes the FBI's involvement a joke.
Secondly, the love story between Declan and the Basque lady is the movie's low point. In an attempt to set the remake aside from the original, this horribly contrived relationship exists to tie the plot together in all the wrong ways; very lame.
Bruce Willis is, for my money, not terribly convincing as the Jackal. The cold, calculating Jackal from the original now feels a bit more 'tough guy' and 'loose cannon' rather than clinical ice-man. He's not awful but feel a better choice could have been made in casting.
On a general level, the pacing is not all that bad and there are a few decent set pieces (including one particularly good visceral moment which wakes you up) and Sidney Poitier plays well as his stereotypical by-the-book agent.
But as for the finale, the original can boast one of the greatest climaxes in movie history. No spoilers, but don't expect Jackal 1997 to be anywhere close to as thrilling.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Captain Marvel is just about on the right side of entertaining. It's way above the turkey threshold but falls short of the accolade of good.
It's the standard Marvel template: our heroine is presented as someone trying to find their place in the universe, they go on an unexpected journey - battling some bad guys - and eventually discover their true power.
The effects are dated. Cartoonish and unremarkable. Thor (2011) had better FX. The narrative is something of a mess: flashbacks to future events and substandard plot twists make for an uneccessarily confusing watch. More effort should have been made to flesh out the new characters and keep the story simple. There a few people who we can identify with - including Carol Danvers - because introductions to new characters and world's are all too brief.
These are the main flaws and the Marvel releases of late have tended to be of a similar standard, so Captain Marvel doesn't fall way short. It's just that the benchmark is quite low.
On a positive note, Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel is a likeable and interesting character, if a bit ambiguous. Brie Larson does the job well and fits in nicely with the longstanding universe characters, ie. SHIELD. Some nice comic touches are woven into the script as usual, without being too out-of-place.
Overall, the film held my interest, despite the muddled start and standard lull that all super hero movies seem compelled to have in the middle (a tradtion upheld since Superman 2, 1980).
Devoid of emotion and tension; bland
US paratroopers land in France on D-Day and discover something terrifying in a French village.
There's not much else to this movie. It's very thin and has absolutely no character development. One or two decent monster moments but otherwise it's very similar to the recent Marvel universe movies, only with more gore and violence.
A pretty standard, insipid Abrams production. Not awful but disappointing.
Kamera o tomeru na! (2017)
Fresh and clever Japanese zombie comedy
This Japanese zom-com is one of the freshest and cleverest movies, in the saturated zombie sub-genre, in recent years - but it might not entertain as expected.
I enjoyed it despite the fairly sluggish build up but did not find it to be exceptionally funny.
I'm not entirely sure what didn't work too well but I didn't find myself laughing as much as the others in the audience. That being said, there was plenty of laughter so I might have been in the minority.
The humour resembles the slapstick elements one might see in Rat Race or Johnny English, just with a bit more blood and splatter, albeit fairly reserved.
If the majority of people don't enjoy this film, I'd be fairly surprised but you probably need to go into it with as little knowledge and expectation as possible.
Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
More horror than comedy
I tried hard to enjoy this film but alas, it's pretty abysmal. Its biggest flaw is that it isn't funny.
Tim Allen's character is a man who has some sense in the middle of a street of bible-belt brainwashed suburbanites. One year he decides he's not going to spend/waste an obscene amount of money at Christmas and instead do something for himself and his wife (a holiday), whilst his daughter is travelling in Peru. Unfortunately, the Stepford neighbours have other ideas and are out to drag he and his wife back into robotic conformity. Sounds more like a horror movie really.
It's in the Christmas sub-genre that contains Christmas Vacation and Deck The Halls but lacks the charm, wit and comic delivery of the others. The comedy is clichéd and infantile, yet deals with subjects that only adults could relate to; it just doesn't work.
After this, I need to re-watch Secret Santa (2018), which is intentionally tasteless but loads of fun. Kranks is just tasteless - but it didn't mean to be.
Something of a black box for non Potter enthusiasts
I have seen the Potter movies but not read the books. They, too, were a bit confusing at times but entertaining enough. Crimes of Grindelwald's biggest flaw is its inability to include the casual viewer in the story telling but this can be forgiven to a degree given the way this universe tends to be a bit convoluted.
Visually, it is pretty sound and the performances are good but the plot does feel a bit thin as far as I could tell.
My Son is a big Potter fan and has read the books several times. For him, this movie was good but less so than the first.
Somewhat hard to critique but I didn't hate it.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
I'm not a huge Queen fan, I like their music but wouldn't invest in any album - save for the Flash Gordon soundtrack.
But this movie was amazing. Couldn't care less if it's not accurate. As a film, it has a great feel good factor and is very enjoyable.
It could possibly have involved the other members of the band a bit more but I can't say that would have improved the film tremendously.
All play and no work makes three girls a bit loopy
I nearly gave this a 4 because I really didn't enjoy it but opted on 5 in the end as that doesn't reflect it is at least a solid piece of film making.
In brief: three girls in a house, two of which are there to get paid, for playing along with the hostesses odd fetishes and fantasies. Not all is as it seems ... but for whom?
It takes quite a while to get to the point and is hoping to wow the audience with some innovative plot turns late in the day, which might work for you but I didn't really get much out of it.
However, if you're happy with its style and enjoy the off-beat characters, you might find this film a pretty satisfying watch. Unfortunately, that was not the case for me and its lack of an evolving plot left it feeling like a stuck-record.
A bit too generic; lacks originality
It's a well made movie but feels like it yields to too many of the current clichés in this sub genre of film.
In terms of impact, it's a long way off classics like The Conjuring, The Ring and it's closest sibling, Insidious but feels like if it had perhaps been made 10 years ago, might have at least felt fresher.
Decent performances and a so-so plot but ultimately the scares in the movie didn't work for me. It did for others, so take away what you will but there's nothing original in this picture and no guarantee of a real hide-behind-hands viewing.
Un gatto nel cervello (1990)
This is not a movie in its own right. This is some kind of a bizarre portmanteau compilation of his later and poorer works, with Fulci himself joining the dots.
It's very poor and borders on annoying. It's not often I'd say just avoid, in favour of give it a try for yourself but here I really don't think there's anything worth spending the time over.
If you do feel compelled to give it a try, check out Touch of Death first and if you think that's awesome then you might find this one reasonable.
Jaws 2 (1978)
Sets the template for the sub-par blockbuster sequel
Jaws 2 is a good movie but as a sequel it's very formulaic.
Jeannot Szwarc has made a competent film though I suspect the reason for it being above average is down to the producers Zanuck/Brown and to the incredible score from John Williams. The water ski theatrical poster is actually worth a mention here too as it's a real work of art.
The likeable Chief Brody is played well, once again, by Roy Scheider but there's a big gap without Hooper and Quint. The rest of the cast (Ellen, Deputy Hendricks, Mayor Vaughn) don't quite fill the space and we're left with everything of interest hanging on Brody. This is one major negative for the film and the other is the pacing. Scenes in the movie don't build towards the climax as they did in the original. This film is very much of two halves and the first half is really just a time-filler before the finale gets underway.
As for positives, this movie has a look and feel very similar to the exceptional first - probably due the producers but who knows. There are quite a few scary moments and one in particular which always sends a shiver down my spine. In my opinion, the first movie is a much more tense and scary watch but the second has many frightening images which stick in the mind - and as a person who doesn't like deep water, it's more the scenes from this movie which I think about just before swimming in the sea.
I mentioned it before but it is worth mentioning twice - Williams' score. It really is sublime. The movie's memorable main theme in the intro is played with atmospheric harps, which add to the underwater atmosphere and leads into a blasting fanfare against the "Jaws 2" title shot. If you're a Williams fan then honestly you'll want to watch this movie just for the score.
No one will ever rate this movie close to, or above the first but as sequels go it's definitely one to check out.
Baby Driver (2017)
Reasonably Neat Neat Neat
Baby Driver is a fun film with nothing too offensive, or unfortunately thrilling, to make any real waves. It has a few too many clichés in it to be taken seriously but they don't detract hugely from the viewing experience.
Jamie Foxx is about the best thing, acting and character-wise but that's not saying a whole lot. However, nothing in the cast is so appauling that it spoils the film. Kevin Spacey's character comes close though, as the somewhat nerdy looking but oh so terribly tough gangster that seems to come for free with most movies of this kind nowadays.
It's a good fun popcorn movie without being just a load of typical studio CGI garbage but don't expect a serious thriller. Think Pulp Fiction without the wit or originality.
My review might sound a bit scathing but I did find it to be a good watch, if at times I had to grit my teeth silently.
A decent next attempt at IT
This 2017 production of Stephen King's book is a well-crafted, decently acted imagining of the story. I really enjoyed it but did speak to some people who were disappointed that it had diverged from the book too much.
In brief, the children of Derry are going missing at an alarming rate. Something evil lurks in the town and it's up to the Loser's Club to overcome their fear and unite to confront IT ...
I found the old TV movie somewhat dull in the second half. The first half, which this movie is concerned with, was always the stronger half and I think this version is probably just as good, if not better than the original TV movie. It's certainly more gruesome and scary.
I'm not sure Tim Curry's Pennywise has been upstaged though. Bill Skarsgard has done a good job but I think Curry's is hard to beat.
IT 2017 is refreshingly old-school, in that it focuses on character and story, unlike too many recent "horror" movies. It is beautifully shot and superbly acted but perhaps could move at a slightly better pace.
IT will divide opinions due to story vs screenplay issues but it's definitely not a bad remake.
The Terror of Hallow's Eve (2017)
Watch the magic pumpkin ...
In The Terror of Hallows Eve, a teenager called Tim - who is a budding special effects artist - is beaten up by some bad guys in his neighbourhood. In his frustration and thanks to a magic pumpkin, he summons a devious imp called "The Trickster" who is like a genie/jester and persuades Tim to play "the real" trick or treat on his assailants ...
This is the plot in a nutshell and it's easy to see where it goes from there. It bears similarities to 80's classics such as Trick or Treat, House and Waxwork, though different enough from any of those.
It's a solid movie but I felt it went a bit awry towards the end, with scenes feeling somewhat irrelevant. What I enjoyed most is it's a kind of movie that's been missing from the horror genre for a while. It's a more intimate version of Wishmaster but, if compared directly to it, fares well in the area of character and script which are both much more interesting but when the FX kick off, doesn't quite have the impact it should. The special effects were cool, traditional non-cg effects but at times didn't gel so well with the plot and felt a bit like they were there just for their own sake. I liked The Trickster but he too could arguably have been utilised better in the second half.
It's well acted and visually really good but you might find yourself a tad disconnected towards the end, which is a shame because it starts out really well.
Good but not excellent.
The Love Witch (2016)
The Love Witch is a little old film where ...
Elaine (played by Samantha Robinson) is a beautiful witch who is obsessed with her own bizarre take on the concept of Love. She creates potions and tries to induce Love for her in the men she bewitches but it never works out as she hopes.
The Love Witch is a quirky movie, to put it mildly. There's this romantic 60's retro-thing going on with the look and feel and then we also have a kind of time warp perspective on the roles of the sexes. Overall, it feels a bit muddled and doesn't quite manage to be as charming or clever as it could be but it is enjoyable for the most part.
It feels more Russ Meyer and early Roger Corman than Roman Polanski. At times I felt I was watching a classic Star Trek episode even. This is its main selling point but the idea wears out eventually and we're left with a bit of a thin plot, albeit with some nice stereotypical genre characters who are played well respectively. I should also add that it is perhaps a bit too long for its own good.
I can see this movie having a strong cult following but probably for the wrong reasons. It is worth seeing but not at the expense of something more promising. I'm glad I saw it but won't be rushing back for a second viewing.
The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
Day of the Planet of the Invasion of the Hungries
I found the opening to be rather tedious and was a bit concerned that it wasn't going anywhere. Given about twenty minutes or so, it finds its pace and takes off in a big way.
A brief synopsis: it's an apocalyptic setting; a fungus is mutating the population into "hungries", who have the urge to bite and eat the remaining healthy population. A group of military personnel and scientists are working on a cure from studying a few captive anomalies who are dissected if required.
I won't go on as it might start to venture beyond spoilerdome, but I'll sum up what I took away from it.
You're probably thinking "Day of the Dead" rip-off, based on the above synopsis but that's really just how the movie is introduced. It does bear similarities with the latter movies of Romero's Dead trilogy, Invasion of the body Snatchers and 28 Days Later but at its core the theme closely resembles Planet of the Apes.
So cook all these movies up in a pot and we get The Girl With All The Gifts. It's on a low budget but has managed to stretch it so well that it really has a vibe of a studio picture - just without all the bullshit and clichés.
It's not without its flaws. Many set pieces are a bit formulaic and offer no heightened tension and, on more than one occasion, I found the child lead somewhat irritating. In fairness though, that's her character and not her performance. Paddy Considine is once again on form and is arguably the acting benchmark in an otherwise flat movie of performances, except perhaps for Glenn Close whose seasoned experience is obvious to the viewer.
Don't expect a zombie gore fest. There's no sense of Fulci or Romero in it from that point of view but it does have one or two graphic scenes, which more or less drag what is a science fiction film partially into the horror genre.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed the film to the end, despite the shaky start. I think it somehow manages to squeeze itself into an already overcrowded sub-genre and stand out to a degree.
Rogue One (2016)
At last - a decent, new Stars Wars movie
What a return to form for Star Wars! I've seen this twice already and the second time was pretty much as exhilarating at the first. It's not just 'not crap' - it's actually great, and the first time in a while I didn't want a movie to end.
I won't go into the story details. Star Wars fans should know what this is about and those who aren't fans are a bit hopeful by this point in time if they think watching the latest one will change their minds. Those who are somewhere in between are more likely to enjoy this than the prequels.
Episode 7 had promise but Abrams' movie fell short. He fixed the issues that everyone had been griping about since the prequels, except that he brought a bunch of new ones instead (like too much pop culture and forced attempts at comic relief).
Rogue 1 is really well written. There's such a huge difference between this and the prequels, or Episode 7. The story manages to stay interesting and coherent throughout, without glaring contradictions to itself or the rest of the franchise. The characters become interesting quickly, and you do end up giving a damn about them by the end of the film.
Like kids in candy stores, Lucas and Abrams both made these movies with too much new technology at their disposals and too many potential ideas flying around; restraint was required on both their parts. Gareth Edwards, on the other hand has managed to get the ingredients right and, dare I say it, takes the franchise to a few new places.
Rogue 1 is not the powerhouse of a movie that The Empire Strikes Back is but it does offer, ironically, A New Hope for the Star Wars universe.
Good slasher romp with all the right ingredients
I caught the world premiere of this at FrightFest and was glad to have done so. I've been a big fan of the Friday 13th formula for a long time and it's something that's been missing in recent years.
Slasher movies since the 90s have often tried to extend or adapt the formula to keep the genre fresh but in all honesty, the Freddy/Jason format is hard to beat.
Need I explain much? Some randy teens find a disused warehouse and summon a demon, by mistake, which then leads to him dispatching them one by one. I'm not going to get heavy on the story here, it's not what I went to see the movie for but it is a reasonably decent premise when revealed which I'll leave to you to discover.
The acting is good but I'm not going to suggest we have any Oscar-worthy stuff in it. The beautiful Julin, who plays Neesa is pretty solid in her lead role and the rest work well around her.
As a splatter flick, this movie rocks. Knucklebones, the demon, is the real hero and whilst the kills are more Jason-style, as far as the tool set used is concerned, the one-liners and general inventiveness are more from the Elm-street book.
A fun 90 minutes of midnight, popcorn horror. Check it out if it's your thing.
Beyond the Gates (2016)
Nice touches in an essentially fanboy horror project
It has the vibes of Hellraiser and some of Fulci's "Gates of Hell" trilogy, mixed with some obvious similarities to Jumanji (though purely owing to the subject matter) but with some nice comic touches, which allows the movie to get away with a few of its budgetary constraints.
Our central characters, Gordon, John and Margot, play a retro VHS board game and unlock a gateway to some dark netherworld, in an attempt to discover what happened to Gordon's missing father. Needless to say opening such portals can only lead to trouble!
Fortunately for us, trouble of the gruesome kind.
The film is very much an homage and tribute to many things from a previous generation of entertainment, such as the board game, the VHS rental store and some cool gore effects which nod to the era of the video nasty. This is its strongest element because the story and setting is a tad threadbare, without feeling amateurish.
Fans of the genre and such from-the-heart productions are bound to enjoy what this film has to offer as it nicely projects the infectious sense of fun and creativity that led its creators to make the film in the first place.
It's not going to change the world of horror as we know it but I bet it will inspire other startup movie-makers to make that movie they have in them.
Man Underground (2016)
Really well acted, witty and emotive
Man Underground caught my eye from the synopsis in the FrightFest movie guide. After much gore and nonsense for several days, I was after a film that would really engage me and bring me on board with true empathy for the characters.
Man Underground was the film I'd hoped it would be.
Our main character, Willem, is a paranoid ex-government employee who, we are led to believe, has some inside knowledge on highly classified projects, which he is eager to expose to the public. Not an easy guy to be around, two people have faith in him enough to help him tell an account of his life in order to do just that.
Unlike most alien conspiracy movies, Man Underground does not rush to throw the standard Area 51 dummies at you or shove tubes where they don't belong. Instead we have a great script which teeters on the edge of science fiction but at its core concerns itself with friendship, trust, loyalty and aspiration which always make for good viewing if told correctly.
This was one of few films I saw at the festival to really bring depth to its characters, have some fantastic acting performances throughout and finish the story perfectly.
I look forward eagerly to future projects from the directorial duo behind this one.
Ice Age: Collision Course (2016)
Magnetic rocks and UFOs
The Ice Age team appears to be out of ideas, at least that's how this new one feels.
The plot is dreadfully contrived and over complicated for its target audience, which surely must be the five to ten year old demographic.
In brief, there's an asteroid heading towards the Earth and it's up to the mammoth, the sloth, the ferret and the sabre tooth tigers to stop it. Even for a kids story, that's pretty ridiculous. Even the Scrat sequences have started to become pretty uninteresting.
Having said all that, the old familiar faces are there and, whilst they might too be getting a tad tired, not all is lost. It still retains an air of charm inherited from the previous movies. That's about it though.
If you have options, I'd spend the money elsewhere if I were you. It falls just short of the worth-watching accolade.