Mini Film Reviews May 2015

Byzantium (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantium_%28film%29

An average vampire film, very much in the vein of Interview with a Vampire, starring Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan which many will feel is more concerned at character development at the cost of maintaining dramatic momentum. A very good central cast and scenic cinematography raise it above what it otherwise would be. It is enjoyable for a one time watch but there is nothing to bring you back.

Berberian Sound Studio (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berberian_Sound_Studio

A psychological horror film which experiments with the concept of sound. By being focused more on the audio experience than its visuals you do not get the tired ‘quiet, quiet LOUD!’ experience which has turned many away from the genre of late. Definitely worth experiencing at least once as it is original and suspenseful. Toby Jones as always is an excellent actor. Go watch it!

The Fog (2005) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fog_%282005_film%29

A modern horror remake. John Carpenter’s original came out after his success with Halloween so it was never going to get the credit it deserved but go watch that rather than this even if a lot of its content may seem dated by now. You will, even all these years later, see Tom Welling and think ‘hey it’s that guy from Smallville’. An okay TV movie but really if they could edit it and show it earlier in the day for kids to watch it would get a better audience than it deserves.

The Holy Mountain (1973) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holy_Mountain_%281973_film%29

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s masterpiece of surreal fantasy depicting the occult alchemist journey to enlightenment based on Ascent of Mount Carmel by John of the Cross and Mount Analogue by René Daumal, who was a student of George Gurdjieff. . Visually arresting even if it isn’t your kind of film you will still have a story to tell people of the wonders you have seen. I know much of the imagery used and its context so it is not as ‘surreal’ as some may claim although not having this knowledge in no way will make the film less visually engaging. GO WATCH IT!

The Hangover (2009) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hangover

Good standalone film. Would have been a classic in the style of many late 1970s/early 1980s comedies but unfortunately the modern trend in Hollywood of running concepts into the ground with sequels has diluted its impact. Watch this and don’t both with the sequels unless they are on television and you have nothing else to do.

Elfie Hopkins (2012) film DVD http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elfie_Hopkins

Nancy Drew with swearing and cannibals in a quasi-Welsh town. Some characters have Welsh accents and some don’t. You could argue its set on the border with England but the setting seems too remote. There are some good performances, especially Gwyneth Keyworth, but it ultimately feels like a film that had good potential and not the budget to achieve it. The tone also feels uneven as if it is not sure if it should take itself seriously or not yet wants to emulate the uneasiness David Lynch is famed for using in his works like Blue Velvet or even Twin Peaks. Even worse it leaves a lot of questions unanswered about what happened to some plot points raised as if to suggest they were setting up to make this a series which unfortunately failed with this first effort. The ‘Little Munchkin’ short film, also starring Gwyneth Keyworth, included on the DVD offers a more compact story which I feel the film wanted to recreate but something went wrong along the way sadly.

License To Kill (1989) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Licence_to_Kill

James Bond played by Timothy Dalton. If this film was made today it would fare far better but back in the 80s it was deemed too dark and realistic for a character who was associated with Roger Moore’s dry quips by this point. Not a terrible film, just not as enjoyable as others of the series. The exterior shots of the meditation centre are suitably grandiose and we get a performance from a young Benicio del Toro but otherwise it’s a bit too involved in trying to be serious without any scenes for the audience to take a breather from the events.

Lost In Space (1998) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_in_Space_%28film%29

Underacting and every character has at least one jerkass moment. If you want an example why films of the late 1990s are not liked look no further than this sterling example of the era’s faults. The lurid bleeding colour palette. The disrespect to the source material. The story which assumes there would be sequels (Dr Smith is still infected and eventually going to turn into ‘future’ Smith). The chemistry between the actors is appalling. You ultimately don’t care, or even want harm to befall, the characters. Of course at the end of the film Dr Smith is still infected and likely to turn into a ‘future Smith’ but ultimately as it is never resolved here we can just assume he eventually eat all the others. Just remember that if you ever have to watch this.

Neighbour No.13 / Rinjin 13-go (2005) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Neighbor_No._Thirteen

Japanese Horror. A dark psychological film. Begins with good imagery of a man being tortured in a room in the middle of a grey landscape representing the inner turmoil of the central character but then becomes very mundane and overly serious (as seen in the trailer). At the 1 hour 30 minutes mark a character looks down a toilet at a giant piece of faeces. Also there is some black face at one point. It is a classic example of Japanese story telling where they have a great original idea and then give up on it and make something unremarkable. It is one of my biggest issues with the Japanese entertainment industry – they have no fear in producing original ideas but then seem to fear to truly follow through with distinctive narratives from that point onwards in many cases thus leaving you with stories that often feel drawn out. The Japanese are known for having long lingering shots and letting a story breathe, unlike any break neck paced American works, but sometimes it just feels like its padding the length of a story unnecessarily.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit:_Stallion_of_the_Cimarron

It would be better without Spirit’s inner monologue. I assume it was a studio decision but the animation could have easily carried the narrative. Well-made but being so centred on horses will limit its appeal. It is the sort of story I imagine being made into an animated film in the 1970s. If anything, on a technical side, it reminds me of the computer game industry where they might make games more as a way to experiment with new systems or technology that is available to them – in this case this film is a ‘tech demo’ of how to successfully animate horses with an eye to using the technique in later works.

Sword Of Sherwood Forest (1960) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sword_of_Sherwood_Forest

Fun, light hearted, take on the Robin Hood stories by Hammer films. It probably seems quite dated by today’s standards but was a fun romp. If you like a bit of hamm[er]y acting and cheesy story there is nothing wrong with this twist on the classic tale.

The Princess And The Frog (2009) Disney. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Princess_and_the_Frog

Tiana is a complete blow hard. Being the straight man is one thing but she becomes a buzz killer at every point with her overly repeated moral message ‘you have to work hard to get what you want’ though in true Disney fashion she marries the prince in the end and thus gets what she wants via him immediately. Ironically the character of Charlotte, the spoilt friend who gets whatever she wants immediately and acts childishly, delivers a far more sincere message – though she has the opportunity to kiss the prince and achieve her dreams she puts them aside for Tiana as she values her friendship more than being selfish. Ray, the fire bug, is an awkwardly implemented character as he is often presented as the entertainment and gets killed in quite a sudden, extremely violent for a children’s film, manner. It is to empathise to the audience that things have gotten serious and there is no more time for fun but it seemed the sort of thing censors would have had serious concerns about in any other companies output. This was Disney’s last effort to test the viability of traditional 2D animation against the emergence of 3D and it is a tragedy that the quality seen here is going to be a forgotten bygone for many children growing up now. From a technical stand point even Studio Ghibli cannot match the quality of animation seen here. The songs are more jazz based which is something Disney hasn’t done often before but many of these songs are of great quality and it is a shame they haven’t caught on unlike other soundtracks. Actually there is a bit of hypocrisy I notice now seeing the trailer – Tiana crushes the frog Prince Naveen with a book and it is intentional slapstick comedy while Dr Facilier crushing Ray towards the end is presented as serious drama and a sign of his wickedness. This seems to be the point when Disney suddenly realised they needed to revise their classic storytelling tropes and so in Frozen we got sisterly love and rejection of the prince (albeit very poorly implemented as discussed in one of my prior posts).


Comment, Like, Follow me – All are welcome! I haven’t posted for a while admittedly. Part two will come in a couple of days.

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Movie Review: Short DVD reviews: Prometheus, The Quiet Ones, The Great Gatsby

I need to keep this blog ticking over but can’t be bothered to type anything until I am off work for Christmas. So here are a few short reviews of the DVDs I watched this weekend. I might one day return and do more full reviews of each of these films eventually.


Prometheus (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus_%282012_film%29 : Is it a prequel to the Alien series? Highly likely. Is it a prequel to the Predator series? It could be inferred though there seemed nothing blatantly indicating this. Is it ‘in the same universe’ as the AVP series but not part of those storylines? Alien and Predator were originally not connected at all and were done as a cross over event by DarkHorse comics… so it’s a very retroactive continuity anyway and apparently this film conflicts with the history of them presented in the AVP film.

The film is well made on the technical side with excellent creature designs but the script and editing leave unnecessary issues for the audience. There are good ideas and concepts presented but a number of issues ruin the impact and leave the audience with more questions than they began with. The fact the creators had to explain so much of the plot narrative’s context after its release even though it is a mainstream film should tell you everything you need to know. It is not art house or philosophical enough (e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey, the different versions of Solaris, Silent Running or many 1970s science fiction films based on science fiction literature) to get away with leaving mysteries for the audience to answer for themselves. In fact many things were explained in supplemental things like online videos released prior to the film but a film should be self-contained and not assume the audience will treat it as a multimedia experience. AVP was too dumbed down while this film asks too much of the ‘blockbuster’ mainstream audience. In all honesty unless they make a Prometheus 2 and expand on the concepts they introduced I would suggest going back and watching the originals Alien, Aliens, Predator and Predator 2 as there were issues with the other sequels which, while fun in their own right for the most part, don’t match up to the quality of these early efforts. Alien: Resurrection is best viewed as ‘what happens if an American studio tries to make a French style science fiction film’. The extras on the DVD are deleted scenes and alternative scenes. I remember on my copy of the X-MEN film there was an option to have these inserted into the running order of the film as you watched it. I wish all DVDs allowed that as it was a great feature.

There is a Russian language track. That surprised me. I last saw one featured on my copy of Ed Wright’s Adaption of Anna Karenina where it made sense (to me). I am trying to learn Russian and so that was a nice surprise. Of course for Region 2 DVDs we tend to get French, German and occasionally Spanish or Italian. Oddly if you look at the back of many DVD cases they don’t account for the language tracks they offer but it’s always a nice surprise if you are trying to learn a language and find a film has one you can use. Admittedly considering the amount of technical terminology in this film it probably isn’t going to be that good in some scenes but from what I watched its all easy to follow and thus a good source for pronunciation (as long as you keep in mind David is speaking very formally similar to the actor’s Peter O’Toole impression he does in the original Elnglish language version).

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The Quiet Ones (2014) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Quiet_Ones_%282014_film%29 : I love HAMMER films and felt ‘The Woman In Black’ was a worthy addition to the company’s back catalogue. ‘The Quiet Ones‘ deals with a parapsychology experiment which is a story type I don’t think HAMMER ever did before. It definitely has the tone and pacing of the older 1970s HAMMER films. I enjoyed it but in all honesty if you have seen a parapsychology experiment based film you can pretty much guess the narrative (which is true for a lot of horror films sadly). ‘The Quiet Ones‘ is a high quality addition to this kind of story but it offers nothing new if you have seen this type of film before. I would suggest ‘Red Lights’ (2012) which has a different take on the theme or ‘Insidious’ (2010) because it is a less serious, over the top, version of the idea. The DVD has quite a few extras which was a really nice surprise.

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The Great Gatsby (2013) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Gatsby_%282013_film%29 : Visually stunning but unfulfilling if it is your only experience of the story. I enjoyed watching it as I do many of Baz Luhrmann’s works as I prefer a hyper stylised film adaption than a ‘straight’ normal looking presentation. I find I enjoy his works more if I know the original from another source than if this is my first experience of it. It is eye candy quickly forgotten like a nice painting seen in a gallery you appreciate when stood before it until you move onto the next. The 1974 adaption starring Robert Redford still seemed to be the measure of the novel’s film adaptions. Go read the novella as surprisingly it is written in a very immediate visual style and most of Toby Maguire’s voice over narration is lifted directly from the first person narrator’s commentary in the novel. The DVD has short clips of Baz Luhrmann introducing and discussing a few of the deleted scenes explaining his narrative choices which was actually a very good edition as it helps explain things if people are dissatisfied with his adaption omitting certain aspects of the novel. Again I wish there was an option to insert these omitted but filmed parts back into the film’s running order. Admittedly there is the director’s intent and these things are unwanted extras taking away from their clear narrative but I would like the option and it seems a shame to orphan these aspects as an aside.


Hopefully I will find time to do a proper blog entry soon.