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They Saved the West for Last, 31 January 2016

It seems that a lot of people rate Part III quite low, even those who like the underrated Part II. This may be because the break-neck pace of Part II is gone and this last entry mellows out and takes its time to develop its own story while also fully resolving the huge 130-year adventure of the entire trilogy. If it were a 90-minute cash-in I would understand why some people are indifferent towards Part III, but it's so much more than that.

You could argue that Part III is almost a remake of the first movie. In several ways this is true, but it also has the appeal that makes the first so endearing. Instead of being nostalgic for the naive 80s or innocent 50s, Part III makes us long for the wide-open spaces of the old west, when the US was still in its infancy, before skyscrapers, shopping malls, and Starbucks lined every horizon. A time when there was still real freedom. But with freedom comes anarchy, this time taking the form of Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen - fastest gun in the west.

I will admit that there is a noticeable lack of excitement as Doc romances Clara Clayton which goes against the ever-escalating disaster suspense of the series and might not interest viewers who are not keen period love stories. The action and adventure takes a back seat here while romance, comedy, and clever plotting get their own space. On the flipside Alan Silvestri delivers his most exciting score for the series, fusing the BTTF theme with a rousing western melody which is especially fun during the climax on the train. Plus, it's always fun to see 1955 Doc, who I always thought was more eccentric and closer to insanity than his older counterpart.

We also get to see the "birth" of the clock tower which is a nice counterpoint to it's "death" in the first movie. Part III also opens with the brilliant lightning strike and Doc's rudely interrupted celebration, which is just awesome.

Yes, it does have its shortcomings, I won't deny that. Why doesn't Doc just syphon the gasoline from the DeLorean he came to 1885 in? It would save them the effort of hijacking a train. But I am being pedantic again. I always felt that Part III was a definitive and fitting end to the series and I never thought that a Part IV would be necessary. There is not "To Be Concluded/Continued", there is only "The End" and it makes perfect sense that it should be.

Back to Back to the Future, 30 January 2016

Since Part II and Part III of this franchise were shot together does that mean we can refer to it as Back to Back Back to Back to the Future?

The paradoxes don't end there. They've not even begun yet. The fact that Part II contradicts the laws of 4-dimensional physics laid down in the first movie is not a problem unless you want it to be. There are a lot of wannabe smart-asses out there who think they are overnight geniuses for picking plot holes in Part II. Robert Zemeckis has said that it is the most complex film he has ever made. I think that the complicated nature of the story, the dark middle act, and abrupt cliffhanger perhaps alienate some of the more simple viewers and that has led to Part II being the most underrated and misunderstood of the series.

It's also my favorite for those exact reasons, and more.

Like the first movie Part II is an icon of a now past future. It may have got some predictions laughably incorrect but it did get many frighteningly accurate. Video phones came true, hover- boards entered pop culture, and a madman with bad hair became the most powerful man in the world. But since this all exists in a timeline manipulated by Marty and Doc it is all in its own universe and therefor plausible. Who's to say that it wasn't Doc Brown himself who invented the technology of flying cars.

With the distractions of visual effects, action scenes, and complex stories it is easy for one to forget that the Back to the Future movies are comedies. It is my personal opinion that Christopher Lloyd and Crispin Glover were robbed of Academy Awards in 1986 (does anyone give a crap about William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman or Don Ameche in Cocoon?). They were not even nominated. Doc Brown and George McFly are characters that stay with you. However, Part II is Thomas F. Wilson's time to shine and he absolutely dominates this movie. Biff Tannen is my favorite character of the series - a lunkhead bully, cruel just for the sake of being cruel, who is so dumb that even his older self is bemused by his stupidity. While Marty and Doc are the leads it is Biff who is the comedic heart of the series.

There are weakness though. Silvestri's score for this entry is the worst of the series - full of underscoring and tension with very little in the way of excitement outside of the opening and closing credits. I'm not entirely satisfied with Doc's silly "it's just a big coincidence" explanation for old Biff going back to November 5th 1955 either. I know it' supposed to be a joke but I think a smarter reason would be that the date would have been stored in the time circuits and Biff simply selected it because it seemed appropriate. But I'm being far too pedantic.

The best scene in all of the Back to the Future movies is without a doubt the lightning striking the clock tower while Marty and Doc struggle to send the 1.21 gigawatts into the flux capacitor. The editing and timing of this is absolutely perfect down to the last frame. Not only do we get to experience it again in Part II but it even continues with the other Marty interrupting Doc's celebration. I first saw this movie in Summer 1990 while on a long plane journey so the trailer for Part III at the end wasn't so much a tease for me. I only had to wait about a week before I was sitting in the cinema watching it.

Fun times. If only I could go back and relive it again...

Take me away, I don't mind, 29 January 2016

Now more than 30 years after its release it's virtually impossible to review BTTF and say something that is new. Almost all observations of the film have already been made and the chance that my review will seem stale and familiar has put me off for years, but now is the time to finally get it done.

Since there are as-of-yet undiscovered tribes in the heart of the Amazon jungle who already know the plot of Back to the Future I will forgo typing out a synopsis. Time travel is a tricky device when plotting movies. It can work in your favor or it can destroy you. Both the Terminator and Star Trek have suffered under the paradoxical strain of time travel. I suppose the main lure of the concept is the chance to go back and live key moments in your life and do them differently, putting right what once went wrong - the lifetime pursuit of Doctor Samuel Beckett.

Back to the Future is a pop culture giant for many reasons. The iconic poster art, the fire trails, the instantly recognizable DeLorean, the title font, the costume design, the locations, Alan Silvestri's thrilling score, Huey Lewis' emblematic theme tune, but mainly for the dual time period. 1985 was present day when it was released but as I type this review it is 31 years in the past. In 1985 the western world still had a naive innocence, a hope that the future could be bright. Culture was hedonistic, optimistic, willing to experiment. In the three decades since then we have become bitter, pessimistic, and cynical. Dystopia, dysfunction, and distrust has permeated the majority of households. We are no longer a society that plans for the future, only to struggle through the day-by-day grind of increasingly hopeless existence. We long for the glory days of 1985 and Back to the Future allows us to access that dream.

But there was an even more naive and innocent time, a world that Marty McFly finds himself trapped in with only a chance lightning strike to send him back home. 1955 Hill Valley (or Kingston Falls if you look at it from a Gremlins perspective) is a post-WWII Utopian Americana where the streets are clean, the world is safe, and the lifestyles are wholesome. It's a rose-tinted insight into forever gone era. Society has grown darker and darker over the decades. We all wish we had a nuclear-powered time machine to stop this ever-declining spiral and skew the timeline into an alternate present.

Back to the Future is a good movie, a great movie, a perfectly cast and acted movie, an all time best and a classic for all the right reasons, but its main appeal is that it makes the viewer think "what if I had that chance?" I think most people would sacrifice their comfortable familiarity of their known present to go back in time and radically change the future for the better, and what better style to do that in than a DeLorean?

This movie will never age. It's an icon of its era and a movie that defines an entire decade. It will stand the test of time (pun intended) and will appeal to each new generation for all of the above reasons.

That's just the power of love, man.

Haywire (2011)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Hey, what else is on?, 29 January 2016

How low can you go? Steven Soderbergh, an Oscar-winning filmmaker, has ended up making bottom-of-the-shelf DTV fare. I should have realized when I saw the truly awful cover art this this movie was complete garbage. How he and experienced writer Lem Dobbs could churn out something as bad as this is really quite an eye-opener.

The plot is presented non-chronologically in order to make it seem more complex when it actually just makes it confusing and boring. I just could not follow it and eventually lost interest. Gina Carano plays a Spook who is set-up or sold-out or...something. Then everyone is trying to kill her and she fights back and blah, blah, blah. Absolute trash.

Carano's acting was (apparently) not that bad, but I have heard that she was dubbed over with Laura San Giacomo. Not sure if there is any truth to this, but it is very odd if so. Many actors pop up for dismissive cameos including Michael Fassbender, an actor who's entire skeleton is made up of cuboid-shaped Lego bricks and someone I am sick to death of seeing in movies, and Ewan McGregor losing the battle with an American accent.

Haywire is a cure for insomnia. It's a fast way to get bored. Miss it!

Looper (2012)
The Dolly Llama himself, 24 January 2016

I hate reading reviews of time travel movies where pseudo- intellectuals think that they are all of a sudden quantum physicists because they've found a paradoxical plot hole. It's one of the reasons why I've never tried to review any of the Back to the Future movies. There are such problems in Looper, and Willis himself tries to brush them off by telling us not to think about it. However obvious these logic problems are it still makes you think more than the average action fare, which I why I am giving it higher score.

In a future that is so heavily surveilled the only way to kill someone is to send them back into the past and have them taken out by a hit- man. A hit-man who will eventually take out his own future self one day, thus closing the "loop". Joseph Gordon-Levitt (an actor I am not really keen on at all) is one of such hit men. When faced with his old self (Bruce Willis, actually making an effort for a change) he is outwitted and vows to hunt down the old man before his mob bosses lose faith in him.

But there's a twist. The dark future is ruled by robots and old Willis is here to take out Sarah Connor, or something like it. This secondary plot line doesn't completely fit with the premise but director Rian Johnson just about makes it work as long as you don't have any ridiculous expectations. The atmosphere and cinematography are very nice and the Louisiana locations make for a refreshing change from New York or California. There's not much else to bring you back to it though, but I appreciate the film for what it is and for the quieter approach to the material which would otherwise be a loudmouth disaster in lesser hands.

Only hardcore Caddyshack fans will understand my review title.

18 out of 34 people found the following review useful:
The most mind-bogglingly overrated film in a long, long time, 22 January 2016

The Revenant exists only as Oscar-bait, and I have no doubt that DiCaprio deserves the award for such a brutal role in tough conditions. However, the rest of the film serves absolutely zero purpose, has no deeper meaning, barely any story beyond the struggle for survival, and almost collapses under the weight of its own self- importance. This is not the first time that the story of Hugh Glass has been brought to life, but its certainly the most alienating and depressing.

We've seen this struggle done before. Tom Hanks in Cast Away is a lasting example of an actor putting their body through hell and going full-on cave man. Cast Away also dealt with the themes of loneliness, sanity, and the need for direction. In the Revenant I knew almost nothing of the inner workings of Glass or Fitzgerald (a rather over-rated Tom Hardy performance). Glass seems to cope just fine with being alone (the pretentious hallucinations of his family only puzzled me), but I have a feeling that this was not the intention. As for direction (within the movie, I mean) it is noble that all of it was shot on location but there is no sense of space or place. We never know where any of these characters are in relation to each other. Every new location looks different from the last but we never have any orientation or a grasp of the greater landscape. All it would have taken is a five second shot of a map with any random character saying "here we are, and this is where we are going".

Alejandro González Iñárritu's pompous style of long, long takes is completely inappropriate for this material and it took me out of the movie every time he tried to pull it off. I don't want to believe I am watching a documentary. I want to be excited and feel tension. The bear attack scene was brutal, but I would have felt more fear and anxiety had it actually be edited than done in one long shot. This kind of direction is not the antidote to Michael Bay's 1000 cuts in a minute nonsense. It was a mistake to shoot the film like this. Totally unnecessary.

As for the cinematography, a lot of people are praising it but it left me unimpressed. I admire the fact that they fought to shoot it all under natural light but almost every shot was wide and flat, wide and flat, wide and flat, wide and flat. Not once was I in awe of any spectacle or breathtaking natural beauty. Attenborough documentaries are shot better than this and spend less time on indulgent cutaways. Perhaps the grain and texture of 35mm could have fixed this.

If you want a one man against nature story of survival then watch Cast Away. If a grisly tale of genocide against a new world backdrop is what you are after then Apocalypto is much better. The Revenant bored me and I walked out of the cinema immensely disappointed.

I did not have High Hopes, 13 January 2016

Wow, what a surprise! I'll be honest, I went into Amityville II with expectations so low they were through the floorboards and down the core of the Earth. To my shock not only is it a very well done film but it is probably one of the best haunted house movies I have ever seen. There is so much to admire about this sequel/prequel.

First of all I need to get the inconsistencies out of the way. Since this is a prequel it should logically take place in 1974, but it's clearly the 80s. The Defeos are not named as such but instead called the Montellis (why exactly is not clear but I assume it is so Ronald Defeo didn't sue, though he did claim that demons made him murder his family). The interior of the house looks very different, especially the basement. The troubled teenage son doesn't look anything George Lutz either (he actually looks like a cross between Mark Wahlberg and Dennis Quaid), which was a big deal in the first film, but since that plot line made no sense and went nowhere I can forgive that. I also don't mind any of the other retconning that Amityville II does since it overrides the 1979 bore.

When the Montellis move into 112 Ocean Avenue (or High Hopes as it ironically called, to this day, in real life) they immediately begin to experience supernatural phenomena (although the Defeos lived there for about a decade before the massacre) and call in a heroic priest (played by General Franklin Kirby himself) to save the day. General Kirby postpones the blessing when he witnesses family patriarch Burt Young brutalising the children in that stereotypical, old-fashioned Italian dominant father way. Older siblings Sonny and Patricia push their incestuous relationship all the way while a sinister force haunts around the family and toys with their fragility. The stage is set for a perfect psychic storm and anti-Christ director Damiano Damiani (yeah, for real) delivers absolutely everything that Stuart Rosenberg before him hopelessly failed to.

The camera-work, atmosphere, tension, sound design, believable performances, and occasional hysteria make Amityville II the single shining moment in an otherwise pathetic series. Damiani brings a texture of Italian Giallo (exploitation) and knows when to restrain himself and when to simply go nuts. Lalo Shifrin also returns to score this entry with another lush orchestral effort that enhances the spooky atmosphere.

I can't imagine this film inspiring anyone as it is part of a laughably awful series and isn't likely to get the respect it deserves, but the tricks, wit, and intelligence that Damiani has up his sleeve will certainly entertain. James Olsen is a strong lead and blows away Rod Steiger's utterly ludicrous ham acting from the first film.

You must check it out as it is perfect brain food for horror fans and filmmakers.

Drivel, 13 January 2016

I assume that audiences in the 1970s were naïve and easily scared. Between The Omen and this garbage traipsing in at the end of the decade it boggles my mind they are both so popular. I pair them together as they sort of share similar themes and prey upon weak minds to buy into their nonsense.

There is truth to the Amityville Horror, but there is a LOT of conjecture and immeasurable amounts of fabrication. Yes, murders did take place there and the Lutz family who moved in afterwards claim that the hauntings they experienced were real, and they took that claim to their graves. The Lutz family signed off on allowing Jay Anson to write a novel based on their experiences only for him to embellish it with fiction. This movie is based on that book but further expands it with pure fantasy. Calling this awful film "based on truth" is like saying that The Human Centipede is based on Winnie the Pooh.

The fictional George and Kathy Lutz move into 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York and hope to start a new chapter in their lives. But as soon as a priest (played by Rod Steiger who apparently has no idea he's slumming it in a static horror film) comes around to bless the place a poorly ADR-ed voice tells him to "GET OUT!". Not taking well to being menaced by amateurishly dubbed-on dialogue the priest flees the house and hides in the church while the movie infrequently cuts back to him overacting so outrageously it seems straight out of a Carry-On film.

George and Kathy are puzzled why no contact can be made with Father Steiger. Little do they know it's because of "ghost powers" messing up the phone line. Their youngest child makes friends with an invisible pig called Jodie while George develops a bit of a short temper. The extent of the haunting doesn't push past this for much of the two- hour running time, a length this material (fiction or not) simply cannot sustain. Towards the end the walls bleed and crosses on the wall go upside down. Wow! Scary! George also cannot find money that's been lost in the living room. This would be low-wattage drama even for a 1970s episode of Crossroads.

On the final night George goes mad and preempts The Shining by hacking through the bathroom door with an axe while his wife and children panic. He comes to his senses, they flee, but not before George gets gunged in a remarkably unterrifying moment straight out of Noel's House Party.

The Lutz family have never went into detail about what really happened on that final night, but ANYTHING would have been better than this. There is so much opportunity to make a frightening and classic horror film out of this premise and it's all fumbled by hack director Stuart Rosenberg who handles the material with all of the credibility of a cheap TV movie. The "house with eyes" motif is all he has going for him and boy does he overdo it. The atmosphere is flat and boring when the true story had much more potential. We see Ronald Defeo murder his family in the beginning, a scene which is correctly labelled as being November 1974. Then we cut to one year later when the Lutz family examine the house. Then we cut ahead another month to the correct date of December 1975 for their brief 28-day tenure. The movie is clearly shot during an Indian summer, the Christmas atmosphere is non- existent. What a joke! Stuart Rosenberg just wanted a paycheck, the actual quality of the movie meant nothing to him.

The Amityville Horror is a drag - a boring, amateurish slog through unimaginative horror tropes that seem quaint and dated by today's standards. It should rightly be forgotten, though as George Lutz himself said, when compared to the 2005 Michael Bay film the 1979 camp-fest is like a "goddamn documentary".

A Disenchanted Generation, 9 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I remember seeing Star Trek VI in cinemas near Xmas-time in 1991 and being satisfied that the original crew signed-off on such a strong film before handing over the Enterprise to new generations. I ate up a lot TNG on television when I was a sick teenager with nothing else to do but lie in bed. A lot of people were disappointed with Generations when it was released in late '94/early '95 but I didn't get to see it until much later. Now, as an adult with a refined opinion, I can see how dissatisfying it is.

With Kirk and Co. moving on the Enterprise is now helmed by the naïve Harriman, who lacks the confidence to trust his own decisions. When a mysterious energy ribbon causes havoc on the other side of the galaxy the Enterprise rushes in to save the day, but guest of honor Kirk dies (or apparently dies) when a huge section of the deck is torn off the ship, taking him with it.

Flash-forward 78 years and Picard is now at the helm of Enterprise-D and the ribbon, now called the Nexus, has come back. After beaming the survivors of a doomed solar observatory on-board Guinan recognizes one of them as Doctor Soran, who survived the previous Nexus disaster. Picard's suspicion of Soran is proved correct when he double-crosses the Federation, kidnaps Geordie, and hooks up with the Klingons. Meanwhile Data experiments with his emotions chip and feels guilt over not being able to save Geordie.

The plot makes Z-E-R-O sense when you think about it. The Nexus is apparently a type of heaven where your dreams can come true on a whim. A nice idea, but Soran's motivation is to get back into the Nexus as any cost. He plans on destroying a solar system to pull the Nexus close to him and be whisked away. Er...why does he not just fly into it in a ship? If Kirk is in the Nexus and is still alive then it will obviously work even if the ship gets destroyed. If this DIDN'T work for whatever reason then just beam into the Nexus. Duh!

For some reason Paramount didn't think a movie about the hugely successful Next Generation crew would stand on its own so they cooked-up this nonsense plot to shoehorn a Kirk/Picard team-up into the mix. But they barely feature together and Kirk's real death scene is the STUPIDEST death in movie history. What were they thinking? He falls a few feet from a rickety platform? Really??? THAT is the big send off for one of the most iconic characters in all of history?

Aside from this massive failing the film looks great with lots of dark lighting and shadows, and is a huge step-up from TV production values. Sadly, Jerry Goldsmith did not score this one, leaving the composing duties to TV composer Dennis McCarthy who does an adequate job, but the movie is painfully lacking the familiar Star Trek themes. The action and effects are still quite nice to this day, which is unusual for 1994 vintage CG.

Star Trek Generations is simply incapable of giving the audience what it wants. The arrogance of the studio and producers faulted this film down to the marrow, but there is still a lot in there which is entertaining, especially the ethereal atmosphere inside the Nexus. Just keep your expectations somewhere in the middle and you'll be okay.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Where's the rest of it?, 29 December 2015

It pains me to give it an average rating, but the fact that I wanted more of it proves that I was enjoying what we got before it came to an abrupt end. I was certain that I had accidentally hit the chapter skip button my remote, but nope, I did indeed watch the whole movie.

It's summer 1955 and very cute and curious 4-year-old Mei and her sister Satsuki move out into the country with their dad while their mother is in hospital. The creaky, dusty old house that they move into appears to be hot spot for forest spirits and magical creatures. As with all Hayao Miyazaki movies there is a heavy theme of nature being beautiful and the Earth being precious but where is the story?

Mei soon meets "Totoro" a giant cat/rabbit thing, who does...pretty much nothing. Totoro is barely IN the movie. I've seen pictures of him for years, I even carry around a Totoro satchel at work. I assumed that the movie would be filled with their wondrous discoveries, summertime adventures, and, y'know, some kind of PLOT! But nope. He's barely in it. Seriously, where is the rest of this film? I assume all those picture I saw were merely fan art and not stills from the actual film.

At one point Mei runs off to find her mother but gets lost on her way to the hospital. Satsuki enlists Totoro to help her and he summons the Catbus to locate Mei and take them both to the hospital and the film ends there. That's it! My jaw was on the floor when the credits began to roll, and not in a good way.

The animation is simply beautiful and is the perfect antidote to the ostentatious horror of modern CGI animated movies, the kids are cute, and Totoro (all 2 minutes he has on screen) is one of the most huggable characters ever created, but I am sorry I have to rate this on the lower rung of Miyazaki movies. There should have been more to this.

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