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1363 reviews in total 
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Snow Beast (2011)
Pitiful remake, 29 July 2014

SNOW BEAST is the low-budget remake of a '70s creature flick I saw and enjoyed years ago. The difference being that the 1970s version was a proper film, whereas this is a shamelessly silly B-movie that lacks a proper script and the kind of money to make a film that even slightly resembles the earlier version.

Instead, we're bogged down in SyFy Channel territory, with only a handful of cast members and a film that takes place in a single location for the most part. While I enjoyed the icy Canadian backdrop of the story, for the most part this film focuses on a father/daughter relationship which includes one of the most irritatingly obnoxious characters ever...can't we ever have one normal, friendly teenage character in a film for a change?

Spliced into these shenanigans are some tame kills committed by some kind of yeti, although when you see the costume (which looks like something somebody would wear at Halloween) you'll be laughing rather than screaming. The PG-13 rating hurts this one a lot, and you'd hardly be tuning in just to see the cast, either. John Schneider has form battling monsters (having appeared in LAKE PLACID 2, which, while bad, was a lot better than this) but the appearance of Jason London (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS) makes you wonder what happened to the guy's career for him to be forced to appear in this dreck.

Fun popcorn flick from a reliable director, 29 July 2014

PACIFIC RIM is Guillermo del Toro's tribute to the kaiju and Japanese sci-fi movies of his youth; you know, the ones involving giant monsters trashing cities and huge robots sent out to protect mankind. I had an inkling he wanted to make this movie after the giant plant creature in HELLBOY 2; well, now he has.

And this is a lot of fun, a decent popcorn flick for a change and a film that's well made enough to erase memories of the disappointing TRANSFORMERS movies. It's a great Hollywood tribute to Japanese cinema, filled with all of the wonderful effects and super-sized action that you'd hope for. Del Toro is one of those directors who hasn't made a bad film yet; you can always rely on him for entertainment.

Sure, the stuff with the human characters isn't as interesting as the giant stuff. But at least we get plenty of British actors in the cast (Burn Gorman, Idris Elba, Rob Kazinsky, Charlie Hunnam) which keeps it fresh and interesting. The CGI effects are excellent, as you'd expect, and while the storyline is very predictable, that's not the point. The point is to deliver huge bouts of destructive action, and that's what del Toro does. And it's a lot of fun.

Homefront (2013)
Adequate actioner, 29 July 2014

HOMEFRONT is the latest action flick from modern-day action star Jason Statham, who seems to be churning these movies out with a monotonous regularity. The good news is that the last few I've seen (SAFE, HUMMINGBIRD, PARKER) have been of a far better quality than the earlier ones (THE MECHANIC, BLITZ), so he's going in the right direction. HOMEFRONT continues that trend.

The story was written by Sylvester Stallone and concerns a DEA agent who retires to New Orleans in order to bring up his daughter after the death of his wife. Inevitably, before long, the guy runs into trouble with some local drug dealers who seem to be making their own crystal meth out in the sticks. Statham is the typically tough-but-with-a-heart lead, while James Franco's casting raises eyebrows as the villain; imposing he ain't.

The film in many ways feels like the star vehicles of old; Seagal's toxic-waste thriller FIRE DOWN BELOW came to mind a couple of times. It's certainly adequate enough to succeed as a movie in its own right; the action scenes are short and sweet, and the plot is interesting enough to keep the viewer's attention. And I have to say that Winona Ryder does a good job after being away from our screens for a good while. Not a classic then, and not a film with a lot of depth, but one that passes the time nonetheless.

Evil Dead (2013)
Pretty good for a remake, 28 July 2014

I have to say, starting out, that Sam Raimi's original EVIL DEAD trilogy has been a favourite of mine ever since I saw it as a teenager. While EVIL DEAD 2 was the best of the three films, for me, a pitch-perfect comedy/horror, and ARMY OF DARKNESS was a funny, cheesy comedy, the first film was a gruelling terror flick made on a teensy budget...and it worked. Everything about it gelled, and it remains effective to this day, despite the cheesiness of the low-budget effects work.

This remake thankfully changes things around a bit story-wise, so that even the many fans of the original movie will find themselves guessing as to what's about to happen next. It's a film made very much in the spirit of the first film, and that makes it pretty good for a remake. The same suspense is there, the pulse-pounding question of who's going to be affected next by the curse, while at the same time it's given some Hollywood slickness to offset the original's grubby, zero-budget charm.

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the gore quota has been ramped up considerably. This is one of the most extremely vicious and nasty films I've seen in a long time, in which the various set-pieces of gore are difficult to watch; let's just say that the chainsaw stuff hinted at back in the 1980s is shown in full force here. Production values are more than adequate and the cast are pretty good, too. Is this as good as the original? No, it lacks the genuine fright-factor even if the ickiness is there...but at the same time it won't disappoint modern horror fans with its blend of demonic possession and outrageous violence.

Psycho (1960)
Hitch's masterwork, 28 July 2014

PSYCHO truly is an excellent film, a movie which, along with the same year's PEEPING TOM, managed to kick start a new genre of psychological thrillers which continues to this day. It's perfectly made, with an excellent story (thanks to the reliable schlockmeister Robert Bloch), a great script adaptation, and assured direction from Hitchcock.

It's hard to know what stands out here the most: the brooding cinematography, in which features such as the Bates Motel become characters in their own right, or Anthony Perkins's most famous role. Perkins encapsulates Bates perfectly, making him a bogeyman far more frightening than the OTT fantasy creations of a Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees.

Watching it today, it's tough to imagine sitting through it without knowing the various twists beforehand, but they must have been mind-blowing to newcomers. And one of the things I like best is that the film is already great, and thrilling, even before the action shifts to the Bates Motel. Add in a great Martin Balsam performance and you have one of the greatest masterworks of 20th century cinema, in my humble opinion.

Icy noir, 28 July 2014

A solid, character-driven film noir with some great location photography, ON DANGEROUS GROUND proves to be a fitting addition to an overloaded genre. This is a film of two halves, starting out as a typically tough, two-fisted detective story about a cop with a penchant for violence (played well by Robert Ryan). Around the halfway mark, the action shifts to the icy, wintry, countryside (shades of both FARGO and INSOMNIA here) and the pursuit of a killer.

ON DANGEROUS GROUND is blessed with a decent script and some solid performances from both Ryan as the incredibly tough lead and Ida Lupino as the blind woman who might well hold the secret to the killer's identity. Lupino is on particularly strong form here, putting across her character's fragility mixed with a particular toughness all of her own. The cinematography is very good, with some great chases in the snow, and Bernard Herrmann's score only adds to the experience.

Icelandic slasher needs a good dose of style, 26 July 2014

HARPOON: THE REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE is billed as Iceland's first horror film and their answer to THE Texas CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, with the action shifted to an inhospitable landscape and a ship. Unfortunately, it turns out to be as dull-witted and laughable as many a Hollywood slasher sequel, a film that strives to be horrific and entertaining and yet which ends up a mess.

The first half of the film sets up the cast, which is fair enough, but it doesn't help that most of the characters are intensely irritating (with the exception of the black guy and the Japanese girl). Gunnar Hansen pops up for a worthless cameo, but after that we're mired in a mess of horror film clichés and predictable death sequences. It's all badly written and quite badly directed, two things which sap enjoyment from the production.

One thing HARPOON does have going for it are some explicit gore sequences, although these aren't quite as grisly as you'd expect, with the emphasis being on the staging of each effect rather than going all-out to gross-out the viewer. But such moments aren't enough to save what is another forgettable, lamentable horror yarn.

Great animation, but where's the story?, 26 July 2014

FROM UP ON POPPY HILL is another film from the popular Studio Ghibli stable, this time directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of the famous Hayao. As usual for these films, the animation is absolutely wonderful, both colourful and a wonder to watch, but that's all you get here, because there's no story.

Or rather, there is, but it's very slight and doesn't support a whole movie like the one that's delivered here. In essence, there are two plots; a background plot about student efforts to save their clubhouse from being closed down by the authorities, and a love story between a lonely girl and a sailor. The clubhouse story is the more charming of the two, but aside from a good montage or two, little happens. As for the romance, well, it goes nowhere.

I like Studio Ghibli films as a result, but my favourite ones are either full of charm (like PONYO) or the ones that have a compelling narrative (GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES). Unfortunately, FROM UP ON POPPY HILL has neither, leaving it a nice to look at, but instantly forgettable slice of Japanese animation.

Silly thriller, 26 July 2014

THE GLASS HOUSE is another over-plotted, overwritten and entirely overblown Hollywood thriller that goes over age-old ground without ever finding its own original standing. It's a sanitised, teen-friendly movie with a teen lead and a narrative that hints at plenty but never once approaches anything remotely dark.

The story goes that the youthful protagonist (played by the utterly cold Leelee Sobieski) and her younger brother are sent to live with some family friends after they're orphaned in a car accident. The girl soon realises that something's seriously wrong in their new home, a sinister situation embodied by an overacting Stellan Skarsgard (a guy who seems to be typecast as the bad guy in Hollywood).

That's a halfway decent premise, but THE GLASS HOUSE wastes its potential as it goes on, ending up mired in a muddled middle and uninspiring climax. You can literally work out everything that's going to happen in the first half hour, and there are no surprises or genuine shocks. There's no decent acting, either; bringing in Bruce Dern as the family lawyer doesn't do much, while Daniel Sackheim's direction is staid and uninspiring. It's best to give this one a miss.

Hugo (2011)
Scorsese screws up, 23 July 2014

HUGO was marketed as being this huge, magical children's feel-good adventure film, Oscar bait and a visual triumph from director Martin Scorsese. Having just watched it, I can instead report that it's the director's worst film to date, an overblown and deathly dull outing that disappoints from the outset. Even Scorsese's assured direction can't disguise the shortcomings of the script.

Essentially, HUGO is a tribute to the work of early cinema pioneer Georges Melies, played well by Ben Kingsley. However, this part of the film takes up half an hour at most and Scorsese would have been much better off making a documentary about Melies as it would have been much more interesting. The rest of the film is a non-starter about a orphaned kid lurking around in a Paris train station.

The film goes for a steampunk style look which was already done in CITY OF EMBER, so visually it did nothing for me. The CGI effects are over obvious and it annoyed me that effects like a toy mouse and a character climbing a wall were achieved by CGI when they could easily have been done physically - it's sheer laziness. Asa Butterfield is an extremely limited actor who brings zero warmth or charisma to his lead role, to the extent that I was hoping he'd disappear from the screen before long - no such luck though.

Much of the film concerns a ridiculous sub-plot involving the dreadful Sacha Baron Cohen, once again going completely over the top as a comedic station inspector who chases the titular character about. How does this "actor" still get work? The comedy is laboured and unfunny and I was cringing in places. Then elsewhere we get Chloe Grace Moretz, way out of her comfort zone and inanely grinning at everything and everyone around her. The film drags on for over two hours, throwing endless cameos at you (hello, Christopher Lee!) and it easily feels like double that length. Yes, I hated it, if you couldn't already tell.

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