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1246 reviews in total 
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Not for me., 4 January 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Oh dear. I watched this one a week ago, and although there's no way it can be described as bland or unmemorable – although probably for all the wrong reasons – there's little about this adaptation of Borges' novel by Alex Cox that impressed me enough to make a lasting impression. Cox's style has always been… quirky, shall we say – and sometimes he's very good, but this one is an almighty mess that is only partly salvaged by Cox's customarily strong visual style. The story sprawls like spilled liquid with no confines to contain it. The acting borders on amateur dramatic level at times – which is unremarkable in a lot of cases, but not from the likes of Boyle and Eccleston – and the script is like something out of a DC comic book. Definitely a Marmite movie by the looks of it.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Bizarre, 10 December 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched this movie under its UK re-issue title of The Acrobatic Fly which runs 3 minutes long. Quite frankly, it's difficult to know what to make of this bizarre little movie. It comprises entirely of a bluebottle lying on its back on top of a tiny wooden post and using its legs to spin various objects over and over. First there's what is either a wood shaving or a leaf, then there's a stick, then there's a tiny barbell. We also see our little acrobat spinning a dead compadre before he finally goes to work on some kind of ball of twine. Despite its novelty value, the film quickly becomes repetitive, but nevertheless stands as a unique oddity.

Be Careful What You Wish For..., 10 December 2011

In three short years as a director, D. W. Griffith had graduated from a novice to a professional ready to stretch his already impressive talents. Compare this tale of marital infidelity set against the backdrop of the French revolution to films made by most other filmmakers of the time and it is easy to see how far ahead of the field Griffith already was. This eleven minute short could easily have been made into a two-reeler, or even a feature. As it is, it's brisk running time means that the film's climax feels a little rushed - the revolution is ignited and completed within a matter of 60 seconds or so.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
I know how he feels..., 10 December 2011

John R. Cumpson, who made tons of films up to 1912, stars as the eponymous Mr. Bumptious, who is so shocked by the charge a professional decorator wants to make for papering his parlour that he decides to do the job himself for a fraction of the price.

This is a fair early comedy, although Cumpson is no comic genius, and the likes of Chaplin or Arbuckle could no doubt have wrung much more from the material in just a few short years time. There are some nice touches: particularly the gum-chewing female shop assistant, who could quite easily have stepped out of any comedy movie made today.

It's all fairly predictable, but it only runs for four-and-a-half minutes, so it's worth a look.

Flypaper (2011)
5 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Failed the JoeytheBrit 90 minute Test, 4 November 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This probably looked quite good on paper – but unfortunately that's where it should have stayed. Patrick Dempsey plays some kind of idiot savant who walks into not one, but two, bank robberies taking place simultaneously. One crew are slick and professional – they wear boiler suits and masks, and each knows exactly what it is they have to do - the other crew are a pair of rednecks nicknamed Peanut and Jelly who haven't really got a clue. As Peanut and Jelly have come to loot the ATMs and the others are after the contents of the vault they each decide to continue with their respective robberies while keeping out of the other group's way.

Added to the mix are the usual hostage types: the aforementioned Dempsey, who possesses superhuman analytical skills but is unravelling fast because he has no medication, an attractive but slightly cool teller, an uptight teller, a creepy security guard, an anal loans officer, an avuncular manager. They each have their part to play as the story crawls towards its confused and poorly thought out conclusion.

One of my rules of thumb about what to expect from a film is its running time: by my reckoning, any film that runs less than 90 minutes is likely to be a dud. It usually means the finished product is a hack job arising from too much unusable material – after all, nobody sets out to make a short feature film. This one clocks in at somewhere around 75 minutes, I think. The plain truth is, this just isn't funny. It contains hardly any laughs. I actually started feeling sorry for the actors on the screen because they have nowhere to hide while the writers and directors get to remain relatively anonymous – if they've got any sense, that is.

Contagion (2011)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A-Cough-oo!, 4 November 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This isn't so much the apocalyptic thriller you might expect from the trailers as an objective and fairly dispassionate contemplation of the likely effects a deadly virus would wreak on a global society which we all now take for granted. Gwyneth Paltrow's the first to go, picking up the plague on a business trip to Macao. She's cheating on her husband, one of the film's few finger-wagging moments which perhaps suggests this era of moral decay, exemplified by a culture of instant self-gratification with little regard for the consequences, is going to result in, well, consequences. It might not have mattered had the world not shrunk so much in the last couple of decades, meaning a virus which might once have been contained in one country or region can now travel around the globe before we even realise it exists.

Matt Damon plays the cuckolded everyman husband of Paltrow who just happens to be immune to the virus, enabling the film to provide one of its constant touchstones. He doesn't really get to do a lot, serving mostly as our eyes as he watches the fabric of society slowly beginning to unravel as the body count rises. Local people start fighting each other for supplies, and start looting; 911 calls are routed to a recorded message which gives options about which aspect of the disease you wish to report rather than receiving emergency calls relating to crime or disaster; mass graves appear as the stock of body bags dwindles; people find their freedom to travel restricted, and are urged to keep a distance of 10 feet.

Most of the film, however, focuses on the search for an effective vaccine. Larry Fishburne heads the team, but is more or less dethroned by Jude Law's opportunistic blogger; Kate Winslet is his down-to-earth colleague, tasked with co-ordinating the treatment of those affected – and who eventually becomes one of its victims. There are others, less important: a woman who is kidnapped by Chinese villagers as she searches for patient zero, and who then disappears for most of the film; Elliott Gould as the university professor who finds the source of a cure.

Contagion provides a chillingly realistic insight into what would happen if a virus threatened to wipe out a substantial proportion of the population, but its decision to take a step back in order to get a global view means that it lacks emotion. Naturally, this means we don't become as immersed in the events taking place as we should, meaning the experience of watching the film is as dispassionate and objective as the manner in which it tells its tale.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Haven't I Seen This Before?, 4 November 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We've all wished we could go back in time to put right something that we feel was left undone, whether it's to issue that snappy retort we think of half an hour after it's called for or something more significant, like altering that one moment that could have changed our life forever. Well, that's what Coulter Stevens gets to do over and over again as he's zapped into the body of an unassuming teacher in order to attempt to identify the mad bomber aboard a packed passenger train to Chicago in the eight minutes leading up to the explosion.

Stevens is part of a military experiment and the drawback is that he's technically dead with only minor brain activity going on in what's left of his body. We don't find out about this immediately, which is one thing that sets Source Code apart from similar sci-fi tales. Many films would simply have the hunt for the bomber and Stevens' developing relationship with his travelling companion as its main focus, but this one throws in a mystery surrounding Stevens' location whenever he returns from his jaunts on the train – some kind of pod – that slowly overtakes the bombing sub-plot as the main strand of the film. While this definitely adds to the depth of the storyline it's really just there to disguise the fact that the whole bomb-on-a-train bit is a little bit old, a little bit ludicrous, and a little by the numbers.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the part of Coulter Stevens. He's OK, and seems to slowly be shedding that nervous, almost apologetic expression that seemed to be a permanent feature. All the other roles are secondary, giving none of the actors much to play with. The science of it all wanders off into the kind of techno-babble which sounds both improbable and deliberately designed to confuse us so we don't ask too many awkward questions. It doesn't really detract from the enjoyment of the film - but it still doesn't tell us how the comatose Stevens can see Vera Farmiga via the web-cam on her console…

Stake Land (2010)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Religion and vampires, 1 November 2011

I can see why my rating for this post-apocalyptic vampire flick is higher than the average; this isn't the type of film that would entertain your average horror fan, even though its subject matter would obviously appeal to them. This is as much a character study of humans under extreme duress as it is a straightforward horror movie.

The story follows a young lad saved from sharing a certain death with his parents at the hands of a feral vampire by a grizzled stranger he calls Mister. The vampires in this film bear more resemblance to Danny Boyle's super-quick zombies than the movie vampires we're used to. Even Nosferatu looks sophisticated compared to these creatures. They're not too bright, but they're very fast and possess near-superhuman strength, which makes them dangerous adversaries. Anyway, the man and boy head for New Eden, a safe refuge that they're not even sure actually exists. By night they barricade themselves against the ravenous vampires that roam the land, and as they travel by day they must avoid the violently brutal religious cult that also terrorises the land and consider the vampires to be God's angels sent to cleanse the earth.

While there are plenty of moments of horror in this film, it tends to aim for a more realistic depiction of what kind of world the place would be if a vampire virus decimated the population. We see only the aftermath of this virus, so the film has a strongly melancholic tone which vies with an oppressive sense of foreboding that refuses to let up. You know these people you meet are going to come to a bad end sooner or later – either before or after the credits roll – and that life will hold little pleasure for them in the future. Their sense of depression and loss is tangible, the constant tension exhausting, and the film puts this across impeccably.

Religion's double-edged sword is brought into clear perspective with the presence of not only its formal, institutionalised form as portrayed by Kelly McGillis, but by the tattooed, habit-wearing religious terrorists who shoot any unfortunates who stumble across their path. We're left in no doubt that this brutal, oppressive religious regime will quickly extinguish conventional religion as humans revert to their basic nature, and become only one step above the vampires they fear.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Obviously better if watched through rose-tinted specs..., 1 November 2011

This comedy from Savage Steve Holland clearly holds nostalgic memories from some who were teens in the eighties, judging by the surprisingly high score it has on this site. Personally, I was expecting it to be skulking somewhere round the 3.9s, but that's nostalgia for you: comes with its own rose-tinted spectacles.

A young and thin John Cusack plays a would-be cartoonist who spends his summer holiday with a friend in Nantucket Island, where he discovers life is overshadowed by a power-mad megalomaniac who has plans to build a new development on land on which the ramshackle house newly-inherited by rock chick Demi Moore sits. Demi has to raise X amount by such-and-such a date otherwise the bulldozers are moving in.

I wonder what John Cusack thinks when he looks back at stuff like this. Turns red with embarrassment, I shouldn't wonder; probably hides in the cupboard under the stairs whenever they show it on TV. And well he might, because there's not a lot to recommend here. While its young characters seem unusually untroubled by the typical distractions of sex and, well, more sex, for the most part the movie shares the same quality of comedy as its 1980s counterparts. And that level of quality, in case you didn't know, is pretty low. There are a couple of funny moments, but they're few and far between, and when the biggest laugh is reserved for Bobcat Goldthwaite dressed in a Godzilla suit as he rampages across a scale model of the proposed new development while a startled Japanese investor looks on, you know you'll miss little by hitting the 'off' button on your remote.

Max Takes a Bath, 23 October 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Max Linder, muse of Chaplin whose film career was still a few years in the future, is here suffering from some kind of nervous tic that prompts his doctor to prescribe a daily cold bath. Max promptly purchases a bath tub, and after some trouble carrying it home, decides to immediately follow his doctor's instructions. The problem is he unaccountably doesn't have a tap in his flat and has to fetch water from the tap in the hallway. Deciding this is too lengthy a business, Max decides to take his new bath to the tap and bathe in the hallway.

This isn't one of Linder's best efforts, but neither is it his worst. It amuses, while failing to really create any laughs. It's odd how none of his neighbours seem bothered by his apparent nudity in the tub - in fact one guy doesn't even see him until he tries to climb in himself. The climax has Max scaling the side of a house with the bathtub on his back. The wall he and the pursuing police climb is obviously a painting on the floor across which the actors crawl as they pretend to climb.

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