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The Lego Movie (2014)
Everything is Awesome well almost everything
Lego construction worker Emmet is a bit of a drone; he watches the most popular TV show, he listens to the most popular song and most importantly he always follows the instructions. Then one day he loses his instructions; he searches the construction site for it and stumbles upon the 'Piece of Resistance'. Also there is a girl named Wyldstyle who was looking for the piece. She explains to him that is a near mythical item that will enable the 'Special' to defeat the evil President Business. She assumes that Emmet is the Special but the more she sees of him the less sure she is. Far from being the Master Builder she expected he has just about zero imagination. Before they can conform Business they will team up with Wylestyle's boyfriend, Batman; recruit other Master Builders and keep one step ahead of Business's henchman, Bad Cop.
When I played with Lego as a child I never imagined that one day there would be a Lego movie and if I had I doubt I'd have imagined that it would be enjoyed by anybody apart from young children but here I am, almost fifty, and I must say I really enjoyed this film. It is chock full of references to other films in a way that older viewers will love without boring younger viewers who don't get the references. The characters are a lot of fun; Emmet and Wyldestyle are great leads but it is Batman who steals the show, it is no wonder that he just got his own movie. The story is simple enough for younger viewers and the execution is imaginative in a way that should entertain all ages. If there is a weakness it is when the action moves to the real world and we see a boy playing with his father's Lego; here we get the message of the movie and it is about as subtle as a brick (not a Lego brick); it also pulls the viewer out of the story just as it reaches its peak; still it isn't enough to spoil this entertaining film. The animation is great; it is especially impressive when we see Lego creations being made in front of our eyes. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to any fan of animated movies; it is fun from start to finish.
Stylish if somewhat confused Japanese sci-fi
Set fifty years after a devastating war which saw the Eastern Federation defeat Europa civilisation is still in ruins. Rebels are still fighting and the world is heavily polluted. Dr Azuma announces that he has found a way to regenerate any human organ using 'neo-cells'. While his research goes ahead his son is killed fighting in the army. Something goes wrong when lightning strikes the laboratory; it creates entire people; so called Neo-Sapiens. Those who escape kidnap Dr Azuma's wife and flee to the mountains. Meanwhile Dr Azuma uses his research to bring his son Tetsuya back to life. He is no longer an ordinary person though; he now has superhuman strength. It isn't long before the Neo Sapiens have built a robot army and are trying to wipe out humanity and Tetsuya is leading the fight to stop them.
It must be said that this film looks great; it has a CGI-steampunk aesthetic and frequently looks like a pop video might be like if it had been directed by Fritz Lang. Unfortunately it is also a bit of a mess plot wise; at time it felt as if the makers thought up something that would look great without necessarily being able to explain why it was happening. The basic story is solid but the way it was told frequently left me a little confused about what was going on. I can't say how it compares to the original anime as I've not seen it; only 'Casshern Sins' that was made after this and is quite different. I'd recommend this to fans of the genre but wouldn't call it a must see.
These comments are based on watching the film in Japanese with English subtitles.
When ones nightmares come true
As this episode opens it appears that Buffy is fighting the Master and is about to die then her mother wakes her from her nightmare. She goes to school then something strange happens in one class; a boy opens his text book and suddenly tarantulas emerge; they are soon all over him. As this happens Buffy notices a small boy, far too young to be in high school, in the doorway. As the episode progresses more strange things happen; Buffy discovers that she is due to have a test in a subject she hasn't attended any classes for, Giles can no longer read and a girl is attacked in the school basement. It would appear that everybody's nightmares are coming true. If they are to prevent something tragic happening the gang will have to discover how the nightmares are connected to the little boy then get to the bottom of what happened to him.
This is an impressive episode as rather than featuring the usual monsters it taps into people's innermost fears. This gives us some laughs, such as when Xander turns up to a lesson wearing only his underwear, some scares and one emotionally disturbing scene where Buffy's father explains how he left the family because he found her to be a disappointment as a daughter. The ultimate explanation is effective and the resolution is satisfying. As one would expect the cast does a fine job; I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Alyson Hannigan and Nicholas Brendon as they gentle mock each other's fears. Overall I'd say this was a really enjoyable episode which fans of the series should enjoy.
Young and Innocent (1937)
Enjoyable interwar Hitchcock
As this film opens we see a couple arguing in a seaside house; the next morning the woman is found dead on the tide line with a raincoat belt nearby. Her body is discovered by Robert Tisdall who runs to alert the authorities; he is witnessed by two women who assume he is the fleeing killer. He is later arrested when it emerges that he knew the woman and she'd left him a considerable sum of money in her will. He manages to escape from custody and while the police are searching for him he meets Erica Burgoyne, the daughter of the chief constable, and after some time persuades her to help him find his own raincoat and thus prove his innocence. It won't be easy though as it was stolen and was last seen being worn by a tramp!
This is an interesting early Hitchcock film; there was no real mystery as the identity of the killer is very strongly implied at the start and we see that Robert did find the body as he claimed. That doesn't matter though as the film is all about how he will prove his innocence. Derrick De Marney puts in a solid performance as the wrongly accused Robert and Nova Pilbeam is a delight as Erica; the two of them have a good chemistry. The rest of the cast are solid too. While this isn't a comedy there are plenty of laughs to be had; these are gentle and unforced so don't feel out of place. There is a scene where our protagonists drive into a disused mine working and the ground collapses under their car; I was surprised at just how good this scene looked given that the film will be eighty years old this year. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to Hitchcock fans and people looking for a good drama with no really offensive content.
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
A classic cavalry western
News of General Custer's historic defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn has swept across the west and there is a feeling that another such victory for the Native Americans could set back US settlement of the West. One place to hear the news is Fort Starke where Captain Nathan Brittles is only six days from retirement. He is given an order to go out on patrol to deal with a combined Indian force that has left the reservation. He is also to escort the wife and niece, Olivia, of the commanding officer to the stage coach so they can return east. Things are further complicated by two young lieutenants both having feelings for Olivia.
This classic western is a good example of the genre even if it does seem dated in some ways. John Wayne does a fine job as the Captain approaching the end of his career and Joanne Dru is likable as the spirited Olivia; it is not difficult to see what lieutenants Cohill and Pennell see in her. Some humour is provided by Victor McLaglen who plays Sergeant, Quincannon
although sometimes the character becomes more of a caricature of a drunken Irishman and the bar room brawl where several soldiers try to arrest him is just embarrassing. Monument Valley provides a great backdrop for the story. The finale was a pleasant surprise; I was expecting the 'savage' Indians would be gunned down by the 'heroic' US Cavalry but the Cavalry prevents an attack on their fort without any further deaths. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of the genre; it may show its age but it is still a classic.
A solid thriller
Robert Rath is an assassin who is considered to be the best in his profession but he thinks it is time to retire. Miguel Bain is a young upstart hoping to take his crown. The meet for the first time after Bain kills Rath's target just before he can take his shot. Rath then goes after Bain but he ultimately gets away. Rath's next job is to take out a woman, Electra, who is trying to sell a floppy disc containing encrypted data which compromises somebody who wants their secrets to remain secret. Rath and Bain arrive at the hotel at the same time; Bain takes out the buyers while Rath finds the Electra. He doesn't kill her though. After Rath's employer tries to kill him he raises the price for the disc to $20,000,000, to be paid into an overseas bank. Rath and Electra head to the bank even though he knows that Bain will be there; waiting to take the shot as he leaves the bank just as he was fifteen years previously when he shot the previous number one assassin; a man Rath considered his only real friend.
This is an enjoyable thriller with plenty of good solid action as well as some genuine tension. Sylvester Stallone is on good form as Robert Rath; he manages to make him likable despite his profession. Antonio Banderas also impressed as Bain; a character who it is easier to dislike as he isn't too bothered who he kills. Julianne Moore is also good as Electra; it was nice to see that there was no clichéd romantic involvement between her character and Stallone's. The action is varied and exciting without being overly gory. The finale is particularly tense and features a twist that I did not see coming. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of the genre.
Furious 6 (2013)
Fast & Furious 6
After the events in the previous film Dom, Brian and the rest of the team have retired from their lives on the wrong side of the law. Then Hobbs comes round asking for help bringing down a gang who recently attacked a military convoy in Moscow and stole a component of a weapons system. He persuades Dom to take the job by showing him a picture of Letty, his presumed dead former girlfriend, who is now working for the gang lead by Owen Shaw, a former Major in the SAS. Dom, Brian and their team assemble in London, where Shaw's gang are now located. Here is becomes apparent that Letty is indeed alive but she has no memory of her life before the accident that everybody thought killed her. After a number of incidents in London the action moves to Spain where Shaw steals the final component in the system; the team will have to take some of their greatest risks yet if they are to stop him getting away with it.
If you are looking for realism then this isn't the film for you but if you want great, almost non-stop, action then you could do a lot worse. Vin Diesel and Brian O'Conner continue to impress as Dom and Brian and it was a lot of fun having these characters work with, rather than against, Dwayne Johnson's Hobbs. It was great to see Michelle Rodriguez return as Letty; having her character suffer from amnesia may be a bit of a cliché but it works as a means of explaining why she never contacted Dom and justifies having her working for the bad guys. As one would expect there is lots of great over-the-top-action; this includes explosions, gunfights and the inevitable chases
one of which involves a tank! The film also goes back to its roots with a street race between Dom and Letty; they aren't trying to kill each other; just be the fastest round the course. Overall I'd recommend this to all fans of mindless action; it might not be realistic but the action is great and the whole film is a lot of fun.
Taxi Driver (1976)
A classic that is still fresh after over forty years
This 1976 classic follows Travis Bickle; an insomniac who spends his nights driving a New York taxi. Unlike other drivers he will drive anybody to any part of the city; this leads to him seeing the very worst of the city and he starts to think that something must be done about it. Initially it looks as if that might be joining the campaign for presidential candidate Senator Palantine although he is clearly more interesting in campaigner Betsy. He goes out with her a couple of times but can't see why she won't see him again after he takes her to see a pornographic film! After purchasing a small arsenal he sets about rescuing twelve year old Iris from a life of prostitution; something that leads to a bloody shootout.
This film certainly won't be for everybody; it isn't easy to like our troubled protagonist and he is rarely off screen. Many other characters are even worse; director Martin Scorsese is clearly showing New York as a moral cesspit. Robert De Nero is on top form as Bickle; one of cinema's iconic characters. He makes us believe in Bickle as a real person rather than a caricature. He is brilliantly supported by Jodie Foster as Iris; it is hard to believe that a thirteen year old could give such an impressive performance. This does inevitably leads to some uncomfortable scenes as she offers herself to Bickle. Other notable performances come from Harvey Keitel, who plays Iris's sleazy pimp, and Cybil Shepherd, who plays Betsy. For the most part there isn't much violence; this makes the finale, which is very bloody, all the more shocking. Overall I'd definitely say that this deserves to be considered a classic and would say it is a must see for adult movie fans; just be prepared for some disturbing moments.
The French Connection (1971)
A classic gritty crime drama
While narcotics detectives Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle and his partner Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo are out in a New York bar they observe some suspicious characters and decide to follow one of them, Sal Boca. They are convinced that he is up to nothing good and start a proper investigation. Meanwhile in Marseilles Alain Charnier is preparing to take a large shipment of heroin to New York. When he gets to New York he is quickly spotted and tailed by Popeye although it isn't long before he realises he is being followed. There is then a constant game of cat and mouse as the police try to link Charnier, Boca and others to a drug shipment unfortunately finding the drugs will be far from easy.
This film is rightly considered a classic; the central drama is exciting and the characters are interesting. Gene Hackman does a great job as Popeye Doyle; a character who is surprisingly unpleasant for a protagonist
I know social attitudes have changed since 1971 but many of his racial slurs would still have been considered offensive back then. He is ably supported especially by Roy Scheider as his partner Buddy and Fernando Rey as the dapper French drug smuggler Alain Charnier. The City of New York is effectively a character as well; this isn't a bright shining New York but a run-down city with streets strewn with litter and a general feeling of decay; all of which contributes to a great atmosphere. Fans of a good car chase should be pleased as this includes a classic as Popeye chases a train; it isn't a particularly high speed chase but the crowded streets give it a realism and intensity one doesn't often get. There is some violence and strong language but this isn't particularly excessive; at least by today's standards. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to any fans of the genre.
Shrek Forever After (2010)
A somewhat darker fourth instalment
Shrek, the ogre who was once feared throughout the land, is now living an ordinary life with his wife Fiona and their three children but sometimes he misses his old life and finally during his children's birthday party he has had enough and storms out. Soon afterwards he 'rescues' the evil Rumpelstiltskin and afterwards as they talk he says he would like just one day of his old life. Rumpelstiltskin says he can give him that in exchange for one other day in his life, a day he can't even remember. Shrek can't see any catch so signs the deal.
Suddenly he finds himself in an unfamiliar world; at first it is great, everybody fears him again, but then he realises there is something very wrong. He is captured by witches who take him to the castle in a cart pulled by Donkey who has no memory of Shrek. Once at the castle he finds that Rumpelstiltskin now rules. He is told that the day he gave up was the day he was born; after the one day he asked for he will cease to exist! In this world he was never born so he didn't befriend Donkey and Puss in Boots. He didn't rescue Fiona. And the King and Queen were tricked into a deal that gave the kingdom to Rumpelstiltskin. All hope isn't lost though; there is a get out clause 'True Love's Kiss' will save him. This isn't easy though; not only will he have to find Fiona he will have to make her fall in love with him once again all in one day.
After a slightly disappointing third instalment this is a step up; it still isn't quite as good as the first two films but that would be difficult. The story is quite a lot darker as we see Shrek make a mistake that costs him everything he holds dear and could potentially lose his life. This adds a sense of urgency to proceedings and makes each step towards fixing things satisfying. The fact that Shrek hasn't impacted on their lives means familiar characters have changed; most notable Fiona who, after escaping from the tower on her own, has become a warrior princess leading an ogre rebellion against Rumpelstiltskin and Puss who is fat! Rumpelstiltskin is the most villainous of the antagonists in the 'Shrek' films to date; he is genuinely unpleasant and may disturb some younger viewers
I thought he was a great character though. The animation is good, as one might expect, although some scenes look as though they were done to show off 3D effects which may have looked great in the cinema but merely look good when watched on DVD. Overall I'd recommend this to fans of the series even if part three disappointed them.