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1053 reviews in total 
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Livid (2011)
A decidedly under-rated French horror film, 19 December 2014

In the last decade there certainly has been a significant cycle of French horror films. Quite a lot of the most famous ones have focused on the more sadistic end of the genre, presenting torture, gore and general nastiness in new, often unusual, ways. Livid clearly indicates that Gallic horror comes in many shapes though, as this one relies considerably more on atmosphere rather than full-on violence. Its story has three young thieves breaking into a remote mansion one Halloween night; the only resident of this villa being a very elderly comatose former ballet teacher who they have heard has a 'hidden treasure' stashed away somewhere in the house. The trio, however, encounter far more than they could ever have bargained for and a night of uncanny horror ensues.

This film is typified quite a bit by being a hybrid of genres. It's not strictly a haunted house film, although it often feels like one, it has fairy tale aspects yet could never be exactly described as a pure fantasy and while it does rely largely on atmosphere it often has scenes of visceral violence. This undefinable aspect is amplified further by a storyline that wilfully never makes complete sense and has many aspects that hang in the air somewhat. Unlike a lot of other people seemingly, I can't say any of the above really bothered me at all. In fact I thought it added up to a distinctive bit of Gothic horror.

It's very nicely photographed throughout and the detailed, dusty interiors of the house are an interesting setting. There are many macabre things in here and some are quite strikingly different; the clockwork corpse being a good example of original thought from the film-makers. Pleasingly, it does get quite scary from time to time as well, with the evil old woman and her undead daughter being pretty sinister adversaries and interesting creations. As the story progresses flashbacks are used to explain events. But these generate as many questions as they do answers and by the end there is a definite enigmatic quality to much of what we have just seen. This ambiguity has been earned though; sometimes it's best for a dark fairy-tale to not reveal all its secrets.

Watch it for the ladies, 18 December 2014

The Dallas Connection is one of the later films from Andy Sidaris. Well, strictly speaking, this one was actually directed by his son Drew and produced by Andy. But you would be doing better than me if you noticed any difference because no matter who directed this one, it's exactly the same as all the others that go under the Sidaris name. Like the rest, this one is an action flick that relies very heavily on beautiful large breasted women who lose their clothes on a regular basis. Without the ladies, most of Sidaris films would be hopeless and this one is no exception.

Its story really isn't worth describing, except to say that it revolves around a trio of professional female killers called Black Widow, Cobra and Scorpion. These femme fatales are played by Julie Strain, Julie K. Smith and Wendy Hamilton. Fortunately, all of them disrobe frequently to frolic about in, amongst other places the shower and a strip club. Julie Strain seduces a restrained man in dominatrix PVC gear in a standout moment but best of all is the truly mesmerizingly sexy Julie K. Smith frolicking around in a hot tub with some lucky 'victim'. Its soft-core erotica basically but with a very high calibre of eye candy. Aside from this the plot-line plods along in an uninspired way, although there are some agreeably stupid moments like death by exploding golf ball and the ludicrous blow-up doll scene. My advice would be to watch it for the ladies and tolerate the rest.

Sugary early musical starring Cliff Richard, 16 December 2014

Summer Holiday is an early example of the pop musical. It was a vehicle for Cliff Richard, who was at this stage a British rock 'n' roll superstar. He also had a squeaky clean image and Summer Holiday certainly does nothing to alter this view. It's about four friends who go on a continental European trip in a London double-decker bus they have converted into a mobile home. They pick up some girls along the way and a series of japes follows soon after.

The story-line is pretty negligible and is a distant second to the scenic locations and songs. Of the latter, there are a few memorable ones but they're mostly not very good really, although the tune played by The Shadows in the nightclub was actually pretty great. Aside from this the movie is primarily made up of light-hearted comedy, with a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure. I guess you could describe it all as charming but I personally thought it to be a little too excessively twee for my tastes and found the comedy a bit wearing after a bit. But it's sort of hard to truly dislike and is kind of okay for what it is.

Inventive, beautiful and hilarious, 15 December 2014

Belleville Rendezvous is the debut feature film from French animator Sylvain Chomet. Like its equally impressive follow-up, The Illusionist, it's a highly original and beautiful piece of work. Its story tells of a boy and his grandmother Madame Souza who live in the French countryside. One day she buys him a bicycle and it becomes his obsession. Fast forward a few years and he is competing in the Tour de France but is kidnapped by mysterious Mafia types and taken to the city of Belleville to be used as part of an elaborate gambling scheme. Madame Souza and Champion's faithful dog Bruno set off to rescue him.

There are two things that make this film an absolute delight – its wonderfully inventive and quite beautiful artwork and its extremely effective sense of humour. The animation is consistently wonderful and the backdrops gorgeous. It feels so very French and incredibly authentic; it has a real organic feeling to it. The characters which populate this world are brilliantly rendered too. The relationship between Madame Souza and her grandson Champion is genuinely heart-warming, while both generate many laughs – especially funny to me was Madame Souza blowing her whistle at the mechanic who fixes her vehicle in order for him to up his pace. But funniest of all is Bruno, who has to be the all-time best animated dog ever; what makes him so good is that despite being a cartoon, he actually behaves hilariously realistically dog-like throughout. We follow his daily routines and, again, he is entirely believable and lovable. Once we arrive in the big city we encounter The Triplettes of Belleville and the gangsters; the former are an unforgettable trio of eccentric tall old ladies who in one highlight perform a musical routine purely using household items, while the gangsters are very original too, with the box-like heavies and rodent-faced engineer being particularly good. Even peripheral characters are greatly amusing, such as the fawning waiter who literally bends over backwards for his customers! The humour throughout, is inspired and the world created a fantastically original one.

I think you would be hard pressed to find another animated film that combines visual invention, artistic beauty, musical innovation and laugh-out-loud humour as effectively as Belleville Rendezvous. It's a real joy.

Interesting but not entirely successful sci-fi/western hybrid, 14 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Welcome to Blood City in some ways is a sister film to Westworld, both movies were that most specific sub-genre – the western/sci-fi hybrid. This combination allowed for the iconography and characteristics of both genres to be played up and for the films to derive strength from the amalgamation. It would only be fair to say that Westworld is the clearly more successful film though. It has a clearer purpose and is directed much better. In the case of Welcome to Blood City, on the other hand, the ideas are better than the execution. The story begins with a group of people waking up in a remote area with no memory of how they got there, soon they are captured and taken to a wild western town where social status is afforded to individuals based on the number of kills they amass. It's soon revealed that nothing is as it seems and these people are guinea pigs in some virtual reality scientific experiment used to test subjects on their reactions and skills - the ultimate aim of the game is to identify who are the potential leaders and killers who can be utilised by the government for military purposes.

It seems a little bit of a questionable decision for the film to reveal this twist so early on. You can't help think that the tension and intrigue would be increased considerably if this had been revealed much later on, letting us get more involved with the western story strand. Overall, the ways the ideas are presented aren't generally fantastic and, like I said, the ideas are better than the way they are delivered on screen. All this said though, I still like the fact that this movie is trying for something different. The idea of virtual reality was quite original back in the 70's and I do like the genre mash-up between sci-fi and western. It also benefits from a decent cast, with 2001: A Space Odyssey's Keir Dullea in the lead and Jack Palance and Samantha Eggar offering good support. On a different note, I saw this on a public domain copy which had really bad pan and scan; and by really bad I mean terrible, not only were the sides cut off but the top of the frame was as well. This seems to be a common copy that many people see – the film would have certainly been improved to some extent by a more acceptable print.

Rock on Tommy!!, 13 December 2014

I first saw The Boys in Blue at the cinema when I was a youngster. Even at that age I wasn't a fan of the comedy duo Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball, who I found quite clearly unfunny. But my friend was a big fan so I went along to the cinema with him and his granny, with little enthusiasm. But lo and behold, I remember finding it absolutely hilarious, my friend's granny declaring that she was also surprised and that this was definitely the best thing Cannon and Ball had ever did. So I always had a bit of fondness for this film and eventually saw it for the second time a few years ago, unfortunately that time finding it to be one of the worst films I had ever seen; I was staggered and disappointed in my ten year old self for having ever found it such a chuckle-fest. Anyway, recently I saw it once more and feel I can be a little more measured and say that the truth lies somewhere in between. It's a lightly amusing bit of nonsense that really isn't all that bad at all.

In it Cannon and Ball star as two policemen from a small crime-free town. They fabricate a crime in order to safe-guard their jobs but immediately find themselves in the midst of a scheme involving real thieves. The whole point of the film is to give the duo free reign to display their usual comedy thing. In the early 80's these guys were big TV stars you have to remember but the transition to the big screen never really happened for them and I don't think this film did particularly well. It's pretty broad humour to say the least so don't look for subtlety here. But really it's okay in a Tuesday afternoon kind of way. My friend's granny was right; this is the best thing Cannon and Ball ever did.

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Economical and stylish debut film from Michele Soavi, 12 December 2014

Stagefright is the debut film from director Michele Soavi. Before it he had been assistant director to the likes of Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava, as well as appearing as an actor in various films. He went on to contribute three other horror films over the subsequent seven years. He was effectively the premier Italian horror director in those years and his final film in this sequence, Cemetery Man, feels like the final worthwhile Italian horror film, give or take a few Argento's in the years since. For whatever reason, Soavi has never returned to the genre since, which needless to say is extremely unfortunate. Credit has to be given to exploitation director Joe D'Amato who acted as producer for Stagefright. He seems to have given Soavi free reign to make his film, so long as it met certain commercial genre specifications. The result is a stylish effort that is not so much a giallo as an Italian-style slasher.

Written by notable actor Luigi Montefiori (aka George Eastman), the story is about an escaped maniac who ends up on the loose in a theatre where a horror themed musical is being rehearsed by a drama group; in true slasher style, the killer starts picking them off one by one. The events encompass one night, where the rain lashes down constantly outside. Truthfully, the story is utterly by-the-numbers and not the selling point. What makes this one good is the considerable style and freshness Soavi brings to the well-worn slasher genre. The killer wears a large owl mask and the setting is a theatre. This gives the film a somewhat over-the-top operatic aspect, which not only ties it in with Italian culture in general but also makes it a twin of sorts to Argento's giallo Opera, also released in the same year. For a debut feature, this is very assured stuff from Soavi. There's plenty of inventive camera work, nice use of colour and some very well handled tension. Of the latter, a real standout is the scene where the heroine attempts to retrieve a key from under a feather covered stage where the maniac has arranged all his victims in a grim tableaux. Its inspired moments like this one that sets Stagefright apart from standard slasher fare. But Soavi never forgets to supply the bread and butter of this genre as well; to that end there are a plethora of varied gory murders. This mix of generic material with a distinctive and stylish approach means that Stagefright remains one of the better slasher films out there.

Pretty rough and ready cartoon but with some good things about it, 4 December 2014

Early 70's cynicism with the way of the world is captured in Fritz the Cat. It's a cartoon based on an underground comic created by Robert Crumb (although against his wishes apparently). It's probably most famous now for being the first X-rated animated movie. Up to that point in time, cartoons had more or less all been kiddy-friendly family films; Fritz the Cat was to challenge this and show that there was another way to go with this kind of thing. It was the first feature length animated movie from director Ralph Bakshi, who would go on to make several cult cartoons throughout the 70's, including the fantasy films Wizards (1977) and The Lord of the Rings (1978).

Set in New York City, Fritz is a counter-cultural cat that lives a life of sexual and drug-taking excess. Police aggression results in him fleeing the city and going on a road trip. To be honest, the story-line is pretty minimal and not ultimately very important. Where this one scores is in its combination of irreverence and psychedelic visuals mixed in with anti-establishment social commentary. The animation is pretty crude, although the painted backdrops are nice, but there are some scenes that display an original approach. My favourite being the extended sequence that features the Bo Diddley tune. It does overall have a definite feel that works to its advantage though. The mean back-streets of NYC are depicted quite effectively and its denizens all have a certain undeniable character – we have the crows from Harlem (black people), the pig cops and, latterly, a spaced out, oddly threatening, heroin addicted biker rabbit. The soundtrack seems to continually churn out urban funk to set the scene. So, on the one hand this doesn't have the most engaging story and it has pretty rough animation, but on the other hand it's so of its time and sufficiently daring to ensure that it remains a very interesting watch all the same.

Entertaining TV film starring several soon-to-be stars, 3 December 2014

The obvious selling point for The Brotherhood of Justice these days is that it showcases Keanu Reeves, Billy Zane and Keifer Sutherland before they were famous. In the cases of Reeves and Sutherland, they would in fact become Hollywood A-Listers not long after this was released. It's a teen movie set in California about a gang of high school vigilantes who wish to teach a lesson to local criminals and fellow classmates they dislike. What starts out as fairly playful increasingly becomes quite dark as the gang gain confidence in their activities, their actions become more criminal themselves.

This was seemingly a pilot for a series that never was. It's also based on real events that happened a year earlier in a Texas school. It actually makes for quite an entertaining and interesting enough TV movie. The gang and their actions are presented in shades of grey, with the audience only meant to sympathise with them up to a point. It means there is some melodrama generated, while at the same time having a fairly suspenseful parallel narrative to compliment this. It's made for TV, so it does have certain limitations but, mainly, this works pretty well and will especially be of interest to those interested in the young soon-to-be film stars. It also ends in a quite abrupt and surprising way that I personally thought was quite good.

The Chaser (2008)
Another winner from South Korea, 28 November 2014

The Chaser is yet another example of the excellence of South Korean cinema. Since the millennium there have been several absolute standout movies from this country. Often what makes them so good is that they have materialised from a culture hitherto sparsely represented in the movies, meaning that we in the west often find their films less predictable than we are normally used to. The Chaser is quite a good example of this because what we have is a staple of the thriller genre – the serial killer film – presented in ways that go against expectations. Structurally, it's unusual in that not only is the killer's identity revealed very early on but he is also caught near the start. This means that the focus then switches to the police bureaucracy that hinders everything bar the maniac himself. But even with this switch of direction, the plot-line still retains a high suspense narrative whereby an abducted girl remains in the killer's lair, a place totally unknown the police.

The story-line itself has an ex-policemen turned pimp apprehend a man whom he believes has kidnapped one of his girls. This man then confesses to police that has murdered this girl but without any direct proof he is set to be released in 12 hours by the powerless authorities, leading to frantic detective work. This story results in a cat and mouse standoff. But with a hero who is hardly whiter than white – he is after all a pimp who is distrusted by his former police colleagues; who themselves are shown to be fairly incompetent. So the dynamic between the characters is fairly complex and leads to some unpredictable results. The two main characters are especially good here and very well played by the actors. There is great use of the back streets of Seoul too. Especially in the case of some high octane foot chases which unusually show the sheer exhaustion of such an endeavour, equally the several frantic and messy fights have a similar realism. This approach is distinctive and adds a lot. The violence is often so realistic it offers little distance to the audience, particularly horrible is the hammer and chisel sequence which made for extremely grim viewing. This grit and grime adds a further dimension to a film which has already taken a genre film to unpredictable places. It ends in a way that is neither happily wrapped up not one dimensionally nihilistic, it's something in between. In a film of many contrasts and surprises, it feels right that it does so.

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