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Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage (2014)
Like watching a school play
..a bad school play. Poorly directed and acted, the narrative itself is constructed by someone who has no understanding of how narratives work. The best bit of this is watching actors, and I use that word quite wrongly, not respond in any way to the poor special effects that were obviously cobbled on later. How Patrick Stewart got attached to this, I'll never know, it is like he turns up at school narrating a school play, it is that strange. In order to post this review, I have to think of things to say, but this junk is not worthy, so I'm struggling. The acting is wooden at best, hammy baddie of course, this tries to emulate greater movies of the past but the director is not talented enough to even come close. Avoid.
Io sono l'amore (2009)
Don't believe the hype
This film has a tendency to wallow in its own self-importance, and doesn't really have anything substantial to say. Basically it's pretty dull. The message(s) of the text, if indeed there is one ultimately, has been said before and better elsewhere, it is curiously flat, plodding and insubstantial given the grandiose mise and tone the director tries to create. From a narrative perspective it's pretty clunky too; are all the characters in this film ciphers? I didn't relate to anyone and wasn't interested in how slowly they atrophy; there is something hollow at the core of this film that I didn't believe and didn't engage me.
It's not that I Am Love is a bad film exactly, being mediocre at best, it's just that it is nowhere near as important or lyrical as a lot of people would have you believe. So if you are planning on slipping into a coma for a couple of hours this could be just the ticket...
State of Grace (1990)
Huge, huge movie
Overshadowed by the flashier Goodfellas on its release, this dark, brooding and deeply-satisfying thriller draws heavily on Shakespearean tragedy, Catholicism and the troubles, as well as more conventional gangster thriller narrative to deliver a giant film that will in time hopefully be considered as the masterpiece it is.
It is superbly made, lit and edited, and Joanou elicits magnificent performances from the entire cast but especially his three leads - this is Oldman's best work by some considerable margin. There is lots of attention to detail here - not least Kathleen's red dress during the Paddy's Day parade as the principals head for the Peckinpah-style denouement.
This is darker and more adult than any other gangster film and has a doomed hopelessness at its core: no-one can escape from what they really are. Consistently intelligent and understated, it is also superbly and movingly scored by the great Morricone, which almost lends a contemporary western elegy feeling to the film.
Quite simply superb.
Donald Cammell is still largely an unknown figure in British Cinema, criminally under-rated in my opinion, on a par with Michael Powell for his daring and style.
Performance, shot in 1968, is his masterpiece. Often wrongly credited to Nic Roeg (he filmed it), it's a Borges-esquire drugged-out experiment in seedy London. Mick Jagger plays Turner, a character who, as his name suggests, has the ability to 'turn' the sexuality of Chas, a gangster on the run, holed up in Turner's mansion of debauchery. It's very 1960's in some respects, gnawing at English sexual repression and the stuffy establishment of the time. But in other ways it's very fresh and timeless, surreal and nightmarish at times, witty and provocative.
James Fox is magnificent as Chas, half-acting, half-spiked out of his mind, as Chas free-wheels into Turner's fantasies. This movie has some unbelievable sequences in it, not least the breath-taking finale. Fox gave up acting following the shoot and became a Christian, such was the effect of the shoot on him, only returning to films many many years later.
I've watched this movie dozens of times and I've never gotten bored of it. Every time I see something else, notice something else I hadn't noticed before, it's such a rich text. It's a pity that Donald Cammell, an auteur and visionary, continually found his head upon the block of the Hollywood studio system, managing only four movies in his entire career. Sadly missed.
The Crow: City of Angels (1996)
Turkey season around again
Well, big fan of the first Crow movie, like a lot of people. This extremely unfocused and soulless sequel opened the floodgates for the Crow franchise and more family-orientated versions, in the same way that the Robocop franchise disappeared down the toilet.
Not a huge amount of sense nor drive about the narrative, this version has been over-edited so it's often confusing what is going on, big holes in character motivation, you end up not caring about any of the characters.
Whereas the first film conjured up a magnificent air of Gothic gloom, this one just isn't nasty enough, and that's how revenge thrillers work - you need to know how bad the bad guys are and how horribly the hero has been wronged to care about his mission to avenge himself and take some pleasure when he ices a bad guy. What you get here is a watered-down version that misfires on a number of levels, the acting isn't great and the script truly sucks, but I can forgive those if there is something genuine at the film's core. There is something wholly ingenuine at this movie's core however, even the photography and iconography plays like a long soulless rock video, full of its own importance but actually delivering nothing. Proper turkey
War of the Worlds (2005)
Closer to Independence Day than HG Well's vision
OK I was persuaded to go and see this movie, even though I'm not much of a Spielberg fan (I always find him a bit juvenile, ever seen a young kid die in one of his films??). I also studied Wells at University and know the original text pretty well, as well as the climate under which it was written.
Now, my first obvious gripe was, like a lot of Hollywood movies, something English is misappropriated and transplanted to America. It is also updated to the present day. Having said that, if you throw god knows how many millions of dollars at something maybe you have the right to do whatever you like...
Don't get me wrong, there's nothing that sucks too much about this movie, what I didn't like was the bastardization of Wellsian ideas. Tim Robbin's character is a mish-mash of The Artilleryman, The Curate (wearing a wedding ring around his neck rather than a cross though!!!) yet is called Ogilvy, who is the astronomer at the beginning of the story.
The War Of The Worlds is in amazing novella written in the 1890's (very short - so no excuses) that predicts the massive destruction and urban desolation of the First World War, the fall of the British Empire, biological warfare, extraterrestrial life and space travel, the decline of orthodox religion, light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation (laser to you and me) etc etc (I could go on) and of course, most notably, taps into the new Darwinist ideas of the time concerning evolution (martians described as evolved humans, just heads and hands). Women and children die horribly, it's dark, scary, adult; all the things which ultimately this movie were not.
Yet I gave it a chance, treating it as a modern and very loose rendering of the story - the machines didn't quite look right but the height of them was spot-on and the heat-ray fairly accurate. Then the martians themselves appeared, and any suspense that had been generated up to that point disappeared. In a lot of ways Wells' vision is a satire, the martians (as evolved humans) are disgusting loathsome blobs with flailing tentacles who are sluggish under the Earth's atmosphere (somehow Wells worked out that the Martian atmosphere is considerably lighter than that of Earth), relying on their machines (Wells anticipating couch potatoes of today?).
What does Spielberg come up with? Something too humanoid, too lithe, too small, malevolent e.t.'s perhaps but a million miles away from what Wells was saying - they are just as agile on this planet and just not repugant enough, not terrifying at all.
So I left the theatre predictably disappointed that the name of Herbert George Wells had been attached to something significantly less than the sum of its parts, whereas the original novella is so much more. Do yourself a favour - instead of paying a few quid or dollars to go and see this film, buy the book.
Dust Devil (1992)
extraordinary film and one of my personal favourites
Well, where does one begin? I've never made any secret from the fact that I think Richard Stanley is a true visionary and it's criminal that he hasn't had enough financial support to make more films.
Blending African myth, Old Testament, and more conventional horror narrative, Stanley has crafted a deeply rich dream-like experience littered with startling images and profound story-telling. This is essentially a horror movie but it transcends genre simply because the text is multi-layered; there's so much attention to detail here, blink and you'll miss it (like the Devil's reflection in the mirror at the first victim's house).
Like in Stanley's other famous film, Hardware, the desert becomes something greater than the sum of its parts; something strange, unknown and ultimately treacherous, the sandstorm from which the shape-shifter emanates, the refuge for Wendy fleeing from her husband, and the place of Ben's reckoning and redemption.
Original, provocative, dark and satisfying, this, while essentially following horror narrative, is a truly unique movie and lingers long in the memory.
The Richard Stanley show
I must admit I am a huge fan of this under-estimated, enigmatic South African director.
Like his magnificent masterpiece, Dust Devil, Hardware deals with similar themes - the desert, the Old Testament, and sexual violence.
I first saw this movie many years ago when still basically a kid before I went to film school and certain sequences have stayed with me forever.
Watching it again in 2005 the movie seems a little dated or rather post-rock video in places, but when it was made in 1990, this was all cutting-edge stuff. I am not giving anything away by saying that the plot is in many ways a re-working of The Terminator or Alien, when Dylan McDermott gives his girlfriend Jill (played by Stacey Travis)what he thinks is a load of unusual scrap metal salvaged from the desert. She is an artist and welds these robot parts to a sculpture she is making...
This is an extremely visceral movie, laced with religious iconography (mark-13 often adopts crucifixion poses and in the shower scene at the end, appears to be in a prayer position) and boosted by an extremely eclectic and unusual cast. Motorhead singer Lemmy crops up playing a sort of ferryman, Iggy Pop plays DJ Angry Bob, and John Lynch is excellent as my favourite character from this film, Shades.
The narrative is essentially straight-forward but what makes this movie different and memorable is Stanley's vision. The mise-en-scene is bleached red (post-appocalypse), the use of montage is often extremely effective and nightmarish and I was frequently reminded when watching it of Renaissence paintings, just in glimpses here and there (hell, maybe that's just me..!) There is also some American comment in this movie; mark-13 is adorned with a stars-and-stripes, and the deadly toxin it employs is described as 'smelling like apple pie'. This of course is akin to Dust Devil, where the demon is simply called 'Texas' by Wendy.
So, to conclude, if you haven't seen this movie or heard of this director before I urge you to seek him out. Anyone with a love for avant-garde and challenging cinema (like me) should have heard of this guy (proper auteur by the way) and his thematically-consistent visions.
This is still a fine film but probably hasn't aged as well as it might have done - it's strength is that it is far more complex than it first appears to be.
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Violent and witty
This is rightly considered a classic cult movie from the 1970's by the once reliable John Carpenter (who also composed the edgy early synth score). Basically it's a faint mish-mash of other movies, the dialogue is reminiscent of great westerns as a black policeman and a white convict battle against gang members in a Night of The Living Dead re-working. It's also tempting to draw Vietnam allegories (as with many American movies of the mid 1970's and after); the faceless, nameless gang members die in the droves but keep attacking the besieged police station and the lawmen and the lawbreakers, black and white, must unite to defeat them and escape with their lives.
The real joy of this movie, however, is the playing of the two virtually unknown leads, Austin Stoker and the late Darwin Joston. They have a great, almost wry chemistry and use Carpenter's stripped-down witty dialogue to great effect. Because there are no 'stars', there are no real expectations, and the shocks when they come (including the famous ice cream sequence) are more shocking for it.
The representation of women leaves a little to be desired (the two female characters obviously shop at the same sweater store!) but the character Lee shows some inner strength and resolve, and even has time for some kind of upper hand in terms of sexual tension between herself and Joston's Napoleon Wilson.
If you haven't seen this movie I urge you to watch it; in terms of B movies and cult thrillers it's the yardstick in my opinion; simple, stylish, violent, witty and not remotely sentimental.
Prime Cut (1972)
It helps if you are a big Lee Marvin fan to enjoy this movie - but even if you're not especially, there's still enough in here to raise it above run-of-the-mill.
The cinematography is first-rate; lots of use of natural light and dingy locations of the city contrasted with the golden Kansas sunshine. Both Marvin and Gene Hackman are terrific and each exude good screen presence as gangsters at odds with each other, culminating in the shoot-out in the sunflower field and cattle house.
The film is slightly let down by the sentimental and unnecessary last scene at the orphanage, which feels grafted on, although the very final shot of the children running into the countryside hints at some kind of hope for the future (post Vietnam), not least between Nick Devlin (Marvin) and his new girl Sissy Spacek.