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Virgin Witch (1972)
There is good news, and there is bad news
9 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This 1970s British film concerns two sisters who, in pursuit of career work in advertising modelling, get caught up in witchcraft.

The good news: there is a story, it is nicely photographed, and there is copious attractive nudity.

The bad news: it's all a bit silly, the cast take it much more seriously than it merits but you get the feeling their hearts aren't really in it, and much of the acting isn't very good.

A period piece.
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Big Eyes (I) (2014)
Interesting, but strange
1 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Margaret leaves her husband and moves to San Francisco with her daughter, where she meets and marries artist Walter Keane. When Margaret's stylised paintings of (mostly) children with enormous eyes start to find a market (unlike Walter's Parisian street scenes), Walter markets them under his own name on the grounds that no-one is interested in paintings by women. Margaret finally leaves the controlling Walter, but ends up fighting him in court to establish the true artistic authorship of the Big Eyes/Waif paintings.

Tim Burton directs Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in this dramatization of a true story. It is a period piece, set mostly in late 50s/early 60s San Francisco, and is rather odd in terms of mood. Waltz plays Keane in a kind of constant manic good humour, in a slightly over the top comedic way. Adams, on the other hand, downplays the put-upon Margaret. The contrast between Keane who, despite the fact that we can always see him as a conman, is likeable and engaging, and his relationship with Margaret, which is essentially abusive, makes the film feel somewhat uneasy. I was very unsure about how I felt about the film at the end.

The period feel is captured well and, as one would expect with Burton, it is bright, colourful and eyecatching. I was delighted to recognise the location where I watched a street scene being filmed, even though that scene wasn't in the film.
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Colourful but bland
24 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Princess Elena tells a friend the story of her imprisonment in an amulet for 41 years by way of evil enchantment, until Princess Sofia from another kingdom sets out to free her.

This is offered on DVD as a standalone Disney princess movie, but it is actually taken from a TV series. This explains why it assumes a degree of familiarity with continuity which doesn't appear. However, it's easy enough to figure out.

Set in a mythical latin/Caribbean world, it is bright and colourful. The CGI is adequate, albeit modelled with less sophistication than Disney's theatrical CGI features. The voice cast is OK (Jane Fonda was the wicked queen is the only name I knew). The story serves its purpose, although it is a bit cookie-cutter. Little Princess Sofia is irritating unless you are a small girl to whom she is intended to appeal.

It passes the time for tinies.
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What a voice cast! The rest - not so much
18 February 2018
Justin, a young man in a world where knights have been outlawed, has his heart set on following his late grandfather into knighthood against the express wishes of his father.

This Spanish CGI movie has an extraordinary voice cast of top notch actors. It's a shame that the voice/lip movements mismatch so much.

The film looks like a videogame rather than an animated feature. It's not unattractive, but it's not what we've come to expect from a cinematic feature. And Justin himself is copied from Aardman's Arthur Christmas from 2 years earlier.

The story and presentation are mostly OK - lots of colour, action and humour. But the film has an air of being assembled by people who aren't 100% sure about how films are put together: the timing of gags is frequently off, for instance.
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Haunted High (2012 TV Movie)
11 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The ghost of a previous headmaster returns to wreak havoc and treat people to bad puns in a fairly poor haunted high school offering.

I was attracted by Danny Trejo and Charisma Carpenter headlining the DVD box in Poundland. Well Danny Trejo spends much of the film locked in a cupboard and Charisma Carpenter is barely in it. And the UK DVD box doesn't feature the dreaded words "SyFy Channel."

The cast is OK, mostly, the script is poor, and the horror is too explicit for non-horror audiences, but far too lame for hardcore horror fans.
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Faintheart (2008)
Very likeable
7 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Richard is a DIY store employee whose leisure life centres on Viking battle re-enactment. He embarrasses his son Martin, and his wife Cath has got fed up: Richard has moved out into fellow re-enactor and nerd Julian's home (where he lives with his mother), and Cath has moved Martin's PE teacher in. Richard loves Cath and wants to win her back, but is he too much of a loser.

This mildly original but fairly predictable romcom succeeds, largely because of winning performances from Eddie Marsan, Jessica Hynes and Ewan Bremner as Richard, Cath and Julian.

Much of the humour will appeal to nerds (there is a debate over who would be the better girlfriend, She-Hulk or Wonder Woman), and the central characters are all likeable. The location work in and around Ludlow is attractive, and the movie is a gentle and very British effort.

With extras and crew recruited from Myspace, it is bewildering to note that this enjoyable movie didn't get a general cinema release in Britain.
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Jane Eyre (1943)
Decent, but far from flawless
4 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
When this version of Jane Eyre is good, it is very good. But that is not the case in every respect.

The opening sequence of Jane's miserable childhood is well done: curtailed, certainly, but it gives us enough misery to make its point.

Joan Fontaine is an excellent adult Jane. Orson Welles, however, I'm not so sure about. Rochester is supposed to be brooding, but with a soulful centre which enables Jane to see his good heart. Welles, however, is all booming thyroidal presence in a performance of minimal subtlety.

I would rather have seen some location work rather than all gothic interiors, even the exteriors!
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Lots of fighting, some political stuff, and too many similar characters
29 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
When a General his killed, his wife and various female members of his family set off to pill his military shoes.

That's as close as I can get in a synopsis with going into vast detail - detail which seems unnecessary when this biggish budget Chinese film is largely combat sequences.

If you like large battle scenes, lots of one-on-one wire-fu and the like, you're going to enjoy this. But if you're not familiar with lots of Chinese actresses, you're going to get confused. Assorted members of this military clan are introduced together with little identifying captions about what their swords are called, and then you never know who each one is until they - spoiler! - get killed.

There is some dodgy CGI, especially at the start. It gets bloodier as it does on, and it really shouldn't because the CGI blood doesn't convince.

I've decided I like Cecilia Cheung.

This DVD from Poundland held my attention, but I'm not in a big hurry to see it again.
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Indescribably awful
17 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
It's unusual for me to discover a monster movie I was unaware of, especially when it's an official sequel to a big budget, high profile movie. Yet here was the DVD in Poundland, so what could I lose?

It surprised me by being directed by John Guillermin and starting with the closing moments of his 1976 King Kong featuring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. That was a film which, notwithstanding its flaws, I enjoyed, mainly due to Rick Baker's wonderful Hydraulically controlled Kong face, adding realistic eye articulation to some decent eye acting.

Rick Baker was not involved in Kong Lives.

After being shot and falling from the top of the World Trade Centre, it transpires that Kong is still alive but needs a heart transplant - fortunately an enormous heart is available, but now he needs a blood transfusion. Fortunately adventurer Hank has discovered a giant female ape, the transfusion goes ahead, and the two apes fall for each other. Unfortunately, the pro-ape faction of Hank and surgeon Amy Franklin (Linda Hamilton - yes, Sarah Conner) fall foul of lunatic gung-ho army officer stereotype Nevitt.

The story is simple but not without merit. Sadly, the script is poor, most of the acting is worse excepting Linda Hamilton, who is rather good. Even that might not matter too much if the apes were good.

They are not. They are exceedingly bad. They are men in monkey suits without arm extensions ie. they retain human proportions. And the faces have limited (and not very good) articulation, but usually consist of masks in a variety of expressions including, towards the end, rather ludicrous broad smiles.

I now understand why I have never previously heard of this very bad film.
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Not a classic
17 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
The stage show of which this based relatively closely on the real-life story of Annie Oakley, teenage sharpshooter who joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and married resident sharpshooter Frank Butler, a marriage which lasted 50 years.

This film was ill-fated in production - Judy Garland filmed 2 of the musical numbers before being dropped because of illness. Another number was scrapped when Frank Morgan died, and a further number was also dropped after filming.

Howard Keel in an early role sings beautifully as Frank Butler but doesn't always convince as the character. Betty Hutton as Annie - well, what can I say?

What I can say is that Annie is played in two ways, Before and After. In After, her rough edges have been rubbed off and her performance and singing are attractive and graceful. Before is broad comedy. And when I say broad, I mean massively, embarrassingly over the top, It is a performance which would work on stage, when presented directly to a live audience but, when presented to a camera and leering out of the cinema or TV screen, it is excruciating.

When coupled with a crop of songs which are less than classic Irving Berlin, this musical is entertaining enough, but far from a classic.
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The Sand (2015)
Not as bad as the reviews make out
8 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
A group of college kids wake up hung over after a beach barbecue only to discover that if flesh touches the sand, the beach eats it (and the rest of what is connected to it) Who will escape and how? This is a very low budget film made with a cast of unknowns in a single location and, given those limitations, it is done quite well. For instance, a lot of camera-work is low angle which serves two purposes: it gives a "sand-eye" view, and avoids background detail and any continuity or other issues which might otherwise have resulted.

The young cast are attractive and do well enough.

Tension is maintained fairly well throughout.

The CGI - mainly blood and monster filaments/tentacles - is poor. And the resolution is lacking. But it's an OK time-passer.
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19 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Batman reluctantly recruits Harley Quinn to help him and Nightwing track down Poison Ivy, who is helping the Floronic Man create a plague to turn people into plants.

This animated film is a follow-on to Batman: The Animated Series. The style is familiar and Kevin Conroy voices Batman. Harley Quinn is voiced quite well by Melissa Rauch, Arleen Sorkin having retired. And the plot is OK.

But oh dear me. Nearly everything else is wrong, mainly due to the tone which is, paradoxically, both more adult and more juvenile than BTAS.

Let's start with the language. While there are no F-words, there is frequent language which is inappropriate: Harley says "You're sh!tting me!" There are 1966-style fight captions, one of which is "OH! MY BALLS!" Let's continue with Harley farting loudly and smellily in the Batmobile. Possibly amusing, but narratively irrelevant and therefore you can add unnecessary to inappropriate.

There are two complete songs - why? And finally, there is Harley's non-graphic but undoubted sexual episode with Nightwing (and the subsequent masturbation gag).

Nightwing hangs his head in shame, and so should the filmmakers. What happened, Bruce Timm?
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Wasteland (I) (2011)
Potential unrealised
19 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
In a post-apocalyptic scenario, a group of murderous zealots kill mother, kidnap son, and leave father for dead after shooting him multiple times. 17 years later, father is hunting this group for revenge.

Let me start by saying that this film is the creative offspring of Lukas J Culshaw (producer, co-writer) and an individual who calls himself Kantz (co-writer, director. This strikes me as pretentious and puts my teeth on edge right from the start.

This simple revenge tale - desert locations, small cast and crew, some martial arts setpieces - is the lowest of low budget films, But, for all that, it looks quite good: Michael McCants (I'm not going to play silly name games with him) has some ability behind the camera. The action sequences are quite well done.

The cast look good, especially the group of improbably attractive and erotically clad young Asian women. Regrettably, not a single one of them is capable of acting, in which endeavour they are not helped in the slightest by a script which would have made Olivier look like an amateur. There are also some distracting, pretentious and unhelpful touches in the editing.

I hope McCants can find some directing gigs. And I hope he stays away from writing.
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Irwin Allen, eat your heart out!
23 October 2017
Dr Sorenson has the brilliant idea of sending a rocket propelled bomb into the earth's crust to release free geothermal energy, but things go horribly wrong.

Director Andrew Marton (of whom it has been said "Who?") pretends to be Irwin Allen in a colourful widescreen action adventure disaster movie.

I'll cut this film a break over the dumb science, on the grounds that maybe they didn't know that much about plate tectonics in the 60s. Maybe they didn't know that loosening a chunk of the planet wouldn't result in it zooming off into space and forming a new moon. But the model work, while typical of the era, looks very unconvincing these days. And leading man Keiron Moore is very handsome but acts extremely badly. Seriously badly.

But there is also some good stuff here. Location photography is attractive, Janette Scott is always appealing, there is some production value on show, the action climax isn't bad, and Dana Andrews shows Keiron Moore how to act.

On the whole, though, this is as dumb as a box of frogs.
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Cash-in talking heads
21 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
The 50th anniversary of the Sgt Pepper album sees this lengthy documentary appear. It centres on the album but gives background, dating back to the Jesus controversy, and follows on as far as the Maharishi and Epstein's death.

There is newsreel footage, mostly familiar, talking heads telling stories (stories mostly familiar, some of the talking heads less frequently exposed), and no Beatles music whatsoever. This is usually the case with projects not sanctioned by Apple, but it really diminishes them.

As a long term Beatles fan, I watch this sort of thing in the hope of picking up the odd titbit (Barbara Donnell's story of having to step over Derek Taylor mid-coitus on the floor of one of the Apple offices was new to me), or otherwise hearing the familiar stories told be fresh voices - Julia Baird, Andy Peebles, Jenny Boyd, Philip Norman etc.).

From that angle, there is some value to this. Otherwise there is little new here.
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8 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
4 episodes is enough of a chance.

Every one of these showed the potential in the story. But, in each case, the adaptation was dull and dragged. Perhaps these were only half-hour stories dragged out to an hour. Whatever the reason, they were boring boring boring.

What's more, they seemed to be deliberately filmed to appear as lo-fi as possible. In these days of HD TV, the image quality of these programmes was awful.

I shan't be watching any more of them.
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Mother! (2017)
Those are lovely New Clothes, Emperor
22 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
My name is Aaron Darrenofsky, and I am much cleverer than you. Specifically, I can make a horror film except it's not a horror film, you see. It's a very clever metaphor.

But what's it a metaphor for? That's even cleverer, because I don't have to tell you! No, I can leave you to make up your own meaning and then you'll be pleased that you're (nearly) as clever as me! And if you think "What a pile of pretentious claptrap" then I have an army of people who really love The Emperor's New Clothes, and they'll tell you that you're too stupid to understand it.

This starts off well, then you come to realise it's art-house nonsense, just dressed up in horror film clothes. Jennifer Lawrence gives the worst performance of her career so far in a part which her boyfriend has underwritten and badly directed: he has not done her any favours with this unsympathetic, unrealistic, one-note sacrificial lamb.

A bad, horrible film. Please avoid it. And please avoid Aaron Darrenofsky and the similarly named charlatan who made this pile of tripe.
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Delightful from start to finish
20 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Mildly delinquent 12 year old urban Maori fat kid Ricky has been in juvenile care all his life. His social worker places him with Bella, who lives with surly husband Hec, miles out beyond the back of beyond. Ricky tries running away, but there's nowhere to run to. And gradually, Bella's sheer joie de vivre begins to win him over. Then Bella drops dead, devastating both Hec and Ricky. Ricky will have to go back into care, so he runs away into the Bush. Hec pursues him and, on finding him, breaks his ankle and can't move: the two are stuck in position for some weeks. And everyone assumes that taciturn loner Hec....

This is a small film, mostly a two-hander, treading a moderately well-trodden path (see also Up). Julian Dennison is a joy as the tubby Ricky, both streetwise and naïve. And the heavily bearded Hec, looking and sounding like Hugo Weaving is played by Sam Neill. And it's a revelation. The part is miles away from anything he's done before, and he is terrific.

The film is funny, suspenseful, heart-warming, sad, and beautiful to look at.

Heartily recommended.
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28 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Keanu Reeves' John Wick returns in a sequel which delivers - exactly - more of the same.

By which I mean it delivers non-stop action in which Keanu headshots over 100 anonymous opposition items in gouts of CGI blood. As soon as he has despatched a pair, another pair emerge from the walls, exactly like video game slaughter-fodder. There is no emotional heft to this, he might as well be knocking skittles down.

There is some fisticuffs too, on broadly the same basis.

Good points: Ian McShane, offing the baddie, and the mute bodyguard.

Bad points: the utter absence of any emotional or moral consequences for the wholesale slaughter, the waste of Laurence Fishburne, and the discovery that 50% of the population of New York is made up of hit men.

I enjoyed the first one: I thought this was empty piffle.
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Moving and inspirational
20 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
At the age of 3, Owen Suskind disappeared into the fog of autism. Some years later, as he came out with a garbled quote from The Little Mermaid, his parents realised that their son was still inside there somewhere, and capable of complex thought.

This documentary tells Owen's story, and illustrates how Owen - with considerable help - has worked towards building some sort of life with a foothold in everyday conventionality, and has done so by using Disney animated films as reference points.

This is a film which should be seen, so I wouldn't want to say more. Owen's journey is daunting, challenging, funny, sad, moving and, ultimately, inspiring. This is an excellent film.
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Self-consciously clever, but also entertaining
5 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Writer Gil loves Paris, his fiancée not so much. So when Gil finds a time warp which drops him into Paris of the 1920s and, in particular, in among the artistic intelligentsia he so admires, he finds himself torn, especially when he begins to fall in love with Picasso's mistress. But the present-day beckons: he has commitments, but he may also find a way into the heart of the woman he is coming to love.

Woody Allen often annoys me, but the self-aware intellectualism which often spoils his films for me is here turned to entertaining use as the 1920s artists and intellectuals become vibrant scene-dressing and, in some cases, essential plot elements. The script is fun, and the lack of any explanation for the movement between eras matters not at all.

We know what's going to happen, of course - the mismatch between Gil and fiancée is gaping - but getting there is good fun. It is interesting to see Owen Wilson playing Woody Allen instead of himself, and the rest of the cast do fine.

And Paris looks lovely, filmed in oversaturated colours.
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Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Smart genre-splicing
4 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
After considerable setting up of characters and story elements, four men ride off in pursuit of a group of particularly savage Indians, in order to rescue captives who, it transpires, have been taken in order to restock the larder.

This atmospheric and fairly leisurely film is a horror movie slyly pretending to be a western. And it's rather good.

A great cast, mostly at the tops of their games, engage us as they go on their mission: we care about them and want them to succeed even though they - and we - don't really know what they're up against. The very opening shot shows a man having his throat brutally and explicitly cut so, despite some amusing dialogue (which continues throughout - the script is great fun), we understand that this is not a comedy, but no-one is prepared for the savagery they find. This is not a film for kids.

It's a good film, though, and entertains solidly throughout its 2 hour-plus running time.
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Keeping Mum (2005)
Enjoyable black comedy
1 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The film opens with a flashback of 30-odd years in which a likable young woman, travelling on a train, is found to have a dead body in her travelling trunk, and it appears that she is the author of the deceased's demise. Moving to the present day, we meet Gloria, wife to rather dozy vicar Walter and mum to sensitive Petey and mildly slutty Holly. All three are something of a trial, and her general lack of satisfaction at life isn't helped by next door's yapping dog, problems with the pond, annoying parishioner Mrs Parker, randy golf pro Lance, etc. Into her life comes Grace Hawkins as a live-in help, and suddenly - almost miraculously - all the problems begin to disappear.

You don't have to be a genius to work out what's afoot, but the joy of this film is in how it delivers what you expect in such unexpected ways, not to mention the lovely performances from all concerned.

The location work in Cornwall and on the Isle of Man is very attractive.

Yes, this is a black comedy, but it is also genuinely funny, and quite heartwarming.
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A quirk of genius
31 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The Hoover family is having problems, and the word "dysfunctional" is woefully inadequate. Mom Sheryl is trying to hold it together, but her brother has just been released into her care following a depression- suicide attempt, son Dwayne hasn't spoken to anyone for a year as part of some teenage nonsense, Grandpa Edwin is an irascible old devil who is a poor example to his grandchildren, and Dad Richard delivers poorly-attended self-improvement seminars (which he then also inflicts on his family) for a company which is just about to fire him. And youngest daughter Olive has, unlikely as it may seem (because she is not especially talented or beautiful), obtained a place in the final of the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. So, obviously, a road trip is on the cards. What could possibly go wrong?

The set-up hardly seems ripe for comedy development, yet this character-driven drama is often very funny. It is also frequently very moving (sometimes to the extent that you're in tears) and delivers a very clear message - just because you're dysfunctional doesn't mean you don't love one another.

The first-rate cast are all excellent in this well-written, well-acted ensemble piece. It frequently goes in unexpected directions, and is perhaps a little swearier than it needs to be but, ultimately, it leaves you uplifted and with a sense of hope.
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Authentic but unpleasant
24 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Series 7: The Contenders is the series finale (or, more accurately, the final 3 programmes of series 7 of the reality show The Contenders, in which half a dozen, er, contenders are pitched against each other. Each has a camera crew and a gun, last one alive wins. Current champ and favourite is 8 months pregnant, but all have backstories which become clear is the thing progresses.

This film - which purports to be a horror film and a black comedy - is so accurately observed, and seasoned with the trimmings of a reality TV show, that anyone walking in while it is in progress may take some while to realise that they are not watching a genuine reality show based on murdering people.

And that is both its strength and weakness. It is a scarily accurate satire, but it's not actually very funny, and the fictitious programme is not very entertaining, and filled with people who are unpleasant to be around (the cast do very well in performing unpleasant ordinary people on a reality show).

I suppose it succeeds in being what it set out to be, but that's not really much of a recommendation in my view.
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