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Scarecrows (1988)
6/10
An 80s oddity worth checking out
19 October 2019
I'd never heard of Scarecrows until I saw the trailer featured on another Blu-ray, which is crazy as this is the kind of movie that would have been prominent in video stores in the late 80s, a time when I was deeply immersed in studying and memorizing rental VHS artwork and taglines. A quick bit of research revealed that it was actually released to the UK rental market in 1989 by Medusa Pictures (remember them?) a major horror label at the time. Somehow Scarecrows managed to elude me, but I was intrigued by the trailer that was included in another 88 Films release and had to see the movie.

At 83 minutes, there's little time wasted, and we're immediately thrown into a post-heist getaway on a private cargo plane as a group of five bandits have purloined a cache of cash (!) and hijacked the pilot and his teenage daughter. One of the bandits (or Crows, as they are credited) betrays the others and bails out with the cash, failing to destroy the plane in the process. The rest soon follow, but unfortunately for them they land on a large, overgrown cornfield in the absolute middle of nowhere and find themselves trapped in a ramshackle farmhouse with a mysterious past. No one seems to live there, but is definitely life in the corn rows and they don't like trespassers very much.

The cheapness of the production is both blatant AND invisible. It looks amazing, with darkness and gloom oppressing every inch of the screen with spooky atmosphere. The entire film is set at night (with some terribly edited in day-for-night shots of the plane buzzing around) and the small cast and isolated location create such a strange, otherwordly mood that I can't help but think that it later inspired The Blair Witch project in some ways. I can definitely see a tonal parallel between the movies.

Scarecrows' only real failing is the super-duper overuse of ADR which seems to have been a quick fix for budget issues and post-production problems. Half of the dialogue takes place off screen, the pilot's daughter seems to be dubbed over by a completely different actress for some reason, and the inner monologue for one of the bandits was completely unnecessary though they filmmakers obviously felt that the audience needed to be told what he was thinking instead of letting the actor's facial expressions do the job. Still, it gives the movie an unusual edge.

An obscure movie with otherwise good production value and a great atmosphere. Scarecrows is perfect late-night viewing especially on a dark, stormy night.
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Rampage (2018)
3/10
Dumb as a sack of rocks
15 October 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I remember playing Rampage on the Commodore 64 when I was a kid (I never got to play the arcade version) and I enjoyed it for the macabre mash-up of King Kong, Godzilla, and Werewolf chaotic action. It was so satisfying to pound on tall buildings and watch them crumble while munching on the puny humans that tried to stop you.

Over 30 years later, and with so many, many video games offering an embarrassment of riches when it comes to movie-making possibilities, what kind of nitwit would consider Rampage, of all things, to be the best material worthy of a screenplay and feature-length running time? There is so little work with here it literally makes the Double Dragon movie look like a classic.

Dwayne Johnson is Davis Okoye, a primatologist who is best friends with George, an albino ape who's family was murdered. This is the part of what appealed to me about Rampage. I like things with big apes and I especially like movies where humans make best friends with animals. If more time had been spent establishing George and Davis as pals it might have been better, but the title promises a Rampage so we need to get to that, eventually.

After an actually exciting opening scene where a space station lab disintegrates and scatters a infectious pathogen across North America, a wolf, an alligator (it seems) and George himself are caught in the chaos when it crash-lands. All of them begin to grow to out-of-control proportions and become highly sought-after by Energyne, the shady company that owned the space station. Brother/sister company directors Claire and Brett Wyden switch on a special beacon on the roof of their Willis Tower headquarters to lure in the animals but Davis, and his FBI side-show (a wasted Jeffrey Dean Morgan) get in on the action and try to save George.

Wow, what a load of convoluted garbage! I can't believe I just wasted a chunky paragraph attempting to relay the hodge-podge of trash that is this movie's plot. There's nothing remotely original or unique about Rampage as it's blatantly derivative of many other movies such as Congo, Godzilla, King Kong, 2012, and Pacific Rim, particularly in the city destruction scenes, which I have referred to as "9/11 porn" for a few years now. So many, many, many movies now feature these tiresome, redundant climaxes of CGI chaos and non-existent cartoon adversaries clobbering each other until one of them falls over for good. It's a ludicrous irony that the fun of watching a building crumble on my Commodore 64 was more enjoyable than the mind-numbing fury that was this movie's big ending.

Spoiler alert: the Willis Tower, once the tallest building on the planet, topples over during the climax, and not once is there any sense of scale, awe, excitement, vertigo, or panic. It's just an empty CGI spectacle that we have all become desensitised to and has all the breathtaking punch of TV static. No one cares about this anymore. We can't believe in any of this nonsense if it is never presented as anything resembling reality. For all of his interactions with George, you know it's just Dwayne Johnson talking to a green screen with his eye-line slightly off-point. Only in one shot in the entire movie is his interaction with George a practical effect. The aforementioned Congo has endured a lot of hate since it's release in 1995, but at least those apes were tangible animatronic effects or men in suits and the effect was a lot better than this.

There's virtually nothing to recommend about Rampage. Fans of Joe Manganiello will be baffled as to why his character is introduced as a hardcore antagonist only to be killed mere minutes later. It adds absolutely nothing to the movie but to further convolute a muddled, derivative plot that is nothing but a blatant mish-mash of scenes stolen from other, better movies.

Utterly uninspired, ugly and ultimately pointless. Rampage tastes like bin juice. 107 minutes has never felt so long, I thought this junk would never end.
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The Shallows (2016)
7/10
Jawsbreaker
10 August 2019
There are more bad shark movies than I can possibly count, and I can count all the way to about 7 or 8. Jaws is obviously the gold standard of shark movies, but even that series, after the first (very underrated sequel) became a laughing stock. Since then we've had the "just about passable" fare of Deep Blue Sea and 47 Meters Down to the simply awful Meg and Sharknado. The Shallows quietly usurps all of these and manages to cut out a respectable corner in a horribly crowded sub-genre.

Blake Lively is an adventure-seeking surfer taking a break from her med school studies to discover the secret Mexican (actually Australian) beach her late mother surfed at when pregnant with her. She's given a lift to this secret beach by a guy I was dead certain was Justin Long but it turns out that it's just a Spanish actor who looks exactly like him. Once in the water she immediately feels uncomfortable and is attacked by a Great White Haddock. The shore is only 200 yards away, and the water is only a few feet deep, but it's an impossible distance with an angry Great White circling in ever-diminishing diameters. Stranded on a tiny rock island, there is nowt to do but wait, scream for help, or take a million-to-one chance.

Jaume Collet-Serra, who has carved a name for himself by directing half of Liam Neeson's recent filmography, wisely understands that less is more and that underplaying the suspense makes for a far more effective film that anything that indulges in overblown nonsense. He fills The Shallows with his usual visual trickery but it never feels out of place or overly stylish. There are some truly gorgeous shots here and some moments of tangible atmosphere, which is more than I can say about the majority of latter day studio features. Though the "deep fake" of the stunt double catching a tube, which Blake Lively was clearly unable to do, is a jarringly obvious effects-failure.

For sure the winner of shark movies this decade. The Shallows is suspenseful and exciting, and, for someone who enjoys prolonged spells in tropical waters, quite nerve-wracking. Though, with a title like this, you'd think it was about modern-day females. It's 86 minutes of thrills and it's better than most movies twice that length.
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Ride Along 2 (2016)
1/10
Let me out, now
4 August 2019
Could anything be worse than Ride Along? Hold my beer, Ride Along 2 is here.

Even if you set your standards lower than minus infinity you will still be appalled at how shameless and soulless this committee-designed cash-grab sequel is. The "plot" is not even worth reciting, but I'll give it a go since it's been a while since I typed out something I have hated with a passion.

James and Ben (Cube and Hart) are still not yet friends and Ben, now a probationary officer, is a hindrance on James' detective work. When a new lead suggests corruption down in Miami, Ben's bride-to-be/James' sister is keen for him to ride along on the case to get out of the way and stop interfering with the wedding plans. Once in Miami the pair find themselves involved in the most cliched, bolted-together, mass-produced, generic, uninspired, worthless plot you could possibly (not even) imagine (as no imagination was used to create this). I do believe that Ride Along 2 was actually manufactured by a computer that studied the algorithms of every single "comedy" cop movie and defecated out the most tepid, gutless script possible.

How much longer can we suffer this sub-genre? I guess you could argue that Freebie and the Bean back in 1974 was the first "buddy cop" movie and there have been innumerable spins on it since, including 48 Hrs, Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon, Red Heat, Tango & Cash, Bad Boys (already getting stale a this point), Rush Hour (please, God, I want to die), National Security, Hot Fuzz, 21 Jump Street, Let's Be Cops, The Heat, The Other Guys, Cop Out...it just goes on and on and on. We're tired of this. It's been done to absolute effing death. Please stop!

Directed by man-with-no-vision and surname-of-pure-irony Tim Story there is no director flare here and it might as well have been made by producers with a man off the street yelling "action" and "cut" taking the director credit.

This movie hates you more than you hate yourself for watching it.

Ride Along 3 has been greenlit. Pass me that .357 Magnum!

Shot in 6K resolution with a Red Epic camera in a native 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Ride Along 2 was mastered in 2K resolution, thus losing 66.666% of the picture detail in the process. Why-oh-why do studios do this? It makes absolutely no sense. Not that I care. Cinematographer Michael Amundsen has a filmography of various "tat" in his career and he fills this movie with the usual hard contrast/boosted saturation that we have all come to expect from rotten comedy movies in the past decade. It looks just awful, and it would still look bad in 6K. The sound is in DTS HD-MA. If there are extras I sure as **** did not watch them.
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The King of Dragons (1991 Video Game)
4/10
Unending bore
11 July 2019
Another Golden Axe clone from Capcom, more so than the rest. The backgrounds are occasionally pretty but this is not so much a beat-em-up as a side-scrolling hand-and-slash with zero environment interaction and about five different kinds of bad guys.

It just goes on and on forever, with 14 levels instead of the typical 8 for the genre. The power-up ability is quite cool though, and it was the only good thing about this game. I couldn't wait for it to be over but it just kept going on and on. I'll never play this again.
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6/10
He said he'd be back
11 July 2019
So, for this sequel they dropped "The" from the title and simply go for Exterminator 2. There might not be a "Judgment Day" tagged on there but I still think that James Cameron was watching and taking notes.

Production on this sequel was famously chaotic from the very beginning. Since the first one was such a success Cannon Films Group, smelling money, greenlit the sequel. James Glickenhaus didn't want anything to do with it as he felt the story ended with John Eastland falling int the Hudson at the end of the first movie. Instead, producer Mark Buntzman (who also had the undignified role of "Belching Ghoul" first time around) bought the rights and wrote his own sequel. Keen to develop the character, Robert Ginty brought many of his own notes and ideas for John Eastland, which Buntzman immediately vetoed and, somewhat arrogantly, insisted that his screenplay be strictly adhered to. Now rather dispirited, Ginty still took the role, though the film would further fall apart under Buntzman's non-experience.

Appalled by his final cut, Cannon Films (who ought to know crap when they see it) brought in William Sachs to rewrite the ending and make massive changes in reshoots, only Ginty wasn't available as he was off shooting Mission Kill, so innumerable problems meant that Sachs had to somehow find a way to stitch the movie together along with whatever new footage he could shoot. The result is an entertaining, if hollow, patchwork/sketch show of mostly disconnected vignettes that eventually come together in a decent climax. Considering how badly the movie fell apart, this is nothing short of a miracle.

The movie has John Eastland still roasting New York scum to death with his trademark flamethrower while courting stripper Caroline. When he flash-fries the brother of messianic gang leader X (Mario Van Peebles getting a lot of mileage out of a poorly-written character) he finds himself the target his minions, which makes up the bulk of the movies hypnotically lurid, violent action scenes. Be honest, you're not watching this movie expecting high art, and it more than delivers what it promises, so I cannot fault it.

It's a little slicker and more "Hollywood" than the original movie and it lacks the raw, tangible intensity but it's still interesting to see the scummy old New York and the vermin that lurked on every corner. In real life it took Disney money to clean it up, not a crazed ex-soldier with a flamethrower.
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6/10
Too little, too late.
11 July 2019
Despite the many complaints I will get to with Independence Day: Resurgence it will always stick in my mind as the first premiere I attended at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The Brexit vote was counted during the screening and when everyone exited the movie the press were sticking mics in the faces of celebs asking them for their opinion on Britain leaving the EU - a fitting occurrence considering the title of the movie.

Sadly, the film bombed, raking in just $100,000,000 during it's run, a fraction of the original's box office takings. It was too little too late. A 20-year gap between movies was just too long and the politics and culture of the US is now drastically different. Independence Day came out in a time when spirits were high, the '96 Olympics had everyone pumped up, the summer season was full of exciting blockbusters, and painful, boring superhero movies were virtually non-existent. Fever Pitch was the feeling all summer long and a jingoistic, heroic movie was exactly what audience wanted at the time. ID:4 delivered all that and more. In 2016 the culture war had already started and self-hatred in America was beginning to rip the country apart. Independence Day 2 really should have come out in 2000, when there was still optimism, but Roland Emmerich was too busy making The Patriot during that time, plus he and Dean Devlin had no idea how to tackle the gargantuan scope a sequel would inevitably have.

It's a shame, because this is actually much more thoughtful film than the first and I really dug the psychic storyline. But everything else in the film is pedestrian and lazy, even for Emmerich these cliches and tropes are tired and dull. Remember David Arnold's rousing, exciting score from the first movie? Of course you do! It's not here. Instead, excruciatingly untalented "composer" Harald Kloser (also serving as producer) cranks out worthless noise that a high-schooler could beat. There are musicians with real talent out there, chomping at the bit to get a start in movies and yet this man constantly gets work (only with Emmerich). It boggles my mind.

With Will Smith asking for a stupendously arrogant $50,000,000 paycheck they wisely wrote his character out. How dare this man ask for that money! His star power has been on the decline for years now (thanks largely to fast-tracking his untalented children into movie stardom) and he should have embraced this movie as a comeback. Margaret Colin is also written-out with no explanation within the movie (in the prequel novel she died in a car wreck). Mae Whitman has been replaced with Maika Monroe because she didn't grow up to be pretty enough, apparently. At least Brent Spiner came back (his character's fate was left unexplained in the first one, be he was never written to die, it just seemed that way) and Jeff Goldblum is front and centre, whether he likes it or not, but he's got the charisma to carry it. He's certainly far, far more appealing than the lesser Hemsworth and Jessie Usher, who are given virtually nothing to do and really shouldn't have been in the movie when their screen time could have been used for building suspense instead.

The scenes of destruction in the first movie were breathtaking at the time, and still have impressive effect all this time later thanks mainly to the extensive model work used (ID:4 holds the record for the most model work ever used in a movie, which will likely never be broken thanks to the advent of excessive CGI) but we're so used to scenes of cities being destroyed at this point that none of the effects, no matter how elaborate, really fill us with awe.

The model work and real locations in the first movie gave it a tangible realness and placed it in a world you could identify. Here literally EV-ER-Y-THING is done against a green screen, giving far too many shots a flat, static look where the lighting on the actors doesn't match the light on the CGI background. It's horrible, and gives the film the look and feel of a cheap TV movie. This is Emmerich at his laziest. There's no passion behind this.

First time around we had a double climax and two reasons to cheer (and, believe me, audiences did). No such luck with the sequel. The ending is completely disappointing and any excitement you might feel will completely fizzle out before the credits roll. They strongly hint at a third movie, but there's no way that will ever happen now. The energy in this franchise drained out a long time ago and the culture in the US is too self-hating to embrace it.

I really wanted to like this movie, and it has some really good ideas, but it squanders all of its potential and sleepwalks through poorly-directed familiar territory. Such a huge shame.
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Captain Commando (1991 Video Game)
5/10
Even for 1991 this feels dated
9 July 2019
I'm not sure where to begin moaning about Captain Commando. For an arcade game the graphics are nothing that the Mega Drive couldn't produce, and the gameplay is fairly boring.

A side-scrolling beat-em-up featuring 4 playable characters (including a baby in a mech suit!) in which you fight your way through various levels, some of them eye-catching and fun, and face-off against some bully boss is hardly the most unique concept, but they could have made it a bit more enjoyable to play. The lead character was a mascot for the developer who would often appear to promote more popular and better games such as Strider and Ghouls and Ghosts. I wasn't smitten by him, but he's the best character to play as for the duration.

There are some cool power-ups including machine guns, pistons, laser guns etc, but you never really get a chance to use them as the controls are so sluggish you'll barely get off one lucky shot before a bad guys smashes you and it falls from your hand. Same goes for the mech suits, you'll spend all of two seconds in there before being punched off. What's the point?

I can't imagine anything ever dragging me back to Captain Commando. There are many other better beat-em-ups out there
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Battle Circuit (1997 Video Game)
7/10
Crazy Cartoon Action
8 July 2019
From how colorful and cartoonish this beat-em-up felt I was sure that it must have been based on a comic-book but it ain't. Battle Circuit is simply 90s video game madness set on an alternate future Earth where you play as eccentric bounty hunters sent on a mission through various city environments to retrieve a disc containing a dangerous computer program.

It's a lot of fun, but the collision detection was a little too precise. If you're just one pixel off none of your attacks will connect, which is especially infuriating when you are at half-life and see an energy boost at the other side of the screen. You'll never make it as the enemies will just swarm you and kill you before you reach it. You're best option is just to spam the special attack button all the way through the game, which gets tiresome after a while, no matter how colorful the graphics are.

A revision of this game would be awesome, but as it is it's still a lively 90s arcade actioner.
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7/10
Dead Bread
8 July 2019
This slightly darker and more violent Wallace and Gromit short, as of writing, the last one to be released in theatres, has our human/dog duo running a successful bakery out of their Wallaby Street home only to be targeted by serial killer Piella, a butter mascot past her glory days who rejoices in murdering bakers.

The contraptions and absurdity here isn't as endearing as the previous shorts, instead the mystery and suspense takes its place as Gromit, ever suspicious of Piella, investigates her scheme while Wallace falls helplessly in love.

The first of the series to be shot on digital video rather than 35mm the production values here are top notch and its expertly crafted, but it just feels like a bit of a sudden deviation from the usual charm. I'm fine with the series trying new things but it would make for an awkward moment when little kids ask "Daddy, what is a serial killer?"

I can't imagine that anything would spoil the universal appeal at this point, however.
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6/10
Destination Moon
7 July 2019
One day in their cozy house on Wallaby Street Wallace and Gromit are horrified to discover that there is no cheese for their crackers. Where is there cheese? wonders Wallace? Wensleydale, Philadelphia, Tesco...the MOON!!! As soon as he gets the idea Wallace builds his own rocket ship (that resembles the one seen in Tintin) in the cellar and heads moonward, only to find the place patrolled by some sort of sentient dishwasher/cooker fuelled by 10p coins, for some reason.

The animation is a little cruder here in the first short movie. It took Nick Park alone six years to make this as part of his film school project and is from a script that was originally much longer. The end result is a short that feels slightly hollow and random. That doesn't make it bad though, it was nominated for an Academy Award but lost to Creature Comforts (another Nick Park film). It's just a little too rough around the edges to be judged fairly with the more refined later shorts.
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9/10
Oscar No. 2 for Nick Park
7 July 2019
On Gromit's birthday, Wallace introduces his new invention, a pair of robotic legs that will walk Gromit as well as being handy for wearing during various household chores. Wallace then opens his door to a new lodger, a deeply sinister penguin. Not content with the cruddy spare room being his new home, the penguin muscles into Gromit's room and eventually drives the poor dog out of the house. Now destitute, Gromit happens upon the penguin plotting a crime and must save Wallace, the unwitting pansy, from being framed.

The animation and sets are gorgeous, and Julian Nott's lush musical score really carries the movie during non-dialogue scenes (Wallace is the only character to talk). The humor is clever without ever falling into the broad slapstick that often curses British comedy.

I just love the world of Wallace and Gromit and it's easy to see why it became so popular after this second short went on to win an Academy Award.
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Armored Warriors (1994 Video Game)
6/10
A generic name but a decent brawler
7 July 2019
On the distant planet of Raia humans and Raians are waging war for whatever reason and it's up to a ragtag quartet of selectable heroes to defeat them in 7 levels of hardcore clobbering.

Armored Warriors (the most unimaginative title they could have fought of) differs from the usual beat-em-ups out there in that you play as humans wearing giant mech suits. The left-to-right level progression remains but this one is kept fresh by the ability to attach limbs broken off enemies to your own mech for multiple combos and a wide variety of attacks. It's fun and keeps it fresh.

The level design is a bit more lively too and features lots of smash-able objects. Bonus rounds featuring run-and-gun shooting also add to the fun. Overall, this is better than some of the older Capcom beat-em-up arcade games I have been playing recently and ought to be more popular.
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Knights of the Round (1991 Video Game)
5/10
Generic beat-em-up
28 June 2019
Another Golden Axe clone from Capcom, this time with a Medieval England twist as you play as either King Arthur, Lancelot, or Perceval and slash your way through eight or so repetitive levels to get the Holy Grail or whatever. This one is moderately notable for it's level-up feature in which your character becomes more powerful with each score goal reached. Other than that, the moves are very limited, the environments cannot be used to your advantage, and the enemies can be quite annoying. One of the faults of the genre is enemies hiding off-screen where you cannot reach them, which I suppose is done to sneakily save on memory and slow-down.

I finished this game just ten minutes ago and I am struggling to remember one thing about the levels, they were just so generic.
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Warriors of Fate (1992 Video Game)
5/10
A fairly generic beat-em-up
28 June 2019
Warriors of Fate, from Capcom, plays like Golden Axe with a feudal Japan theme but has none of the charm of Sega's classic. The assortment of characters is forgettable, the music is bad, the power-ups are lame, and the stages, while colorful, don't have the earthy grit that Golden Axe had. The environments have a fair variety to them but they can never be used to your advantage. There's a lot of fun to be had in beat-em-ups when you can throw or trick your enemies to fall off a cliff or into water. Here, they just bounce off an invisible and invisible wall.

It'll take you just over an hour to fight through this in a single player and, after doing so, you will likely never play it again as there is just nothing memorable about it. No magic, no special moves, no atmosphere. Just real dull all-round.
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7/10
Weath Dish
27 June 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Despite endless comparisons, writer/director James Glickenhaus swears that he avoided seeing the original Death Wish to avoid accusations of ripping it off. If anything, The Exterminator is more like a pre-cursor to First Blood, though it lacks the polished sheen of that movie, and is so grim and ugly it makes even Death Wish looks high-key.

John Eastland witnesses horrors in The 'nam and returns to America a haunted man. New York is a festering hellhole of scum and sleaze but he lives an honest life. When his friend is attacked and crippled by street thugs he goes on a one-man killing spree, targeting punks on the street all the way up to mob bosses and politicians with some enjoyably brutal kills that gave the movie a "video nasty" vibe back in the day. The government gets wind of this, plots against the investigating detective and attempts to cover-up the whole affair.

It's not exactly original, but is well-written enough to stand on its own as an effective thriller without being overshadowed by more popular films in the genre. John Eastland even manages to make "I'll Be Back" into an almost-catchphrase four years before Arnold did...in a movie called The Exterminator. I really do believe that James Cameron took inspiration from this.

Though set in numerous grotty locations the movie is not without production value. The opening explosion (in an admittedly hokey 'nam scene) is actually very impressive, and also features a disturbing decapitation courtesy of Stan Winston. The raw, grimy cinematography is not without style either and it is as much an important document of a New York gone by in the 70s/80s as Jules Dassin's Naked City was in the 1940s. Some might argue that the Exterminator represents the best days of New York, complete with the Sleaze Circuit, endless graffiti, debauchery, unimaginable crime, and rife prostitution. A haven for corruption and a goldmine for gritty, street-level action movies until Disney (literally) came in to clean it up in the late 80s.

Robert Ginty, as John Eastland, hardly looks the part though (in fact, he looks like he should be hosting Art Attack on CITV in the 1990s) and that is absolutely not him on the iconic "flamethrower" poster, but he does well as a sort of quiet everyman and he calmly underplays role when it would have been easy for him to ham it up.

The Exterminator was made on a budget of $2,000,000 back in 1980 and pulled in $35,000,000, which doesn't sound like much in today's world of mind-numbing MCU garbage but in 2019 money that's nearly $110,000,000. Imagine a movie like The Exterminator coming out now and doing that kind of business in the face of all those tiresome superheroes and Pixar movies! It beggars belief!
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4/10
Intelligence is in short supply
26 June 2019
I remember enjoying this the first time I saw it (oddly, exactly three years ago to the day) at the AMC in Burbank but the second time around it did not have much charm.

Dwayne Johnson plays a fat, bullied kid all grown-up into a CIA hardass but still retaining his teenage insecurities, with Kevin Hart his only friend who stood up to the bullies in his defence. It's a sweet dynamic and enough to make a movie out of on its own, but they try to make it exciting by having a dreadful spy plot and lots of pathetic action scenes that involve nothing more than people shooting and missing. It's so not committed to making the action memorable that when Johnson confronts a motorcycle assassin in an old warehouse the movie just cuts away to a different scene and it's never mentioned again even though they spend time establishing this guy as a credible threat.

The quieter scenes are where this movie works best and even then the humor is already become quite dated despite 2016 being not that long ago. It relies too much on camp and stupidity, which is even more grating in the extended version as the extra running time is nothing but the lead actors ad-libbing out of control. It's not funny at all.

A good idea was wasted with this movie. It looks cheap, it's badly directed, and in ten years, even five years, time it will be completely unwatchable. Johnson and Hart are capable of much better.
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3/10
Missing an S off the front
25 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Two strikes and out for Agent 47. They tried to make it a thing in 2007 with Timothy Olyphant but I honestly cannot remember a thing about it. Eight years later they tried to reboot it and did slightly better, but I'm not holding my breath that Fox will ever make a decent movie out this popular video game series. I quite enjoy the Hitman games and there's a stripped-down purity to the story, so why are the movies so over-plotted and stupid?

Perhaps because Skip Woods (the worst writer in Hollywood) has been hired to pen the script for both of them. Why do this? Did Fox really look at his used toilet paper screenplay for Die Hard 5 and say "yeah, this is a guy we want to continually employ"? It boggles the mind. There has been much debate over whether Skip Woods is actually a real person and not just a name that writers use when they are embarrassed to be associated with a movie. Sadly, he does exist and all of his work really is that bad.

Is the plot really even worth reciting? I'll do my best, as I was a little drunk watching this (the only way to remotely enjoy it). Agent 47 is out to kill/protect a girl who's father started "the program" and now they want to start it back up again and make better hitmen but she's in hiding so she must be found and...blah...blah...blah. Lots of people shot, dozens of lackeys willing to give up their lives for a soulless organization that clearly doesn't value them. One wonders what the job advert description would read for these unfortunate men.

The action scenes are okay, there is some nice photography of European locations, and Rupert Friend embodies role much better than Olyphant-man did in 2007. The support from his leading lady was pretty bad. I hated her character and I don't want to see her in any other movies. The music, by Marco Beltrami, is, as expected, completely forgettable. He's certainly on the lower rungs of Hollywood composers who constantly get work despite more talented people ready and able to do better. Director Aleksander Bach literally has no other work on his resume (Hitman is his only film) but doesn't seem to be much of a fan of the games, where you can off the targets with a zillion different methods. Here, Agent 47 just shoots everyone. There's no stealth whatsoever, despite that being the main suspenseful drive of the game.

Not terrible, but not a movie I'll ever be in a rush to watch again.
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7/10
Better than its non-reputation would suggest
18 May 2019
I've found The Phantom of the Opera to be absolutely spellbinding ever since I was a kid when I saw a still from the 1925 version in a book which featured Lon Chaney descending the stairs at a masquerade ball surrounded by dames. I knew nothing of the context, or of Gaston Leroux's novel. I just loved the image, and its probably where my fascination with scarred and disfigured characters came from. I would stare at that picture a lot and wonder about the mystery. I remember seeing the Robert Englund version in the video store a few years later and thought that it looked much more in-keeping with that old picture than the new musical that everyone was raving about at the time.

Directed by Dwight H. Little, in between his gigs on Halloween 4 and Marked for Death, Victorian London is the scene (bookended by modern day New York) and it has a very pleasing snowy feel, much like Barry Levinson's Young Sherlock Holmes. Little does much better with this material than I expected and it's a shame he's been categorized as merely a working director rather than someone with a vision.

Robert Englund is now the Phantom, and if he was trying to step away from Freddy Kruger consider this a success and a failure. He's still does the quips and one-liners but he is given more to work with when it comes to drama and pathos. The supporting cast, including Bill Nighy as the theatre owner, do their best as making this a quasi-musical but Englund is the star here and it's a shame that his performance here doesn't get more recognition.

This version had a LOT going against it. First of all it had to at least match the famous Lon Chaney movie in some regard as well as creating its own musical signature to distance itself from the Andrew Lloyd Webber monstrosity (pun intended). There is a noble attempt at creating atmosphere and the production design is amazing, but it just cannot emulate the heavy gothic melancholy of the 1925 movie and will always be overshadowed by the Broadway musical (and the Joel Schumacher camp-fest from 2003).

Don't let this movie be forgotten. I'm sure fans of the source material will find a lot to appreciate here and you will certainly recognize its value as a legit take on the story.
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7/10
Murderous Majesty
6 May 2019
I've not been too impressed with the Giallo subgenre thus far, mainly because I have been watching mostly Lucio Fulci, who I consider a very, very poor filmmaker. I had set my expectations low for this movie, expecting a simple slasher set in a spooky castle. It delivered on this promise, and a lot more too.

Rival sisters Kitty and Evelyn (blonde and brunette) are cursed to hate each other as the 100-year cycle of the Red Queen legend is about to come around. For centuries, their ancestral castle home has seen one sister possessed by the spirit of the Red Queen who will murder six arbitrary victims before killing her own sibling. Believing the curse to be nonsense, the girls go their separate ways until Kitty is brought back to the castle after their sudden death of her grandfather. Rumor has it that the Red Queen is responsible.

And so plays out an interesting and clever whodunnit with atmospheric photography, nice locations and sets, a decent score (certainly by today's standards) and some brutal 1970s fashions. The deaths are sudden and shocking without being exploitative, and the visual of the Red Queen herself is both mysterious and intriguing - a horror villain that has gone unappreciated. I'm surprised that no sequels or remakes were ever made. I freakin' LOVE that title too. I would purchase the rights to this movie just to re-use the title, never mind remake it.

Is it just me or is Barbara Bouchet and EXACT double of Laura Linney at the same age?

A good Giallo flick and one of my favorites so far.
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2/10
Uranus Falling
30 April 2019
After charming the knickers off me with Cloud Atlas the Wachowski Brothers/Sisters/Cousins/Uncles/Aunts fall hard on their faces with this turgid, confusing mess. This is the movie equivalent of those manic, chaotic attempts at art drawn in crayon or charcoal on large sheets of paper found on the floor in abandoned insane asylums. This is not a compliment. I cannot possibly imagine what was going on in the heads of the writer/director team when they spewed out the words that formed the screenplay or how they could have approved the final cut as anything remotely resembling coherent. If you were to throw the movie into a shredder and have it come out the other end in a completely different order it would make just as much "sense" as the released version.

Baby Jupiter is born in a container filled with illegals on a ship bound for the US. She is a girl without a country. She grows up to be Mila Kunis (30 at the time of filming, but looking about 40, somehow) and earns a living scrubbing the insides of toilet bowls. After a mix-up at a fertility clinic she's kidnapped by aliens who want her eggs and...sheesh, I really can't even recite the "plot" beyond this point as it made absolutely zero sense. Channing Tatum (back when Hollywood kept trying to make him a thing) shows up as a dog/man with no personality (John Candy he ain't!), some things happen, color and movement fill the screen, words are said, none of it adds up.

Eddie Redmayne (who looks like a human skeleton with wafer thin ham super-glued onto it) is the villain of the piece (of crap) and delivers the most mis-played performance in movie history. Tatum completely Seagals his performance and is so comatose he might as well have done is acting asleep while an off-camera team of puppeteers control him with rods and strings. His character is called Cain Wise, btw. Yeah, Cain Wise. Those words don't even go together! Tuppence Middleton appears and disappears. Something to do with bees and Sean Bean. Seriously...I don't have a clue what this movie is supposed to be and I'm a man of noble intelligence.

The Wachowskis seem to be under the impression that their action style from The Matrix is still passable or groundbreaking all these years later. It's not, and there's nothing exciting about the chaotic, physically impossible, and weightless action scenes that burn out our patience and kill any chance at further suspense. Though they are not the only ones guilty of this, as this style has continued into many of today's blockbusters and virtually every DCEU and MCU movie. I think that the time to return to real, in-camera action, practical, believable cinematography, and angles chosen for grounded, observable viewpoints is well overdue. From about the 30-minute mark, I could not tell what on Earth (or Jupiter) was going on or what I was looking at. I'm not joking or exaggerating. All I could make out was that Man-Dog repeatedly crashes his ships into things he doesn't like and is seemingly impervious to the vacuum of space.

Oh, and having the character called Jupiter and having her actually go to Jupiter is one helluva heavy-handed non-metaphor.
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Ringu 0 (2000)
6/10
A decent prequel
27 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
After the confusing and mostly boring Ringu 2 this prequel explores Sadako as a young woman in about 1970 (it's never properly stated) attempting to live a normal life despite being unsure of where she came from or how she has such strange powers. After she kills the lead in a play she is promoted from understudy to the lead actress, meanwhile her castmates become more and more suspicious of her and a reporter with a secret mission begins poking her nose in and arousing further suspicion.

Though shot in 35mm, Ringu 0 looks like 16mm and has a rough, downbeat aesthetic to the cinematography, which works in its favor. It feels more energized than Hideo Nakata's approach to the series. Norio Tsuruta dials back the metaphysical nonsense but still manages to lose control towards the end with an evil twin making a sudden appearance. I just dont get it.

This entire series just can't keep itself rooted in a believable reality and never bothers to explain some of its random elements. This may work well for David Lynch but I've become very frustrated at the lack of answers and logic in the Japanese Ring movies.

An interesting curiousity, which is the best I can say for all of these movies, sadly.
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6/10
It's a evil
9 April 2019
It's madness to think that of all the screen adaptations of Mary Shelley's novel virtually none of them have been source accurate. Even Kenneth Branagh's 1994 campfest took liberties. To be honest, I don't think the novel is really that good, but I do love anything featuring the monster, even Herman Munster, so I'm a sucker for multiple adaptations and such.

This time around we have a foaming-mad Frankenstein played enthusiastically by James McAvoy with Daniel Radcliffe as his hunchback assistant Igor, liberated from the circus and his hunch drained of fluid so he can stand upright. He's the best character in the movie. Together they, slowly, plan to create their own living creature made from spare animal parts and graduate from a revolting humunculous to, eventually, the monster, for about 5 minutes.

The first and last act of this movie is where the fun and excitement are. The middle section really drags though, with too many scenes inside the lab and not enough suspense or action. The movie was shot in 2013 but not released until the latter part of 2015. I wonder if there were behind-the-scenes troubles or difficulty editing the story. It might explain why a good 35 minutes feel so tedious.

Sadly, the iconic monster design is a copyright of Universal Studios so any other studio wishing to make a Frankenstein movie must come up with a new look, which is what they seem to go for here. But Victor Frankenstein is a complete overhaul of the story, switching from Geneva to London and for the gothic castle to a Scottish ruin. It lacks the archaic European pathos that other adaptions have had in their favour.

The lovely cinematography makes the movie a delight to look at though. It's surely the best looking Frankenstein to date. Paul McGuigan's visual style adds a lot of production value to a movie that could have been straight-to-Prime trash. It's a shame it didn't do better at the box office.

Worth your time, just don't get frustrated with the dull middle section.
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Paper Towns (2015)
6/10
It's all fake
7 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
A movie adaptation of a teen romance/mystery novel that I once considered reading. I might not bother now. I like the movie, but it felt hollow and pointless by the end.

Quentin Jacobsen has been in love with the curious and eccentric Margo Roth Spiegelman since they met at children. Once the girl next door, they drifted apart as teenagers and she became an enigma. Then one night she whisks him away on an impromptu revenge mission which liberates his mind from his awkward demeanor. She doesn't show up at school the next day, or the day after that, or ever again.

Confused and hurt, and puzzled by her parents lack of interest in finding her, Quentin recruits his friends to follow the cryptic clues left behind by Margo and work out just where she disappeared to, eventually placing their bets on a "Paper Town" - a fake town put on a map to protect against illegal copying. It's one of those "it's not the destination, it's the journey" movies. With only days left before high school is over, Quentin's time with his friends adds up to more than the pay-off of finding Margo.

I was left cold by the resolution, but Paper Towns features believable teen characters (mostly played by ACTUAL teenagers) and realistic dialogue. Most of these kinds of movies and TV shows often have actors in their late 20s talking like 100-year-old longshoreman trying to pass off as minors. For once, Paper Towns felt legit. There's also a decent sense of mystery and atmosphere surrounding Margo's disappearance.
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Firewalker (1986)
4/10
Bro-mancing the Stone
5 April 2019
It's hard to imagine how a film directed by J. Lee Thompson, the man behind cinematic greats such as The Guns of Navarone and Taras Bulba ended up responsible for something as ramshackle as Firewalker, especially with Chuck and Lou Gossett Jnr. on his team. Oh, hang on...it's made by Cannon Group, the notorious schlockmeisters.

Max Donigan and Leo Porter are down on their luck treasure hunters considering going back to normal life when a cute blonde woman appears in their tacky bar with a treasure map in her hands. Hardly a magical turn of events, but for the sake of moving the plot forward let's just say that people often carry such things around. The X-marked spot is somewhere in South America so the team head off into certain danger with a cavalcade of dumb villains on their tail.

I've heard a lot of people call this an Indiana Jones rip-off (the presence of John Rhys-Davies certainly adds to that) but the Allan Quatermain movies (one of them directed by Thompson) were Cannon's Indy movies. If anything Firewalker rips-off Romancing the Stone. All $8,000,000 of the budget (pfft!) certainly is not up there on the screen. The sets honestly look like something out of a pre-school pantomime and the action is slim-to-none. It's a shame, because Norris has never been looser, coming across as very laid-back and light-hearted, and he nice chemistry with Louis Gosset Jnr.

Despite a few light touches it's fairly boring and rightfully forgotten. This was just a quick cash-grab for all involved.
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