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Spawn (1997)
Curiosity Killed Spawn
10 November 2018
I remember the mild amount of hype this movie received at the end of the summer season in 1997. I wasn't particularly fussed about it myself as I had consumed a healthy amount of popcorn fare that year but decided to give Spawn a go one Saturday afternoon in early September. I should have been the target audience: a sixteen-year-old male with money to spend who had spend the better part of the 90s gorging on video-game culture.

It didn't win me over. I don't recall it winning anyone over. In fact, even then I could tell that it was an awful movie made by amateurs. The ad campaigns sold it as "from the special effects supervisor of T2" but that doesn't mean that Mark A.Z. Dippe (hardly a name that rolls off the tongue) has the slightest clue about storytelling or even basic coherence.

I used to love the Spawn comic-books back when I was a teenager. Todd McFarlane's universe is far more interesting and mature than the bloated MCU and DCEU, and lends itself well to expansion and spin-offs. You wouldn't guess that is so by watching this movie though, which squanders everything on nothing.

The story largely remains intact though. Al Simmons, a hardcore mercenary, is betrayed by his evil boss Jason Wynn and sent to hell where the devil (the awesomely named Malebolgia and not your typical Lucifer) turns him into the leader of hell's army. But a tiny part of Spawn's humanity remains and he is caught between the worlds, living on the streets and spying on his old family in sadness.

Take away the mind-numbing CGI and even the action scenes and you'd still have an awesome set-up for character drama and melancholy. Exactly how they managed to screw this up is beyond me. The first fault lies in the script, which reads like it was written by someone who had only looked at the pictures but not read the words of the comic-book. It's miles past awful. Second is Dippe's complete inability to shoot a sense-making scene, place the camera in a remotely artistic position, or keep track of time, place, and space in editing. It's a complete an utter mess.

As for the CGI, some of it holds up quite well but the hell scenes have aged badly and they don't even bother to lip-sync the dialogue of Malebolgia with his mouth. It reeks of laziness. Couple this with the extremely poor storytelling and the whole movie feels like a rude composite of 1995-era video-game cut-scenes trying to pass itself off as a theatrical feature. It's hard to believe that they wasted actual film on this.

There are a few sparks of what could have made it good hidden within, which just about barely saves it from a 1/10 score. This is a character that badly needs rebooted and when it finally does happen I'd like to see Michael Jai White stick with the role as he, somehow, managed to do it right despite the gross incompetence behind the camera. Despite the MCU zealots it was actually Michael Jai White who was the first African-American comic-book superhero to get his own movie, not the overrated Black Panther. For fans of the character I have to recommend the animated show which ran for three seasons between 1998-2000 and absolutely nailed the tone of the comic-book. It's a billion times better than this reckless tripe.
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The Black Cat (1981)
Do Not Let This Movie Cross Your Path
10 November 2018
From the sublime to the substandard. Poe's Black Cat story has had so many movie incarnations over the years, the best probably being Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key from 1972. Should I have expected anything directed by hackmaster Lucio Fulci to come anywhere near to the quality of that movie? After suffering the abysmal dreck of his other movie from 1981, The Beyond, I guess I got what I deserved spending money and time on his attempt to tackle this classic story, no matter how liberal his writer was with the material.

Material? What material? There's nothing here. As with The Beyond this is just a bunch of completely disconnected scenes where people are killed by a Black Cat (not in-keeping with Poe's story) while multiple story threads are set-up and then immediately abandoned. Not a single part of this movie has any connection to any other part. It's all a jumble of nonsense with only the loosest link to the original story and other adaptations coming in at the very end.

I stand firm and I'm doubling down on my judgment that Fulci was not a film-maker. He was a man with a movie camera who caught random images and placed them in a random order. He had stone-cold ZERO understanding of plot, character, story, special effects, editing, pacing, or acting. Even Michael Bay and Uwe Boll score more points than him. There is some saving grace in Sergio Salvati's cinematography which makes great use of 2.35:1 and has some stunning compositions, but it's not like he's capturing a story, just a lot of wooden actors who have no idea what they are supposed to be discussing or performing.

The quaint English village that is the backdrop for this total garbage is nice to look at too, giving the whole sorry affair the vibe of Midsomer Feline Murders. No one appears to be English though and words never, ever, ever match mouths. In fact, I think the first dialogue was at least ten minutes into the film and often sparse after that. They don't really have much to talk about since nothing is really happening since screenwriter Biagio Proietti does not possess any talent and has simply no clue how write dialogue or make a p-l-o-t happen. Then, when they do speak, it's all incoherent gibberish. But if you want to see characters just walk around for long single takes then you'll be spoiled.

After about fifteen minutes you'll suss this film out and realize that there is no point in siding with any of the characters are they are all just meat for Fulci to kill one-by-one. Why none of them think to just stand on the cat's spine or throw it against the wall is never made clear.

There's nothing here. There's barely really anything to criticize if I'm honest. Just a sequence of random grot presented in an irrelevant order. Criticizing this "adaptation" of The Black Cat for it's pathetic story or bad direction is like blaming a giant landfill for not being Disney's Magic Kingdom. It was never meant to be anything other than a landfill.

Lucio Fulci was the worst director to have ever walked the face of the Earth and you'd be better off spending your time cleaning deep inside the bowl of a public toilet with a three-bristled toothbrush and some phlegm. It would be a more satisfying experience.
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Where is the Black Cat, Francesca?
1 November 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I'll admit right off the bat that I am no fan of giallo horror flicks. I find them to be often poorly-made, campy, badly-written, and overrated. Thankfully, YVIALRAOIHTK is the rare exception to the rule and proves to be a solid movie in it's own right, despite its genre trappings. That was also one hell of an acronym though!

Decadent writer Oliviero lives in his gloomy family mansion in the Italian countryside with his long-suffering wife Irina, who is none to pleased with his indulgent lifestyle. When one of Oliviero's students is brutally murdered Irina suspects her husband, but things are not exactly as they seem. Their beautiful niece Floriana (Edwige Fenech, a perfect cross of Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Portman) then turns up, uninvited, to stay for a while and things get very twisted as the bodies pile up and a black cat called Satan watches from the shadows.

It's an interesting movie that will keep you hooked as it glides from one over-the-top scene to the next, never crossing the line into camp while staying focused on a sinister trinity of characters each with their own agenda and motives without forgetting to build to a "tut-tut" morality play climax in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe (and, later, Tales from the Crypt, for that matter). It doesn't make complete sense if you try to put it together retroactively, though I can forgive the movie for that.

Bruno Nicolai's grand score ties it together nicely and Sergio Martino chooses some lovely locations in the Italian countryside, both of which give YVIALRAOIHTK production value far above the usual schlocky nature of giallo. This can be enjoyed on many levels as a horror, murder mystery, and an erotic thriller with moments of very dark humor.
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George Clooney and Ben Affleck have a new pal down there in the bowels of DC
21 October 2018
Warner/DC are really oversaturating the market with Batman animated movies these days, many of which are out-of-continuity standalones. But when these movies are in-keeping with the established story of Batman: TAS I believe a higher standard should be met. Even the weaker movies still have merit, that was...until they made this nonsense.

It opens with Poison Ivy and Floronic Man (I've never heard of him either) up to no good by plotting a world takeover of plants. If this isn't enough to lose your interest already it does get dumber. For the most spurious of reasons, Batman decides to strike an alliance with Harley Quinn to help stop them. "Hilarity" ensues.

This is as deep as the plot gets. It's a disgrace.

If they wanted to go for silly humor then I'm fine with that. They could have done it out of continuity, but to lower itself to the campy nature of the Adam West 1960s Batman was a terrible idea. The Batman Animated Series was intended to be the antithesis of all that. I mean fart jokes in Batman? Really??? I can only imagine that this was made as a tax write-off or something because it's real low-point for Batman. That mallet Harley is yielding on the cover isn't even in the movie.

I did appreciate the use of the Mask of Phantasm theme though, and I like how it's become the secondary signature Batman melody after Danny Elfman's famous theme (Goldenthal and Zimmer, not so much). Other than that there's nothing to recommend about this. If you enjoy torture then stay tuned until after the credits for a lengthy, completely arbitrary, extra scene.
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Psycho II (1983)
Dial M for Murderousness
21 October 2018
(Simpsons joke)

By the early 80s Hollywood had noticed that sequels were doing serious business and innumerable cash-ins were imminent. I believe that the first real "2/Part II" was the sequel to the French Connection back in 1975 with Jaws, The Godfather, and Superman next in line for expansion/money-grabs. The slasher genre was also beginning to take-off, so the suits at Universal looked at their past IPs and settled upon Psycho for a sequel cash-in. It could have been a disaster - a belated sequel to a critic-proof movie widely considered to be Hitchcock's best, but Psycho II is actually one the best sequels ever made.

The studio originally expected this to be a crash-and-burn movie and were not willing to spend much money on it until Anthony Perkins agreed to return as Norman Bates, which caught the attention of the media and the movie gained considerable momentum. Richard Franklin and Tom Holland could have phoned it in long-distance, but thankfully everyone involved from the director down to the dolly grip took it seriously and delivered their best.

22 years after his murderous reign in the first movie Norman Bates is released from a mental institution when the doctors diagnose him as being sane and returns to the motel/mansion that was once his home to find it run by filthy sleazebag Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz, doing what he does best). He gets a job in a local diner and just wants to live a quiet, normal life, finding the townsfolk quite accepting of him and willing to forgive and forget. However, Marion Crane's sister Lila (Vera Miles, also reprising her role from the first movie) is outraged that Norman is a free man and plots to get revenge on him. Meanwhile, it appears that "Mother" has returned from the grave and is very angry.

Psycho II plays with your expectations and anticipations, smartly throwing you enough distractions and paying-off with enough small reveals while playing it close to the chest. Norman Bates is the victim here and from the get-go the audience is on his side, never really knowing if his sanity is truly slipping again or if people are playing tricks on him. Anthony Perkins is amazing in the role, and you really feel terrible for him as he is bullied and tormented by various people. You can tell that he is nervous and really struggling to keep it together and its hard to watch him suffer. I can't think of any other sequel that turns a former villain into a sympathetic hero.

Released a year before Jerry Goldsmith's career-defining score for Gremlins, you can definitely here a lot proto-Gremlin sound in his score to Psycho II, and he wisely ditches any attempt to emulate Bernard Herrmann's previous score. Instead he opts for a distinctly 80s Goldsmith feel that will appeal to fans and lends the movie a bittersweet, tragic edge without ever betraying the horror and suspense.

I actually saw Psycho II first, when I was 10-years-old, and although I was not familiar with the original (which was spoiled for me by this movie) I still managed to get into it and sided with Norman Bates, a character Perkins once described as "the Hamlet of Horror villains".

Obviously, these days virtually every other movie that comes out is either remake, a reboot or a sequel. So much so that the sequel concept has been forever tarnished with a lazy, cash-grab mentality that spoils the chances for those very few sequels that are legitimately good. Psycho II is one of them.
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CSI: New York
16 September 2018
I love film noir, though I'm not really sure that this qualifies as much it of takes place in daylight in bright, open spaces. But the real appeal of The Naked City is the window into New York's past and the insight into a city long gone.

Before the Big Apple went rotten to the core in the 70s/80s and was given a hipster facelift in the 90s there were more desperate times in post-war America. Such a feeling cannot be recreated on a studio set or on a generic backlot, so Jules Dassin chose to film everything actually on the streets and in real locations (though the rear-projection for driving scenes is still fake) with hidden cameras and unaware pedestrians as extras, giving the film a unique, authentic edge. It's just a shame that the story is so straight-forward.

Like any police-procedural TV show it begins with a murder/robbery and goes through the usual steps of questioning suspects, scrutinizing liars, and chasing crooks. Thankfully, it has a lot of smartly-written dialogue and characters that don't ever come across as quaint or antiquated, it also doesn't have a cast of smug, unlikable pedants who revel in proving people wrong (I REALLY hate CSI, kiddies). The script for The Naked City could be remade today, verbatim, and it wouldn't feel out of time. I especially like the unusual touches that give the movie a higher production value, like Muldoon comforting the grieving parents by the Hudson at dusk, or the ultimate villain futilely trying to escape by climbing up the actual towers, shot at wonderfully wide angles.

I have a feeling that much of this movie inspired Dragnet through its various incarnations (it even features Kathleen Freeman who played the foul landlady in the 1987 version) but there's no doubt that it layed the groundwork for pretty much all cops shows that ever existed, including its own TV-spin in the 50s and then again the 80s with a couple of TV movies.

I don't rate The Naked City highly as a film noir, or as a detective movie, but it is still a fascinating watch to see how much New York has lost and changed over the years and how the populace has evolved.
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Mindhorn (2016)
15 September 2018
This is one of the worst films I have seen in a very long time. I felt like slashing my wrists.

I've grown quite tired of these "self-unaware" characters. We've already had Austin Powers, Zoolander, and Tugg Speedman. We don't need any more. I'm actually giving the movie more credibility than it is due with comparisons to Hollywood fare. This is more like The Keith Lemon Movie.

Richard Thorncroft is a has-been actor who once starred in a 1980s regional detective series called Mindhorn, set on the Isle of Man, in which he played a one-eyed sleuth who could "see" the truth. He quits this role, believing that Hollywood is beckoning, and never finds work again. An amusing anticipation of appropriate reality for the rest of Julian Barratt's career, likely.

Many years later, and desperate for work, a chance at redemption comes along when a madman thinks that the show is real and demands to talk with the actual Mindhorn character to resolve a murder plot. It is the E-X-A-C-T set-up from the awful Alan Partridge movie from 2013, and it too completely squanders its potential by only ever going for the easiest "comedy" and broadest laughs, and even those are few and far between. The useless talent agent character is even directly plagiarised from Extras.

Every. Single. Setup. in this film is wasted on "cringe" humor, which can be very funny in TV shows like The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm, but it's not here. They could have built the comedy on Thorncroft finding his own moxie and truly becoming Mindhorn, understanding his previous errors, and taking a stand for himself.


At best, at an impossibly lenient push, this is 40-minute TV special fare. There's NOTHING remotely theatrical about this, right down to the ugly "photography". Like the Alan Partridge movie, Mindhorn is shot in a sort of digital Super35 process where they just shoot a 1.78:1 image and chop the top and bottom to fake a scope aspect ratio, which makes every shot look cramped and poorly composed, and the unnaturally boosted saturation is not pleasant to look at. Even without this problem the flat lighting is very televisual.

It depresses me that movies this abysmal get funding and distribution. Is this what comedy has become? Is this what the tastes of society have degraded to? I cannot trash this garbage enough, and I predict that the Blu-rays will be stacked floor-to-ceiling in Poundland very soon.

Beyond terrible!
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The Predator (2018)
The Most Dangerous Game
15 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The Predator arrives with serious baggage in the shape of reshoots, endless postponing, and cast controversies. In theory it has a lot going against it and I don't blame Fox for treating this like a crash-and-burn property. Happily, I can assure that, despite numerous flaws, this is still a very enjoyable film and light years ahead of Predators and Alien: Covenant (not hard).

The movie opens in familiar territory with the Pred arriving in the Central American jungle but instantly stumbling at the first hurdle when he loses his equipment to army sniper MacKenna, who then ships it off back home for safekeeping. When it arrives in the US the package is opened by his autistic son (an adorable Jacob Tremblay) who thinks that its part of a video game and tries to decipher it.

Meanwhile, the OWLF team (previously headed by Gary Busey in Predator 2) has captured the Pred and are experimenting on him in a "secure" research facility where Jake Busey and Olivia Munn are able to make wacky assumptions in mere minutes for the sake of advancing the plot. But the Pred doesn't like captivity and breaks out in a killing rampage. On his way out the door he crosses the path of a ragtag gang of ex-military types (including a now imprisoned MacKenna) and picks up his mission on Earth. But there is a nasty surprise waiting for him in the form of a bigger, uglier, meaner Predator.

One imagined that if ANYONE could get the Predator series back on track it would have been Shane Black. He is one of the most admired action writers in Hollywood and he was even in the first movie as Hawkins. Whatever his original ideas were for this movie they've been lost in an irritating clutter. It's no secret that the entire third act of this movie was completely altered, so much so that it's essentially resulted in a completely different movie (think of the two different cuts of Mel Gibson's Payback). Of the many problems, the editing in the latter act is very bad and it feels like there are about five key scenes missing.

What is the point of introducing Jake Busey as the son of Gary Busey only for him to deliver a couple of lines and leave? Why was Olivia Munn's character marked for death by OWLF just for following orders? It doesn't ring true. Why, if the Pred is here on earth on a benevolent mission to aid mankind, does his immediately start hunting men? Shane Black is not a writer to make bad narrative choices like this and I am assuming these incongruous plot elements are the result of pasting together two different versions of the movie. There is also zero tension as the movie adopts a goofball sense of humor in favor of the dread of the first two movies. I'm okay with this, as it gives us something a little bit different.

It's nice to get an expansion on the Predator mythos, which is done rather well here, but does fall into mumbo-jumbo when they start talking about global warming and making huge assumptions about the Pred's mission. The chemistry between the soldiers is nice too and they all get a good amount of characterization. The lack of Alan Silvestri really worried me, as his scores to the first two movies are genre classics and set a high bar for movie scoring in general. The duties fell to Henry Jackman for this movie and I thought he was going to deliver a generic, soulless bore like Brian Tyler did for AVP: Requiem or the cut-and-paste filler job John Debney did on Predators. Thankfully, he brought the movie to life with a decent pastiche of Silvestri moments and did a good job.

I can understand why a lot of people will be disappointed in this movie. The make-up effects of the original movie have never been bettered, and that was thirty years ago, and we get a CGI villain Predator (though, admittedly, it's hard to find 11-foot tall performers these days) which isn't very scary. It ends quite abruptly too, which many will find disappointing, though, again, this may be down to the harsh rearranging of the closing act. As a fan of the franchise, and a harsh critic of the more recent movies, I went in expecting to hate this, but was pleasantly surprised. It's a fun, bouncy, silly adventure that's tonally different but not really any worse for it. And did I spot Lex's spear from AVP in the OWLF facility? If so it's cool that they are keeping in continuity with those movies, terrible as they were, because they are still better than those abysmal Prometheus prequels.

Now, if only we can get that sense-making 3-hour extended cut.
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The best willy
27 August 2018
This movie is quite an oddity. It's the only one in the series to not be shot in anamorphic Panavision, the only one to not have a score by Basil Poledouris, the only one to not have a Michael Jackson song (thank you!), the only one to not feature the meanest of the Reservoir Dogs, the only one to not be shot in Astoria, Oregon, the only one to make absolutely zero money at the box office, and the only one to come in at less than 90 minutes.

Oddly enough, I liked this one the best.

Jesse, now an independent adult, is working exclusively in whales now (whatever that means) and is overjoyed to find that Willy has come back again, with a now pregnant mate. But this time we actually have a real bad guy (who is given real development) in the form of Patrick Kilpatrick, he who has played the dangerous henchmen in a zillion movies from Eraser to Last Man Standing as well as being the mercenary who unwisely questioned Penn's leadership in Under Siege 2. He plays a whaler, with an adoring son and wife, who murders one of Willy's pod and sights his sights on harpooning the rest of them. "Whales were put here by God for us to hunt," he proclaims, attempting to brainwash his sceptical son.

The kid soon befriends Jesse (or is it a teenage David Hasselhoff? I can't tell) and learns what whales are really all about. Can he convince his bloodthirsty dad though? It's the best conflict in all of the movies and it has a quiet, dreamy tone that is radically different from the other two. It seems that, at this point, Warner/Regency were just letting the director do whatever he wanted, and thus Free Willy 3 feels more like a director's movie than a cash-in or something assembled by a committee.

It's mad that the first movie did such huge business, only for the better sequel to barely make back its budget, then this third entry, the best of the series, barely makes it past the impossibly low $3 million mark. I can't explain it, but this easily wins hands-down.
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The willy is still free
27 August 2018
I went in to this sequel fully preparing to hate it, but, to my surprise, it is a much better movie than the first. Two years later, Jesse is still living with Vincent Vega's brother and is none-to-happy to discover that he has a bratty brother of his own but soon forgets about that when he discovers Willy has returned to Astoria. He tries to impress a girl with his whale expertise but she's having none of it. Nothing like a cold, hostile female character to make your movie work, huh? Though, Elvis, his new sibling, is desperate to join in on the fun.

Everything is happy (and going nowhere) until Captain Murphy from Lethal Weapon crashes an oil tanker and pollutes the water, trapping Willy and his pod. Jesse's attempts at rescuing them are ignored by the adults though he eventually takes matters into his own hands when the ocean catches fire, making for a far more exciting climax than the original movie.

Director Dwight H. Little is known for mainly making violent action movies such as Rapid Fire, Marked for Death, and Halloween 4 (the latter two starring Danielle Harris, who I was sure was going to return but...nope!) so this is quite a departure for him and he does a much better job than Simon Wincer did on the first movie. The scenes of the burning ocean at the end look amazing and the story of Jesse bonding with his new brother makes for much better drama than the mucky schmaltz of the original.

It ain't perfect, and the villains seem shoehorned in there as they appear and disappear within 10 minutes, but this really is one of those times when a sequel outdoes the first, and it's mad that it barely made back its budget. I guess the summer of 1995 was just too busy for people to care about a whale and his mop-topped human pal.
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Free Willy (1993)
Quite overrated
27 August 2018
I've never understood the big whoop surrounding this movie. This may be down to the fact that I saw the first 35-40 minutes of it twice as a 13-year-old and never got past that threshold until now. It was one of those movies that my high school teachers deemed "safe" for us to watch even though it is rated U here in the UK (our equivalent of a G rating) and we were all on our way to being adults! Since our classes never lasted more than 40 minutes it was kind of stupid to put on movies during the last days before a summer/Easter break.

It may have passed as "wholesome" family entertainment back in the 90s but it seems very quaint and perhaps badly-written now. Young tearaway Jesse is living on the streets (or is he? It's never made clear) and hustling for a living until he breaks into a budget Sea World and is caught by the cops. He's placed with Mr. White and his wife for the time-being and is well looked-after, but part of the freedom deal is that he has to clean up the mess he (his friend!) made at the aquarium.

While there he befriends a captured whale and realizes that they are soul mates. So far, so nice. I'd be fine if this were just a spiritual/existential movie, honestly, and it would be amazing if a family movie were to take that risk. But a climax must be had, and the sudden desire to "free willy" seems to work for the script writers, though it comes across as a desperate afterthought when they realized the story wasn't going anywhere.

I always hated the safe attempt at portraying "street life" for the young urchins in Jesse's gang. At one point his pal offers him a "new opportunity" in Los Angeles without ever specifying what it is, other than a "money-making deal". If they were trying to suggest that they could be wealthy drug-dealers without actually saying the words then this attempt is laughable and stupid as well as confusing to anyone under the age of 10. Danielle Harris is part of the gang but only has about 2 minutes of screen time at the beginning before completely disappearing. I thought she might come back as Jesse's love interest but...nope!

The...ahem..."iconic" image of Willy jumping over the breakwater did not give me goosebumps or make me cry, I am sorry to say, but the Michael Jackson song over the end credits did make me roll my eyes so hard I think I permanently damaged my vision.

There was a chance for a properly good movie with this concept. If they had taken chances and made it a little bit harder I could respect Free Willy, but it plays it so safe that the movie is just completely tepid. Exactly how this went on to be a huge success and find enduring popularity even all these years later is a mystery to me.
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The Meg (2018)
Nothing like the novel
20 August 2018
Warning: Spoilers
And the award for Biggest Disappointment of the Decade goes to...

After 21 years in development hell this drivel is the best that they could manage? Really? I realize that it is hard to make a serious shark movie in a sub-genre now contaminated by spoofs and mockbusters but even Jaws 3 is better than this. Statham vs Shark could have been an entertaining movie, instead it's an extremely boring one.

Jason Statham is Jonas Taylor (this character name and the nature of the beast are the only things retained from the novel, I am not kidding) a diving/underwater guy (his exact occupation is never disclosed, but in the novel he's a palaeontologist and a marine biologist) who encounters a big shark one day and no one believes him. Flash-forward a while and said shark attacks a craft exploring the bottom of the ocean in the Mariana Trench. When he turns up to rescue them the shark is set free from the extreme cold that has kept it confined to the lower depths.

The scene is set for an enormous shark to go on a bloody rampage...which never happens. Those teases you fell for in the trailer...a product of careful editing. The Meg doesn't have the balls, or the teeth, to be a horror film. All it is capable of is low-brow schlock, and you don't need a $100 million budget for that when the mockbusters and rip-offs do it just as well.

The story relocates from America to China because the studio wanted to cash-in on the Chinese market (or because Megs like Chinese food), the deaths are bloodless and telegraphed, and every time the writers need a moment of tension or excitement they have a character fall overboard. No joke, if you were to play a drinking game for every time someone fell into the water you'd be dead of alcohol poisoning long before the credits role. The cinematography is awful too, coloring the movie in nothing but greys and blues, resulting in a very bland visual experience. I also have to call out the dialogue as being particularly bad, especially the character of Zhang, who attempts to deliver meaningful soliloquies on a couple of occasions which just come across as laughable and totally out of place.

If the studio are looking forward to developing this into a franchise then they have painted themselves into corner by deviating from the source material so much. Any sequels may retain the title of the novels but they too will have to be completely different in the same way that those awful Resident Evil movies were nothing like the games that inspired them.

Jaws it ain't. It's not even up to the standards of Deep Blue Sea.
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Ride Along (2014)
Tepid "comedy" with little-to-no redeeming features
15 July 2018
I feel the need to watch a lot of comedies these days as my mood is often grumpier and more irritable than Ice Cube (in general, not just every character he plays). Don't get me wrong, I can enjoy stupid humor and low-brow comedy just as much as any genuinely moronic and slovenly mouth-breathing member of Joe Public, but Ride Along is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff.

The "buddy cop" sub-genre is apparently alive and well, despite the 1980s being a distant memory. Kevin Hart is a feckless school security guard who dreams of being a real cop. In order to impress his girlfriend's overprotective big brother (the Cube) he agrees to a ride-along for a day, unaware that he's being set up for humiliation. But his convenient geekiness just so happens to help solve an important case involving a local crime boss. Honestly, the plot is so thin it could be written on the back of a postage stamp and Tim Story (an ironic surname, for sure) seems to have learned nothing since his days directing Taxi, allowing his stars to improvise to save the weak scripted material. It doesn't work.

Set in the cheap, tax-break city of Atlanta, the movie looks ugly, not just because of the non-cinematic locations but because Tim Story has no idea how to use a 2.35:1 frame and photographer Larry Blanford uses the unfortunate modern aesthetic of hard contrast with oversaturated colors instead of creating an atmosphere in-camera. It's shot in amamorphic Panavision, but you'll never notice as it is so flat and nasty looking.

Kevin Hart is funny but this is not a good vehicle for him. It made a lot of money, hence the sequel, but I honestly thought that this sub-genre died with the painfully unfunny Showtime back in 2002 (Remember that? No?). If you've seen one, you've seen the other, you've seen them all.

Always, always, always be ex-treme-ly weary and cynical of movies that have outtakes over the end credits.

I should have just watched Dragnet.
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Baron Blood (1972)
Baron Bland
7 July 2018
If there is one thing that I'm a sucker for it's a horror movie featuring a gothic, gloomy old castle (preferably in an archaic corner of Europe) and an unashamedly hocus-pocus plot. Baron Blood certainly does deliver in this regard, but it's still a bit of a disappointment overall.

Bobby Ewing prototype Peter Kleist travels to Austria to meet with his uncle and take a gander at the old ancestral home of Castle Nuremberg (never specifically referred to as such in the English version). There he meets his uncle's beautiful assistant Eve (Elke Sommer) and quickly develops a thing for her. Later, he tries to impress Eve by reciting an incantation that can bring his evil, sadistic great-grandfather, Baron Otto Von Kleist, back to life. No woman is worth impressing that much.

Much to their horror, the incantation works and the Baron is free to start a new reign of terror. An opportunity he doesn't really take much advantage of.

There's barely a drop of blood to be had in this movie. There is very little suspense, no tension, and not much in the way of dread. It's a totally missed opportunity in this regard but what it does have in its favor is a ton of atmosphere thanks to the wonderful lighting and cinematography. If only more horror movies, especially in the modern era, were shot this way. The use of genuine locations, with not a single studio set used, also adds to the authenticity. It's just a shame that the story is so bland. Baron Blood could have been way more memorable if it went over the top but instead it stays sober and sane. I guess in some regards this approach keeps it thoughtful and prevents it from being a nasty exploitation flick, though a better balance could have been found.

I feel bad giving this movie an average score as it does have merit. It's not boring but it's not the gorefest I wanted it to be either.
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Summer Wars (2009)
Really stupid and not what I expected
6 June 2018
From the cover art I assumed that this would be a 90-minute affair about some kind of village annual games and that's what got me interested. It's not like that at all. It's a 2-hour techno-thriller, and a badly misconceived one at that. I can't remember any of the characters names, so it'll be hard for me to give you a rundown of the plot, but in this version of 2010 the whole world is plugged into a overlarge social networking site and a sinister entity within is using it to...I dunno...something...and knock a satellite out of the air to land on a nuclear power plant and blow up...some place. Only an extended family of eccentrics can band together and stop it because they all just-so-happen to be involved in the tech business and have everything that they need at their disposal.

This is nonsense. There is a really good core concept here, but this is not the right way to tell it. Some ideas in Summer Wars are clever and they are wasted. It's too quirky, overlong, and seems like a mash-up of two unrelated scripts that got mixed together when two interns collided in a hallway and didn't bother to keep their papers separate. I won't be watching this again.
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The P*sstaker
18 April 2018
Back in October 1997 I was not too impressed by The Peacemaker. As the debut picture of then-new Dreamworks SKG it came across as a rather flat and forgettable combination of Jack Ryan and James Bond. Both Clooney and Kidman are horribly miscast and don't have much chemistry, though are not completely unwatchable. This was back in Clooney's head-lolling days when he thought that having a floppy neck made him look debonaire and charming.

The opening to the movie is very well done and atmospheric. A steam locomotive charging through remote Russian darkness is hijacked by a second train sneaking up in its wake and a cargo of nine nuclear warheads are stolen with a tenth warhead detonated to cover the tracks (pun intended). Col. Tom Devoe (Clooney,sans-vertebrae) knows just about everyone in Russia and is given the mission of proving the nukes went missing and finding them before a terrorist strike can take place.

As a pre-9/11 post-Bosnia movie it still feels quite topical and Marcel Iures is especially good as a broken man overcome by grief who will do anything to share his sadness with the world. It always stood out as a bold move and a powerful antagonist, it's just a shame that the film surrounding it is fairly bland for the most part.

There's an amazing scene on a bridge and a tough car chase in Vienna, Mimi Leder doesn't shy away from blood and violence, and commits a fair amount of muscle to some scenes, but the movie just fizzles with the two leads failing to create any spark between them. Kidman could be replaced with a chest of drawers and it would have more charisma.

A decent timewaster, but void of anything that would make it a classic.
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The Enforcer (1976)
A sorry lack of good punks
28 March 2018
A hero is nothing without a decent villain, and in this third entry in Clint Eastwood's lucrative franchise there's a sore lack of good villainy.

In an alarmingly contemporary move, the SFPD decide to partner Harry with a new female sidekick as there are not enough women on the force and they want to be seen as "progressive". Harry it's a bad idea, and he's right, but that female just happens to be Kate Moore, a young (and actually quite beautiful) Tyne Daly - dead ringer for Clea Duvall. She's bumbling and naive, but they end up making a good team.

As Harry goes about his usual carefree method of taking down the secondary bad guys who always seem to cross his path, a group of paramilitary types are planning a terrorist attack in San Francisco and earn Harry's wrath when they kill DiGiorgio. Together with Kate, he shakes down the usual suspects across town leading to a showdown on Alcatraz Island (before he escaped it).

While it is a fun watch, the bad guys are simply not a consistent, or interesting, threat for the 96-minute duration. They were completely one-dimensional and I didn't care about their evil plan. The final confrontation on Alcatraz is poorly staged and written and it seems like they were just rushing along the production to get the film finished as soon as possible.

Not a bad movie, just not up to the standards of the first two.
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Magnum Force (1973)
Better than the first movie
25 March 2018
The longest Dirty Harry movie, clocking in at 124 minutes, Magnum Force actually gives us a plot with multiple threads to follow, and is, as a result, a much better movie than the original.

This time around Harry must solve a series of brutal vigilante murders, gradually narrowing it down to a group of corrupt cops. He does actual detective work this time and uses his cunning to track the bad guys. The trick with deliberately missing his mark at the shooting range to retrieve the incriminating bullet was a smart move. There was nothing like this in the, frankly overrated, first movie.

The violence, even by today's standards, is graphic and upsetting. Seeing corpses writhe in agony after getting shot directly in the forehead, is hard to watch. Imagine suffering such a would and, knowing you were dying, lost control of your limbs. You don't see this in movies anymore. Gun violence is often overplayed and made to look cool while the grim reality of being murdered in this horrible way is rarely seen. I appreciate the movie for having the moxie to show us a more realistic depiction.

Director Ted Post, who directed Eastwood in Hang 'Em High, uses the anamorphic Panavision framing very well and there are multiple awesome compositions in the film. The slow, laid-back pace of Don Siegel is gone and the movie feels broader in scope while at the same time being an ironic response to the negative critical backlash that the first received. There's more weight and wit in Magnum Force, there's more to talk about, giving it higher re-watch value.

I know my opinion is controversial, but Magnum Force is simply more enjoyable and prompts deeper debate.
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Dirty Harry (1971)
Just add soap
22 March 2018
It's somewhat ironic that Clint Eastwood would become a household name by playing "the man with no name" before transitioning away from Westerns into contemporary movies, and then the movie that made him a superstar for the second time was a larger than life character than be identified first as a classic archetype and cinema icon and as a Eastwood role second.

Everybody knows Dirty Harry. The attitude, the scowl, and the one-liners have been mimicked and parodied so many times, and the original movie, and it's sequels, have spawned countless new generations of similar hardcore heroes. Without Harry Callaghan there would be no John Matrix, no Cobra, no John McClane, no Martin Riggs, etc.

Is the original film itself any good? Well, it's certainly controversial, even in the present day. Though much of the film's politics seem to be projected into the movie by its audience than actually part of film itself. In reality it's a very straight-forward, laid-back affair with minimalist dialogue, editing, and a subdued style.

There's not much in the way of plot, and there's very little detective work or puzzle solving on Harry's part. He's just a blunt tool used for a dirty job, hence the name. For a movie that barely nudges past the 100-minute mark it does feel a lot long, with lingering shots, huge chunks of purely visual storytelling, and a few detours that feel like padding. The central story of a crazed sniper offing random civilians in San Francisco, inspired by the real life Zodiac murder case, isn't strong enough to last the already thin running time.

It is a movie that is about style over substance, and for its day it was very slick and high key with gorgeous anamorphic Panavision photography. Does it hold up? Just about. It's not a movie that I watch for the entertainment value, but merely to study how certain classics were made.
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This is not a game. This is...nothing!
4 January 2018
I had this frisbee back when I was a teenager and I didn't quite know why I hated it back then. I do now.

This isn't a game. This is nothing.

Crippled by long loads, poor interface, and the Mega CD's mind-blowing lack of colors and compression issues that make animated GIFs on Twitter look like a grand 70mm cinema projection, the "novelty" (there will be a lot of air quotes in this review) of FMV was this coaster's only selling point. Take that away, as it barely exists in any workable form here, and you will quickly realize there is absolutely nothing else to this.

From a production value perspective, the sets are cheap (it seems that they just redressed one room over and over), the soap opera acting is atrocious, and there is zero atmosphere. For a Sherlock Holmes adventure that is simply unforgivable. Seriously, the accents of the "actors" is all over the place, ranging from American, English, Canadian, Scottish, Australian, Neptunian...all within one sentence. It's like these people have never spoken words before and are having trouble forming sounds with their lips. It beggars belief. Holmes and Watson are played by Peter Farley and Warren Green...who have NEVER acted in anything since. Farley himself looks like a cross between Jonathan Hyde and David Schneider, hardly the aquiline Holmes we are used to. He even looks right into the camera at one point!

There are three cases featured on this first volume: The Case of the Mummy's Curse, The Case of the Tin Soldier, and The Case of the Mystified Murderess. What you basically have to "do" is watch the video scenes, identify a circle of characters, visit said characters from the lists in your index, and then establish who did what based on their stories when you go to see the judge, which wouldn't actually happen as Holmes was a "CONSULTING" detective. It's in the title for heaven's sake! The information would be passed onto Lestrade or another representitive of Scotland Yard and it would be them going to court.

There is a Steam version features better interface and improved video (which only enhances the cheapness of it all) over the Mega CD, but there are no trophies/achievements or trading cards, which really would have added some much needed dimension to the "gameplay" and it's just as worthless. There were three volumes in this dreadful series but only Volume 2 made it to the Mega CD as they probably realized that their system was tanking due to wretched software.

Never ever purchase this "game". It's a total waste of money and not even worth it from a nostalgia point-of-view. It's because of FMV trash with no real substance like this that the Mega CD got such a bad name and underperformed. Sega really did put their eggs in the wrong basket with this concept.
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T.Bag's Christmas Turkey (1991 TV Movie)
Another weak special
26 December 2017
I am surprised and disappointed that T-Bag has only delivered average Christmas specials. As I have complained before, the 25-minute running time probably isn't enough to get a real plot going. Here we have Tabatha travel with T-Shirt to her mother's castle where she quickly erases Christmas and insists others spend it in misery.

But when the "local King" decides to visit Mother Bag decides to host a circus to entertain him, while Tabatha tries in vain to spoil it all. The slapstick is lame and it doesn't feel very Christmasy. I guess they were just running low on ideas.
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T.Bag's Christmas Ding Dong (1990 TV Movie)
It's just okay
25 December 2017
With Tallulah gone, T-Shirt attempts to surprise surrogate aunt (I guess) Tabatha by inviting her to an opera (one again in a Victorian setting) only for T-Bag to encounter her deceitful cousin Vanity (V-Bag?), played by Glenda Jackson, adding a dose of double Oscar winning credibility to the show.

Vanity plots to oust the rightful leading lady of the Opera, while T-Bag tries to get in on the act too. James Saxon shows up, once again playing a disturbing man-child (why did they go with this guy so often?) and, as usual, no one listens to T-Shirt's logic or common sense.

The slapstick is okay, and Georgina Hale is amusingly over-the-top but this special ain't going down in history. I did like seeing her in the bathtub though, even if she was covered in bubbles.
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T.Bag's Christmas Carol (1989 TV Movie)
An improvement on "Cracker"
22 December 2017
In some chilly Arctic lair, T-Bag convinces her long-suffering surrogate son T-Shirt to help torment poor Sally Simpkins. Hang on...didn't T-Bag destroy herself at the end of Revenge of the T-Set? How is she alive again? What sort of sorcery is this?

Sally is drawn into a dream-like state where is whisked away to Victorian London (well, there's a surprise) and left in rags to freeze on the street much to the wicked amusement of T-Bag. The plot pretty much revolves around her attempts to keep her alone and miserable despite being surrounded by kinder, oddball characters, including a Dickens clone looking for inspiration.

Without a greater story arc this Xmas Special once again feels rather weak, but it feels livelier than "Cracker" and Estensen is funny, as always. However, the end of this episode does not properly align with Revenge of the T-Set or Pearls of Wisdom, which came after it.
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T.Bag's Christmas Cracker (1988 TV Movie)
No Xmas Classic
20 December 2017
There's not really much as stake here in this T-Bag Christmas Special, and it's not much of a "cracker". One Xmas Eve old Bag Tallulah plots to replace all of Santa's gifts with a hypnotic device that will help her enchant all of the planet's children for her own evil desires. Naturally, T-Shirt is the first victim of this and becomes her unwitting assistant once more.

The bulk of the plot centres around a young Victorian boy (what century is this set in, exactly?) and his nanny after T-Bag misses her chance to incapacitate Santa at the North Pole and awaits his arrival in a London townhouse while posing as a Mary Poppins-type nanny.

There are a few laughs but it feels like an extended skit rather than a self-contained special episode. Elizabeth Estensen is, as always, a delight to watch and is every bit as mad as you'd expect her to be, so I can't really complain.
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Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010 Video Game)
A potential classic ruined by greed
15 December 2017
Developed by Criterion, the same team behind Burnout Paradise, you can definitely feel a lot of Burnout DNA in this Need for Speed entry. Sadly, since it's published by EA, do not expect to get the full game, you'll have to plonk down a further £45 on the PSN for that privilege. And since the game is now almost 8 years old you can expect online play to be dead. Trust me, this is one Platinum trophy that you won't be winning.

As either Cop or Criminal Racer you take to the roads in the fictional Seacrest County and all of its varied wilderness on various missions including simple time trials, races, duels, takedown missions, utterly infuriating rapid responses, interceptors and, obviously, hot pursuits in which you must obliterate all other rivals. The game can frequently be very exciting and is very addictive but it is bogged down by lengthy crash cut-scenes, long load times, an overload of visual information bombardment between missions, and cars that handle simply terribly. The aforementioned rapid response missions are a nightmare as for every strike on any object the counter will add 2 seconds to your already tight time limit. Once you slam into the guard rail you'll never get control of your car back and you'll just be slamming from side to side across the road. You'll never beat the mission.

Also, unlike Burnout Paradise, the XBM option is not available, meaning you cannot play your own tunes during the game and must stick to the licenced soundtrack. It's decent, but it's nowhere near as innovating and visionary as the soundtrack to Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed. Though, overall, it's a much better game than Need for Speed: The Run.

I managed to unlock just 37% of the trophies. Any higher would require online play and purchase of the DLC. It gave me a few days of fun, but I'll never go back to this.
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