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Pretty dark, as far as kids' cartoons go
20 March 2019
The feature length version of the long-running TV cartoon came to the big screen in 1986 and, in short, caused quite a stir. I would imagine there were plenty of adults who saw it at the time and didn't get what all the fuss was about. However, if (like me!) you were a child of the eighties and watched the two TV series leading up to the film (spanning around eighty episodes!) then you probably left the cinema in near tears (yes, I did - and I refused to watch series 3 and 4 of the TV show which followed on from the film!).

The TV show was about an ongoing war between two rival armies of robots who had found their way to Earth - the heroic Autobots were out saviours and the evil Decepticons were the suitably inept bad-guys always trying to take over the universe. So, if you've seen one kids' cartoon then you've probably seen them all - the courageous Autobots and their leader, Optimus Prime, always triumphed over the dastardly Megatron and his minions. Then came the film. And Megatron pretty much wiped out all the heroes we'd spent the last two seasons rooting for (and bought their toy-incarnations, obviously).

I would imagine anyone who didn't follow the franchise as a child would be none the wiser about this fact. It was deliberately stipulated by the toy-manufacturers as a way of 'killing off' the toys that children already owned, in favour of bringing in a 'new line' and thus make them more money. I guess they totally underestimated the attachment we - the kids of the day - had for our robot buddies.

So, whether you curse or cry for the fall of those we'd supported for so long, the film itself is actually pretty good. Because of the first time we see (robot) deaths on screen, it has a much darker tone than the TV series and the action/animation is top notch. The story introduces new elements of the mythology seamlessly and it is definitely the logical progression for the story (if only they'd kept a few of our faves alive just a little longer!).

A couple of the new characters are - unfortunately - pretty grating. Long before Jar Jar Binks wound every cinema-goer up the wrong way, you had a little robot called 'Wheelie' who is truly the worst! Plus there's the soundtrack. It's awful. For some reason the producers felt that eighties cheesy rock should be the soundtrack with which these metal behemoths slug it out to. It's so bad it's just terrible and belongs in some episode of 'South Park' where they're taking the mickey out of the genre.

But, that's just a minor gripe. Once you get used to the music you can actually find it pretty funny. I will always remember this film as one that totally depressed me due to who died and therefore got replaced with (in my opinion) 'substandard' characters. However, as an adult, I can now enjoy it for what it is - which is quite an adult take on the cartoon (just to terrible music!).
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Centurion (2010)
Romans go home!
18 March 2019
I know I shouldn't, but I'm incapable of watching any form of media surrounding the Roman Empire without my mind recalling every quote from the classic Monty Python film, 'The Life of Brian.' There, they were depicted as buffoons and lampooned mercilessly. I guess the people of the numerous lands they conquered in real life wouldn't have agreed too much with the escapades of Biggus Diccus and his cohorts.

'Centurion' is about the leader (Michael Fassbender) of a legion of doomed Roman troops, sent in to deal with the uprising locals in the north of England and, in particular, Scotland. Apparently, those Scots (or 'Picts' as they were really, back then) were dealing heavy losses to Roman battalions and something has to be done about it. Sadly, for most of Fassbender's party (and I'll keep calling him by the actor's name, seeing as every time I see a - supposedly - authentic Roman name of the period, I keep thinking it looks something like 'Naughtness Maximus!') they get completely wiped out, leaving just him and a handful of others on the run from a band of bloodthirsty locals.

And there is plenty of blood. It's not for the faint-hearted and there are plenty of limbs being hacked off left, right and centre. It's primarily one long chase film with action set-pieces thrown in. And it's all good if that's what you're looking for. I'm no historian, so I can't tell you if every Roman infantry man's costume is 100% accurate, or whether this was what it was like back then. But it is a fairly decent action film.

It's also well-directed, but then you'd expect that from Neil Marshall (the creative force behind such great little gems as 'Dog Soldiers, The Decent and Doomsday'). I would say that it's worth pausing while you're watching the film and ask yourself the question, 'Who are the 'real' good guys?' In 'Dog Soldiers' the werewolves were clearly the bad guys, then you had the monsters in 'The Decent' and the cannibal gangs in 'Doomsday.' Here, the Romans are clearly the underdogs, but, if you think about it, they are - technically - an invading and most unwelcome force in an occupied land, so are the Picts well within their rights to hack their heads off for fun?

I read somewhere that it's based on a true story. And when I say 'true' I mean in 'Hollywood terms,' i.e. there was a sort of account of something that happened that might be a bit like this and this film is one way that events COULD have unfolded. Anyway, it's still good fun. Although there are a few other actors in the film you may recognise from this or that, Fassbender is the only one that you'll remember (unless you count the mute psychotic lady Pict with her blue war-paint sent to dispatch him - I certainly wouldn't mess with her!).

There's a - pretty superfluous - love interest thrown in there, but it doesn't impact too much on the action and the gore. It's a fun little period action film that is definitely entertaining. Just try not to think of 'The Life of Brian' too much and shouting 'Bl**dy Romans!' too much at the screen while you watch it!
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When Clarice was more like Hannibal?
11 March 2019
I know I'm a little late to the party in terms of watching 'The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane,' as it was made back in the seventies and I've only just discovered it. Despite my love of films I'd never even heard of it and came across it quite by accident on an online streaming service. I didn't know what to expect, other than it had the (always great) Jodie Foster in it, plus a practically-unrecognisable (due to his youth) Martin Sheen (I guess he had to be young once, I've just never seen him looking like that!).

Foster plays Rynn Jacobs - a 13-14 year old girl (age deliberately unclear for reasons you'll have to find out by watching the film!) who is wise beyond her years and yet never really comes across as smug or forced. In fact, despite her undisclosed wisdom, she actually comes across as quite vulnerable. She lives with her father, who is a workaholic poet and the pair of them have recently moved to a small town in America to escape city life. Some of the locals do wonder about the couple and subtly (and sometimes completely UNsubtly try to stick their noses into the pair's affairs. And, from this, we start to see more than we expect to.

If ever a film cemented an actor's credentials that she was more than capable of carrying a film, even at a young age, then it was this one. This is Jodie Foster's film through and through. Martin Sheen is good (and creepier than I've ever seen him), but it's Foster who shines out. I would imagine that anyone who watched this film back when it was released must have realised that she was destined for mega-stardom.

It's also a film where I can't really say too much about the plot for fear of giving away spoilers. You'll only get the one chance to watch it and not know how things are going to unfold. It's quite a 'straightforward' story, mainly taking place inside the family home - so much so in fact that I couldn't help but imagine how this could easily have been a stage play. There aren't that many characters to follow, but the story is simple (and when I say 'simple' I also mean different) which will make you want to know how things turn out.

I guess, if I had to try and put this film in to a genre then I'd hedge my bets and say it was a 'drama-thriller.' The drama bit is easy to classify, but don't go expecting any fast-paced thrills here. There aren't any fancy special effects, major 'set-pieces' or anything else that may say 'big budget,' but don't let that put you off. It may be old and look a little a little dated by today's standards, but if you like carefully-crafted slow burning films which will make you wonder how they will end, definitely give this one a go. I can't believe it flew below my radar for so long.
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Ghost Ship (2002)
Hauntingly average
11 March 2019
I think I've watch 'Ghost Ship' between 2-3 times. I think I'll say twice. The reason I can't remember is that, even though I've only watched it a few days ago, I'm already starting to forget what happened. Although, saying that, the one thing I can always remember is the beginning. It's a classic moment of horror that will come out of nowhere and stick with you (well... it certainly stuck with me!). It's just a pity everything else in the film comes across as so 'below standard.'

A crew of - mainly disposable - characters board a passenger liner that's been missing for several decades in the hope of scoring some major bounty. Guess what they find instead? Hint: the clue's in the film's title.

And so they get picked off one by one, sometimes in gruesome ways, other times way that I can't really remember. Gabriel Byrne is in it. I remember remembering him the first time round. I don't think I'd heard of the film's leading lady (Julianna Margulies) when I first watched it and, now I've seen her in it again, I still don't think she's been in anything else I've watched (or at least noticed her in). Now, some several years later I notice that the cast list also has a young Emily Browning (who is actually pretty good for a child actor and you can see that she was going to go further than this floating vessel of a film), plus Karl Urban who does nothing here to show that one day he'll actually be a damn sight better than his performance in 'Ghost Ship' allows him.

Ultimately, 'Ghost Ship' is one of a million other forgettable horror films which you won't remember by the time the credits roll. As I said, the only really good bit happens within the first ten minutes. You can probably turn it off after that without really missing anything. However, if you do choose to have it on in the background while you do other things, you'll find it's one of those films where you can easily check your mobile phone every few minutes and still know everything that's going on onscreen.

I really wish I could think anything else to say about this film, but the fact that I can't probably speaks volumes.
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Transporter 3 (2008)
Better than I remembered
11 March 2019
I loved the first 'Transporter' film. Then I watched the second offering and loved that, too. Naturally, I then watched the third when it came out and found it totally forgettable - being the only one of the three I didn't bother buying on DVD. I don't know what kind of mood I was in that day - maybe I was annoyed and something and not in the right frame of mind of that kind of film? Either way, I saw 'Part 3' was on an online streaming service and decided to give it another go.

Now, I think most of us won't expect the third outing of a B-movie type action franchise to rival Shakespeare, but - this time - I found it really good fun. If you've seen either of the previous instalments then you'll know the drill: Jason 'The Stath' Statham plays a practically indestructible hero, Frank Martin, as he has to 'transport' a 'package' from Point to Point B. He does this through his ability to drive a car faster than anyone pursuing him and also beat the living daylights out of armies of faceless henchmen who always only attack him one at a time.

Nothing new on the 'plot front,' unless you consider moving the film's location from sunny Florida to cloudy Eastern Europe. And, this time, the 'package' is a young woman (with more freckles than I've ever seen on an actress (Natalya Rudakova) - nothing wrong with that, just unusual in a Hollywood type film in my opinion!). So, together they have to evade, escape and generally obliterate anyone and everyone standing in their way. Yes, it's definitely not Shakespeare.

So, if you're in the mood for a mindless action film which, keeping in tone with the previous two, never really takes itself too seriously, give it a go. Now I've seen it again and appreciated it for what it was (I have no idea why I didn't like it the first time round!) I'm definitely going to add this one to my DVD collection. Although, as it stands, I have still refused to watch the 'reboot' as I truly believe that no one will ever be able to deliver a package from Amazon quite like Jason Statham.
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Hereditary (2018)
The ultimate in 'slow burning' horror
11 March 2019
I'd heard quite a lot about 'Hereditary' before I actually watched it, most of which stating that, although marketed as a 'horror' movie, it wasn't so straight forward. Now, having sat through it, I can - sort of - see what they mean.

When you think of 'horror' you probably imagine monsters, slashers or something similar. Now, although 'Hereditary' definitely has a strong supernatural element running through it (not to mention some pretty disturbing imagery which I would definitely describe as 'horrific!), it's certainly not your average run-of-the-mill horror.

When questioned, even the film-makers go to great lengths to describe it as more of a 'family drama' (plus supernatural, etc). It weighs in at just over two hours, which is certainly longer than your average tale about a guy in an ice hockey mask slicing up teenagers. Instead, we have a story about what, on the surface could be described as a 'traditional' family of four (Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne as the mother and father and Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro as their children) and the way they're coming to terms with the recent loss of the grandmother of the household.

It's certainly a 'character-focused' piece and all four (or at least three - I did feel that Gabriel Byrne was given the least to do of the four) major characters get their chance to shine and also develop. We see how the death of the 'matriarch' affects them all and their dynamic, plus the problems her loss causes among them. For the most part, what 'horror' is displayed is due to their various mental breakdowns and how they see things (although there is one particularly graphic scene - only for a second or two - which will stay with me forever). Any supernatural threat comes in the final act when the weird stuff really starts going down.

It was certainly nice to see a horror movie try to be a little different and I felt compelled to watch it to the end, simply to see where it was going and, perhaps more importantly, what the hell was going on! Yes, it's not completely black and white and the story does make you work for a few answers here and there. I even went as far as to watch a YouTube video on its 'ending explained' just to make sure I had actually understood it (and I'm pleased to say that I had!).

If it has a fault (for me, anyway) then it's the film's run-time. Yes, it does do a good job of building tension, however I did feel I'd like to get to the 'meat' of the story a little quicker than I actually did. However, that's just a minor gripe and there were more than enough shocks and surprises that I never saw coming (and I've seen a lot of horror films!) which made the (long) journey worthwhile. If you're in the mood for something long, drawn out and a little different in terms of horror, then it's definitely worth sitting down for.
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Eating Raoul (1982)
So bad... and yet so brilliant!
4 March 2019
I can only think that whoever made 'Eating Raoul' knew that this piece was never destined for mainstream appeal and that if it was ever going to be successful, then it was going to be with a 'cult following.' I've only just watched it. And I loved it. And now I find myself reviewing it I actually find it quite a hard story to sell to people to explain just how good it really is.

It's about a couple of swingers. Well, sort of. They don't just 'share' each other, but instead lure unsuspecting victims to have their heads battered in with a well-placed blow from a frying pan and then relieving them of their wallets. I guess you could say that, as viewers, it's probably a bit hard to 'relate' to such protagonists, but - trust me - just go with it.

Because it's such a cult-type film, there's no budget to speak of. No special effects, no fancy editing or direction and definitely no actors who you'll ever heard of (unless you're a fan of TV's 'Star Trek: Voyager,' but we'll get to that later. However, what it lacks in, well, pretty much everything you'd associate with a 'good' film, it more than makes up with simple (yet kind of clever, in a strange way) gags and a killer (sometimes literally!) script which contains lashings (again, pun intended) of black humour.

I'm guessing you won't have seen the main couple of actors in anything else (based on only the fact that I haven't - feel free to correct me if they've had any major roles that I've missed!). 'Paul' and 'Mary Bland' are played by the not entirely differently-named Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov. Hopefully, I'm not being too cruel when I say that Paul Bartel is hardly the eighties equivalent of Brad Pitt. He reminded me more of that council official from the original 'Ghostbusters' who was constantly trying to shut them down and then got drenched in white marshmallow. He's definitely not what you'd think of when you're thinking of a 'leading' man, especially as he's married to quite an unconventionally (again, hope that's not too cruel!) attractive lady. On first appearances you may describe them as the proverbial 'odd couple' and yet as you watch them interact, somehow they seem meant for each other.

The only notable actor you may stand a chance of knowing is 'Star Trek: Voyager's' Robert Beltran as the titular 'Raoul,' who learns of their plans and decides that he wants in on the scheme (in more ways that one).

While I was watching the film, all I could think of was the word 'farce.' I've always been a fan of those silly (and quite often sexy), bawdy British comedies such as the 'Carry On...' franchise and, slightly more recently, 'Fierce Creatures' (and I don't care what the majority thought of that one - I really liked it!). It's not often (again, to my knowledge) that Hollywood goes in for that kind of genre, however 'Eating Raoul' felt to me like it belonged in some weird 'shared universe' with the 'Carry On...' films.

If you like your comedies dark and filled with sexual humour/reference, plus you don't mind something with a budget that's about on a par with the cost of your lunch, then you should definitely give this one a go. It's attained its cult status for a reason.
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Please let the franchise continue
4 March 2019
Yes, every film these days isn't just a film. It's the beginning of a larger body of work, a shared universe, or trying to set up an ongoing franchise. And, besides the Marvel Shared Universe and a few pre-existing properties like 'Star Wars,' most fledgling film franchises struggles beyond the first offering. That's simply because they make setting up a wider universe more of a priority than actually simply telling a good story (that 'Dark Universe' saga that tried to get off the ground with Tom Cruise at the helm, anyone?).

Now, I'm not going to say that the producers of 'Alita: Battle Angel' wouldn't love the franchise to still be going in ten years time (complete with all sorts of spin-off tales of secondary characters and probably a TV series to boot), but at least it stands on its own as a great story and - if it doesn't get a sequel - can be looked at as a whole, rather than something that started and was never concluded.

It's set well into the future where the world has been ravaged by one giant war (aka 'The Fall') and half the (unlucky) population live in a junkyard of a city on Earth, while those better off live in a floating city above it, known as 'Zolum.' The status quo remains until a Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) who specialises in creating cyborgs out of spare parts finds the remains of a young cyborg girl ('Alita,' in case you haven't guessed!) on the scrap heap and takes it upon himself to rebuild her. Of course the plot needs her to have forgotten who true identity and - naturally - this all links in with what will become her destiny to bring a little more equality between the two last cities on Earth and the mysterious ruler who 'watches all.'

So, it's kind of one of those 'prophecy/saviour' type films which certainly aren't that original, but, if done right, are very entertaining - and Alita is very entertaining. First of all Rosa Salazar is a very likable lead and, despite not having too many major roles to her credit, does brilliantly at holding the weight of the story on her shoulders. She's also got on hand Christoph Waltz, who always turns in a great performance in whatever he's in. This is no different and their relationship is the character-highpoint of the film.

Alita's love interest is 'Hugo' (Keean Johnson) and, although I couldn't really find fault with anything about his performance, I got the impression that his part could have been played by anyone. Jennifer Connelly is on the cast-list, but I felt she was a little underused and could have been in it a lot more. And, despite being a big fan, I only found out that Jackie Earle Haley was in the film after seeing his name on the credits and having to look up who he played online afterwards

It's all stylishly directed by Robert Rodriguez, despite having James Cameron as co-producer and writer, the directoral honours seemed to have gone to Rodriguez. His natural style of fast-paced shots work better for the action and amount of CGI used. I know Cameron did - practically - an entire film ('Avatar') in CGI, but in Alita (and this could just be because a more modern film can blend live action and computer effects together) better, the effects look for more polished and real when compared to 'Avatar.' The soundtrack is also pretty generic and you certainly won't be humming the theme tune for months to come after leaving the cinema.

But, that's just a minor gripe. Basically, if you're in the mood for some great action and don't mind the lengthy two-hour run-time, you should definitely check this one out. After only a couple of scenes you'll stop wondering why Alita's eyes are so (CGI) big and concentrate on her growth as a character (and, is it just me, or is she using 'Sting' i.e. the sword from 'Lord of the Rings' to save the world?).

I see that it's only got a big of a lukewarm reception from some critics, but, if you see what the fans are saying about it, I think you'll know who to believe. Bring on the next installment.
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Total Recall (1990)
Premium Arnie
1 March 2019
Ignore 'Terminator: Genysis' and those recent 'straight-to-DVD' films that Arnold Schwarzenegger is - sadly - repeatedly churning out. Once upon a time (or at least in 1990, anyway), he ruled the Box Office with impunity. His 'highpoint' probably came a year later with 'Terminator 2: Judgement Day,' but - in my opinion - 'Total Recall' comes a close second.

Of course, if you're not a fan of the big man himself, there's probably not much here that would change your mind. However, if you're into either action or sci-fi films, practical effects over the computer-generated variety, of - of course - Arnie himself, then you're in for a real treat here.

In 'Total Recall' he plays an 'everyman' in the near future (assuming the average guy comes from Austria and is built like Mr Universe!) 'Doug Quaid' - a lowly construction worker on Earth who dreams of going to Mars (did I mention a reasonable proportion of the human race lives on the red planet?). However, seeing as our 'simple guy' earns a lot less than the actor who plays him, he's not going to ever be able to afford such a trip. That's why he gets a 'memory implant' of a vacation into outer space (I don't think I mentioned that was an option either, did I?). Unfortunately, that - supposedly - 'simple' procedure goes wrong and exposes the fact that he's already been there and is even caught up in an interplanetary conspiracy involving everyone from the Mars government to space spies and aliens. Now, everyone's trying to kill him and he's on the run. I guess that since 1990, plenty of films have been made where our hero is on the run from 'Agency X' or whatever (the 'Bourne' films spring to mind). However, back then there weren't that many. And even less that span two worlds and star the biggest actor of the time. And... it works. Perfectly.

There's not an awful lot I can think of that's wrong with this film. Arnie carries it - as he did at the time. Despite the fact that (mainly towards the beginning of the film), he seems to struggle with putting much emotion into his lines, but then that could also be something to do with the script and/or director. However, he soon settles into the role - roughly at the same time the story requires him to start busting bad-guy heads (coincidence?).

He's helped and hindered by a decent cast - most you will 'sort of' recognise, such as Ronny Cox as the chief baddie 'Cohaagen' and Michael Ironside as his henchman 'Richter.' However, the other main name on the cast is Sharon Stone, only before she really hit the big time by doing that thing with her legs. Plus, keep an eye out for Dean 'Hank from Breaking Bad' Norris as a mutant with an odd face. And, while we're on the subject of keeping an eye on mutants, get ready for a chuckle when it comes to an alien prostitute with, er, 'extra assets.'

'Total Recall's' strength is its blend of - obviously - Arnie and the cast, but also the fact that the action is top notch (all delivered with that trademark 'tongue in cheek' method Arnie and many others like him delivered in the eighties/nineties, yet is - sadly - missing from much of today's action movies). It's a joy to see the practical special effects instead of blurred CGI (even if a couple of them do look a little dated by today's standards). However, it's the film's soundtrack that really gets the blood pumping and is up there with the best of them.

Ignore the completely unnecessary remake (even though it - technically - wasn't that bad and had Bryan 'Walter White' Cranston in it!) and settle down for some old school sci-fi action that only those with a real aversion to cracking popcorn-munching romps could possibly not get some fun out of. They really don't make them like they used to.
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S.W.A.T. (2003)
Just big, dumb (action) fun
21 February 2019
I've watched 'S.W.A.T.' so many times and enjoyed it every last one of them. No, that's not me saying that it's a classic film and worthy of future study - it's just fun (if you're into action/co-related films).

Back when Colin Farrell was being touted as someone who could headline a big-budget Hollywood movie, he plays the (overly-macho named, in my opinion) Jim Street - a no nonsense S.W.A.T. team member in L.A. who steps over the line during a high-stakes hostage mission and gets chewed out by his superior (the way all on-screen cop-heroes seem to do at one stage or another!). He's sent to the 'gun cage' for his actions, i.e. taken off active duty while his former partner (played by Jeremy Renner) is just let go from the force.

However, Farrell is soon recruited by Nick Fury (or at least the L.A. S.W.A.T. team's version of our favourite Marvel SHIELD leader), or at least he's recruited by Samuel L Jackson, who has to come up with a 'Dirty Dozen-like' bunch of police misfits for... well, something. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that Jackson assembles a bit of a early 2000s ensemble cast, including Michelle Rodriguez and LL Cool J in order to make sure the bad-guy Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez - an actor who I only knew because he was once dating Kylie Minogue!) stays in chains. Little do they know how many people want to bust him out for a decent price!

One minor gripe is that because Alex Montel is behind bars throughout much of the movie, there's never really much chance for him to interact with our heroes. Instead, the bulk of the film is about the cops and their struggle to overcome their own demons and get along. There may be another bad guy for them to deal with, but, on the off-chance you can't guess who that might be when you sit down to watch, I won't spoil it. Anyway, that's just a minor gripe. Ultimately, what you have here is an action-packed cop-version of the 'Dirty Dozen' where the above bunch of misfits have to conquer their own differences for the greater good (and bust a fair few bad-guys while they're at it).

So, if you're looking for plenty of action and wise cracks, this should suitable quench your thirst of a style of action movie that would probably be more at home in the nineties rather than 2003. It's definitely a good time, but just don't bother with its sequel, as it doesn't carry on the cast's stories and isn't even nearly worthy of the 'S.W.A.T.' name.

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Textbook Spacey
18 February 2019
With all the ups and downs of Kevin Spacey's career, 'Swimming With Sharks' kind of came along before he seemed destined to hit the dizzy heights or the crippling lows. Before he hit the big time with 'American Beauty' he played what would eventually become his 'go to' character, i.e. a sleezebag.

Sadly, if the media are to be believed, life has imitated art, but I like to do my best and separate the art from the artist. So, if you can bring yourself to actually watch a Kevin Spacey film these days, this one will certainly showcase much of the acting talent and stage presence that would cement his 'A-list' credentials.

Spacey plays 'Buddy Ackerman' - a 'Harvey Weinstein-esque' type film producer who is well-known in Hollywood circles (you can write your own comparison gag for that one!). And he's a completely b******d (again, draw your own comparisons!). He treats his staff - and in particular his personal assistants - like dirt. Which is not good news for his latest victim/employee 'Guy' (played by Frank Whaley). Although Spacey is the star that doesn't mean he's the main focus. Whaley is the main character whose life we follow as he tries to juggle actually having a life while carrying out/serving his new 'master.'

The film was set in the mid nineties and it shows. Everything from the haircuts to the suits seal it in its time period. The film's look and feel hasn't aged that well, but at least the story seems pretty timeless of a put-upon employee being mercilessly exploited by his employer. The direction is pretty standard for this type of drama/black comedy/satire and there's no memorable soundtrack to speak of. It does tend to do that thing where it starts near the end, so you can see how the characters end up and the bulk of the film is - technically - long flashbacks for us to see how the characters end up the way they are. Personally, I'd prefer to see the story told in a linear fashion as I thought it didn't really need to have time played about with.

I have to confess that I'd never heard of Frank Whaley before I watched this (and I've never seen himself in anything since!) and he does seem a little out of his league while playing up against Spacey's considerable charisma. Whether you love or hate Spacey (on screen or in real life), this is his baby and it's worth a watch just to see his acerbic put-downs.
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The Monster (2016)
Decent enough little horror
15 February 2019
'The Monster' is a pretty simple little film - a mother (and that term describes the woman in the loosest possible terms, as she can hardly be called 'doting!') takes her daughter for a late night drive across country, only for their car to break down and become victim to a - largely unseen - monster.

Having only the two primary characters does mean that you get a decent amount of time (approximately half the film) to get to know the pair of them before the beastie really starts trying to do its worst. As I eluded to, the mother is pretty much a waste of space at the beginning of the film when we first meet her, so there's plenty of room for her character to grow, so to speak. Plus the little girl who plays her daughter is certainly a talented young actress who isn't in any way as annoying as about 90% of kids who appear in films these days!

It really is as much of a character piece as it is about the creature. Yes, the nasty ol' monster does show up during the second half of the film and it is pretty decent when it comes to special effects. The film is hardly 'high budget' and they money must have been used for the creature, as it does look quite different to most recognisable on-screen beasties.

The human stars also behave in - I guess you'd call in - a 'sane' way. By that I mean that you (hopefully!) won't be screaming too much at the on-screen characters due to them making all those ludicrously-bad decisions that people always seem to make in horror movies.

However, despite the lack of characters being a plus in that we can really get to know them, it is also a kind of drawback as we - the audience - know that neither of them are going to bite the bullet (or just disappear down the monster's throat) anywhere through the movie (and you'll have to wait until the end to see if they do make it out of this situation).

It's a tense little horror movie that does its best with a limited budget to build characters and not reveal too much of the creature until it ultimately has to. It's possibly a little 'over-long' and could have done with having a few of the more 'filler' scenes left on the cutting room floor, but, overall, anyone who's interested in horror shouldn't feel like they've wasted their time sitting down to this.
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The Signal (2007)
Different enough to be decent
13 February 2019
When I got round to writing this review for 2007's 'The Signal' I actually found that people seemed to either rate it with top marks, or bottom marks - I guess that means that the general consensus is that you either love it or hate it. I wouldn't say that it's the greatest film ever made and the subject matter is hardly reinventing the wheel in terms of horror. However, the way it's done makes it worth a watch if you're into your low-budget horror offerings/B-movies.

The titular 'Signal' is in fact a TV broadcast of weird, trippy colours on everyone's TV screen. So, when the general population encounter such an inconvenience, instead of just putting on a DVD instead, or subscribing to Netflix, they generally go nuts... and generally slice people's throats open with pliers.

It's a film of three acts - even more literally than the general film-making story structure. Although each part follows the same story about a pair of love rival men trying to track down the woman they are both in love with during this hellish apocalypse, each section is directed by a different director. Naturally, this gives the film quite a unique feel, in as much as the style and tone do tend to shift with each segment.

It's important to remember that this is a 'B-movie,' therefore don't go expecting any A-list actors or major special effects here. You probably won't have heard of any of the leads (or at least I hadn't!), but they all do a decent enough job and are quite competent for all their respective roles. What 'budget' this film had attached to it obviously did its best to give us some major (and quite realistically disgusting!) gore splattered here and there, but luckily it never descends into an outright bloodbath.

Overall, if you're in the mood for a pretty dark little horror movie that tries to be as realistic as possible, give this one a go. Although - and this is just my two cents - when I say it's 'dark' I'm mainly referring to the first and third act. I actually found the middle part to be quite tongue-in-cheek with plenty of 'black' humour thrown in there. So, sit back, enjoy the shifts in tone and the characters' perception of reality as this mysterious signal scrambles their brains and forces them to question reality with some pretty gruesome consequences.
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Lord of War (2005)
Uber-restrained Cage
12 February 2019
Nicolas Cage has had an up and down career over the ages - well, mainly 'down' these day, but, back when he could still headline a movie that wasn't released straight-to-DVD, he did 'Lord of War.' It's mainly a drama, but there are certainly elements of satire and almost black comedy sprinkled liberally here and there. Cage plays your average lovable international arms dealer who's happily selling weapons of mass destruction around the world while enjoying the fruits of his efforts (much to the disapproval of a long-suffering Interpol agent, played by Ethan Hawke, who's constantly hot on his trail).

There's a reason Nicolas Cage won an Oscar and could prop up even the weakest of scripts with his acting ability and here it shines through. It's definitely one of his last (best) films where the whole show lies upon his shoulders. Granted, he's got a bit of a reputation of - how best to put this - going a little 'over the top' with his acting performances, however, here he's actually pretty restrained compared to some of he previous output.

Even though it's Nic's show through and through, there is a pretty decent cast around him. Besides the already-mentioned Ethan Hawke (who's not in it as much as he probably should be), there's also Jared Leto and Ian Holm, both who put in good performances considered the amount of screen-time they're afforded. Cage's on-screen wife is played by Bridget Moynahan who has little to do but look hard done by due to her husband's dodgy lifestyle choices.

It's full of social satire and statements about the way we (as Western nations, I guess) live and run our countries, plus the impact the arms trade (whether it be legal, or Nicolas Cage's way of doing it) has on the countries such weapons end up in the hands of. It's also pretty dark in places and doesn't pull any punches. Just because the majority of the violence caused by such weapons is cleverly edited out, we can get the full horror of the regimes who desire to buy illegal weapons such as machine guns and grenades.

It's hardly an uplifting film, but Cage does what he does best and makes it worth a re-watch or two with his charming portrayal of someone who deliberately blinds himself to the horrors of what he's doing, simply to further his own lavish lifestyle - hardly a heroic protagonist, but then I guess that's what the film's trying to say.
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The greatest film ever made
11 February 2019
Okay, so 'Snakes on a Plane' may not - sadly - be recognised as 'the greatest film ever made' - I may have slightly exaggerated that one. However, it is a shining example of a film that tells you everything you need to know about it from four words alone. You probably don't even need to watch any form of trailer to know whether you're going to enjoy it or not. Therefore, if the prospect of a plane filled with poisonous snakes slithering after a load of hapless passengers then you really shouldn't even consider sitting down to watch it.

However, if - like me - you sometimes feel like putting your brain 'on hold' for an hour and a half and want to watch something completely silly and completely implausible then you should definitely give it a go. If you need to know anything about 'the plot' then it centres around Samuel L Jackson playing an FBI agent (or basically playing Samuel L Jackson - he doesn't really put much extra effort into his performance, but - who cares - we all love him for what he does!) who has to transport a vital witness (via plane, of course) across America in order to get him to testify against some gangster or other. However, said bad-man decides the best way to stop this witness from ever fingering him in court would be to 'take down' the whole plane with a whole crate of poisonous snakes who will bite every last passenger.

Now, if you're wondering how a film with such a simple premise can stretch itself out into over an hour and a half long, it can. Believe it or not, it does have a little more (and only a little!) depth than you may think. Yes, many of the snakes are CGI and yes, most of the victims' characters are hardly 'well-developed' during the story and it even succumbs to some typical horror cliches such as 'have sex and die,' but there's just something so damn enjoyable about this film that you can pretty much forgive every last minor gripe about it.

As I said, Samuel L Jackson doesn't have to reach far to play this FBI agent - he's basically playing a cross between himself and the same character he plays in almost every other film he's in. But - most importantly - he seems to be having fun. And that's what shines through - not just with him, but in the whole film. It never tries to be anything other than a daft popcorn movie and it succeed completely. It's Jackson's baby through and through, as you probably won't remember a single other person on the flight once the credits have rolled. There is a woman from UK TV's 'Peep Show' and David Koechner is always worth a watch, but, apart from them, it's hardly an 'ensemble' cast.

As I said, the title tells you everything you should need to know about the film. If you choose to watch it and you find you don't enjoy it, I'd be very surprised. It's worth it alone from Jackson's delivery of the now famous line, 'I have had it with those xxxxx snakes on this xxxx plane!' Classic.
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Inferior, but enjoyable sequel
6 February 2019
For some reason, despite being a fan of both (actor) Kurt Russell and (writer/director) John Carpenter, I never really went for their team-up movie 'Escape from New York' back in the seventies. On paper it had everything I was looking for in a film, but it just left me cold. However, I was in the minority there and plenty of people lord it as a 'classic' dystopian action/sci-fi film of the seventies. Now we come to the sequel, 'Escape From L.A.' around twenty years later. Sequels normally have trouble living up to the original, let alone if there's a huge gap between them ('Basic Instinct 2' I'm looking at you).

Unfortunately, 'Escape From L.A.' kind of came and went from the public's conscious and no one really noticed. It never came close to generating such fondness with audiences and is generally considered a 'flop' in filmic terms. Even though I'm no 'mega fan' of the original, I can see why people enjoyed it. Maybe it's because I don't have as much love for Snake Plissken's original outing that I can appreciate the sequel and not expect so much from it. And I do think that setting your expectations quite low is the key to enjoying it. It's certainly no classic, but there are definitely worse out there.

The first time around Kurt Russell played snarling anti-hero 'Snake Plissken' as he was recruited against his will by the Government and forced to rescue the President from the - now sealed off - city of New York. Guess what, this time round he has to rescue someone from L.A. (and defuse some sort of nuke-type device - it's not that relevant!). So, expect more (one-eyed) snarling from our protagonist, plenty of gun-play and the odd one-liner thrown in to show that the film kind of knows that it doesn't take itself too seriously.

Along the way, Snake encounters plenty of colourful characters to aid and/or hamper his quest. Steve Buscemi is right up there as the main one that you'll remember, playing his typical 'wise-guy' kind of wheeler-dealer who you never know which side he's really on (besides his own!). However, my personal favourite was the group of humans who became addicted to plastic surgery in Hollywood and now are constantly hunting victims to steal their bodyparts. This gang is headed by (the ever-awesome) Bruce Campbell. Here, my only complaint is that this plotline isn't explored enough - seriously, I could have watched a whole film that revolved round this aspect! In fact, most people Snake meets are enjoyable to watch and add to the story... possibly apart from the one person who matters, i.e. the villain. He's about the most paper-thin character of them all and, when you have someone as iconic as Snake as the lead, you really need to look hard for that special kind of villain to match him.

'Escape From L.A.' does feel a little dated now, especially when it comes to special effects. These basically aren't that special. Most are blatantly shot up against a bluescreen and it does tend to drag you out of the action. As do the numerous establishing shots of a post-apocalyptic L.A. which are obviously just drawings.

However, it is just a B-movie and, if you keep telling yourself that then there's definitely entertainment to be found here, even if this is probably the last time you'll see Snake Plissken in action on the big screen (Box Office returns, combined with Kurt Russel's age, seem to dictate that this will be the last!).
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Machete (2010)
Just soooo much fun!
4 February 2019
Where do I begin with this movie? Perhaps the title? 'Machete' is a simple enough name for a film that, despite what it appears at first glance, is not that simple. It started life as a 'mock trailer' made as part of a homage to a pair of 'Grindhouse' films by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez ('Death Proof' and 'Planet Terror') and, no, I've never heard of 'Grindhouse' until those films! Anyway, I digress... 'Machete' was a trailer advertising an insanely powerful Mexican anti-hero (Danny Trejo) by the name of 'Machete' who happily blasts his way through wave upon wave of faceless henchmen in the most gory and over-the-top fashion possible.

In short, it hardly took itself seriously, knowing that it was completely unbelievable and deliberately gory, with plenty of cheesy one-liners and, well, over-the-top action. In fact... 'over-the-top' was its byword. And, despite 'Death Proof' and 'Planet Terror' being successes in their own right (my personal favourite being 'Planet Terror') it seemed that there was an appetite to adapt the trailer into a full-length feature. And here's the result.

Danny Trejo is hardly a 'household' name, but that's nothing new in B-movies. However, what is different is the amount of big names the script has attracted. If ever there was a measure as to whether a script was any good, it's whether it can attract A-list stars. It's hard to believe that Robert DeNiro is in this - granted he only pops up here and there, but he's clearly enjoying the ride, as are the rest of the cast. Expect to see Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez and Steven Seagal all doing their bit to aid or hamper Machete's quest to take down a ruthless gang of armed thugs who want to gun down Mexican migrants as they make their way to America.

If ever a film captured the sheer essence of the trailer then 'Machete' is a perfect example. If you love B-movies that refuse to take themselves seriously, then 'Machete' is for you. It's wonderfully exaggerated and full of gore, violence, nudity and profanity. So, if any of those things offends you then you're better off steering clear. If you're unsure as to whether or not you'll like it, track down the original trailer (probably available for free on YouTube) and, if it tickles your fancy, then you'll definitely enjoy the 'real thing' (and the sequel - that's pretty damn fine, too). Just wondering where the final chapter of the trilogy is these days?
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Polar (2019)
Colourful comic carnage
1 February 2019
Even since Liam Neeson put down his pipe and slippers and started wiping out scores of henchmen at least a third of his age (ala 'Taken') there's been a bit of a trend in Hollywood action films to cast an older hero in the lead. I've seen films where Sean Penn and Nicholas Cage basically follow in Neeson's footsteps and now it looks like it's the turn of Mads Mikkelsen to pick a gun or twenty and go on a murderous rampage of revenge.

The story isn't anything new. He's a hitman who gets doublecrossed by is own side and now a team of hitmen is hunting our hitman. Apparently, it's based on a Dark Horse comic and I haven't read that, so I can't say how closely it sticks to the source material, but it certainly does its best to make itself LOOK like a comic book. Seriously, I don't know exactly how they've done it, but it must have something to do with exposing certain colours and using filter-trickery. Anyway, the film is soooo colourful. The director deliberately highlights plenty of primary colours to make it look like a 'living comic book.' Pretty cool really!

And, just like so many comic books, it's totally over the top. You really will have to suspend your disbelief and appreciate that nothing is really going to be particularly 'realistic' here. The blood is over the top, the character design is over the top and the gore is very over the top. In fact, it might be worth noting that there's a few scenes of quite graphic torture and you may need a strong stomach to get through them!

Mikkelsen has to protect the compulsory damsel in distress, played by a (practically unrecognisable!) Vanessa Hudgens (in fact, I didn't even know it was her until I saw her name in the end credits!). While the head villain is played by British comedy actor Matt Lucas, who's clearly enjoying himself as a 'Little Britain' style villain.

There's plenty of great (and, as I've said, over the top) action and my favourite scene was the one with the 'green lasers.' You'll have to watch it to see what I mean, but it reminded me of the 'best' scene from Arnie's 'Eraser' film. There's a team of cool badguy assassins who are on Mikkelsen's case and I would have liked to see more of them really.

It is quite a long film and maybe it could have been edited down here and there, plus there are about two scenes where I really did have to suspend my disbelief a little too much to get through it (both involved scores of totally incompetent henchmen being totally unable to hit Mikkelsen even when they have many clear shots on him). However, those are just minor gripes. Overall, 'Polar' is a lot of fun and even makes me want to see what the comics are like. Great fun, just sit back, put your brain 'on hold' and enjoy (especially if you're a fan of other similar movies like 'Shoot 'em Up' and the 'Crank' series).
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A new breed of hero (that isn't a duck)
30 January 2019
As much a Ben Affleck has come in for criticism over the years, it's fair to say that, given the right script (and/or the right part or director), he is actually capable of being more than just a passable leading man (even despite what that song said about him in 'Team America: World Police!'). Therefore, it's no surprise that he'd want to keep the momentum of his acting ability rolling by taking roles that may require a little more than just showing up and looking good.

We've seen plenty of films about hitmen and plenty of those involve a - practically indestructible - leading man taking on scores of faceless bad guys with precision accuracy and never so much as getting a scratch. 'The Accountant' could quite easily slip into this kind of genre. However, what sets it apart is that our protagonist (Affleck) is both a hitman, due to his overbearing father taking extreme measures at getting him to 'toughen up' and ensure he doesn't spend the rest of his life getting picked on or taken advantage and also an accountant. If you're wondering why those two professions somehow work so well, it's because Affleck plays an autistic hitman/accountant who's therefore not just a bit socially awkward, but also amazing with figures on balance sheets and killing people with sniper rifles.

And, our heroic pen-pusher gets tangled up in a job that involves both his professions when he audits some shady company's books and gets more than he bargained for when the company's director (played by the seemingly ever-evil John Lithgow) decides to 'fire' their new accountant (in more ways than one!).

There's definitely plenty of like about 'The Accountant.' It's not just the run-of-the-mill action/hitman story that it could have been, as the whole 'autism' element does add an extra layer as to why Affleck's character is like he is. However, an accountant-hitman's life is never easy and a fellow hitman (Jon Bernthal) is hot on his case. I've been a big fan of Jon Bernthal since 'The Walking Dead' and he really does seem to be having a lot of fun in this role and it's a pity he's not in it more than he is. Instead, much of the plot isn't taken up with the Affleck vs Bernthal, but with the 'love interest' for Affleck played by Anna Kendrick. I have nothing against her as she's a perfectly capable actress, however it just seemed that this element of the film really was crowbarred in, just to add a love story into something that didn't really need it.

Overall, 'The Accountant' is certainly different enough to be worth a watch if you're a fan of Affleck or the genre itself. However, whereas the premise is slightly original, the execution does contain the usual clich├ęs you'd expect with a film like this.
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You have two ways of looking at this film
29 January 2019
I've only just got round to watching 'Ordinary Decent Criminal.' I know I'm a little late to the party, but, for some reason, I've only just heard about it. However, whereas most older films would probably be judged at how well they've held up over time, this one seems to be entirely judged on whether you (now) like Kevin Spacey or not.

Yes, he's the lead and, as usual, he turns in a fine performance (this time doing a near flawless Irish accent). But times have not been kind to this once great actor's reputation and it seems that quite a few people have 'review-bombed' this (and maybe others?) of his simply based on his personal life alone. Whatever he may or may not have done in his private life, he's still a great actor and, if you can get past that, you should enjoy this film.

Spacey plays 'Michael Lynch' - a career criminal who, despite being only too happy to steal from the rich, is actually a nice, family man who dotes on his wife and kids. Naturally, for someone who's spent their life on the wrong side of the law, the police are well on to him and will go to any lengths to (finally) bring him to justice. Therefore, him and his gang (including a young and not that well-used Colin Farrell) hatch a masterplan to steal some priceless paintings which will set them up for life.

It's a decent enough crime caper with some touching moments and a few laughs along the way - most derived from Spacey's performance as a loveable rogue. He, as so often, is the complete star of the show and carries the film single-handedly. This would probably be a straight-to-DVD affair if it wasn't for his name and presence attached.

About my only real gripe with the film came near the end when the 'plan' was all coming together. A few times it felt like coincidence played a bigger part in its success/failure than actually planning and a lot of things would have had to have gone conveniently right for it to work.

However, if you can suspend your disbelief enough to ignore that, plus try to remind yourself that you're judging the film on the characters and story, rather than who's portraying them, then this is a nice enough little film to pass the time.
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Daybreakers (2009)
B-movie fun
24 January 2019
First there was Bram Stoker. Then, out of his legend, came the 'Twilight' franchise. Since then we've had good vampires, bad vampires, modern vampires, vampires in space, zombie-vampires and pretty much every other version of the monster you could care to imagine. With a genre where we've basically seen it all, 'Daybreakers' does try to do something a bit different with such a tried and tested formula.

Basically, vampires rule the world now (and, no, that's not another reference to the 'Twilight' franchise!). The 'virus' which turns a human into a bloodthirsty creature of the night has spread to almost everyone and now the vamps are almost to the point of extinction due to their ever dwindling (human) food source getting smaller by the day.

Ethan Hawke plays our lead vamp, Edward Dalton, someone who works for one of the many companies that are trying to produce a synthetic substitute to blood, while at the same time rationing out the remaining 'livestock' (if you know what I mean). Luckily for humanity, Dalton is a vampire with a conscious. He feels sorry for those reduced to mere two-legged cattle and gets involved with a resistant movement who even boast of finding a 'cure' to the plague.

It's a neat premise and it does the best it can. I've seen it a few times now and enjoyed it every time. However, despite treating it like a bit of a 'guilty pleasure-type' film, I always think there's something missing. Maybe the script needs a little polishing? Maybe the idea is just too big to be contained in one simple hour and a half B-movie film. Perhaps it would have made a better TV show where the characters and world they inhabit can be fleshed out a bit more?

As will as Hawkes, the film also has Willam Defoe as the (not particularly fleshed-out) leader of the resistance and Sam Neill as cliched evil villain in a suit #836. Both do the best with what they're give, but, as you can probably guess with my tone, they're hardly given much to work with. The special effects can't be faulted. There aren't too many visual effects which will wow you and it's just a case of adapting the world around us to reflect how it would look if vampires were in charge.

Overall, it's fun if you're a fan of vampires and want something a little different. But, just don't forget that it is just a glorified B-movie, so don't go expecting too much.
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The Great Wall (I) (2016)
Its middle name is 'action'
24 January 2019
I'm writing a review of 'The Great Wall' a day after I've watched it. I fear that if I leave it much longer I probably won't remember much about it. Apart from the action. There's a lot of action. I'll probably be mentioning action quite a lot over the following paragraphs. Sorry.

I'm guessing 'The Great Wall' is hardly what you'd call 'historically accurate' as - apparently - that big ol' wall in ancient China was actually built to keep out the monsters. Which monsters? Well, a whole army of green scaly computer-generated ones which charge obediently into human fire.

And, these mean old beasties are doing pretty well for themselves, despite the fact that a beautifully-dressed army of Chinese warriors have pledged their lives to defending the wall and the nation it protects. Luckily for all us two-legged types, Matt Damon (and another bloke) arrive one day to sort this mess out.

The whole film is 'by the numbers.' And, before you think I'm totally slating it for being so generic, wait - because it's actually quite fun. Yes, its plot is wafer-thin and if you ever seen any film ever then you'll know every plot point that comes, i.e. one of the Chinese warriors is a beautiful woman who is ripe to fall for Damon's western charm. There's the protective father figure who... okay, just on the off-chance you can't guess what happens to him, I won't spoil it for you.

I mentioned the uniforms the human wear because I was particularly impressed with them. I doubt this film would ever receive an Oscar is a million years, but I reckon whoever designed the costumes should at least get a nod here and there. However, what the film has in costumes it lacks in computer effects. Yes, it's clearly got a budget and that's gone on creating vast backdrops and waves upon waves of mindless baddies. However, it's pretty obvious and, unless you're not that bothered about iffy effects, you'll definitely know when the actors are in front (and probably fighting) in front of a green-screen.

Basically, if you're looking for a film that has loads of battles where armies of humans fight hordes of monsters then you'll get that right here. Just don't expect anything in the way of originality of deep and meaningful story-telling here. Action and costumes all the way.
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Network (1976)
Still relevant today (almost)
23 January 2019
I know it's very controversial to actually want a classic film to be remade and, although 1976's 'Network' still holds up in today's world, the problem with social commentary is that it only applies to the time period it was written about. Now, it does feel a little dated and you could almost see the same film being rewritten with social media (for example) being the central theme, rather than a big cable news network.

In 'Network' a news anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) has, what could be described as a 'nervous breakdown' live on air and he ends up spouting off 'anti-establishment' rhetoric which went against the powers in control of the organisation. Instead of firing him (which they nearly did!) they decide to 'use' him and give him his own on-air 'soapbox' in an attempt to keep their enemies closer and, if possible, control him.

The other two central characters are played by Faye Dunaway as heartless corporate executive Diana Christensen and a slightly more torn corporate executive played by William Holden, as Max Schumacher. Dunaway is possibly far more memorable as the 'evil' one of the pair, but each have a role to play as they offer both sides of the moral aspect of their actions concerning what to do with their 'pawn' Howard Beale.

The film is pretty standard when it comes to direction. There's no real neat camera tricks used that make the film stand out and possibly the editing is the only thing that bothered me. The film is quite long and it does tend to drag in places here and there. It's a bit up and down as you get one classic scene which will stay with you forever, followed by one that doesn't really go anywhere.

If you're at all interested in the media and its recent (well, 1970s) history then you'll definitely enjoy this. There is definitely relevance here as to how one person can start trends in order to 'fight back against the powers that be' only to be corrupted completely by the very people he's trying to make a stand against. I definitely think that a modern remake may be interesting (if it was handled right) and social media would be the subject of how the masses are influenced. However, if the subject doesn't interest you then the performances should make it essential viewing for fans of good cinema.
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Split (IX) (2016)
Contains the most well-publicised 'twist' ever
21 January 2019
Once upon a time, film-maker M. Night Shyamalan could do no wrong. Then, almost as abruptly, he could do no right. He made 'The Visit' which some claimed went some way to regain his previously excellent reputation, but it wasn't until 'Split' which really reinforced that he was back in business.

His early films became synonymous with having a 'twist' at the end - one that you never saw coming. However, once audiences got wise to this trait, he stopped trying - especially when the twists became a little too over the top to be believable. 'Split' has, what you might call, a 'twist.' And, once this became common knowledge, it seemed to help the film snowball and become much bigger than its initial predictions. Whereas most people respected others enough not to let slip the ending to Shyamalan's earlier films such as 'The 6th Sense' and 'Unbreakable,' reviews seemed to be only too happy to give the ending away in order to help promote it. So, with that view mind, I too will let everyone know that the ending implies that 'Split' is actually (a kind of indirect) sequel to 'Unbreakable.'

However, it's definitely not a requisite to have watched Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson's 2001 outing in order to understand 'Split.' Here, James McAvoy plays a man who suffers from 'multiple personality disorders.' To be precise he has 23 personalities, most completely bonkers, but even his worst doesn't compare to the 24th personality which is on its way. He then kidnaps three teenage girls and they have to work out how to escape before this psychotic 24th personality comes into play.

And that's about it. You can kind of guess how everything plays out (especially now I've given away the ending - sorry!). There's actually not that much there in terms of story-telling. However, it's not all bad - mainly due to McAvoy's performance. I know that some people have called his switching from one personality to the other 'Oscar worthy.' I'm not sure how much he should have at least been nominated, but I did enjoy his performance and he puts his all into the role.

This contrasts to the three girls who are pretty forgettable. One gets more screentime and backstory than the other two - guess why that is? But, anyway, seeing as the film can't just be the girls failed escape attempts piled on top of each other, until one or more ultimately either gets away or dies trying, it gets padded out by plenty of flashbacks of McVoy's character visiting his psychiatrist for various exposition segments.

I know a lot of people have loved this film and heaped praise on it. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it and would probably watch it again some time. However, I wouldn't say it's as revolutionary as some are making out. It's long and a little drawn out at time. But, McVoy is clearly able to carry the film and the fact that it's linked to 'Unbreakable' add extra points, so to speak. It also sets up the final part of what is going to be a trilogy and will certainly get me ready to watched the upcoming concluding part, 'Glass.'
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Freeway (1996)
He'll huff and he'll puff
12 January 2019
'Freeway' came out in 1996 and somehow I completely missed it. Either it never got a particularly promoted theatrical or VHS release, or it just wasn't very popular in the UK. So, when I sat down to watch a film that was basically twenty years old, I wondered how it would hold up after all that time. I was pleased to say that I was actually quite impressed.

'Freeway' (believe it or not) is actually based on the fairytale 'Little Red Riding Hood.' Now, that's not just what the critics said about it when they were trying to fish for 'deeper meaning' in what is technically a drama/thriller-type film which spans numerous genres. It's actually highly prominent that this film is based on the fable right from the start when we see a character watching a retelling of the story on TV. For the first twenty minutes or so, the two stories almost align completely (albeit in a much more 'adult' nature)... We have Reese Witherspoon in a red leather jacket as 'Vanessa Lutz,' a teenager who comes from a broken home with a drug addict for a mother and a step-father who's intentions towards his adopted daughter are hardly benign. When the pair of them are arrested, she has no one to look after her apart from her grandmother. Therefore she sets off on a road trip across the state in order to see her relative.

Of course no 'Red Riding Hood' tale would be complete without the 'Big Bad Wolf.' Here, he's perfectly played by Kiefer Sutherland as 'Bob Wolverton' (do you see the pun there in his name?). He offers her a ride when her car breaks down and we find that she's been picked up by the only man who has lower morals than her step-dad.

Like I say, that's basically the first half. The second part does tend to start moving away from the source material. I'm guessing there's hardly enough to be drawn out into an hour and a half, so the film-makers certainly take even more creative liberties with what they've got to work with (the 'Red Riding Hood' aspect comes back again towards the end of the film).

'Freeway' still stands up today, simply because of the gusto both leads put into their performances. It's clear that they're both enjoying what they've got to work with and are giving it their all. Personally, I found some of the plot (in the latter half) a little bit far-fetched, but when the inspiration is a fairytale, I guess you can hardly expect 100% total realism. But that's just a minor grip. 'Freeway' spans multiple genres, but if you're into suspending your disbelief to enjoy a thriller which realise does utilise its stars to the max, give this one a go.
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