REBIRTH OF MOTHRA II is different enough from the first film to work. This time around there's a watery feel to the proceedings, with an undersea kingdom risen from the waves and a new sea-dragon called Dagarla to contend with. The fairy characters from the first film are back, both good and evil, but the kids are new and there are a couple of goofy adult characters along for the ride too. I didn't care for the human characters at all in this one but there's an absolute ton of monster and FX action to see it through, particularly in the latter half of the proceedings. Just remember that this is aimed squarely at kids with all of the '90s cheesiness that entails and you'll have a good time.
BAD ASSES is the sequel to the first low budget Danny Trejo movie, a smaller budgeted but in some ways more charming film than MACHETE. This time around Trejo is back, once more working as a vigilante against a sinister criminal organisation headlined by the more than welcome Andrew Divoff, of WISHMASTER fame. The good news is that this time around Danny Glover's along for the ride; he's extensively doubled in any of the action scenes, but still funny in the comedy. It's a low rent and familiar film, nothing particularly special about it, a pleasant time waster if you like the stars.
VOYAGE OF THE ROCK ALIENS is a goofy, dated B-movie sci-fi musical of the kind that could only come from the 1980s. In style and tone it feels very GREASE, like they were hoping for that kind of success from that kind of format, although the music is pure '80s rock and the trappings feel '60s-ish at times. The hairstyles and costumes are out of this world and that's even before the aliens show up. Pia Zadora is someone I'm unfamiliar with but the camera loves her here and the whole film is full of vibrancy and finger-snapping tunes. You're going to love or hate this one.
I think this show's been developing quite well over the first season, only let down by a slightly padded out storyline and lots and lots of unnecessary close-ups of Elizabeth Moss's face; if they cut these out the episodes would be half their length. There's more back story and character development here, which works well, alongside some much-needed political material which really serves to broaden the show's horizons. Good stuff.
THE GUN's got quite an interesting little plot which is a bit unfocused at times but generally works. It reminds me a little bit of an updated version of the old '50s standby where a kid finds an abandoned gun and a manhunt develops as a result. Except this one's a lot harder-hitting with all of the brutal violence that the show is known for.
CLONE is a low budget relationship drama with a science fiction twist imposing a moral dilemma on the story: a young woman's boyfriend dies in a horrific car accident, and she then decides to have him cloned, bearing the clone herself in her own womb, thus giving birth to both her son and her replicated boyfriend at the same time. It's an interesting, psychologically complex story for sure, ending on a shocking but inevitable note, but the execution is far from what I hoped. This plays out as a slow burner with a minimum of drama and tension, instead focused on peripheral characters and performances. Eva Green is very good as she always is, but the rest are less assured and Matt Smith ends up resorting to his DR WHO schtick, which is quite the embarrassment. It should have been better.
Episode five is in some ways the finest yet, although the quality of certain scenes is tempered by the endless padding elsewhere. Previously, the flashbacks have always been more interesting than the current action, whereas this time around the current story is by far more interesting. The flashbacks consist of goofy, dreary romance which plays no part in the show at all - we don't need more character building, as Offred is already well covered in that regard. However, the "joyriding" sequence at the market is expertly played out, and the climax, although gratuitously handled, at least sees our heroine properly rebelling for the first time.
THE WALKING DECEASED is a terrible low budget indie spoof of THE WALKING DEAD, with a main character randomly shoehorned in from the film WARM BODIES to boot. It's a film that suffers from consistently poor writing from beginning to end, which makes it an embarrassment to sit through. The humour is puerile at best, the gags forecast a mile off, and the whole thing feels like an amateurish mess that never gets off the ground. While the TV show on which this is based is ripe for spoofery, in the hands of these buffoons this feels more like a witless rip-off than genuinely humorous.
Better than the previous episode, SLUSH FUND has a good blend of humour, chases, action and suspense in the story of a reporter who's got a very interesting story to tell and the South African hitman on his trail. Stuart Wilson - a suave but menacing presence - is the big guest star here, alongside TV favourite Lynda Bellingham in a much smaller role. The episode is well balanced over all, a typical example of the show at its most reliable.
THE BOW is another intriguing, superbly artistic and small-scale drama from auteur Kim Ki-duk, one of my favourite directors of all time. This has similarities in plot to classics like SPRING, SUMMER, AUTUMN, WINTER...AND SPRING and THE ISLE, but overall tells a story that is more gentle and more romantic. Essentially it's a love triangle on a fishing boat, with barely any dialogue, but Ki-duk uses the sparse plot elements to create something impossibly deep, sometimes profound, and very beautiful. The performances are spot on, particularly from the young actress who has so much on her shoulders, and the whole film is a visual treat.
There are still interesting scenes in this episode, but too much of it feels padded - do we really need lengthy scenes of Offred locked in her bedroom where barely anything's happening to her anyway? The flashbacks remain interesting and well documented and the quality of the acting is very good, but you can't help but feel they're dragging their feet on this one.
Michelle Newell makes a stand-out impression in an otherwise stock episode about South American terrorists who must be stopped before they take down another target. This is a slow-paced one with only a few lively moments; it feels more like a character drama or romance at times and certainly isn't what we've come to expect. The main points of interest are one-scene cameos from both Ruby Wax and Pierce Brosnan at his most youthful.
THE MEDUSA TOUCH is an excellent and understated addition to the wave of 'psychic thrillers' doing the rounds in the late 1980s and early 1980s, so remarkable because it's unlike any of the others. This is by parts a mystery story, a dark personal history, a horror flick and even a disaster movie come the end stages. Richard Burton appears mostly in flashback but mesmerises in even this small part, while Lino Ventura as the Columbo-style French detective is a thoroughly enderaring and engaging lead. The unusual structure keeps you on your toes, the mystery unfolding at just the right pace, and the ensemble supporting cast is extraordinary; kudos in particular to Lee Remick and Harry Andrews in stand-out parts. Great stuff all round, this.
The third episode takes time to deepen character and offers our heroine some respite, although the pacing is so slow that I'm actively glad of the flashbacks revealing how both she and society came to be in this state, which are far more exciting than the present-day material. The ending of the episode is inevitable but nonetheless has a certain power to it.
BLACK OUT is notable for featuring an important guest role for none other than Linda Hayden, the cult actress beloved to many fans for her appearances in the likes of BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW. Hayden plays a distraught woman who wanders into a church and collapses in the memorable opening sequence - given that she's only wearing a skimpy bikini, the vicar nearly has a heart attack! What follows adopts a mystery template with some decent action mixed in. Solid stuff, as usual.
BROTHERHOOD is a decent contemporary crime flick from Shaw Brothers, featuring Tony Liu who always convinces more in contemporary fare than he does in the historical flicks he appears in. The story moves at a fair old clip, beginning with a gang of jewel thieves who end up mostly dead thanks to various double-crossings, and this is all in the first ten minutes or so. Liu and his buddy Ai Fei head off to Kowloon, where they soon get involved in a plot involving rival gangs. The supporting cast is very good, with Lily Li standing out as a romantic interest who kicks backside with the best of them, and plenty of reliable tough actors including Chan Shen and Chiang Tao. The plot delves into the usual backstabbing and power struggles and remains fresh and involving despite the familiarity of the subject matter; you're never quite sure what's going to happen next. Regular action helps a lot too, especially during the breakneck (literally!) climax.
MOB HANDED is an excruciating British wannabe thriller, made with no budget whatsoever and only of passing interest due to the appearance of numerous TV and film stars of yesteryear, all of them now down on their luck and reduced to appearing in anything for a few coppers. You do get two Boyards for the price of one, Leslie Grantham and Christopher Ellison, although they sadly don't appear in the same scenes together. The rest is populated by stars as diverse as Lysette Anthony, Jess Conrad and Danielle Westbrook, if you can believe that. Lead actress Yvette Rowland gives the worst performance I can ever remember seeing in a movie, particularly in her final, rambling, endless speech which I can probably pinpoint as the worst bit of acting I've watched in my life. It's a pity this is so jaw-droppingly awful, as the subject matter is an extremely serious one and deserves to be dealt with in a respectful way.
KILL KANE has the makings of a decent revenge flick, at least on the page, but in reality it turns out to be a real dog of a movie, far too low budget to succeed as anything at all. A tired Vinnie Jones sleepwalks through the role of a father and family man who loses his loved ones in a shocking home invasion and thereafter goes on a rampage of revenge, taking down druggies and gang members along the way. It's extraordinarily cheap and slapdash, with laughable staging throughout and virtually no kind of action, suspense or momentum at any point; just mindlessness from beginning to end.
The second episode is something of a step down from the first, purely because there's not as much going on here. We get a long birthing scene which feels a little bit too long, almost like padding, although the surprising board game climax works quite well, I thought. Elizabeth Moss I find slightly tiresome as the lead, bettered by the other actresses surrounding her; time will tell if she grows on me as an actress.
TAKE AWAY is the second episode to deal with the Chinese, this time around focusing in a Triad gang who need infiltrating to be taken down. The usual everyday racism and stereotypes abound, along with the unlikely spectacle of Doyle trying to do a bit of kung fu, which doesn't work at all well. The undercover plot gives it a fresher angle than usual and the pacing's decent.
This early Coen Brothers outing is a notable stab at the gangster genre, although as with many nominal gangster movies the gangster material turns out to merely be the background for what is a tale of human character and motivation, of loyalty and redemption, of following and leadership, and of plenty more besides. I found this a little similar to the warring gang plotline of YOJIMBO with the visual flourishes and look of BOARDWALK EMPIRE, and of course Steve Buscemi has a cameo here too. The cast are very good, both from the big names - Finney, Byrne - and the less well known actors, Jon Polito in particular standing out. There's plenty of violence and action for those who like that stuff, but it's the double-crossing and introspection that makes this work.
I should admit that I'm no fan of all of modern independent productions; I've been burned too many times by watching too many truly awful movies to have any affection for the genre. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the rip-roaring SKIN TRAFFIK, which makes up for in heart what it lacks in budget. This was clearly a labour of love for the director, whose attention to detail in the film's many and varied hand-to-hand fight scenes pays off and makes this a thoroughly entertaining movie. Gary Daniels has been a good guy since the 1990s and has still got it here, delivering a gutsy performance and holding his own in the impressive fighting stakes; he even does all his own fights. The supporting cast is quite impressive, with the likes of Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah reuniting after their time in KILL BILL; Mickey Rourke; Alan Ford, you name it, they're probably in here somewhere. The stand-out, though, are the fights, which bring back some of the intensity of an Indonesian or Hong Kong fight flick. Great stuff!
I remember reading THE HANDMAID'S TALE back in my school days and not liking it much; Atwood's book felt to me to be one of the most boring and depressing things out there. Decades later and, having heard good things about this new TV show adaptation, I found myself willing to check it out. Episode 1, OFFRED, gets off to a good start, introducing a whole new dystopian future and generally working by mixing plot, character beats and some violent shocks into a grim but gripping whole.
NEED TO KNOW isn't a particular favourite of mine, dealing as it does with some Chinese spies who are handled in the usual politically incorrect way for the show. The nadir of the episode is a fight scene between the boys and a couple of karate-chopping goons who inevitably get the tables turned on them by our matchless heroes. Otherwise the plot is quite elaborate, but not in an interesting way; it's just something that seems to fill space rather than entertain.
JUGGERNAUT is essentially an indie version of the Steven Spielberg classic DUEL, made without any wit, originality or style. Instead it's a slavish copy of that truck chase film which replaces Dennis Weaver's harrassed family man with a couple of annoying teenage girls who outlive their welcome about three minutes in. The photography is a little better than a lot of similar indies as this obviously has more of a budget, but it never convinces in the action and stunt scenes and in every aspect it pales in comparison to a film made almost fifty years previously.