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Deadpool 2
(2018)

It entertains
DEADPOOL 2 is the sequel to the surprisingly funny superhero spoof starring Ryan Reynolds. Usually I'm not a fan of Reynolds but he fits the role well here and a lot of his quick-wire dialogue is funny, with plenty of satirical and witty humour littered amid the crudity. This sequel is slightly worse than the first film, but at least it's fast-paced and action-packed. The X-Men parallels are fun and the plot keeps you guessing, with a string of quirky supporting characters proving a match for our hero. Hardly a ground-breaking movie, but it does entertain and that's what matters.

In the Name of the King: Two Worlds
(2011)

Oh dear...
TWO WORLDS is the second of the IN THE NAME OF THE KING saga and a sequel to a film that nobody wanted in the first place. Jason Statham has wisely departed but Uwe Boll is back, once again ignoring the basic principles of film-making to instead deliver a cheesy sub-fantasy saga with random action, attempted romance, and very bad CGI effects. It's on par with all of the bad viking films being made over the past decade, or any fantasy works from The Asylum. Poor old Dolph Lundgren has been called in to play the hero, who travels through a worm hole from our world into theirs in order to defeat an evil king. Don't expect any redeeming qualities.

Dark Shadows: Episode #1.422
(1968)
Episode 422, Season 1

Filler again
Episode 422 feels very much like filler, with lots of murkiness and little development surrounding the Barnabas and Josette characters. It all hinges on a ring, of all things, but at least we get Joshua suddenly back and finally doing a bit of detective work himself.

Transgression
(2011)

Merely so-so
TRANSGRESSION is a low budget home invasion thriller made as a co-production between Canada, Italy and Spain. It was shot on a set in Spain and suffers from indifferent direction, all shadows but very little in the way of suspense or atmosphere. Despite being English language already, it was remade by Hollywood as a Nicolas Cage vehicle entitled TRESPASS. The only reason I tuned in was to see Michael Ironside, who delivers another dependable performance as the homeowner forced to confront a gang of violent thieves. There's some extra character work as it turns out the seemingly happily married couple are hiding their own secrets, and Maria Grazia Cucinotta - a former Bond girl - is also effective as his wife. Sadly, a film is only as good as its writing, and this one is merely so-so.

Happy Death Day 2U
(2019)

A sequel too far
I thought the original HAPPY DEATH DAY was a mildly enjoyable spin on the slasher movie, the GROUNDHOG DAY of its genre perhaps. Sadly, this quickly-shot sequel is one that already stretches a thin premise too far. I did like the sound of having one of the original movie's supporting characters involved in his own separate story, but it soon transpires that this is just a way in; after half an hour we're stuck in a virtual reprise of the first movie's plot, albeit with less horror, more science fiction, and a ton more (unwanted) comedy too. I found Jessica Rothe's shrill performance one of the worst things here; she overacts considerably throughout and the director never seems confident enough to rein her in a little. The plot is meandering and jumps from genre to genre without ever being particularly interesting. They should have left things alone after the first film.

Dark Shadows: Episode #1.421
(1968)
Episode 421, Season 1

Once bitten...
Episode 421 carries on the story in a new direction, with an unexpected twist for Josette's character. It's nice to see Victoria come back once more, although her romantic scenes feel more than a little awkward given the gravity of her situation...

Carlos el terrorista
(1979)

A bit different
CARLOS THE TERRORIST is something of an avant garde picture from prolific Mexican director Rene Cardona Jr. It stars Andres Garcia as the titular character, a hitman who finds himself double crossed by his own superiors and going on the run after being pursued by various assassins and the like. It's a pacy little number with plenty of action dotted throughout, from car chases to shootings and explosions, and the biggest surprise is that there's no dialogue from the characters at all, just endless narration explaining what's happening on screen. This is something of a novel approach, one I wasn't sure would work too well, but work it does. Not a great film, and certainly poor quality if you can even find it these days, but an interesting one.

Dark Shadows: Episode #1.420
(1968)
Episode 420, Season 1

Too soapy
Episode 420 isn't too interesting given that most of the fun characters are kept off the screen for the most part. Millicent and the newly-introduced Suki are more annoying than endearing and the episode is full of the soap opera-style writing that drags this show down at times.

Dark Shadows: Episode #1.419
(1968)
Episode 419, Season 1

Minor
Episode 419 slows things down a little, with Barnabas on the backburner, moping around a lot while Josette looks perplexed. The focus seems to be on superficial and minor female characters who don't really cut it in comparison to what's come before.

Hotel Mumbai
(2018)

Gripping true story
HOTEL MUMBAI is a big-budget dramatic retelling of the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, in which a group of young men, radicalised by their sinister minder in Pakistan, arrive in Mumbai to kill as many people as possible. Most of the action takes place within the corridors of the sumptuous hotel, which is more like a palace, and realism is crucial throughout. I've seen criticism that some feel this film takes an exploitative approach, but I couldn't disagree more. It tells the story in a non-sensationalised way, refusing to dwell on violence and presenting the events that play out in a matter of fact fashion. The performances are sufficiently subdued to be convincing, and the heart warms from moments of heroism and courage amid the carnage.

The Old Man & the Gun
(2018)

Passes the time
THE OLD MAN & THE GUN is a light and mildly entertaining true life story about an old-timer who robbed a series of banks, as well as staging a series of jailbreaks, throughout the latter half of the 20th century. It's essentially a showcase for a spirited Robert Redford, who delivers a layered and assured performance even at his advanced age, although I prefer him in more challenging material like ALL IS LOST. Still, this is amusing enough, with some nice appearances from other old-timers like Sissy Spacek and Danny Glover, and it passes the time amiably enough.

Black Panther
(2018)

Marvel's groundbreaker...
BLACK PANTHER is well known as the first Marvel film featuring a black superhero, well supported by an almost all-black cast. Whether it stands up on its own as a decent film is another matter, however. In fact, I found this quite sloppy at times, despite all of the effort and talent involved with its conception. I liked the idea of the hidden African kingdom well enough, although too much time is spent on set up and I think they should have just hit the ground running as they've done in other Marvel movies.

The film is replete with action scenes, from hand-to-hand combat to a big car chase through the streets of Busan. The cast put in assured performances and can't really be faulted either. However, I was expecting more from the special effects, which aren't so special at times; the climactic scenes of the fighting rhinoceri reminded me unfavourably of the STAR WARS prequels at times. The writing is also a mixed bag, moving smoothly in Bond-style man-on-a-mission scenes but otherwise stalling, never quite achieving the gravitas it so desperately wants. It feels very much like Marvel knew they were taking a gamble with this one, so tried very hard to please everybody, but the end result is merely perfunctory.

Halloween
(2018)

Adequate
HALLOWEEN is the latest reboot/sequel to the John Carpenter classic, and that it manages to be an enjoyable, adequate watch says a lot for the way this franchise has been driven into the ground. This one's notable for ignoring all of the silly conspiracy threads and theories of the many sequels, instead going back to basics. Jamie Lee Curtis is back as Laurie Strode, a kind of survivalist in the Sarah Connor mould, waiting for Myers to come back as she knows he will. The rest of the film is well made by Blumhouse Productions, quite classily directed and taking time to build suspense over endless gore effects, which I appreciated. There are problems, like boring youthful characters, random unnecessary humour and wonky writing at times, but the scare scenes manage to be ominous and I did like the way the climax keeps on referencing events of the original.

Dead Drop
(2013)

It doesn't get much cheaper
DEAD DROP is another B-movie action flick, cheap enough to look independent. The star is none other than former Bros frontman Luke Goss, looking particularly chiselled in this one. He begins the movie by falling from a plane and somehow surviving, before the rest of the film moves into flashback territory to reveal how he got into that situation in the first place. It's a familiar story of betrayal and special operations, laced with Bourne-influenced fight sequences which are never as bad as they could have been, although there's way too much of the shaky camerawork to overcompensate the budgetary deficiencies. Cole Hauser also shows up in a minor role, but none of it is very interesting.

The Shape of Water
(2017)

Good, albeit flawed
THE SHAPE OF WATER is, of course, Guillermo del Toro's latest opus and the first of his oeuvre to receive Oscars. I'm a long-time fan of the director, ever since I saw CRONOS back on television decades ago, so I was eager to check out a film which is quite clearly the director's homage to THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. The end result is engaging and well made, as well directed as you'd expect from del Toro, but not without some serious flaws.

Sally Hawkins gives a thorough performance as the mute lead although her thunder is stolen by more striking turns from the likes of Michael Shannon (the most interesting he's been since BOARDWALK EMPIRE) and, of course, the great Doug Jones, who inevitably steals all his scenes. The first hour of set-up is intriguing and interesting alike, but I found that the pacing really stalled as soon as the creature relocates to the bathtub. At that point, del Toro seems to deliberately stall things, in no hurry to get to the rushed climax, so it all becomes drawn out and embarrassingly romantic. The black-and-white musical interlude is the low point here, an overly indulgent scene that had me cringing. It's a pity, as this makes the film fall below the likes of the HELLBOY films or del Toro's excellent Spanish-language movies.

The Magnificent Seven Ride!
(1972)

Lively spin-off
Of course, only a fool would go into the sequel to an all-time classic movie expecting it to be of the same quality as the original, and inevitably THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE! never comes close. However, it does prove to be fitfully entertaining as a stand-alone kind of movie, albeit with a closer link to THE DIRTY DOZEN than the original masterwork. All of the original cast have long parted ways with this franchise, so the magnificently grizzled Lee Van Cleef takes over the reins and handles the protagonist role with aplomb. The movie benefits from some nicely-judged supporting turns, with the likes of Ed Lauter, Gary Busey, Ralph Waite and Luke Askew putting in some good performances, and generally the whole film is well-shot and lively with action and humour.

Insidious: The Last Key
(2018)

Tiresome
THE LAST KEY is the latest and hopefully last instalment of the enduring INSIDIOUS franchise, which I haven't rated ever since the first one. This one's mildly less ridiculous than earlier entries, but it's still tiresome and oh-so-predictable, the usual haunted house movie with lots of attempted atmosphere, darkened scenes, and in-your-face jump scares. The main characters from the original films have long gone, leaving old-timer Lin Shaye to carry the story complete with childhood flashbacks and the like. Unfortunately the whole thing is highly predictable, and not at all entertaining; a drawn-out exercise in box-ticking and nothing more.

The War of the Worlds
(2019)

A travesty
On hearing that the BBC were making a true-to-the-novel version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, that absolute sci-fi classic by H.G. Wells, I was of course delighted, as were a lot of people. The story has proved notoriously difficult to bring to the screen properly, and even today the American '50s version is still the best and most iconic screen adaptation. However, this production was mired by long delays, which never bode well, before it was finally released as a damp squib a few weeks before Christmas in 2019.

And it turns out to be a travesty, unsurprisingly enough. It's a three-parter that doesn't stick to the novel at all; in fact, few parts of the novel are recognisable here. A bunch of boringly 21st century-written characters hang around and talk a lot and are occasionally attacked by the usual CGI tripods, which look like they belong in a DR WHO episode. Rafe Spall is once again bland and boring and oh-so-earnest and the rest are no better, a wasted Robert Carlyle among them.

It takes an hour for the aliens to turn up in the first and best episode; the second offers a little action and then much boredom, while the third has NOTHING happen at all. The left-wing scriptwriting is hideously tiresome and the direction equally bad, with random jump cuts to a futurescape which keep on taking you out of the story. Can the BBC no longer do convincing period drama?

New Alcatraz
(2001)

Tired and bland
I caught this on Prime under the title BOA. It's a typically cheesy monster flick with an elaborate set-up which isn't particularly convincing at any point. The story is about a high security prison in the Antarctic (!) of all places, with action man Dean Cain (yes, Superman himself) playing the macho lead. A giant boa constrictor is released into the confines of said prison and eludes all attempts at capture and/or destruction. The CGI effects are very bad indeed, and there's nothing doing as regards the performances and scriptwriting; it's all rather tired and bland, I'm afraid.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld
(2019)

Thoroughly engrossing
I caught this on BBC4 under their STORYVILLE bracket, retitled MURDER IN THE BUSH. It's a two-hour Danish documentary that involves a couple of investigators looking into a mysterious plane crash that killed a leading member of the UN on the border of the Congo back in 1961. Soon enough they discover a wide-ranging conspiracy involving a mysterious organisation operating throughout southern Africa. This is riveting stuff indeed, well made and well told throughout, with exotic locations and a large cast of characters, many of whom are mysterious and/or sinister. The meat of the story is larger-than-life and ultimately shocking, and you wonder how much of it you can really believe; in any case, it makes for a thoroughly engrossing viewing experience.

Clash of the Empires
(2012)

No redeeming features
LORD OF THE ELVES is a simple and generic HOBBIT rip-off from The Asylum, released under about half a dozen different titles just to confuse consumers of such fare. The most interesting thing about this ridiculous production is that it was shot in Cambodia of all places, with a local supporting cast of dwarf actors and the like playing cut-price hobbits. The usual battles with giant, badly animated CGI beasties play out, while the kooky Bai Ling plays a warrior woman who runs around in a leather bikini get up. It's entirely devoid of redeeming features, and can only be watched in a so-bad-it's-bad kind of spirit.

Dark Shadows: Episode #1.418
(1968)
Episode 418, Season 1

Angsty
Episode 418 is all angst, with Barnabas waking from his coffin to discover that he's still neither dead nor alive. Meanwhile, poor old put-upon Josette finds herself menaced by an ethereal Angelique, who seems intent on driving her out of her mind...

Venomous
(2001)

Not great, but not too bad
VENOMOUS isn't too bad a monster flick as they go, although it suffers from being entirely cliched and predictable throughout. As usual there's some seismic activity causing snakes to attack a township en masse, as well as the usual secret scientific laboratory experiments, terrorists and all sorts. Treat Williams is the usual B-movie guest star going through the motions, while prolific B-movie director Fred Olen Ray handles the proceedings. It's nice to see some real and animatronic snakes used in certain sequences when they mostly opt for bad CGI.

Destruction Los Angeles
(2017)

Amiable time-passer
DESTRUCTION LOS ANGELES is another B-grade disaster movie in which Los Angeles finds itself harassed by the double threat of both earthquake and volcano. It's typical stuff indeed, but what impresses most here is that there's a wealth of action and effects on the limited means, which makes a change from the norm. The FX aren't particularly great, but they're a real step up from what you see in an Asylum film. The main inspiration seems to be VOLCANO, which is of course the (much) better movie, but as things go this is an amiable time-passer.

Kill Order
(2017)

A showcase for the lead's abilities...
KILL ORDER is an indie action flick made on the usual small budget. It feels like a spin on the Bourne franchise albeit with some explicitly science fiction stylised moments. The hero is an ordinary high school student who turns out to be a genetically engineered super soldier; he's then forced to go on the run from members of the organisation that created him in the first place. The effects are bad, the acting average, the story virtually non-existent, but at least this has some enjoyable martial arts fights to see it through: they're lengthy, plentiful and well staged with an eye for spectacle. A shame they don't have a proper film to go with them...

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