neil-476

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Reviews

How to Talk to Girls at Parties
(2017)

Umm...
It is London. Punk is all the rage.Enn finds himself with the gorgeous Zan, who seems to be a bit out of step with, well, everything. The reason for this, obviously is because she's an alien. And she's breaking the rules for this final stop on her group's itinerary.

This is based on a Neil Gaiman story. I like Neil Gaiman. I like the idea. I like many of the cast, which includes Elle Macpherson, Nicole Kidman, Matt Lucas, and Ruth Wilson.

But I was completely out of tune with every second of this film. Not only did I not get it, I was thoroughly bored while I didn"t get it. I loved the title unfortunately, it didn't seem to have anything to do with the film.

The Basement
(2018)

Dull. Dull dull dull.
One bloke ties up another bloke in a basement and tortures him. There is a rreason and another reason and some weirdness.

The script is poor. The acting is poor. The sadistic violence isn't particularly well done. The plot gimmick is OK but suffers from the poor writing and acting. The twist in the tail is lame. And the whole thing is unforgivably boring.

If this one beckons on the Netflix listing, ignore it - it's not worth the time.

Kidnapped
(1971)

Hoots mctoots, it's Michael McCaine!
After being shanghaied while trying to claim an inheritance, David Balfour falls in with outlaw Jacobite rebel, and various shenanigans ensue as wrongs are righted, hopefully.

Robert Louis Stephenson's classic novel is filmed (again) very attractively. There is a good cast, some heavyweights accompanied by a collection of decent character actors.

And at the heart, we have David Balfour played by Lawrence Douglas, an actor with 18 minor TV credits and 3 movies, this being the only one of any significance. He does not command the screen. But Michael Caine does, as Alan Breck, but mainly because you wonder how he thought he could get away with that accent as Scottish.

The Ritual
(2017)

Goodish, but...
5 friends can't agree where to go on holiday. When Rob is murdered during a robbery (witnessed by Rob, who survives due to terrified inaction), the friends honour him by hiking in remote Sweden, Rob's preference, shared by no-one. It's only when they try to short cut through a forest that bad th8ngs start to happen.

This film is nicely atmospheric, well cast and acted, and has a decent horror monster situation and payoff.

And yet...

There are few surprises but, despite that, there are unanswered questions which leave you unsatisfied. In particular, did it all happen, or was it the hallucinatory resullt of Luke's guilt? That incident was a very effective start, but never used to its full potential.

Hell Fest
(2018)

Some quite good bits, a lot of bad bits
Hell Fest is a horror-based theme park which travels around during Halloween. A group of young people visit, and are stalked by a slasher maniac.

There are some good things here - it is directed with some style, especially as regards lighting, camera set-ups and movement. This is quite a good looking film.

It then gets trickier to find good things. The characters are unsympathetic and poorly written, the actors have no charisma, the twist at the end is ludicrous, and the idea of a travelling theme park, with a huge fo9tprint, loads of in-character employees, and a Halloween window, defies belief.

Snow Dogs
(2002)

Decent family movie
A Miami dentist inherits a dogsled team and embarks on a fish out of water adventure involving a crusty grizzled old fellow and a startlingly pretty young woman. And a bunch of dogs with occasionally partially animated faces.

Cuba gooding Jr is the dentist. I'm not a huge fan - he's neither nowt nor summat as far as I'm concerned - but he is likeable enough in the central role. The rest of the cast are also fun in the rather soapy goings-on, especially James Coburn, who looks to be having a ball.

This film is a light offering, but it looks good and is nicely played, and is pleasingly entertaining.

Knives Out
(2019)

As good as it gets
85 year old Harlan Thrombey, a hugely successful novelist. Has brought the family together in order to deliver bad news about his will. He is found the next morning with his throat cut and it appears to be suicide. But with so much motive around, who knows. There is also the mystery of who hired private investigator Benoit Blanc and why. And is Harlan's weet carer Marta all she seems? Might she not have a secret?

This darkly funny who-dun-what is brilliantly cast and acted. But the writing and direction is stellar, too, so the fantastic cast just puts the cream on top. The plot appears simple, but is very well conceived - you think you should know what's going on, but you never quite do.

And I must give all credit to Rian Johnson, a man I was perfectly willing to hate for the rest of my life for the way he wilfully scorned his audience in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But his writing and direction here have redeemed him in my eyes. If there is a flaw in this film, it is Daniel Craig's excessively fruity southern accent. In all other respects this film is nearly perfect.

Jumanji: The Next Level
(2019)

Great entertainment
Our four young friends from Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle are changed by their experience, though Spencer remains beset with self-doubt and has drawn away from everyone, even Martha. So he chooses to escape back into the game (repaired, but faulty) in the hope of another jolt of Braveheart. Unfortunately, when the other 3 try to follow him, things go wrong. And by things, I mean Spencer's crotchety grandfather Eddie, recovering from a hip operation, and Eddie's ex-partner and ex-friend Milo.

It is a nice wrinkle to have the avatars occupied by different players, two of whom barely grasp the concept of videogames The videogame conceits are still there - we are now at the next level of the game, the avatars have taken on new abilities and weaknesses, and new playable characters are introduced. But otherwise we are in for another ride full of excitement and humour, with the avatar cast given the opportunity to have great fun playing familiar characters how playing host to entirely different people. It's a clever development of the idea underlying its predecessor.

And, as always, Jumanji rewards those who play it successfully, sometimes in very surprising ways. And the closing moments of the movie carry a lovely tribute to the original movie.

Alien Convergence
(2017)

Why?
A mishmash of unlikely heroes join together to fight a radioactive-breath alien gargoyle.

The writing is appalling, the acting is poor, the effects are massively less than special. It's The Asylum, so all that goes without saying.

The thing that puzzled je was some of the editing choices. During flying combat scenes, there are frequent cuts to hands tapping on knees. Yes, I know the fighter pilot is in a wheelchair, but focused cuts during an action sequences are there to fireshadow something. Or, in this case, nothing.

And I could have sworn I saw a young woman put a boot in a fridge for no apparent reason...

La legione dei dannati
(1969)

McWhat? McReally?
This spaghetti war movie is colourful and action packed..

It is headed by Jack Palance, and I read that he is supposed to be Irish. Well, you could have fooled me. He, like everyone else, is dubbed and, in his case, they have gone for a light Scottish accent - it sounds very like Gordon Jackson.

Given that Palance's natural voice sounds like iron mating with gravel, I found it profoundly distracting.

Doctor Sleep
(2019)

The sequel which Kubrick's The Shining needed
When Dan Torrance was a boy, his psychic gift - his Shining - was so powerful that he became the target for evil forces which wished to consume it. Even after the family tragedy which should have ended things he had to develop defences to protect himself. As an adult he took refuge in alcohol, but something draws him to a small town in Maine where he joins Alcoholics Anonymous and gets a job in a hospice where he is able to use his gift to ease the suffering and fears of those on the point of death.

Meanwhile a group of what one might call psychic vampires, headed by Rose the Hat, extend their lifespans by consuming the psychic lifeforces - which they call "steam" of psychically gifted individuals, particularly children. They encounter the prodigiously gifted 12-year old Abra who has already met Dan (albeit without actually meeting her). Can Dan protect Abra against a group of predators who have been successful for hundreds of years?

Stephen King's book continues Danny Torrance's story, but is a sequel to The Shining only in the loosest sense. This film, however, is a direct sequel: the final third abandons the events of the book and takes up from the ending of Kubrick's film. I am one of those who loved King's book an therefore liked and loathes, in equal measure, Kubrick's film as it casually discarded the loving heart of the book and marched uncaringly into overstatement and overacting.

This adaptation does a fine job of pickingup Kubrick's hatchet job and restoring the heart which was missing from his film. I left the cinema very happy indeed.

Ewan McGregor is a good Dan, Rebecca Ferguson is a better Rose the Hat, and Kyliegh Curran is stunningly good as Abra Stone. I loved this.

The Aeronauts
(2019)

Not bad
In 1862 James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) is a meterorologist, keen to learn about the upper atmosphere. He recruits Amelia Renne (Felicity Jones) as a balloon pilot to take a balloon higher than anyone has gone before. But the upper atmosphere is a dangerous place, and Ms Renne has issues...

Badged with "Based a true story", this is true as far as the first sentence of the above synopsis is concerned. However, Glaisher's co-balloonis was not a young woman with issues and there were not, as far as I'm aware, any of the crisis events depected here.

It doesn't matter. This is an exciting adventure which takes place over a short time span - a couple of hourse - but which remains suspenseful all the way through. Redmayne and Jones are both class acts, the events are well thought out and structured, and the effects are extremely good.

This is definitely not UP!

The Undefeated
(1969)

Some unusual elements in run-of-the-mill western
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Union Colonel John Henry Thomas and colleagues plan to run 2,000 horses to Mexico at roughly the same time and over roughly the same route as a group of settlers headed by Confederate Colonel James Langdon. After assorted shenanigans, some of which are not unconnected with Civil War resentments, things go pear-shaped in Mexico.

This late John Wayne western also stars Rock Hudson as his Confederate oppo. It is colourful, eventful, has the obligatory punch-up, some nice scenery ends with a sequence with a fairly unusual and unexpected set-up, but is otherwise entirely unexceptional.

If you like John Wayne westerns, you'll probably enjoy this. If not, don't bother.

Scary Movie 4
(2006)

Silly and funny
This fourth entry in the Scary Movie series of spoof movies cobbles together bits from The Grudge, Saw, The Village and (especially) Spielberg's War Of The Worlds as a vehicle for Anna Faris' Cindy to lurch through the next bit of her life.

It helps to have seen the films it parodies, but it is amusing and daft anyway. Regina Hall also returns, and Craig Bierko not only plays the Tom Cruise WOTW character, but doles out some punishment vis a vis the infamous Oprah appearance.

Don't expect Shakespeare, but do expect to laugh.

Queen of Katwe
(2016)

warm and uplifting
Phiona Mutesi, daughter of a widowed mother, grows up penniless and uneducated in Katwe, a slum of Kampala. Then she is introduced to chess and proves to be prodigiously talented at it. Could this be her way out of poverty?

Disney is behind this true story, an unusual sort of project for them to back. Lupita Nyong'o is Mum and David Oyelowo is coach Robert. Apart from them, the entire cast is untried Ugandan talent, with Madina Nalwanga shouldering the lion's share as Phiona. In her sole IMDB credit. she does this effortlessly - she has great screen presence.

Location work looks authentic and, while the story is not unfamiliar, it has the benefit of being true. The closing credits match the actors with their real-life counterparts and are enormously touching.

I enjoyed this a lot.

Tom's Midnight Garden
(1999)

Wistful
In post-war England, Tom is sent to live with his aunt and uncle while his younger brother has measles. Frustrated at being confined because his is possibly infectious, he sneaks out when the old clock in the hallway of the big house (converted to flats) strikes 13, only to find himself in a sunlit garden where he meets a young girl called Hattie. The two form a bond, and Tom sneaks out to meet her every night. Is she a ghost? Is he hallucinating? Is something else at work?

Dressed up as a kind of Victorian ghost story - which, in a way, it is - this is actually quite another kind of story. Gentle and wistful and, ultimately, rather bittersweet, the narrative never quite goes where you expect it to. There are several blind alleys where there is every expectation of certain characters creating jeopardy, and maybe they do, maybe they don't.

The adult cast are good. The young cast members have a big load to carry and, while they are better than British child performers often are, I can't help thinking that American equivalents would have been much more naturalistic.

But this is essentially a good hearted and emotionally involving journey.

A Night to Remember
(1958)

Bravo
"Unsinkable" liner Titanic strikes an iceberg and sinks with great loss of life. There are some remarkable stories during the sinking and its aftermath.

This 1958 black and white British film is in territory which James Cameron's blockbuster visited decades later, and it must be stated at the outset that it - of couse- suffers in the technical department. In the days pre-CGI, the model shots are conspicuously models, water is out of scale, stock shots don't match, back projection is obvious, and so on.

None of that matters. It is handsomely staged, well written, respectful and not sensationalist, and well cast and acted with a strong central performance from Kenneth More as Lightoller.

Well worth catching.

Countdown
(2019)

Quite nicely done
Young people are downloading an app called Countdown which purports to show how much lif you have left (and counting). We find out early on that it actually works, and is driven by something sinister and supernatural. Newly qualified nurse Quinn downloads it, as does her angry teen sister, and she is horrified to see the two of them only have a couple of days to live, especially once she realises that the app works. Is there a way to avert their fate?

The engine of this horror movie is similar to the Final Destination films - is it possible to avert a predetermined fate? - but is executed bery differently.

There isn't much in the way of graphic violence and gore, but there is a nicely constructed p[lot, some likeable characters, some backstory which informs the plot, and some genuinesly creepy atmosphere.

There is also some very welcome humour, centring around two characters in particular and, thankfully, the humour is character-related, and far from out of place.

I can't say I was ever scared, but this was a good idea, well executed by writer/director Jestin Dec.

Terminator: Dark Fate
(2019)

Well, I liked it. A lot.
Sarah and John Connor managed to avert Judgement Day - it never happened. But that doesn't mean that the military stopped research into self-aware military AI. Goodbye Skynet, hello Legion, and welcome to a new generation of Terminator/equivalent and protector, this time to safeguard Mexican Dani. And also welcome back Sarah who, for her own reasons, wants to have a hand into protecting Dani and terminating Terminators.

Forget Terminators 3, Salvation and Genisys - this one is a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Looking through IMDB reviews, it seems to have upset a lot of people who seem to take exception to people who say "Best Terminator since T2." Well, since T2 was an astonishingly good film, that doesn't seem to me to be the faint praise which others seek to damn T:DF with. I liked it a great deal.

It had its own story, albeit familiar, it had fun callbacks to T1 and T2, it had something genuinely shocking and unexpected which I have no intention of spoilering, and it played fair with the time travel/changed future aspects of the story/ies: where I thought "Hang on, you can't have that because this happened," the logic actually worked.

Where it fell down was the two more juvenile leads. Natalie Reyes as Dani was a little lightweight and Gabriel Luna as the Rev-9 Terminator has neither Schwarzenegger's physical presence nor Robert Patrick's emotionless menace. Mind you, Mackenzie Davis as protector Grace is terrific, and Linda Hamilton, reprising Sarah Connor after 28 years, is epic.

Zombieland: Double Tap
(2019)

An utter hoot
Our four haphazard and somewhat foul-mouthed friends - mouthy Tallahassee, nerdy and uber-careful Columbus, cute but wilful Wichita and kid sister Little Rock - are living in zombie-free near-harmony in the White House. But 10 years have passed and Little Rock, no longer little, fancies some company of her own age (subtext: male company) so the two girls head out on their own. The men follow once Columbus has finished some serious moping (he had proposed to Wichita theprevious evening), but only get as far as picking up the gorgeous but empty-headed Madison before returning to the White House. Wichita arrives back - nose out of joing at the speed of Columbus' rebound - and the group of four set off in pursuit of Little Rock and the cheesy pacifist singer/songwriter she has taken up with.

Much as I really like the original four, the new characters introduced here, particularly the hilariously dim Madison and the strangely familiar Albuquerque and Flagstaff, add hugely enjoyable additional dynamics to the interpersonal relationsips. The device of posting graphics of Columbus' rules is continued, but with a couple of wrinkles, and is as funny and effective as before.

It is hugely violent, it is full of swearing, and it is very, very funny. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one as much if not more.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
(2019)

Eyecatching fantasy fun
Aurora, Maleficent's victim in the original Disney animated feature, but much-loved adopted daughter in the more recent live-action "everything you always thought you knew wasn't quite true re-imagining", is about to get hitched to Prince Philip. Maleficent isn't entirely happy: on the other hand, Philip's mother, Queen Ingrith is absolutely delighted. Her superficial conventional delight hides a darker delight, for she intends to engineer a mass slaughter and war with faeriekind. Maleficent is wounded, and ends up at the secret enclave of the Dark Fae, her own kind - winged, horned faeries. And they have two dominant individuals: a peacemaker, and one who is as keen on war as Ingrith.

Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning and Sam Riley reprise their roles from last time while Michelle Pfeiffer has a ball chewing the sceneray as Ingrith. The lovely visuals distract from the less interesting expository first half, but the final third is exciting and beautifully realised.

And, for what is essentially a special effects beat-'em-up, it is often surprisingly emotional.

I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Gemini Man
(2019)

An undemanding romp
Government assassin Henry is looking to retire. Black ops freelance boos Clay Verris has other ideas, and Henry is soon on the run from an assassin who is as good as he is. Because it's him. Or, rather, his clone, 28 years younger.

Excuse the spoiler, but it's not really a spoiler as the trailer reveals it.

This is a fairly routine chase thriller with some pleasing bits. The action is OK if unexceptional. Smith plays 51 year old Henry and, with the help of digital de-ageing, 23 year old Junior, and I award credit for making the two different versions of the same person distinctly different people. And I spent some time thinking that the 20-something leading lady reminded me of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, only to discover that it was her! At 35, she didn't need de-ageing software.

This is a by-the-numbers romp with an interesting wrinkle. But check your brain at the door!

Earthquake
(1974)

Soapy epic showing its age
As Los Angeles approaches and then experiences a huge earthquake, we witness events through the eyes and experiences of half a dozen or so Los Angelenos.

This was one of 1974's major movies, not least because many cinemas had Sensurround installed, bass speakers which shook your fillings loose as the earthquake took place.

The formula was tried and tested beforehand, and still works. First we meet a variety of characters and see their life problems. This is so that we might identify with them as they get caught up with the disaster. Then we get the disaster and, finally, the aftermath.

The cast is good. There is a degree of phoning it in, but Charlton Heston's gravitas works, and Victoria Principal is pretty (with a distractingly weird afro) in an early role.

The characters don't really inspire audience identification, however.

The earthquake itself is tolerably convincing despite being done with miniatures and optical effects. The buildings are a bit on the cardboardy side, but the water effects work quite well. And the earthquake is the only reason for watching, because the characters certainly aren't.

Terrordactyl
(2016)

Sunk by bad acting
LA is attacked by flocks of pterodactyls. Our story concentrates on 2 gardeners, 2 girls, and one weird military-ish guy.

This is a dumb monster movie. The story is dumb but OK. The script is dumb but OK. The special effects are cheap but not bad. The two girls are decent. The three male leads are, without exception, execrable. I cannot recall the last time I saw such bad acting, from start to finish. It turns an enjoyably rubbishy film into a real ordeal.

Rambo: Last Blood
(2019)

Home Alone with explosives
John Rambo has finally found some peace of mind bringing up his niece (Mom dead, abandoned by Dad) on a horse ranch next to Mexico. But then his niece decides to go looking for her absentee Dad in a Mexican town which consists entirely of criminals. Oops.

The plot can be summed up as follows: Part 1 - Taken in Mexico, part 2 = Home Alone with lethal force.

If you go to a film with Rambo in the title, odds are you're not expecting Oscar material. Just as well, because there isn't any here (unless there is a special Oscar for on-screen maiming). What there is is quite a lot of violent action, and that's probably what you're there for, right?

Of it's sort, it's not bad. Like the others, though, it's not a patch on the original First Blood which, at least, had some subtlety and characterisation in between the bloodletting.

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