Film Reviews by DS

Welcome to DS's film reviews page. DS has written 100 reviews and rated 116 films.

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Nobody

Haven't I Seen This Before Somewhere....

(Edit) 20/10/2021

Nobody is a fast, action-packed, violent tale of vengeance, living in the same street as John Wick, Derek Kolstad wrote it, and Nobody is nearly the same film. Given that deadpan and comedic Bob Odenkirk is the lead, fresh off his turn in Breaking Bad and the spin-off Better Call Saul you would expect this film would have a more fun element to it. At the beginning we do get a sense of underlying comedy and with the violence non-existent this is the better film. Even the over-the-top cartoon violence of the ‘bus attack’ being more personal the film held my attention, Odenkirk gets battered and hurt, in real he would be dead or seriously injured, but this film is not about that and it is churlish to pick out realism as a failing.

The action when it happens is frenetic, well-choreographed and exciting, particularly when it is small and personal, but it is as if director Naishuller (Hardcore Henry) forgot the whole first acts of the film and we end up with every Russian, fighting Bob, his brother RZA and his 82-year-old dad played by Christopher Lloyd, funny but stupid. Yet again though it appears to thousands of men with guns willing to die horribly to serve their gangster boss, all dying in horrible ways. It is all a bit familiar.

Nobody is a professionally made well-crafted action film, with ultra-violence, gunplay and even Home Alone booby traps, yet for me the best filmmaking, the most effective sequence comes at the very beginning of the film a choppily edited opening sequence underlining the boring mundane life Hutch lives. Quick, sharp, to-the-point and in few repeated shots you know exactly what our main character appears to be.

For lovers of action-packed-violence, this will be enough but for those that worship at the ever-diminishing returns of John Wick it will not be enough, they will like it but will forget it soon after watching and waiting patiently for ‘John Wick 6, He Kills the Whole World’.

Nobody is a revenge story, told in a cartoon-style with little or no sense to the plot from the beginning that gets even more nonsensical the longer it goes on but it is made for a specific audience. For those that like being on ‘Revenge Street’ but perhaps prefer a little more meat on the bone I would recommend Blue Ruin or even something like the original Death Wish, even Straw Dogs having said this for action, and let us be honest, mindless violence there are too many to pick from.

As you may have guessed this type of action-film with bish-bash-violence leaves me mainly cold and under the right circumstances I could fall asleep watching most of them, I really liked the original John Wick but due to the success of that film we have Nobody which does not do anything different enough to distinguish it. Cardboard cut-out Russian gangsters (sigh) lead by famous Russian actor Aleksey Serebryakov raised my eyebrows and from that point they never really dropped again. I wish someone would make this type of film and try something innovative and different, similar to zombie-films, ultra-action films are in serious danger of overloading the market and disappearing up their own fundamentals. Shame really, there could be something there for good filmmakers to get a grip of.

Nobody will be watched by a lot of people and forgotten fairly soon, which is disappointing there is a lot of talent on show and that is not just my writing about it.

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Lars and the Real Girl

A Man with Mental Health Problems who doesn't Slaughter Random People.....that's a different take.

(Edit) 12/10/2021

What we have in Lars and the Real Girl is a modern retelling of Pygmalion. A lost, lonely man, delusion perhaps, bestows, life, love, on an inanimate object, a facsimile of a woman. In Pygmalion, the love of the sculptor fantastically brings that object of his love to life but with Lars and the Real Girl writer Nancy Oliver has the love for ‘Bianca’ transferring to the family, friends and town community, bringing them ‘to life.’ Oliver has writing chops having contributed to Six-Feet-Under and True Blood but here she shows a softer side. Much like those TV shows we are in a fanciful place, after all if the last few years have shown us a lot of people are plainly and irredeemably awful, but the reaction to Lars’ problems in the story is beautiful, poignant and dare I say palate cleansing. Even with this wishful thinking Oliver shows a proper understanding of mental health and wrote a careful and gentle depiction. The most telling line comes early in this film from the superb Emily Mortimer as she talks to the equally superb Patricia Clarkson, ‘How can I help?’ Indeed.

Director Craig Gillespie more recently of the, in some ways similar, ‘I Tonya’ and the ‘I haven’t seen it yet’ Cruella, has the perfect cast to work with. Ryan Gosling, an actor who goes from eclectic roles with admirable ease, is perfectly cast as the soft and gentle Lars who has been profoundly affected by early events in his family, in particular his mother’s death due to his birth. As mentioned previously Emily Mortimer is impressively believable as the kind and caring sister-in-law Karin and special praise must go to Paul Schneider, most recently seen in Amazon’s ‘Tales from Loop’, who has the challenging task of, at least in the opening acts, the least sympathetic character, he clearly is playing the part of the cynical viewer. Patricia Clarkson is equally impressive as the clever, understanding and helpful town doctor, Dagmar, we would all love our GP to be this impressive lady. The ‘real girl’ of the story is played with cute vivacity by Kelli Garner to round out the main and consistently top form cast.

UK viewers will be delighted to see Canada’s answer to Mackenzie Crook, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, who when he rolled up early on as Lars’ work colleague, I thought it was Mackenzie Crook for a few seconds.

The film begins by fooling you into thinking it is a full-on comedy, the introduction of Bianca by Lars to Gus and Karin had me laughing so long and loud that my wife, still in bed, called down the stairs to see if I was okay, but much like I, Tonya, the ‘funny’ soon gives way to the drama but in such a skillful way it does not jar and you really do not notice. If you are made of stone, or one of the irredeemably awful people I mentioned earlier, you will not latch on the underlying sadness of the fragile and lost Lars. What Oliver’s screenplay, the directing and acting all are trying to show us, and successfully achieve, is that understanding, empathy and compassion are always the strongest and kindest way to help each other. With Lars’ delusion this could have been a huge joke of a film, but it is to everyone’s credit the initial hilarity drops off like Autumn leaves and we end up with a sensitive and small peek at mental health and the importance of compassion in friends and family.

The whole film is intelligently made, with a clear comprehension of mental health, a refreshing and interesting take on the topic that is very much in the fore of local and national discussions these days.

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Kung Fu Hustle

Throwing knife handles at you enemy has never worked

(Edit) 30/09/2021

Stephen Chow approaches the very real discipline of kung-fu in the way I view most kung-fu movies, it is all a bit silly, a bit preposterous and really should not be taken too seriously. Therefore, it is obvious that this type of kung-fu movie would appeal to me more than the kill everyone, dead serious, ‘look at this, ‘look at that’ kung-fu movies that have been made over the decades.

Imagination is no limitation to Chow and here we see deaths, cartoon violence and wirework all thrown together to make an action-packed laugh-filled movie.

The story is packed with dance-sequences, jaw-dropping martial arts fight sequences that are never ever taken seriously. It is a cartoon made flesh.

Chow is without doubt the anti-hero for most of the running time and it must be said he subverts your expectations as characters come to the forefront, seem to be the focus and then drift away, die or change their viewpoint.

The style is slapstick and daft in the main but with the storyline, the action, it makes sense and with Chow and his ‘teams’ acting and timing it works perfectly and in lesser hands it could have been a dull disaster. The line is fine and the skill in getting this correct cannot be underestimated.

In particular one sequence had me actually ‘laughing-out-loud’ and chucking about it long after it had passed, well known by viewers and fans of the film the knife attack and snakes in the box scene is very funny and skilfully put together. A masterclass in a simple slapstick, comedy-of-errors, set-up, ‘Who threw a handle?’ indeed.

Not afraid to use computer effects for the snakes, daggers and axe attacks Chow mixes the traditional kung-fu balletic choreography with more modern methods and once again he melded them almost seamlessly.

No film is perfect there are moments that jar and moments that do not quite work but in such a frenetic and fun-filled action comedy the target is going to missed from time to time. The story, such as there is, slightly confuses you but in reality we are here to sit in watch the fun, laugh and have a good time.

Stephen Chow delivers this fully and even if you do not like silly comedy or kung-fu too much it would still pay you to watch Kung-Fu Hustle on a rainy boring day when you need cheering up. It is fun, colourful and entertaining – you cannot really ask for much more.

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The Book of Henry

Should Have Burned Henry's Book before Reading It.

(Edit) 30/08/2021

The Book of Henry appears to start off as one type of film or story and ends up as another, only to flip back at the denouement. That is the who films great strength and equally its biggest weakness. The idea is fascinating and the story somewhat different, but the execution is poor, really poor, and actually in hindsight really sloppy.

Despite some reviews I saw after the event Jaeden Martell, the Nazi-teen in knives out, is good in the pivotal role of ‘Henry’ and from my limited experience of a prodigy gets it more or less correct. If nothing he is too nice at points, annoying his peers with facts in a ‘matter of fact’ I have actually seen being done in real life. The role of Peter, by Jacob Tremblay is a cinematic artifact, he is only there to show how kind and nice Henry is, he could have been a pet cat and therefore the actor, no matter how young, is left with little to work with. Naomi Watts plays her role well and looks the part of a slightly dippy world-worn single mum, she isn’t glamourous and does not have even, ceramic, glow-in-the-dark teeth, all good. The journey she goes on, particularly at the end is frankly ridiculous, does not play in the character or how she is throughout the story and makes little to no sense.

Here in lies the rub. Henry and his mother, has no real proof of what is going on next door, Christina, who mainly looks sad and says ‘I’m fine’ for most of the film never tells anyone or confirms the heinous events that are supposed to happening. Therefore, the crux of the story, the reason, for us watching, are sort of nebulous and looking at in a cold manner, illegal. Although it must be said Maddie Ziegler who plays here is a superb dancer, so she does get to show that off even though she is another actor given little to work with. Henry’s solution seems illogical and does not follow his way of thinking as demonstrated prior to the ‘events’ beginning.

If you are in the right frame of mind this film is light and interesting entertainment but like a lot of output these days, particularly in this frame, ten minutes after the film finishes the first thing that comes to your mind is ‘hang on a gosh-darn minute’.

The plot-holes and inconsistent tone are big enough to drive two very big trucks through, side by side.

The surprises, suspense and tugging of the heartstrings are all there in this film and work well, I never got bored, but the adult logic, the ‘you’re supposed to take this seriously’ side is barely clinging on at the start and has dropped into the void as we get the final third.

The Book of Henry gets weaker as it progresses and certain ideas and scenes do not ring true, even with the universe of the film, and here days later I’m still trying to figure out what Lee Pace was doing in the story or why and how the school principal got or indeed kept her job as she seems to go from playing by the book with Henry to acting on one single hunch, at a dance performance, at the end. Of course, we also have a scene with the poorly used and written Sarah Silverman that is a bit yukky or ‘WFT?’ considering the topic on display. Ludicrous.

Writer Greg Hurwitz has some clunkers in his credits and seems to have great ideas that he either lacks the support of production or his own confidence fails him to fully flesh them out and create a decent story. A film featuring adult themes, with real-world things happening in them is made for adults, so treat us like adults.

Director Colin Treverrow is clearly king of the ‘wow that looks cool dude’ directors but absolutely does not care at all if anything you see on the screen for two hours or so makes any logical sense whatsoever, unfortunately he is not directing surrealist arthouse.

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Melancholic

Another reason to never visit a bathhouse...

(Edit) 19/08/2021

Melancholic is an odd film, even within the pantheon of odd Japanese films, the subject matter would seem to point to a dire, violent, depressing story, and in all honesty it should be. Somehow it is not, the violence is there, bloody and visceral but not an unnecessary gore-fest, and the death is very real but Melancholic is definitely infused with a sense of humour and a slow, soft, calmness as much as any film covering this type of topic could be.

Yoji Minagawa as Kazuhiko plays his role in perhaps a slight too much over-the-top way a bit to ‘on the nose’ making me think throughout that no one would really shine to him and particularly not a vivacious and fun young girl, Yuri, his mood is more ‘permamiserable’ which for me skewed the whole story without necessarily detracting from it. Therein lies the problem with the film, the tone is hard to decipher, as the director, and the dialogue, seems to point to fun and light-heartedness but the topic, much like Kazuhiko, is not that.

The change that is needed in Kazuhiko’s life is brought about by outside influences and his acceptance of circumstances, this seems to be the message, although due to the characters and how they behave it seems to get lost. The meekness of our lead somehow translates that he will accept anything that happens stoically and just get on with it. A social comment of some sort but a little heavy-handed?

The events at the bathhouse even after the late-night extras are revealed are not quite what they seem and the entire story, message relies on how much you buy into our hero just drifting into some fairly unusual and absurd situations.

Whilst we are given a good outline of Kazuhiko’s character and background, he’s not fully fleshed out, this seems to have little in development for some important supporting characters other than what their role in the story is.

All in all the story builds up well and the cinematography and filming locations give off a realistic vibe and you can enjoy yourself as the story builds up and whips along. The ending is a little pat and does not follow the film's playbook to my mind, but it does not detract hugely.

I could not help feeling that some elements of Melancholic were rushed, particularly the ending and that with more budget and some fine polishing this could have been a proper gem. It is a fun and interesting story and theme, but not quite ‘there’.

Seiji Tanaka’s future output is definitely something worth looking out for.

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Godzilla vs. Kong

Calling Kong a monkey does not end well, even if you are good looking.

(Edit) 09/07/2021

Set after the conclusion of the last film, when Godzilla battered the living daylights out of Ghidorah we have another King Kong, Godzilla blockbuster. The whole point of this film, regardless of plot, or actors, is to see these two CGI behemoths pummelling the tar out of each other. So, for all intents and purposes this film completely fulfils its purpose. Godzilla and Kong do batter, punch, kick, fire breath and ram things into each other’s heads all over the place, out at sea, and Hong Kong, which they flatten with some aplomb, in garish, confusing mishmash of roaring, punching, kicking and deafening roaring action.

The actors do not far so well. The story is a bare sketch the sole purpose to get the monsters to fight. For a film, that I guess must really be trying to appeal to younger children at the most the child actors are at the forefront the human action. They do not beat the monsters on screen, but they do beat the adult actors into the background. With preposterous silliness to play with the three main youngsters acquit themselves very well. Millie Bobby Brown is already an established and fine actor so we know that any scenes are going to be fun and believable, equally Julian Dennison since his breakout role in Hunt for the Wilderpeople carries the role of comedy sidekick skilfully and with the ease that some much older and more experienced actors could learn from. Entirely deaf Kaylee Hottle is the newbie and is quite enchanting. The children are the resourceful heroes of the day and should at least get their contemporaries in the audience whooping with joy as unbelievable as their shenanigans are.

This leaves us with the adults, good actors too, but they are very much trailing behind 300-foot monsters, super-kids, explosions and collapsing building. Lumbered with not much characterisation, nails on blackboard dialogue they do their best and leap and jump and look concerned through the running time.

The CGI and effects are good, you can see where the money has been spent although it is for me, once again, noise and light salad, much less than the sum of its parts.

All in all, as a monsters fighting film this is good. Anything else and the weaknesses show. I know that Godzilla vs Kong has many fans old and young alike but purely from my point of view once again we are taking a trip to the continent of Non-Plussed-Land. As my grand daughter said after Skull Island why did they CGI Kong to look like a man in a suit and here we are clearly following the original series and not King Kong, either 1930s or Peter Jackson variants. I just prefer my giant apes not 300 feet tall and to resemble a real ape but that is just me.

Some points to note.

1. Kong was constantly called a monkey throughout the film. Is this a deliberate wind-up by the filmmakers, if it is, not funny, if not that’s probably worse, ignorance.

2. The exceptionally beautiful Eiza González gets killed again, the last film I saw her in was Baby Driver.

3. Over the course of these three films in this monster universe how many people are killed? Honestly it must be millions and the cost or rebuilding would bankrupt the world.

I know it is a silly monster film, I know we are not supposed to take it seriously, but these are the things that just get into under my skin and stay there. I think about them when I am watching the film.

If you like monsters lathering the bejesuses out of each other this is the film for you, if you like some sort of logical storyline to go with this battle, maybe not so much.

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Rabies

There is a dog, but it doesn't have rabies - hmmmmm

(Edit) 04/07/2021

On the face of it Rabies looks like just another film where a group of good-looking teenagers wandering around the woods for some reason, or another end up getting murdered by a serial killer for no obvious reason. And initially we do start off with a rather unpleasant killer but from that point onwards the directors, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, make a good effort of, if not subverting at least bending an old, cliched, and often times, boring genre.

Firstly, the directors set up the main characters giving them each and distinct character type that are based in realism and make you begin to empathise, or not, with them. Rather pleasingly most scenes are shot in broad daylight. It is no spoiler to say we are greeted to some early unpleasant serial killer action but from then on, the story collapses in on itself until you are left with bodies and blood but not in the way you are expecting to get it.

This is the film’s great strength and also weakness because, I can imagine, for some viewers, those that love the full horror of serial killer, kids in peril stories will feel let down by Rabies, likewise those expecting a film about rabies might also be disappointed, but those that like something a bit different with characters that are a little more interesting than cardboard cut-out victims, think more like early darker Coen Brothers, than Rabies might be for them.

The directors have gone for more of an exaggerated view on human nature itself, mistakes and mishaps, a very dark take on confusion and anger. Nothing that happens needs to have happened and could easily have been avoided but instead down on this roller coaster we go and who will make it to the end is anyone’s guess.

The humour is dark and seriously deadpan so do not expect to be laughing out loud from beginning to end but nevertheless there is small vein running through the mine of this film. The gore effects work but are not over the top and excessive. The easy way to judge this is the grue did not bother me but some people I know will be hugely disappointed. The acting is from a group of unknowns (to me anyway) is all good and fairly realistic, I found the bickering amongst the tennis playing teens entertaining and for a change not annoying like some similar set ups. Danny Geva is particularly memorable as the horrible cop Yuval as he channels Matt Damon from Crash, and I also note that Yael Grobglas has now popped up in the Supergirl TV series. Ania Bukstein is an extremely attractive actor so if nothing else I liked looking at her face throughout and I am pleased to report that her looks clearly have no bearing on her casting as she is a great actor. Everyone acquits themselves well though, were not talking Oscar bait but it was all believable and fun, the main idea was to get you to route for a character that you liked, and all the cast do enough for this to be possible.

The directing and pacing are good as the film slowly builds to its climax but not so slowly you get bored or distracted, nothing is perfect, and the film has faults but considering this is Keshales and Papushado’s first film they have made a particularly good effort. There are some interesting shots and set ups including the usual racing tracking shots through the scary woods that is a staple of this type of story. The temptation to go down the usual slaughtering teenagers’ line would have been easier but here at least we get something different. Not entirely different, there are riffs from many films to be found, particularly if you like your horror slashers and dark comedies but it is all done well, the acting is good, and the suspense is fun. You never really know who is going to get ‘it’ and who is not. Afterall the film already tells you that the violence is senseless and has no reason, so characters surviving or not surviving also have the same rules attached.

I will recommend Rabies for the fun and entertainment. Not fully original it is fully fun.

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Threads

It Took a Nuclear Strike for Traffic Wardens to get their Revenge

(Edit) 01/07/2021

This early effort by Mick Jackson, he of The Bodyguard. LA Story and errr, Volcano, fame is a more battered, scratchy, affair made on a budget with an edgy kitchen sink realism about it. The story and point being made are all the better for it.

We are treated to a washed-out aesthetic as everyone in 1984 Sheffield go about their lives. Drinking down the pub, shopping, going to work. All the time in the background, through the realistic medium of newspaper headlines, Lesley Judd of Blue Peter reading the news and radio announcements the creeping disaster that is the whole point of the story edges forward. It is clever and works well. The realistic drama style is somewhat counterpointed by a documentary feel with on-screen text telling us where we are in the timeline. I am not sure whether this works or clashes with the fictional tale and days after viewing I still cannot make my mind up.

Probably due to budget restraints, but I think also for realism, Jackson used a cast of relative unknowns, and all involved give great showings as ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Great writing gives all the main characters little knowledge or interest in the event unfolding, until things start to get out of hand. To balance this, we are shown the leader of the council who is designated the emergency manager being told to be ‘be ready’ to run the local area in the event of a war. It is this strand of the narrative that arguably gives us the weakest part of the film when later on we do get treated to some very stagey histrionics in the ‘bunker’ under the town hall, it is not ‘11’ but it could have dialed down a bit methinks.

Part of the morbid interest is to see what happens once the war starts, who survives, who makes errors, who is wiped out. If there is any criticism, I think Jackson and the writer, Barry Hines, who wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, so definitely knew about the northern working-class realism, were too optimistic, allowing more than a few characters to survive the initial blast. The events prior to the strike are mundane and ordinary to the point of the opening set-ups perhaps starting to drag. The unfolding news flashed about Iraq and the oilfields are both realistically made and very slowly rack up the tension.

The events of the nuclear strikes and the results no doubt were horrifying to audiences at the time but once again I cannot help feeling that the real circumstance would be more terrifying and apocalyptic and of course Jackson was certainly hamstrung by costs.

If I have any major criticism the tale of Ruth carries on way too long after the events and we are projected too far into the future and so are greeted with pure fiction and speculation. It is as if the story was pivoting around nuclear strikes on the UK but once that has occurred, the devastation is framed, highlighted, then air gets let of the tyres and we trundle to the end.

Nevertheless, is this a small complaint and if you are lucky enough to view this, not only do you get to see Reece Dinsdale in an exceedingly early role but probably the best ‘realistic’ film made about a nuclear war out of the small crop of films the popped up around and after it came out. Even today, outdated as it is, it still packs a punch.

A film that should, but never will be shown to older school children and all MPs every year. It never will because no one in power wants to people to know they are going to burst into flames or die from radiation sickness after a war that no one wins, and certainly can you imagine

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Zombie for Sale

Let us talk of cabbages and dead things...

(Edit) 27/06/2021

Zombies, again, in a way and very much as George Romero predicted but they have taken over the world, they are ubiquitous. In Zombie for Sale, we have the South Korean type seeming more akin to tottering about and biting people, but never eating them. Lee Min-jae has treated the undead, infected, whatever you choose to call them in the only way that they should be now – comedic.

Truth be told there is a rich vein of previous zombie films that Lee Min-jae has mined here, Land of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies, and every serious and not so serious undead film between Night of the Living Dead and now. Zombie for Sale is not on the gruesome gory side of the equation at all. What the film really pins its flag to is the odd-ball family, outsiders, in peril. Family is the most important component throughout, and making money, surviving, outweighs everything, even a zombie apocalypse. The film starts off slowly, and very much says to the audience, ‘comedy’ and then after stumbling a bit, tilts into chaotic and never returns from that point.

The Park family are dishonest and disorderly and whilst these characters could be dislikeable because of their family dynamic and charisma they are the likable centre of the film. All the actors acquit themselves well, with Korean ‘everyman’ actor Jae-yeong Jeong pitching the dishonest, cowardly eldest son, Joon-Gul perfectly, the two main female characters, played by Jae-yeong Jeong and Soo-kyung Lee are easily equal and most ways superior to the main male leads as characters, which is nice to see. For the style of film and situations we are placed in all the acting fits well. Ga-ram Jung in a non-speaking zombie role does very well in what must have been a thankless task at the time. Finally, the whole reason for the direction of the story the matriarch of the Parks is played by elder statesmen actor Park In-hwan and cadre of older men, this is the comedy heart of the film, purely there for laughs. Perhaps over-the-top and bit vaudeville, end-of-the-pier style but it holds together within the context of the film.

The directing and cinematography are good. Fast paced and frenetic, the story is linear, and each scene and act follow into the next and makes sense. Sounds odd to say that but how often does this fundamental method of telling a story does not occur and leaves you frustrated or worse confused when watching a film. With plenty of wide tracking shots to show off the lush greenery of the South Korean countryside and the set piece action, several well set-up and more reminiscent of more serious horror.

Comedy, like every tome in film-world, is in the eye of the beholder so to speak. Zombie for Sale probably had a Korean flavour to the comedy, it is painted in extremely broad strokes and will seem a bit ‘stagey’ for some, so it is entirely understandable why some will not like the film. I am not qualified or have enough knowledge of the South Korean film industry and acting style to know if this is how their broader comedy tastes are in general but for me, the topic of the film makes the style of the comedy perfect.

The film has faults like every film and just to fit in with the universal complaint about films it probably outstays its welcome and some judicial trimming who have made the whole slicker and in keeping with the bish-bash-bosh aesthetic. Having said this I particularly liked the ending which was very funny and upbeat and one particular plot point, not that important, but glaring enough for most regular filmgoers to say, ‘Hang on, what about?....’ is quickly and neatly cleared up. I liked that, it was if Lee Min-jae said, ‘You know what they will say when they see this? Let’s head them off at the pass’.

Zombie for Sale, or Odd Family: Zombie on Sale or Gimyohan gajok is frantic, chaotic, perilous, daft, silly, over-the-top, entertainment and let us be honest that is what it set out to be.

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Sweet Bean

Baked Beans with Sugar does not cut it.

(Edit) 24/06/2021

On the surface, this simple Japanese story is another of a slew of recent films where working and making food is the story. Although the title is An or Sweet Bean and the main focus of the early part of the film is making a delicious ‘an’ and the specific way you make it, but this is only a small part of the tale. In fact, I would say there is a deception at work here, to get you comfortable with Tokue and how the sweet bean sauce is made that turns around the fortunes of Sentaro’s little food outlet, you would be justified in thinking this is the thrust of the film.

It is not.

What we are treated to is a tale of friendship, positivity, intolerance, and love. It is in its small way wonderful.

Essentially it is a three-hander at most, with one or two simple locations that could basically be any city in the world, except for the beauty of cherry blossoms. What is focussed on is the three very different characters, Sentaro is lonely, unhappy and carrying a burden that means he works at the dorayaki shop no matter what, Wakana lives with her single mother who seems not to concern herself too much with her and having little to no money she cannot carry on in school, Tokue is an old lady who needs human interaction, to be free to work, and make the perfect ‘an’. What we get is the interactions between the three, nothing major or overly dramatic and as we move on their lives do too. It is subtly done, in a gently smiling amusing way and masterfully acted.

Kirin Kiki, an eccentric lady all is so, sweet, and natural as Tokue, so much so that it is easy to forget she is acting. I cannot pay any actor a great compliment than that. Masatoshi Nagase has the tougher task as he must portray someone who is broken from his debt, clearly unhappy, he is underneath it all a friendly, kind, soul, but it is buried. To play this with just hints, all the while growing towards what you suspected all along, with the help of Tokue and Wakana. This brings us to Kyara Uchida who has the less well-drawn character, but she works well with what she has and is entirely believable as that shy schoolchild who does not have the funds and means available to her as her classmates do. Seemingly they represent the present, the past, and the future without smacking you about the head shouting at you.

I would have to say that the three actors are very good and help drive the story forward well. This is particularly helpful when the film does sag slightly near the end as the denouement is dragged out a little bit longer than it needs to be but nevertheless it does not detract from the film.

The screenplay, by director Naomi Kawase, is beautifully written and generally economic and lean with no unnecessary padding. The directing gets along to where we need to be but gets a bit bogged down near the end although considering the way the story ends this is understandable,

Both at once uplifting and terrifically sad the film ties up neatly at the end and leaves you with a wistful smile after it has shown you the darker side of human nature and a great cultural shame of Japan. I cannot tell you the road Kawase et al takes us down to get to this bittersweet ending but it is worth it, even if the path does tend to meander a bit too much at times.

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Adrift in Tokyo

Magnificent hairstyles and mayonnaise take us on a trip around Tokyo

(Edit) 10/06/2021

Adrift in Tokyo is a simple idea and certainly not an original story, think of Midnight Run and few other tales where two completely different characters are forced to share extended time together and from an initial beginning of fear or loathing their time together ends up with them respecting or even liking each other. If it is male/female, they often end up lovers. Opposites attract. All nonsense of course and in truth a weak premise. So, if you tell this oft-told tale you better have some strong glue to hold it all together.

It is the hairstyles folks; it is the hairstyles. Joe Odagiri sports a mad giant bedhead and Tomokazu Mirua a championship-winning mullet but in all seriousness these two are the glue that holds this simple story together. Fumiya is a shiftless loser, but he is much more that than an impression, Fukuhara is hired muscle, but he is more than that. This is the secret, make them one-dimensional and you are going to get bored very quickly, make them deliberately quirky and the viewer can get the feeling of being manipulated very quickly too. These two actors get the performances balanced right on the edge, for me it is perfect.

Dumped right in the middle of the story are three characters from Fukuhara’s wife’s place of work who spend scenes out of the main story concerned about her and looking for but get side-tracked. They are clearly the comic relief and although a little diverting, it does play into the story, although I am not saying why as this ruins the story for you. Ironically, they end up as extras in a film which is a reoccurring theme with some of the Japanese films I have watched recently. These little diversions could have ruined the story or been too jarring but here controlled by director, Satoshi Miki, they seem pitched well.

Throughout the trip points in each of the characters’ lives slowly revealed showing why they are as they are. Like all good road-trip, although this is a walking trip, we meet a collection of disparate and strange characters. Add all of these into the mix, some good acting, some fun, some sadness, and you have a great film. There must be some nuances or parts of the film that play to Japanese culture and being as ignorant as I am I would have missed them but overall if you a looking for – I hate this word in all honesty – a quirky, road trip, weird, sad and fun film which is greater than the sum of its parts I recommend Adrift in Tokyo. Of course, if you are never going to go to Tokyo, like me now unfortunately, this is a nice little trip around some real parts of that city.

Adrift in Tokyo is a film about a big city and the small things in the city. It is about regret, family, connecting with your emotions, the need for companionship and mayonnaise added to Japanese food that should not be added to Japanese food. Most of all though it is interesting and fun and that is no bad way to spend a few hours staring at a screen if you have to is it?

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Monsieur Lazhar

Quebec Bakalva - I've had those before but didn't know they were called that.

(Edit) 11/05/2021

Placed in the wrong hands Monsieur Lazhar could easily have turned out to be a terrific treacly confection of heartstring-tugging manipulation. Considering what is on display, the themes, it is to the credit of the director, and screenplay writer Philippe Faraldeau it is not.

The tragic event that starts the story, whilst a bit unlikely, is not sugar-coated and from that, for me at least, fairly shocking opening all things grow. We are into adult themes here, that come crashing into the world of children, it is all about love, loss and the well-walked path ‘a stranger in a strange land’ but for a lovely change, you are not hit about the head with a baseball bat with these themes.

Without laying out the plot, and what happens and how the story concludes it is difficult to discuss what you see on the screen. It is best to say that we are treated to restrained naturalistic performances where possible and some of the least annoying child actors I have seen for quite some time. In particular, Sophie Nélisse was at the time clearly Canada’s child-Drew Barrymore. The adult actors also give great accounts in particular Mohamed Fellag who brings nuance and quiet air of dignity and sadness to Lazhar.

There is a real undercurrent of trauma throughout the story that runs through the lives of everyone adult and child alike but the real trick, the real heft of this well-crafted and acted story is that for a such a huge emotional hit in people’s lives there is no pay-off, no closure, you work your way around the roadblock, you try your best to make sense of it – sometimes it does not make sense. To my way of thinking this is a very adult way to show the audience a tough and emotive topic.

Plenty of comment throughout the story on the process of education in Canada, the restrictions of teaching methods, for good or bad, and how it can change a dynamic between teachers, pupils, and parents to such an extent where Lazhar’s simple observations on a child to her parents is immediately rebuked and he told to ‘teach not bring up’ but to the credit of the film it sides with no one, you make your own decisions. This is films strength it really does not try to push any agenda, Lazhar is a nice man, who is hiding more than one secret, not because he is an asylum seeking Algerian but because he is a nice man. The headteacher tells him how things must be done not because she is the ‘baddie’ (far from it) but because it is her job and that is how it must be done.

For me, this type of attitude to story with issues that can get people very emotive, as we know this is now a code-word for sweary and dementedly angry these days, was refreshing.

Based on a play by Evelyne de la Chenelière, who plays pupil Alice’s airline pilot mother, Monsieur Lazhar is simple tale, told subtly, on a topic that could have been mangled through the Call the Midwife sugar press. It was not.

Recommended unless you really hate asylum seekers and children.

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Mom and Dad

Kids eh? What can you do?....Maybe not this.

(Edit) 06/05/2021

In a very camp schlocky way Mom and Dad poses an interesting question. What if the unconditional love of your parents turns into unconditional murderous hatred? Where do children run to when there are huge problems? Home, their parents. Where is the deadliest danger in Mom and Dad? Home, their parents. It is a great premise and makes for something a little different for the fan of horror films.

The set-up is simple, something happens, and your parents want to kill you. The main characters have no idea, firstly, that this is happening, and secondly, why it is happening. In many ways we are in zombie apocalypse territory here. The main protagonist is menaced by the average, the normal, that in any other circumstance you would never expect to be a danger.

As the viewer we are never really told why this is happening but if you watch the action and how things pan out there are clues. The feelings of approaching dread, very much like the beginnings of a deadly pandemic of the undead film, are filmed beautifully and normal life slowly has the bizarre and horrific dripped into the mundane motions of life. The news item seen at the start of the film, parents glassy eyed at the school, we know what is going to happen but Carly, her friend and their friends do not. Children are called out of class one by one to the office. Parents stand menacingly outside the examination hall, nothing graphic happens, but peril is palpable.

The culmination of the school scenes is both blackly funny and horrifying simultaneously. From this point the film shifts to an Assault on Precinct 13 style. A completely different style of film but these gear changes are smooth enough for it to be barely noticeable. To my mind, putting aside the mad, horror and silliness of the film, there is a skilled filmmaker at work here.

Although when you see the cast, you expect to see Nicolas Cage in full on ‘Nic Cage’ mode I would argue that here he is playing this film with a straight bat mostly, he is the normal dad, maybe writ large when it comes to how he talks to his son, but he must be loopy for a great part of the film and he is suitable loopy. It must be remembered the victims of the mystery illness/plague are maddened, driven insane by the hatred, jealousy, for their offspring. Selma Blair is the perfect foil more stiletto to Cage’s sledgehammer. Blair here as a ‘mum’ and playing her age, looked the part perfectly and is probably the sort of friends’ mum you fancied as a teenager. Frustrated to sadness and anger by the youth that slipped away and then is kept away by younger women.

The younger actors acquit themselves well, facing off against two of the industry's better and more respected actors, on their day at least, and the supporting cast slot in perfectly being more cameos to the film's main five characters but also seemingly fleshed out – it is good stuff. Even Lance Henriksen turns up for an ‘oh yeah that is going to happen’ moment.

The dark theme of lost youth, the end of life for parents runs through the film like the wording in a stick of rock. I found it fascinating and one that most of us ‘oldies’ can relate to. The loss of youth, that youth being wasted on the young, the huge battleship chain hanging around your shoulders that bringing up children can bring, the crushing weight of responsibility and being sensible seemingly replacing your exuberance, fun, spontaneity. We all know whose fault that is.

Okay that is extreme and is balanced out by all the love, fulfillment and fun that the same situation brings, but the makers are not looking at balance, they are looking at an extreme and what happened if it tips over.

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Baby Driver

Never saw one baby driving a car from beginning to end.

(Edit) 27/04/2021

Edgar Wright is someone who I have liked since the first time I have seen his work with Spaced way back in the day. Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, all good stuff, all hugely influenced by other films and directors. Baby Driver is going to be that way – anyone who does not realise this has not been paying attention.

We are clearly and most unequivocally in a cinematic world here, nowhere else, so there is not much actual realism, no sense to be properly had, if you let it go, let the colours, sound and action take you in you will be fine. The car driving action is up there with any you have seen recently and probably in the past too, fast past, ridiculous and mainly in vehicles that would fall to pieces if you really did what you see on the screen. Music and pop-culture has played an important role in Wright’s artistic career so using music as the timing for the heists and action fits perfectly in the film. There is the conceit of tinnitus to power this plot point but in all honestly who cares, it is just an entertaining film and we are here for the colour, sound, action and cool characters.

If I have a quibble, and if you do read these typo-infested little works you know I always do, it would be the tone of the story seems a little inconsistent. For the most part we are looking a criminal caper movie with what is obviously a kind-hearted, good kid who is mixed up with some real ‘baddies’ who air menace and talk about death and mayhem but mainly seem to shout and scream but later we are get blood and death and menace and the most menacing character becomes kind-hearted, definitely to my little mind a bit off-kilter.

The music is eclectic and drives on the action’s scenes well, all good stuff if you are a music-head, unfortunately I am not but I do understand and see the artistry at work here.

Ansel Elgort is particularly good in the main role of Baby, perhaps a little too cool for my liking, but he was consistent and engaging throughout the film, clearly his supporting actors John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González and Kevin Spacey all flirted with parody as they turned the nasty up to 10 but it was just restrained enough not the pantomime although all rather familiar. None of them had any sort of story other than bad criminal and thus they appeared even more peripheral than normal in a film of this type.

The weakest part of the film was the love story shoe-horned in with Lily James seemingly playing a character from another film. I was not sure how she was told to play her role but for me it was over the top twee and cutesy and even within the world we were being shown it just seemed out of place. Chemistry was clearly lacking between the young actors and it showed on the screen. I cannot say it is minor gripe because it is a large part of the story but the whole film is just about strong enough to withstand it.

All in all, this is strong entry to Edgar Wright’s filmography and it shows what good directors and film makers can do if they are given a little more freedom than big studio blockbusters allow. It will not be for everyone and has no place in the pantheon of serious films about crime. It is bright, colourful and as noisy as any comic book with acting and characters to suit that look it probably is not the sort of film I would seek out to watch again but this does not make it a bad film.

If you like colourful action and cool characters mixed in with some classic music tracks and you are not averse to a bit of violence, then this is the film for you – if you are the right mood for it this is a fantastic film for that, I am sure.

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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

This should be a TV series really.

(Edit) 16/04/2021

Like a lot of Burton’s films this is based on children’s literature and like a lot of his interpretations you have to think, is this too dark, a little too scary for the younger audience it is aimed at? Afterall, we have some scary CGI lanky limbed monsters that people turn into that eat eyeballs and you see them eating eyeballs. Hmmmm, how is your 10-year-old’s sleep? Topped with a scary looking Samuel L Jackson hamming it up in full-on scare-mode and I am not 100% sure smaller children and some adults are going to be comfortable viewing this film. Quite often I feel this way about Burton’s films. I mean we know kids like being scared, Dr. Who when I was a kid, but I was not allowed to watch Dracula where people were being killed in full frontal blood mode.

It is fair to say Burton is uneven in his films and ‘Miss Peregrine’ is in this category. When it is fun and entertaining it is particularly good but when it is scary, drags or gets disjointed it is disappointing. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children is exactly this.

We are led into the story a little slowly, with Jacob’s mum soon discarded and never seen again and although this can be a little annoying for modern audiences it does make the second half of the film more compelling as we meet up with the peculiar children caught in time-loop during the war. Words that should make most imaginative people sit upright and pay attention. The time loop is fun with everyone in the home stuck knowing what is going to happen at the exact time – so the same phone call, the same squirrel falling out of its nest and the same attack by a monster. Great concept and the ultimate boredom of some of the children are well realised. It is Groundhog Day but without the crescendo of resolution.

Near the end we get into an escape from evil things with tricks and subterfuge, each child character getting a little set piece with their powers – entertaining enough but so far, so familiar. As a grown man with reasonable cognitive-functioning aspects of the time-travelling and loops did get a little confusing but much like the aforementioned Dr. Who it seemed easy to watch, enjoy, and just let it drift.

With some of the effects you can see the budget but in general the overall look and feel of the film is good enough. All the adult actors are equally good enough without being outstanding, Eva Green is the lynch-pin adult and is great in her role although she is used sparingly, Chris O’Dowd seems to slip into any character easily enough but is also used sparingly and seems forgotten by the end of the story. Both Allison Janney, Rupert Everett and Judi Dench are fine actors but they do just seem like high-value window-dressing and Samuel L Jackson seems nowadays to just play the same character, he always has a least two sentences in every film that start ‘Did I not just say….’ regardless of the setting. Put him in a grey fright-wig and fetish doll teeth and he is still Samuel L Jackson from ‘that film we saw last week’, shame as he does have more to offer.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an odd film, entertaining enough I watched it from start to finish without my mind or attention wandering, the acting, in general, was fine and everything was neat and seemed to fit in its place. But something was missing, dare I be so pretentious as to say the ‘soul’ of the story, I cannot really say but something was missing. Once again with so many films that I watch there is a good film in there, but it is stifled.

Overall, not really scary or mysterious enough for older children and adults and perhaps a little too scary for the younger viewers. No age group can understand the time-travelling though.

Neil Patrick Harris, I see your next Netflix project on the horizon sir.

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