Film Reviews by Strovey

Welcome to Strovey's film reviews page. Strovey has written 184 reviews and rated 218 films.

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Night Shift

Not So Many Happy Days at the Morgue - I'll get my coat.

(Edit) 08/11/2023

Grand Theft Auto was really Ron Howard’s first film he directed but Night Shift is touted as his first attempt at a big Hollywood style film or feature. At the time he was just twenty-eight and it seems he was in a ‘safe place’ as he was surrounded by Happy Days friends, Henry Winkler or Fonzie and the writers Ganz and Mandel who wrote for Happy Days. Throw in the mix Richard Belzer, Winkler’s cousin, who in this film looks too much like him, and his brother Clint, who has an entire career based on Ron Howard’s films and the young director must have been fairly relaxed.

Michael Keaton is probably second billed here but it can be argued that this was his breakout film and his manic, cock-eyed and very Keatonesque performance proved popular with the 80s audiences, on the other hand Winkler, certainly the bigger star at the time, played against type swimming upstream from the confident, all-fighting, all-loving Fonzie to play what is basically a cowardly dweeb for want of better description. It maybe did not help him that he played it very well showing a bigger range than early Keaton but audiences did not like or could not adjust to it. Aside from playing Fonzie for a few more years Winkler sort of disappeared whilst Keaton went from strength to strength.

The final member of the trio, and basically the film revolves around these three for the majority of the running time is Shelley Long, who cleverly booked a role in long-running TV success ‘Cheers’ whilst still popping up in mainly light frothy comedies. Here, much like a lot of her roles, she is not given a great deal to work with being the favourite of Hollywood an attractive, lovely, prostitute (I am using the vernacular of the time) who is smart, intelligent and kind. Sure, they will be out there but in the cinematic world there seems to be a lot. Having said that she plays this role to the hilt and the chemistry between her and the two male leads is up there to be seen.

Overall, where does Night Shift sit? The comedy revolves around the mismatch between the two male leads and at this point it works, Keaton and Winkler play off each other well and the mismatched friendship is believable, as is the romance between Long and Winkler despite the role Long is given. The rest of the story is problematic. I suppose in 1982 when I was 20 I would have laughed like a drain but viewing from 2023 we can see things we could not then,

We have, Gina Hecht, who plays Chuck’s attractive and slightly paranoid fiancé Charlotte, somehow being one the film’s more unattractive characters yet basically she does nothing wrong and is dumped. How many films have you seen where the original partner of a character is shown to be undesirable often by being normal? It was a trope in 1982 and it is a trope now. Tired, lazy and worn-out.

Then of course the whole topic of sex-workers exploitation. All the girls look exactly what you think they should look like at the time, except they are on the right side of attractive, not one of them drug-addled and worn out from the life they have led. Rather than beating a dead horse than you have read from better writers on the topic than me this all seemed to me to be a bit stereotypical and even for the eighties once again, a bit tired.

The film is comedic, yet there are murders, women being exploited and beaten, men earning from immoral purposes, I mean I am not one for stopping distasteful comedy but I think when you get into this territory you need to try to have an underlying message to give the comedy some substance. Night Shift mostly misses this target and let us face it even back then it was a fairly big and easy target to make a statement.

Night Shift is worth watching to see Henry Winkler showing what a good actor he is and the start of Michael Keaton’s screen persona around that time and much like Winkler what an accomplished actor Shelly Long was.

Although despite this the truth is I probably would not watch it again

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Conviction

If You Only Take One Thing Away From Conviction - Could You Do What Betty-Anne did?

(Edit) 30/10/2023

Conviction is not something you have not seen before, that is the plain truth. An innocent man imprisoned and fighting to prove that innocence against all the odds by one determined individual. So far so TV movie of the week. What lifts this particular film way about this crowd is, and I have said this so many times before with my opinions, the acting. The script, directing and pace of the film are all good and help but add two less talented actors taking the weight of the story on their shoulders and you get a poorer quality product.

Another strength for Conviction is that as improbable as it might seem it is based mainly on a true story. A man really did spend eighteen years of his life in prison for a crime he most definitely did not commit and the only person who believed him from the start and stuck with him to the bitter end was his sister.

What we really have here amongst the courtroom, lazy police officers, and trailer trash witnesses’ travails is a simple dramatic story of the love between two siblings. Viewed like this Conviction is a triumph. Hilary Swank once again is strong, earnest and fun as the hard-working, almost in some sense blind to her brother’s short-comings Betty Anne and Sam Rockwell in the more colourful role of Kenny once again shows his acting chops by toning it down, making Kenny, dreadful, funny, sad and sympathetic. I have previously noted Rockwell seems to have the ability to create believable on-screen chemistry with his co-stars, an amazing tool he has at his disposal. It is now at the point that if Sam Rockwell is in a film I will watch no matter the topic.

Strong support is provided by the always dependable Minnie Driver, possibly a fictional character to reflect the audience's viewpoint, and the black-hat Melissa Leo as a vengeful cop and white-hat Peter Gallagher as the Innocence Project bossman. Equally, the young actors dropping in and out of the film as her sons put in believable performances. Casting is so important in any film.

Director Tony Goldwyn and writer Pamela Gray carefully avoid too much courtroom or prison action or even the desperation of the law classroom for Betty Anne, wisely choosing to invest emotional heft in familial flashbacks and dramatic meetings between desperate Kenny and determined Betty Ann. This keeps proceedings simple, some would say dull or slow I suppose, but it builds up to what, if you do not know the story, you hope is the end. For me it worked well.

If I have any complaints it does appear that the makers want to really underline who are the baddies later in the film with Juliette ‘look at my manky teeth’ Lewis looking like a leftover from The Walking Dead and Kenny’s ex-wife, played by Clea DuVall, looking as if her double-dealing has made it all go downhill. Doing the wrong thing means the rest of your life will not turn out too well. We all know that is not necessarily so but it is a filmatic device and not a major complaint.

Overall Conviction is a fascinating tale of strong sibling love, and one woman’s utter set-in-stone conviction and unbreakable determination. All true as well. Sure, there will be little breakaways from the story, dramatic devices and exaggerations but as ‘true life stories go’ stick in Sam Rockwell, Hilary Swank and Minnie Driver and half your work is done before you start.

This film took ten years to make due to funding falling through, so take a little under two hours of your day to watch it and then ponder in the same circumstances could you do it? I am not so sure I could, shame on me.

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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Animation Shouldn't Be Better than Lauded Actors - But it Is!

(Edit) 23/10/2023

It has to be said upfront that the Spider-Verse animated films are not targeted to me, a 61-year-old man. Nevertheless, the original Into the Spider-Verse film featuring the adventures of Miles Morales and his Spider-Friends was one of my favourite super-hero films of any type of ‘brand’, therefore, I was looking forward to the Across the Spider-Verse further adventure.

In some ways my anticipation was more than excelled but some ways it was disappointed.

The animation, voice acting, fun and excitement were again top-notch. Which coming from with the kinetic and brightly coloured nature of what is thrown at you on the screen is a high compliment. The bright colours and almost surrealist-style shapes which would normally have got these old eyes spinning and upset me just seemed part of the story and in keeping with what I was expecting. All good.

What perhaps held this particular film back from being as well-regarded by me as the first, I really did like that first film, is the running time. Did it really need to be over two hours long? I would say no and the part that failed the most was what I think the makers as the showpiece. When Miles gets to Spider-Verse Central and we see many, many versions of Spider-types. It was too much, with too many variants and became a little dull. I also feel it would have been wiser to make this, like the first, a self-contained story and not a part one. Seems a cynical money grab if I am being honest.

The humour throughout the film is spot on including the in-joke of having Miguel O’Hara, voiced by Oscar Issacs, being the only Spider-Person with literally no sense of humour or fun. It also helps, unlike a lot of Marvel output that this humour derives from many sources and is not just the central character being a ‘smartarse’ to the point where you start to dislike them.

This time I feel the animation, although fluid and impressive did not have as many variants but that might have more to do with my lack of observation than any failing on the part of the makers. The voice acting and casting is spot-on, especially Daniel Kaluuya going back to London, and frankly the film and performances drag you into such a point that you almost forget you are watching an animation, no small feat.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a fun action-packed adventure that adds to the first Spider-Verse film and takes nothing away. Fans and aficionados will love it and if a tired, seen-it-all old man can enjoy it then Lord, Miller et al have done their job well.

I will watch the ‘Part 2’ that is going to turn up and no doubt enjoy it. Just make sure you have a nice comfortable cushion to sit on before settling down.

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They Call Me Trinity / Trinity is Still My Name

Review for They Call Me Trinity or Lo Chiamavano Trinita

(Edit) 12/10/2023

Although Italian actors Mario Girotti and Carlo Pedersoli, who to make them more recognisable and popular in the USA changed their names to Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, had been acting for some time before this comedy ‘spaghetti’ western and had teamed up previously in God Forgives, I Don’t and Ace High, this was the film that elevated them to stratospheric fame, particularly in the English speaking world, and cemented them as a charismatic and fun comedy pairing. An amazing fact really considering someone like me, as a young child when I first saw these comedy westerns, would never hear them with their genuine voices.

I can recall watching this film on Saturday night at home on my own aged around 12 or 11 so about four or three years after the film was made and thinking it was the funniest thing I had seen ever. After this recent viewing my enjoyment whilst still there at watching the antics of the lovable duo was nowhere near as elevated.

I did notice that my snorting and giggling was strongest at the start of the film as we are very quickly shown what type of person Trinity (Hill) is. Tramp-scruffy, so lazy he gets his horse to drag him across the desert and does not even stir as the travois goes through a river. Unassuming and harmless-looking, he has a reputation by name only, which is demonstrated when two rival bounty-hunters try to shoot him in the back. All done with humour and charisma from beginning to end. Indeed, a strong beginning and some skilled filmmaking.

Despite being cynical and old now and confirming some of the film's fun had faded this was still an enjoyable romp through its running time and it has to be said the movie being fifty-three years old does have to be taken into account.

Where writer and director Enzo Barboni hits the nail on the head is with the satire of the whole genre of the film. He is on record as saying he did not like the uber violence of the countless Italian-made Westerns that were cashing in on the Leone’s ‘classics’ in which stoic and seemingly indestructible anti-heroes were only successful if their body count hit triple figures. It has to be said even at this time there appeared to be a Spaghetti Western fatigue setting in so the timing of Trinity was fortuitous.

The trope of a silent, dressed-in-black killer, is destroyed by Hill in one memorable scene and throughout the film he is so deadly with his gun he can shoot someone pointing his gun behind his back without looking. Hard to exaggerate an already exaggerated genre and do it for laughs but it works.

Where the film lags is after we establish Major Harriman is the big bad and will do anything to establish control of the land for his beloved horses. The setup is funny but then the build-up and indeed the final showdown ending just goes on too long, outstays its welcome and somehow makes a slapstick, comedic fight between, standard Mexican bandits, henchmen and ‘shackles-off’ Mormons too long and eventually not funny.

The storyline is bog standard, I mean a group of well-meaning non-violent people are harassed by very violent evil-doers who want them out of the way using their own nefarious means. This is almost as old as boy-meets-girl, so it must stand on its premise and comedic outlook which it definitely did at the time it was in cinemas and still, in a way, does now, even if from a film-history perspective.

Without a doubt, if you enjoy spaghetti westerns like slapstick and silly humour delivered by lovable fools this film will be worth your while seeking out. It is over a century old but at the time was definitely a shot in the arm for what was becoming a tired genre and this does not distract from the fun and entertainment that can be had in a viewing and Hill and Spencer were without doubt a slick and comfortable double-act that worked perfectly.

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The Big Gundown

Eight Job Opportunities have Arisen at The Sexy Widow's Ranch.....just saying.

(Edit) 06/10/2023

Lee Van Cleef pops up in The Big Gundown in a role that paid so many of his bills as an older, wiser, but stoic bounty-hunter style hunter-killer in the Wild West. Sometimes he was bad, sometimes good, in this interesting and superior ‘Spaghetti Western’ he is mainly good but there are a lot of shades of grey to be seen in his performance as you watch the story unfold.

With The Big Gundown the story is all. Being an Italian-made western well over fifty years old and therefore right in the middle of that genres boom years, you get the overwrought and a tad odd set pieces with over-the-top sound effects, play-ground style shoot-outs where the combatants pull off impossible feats but while this might put off a younger generation, brought up on more realistic effects and films (sometimes), perhaps for certain generations it is delight that makes you smile.

Tomas Milian, a Cuban American who carved out a career in Italy, here plays Cuchillo, the scruffy n’er-do-well who is deadly, and I mean deadly, with a knife. Cleverer than he appears, a hidden strength, Cuchillo in general stays one step ahead of the greatest bounty hunter, who does not collect bounties, in the land. Milian plays the role to the hilt, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, arms pin-wheeling everywhere, screaming, pleading, gurning, almost a parody but actually fitting for the role and highly entertaining, never before has so much over-acting worked perfectly. His foil, in what for most parts is a two-hander, is Van Cleef, who seemingly just goes into his western hitman role and pushes ‘play’. His Corbett is minimal in expression and word and the polar opposite to Milian, he shows emotions or thoughts with a glance up, a slight movement. So different from the Cuchillo character it works well. If you like your pasta-based oaters this will be familiar and welcome.

The story apparently derives from an original written by Franco Solinas and Fernando Morandi which was set in a contemporary time period, with the protagonists' ages reversed and ending in a very bleak and nihilistic manner. When it came to the screenplay setting the tale in the ‘Wild West’ made more sense as it gave Sergio Sollima a lot more leeway with lawlessness and story beats. The ending is hilariously so ‘Western movie ending’ it is again almost parody but it was most definitely added as a nod to cinematic lore and to leave the audience upbeat.

But it is definitely the story that raises this film’s stock above similar-style movies. As with much Italian output, there is a barely hidden political agenda at play. Solima was in the Italian resistance against the Nazis in World War Two and the theme of the downtrodden, underclass maligned and mistreated fighting back is in the forefront with the armed branch of the elite, Van Cleef doing the bidding of this masters until the scales fall from his eyes. There is even a Nazi representation with stiff as a board Austrian Baron bodyguard played with fun and elan by Gérard Herter to who the death of a person just happens to be a side-effect of his obsession. Racism, classism and unthinking capitalism are all front and centre. Perhaps this sounds dreary and preachy to some, and that is understandable, but such is the format, such is the screenplay and acting that if you choose not to see that message it is easy enough to enjoy a rip-roaring and over-the-top western.

For ‘Spaghetti Western’ aficionados’ The Big Gundown is a must and anyone interested in cinema with an open mind likewise. If you are really fussy with realism, dodgy dubbing and so forth then perhaps bear in mind the year, 1966.

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Knights of Badassdom

I Did Not Larp that Much.....see what I did there.

(Edit) 27/09/2023

As this film unfolded I immediately thought that the makers saw or were involved with ‘Role Models’. The final third of that film takes place entirely at a LARP event. They must have thought expanding the fun and idea of ‘nerds made good’ would be a great idea for a full movie. Truthfully, it is a great idea for a movie, unfortunately somewhere between the planning and the execution something got lost. I have read that the director's vision or version was much chopped about in post-production, unfortunate, but we who view the film can only judge on what we see, not what we’d like to see.

The cast is strong, I personally have never seen Ryan Kwanten before but he is well-known for a certain demographic and Dinklage, Zahn, Pudi and Simpson bring their own cache to the production so all good. Summer Glau, I have not seen her in anything since Serenity, and Margarita Levieva are the only female cast of any note, are easy on the eye and do as much as they can within the limitations of the writing.

The story itself is actually horror-film-standard. Unbeatable demon/monster accidentally revived/summoned by helpless fools and the same helpless fools have to overcome the seemingly insurmountable evil. Much blood and limb lopping off ensues and a few ‘heroes’ fall by the wayside but the main couple overcomes the odds, get it on and live a happy post-credit life.

Bearing this thought in mind it would seem to be really important that the process of setting up the characters and story is greater than the actual story. The Knights of Badassdom fails on this. It definitely did with me because during the running time my attention was wandering, so much so I lost a few plot points and never resolved how certain things happened. Never a good sign.

The biggest roadblock has to be are you interested in LARPing, Dungeons and Dragons, fantasy that sort of thing? If not then I have to say thirty percent of the story is probably diminished. Perhaps unfairly but if you watch a sports film and a sport you have literally no interest in, it better be really well made and captivating otherwise they lose you.

Further to this the tone was a bit hit-and-miss. It seemed to be a slapdash look at the wacky world of LARPing and then showing how these much-maligned people were actually okay and looked out for their friends. Then we get heads coming off, innocent people, who are not even into LARPing having their throats cut and beating hearts ripped out. You can juxtapose gore with humour, it needs a bit of skill, I’m looking at you American Werewolf in London, but in my experience, mostly the target in this shooting range is missed more than hit generally.

Reading some reviews after the film had concluded there were some nods to real role-playing that were clever and funny but it is a complete miss if you have no idea what they are.

Negative opinion I am afraid and I do not like giving these when I can avoid it but The Knights of Badassdom really feels like a film that was a good idea and then lost focus, stumbled around in the woods for a while and then fell asleep.

It could have been better, so much better, I am sure.

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Kotch

I was born in 1962, by 1971 things hadn't got better - Kotch proves this.

(Edit) 23/09/2023

It has to be remembered that Kotch is 52 years old as a movie and was also versatile actor Jack Lemmon’s only directorial effort. Perhaps on this showing you can see maybe he was not really up for that side of the creative process in filmmaking. This is not meant to be disrespectful to a fine actor but there is something ‘off’ about Kotch from the minute the film opens.

The opening credits feature scenes of Matthau, only fifty-one at the time, looking somewhat unconvincing as a past he seventies widower taking his tiny grandson to the park and entertaining him. Clearly setting us up to show us what type of man Kotcher really is it is saddled with a syrupy music track and has all the subtlety of a very tacky Hallmark card or the worst meme you have ever seen.

The whole essence of the shots seems….TV movie. So much treacle you can feel your teeth rotting. So faced with this you feel you are not trusted by the maker and you must be forced into opinions.

The story itself must have been relevant when I was 9 years old but truthfully is relevant now so as they say ‘kudos’ to the writers Paxton and Topkins but unfortunately it is wrapped up in some sugary pap and tiresome characters whilst you are battered about the head with over-the-top and intrusive music. Another attempt to manipulate how you feel about certain scenes.

Matthau is good, but not convincing as a wind-bag old codger, he was great as the sort of chap you might meet who is nice enough but goodness he can talk your ear off, me perhaps, but he does not convince at looking like an old man and this can whip you out of scene fairly quickly.

His son played by everyman actor Charles Aidman is okay but forgettable, with the requisite sexism and seventies sensibilities and the task of the ‘horrible bitch ‘ wife is left to Jack Lemmon’s real-life wife Felicia Farr. She is a little redeemed near the end but basically is the normal 1970s wife you see in a lot of TV and films. Dire.

Deborah Winters does get some plaudits for her portrayal of the teenager who becomes pregnant but even here it seems you have seen all the dramatic points dot-to-dotting in the story before.

If you follow me on social media you know I am an admirer of Matthau’s acting throughout his career, including taking the time to paint a portrait of him, but this, whilst good enough, is one of his weaker moments. He is not helped by the pedestrian story beats and horrible music score but ultimately he has to salute and go down with the dull ship as it sinks below the sea of better films.

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Champions

Cheers to this not being in Philadelphia

(Edit) 08/09/2023

If you read the blurb and general outline of the story you have to understand what you are getting for your money. This is unashamedly feel-good, underdog, storytelling. You will have seen this before more than once. So the only thing that can win you over and make this hold its head higher than the others behind it is the direction, the storytelling and the acting. For me, Champions wins due to the positives they can put in each of those columns.

The story starts quickly and sharply introducing you to the heel of Woody Harrelson and if you want an actor to play a role, with more than one level, who is both a good man and an arrogant a-hole at the same time the former bartender from Cheers is definitely your man. This is not a criticism in any way but he definitely can do this role in his sleep. Here it is effortless.

His amor is the nearly unrecognisable, for me at least, Kaitlin Olson and it has to be said she is a revelation. Freed from her role as the cartoonish one-level shrieking Dee in Always Sunny in Philadelphia she is really good. I would go as far as to say that Always Sunny has shackled Kaitlin. Here in a grounded more emotionally realistic role she a strong important part of the film and makes it work. It would be interesting to see how she would work in completely different genres.

With Harrelson and Olson anchoring the story ably supported by Cheech Marin – the strong realistic boss figure, and Matt Cook – comic relief who proves capable near the end, the genius of the makers is to use genuinely intellectually challenged people playing the roles of the kids. By showing them joking, having challenges with serious topics, being funny, diligent, and being everything except their disability, we have honesty at the heart of the film and story and I dare say for some people eye-opening honesty.

All of these young people are great. Some stand out and have more important story beats than others but they all get their fair share of screen time with the star that shines brightly from the minute she gets on the screen, Madison Tevlin, playing the hard-assed and sassy Consentino, she clearly loves every line, every emotion she has to show us on the screen, and she makes you laugh.

The film cleverly does not have a ‘revelation’ moment for the Marcus character but more subtly changes his attitude without ever signposting it at all which is an aspect I liked. Lesser storytellers would hit you over the head with this moment to show it. Consequently, it feels much more natural and organic.

The sensitive content around the youngsters with the challenges and obstacles that we can never truly understand or know are managed very well throughout the runtime and it was never there to manipulate your emotions cheaply as some films would. The whole film is obviously manipulating your feelings, but in a good way, perhaps even challenging how you think on a small scale but it does try to highlight more understanding in the viewer and the upbeat side of such tales.

Within the scope of stories like Champions emotional beats are signposted and pushed, which I understand some people do not mind, Champions seems more organic and natural in the way the story and characters progress. A big plus for Farrelly, the writers and actors.

This is not to say this is a perfectly wonderful film. Although it zips along it could also lose a few minutes of run time and some set pieces seem a tad unrealistic and are shoe-horned in to highlight a point or get the characters to where they need to be. To be fair, it is not like that has never happened in a film before.

The story treads a very well-worn remarkably familiar sports story path and if you watch films you have seen this before. Even the ending is familiar.

Champions is a well-acted, well-made, story that lifts intellectually challenged people out of the role of ‘how difficult is their life’ to a more rounded view.

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Lawn Dogs

Mowing Kids Toys and the Mail does not a good Lawn Dog make.....

(Edit) 03/09/2023

Lawn Dogs is an odd film. The strongest point, and once again a theme I come to many times with a Sam Rockwell film, is the chemistry between the leads that is to be seen on the screen. Mischa Barton, eleven years old at the time, is believable as the loose cannon Devon and the bond and innocent friendship between her and the always great Sam Rockwell’s Trent is believable and endearing. Not easy to do and it could have easily slipped into creepy or ‘that girl seems more like she’s thirty’ territory so it is a credit to the direction and more importantly the acting that it does not.

The film zips along at a great pace with the usual rich people are vapid and a step away from the devil trope that many films love to run with, but in Lawn Dogs defence having seen documentaries/interviews with people who live in gated communities it is probably closer with the displays of casual promiscuity, thoughtless violence, sexism and racism shown by the broadly written supporting cast than you might think. You only need to look at what is happening around the world and especially in the USA to realise that it is not as far-fetched as it once might have been.

Having said this the supporting cast has a feel of cardboard-cutout-villain about them, in particular the influential family's son Sean, who is a school-psychopath-bully that you have seen in every US drama, comedy and horror film ever made. In real life locked up before they were sixteen. It does seem they were in the film to make a point and they do.

Devon refers to the Slavic folklore of Baba Yaga throughout the film and because of how the film ends this fable underpins the whole thing. Unfortunately, if you are trying to make some fantasy-type drama and have nothing pointing to this until the final fifteen minutes or so all it will do is confuse the average viewer.

This is what happens here. Without ruining the ending it makes you question what has gone before. Are we seeing the imagination of a child, and thus an unreliable narrator? It is all true or a dream? I do not know. This is a misstep for me along with Trent’s visit to his parents which was awkward, odd and almost from another film coupled with some poor acting it did not sit well with me.

Lawn Dogs stands up to scrutiny. It is odd and will not be for some, the friendship between and grown man and a child made the powers-that-be in the USA and UK ban it but this only goes to show they utterly misunderstood what they were seeing, clearly Trent and Devon were the only normal people in the film everyone else was grotesque and horrific.

I would recommend Lawn Dogs, it has Sam Rockwell in it for starters, it is odd enough to keep you watching but I could not help feeling it was an opportunity missed to make a great ‘strange film’. We all love strange films do we not?

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Mr. Right

The Sequel Mr. Left Has Been Canned for the Time Being

(Edit) 29/08/2023

You could be forgiven for taking a sort of dislike to his film by reading the blurb or outline of the story before watching. It is not like it is something you have not heard or seen before. A kooky girl meets up with a wacky guy, or sometimes the other way around, but there is something in the way, a roadblock that must be overcome before they set off into the sunset to lead their kooky life.

To overcome perhaps regular film viewer's disdain and cynicism you have to hitch some good actors, or ‘stars’ if you prefer, to the tale. Luckily for Mr. Right, they do this. Sam Rockwell a veritable expert at playing the slightly off-key dangerous but niceish chap and Anna Kendrick a pretty, odd but lovable woman who is has reserves of hidden strength she did not realise she had. Both these actors are slotted in their most comfortable zones and it has to be said they play it to their maximum abilities and it helps that the chemistry between works, is palpable.

Just for this alone and despite the utter absurdity of the story and the unfocussed tone and moral compass, Mr. Right is enjoyable.

The film definitely lacks originality but the energy and pure belief in the project from the main actors is there on the screen to see, so although you feel you have witnessed this somewhere before and you are sure you know what is going to happen the journey to the story points and set-ups are enjoyable. Even a terrifically nasty bad guy played with nice easy nonchalance by Tim Roth is fun although he is meant to be the dark soul of the movie.

The dialogue, although hokey, drives it along and is delivered with a natural ease and never grates no matter how silly it gets. Definitely a note of thanks to the actors from the writers was needed here.

Unusually for a film of this type the bad-guys and supporting characters are given a little more meat on their bones and almost seem fleshed out. Anson Mount, unrecognisable from Captain Pike, is a little more than a godfather-type crime boss, sure evil is his main characteristic, but there is some grey in the black and white. Likewise, even a small supporting role such as Martha’s girlfriend by Katie Nehra has a little more to it than ‘best friend’ written in the screenplay. Nice to see in this type of film.

I would recommend Mr. Right, because of Sam Rockwell, I would watch a Snickers advert with him in and the fact that a daft film about basically unlikeable and evil people is fun, perhaps the moral compass is miles off kilter but if you are in the right mood a lot of the faults and peccadillos can be ignored. If you happen to be in the wrong mood, or looking for something serious or worthy, you will hate this. Be warned.

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Kansas City

A Jazzed Up Tale of 1930s Kansas Underworld...

(Edit) 24/08/2023

Altman’s Kanas City is almost as much about jazz music as it is about low-life and high-life gangsters in the mid-30s USA. Dumped on top of some rather excellent jazz played by top jazz musicians of the time (1990s) is a wafer-thin plot, simply a man robs the wrong man, gets captured and knows he is going to be ‘fed to the dogs’, as his wife does, so his wife kidnaps the wife of a powerful and influential politician to get him released. It’s not such a good move as she thinks. That’s it.

In this story there are no heroes, no one you would throw your lot in with but that is fair. We are plunged into a world of backroom gambling drinking dens, election fiddling for corrupt politicians and out-and-out gangsters. Too many films and TV shows these days somehow make out these types are heroes. Look how many people actually walk around dressed up like ‘Peaky Blinders’, horrible swine from the 1920s in Birmingham, it’s like dressing up like Harold Shipman or something. So showing this world as seedy and grim is okay with me.

Blondie, played a bit too cartoon-like for me by Jennifer Jason Leigh, struts around like a 1930s film gangster moll, admires Jean Harlow and believes she should do whatever her husband Johnny says or does. Miranda Richardson plays Mrs. Stilton in a much more nuanced and subtle way, she is wealthy, spoilt and swimming in laudanum, Harry Belafonte completes the main triumvirate with a fine menacing display as Seldom Seen the vicious crime boss who owns the Hey-Hey club, people will live and die on his word. All in all, no one you would like to spend any time with in real life and in general played very well by the actors. This grounds the story in some semblance of reality and makes most of the actions and story beats seem realistic.

Dermot Mulroney is not used as much as he could be as the catalyst for the whole story and says no lines for the early parts of the film. When he does, ill-found confidence oozes out of him, it is a shame as it might have been more interesting to invest some story time with Johnny, as Mulroney convinces with his few lines.

Steve Buscemi pops up this time playing ‘horrible’ and with such a versatile and talented actor his horrible is as good as his nice and funny, you can see the ability in only this short cameo.

Altman’s window into this part of American history clearly sees a dark, seedy, and desperate world where power, corruption and violence are the only things that seem to matter.

The more the film goes along the more you feel that overall the film is more about atmosphere, a feeling, rather than a tight and engrossing story. I have read that the jazz music is too contemporary for the period being depicted but this point aside it is the very lifeblood of the film and you cannot help feeling that Altman was more interested, invested, in the jazz than any other part of the film.

From my limited knowledge, the period had been reconstructed accurately with costumes, cars and buildings not looking out of place only Jason Leigh’s portrayal of Blondie jarred with me but I settled into the film and let her 'caricature' her way through the scenes without ruining it for me. Others of you may not be so forgiving.

Altman is always a film-maker worth watching so Kansas City is a solid bet. Could it have been a better more engrossing period gangster film? Yes but this does not detract from what you see and if you love jazz it is well worth a watch.

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Renfield

Unlike this Dracula this film somehow lacks confidence...

(Edit) 10/08/2023

Nicolas Cage as Dracula is exactly how you imagine it. Over-the-top more evil-Nicolas-Cage than the Lord of Evil but somehow very entertaining rather than grating. It is certainly not just any actor who can do this.

Pair this Dracula with a foil played by the ever-reliable and consistent Nicholas Hoult jumping right back in where Warm Bodies left off back in 2013 and if nothing else you will have a watchable film. Make the run time a tad over 90 minutes and you have a good formula.

Awkwafina plays a major role in an extremely similar level to everything I have so far seen her in, not necessarily a bad thing in the circumstances, but as her career progresses it would be interesting to see her branch out. Interestingly enough not a hint of a romantic subplot in the story whereas most films of this type tend to dump one. Her human foil is Ben Schwartz playing Teddy Lobo the master criminal’s slightly less ‘masterly’ son and he gives a good reliable Ben Schwartz display. So the main characters are solid, planted, and do not take anything away from the film.

The film is silly, this being no revelation, and so gory that there is no shock value as the violence is definitely Tom and Jerry level. Normally I am not a big fan of non-stop violent action that always seems to outstay its welcome but here the kinetic action whilst silly and defying any, even perfunctory, logic just about held together for me.

Whilst the acting and silliness are okay in this type of film it is difficult to figure out what the makers are trying to say. Clearly, the very small underlying message is toxic relationships but that, like everything here, is played entirely for laughs. The horror side of it is truly violently gory and death-filled but the makers lose their nerve and everything seems to get tied up too conveniently, and more important happily, which is disappointing.

Plot holes? There are plenty but perhaps pointing them out is churlish. It did seem strange that the writers, Robert Kirman amongst them, used the footage from 1931s Dracula and seemed willing to follow the rules set down by Browning’s kick-starter of this filmatic lore, but near the end, the rules are thrown out to suit the ‘happy’ ending. A more nihilistic finish might have been better but maybe less audience pleasing.

Nit-picking points aside Renfield is a scenery-chewing, blood-fuelled, romp through an imagined relationship of Dracula and Renfield in the modern world that is not derailed by being too long and out-staying its welcome to become tedious. I have a feeling the comedic non-logical take on it this subject might be the only way to approach this topic nowadays.

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Vernon, Florida

Eccentrics - Let's All Point at Them and Laugh

(Edit) 06/08/2023

Errol Morris went to Vernon, Florida over 40-years ago to reveal ‘Nub City’ so called because the residents apparently removed their limbs purposely to make insurance claims. Whether true or an exaggeration the residents did not take kindly to this intrusion and threatened his life. This culminated in a cinematographer nearly getting deliberately run over. Rather than scuttle off with his tail between his legs Morris stayed but pointed the camera at the town’s plentiful eccentrics and then did the perfect thing that interrogators often do, he said nothing. Faced with this people in general will fill that void with talking, and this they surely did.

Having no insight into how Morris made his film or how he framed it, there is a feeling he definitely sought out the most eccentric characters he could find. It is obvious the less odd characters he filmed got the least amount of time with the oddest getting the most screen time. In particular the obsessive, and when I say obsessive I mean obsessive, turkey hunter.

How much footage was left on the cutting room floor? Perhaps some that show these people in a better light? Documentaries are entertainment in general and the makers will slant them to make the story they want to tell so a lot of people will see it – this needs to be remembered in ninety-percent of documentaries you see.

There really is little else to discuss. The film is very short in length coming in at under an hour and it stops – when I say it stops it just stops, no credits, nothing, just a black screen. Morris really did seem to enjoy gravitating to the ‘gobble gobble’ turkey killer, the word killer is the correct word because this fellow doesn’t shoot turkeys or hunt them, he likes to say he kills them. I could not help feeling that the turkeys of Vernon were doing the human race a service somehow. If he did not have the obsession he could sate he may have been featured in different type of ‘true’ documentary. Regardless of my own prattle, Morris was clearly drawn to this man and after the initial understanding of how much he really loves turkey hunting that started to drag quickly.

Being the USA, Christian religion really plays a big part and several folk let us know that because they do not understand how things came to be, science, astronomy and so forth it must be God. More hilarious is the preacher who proves if you have that position of reverence and ‘God-given’ authority over a community you can without doubt talk utter nonsense in a sermon and everyone will sit patiently and listen to you. I would love to know what the residents thought of his nonsensical and incorrect assumption that people in biblical lands of the Middle East used the word ‘therefore’ and what therefore means. It was tedious and not without smug hubris on his part.

I am not sure if I was meant to laugh at these people or just somehow love them in a sanctimonious way. Florida, Vernon was entertaining enough but should I really be entertained by eccentrics who probably think the documentary maker is interested in what they are going to say without realising the wider world is in general laughing at them?

When I give it some thought I have to say as a documentary this does not treat its topic with that much respect.

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The Revenant

Much Like a Revenant, this Film is Not Entirely Sure What it is.

(Edit) 18/07/2023

The biggest compliment I can pay everyone involved in The Revenant is it forcible reminded me of those hidden low-budget horror/comedy gems you could unearth at the video shop all those years ago. Surprisingly good acting and story and great special effects considering you know their budget was roughly $200.

The Revenant was in fact made in 2009 so perhaps this makes some others think little of it but it is clear with no big names involved and the budget being minuscule in comparison to some of the other more famous and less capable horror films around, before and since, that what you see is lovingly crafted and skilfully made slice of entertainment.

The main cast are four perhaps not so familiar faces and they do extremely well in this small world. David Anders a staple in US TV is realistic and sympathetic as the focus of the story, Bart, and he is ably 'side-kicked' with his slacker idiot friend (with a nasty side) Joey, played by Chris Wylde, who when he could have painted with huge broad stokes actually pulls back and gives us a fairly realistic showing.

The female characters, both way too attractive and intelligent to hang around with these losers, are fleshed out by British actor Louise Griffiths and Jacy King. Unfortunately, they are not served quite so well by the story and drift out of the runtime for a while before being fairly cynically and rapidly disposed off to get to the story's end. A shame as they both could have added a bit more.

The real problem with The Revenant is not the story in itself and certainly not the acting but more the pacing and tone of what we see. I am led to believe there are two versions and one was later edited for cinema release which was different from the horror-circuit version. I am not sure which one this is but it is definitely roughly twenty minutes or more too long and the overall tone of what you are seeing on the screen is too much steep peaks and troughs

For instance, Joey starts as your typical likable, comedic loser, and although he does many off-colour and illegal things it is clear you are supposed to sympathise with him. Near the end he becomes basically a mean-spirited murderer who we definitely should not care what happens to. Bart has a more level character arc but still does some dark acts that seem out of kilter of what went before. The two female leads are discarded near the end unpleasantly and I felt unnecessary. The whole mess of Bart’s attempt to escape and the mayhem it causes is badly thought out and executed. Too much unnecessary, and even in the perspective of the film, unrealistic death. Such a shame. When the film darkens and makes the tone heavier it goes all in and makes it too dark and too heavy. It is heavy and dark in contrast with what you have seen before.

What saves this slight mishmash is the fun and interesting ending. You could almost make a sequel from the final scenes. I enjoyed the idea and if you are cynical like me as it unfolds you definitely think ‘Yes they would’.

The Revenant is a well-made and interesting horror film with some unpleasant scenes and ideas, mixed in with some depending on your point of view seemingly out-of-place comedy and dark violence, and although enjoyable you cannot help feeling that if the director and writer D. Kerry Prior picked just one path you would have had a better movie.

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What a Man

You've Seen it All Before - This Time In German! That's No Bad Thing Though.

(Edit) 10/07/2023

Matthias Schweighofer wrote, directs (in tandem with Torsten Kunstler) and headlines in the German romantic comedy prior to his involvement in the world of Zack Snyder’s zombie-verse. As a first effort he cleverly chooses safe ground where any audience would know what they were viewing and how the story would resolve but then gently bends a few perceptions and tropes. Not breaking them but enough for the audience to have perhaps ‘not seen that before’.

Disappointingly for a non-Hollywood film it is all too familiar though. Schweighofer is bland but comedic as Alex, although his wimpiness is cranked up to eleven when to stop the frustration of those watching perhaps it could have been on seven. Some of what he does and puts up with makes you want to slap him really hard in the face – so I suppose you could say the decisions made by Schweighofer work. For me it was a bit too much.

Much like the ‘on the wrong tack’ Okke who equally was just a tiny bit too broad. If both the male leads had just pulled back a bit, toned down only a small amount, the film would have perhaps worked better. This is not to say What a Man is not an enjoyable watch, because it is, but the cartoonish aspect of the characters will definitely annoy and put some people off.

Likewise, the obvious road the story follows is a bit too familiar and was hoping for a few unexpected twists or turns. Schweighofer changes the airport run ending just enough to make you smile, the getting back with the ex is managed better, although any woman like Carolin, again painted broad by Mavie Horbiger, might find it hard to get a long-term partner. She is really horrible and somewhat psychotic. Any normal person would see that within ten minutes of talking to her. Once more the strokes are too broad, although I understand why.

Nele, played by Sibel Kekilli, is easily the most balanced and well-played character in the film and her interactions with Alex do have obvious on-screen chemistry

Yet despite my complaints, What a Man, is greater than the sum of its parts. It is enjoyable, funny in places, and makes you feel good at the film's end, although I still do not understand what Etienne, Nele’s boyfriend, had done near the end of the film. Perhaps I missed something?

Matthias Schweighofer is an actor-director who seems to split opinion, some feeling he is overrated others feel he is a talent worth watching. If his acting/directing in the two English-language Netflix specials are anything to go by. He has grown and learned in the 12 years since What a Man was made. Clearly, his strength in acting is playing a hapless, frightened, type but his ‘comic chops’ are strong. I feel he is a talent that needs watching and so far have enjoyed output of his I have seen.

What a Man is not groundbreaking but nor is it awful, an enjoyable Sunday afternoon watch. Really is that such a bad thing?

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