Film Reviews by Strovey

Welcome to Strovey's film reviews page. Strovey has written 186 reviews and rated 220 films.

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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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Mad Dog Morgan

Two Stars just for completing a film that starred Dennis Hopper in mid 1970s

(Edit) 19/06/2023

Mad Dog Morgan is a 1976 Australian film made on a limited budget featuring Dennis Hopper in his most hedonistic and wild phase about a real Australian criminal from the 1850s in which the filmmakers were trying to emulate to the best of their abilities Sam Peckinpah.

That sentence needs to be made so that any viewer watching Mad Dog Morgan can see the whole film can be given some context. Within that context Mora and writer Margaret Carnegie made a particularly good film.

Right from the get-go it has a 1970s feel about it. Hard to explain but perhaps the foleyed-to-death punch in the mouth earlier on and the wiggy-glued-on-beards made me feel this way. It was not particularly detrimental though.

What was fascinating was to see a Western, which is essentially what it is, but set in Australia. The first thing that has to be said is we get a veritable who’s-who of Australian thespians, all of them as dependable as you expect, good solid actors. Frank Thring, Bill Hunter and John Hargreaves, as good as you expect them, the budget, style of film and undoubtedly difficulty of filming clearly not phasing them. We also get the legendary Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil as charismatic and cheerful as he appeared in most films. Unfortunately, from his own recollections, you can also watch the film where he was led down some very bad paths.

This brings us to the ‘star’ Dennis Hopper. Drunk, drugged up and all the other Dennis-Hoppery-things we know and have read about his demeanour and behaviour off-set somehow added to the performance of Mad Dog Morgan for me – made it seem more authentic. The actual Morgan was apparently a difficult-to-understand conundrum. At times vicious and cruel and others, generous and ebullient depending on your luck. Sounds like the part was made for Hopper and adding in that he got deported from Australia at the end of the film adds another chapter to the legend that has built up around Morgan and not diminished from it.

Taking the film as a film the story meanders along and shows Morgan as a difficult-to-understand anti-hero although it is fairly clear which side the makers were on – especially if you read the real events in Morgan’s life and how they are depicted – or missed out.

The acting is strong throughout with Thring perhaps being a bit ‘evil supervillain’ in his role, although this is necessary to show the callousness of the colonial rule. A joy was the variety of accents on display with Welsh, Irish, Scottish and what sounds similar to me, west-country popping up from various characters.

The scenery and vast vistas will always win in an Australian film featuring the Outback and plonk rough and ready characters in there and you have an enjoyable tale.

The story itself zips along fairly competently, possibly a quarter of an hour too long, but nothing that detracts and although it really does not reveal too much about Morgan, other than his feeling of righteousness and odd behaviour, which might just be down to Hopper’s real personality at the time, it has an overall demeanour of authenticity and gives the colonials a good kick in the delicates until as usual they win.

Bear in mind you are watching a low-budget, difficult-to-make, Australian film nearly 50-years-old and you should enjoy yourself. Even Hopper’s Irish accent holds up although I am not sure where he was supposed to be from. Mad Dog Morgan is an overlooked western about violence, revenge and corrupt authority made in the 1970s and as such should be given a viewing but at no time does that viewing become a task.

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Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Shazam - It is understandable why the gods might be furious I suppose?

(Edit) 17/06/2023

The original Shazam proved to be curate’s egg of a film for the majority of people who viewed it, although I suspect the film suffered from the curiously inflexible ‘comic-book fans’ who can be particularly harsh and unforgiving if any output by Marvel or DC does not meet their exacting and precise expectations, although fans of any type of literature given the movie treatment can be like this to be even-handed. Personally, I really liked Shazam as it came in with the right dose of fun and action and used the comedy effectively and in the right portions and places. Something some other ‘comic directors’ of comic book stories need to really think about – but do not.

It is clear that the makers had the problem of what they bring to the table for Billy and Shazam to deal with, and herein lies the rub. Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren pop up, seemingly out of nowhere to become our antagonists Hespera and Kalypso the daughters of Atlas, along with a really, really obvious third in-disguise sister Anthea (so obvious that they disposed with the subterfuge part of the story early on) and to this end they are very vanilla villains.

As is usual they want ‘something’ and they will do ‘anything’ to get it – including threatening the world and in particular anyone Billy loves. Every villain does this, every villain fails. It was good that the sisters had different ideas of what they should do and how and that they fell out – often this is the group of superheroes that do this.

What is never addressed in this mainly light-hearted tale are the deaths. A lot of people die and not pleasantly in the opening minutes, Mr. Geckle, the headmaster played by stalwart Diedrich Bader, commits suicide in front of Freddie, where it is remarked that ‘Humans are squishy’ I paraphrase, even without any details it is unpleasant. Mr. Geckle was a fairly terrible headmaster, doing nothing when Freddie is beaten up in front of him, but he was nice and no one cares about him once he is murdered. Something that has bothered me in this type of film for a long time. Even Son of Kong way back in the early 20th century tried to answer this.

The story and acting just about keep Fury of the Gods above water although the cliches were piling up. The meet-cute with the world’s worst undercover god, and the psycho school bullies, who by now would be in prison, certainly took me out of the story. It has to be said, once again, why do they make these so long? The bridge rescue set piece could have been cut down or removed with entirely no effect on the story. There is so much filler that does not progress the story or characters, simply there to pad it out.

The effects just about hold up with some…errr…interesting Greek monsters of myth looking a bit strange. The dragon just about works although in some sections you can see where the money was saved, which really is not blaming anyone, it is just a fact of life making even expensive films.

The acting is good throughout and adequate even when it dips. Probably the weakest is a controversial opinion is the two senior thespians Liu and Mirren seemed somewhat miscast and were picking up a cheque. Levi owns his role, although seems to playing somewhat younger than the 18-year-old Billy Batson, which if the story carries on is not going to make sense in further instalments. Does Shazam as the hero being an ‘adult’ stay 12 years old forever, even when Billy Batson turns thirty – which he should in fiction and will in real life? The other adult hero actors are fine, look nice and certainly hold their own against their child versions. You do get the feeling throughout that aside from Freddie and Billy the writers were struggling to find space and time for the other characters.

Shazam Fury of the Gods is watchable and in general is fun but I felt I was watching the start of the law of diminishing returns. I could not help pondering what happens in the next Shazam instalment is going to be weaker.

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Wyrmwood: Apocalypse

No Uncle Benny But It's How He Would Have Wanted It.....

(Edit) 06/06/2023

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is a straight-up sequel of the original Wyrmwood almost following on from where the last film ended. The only thing missing is Leon Burchill as Benny, he was my favourite character in the first outing.

The first film, made and written by the same sibling duo of Kiah Roache-Turner and Tristan Roache-Turner, was a low-budget horrorfest set in the overworked world of a zombie apocalypse but it was made with a healthy dose of humour and a knowing wink to the audience and this with low-budget exuberance that lifted the film above its station. I liked it.

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse mines the same vein and whilst not really saying anything new, or doing anything thought-provoking and clearly following a similar safe path this dip back into the strange world of Wyrmwood was more than welcome.

Not taking itself seriously was a strength of the original Wyrmwood, the Apocalypse version is slightly darker and perhaps less humorous or maybe the comic targets are missed more often in this outing.

The makers have clearly been influenced by Aussie mega-hit Mad Max and the story seems almost set in the same world as the original, ‘slim young pre-nutty-rants Mel Gibson’, Mad Max. I hasten to add this is a good thing and not a criticism. In fact, seeing the souped-up nitro-boosted van and the weird almost fetish-masked gun shooters actually made me smile.

It really helps that our ‘heroes’ are genuinely likable throughout and their actions do make sense within the nutty world they inhabit. The Surgeon General is clearly the ‘baddy’ whose only motivation was a Segal-style ‘you’re evil’ and here there were a few eye swivels too many but within the framework of the film it did not distract.

I have said it before but there is no doubt, real enthusiasm, hard work and belief in your product can nearly always overcome a low budget, Wyrmwood did it in the first film and you have to say they did it in this sequel. In some cases, you get a poor effort but not here.

As with Mad Max the Outback makes a nice apocalyptic setting and with a small group of grubby-looking leads and zombie actors who have bought into the film and story and you are going to have some good entertainment. Do not concentrate on the plot holes and let the silliness wash over you.

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse embraces what is and with blood and guts, swearing and maddened zombies so you are swept along in a crazy whirlwind of violence and fun that does not outstay its welcome, because the film is razor sharp, has no excess and gets to point B with no detours.

Another visit to the world of Roache-Turner brothers is not a bad thing and a welcome reunion. I must say it might be interesting to see what they produce when they leave Wyrmwood behind. It will be worth a viewing if nothing else.

Overall, if you are looking for something less serious, and want something a little different from your end-of-the-world zombie apocalypse then Wyrmwood: Apocalypse could be for you. I was entertained from beginning to end. You cannot really ask much more can you?

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Vulgaria

Sales of Popping Candy have gone through the roof - goodness knows why?

(Edit) 31/05/2023

The film starts with advice for the viewing audience, the film has coarse language, despicable behaviour and if you are sensitive to this please leave within ten seconds.

They are not lying, Vulgaria is rude, offensive, extremely low-brow and equally as funny.

Not an easy thing to do when it looks as if you trying to get cheap laughs but Vulgaria manages this extremely well. Not only that but inside all the bestiality, eating any animal, oral sex and the like there is an underlying almost serious message to be had.

As I said an extremely skilful piece of storytelling.

Pang made Vulgaria over the course of 12 days on a tight budget and one cannot help but feel there is more than an element of autobiography here except perhaps some of the extreme moments – well let us hope so. If you watch the film you will know exactly what I am referencing.

Pang references the influence of mainland China on Hong Kong and the restrictive and overall corrupt handbrake it applies but also weaves in comments on social media consumption and its influence, the never-ending crusade for Asian parents to have their children succeed academically and professionally even if the ideas seem thrown in haphazardly. All this is compressed in the microcosm of To’s world. If you want to watch a crude film about gangsters funding a remake of their favourite Asian porn then you can also watch that. It is a film with genuinely many layers.

Chapman To, who plays producer To Wai-cheung, anchors the film perfectly, sleazy but not really sleazy, as dishonest as he needs to be but essentially he will sacrifice and do anything to make his film. Unlike characters in similar films that ultimately prove weak when push-comes-to-shove To’s producer pays the price, he says he will – no matter how unsavioury.

Made on such a low budget within 12 days the story can feel a tad unfocused with some scenes and set pieces not entirely coherent with the story but the actors To, Cheung, the alluring Dada Chan et al pull you through these moments. There is a slight dragging and slowing down near the end but nothing that kills your attention and enthusiasm.

Overall though, unless you are extremely straight-laced or very sensitive, Vulgaria is very funny. Laugh-out-loud funny at points and when it is not you will still be giggling and smiling throughout. The film is bracketed with the producer To giving a lecture to his professor friend’s students about being a film producer and it fits the story perfectly, including the final moments which are in some ways and eye-opener to this character that maybe you did not see coming.

If you are a lover of films and like stories about filmmaking, with some really crude humour then I would say seek out Vulgaria and even if you do not like these types of stories perhaps give it a viewing to see how a film can be made that makes you laugh, blanch and think all at once.

Good Hong Kong stuff.

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The Harmonium in My Memory

It Could Have Be Worse - He Might Have Loved Playing the Spoons....

(Edit) 18/05/2023

It would be fair to say that The Harmonium in My Memory is a slight and quaint film made at the turn of the century in Korea. The main actors went on from this film to feature in more well-known and even acclaimed films as their careers evolved but this story is certainly nothing to be ashamed of in their CV.

As un-Hollywood as possible despite the story being remarkably familiar to our Western tastes. Here, first-time director Young-jae Lee, is clearly making a film as much about simple rural life in Korea as he is a romantic story. It would be true to say the romantic side of the tale is quite simple, although playing out in a less than conventional manner, nobody is bad or does anything in bad faith and they do have reasonable motivations for their actions that make sense with the scope of the story. If we are honest you cannot always say that.

Therein lies the rub of course, due to this some might say the story is slight, misses something and is even boring. Like life in fact.

The film does show infatuation and the effect it has on the infatuated, particularly on a ‘responsible’ adult counterpointed with a younger more naïve person.

The maker just about gets past bad taste with the difficult storyline of a schoolgirl being ‘in love’ with her teacher. Luckily Mr. Kang is both responsible in his role and seemingly somewhat blind to Hong-yun’s ‘love’. Unpleasant feelings avoided.

If you have to lay criticism at the feet of a first-time director, which might seem churlish and unkind, it would be that Lee’s focus on his story wanders perhaps too much. He bookends the story with the older Hong-yun reminiscing and that memory is what we see. Unfortunately, this seems a little unfocussed as we zip between Mr. Yang and Hong-yun whereas perhaps a little more on the complex infatuation and the naïve longings of the schoolgirl might have given the film a more lean, distinctive feel.

At two hours long some of the set pieces seemed placed in the runtime for the sake of it, almost non-sequential and not really driving anything forward, although interesting for non-Asian eyes to see. Trimming and editing would probably make The Harmonium in My Memory go from good to must-see.

All in all, an interesting romantic tale from the Korean film industry that is well-acted, gives an insight to mid-twentieth-century life in a rural outpost in Korea.

Patience may be required but worth at least one viewing.

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Survive Style 5+

Surviable lots of Style, these are good plus points...

(Edit) 16/05/2023

Anyone who reads my opinions on films will understand that my personal opinion on surreal, arthouse-style films is fairly low. I can tolerate them but with no real story and random weirdness seemingly placed into the run time for the sake of weirdness my tolerance wears thin rapidly.

I am pleased to write that for all the bizarre, exaggerated, weirdness in a high colour palette on ‘Planet Surreal’ that is Survive Style 5+ I enjoyed my dip into this nuttiness.

What won me over is the stories do have a point and are trying to get a message, obscure and strange as they are the message is there even if you have to look fairly hard for it. So many other types of these films are often weird for weird's sake. This film whatever faults it may be, is not made just to be strange.

The film comes from a background of commercial making and it shows. Bright vivid visuals, characters that live on the edge of realism and can break the laws of normal life when needed but sell what they are selling.

The biggest misstep throughout the run time is probably British actor Vinnie Jones who despite not speaking Japanese and being told to be like his characters in the Lock Stock and Snatch just seems like a ‘we can get Vinnie Jones’ casting. I kept thinking ‘can’t he act any other way’?

All the other actors bring their characters to life in fun and entertaining ways and the film, although getting saggy for a few beats near the end, zips along at a good pace and ties everything up neatly at the end. Which for a surreal, bizarre film is definitely a blessing.

If you like weird Japanese films with likable but strange characters and situations Survive Style 5+ is for you but if films that seemingly make little or no sense for long lengths of their running time annoy you then I would understand why this might not be your cup of tea.

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O'Horten

If You Are Odd and Quirky - don't be dull and boring

(Edit) 01/05/2023

The premise for this film is nothing original, as a straight-laced character is thrown into a world of weird quirkiness in contrast to their normal life. Except here the treatment is presumably treated with Norwegian cultural stylings and ideas. Knowing next to nothing about Norway but having watched a few other Norwegian films and enjoyed them I was disappointed with O’Horten.

The story, on paper, if made correctly, can but a quirky fun-filled fest or at least a film that makes you think. O’Horten has moments of fun, makes you think from time to time but overall fails. It is as boring and stodgy as Odd Horten himself.

The little vignettes do not really follow on from each other, with many making little to no sense and do not drive the story or the characters on in any direction literally or figuratively.

Hamer seems to be suggesting that you must take risks and live a life if you can, but not in the case of his main character who just plods on and finally goes ski-jumping to honour his mother near the end. Humour could have helped drive this along better and there are a few amusing moments but not enough to dilute the drabness.

Merciful the film is brief and runs an under an hour and a half but it left me like Odd Horten’s life, unfulfilled and a bit bored.

Checking out the cast on IMDB and it appears this is an immensely popular film, whether it is with people who love arthouse films and can see something I cannot I do not know. I have great reserves of patience and if the mood is right I actually enjoy slow-burning films but the story this film is trying to tell could really do with a touch more colour, a swifter more amusing pace, the character can still be quiet and dull but that does not mean the film and pace have to be.

I was disappointed although I did enjoy the sliding scooter rider near the end.

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Blindspotting

You'd have to be blind not to spot this is a great film......

(Edit) 21/04/2023

Blindspotting is well-written, well-acted and all around very enjoyable cinematic entertainment. If you go into it wanting to watch a film about ‘the streets’ and two men on the edges of the law on them then it is what you will get. If you want to see a dissection of the changing face of US cities, the dynamic of race, being on the edge of poverty and crime, how it exploits and magnifies everything in a person’s life then you will get that too. It is skill of the writers and actors, three of whom are both, that you can get either depending on how you feel about your movie watching.

The charisma and chemistry between the two main characters is testament to the real-life working relationship between Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, in fact even minor side characters feel rounded and real giving the overall feel of the film as solid and bed rocked in reality. No mean feat for any director or actors.

The area filmed in, which I believe is Oakland, is shown in all its horrible beauty as you weave in and out of areas worn-down by years of neglect populated by hard people living on their wits, some honestly, some not so, all bracketed by the wealthy and exciting moving in to exploit ‘opportunities’ – all believable from the minute you start viewing it.

Front and centre of our focus and thus everything goes through them is Collin and Miles one black and freshly out of prison and the other white and surely heading there in the future as he is unable to control his temper, lifelong friends. Collin clearly wants to leave even the slightest hint of criminality behind so he never returns to prison and Miles for all his faults, is loyal to his community, as he sees it, his friend and to his credit is loving boyfriend and father. Sounds a bit trite, and in the wrong hands would be awful but Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal have written and played these two reprobates in such a manner that despite their faults and rough edges, in particular Miles, you still somehow like them. Superb rounding out of characters right there on the screen.

Both men are supported and more than held-up and grounded by two strong female characters Val (Javina Kavankar also co-writer) and Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) who are definitely not there to play ‘girlfriends’ but most definitely the only chance either man has of bettering himself and improving. Go with the ladies lads, go with the ladies. Two strong characters and actors for the two main characters to spark off against. Great stuff.

In this day and age and back five years ago anyone approaching these topics, being the product of your environment, being a black former criminal and white one on the edge of criminality are managed with great sensitivity. You only have to look at Collin who is trying to stay straight and narrow but worries every day being extra careful in how he behaves and is seen to behave, and Miles, white and wild, who seemingly does not care one jot or have any of the worries of his best friend, even though he is behaving with criminal recklessness. Just that juxtaposition could have been heavy-handed and moralising but in Blindspotting it was played subtly and not without a sense of fun.

Without wishing to ruin the story for those that have not seen Blindspotting it is clear that the events we witness are building up to a head and before we reach that point you cannot help but fear for Collin and Miles as we get there. If the story has a weakness the ending, whilst explaining the position of Collin perfectly seems a little too trite and probably shows how the makers love the characters. All this was okay with me and left me smiling as the sun rose over California again for another day.

Blindspotting is surprisingly funny, with love at the centre of its heart and also makes enough good observations and points that the message and story has lost none of its zing five years later.

Highly recommended.

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Flipped

It's A Wonder this doesn't add Years on your Life (I know what I did there...)

(Edit) 05/04/2023

Do you like a cloying, syrupy look back into the past? Then Flipped is the film for you. I was looking forward to a dip into the troubles of the early romances of childhood through the eyes of director Rob Reiner who has a good track record in films. In particular When Harry Met Sally, Misery and so forth. Although his later output has diluted over the years we should have been in safe hands here.

Unfortunately instead of getting something like ‘The Way Way Back’ we seemed to get a very long episode of The Wonder Years but with none of the good parts. Yes, we get the voiceover, alongside the insights and thoughts that few, if any, 12-13-year-olds have on life. With an all-white outlook that never existed outside the pages of books, film or TV and fading and selective memories.

To save you the rest of my opinion on Flipped, if you really enjoyed The Wonder Years, you will like this film. It will not be anything new, or ground-breaking, but you will be on comfy safe ground.

The only strong or interesting part of the film is the dual narrative idea, wherein you get the same scene as seen from the point of view of Bryce and then Juli. Bryce is an a-hole in training so his opinion and views are clearly black hat, or at least initially, whereas Juli is strong and on the high-moral ground – every time. Half an hour or so in the runtime the novelty has worn off. It is not really an original idea either but I am being generous. Flipped does not challenge any preconceived ideas about the wonderous time Americans had in suburban USA in the 50s and 60s and if anything reinforces that lazy naval gazing and stereotypes. All through the film I kept recalling some of the posts and people’s views about the past on various social media sites, often whitewashed and yearning for something that they never really had in the first place.

Since watching Flipped I have found out the source novel is set in the 2000s so the decision to place us back in the late 50s and early 60s was deliberate, manipulative and cynical.

Ragging on children actors is not a cool or nice thing to do so let us say that as hard as they tried there was no believable chemistry between them, what on earth Julianna would or did see in Bryce at any point in the story is a mystery to me.

Worse still there seems to be an episodic nature to the film where something is explained and then dropped never to be addressed again. For instance, Julianna’s family is poor and only rents because her dad spends all the spare money on making sure his mentally challenged brother, Daniel, is kept in a superior private facility. Notice how being poor and having very little to your name is an external problem and an act of utter selflessness. No one is exploited or frivolous with money, no, they are really an unsung hero. Incidentally, the small section featuring ‘Daniel’ is embarrassingly acted and borderline insulting, and once it was trotted out we never saw Daniel again.

Antony Edwards, with a very odd bald head, is an utter a-hole and as unlikeable as possible, grumpy, judgmental, daughter slapping, yet holds a secret that has weighed heavy on him since his days in college, we get the hint of this at the ‘dinner party’ and then it is never expanded on, brought up or explained at all. It is like it never happened.

Fraiser’s dad, John Mahoney, rocks up as the reliable wise old grand-dad of Bryce who ‘likes’ Juliianna because she reminds him of his dead wife…..hmmmm. A stock cardboard cut-out grand-dad figure who seems to have a storyline for short while and then that is dropped too….

All in all nothing much happens throughout the story except for some really odd and disturbing set-pieces, the boy and the basket auction, Uncle Daniel, the sycamore tree, spying on Bryce in the library, and who can forget the eggs, can we not talk about the eggs?

Not recommended

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Housebound

A Genre Given a Kiwi Polish Up [see what I did there?]

(Edit) 25/03/2023

Housebound dips into a genre that is popular but very hard to make well, Shaun of the Dead is probably the zenith with many films too numerous to mention dwelling around the foothills. This New Zealand-made effort is clearly closer to the summit than ground level. Here we have a snicker and short laugh film rather than a stomach-holding guffaw-fest, mixed in with a mystery, ghosts, and family drama.

Any director and cast would have a problem mixing these so that the audience would stay engaged throughout the running time but I have to say Housebound pulls off this with some aplomb. Morgana O’Reilly is superb as the angry and disaffected Kylie with the perfect foils in Rima Te Wiata who is perfectly cast as her mother and surprisingly nuanced Glen-Paul Waru as Amos. If the casting for these three major roles is good then any film has a strong footing, Housebound does this.

What is impressive is the main characters, particularly the main three, feel very real and solid and develop throughout the run-time and O’Reilly in particular stays true to her character throughout with no sudden changes in direction and personality, just a few sharp edges filed off, a satisfying and dare I say realistic progression.

Without dropping any massive spoilers there are more than a few twists, turns and misdirection to keep you guessing. They do work and the only one I saw coming I only saw mere seconds before it was ‘revealed’ which is good work considering I am a grizzled old film watcher of over 60-years.

The touch of horror comes with characters being in peril and some light gore but to my mind only the type that makes you laugh rather than wince, as mentioned before the comedy is light and more situational rather than toilet or violence themed, and the strongest component is really the drama side with Kylie’s dynamic with her mother a strong point.

With a 111-minute runtime the biggest criticism with Housebound is that is definitely too long, with the ending being too drawn out and cliff-hanger-tastic when it could have been wrapped up slightly better, a 90-minute film with judicial editing would have made this a perfect comedy horror.

Housebound is a well-made, beautifully crafted film, superbly acted and a breath of Kiwi fresh air which definitely gives the whole outing a different and interesting feel. In the world of film viewing that is no bad thing.

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The Cuckoo

There's More Than A Few in the World Right Now Who Should Watch This Film...

(Edit) 20/03/2023

In a niche of its own, The Cuckoo is an anti-war, romantic, comedy, written and directed by a Russian but set in the Finnish Lapland. It is impressive that a film featuring only three protagonists who cannot speak a word of each other’s language is compelling and holds your attention from start to finish. The war rivalry that perhaps many will have little knowledge of is not glossed over, top-notch Russian actor Bychkov is very much aggressive and loyal to the Soviet Union, he stays true to his character throughout but he is not made out to be a crazy, violent, warrior either, just a man, thrown into war. Veikko, played by Ville Haapasalo, is almost an embodiment of Finland, he is in the war, on the side of the Germans, does not want to be and does not want war. Anny could be said to represent life, she has no truck for war and just needs to get things in shape and ready for the oncoming winter, and now with two extra mouths to find she has to work harder. Plus, she is horny, really horny.

In this real-world Tower of Babel nobody quickly learns each other’s language to help the viewer out and misunderstandings continue from the very beginning to the very end of the film. You cannot help feeling that in less skilful or subtle hands this would not be the case. The Cuckoo is all the better for this.

Likewise non-Hollywood films with European sensibilities are not frightened of scenes with no dialogue where the viewer has to figure out themselves what is happening and what motives are being shown. This makes films stronger not weaker, having to work to follow a story, admittedly a compelling story, is more rewarding than being spoon-fed.

What is clearly being said by Rogozhkin is that communication is the answer to all misunderstandings even if you cannot understand what is being said. Working together in a mutually beneficial cause is best for all and conflict and violence bring nothing but misery and fear to everyone. Sounds simplistic and trite, I would say take a look at the world right now – or at any time in the past. So many are not listening.

The film is skilfully filmed in beautiful Lap locations emphasising how hard life can be for the Sami that live there without overstating the point or chocolate-boxing the scenery. All of the actors give top-class performances with Anni-Kristiina holding her own against her more experienced collaborators, Haapasalo and Bychkov, how she can seem sexy is such an unshowy and unsexy film is testament to her performance. In particular, the actors having frustrating and sincere dialogue with each other knowing that the other cannot understand them must have been an odd experience but throughout the film the actors played it perfectly.

Rogozhkin resists the temptation for a nihilistic and ‘war is hell’ ending preferring to finish on a positive and funny note with the misunderstanding of a simple word playing out one last time. All in the director and writer, whilst not bringing us completely original fare, gives us a different, and welcome angle, on misunderstanding and communication problems that highlight the absurdity of war without ever resorting to blood, brutality and bodies piling high.

Logic would suggest that some simple sign language and even crude pictographs would have defused the early misunderstandings but that is not the point of the film. Considering what is happening in the world today it makes the 99 minutes run time even more poignant and definitely sad.

I recommend The Cuckoo and visiting Lapland might not be about Santa Claus ever again.

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The Brand New Testament

We Are Made in God's Image - Makes Sense Now...

(Edit) 03/03/2023

Is The Brand New Testament offensive Christian bashing? I suspect it depends on your sensibilities on how you see this. I am not religious and can only see the hypocrisy and inconsistencies whenever Christianity or indeed any other religion is brought to bear on almost any topic. Nevertheless, you would like to think the almighty god, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, would have a fine sense of humour and fun. If my god exists he or indeed as The Brand New Testament posits, she, will have a great deal of enjoyment and fun from this film.

Even the most dunderheaded non-religious person can see the huge allegory at the story's heart. Our God here is chauvinistic, mean-spirited and spiteful – so Old Testament really, and his much nicer, loving daughter, who can hear the music that plays inside all of us, is the more palatable and preferable New Testament.

Benoit Poelvoorde easily plays the most uncharitable and unpleasant version of God put on the screen. God in many stories and tales punishes us humans for indiscretions and wrong-doing but here he punishes everyone arbitrarily, creates rules that spoil our lives, causes death and mayhem for no reason other than getting joy out of our suffering. Nothing else. I suspected as much. Poelvoode has great fun in this role, stomping about in a dressing gown, slobby and belligerent he gets to lose his temper in great cinematic style, be unforgivable cruel and get the tar beaten out of him. I mean what self-respecting actor would not want to do that?

The concept of everyone knowing their ‘end date’ is played out superbly in small vignettes, I mean what would you do? Director Van Dormael cameos as a 54-second man with inevitable consequences. Here as joint writer and director, he does not overplay this idea but instead gives us a glimpse of the world into which the news has been released. I love the idea of wars stopping, there being no point for the armies, but cleverly he does not overplay it and instead introduces our ‘apostles’ with it as we see how their revealed end-date changes them. Self-discovery and realisation being the initial introduction that is built on as the story progresses.

Van Dormael clearly plays with the concept of temptation and the path it can lead us down, whether morality is a religious concept or humans are by their nature caring and moral. None of this is truly answered and it is left to us the viewer to come to our own conclusion. After all, if we are made in God’s image then he would be vindictive and cruel, take ‘him’ away and does it take that away?

The Brand New Testament is funny and quirky in an ‘Amelie’ style and asks what is, without doubt, some deeply religious and fundament questions about the nature of humanity without ever really being a deep or meaningful film. It scrapes the surface so that those that watch it can delve in further or just pass it by.

Certainly this film is one of those strange European films that you probably have to seek out that is worth that search, different, fun, some superb child-acting by Pili Groyne, with the story not saccharine yet not unnecessarily mean-spirited and despite the, perhaps ‘heavy’ theme, at its heart just trying to be fun entertainment.

If you are not sure about this film – give it a go, what have you got to lose?

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Mad God

I Will Not Savour Your Pleasing Odours - if I had a quid for every time this was said to me....

(Edit) 02/02/2023

It is very difficult to give an opinion of Mad God. Everything about this film is imagery as would be expected from visual effects people who have worked at the top of their game. Here we go back to the Willis O’Brien King Kong days, herkie-jerky stop motion, which must have taken a decade of months just to complete one or two scenes, especially in time off and at weekends. But the effort pays off. The visuals are arresting, beguiling and horrifying. You somehow connect with the Assassin despite knowing exactly what he is and how he came to be on your screen. That just in itself is a mighty skill. I reiterate there is no dialogue, no easily followed narrative. The viewer must get everything they get from the film by watching the images placed in front of them and nothing else.

So without waffling away too long I can only give a short opinion. As I mentioned above there is no easily followed narrative or plot which is indeed the film's weakness and its strength.

The strength is a film with an indecipherable story featuring almost exclusively stop-motion models is still engaging and well worth watching.

The weakness is with an indecipherable story you are forced to focus on the images presented. Hellscapes, tortures, both real and surreal but by the hour mark it starts to get wearing. I was more intrigued when we were transported, along with Assassin to clearly recognisable areas. The level of ‘war’ was intriguing. huge monolithic tanks warring with each other for eternity, devastated cities, atomic bombs constantly going off. A level of Hell that must simply be called ‘war’. I particularly liked the early level with the let’s say ‘dust bunny men’ being crushed by the relentless machines and gods of industry, destroyed, swept up and then reconfigured to work for all time and have the same things happen over and over again. That was as great as it was depressing.

Others that watch those scenes will interpret them another way. That is the beauty of any great art, the viewer sees what they see in it, the person next to them something else. No one is right, no one is wrong. Mad God is very much this way.

I will confess, heresy to some I would imagine, my mind started to wander in the final quarter, I saw what was going to happen coming and was at least partially correct and by then the relentless weird images, rather like steak every day for dinner, were starting to lose some lustre, as it were.

This is not to say Mad God is a bad film or boring. It is not, the skill and dedication and attention to detail are up there as clear as day. The idea of a thoughtless, heartless, cruel, netherworld of pain, death, deviation and never-ending horror is all very Hieronymus Bosch but for the medium of film I felt this needed a tiny bit more narrative and perhaps a smallish break from the bleakness.

Oh and ever wondered what happened to that unique director Alex Cox? Apparently, he’s been growing his nails....

I read that Phil Tippett wanted to make this longer and not knowing what he had in mind it could have then been perfect or possibly worse. We will never know.

Mad God is indeed mad. It is a work of mad love and dedication and showcases a vivid and dark imagination produced by a person at the very top of the tree.

If you are a film buff of any type you must see Mad God. Even if it is only once.

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