Film Reviews by Strovey

Welcome to Strovey's film reviews page. Strovey has written 189 reviews and rated 223 films.

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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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Official Competition

Film about film-making self-indulgence that's half an hour too long and flogs it's one joke to death

(Edit) 24/01/2023

Argentinian directors, Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, bring us a story that is extremely popular with actors, very meta, revealing the underbelly, the workings of the film industry. It is not a new idea so any such tale has to be well-made and have a tad of originality. Herein is the strength and weakness of the film from the start.

Firstly, we are treated to three fine actors bringing their backstage knowledge to roles that in frankness are distinctly unlikeable. Cruz, lovely as ever with a magnificent head of hair, is tyrannical, abusive and bordering on insane as she eeks out a performance from her two leads, Banderas, who surely must have been in these situations in his real life, is a say the words, take the huge salary and go home actor, whilst Argentinian actor Martinez plays the deep thinking, get into the character and really feel the emotion actor, with him it is all about the performance what the audience see and feel, well on the surface it is.

Huge spacious rehearsal rooms, set up with a throwaway comment at the beginning by the financial backer played by Gomez, isolate the action to the three actors making their performances the most important part of the film. Nothing is there to distract you. Again like the story, this is both a strength and a weakness.

From this point on we are treated to funny and annoying Kubrick line readings, the philosophy of both actors and the absolute abusive treatment of them by Lola, in set pieces that start off funny but perhaps start to look demented after two or three turns. Each character gets to show how they react, their hypocrisy and their weaknesses. All done in fine style.

The problem is that they do not seem to grow, you expect Oscar and Felix to find common ground, they sort of do, but then the ground for the story crumbles away in the final act where contrivances lead to one coming out ‘on top’ from a storytelling point of view. A bit trite and definitely not the way the story could have gone. The final moments are so easy to predict that it almost ruins the previous two hours.

The problem with Official Competition is that it is not a bad film or story but not an original take on a familiar tale. The film industry love to make films showing that the films and people are weird a-holes who have no decency and respect for anything (Babylon anyone?) yet all the people involved are A-listers, are they not part of this weirdness or do they acknowledge it and do not care? Every time I see one of these stories it always leaves me, a person who loves watching films, thinking am I supposed to despise these people, feel sorry for them, or ignore it, even if only half of what they show is true?

Overall Official Competition is worth a viewing, the sort of film you probably would not go back to watch again in a great hurry, but just for the main three actors you will get your money's worth, Antonio Banderas is particularly good as the Hollywood A-Lister, you feel he did not have to search too far to find inspiration for his character, and Cruz and Martinez and strong foils.

It is ironic that a film about the self-indulgent, naval gazing, unawareness of making films and those that make them, is a good half an hour too long and overplays the same joke until it is not funny anymore.

For a final footnote if anyone can tell me what was the significance to the story of Irene Escolar doing a sexy dance in front of Penelope Cruz in tiny lacey yellow briefs for a good five minutes I would be grateful. Unless of course it was pointless titillation – surely not?

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Although in the Midst of Life we are Truly in the Midst of Death

(Edit) 17/01/2023

Although ‘Departures’ was made to highlight a seemingly taboo Japanese topic it really is broader than that. Here in the so-called ‘west’ we tend to treat films about death and how the bodies of our nearest and dearest are treated in a much broader comedic style. Even in stories where an undertaker or the profession is not the topic, characters involved in that trade are usually treated with a dose of comedy, often dark and foreboding – Still Game anyone?

Departures treat the profession of ‘encoffinment’ with a more serious and dignified tone than many other films. It does not shy away from comedic moments, almost farcical but mixes these in with dignified professionalism and sentimentality, all seamless in the approach. The themes of reconciliation and redemption are often never far from death and here is the underlying theme to at least Diago’s tale as he struggles with the guilt of how he failed to fully look after his mother and his disdain for his estranged father, who he had not seen since he was six years of age.

Dealing with the death of many loved ones through the running time it would have been easy to become overly sentimental and maudlin but Kundô Koyama’s screenplay whips us through laughter, a beautiful scene of relatives smothering their deceased relative in lipstick from kisses to violence and anger, a girl who has died in a motorcycle accident and acceptance and love, his son is buried as he lived his life as a girl.

Equally as interesting is Diago’s conflict with his new role, dealing with the dead, he does not want to tell anyone, he is almost ashamed of what he does, but eventually, the dignity he can give to those in their final send-off, breaks down his resistance.

It would not be a Japanese film without the ‘double take’ comedic moment and histrionic anger to show passionate emotion, both in my view just a tad too much but they certainly do not distract from the overall story.

Ryôko Hirosue as Diago’s loyal wife is a less satisfactory role, at times simpering and there to highlight to the audience the cultural view on working with the dead and death in general. Pregnant and admiring the cherry blossoms director Koyama could not be more on the nose with death and rebirth and the never-ending circle of life in one scene, perhaps not the subtlest you will ever see. Initially repulsed to the point of even leaving her husband by this trade all we the audience want her to see is the professional dignity that Daigo gives those that have died and Takita does not leave us disappointed, in a moving final preparation in the final scenes.

Departures is not a ‘deep’ film but because of the topic, it does not have to be. A profession that people around the world take part in that the rest of us prefer not to think about, and in this case actively ignore or even despise, is treated with emotional dignity the same as Masahiro Motoki’s lead character does.

The acting is on a par with any I have seen in Japanese films, and although the running time is ten minutes over two hours Departures does not outlive its welcome. You truly would have to have a heart of stone to not shed a tear at some time during the viewing and even though you are right there amongst death, Departures leaves you feeling uplifted and positive.

Certainly, a film I would recommend about something many prefer not to watch.

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Not the documentary of the Playground Game you are looking for....

(Edit) 17/01/2023

Although Hopscotch was based on Brian Garfield’s novel you would be forgiven for thinking the entire enterprise had been written specifically for Matthau. Miles Kendig is sharp, witty, kindly, and ambles through life with a knowing glint in his eye and thus the ambling and witty Matthau easily slips into his shoes bringing the ‘old hand’ CIA agent to life immediately making you care about him and like him. Nothing other than a joy to watch regardless of the story.

The story itself is familiar a rogue agent goes up against friend and foe to give information to ‘Joe Public’ that neither would rather have out there. Mostly these are played seriously with great peril and often death for most of the participants. In Hopscotch we are in this for the laughs and know full well that although Kendig’s former bosses would actually bump him off, he is so far ahead of the game and clever enough for it never to be a possibility. Therein lies the rub, it is fun as his admiring friend played by Sam Waterson, tries his hardest to capture him with a wry smile whilst all the others, led by Ned Beatty, pompous and unctuous, along with his other charges get angrier and more frustrated the longer the Kendrig continues. It is fun and funny. Hebert Lom even turns up as Kendig’s adversary who admires him and works more like him than his CIA colleagues..

Along for the ride, and possibly shoe-horned in, is Matthau’s old film partner Glenda Jackson, as she helps and advises his character and rekindles an old romance, being a retired British spy and former beau. This does feel as if Jackson is in the film so we can have that chemistry between her and Matthau, but why not?

The story whips along with no real peril for Matthau, you know full well he is going to succeed and you get the impression it was a relaxed set and everyone enjoyed themselves and had fun. In the worst cases this translates terribly to the screen, when the viewer gets no fun, but in this film the fun and enjoyment are infectious and we all get to partake.

With a British director, Ronald Neame, he of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Poseidon Adventure and similar but differently toned The Odessa File, we get some UK locations and proof that Walter Matthau has driven a Ford Escort and Rover SD1 and acted alongside ‘Bullet Baxter’ of Grange Hill fame and late and venerable George Baker.

Credulity is stretched to breaking point near the end but the film wraps up as it proceeded, whimsical and enjoyable. The acting by all involved is exactly what you need for this type of romp, although the good actors are not stretched, the locations and incidental music, different and interesting.

Overall, it is a Walter Matthau film, near the top of his game, playing a role made for him.

Hopscotch is a fine way to spend 106 minutes of anyone’s time.

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Psycho Goreman

A Film About an Amoral Monster who meets a Killer Monster from Outer Space.

(Edit) 02/12/2022

Whether it was entirely deliberate or not Psycho Goreman is a long and detailed love-letter to cheap horror/gore films of the 1980s. The practical effects are not poor but equally not quite realistic enough to be brilliant, likewise idiosyncratic acting that is fun, memorable, and not poor, signposts the 1980s to viewers of a certain age. The main characters are both likable and unlikable at the same time but investing yourself in their lives and fates of them is not the hook the makers are hoping you hang your hat on. In fact, and this is not a criticism, if I had watched the film from the beginning without knowing anything about it all I would have guessed it was made around 1985 to the 1990s.

Much like those long-lost films of that time period, this film seems to dish out reasonably gruesome and very much bonkers deaths and bloodshed without it ever seeming unpleasant. Heads pop off and arms, liquefication, and bathtub loads of blood assail you regularly but unless you are young and should not be watching this film, or very sheltered and nervous, somehow this is just not going to really upset you and certainly not scare you.

The tone throughout is very light-hearted with the makers' tongue rammed firmly in their cheek. For the nostalgic viewer this makes the entire film enjoyable in a completely 'locked in the attic' way.

The practical effects and costumes give the whole feel of the film as solid and real and although it means some protagonists seem a tad cumbersome and inelegant that is the charm of what you are watching. CGI and filming effects are amazing but often can be sterile.

The acting, whilst never getting into the awards territory, is perfect for what is placed in front of you. I loved the direction Mimi takes, basically a spoilt, horrible child, it can be said that Nita-Josee Hanna is very stage-school in her performance, I like to think it was what she was aiming for as brat-like and probably worse than, or at least as bad as, Pyscho Goreman in her personality. The parents are nowhere in the Disney ballpark, with the father lazy beyond belief and the mother just putting up with it. I liked them.

I also had a soft spot for the gang of Psycho Goreman’s opponents who reminded my forcible of Power Ranger baddies, albeit baddies whose actions had real-world consequences including death and blood, but as I have said before the film was better for it not worse.

We bumble along to the end, with the joke of Psycho Goreman being trapped under the control of a sociopathic little girl stretched out for too long but the story wraps up cleanly and neatly with again everything not quite ending up Hollywoodised.

Once more a plus point.

If you are looking for a truly terrifying horror story with gore-filled horrifying monsters then Pyscho Goreman is not the film for you. But if you used to watch the ‘churn them out by the week’ horror films of the video-filled eighties then I am convinced that this 21st-century film was made with you in mind and with a huge dose of nostalgic enthusiasm.

I could be wrong – but it is how I viewed the film and how I enjoyed it.

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Charley Varrick

Chaing a Biplane in a Car is Never Going to End Well

(Edit) 17/01/2023

Don Siegel famous for his hard-boiled and at that time ‘realisitic’ thrillers that often featured Clint Eastwood directed this hard-boiled and ‘realistic thriller in the seventies but instead of Eastwood, who turned down the role of hitman Mr. Molly, his main character was the mainly comedic actor Walter Matthau. It should not have worked but somehow the film and story do.

Made in 1973 and watched through the lens of 2023 there are many faults and hokey parts within but the film is not without charm and thrills and due to some good acting from the main actors it certainly drags itself above other fare from that time.

Matthau, who famously did not like the film, does not let this show in his performance and plays to his strong suit, he is laconic, easy going and intelligent. What you do not expect from world-weary-looking actor is a great deal of double-crossing and while actually not violent, the threat of violence, and menace which do lead to death and murder.

The casting and acting perfectly counterpoint this by having his major protagonists all being awful human beings, Andrew Robinson, so convincing as Scorpio in Dirty Harry that he got death threats, here is dialled down from that to ‘just’ being unthinking, greedy and selfish, traits which means he pays the ultimate price. Hunting down the robbers is Joe Don Baker who is pitch-perfect as the psychopath mafia hitman Mr. Molly. He plays it straight, no eye-swivelling over-the-top histrionics, the type of well-dressed, pipe-smoking large chap you would hardly notice walking down the street. After all if you are noticeably mad and behaved like a killer all day, it would not be hard to find you.

Top it all off and we have another former Siegel go-to the late great John Vernon, as the slimy, double-dealing, president of the bank and mafia frontman. Playing to his acting strength he steals every scene he is in and plays down, quiet, confident and realistic. A joy to watch.

Even the supporting characters, sheriffs, the weak-willed bank manager and double-dealing photographer Jewell Everett played with great skill by Sheree North are all at their best. Proving casting supporting characters is important and if your cast is good it will elevate any story you have on screen.

The film is based extremely loosely on The Looters novel (which does not focus on any one character and has no happy ending) is nothing original involving small-time crooks crossing the mafia. Charley Varrick was focussed on to give the audience someone to root for but herein lies that particular rub, Varrick, even played by Matthau, is not nice and I for one did not particularly care if he lived or died by the end. His wife and partners shot two policeman and a septuagenarian security guard just for what they thought was a few thousand dollars. Just because their adversaries were more corrupt and murderous than them does not make them ‘better’.

All-in-all the tale whips along and is fairly realistic and believable, especially for early 70s cops and robbers, but what was probably thought as a great twist and exciting denouement is the film’s weakest point and took me out of the story. Without spoiling it for any who have not seen this film I would say it looks as if the final act was written by an excitable 16-year-old boy in a hurry. Too easily wrapped up, formerly thoughtful and professional characters suddenly become dunderheads to allow a ‘happy’ ending.

A reasonably enjoyable film with a disappointing ending. Very 1970s so do not expect enlightened attitudes

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Brian and Charles

If You Can't Find a Friend, Build One it's as Simple as That!

(Edit) 04/12/2022

Despite the quirky daftness of the film the overriding driver is friendship and loyalty. Wrapped up in oddity and utter silliness, after all David Earl, a staple of many Ricky Gervais productions, where he often plays disgusting, near-perverts, is the titular Brian but this time his oddness is a lot nicer. From this point all things in the tale grow. The underlying strength of the story is demonstrated by Charles, basically a pair of legs poking out of a huge square washing machine shape topped off by a virtually immobile mannequin head, who becomes a character that you invest in and care about. A fine skill by the actor and co-writer Chris Hayward.

It is clear director Jim Archer and the writers' Earl and Hayward, who play the main roles, invested seriously in the film so that you are effectively charmed and not alienated by it being utterly daft which to an extent it is. Then to top it off just to add some more charm, maybe even ladle some on, adding into the mix Hazel, sweet and socially awkward like Brian, played with some skill by Louise Brearly.

The drama in what would definitely be a slight and odd tale comes from the antagonists Eddie, his wife and twin daughters, embodying meanness, dishonesty and an external ever-present threat. Refreshingly it is this pressure that puts a strain on the ups and downs of Brian and Charles’ relationship and not the usual contrivance of a romantic partner doing this.

The film is neither taxing on your emotions or going to cause you to cry with laughter but making you gently smile for the majority of its runtime at the silly shenanigans framed amongst some stunning and inventive shots of remote Welsh countryside means, to be frank, it is a hard heart that sets against Brian and Charles.

Perhaps the faux documentary style is the weakest point and if you pay attention you have to ask – is this a faux documentary or a straightforward tale and what are the documentary makers filming and why? Throughout the film I was constantly ruminating that this was a construct so that David Earl could use his trademark fourth wall-breaking asides that are a trademark of his work with Ricky Gervais.

I concede this is a churlish point to make about a film such as this, when all we should take from this is no matter our disagreements, no matter our lifestyles, all are valid and none can override or overshadow true friendship. Being someone’s real friend is as close to choosing your family as you can get.

If that is not a good message to pass on to the masses I do not know what is.

Brian and Charles is slight, enjoyably silly and has the best robot since Twiki first looked at Gil Gerard and said 'biddie-biddie-biddie'.

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Licorice Pizza

Don't like licorice but love pizzas. This could be the film for you either way.

(Edit) 29/10/2022

The western world as we call it and in particular the USA and the UK are currently in the middle of a mawkish, naval gazing, nostalgia-fest. It is therefore completely understandable that art and in particular storytellers on the screen, both big and small, reflect this.

This time we step back into the seventies with distinctive and talented director Paul Thomas Anderson much in the same vein as Tarantino but without the dark and unpleasant streak that runs through his work. Anderson here has a lighter touch with a sense of fun and verve that only comes with the young who are not really sure about themselves or their direction in life.

Apparently drawing on the real-life stories of producer and sometime actor Gary Goetzman it is immediately striking that in general Anderson’s two main protagonists Gary and Alana are more confident and purposeful than many young lover types in this genre of films. It makes a refreshing change as, the spookily like his dad the much-missed Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cooper Hoffman, takes to the role convincingly in his big screen debut. Cheeky, full of confidence, and some swagger, this type of young character could be tremendously annoying in the wrong hands, in writing, directing and acting, but to everyone’s credit he is as likable as he is daft. No one is frightened of showing his jealousy and anger, not great characteristics in anyone, but to my mind, it balances him out as a normal if a little pushy human being.

Likewise, Alana, played by Alana Haim, apparently, a successful pop musician with her sisters is sketched out as a confident strong young woman who still shows weaknesses in her character by having her head turned by smarmy actors or getting unreasonably jealous of someone who ‘isn’t her boyfriend’ but this never diminishes her character. You feel, or indeed know, by the film's conclusion she will be okay.

Populate your film with accomplished actors in cameos, such as standouts Sean Penn as Jack ‘not William’ Holden and Tom Waits as Rex ‘not John Huston’ Blau and you have typical PTA fare.

The seventies are recreated in both the presentation and the looks in set design and clothing, as someone from that ear, albeit in the UK I admit, I would say that the folk involved in this should take a bow. Never once did I think – this is them pretending, it was the 1970s for me.

I never read other people’s reviews of films I have just watched until I have at least watched the film, and often after I have written my piece, but in this case, I did read some almost immediately after viewing. Why? Because I just knew most people would say ‘it doesn’t do anything’ or ‘there’s no story’ and on the whole I was completely correct.

For me that is the entire point, it is the film’s strong point. No one in this film, looks or behaves like an actor playing a role, looks perfect or has great hair, except the people playing film stars. To me the whole Rom Com conceit is laid low here, it is never easy or even fully clear cut and there is no story, just hundreds of little ones that add up and make your life. You can stop anywhere you want, your viewing stops, and the story goes on. Perfect for me.

The age difference between Hoffman’s and Hiam’s characters could be problematical if you are looking for something to really pick at, he being fifteen and Alana 25 and if it were reversed, a 15-year-old girl and a 25-year-old man – yikes, but Alana does question it, try to change and move away and at no point is it creepy. My wife is 12 years older than me but it has to be said we did not meet when I was at school.

Overall Licorice Pizza is a slice out of two people’s lives in their formative years. Neither cynical nor lyrical it sits in just the right place for me. I can see why some would baulk at the ‘romance’ between the two characters and the lack of narrative drive but the overall film pushes these concerns to the back for me.

It is entertaining fun.

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The Lost City

If Romance Leaves You Stone Cold, Avoid This [see what I did there]

(Edit) 18/10/2022

Whilst the Lost City (of D) might have been elusive and hard to find the romantic, opposites attract story it is wrapped in is familiar with nothing you have not seen before over many years. Here is the problem, no matter your age and film-watching experience you have seen this done, many times. In fact, many times over the years starring Sandra Bullock who is the female lead and executive producer of The Lost City.

The brothers Adam and Aaron Nee jointly helmed the film, it would be fair to say this would be their biggest film with some serious A-listers in the cast. They also shared screenwriting with Orien Uziel and Dana Fox, so for good or bad their fingerprints are all over this film.

The film garnered some very positive reviews when it arrived in cinemas and some good PR so with the Blu-Ray dropping onto my doormat, I was looking forward to a light entertaining romp that would put me in mind of Romancing the Stone.

Perhaps it is my age, the specific time in my life, or just my increasing grumpiness but the overwhelming feeling of familiarity certainly diminished my enjoyment.

Comically the film is at its best when it introduces the main protagonists, Bullock playing the serious academic widower who wanted to write important serious works but ends up making a great living from trashy romantic potboilers is in her cinematic comfort zone, too comfortably if truth be told, and Channing Tatum increases his portfolio of dumbos-muscle bound jocks who turn out not to be – all safe and cosy. Supporting these main two we have Daniel Radcliffe bearded, suited and booted, the pleasant face of unapologetic nastiness, easily the best thing in the whole film, closely followed with a knowing wink and nod by Brad Pitt as the super-hero ex-special forces hippy Jack Trainer - a personal trainer. So far so good and it would seem great ingredients for a fun romp.

There is fun to be romped but it is all too familiar and where the laughs do come early these slowly turn into chuckles and snorts as we progress. Da'Vine Joy Randolph rolls up as, I am not kidding, the sassy black friend, well agent, who is really Loretta’s friend. Honestly, is this as far as we have got? There was no sassy gay friend I suppose. The role was pointless and purposeless and frankly Randolph’s comedic talents could have been used better. We also were treated, yet again to Channing Tatum’s buttocks once more, and ho-hoo Sandra Bullock’s character Loretta then has her breath taken away when she sees (we don’t) his presumably massive shlong when he forgetfully turns around sans trousers – it was sooooo funny I wondered why other film’s had not used this comic event in their stories….I will not touch on the chemistry between the leads either, because there was very little.

Although fun could be found throughout the running time, I was thinking do we really need another perilous situation romantic comedy again, and also does Sandra Bullock need to muscle in on male-movie-star-trope that does not need muscling in on? At 58 years old with a good catalogue and no mean influence in the industry does the well-established actor need to be playing a role like this?

If I am being a little mean, but ultimately honest, I was disappointed in the film and especially in the star who can turn her hand to most roles going back down a well-worn path to make a film that has to be exceptionally good to stand out from the thousands of others in the field.

It does not.

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The Phantom of the Open

Lighthearted, fun and enthralling - everything golf isn't.

(Edit) 07/10/2022

Recently I have seen a couple of films similar to this and I have to say from a British film viewer's perspective as a country we do seem to make these types of films very well. A plucky but eccentric underdog who goes up against the system and although they are not perfect, they somehow seem to win against all odds at least partially, despite setbacks and sometimes making themselves as much a barrier as those that really oppose them. All done with an underlying sense of fun and silliness – and then you find out it was based on real life.

Artistic licence will always come into play but it seems, usually, that the most ridiculous and unlikely sections of the film turn out to be closed to the fact. The real truth behind the story is perhaps not so poetic, Flitcroft only ever played in the qualifiers not the full Open but the ridiculous names and anger of the golfing establishment were too real. Regardless of this with Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins as a pitch-perfect loving couple in your lead roles and an underdog does good and cocks his nose at the stuffed shirts.

The whole cast is having fun from the get-go with Rylance playing Flitcroft as an easy-going quiet man and his wife, the admirably Sally Hawkins is the loyal support behind the man regardless of his circumstances. To be balanced Flitcroft is not shown as entirely benign and wonderful, for instance, he upsets his upwardly mobile son and ends up living in a mobile home with his wife after losing his house. We have to be honest though the story is there to make you smile, laugh and feel good and this is what it does.

Simon Farnaby, who guests as a French professional golfer, co-wrote the original book and converted it into a screenplay. He is well known for Ghosts, Horrible Histories and is an actor who makes me laugh whenever he appears on the screen. I would go so far to say that his take on the story has injected his sense of fun and joy of absurdity along with a rebellious streak, it was already there in this tale but Farnaby along with the director and actors highlighted these components from beginning to end.

Happily, the story moves along at a quick pace, set pieces are economical and purposeful and we reach a joyful and emotional climax in a timely manner. That makes a nice change if nothing else.

No film is perfect but the writing, directing and acting here are effortlessly top-level meaning that we have another enjoyable and worthwhile daft story about true British eccentrics that deserves to be told and chortled at.

It is not historically accurate, it deliberately tugs at your heartstrings but at the final reckoning is it fun, will you like watching it for what it is, a daft character-driven piece about an obscure tiny period in British golfing history? The answer has to be yes.

How do I describe The Phantom of the Open?

It is the naughty twinkle in the eye of those who are messing with us and we know they are but just do not care.

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Trapped on the Moon with this lot and I might be asking the aliens to use me as spare-parts.

(Edit) 05/10/2022

For me it was hard to believe that this film was made in 1989, if you had said the early seventies on a low budget maybe, but when I think I was nearly 30 years old when this was made and it came well after some amazing science-fiction blockbusters? Such is the world of moviemaking.

I would hazard a guess that a majority of the budget went on Koenig, Campbell and Lombardi’s salaries because there is not a lot else on the screen that justifies any money being spent. Some have made a big thing of the practical effects but much like Dr. Who in the said seventies creating a great big ‘it is really there’ robot-monster on a minuscule budget means that it always, and when I say always, I mean always, stands still in an area whilst the actors prance around it to give the impression of kinetic energy. The Smash Mash Potato robot’s head moves jerkily as it supposedly ‘tracks’ the defenders, the arms moved up and down like a wind-up toy and the actors deliberately run into the superimposed lasers. Some effects are a little better but being cheap there is no feeling of life in them, nothing solid, real or scary. They are slow, Meccano-like and you feel if you skipped around behind one of them fast, pushed it hard it would collapse into a pile of nuts and bolts and bent metal pieces.

The protagonists are mainly the three bigger names with Koenig of Star Trek who at 52 was playing a rather unconvincing younger man, and Bruce Campbell, Bruce Campbelling his way through until about halfway when he probably got a better offer and left the project. Leigh Lombardi is the best of a poor three despite the paucity of material she was given and rather ludicrously becomes the love interest to the creaking Koenig.

Why ludicrous? Not because she was 20 years younger than Koenig, not because there clearly was no chemistry of that nature between the actors, or because she was an alien cryogenically frozen for thousands of years but mainly because in the middle of an invasion by a species that wanted to you use them and everyone on the nearest planet as a spare-parts bin getting it on with the first man you meet, even if it is Chekov from Star Trek, would be the last thing on your mind.

And herein lies the rub, everything is on this scale of silliness, you certainly can find it entertaining and I did laugh aloud at several moments but in the end you have the feeling that the makers' imagination and ambition far outweighed their budget and rather cruelly perhaps their ability.

Even with a much bigger budget Moontrap needed about three rewrites and some judicial editing to give it some semblance of any exciting, scary and action-packed sci-fi that it so desperately was trying to be.

As I said earlier I watched it and laughed but afterward, it did make me feel a little sad.

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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nic Cage didn't quite Nic Cage a Nic Cage film....I think

(Edit) 01/10/2022

This film on paper must have seemed an easy hit. Nicolas Cage the actor more talked about in film circles than any other it would seem, a feature of many memes, a veteran of great films and awful films, playing himself in an action/adventure/comedy? Cannot miss the target.

Somehow in some way the makers did. Clearly, self-aware Cage has fun being ‘himself’ with a great element of film-star self-deprecation as he happily plays himself as a somewhat sad, egomaniac, but also endearing and trying his absolute best. This part works from my point of view, but the vehicle it is given to travel in is less than new and has a few faults, to say the least.

Everything works better when ‘Nic’ is being a bit of an unaware plonker to his daughter and ex-wife, Sharon Horgan moving up the ‘greasy pole’ I see,’ and being stuck with a mega-fan that he slowly comes to like but only because he likes the stuff Nic does. Everything falls down when we get the criminal underworld action adventure added to the mix. People are apparently tortured and die for goodness sake.

Nic is a self-centered conflicted actor, and just that, but by the end he is an action hero that saves the day. I may have misunderstood but seems to pander to a need to show the actor in the best light – it is almost as if meta is trying to be a meta of itself here.

The problem was the premise and indeed the trailers I saw for this film had me really looking forward to watching it but mediocrity far outweighed anything really groundbreaking.

Nicolas Cage clearly liked playing this version of himself and it works, there is clearly chemistry and a sense of fun playing alongside Pedro Pascal whose star has risen recently and deservedly so, he is easily the best thing in the film and lifts it to a level it does not deserve if I am being brutally honest.

Horgan the star of many British comedies in both acting and writing is not given enough to do here which is a shame and Sheen in her first film showing does as well as she can in a role that any young actor could have filled.

Filmed at beautiful locations with good actors in a fun premise it was never going to fail entirely and the first third, possibly two-thirds were fun, comedic and even a little believable if in a writ-large type of way. The let-down comes in the problematical action end of the film where everything gets so familiar and then neatly tied up.

A good effort, a great idea but overall, after getting into a great position the team shot well wide of the goal.

Nic Cage’s many fans and admirers will undoubtedly disagree with me.

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Tatie Danielle

Aunty is Mean, Nasty and Unkind - but you still like her.

(Edit) 30/09/2022

Tatie Danielle is an interesting film, having no discernible stars works to its advantage proving a point I have made many times over the years, we all love to see a charismatic star taking us on a story but sometimes the opposite works. With Taite Danielle this is the case. With a list of unknown French actors – at the time - there is no distractions, the performance are as good as established stars and the ‘whole’ is strong. Tsilla Chelton gives a perfect show as the irascible and unpleasant Danielle with a young and relatively ‘unknown’ Isabelle Nanty showing her acting chops as her eventual foil.

The story presented here could easily have been a set of interlinking scenes of relentless unpleasantness with Chelton deliriously getting away with every over and over again. In fact, a recipe for eventual boredom. It is to Etienne Chatiliez’s credit that laughs are eked out from some frankly horrible situations. There is more than a passing nod to social satire and surprisingly tender and credible back story to a malicious and seeming irredeemable character. Admittedly you have to search for the ‘tender’ and I appreciate some will never find or see it but it is subtly weaved into the strands of the tale.

Building up the tension as good as any serious thriller the viewer can be forgiven for thinking perhaps Tatie Danielle will fizzle out but instead, we take a least a slight left bend in the road, if not a turn. A tragedy spoken of only once is the driver for a woman who lost her only love and thereby wants no love in her world, deliberately driving it out as much as he can, using cruelty, subterfuge and disdain. Nothing you can really like unless you like treating people badly as a hobby – I am fairly sure some people do.

I am not educated enough about French culture or family dynamics but it seems that Chatiliez and scriptwriter Florence Quentin taking digs at the middle-class French family and even though I did not fully understand it I did appreciate the humour in the situations. I did notice nearly everyone in the family is called Jean and as much as they behave kindly towards Danielle underneath they can be as crass and unthinking as her, if not deliberately.

Taite Danielle is by no means perfect and the ending seems a bit rushed and lakes the sharper edge of the early acts but overall this is black, black, mean-spirted comedy that has more heart than it is letting on, much like Tatie Danielle herself.

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