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My Letterboxd reviews of Phantasm II, III and IV

Phantasm II:

It takes a good while for this belated sequel to get going, through a messy, meandering first half-hour that feels a lot longer, till all the pieces are in place for a souped-up showdown between our heroes and the nefarious Tall Man, gleefully icky and technically impressive (for its day) special effects and all.

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My Letterboxd reviews of Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, #Horror, Anguish, Father’s Day and The Baby

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion:

Stylistically confident by any measure, let alone for an exploitation sleaze-fest.

#Horror:

Who the hell called this #Horror when a far better title (Slashtag!) is staring you right in the face? It’s not even really a horror film, anyway, not until the last 20 minutes. Psychological thriller, then? Maybe, at a stretch, when most of it plays as a cyberbullying-themed tweenage drama with some blunt social commentary shoehorned in. First-time director (but long-time actor, fashion industry figure and multimedia artist) Tara Subkoff throws all her influences into the mix here, and it shows. More focus would help, but it’s hardly the worst film ever; these no-star reviews are taking the piss.

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My Letterboxd reviews of Best Worst Movie, Halloween II, The Witch and The Shout

Best Worst Movie:

That it’s made by one of the ‘stars’ of Troll 2, the ‘worst movie ever made’, is what steers this away from mocking hipster irony to give us a genuinely sweet and decidedly odd where-are-they-now documentary. That it centres on the charming actor-turned-dentist George Hardy as its hero, following his exploits as he drums up support for comedic revival screenings, is more luck than genius, but that’s fine, because Michael Stephenson knows what he’s got here. Not only an insight into the unconventional world of the jobbing actor, and the quirks of the convention circuit, it’s even got a pantomime villain in Claudio Fragasso, director of Troll 2 (it doesn’t even have any trolls in it!) and a man whose inflated ego won’t let him admit he was a purveyor of trash.

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My Letterboxd review of The Visitor

Reblogged from my Letterboxd list:

You probably wouldn’t expect an Italo-horror cash-in on the 1970s craze for demonic progeny (The Exorcist, The Omen) and young women with supernatural powers (Carrie, The Fury, etc) to have much identity of its own. And especially not when its biggest set pieces betray an obsession with Hitchcock’s The Birds. But The Visitor’s deeply strange story, rooted in a sci-fi interpretation of Abrahamic religious myth, stands apart from the typical rip-offs of the day.

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My Letterboxd review of Arrival

Reblogged from my Letterboxd list:

Arrival is definitely a Denis Villeneuve film, and it’s a beautiful one for the most part. The visuals are muted but constantly arresting, a stylistic contrast to the over-sharpened harshness of Sicario. Similarly, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s sound design is enveloping yet the drones don’t conjure a sense of claustrophobic unease as much as something bigger than we can comprehend. It’s full of allusions to Kubrick, Malick, Tarkovsky, even Spielberg, not to mention Villeneuve’s own films: the long tunnel shots of Sicario; the arachnoid preoccupations of Enemy. (And for his second film running, a strong female lead; Amy Adams carries the weight of the world on her shoulders here.) However, the last 20 to 30 minutes of the story require a leap of faith that I wasn’t prepared to make, and I don’t believe is earned. In trying to distill complex philosophical questions about language and meaning and self into something parseable in a two-hour movie, it drops the ball right when it matters most.


My Letterboxd review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Reblogged from my Letterboxd list:

For the first 45 minutes or so, The Force Awakens promises an exciting new beginning for the Star Wars series. It’s raring to go right from the start, JJ Abrams’ kinetic direction far, far away from George Lucas’ paint-by-numbers set-ups, even aside from the exhilarating action scenes. That shot of the crashed Star Destroyer we’ve all seen from the publicity stills? It looks even more breathtaking on the big screen, one of the best visual moments in modern cinema. And the new characters – desert planet scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), hot-shot X-wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), defecting stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), even the droid BB-8 – feel right at home in the universe the original trilogy established. When Han Solo and Chewbacca show up, as we know they will from the ubiquitous marketing campaign, it represents a passing of the torch more than anything else.

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My Letterboxd review of Star Wars

Reblogged from my Letterboxd list:

I’ve watched (or tried to watch) the first Star Wars movie a few times now. The last time I think I saw it all the way through was the 1997 theatrical re-release, with George Lucas’ added splodges of digital imagery. The version I’ve just watched (ahead of seeing The Force Awakens later this week) was the Blu-ray remaster, with much improved colour timing and CGI texturing, but the digital elements still look out of place, like intentionally shitty Photoshop.

And the story itself retains its flaws, with the exciting opening scenes giving way to the plodding, superfluous droid double-act on Tatooine that lost my attention so many times over as a child. Lucas was never that good on plot, let’s be honest. It’s not till bratty Luke and Old Ben meet Han and Chewy that the pacing improves and the action kicks up notch by notch, and from then on it’s as fine a space romp as I remember.

Such a shame that Lucas never improved on the promise the second half shows, letting his tutor Irvin Kershner helm the subsequent, superior The Empire Strikes Back. Why Lucas never directed another film till the execrable Star Wars prequel trilogy more than 20 years later is anyone’s guess; mine is that he hated directing,


My Letterboxd reviews of Beyond the Black Rainbow, Bone Tomahawk, Oldboy, American Hustle and Terminator Genisys

Beyond the Black Rainbow:

Beyond the Black Rainbow could be a good deal shorter; the final half-hour really tries the patience. It’s also a little too much in thrall of its influences (David Cronenberg’s films and Ken Russell’s Altered States for the most part, but also Carpenter, Argento, maybe even Boards of Canada and the video game Bioshock?) to stand on its own as a mindbending psycho-horror. But Panos Cosmatos’ debut feature at least steals from the best, while the villainous Michael Rogers steals this very picture with his malevolent presence.

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My Letterboxd reviews of Halloween, The Lazarus Effect, Falcon Rising and 21 Jump Street

Halloween:

Thirty-seven years on and John Carpenter’s original still maintains its power to scare. Much of that is in its economy, from the austerity of the villain’s backstory (we don’t need to know Michael Myers is anything other than a unique brand of psychopath with preternatural abilities) to the brief running time (90 minutes is more than enough to do all it needs to do) to the distinct lack of gore (it’s not about gruesome set pieces; the horror – even visually – is mostly liminal). It’s in Carpenter’s holistic vision for the piece, with unusual shots and staging for the time, and that pioneering electronic soundtrack. And of course it’s also in Jamie Lee Curtis, she of quality Hollywood lineage, being a cut above the average scream queen, and with whose terror it’s all too easy to empathise. Quite simply one of the best ever.

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My Letterboxd reviews of The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, Circle, Housebound and Curse of Chucky

The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears:

The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is the very definition of style over substance. This giallo en français certainly looks the part as it descends into madness both figurative and literal, hitting cues similar to the far superior Berberian Sound Studio (that film’s director Peter Strickland is listed in the credits for audio contributions) with its repeated motifs of mirrors, eyes, lenses, knife blades, bared flesh and the like. But the sonic shenanigans and visual trickery grow tiresome before long with so little behind the bluster to discover, or want to discover. The result is little more than a showreel, albeit an admittedly impressive one, that’s desperately in search of a mystery.

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My Letterboxd review of The Last Witch Hunter

Reblogged from my Letterboxd list:

The Last Witch Hunter is the kind of film with lots of flaws if you look too close but c’mon, it’s Vin Diesel, chill!

Sure, the story makes up its mythology on the fly and it’s too self-serious for its own good and it’s about 15 minutes too long and Michael Caine is basically Alfred with a dog collar, etc etc – most everything else you’d be right to point out. But you have to realise: this film is literally Vin Diesel LARPing his own Dungeons & Dragons character from his youth.

Director Breck Eisner (son of the Disney guy, and helm of 2010’s decent remake of The Crazies) serves as a competent DM for the world’s least likely mega-nerd to live out his adolescent fantasies, with fellow Hollywood geek Elijah Wood and an uncanny Rose Leslie along for the ride, and the results are fairly entertaining if you’re attuned to its silliness.


My Letterboxd review of The Green Inferno

Reblogged from my Letterboxd list:

I’m not quite sure what Eli Roth was trying to achieve with The Green Inferno. Is it a faithful tribute to the cannibal flicks of the late 1970s, with their colonial-tinged exploitation crossed with the mixed emotions and morality of their protagonists? Or simply a crowdpleaser for gorehounds, with a deliberately hate-able cast for whom we’re just counting down the minutes till they’re slaughtered by the film’s ‘real’ heroes?

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My Letterboxd review of The Walk

Reblogged from my Letterboxd list:

Robert Zemeckis’ cornball cheese-fest mostly makes a mockery of the true-life story that also inspired the superlative 2008 documentary Man On Wire.

In essence, he Forrest Gumps the tale of Philippe Petit’s illegal wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Centre in 1974, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (and his godawful ‘wee wee’ French accent) narrating the story as a series of flashbacks (and even flashbacks within flashbacks) laden with oversaturated colours, vaselined lenses and a score so sickly sweet my ears got a toothache.

Some have hailed the climactic wire walk scene as worth the effort, and admittedly it’s the most effective use of 3D in some time (both in that section and throughout). But over-reliance on CGI, much of it poorly done (I’ve seen video games with more convincingly human character models), leaves an indelible trace of artificiality that broke my suspension of disbelief.

Moreover, despite the title, it’s not even a celebration of Petit’s daring stunt as much as it is a florid tribute to the Twin Towers, just shy of flashing ‘9/11’ on the screen every few minutes to make sure you’ve got it. Ripping from a real tragedy to imbue your sentimental schlock with emotional resonance? That’s some cheap huckster bullshit right there.


My Goodreads review of Pro Wrestling Through The Power Slam Years: 1994-2014 by Findlay Martin

Reblogged from my Goodreads list:

Power Slam is truly missed – I never missed an issue from number 14 till the end last summer – and this compendium of editor/writer Findlay Martin’s insights on what was happening in wrestling’s major (and almost major) leagues over the last two decades beings back all those fond memories of poring over my monthly mag. I’m not sure if it’s appealing to anyone unfamiliar with Power Slam, as Martin also delves a fair amount into the nuts and bolts of production of the mag, but for me it’s like Christmas come early.


My Letterboxd review of Enemy

Reblogged from my Letterboxd list:

Theories abound about this Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, made concurrently with Prisoners and ultimately the better of the two. It’s a very different beast, of course; Prisoners is a glum, violent mystery with a dodgy sense of morality, whereas Enemy is pretty much Cronenberg homage.

The plot, concerning a wet towel of a college lecturer (Jake Gyllenhaal) who discovers his doppelgänger is a jobbing actor – or is it the other way round? – is straight out of the Cronenberg wheelhouse. The setting is Toronto, ostensibly, but the presentation is as a Ballard-esque modernist nightmare; a brutalist, very Cronenbergian un-place.

And in general there are nods to the great Canadian’s work throughout: the strange fluidity of identity (Dead Ringers), the heart-stopping shock of a car wreck (Crash), the mind-bending visions of impossible creatures (Naked Lunch), even the casting (the magnetic Sarah Gadon is a Cronenberg regular at this stage).

That Villeneuve can bring these all together in a package that feels wholly its own, and not a mere pastiche of those influences, is a credit to him as a filmmaker. That he chooses to end the film on such an uncomfortable, head-spinning note, and that it feel like it works, makes that doubly so.


My Letterboxd review of Dark Summer

Reblogged from my Letterboxd list:

Dark Summer bears the hallmarks of a short blown up to feature length without developing the story to fit the extra minutes. So we spend far too long meandering through dialogue-free scenes that evaporate the atmosphere – as Keir Gilchrist’s (a suspicious lookalike for Alphas’ Ryan Cartwright) house-arrested cyberstalker finds himself being tormented by the subject of his obsession, possibly from beyond the grave – towards a twist climax that’s less effective than it would have been had it come after, say, half an hour. It also would have been better served employing the less-is-more dictum, as the overt supernatural elements in the middle section detract from its less showy, and more appropriate, ending.


My Goodreads review of Yes!: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania by Daniel Brian & Craig Tello

Reblogged from my Goodreads list:

Yes! is a curiously slight volume considering Daniel Bryan’s storied career in the pro wrestling business, but being a WWE-sanctioned book it was bound to be fed through their filter, and cast his many years on the indie circuit and in Japan as mere preparatory work before hitting the ‘big time’. Sure, he’s allowed some leeway in his interpretation of events, because otherwise would make the exercise entirely pointless, but he’s an avowedly private and guarded individual, which doesn’t leave much space for a revelatory memoir on a par with Mick Foley’s Have A Nice Day. That’s not helped by a structure that interweaves Bryan’s memories leading up to WrestleMania XXX with WWE.com editor Craig Tello’s laboured ‘PR pretending to be a literary sportswriter’ prose, waffling on the behind-the-scenes happenings at that very event. With a more encouraging editor, there’s a better book in Bryan, I’m sure.


My Letterboxd reviews of The Death of ‘Superman Lives’, Crystal Lake Memories, Kick-Ass 2 and Network

Getting my Letterboxd reviews caught up here, starting with this Kickstarted documentary on the ’90s Superman movie that never was:

You may have heard the story before – Kevin Smith’s infamous anecdote about Jon Peters and the spider – so much of this fairly amateurish documentary might feel like repetition, as it’s basically an extended riff on the same ‘so crazy it has to be true’ Hollywood tale. But where it lacks in professionalism, it makes up for it in its enthusiasm for the subject, and its inclusion of some revelatory behind-the-scenes footage that show the real promise of what might have been had Nic Cage indeed got to wear the Big S on the silver screen.
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My Letterboxd reviews of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall

I’m not really a James Bond fan (though I’ve seen A View to a Kill more times that I can remember) so it shouldn’t be too surprising that I never got round to seeing the Daniel Craig era Bonds. Till now, that is. Here’s my take on Casino Royale:

The first Bond of the Daniel Craig era is supposed to be ‘the gritty one’ but apart from a short sharp shock in the intro, and That Torture Scene near the end, it’s largely cheesy as fuck. Less cheesy than the silly Brosnan flicks, sure, but hardly the rebooted, ‘serious’ James Bond it’s purported to be. Still, it’s pretty entertaining, though it doesn’t half go on; two-and-a-half hours is far too long for a film of this ilk.

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My Letterboxd review of Fantastic Four

Reblogged from my Letterboxd list:

Seriously, screw the internet pile-on – there’s really a lot to like about the Fantastic Four reboot. Josh Trank’s film (from a screenplay by him, Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg) adds a more ‘rational’ twist, in terms of internal logic, to the FF’s inherently silly origin story, eschewing the already dated campiness of the noughties films (so that it’s more tonally consistent with its sibling X-Men franchise) and borrowing liberally from Cronenberg’s The Fly in its fable of ambition gone awry.

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My Letterboxd reviews of Full Tilt Boogie, Nightmare Factory, and They Live

Another documentary double bill. First up, Sarah Kelly’s fly-on-the-wall/in-the-ointment making-of doc Full Tilt Boogie:

One of those ‘things didn’t turn out the way they expected’ documentaries, whereby a pretty simple behind-the-scenes hangout with the cast and crew (mostly crew) of Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn gets complicated by union troubles, bad weather, shitty food, and even the odd fire.

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My Letterboxd reviews of Beyond Clueless and Death Wish 3

Another random Netflix afternoon, starting with Beyond Clueless:

I have to admit I was disappointed to learn the Charlie Lyne responsible for this visual essay – or dissertation, really – exploring the tropes of the high school/teen movie since the mid 1990s is actually male. Blame the gender ambiguity of the name, or the choice of presentation (narration provided by Fairuza Balk), or my own expectation that we were finally getting to hear what a woman has to say about film in a film. I guess that’s still a picture that needs to be made. It doesn’t diminish the work here, however, though it’s better appreciated as a personal reading of the material at hand rather than a prescriptive definition of the genre, if it’s even a genre.

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My Letterboxd review of It Follows

Reblogged from my Letterboxd list:

Others have referenced John Carpenter, in both mood and score, in this striking, creeping, brooding psychological (and vaguely psychosexual) horror, where young people’s actions are turned against them by forces unknowable, but not in the slasher-type way you might expect from that description. Personally, though, what stood out for me were the manifold allusions to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, not in its main plot or elevator pitch but those unsettling incidental touches that make Wes Craven’s film so memorable. Fear and terror are one thing; the constant nagging anxiety that there’s something that wants to get you, and you don’t know how to stop it, that’s very different, and it’s a palpable feeling that David Robert Mitchell’s film evokes quite powerfully here.