Monthly Archives: September 2011

Movie: Arthur (1981) A good comedy with an excellent first and third act 3.5/5

ARTHUR (1981)

Arthur is a cool little romantic comedy about a playboy gagillionaire that is being shoved down a path of marrying a girl he really doesn’t love (Susan), and being forced to shape up into someone respectable to please his family and future in-laws.

The lead is played by Dudley Moore, in his best movie role. The role does seem to be written for a younger man, but Moore is charming and likeable, and makes it easy to overlook this (and the fact he’s English among a family of Americans). Rather than being a spoilt, obnoxious playboy, he’s a spoilt, likeable, but rather sad playboy.

The first section, where Moore plays a happy drunk, is fantastically funny, but it soon settles into a reasonable romantic comedy, where he starts to fall in love with an average working class girl, played very nicely by Liza Minelli. However, as usual, the course of true love doesn’t run smooth, and Arthur is given an ultimatum…marry the girl he should, or possibly lose access to all his money – an awful lot of money…

As I said, Moore is great here, as is Minelli and the guy playing her character’s father (who, when his daughter rejects Arthur, weeps like he’s the one with the broken heart). Even funnier is John Gielgud, playing Hobson, Arthur’s butler, best friend and, in effect, guardian. Hobson is a truly great comic creation. No one can do condescending and sarcastic like a posh Englishman.

The film cracks along at a good pace, and is definitely the funniest at the beginning and whenever Arthur has a good drink, and it’s a pretty cool ending. The theme song ‘Moon and New York City’, was a huge hit at the time, and is okay.

OVERALL: 7/10
Rewatchability: Very rewatchable, at least yearly.
Age suitability: Middle teens upwards.

Movie Review: Fear is the Key – A great overlooked 70s action thriller 7.5/10

Fear is the Key (1973)

A good, twisty, jagged little thriller based on a book by Alistair Maclean where things are not what they seem. Barry Newman is excellent in this as the protagonist that is initially quite rotten as a character, but whose better qualities eventually shine through, especially once you understand his motivations (which you may pick up in the brief, unfussy first scene that might even slip your attention, so short and downplayed as it is).

It begins with a spectacular 10-minute car chase through the bayou-swamps of somewhere (let’s guess Louisiana) – it reminded me of a similar case in speedboats in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die. And then it gets progressively more engaging and intriguing.

John Vernon (Dean Wormer of Animal House) is the main bad guy, with Ben Kingsley as his main henchman (doing a good squeaky-voiced psycho, some years before his turn as Gandhi, and many years before his full-blown psycho Donnie Logan in Sexy Beast) – sporting a full head of hair. They make excellent bad guys who don’t realise who they’re actually getting mixed up with.

In addition to this, the score is pretty good – done by Roy Budd a little time after he did the spectacular score for Get Carter. The direction is also solid, with some memorable shots – a dead man in a shallow, muddy grave is shown during a rain storm, and the shot of his still face being spattered with muddy rain is particularly memorable.

Finally the ending is both very tense and quite distinct – I can’t remember anything similar at all.

Recommended 7.5/10

Movie Review: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein – Top horror comedy, with monsters and comedians really delivering 7.5/10

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

This film marked the final film for several of the universal monster franchises, such as the Frankenstein, Wolf Man and Dracula series, and is touted by some critics (but by no means all) as some sort of low-point.

Junk! This film works a treat on horrific and comedy levels – the monsters are treated with some respect, and not turned into clowns or parodies of themselves (unlike, say, Freddy Kreuger). To me, it marks a going out with a bang, and I consider this probably the best Abbot + Costello film by far. The title itself is a joke – Frankenstein is not a character in this film, much less someone the guys meet!

It’s consistently funny, old-fashioned scary and good for young (probably 6-7 upwards) and old alike, and cracks along at a fair pace.

It’s nicely filmed, nicely plotted, gives the boys time to do their funny stuff, and there’s some crackerjack lines. Example:
“You don’t understand. I sometimes turn into a wolf!”
“You and 20 million other guys!”

Even those that don’t like Abbott and Costello, there’s plenty here to like.

Alice, Sweet Alice – Interesting American Giallo with plenty of atmosphere and weirdness 7/10

Alice, Sweet Alice  aka Communion

An interesting little thriller that plays like an Italian Giallo, but is set and made in America.  Got famous for the brief presence of Brooke Shields at a young age (and she never acted better than in this), but I find many of the actors interesting – particularly the girl under suspicion for murdering her sister and others – played by Paula Sheppard very effectively.

The movie borrows from a few sources among Giallo, and is also strongly reminiscent of Don’t Look Now, but it also seems to be an inspiration for later movies.  The music and the use of the music, for example, seems a direct precursor to the music and its usage in Halloween, coming 2 years after this.

The director shows flair, with a good build up of tension both in plotting and his use of shots and music, but also in the use of some very strange characters (like the grossly overweight, effeminate landlord who seems morbidly interested in the young girls who live in his apartments, and seems to eat the catfood he feeds to his kittens).  He also uses in-plot music to add to the weirdness (watch out for ‘three little fishies in an itty-bitty pool’).

Overall, recommended and worth seeing.

 

Movie Review: Idiocracy – Broad-stroke satire about future America that’s like crossing Sleeper with Fox News 6/10

Idiocracy

An interesting but not entirely successful satire of the state of America, where a reasonably likeable Army slacker and a prostitute are used in a cryogenics experiment that goes wrong, and they wake up 5 hundred years in the future.

They wake up in an America that’s an extension of what was the Bush years, where the stupid have completely outbred the smart, so everyone is pretty much mentally deficient.  These people make Beavis and Butthead look like Carl Sagan.

Whilst it doesn’t have enough laughs to be a really good comedy, it’s got some spot-on observations (The Fox News inserts, with a topless, buff anchorman, and a anchorlady wearing a sexy basque are funny, as is a president who is an adult movie star/wrestler), and can be kind of depressing because it does hit the mark of how America sometimes seems to be going.

The two leads are quite likeable, there’s some meandering parts, but on the whole, I enjoyed watching it.

 

The Thing and Favourite Stop-Motion Animation Movies Episode 014

In this one, Sam and Mark discuss John Carpenter’s The Thing and their favourite movies containing stop-motion animation, as well as a few other movies such as 13 Assassins and The Perfect Host

Book Review: The Light Fantastic – Fun 2nd book in Discworld series, definitely a pleasing read 8/10

The Light Fantastic

This is a direct sequel to Terry Pratchett’s first Discworld book, continuing the adventures of Rincewind the semi-failed magician, Twoflower the tourist,  and the walking luggage.

There’s many funny moments and scenes in this book, but it benefits a lot by the presence of a few other characters, particularly Death, and Cohen the Barbarian (a geriatric warrior who is more canny than caveman).

Recommended as a fine diversion from reality

TV Review: Battlestar Galactica miniseries and Season 1: Fantastic, gritty, funny, surprising space opera that really delivers here 9/10

The 3 hour miniseries set the scene very nicely. This was total war, and total losing, the cylons won this one outright. 3 very clear and outright awesome characters were established in this series: Commander Adama, Starbuck and Roslin. There’s also a ton of potential in the ambiguous character and situation of Baltar, with the promise of him getting up to the same level as the others, and some possibility that Tigh may reach the same heights.

Two scenes in particular stood out for me, and defined the spirit of the show: Roslin, who we’ve seen as very human and compassionate being forced to make a snap-decision about leaving a lot of ships behind vs staying and risking all of civilian humanity to the cylons, and she makes it without histrionics or any show of weakness. And near the end, when Tigh is trying to make amends with Starbuck, and Starbuck flat refuses to compromise.

We know we’re not in glossy, emotionally-vacuous territory here.

 
Episode 1 of Season 1, “33”, was just excellent. Opening right in the middle of it, we don’t get time to familiarise or warm to the characters, but instead feel their disorientation, confusion, and sense of being completely strung out. I still don’t know if 33 was a cylon ploy, like an extended water torture, or it was their time to recalc the jump. They set the bar very high with this.

Episode 2, “Water” opened really well, again in disorientation and confusion, this time with the character of Sharon being absolutely soaked and obviously not knowing where she was and how she got there. It did settle into something more ordinary after that though. I too didn’t feel the Chief acted properly or realistically. Hell, they are fighting for survival, he’s in a absolutely key position, he cannot hide stuff like that, even though it’s his girlfriend. That peeved me some. I really like the Baltar/6 interactions though, and the building relationship of Adama and Roslin.

 
Episode 3 – Bastille Day: I think Richard Hatch was just excellent as Zarek, with authority, power and still confidence conveyed in all scenes except the last one. Lee was also much better as a character. This was a great return for Hatch, not some cheesy cameo that often happens in these old->new handovers. It all worked pretty well imo, except there was a couple of slips. Making Starbuck head of a anti-terrorist squad was really stupid jump from reality (I don’t care if she’s an awesome shot), and the relenting of her character on Tigh (which he rejected, thankfully).
 
Episode 4 – Act of Contrition: Yeah not bad, but too unfocussed for me for the first half. Sharpened up well when Starbuck finally revealed to Adama she passed his son even though he wasn’t ready. What fury was shown without moving a muscle! I also liked Starbuck training the nuggets, and wish there was less of the flashback stuff and more of that. I did dig Starbuck going back to face-off 8 cyclons though – very exciting prospect, and I wish we saw more of that, and her in real peril. I really liked the character of Hotdog a lot.
 
Episode 5 – You Can’t Go Home Again: Okay, lots of plot contrivances, and I just didn’t buy that Adama would so jettison his responsibilities because of, admittedly serious, unresolved issues, but the last 5 minutes made up for it. Roslin giving the guys a serious talking-to to remind them of how they need to be, the relief at finding Starbuck, and the final scene between Adama and Starbuck. It moved me greatly, that final scene, and made the reservations about the rest of the episode vaporise.

An okay episode with some really great final few scenes.

 
 
The remaining episodes were more patchy, but overall it lead to a terrific conclusion – particularly the final 2-parter episodes, and raised a number of question marks about what the hell was going on.
 
Thoroughly recommended.

Movie Review: 13 Assassins – exciting modern Samurai actioner 8.5/10

13 Assassins

A quite enthralling hark back to 60s Samurai movies with a modern twist, solid all the way through. The bad guy is completely bad, and the good guys are tough, powerful fighters that need to take down 200 men in an epic battle to finish their quest – kill the bad guy. It’s well directed by Beat Takeshi, and is somewhat reminiscent of some the the 70s Kurosawa movies in both mood and colour palette – reminded me of Kagemusha, for example.

There are some quite dark scenes in this though, and it’s thoroughly adult, so be warned.

8.5/10

Movie Review: Fright Night 2 – rather poor 80s horror/comedy that isn’t very scary or funny 3/10

Fright Night 2

Okay Fright Night was recently made with David Tennant channelling Russell Brand as a vampire hunter, but this is a review of the sequel to the rather charming original.

This sequel suffers from a number of problems.  The main antagonist is a woman, a sister to the original’s suave Chris Sarandon vampire, but she really can’t act and doesn’t have the charisma to pull this off.  Secondly, we’ve lost Charlie Brewster’s original girlfriend (who was played by the woman who became Marcy in Married With Children), who was cute, likeable and believable.  The new girlfriend is again not a great actress (but gets better as the film goes along), and not that likeable. Coupled with an internal logic that just doesn’t work (one vampire gets staked and just falls dead, while others immediately melt or somesuch), and not great dialogue, poor motivation and not a very good story, it’s not a patch on the original.

However, it has some merits.  The practical special effects are fun, and one of the Queen Vampire’s underlings is quite good.  He looks like a young James Woods with enormous and long hair.  There’s also the odd shot that’s pretty memorable, such  as a striking-looking black vampire skating towards the camera.

Maybe worth seeing the once for a fan of 80s horror.

Movie Review: The Day The Earth Stood Still – classic 50s scifi 8/10

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Made in the 50s and remade recently starring Keanu Reeves (and everything I’ve heard about it makes is sound like a worthless remake), this is a solid, if a little plodding, scifi story.  An alien comes to earth to warn humans against their violent ways, warning them they face destruction if they can’t change.

There’s been a lot made of this being a Jesus allegory (the alien, Klaatu, calls himself ‘Mr Carpenter’ – get it?) which is somewhat true, but honestly, it is just as entertaining if viewed more superficially as a simple adventure story. Also, if you want a wackier version of the same basic premise, you’ll find it in Plan 9 from Outer Space. And of course Jesus didn’t fly off in a spaceship after the Resurrection (as far as we know).

The most fun in this movie apart from looking for Jesus motifs, is the robot Gort, an intergalactic policeman who can reduce planets to a cinder (and does some fun things against the US military).  He’s quite a presence.

The actual photography, camerawork and editing are quite effective.  The individual scenes are reasonably sophisticated (a lot more sophisticated than, say, Invaders from Mars, or War of the Worlds from the same period), and the black and white imagery is quite striking.

Overall, thoroughly recommended, suitable for all ages.

8/10

Phantom of the Opera and most anticipated new movies Episode 013

In this episode, Mark and Sam talk about Dead Island, Army of Two, the movies they’re most looking forward to in the coming year, The Phantom of the Opera, and Joel Schumacher.

Blues Brothers and favourite movie music Episode 012

Sam and Mark talk about star wars and George Lucas, The Blues Brothers, and their favourite music moments from the movies.