Friday, 15 December 2017

Christmas Bounty (2013)

The Miz. Do you know him? If you're a wrestling fan then the chances are that you do. Or if you have watched any of the many WWE movie products released over the past 5-10 years. The Miz is one of their stars that they have decided to give a helping hand with by building him a movie career. Good for The Miz, but is it good for viewers? Well, he's not that bad onscreen. He has a bit of personality, an ability to engage in moments that show he has a sense of humour (particularly in Santa's Little Helper), and the obvious physicality for the action roles (which I am assuming is on display in his starring role in The Marine movie series).

But Christmas Bounty, while featuring The Miz in a large supporting role, isn't really about him. It's about a character played by Francia Raisa. She plays a schoolteacher who is trying to escape her bounty hunter past. She's so ashamed of her roots that she hasn't explained any of it to her fiance, James (Will Greenberg). Which causes some confusion when she ends up returning home to tie up some loose ends. James follows her, he meets her mother (April Telek) and father (Michael Hanus), and he starts to realise that she may not be who she says she is. While viewers simply keep thinking about how she isn't The Miz.

Director Gil Junger (who many years ago gave us the wonderful 10 Things I Hate About You) takes this silly premise, a silly premise crafted by no less than three writers (Andrew Black, Claudia Grazioso, and Vivian Lee), and does the minimum required to keep it all moving along briskly enough from start to finish.

Junger is helped out a lot by the cast. Raisa is fine, The Miz is just about charismatic enough to warrant his move up the movie career ladder, and Greenberg just has to look suitably bemused and out of place. There's also a small supporting role for Chelan Simmons, and Alexs Paunovic playing a heavy with a vendetta, and Telek and Hanus are a lot of fun as the parents proud of a daughter who now feels a bit embarrassed by her background.

The script isn't as funny as it should be, and the action is lacking, which is a shame. This is a film that could easily be improved by a) some more action beats, and b) a better blend of laughs with the fights, as characters struggled to resolve their different issues and avoid receiving extra bruises.

If you collect films starring WWE alumni then this is one to make a very low priority. If you are after something seasonal to enjoy during the holidays then, again, this should be a very low priority. Despite the timing of the events, it doesn't ever really feel too Christmassy, and you don't get much ho ho ho for your money.

4/10

American readers are lucky enough to be able to buy this here.


Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Flight Before Christmas (2015)

Director Peter Sullivan must surely know his stuff when it comes to Christmas TV movies. Don't believe me? Just check out his list of credits on IMDb. Between his directing AND producing credits, he has had his fingers in a lot of mince pies. And it shows.

The Flight Before Christmas (which, like many other Christmas movies, isn't even original enough to have a title that hasn't been used once or twice before) is a superior example of this type of entertainment. You're not going to get any surprises, these things are all about comfort and contentment as opposed to challenging viewers, but you get some nice moments between two likable leads, and a couple of decent supporting players to help things move along at a decent pace.

Maym Bialik plays Stephanie, a young woman unceremoniously ditched by her boyfriend right before Christmas. This is also right before she was due to move in with him, leaving her technically "between homes", which adds insult to injury. So she decides to head home for Christmas. One coincidence after another sees her spending a lot of time in the company of Michael (Ryan McPartlin). Michael is used to travelling back and forth across the country, maintaining a long-term relationship with the woman he hopes to make his wife one day. If he could only decide on the perfect ring. While forced to endure each other's company, thanks to their flight being diverted and grounded, Stephanie and Michael start to bond. Surprise, surprise.

Written by Jennifer Notas Shapiro, The Flight Before Christmas is not only polished and predictable seasonal fluff, it's also surprisingly, if mildly, less patronising than usual. I admit to being very surprised when I saw that Bialik was starring in this, but I was less surprised as the film started to play out. Within the confines of the film, she still manages to portray a strong-willed and smart woman who doesn't want to define her entire life by her need for a man. Yes, there is a love story here, and Bialik is upset by her enforced single status, but there are a number of moments that allow her to, dare I say it, blossom in the eyes of her male co-star, rather than just have her look pretty and in need of help up until a third act union (which is the more common structure for these films).

Bialik is well-suited to the role, and McPartlin works well with her. He is just the right mix of sweet and ignorantly condescending, learning quickly as he goes along that he may not know as much about love as he thinks he does. Brian Doyle-Murray is the requisite "Santa" figure, in a cameo role that has him onscreen for a few minutes at most, and Reginald VelJohnson and Jo Marie Payton are enjoyable enough as the couple who run a small hotel in a village that Bialik and McPartlin are forced to spend time in while awaiting rearranged flights.

It might seem as if I have been overselling this one slightly, and I don't want anyone to read this and think they're in for a masterpiece, but this is almost downright progressive compared to so many other TV movies you could end up seeing at this time of year.

6/10

Here is a large selection of Christmas movies to enjoy.
And American elves can pick the same set up here.


Admittedly, not exactly an image that aligns with what I have said above

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Olive, The Other Reindeer (1999)

Olive, The Other Reindeer is an odd, sweet slice of animation that, thanks to the quirky humour and strange style of the whole thing, perfectly hits all of the expected Christmas story beats without feeling like a carbon copy of so many other tales just like it.

Drew Barrymore voices Olive, a dog that doesn't always act as a dog should. Olive also loves Christmas, so she decides to head on a long journey to help out Santa. A reindeer is injured, which means no sleigh availability, which means the possibility of NO Christmas. And that just won't do. Along the way, Olive befriends a hustling penguin (Martini, voiced by Joe Pantoliano) and has to avoid the clutches of a very grumpy mailman (voiced by Dan Castellaneta).

Directed by Steve Moore, and "presented" by Matt Groening, it's quite obvious from the opening scenes that this is something that will appeal to those who enjoy The Simpsons. The crude animation makes up in heart what it seems to lack in grace and precision, the dialogue is a lot of fun, and the pacing is perfect (with a runtime of approximately 45 minutes, it doesn't feel too short but also doesn't outstay its welcome). The script, written by Steve Young, based on the book by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh, is simple in the plotting but full of delightful lines peppered throughout every scene.

The voice cast also helps a lot. Barrymore has just the right, upbeat, voice for the main character. If anyone can play a likable, hustling penguin then that someone is Pantoliano, and Castellaneta can do general grumpiness in his sleep. As well as those featured players, viewers are also treated to the vocal stylings of Edward Asner, Peter MacNicol, Tim Meadows, Jay Mohr, and even a great little musical moment involving Michael Stipe.

Overall, this is a great short film to incorporate into any annual viewing selection. While not as established as many other classics, and not as polished or covered in bells and whistles as some modern features (yes, you know I am looking at you and your 3D motion capture shenanigans, Robert Zemeckis), this makes up for any shortcomings with humour and heart. And it's mostly the heart that makes it such a lovely seasonal gem.

8/10

UK folks can pick up the DVD here.
Americanos can pick it up here.


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

A Madea Christmas (2013)

In the interests of full disclosure I have to start this review by saying that this was my first Madea movie. I checked with a friend to find out if I could/should view this one without having seen any of the others and was given the okay (cheers Kieran). And I WILL check out other Madea movies. Not because this one was fantastic - it wasn't - but because I am now fascinated with seeing how Tyler Perry puts his creation into different scenarios.

Having first appeared in a number of stage plays (about half of which have since been adapted into movies), Madea is an elderly African American woman with a hellish attitude, brutal honesty, and the ability to overreact to many minor incidents while staying calm in the face of more emotional moments. This is what I have gleaned from one film anyway. And she is played by Tyler Perry.

Now that we both know a bit about the character, let's move on to the plot of the film. Madea ends up heading along with Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford) to visit Eileen's daughter, Lacey (Tika Sumpter). Lacey has to hide the fact that she is married to a lovely young white man (Conner, played by Eric Lively), pretending that he is her helper, and is also facing trouble at the school she works at, struggling to help fund local Christmas celebrations that will allow the kids to shine. One of those kids is extremely bright, much to the delight of his mother (Alicia Witt), although his father (Chad Michael Murray) has more immediate concerns about his farmland and struggle to make ends meet. Oh, and Conner's parents (Larry The Cable Guy and Kathy Najimy) are about to visit.

Yes, that was me trying to be brief with the plot description there, but there's a lot more to mention. The character played by Chad Michael Murray spent many years bullying the character played by Eric Lively. The funding for the local festivities comes with a number of strings attached. There's a random Ku Klux Klan meeting gag. And so much more.

Although I have no other experience with this character, or these plays and movies, A Madea Christmas gives me the distinct impression that Tyler Perry likes to stir plenty into the pot, all the while having his female creation ready to take centre stage whenever necessary. She doesn't necessarily solve any, or all, problems but she enables others to find their own solutions. And she does this by cutting through any bullshit, in between scenes that have her either throwing her weight around and cussing or spouting some tiresome homely wisdom.

The acting ranges from soap opera levels (Murray and Horsford can't overcome the poor writing) to the genuinely good (Perry, despite the broad comedy of the character he plays, is great in the lead role, and other very good turns come from Sumpter, Lively, Mr Cable Guy, Najimy, and Witt), and the direction is solid, if deliberately leaving aside any flash and sizzle in favour of simple camerawork and scene set-ups.

The big problem here is the script, veering between comedy to earnest drama back to comedy again like some drunk driver heading along an empty four-lane stretch of highway while searching for the packet of cigarettes he just dropped under his seat. One or two moments work while mixing the two - particularly a revelation and clearing of the air scene in the third act - but most make you feel as if you're watching two different movies that were dropped en route to the editing department and then just spliced together into one ill-judged hybrid.

So there you go. Feel free to take this review with a pinch of salt. And whenever I see my next Madea movie I can find out if my initial impressions were correct, or if her character is better suited to some of the other adventures that Tyler Perry has created for her.

5/10

Here you go, my American friends, buy it here. We have a lot less available to us here in the UK, which may not be a bad thing.


Monday, 11 December 2017

Better Watch Out (2016)

Better Watch Out is the kind of film that you will enjoy more if you know very little about it. So, with that in mind, I am going to be very brief and vague in my plot summary. Briefer and more vague than usual, anyway.

The basic plot revolves around an attractive babysitter (Ashley, played by Olivia DeJonge) and her doting charge (Luke, played by Levi Miller). The two find themselves being terrorised by a dangerous stranger who has managed to cut off the phone lines AND the internet connection, leaving Ashley and Luke completely cut off from anyone who might be able to help them.

Written by Zack Khan and Chris Peckover, with the latter also taking on the directing duties, Better Watch Out is, as so many others have already said, a gleefully dark dance through Home Alone territory. If Kevin McCallister had been using baseball bats and guns instead of Christmas decorations and toys then you would see even more similarity. But it's also the differences here that make this such a fun film, as the script starts to play with and subvert the preconceptions that it deliberately planted in the minds of viewers. In fact, before even seeing one frame of the film you may have already seen the tagline: "You might be home but you're not alone."

Cast-wise, this is pretty spot on. DeJonge is believable as a babysitter that a teen lad could fall for and also someone who could be plucky and resilient when the need arises. Miller is a typical teenager, in many respects, and his performance is pitched perfectly between youthful silliness and extreme irritation. Ed Oxenbould is less annoying here than he was in The Visit (although I know a lot of people liked him in that role), playing Garrett, a friend of Luke, and there are solid supporting turns from Aleks Mikic, Dacre Montgomery, Virginia Madsen, and the ever-watchable Patrick Warburton.

Yet, due to a few different factors, this ends up not fully realising the potential that Khan and Peckover have buried at the heart of everything. It's hard to pinpoint all of the minor flaws that stop it from being something truly great but at times it isn't as much fun as it should be, at other times it isn't as nasty as it could be, and throughout many scenes it isn't quite as smart as it would like to be.

It's also unfortunate that a delayed release now has this coming out here in the UK just a couple of months after the superior The Babysitter (which has similar subversions to standard "babysitter in peril" movie tropes, although it lacks the extra fun of the Christmas trimmings). That film was sharper, funnier, and more violent (but only just), and it's a shame that Khan and Peckover didn't develop their screenplay much further beyond the Home Alone rope-a-dope.

It's still well worth a watch though, and I'd recommend picking it up when it gets a shiny disc release. Because it's always good to have even more options for your Christmas viewing selection.

7/10

UK folks, get your Home Alone fix here.
US readers can get a similar set here.
Citizens from elsewhere... I'm sorry, I can't create links for every national outlet (I would if I could, honest).




Sunday, 10 December 2017

All I Want For Christmas Is You (2017)

Where to begin, where to begin? When this animated film started I thought that I was going to hate it. It was a bit too cutesy, it wasn't the best animation, and I struggle to identify with the plight of a young girl who just wants a puppy for Christmas. And I was just waiting for the moment that would allow Mariah Carey to belt out her song.

Oh, didn't you know that this was tied in with Mariah Carey? Oh yes. There's apparently a book that this is based on (although the film is written by Temple Mathews, who has managed to turn the short story into a standard feature-length film), and Mariah provides voiceover narration, as well as MAYBE a rendition of her seasonal hit.

But I digress. Let me get back to hating this film. Except I stopped hating it, and I stopped hating it quite early on. There was still a part of me that resented the idea of a film being spun out from a small book (that I was previously unaware of) that was spun out from a hit Christmas song, and the animation wasn't exactly superb, but I started to enjoy this simple tale, and I had to concede that if I was a much younger viewer then I would probably love this.

Young Mariah (voiced by Breanna Yde) wants a puppy, as I have already mentioned. Unfortunately, her father is very allergic to dogs. That doesn't stop young Mariah having her heart set on picking up a dog named Princess, a dog that she thinks is meant to be hers. As a temporary remedy for her possible heartache, Mariah is given a puppy, Jack, who turns out to be quite a handful. He always seems to do the wrong thing at the wrong time, driving Mariah further and further up the wall with his puppy antics.

Directed by Guy Vasilovich, All I Want For Christmas Is You is a star vehicle that allows you to forget about that same star as you are drawn into the delightful story that unfolds. There are some other supporting characters, with the only other standout being a mischievous grandpa (voiced by Henry Winker), but this is all about a little girl and her puppy. Yes, you know the song is coming, and you know that it won't be the only song in the film, but that starts to matter less and less as the film actually, and surprisingly, earns a decent amount of goodwill from viewers.

You're unlikely to enjoy this much if you hate Mariah Carey (I have always quite liked her) as she provides enough narration to infuriate anyone familiar enough with her voice, and I am not going to pretend that this was designed to appeal to anyone other than children, or anyone having to watch the whole thing while sitting beside children, but this won me over. Which means that I even listened to the whole song over the end credits. And it's a great Christmas tune, one that I end up dancing and singing along to almost every time I hear it.

In fact . . . here it is.


6/10

All I Want For Christmas Is You can be purchased here in the UK.
American Mariah fans can buy it here.


Saturday, 9 December 2017

48 Christmas Wishes (2017)

It doesn't take much time spent in my company (in real life or here on my blog) to realise that I can often be quite an easy mark for certain movies. Shark film? I am happy (usually). Zombies in the mix? I am happy (usually). Diora Baird with more than 10 minutes of screentime? I am happy. And if you make a Christmas movie that features elves, a bit of magic, and a guest appearance from Santa himself then you can usually get me drunk on eggnog, paint my nose red, and call me Rudolph. So I figured that 48 Christmas Wishes wouldn't be that bad.

I was wrong.

The slight story concerns a couple of elves (played by Clara Kushnir and Ethan Yang) who have to mingle among some humans as they try to figure out what the kids want for Christmas. This is all because they lost a bag of post at Santa's HQ. As the elves attempt to right their wrong, they befriend a young boy named Blake (Liam MacDonald). Blake lives with his sister and mother (Madeline Leon). His father died, which creates a bit of a shadow over the usual Christmas cheeriness. Perhaps the elves can help this family unit feel like a family again.

Co-directed by Marco Deufemia and Justin G. Dyck, 48 Christmas Wishes is about as cheap and crude (in terms of the technical aspects) as you will see from even the most basic TV movies nowadays. I am not sure if the co-directors just didn't care or if they were given some kind of remit that meant everything had to be done as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. Deufemia hasn't directed anything previous to this, but Dyck has a handful of similar features to his name (which I am sure I will see one day).

Writer Neale Kimmel can also take her share of the blame. It's no excuse nowadays to say "oh well, it is just aimed at kids". Any film aimed at kids can still have decent plotting and dialogue. This has neither, with both being so shoddily put together that it's almost a miracle to see the whole thing lurch from the opening scenes to the end credits without just breaking apart and crawling off to a pit where unfinished movies go to disintegrate into nothingness.

It wouldn't be fair of me to pick apart the performances of Kushnir, Yang, MacDonald, or Maya Franzoi (playing the one elf who stays back at HQ to try and cover for the absence of her colleagues) so I won't. Franzoi is fun, the rest aren't (although Yang has his moments). Leon does okay, but is stuck in the role of lone human adult involved in the main storyline. Everyone else stays at about the same level as Kushnir and MacDonald.

Without meaning to seem like a big meanie, this feels like a film that was made by someone who wanted to reward some kids, making a movie with them that they could contribute to and show to other kids. For all I know, maybe that WAS the way things worked out. And I am pleased for them if that is how the film came about. I am just not very pleased for anyone else who ends up watching the finished product.

3/10

Here is A link, for the curious.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Angel Of Christmas (2015)

Jennifer Finnigan is Susan Collins, a decidedly unfestive person who tends to view the holiday celebrations around her as an inconvenience rather than anything delightful. Given the chance to write a main story for her newspaper, Susan struggles to think of something that will satisfy readers and provide some of that essential Christmas spirit. When she is told some of the backstory of a family heirloom, the titular angel, she senses that she has the start of her piece. The angel has a history of bringing together loved ones, or at least leading people to where they need to be. And then, while trying to find her holly jolly happy spirit, Susan keeps bumping into a handsome, non-cynical artist named Brady (Jonathan Scarfe). Perhaps the angel has more work to do yet.

Directed by Ron Oliver (who also gave us the much more disappointing A Christmas Detour) , Angel Of Christmas is almost a perfectly fine bit of seasonal fluff. Finnigan is adequate in the lead role, Scarfe is just about cheery enough without being too annoying, and the two of them together have a good mix of initial incompatibility while still maintaining a chemistry/attraction. Everyone onscreen hits their marks as they run through some predictable story beats, the soundtrack is full of that blandly festive library of songs and tunes that channels like Hallmark and ABC must have stockpiled in a big basement somewhere, and the "accidents" that occur when the angel is scheming are played out at just the right level of cute magic. It may not be the most exciting thing you will watch this year but Christmas TV movies seldom are.

As well as our two leads, Tahmoh Penikett plays Derek, a man looking to put some sweet moves on Susan, Barclay Hope and Wanda Cannon play Susan's parents, and Mark Bendavid and Chloe McClay are two main characters shown in flashback to provide the origin of the tale of angelic magic. The performances vary, but everyone does better than the wooden angel, although some only just.

Where it all falls down is in the third act, which just stretches things a bit too far (yes, even for this kind of film). Writer Gary Goldstein may have been pleased with himself as he created extra coincidences and connections but it ends up turning the finale into something laughably akin to the worst soap opera plotting I have experienced (and I used to be, kind of, forced to watch Sunset Beach, for my sins). It's so bad, in fact, that I found myself rolling my eyes and saying "no, don't do it, oh please no" repeatedly during one main sequence, despite nobody else being around to hear my protests.

5/10

Here is a large selection of Christmas movies to enjoy.
And American elves can pick the same set up here.



Thursday, 7 December 2017

Secret Santa (2015)

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Mike McMurran, Secret Santa is a lo-fi Christmas horror movie with a low budget and some high spirits. While it doesn't quite do enough to make you forget you're watching an independent film with barely enough going on to fill out the brisk 78-minute runtime, it is most definitely a fun time for slasher movie fans.

Not much time is wasted, with viewers introduced to someone in the opening scenes who is about to be despatched in an entertainingly messy death scene. Then it's time to introduce some more characters and turn up the sense of menace as more people start to receive Secret Santa gifts, a sign of their impending death (with the gift being used as the murder weapon, in a nice twist). What is motivating the killer, and who will be left by the time the end credits roll?

For people of a certain mindset, this film will be a lot of fun. The low budget is put to good use (with a lot being saved by most of the action taking place in one location, I would assume), the cast all have a good idea of where the performances should be pitched, and the gore, when it is shown, is very impressive, with an undoubted highlight being a bathtub scene that is as brutal and bloody as anything else I can think of right now.

And it's fair to give McMurran a lot of the credit for that, but it's also fair to give him some amount of flak. Because not content with letting the film get by on the strength of the performances, script, and the gore moments, he also feels the need to give the whole thing a "grindhouse" feeling, adding scratches and blemishes digitally to make it all look as if it was shot on film. If I'm wrong, and it has been known from time to time, then I will be happy to stand corrected by someone with more information (Mike, feel free to comment if I am talking out of the wrong end of my body).

Annette Wozniak is an appealing lead (and provides some titillation in the scenes that show her making money from her webcam job . . . without actually SHOWING her making money from her webcam job), Brent Baird is fine, Geoff Almond and Keegan Chambers are both quite amusing, and everyone else does well, mainly because of everyone being on the same page with the aforementioned pitching of the performances.

It sometimes feels as if there are just as many Christmas horror movies as there are standard Christmas movies, which is a bonus for those like myself who love both the horror genre and the yuletide season. But the downside of any subgenre being so popular is that you will inevitably also get a lot of bad with the good. Just ask any vampire or zombie movie fan. Secret Santa is one of the good ones. I look forward to seeing what McMurran does next, and hope it's as enjoyable as this.

7/10

Secret Santa is/was available on Amazon Prime at the moment. Or you can seek safer holiday fare.
Here is a large selection of Christmas movies to enjoy.
And American elves can pick the same set up here.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Christmas Festival Of Ice (2017)

You know how it is. You slave away for years, working on a career in the world of law, being an upstanding member of the community, life opening up ahead of you like an oyster about to show you the biggest, shiniest pearl. Everything could be yours for the taking, if only you could satisfy that insatiable urge to indulge in some ice sculpting.

As ridiculous as that sounds, that's only a slightly exaggerated summary of this movie, which is indeed about a young woman (Emma, played by Taylor Cole) who tries to balance her legal career with the chance to do some ice sclupting in the run up to Christmas. It is something she always used to do with her father, and it's bad news when the town decides that they can't afford to have it as part of the festivities this year. Asking what can be done about it, Emma is told that the council may be able to put up $5000 if she can raise the other $15000, which would then be enough to let everyone have their ice sculpting fun again. Emma sets out to raise the funds, and she also meets another local talent (Nick, played by Damon Runyan), so the scene MAY be set for a third act involving ice, the sculpting of that ice, and the warm glow of affection in the cold weather of Christmas. Maybe.

Directed by Bradley Walsh (for UK folks, like me, I don't think it is THAT Bradley Walsh . . . . but please let me know if I am very incorrect in that assumption) and written by David Golden, this is another harmless bauble to fill up the TV schedules at this time of year. While the premise may seem a bit sillier than some, it really isn't. Let's face it, so many of these Christmas movies revolve around someone deciding whether to be safe and sensible or whether to pursue their true love.

Cole is bright and pleasant enough in the lead role, making up for the fact that Runyan is a bit, well, dull (not his fault, he's just not given anything more to his character than whatever leads to him being compatible with Cole's character). The rest of the cast all hit their marks, smile or look concerned as required, and are just a-okay. Teagan Vincze does her best with a small role, standing out more than anyone else, but this is a film about ice sculpting that doesn't even have enough great ice sculptures dotted around. There are a few impressive pieces, but I was hoping to see a LOT more.

It may not have too much magic sprinkled over it, and it somehow feels a lot less Christmassy than many of the other Christmas movies I have watched in recent weeks, but this still isn't that bad. For this kind of thing.

4/10

Here is a large selection of Christmas movies to enjoy.
And American elves can pick the same set up here.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

A Song For Christmas (2017)

Becca Tobin plays Adelaide Kay, a country singer who is on the verge of hitting the level of superstar. All she has to do is play along with the narrative created by her manager, which is dragging her away from her earnest roots to become a performer of songs written by other people. She has a major concert coming up, the biggest of her career so far, but ends up waylaid at a small farm instead, as you do, with the handsome Dillon (Kevin McGarry) and his family. Which may just remind her of everything that she needs reminded of, and just in time for Christmas too. Oh, and did I mention that she is trying to keep her real identity under wraps?

Directed by R. C. Newey (someone so new to the game, apparently, that I had to add their name to the credits listing on IMDb) and written by Betsy Morris and Joie Botkin, A Song For Christmas is one of the multitude of Hallmark movies that we are now treated to every single year. On the downside, these things can often feel like products wrapped in tinsel and then dropped off the end of a conveyor belt. On the plus side, it's hard to deny that these people know exactly what they are doing when it comes to this type of holiday fare. Some are still better than others, of course, but most of them are created as the perfect type of thing to have on while you write out your Christmas cards and wrap lots of presents.

As is often the case, the success or failure of this kind of thing rests on the likeability of the leads. Tobin is quite likeable, thankfully, and that helps, even in the moments when she has to be overly earnest (which happens a lot in these films). McGarry is a bit stiffer, but that is his character. The film isn't really about him. He is just one piece used to help Tobin complete her Christmas journey. The other main piece is Hailey (Kendra Leigh Timmins), the younger sister of Dillon, and the one who takes immediately to Adelaide.

It's all predictable, it's all quite ridiculous, and it's just the right level of simple entertainment that clogs up the TV channels while meals are being cooked and alcoholic beverages are being knocked back. And, most importantly, it doesn't have anyone in it who ends up being too annoying.

5/10

Here is a large selection of Christmas movies to enjoy.
And American elves can pick the same set up here.



Monday, 4 December 2017

A Christmas Prince (2017)

Written by Nathan Atkins, from a story he worked on with Karen Schaler, and directed by Alex Zamm, A Christmas Prince is mildly enjoyable seasonal fare that benefits from a few welcome faces filling out the cast, including Rose McIver in the lead role. It also seems to be the next in a series of films from Zamm that mixes seasonal romance with Royals and non-Royals (he has previously given us A Royal Christmas and Crown For Christmas).

McIver plays Amber, a young woman who spends her workdays editing and reworking magazine articles for little or no thanks. That may change when she is tasked with a sudden, quite substantial, assignment. She has to travel to a fictional country (I didn't note it down, but it's one of those movie countries that feels like America or the UK, but isn't, but is full of English-speaking, white people) and get the scoop on an alleged playboy Prince (Richard, played by Ben Lamb). That might prove difficult for most journalists on the case, but things become surprisingly easy when she is mistaken for the new tutor to young Princess Emily (Honor Kneafsey) and finds herself able to work on her story from a privileged insider position.

Despite the fact that it took me a good ten minutes to realise that McIver is the actress I have enjoyed recently while I watched episodes of iZombie, I was enjoying A Christmas Prince from the very beginning because of her presence. When my memory finally made the connection I started to warm to the whole thing even more, safe in the knowledge that this wasn't someone I was able to tolerate. No, this was someone I really liked. Which is a good thing, because the rest of the leads prove to be more of a mixed bag. Lamb does fine in his role, I suppose, but his character is exactly as you think he will be, and doesn't necessarily tally with the playboy image that is being reported. Kneafsey has to alternate between being a young bossyboots and being quite sweet, with the bossiness overdone initially, making her quite difficult to warm to. Alice Krige is fine as the Queen, Sarah Douglas is the stern head of the staff, essentially, and Theo Devaney and Emma Louise Saunders are fairly enjoyable as the "baddies".

Despite the lack of major surprises in the plotting, the script does at least make the expected beats and obstacles a bit more interesting than they could have been. The third act tries admirably to keep things tense, and the fact that viewers should be rooting for McIver means that it doesn't all feel too silly as she takes part in a standard "race against time" finale. Zamm does what needs to be done, no more and no less - we get lovely shots of snow-covered scenery, we get fun shining from the faces of people engaging in snowball fights, we get a number of "dawning realisation" reaction shots, and it's all paced well, and with plenty of ornaments and Christmas trimmings in almost every scene. Like so many films of this kind, you wouldn't really consider it for viewing at any other time of year, which is absolutely fine. It's not made for those other times. It is made for now, made for Christmas, and it works very well in that regard.

6/10

Here is a large selection of Christmas movies to enjoy.
And American elves can pick the same set up here.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

A Christmas Detour (2015)

Candace Cameron Bure plays Paige Summerlind, a woman who writes magazine articles about finding your perfect man and planning your perfect wedding, and is just about to get married herself. This Christmas is a huge deal for her. She is about to meet her future in-laws (played by Barbara Niven and Michael St. John Smith) and finalise a lot of the wedding details. So having her flight diverted and delayed couldn't have happened at a worse possible time. Her situation isn't helped by being stuck in the company of the cynical (but we know there's a good reason for it, don't we?) Dylan, played by Paul Greene, and a married couple (Maxine and Frank, played by Sarah Strange and David Lewis) who alternate between showing the best and the worst of married life.

Directed by Ron Oliver, who has turned out a whole load of TV movies over the past decade, this is the usual lightweight holiday fare hampered by two major failings. First, the script by Mark Amato does nothing to make us actually root for the leads, and gives us one of the most annoying central characters I have seen in some time, in the shape of Paige. All she does is witter on about herself, her great life, and her point of view, even being introduced in a scene that has her giving money to a woman that she expects her to use to buy the latest issue of a magazine that contains the latest article from . . . Paige Summerlind. That is her introduction. Even the potential love interest is mishandled, introduced in a scene that has him advising a colleague on the importance of maintaining fresh snacks on the bar for potential customers. Maxine and Frank fare slightly better, and Paige's future hubby (played by Marcus Rosner) and in-laws feature in a scene that introduces them as people who just might not be the shining stars that they think they are. Second, and also really the fault of the script, there is nothing here to make us believe in love between any of the characters (apart from Maxine and Frank). Nothing. Apart from it being set at Christmas, obviously, which is a time for such improbable happenings to occur.

The major script issues make it hard to properly judge the quality of the acting. Bure comes off the worst, but her character is also given a lot of the worst lines. Greene just about does okay, mainly because he gets to spend a lot of the movie rolling his eyes and being the cynic who calls out Bure on all oh her sugar-coated daydreams. But everyone else does a lot better, even when playing up to the very core of their cliched characters (Strange, Lewis, and Niven, in particular), which makes the film almost bearable.

If only the supporting characters had been given more screentime, and the leads given less. Or if only the leads had been made more likeable. This could have been yet another innocuous Christmas TV movie bauble. Unfortunately, it's just bad, even when judged only alongside other Christmas movies.

3/10

R1 disc is available here - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hallmark-A-CHRISTMAS-DETOUR/dp/B018TNKDOW


Saturday, 2 December 2017

Office Christmas Party (2016)

The office Christmas party, eh. It's an annual tradition for many. The one night of the year when everyone drinks too much, some embarrassing truths are voiced, folk photocopy various body parts, the dancing varies from the sublime to the ridiculous, and occasionally someone goes up to the big boss and says or does something so insane that they are never seen in the workplace again.

With all that in mind, it's surprising that we haven't had a big Christmas comedy based around that tradition before now. Am I forgetting any other candidates? If so, I am happy to stand corrected (and can only blame my failing memory). What isn't surprising is that this particular film tries to take the premise and use it as the structure upon which to hang a bawdy comedy along the lines of The Night Before, Horrible Bosses, and We're The Millers. I mention the first because it's Christmassy, obviously, but the other two are perhaps more appropriate, mainly because of how they use Jennifer Aniston and benefit from a selection of great supporting players.

Jason Bateman stars as Josh Parker, a man who is working for a tech firm that might not survive beyond Christmas. The boss (T. J. Miller) has been ordered by his sister (Jennifer Aniston) to avoid throwing any kind of party, and to not give anyone a Christmas bonus. Which means, of course, that he instead decides to try winning over a potential new client by throwing the biggest, wildest Christmas party ever and letting people win their cash bonuses inside a money tornado machine. This is a nightmare for the uptight head of HR (Kate McKinnon), and soon leads to a potential nightmare for everyone else, when they realise that their jobs are on the line and their boss may not have taken the best approach to guaranteeing that the business remains solvent.

Josh Gordon and Will Speck directed this, both also responsible for the highly enjoyable Blades Of Glory, and the script was written by Dan Mazer, Justin Malen, and Laura Solon. Two directors and three writers. But those three writers were developing a script from a story that was created by THREE OTHER WRITERS, apparently. How hard is it to throw together some big laughs for a comedy that is set during an office Christmas party? Very hard, it would seem, because there aren't many big laughs here.

The film isn't actually bad, and I had lots of little chuckles all the way through, but there aren't really any moments that stand out. No one memorable scene that you can talk about with friends as a shared favourite moment. And that's a great shame, considering the people involved. Hell, there's even a fleeting dance off between two characters that should have been a highlight, but is instead too short and safe to prompt anything more than a wry smile.

Bateman does his usual thing here, and has it locked down as usual. Miller is someone I like, but I could absolutely see him as being the grating type, so be warned. Olivia Munn also plays one of the main characters, but she's really not onscreen for anything more than plot progression and to motivate the growth that we expect to see in Bateman's character, who spends a lot of time being told how he always plays things too safe. Aniston is also ill-served by the script, although that comes from her being the nominal villain of the piece and having to play things that way as one-note as possible until the writers change things too late for anyone to really care. McKinnon is very funny, but I am pretty sure she can spin gold out of the most threadbare material at this point, and Courtney B. Vance, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, and Karan Soni are among the other wasted talents. Jillian Bell is a definite highlight, and the writers do well to bring her character in at just the right times.

It will do if you want a few laughs from something that isn't also drowning in sugary sweetness, but Office Christmas Party is certainly not bound to become a festive tradition. I doubt it will be remembered in a few years time, and that's no bad thing.

6/10

UK folks can buy Office Christmas Party here.
US folks can buy it here.


Friday, 1 December 2017

Christmas Crime Story (2017)

Scott Bailey is a cop. Adrian Paul is someone who may be up to no good. Eric Close is a guy dressed as Santa with major money issues. Aaron Perilo is another guy dressed as Santa who is aiming to rob a store. Neraida Bega is a woman who may be manipulating one or two of the aforementioned guys. And Mary Margaret-Humes is a diner worker, as well as being the estranged mother of our main cop character. There are other people moving in and out of various scenes here, including a small girl who is very ill, but this selection is enough to illustrate the portmanteau style of Christmas Crime Story. Moving between them all, and shifting back in time to show different perspectives and connections between scenes, this is a decent attempt to mix the familiar with something a little bit different (in Christmas movie terms, anyway).

The easiest way to describe this would be as a Christmassy riff on something like Pulp Fiction or Go (which actually WAS set at Christmas, although that is often easy to forget), with less of a comedic streak. It's not as good as either of those movies, let's be clear about that, but the comparison being made here is regarding style and structure, not the quality.

Which isn't to say that Christmas Crime Story is a bad film. It tries to be a bit different, which is admirable, and it has some individual scenes that work surprisingly well.  The screenplay by Sean Chipman, based on an idea by himself and Robert Chipman (I am going to assume they are brothers, but I could be making an ass out of u and umption), has some good lines here and there, and weaves between the usual seasonal sweetness and the slightly darker tone that you would expect from the title. The direction from Richard Friedman is also decent, although he can't do enough to hide the obvious budgetary constraints. With no offence intended to those onscreen, this could have risen above average with a bit more money to play with and a better cast.

The cast are a bit disappointing, for the most part. They're not terrible, but just seem a bit flat. Adrian Paul does quite well, as do Bega and Margaret-Humes, but Bailey, Close, and Perilo are eminently forgettable, which is a shame considering how their actions impact on the narrative.

Yet it's not the cast that really drag the film down too much. What works against it is a lack of that Christmas magic. It IS there, but it's not there in a large enough quantity, nor is there any specific, obvious trigger. No real Santa here, no lost elf, no magic snowglobe. There's nothing here to mark the specific moment in which things should change, a moment when the magic decides to push in and take over the established reality.

It's a shame that Christmas Crime Story misses the mark, mainly because it is a number of minor failings that mount up to eventually drag the whole thing down. I'd still tentatively recommend it to anyone wanting a small break from the annual deluge of overly-sweet TV holiday movies.

4/10

Available from America just now, and here is the link - https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Crime-Story-Adrian-Paul/dp/B074Z33YGG


Thursday, 30 November 2017

City Heat (1984)

Perhaps they weren't at their highest height, but in the early '80s you would struggle to find two cinematic superstars more iconic than Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. Don't get me wrong, we still had plenty of cinematic icons alive and well, but they weren't seemingly at the peak of their powers, whereas Burt and Clint absolutely were. One was The Bandit, and also just Burt, one was Dirty Harry, and so many other memorable characters. Which makes the idea of City Heat a no-brainer.

This was Tango & Cash five years before Tango & Cash, with the added move of making it a period piece, for reasons I still can't quite fathom (although I admit that a couple of fun gags stem from the whole prohibition-era restrictions).

Eastwood is Lieutenant Speer, Reynolds is a private detective named Mike Murphy. The men used to be partners but it's clear from the opening scenes that there's no love lost between them. Murphy has a partner who has unwitingly gotten himself in too deep with some mobsters, Speer is keeping a detached eye on the situation, mainly by keeping an eye on Murphy.

Directed by Richard Benjamin (who I knew as an actor, mainly from the Saturday The 14th films, but was unaware that he has been behind some fun movies, including The Money Pit, Mermaids and My Favourite Year), and written by Blake Edwards and Joseph Stinson, City Heat is a film symptomatic of many that want to pair up two superstars without really knowing how best to use them. There's simple fun to be had just watching any exchange between the fast-talking Reynolds and the much more laconic Eastwood, and there are some good gags here and there (a running joke about hidden alcohol being one, the other involves Eastwood having a supply of larger and larger firearms), but that's about all this has going for it, which is a great shame for all involved. The script should have been full of better lines, the plotting didn't need to seem so convoluted, and there should have been more thought given to creating set-pieces that could involve the two leads.

Eastwood and Reynolds both do very well, and both are much better than the material they have to work with. Jane Alexander and Madeline Kahn are also very good, playing two women who may be inadvertently dragged into the whole dangerous mess. Tony Lo Bianco and Rip Torn play the two mob bosses at odds with one another, and Richard Roundtree, Irene Cara, William Sanderson, and Robert Davi are among the other familiar faces joining in.

Having not seen City Heat since I first watched it on VHS when it was released in the 1980s, I wondered if it would be better or worse than I recall. It turns out that, despite the age of the film and the much older age of myself, I feel pretty much the same way about it as I did way back then. I'll be interested to hear how others view it.

5/10

Having never really been given any special treatment on disc, I recommend picking City Heat up with this set.

American fans can pick it up on Bluray here.


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Morgan (2016)

There's an incident at an isolated lab involving a young girl attacking a woman. That is how Morgan opens. Kate Mara is sent in to appraise and deal with the situation, and within another scene or two the viewers are told that the young girl isn't a young girl. She is a creation. An it. A corporate asset. It's just up to Mara to decide whether it is still a valuable asset or a mistake that should be erased.

Morgan is the feature directorial debut from Luke Scott, the son of a slightly well-known British director named Ridley. It's also the biggest project so far for writer Seth W. Owen. Unfortunately, nothing here gives an indication of a bright future for either one of them. This film is a mess, and often a dull mess (which is hard to get just right). It's almost as if it doesn't know what it wants to do, spending a lot of the first half examining identity and humanity before setting up a third act that brings in some action, a lot of implausible character behaviour, and a couple of twists that are remarkably unsurprising.

Things aren't too bad if we're looking at the whole thing on a purely technical level. The visuals, though drab, are decent and a couple of set-pieces work well enough to make you wish that there were some more scattered throughout.

The major flaws stem from the script, which wouldn't be too bad if it didn't also lead to a complete waste of some great talent. Jennifer Jason Leigh is in this movie, but you might not notice her as she delivers about three lines of dialogue. Michelle Yeoh gets a bit more screentime, but not enough to warrant her presence. Paul Giamatti manages to steal the show with one of the best scenes in the film, Toby Jones is sorely underused, Mara looks stern throughout, and Rose Leslie suffers through the whole thing as a character written without any obvious braincells in working order. She tries her best but the script gives her nothing but one dumb moment after another.

There are other people involved, but they just don't make enough of an impression, despite trying hard (Michael Yare probably does the best out of the supporting roster), or they are just on hand to provide a very brief cameo (Brian Cox).

So you get attempts to explore ideas that end up leading nowhere, some flashes of decent violent action, a lot of wasted cast members and unmemorable characters, and an ending that is supposed to make up for the preceding 90 minutes of tedium (although, trust me, it doesn't). Not recommended. At all.

3/10

Morgan is available to buy here.
And if you're in the USofA you can buy it here.


Tuesday, 28 November 2017

68 Kill (2017)

Based on the novel by Bryan Smith, 68 Kill is another darkly comedic crime thriller from Trent Haaga, and if you don't know of Haaga by now then you should really change that. He has been acting since his years at Troma, making his credited debut in the superb Terror Firmer, and will be very familiar to any fans of the Killjoy movies (thanks to his turns as the titular killer clown). He has been writing films as varied as Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV, Deadgirl, and Cheap Thrills. And he has directed films such as, well, this one and the wonderfully twisted Chop (a film I wish everyone would see ASAP, despite it being made unnecessarily difficult to get hold of, hence the link for the R1 disc there, please take note of that).

Considering his growing body of work, it's a surprise that this is the first feature that Haaga has both written and directed (his debut directorial work was written by Adam Minarovich). But the mix of violence and sheer fun makes it an obvious choice for something that he would want to turn into an entertaining movie, and that's exactly what he does.

Matthew Gray Gubler plays Chip, a young man who ends up in a whole heap of trouble when he is persuaded by his batshit crazy girlfriend, Liza (AnnaLynne McCord), to help commit a robbery. Liza claims that nobody will get hurt, it should be an easy job, but it's not long until blood starts to flow, leading Chip to doubt whether or not he really does want to spend the rest of his days with someone who terrifies the life out of him. And so starts a chain of twists and turns, treacheries, and pain. All doled out with a fine vein of humour running throughout.

There are plenty of supporting characters here, most of them unsavoury types who would rob you in an instant, but it's testament to the script and central performances that McCord and Gubler rule over this entire film. That's especially true of McCord, absent from many scenes but always seemingly ready to reappear and ruin the lives of anyone getting in the way of her grand plan.

It's brisk, it's very funny, it has moments of grim nastiness, and it takes the male sap archetype from film noirs through one of the darkest and bloodiest journeys seen outside of a Quentin Tarantino film. 68 Kill deserves your time, if you don't mind the subject matter, and Trent Haaga deserves to keep going from strength to strength. I tend to look forward to everything that his name gets attached to.

8/10

68 Kill is available to buy here.
If you are in America then order it here.


Monday, 27 November 2017

The Emoji Movie (2017)

I expected the worst from The Emoji Movie, and I am sure I wasn't alone. It's an animated film about emojis. Nobody was expecting a masterpiece, even most of the kids who would still go along to see it for easy entertainment. So you can imagine my surprise when I found that it wasn't actually THAT bad. Not that it's anything great, especially when compared to the many other animated ovies we have been spoiled with in recent years, but it's not bad enough for me to fill this review with numerous Patrick Stewarts (who voices a poop emoji - oh dear, Sir Patrick, oh dear, oh dear).

The plot focuses on a "meh" emoji named Gene (T. J. Miller), living with all of the other emojis inside a mobile phone. Gene struggles to maintain the one expression that is supposed to serve him throughout every day of his life. And this causes him to stress out when it comes time for his first day as a working emoji, setting in motion a chain of events that sees Gene go on the run with a Hi-5 emoji (James Corden) to find someone who can help fix the situation before either Gene is deleted or the whole phone is wiped.

Let's be honest here, the biggest problem that The Emoji Movie has is the central concept. It feels quite obviously cynical and like one big dollop of product placement (are emojis commodities? I guess they can be). But we should be used to that by now. We've had five live-action Transformers movies, we've had two G.I. Joe films, and I believe it's well-known that Joel Schumacher was shown a number of new toys that had to feature in Batman & Robin a couple of decades ago. Some movies are great art, some are great fun, quite a few try to entertain us while selling us stuff (be it cool products or the search for a daydream we keep seeing realised up there on the big screen), and some are just complete poop emojis.

I am sure that many people will disagree with me, but The Emoji Movie manages to avoid being a complete pile of poop thanks to a lot of fun visual gags and the nice way the world inside the mobile phone is visualised. Yes, my eyes rolled when I saw some of the other apps (some being more obvious in their prominent placement than others) but the journey taken by Gene, Hi-5, and Jailbreak (Anna Faris, voicing a character who offers to help them reach an app that may fix everything) is worked out well enough, with decent fun to be had in every main section.

Director Tony Leondis, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Siegel and Mike White (John Hoffman also contributing some material), does a decent job, because enough thought was given to the world and the best use of all the characters. A lot of the gags are obvious, but that doesn't mean they aren't fun.

Vocally, Miller is a good fit for the lead, Corden is at his usual level of annoying overexuberance, Faris is solid, and there are great turns from Maya Rudolph, Jennifer Coolidge, and the superb Steven Wright (if ever there was a voice created for a Meh emoji then his is it).

Kids should enjoy it - the story is simple, the visuals are bright, and the characters are nice enough - and adults should find it relatively painless, but I suppose it's best to sum it up by saying that, well, it's not a very good film compared to so many other films . . . but it's also not a film worthy of numerous poop emojis.

5/10

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Emoji-Movie-Blu-ray-Region-Free/dp/B074F2X559/ref=tmm_blu_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=


Sunday, 26 November 2017

Terri (2011)

There are two ways you can view low-budget, independent movies. One, you can roll your eyes at a lot of the familiar tropes (the quirky characters, the moments of discomfort, the low-key and relaxed way the slim plot unfolds, etc). Two, you can enjoy visiting a small part of a world populated by people who don't have an extra layer of celebrity sheen to act their way through. I prefer the second method, of course, but it's often decided by the quality of the movie itself.

Terri is a good movie, and I hope others share my opinion of it. Considering I had never heard of it before today, I am really not sure of how it has been received by the few who have already seen it.

Jacob Wysocki plays the titular character, a high school student who has taken to attending school in his pyjamas. They are just more comfortable for him, and it saves him time as he is finding it more and more difficult to look after his ill Uncle James (Creed Bratton). But that still doesn't stop him getting into trouble at school, due to his tardiness and worsening grades, which brings him to the office of the School Principal, Mr Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly). That leads to him befriending the troubled Chad (Bridger Zadina), and also eventually helps him make a connection with the lovely Heather (Olivia Crocicchia).

Directed by Azazel Jacobs, who also came up with the story idea that was shaped by first-time scriptwriter Patrick Dewitt, Terri is a character study that just manages to avoid being too irritating and quirky thanks to the fact that a lot of fun moments are injected with an honesty that stems from the motivations of the main characters.

The performances help a lot. Wysocki is very good in the main role, although he is stuck in the role of gentle victim of circumstance looking forward to times when high school is far behind him, but the star turn comes from Reilly, portraying someone who wants to help the kids in his care but doesn't always do things in the right way, because he is just a man who makes mistakes. Bratton is also excellent, most of the time unaware of exactly what he is doing, because of his illness, and Zadina and Crocicchia both do very well, although both are given unsatisfying moments in the third act.

Overall, this is a small film that does so much right that it's easy to forgive some of the mistakes. It's a shame that it builds up to something that doesn't really satisfy as it should, but that's the way of life, and films like this tend to value that approach over easy brownie points.

7/10

This link is region 1 ONLY - available here.



Saturday, 25 November 2017

Justice League (2017)

Messy is the word to use with most of the major DC movies we have seen in the last few years. Ever since Man Of Steel seemed to sorely misjudge the very essence of Superman, fans have been worried about those in charge making too many mis-steps, which has since been confirmed by, well, numerous mis-steps. Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice actually didn't seem too bad the last time I watched it, redeemed by some impressive action scenes and fun individual moments, Suicide Squad was actually FUN, which I wasn't expecting, albeit very messy fun (has any blockbuster film used clips of music so erratically?), and Wonder Woman almost made up for everything else, despite a climactic battle that felt a bit disappointing.

And now we finally have Justice League, the film that you know DC have been wanting to give fans from the very beginning. The film responsible for the messy, rushed approach to their release timetable. And, whaddyaknow, it's messy. But it's almost entertaining enough to make it an enjoyable mess.

The silly plot sees a big baddie named Steppenwolf (impressive CGI voiced by Ciaran Hinds) coming back to Earth to collect a few cubes that will cause devastation and death if linked together for long enough. It's up to Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) to put together a team. He knows that he can get help from Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), but also wants to recruit Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). But will they be enough?

Directed by Zack Snyder (for the most part), Justice League continues in the dark visual style that was set up back in Man Of Steel. Thankfully, that style doesn't mean that the script, by Joss Whedon and Chris Terrio, is too sombre and humourless. A lot of the humour comes from the exuberance and inexperience of The Flash, but there are also some fun exchanges between Aquaman and the other team members.

Starting, suitably enough, with a flashback scene that shows Superman (Henry Cavill) talking to some kids who are filming him on a mobile phone, it's worth mentioning that the DC movies have already tried to give their superhero movies more weight than their Marvel counterparts. Ever since that major moment at the end of Man Of Steel, deaths mean something here, they impact on the characters (which didn't happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe until the pieces needed to be put in place for Captain America: Civil War).

The performances are all decent enough, with Miller, Fisher, and Momoa feeling very comfortable in their roles and Affleck and Gadot suitable leaders, and everyone from the past few movies seems to get a moment or two: Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, and a few others.

The biggest problem with Justice League is how forced it all feels. The plotting often feels as if it was reverse engineered, with everyone involved knowing what the final scenes needed to be but not really knowing how to get there. That may not sound like a major issue, but it is. It allows the whole film to feel as if certain scenes are either completely extraneous or just put together in a slapdash manner to get elements in place.

To sum up then, Justice League does just enough to be a fun time at the cinema. And it's pretty messy.

6/10

Here is the pre-order link for the Blu-ray release.



Friday, 24 November 2017

Experiment In Terror (1962)

It's fair to say that director Blake Edwards is best known for lighter, and often comedic, fare. The Pink Panther movies, Breakfast At Tiffany's, Operation Petticoat, and quite a few others. So Experiment In Terror stands out as one of his darker films, and it also stands out as yet another damn fine one from a damn fine director.

Lee Remick plays Kelly Sherwood, a woman who finds herself terrified one evening when a man accosts her in her own home and tells her that she will rob money from her workplace, a bank. If she contacts the police or attempts to stop the plan from unfolding then it will put the life of her younger sister (Toby, played by Stefanie Powers) in grave danger. Remick somehow manages to get the police informed (headed up by the dependable and assured Glenn Ford) and a tense game of cat and mouse unfolds as the deadline for the robbery nears and the police try to get their man.

Based on a novel by Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon (who gave themselves the imaginative title of . . . The Gordons), Experiment In Terror excels because of the little touches throughout that feel real and tense enough to keep you distracted from the sillier aspects of the main premise. Most of the scenes featuring Ford doing actual police work are very effective, and the two-hour runtime allows the tension to be ratcheted up while viewers get to learn a bit more about the main supporting characters.

Remick is very good in the lead role, often wide-eyed and tremulous with fear, and Ford brings the necessary gravitas to his part. Powers doesn't get to do as much, but is good enough, and Ross Martin is unnerving enough as the asthmatic baddie, often shown in shadow or just moving in the background as he keeps an eye on his prey. Even those with much less screentime - Roy Poole, Anita Loo, Patricia Huston, et al - do solid work.

Directorially, Edwards is as solid as ever. I've never really thought of him as a truly great talent, more so a damn fine one (as mentioned above), but his approach to the material here mixes the tense set-pieces with some plodding detective work in a way that keeps things interesting, well-paced, and genuinely gripping for a large portion of the runtime.

Unjustly overlooked, or forgotten, by many (including myself), Experiment In Terror is ripe for rediscovery. Fans of crime films and thrillers may find that they have a new favourite.

8/10

You know your in good hands when the film gets an Indicator label release from Powerhouse films. Pick it up here - Experiment In Terror


Thursday, 23 November 2017

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring A Very Special, Contractucally Obligated Mention Of Tony Clifton (2017)

Man On The Moon was released in 1999, and it starred Jim Carrey as legendary comedian Andy Kaufman. The film remains a high point in Carrey's career, mixing both the comedy that he was always so great at with an interpretation of Kaufman so accurate at times that it's uncanny. With the tales that came out during the making of the film, from the way in which Carrey made his audition tape to the way he behaved on set, it was clear to many that this was a passion project for the actor, and that he was doing his utmost to BECOME Andy. This fascinating documentary shows just how far he went.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring A Contractually Obligated Mention Of Tony Clifton, which will be referred to anywhere else simply as Jim & Andy, mixes in footage shot while Man On The Moon was being made, archival footage of Kaufman, archival footage of Carrey (who, like many others, toiled away for a long time before becoming "an overnight sensation"), and a lengthy interview with the present day Carrey, who discusses his beliefs, his process, and how he was determined to keep pushing things further and further every day, because he believed it's what Andy would have done.

There are moments here to make you cringe and moments here to make you laugh, but the overwhelming feeling I took away from Jim & Andy was just how Carrey will never ever grab another role like it. Whether you believe his feelings or not, he believes that the spirit of Kaufman came back and took over his body for the duration, basically.

Intentionally or not, and I think it is the former, the film throws up a lot of questions and talking points. How did Carrey get to the end of the shoot without anyone killing him? Where is the line between being a character who is an asshole and just being an asshole? How much abuse do people take on film sets thanks to method performers affecting the mindsets of almost everyone around them? Would Kaufman have approved of all of these shenanigans, or does Carrey idolise the projected persona of someone who built many great career moments from performances so effective that people mistakenly assumed he was the character he was so often playing, even if that character was actually hidden under the everyday costume of Andy Kaufman?

Carrey comes across well here, despite the many instances that show him being a complete asshole. The interview allows him to contextualise his behaviour and explain where his headspace was. Although he rarely admits to just how insane the whole endeavour seemed to be, there are times when he is questioned about going too far, and whether or not he ever felt guilty. And it may be his answers to those questions, and his final statement on breaking away from the behaviour when the film was finished, that show how he was both there at the time and also looking on as an outsider while he felt the spirit of Kaufman at work.

There's also, of course, the final result. Man On The Moon. Considering how great Carrey's performance is, it's hard to think he was completely wrong in his method approach. Although I'm not sure all of the cast and crew would agree.

8/10

You can pick up Man On The Moon here - Think Up Funny And Informative Amazon Link To Place Here




Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Nest Of The Cuckoo Birds (1965)

From the final frames of the print of this film, viewed on MUBI: "The Nest Of The Cuckoo Birds was restored in 2017 from the only 35mm release print known to exist. All original film materials are thought to be lost."

There's also a synopsis on MUBI that details a plot about an undercover agent sent to infiltrate bootleggers who gets his cover blown and finds himself in trouble in the Everglades. He finds himself in a pretty isolated hotel, safe from immediate danger but perhaps not as safe as he'd like to be.

I'm glad that MUBI included the usual synopsis here because I have to admit to already having forgotten the opening scenes of the movie by the time the end credits rolled. That's due to this film often feeling like a bizarre fever dream. The inane dialogue, delivered so strangely by almost everyone involved, sent me into some kind of fugue state.

Written and directed by Bert Williams, who also plays the lead role (and takes on a number of other roles behind the scenes), this is a curio piece for fans of bad cinema. Many scenes have a minor level of general competence, technically speaking, but there's a terrible script that can't be overcome by some terrible performers. Williams himself isn't great, but he seems almost decent compared to the strange turns from Chuck Frankle and Ann Long. Jackie Scelza doesn't fare too badly, thanks to her role as the odd and dreamy potential damsel in distress.

To say this embodies the spirit of independent film is an understatement. You can tell that from the opening credits, featuring all of those jobs for Bert and a couple of credits for his wife, Peggy (responsible for the two main songs on the soundtrack). There's also the odd bit of stock footage that doesn't match the rest of the scene it is appearing in, bit players who couldn't act as if they were getting uncomfortably warm even if you covered them in gasoline and set them alight, and numerous scenes that go round and round in circles without actually developing the plot or characters.

Having said all that, it's not without some charm. There's certainly a decent dollop of atmosphere, a couple of darker moments hint at the potential for a much better film, and it may well make you chuckle at a lot of the unintentionally comedic moments.

4/10

The Nest Of The Cuckoo Birds isn't available to buy anywhere, so why not treat yourself to the Pusher trilogy instead.


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Bag Boy Lover Boy (2014)

One of the films that kicked off the opening night of Dead By Dawn 2016 was a modern day riff on Sweeney Todd named K-Shop. It was the tale of a young man who works in a kebab shop and is eventually driven to murder some of the dregs of society who incur his wrath. I reviewed it here. And I am starting this review with talk of it because Bag Boy Lover Boy walks through similar territory, but moves in another direction very early on, and becomes a much better movie for it.

Albert (Jon Wachter) is a hotdog vendor with limited social skills and no concerns for trivial matters like food hygiene. He has the opportunity to earn some decent extra cash and get close to some gorgeous women when a photographer (Ivan, played by Theodore Bouloukos) decides to use him as inspiration for some of his shoots. This eventually leads to Albert deciding that photography is for him, which leads to him needing women to photograph. But he also has other plans for his "models". Plans that go far beyond even the darkest photoshoot ideas.

A fairly direct descendant of The Driller Killer, this also has some points to make about life in New York and the nature of art. It's easy to see where things could have gone the way of Troma or The Greasy Strangler, but I'm grateful that it remained defiantly its own beast.

Although there are a few decent, although relatively unknown, supporting players here (including Kathy Biehl, Karah Serine, and Adrienne Gori), this film rests on the performances from Bouloukos and Wachter. The former has a lot less screentime, but has fun with what he's given. Wachter, on the other hand, gives a performance pitched perfectly between darkly comedic, slightly pathetic, and properly unpleasant. It's an odd turn, but one that works perfectly with the general tone of the film.

Director Andres Torres, working on his first feature from a script that he co-wrote with Toni Comas, does a pretty great job here, drawing viewers in with small oddities and awkward interactions with Albert that move from the cringe-inducing to the engrossing. The final product is far from perfect, it's difficult to imagine anyone meeting Albert without going out of their way to avoid him completely, but it's an effective peek inside a grimy, damaged mind.

I would tentatively recommend this to horror fans. But I'd definitely advise against eating a hotdog while watching it.

6/10

Bag Boy Lover Boy is out now - get it here.