La Bamba (Review)

la_bambaIt must be hard to make a ‘life story’ film for someone who dies so very young. While Valens crammed much into his 17 years as the film opens he is already nearing his rise to short lived stardom.

In fact most of the film shows his family’s move from a fruit picking camp to urban Los Angeles, where in his pre-fame era, Valens lives with his mother, his unpredictable and potentially alcoholic and drug using half brother Bob, and Bob’s tormented girlfriend Rosie (Elizabeth Pena).

The rise to fame is rapid and really glossed over here. It doesn’t take long for Valens to be discovered, not long again before he is recording, then on the radio, then on the TV, then touring with superstars of the era including the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly, both of whom accompanied him on the doomed flight that ended all of their lives, with Valens passing at the age of 17.

Ritchie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips) was a gifted young man arriving in the early years of rock n roll with a beaming smile, boundless energy and catchy tunes. La Bamba tells his story, the story of a charismatic and potentially remarkable young singer who tragically does not have the opportunity to do anything truly remarkable.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. La Bamba clearly shows the light of a precocious young man but cannot overcome the limitations of making a novel from an all too short story.

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Review)

It’s a Bad City. A working class area. People walk in straight lines to their destination, rarely looking up and never taking time to smell the roses.

At night others emerge to steal the night. Some would do favours. Some seek them. Some would take what they can.

But in between the drab days and dark nights are many lights. Despite this film being shot in black and white it contains vivid imagery, colourful characters and pulsing musical sequences.

That said it all seems very ‘look what I can do!’, the work of an artist, not an artiste. This is an Instagram friendly slideshow, not a story.

So we have a transvestite dancing with a balloon.
A handsome young rebel. An ageing woman.
Junkies that pop in and out of the story.
A waifish female vampire who gets around on a skateboard.


Yes this is all very attention grabbing, and for sure the critics fell over themselves gushing that is the dawn of nu-horror, or something. But this isn’t that. It is a well crafted and expertly realised student film. A film with a voice but not much of a point, unless skateboarding vampires masks a message I missed.

Then again I do miss a lot of messages.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. Watch it and make up your own mind. But for a black and white film this only coloured me nonplussed.

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Extreme Prejudice (Review)

extreme_prejudice_ver2Two young boys grew up in a US/Mexico border town. One embraced law and order and became the town’s tough-but-fair sheriff Jack (Nick Nolte). The other was Cash (Powers Boothe), who chased fast money and power and became a drug dealer.

Both chased pretty Sorita (Maria Conchita Alonso), though it was Jack who ended up with her on his arm.

Trouble is a brewin’ when Cash returns to town. It isn’t long before he and Jack come face to face, both imploring the other to see things their way, with Cash taunting Jack constantly by deriding Sorita.

Nick Nolte, a decent bad guy, a premise that demands conflict, an R rating, Walter Hill directing a ‘black hat vs white hat’ film. What could go wrong?

Well a bit as it happens. The black hats are black and the white hats white, but there are a bunch of randomly coloured hat guys who pop up here and there in the film who make no sense, other than to confuse and dilute what should be a simple head to head battle.

Each time Jack and Cash threaten to end the fussin’ and get to fightin’ the multi-coloured hats derail all momentum. Sure there is a big manic shoot out in the end where many get de-hatted (which finds the only good use for the random hats) but the damage is already done.

Walter Hill would later find the benefit of addition through subtraction in the underrated Last Man Standing, where Bruce Willis found himself in the middle of two warring factions and sagely decided to shoot them all, but Extreme Prejudice is too muddled. It is sweaty and grimy and ultimately not very good.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. It should have been a crime to misuse Nolte’s guttural gravelly groaning and moaning.

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High Rise (Review)

How will polite society react when society is no longer polite?

It takes a lot to convince a man who has spent hundreds of thousands of hard earned dollars that he has been ‘dudded’.

For Brian surgeon Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) it is only the breakdown of polite society, that swiftly and inexorably turns his high society penthouse building into a den of depravity and debauchery. A haven for those who would indulge every whim as all humanity crumbles and devolves around them.

While the money may never run out, it’s value – and the items to spend it on – do. As the High Rise becomes a Hierarchy, the ‘haves’ swiftly remove themselves from the ‘have nots’, before it becomes a case of do what you feel, or stand silently by in judgment. There is no law enforcement or arbiters of taste to impose will or righteousness, only indulgence.

High Rise might be a bleak cautionary tale full of sex and depravity, but this Clockwork Orange for a new age has already been told. Better. Where Snowpiercer was horizontal and infinitely more stylish, High Rise remains vertical, though with lower aspirations.

Unfortunately though that doesn’t make it less plausible. In our current ‘I must Win’ world when things go to pot it is all too believable that an every man for themselves outcome will ensue. If the end of the world does arrive, and we’re waiting Mr Trump, it won’t be how we work together, but who we finish off than that dictates our sense of fulfilment.

That’s a bleak future right there, and High Rise might be nearer the mark than Snowpiercer, but that doesn’t make it a better film, just a sadder one.

Tom Hiddleston does his best to remain stoic as the world and his sense of decorum yield to pressure, but High Rise is a stylish stage play made for a niche audience who likely have better things to fill their niches with.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. Just another ‘how will the end of the world look’ film.

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The Final Girls (Review)

They are a cult. Every so often they gather to revisit the glorious grainy footage of the inadvertently hilarious and altogether cheesy slasher film Camp Bloodbath.

So I guess they’re not a cult in the evil way, more a nerdy one. The one you’d not want your kid to join, but wouldn’t feel the need for an intervention if they did.

It is at one such screening that Max – the daughter of the original film’s blonde ‘scream queen’ Nancy (Malin Ackerman) – reluctantly agrees to attend, before a frankly crazy development lands Max and a few of her friends behind the screen and ‘in the movie’.

And ‘in the movie’ means just that. They interact with the joyful oblivious and horny teens in their idyllic but poorly scripted world, where sex is a death sentence and ‘Billy the Slasher’ awaits, skulking until youthful hormones demand his violent attendance.

At least the newcomers know every line and occurrence prior to it taking place, although the fact that this knowledge cannot permit them to alter events proves disconcerting.
Nonetheless they must do whatever they can to extricate themselves from predictable low budget 80s horror movie outcomes, all while Max strives to convince her ‘mother’ that she is not a movie character

The Final Girls is better than it needed to be, thanks mainly to a cast of comedians that find the funny in what could have been a mildly clever gimmick. Malin Ackerman, Adam Devine, Thomas Middleditch and others squeeze the humour whether they are ‘in on the joke’ or just ‘in the joke’, with Devine’s incessant talk about sex deliciously stupid.

The Final Girls suffers by not being ‘one-note’. Somehow by being even a tiny bit multi-faceted and reasonably innovative, it lost its audience. In a world where comedic dross like Pixels and a lazy horrendous remake like Poltergeist made over 350 million in 2015, it’s a small crime that this film didn’t make a dent in the box office.

Put another way, if Adam Sandler and his Grown Ups crew made this, it would gross half a billion and be hailed as a return to form.

Thanks Twitter and your 144 character attention span.

Final Rating – 7.3 / 10. Comedy horror with the emphasis on comedy. Slightly too smart for mainstream teens and not nearly stupid enough to be deemed a spoof. Watch this and wonder why no one else did…

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Basic Instinct (Review)

basic_instinctA curvy naked blonde sits atop a horizontal man. She thrashes, first sexually, then with great violence. The once beneficiary turns victim.

The tone is set.

Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is the cop with the temper and a checkered past.
Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) is the ‘did she or didn’t she?’ suspect. A sexy thriller writer who writes sexy thrillers about sexy events in her sexy life and the sexy lives of others. Sexy…

There’s a male ex-lover. There’s a female lover. For both. There are dark pasts that come up in untimely moments. Rumours that add intrigue and new clues that accuse as much as the confuse.

All the while Catherine looks at Nick from beneath her blonde hair and brunette eyebrows, daring her to arrest or bed her, before about facing and leaving, designer clothes fluttering in the non existent breeze.

The fun in Basic Instinct isn’t the intrigue or the plot twists which are frequent and often ridiculous. It isn’t in the subtlety at all, because there isn’t any. It is in the most boorish and unsubtle moments, the frequent nudity, the lurid violence, the unintentionally hilarious moments involving Nick’s partner Gus and Catherine’s lover Roxy.

Try as I might, I couldn’t stop admiring the limited efficiency of this film.

Undeniably a confluence of events. Basic Instinct was released in a year I turned 18, when I was young, dumb and full of… salt and vinegar chips. It was the rebirth of commercial R rated films, sexy, violent and to an 18 year old, compelling for reasons even beyond that.

The quarter century that has elapsed since has not been kind to my view of the film. I can now see the ridiculous contrivances, can hear the inane dialogue, can chuckle at the over-the-toppery. But I cannot deny that the film still hits a lot of buttons and works as a mindless piece of adult(ish) drama.

Final Rating 7 / 10. Unbelievably convoluted. Undeniably schlocky. Unexpectedly still entertaining.

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Imperium (Review)

Here is a film that is not as powerful as the emotions it elicits – though it is actually quite well made and effective in its own way – and unfortunately a film becoming more relevant by the day.

Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) is an eager though wet behind the ears FBI agent who ‘wants to make a difference’. The problem is that while Nate exhibits strong powers of deduction and reasoning, his diminutive stature and baby face suggest that field work isn’t in his future.

A chance arrives when fellow agent Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) convinces Nate (and his superiors, albeit with a little more difficulty) that his Difference Making Moment wears Doc Martens boots, short haircuts and a reprehensible belief system.

With rumours that white supremacist organisations are planning a terrorist attack in the inland United States, Nate is tabbed to go undercover within their ranks to sort out the genuinely dangerous from the merely deplorable and deranged.

Once behind the skinhead curtain, Nate’s suitability no longer matters, if he is found out the consequences for him become swiftly dire, what with an already dangerous and volatile group motivated by hate and a deadly secret.

Nate ingratiates himself across a few fronts, the dim witted and easily influenced who just want to stomp *insert epithet here* – of which there are many – the more dedicated and serious, and the even more dangerous and more subtle groups with less obvious intent but potentially larger plans.

Moving higher up the ranks, deeper into the troubled skinhead world, and simultaneously further away from FBI assistance, Nate reaches a point of no return, even as it looks like he might be on a wild goose chase.

Imperium is (I think) an uncomfortably easy film to make, given the extremely (pardon the pun) black and white subject matter. A quick glance at the synopsis will quickly decide your allegiance, and if – like hopefully 99.99999% of the globe – you find the skinhead mindset disgusting, you will immediately side with Nate. Plus, he’s Harry fucking Potter for Christ’s sake.

While Radcliffe is indeed the closest thing to star power the film has, ultimately he may have been slightly miscast as Nate. For mine the film could have used someone slightly older and perhaps less likeable, but even with the ever expanding Radcliffe, it works as a film that will stir the emotions and ideally, give more credence to the fact that these inflammatory issues must be addressed by society even more forcefully.

Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Imperium works, but only on one depressing level.

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Spy Game (Review)

Spy Game is one of those films that leave you wondering if the FBI and CIA are a bunch of guys having all manner of fun dealing with life and death situations each day, instead of a bunch of suit wearing guys analysing data and looking in vain for leads.

The ‘fun’ starts here with the high profile arrest of agent Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), leaving him imprisoned and sentenced to execution in a Chinese jail.

With the CIA apparently having no knowledge of the operation, and the USA standing to be red faced at the prospect of rogue spies operating unbeknownst to them in a country where relations are already sketchy, an uncomfortable decision looms.

Nathan Muir should be prepping for his retirement, but with a few days left the timing is such that he is called in to assist in the Bishop conundrum.

There are but 24 hours remaining until Bishop’s execution at the hands of the Chinese, plenty of time for lots of jump cuts and stylish tics in true Tony Scott style, but enough time to save a man.

In a series of increasingly implausible flashbacks we learn that not only do Bishop and Muir share a past, but that it is highly unlikely that Bishop would ever sell out his country.

The two leads really only share screen time in flashbacks. As a result it isn’t a matter of whether Redford and Pitt have chemistry, but can the film co-exist with itself.

Spy Game is one of those ‘half & half’ films, half is a political drama with intrigue and tough decisions, the other a somewhat rushed thriller. The two halves don’t correlate well and as a result the film only half works. At two plus hours in length, Spy Game could easily have lost thirty minutes or so with no impact on the end result.

It also doesn’t help that it key plot points call for one party to be incredibly savvy and resourceful, and the other to be a pack of bumbling idiots that overlook obvious clues and don’t fact check anything.

Ultimately for those who are willing to be swept away by the dreamy eyes of former Sexiest men alive (albeit from different eras), or distracted sufficiently by Tony Scott’s visual flair and ability to make more from his ingredients, Spy Game might suffice as an alternative to, y’know, doing stuff.

Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. Light fluff masquerading as life and death (for the easily pleased). At least Tony Scott was capable of giving colour to the ‘grey area’.

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The Keep (Review)

keepI only wish I could tell you what this is all about. Set in Nazi occupied Romania in World War 2, The Keep is an imposing stone structure that instantly catches the eye of the invading Nazi troops, both as a secure base camp and as a site for potential looting.

The resident caretakers present no resistance, but leave the intruders with one ominous comment “we will not stop you. But you cannot stay here”.

The Nazis say “thanks but we’ll be right” and get to looting the silver crosses from the stone walls. But is the Keep a structure to keep things out, or to keep things in…?

I’m honestly asking. This film is confusing as fuck.

Scott Glenn gets called in to exorcise the structure. Ian McKellen starts old but gets young. Something that looks like it fell out of Star Trek prowls the halls. Another thing – or maybe the same thing – seems to evolve Hellraiser style.

The entire tone here is woozy and dreamlike, and like a dream you emerge rubbing your eyes with little recollection of what you just experienced.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. The only thing this ‘keeps’ is your sense of confusion.

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The Shining (Review)

shining_ver1Look I’ve tried. I have watched The Shining probably five times in twenty years. I have never gotten it.

Even before The Simpsons and Family Guy lampooned it 137 times it didn’t wow me. Even before ‘redruM’, the gushing elevator, the twin girls, the trike, the typewriter and ‘heeeeere’s Johnny’ became pop culture staples, even though many who spout the lines don’t know the source. Even though The Shining tops countless Best of Horror lists the Internet over. I don’t get it.

Sure the premise is solid – a young family takes a caretaker job at an isolated snowbound hotel for the winter – beware the quiet, even if as an author you need it to make a living. The acting is also good, Jack Nicholson’s evil eyebrows and Shelley Duvall’s petrified facial features anchor the film.

But is this really that incredible?

So there may really be a sentient being in young child Danny’s index finger. He may really be able to contact the elderly man across thousands of miles telepathically. Jack really might hear voices, see things that don’t exist and have conversations with ghosts, but all of that?

Again I don’t want to go against the consensus but I don’t see it. Stanley Kubrick really might be the best director ever and a genius and a creator of some of the greatest films of all time, but this is heavy handed and over preparing stuff trying to cover over a plot that is trying to push too much blood out of the elevator at the same time.

Is it well made? Yes. Is it compelling and occasionally excellent? Yes. Is it horror? I… Guess. Is it scary? No. Is it the greatest horror film of all time? Hell no.

Final Rating – 8 / 10. I keep thinking I need another viewing to highlight to me what I have missed so far. After half a dozen viewings, I give up.

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