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Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Boring and confusing, with a last minute update to Leatherface
"Texas Chainsaw 3D" is a pretty tedious and pointless sequel, that only really comes to life in the final act, and even then only briefly.
The Texas Chainsaw franchise is much like the Halloween series: the original movie was basically a low-budget masterpiece, and then everything that came after pretty much disgraced the original... except for the first sequel.
Recently, there have been reboots, remakes, and sequels, and they've all been junk, pretty much. The first remake of "Texas Chainsaw" at least had a bold approach and a really nasty feeling to it. This one, the dreaded "3D" version - yes, avoid any movie with "3D" in the title - is so confusing, I still don't really understand it.
I was confused about who the villains were and what they wanted with the heroine. There seemed to be too many characters.
The movie also tries sudden notes on the soundtrack to underline scary events, but I swear, sometimes the notes come on before the action does, thus signposting what was supposed to be a surprise. How did they mess that up?
The "gore" is also pretty lame. The only bit that got my attention was a scene involving a meat grinder.
The movie features Tania Raymonde, known to millennials as Malcolm's love interest in "Malcolm in the Middle", and Trey Songz, whom R'nB fans will recognize immediately, though they may not have even known he had a film career.
I Want to Be Famous (1976)
"I Want to Be Famous" is an example of the kind of made-for-TV British films that were produced in the '70s and early '80s. It feels realistic almost to a fault to our modern eyes. There seems to be no direction at all, nor much of a teleplay. The movie just goes on for a while, depicting a slice of life, and then ends.
But it is, of course, quietly effective. It gives us a window into the unhappy life an an 11 year old who is isolated by his small size and lack of interest in sport. He has one friend, but even his dad shuns him for his lack of athletic ability: he would rather paint pictures.
The movie doesn't have much of a plot, it just shows scenes from this boy's life. Some are quite strange and surprising, like a game of strip hide 'n seek in which the boys end up in their underwear, and another scene where the obviously prepubescent protagonist appears to masturbate while his parents fight in another room.
This was given something like a PG rating at the time ("A" in '70s Britain), but now seems like it wouldn't pass the censors. Actually, I can't imagine how anyone would take this movie now; it feels like a strange relic, which, of course, is reason to recommend it to anyone looking for something different.
Bloody Kids (1980)
Strange, dark film
A cute boy with a cold, manipulative, feckless demeanour convinces his friend to pretend to stab him at a football game with a penknife and a fake bag of blood. Unsurprisingly, he gets stabbed for real, and the boy goes on the run. While in hospital, the apparently psychopathic youngster spins tales about his friend being a budding Norman Bates, saying that he talks about hurting people and draws his violent fantasies.
Meanwhile, the fugitive meets a charming reprobate who takes him joyriding in a stolen car, vandalises a shop window, and in the movie's most bizarre scene, appears to attempt suicide.
The whole thing has a grim, depressing, aimless feeling to it. The movie never lets you into the minds of the characters, so you don't know what they're going to do next, nor do you understand why they did what they just did. The characters seem to live in a world without reason, and just make things up as they go along.
The movie is watchable, with impressive performances from the young leads, who surprisingly never did anything else.
No relation to Joe
"Piercing" is one of those movies that I often felt like switching off due to lack of interest. I stuck it out, perhaps because the movie was so short. Alas, it ends before it really gets interesting.
At times the movie feels like it's taking a stab at Takashi Miike's style, and at other times, David Cronenberg's. It never achieves either, but you can definitely feel the influence.
You probably already know what the movie is about: a guy calls a hooker he intends to kill, but she is at least as dangerous as him. A sort of cat and mouse game is believed to ensue, but doesn't really. There's certainly no suspense.
There is however one great hallucinatory sequence with a huge bug that reminded me of Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch". There is also some intriguing back story for the main character that the movie finally dishes out, having failed to provide reasons for you to care about him or his story up until then.
Unfortunately, it's too little, too late, and the movie bungles its out-of-nowhere ending.
Lords of Chaos (2018)
"Lords of Chaos" is better than I expected. Jonas Akerlund in the past seemed like a typical music video brat-cum feature filmmaker; ie. his movies were full of gimmicky rubbish effects like "Spun" that works to get the attention of audiences of five minute video clips, but just gets tiresome with a full-length movie. I liked "Small Apartments", though.
"Lords of Chaos" shows that Akerlund has become a capable filmmaker. They say directors become great not by adding, but by taking away, and this one feels gritty and realistic due to the restrained approach he has employed. It doesn't feel like he gets in the way of the actors, which is to the film's benefit, as Rory Culkin is great as Euronymous.
The movie is also, surprisingly, funny. It's not afraid to point out the ridiculousness of this story. These oh-so-evil black metallers were part of some kind of Satanic cult that was bent on taking over the world... and they had to hide the flowers their parents sent them when their pals came over because they weren't evil enough. Sure, they burnt down some churches and even killed a guy, but when Varg went public with this in an interview, turning the lights down, hanging his beloved Swastika on the wall, the reporter almost walked out of the interview, not taking the man seriously - and who could blame him?
The movie culminates in one of the most brutal murder scenes I have seen in a film. This is not a spoiler - you already knew that was how it was going to end. This scene must set some kind of record for the number of stab wounds in a movie scene.
I do have a big problem with the movie, though. And that is the character of Ann-Marit. You knew a movie made in the new millennium telling a story which was really entirely about men couldn't be told without the introduction of a Strong Female Character (TM). You know, the female voice of reason, the only one who understands the poor foolish man, the one he never could have succeeded without, the one he should have listened to.
Only problem with all that garbage is the fact that of course, the character never existed. One could even argue that she couldn't exist. What is such a Strong Female (TM) doing hanging out with a bunch of losers like Mayhem? She had to know they were heading for prison time, at least. The only women attracted to these guys would have been the idiots Varg is shown ploughing through.
It's so lame that every movie has to introduce this lame stock character. With all the other restraint the movie showed, I wish they'd followed through and left her out. Her role is thankfully rather negligible, still allowing the movie to shine.
Lastly, you have to agree that it deserved an honorary Oscar just for casting a Jewish actor in the role of that boring pretend-Nazi puts, Kristian "Varg" Vikernes. If it made him mad (and it did) you can't deny that's a plus.
Bergman in space?
Toward the end of "Aniara" I kept thinking: thank god Bergman never made a science fiction movie. If you think Mother Earth is bleak, wait until you get lost in space, like the characters in "Aniara" do. And you truly do feel as though you're lost with them.
There are few ideas more appalling than drifting inexorably through the infinite blackness of space, not knowing if you're ever going to stop. "Aniara" provides a bleak portrait of people losing their minds as this goes on, resorting to cults, orgies and suicide.
It's a bit like "2001: A Space Odyssey" in reverse. That was about the development of the human species from pre-sapien species to our becoming one with the stars. "Aniara" begins with the stars, rejects oneness, and shows our utter devolution in space.
I say check it out.
Fighting with My Family (2019)
Standard "feel good" story with some amusing and truthful moments
It's hard not to like "Fighting with My Family". It's entertaining throughout, has a character that is easy to root for, and is occasionally amusing. It also has a few moments that feel more realistic than your standard feel-good film.
But unfortunately, that is what it is, more or less. It ends exactly as you know it will, and I didn't really feel anything in its final rousing moments, leading me to wonder how many "feel good" movies actually make you "feel good".
As such the movie is little more than passable.
Long Shot (2019)
They should have chosen
"Long Shot" starts as a sly political satire with real-world parallels that are hard to miss. It segues into a romantic comedy, which is fine, especially when its stars are as likeable as they are here. It goes back to the politics at the end of the movie, but satire has fallen by the wayside then, and we get some pretty silly wish-fulfilment.
The movie is occasionally funny, particularly at the end, but is far overlong at more than two hours, and lost me, particularly in the middle. They needed to choose between political satire and rom-com, not go for both.
Cool monsters, lame story
"Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" does an admirable job of bringing to life the creatures from the infamous illustrations of the titular children's book, and even at times succeeds in recreating the suspenseful moments from those stories.
Where it falls down, however, is in its lacklustre attempt to create one whole story around the tales it takes as inspiration. The central motif of a haunted story book, which writes stories that come true before the eyes of the characters, takes too long to be introduced. Before that we get some unnecessary character development that does nothing to distinguish the characters.
It would have worked better as an anthology movie like "Trick 'r Treat", or better yet, a TV show.
"Ma" is a pretty average thriller with details that never quite gel. The acting is perhaps better than the material deserves, and this leads you to expect something other than the standard material you are left with.
I think part of the problem is the structure. The movie introduces details too late, and doesn't really foreshadow, thus feeling like they made it up as they went along.
Octavia Spencer, in the lead role as Ma, has gotten uniformly excellent notes in otherwise negative reviews, and I'm not really sure why. I was never scared of her like I was Kathy Bates in "Misery".
I liked Diana Silvers, though. She was believable.
The Perfection (2018)
What do you call "fisting" with no fist?
The first forty-five minutes or so of "The Perfection" show you what "body horror" truly is. Forget "Starry Eyes" or even anything with Cronenberg's name attached: this ups the stakes and is really hard to watch.
Then the movie switches gears, going from horror to psych-thriller. Unsurprisingly, it loses momentum, but is still interesting.
Then, there's another gear change, and it lost me too much, and I had to find fault in it, particularly the structure. There is some brilliant filmmaking in it, but I think the problem was at the screenplay level. They needed to rethink their approach.
Because of that, it's good, but falls short of greatness.
The Art of Self-Defense (2019)
A grim, brutal, disturbing... comedy?
"The Art of Self-Defense" starts sort of tragicomic, a movie about a wimp the world takes a crap on because he can't fend for himself. Even when he gets mugged, you feel the urge to laugh at him, so unsurprised are you that this would happen to him.
When he joins the dojo, things start to change. The "sensei" is a strange, strange person, as are his underlings, and you get the sense that there is always something boiling away under the surface, making for very uncomfortable viewing, much like a Todd Solondz movie.
In Solondz, the violence is unspeakably graphic, and yet always entirely psychological. The wounds are gruesome and unseen. With "Self-Defense", you see them all right. The movie has some shockingly violent scenes. But this is not an action movie, nor a martial arts flick. I don't think anybody would want to go out and learn martial arts after watching this. It becomes more like a grim study of cult-like behaviour, reminding me of the little seen '90s classic "The Rapture".
It finishes on a genuinely amusing, pitch-dark comedy note, but I doubt I'll think about this movie in the future and laugh. But I'll definitely think about it. One of 2019's best films.
Once Upon a Girl.... (1976)
Even cartoon women in the '70s never heard of waxing
"Once Upon a Girl" is a putative pornographic animated film which shows "dirty" versions of the fairy tales "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Cinderella", and "Red Riding Hood".
These animated stories are book-ended by unnecessary live action scenes, featuring a repulsive transvestite "Mother Goose" in court, on trial for telling these dirty fairy tales. "She" recounts them and we see them animated.
Unsurprisingly, the animation is pretty poor, and the stories aren't involving. It is hard to concentrate on them for too long, so the movie mostly just becomes a series of amusing images, such as a female giant using Jack as a dildo, him becoming stuck in her vagina, and almost being crushed by the male giant's penis when he returns home and has sex with her.
The other segments don't have creative moments like that, but they are a bit sexier, if not particularly erotic.
This all adds up to an experience that wasn't as bad as I expected, but nor is it anything to write home about, unless you live with people with a vested interest in pornographic animation, in which case you should probably consider looking for a new residence.
High Life (2018)
Intriguing film held back by disjointed structure
"High Life" is one of those movies which doesn't add up to the sum of its parts. It's intriguing and interesting at times, and tiresome and boring at others. I think the problem is the director's reliance on a non-linear narrative. The plot is already bizarre enough without adding that contrivance. You have to put the story together in your mind, and while doing that, work out what you're seeing. It leaves you with a few balls to keep in the air at once.
I might re-watch it later and see if the non-linearity bothers me as much the second time. Until then though, I give it a 7.
Pet Sematary (2019)
Impressed by the atmosphere
"Pet Sematary" was a lot better than I expected. It kept my attention throughout, and managed a consistent atmosphere. I was impressed that it never really went for jump-scares, as I imagine I am not alone in feeling a bit jump-scared out. The movie's atmosphere is more strange and threatening, a sustained mood it is able to conjure.
However, it's never really scary, nor shocking. There is one moment that WOULD be shocking, but those who have seen the original "Pet Sematary" know to expect it, so it's kind of toothless here.
I still recommend it.
The Rocketeer (1991)
Thank god that's over
"The Rocketeer" is one of the movies I remembered watching from my childhood, but could barely remember anything about. All I really remembered was the ironically named Tiny Ron as Lothar, wearing makeup and prosthetics to make him look like the tragic Rondo Hatton, who was in movies around the time "Rocketeer" is set (1938).
Some of it came back to me, though - namely how hard to follow the movie is, the plot seeming unnecessarily complicated and inscrutable. I was encouraged by the opening credits, in which I saw many great character actors, such as Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton, Paul Sorvino, Terry O'Quinn, Ed Lauter, Jon Polito, William Sanderson...
Seeing so many names I recognized, perhaps I should have smelt another problem ahead of time, intertwined with that one: the movie has too many characters. Howard Hughes has created a jet pack, referred to simply as a rocket, and the mafia try to steal it. They are working for nazis. The FBI are after them. The nazis are working for a movie star. The movie star is actually trying to infiltrate Hollywood. Somehow - and I never got this back in the '90s, and didn't get it now either - the rocket ends up in the plane of a simple farm boy, who gets his brilliant mad scientist friend to make him a helmet. He's in love with a beautiful aspiring actress. She's wooed by an English movie star.
It is perhaps not surprising that Bill Campbell's movie star career didn't take off after this. He has looks and charisma in spades, but he's dwarfed by everything else in the movie. It almost seems like the movie would work without his character, which is strange, since he's the protagonist.
Child's Play (2019)
It's not the doll, it's the A.I.
This remake, or reboot, or whatever, of the Child's Play series of movies, was a lot better than I'd expected. It is consistently engaging, has some memorable death scenes, and approaches having some insight about the rising tide of artificial intelligence related products, which we may have some reason for being spooked about.
If you remember, the original "Child's Play" was about a serial killer who uttered some magic words to possess a doll after a fatal shoot out with the cops left him in need of a new body.
Demonic possession is kind of old hat these days, isn't it? Real life is far more terrifying because it's changing before our eyes and it's not hard to imagine how all this new technology could go wrong.
It's a really clever idea to do away with the supernatural for this version of the story, and instead go with artificial intelligence. After all, if you can control technology, you don't need demons or Satan or any of that stuff. That's real power.
I did detect a couple of problems with the movie, however, that kept it from greatness. For one thing, the direction is kind of dull for a horror, with an over-reliance on jump scares. It's really not scary, nor is there any tension.
Another thing is that the true horror of the story is the idea of technology turning against that, but the movie seems to want to boil it down to the evil doll archetype. It made me want more, but what I got was still pretty good.
Amusing by turns, and even touching occasionally
"Booksmart" gets off to a shaky start, not really allowing you to warm to the characters nor believe what you're seeing. In particular, the characters aside from the two leads are totally unbelievable, and seem like caricatures of a sort of person who may not in fact exist.
The plot is totally familiar: over-achieving student(s) realise they haven't gone crazy at high school and decide to change that on one last big night. Of course, most, if not all, of the times we've seen this plot - ie. "Project X", "The Girl Next Door", "The 18 Year Old Virgin" - it was a boy who felt that way. And so what? Does doing the same plot with a girl in the lead really make any significant difference?
The catalyst for the girls' decision to cut loose is also pretty unbelievable: they're informed by some cretinous highs school slacker types that they're also going to "Ivy league" colleges: Harvard and Stanford. They ALSO hit the books, they just had fun too, which our protagonists didn't.
If the two leads are such high achievers, how did they not know that these goons are as well? In my experience doing well at high school puts you in contact with other people who do well. They become friends and rivals, sometimes at once.
So all of that detracted from the movie, but I decided not to turn it off because it was occasionally funny, and had some surprising twists and turns. Also it was even touching in one or two moments, but I thought it was just too unbelievable, particularly in some of the characterisations, to connect on that level.
I say check it out; I give it a 7.
Marriage Story (2019)
Why does anybody get married?
Hopefully "Marriage Story" will net Scarlett Johnansson an Academy Award. How many actors go from adorable child stars to capable adult performers to among the greatest performers working?
I had my reservations about "Marriage Story", though. I like Noah Baumbach. His movies are like antidotes to the wafer thin perfect protagonists you get in every other movie. However sometimes that can be a bit much. There is a layer of humour and irony that counterbalances the generally unlikable nature of the characters. But it seems a delicate balancing act. Is "Marriage Story" the movie where Baumbach finally falls to the net, and provides us a cringe-inducing story of unlikable characters doing hateful things?
The answer is, as you've no doubt guessed, no. It is true that the characters do not endear you to them immediately. Cameos from Ray Liotta and Alan Alda (well into his eighties) come as stark relief from their selfish behaviour. But if anyone can turn this into a strength, Baumbach can. It's artful the way he makes us come around to his characters, letting us feel the push and pull of a divorce settlement, siding with one, then the other, and finally, endearing us to both of them, people who grew apart as they grew on you.
"Marriage Story" is one of the year's best films, with a career best performance in front of the camera from Johansson and Driver, and a career best performance from Baumbach behind it.
The dark side of Superman?
"Brightburn" is a cool, underrated little horror flick with some genuinely shocking moments, and an entertaining story which actually feels kind of original.
A problem is that the movie doesn't manage a consistent tone. For some reason I kept comparing it to "Hereditary" in my mind. I think perhaps it wanted to be as cold and vicious as that movie but the producers didn't have the guts to go there.
Also the main actor may have been miscast. He's not a kid you'd look at and think, he's weird, or he could be up to something, or he could have special powers.
Still, I just really appreciated this movie. I am undecided about whether I should give it a seven or eight, so I'll split the different and give it 7.5.
Good Boys (2019)
"Good Boys" really surprised me. For one, it's actually funny. How long has it been since a genuinely funny comedy came out? I don't even remember the last one. For another thing, despite the obviously adult nature of the material, it never really stoops to predictable gross-out style comedy.
Perhaps most surprising of all though, I actually cared about the characters in the movie. I liked them. Despite all the naughty words flying around, these are actually good hearted kids trying to do the right thing.
The actors also hold their own really well, and there is a great cameo from Stephen Merchant.
I say check it out.
The Beach Bum (2019)
Strange art-stoner flick, but entertaining in fits
Hard to review a movie like "The Beach Bum". Sure, you can fault it fairly easily, but I'm not sure if those faults aren't intentional. And are they really faults in that case?
Take for example the casting of Matthew McConaughey as the protagonist, a man named Moon Dog, the titular "beach bum" who probably doesn't have a single scene sober in the whole movie. He finances his nomadic, chemical-induced lifestyle through his prior success as a brilliant writer, and has a beautiful wife (played by Isla Fisher) who is also filthy rich and doesn't mind that he screws around on her.
Of course, none of this is believable for a second, but when Moon Dog is nominated for a Pulitzer, and reads a ridiculous poem while clad in women's clothing, you can feel the tongue in the cheek and the elbow in the ribs.
The movie also doesn't really have a story. It goes in one direction for a while, gets bored of that, goes in another direction, sees what happens there, etc. Of course, it's just like Moon Dog himself in that regard.
The film has been generally typed as a stoner comedy, but it's never really laugh out loud funny. But again, I return to the central question of the movie: is it really supposed to be? There's one scene with Martin Lawrence and some alleged dolphins that did have me laughing out loud, so surprising was it.
"The Beach Bum" is worth going on a journey with, if you think you might be interested. It's an experience.
I Trapped the Devil (2019)
I'm not the one to review "I Trapped the Devil", even though I just watched it. I just couldn't focus on it for very long. It's that whole "slow burn" approach which can be atmospheric and creepy but here, just isn't.
Part of the problem is the uncharismatic leads. They act their parts well but it's impossible to care about them. The movie gives you nothing to go on and expects you to care. I didn't.
What was it actually about? Nervous suburbanites have some guy trapped in the basement. I got that much from it. Even just thinking about that concept you can probably come up with a far more interesting story than what we have here.
I say skip it.
Il nano e la strega (1977)
What do you expect?
I disagree that "King Dick", known in Italian as "Il nano e la strega", is pornographic. Sure, the focus is pretty consistently on sex, but it never seems to be trying for eroticism. Instead, the tone is humorous, though never really funny.
Take for example the protagonist, one Little Dick, whose name is thoroughly ironic. Sure, he's little like a gnome, but he's big where it counts. There's also an evil hag named Nymphomania, who used to be young and beautiful, but was cursed to be in her current form and can only relinquish this curse when she has had sixty-nine orgasms. Little Dick might come in handy after all.
There's probably only a few seconds of sex in the movie, and they didn't exactly go all out on making it look sexy or appealing. Two characters basically bump into each other from behind, while fully clothed. You could get the same effect by holding up two pieces of paper with poor drawings of cartoon people on them, and smacking them into each other.
When I was a kid I used to think it was funny that what is marked as "adult" entertainment is pitched at an intellectual level that only a child could understand. "King Dick" is a pretty good example of that. Of course, the animation is also really cruddy - reminds me of the dirty pictures my friends drew in primary school - but what do you expect from an early '70s animated porno flick, now only available as a VHS rip?
I don't know why, but I kept watching until the end. It was occasionally amusing, if not very entertaining.
Satanic Panic (2019)
Underrated horror comedy - entertaining
"Satanic Panic" is an entertaining horror comedy, with a charming performance from its likeable lead, Hayley Griffith, who looks a lot like b-movie sex bomb of the '70s, Linda Hayden.
The plot involves the young Sam, a pizza delivery girl, who survives on tips but gets none, even when she delivers to the affluent Mills Basin area. Running out of gas, she returns to a stingy delivery to beg for money only to find herself in the middle of a ritual to summon the demon Baphomet. Even worse, she runs into Jerry O'Connell.
The movie is consistently entertaining, though it lost me at points. I think it could have been a little more shocking and edgy. Still, I enjoyed it.