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Midwinter

Midwinter

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I aim to provide entertaining, insightful reviews. My main focus is movies, and my articles are geared to readers interested in movie criticism. I live and work in Brno, Czech Republic, and I am currently writing a children's book.

Reviews written

since 04/09/2010

108

The Toxic Avenger (DVD) 03/01/2018

24 Carat Crud...

The Toxic Avenger (DVD) Woody Allen famously keeps a drawer full of ideas scribbled on bits of paper, which he dips into when he needs inspiration for a new movie. It's not always successful - it seems like he forgot to add anything else before shooting "Magic in the Moonlight". I'd like to think Troma movies get made in a similar fashion. I can picture Lloyd Kaufman, Troma's cartoonish co-founder, sitting in a hot tub with a couple of poodle-permed babes, scribbling crazy titles on cocktail napkins and handing them to some flunky for safekeeping. Titles include "A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell", "Dumpster Baby", "Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid", and "Maniac Nurses Find Ecstasy". They're friday night four-pack-and-a-pizza movies, and any VHS junkie from the '80s and '90s will be familiar with the lurid cover art of Troma's oeuvre. They've been going for over forty years now, barfing a steady steam of lowbrow, z-grade schlock into existence - if it's got aliens, monsters, psychos, guns and tits - possibly all on the front of the video box - chances are it's Troma. The mid-eighties was the studio's highpoint with their masterpiece, "The Toxic Avenger". Knocked out for around half a million dollars, it was nevertheless the strongest superhero movie to appear between Richard Donner's first two "Superman" films and Tim Burton's "Batman". Its positioning in the Superhero firmament made it strangely prescient, parodying the Superhero genre before there was really a Superhero genre to make fun of. It plays ...

5 reasons why you love summer 25/07/2016

Léto (Summer)

5 reasons why you love summer One of the best things about living in Central Europe as an Englishman is that there are proper, clearly defined seasons. Winter in Brno can be harsh by English standards, with temperatures reaching as low as minus twenty and snow on the ground for weeks, if not months, at a stretch. Yet winter has its charms and distractions, with Christmas markets and mulled wine on the squares, and the safe knowledge that it will only be a few months until spring. The Burning of the Witches on 30th April marks the official end to winter, with effigies representing the witch of winter cast onto the bonfire. Then it's non-stop until summer... 1) Summer in the City Brno is the Czech Republic's second largest city, but doesn't suffer the same deluge of tourists as the capital. Which means the locals get their city to themselves, and the summer months is a non-stop calvalcade of free concerts, exhibitions, dance, and carnivals in the main square, námestí Svobody. Living in a landlocked country, the availability of water is also critical. Luckily, the city folk of Brno have three main places where they can swim, sunbathe, drink beer, play games, and show off. There is the Prehrada, by the local reservoir, a long narrow stretch of water with large grassy areas for people to relax and play. In town there is the Riviera, where a section of river has been siphoned off to form a man-made river where people can swim, and the pool at Kravi Hora, where girls gather to show off their bikinis and ...

Under the Skin (DVD) 30/07/2014

A chilly, seductive look at being human...

Under the Skin (DVD) You spend a lot of time gazing into the eyes of Scarlett Johansson’s alien temptress in "Under the Skin", Jonathan Glazer’s obtuse adaptation of Michael Faber’s acclaimed novel. You also spend a long time scrutinizing the expression on her face, which is usually as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa’s. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, does this creature have a soul? What is she thinking – or is she just computing? The facial expressions are like ones we use, but does she share any comparable emotions with us? Questions such as these arise because Glazer has stripped the story to the absolute minimum. We are given almost no information about Johansson’s character Laura. In his last film," Birth",Glazer left it up to the viewer to decide exactly what had happened. In "Under the Skin", he pares it down even further, so there is almost no dialogue to help us along. We’re left alone to draw our own conclusions. We can surmise from the trippy opening sequence that Laura is an alien creature either born or created, then arriving on earth. A man in motorbike leathers procures the dead body of a young woman, which will be the newcomer’s disguise. We don’t learn much about the motorcyclist, other than he looks mean and is clearly one of her species, and could be her minder, lackey, or supervisor. Once she assumes the body of the dead woman, she sets about her task. She drives around the streets of Glasgow in a white transit van, hunting lonely men. She lures them into her lair with ...

The Lavender Hill Mob (DVD) 11/05/2014

"By Jove...it's a good job we're both honest men."

The Lavender Hill Mob (DVD) I could’ve robbed my company blind in my last job. With intimate knowledge of their processes and systems, I could’ve created so much confusion that I would be safely esconsced in a bar somewhere in Buenos Aires, spunking my way through half the loot before they even realised something was wrong. The reason I didn’t? Because I’m an honest person. I believe in the basic goodness of humanity, and believe that most people on this planet are generally honest and decent, which is why I think the Heist Movie performs such a valuable function to society. The great thing about a good heist film is that you get to feel part of a caper for a couple of hours. The best examples have a clearly defined prize, and make it clear who or what is being robbed. You get to be involved in the planning, make your own judgements on the cleverness of the plan, and enjoy the thrill of the robbery without any personal risk. Many heist films simultaneously withold vital information from the viewer – The Sting and Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven are good examples – so that while the viewer feels part of the scheme, they are also deceived by a final rug-pull at the film’s conclusion. The Lavender Hill Mob, one of the earliest and best-loved examples of the sub genre, doesn’t have that final twist, but it is one of the most joyous and exciting entries. Many critics cite Kind Hearts and Coronets or The Ladykillers as the Ealing Studios finest efforts, but neither film is as effortlessly entertaining or has ...

Best And Worst Excuses For Missing Work 27/04/2014

Pass the Imodium...

Best And Worst Excuses For Missing Work I concocted a brilliant excuse for not going into work once. I'd just managed to break a tooth eating a sausage roll, and I was standing in the kitchen examining it when - oops, butterfingers! - I dropped the tooth and it went under the fridge. While I was down there, poking around under the fridge with the handle of the broom I had my brainwave. I would call work and tell them what had happened, except elaborate on the story somewhat - in an attempt to retrieve the tooth, I'd lifted the fridge and propped it up so I could reach underneath, and while I was down there, the prop gave way and the fridge crashed down on my arm, pinning me the the floor. Of course, I needed assistance - pinned face down to the tiles, I couldn't get the leverage to lift the fridge again, so could they send someone to help? Then all I needed to do was sit around and wait for the cavalry to arrive, and just before they got to my house I'd quickly get under the fridge. It sounded good, but the longer I thought about it, the more I felt like the killer at the beginning of an episode of "Columbo". My boss at the time was pretty sharp, so I knew he would be asking questions, and would definitely be dubious about certain elements of my story. I talked myself out of it, retrieved the broken tooth using the broom handle, and went to work, scheming all the way on the bus. I had the tooth wrapped up in a tissue in my pocket - I was astonished that it had managed to rot away from the inside to such an ...

Mr. Brooks (DVD) 27/04/2014

No Sympathy for this Drivel...

Mr. Brooks (DVD) They say the Devil gets all the best lines, which is perhaps why most actors are drawn to the darker side of human nature during their careers. It is often the actors with a “nice guy” image that make the most startling transformation – one of James Stewart’s finest films was "Vertigo", playing out Hitchcock’s fetishes as the obsessive cop Scottie Ferguson; Henry Fonda’s warm blue eyes famously because the stone-cold glare of a killer in Leone’s "Once Upon A Time in The West". It doesn’t always work out, though – Jim Carrey in capable of playing baddies and morally dubious characters, but his misguided "The Number 23" stank out theatres the same year as Kevin Costner potrayed a serial killer in "Mr Brooks". Carrey’s alter-ego looked just like an evil Ace Ventura, and was impossible to take seriously. "Mr Brooks" isn’t much better, but luckily Costner is an inspired choice as the title character, a successful businessman who aso happens to be a meticulous serial killer. Costner has played bad guys in the past, most notably as an escaped convict in Eastwood’s "A Perfect World", but is usually associated with upstanding, honest types – Eliot Ness in "The Untouchables"; Ray Kinsella in "Field of Dreams"; Jim Garrison in "JFK". Costner’s acting career has been on the wane since the "Waterworld" debacle almost twenty years ago, and the subsequent bomb "The Postman" a few years later, so it is refreshing to see him try a different angle. Unfortunately, he landed in "Mr ...

The Exorcist (DVD) 20/04/2014

The Ultimate Good Guys vs Bad Guys Movie...

The Exorcist (DVD) There are few films with the diabolical aura of William Friedkin's "The Exorcist". The story of demonic possession built its fearsome reputation during the long years of exile from videotape - while it was not included in the BBFC's list of banned films via the Video Recordings Act 1984, it became an unofficial member of the "Video Nasty" club. BBFC censor refused to issue a home video certificate, thus depriving a generation of latchkey kids with access to their dad's video card the joys of a head-spinning, pea-soup-puking, spider-walking little girl, and the brave priests who try to save her. Nowadays, the special effects sequences look a bit creaky and rather tame compared to what our torture porn era has to offer, but what is left is a film of undeniable power. "The Exorcist" was adapted from William Peter Blatty's hit novel from a few years earlier, which detailed the purportedly real exorcism of a young boy in Cottage City, Maryland, in the Forties. It begins with a virtually wordless prologue set in Iraq, where ageing priest and archaeologist Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) is attending a dig. He discovers a small amulet resembling the head of the demon Pazazu. He confides with a colleague that he believes Pazazu will return. In the film's key sequence, Merrin finds himself facing a statue of Pazazu across a dusty, windswept gorge. Cut to Washington DC, in a startling contrast of culture and palette, where filmstar Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is starring in a movie. ...

Ozu - Tokyo Story/Late Spring (Subtitled) (Box Set) (DVD) 19/04/2014

Simple & True

Ozu - Tokyo Story/Late Spring (Subtitled) (Box Set) (DVD) (This review is only for "Tokyo Story") "Tokyo Story" is a film I would urge anyone to see, and it also makes me wish that I hadn't dished out so many five star ratings in my previous reviews. The Ciao! synopsis makes it sound a bit depressing, but I can't think of another film that matches it for such simple and profound emotional truth. I've been trying to expand my film knowledge recently and have been dabbling with Japanese cinema, starting with Kurosawa's cornerstones "Rashomon" and "Seven Samurai". It took me a while to get round to "Tokyo Story" despite it currently occupying third spot in the BFI's top films of all time behind "Vertigo" and "Citizen Kane". If I'm completely honest, it just seemed a bit too black & white and a bit too Japanese to really take my fancy. A viewer experimenting with Japanese cinema will find themselves on comfortable ground with Kurosawa's most famous works. "Rashomon" introduced the now familiar conceit of a story told from different viewpoints. Kurosawa was influenced by Western cinema, and in turn Western cinema was influenced by Kurosawa - if you've seen "The Magnificent Seven",Sergio Leone's "Dollars Trilogy", "Star Wars" or even "Three Amigos!", you'll know exactly where you are in "Seven Samurai". Ozu's "Tokyo Story", on the other hand, feels very Japanese, and is told in such a poetically simple way that you'll wonder why 99% of cinema is filled with so much noise, gimmicks and clutter. It is about an elderly couple who visit ...

Julia (DVD) 08/04/2014

Not the kind of girl you'd take home to meet the parents...

Julia (DVD) I’ve never been a big fan of movies with just the character’s first name as a title – it creates so much expectation. What is so special about this individual that I’m on first name terms with them before the opening credits roll? I think – what will the trials and tribulations of Arthur, Annie, Alfie or Paul tell me about the world around me, or more importantly, the world within me? So Arthur’s a rich pisshead; Annie’s an annoying ginger orphan; Alfie just wants to get his leg over with a bit of crumpet; and Paul is a slacker alien voiced by Seth Rogan. Then I think – so what? Let’s watch something else instead. Movies titles with just the surname fare slightly better – at least Bullitt sounds like a hard name, matching Steve McQueen’s inscrutable hero. Perhaps it was Shakespeare who created such high expectations, naming some of his most famous plays after the eponymous character – Macbeth & Hamlet for example. But the Bard could get away with it, a) because Macbeth & Hamlet are pretty cool names, and b) he was alright at creating memorable characters to match the anticipation generated by the title. Julia gets away with it too. The name itself is pretty mundane, and the film is based on another first-name-titled movie, John Cassavette’s Gloria; but it does feature an absolutely enormous central performance by Tilda Swinton. In fact, if I could write a one-word movie review for Julia, borrowing the rather obnoxious exclamation mark from Oliver! – I would just write: ...

The Descendants (DVD) 31/03/2014

Clooney shines in a strangely uplifting deathbed family drama...

The Descendants (DVD) The plot summary of "The Descendants" makes it sound about as much fun as watching a club-footed farmer drown some kittens - a man prepares for the imminent death of his wife while trying to track down the man she was having an affair with. Without the marquee name of George Clooney attached, viewers might be forgiven for thinking the film is a disease-of-the-week movie that somehow found its way onto the big screen. Luckily, the film is fronted by one of Clooney's finest performances as the harrowed husband, fully deserving of his Oscar Nomination, and as with his more recent "Nebraska", director and co-writer Alexander Payne shows his keen eye and ear for the nuances of family life. Set in Hawaii, Payne and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael also make the Aloha State a real character in the film, much like the landscape in "Nebraska", but go beyond the usual cliches of hula skirts and mai tais, Shot is luscious, almost autumnal shades, "The Descendants" gives a glimpse of Hawaii as a real place, rather than just a holiday destination, which is critical to the film's subplot. Based on Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel of the same name, Clooney's Matt King ought to be detestable - good-looking, wealthy, complacent, living in a dream house with a beautiful wife, a wide circle of friends and with enough dosh to send his kids to an expensive boarding school. His comfortable life is also about to get much more comfortable, with the upcoming sale of 25,000 acres of gorgeous Kauai ...

Sunshine On Leith (DVD) 28/03/2014

Made My Heart Fly for a bit, glad when it was Over and Done With.

Sunshine On Leith (DVD) "Sunshine on Leith" is a workmanlike adaptation of the popular musical of the same name, a story of two squaddies told in large part by the songs of The Proclaimers. The game cast breezily warm the cockles and the songs serve the slender plot well before the film's torpid mid-section gets bogged down in maudlin marital melodrama. It will take a very hard hearted person to actually dislike Dexter Fletcher's sophomore effort as director, but for all its good intentions, I was just hanging around for the Edinburgh duo's two biggest hits to make an appearance by the end. "Jukebox musicals" have become increasingly popular over the past decade, with shows popping up all over the West End based on the songs of everyone from Johnny Cash ("Ring of Fire") to The Spice Girls ("Viva Forever!"). The format is simple - grab a bunch of songs by a popular artist or band, shoehorn them into a serviceable plot, then stand back and listen to the ringing of the cash register. The music of The Proclaimers hardly seemed appealing at first - I like to have a good old shout-along to "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" as much as the next person, but I think it is fair to say the pop folk twin set's main fanbase is north of the border. However, the salty, working-class lyrics match the story perfectly - or should it be the other way round? The nominal story introduces us to Davy (George McKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie), two mates discharged from the Army after a tour in Afghan, back in Edinburgh to ...

Spring Breakers (DVD) 04/02/2014

Spring Break Forever, Bitches?

Spring Breakers (DVD) 2013 was a great year for cinema, according to all available evidence and the cooing of many commentators. I've watched a large chunk of its diverse output, including seven of the nine Best Picture nominations for the Oscars, as well as various other notable additions, but none struck me as much as Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers. I don't know what the hell it was trying to say, but it seemed at once like a corrupted fairytale told by Terence Malick in a parallel universe; Scarface by way of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City; Reservoir Dogs in bikinis; End of Days shot in over-saturated neon by Sofia Coppola; and somehow like Apocalypse Now filmed on Florida shores. It probably doesn't help that I'm from England, so have little concept of what a Spring Break beach party actually is - I grew up with MTV, and have a vague recollection of those shows where muscle-bound guys and babes in bikinis danced around a pool to the latest hits. A spring break in England might include a pop to the garden centre with the parents, or maybe a chilly walk along the prom with Nan before hitting the penny arcades. It is one of those American rites of passages like Prom or tailgate parties before a college football game that us Brits only experience through American TV and movies. The basic set up of the movie is this: Four bored college girls, three bad blondes and one goody-two-shoes Christian brunette, dream of getting out of their small hometown and going on Spring Break. The problem is, they ...

Cloud Atlas (DVD) 02/02/2014

Just a load of Hot Air...

Cloud Atlas (DVD) I was reading about clouds today, because I was trying to come up with a facetious analogy to start off my Cloud Atlas review, and to my embarrassment, I realised that I wasn't sure how clouds form. One type of cloud, I learned, is a convection cloud. Cumulus and Cumulonimbus clouds are brilliant examples of these - formed by water vapour in rising columns of hot air condensing into droplets, and ganging together to create what most people imagine when they hear the word "cloud". It is also the type of cloud some people like to look at when laying around in the park, trying to spot clouds which resemble familiar shapes - an elephant, a whale, a giraffe, or perhaps Lady Gaga receiving a Grammy award. Which brings us to Cloud Atlas, an ambitious and mercurial era-hopping sci-fi drama directed by the Wachowski siblings and Run Lola Run helmer Tom Tykwer. Adapted from David Mitchell's 2004 novel, the film presents itself as a high-minded epic, although like our friends the Cumulus and Cumulonimbus, is formed by lots of hot air. Weaving six stories spanning hundreds of years, it occasionally appears to take the shape of meaningful things we recognise, buts turns out vaporous and lacking any real substance. Or to describe it another way, it is a bit like a six ring circus, full of clowns in funny make up and high-flying acrobats. All very entertaining until disaster strikes - the big top collapses and the lights go out, trapping the audience underneath in the dark, wondering ...

The Wolf of Wall Street 26/01/2014

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be - a broker?

The Wolf of Wall Street "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be ---- a broker??" It doesn't have quite the same ring to it as Henry Hill's opening confession at the beginning of "Goodfellas". Scorsese's seminal 1990 mob classic is the film his latest "The Wolf of Wall Street" has been compared to the most, as both are based on the true stories of men who are seduced by a decadent and corrupt lifestyle, and somehow emerge the other side of the inevitable fall, relatively unscathed and completely unrepentant. "The Wolf of Wall Street" has been slammed by some critics as a glorification of unfettered greed and debauchery. I don't have a problem with a film focussing on greed and debauchery, especially in Scorsese-world; after all, this is a director who has committed some of the most violent and repellent characters in movie history to the screen. My problem with "The Wolf of Wall Street" is that it is just an awful movie, and that I can't forgive. "The Wolf of Wall Street" - Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, who works on Wall Street during the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987. He's only a rookie, but he has seen enough of the lifestyle - the money, the drugs, the women, the excitement - for him to want more. He takes another job hard selling worthless stocks to anyone stupid enough to answer the phone to him. Belfort soon realises there is serious cash to be made pitching the penny stocks to clients with real money, so he starts up his own reputable sounding company, ...

The Seven Per Cent Solution (DVD) 14/01/2014

A Curious Case for Sherlock Fans...

The Seven Per Cent Solution (DVD) The Great Detective was a cokehead. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote him that way, and it is a fact central to Sherlock Holmes lore, which has created a thorny issue for many a filmmaker in adapting Doyle's canonical series of stories. It is a fact that cannot be ignored - “The Sign of Four” opens with a lengthy scene of Holmes shooting up, Even Basil Rathbone, the first truly iconic portrayal of Holmes, found the subject a bit sticky - his triumphant call for the needle at the end of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" invoked the wrath of the draconian Hays Code, Even the most recent adaptation, Mark Gatiss' shit hot BBC series “Sherlock”, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, which so successfully brought Holmes into the 21st century with its seamless appropriation of smartphones and blogging, was notably coy about the issue until the third series. It took until the third episode of the third series for the creators to fully acknowledge Holmes' dabbling with hard drugs, with Watson accidentally rumbling Holmes in a shooting gallery. Then it was treated as a comic episode, gingerly tip-toed around for ten minutes, then forgotten as the plot hastily resumed. The greatest era for Holmes adaptations was the Seventies. It was a decade when young fearless auteurs such as Scorsese, Coppola, Polanski, Spielberg, Malick, Altman and Freeman managed to wrestle creative control away from the studios, in order to give the film going public a darker, cynical, open ended view of ...
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