An American Werewolf In London


Viewed – 31 October 2020 Blu-ray

Director John Landis’ 1981 classic remains one of my all-time favourite movies. It’s the perfect balance of horror with comedy and also works as a particularly tragic love story. it also has (still) the best werewolf transformation ever commuted to film, and in this age of CGI overdose I doubt it will ever be beaten. Telling the story of David, an American backpacking in England with his friend Jack, who following a strange encounter with the locals of the ‘slaughtered lamb’, wonders onto the moors, and gets attacked by a werewolf. Sometime later he awakens in a London hospital and begins to have strange dreams and visits from beyond the grave warning him he’s destined to become a hairy beast next full moon.

Beware the moon…

The setup is stuff of horror legend, and is a sort of loose remake of those classic werewolf movies from the 1950s, given a modern twist that still works today, almost 40 years later. The fact the effects work still stands up is very much down to the sheer skill of makeup wiz Rick Baker (who got an Oscar for his trouble). Jenny Agutter is here as a (particularly attractive) nurse who befriends and quickly falls for David and her relationship with the would-be monster is convincing and quite touching. It’s also a snappily paced ride, skilfully jumping from one event to the next, and when it’s funny (the bumbling cops, Jack’s deadpan line-delivery “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”) it never feels out of place. The same goes for when it delivers the horror – somehow it just all works. The music should also get a special mention, with each song title having some mention of the moon, and they are all delivered memorably. This is Landis’ best movie, the tone, those classic sequences (the tube station scene) and a simple concept brilliantly put together makes for not just a great horror movie – but one of the ‘great’ movies.

The Blu-ray limited edition I picked from Arrow Video is a collector’s dream. Housed in a hard case and with specially created artwork, a fold-out poster, art cards and a detailed booklet – that’s just the start. The movie, although grainy boasts a new restoration and is in great shape – with impressive detail along with good colour vibrancy and depth in dark scenes. The soundtrack in a choice of the original mono and 5.1. DTS Master Audio has clear dialogue and especially showcases the music cues. Surrounds also come alive during the climactic Piccadilli Circus sequence. Extras consist of two commentaries; one from actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, and the other with filmmaker Paul Davis. Add to this several making of/behind the scenes featurettes and interviews with John Landis and Rick Baker, story boards, outtakes etc and this is one impressive package.

Verdict:

(the movie) Essential

(the Blu-ray) Essential

The Babysitter: Killer Queen


Viewed – 17 October 2020 Netflix

I wasn’t exactly blown away with the surprise sleeper hit that was the first movie, but it was still fun if trashy entertainment with a break out turn from Samara Weaving. However it clearly was popular enough to spawn a sequel. Set three years after the first movie, nerdy kid Cole is now in High School and labelled a bit of a nutcase as he told a lot of people about his babysitter’s satanic blood cult. So yeah he’s having trouble fitting in. One day though his best friend invites him to a getaway on a boat out in the wilderness – yeah, isolated in the middle of nowhere, nothing bad is going to happen, right?

If looks could kill…

Directed again by McG (Terminator Salvation) this is trying sooooo hard to be a self-referential horror version of Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It has the crazy editing, video game references, and a funky soundtrack. Oh and plenty of CGI gore. The deaths in the last movie were a major plus, and the same goes here – even if they often look incredibly fake. This is not helped by a script that is painfully unfunny, which really needs to be funny. The cast, with many returning faces from last time, are constantly spouting what they think is clever, pop-culture fused dialogue but it has very forced delivery that just falls flat. It all screams of trying too hard.

Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed some of McG’s movies in the past, and his style can work given better material … but this just feels lazy. There’s times when it looks like it’s happening on a cheap sound stage, and I could have sworn one bit looked like terrible green screen, and it even has a jump scare that makes zero sense (a peeing gag). The ending was a slight step up, with an interesting twist – but overall this really wasn’t worth it.

Verdict: Avoid

Onward


Viewed – 03 October 2020. Disney+

Its difficult reviewing animated movies, because the quality is often so high, it’s tempting to just rate them all the same. So I tend to be a bit harder on them that some other movies. This unusual story presents an enchanted, fairy tale world that turns its back on magic, favouring technology to develop very much like the regular world. So people have jobs, there’s police, shops, fast food restaurants etc. On his 16th birthday, young elf Ian is given a present from his Dad who died of an illness before he was born, and it turns out to be a wizards staff. After reciting a spell that’s meant to bring the dad back for one day only … the spell goes wrong and only half of the dad’s body comes back – literally from the waist down. However his big brother Barley says there’s a way of completing the spell and so a quest unfolds to resurrect their dad before the sun goes down.

Like Monsters Inc and Inside Out before it, this presents a world full of character and personality. Again it’s a feast for the eyes and full of memorable side characters, pop culture gags and references – but it’s the unique idea that’s the winner; a caper comedy that’s weirdly a lot like 80s comedy Weekend at Bernies. Some moments, especially the freeway chase with the biker sprites certainly had me laughing out-loud. Yet underneath the visuals and gags lies a great deal of heart – something Pixar have always been masters of.

Tom Holland as Ian is perfect, but is overshadowed by Chris Pratt’s Barley who turns a potentially irritating loud mouth of a character into someone I really cared about. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is also good as the two brother’s Mom. The ending also turns the story on its head to deliver an emotion-heavy and wonderfully bittersweet conclusion. So there you have it – damn, another Pixar gem that shouldn’t be missed! Sigh.

Verdict: Essential

Tootsie


Viewed – 05 September 2020 Blu-ray

I have vague memory of enjoying this, catching it on TV many years ago. However following rediscovering Dustin Hoffman recently with his memorable turn in Midnight Cowboy … when I saw this 1982 movie had been given the Criterion treatment, I thought I’d give it a go. Hoffman plays a struggling actor, who despite obvious talent can’t seem to land a job. However when he decides to disguise himself as a woman in order to land a role on a daytime soap opera, he realises his troubles are only just starting.

Directed by the late Sidney Pollack (Out of Africa) this is an enjoyable, charming and at times quite touching comedy-drama. Hoffman pulls off a surprisingly convincing woman in the form of ‘Dorothy’ and makes for an entertaining character. The movies shares similarities with Mrs Doubtfire but isn’t as zany, preferring a more earnest story over comedy set pieces. Although it’s still funny in places. Teri Garr is on hand as a ditsy friend and sort of love interest and resembles very much Jennifer Anniston in her personality. Bill Murray is also here but doesn’t add much. Jessica Lang, an actress I’ve always found creepy, however is very likeable here, and her scenes with Hoffman are some of the best in the movie.

At times it’s look and feel is a bit ‘TV movie’ and I can’t say I like the title or that cheesy theme … but it still throws an ahead-of-its-time spotlight on female empowerment, exploring misogyny and sexism that’s shockingly, still relevant. It’s also just a fun story with solid performances.

The Blu-Ray from the U.K. branch of The Criterion Collection boasts a nicely detailed and colourful image from a new 4K restoration. The sound, whilst only in its original uncompressed mono is very clear and does a good enough job. Extras are of course plentiful with a commentary from director Sidney Pollack as well as an archive making of and a newer making of from 2007 with interviews from both cast and crew. There’s also deleted scenes, test footage and an interview with Hoffman in-character as Dorothy. The included fold-out poster also has a new essay from critic Michael Sragow. Solid treatment for an 80’s comedy well worth re-visiting.

Verdict:

(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended

Frozen II


Viewed – 25 August 2020 Disney+

I can’t say I had any intention of watching this. I enjoyed but wasn’t blown away from the (at the time) heavily lauded first movie, and guess a sequel was inevitable – although was surprised to see it receive very little hype at release. However I spotted it on Disney+ and as starved as we are of new, worthwhile movies of late … I thought what the hell.

Call of the Wild…

Magical Ice Queen ‘Elsa’ is haunted by a voice that calls to her. It seems strangely linked to a story her late father told her and her sister Anna when they were children, of an enchanted forest covered in mist. Eager to find out what it all means, Elsa sets out on an adventure, along with her sister as well as snowman Olaf and other friends.

This musical fantasy of course looks great. Frozen’s animation style may not be as visually dazzling as say, something from Pixar but it suits the throwback, classic style and is still beautifully done. The story is fun even if it felt a little forced initially with the whole ‘calling’ having little reason to ‘suddenly’ occur. The songs are entertaining, even if there’s nothing to rival the first movie’s ‘let it go’. Snowman Olaf also proved a bit irritating early on but I’ll admit I warmed to him as the movie progressed. Despite such issues however, I still found this really enjoyable. It’s quite funny and the characters (especially Anna) really had some great moments. Also that ending was feel-good perfection that I found quite touching. Not exactly another Disney Classic, but still well worth checking out.

Verdict: Good