Licorice Pizza


Viewed – 15 May 2022 online rental

This got quite a bit of buzz towards the end of last year and from director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) and a setting of seventies America and young love, this sounded right up my alley. Gary is a child actor who becomes infatuated with an older woman, Alana who begins working at his school. With no end of confidence and charm he befriends her and soon brings her into his rather chaotic life.

This authentic recreation of seventies America is given a unique spin due to lead characters having an age gap. You could say it’s a unconventional love story. However as Gary leads Alana from one scheme to the next, for me he began to come off as a bit of an obnoxious dreamer. Alana fairs slightly better, seeming more level-headed and mature, even if she kept coming back to this guy. It made me think of La La Land at times with its pairing similarly not meant to be. However due to the movie jumping randomly from different events, such as Gary walking by a water bed shop, and next thing he’s staring up a water bed business (how’s he managed this, how’s he know anything about water beds?) …I began to feel a tad frustrated. Doesn’t help that none of his schemes are particularly engaging.

What the movie lacks in plot, it makes up for in two solid performances, especially singer turned actor Alana Haim (of the band ‘Haim’). I really liked her and she has many of the movie’s best scenes. There’s also two weird cameos, one by Sean Penn as a rather eccentric actor, and another by Bradley Cooper as one of Barbara Streisand’s husbands(?). Both of which come across like they’re in the wrong movie. Anderson’s direction is decent and atmospheric though, and the movie is often beautifully shot. However for a seventies set story, the music is mostly forgettable (apart from one scene using Bowie’s Life On Mars). Overall an interesting yet ultimately uninvolving comedy-drama that’s not as great as it thinks it is.

Verdict: Good

The Batman


Viewed – 30 April online rental

This long running franchise has always been one of my favourite series of movies, and the character remains probably my go-to comic book hero. So when I heard they were rebooting the franchise once again, I was curious / nervous where they could possibly take this character. Turns out director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, War for the Planet of the Apes) was an assured choice for this new era. Twilight’s Robert Pattinson takes on the role of Bruce Wayne / Batman who we hear has already been at the caped vigilante ‘game’ for over a year. A series of murders of political figures have started occurring in Gotham City. The killer, calling himself The Ridler leaves cryptic clues for the police and especially Batman to follow in a race against time as the bodies pile up. Embroiled in proceedings is small-time burglar Selena Kyle / Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), as well as local mobster The Penguin.

Reeves’ direction is suitably moody and highly atmospheric. I especially liked how he brought back Gotham as an eerie character in itself, something Tim Burton presented so well back in the day but Christopher Nolan mostly did away with in place of realism. This rendition of Batman successfully marries both the Gothic fantasy of Burton whilst retaining some of the grit of Nolan … and it works. Wayne / Batman is this time portrayed very much as a human being, capable of injury and mistakes and letting his emotions get the better of him. In this respect Pattinson is excellent – delivering a complex, damaged portrayal whilst still looking an absolute badass in the costume. I’d have like a bit more of him as Bruce Wayne though. Another surprise was Zoe Kravitz, an actress I only know as being the daughter of rocker Lennie Kravitz, but her portrayal is possibly the most complex and interesting version of Catwoman for years. Support from Jeffrey Wright as (inevitably) Commissioner Gordon and John Turturro as mob boss Falcone both bring plenty of personality also. A barely recognisable Colin Farrell is also decent as Penguin even if his character is kind of a side note. That just leaves The Ridler then, and with this role Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) is chilling and malevolent – even if he’s no Heath Ledger (although his grand-scheme bares similarities).

I had a great time with this. It was a bit long, and may have benefited from some scenes being trimmed down, but I can’t say I ever got bored. Pattinson turned out to be a great choice and I am eager to see what more he can do with the character. The story was gripping, with an intricate plot that bared resemblance to the Zodiac murders whilst also echoing the Saw movies. This was also different enough to stand on its own yet retains enough of the mood and aesthetic to still very much be a Batman movie. What more could you ask for?

Verdict: Recommended

Moonfall


Viewed – 26 April 2022 online rental

Now I can certainly enjoy a disaster movie. Earlier in the year the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle Don’t Look Up proved a unique take on the subject, so upon hearing one of the genres go-to directors, Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) was returning, I thought this could by good. Starring The Conjuring’s Patrick Wilson as a former astronaut and Halle Berry as a Nasa executive, this sets up the idea of what would happen if the moon suddenly changed its orbit of Earth and started headed for a collision?

You might be thinking Deep Impact or Armageddon and you’d be right. Despite its concept this felt incredibly familiar. Wilson is fine in his role as is Berry, supported by a likeable John Bradley (Game of Thrones) as a nerdy conspiracy theorist. However everyone else is incredibly wooden. The young actor playing Wilson’s rebellious son is just awful, with very robotic line delivery. Same can be said for Berry’s military officer ex husband. As the impending doom worsens, it’s clear the money was mostly spent on the effects, as this is where Director Emmerich’s movies have faired the best and this is no exception. At times they are impressive and effective, even if there’s also a few obvious green screen moments that look really fake.

The last half hour or so of the movie got a lot more interesting as it’s revealed just what is happening to the moon, and despite some plot revelations that are quite bonkers and a bit too familiar … I did feel there was a decent sci-fi story buried under the mediocrity. The movie just lacked polish, its script felt rushed (the world falls into chaos from just an internet post??) and the casting was lacking. Overall, not much to recommend here.

Verdict: Poor

Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer


Viewed – 14 April 2022  Blu-ray

I saw this notorious drama on a heavily censored VHS rental years ago and decided it was one of the more disturbing serial killer movies I’d seen.  Of course over the years it’s shock value has diluted.  These days the boundaries of what is allowed to be seen on screen has been pushed to a much harder degree than what would have been banned back in the eighties.  That being said, this movie still has the power to disturb.

Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead) plays sociopath and killer Henry – loosely based on real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas who kills at random and without motive, drifting from town to town.  After befriending Otis (Tom Towles) and moving into his run-down apartment they are soon joined by Otis’ younger sister Becky and their simple dynamic is complicated once Henry begins involving Otis in his murderous ‘hobby’.

Directed my John McNaughton (Wild Things) with a cold, semi-documentary style this is a movie that doesn’t offer explanation or back story but simply explores a week in the life of a killer.  Rooker is unnervingly convincing, aided well by his co-stars and McNaughton’s ominous, matter-of-fact tone.  It doesn’t offer answers and is all that more powerful for it, offering some still-to-this-day shocking scenes (the home invasion).  The acting isn’t Silence of the Lambs Oscar stuff by a long stretch and some scenes are quite amateurish, not helped by a low budget and filmed-on-the-fly locations.  Yet it manages to pack a punch even all these years later.

I picked up the recent Arrow Video 4K Blu-Ray release. The picture quality, a new restoration supervised by the director is very grainy but close-up detail is good. The soundtrack is offered in its original 2.0 stereo and a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio option. Dialogue is mostly clear apart from one segment based under a bridge, which was very echoey. Extras consist of interviews, which are from a number of years back, censorship featurettes covering both American and British censor history, making of, deleted scenes and photo galleries. The limited edition set also comes with a poster, booklet and a separate booklet showing the original storyboards. Three director commentaries, one of which is brand new rounds off the presentation. Impressive stuff.

Verdict:

(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

The Clovehitch Killer


Viewed – 10 April 2022 online rental

I’d heard some good things about this, and I’ll admit serial killer movies intrigue me, so when I heard this one was inspired by the real life serial killer Dennis Rader (aka BTK) I knew I had to see it. Teenager Tyler lives in a small town where ten years previous a killer claimed ten victims before disappearing. Each year the town holds a memorial for those that died, the shadow of the ‘clovehitch killer’ – named after a tied piece of rope found at every murder scene – looming large. However after stumbling upon a secret stash of bondage photos and various other items, Tyler begins to suspect his father may actually be the killer.

This realistic and engrossing drama has at its centre a solid performance from Charlie Plummer as Tyler, conveying teenage angst and troubling suspicions well. Dylan McDermott as his father is also very good – charming yet sinister. Support from the rest of the cast is also good, including a where has she been Samantha Mathis (Broken Arrow) as Tyler’s unsuspecting mother.

The concept pulled me in as the story unfolded. Although not as disturbing as it could have been this still had its moments. I’d have liked a bit more emotion from Tyler towards the end but the actor did convey a lot with his eyes and subtle mannerisms. The final act was also rather creative. As a sort-of BTK movie this glosses over much of what actually happened but conveys the man quite authentically I’d say. One to check out.

Verdict: Recommended