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Swimming With Sharks

Director – George Huang – 1994 – US – Cert. 15 – 93m

*****

A film school graduate’s job with a Hollywood producer turns out to be a nightmare

To the blissfully ignorant outsider, the Hollywood movie business is a glamorous place where dreams come true. In reality, it’s often closer to a personal hell where the aspirant’s dreams are trampled underfoot by passing megalomaniacs. At least, that’s what the nightmarish Swimming With Sharks would have us believe as it cheerfully plunges green film school graduate Guy (Frank Whaley) into an assistant’s job with major Hollywood producer Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey).

Buddy is the sort of boss who tells underlings, “your brain counts as nothing”, then insults them viciously in front of visiting clients. Reasons for insults heaped on Guy include bringing the coffee with the wrong kind of sweetener and leaving at the office the phone number of the starlet wannabe his boss is currently bedding. Further employer vitriol erupts when Buddy’s superior (a welcome if all too brief appearance from veteran Brit Roy Dotrice) notices spelling errors Buddy had earlier refused to allow Guy to correct – in script notes supplied Buddy by Guy but palmed off by Buddy as his own.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Elvis

Director – Baz Luhrmann – 2022 – US, Australia – Cert. 12a – 159m

***

Elvis Presley’s career from the mid-1950s through to his death in 1977, and his complex business relationship with his manager Colonel Tom Parker – out in cinemas on Friday, June 24th

Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), having a heart attack, reminisces to himself about his career. Many considered him the abuser and exploiter of the singer Elvis Presley, but that wasn’t the way it was. In the early 1950s, when Parker was managing the touring show of country singer Hank Snow (David Wenham), he heard Presley’s first recording on Sun Records though Hank’s son Jimmie Rodgers Snow (Kodi Smit-Mcphee), a singer in his own right who Parker didn’t think was anything like as good as his father.

Parker, an old time carnival showman, is always on the lookout for that one act that’s a little bit different, affects audiences and might well clean up at the box office. When he first sees Elvis (Austin Butler) perform, and notices young girls and older women going wild at the singer’s dance moves, he is convinced there’s money to be made and determines to sign him before someone else does.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Lightyear

Director – Angus MacLane – 2021 – US – Cert. PG – 107m

**1/2

Stranded on a hostile planet, Buzz Lightyear sets out on a series of missions which eventually lead to his first confrontation with the evil Emperor Zurg – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now as a Screening Event on Friday, June 17th, and opens in UK cinemas the same day.

A caption at the start explains that this was the favourite film of child protagonist Andy (from Pixar’s Toy Story franchise) and the reason he got a Buzz Lightyear toy in the first place. Other than that, though, this is a completely separate and self-enclosed film.

As the literal meaning of its title implies, Lightyear delivers a narrative that races through vast periods of time at a stretch, so that we and ace space pilot Buzz Lightyear (voice: Chris Evans) and his colleague Alisha Hawthorne (voice: Uzo Aduba) land their spaceship on an unexplored planet which turns out to be populated with hostile life-forms, specifically (1) plant tendrils which burst out of the planet’s surface and try to drag anything they can back under the ground and (2) giant, flying bugs.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Director – Daniels (Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert) – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 139m

*****

Do you know kung fu? A launderette owner in trouble with the IRS is sucked into serial, parallel worlds to defeat the being who threatens to annihilate the multiverse – available on demand in the UK from Monday, June 13th

You could describe it as a Cubist take on The Matrix. Or a mother-daughter relationship drama. Or a multiverse movie. Or a film about filing taxes with the IRS. Or a (multiple set of) romance(s). Or a Michelle Yeoh action movie. Or a Chinese American movie. Or a film put together unlike any other you’ve ever seen. All these descriptions would be accurate.

Chinese American Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) runs her own business. A launderette (or laundromat in American parlance). She sits at the table in her apartment which is covered with piles of receipts. She is sorting through them in preparation for an upcoming interview with the IRS. She isn’t sure she’s ready.

This pressing issue aside, her life is not without its challenges. Her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, formerly the kid from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Steven Spielberg, 1983; The Goonies, Richard Donner, 1985) is attempting to file for divorce and wants her to sign the papers.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Jurassic World Dominion

Director – Colin Trevorrow – 2022 – US – Cert.12a – 148m

***

Sixth Jurassic movie promises then dumps a plot where humans and dinosaurs co-exist in the modern world and instead heads for a secluded valley where numerous dinosaurs are kept by a dodgy corporation – out in cinemas on Friday, June 10th

There’s a long tradition in cinema of putting dinosaurs alongside humans, as if the dinosaurs on their own wouldn’t be enough to bring in audiences. This is nonsense of course: look no further than the TV series Walking With Dinosaurs (1999), Walt Disney’s Fantasia (segment directors: Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, 1940) or The Animal World (effects: Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, 1956), and the high regard in which they’re held, for proof.

The genius of Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) was to reconstruct the dinosaurs from their DNA, providing a much better reason to put both species side by side than the lost plateau of The Lost World (effects: Willis O’Brien, 1925), the lost island of King Kong (effects: Willis O’Brien, 1933), the lost valley of The Valley Of Gwangi (effects: Ray Harryhausen, 1969) or the cavemen and dinosaurs of One Million Years B.C. (effects: Ray Harryhausen, 1966).… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Swan Song

Director – Todd Stephens – 2021 – US – Cert. – 105m

***1/2

Tasked with creating an open casket hairdo for his deceased, former best client, a hairdresser worn down by care home institutionalism escapes to reinvent himself – out in cinemas on Friday, June 10th

A glamourous star on a stage playing to an audience of empty chairs, Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier) wakes up to the boring reality that he’s living on social security checks and wearing an old T-shirt and sweat pants in a care home in his small town of Sandusky, Ohio.

Still, he takes his pleasures where he can find them: stealing napkins from the dining room and obsessively folding them into squares a quarter of their original size, smoking ladies’ More brand cigars. The latter he lights two at once after turning the wheelchair of Gertie (Annie Kitral) – left out in the corridor – to face the window before giving her the second cigar, something in which she clearly takes pleasure despite near total paralysis.

Otherwise, though, he battles with his nurse Shaundell (Roshon Thomas) over adjusting his armchair cushion and, worse, smoking, a pleasure she forbids. He swallows a cigar to conceal the activity; she finds out and confiscates his stash.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Psycho

Director – Alfred Hitchcock – 1960 – US – Cert. 15 – 109 m

*****

A woman steals some money she’s supposed to bank at work and leaves town, winding up at a motel off the highway… where terrible events ensue – back out in cinemas on Friday, May 27th

(Warning: may contain spoilers.)

Often imitated, never equalled, Psycho sits so large in the firmament of cinema that it’s impossible to write about it as if seeing it for the first time. Hitchcock reused to admit cinemagoers after the film had started – a radical idea in a time when punters would show up, go in, watch ’til the end, watch from the point where they came in, then leave. “We won’t allow you to cheat yourself” ran the foyer blurb agreed between Hitch and Universal.

By the time I first saw the film, twenty years after its initial release on a BBC TV rerun some time in the eighties, I had seen clips of various scenes, probably in a BBC documentary about Hitchcock. Definitely the notorious shower scene. Probably the patrol man. Probably the staircase murder. Probably the skull lit by the swinging light bulb. Probably Norman as Mother saying, “she wouldn’t even harm a fly” with the briefest of lap dissolves to the human skull.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

a-ha The Movie

Directors – Thomas Robsahm, Aslaug Holm – 2021 – Norway, Germany – Cert. 12a – 108m

***

The rise and career of the enduring, three-piece, Norwegian band a-ha – out in cinemas on Friday, May 20th

Norwegian trio a-ha are arguably best known for two songs. They swept to fame on the strength of their first hit Take On Me, which features extensively in this documentary. They were later asked to do the title for Bond movie The Living Daylights (John Glen, 1987), which gets only a few minutes screen time somewhere in the middle here, so I’ll get that out of the way first. The band write their own material and found themselves having to work with legendary Bond composer John Barry as their producer on this gig who, as they saw it, was used to having musical input and getting his own way. They talk about recording the song in such a way as to get round him.

Perhaps what this best illustrates is that musicians (artists, composers, bands) often work and operate within their own sealed worlds and if they have to work with rivals, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In this instance, it doesn’t sound a good experience for either party.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Miami Blues

Director – George Armitage – 1990 – US – Cert. 18 – 97m

Fred Ward produced and starred in an adaptation of the first of Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley crime novels in 1990

****

Review from TNT magazine, March 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

To anyone already familiar with Charles Willeford’s hard-boiled novel Miami Blues, writer/director George Armitage’s screen version races through its opening so fast that numerous elements which set up what follows are omitted. Add to this the unlikely casting of Fred Ward (also one of the executive producers here) as Police Sergeant Hoke Moseley and Alec Baldwin as the killer Freddy Frenger Junior, and the end result is quite some distance from the original.

Frenger’s initial assault on a Krishna at Miami Airport – who dies of shock after his finger is broken by being bent backwards – is reduced to a one-off incident rather than an important link in Willeford’s complex chain of events. Prostitute/college student Susan Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), with whom Junior gets involved, is no longer the sister of the Krishna victim. Gone, too, are Junior’s observations about Japanese haikus, in which his readings of the Japanese poems reveal his utter paucity of vision.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Tremors

Director – Ron Underwood – 1990 – US – Cert. 15 – 96m

*****

Review from TNT magazine, June 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

If Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) was Jaws In Outer Space, Tremors is Jaws In The Nevada Desert. As such, the film represents a return to the production values of the desert bound sci-fi of fifties alien invasion staple It Came From Outer Space (Jack Arnold, 1953). In place of the shark from Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) is a species of malevolent giant worm which burrows under the earth like something out of Frank Herbert’s Dune (most recent version: Denis Villeneuve, 2021).

It’s never explained where these monsters have come from, but then you tend not to worry about such things when one of them is about to knock down your home. Hapless victims disappear into sudden holes formed in the sand like a rerun of Blood Beach (Jeffrey Bloom, 1980); then muppet-like snakes grab people, bite them, and tug them under the ground, finally the full-grown beasties get to attack.

Producer-writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson plunder numerous other sources too, but the emerging whole is infinitely better than the sum of its parts.… Read the rest