Tag Archives: film review

November Bonus Review: Event Horizon

This November, we’re going to look at a film that bombed. But, we’ve looked at other films that didn’t do well when they came out. The brilliant John Carpenter film The Thing didn’t make much of a profit and the Black Cauldron lost a lot of money but was pretty solid. Maybe this one also has a good amount of merit in spite of flopping harder than a sumo wrestler in a diving competition.

Event Horizon.png

Story:

Our narrative begins with a bunch of background text before moving into a rescue mission. The titular Event Horizon went missing seven years ago during a test of an experimental drive that allows it to circumvent light speed. Now, it’s reappeared. The rescue vessel Lewis and Clark, is sent along with the scientist who created the drive to save the crew and bring the ship back.

To the film’s credit, it starts out pretty well. There’s a compelling mystery of what happened aboard the Horizon and with the hallucinations. The issue of having a limited time to get off the Horizon provides some strong tension. And the lack of any defined monster or slasher killer and having very little in terms of blood or gore makes for a nice change.

Unfortunately, the last third of the film happens. This is where it succumbs to bad Hollywood horror clichés. This is where we get the absurd, over the top gore that’s not scary in the slightest, just kind of gross. This is where we get a big, bad antagonist who wants to murder everyone. And this is where the mystery of the Horizon is answered in the dumbest way possible. In fact, I’m going to spoil it because I have ranting to do about this. So, if you don’t want spoilers, now is the time to stop reading.

Now, there are lots of explanations that could have been used for what happened with the Horizon. Some kind of psychic entity integrated with the ship and wants to goad the crew of the Clark into getting killed to absorb their neural energy. There’s an unknown pathogen that’s caused all the side effects they’ve experienced. The Horizon’s computer fused with the mind of a member of its crew and the chimera is subconsciously trying to repel the Clark’s crew like they were a virus. But no, one of those could be unique and interesting if well execute.

No, the true explanation is that the Horizon quite literally went to hell and now the ship has a demon in it that wants to bring yet more people back to hell for torture. It’s like the plot you’d get in one of those old, deliberately schlocky B-films. And there’s no potential for anything interesting since it’s just a force of pure evil.

Characters:

The most interesting part of the characterisation is Captain Miller butting heads with Doctor Weir. Which does lead to some interesting moments. Unfortunately, most of the crew aren’t all that interesting. You’ve got the mother, the young innocent, the more hard-nosed one and a bunch of other stereotypes.

Cinematography, Visual Effects:

The first two thirds start out pretty promising. The effects look pretty damn good for the late 90s. The futuristic technology provides a neat little spectacle. The barren, dingy atmosphere aboard the Horizon makes for a strong horror backdrop. Then the last third devolves into absurd, over the top gore. The eyes sewn shut thing especially just looks silly.

Acting and Music:

You can’t really fault the actors in this. Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill in particular deliver some strong performances. Even the more underwritten characters are pretty well performed. Michael Kamen’s soundtrack is pretty nicely composed as well.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. A better solution to the mystery. Seriously, in a situation where you had hundreds of more interesting possible solutions, you chose to just go with hell.
  2. Give the characters a bit more depth. If that means you have to have one or two fewer characters, it’s worth it.
  3. Leave out or minimise the gore effects. This is a case where having less makes what you do have so much more effective.

Final Thoughts:

This one had potential, but the final third just dived straight into bad trope territory. I’ll credit the film with subverting some clichés, having some strong elements to its build up and some other fairly impressive elements. Such as the music and the acting. Unfortunately, Phillip Eisner’s writing just couldn’t sustain it in the end. So, I’m giving it a 4/10.

April Bonus Review: Journey to Dinosaur Island

Journey to Dinosaur Island is a 2014 British-Australian film spear-headed by Australian film maker, Matt Drummond and distributed by Arclight. I’m always up for a film about dinosaurs, so let’s get into it.

Dinosaur Island.png

Story:

We open with our hero, Lucas, in his science class. His teacher gets annoyed by him talking to a friend and calls upon him to give the lesson. Which Lucas is able to do, coming from a Science family and knowing a great deal about Geology. This does not please his teacher, who expected him to fail so he could castigate him for wasting time in front of the entire class. Because that’s the sign of a great teacher, wanting your students to be ignorant. We cut to Lucas visiting his grandmother’s old house with his mum. There, he finds a strange crystal. Which he decides to take with him on a plane trip. There’s some turbulence. The crystal glows. The next thing Lucas knows, he’s on a strange island full of relics from other times, including real live dinosaurs.

In terms of the narrative, the biggest issue is that the plot meanders a bit once it gets going. It moves from one point to the next to the next and so on without always giving the current plot time to breathe and develop. Which makes the pacing feel a bit rushed.

I do appreciate the premise. The idea of objects, people and animals getting displaced in time and all ending up in the same spot is great. I also like the twist. It is kind of obvious, but this is also a family film and it’s really well handled. The ending is great and there are a lot of good scenes.

Characters:

For most of the film, the only three characters are Lucas, Kate and Mimos. Kate is a highly intelligent young woman from the past who’s been on the island for a while. Mimos is her pet Sinornithosaurus. She named him that due to his uncanny ability to mimic sounds he’s heard. I’ll give the film credit here, Lucas and Kate have a really strong dynamic. They’re also both pretty well fleshed out characters. I will also say that Mimos is fantastic just in general. He’s so bloody adorable. The film is also very good at using Mimos strategically. They don’t just throw him into every scene. They use him at just the right moments to make him a lovable mascot without making him over-used.

The rest of the characters, not so much. The side characters in general have very specific purposes that they do and not much personality aside from that. Which is fine. They don’t exactly get much screen time and we don’t need to hear their life stories.

Cinematography, Visuals & Effects:

I’ve heard a lot of people bitch and moan because scientists have talked about dinosaurs having feathers and “they just don’t look as good like that.” And for those people, I would recommend this film. It has some of the best designed dinosaurs I’ve seen in any film and the majority of them are feathered. The T-rex, the raptors, Mimos, they all look fantastic. Obviously, it’s all done with CG but it’s very good looking CG. I also have to give Drummond credit, his shots are on point and the interactions with the CG creatures are pretty believable.

Dinosaur island1.png

Acting & Music:

The acting is well done. It’s not easy to persuasively interact with something that’s not actually there but both Darius Williams & Kate Rasmussen pull it off really well. They also really sell the dynamic between their characters. Chris Wright’s soundtrack is a bit standard but it’s fine. It works well enough.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Spend more time with some of the scenes. This might necessitate a longer film but I think it would really help flesh things out better.
  2. Flesh out Ernest’s character a bit. Overwhelmingly, the supporting characters don’t need more fleshing out. Ernest is an exception. Our heroes encounter him when they’re taken prisoner. He tells Lucas how to escape the island. Then they escape and leave him behind. Which really bothers me. First off, why would he just share that information? He doesn’t really gain anything from it. Secondly, why don’t they help him escape too? And what happens to him afterwards?
  3. Maybe a bit more interaction with Lucas and his dad. We see what things are like with Lucas and his mum because they go to is grandma’s house together. We only see his dad for a minute at the very end.

Final Thoughts:

For a family friendly film involving dinosaurs, there aren’t many better than this. It’s a strong adventure with some well written characters and amazing effects. Yes, there are some things that could be done better but I’m also saying that as a cynical adult. If I’d first watched this as a kid, I probably would have been re-watching it constantly like I did with both Rescuers films, The Land Before Time & Flipper. I’ll give it a solid 8/10. If you’re looking for a dinosaur film for yourself, a young relative or both I’d recommend it.

March Bonus Review: The Little Mermaid

Before I begin, let me explain what happened last week. I had some PC problems and I basically ended up without a working one from early Tuesday until early Saturday. Which basically translated to me missing all my usual update times. So, this week I’ll put up two anime reviews with the extra probably going up on Saturday. Now, with the elephant properly addressed, let’s move on.

Little Mermaid.png

When I reviewed The Black Cauldron a couple months back, one of the things I noted was that, unlike this film, it’s not one of Disney’s atrocious offerings. Well, I knew I’d have to extrapolate on that eventually. And today, is that day.

Story:

So, we know the basic story. A mermaid falls for a human, trades her voice and possibly her freedom for legs & a cloaca in order to woo him. That’s right, Ursula doesn’t give her a proper human body. That’s canon.

So, what exactly makes this film so bad? Well, let’s start by talking about the motivation problem. Say what you want about Disney’s early heroines like Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora or Maid Marian. Say they’re boring damsels with nothing better to do than wait for their respective Princes to come to their rescue. But, one thing all of them have over Ariel, is that they’re in bad situations through no fault of their own. They get cursed, kidnapped or forced to do nothing but chores by their wicked stepmother.

Ariel, in contrast, lives a charmed life. She’s a princess in a great undersea kingdom. She has family and friends who love her. Her dad even lets her go to Hominid-con with her weird fake legs provided she follows some fair boundaries. But she feels unsatisfied because she wants to go up to dry land and have free reign of thirty percent of the planet instead of seventy. Plus her dad has rules and she’s sixteen so she considers that totally bogus. Basically, she has the same issues as Blanda in the second series of SAO.

The second problem, which ties into the first, is that Ariel directly causes all of her own misfortunes. The first thing we see her do is shirk off an obligation in order to almost get eaten by a shark. After that she decides she’s totally in love with a human she spied on for five minutes and actually interacted with for thirty seconds. And by interacted with, I mean she pulled him ashore so he wouldn’t drown. And in order to chase after that human dick she’s been craving, she basically puts herself in a hugely perilous situation by taking a contract from the sea witch who everyone with multiple brain cells should know isn’t trustworthy. Ursula even gives her an advantage by taking away her voice so her stupid, vapid mouth noises won’t immediately ruin her chances. That’s sporting of her.

Then there’s the third major narrative problem. The romance is shite. Yeah, there’s not much romance for Snow White, Aurora or Cinderella either since they basically marry the boring dudes who rescue them from their lousy situations but at least these guys do something for them. Ariel just sees her boring prince and decides she’s sick of the Mermen at Hominid-con with their fake human bits, she wants a real human dick. You could seriously replace Prince Whatever Who Cares with any decent looking dude and it would all be the same. Princess Vapid would probably still totally fall for them too because this has as much in common with a love story as the Star Trek/ X-men crossover has in common with a psychological horror.

Another thing I have to bring up is messaging. Most media for children is trying to convey some kinds of messages for the audience. Usually, I don’t talk about it because it’s basic stuff like “follow your dreams” or “even if you seem small, you can make a difference if you try.” In this case, I’ll make an exception because any possible message you can take from this film is horrible when you think about it for five seconds. Is the message “When you’re a teenager you know what’s best and your parents need to acknowledge it?” Maybe it’s “If you get yourself in a serious mess, Daddy will bail you out. Don’t worry about it.” Perhaps the message is “That attractive person you’ve never spoken to but you’ve been stalking totally wants you. You just need to get close to them and make it happen.” Or how about “Shady contracts always work out for the person who signs them because if someone’s trying to trick you, they’ll get their comeuppance.”

Characters:

Here’s another major issue with this film. The most likeable character, is the villain. Which shouldn’t happen since Disney villains tend to be very much evil for the evils. Then we notice who she’s up against. Ariel is a useless vapid cunt. Flounder is the obnoxious sidekick character. Although he’s probably delicious with some butter, a little lemon and pepper. Sebastian is the over-indulgent nursemaid. King Triton would be a decent enough character, since he’s just a dad trying to do what’s best for his daughter but they fuck it up at the end where he decides that he’s had enough of her shit and he just lets her go off to make the boring Prince’s life miserable.

Art & Visuals:

I do have to give the film credit in this regard. They did a good job of designing a magical underwater kingdom and a lot of the undersea scenes where they’re just showing the ocean life swimming around look good. The only serious problem with the art is that the final action sequence is pretty anti-climactic.

Acting & Music:

As a whole, the acting is basically competent. Jason Marin’s performance is annoying but that’s also a product of his character being that type. Jodi Benson is also pretty obnoxious to listen to, but that’s not so much her acting as it is the fact that every stupid thing that comes out of Ariel’s mouth makes you want to punch her. I don’t condone beating sixteen year old girls, but if I had to deal with her for an extended period of time I would be sorely tempted.

Some of the music is pretty catchy with the obvious examples being Under the Sea & Part of Your World. That being said, they are not good songs. Part of your World, in particular, has some stupid lyrics. Take this part:

Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters

Bright young women

sick of swimmin’

Ready to stand

First off, you sometimes have to reprimand your child. Even when they’re a teenager because teenagers think they know more than they actually do. Secondly, you are not bright, Ariel. Every single thing you say and do indicates that you would lose a battle of wits to a toothbrush. You’re the type of person you could keep occupied for days by handing a slip of paper with “turn over” written on both sides. Third, these last couple lines make no sense. It would be like me saying I’m sick of walking and ready to hover.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Give Ariel and Prince Whatever a developed relationship. Instead of her falling for him after stalking his ship for five minutes, have them actually sneak out to meet one another as an ongoing thing. You can fix the whole Ursula thing by having Ariel trade her appearance and voice. You can even still make her pretty. You can make the impetus him saying that he has to find a bride within a short frame of time. That gives more motivation behind why Ariel would risk so much for him. And by more, I mean any.
  2. Make Ariel older. Seriously, a lot of Triton’s perfectly reasonable boundaries become less reasonable if she’s, say, nineteen and an actual adult. Which makes for a more interesting, nuanced discussion.
  3. Have Ariel display actual intelligence and gratitude for what she has. That would go a long way in making her not a horrible character.

Final Thoughts:

So, that’s why The Little Mermaid is a rubbish film. It may actually be Disney’s worst big budget animated feature. If it’s not, I either haven’t seen the film that is or I can’t remember it. I’ll give it some credit for the competent acting and for having some nice visuals, but I’m not going to give it a whole lot given how egregiously terrible the writing is. I’m giving it a 2/10.

February Bonus Review: Saving Face

Saving Face is an American romantic comedy from 2004. It was written and directed by Alice Wu. It was produced by Destination, which was also one of the producers for D.E.B.S. So, that’s probably a good sign. Let’s take a look.

Saving Face.png

Story:

Wilhelmina Pang has a promising career as a surgeon and a fairly close relationship with her mother and grandparents. There’s just one problem, her mum keeps trying to push her together with random dudes and she’s gay. Don’t you hate it when your parents try to set you up with people you have no interest in? My mum used to try that on me all the time with girls from her church. Things become more difficult for Wil when her mother unexpectedly gets pregnant and gets kicked out of her grandparent’s house. After all, her husband’s been dead for years and no one knows who the baby’s father might be. The scandal. Naturally, her mum’s only recourse is to come live with her. And just when Wil is falling for the beautiful dancer Vivian Shing.

The story is basically about different kinds of cultural taboos and finding acceptance for who you are. Both Wil and her mum are experiencing different sets of problems. Wil is trying to hide who she is from the Chinese-American community around her out of fear of becoming an outcast while her mum is learning what it’s like to be an outcast and trying to recover from her own scandal.

One thing I appreciate about the film is that there is a lot of nuance surrounding the community and their reactions. Wil has a male friend who knows she’s gay and actively helps her avoid the guys her mum is trying to hoist on her. Vivian’s parents know that she’s gay and they’re very supportive of her, especially her mother. Wil has more difficulty because her family is more traditional. The only relative we see of hers who I suspect would just accept her is her grandmother.

I also like the sense of humour the film has. Wil’s mum goes to a video rental place to try to find Chinese films and gets directed to pornography in one really funny scene. There’s another where Wil’s neighbour, Jay, comes over to eat and her mum hilariously misunderstands basic knowledge of melanin. Jay is just an amusing character in general. He’s quirky, but in a more realistic, under-stated way as opposed to the more overblown “comedic sidekick” way. The ultimate reveal of who the father of Hwei-lang Gao’s baby actually is is nicely done. It’s one of those reveals you don’t really see coming but it makes perfect sense in hindsight. The romance betwixt Wil & Vivian is really well handled and the obstacles they face have a strong relatability to them. I also appreciate that Wil trying to keep things from her family is not the biggest problem they have. The ending is superb too.

The one criticism I have with the film’s writing is that things might go a little too easily for Wil after her coming out scene. That scene itself is really phenomenal and the mum’s reaction is pretty heart-breaking but, after that, things just kind of wind up going a bit too easy considering.

Characters:

The characters in this are spectacular. Wil & Vivian are amazing. Their interactions and the tension between them are excellent. Hwei-lang Gao, Wil’s mum, is a great character. I freaking love Jay.

Probably the biggest thing that makes the cast in general phenomenal is that every character has very human faults but they’re also all portrayed in a fairly positive, generous light. Even the scenes where a character is at their worst still let you see their vulnerable, human side. For example, Wai Po comes across as a little cruel when he kicks his daughter out of his home for becoming pregnant without a husband, but it’s also clear that he’s worried about losing the esteem of his community and he sees what she’s done as a disgrace both to her and to him.

Cinematography, Visuals & Effects

The film is superbly directed. The scenes are shot just perfectly in order to gain maximum impact. Especially the early scenes with Wil & Vivian where they’re conveying attraction between the two in spite of them having not really talked or having barely talked. I also appreciate that Wil and Vivian’s love making scenes are tastefully done. Good on Alice Wu.

Acting & Music:

The acting is top-notch. Lynn Chen & Michelle Krusiec are perfect as the leads. Ato Essandoh, Brian Yang, Guang Lan Koh, Jin Wang & Joan Chen are all great. The musical score is really well done too.

Areas of Improvement:

Honestly, it’s tough to come up with three things because the film is so good. So, a lot of these will be very minor.

  1. Have more build up for Hwei-lang Gao’s change of heart. Like I said, she changes her mind and comes around too easily.
  2. Maybe have some more Jay scenes. Since he is great.
  3. Maybe a little more courtship between Wil & Vivian. Since their relationship does move a bit fast.

Final Thoughts:

Saving Face may be the best romantic comedy film I’ve ever seen. Not just because of the relationship, but because of how it engages with its culture, incorporates the writer/director’s own experiences and provides very strong characters. Ultimately, my one real complaint with it isn’t even that major. So, I’ll give it a 10/10.

December Bonus Review #3: The Black Cauldron

Disney may be one of the world’s most famous studios but it’s not one I’ve looked at all that much, unless you want to count all the Marvel reviews I’ve done. It’s pretty much been The Rescuers. So, let’s look at another Disney feature. The Black Cauldron was released in 1985 and it was a huge commercial failure and it’s probably the film Disney likes to acknowledge the least. Yes, even less than Song of the South. Now, I never saw this film as a kid. I wasn’t born yet when it came out and its flop status basically meant that it wasn’t one of those “classics” that was released a thousand times and made available everywhere. So, let’s take a look at the film and ask two questions. First, does it deserve its negative reputation? Second, why did it bomb so badly?

Black Cauldron.png

Story:

We open with an explanation of what the titular Black Cauldron is. It’s a seal for an evil being who was feared even by the Gods. And those with wicked intentions seek to use its power for their own ends. We cut to a small farm where an elderly man and his assistant look after a pig. The assistant, Taran, wants to go out into the world as a soldier and stop the Horned King but is quickly reminded of his place. He’s washing the pig, Hen Wen, when she suddenly becomes agitated. It turns out she has the power of prophesy. The old man uses her power and becomes worried that the Horned King will find out. As such, he sends Taran off to hide with her and keep her safe. He’d go but he’s very old.

This results in Taran coming up against the Horned King and embarking on a quest to find the Black Cauldron to keep it out of wicked hands.

The biggest general issue with the story is the pacing. It never gives you time to sit with the main characters and get to know them. You pretty much go from one big event to the next pretty rapidly. If the film were even twenty minutes longer and had some time to breathe, it could have been legitimately an excellent film.

The film does provide you with an adventure. Even if it is hectically paced. There’s consistently something interesting happening. It also does a good job with tone. The film is considerably darker than other Disney films of the time but it’s never over done or poorly done. I quite appreciate the sacrifice scene towards the end as well. It has some power to it. I also like the way it works to give all its major characters a place in the party and moments to shine. In terms of fantasy films for a younger audience, this is up there.

Characters:

One side issue with the overly rapid pacing is that the characters don’t get as much development as I would like. That being said, they aren’t bad compared to a lot of the Disney films from that time. They’re at about the same level of complexity as Disney’s Robin Hood. 

One thing I will credit the film with is having the best Disney Princess of its time. Seriously, when this came out the Disney Princess formula was basically taking a helpless damsel, putting her into trouble outside of her control and letting the hero come to her rescue. See Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty & Maid Marian from Robin Hood. Princess Eilonwy, in contrast, takes an active role in the adventure and she meets Taran when she comes to his rescue. She’s portrayed as an equal partner in the adventure. Even if you compare her to all Disney heroines that existed at the time, Miss Bianca and Alice are the only two better characters and being number three is pretty respectable.

Art & Visuals

Here’s another area where you have to give this film credit. It looks stunning. The art direction is very impressive. The movements are smooth. The backgrounds look great. The Horned King is intimidating and his Cauldron born are pretty damn creepy for the five minutes they’re on screen.

Acting & Music:

Most of the acting is decent enough. The positive exceptions to that are John Hurt, who is excellent as the villain and Susan Sheridan who gives a strong performance as Eilonwy. The big exception in a negative sense is, unfortunately, Grant Bardsley as Taran. His lines just come across as awkward and stilted half the time. It’s like he wasn’t sure whether or not to exaggerate for the film and he kind of starts to only to pull it back. And all without much of that troublesome emoting. Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is pretty fantastic.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Take some more time to develop the characters and their relationships. If there’s one thing that could have benefited this film more than any other, it’s more relaxed pacing. Like I said, I’d give it an extra twenty minutes of run time.
  2. A different lead to play Taran. I’m sorry, but Bardsley sucked.
  3. Explain about the magical tools a bit. Of our main characters, three either have or acquire magical implements and there’s not really an explanation for, say, what Eilonwy’s glowing bauble actually does. Or why the bard carries a magic harp that snaps its strings when he lies.

Final Thoughts:

Is this one of Disney’s worst films? Personally, I’d say it isn’t. Honestly, I thought it was pretty solid. It has some notable flaws, certainly, but it also has quite a few factors going for it. I’d certainly put it far above Disney’s shit films like The Little Mermaid. I’d also put it higher than the more mediocre films like The Aristocats. So, why didn’t it do well? I think the fact that it is darker than Disney’s other films of the time was a factor. It’s tough to pull off a departure like that. I would also say Bardsley’s performance was a part of it. It’s not easy to sell audiences on a character who sounds like that. The hectic pacing and the film’s high budget were probably also contributing factors. Still, I’d go so far as to give this one a 7/10. It’s not one of Disney’s best, but it’s pretty good. If you haven’t seen it and you like fantasy, give it a try.

December Bonus Review #2: A Hard Day’s Night

A Hard Day’s Night is a film from 1964. Directed by Richard Lester and starring the Beatles, as you may have surmised from the title, who were riding high at the height of Beatlemania Possibly from drugs as well. This was the era of hippies after all. In any case, let’s take a gander at the film.

Hard Day's Night.png

Story:

We open with The Beatles running from hordes of fans while the titular song plays. After a bunch of Benny Hill style shenanigans, they manage to reach their train. George, Ringo & John are surprised to find that Paul’s brought his granddad along. Paul describes him as a rascal and a troublemaker, but says he was asked to bring him because he needs a change of scenery. The film then follows the fab four as they try to get through their concert while dealing with fallout from the elder McCartney’s troublesome behaviour. It doesn’t help that the Beatles themselves are quite fond of causing shenanigans.

The biggest issue I have with the film, narratively, is with the concert at the end. It’s kind of a lazy series of scenes where we see the Beatles play parts of songs we’ve already heard in full in other parts of the film while they show crowd shots of young people, mostly women, going crazy. And we already know that the Beatles caused a lot of moistness/ hardness in their prime so that doesn’t really do much. Another bit that bothers me a little is the whole chase scene with law enforcement. The chase scene is quite funny. It just never gets any proper closure.

On the positive side, the film’s sense of humour is pretty spot on. The part with the crotchety old man on the train is fantastic. Seeing George Harrison get dragged into a fashion office and giving them a piece of his mind is a great scene. The whole interview where you hear them all give absurd answers to questions is hilarious. The back and forth between John and their fictional manager, Norm, is great. And the vast majority of the jokes do hold up really well. The big exception there is the ongoing gag about Paul’s grandfather being very clean. Which was a reference to a sitcom the actor did but I only know that because I looked up some information about the film. I’m totally going to use that as an example of why references don’t work as jokes from now on.

Characters:

The Beatles themselves are a lot of fun. They seem to be enjoying themselves and they do come across as highly charismatic, fun-loving lads. And I know the surviving band members are more than twice my age, but they were lads when this film was made. There are also some strong supporting characters for them to play off of. The grandfather’s trouble making serves to bring out a slightly more responsible part for the main cast. Which works nicely in allowing them to showcase a bit more depth.

Cinematography, Visuals and Effects

My big complaint, in terms of the visuals, is that the musical numbers they just sit and play are kind of boring and the lip-syncing that goes with them isn’t great. The film also features some songs that play while The Beatles engage in entertaining visual gags. The chase scene from the start and the field cavorting scene are both strong examples of that. And those musical scenes are amazing. The film does feature some strong visual gags as well.

Acting & Music:

The acting is really good, surprisingly so given that this was the band’s first foray into film. I think it does help that they’re just having a blast. The actors working alongside them are pretty clearly seasoned professionals and give strong performances as well. The songs are fantastic, as you would expect from the Beatles. There are classics like A Hard Day’s Night, Can’t Buy me love, And I love Her & She loves you to just name a few.

Areas of Improvement:

Time for everyone’s favourite segment, me talking about the specific things I’d change.

  1. Shorten the Concert scene. I already mentioned the problem with this scene but I also understand why they needed to show something for it. I’d just cut it down so you still get the idea but you aren’t sitting through so many segments of songs you’ve already heard.
  2. Give John and Norm some more scenes. Like I said, their trading jabs throughout the film is one of the best comedic parts. So, I’d play it up a bit more.
  3. Less Sitting, more action in musical numbers. Like I said, the best musical numbers are the ones where they’re actually doing something during while those that feature them sitting down and playing are a bit boring, even with the good music. So, I’d find some zany shenanigans for them to get up to during more of these segments.

Final Thoughts:

For its time, this was a very influential film that set the standard for what a musical film should be. Over fifty years later, it holds up pretty well. The comedic elements largely work, the music is classic, and it’s just a lot of fun. I’ll give it a solid 7/10.

October Bonus Review: The Thing

Since it’s October, I thought it appropriate to take a look at something horror themed for our bonus review. John Carpenter’s The Thing was not received well when it first came out in 1982. It was critically panned in such savage ways you’d think I had been alive and doing criticism back then. The odd thing about it is that, since then, it’s become known as a classic of horror. So, let’s take a look and see if we can figure out why that happened.

The Thing

Story:

We open with a Norwegian helicopter trying to chase down an adorable husky dog that’s running over the Antarctic tundra. The dog arrives at an American research station and they, naturally, come to its rescue. But the question remains, why were these Norwegians going to all this effort to try to kill a dog? The Americans decide to check their research station only to find it absolutely annihilated with some disturbing bodies straight out of an Ito Junji work. That’s when they discover the horrifying truth. The “dog” is actually a shape-shifting organism that absorbs other organisms into itself and takes on their forms. Now the scientists in the station don’t know who to trust versus who’s already the titular thing.

The worst thing I can say about the film is that some of the characters exit the story in kind of anti-climactic, abrupt ways. I wouldn’t say that’s worth severely panning the film over but it is something of a flaw.

In contrast, there are a lot of positive aspects to the film. It is very good at building up suspense and atmosphere. Right from the beginning, there is a subtle sense that something’s not kosher, and I’m not talking about Kurt Russell’s all shellfish diet, even before the evidence for what starts piling up. And one of the big factors that works in the film’s favour is that the major characters only see the Thing in its monstrous form when it makes a mistake or when they happen to walk in on it when it’s in the process of absorbing someone or something. And that’s much more effective than a monster that’s always in your face.

The scenario is quite ingenious as well. You could not make this scenario work anywhere besides a remote station in Antarctica. The Thing would have too many potential victims to realistically be stopped. There’s also an inherent sense of claustrophobia and paranoia that stems from having a small group trapped within a research station where they can’t escape and they don’t know who to trust. That makes for a strong source of tension. I also appreciate that the station’s crew, even though they are in a paranoid situation and don’t know who to trust, think rationally, make a lot of solid points during their discussion and work towards finding solutions. Save for one who figures out what the thing escaping could mean and goes slightly mad.

Characters:

This is another element where I can be a bit critical of the film. There’s not that much to the characters in general. To its credit, they’re several steps up from the token casts you get in most slasher films but that isn’t saying much. A lot of them are just kind of flat. Try describing characters like Norris, Palmer, Fuchs or Copper and there’s really not much to say.

Cinematography, Visual Effects:

Some of you youngsters may not remember this, but there was a point where visual effects were done using make up and other practical methods rather than CGI. I know, it’s hard to fathom but it’s true. And in that realm, The Thing is pretty damn extraordinary. For 1982, these effects were absolutely top of the line. Even by today’s standards, they look a lot better than most CG effects I’ve seen. And Rob Bottin was in his early 20s when he was working on these designs.

It also helps that this film knows how to use gore strategically. It’s not over the top, excessive or otherwise miss-handled. It’s there when it should be there. The scenes are just really well done.

Acting and Music:

There are three performances that really stand out. Kurt Russell as MacReady, Wilfred Brimley as Dr. Blair & Keith David as Childs. Although it is a little odd hearing Keith David knock Voodoo when we all know he’s got friends on the other side. All three of those blokes are fantastic in this. Ennio Morricones music is really good as well. It has a good amount of impact.

Final Thoughts:

So, why did The Thing get so much vitriol? Honestly, I think it’s that ET came out shortly before it and people were upset over a harsher, more pessimistic view of aliens contrasting with that film. Because, in terms of quality, this is a really good horror film. One thing you have to credit Carpenter with as a director, he knows what tools he has to make a horror film work and he knows how to use them so they have an effect without going overboard. And this film may very well be where he was at his absolute best. It also had top notch effects, great actors and a superb script from Bill Lancaster. Yeah, it has some minor issues but it’s still an excellent film. And I give it a 9/10.