Tale of Tales (DVD Review)

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15 – 134mins – 2015


In the kingdom of Darkwood, the King of Longtrellis (Cedar Rapids‘ John C. Reilly) must slay a seabeast and feed its heart to his barren Queen (Salma Hayek) to guarantee her pregnancy. In the adjacent kingdom of Highmountain, the widowed sovereign (Toby Jones) must find a suitor for his highly-strung teenage daughter (Bebe Cave), whilst he secretly keeps a giant steak-fed flea as a pet. Won over by the singing voice of an aged crone (Hayley Carmichael), the randy King (Vincent Cassel) of the neighbouring kingdom of Stronghold is disgusted with his choice of partner – but can magic held transform her into the perfect royal bride (Stacy Martin)?

… Keep Scuttling!

Porco Rosso (DVD Review)

PG – 94mins – 1992



“I don’t fight for honour – I fight for a pay check!”

Italian WWI ex-fighter pilot Marco Rossolini (Michael Keaton) is an anti-fascist now living as a hostage-rescuing freelance bounty hunter, spending his days chasing “air pirates” in his Savoia S.21 above the Adriatic Sea. Written and directed by Studio Ghibli head Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso is based on his own 3-part Manga, Hikōtei Jidai, and could easily pass as an ode to history and aviation, were it not for the fact that the lead character is cursed by “divine punishment” into the form of an anthropomorphised pig!

“God was telling you it wasn’t your time yet…”

Despite this single concession to fantasy, Porco Rosso is otherwise fairly geographically and historically accurate, with a surplus of politically-charged dialogue giving it the air of a satire. It’s a pity that a succession of “outsider” quips and tiresome “pig-headed” wordplay diminishes any deeper and more complex subtext by overstating the ‘pigs might fly’ comedy. In my opinion, that’s a single joke stretched waaaay too far.

Elsewhere there are flashes of sensitivity and sympathy (“Maybe I’ve just run out of tears,”), even if Keaton dubs Rocco with suave indifference. Irritatingly, there are also further glimpses of some outmoded sexism (“Don’t you have any males relatives?”; “We’re not baking a cake here,”) – but at least, unlike Ocean Waves, this was set in a less open-minded time period.

As is to be expected from the Japanese anime giants, the film is animated gorgeously, however some overly cartoonified injury detail does diminish the honour of Porco’s climatic dual-cum-bareknuckle-fistfight with love rival Curtis (Cary Saw Elwes). Nevertheless, Porco Rosso’s charm carries it through; this is still more swell than swill – and I’m not bacon that up! Ahem.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

Youth (DVD Review)

15 – 119mins – 2015



“Fear… that’s an amazing sense, too, you know?”

A 5 star Alpine holiday resort is the sole setting for this patchwork portrait of the assorted guests – some famous, some not; some friendly, some not – who use the Swiss spa’s first-rate facilities to recuperate and reflect on the state of their seasoned lives.

Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel lead a hefty ensemble cast as Fred and Mick, two lifelong friends approaching their twilight years. While retired composer Fred (Caine) resists the resurrection of his most famous work on the grounds of “personal reasons,” movie director Mick (Keitel) is disparately desperate for his next project to be a real return to form – even if he and his team of screenwriters are struggling to agree on the best final scene.

Amongst the other vacationers comprising this “melodic cacophony” are discontent actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Ruby Sparks Dano), Fred’s distraught daughter, Lena Ballinger (Rachel Weisz), who has just been jilted by her husband for pop star Paloma Faith (who gamely plays herself for the second time on film following Peter & Wendy), and a less-than-ditzy Miss Universe (Mādālina Diana Ghenea). Essentially, what rings true is that even flawed individuals make enthralling subjects.

Slow, mournful, whimsical and often verging on the surreal, Academy Award-winning Italian director Paolo Sorrentino has crafted a poignant-but-perplexing think-piece on love, loss, betrayal and age in Youth. At times it is – to quote from the film – “simple… but beautiful” while at others it is almost maddeningly grotesque and impenetrable in its cunning creativity.

Whether you find the content joyous or horrific, praise must be paid to Youth’s sublime jukebox soundtrack, which right from the opening cover of Florence + the Machine’s “You’ve Got the Love” frequently commands the visuals, making Sorrentino’s English language follow-up to 2013’s The Great Beauty feel like an elegantly edited music video.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

Ratman (DVD Review)

18 – 82mins – 1988


I was compelled to sniff out this trashy 80’s Italian slasher after listening to uproarious podcast The 80s PictureHouse savagely maul it to death on day four of their recent “12 Days of Crapmas” series. How could a gore-fest about an escaped rat-monkey hybrid – played by the smallest actor in the world, The Island of Dr. Moreau’s Nelson de la Rosa – not be an insanely entertaining, if tasteless, guilty pleasure?!

Sadly, not even gratuitous nudity and genre stalwarts David Warbeck (The Beyond), Eva Grimaldi and Janet Agren (City of the Living Dead) can save director Giuliano Carnimeo’s exploitation abomination from single-star shame. I’m sure a combination of booze and buddies would lead to a riotous viewing experience (at the film, rather than with it), but sober and alone I was all too aware of the dubious effects, lame production values, logic-void script and atrocious dubbing!

But Ratman’s biggest crime is its scandalous underuse of its trump card. Pint-sized de la Rosa surely is the film, yet for the entire first half of this diminutive sub-90minute creature feature, he is granted less than a minute’s screen time!! And when he eventually is seen in all his 72cm glory (emerging from a toilet bowl, no less), the shoddy make-up job presents him as a joke (abnormally giant rodent gnashes being the worst offenders) rather than the uncanny, scurrying murderous mutant maniac “Mousey” is.

So it’s a parody, then, fully embracing its grotesque wackiness? Well… no. Because despite seemingly basking in the ludicrousness of it all – and employing an ingeniously revolting tagline: “He’s the Critter from the Shitter” – Ratman is played straight, preferring to gross us out with profuse video nasty-grade slaughter rather than hamming up the surreal angle. Therefore any ham is unintentional and clearly a fault of the lacklustre budget and *ahem* talents of those behind the lens.

The fact the long-unreleased region 2 DVD is distributed by a company called Shameless Screen Entertainment should have been a big enough hint (even they gamely rip it to shreds on the blurb). Podcast presenters and cheesy film aficionados Dave and Thom also did their utmost to warn listeners away from this forgotten stinker. But like a rodent to cheese I was drawn in like a salivating patsy… and sadly struck by the trap.

D-rat, man!

CR@B Verdict: 1 star