Sunday, 14 August 2016

BOAT TRIP

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND DROPPED JAWS

Even with my colossally Cornish tin-mine-sized tin ear for comedy, I know the landscape of comedic offence changes over time. There are things you can get away with now that you couldn't then, and there are things you could get away with then that you really can't now. It's a bizarre thing that modern films can push the grossout level to ever more repulsive and puerile depths (Grimsby and The Interview being recent examples) but the depiction of black or gay characters has switched the other way: those casually negative stereotypes that were okay in the 1970s are liable to get you sued and/or fired now. That's clearly not a bad thing: we've clearly grown up to a part where we just don't go for easy laughs about sexuality or skin colour, and it's now something of a surprise when we see them in sitcoms from forty years past, even when the jokes are actually on the simple-minded bigots making them (as with Alf Garnett).

But surely, by 2002 we'd reached some position of enlightenment regarding "the gays"? Surely by that point there'd been a studio memo saying to stop doing that screaming camp queen character: it's disrespectful and demeaning and it's no longer funny (assuming of course that it ever was)? Stomping its way blindfold through the minefield of political correctness while wearing magnetic hobnail boots, Boat Trip has zero laughs, zero chuckles, and might at best rack up nearly two smiles if it was possibly to actually smile with your jaw sagging open.

Because of an altercation with the travel agent, two straight guys (Cuba Gooding Jr, who should know better, and Horatio Sanz, who is off Saturday Night Live and so probably doesn't) are maliciously booked onto an all-gay cruise. While Gooding's character has to pretend to be gay because he's fallen in love with the dance instructor (the only woman on board) and she's really looking for a Gay Best Friend, Sanz's character is a repulsive lech whose dreams suddenly come true when the ship picks up a lifeboat full of Scandinavian bikini models, because this film was clearly written by a thirteen-year-old boy. Will he ever manage to finally obtain actual congress with an actual woman? And will Gooding Jr extricate himself from his web of deceit that leads to him performing I'm Coming Out in a full-on gay cabaret sequence wearing a shiny gold vest, a thong and a headdress that's taller than he is?

Meanwhile none other than the mighty and noble Sir Roger Moore is prowling the ship, delivering his trademark eyebrow-raisers in his trademark manner (sample, at breakfast: "Would you like to...lick my sausage?") but directed at the guys this time, because it's apparently funny in an ironic post-Bond way, and it's a paid luxury holiday for the great man so what the hell. Lin Shaye is also on board as the bikini squad's fearsome coach, basically playing her as Rosa Klebb. In the midst of all this hilarity (for want of a better word, and there are several) it's a parade of cross-dressing, hysterical queens, banana fellating and assless chaps. If it hadn't already been taken they could have called it Carry On Cruising.

Is it offensive? Personally I'm not sure how much offence I should take on behalf of others, but if others did take offence at it I can certainly see why. I don't think it's being actively malicious and hateful, though; I suspect it's borne of stupidity rather than genuine hate. Midway through, the film suddenly feels the need to drop in a serious bit of character discovery as Sanz's horny imbecile realises that "hey, homosexuals are people too...", but then, having done what it thinks to be enough of the decent thing, hurriedly cuts back to references to I Will Survive and Liza With A Z and lots of buff men behaving like Richard Littlejohn's sweatiest nightmares. What's baffling isn't that Boat Trip is obviously a staggeringly bad idea that somehow got the greenlight, but that a large number of people, at least some of whom aren't halfwits, committed to spending several months refining it, rehearsing it, shooting it and putting it all together. Shocking in all the wrong ways, amusing in no way at all, and thoroughly ill-advised, but Sir James Bond suddenly dropping the second rudest of the rude words did make me reach for the rewind button.

*

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

THE NEON DEMON

CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS AND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE

Fittingly for a film about high-end fashion photography, the 2D image rules. Just as no glossy Summer Collection supplement is going to suggest that its models are anything other than blank, finely sculpted mannequins with perfect eyes and teeth and bottoms but the character and personality of a pebble, so Nicolas Winding Refn's arthouse horror thriller is equally unconcerned with the idea of his characters as plausible, relatable human beings. They're strategically posed in carefully composed and strikingly lit images, but you don't care about them any more than the dummies in Debenhams' windows. And if you don't care, what's the point?

Jessie (Elle Fanning) is sixteen and fresh off the bus, making unheard-of progress in the supermodel world thanks to her natural beauty, but stirring up jealousy from the plasticised Stepford dolls whose positions she's quickly usurping. Violence ensues, and the models have a terrifying fate in store for her - but first there's a giant cougar in her motel room, which is either an allegory of something or other (the horror of the Older Woman?) or more likely a non sequitur that goes nowhere. Keanu Reeves has fun as the sleazy motel manager, enthusing over the delights of the 13-year-old runaway in next door to Jessie: he's one of the few "real" people in the film but he's thoroughly despicable.

Our sympathies are more likely to sit with Ruby (Jena Malone), the make-up artist who befriends Jessie and who does manage to display some semblance of human individuality and emotion. until she has a gratuitous and revolting sex scene that has no dramatic, narrative or character purpose whatsoever and could have been cut completely at no cost to the film as a whole. [Side note: I do not subscribe to the Daily Mail's typically hysterical stance on The Neon Demon: they hadn't seen the film at that point, and my objections to That Scene are based on its lack of dramatic effect and not borne out of a combination of outdated moral hypocrisy and shrieking uncultured ignorance.]

So what's left? It looks beautiful and shiny with great use of bold, bright colour, and comparisons have been made to Dario Argento, with Cliff Martinez' tinkly electronic score supposedly echoing Goblin (though to me it sounds more like Jean-Michel Jarre). But for all that surface gloss and glitz there's very little else in there. Like Refn's heavily stylised previous films Drive and Only God Forgives, there's nothing inside the brightly wrapped packaging. You could argue it's a cautionary tale about the fashion modelling industry, and/or a Lynchian descent into Hell. Certainly it's got a finale that makes absolutely no sense and a pointless censor-baiting scene of outrageous depravity. Whatever: who cares?

**

Thursday, 14 July 2016

GHOSTBUSTERS

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND SURPRISE!

Yet another exception to the rule that Remakes Always Suck: granted some of them do, granted most of them do, but there are enough good ones to suggest that rule isn't as golden as it appears. A new Ghostbusters film has been on and off the cards for years, whether a reboot or a direct continuation of the two Ivan Reitman films from the 1980s. But as the years went by and the cast got older - no way could Bill Murray be even remotely credible pulling on the proton pack these days - it was increasingly unlikely that it would actually happen except as an unconnected reboot. That's pretty much what they've finally gone with and (huge sigh of relief) it's fine. It's not a masterpiece, it's not gutbustingly roll-in-the-aisles hilarious, but let's be honest: neither were the originals.

Just as the 1984 film had to assemble its team, so Paul Feig's shiny new female-led take has to bring together serious academic Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) with her old friend and former writing partner Abigail Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and brilliantly unhinged scientist/inventor Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon, for me the real star of the film) when they discover that ghosts are suddenly appearing all over New York. Someone is energising ley lines across the city to bring about The Fourth Cataclysm and allow legions of the undead through the portal to torment the living.... With feisty Patty (Leslie Jones) on the team and gloriously dim but hunky secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) back at the office, can they save the city from the erupting ghostpocalypse?

Of course they can. If Ghostbusters 2016 has a problem, it's the inexplicable need to constantly wink to the 1984 incarnation. So Slimer makes an appearance, Stay-Puft makes an appearance, the firehouse and familiar logo show up. Bill Murray has an enjoyable cameo, a cabbie says "I ain't afraid of no ghosts!" and the dialogue includes "mass hysteria" and "who're you gonna call?".  Even "Cats and dogs" gets reworked into a verbal comedy routine, and Ray Parker Jr's theme song is inevitably incorporated into Theodore Shapiro's romping orchestra and choir score. One or two nods to the fans can make a nice touch but it's overdone here. In addition, towards the end the film settles for ramaging citywide destruction which gets wearing and causes the laughs to dry up. Against that: it looks terrific (the colour looks to have been ramped up whereas a lot of movies seem to want to drain it out), it's largely good-natured and funny and the team dynamics work well. Plus, perhaps most importantly for a popcorn fantasy blockbuster, the numerous ghost effects are undeniably spectacular. (I saw it, as per usual, in the 2D version and yet again it didn't seem to be crying out for 3D.)

It also manages to get a few digs in about the internet saddo brigade. It's sad that Ghostbusters 2016 is going to be remembered, as much as anything, for angering a swathe of knuckle-dragging Neanderthal quarterwits whose proton-sized minds couldn't cope with the fact that women - actual female lady women - had unthinkably been cast as fictional characters doing fictional things in a reboot/remake of a good but scarcely classic comedy over thirty years old. Blasphemy! Look: if you were a kid when Ghostbusters 1984 came out and you loved it, then great - but that means you're probably around 40 years old now, so stop whining and grow up. GB2016 isn't as funny as Spy, Paul Feig's last big-screen comedy during which I did genuinely laugh out loud in the cinema a couple of times, though that was more likely due to Miranda Hart and Jason Statham rather than Melissa McCarthy, of whom I am still not a fan (and she annoyed the hell out me in The Heat). But I had more than enough fun with it and I never felt short-changed: whatever's wrong with it, it's still as enjoyable as just about any movie I've seen this year. The post-credits sting might be a setup for a sequel, or just one final extra gag.

****

SHOCKWAVE DARKSIDE

PROBABLY DOESN'T CONTAINS SPOILERS; TO BE HONEST IT'S HARD TO BE SURE

Huuhh....? Whaa....? Seldom does a movie come down the river that's so irredeemably wretched in all - ALL - departments that it robs you of the power of speech, leaving you staring at the end credits unable to form any kind of sound other than Cro-Magnon grunts. (Menahem Golan's future-disco religious musical The Apple achieved much the same effect with me, but in completely the opposite way.) Rotten movies are everywhere, but at least when they're finished you're still able to shout actual words, even if they're just swearing. Not so with this inexplicable SF mess that alternates between CGI effects The Syfy Channel would think at least twice about, incoherent action sequences and endless jabbering about the philosophy of religion, the morality of war and how to make synthetic chicken soup.

Thanks to a combination of barely legible caption screens, shoddy sound recording and a lack of basic exposition in the script, it's hard to be certain exactly what's going on, but sometime in the future there are faith colonies on the dark side of the Moon which are fighting wars against the Unlights - a breed of armoured Battlestar Galactica robots seeking out the humans. (Earth has been left in the hands of secular society and people of any faith have been banished to the moon to eke out their miserable existences.) Following an assault on one of their bases, a gang of assorted badass types have 36 hours to get themselves across unmapped Unlight territory to a rescue site. The catch is that they only have 28 hours of oxygen, so they need to conserve and ration that precious air supply....

So why the hell don't they shut the hell up and get a move on? Instead they stand around, blathering nonsensically, filling in their characters' entirely unnecessary backstories and wasting precious oxygen with their prattling, or wandering aimlessly off into the darkness. Half of it's indecipherable anyway because they're all in spacesuits and the dialogue track is not favoured in the sound mix. Eventually the drama (ha!) comes to a ludicrously contrived moral dilemma about whether to arbitrarily nuke a city full of civilians as the film lurches into head-spinning Origins Of Mankind speculation and then stops.

Occasionally reminiscent of the rubbish Starship Troopers sequel Hero Of The Federation in its cheapness, Shockwave Darkside (listed as just Darkside on the DVD box) is shockingly poor. Quite why it was originally in 3D is anyone's guess since almost the entire movie takes place in near darkness anyway, and consists mostly of walking or standing against unremarkable backgrounds, so the light loss of the 3D projector and the 3D glasses would probably render the entire image entirely invisible. (Slapping graphic displays over great chunks of it as first-person POV from within the computer-augmented space helmets doesn't make anything clearer, and mercifully the DVD is only in 2D anyway.) Very short on action and very long on babble, full of people you'd probably hate if you could ever bring yourself to care, it's as bad a way of comprehensively wasting an evening as you'll find.

*

Saturday, 9 July 2016

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND WAKE ME UP WHEN IT'S OVER

Destructo-porn has surely now reached a critical mass and blown itself up. No longer is the blowing up of an office block or an airliner enough; no longer is the trampling of a major city a sufficiently jaw-dropping experience. Since the original Independence Day started the trend of increasingly convincing and photorealistic depictions of major world landmarks being merrily trashed, if you're not reducing Earth's top tourist attractions to CGI rubble you might as well be making Woody Allen movies. In the last twenty years, Roland Emmerich has smashed up various cities (Independence Day), stomped across New York (Godzilla), frozen most of the Northern Hemisphere (The Day After Tomorrow) and set the entire planet hurtling towards a Mayan-prophesied extinction (2012). It's no longer enough to have aliens flatten a major city; now you have to take that city across to the other side of what's left of the world and drop it on Central London. While Jeff Goldblum flies through it in a spaceship.

Independence Day: Resurgence boasts the very definition of a plotline that could be written on the back of a fag packet. Twenty years to the day after the aliens showed up in Independence Day, they show up again. (Quite why these aliens have stuck so rigidly to Earth's calendar, right down to the American holiday schedule, is left unexplored.) Both the aliens and the humans have spent the interim preparing for a rematch: we've come together as one humanity to build huge laser guns on the Moon and somewhere out near Saturn, while the aliens have constructed continent-sized motherships with which they can drill down to the Earth's molten core and suck it out to use as fuel. Can the heroes of yesterday overcome the even more desperate odds and win the day again?

What's really surprising is that with so much orgasmic destruction, Independence Day: Resurgence is so calamitously dull. Stupid, nonsensical, clunky, and dull. No-one should seriously expect great depth of character or narrative from a summer blockbuster sequel, but for an estimated hundred and sixty five million dollars one should expect something with slightly more substance than a Cillit Bang commercial. Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner and Jeff Goldblum show up in their old roles doing their schtick, just a bit greyer, hairier, grouchier and Goldblummier. Meanwhile, youth is represented by a bunch of shiny cardboard cutouts of absolutely no interest whatsoever, including Jessie T Usher as a young Will Smith because the old Will Smith wanted too much money.

For all the whizzy spaceships and alien monsters, for all the incident and chaos, for all the stuff that's constantly zapping around the screen, it's no fun. It's big (way bigger than the last one, as the characters never stop reminding us), it's loud, it's dumb, but there's no joy to be had. The wild thrill of seeing the White House blown up by alien space lasers was partly down to the fact that we really hadn't seen that sort of thing before. Since then, we've seen the world trashed so often by Emmerich, Michael Bay, Zack Snyder and others that it's a surprise when Independence Day: Resurgence deliberately doesn't knock the White House down again. Even using some of David Arnold's brasstastic score for the original Independence Day, it just reminds you how much more enjoyable it all was the first time around, before this sort of thing got tired. Goldblum is always worth watching, even if he's only turning up for the cheque, and it's surprisingly short (a mere 120 minutes), but actual pleasures are thin on the ground.

**

Monday, 20 June 2016

GODS OF EGYPT

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Though it looks like another entry in the school of Ancient Times fantasy that's been floating around in recent years with such CGI-laden twaddle as Clash Of The Titans (and its sequel), Immortals, Prince Of Persia and The Scorpion King, Gods Of Egypt is also an entry in the Ludicrously Expensive Blockbuster Nonsense genre alongside John Carter and Jupiter Ascending: films that are wild and wayward and full of spectacular visual whizzbang but which don't make a ton of sense. I'm actually a fan of this kind of overbudgeted folly so for all its faults (major league hamming, astonishingly clunky dialogue, some new computer-generated monster or cityscape every twelve seconds), Gods Of Egypt actually passed fairly painlessly. It's not any good but if you can get past the film's problems there is massive dumbo fun to be had.

Much has already been written about how it's another exercise in Hollywood "whiting up", in which all the main parts are played by actors from everywhere in the world except Egypt: there's no-one who is, or even looks, Middle Eastern or North African. Given that most of the characters are not actually native Egyptians but ancient Gods who can transform at will into flying metal animals and who have liquid gold for blood, they don't have to look Egyptian (whatever that even means), and could frankly be played by the Teletubbies for all the ethnic accuracy that's required. Even if the Gods are actually played by humans, an unexplained Australian or Scottish accent isn't going to be the point at which the film suddenly lurches into far-fetched idiocy, since that was its starting point.

At some point "before history", Egypt is ruled by Osiris (Bryan Brown, briefly), set to pass the crown on to his son Horus, Lord Of The Air (Nikolai Coster-Waldau). But Horus' brother Set, Lord Of The Desert (Gerard Butler) interrupts the ceremony, kills Osiris and takes power himself, leaving a blinded Horus exiled in a tomb. There is, however, a young and impetuous (and more than a little annoying) thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites) who plans to steal the Eye Of Horus from Set's impenetrable vault so Horus will be free to end the evil reign of Set. But his love Zaya (Courtney Eaton) is struck down in the escape, so Bek and Horus have nine days to bring her back from the land of the dead before she reaches judgement and the Afterlife....

In order to defeat Set they need the waters from the Sun God Ra's boat in the sky (on which Geoffrey Rush is doing daily battle with a giant space worm) to quench the desert fire from which Set draws his power, by dropping into the fire pit inside his pyramid that's guarded by a Sphinx. And so on....Somehow it all ends with deities Set and Horus turning into flying metal animals and beating each other up like the climax to Man Of Steel or something in an incomprehensible blur of CGI thud kerpow kaboom atop an impossibly tall tower.

Yes, it's nonsense. Yes, it's big and noisy (though Marco Beltrami's score has some lovely melodies which are showcased separately over the end credits). Some of the dialogue reaches George Lucas levels of unspeakableness, Gerard Shouty McButler is doing enough acting for the whole cast, the human leads are (as usual) wet as tripe, and there are maybe twelve shots in the whole film that aren't green-screened or CGId into next week. But it's got enough humour about it and it's just about aware enough of its own silliness to get by. and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have fun with it. It's not taking itself that seriously, so why should I?

***

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

SPLATTER UNIVERSITY

CONTAINS .... WHATEVER

In news that will surprise absolutely no-one who's ever sat through a Troma film before, or even merely read about one, Splatter University is absolutely, absolutely terrible. I know, it's my own fault: over the years I've seen enough of Troma's so-called product to be reasonably confident that they're never going to be any better, and that complaining that Splatter University is - gosh, crikey - an abomination unto the Earth when you've sat through Tromeo And Juliet and Terror Firmer and The Toxic Avenger and Class Of Nuke 'Em High is rather like buying a Walnut Whip and then whining that it's got walnuts in it. There's no logic or sense in watching anything by Troma and then putting your critic's hat on to sneer at the technical incompetence on show, but then there's no logic or sense in watching anything by Troma.

Still: you never know. It's theoretically possible that at some bizarre moment in Troma's history something went disastrously, inexplicably right and a halfway decent film emerged from the machine. Unlikely, but then somebody wins the EuroMillions every couple of weeks at roughly comparable odds. Splatter University isn't the same as using the same numbers week after week after month on the grounds that sooner or later they're bound to come up, it's trying to use last week's winning numbers on the grounds that they worked for someone else, but not being intelligent enough to mark those numbers off on the entry slip.

It's a bog-standard off-the-peg slasher plot: maniac escapes from asylum and hacks up a bunch of unlikeable teens, Final Girl (actually the sociology teacher) runs around chased by maniac, movie stops. Most sentient lifeforms who've plodded through a couple of second-rate teenkill epics could probably throw something like this together on a vaguely passable amateur movie level, but Richard W Haines isn't even on that level because clearly neither he nor anyone else involved could give a toss. It's technically shoddy (some shots aren't even close to being in focus), the performances are barely on the first readthrough level, every one of the victims is a hateful yob who frankly deserves it, and the maniac couldn't be more obvious if he wore a baseball cap with the word "Murderer!" printed on the front.

But it's a Troma film and such things as writing, directing, acting and basic professional competence have never bothered them. It's not that such trifles are beyond their skillset (and indeed their comprehension), although they are: they just don't believe it matters. Nowhere is this contempt more vividly demonstrated than in the opening mental hospital sequences, where the attitude towards mental health is frighteningly unenlightened, operating on a wacky comedy level of "tee-hee, let's have a giggle at the loonies". And even when the movie gets down to merely offing scumbag teens, it's no better. Utterly wretched, artistically worthless, boring (at a mere 79 minutes), insulting and miserable. Should have known.

*

Thursday, 26 May 2016

THE DARKNESS

MAYBE CONTAINS SOME MILD SPOILERS, IF YOU'VE NEVER SEEN A HORROR FILM IN YOUR LIFE BEFORE

The biggest surprise of The Darkness isn't wondering whatever happened to Greg McLean: from the gruelling Wolf Creek and Rogue (an easy winner over Black Water in the battle between Australia's two mid-2000s giant crocodile movies) to an anonymous studio product that's been precision engineered and polished until the marketing executive can see his face in it. Nor is it wondering whatever happened to Kevin Bacon that he had to appear in this: at least has has genre form with the first Friday The 13th and Hollow Man. No, the real shock is just how thuddingly bland and generic it all is, starting with the baldly nondescript title that's only half a step up from Creepy or Horror Movie.

Returning from a holiday around the Grand Canyon Workaholic dad Peter (Kevin Bacon), ex-alcoholic mum Bronny (Radha Mitchell), bulimic daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and autistic son Mikey (David Mamouz) start to experience increasingly frightening paranormal activity. Could it have anything to do with the five sacred rocks which Mikey found in a cave and which, according to legend, will allow five shapeshifting animal spirits from Native American folklore to gain a foothold on the Earth once more?

Given that we only had a remake of Poltergeist less than a year ago, it seems weird to be essentially watching it all over again, even when sprinkled with a dash of Insidious and Sinister (it's the young kid who's at the centre). Complete with an eccentric old lady medium who just stops short of the line "this house is clean", it's honestly a wonder that MGM haven't sicced their lawyers on to it. On a technical level the film is decently enough nailed together and it has a few nicely creepy moments, which is really the very least you should expect, but there is so little fresh meat on offer you wonder why anyone bothered. And you wonder why they thought the audience would either. Are we that dumb, or do they just believe we're that dumb?

**

YAKUZA APOCALYPSE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND WHAAA...?

It's that man again! Takashi Miike is the dictionary definition of the word "variable", ricocheting between taut, involving films like Audition and wild, unrestrained mayhem like Ichi The Killer. When he's good, he's very good, but when he's bad he's Gozu: he's really at his best when controlled (there's no room for insane levels of violence in a samurai movie like Hara-Kiri or 13 Assassins, and the formulaic supernatural J-Horror of One Missed Call doesn't sit well with the Daily Mail Checklist Of Filth from Visitor Q) and it's sad to report that after last year's Over Your Dead Body that he's now back to his usual bonkersness.

Yakuza Apocalypse does at least start out looking like it might deliver what's promised by the title: there's a good and socially conscious gang boss, his minions who keep forgetting to leave the civilians alone, and the new kid in the outfit. But then a couple of killers show up and kill the boss: not just killing him but actually ripping his head off his shoulders....okay, that's unusual but it is a Takashi Miike film so we'll go with it. Then the head comes to life and bites the new kid, revealing him to be a vampire who has now taken over the new kid to raise an army of the undead and take his revenge. And then a bloke in a football team's giant frog mascot costume turns up with phenomenal martial arts skills and the ability to telepathically freeze his opponents and that's the point at which I lost interest.

It's not just the lack of control and restraint that kills it stone dead, though. Unless you're the equivalent of a Coppola or a Scorsese or a Woo at the very peak of your craft, it's very difficult to make criminal gangs into interesting people that an audience is going to give a damn about, and Takashi Miike clearly has no interest in whether anyone cares about his characters. The female characters, what few there are, are largely sidelined as well, because Takashi Miike clearly has no interest in them either. Not that it matters very much once it turns into a vampire movie with a high-kicking nine-foot candlewick frog.

*

Saturday, 30 April 2016

OFFERINGS

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Stop me if you've heard this before, but there was this mute kid who grew up in a broken, loveless home and he was bullied by the local kids until a tragic incident in the town well and he ended up in the asylum, and ten years later he snaps out of his catatonic stupor and escapes and goes back to town to get his revenge - oh, you've heard it. Of course you have. Offerings is Teenslash 101, a horror movie made by people who are desperately hoping you've never seen a horror movie in your life but is quite clearly only ever going to be seen by horror movie watchers.

Yet somehow I can't get that annoyed about Offerings. It's not that it's any good at all - it emphatically isn't - but it's not objectionable enough to get angry about and start throwing things around the room. The characters are fairly cardboard but none of them are obnoxious creeps or leery perverts: when their romantic and/or sexual attentions are turned down they accept the decision and go home. The music score is a semitone away from John Carpenter's Halloween: close enough to remind you but just different enough to placate any copyright lawyers who might sit through it for professional reasons.

Coming from the fag-end of the slasher cycle in 1988, Offerings has its odd little wrinkles: the killer leaving severed body parts on the porch of the girl who was his only childhood friend, the surprise pizza with sausages that don't taste like normal sausages, the college professor who decides to investigate the town well in the middle of the night with a torch that doesn't work properly, the obviously weirdo cemetery attendant with a hatred of earthworms. That's not enough to make it any good, but it just about scrapes a second star.

**

THE DEMON

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

As a horror title, you'd think The Demon would be pretty self-explanatory: it's about a demon, in exactly the same way that The Exorcist is about an exorcist and Earthquake is about an earthquake. Except that it isn't: it's about a serial killer who may be many things but doesn't appear to be actually demonic (if it weren't for a couple of moments where he might at least have some kind of teleporting abilities). Worse: if we're looking at truth in movie titles this wouldn't just be called The Serial Killer, it would have to be The Boring Serial Killer. Years ago The Demon was listed in the still-missed zine Shock Xpress as one of the 50 most boring films ever made and it's pretty safe to say that this one does earn its place, because in addition to being more about a serial killer than about a demon, it's even moreso a film about the love lives of a couple of hot primary school teachers while a maniac with a spiked glove occasionally mooches about abducting people for no adequately explored reason.

Far too much of the 1981 film is devoted to this tedious slop in which one of the two girls (they're also cousins) tames the casual lusts of a playboy while the other has a serious relationship with a guy you'd think would turn out to save the day as the hero but doesn't. Their soap opera blather goes on for so long you forget the mad killer is even in it; he's reduced to a walk-on extra role in what is supposedly his own movie. Meanwhile Cameron Mitchell turns up as a psychic who eventually tracks down the killer in his drawings but then gets inexplicably murdered.

It's incredibly dull and the UK DVD has lousy picture quality, though even on a remastered 4K ultra hi-def Blu sourced from the original pristine 35mm master from the vaults it would still be incredibly dull. As it is, the occasional bursts of entirely unnecessary sex and nudity are blurred and indistinct and the murders, which tend to take place is the dark anyway, are just lost in the visual murk. Made in South Africa.

*

Thursday, 14 April 2016

GRIMSBY

CONTAINS SACHA BARON COHEN, WHICH PROBABLY TELLS YOU EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

Sacha Baron Cohen has never been one for restraint. Borat and Bruno were meticulous but unsuccessful attempts at the tightrope of dark, edgy comedy over the crevasse of puerile bad taste, while The Dictator chickened out of pointed satire and sought refuge in tedious offence. It might have lost the faux-documentary schtick but it still couldn't hammer home a weak joke hard enough.

Grimsby actively looks for the weakest possible gags and bludgeons them to a pulp with the biggest and bluntest instrument it can find, and there's none blunter than Cohen himself. Nothing is decreed off limits: poo, fat girls, semen, sweary kids, Aids, scrotums (scrota?), sticking things up bottoms, kiddies in wheelchairs... all combine to thoroughly humiliate a star cast that I refuse to believe are this hard up for work. Not the least of whom is Mark Strong, who has absolutely no excuse for this at all. For 28 years feckless and imbecilic layabout Nobby Butcher (Cohen) has been looking for his brother Sebastian (Strong) after they were separated in the foster system. Now Sebastian is a top MI6 agent on the trail of an international terrorist ring - until Nobby shows up and the two have to jet round the world (Cape Town, Chile) before movie star and tireless health charity fundraiser Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz) can unleash a lethal virus at the World Cup Final....

All of this might be at least tolerable if the film was at least faintly amusing, but, in the established Sacha Baron Cohen tradition, it's half as funny as a repeat of Moneybox Live. I didn't laugh once throughout the entire screening (and nor did anyone else, though admittedly there were only three other people there); rather I found myself increasingly annoyed and bored with the relentless lowbrow grossout humour. It's actually quite surprising how little comedic mileage Sacha Baron Cohen and associates have managed to dredge out of the normally fertile spy spoof genre. But they're not really interested in the spy genre: it's just a thread to link up setpieces where the Butcher Brothers have to hide in an elephant's uterus (don't ask) while the male unleashes gallons of spunk over Mark Strong. Or a scene in which Strong gets a dart in his scrotum and Cohen has to suck the poison out. Oh, the hilarity.

It's like watching a five-year-old repeatedly shouting "poo willy bum bum!" because he thinks it's funny, except that Cohen is now a proper grown-up but still shouting "poo willy bum bum!" because he still thinks it's as funny as it ever was. Me, I thought it was foul, repugnant and tedious: not just to the point where I wished I wasn't watching it, but I started to wish it didn't exist. It's the kind of moronic rubbish that makes you want to not watch films any more.

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