Friday, 16 March 2018



I'm still one of those who finds Woody Allen movies interesting: they're a civilised, intelligent evening's entertainment with usually impressive casts given some Proper Acting to get their teeth into, a level of wit and character, and Serious Things To Say About Life And Death And The Human Condition. Some are better than others, obviously, and some have been borderline unwatchable (principally his London-set films, of which You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger and Cassandra's Dream are the worst things he's ever done), but there's usually something about them worth seeing. I think it's also fair to say he's been off the boil recently, with some pretty aimless fare like Cafe Society and Irrational Man: not even fun while they're on, and the likes of Love And Death and Annie Hall are so far away now. Just as David Cronenberg stopped doing gloopy horror films and moved into Serious Drama, so Allen has wandered away from the comedy (bits of To Rome With Love apart, the last overtly funny one was probably Whatever Works which no-one but me seemed to like).

Wonder Wheel follows this trend: there are no laughs to be had. Most of it is a one-set play located in Humpty and Ginny's (a fabulously slobby Jim Belushi doing his best Ralph Kramden, a wildly overwrought Kate Winslet) apartment over the Coney Island funfair in the 1950s around which they both work. Both have children from previous marriages: her young son Richie, obsessed with setting fire to things, and his daughter Carolina (Juno Temple), fleeing murderous gangsters after leaving her mob husband. Both women form attachments to the film's narrator, lifeguard and wannabe Serious Dramatist Mickey (Justin Timberlake)....

Given that Mickey wants to be a playwright, the new Eugene O'Neill, and Ginny used to be an actress years ago, it's perhaps no surprise that Wonder Wheel feels so theatrical. The exteriors could all be easily excised or adjusted and most of what's left could play verbatim at the National: a loud and melodramatic shouting match with lots of hysterical declaiming going on but no jokes and no levity. (At least a staged performance might well manage without countless repeats of The Mills Brothers performing something called Coney Island Washboard, possibly the most annoying musical choice for any of Allen's films.)

It's nice that Allen has (at least temporarily) reversed his usual schtick of March-to-December inappropriate relationships so that the older Winslet can get off with the far younger Timberlake - he's much closer to the age Woody Allen was when Wonder Wheel is set - as the theme of a nubile young hottie and a decrepit old fart was fast becoming tiresome. And the film looks beautiful in places, with Vittorio Storaro's cinematography using the rich colours from the neon funfair lights outside. But for all that, and the full-on (over)acting, it's a joyless film with a surprisingly bleak ending. 101 minutes of meh, it's not a film to get excited about, and not a return to form by any means. Maybe next time.




Having now rebooted, revived, remade and reanimated pretty much everything from previous generations that was any good and a lot that wasn't, having scraped the barrel dry with second stabs at rubbish old TV shows and forgotten slasher movies in a frenzy of misplaced nostalgia for things that nobody was really asking for all over again, we're now moving into the 90s and a whole new and unexciting range of things that we haven't missed but were somehow milestones in the current crop of younger executives' childhoods. In truth we were never that fussed about Tomb Raider, a computer game where you had to make a pixelated woman run around in skimpy shorts and make her jump in the air repeatedly so you could could get a quick flash of her digitised pants. We passed a couple of wet afternoons with two very ho-hum and mostly forgotten Angelina Jolie movies out of it, and then got on with our lives.

For some absolutely unfathomable reason, Lara Croft is back, in what I hope is the worst, dumbest and least interesting film of the year, simply because I don't want to see anything else this terrible for the remainder of 2018 and, with any luck, a long way beyond. Seven years ago, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) disappeared on a mythical Japanese island searching for the tomb of Himiko, a legendary sorceress whose instant touch meant death and whose remains are still so potentially powerful that they must never fall into the wrong hands. Lara, who is an idiot, has never acknowledged the near-certainty of her father's death, instead struggling (and failing) to make her own life as a bicycle courier, while ignoring the colossal inheritance of manor house and billion-dollar global business empire that's hers at the stroke of a solicitor's pen. When she's finally forced to accept it, she inherits a key to her father's secret lair and a video message telling her to destroy all his Himiko files. Because she's an idiot, Lara instead takes the information to Japan to locate the island, and her beloved father - and runs straight into a shadowy terror organisation called Trinity who want Himiko's remains to weaponise for a global genocide....

Essentially Tomb Raider is Daddy Issues And The Last Crusade: father and child endeavour to stop villains from acquring powerful relic of legend for their own ends and immediately lead the aforementioned villains right to it. Lara's insistence on deliberately doing the absolute wrong thing at any and every given moment for the dumbest of reasons (usually her devotion to her long-lost father) redefines wilful stupidity for a new century. Worse: it's no fun. The villains aren't colourfully nasty, they're just nasty, the score (Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL) lends the film no lightness or thrills, and the film's big mystery behind-the-scenes villain is so obvious they might as well have been wearing a T-shirt with Villain stencilled across it in luminous capitals. And it ends with the clear intent of setting up a franchise in which Lara jets off around the world battling assorted factions of the Trinity Group.

There's a nice bit of business with an old Second World War bomber perched over a waterfall, there's an amusing cameo from Nick Frost, and once it gets going it doesn't hang about (although the tearful parting towards the end takes so long the escaping villain could be halfway to Wisconsin by the time she finally gives chase). And Alicia Vikander leaps and runs around perfectly well in a series of moments which look like they were all levels on the original computer game, with steadily collapsing floors, sinking ships, or a chase across a harbour. There also appears to be a lot of moments where Lara dangles above a chasm by the fingertips. But this really isn't enough: for so much action and stuff going on it's strangely dull, with no real emotional connection beyond the level of soap opera and no surprises on show. Directed by Roar Uthaug, of snowy slasher Cold Prey and tsunami spectacular The Wave, both of which are much more satisfying.


Saturday, 3 March 2018



A candidate for a Stupidest Film Of All Time award, not just because it's a stupid idea and a stupid plot, but because absolutely everyone on screen is astonishingly stupid. Yes, it's kind of standard practice for people in dumb exploitation movies to do stupid things, but rarely have you seen so much idiocy, incompetence and ineptitude crammed into one film, and even the airheaded blonde bimbo characters are so thuddingly useless they actually give airheaded blonde bimbos a bad name. Three minutes in and you're already regretting it, with the realisation that you've been stiffed yet again, as it's already painfully clear that it's not going to be worth the effort involved in slumping in a chair in front of it.

A small squad of aliens led by John Carradine and ex-Catwoman Julie Newmar has come to Earth in search of blood which has to be taken from healthy (and crucially young) humans so the aliens can live another 200 years. They've hired decrepit pervy mechanics Aldo Ray and Neville Brand to abduct them from the lakeside and bring them to the nearby hospital where they're drained, but there aren't enough in good enough condition....

The aliens are stupid: they've flown halfway across the galaxy on a quest for human blood and are stuck in a small town during the school vacations, so why don't they relocate to a beach resort where all the holidaying teens are? (Instead, having failed this location, they just abandon the entire planet.) The mechanics are stupid: despite being told the teens need to be healthy and undamaged they're incapable of not beating them up, molesting them or killing them. And the teens themselves are stupid even by the standards of horror movie teens: permanently horny, standing about half naked, and so dumb that when one of the girlies slips her bonds, she needs to be directed in the ensuing fight by the still-tied-up jock - furthermore, once she's lost that easy fight against a 65-year-old halfwit, her best friend manages to get loose and has to be directed by her tied-up boyfriend as well.

Much of Evils Of The Night is little more than a thin excuse for softcore sex and nudity and supposedly teenaged women wandering around in bikinis (beyond the obvious, there's no reason given why one of the abducted girls has to spend the second half of the film without any trousers on). Some might argue that of course it isn't any good, it was never supposed to be any good, it was supposed to be a cheap SF/horror quickie for the undiscriminating teenage boy audience. In its actual defence, the spaceship landing and take-off effects are decent enough. But they amount to a total of maybe twenty seconds out of a film that runs 83 minutes. Obviously it's your choice as to whether that's an acceptable return on your investment, but personally I feel the bar needs to be set much higher. Made in 1984.


Friday, 2 March 2018



The Thing Under The Lake. Forest Of Death. Bayou Of Blood. Swamp Beast. The Creature And The Witch. There are five generic, unimaginative titles I've just thrown into the ether for a generic, unimaginative seventies monster horror that somehow got stuck with a British slang term for the lavatory as a title. Surely someone must have been aware of that and suggested a retitling, even if only when it came to the UK video release? (The pre-cert cover compounds the euphemism by calling it The Bog.) It can't have been possible to not know: it's not as if "bog" was an archaic, regional colloquialism, and the Carry On team had made a whole film about lavatories and called their main character WC Boggs.

A pre-credits idiot awakens a blood-drinking prehistoric creature while out fishing with dynamite. Shortly afterwards, two wives on a camping expedition are killed, a couple of deputies and a girl on a bicycle shortly follow, the local yee-hawing beer-and-guns redneck brigade demand action, and sheriff Aldo Ray and coroner Gloria De Haven try and make sense of it all. There's a mad old woman (De Haven again, for no narrative reason) living in a cave deep in the swamp; maybe she knows something? Eventually they come up with a shaky plan to capture it for science, but inevitably it gets loose...

Routine monster schlock for 1979's drive-in audiences, Bog has the feel of a Deep South monster movie like Creature From Black Lake but was actually shot in Wisconsin. It's slightly interesting in that it feels like someone has at least flipped through an encyclopedia at some point in an attempt to fashion a viable-sounding lifecycle for the creature, and also that it includes a tentative September-September romance between De Haven and local GP Marshall Thompson (both were over 50 at the time). The bog monster itself is barely glimpsed save for the occasional claw murders, which is perhaps for the best because when it's finally revealed as a 6'7" man in a rubber suit with a giant fish head, it looks a bit silly, like an ill-conceived mascot costume for the high school football team.At least not lumbered with amateurishness: it's a proper, professional (albeit not Hollywood) film, and the streaming version is sourced from a film print, to add to the nostalgia. Sadly it's a nostalgia for something that wasn't, and still isn't, very good.


Wednesday, 28 February 2018



It's taken nearly two months, but I've finally managed to break my 2018 duck regarding one-star movies. While genuinely making an effort to avoid the most obvious rubbish, my nostalgic taste for seventies serial killer procedurals has allowed this underpowered puff of slasher nothingness to slip through the net: maybe it's not actively terrible enough to get angry and bitter over, but the 86 minutes and change could have been put to so many better uses, including the washing up, staring vacantly out of the window or having an early night.

Allegedly based on fact (and supposedly inspired by the activities of lovable scamp Ted Bundy), The Sport Killer is as much of an underwhelming cop thriller as an underwhelming slasher movie. There's a maniac tooling around in a yellow van, picking up young women and killing them, and a square-jawed maverick cop out to stop him. Our hero's boss (who wears a straw hat in the office for no apparent reason) won't give him the manpower to track the psycho down even though the DA is busting his ass (or something), so he has to put his own girlfriend in there as bait....

It's all very bland and tastefully restrained outside of a few crime scene photos; there's nothing in the way of blood and gore and it could probably get away with a 15 if anyone actually bothered to submit it in the UK, which thus far no-one ever has. Curiously, the film it feels most like a homage to is Dirty Harry, with its San Francisco settings, its old-fashioned cop willing to break some rules (and laws) to track the creep down, and even the score with echoes of vintage Schifrin (even utilising the waterphone as Dirty Harry did). Sadly, no-one on The Sport Killer is any kind of Siegel, Eastwood or Schifrin (or even Andrew Robinson): the film just sits there, playing on your screen until it stops.

Watchable and professionally enough mounted it might be, but it's hardly a lost classic worthy of rediscovery: for one thing it's saddled with a dull title (though it's scarcely any better than the original Killer's Delight) that might make the viewer think they were in for a teenkill opus of the Graduation Day variety. Like a lot of 70s movies there's a nostalgic charm to the hair, the clothes, the cars and the attitudes, but you could get all that from watching a hundred other, immeasurably better, films of the era. The Sport Killer is not - not quite - boring enough to make you switch it off, but it's nowhere near exciting, thrilling or interesting enough to make you glad you put it on in the first place. Astonishingly average.


Wednesday, 31 January 2018



At the end of last year I looked through my lists and spreadsheets and concluded that I'd watched way too many terrible movies for any (nominally) sane mind to endure, and would therefore try to avoid the obvious stinkers. Many of these, sadly, were horror movies, dropped out of the obscurity vaults onto Amazon Prime with no warning except for the titles, artwork, trailers, synopses and whatever can be gleaned from three minutes on the IMDb. Nevertheless, I persisted and got repeatedly kicked in the nethers like an idiot. I am definitely making the effort this year to wean myself off films which clearly weren't going to be worth the wettest of Wednesday evenings (yes, I said that last year and the year before that and the year before that). Happily, it seems to be working: I've had no one-star movies so far and the least enjoyable things I've seen have mainly been disappointments or simply not to my taste. But the cravings for obviously trash films aren't always defeated that easily: just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Luckily, Devil's Express just about scrapes its second star, though it's a close run thing. Nominally it concerns a mysterious creature on the New York subways, lurking in the tunnels and ripping apart any idiot wandering onto the tracks. The cops think it's either a turf war between the black and Chinese gangs (this was made in 1975) or a series of attacks by mutated animals in the sewers, but it's actually a Chinese demon inadvertently released by an idiot when he removed the protective amulet from its 2100-year-old coffin.

Most of the movie isn't actually concerned with the demon monster killer stuff, which is a pity because that's the most interesting angle: Barry Rosen seems more interested in making a martial arts movie in which a bunch of impressively muscled guys take their shirts off and lamp each other. I've no particular objection to that, but they go on for far too long and in the main they're nowhere near bone-crackingly vicious enough, so they're the least engaging scenes in what is supposed to be a horror movie. And female presence is minimal: there's one barmaid, who beats up a couple of morons in a scene which has nothing to do with the rest of the film, and a rambling bag lady on the train. Otherwise the film is pretty much undiluted testosterone.

Yet, as cheap, dull, stupid and terribly acted though it is, the demon in the subway stuff is more interesting and provides a few of the better moments in the film. It's not much fun, but it's presented in nice widescreen rather than a cropped video, it has the grimy 70s New York feel to it (including brief footage of old 42nd Street trash cinemas showing Tower Of Screaming Virgins, Kung-Fu Cops and, er, The Italian Job) and some agreeable music over the opening and closing titles. Plus, the lead actor's name is War Hawk Tanzania and you've got to give it a second star just for that.


Thursday, 25 January 2018



So what does James Bond do when he gets too old to be James Bond? The snarky answer is that he makes A View To A Kill, but what really happens? Does he get pensioned off and he opens a pub somewhere? Does he, as the blasphemous Never Say Never Again suggests, spend his time teaching and training the next generation of Double-Ohs? Does he just keep going until the villains finally manage to shoot him? Or, as this Canadian cable thriller might imply, does he eventually move up the ranks into management, directing operations remotely by phone instead of leaping onto the nearest jetski or curvaceous floozy?

Sixteen years after signing off from 007 (typically in the shower with a woman half his age), the great Sir Roger Moore turned up in The Enemy as one of the few bright supporting lights in this mostly dull Canadian thriller. It's always good to see Moore in anything (even Boat Trip) but he's not in this one enough: he claims to be a senior Mountie but is actually a senior highup in MI5 trying to track down a missing scientist who hid the formula for a biological weapon and was then abducted. Now his son (Luke Perry) and a Canadian cop (Olivia D'Abo) has to find the formula and its antidote or they'll kill him...

This is unusual as it's one of the very few times I've read the book before seeing the film. I'm (not in the least) sorry: I'm ultimately a film person rather than a book person, cinematic rather than literary, but I'm not sure that it matters because appropriately enough they've decided on the Moonraker technique of adaptation: throwing the bulk of Desmond Bagley's novel in the bin, simply retaining a handful of fragments and character names and concocting a whole new story with them. They've ended up with something vaguely passable as an evening distraction, but it's all very wet, bland and colourless, it's not that exciting or thrilling, and if you can't spot the Third Act Twist Mystery Villain from about three seconds after they wander on screen you're not trying. Another film that's dropped through official distribution channels in the UK.


Wednesday, 10 January 2018



I'm a fan of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It has one of the best Bond girls in Diana Rigg, fine villainy from Telly Savalas, one of John Barry's best 007 scores, terrific action sequences, general fidelity to the Ian Fleming's novel (a surprise coming after You Only Live Twice, which retained the principal locale and a handful of character names and threw the rest of the book away) and a still-startling ending. But I'm not so blinded by the good stuff that I can ignore the film's problems, which include [1] the fact that Blofeld doesn't recognise 007 from the previous movie despite him wearing absolutely no disguise at all, and [2] the intergalactically horrible song "Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown", which makes the average piece of tinkly lift muzak sound like Motorhead turned up to twelve. And, of course [3] that George Lazenby bloke.

In fairness to Lazenby, he's actually pretty good in OHMSS sometimes, particularly in the quieter and more romantic moments, and some of the physical fighting stuff is still impressive nearly half a century later. But there are times when he absolutely isn't any good: times when he's clearly not an experienced actor, but some good-looking Aussie wearing one of Sean Connery's suits who just happened to catch the right person's eye at the right moment and who then blagged and bluffed his way to the biggest and best job in the movie world. And then walked away from it, turning down a cash payment of a million pounds (more or less a whopping sixteen million in today's money) and a contract to play Bond for another six films.

Becoming Bond is a semi-documentary, a dramatised reconstruction of key (and some off-key) moments in Lazenby's life, from his childhood and early jobs as a car mechanic and salesman to his relationship with a girlfriend waaaaay out of his social league, all narrated by Lazenby (sometimes with the actors lip-synched to the voice-over). All very well but, like James Whale lamenting that "you only want to know about the horror films" in Gods And Monsters, we only really want to know about getting the Bond gig and I'd have liked a lot more since, let's face it, this is still what Lazenby is and will always be known for. There are already dramatisations with stand-ins for Peter Hunt and Harry Saltzman, why not with stand-ins for Savalas and Rigg?

For hardcore Bond fans there probably isn't very much that we don't already know: about how he was arrogant and big-headed and how he acted The Great I Am all the time. Strangely, there's also an unhealthy chunk of stuff that we most likely didn't know already, and I rather wish I still didn't. I don't really want to hear about the time Lazenby couldn't get an erection or cheated on his girlfriend or had half a dozen colourful diarrhoea attacks the night he was planning to sneak into her bedroom for a cheeky shag. Thanks for sharing, George. If only in the name of good taste (and not even because we might not think too highly of our hero) those wacky anecdotes should perhaps have been left out as they sour the tone a little.

It also left me slightly baffled as to how much Eon and the current Bond producers (and their lawyers) might have had to say about it. Presumably enough of it is true (as Lazenby says, how could could he remember it if it never happened?) and already on the public record, and the stuff that isn't well known is more about Lazenby himself and not the producers. Still, it's amusing enough in parts with Bond references and quotes scattered through (and a cameo from an actual Bond girl). And like all the best film documentaries, it did leave me wanting to rewatch the movie(s) in question; I need far less prodding to rewatch OHMSS than I do for Moonraker or Thunderball. Worth a look as a curiosity.


Sunday, 31 December 2017


It wasn't all chocolate and unicorns in 2017: there were some puddles of sick as well. These were the worst of the bullets I failed to dodge.

Like a weak Jonathan Creek with endless vulgarity and sex references that got very tedious very quickly, and I badly needed someone to set about the lead character with a chair leg.

Supposed to be funny? Another tiresome full-of-himself lead in a charmless, nonsensical non-action non-comedy.

Not even fun in a dumbo rubbish way: yet another clunky thriller about Islamic terror in London, full of people who should, and do, know better (and Orlando Bloom).

Would have been a perfectly passable home invasion thriller with glossy 60s period detail, were it not a cheery re-enactment of the Manson Family's murderous attack on Sharon Tate and her friends. Pass the popcorn. Actual video footage of Charlie Scumbag turns up at the end.

Supposed to be funny? An assortment of colossal bores throw surprise revelations - adultery, terminal illness, pregnancy - at each other for a slim yet nonetheless punishing 71 minutes including credits. Everyone please shut up and go away.

It's clearly not a bad film (which is way it's not #1 on this list) but it's easily the least enjoyable, most thoroughly unrewarding and increasingly annoying time I had in a cinema this year. Accurately described on Twitter as the film equivalent of an anxiety attack, and not in a good way.

Remember that innocuous Saturday evening American import on ITV from decades ago? Let's do it again but with violence and swearing and crass vulgarity. Rubbish.

See above. Marginally worse because I expect better of Dwayne Johnson.

Supposed to be funny? This year really doesn't appear to have been good for comedy.

Absolutely hated this cheery Christmas offering featuring a pre-pubescent sexual predator. Came close a couple of times to walking out.

Dishonourable mentions (in no particular order) to Power Rangers, The Untamed, Transformers 5 and idiotic Pierce Brosnan tech thriller I.T.


It's that time again.... As usual, everything on this list had a first-time cinema release in the UK at some point in 2017, using Launching Films' site as reference. I missed a lot of films, either through choice (they looked horrible), minimal distribution, and/or assorted other personal circumstances. It's a mixture of which ones I think were the "best" and which ones I would acknowledge weren't actually the "best" but the ones I enjoyed most. In ascending order:

I'm still pretty meh on the subject of comic-book movies: they're either shiny happy Marvel or miserable joyless DC. This is actually fairly glum, much darker, much more serious than the usual X-Men fare: an actual superhero movie for actual grown-ups.

Still on the superheroes: easily the best film from the DC stable.

Melancholy drama about the haunter rather than the haunted: what does the ghost do when the house is empty? Oddly moving, leisurely, unusual, liked it a lot.

The Academy Awards got it right for once (eventually): infinitely better than the unsatisfying La La Land (terrific for the first five minutes, utterly unremarkable the rest of the time). Intelligent, grown-up cinema; if only we could have one of these every few months instead of yet another superhero whizzbang.

Eye-popping fantasy from Luc Besson, even topping the bonkers The Fifth Element. Okay, the mystery villain is no mystery and the leads are cardboard, but the visuals are dazzling.

Angry, thrilling and timely drama of violent racism; incredibly powerful and utterly essential viewing.

A superb Martin Scorsese religious drama: 160 minutes long but never feels it, completely absorbing, visually beautiful.

I actually saw the Director's Cut which is a full half-hour longer: personally I could have done with less of the explicit sex but even so it's easily my favourite foreign-language film of the year.

Granted, it didn't have Vangelis on the soundtrack (and Hans Zimmer is no substitute), but the expanded world of Ridley Scott's classic original is pixel perfect, and Ryan Gosling's usual blankness is for once a plus factor. Mainstream blockbuster of the year and a more than worthy follow-up.

I don't think I breathed for the last twenty minutes.

Honourable mentions (in no particular order) to Get Out, Hacksaw Ridge, A Cure For Wellness (shut up, I enjoyed it), The Limehouse Golem, Life and Denial.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017



In a year that historical hindsight will not acknowledge as particularly hilarious, one of the funniest things to hit 2017 was fandom. First it was the bellowing idiocy of "Doctor Who CANNOT BE A WOMAN!!!" (well, she is, so stop whining and get over it), at which even Davros would have found it hard to breathe through the laughter, and he's a genocidal maniac who created the Daleks and has never been noted for a riotous sense of humour. Then it was the Official Fan Demand for Justice League to be rereleased properly in accordance with the mighty Zack Snyder's artistic vision, complete with a new score by his regular composer Junkie XL, and the removal of Joss Whedon's reshoots. Now it's the shrieking petulance of an actual petition to the Disney Corporation demanding that the new Star Wars film be removed from the canon because it didn't pan out exactly the way they wanted and it didn't explain who he is and where she came from and why that guy did these things. Seriously, guys (and they tend to be guys), have a bathroom break and calm the hell down: you're giving us regular fans a bad name here.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Episode VIII in the overarching saga) is fine. It's not great, it's not terrible, it's somewhere in the middle but it's really nothing to get worked up about in either direction. It does some lovely things and it has some serious problems, but waaaaahing like a four-year-old in Tescos, stamping your feet because Mummy won't buy you any sweeties, isn't a particularly dignified look. At the end of The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley, surprisingly not very good this time around) has found Luke Skywalker, now living as a miserable, grumpy hermit on a remote island and absolutely refusing to help the Resistance in their darkest moment. Meanwhile General Leia and her dwindling band of rebels are being pursued through hyperspace by a Dreadnought of the evil First Order (captained by Adrian Edmondson, whom I constantly expected to start smacking his fellow officers round the head with a frying pan), and maybe only a hastily cobbled together plan to abduct a codebreaker from a casino planet and smuggle him onto the Dreadnought to disable the tracking system for long enough to make one last light-speed jump can save them, whether hothead/idiot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) gets permission or not...

As a zippy blockbuster that alternates frenetic action sequences with moody, serious character drama, nodding back to the earlier films (the horse-like Fathiers race feels like the dreaded Pod Race all over again), The Last Jedi does more right than wrong. On the plus side, it's mostly hugely enjoyable, John Williams' score is great as ever (though the piano rendition of Leia's Theme in the end credits against the dedication to Carrie Fisher feels very awkward, as though it's been shoved in at the last minute) with many of the familiar and recognisable themes well to the fore. The best single sequence is the Battle Of Crait, on a salt planet where the crystal white turns blood red when it's disturbed. Snoke's throne room is a visual treat as well. Bad moments include an absolute clunk of comedy when Poe pretends to put the Dreadnought on hold, and a jaw-droppingly stupid scene saving Leia from certain death.

I could also have done without the return, albeit briefly, of one character from both preceding trilogies, and the less said about the tribblesome Porgs the better. As the middle part of a trilogy it's not as good as The Empire Strikes Back - it should go without saying that it's better than Attack Of The Clones, because most things are - but the main (new) hope is that Rian Johnson is setting everything up for Episode IX's grand finale in 2019. At 152 minutes it's comfortably the longest Star Wars movie so far, and there are moments when it feels like it, but there's more than enough popcorn fun to be had as well as material for scholarly analysis. (There's also a great visual gag involving a steam iron, of all things.) Personally I can't take it as seriously as others have: it's enjoyable and entertaining but not without faults: on balance it's a win but not a walkover.


Friday, 1 December 2017



Remember VHS? I always get the sense that I came to the party slightly too late: by the time I got to rent my own movies the dreaded Video Recordings Act had already consigned a load of the most interesting movies to the furnaces and James "Scissorhands" Ferman and the BBFC (make up your own acronym) had embarked on the entirely irrational campaign of hacking junk movies to ribbons, ostensibly to make them suitable for adults but actually rendering them even less watchable than they already were by taking all the best bits out. By then the DPP had done their work and - sarcastic hurrah - removed Night Of The Bloody Apes, Alien Contamination and Unhinged from rental shops and off-licenses across the UK so we could all sleep easier.

The foaming-at-the-mouth insanity of the pre-cert days has already been covered, particularly in Jake West's marvellous Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship And Videotape; this is more of a disorganised grab-bag of reminiscences from critics, journalists, tape dealers, distributors and the occasional stars and directors. Covering everything from first rentals, the Video Nasty list of 39 formally banned titles, the back room of the Psychotronic Video shop in a Camden basement (I remember buying a few titles there) and police raids on video collectors' homes through to the lousy picture quality, the collectible tapes under the tables at film fairs and lucky finds at car boot sales, it does at least recapture the spirit of the age and almost makes me want to dig out the VHS player from the spare room and put on one of my few remaining tapes on.

The bafflingly-titled VHS Forever? Psychotronic People also allows Caroline Munro to reminisce about the guerrilla film-making of The Last Horror Film at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival: always interesting, but out of place in a documentary that's nominally about the early days of VHS. No other film gets specifically discussed to that extent, not even the far more controversial Maniac. Sadly, it also allows sewage merchant Lloyd Kaufman to ramble nonsensically to camera as though he's on Just A Minute with the topic Incoherent Bullshit, throwing together the MPAA, the McCarthy blacklists and Mary Whitehouse (referred to as Mary Blowjob, presumably for reasons of comedy) in one facepalming rant. Incidentally: say what you like about Mary Whitehouse: she may have been as comprehensively wrong-headed as it's possible for a human to be, but at least she believed absolutely in what she was doing, which is more than you can say for any of Troma's artless sludge.

It's an interesting topic and an interesting era, on which I was on the distant fringes: I had boxes of pre-cert tapes but eventually gave them away when reality intruded and I realised I was probably never going to watch them ever again. Many of them are available on DVD or BluRay, in better quality, uncut and in the correct ratio, and I'm not nostalgic enough for the Vertical Helical Scan format to fire up my old mint condition cassette of The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue even though I have the Anchor Bay disc on the shelf. But the technical quality isn't that great: for a film that's shot (or at least copyrighted) in 2014, the 4:3 ratio suggests an attempt to emulate the look of full-screen video, and some external scenes are plagued by wind noise into the camera microphone. It's a pity, because I could listen to some of these guys (and it is mostly guys) talking about old trash movies for hours: Norman J Warren, Allan Bryce, David McGillivray, Graham Humphreys, Marc Morris, David Kerekes....Incredibly, Kim Newman is only in it for maybe two minutes cumulatively! Overall it's a fascinating subject in which I would normally immerse myself for days at a time - nerding about movies is What I Do given half a chance - but sadly it doesn't really come off.