Sunday, 28 June 2015

THE PYRAMID

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND YET AGAIN....

Yawn. We didn't really need any further evidence that the found footage bag of tricks was thoroughly emptied about two hundred desperately lame pretend documentaries ago. The formula was exhausted decades ago but it still keeps stumbling into life like a particularly idiotic zombie, and if there's anything worse than yet another found footage movie on the shelves it's the constant refusal of all the hacks who keep churning these damnable things out to man up and accept they're just wasting everybody's time. Stop it. If it looks like it filmed by me (and I've seen the VHS family Christmas tapes I shot sometime in the 1990s so I know whereof I speak) then it's simply not good enough to put out in the public arena, and I've been bored senseless enough times by your camcorder arsing about already.

Actually there is something worse still: a film apparently made by people who don't actually understand how found footage works. The Pyramid is partly found footage and partly a regular film, but the mixture doesn't work because there's no reason why the diegetic and non-diegetic cameras should co-exist. (There's also no reason why all the cameras are filming in 2.35 widescreen, but they probably figure it's probably only the most anal of aspect ratio nerds who fuss over things like that.) It's a pity, because this could have been a decently enjoyable if very silly Halloween horror movie: dim archaeologists (father and daughter) unearth a previously unknown pyramid in the Egyptian deserts that could theoretically rewrite the history books. When the NASA probe they send down into the entrance tunnel is attacked by a barely glimpsed creature, the two dim experts and a couple of equally dim documentary film-makers venture down into the labyrinth to find out what happened....

Cue sand-traps, little gribbley monsters, a chamber of spikes, mysterious infections, a lot of imbecilic bickering and slabs of exposition before a gloriously silly final reel that brings on a big-ass gribbley monster and one sudden jump moment that I'll admit caught me by surprise. It's a dumb horror film, but it would have been an enjoyably dumb one if they'd ditched the faux-reality routine entirely. Once they start putting in shots that aren't coming from any of the visible cameras, once they start cutting and editing between all the various cameras, and once they've slapped a music score (albeit a droney ambient noise one) on top of everything, you start wonder why they bothered with the camcorder approach in the first place.

Personally I think it was a lack of confidence in the basic material, a sense that audiences wouldn't enjoy it unless they were constantly reminded that it was all supposed to be real. But the constant switching just had me shouting "Hang on, who's filming that?" several times at the DVD player: the film ends up as neither one thing nor the other, but the wrong bits of both. Mostly it doesn't work, and the few bits that do aren't enough to drag it up any higher than "just about watchable". Shame, as I'd probably have enjoyed it as a proper film.

**

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

AMITYVILLE PLAYHOUSE

CONTAINS SPOILERS, MUSICAL DIVERSIONS AND RUDERY

I have a rather nice Yamaha keyboard, and every so often I like to mess about on it. Adapting the preset rhythms and sounds, pairing unlikely instruments, putting in peculiar key changes and deliberately wrong notes: I can quite happily spend an hour or more making all kinds of cheerfully horrible noises. One of my favourite bits is a tune for detuned accordion (with distorted violins providing harmony) set against a techno accompaniment that's been slowed down to about 40 bpm with all the voices changed to saxophone and honky-tonk piano. Yet I wouldn't actually describe myself as a Musician or a Composer even though, on a technical level, that's what I am, any more than I'd call myself a proper Film Critic for doing this blog. I do these things for fun because I enjoy them, and if (IF) other people like my efforts then that's great. If they don't....well, it's not like I'm charging for my services.

If there's more to being a Musician than just noodling around on a keyboard for fun, then surely there's more to being a Film Director than the mere act of directing a film. Boring, I know, but to my old-fashioned mind there has to be a basic level of professional competence before "it's what I do" transmutes to "it's who I am" and you can put it on your business cards and start asking for money. Technically John R Walker is a film director, technically his cast are actors and technically his script has been written by a writer, but only on the same level that I'm a keyboards player and a movie critic: I'm not. I'm not Keith Emerson or Mark Kermode, and John R Walker is no Steven Spielberg. Hell, he's no Al Adamson.

Amityville Playhouse has nothing to do with any of the other entries in the official Amityville franchise (eight at last count, plus a remake of the first film), but is instead a standalone offering with the word Amityville slapped on it in a shameless and shameful attempt to dupe uninformed punters in Sainsburys' budget DVD aisle. A teenage girl inherits a rundown theatre and decides to take a look around it, taking her homophobic dolt of a boyfriend, his brother and a couple of other hangers-on. But they get trapped inside by mysterious forces, they start seeing things: maybe it has something to do with the homeless runaway they've found camping out in the foyer? Meanwhile her geography teacher (played by Walker) is looking into Amityville's history and discovers the terrible demonic secret the locals have kept for decades....

It doesn't help that individually the six teens are all monumental bellowing cretins, and when brought together their combined idiocy is concentrated enough to generate its own gravitational black hole of stupidity powerful enough to pull the planet out of orbit. (Case in point: having been creeped out by wandering around the dark and empty theatre, they suddenly decide to play with a ouija board that one of them just happened to bring with him.) It doesn't help that they're all incredibly poorly acted - even given the illiterate swill they're called upon to utter, which the likes of McKellen and Dench couldn't bring to life, either they're incapable of even giving it a stab or their director couldn't drag it out of them. And it doesn't help that the film abruptly leaps to Walker's meaningless flashbacks to his days in the pub in Wednesbury, Staffordshire, when he discussed science and religion with a vicar, a paleontologist and a barmaid.

To describe Amityville Playhouse as amateur is to physically insult the last few hundred village hall productions of The Mikado and South Pacific: it's just not in that league. The potential of a haunted theatre setting is completely thrown away, with nondescript video photography and music (both by the same guy, who's also one of the producers), terrible pacing (nothing of the faintest interest happens to these disposable halfwits and bellends for 78 minutes of a 98 minute film) and that sense of "it'll do" - it's not that they've failed, it's that they haven't even bothered to try. The end result is a hopelessly inadequate and unprofessional bore that couldn't be more of an insult if it just upped and called you a worthless tosser. Call yourself an actual film director? Call yourselves actual filmmakers? How dare you?

*

Sunday, 14 June 2015

SAN ANDREAS

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND DECIBEL WARNINGS

Maybe it's just me getting old and decrepit, but are movies getting louder these days? Monsters: Dark Continent had me putting my fingers in my ears because the action sequences are too damned noisy, but there are at least great chunks of that film which aren't cranking the volume up so high that steelworks in the next county are writing to the council complaining about the noise from Milton Keynes Cineworld. This one is even worse because it doesn't have anywhere near as much respite from the maniac pushing the volume levels as far as they'll go. I came out of the cinema thinking I probably need a couple of Nurofen and a lie down.

San Andreas is partly a throwback to old-fashioned disaster spectacles like Earthquake (except they've taken the Sensurround and pumped it through the speakers) and partly a continuation of the more recent trend for mega-annihilation in everything from superhero knockabouts to imbecilic alien robot smackdowns via Roland Emmerich's insane brand of destructo porn. Now it can all be done in eye-ripping 3D with ultra-HD pixel-sharp computer effects, rather than murky opticals and cardboard model shots, popcorn blockbusters have to outdo one another in the catastrophe stakes with more things exploding, more skyscrapers toppling and more innocent civilians getting slaughtered.

San Andreas is partly that, but it's also a staggering piece of hero worship in which Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is fantastically great and wonderful at absolutely everything. He's a search and rescue helicopter pilot who starts off by flying a helicopter sideways down a crevasse to save a girl trapped in her car, When Mother Earth decides she's had enough being solid and stable and starts shaking California like a snowglobe, Dwayne Johnson sets off to rescue his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) and daughter (Alexandra Daddario) - no-one else, not any of the thousands of wounded, lost, homeless and desperate that it's actually his job description to help, just his immediate family. Along the way he'll come to terms with the traumatic accident that killed their younger daughter, but more importantly he'll fly (and crash) helicopters, he'll pilot and parachute from small aircraft, he'll drive a speedboat over a tsunami, he'll swim underwater for longer than anyone since The Man From Atlantis.

Meanwhile his daughter gets trapped in a limo (abandoned by her cowardly billionaire stepfather-to-be) in a collapsing underground car park, saved by a hilariously posh young Brit and his kid brother, while Gugino runs about on the roof of a toppling skyscraper after a surreally brief chat with Kylie Minogue (it's already been pointed out that, after Holy Motors, this is the second film in which Kylie turns up for one scene then falls off a tall building), with Johnson whirling about in his chopper above. Elsewhere, CalTech seismology professor Paul Giamatti gets the expository job of explaining exactly what's going to happen based on flashing computer screens, in between hiding under a wooden desk.

In other and fewer words, this is the biggest pile of utter nonsense we've had in quite a while, but in this instance that's actually not a bad thing. San Andreas ends up as rather good fun, if you like The Rock being magnificent in the face of tidal waves, and if you enjoy the sight of whole cities getting arbitrarily flattened, It's laugh-out-(very)-loud stupid and has no depth or substance beyond the gosh-wow spectacle, and heaven alone knows what's it's like in 3D wobblychair IMAX. Seen flat and in a chair firmly nailed to the floor, I think I quite enjoyed it.

***

THE EVIL BELOW

CONTAINS SPOILERS....GLUB GLUB GLUB

I don't demand a huge amount from a movie. In fact I only ask three things: firstly, just tell me a story. Secondly, make it a good one. And finally, tell it well. I don't even mind too much if it's not that great a story if the telling is interesting. Hell, if it's a terrible story abysmally told I might still get enough fun out of it. But a dull story, flatly presented (or in the case of poncy arthouse fare, no story at all) is where I start yelling at the screen.

The Evil Below is a miserable little film without charm, style or humour in which a C-minus cast plod through a quagmire of implausibility, cliche and tedium. June Chadwick is an English art teacher who has quit her job and cashed in her life savings to look for a mythical 17th century galleon that supposedly disappeared in the Caribbean, oblivious to the notions that [1] no-one's located this thing in over three hundred years and [2] it's MYTHICAL. She hooks up with allegedly hunky boat owner Wayne Crawford to go and look for this thing, he's got no choice because he's broke and can't pay his dock fees and they're about to repossess his boat (yada yada) but there are sharks in the area, crooks and gangsters are on the trail of the El Diablo as well, a priest is murdered, there's a 300-year old man keeping watch over the cursed treasure....

I did a lot of yelling at the screen, most of it rude. It's a staggeringly boring film, uninteresting to look at, and Wayne Crawford isn't leading man material. When I think of all the things I could have been doing with the evening - watching Blade Runner, doing the washing up, developing a crystal meth habit - I'm almost as annoyed with myself for sticking with this turd than I am with the makers for dropping it in the first place. Worthless on pretty much every level there is.

*

CREEPSHOW

CONTAINS SPOILERS

Creepshow may well be the best anthology ever made. More grisly (obviously) than Dead Of Night, and more stylised than the famous Amicus portmanteau films, it has a gloriously bad taste glee to it, while never slipping over into offensiveness (as in the middle section of Little Deaths, or about three quarters of The ABCs Of Death).  Furthermore, it has a consistent tone throughout (unlike, say, The Theatre Bizarre) since it's all the work of the same two legends: director George A Romero and writer Stephen King. Add in Tom Savini on effects duty and you're obviously in safe hands as far as the horror is concerned.

It's a loving throwback to the days of the EC Comics (not DC Comics, as Amazon claim!), and as much of a moral and parental panic as video nasties would be decades later: five gleefully cruel tales of sadistic horror and "euuurgh!" comedy linked with comic-style animation. "Father's Day" has a vicious patriarch coming back for the grave for revenge on his horrible family (and to finally claim the Father's Day cake he was awaiting when he was murdered); while in "Something To Tide You Over" cuckolded Leslie Nielsen buries his wife (a barely glimpsed Gaylen Ross from Dawn Of The Dead) and her boyfriend (Ted Danson!) on the beach as the ocean comes in - but there's a sting in the tale....

Probably the weakest of the five stories is "The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrell", in which a gurning farmer (Stephen King himself) is infected with some alien gloop from a crashed meteor, because there isn't very much of a twist. The best two stories are the ones that conclude proceedings: "The Crate", with meek professor Hal Holbrook finally feeding his horrible wife Adrienne Barbeau to a monster, and the wonderfully creepy "They're Creeping Up On You", featuring horrible tycoon EG Marshall plagued by millions of cockroaches in his pristine white penthouse.

With its wonderful use of heightened colours to mimic the primary colour scheme of comics, Creepshow is as visually dazzling as Suspiria, and thanks to the terrific makeup, monster and prosthetic effects of Tom Savini - no ugly CGI work here - and a starry cast that also includes Ed Harris, Fritz Weaver and Tom Atkins, it's enormous fun, one of those rare films that get the ghoulish comedy/horror blend absolutely right, and it's impossible to take the kind of offence the old EC comics inspired. Certainly it's leagues beyond the 1987 followup Creepshow 2, which had only three much weaker stories, and the entirely unrelated Creepshow III from 2006, which was no better but did interweave its segments together more in the vein of Trick 'R' Treat. If Creepshow isn't George Romero's best film - I think Monkey Shines is tighter and more thrilling, and Dawn Of The Dead is my favourite film of all time - it's very, very close and well worth the rewatch. Recommended, whether you've seen it before or not.

****

THE COLLECTION

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND OH, THAT'S GOTTA HURT

Having co-written the last four episodes of the Saw series, the three Feast movies and the awful Piranha 3DD, Marcus Dunstan knows a thing about onscreen carnage. His 2009 film The Collector was a spectacularly nasty horror movie full of blood and screaming, in which a maniac in a gimp suit tortured and murdered a house full of people for absolutely no reason at all. Severed fingers, disembowellings and getting nailgunned to the wall were the least of the mayhem in a film in which a cat was cut in half and a dog was shot in the face. It was absolutely horrible, made no sense at all, and I'll confess I rather enjoyed it.

Obviously this sequel has to up the ante, so whereas the first film had a mere half a dozen victims, The Collection piles on the corpses by the hundred, although most of those take place in an early scene where The Collector massacres a nightclub full of dancing youngsters with gigantic combine harvester blades descending from the ceiling - again, for no logical reason. Arkin (Josh Stewart), The Collector's trophy from the first film, manages to get free inside the nightclub, but is pressured into helping rescue Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick), one of the survivors, now imprisoned in The Collector's hideout at the derelict Argento Hotel (yes, really)....

From then on it's exactly like those scenes in the Saw films where the clueless cops break into the building but are then picked off by tripwires and booby traps while prowling the moodily lit corridors; meanwhile the maniac is torturing merrily away in his makeshift laboratory full of spiders (arachnophobes beware!) and weird medical specimens in preserving jars. There is a certain pleasure to all this relentless horribleness - this is a post-Saw horror film, after all - as the characters continually trigger knife traps and iron maidens, while giant head-chopping machines and hydraulic rods drop out of the ceiling without warning. None of it makes any sense - why has this madman installed all these devices unless he's expecting company? - and we are never given a glimpse into his character. He's just a bloke who kills people.

But unlike the famously unfathomable nightmare monsters of, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, who are weakened by explanation, you really feel there should be some kind of an answer for The Collector, some kind of motivation. Even Jigsaw from the Saw series had his reasons. And in the absence of any "he does it because...." there's little to do but to marvel at the ingenuity of the Heath Robinson death traps and the evident pride the makers have taken in sloshing viscera across the screen and finding new and interesting ways of ripping the human body to pieces. On that level - a straight-up splatterama - The Collection is great gloopy fun, but as any kind of human drama it's utter twaddle.

There's a final scene tacked on where it looks as though Arkin might have tracked down the maniac in his normal life, and in taking his revenge might eventually become the knife-happy monster himself in any third film (The Collected? The Collectable? The Collect Call?), though according to the IMDb there isn't one underway as yet. Given that The Collection bears a copyright date of 2011, if there was going to be a continuation we'd probably know about it by now. Maybe two trips to the morgue is enough for this franchise anyway. Grisly entertainment, but enough now.


***

RPG

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

There are no rocket propelled grenades in RPG, which is frankly a pity as it would have livened up this unwatchable but sadly unremarkable Portuguese action thriller with very occasional hints of science fiction. Nor, more seriously, is there much in the way of Rutger Hauer: despite clearly being the star of the film as far as the DVD artwork is concerned, he's only in it for about 10 minutes at the start and very briefly at the end.

The RPG of the title actually refers to a Real (not Role) Playing Game in which aging multi-millionaires pay obscene amounts of money to take part in a virtual reality Battle Royale to win eternal youth through soul transference. Their old selves are dropped into shiny new bodies in the glamorous combat environment of an abandoned Lisbon slum, where they have to pick one another off, last man standing style. But there's a twist: they have to know precisely which octogenarian is inside the buff young avatar they've just murdered, and if they get it wrong they die as well...

Much of the film is therefore taken up with the hunks and hotties working through their strategies, suspicions and shifting alliances in order to survive to the end while trying to work out who everyone else might really be. Which is entertaining enough, though like pretty much any film Rutger Hauer ever made (with the honourable exception of the mighty Blade Runner, of course) it could do with more Rutger. It's a shame that the science fiction elements are minimal: the virtual reality environment has nothing in the way of the shiny neon arenas of Tron, for example.

It's also a frankly baffling idea at the heart of the film: how could, say, a long-established industrialist suddenly turn up at the apparent age of 25 with no questions asked? Or a famous actress who has grown old in the public eye mysteriously being 20 again? On the other hand, if it's all a massive con (as hinted at in the final shots), then it's a deception that surely cannot be sustained for very long. Nor do the rules of the game seem particularly fair to the early victims who've paid a massive amount to be there and are killed off pretty much before they get the chance to do anything in their new bodies.

The violence on display would generally only rate a 15 (which it would get for swearing alone) except for a few graphic and sadistic scenes, which have bumped it up to a restrictive and mostly unwarranted 18. Rutger completists will need to see it, obviously, but despite being perfectly proficiently made there's just not much in it for everyone else. It's not terrible, but it's not essential.

**

DARK TIDE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND JAWS REFERENCES

Director John Stockwell clearly likes the water. Blue Crush is a surfing movie, Into The Blue is a scuba diving movie, Paradise Lost (Turistas) has the Brazilian beaches and bikinis, and even his TV work is all shot in Hawaii. And now he's made Dark Tide, which takes place almost entirely on and under the waters around Cape Town, South Africa. It's a slightly odd film in that it's come along in the bubbling wake of so many other shark movies: from formulaic monster epics like the Shark Attack series and the numerous DTV fish-based offerings such as Shark In Venice, Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus and Dinoshark through to slightly more serious and less exploitative films like The Reef and Open Water where the sharks are more of an actual threat and less of a CGI creation pasted into the image. Obviously nothing's going to come within harpooning distance of Jaws, and indeed this doesn't, but it's a definite step up from the usual sharky twaddle.

Kate (Halle Berry) is one of the few people to master the skill of swimming with sharks, but after a dive goes wrong and a man is killed she gives it up to run safe, though not profitable, marine tours. But just as the bank is about to shut her down, her frankly charmless ex Jeff (Olivier Martinez) throws her a lifeline: ignorant and obnoxious British businessman Brady (Ralph Brown) is willing to pay her to take him and his photographer son free diving with Great Whites. She's not interested, but she needs the money, even though it's the sharks' mating season and thus the most dangerous time of the year....

Dark Tide is actually pretty good, not least because the shark footage is fantastic, and that's because they're actually in the water with real Great White sharks. This makes the numerous extensive underwater sequences much more exciting than they usually are, and it's a pity the DVD has no featurettes or commentary detailing the filming of these scenes. Sadly, it's all less exciting above sea level, with Brown and Martinez' characters so fundamentally dislikeable that you end up wanting to see them get eaten as slowly and graphically as the 15 certificate will allow. In addition, "shark whisperer" Kate shows atrocious decision-making skills, suddenly electing to sail everyone straight into a storm so idiot Brady can finally swim with his precious sharks - a decision that can't end well for anyone.

Technically it's not bad, though it could have used a better music score to "big up" the menace of the sharks (although really the villains of the film aren't the sharks themselves, but human greed and stupidity), and at 109 minutes it could do with a trim. But generally it's fine and it's certainly better than you'd expect from yet another shark movie.

***

Friday, 22 May 2015

WACKO

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND NO SURPRISES

It's inevitable that any successful formula will be [1] ripped off and [2] parodied, invariably without much in the way of glory. There have always been spoofs and the Wayans certainly didn't invent chortling horror knockabout with Scary Movie. Twenty years earlier we were getting lame comedy versions of the horror genre: Student Bodies, Saturday The 14th, and this attempt to do for campus slashers what Airplane! did for disaster movies. It doesn't work, unsurprisingly: it's not as good as the first Scary Movie or the first ten minutes of Scary Movie 2, but it's certainly down there in the slough of unfunniness of Scary Movie 3 onwards. It's not that there aren't any jokes - there certainly are, by the score, but hardly any of them raise anything more than a knowing smirk.

Wacko tries to replicate Airplane!'s trick of hiring proper actors to play everything straight-faced and seriously rather than getting comedians to mug and gurn: they've got Joe Don Baker, Stella Stevens and the mighty George Kennedy (who of course would later follow Leslie Nielsen into the Naked Gun series). On the thirteenth anniversary of the infamous Lawnmower Killings, the maniac escapes from the local mental hospital and looks set to start another rampage at the Halloween Pumpkin Prom at Alfred Hitchcock High School, Angry cop Joe Don Baker (who hasn't slept in thirteen years) is out to stop him; Stevens and Kennedy are the parents of the most likely target, the sister of one of the victims thirteen years ago....

It's really not very good: I know I don't have much of a sense of humour but even so I was surprised how much I didn't laugh. It's not that I didn't see and understand the jokes, I just didn't find them funny enough. There are meaningless nods to The Exorcist, Psycho and The Omen, which are more like acknowledgements of those films' existence than actual gags, frequent use of the Alfred Hitchcock TV theme music (Funeral March Of A Marionette), Andrew Dice Clay basically playing The Fonz, middle-aged Kennedy perving over his nubile daughter. and a plot that doesn't actually make any sense though it probably doesn't matter. It's not actively offensive in terms of bad taste, but that's literally all it's got going for it.

*

Sunday, 17 May 2015

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

Coming out of this film, there was only one word that immediately summed up my primary reaction. It's not a word I use very often about films, but the entirety of the English lexicon has no other conjunction of two syllables that fully do justice to what I'd watched. Mad Max: Fury Road is awesome. Literally awesome. Not metaphorically awesome, not awesome in a "cool!" or "wicked!" sense, but genuinely awesome, genuinely inspiring a feeling of awe. Two hours of full-on, copper-bottomed, all-stops-out, balls-to-the-wall, take-no-prisoners, death-or-glory, brain-annihilating superawesomeness that redefines and reinvents the very idea of action cinema. This isn't just what cinema was invented for, it's what your eyes were invented for.

It's unclear where Fury Road falls in the timeline of the previous three films: it's all set in the future anyway so it could well take place two days after Beyond Thunderdome. Max Rockatansky (now played by Tom Hardy) is still wandering the wastelands of the Australian deserts seeking redemption and a vestige of humanity: he's captured by the whooping War Boys and taken to the Citadel to be used as a blood bank to keep the soldiers going. Meanwhile, close-cropped one-armed Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) steals a War Rig - an enormous tanker full of precious gasoline to head for her childhood home, "The Green Place", where there might be a better future. But she's also taken the wives of the Citadel's tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), and he wants them back...

That's pretty much it for plot. Mad Max: Fury Road runs for two hours and if you took out the fights, chases and action sequences you would have maybe twenty minutes left. Such a high ratio of action to talk would normally be unthinkable, but George Miller is clearly not interested in following any established formula. And that ratio would be intolerable if the ninety-plus minutes of action were not of the highest calibre - but they are. They're clear, distinct, and show the whole picture rather than jagged close-ups from shaking cameras, yet at the same time they're right in the thick of the action and not standing back observing from a distance. Brilliantly structured and put together, Fury Road's chases are monumental set-pieces of mayhem and crashes and explosions that go on for reels at a time without a pause for breath or reflection, yet Miller makes sure at all times that we know exactly where each vehicle is and who's in it. (Props also for doing most of it with actual real vehicles smashing into each other and not relying on CGI except as a cleanup tool.) A director like Michael Bay would have micro-edited these sequences into an incoherent frenzy of near-subliminal nonsense. Or think back to the pre-credits chase of Quantum Of Solace where the action is cut together so fast that's impossible on first viewing to even tell which car James Bond is driving!

If that's not enough....the film looks absolutely gorgeous. Miller and DP John Seale have rendered everything in scorchingly bright colours, transforming the endless desert (actually Namibia) into a surreal, storm-strewn alien hellscape. Junkie XL's music score isn't up there with the originals' scores by Brian (Not That One) May or even Maurice Jarre, but competes with all the engines and clanging metal through sheer volume and wins through by actually being more musically interesting than expected. Design is fantastic, whether the wild costumes or the heavily customised vehicles such as a family saloon converted to run on caterpillar tracks (one of the cars definitely recalls the spiky VW from The Cars That Ate Paris). Some have whined pathetically about how Max almost seems reduced to a supporting character in his own movie, as the focus is at most split equally between Max and badass kickass Furiosa and they don't want to see Man playing second banana to mere Woman, but they're Cro-Magnon peabrains.

But at the heart of Mad Mad: Fury Road is a vision of a future world gone absolutely insane where mankind has devolved beyond barbarism to screaming, howling madness, and that world is brilliantly realised. If cinema is a drug then this is a pure unfiltered straight into the brain: a magnificent, delirious blast of screaming and explosions that just keeps going. I want to see it again. I need to see it again. It is awesome.

*****

Thursday, 23 April 2015

FAST & FURIOUS 7

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE GEARBOX

Straight-up confession: I like the Fast And Furious movies. Granted it took a couple of episodes to find its formula of idiotically fast cars smashing into things and cartoonish blokes lamping one another with spanners while hot bikini chicks whoop from the sidelines, but once the franchise mutated from colourful but empty car chase exploitation to a fusion of Ocean's Eleven, Mission: Impossible and Top Gear, it just got bigger, better, noisier, sillier and crazier. And this latest episode is more of the same: much, much more. Perhaps to the extent that they nudge the plausibility barrier a couple of times, even given the parameters of the Looney Tunes world they inhabit (Vin Diesel walks away unscratched from not one, not two, but three brutal crashes that would have left The Terminator in pieces), but for the sheer amount of screeching tyre mayhem and full-on asskicking it's probably the best dose of adrenalin and testosterone you've seen since the last one, and you won't see better until the next one.

Fast & Furious 7 kicks off with the mystery villain from FF6's post-credits sting with top British assassin Shaw (Jason Statham) looking to exact revenge for his brother. First off was Han (Sung Kang), whose Tokyo death scene actually occurred halfway through the third film despite him being in the next three. Then a bomb nearly takes out the core threesome - Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster - but it's only when shadowy government man Kurt Russell turns up and promises them access to a revolutionary new hacking system called God's Eye that they get a chance at taking the fight to Shaw....In order to obtain God's Eye they first have to rescue the genius computer hacker who designed it - from an armoured bus travelling through impregnable and inaccessible mountain roads in the Caucasus Mountains. Then they have to retrieve the hard drive from a Saudi billionaire in a skyscraper penthouse, and it's only at that point that they can use the system to track down Shaw. But it doesn't work out, and Shaw manages to get the device for himself....

That's when the movie makes its big misstep, as Diesel decides to lure Shaw to a final showdown on the streets of Los Angeles, one of the most populous cities on Earth. Surely it would have been more sensible, and no less cinematically exciting, to head out of town into the deserts where the roads go on for miles without a civilian population of collateral casualties in waiting? I know exploding buildings and hair's breadth car stunts look great on screen, and the film's final half hour of cars and helicopters and missiles and grenades and huge guns and facepunching mayhem is brilliantly realised, but it just makes no sense to put thousands of average "real people" at such a pointless risk, especially when you remember how desperate the team were to avoid civilian carnage during the previous film's tank chase.

For most of the time it's a fun, noisy, blisteringly destructive blast and the car action is suitably demented. It's nice to see that Paul Walker, who tragically died halfway through production, is paid appropriate and sincere tribute at the end, in a sign off which lets the series continue naturally without the character (and as this instalment has taken a billion dollars already there's no sane reason why they wouldn't do another two at the very least). Frankly, bring it on: Fast & Furious 7 was one of my most eagerly awaited cinema trips of the year and it truly was worth the wait. I want to see it again.

****

Sunday, 29 March 2015

ASSASSIN / WE STILL KILL THE OLD WAY

****ING CONTAINS ****ING SPOILERS

A brace of recent British gangster movies here, suggesting an apparently enduring love for old school East End crime bosses wot dressed smart and loved their mum and didn't do no harm to them wot didn't deserve it, hanging out with colourfully dubious underworld figures like Mickey The Stoat and Harry The Hammer and keeping the bottom of the canal well stocked with the bodies of them wot mysteriously disappeared recently after a disagreement. The spectres of Ron and Reg still loom over this niche of the British Film Industry, who are apparently nowhere near completing their mission to promote a pair of terrifying sociopaths, who would happily nail you to a billiard table for want of anything better to do on a Thursday night, as role models for the next generation of cheerful Cockernee villains wot won't do you no harm if you don't cross them, sunshine.

Both films feature brothers who are aging London crime bosses: Assassin actually has them played by Gary and Martin Kemp, real-life brothers and stars of The Krays. They've mostly gone straight these days but apparently there are still occasions when people need rubbing out and Danny Dyer is their in-house hit man. Unknowingly, he makes the mistake of falling for the cokehead daughter of his last hit and, when she starts digging into her father's unlikely and convenient sudden death, Dyer is assigned to dispose of her as well. But he runs off with her instead to start a new life with her....

There's a semi-decent thriller lurking within Assassin, but JK Amalou (Hard Men, Deviation) is not the man to find it and Danny Dyer is absolutely not the actor to bring the character to life. Granted it's a better film than, say, Basement or Run For Your Wife, but pretty much every film ever made up to and including the collected works of Ted V Mikels is better than Basement or Run For Your Wife. On the flipside, it's scarcely a better piece of work than Dead Man Running or Vendetta or Blood Shot or Doghouse or Outlaw: it is just more of the same and not well enough done to raise any interest. File under Only If It's Raining, Your Netflix Account Has Failed And It's Literally The Only DVD On Cash Converter's Shelf.

We Still Kill The Old Way has a more despairing attitude, contrasting the old-fashioned villainy of the Kray Twins Archer Brothers with the incoherent and brutish misogyny and thuggery of teenage drugs gangs running amok through the East End. When ex-crime boss Steven Berkoff is kicked to death in an alley for disrupting a gang rape, his brother (Ian Ogilvy) flies in from his Spanish hideaway to find out exactly what happened and, teaming up with his old crew, deal with the miserable little scrotes responsible, while maybe rekindling a romance with Lysette Anthony and crossing swords with the ineptitude of the Old Bill (here represented by Alison Doody)....

It may be weighed down by industrial-level swearing and a raft of younger characters so thoroughly hateful they make the Waffen SS look like the Von Trapps (with or without the singing), but to my surprise I kind of enjoyed it. I didn't adore it and I don't want to see it again, but just as the film concerns itself with the old gangsters being (relatively) better than the new breed, so the veteran cast display the charm and watchability that the youngsters simply don't possess. Most audaciously, the film doesn't just end with the possibility of a sequel but actually posits itself as an unofficial followup to The Italian Job, as our "heroes" wax nostalgic about that bullion job they pulled in Turin all those years ago. Frankly, given the choice I'd rather have a second helping of this than Assassin, because at least there's the sense that the cast are having some fun with it whereas Assassin is mostly glum. But I'd sooner the British Film Industry found better role models and hero figures than lowlifes, murderers and foul-mouthed scum.

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