Sunday, 18 September 2016

MONOLITH

CONTAINS VERY MINOR SPOILERS

Sometimes it's the simplest ideas that can make for the most gripping movies, and sometimes the best variation on a familiar theme is a straightforward reversal - in this instance locked out rather than locked in. Monolith isn't any kind of gamechanger but as a lean, stripped-down thriller with a minimal cast (only one major speaking role, a toddler and a handful of walkons and Skype conversations) it's solid and entertaining with a dash of comment about terrible parenting.

Because Sandra (Katrina Bowden) is truly an awful mother: mislaying her kid at a gas station when easily distracted by a fan of her vapid popstar past, constantly giving the boy a dumb videogame to keep him amused and quiet rather than try and engage with him. She smokes in front of him (and is also willing to indulge in some soft drugs) and cheerfully admits to being a homewrecker, yet is hypocritically furious that the husband she stole might be playing away again. So it's somewhat satisfying dramatically when the kid inadvertently locks her out of her super-secure, ultra-safe SUV, the computer-controlled Monolith. With the car in Vault Mode lockdown, the desert temperatures turning it into a potential furnace and her son too young to understand how to open the car from inside, can Sandra "man up" to her maternal responsibilities and figure a way to get the doors open and rescue her steadily dehydrating child? While contending with the local feral wildlife a lack of water?

Sure there are a few holes in the logic - for one thing, the unaccountable lack of any other traffic on a satnav-directed diversion from the road to a major city. But it's a simple, economical setup, it doesn't waste any time at all (a running time of just 83 minutes), and Bowden makes for a flawed but attractive lead forced to make serious grownup decisions for probably the first time in her life. And even though I have absolutely no use for it on my daily commute to the wastelands of Milton Keynes, I kind of want a Monolith for myself. Well worth a look.

****

MOST LIKELY TO DIE

CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

A group of late-20s smugheads get together for a 10-years-later high school reunion, so they can angst over their wretched failures and bad life choices, follow through on their adolescent crushes, and reminisce nostalgically over the anonymous classmate they routinely humiliated until they wrecked his life. Meanwhile a masked killer in a graduation robe is viciously offing them one by one in the manner of their hilarious "Most Likely To...." captions from their class yearbook. Who could it possibly be? Answers on a postcard if [a] you work out who the killer is before the denouement, and [b] you actually care.

There are a few nice moments in Most Likely To Die, it's certainly violent enough, and the 10-years-later idea means the potential meat courses have a (tiny) bit of history and depth to them, rather than the usual cardboard teenagers. But it's still impossible to give that much of a hoot about them, and the film degenerates into the traditional scenes of squabbling halfwits running around a big house and screaming, the traditional ludicrous unmasking, and the traditional final twist ending that might (but probably won't) lead to a sequel. Oddly, Anthony DiBlasi's film has bypassed UK cinemas (well, maybe not that oddly) and DVD, and has simply popped up unannounced on Netflix. Cast includes Jake Busey for a couple of scenes leching over the girls, and timewasting bandwidth squanderer Perez Hilton, so annoying you'd honestly rather have Paris instead.

**

Thursday, 1 September 2016

RED CHRISTMAS

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

At first glance this would appear to be a pretty standard horror comedy in which a long-buried secret resurfaces to rip apart a dysfunctional family and leave everyone bloodily killed. However, it's much more problematic than that: some frankly mysterious narrative choices take the film into Troma bad taste territory, and the film's moral/political message sits awkwardly with the cheery splatter and bickering family sitcom.

Beginning with TV news footage after an attack on an abortion clinic by pro-life extremists, Red Christmas sees kindly matriarch Dee Wallace gathering her brood together for the holiday season before she sells the house and sets off on a long-dreamed tour of Europe, to the shock of her supposedly adult offspring. They include a son with Down Syndrome, a heavily pregnant daughter and a starchy Christian married to a pervy vicar. Just as they're about to unwrap their gifts, a masked and robed stranger appears on the doorstep claiming to be previously unheard-of brother Cletus - and when they throw him out, he returns for senselessly bloody vengeance on the mother who has abandoned him twice...

The use of Down Syndrome as a cheap plot device is tasteless and ill-advised: aside from the fact that it forces the non-Down actor playing Cletus to adopt the vocal mannerisms (Jerry is played by award-winning Down Dyndrome actor Gerard Odwyer), his big unmasking reveals him as a pathetic bug-eyed grotesque that frankly looks like a John Buechler make-up job from a 1980s Empire Pictures release. The pervy vicar (peeking at a sex act in the toilet, pleasuring himself in the wardrobe) is the source of easy comedy, and the contrast between the two older sisters (one easy-going, drinking and indulging in herbal weed, the other preachy and bitter through frustration over her childlessness) could have been enjoyable, but the viciousness of the kills and the appalling bad taste turn the movie into something that doesn't seem to know what it's supposed to be. Moments amuse, but it leaves a sour taste.

**

FRANCESCA

EH? WHAT? CONTAINS SPOILERS

There are many reasons why this thing is called Film Yellow - I actually like yellow as a colour, and it kind of sounds good - but the main one is that I do like a bit of giallo. Not just the biggest hits from the major players (Bava, Argento), but relatively lesser items like The Fifth Cord or Strip Nude For Your Killer. However, much as I enjoy them, I can't help feeling that it's only weird movie obsessives like me, and connoisseurs of the cinema backwaters, who have any real interest in such things, and thus I wonder precisely who else this painstaking Eurothriller tribute act is aimed at.

Sadly Francesca, an Argentinian giallo homage set in Rome, and screened in German for no apparent reason, seems more interested in nodding at the genre's tropes than actually doing anything new or interesting: it takes a fairly average giallo plot in which various individuals are being bumped off by a mysterious killer who has themed his/her crusade around The Divine Comedy (Dante Alighieri, not Neil Hannon), and a couple of detectives investigate (with, it has to be said, a curious lack of fire and energy). What, if anything, does it have to do with the opening sequence of a little girl stabbing a baby? Or Tchaikovsky's Francesca Di Rimini?

Appropriating older styles can work brilliantly: Ti West's The House Of The Devil genuinely looks like a lost classic from the Golden Age of American TV Movies, and Anna Biller's The Love Witch is a pin-sharp recreation of 1960s Technicolour froth. On the other hand, grindhouse tribute acts can wear out their fake retro appeal very quickly with post-production effects like scratches and faded colour on what is clearly a digital "print". But loving nostalgia by itself really isn't enough and it doesn't really click here (if nothing else, The House Of The Devil and The Love Witch were fun, and Francesca is oddly glum).

Luciano Onetti has certainly gone to a hell of a lot of trouble to make his film look like it was shot in 1971: the film has the colour scheme down pat (drab and bleak, unlike Cattet and Forzani's giallo exercises Amer and The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears which pump up the vivid colour and style at the expense of everything else), shots of the peculiarly ubiquitous J&B whisky bottle, and it's overlaid with Onetti's own score that could well be one of Ennio Morricone's dissonant jazz soundtracks of the period (the early Argentos, for example). But to what end? Those unfamiliar with giallo would be better off starting with, say, Blood And Black Lace and Tenebrae and exploring from there, while those of us who've bought Death Laid An Egg and Don't Torture A Duckling on import DVDs already know the genre's peculiarities - hell, that's why we love them. It's a pity that the pacing is so slow, so even a slim 80-minute running time drags alarmingly and it never really grips. A strangely pointless but not uninteresting oddity.

**

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?

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