Monday, 10 August 2015

SLAUGHTERHOUSE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND HOLD THE SAUSAGES

More late 1980s slasher knockabout in which a bunch of dim teenagers and assorted other idiots get bloodily offed by a hulking maniac. This one doesn't appear to have earned very much in the way of cult status, which perhaps isn't that surprising (given that it's hardly a classic) but it's agreeably nasty enough to make you wonder why it isn't more famous. Maybe the slasher cycle was ebbing by that point (even the Friday The 13th series had more or less given up by then), and the world's censor boards were reducing the splatter to the point where it wasn't worth the effort.

Indeed, when Slaughterhouse first went to the BBFC for a VHS certificate back in 1989, it had over two and a half minutes lopped out, and oddly enough none of those cuts are in the film's credits sequence in which pigs are killed, disembowelled and processed to the accompaniment of a magnificently inappropriate big band track with shrieking brass and rocking timpani. (Following this, you may well never want to eat another hot dog again.) The barking mad owner of a rundown slaughterhouse in a meat-based small town consistently refuses to sell out to a bigger, more efficient but poorer quality meat processing firm, despite fair offers; instead allowing his morbidly obese son to kill them off. Meanwhile a gang of young idiots, relatively unconcerned about the disappearance of two of their close friends, are looking for a spooky location in which to shoot a horror video....

It's trashy, nasty and gleefully unpleasant enough to make a decent Friday night's retro entertainment, even if every single character behaves like an absolute imbecile: it's so dazzlingly obvious to anyone with an IQ higher than that of a pork pie that wandering round the disused slaughterhouse is a Massively Bad Idea that it's hard to sympathise too much when Buddy looms out of nowhere and casually offs them. It has a lighter tone than something like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with numerous pig-related jokes (the local radio station is K-FAT, the town is holding its annual Pig Out festival, the abattoir owner is named Mr Bacon) and ends up as rather grisly fun. And that opening titles music is insanely catchy.

***

NO GOOD DEED

CONTAINS PRETTY MUCH NOTHING IN THE WAY OF SPOILERS

Depressingly ordinary thriller which could hardly be any more by-the-numbers if it just consisted of Idris Elba counting things. There's no sense of mystery going on in the film except how everyone - studios, cinemas - thought this would be worth a theatrical release, even a brief one. Don't misunderstand: I generally enjoy violent psychopath thrillers and I'm all in favour of them playing provincial Cineworlds and Odeons, if only as an alternative to the current obsession with colourful superhero nonsense, but there are limits.

Because all the time you're watching No Good Deed, you're constantly thinking there has to be something more going on, some imminent revelation or plot twist. Surely there has to be some other reason for convicted killer Idris Elba to escape from his prison van than his parole application being rejected because of his anger management issues? Is he actually out to unmask the real killer whose crimes he went to jail for and thereby prove his innocence? It can't be that Idris Elba is just playing a violent, misogynistic, "malignant narcissist" sociopath who beats one woman to death and then systematically victimises another woman (Taraji P Henson) and her two children in their own home?

The whole thing is riddled with contrivance: it just happens that there's a massive storm which gives Henson a reason to let Elba into the house in the first place, it just happens that a falling branch smashes a window which conveniently distracts Elba from having to answer awkward questions, it just happens that someone rings a dropped mobile at precisely the right moment which handily sorts out the film's final act. No Good Deed is well mounted and looks good, but it's entirely unremarkable and the only surprise to be had is that there are no surprises to be had, unless you're likely to be shocked by the number 17 coming after number 16.

**

Saturday, 1 August 2015

SHARKNADO

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND BREATHTAKING DUMBASSERY

Yes, I know. Of course it's my own fault and I really can't blame anyone else. A SyFy Channel film made by The Asylum: what the hell was I thinking? There's no excuse for adding this kind of junk to the rental queue: it's not like I didn't know what I was getting into. SyFy and The Asylum make movies no-one else would dare: not because everyone else is too scared to try, but because SyFy and The Asylum are the only ones with low enough standards. It's like sticking pins under your thumbnail to see if it hurts as much as it did the last time. At least watching terrible films doesn't involve the loss of blood or mopping up afterwards.

But there's a particular difference with Sharknado as, unlike most terrible movies, has somehow broken through the mere mediocrity barrier and approached the level of Cultural Phenomenon thanks, apparently, to social media. Suddenly it's good to be so-bad-it's-good: it's a point of pride that the acting, writing, directing and special effects are as sub-par as they can be. If audiences are prepared to hand over their hard-earned banknotes for movies aiming as low as Megafault and Legion Of The Dead and Snakes On A Train, why bother aiming any higher? Take the money and don't do anything silly like make a competent film by accident.

No idea is stupid enough for these people, and Sharknado's breathtakingly stupid high concept is that a freak hurricane sucks a load of Pacific coastal sharks into a series of huge waterspouts and dumps them inland where they thrash about in the flash floods and torrential downpour, and eat people. Following the storm's initial attack on the Santa Monica pier and the destruction of his waterfront bar, the knowingly-named Fin and his friends head inland to make sure his estranged family are safe as it literally rains sharks even in hill-top mansions: sharks that leap through windows, fly out of storm drains and launch themselves out of the water at people climbing ropes. Can our band of bickering heroes kill the sharks and, perhaps more importantly, deactivate the giant twisters ripping through city blocks and residential areas (and arguably creating far more carnage and destruction than the sharks)?

Obviously it's absolute barrel-bottom rubbish: dazzlingly stupid and atrociously put together, with terrible CG effects that would shame the latter years of classic Doctor Who and the lowest daytime soap level of writing and directing and acting and whatever. But you pretty much knew that going in - that's why you went in it the first place. Nobody with all their pegs in the right holes rents something called Sharknado actually expecting a halfway decent movie, and SyFy and The Asylum are not about to knowingly confound expectations. Granted, some bad movies may be hugely enjoyable (I love Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce, for example), but that doesn't actually make them good films. They aren't enjoyable because of their badness, but in spite of it. You can't deliberately manufacture so-bad-it's-good (assuming such a thing exists, which I personally don't accept: good and bad exist on a spectrum and not a loop, and there's clearly no such thing as so-good-it's-awful) any more than you can deliberately manufacture a cult movie, as Troma have spent several decades demonstrating.

Comparisons with the likes of old Roger Corman and Ed Wood movies miss the point: those people believed in and cared about what they were doing whereas SyFy and The Asylum clearly don't. They're too in on their own joke and don't care whether it's laughing with or laughing at them, so long as they're laughing because obviously they can't be taken seriously. The joke isn't on Sharknado or its rotten script, laboriously shoehorning in blatant references to Jaws and Twister: we may think we're mocking the film's abysmal standards but really the joke is on us. The Asylum's genius lies in the idea that we mere humans believe we're having fun with the dumb shark movies, but they're laughing at us: poking the viewer with a poo-covered stick and watching them dance. See how they cheerfully devour whatever slop we put in front of them. Go on, poke them with another Sharknado! And another! Depressing garbage.

*

THE SISTER OF URSULA

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND BLIMEY, GET A LOAD OF THE GIALLO TROPES ON THAT

I've been something of a fan of giallo movies since a season of Dario Argento films at the much-missed Scala in 1987. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Four Flies On Grey Velvet and (in particular) Tenebrae were thrilling to discover and over the years I've tried to catch as many other examples as I reasonably can. Sometimes it doesn't work out (Death Laid An Egg is too weird and experimental for me) and sometimes it's an unheralded little gem like Death Walks On High Heels. Every so often another one surfaces but this time it really isn't one of the greats.

The Sister Of Ursula is definitely one of the more sleazy and sex-obsessed, to the extent that I actually stopped watching and looked out of the window instead, every time the film slammed into yet another extended nude scene. (You could tell when the sex bits were going to start because the soundtrack kept launching into the same miserable bit of softcore sax muzak.) Two Austrian sisters, one of whom is screechingly neurotic as well as slightly telepathic, turn up at an Italian hotel where there's an unhealthy trade in drugs going on, and the next thing you know everyone's getting naked and there's a masked maniac on the loose murdering people with a dildo.

The nude and humping sequences are mostly pretty dull, but what's worse is that they get in the way of a serviceable murder mystery; that said, if you cut the skin scenes out the film would be over in half the time. It doesn't really matter who the mad killer is or why they're doing it; this is less a giallo than a frankly tiresome porno with enough bits of plot to almost convince you it's a real movie. Frankly I was only interested in it while it was being a nasty little giallo but got very bored with it every time it reverted to staring fixedly at boobs and bums. Which, unfortunately, was far too often. As nudie giallo movies go, Strip Nude For Your Killer is a much better watch.

**

DARK TOURIST

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Context is everything. When this played at FrightFest in 2013, I really didn’t care for it at all: in fact it was one of my least favourites of the festival that year. Watching it again on a review disc, over a year later, I’m now seeing it in isolation rather than surrounded by dozens of more easily labelled horror films, and in that context I’m finding it plays slightly better. But it’s still a film I fundamentally don’t like very much.

I don’t think Dark Tourist is a horror film except within the genre’s (and the festival’s) broadest possible scope: the press blurb suggests it’s in the tradition of Taxi Driver, in that it is a remorseless character drama, a very dark psychological study of a deeply disturbed mind. But it really isn’t in Taxi Driver’s league. Jim (Michael Cudlitz) is a night security guard at a Yonkers factory. He is also, ghoulishly, a grief tourist (the original, and much better, title of the film was The Grief Tourist): he spends his holiday time visiting the sites of serial killings and mass murders. On this occasion he has chosen 1960s Californian arsonist and spree killer Carl Marznap, driving out to the derelict remains of his childhood home, the abandoned juvenile detention facility where his murderous anger was fuelled, and the church he burned to the ground with the congregation locked inside it. But Jim also has dark secrets of his own...

These dark secrets lead to a sexual sequence with the prostitute next door which to be honest I could have done without, but this is in service of the big plot twist of Jim’s nature which frankly doesn’t need to be there except as a plot twist. There is already enough character drama in Jim’s macabre fascination with the life stories of serial killers, and his visions of and interactions with the ghost of Carl Marznap (Pruitt Taylor Vince), as well as his awkward romance with a lonely widowed waitress (Melanie Griffith). The third act revelation that [SPOILER ALERT] Jim is a serial killer himself means the film has a measure of graphic violence towards the end, but it feels unnecessary.

As a psychological drama about a man with a very strange hobby and his difficulties interacting with other people (he seems to find it easier talking with the ghosts, making you wonder if he’s always haunted on these quests), Dark Tourist is not without interest, and I certainly don’t think you can fault the acting. Even then, I think the film could have done with lightening up a little as it’s a pretty grim trudge to somewhere you don’t particularly want to go. Overall I still don’t like the film very much, but it’s certainly not as bleak and unlikeably downbeat as it felt the first time around.

**

DEAD SUSHI

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

The Japanese gore movie - as distinct from the chilling horrors of The Ring and The Grudge, or the unhinged madness of many of Takashi Miike's films - has long been a FrightFest staple. Splattery epics like Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl Vs Frankenstein Girl and Alien Vs Ninja have cheerfully smothered the screen in gore, severed limbs and giant spurting fountains of blood; and Dead Sushi (a late night screening at FrightFest 2012) continues the tradition.

There is a particularly memorable line of dialogue in Joe Dante's Piranha, when a waiter has to inform his boss "It's the fish, sir: they're eating the guests." Which pretty well encapsulates the plot of Dead Sushi: mutated killer zombie sushi is unleashed by a ranting vagrant (for reasons of plot contrivance that are frankly too ludicrous to detail here) on a struggling inn that's currently hosting a corporate sushi banquet. Only the handyman and a waitress (who, in another happy plot contrivance, just happens to be the runaway daughter of Japan's foremost sushi chef), with the assistance of a small piece of mutated heroic egg sushi, can stop the flesh-eating sashimi from escaping into the outside world and unleashing fishpocalypse upon mankind....

You can fill in the blanks from there: the fearless overacting and mugging, ridiculous dialogue, unconvincing monster effects (the CGI is pretty awful but the prosthetic and make-up effects are okay), some martial arts, a bit of perving, and buckets of gore. Serious analysis of the plot, or even merely mentioning that it's a phenomenally silly film, seems almost beside the point for a film where even "being any good" wasn't on anyone's list of priorities. Yet, that said, Dead Sushi does end up as actually rather sweet and funny and good-natured. For all the blood and death it's far too ludicrous to be even remotely offensive, even in its more excessive moments. Rather, it's surprisingly good fun on a mindless knockabout level, and the silliness steadily escalates to the point where it's impossible to take a single frame of it at all seriously. But why would you? It's about killer sushi, for goodness' sake!

A glance at his IMDb page confirms that director Noboru Iguchi has been churning out this sort of gory twaddle for some years now: Machine Girl is probably the best known of them (along with the awful F Is For Fart segment of The ABCs Of Death), though I'm now mildly intrigued as to what Zombie Ass: Toilet Of The Dead is all about. By any critical yardstick Dead Sushi isn't very good, but against other Japanese gore comedies it's a decent enough entertainment.

***

PIT AND THE PENDULUM

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

First off, note the title as it appears on screen. Regardless of what it might say on the packaging or the posters, or even the original short story, it's actually Pit And The Pendulum, not The Pit.... Roger Corman's 1961 adaptation (or more accurately, expansion) of the Edgar Allan Poe story is probably the best entry in his Poe cycle: I've always liked it more than the usual favourites The Masque Of The Red Death and The Fall Of The House Of Usher, and I was never as much of a fan of the more comedic ones like The Raven. Plus it has the magnificent and irreplaceable Vincent Price giving it the Full Thesp, which is always a joy to watch.

Like The Tomb Of Ligeia and House Of Usher, Pit And The Pendulum centres on Price as a tormented, terrified man living in a gloomy old mansion haunted (both him and the mansion) by past horrors. In this instance Nicholas Medina's (Price) beloved wife Elizabeth (Barbara Steele) has died suddenly; her brother Francis (John Kerr) turns up to find out exactly what happened, and sets in motion a series of events which might be supernatural, or which might be down to Nicholas's refusal to accept her death. But what really happened to her? Was she buried alive? And what is their morbid fascination with the torture chamber left over from the Medina family's Inquisition days?

Inevitably, of course, Francis has to face The Pendulum: one of the most instantly recognisable torture devices which has turned up in everything from one of the Saw sequels to Dario Argento's gloriously bonkers half of Two Evil Eyes but it's probably at its best here as Price cranks up the glorious hamming. The film has always looked great with wonderful castle sets full of secret passages and cobwebs (even though half the scenery is repainted from The Fall Of The House Of Usher), but now it's on Blu it looks even better and richer.

As for the extra features, it's now reaching the point where you feel Arrow should be releasing pretty much everything. This time out there are two commentaries, one from Corman himself and one from Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, another retrospective Making Of (including the great Barbara Steele) and a curious extra sequence shot afterwards to bunk up the 81-minute running time for television screenings. Plus you also get An Evening Of Edgar Allan Poe, a TV special from 1970 in which Vincent Price spectacularly performs a selection of classic Poe tales as monologues, including The Pit And The Pendulum! Honestly, what more could you ask for? It's this sort of bonus material that upgrades a terrific presentation of a pretty good film from a strong recommendation to a near-essential purchase.

****

Friday, 10 July 2015

TERMINATOR: GENISYS

CONTIANS SOME SIRYOUS SPOLIERS

Once upon a time, things were so much simpler even in the worlds of using time travel to rewrite history. Back in the 1980s even Doctor Who couldn't go back in time and save a companion from dying in an exploding spaceship and, just as that show has now deteriorated into an incomprehensible morass of multiple and alternate time-strands, so what was once a pretty straightforward time-travel action concept has now become so multi-layered and twisted that it no longer makes any real sense. Oh, they've tried to explain the paradoxes and temporal nexus effects, and at least on the surface it gets by if you haven't seen any of the other films in the series and aren't too bothered about the detail about who that bloke is and where/when that cyborg came from. But that's rather like expecting Saw 6 to stand alone as a comprehensible narrative as well as making sense within the franchise it's busy rewriting as it goes along. It can't and it doesn't.

Terminator: Genisys is the fifth in the increasingly and unnecessarily convoluted franchise descended from James Cameron's thrilling B-movie triumph. We start off in the post-Skynet nuclear devstation again, with the human rebels set to rise up against the machines by smashing the central systems, switching off the mainframe and storming the work camps. As the last roll of its dice, Skynet sends a Terminator back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, clearly playing Linda Hamilton), mother of the resistance's leader, and end the war before it begins. And, as before, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, not looking remotely like Michael Biehn) leaps back through the time vortex to save her. So far so familiar. But then Sarah Connor turns out not to be the meek waitress he (and we) had expected: instead she's majorly badass and accompanied by a good Terminator which at some point had been sent back to protect her from another Skynet Terminator eleven years previously....

So in 1984 there's the 1984 Terminator and the 1973 Terminator squaring off, plus another liquid metal Terminator (as seen in the 1991 sequel which was set in 1995). Rather than jumping to 1997 to thwart Judgment Day, they go further forward to 2017 to prevent Skynet (hidden within the exciting but appallingly spelled new social connectivity app Genisys) from going online, achieving sentience and wiping out humanity. But then John Connor shows up and (in a shock reveal moment which might have had some impact if it hadn't been included in the trailers) turns out to be an indestructible bad Terminator now out to protect Skynet....

It ends up as the kind of multiple time-jumping mess that later Doctor Who would dismiss as "wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff", made more pointed by the presence of Matt Smith as a physical manifestation of Skynet (admittedly the wrong Doctor, but who cares?). Every so often there's a nifty action sequence - a somersaulting school bus on the Golden Gate bridge, a street-level helicopter chase - or a deliberate reference to the original films (Sarah Connor's first words are "Come with me if you want to live"), and there's some easy fun to be had from the visibly older Schwarzenegger not entirely blending in with human society.

Certainly this is nonsensical (when did Skynet send all these different Terminators back to various points in Sarah Connor's past and when did John Connor send back the protector ones in pursuit?), some of the dialogue is terrible, Jai Courtney still isn't an exciting lead and JK Simmons and Matt Smith aren't given very much to do. And while it's great to hear the original Brad Fiedel theme again, the rest of the score is forgettable. But the action sequences and effects are mostly terrific (if, again, needlessly destructive to civilians and bystanders) and, frankly, in the genre of robot apocalypse movies I'd take the Terminators over the Transformers any day. Yes, even the third one (which was basically little more than a cartoon of Arnie and Kristanna Loken repeatedly beating one another up) and the much-derided Salvation which I quite enjoyed on the level of empty-headed kaboom.

So what's it all about, apart from Paramount's bank balance? Well, amidst all the nods to the first two films, you might argue that it's about family. The old 1973 Arnie has a weirdly paternal and disapproving relationship with Sarah Connor (she even calls him Pops), while the twisted Kyle-Sarah-John triangle (as we remember from the first film, Kyle is John's father) can't really be resolved in the same timeline. Or maybe it's just setting up another two hours of stunts and explosions and CGI robogeddon and glowering grey-haired Arnie in two years' time? Compared to some of the other franchise instalments pencilled in for 2017, another one of these movies isn't he worst thing on offer.

***

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.

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