Saturday, 21 February 2015

PIRANHA

CONTAINS SPOILERS. MUNCHIE MUNCHIE.

There are two ways of looking at Joe Dante's first solo directorial feature (after the co-directed Hollywood Boulevard). One is as a Roger Corman ripoff of (or more accurately a knowing, winking and unapologetic homage to) Jaws, which set the template for fish-based horror entertainment that still holds today with however many CGI shark and piranha movies are out there. Piranha, let's be fair, is no Jaws, but it's leagues above Shark Attack 3, Snakehead Terror, Mega Piranha and so on. The other is as the original to the recent splattery 3D reboots by Alexandre Aja and John Gulager: gory, trashy and crass exploitation movies that pile on the blood and bad taste, against which it looks almost tame.

But they don't have the charm of Dante's film, which is trashy and grisly in the seventies drive-in tradition rather than today's full-on grossout approach. It has an innocence rather than a cynicism, which smacks of a love of movie-making rather than a love of the big house they're going to buy with all the money. After a pair of hiking teens sneak into an apparently abandoned military base and get munched while taking a swim, Heather Menzies (first seen playing a shark-zapping video game) tries to track them down, enlisting the help of grouchy alcoholic Bradford Dillman. But in trying to recover the bodies, they drain the pool - which just happens to be full of mutant super-piranha developed by mad scientist Kevin McCarthy - into the river, where the water and the fish can flow straight to the children's summer camp and crooked businessman Dick Miller's aquatic theme park celebrating its grand opening....

It's a nice turn of the plot that heroine Menzies is the one who directly causes the problem and the carnage in the first place. And the last half hour or so is pretty much a Kids Versus Fish feeding frenzy as the piranhas attack the kiddies at Paul Bartel's summer camp and then Miller's tourist attraction, while Dillman and Menzies race not just against time, but against the uncooperative cops, army brass and military scientists (led by Barbara Steele - Dante movies are always a joy for film nerds) who either don't believe them or don't care. There's blood and gore aplenty, but it's never mean-spirited and sadistic like some of the OTT gags in Alexandre Aja's remake; it's fun and ghoulish and this is reflected in the 15 certificate. (Nor is there much in the way of swearing.)

Oddly, the film didn't do the traditional ripoff thing and come out close to its source - by the time it arrived they'd already released Jaws 2 and had also been beaten to cinemas by Ovidio Assonitis' ludicrous but amusing Tentacles. Piranha always looked great, especially given the paltry sum spent on it, and it looks even better on BluRay; it's genially gruesome entertainment with familiar faces of the era and a typically lush Pino Donaggio score. Coming complete with a Dante commentary, old home movies shot on set, a Making Of and the usual trailers and outtakes, it's well worth it.

****

SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT: THE HOMECOMING

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND A LEVEL OF BEWILDERMENT PREVIOUSLY ONLY ATTAINED BY WAYNE ROONEY BEING TOLD ABOUT STRING THEORY

Silent Night, Bloody Night was a grotty low-budget slasher film made in 1974 (and not to be confused with the equally grotty but more notorious killer Santa movie Silent Night, Deadly Night) which has slipped into the public domain as a minor cult title thanks to its seediness, its catchy title and the presence of genre favourites Mary Woronov and John Carradine (the latter looking particularly gaunt). Mysteriously, it's now been remade - in places word for word - and without credit or even acknowledgement (although some minor characters are named after principal cast and crew members). Odder still: it's been done in Swansea.

None of which in itself is any reason to hate Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming, of course. The story is still serviceable slasher pulp: the spooky old Butler house has been abandoned for years after the death of mad old Wilfred Butler; now grandson Jeffrey is keen to sell it below market value for a quick cash profit. But someone is hanging around the place killing trespassers as well as the syndicate of town worthies looking to purchase the property and bulldoze it along with its accursed past... Who could it be? Might it have something to do with the house's history as a mental hospital and scene of a massacre?

The problem is that it's been done so flatly and so uninterestingly to the extent that frankly it's barely professional. With mid-range digital photography that just looks like video (especially in the night scenes), an annoying music score repeatedly referencing the Christmas carol Silent Night and, most damagingly, absolutely dismal performances of the stand-here-and-say-this variety, it's a genuine chore to make it to the end. Heaven knows the original film was hardly a masterpiece but it looks like one in the light of this revisitation. All the murder sequences lack even the slightest impact thanks to rotten acting, poor camerawork and the lack of a halfway decent score (at least the original had a full orchestra): the composer, one James Morrissey, is also the co-editor as well as the cinematographer. I'm currently typing this with the soundtrack to Friday The 13th Part III in the background, and that is an object lesson in how to use music to punch up gory kill scenes. In this instance the Friday connection is even appropriate since The Scary Voice On Phone is apparently Adrienne King from the first two films in that series!

Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming is absolutely terrible on every level and I'm honestly hard pressed to think of anything in its favour. Even the occasional nods to George Romero's Night Of The Living Dead - it plays on a TV screen and the heroine has purchased it as a Christmas present, apparently for her father - are less homage to a horror classic and more reminders that the same team have also remade it in Carmarthenshire. (It's also in the public domain and the IMDb page doesn't indicate George Romero will be credited on it.) If they can't improve on a shoddy old drive-in quickie like Silent Night, Bloody Night, how on Earth do they think they can improve on that iconic masterpiece?

*

BARON BLOOD

CONTAINS SOME MINOR SPOILERS

Mario Bava's 1972 horror film Baron Blood (original title Gli Orrori Del Castello Di Norimberga) is a bit of a mixed bag of a film. I first saw it back in 1998 at the NFT as part of a Bava retrospective, and remember thinking it was great to look at but the plot was silly. And watching it again, that still holds. It's visually very nice in places with a terrific use of colour (particularly for a chase sequence through the fog) and it has a fantastic castle setting, but it's lumbered with a story that, bizarrely, everyone takes completely seriously. So it rather ends up as nothing more than good looking tosh, which is frankly a shame.

Maths student Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) arrives in Vienna for a break from his studies and to investigate his ancestor, the infamous Baron Otto Von Kleist. He's acquired a parchment of a witch's incantation that will supposedly bring him back to life - but before they can return him to Hell with the second half of the ritual, the parchment is destroyed. Can he and architecture student Eva (Elke Sommer) find another way to banish him as the bodies pile up? And who is Alfred Becker (Joseph Cotten), the new owner of the castle?

It's not Blood And Black Lace, probably my favourite of the Mario Bava films I've seen over the years (sadly, too many are still unavailable in this country), but it's still well worth seeing. Obviously the plot is absolute twaddle and doesn't bear any scrutiny, as it requires everyone involved to do absurd things without considering just how absurd they are. No-one ridicules the idea of an ancient curse that might have brought the Baron back: it's not just that they accept the possibility, they don't even suggest it might be a terrible idea. Even the police inspector doesn't throw them out of his office the way even the most open-minded detectives of 1972 would surely have done.

Still, if Baron Blood doesn't really work on the plausibility stakes (and let's be honest, a lot of classic horror films don't) it has a wonderful morbid atmosphere about it. It’s got the strange illogical weirdness of Lisa And The Devil with the occasional outright horror of Black Sunday, a fine climax in the Barons' torture dungeon, and Joseph Cotten is enjoyably hammy in a role originally offered to Vincent Price. A bonus for starspotters of Italian horror movies: Kleist's young cousin is played by Nicoletta Elmi, the little girl from The Night Child and Deep Red.

In addition to a wealth of extras including a brief introduction by Alan Jones and a commentary from Tim Lucas, both cuts of the film are included on the Blu: the original Export version (either in English or in Italian with subtitles) and the American AIP release which is edited by about eight minutes (nothing vital is missing) and has a more traditional horror score by Les Baxter score replacing the Stelvio Cipriani original. Personally I prefer this shorter version but the differences aren't that significant; either way it's worth seeing as a colourful and enjoyably wonky horror movie.

***

WHITE OF THE EYE

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

The late Donald Cammell's third feature film (of only four) is a visually stylish, intriguing but not entirely successful serial killer shocker. And it's very much a mixed bag; for everything it does wrong it does something else brilliantly. While the lead character is pretty uninteresting, it has a couple of genuinely nasty and dazzlingly mounted murder scenes, and while it's too long at 111 minutes, there's a phenomenal sense of place about the locations and architecture, especially in this era of generic, identikit Anywhere settings for horror movies. Here you can almost taste the Arizona dust.

There's a serial killer on the loose in the Tucson area, and home stereo engineer Paul White (David Keith) looks to be the main suspect due to his involvement with at least one of the women and the rare tyre tracks found at the scene. (Indeed, while the film flirts with a couple of other potential suspects who also have the same rare tyres on their cars, there's never any real doubt who the maniac is.) But his wife Joan (Cathy Moriarty) is also starting to suspect him, at least of adultery, but not keeping his victims' remains hidden in the house....

With its plot veering in several different directions, White Of The Eye does feel like three or four films at once: with the small-town affairs of gossipy housewives, flashbacks to Keith and Moriarty's early days together, the police hunt for the serial killer, the sudden reappearance of Moriarty's ex and Keith's disintegration into ranting lunatic. In its last stretch it turns into a more traditional, albeit good-looking, psycho thriller with the maniac stalking the Final Girl, and the stakes are raised to insane levels for a memorable ending, but the most shocking moment has to be Alberta Watson's demise in the bath, as the killer stomps her under the water before holding a mirror in front of her so the last thing she sees is her own death.

While much of the movie looks fantastic, there are several scenes with a huge amount of grain on them, though some of that may be traced back to the apparently deliberately antagonistic atmosphere Cammell created on set (for example, by hiring two cinematographers) and the demands of the schedule. It probably wasn't apparent on the VHS release, but it is noticeable on the BluRay. Other scenes, mainly the flashbacks, were subjected to a "bleach bypass" effect that lightens the image and whacks up the contrast.

It's not a great film, but it is intriguingly different, beautiful to watch in places and has a character an intelligence about it that seems rare these days, so in spite of the flaws it's absolutely worth picking up. I first saw this sometime in June 1987, in the smallest screen of what is now the Cineworld Haymarket, so this was probably my first viewing of a film that I'd all but forgotten in 27 years, and I think I probably enjoyed it more this time around.

***

Sunday, 15 February 2015

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

SIX DEGREES OF SPOILERS

Well, I was shocked. Shocked and stunned. Not by the phwoooar factor of Dakota Johnson naked and tied up, attractive though she is; mainly by the realisation that this long-heralded, much-hyped and hugely controversial odyssey of sexual discovery and corrupted innocence is actually a tiresome bore that does absolutely nothing interesting. Obviously it's hardly surprising that the film doesn't shock and appal - anyone with an internet connection can find a billion images of the filthiest sexual degradation to click through over their cornflakes of a morning - but what is surprising is that Fifty Shades Of Grey is so sheerly dull. I wasn't exactly expecting two hours of cheerless, in-out mechanical gonzo pornography at the Odeon Milton Keynes, but something a tad more substantial than Pretty Woman with handcuffs would have been the least they could have offered.

It's pure chance that virginal Eng Lit student Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) meets up with finely sculpted telecoms billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), to interview him for the college newspaper. She works part-time in a hardware shop to make ends meet, he has his own fleet of cars, a glider, a helicopter and a phallic skyscraper named after himself (how many men are going to start referring to their penises "The [Surname] Tower"?). But there's enough of a spark between them for a fairly normal relationship to start to develop between them - until he introduces her to his playroom, a well-stocked chamber of whips, canes, gags, cuffs and ropes. Rather than running screaming in horror, she lets the relationship develop, giving him her virginity and negotiating (though never actually signing) his contract stipulating in writing the specific things she will and won't permit....

Much time, perhaps too much, is spent on Ana dithering about whether to sign a legally binding agreement consenting to being flogged, that it all ends up more Marquess of Queensberry than Marquis de Sade, when what it really needed was the sleazy hand of a Jess Franco to throw the character and relationship stuff out of the window and concentrate on the rampant censor-baiting exploitation filth. Fifty Shades Of Grey (which passed through the BBFC without hindrance and in France has incredibly been rated 12) needs to be disreputable but it ends up as decorous. Shot by Oscar-nominated Seamus McGarvey, behind the camera on films like Anna Karenina and Atonement, and scored by Oscar-nominated Danny Elfman (though his music is secondary to the Various Artists compilation soundtrack), everything looks and sounds lovely but it's all too tasteful, like an extended cosmetics commercial. Maybe the film is trying to reflect Grey's sadistic nature by teasing us, the audience, with ideas the film cannot depict.

You can argue as much as you like about whether the film is seeking to legitimise domestic abuse (it isn't - everything's thoroughly regulated and agreed beforehand, whereas there are no safe words in wifebeating, and anyone who claims the original "I do" counts as a permanent "yes" is a moron of intergalactic proportions). You can argue whether, regardless of the setup that he's the dominant and she's the submissive, it's actually Ana who's in charge and who decides what is and isn't acceptable, and it's Christian who meekly agrees to all her terms (in a film whose tagline is "Lose Control", he's the only one who does). You can argue whether the film stands as an advertisement for debatably unhealthy relationships based on power and control and the infliction of pain (it's certainly not selling me on the lifestyle). Never mind about whether it's any good as erotica (suffice to say it isn't, but no-one would want to know if it was), what I'm having trouble with is the idea that this is any good as a drama: a believable, plausible drama about believable, plausible human beings. I frankly did enough of my own eye-rolling at the almost literally unspeakable dialogue to earn the full twelve strokes.

With or without the hints of kink it doesn't show us anyway, it's too long and very silly. Blue Is The Warmest Colour also kept you waiting a long time for the hot'n'heavy XXX action, but no-one was checking their watch because you believed enough in the characters. Fifty Shades is at heart a soft-centred, indeed gloopy fairytale romance between the handsome but miserable Prince Charming and the pretty but happy commoner, and shorn of the S+M themes it would have sat happily as a 12A piece of teengirl fluff, but it's fatally skewed to an older audience by incorporating the use of riding crops and the phrase "anal fisting". To be honest, I'd rather have a bag of chips. Yet it's taking money, at least on its opening weekend, with multiplex screenings packed out, and the film ends inconclusively so there's always the prospect of a sequel (The Fifty-First Shade? A Hint Of Beige?). Still, if it demonstrates that there's enough commercial interest in nominally serious 18-rated films, maybe more will come along, and they'll hopefully be better. This one really doesn't work at all.

**

Thursday, 5 February 2015

BLOOD SHOT

CONTAINS SPOILERS?

You will probably have to go a very long way to find a film as catastrophically misjudged as Blood Shot, the latest (2013) attempt by Danny Dyer to break out of his trademark screen persona: a laddish Sun-reading Cockney geezer forever shouting "Oi, you muppet!" and lamping people. He's tried sinister crime boss (in Pimp, which I confess I haven't seen and probably never will, on the grounds that I'm not a complete imbecile), he's tried tortured psychopath (in Deviation, which I have seen, because I am at least a partial imbecile), and he's tried lovable comedy bigamist (in Run For Your Wife, aka Run For The Exits), but he hasn't been able to escape his signature role of Aggressive Simpleton. And he doesn't escape it with this film either: part romance, part comedy, part splatter movie, part social commentary, total disaster.

Danny Dyer is Philip, an unassuming but blokey (and apparently very well paid) prosthetics effects sculptor for the kind of extreme splatter movies that give splatter movies a bad name. Out jogging one night, he encounters a young woman in the park screaming incoherently: he takes her home and they begin a tentative relationship. But while Jane (Zoe Grisedale) may be sexy and alluring and intoxicating, she's also screaming crazy, foaming at the mouth and shrieking rather than endearingly kooky. She has secrets and scars, he wants to help, they're falling in love. It's sort of like Brief Encounter, if Celia Johnson had been a paranoid babbling smackhead and Trevor Howard had spent all his spare time creating lifelike plastic tits in his attic.

As it goes along you start to wonder if there's actually some hidden twist somewhere: might it have something to do with psychiatrist Keith Allen, who's quite clearly only in the film because there's a scene where he gets to cavort with some scantily-clad women? But no: the big surprise plot development is that there is no surprise plot development. Dramatically it's uninteresting and has no suspense or thrills, and barely any moments where Danny at least gets a bit handy with his fists. You can also ignore the DVD cover which thoroughly misrepresents the film as some kind of slasher with a moody-looking Dyer holding a bloodied knife behind his back, in front of an artistic rendition of the London skyline. That doesn't appear in the movie and no-one gets killed.

Rather, the film develops an unsubtle and frankly insulting line in social commentary as it posits the idea that hardcore splatter movies are only for the emotionally immature and psychologically stunted. "If you'd ever experienced real violence you wouldn't deal in these fantasies of violence," Jane declares in one of her less batshit moments, as the film effectively gives horror movie fans the finger. (To be honest, you could make an equally valid generalisation that the more avid fans of Danny Dyer's consistently low-aiming fare have something wrong with them up top.) Worse: having insulted the gorehound audience the film shamefully panders to them with an extended dream sequence that not only riffs on the original Maniac (with Philips sculpted mannequins coming to life) but has Jane turn demonic and tear his face off before ripping his heart out and clawing his ribcage open. It's an enjoyably grisly frenzy of gloopy gore, but in a film which has just told its audience they're backward morons for liking precisely this kind of thing, it leaves a very bad taste.

Blood Shot is rubbish: the kind of nonsense that thinks layering on a bit of classical music will improve matters, as though the class will rub off. That it doesn't make any sense whatsoever - is this Philip's house or is he housesitting? If Jane has had her passport stolen how is she getting back to New York? - seems hardly the point, but then you have to ask what the point is and in truth I have no idea. It doesn't work, it doesn't hang together, the big gore scene feels like it's from a different film entirely and the leading man is yet again just not up to the job. Stunningly missable.

*

CODE BLACK: PRESIDENT DOWN

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND BOLL

I'm not a fan of Uwe Boll. Certainly his films are a long way from being classics, but I suspect he's got his reputation as the Worst Director Ever more from disappointed videogame fans than from disappointed movie fans. House Of The Dead isn't terrible: it's a functional, unremarkable and anonymous teen/zombie horror movie with lots of gore and stupidity, and it isn't any good, but it's scarcely the worst film ever made. He's a better filmmaker than, say, Al Adamson, and he manages to secure surprisingly big names for his nonsense - Burt Reynolds, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Christian Slater and Ben Kingsley have all taken the money at some point. Some actors come back for more than one, and Michael Pare is as much a fixture as Charles Hawtrey was in the Carry Ons.

But even by Uwe Boll's slipshod standards, Code Black: President Down is a disaster. It's dull, cheap, uninteresting, badly put together and lifeless; it looks like it belongs on Channel 5 late on a Tuesday night after the proper film has finished. A squad of assassins plan to shoot the President (they've even cast an Obama lookalike for the role) using a long-range sniper rifle from a family home overlooking the small town the Prez is due to briefly visit: the only hope for the family taken hostage in the house is town deputy sheriff and belligerent alcoholic Ray Liotta, carrying a Dark Secret from his military service....

Though it's not billed as such, this is apparently a remake of Suddenly, a Frank Sinatra movie from the 1950s on which the copyright has presumably lapsed because it's widely available on the free streaming sites. What's surprising is how thoroughly all the opportunities for excitement have been completely ignored. This surely isn't a difficult story to tell well or at least efficiently: any first-timer straight out of a Media Studies course should have been able to make something of it, but not Boll. Code Black isn't the worst thing you've ever seen, but it probably is the most staggeringly mediocre.

*

Saturday, 24 January 2015

THE APPEARING

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND YEAH, WHATEVER

Not to boast, but most horror movies don't really scare me. Sure I'll jump at a loud noise, like pretty much any sentient lifeform that isn't looking to become extinct very quickly, but I very rarely get spooked to the extent of not turning the lights out or walking the streets alone at night. The exceptions (Insidious, The Exorcist, Lake Mungo, The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh) are worth savouring, perhaps because they come along so infrequently, but they're usually well-done exorcism movies or well-done ghost stories, and a masked slasher or monster movie never seems to actually scare me that deeply, no matter how well it's done.

So it's not illogical to assume a demon/exorcism movie that also has ghosts in it would be doubly terrifying. Yet The Appearing actually turns out not be very scary at all, perhaps because on neither front is it particularly well done. Following the accidental death of their young daughter, a big city couple move out to the sticks. Michael (Will Wallace) is the new deputy sheriff and immediately gets involved in a young woman's disappearance; meanwhile his wife Rachel (Emily Brooks) is either seeing ghosts or imagining things. No-one wants to talk about where the missing girl might have actually gone, or what happened up at the old Granville house in the woods years ago....

It's all fairly perfunctory, completely unremarkable, and if you don't see it you're really not missing out on anything. There's certainly nothing here that screams Un Film De Daric Gates or that sends you off to the IMDb to hunt down whatever other Daric Gates films are out there. Bits of it are just silly - Rachel's backstory is absurd, and this is yet another movie where the Devil reveals an Alucard-like fondness for anagrams and writing things backwards. Neither terrible nor any good at all. this is also a footnote in the annals of Movies With Brothers Of More Famous Actors In Them - in addition to Don Swayze as the grizzled sheriff, we get Joe Estevez for three scenes as a ranting loony.

**

THE HEADLESS EYES

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND TEDIUM

The first time I ever heard of this miserable grindhouse cheapie was in an article in marvellous 80s fanzine Shock Xpress: a list of The 50 Most Boring Films Ever Made. It never troubled the BBFC (though the DPP apparently showed some interest in the pre-cert video release), I certainly don't recall ever seeing it on the shelves of any of the local VHS rental palaces of the time, and it hasn't (yet) been dug out and remastered by one of the retro specialist labels, though there is a US DVD release. The thing is, while it is available online (legitimately), its absence from British shelves may not entirely be a bad thing.

The Headless Eyes is a cheerless and shoddy slice of incompetent grot and senseless, incoherent bellowing with the occasional sight of eyeballs. Arthur Malcolm (Bo Brundin) is a homicidal maniac who goes around murdering people and gouging their eyes out for use in his artworks, following an incident where he burgled a house and a terrified woman took one of his eyes out with a spoon. He rants and shouts a lot, argues with his ex-wife, begins a tentative relationship with an art student - but every so often he has to go out and get some fresh eyes...

It's horrible, sleazy, amateurish and mostly dull; it's technically pretty ropey and generally badly put together, with terrible music, rotten acting and poor sound recording making a lot of Malcolm's ranting hard to make out sometimes, assuming you can be bothered to try. And it's no fun: it's grim, humourless and depressing. Fans of early 70s Z-grade grindhouse splatter movies might get a kick out of it but the only noteworthy aspect is that auteur Kent Bateman later turned up as the producer of Teen Wolf Too, an early vehicle for his son Jason Bateman (now of course a proper Hollywood star in proper Hollywood movies). And that is about as noteworthy as it gets. Drivel.

*

Friday, 2 January 2015

LIST: THE WORST FILMS OF 2014

This list was actually a lot easier than the Top Ten, because I deliberately avoided a lot of the films that would normally have annoyed me. (Hey, I'm not a professional critic. If you want me to see whatever incompetent drivel the likes of Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen have been up this year, give me banknotes. Otherwise: my dollar, my rules.) Still, the following managed to slip through the net:

10. MAPS TO THE STARS
David Cronenberg hasn't made a genuinely interesting movie for a very long time and this certainly isn't bucking the trend. Not as rubbish as Cosmopolis, but who are these people and why should I care? Might not have made the list if they'd cut the scene of Julianne Moore trying to take a dump.

9. WOLFCOP
Just because you have an absurd nostalgia for all those terrible Howling sequels from the 1980s is no reason to go out and make your own. Kudos for old-school practical effects work rather than shiny new digital ones, but that's it.

8. TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION
Yet more kaboom thud bang kaboom idiocy in which giant metal things destroy everything; matters are improved by not having Shia La Boeuf in it, but not much. Michael Bay directs with his boner, as usual.

7. RIDE ALONG
Idiotic cop comedy full of idiots and Laurence Fishburne.

6. MAGIC MAGIC
Intolerable psychological horror/drama/indie. I like Juno Temple, but this was a tiresome grind of a film.

5. THE CANYONS
Miserable sex drama in which everyone has a thoroughly rotten time, which is fair enough because they're all tedious whiners or obnoxious scumbags. Or both.

4. UNDER THE SKIN
A bad story, badly told, this cataclysmic bore was accompanied by a critical attitude of "if you didn't like it, you're clearly not intelligent enough to understand it". Worthless, artless and pretentious drivel, but incredibly it wasn't the worst Scarlett Johansson film of the year.

3. PLASTIC
An episode of Hustle with a bunch of repugnant leery scumbags trying to pull a massive con in order to pay off a gangster who I spent the entire film hoping would kill absolutely everyone, preferably with pliers. A film without a stroke of merit from start to finish and the worst British film in several years.

2. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES
I thought I'd poke my head round the door and see if the found-footage subgenre had managed to achieve anything remotely interesting in the last year or so. It hasn't.

1. HER
In a good-looking future, Joaquin Phoenix (with an inexplicable comedy moustache) is surrounded by glamorous and beautiful women but falls in love with the voice of his computer operating system (an unseen Scarlett Johansson). Irritating and stupid beyond measure. I ended up swearing at my TV set so much it sounded like The Wolf Of Wall Street.

As I mentioned, I missed a lot of the obvious crud (why on Earth would I submit myself to films like Pudsey and Postman Pat which hold absolutely no appeal for me?), so there aren't even any runners up although there's a special mention for Grudge Match, a dead-on-the-screen waste of Oscar-winning talent from which neither of the major stars escapes with credibility intact.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

LIST: THE BEST FILMS OF 2014

It's that time of the year again: my Top Ten Films Of The Year. As usual, this is for films that had a UK premier theatrical release in the calendar year, according to Launching Films' schedules, thus movies that played festivals only and/or went straight to disc aren't eligible. (American Hustle might have made it but its official release date was December 31, 2013 and is therefore disqualified.) I didn't manage to catch all of these in the cinema - some only played a couple of West End shoeboxes for a week, which is arguably no better than having no theatrical release at all. Also, for various reasons I missed a lot of A-list titles entirely - 12 Years A Slave, Belle, A Haunted House 2 - and still haven't caught up with them. But at year's end, this is how they stack up:

10. THE ONE HUNDRED YEAR OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT OF THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED
Nobody seemed to like this one but me, but it's my list so there. This is a film that came out of nowhere and I giggled pretty much consistently throughout.

9. '71
Which also caught me by surprise, as I went in expecting glum British social realism, and instead I got an exciting chase thriller that never let go. More of this sort of thing, please, British film industry.

8. THE LEGO MOVIE
Which I missed at the cinema but rented the Blu after my twitter feed buckled under the weight of everyone raving at how great it was. And they were right. Mostly enjoyed the hell out of it, and the first Will Ferrell film in ages where I haven't wanted to punch him. (Still think the song is annoying, though).

7. EDGE OF TOMORROW
Okay, so it's Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day, which turns out to be no bad thing. Big, loud, well put together and thoroughly entertaining.

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
One of the best of the big summer blockbusters: a demented romp in which anything goes, up to and including the casting of Vin Diesel as a talking tree. Loved it.

5. GODZILLA
Speaking as one who has little time for the original Japanese rubbersuit stompfests, and as one who didn't loathe and detest the Roland Emmerich incarnation....this new one is great, bringing Zilla back to his original purpose and with devastation that isn't pornographically relished.

4. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
Immortality might seem like a good idea, but wouldn't you get bored after a thousand years of having to live off the grid and only mix with your own kind? Dark, very enjoyable.

3. THE RAID 2
Two and a half hours of Indonesian maniacs beating the tar out of each other in a series of dizzying, dazzling, utterly insane setpiece fight sequences in which quite clearly no stuntman was allowed to leave the set if he could still stand up. It's what cinema was invented for.

2. INTERSTELLAR
I waver on the subject of Christopher Nolan, but his seriousness and lack of humour is absolutely perfect here (unlike his Batman movies which are crying out for some levity). This is bold, mind-bending stuff: gripping, never dull, visually rich and tossing ideas around like confetti.

1. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
I've never been a huge fan of Wes Anderson either, but this one is easily my favourite of the ones I've seen so far: consistently funny, surprising and charming as well as marvellous to just sit and look at.

Honourable mentions to a perfectly decent set of runners-up in no particular order: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Grand Piano, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Fury, Ouija (shut up, I liked it), Locke and The Equalizer.

Monday, 22 December 2014

SEE NO EVIL 2

SPOIL NO MOVIES

Back in 2006, porno veteran Gregory Dark made one of his occasional forays into the world of "proper films" with See No Evil, a generic but occasionally quite nasty teenkill slasher epic in which an indestructible homicidal maniac gouges out the eyes of a bunch of more than usually deserving young scumbags: annoyingly, the only male to make it to the end alive was the drug dealing rapey one. It was efficiently done, but that's pretty much it. Quite why this, of all Lionsgate's extensive catalogue of DTV horror movies, was deemed worthy of a sequel is only slightly less of a mystery than why they waited eight years to try and develop it into a franchise.

Supposedly dead mother-fixated religious fundamentalist serial killer and eyeball collector Jacob Goodnight (again played by wrestler Kane but this time billed as Glenn 'Kane' Jacobs) comes back to life in the morgue and goes on another rampage. That's the entire plot of See No Evil 2. At least the roster of meathook fodder and reluctant cornea donors are less odious than the juvenile delinquents of the original: here we have Danielle Harris as Amy, one of the mortuary's three staff members, and her frankly dimwitted friends who are more interested in going at it like hammers in the least romantic of settings. (At least the mortuary tables are likely to be a more hygienic humping ground than the first film's abandoned hotel full of rats and mutilated corpses.) In what is probably the silliest sequence in any slasher of the millennium so far, Goodnight's awakening is apparently triggered by insanely kinky Katharine Isabelle flirting and cavorting with his cadaver; meanwhile, will good-natured but shy Seth finally pluck up the courage to ask co-worker Amy on a date? And will her brother stop interfering with her life and get it on with his own floozie?

It's directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, which means that you should really expect something more after the far more twisted American Mary (though admittedly not so much after Dead Hooker In A Trunk). But it feels more like a gun(s)-for-hire job: an unremarkable but enjoyable enough slasher movie with characters less hateful than usual and enough grisly deaths to keep it interesting in its brisk running time. In terms of franchise horror it's the holding pattern equivalent of something like Friday The 13th Part 4: a more than watchable rehash of the existent formula, professionally enough put together (supposedly not by the Soska themselves) but containing no great surprises. Entertaining but scarcely groundbreaking.

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