Friday, 25 May 2018

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS

It's too much. The nineteenth instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which doesn't count other Marvel series such as Deadpool, X-Men or the Fantastic Four) is a colossal thumping, thudding mess with too many characters, too wide a scope, too much happening, too many story threads, too large a villain and too high a prize at stake. Dragging in all the original Avengers ensemble (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow et al) as well as more recent additions (Vision, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther), then shoehorning in the Guardians Of The Galaxy gang, it runs for two and a half hours and doesn't reward either your patience or your backside with a satisfying conclusion as it's all acting as mere set-up for an (presumably) even bigger conclusion next year with even more characters.

The other trouble is that it does demand some basic level of familiarity with the MCU line-up: personally I've seen them all once on their theatrical release (except for a few which I caught up with on DVD) but I can't be bothered to marathon them all every time a new one comes out: unlike the Saw or Fast And Furious series it frankly seems too much like homework. There's little point in a synopsis: all you really need to know is that super-evil Thanos (Josh Brolin) is searching for the six Infinity Stones with which he can control time, space, death and reality and fulfil his destiny of slaughtering half the Universe, because nonsense. Thor bumps (literally) into the Guardians Of The Galaxy; Vision and Scarlet Witch have gone off grid, and Black Widow and Captain America have to track them down; Tony Stark and Peter Parker team up with Dr Strange, and the whole thing ends in a huge pitched battle in Wakanda.

Flitting around the world (New York, Scotland, Africa) and assorted alien planets, Avengers: Infinity War alternates the flip, sitcom character banter of the established characters (Stark and Peter Parker, and the GOTG mob, especially) with the now inevitable scenes of destruction and CGI superheroes smacking one another repeatedly through brick walls and/or flying through space. But for all that apocalyptogeddon spectacle and mass carnage, it's completely unengaging and in places quite dull: we've seen it so many times before and this time it's being yelled at us rather than merely shouted. It's not actually explained why Thanos needs the Infinity Stones anyway: to all intents and purposes he's already a god (a cursory Google suggests he's anything up to 2000 years old already), he's more than capable of wiping out half the population wherever he goes, and he's easily able to keep multiple superheroes at bay before he acquires the stones. Even his minions are more than capable of thwacking the heroes aside. Presumably he only wants them because it'll make his great genocidal quest easier.

Most of the characters get their acting or action moment in the spotlight, making the film an impressive juggling act of satisfying each individual's fans; the Black Panther cast get less opportunity, mainly because the action doesn't shift to Wakanda until the third (fourth?) act. In a pleasingly ballsy move, the film actually steps up a gear in its final stretch and kills off more than a couple of regulars, leaving no suggestion that they'll somehow be resurrected for another film or two (although they'll doubtless be recast for all-new standalone reboots in a few years time, because they always do). "Thanos Will Return", claims the end credits crawl, but several much-loved heroes will not. Sure, there's some pleasure to be had, but that's mostly in the character backchat. To be honest, it was more fun when Tom Baker's Doctor Who spent an entire series seeking the six segments of the Key To Time. On this scale, at this cost ($315,000,000 according to Google), with this much stuff going on (no less than twenty four featured characters on the poster artwork and twenty seven star names in the credit block, the order and relative prominence of which must have been a negotiating nightmare), it's just too much.

**

Friday, 20 April 2018

PROM NIGHT

CONTAINS SPOILERS

Yet another example of the eighties slasher ripoff: after Halloween and Friday The 13th came a whole string of weak duplicates and very slight variations of very familiar themes. A few were actually pretty decent and managed to find something in the subgenre's bag of tricks; more were just incredibly dull and unrewarding despite a level of technical competence (remember that some didn't even have that). The weird thing about this 1980 slasher is that while it's mainly notable as one of Jamie Lee Curtis' immediate run of post-Halloween horror movies (along with Terror Train and The Fog) much of it owes less of a debt to Halloween than to Carrie, only without the telekinetic fire and fury, the dazzling filmmaking skill, the brilliantly orchestrated set pieces or the high level of acting and writing.

Six years after a young girl died in an abandoned convent after a game of hide and seek went very badly wrong, the four now-teenaged perpetrators start receiving mysterious phone calls from an anonymous heavy breather. A sex offender who was (wrongly) convicted of the girl's death six year ago has now escaped from the asylum and may be in the area. Meanwhile, the school's bitchy Queen Bee Wendy (one of the four) is planning to humiliate Prom Queen Kim (Curtis) because Wendy's boyfriend has dumped her....

Prom Night is a sub-standard assemblage of slasher tropes that's frankly no better than Final Exam and a long, long way behind something like Rosemary's Killer or even Happy Birthday To Me (which was rubbish). After the opening set-up sequence, there's no slashing for almost an hour as the film instead focuses on the most thumpingly obvious of red herrings and the achingly uninteresting soap opera of high school romance and petty idiocy leading up to the big dance. No-one cares about your squalid love lives and relationships: we bought tickets (or clicked the Watch Now button) for a high school slasher movie and for far too long that's not what we ended up watching. Granted, in the end the killer gets down to some proper slashing and we do get a half-decent severed head out of it, but that's nowhere near enough. And the big reveal of the Mystery Mad Axe Murderer has no effect because their identity is pretty obvious (admittedly I've seen it before, but that was over thirty years ago and I'd long forgotten who it was: I usually can't remember where I left my car keys half an hour ago).

Prom Night really isn't any good: it's one of those titles that has somehow survived the years, with three in-name-only sequels (none of which troubled the inside of a British cinema) and an absolute nothing of a remake, an entirely forgettable teenslash with not enough slash, never interesting enough to become worth watching, never shocking or grisly enough to become memorable. Even the mighty Leslie Nielsen in a straight role as the school Principal can't elevate it. Made in Canada by Paul (Humongous) Lynch.

*

Monday, 9 April 2018

DEATH WISH

BANG! CONTAINS SPOILERS

Because this is genuinely what is needed right now: a nuanced, balanced examination of the right to bear arms, revenge or justice in a world gone wild and What It Means To Be A Man, a careful and considered dissection of toxic masculinity, gun violence and urban decay and their effects upon modern "civilised" society - oh, no, sorry, my mistake. What we really need right now is a knuckleheaded throwback to the heady days of Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal, an uncritical good-guy-with-a-gun flagwaver for the NRA and the Second Amendment aimed at the lowest common denominator of yeehawing popcorn guzzlers.

Eli Roth is a film-maker who generally gets a rough ride, not entirely unfairly, and his Death Wish remake isn't headed for the plus column. (In fairness, I quite liked the first two Hostel films and The Green Inferno, even though few others did.) If you know Michael Winner's original from the 1970s, you pretty much know what's going to happen: ordinary, hard-working, successful family man Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis, taking the Charles Bronson role) turns vigilante and avenging angel when his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and teenage daughter are brutalised by burglars. Donning a series of hoodies and acquiring a handgun by chance, Kersey sets out to bring the scumbags to a form of justice that an overworked, underfunded and ineffective police system can't provide.

It's been shorn of fourteen seconds from a torture sequence in order to obtain a 15 certificate, but that leaves the film only slightly short of the 18 that it frankly still deserves: even in its cut version there's plenty of righteous bloodshed to satisfy the undiscriminating. The point of Death Wish isn't - or shouldn't be - the violence, it's the price of the violence, what it costs Paul Kersey in terms of his soul and his humanity. You didn't get that much in the Charles Bronson film, but you get even less this time around. Kersey is an ordinary guy, not a superman: he's an architect in the original, he's not a man faced daily with death and suffering. Making him a trauma surgeon in a busy ER does mean he can handle the sight of blood and grue, but Willis still takes to murdering strangers in cold blood far too easily, to the extent that he can deliver kiss-off zingers when he ticks another heavily tattooed scumbag off his list.

The result is a film that's more black-and-white on the subject of violence than Sin City was. Eli Roth's Death Wish is actually less shaded and subtle than Michael Winner's, which is an achievement of some sort: we're talking more the level of shade and subtlety of Death Wish II once the franchise was taken over by the Cannon Group. Indeed, it might as well kick off with Cannon's old interlocking hexagon logo. It's tasteless, tacky, hollow and exploitative, its occasional stabs at comedy are ill-judged and out of place (there's a moment with a bowling ball that's only a donggg!!! sound effect away from Naked Gun 2½), it appeals entirely to the audience's basest instincts and never to their heart or brain, and it revels sadistically in its violent money shots rather than being revolted by them.

If this had gone straight to DVD or Netflix as a Seagal, Lundgren or Scott Adkins thudfest it would have done quite nicely as Friday night six-pack rubbish for simpletons, but it's a major studio production (MGM) with a major, if slightly fading, movie star, and given a national cinema release so it really should be better than this. (See also James Wan's Death Sentence - another Brian Garfield adaptation from a director best known for gloopy torture films.) It's not actively boring - it's too stupid and crass to be boring - and there are a couple of unintentional laughs to be had (the "perp" is described at one point as being in his mid-to-late thirties, which Brucie could barely pass for at least two Die Hards ago), but on the question of whether it's actually any good or not: it isn't.

**

Friday, 30 March 2018

FINAL EXAM

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND DROPPED JAWS

Here's an odd little statistic: among the 27 films reviewed in the July 1981 issue of the Monthly Film Bulletin are The Bogey Man, Friday The 13th Part 2, Happy Birthday To Me, Scared To Death, Schizoid and Terror Eyes. Six horror movies in one month's worth of new releases, four of which were slasher films. In the wake of the double-whammy of Halloween and Friday The 13th it was suddenly acceptable to make, distribute or watch movies with mad axe murderers knocking off babysitters, students, cheerleaders and football jocks. Happy days. Of course, not everything that came out of that teenkill craze was up to the highest standards: certainly, some of the Friday The 13th sequels were kind of fun (I have a soft spot for the largely unloved Part 5, probably because it was my first), Halloween II has some nice moments, and Rosemary's Killer (aka The Prowler) has always been a favourite of mine, but there were at least as many terrible ones. To All A Goodnight, The Burning, Madman, Hell Night, Halloween IV, Silent Scream, Graduation Day. But here is probably the least even of that second-string crowd: a film that doesn't just make Prom Night look good, it makes the Prom Night remake look good.

Final Exam starts off as it doesn't mean to go on: two canoodling teenagers in a car get bumped off by mystery maniac. But the film then turns into some kind of fifth-rate campus sitcom of young love, horny teachers and fraternity initiations which isn't interrupted nearly enough by the mystery maniac lurking about. Indeed, the main highlight of the opening half hour comes when the Gamma Fraternity stage a mock school shooting as a hilarious prank just so their leader can cheat on his chemistry exam - a scene which feels wildly out of place now that reality has overtaken comedy. Suddenly, a scene in which a married teacher arranges a midnight date with a hot pupil is no longer the most problematic thing about the movie. Eventually Jimmy Huston (no apparent relation to John) remembers he's been hired to make a slasher film and not an Animal House sequel, and obligingly wheels on the maniac again for a final twenty minutes of stabbing and running around.

You don't even get the traditional mystery element of who the killer might actually be - is it the creepy janitor? Is it the nerdy kid with posters of Toolbox Murders and The Corpse Grinders on his wall? Is it the father of the student who supposedly killed herself there some time ago? - because the mad killer turns out to be just a mad killer. He's not out for revenge or lust, he's not a long-lost brother or a crusading moralist, the man is not even given a name. Logic isn't involved very much either: sure, there's a slight Boo! jump scare when he leaps out of a barrel at one of his victims, but how could he possibly have known the kid would walk past at the right moment? And pretty much everyone is eye-wateringly stupid and it's thus impossible to care when Mister X finally shows up and stabs them.

Largely forgotten these days, Final Exam somehow slipped onto the online streaming services in gorgeous HD and widescreen, making a mockery of its old VHS incarnation. It's still utter, utter, absolute rubbish, though, and the film's inclusion on the DPP's Forfeiture list from the Video Nasty days is literally all it has going for it. Campus slasher nostalgics might get some fun out of it, but few others will.

*

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

REALLY CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS

Thus far I haven't seen any of Lynne Ramsay's films. Oh, I could make some excuses that they didn't play locally or I was away when they came out or they haven't wormed their way to the top of my watch list yet, but the fact is they just passed me by and there are only so many hours in the day to fit in all the hundreds of films out there that just looked to be more rewarding. In addition, I'm not paid for any of this film reviewing malarkey: I have to fund it all out of my own pocket so I'm not about to spend it on stuff I don't think I'm going to get something out of. My dollar, my rules. Granted, it doesn't always work out, and it certainly didn't here. Because, depressingly, this is one of those films which seems untouchable: films where you feel there's an obligation to effuse. So many people have already raved about it that you won't be taken seriously if you don't join in. It's as if, buried deep in the unspoken, unwritten (and unsigned) film reviewers' contract, there's a tiny sub-clause listing the types of films it's acceptable, nay expected of you, to be sniffy about, such as 70s smut, torture porn, Adam Sandler; and this is followed by another sub-clause detailing the movies and directors you have to be nice about. Ben Wheatley, Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, people who Can Do No Wrong even when they do. You actually liked Geostorm more than Killing Of A Sacred Deer? What is wrong with you, you clueless barbarian? Hand in your Film Twitter membership card at once.

Although You Were Never Really Here has some kind of a DTV sleazy thriller plot, in which a tough, taciturn strongarm (Joaquin Phoenix, unrecognisable under a colossal beard) is hired to rescue a politician's young daughter from a sexual abuse ring, it's really not about that and anyone expecting Friday night popcorn thrills is going to be severely disappointed. It's more of a character study of Phoenix's nominal but hard-to-like hero: his day-to-day life, his struggles with his mother who's descending into senility. It's also more of a mood piece: grim, sombre, occasionally shocking and shot through with despair and darkness. There's no light or levity to be had, no respite from the awfulness.

Which, theoretically, makes it fine. It's doing exactly what it's supposed to do, it's doing precisely what Lynne Ramsay and cast and crew wanted to do. But so does a Transformers sequel or a tatty old British sex comedy or a set of Hellraiser sequels. They're doing their jobs, fulfilling their respective briefs, so why don't they get praised for it the way, say, Darren Aronosfky's unbearable Mother! or Ben Wheatley's intolerable A Field In England do? Or this? Because I just didn't like or enjoy what it was trying (successfully) to do? Or because we're supposed to admire and appreciate what this is doing and not a late period Van Damme kickabout? Maybe just I'm being overly defensive, but I can't help feeling that liking or not liking a film is no different to liking or not liking rhubarb. You either do or you don't and you're not wrong. With that in mind, I really didn't care for You Were Never Really Here at all. I can appreciate its mood, I can see why some would admire it, but it absolutely did nothing for me except knock Tomb Raider from its briefly held position as Least Satisfying Film Of 2018 So Far. (Which is emphatically not necessarily the same as Worst.) A few bonus points for randomly including I've Never Been To Me on the soundtrack.

**

Friday, 16 March 2018

WONDER WHEEL

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

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

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

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

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

**

TOMB RAIDER

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

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

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

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

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

**

Saturday, 3 March 2018

EVILS OF THE NIGHT

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

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

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

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

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

*

Friday, 2 March 2018

BOG

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

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

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

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

**

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

THE SPORT KILLER

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

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

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

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

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

*

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

DEVIL'S EXPRESS

CHOO-CHOOO! CONTAINS SPOILERS

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

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

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

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

**

Thursday, 25 January 2018

THE ENEMY

CONTAINS SPOILERS

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

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

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

**