Monday, 30 November 2009



This is one of those movies that wants to capture the slow-burning buildup to the Big Reveal in the last ten minutes that forces you to re-evaluate everything you've just seen, in the manner of The Sixth Sense. Passengers doesn't entirely manage it - for one thing it rather plays its hand with the tagline on the DVD artwork - but it's still a more than acceptable rental for the evening.

Ostensibly detailing what happens to a group of air crash survivors and their young grief consellor (Anne Hathaway), it gradually becomes clear that that's not what's going on at all, and the myster deepens as she develops an unethical relationship with one of the survivors even as the rest of her group start to disappear. Is there a conspiracy designed to shield the airline from blame? Was it really pilot error? And what's the significance of the dog?

My desire to not reveal more about what's really happening rather leaves me with a reduced word count, but I can say it's got a strong cast (familiar faces include Andre Braugher, Dianne Wiest and David Morse), it's beautifully shot, and it's absorbing and interesting without being exciting or thrilling. On the other hand I don't believe Anne Hathaway as a top grief counsellor - she's only 26 and looks it. I suspect it's one of those movies that you watch for a second time and all the clues are there but you just didn't notice them. It's certainly worth one watch.


Thursday, 26 November 2009



Bad movie alert again, and I'm starting to get sick of ringing it. This one's beyond bad, though: a long long way beyond merely bad. On the sliding scale of DTV timewasting toss we have bog-standard, sub-standard, sub-sub-standard, and then there's wretched, hopeless, incoherent Amateur Night gibberish. Keep going, because we're not even close yet.

Several rungs further down on the ladder, there's Kinky Killers, an incomprehensible botch of a serial killer thriller in which the ridiculously sexy patients of a ridiculously sexy psychiatrist are being murdered and dismembered in as much loving detail as the effects budget will allow. Some of them also appear to be clients of a lawyer played by none other than Charles Durning, and he looks very old and frail. The psychiatrist's boyfriend has been sleeping with at least three of the murder victims, on the shrink's instructions, which is an interesting form of therapy that the NHS probably won't run to. There are tattoos, body parts, bible quotations, and dialogue that makes no sense, and the cop on the case is Michael Pare, who probably wished he was back doing Uwe Boll films. In the last reel it suddenly veers off into silly occultist territory with two intercut sex scenes - there's a lot of nudity throughout the film - with an ending that suggests the possiblity of a sequel. Oh joy.

I don't mind a movie that's only there to provide 90 minutes of death and hot chicks, but even if that's all your movie has to offer, at least do it well. Hell, just do it competently. If this is the best you can do, though, was it really worth the bother? I don't believe it was. Originally it was called Polycarp, which is a monumentally dumb title.




It's our own fault. Because we die-hard horror fans are apparently so forgiving of movies that aren't terribly good, the genre is swamped with movies made to a lower set of standards. You wouldn't get away with a courtroom thriller that was full of plotholes, or an emotional drama with performances of the "reading aloud" variety, or a romantic comedy where there was not a whit of chemistry between the participants. You wouldn't put out a chase movie where the cars don't go above 25 mph. But people - and that's us - will seemingly accept a slasher movie that's inadequate on all fronts: logic, suspense, and plausibility (not to mention the inadequancies in acting, writing, editing, scoring, photography etc), so long as it delivers on the gore and, as a lesser priority, the sex.

A case in point is Knock Knock, a dreary plod through the campus slasher handbook without any interesting riffs on the themes of the genre, without any notable additions to (or deviations from) the themes of the genre, and indeed without more than the most rudimentary filmmaking skills. We're squarely in I Know What You Did.... territory here, as comely teens and halfwitted jocks are being violently slaughtered by a masked psychopath as revenge for past misdeeds - a dark secret that nobody even mentions for the first half of the movie but maybe it's got something to so with the football team and the handicapped janitor. Acting, even by genre standards, is first read-through standard at best, you wouldn't believe the female lead if she told you it was Thursday and you certainly don't believe she's a detective. Maybe a poledancer or a rollerblading waitress, but not a detective. The cinematography (more accurately videography?) gets the shakes every time the killer gets down to business, though that may be an attempt to disguise the ropey nature of the splatter effects. Meanwhile, one significant character is introduced early on in the movie and then disappears for more than an hour.

Yes, it has plenty of gore in it, although it's not particularly impressive, and it has plenty of college cuties willing to parade around in minimal shorts and skirts, or indeed nothing at all. One early sequence features a female student thrusting her frankly grotesquely massive chest in the face of a dimwit jock - a scene of no importance whatsoever as it's the only scene she's in. But hey, get a load of those whoppers, lads! Frankly, if all you want is boobs and bums, rent a porn film and be done with it. Knock Knock, meanwhile, is exceptionally shoddy and completely and utterly not recommended. Not even a little bit. We deserve better.


Sunday, 15 November 2009



In which Roland Emmerich continues his destruction of the human race: after trashing the planet in Independence Day, stomping on New York in Godzilla and reducing everywhere north of Acapulco to an Arctic wasteland in the Day After Tomorrow, it's now the turn of solar flares to mess with the Earths' core and cause all the continents to slip their geological moorings. We've got volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis..... and apparently the Mayans knew all about it.

For a reputed budget in excess of a quarter of a billion dollars (and, incidentally, think about that sum of money next time you're walking past Help The Aged or Oxfam) we do need more than long sequences of wholesale destruction, even if they are rendered in the most stupendously detailed CGI effects a quarter of a billion dollars can buy. 2012 does have some semblance of human activity going on as well but it's built on an increasingly implausible string of coincidences that less resemble a coherent drama and more a game of Six Degrees Of John Cusack. Cusack plays a struggling novelist who takes his kids camping in Yellowstone Park and JUST HAPPENS to meet up with boffin Chiwetel Ejiofor, who JUST HAPPENS to be one of the few who read Cusack's novel and who JUST HAPPENS to be the man who started the 2012 action plan into operation. Cusack's day job is as a limo driver for a Russian oligarch who JUST HAPPENS to have a pass on one of the Arks that the world governments are building to save as much of humanity as possible (including HM The Queen and some giraffes) and who JUST HAPPENS to have a girlfriend whose boob job JUST HAPPENED to be done by Cusack's ex-wife's new partner (Tom McCarthy) - who also JUST HAPPENS to have had flying lessons, which is really handy because they need to find ranting end-of-the-world conspiracy nutter Woody Harrelson, who Cusack JUST HAPPENED to meet up with in Yellowstone and who JUST HAPPENS to have a map of where the Arks are being built. The Russian oligarch JUST HAPPENS to have a plane to get them somewhere in China where they all JUST HAPPEN to meet up with the family of a Buddhist guy who can smuggle them onto the Ark which JUST HAPPENS to be the one with Ejiofor on it, which is mighty handy. Unlikely as that all seems, it's completely believable against the backdrop of collapsing freeways and tumbling skyscrapers from which Cusack and his entourage are constantly speeding away, either in the Russian's limo, Harrelson's Winnebago, a Bentley (briefly) or a Russian cargo plane. Meanwhile Chiwetel Ejiofor has eyes for the comely First Daughter of President Danny Glover (he stays with his people and gets an aircraft carrier dropped on his head).

It's all incredibly silly and doesn't hold water any more than the Ark does (at least until Cusack manages to get the door shut) but when it's concentrating on things blowing up or crashing or falling to pieces, or the world's major landmarks being reduced to gravel - this time it's the Sistine Chapel and Las Vegas. Emmerich doesn't do plausible or believable, though, and he doesn't do small and intimate either. He does apocalypses and this one is fairly entertaining although ludicrously overdone - the film is a whopping 158 minutes long which is even longer than Transformers 2 and just as desperately in need of serious hacking down. It's too big, too much, and too long. And too expensive: it's not worth a quarter of a billion dollars of Columbia's money but it's probably worth a tenner of yours.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009



If ever you needed proof that porn was essentially boring, here it is. Alright, it's not a porn movie as such, but despite having more boobs and bums and dangly bits than you can shake a stick (or anything else) at, Viva is mainly chronically dull stuff and drags on for a crippling two hours - about 40 minutes longer than necessary. It's nicely photographed, which is not something you can say about porno as a rule, but that's really not enough.

The essential premise is that two bored housewives in the Los Angeles suburbs experiment with sexual liberation when their dunce husbands leg it: looking for adventure, they find it in prostitution and while one happily teases a geriatric millionaire for diamonds and furs, the other adopts the name of Viva and goes all out for it. But are they happy? Viva gets involved in a swinging counterculture scene culminating in an orgy where everyone's happily parading around either in togas or completely starkers.

What Viva does have to commend it is a fantastic look: not just the wonderfully ghastly fashions and interior design, but the gaudy, overlit photography that makes it look like an early 70s film. It's gorgeous to actually sit and look at but, having gone to all that effort with the hair and makeup and atrocious shirts, having accumulated all the grotesque set decorations and all that period lounge music (some genuine, some modern but in that style): why make it so dull? The acting is so stiff and "reading aloud" it must have been a deliberate decision on the part of writer-director-star-editor-producer Anna Biller (who also did production design, costume design and played the organ on the soundtrack, and probably made the sandwiches as well). Unless the intent was to make a loving tribute to the sleazy grindhouse sex/trash films of the time with acting and attitudes to match (the comedy camp/gay Hollywood hairdresser, the Free Love hippie nudists, some of whom, to be honest, have no business taking their clothes off in public). As a drama it's just horrible and way overlong - and to make matters worse it's got a handful of terrible songs in it - but as a recreation of the garish, outlandish excesses of 1972 California it's fairly interesting, if a bit eye-scorching. It's just rather a pity about the naked people getting in the way.


Monday, 9 November 2009



Really, sequels should be actual continuations with at least some of the same characters. Aliens is a proper sequel, Mad Max 2, Friday The 13th Part 2. Sequels shouldn't be a remake of the first one with a lower budget and a B-Team cast. That's what they've done here - essentially remade the original movie without any money, no stars, ropey CG effects and without going to any more than the barest minimum of effort to get the job done. Despite the title, it's not The Cell 2; it's The Cell again.

Tessie Santiago (because they couldn't get Jennifer Lopez back, assuming they even asked) has the gift of seeing into people's minds by holding items they owned and is used by the FBI to track down serial killers. This one is known as The Cusp; his MO is to keep killing his victims over and over again and resurrecting them with CPR or cardio kits. When he's not doing that, he's keeping his victims in a chair with duct tape and a metal box on their heads, ranting at them. His latest captive happens to be the niece of the Sheriff - the Sheriff of what must be the most charmless and architecturally uninteresting town in Utah. It's as if they told the location scouts: "find me warehouses, find me train yards, find me the least exciting and distinctive industrial buildings in the state - which we're then going to shoot on DV or something so it'll look even more bland and drab". Tessie goes into the maniac's mind to find out who and where he is, but of course he's ready for her and thus begins the battle: both in their mindscapes and in the real world.

It's cheap, silly, illogical and, most crucially, it doesn't have the rich visuals of the first one. The original was directed by Tarsem Singh who does a great line in gorgeous, dreamlike imagery; this "sequel" is by Tim Iacofano, who doesn't. He works in episodic television and that's what this looks like. It's not particularly short - just shy of 90 minutes - but it stops after about 80 minutes and intercuts the end credits with lengthy sunny views of the Utah mountains and behind-the-scenes footage of how they did the car and helicopter stunts. All told, fairly poor.


Saturday, 7 November 2009



In which a mad architect with an overwhelming passion for cement entombs people alive in the walls of his graceless monoliths. And that's just the credits sequence. Now, fifteen years later, a young and foxy demolitions consultant (Mischa Barton, who I have to confess I've heard of but not seen before) shows up at a particularly ugly nine-storey monstrosity - an apartment block built, for no adequately explored reason, in the middle of a thousand acres of barren swampland - to work out the best way of blowing it up. Someone, or something, is out to stop her. The caretaker is obviously hiding something, her teenage son is clearly up to no good, the two remaining tenants are blatantly barmy. What's it got to do with Egyptian pyramids? And what's in the locked room on the top floor?

Say what you like, it's a while since a plot this loopy featured on a British soap opera. Walled In is pretty bonkers but unfortunately the madness doesn't carry and it is, ultimately, a bit dull. It's okay, and passes the time with a few nasty moments, but no more than that: maybe worth a rent, probably not worth buying unless you're a big Mischa Barton fan. (Then again, people still buy Steven Seagal movies in their thousands.)

Though it's billed as a horror film, it's really more of a psychological thriller that unfortunately doesn't make sense. I didn't mind it, but it's not particularly remarkable. It needed to be madder. (Though the DVD carries an 18 certificate, that's because of the extra features and the film itself is only a 15.)


Friday, 6 November 2009



The makers of the new SF thriller The Fourth Kind have gone to extraordinary lengths to convince us that what we're seeing is a completely accurate dramatisation of the gospel facts: verified, corroborated by sane professionals, backed up by hard incontrovertible evidence and sworn testimonies. Milla Jovovich even appears as herself in the film's trailer (and in the opening scenes of the film itself) to confirm that, yes, It's All True, Honest, Guv. All the tropes of Reality Cinema are there: not least the video camera footage and appearances from some of the real people involved. Even if it is about alien abductions, how could it possibly not be true?

Actually I suspect it's not even faintly true, not even in the same postcode as Loosely Based On Probable Events, and is simply nothing more than sub X-Files spooky alien hogwash dressed up as a docudrama. Milla Jovovich stars as Alaskan psychologist Dr Abigail Tyler, investigating a series of sleep disorders involving a mysterious owl (that isn't really an owl), and coming to terms with the unexplained death of her husband. Her use of hypnosis techniques to find out more about the disorders backfires when her patients, her family, and ultimately herself come to harm.

There is a scene in which one of Tyler's patients commits the most serious of crimes, and the act is shown via a police car video camera. If it is true then how did a movie company get hold of it? Would that even be legal? Certainly it's morally questionable at best. Discounting that means you can actually discount most of the rest of the film. What's left? A lot of split screen work between the "real" events and the film's restagings, a spooky ambient noise kind of score, VHS video footage of hypnosis sessions and plenty of waffle about the Sumerians. Yes, there are some nicely persuasive moments, but not many of them. And it takes an age to get going. If they'd played it as a straight SF/horror movie and not sought to bolster its more dubious moments with cries of "but it's real!" - a simple, unpretentious bit of scary hokum for the winter evenings - it would have worked better. As it is it's rather too full of itself.


Thursday, 5 November 2009



I'm not actually the world's biggest Terry Gilliam fan. The film of his I probably liked the most seems to be the one generally regarded as one of his weakest: The Brothers Grimm. I haven't seen Brazil for so long I couldn't be relied upon for an honest opinion, though I know I half-liked it at the time; and I wasn't that excited by either The Fisher King or Twelve Monkeys. And strangely enough, I wasn't even aware my local were screening this one until I looked online to find out next week's times. Smallest screen, one week only, finishes Thursday.

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is a strange kind of soul-collecting travelling sideshow run by the immortal Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), his teenage daughter (Lily Cole) and assistants: you go through a mirror and it places you in a fully realised world from your own imagination. Lurking around on both sides of the mirror is Tom Waits as the Devil, making wagers as to whether he or Parnassus can collect the most souls in a given time limit. It's not doing very well, until the troupe rescues amnesiac Heath Ledger from a hanging and he eventually turns the sideshow into a more successful enterprise. But he has secrets....

That they managed to get round the death of Heath Ledger halfway through by having the character played by Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp on the other side of the mirror isn't actually a problem; as others have commented, it could have been conceived that way in the first place. The most striking thing about TIODP is the wildly designed imaginary worlds within the mirror, They're all done in CGI and are fantastic - perhaps they're too wildly designed as, like The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, it gets a bit much in places, and at certain points, particularly in the last third, it starts to get a tad confusing as I lost track of exactly whose imaginary world we were actually in. And it's really hard to actually care about most of the characters. Still, I rather liked the end, though I'm not entirely sure how it actually got there. But it's visually staggering, always interesting and well worth a look.


Monday, 2 November 2009



I wasn't particularly expecting anything of this. Seeing as how it was on the festival schedule for the ludicrous hour of twenty past four in the morning and the film was already on some kind of release, I was planning on taking the opportunity for a bit of a kip. But it kept me awake and, in the words of Arthur Dent, "Actually I quite liked it."

Jennifer's Body is a comedic teen horror film from the director of Aeon Flux (no, really, there was one) and showcasing the supposedly lava-hot Megan Fox (well, it takes all sorts) in a script by Diablo Cody, probably Hollywood's only ex-stripper with an Oscar for screenwriting. Fox is the titular high-school cheerleader, heartless cow and lust object whose encounter with a struggling indie band turns her into a blood-crazed demonic succubus picking off the hopelessly horny idiot boys in the school, and only her much-abused and put-upon best friend can stop her....

So I was quite surprised to find that I rather enjoyed it and didn't hate it nearly as much as I thought I was going to. I've really very little time for Megan Fox, to whose much trumpeted charms I remain mysteriously immune, and found Amanda Seyfried as her hapless friend to be much more interesting. Nice ending as well. Not a movie for the hardcore horror crowd, rather the Friday night multiplex audience, and it does fine.




Can we please, please, pretty please, have a moratorium on POV camcorder horror movies? Quite apart from the fact that they're visually ugly, it's a device that's been done to death and beyond. Even though it had been pioneered way back in 1980 by the staggering yet unforgivable Cannibal Holocaust, it was The Blair Witch Project that really brought its use to wide attention and since then there've been a lot of entries in the genre. Many of them suffer the same basic narrative flaw: if the ghosts/monsters/aliens/zombies/newsreaders are coming after you, the smart thing to do is to drop the camera and leg it. Still, there've been a few which have sought to overcome this by incorporating the shooting medium into the story itself: the underrated The Collingswood Story is shot entirely on webcams.

Now we've got Paranormal Activity, the camcorder diary of a haunting in which Micah documents the mysterious events that occur in the (frankly massive) house he shares with his "engaged to be engaged" girlfriend Katie. At first the manifestations are fairly subtle: doors move slightly, mysterious rumbling noises. A psychic proves to be of little help, and Micah's efforts to find out what's going on only seem to make matters worse as the later occurrences are louder, angrier.

Paranormal Activity is marketed as "one of the scariest movies of all time" but in all honesty I don't think it is, unless you've not seen any even faintly scary movies in the first place. Even in the POV camcorder league the scariest one is still The St Francisville Experiment. "Nightmares are guaranteed"? Well, none yet and I've never had nightmares after horror films. I suspect the film might be suffering from overhype; when it shows up on release I imagine a lot of people are going to wonder what the fuss was all about. The trailer shows an American audience responding loudly to a screening of the film: screaming, jumping and clutching one another and there was little of that going on at the ICA (then again, we're British). The movie has its effective scare moments, undoubtedly, but they're mainly in the last 30 minutes or so: it does work, in parts, but there are again times when the guy should put the damned camera down. This isn't necessarily going to terrify the hardened horror fan, but the multiplex audiences who usually frequent Sandra Bullock movies will probably find it pretty frightening. And the final shot of the film is too much of a cheapjack horror movie shock moment.


Sunday, 1 November 2009



It was always going to be tough to live up to the first two Wrong Turn entries. The formula is basically The Texas Chain Saw Massacre all over again (okay, there's no chainsaws and it's not set in Texas, so call it The West Virginia Sharp And Pointy Things Massacre) as a bunch of townies venture out into the rural backwaters where Anything Can Happen, and have a short space of time to regret their decisions before being dispatched in brutal and visually interesting ways, but the first film is actually surprisingly nasty-edged and humourless, and has a couple of Name Stars in it (the main one being Eliza Dushku in a tight vest). The second one was broader, more comedic, with lots of upfront gore and I was thoroughly entertained.

Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead doesn't manage the task beyond being an entirely functional continuation for the DVD rentals market: it does exactly what you'd expect - idiots go into the woods and get messily killed - without being overly interesting or stylish or original but dishing up the (literally) eye-popping gore highlights. It kicks off in typical goretastic fashion, with two whitewater rafting couples who set up camp and indulge in the most thoroughly gratuitous topless scene in ages before the deformed yeehawing hillbilly mutant cannibals show up and teach them the error of their ways. Sadly, most of this episode's victims are hardened badass criminals whose prison transfer bus is run off the round by the mutants - for one thing it's hard to care whether any of these despicable individuals live or die, and for another more of them are killed off by their colleagues than by the mutants.

The mutants aren't as well showcased this time around, characterisation is thin at best (it's nice how in Wrong Turn 2 the annoying female you had pegged as destined to end up in a large pie actually develops and graduates to Final Girl status) and the constant swearing from the criminals is frankly dull. No-one expects them to talk like Jeeves and Wooster but there's no need to rub our noses in it. But the blood and gore is plentiful (if sometimes CGId, which as far as I'm concerned is cheating), and they try to top Wrong Turn 2's opening Big Axe vertical bisection with a cheesewire vertical trisection - it's not as good, though. Overall it's not terrible; it's just exactly what you thought a Wrong Turn 3 was going to be like - functional, does the job, no surprises or revelations. Most of the cast are British - with lots of occasional TV on their CVs such as Hollyoaks, Casualty, The Bill, and Footballers' Wives - pretending to Americans just as Bulgaria is standing in for West Virginia.