Friday, 25 June 2010



MacGruber has zero laughs. Not a one. Not so much as a smirk. Nor is it even close to exciting - not even in the same thrillzone as something as edge-of-the-seat as Up In The Air, My Little Pony Goes To FluffyLand or those TV monologues with the late Thora Hird. Even if you find the shipping forecast or an advert for the summer sale at DFS to be a bit of a nerve-shredding experience, you're not going to so much as break a sweat with this film. Which, given that this is nominally designated as an action comedy, means that it's two strikes already and has to fall back on simple film-making craftsmanship and technical merits. Er, no. Strike three, you're out. Thanks for playing. Kindly leave the field.

The basic idea of MacGruber is that it's a spoof of MacGyver, the 80s TV show in which Richard Dean Anderson got himself out of tight scrapes and blew up villains' hideouts with sellotape, detergent and cardboard. MacGruber is a legendary American Special Forces operative who is called out of retirement when Val Kilmer steals a nuclear missile. MacGruber puts together a team, accidentally kills them all, puts together another team and generally makes a hash of everything. MacGruber is a hopeless idiot who is not fit to kiss the soles of his obvious inspiration Lt Frank Drebin's carpet slippers. Enthusiastic, determined, but useless, brainless and spectacularly, yet remarkably unamusingly, dumb.

He's played by one Will Forte, of whom I've heard precisely nothing but apparently he's big on American TV. The character of MacGruber actually originated on Saturday Night Live - which doesn't get any significant airing, if any airing at all, on British TV. So it's a film starring a complete unknown, about a character we've never experienced from a TV show we've never seen, parodying a TV show that's a quarter of a century old. And this has been released onto British cinema screens because....? (Whatever the reasons, it's been pretty much removed from the circuits after a week.)

As the villain, and the biggest star attached, Val Kilmer plainly regrets ever signing on, but was probably in possession of a larger-than-expected gas bill because there's no other reason on God's good Earth for him to be doing this. He's the basis of the one sole joke - and it's not a good one - in the entire film. Here come those intimations of a very rude word: his character name is Dieter Von Cunth. Isn't that the greatest joke? Because it's those letters, the C and the U and so on: isn't that hilarious? In the way that you're comedically obliged to laugh at the word Scunthorpe.

It's repugnantly gross (eating a piece of celery that you've just stuck up your bum: oh, the hilarity), the hero is nothing more than an imbecilic braggart and if you could be bothered, you could even argue there's a faintly homophobic tinge to it - MacGruber drops one of his team members when he finds out they're gay; MacGruber offers oral relief to Ryan Phillippe (humiliating himself) and Powers Boothe (ditto). What you can't argue with any conviction is that it's rubbish: perfunctorily directed, childish humour centred on bums and willies and rude words, and it isn't funny. If Troma remade The A-Team or Rambo, this is what it would look like. And that is not a recommendation.




When I first saw the title Lockjaw, I assumed it was actually about the disease, and I therefore immediately looked forward to the director's followups in the genre: Smallpox, Tuberculosis and Amoebic Dysentery. Sadly, this is not a movie about a tetanus epidemic, but yet another horror quickie in which some charmless teens are chased around in the dark by a giant computer-generated snake.

You'd think that after three Shark Attack movies, Shark In Venice, Mega Shark, Mega Snake, Anacondas et al that the creature CG would now be something approaching halfway bearable, but they haven't improved one bit in all this time. The Lockjaw of the title is the nickname bestowed on a giant crocodile/snake demon thing summoned by drawings made by a sacred pencil known as the Kulev Stick (no, I am not making this up). If you use this pencil to draw the monster eating your enemies, Lockjaw will show up and do just that. When a woman is killed in a hit and run, the grieving widower summons Lockjaw for revenge on the those responsible.

Our heroes are, incidentally, more than usually disposable: apart from the pretty girl and the slightly nerdy Clark Kent type, we have two clueless dunces and a second-rate prostitute whose sole purpose is to strip to her underwear and point her bum at the camera. There's also another idiot with a skateboard. Halfway through, one-time rapper DMX shows up, plainly embarrassed (and so he damn well should be), to [1] explain that the creature cannot be killed, and [2] kill it with a rocket launcher. I'm not entirely sure how a bloke in a shack has managed to buy a rocket launcher, and I'm not entirely sure how the snake knows precisely who it's supposed to kill, given that the husband doesn't know anything beyond the style of car.

I'm also not sure why they don't just leg it to the nearest city with a ten-storey hotel. But no: we have to have lots of footage of these dimwits wandering around the woods in the dark. This is desperately poor even by the standards of the CG-Megamonster genre: Shark Attack II at least had nice travelogue footage of South Africa, Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus got by on the sheer stupidity factor. But this just doesn't work at all: you despise the intended victims and you don't believe in the monster. More to the point, it's also a straight ripoff of the far superior Pumpkinhead (Vengeance The Demon). Technically it's fairly perfunctory as well: visually flat and the audio is badly recorded, making chunks of the dialogue incomprehensible. If it's on your rentals queue, take it off now.


Wednesday, 16 June 2010



Honestly! A quarter of a century on and they're still ripping off Jaws? I suppose they're calling a respectful homage but the blatant lifts from Spielberg's 1975 original are simultaneously shameless and shameful. Even the famous track-in-zoom-out perspective distortion shot of Roy Scheider on the beach (which was originally a Hitchcock device) makes an appearance, except that here it's pointed at a bloke called Thorsten Kaye - no, nobody's Household Name Detector is going to go off tonight. At least the first one had Ernie Hudson and Caspar Van Dien in it.

Shark Attack II kicks off with a Great White chewing up a scuba diver while her cute blonde sister Nikita Ager looks on; Thorsten is the hunky marine biologist assigned to capture it for a frankly tacky-looking seaside theme park run by a villain who's clearly cut from Mayor Larry Vaughn's cloth. The shark eats a park employee in front of some horrified toddlers, escapes, and is then tracked by the hunk and the blonde, along with a charmless Australian egomaniac with a nature-baiting TV show. Can they stop the shark before it eats everyone at the big surfing competition? As it happens: no, they can't, because auteur David Worth (incidentally the genius behind Kickboxer, Warrior Of The Lost World and Lady Dragon) wants to restage the Fourth Of July bit from Jaws, except not as good.

It's badly acted, blatantly unoriginal and no better than the first Shark Attack movie, to which it's related only by a handful of lines of expository dialogue. The CGI sharks are pretty lame, especially for the scenes where they're supposed to be hunting in packs (although they're not as bad as the shark effects in the one-joke Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus eight years later). Where the movie scores for me, personally, is that it's set and shot in Cape Town, where I was for a couple of days in 1975: just a couple of weeks before Jaws opened. Thorsten and Nikita go by cable car to the top of Table Mountain - and so did I. Sadly, they don't have a shot of the shadows of the cable cars crossing each other on the side of the mountain, but we did get a shot of precisely that on 8mm home cine.

That's ultimately got nothing to do with Shark Attack II: it would have been rubbish if they'd set it anywhere else, and it is rubbish when set here, albeit rubbish with some travelogue and location footage that appeals to me in particular. But I'm a sucker for anything shot in non-Saharan Africa so the movie scrapes an extra star just for that. Still not any good, though.


Tuesday, 15 June 2010



This is one of those movies about which I end up feeling entirely ambivalent and unsure of what I felt - and yet immediately formed very firm opinions about it. Despite those strong feelings, it's one of those in-the-middle movies: not in a "well, it was okay" kind of a way, but more due to some very strong positives and equally strong negatives that more or less cancel each other out.

The Killer Inside Me is an adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel (which I haven't read), telling of smalltown deputy sherrif Casey Affleck who, far from being the nice, laid-back type he comes across as, is in reality a psychotic killer with a liking for smacking women around. In addition to his involvement with a local construction bigwig (the legendary Ned Beatty) who might have had something to do with the questionably accidental death of Affleck's adopted brother, there's local prostitute Jessica Alba, who apparently likes being smacked around as much as Affleck likes dishing it out. But once he's killed, he has to keep on killing to protect himself, no matter who it might be.

The positives are easy: it's well played, beautifully shot, with a selection of period music comprising much of the soundtrack that isn't a collection of pop hits of the time. The mood of the time and place is superbly caught. But there's one big, big negative - and here come the spoilers - which is the presentation of the violence, specifically against Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson (the latter as Affleck's childhood sweetheart and long-standing girlfriend).

The killing of Jessica Alba's character is unflinching, brutal, and goes on for longer than is really necessary, which means it does start to become gratuitous and I started to wonder exactly what that scene was doing there in that form, and what it was supposed to achieve. Obviously such a scene of despicable sadism wasn't there to turn the audience on, so it must have been there to show the Affleck character being turned on. It didn't achieve that, but it's the only explanation for that scene being there.

Comparison has been made with Gaspar Noe's frankly intolerable Irreversible, in which a single-shot rape scene runs for an uninterrupted nine minutes. What was achieved by that? I find the oft-stated justification for such techniques - that the director really wanted to convey just how awful and repulsive rape actually is - to be patronising and lecturing. We do know this already, we are quite capable of understanding this without having to sit through it in real time. In a similar way, we don't need to watch Jessica Alba being repeatedly punched in the face to get the message, and I'm not sure that Michael Winterbottom, Gaspar Noe or Meir Zarchi have any particlarly fresh insight into such things. Nor do we need to see the battered body of Kate Hudson lying on the floor, urinating in distress after Affleck has turned on her. I felt very uncomfortable with both scenes and I'm not convinced by the stated reasons for their inclusion. One of the most distressing rape sequences I can think of (and please don't think I've compiled some kind of Top Ten) occurs in the tedious The Great Ecstacy Of Robert Carmichael, and the act in question takes place in the next room; we hear the screams and laughter and cheers and sobbing while the camera remains fixed, pretentiously, on a TV set showing Tony Blair justifying the invasion of Iraq. But we see nothing of the rape, and it's the more harrowing for it.

In summary, it IS a film of two halves, and sadly the good work done in the bulk of the film is overshadowed by those two scenes. I do want to make it clear that if I'm going to see scenes of rape and abuse, I'd far rather have them show these acts as repugnant and vile and completely unacceptable, than as events of no lasting consequence or effect. But against this, there comes a time when you're just labouring the point and I feel that's what happened with those two scenes in The Killer Inside Me.


Wednesday, 9 June 2010



Hold the front page: Jess Franco In Hopelessly Incoherent Gibberish Shock. Yep, to everyone's amazement, it's yet another unbelievable stinker from the back catalogue of one of the world's most inept filmmakers, not only chock full of entirely gratuitous nudity but shoddily put together and riddled with the typically out-of-focus zoom shots that Jess Franco has made a speciality. While directors such as Dario Argento to Hitchcock and De Palma construct elaborate set-pieces with flamboyant camera moves and audacious technical artistry, Jess Franco crash-zooms into merciless close-ups and then fiddles with the focus knob.

The Devil Hunter is the title on the box but on-screen it's El Canibal, which is a more accurate representation of the film. A famous actress is kidnapped and kept prisoner on a jungle island which is home to an unknown tribe who sacrifice naked women to a naked cannibal demon with ping-pong balls for eyes; Eurojunk legend Al Cliver is hired to get her back before her captors kill her off, or before the cannibal demon will rip her heart out and eat it. What we ultimately end up with is a bunch of badly dubbed blokes wandering around a murkily photographed jungle while the badly dubbed women spend vast periods of time in the nude.

There is admittedly a slightly more tangible plot than with some of Franco's more idiotic ramblings (The Devil Came From Akasava springs to mind, along with his brace of incomprehensible Frankenstein pictures), but it's sunk by the poor dubbing, photography and dialogue as well as Franco's habit of stopping the movie entirely for the endless nude scenes; the gore effects are fairly perfunctory and the blood looks like crimson poster paint. And the ping-pong ball eyes effect actually contrives to look even more ridiculous than when I did it! This is nowhere near his most enjoyable (or even his more professional-looking) films such as She Killed In Ecstacy, still my favourite Franco film. It doesn't even have a groovy lounge/exotica score; Franco co-wrote the frankly uninteresting and forgettable soundtrack with his regular composer, the late Daniel White.

It's fully uncut in the UK now, but The Devil Hunter was banned in the early 1980s under the Obscene Publications Act and it earned a place on the Video Nasties list from the DPP. In truth it's only moderately nasty and certainly not worth banning; it's just not in the same category of repugnant offence as I Spit On Your Grave or the original Last House On The Left. The principal reaction is not one of disgust or horror, but boredom occasionally leavened with a laugh at the wanton stupidity, particularly at the climax where Cliver and the naked cannibal bloke fight it out on a clifftop. Also provoking laughs is a scene when Cliver's sidekick has a sudden 'Nam flashback that has no business in this film at all. But brief moments of so-bad-it's-good hilarity aren't enough to commend it.