Monday, 29 November 2010



Yet more crash bang wallop in the pleasingly overstated manner of the Hong Kong action pic, with a healthy level of bloody violence (enough to get it an 18 certificate in this country) and some quite surprising moments of utter stupidity. That's not necessarily a bad thing: it's an enjoyable enough 90-odd minutes' worth of brainless entertainment that does the job more or less efficiently and doesn't hang around like a bad smell after the story's finished. And as a modern action thriller starring Jet Li, it's got the kind of immaculately choreographed fight sequences that I always enjoy.

The frankly meaninglessly-titled Meltdown is also a shameless rip from the original Die Hard, except that instead of an office block, a group of supercriminals take over a posh hotel (The Grandeur) during the exhibition of some priceless jewels and hold all the guests hostage. Jet Li, bodyguard to a cowardly action movie star (originally conceived as an unflattering caricature of Jackie Chan), essentially plays the Bruce Willis role and gets a string of terrific fight sequences. Also among the guests are a TV reporter who manages to get some surreptitious footage of the evil mastermind known only as The Doctor; in a moment of insanity the villains decide to deal with her by locking her in the lavatory and filling the room with snakes.

It's a more callous movie than you'd expect: the opening scene has a busload of innocent children blown up by The Doctor to no advantage, and the crunchy violence, whether through martial arts or firearms, is pretty bloody (and the film predates the current fad for CGI blood splatter and so the bullet hits look far more real). The Doctor is a hateful character, and both the actor and his dubber appear to have been channeling Tim Curry, but his comeuppance is frankly a bit on the weak side. It's certainly not a lost classic but it is reasonably good fun although it's only released in a poor American-English dub (there's no original language track on the DVD), and the music score is thumpy techno stuff that doesn't fit and doesn't work. Although the copyright date on the film is 2000, that would appear to refer to this English-friendly version whilst the IMDb suggests it dates from 1995.




Carts and horses. This is a full-length feature extruded from one of the fake trailers in the middle of the Grindhouse double-bill, before the two features, Death Proof and Planet Terror, were separated for financial (sorry, artistic) reasons and the trailers dropped entirely from the theatrical releases, although they are apparently on the Grindhouse DVD release. Frankly, though it's undeniably good grisly entertainment while it's playing, I'm not sure the joke ("They just f***ed with the wrong Mexican!") gains massively from being extended from three minutes to a whopping hundred and five.

An extremely violent, all-star exploitation spectacular which is dumb to the power of stupid and proud of it, Machete tells of a one-time Mexican cop reduced to the status of an illegal immigrant and day labourer after his wife and child are killed by an evil drugs baron (Steven Seagal!). Hired by slimy Jeff Fahey to assassinate a racist right-wing Senator (Robert De Niro!), Machete realises too late that he's been set up and, with the aid of a secret immigrant support network led by Michelle Rodriguez (who shows up for the final battle sequence with an eyepatch, black leather bra and bare midriff!) he strikes back, finding an ally in a glamorous Immigration Officer (Jessica Alba!). Machete also cops off with Fahey's daughter (Lindsay Lohan!) and ultimately gets to lead the Mexican revolution at the headquarters of a mad Texan supremacist vigilante (Don Johnson!). And there's still Steven Seagal to contend with...

Look, Machete is rubbish. But it is full-throttle rubbish with lots of old-fashioned gore - severed heads, ripped entrails, lopped limbs - and gratuitous nudity from Lohan and Alba. They've tried to make it look a bit like a 70s movie with the editing and the scratched lines in that Grindhouse kind of a way, which doesn't really make much sense when people are using mobile phones, DVDs and online webcams. Machete himself is a terrific character - not just a nickname to reflect his combat weapon of choice, Machete is actually the man's registered name - and it's great to see the incredibly weathered Danny Trejo in a lead role. The political stuff, about how the low cost of Mexican immigrant labour is vital for the local economy, is there if you want it but the ultimate object of the exercise is the outlandish violence and the sense of nostalgia for the heyday of the sleazy exploitation flick. Machete is fun while it's on, and has a genuinely great cast - Robert De Niro obviously doesn't feel he needs to prove himself any more and can just kick back and have some fun - but it doesn't last in the mind as a particularly good movie. Maybe the upcoming Hobo With A Shotgun can do it better.


Sunday, 28 November 2010



It's finally here. The cinema release most heavily censored by the BBFC (admittedly, many hardcore DVDs are cut more heavily) in sixteen years, which was supposed to have played at the FrightFest back in August and has been passed with a little over four minutes of footage removed, is due for a British cinema and DVD release in its noticeably shortened version. Has the film's message been compromised? Is it still worth seeing?

This isn't really the place to go into the intricacies of the BBFC's decision making processes or the legal restrictions on what they pass or reject, although the BBFC is a completely different beast from what it was in the Ferman years, and they don't hack movies to shreds for the sake of it any more. That this particular film depicts quite astonishingly repugnant and barbaric acts of violence and sexual depravity is more an issue for the likes of the Daily Mail, who will in all probability jump up and down squeaking about how it's going to bring about the collapse of Western civilisation and the end of the British Empire, and Something Must Be Done; because that's what they do. And then - who knows? - they might even sit down and watch it.

A Serbian Film deals, on a narrative level, with Milos, a former porn legend who's now retired but facing a financially uncertain future and unsure how he's going to continue to fund his family. When he's approached by a mysterious individual named Vukmir for a new, highly lucrative pornography project to which he must commit without knowing the details in advance, he's reluctant but eventually agrees - only to walk away in disgust halfway through. Waking up some time later after being drugged, he realises he's lost the last four days of his life and as he retraces his steps with the tapes from Vukmir's omnipresent camera crew, he discovers the appalling acts he's committed and what has happened to his family....

Skip this paragraph if you don't want the details of the most contentious material. Central to the film's second half are the shock/outrage sequences, the most discussed of which occurs when Vukmir attempts to explain his project to Milos with footage of a newborn baby taken from the mother's womb and immediately raped on camera. That the scene is as obviously simulated as a George Romero zombie attack isn't really relevant - it is the content, the very concept of the scene, that hits home. In the BBFC-approved version we see almost none of the sequence, we just hear the audio and see the faces of Milos and Vukmir whereas the uncut version included footage of the rapist with a prosthetic child. Not seeing it, but knowing what's happening, and hearing the screams, makes the scene arguably more disturbing and distressing than it already was. A later sequence where Milos remembers being goaded into beating a bound woman while violently screwing her, and then being handed a machete with which he decapitates the woman, while still screwing her corpse, is still deeply upsetting even in its shortened form (apparently 45 seconds of the cuts came from this sequence). Without wanting to provide a handy checklist, the other horrors include (but are not limited to) incest, rape, child abuse and more necrophilia. And because of the film's use of children, not just as bystanders or witnesses but as active (though obviously simulated) participants in some scenes, the BBFC would probably not have been able to pass the film uncut even if they'd wanted to.

As a dramatic piece of work, A Serbian Film is certainly interesting. But it's far more interesting in the human drama of the first half than in the later sequences where it seems to genuinely be aiming for shock effect, whatever the director has to say, and there's a real sense that they are just coming up with more and more repulsive sexual activity for the sake of it. I don't believe that the Authors' Message - it's an allegorical piece about life in Serbia today; that the people are exploited and will always be exploited - is necessarily compromised by the BBFC's cuts: for one thing it's still a hideously effective film and for another the BBFC could easily have removed far more material, or indeed rejected it outright.

Whether it's an honest and fair allegory of contemporary Serbian life I really wouldn't know. I think it's an ugly film, an unpleasant film, and a film I really have no desire to see again. That's no bad thing: I don't want to see Schindler's List again either but that's not to say that these aren't well made and well intentioned films, though I do question the intentions of A Serbian Film. It is a very difficult film to watch - even in this cut version I found myself looking away in places - and I'm honestly not sure the content is entirely justified by context. You've been warned.


You can obtain this film here:

Saturday, 27 November 2010



There's nothing better than a really great bad movie! So bad it's good! Any fool can watch good films but the real test is how many bad films you can put yourself through! Well, cobblers to that. There may be some fun to be derived from the likes of The Wild Women Of Wongo or Attack Of The Giant Leeches but there's no point at which that makes them films of any kind of quality. The worst movies aren't so bad they're good, they're just plain mediocre. Edward D Wood Jr may have been a hack but he thought, he genuinely believed, he was a genius. The likes of Al Adamson aren't that delusional: they're rubbish and they know it but it doesn't matter.

Dracula Vs. Frankenstein has a completely nonsensical storyline enacted mainly by hasbeens and faded genre veterans, shoddily photographed and slung together with minimal technical skill, but that appears to be par for the course for an Al Adamson movie. Dr Frankenstein has relocated to San Francisco and now, under the name of Dr Duryea, runs a carnival freakshow on the pier. Secretly, however, he is abducting girls and terrorising them in order to create an immortality serum from their blood. Meanwhile, a young woman is searching for her sister who has recently disappeared. Also in town is Dracula (with a perm), who has dug up the body of Frankenstein's old monster and wants the serum for himself in order to create an immortal vampire army.

Frankenstein is played by J Carrol Naish who'd been in movies since the silent era and this 1971 stinker was his last film. It also heralded the final appearance of the legendary Lon Chaney, by then suffering from alcoholism and reduced to playing an axe-murdering simpleton. The heroine is played by the director's wife, and the man cast as Dracula was a stockbroker who only appeared in one other film. It is absolutely terrible and never in a good, enjoyable kind of a way: it's just hopelessly inept and depressing. There are several other Adamson films on British DVD - Brain Of Blood, Satan's Sadists, Horror Of The Blood Monsters - but for some reason I can't quite muster up the enthusiasm to add them to my queue. Once bitten, I suppose.




The wax museum has had a long and impressive history in horror movies, from the 1950s classic House Of Wax (itself a remake of the 1930s Mystery Of The Wax Museum) to the tiresome non-classic House Of Wax with the meaningless Paris Hilton. There's Sergio Stivaletti's Maschera Di Cera (Wax Mask) with writing input from two Italian horror icons Dario Argento AND Lucio Fulci, which was enjoyably gloopy fun, and not forgetting Anthony Hickox's gory if ramshackle portmanteau Waxwork (and its less effective continuation Waxwork II: Lost In Time).

You could perhaps include Carry On Screaming on that list, as it's hard not to echo Kenneth Williams' "Frying tonight!" upon seeing the giant bubbling wax vat in Cameron Mitchell's basement here. Nightmare In Wax has genre veteran Mitchell as an embittered wax sculptor, driven from his love (Anne Helm) and his job as a film make-up wizard after being horribly burned in a spiteful attack. But could Mitchell, now the hideously scarred, one-eyed owner of the Hollywood Wax Museum, have anything to do with the mysterious and unsolved disappearances of so many of Helm's colleagues and, most recently, her fiancé? And are some of those waxworks actually moving?

If you seriously imagine the answer to either of those questions could be "No", then you're watching the wrong film. Mitchell rants at the "heads" in his basement, hypnotises his victims and tries valiantly to distract attention from his obviously stick-on scars. It's luridly coloured (it was made in 1969), it's cheap and efficiently enough done, it's scarcely any kind of classic, but it's energetic and has a suitably bonkers final reel. Overall I rather liked it, perhaps a bit more than I expected.




In fact, you don't even have to have seen the trailer. You know Planes, Trains And Autombiles? It's the same film. A road movie in which two radically different personalities - an uptight, irascible professional and an annoying slob with grotesque personal habits and a grating personality - have to travel across America together, shouting, arguing, getting on each others' nerves but Coming Together In Understanding And Harmony. And the thing is, I didn't like Planes, Trains And Automobiles very much.

Due Date also adds stoner and weed humour to the script, which is also something I don't care for, and it's from the director and one of the stars of The Hangover, which I also didn't like. Given all that, givem all those negatives, how could it possibly be any good? Yet I did honestly go in with an open mind. Architect Robert Downey Jr needs to get to Los Angeles for the birth of his child, but through a ludicrous series of circumstances and misunderstandings he's put on the no-fly list and thus is forced to travel across the country with aspiring actor and marijuana obsessive Zach Galifianakis.

They take detours, they crash the car, Zach G smokes pot and openly masturbates, they get involved in chases, they get beaten up by a man in a wheelchair, Downey spits at a dog and punches a small child. Frankly Downey is the only remotely decent or halfway amusing thing in the whole of Due Date - none of it's funny and Zach G is just cosmically, though not comically, irritating. Alternatively, maybe it is just me as everyone else in the cinema seemed to be cackling themselves into an early grave (despite every single one of the "jokes" being in the trailer). Only occasionally, and very moderately, amusing.




I really should have kept up with the Heroic Bloodshed subgenre of Hong Kong action cinema. During that subgenre's heyday in the late 80s and early 90s I caught many excellent examples at the much-missed Scala in Kings Cross - movies which alternated the corniest scenes of melodrama with mass shootouts in which the heroes could be shot thirty or forty times and still walk away. Themes of loyalty, brotherhood, betrayal and honour were always touched upon but the greatest of pleasures came from the huge body counts of bespoke-tailored gangsters and more gunfire and explosions than the Battle Of Stalingrad. Think John Woo, think Ringo Lam. And think Chow Yun Fat, The Coolest Man In The World, who strode, indeed sauntered through several of these films pumping thousands of bullets into miscreants without a second, or indeed a first thought: reaching a peak with the almost orgasmic levels of senseless, wonderful, eye-watering carnage in such films as The Killer and A Better Tomorrow II.

Frequently we'd little idea what to expect back in the days of triple-billed programmes by Eastern Heroes and the Jackie Chan Fan Club. One day they screened God Of Gamblers, in which Chow Yun Fat played the greatest gambler in the world - a man who could score four in a game of five dice by shaking the container in such a way that one of the dice was destroyed. And eventually there was a massive shootout and all the villains got killed. They followed it with God Of Gamblers II, which I don't recall as being half as good.

Confusingly, it wasn't the only sequel and more confusingly, it wasn't the only sequel called God Of Gamblers II. The Return Of The God Of Gamblers is actually God Of Gamblers 2, even though it has the same director and the same lead star in the same role. But 2 doesn't equal II. Ko Chun, the God Of Gamblers (Chow Yun Fat) has now retired to France with his pregnant wife, awaiting the birth of their baby son. Evil gangsters turn up because their boss wants to prove himself the best gambler and dethrone the God, and Ko's wife is brutally murdered. But on her deathbed Ko promises not to gamble for a whole year and, despite becoming involved with gangland conflicts, refuses to break his word. Until the year is up....

The action/gunplay sequences are certainly noisy and violent enough, although they lack the class of John Woo's more demented shootouts. The comedy mugging is pretty lame and at a scratch over two hours it's far too long and could do with a substantial trim, ideally from the scenes with the monumentally annoying kid Chow gets lumbered with. But there's some fun to be had, and when the immaculate Chow Yun Fat, The Coolest Man In The World, thoroughly trounces the villains, it's impossible not to cheer. Nonsense, but I enjoyed it.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010



This is the last of the three film adaptations of the original Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson (not counting next year's American remake of the first segment, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). And the short and simple verdict is that it's simply not up there with the first one but it is better than the second instalment (The Girl Who Played With Fire). The longer verdict is that it's more engaging, but dramatically flawed in that some bits seem irrelevantly bolted on where they don't really fit. In addition it has the feel, as indeed its predecessors had, of an ITV Drama Premiere: a Taggart or a Prime Suspect. Despite the Swedish dialogue and English subtitles, they've all had a television atmosphere about them: you half-expect an advert break every twenty minutes. If it weren't for the graphic (though justifiable in context) scenes of sexual violence in Dragon Tattoo that's where they could comfortably sit - two nights per film just after the watershed, with the news headlines halfway through.

One of the joys of Dragon Tattoo was that we didn't know very much about The Girl, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). We had no backstory beyond the bare minimum and that worked because we related to her as she was. In Played With Fire we got lots of details about how she came to be that way, and while it's fine to plot it out that This Bloke's actually her father and That Bloke's actually her half-brother, it didn't fit that they were at the heart of a story that Mikael Blomkvist, the other half of the Dragon Tattoo partnership, just coincidentally happened to be working on. Now, with The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, we go into even more detail about her history and who her father, Zalachenko, was - specifically the secret society within the Swedish government that handled and covered up his defection from Russia and his subsequent criminal operations. As Blomkvist's crusading Millennium magazine tries to publish an exposé of this secret gathering and prove Lisbeth's innocence of the attempted murder of Zalachekno at the end of the second movie, the now-elderly members of the old group resurface to protect themselves.

Much of Lisbeth's role in the movie is, sadly, not to mightily kick ass but to stay in her hospital room recovering from her bullet wounds and awaiting psychiatric evaluation by an obviously evil bastard of a doctor: having failed to kill her the group have decided to get her committed and dumped in an asylum. In addition they're trying to stop the publication of the Millennium magazine, using increasingly violent means: threatening emails, rocks through the windows, gun-toting Serbian gangsters shooting up a restaurant.....

As with Played With Fire, Lisbeth and Blomkvist are separated for almost the entire film and it's a shame because they worked so well together in Dragon Tattoo. There's also a dramatic contrivance in that the climax of the plot does hinge on the contents of the obviously evil bastard of a doctor's laptop: a factor which has nothing to do with Lisbeth or Blomkvist and everything to do with the script's need to have the doctor destroyed as spectacularly as possible. (I have no idea whether it's the same in the novels as I haven't read them.) And towards the end, it's as if they felt the need to have Lisbeth do a bit of asskicking so there's a sequence in an abandoned brickyard which really doesn't fit, and is just there because otherwise the 146-minute movie would perhaps conclude on an underwhelming final reel. But despite that, and despite the television feel to it, I did enjoy it and I do prefer it to the second film even though it's nowhere near as exciting as Dragon Tattoo was (the poster bears a quote from the Daily Mirror claiming it's the "thriller of the decade" - well, it isn't). It's not great, but it's not terrible either. And I suspect the American remake will only go as far as the first instalment.


Monday, 22 November 2010



However strong one's love for the unironic, unpretentious teenage slasher movies of the 1980s, it's fair to say that not all of them were up to the level of the best Halloweens and Friday The 13ths. For every Rosemary's Killer there's a Raging Fury or a Blood Tracks - an artless, shoddily assembled stack of ideas we'd already seen dozens of times, only better. And as the years went by the interesting variants on the formula dried up while the independent backwoods quickies bred and blossomed.

That's how, come 1989, we end up with a dispiriting piece of teenkill stodge like Psychocop, in which all that happens is that a sextet of young cretins go off to a luxury mansion in the middle of nowhere. Everybody wanders off into the woods, around the pool or over to the caretaker's trailer at least twice for no good reason. The caretaker shows up briefly before being hit with an axe; our idiot heroes drink bewildering amounts of beer, and a devil-worshipping police office picks them off one by one. Nothing else happens. Nothing at all.

It's not just tedious and bloodless, it's one of the most spectacularly badly written so-called films in history. The script is full of thudding speeches in which everybody says exactly what they're thinking, even when they're alone. It's placeholder dialogue: as if the writer's first draft had [Insert demand for more beer] or [Insert line that says her purse is missing], or [Insert line that explains that the mad cop used to be in an asylum], and the lines never got changed in the second draft, assuming they even bothered with a second draft. The number of times someone walks into a room and says "where's my shoes / purse / beer / soup / polonium-217? I know I left it / them around here somewhere" or "let's have a beer" is frankly astonishing.

Pretty much everything about the teenslash genre is rigidly adhered to: the Final Girl, the phone line being cut, the mad killer sitting up at the end despite having had a five-foot pole slammed through his chest. The only old slasher tropes that appear to have been omitted are the shock dream sequence and female nudity - indeed, the striking lack of sex, swearing and gory bloodshed mean the film bears one of the least deserved 18 certificates in the BBFC's history (unless there's a secret commentary track filled with drunken blasphemy and C-words). Without the violence and tits, with a terrible script that offers no surprises, without a halfway decent psycho character and without any ultimate point to the whole miserable enterprise, Psychocop (and it is all one word) is about as worthless and tiresome an afternoon's rental as you'll find. Notmuchcop.




If I'm a little bit in the dark regarding this movie, it's probably because it's a seven-year-old sequel to a film that came out about ten years ago, and which I haven't seen since its initial UK theatrical release. The Whole Nine Yards was okay but it wasn't a film I've had any burning desire to revisit in the interim, and I never managed to catch this followup when it hit British cinemas. In other words, in the years between seeing The Whole Nine and Ten Yards I'd forgotten all but the basics of the setup, and that includes whatever Natasha Henstridge and Amanda Peet were doing.

In The Whole Ten Yards, they're married to Matthew Perry and Bruce Willis respectively; Willis's character faked his death at the end of Nine and is now living incognito in Mexico where Peet is trying to become a hired assassin but isn't very good at it. Meanwhile Henstridge is kidnapped by a gangster (Kevin Pollak unrecognisable under a lot of makeup and using an incredibly weird accent) who wants revenge on Willis for the previous killing of his brother; Perry seeks out Willis to get her back but Willis isn't interested, partly because Henstridge is his own ex-wife. But there's something else going on.....

Frankly, whatever. It's hard to care and there's little in the way of laughs to be had (the level of humour is best illustrated by an old woman repeatedly farting and a scene in which Perry thinks he and Willis might have had drunken gay sex), although it's always nice to see Willis basically doing the standard Willis light comedy performance. The plot has a couple of completely unbelievable twists in it and the central MacGuffin is pretty well thrown away at the end. Bordeline tolerable at best and if you don't see it, you're honestly missing nothing.


Sunday, 21 November 2010



No-Do? Have they put the wrong disc in the DVD case? Have they stuck the wrong label on the DVD? Because No-Do isn't the title on the box cover or even on the menu screen. Search for No-Do in LoveFilm's database and it doesn't show up. As far as everyone is concerned, it's called The Haunting (and nothing to so with either previous version of The Haunting, and some issues of Roger Corman's rubbish The Terror are also marketed as The Haunting). And the IMDb classifies it as The Beckoning. So that's all that sorted out then.

No-Do is a Spanish horror film, and the title is actually an abbreviation of "Noticiarios y Documentales", the umbrella title of a series of propaganda "news and documentaries" in the Franco years. One of these films was shot in a house where some kind of miraculous religious event supposedly happened and the footage was promptly suppressed by the Catholic Church. Years later, a young family rent the old house but it's not long before spooky things start happening: noises coming from the locked attic, an old woman who used to work there shows up after waking from a decades-long coma, messages in blood appear on the wall. The couple's baby son is taken away amid fears that the mother is going mad; the local priest helps as much as he can with delving into the history of the house but the upper echelons of the Church would rather the matter remained secret.

Clearly the film No-Do wants to be is The Orphanage, and it frankly hasn't got a hope of getting anywhere near that magnificent work; there's a plot twist regarding the couple's daughter that I spotted far too early (although a second, more satisfying revelation at the end caught me unawares). That said, there are still several effectively spooky moments, and the true horrors of the house's past are fascinating and believable. While it isn't in any way a classic, it's a decent enough evening's rental.




I love watching Jackie Chan movies. Even in the mid-range movies, the man's cheery disregard for health and safety is a constant joy, and the endlessly inventive combat scenes and knockabout are invariably dazzling, not just in the meticulous choreography but the use of every single prop, wall or piece of furniture that's precisly positioned for the next elegant move. Yes, some of the humour is incredibly broad and some doesn't travel well at all. Yes, the plots can be absurd and silly. But when they're showcasing Chan's abilities with elaborate stunts or fight sequences, Nothing Else Matters.

In the case of The Accidental Spy, it has to be said that the narrative material is particularly thin. Chan is an ordinary salesman at a sports goods store when he is invited to Korea, where an old man is dying in hospital and believes Chan might be his long-lost son. But the old man's bequests lead Chan on a hunt for a new modified strain of super-addictive opium: a drug also sought by evil gangsters and the CIA. What does the phrase "Wait For Me" mean? Who is the mysterious young woman and whose side is she on?

This is more in the comedic than the crunchily violent vein, with the action scenes played more as cheerful and harmless knockabout than thudding bloodshed. One extended sequence features Chan fleeing a sauna wearing just a (quickly lost) towel, and then having to fight off several goons while preserving his modesty in the Istanbul markets. It is, as always, meticulously timed and performed. The big climactic chase sequence, with Chan stuck in a speeding, burning, out-of-control truck, piles on the mayhem in the best HK action traditions: no fancy over-editing to disguise the fact that everything's moving at about twenty miles an hour, no dodgy CGI to artificially ramp up the tension. Part of the joy of Asian action movies is that they actually do the stunts for real rather than achieving all the effect in the cutting room six months later.

It would appear from comments on the IMDb that the Western version is substantially different from the original Asian one, with a replacement music score, substantial edits to the plot of the film and an English dub that doesn't always work. That's apparently down to Dimension Films and the Weinsteins, and frankly I wish they hadn't bothered: these movies are perfectly accessible and acceptable without tinkering at the behest of executives with an eye on the takings in the Mid-West. Let's face it, the nuances of plot and dialogue aren't the primary draw for a Jackie Chan espionage caper, and apparently most of the film was in English anyway. It's not prime Chan, the plot is on the weak side and the post-production interferences have probably done more harm than good. But the action material survives and still plays well. And ultimately that's what counts.


Saturday, 20 November 2010



Much as I know I shouldn't, being a middle-aged single bloke, I have a soft spot for the later Harry Potter films. I've never read any of the books (and frankly have absolutely no interest in starting now) but I have enjoyed, to varying degrees, the movies: I think they have got better over time, as they've become darker and less kiddie-centric, and they're the kind of family movies I don't actually mind going to see. Indeed, I look forward to them, the way I don't with all the Pixars and similar animations - there's no chance of me going to Despicable Me, for example.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 dispenses with most of the traditional Potter material: there's no Hogwarts (which, to be honest, I can live with). The whole piece takes place outside the school with Harry, Hermione and Ron alone against the world and against the gathering forces of evil - not just Voldemort and his coterie but the new, fascistic Ministry Of Magic. Harry is out to find Lord Voldemort's horcruxes and destroy them; in order to achieve this he has to find the Sword Of Godric Gryffindor (because it's impregnated with basilisk venom). Or something. At the same time the three are hiding out because Harry is wanted for the Shock Death of A Major Character at the end of the last film. One of the problems the film has is - rather like the Saw series, oddly enough - a need for some familiarity with what's happened in earlier films. When Hermione says "you remember what happened in the Chamber Of Secrets....?", I have to say "no, that was five films and eight years ago, so I'm just going to take your word for it about whatever happened in the Chamber Of Secrets."

Anyway, they get the sword, they destroy one of the horcruxes, but there's several more to go, and Voldemort's allies are closing in.... This is the last book in the saga, and so massive that they've cut it into two parts rather than cram it into one unwieldy four-hour epic. Wise move. For one thing it means another movie, and for another that kind of length is a nightmare for distributors, cinemas and audiences, particularly audiences composed substantially of children. On the other hand, it does mean that HPDH-1 doesn't have a proper ending and just stops (all that's missing is a "To Be Continued" caption).

Even so, it still clocks in at 146 minutes, which is going to try the patience and the bladders of the ickle kiddies, many of whom shouldn't be there because it's creepy and scary in places: the BBFC have given it a 12A for "moderate fantasy violence and threat", and I think that's the right rating. It's not just the fantasy and monster stuff that's scary: the Pure Blood persecution, secret police and basement trials of the Ministry of Magic is pretty chilling. Against that, there IS fun to be had, as in order to infiltrate the Ministry our three heroes have to disguise themselves as Ministry staff and, for a while, are played by other actors.

Scratching on the door of two and a half hours, it IS too long and it certainly sags in the middle stretch where the three are camping out in some of the bleakest landscapes in the country (incidentally in a TARDIS-like tent, the explanation for which I probably didn't catch). If they were minded to trim ten or fifteen minutes to tighten it up, that's where the scalpel should fall as there's really not a lot happening. It's also surprising to see all the big star names on the poster and then find that many of them are only in it fairly briefly.

I'm also delighted that the studio failed in their bid to convert the movie into 3D, and dreading the next and final part for which we'll doubtless have to wear the silly spectacles. Don't do it. Part 2 will be perfectly alright without running it through the computer to apply a botched perspective effect that simply doesn't work. There are several shots in this movie which were obviously designed with the 3D in mind, but being projected and watched in ordinary 2D does the movie no harm at all. I did enjoy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 a lot: it's certainly up to the standard of earlier films, and when HPDH-2 comes out I shall probably have a lot of fun running all the previous instalments on DVD and catching up.




Sometimes we don't really want subtle, restrained and cerebral. Sometimes we don't want to have to use our brains, imaginations and intellects. Sometimes what we really want is a thoroughly bonkers slice of sex, gore, violence and general stupidity. Don't suggest what's going on - show us, as graphically as possible within the law and within the rules of basic human decency. And if it has to be subtitled (because the British Film Industry doesn't really do bonkers) then they should be as incoherent and chaotic as the plot - just about comprehensible enough for us to fathom the dialogue in a very general sense.

Certainly the English subs on the DVD of Satan Returns appear to have been produced by someone with only a passing experience of English grammar like what its writed down (I can talk). Still, you should more or less get by. The basic idea is that a bloke called Judas is possessed by the Devil, and is searching for Satan's daughter by ritually ripping the hearts out of women who were born on June 6th: if the victim survives, she is indeed the Devil's child and will bring about Satan's return and the apocalypse and the usual blah blah blah. (By chance, I do know someone born on June 6th.) Donnie Yen is the maverick cop on the case, and the next victim might well be the hot police psychologist.

In places it's clearly trying to emulate the look and feel of Se7en (which came out the previous year), but for much of the time it's much more in the traditional HK action/horror style, with lots of weird camera angles and everything lit in steely blue. Ultimately, though, it's just not very good and it's not half as dementedly crazy as it needs to be, though there are a few half-decent action scenes in which Donnie Yen can do his stuff. But, sadly, it's not enough. (It should also be noted that the picture quality on the DVD isn't great either.)


Tuesday, 16 November 2010



I know it's not fashionable to say so, especially after Paul WS Anderson stood up on stage at FrightFest and heretically denounced the zombies of George Romero films as old hat, while his own new zombie movie, Resident Evil, marked a new and exciting chapter in the evolution of the subgenre. Did it hell.... But while it never had a hope of eclipsing any of the (then) three Romero Dead movies, PWSA's film was fun, with plenty of gloop and gore, Milla Jovovich kicking an apparently infinite amount of zombie ass and a terrific final shot that echoed the start of 28 Days Later (which wouldn't actually come out for another six months). Granted, it was so obviously based on a video game that you constantly expected a caption to announce "You may now proceed to Level Six" after every fight scene, but as a straightforward exercise in shooting them in the head it was perfectly enjoyable. The second one was a lot weaker with not enough zombies and too many other monsters, and a ludicrous scene where, in a film in which the dead are coming back to life, Milla and her team take a shortcut through the cemetery at night and are mightily surprised when they're surrounded by zombies. The third one got out of the city entirely and spent much of the time wandering around Nevada instead; it looked a lot better (it was directed by Russell Mulcahy, so it damn well should) and was much more fun, but in a world in which 99.999% of the population have been zombified it's increasingly ludicrous that the evil Umbrella Corporation is still operational.

Now here's the fourth one, Resident Evil: Afterlife, for which Paul WS Anderson has returned and this time he's brought 3D into the mix! Flesh-ripping zombies AND Milla Jovovich in 3D - what more could you ask for? After a terrific mass fight scene in which an army of Jovovich clones (all in the same fanboy-pandering costume) shoot up Umbrella HQ, she and her chums crashland their plane on the roof of a prison, where a group of survivors are huddled inside in the hope of somehow getting to the mythical zom-free land of Arcadia. But the living dead are gathering outside and sooner or later one of them is going to find a way in.... and a twelve-foot zombie with an axe (!) is smashing the front doors down. And even when some of them do manage to reach Arcadia, it's far from the haven they were praying for.

At least the 3D is proper 3D rather than a shoddy computer conversion of a flat movie, and there's plenty of gore and monster mayhem for the Saturday night popcorn audience. On that level it is a lot of fun, but there's absolutely no substance to the movie, there's absolutely nothing to think about beyond the utter silliness of it all. And it ends on the cliffhanger promise of another film to come, though there's nothing listed on the IMDb. Intensely dumb, but entertaining enough.




Personally, I'm a bit fed up with vampires in movies. Either you have to stick to the existing lore (holy water, sunlight, garlic), in which case it can end up staid and old-fashioned, or you can ditch all the standard tropes entirely, but then they're not really vampires any more. The best way, I guess, is to stick to about half of the existing lore and fill what's left with something else entirely - perhaps drippy teen soap opera if you're in Twilight mode, or, more excitingly, plenty of blood, teeth, limp-lopping and severed heads. Because if all else fails, you can still score a few points with needless gore and nifty monster effects (at least in horror movies; I don't think it works in romantic comedies and courtroom thrillers).

Pleasingly, that's the road the makers of the manga-based Higanjima have travelled: when in doubt, do the splattery thing. Ordinary kid Akira meets a mysterious woman who tells him his absent brother is actually alive and fighting vampires on a secret island; he agrees to go and rescue him. Along with some friends (the chubby one, the slightly simple one, the fearlessly heroic one, the cute girl who Akira secretly fancies but who has a crush on the fearlessly heroic one) he finds a largely deserted town, the island ruled by Miyabi, a vampiric Little Lord Fauntleroy type, and the surviving humans camped out in the woods, ostensibly as a resistance force but actually too scared to do anything. Meanwhile Miyabi is keeping prisoner some kind of mad scientist who's creating a monstrous "perfect being" in his castle basement....

At two hours, Higanjima (subtitled "Escape From Vampire Island" on the box but not on screen) is far too long and does drag in places, particlarly in the latter half when they meet up with the resistance army and have to do a bit of training rather than rescuing the girl. Also, maybe it's just me being old-fashioned but I'd prefer more prosthetic and animatronic effects and less in the way of soulless CGI. Blood squibs have always looked much better than superimposed splats that have so obviously been pasted on afterwards. That said, the "perfect being" is a genuinely impressive effects job: an enormous, semi-skeletal creature with massive fangs and claws, though I'm not sure what use this creature actually is in terms of the plot.

It does go on too long and a lot of the second half could be safely hacked down, but it's visually striking, with plenty of blood and swordplay, some good effects, a nicely characterised villain in Miyabi, and a group of heroes you can root for (if this was an American movie they'd be a bunch of moronic frat boys and you'd be on the side of the bloodsuckers from the start). I missed this when it was shown in the Discovery screen at FrightFest, and it's actually better than the two movies it played against (the okay Red Hill and the almost-okay The Pack). Generally good fun and worth a watch.


Monday, 15 November 2010



Not everything has to be devastatingly original and fresh to pass muster as a reasonably enjoyable night at the cinema. Not every movie can be a bold and fearless experiment in new and innovative expression, not every movie has to redefine the language of cinema. Sometimes you can manage perfectly well with the long-established and traditional, if it's done with brio, energy and skill.

And here's an example: a film which has very little original content, a film which is mainly composed of bits of other movies, and yet because Skyline moves pretty quickly, brilliantly integrates some fantastic effects and has a small cast of people you're not actively encouraged to detest, it's enjoyable enough for you to ignore the wholesale xeroxing from Independence Day, Godzilla and Cloverfield. In the small hours of the morning, bigass alien spaceships loom out of the sky all around the globe and suck the populace out of their homes like some kind of interstellar vacuum cleaner, before gigantic monsters start stalking the streets grabbing survivors and instantly digesting them. How long can a small group of people remain holed up in their luxury condominium while the semi-mechanical beasties seek out the last of the humans?

And while it seems to end at the natural point for the intended sequel, the fact that almost the entire population of the planet has been wiped out rather leaves the human-alien conflict hopelessly one-sided, so the movie's ending feels very abrupt and unsatisfying. How can there be a sequel to a movie this apocalyptic, and given that, how can this movie end on the promise of one? (Nevertheless, Skyline 2 is listed on the IMDb as "in development" for 2012.)

It's not a staggeringly well written film - on the contrary, it's rather thin on character and plot; the heroine's early stage of pregnancy is clearly going to be crucial later on in the movie, and we're given very little idea of what the aliens actually want besides absorbing the brains of four billion humans. Really the best things in the movie are the impressive Gillis-Woodruff monster designs and the scenes of mass destruction, and the suitably yukky and disgusting finale in the bowels of the mother ship. No, it's not original, but it doesn't matter.


Coming soon to a DVD player near you, if you want it:

Sunday, 14 November 2010



Enough. I've had enough. I can't be going on like this and I have finally decided to stop. Last night I reached that point where I realised the truth: I can see clearly that it simply wasn't worth the hassle, and I'm absolutely not going to do it any more. This isn't a cry for help, it's not just looking for attention - I quit. It's over. From today I shall no longer inflict DVDs on myself that are clearly, evidently, blatantly garbage. Hallelujah! Open the doors and let the light come in! Today I am putting aside the metaphorical razor blades, flushing the theoretical bottle of strychnine down the sink, locking the non-existent loaded revolver back in the cupboard and stepping back from the hypothetical twenty-three storey rooftop. Instead I'm embracing the real, practical, life-changing concept of going through my rentals queue and deleting all those movies that are likely, on the balance of probability, to be dispiriting time-wasters. I cannot be doing with that much mediocrity concentrated into 90-minute slabs. Not any more. Life, quite literally, is far too short for anyone - not just me - to be watching films this punishingly dreadful.

The cause of this revelation is Megafault, another Asylum quickie in which Eriq LaSalle accidentally starts a mega-earthquake that cuts the whole of America in two, swallowing towns in one gulp and racing towards the San Andreas; he and the late Brittany Murphy race across the country to [1] save their loved ones and [2] try and stop it - crucially in that order of importance. Happily the US military have a superlaser satellite weapon that could freeze the water under the Earth's crust and [insert vast indigestible slab of seismogibberish and big words], and thereby stop the quake. But it doesn't work! The only thing they can do now is to "move the Grand Canyon"!

All the quake damage, collapsing cities, vast yawning chasms, crashing planes and exploding buildings are pasted in on the computer afterwards, possibly by nine-year-olds. It's flat and uninteresting to look at, with the production values of a porn video, and the writing would stink on a daytime US soap opera. Why did they bother? Why did they even bother to get out of bed in the morning if this was the film they were working on? Do they genuinely believe they're making something other than worthless crap, or do they just not care? In some ways they're even worse than barrel-bottom Troma, who revel in the deliberately offensive: nudity, sadism, rape, senseless gore and infantile taboo-busting. But at least they provoke a response, even if it is one of contempt. Asylum films don't appear to revel in anything except computer effects that would have set the industry back 20 years, 20 years ago, and they don't provoke any reaction except tedium. It's just there, and that's simply not good enough.

I've never really believed in the idea of films that are "so bad they're good". Bad movies can be fun: they can be enjoyable, but they're not good - in the sense that the kittenburgers from Frankie's Kebab Van might be hot and tasty and spicy but they're not even slightly nutritious and they're absolutely not good for you. I can enjoy Lifeforce and enjoy its full-throttle stupidity and laugh at the terrible dialogue and acting, but I don't believe it's a great movie. It's fun, but it's terrible. Although there are good things in Lifeforce - a terrific cast, a thundersome score, grisly zombie prosthetics - it's not a good film. But there truly is nothing good about Megafault: it's consistently mediocre in all departments.

I know it's my own fault (hahaha), I was the one who added it to the queue in the first place but I'm going back to that queue and give it the mother of all prunings. If I miss the occasional minor gem as a result, then so be it, because I'd sooner that than continue to hurt myself with the likes of Megafault. It takes just as long to watch a good 90-minute movie as a bad 90-minute movie, so why not aim for the good ones? Doubtless a few stinkers will slip through the net but they'll be disappointments rather than films that lived up to rock-bottom expectations. I really don't want to dish out solitary stars any more, so here's hoping this is actually the last one.


Saturday, 13 November 2010



It's remake time again! Here we go, taking yet another much-loved classic for our times and trashing it and stripping it of all its magic, diluting its power, casting the wrong people and generally murdering it in its bed and defecating on it from a great height, because that's what appeals to "dimbo multiplex livestock" (to borrow a Charlie Brooker phrase), and all that the thicko audience demographic can mentally cope with. Erm, except that no, they haven't. Surprisingly, they've actually done a pretty good job with this reworking of the 2008 Swedish film Let The Right One In. Is this new version better? Probably not, but it's not the unholy desecration it might have been.

Given the existence of the original, it's true that we probably didn't need Let Me In. But they've done it anyway and it does follow, pretty faithfully, the story of the original: a lonely bullied kid meets and forms a fragile friendship with a lonely vampire kid; the latter's guardian goes out and kills for blood to keep the vampire alive, but he's human and getting too old, while the vampire, being permanently twelve, isn't able to survive alone. And nor is the human kid, really: bullied and tormented at school in genuinely life-threatening ways and unable to stand up to his persecutors. The two do need each other.

Certainly some of the narrative structure has been changed around, bringing the police into the story; and the most notable change is not the relocation to Los Alamos, New Mexico, but the switch of genders of the child vampire from male to female. Cynics might accuse Matt Reeves of selling out the story's soul for the sake of Middle American cretins who presumably wouldn't touch a movie about the relationship between two young boys, although given that they're twelve there couldn't be any sexual relationship between them so it really wouldn't matter what the genders were. It is about friendship more than anything else and I still think the vampirism is incidental to that core.

As a film, it's actually quite well done - well acted and very well shot. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous; it's one of the best photographed films I've sene this year. On the downside, I think there's too much in the way of musical score and several scenes could have done with playing in silence. Weirdly, it feels as though Reeves doesn't have enough faith in the material and the performaces to trust them to play without the orchestral backing; the result is that it feels needlessly overscored. (Reeves' previous film was Cloverfield, for which Michael Giacchino only got to write about eight minutes of end title music; maybe they're making up for it here but I think to the film's detriment.) And maybe the CGI is a bit dodgy in places but not disastrously so.

The other thing that should be noted is the opening caption: A Hammer Production. Let Me In has been touted as the Rebirth Of Hammer Films: firstly it isn't any such thing (that would be the worthless Beyond The Rave), and secondly it's only A Hammer Film in that it's been co-produced by a company called Hammer. It's not a Hammer film in any cultural sense, and it doesn't have the spirit of Hammer - for one thing, it has no British content, character, style or creative input; it's entirely an American studio film from an American writer-director, set and shot in the USA (remaking a Swedish film adapted from a Swedish book).

But it is certainly worth seeing, both as an effective and occasionally touching horror film in its own right and as a respectful remake of a critically aclaimed film. It's definitely not the grave-robbing sacrilege many feared; it's not in the same league of dishonour as The Wicker Man, for example. Go with an open mind and you should be pleasantly surprised.


Friday, 12 November 2010



Yet another DTV action thriller starring Steven Seagal and no-one you've ever heard of, and another sad, stark reminder that the man's glory days are a long, long way away now. Back in the 80s and early 90s, he could get national theatrical releases - not just a couple of Screen 4s in the West End and "Key Cities" but out to all the provincial multiplexes. But he hasn't had a film released theatrically since 2002. These days, the budgets are minimal, they mostly appear to be shot in Eastern Europe and - key difference - they're not any good. Even as quickie bash-em-ups they're not any good. And neither is Steven Seagal: he's 59 years old and there's only so much they can do to disguise the fact that the leading man is within spitting distance of a bus pass and a bag of Werther's Originals. And Seagal himself wears nothing but black clothes, which goes some way to hiding the increase in bulk after several years on an apparent diet of pies.

Yet he's still going, churning them out at the rate of three or four a year. None of his recent movies that I've caught have been more than passingly tolerable at best, some have just been silly and none of them have been a fraction as trashily entertaining as pictures like Out For Justice or Marked For Death. This one, The Keeper, follows the template with unerring, unwavering fidelity: he's an ex-cop, retired after shooting his corrupt partner, asked to protect an old friend's daughter from boo-hiss evil people; there are punchups (framed and edited to disguise his waning martial arts skills), there are the usual car chases and gunfights.

None of which is done with more than acceptable levels of technical ability. It's functional, it does the job, but there's no art to it and it isn't any fun. Even when the ever more improbable star is beating extras up and stomping through the film dishing out crunchy justice, it's no fun. Maybe his turn in the upcoming Robert Rodriguez action Machete will be more enjoyable. The Keeper, meanwhile, is perhaps better than some of his other recent works (A Dangerous Man, Flight Of Fury, Against The Dark, Driven To Kill) but that's really not saying very much. Not recommended.


Wednesday, 10 November 2010



Here's a Japanese art movie, marketed as a sleaze film, and while it may live up to its title in terms of there being some raigyo in it (apparently some kind of fish) AND a woman in black underwear, it really doesn't live up to its trashy promise. If you saw your local 'plex screening something called "The Woman In Black Underwear" you'd expect some kind of grubby exploitation flick and this absolutely isn't what you get here. What you get is 74 minutes of bleak misery and emotional despair interspersed with meaningless sexual couplings and a couple of violent deaths. And several shots of fish.

No-one's happy in Raigyo. A woman leaves the hospital (she's suffering from a pancreas disorder) and hooks up firstly with a cheating husband in a sleazy hotel; after a bout of sexual malarkey she stabs him to death. He was also an expectant father; she's had an abortion. Then she hooks up with an attendant at the nearly petrol station and, after a second bout of sexual malarkey, he kills her as she was trying to kill herself out of guilt, and he's interested in what it might be like to kill someone. And that's kind of it.

Chunks of it are done in long takes with no music and static cameras. There are no laughs or thrills and the nudity isn't erotic - it's a proper art movie about proper people with real feelings and emotions. But it's just dull. Even at less than an hour and a quarter it's hard to get through, none of the characters are attractive or sympathetic and it's really impossible to care about anything that happens. I was immediately minded to look at my rentals list and cross off any other Japanese films that look a bit smutty. Surprisingly uninteresting. Arty, but uninteresting.




Question: Is it at all possible to put on screen a concept as abstract and non-visual as the history of language - going backwards in time to the most primitive tongues and beyond? Answer: probably not. Certainly not if you're going to try and tie it to a vaguely fantastical narrative, which is what no less an auteur than Francis Ford Coppola seemingly tries to do. And it really doesn't work.

In the frankly meaninglessly titled Youth Without Youth, it's 1938 and an elderly linguistics professor (Tim Roth) is struck by lightning in the street and wakes up middle-aged. His doctor closets Roth away as a medical miracle, not wanting him to fall into the hands of the Nazis, and he continues to work at his book about the development of spoken language. After the war he meets up with a woman who talks in Sanskrit and who appears to be possessed by the spirit of an Indian mystic. But she seems to be getting older even as Roth stays young, so he really feels he has to leave her, ever though the languages she keeps lurching into are getting older and are providing him with invaluable material for his book. And then, years later, he goes home. Or does he?

What did actually happen? In all truth I have no idea and if I'd seen it at a cinema I'd assume a couple of reels had been switched around. It's utterly baffling and I genuinely don't think there's a point to it. It feels like a free-writing exercise, where you start writing and keep going without editing or refining; when I did that in the past I wrote pages and pages of stuff before realising what it was actually about. In those pages, there may have been good individual lines or scenes or characters, but they're surrounded by acres of utter bunk. And in Youth Without Youth there are a few interesting ideas but they're submerged in the reams of incomprehensible waffle.

More damagingly, it isn't even interesting incomprehensible waffle. It's monumentally dull incomprehensible waffle. And it goes on for two hours not making a blind bit of sense and - Spoiler Alert - finally has one of those annoying endings in which everything we've seen might not have even happened. I've never been a fan of movies that "didn't really happen" or "it's all in his/her head" or "it was all a dream", because it means the writer doesn't necessarily have to abide by logic or plausibility. In this instance there's no logic, there's no plausibility and you come away from it not just annoyed at having wasted two hours, but angry because it's from Francis Ford Coppola! I know you can't get The Godfather every time but it should still be some kind of coherent. Terrible.


Monday, 8 November 2010



Back in 1992 I caught a low-budget Japanese horror film at the ICA, probably during the London Film Festival. Details are sketchy but I vaguely recall Tetsuo II: Body Hammer being very loud, full-on with the graphic body-morphing, thoroughly demented and not much fun. A full eighteen years later, I've finally managed to see the original and I can, somewhat shakily, report that it's very loud, full-on with the graphic body-morphing, thoroughly demented and not much fun. Despite being barely 65 minutes long, it's a hell of a long hour.

Coherent narrative is hardly the order of the day, but the basics of Tetsuo: The Iron Man seem to kick off with a mad bloke in a shed who slices his leg open and inserts a metal pipe into the wound. The fool. He's named in the credits as The Fetishist and played by the director Shinya Tsukamoto. The Fetishist then hobbles around in agony until he's hit by a car. The driver is then somehow contaminated with the flesh-steel fusion, as the Fetishist's cells have started to assimilate the metal. There's a long chase around the Tokyo (?) Metro, and then as the Driver starts mutating into some kind of cybernetic monster, he kills his girlfriend with his rotating metal phallus. I think his cat dies as well. The Fetishist then shows up and fights the Driver as the two ultimately fuse into one giant metal organism which sets off to rust the world into extinction. End.

Or something like that. Shot on 16mm in stark black-and-white and on a tiny budget, containing maybe a dozen lines of dialogue, it's pitched at a tone of shrieking hysteria throughout, with the editing ramped up to the point where the brain just can't cope with it. Maybe you need to be taking some kind of drugs. It's fascinating to look at, and the effects are terrific for the tuppence they had to spend, but I have absolutely no idea what it's supposed to mean, and it probably works best if you turn the sound off and have it playing in the background of a particularly rowdy party. The IMDb suggests there's a third one in the series but that hasn't shown up in the UK yet. To be honest, it's not a priority. In the meantime, I came away thinking I needed a couple of Nurofen* and a lie down.

* (Other pain relief products are available.)


Sunday, 7 November 2010



To be fair, the film slightly cops out by announcing itself as based on truth, "except for the bits that aren't". I haven't researched the absolute fact in any great detail beyond a perusal of the Wikipedia page devoted to B+H's crimes, but there's nothing on there about Burke financing the world's first all-female production of Macbeth, or Hare setting up Scotland's first funeral parlour. It's pretty clear that the basics - selling the bodies of murder victims to anatomy colleges - are used as a springboard for a gruesome piece of all-star knockabout that wobbles between post-watershed sitcom to ghoulish horror comedy. And as it's directed by John Landis, this is entirely an appropriate treatment - he's done horror comedy before with An American Werewolf In London.

Central to Burke & Hare is the relationship between the two Williams, Hare (Andy Serkis) and Burke (Simon Pegg), and there's definitely a touch of Del and Rodney in the two of them: con artists, hapless but loveable losers at the bottom of the underclass, forever looking for their shot at the big time. Purely by chance and circumstance, they hit upon the idea of selling fresh corpses to anatomist and professor Knox (Tom Wilkinson) at Edinburgh's most prestigious medical college. But what can they do when demand outstrips supply and there are plenty of people on the streets who won't be missed? Sadly for them, the local militia is on the case, headed by no less than Ronnie Corbett.

Yes, Ronnie Corbett. What the movie has going for it is an eye-watering cast of big names and familiar faces coming on for a scene or two - in Christopher Lee's case, it's quite literally a cough and a spit. Isla Fisher and Jessica Hynes as our nonheroes' repective love interests, Tim Curry as a rival surgeon, Bill Bailey as the hangman and narrator, David Hayman as a sinister underworld figure, Michael Winner as Man In Carriage, Paul Whitehouse as a drunk. No less than three veterans of American Werewolf turn up: Jenny Agutter as an auditioning actress, John Woodvine as the Mayor and David Schofield as Hayman's henchman. It's absolutely terrific in terms of "blimey it's him!" or "oh, who IS that?".

All the stuff with the dead bodies is great. But sadly the film as a whole doesn't seem to work quite as well as it should. Certainly it's enjoyable: it's undeniably a lot better than other stabs at the same material, such as the 1971 version which is even more uneven in tone, veering all over the place between pointless Benny Hill naughtiness and pleasingly tacky tomfoolery with corpses. Yet there's a sense that something's missing - it rather feels like that first series of The Black Adder where they tried so hard to make it look and feel realistic and authentic, but they didn't make it funny enough and it ultimately feels a bit flat.

There's also the problem that our two central characters are nothing more than serial murderers, and while they do try and address this by adding a sense of Shakespearian tragedy to proceedings, I didn't think it did enough to redeem two highly unsavoury individuals. But it's not a disaster; it's obviously worth seeing, there's a terrific galley of talent on display and the more macabre sequences win out over the comedic.


Saturday, 6 November 2010



A generally nicely made police drama, well shot and well put together, in which Actors rather than Movie Stars appear in juicy roles, this is certainly a quality piece of product and can't really be faulted on a technical filmmaking level. But it's difficult to know who to root for in the Worst Precinct In The City: an area ruled by drug gangs and where the cops find it easier to either go dirty or play blind, and interestingly the one cop who gets a decent result is the twenty-year veteran who's been surviving the daily horrors by looking the other way and not getting involved.

Brooklyn's Finest is an ironic title: they really aren't the finest. Richard Gere is the weak veteran, just seven days away from retirement, Don Cheadle is the long-term undercover man who wants out from Wesley Snipes' drugs empire, and Ethan Hawke desperately needs more money for his ever-growing family, so could really use some of that heroin cash they keep finding at crime scenes. Meanwhile racial tensions are boiling over following the murder of a young black kid by a crooked police officer, and fresh-faced rookie patrolmen are brought in but are hopelessly and completely unprepared for the war zone.

It's a heavyweight beast at 130 minutes or so, and it's a Man's film, with little in the way of female participation. With a pleasing 70s feel to it, and minimal use of that frenzied overediting that can render simple dialogue sequences incomprehensible, it's fine. But it loses out by having absolutely everyone spattering F and MF words around like machine gun fire. Ostensibly the BBFC have given the film an 18 for "constant strong bloody violence, sex and nudity", which is perfectly true; but they note that the film "also contains frequent strong language" which to my mind was more pervasive than the violence. Sometimes it just gets tiresome watching three or four angry men yelling swearwords at each other. In addition, a lot of the blblblblbl mnmnmnm dialogue is mumbled AND in gangsta and cop jargon, so it's actually worth treating it as a foreign film and switching the DVD subtitles on. Not to say I didn't enjoy it - I did - but I think it IS flawed.


Thursday, 4 November 2010


If it works, do it again. Saw worked, so they did it again. (And again and again.) Friday The 13th worked, so they did it again. Night Of The Living Dead worked, so loads of people tried to do it again. Suspiria worked, and if they can figure out how they'll do that again. Sequels and remakes and clones are what keep the genre going, unfortunately; originality is just the fuel to keep the unoriginality machine chugging along.

So they made an original film called Paranormal Activity that was shot with two unknowns on a retail camcorder in the director's own house; it made millions. Because it was put together on such a tiny budget, it was in profit after about twenty minutes. And obviously there would be more of the same because they're not going to leave a good horse unflogged. Paranormal Activity 2 is actually set slightly before the events of the first instalment, detailing the supernatural horrors that plague a youngish family living in a house that looks to be about the size of Southfork. All of it comes from the family's camcorder or the home security cameras they've installed (so we get six or seven blurry night-vision images to stare at instead of just one) and, as before, things start off fairly quietly - there are unexplained noises, doors swing open, objects move, though so slightly that you might well not notice them. What do they want? The daughter has some twaddlesome idea that it's demons intent on collecting the soul of her infant brother as payment for her great-grandmother's Faustian bargain for material wealth (which would explain how they're living in a house that could accommodate three times as many people along with their horses. Christopher Nolan could shoot a Batman movie in their lounge.) And what's in the cellar?

The spooky things do get more blatant and more aggressive and it's when they crank the visitations up that the film makes you jump. Fine - timing is as important in horror as it is in comedy and there are two superbly timed jolt moments in the film. But that's "Boo!" horror - something unexpected happens with a loud noise. What it doesn't achieve is any longterm horror; we're supposed to be scared in a slow-burning kind of way, constantly clinging the armrests, but it doesn't manage it and ultimately what we have here is, unfortunately, more than a little on the dull side. If Saw 3D (which I saw the same day) was like staring at a stack of A4 crime scene pictures for 90 minutes, this is like looking through someone's home videos and closed circuit security tapes. Much of it, particularly in the early stages, is actually boring as we're left watching static night shots of the kitchen, the pool, the front driveway, in which absolutely nothing is happening.

More interestingly, having invested in this security system, no-one seems that interested in watching the tapes back when the spooky stuff does arrive. Can we please stop with the found footage style? They've managed to incorporate it reasonably well in a few films (the whole idea goes back to Cannibal Holocaust anyway although it was really popularised in The Blair Witch Project and a couple of other films made around that time, such as The St Francisville Experiment). But we know it's not real and the use of these camera techniques to convince us that it is real just don't work. If it was genuine there's no way it would have the Paramount Pictures logo at the end. Make a haunted house movie. But don't try and tell us it's anything other than a fiction. You're insulting our intelligence. And despite being only 91 minutes long, it could do with massive trimming in the first reel.


Wednesday, 3 November 2010



Hello Kevin. I want to play a game. For years your filmmaking career has been marked by death, carnage and suffering. As editor of the first five Saw movies and as director of the sixth and seventh, you have traded in pain and misery and the desecration of the human body. The task before you is a simple one: to create a simple romantic comedy-drama between no more than four people, all of whom you must keep alive for the duration. With a PG certificate. Can you find it within yourself to nurture joy, love and hope for a hundred-minute running time, and eschew the mutilation and anguish that you have wallowed in for too long? Or will you slip back into the incomprehensible overplotting, subliminal flashcut editing and gore-soaked brutality that will stand forever as your trademarks? The choice is yours. The clock is ticking.

Say what you like about the Saw series, they know what they're doing and the only changes in the formula have been increased levels of blood and gore as the bar has steadily been raised. For a story arc that involved its evil genius dying at the end of Part Three, it's no small feat to keep it, and him, going for another four films, although that decision has meant Parts Four onwards have been increasingly riddled with flashbacks, restagings of scenes from previous instalments and slabs of expositional backstory; the plot material going back in time as well as forward. Every year there's been another one, assembled with the same efficient precision as one of Jigsaw's death machines, and each one necessitates a retrospective trawl through the preceding films to get some kind of grasp on The Story So Far as the cat's cradle of an overarching plot disappears steadily up its own backside. It's not like a Bond movie - fully appreciating the joys of A View To A Kill does not depend on having seen Octopussy the previous night, but watching Saw IV, V or VI without having seen the previous movies would be a thoroughly baffling experience and you might well wonder if the reels were in the right order.

True to form, Saw 3D, the seventh in the series, might as well be in unsubtitled Klingon unless you know who Agent Strahm or Dr Lynn Denlon are, or were. Old characters recur for brief cameos, or are namechecked in the script, but as a standalone narrative it makes no sense at all. Picking up from where Saw VI ended, with Jigsaw's evil protege Agent Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) surviving a reverse beartrap put on him by Jigsaw's ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell) and out for revenge, while also masterminding a new game in which Sean Patrick Flanery, a con artist who's getting rich off his fictitious "I Survived A Jigsaw Trap" book tour, has to try and save his associates from a series of grisly fates.

The first thing to point out is that the 3D is utterly superfluous and they might just as well have done it flat; we're still waiting for the splatter genre to use 3D to its fullest potential and this ain't it. The second thing is that the moneyshot gore is more upfront than before - the final use of the beartrap is a case in point; a spinning car tyre dropped onto a girl's head is another. Half the time it's like looking at a medical textbook and a selection of crime scene photos; it's overly yucky not just by Saw standards, but by my standards, and I speak as someone with a fondness for gratuitous gore in films. And I think it has now reached a natural conclusion. Two trips to the well was okay, four was perhaps pushing it given that Jigsaw was dead after three, but after seven trips the well is dry. How about digging another well entirely?

It is fun, and you've got to admire the sheer perverse determination of the horse floggers, as well as the stamina of the horse that won't drop dead. But enough is enough. I've had more fun from the Saw saga than I have from Jason and Freddy and Leatherface, and I'll continue to revisit the DVDs occasionally, but it is time for something else now.


Tuesday, 2 November 2010



Because this is the unthinkable. More unthinkable than the Pope biting a dog's leg off, The Clash issuing a CD of Gilbert and Sullivan covers or the Duke Of Edinburgh taking up cage fighting. It's like another dimension in which the bins are emptied twice a day and fitted kitchen salesmen actually do bugger off when you tell them to. This, believe it or not (and it's entirely understandable if you don't), is a moderately enjoyable film with Danny Dyer in a leading role.

Don't misinterpret this. The man is still as charmless and tiresome as ever, even though the script doesn't provide any opportunities for the drinking, leering, leching and thumping we've grown to associate with him, or the laddish yobbishness and borderline misogyny (see Doghouse for the full-on Danny Dyer Plus Experience). But the movie has enough stuff to counteract the Dyer-shaped black hole: it's a British "zombie" offering that obviously wants, and is trying hard, to be another 28 Days Later.

Devil's Playground also has shades of Resident Evil, as a zombie/mutant contagion from a failed pharmaceutical trial starts turning Londoners into zombie mutant things, everyone they bite becomes another zombie mutant thing. They're the fast kind of zombies (personally I prefer the slow, remorseless and implacable Romero variety) and can also, for no adequately explored reason, do free running. Wrongly disgraced ex-cop Danny Dyer and his mate take shelter in a remote garage; joining him are his girlfriend (the sole survivor of the initial drug trial) and the pharmaceutical corporation's security chief (Craig Fairbrass). With a few other survivors (one of whom looks distractingly like Gok Wan) they bicker, argue and scheme to earn a place on a small helicopter to safety as the zombie hordes grow stronger.

It's obviously not great, but it's generally good gleeful fun with plenty of blood and gore, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it, even though it's too shouty and sweary. Coming after such homegrown genre offerings as Dead Cert and Basement it was a pleasant surprise and far better than it has any right to be, despite the dead hand of Dyer at its centre; Sean Pertwee has a quick cameo and the ever-reliable Colin Salmon shows up as the evil pharma CEO. Worth a look for an undemanding evening's entertainment with the living dead (even though, as with 28 Days Later and others, they're not strictly zombies).