Friday, 31 December 2010


On one level this was easier than the Best list as there were, sadly, more candidates. Even given the natural filtering process that weeded out a lot of films I had no interest in (no Sex And The City 2 or Bounty Hunter for me!) there was a lot of dross out there. But the ones I hated more than any others were:

1. BASEMENT. Wretched apology for a British horror film in which five idiots wander around an underground bunker, but they're not alone. It's all got something to do with the War On Terror and is complete rubbish; it stars Danny Dyer and has the production values of home-made pornography. Although I only saw this on DVD, it DID get a small cinema release for entirely unfathomable reasons. Somebody needs a slap because this is borderline unwatchable.

2. ROBIN HOOD. It's misleadingly titled, since the entire movie is all prequel and backstory; it's historically ridiculous (landing craft in the 12th Century?); it has no fun, excitement or romance, and Russell Crowe's accent veers wildly between Michael Parkinson, Maximus Decimus and Ian Paisley. This is what now passes for mainstream, popular entertainment; this is what is deemed A-list feature quality, but it just makes you wonder if cinema is actually something worth bothering with. Ridley Scott should have his Sir taken away forthwith.

3. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Having comprehensively stomped all over Friday The 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hitcher AND The Amityville Horror by remaking them for drooling idiots, producer Michael Bay now dumps mightily on Elm Street and misses the whole point. It's illogical, it's stupid, it's unpleasant, you don't care about the heroes and there's no reason at all for the damn thing to exist as it's not even very well made. A sequel is apparently on the way.

4. BONDED BY BLOOD. The third cinematic retelling of the notorious Rettenden Range Rover Murders, in which a group of loathsome pieces of subhuman crap swear loudly at each other and get bloodily murdered. Good. Serves them right. World's better off without them. Can we stop doing these despicable gangster movies now? They're idiotic, loud, obnoxious, morally objectionable and boring as hell.

5. TAKERS. Mysteriously released around the same time as The Town, which has a similar plot but is far better, this isn't actually a film as it's apparently shot on a handheld budget camcorder. One decent foot chase apart, and despite some decent names in the cast, it's actually pretty dull.

6. CHERRY TREE LANE. A British home invasion thriller in the style of Michael Haneke: a well-off professional couple are terrorised at length by young thugs while they wait for the couple's son to return home. I honestly didn't see the appeal of this film as it seems to concentrate on the suffering of the parents as much as any Saw film, but without the visceral splattery entertainment factor, and the final avenging payoff is almost an afterthought. As 95% of the film takes place in one room with a total cast of about nine people, maybe it could be adapted for the stage? Again, I caught this on DVD but it DID get a very limited theatrical release, so it counts.

7. MACGRUBER. SNL-based MacGyver spoof (after all these years? So topical!) with a resistible star, a supporting cast of big names (Val Kilmer, Powers Booth, Ryan Phillippe) thoroughly disgracing their CVs and one joke - the villain's name is Dieter Von Cunth. That's the peak of MacGruber's hilarity. I know I don't have that much of a sense of humour but that's just not good enough.

8. KILLERS. Ashton Kutcher is supposed to be a top government assassin, and takes his shirt off a lot. That may be enough for some people but Killers is basically Knight And Day-lite (and Knight And Day wasn't a film of much depth to start with) crossed with the dull bits of True Lies and Mr And Mrs Smith. Bland, plastic and completely empty.

9. THE OTHER GUYS. Don't like Will Ferrell, don't like Mark Wahlberg. Not a big fan of Steve Coogan either. Certainly don't appreciate star-driven buddy cop comedies that suddenly lecture me, Michael Moore-style, about the evils of American capitalism over the end credits, especially given the amount of money Ferrell and Wahlberg are paid for these things. Kind of makes me wonder why I bothered to go and see it, really. As star-driven buddy cop comedies go, Cop Out was much better (despite the absolutely terrible Tracy Morgan).

10. THE FINAL. Another one with an imperceptibly small theatrical outing and a quick release to the DVD shelves: a confused and silly torture movie in which the victims of high-school bullies, bitches and thugs fight back. Nothing like enough suffering, bloodshed and pain, and a very weak ending.

Dishonourable mentions to Due Date, London Boulevard, Jonah Hex and Solomon Kane. There were also a couple of stinkers as yet unreleased theatrically, most notably 2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams. Come on 2011, I know it can be better.

Thursday, 30 December 2010


The best, or at the very least my favourites. Can anyone be that objective about these things?

In 2009 I genuinely struggled to find a Best Film, eventually settling on the theatrical release version of John Woo's Red Cliff, the only genuine five-star film of the year, and had to pad my list out with only-just four-star titles that perhaps didn't belong on anyone's Best Of The Year lists. 2010 has been better: there have been quite a few five-star films to pick from, and a lot of confortable four-star ones as well. All these were theatrically released in UK cinemas between the start of January and the end of December this year:

1. INCEPTION. From the moment I saw it I knew it was straight in as the best of the year. I loved the ideas behind it, I loved the fact that anyone could make a multi-layered SF thriller taking place on five or six different tiers of unreality, all operating at different speeds and the audience would always know which layer they were in and would always know exactly what was going on on each level, regardless of the cutting between the layers. If you had to nip out to the bog or you came in late, you had no chance at all of fathoming where you were or what everyone was doing - for so many movies you could duck out for half an hour and not miss anything at all but with Inception you have to pay attention and that attention is richly rewarded. Maybe if you watch it twenty or thirty times you start picking holes in the different levels, but it certainly held together for me. I think I did actually stagger when I came out of the cinema, and not in a bad way.

2. TOY STORY 3. To be honest I can take or leave a lot of digimation movies: the Madagascars and Shark Tales and Over The Hedges and Ratatouilles usually pass me by. Whatever their qualities I always feel they're just not aimed at me, and in addition I'm growing disenchanted with the emphasis on 3D (even in live-action movies). But I did go to Toy Story 3 and thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it, and watching it again on DVD it's still surprising, touching, exciting, funny and dazzlingly designed and conceived. I do think that Toy Story 4 should absolutely not happen but I fear that it will.

3. MICMACS. This doesn't appear to have found favour with anyone at all, so maybe it was just me having a bad day but I thought this was fantastic. With its collection of weirdos, oddballs and eccentrics and its horrible arms-dealing villains, the Heath Robinson machinery and the truly unhinged plot, I found it to be charming, great fun and hugely enjoyable.

4. INVICTUS. Me and sport go together like puppies and landmines. But I'm usually interested in Africa-set films, particularly Southern Africa; I like the way Clint Eastwood directs: simply, efficiently, without the visual pyrotechnics and frenzied editing and camera movement of someone like Tony Scott. And I loved the fact that the film made me excited enough in the mechanics of rugby to enjoy the sports sequences of the film, at least for the duration of the movie (the way that Oliver Stone is the only director to ever get me even mildly interested in American Football). Could it have been a tad shorter, perhaps trimmed of some of the speechifying? Well, possibly, but much of that does provide the necessary political context against which the rugby takes place.

5. LET ME IN. Sacrilege! Heresy! Blasphemy! Yeah, whatever. Frankly, if you feel that strongly, stick with Let The Right One In but I couldn't help feeling that many reviews of this American studio remake took against it for actually daring to exist in the first place. It's a lot better than many suggested: it's been done with care and craft, it's beautifully photographed and the story, much of it identical to the first film, is very nicely told. (Despite the Hammer logo at the start, it's not a Hammer film in any recognisable sense.)

6. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART ONE. Mercifully released in the flat 2D in which it was shot rather than subjected to a worthless post-production depth effect, HPDP1 is a fitting penultimate entry in a saga that has managed to maintain the quality and high standards through seven films, four directors and nine years. Maybe there is too much moping around in the woods, and one misses Hogwarts, but there's a lot of wit, invention, great ideas and depth to be had, and before seeing the grand finale next year I shall enjoy whizzing through all the previous Potters to catch up again.

7. BURIED. A last-minute surprise replacement for A Serbian Film at FrightFest (whose loss I still can't get that upset about, for all its good points), Buried has one brilliantly simple idea and works it well: Ryan Reynolds is buried alive and we're stuck in the coffin with him for the entire time. The frustrations of being on hold, cut off or stuck listening to "your call is important to us" recordings are bad enough to start with, but intolerable under these circumstances. Terrific.

8. CHLOE. Partly, I suppose, because I knew absolutely nothing about it save what was on the poster, and I'm convinced that's the best way to see movies: without all the studio hype and publicity interviews and trailers that give 90% of the movie away. And partly because I'm not that much of a fan of Atom Egoyan; the ones I've seen I've not been that impressed by. Chloe is actually a return of the old-fashioned erotic thriller of the Fatal Attraction variety, as Amanda Seyfried's eponymous minx makes trouble for the marriage of Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore. Quite enjoyable.

9. SPLICE. We should have more monsters and mad scientists in movies: here Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley mess about with genetic sequences and end up with a strange creature that develops quickly into something sexually attractive and absolutely lethal. Comparison has been made to the earlier, gloopy David Cronenberg films; certainly it's an intelligent monster SF/horror flick and great fun.

10. THE HOLE. If we are going to have live-action 3D films, can we please have them done by directors like Joe Dante, who understand 3D, how it works and what it's capable of? The Hole is, despite its 12A certificate, very creepy and while I think it loses its way a bit towards the end, the first half of the movie has some terrific stuff in it, including an evil clown doll thing that scared me and I'm more than three times the recommended age on the certificate. Good stuff.

Honourables mentions to Winter's Bone, Agora, The Collector and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, all of which I enjoyed. Rules is rules, however, and my absolute favourite film of the year doesn't qualify for the list as it hasn't had a proper theatrical release in this country yet. But Simon Rumney's astonishing Red White And Blue left me literally - literally - dazed.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010



As an obsession rather than something to occasionally indulge in, I only really discovered cinema in the 1980s: 1984 to be precise, when I went to a re-release of Return Of The Jedi and caught a trailer for an interesting-looking pop musical entitled Breakdance. I duly went back the following week for 90 minutes of incomprehensible yoof jigging and, as a bonus, a trailer for the hilarious new comedy, Police Academy. By the time the next Friday rolled around, I was hooked (especially as the next upcoming trailer, Against All Odds, looked a bit saucy) and I started seeing pretty much whatever showed up.

Unsure, then, why I missed Thief Of Hearts. Certainly I would have gone to see it if it had played my local, but the IMDb doesn't list any UK release date for it so I can only assume that it went straight to VHS (although the BBFC did certify it for theatrical exhibition) and presumably none of my nearby rental outlets bothered to stock it. And it's taken me a quarter of a century to get round to renting it on shiny DVD and come to the conclusion that - well, it's okay.

Housebreaker Steven Bauer burgles the home of children's author John Getz and his neglected wife, interior designer Barbara Williams, purloining not only chunks of artwork but Williams' secret journals detailing her innermost erotic fantasies. They meet, apparently by chance, and their relationship quickly develops from professional (as he hires her to redesign his vast apartment) to a torrid and steamy sexual obsession as he uses the clues in her journals to seduce her. But it's obviously not going to end happily - if for no other reasons than John Getz' suspicions, and that Bauer's ongoing burglary career results in the death of a cop at the hands of his buddy David Caruso.

Yes, it's okay. Probably not worth waiting a quarter of a century for, but it's fine. It is, rather like a lot of the 1980s, very hollow, very amoral, very cold and very empty, and while I don't think it's quite as good a film, it reminded me a little of American Gigolo. All the definitive 1980s signposts are there: the fabulously big hair, the synth score (Harold Faltermeyer - curiously, some guide books credit Giorgio Moroder), the decor.... I kind of enjoyed it, and I also think I'd have liked it back in 1984 when I should have seen it. Not bad.




The unthinkable! More incredible than Danny Dyer winning a third Academy Award or a Cm-maj7 to G#m6 chord change in a Status Quo song: this is a vintage British sex comedy that's actually half-decent! Credit for this would probably go to a genuinely funny script by Michael Armstrong, and the talents of its young director Martin Campbell: now a respected A-list craftsman with two Bond films, the two Zorro pictures, Vertical Limit and Edge Of Darkness, along with episodes of Minder and The Professionals on TV - but back then he was working on the likes of The Sex Thief and Eskimo Nell.

Rather than a retelling of the legendarily bawdy ballad, Eskimo Nell is actually a comedy about a young and ambitious director (Michael Armstrong), straight out of film school and eager to start making movies. Unable to get into Rank, Warner, Columbia etc (in the days when all the film company offices were all next to each other in Wardour Street) he ends up agreeing to make a film of Eskimo Nell for BUM Productions, run by obvious shyster Benny U Murdoch (Roy Kinnear). With the screenplay being written by penguin-obsessive virgin Christopher Timothy (I am not making this up), Armstrong finds himself having to direct four completely different versions of the story to satisfy the different demands of the insane backers: a hardcore porn version, a gay western (with Nell played by a man in drag and everyone being spanked while wearing incredibly tight white jeans), a kung-fu musical and a clean family film. Inevitably, the different cuts of the film are accidentally switched just ahead of the Royal Charity Premiere....

It IS funny, and in a genre that's never been noted for any kind of wit at all (see the likes of the later Carry Ons, Confessions Of... Come Play With Me etcetera) that's some kind of achievement. The cast of reliables is fun - familar TV faces such as Katy Manning, Christopher Biggins and Diane Langton - and the focus is mercifully not on the bouncing boobs and bums but the plucky underdogs doomed to hopeless failure through their own naivete. It's certainly not a masterpiece and probably has no audience outside of fans of the genre, but it's cheap and good-natured nonsense, and it's genuinely amusing. Bottom line (oo-er): I rather enjoyed it.


Wednesday, 22 December 2010



That's the international title for this nudey Italian exorcism movie, which doesn't appear to have ever had a regular UK release. The title on the DVD that I saw was Un'Ombra Nell'Ombra, for which Babelfish gives me absolutely nothing, regardless of the punctuation. The US DVD, apparently, is just called Satan's Wife. Which isn't really an accurate summation. One Of Satan's Many Lady Friends That He Knocked Up, perhaps.

The idea behind Ring Of Darkness is that a group of women have all had children by the Devil but it's only now that teenage Daria (Lara Wendel, probably best known for Tenebrae) is accepting and developing her evil powers to destroy all those who stand in her, and Satan's, way. Her Satanist mother (Valentina Cortese) is quickly terrified of the kid's increasingly bad behaviour, and eventually decides to have her exorcised. But are her occult powers, and the faith of priest John Phillip Law, strong enough to complete the ritual and rid the world of the Devil Incarnate? No, and the film concludes with Daria eyeing up the roofs of the Vatican....

In a sense, it's almost Rosemary's Baby 2, when the child embraces its unholy genetic heritage. Ring Of Darkness has a certain sleazy appeal to it: plenty of nudity and an opening dance routine that I guess is supposed to symbolise the women being impregnated by the Devil. Ian Bannen turns up as a chess-playing professor, and Frank Finlay is second-billed but has just one scene (and doesn't sound like he's done his own English dub). And in the earlier sequences it's difficult to know exactly what's going on. Moreover, Daria is such an arrogant little prima donna, so rude, sulky and insubordinate, that you really want someone to take her aside and slap some decency into her. There are some nice moments, but it's not really very good overall.




Horror for kids is a very difficult balance to achieve. Too graphic and explicit and the resultant certificate will be too high for them, too mild and restrained and they'll just be bored. You can't really do a zombie or a slasher movie for the under 12s, and anything actually frightening or upsetting has to pitched at the level of Dr Who (some of which end up with 12 certificates on DVD), so it's a kind of safe horror in which they know that everything is going to be all right, whereas the thing about Real Horror is that we know it probably won't be.

The Watcher In The Woods is a fairly typical British haunted house movie, in which a fairly typical family move into a big country house (at a suspiciously low rent) where a young girl disappeared many years ago, and it's not long before teenage daughter Jan (Lynn-Holly Johnson, probably best known as the ice skating nymphomaniac in For Your Eyes Only the following year) becomes the focus for the haunting. Ghostly apparitions appear in mirrors, mysterious blue lights flash in the woods, the locals obviously have something to hide, and Jan's little sister has taken to writing backwards. She names her new puppy Nerak, which turns out to be the reverse of the missing girl Karen - daughter of the now elderly owner of the house (Bette Davis).

Walt Disney's second film to get a PG rating (after The Black Hole), The Watcher In The Woods is not bad, but it is a bit of a mess. Bits were reshot by another director (Vincent McEveety, although John Hough is the only one to be credited), the ending hacked about and extra special effects inserted into the frankly silly climactic scene where we find out what actually happened and why. Maybe it would have had much more impact if I'd seen it in the cinema back in 1980 - I was 16 when it came out but in my forties now and watching it on DVD - but aside from a couple of nicely timed jump moments and a good cast that also includes David McCallum, Ian Bannen and Carroll Baker, it's not much more than okay. Sadly.


Tuesday, 21 December 2010



I like Wesley Snipes, but I think it's fair to say that things aren't going well for him and as far as his movies are concerned they've not been that good in recent years. Films like The Contractor (set and shot in London) don't really stack up against his 1990s films such as New Jack City, Drop Zone or Demolition Man. He'll always be more an action movie star than anything else; best known for the three Blade movies, the okay Fugitive sequel US Marshals, and the enjoyably dumb terrorist action thriller Passenger 57. (Or at least until recently; now he's best known for going to jail on tax fraud charges, and serves him right.)

The trouble with the Canadian thriller The Art Of War is that it has ideas above its station, in that rather than being a pulp piece of bangbang action nonsense, it thinks it's a proper political thriller with corruption and deviousness at the highest levels of international diplomacy, and something to say about trade with China and human rights abuses, which come to a head when the Chinese ambassador is assassinated on the eve of signing a radical and controversial trade agreement with the United Nations (headed by Donald Sutherland). Wesley Snipes, as some kind of shadowy special agent, is named as the assassin and has to prove his innocence and bring down the bad guys, led by Anne Archer as Sutherland's Number Two and Michael Biehn as Snipes' fellow agent.

The other trouble is that it's actually a rather dull film, indifferently put together, and Snipes' martial arts scenes are pretty poorly done. Despite the cast of familiar faces (which also include James Hong as the ill-fated ambassador and the late Maury Chaykin as the FBI man in charge) it's far too long and not anywhere near exciting or violent enough, which is a pity. Since the movie came out in 2000, two sequels have turned up, one with Snipes reprising his role and one where he's been replaced by another actor.


Sunday, 19 December 2010


>20 GOTO 10

Toy Story 3, My Bloody Valentine, Saw 7 - the case for 3D as a viable cinematic tool has yet to be made. Avatar has probably come the closest thus far but I'm starting to wonder if the naysayers might have a point, and even though I've been likening the use of 3D to 2.35 widescreen it's not looking as though the extra dimension is actually being used in a constructive, imaginative or even aesthetically pleasing fashion, unlike a widescreen ratio where you can have more flexibility with the picture composition. Maybe it'll take a genuinely visionary director to take the 3D toys and employ them in a more interesting way: the new Scorsese film is in 3D, and possibly the upcoming Dario Argento remake of Dracula (and if anyone can show what 3D is really capable of, it's filmmakers of that calibre).

Pretty clearly, however, that case-making film is not Tron: Legacy, and that genuinely visionary director is not Joseph Kosinski, whose IMDb entry thus far consists of two videos for a couple of Xbox games. How appropriate is that for helming a sequel to Tron? Some years after the original film, Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappeared without trace, until one day his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) picks up a pager message from Flynn's hidden office at the back of his old video arcade, and suddenly gets zapped into the digital world lorded over by an evil program called Clu (Jeff Bridges again, de-aged by 20 years courtesy of motion capture, which frankly just looks weird) who wants to break out of the computer and impose his perfection onto the Real World. But also trapped in the digital world is Flynn himself, now a reclusive hippy with no interest in stopping his creation. Along with something called an Iso, Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Sam has to get back to the portal through which he was zapped in the first place in order to shut things down from outside....

In order to reach the portal before it shuts down forever, he has to contact a preening nightclub owner (in a digital world?) who's apparently only there so Michael Sheen can camp about the place in a funny wig. But this doesn't happen until about an hour after the frisbee battles and lightcycle chases, no longer taking place on a blank grey grid but in some kind of suspended perspex game zone, constructed on several levels. And this is where Tron: Legacy falls down. For all the advances in CGI technology in the last 28 years, there's none of the soul and none of the charm of the original's then-dazzling effects work and while Tron may have had little more visually sophisticated than blocky outlines, it had ideas. Tron: Legacy looks too slick and polished and it's still using the ideas from 1982.

Nor does it make any kind of sense, even if you are familiar with the first movie (I rewatched it on DVD the night before), and if you're not familiar with the first movie then it is just going to be incomprehensible gibberish. You can pretty well fathom the workings of the computer world in Tron but nothing makes any sense in Legacy. Why is there a nightclub there? What exactly is an Iso (there was some gabbled explanation from Bridges but it might as well have been in Cantonese) apart from an excuse for Olivia Wilde to run around in skintight black fetishwear? For all the fantastic design, none of it actually means anything, and the fact that it looks good doesn't help - it's very pretty but what the hell is it? In addition, Tron himself is barely in the film and when he does show up he's wearing a black helmet so we can't see it's actually Bruce Boxleitner (it could actually be anybody).

I honestly wanted to like it - rewatching the first film reminded me just how terrific it is. But this sequel is a disappointment: chunks of it are incomprehensible, and the 3D is an entirely unnecessary addition. And it has no heart: for all the emotional father-son bonding at the centre of the film I really found it hard to care one way or the other. Yes, the production design is excellent (Bridges' mountain retreat is the kind of place I would want to live in), and Daft Punk is an interesting choice for a soundtrack that combines electro-techno thumping with a symphony orchestra (odd, given that half of Dalf Punk is Thomas Bangalter who scores the films of Gaspar Noe). But it is ultimately only a partial success, and successful in the things that don't matter that much.


You can savour its moderate pleasures soon:

Saturday, 18 December 2010



Let's be clear about one thing right from the start: I'm not that interested in musicals. The big blowsy showtunes musicals, the Broadway hits, Rodgers and Hammerstein - there's no chance I'm ever going to sit down with a DVD of Carousel or State Fair or South Pacific. Of the Golden Age Musicals, I can enjoy Singin' In The Rain for its wonderful film studio background sequences but during all the romantic and comedy stuff and the huge massed dance numbers I would literally rather be sticking pins in my eyes. More recent ones have been a bit more interesting: I was amazed how much I enjoyed Sweeney Todd given that it was a Tim Burton film AND a Broadway musical (though I would imagine the spurting arteries and cannibalism lent some appeal). But the song and dance spectaculars from Busby Berkeley through the heyday of MGM leave me absolutely cold.

Maybe part of my problem has always been taking the film's action too literally: wondering where that big orchestra and choir and dance troupes suddenly sprang from, why these people suddenly went into a huge and intricate routine, and then stopped for no apparent reason. I tend to like my film music as non-diegetic underscore rather than source or diegetic music (that the characters are actually aware of) and musicals obviously don't work that way. In some cases, such as setting a movie in a club or a theatre, you can blur that line so the sudden singing and dancing isn't quite so out of place. That's what Burlesque does, although the goings-on are not really burlesque in the traditional music-hall and variety sense of seedy striptease and standup; rather it's a series of slickly choreographed bump-and-grind numbers in which attractive young ladies lipsynch while wearing little more than hosiery and waving their bums at the camera. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

The plot is nebulous and the kind of thing that Cannon Films used to put in their daft youth musicals from the 1980s such as Breakdance, Salsa and Lambada: a young woman (Christina Aguilera) gets tired of her Nowhere Wisconsin town and moves to Los Angeles looking for dancing opportunities. She winds up as a waitress at a struggling burlesque club run by Cher (who's 64 and so plastically enhanced she might as well be made out of Lego), gets her big break, becomes the star of the show, antagonises the bitchy alcoholic prima donna (Kristen Bell), beds the bartender and gets hit on by the evil real estate billionaire who wants to buy the club and erect a 20-storey office block over it. Can her idea of actually singing the songs rather than just miming to records save the club's fortunes before the banks foreclose?

With all the raunch and flesh, the women in the stockings and pants and skintight costumes with their legs in the air or shaking it all about, it's actually a bit reminiscent of Showgirls, except that it has a 12A certificate and the nudity is brief and very discreet. I was also reminded of Coyote Ugly, which was similarly thin but which I kind of almost half-liked. And I confess I did enjoy Burlesque: Stanley Tucci is great, Alan Cumming is fourth or fifth billed but isn't actually in the movie very much and I even rather liked some of the songs. Sadly the dance numbers are overedited to such a degree that they end up as rock videos, shot with dozens of cameras and constantly chopping between them every couple of frames, much like Chicago where Gere, Zeta-Jones and Zellweger actually had to be credited with their own dancing because it wasn't obvious from the film itself. (Compare with the MGM Golden Age musicals or the Fred Astaires of the 1930s, where far more elaborate dance routines were shot in two or three takes and the cameras were pretty much nailed to the floor.)

It's alright. It passes a couple of cold December hours perfectly well and is enjoyable enough, and certainly more fun than I thought it was going to be. Presumably they didn't want to go down the Showgirls route and so erred on the safe side perhaps a little too much: the bum waving is pretty mild and a bit more trashy and dirty wouldn't have done the movie any harm.



Tuesday, 14 December 2010



Well, obviously it contains fighting. It's called Fist Power and you do actually expect some fighting in a film called Fist Power. Unfortunately, you don't get very much else. Lots of fighting, sure, but not a lot of plot, character etc. Still, mustn't grumble, there's lots of fighting. And the fighting is pretty good, all told - not up to Jackie Chan / Bruce Lee / John Woo standards of walloping, but pretty crunchy nonetheless.

What plot there is in Fist Power is basically a hostage setup: an embittered truck driver, formerly in the Army, takes over a small primary school and threatens to blow it up unless he gets his son back from the clutches of an evil tycoon - the boy's biological but long-absent father - who's about to ship him off to the USA in order to claim an inheritance that very day. While the police stand about doing nothing, three heroes step up to bring the kid back: a security consultant who spends his first scene beating up about a hundred people before solemnly explaining that violence doesn't solve anything, a glamorous and ambitious reporter for a sleazy tabloid, and the kid's goofy uncle who has no martial arts skills whatsoever. However, the evil tycoon has legions - literally legions - of top martial artists willing to get pulped in order to seize the kid back....

They come at him in cars, they come at him on bicycles, they pretend to be cops, they try and snatch the kid on a ferry: like the Zulus in Zulu, there are thousands of 'em, and Man Cheuk Chiu swats them away like mosquitoes in a long string of combat sequences. I lost count of exactly how many fights there were and how many people Man Cheuk Chiu kicked repeatedly in the head, and unfortunately the fight scenes are not brilliantly filmed: the camera seems too close to the action and you can't really appreciate the intricate choreography. Fist Power certainly isn't terrible: it's just a middling string of punchups and fisticuffs which passes the time well enough but isn't anywhere near a classic.

For some reason the DVD carries two versions of the film: an English dub cropped to 4:3, and the original Cantonese language version in widescreen, with subtitles. I don't understand this: if you want to watch a Hong Kong martial arts movie, why would you voluntarily choose the wrong voices and the wrong shape?


Monday, 13 December 2010



Much as it pains me to say anything nice about a Jess Franco film (the only exceptions to the rule so far being the gorgeously meaningless nonsense of She Kills In Ecstacy and Vampyros Lesbos), it has to be admitted that this, the fourth of five Fu Manchu films, is not quite as wretchedly atrocious as many of his other offerings. In no sense is it remotely any good: it's slow, silly and drab to look at, and the only thing it has going for it is the reliables in the cast, headed again by the mighty Christopher Lee in yet another project that simply isn't worthy of his talents or time.

This time, master criminal Fu Manchu is hiding out in a lost Inca city in South America, kidnapping women and infecting them with snake venom before hypnotising them and sending them out into the world to kiss, and thus kill, his ten greatest enemies. (Kiss And Kill was actually an alternative title for The Blood Of Fu Manchu.) One of these enemies is Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard (Richard Greene), he receives the legendary Kiss Of Death and immediately goes blind; if he doesn't receive an antidote by the next full moon he'll die. I didn't know that's how poisons actually worked. Nayland Smith doesn't actually do very much this time out, and the action is left to unflappable old buffer Dr Petrie (Howard Marion Crawford, who played the role in all five films), a beautiful nurse in unexplained military uniform and riding breeches (Maria Rohm, married to writer-producer Harry Alan Towers aka Peter Welbeck) and sub-Indiana Jones hero Carl (Gotz George).

There are snakes, a bunch of sleazy bandits (the film spends far too much time with them), Fu Manchu's army of disposable extras, topless women chained to the walls, torture, not to mention the man's fiendish daughter (Tsai Chin, again reprising her regular role) swanning about in colourful robes. Sadly, despite the cast, it all comes over very dull thanks to Jess Franco being pretty much as rubbish as he usually is. The South American jungles just look drab and there's lots of Franco's trademark zoom shots into the murk, before the frankly feeble ending and Lee's usual declaration that "The world shall hear from me again". Only once, though, and again under Franco's direction. Can't wait.


This and CASTLE you can buy here:

Sunday, 12 December 2010



Ye cannae change the laws of physics, as Scotty was wont to say every week (before doing precisely that). Gravity at sea level is 9.81 and a bit and always will be, lead sinks in water and always has. But you can barge past these petty rules and formulae, and completely ignore them in the way many people take not a shred of notice of the "please turn off your mobiles" blurb in the cinema. Bad science, or non-existent science, can work, if it sounds plausible while being beyond most of the audience, but when you start contradicting the basics, the fourth-form stuff that even the average simpleton can remember, the whole thing will fall apart.

So it is with The Core, in which things are going badly and spectacularly wrong all across the world. A large number of individuals, entirley unconnected with each other, all drop dead at the same moment. Pigeons go crazy in Trafalgar Square. The space shuttle comes in to land miles off course - what could possibly be causing it? Turns out that the Earth's core itself has stopped spinning, thus switching off the electromagnetic field that protects us from cosmic radiation, allows birds to navigate, and maintains magnetic North. With this field breaking down, the Earth is surely doomed in a matter of days, unless....

Unless you get some scientists and have them drill down to the core and set off nuclear bombs to get the core spinning again. This they do by firing a specially constructed ship downwards through the crust, equipped with an ultrasonic laser drill ("the same thing they use to break up kidney stones", someone helpfully explains) and a payload of five atomic warheads. But they've got to dodge the vast diamonds, the empty chambers filled with crystals and liquid magma, set the explosions off, then somehow turn around and defy the increased gravity by tunnelling all the way back up to the surface! Fortunately they have something called Unobtainium (a full six years before James Cameron used it in Avatar!) which they can use as a giant solar panel to power their way back (if they can reverse the polarity of the neutron flow, or something). Meanwhile the ion storms are gathering above Rome, and the ozone layer is breaking up over San Francisco....

This is the most scientifically ludicrous movie you could imagine. Essentially it's Deep Impact upside down - there they sent a ship upwards to save the planet with nuclear bombs, here they send it downwards. There's loads of incomprehensible scientific gibberish, noble sacrifice, petty bickering and it's all played straight enough to pull the dumb premise off. It's got a terrific cast of actors rather than stars: Hilary Swank (shuttle pilot), Aaron Eckhart (dedicated scientist), Stanley Tucci (egomaniacal scientist), Delroy Lindo (embittered engineer). And it is fun - stupid, but entertaining, with the interior of the Earth mostly rendered in colourful, occasionally pleasingly abstract CGI. It's a big splashy apocalyptic disaster movie which has absolutely zero chance of coming true. (We hope.)


Saturday, 11 December 2010



Ahhh. I really really wanted to like Frozen, the new Adam Green film: I liked Hatchet a lot, I rather liked Hatchet II (though I don't think it's as good as the first one) and I found Spiral particularly effective. So, having missed its premiere in Edinburgh and having missed its brief and insanely limited theatrical release, I was looking forward to another enjoyably gruesome horror thriller, yet I found Frozen only moderately successful: it's not bad, certainly, but it is, unfortunately, the least of Green's films so far.

The idea of Frozen - and like all great ideas, it's fundamentally very simple - is that three friends (Kevin Zegers, Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore) get stranded on the chairlift at a ski resort when the place closes down for the holiday weekend. It's fifty feet off the ground, which is too high to safely jump, no-one's brought a mobile phone, the icy winds are picking up and the hungry wolves are gathering below. No-one knows they're up there, there's no-one they can signal to. Can they find a way to get off the chair safely? Can they find a way to contact someone and bring help?

There are two main problems. Firstly: these days they're all going to have their mobiles on them at all times: even if not to call for help they'd have them to take pictures and to update social networking sites. Secondly, the logical thing to do would be for one of the three to climb up onto the wires and make their way along to the support pillars and climb down: certainly that's what I'd do (in the frankly unlikely event of me being anywhere near a skilift in the first place) and it's far safer than just leaping onto the packed ice and hoping, which is what Zegers does and ends up with both his shins juicily broken for his pains, just as the hungry wolves show up. (Incidentally, the deleted footage on the DVD is far grislier and gorier than the edited scene in the finished film.)

Those niggles aside, I did still enjoy Frozen: it's a good, tense setup and the three leads are generally likeable people you don't really want to see hurt, a failing in quite a few recent genre films where you're just waiting for them to die horribly. It's nicely shot, all for real (no green screen and studio mockups) and satisfyingly gruesome, including things like falling asleep with your face or hand on the bare metal. I guess I just wanted to like it more, I wanted to like it as much as Hatchet and unfortunately it isn't quite up there. A slight disappointment more than anything else.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010



I'd always thought that this was Island ON Fire, since it's a Hong Kong action film that came out around the same time as City On Fire, School On Fire, Prison On Fire, Outside Toilet On Fire and so on. Turns out it's quite definitely OF, as in Chariots. And given that the average Hong Kong action movie has a raft of alternative titles, it's perhaps surprising that this hasn't been renamed to fit in with the other movies, even though it's entirely related to it. One of those titles is Jackie Chan Is The Prisoner, which would be a bit of a cheat because [1] even though he's first billed, Chan is very much in a supporting role, [2] since almost the entire film is set in prison, half the cast are prisoners, and [3] Jackie Chan doesn't wake up in a strange village in Wales and he isn't forced to play absurd mind games with a mysterious and unseen Number One.

The Island Of Fire of the title is Hong Kong, where a cop (Tony Leung) goes undercover in the prison to investigate how an executed convict's finger turned up at the murder of a veteran police officer looking into high-level police corruption. Also in prison is genial serial-escaper Sammo Hung and wrongly convicted Jackie Chan, a pool champion who accidentally killed a gangster in a fight after not taking a bribe to lose. The villains - because we are on the side on the inmates here - are the oppressive and sadistic wardens and guards who delight in the suffering and brutality inflicted on their charges. In fact there's so much focus on the viciousness of the prison and the day-to-day battle to survive, that the film almost forgets that there's also a plot about high-level police corruption to sort out as well, and the mystery of the long-dead assassin. When our heroes are scheduled to be executed, things become much clearer.

Porridge it isn't. Island Of Fire may be a late 80s/early 90s Hong Kong action movie with Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung but there's little fun to be had and very little in the way of the immaculate slapstick you'd expect. It's far grimmer than that - the prison bullies cook the quiet geeky convict's pet mouse and give it to him for his dinner, Sammo kicks a dog during one of his escape bids - and the fight scenes don't conclude with people dusting themselves off going "ouch!" but being carted away to the sickroom covered in bruises. Nor, for most of our heroes, do events end happily: the film is quite willing to bloodily kill them off in the final reel.

Not to say for a second that I didn't enjoy it, although it was more downbeat than I was expecting. It's still quite well made and the action scenes are as dazzling as ever. Sometimes the melodrama can be a bit mawkish - Sammo Hung keeps escaping only so he can spend a few beautiful hours with his son before being recaptured, and as soon as he promises to be there for New Year's Eve, you know he won't - but that's just the culture difference and it's always going to happen. Still worth a watch; I thought it was pretty good.


Sunday, 5 December 2010


This is an entirely personal list. I'm not about to suggest these movies are going to be anywhere near the best or most interesting ones we've got coming next year; merely the ones I want to see first day, first screening (if not at previews) and would sooner watch than the Oscar contenders. And although I am still occasionally partial to the serious A-list film, I tend more towards the dumb action, SF, fantasy and horror movies over the intense emotional dramas and bleak meditations on the futility of existence.... So, strictly in the order that I typed them out:


The teaser posters that have recently gone up for this are fantastic and if I was the kind to put the artwork on my wall, this is the kind of artwork I'd want. Meanwhile, the film itself seems to have been enthusiastically reviewed so far, and Mark Kermode's comment that the last act is like "Dario Argento on crack" has pretty much sealed it for me. I'm not the world's biggest fan of Darren Aranofsky - I didn't like Pi at all, I admired some of Requiem For A Dream and I was completely bewildered by The Fountain - but I haven't written him off completely like some directors (Peter Greenaway for one).


I loves me a bit of Bava-Argento giallo madness, and I really should have seen this loving genre tribute at the FrightFest in Glasgow early this year, but stayed home for reasons too boring to go into. Then I should have caught it at the London FrightFest, but opted instead for the Video Nasties documentary and the so-so Damned By Dawn, and was therefore pretty much resigned to waiting for the DVD. But it's screening at the ICA in January and (excuse the horrible Americanism) I am so there.


Because I'm fascinated by what they're going to do with it. Last time I heard, it was a prequel detailing what happened to the Norwegian camp - which not only means we know how it ends (badly) but everyone's either speaking Norwegian or putting on a funny voice. From the IMDb it looks like it's augmented by Americans, which should reduce the language problem, but it still doesn't get them off the fact that we know the very sticky ending going in. And I'm wondering whether they're going to stick with old-fashioned but more effective prosthetics and animatronics, or opt for doing all the monster stuff in boring CGI afterwards. Not to say it's not going to be any good - it might be - but the odds are against it somewhat.


Speaking of John Carpenter (which I wasn't), there's a new John Carpenter horror movie coming out next year. What more do we need? This is his first feature since Ghosts Of Mars, which I rather liked in a silly way - it's far from prime Carpenter but generally agreeable. But that was way back in 2001, and we've only had a couple of TV episodes in the interim. It's good to see him back, and we'll hopefully get another Carpenter soundtrack album while we're at it. As for veteran horror auteurs: the latest Wes Craven, My Soul To Take, has disappeared off the release schedules, which is a shame.


It's a remake of the French film Anything For Her, which was pretty good, and has the frankly variable Russell Crowe as the star, but since he's not having to take a stab at an accent he should be okay. I'm going to bet it's a pretty good thriller that'll make a reasonable start to 2011.


Yes, I'm looking forward to a Nicolas Cage action movie - in 3D - from the director of My Bloody Valentine. I'm really waiting for the movie that will silence the 3D naysayers: shooting something in 3D rather than 2D is no worse than shooting something in 2.35 rather than the more traditional 1.85 (and converting 2D to 3D is as despicable as shooting in 1.85 then cropping it for "widescreen"). I don't know that this is the movie to make the case for 3D as a valid film-making tool - probably not - but it should be a fair evening's screeching tyres entertainment.


Being a conversion, the 3D is going to stink the multiplexes out, even the screens that aren't showing HPDH2, so I'm going to make the effort to see the 2D version they'll doubtless release along with the 3D conversion. It was shot in two, I'm going to watch it in two. Hopefully this is the one where it's going to all come together and tie up the whole story and all the characters - and not leave it open to do any more. It's done. Finished. Go do something else.


I don't really give a hoot about comic books. I don't know Marvel from DC and I probably missed a lot of references in Scott Pilgrim, and I'm generally uninterested in superhero movies unless they're fulfilling their main purpose, which is primary-coloured panto for kiddies. So yes, I do think something like Fantastic 4 is probably a better superhero movie than the Batman or Spiderman movies - especially the latter which simply aren't designed for emotional depth and significance - it's Spiderman, for crying out loud. But this one: it's Kenneth Branagh directing Anthony Hopkins! What can possibly go wrong?


Yet another remake - this time Jason Statham taking over from Charles Bronson, and I'll say it now: not measuring up. Still, Statham's a good presence on screen, it's got Donald Sutherland in the cast, and at the very least it should be mindless bangbang entertainment, and probably better than the original. Go on, Jason. Do Death Wish next, I dare you.


I'm not completely obsessed with violence, action, horror, sleaze and explosions, and as frankly negligible evidence I offer the new Woody Allen film. Admittedly he's not been great recently - Vicky Cristina Barcelona was amusing but aimless, and Cassandra's Dream was absolutely terrible, but they're still generally civilised entertainment, well played, well put together and well written. Something to look forward to.



Phwoooaar indeed! It's a sexy exploitation movie with hot Asian women killing scummy villains and fighting each other! With a bit of lesbian action thrown in! Guns! Machetes! Martial arts! Boobs! (Well, not much in the way of boobs - it's only in Hong Kong's Category IIB rather than the steamier, sleazier, nudier Category III, but it's still an 18 over here.) Still, how couldn't it be a trash masterpiece? In truth, it isn't great but it's a reasonably enjoyable night's rental: fun while it's on but nothing to trouble any awards jury on Earth.

The basic idea of Naked Weapon is that a fiendish mastermind is kidnapping dozens of young girls and keeping them all as prisoners on a remote island where they are trained as top assassins: the culmination of their years of training is to kill each other until there are only a handful left, and these survivors will then become the best and most highly priced killers in the world. They will also be the most glamorous and seductive (how else will they be get close to their targets?) as well as the most ruthless, with no regard for their own feelings, as any sense of personal emotion has been ripped out of them in one of the most repulsive and callous rape sequences imaginable. On the trail, however, is a CIA agent who won't let go of his long-standing investigation into the missing children....

So it's a bit like Battle Royale, and a bit like (La Femme) Nikita, in which gorgeous women kick scumbag arse, fire lots of guns, blow things up and go one-on-one in unarmed combat. It's silly, trashy, throwaway, completely implausible and unbelievable, but still, particularly when away from the island prison, it's enjoyably stupid and I kind of liked it. Not quite as full-on deranged as Naked Killer, and morally questionable, but generally it's all right.


Saturday, 4 December 2010



Tony Scott annoys me. Every film he makes is crammed with filtered wobblicam photography, slo-mo, crash zooms, tilts, tracks and pans, edited to an incoherent frenzy and accompanied by thudding music. If he made a documentary about a blind piano tuner in 1830s Vienna it would be filled with his beloved shaky, orange-hued camerawork, throbbing bass lines and subliminal cutting. It's like being grapped by the lapels and shaken for two hours while Scott yells "ARE YOU EXCITED YET?!?!?!?!" repeatedly in your face. And the answer is generally "No, actually, I'm faintly bored by it." This time it's not just Scott's camerabatics but the insertion of several "TV news reports" shot from helicopters and captioned all over and the end result is like trying to watch Sky News and the Action Movie Max channel at the same time by flipping between them every five seconds.

And so it is with Unstoppable - not so much inspired by true events as extrapolated from a minor incident into a full blown Thousands Will Die potential catastrophe. Due to a combination of dumb incompetence and poor maintenance, a freight train loaded with explosive chemicals slips its brakes and heads downhill towards towns, industrial gas storage tanks and a separate train full of children on a school trip! To derail it would be risky and expensive, so Chris Pine (the new Captain Kirk) and regular Scott-star Denzel Washington both have to put aside their daytime soap troubles with work and family, and charge up behind the runaway on a small locomotive, attach it to the train, then slam the brakes on and slow it down before it hits a frankly rickety-looking curve and explodes.

It's not that the film has some kind of ADHD; it's that it assumes the audience has. If a shot lasts for four seconds Scott thinks the audience will get restless and start wondering whether they locked the front door or where they parked the car - or worse, feel the need to check their Twitter feed because nothing's happened on screen for the last four seconds. It's not just a film about a runaway train, it's a runaway film about a runaway train. And like most of his other films, the look and the sound is what counts and the only thing he can do is ramp everything up to maximum; never mind the popcorn, would you like paracetamol with that? Which I'd be fine with if it made the films any better, but unfortunately the reverse is closer to the truth. Admittedly, Deja Vu was quite fun. But for all the post-production pyrotechnics, Domino was atrocious and ludicrously overdone, his remake of The Taking Of Pelham 123 was not just a tiresome and sweary mess but an insult to a fine original, and Man On Fire was, for all the violence, just plain dull. And I may have a soft spot for The Last Boy Scout and True Romance, but those films came out about twenty years ago.

It's nowhere near the best movie about a runaway train, which would be Konchalovsky's marvellous Runaway Train. (It's not even up there with the last twenty minutes of Silver Streak.) But I enjoyed Unstoppable more than I expected, and it's a definite step up from the Pelham remake. Worth a look, but sit a fair way back.


Friday, 3 December 2010



You certainly can't accuse the makers of this late 60s Hammer adventure, an adaptation of a non-Satanic novel by Dennis Wheatley, of dullness. Not with explosions, giant scorpions, hurricanes, man-eating seaweed, smuggling, mutiny, and religious maniacs in pointy hats - and that's not counting the shifty motives of the passengers. What you can accuse them of, however, is having insufficient resources to bring all this incident to the screen above the level of a Troughton-era Doctor Who or a Saturday matinee of the Warlords Of Atlantis ilk (which, curiously, it would never have been: the BBFC gave The Lost Continent an X back in 1968 and it's now a 12 on DVD).

En route from Freetown, Sierra Leone to Caracas, Venezuela, an old steamer captained by Eric Porter carries not just a motley assortment of "colourful" characters but an illegal cargo of explosive phosphorus. Forced to abandon ship somewhere in the Sargasso Sea after half the crew have mutinied and the ship starts taking on water, the survivors find themselves first drifting, then trapped in a huge growth of carnivorous seaweed and dragged back to their similarly imprisoned old vessel: stuck in a graveyard of wrecks dating back centuries.... and ruthlessly ruled over by the descendants of Spanish conquistadores.

There's a giant octopus, a giant crab and a giant scorpion, not to mention the seaweed, but this was in the days before CGI (and indeed in the days before those hokey Doug McClure movies) and so the monster effects are undeniably substandard to the point of giggles, particularly in the scene where the crab fights the scorpion. Are they cardboard or polystyrene? The music score is too loud and inappropriate - the movie even begins with a pop song! But the film moves at a rate of knots, has plenty going on, and is stuffed with familiar faces - James Cossins, Suzanna Leigh, Tony Beckley, Nigel Stock and Hammer regular Michael Ripper. Sadly, the technical tattiness counts too much against the good points, and it's mildly interesting at best. Perhaps it's due for a remake?


Thursday, 2 December 2010



Um, er, yes, well.... Not entirely sure what to make of this frankly bonkers Hong Kong fantasy action movie from 1977, which dedicates itself to the millions who loved the then-recently departed Bruce Lee and then proceeds to spew complete hogwash across the screen for the entire running time. I don't know what the point was, I don't know what they were smoking, but it's almost - almost - worth seeing for the industrial strength insanity and some nunchuka action that would have got it banned by the BBFC when it first came out.

In The Dragon Lives Again, Bruce Lee is dead, and arrives in the Underworld where there is a battle for supremacy going on. A group of villains including James Bond, The Exorcist, The Godfather, Clint Eastwood (in his Dollars trilogy persona), Emmannuelle and Dracula plan to take over the Underworld, and in order to achieve this they have to get rid of Bruce Lee before they can kill the King and instal The Godfather on the throne. The heroes are basically Bruce, a bloke who looks a bit like Indiana Jones but isn't (the movie predates Raiders Of The Lost Ark by at least four years), and - I'm not making this up - Popeye. Bruce Lee, meanwhile, just wants to get back to Earth. That's kind of the plot. There are numerous fight scenes, very badly staged; none of the cast look like who they're pretending to be (it's explained at the start that faces change en route to the Underworld, which is handy) and I first thought "The Godfather" was actually supposed to be Elvis.

In true trash exploitation movie tradition, there's a healthy dollop of entirely irrelevant female nudity thrown in for good measure. But it's completely incoherent, it has a stupid ending, much of the fight choreography is actually pretty uninspired (despite star Bruce Leong's long track record in the field of staging these sequences) and it goes on for too long. Matters aren't made any better by the bad English dub (the DVD has a Mandarin track but, crucially, no subtitles) and the incredibly shoddy crop job from widescreen to 4:3 which doesn't even attempt to pan and scan - it's just taken the middle of the image and frequently doesn't show who's talking or cuts people in half. Generally pretty poor and indifferently thrown together: it might be fun for connoisseurs of bad movies and Hong Kong weirdness but no-one else.



I don't know how many films you need to see by a particular director to know that you're not likely to be a fan. At a guess I'd imagine the rule of thumb to be four or five - enough to minimise the probability that you've just chanced upon his/her worst offerings. If your first Hitchcocks were Family Plot and The Secret Agent you might well wonder what all the fuss was about and so never know the great movies in between. Or if your initiation into Argento was Giallo or Mother Of Tears, chances are you'd strike Tenebrae and Suspiria off the list because you're not going through all that again.

On the other hand, sometimes you can have a very strong feeling first time out: my introduction to Gaspar Noe was Irreversible, which I thought was a horrible, depressing and thoroughly ugly film. Well, he's back with Enter The Void, and saying it's not as repugnant as Irreversible isn't saying anything. A drug dealer gets killed in Tokyo but hovers around afterwards as a kind of out-of-body astral projection, firstly reliving the key moments from his life, and then watching the fallout from his murder, and keeping an eye on his beloved (perhaps too beloved) sister, before being reborn in a frankly ludicrous way.

The first act is all POV, including the blinking: seen through the eyes of our druggie "hero" in the hours before his justifiably undignified death on the floor of a pub toilet. The second is a montage of isolated clips from the guy's childhood, his sister, the deaths of their parents in a car smash, his business in Japan: all filmed from a few feet behind him so every shot has the back of his head in it. And the third, the drifty spirit-view, floats all around Tokyo an extreme length and shot in such a way that triggers motion sickness in the viewer. The cityscapes are either filmed on a massive but incredibly detailed model, or over the real city but through that kind of lens that makes things look very small. Or they're done on the computer. Whatever, the camera swoops, soars, plummets and wavers all over the place: everything's enhanced with bright neon hightlights and strobing lights and backed with a throbbing noise score. Early on there's a long CGI drug trip sequence which is very pretty but just looks like a Windows screensaver.

I can't recall having looked away from a film so much while it's on. If someone made a film about people who eat live spiders while knifing themselves in the goolies I'd probably have an easier time of it. Here are the three things you need to get through Enter The Void with maximum impact: [1] a front-row seat, [2] drugs, [3] a bucket. A better option is, in truth, not bothering with the movie at all, because it will make you feel ill. I felt queasy and I was about eight rows from the front. And it goes on, and on, and on.... This despite the fact that the UK release version is actually substantially shorter than other territories - the distributors resubmitted the film with a whole reel missing. Not a reel's worth of cuts throughout the film: Reel 7 of 9 has been dropped entirely. Could this be European arthouse cinema's most contrived Star Trek injoke? Enter The Void is eighteen minutes shorter as a result but it still takes 143 minutes to get through. (It would take 137 minutes if they'd followed Gaspar Noe's instruction to show the film at 25 fps - video speed - but this was a 35mm print.)

This is also one of those movies that "contains strong real sex" and I really can't get excited about this as a content warning: shagging is not a spectator sport and I don't want to watch it any more than I want to watch people taking a dump. Yes, it happens but that's no reason to put it on film and claim that it's art. It isn't. Personally, if you do want to see real people really having real sex, watch a porn movie. Or you can probably find this kind of thing on the internet somewhere. There is indeed explicit material in Enter The Void but it's actually fairly brief and doesn't achieve anything.

Alright, some of the visuals are striking. But it's a two-and-a-half-hour arthouse movie with a fragmented narrative, nausea-inducing camerawork, strobing, an annoying electro-noise soundtrack, a ridiculous ending, lots of references to The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, subliminal and unreadable opening credits, no end credits, a few brief bits of sex and a cast of characters who are either drug addicts, dealers, or strippers that's not quite as offputting as one of the most loathsome films of modern times. Whoopee.