Thursday, 30 June 2011



Has the "found footage" mock documentary format still not run out of steam? It may have worked the first few times - such as Cannibal Holocaust - but so many years after The Blair Witch Project, are we still desperately trying to pretend that all the zombie and slasher and paranormal activity films are "real"? They're not and we know they're not. The genre has worn thin through overuse: when even George A Romero can't make a more than passable zombie outing in the camcorder style then it really is time to go back to making proper films. Too often it's just a handy narrative excuse for poor quality. Can't edit? Can't light? Can't afford a tripod or a music score? Make it a found footage movie: you've now got an actual plot reason why it looks terrible.

It's invariably annoying when there is absolutely no reason for anyone to be filming these events, and frankly every reason not to. When the flesh-eating zombies are advancing remorselessly towards you, the sensible thing to do is to drop the camera and leg it, not stand there fiddling with the zoom lens like an idiot. Back in 2006, the original The Zombie Diaries didn't get over this simple problem of survival instinct's subservience to an atmospheric 16:9 composition, and this largely unrelated sequel (two characters reappear, and one other character returns but is played by someone else) doesn't manage it either: despite the character's claims that "it's important this is all documented", it patently isn't. Why? It's zombiegeddon: who's ever going to watch it?

World Of The Dead: The Zombie Diaries (there's no number 2 on the screen, whatever it says on the box) begins with the entire UK overrun with zombies: a small group of soldiers abandon their base after the living dead break through the perimeters, heading for the East coast to catch the last boats out of the country, heading for the safety of Rotterdam. En route, in addition to numerous zombies they also encounter a despicable gang of psychotic bandits and rapists. Can they get away from them and reach the coast before the last rescue ship sails?

Interspersed with the group's adventures and arguments are other scenes of an execution squad in gas masks and decontamitaion suits, wordlessly murdering people in a barn. These scenes don't appear to have any connection with the rest of the film (until the very end) and again, there's absolutely no reason why they should even have been filmed, let alone spliced into the main film. Still, on the plus side, the picture quality does appear to be superior to the last one. There's only a fair measure of gore, although sadly there's also a pointless and ugly rape sequence which I'd contend has no business in a simple zombie movie. And yet again, it's difficult to care much about who lives and who dies: no-one's particularly likeable and you simply end up looking forward to the next zombie attack.

It is better than the first Zombie Diaries movie, which I really didn't like at all (much of it was shot principally in Letchworth, which is just down the road from me and I've been there several times). But there's no reason why this couldn't have been done as a real movie, especially as the final sequence is shot that way: with the increase in quality of affordable digital video equipment these things can look more like broadcast quality than low-def digital or VHS. The wintry conditions in which much of the movie was obviously shot gives it a pleasingly dreamlike feeling in places. Next time, can we have a proper film?


Get yer zoms here:

Wednesday, 29 June 2011



Fzzzzt. Know what that was? That was the sound of the Dumbass Apocalypse: it happened on June 28, A.D. 2011 and was the moment at which Earth's artistic and intellectual culture just waved a white flag and gave up. What's the point? What's the point in developing an artform like cinema over more than a hundred years if this is what it's going to be used for? Much like the nuclear pioneers who wept when they saw the devastation their work could unleash, one suspects the Lumiere Brothers would, if they could have seen through the decades and witnessed a screening of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, have smashed their lenses and burnt their stock and cried out "We cannot allow this to happen, mes amis!" Never mind the Terminator's Judgment Day: June 28 2011 was our judgement day: we looked upon it, we found it good and that was it. As Private Frazer was wont to say: "We're doomed."

This is indeed what a hundred and twenty years or so of innovation, imagination, technical miracles and artistic genius has brought us to. Not to the new Kubrick, Kurosawa, Hitchcock or Welles: not to the heights of dramatic expression of the human condition. Rather it has brought us to a 154-minute behemoth of clattering, infantile stupidity in which, once more, giant metal things beat each other up, blow everything up, or both, with absolutely no human involvement or participation. And this time, joy of joys, it's in 3D. If, as Charlier Brooker once opined, the first one was like "being pinned to the ground while an angry dishwasher [defecated] in your face for two hours", then this one is like climbing into a dishwasher which is then beaten up by several other, bigger dishwashers. For two and a half hours. Where to start?

The basic thrust behind Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is that in 1961 the Americans tracked a UFO that crashed on the moon and the whole aim of the Space Race was to get there and salvage it before the Russians did: Armstrong and Aldrin were under top secret government orders to explore the wreck and bring back whatever they could find. They brought back five pillars which, when aligned with the hundred others already in the possession of the evil Decepticons, will create a space bridge that can bring the devastated planet of Cybertron to within Earth's orbit where it can be rebuilt using humanity as slave labour. Only Shia LaBoeuf and his new girlfriend, together with the remaining good Autobots (now used for allegedly covert missions on Earth to protect humanity from itself) can stop them.

Shia LaBoeuf is again a dull cardboard cutout where a leading man should be. He kind of got away with having the screen presence of a spanner in the Indiana Jones movie but he doesn't here. Incredibly, he even manages to be uninteresting when up against new love interest Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, a Victoria's Secret underwear model with no acting experience and, having made this film, still has no acting experience. She is absolutely dreadful and can only have been cast as a further snub to poor Megan Fox who I'm actually starting to feel sorry for. To be written out of the franchise in a casual one-liner is bad enough, but to have been replaced by someone whose entire job description consists of standing around in her pants must hurt. I usually like John Malkovich but he's actually very annoying here - can he or Frances McDormand really need the money that badly?

But it's a Transformers movie and people don't come to see "acting" or "characterisation": they come to watch robots turn into trucks and helicopters turn into robots and skyscrapers toppling and things blowing up and things going bang and eighty-foot alien robots beating the crap out of each other. It's like the opening of Team America: World Police, where the heroes save the day at the expense of a million casualties and the levelling of a major city. In this instance it's Chicago that bears the Götterdämmerung brunt as the Autobots and Decepticons fight it out in the streets for the last hour or so of the film, merrily massacring the population and destroying most of the city centre. There's no narrative reason why they couldn't have done this in Antarctica or the deserts of Wyoming or New Mexico, except that wouldn't have been anywhere near as cool! and awesome! to put on screen.

And it has to be said that if you just want your trucks and robots and gunships and helicopters and collapsing tower blocks and mega-explosions and deafening soundtrack, then go ahead because it's big. It's noisy. It's absurdly long and insanely loud and the final stretch makes the Pyramid-trashing apocalypse of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen look like your local corner-shop's CCTV feed on a slow day. But if you want any trace of humanity, any vestige of wit or intelligence, subtlety, thought, coherence or style, forget it. You might as well stay at home and smash yourself round the head with a toaster for two and a half hours. The 3D is entirely unnecessary and just manages to make something utterly incomprehensible into something slightly more incomprehensible; they needn't have bothered.

How the hell did this happen? How does it work? Despite a reported (though disputed) budget of four hundred million dollars - even if it's only half that, it's an absolutely obscene amount of money - and the wholesale trashing of Chicago, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is boring. With no actual humans on screen to care about, it's nothing more than a CGI cartoon and no more based in reality than Finding Nemo or The Flintstones. It's badly written (basically alternating scenes of Shia and Rosie being embarrassing with scenes of stuff being destroyed), atrociously acted (or in Rosie's case, not), with cretinous comedy relief scenes - there's a scene in a gents lavatory that's positively imbecilic - and a love of destruction, devastation and pyrotechnics that is frankly worrying in a grown adult.

The answer is simply that every time they do a Transformers movie they need to top the last one: they need to be louder, longer, more spectacular, with more robots and more explosions and more crashes and more destruction. The first one was rubbish but it didn't have anything to live up to, so it could fail on its own terms. The second one had to be bigger and better, and now they've had to up the stakes yet again. What the hell are they going to do for Transformers 4 - put the whole of the Milky Way at risk? In truth it won't matter because no-one actually cares. Michael Bay is incapable of making the viewer give a damn about what's happening on screen. He can dazzle, up to a point, with his gosh-wow visuals, but that's all he's got: without any human involvement there's no emotional connection. And merely piling on the gosh-wow visuals for hours at a time doesn't make up for that; it just gets exhausting. You can blow up as many skyscrapers and spaceships as you like, I literally don't care.

In the meantime, of course, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon will take a gazillion dollars at the box-office and sell a gazillion DVDs in the run-up to Christmas, thereby justifying the morally repugnant expenditure and making sure they'll do it again, even longer, even noisier, and even less coherent, which it turn will take even more money and so on until we pass through the Event Horizon Of Dribbling Idiocy. The really depressing thing about these movies is that they are popular. Even though they are moronically stupid, witless, unreasonably long, completely incomprehensible, po-faced and have a ludicrously inflated sense of their own importance (GI Joe, the other franchise based on plastic toys and breakfast TV animation for pre-schoolers, was also rubbish but at least knew it was rubbish: it knew it was nothing but a camp pantomime and played it accordingly, whereas T1, T2 and now T3 all operate under the delusion that they're Proper Films), people go to see them and people buy the box-sets over and again. It's your own fault. The Dumbass Apocalypse is upon us. Fzzzzt.


Tuesday, 28 June 2011



First off: I'm really not a fan of musicals. I did like Sweeney Todd (which is curious as I also don't care for Tim Burton - maybe it's because it's basically a cannibalism and serial murder movie) and I did like Little Shop Of Horrors, again presumably because of its horror content, but the big blowsy Broadway things from the genre's so-called Golden Age - the likes of Carousel and Showboat and The Sound Of Music - leave me utterly cold, and I'd rather re-enact the entirety of the first three Saw films in my own bathroom than ever watch Oliver! again. The honourable exception to this is Singin' In The Rain, which I can enjoy for its film studio background. But the musical tends to be a joyless arena of film for me.

Xanadu is a musical. More to the point, it's a disco musical, and even more to the point it's alleged to be the one that inspired the Razzies. Small wonder.... An Olympian muse (Olivia Newton-John, complete with genuinely Olympian Melbourne accent) named Kira comes down to Earth to inspire frustrated artist Sonny to follow his dreams of opening a roller disco in parnership with ancient clarinet player Gene Kelly. She and Sonny fall in love but can never be together.... That's it for a plot. You also get several songs, some with dancing, and even an animated fantasy sequence. Many of Olivia Newton-John's appearances have her outlined with a ReadyBrek glow; the brief sequence in Olympus looks like something out of Tron.

Sadly, the rollerskating romantic leads are awful: Olivia Newton-John is pretty but can't act, Michael Beck is excruciatingly dull and can't act either, and the only effortless note of actual star quality is down to Gene Kelly (in his last role). It's a flimsy piece of good natured but entirely nonsensical fluff and it certainly isn't any good; there's no dramatic impetus to make you care whether Sonny gets his damned dream or not. That said, there are a ton of movies out there a thousand times worse - which is of course no excuse for mediocrity, but this is a long way from the worst you'll ever see. Piffle nonetheless.


Piffle ahoy:

Saturday, 25 June 2011



A totally unhinged, atrociously written and hysterically acted Japanese cult SF "thing" from the late sixties that somehow - goodness only knows how - manages to be watchable, indeed enjoyable, despite it not being very good. It's shot on a noticeably low budget (the model effects work would shame a particularly stingy episode of Blake's Seven) and all the characters are cardboard at best, but it has an absolute corker of a downbeat ending and a wonderfully lurid colour-drenched look to commend it.

Goke: Bodysnatcher From Hell is actually the Gokemidori: a blob of sentient silver gloop from an alien planet that, having managed to create storms and suicidal seagulls, brings down an airliner into a remote, blood-red quarry. The aircraft is full of simplistic characters - the brave captain, the besotted stewardess, the inscrutable psychologist, the thick American, the gutless politician, the craven businessman - who argue a lot about whether to stay at the crash site and wait for a rescue or go out into the unknown and try and find help. But the Gokemidori brings one of the passengers into their flying saucer and crawls into his brain (via a vagina-shaped slit in the forehead), possessing him to [1] drink their blood and [2] broadcast their intergalactic sentence of global extinction....

It's absolute nonsense but it's nonetheless rather fun, though frequently shot in eye-stabbing shades of red and orange. And some of the bickering and panicking on the crashed aircraft is quite amusing. But even though many of the special effects may be strictly table-top (I'd be surprised if the model aeroplane was more than three feet long), there are some very nice touches, such as the crumbling corpses of the vampire-alien's victims. And the film has one of the most genuinely apocalyptic of endings, as the aircraft's survivors making it to a city only to find the Gokemidori have/has already been there, and the alien extermination fleet amassing in orbit - we don't even get the Klaatu ultimatum of "change your ways or else". It's a good-looking film (the UK DVD is in full scope) and far, far more entertaining than it should be.


Wednesday, 22 June 2011



Yippee! It's been too long since they last sent me a Jess Franco movie (February, actually) and there are always two competing emotions: Hope and Expectation. One is "maybe this will be one of his good ones: another Eugenie, another She Killed In Ecstasy", while the other is "dream on: it probably won't". The odds are against it, the stats don't lie: a Franco movie is far more likely to be abjectly terrible than any good. Even when taking into account that I've only seen 33 of his films (he's credited with 192 on the IMDb), the chances of another good one are slim at best. Still you have to admire his persistence, and his stamina - he's 81 and still going, although it appears he's now making "personal films" for his own amusement (although the reviews on the IMDb suggest they're "personal" lesbian porn videos).

Well, make that 34 down, 158 to go and the odds even slimmer because The Demons is another one of his stinkers. Made in 1974, it's a French-Spanish historical piece set in 17th Century England and starts with a witch cursing her aristo persecutors and the notorious Judge Jeffreys as she burns at the stake. Locating the witch's two daughters at the nunnery in Blackmoor, they instantly seize one of them as a witch (why not both of them?) and unwittingly allow the curse to fall upon themselves: the other daughter escapes, disguises herself as a Spanish countess and somehow conspires to get everyone together for the old witch's revenge....

As you'd expect nay demand from the Dirty Old Man Of European Exploitation, Franco is not very interested in the revenge story: he's much more interested in getting his women naked and zooming into their pubes, mostly to an annoying and inappropriate bongo soundtrack. Either they're naked and being tortured by Jeffreys' witchfinding tribunals or they're naked and pleasuring themselves to the shock of the Mother Superior (but inevitably not so much that she doesn't join in). The killing of the evil aristos is perfunctory at best - it's as if Franco was so wrapped up in all the tit and bum stuff that he forgot it was a revenge drama - and basically achieved by cutting from the screaming victim to a skeleton. Small wonder that it was originally rejected by the BBFC for theatrical release.

On a technical level, there are a few occasions when the sound cuts out completely (which isn't unknown in Franco films - the sound on Killer Barbys is incredibly shoddy). Mysteriously, the film occasionally switches from English to French language, sometimes in the middle of a scene, and for some reason Redemption haven't provided subtitles (if they have, I couldn't find them). I was still able to follow most of it thanks to a thirty-year-old O-Level in French along with some blind guesswork (and the fact that it didn't really matter).

The six-year shadow of the distinctly superior Witchfinder General hangs over the film, obviously, along with Mark Of The Devil and Franco's earlier Judge Jeffreys movie The Bloody Judge (with Christopher Lee), and The Demons isn't anywhere up to that level - and I don't much care for Mark Of The Devil in the first place. It would clearly have been much better if Franco had for once gone with the horror angle and stuck with the curse and vengeance story. Instead he opts for his default position of having his camera drool at tedious length over the screaming torture victims and masturbating nuns. Frankly, if you want to look at ladies' naughty bits, go and get some porn. Or a lady. This is boring as a film, and to be honest it's boring as porn.



Monday, 20 June 2011



I've never been a fan of so-bad-it's-good. In fact, I don't know that I even believe in it. Troll 2 isn't so-bad-it's-good, it's just bad. The cheapo SF Z-flicks of the 1950s like Robot Monster and the infamous Plan Nine From Outer Space, bundled together as the Golden Turkeys by the Medved Brothers on a wet afternoon when they'd frankly got nothing better to do, aren't so-bad-they're-good, they're simply bad films. That's not to say that movies can be great fun and absolutely terrible at the same time, but the point is that the fun isn't derived from the terribleness. Crucially, the makers of the "worst movies ever" never thought they were making bad films, a mistake the likes of Troma and The Asylum continue to make: deliberately making sub-standard movies for an audience they presume don't care. Far more interesting are the ones made with good intentions: the honest failures rather than the calculatedly shoddy.

Slugs: The Movie mercifully falls into the former camp: they didn't set out to make a rotten film although that is unquestionably what they ended up with. Construction work on a new housing estate and shopping mall has resulted in chemicals leaking from an old toxic waste dump and mutating the local slugs into three-inch flesh-eating monsters. Using the sewer system, the millions of killer slugs can attack in any part of town - coming through the taps or toilets, attacking en masse. Can Mike Brady, Health Inspector and Don Palmer, Sanitation Officer destroy the slug menace and save the town? Difficult, when the Mayor refuses to listen to reason even when a property developer's head explodes in the Italian restaurant....

An American-Spanish adaptation of Shaun Hutson's England-set novel directed by Juan Piquer Simon (the genius behind Pieces), Slugs: The Movie is appallingly written and acted and really only has its slimy slug-drenched gore sequences to commend it to the connoisseur of yuck. Highlights include naked teen lovers eaten in their bedroom a sea of slugs and a gardener finding a slug in his glove and cutting his own hand off with an axe. There's even the occasional riff on Jaws: the mayor more interested in money than public safety, the public official hero facing the monster himself (even their names are similar: Brady/Brody!), the opening scene with the teenager eaten alive in the water....But in honesty, this ISN'T Jaws. This isn't even Jaws: The Revenge.

It just isn't very good: the acting is soap opera level (hardly surprising as two of the American cast were daytime soap stars) and there is some outrageously clunky dialogue. But despite the awful performances and screenplay, and an incredibly out-of-place score by Tim Souster (played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra!), it's a mess with only the innocent cheesiness and the upfront grisly gore effects in its favour. Happily, the British DVD is uncut (the old VHS issue lost about 40 seconds of cheerily gratuitous gore to the BBFC's scissors). If memory serves (which it might not), the movie went down quite well at the Scala in a Shock-Around-The-Clock festival in 1988. Pretty terrible, but not unentertaining. Now if someone wants to film Spawn....





Hollywood. Can we cheapen the issue at all? Can we take something that's of genuine direct concern to thousands of people, and reduce it to no-think multiplex fodder for optimum popcorn sales? Can we trivialise an issue of real importance, can we homogenise the suffering into a comfortable 15 rating? Yes We Can! Let's take domestic violence and make a glossy action thriller out of it - not a painful, raw picture of wife-beating as it really is for too many women, but a fluffy studio product that uses that agony as a thoroughly improbable vehicle for some righteous ass-kicking in the final reels.

Enough stars Jennifer Lopez as a struggling diner waitress (yeah, right) who meets the man of her, indeed every woman's, dreams in Billy Campbell. He's rich, handsome, doting and provides Lopez and, in due course, their young daughter, with everything they could possibly want. But he's also got a mistress and then he starts beating Lopez. He becomes a brutal sadist, a bully and a thug, stopping just short of wearing a cape while cackling, twirling his moustache and tying Lopez to the railray tracks. And when Lopez and the kid flee, he and his friends set off after them, until the only way out is to fight back as hard as he does.

The domestic abuse dished out in the real world is scarcely entertainment and isn't going to sell any tickets at the Dagenham Empire; maybe the arthouse cinema circuits if it's directed by someone like Ken Loach. Enough isn't interested in the reality, though, and has any number of dramatic devices shoehorned in to make it more palatable as a Friday night date movie: not least a long and spectacularly aggressive car chase which makes no narrative sense since Campbell presumably doesn't want his little daughter killed. Lopez also just happens to have an eccentric millionaire as her estranged father (Fred Ward), so there's a ready supply of cash to help her keep ahead of Campbell and his minions (a luxury not shared by most battered women) while adopting new identities and learning the basics of self-defence....

Finally, of course, it has to end with Lopez and Campbell going at it one-on-one in unarmed combat in his designer home - the final mutual beat-em-up is only there to get the audience hollering and whooping. On that popcorn level, Enough is centainly fun and it's efficiently put together by Michael Apted. But when a genuinely serious and genuinely destructive issue as domestic violence (according to the Women's Aid website, one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime) is used as the basis for a dramatically improbable Hollywood star vehicle, it somehow feels cheap and trivial. Not a total success, but a passable Friday night rental.


Friday, 17 June 2011



An overblown, retro-fitted 3D superhero movie about an arrogant knobhead with unresolved father issues, who reluctantly becomes a masked superhero, directed by someone who should frankly know better - oh, hang on, wasn't that The Green Hornet? Easy mistake to make, as this one also has the word Green in the title, but of the two it's probably the better although that's not saying very much. It doesn't have Seth Rogen in it, which is probably its trump card (Jaws: The Revenge gets points for not having Seth Rogen in it), but it is extraordinarily silly and po-faced about its idiotic backstory, to the extent I'm not sure if it's actually a spoof or not.

The aforementioned backstory of Green Lantern has it that the entire Universe has been divided into 3,600 sections, all watched over by the benevolent Guardians on the planet Oa. Each section has a defender from the elite Green Lantern Corps: creatures of varying species in glittery skin-tight green costumes, who have the power to create anything out of sheer willpower if they have been chosen by the Rings. Somewhere out in Sector 2814, in the Lost District of a Lost Planet, an ancient and evil entity known as Parallax has been uncovered and is gaining strength by absorbing the fear of his victims; he/it will ultimately destroy all life in the Universe including the Guardians of Oa, unless the Green Lanterns can stop him. (I am not making this up.)

The Earth Sector's present Lantern, a purple humanoid named Abin-Sur (Temuera Morrison), is killed fairly early on in battle with Parallax but crashlands on Earth; his Lantern Ring chooses arrogant hotshot combat pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) as his replacement and promptly beams him up to Oa for training with a bird-fish thing (Geoffrey Rush) and a rock-monster called - I'm sorry, but this is his name - Kilowog. Back on Earth, nerdy biology teacher Peter Sarsgaard comes into contact with the yellow Gloop Of Fear that killed Abin-Sur, turning him into a telepathic maniac with a distended forehead who attracts the attention of the ever-growing Parallax. Can Hal come to terms with his own fears and live up to the responsibilities of a Green Lantern, defeat Parallax, get the girl and earn the respect of the 3,599 other lanterns before the Guardians unleash their own Yellow Power Of Fear?

Seriously: are they serious? The IMDb estimates a budget of $150 million, which is a hell of a lot of money to spend on a cardboard pantomime for kids, but this can't have been aimed at rational thinking adults because it's idiotic. On the other hand, the Parallax effects and his sucking the lifeforce out of his victims are too visually scary for the tiny tots (it's got a 12A certificate, which is about right) which, given the simplistic nature of the characters and the script, would be the core audience: it's brightly coloured with lots of non-scary creatures in Green Lantern costumes. So who is it aimed at? And why is Martin Campbell directing this? He's a proper film director: he's managed to rescue the James Bond franchise twice, he's done both recent Zorro films, a solid Mel Gibson thriller - what is he doing fannying about with something so CGI laden it could have been directed by anybody?

It really isn't very good: yes, it's a colourful romp with terrific CGI effects (for $150 million they should be terrific), but there's absolutely no substance to it, Ryan Reynolds may look cool in his muscle-tight spangly green wetsuit (disclaimer: not to me he doesn't), but he's hard to like and I can't figure out what the point was. I'm not a comics aficionado so I don't know whether the Green Lantern comics were ever big in this country, although I do know I'd never heard of them up until now. It's pleasant enough while it's on in a silly pantomime way, but you can never get over proper actors like Tim Robbins and Mark Strong being in it. And like too many other films that frankly don't need it, it's been unnecessarily retrofitted with 3D (since it was shot in 2D, I only watched it in 2D, the way I watch Night Of The Living Dead in black and white) in a cynical bid to drag a bit more money out of suckers.


Thursday, 16 June 2011



There's something really weird about Jean-Claude Van Damme: a sort of wide-eyed puppy-like innocence which provides a striking and satisfying contrast when he leaps fifteen feet into the air and starts kicking people in the head. He has a tendency to look naive, indeed clueless, which I don't suggest is a bad thing: it often suits the characters he's playing and it's a scratch more interesting than a soulless and robotic killing machine or indeed any kind of villain (VD rarely plays the bad guy and on the occasions that he does, he's usually playing the good guy as well, either as twins - Maximum Risk, Double Impact - or clones - Replicant). Like Seagal, he perhaps hasn't weathered the years as far as a theatrical career is concerned, having not had a film released to UK cinemas since his exploding trousers movie Knock Off in 1998 (apart from the self-referential arthouse offering JCVD and now a voice-over in Kung Fu Panda 2), but he tends to be better at the martial arts than Seagal.

Van Damme's first film to go straight to video in the UK, Legionnaire (made in 1998) is basically Beau Geste again although to be honest it's closer to Carry On Follow That Camel. JC is a boxer in 1920s France who won't take a dive and, convinced he's lost his girl to the gangsters, joins the Foreign Legion to be shouted at by Steven Berkoff: soon they're assigned to traipse halfway across Morocco to relieve a fort under attack from the Rifs - the unified Berber tribes. There are several fierce battle sequences, and JCVD's second chance in life is not helped by the reappearance of the gangsters who want him dead for not diving in the opening reels....

Curiously, Legionnaire gives Van Damme no opportunity to show off his martial arts prowess: all the fighting is done with bolt action rifles or heavy machine guns, and the unarmed combat is either Queensberry boxing or simple brawls. The undoubted highlights of the movie are the well-mounted battle scenes with the Rifs which, horselovers take note, include many horses tripping and falling into the sand. It's also surprisingly cast with unlikely Brits: David Hayman turns up for one scene as a one-eyed recruiting sergeant, Jim Carter is the chief gangster (presumably French with a name like Lucien Galgani but sounding exactly like Jim Carter), and Nicholas Farrell has a substantial role as the ex-British Army gambling addict looking for honour.

It's a bit of a hokey old idea - does the French Foreign Legion still stir schoolboy dreams of adventure? Still, with its lovingly photographed sandscapes, it's visually quite nice, the action scenes are fine (director Peter MacDonald had also made Rambo III, another desert-based war movie with Steven Berkoff) and yet it doesn't entirely work. The fate of the chief villain Carter is left unmentioned, it's presumed JC will find the girl and they'll set up their dream home in America but that's also left for the viewer to decide. But it's a JCVD film without the kickboxing, a standard ingredient in his movies (although he does get to show off his bum again in the communal shower scene). Sadly, the UK DVD appears to be in the wrong ratio (1.78 rather than 2.35). And it loses a star for its misplaced apostrophe in the opening crawl, talking about the Legion and it's soldiers. Sorry to be anal about punctuation, but I learned to speak and write English properly (evidence to the contrary notwithstanding) and that kind of thing really annoy's me.



Saturday, 11 June 2011



Yet another in the long, long, long line of sub-standard Steven Seagal movies, as uninteresting and unabsorbing as any of his recent offerings, and clear evidence that his glory days are some fifteen to twenty years ago with the likes of Marked For Death, Out For Justice and Hard To Kill. Somewhere around the turn of the century, something took him from cinematic action star straight to the video and DVD racks in a series of dull and generally uncinematic thudfests like Flight Of Fury, Kill Switch, The Keeper and Driven To Kill. Like Jean-Claude Van Damme, he's been unable to maintain the quality and has now become a staple of Blockbuster Video rather than blockbuster movies - they're still minor cult names that can show up in parodic or send-up roles (JCVD or Machete) but they've lost their marquee value for straight star vehicles. Maybe it's age, maybe it's proximity to a pie factory (Seagal's ongoing penchant for all-black clothing hides his figure completely), maybe the audience just moved on.

Born To Raise Hell has Seagal as a top agent for the International Drug Task Force located in Bucharest and attempting to shut down the drugs gangs: in particular one particularly nasty gypsy gang called Costel. War erupts between Costel's gang and the Russian drug suppliers, with Seagal's team caught in the middle: there are gunfights and fistfights and scenes of Seagal's peculiar brand of martial arts that seems to involve slapping people to death. All the gypsy gang get bloodily beaten up and/or shot, while the actual drug suppliers (arguably the real villains) get to walk away after the film has given them a measure of dignity: the film loads the dice against the gypsy suppliers by making Costel a homicidal rapist while depicting the head supplier into a devoted family man.

There's a lot of sub-Tony Scott overstylisation: speeding up, slow-mo, freeze-frame, double-exposure, presumably added in an attempt to juice the film up a bit, but it doesn't work. And whereas at one time you could find proper actors - the likes of Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Caine or Brian Cox - or cult names like Pam Grier, Henry Silva or Harry Dean Stanton gracing a Seagal movie, this has no-one you've ever heard of apart from Big Steve himself. The movie has no humour, it's got no class, no sophistication, and yet again it's impossible to care whether the horrible dealers or the horrible suppliers live or die. In truth it's only got the bouts of satisfyingly crunchy bone-breaking violence to commend it. And that's not really enough. For diehard fans of Seagal only.


Diehards here:

Friday, 10 June 2011



What is the sound of one hand clapping? And what, indeed, is the sound of a silent flute? Can the sharpest sword cut itself? More importantly, how much longer has this Bruce Lee-conceived mystical tosh and waffle still got to run? Full of beard-stroking gnomic aphorisms and head-scratching philosophical utterances, and featuring David Carradine in four roles and Sir Christopher Lee as a legendary wizard who doesn't actually do any magic, this is a bafflingly peculiar film, and while I don't endorse such things for a second, I suspect it's best appreciated through a haze of narcotics.

Certainly the whiff of controlled substances must have been around when they were trying to write the screenplay for The Silent Flute. "There's this guy, called Cord, with a mullet, and he's thrown out of a karate competition by Roddy McDowall. Cord wants to find the wizard Zeitan and read the Book Of Enlightenment but he must first face a series of trials so he goes into the desert and meets David Carradine, who's a blind flute player. And then he fights a monkey in a cave, and the monkey is David Carradine. And then he goes west into the wilderness to look for a rose and he finds Eli Wallach who's spent ten years dissolving away his genitals in a cauldron of oil. And then he meets a nomadic king: it's David Carradine, and he gives Cord his ninth wife and then crucifies her in the desert."

"Yeah, and then Cord is visited by Death and it's David Carradine in a wetsuit. And then David Carradine comes back as the blind flute player and they fight some soldiers and David Carradine punches a child in the face. And then David Carradine as the nomadic king turns up again and they fight on the beach and Cord gets to go on a boat to the island of Zeitan the wizard. And Zeitan is Christopher Lee and takes Cord to the Seat Of Harmony and gives him the Book of Enlightenment...."

Memorable nuggets of pseudo-Buddhist wisdom include "you cannot step twice on the same piece of water" and "if you tie two birds together, though it has four wings, it cannot fly", although the greatest truism is probably "it is hard to kill a horse with a flute". Words to live by. Jeff Cooper as the hero looks a bit like Will Ferrell playing a heavy metal drummer while dressed as Tarzan, the fighting is fair at best, there's a bit of very discreet nudity and one scene shot for no immediately obvious reason through a solarising filter. And while it's always good to see McDowall and Wallach, and especially Sir Christopher Lee in anything, they're given absolutely nothing to do, which is a pity when you've got all that talent out there. Mildly interesting, but weird.


A fish saved my life once. I ate it.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011



The fifth and probably the least impressive of the cinematic mini-wave of six Agatha Christie adaptations that were made in the 70s and 80s. Beginning with the A-list Murder On The Orient Express and Death On The Nile, then getting more camp with The Mirror Cracked and Evil Under The Sun, they boasted astonishing star casts and lush locations - even in the tail-ender Appointment With Death (in which Michael Winner contrived to make the majesty of Egypt look like Great Yarmouth in November). But there's this more obscure, forgotten entry in the Christie series: a far more drab, dark and downbeat whodunnit which has a far less stellar array of actors and very little parlour-game fun.

In Ordeal By Innocence, paleontologist Donald Sutherland turns up at a Cornish village to return an address book he'd belatedly found in his car by accident, only to discover that the owner was hanged for murdering his mother (Faye Dunaway in black and white flashbacks) - a crime committed while in his presence, making Sutherland the missing alibi. But when he tries to investigate and unmask the real killer, Sutherland finds a wall of silence: the family don't really want to know who actually committed the crime, they don't want the horrors of the past raked up again and they aren't bothered that the wrong man was executed.

And frankly, nor was I. It's really difficult to rack up any interest in who actually did it and why, it's slow and talky and while there are several familiar faces (Ian McShane, Christopher Plummer, Annette Crosbie) they're not on the level of the star turns from other Christies - Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, Tony Curtis, Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman or Sean Connery. It feels more like a TV movie than a cinema outing, it's set in damp Cornwall rather than the sunny Mediterranean or the Valley Of The Kings.

But the worst thing about the movie, and the only thing of genuine note, is its music score by Dave Brubeck, probably the most misjudged and inappropriate soundtrack of all time. If they'd plastered Status Quo and Kylie all over the film it couldn't have been more grating, distracting and out of place and out of character. The particularly annoying thing is that this improvised cacophany replaced a perfectly decent, atmospheric and typically beautiful orchestral score by Pino Donaggio, which was rejected by the makers in a genuine moment of utter insanity. Whatever Brubeck's merits in the jazz world (and I have no opinion one way or the other), he's not a film composer and his contributions severely damage the film when frankly it needed all the help it could possibly get.


Available here:

Monday, 6 June 2011



A faintly icky and uncomfortable horror movie from the After Dark stable, more or less on a par with the other three so far (Husk, Prowl and Seconds Apart); this is mostly a competent and occasionally scary little haunted house movie that treads no new ground but does the job efficiently enough. It's the newest from Adam Gierasch: substantially better than his frankly atrocious remake of Night Of The Demons but nowhere near as good as his first movie Autopsy, which I really enjoyed.

Following a miscarriage (which is shown in needless detail and could really have been omitted completely), Emily and Nate Weaver (Leisha Hailey, Gale Harold) relocate to the wilds of Iowa in Nate's family's old house. But it's not long before Emily starts seeing and hearing things: handprints on the windows, the cries of a baby, and while they might just be down to stress - despite medical assurances, she's discovered she's pregnant again - there might equally well be something from the house's colourful, blood-soaked history that's still there. The discovery of a human skull in the house's drains, the gradual transformation of Nate from loving husband to selfish brute, the revelations from a journal from 1851....

Fertile Ground is very, very ordinary and while it does rustle up some very creepy moments and effective jumps, there's little that we haven't seen before. And coming after the marvellous Insidious it really suffers by comparison. This really is Amityville all over again, with a very downbeat ending and some confusion as to which ghosts were doing the haunting (there appear to have been deaths, murders and suicides on a regular basis since it was built). I'm also a little uncomfortable about the inclusion of pregnancy and miscarriage: it places extra vulnerabilities on the already vulnerable heroine and puts an unborn child at risk of harm.

Barring the opening, entirely unnecessary sequence, the first half of the movie is pretty good and manages to rack up the suspense with one long tracking shot in particular following Emily around the house at night (the lack of music actually heightening the dread and expectation). But it does become a typical, uninteresting possession flick in the second half which sinks all the good work already done. A disappointment, unfortunately.


Venez ici:

Thursday, 2 June 2011



It's the start of the summer blockbuster season once more. From the end of May or the start of June, right up to about the second week in September, it's comicbook superheroes, franchises, CGI cartoons and sequels all over the place. If you're after anything that isn't aimed at kids with an attention defecit or doesn't have a junkfood merchandising deal, forget it. There really is no justice in the world when something as disposable, albeit entertaining enough, as Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 gets multiple screens for weeks at a time while an impeccably crafted thriller like Julia's Eyes is given one week only, or a reissue of a copper-bottomed classic like Apocalypse Now can only manage one screening on a Tuesday night. Pirates, Hangover 2 and Kung Fu Panda 2 are already out there, and (deep breath) Transformers 3, The Green Lantern, Harry Potter 7B, Cars 2, Captain America, The Smurfs are all on their way before the schools go back.... Obviously I'm not anti about all this stuff - it keeps the cinemas open, and the studios make vast pots of money that they might - possibly - invest in something more interesting.

X-Men: First Class is the second prequel to the original trilogy of comicbook superhero movies in which a variety of mutant characters with weird supernatural powers and snappy nicknames faced a choice between fitting in with "normal" people, seeking to become "normal" themselves, or subjugating "normal" humanity and taking over the world. This fifth entry in the series goes back to the origins of the X-Men team: how telepath Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and telekinetic Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) set out to save the world with their small brotherhood of mutants from the apocalyptic plans of megalomaniac Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant himself. But while Xavier is driven by science, and the desire to live with humans, Erik is driven by revenge and anger, and will ultimately turn into Magneto, the ubervillain of the first three films....

Much like the Star Trek reboot from a few years ago, this features actors playing young versions of characters already made famous by older actors, so it's not enough to play Young James Kirk, you have to play Young James Kirk as Young William Shatner. Sometimes they got away with it, sometimes they didn't (Young McCoy was bang on, Young Scotty was miles away). Here there are certainly occasions where Young Magneto will obviously grow up to be Ian McKellen but there's no point at while Young Xavier would turn into Patrick Stewart (according to the IMDb trivia page, McAvoy wanted to do a Patrick Stewart voice but the director wouldn't let him, I think wrongly).

Like the other four films in the series (so far, at least - there will certainly be more) it's laden with big names and familiar faces (Oliver Platt, Michael Ironside, Matt Craven, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jason Flemyng, and there's a nice one-scene uncredited cameo that it would be spiteful to spoil. I also liked the 60s look, the period cars and hairstyles and costumes, and the narrative backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But it's overladen with computer effects that almost turn the movie into a cartoon. Obviously there have to be major effects set-pieces but there are points where it might as well be done as hand-drawn animation. It's also far too long at well over two hours.

And we have seen all this comicbook superhero stuff before, not just in the other four X-Men movies and the Spidermans and Batmans but the ongoing Avengers project that pulls Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and everyone together. Maybe afterward, someone will put that lot against the X-Men in another huge inter-comic, inter-studio smackdown, and the winner meets Batman, Optimus Prime and the Fantastic Four in the final. Maybe I'd have liked it more if I was an aficionado of the source books, but then I liked Thor a lot and I've never seen the comics for that either. X-Men: First Class is alright, it's perfectly well done and I enjoyed it well enough while it was on - but I seriously doubt it's making many Top Ten lists of the year. It's certainly not going to be on mine.




Yet another average, middle of the road, thoroughly unremarkable horror outing. This one's from the latest wave of After Dark DTV movies that has already given us the average, middle of the road Husk and the thoroughly unremarkable Prowl: there's clearly a market for movies with low aspirations for an audience with low expectations. Obviously not every film can be a great and timeless classic but that's no reason not to try. No-one won a gold by aiming low, and this is barely aiming at all. Okay, it's occasionally a bit creepy and there's a bit of blood and gore, but that's not enough.

The Seconds Apart of the title are the 93 seconds that separate the births of our identical twins: generally overlooked and ignored by the social cliques at high school, they certainly lead an unorthodox lifestyle, dressing alike, acting alike, and keeping to themselves in an old mansion with their loving parents. But could they have anything to do with the mysterious suicides of the school's leading sports jocks? Detective Orlando Jones, back on the force after his wife's death in a fire in which he was badly burned, is convinced there's something sinister about these guys, especially when other people mysteriously kill themselves. But what? Do they have supernatural powers? And how will their strange relationship cope when one of them gets involved with a girl?

Rather than have one actor play both parts as Jeremy Irons did in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (surely the best twins movie, even if you include Schwarzenegger's) or use CGI to paste the same face onto another actor, as in The Social Network, they've actually used identical twins. It's the film's one trump card, and it has to be said the effect is unsettling. But the movie's overdone with fantasy, flashback and hallucination sequences as we're not entirely sure what's real. And ultimately it's just not gripping or exciting enough. And it's not even a disappointment since expectations weren't high.