Tuesday, 28 February 2012



Oh, for Christine's sake! There've been a few homicidal vehicle movies over the years. The Car, Duel, Christine, Maximum Overdrive. And I suppose the Transformers movies count as well. I don't know of there's an episode of Knight Rider where KITT goes mental and starts mowing people down like Grant Theft Auto, but if there isn't, there should be. And we mustn't forget Killdozer! Still, silly as they are, they're slightly less silly than this low-budgeter in which a bunch of mechanics and idiots are chased around a multi-level garage by a car. Or something that looks like a car.

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the Hybrid is not a car: it's actually a giant shape-shifting multi-tentacled cephalopod thing that's evolved to disguise itself as a car so idiots will climb in and it can eat them. No, seriously. That's the premise. But following a road smash, it's towed away to a police garage where it proceeds to pick off the half-dozen mechanics working late to get the building ready for renovation. With the doors locked, the exits welded shut and the octopus/hatchback thing prowling the lower levels, can the remaining humans put aside their petty bickering and devise some way of killing it?

This is nonsense, and it's not even good-looking nonsense. It's shot on digital but it's been given no filmic filtering to it to just make it look better. More mysteriously, it's been made available in 2D and 3D versions and both are available on the UK BluRay. My TV set can't handle 3D anyway, which is fine by me, but even if it did there's nothing in Hybrid that's going to be made any better by an artificial depth effect. Much of the cinematography (videography, more accurately) is handheld and shaky and most of the movie takes place in the dimly lit recesses of a windowless car park at night; if it was barely worth looking at in two dimensions it certainly isn't worth it in three.

It's really not good enough. The characters aren't really worth saving and so an absurd concept, even by the standards of dumb B-movies, is wasted because you're kind of on the monster's side. Minor moments amuse, such as the obligatory twist ending, but it's hard to care and the creature CG effects are pretty perfunctory (the beast sort of reminded me of the Jagrafess monster from the revamped Doctor Who episode The Long Game, but not as well rendered). Directed by Eric Valette, who did the French prison horror Malefique and a decent enough rehash of One Missed Call.


Brrrrm brrrrm:

Saturday, 25 February 2012



How many versions of the Marquis De Sade's rambling parade of abuse, rape, humiliation, torture, rape, degradation, exploitation and rape are there? Cruel Passion was only really interesting for starring Koo Stark, who came within a gnat's codpiece of becoming British royalty (on which occasion the BBC showed footage of her topless in Emily on the Nine O'Clock News!), and then there was the ludicrously overlong Jess Franco version which included not only Klaus Kinski rambling as the mad Marquis but also a magnificently overacting (as in thoroughly pissed) Jack Palance.

Perversely, given my dislike of sexual violence on screen, I dislike the Franco version of Justine less than I really should. It's easily the best version of the dubious story that I've seen, and that includes this 1972 incarnation which is mainly notable for an astonishing verbosity. Justine De Sade (which meaninglessly bolts the author's surname onto the title in the manner of Moonraker Fleming or Dracula Stoker) again details the horrible travails and miseries of an innocent young girl trying to guard her honour in a world full of perverts, lechers and libertines. Be they woodland bandits, landed gentry, village doctors or Benedictine monks, just about every man in the story is a despicable and misogynistic turd whose sole aim is their own repugnant gratification.

Much of Claude Pierson's film is incredibly wordy: it appears that the bulk of the screenplay is less an adaptation of De Sade's book than a straightforward transcription. The English translation of the original text is available free online; I haven't read it all but have skimmed through it and in places it's word for word. It's not entirely accurate, however: De Sade includes mention of girls aged ten, but there's no-one that young in the film for obvious reasons. And Justine herself is supposed to be fourteen but with the best will in the world, Alice Arno is still 26. (Sorry to be ungallant, but nor is poor little Justine supposed to be beefy enough for Harlequins' front row.)

It really isn't any good: it's a standard 1970s Europlod through wobbly bums and dubbed English dialogue (oddly, there are half a dozen sequences where it suddenly turns into the original French with subtitles, which at least suggests the distributors have put together the longest possible version of the film), and it has a genuinely surprising double ending, one absurdly happy, one absurdly tragic, and both of which are in the De Sade original. Really, it's such an unappetising and queasy story (if you believe Wikipedia, Napoleon himself referred to it as "the most abominable book ever engendered by the most depraved imagination") that any faithful cinema version is going to feel similarly ugly. Strange as it sounds, the Jess Franco version is the best bet, which is pretty shocking: how lousy does a film have to be for a fair to middling Jess Franco take on the same subject to be a substantial improvement?


Friday, 24 February 2012



And here we go again with the found footage technique that makes everything look like crappy handheld camcorder - because it IS crappy handheld camcorder. Granted, they've tried to do something a little bit different with it, like doing some editing with the raw video files (although not nearly enough) and at least it's not yet another FF horror movie. But they've still not solved the central problem of why all this stuff is being filmed and, even more crucially, who cut it all together afterwards. And this issue - which will not go away - isn't even the biggest problem with the film. No, far more serious is the fact that the three leads are useless giggling imbeciles and it's impossible to give one hoot, let alone two, when bad things happen to them.

Chronicle's unique spin on the superhero genre is simply: what if the recipients of unearthly superpowers weren't clean-cut heroic types but high school dumbasses? Andrew, Matt and Steve (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B Jordan, the last of these having something of Denzel Washington about him, if Denzel Washington was a 15-year-old douchebag) find a mysterious hole in a field one night; exploring, they come across some unknown and unexplained objects which grant them powers of telekinesis. At first they use their gifts for their own dimwit amusement - moving shopping trolleys and parked cars to their owners' bafflement - but Andrew's hideous home and school life is badly affecting his control over his abilities....

Some of this is actually fairly amusing and the effects work is generally pretty good, but it's hard to muster up much sympathy for the main characters. Carrie worked because you genuinely felt her pain, but Andrew's victimisation and bullying gives you nothing. And the found footage style again refuses to make any sense. There's no reason why Andrew is filming any of this beyond what appears to be a general American teen need to document everything they do and say, no matter how banal. More absurdly, it's spliced in with other people's camcorder footage, including one who has nothing to do with anyone else in the film; along with footage from police and CCTV security cameras. Who put all this material together? It's established that Andrew can move his camera telekinetically, but even when he's unconscious? Who set it up in his hospital room, tripod and all? Camera setups don't matter in most films, but if the filming is part of the narrative this has to be acknowledged within the narrative, and as with Apollo 18, they haven't.

It really would have been a better film if they'd actually made it as a proper film rather than as a "we found it, it's all real" exercise that doesn't add up, and if they'd had a trio of leads that weren't quite so charmless. There are nice moments - their first flying sequence, Andrew's sudden acceptance to the in-crowd after storming a talent show with his skills - but not enough of them, and ultimately it's an unsatisfying movie.


Thursday, 23 February 2012



I'm not a comics aficionado. I could probably have a fairly confident guess as to which characters were DC and which were Marvel, but that's based more on whether they're in the upcoming Avengers movie than on reading the strips. Maybe I've never understood grown-ups reading comics about masked superheroes, though it's probably no different to me watching Pertwee-era Dr Who DVDs. But even allowing for my limited understanding of comicbooks, even I thought Ghost Rider was a silly idea for a movie. The concept is that Nicolas Cage is a stunt rider named Johnny Blaze who sells his soul to the Devil, and periodically transforms into a fiery vigilante skeleton on a motorbike. Or something: it was rubbish.

Still, people liked it enough for them to make another one, and happily Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance is a Hell of a lot better. It's still silly, but at least this time around it knows it. Blaze is now living as a recluse in a shack somewhere in Eastern Europe, called into action once more to protect a 12-year-old boy from the Devil who plans to use his earthly form to regain his powers and dominate the world (or whatever). The safest place is with a small brotherhood of monks (led by Christopher Lambert), who also have the power to lift the Ghost Rider curse from Blaze. But the Devil takes the boy back for the unholy ritual in the desert, an event attended by both murderers and international political figures....

It's nonsense, but it's calculated nonsense. There's a terrific car chase, a prime example of a Nic Cage freakout, the Rider image is much improved, and there's a splendidly malevolent performance from Ciaran Hinds as the Devil, and it's big, loud and fast enough to successfully distract you from the fact that it is ultimately a lot of old twaddle. This is probably because they've brought Neveldine and Taylor in to direct it - Crank was just about okay, but Crank 2 and Gamer were both awful, but they've managed to give Ghost Rider an injection of crazy within the constraints of a big studio release and a 12A (PG13 in the States) rating.

However, as much fun as the movie is, you're better off waiting for the DVD or Blu. Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance is a retrofitted 3D conversion job - it wasn't shot in 3D but put through the computer afterwards to try and add some artificial depth - and the 3D effect is quite literally worthless. There's not a single shot from start to finish - not one - whether there's the slightest enhancement. If you can find a cinema that's playing it in 2D then go for it - that's the way the film was shot - but neither Odeon nor Cineworld are showing it that way. Vue's website indicates just one site (Inverness) and Empire apparently have eight 2D prints for the whole country. That's not enough and the premium is a shabby and shameful ripoff for a pointless effect that doesn't work in a film that's more than enjoyable and entertaining enough to do without it. Distributors (in this instance Entertainment One) and cinema should either give us the choice or abandon the unwarranted and unjustified price hike.

(but it would be *** if they'd released it in 2D)

Wednesday, 22 February 2012



What's wrong with laughs? Ever since David Cronenberg, the "King of Venereal Horror" forswore the blood and gore of films like The Fly, Scanners and Videodrome (my personal favourite), and instead opted for dour and downbeat dramas such as Spider and A History Of Violence, his movies have quite literally been a whole bunch of no fun. This is not to suggest they're bad movies - I don't much care for them, but I do recognise and appreciate their qualities - but they're heavy and overly serious, and could genuinely do with some leavening of humour. I'm not asking for custard pie fights or trousers falling down at inopportune moments, but some verbal wit or character-based levity would honestly not go amiss.

Somewhere in the recesses of David Cronenberg's measured and subtle drama about the birth of psychoanalysis, there lies a wacky but short-lived Channel 4 sitcom in which Freud and Jung (probably played by an up and coming double-act with stick-on beard and moustaches) argue pointlessly about surreal dreams while justifying their demented sexual impulses. That's essentially what happens in A Dangerous Method except there is but the merest trace of the driest humour. In the years leading up to the First World War, Dr Jung (Michael Fassbender, ironically not waving his knob about this time) is happily married and employing the "talking cure" originated by Professor Freud (Viggo Mortensen, permanently chomping on a fat cigar as though it's a symbol of something significant). But Jung makes the stupid mistake of falling in love or lust with Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley, having a stab at a Russian accent), formerly his incoherently raving patient and subsequently his assistant, mistress and spankee (and would later become a highly regarded psychoanalyst in her own right).

The endless, slightly absurd discussions over whether everything comes down to sex frankly makes for a dry old time in the cinema, particularly as the film starts out in very lively fashion with Keira Knightley in full screamy Bedlam mode - writhing, pulling faces, jutting her jaw out and shrieking hysterically with a Russian accent. It's surprising to see her doing such a thing after being an insipid romantic lead in the first three Pirates movies (and indeed the fourth Pirates movie benefited from losing her and the damp Orlando Bloom). Once she's "cured", whether by means of Freud's Talking Cure or Jung's spank-and-bonk technique, it's more about the differences in approach between the two founding father figures of psychoanalysis and it's there that the movie starts to lose me because, what with me being a bit of a thicko, I have little idea what they're banging on about.

Which is not to say A Dangerous Method is at all uninteresting. Certainly it's perfectly well made: on a technical level it's wonderful. But when you've got a crew like Peter Suschitsky (who's been DP on every Cronenberg movie since Dead Ringers) and Howard Shore (who's scored all his films since The Brood with the sole exception of The Dead Zone), not to mention Christopher Hampton writing it and David Cronenberg directing it, clearly it's not going to be a bit of shoddy. And I'm glad to see it getting some exposure at a chain multiplex, albeit only at the larger sites. But it's a very austere film, very restrained, very quiet (there's not a lot of music), and probably a bit difficult to get into if you've little interest in or knowledge of psychoanalysis.


Friday, 17 February 2012



Years ago I had hundreds of VHS tapes. Many precerts and ex-rentals, and some quite rare, but I eventually gave them away when I realised I wasn't ever going to watch them again. Only a few I kept back: Bruno Mattei's Rats: Night Of Terror because it was rather fun, the genuinely repulsive Nekromantik (which I won in a raffle at the Scala Cinema and Jorg Buttgereit autographed the sleeve), The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, because it was my only actual video nasty. And this sort-of documentary about the psychological workings of horror movies that doesn't really work on that level as it has no depth or insight whatsoever (hey, as if I'm one to talk) but as nicely edited assemblage of great and awful horror movies from the 70s and 80s it's enormous fun. And it's also a fabulous trivia game of Name That Movie - shout out the title as you identify each clip. Which is tricky because some of them are only a couple of seconds long.

Terror In The Aisles has Nancy Allen and a genial but slightly sinister Donald Pleasence sitting in a tatty grindhouse cinema in the middle of a pretty rowdy audience, putting forth various arguments and theories about different aspects of horror movies: wish fulfilment, the role of the villains, shock versus suspense, whether we invent fictional horrors to help us cope with the real ones. But while they're burbling merrily away I'm much more excited about the series of clips tumbling onto the screen - classic horror titles like Halloween, Alien, The Omen, Carrie, Psycho, Jaws, Rosemary's Baby and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, largely forgotten movies like Nightwing and Alone In The Dark (the Landau-Pleasence slasher, not the Uwe Boll nonsense), and films like Play Misty For Me, Vice Squad and Nighthawks which are either borderline genre movies or not genre movies at all.

Terror In The Aisles hasn't been released in this country since its 1987 video release, and indeed still isn't available. But, strangely, it's been included in its entirety as a bonus feature on the newest American BluRay of Halloween II (the Rick Rosenthal film, not the Rob Zombie atrocity) which is happily Region Free. And it looks fantastic in the proper widescreen ratio and 1080 definition rather than the 4:3 crop on a battered ex-rental VHS tape. And just as Not Quite Hollywood made me want to see some of its vintage Australian exploitation movies again, so Terror In The Aisles has made me want to see Nighthawks and Ms 45 again. And while I have spotted most of the film excerpted, I'm still not sure where Dawn Of The Dead shows up: Romero's zombie masterpiece and The Greatest Film Ever Made is included in the end credits copyright listing but despite having watched it many times over the years I've never spotted a single shot.

I love Terror In The Aisles for its editing together of wildly disparate movies (The Birds, Halloween, The Brood and Night Of The Living Dead all bolted together in one sequence) and its thundering John Beal score, which has become one of my favourite recent CD purchases although the music as heard in the film is even better. Granted it doesn't really delve into the deeper social relevance of horror cinema, and the comedy pop song tacked on the end doesn't feel appropriate even when playing against shots from horror comedies like Saturday The 14th (which is rubbish) and The Howling (which isn't). But it's great fun and I'm thrilled to finally have a more than decent copy of it.


Wednesday, 15 February 2012



Just a few weeks after they sent me the absolute nonsense of The Stud, another load of old toot from Jackie Collins clunks into my mailbox. Again it's an amusing time capsule of the fashions and attitudes of the late 1970s, backed mainly with pop and disco music, and again there's a raft of familiar TV and movie faces stumbling through the terrible dialogue and story. If there's much difference between this movie and The Stud (and I'm hoping The Bitch turns up in the post sometime soon as well), it's that this one focuses on a despicable man rather than a morally hollow woman - though The Stud is nominally about the Oliver Tobias' character, it's really Joan Collins' film.

The principal married man in The World Is Full Of Married Men (which is a pretty nonsensical title) is Anthony Franciosa, a monumental philandering douchebag who's at it like billyo with aspiring actress Sherrie Lee Cronn (in her only film role) but shocked when his neglected wife Carroll Baker starts a relationship with pop singer Paul Nicholas. As that marriage crumbles, Franciosa settles in with Cronn but she's too wild and about twenty years too young for him: he breaks that one off as well before moving into the Dorchester Hotel and bedding a string of young dolly birds only to find he can't get it up any more except with his mousy secretary. Meanwhile Cronn follows her dream of movie stardom via the casting couch only to find she's expected to participate in a lesbian tryst and then an orgy of strangers....

If The Stud was rubbish (and let's not pretend it wasn't), this is no better: it plays like a double episode of an old TV soap opera with more sex and is even more ridiculous: there's even that horrible old cliche of the frumpy secretary taking her glasses off, letting her hair down and becoming a hot little number, which only lacks the astonished line "Why, Miss Field, you're beautiful!" The movie also plays as a "men are bastards" screed (Franciosa's character is indisputably a bastard), and there's no shortage of the double standard where married men can sleep around but married women can't. Georgina Hale and Gareth Hunt are enjoyable supports, the tacky clothes and home furnishings are fun, and Sherrie Lee Cronn spends half her time in various states of nudity. But it's still not very much of a movie. Bonnie Tyler performs the theme song at the start.



Tuesday, 14 February 2012



There are several things to like about this film. It's got an interesting subtext about the widely differing lifestyles between rich and poor in the same city, it's a horror movie about possession, it's got severed heads, dismembered corpses, Michael Hordern as a therapist, the restless ghost of a serial killer, Puerto Rican exorcism rituals (the religion is apparently Santaria) and suggestions of incest; it stars Shirley MacLaine, incredibly, and it climaxes with a genuinely disturbing and distressing sequence of grotesque humiliations including and involving children, to such unsettling extent that you wonder how the hell the BBFC passed it - and at a lower rating than before! What was given a fat red X in 1971 (and the DVD nostalgically includes the BBFC's X card at the start) has now been downgraded to a mere 15 with "previous film cuts waived", yet I was honestly left wondering whether it should have been passed at all....

The Possession Of Joel Delaney has Perry King as Joel, a "freelance writer" who has chosen to live in poverty in a squalid little apartment in the Puerto Rican neighbourhood of New York. Yet his divorcee sister Norah (Shirley MacLaine) and her two young kids live in a swish and well-appointed house in the best area of the city. But Joel goes unaccountably mad and attacks his landlord one night - why? As Norah looks into it, she finds a connection between Joel and Tonio Perez, wanted by the police for three grisly ritual decapitations. Who can help her sort out Joel's mood swings and his increasingly erratic and upsetting behaviour?

There's certainly an enjoyably odd juxtaposition with the rich and fur-coated MacLaine stumbling around the poorest ghettos of the city: a world away yet just a taxi ride away. Hers is a well-heeled world: her friends are surgeons and therapists who go to the opera and throw elegant parties, while her own brother has elected to live in a tiny, cramped apartment because he finds the people fascinating. To her, the cultures and practices are entirely alien; when she attends an exorcism ritual we don't understand exactly what's going on any more than she does.

There are definite hints at some kind of creepy brother-sister attraction between Joel and Norah throughout. But the film is at its most problematic in the final reels, where Norah and the children have escaped the increasingly unhinged Joel to a beach house, but Joel has followed and terrorises all three of them with a switchblade. It's a genuinely distressing sequence in which Joel is no longer Joel, but the maniacal Tonio, and he is as loathsome and despicable as any of the home invasion scum of the Last House On The Left / Death Weekend genre, not just for his new-found (and debatably still incestuous) attitude to Norah as his savagery towards the children. It's a sequence that you just couldn't get away with today, no matter how artfully staged and edited.

Because the strongest and most upsetting moment here isn't when he forces Norah's daughter to eat dog food out of the bowl on the floor, nor even when her throat is very slightly cut with the knife - it comes when Joel forces Norah's young son - aged around ten - to strip naked and dance on a table; a sequence which includes frontal child nudity. How does this sequence not constitute "indecent images of a child"? That it's fleeting, and in a non-sexual context, or that it would have been difficult to edit around, shouldn't matter. It's easily the sourest note in the film, which is otherwise a pretty enjoyable and intriguing, if unsettling, curiosity with a nice ambiguity in the ending. A very cautious recommendation.



Monday, 13 February 2012



By 1966 the James Bond films had reached their fourth instalment, Thunderball, with the fifth on the way, and the genre was already rife with spoofery, ripoff, pastiche and parody. From Hollywood there were the Matt Helms, the Man from UNCLEs and the two Flint movies; the French and Italians and apparently even the Danes had riffed on the formula (though sadly many of the European variants aren't easily available on UK DVDs). And we Brits were spoofing them ourselves: someone disinterred the Bulldog Drummond for this double-bill of outlandish pseudo-Bond nonsense. That Drummond originally dated from the 1920s in both novel and silent film didn't really matter.

Neither film is particularly great, but they are both colourful and ridiculous pantomimes in which the urbane and unflappable Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond (Richard Johnson) takes on fiendish but elegant criminal mastermind Carl Peterson (Nigel Green in the first, then James Villiers). Deadlier Than The Male is probably the better of the two films, in which Peterson schemes to assassinate an Arabian prince to gain hugely lucrative oil revenues, while Some Girls Do is easily the sillier. Peterson now has his eye on a supersonic weapon with which he can take over the world (or something). To be honest, neither film makes a huge amount of sense on a plot level.

Both movies feature, as spy movies in the 1960s were wont to do, an array of glamorous dolly birds either as killers, agents, or (in the second film) robots. It might have been acceptable then but it dates the movies quite severely; it would now be seen as hideously sexist now and you just couldn't get away with it. More exciting is the strong supporting casts of character actors: Leonard Rossiter, Laurence Naismith, Elke Sommer in the first, Robert Morley, Maurice Denham, Yutte Stensgaard and an uncredited Joanna Lumley in the second.

And on the level of daft spy comedies they're decent enough; although neither are particularly funny they're still fun: they rattle along quite decently along the lines of a Golden Age Avengers episode. Richard Johnson was supposedly offered the role of James Bond and turned it down, but he's very Bondian here (obviously, as a gorehound, I know him best from Zombie Flesh Eaters) and although I can't imagine anyone but Connery in those first five 007 movies it might have been interesting to have seen what he'd have made of them (he would probably have made a better Bond than Lazenby did). Both of these Drummond movies are worth a look for an evening's old-fashioned amusement and bemusement; neither are any kind of lost masterpiece or neglected classic but there's some slightly off-kilter entertainment to be had.


Get them here:



Well, it's about time. The relaunched Hammer has finally pulled it together and done what they're supposed to do - classy Gothic horror movies. After the tiresome MySpace serial Beyond The Rave, the pointless slasher The Resident, the unwarranted but handsome remake Let Me In (which I liked, but it's a Hammer Film in exactly the way the Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach is a Warner Brothers Film; the branding is meaningless) and the unsuccessful Wake Wood (which doesn't even have the Hammer name anywhere on the film), they've gone back to well-known literary roots, a period setting, splendid production design and actual scares.

Aspiring lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) has been dispatched to the remote coastal village of Crythin Gifford to sort out the paperwork for a recently deceased client's estate: specifically the gloomy and crumbling mansion Eel Marsh House built so far across the sands that it is cut off at high tide. Why are the locals so unfriendly and unwelcoming? Why does the village solicitor refuse point blank to assist? Why will no-one venture out to the house? The local lore of The Woman In Black, that's why: a vengeful spectre whose every appearance is said to presage a death in the village...and Kipps' presence is disturbing her.

In Hammer terms, Eel Marsh House is basically Castle Dracula and Crythin Gifford is full of the scared peasants who won't take Van Helsing up the mountain at night (you do almost expect Michael Ripper to turn up as the innkeeper). The House itself, a dark, fog-shrouded monstrosity that no sane person would ever set foot in, is a magnificent piece of set design that quite honestly could not be more naturally terrifying - gravestones in the grounds, creaking doors, an array of clockwork toys that are disturbing enough before they switch on by themselves, a rocking chair that rocks while empty. And that's before the Woman In Black herself: genuinely scary whether seen blurred in the background or barrelling straight towards the camera.

There are some comfortably familiar faces including Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer and Roger Allam, to add some colour around a fairly bland central character (which is often the way - the leads tend to be less interesting than the supports). In this regard Daniel Radcliffe is probably the weak link as he has yet to break clean away from being Harry Potter. Certainly he's good enough that you don't ever expect him to whip out a wand, but he needs to do several other significantly different roles to get away from that most famous millstone role (and probably the same thing will hold for the other Potterites, as well as Twilighters Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner). Most likely he will, but it'll take time.

It's scary, it's creepy, it's doom-laden and morbid, and it's precisely the kind of film Hammer should be making: period British Gothic horror. And I jumped at all the right moments and covered my eyes throughout to the extent that I query the BBFC's 12A rating. Six seconds were cut and some shots were visually or aurally toned down, which means the finished film is a very strong 12A rather than a borderline 15, but the released version still pretty intense and as a grown adult I honestly felt it was still too strong, and 15 is still the appropriate certificate. 12A allows idiot parents to bring seven-year-olds in because it's got Harry Potter in it and it really isn't suitable for them. But for horror fans, it's a creepy, unsettling treat, firmly in the tradition of British ghost stories (coming a few months after The Awakening, is it too much to hope for a full-blown renaissance of the genre?) and thrilling to see in an era of remakes, sequels and reboots. Go and see it.


Thursday, 9 February 2012



Oh dear. I wanted to like it so much. It's another potentially fascinating film that ends up as an unfulfilled and unfulfilling piece of work: an interesting subject, a really nice atmosphere, the grains of an intriguing and involving story, but it consistently annoys in the manner of its telling, and the absurd refusal to resolve it. The film has been getting pretty good reviews, and yet again I just don't get it. I'm thrilled that niche audience movies are getting released to multiplexes, albeit only the biggest with enough screens, but for all the nicely ragged indie feel, it's on story that the film falls down: more than once I momentarily lost track of whether I was in present or flashback, and there's no proper ending as the narrative just stops. Some might argue that the main character's mental state is what it's about, rather than whether the bad guys will catch up with her or not, but it merely feels there's a couple of scenes missing before the end credits.

Martha Marcy May Marlene tells of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), who flees a rural, apparently idyllic but somewhat Mansonian commune and ends up with her older sister (Sarah Paulson) and her husband at their lakeside Connecticut holiday home. Through a string of flashbacks we learn something of what went on back at the commune, how it wasn't the simple and uncomplicated alternative to capitalism and greed as it first appeared, and something (though infuriatingly not all) of why she ran away. But can she ever reconnect with the "normal" world, and confront what actually happened to her back under the less than benevolent eye of Patrick (John Hawkes)?

The truth of what went on at the commune is pretty horrible, moreso given the level of Martha's complicity. Renamed Marcy May (everyone in the commune is renamed for some reason - it's never explained but I suppose there was a rationale behind it), she goes along with the criminal activities as well as the more unpleasant sexual practices, principally Patrick's so-called ritual of cleansing. And ultimately two years of living with this twisted set of values has left her unable to properly engage with people outside. Do they want her back? Are they planning to abduct her back to her new "family"?

The film certainly seems to suggest so: in its latter stages Martha believes she recognises someone - but does she? - and in its final moments there's some business with a car following her, but the film frustratingly cuts off at the second we find out, leaving the story unfinished. Which means all the good work up to that point is largely thrown away. And it is good work: the film looks terrific, with a lovely low-budget indie feel about it, there's no issue with the performances; it's simply down to the fact that writer-director Sean Durkin either didn't know how to conclude the film, or deliberately chose not to. By all means make films which raise questions with the audience, but one of the questions shouldn't be "And then what happened?"


Monday, 6 February 2012



If you're not a fan of lengthy shots pointing straight down at the tarmac from a great height then this breathtakingly silly thriller probably isn't for you. If you get dizzy and have to grip the armrests every time it looks like someone's going to fall a long way into the cold hard concrete, then you really should go and see something else. For my part I was laughing too much as it's such an absurd and overly convoluted plot that the best thing to do while watching it is not to sit and analyse it, but just to go along with it. Because while it may smash the implausibility light barrier into a thousand pieces, it's a hell of a lot of fun (unless you are actually a confirmed vertigo sufferer).

The key to Man On A Ledge is in the title: a man (Sam Worthington) checks into the 21st floor of a plush New York hotel, and promptly climbs out of the window onto the foot-wide ledge. Turns out he's an ex-cop AND an escaped convict, inside for a $40 million jewel heist, but having fled a month ago while on temporary release for his father's funeral. Somewhat inevitably, crowds gather outside the hotel, traffic is blocked off, the police are called in: and crucially attention is diverted away from what's going on inside the Englander Corporation just across the road, where evil Ed Harris is masterminding a huge property deal....

Maybe that's too much of a spoiler: the tagline on the UK poster is "The Ultimate Deception Needs The Ultimate Distraction" but it would probably be better if we didn't know going in that it was a distraction. Nevertheless the movie still springs a few decent surprises, although some of the details of the plan (particularly one involving a skateboard) would be thought too silly in the realm of a Mission Impossible film. But the film's highlights are the high-up hijinks on ledges and rooftops, culminating in the ridiculous final stunt, at which point I think I did grab the armrest (something I don't believe I can remember doing since the opening reel of Cliffhanger).

Man On A Ledge is probably too silly and unbelievable to be taken seriously, but as a dumb popcorn action thriller it's a lot of fun and well worth a look. It's got a decent cast: Elizabeth Banks, Ed Burns, Jamie Bell, William Sadler (who I'm shocked and ashamed to say I didn't even recognise!), it's efficiently done and the don't-look-down ledge sequences, particularly a moment with a helicopter, are enormously effective. Little to think about, but very enjoyable.




The IMDb page suggests that this was originally made as a pilot episode for an American TV show (which would explain its 4:3 ratio) but the intended series never materialised and the pilot was released to cinemas instead, which is slightly odd (although the pilots of both Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers In The 25th Century did make it to UK cinemas). It would perhaps be unusual to have a weekly TV series based on the exploits of the titular villain as they really should lose every time, or at the very least break even, so maybe they felt it wasn't a good enough idea in the long term even though it just about manages to get away with it for one solitary outing. In film it's probably easier - Dracula, a dozen slasher icons - but the leads in TV series almost always have to be at least on the side of the angels, even if they're not actually angels.

You would think that the focus is on cynical agent Tony Lawrence (Robert Wagner) rather than legendary master criminal Madame Sin (Bette Davis), given that she doesn't show up for quite some time. Like Fu Manchu, she lives in isolation but surrounded by her acolytes and goons, working on her latest fiendish plan: in this instance to steal a Polaris submarine from the nearby base. To achieve this she forces Lawrence to abduct the Commander of the Royal Navy (Gordon Jackson) so he can be brainwashed by one of Madame Sin's numerous gizmos. Can Lawrence escape or alert the authorities - particularly when rendered deaf by Madame Sin's sonic gun?

There are some pleasures, principally the star-spotting game (Dudley Sutton as an assassin, Roy Kinnear as a holidaymaker, and Denholm Elliott as Madame Sin's fawning Number Two), but really it's a load of tosh - the villainess's scheme is to brainwash a top Navy Commander into re-routing a nuclear submarine, by persuading his old friend, a disillusioned spy, to kidnap him, and she's also faked the torture and murder of our hero's girlfriend (Catherine Schell), apparently for no good reason. Nor is it enough of an absurd and overblown fantasy to get by as a sub-Bond spoof: on the contrary, it's all a bit drab.

And worse, there's the genuinely surprising downbeat ending, in which our hero is pointlessly killed off and Madame Sin gets clean away with her sights on Buckingham Palace and the Russian Crown Jewels, which just leaves you wondering where it was ever supposed to go as a weekly TV show. Madame Sin isn't a complete disaster, but it's only average at best and if you don't see it, you won't be missing very much.


Sin! Sin! Sin!

Sunday, 5 February 2012



You really can't go around giving audiences such easy shots as a title that open. Back in the 80s there was a John Travolta movie called Perfect, which plainly wasn't, any more than Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure was excellent. Conversely, it might be unwise calling your movie Senseless (which is actually a fairly interesting movie) or Vile (which, let's be honest, it was). If you're calling your movie Super it had damn well better be, and frankly this is a long way from super. Granted, it's a jokey title: a comedy about a superhero without superpowers and who is therefore quite clearly not super at all, but you're just asking for the easily predictable rejoinder "no it isn't".

Frank (Rainn Wilson) is an ordinary guy who's had enough - he's leading a pretty miserable life to start with, but when his wife (Liv Tyler) is seduced away from him by a despicable drug dealer (Kevin Bacon) he's had enough - but in a crazed vision he realises he should become a masked superhero: The Crimson Bolt. He overcomes his lack of superpowers through comic books and, in a home-made costume and armed with a large adjustable spanner, takes to the streets to deal with crime. And his only ally is Libby (Ellen Page) from the comic book shop who becomes his sidekick Boltie....

Writer-director James Gunn (who also did Slither, which was okay) comes out of the Troma garbage factory and this movie certainly has the brash, garish ugliness of films like the repulsive Tromeo And Juliet. I've never liked Troma movies, ever since the original Toxic Avenger and Class Of Nuke 'Em High; I always thought they were nasty-minded, mean-spirited and obnoxious for the sake of it and if any Troma movies were better than others, it was only that they were slightly less loathsome. Bad taste is fine if there's some wit or style to it and Troma has never been interested in anything other than trying to be as charmless and tedious as possible. Super certainly has the Troma feel about it (Lloyd Kaufman has a cameo) although it mostly avoids the more grotesque grossout in favour of something that's supposed to connect on a more emotional level and does occasionally have a sweetness about it.

As far as 2011's Troma tribute acts go, Super is far better than Hobo With A Shotgun. Which is not to say that it's any good or even that I liked it even slightly; in the non-superhero stakes I much preferred Kick Ass although I wasn't overly struck by that film either. In truth the movie only comes alive when the slightly mad Ellen Page shows up because she's more fun than the morose and whiny Wilson. It's nice to see Gregg Henry back on screen but he's not in it enough, and Kevin Bacon is obviously having fun as an irredeemable scumbag. But I still found it a chore to get through.


Go away, crime!

Saturday, 4 February 2012



What a clunkingly stupid title. First off it's nonsensical, as the journey 2 get there is over very quickly and most of the movie concerns what happens once they're ON the mysterious island. Secondly, if Mysterious Island wasn't the title of the Jules Verne novel, it would be along the lines of The Phantom Menace as a spectacularly ugly title (the ugliest film title ever, I think, is The Chumscrubber, at least until someone makes a movie called Touch My Goat). In fact the 2 in the middle doesn't just function as a supposedly clever pun on to/two as well as being "down wid da kids" txtspeak, because it's actually a sequel to Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, the harmless but stupid Brendan Fraser movie from a few years back (the one where Fraser could get a mobile phone signal while fleeing dinosaurs several miles below the Earth's crust yet would be unable to do so on the Piccadilly line) so there really should be some sort of punctuation mark after the 2.

In essence, the variably punctuated Journey 2 The Mysterious Island (nothing on the screen, a dash on the BBFC's site and a colon on the IMDb) is a throwback to those Doug McClure fantasy movies like Warlords Of Atlantis and At The Earth's Core in which a slightly eccentric group of people turn up in a lost world of monsters and volcanoes but only have a short time before it blows up or sinks into the ocean (or both). Here, the insipid hero (Josh Hutcherson) from Journey To The Centre Of The Earth decodes a radio message from his grandfather (Michael Caine) and, along with stepfather Dwayne Johnson heads over to somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean along with helicopter pilot Luis Guzman and obvious romantic interest Vanessa Hudgens. But they crash when caught in a massive whirlwind and have to trek across the island to find some way home....

The rather fanciful conceit of the first movie was that Jules Verne's novels weren't fantasies but the genuine truth, and there was a worldwide group of people known as Vernians who would attempt to follow in his exploratory footsteps. This continues the idea (also expanding it to encompass Jonathan Swift and Robert Louis Stevenson) with the notion that Atlantis, Captain Nemo and the Nautilus were also real - and even concludes with a suggestion that a further journey would be an even wilder adventure, although when you've seen The Rock and Sir Michael Caine floating around on giant bees while being chased through a forest by giant parrots it's hard to know precisely how much wilder the adventures can get.

Journey 2 is nonsense, but as a kids' movie that's inexplicably released during term time (most schools don't break up for another week) it's acceptable enough: nobody swears, nobody gets badly hurt or takes their clothes off and the ickle elephants are cute. Guzman's role is the knockabout comedy relief, always scared, always falling into things or having giant parrots poo on him. Frankly Johnson isn't as much fun as he is in thudding action movies like Fast Five, despite doing a genuinely horrible thing with his pectorals and accompanying himself on a ukulele singing It's A Wonderful World. The romantic leads are wet as fish, but they usually are. As a family matinee it's okay - it romps along quite efficiently, pauses for breath in the right places, and even has an underlying bitterness about absent fathers threaded through it. Fortunately it's being released in 2D as well as 3D and I watched it in the former; though there are plenty of moments when CGI things are floating about in front of the camera it's yet another instance of the film managing perfectly well without it.


Thursday, 2 February 2012



Sometimes it just happens that your apparently random rental queue throws up complementary films. Maybe it's deliberate - a few years ago they sent me half a dozen Charles Bronson films in quick succession, from a list heaving with non-Bronson titles - but I'd guess it's pure chance that two movies examining the post-Vietnam American psyche within the context of commercial action cinema (even typing these phrases makes me feel so absurdly Sight And Sound that I should be wearing a beret or something) have landed in my postbox within days of each other.

Of the two, John Flynn's Rolling Thunder (1977) is probably less well-known than Ted Kotcheff's First Blood (1982); it had no sequels, it didn't have a screen icon in the lead role (William Devane vs Sylvester Stallone) and, at least in the UK, it's never been as widely seen (the present DVD and Blu release is its first exposure since its 1987 VHS outing). And, next to First Blood, it's perhaps very slightly the lesser of the two. That's not to suggest that Rolling Thunder isn't an impressive, very well made and enjoyable film, but I think the Stallone just nudges ahead. I hadn't seen First Blood in about 20 years and was genuinely surprised at how much I couldn't remember, given how good it was.

Both movies deal with returning veterans: Charles Rane (William Devane) arrives to a hero's welcome in Texas after seven years' incarceration; John Rambo (Stallone) visits a small town in Washington State and is treated as a vagrant and drifter. Neither man wants to go back to a life of violence but are forced to by circumstance and disrespect: Rambo treated as a common criminal by redneck idiots, Rane's family murdered by hoodlums (led by James Best, who's probably most familiar, perhaps unfortunately, as a dimwit cop on The Dukes Of Hazzard). While Rambo takes to the hills and uses his Green Beret survival and combat training against the countless clueless hicks led by the bigoted sheriff (Brian Dennehy), Rane quietly tracks down the killers to exact a brutal revenge on them.

Although First Blood is the more commercial of the two, it's the less viscerally violent and while there's plenty of action, it only has a body count of three: one particularly despicable cop shooting at our hero from a helicopter and two in a car during a brief chase with an army truck (and we don't actually see those two killed). While it's true that in the (increasingly silly) sequels John Rambo leaves hundreds of corpses strewn all across the globe, he's emphatically not a killer here except in those two clear instances of self defence. Indeed the film only has a 15, which it would get for its modest use of the F-word anyway: Rolling Thunder's numerous shotgun blasts ensure it's still an 18 certificate. Strangely, given that I liked First Blood for its terrific action sequences, I liked Rolling Thunder more for its quiet drama in the first half hour than its own action material, as Devane adjusts to civilian life as something of a minor celebrity with his wife and son.

First Blood's weakest moment is probably towards the end when Rambo breaks down into a sobbing, broken man: hated for wearing the same flag that all the police officers wear, labelled a "baby killer" by antiwar protesters, unable to hold down a job, with nothing left in his life. This is really the key scene in the movie but it's rather lost in Stallone's incomprehensible crying and mumbling: I played the scene twice but eventually had to look at the quotes on the film's IMDb page for the sense of it. He didn't want to kill any more: he went out of his way not to kill those who were pointlessly antagonising him. Meanwhile Rane had no problems in that regard, as the second half of Rolling Thunder basically turns into a Death Wish movie, firstly with a self-described "war hero groupie" (Linda Haynes) and subsequently with his army comrade (Tommy Lee Jones) who seems only too eager to get back into uniform.

Both movies are well worth catching, both are solidly well done and both are nicely entertaining. I think I like First Blood more for its action, the presence of a typically fantastic Jerry Goldsmith score, and reliable support from Dennehy, Richard Crenna. Rolling Thunder's certainly not a bad movie - it's co-written by Paul Schrader! - and it deserves more of an audience than it's had, but the Stallone wins out in the end.


It's a long road:

Wednesday, 1 February 2012



Have you seen Ridley Scott's Alien? Yes, me too, several times. What about James Cameron's magnificent Aliens? Again, many times. You know who else who's seen Alien and Aliens? Gregory Connors, that's who: the director, co-producer, co-writer, set constructor and cast member of this noisy and outstandingly gory Australian SF/horror quickie that frankly couldn't be more Alien if it was actually Alien. Throw in some Doom and Resident Evil, add practically nothing original or innovative, but pump up the slime and zombies, and you have a serviceable, unremarkable but watchable action horror offering which serves up its borrowings with a certain degree of panache and enthusiasm.

Alien Undead isn't very good: it's nothing that hasn't been seen before on numerous occasions and frequently better. A young woman wakes up in a sterile white space somewhere in an underground research complex on another planet, to discover not just an army of flesh eating zombies oozing slime and blood all over the place, but a squad of badass mercenaries assigned to rescue the survivors. As they clamber through vents, hole up in laboratories and tool up with as much weaponry as they can carry (why does a research complex have an armoury?) it becomes clear that one of the survivors knows far more than they're letting on: just what have they been working on and how can they stop it now that it's loose?

The secret they've unleashed is actually pretty bonkers and that's probably the one true note of originality in the whole film. Much of it is shamelessly filched from the Alien movies (one character is even named Yutani!) and any computer games involving running through tunnels shooting zombies. But at least when it comes to the splattery gore they don't hold back at all, and it's done with a refreshing absence of CGI: opting instead for good old-fashioned prosthetics, make-up appliances and exploding squibs. Most of not all of the external effects are done with physical models instead of computer generated ones and they look at least a thousand times better because they actually exist in the real world rather than just as a file on a hard drive.

Most horror movies don't do anything new anyway, in many ways their success depends on the variations rather than the theme. Alien Undead (also known as The Dark Lurking, which is frankly a rubbish title) is playing a very simple theme, but it's doing it just about well enough to get by. At the very least, there's enough incident to keep it from getting dull.


You've seen better, but you've seen much worse: