Thursday, 31 May 2012



Well, it's a very slight improvement on Moonraker and a definite improvement on The Spy Who Loved Me, but Roger Moore's fifth Bond, the twelfth in the series, still suffers from alarming shifts in tone as it veers from straight-ahead nastiness to knockabout slapstick to impressive action sequences to hideously misjudged comedy to all-out nonsense. Yet for much of the time it's actually one of the better films in the series and probably Roger's best, despite his age: there are moments when he really looks decrepit and there are still two more of his films to come.

For Your Eyes Only is also a film on a much smaller scale to Moonraker: rather than gallivanting around the world from California to Venice to the Upper Amazon and then into outer space, the bulk of it takes place around the Adriatic and the villains are no longer interested in exterminating the entire human race but merely trading a lump of hi-tech defence equipment to the Russians. It's a welcome (literal) comedown from sci-fi idiocy to middle-aged blokes beating each other up in a monastery. The Royal Navy's submarine control system is sunk in the Adriatic and our man seeking to salvage it (Jack Hedley, who of course I cannot see in anything without thinking of The New York Ripper) is murdered; Bond has to follow the trail to locate the wreck, retrieve the ATAC wotsit and see it doesn't fall into the hands of the evil Commies.

For the first half it looks like the villain's going to be Topol but then it switches and he's the secondary hero, and it turns out to be Julian Glover instead, which is fine. Glamour is provided by Carole Bouquet, Cassandra Harris and, most uncomfortably, Lynn-Holly Johnson as an ice-skating nymphomaniac. The action and stunt sequences are generally pretty good - mainly the early car chase with a Citroen 2CV, a long chase on ski and motorbike and some armrest-grabbing mountaineering towards the end. Most of it's fine and exactly what you expect from a Bond movie: the card games, the tuxedos, Q in a silly disguise, the awful one-liners and even the evil foreigner with a swimming pool surrounded by girls in bikinis.

However, the movie desperately needs an absolutely enormous axe taking to it and the principal casualties should be the pre-credits sequence (Bond trapped in a remote-controlled helicopter) which starts well but then turns into a silly private joke between Cubby Broccoli and Kevin McClory, the Unofficial Bond producer, and the hideous comedy sign-off in which Margaret Thatcher is chatted up by a parrot: you'll chew your fist so much you'll crap your own knuckles for a week. Every time I see this movie I cannot stay for those last few minutes (according to the IMDb Roger Moore hated this sequence as well, and he's dead right) and I have to go and boil a kettle or something. There's also an entirely unnecessary bit where some ice-hockey goons attack Bond on an ice rink; it's easily lost and the film wouldn't be any the worse for its excision.

Generally though it's okay. It doesn't even suffer from not having a John Barry score (the way The Spy Who Loved Me suffered from having a Marvin Hamlisch one); Bill Conti does a perfectly decent job and the soundtrack album still gets its fair share of play. Watching it again tonight it's a scratch better than I remembered (those aforementioned sequences apart) and it's probably the highlight of the Moore years.


And 007: try not to muck it up again:



Is it just British insularity, ignorance and arrogance, or do the Germans really have no sense of humour? Do we really want to know, or would that shatter our national illusions? My uninformed guess is that they do (for one, Henning Wehn does stand-up and regularly appears on Radio 4 panel games) even if it isn't quite the same as ours. Wikipedia lists 51 German comedy television series, including sketch shows and sitcoms, which is more than they give for other renowned comedy nations like Greece, Mexico or Poland. Filmwise, though, we don't think of Germany as a comedy nation - even before sound necessitated subtitles, did they have any silent screen clowns?

Released by Salvation, Drop Out (original title Nippelsuse Schlägt Zurück) is a peculiar and not entirely unsuccessful stab at a sleazy German comedy sex thriller: it's not funny enough that you actually laugh, but it is funny enough that you acknowledge you should. A woman walks out on her deadbeat boyfriend in frustration, almost inadvertently sets herself up as a private investigator, and is immediately plunged into a convoluted mystery involving drugs, orgies, blackmail, murder and corruption in (literally and metaphorically) high places. Can she actually sort out the conspiracy, or has she been employed merely as someone to pin the crimes on?

The comedic tone - and I'm fairly sure that our heroine running through the streets naked save for a bouncing strapon is supposed to be comedic, and the presence of a urine-drinking gag suggests that childish toilet humour knows no national borders - is all the more unusual given its heritage: it's co-directed by Wolfgang Büld, auteur of a trio of mesmerisingly sleazy British cheapies (LoveSick/Sick Love, Twisted Sisters and Penetration Angst), and its star Beatrice Manowski - perhaps better known as Beatrice M and the female lead of Jorg Buttgereit's legendary Nekromantik, one of the most depressing and confrontational movies ever made. Drop Out is much lighter than any of those movies as Manowski's a personable enough lead, but it's not particularly well shot (it has a cheap camcorder look about it, and not just in the "found" sequences in which Manowski relates the plot to a video camera) and much of the music just seems to be techno thumpy club stuff.

There's also too much casual drug use for my personal preference - boringly, I've never been a user and I never will, and the heroine's "when in doubt, get stoned" moments annoyed me perhaps more than they should. It's not a film I much liked: it's ramshackle and cheap and it's not great from a technical standpoint (and I'm not sure what ratio the DVD is supposed to be watched in as none of my widescreen TV's settings looked entirely right), but it's occasionally amusing. Funnier than Christiane F, anyway.


Wednesday, 30 May 2012



This is a very, nay extremely moderate puff of nothingness of a film: a film that trundles along very slowly like a ponderous and very cheap ripoff of the Ocean's Eleven formula, were it not that it was actually made back in 1975: 25 years before the all-star Soderbergh movies and 15 years after the Frank Sinatra original. It's still a Vegas casino heist movie but with no thrills or suspense, none of the easy-going charm of the shiny 90s trilogy (I kind of enjoy them but they are quite brazenly silly) and even less fun than the tiresome 1960 film: it's fatally underpowered by a lack of star power and a minuscule budget.

Oddly, Crown International Pictures' own website categorises Las Vegas Lady as a comedy but it's really a mild action thriller in which three women (led by Stella Stevens) are hired to rob a top hotel casino of the wads of cash kept hidden in the office of the despicably sleazy manager (George DiCenzo) during a high-stakes craps game in the next room. To do this one of the girls has to switch shifts with the kitchen staff in order to get a trolley up to the penthouse, and another has to scale the outside of the building mysteriously dressed in black so she absolutely won't blend in with the gleaming white and brightly illuminated front of the hotel. All this without knowing who their mysterious taskmaster is (although it's scarcely a shock when he's finally revealed to be exactly who you thought it was).

It's a pretty mediocre time waster notable principally for it being only the second film to boast an Alan Silvestri soundtrack, and even that's not much of an attraction: he may have gone on to score Predator, Back To The Future and Marvel Avengers Assemble (admittedly also the remake of Father Of The Bride) but Las Vegas Lady is a pretty negligible starting point. It's a dull film with nothing in the way of chases and fights or suspense and excitement. Despite going to the BBFC back in 2010, it doesn't appear to be available in this country; the DVD I watched was an import. We're not missing anything.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012



This is a curious beast: as curious a beast as some of the Rick Baker-designed alien thingies in this surprisingly belated threequel (and really, were that many of us crying out for a third instalment anyway after ten whole years?). On the one hand it wants to reconnect with the Smith-Jones double act, but on the other the plot dispenses with Tommy Lee Jones for most of the running time and instead has Josh Brolin giving a Jones impersonation, but really makes you long for the real guy. And on the third hand (it's a Men In Black movie, it can have as many hands as it wants) the real guy doesn't seem to be particularly interested in being there; he's much older (Will Smith on the other hand doesn't look much different) and even by Jones' own grumpy standards he's more short-tempered and abrasive than usual, making you actually long for the Jones of ten or more years ago. It's trying to replicate the double-act magic by replacing half the team and, inevitably, doesn't work.

Not that Men In Black 3 is a disaster: there's still the set-pieces and spectacle, the retro production design and some good honest laughs. Evil Boglodite super-criminal Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from the maximum security Lunar Penitentiary and vows revenge on Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) by going back to July 1969 and killing him on the day of the Armstrong-Aldrin moonshot in Apollo 11. Yet, thanks to what can now only be described as "wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff", Agent J (Will Smith) still remembers him in 2012, so he follows Boris back to the past in order to save K and, more importantly, to ensure the creation of the Arcnet field that protects Earth from alien attack, including the sudden invasion by Boris and his Boglodite war fleet. But back in 1969 he meets up with the then young Agent K (Josh Brolin "doing" a Tommy Lee Jones impression)....

The best of the gags come with the revelation that Andy Warhol was one of the Men In Black keeping tabs on the aliens in The Factory (and begging Agent K to arrange his faked death because he can't bear to listen to any more sitar music). But the rest of it is only moderately amusing (to be honest, I only laughed out loud twice in the whole film and the Warhol bit was one of them), partly due to the loss of the J/K dynamic but probably more due to the fact that, in director Barry Sonnenfeld's own words, "we knew starting the movie that we didn't have a finished second or third act". Incredibly, they hadn't finished writing the script when they began shooting.

Men In Black 3 is yet another conversion into faked 3D, but at least Columbia are also releasing the 2D version (which is how it was shot and how I saw it). And yet again, there's little on view that makes you think you'd like the 3D effects; indeed, while watching it I completely forgot there was a 3D option in a neighbouring screen. That's how much the film suffered by being shown flat. Why did they bother? Men In Black 3 is okay: it's good entertainment although not massively funny, and there's a decent climax as J, K and Boris face off on the launch tower as Apollo 11 is about to blast off. And it's nice to see Emma Thompson as the new head of the MIBs. But there's not enough Tommy Lee Jones and when he is there he's not as much grouchy fun as he was. Overall it's a mixed bag: it's not terrible, there is fun to be had, but enough now.


Saturday, 26 May 2012


Summer is icumen in - early if you believe this weather - and with it comes the parade of vast studio behemoths substituting spectacle for intellect and huge-ass explosions for the craft of film-making. We've had Battleship already and for sheer boneheaded imbecility that's going to be hard to beat. That said, some of them should still be fun - though unfortunately we already know this because they're almost all remakes or sequels; there's practically nothing new or innovative, just retreading old formulae and old concepts in the desperate hope they'll work again. It's rather depressing, but hey - things will explode and big movie stars will supposedly look cool in daft costumes. What more do you want? I'm going purely by the titles and what scraps I've heard here so these "observations" may well bear no resemblance to the finished items. In scheduled release order, then:

1. PROMETHEUS (June 1)
In the case of Ridley Scott's long-in-the-trenches return to SF and the Alien universe (and hopefully to great movies), what I'd really like is for Fox to stop with the publicity. We're already at maximum anticipation, our seats are booked and all we have to do is turn up and watch it. We can't do anything more. Stop with the trailers and the hype. I'm also hoping there's a 2D screening on at a reasonable time: I'm getting increasingly fed up with the ineffective gimmick and having to pay extra for it. I suspect that since Prometheus is set in space, vast chunks of it are going to be pretty dark anyway without the stupid glasses, and invisible with them. Still, there's a high-powered star cast doing their thing, and there should be some visceral meat to chew on given the 15 certificate (R in the States).

Not the most eagerly awaited vampire movie, really, but we don't know when or if we're getting Dario Argento's Dracula 3D in this country. (Nor am I that excited about the last of the Twilight series, which doesn't come out until November.) Really wish we could have had Pride And Prejudice And Zombies though. I'm iffy about Timur Bekmambetov: Night Watch and Day Watch were weirdly entertaining but I hated Wanted. Still, it's neither a sequel nor a remake: it's actually based on a novel, the things movies used to be based on in the old days. (Thinking about it, I'm not actually sure whether it counts as a blockbuster. Hey-ho.)

Some early posters bore the legend "The Untold Story", which is odd because it looks to be the same frequently told story as before: if you change too much of it, at some point it stops being Spiderman. I've never been a fan of Spiderman anyway so my hopes aren't high, but something nifty might come of it after the frankly dull Sam Raimi films. Oh, and it's in 3D. Bastards.

Speaking of bloated....Call me a heretic, but I really cannot get that excited about Batman movies, be they the gloomy Gothic darkness of the Tim Burtons, the incoherent gibberish of the Joel Schumachers or the humourless po-faced seriousness of the Christopher Nolans. Whether Bruce Wayne or Batman, the character's a thudding bore and resists every cinematic attempt to make him anything like a three (or even two) dimensional human being in a camp pantomime for children. In that respect the best representation is still Adam West running around in his underpants. On the other hand: there's a roster of star names and reliable actors doing their bit. And no 3D.

5. G.I. JOE: RETALIATION (August 3)
I'm one of the nine people who actively enjoyed the first G I Joe: it was a dumbo spectacular that didn't take itself at all seriously, that knew it was empty-headed nonsense based on a plastic toy and a Saturday morning cartoon show and operated on that level (unlike the Transformers movies which have similar origins but operate under the delusion that they're Proper Films). As a result G I Joe was a breathtakingly silly but thoroughly enjoyable load of crash bang wallop and now there's a sequel, with action heavyweights Bruce Willis and The Rock, which looks....what? March? Conversion? No! Sadly, the dribbling dunces at Paramount have decided to pull the film until March 2013 so they can foul it up with a botched 3D effect and charge us extra for the privilege. You utter, utter knobs.

6. THE BOURNE LEGACY (August 13)
Can the Bourne franchise survive without Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass? I know I'm again swimming against the tide here, but I rather prefer the first Bourne movie - partly because it's got Franka Potente in it, and partly because Doug Liman occasionally nails the camera to the ground rather than the occasionally dizzying handheld Greengrass technique in which I'm occasionally not sure what I'm looking at (and if I'm in the front six rows I'm feeling ill from motion sickness).

7. THE EXPENDABLES 2 (August 17)
Another two hours of testosterone and things going kaboom, with even more 80s action stars turning up for one last big orgy of destruction and carnage; it should be kind of enjoyably stupid but will there be any intellectual meat or pause for reflection? It's from the director of Con Air and the When A Stranger Calls remake, so probably not.

8. THE THREE STOOGES (August 22)
Not really, but it's something other than pyrotechnics and body counts.

9. TOTAL RECALL (August 22)
I love the Verhoeven film, and frankly I cannot imagine this new one getting anywhere close to it - it's from the director of Die Hard 4.0 and two Underworld movies, after all, and I'm still not sure about Colin Farrell in anything. Even so, it should be interesting to see what results a completely different approach might yield; sadly, there's no mention of a three-breasted hooker in the credits on the IMDb.

10. DREDD (September 7)
Pity about the 3D (yes, I know, but if they're going to keep making movies in this stupid system I'm going to keep on about it), but this one might be the big sleeper of the summer. There are no huge names in the cast apart from Karl Urban (probably best known as Young Bones McCoy from the Star Trek reboots), the director made Vantage Point which was okay. So expectations aren't high and it could be a pleasant surprise. Actually I think the Stallone version is underrated, and it's a shame it's hard to find on British DVD (none of the online rental sites stock it), but maybe it'll be reissued in time for this new version.

11. SKYFALL (October 26)
Can't find anything out about this: it looks to be an arthouse obscurity that won't trouble the multiplexes. It's early days yet, but maybe it would help if the studios released a trailer or something.

These should all be more or less enjoyable enough escapism from the trudge of Modern Life, though they're not necessarily the movies I'm most looking forward to over the summer months (bear in mind that I may not see them over the summer as the 'plexes will be full of little brats on their school holidays). But they're the bigger hitters that should get people into cinemas and hopefully get them coming back the following week to see something else. That's how I started, after all.



It might be Fair Trade, it might be Fairtrade. The title on screen is written all as one but with a large T in the middle - unlikely to be for aesthetic purposes given the demonstrably unaesthetic movie it's bolted on to - that might or might not signify a word break. Is it referring to fairtrade as in non-exploitative, like coffee or sugar? Or is the fairness of the trade, whether drugs or hostages, supposed to be ironic? We may never care. The DVD artwork and the IMDb both seem to suggest it's two words so that's good enough for me, whatever the fontmeister who produced the opening credits might think.

In Fair Trade, no less a figure than Oliver Reed gets his arse kicked all over South America by some college girls. He's a brutal Argentinian generalissimo and drugs baron whose son has been captured in America in a cocaine bust, so he kidnaps DEA boss Robert Vaughn's comely daughter and a planeload of her college friends to trade for his son's freedom. But Reed reckons without the girlies inexplicably transforming into the Rambettes: casually sneaking through the jungle in camouflage cutoffs and bandoleros while machine-gunning sleazy Latinos and native tribesmen, the college girls actually seem more comfortable with killing than the soldiers do, as they decimate Reed's hand-picked elite private army on his home ground...

There's the opportunity for some wonderfully disreputable sleaze here, but even the presence of a blonde and black-clad Claudia Udy as Reed's glamorous right-hand sadist in residence doesn't crank up much excitement: less Ilsa She-Wolf Of The SS and more Ilsa Of Sunnybrook Farm. (Why does Reed have a resident dominatrix anyway?) Without the graphic sordidness it's all far too low-key and underpowered to make any impact. If they'd gone all out on the tits and gore and people thrown to the piranhas, it might have ended up as enjoyably nasty trash, but everything's half-hearted and toned down with the exception of one gloating rape scene (which was apparently cut by more than a minute anyway).

The thing about fair trade produce is that it should be exactly like the regular produce but you feel morally better for choosing it. Well, it isn't and I didn't. This is supposed to be exploitative and it even cheats on that. Vaughn and Reed are usually good value but Vaughn isn't actually in the movie enough, and for some reason Reed masks that wonderful voice of his with a French accent. You'd have expected a stab at Spanish, but French Argentine is apparently the third largest ancestry group in the country (according to Wikipedia, so it probably isn't). Another offering from the late Harry Alan Towers, and nowhere near one of his better ones.


Wednesday, 23 May 2012



One of the films I'm most looking forward to right now is Dario Argento's Dracula in 3D - not for the 3D, not even because it's a Dracula picture, but because of Argento. His glory days of delirious giallo classics like Terror At The Opera and Tenebrae (his two best films, for my money) may be long gone but no career should tail off with things like Giallo and Mother Of Tears; it would be like David Lean spending his twilight years directing Police Academy sequels. My fingers are not so much crossed as plaited for it - even though it's a Dracula movie and vampires tend, to me anyway, not to be particularly interesting monsters. However, Argento's Van Helsing is none other than Rutger Hauer and while we're waiting for that one, it's worth noting that Hauer had his own stab at the role of Dracula himself in this reasonable 2002 franchiser "presented" by Wes Craven and Miramax.

Though apparently shot simultaneously, Dracula III: Legacy (why do they have to keep putting portentous but entirely meaningless words into the titles?) is a direct follow-on to the tolerable but forgettable Dracula II: Ascension, sequel to the theatrically released Dracula 2000 (renamed Dracula 2001 in the UK because we didn't get to see it until the following year). Vampirised vampire hunter Father Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee) heads into war-torn Romania to track down his boring sidekick Luke's (Jason London) girlfriend, who's been abducted by Dracula (Hauer) himself. Joining up with a comely TV journalist "for EBC News" (whose cameraman is named Tunnicliffe after the film's FX supervisor), they follow the slaughter, the impaled corpses and the blood traffickers all the way to Castle Dracula....

It's not a brilliant piece of work but it's perfectly acceptable, with enough blood and splatter to keep you awake (it's only been given a 15 certificate, though), enough character material to keep you interested without getting boring, and there's a brief appearance by Roy Scheider. And I like the idea that the rebels insist that all candidates for posts in the new government must appear in public in daylight to prove they're not vampires! (Mr Cameron, are you listening?) Plus, of course, it's always good to see Hauer in more or less anything, although he doesn't show up until the last chunk of the movie. Strangely, when he does turn up, it's as if director Patrick Lussier (who also made the other two entries in the series and has recently specialised in the shiny new 3D craze with Drive Angry and the My Bloody Valentine remake) wanted to hark back to Hauer's iconic role in Blade Runner by trying to give his scenes a similar look. It doesn't really come off, but kudos for trying.


Bite me:

Tuesday, 22 May 2012



Appropriately enough, I'm in two minds about this film: it's one of those movies that I happily accept isn't particularly good, but I confess I rather like it anyway. In the late 1980s, Gallic smut merchant Gerard Kikoine, his CV groaning under the weight of such titles as Sweet Young Girls, Weekend Orgy and Hard Erections, made a sudden switch away from porno: he hooked up with Harry Alan Towers and started making proper exploitation movies, including the messy Buried Alive with Donald Pleasence, Robert Vaughn and John Carradine, and this ludicrously overdone but enjoyable retelling of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde in which Anthony Perkins goes absolutely bonkers. And then, mysteriously, he just stopped (apart from one episode of a long-running French detective show). Which, on the basis of this movie, I think is a pity.

Edge Of Sanity (which I first saw at the Scala at their 1989 New Years Day horror preview event) has Anthony Perkins as respectable Dr Jekyll: married to Glynis Barber, dedicated, hard-working, and currently devising a new and more effective anaesthetic. But while experimenting in his unfeasible huge basement laboratory, he ingests a highly concentrated form of his new serum, and turns into Mr Hyde thanks mainly to liberal application of eyeliner, coloured filters and the camera suddenly filming everything at a 30-degree angle. He starts frequenting an absurdly vast and opulent brothel, and murders prostitutes in the street. But how long before the ineffective police catch this Ripper, or his devoted wife discovers his secret?

Though Jekyll's experimental compound is almost certainly supposed to be cocaine (thus turning Edge Of Sanity into a hysterical anti-drugs propaganda film), Hyde's behaviour here is more likely psychological in origin: due to being viciously belted as a child after watching his father get off with a prostitute during a raging thunderstorm (presumably only included because they wanted to start the movie off with some pre-credits sex and violence). It's a film in two distinct styles: the Jekyll sections are generally pretty restrained and have the feel of period Hammer about them, handsomely mounted with opulent production design and a lovely orchestral score, but when Jekyll goes tonto the film does as well. Dutch angles, coloured lights, rampaging sex scenes, and Anthony Perkins pulling unhinged faces: frankly, when it and he go over the top it's much more fun.

While watching it I realised it's a long time since I saw Ken Russell's Crimes Of Passion (but it's now on my rental queue for an urgent rewatch) in which Perkins also plays a maniac stalking a prostitute, and it's probably a closer point of comparison than the obvious Psycho or, indeed, the numerous other versions of Jekyll And Hyde. Yes, Edge Of Sanity is absolutely and indisputably no kind of forgotten and neglected masterpiece. The bottom line is that I enjoyed seeing it again more than I expected, though admittedly a bit more than it really deserves.


Close to the edge:



On and off, I've been a fan of martial arts movies for maybe twenty years now. When I first discovered them, the best ones tended to be the Shaw Brothers productions released by Warner Home Video: despite the cuts, the awful dubbing and cropping to a 4:3 ratio, it was the intricately choreographed fight sequences rather than the absurd stories that appealed to me. Scenes of Shaolin monks beating up various miscreants were treated as dance numbers, as were the immaculately timed and millimetre-perfect stunts of Jackie Chan or the moves of Bruce Lee. The fights all seemed to be very theatrical, performed to the relentless rhythm of body blows and swishing robes, and it didn't bother me that no-one ever thought to slip in an extra punch between the thwack-thwack-thwack. Not any more: it now looks closer to freeform jazz than ballet or Broadway.

Recently the martial arts movie has been brought back from the DTV bargain racks: firstly by the operatic and opulent wuxia epics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Zhang Yimou's beautiful Hero, but particularly in the last few years by crunchingly violent films from other parts of Asia: the Ong-Bak series and Warrior King from Thailand, and now The Raid, an absolutely demented action movie from Indonesia directed by Wales' own Gareth Huw Evans. The premise is simple: twenty cops storm a slum tower block to take down the local crime boss, but he knows they're coming and he has a small army of guys to protect him....

We're given very little information about the characters: one of the cops has a pregnant wife but that's more or less it for the team's backstory. Here are the good guys, here are the bad guys, and that's pretty much the plot (though there are a few wrinkles later on). What we get instead is a string of phenomenally violent fight scenes in which people are routinely picked up by the ankle, swung against a concrete pillar and kicked in the guts, before having their heads repeatedly smacked against the concrete floor and (if they're lucky) getting a machete in the face. The amount of damage is inflicted on these guys is astounding and I can only assume that none of the stunt team were entitled to the day's wages unless they'd sustained at least three compound fractures and a brain aneurysm. It's relentless: a bit like the legendary corridor sequence from Oldboy, but for more than an hour.

These scenes may lack the grace of Jackie Chan's knockabout chases and Bruce Lee's showdowns, or the cool of John Woo's gun massacres (the final reels of A Better Tomorrow Part 2 or pretty much everything in The Killer) but they have the grit and pain. These aren't fights staged as dance routines, they're fights staged as fights and boy, do they hurt. It's a long way from the "you have dishonoured my Yellow Dragon Claw style and I must now kill you" Shaw Brothers pantomimes to what is essentially dozens of mad bastards beating the hell out of each other in a dingy slum. The best of the numerous spectacularly crunchy fight sequences has just three men in a sealed room, going at it in an extended two-on-one battle for their very lives.

Yes, The Raid has little to offer in terms of plot development or character detail, deep emotion or even humour. And for all the darkness and gloom (almost the whole movie takes place in the concrete confines of the tower block), it's a spectacular and literally headbanging film, and surely a rare example of a film that carries an 18 certificate despite having no sexual content whatsoever; it's purely down to the violence. For outrageous and unhinged brutality, and thudding blows to the skull, it's absolutely fantastic and I enjoyed it enormously.


Monday, 21 May 2012



It's possible - not massively likely, but possible - that this went down reasonably well back at the start of 1982, when there had only been two Friday The 13th films, and all the summer camp slasher cliches weren't so tediously familiar. Scary stories around the midnight campfire, the legend of the local psycho who disappeared one night and Was Never Seen Again, the spooky old house, the idiotic teen wandering off into the woods, horny camp counsellors, the car won't start.... they're all here. Maybe it was all fresh and original once. But now it's as hokey and hackneyed as a cat suddenly leaping into frame or someone waking up from a nightmare. Having said that, I first saw this movie back in the eighties on rental VHS and didn't think very much of it. Even allowing for historical perspective, it has not aged well.

The campfire yarn in Madman is "Madman Marz", a local farmer who one day went nuts and butchered his entire family with an axe - and He's Still Out There, hacking up anyone who calls out his name. One teenage moron immediately starts bellowing "Madman Marz, we're coming to get you!" and, unsurprisingly, it's not long before Marz is killing off the camp staff one by one as they stupidly wander off into the woods in the middle of the night. Will any of them survive? Who cares?

It's pretty dismal fare and surely even back in 1982 it must have stunk: it's down there with the likes of Unhinged and Death Screams for sheer aching tedium and indifferent filmmaking technique. The murky night photography (it can't all be due to shoddy DVD transfers) and useless synthesiser score only make the already terrible even worse. Frankly the only reason to seek Madman out at all is that the cast is headed by Gaylen Ross, star of the all-time classic Dawn Of The Dead. Oddly, it's one of the very few films she appeared in, and for some reason she's billed as Alexis Dubin. Other than her presence, there's very little on offer despite all the axe murders and decapitations; it's very poor indeed.


Saturday, 19 May 2012



There is surely a market for an intelligent political satire on the kind of Middle Eastern and North African supreme whackjobs whose ilk have recently been toppling like dominoes on the deck of a car ferry in a force eight gale (though this movie was conceived before the actual events). Laughing at the absurd excesses while being soberly educated about the real human beings needlessly victimised by insane tyrants; it's potentially a potent mixture. Sadly, this cops out at just about every opportunity, opting instead for the laziest of cheap laughs and calculated taboo-busting. Why go to all the trouble of a witty and elegant skewering of the excesses of power when you can do some jokes about 9/11 and wanking?

But that's what Sacha Baron Cohen does: he deliberately pushes the easiest of bad taste buttons while doing fourth-form knob and poo gags. He did it in Borat, which was rubbish apart from the opening seven minutes of amusingly (though not hilariously) scripted material, and he did it in Bruno which didn't even have the seven minutes of amusing scripted stuff at the start, and I spent much of the time in the latter wondering whether I could safely give up modern cinema entirely and do something potentially more productive instead, like learning another language, taking up watercolours or developing a crystal meth addiction.

Both films were rubbish although there was always the possibility that was mainly down to the extended use of improvisation and pseudo-documentary stunts involving real people revealing themselves to be racist or sexist idiots. But having seen The Dictator, which is wholly scripted and acted, I'm no longer sure and am starting to suspect that Sacha Baron Cohen just isn't funny. Cohen is Admiral General Aladeen, who's been the supreme despot of the North African state of Wadiya since the age of seven: he is forced to attend the United Nations in New York where the rightful heir to the Wadiyan throne (Ben Kingsley) is plotting to overthrow him so he can sell off the oil rights. Aladeen's sole ally is a vegan feminist liberal (Anna Faris) running an organic health food collective staffed with refugees and dissidents....

There's certainly some potential mileage in the story of a national leader reduced to nothing and having to get his country back from those who would destroy it. But no: let's do some near-the-knuckle gags about September 11th and Bin Laden. Let's do some gags about masturbating and urine drinking. Let's do some gags about raping children and A-list Hollywood stars getting handjobs from the Chinese delegation. Against such lame shock material, the running joke about the decapitation of a corpse and using the head as a glove puppet is the pinnacle of wit. And, incredibly, what it all amounts to is something that's significantly less funny than The Devil's Double, which wasn't even a comedy but a surprising and worrying look at the demented I-want, I-take excesses of absolute dictatorships.

Only occasionally are there moments suggesting a human being behind Aladeen, who's really little more than a stock character off a TV sketch show (much as the late Alan Coren used to write spoof Idi Amin monologues). But the human beings aren't really what Cohen is interested in: it's as if he gets bored of the potential for satire and decides to do some fourth-form smut instead. Which feels particularly out of place when the Author's Message hoves into view in the final reels - what's wrong with dictatorships? "If America was a dictatorship you could launch illegal wars when you feel like it, rig the elections, not pay your taxes and bail out your friends in the banks when they lost all the money....." At least the Aladeens, Gaddafis and Kim-Jongs of this world are honest about what they do, right? Right? And with that, time for another gag about abortions.


Thursday, 17 May 2012



With a new Bond movie heading into view this year, I've been steadily wading through Eon's back catalogue over the year so far, and have now arrived in the middle of the dreaded Roger Moore era. Now I like Roger Moore - a few years ago one of the ITV stations screened old episodes of The Saint and The Persuaders! and I thoroughly enjoyed them - but it's a sad fact that none of his 007 entries matched the level of my two favourites of Connery's tenure, You Only Live Twice and Goldfinger; or even On Her Majesty's Secret Service which, some iffy line readings aside, is a terrific piece of work.

Many regard The Spy Who Loved Me as the pinnacle of the Moores and probably the finest of the series as a whole. I disagree completely: to me it's a film that does absolutely nothing right and it's my least favourite Bond film with the possible exception of the deathly dull Thunderball. Mad multi-billionaire marine biologist Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) wants to wipe out the entire human race and create a new and beautiful world beneath the sea, and captures nuclear submarines to give him the means to start World War 3; Bond and Russian agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) team up to stop him. Cue the usual gallivanting round the world (Egypt, Sardinia), a car chase (the car turns into a submarine), a fight on a train with the indestructible Jaws (Richard Kiel), and a race against time to defuse a nuclear warhead. But Stromberg, the villain, is barely in it and isn't a particularly threatening or menacing adversary; nor does he even have a satisfyingly gruesome death at the end (being merely shot in the goolies under the dinner table).

More damaging than anything else is the absence of John Barry for only the second time in the series and of all the composers and musicians they could have picked they went for Marvin Hamlisch for a nauseating ballad and a completely inappropriate score that doesn't fit and has none of that indefinable essence of James Bond about it; of all the non-Barry Bond scores its' easily the least interesting. The few pleasures - another huge Ken Adam set, a nifty punch-up on a Cairo rooftop, and the undeniably impressive pre-credits ski-jump - are lost in the dullness of what is essentially a retread of the far superior You Only Live Twice with variable special effects.

Many people also regard Moonraker as incredibly stupid and absurdly far-fetched even by Bond standards. Which in this instance is true: it's a breathtakingly stupid film that sets a record for utter idiocy that wouldn't be even attempted until the invisible car and CGI windsurfing of Die Another Day. Mad multi-trillionaire industrialist Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) wants to wipe out the entire human race and create a new and beautiful world in outer space and has built a space station from which to look down upon his perfect new race; Bond and NASA/CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) team up to stop him. Cue even more foreign travel (California, Venice, Rio), a boat chase (the gondola turns into a speedboat which turns into a hovercraft), a fight on a cable car with Jaws and a race against time to destroy biological weapons.

Moonraker gets a lot of things right that The Spy Who Loved Me got wrong. John Barry's back and if his score isn't one of his best, it's still immeasurably better than Hamlisch's. The special effects are generally pretty good (particularly in the outer space sequences) and Drax is a far more interesting villain with far better lines. It's also better shot: perhaps because it's a UK-France co-production they ended up with a different DP and the film looks terrific. What sinks proceedings is the staggering comedy relief: the jokey music choices, nonsensical one-liners and particularly the embarrassing gondola-hovercraft sequence with its double-taking pigeon. While nothing in Moonraker is as fist-chewingly ghastly as the Margaret Thatcher skit at the end of For Your Eyes Only (the next in the series), absolutely none of the gags work for a microsecond.

While they're basically Bond films, I'd like the idea of global destruction and the annihilation of the human race to be treated just a tad more seriously. It doesn't have to be The Seventh Seal, but it doesn't have to be Carry On Up Your Apocalypse either. But that's probably because both films were written by Christopher Wood, author of the Confessions Of.... series and what he's done is to make them into Confessions Of A Secret Agent, with far too many silly and unsubtle gags (why does Bond keep punching Jaws in the face or kicking him in the knackers when he knows it doesn't have any effect?). There's no tension, no suspense in either film, some of the acting is little more than speaking the words aloud, and the back-projection is as shamelessly blatant as it was when Sean Connery clearly wasn't driving around Jamaica in Dr No.

There are moments in both films, moreso in Moonraker but they are still only moments. I like the fight in the glassworks, the centrifuge sequence, the death of Corinne Dufour, the pre-credits sequence where Bond is thrown out of an aeroplane without a parachute. But they're not enough. It's better than the Spy Who Loved Me but it's still not up to standard and it's leagues below the best of Connery.


Mister Bond:

Wednesday, 16 May 2012



It's one of those pleasantly odd coincidences that I've finally managed to see this frankly bone-headed revenge thriller while the Leveson Enquiry constantly highlights the despicable moral emptiness of the tabloid press, and at a time when Mel "Sugar Tits" Gibson is once again the subject of the Twitter hive mind's fury because of his unhinged bonkersness. (Personally I think he should shut up, calm down, put the booze away and make some decent movies instead of behaving like a loudmouthed dick.) Mel's actually one of the film's producers and has a nicely self-aware one-shot cameo as an anger management patient.

Paparazzi is a hopelessly simplistic exploitation movie which couldn't be any less subtle if its villains were all dressed as Nazis and setting fire to puppies. The basic idea is that in their quest for paparazzi photographs, a quartet of despicable tabloid magazine photographers (led by Tom Sizemore at his sleaziest) cause a car smash that hospitalises the wife and child of Hollywood action star Cole Hauser; can he somehow take these parasitical bastards down as they systematically take his life apart?

If the ongoing enquiries into media ethics have demonstrated anything, it's that tabloid newspapers are loathsome and repulsive and the methods they employ to produce their daily flood of worthless diarrhoea are utterly reprehensible. (And by the way: if you fund these racist, sexist, faithist, homophobic and hypocritical publications, you're fine with that.) Yet no matter how low into the moral sewers the Sun, Mail etc will happily dive, they are but hopeless amateurs set against the cackling villains in Paparazzi: people whose whole objectives are to break up marriages, destroy lives and trash careers. And that's not nearly vile enough: Sizemore's character doesn't just wreck lives, he's a rapist as well. Another has a firearms conviction. Against such evil, one ends up on Cole Hauser's side not because he's the hero (he's a pretty bland and uninteresting character) but because everyone else is so horrible.

Minor pleasures include the always reliable Dennis Farina as the sympathetic cop on the case, walkons from Matthew McConaughey and Vince Vaughn, and the fact that it's fairly short. But it's very stupid, entirely unbelievable (odd that no-one notices one of Hollywood's top new stars going around wreaking revenge when the whole point of the movie is that he's under constant pap surveillance) and it ends up as a ridiculously one-sided thriller with very little on its mind except pandering to the basest desire for bloody revenge against hateful scum: it's less subtle than a Death Wish sequel in that regard.


Read all about it:

Tuesday, 15 May 2012



Hopes weren't high for this German-originated, pseudo-American slasher movie which is actually dated 2009 but has only just seeped into the British distribution system. In some respects it's my own stupid fault for not heeding the advice on my Twitter feed and deleting it from my rentals queue sooner. In other respects, sometimes you never know: Dark Shadows has been getting some extremely mixed reviews and I thoroughly enjoyed that one. Anyway, they sent it so I watched it. Today's lesson: always monitor your rental queue.

The basic plot of Break can be summed up astonishingly simply: a quartet of women go on a camping holiday in a remote forest and get picked off one by one by a couple of homicidal maniacs. Which, if any, of the four will survive and manage to fight back against the loonies? That's all that happens. Oh, you can go into detail about the crossbows and the rapes and the rifles and the chases and the acres of pointless prattle you have to stodge through to get to the bloody meat, but it's hardly worth the bother. There's no great subtext, no social commentary buried away among the indifferently staged carnage; there's literally nothing else going on beyond two whackjobs chasing some women round a forest. Cue end credits. Hey, if you want depth, go rent an Ozu or an Antonioni.

Which isn't necessarily a problem. Friday The 13th sequels don't have much in the way of depth or significance either, but they're generally done with enough verve and skill to get by. Break may deliver on the blood and violence (and a rape scene that's been mercifully cut by nearly a minute by the BBFC), but it's visually ugly, extraordinarily badly put together and technically pretty shoddy. Yes, camera equipment has become more affordable over recent years but that doesn't mean that anyone with a few grand should go out and start making crappy slasher movies just because they've got the tools; the writing, acting, editing and directing, photography, music and sound recording are all well below acceptable standards of basic semi-professional competence.

If you want nothing more from a horror movie than four average-looking women being chased round drab woodland and brutalised by a pair of rednecks, you'll probably get your money's worth. But if you've the slightest interest at all in character, technical skill or the rudiments of film-making, you're going to be badly shortchanged with Break. Matthias Olof Eich is the guy nominally credited as director, but there's a lot of difference between being a film director and being someone who just wanders around the film set and shouts "Action!" and "Cut!" at apparently random intervals. Rubbish.


Monday, 14 May 2012



Let's get one thing straight: I was never a Tim Burton fan. I remember thoroughly enjoying Batman when it first came out, but when I went back to see it again the following week it was dull and empty and I realised that all its strengths were in the visuals and there wasn't really very much left for a second viewing. I kind of enjoyed Mars Attacks! and Sleepy Hollow on first viewings but I never felt sufficiently enthralled by them to revisit them, and while I genuinely admire Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd (which is doubly weird because I don't like musicals very much; I can only assume it's down to the huge number of slit throats and supporting characters turned into pies), I loathed the cheerless and miserable Edward Scissorhands and his utterly awful Planet Of The Apes. To be honest, I haven't even bothered with some of his more recent films - Alice In Wonderland and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory held absolutely no appeal for me at all.

So it's a great relief to be able to report that Dark Shadows is massively better than I could ever have hoped. Based on a daytime American soap opera from the late 60s, it's been transformed into a Gothic supernatural comedy thriller of the Addams Family ilk in which Burton can indulge his penchant for gloomy set design and Johnny Depp can put on another funny English accent (given that his character is originally from Liverpool, it's perhaps a shame he didn't play the role as a Scouser). In the late 18th Century, fishing tycoon Barnabas Collins (Depp) incurs the fury of witch Angelique (Eva Green) and is turned into a vampire and buried alive in the woods. Dug up in 1972, the white-faced Barnabas returns to what's left of his ancestral pile and sets about restoring the family and its fortunes....

The original series ran for more than 1,200 daily episodes and is still apparently something of a cult item, though to judge from the selection of clips available on YouTube looks like it was made of cardboard and could run Crossroads a close race for terrible acting, wobbly sets and borderline technical competence. Burton's movie is thankfully a completely different beast that's given the concept the budget and talent it needs if it's ever going to appeal to anyone beyond the core fan circle of a TV soap that they stopped making in 1971 (bar a few one-off comebacks). Granted the writing is a bit off in places - one character's Big Secret is never even hinted and then revealed in full in the last five minutes, and love interest Bella Heathcote's backstory is rather slammed down in one scene rather than being threaded through the film - and there's some unconvincing plot devices to get rid of frankly extraneous characters such as Johnny Lee Miller's sleazy brother, but overall it gets by.

And it's a lot of fun. There's some very easy but enjoyable comedy to be had from Barnabas' bemused reactions to his new surroundings and the technology of the day (the best bit has Depp bellowing "Out, tiny songstress!" at a TV set showing the Carpenters, while the laziest bit has Depp declaring that Alice Cooper is "the ugliest woman I have ever seen", surely an old joke even in 1972) but, in the main, it's an opportunity for a strong cast to overact a bit and have some fun: Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter in particular. The production design is great, and the 70s is an ideal setting not just because it allows for the horrid fashions of the period but it ensures the pop culture references won't get instantly dated as they would if the movie was set in 2012. I had far more enjoyment out of Dark Shadows than I'd expected given that it's Un Film De Tim Burton and while there are bits that don't gell, or don't fit, or don't entirely work, it's highly entertaining.


Saturday, 12 May 2012



Martin Campbell may well be a top Hollywood A-list director these days, helming huge-budget studio movies with big name stars, ranging from Mel Gibson action thrillers to superhero comicbook nonsense, a couple of Zorro movies and not one but two reboots of the James Bond series, but let us never forget that, just as Peter Jackson started out making schlocky zombie comedies over the weekends and Sam Raimi kicked off his career with The Evil Dead, so Campbell's first two movies were low-grade British smut. Sadly, while Eskimo Nell was reasonably enjoyable twaddle about some likeable but deluded idiots trying to make it in the low-budget movie industry, this earlier film is nowhere near as entertaining and occasionally lapses into what, in the more enlightened 21st century, comes across as grotesquely misjudged bad taste.

The Sex Thief is long-haired David Warbeck: successful pulp novelist by day, cat burglar by night. His gimmick is to pick on women living alone, and if he's discovered then he seduces his victim so energetically that she is compelled to give false descriptions to the police. But then a talentless American starlet announces falsely that The Sex Thief had visited her and raped her seven times, prompting him to live up to his publicity and have his (consensual) way with her, while the police sit in another room getting paralytically drunk and trading bestiality porn with journalists. Can insurance investigator Diane Keen (presumably in a riff on The Thomas Crown Affair) take The Sex Thief down?

It's grubby, it's boring, it's hideously dated, it's horribly sexist, it's not remotely funny and, without wanting to sound too ungallant, the numerous floozies constantly besporting themselves ain't all that much to write home about (with the exception of Diane Keen). As a plot The Sex Thief is charmless nonsense, while as a snapshot of sexual attitudes nearly four decades back it's slightly shocking but I like to think we've improved matters over the years. As usual with this type of film, spotting familiar faces is one of the main attractions: there are frankly slim pickings on this occasion but, in a perhaps unfortunate twist of fate, the role of Lord Prescott is played by Christopher Biggins.




Phwoooar! Get a load of the knockers on that one! Phwoooar! Look at that rack! Massive great big wobbly hooters! Tits! Er....plot? Characters? Suspense? Hang on a moment...... nope, sorry. But check out those jugs! Such is the ethos - one hesitates to use the word "mentality" - of this nipple-driven piece of low-grade trash with nothing on its mind but bloody monster attacks and naked women. To be honest, if they could have dropped the gore and piranha attacks completely and just spent the whole running time looking at naked women and pointing at tits, they probably would have done. Why didn't they just make a Girls Gone Wild video if that was what they really wanted?

Nominally (if not numerically), Piranha 3DD is a sequel to Alexandre Aja's equally trashy but less tit-obsessed Piranha, though save for a brief mention of the first film's events and a couple of supporting characters returning for cameos, there's no connection and you certainly don't need to have seen the first one. This time the fish have learned to use man-made waterways - drainage tunnels and wells and so forth - and may well be heading for The Big Wet, a brand new theme park full of Russian strippers running around with their norks out. Can hot marine biologist Danielle Panabaker (also the stepdaughter of the park's sleazy owner/manager) get it shut down before the fish arrive and start eating the guests on opening day?

Piranha 3DD is rubbish. That it has a trashy energy in places, plenty of gore (courtesy of Gary J Tunnicliffe), some laughs, and even a 3D effect which is slightly better than usual and certainly better than the conversion job on Alexandre Aja's film, doesn't make it anything but rubbish. Is it a softcore porn movie, a horror movie or an out-and-out spoof as it appears to be in its final stretch, as an aging David Hasselhoff turns up as himself in Baywatch mode and takes the rise out of himself? I'd have preferred far less presumably hilarious parodying (which plays as sub-Scary Movie knockabout and defuses the tension from a massed mutant piranha attack) and more straight blood-and-gore piranhageddon. It's the changing of tone from teen sex romp to horror movie to porno to sub-Zucker spoofing that means it all ends up as a mess. Even worse, it only manages to reach a slim 83 minutes after mercilessly padding the closing credits with outtakes, bloopers and general messing about (none of which are funny or interesting). And it ends, of course, with the unenticing promise of a third instalment.

By chance, LoveFilm sent me the remake of Joe Dante's energetically entertaining original and for all its hokey production values it's a lot more fun than either of the modern Piranha updates, and better made despite the lack of resources. Director John Gulager's made his name with trashy gore movies with the increasingly desperate Feast series, this is trashier and gorier, but really it's no better. There are a few laughs, but it's not enough. And there's way too much in the way of tits. Grow up.


Monday, 7 May 2012



Numerology isn't much of a basis for movies: be it algebra, trigonometry or quadratic equations, there's little in the way of exciting drama that can be gained from what is essentially your maths homework. Adapting basic arithmetic for the screen has given us the absurd Knowing, in which Nic Cage deciphers a string of apparently random digits just in time for the annihilation of the human race, or the even more absurd The Number 23, in which Jim Carrey starts seeing 23 all around him and goes mad. And if counting isn't inherently cinematic, nor are clocks and calendars, as suggested in this ridiculous pudding of number-spotting and religious whackjobbery in which the world might be under attack from mysterious interdimensional forces purely on the basis of the arbitrary number sequences we use to denote the time and date.

The only reason we got a remake of The Omen back in 2006 was because some marketing spod noticed the potential for putting 06/06/06 on the poster. Similarly, 666: The Prophecy was conceived solely for the catchy 11-11-11 release date, and indeed, 11-11-11 was the original title. There's no other rationale for this gloomy though oddly persuasive claptrap: writer Joseph Crone (who has eleven letters in his name!), mourning the loss of his family in a fire last November 11th, and having walked away unscathed from a car smash at exactly eleven minutes past eleven, jets off to Barcelona to be with his ailing father and wheelchair-bound pastor brother. But the numbers 11-11 keep cropping up around him: it's the date of his mother's death, and at 11:11 every evening something spooky keeps appearing on the church's security monitors. Could these numbers be some kind of a gateway for demonic forces?

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (who has eleven consonants in his name!), the auteur behind Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV as well as the moderate remake of the early Troma rubbish Mother's Day and the borderline unwatchable and unlistenable rock opera Repo! The Genetic Opera, 666: The Prophecy (which has eleven letters in the title, if you ignore the 6s!) is pure hogwash. Why are these weird and spooky things happening to our hero at 11:11 every day even when he's suddenly jetted across the world to a different time zone? Nice of these interdimensional demons to put their watches back as well. In a technique carried over from the Saw series, he concludes things with a rapid-fire montage of all the salient moments and key lines of dialogue for the benefit of those who missed all the clues, but still manages to leave out anything that suggests the film actually makes sense.

Still, if the plot makes about as much sense as a parachuting cow, Bousman manages a few decent jumps as the demons loom out of the darkness (the whole thing looks to have been lit with an 11-watt bulb) or suddenly stare into the security cameras. Oddly, as far as European religious nonsense/apocalypse movies go, the one that kept springing to mind was Dario Argento's staggeringly lame but perversely fascinating Mother Of Tears, the all-over-the-shop conclusion to the Three Mothers trilogy (though 666: The Prophecy is probably a better movie). Sadly, the glories of Inferno and Suspiria never did. It's utter nonsense, humourless, silly and far too dark, but not without some interest.



Saturday, 5 May 2012



What's the smartest thing to do when you're Jason Statham, cagefighter extraordinaire, and an infinite number of Russian gangsters have promised to make your life an endless hell by killing everyone you ever get slightly close to? What would YOU do? Personally I'd have joined the US Army, because no way are even the dumbest Russian mafiosi going to start popping those guys off. (Remember, you're Jason Statham: it's not like you're going to fail the medical or have any ethical problems firing guns at people.) Second choice: get on the first bus to Kansas or Canada or Ipswich: anywhere out of the reach of the New York crime syndicates. Way down the list of sensible options would be to spend the next year hanging around the city as a self-pitying homeless derelict in a woolly hat.

But that's what Statham decides on in Boaz Yakin's Safe, and it's a good job he does because, on the point of diving beneath a subway train [incidentally not a good idea, because it can traumatise the innocent driver, and some poor sod on minimum wage has to clean up your liquefied mess with a mop and bucket], he sees a young girl being pursued by those same Russian hoods. She's a eleven-year-old maths genius working for the Chinese triads; she's memorised a vitally important string of numbers and the Russians want it. So do an elite team of corrupt NYPD officers, so does the equally corrupt Mayor. All she has on her side is Statham's newly-awakened humanity....

It's enjoyable enough, with supporting appearances from James Hong, Robert John Burke and Chris Sarandon, and a score by Mark Mothersbaugh which caught my attention as a soundtrack nerd because it's slightly reminiscent of the great Jerry Goldsmith in places, something which is frankly always welcome. Statham's hardman act is always good fun to watch although the action scenes are too jittery and hand-held, and the fast cutting means a lot of the sense of what's actually going on gets lost (see the pre-credits chase in Quantum Of Solace: I had to see it at least twice before I could be sure which car was in front and which car James Bond was driving). Editing doesn't mean putting as many shots together as possible, it means putting the right shots together in the way that music isn't automatically better just because it's got more notes in it.

The level of violence in Safe is pretty high, given the BBFC's lenient 15 certificate as there's a lot of fighting, shooting and swearing, and I genuinely wouldn't have been that surprised if it had been given an 18. Maybe they decided it was just cops-and-crooks bang-bang with no sexual element to it but it's at the top end of the 15 category. As far as Jason Statham movies go, it's certainly better than the overrated Crank movies (Neveldene and Taylor really need to calm down) but not up there with the first two Transporter movies, even the silly second one, or something as deliriously knuckle-headed as Death Race. Good walloping fun nonetheless.


Friday, 4 May 2012



Another day, another unremarkable remake trundles along the conveyor. Much of Hollywood - thankfully not all, but a hell of a lot of it - seems to have just given up on producing any genre movies of significant or lasting value, being content merely to buy up something they saw on holiday and simply make it again, but without those pesky subtitles getting in the way. For the Neanderthal halfwits unwilling or unable to engage with a movie that doesn't originate from an English-speaking country, for the dumbasses who'd sooner watch a worthless American movie than a good French, Spanish, Asian or Scandinavian one, such pointless wastes of film stock as the shiny American versions of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, [Rec] and Shutter are created. Nothing is brought to the table but English dialogue. And here's another one.

It's not as if there wasn't room for some added depth in Silent House, since for most of the time it's a film of great simplicity: girl stuck in spooky house, possibly pursued by maniac or ghost. Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) and her father and uncle are clearing out their lakeside summer house with a view to selling it off, but no sooner have they arrived than there are noises off, Dad disappears and Sarah is left alone - or is she? Is there someone upstairs? Or in the basement? With no cellphones and no electricity, the doors locked and Uncle Peter having taken the car, can she escape or can she even survive whatever's in there with her?

The original film, La Casa Muda, was a Uruguayan movie that was perfectly decent and had some genuinely creepy sequences, but it fell apart towards the end and the central gimmick of it all being shot in one long 86-minute take was not only unwarranted (there's no reason why it couldn't have been made as a regular film) but open to question based on the memory capacity of the camera used and the large number of potential cutting points (such as when the camera passes behind the actors or the furniture). This American retread similarly hamstrings itself with the decision to pretend it's all one long shot: it obviously isn't, and some of the cuts aren't that well hidden. In exactly the same way as the Uruguayan film, it makes good use of the darkness and the clutter (and a Polaroid camera), and has some very well timed jump moments, but the last twenty minutes that purport to explain something of what was going on don't make things any clearer than the finale of La Casa Muda.

Given the choice between original and transliteration, why bother with the copy? Yes, it's got younger Olsen sister Elizabeth Olsen from Martha Marcy May Marlene in it (the camera seems fixated on her cleavage on several occasions), and it certainly does make you jump a few times, so it more or less passes muster as a watchable if overly dark "scare the broad" horror movie. But the one-take gimmick is unnecessary: not just because it's already been done but because it denies the use of editing that could have made the film so much more. It's not awful, it's not "utter rubbish" as the bloke in front announced as the end credits rolled, but there's really no point in it actually existing.


Thursday, 3 May 2012



Nicolas Cage. No matter how many career-endingly awful movies he churns out, somehow he just keeps coming back for more. His CV is clogged up with terrible, terrible films such as Justice, Knowing, Bangkok Dangerous and Ghost Rider (to be fair, the Ghost Rider sequel was a vast improvement, the pointless 3D notwithstanding), or Neil La Bute's disastrously ill-conceived stab at The Wicker Man. Others have been more or less enjoyable but entirely soulless nonsense - Drive Angry or Season Of The Witch. Maybe there's the hope he'll come up with another Face/Off or Con Air or The Rock - big, loud, demented action pictures - or just an opportunity for his patented bug-eyed shouty freakout schtick such as his Bad Lieutenant re-imagining.

There's not much in the way of wild action or unhinged face-pulling in Trespass, a thoroughly routine but increasingly absurd home invasion thriller in which diamond broker Cage, wife Nicole Kidman and their rebellious teenage daughter are held hostage by a gang of confused imbeciles. They want the diamonds they think he keeps in his safe - or failing that, the hundred grand in cash. Failing that, one of his kidneys. Then they don't really want the kidney, but Kidman's diamond necklace. Matters are complicated by the fact that one of the gang has the hots for Kidman, another takes the first opportunity to get thoroughly stoned, with the result that the criminals spend more time yelling and pointing guns at each other than they do keeping an eye on their captives.

Almost all of the movie takes place in a house supposedly accommodating three people but is approximately the size of Blenheim Palace. Just how much money do these people have? It's a very nice house, but ridiculously vast and ostentatious with its Olympic size pool, glass walls, electronic gates, mood lighting and acres of surrounding woodlands that makes the Southfork Ranch look like an end of terrace inner-city crack den. I'm not a massive socialist, but somehow I still lose a fair whack of sympathy watching the travails of people who live in a house that can boast two postcodes.

The architectural design aside, though, Trespass is boring, stupid and entirely ordinary: it's not even much fun watching Cage being smacked about, shot, tied up, injected with stuff and sworn at repeatedly by clueless halfwits. Good to look at (thanks to DP Andrzej Bartkowiak)but shallow and empty, it's hardly surprising that it's a film by Joel Schumacher, the king of good-looking but shallow and empty. And even by his standards it's pretty lame: he's really not even trying here (something like The Number 23 may have been absolute twaddle but at least he had a stab at making it interesting). It's pretty unremarkable and scarcely worth the effort.





Morally, where do we stand on reconstructions of violent real-life murders and serial killing sprees? Put me in front of a totally fictional fantasy movie - anything from gialli to campus slashers - and I've absolutely no problem in watching a bunch of people getting bloodily despatched. But I feel it's far more difficult to enjoy a re-enactment of an actual killing in which a real human being genuinely died. One can certainly admire the performances in films dealing with Dr Crippen or John Christie, or more recent cinema restagings of the antics of Ted Bundy, Ed Gein or the Manson Family, but entertainment? It's like laughing at Crimewatch. I can't do it.

Not that Cold Light Of Day (which has nothing to do with the recent Bruce Willis action flick) is any kind of entertainment at all: it's a very low-budget British dramatisation of the crimes of Dennis Nilsen, here renamed Jordan Leach, but played by a reasonable lookalike (Bob Flag) and with many specific details carried over (at least to judge from Nilsen's page on Wikipedia): picking up young homeless men in London pubs and murdering them in his flat, keeping the bodies under the floorboards or dismembering them and flushing the parts down the toilet - the resultant blockages would eventually lead to his arrest when body parts were found there.

While many of the American dramatisations of their own serial killers (such as The Hillside Strangler or Ted Bundy) had a Hollywood movie sheen to them, Cold Light Of Day is a staggeringly miserablist offering that has less pizazz than even a film as resolutely grim and harrowing as Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. Shot on what looks like 16mm (the DVD looks to have been taken from a VHS copy but I wouldn't know for sure), much of it is composed of very long takes from a static camera position; little editing, very little in the way of a music score. Yet, perversely, the grotty nature of the movie is the most fascinating thing about it: a slight similar sense of the actual film stock seemingly infected by the horror captured upon it. It's one of those very rare movies that you really feel you need a wash after seeing it. Sadly, the grim and seedy deadpan misery is pretty much all it has going for it.

Written and directed by Fhiona Louise, this 1989 film (her only feature) does have the rare distinction of being pulled at the last minute from the running order of the Splatterfest horror festival after the producer's earlier film was slowclapped - at the Scala Cinema. Not booed at the NFT or the Cambridge Arts PictureHouse or even the Cineworld in Milton Keynes, but at the much-missed Kings Cross trash house and repertory nirvana. To be honest, I suspect Cold Light Of Day would not have gone down very well either, and replacing it with a handy print of Evil Dead II to keep a roomful of trash addicts happy in the small hours of the morning was probably a wise move. The aforementioned producer was Richard Driscoll, whose own directorial efforts have been eyewateringly terrible: the incoherent gibberish of The Legend Of Harrow Woods and Head Hunter (Kannibal), two brainwarping movies you can only stare at in mute, horrified disbelief, like a rabbit transfixed by the headlights of an approaching truck full of exploding manure. The cover art and the DVD menu both spell "Dennis Nilsen" wrong.


Misery upon misery: